The Project Gutenberg eBook, When Ghost Meets Ghost, by William Frend De Morgan

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Title: When Ghost Meets Ghost

Author: William Frend De Morgan

Release Date: January 9, 2010 [eBook #30896]

Language: English

Character set encoding: ISO-8859-1



E-text prepared by Suzanne Shell
and the Project Gutenberg Online Distributed Proofreading Team



I. Inconsistent and missing punctuation have been corrected without comment.
II. The 'oe' and 'ae' ligatures have been changed to 'oe' and 'ae'.
III. Obvious spelling mistakes have been corrected. A list of corrections from the original is included at the end of the book.







An intensely human and humorous novel of life near London in the '50s. $1.75.
The story of a London waif, a friendly artist, his friends and family. $1.75.
A lovable, humorous romance of modern England. $1.75.
A strange story of certain marital complications. Notable for the beautiful Judith Arkroyd with stage ambitions, Blind Jim, and his daughter Lizarann. $1.75.
Perhaps the author's most dramatic novel. It deals with the events that followed a duel in Restoration days in England. $1.75.
Begins comfortably enough with a little domestic quarrel in a studio. The story shifts suddenly, however, to a brilliantly told tragedy of the Italian Renaissance embodied in a girl's portrait. $1.35 net.
A long, genial tale of old mysteries and young lovers in England in the '50s. $1.60 net.








Copyright, 1914,



Published February, 1914

Dedicated to
The Spirit of Fiction







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Some fifty years ago there still remained, in a street reachable after inquiry by turning to the left out of Tottenham Court Road, a rather picturesque Court with an archway; which I, the writer of this story, could not find when I tried to locate it the other day. I hunted for it a good deal, and ended by coming away in despair and going for rest and refreshment to a new-born teashop, where a number of young ladies had lost their individuality, and the one who brought my tea was callous to me and mine because you pay at the desk. But she had an orderly soul, for she turned over the lump of sugar that had a little butter on it, so as to lie on the buttery side and look more tidy-like.

If the tea had been China tea, fresh-made, it might have helped me to recollecting the name of that Court, which I am sorry to say I have forgotten. But it was Ceylon and had stood. However, it was hot. Only you will never convince me that it was fresh-made, not even if you have me dragged asunder by wild horses. Its upshot was, for the purpose of this story, that it did not help me to recollect the name of that Court.

I have to confess with shame that I have written the whole of what follows under a false pretence; having called it out of its name, to the best of my belief, throughout. I know it had a name. It does not matter; the story can do without accuracy—commonplace matter of fact!

But do what I will, I keep on recollecting new names for it, and each seems more plausible than the other. Coltsfoot Court, Barretts Court, Chesterfield Court, Sapps Court! Any one of these, if I add seventeen-hundred-and-much, or eighteen-hundred-and-nothing-to-speak-of, seems to fit this Court to a nicety. Suppose we make it Sapps Court, and let it go at that![Pg 4]

Oh, the little old corners of the world that were homes and are gone! Years hence the Court we will call Sapps will still dwell in some old mind that knew its every brick, and be portrayed to credulous hearers yet unborn as an unpretentious Eden, by some laudator of its tempus actum—some forgotten soul waiting for emancipation in an infirmary or almshouse.

Anyhow, I can remember this Court, and can tell a tale it plays a part in, only not very quick.

Anybody might have passed down the main street and never noticed it, because its arched entry didn't give on the street, but on a bay or cul-de-sac just long enough for a hansom to drive into but not to turn round in. There was nothing to arrest the attention of the passer-by, self-absorbed or professionally engaged; simultaneous possibilities, in his case.

But if the passer-by forgot himself and neglected his proper function in life at the moment that he came abreast of this cul-de-sac, he may have thereby come to the knowledge of Sapps Court; and, if a Londoner, may have wondered why he never knew of it before. For there was nothing in the external appearance of its arched entry to induce him to face the difficulties incidental to entering it. He may even have nursed intentions of saying to a friend who prided himself on his knowledge of town:—"I say, Old Cock, you think yourself mighty clever and all that, but I bet you can't tell me where Sapps Court is." If, however, he never went down Sapps Court at all—merely looked at his inscription and, recollecting his own place in nature, passed on—I shouldn't be surprised.

It went downhill under the archway when you did go in, and you came to a step. If you did not tumble owing to the suddenness and depth of this step, you came to another; and were stupefied by reaching the ground four inches sooner than you expected, and made conscious that your skeleton had been driven an equal distance upwards through your system. Then you could see Sapps Court, but under provocation, from its entry. When you recovered your temper you admitted that it was a better Court than you had anticipated.

All the residences were in a row on the left, and there was a dead wall on the right with an inscription on a stone in it that said the ground twelve inches beyond belonged to somebody else. This wall was in the confidence of the main street, lending itself to a fiction that the houses therein had gardens or yards behind them. They hadn't; but the tenants believed they had, and hung out chemises and nightgowns and shirts to dry in the areas they[Pg 5] built up their faith on; and really, if they were properly wrung out afore hung up there was nothing to complain of, because the blacks didn't hold on, not to crock, but got shook off or blew away of theirselves. We put this in the language of our informant.

However, the story has no business on the other side of this wall. What concerns it is the row of houses on the left.

If ever a row of houses bore upon them the stamp of having been overtaken and surrounded by an unexpected city, these did. The wooden palings that still skirted the breathing-room in front of them almost said aloud to every newcomer:—"Where is the strip of land gone that we could see beyond, day by day; that belonged to God-knows-who; whose further boundary was the road the haycarts brought their loads on, drawn by deliberate horses that had bells?" The persistent sunflowers that still struggled into being behind them told tales of how big they were in youth, years ago, when they could turn to the sun and hope to catch his eye. The stray wallflowers murmured to all who had ears to hear:—"This is how we smelt in days gone by—but oh!—so much stronger!" The wooden shutters, outside the ground-floors that really stood upon the ground, told, if you chose to listen, of how they kept the houses safe from thieves in moonlit nights a century ago; and the doors between them—for each house was three windows wide—opened straight into the kitchen. So they were, or had been, cottages. But the miscreant in possession twenty years ago, instigated by a jerry-builder, had added a storey and removed the tiled roofs whose garrets were every bit as good as the jerry-built rooms that took their place. Sapp himself may have done it—one knows nothing of his principles—and at the same time in a burst of overweening vanity called his cottages his Court. But one rather likes to think that Sapp was with his forbears when this came about, when the wall was built up opposite, and the cottages could no longer throw their dust everywhere, but had to resort to a common dustbin at the end of the Court, which smelt so you could smell it quite plain across the wall when the lid was off. That dustbin was the outward and visible sign of the decadence of Sapp.[Pg 6]



In the last house down the Court, the one that was so handy to the dustbin, lived a very small boy and a still smaller sister. There were other members of the household—to wit, their Uncle Moses and their Aunt M'riar, who were not husband and wife, but respectively brother and sister of Dave's father and mother. Uncle Moses' name was Wardle, Aunt M'riar's that of a deceased or vanished husband. But Sapps Court was never prepared to say offhand what this name was, and "Aunt M'riar" was universal. So indeed was "Uncle Mo"; but, as No. 7 had been spoken of as "Wardle's" since his brother took the lower half of the house for himself and his first wife, with whom he had lived there fifteen years, the name Wardle had come to be the name of the house. This brother had been some ten years younger than Moses, and had had apparently more than his fair share of the family weddings; as "old Mo," if he ever was married, had kept the lady secret; from his brother's family certainly, and presumably from the rest of the world.

Our little boy was the sort of boy you were sorry was ever going to be eleven, because at five years and ten months he was that square and compact, that chunky and yet that tender, that no right-minded person could desire him to be changed to an impudent young scaramouch like young Michael Ragstroar four doors higher up, who was eleven and a regular handful.

His name was Dave Wardle, after his father; and his sister's Dorothea, after her mother. Both names appeared on a tombstone in the parish churchyard, and you might have thought they was anybody, said Public Opinion; which showed that Dave[Pg 7] and his sister were orphans. Both had recollections of their father, but the funeral he indulged in three years since had elbowed other memories out of court. Of their mother they only knew by hearsay, as Dave was only three years old when his sister committed matricide, quite unconsciously, and you could hear her all the way up the Court. Pardon the story's way of introducing attestations to some fact of interest or importance in the language in which its compiler has received it.

They were good children to do with, said their Aunt M'riar, so long as you kep' an eye. And a good job they were, because who was to do her work if she was every minute prancing round after a couple of young monkeys? This was a strained way of indicating the case; but there can be no doubt of its substantial truth. So Aunt M'riar felt at rest so long as Dave was content to set up atop of the dustbin-lid and shout till he was hoarse; all the while using a shovel, that was public property, as a gong.

Perhaps Dave took his sister Dolly into his confidence about the nature of the trust he conceived himself to hold in connection with this dustbin. To others of the inhabitants he was reticent, merely referring to an emolument he was entitled to. "The man on the lid," he said, "has a farden." He said this with such conviction that few had the heart to deny the justice of the claim outright, resorting to subterfuges to evade a cash settlement. One had left his change on the piano; another was looking forward to an early liquidation of small liabilities on the return of his ship to port; another would see about it next time Sunday come of a Friday, and so on. But only his Uncle Moses ever gave him an actual farthing, and Dave deposited it in a cat on the mantelshelf, who was hollow by nature, and provided by art with a slot in the dorsal vertebræ. It could be shook out if you wanted it, and Dave occasionally took it out of deposit in connection with a course of experiments he was interested in. He wished to determine how far he could spit it out.

This inquiry was a resource against ennui on rainy days and foggy days and days that were going to clear up later. All these sorts were devised by the malignity of Providence for the confusion of small boys yearning to be on active service, redistributing property, obstructing traffic, or calling attention to personal peculiarities of harmless passers-by. But it was not so inexhaustible but that cases occurred when those children got that unsettled and masterful there was no abiding their racket; and as for Dolly, her brother was making her every bit as bad as himself. At such times a great resource was to induce Uncle[Pg 8] Moses to tell some experiences of a glorious past, his own. For he had been a member of the Prize Ring, and had been slapped on the back by Dukes, and had even been privileged to grasp a Royal hand. He was now an unwieldy giant, able to get about with a stick when the day was fine, but every six months less inclined for the effort.

Uncle Moses, when he retired from public life, had put all his winnings, which were considerable, into a long lease of a pot-house near Golden Square, where he was well-known and very popular. If, however, there had been a rock on the premises and he had had all the powers of his namesake, four-half would have had to run as fast from it as ever did water from the rock in Horeb, to keep down the thirst of Golden Square. For Uncle Moses not only refused to take money from old friends who dwelt in his memory, but weakly gave way to constructive allegations of long years of comradeship in a happy past, which his powers of recollection did not enable him to contradict. "Wot, old Moses!—you'll never come for to go for to say you've forgot old Swipey Sam, jist along in the Old Kent Road—Easy Shavin' one 'apenny or an arrangement come to by the week!" Or merely, "Seein' you's as good as old times come alive again, mate." Suchlike appeals were almost invariable from any customer who got fair speech of Uncle Moses in his own bar. In his absence these claims were snuffed out roughly by a prosaic barman—even the most pathetic ones, such as that of an extinct thimblerigger for whom three small thimbles and one little pea had ceased for ever, years ago, when he got his fingers in a sausage-machine. But Uncle Moses was so much his own barman that this generosity told heavily against his credit; and he would certainly have been left a pauper but for the earnest counsels of an old friend known in his circle of Society as Affability Bob, although his real name was Jeremiah Alibone. By him he was persuaded to dispose of the lease of the "Marquess of Montrose" while it still had some value, and to retire on a pound a week. This might have been more had he invested all the proceeds in an annuity. "But, put it I do!" said he. "I don't see my way to no advantage for David and Dorothy, and this here young newcome, if I was to hop the twig." For this was at the time of the birth of little Dave, nearly six years before the date of this story.

Affability Bob applauded his friend's course of action in view of its motive. "But," said he, "I tell you this, Moses. If you'd 'a' gone on standin' Sam to every narrycove round about Soho[Pg 9] much longer, 'No effects' would have been your vardict, sir." To which Uncle Moses replied, "Right you are, old friend," and changed the subject.

However, there you have plenty to show what a rich mine of past experience Uncle Moses had to dig in. The wonder was that Dave and Dolly refused to avail themselves of its wealth, always preferring a monotonous repetition of an encounter their uncle had had with a Sweep. He could butt, this Sweep could, like a battering-ram, ketching hold upon you symultaneous round the gaiters. He was irresistible by ordinary means, his head being unimpressionable by direct impact. But Uncle Moses had been one too many for him, having put a lot of thinking into the right way of dealing with his system.

He had perceived that the hardest head, struck evenly on both sides at the same moment, must suffer approximately as much as if jammed against the door-post and catched full with a fair round swing. Whereas had these blows followed one another on a yielding head, the injury it inflicted as a battering-ram might have outweighed the damage it received in inflicting it. As it was, Peter—so Uncle Moses called the Sweep—was for one moment defenceless, being preoccupied in seizing his opponent by the ankles; and although his cranium had no sinuses, and was so thick it could crush a quart-pot like an opera-hat, it did not court a fourth double concussion, and this time he was destined to disappoint his backers.

His opponent, who in those days was known as the Hanley Linnet, suffered very little in the encounter. No doubt you know that a man in fine training can take an amazing number of back-falls on fair ground, clear of snags and brickbats; and, of course, the Linnet's seconds made a special point of this, examining careful and keeping an eye to prevent the introduction of broke-up rubbish inside the ropes by parties having an interest, or viciously disposed.

"There you are again, Uncle Mo, a-tellin' and a-tellin' and a-tellin'!" So Aunt M'riar would say when she heard this narrative going over well-known ground for the thousandth time. "And them children not lettin' you turn round in bed, I call it!" This was in reference to Dave and Dolly's severity about the text. The smallest departure from the earlier version led to both them children pouncing at once. Dave would exclaim reproachfully:—"You did say a Sweep with one blind eye, Uncle Mo!" and Dolly would confirm his words with as much emphasis as her powers of speech allowed. "Essoodid, a 'Weep with one[Pg 10] b'ind eye!"—also reproachfully. Then Uncle Moses would supply a corrected version of whatever was defective, in this case an eye not quite blind, but nearly, owing to a young nipper, no older than Dave, aiming a broken bottle at him as the orficers was conducting of him to the Station, after a fight Wandsworth way, the other party being took off to the Horspital for dead.

The Jews, I am told, won't stand any nonsense when they have their sacred writings copied, always destroying every inaccurate MS. the moment an error is spotted in it. Dave and Dolly were not the Jews, but they were as intolerant of variation in the text of this almost sacred legend of the Sweep. "S'ow me how you punched him, wiv Dave's head," Dolly would say; and she would be most exacting over the dramatic rendering of this ancient fight. "Percisely this way like I'm showing you—only harder," was Uncle Moses' voucher for his own accuracy. "Muss harder?" inquired Dolly. "Well—a tidy bit harder!" said the veteran with truth. The head of the Sweep's understudy, Dave, was not equal to a full-dress rehearsal. So Dolly had to be content with the promise of a closer reading of the part when her brother was growed up.

But it was rather like Aunt M'riar said, for Uncle Moses. Those two young Turks didn't allow their uncle no latitude, in the manner of speaking. He couldn't turn round in bed.

These rainy days, when the children could not possibly be allowed out, taxed their guardians' patience just to the point of making them—suppose we say—not ungrateful to Providence when old Mrs. Prichard upstairs giv' leave for the children to come and play up in her room. She was the only other in-dweller in the house, living in the front and back attics with Mrs. Burr, who took jobs out in the dressmaking, and very moderate charges. When Mrs. Burr worked at home, Mrs. Prichard enjoyed her society and knitted, while Mrs. Burr cut out and basted. Very few remarks were passed; for though Mrs. Burr was snappish now and again, company was company, and Mrs. Prichard she put up with a little temper at times, because we all had our trials; and Mrs. Burr was considered good at heart, though short with you now and again. Hence when loneliness became irksome, Mrs. Prichard found Dave and Dolly a satisfaction, so long as nothing was broke. It was a pleasant extension of the experience of their early youth to play at monarchs, military celebrities, professional assassins, and so on, in old Mrs. Prichard's room upstairs. And sometimes nothing was broke.[Pg 11] Otherwise one day at No. 7, Sapps Court, was much the same as another.

Uncle Mo's residence in Sapps Court dated many years before the coming of Aunt M'riar; in fact, as far back as the time he was deprived of his anchorage in Soho. He was then taken in by his brother, recently a widower; and no question had ever arisen of his quitting the haven he had been, as it were, towed into as a derelict; until, some years later, David announced that he was thinking of Dolly Tarver at Ealing. Moses smoked through a pipe in silence, so as to give full consideration; then said, like an easy-going old boy as he was:—"You might do worse, Dave. I can clear out, any minute. You've only got to sing out." To which his brother had replied:—"Don't you talk of clearing out, not till Miss Tarver she tells you." Moses' answer was:—"I'm agreeable, Dave"; and the matter dropped until some time after, when he had made Dolly Tarver's acquaintance. She, on hearing that her union with David would send Mo again adrift, had threatened to declare off if such a thing was so much as spoke of. So Moses had remained on, in the character of a permanency saturated with temporariness; and, when the little boy Dave began to take his place in Society, proceeded to appropriate—so said the child's parents—more than an uncle's fair share of him.

Then came the tragedy of his mother's death, causing the Court to go into mourning, and leaving Dave with a sister, too young to be conscious of responsibility for it. Not too young, however, to make her case heard—the case all living things have against the Power that creates them without so much as asking leave. The riot she made being interpreted by both father and uncle as protest against Mrs. Twiggins, a midwife who made herself disagreeable—or, strictly speaking, more disagreeable; being normally unpleasant, and apt to snap when spoke to, however civil—it was thought desirable to call in the help of her Aunt M'riar, who was living with her family at Ealing as a widow without incumbrance. Dolly junior appeared to calm down under Aunt M'riar's auspices, though every now and then her natural indignation got the better of her self-restraint. Dave junior was disgusted with his sister at first, but softened gradually towards her as she matured.

His father did not long survive the death of his young wife. Even an omnibus-driver is not exempt from inflammation of the lungs, although the complaint is not so fatal among persons exposed to all weathers as among leaders of indoor lives. A violent[Pg 12] double pneumonia carried off Uncle Mo's brother, six months after he became a widower, and about three years before the date of this story.

Whether in some other class of life a marriageable uncle and aunt—sixty and forty respectively—would have accepted their condominium of the household that was left, it is not for the story to discuss. Uncle Moses refused to give up the two babies, and Aunt M'riar refused to leave them, and—as was remarked by both—there you were! It was an impasse. The only effect it had on the position was that Uncle Mo's temporariness got a little boastful, and slighted his permanency. The latter, however, paid absolutely no attention to the insult, and the only change that took place in the three following years at No. 7, Sapps Court, had nothing to do with the downstairs tenants. Some months before the first date of the story, a variation came about in the occupancy upstairs, Mrs. Prichard and Mrs. Burr taking the place of some parties who, if the truth was told, were rather a riddance. The fact is merely recorded as received; nothing further has transpired regarding these persons.

Mrs. Prichard was a very old lady who seldom showed herself outside of her own room—so the Court testified—but who, when she did so, impressed the downstairs tenants as of unfathomable antiquity and a certain pictorial appearance, causing Uncle Mo to speak of her as an old picter, and Dave to misapprehend her name. For he always spoke of her as old Mrs. Picture. Mrs. Burr dawned upon the Court as a civil-spoken person who was away most part of the day, and who did not develope her identity vigorously during the first year of her tenancy. One is terribly handicapped by one's own absence, as a member of any Society.

As time went on, Dave and Dolly, who began life with an idea that Sapps Court was the Universe, became curious about what was going on outside. They grew less contented with the dustbin, and ambition dictated to Dave an enthronement on an iron post at the entrance, under the archway. The delight of sitting on this post was so great that Dave willingly faced the fact that he could not get down, and whenever he could persuade anyone to put him up ran a risk of remaining there sine die. When he could not induce a native of the Court to do this, he endeavoured to influence the outer public, not without success. For when it came to understand—that public—that the grubby little tenant of Dave's grubby little shirt and trousers was not asking the time nor for a hoyp'ny, but was murmuring shyly:—"I soy,[Pg 13] mawster, put me up atop," at the same time slapping the post on either side with two grubby little, fat hands, it would unbend and comply, telling Dave to hold on tight, and never asking no questions how ever the child was to be got off of it when the time came. Because people are that selfish and inconsiderate.

The difficulty of getting down off of it all by himself, without a friendly supporting hand in the waistband of his trousers, was connected with the form of this post's head. It was not a disused twenty-four pounder with a shot in its muzzle, as so many posts are, but a real architectural post, cast from a pattern at the foundry. Its capital expanded at the top, and its projecting rim made its negotiation difficult to climbers, if small; hard to get round from below, and perilous to leave hold of all of a sudden-like, in order to grasp the shaft in descent. But then, it was this very expansion that provided a seat for Dave, which the other sort of post would hardly have afforded.

How did Simeon Stylites manage to scrat on? One prefers to think that an angel put him on his column, carrying him somewhat as one carries a cat; and called for him to be taken down at convenient intervals by appointment. The mind revolts at the idea that he really never came down, quite never! But then, when the starving man is on at the Aquarium, we—that is to say, the humane public—are apt to give way to mere maudlin sentimentalism, and hope he is cheating. And when a person at a Music Hall folds backwards and looks through his legs at us forwards, we always hope he feels no strain—nothing but a great and justifiable professional pride. It is not a pleasant feeling that any of these good people are suffering on our behalf. However, in the case of Simeon Stylites there was a mixture of motives, no doubt.

Dave Wardle was too young to have motives, and had none, unless the desire to surprise and impress Dolly had weight with him. But he had the longing on him which that young gentleman in the poem expressed by writing the Latin for taller on a flag; and to gratify it had scaled the dustbin as the merest infant. It was an Alpine record. But the iron post was no mere Matterhorn. It was like Peter Bot's Mountain; and once you was up, there you were, and no getting down!

The occasional phrases for which I am indebted to Aunt M'riar which have crept into the text recently—not, as I think, to its detriment—were used by her after a mishap which befell her nephew owing to the child's impatience. If he'd only a had[Pg 14] the sense to set still a half a minute longer, she would have done them frills and could have run up the Court a'most as soon as look at you. But she hoped what had happened would prove a warning, not only to Dave, but to all little boys in a driving hurry to get off posts. And not only to them either, but to Youth generally, to pay attention to what was said to it by Age and Experience, neither of which ever climb up posts without some safe guarantee of being able to climb down again.

What had happened was that Dave had cut his head on the ornate plinth of that cast-iron post, his hands missing their grip as his legs caught the shaft, so that he turned over backwards and his occiput suffered. He showed a splendid spirit—quite Spartan, in fact—bearing in mind his uncle's frequent homilies on the subject of crying; a thing no little boy, however young, should dream of. Dolly was under no such obligation, according to Uncle Moses, being a female or the rudiment of one, and on this occasion she roared for herself and her brother, too. Aunt M'riar was in favour of taking the child to Mr. Ekins, the apothecary, for skilled surgery to deal with the case, but Uncle Moses scouted the idea.

"Twopenn'orth o' stroppin' and a basin o' warm water," said he, "and I'll patch him up equal to Guy's Hospital.... Got no diacklum? Then send one of those young varmints outside for it.... You've no call to go yourself." For a various crowd of various ages under twelve had come from nowhere to enjoy the tragic incident.

"Twopenn'orth of diaculum plaster off of Mr. Ekings the 'poarthecary?" said that young Michael Ragstroar, thrusting himself forward and others backward; because, you see, he was such a cheeky, precocious young vagabond. "Mean to say I can't buy twopenn'orth of diaculum plaster off of Mr. Ekings the 'poarthecary? Mean to say my aunt that orkupies a 'ouse in Chiswick clost to high-water mark don't send me to the 'poarthecaries just as often as not? For the mixture to be taken regular ... Ah!—where's the twopence? 'And over!"

Whereupon, such is the power of self-confidence over everyone else, that Aunt M'riar entrusted twopence to this youth, quite forgetting that he was only eleven. Yet her faith in him was not ill-founded, for he returned like an echo as to promptitude. Only, unlike the echo, he came back louder than he went, and more positive.

"There's the quorntity and no cheatin'," said he. "You can medger it up with a rule if you like. It'll medger, you find if[Pg 15] it don't! Like I told you! And a 'apenny returned on the transaction." The tension of the situation did not admit of the measuring test—nor indeed had Aunt M'riar data to go upon—and as for the halfpenny, it stood over.

Uncle Moses had not laid false claim to surgical skill, and was able to strap the wound a'most as if he'd been brought up to it. By the time it was done Dave's courage was on the wane, and he wasn't sorry to lie his head down and shut to his eyes. Because the lids thereof were like the lids of plate-chests.

However, before he went off very sound asleep—so sound you might have took him for a image—he heard what passed between Uncle Moses and Michael, whose name has been spelt herein so that you should think of it as Sapps Court did; but its correct form is Rackstraw.

"Now, young potato-peelin's, how much money did the doctor hand you back for that diacklum?"

"Penny. Said he'd charge it up to the next Dook that come to his shop."

Thereupon Aunt M'riar taxed the speaker with perfidy. "Why, you little untrue, lyin', deceitful story," she said. "To think you should say it was only a ha'penny!"

"I never said no such a thing. S'elp me!"

"''Apenny returned on the transaction' was the very identical selfsame words." Thus Aunt M'riar testified. "And what is more," she added inconsecutively, "I do not believe you've any such an aunt, nor yet ever been to Chiswick."

But young potato-peelings, so called from his father's vocation of costermonger, defended himself with indignation. "Warn't that square?" said he. "He never said I warn't to keep it all, didn't that doctor!" Then he took a high position as of injured virtue. "There's your 'apenny! There's both your 'apennies! Mean to say I 'aven't kep' 'em safe for yer?" Uncle Moses allowed the position of bailee, but disposed of the penny as Solomon suggested in the case of the baby, giving one halfpenny to Michael, and putting the other in Dave's cat on the mantelshelf.

He justified this course afterwards on the ground that the doctor's refund was made to the actual negotiator, and that Aunt M'riar had in any case received full value for her money. Who could say that the doctor, if referred to, would not have repudiated Aunt M'riar's claim in toto?

Warnings, cautions, and moral lessons derived from this incident had due weight with Dave for several days; in fact,[Pg 16] until his cut healed over. Then he forgot them and became as bad as ever.



The interest of Dave's accident told in the last chapter is merely collateral. It shows how narrow an escape the story that follows had not only of never being finished, but even of never being written. For if its events had never happened, it goes near to certainty that they would never have been narrated. Near, but not quite. For even if Dave had profited by these warnings, cautions, and moral lessons to the extent of averting what now appears to have been Destiny, some imaginative author might have woven a history showing exactly what might have happened to him if he had not been a good boy. And that history, in the hands of a master—one who had the organ of the conditional præterpluperfect tense very large—might have worked out the same as this.

The story may be thankful that no such task has fallen to its author's lot. It is so much easier to tell something that actually did happen than to make up as you go.

Dave was soon as bad as ever—no doubt of it. Only he kept clear of that post. The burnt child dreads the fire, and the chances are that admonitions not to climb up on posts had less to do with his abstention from this one than the lesson the post itself had hammered into the back of his head. Exploration of the outer world—of the regions imperfectly known beyond that post—had so far produced no fatal consequences; so that Aunt M'riar's and Uncle Mo's warnings to the children to keep within bounds had not the same convincing character.

But a time was at hand for the passion of exploration to seize upon these two very young people, and to become an excitement as absorbing to them as the discovery of America to Paolo[Pg 17] Toscanelli and Christopher Columbus. At first it was satisfied by the cul-de-sac recess on which Sapps Court opened. But this palled, and no wonder! How could it compete with the public highway out of which it branched, especially when there was a new shore—that is to say, sewer—in course of construction?

To stand on the edge of a chasm which certainly reached to the bowels of the earth, and to see them shovelled up from platform to platform by agencies that spat upon their hands for some professional reason whenever there came a lull in the supply from below, was to find life worth living indeed. These agencies conversed continually about an injury that had been inflicted on them by the Will of God, the selfish caprice of their employers, or the cupidity of the rich. They appeared to be capable of shovelling in any space, however narrow, almost to the extent of surrendering one dimension and occupying only a plane surface. But it hadn't come to that yet. The battens that kept the trench-sides vertical were wider apart than what you'd have thought, when you come to try 'em with a two-fut rule. And the short lengths of quartering that kep' 'em apart were not really intersecting the diggers' anatomies as the weaver's shuttle passes through the warp. That was only the impression of the unconcerned spectator as he walked above them over the plank bridge that acknowledged his right of way across the road. His sympathies remained unentangled. If people navigated, it was their own look out. You see, these people were navvies, or navigators, although it strains one's sense of language to describe them so.

The best of it was to come. For in time the lowest navvy was threatened with death by misadventure, unless he come up time enough to avoid the water. The small pump the job had been making shift with was obliged to acknowledge itself beaten, and to make way for one with two handles, each with room for two pumpers; and this in turn was discarded in favour of a noisy affair with a donkey-engine, which brought up the yellow stream as fast as ever a gutter of nine-inch plank, nailed up to a V, would carry it away. And it really was a most extraordinary thing that of all those navigators there was not one that had not predicted in detail exactly the course of events that had come about. Mr. Bloxam, the foreman, had told the governor that there would be no harm in having the pump handy, seeing they would go below the clay. And each of the others had—so they themselves said—spoken in the same sense, in some cases using a most inappropriate adjective to qualify the expected[Pg 18] flood. Why, even Sleepy Joe had seen that! Sleepy Joe was this same foreman, and he lived in a wooden hutch on the job, called The Office.

But the watershed of any engine—whatever may be its donkey-power, and whatever that name implies—slops back where a closed spout changes suddenly to an open gutter, and sets up independent lakes and rivers. This one sent its overflow towards Sapps Court, the incline favouring its distribution along the gutter of the cul-de-sac, which lay a little lower than the main street it opened out of. Its rich, ochrous rivulets—containing no visible trace of hæmorrhage, in spite of that abuse of an adjective—were creeping slowly along the interstices of cobblestone paving that still outlived the incoming of Macadam, when Dave and Dolly Wardle ventured out of their archway to renew a survey, begun the previous day, of the fascinating excavation in the main street.

Here was an opportunity for active and useful service not to be lost. Dave immediately cast about to scrape up and collect such mud as came ready to hand, and with it began to build up an intercepting embankment to stop the foremost current, that was winding slowly, like Vesuvian lava, on the line of least resistance. Dolly followed his example, filling a garment she called her pinafore with whatever mould or débris was attainable, and bringing it with much gravity and some pride to help on the structure of the dyke. A fiction, rather felt than spoken, got in the air that Sapps Court and its inhabitants would be overwhelmed as by Noah's flood, except for the exertions of Dave and his sister. It appealed to some friends of the same age, also inhabitants of the Court, and with their assistance and sympathy it really seemed—in this fiction—that a catastrophe might be averted. You may imagine what a drove of little grubs those children looked in the course of half an hour. Not that any of them were particularly spruce to begin with.

However, there was the embankment holding back the dirty yellow water; and now the pump was running on steady-like, there didn't so much come slopping over to add to the deluge that threatened Sapps Court. The policeman—the only one supposed to exist, although in form he varied slightly—made an inquiry as to what was going on, to be beforehand with Anarchy. He said:—"What are you young customers about, taking the Company's water?" That seemed to embody an indictment without committing the accuser to particulars. But he took no active steps, and a very old man with a fur cap, and[Pg 19] no teeth, and big bones in his cheeks, said:—"It don't make no odds to we, I take it." He was a prehistoric navvy, who had become a watchman, and was responsible for red lanterns hooked to posts on the edge of chasms to warn carts off. He was going to sleep in half a tent, soothed or otherwise by the unflagging piston of that donkey-engine, which had made up its mind to go till further notice.

The men were knocking off work, and it was getting on for time for those children to have their suppers and be put to bed. But as Aunt M'riar had some trimming to finish, and it was a very fine evening, there was no harm in leaving them alone a few minutes longer. As for any attractive influences of supper, those children never come in of theirselves, and always had to be fetched.

An early lamplighter—for this was in September, 1853—passed along the street with a ladder, dropping stars as he went. There are no lamplighters now, no real ones that run up ladders. Their ladders vanished first, leaving them with a magic wand that lighted the gas as soon as you got the tap turned; only that was ever so long, as often as not. Perhaps things are better now that lamps light themselves instinctively at the official hour of sunset. At any rate, one has the satisfaction of occasionally seeing one that won't go out, but burns on into the daylight to spite the Authorities.

They were cold stars, almost green, that this lamplighter dropped; but this was because the sun had left a flood of orange-gold behind it, enough to make the tune from "Rigoletto" an organ was playing think it was being composed in Italy again. The world was a peaceful world, because Opulence, inflated and moderate, had gone out of town: the former to its country-house, or a foreign hotel; the latter to lodgings at the seaside to bathe out of machines and prey on shrimps. The lull that reigned in and about Sapps Court was no doubt a sort of recoil or backwater from other neighbourhoods, with high salaries or real and personal estate, whose dwellings were closed and not being properly ventilated by their caretakers. It reacted on business there, every bit as much as in Oxford Street; and that was how Tapping's the tallow-chandler's—where you got tallow candles and dips, as well as composites; for in those days they still chandled tallow—didn't have a single customer in for ten whole minutes by the clock. In that interval Mrs. Tapping seized the opportunity to come out in the street and breathe the air. So did Mrs. Riley next door, and they stood conversing on the topics[Pg 20] of the day, looking at the sunset over the roofs of the cul-de-sac this story has reference to. For Mrs. Tapping's shop was in the main road, opposite to where the embankment operations were in hand.

"Ye never will be tellin' me now, Mrs. Tapping, that ye've not hur-r-rd thim calling 'Fire!' in the sthrate behind? Fy-urr, fy-urr, fy-urr!" This is hard to write as Mrs. Riley spoke it, so great was her command of the letter r.

"Now you name it, Mrs. Riley, deny it I can't. But to the point of taking notice to bear in mind—why no! It was on my ears, but only to be let slip that minute. Small amounts and accommodations frequent, owing to reductions on quantity took, distrack attention. I was a-sayin' to my stepdaughter only the other day that hearin' is one thing and listenin' is another. And she says to me, she says, I was talking like a book, she says. Her very expression and far from respectful! So I says to her, not to be put upon, 'Lethear,' I says, 'books ain't similar all through but to seleck from, and I go accordin'....'" Mrs. Tapping, whose system was always to turn the conversation to some incident in which she had been prominent, might have developed this one further, but Mrs. Riley interrupted her with Celtic naïveté.

"D'ye mane to say, me dyurr, that ye can't hearr 'em now? Kape your tongue silent and listen!" A good, full brogue permits speech that would offend in colourless Saxon; and Mrs. Tapping made no protest, but listened. Sure enough the rousing, maddening "Fire, fire, fire, fire, fire!" was on its way at speed somewhere close at hand. It grew and lessened and died. And Mrs. Riley was triumphant. "That's a larrudge fire, shure!" said she, transposing her impression of the enthusiasm of the engine to the area of the conflagration. Cold logic perceives that an engine may be just as keen to pump on a cottage as on a palace, before it knows which. Mrs. Riley had come from Tipperary, and had brought a sympathetic imagination with her, leaving any logic she possessed behind.

A few minutes before the lamplighter passed—saying to the old watchman:—"Goin' to bed, Sam?" and on receiving the reply, "Time enough yet!" rejoining sarcastically:—"Time enough for a quart!"—the labourers at the dyke had recognised the fact that unless new material could be obtained, the pent-up waters would burst the curb and bound, rejoicing to be free, and rush headlong to the nearest drain. All the work would be lost unless a fresh supply could be obtained; the ruling fiction of a new[Pg 21] Noachian deluge might prove a deadly reality instead of, as now, a theoretical contingency under conditions which engineering skill might avert. The Sappers and Miners who were roused from their beds to make good a dynamited embankment and block the relentless Thames did not work with a more untiring zeal to baffle a real enemy than did Dave and Dolly to keep out a fictitious one, and hypothetically save Uncle Moses and Aunt M'riar from drowning. But all efforts would be useless if there was to be a shortage of mud.

The faces of our little friends, and their little friends, were earnestness itself as they concentrated on the great work in the glow of the sunset. They had no eyes for its glories. The lamplighter even, dropping jewels as he went, passed them by unheeded. The organ interpreted Donizetti in vain. Despair seemed imminent when Dolly, who, though small, was as keen as the keenest of the diggers, came back after a special effort with no more than the merest handful of gutter-scrapings, saying with a most pathetic wail:—"I tan't det no more!"

Then it was that a great resolve took shape in the heart of Dave. It found utterance in the words:—"Oy wants some of the New Mud the Men spoyded up with their spoyds," and pointed to an ambitious scheme for securing some of the fine rich clay that lay in a tempting heap beyond the wooden bridge across the sewer-trench. The bridge that Dave had never even stood upon, much less crossed!

The daring, reckless courage of the enterprise! Dolly gasped with awe and terror. She was too small to find at a moment's notice any terms in which she could dissuade Dave from so venturesome a project. Besides, her faith in her brother amounted to superstition. Dave must know what was practicable and righteous. Was he not nearly six years old? She stood speechless and motionless, her heart in her mouth as she watched him go furtively across that awful bridge of planks and get nearer and nearer to his prize.

There were lions in his path, as there used to be in the path of knights-errant when they came near the castles of necromancers who held beautiful princesses captive—to say nothing of full-blown dragons and alluring syrens. These lions took in one case, the form of a butcher-boy, who said untruthfully:—"Now, young hobstacle, clear out o' this! Boys ain't allowed on bridges;" and in another that of Michael Ragstroar, who said, "Don't you let the Company see you carryin' off their property. They'll rip you open as soon as look at you. You'll be took[Pg 22] afore the Beak." Dave was not yet old enough to see what a very perverted view of legal process these words contained, but his blue eyes looked mistrustfully at the speaker as he watched him pass up the street towards the Wheatsheaf, swinging a yellow jug with ridges round its neck and a full corporation. Michael had been sent to fetch the beer.

If the blue eyes had not remained fixed on that yellow jug and its bearer till both vanished through the swing-door of the Wheatsheaf—if their owner's mistrust of his informant had been strong enough to cancel the misgivings that crossed his baby mind, only a few seconds sooner, would things have gone otherwise with Dave? Would he have used that beautiful lump of clay, as big as a man of his age could carry, on the works that were to avert Noah's flood from Sapps Court? Would he and Dolly not probably have been caught at their escapade by an indignant Aunt M'riar, corrected, duly washed and fed, and sent to bed sadder and wiser babies? So few seconds might have made the whole difference.

Or, if that heap of clay had been thrown on the other side of the trench, on the pavement instead of towards the traffic—why then the children might have taken all they could carry, and Old Sam would have countenanced them, in reason, as like as not. But how little one gains by thinking what might have been! The tale is to tell, and tells that these things were not otherwise, but thus.

Uncle Moses was in the room on the right of the door, called the parlour, smoking a pipe with the old friend whose advice had probably kept him from coming on the parish.

"Aunt M'riar!" said he, tapping his pipe out on the hob, and taking care the ashes didn't get in the inflammable stove-ornament, "I don't hear them young customers outside. What's got 'em?"

"Don't you begin to fret and werrit till I tell you to it, Moses. The children's safe and not in any mischief—no more than usual. Mr. Alibone seen 'em." For although the world called this friend Affability Bob and Uncle Moses gave him his christened name, Aunt M'riar always spoke of him, quite civil-like, thus.

"You see the young nippers, Jerry?" said the old prizefighter; who always got narvous, as you might say, though scarcely alarmed, when they got out of sight and hearing; even if it was for no more time than what an egg takes.

"Jist a step beyond the archway, Mosey," said Mr. Alibone.[Pg 23] "Paddlin' and sloppin' about with the water off o' the shore-pump. It's all clean water, Mrs. Catchpole, only for a little clay." Aunt M'riar, whose surname was an intrinsic improbability in the eyes of Public Opinion, and who was scarcely ever called by it, except by Mr. Jerry, expressed doubts. So he continued:—"You see, they're sinking for a new shore clear of the old one. So nothing's been opened into."

"Well," said Aunt M'riar, "I certainly did think the flaviour was being kep' under wonderful. But now you put it so, I understand. What I say is—if dirt, then clean dirt; and above all no chemicals!... What's that you're saying, Uncle Mo?"

"Why, I was a-thinking," said Uncle Moses, who seemed restless, "I was a-thinking, Bob, that you and me might have our pipes outside, being dry underfoot." For Uncle Moses, being gouty, was ill-shod for wet weather. He was slippered, though not lean. And though Mrs. Burr, coming in just then, added her testimony that the children were quite safe and happy, only making a great mess, Uncle Moses would not be content to remain indoors, but must needs be going out. "These here young juveniles," said he, outside in the Court, "where was it you took stock of 'em, did you say?"

"Close to hand," said Affability Bob. "One step out of the archway. There you'll find 'em, old man. Don't you fret your kidneys. They're all right. Hear the engines?"

"Whereabouts is the fire?"

"Somewhere down by Walworth. I saw the smoke, crossing Hungerford Bridge. This engine's coming down our road outside."

"I reckon she may be, by the sound. She'll be half-way to Blackfriars before we're out of this here Court. If she gets by where the road's up! Maybe she'll have to go back."

"There she stops! What's the popilation shoutin' at?" For the tramp of the engine's horses, heard plain enough on the main road, came to an end abruptly, and sounds ensued—men's shouts, women's cries—not reconcilable with the mere stoppage of a fire-engine by unexpected narrows or an irregular coal-cart.

"Couldn't say, I'm sure. They're a nizy lot in these parts." So said Uncle Moses, and walked slowly up the Court, stopping for breath half-way.[Pg 24]



So few seconds would have made the whole difference. But so engrossing had Dave found the contemplation of Michael Ragstroar and his yellow jug, so exciting particularly was its disappearance into the swing-door of the Wheatsheaf, that he forgot even the new mud that the men had spaded up with their spades. And these seconds slipped by never to return. Then when Michael had vanished, the little man stooped to secure his cargo. It was slippery and yet tenacious; had been detachable with difficulty from the spade that wrenched it from the virgin soil of its immemorial home, and was now difficult to carry. But Dave grappled bravely with it and turned to go back across the bridge.

A coming whirlwind, surely, in the distance of the street—somewhere now where all the gas-lamps' cold green stars are merged in one—now nearer, nearer still; and with it, bringing folk to doors and windows to see them pass, the war-cry of the men that fight the flames. Charioteers behind blood-horses bathed in foam; heads helmeted in flashing splendour; eyes all intent upon the track ahead, keen to anticipate the risks of headlong speed and warn the dilatory straggler from its path. Nearer and nearer—in a moment it will pass and take some road unknown to us, to say to fires that even now are climbing up through roof and floor, clasping each timber in a sly embrace fatal as the caress of Death itself:—"Thus far shalt thou go and no farther!" Close upon us now, to be stayed with a sudden cry—something in the path! Too late!

Too late, though the strong hand that held the reins brought back the foaming steeds upon their haunches, with startled eyes and quivering nostrils all agape. Too late, though the helmeted men on the engine's flank were down, almost before its swerve[Pg 25] had ceased, to drag at every risk from beneath the plunging hoofs the insensible body of the child that had slipped from a clay heap by the roadside, on which it stood to gaze upon the coming wonder, and gone headlong down quite suddenly upon the open road.

You who read this, has it ever fallen to your lot to guide two swift horses at a daring speed through the narrow ways, the ill-driven vehicles, the careless crowds and frequent drunkards of the slum of a great city? If so, you have earned some right to sit in judgment on the fire-engine that ran our little friend down. But you will be the last of all men to condemn that fire-engine.

"Dead, mate?" One of the helmeted men asks this of the other as they escape from the plunging hoofs. They are used to this sort of thing—to every sort of thing.

"Insensible," says the other, who holds in his arms the rescued child, a mere scrap of dust and clay and pallor and a little blood.

A fire-engine calculates its rights to pause in fractions of a minute. The unused portion of twenty seconds the above conversation leaves, serves for a glance round in search of some claimant of the child, or a responsible police-officer to take over the case. Nothing presents itself but Mrs. Tapping, too much upset to be coherent, and not able to identify the child; Mrs. Riley, little better, but asking:—"Did the whales go overr it, thin?" The old man Sam, the watchman, is working round from his half-tent, where he sleeps in the traffic, but cannot possibly negotiate the full extent of trench and bridge for fifty seconds more. Time cannot be lavished waiting for him. The man at the reins, with seeming authority, clinches the matter.

"You stop, Peter Jackson. Hospital! Don't you let the child out of your hands before you get there. Understand?—All clear in front?" Two men, who have taken the horses' heads, to soothe their shaken nerves with slaps and suitable exclamations, now give them back to their owners, leaving them free to rear high once or twice to relieve feeling; while they themselves go back, each to his own place on the engine. A word of remonstrance from the driver about that rearing, and they are off again, the renewed fire-cry scarcely audible in the distance by the time Old Sam gets across the wooden bridge.

To him, as to a responsible person, says Peter Jackson:—"Know where he belongs?"—and to Mrs. Riley, as to one not responsible, but deserving of sympathy:—"No—the wheels haven't been over him."[Pg 26]

"Down yonder Court, I take it. Couldn't say for sartin." So says Sam; and Mrs. Tapping discerns with pious fervour the Mercy of God in this occurrence, He not having flattened the child out on the road outright.

But Peter Jackson's question implied no intention to communicate with the little victim's family. To do so would be a clear dereliction of duty; an offence against discipline. He has his instructions, and in pursuance of them strides away to the Hospital without another word, bearing in his arms a light burden so motionless that it is hard to credit it with life. So quickly has the whole thing passed, that the drift of idlers hard on his heels is a fraction of what a couple more minutes would have made it. It will have grown before they reach the Middlesex, short as the distance is. Then a police-sergeant, who joins them half-way, will take notes and probably go to find the child's parents; while Peter Jackson, chagrined at this hitch in his day's fire-eating, will go off Walworth way at the best speed he may, after handing over his charge to an indisputable House-Surgeon.

One can picture to oneself how the whole thing might pass as it did, between the abrupt check of the engine's career, heard by Uncle Moses and his friend, and the two or three minutes later when they emerged through the archway to find Dolly in despair; not from any knowledge of the accident to Dave, for intense preoccupation and a rampart of clay had kept her in happy ignorance of it, but because the water had broken bounds and Noah's flood had come with a vengeance. Questioned as to Dave's whereabouts, she embarked on a lengthy stuttered explanation of how Dave had dode round there—pointing to the clay heap—to det some of the new mud the men had spoyded up with their spoyds. She reproduced his words, of course. Uncle Moses was trying to detect her meaning without much success, when he became aware that the old man in the fur cap who had shouted more than once, "I say, master!" was addressing him.

"Is that old cock singing out to one of we, Jerry?" said Uncle Moses. And then replied to the old cock:—"Say what you've got to say, mate! Come a bit nigher."

Thereupon Old Sam crossed the bridge, slowly, as Uncle Moses moved to meet him. "Might you happen to know anything of this little boy?" said old Sam.

Uncle Moses caught the sound of disaster in his accent, before his words came to an end. "What's the little boy?" said he. "Where have you got him?" And Dolly, startled by the strange[Pg 27] sound in her uncle's voice, forgot Noah's flood, and stood dumb and terrified with outstretched muddy hands.

"I may be in the wrong of it, master"—thus Old Sam in his slow way, a trial to impatience—"but maybe this little maid's brother. They've took him across to the Hospital." Old Sam did not like to have to say this. He softened it as much as he could. Do you not see how? Omit the word "across," and see how relentless it makes the message. Do you ask why? Impossible to say—but it does!

Then Uncle Moses shouted out hoarsely, not like himself: "The Hospital—the Hospital—hear that, Bob! Our boy Dave in the Hospital!" and, catching his friend's arm, "Ask him—ask more!" His voice dropped and his breath caught. He was a bad subject for sudden emotions.

"Tell it out, friend—any word that comes first!" says Mr. Alibone. And then Old Sam, tongue-freed, gives the facts as known to him. He ends with:—"Th' young child could never have been there above a minute, all told, before the engine come along, and might have took no warning at twice his age for the vairy sudden coming of it." He dwells upon the shortness of the time Dave had been on the spot as though this minimised the evil. "I shouldn't care to fix the blame, for my own part," says he, shaking his head in venerable refusal of judicial functions not assigned to him so far.

"Is the child killed, man? Say what you know!" Thus Mr. Alibone brusquely. For he has caught a question Uncle Moses just found voice for:—"Killed or not?"

The old watchman is beginning slowly:—"That I would not undertake to say, sir...." when he is cut off short by Mrs. Riley, anxious to attest any pleasant thing, truly if possible; but if otherwise, anyhow!—"Kilt is it? No, shure thin! Insinsible." And then adds an absolutely gratuitous statement from sheer optimism:—"Shure, I hur-r-d thim say so mesilf, and I wouldn't mislade ye, me dyurr. Will I go and till his mother so for ye down the Court? To till her not to alarrum hersilf!"

But by this time Uncle Moses had rallied. The momentary qualm had been purely physical, connected with something that a year since had caused a medical examination of his heart with a stethoscope. He had been too great an adept in the art of rallying after knock-down blows in his youth to go off in a faint over this. He had felt queer, for all that. Still, he declined Mrs. Riley's kindly meant offer. "Maybe I'll make the best job of it myself," said he. "Thanking you very kindly all the same,[Pg 28] ma'am!" After which he and his friend vanished back into Sapps Court, deciding as they went that it would be best to persuade Aunt M'riar to remain at home, while they themselves went to the Hospital, to learn the worst. It would never do to leave Dolly alone, or even in charge of neighbours.

Mrs. Riley's optimism lasted till Uncle Moses and Mr. Alibone disappeared, taking with them Dolly, aware of something terrible afoot; too small to understand the truth, whatever it was; panic-stricken and wailing provisionally to be even with the worst. Then, all reason for well-meaning falsehood being at an end, the Irishwoman looked facts in the face with the resolution that never flinches before the mishaps of one's fellow-man, especially when he is a total stranger.

"The power man!" said she. "He'll have sane the last of his little boy alive, only shure one hasn't the harrut to say the worrd. Throubles make thimsilves fast enough without the tilling of thim, and there'll be manes and to spare for the power payple to come to the knowledge without a worrd from you or me, Mrs. Tapping."

Then said Mrs. Tapping, on the watch for an opening through which she could thrust herself into the conversation; as a topic, you understand:—"Now there, Mrs. Riley, you name the very reason why I always stand by like, not to introduce my word. Not but that I will confess to the temptation undergone this very time to say that by God's will the child was took away from us, undeniable. Against that temptation I kep' my lips shut. Only I will say this much, and no concealment, that if my husband had been spared, being now a widow fourteen years, and heard me keep silence many a time, he might have said it again and again, like he said it a hundred times if he said it once when alive and able to it:—'Mary Ann Tapping, you do yourself no justice settin' still and list'nin', with your tongue in your mouth God gave you, and you there to use it!' And I says to Tapping, fifty times if I said it once, 'Tapping,' says I, 'you better know things twiced before you say 'em for every onced you say 'em before you know 'em.' Then Tapping, he says, was that to point at 'Lethear? And I says yes, though the girl was then young and so excusable. But she may learn better, I says, and made allowance though mistaken...." This is just as good a point for Mrs. Tapping to cease at as any other in the story. In reality Heaven only knows when she ceased.

A very miscellaneous public gathered round and formed false ideas of what had happened from misinformants. The most[Pg 29] popular erroneous report ran towards connecting it somehow with the sewer-trench, influencing people to look down into its depths and watch for the reappearance of something supposed to be expected back. So much so that more than one inoffensive person asked the man in charge of the pumping engine—which went honourably on without a pause—whether "it" was down there. He was a morose and embittered man—had been crossed in love, perhaps—for he met all inquiries by another:—"Who are you a-speaking to?" and, on being told, added:—"Then why couldn't you say so?" Humble apology had then to be content with, "No, it ain't down there and never has been, if you ask me,"—in answer to the previous question.

Old Sam endeavoured more than once to point out that the accident need not necessarily end fatally. He invented tales of goods-trains that had passed over him early in life, and the surgical skill that had left him whole and sound. Trains were really unknown in his boyhood, but there was no one to contradict him. The public, stimulated to hopefulness, produced analogous experiences. It had had a hay-cart over it, with a harvest-home on the top, such as we see in pictures. It had had the Bangor coach over it, going down hill, and got caught in the skid. It had been under an artillery corps and field-guns at a gallop, when the Queen revoo'd the troops in Hyde Park. And look at it now! Horse-kicks and wheel-crushing really had a bracing tendency; gave the constitution tone, and seldom left any ill effects.

Only their consequences must be took in time. Well!—hadn't the child gone to the Hospital? Dissentients who endeavoured to suggest that broken bones and dislocations were unknown before the invention of surgeons, were rebuked by the citation of instances of neglected compound fractures whose crippled owners became athletes after their bones had been scientifically reset, having previously been rebroken in the largest number of places the narrator thought he could get credence for. Hope told her flattering tale very quickly, for when Dave's uncle and Jerry Alibone reappeared on their way to find the truth at the Hospital, her hearers were ready with encouragement, whether they knew anything about the matter or not. "I don't believe they do," said Uncle Moses, and Mr. Alibone replied—"Not they, bless your heart!" But it was refreshing for all that.

They met the police-sergeant on the way, coming from the Hospital to bring the report and make inquiry about the child's belongings. They credited him with superhuman insight when[Pg 30] he addressed them with:—"Either of you the father of a child knocked down by Fire-engine 67A in this street—taken into accident ward?" He spoke just as though Engine 68B had knocked another child down in the next street, and so on all over London.

But his sharpness was merely human. For scarcely a soul had passed but paused to look round after them, wondering at the set jaw and pallid face of the huge man who limped on a stick, seeming put to it to keep the speed. Uncle Moses, you see, was a fine man in his own way of the prizefighter type; and now, in his old age, worked out a little like Dr. Samuel Johnson.

The report, as originally received by the police-officer, was that the child was not killed but still unconscious. A good string of injuries were credited to the poor little man, including a dislocated femur and concussion of the brain. Quite enough, alone!—for the patient, his friends and relations. The House-Surgeon, speaking professionally, spoke also hopefully of undetected complications in the background. We might pull him through for all that. This report was materially softened for the child's family. Better not say too much to the parents at present, either way!



The present writer, half a century since—he was then neither we nor a writer—trod upon a tiny sapling in the garden of the house then occupied by his kith and kin. It was broken off an inch from the ground, and he distinctly remembers living a disgraced life thereafter because of the beautiful tree that sapling might have become but for his inconsiderate awkwardness. If the censorious spirit that he aroused could have foreseen the[Pg 31] tree that was to grow from the forgotten residuum of the accident, the root that it left in the ground, it would not perhaps have passed such a sweeping judgment. Any chance wayfarer in St. John's Wood may see that tree now—from the end of the street, for that matter.

So perhaps the old prizefighter might have mustered more hope in response to Aunt M'riar's plucky rally against despair. The tiny, white, motionless figure on the bed in the accident ward, that had uttered no sound since he saw it on first arriving at the Hospital, might have been destined to become that of a young engineer on a Dreadnought, or an unfledged dragoon, for any authenticated standard of Impossibility.

The House-Surgeon and his Senior, one of the heads of the Institution,—interviewed by Uncle Moses and Aunt M'riar when they came late by special permission and appointment, hoping to hear the child's voice once more, and found him still insensible and white—testified that the action of the heart was good. The little man had no intention of dying if he could live. But both his medical attendants knew that the tremulous inquiry whether there was any hope of a recovery—within a reasonable time understood, of course—was really a petition for a favourable verdict at any cost. And they could not give one, for all they would have been glad to do so. They have to damn so many hopes in a day's work, these Accident Warders!

"It's no use asking us," said they, somehow conjointly. "There's not a surgeon in all England that could tell you whether it will be life or death. We can only say the patient is making a good fight for it." They seemed very much interested in the case, though, and in the queer old broken-hearted giant that sobbed over the half-killed baby that could not hear nor answer, speak to it as he might.

"What did you say your name was?" said the Senior Surgeon to Uncle Moses.

"Moses Wardle of Hanley, called the Linnet. Ye see, I was a Member of the Prize Ring, many years. Fighting Man, you might say."

"I had an idea I knew the name, too. When I was a youngster thirty odd years ago I took an interest in that sort of thing. You fought Bob Brettle, and the umpires couldn't agree."

"That was it, master. Well, I had many a turn up—turn up and turn down, either way as might be. But I had a good name. I never sold a backer. I did my best by them that put their money on me." For the moneychanger, the wagermonger,[Pg 32] creeps in and degrades the noble science of damaging one's fellow-man effectively; even as in old years he brought discredit on cock-fighting, in which at least—you cannot deny it—the bird cuts a better figure than he does in his native farmyard.

"Come round after twelve to-morrow, and we may know more," said the House-Surgeon. "It's not regular—but ask for me." And then the older Surgeon shook Uncle Moses by the hand, quite respectful-like—so Mr. Jerry said to Aunt M'riar later—and the two went back, sad and discouraged, to Sapps Court.

What made it all harder to bear was the difficulty of dealing with Dolly. Dolly knew, of course, that Dave had been took to the Horsetickle—that was the nearest she could get to the word, after frequent repetitions—and that he was to be made well, humanly speaking, past a doubt. The little maid had to be content with assurances to this effect, inserting into the treaty a stipulation as to time.

"Dave's doin' to tum home after dinner," said she, when that meal seemed near at hand. And Uncle Moses never had the heart to say no.

Then when no Dave had come, and Dolly had wept for him in vain, and a cloth laid announced supper, Dolly said—moved only by that landmark of passing time—"Dave is a-doin' to tum home after supper; he is a-doin', Uncle Mo, he is a-doin'!" And what could her aunt and uncle do but renew the bill, as it were; the promise to pay that could only be fulfilled by the production of Dave, whole and sound.

She refused food except on condition that an exactly similar helping should be conveyed to Dave in the Horsetickle. She withdrew the condition that Uncle Moses and herself should forthwith convey Dave's share of the repast to him, in consideration of a verbal guarantee that little girls were not allowed in such Institutions. Why she accepted this so readily is a mystery. Possibly the common form of instruction to little girls, dwelling on their exclusion by statute or usage from advantages enjoyed by little boys, may have had its weight. Little girls, exempli gratia, may not lie on their backs and kick their legs up. Little boys are at liberty to do so, subject to unimportant reservations, limiting the area at their disposal for the practice. It is needless—and might be thought indelicate—to instance the numerous expressions that no little girl should use under any circumstances, which are regarded as venial sin in little boys, except of course on Sunday. Society does not absolutely[Pg 33] countenance the practices of spitting and sniffing in little boys, but it closes its eyes and passes hypocritically by on the other side of the road; while, on the other hand, little girls indulging in these vices would either be cast out into the wilderness, or have to accept the rôle of penitent Magdalens. Therefore when Dolly was told that little girls were not allowed in Hospitals, it may only have presented itself to her as another item in a code of limitations already familiar.

The adhibition in visible form of a pendant to her own allowance of pudding or bread-and-milk, to be carried to the Horsetickle by Uncle Moses on his next visit, had a sedative effect, and she was contented with it, without insisting on seeing the pledge carried out. Her imagination was satisfied, as a child's usually is, with any objective transaction. Moreover, a dexterous manipulation of the position improved matters. The portion allotted to Dave was removed, ostensibly to keep it warm for him, but reproduced to do duty as a second helping for Dolly. Of course, it had to be halved again for Dave's sake, and an ancient puzzle solved itself in practice. The third halving was not worth sending to the Hospital. Even so a step too small to take was left for Achilles when the tortoise had only just started. "Solvitur ambulando," said Philosophy, and a priori reasoning took a back place.

Her constant inquiries about the date of Dave's cure and return were an added and grievous pain to her aunt and uncle. It was easy for the moment to procrastinate, but how if the time should come for telling her that Dave would never come back—no, never?

But the time was not to come yet. For a few days Life showed indecision, and Uncle Mo and Aunt M'riar had a thumping heart apiece each time they stood by the little, still, white figure on the bed and thought the breath was surely gone. They were allowed in the ward every day, contrary to visitor-rule, apparently because of Uncle Mo's professional eminence in years gone by—an odd reason when one thinks of it! It was along of that good gentleman, God bless him!—said Aunt M'riar—that knew Uncle Mo's name in the Ring. In fact, the good gentleman had said to the House-Surgeon in private converse: "You see, there's no doubt the old chap ended sixteen rounds with Brettle in a draw, and Jem Mace had a near touch with Brettle. No, no—we must let him see the case day by day." So Uncle Mo saw the case each day, and each day went away to transact such business with Hope as might be practicable. And[Pg 34] each day, on his return, there was a voice heard in Sapps Court, Dolly weeping for her elder brother, and would not be comforted. "Oo did said oo would fess Dave back from the Horsetickle, oo know oo did, Uncle Mo"; and similar reproaches, mixed themselves with her sobs. But for many days she got no consolation beyond assurance that Dave would come to-morrow, discharged cured.

Then, one windy morning, a punctual equinoctial gale, gathering up its energies to keep inoffensive persons awake all night and, if possible, knock some chimney-stacks down, blew Uncle Mo's pipelight out, and caused him to make use of an expression. And Aunt M'riar reproved that expression, saying:—"Not with that blessed boy lying there in the Hospital should you say such language, Moses, more like profane swearing, I call it, than a Christian household."

"He's an old Heathen, ma'am, is Moses," said Mr. Alibone, who was succeeding in lighting his own pipe, in spite of the wind in at the street door. Because, as we have seen, in this Court—unlike the Courts of Law or Her Majesty's Court of St. James's—the kitchens opened right on the street. Not but what, for all that, there was the number where you would expect, on a shiny boss you could rub clean and give an appearance. Aunt M'riar said so, and must have known.

Uncle Moses shook his head gravely over his own delinquency, as if he truly felt it just as much as anybody. But when he got his pipe lighted, instead of being cheerful and making the most of what the doctor had said that very day, his spirits went down into his boots, which was a way they had.

"'Tain't any good to make believe," said he. "Supposin' our boy never comes back, M'riar!"

"There, now!" said Aunt M'riar. "To hear you talk, Mo, wouldn't anybody think! And after what Dr. Prime said only this afternoon! I should be ashamed."

"What was it Dr. Prime said, Mo?" asked Mr. Alibone, quite cheerful-like. "Tell us again, old man." For you see, Uncle Moses he'd brought back quite an encouraging report, whatever anyone see fit to say, when he come back from the Hospital. Dr. Prime was the House-Surgeon.

"I don't take much account of him," said Uncle Mo. "A well-meanin' man, but too easy by half. One o' your good-natured beggars. Says a thing to stuff you up like! For all I could see, my boy was as white as that bit of trimmin' in your hand, M'riar."[Pg 35]

"But won't you tell us what the doctor said, Mo?" said Mr. Alibone. "I haven't above half heard the evening's noose." He'd just come in to put a little heart into Moses.

"Said the little child had a better colour. But I don't set any store by that." And then what does Uncle Moses do but reg'lar give away and go off sobbing like a baby. "Oh, M'riar, M'riar, we shall never have our boy back—no, never!"

And then Aunt M'riar, who was a good woman if ever Mr. Alibone come across one—this is what that gentleman could and did tell a friend after, incorporated verbatim in the text—she up and she says:—"For shame of yourself, Mo, for to go and forget yourself like that before Mr. Alibone! I tell you I believe we shall have the boy back in a week, all along o' what Dr. Prime said." On which, and a further representation that he would wake Dolly if he went on like that, Uncle Mo he pulled himself together and smoked quiet. Whereupon Aunt M'riar dwelt upon the depressing effect a high wind in autumn has on the spirits, with the singular result referred to above, of their retractation into their owner's boots, like quicksilver in a thermometer discouraged by the cold. After which professional experience was allowed some weight, and calmer counsels prevailed.

About this time an individual in a sort of undress uniform, beginning at the top in an equivocal Tam-o'-Shanter hat, sauntered into the cul-de-sac to which Sapps Court was an appendix. He appeared to be unconcerned in human affairs, and indeed independent of Time, Space, and Circumstance. He addressed a creature that was hanging upside down on some railings, apparently by choice.

"What sort of a name does this here archway go by?" said he, without acute curiosity.

"That's Sappses Court," said the creature, remaining inverted. "Say it ain't?" He appeared to identify the uniform he was addressing, and added:—"There ain't a fire down that Court, 'cos I knows and I'm a telling of yer. You'd best hook it." The uniform hooked nothing. Then, in spite of the creature—who proved, right-side-up, to be Michael Ragstroar—shouting after him—"You ain't wanted down that Court!" he entered it deliberately, whistling a song then popular, whose singer wished he was with Nancy, he did, he did, in a second floor, with a small back-door, to live and die with Nancy.

Having identified Sapps, he seemed to know quite well which house he wanted, for he went straight to the end and knocked at No. 7.[Pg 36]

"Sakes alive!" said Aunt M'riar, responsive to the knock. "There's no fire here."

"I'm off duty," said the fireman briefly. "I've come to tell you about your young customer at the Hospital."

Aunt M'riar behaved heroically. There was only, to her thinking, one chance in ten that this strange, inexplicable messenger should have brought any other news to their house than that of its darling's death; but that one chance was enough to make her choke back a scream, lest Uncle Mo should have one moment of needless despair. And else—it shot across her mind in a second—might not a sudden escape from despair even be fatal to that weak heart of his? So Aunt M'riar pulled to the door behind her to say, with an effort:—"Is he dead?" The universe swam about outside while she stood still, and something hummed in her head. But through it she heard the fireman say:—"Not he!" as of one endowed with a great vitality, one who would take a deal of killing. When he added:—"He's spoke," though she believed her ears certainly, for she ran back into the kitchen crying out:—"He's spoke, Mo, he's spoke!" she did it with a misgiving that the only interpretation she could see her way to must be wrong—was altogether too good to be true.

Uncle Mo fairly shouted with joy, and this time woke Dolly, who thought it was a calamity, and wept. Fully five minutes of incoherent rejoicing followed, and then details might be rounded off. The fireman had to stand by his engine on the night-shift in an hour's time, but he saw his way to a pipe, and lit it.

"They're always interested to hear the ending-up of things at the Station," said he, to account for himself and his presence, "and I made it convenient to call round at the Ward. The party that took the child from me happened to be there, and knew me again." He, of course—but you would guess this—was Peter Jackson of Engine 67A. He continued:—"The party was so obliging as to take me into the Ward to the bedside. And it was while I was there the little chap began talking. The party asked me to step in and mention it to you, ma'am, or his uncle, seeing it was in my road to the Station." Then Peter Jackson seemed to feel his words needed extenuation or revision. "Not but I would have gone a bit out of the way, for that matter!" said he.

"'Twouldn't be any use my looking round now, I suppose?" said Uncle Mo. Because he always was that restless and fidgety.

"Wait till to-morrow, they said, the party and the nurse. By[Pg 37] reason the child might talk a bit and then get some healthy sleep. What he's had these few days latterly don't seem to count." Thus Peter Jackson, and Uncle Moses said he had seen the like. And then all three of them made the place smokier and smokier you could hardly make out across the room.

"Mo's an impatient old cock, you see!" said Mr. Alibone, who seemed to understand Peter Jackson, and vice versa. And Uncle Mo said:—"I suppose I shall have to mark time." To which the others replied that was about it.

"Only whatever did the young child say, mister?" said Aunt M'riar; like a woman's curiosity, to know. But those other two, they was curious underneath-like; only denied it.

"I couldn't charge my memory for certain, ma'am," said Peter Jackson, "and might very easy be wrong." He appeared to shrink from the responsibility of making a report, but all his hearers were agreed that there was no call to cut things so very fine as all that. A rough outline would meet the case.

"If it ran to nonsense in a child," said Uncle Mo—"after all, what odds?" And Aunt M'riar said:—"Meanin' slips through the words sometimes, and no fault to find." She had not read "Rabbi Ben Ezra," so this was original.

Peter Jackson endeavoured to charge his memory, or perhaps more properly, to discharge it. Dave had said first thing when he opened his eyes:—"The worty will be all over the hedge. Let me go to stop the worty." Of course, this had been quite unintelligible to his hearers. However, Mr. Alibone and Uncle Mo were au fait enough of the engineering scheme that had led to the accident, to supply the explanation. Dave's responsibility as head engineer had been on his conscience all through his spell of insensibility, and had been the earliest roused matter of thought when the light began to break.

Besides, it so chanced that testimony was forthcoming to support this view and confirm Dave's sanity. Dolly, who had been awakened by the noise, had heard enough to convey to her small mind that something pleasant had transpired in relation to Dave. Though young, she had a certain decision of character. Her behaviour was lawless, but not unnatural. She climbed out of her wooden crib in Aunt M'riar's bedroom, and slipping furtively down the stair which led direct to the kitchen, succeeded in bounding on to the lap of her uncle; from which, once established, she knew it would be difficult for her aunt to dislodge her. She crowed with delight at the success of this escapade, and had the satisfaction of being, as it were, confirmed in her delinquency by[Pg 38] her aunt wrapping a shawl round her. This was partly on the score of the cold draughts in such a high wind, partly as a measure of public decency. She was in time to endorse her uncle's explanation of Dave's speech intelligibly enough, with a due allowance of interpretation.

Closely reported, the substance of her commentary ran as follows—"Dave tooktited the mud when I fessed him the mud in my flock"—this was illustrated in a way that threatened to outrage a sensitive propriety, the speaker's aunt's—"and spooshed up the worty and spooshed up the worty"—this repetition had great value—"and spooshtited the worty back, and then there wasn't no more mud ... it was all fessed away in my flock.... All dorn!—ass, it was—all dorn!"—this was in a minor key, and thrilled with pathos—"and Dave dode to fess more where the new mud was, and was took to the Horsetickle and never come back no more...." At this point it seemed best to lay stress upon the probable return of Dave, much to Dolly's satisfaction; though she would have been better pleased if a date had been fixed.

Our own belief is that Dolly thought the Horsetickle was an institution for the relief of sufferers from accidents occasioned by horses, and that no subsequent experience ever entirely dissipated this impression. The chances are that nine or ten of the small people one sees daily and thinks of as "the children," are laying up, even at this moment, some similar fancy that will last a lifetime. But this is neither here nor there.

What is more to the purpose is that a fortnight later Dave was brought home in a cab—the only cab that is recorded in History as having ever deliberately stood at the entrance to Sapps Court, with intent. Cabs may have stood there in connection with other doorways in the cul-de-sac, but ignoring proudly the archway with the iron post. Dave was carried down the Court by his uncle with great joy, and Michael Ragstroar seized the opportunity to tie himself somehow round the axle of the cab's backwheels, and get driven some distance free of charge.

Dave, as seen by Dolly on his return, was still painfully white, and could not walk. And Dolly might not come banging and smashing down on him like a little elephant, because it would hurt him; so she had to be good. The elephant simile was due to a lady—no doubt well-meaning—who accompanied Dave from the Hospital, and came more than once to see him afterwards. But it was taking a good deal on herself to decide what Dolly ought or ought not to do to Dave.

In those days slumming proper had not set in, and the East End[Pg 39] was only known geographically, except, no doubt, to a few enthusiasts—the sort that antedates first discovery after the fact, and takes a vicious pleasure in precursing its successors. But unassuming benefactresses occurred at intervals whom outsiders knew broadly as Sisters of Charity. Such a one was this lady, between whom and Aunt M'riar a sympathetic friendship grew up before the latter discovered that Dave's hospital friend was an Earl's niece, which not unnaturally made her rather standoffish for a time. However, a remark of Mr. Alibone's—who seemed to know—that the lady's uncle was a belted Earl, and no mistake, palliated the Earldom and abated class prejudice. The Earl naturally went up in the esteem of the old prizefighter when it transpired that he was belted. What more could the most exacting ask?

But it was in the days when this lady was only "that party from the Hospital," that she took root at No. 7, Sapps Court. No. 7 was content that she should remain nameless; but when she said, in some affair of a message to be given at the Hospital, that its bearer was to ask for Sister Nora, it became impossible to ignore the name, although certainly it was a name that complicated matters. She remained, however, plain Sister Nora, without suspicion of any doubtful connections, until a scheme of a daring character took form—nothing less than that Dave should be taken into the country for change of air.

Uncle Mo was uneasy at the idea of Dave going away. Besides, he had always cherished the idea that the air of Sapps Court was equal to that of San Moritz, for instance. Look at what it was only a few years before Dave's father and mother first moved in, when it was all fields along the New Road—which has since been absurdly named Euston and Marylebone Road! Nothing ever come to change the air in Sapps Court that Uncle Mo knew of. And look at the wallflowers growing out in front the same as ever!

Uncle Mo, however, was not the man to allow his old-fashioned prejudices to stand in the way of the patient's convalescence, and an arrangement was made by Sister Nora that Dave should be taken charge of, for a while, by an old and trustworthy inhabitant of the Rocestershire village of which her uncle, the belted Earl, was the feudal lord and master, or slave and servant, according as you look at it. It was during the arrangement of this plan that his Earldom leaked out, creating serious misgivings in the minds of Uncle Mo and Aunt M'riar that they would be ill-advised if they allowed themselves to get mixed up with that sort of people.[Pg 40]



They were sad days in Sapps Court after Sister Nora bore Dave away to Chorlton-under-Bradbury; particularly for Dolly, whose tears bathed her pillow at night, and diluted her bread-and-milk in the morning. There was something very touching about this little maid's weeping in her sleep, causing Aunt M'riar to give her a cracknell biscuit—to consume if possible; to hold in her sleeping hand as a rapture of possession, anyhow. Dolly accepted it, and contrived to enjoy it slowly without waking. What is more, she stopped crying; and my belief is, if you ask me, that sleep having deprived her of the power of drawing fine distinctions, she mistook this biscuit for Dave. Its caput mortuum was still clasped to her bosom when, deep unconsciousness merging all distinctions in unqualified existence, she was having her sleep out next day.

Dolly may have felt indignant and hurt at the audacious false promises of her uncle and aunt as to Dave's return. He had come home, certainly, but badly damaged. It was a sad disappointment; the little woman's first experience of perfidy. Her betrayers made a very poor show of their attempts at compensation—toys and suchlike. There was a great dignity in Dolly's attitude towards these contemptible offerings of a penitent conscience. She accepted them, certainly, but put them away in her bots to keep for Dave. Her box—if one has to spell it right—was an overgrown cardboard box with "Silk Twill" written on one end, and blue paper doors to fold over inside. It had been used as a boat, but condemned as unseaworthy as soon as Dolly could not sit in it to be pushed about, the gunwale having split open amidships. Let us hope this is right, nautically.

Considered as a safe for the storage of valuables, Dolly's box would have acquitted itself better if fair play had been shown to it. Its lid should have been left on long enough to produce an impression, and not pulled off at frequent intervals to exhibit its contents. No sooner was an addition made to these than Dolly[Pg 41] would say, for instance, that she must s'ow Mrs. Picture upstairs the most recent acquisitions. Then she would insist on trying to carry it upstairs, but was not long enough in the arms, and Aunt M'riar had to do it for her in the end. Not, however, unwillingly, because it enabled her to give her mind to pinking or gauffering, or whatever other craft was then engaging her attention. We do not ourself know what pinking is, or gauffering; we have only heard them referred to. A vague impression haunts us that they fray out if not done careful. But this is probably valueless.

No doubt Dolly's visits upstairs in connection with this box were answerable for Aunt M'riar's having come to know a good deal about old Mrs. Prichard's—or, according to Dave and Dolly, Picture's—antecedents. A good deal, that is, when it came to be put together and liberally helped by inferences; but made up of very small deals—disjointed deals—in the form in which they were received by Aunt M'riar. As, for instance, on the occasion just referred to, shortly after Dave had gone on a visit to the tenant of the belted Earl, Uncle Mo having gone away for an hour, to spend it in the parlour of The Rising Sun, a truly respectable house where there were Skittles, and Knurr and Spell. He might, you see, be more than an hour: there was no saying for certain.

"I do take it most kind of you, ma'am," said Aunt M'riar for the fiftieth time, with departure in sight, "to keep an eye on the child. Some children nourishes a kind of ap'thy, not due to themselves, but constitutional in their systems, and one can leave alone without fear by reason of it. But Dolly is that busy and attentive, and will be up and doing, so one may easy spoil a tuck or stand down an iron too hot if called away sudden to see after the child."

The old woman seemed to Aunt M'riar to respond vaguely. She loved to have the little thing anigh her, and hear her clacket. "All my own family are dead and gone, barring one son," said she. And then added, without any consciousness of jarring ideas:—"He would be forty-five." Aunt M'riar tried in vain to think of some way of sympathizing, but was relieved from her self-imposed duty by the speaker continuing—"He was my youngest. Born at Macquarie Harbour in the old days. The boy was born up-country—yes, forty-five years agone."

"Not in England now, ma'am, I suppose," said Aunt M'riar, who could not see her way to anything else. The thought crossed her mind that, so far as she knew, no male visitor for the old tenant of the attics had so far entered the house.

The old woman shook her head slowly. "I could not say," she said. "I cannot tell you now if he be alive or dead." Then[Pg 42] she became drowsy, as old age does when it has talked enough; so, as Aunt M'riar had plenty to see to, she took her leave, Dolly remaining in charge as per contract.

Aunt M'riar passed on these stray fragments of old Mrs. Prichard's autobiography to Uncle Mo when he came in from The Rising Sun. The old boy seemed roused to interest by the mention of Van Diemen's Land. "I call to mind," said he, "when I was a youngster, hearing tell of the convicts out in those parts, and how no decent man could live in the place. Hell on Earth, they did say, those that knew." Thereupon old Mrs. Prichard straightway became a problem to Aunt M'riar. If there were none but convicts in Van Diemen's Land, and all Mrs. Prichard's boys were born there, the only chance of the old woman not having been the mother of a convict's children lay in her having been possibly the wife of a gaoler, at the best. And yet—she was such a nice, pretty old thing! Was it conceivable?

Then in subsequent similar interviews Aunt M'riar, inquisitive-like, tried to get further information. But very little was forthcoming beyond the fact that Mrs. Prichard's husband was dead. What supported the convict theory was that his widow never referred to any relatives of his or her own. Mrs. Burr, her companion or concomitant—or at least fellow-lodger—was not uncommunicative, but knew "less than you might expect" about her. Aunt M'riar cultivated this good woman with an eye to information, holding her up—as the phrase is now—at the stairfoot and inveigling her to tea and gossip. She was a garrulous party when you come to know her, was Mrs. Burr; and indeed, short of intimacy, she might have produced the same impression on any person well within hearing.

"Times and again," said she in the course of one such conversation, which had turned on the mystery of Mrs. Prichard's antecedents, "have I thought she was going to let on about her belongings, and never so much as a word! Times and again have I felt my tongue in the roof of my mouth, for curiosity to think what she would say next. And there, will you believe me, missis?—it was no better than so much silence all said and done! Nor it wasn't for want of words, like one sits meanin' a great deal and when it comes to the describin' of it just nowhere! She was by way of keeping something back, and there was I sat waiting for it, and guess-working round like, speculating, you might say, to think what it might be when it come. Thank you, ma'am—not another cup!"

"There's more in the pot, ma'am," said Aunt M'riar, looking[Pg 43] into it to see, near the paraffin lamp which smelt: they all did in those days. But Mrs. Burr had had three; and three does, mostly. If these excellent women's little inflections of speech, introduced thus casually, are puzzling, please supply inverted commas. Aunt M'riar organized the tea-tray to take away and wash up at the sink, after emptying saucer-superfluities into the slop-basin. Mrs. Burr referred to the advantages we enjoy as compared with our forbears, instancing especially our exemption from the worship of wooden images, Egyptian Idles—a spelling accommodated to meet an impression Mrs. Burr had derived from a Japanese Buddha—and suchlike, and Tea.

"However they did without it I cannot think," said she. "On'y, of course, not having to stitch, stitch, stitch from half-past six in the morning till bedtime made a difference." Her ideas of our ancestors were strongly affected by a copper-plate engraving in a print-shop window in Soho, even as idolatry had been presented to her by a Tea-Man and Grocer in Tottenham Court Road. It was Stothard's "Canterbury Pilgrims"—you know!—and consequently her moyen age had a falcon on its wrist, and a jester in attendance, invariably. "They was a good deal in the open air, and it tells," was her tribute to the memory of this plate. She developed the subject further, incidentally. "Tryin' on is a change, of course, but liable to temper, and vexatious when the party insists on letting out and no allowance of turn-over. The same if too short in front. What was I a-sayin'?... Oh, Mrs. Prichard—yes! You was inquiring, ma'am, about the length of time I had known her. Just four years this Christmas, now I think of it. Time enough and to spare to tell anything she liked—if she'd have liked. But you may take it from me, ma'am, on'y to go no further on any account, that Mrs. Prichard is not, as they say, free-spoke about her family, but on the contrary the contrairy." Mrs. Burr was unconsciously extending the powers of the English tongue, in varying one word's force by different accents.

Uncle Moses he cut in, being at home that time:—"Was you saying, ma'am, that the old widder-lady's husband had been a convict in Australia?"

Oh no!—Mrs. Burr had never got that far. So she testified. Aunt M'riar, speaking from the sink, where she was extracting out the tea-leaves from the pot, was for calling Uncle Moses over the coals. Anybody might soon be afraid to say anything, to have been running away with an idea like that. No one had ever said any such a thing. Indeed, the convict was entirely inferential, and had no foundation except in the fact that the old[Pg 44] woman's son had been born at Macquarie Harbour. Uncle Mo's impression that Van Diemen's Land was a sort of plague-spot on the planet—the bacilli of the plague being convicted criminals—was no doubt too well grounded. But it was only a hearsay of youth, and even elderly men may now fail to grasp the way folk spoke and thought of those remote horrors, the Penal Settlements, in the early days of last century—a century with whose years those of Uncle Moses, after babyhood, ran nearly neck and neck. That fellow-creatures, turned t'other way up, were in Hell at the Antipodes, and that it was so far off it didn't matter—that was the way the thing presented itself, and supplied the excuse for forgetting all about it. Uncle Mo had "heard tell" of their existence; but then they belonged to the criminal classes, and he didn't. If people belonged to the criminal classes it was their own look out, and they must take the consequences.

So that when the old boy referred to this inferential convict as a presumptive fact, the meaning of his own words had little force for himself. Even if the old lady's husband had been a convicted felon, it was now long enough ago to enable him to think of him as he thought of the chain-gangs eight thousand miles off as the crow flies—or would fly if he could go straight; the nearest way round mounts up to twelve. Anyhow, there was no more in the story than would clothe the widowhood of the upstairs tenant with a dramatic interest.

So, as it appeared that Mrs. Prichard's few words to Aunt M'riar were more illuminating than anything Mrs. Burr had to tell, and they really amounted to very little when all was said and done, there was at least nothing in the convict story to cause misgivings of the fitness of the upstairs attic to supply a haven of security for Dolly, while her aunt went out foraging for provisions; or when, as we have seen sometimes happened, Dolly became troublesome from want of change, and kep' up a continual fidget for this or that, distrackin' your—that is, Aunt M'riar's—attention.[Pg 45]



If this story should ever be retold by a skilful teller, his power of consecutive narrative and redisposition of crude facts in a better order will be sure to add an interest it can scarcely command in its present form. But it is best to make no pretence to niceties of construction, when a mere presentation of events is the object in view. The following circumstances in the life of old Mrs. Prichard constitute a case in point. The story might, so to speak, ask its reader's forgiveness for so sudden a break into the narrative. Consider that it has done so, and amend the tale should you ever retell it.

Maisie Runciman, born in the seventies of the previous century, and close upon eighty years of age at the time of this story, was the daughter of an Essex miller, who became a widower when she and her twin sister Phoebe were still quite children. His only other child, a son many years their senior, died not long after his mother, leaving them to the sole companionship of their father. He seems to have been a quarrelsome man, who had estranged himself from both his wife's relatives and his own. He also had that most unfortunate quality of holding his head high, as it is called; so high, in fact, that his twin girls found it difficult to associate with their village neighbours, and were driven back very much on their own resources for society. Their father's morose isolation was of his own choosing. He was, however, affectionate in a rough way to them, and their small household was peaceful and contented enough. The sisters, wrapped up in one another, as twins so often are, had no experience of any other condition of life, and thought it all right and the thing that should be.[Pg 46]

All went well enough—without discord anyhow, however monotonously—until Maisie and Phoebe began to look a little like women; which happened, to say the truth, at least a year before their father consented to recognise the fact, and permit them to appear in the robes of maturity. About that time the young males of the neighbourhood became aware, each in his private heart, of an adoration cherished for one or other of the beautiful twins from early boyhood. Would-be lovers began to buzz about like flies when fruit ripens. If any one of these youths had any doubt about the intensity and immutability of his passion, it vanished when the girls announced official womanhood by appearing at church in the costume of their seniors. Some students of the mysterious phenomena of Love have held that man is the slave of millinery, and that women are to all intents and purposes their skirts. It is too delicate a question for hurried discussion in a narrative which is neither speculative nor philosophical, but historical. All that concerns its writer is that no sooner did the costume of the miller's daughters suggest that they would be eligible for the altar, than they grew so dear, so dear, that everything masculine and unattached was ambitious to be the jewel that trembled at their ear, or the girdle about their dainty, dainty waist.

The worst of it for these girls was that their likeness to one another outwent that of ordinary twinship. It resembled that of the stage where the same actor personates both Dromios; and their life was one perpetual Comedy of Errors. Current jest said that they themselves did not know which was which. But they did know, perfectly well, and had no misgivings whatever about becoming permanently confused; even when, having been dressed in different colours to facilitate distinction, they changed dresses and produced a climax of complication. Even this was not so bad as when Phoebe had a tiff with Maisie—a rare thing between twins—and Maisie avenged herself by pretending to be Phoebe, affecting that all the latter's protests of identity were malicious misrepresentation. Who could decide when they themselves were not of a tale? What settled the matter in the end was that Phoebe cried bitterly at being misrepresented, while Maisie was so ill-advised as not to do the same, and even made some parade of triumph. "Yow are Maisie. I heerd yow a-crowun'," said an old stone-dresser, who, with other mill-hands, was referred to for an opinion.

This was when they were quite young, before slight variations of experience had altered appearance and character to the point of making them distinguishable when seen side by side. Not,[Pg 47] however, to the point of rendering impossible a trick each had played more than once on too importunate male acquaintances. What could be more disconcerting to the protestations of a rustic admirer than "Happen you fancy you are speaking to my sister Phoebe, sir?" from Maisie, or vice versa? It was absolutely impossible to nail either of these girls to her own identity, in the face of her denial of it in her sister's absence. Perhaps the only real confidence on the point that ever existed was their mother's, who knew the two babies apart—so she said—because one smelt of roses, the other of marjoram.

It may easily have been that the power of duping youth and shrewdness, as to which sister she really was, weighed too heavily with each of these girls in their assessment of the value of lovers' vows. And still more easily that—some three years later than the girlish jest related a page since—when Maisie, playing off this trick on a wild young son of the Squire's, was met by an indignant reproach for her attempted deception, she should have been touched by his earnestness and seeming insight into her inner soul, and that the incident should have become the cornerstone of a fatal passion for a damned scoundrel. "Oh, Maisie—Maisie!"—thus ran his protestation—"Dearest, best, sweetest of girls, how can you think to dupe me when your voice goes to my heart as no other voice ever can—ever will? How, when I know you for mine—mine alone—by touch, by sight, by hearing?" The poor child's innocent little fraud had been tried on a past-master in deception, and her own arrow glanced back to wound her, beyond cure perhaps. His duplicity was proved afterwards by the confession of his elder brother Ralph, a young man little better than himself, that the two girls had been the subject of a wager between them, which he had lost. This wager turned on which of the two should be first "successful" with one of the beautiful twins; and whether it showed only doubtful taste or infamous bad feeling depended on what interpretation was put on the word "success" by its perpetrators. A lenient one was possible so long as no worse came of it than that Thornton Daverill, the younger brother, became the accepted suitor of Maisie, and Ralph, the elder, the rejected one of Phoebe. Thornton's success was no doubt due in a great measure to Maisie's failure to mislead him about her identity, and Ralph's rejection possibly to the poor figure he cut when Phoebe played fast and loose with hers. That there was no truth or honour in Thornton's protestations to Maisie, or even honest loss of self-control under strong feeling, is evident from the fact that he told his brother[Pg 48] as a good joke that his power of distinguishing between the girls was due to nothing more profound than that Maisie always gave him her hand to shake and Phoebe only her fingers. Possibly this test would only have held good in the case of men outside the family. It was connected with some minute sensitiveness of feeling towards that class, not perceptible by any other.

But in whatever sense Thornton and Maisie were trothplight, her father opposed their marriage, although it would no doubt have been a social elevation for the miller's daughter. It must be admitted that for once the inexorable parent may have been in the right. Tales had reached him, unhappily too late to prevent the formation of an acquaintance between the young squires and his daughters, of the profligacies—dissoluteness with women and at the gaming-table—of both these young men. And it is little wonder that he resolutely opposed the union of Thornton and Maisie—she a girl of nineteen!—at least until there was some sign of reform in the youth, some turning from his evil ways.

It was a sad thing for Maisie that her father's exclusiveness had created so many obstacles to the associations of his daughters with older women. No one had ever taken the place of a mother to them. It is rare enough for even a mother to speak explicitly to her daughter of what folk mean when they tell of the risks a girl runs who weds with a man like Thornton Daverill. But she may do so in such a way as to excite suspicion of the reality, and it is hard on motherless girls that they should not have this slender chance. A father can do nothing, and old fulminations of well-worn Scriptural jargon—hers was an adept in texts—had not even the force of their brutal plain speech. For to these girls the speech was not plain—it was only what Parson read in Church. That described and exhausted it.

The rest of the story follows naturally—too naturally—from the position shown in the above hasty sketch. Old Isaac Runciman's ill-temper, combined with an almost ludicrous want of tact, took the form of forbidding Thornton Daverill the house. The student of the art of dragging lovers asunder cannot be too mindful of the fact that the more they see of each other, the sooner they will be ripe for separation. If Maisie had been difficult to influence when her father contented himself with saying that he forbade the marriage ex cathedra paternæ auctoritatis, she became absolutely intractable when, some time after, this authority went the length of interdicting communications. Secret interviews, about double the length of the public ones they supplanted, gave the indignant parent an excuse for locking the girl into her own[Pg 49] room. All worked well for the purpose of a thoroughly unprincipled scoundrel. Thornton, who would probably have married Maisie if nothing but legal possession had been open to him, saw his way to the same advantages without the responsibilities of marriage, and jumped at them. Do not blame Maisie overmuch for her share of what came about. The step she consented to was one of which the full meaning could only be half known to a girl of her age and experience. And the man into whose hands it threw her past recovery was in her eyes the soul of honour and chivalry—ill-judging, if at all, from the influence of a too passionate adoration for herself. Conception of the degree and nature of his wickedness was probably impossible to her; and, indeed, may have been so still—however strange it may seem—to the very old lady whom, under the name of Mrs. Prichard, Dolly Wardle used to visit in Sapps Court, "Mrs. Picture in the topackest" being the nearest shot she was able to make at her description.

Whether it was so or not, this old, old woman was the very selfsame Maisie that sixty odd years before lent a too willing ear to the importunities of a traitor, masquerading with a purpose; and ultimately consented to a runaway marriage with him, he being alone responsible for the arrangement of it and the legality of the wedding. The most flimsy mise en scène of a mock ceremony was sufficient to dupe a simplicity like hers; and therein was enacted the wicked old tragedy possible only in a world like ours, which ignores the pledge of the strong to the weak, however clearly that pledge may be attested, unless the wording of it jumps with the formularies of a sanctioned legalism. A grievous wrong was perpetrated, which only the dishonesty of Themis permits; for an honest lawgiver's aim should be to find means of enforcing a sham marriage, all the more relentlessly in proportion to the victim's innocence and the audacity of the imposture.

The story of Maisie's after-life need hardly have been so terrible, on the supposition that the prayer "God, have mercy upon us!" is ever granted. Surely some of the stabs in store for her need not have gone to the knife-hilt. Much information is lacking to make the tale complete, but what follows is enough. Listen to it and fill in the blanks if you can—with surmise of alleviation, with interstices of hypothetical happiness—however little warrant the known facts of the case may carry with them.

Thornton Daverill was destined to bring down Nemesis on his head by touching Themis on a sensitive point—monetary integrity. Within five years, a curious skill which he possessed of simulating[Pg 50] the handwriting of others, combined with a pressing want of ready money, led him to the commission of an act which turned out a great error in tactics, whatever place we assign it in morality. Morally, the forgery of a signature, especially if it be to bring about a diminution of cash in a well-filled pocket, is a mere peccadillo compared with the malversation of a young girl's life. Legally it is felony, and he who commits it may get as long a term of penal servitude as the murderer of whose guilt the jury is not confident up to hanging point.

The severity of the penal laws in the reign of George III. was due no doubt to a vindictiveness against the culprit which—in theory at any rate—is nowadays obsolete, legislation having for its object rather the discouragement of crime on the tapis than the meting out of their deserts to malefactors. In those days the indignation of a jury would rise to boiling-point in dealing with an offence against sacred Property, while its blood-heat would remain normal over the deception and ruin of a mere woman. Therefore the jury that tried Thornton Daverill for forging the signature of Isaac Runciman on the back of a promissory note found the accused guilty, and the judge inflicted the severest penalty but one that Law allows. For Thornton might have been hanged.

But neither judge nor jury seemed much interested in the convict's behaviour to the daughter of the man he had tried to swindle out of money. On the contrary, they jumped to the conclusion that his wife was morally his accomplice; and, indeed, if it had not been for her great beauty she would very likely have gone to the galleys too. There was, however, this difference between their positions, that the prosecution was dependent on her father's affidavit to prove that the signature was a forgery, and so long as only the man he hated was legally involved, he was to be relied on to adhere to his first disclaimer of it. Had Maisie been placed beside her husband in the dock, how easily her father might have procured the liberation of both by accepting his liability—changing his mind about the signature and discharging the amount claimed! If the continuance of the prosecution had depended on either payer or payee, this would have been the end of it. What the creditor—a usurer—wanted was his money, not revenge. Indeed, Thornton would never have been made the subject of a criminal indictment at his instance, except to put pressure on Isaac Runciman for payment for his daughter's sake.

The bringing of the case into Court created a new position. An accommodation that would have been easy enough at first—an excusable compounding of a felony—became impossible under[Pg 51] the eyes of the Bench. And this more especially because one of the Judges of Assize who tried the case acquired an interest in Maisie analogous to the one King David took in the wife of Uriah the Hittite, and perceived the advantages he would derive if this forger and gambler was packed off to a life far worse than the death the astute monarch schemed for the great-hearted soldier who was serving him. Whether the two were lawfully man and wife made no difference to this Judge. Maisie's devotion to her scoundrel was the point his lordship's legal acumen was alive to, and he himself was scarcely King of Israel. One wonders sometimes—at least, the present writer has done so—what Bathsheba's feelings were on the occasion referred to. We can only surmise, and can do little more in the case of Maisie. The materials for the retelling of this story are very slight. Their source may be referred to later. For the moment it must be content with the bare facts.

This Bathsheba was able to say "Hands off!" to her King David, and also able—but Heaven knows how!—to keep up a correspondence with the worthless parallel of the Hittite throughout the period of his detention in an English gaol, or, it may be, on the river hulks, until his deportation in a convict ship to Sydney, from which place occasional letters reached her, which were probably as frequent as his opportunities of sending them, until, a considerable time later—perhaps as much as five years; dates are not easy to fix—one came saying that he expected shortly to be transferred to the new penal settlement in Van Diemen's Land.

At the beginning of last century the black hulks on the Thames and elsewhere were known and spoken of truly as "floating Hells." Any penal colony was in one point worse; he who went there left Hope behind, so far as his hopes were centred in his native land. For to return was Death.

After his transfer to Van Diemen's Land, no letter reached her for some months. Then came news that Thornton had benefited by the extraordinary fulness of the powers granted to the Governors of these penal settlements, who practically received the convicts on lease for the term of their service. They were, in fact, slaves. But this told well for Maisie's husband, whose father had been at school with the then supreme authority at Macquarie Harbour. This got him almost on his arrival a ticket-of-leave, by virtue of which he was free within the island during good behaviour. He soon contrived, by his superior education and manners, to get a foothold in a rough community, and saw his way[Pg 52] to rising in the world, even to prosperity. In a very short time, said a later letter, he would save enough to pay Maisie's passage out, and then she could join him. The only redeeming trait the story shows of this man is his strange confidence that this girl, whom he had cruelly betrayed, would face all the terrors of a three-months' sea-voyage and travel, alone in a strange land, to become the slave and helpless dependent of a convict on ticket-of-leave.

She had returned to her father's house a year after the trial, her sister having threatened to leave it unless her father permitted her to do so, taking with her her two children; a very delicate little boy, born in the first year of her marriage, and a girl baby only four months old, which had come into the world eight months after its wretched parent's conviction. During this life at her father's the little boy died. He had been christened, after his father and uncle, Phoebe's rejected suitor—Ralph Thornton Daverill. The little girl she had baptized by the name of Ruth. This little Ruth she took with her, when, on Phoebe's marriage two years later, she went to live at the house of the new-married couple; and one would have said that the twins lived in even closer union than before, and that nothing could part them again.

It would have been a mistake. Within three years Maisie received a letter enclosing a draft on a London bank for more than her passage-money, naming an agent who would arrange for her in everything, and ending with a postscript:—"Come out at once." Shortly after, no change having been noticeable in her deportment, except, perhaps, an increased tenderness to her child and her sister, she vanished suddenly; leaving only a letter to Phoebe, full of contrition for her behaviour, but saying that her first duty was towards her husband. She had not dared to take with her her child, and it had been a bitter grief to her to forsake it, but she knew well that it would have been as great a bitterness to Phoebe to lose it, as she was herself childless at the time; and, indeed, her only consolation was that Phoebe would still continue to be, as it were, a second mother to "their child," which was the light in which each had always looked upon it.

Both of them seemed to have been under an impression that only one of two twins can ever become a mother. Whether there is any foundation for this, or whether it is a version of a not uncommon belief that twins are always childless, the story need not stop to inquire. It was falsified in this case by the birth of a son to Phoebe, en secondes noces, many years later. But this hardly touches the story, as this son died in his childhood. All[Pg 53] that is needed to be known at present is that, as the result of Maisie's sudden disappearance, Phoebe was left in sole possession of her four-year-old daughter, to whose young mind it was a matter of indifference which of two almost indistinguishable identities she called by the name of mother. With a little encouragement she accepted the plenary title for the then childless woman to whom the name gave pleasure, and gradually forgot the mother who had deserted her; who, in the course of very little time, became the shadow of a name. All she knew then was that this mother had gone away in a ship; and, indeed, for months after little more was known to her aunt.

However, a brief letter did come from the ship, just starting for Sydney, and the next long-delayed one announced her arrival there, and how she had been met at the port by an agent who would make all arrangements for her further voyage. How this agency managed to get her through to Hobart Town in those days is a mystery, for there was no free immigration to the island till many years after, only transports from New South Wales being permitted to enter the port. She got there certainly, and was met by her husband at the ship. And well for her that it was so, for in those days no woman was safe by herself for an hour in that country.

It may seem wonderful that so vile a man should have set himself to consult the happiness of a woman towards whom he was under no obligation. But her letters to her sister showed that he did so; and those who have any experience of womanless lands men have to dwell in, whether or no, know that in such lands the market-value of a good sample is so far above rubies, that he who has one, and could not afford another if he lost the first, will be quite kind and nice and considerate to his treasure, in case King Solomon should come round, with all the crown-jewels to back him and his mother's valuation to encourage a high bid. Phoebe had for four or five years the satisfaction of receiving letters assuring her of her sister's happiness and of the extraordinary good fortune that had come to the reformed gambler and forger, whose prison-life had given him a distaste for crimes actively condemned by Society.

Among the items of news that these letters contained were the births of two boys. The elder was called Isaac after his grandfather at the urgent request of Maisie; but on condition that if another boy came he should be called Ralph Thornton, a repetition of the name of her first baby, which died in England. This is done commonly enough with a single name, but the duplication is exceptional. Whether the name was actually used for the[Pg 54] younger child Phoebe never knew. Probably a letter was lost containing the information.

When Isaac Runciman died Phoebe wrote the news of his death to Maisie and received no reply from her. In its stead—that is to say, at about the time it would have been due—came a letter from Thornton Daverill announcing her sister's death in Australia. It was a brief, unsatisfying letter. Still, she hoped to receive more details, especially as she had followed her first letter, telling of her father's death, with another a fortnight later, giving fuller particulars of the occurrence. In due course came a second letter from her brother-in-law, professing contrition for the abruptness of his first, but excusing it on the ground that he was prostrated with grief at the time, and quite unable to write. He added very full and even dramatic particulars of her sister's death, giving her last message to her English relatives, and so forth.

But that sister was not dead. And herein follow the facts that have come to light of the means her husband employed to make her seem so, and of his motives for employing them.

To see these clearly you must keep in mind that Thornton was tied for life within the limits of the penal settlements. Maisie was free to go; with her it was merely a question of money. As time went on, her yearning to see her child and her twin-sister again grew and grew, and her appeals to her husband to allow her sometime to revisit England in accordance with his promise became every year more and more urgent. He would be quite a rich man soon—why should she not? Well—simply that she might not come back! That was his view, and we have to bear in mind that it would have been impossible for him to replace her, except from among female convicts assigned to settlers; nominally as servants, but actually as mates on hire—suppose we call them. One need not say much of this unhappy class; it is only mentioned to show that Thornton could have found no woman to take the place of the beautiful and devoted helpmeet whose constancy to him had survived every trial. No wonder he was ill at ease with the idea of her adventuring back to England alone. But it took a mind as wicked as his to conceive and execute the means by which he prevented it. It seems to have been suggested by the fact that the distribution of letters in his district had been assigned to him by the Governor. This made it easy to deliver them or keep them back, when it was in his interest to do so, without fear of detection. The letters coming from England were few indeed, so he was able to examine them at leisure.

At first he was content to withhold Phoebe's letters, hoping that[Pg 55] Maisie would be satisfied with negative evidence of her death, which he himself suggested as the probable cause of their suspension. But when this only increased her anxiety to return to her native land, he cast about for something he could present as direct proof. The death of her father supplied the opportunity. A black-edged sheet came, thickly written with Phoebe's account of his last illness, in ink which, as the event showed, did not defy obliteration. Probably Thornton had learned, among malefactors convicted of his own offence, secrets of forgery that would seem incredible to you or me. He contrived to obliterate this sheet all but the date-stamps outside, and then—the more readily that he had been informed that only fraud for gain made forgery felony—elaborated as a palimpsest a most careful letter in the handwriting of the father announcing Phoebe's own death, and also that of the daughter whom Maisie had bequeathed to her care. He must have been inspired and upborne in this difficult task by the spirit of a true artist. No doubt all faussure, to any person with an accommodating moral sense, is an unmixed delight. This letter remains, and has been seen by the present writer and others. The dexterity of the thing almost passes belief, only a few scarcely perceptible traces of the old writing being visible, the length of the new words being so chosen as to hide most of the old ones. What is even more incredible is that the original letter from Phoebe was deciphered at the British Museum by the courtesy of the gentlemen engaged in the deciphering and explanation of obscure inscriptions.

The elaborate fiction the forger devised may have been in part due to a true artist's pleasure in the use of a splendid opportunity, such as might never occur again. But on close examination one sees that it was little more than a skilful recognition of the exigencies of the case. The object of the letter was to remove once and for ever all temptation to Maisie to return to her native land. Now, so long as either her sister or her little girl were living in England the old inducement would be always at work. Why not kill them both, while he had the choice? It would be more troublesome to produce proof of the death of either, later. But he mistrusted his skill in dealing with fatal illness. A blunder might destroy everything. Stop!—he knew something better than that. Had not the transport that brought him out passed a drowned body afloat, and wreckage, even in the English Channel? Shipwreck was the thing! He decided on sending Nicholas Cropredy, his wife's brother-in-law, across the Channel on business—to Antwerp, say—and making Phoebe and little Ruth go out[Pg 56] to nurse him through a fever. Their ship could go to the bottom, with a stroke of his pen. Only, while he was about it, why not clear away the brother-in-law—send them all out in the same ship? No—that would not do! Where would the motive be, for all those three to leave England? A commercial mission for the man alone would be quite another thing. Very perplexing!... Yes—no—yes!... There—he had got it! Let them go out and nurse him through a fever, and all be drowned together, returning to England.

That was a triumph. And the finishing touch to the narrative he based on it was really genius. Little hope was entertained of the recovery of the remains, but it was not impossible. The writer's daughter might rest assured that if any came to the surface, and were identified, they should be interred in the family grave where her mother reposed in the Lord, in the sure and certain hope of a joyful resurrection.

Was it to be wondered at that so skilful a contrivance duped an unsuspicious mind like Maisie's? The only thing that could have excited suspicion was that the letter had been delayed a post—time, you see, was needed for the delicate work of forgery—and the date of despatch from London was in consequence some two months too old. But then the letter was of the same date; indeed, the forgery was a repeat of the letter it effaced, wherever this was possible. Besides, the delay of a letter from England could never occasion surprise.

She took the sealed paper from her husband, breaking the seals with feverish haste, and destroying the only proof that it had been opened on the way. For the wax, of course, broke, as her husband had foreseen, on its old fractures, where he had parted them carefully and reattached them with some similar wax dissolved in spirit. He watched her reading the letter, not without an artist's pride at her absolute unsuspicion, and then had to undergo a pang of fear lest the news should kill her. For she fell insensible, only to remain for a long time prostrate with grief, after a slow and painful revival.

There was little need for Thornton to reply to Phoebe's letter that he had effaced. Nevertheless, he did so; partly, perhaps, from the pleasure he naturally took in playing out the false rôle he had assigned himself. Yes—he was a widower. But the poignancy of his grief had prevented him writing all the particulars of his wife's death. He now gave the story of the death of a woman on a farm near, with changed names and some clever addenda, the composition of which amused his leisure and gratified[Pg 57] a spirit of falsehood which might, more fortunately employed, have found an outlet in literary fiction. The effect of this letter on Phoebe was to satisfy her so completely of her sister's death that, had it ever been called in question, she would have been the hardest to convert to a belief in the contrary. On the other hand, Maisie's belief in her death was equally assured, and her quasi-husband rested secure in his confidence that nothing would now induce her to leave him. Should he ever wish to be rid of her, he had only to confess his deception, and pack her off to seek her sister. That no news ever came of her father's death was not a matter of great surprise to Maisie. She had no surviving correspondent in England who would have written about it. Her husband may have practised some finesse later to convince her of it, but its details are not known to the writer of the story.

They, however, were never parted until, twenty years later, his death left Maisie a widow, as she believed. It would have been well for her had it been so, for he died after making that very common testamentary mistake—a too ingenious will. It left to "my third son Ralph Thornton Daverill," on coming of age, all his property after "my wife Maisie, née Runciman," had received the share she was "legally entitled to." But she was unable to produce proof of her marriage when called on to do so, and was, of course, legally entitled to nothing. Thornton had been so well off that "widow's thirds" would have placed her in comfortable circumstances. As it was, the whole of his property went to her only surviving son, a youth who had inherited, with some of his father's good looks, all his bad principles; and in addition a taint—we may suppose—of the penal atmosphere in which he was born. But there was not a shadow of doubt about his being the person named in the will. Perhaps, if it had been worded "my lawful son," Themis would have jibbed.

The young man, on coming of age, acquired control of the whole of his father's property, and soon started on a career of extravagance and debauchery. His mother, however, retained some influence over him, and persuaded him, a year later, before he had had time to dissipate the whole of his inheritance, to return with her to England, hoping that the moral effect of a change from the gaol-bird atmosphere of felony that hung over the whole land of his birth would develop whatever germ of honour or right feeling he possessed.

She was not very sanguine, for his boyhood had been a cruel affliction to her. And the results showed that whatever hopes she had entertained were ill-founded. Arrived in London, with[Pg 58] money still at command, he plunged at once into all the dissipations of the town, and it became evident that in the course of a year or so he would run through the remainder of his patrimony.

About this time he met with an experience which now and then happens to men of his class. He fell violently in love—or in what he called love—with a girl who had very distinct ideas on the subject of marriage. One was that the first arrangement of their relations which suggested themselves to her lover were not to be entertained, and therefore she refused to entertain them. He tried ridicule, indignation, and protestation—all in vain! She appeared not to object to persecution—rather liked it. But she held out no hopes except legitimate ones. At last, when the young man was in a sense desperate—not in a very noble sense, but desperate for all that—she intimated to him that, unless he was prepared to accept her scheme of life, she knew a very respectable young man who was; a young man in Smithfield Market with whom she had walked out, and you could never have told. Which means that this young man disguised himself so subtly on Sunday to go into Society, that none would have guessed that he passed the week in contact with grease and blood, and dared to twist the tails of bullocks in revolt against their fate, shrinking naturally from the axe. His intentions were, nevertheless, honourable, and Polly, the barmaid at the One Tun Inn, honoured them, while her affections were disposed towards her Australian suitor whose intentions were not. The young reprobate, however, had to climb down; but he made his surrender conditional on one thing—that his marriage with Polly should remain a secret. No doubt parallel enterprises would have been interrupted by its publication. Anyhow, his mother never knew of his marriage, nor set eyes on her daughter-in-law.

His marriage was, in fact, merely a means to an end, and was a most reluctant concession to circumstances on his part. It was true he deprived himself of all chance of offering the same terms again for the same goods, unless, indeed, he ran the risks of a bigamist. But what can a man do under such circumstances? He is what he is, and it does seem a pity sometimes that he was made in the image of God, whether for God's sake or his own. Young Daverill's end attained, he flung away his prize almost without a term of intermediate neglect to save his face. She, poor soul, who had lived under the impression that all men were "like that" but that honourable marriage "reformed" them, was desperate at first when she found her mistake. Her "lawful husband," having attained his end, announced[Pg 59] his weariness of lawful marriage with a candour even coarser than that of Browning's less lawful possessor of Love—he who "half sighed a smile in a yawn, as 'twere." He replied, to all Polly's passionate claims to him as a legal right, and hints that she could and would enforce her position:—"Try it on, Poll—you and your lawyers!" And, indeed, we have never been able to learn how the strong arm of the Law enforces marital obligations; barring mere cash payments, of which Polly's attitude was quite oblivious. Moreover, he was at that time prepared with money, and did actually maintain his wife up to the point of every possible legal compulsion until the end of his solvency, not a very long period.

For his life-drama, or the first act of it, was soon played out. It was substantially his father's over again. He ran through what was left of his money in a little over a year—so splendid were the gambler's opportunities in these days; for the Georgian era had still a short lease of years to run, and folly dies hard. His attempts to reinstate himself at the expense of a Bank, by a simple process of burglary, in partnership with a professional hand whose acquaintance he had made at "The Tun," led to disastrous failure and the summary conviction of both partners.

None of this came to the knowledge of his wife, as how should it? He wrote no news of it to her, and their relation was known to very few. Moreover, the burglary was in Bristol and Polly was at a farmhouse in Lincolnshire, awaiting a birth which only added another grief to her life, for her child was born dead. She recovered from a long illness which swallowed up the remains of the money her husband had given her, to find herself destitute and minus most of the good looks which had obtained for her her previous situation. She succeeded thereafter in maintaining herself by needlework—she was an adept in that—and so avoided becoming an incumbrance on her family, which she could no longer help now as she had done in her prosperity. But of her worthless husband's fate she never knew anything, the trial having taken place during an illness which nearly ended all her miseries for her. By the time she was on the way to recovery it would have been difficult to trace her husband, even had she had any motive for doing so.

As for him—a convict and the son of a convict—his period of detention in the hulks on the Thames was followed by the usual voyage to the Antipodes; but this time the vessel into which he was transhipped at Sydney sailed for Norfolk Island, not Hobart Town nor Macquarie Harbour. Maisie's son was not destined to revisit the land of his birth. The early deliverance from actual[Pg 60] bondage to a condition free in all but the name, which had led to his father's successful later career, was impossible in an island half the size of the Isle of Wight, and the man grew to his surroundings. A soul ready to accept the impress of every stamp of depravity in the mint of vice was soon well beyond the reach of any possible redemption in contact with the moral vileness of the prisons on what was, but for their contamination, one of the loveliest islands in the Pacific.

After his departure his mother may have been influenced by a wish to obliterate her whole past, and this wish may have been the cause of her adoption of a name not her own. Some lingering reluctance to make her severance from her own belongings absolute may have dictated the choice of the name of Prichard, which was that of an old nurse of her childhood, who had stood by her mother's dying bed. It would serve every reasonable purpose of disguise without grating on memories of bygone times. A shred of identity was left to cling to. It is less clear why the quasi-daughter whom she had never seen should have repudiated her married name. Polly was under no obligation not to call herself Mrs. Daverill, unless it were compliance with her promise to keep the marriage secret. She, however, acquiesced in the Mrs., and supplied a name as a passport to a respectable widowhood. But she did not dress the part very vigorously, and report soon accepted the husband as a bad lot and a riddance. Nothing very uncommon in that!



If the daylight were not so short in October at Chorlton-under-Bradbury, in Rocestershire, that month would quite do for summer in as many autumns as not. As it is, from ten till five, the sun that comes to say goodbye to the apples, that will all be plucked[Pg 61] by the end of the month, is so strong that forest trees are duped, and are ready to do their part towards a green Yule if only the midday warmth will linger on to those deadly small hours of the morning, when hoarfrost gets the thin end of its wedge into the almanack, and sleepers go the length of coming out of bed for something to put over their feet, and end by putting it over most of their total. From ten till five, at least, the last swallows seem to be reconsidering their departure, and the skylarks to be taking heart, and thinking they can go on ever so much longer. Then, not unfrequently, day falls in love with night for the sake of the moonrise, and dies of its passion in a blaze of golden splendour. But the memory of her does not live long into the heart of the night, as it did in the long summer twilights. Love cools and the dews fall, and the winds sing dirges in the elms through the leaves they will so soon scatter about the world without remorse; and then one morning the grass is crisp with frost beneath the early riser's feet, and he finds the leaves of the ash all fallen since the dawn, a green, still heap below their old boughs stript and cold. And he goes home and has all sorts of things for breakfast, being in England.

But no early riser had had this experience at Chorlton-under-Bradbury on that October afternoon when Dave Wardle, personally conducted by Sister Nora, and very tired with travelling from a distant railway-station—the local line was not there in the fifties—descended from the coach or omnibus at the garden gate of Widow Thrale, the good woman who was going to feed him, sleep him, and enjoy his society during convalescence.

The coach or omnibus touched its hat and accepted something from Sister Nora, and went on to the Six Bells in High Street, where the something took the form of something else to drink, which got into its head. The High Street was very wide, and had more water-troughs for horses than recommended themselves to the understanding. But they might have succeeded in doing so before the railway came in these parts, turning everything to the rightabout, as Trufitt phrased it at the Bells. There were six such troughs within a hundred yards; and, as their contents never got into the horses' heads, what odds if there were? When the world was reasonable and four or five horns were heard blowing at once, often enough, in the high road, no one ever complained, that old Trufitt ever heard tell of. So presumably there were no odds.

Widow Thrale lived with an old lady of eighty, who was also[Pg 62] a widow; or, one might have said, even more so, seeing that her widowhood was a double one, her surname, Marrable, being the third she had borne. She was, however, never called Widow Marrable, but always Granny Marrable; and Dave's hostess, who was to take charge of him, was not her daughter, as might have seemed most probable, but a niece who had filled the place of a daughter to her and was always so spoken of. What an active and vigorous octogenarian she was may be judged from the fact that, at the moment of the story, she was taking on herself the task of ushering into the world her first great-grandchild, the son or daughter—as might turn out—of her granddaughter, Maisie Costrell, the only daughter of Widow Thrale. For this young woman had ordained that "Granny" should officiate as high-priestess on this occasion, and we know it is just as well to give way to ladies under such circumstances.

So when Dave and Sister Nora were deposited by the coach at Strides Cottage, it was Widow Thrale who received them. She did not produce on the lady the effect of a bona-fide widow of fifty-five—this description had been given of her—not so much because of the non-viduity of her costume, for that was temperate and negative, as because Time seemed to have let his ravages stand over for the present. Very few casual observers would have guessed that she was over forty-five. Ruth Thrale—that was her name in full—had two sons surviving of her own family, both at sea, and one daughter, Maisie Costrell aforesaid. So she was practically now without incumbrances, and terribly wanting some to kiss, had hit upon the expedient of taking charge of invalid children and fostering them up to kissing-point. They were often poor, wasted little articles enough at the first go off, but Mrs. Ruth usually succeeded in making them succulent in a month or so. It was exasperating, though, to have them go away just as they were beginning to pay for fattening. The case was analogous to that of an ogress balked of her meal, after going to no end of expense in humanised cream and such-like.

All the ogress rose in her heart when she saw our little friend Dave Wardle. But she was very careful about his stiff leg. Her eyes gleamed at the opportunities he would present for injudicious overfeeding—or suppose we say stuffing at once and have done with it. A banquet was ready prepared for him, to which he was adapted in a chair of suitable height, and which he began absorbing into his system without apparently registering any date of completion. You must not imagine he had been stinted of food on the journey: indeed, he may be said to have been taking[Pg 63] refreshment more or less all the way from London. But he was one of the sort that can go steadily on, converting helpings into small boy, apparently without intermediate scientific events—gastric juice and blood-corpuscles, and so forth. He was able to converse affably the while, accepting suggestions as to method in the spirit in which they were given. In reporting his remarks the spelling cannot be too phonetical; if unintelligible at first, read them literally aloud to a hearer who does not see the letterpress. The conversation had turned on Dave's accident.

"Oy sawed the firing gin coming, and oy said to stoarp, and the firing gin didn't stoarpt, and it said whoy—whoy—whoy!" This was an attempt to render the expressive cry of the brigade; now replaced, we believe, by a tame bell. "Oy sawed free men shoyning like scandles, and Dolly sawed nuffink—no, nuffink!" The little man's voice got quite sad here. Think what he had seen and Dolly had missed!

Mrs. Ruth was harrowed by what the child must have suffered. She expressed her feelings to Sister Nora. Not, however, without Dave catching their meaning. He was very sharp.

"It hurted at the Hospital," said he. That is, the accident itself had been too sudden and overwhelming to admit of any estimate of the pain it caused; the suffering came with the return of consciousness. Then he added, rather inexplicably:—"It didn't hurted Dolly."

Sister Nora, looking with an amused, puzzled face at the small absurdity, assimilating suitable nourishment and wrestling with his mother-tongue at its outset, said:—"Why didn't it hurted Dolly, I wonder?" and them illuminated:—"Oh—I see! It balances Dolly's account. Dolly was the loser by not seeing the fire-engine, but she escaped the accident. Of course!" Whereupon the ogress said with gravity, after due reflection: "I think you are right, ma'am." She then pointed out to Dave that well-regulated circles sit still at their suppers, whereas he had allowed his feelings, on hearing his intelligibility confirmed, to break out in his legs and kick those of the table. He appeared to believe his informant, and to determine to frame his behaviour for the future on the practices of those circles. But he should have taken his spoon out of his mouth while forming this resolution.

He then, as one wishing to entertain in Society, went on to detail his experiences in the Hospital, giving first—as it is always well to begin at the beginning—the names of the staff as he had mastered them. There was Dr. Dabtinkle, or it might have been Damned Tinker, a doubtful name; and Drs. Inkstraw, Jarbottle,[Pg 64] and Toby. His hearers were able to identify the names of Dalrymple, Inglethorpe, and Harborough. They were at work on Toby, who defied detection, when it became evident that sleep was overwhelming their informant. He was half roused to be put in a clean nightgown that smelt of lavender, and then curled round his hands and forgot the whole Universe.

"What a nice little man he is!" said Sister Nora. "He's quite a baby still, though he's more than six. Some of the London children are so old. But this child's people seem nice and old-fashioned, although his uncle was a prizefighter."

"Laws-a-me!" said Mrs. Ruth. "To think of that now! A prizefighter!" And she had to turn back to Dave's crib, which they were just leaving, to see whether this degraded profession had set its stamp on her prey.... No, it was all right! She could gloat over that sleeping creature without misgiving.

"I've just thought who Toby is," said Sister Nora. "Of course, it's Dr. Trowbridge, the head surgeon. I fancy, now I come to think of it, the juniors are apt to speak of him without any Dr. I don't know why. I shall tell Dr. Damned Tinker his name.... Oh no—he won't be offended."

Sister Nora was driven away to the mansion of her noble relative, three miles off, in a magnificent carriage that was sent for her, in which she must have felt insignificant. Perhaps she got there in time to dress for dinner, perhaps not. Wearers of uniforms wash and brush up: they don't dress.

She reappeared at Mrs. Marrable's cottage two days later, in the same vehicle, accompanied by the Countess her aunt, who remained therein. Dave was brought out to make her acquaintance, but not to be taken for a long drive—only a very short one, just up and down and round, because Sister Nora wouldn't be more than five minutes. He was relieved when he found himself safe inside the carriage with her, out of the way of her haughty and overdressed serving-men, whom he mistrusted. The coachman, Blencorn, was too high up in the air for human intercourse. Dave found the lady in the carriage more his sort, and told her, in Sister Nora's absence—she having vanished into the house—many interesting experiences of country life. The ogress had taken off his clean shirt, which he had felt proud of, and looked forward to a long acquaintance with; substituting another, equally good, perhaps, but premature. She had fed him well; he gave close particulars of the diet, laying especial stress on the fact that he had requisitioned the outside piece, presumably of the loaf, but possibly of some cake. Her ladyship seemed to think its provenance[Pg 65] less important than its destination. She was able to identity from her own experience a liquid called scream, of which Dave had bespoken a large jug full, to be taken to Dolly on his return home. He went on to relate how he had been shown bees, a calf, and a fool with long legs; about which last the lady was for a moment at fault, having pictured to herself a Shakespearean one with a bauble. It proved to be a young horse, a very young one, whose greedy habits Dave described with a simple but effective directness. But he was destined to puzzle his audience by his keen interest in something that was on the mantleshelf, his description of which seemed to relate to nothing this lady's recollection of Strides interior supplied.

"What on earth does the little man mean by a water-cart on the mantelshelf, Mrs. Thrale?" said the Countess on leavetaking. The widow had come out to reclaim her young charge, who seemed not exactly indignant but perceptibly disappointed, at her ladyship's slowness of apprehension. He plunged afresh into his elucidation of the subject. There was a water-cart with four horses, to grind the flour to make the bread, behind a glast on the chimley-shelf. He knew he was right, and appealed to Europe for confirmation, more to reinstate his character for veracity than to bring the details of the topic into prominence.

"That is entirely right, my lady," said Widow Thrale, apologetic for contradiction from her duty to conscience on the one hand, and her reluctance to correct her superiors on the other, but under compulsion from the former. "Quite correct. He's chattering about my grandfather's model of his mill. He doesn't mean water-cart. He means water-mill. Only there's a cart with horses in the yard. It's a hundred years old. It's quite got between the child's mind and his reason, and he wants to see it work like I've told him."

"Yes," said Dave emphatically, "with water in the cistern." He stopped suddenly—you may believe it or not—because of a misgiving crossing his mind that he was using some of Sister Nora's name too freely. Find out where for yourself.

However, nothing of the sort seemed to cross anyone else's mind, so Dave hoped he was mistaken. His hostess proceeded to explain why she could not gratify his anxiety to see this contrivance at work. "I could show it to him perfectly well," she said, "only to humour a fancy of Granny's. She never would have anyone touch it but herself, so we shall have to have patience, some of us." Dave wondered who the other spectators would be when the time came—would the Countess be one of them? And[Pg 66] would she get down and come into the house, or have it brought out for her to see in the carriage?

Mrs. Thrale continued:—"I should say it hadn't been set a-going now for twenty years.... No, more! It was for the pleasuring and amusement of my little half-brother Robert she made it work, and we buried him more years ago than that." And then they talked about something else, which Dave did not closely follow, because he was so sorry for Mrs. Thrale. He could not resist the conviction that her little half-brother Robert was dead. Because, if not, they surely never would have buried him. He was unable to work this out to a satisfactory conclusion, because Sister Nora was waiting to resume her place in the carriage, and he had no sooner surrendered it to her than the lateness of the hour was recognised, and the distinguished visitors drove away in a hurry.

Although Mrs. Marrable had gone away from home ostensibly to welcome into the world a great-grandchild, the announcement that one had arrived preceded her return nearly a week. Other instances might be adduced of very old matriarchs who have imagined themselves Juno, as she certainly did. Juno, one may reasonably suppose, did not feel free to depart until matters had been put on a comfortable footing. Of course, the goddess had advantages; omnipresence, for instance, or at least presence at choice. One official visit did not monopolize her. Old Mrs. Marrable—Granny Marrable par excellence—had but one available personality, and had to be either here or there, never everywhere! So Dave and another convalescent had Strides Cottage all to themselves and their ogress, for awhile.

The country air did wonders for the London child. This is always the case, and contains the truth that only strong children outlive their babyhood in London, and these become normal when they are removed to normal human conditions. Dave began becoming the robust little character Nature had intended him to be, and evidently would soon throw off the ill-effects of his accident, with perhaps a doubt about how long the leg would be stiff.

So by the time Granny Marrable returned into residence she was not confronted with an invalid still plausibly convalescent, but an eatable little boy, from the ogress point of view, who used a crutch when reminded of his undertaking to do so. Otherwise he preferred to neglect it; leaving it on chairs or on the settle by the fireplace, like Ariadne on Naxos; evidently feeling, when he was recalled to his duty towards it, as Theseus might have felt if remonstrated with by Minos for his desertion of his daughter.[Pg 67] In reinstating it he would be acting for the crutch's sake. And why should he trouble to do this, when the other little boy, Marmaduke, who had nothing whatever the matter with his leg, was always ambitious to use this crutch, or scrutch. He was the Dionysos of the metaphor.

However, the crutch was not in question when Dave first set eyes on Granny Marrable. It was at half-past seven o'clock on a cold morning, when the last swallow had departed, and the skylarks were flagging, and the tragedy of the ash-leaves was close at hand, that Dave awoke reluctantly from a remote dream-world with Dolly in it, and Uncle Mo, and Aunt M'riar, and Mrs. Picture upstairs, to hear a voice, that at first seemed Mrs. Picture's in the dream, saying: "Well, my little gentleman, you do sleep sound!"

But it wasn't Mrs. Prichard's, or Picture's, voice; it was Granny Marrable's. For all her eighty years, she had walked from Costrell's farm, her great-grandson's birthplace, three miles off, or thereabouts; and had arrived at her own door, ten minutes since, quite fresh after an hour's walk. She was that sort of old woman.

Dave was almost as disconcerted as when he woke at the Hospital and saw no signs of his home, and no old familiar faces. He sat up in bed and wrestled with his difficulties, his eyelids being among the chief. If he rubbed them hard enough, no doubt the figure before him would cease to be Mrs. Picture, even as the other figure the dream had left had ceased to be Aunt M'riar, and had become Widow Thrale. Not but that he would have accepted her as Mrs. Picture, being prepared for almost anything since his accident, if it had not been for the expression, "My little gentleman," which quarrelled with her seeming identity. Oh no!—if he rubbed away hard enough at those eyes with his nightgown-sleeve, this little matter would right itself. Of course, Mrs. Picture would have called him Doyvy, or the name he gave that inflection to.

"Child!—you'll rub your pretty eyes out that fashion," said Granny Marrable. And she uncrumpled Dave's small nightgown-sleeve the eyes were in collision with, and disentangled their owner from the recesses of his bedclothes. Then Dave was quite convinced it was not Mrs. Picture, who was not so nearly strong as this dream-image, or waking reality.

"He'll come awake directly," said the younger widow. "He do sleep, Granny!" For Widow Thrale often called her aunt "Granny" as a tribute to her own offspring. Otherwise she thought of her as "Mother." Her own mother was only a half-forgotten[Pg 68] fact, a sort of duplicate mother, who vanished when she was almost a baby. She continued:—"He goes nigh to eating up his pillow he does. There never was a little boy sounder; all night long not a move! Such a little slugabed I never!" And then this ogress—for she really was no better—was heartless enough to tickle Dave and kiss him, with an affectation of devouring him. And he, being tickled, had to laugh; and then was quite awake, for all the world as if he could never go to sleep again.

"I fought," said he, feeling some apology was due for his misapprehension, "I fought it was old Mrs. Picture on the top-landing in the hackicks."

"He's asleep still," said the ogress. "Come along, and I'll wash your sleep out, young man!" And she paid no attention at all to Dave's attempted explanations of his reference to old Mrs. Picture or Prichard. He may be said to have lectured on the subject throughout his ablutions, and really Widow Thrale was not to blame, properly speaking, when he got the soap in his mouth.

Dave lost no time in mooting the subject of the water-mill, and it was decided that as soon as he had finished dictating a letter he had begun to Dolly, Granny Marrable—whom he addressed as "Granny Marrowbone"—would exhibit this ingenious contrivance.

He stuck to his letter conscientiously; and it was creditable to him, because it took a long time. Yet the ground gone over was not extensive. He expressed his affection for Dolly herself, for Uncle Mo and Aunt M'riar, and subordinately for Mrs. Picture, and even Mrs. Burr. He added that there was ducks in the pond. That was all; but it was not till late in the morning that the letter was completed. Then Dave claimed his promise. He was to see the wheel go round, and the sacks go up into the granary above the millstones. It was a pledge even an old lady of eighty could not go back on.

Nor had she any such treacherous intention. So soon as ever the dinner-things were cleared away, Granny Marrable with her own hands lifted down the model off of the mantelshelf, and removing the glass from the front of the case, brought the contents out on the oak table the cloth no longer covered, so that you might see all round. Then the cistern—which after all had nothing to do with Sister Nora—was carefully filled with water so that none should spill and make marks, neither on the table nor yet on the mill itself, and then it was wound up like a clock till you couldn't wind no further and it went click. And then[Pg 69] the water in the cistern was let run, and the wheels went round; and Dave knew exactly what a water-mill was like, and was assured—only this was a pious fiction—that the water made the wheels go round. The truth was that the clockwork worked the wheels and made them pump back the water as fast as ever it came down. And this is much better than in real mills, because the same water does over and over again, and the power never fails. But you have to wind it up. You can't expect everything!

Granny Marrable gave a brief description of the model. Her brother, who died young, made it because he was lame of one leg; which meant that enforced inactivity had found a sedentary employment in mechanisms, not that all lame folk make mills. Those two horses were Mr. Pitt and Mr. Fox. That was her father standing at the window, with his pipe in his mouth, a miracle of delicate workmanship. And that was the carman, Mr. Muggeridge, who used to see to loading up the cart.

Children are very perverse in their perception of the relative importance of things they are told, and Dave was enormously impressed with Mr. Muggeridge. Silent analysis of the model was visible on his face for awhile, and then he broke out into catechism:—"Whoy doesn't the wheel-sacks come down emptied out?" said he. He had not got the expression "wheat-sacks" right.

"Well, my dear," said Granny Marrable, who felt perhaps that this question attacked a weak point, "if it was the mill itself, they would. But now it's only done in small, we have to pretend." Dave lent himself willingly to the admission of a transparent fiction, and it was creditable to his liberality that he did so. For though the sacks were ingeniously taken into the mill-roof under a projecting hood, they reappeared instantly to go up again through a hole under the cart. Any other arrangement would have been too complex; and, indeed, a pretence that they took grain up and brought flour down might have seemed affectation. A conventional treatment was necessary. It had one great advantage, too: it liberated the carman for active service elsewhere. It was entirely his own fault, or his employer's, that he stood bolt upright, raising one hand up and down in time with the movement of the wheels. The miller did not seem to mind; for he only kept on looking out of window, smoking.

But the miller and the carman were not the only portraitures this model showed. Two very little girls were watching the rising grain-sacks, each with her arm round the other. The miller may have been looking at them affectionately from the window; but[Pg 70] really he was so very unimpressive—quite inscrutable! Dave inquired about these little girls, after professing a satisfaction he only partly felt about the arrangements for receiving the raw material and delivering it ground.

"Whoy was they bofe of a size?" said he, for indeed they were exactly alike.

"Because, my dear, that is the size God made them. Both at the same time!"

"Who worze they?" asked Dave, clinching the matter abruptly—much too interested for circumlocution.

"Myself, my dear, and my little sister, born the same time. With our lilac frocks on and white bonnets to shade the sun off our eyes. And each a nosegay of garden flowers." There was no more sorrow in the old woman's voice than belongs to any old voice speaking thoughtfully and gently. Her old hand caressed the crisp locks of the little, interested boy, and felt his chin appreciatively, as she added:—"Three or four years older than yourself, my dear! Seventy years ago!" with just the ring of sadness—no more—that always sounds when great age speaks of its days long past.

The other convalescent boy here struck in, raising a vital question. "Which is you, and which is her?" said he. He had come in as a new spectator; surrendering Dave's crutch, borrowed as needless to its owner, in compliance with a strange fascination, now waning in charm as the working model asserted its powers. Dionysos had deserted Ariadne again.

"This is me," said Granny Marrable. "And this is Maisie." And now you who read probably know, as clearly as he who writes, who she was, this octogenarian with such a good prospect of making up the hundred. She was Phoebe, the sister of old Mrs. Prichard, whose story was told in the last chapter. But most likely you guessed that pages ago.

I, who write, have no aim in telling this story beyond that of repeating as clearly and briefly as may be the bare facts that make it up—of communicating them to whoever has a few hours to spare for the purpose, with the smallest trouble to himself in its perusal. I feel often that my lack of skill is spoiling what might be a good story. That I cannot help; and I write with the firm conviction that any effort on my part to arrange these facts in such order that the tale should show dramatic force, or startle him with unexpected issues of event, would only procure derision for its writer, and might even obscure the only end he[Pg 71] has at heart, that of giving a complete grasp of the facts, as nearly as may be in the order of their occurrence.

There is one feature in the story which the most skilful narrator might easily fail to present as probable—the separation of these twin sisters throughout a long lifetime, a separation contrary to nature; so much so, indeed, that tales are told of twins living apart, the death or illness of one of whom has brought about the death or similar illness of the other. One would at least say that neither could die without knowledge of the other; might even infer that either would go on thinking the other living, without some direct evidence of death, some seeming communication from the departed. But the separation of Phoebe from Maisie did not come under these conditions; each was the victim of a wicked fraud, carried out with a subtlety that might have deceived Scotland Yard. There can be no doubt that it would have had the force to obscure any phenomenon of a so-called telepathic nature, however vivid, as proof that either twin was still alive; as the percipient, in the belief that her sister's death was established beyond a doubt, would unhesitatingly conclude that the departed had revisited earth, or had made her presence felt by some process hard to understand from our side.

To see the story in its right light we must always keep in view the extraordinary isolation of the penal settlement. All convict life is cut off from the world, but in Van Diemen's Land even the freest of men out on ticket-of-leave—free sometimes so long that the renewal of their licence at its expiration became the merest form—was separated from the land of his birth, even from the mainland of Australia, by a barrier for him almost as impassable as the atmosphere that lies between us and the visible land of the moon. Keep in mind the hundred-and-odd miles of sea—are you sure you thought of it as so much?—that parts Tasmania from the nearest point of New South Wales, and picture to yourself the few slow sailing-ships upon their voyages from Sydney, five times as distant. To go and come on such a journey was little else to the stay-at-home in those days, than that he should venture beyond the grave and return.

No!—the wonder to my mind is not that the two sisters should have been parted so utterly, and each been so completely duped about the other's death, but that Maisie should have returned less than five-and-twenty years later, and that, so returning, she should not have come to the knowledge that her sister was still living.[Pg 72]



The heart of the ancient prizefighter in Sapps Court swelled with joy when the day of Dave's return was officially announced. He was, said Aunt M'riar, in and out all the afternoon, fidgeting-like, when it actually came. And the frost was that hard that ashes out of the dustbin had to be strewed over the paving to prevent your slipping. It might not have been any so bad though, only for that young Michael Ragstroar's having risen from his couch at an early hour, and with diabolical foresight made a slide right down the middle of the Court. He had chosen this hour so early, that he was actually before the Milk, which was always agreeable to serve the Court when the tenantry could do—taken collectively—with eightpennyworth. It often mounted up to thrice that amount, as a matter of fact. On this occasion it sat down abruptly, the Milk did, and gave a piece of its mind to Michael's family later, pointing out that it was no mere question of physical pain or ill-convenience to itself, but that its principal constituent might easily have been spilled, and would have had to be charged for all the same. The incident led to a collision between Michael and his father, the coster; who, however, remitted one-half of his son's deserts and let him off easy on condition of his reinstating the footway. Michael would have left all intact, he said, had he only been told that his thoughtfulness would provoke the Court's ingratitude. "Why couldn't they say aforehand they didn't want no slide?" said he. "I could just as easy have left it alone." It was rather difficult to be quite even with Michael Ragstroar.

However, the ground was all steady underfoot when Dave, in charge of Sister Nora, reappeared, looking quite rosy again, and only limping very slightly. He had deserted Ariadne altogether[Pg 73] by now, and Dionysos may have done so, too, for anything the story knows. Anyhow, the instability of the planet that had resulted from local frost did not affect Dave at all, now that Michael had spilt them hashes over the ground. Dave was bubbling over with valuable information about the provinces, which had never reached the Metropolis before, and he was in such a hurry to tell about a recent family of kittens, that he scamped his greetings to his own family in order to get on to the description of it.

But neither this, nor public indignation against the turpitude of slide-makers generally and that young Micky in particular, could avert his relatives' acknowledgments of their gratitude—what a plague thanks are!—from a benefactress who was merely consulting a personal dilettantism in her attitude towards her species, and who regarded Dave as her most remunerative investment for some time past.

"We shall never know how to be grateful enough, ma'am, for your kindness to Dave," said Aunt M'riar. "No—never!"

"Not if we was to live for ever," said Uncle Mo. And he seemed to mean it, for he went on:—"It's a poor way of thanks to be redooced to at the best, just to be grateful and stop it off at that. But 'tis in the right of it as far as it goes. You take me, missis? I'm a bad hand to speak my mind; but you'll count it up for hearty thanks, anyhow."

"Of course I will, Mr. Wardle," said Sister Nora. "But, oh dear!—what a fuss one does make about nothing! Why, he's such a ducky little chap, anybody would be glad to."

Dave struck into the conversation perceiving an opportunity to say something appropriate: "There was sisk duskses in the pong in the field, and one of the duskses was a droyk with green like ribbings, and Mrs. Thrale she said a little boy stumbled in the pong and was took out green, and some day I should show Dolly the droyk and I should show Uncle Mo the droyk and I should show Aunt M'riar the droyk. And there was a bool." At which point the speaker suddenly became shyly silent, perhaps feeling that he was premature in referring thus early to a visit of his family to Chorlton-under-Bradbury. It would have been better taste to wait, he thought.

However, no offence seemed to be taken. Uncle Mo said: "Oh, that was it—was it? I hope the bull had a ring on his nose." Dave appeared doubtful, with a wish to assent. Then Aunt M'riar, who—however good she was—certainly had a commonplace mind, must needs say she hoped Dave had been a very good little boy. The banality of it![Pg 74]

Dave felt that an effort should be made to save the conversation. The bull's nose and its ring suggested a line to go on. "The lady," said he decisively, "had rings on her fingers. Dimings and pearls and scrapphires"—he took this very striking word by storm—"and she giv' 'em me for to hold one at a time.... Yorce she did!" He felt sure of his facts, and that the lady's rings on her fingers made her a legitimate and natural corollary to a bull with one on its nose.

"The lady would be my Cousin Philippa," said Sister Nora. "She's always figged up to the nines. Dave took her for a drive in the carriage—didn't you, Dave?" There was misrepresentation in this, but a way grown-up people have of understanding each other over the heads of little boys prevented the growth of false impressions. Uncle Mo and Aunt M'riar quite understood, somehow, that it was the lady that had taken Dave for a drive. Dave allowed this convention to pass without notice, merely nodding. He reserved criticism for the days to come, when he should have a wider vocabulary at command.

Then Sister Nora had gone, and Dave was having his first experience of the shattered ideal. Sapps Court was neither so large nor so distinguished as the conception of it that he had carried away into the country with him; with the details of which he had endeavoured to impress Granny Marrable and the ogress. Dolly was not so large as he had expected to find her; but then he had had that expectation owing to a message, which had reached him in his absence, that she was growing out of all knowledge. His visit was inside three months; so this was absurd. One really should be careful what one says to six-year-olds. The image of Dolly that Dave brought back from the provinces nearly filled up the Sapps Court memory supplied. It was just the same shape as Dolly, but on a much larger scale. The reality he came back to was small and compact, but not so influential.

Dolly's happiness at his return was great and unfeigned, but its expression was handicapped by her desire that a doll Sister Nora brought her should be allowed to sleep off the effects of an exhausting journey. Only Shakespearean dramatic power could have ascribed sleep to this doll, who was a similitude of Struvvel Peter in the collected poems of that name just published. Still, Dolly gave all of herself that this matronly preoccupation could spare to Dave. She very soon suggested that they should make a joint visit to old Mrs. Picture upstairs. She could carry Struvvel Peter in her arms all the time, so that his sleep should not be disturbed.[Pg 75]

This was only restless love of change on Dolly's part, and Uncle Mo protested. Was his boy to be carried off from him when only just this minute he got him back? Who was Mrs. Prichard that such an exaggerated consideration should be shown to her? Dave expressed himself in the same sense, but with a less critical view of Mrs. Prichard's pretensions.

Aunt M'riar pointed out that there was no call to be in a driving hurry. Presently, when Mr. Alibone come in for a pipe, like he said he would, then Dave and Dolly might go up and knock at Mrs. Prichard's door, and if they were good they might be let in. Aunt M'riar seized so many opportunities to influence the young towards purity and holiness that her injunctions lost force through the frequency of their recurrence, always dangling rewards and punishments before their eyes. In the present case her suggestions worked in with the general feeling, and Dave and Dolly sat one on each knee of Uncle Mo, and made intelligent remarks. At least, Dave did; Dolly's were sometimes confused, and very frequently uncompleted.

Uncle Mo asked questions about Dave's sojourn with Widow Thrale. Who was there lived in the house over and above the Widow? Well—said Dave—there was her Granny. Uncle Mo derided the idea of a Widow's Granny. Such a thing was against Nature. Her mother was possible but uncommon. But as for her Granny!—draw it mild, said Uncle Mo.

"But my dear Mo," said Aunt M'riar. "Just you give consideration. You're always for sayin' such a many things. Why, there was our upstairs old lady she says to me she was plenty old enough to be my grandmother. Only this very morning, if you'll believe me, she said that very selfsame thing. 'I'm plenty old enough to be your grandmother,' she says."

"As for the being old enough, M'riar," said Uncle Mo, "there's enough and to spare old enough for most anything if you come to that. But this partick'lar sort don't come off. Just you ask anybody. Why, I'll give ye all England to hunt 'em up. Can't say about foreigners, they're a queer lot; but England's a Christian country, and you may rely upon it, and so I tell you, you won't light on any one or two widders' Grannies in the whole show. You try it!" Uncle Moses was not the first nor the only person in the world that ever proposed an impracticable test to be carried out at other people's expense, or by their exertions. It was, however, a mere façon de parler, and Aunt M'riar did not show any disposition to start on a search for widows' grandmothers.

The discussion was altogether too deep for Dave. So after a[Pg 76] moment of grave perplexity he started a new topic, dashing into it without apology, as was his practice. "Granny Marrowbone's box on the chimley-piece is got glast you can see in, and she's got two horses in a wagging, and the wheels goes round and round and round like a clock, and there was her daddy stood at the window and there was saskses was took up froo a hole, and come back froo a hole, and there was Muggeridge that see to loading up the cart, and there was her and her sister bofe alike of one size, and there was the water run over...." Here Dave flagged a little after so much eloquence, and no wonder. But he managed to wind up:—"And then Granny Marrowbone put it back on the mankleshelf for next time."

This narrative was, of course, quite unintelligible to its hearers; but we understand it, and its mention of the carman's name. A child that has to repeat a story will often confuse incidents limitlessly, and nevertheless hold on with the tenacity of a bull-pup to some saving phrase heard distinctly once and for ever. Even so, Dave held on to Muggeridge, that see to loading up the cart, as a great fact rooted in History.

"H'm!" said Uncle Mo. "I don't make all that out. Who's Muggeridge in it?"

"He sees to the sacks," said Dave.

"Counting of 'em out, I reckon." Uncle Mo was thinking of coal-sacks, and the suggestions of a suspicious Company. Dave said nothing. Probably Uncle Mo knew. But he was all wrong, perhaps because the association of holes with coals misled him.

"Was it Mrs. Marrable and her sister?" asked Aunt M'riar. "Why was they both of a size?"

Dave jumped at the opportunity of showing that he had profited by résumés of this subject with his hostess. "Because they were the soyme oyge," said he. "Loyke me and Dolly. We aren't the soyme oyge, me and Dolly." That is to say, he and Dolly were an example of persons whose relative ages came into court. Their classification differed, but that was a detail.

Aunt M'riar was alive to the possibility that the sister of Granny Marrable was her twin, and said so. But Uncle Mo took her up short for this opinion. "What!" said he, "the same as the old party two pair up? No, no!—you won't convince me there's two old parties at once with twin sisters. One at a time's plenty on the way-bill." Because, you see, Aunt M'riar had had a good many conversations with Mrs. Prichard lately, and had repeated words of hers to Uncle Moses. "I was a twin myself," she had[Pg 77] said; and added that she had lost her sister near upon fifty years ago.

The truth was too strange to occur to even the most observant bystander; videlicet, on the whole, Mr. Alibone; who, coming in and talking over the matter anew, only said it struck him as a queer start. This expression has somehow a sort of flavour of its user's intention to conduct inquiry no farther. Anyhow, the subject simply dropped for that time being, out of sight and out of mind.

It was very unfair to Dave, who was, after all, a model of veracity, that he should be treated as a romancer, and never confronted with witnesses to confirm or contradict his statements. Even Uncle Mo, who took him most seriously, continued to doubt the existence of widows' grandmothers, and to accept with too many reservations his account of the mill-model. Sister Nora, as it chanced, did not revisit Sapps Court for a very long time, for she was called away to Scotland by the sudden illness of her father, who showed an equivocal affection for her by refusing to let anyone else nurse him.

So it came about that Dave, rather mortified at having doubt thrown on narratives he knew to be true, discontinued his attempts to establish them. And that the two old sisters, so long parted, still lived on apart; each in the firm belief that the other was dead a lifetime since. How near each had been to the knowledge that the other lived! Surely if Dave had described that mill-model to old Mrs. Picture, suspicions would have been excited. But Dave said little or nothing about it.

It is nowise strange to think that the bitter, simultaneous grief in the heart of either twin, now nearly fifty years ago, still survived in two hearts that were not too old to love; for even those who think that love can die, and be as though it had never been, may make concession to its permanency in the case of twins—may even think concession scientific. But it is strange—strange beyond expression—that at the time of this story each should have had love in her heart for the same object, our little Dave Wardle; that Master Dave's very kissable countenance had supplied the lips of each with a message of solace to a tired soul. And most of all that the tears of each, and the causes of them, had provoked the inquisitiveness of the same pair of blue eyes and set their owner questioning, and that through all this time the child had in his secret consciousness a few words that would have fired the train. Never was a spark so near to fuel, never an untold tale so near its hearer, never a draught so near to lips athirst.[Pg 78]

But Dave's account of the mill was for the time forgotten. It happened that old Mrs. Prichard was not receiving just at the time of his return, so his visits upstairs had to be suspended. By the time they were renewed the strange life in the country village had become a thing of the past, and important events nearer home had absorbed the mill on the mantelshelf, and the ducks in the pond and Widow Thrale and Granny Marrable alike. One of the important events was that Dave was to be took to school after Christmas.

It was in this interim that old Mrs. Prichard became a very great resource to Aunt M'riar, and when the time came for Dave to enter on his curriculum of scholarship, the visiting upstairs had become a recognised institution. Aunt M'riar being frequently forsaken by Uncle Mo, who marked his objection to the scholastic innovation by showing himself more in public, notably at The Rising Sun, whose proprietor set great store by the patronage of so respectable a representative of an Institution not so well thought of now as formerly, but whose traditions were still cherished in the confidential interior of many an ancient pot-house of a like type—Aunt M'riar, so forsaken, made these absences of her brother-in-law a reason for conferring her own society and Dolly's on the upstairs lodger, whenever the work she was engaged on permitted it. She felt, perhaps, as Uncle Mo felt, that the house warn't like itself without our boy; but if she shared his feeling that it was a waste of early life to spend it in learning to read slowly, write illegibly, and cypher incorrectly, she did so secretly. She deferred to the popular prejudice, which may have had an inflated opinion of the advantages of education; but she acknowledged its growth and the worldly wisdom of giving way to it.

Old Mrs. Prichard and Aunt M'riar naturally exchanged confidences more and more; and in the end the old lady began to speak without reserve about her past. It came about thus. After Christmas, Dave being culture-bound, and work of a profitable nature for the moment at a low ebb, Aunt M'riar had fallen back on some arrears of stocking-darning. Dolly was engaged on the object to which she gave lifelong attention, that of keeping her doll asleep. I do not fancy that Dolly was very inventive; but then, you may be, at three-and-a-half, seductive without being inventive. Besides, this monotonous fiction of the need of her doll for sleep was only a scenario for another incident—the fear of disturbance by a pleace'n with two heads, a very terrible possibility.[Pg 79]

Old Mrs. Prichard, whom I call by that name because she was known by no other in Sapps Court, was knitting a comforter for Dave. It went very slowly, this comforter, but was invaluable as an expression of love and goodwill. She couldn't get up and downstairs because of her back, and she couldn't read, only a very little, because of her eyes, and she couldn't hear—not to say hear—when read aloud to. This last may have been no more than what many of us have experienced, for she heard very plain when spoke to. That is Aunt M'riar's testimony. My impression is that, as compared with her twin sister Phoebe, Maisie was at this date a mere invalid. But she looked very like Phoebe for all that, when you didn't see her hands. The veins were too blue, and their delicacy was made more delicate by the aggressive scarlet she had chosen for the comforter.

"It makes a rest to do a little darning now and again." Aunt M'riar said this, choosing a worsted carefully, so it shouldn't quarrel with its surroundings. "I take a pleasure in it more than not. On'y as for knowing when to stop—there!"

"I mind what it was in my early days up-country," said the old woman. "'Twas not above once in the year any trade would reach us, and suchlike things as woollen socks were got at by the moth or the ants. They would sell us things at a high price from the factory as a favour, but my husband could not abide the sight of them. It was small wonder it was so, Mrs. Wardle." That was the name that Aunt M'riar had come to be called by, although it was not her own real name. Confusion of this sort is not uncommon in the class she belonged to. Sapps Court was aware that she was not Mrs. Wardle, but she had to be accounted for somehow, and the name she bore was too serious a tax on the brain-power of its inhabitants.

She repeated Mrs. Prichard's words: "From the factory, ma'am? I see." Because she did not understand them.

"It was always called the factory," said Mrs. Prichard. But this made Aunt M'riar none the wiser. What was called the factory? The way in which she again said that she saw amounted to a request for enlightenment. Mrs. Prichard gave it. "It was the Government quarters with the Residence, and the prisons where the convicts were detained on their arrival. They would not be there long, being told off to work in gangs up-country, or assigned to the settlers as servants. But I've never told you any of all this before, Mrs. Wardle." No more she had. She had broached Van Diemen's Land suddenly, having gone no farther before than the mere fact of her son's birth at Port Macquarie.[Pg 80]

Aunt M'riar couldn't make up her mind as to what was expected of her, whether sympathy or mere interest or silent acquiescence. She decided on a weak expression of the first, saying:—"To think of that now—all that time ago!"

"Fifty long years ago! But I knew of it before that, four years or more," said the old lady. It did not seem to move her much—probably felt to her like a previous state of existence. She went on talking about the Convict Settlement, which she had outlived. Her hearer only half understood most of it, not being a prompt enough catechist to ask the right question at the right time.

For Aunt M'riar, though good, was a slowcoach, backward in cross-examination, and Mrs. Prichard's first depositions remained unqualified, for discussion later with Uncle Mo. However, one inquiry came to her tongue. "Was you born in those parts yourself, ma'am?" said she. Then she felt a little sorry she had asked it, for a sound like annoyance came in the answer.

"Who—I? No, no—not I—dear me, no! My father was an Essex man. Darenth, his place was called." Aunt M'riar repeated the name wrongly:—"Durrant?" She ought to have asked something concerning his status and employment. Who knows but Mrs. Prichard might have talked of that mill and supplied a clue to speculation?—not Aunt M'riar's; speculation was not her line. Others might have compared notes on her report, literally given, with Dave's sporting account of the mill-model. And yet—why should they? With no strong leading incident in common, each story might have been discussed without any suspicion that the flour-mill was the same in both.

So that Mrs. Prichard's tale so far supplies nothing to link her with old Granny Marrable, as unsuspicious as herself. What Aunt M'riar found her talking of, half to herself, when her attention recovered from a momentary fear that she might have hurt the old lady's feelings, was even less likely to connect the two lives.

"I followed my husband out. My child died—my eldest—here in England. I went again to live at home. Then I followed him out. He wrote to me and said that he was free. Free on the island, but not to come home. We had been over four years parted then." She said nothing of the child she left behind in England. Too much to explain perhaps?

Aunt M'riar was struck by a painful thought; the same that had crossed her mind before, and that she had discarded as somehow inconsistent with this old woman. The convicts—the convicts? She had grasped the fact that this couple had lived in Van[Pg 81] Diemen's Land, and inferred that children were born to them there. But—was the husband himself a convict? She repeated the words, "Free on the island, but not to come home?" as a question.

She was quite taken aback with the reply, given with no visible emotion. "Why should I not tell you? How will it hurt me that you should know? My husband was convicted of forgery and transported."

"God's mercy on us!" said Aunt M'riar, dropping her work dumfoundered. Then it half entered her thought that the old woman was wandering, and she nearly said:—"Are you sure?"

The old woman answered the thought as though it had been audible. "Why not?" she said. "I am all myself. Fifty years ago! Why should I begin to doubt it because of the long time?" She had ceased her knitting and sat gazing on the fire, looking very old. Her interlaced thin fingers on the strain could grow no older now surely, come what might of time and trouble. Both had done their worst. She went on speaking low, as one talks to oneself when alone. "Yes, I saw him go that morning on the river. They rowed me out at dawn—a pair of oars, from Chatham. For I had learned the day he would go, and there was a sure time for the leaving of the hulks; if not night, then in the early dawn before folk were on the move. This was in the summer."

"And did you see him?" said Aunt M'riar, hoping to hear more, and taking much for granted that she did not understand, lest she should be the loser by interruption.

"I saw him. I saw him. I did not know then that he saw me. They dared not row me near the wicked longboat that was under the hulk's side waiting—waiting to take my heart away. They dared not for the officers. There was ten men packed in the stern of the boat, and he was in among them. And, as they sat, each one's hand was handcuffed to his neighbour. I saw him, but he could not raise his hand; and he dared not call to me for the officers. I could not have known him in his prison dress—it was too far—but I could read his number, 213M. I know it still—213M.... How did I know it? Because he got a letter to me." She then told how a man had followed her in the street, when she was waiting in London for this chance of seeing her husband, and how she had been afraid of this man and taken refuge in a shop. Then how the shopkeeper had gone out to speak to him and come back, saying:—"He's a bad man to look at, but he means no harm. He says he wants to give you a letter, miss." How she then spoke with the man and received the letter, giving[Pg 82] him a guinea for the rolled-up pencil scrawl, and he said:—"It's worth more than that for the risk I ran to bring it ye. But for my luck I might be on the ship still." Whereupon, she gave him her watch. That was how she came to know 213M.

"But did you see your husband again?" asked Aunt M'riar, listening as Dave might have done; and, like him, wanting each instalment of the tale rounded off.

"Yes. Climbing up the side of the great ship half-way to the Nore. It was a four-hours' pull for the galley—six oars—each man wristlocked to his oar; and each officer with a musket. But we had a little sail and kept the pace, though the wind was easterly. Then, when we reached the ship where she lay, we went as near as ever my men dared. And we saw each one of them—the ten—unhandcuffed to climb the side, and a cord over the side made fast to him to give him no chance of death in the waters—no chance! And then I saw my husband and knew he saw me."

"Did he speak?"

"He tried to call out. But the ship's officer struck him a cruel blow upon the mouth, and he was dragged to the upper deck and hidden from me. We saw them all aboard, all the ten. It was the last boat-load from the hulk, and all the yards were manned by now, and the white sails growing on them. Oh, but she was beautiful, the great ship in the sunshine!" The old woman, who had spoken tearlessly, as from a dead, tearless heart, of the worst essentials of her tragedy, was caught by a sob at something in this memory of the ship at the Nore—why, Heaven knows!—and her voice broke over it. To Aunt M'riar, cockney to the core, a ship was only a convention, necessary for character, in an offing with an orange-chrome sunset claiming your attention rather noisily in the background. There were pavement-artists in those days as now. This ship the old lady told of was a new experience for her—this ship with hundreds of souls on board, men and women who had all had a fair trial and been represented by counsel, so had nothing to complain of even if innocent. But all souls in Hell, for all that!

The old voice seemed quite roused to animation—a sort of heart-broken animation—by the recollection of this ship. "Oh, but she was beautiful!" she said again. "I've dreamed of her many's the time since then, with her three masts straight up against the blue; you could see them in the water upside down. I could not find the heart to let my men row away and leave her there. I had come to see her go, and it was a long wait we had.... Yes, it was on towards evening before the breeze came to move her; and[Pg 83] all those hours we waited. It was money to my men, and they had a good will to it." She stopped, and Aunt M'riar waited for her to speak again, feeling that she too had a right to see this ship's image move. Presently she looked up from her darning and got a response. "Yes, she did move in the end. I saw the sails flap, and there was the clink of the anchor-chain. I've dreamt it again many and many a time, and seen her take the wind and move, till she was all a mile away and more. We watched her away with all aboard of her. And when the wind rose in the night I was mad to think of her out on the great sea, and how I should never see him again. But the time went by, and I did."

This was the first time old Mrs. Prichard spoke so freely about her former life to Aunt M'riar. It was quite spontaneous on the old lady's part, and she stopped her tale as suddenly as it had begun. The fragmentary revelations in which she disclosed much more of her story, as already summarised, came at intervals; always dwelling on her Australian experiences, never on her girlhood—never on her subsequent life in England. The reason of this is not clear; one has to accept the fact. The point to notice is that nothing she said could possibly associate her with old Mrs. Marrable, as told about by Dave. There had been mention of Australia certainly. Yet why should Granny Marrable's sister having died there forty-odd years ago connect her with an old woman of a different name, now living? Besides, Dave was not intelligible on this point.

Whatever she told to Aunt M'riar was repeated to Uncle Mo—be sure of that! Still, fragmentary stories, unless dressed up and garnished by their retailer, do not remain vividly in the mind of their hearer, and Uncle Mo's impressions of the upstairs tenant's history continued very mixed. For Aunt M'riar's style was unpolished, and she did not marshall her ideas in an impressive or lucid manner.[Pg 84]



Just off the Lower Mall at Hammersmith there still remains a scrap of the waterside neighbourhood that, fifty years ago, believed itself eternal; that still clung to the belief forty years ago; that had misgivings thirty years ago; and that has suffered such inroads from eligible residences, during the last quarter of a century, that its residuum, in spite of a superficial appearance of duration, is really only awaiting the expiration of leases to be given over to housebreakers, to make way for flats.

Fifty years ago this corner of the world was so self-reliant that it was content—more than content—to be unpatrolled by police; in fact, felt rather resentful when an occasional officer passed through, as was inevitable from time to time. It would have been happier if its law-abiding tendencies had always been taken for granted. Then you could have drunk your half a pint, your quart, or your measurable fraction of a hogshead, in peace and quiet at the bar of the microscopic pub called The Pigeons, without fear of one of those enemies of Society—your Society—coming spying and prying round after you or any chance acquaintance you might pick up, to help you towards making that fraction a respectable one. If it was summer-time, and you sat in the little back-garden that had a ladder down to the river, you might feel a moment's uneasiness when the river-police rowed by, as sometimes happened; only, on the other hand, you might feel soothed by their appearance of unconcern in riparian matters, almost amounting to affectation. If any human beings took no interest in your antecedents, surely it would be these two leisurely rowers and the superior person in the stern, with the oilskin cape?

It was not summer-time—far from it—on the day that concerns this story, when two men in the garden of The Pigeons looked out over the river, and one said to the other:—"Right away over[Pg 85] yonder it lies, halfway to Barn Elms." They were so busy over the locating of it, whatever it was, that they did not notice the police-wherry, oarless in the swift-running tide, as it slipped down close inshore, and was abreast of them before they knew it. Perhaps it was the fact that it was not summer, and that these men must have left a warm fire in the parlour of The Pigeons, to come out into a driving north-east wind bringing with it needle-pricks of microscopic snow, hard and cold and dry, that made the rowers drop their oars and hold back against the stream, to look at them.

Or was it that the man in the stern had an interest in one of them. An abrupt exclamation that he uttered at this moment seemed, to the man rowing stroke, who heard more than his mate, to apply to the thicker and taller man of the two. This one, who seemed to treat his pal as an inferior or subordinate, met his gaze, not flinching. His companion seemed less at his ease, and to him the big man said, scarcely moving his lips to say it:—"Steady, fool!—if you shy, we're done." On which the other remained motionless. What they said was heard by a boy close at hand; but for whose version, given afterwards, this story would have been in the dark about it.

The two rowers kept the boat stationary, backing water. The steersman's left hand played with the tiller-rope, and the boat edged slowly to the shore. There was a grating thrown out over the water from the parapet of the river-wall, to the side of which was attached a boat-ladder, now slung up, for no boat's crew ever stopped here at this season. The boat was nearing this—all but close—when the bigger man spoke, on a sudden. But he only said it was a rough night, sergeant!

It was a rough night, or meant to be one in an hour or so. But it was impossible for an Official to accept another person's opinion without loss of dignity. Therefore the sergeant, always working the boat edgewise towards the ladder, only responded, "Roughish!" qualifying the night, and implying a wider experience of rough nights than his hearer's. If impressions derived from appearance are to be relied on, his experience must have been a wide one. For one thing, he himself seemed a dozen years at least the younger of the two. He added, as the boat touched the ladder, bringing each in full view of the other, and making speech easy between them:—"A man don't make the voyage out to Sydney without seeing some rough weather."

A very attentive observer might have said that he watched the man he addressed more closely than the talk warranted, and certainly[Pg 86] would have seen that the latter started. He half began "Who the Hell...?" but flagged on the last word—just stopped short of Sheol—and the growl that accompanied it turned into "I've never been in those parts, master."

"Never said you had. I have though." One might have thought, by his tone, that this officer chuckled secretly over something. He was pleased, at least. But he gave no clue to his thoughts. He seemed disconcerted at the height above the water of the projecting grating and slung-up ladder. An active man, unencumbered, might easily enough have landed himself on it from the boat. Yet a boy might have made it impossible, standing on the grating. A resolute kick on the first hand-grip, or in the face of the climber, would have met the case, and given him a back-fall into the boat or the water. A chilly thought that, on a day like this. But why should such a thought cross the mind of this man, now? It did, probably, and he gave up the idea of landing.

Instead, he felt in his pocket, and drew out a spirit-flask. "Maybe," said he, "your mate would oblige so far as to ask the young lady at the bar to fill this up with Kinahan's LL? She won't make any bones about it if he says it's for me, Sergeant Ibbetson—she'll know." He inverted it to see that it was empty, and the man who had not spoken accepted the mission at a nod from his companion, whose social headship the speech of the policeman seemed somehow to have taken for granted.

The sergeant watched him out of sight; then, the moment he had vanished, said:—"Now I come to think of it, Cissy Tuttle that was here has married a postman, and the young lady that's took it over may not know my name." His speech had not the appearance of a sudden thought, and the less so that he began to get rid of his oilskin incumbrance almost before he had uttered it.

The understanding of what then happened needs a clear picture of the exact position of things at this moment. The boat, held back by the dipped oars, but steadied now and again by the hand of the sergeant on the grating or ladder, lay uneasily between the wind and the current. The man on the grating showed some unwillingness to lend the hand-up that was asked for; and took exception, it seemed, to the safety of the landing on any terms. "Maybe you want a dip in the river, master?" said he. "It's no concern of mine. Only I don't care to take your weight on this greasy bit of old iron. I'm best out of the water."

The sergeant paused, looked at the grating, which certainly[Pg 87] sloped outwards, then at the boat and at the ladder. "Catch hold!" said he.

But the other held back. "Why can't your mate there hand me the end of that painter, and slue her round? That's easy! Won't take above a half a minute, and save somebody a wet shirt. Tie her nose to the ring yonder!—just bring you up opposite to where I'm standing! Think it out, master."

The sergeant, however, seemed to have made up his mind in spite of the reasonableness of this suggestion. For when the man rowing bow stooped back and reached out for the painter—the course seemed the obvious and natural one—he was stopped by his chief, who said rather tartly:—"You take your orders from me, Cookson!" and then held out his hand as before, saying:—"You're a tidy weight, my lad. I shan't pull you overboard."

He did, nevertheless, and it came about thus. The two men at the oars saw the whole thing, and were clear in their account of it after. Ibbetson, their sergeant, did not take the hand that was proffered him, but seized its wrist. It seemed to them that he made no attempt to lift himself up from the boat; and the nearer one, pulling stroke, would have it that Ibbetson even hooked the seat with his foot, as though to get a purchase on the man's wrist that he held. Anyhow, the result was the same. The man lost his footing under the strain, and pitched sheer forward on his assailant; for the aggressive intention of the latter may be taken as established beyond a doubt. As he fell, he struck out with his left hand, landing on Ibbetson's mouth, and cutting off his last words, an order, shouted to the rowers:—"Sheer off, and row for the bridge ... I can...." Both of them believed he would have said:—"I can manage him by myself."

But nothing further passed. For the boat, not built to keep an even keel with two strong men struggling together in the stern, lurched over, shipping water the whole length of the counter. The rowers tried to obey orders, the more readily—so they said after—that their chief seemed quite a match for his man. There was a worse danger ahead, a barge moored in the path, and they had to clear, one side or the other. The best chance was outside, and they would have succeeded but for the cable that held her. It just caught the bow oar, and the boat swung round, the stroke being knocked down between the seats in his effort to back water and keep her clear. Half-crippled already and at least one-third full of water, she was in no trim to dodge the underdraw of the sloping bows of an empty barge, at the worst hour of ebb-tide. The boy in the garden, next door to The Pigeons, whom curiosity[Pg 88] had kept on the watch, saw the swerve off-shore; the men struggling in the stern; the collision with the moorings; and the final wreck of the boat. Then she vanished behind the barge, and was next seen, bottom-up, by children on the bridge over the little creek three minutes lower down the stream, whose cries roused those in hearing and brought help. When the man came back with the whisky-flask, his mate had vanished, and the boat with its crew. If he guessed what had passed, it was from the running and shouting on the bank, and the boats that were putting off in haste; and then, well over towards Hammersmith Bridge, that they reached their quarry and were trying to right her on the water, possibly thinking to find some former occupant shut in beneath. He did not wait to see the upshot; but, pocketing the flask, got away unnoticed by anyone, all eyes being intent upon the incident on the river.

The sergeant, Ibbetson, was drowned, and the facts narrated are taken literally, or inferred, from what came out at the inquest. The theory that recommended itself to account for his conduct was that he had recognised a culprit whom he had known formerly, for whose apprehension a reward had been offered, and had, without hesitation, formed a plan of separating him from his companion—or companions, for who could say they were alone?—and securing him in the boat, when no escape would have been possible, as they could have made straight for the floating station at Westminster. It was a daring idea, and might have succeeded but for that mooring-cable.

The body of the sergeant showed marks of the severity of the struggle in which he had been engaged. The two upper front teeth were loosened, probably by the blow he received at the outset, and there were finger-nail dents on the throat as from the grasp of a strangling hand. That his opponent should have disengaged himself from his clutch was matter of extreme surprise to all who had experienced submersion, and knew its meaning. Even to those who have never been under water against their will, the phrase "the grip of a drowning man" has a terribly convincing sound. That this opponent rose to the surface alive, and escaped, was barely entertained as a surmise, only to be dismissed as incredible; and this improbability became even greater when his companion was captured alone, a month later, in the commission of a burglary at Castelnau, which—so it was supposed—the two had been discussing just before the police-boat appeared. The two rowers were rescued, one, a powerful swimmer, having kept the other afloat till the arrival of help. At the inquest neither of these[Pg 89] men seemed as much concerned at Ibbetson's death as might have been expected, and both condemned afterwards that officer's treacherous grip of the hand extended to help him. Whatever he knew to his proposed prisoner's disadvantage, there are niceties of honour in these matters—little chivalries all should observe.

The only evidence towards establishing the identity of the man who had disappeared was that of the stroke-oar, Simeon Rowe, the rescuer of his companion. This man's version of Ibbetson's exclamation was "Thorney Davenant!—I know you, my man!" At the time of the inquest, no identification was made with any name whose owner was being sought by the Police, so no one caught the clue it furnished. There may have been slowness or laxity of investigation, but a sufficient excuse may lie in the fact that Ibbetson certainly spoke the name wrong, or that his hearer caught it wrong. The name was not Davenant, but Daverill. He was the son of old Mrs. Prichard, of Sapps Court, called after his father, and inheriting all his worst qualities. If Sergeant Ibbetson spoke truly when he said "I know you!" to him, he was certainly entitled to a suspension of opinion by those who condemned his ruse for this man's capture.

Still, a code of honour is always respectable, and these two policemen may have supposed that their mate knew no worse of this convict than that he had redistributed some property—was what the first holder of that property would have called a thief. One prefers to think that Ibbetson knew of some less equivocal wickedness.

Perhaps this man, supposed to be drowned, would not have reappeared in this story had it not been for one of the witnesses at the inquest, the boy who overheard the conversation between him and his mate, before the arrival of the police-boat.

"This boy," said the Coroner's clerk, who seemed to have an impression that this was a State Prosecution, and that he represented the Crown, "can give evidence as to a conversation between the"—he wanted to say "the accused"; it would have sounded so well, but he stopped himself in time—"between the man whose body has not been found, and"—here he would have liked to say "an accomplice"—"and another person who has eluded the ... that is to say, whom the police have, so far, failed to identify...."

"That's all right," said the Coroner. "That'll do. Boy's got something he can tell us. What's your name, my man?"

"Wot use are you a-going to make of it?" said the boy. He did not appear to be over twelve years old, but his assurance could[Pg 90] not have been greater had he been twelve score. A reporter put a dot on his paper, which meant "Laughter, in which the Coroner joined, in a parenthesis."

An old woman who had accompanied the boy, as tutelary genius, held up a warning finger at him. "Now, you Micky," said she, "you speak civil to the gentleman and answer his questions accordin'." She then said to the Coroner, as one qualified to explain the position:—"It's only his manners, sir, and the boy has not a rebellious spirit being my grandnephew." She utilised a lax structure of speech to introduce her relationship to the witness. She was evidently proud of being related to one, having probably met with few opportunities of distinction hitherto.

The witness, under the pressure at once of family influence and constituted authority, appeared to give up the point. "'Ave it your own way!" said he. "Michael Ragstroar."

"How am I to spell it?" said the clerk, without taking his pen out of the ink, as though it would dry in the air.

"This ain't school!" said our young friend from Sapps Court, whom you probably remember. Michael had absconded from his home, and sought that of his great-aunt; the only person, said contemporary opinion, that had a hounce of influence with him. It was not clear why such a confirmed reprobate should quail before the moral force of a small old woman in a mysteriously clean print-dress, and tortoise-shell spectacles she would gladly have kept on while charing, only they always come off in the pail. But he did, and when reproached by her for his needlessly defiant attitude, took up a more conciliatory tone. "Carn't recollect, or p'r'aps I'd tell yer," said he.

"Never mind the spelling!" said the Coroner, who had to preside at another inquest at Kew very shortly. "Let's get the young man's evidence." But Michael objected to giving evidence. Whereupon the Coroner, perceiving his mistake, said: "Well, then, suppose we let it alone for to-day. You may go home, Micky, and find out how your name's spelt, against next time it's wanted. Where's the other boy that heard what the men were saying? Call him."

"There warn't any other boy within half a mile," exclaimed Michael indignantly. "I should have seen him. Think I've got no eyes? There warn't another blooming bloke in sight."

"Didn't the other boy see several other men in the back-garden of the ale-house?" said the Coroner. And the Inspector of Police had the effrontery to reply: "Oh yes, three or four!" And then both of them looked at Michael, and waited.[Pg 91]

Michael's indignation passed all bounds, and betrayed him into the use of language of which his great-aunt would have deemed him incapable. She was that shocked, she never! The expressions were not Michael's own vocabulary at all, but corruptions that had crept into his phraseology from associations with other boys, chance acquaintances, who had evolved them among themselves, nourishing them from the corruption of their own hearts. As soon as Michael—deceived by the mendacious dialogue of the Coroner and the Inspector, and under the impression that the particulars he was giving, whether true or false, were not evidence—had told with some colouring about the two men in the garden and what they said, the old lady made a powerful effort to detain the Coroner to give him particulars of Michael's parentage and education, and to exculpate herself from any possible charge of neglecting her grandnephew, to whom she was a second parent. In fact, had her niece Ann never married Daniel Rackstraw, she and her—Ann, that is—would have done much better by Michael and his sisters. Which left a false impression on her hearers' minds, that Michael was an illegitimate son; whereas really she was only dealing with his existence as rooted in the nature of things, and certain to have come about without the intrusion of a male parent in the family.

As for the details of his testimony, surrendered unconsciously as mere facts, not evidence, there was little in them that has not been already told. The conversation of the two men, as given in the text, was taken from Michael's version, and he was the only hearer. But he only saw their backs, except that when the struggle came off he caught sight of the ex-convict's face for a moment. He would know him again if he saw him any day of the week. Some days, he seemed to imply, were worse for his powers of identification than others. It was unimportant, as both the survivors of the accident had noted the man's face carefully enough, considering that he was to them at first nothing beyond a chance bystander. He wasn't a bad-looking man; that was clear. But he was possibly not in very good drawing, as they agreed that he had a peculiarity—his two halves didn't square. This no doubt referred to the same thing Michael described by calling him "a sideways beggar."

The Coroner's Jury had some trouble to agree upon a verdict. "Death by Misadventure" seemed wrong somehow. How could drowning with the finger-nails of an adversary in his throat be accounted misadventure? No doubt Abel died by misadventure, in a sense. But no other verdict seemed possible, except Manslaughter[Pg 92] by the person whom Ibbetson supposed this man to be when he laid hands on him. And how if he was mistaken? "Manslaughter against some person unknown" sounded well. Only if the person was unknown, why Manslaughter? If Brown is ever so much justified in dragging Smith under water by the honest belief that he is Jones, is Smith guilty of anything but self-defence when he does his best to get out of Brown's clutches? Moreover, the annals of life-saving from drowning show that the only chance of success for the rescuer often depends on whether the drowning man can be made insensible or overpowered. Otherwise, death for both. If this unknown man was not the object of Police interest he was supposed to have been taken for, he might only have been doing his best to save the lives of both. In that case, had the inquest been on both, the verdict must have been one that would ascribe Justifiable Homicide to him and Manslaughter to Ibbetson. For surely if the police-sergeant had been the survivor, and the other man's body had been found to be that of some inoffensive citizen, Ibbetson would have been tried for manslaughter. In the end a verdict was agreed upon of Death by Drowning, which everybody knew as soon as it was certain that Life was extinct.

Somewhat later Ibbetson was supposed to have taken him for a returned convict, whose name was variously given, but who had been advertised for as Thornton, one of his aliases; and in consequence of this discovery the vigilance of the Police for the apprehension of the missing man, under this name, was increased and the reward doubled. And this, in spite of a universal inference that he was dead, and that his body was flavouring whitebait below bridge. This did not interfere with a belief on the part of the crew of the patrolling boat—known to Michael—owing to a popular chant of boys of his own age—as "two blackbeetles and one water-rat," that his corpse would float up one day near the place of his disappearance. But their eyes looked for it in vain; and though the companion with whom he was discussing the burglary to be executed at Barn Elms was caught in flagrante delicto and sent to Portland Island, nothing was heard of him or known of his whereabouts.

Michael ended his stay with his great-aunt shortly afterwards, returning home with a budget of legends founded on his waterside experience. As he had a reputation for audacious falsehood without foundation, it is no matter of surprise that the whole story of the water-rat's death and the inquest were looked upon as exaggerations too outrageous for belief even by the most[Pg 93] credulous. Probably his version of the incidents, owing to its rich substratum of the marvellous yet true, was much more accurate than was usual with him when the marvellous depended on his ingenuity to provide it. It was, however, roundly discredited in his own circle, and nothing in it could have evoked recognition in Sapps Court even if the name of the convict had reached the ears that knew it. For it was not only wrongly reported but was still further distorted by Michael for purposes of astonishment.



If a stranger from America or Australia could have been shown at a glance all that went to make up the Earldom of Ancester, he would have been deeply impressed. All the leagues of parkland, woodland, moorland, farmland that were its inheritance would have impressed him, not because of their area—because Americans and Australians are accustomed to mere crude area in their own departments of the planet—but because of the amazing amount of old-world History transacted within its limits; the way the antecedent Earls meddled in it; their magnificent record of treachery and bloodshed and murder; wholesale in battle, retail in less showy, but perhaps even more interesting, private assassination; fascinating cruelties and horrors unspeakable! They might have been impressed also, though, of course, in a less degree, by the Earldom's very creditable show of forbears who, at the risk of being uninteresting, behaved with common decency, and did their duty in the station to which God or Debrett had called them; not drawing the sword to decide a dispute until they had tried one or two of the less popular expedients, and slighting their obligations to the Melodrama of the future. Which rightly looks for its supplies of copy to persons of high birth and low principles.[Pg 94]

The present Earl took after his less mediæval ancestry; and though he received the sanction of his wife, and of persons who knew about things, it was always conceded to him with a certain tone of allowance made for a simple and pastoral nature. In the vulgarest tongue it might have been said that he would never cut a dash. In his wife's it was said that really the Earl was one of the most admirable of men, only never intended by Providence for the Lord-Lieutenancy of a County. He was scarcely to blame, therefore, for his shortcomings in that position. It could not rank as one to which God had called him, without imputing instability, or an oversight, to his summoner. As a summons from Debrett, there is no doubt he was not so attentive to it as he ought to have been.

His own opinion about the intentions of Providence was that they had been frustrated—by Debrett chiefly. If they had fructified he would have been the Librarian of the Bodleian. Providence also had in view for him a marvellous collection of violins, unlimited Chinese porcelain, and some very choice samples of Italian majolica. But he would have been left to the undisturbed enjoyment of his treasures. He could have passed a peaceful life gloating over Pynsons and Caxtons, and Wynkyn de Wordes, and Grolier binding, and Stradivarius, and Guarnerius, and Ming, and Maestro Giorgio of Gubbio. But Debrett got wind of the intentions of Providence, and clapped a coronet upon the head of their intended bénéficiaire without so much as with your leave or by your leave, and there he was—an Earl! He had all that mere possessions could bestow, but always with a sense that Debrett, round the corner, was keeping an eye on him. He had to assuage that gentleman—or principle, or lexicon, or analysis, whatever he is!—and he did it, though rather grudgingly, to please his Countess, and from a general sense that when a duty is a bore, it ought to be complied with. His Countess was the handsome lady with the rings whom Dave Wardle had taken for a drive in her own carriage.

This sidelight on the Earl is as much illumination as the story wants, for the moment. The sidelight on the terrace of Ancester Towers, at the end of a day in July following the winter of Dave's accident, was no more than the Towers thought their due after standing out all day against a grey sky, in a drift of warm, small rain that made oilskins and mackintoshes an inevitable Purgatory inside; and beds of lakes, when horizontal, outside. It was a rainbow-making gleam at the end of thirty-six depressing hours, bursting through a cloud-rift in the South with the exclamation—the[Pg 95] Poet might have imagined—"Make the most of me while you can; I shan't last."

To make the most of it was the clear duty of the owner of a golden head of hair like that of Lady Gwendolen, the Earl's second daughter. So she brought the head out into the rainbow dazzle, with the hair on it, almost before the rain stopped; and, indeed, braved a shower of jewels the rosebush at the terrace window drenched her with, coming out. What did it matter?—when it was so hot in spite of the rain. Besides, India muslin dries so quick. It isn't like woollen stuff.

If you could look back half a century and see Gwendolen on the terrace then, you would not be grateful to any contemporary malicious enough to murmur in your ear:—"Old Lady Blank, the octogenarian, who died last week, was this girl then. So reflect upon what the conventions are quite in earnest—for once—in calling your latter end." You would probably dodge the subject, replying—for instance—"How funny! Why, it must have taken twelve yards to make a skirt like that!" For these were the days of crinolines; of hair in cabbage-nets, packed round rubber-inflations; of what may be called proto-croquet, with hoops so large that no one ever failed to get through, except you and me; the days when Ah che la morte was the last new tune, and Landseer and Mulready the last words in Art. They were the days when there had been but one Great Exhibition—think of it!—and the British Fleet could still get under canvas. We, being an old fogy, would so much like to go back to those days—to think of daguerreotypes as a stupendous triumph of Science, balloons as indigenous to Cremorne, and table-turning as a nine-days' wonder; in a word, to feel our biceps with satisfaction in an epoch when wheels went slow, folk played tunes, and nobody had appendicitis. But we can't!

However, it is those very days into which the story looks back and sees this girl with the golden hair, who has been waiting in that rainbow-glory fifty years ago for it to go on and say what it may of what followed. She comes out on the terrace through the high middle-window that opens on it, and now she stands in the blinding gleam, shading her eyes with her hand. It is late in July, and one may listen for a blackbird's note in vain. That song in the ash that drips a diamond-shower on the soaked lawn, whenever the wind breathes, may still be a thrush; his last song, perhaps, about his second family, before he retires for the season. The year we thought would last us out so well, for all we wished to do in it, will fail us at our need, and we shall find that the[Pg 96] summer we thought was Spring's success will be Autumn, much too soon, as usual. Over half a century of years have passed since then, and each has played off its trick upon us. Each Spring has said to us:—"Now is your time for life. Live!" and each Summer has jilted us and left us to be consoled by Autumn, a Job's comforter who only says:—"Make the best of me while you can, for close upon my heels is Winter."

You can still see the terrace much as this young woman, Lady Gwendolen Rivers—that was her name—saw it on that July evening, provided always that you choose one with such another rainbow. There is not much garden between it and the Park, which goes on for miles, and begins at the sunk fence over yonder. They are long miles too, and no stint; and it is an hour's walk from the great gate to the house, unless you run; so says the host of the Rivers Arms, which is ten minutes from the gate. You can lose yourself in this park, and there are red-deer as well as fallow-deer; and what is more, wild cattle who are dangerous, and who have lived on as a race from the days of Welsh Home Rule, and know nothing about London or English History. Even so in the Transvaal it is said that some English scouts came upon a peaceful valley with a settlement of Dutch farmers therein, who had to be told about the War to check their embarrassing hospitality. The parallel fails, however, for the wild white cattle of Ancester Park paw the earth up and charge, when they see strangers. The railway had to go round another way to keep their little scrap of ancient forest intact; for the family at the Castle has always taken the part of the bulls against all comers. Little does Urus know how superficial, how skin-deep, his loneliness has become—that he is really under tutelage unawares, and even surreptitiously helped to supplies of forage in seasons of dearth! Will his race linger on and outlive the race of Man when that biped has shelled and torpedoed and dynamited himself out of existence? And will they then fill the newest New Forest that will have covered the smokeless land, with the descendants of the herds that Cæsar's troops found in the Hercynian wilds? They are a fascinating subject for a wandering pen, but the one that writes this must not be led away from Lady Gwendolen on the terrace that looks across this cramped inheritance of beech and bracken. If she could always look like what the level sun makes her now, in the heart of a rainbow, few things the world can show would outbid her right to a record, or make the penning of it harder. For just at this moment she looks simply beautiful beyond belief. It is not all the doing of the sunrays, for she is a fine sample of nineteen,[Pg 97] of a type which has kindled enthusiasm since the comparatively recent incursion of William the Norman, and will continue to do so till finally dynamited out of existence, ut supra.

She is looking out under her hand—to make sight possible against the blaze—at a man who is plodding across the nearest opening in the woodland. How drenched he must be! What can possess him, to choose a day like this to go afoot through an undergrowth of bracken a day's raindrift has left water-charged? She knows well what a deluge meets him at every step, and watches him, pressing through it as one who has felt the worst pure water can do, and is reckless. She watches him into a clear glade, with a sense of relief on his behalf. She does not feel officially called upon to resent a stranger with a dog—in a territory sacred to game!—for the half-overgrown track he seems to have followed is a world of fallow-deer and pheasants. She is the daughter of the house, and trespassers are the concern of Stephen Solmes the head gamekeeper.

The trespasser seems at a loss which way to go, and wavers this way and that. His dog stands at his feet looking up at him, wagging a slow tail; deferentially offering no suggestion, but ready with advice if called upon. The young lady's thought is:—"Why can't he let that sweet dog settle it for him? He would find the way." Because she is sure of the sweetness of that collie, even at this distance. Ultimately the trespasser leaves the matter to the dog, who appears gratified and starts straight for where she stands. Dogs always do, says she to herself. But there is the haw-haw fence between them.

The dog stops. Not because of the obstacle—what does he care for obstacles?—but because of the courtesies of life. The man that made this sunk fence did it to intercept any stray collie in the parkland from scouring across into the terraced garden, even to inaugurate communications between a strange young lady and the noblest of God's creatures, his owner. That is the dog's view. So he stands where the fence has stopped him, a beseeching explanatory look in his pathetic eyes; and a silky tail, that is nearly dry already, marking time slowly. A movement of permission would bring him across into the garden; but then—is he not too wet? Young Lady Gwendolen says "No, dear!" regretfully, and shakes her head as though he would understand the negative. Perhaps he does, for he trots back to his master, who, however—it must be admitted—has whistled for him.

The pedestrian turns to go, but sees the lady well, though not very near her yet. She knows he sees her, as he raises his hat.[Pg 98] She has an impression of his personality from the action; which, it may be, guides her conduct in what follows.

He seems to have made up his mind to avoid the house, taking a visible path which skirts it, and possibly to strike away from it into the wider parkland, over yonder where the great oaks are. He is soon lost in a hazel coppice.

Then she thinks. That dog will be shot if Solmes catches sight of it. She knows old Stephen. Oh, for but one word with the dog's master! It might just make the whole difference.

She does not think long; in fact, there is no time to lose. The man and the dog must pass over Arthur's Bridge if they follow the path. She can intercept them there by taking a short cut through the Trings; a name with a forgotten origin, which hugs the spot unaccountably. "I wonder what a tring was, and when" says Gwendolen to herself, between those unsolved riddles and the bridge.

The bridge is a little stone bridge, just wide enough for a chaise to go through gently. Gwendolen has soaked her shoes to reach it. Still, she must save that dog from the Ranger's gun at any cost. A fig for the wet! She has to dress for dinner—indeed, her maid is waiting for her now—and dry stockings will be a negligible factor in that great total. There comes the pedestrian round by Swayne's Oak—another name whose origin no man knows.

The dog catches sight of her, and is off like a shot, his master trying vainly to whistle him back. The young lady is quite at ease—she is not afraid of dogs! She even laughs at this one's demonstrative salute, which leaves a paw-mark on either shoulder. For dogs do not scruple to kiss those they love, without making compliments.

His master is apologetic, coming up with a quickened pace. At a rebuke from him the collie becomes apologetic too; would be glad to explain, but is handicapped by language. He is, however, all repentance, and falls back behind his master, leaving matters in his hands. At the least—though the way of doing it may have been crude—he has brought about an introduction, of a sort.

There is no intrusive wish on the man's part to take undue advantage of it. His speech, "Achilles means well; it is only his cordiality," seems to express the speaker's feeling that somehow he is certain to be understood. His addendum—"I am really as sorry as I can be, all the same"—may be credited to ceremonial courtesy, flavoured with contrition. His wind-up has a sort of[Pg 99] laugh behind it:—"Particularly because I have no business in this part of the Park at all. I can only remedy that by my absence."

"You will promise me one thing, if you please...."

"Yes—whatever you wish."

"Lead your dog till you are outside the Park. If he is seen he may be shot. I could not bear that that dog should be shot." Something in the man's tone and manner has made it safe for the girl to overstep the boundaries of chance speech to an utter stranger.

He has no right—that he feels—to presume upon this semi-confidence of an impulsive girl, whoever she is. True, her beauty in that last glory of the sunset puts resolution to the test. But he has no right, and there's an end on't! "I will tie Achilles up," he says. "I should not like him to be shot."

"Oh!—is he Achilles?"

"His mother was Thetis."

"Then, of course, he is Achilles." At this point the boundaries of strangership seem insistent. After all, this man may be Tom or Dick or Harry. "You will excuse my speaking to you," says the young lady. "I had no one to send, and I saw you from the terrace. It was for the dog's sake."

In his chivalrous determination not to overdraw the blank cheque she has signed for him unawares, the stranger conceives that a few words of dry apology will meet the case, and leave him to go on his way. So, though powerfully ignoring the fact that that outcome will be an unwelcome one, he replies:—"I quite understand, and I am sincerely grateful for your caution." He gets at a dog-chain in the pocket of his waterproof overcoat, and at the click of it Achilles comes to be tied up. As he fastens the clasp to its collar, he adds:—"I should not have let him run loose like this, only that I am so sure of him. He is town-bred and a stranger to the chase. He can collect sheep, owing to his ancestry; but he never does it now, because he has been forbidden." While he speaks these last words he is examining something in the dog's leather collar. "It will hold, I think," says he. "A cut in the strap—it looks like." Then this oddly befallen colloquy ends and each gives the other a dry good-evening. The young lady's last sight of that acquaintance of five minutes shows him endeavouring to persuade the dog not to drag on his chain. For Achilles, for some dog-reason man will never know, is no sooner leashed than he makes restraint necessary by pulling against it with all his might.

"I hope that collar won't break," says the young lady as she[Pg 100] goes back to dress for dinner. The sun's gleam is dead, and the black cloud-bank that hides it now is the rain that is coming soon. See!—it has begun already.

Old Mrs. Solmes at the Ranger's Lodge, a mile distant, said to her old husband:—"Thou'rt a bad ma-an, Stephen, to leave thy goon about lwoaded, and the vary yoong boy handy to any mischief. Can'st thou not bide till there coom time for the lwoadin' of it?"

Said old Stephen sharply, "Gwun, wench? There be no gwun. 'Tis a roifle! And as fower the little Seth, yander staaple where it hangs is well up beyond the reach of un. Let a' be, Granny!"

The old woman, in whom grandmotherhood had overweighted all other qualities, by reason of little Seth's numerous first cousins, made no reply, but looked uneasily at the rifle on the wall. Little Seth—her appropriated grandchild, both his parents being dead—was too small at present to do any great harm to anyone but himself; but the time might come. He was credited with having swallowed an inch-brad, without visible inconvenience; and there was a threatening appearance in his eye as of one who would very soon climb up everywhere, fall off everything, appropriate the forbidden, break the frangible, and, in short, behave as—according to his grandmother—his father had done before him.

His old grandfather, who had a combative though not unamiable disposition, took down the rifle as an act of self-assertion, and walked out into the twilight with it on his shoulder. It was simply a contradictious action, as there was no warranty for it in vert and venison. But he had to garnish his action with an appearance of plausibility, and nothing suggested itself. The only course open to him was to get away out of sight, with implication of a purpose vaguely involving fire-arms. A short turn in the oak-wood—as far, perhaps, as Drews Thurrock—would fortify his position, without committing him to details: he could make secrecy about them a point of discipline. He walked away over the grassland, a fine, upright old figure; in whose broad shoulders, seen from behind, an insight short of clairvoyance might have detected what is called temper—meaning a want of it. He vanished into the oak-wood, where the Druid's Stone attests the place of sacrifice, human or otherwise.

Some few minutes later the echoes of a rifle-shot, unmistakable alike for that of shot-gun or revolver, circled the belt of hills that looks on Ancester Towers, and died at Grantley Thorpe. Old Stephen, when he reappeared at the Lodge half an hour later, could[Pg 101] explain his share in this with only a mixed satisfaction. For though his need of his rifle—whether real or not—had justified its readiness for use, he had failed as a marksman; the stray dog he fired at, after vanishing in a copse for a few minutes, having scoured away in a long detour; as he judged, making for the Castle.

"And a rare good hap for thee, husband!" said the old woman when she heard this. "Whatever has gotten thy wits, ma'an, to win out and draa' trigger on a pet tyke of some visitor lady at the Too'ers?"

"Will ye be tellun me this, and tellun me that, Keziah? I tell 'ee one thing, wench, it be no consarn o' mine whose dog be run loose in th' Park. Be they the Queen's own, my orders say shoot un! Do'ant thee know next month be August?" Nevertheless, the old man was not altogether sorry that he had missed. He might have been called over the coals for killing a dog-visitor to the Towers. He chose to affect regret for discipline's sake, and alleged that the dog had escaped into the wood only because he had no second cartridge. This was absurd. In these days of quick-shooters it might have been otherwise. In those, the only abominations of the sort were Colonel Colt's revolvers; and they were a great novelty, opening up a new era in murder.

The truth was that this view of the culprit's identity had dawned on him as soon as he got a second view of the dog visibly making for the Castle—almost too far in any case for a shot at anything smaller than a doe—and he would probably have held his hand for both reasons even if a reload had been possible.

Lady Gwendolen, treasuring in her heart a tale of adventure—however trivial—to tell at the dinner-table in the evening, submitted herself to be prepared for that function. She seemed absent in mind; and Lutwyche her maid, observing this, skipped intermediate reasonings and straightway hoped that the cause of this absence of mind had come over with the Conqueror and had sixty thousand a year. Meanwhile she wanted to know which dress, my lady, this evening?—and got no answer. Her ladyship was listening to something at a distance; or, rather, having heard something at a distance, was listening for a repetition of it. "I wonder what that can have been?" said she. For fire-arms in July are torpid mostly, and this was a gunshot somewhere.

"They are firing at the Butts at Stamford Norton, my lady," said Lutwyche; who always knew things, sometimes rightly—sometimes wrongly. This time, the latter.[Pg 102]

"Then the wind must have gone round. Besides, it would come again. Listen!" Thus her ladyship, and both listened. But nothing came again.

Lady Gwendolen was as beautiful as usual that evening, but contrary to custom silent and distraite. She did not tell the story of the Man in the Park and his dog. She kept it to herself. She was unresponsive to the visible devotion of a Duke's eldest son, who came up to Lutwyche's standard in all particulars. She did not even rise to the enthusiasm of a very old family friend, the great surgeon Sir Coupland Merridew, about the view from his window across the Park, although each had seen the same sunset effect. She only said:—"Oh—have they put you in the Traveller's Room, Sir Coupland? Yes—the view is very fine!" and became absent again. She retired early, asking to be excused on the score of fatigue; not, however, seriously resenting her mother's passing reference to a nursery rhyme about Sleepy-head, whose friends kept late hours, nor her "Why, child, you've had nothing to tire you!" She was asleep in time to avoid the sound of a dog whining, wailing, protesting vainly, with a great wrong on his soul, not to be told for want of language.

She woke with a start very early, to identify this disturbance with something she lost in a dream, past recovery, owing to this sudden awakening. She had her hand on the bell-rope at her bed's head, and had all but pulled it before she identified the blaze of light in her room as the exordium of the new day. The joy of the swallows at the dawn was musical in the ivy round her window, open through the warm night; and the turtle-doves had much to say, and were saying it, in the world of leafage out beyond. But there was no joy in the persistent voice of that dog, and no surmise of its hearer explained it.

She found her feet, and shoes to put them in, before she was clear about her own intentions; then in all haste got herself into as much clothing as would cover the risks of meeting the few early risers possible at such an hour—it could but be some chance groom or that young gardener—and, opening her door with thief-like stealth, stole out through the stillness night had left behind, past the doors of sleepers who were losing the sweetest of the day. So she thought—so we all think—when some chance gives us precious hours that others are wasting in stupid sleep. But even she would not have risen but for that plaintive intermittent wail and a growing construction of a cause for it—all fanciful perhaps—that her uneasy mind would still be at work upon. She must find out the story of it. More sleep now was absurd.[Pg 103]

Two bolts and a chain—not insuperable obstacles—and she was free of the side-garden. An early riser—the one she had foreseen, a young gardener she knew—with an empty basket to hold flowers for the still sleeping household to refresh the house with in an hour, and its bed-bound sluggards in two or three, was astir and touched a respectful cap with some inner misgiving that this unwonted vision was a ghost. But he showed a fine discipline, and called it "My lady" with presence of mind. Ghost or no, that was safe! "What is that dog, Oliver?" said the vision.

The question made all clear. The answer was speculative. "Happen it might be his lordship's dog that came yesterday—feeling strange in a strange place belike?"

"No dog came yesterday. Lord Cumberworld hasn't a dog. I must know. Where is it?"

Oliver was not actor enough not to show that he was concealing wonderment at the young lady's vehemence. His eyes remained wide open in token thereof.

"In the stables, by the sound of it, my lady," was his answer.

His lady turned without a word, going straight for the stables; and he followed when, recollecting him, she looked back to say, "Yes—come!"

Grooms are early risers in a well-kept stable. There is always something to be done, involving pails, or straps, or cloths, or barrows, or brushes, even at five in the morning in July. When the young gardener, running on ahead, jangled at the side-gate yard-bell, more than one pair of feet was on the move within; and there was the cry of the dog, sure enough, almost articulate with keen distress about some unknown wrong.

"What is the dog, Archibald?—what is the dog?" The speaker was too anxious for the answer to frame her question squarely. But the old Scotch groom understood. "Wha can tell that?" says he. "He's just stra'ad away from his home, or lost the track of a new maister. They do, ye ken, even the collies on the hillsides. Will your ladyship see him?"

"Yes—yes! That is what I came for. Let me." A younger groom, awaiting this instruction, goes for the dog, whose clamour has increased tenfold, becoming almost frenzy when he sees his friend of the day before; for he is Achilles beyond a doubt. Achilles, mad with joy—or is it unendurable distress?—or both?

"Your leddyship will have seen him before, doubtless," says old Archibald. He does not say, but means:—"We are puzzled, but submissive, and look forward to enlightenment."

"Let him go—yes, I know him!—don't hold him. Oh, Achilles,[Pg 104] you darling dog—it is you!... Yes—yes—let him go—he'll be all right.... Yes, dear, you shall kiss me as much as you like." Thia was in response to a tremendous accolade, after which the dog crouched humbly at his idol's feet; whimpering a little still, beneath his breath, about something he could not say. She for her part caressed and soothed the frightened creature, asking the while for information about the manner of his appearance the night before.

It seemed that on the previous evening about eight o'clock he had been found in the Park just outside the door of the walled garden south of the Castle, as though he was seeking to follow someone who had passed through. That at least was the impression of Margery, a kitchen-maid, whom inquiry showed to have been the source of the first person plural in the narrative of Tom Kettering, the young groom, who had come upon the dog crouched against this door; and, judging him to be in danger in the open Park, had brought him home to the stables for security.

How had the collie behaved when brought up to the stable? Well—he had been fair quiet—only that he was always for going out after any who were leaving, and always "wakeriff, panting, and watching like," till he, Tom Kettering, tied him up for the night. And then he started crying and kept on at it till they turned out, maybe half an hour since.

"He has not got his own collar," said the young lady suddenly. "Where is his own collar?"

"He had ne'er a one on his neck when I coom upon him," says Tom. "So we putten this one on for a makeshift."

"It's mair than leekly, my lady,"—thus old Archibald—"that he will have slipped from out his ain by reason of eempairfect workmanship of the clasp. Ye'll ken there's a many cheap collars sold...." The old boy is embarking on a lecture on collar-structure, which, however, he is not allowed to finish. The young lady interrupts.

"I saw his collar," says she, "and it was not a collar like this"—that is, a metal one with a hasp—"it was a strap with a buckle, and his master said there was a cut in it. That was why it broke." Then, seeing the curiosity on the faces of her hearers, who would have thought it rather presumptuous to ask for an explanation, she volunteers a short one ending with:—"The question is now, how can we get him back to his master?" It never crossed her mind that any evil hap had come about. After all, the dog's excitement and distress were no more than his separation from his owner and his strange surroundings might have brought about in[Pg 105] any case. The whole thing was natural enough without assuming disaster, especially as seen by the light of that cut in the strap. The dog was a town-bred dog, and once out of his master's sight, might get demoralised and all astray.

No active step for restoring Achilles to his owner seeming practicable, nothing was left but to await the action that gentleman was sure to adopt to make his loss known. Obviously the only course open to us now was to take good care of the wanderer, and keep an ear on the alert for news of his owner's identity. All seemed to agree to this, except Achilles.

During the brief consultation the young lady had taken a seat on a clean truss of hay, partly from an impulse most of us share, to sit or lie on fresh hay whenever practicable; partly to promote communion with the dog, who crouched at her feet worshipping, not quite with the open-mouthed, loose-tongued joy one knows so well in a perfectly contented dog, but now and again half-uttering a stifled sound—a sound that might have ended in a wail. When, the point seeming established that no further step could be taken at present, Lady Gwendolen rose to depart, a sudden frenzy seized Achilles. There is nothing more pathetic than a dog's effort to communicate his meaning—clear to him as to a man—and his inability to do it for want of speech.

"You darling dog!" said Gwendolen. "What can it be he wants? Leave him alone and let us see.... No—don't touch his chain!" For Achilles, crouched one moment at her feet, the next leaping suddenly away, seemed like to go mad with distress.

The young groom Tom said something with bated breath, as not presuming to advise too loud. His mistress caught his meaning, if not his words. "What!"—she spoke suddenly—"knows where he is—his master?" The thought struck a cold chill to her heart. It could only mean some mishap to the man of yesterday. What sort of mishap?

Some understanding seems to pass between the four men—Archibald, the two young grooms, and the gardener—something they will not speak of direct to her ladyship. "What?—what's that?" says she, impatient of their scrupulousness towards her sheltered inexperience of calamity. "Tell me straight out!"

Old Archibald takes upon himself, as senior, to answer her question. "I wouldna' set up to judge, my lady, for my ain part. But the lads are all of one mind—just to follow on the dog's lead, for what may come o't." Then he is going on "Ye ken maybe the mon might fall and be ill able to move...." when he is caught up sharp by the girl's "Or be killed. Yes—follow the dog." Why[Pg 106] should she be kept from the hearing of a mishap to this stranger, even of his death?

Old Stephen at the Lodge saw the party and came out in haste. He had his story to tell, and told it as one who had no blame for his own share in it. Why should he have any? He had only carried out his orders. Yes—that was the dog he drew trigger on. He could not be mistaken on that point.

"And you fired on the dog to kill it," says the young lady, flashing out into anger.

The old man stands his ground. "I had my orders, my lady," says he. "If I caught sight of e'er a dog unled—to shoot un."

"The man he belonged to—did you not see him?"

"No ma'an coom in my sight. Had I seen a ma'an, I would have wa'arned and cautioned him to keep to the high road, not to bring his dog inside o' the parkland. No—no—there was ne'er a ma'an, my lady." He goes on, very slightly exaggerating the time that passed between his shot at the dog and its reappearance, apparently going back to the Castle. He rather makes a merit of not having fired again from a misgiving that the dog's owner might be there on a visit. Drews Thurrock, he says, is where he lost sight of the dog, and that is where Achilles seems bent on going.

Drews Thurrock is a long half-mile beyond the Keeper's Lodge in Ancester Park, and the Lodge is a long half-mile from the Towers. Still, if it was reasonable to follow the dog at all, where would be the sense of holding back or flagging till he should waver in what seemed assurance of his purpose. No—no! What he was making for might be five miles off, for all that the party that followed him knew. But trust in the creature's instinct grew stronger each time he turned and waited for their approach, then scoured on as soon as it amounted to a pledge that he would not be deserted. There was no faltering on his part.

The river, little more than a brook at Arthur's Bridge, is wide enough here to deserve its name. The grove of oaks which one sees from the Ranger's Lodge hides the water from view. But Gwendolen has it in her mind, and with it a fear that the dog's owner will be found drowned. It was there that her brother Frank died four years since, and was found in the deep pool above the stepping-stones, caught in a tangle of weed and hidden, after two days' search for him far and wide. If that is to be the story we shall know, this time, by the dog's stopping there. Therefore none would hint at an abandonment of the search having come thus far, even were he of the mind to run counter to the wish of the young[Pg 107] lady from the Castle. None dares to do this, and the party follows her across the stretch of gorse and bracken called the Warren to the wood beyond. There the dog has stopped, waiting eagerly, showing by half-starts and returns that he knows he would be lost to sight if he were too quick afoot. For the wood is dark in front of him and the boughs hang low.

"Nigh enough to where I set my eye on him at the first of it, last evening," says old Stephen. He makes no reference to the affair of the gunshot. Better forgotten perhaps!

But he is to remember that gunshot, many a wakeful night. For the forecast of a mishap in that fatal pool is soon to be dissipated. As the party draws nearer the dog runs back in his eagerness, then forward again. And then Lady Gwendolen follows him into the wood, and the men follow her in silence. Each has some anticipation in his mind—a thing to be silent about.

There is a dip in the ground ahead, behind which Achilles disappears. Another moment and he is back again, crying wildly with excitement. The girl quickens a pace that has flagged on the rising ground; for they have come quickly. And now she stands on the edge of a buttress-wall that was once the boundary—so says tradition—of an amphitheatre of sacrifice. Twenty yards on yonder is the Druids' altar, or the top of it. For the ground has climbed up stone and wall for fifteen hundred years, and the moss is deep on both; rich with a green no dye can rival, for the soaking of yesterday's rain is on it still. But she can see nothing for the moment, for the dog has leapt the wall and vanished.

"'Tis down below, my lady—beneath the wall." It is the young gardener who speaks. The others have seen what he sees, but are shy of speech. He has more claim than they to the position of a friend, after so many conferences with her ladyship over roots and bulbs this year and last. He repeats his speech lest she should not have understood him.

"Then quick!" says she. And all make for the nearest way down the wall and through the fern and bramble.

What the young gardener spoke of is a man's body, seeming dead. No doubt of his identity, for the dog sits by him motionless, waiting. His part is finished.

Now that the thing is known and may be faced without disguise the men are all activity. Knives are out cutting away rebellious thorny stems that will not keep down for trampling, and a lane is made through the bush that keeps us from the body, while minutes that seem hours elapse. That will do now. Bring him out, gently.[Pg 108]

Shot through the head—is that it? Is there to be no hope? The girl's heart stands still as old Stephen stoops down to examine the head, where the blood is that has clotted all the hair and beard and run to a pool in the bracken and leaked away—who can say how plentifully?—into a cleft in the loose stones fallen from the wall. The old keeper is in no trim for his task—one that calls for a cool eye and a steady finger-touch. For it is he that has done this, and the white face and lifeless eye are saying to him that he has slain a man. He has too much at stake for us to accept his statement that the wound on the temple is no bullet-hole in the skull, but good for profuse loss of blood for all that. He has seen such a wound before, he says. But then his wish for a wound still holding out some hope of life may have fathered this thought, and even a false memory of his experience. Perhaps he is right, though, in one thing. If the body is lifted and carried, even up to the lodge, the blood may break out again. Leave him where he is till the doctor comes.

For, at the first sight of the body, the young groom was off like a shot to harness up the grey in the dog-cart, a combination favouring speed, and drive his hardest to Grantley Thorpe for Dr. Nash, the nearest medical resource. He is gone before the young lady, who knows of one still nearer, can be alive to his action, or to anything but the white face and lifeless hand Achilles licks in vain.

Then, a moment later, she is aware of what has been done, and exclaims:—"Oh dear!—why did you send him? Dr. Merridew is at the Castle." For she knew Sir Coupland before he had his knighthood. Thereon the other groom is starting to summon him, but she stops him. She will go herself; then the great man will be sure to come at once.

Sir Coupland Ellicott Merridew, F.R.S., F.R.C.S., F.R.C.P., etc.—a whole alphabet of them—was enjoying this moment of the first unalloyed holiday he had had for two years, by lying in bed till nine o'clock. If it made him too late for the collective breakfast in the new dining-room—late Jacobean—he had only to ring for a private subsection for himself. He had had a small cup of coffee at eight, and was congratulating himself on it, and was now absolutely in a position not to give any consideration to anything whatever.

But cruel Destiny said No!—he was not to round off his long night's rest with a neat peroration. He was interrupted in the middle of it by what seemed, in his dream-world, just reached,[Pg 109] the loud crack of a bone that disintegrated under pressure; but that when he woke was clearly a stone flung at his window. What a capital instance of dream-celerity, thought he! Fancy the first half of that sound having conjured up the operating-theatre at University College Hospital, fifteen years ago, and a room full of intent faces he knew well, and enough of the second half being available for him to identify it as—probably—the poltergeist that infested that part of the house. Perhaps, if he took no notice, the poltergeist would be discouraged and subside. Anyhow, he wouldn't encourage it.

But the sound came again, and the voice surely of Gwendolen, his very great friend, with panic in it, and breathlessness as of a voice-reft runner. He was out of bed in twenty, dressing-gowned in forty, at the window in fifty, seconds. Not a minute lost!

"What's all that?... A man shot! All right, I'll come."

"Oh, do! It's so dreadful. Stephen Solmes shot him by mistake for a dog ... at least, I'll tell you directly."

"All right. I'll come now." And in less than half an hour the speaker is kneeling by the body on the grass; and those who found it, with others who have gathered round even in this solitude, are waiting for the first authoritative word of possible hope. Not despair, with a look like that on the face of a Fellow of the Royal College of Surgeons.

"There is a little blood coming still. Wait till I have stopped it and I'll tell you." He stops it somehow with the aid of a miraculous little morocco affair, scarcely bigger than a card-case. He never leaves home without it. Then he looks up at the anxious, beautiful face of the girl who stoops close by, holding a dog back. "He is not dead," says he. "That is all I can say. He must be moved as little as possible, but got to a bed—somewhere. Is that his dog?"

"Yes. This is Achilles."

"How do you know it is Achilles?"

"I'll tell you directly. He told me his name yesterday." She nods towards the motionless figure on the turf. It is not a corpse yet; that is all that can be said, so far.[Pg 110]



At the Towers, in those days, there was always breakfast, but very few people came down to it. In saying this the story accepts the phraseology of the household, which must have known. Norbury the butler, for instance, who used the expression to the Hon. Percival Pellew, a guest who at half-past nine o'clock that morning expressed surprise at finding himself the only respondent to The Bell. It was the Mr. Pellew mentioned before, a Member of Parliament whose humorous speeches always commanded a hearing, even when he knew nothing about the subject under discussion; which, indeed, was very frequently the case.

Perhaps it was to keep his hand in that he adopted a tone of serious chaff to Mr. Norbury, such as some people think a well-chosen one towards children, to their great embarrassment. He replied to that most responsible of butlers with some pomposity of manner. "The question before the house," said he—and paused to enjoy a perversion of speech—"the question before the house comes down to breakfast I take to be this:—Is it breakfast at all till somebody has eaten it?"

"I could not say, sir." Mr. Norbury's manner is dignified, deferential, and dry. More serious than need be perhaps.

The Hon. Percival is not good at insight, and sees nothing of this. "It certainly appears to me," he says, taking his time over it, "that until breakfast has broken someone's fast, or someone has broken his own at the expense of breakfast.... What's that?"

"One of the ladies coming down, sir." Mr. Norbury would not, in the ordinary way of business, have mentioned this fact, but it had given him a resource against a pleasantry he found distasteful. Of course, he knew the event of the morning. Yet he could not say to the gentleman:—"A truce to jocularity. A man was[Pg 111] shot dead half a mile off last night, and the body has been taken to the Keeper's Lodge."

The lady coming downstairs was Miss Constance Smith-Dickenson, also uninformed about the tragedy. She had made her first appearance yesterday afternoon, and had looked rather well in a pink-figured muslin at dinner. The interchanges between this lady and the Hon. Percival, referring chiefly to the fact that no one else was down, seemed to have no interest for Mr. Norbury; who, however, noted that no new topic had dawned upon the conversation when he returned from a revision of the breakfast-table. The fact was that the Hon. Percival had detected in Miss Dickenson a fossil, and was feeling ashamed of a transient interest in her last night, when she had shown insight, under the guidance—suppose we say—of champagne. Her bloom had gone off, too, in a strange way, and bloom was a sine qua non to this gentleman. She for her part was conscious of a chill having come between them, she having retired to rest the evening before with a refreshing sensation that all was not over—could not be—when so agreeable a man could show her such marked attention. That was all she would endorse of a very temperate Vanity's suggestions, mentally crossing out an s at the end of "attention." If you have studied the niceties of the subject, you will know how much that letter would have meant.

A single lady of a particular type gets used to this sort of thing. But her proper pride has to be kept under steam, like a salvage-tug in harbour when there is a full gale in the Channel. However, she is better off than her great-great-aunts, who were exposed to what was described as satire. Nowadays, presumably, Man is not the treasure he was, for a good many women seem to scrat on cheerfully enough without him. Or is it that in those days he was the only person employed on his own valuation?

In the period of this story—that is to say, when our present veterans were schoolboys—the air was clearing a little. But the smell of the recent Georgian era hung about. There was still a fixed period in women's lives when they suddenly assumed a new identity—became old maids and were expected to dress the part. It was twenty-eight, to the best of our recollection. Therefore Miss Smith-Dickenson, who was thirty-eight if she was a minute, became a convicted impostor in the eyes of the Hon. Percival, when, about ten hours after he had said to himself that she was not a bad figure of a woman and that some of her remarks were racy, he perceived that she was going off; that her complexion didn't bear the daylight; that she wouldn't wash; that she was probably[Pg 112] a favourite with her own sex, and, broadly speaking, an Intelligent Person. "Never do at all!" said the Hon. Percival to himself. And Space may have asked "What for?" But nobody answered.

On the other hand, the lady perceived, in time, that the gentleman looked ten years older by daylight; that no one could call him corpulent exactly; that he might be heavy on hand, only perhaps he wanted his breakfast—men did; that the Pall Mall and Piccadilly type of man very soon palled, and that, in short, that steam-tug would be quite unnecessary this time.

Therefore, when Lady Gwendolen appeared, point-device for breakfast as to dress, but looking dazed and preoccupied, she found this lady and gentleman being well-bred, as shown by scanty, feelingless remarks about the absence of morning papers as well as morning people. Her advent opened a new era for them, in which they could cultivate ignorance of one another on the bosom of a newcomer common to both.

"Only you two!" said the newcomer; which Miss Dickenson thought scarcely delicate, considering the respective sexes of the persons addressed. "I knew I was late, but I couldn't help it. Good-morning, Aunt Constance." She gave and got a kiss. The Hon. Percival would have liked the former for himself. Why need he have slightly flouted its receiver by a mental note that he would not have cared about its riposte? It had not been offered.

"How well you are looking, dear!" said Aunt Constance, holding her honorary niece at arms' length to visualise her robustness. She was not a real Aunt at all, only an old friend of the family.

"I'm not," said Gwendolen. "Norbury, is breakfast ready? Shall we go in?... Oh no, nothing! Please don't talk to me about it. I mean I'm all right. Ask Sir Coupland to tell you." For the great surgeon had come into the room, and was talking in an undertone to the old butler. Lady Gwendolen added an apology which she kept in stereotype for the non-appearance of her mother at breakfast. The Earl's absence was a usage, taken for granted. Some said he had a cup of coffee in his own room at eight, and starved till lunch.

Other guests appeared, and the usual English country-house breakfast followed: a haphazard banquet, a decorous scrimmage for a surfeit of eggs, and fish, and bacon, and tongue, and tea, and coffee, and porridge, and even Heaven itself hardly knows what. Less than usual vanished to become a vested interest of digestion; more than usual went back to the kitchen for appreciation elsewhere. For Sir Coupland, appealed to, had given a brief[Pg 113] intelligent report of the occurrence of the morning. Then followed undertones of conversation apart between him and the Hon. Percival, who had not the heart for a pleasantry, and groups of two or three aside. Lady Gwen alone was silent, leaving the narration entirely to her medical friend, to whom she had told the incident of last evening—her interview with the man now lying between life and death, and the way his body was found by following the dog. She left the room as early as courtesy allowed, and Sir Coupland did not remain long. He had to go and tell the matter to the Earl, he said. Gwendolen, no doubt, had to do the same to her mother the Countess. It was an awful business.

Said Miss Smith-Dickenson to the Hon. Percival, on the shady terrace, a quarter of an hour afterwards, "He did tell you who the man is, though? Or perhaps I oughtn't to ask?" Other guests were scattered otherwhere, talking of the tragedy. Not a smile to be seen; still, the victim of the mishap was a stranger. It was a cloud under which a man might enjoy a cigar, quand même.

The Hon. Percival knocked an instalment of caput mortuum off his; an inch of ash which had begun on the terrace; so the interview was some minutes old. "Yes," said he. "Yes, he knows who it is. That's the worst of it."

"The worst of it?"

"I don't know of any reason myself why I should not tell you his name. Sir Coupland only said he wanted it kept quiet till he could see his father, whom he knows, of course. I understand that the family belongs to this county—lives about twenty miles off." The lady felt so confident that she would be told the name that she seized the opportunity to show how discreet she was, and kept silence. She was quite incapable of mere vulgar inquisitiveness, you see. Her inmost core had the satisfaction of feeling that its visible outer husk, Miss Constance Smith-Dickenson, was killing two birds with one stone. The way in which the gentleman continued justified it. "Besides, I know I may rely upon you to say nothing about it." Clearly the effect of her visible, almost palpable, discretion! For really—said the core—this good gentleman never set eyes on my husk till yesterday evening. And he is a Man of the World and all that sort of thing.

Miss Smith-Dickenson knew perfectly well how her sister Lilian—the one with the rolling, liquid eyes, now Baroness Porchammer—would have responded. But she herself mistrusting her powers of gushing right, did not feel equal to "Oh, but how nice of you to say so, dear Mr. Pellew!" And she felt that she was not cut out for a satirical puss neither, like her sister Georgie, now Mrs. Amphlett[Pg 114] Starfax, to whom a mental review of possible responses assigned, "Oh dear, how complimentary we are, all of a sudden!"—with possibly a heavy blow on the gentleman's fore-arm with a fan, if she had one. So she decided on "Pray go on. You may rely on my discretion." It was simple, and made her feel like Elizabeth in "Pride and Prejudice"—a safe model, if a little old-fashioned.

The gentleman pulled at his cigar in a considerative way, and said in a perfunctory one:—"I am sure I may." Nevertheless, he postponed his answer through a mouthful of smoke, dismissing it into the atmosphere finally, to allow of speech determined on during its detention: "I'm afraid it's Adrian Torrens—there can't be two of the name who write poetry. Besides—the dog!"

The lady said "Good Heavens!" in a frightened underbreath, and was visibly shocked. For it is usually someone of whom one knows nothing at all that gets shot accidentally. Now, Adrian Torrens was the name of a man recently distinguished as the author of some remarkable verse. A man of very good family too. So—altogether!... This was the expression used by Miss Smith-Dickenson's core, almost unrebuked. "Of course, I remember the poem about the collie-dog," she added aloud.

"Can you remember the name of the dog? Wasn't it Aeneas?"


"I meant Achilles. Well—his dog's Achilles."

"I thought you said there was no name on the collar."

"No more there was. But I understand that Gwen met him yesterday evening—down by Arthur's Bridge, I believe—and had some conversation with him, I gather."


"But why? Why 'Oh!'—I mean?"

"I didn't mean anything. Only that she was looking so scared and unhappy at breakfast, and that would account for it."


"Surely what?"

"Well—does it want accounting for? A man shot dead almost in sight of the house, and by your own gamekeeper! Isn't that enough?"

"Enough in all conscience. But it makes a difference. All the difference. I can't exactly describe.... It is not as if she had never met him in her life before. Now do you see?..."

"Never met him in her life before?..." The Hon. Percival stands waiting for more, one-third of his cigar in abeyance between his finger-tips. Getting no more, he continues:—"Why—you don't mean to say?..."[Pg 115]


"Well—it's something like this, if I can put the case. Take somebody you've just met and spoken to...." But Mr. Pellew's prudence became suddenly aware of a direction in which the conversation might drift, and he pulled up short. If he pushed on rashly, how avoid an entanglement of himself in a personal discussion? If his introduction to this lady had been days old, instead of merely hours, there would have been no quicksands ahead. He felt proud of his astuteness in dealing with a wily sex.

Only he shouldn't have been so transparent. All that the lady had to do was to change the subject of the conversation with venomous decision, and she did it. "What a beautiful dark green fritillary!" said she. "I hope you care for butterflies, Mr. Pellew. I simply dote on them." She was conscious of indebtedness for this to her sister Lilian. Never mind!—Lilian was married now, and had no further occasion to be enchanting. A sister might borrow a cast-off. Its effect was to make the gentleman clearly alive to the fact that she knew exactly why he had stopped short.

But Miss Smith-Dickenson did not say to Mr. Pellew:—"I am perfectly well aware that you, sir, see danger ahead—danger of a delicate discussion of the difference our short acquaintance would have made to me if I had heard this morning that you were shot overnight. Pray understand that I discern in this nothing but restless male vanity, always on the alert to save its owner—or slave—from capture or entanglement by dangerous single women with no property. You would have been perfectly safe in my hands, even if your recommendations as an Adonis had been less equivocal." She said no such thing. But something or other—can it have been the jump to that butterfly?—made Mr. Pellew conscious that if she had worded a thought of the kind, it would have been just like a female of her sort. Because he wasn't going to end up that she wouldn't have been so very far wrong.

A name ought to be invented for these little ripples of human intercourse, that are hardly to be called embarrassments, seeing that their monde denies their existence. We do not believe it is only nervous and imaginative folk that are affected by them. The most prosaic of mankind keeps a sort of internal or subjective diary of contemporary history, many of whose entries run on such events, and are so very unlike what their author said at the time.

The dark green fritillary did not stay long enough to make any conversation worth the name, having an appointment with a friend in the air. Mr. Pellew hummed Non piu andrai farfallon amoroso,[Pg 116] producing on the mind of Miss Dickenson vague impressions of the Opera, Her Majesty's—not displaced by a Hotel in those days—tinctured with a consciousness of Club-houses and Men of the World. This gentleman, with his whiskers and monocular wrinkle responding to his right-eye-glass-grip, who had as good as admitted last night that his uncle was intimate with the late Prince Regent, was surely an example of this singular class; which is really scarcely admissible on the domestic hearth, owing to the purity of the latter. Possibly, however, these impressions had nothing to do with the lady's discovery that perhaps she ought to go in and find out what "they" were thinking of doing this morning. It may be that it was only due to her consciousness that you cannot—when female and single—stand alone with a live single gentleman on a terrace, both speechless. You can walk up and down with him, conversing vivaciously, but you mustn't come to an anchor beside him in silence. There would be a suspicion about it of each valuing the other's presence for its own sake, which would never do.

"Goin' in?" said the Hon. Percival. "Well—it's been very jolly out here."

"Very pleasant, I am sure," said Miss Constance Smith-Dickenson. If either made a diary entry out of this, it was of the slightest. She moved away across the lawn, her skirt brushing it audibly, as the cage-borne skirt of those days did, suggesting the advantages of Jack-in-the-Green's costume. For Jack could leave his green on the ground and move freely inside it. He did not stick out at the top. Mr. Pellew remained on the shady terrace, to end up his cigar. He was a little disquieted by the recollection of his very last words, which remembered themselves on his tongue-tip as a key remembers itself in one's hand, when one has forgotten if one really locked that box. Why, though, should he not say to a maiden lady of a certain age—these are the words he thought in—that it was very nice on this terrace? Why not indeed? But that wasn't exactly the question. What he had really said was that it had been very nice on this terrace. All the difference!

Miss Dickenson was soon aware what the "they" she had referred to was going to do, and offered to accompany it. The Countess and her daughter and others were the owners of the voices she could hear outside the drawing-room door when at liberty to expand, after a crush in half a French window that opened on the terrace. Her ladyship the Countess was as completely upset as her husband's ancestry permitted—quite white[Pg 117] and almost crying, only not prepared to admit it. "Oh, Constance dear," said she. "Are you there? You are always so sensible. But isn't this awful?"

Aunt Constance perceived the necessity for a sympathetic spurt. She had been taking it too easily, evidently. She was equal to the occasion, responding with effusion that it was "so dreadful that she could think of nothing else!" Which wasn't true, for the moment before she had been collating the Hon. Percival's remarks and analysing the last one. Not that she was an unfeeling person—only more like everyone else than everyone else may be inclined to admit.



There was no need for a reason why Lady Gwendolen and her mother should take the first opportunity of walking over to the Lodge, where this man lay either dead or dying; but one presented itself to the Countess, as an addendum to others less defined. "We ought to go," said she, "if only for poor old Stephen's sake. The old man will be quite off his head with grief. And it was such an absolute accident."

This was on the way, walking over the grassland. Aunt Constance felt a little unconvinced. He who sends a bullet abroad at random may hear later that it had its billet all along, though it was so silent about it. As for the girl, she was in a fever of excitement; to reach the scene of disaster, anyhow—to hear some news of respite, possibly. No one had vouched for Death so far.

Sir Coupland was already on the spot, having only stayed long enough to give particulars of the catastrophe to the Earl; but he was not by the bedside. He was outside the cottage, speaking with Dr. Nash, the local doctor from Grantley Thorpe, who had passed most of the night there. There was a sort of conclusiveness about their conference, even as seen from a distance, which promised ill. As the three ladies approached, he came to meet them.[Pg 118]

"Is there a chance?" said the Countess, as he came within hearing.

Only a shake of the head in reply. It quenches all the eagerness to hear in the three faces, each in its own degree. Aunt Constance's gives place to "Oh dear!" and solicitude. Lady Ancester's to a gasp like sudden pain, and "Oh, Sir Coupland! are you quite, quite sure?" Her daughter's to a sharp cry, or the first of one cut short, and "Oh, mamma!" Then a bitten lip, and a face shrinking from the others' view as she turns and looks out across the Park. That is Arthur's Bridge over yonder, where last evening she spoke with this man that now lies dead, and took some note of his great dark eyes in the living glory of the sunset.

As the world and sky swim about her for a moment, even she herself wonders why she should be so hard hit. A perfect stranger! A man she had never before in her life spoken to. And then, for such a moment! But the great dark eyes of the man now dead are upon her, and she does not at first hear that her mother is speaking to her.

"Gwen dear!... Gwen darling!—you hear what Sir Coupland says? We can do no good." She has to touch her daughter's arm to get her attention.

"Well!" The girl turns, and her tears are as plain on her face as its beauty. "That means go home?" says she; and then gives a sort of heart-broken sigh. "Oh dear!" Her lack of claim to grieve for this man cuts like a knife.

"We can do no good," her mother repeats. "Now, can we?"

"No, I see. Suppose we go." She turns as though to go, but either her intention hangs fire, or she only wishes her face unseen for the moment; for she pauses, saying to her mother: "There is old Stephen. Ought we not to see him—one of us?"

"Yes!" says her ladyship, decisive on reflection. "I had forgotten about old Stephen. But I can go to him. You go back!... Yes, dear, you had better go back.... What?"

"I am not going back. I want to see the body—this man's body. I want to see his face.... No; I am not a child, mamma. Let me have my way."

"If you must, darling, you must. But I cannot see what use it can be. See—here is Aunt Constance! She does not want to see it...." A confirmatory head-shake from Miss Dickenson. "Why should you?"

"Aunt Constance never spoke to him. I did. And he spoke to me. Let me go, mamma dear. Don't oppose me." Indeed, the[Pg 119] girl seems almost feverishly anxious, quite on a sudden, to have this wish. No need for her mother to accompany her, she adds. To which her mother replies:—"I would if you wished it, dear Gwen"; whereupon Aunt Constance, perceiving in her heart an opportunity for public service tending to distinction, says so would she. Further, in view of a verdict from somebody somewhere later on, that she showed a very nice feeling on this occasion, she takes an opportunity before they reach the cottage to say to Lady Gwendolen in an important aside:—"You won't let your mother go into the room, dear. Anything of this sort tells so on her system." To which the reply is rather abrupt:—"You needn't come, either of you." So that is settled.

The body had not been carried into a room of the cottage, but into what goes by the name of the Verderer's Hall, some fifty yards off. That much carriage was spared by doing so. It now lies on the "Lord's table," so called not from any reference to sacramental usage, but because the Lord of the Manor sat at it on the occasions of the Manorial Courts. Three centuries have passed since the last Court Baron; the last landlord who sat in real council with his tenantry under its roof having been Roger Earl of Ancester, who was killed in the Civil War. But old customs die hard, and every Michaelmas Day—except it fall on a Sunday—the Earl or his Steward at twelve o'clock receives from the person who enjoys a right of free-warren over certain acres that have long since harboured neither hare nor rabbit, an annual tribute which a chronicle as old as Chaucer speaks of as "iiij tusshes of a wild bore." If no boars' tusks are forthcoming, he has to be content with some equivalent devised to meet their scarcity nowadays. Otherwise, the old Hall grows to be more and more a museum of curios connected with the Park and outlying woodlands, the remains of the old forest that covered the land when even Earls were upstarts. A record pair of antlers on the wall is still incredulously measured tip to tip by visitors unconvinced by local testimony, and a respectable approach to Roman Antiquities is at rest after a learned description by Archæology. The place smells sweet of an old age that is so slow—that the centuries have handled so tenderly—that one's heart thinks of it rather as spontaneous preservation than decay. It will see to its own survival through some lifetimes yet, if no man restores it or converts it into a Studio.

Is his rating "Death" or not, whose body is so still on its extemporised couch—just a mattress from the keeper's cottage close at hand? Was the doctor's wording warranted when he said just now under his breath:—"It is in here"? Could he not have said[Pg 120] "He"? What does the dog think, that waits and watches immovable at its feet? If this is death, what is he watching for? What does the old keeper himself think, who lingers by this man whom he may have slain—this man who may live, yet? He has scarcely taken his eyes off that white face and its strapped-up wound from the first moment of his sight of it. He does not note the subdued entry of Lady Gwendolen and the two doctors, and when touched on the shoulder to call his attention to the presence of a ladyship from the Castle, defers looking round until a fancy of his restless hope dies down—a fancy that the mouth was closing of itself. He has had such fancies by scores for the last few hours, and said farewell to each with a groan.

"My mother is at the cottage, Stephen," says Gwen. "She would like to see you, I know." Thereon the old man turns to go. He looks ten years older than his rather contentious self of yesterday. The young lady says no word either way of his responsibility for this disaster. She cannot blame, but she cannot quite absolve him yet, without a grudge. Her mother can; and will, somehow.

The dog has run to her side for a moment—has uttered an undertone of bewildered complaint; then has gone back patiently to his old post, and is again watching. The great surgeon and the girl stand side by side, watching also. The humbler medico stands back a little, his eyes rather on his senior than on the body.

"It is absolutely certain—this?" says Lady Gwen; questioning, not affirming. She is wonderfully courageous—so Sir Coupland thinks—in the presence of Death. But she is ashy white.

He utters the barest syllable of doubt; then half-turns for courtesy to his junior, who echoes it. Then each shakes his head, looking at the other.

"Is there no sound—nothing to show?" Gwen has some hazy idea that there ought to be, if there is not, some official note of death due from the dying, a rattle in the throat at least.

Sir Coupland sees her meaning. "In a case of this sort," says he, "sheer loss of blood, the breath may cease so gradually that sound is impossible. All one can say is that there is no breath, and no action of the heart—so far as one can tell." He speaks in a business-like way that is a sort of compliment to his hearer; no accommodation of facts as to a child; then raises the lifeless hand slightly and lets it fall, saying:—"See!"

To his surprise the girl, without any comment, also raises the band in hers, and stands holding it. "Yes—it will fall," says he, as though she had spoken questioning it. But still she holds it, and never shrinks from the horror of its mortality, somewhat[Pg 121] to the wonder of her only spectator. For the other doctor has withdrawn, to speak to someone outside.

Of a sudden the dog Achilles starts barking. A short, sharp, startled bark—once, twice—and is silent. The girl lays the dead hand gently down, not dropping it, but replacing it where it first lay. She does not speak for a moment—cannot, perhaps. Then it comes with a cry, neither of pain nor joy—mere tension. "Oh, Dr. Merridew ... the fingers closed.... They closed on mine ... the fingers closed.... I know it. I know it.... The fingers closed!..." She says it again and again as though in terror that her word might be doubted. He sees as she turns to him that all her pride of self-control has given way. She is fighting against an outburst of tears, and her breath comes and goes at will, or at the will of some power that drives it. Sir Coupland may be contemplating speech—something it is correct to say, something the cooler judgment will endorse—but whatever it is he keeps it to himself. He is not one of those cheap sages that has hysteria on his tongue's tip to account for everything. It may be that; but it may be ... Well—he has seen some odd cases in his time.

So, without speaking to the agitated young lady, he simply calls his colleague back; and, after a word or two aside with him, says to her:—"You had better leave him to us. Go now." It gives her confidence that he does not soothe or cajole, but speaks as he would to a man. She goes, and as she walks across to the Keeper's Lodge makes a little peace for her heart out of small material. Sir Coupland said "him" this time—look you!—not "it" as before.

The daughter finds the mother, five minutes later, trying a well-meant word to the old keeper; to put a little heart in him, if possible. It was no fault of his; he only carried out his orders, and so on. Gwen is silent about her experience; she will not raise false hopes. Besides, she is only half grieved for the old chap—has only a languid sympathy in her heart for him who, tampering with implements of Death, becomes Cain unawares. If she is right, he will know in time. Meanwhile it will be a lesson to him to avoid triggers, and will thus minimise the exigencies of Hell. Also, she has recovered her self-command; and will not show, even to her mother, how keen her interest has been in this man in the balance betwixt life and death.

As to the older lady, who has fought shy of seeing the body, the affair is no more than a casualty, very little coloured by the fact that its victim is a "gentleman." This sort of thing may impress the groundlings, while a real Earl or Duke remains untouched. A coronet has a very levelling effect on the plains below. Your mere[Pg 122] baronet is but a hillock, after all. Possibly, however, this is a proletariate view, which always snubs rank, and her ladyship the Countess may never have given a thought to this side of the case. Certainly she is honestly grieved on behalf of her old friend Stephen, whom she has known for thirty years past. In fact, of the two, as they walk back to the Towers, the mother shows more than the daughter the reaction of emotion.

Says her daughter to her as they walk back—the three as they came—"I believe he will recover, for all that. I believe Dr. Merridew believes it, too. I am certain the fingers moved." Her manner lays stress on her own equanimity. It is more self-contained than need be, all things considered.

"The eyesight is easily deceived," says Miss Dickenson, prompt with the views of experience. She always holds a brief for common sense, and is considered an authority. "Even experts are misled—sometimes—in such cases...."

Gwen interrupts:—"It had nothing to do with eyesight. I felt the fingers move." Whereupon her mother, roused by her sudden emphasis, says:—"But we are so glad that it should be so, Gwen darling." And then, when the girl stops in her walk and says:—"Of course you are—but why not?" she has a half-smile as for petulance forgiven, as she says:—"Because you fired up so about it, darling; that's all. We did not understand that you had hold of the hand. Was it stiff?" This in a semi-whisper of protest against the horror of the subject.

"Not the least. Cold!—oh, how cold!" She shudders of set purpose to show how cold. "But not stiff."

The two other ladies go into a partnership of seniority, glancing at each other; and each contributes to a duet about the duty of being hopeful, and we shall soon know, and at any rate, the case could not be in better hands, and so on. But whereas the elder lady was only working for reassurance—puzzled somewhat at a certain flushed emphasis in this beautiful daughter of hers—Miss Smith-Dickenson was taking mental notes, and looking intuitive. She was still looking intuitive when she joined the numerous party at lunch, an hour later. She had more than one inquiry addressed to her about "this unfortunate accident," but she reserved her information, with mystery, acquiring thereby a more defined importance. A river behind a barrage is much more impressive than a pump.

Sir Coupland Merridew's place at table was still empty when the first storm of comparison of notes set in over the events and[Pg 123] deeds of the morning. A conscious reservation was in the air about the disaster of last night, causing talk to run on every other subject, but betrayed by more interest in the door and its openings than lunch generally shows. Presently it would open for the overdue guest, and he would have news worth hearing, said Hope. For stinted versions of event had leaked out, and had outlived the reservations and corrections of those who knew.

Lunch was conscious of Sir Coupland's arrival in the house before he entered, and its factors nodded to each other and said: "That's him!" Nice customs of Grammar bow before big mouthfuls. However, Miss Smith-Dickenson did certainly say: "I believe that is Sir Coupland."

It was, and in his face was secret content and reserve. In response to a volley of What?—Well?—Tell us!—and so forth, he only said:—"Shan't tell you anything till I've had something to eat!" But he glanced across at Lady Gwen and nodded slightly—a nod for her exclusive use.

Lunch, liberated by what amounted to certainty that the man was not killed, ran riot; almost all its factors taking a little more, thank you! It was brought up on its haunches by being suddenly made aware that Sir Coupland—having had something to eat—had spoken. He had to repeat his words to reach the far end of the long table.

"Yes—I said ... only of course if you make such a row you can't hear.... I said that this gentleman cannot be said to have recovered consciousness"—here he paused for a mistaken exclamation of disappointment to get nipped in the bud, and then continued—"yet a while. However, I am glad to say I—both of us, Dr. Nash and myself, I should say—were completely mistaken about the case. It has turned out contrary to every expectation that...." Nobody noticed that a pause here was due to Lady Gwen having made "No!" with her lips, and looked a protest at the speaker. He went on:—"Well ... in short ... I would have sworn the man was dead ... and he isn't! That's all I have to say about it at present. It might be over-sanguine to say he is alive—meaning that he will succeed in keeping so—but he is certainly not dead." Miss Dickenson lodged her claim to a mild form of omniscience by saying with presence of mind:—"Exactly!" but without presumption, so that only her near neighbours heard her. Self-respect called for no more.

Had the insensible man spoken?—the Earl asked pertinently. Oh dear, no! Nothing so satisfactory as that, so far. The vitality was almost nil. The Earl retired on his question to listen to[Pg 124] what a Peninsular veteran was saying to Gwen. This ancient warrior was one who talked but little, and then only to two sorts, old men like himself, with old memories of India and the Napoleonic wars, and young women like Gwen. As this was his way, it did not seem strange that he should address her all but exclusively, with only a chance side-word now and then to his host, for mere courtesy.

"When I was in Madras in eighteen-two—no—eighteen-three," he said, "I was in the Nineteenth Dragoons under Maxwell—he was killed, you know—in that affair with the Mahrattas...."

"I know. I've read about the Battle of Assaye, and how General Wellesley had two horses shot under him...."

"That was it. Scindia, you know—that affair! They had some very good artillery for those days, and our men had to charge up to the guns. I was cut down in Maxwell's cavalry charge, and went near bleeding to death. He was a fine fellow that did it...."

"Never mind him! You were going to tell me about yourself."

"Why—I was given up for dead. It was a good job I escaped decent interment. But the surgeon gave me the benefit of the doubt, and stood me over for a day or two. Then, as I didn't decay properly...."

"Oh, General—don't be so horrible!" This from Miss Smith-Dickenson close at hand. But Gwen is too eager to hear, to care about delicacies of speech, and strikes in:—

"Do go on, General! Never mind Aunt Constance. She is so fussy. Go on—'didn't decay properly'...."

"Well—I was behindhand! Not up to my duties, considered as a corpse! The doctor stood me over another twenty-four hours, and I came to. I was very much run down, certainly, but I did come to, or I shouldn't be here now to tell you about it, my dear. I should have been sorry."

A matter-of-fact gentleman "pointed out" that had General Rawnsley died of his wounds, he would not have been in a position to feel either joy or sorrow, or to be conscious that he was not dining at Ancester. The General fished up a wandering eyeglass to look at him, and said:—"Quite correct!" Miss Smith-Dickenson remarked upon the dangers attendant on over-literal interpretations. The Hon. Mr. Pellew perceived in this that Miss Dickenson had a sort of dry humour.

"But you did come to, General, and you are telling me about it," said Lady Gwen. "Now, how long was it before you rejoined your regiment?"[Pg 125]

"H'm—well! I wasn't good for much two months later, or I should have come in for the fag-end of the campaign. All right in three months, I should say. But then—I was a young fellah!—in those days. How old's your man?"

"This gentleman who has been shot?" says Gwen, with some stiffness. "I have not the slightest idea." But Sir Coupland answered the question for her. "At a guess, General, twenty-five or twenty-six. He ought to do well if he gets through the next day or two. He may have a good constitution. I can't say yet. Yours must have been remarkable."

"I had such a good appetite, you know," says the General. "Such a devil of a twist! If I had had my way, I should have been at Argaum two months later. But, good Lard!—they wouldn't let me out of Hospital." The old soldier, roused by the recollection of a fifty-year-old grievance, still rankling, launched into a denunciation of the effeminacy and timidity of Authorities and Seniors, of all sorts and conditions. His youth was back upon him with its memories, and he had forgotten that he too was now a Senior. His torrent of thinly disguised execrations was of service to Lady Gwen; as the original subject of the conversation, just shot, was naturally forgotten. She had got all the enlightenment she wanted about him, and was cultivating an artificial lack of interest in his accident.

She was, however, a little dissatisfied with her own success in this branch of horticulture. Her anxiety had felt itself fully justified till now by the bare facts of the case. Her longing that this man should not die was so safe while it seemed certain that he could not live, that she felt under no obligation to account to herself for it. Analysis of niceties of feeling in the presence of Death were uncalled for, surely. But now, with at least a chance of his recovery, she felt that she ought to be able to think of something else. So she talked of Sardanapalus and Charles Keane at the Princesses' Theatre—the first a play, the second a player—and the General, declining more than monosyllables to the matter-o'-fact gentleman, subsided into wrathful recollection of an exasperated young Dragoon chafing under canvas beneath an Indian sun, and panting for news of his regiment in the north, fifty years before.

But such intermittent conversation could not prevent her seeing that Norbury the butler had handed a visiting-card, pencilled on the back, to her father, and had whispered a message to him with a sense of its gravity, and that her father had replied:—"Yes, say I will be there presently." Nor that—in response to remote[Pg 126] inquiry from his Countess at the end of an avenue of finger-glasses—he had thrown the words "Hamilton Torrens and the daughter—mother too ill to come—won't come up to the house until he's fit to move!" all the length of the table. That her mother had said:—"Oh yes—you know them," perhaps because of an apologetic manner in her husband for being the recipient of the message. Also that curiosity and information were mutual in the avenue, and that next-door neighbours but one were saying:—"What's that?" and getting no answer.

However, the Intelligence Department did itself credit in the end, and everyone knew that, immediately on the receipt of sanction from headquarters, Tom Kettering the young groom had mounted the grey mare—a celebrity in these parts—and made a foxhunter's short cut across a stiff country to carry the news of the disaster to Pensham Steynes, Sir Hamilton Torrens's house twenty miles off, and that that baronet and his daughter Irene Torrens had come at once. "I hope he hasn't killed the mare," said the Earl apprehensively. But his wife summoned Norbury to a secret confidence, saying after it:—"No—it's all right—he came on the box—didn't ride." From which the Earl knew—if the avenue didn't—that Tom Kettering the groom, after an incredible break across country, stabled the mare at Pensham Steynes, and rode back with the carriage. The whole thing had been negotiated in less than three hours.

All these things Gwendolen comes to be aware of somehow. But all of us know how a chance word in a confused conversation stays by the hearer, who is forced to listen to what is no elucidation of it, and is discontented. Such a word had struck this young lady; and she watched for her father, as lunch died away, to get the elucidation overdue. She was able to intercept him at the end of a long colloquy with Sir Coupland. "What did you mean, papa dearest, just now?..."

"What did I mean, dear?... When?"

"By 'until he's fit to move'?"

"I meant until Sir Coupland says he can be safely brought up to the house."

"This house, my dear?" It is not Gwen who speaks, but her mother, who has joined the conversation.

"Certainly, my love," says the Earl, with a kind of appealing diffidence. "If you have no very strong objection. He can be carried, Sir Coupland says, as soon as the wound is safe from inflammation. Of course he must not be left at the Hall."

"Of course not. But there are beds at the Lodge...." However,[Pg 127] the Earl says with a meek self-assertion:—"I think I would rather he were brought here. His father and George were at Christ Church together...." Before which her ladyship concedes the point. His lordship then says he shall go at once to the Hall to see Sir Hamilton, and Gwen suggests that she shall accompany him. She may persuade Miss Torrens to come up to the Towers.

This assumption that the wounded man could be moved, after conversation between the Earl and Sir Coupland, was so reassuring, that Gwendolen felt it more than ever due to herself to cultivate that indifference about his recovery. However, she could not easily be too affectionate and hospitable to his sister under the circumstances.

By-the-by, it was rather singular that she had never seen this Irene Torrens, when they were almost neighbours—only eighteen miles by road between them. And Irene's father had been her Uncle George's great friend at Oxford; both at Christ Church! This uncle, who, like his friend Torrens, had gone into the army, was killed in action at Rangoon, long before Gwendolen's day.

It all takes so long to tell. The omission of half would shorten the tale and spare the reader so much. What a very small book the History of the World would be if all the events were left out!



It was a fine Sunday morning in Sapps Court, and our young friend Michael Rackstraw was not attending public worship. Not that it was his custom to do so. Nevertheless, the way he replied to a question by a chance loiterer into the Court seemed to imply the contrary. The question was, what the Devil he was doing that for?—and referred to the fact that he was walking on his hands. His answer was, that it was because he wasn't at Church. Not that all absentees from religious rites went about upside down;[Pg 128] but that, had he been at Church, the narrow exclusiveness of its ritual would have kept him right side up.

The speaker's appearance was disreputable, and his manner morose, sullen, and unconciliatory. Michael, even while still upside down, fancied he could identify a certain twist in his face that seemed not unfamiliar; but thought this might be due to his own drawbacks on correct observation. Upright again, his identification was confirmed and he knew quite well whose question he was answering by the time he felt his feet. It was the man he had seen in the clutches of the water-rat at Hammersmith, when both were capsized into the river six months ago. This put him on his guard, and he prepared to meet further questions with evasion or defiance. But he would flavour them with substantial facts. It would confuse issues and make it more difficult to convict him of mendacity.

"You don't look an unlikely young beggar," said the man. "What name are you called?"

Michael thought a moment and settled that it might be impolitic to disclose his name. So he answered simply:—"Ikey." Now, this name was not contrary to any statute or usage. The man appeared to accept it in good faith, and Michael decided in his heart that he was softer than what he'd took him for.

He recovered some credit, however, by his next inquiry which seemed to place baptismal names among negligibles: "Ah, that's it, is it? But Ikey what? What do they call your father, if you've got one?"

Three courses occurred to Michael; improbable fiction, evasive or defiant; plausible fiction; and the undisguised truth. As the first, the Duke of Wellington's name recommended itself. He had, however, decided mentally that this man was a queer customer, and might be an awkward customer. So he discarded the Duke—satire might irritate—and chose the second course to avoid the third. But he was betrayed by Realism, which suggested that a study from Nature would carry conviction. He decided on assuming the name of his friend the apothecary round the corner, up the street facing over against the Wheatsheaf. He replied that his father's name was Heeking's. It was easier to do this than to invent a name, which might have turned out an insult to the human understanding. He was disgusted to be met with incredulity.

"Don't believe you," said the man. "You're a young liar. Where's your father now—now this very minute?"

"Abed."[Pg 129]

"What's he doing there?"

"Sleeping of it off. It was Saturday with him last night. He had to be fetched from the King's Arms very careful. Perkins's Entire. Barclay Perkins. Fetched him myself! Mean to say I didn't?" But this part of the tale was probable and no comment seemed necessary.

"Where's your mother?"

"Cookin' 'im a bloater over the fire. It does the temper good. Can't yer smell it?" A flavour of cooking confirmed Michael's words, but he seemed to require a more formal admission of his veracity than a mere nostril set ajar and a glance at an open window. "Say, if you don't! On'y there's no charge for the smelling of it. She'll tell yer just the same like me, word in and word out. You can arks for yourself. I can 'oller 'er up less time than talkin' about it. You've only to say!"

But this man, the twist of whose face had not been improved by his recognition of the bloater, seemed to wish to confine his communications to Michael, rather decisively. Indeed, there was a sound of veiled intimidation in his voice as he said:—"You leave your mother to see to the herrings, young 'un, and just you listen to me. You be done with your kidding and listen to me. You can tell me as much as I want to know. Sharp young beggar!—you know what's good for you." An intimidation of a possible douceur perhaps?

Now Master Michael, though absolutely deficient in education—his class, a sort of aristocracy of guttersnipes, was so in the pre-Board-School fifties,—was as sharp as a razor already even in the days of Dave Wardle's early accident, and had added a world of experience to his stock in the last few months. He had, in fact, been seeing the Metropolis, as an exponent or auxiliary of his father's vocation as a costermonger; and had made himself extremely useful, said Mr. Rackstraw, in the manner of speaking. Only the manner of speaking, strictly reported, did not use the expression extremely, but another one which we need not dwell upon except to make reference to its inappropriateness. Mr. Rackstraw was not a man of many words, so he had to fall back upon the same very often or hold his tongue: a course uncongenial to him. This word was a pièce de résistance—a kind of sheet-anchor.

In the course of these last few months of active costermongery, of transactions in early peas and new potatoes, spring-cabbage and ripe strawberries, he had acquired not only an insight into commerce but apparently an intimate knowledge of every street[Pg 130] in London, and a very fair acquaintance with its celebrities; meaning thereby its real celebrities—its sportsmen, patrons of the Prize Ring, cricketers, rowing-men, billiard-players, jockeys—what not? Its less important representative men, statesmen, bishops, writers, artists, lawyers; soldiers and sailors even, though here concession was rife, had to take a second place. But there was one class—a class whose members may have belonged to any one of these—of which Michael's experience was very limited. It was the class of gaol-birds. This type, the most puzzling to eyes that see it for the first time, the most unmistakable by those well read in it, was the type that was now setting this juvenile coster's wits to work upon its classification, on this May morning in Sapps Court. Michael's previous record of him was an interrupted sight of his face in the river-garden at Hammersmith, and a reference to his felonious antecedents at the inquest. He was, by the time the conversation assumed the interest due to a hint of emolument, able to say to himself that he should know the Old Bailey again by the cut of its jib next time he came across it.

In reply, he scorned circumlocution, saying briefly:—"Wot'll it come to? Wot are you good for? That's the p'int."

"You tell me no lies and you'll see. There's an old widow-lady down this Court. Don't you go and say there ain't!"

"There's any number. Which old widder?"

"Name of Daverill. Old enough to be your father's granny."

"No sich a name! There's one a sight older than that though—last house down the Court—top bell."

"How old do you make her out?"

"Two 'underd next birthday!" But Michael perceived in his questioner's eye a possible withdrawal of his offer of a consideration, and amended his statement:—"Ninety-nine, p'raps!—couldn't say to arf a minute."

"House at the end where the old cock in a blue shirt's smoking a pipe—is that it?"

"Ah!—up two flights of stairs. But she can't see you, nor yet hear you, to speak of."

"Who's the old cock?"

"This little boy's uncle. He b'longs to the Fancy. 'Eavyweight he was, wunst upon a time." And Dave Wardle, who had joined the colloquy, gave confirmatory evidence: "He's moy Uncle Moses, he is. And he's moy sister Dolly's Uncle Moses, he is. And moy sister Dolly she had a piece of koyk with a beadle in it. She had. A dead beadle!" But this evidence was ruled out of court by general consent; or rather, perhaps, it should be said that the[Pg 131] witness remained in the box giving evidence of the same nature for his own satisfaction, while the court's attention wandered.

"Oh—he was a heavyweight, was he? An ugly customer, I should reckon." The stranger said this more to himself than to the boys. But he spoke direct to Michael with the question, "What was it you said was the old lady's name, now?"

The boy, shrewd as he was, was but a boy after all. Was it wonderful that he should accept the implication that he had given the name? Thrown off his guard he answered:—"Name of Richards." Whereupon Dave, who was still stuttering on melodiously about the dead monster in Dolly's cake, endeavoured to correct his friend without complete success.

"Pitcher, is it?" said the stranger. Michael, disgusted to find that he had been betrayed into giving a name, though he was far from clear why it should have been reserved, was glad of Dave's perverted version, as replacing matters on their former footing. But the repetition of the name, by voices the stimulus of definition had emphasized, caught the attention of Uncle Moses, who thereon moved up the Court to find out who this stranger could be, who was so evidently inquiring about the upstairs tenant. As he reached close inspection-point his face did not look as though the visitor pleased him. The latter said good-morning first; but, simple as his words were, the gaol-bird manner of guarded suspicion crept into them and stamped the speaker.

"Don't like the looks of you, mister!" said Uncle Mo to himself. But aloud he said:—"Good-morning to you, sir. I understood you to be inquiring for Mrs. Prichard."

"No—Daverill. No such a name, this young shaver says."

"Not down this Court. It wasn't Burr by any chance now, was it?"


"Because there is a party by the name of Burr if you could have seen your way." This was only the natural civility which sometimes runs riot with an informant's judgment, making him anxious to meet the inquirer at any cost, whatever inalienable stipulations the latter may have committed himself to. In this case it seemed that nothing short of Daverill, crisp and well defined, would satisfy the conditions. The stranger shook his head with as much decision as reciprocal civility permitted—rather as though he regretted his inability to accept Burr—and replied that the name had "got to be" Daverill and no other. But he seemed reluctant to leave the widows down this Court unsifted, saying:—"You're sure there ain't any other old party now?" To which[Pg 132] Uncle Moses responded: "Ne'er a one, master, to my knowledge. Widow Daverill she's somewheres else. Not down this Court!" He said it in a valedictory way as though he had no wish to open a new subject, and considered this one closed. He had profited by his inspection of the stranger, and had formed a low opinion of him.

But the stranger's reluctance continued. "You couldn't say, I suppose," said he, in a cautious hesitating way, "you couldn't say what countrywoman she was, now?" His manner might easily have been—so Uncle Mo thought at least—that of indigence trying to get a foothold with an eye to begging in the end. It really was the furtive suspiciousness that hangs alike upon the miscreant and the mere rebel against law into whose bones the fetter has rusted. The guilt of the former, if he can cheat both the gaol and the gallows, may merge in the demeanour of a free man; that of the latter, after a decade of prison-service you or I might have remitted, will hang by him till death.

Uncle Mo may have detected, through the mere blood-poisoning of the prison, the inherent baseness of the man, or may have recoiled from the type. Anyway, his instinct was to get rid of him. And evidently the less he said about anyone in Sapps Court the better. So he replied, surlily enough considering his really amiable disposition:—"No—I could not say what countrywoman she is, master." Then he thought a small trifle of fiction thrown in might contribute to the detachment of this man's curiosity from Mrs. Prichard, and added carelessly:—"Some sort of a foringer I take it." Which accounted, too, for his knowing nothing about her. No true Englishman knows anything about that benighted class.

Now the boy Michael, all eyes and ears, had somehow come to an imperfect knowledge that Mrs. Prichard had been in Australia once on a time. The imperfection of this knowledge had affected the name of the place, and when he officiously struck in to supply it, he did so inaccurately. "Horstrian she is!" He added:—"Rode in a circus, she did." But this was only the reaction of misinterpretation on a too inventive brain.

"Then she ain't any use to me. Austrian, is she?" Thus the stranger; who then, after a slow glare up and down the Court, in search of further widows perhaps, turned to go, saying merely:—"I'll wish you a good-morning, guv'nor. Good-morning!" Uncle Mo watched him as he lurched up the Court, noting the oddity of his walk. This man, you see, had been chained to another like himself, and his bias went to one side like a horse that has gone in harness. This gait is known in the class he belonged to as[Pg 133] the "darby-roll," from the name by which fetters are often spoken of.

"How long has that charackter been makin' the Court stink, young Carrots?" said Uncle Moses to Michael.

"Afore you come up, Mr. Moses."

"Afore I come up. How long afore I come up?"

Michael appeared to pass through a paroxysm of acute calculation, ending in a lucid calm with particulars. "Seven minute and a half," said he resolutely. "Wanted my name, he did!"

"What did you tell him?"

"I told 'im a name. Orl correct it was. Only it warn't mine. I was too fly for him."

"What name did you tell him?"

"Mr. Eking's at the doctor's shop. He'll find that all right. He can read it over the door. He's got eyes in his head." No doubt sticklers for conscience will quarrel with the view that the demands of Truth can be satisfied by an authentic name applied to the wrong person.

It did not seem to grate on Uncle Moses, who only said:—"Sharp boy! But don't you tell no more lies than's wanted. Only now and again to shame the Devil, as the sayin' is. And you, little Dave, don't you tell nothing but the truth, 'cos your Aunt M'riar she says not to it." Dave promised to oblige.

Aunt M'riar, returning home with Dolly from a place known as "Chapel"—a place generally understood to be good, and an antidote to The Rising Sun, which represented Satan and was bad—only missed meeting this visitor to Sapps by a couple of minutes. She might have just come face to face with him the very minute he left the Court, if she had not delayed a little at the baker's, where she had prevailed on Sharmanses—the promoter of some latent heat in the bowels of the earth which came through to the pavement, making it nice and dry and warm to set upon in damp, cold weather—to keep the family Sunday dinner back just enough to guarantee it brown all through, and the potatoes crackly all over. Sharmanses was that obliging he would have kep' it in—it was a shoulder of mutton—any time you named, but he declined to be responsible that the gravy should not dry up. So Dolly carried her aunt's prayer-book, feeling like the priests, the Sons of Levi, which bare the Ark of the Covenant; and Aunt M'riar carried the Tin of the Shoulder of Mutton, and took great care not to spill any of the Gravy. The office of the Sons of Levi was a sinecure by comparison.

Why did our astute young friend Michael keep his counsel[Pg 134] about the identity of the bloke that come down the Court that Sunday morning? Well—it was not mere astuteness or vulgar cunning on the watch for an honorarium. It was really a noble chivalry akin to that of the schoolboy who will be flogged till the blood comes, rather than tell upon his schoolfellow, even though he loathes the misdemeanour of the latter. It was enough for Michael that this man was wanted by Scotland Yard, to make silence seem a duty—silence, at any rate, until interrogated. He was certainly not going to volunteer information—was, in fact, in the position of the Humanitarian who declined to say which way the fox had gone when the scent was at fault; only with this difference—that the hounds were not in sight. Neither was he threatened with the hunting-whip of an irate M.F.H. "Give the beggar his chance!"—that was how Michael looked at it. He who knows the traditions of the class this boy was born in will understand and excuse the feeling.

Michael was—said his entourage—that sharp at twelve that he could understand a'most anything. He had certainly understood that the man whom he saw in the grip of the police-officer overturned in the Thames was wanted by Scotland Yard, to pay an old score, with possible additions to it due to that officer's death. He had understood, too, that the attempt to capture the man had been treacherous according to his ideas of fair play, while he had no information about his original crime. He did not like his looks, certainly, but then looks warn't much to go by. His conclusion was—silence for the present, without prejudice to future speech if applied for. When that time came, he would tell no more lies than were wanted.



Michael Ragstroar's mysterious attraction to his great-aunt at Hammersmith was not discountenanced or neutralised by his family in Sapps Court, but rather the reverse: in fact, his visits to[Pg 135] her received as much indirect encouragement as his parents considered might be safely given without rousing his natural combativeness, and predisposing him against the ounce of influence which she alone exercised over his rebellious instincts. Any suspicion of moral culture might have been fatal, holy influences of every sort being eschewed by Michael on principle.

So when Michael's mother, some weeks later than the foregoing incident, remarked that it was getting on for time that her branch of the family should send a quartern of shelled peas and two pound of cooking-cherries to Aunt Elizabeth Jane as a seasonable gift, her lord and master had replied that he wasn't going within eleven mile of Hammersmith till to-morrow fortnight, but that he would entrust peas and cherries, as specified, to "Old Saturday Night," a fellow-coster, so named in derision of his adoption of teetotalism, his name being really Knight. He was also called Temperance Tommy, without irony, his name being really Thomas. He, a resident in Chiswick, would see that Aunt Elizabeth Jane got the consignment safely.

Michael's father did this in furtherance of a subtle scheme which succeeded. His son immediately said:—"Just you give him 'em, and see if he don't sneak 'em. See if he don't bile the peas and make a blooming pudd'n of the cherries. You see if he don't! That's all I say, if you arsk me." A few interchanges on these lines ended in Michael undertaking to deliver the goods personally as a favour, time enough Sunday morning for Aunt Elizabeth Jane herself to make a pudding of the cherries, blooming or otherwise.

As a sequel, Michael arrived at his aunt's so early on the following Sunday that the peas and the cherries had to wait for hours to be cooked, while Aunt Elizabeth Jane talked with matrons round in the alley, and he himself took part in a short fishing expedition, nearly catching a roach, who got away. The Humanitarian—is that quite the correct word, by-the-by?—must rejoice at the frequency of this result in angling.

"The 'ook giv'," said Michael, returning disappointed. "Wot can you expect with inferior tarkle?" He then undertook to get a brown Toby jug filled at The Pigeons; though, being church-time—the time at which the Heathen avail themselves of their opportunity of stopping away from church—the purchase of one pint full up, and no cheating, was a statutable offence on the part of the seller.

But when a public has a little back-garden with rusticated woodwork seats, painful to those rash enough to avail themselves of[Pg 136] them, and a negotiable wall you and your jug can climb over and descend from by the table no one ever gets his legs under owing to this same rusticity of structure, then you can do as Michael did, and make your presence felt by whistling through the keyhole, without fear of incriminating the Egeria of the beer-fountain in the locked and shuttered bar, near at hand.

Egeria was not far off, for her voice came saying:—"Say your name through the keyhole; the key's took out.... No, you ain't Mrs. Treadwell next door! You're a boy."

"Ain't a party-next-door's grandnephew a boy?" exclaimed Michael indignantly. "She's sent me with her own jug for a pint of arfnarf! Here's the coppers, all square. You won't have nothing to complain of, Miss 'Orkins."

Miss Hawkins, the daughter of The Pigeons, or at least of their proprietor, opened the door and admitted Michael Ragstroar. Her father had drawn his last quart for a customer many long years ago, and his right-hand half was passing the last days of its life in a bedroom upstairs. A nonagenarian paralysed all down one side may be described as we have described Mr. Hawkins. He was still able to see dimly, with one eye, the glorious series of sporting prints that lined the walls of his room; and such pulses as he had left were stirred with momentary enthusiasm when the Pytchley Hunt reached the surviving half of his understanding. The other half of him had lived, and seemed to have died, years ago. The two halves may have taken too much when they were able to move about together and get at it—too much brandy, rum, whisky; too many short nips and long nips—too cordial cordials. Perhaps his daughter took the right quantity of all these to a nicety, but appearances were against her. She was a woman of the type that must have been recognised in its girlhood as stunning, or ripping, by the then frequenters of the bar of The Pigeons, and which now was reluctant to admit that its powers to rip or stun were on the wane at forty. It was that of an inflamed blonde putting on flesh, which meant to have business relations with dropsy later on, unless—which seemed unlikely—its owner should discontinue her present one with those nips and cordials. She had no misgivings, so far, on this point; nor any, apparently, about the seductive roll of a really fine pair of blue eyes. While as for her hair, the bulk and number of the curl-papers it was still screwed up in spoke volumes of what its release would reveal to an astonished Sunday afternoon when its hour should come—not far off now.

There was a man in the darkened bar, smoking a long clay.[Pg 137] Michael felt as if he knew him as soon as he set eyes on him, but it was not till the pipe was out of his mouth that he saw who he was. He had been ascribing to the weight or pressure of the pipe the face-twist which, when it was removed, showed as a slight distortion. It was the man he had seen twice, once in the garden he had just left, and once at Sapps Court. Michael considered that he was entitled to a gratuity from this man, having interpreted his language as a promise to that effect, and having received nothing so far.

He was not a diffident or timid character, as we know. "Seen you afore, guv'nor!" was his greeting.

The man gave a start, breaking his pipe in three pieces, but getting no farther than the first letter of an oath of irritation at the accident. "What boy's this?" he cried out, with an earnestness nothing visible warranted.

"Lard's mercy, Mr. Wix!" exclaimed the mistress of the house, turning round from the compounding of the half-and-half. "What a turn you giv'! And along of nothing but little Micky from Mrs. Treadwell next door! Which most, Micky? Ale or stout?"

"Most of whichever costis most," answered Michael, with simplicity. Thereon he felt himself taken by the arm, and turning, saw the man's face looking close at him. It was the sort of face that makes the end of a dream a discomfort to the awakener.

"Now, you young beggar!—where have you seen me afore? I ain't going to hurt you. You tell up straight and tell the truth."

"Not onlest you leave hold of my arm!"

"You do like he says, Mr. Wix.... Now you tell Mr. Wix, Micky. He won't hurt you." Thus Miss Julia, procuring liberty for the hand to receive the half-and-half she was balancing its foam on.

Michael rubbed the arm with his free hand as he took the brown jug, to express resentment in moderation. But he answered his questioner:—"Round in Sappses Court beyont the Dials acrost Oxford Street keepin' to your left off Tottenham Court Road. You come to see for a widder, and there warn't no widder for yer. Mean to say there was?"

"Where I sent you, Mr. Wix," said Miss Julia. "To Sapps Court, where Mrs. Treadwell directed me—where her nephew lives. That's this boy's father. You'll find that right."

"Your Mrs. Treadmill, she's all right. Sapps Court's all right of itself. But it ain't the Court I was tracking out. If it was, they'd have known the name of Daverill. Why—the place ain't[Pg 138] no bigger than a prison yard! About the length of down your back-garden to the water's edge. It's the wrong Court, and there you have it in a word. She's in Capps Court or Gapps Court—some * * * of a Court or other—not Sapps." A metaphor has to be omitted here, as it might give offence. It was not really a well-chosen or appropriate one, and is no loss to the text. "What's this boy's name, and no lies?" he added after muttering to himself on the same lines volcanically.

"How often do you want to be told that, Mr. Wix? This boy's Micky Rackstraw, lives with his grandmother next door.... Well—her sister then! It's all as one. Ain't you, Micky?"

"Ah! Don't live there, though. Comes easy-like, now and again. Like the noospapers."

"He's a young liar, then. Told me his name was Ikey." Miss Hawkins pointed out that Ikey and Micky were substantially identical. But she was unable to make the same claim for Rackstraw and Ekins, when told that Micky had laid claim to the latter. She waived the point and conducted the beer-bearer back the way he came, handing him the brown jug over the wall, not to spill it.

But she suggested, in consideration of the high quality of the half-and-half, that her next-door neighbour might oblige by stepping in by the private entrance, to speak concerning Sapps Court and its inhabitants; all known to her more or less, no doubt. Which Aunt Elizabeth was glad to do, seeing that the cherry-tart was only just put in the oven, and she could spare that few minutes without risk.

Now, this old lady, though she was but a charwoman depending for professional engagements rather on the goodwill—for auld lang syne—of one or two families in Chiswick, of prodigious opulence in her eyes, yet was regarded by Sapps Court, when she visited her niece, Mrs. Rackstraw, or Ragstroar, Michael's mother, as distinctly superior. Aunt M'riar especially had been so much impressed with a grey shawl with fringes and a ready cule—spelt thus by repute—which she carried when she come of a Sunday, that she had not only asked her to tea, but had taken her to pay a visit to Mrs. Prichard upstairs. She had also in conversation taken Aunt Elizabeth Jane largely into her confidence about Mrs. Prichard, repeating, indeed, all she knew of her except what related to her convict husband. About that she kept an honourable silence.

It was creditable to Miss Juliarawkins, whose name—written as pronounced—gives us what we contend is an innocent pleasure,[Pg 139] that she should have suspected the truth about Wix or Daverill's want of shrewdness when he visited Sapps Court. She had been biased towards this suspicion by the fact that the man, when he first referred to Sapps Court, had spoken the name as though sure of it; and it was to test its validity that she invited Aunt Elizabeth Jane round by the private door, and introduced her to the darkened bar, where the ex-convict was lighting another pipe. She had heard Mrs. Treadwell speak of Aunt M'riar; and now, having formed a true enough image of the area of the Court, had come to the conclusion that all its inhabitants would be acquainted, and would talk over each other's affairs.

"Who the Hell's that?" Mr. Wix started as if a wasp had stung him, as the old charwoman's knock came at the private entrance alongside of the bar. He seemed very sensitive, always on the watch for surprises.

"Only old Treadwell from next door. She ain't going to hurt you, Tom. You be easy." Miss Hawkins spoke with another manner as well as another name now that she and this man were alone. She may never possibly have known his own proper name, he having been introduced to her as Thomas Wix twenty years ago. An introduction with a sequel which scarcely comes into the story.

His answer was beginning:—"It's easy to say be easy...." when the woman left the room to admit Aunt Elizabeth Jane. Who came in finishing the drying of hands, suddenly washed, on a clean Sunday apron. "Lawsy me, Miss Hawkins!" said she. "I didn't know you had anybody here."

It was not difficult to entamer the conversation. After a short interlude about the weather, to which the man's contribution was a grunt at most, the old lady had been started on the subject of her nephew and Sapps Court, and to this he gave attention. If she had had her tortoiseshell glasses she might have been frightened by the way he knitted his brows to listen. But she had left them behind in her hurry, and he kept back in a dark corner.

"About this same aged widow body," said he, fixing the conversation to the point that interested him. "What sort of an age now should you give her? Eighty—ninety—ninety-five—ninety-nine?" He stopped short of a hundred. Nobody one knows is a hundred. Centenarians are only in newspapers.

"I can tell you her age from her lips, mister. Eighty-one next birthday. And her name, Maisie Prichard."

Mr. Wix's attention deepened, and his scowl with it. "Now, can you make that safe to go upon?" he said with a harsh stress[Pg 140] on a voice already harsh. "How came the old lady to say her own christened name? I'll pound it I might talk to you most of the day and never know your first name. Old folks they half forget 'em as often as not."

Miss Hawkins struck in:—"Now you're talking silly, Mr. Wix. How many young folk tell you their christened names right off?" But she had got on weak ground. She got off it again discreetly. "Anyhow, Mrs. Treadwell she's inventing nothing, having no call to." She turned to Aunt Elizabeth Jane with the question:—"How come she to happen to mention the name, ma'am?"

"Just as you or I might, Miss Julia. Mrs. Wardle she said, 'I was remarking of it to Mrs. Treadwell,' she said, 'only just afore we come upstairs, ma'am,' she said, 'that you was one of twins, ma'am,' she said. And then old Mrs. Prichard she says, 'Ay, to be sure,' she says, 'twins we were—Maisie and Phoebe. Forty-five years ago she died, Phoebe did,' she says. 'And I've never forgotten Phoebe,' she says. 'Nor yet I shan't forget Phoebe not if I live to be a hundred!'"

"Goard blind my soul!" Mr. Wix muttered this to himself, and though Aunt Elizabeth Jane failed to catch the words, she shuddered at the manner of them. She did not like this Mr. Wix, and wished she had not forgotten her tortoiseshell spectacles, so as to see better what he was like. The words she heard him say next had nothing in them to cause a shudder, though the manner of them showed vexation:—"If that ain't tryin' to a man's temper! There she was all the time!" It is true he qualified this last substantive by the adjective the story so often has to leave out, but it was not very uncommon in those days along the riverside between Fulham and Kew.

"I thought you said the name was Daverill," said Miss Hawkins, taking the opportunity to release a curl-paper at a looking-glass behind bottles. It was just upon time to open, and the barmaid had got her Sunday out.

"Why the Hell shouldn't the name be Daverill? In course I did! Ask your pardon for swearing, missis...." This was to the visitor, who had begun to want to go. "You'll excuse my naming to you all my reasons, but I'll just mention this one, not to be misunderstood. This here old lady's a sort of old friend of mine, and when I came back from abroad I says to myself I'd like to look up old Mrs. Daverill. So I make inquiry, you see, and my man he tells me—he was an old mate of mine, you see—she's gone to live at Sevenoaks—do you see?—at Sevenoaks...."

"Ah, I see! I've been at Sevenoaks."[Pg 141]

"Well—there she had been and gone away to town again. Then says I, 'What's her address?' So they told me they didn't know, it was so long agone. But the old woman—her name was Killick, or Forbes was it?—no, Killick—remembered directing on a letter to Mrs. Daverill, Sapps Court. And Juliar here she said she'd heard tell of Sapps Court. So I hunted the place up and found it. Then your Mrs. Wardle's husband—I take it he was Moses Wardle the heavyweight in my young days—he put me off the scent because of the name. The only way to make Prichard of her I can see is—she married again. Well—did no one ever hear of an old fool that got married again?"

"That's nothing," said Miss Hawkins. "They'll marry again with the rattle in their throats."

That tart was in the oven, and had to be remembered. Or else Aunt Elizabeth Jane wanted to see no more of Mr. Wix. "I must be running back to my cooking," said she. "But if this gentleman goes again to find out Sappses, he's only got to ask for my niece at Number One, or Mrs. Wardle at Number Seven, and he'll find Mrs. Prichard easy." She did not speak directly to the man, and he for his part noticed her departure very slightly, giving it a fraction of a grunt he wanted the rest of later.

Nor did Aunt Elizabeth Jane seem in a great hurry to get away when Miss Hawkins had seen her to the door. She lingered a moment to refer to Aunt's M'riar's talk of Widow Prichard. Certainly Mrs. Wardle at Number Seven she said nothing of any second marriage, and thought Prichard was the name of the old lady's first husband, who had died in Van Diemen's Land. Miss Julia paid very little attention. What business of hers was Widow Prichard? She was much more interested in a couple of policemen walking along the lane. Not a very common spectacle in that retired thoroughfare! Also, instead of following on along the riverside road it opened into, they both wheeled right-about-face and came back.

Miss Julia, taking down a shutter to reinstate The Pigeons as a tavern open to customers, noted that the faces of these two were strange to her. Also that they passed her with the barest good-morning, forbiddingly. The police generally cultivate intercourse with public-house keepers of every sort, but when one happens to be a lady with ringlets especially so; even should her complexion be partly due to correctives, to amalgamate a blotchiness. These officers overdid their indifference, and it attracted Miss Julia's attention.

Aunt Elizabeth Jane thought at the time she might have mistaken[Pg 142] what she heard one of them say to the other. For, of course, she passed them close. The words she heard seemed to be:—"That will be Hawkins." Something in them rang false with her concept of the situation. But there was the cherry-tart to be seen to, and some peas to boil. Only not the whole lot at once for only her and Michael! As for that boy, she had sent him off to the baker's, the minute he came back, to wait till the bit of the best end of the neck was sure to be quite done, and bring it away directly minute.

That day there was an unusually high spring-tide on the river, and presumably elsewhere; only that did not concern Hammersmith, which ascribed the tides to local impulses inherent in the Thames. Just after midday the water was all but up to the necks of the piers of Hammersmith Bridge, and the island at Chiswick was nearly submerged. Willows standing in lakes were recording the existence of towing-paths no longer able to speak for themselves, and the insolent plash of ripples over wharves that had always thought themselves above that sort of thing seemed to say:—"Thus far will I come, and a little farther for that matter." Father Thames never quite touched the landing of the boat-ladder, at the end of the garden at The Pigeons, but he went within six inches of it.

"The water wasn't like you see it now, that day," said a man in the stern of a boat that was hanging about off the garden. "All of five foot lower down, I should figure it. He didn't want no help to get up—not he!"

"It was a tidy jump up, any way you put it," said the stroke oar.

"Well—he could have done it! But he was aiming to help his man to a seat in the boat, not to get a lift up for himself. I've not a word to say against Toby Ibbetson, mind you! He took an advantage some wouldn't, maybe. And then it's how you look at it, when all's done. You know what Daverill was wanted for?" Oh yes—both oars knew that. "I call to mind the place—knew it well enough. Out near Waltham Abbey. Lonely sort of spot.... Yes—the girl died. Not before she'd had time to swear to the twist in his face. He had been seen and identified none so far off an hour before. Quite a young girl. Father cut his throat. So would you. Thought he ought to have seen the girl safe home. So he ought. Ain't that our man's whistle?" The boat, slowly worked in towards The Pigeons, lays to a few strokes off on the slack water. The tide's mandate to stop has come. The sergeant is waiting for a second whistle to act.

Inside the tavern the woman has closed the street-door abruptly—has[Pg 143] given the alarm. "There's two in the lane!" she gasps. "Be sharp, Tom!"

"Through the garden?" he says. "Run out to see."

She is back almost before the door she opens has swung to. "It's all up, Tom," she cries. "There's the boat!"

"Stand clear, Juli-ar!" he says. "I'll have a look at your roof. Needn't say I'm at home. Where's the key?"

"I'll give it you. You go up!" She forgets something, though, in her hurry. His pipe remains on the table where he left it smoking, lying across the unemptied pewter. He forgets it, too, though he follows her deliberately enough. Recollection and emergency rarely shake hands.

She meets him on the stairs coming down from the room where the paralysed man lies, hearing but little, seeing only the walls and the ceiling. "It's on the corner of the chimney-piece," she says. "He's asleep." Daverill passes her, and just as he reaches the door remembers the pipe. It would be fatal to call out with that single knock at the house-door below. Too late!

She still forgets that pipe, and only waits to be sure he is through, to open the door to the knocker. By the time she does so he has found the key and passed through the dormer door that gives on the leads. The paralysed man has not moved. Moreover, he cannot see the short ladder that leads to the exit. It is on his dead side.

"You've a party here that's wanted, missis. Name of Wix or Daverill. Man about five-and-forty. Dark hair and light eyes. Side-draw on the mouth. Goes with a lurch. Two upper front eye-teeth missing. Carries a gold hunting-watch on a steel chain. Wears opal ring of apparent value. Stammers slightly." So the police-officer reads from his warrant or instructions, which he offers to show to Miss Hawkins, who scarcely glances at it.

Who so surprised and plausible as she? Why—her father is the only man in the house, and him on his back this fifteen years or more! What's more, he doesn't wear an opal ring. Nor any ring at all, for that matter! But come in and see. Look all over the house if desired. She won't stand in the way.

"Our instruction is to search," says the officer. He looks like a sub-inspector, and is evidently what a malefactor would consider a "bad man" to have anything to do with. Miss Hawkins knows that her right of sanctuary, if any, is a feeble claim, probably overruled by some police regulation; and invites the officers into the house, almost too demonstratively. Just then she suddenly recollects that pipe.[Pg 144]

"You can find your way in, mister," she says; and goes through to the bar. The moment she does so the officer shows alacrity.

"Keep an eye to that cellar-flap, Jacomb," he says to his mate, and follows the lady of the house. He is only just in time. "Is that your father's pipe?" he asks. In another moment she would have hidden it.

"Which pipe?—oh, this pipe?—this pipe ain't nothing. Left stood overnight, I suppose." And she paused to think of the best means of getting the pipe suppressed. There was no open grate in the bar to throw it behind. She was a poor liar, too, and was losing her head.

"Give me hold a quarter of a minute," says the officer. She cannot refuse to give the pipe up. "Someone's had a whiff off this pipe since closing-time last night," he continues, touching the still warm bowl; for all this had passed very quickly. And he actually puts the pipe to his lips, and in two or three draws works up its lingering spark. "A good mouthful of smoke," says he, blowing it out in a cloud.

"You can look where you like," mutters the woman sullenly. "There's no man for you. Only you won't want to disturb my father. He's only just fell asleep."

"He'll be sleeping pretty sound after fifteen year." Thus the officer, and the unhappy woman felt she had indeed made a complete mess of the case. "Which is his room now, ma'am? We'll go there first."

Up the stairs and past a window looking on the garden. The day is hot beneath the July sun, and the two men in uniform who are coming up the so-called garden, or rather gravelled yard, behind The Pigeons, are mopping the sweat from their brows. They might have been customers from the river, but Miss Hawkins knows the look of them too well for that. The house is surrounded—watched back and front. Escape is hopeless, successful concealment the only chance.

"Been on his back like that for fifteen years, has he?" So says the officer looking at the prostrate figure of the old man on the couch. He is not asleep now—far from it. His mouth begins to move, uttering jargon. His one living eye has light in it. There is something he wants to say and struggles for in vain. "Can't make much out of that," is the verdict of his male hearer. His daughter can say that he is asking his visitor's name and what he wants. He can understand when spoken to, she says. But the intruder is pointing at the door leading to the roof. "Where does that go to?" he asks.[Pg 145]

"Out on the tiles. I'll see for the key and let you through, if you'll stop a minute." It is the only good bit of acting she has done. Perhaps despair gives histrionic power. She sees a chance of deferring the breaking-down of that door, and who knows what may hang on a few minutes of successful delay? Before she goes she suggests again that the paralysed man will understand what is said to him if spoke to plain. Clearly, he who speaks plain to him will do a good-natured act.

Whether the officer's motives are Samaritan or otherwise, he takes the hint. As the woman gets out of hearing, he says:—"You are the master of this house, I take it?" And his hearer's crippled mouth half succeeds in its struggle for an emphatic assent. He continues:—"In course you are. I'm Sub-Inspector Cardwell, N Division. There's a man concealed in your house I'm after. He's wanted.... Who is he?"—a right guess of an unintelligible question—"You mean what name does he go by? Well—his name's Daverill, but he's called Thornton or Wix as may be. P'r'aps you know him, sir?" Whether or no, the name has had effect electrically on its hearer, who struggles frantically—painfully—hopelessly for speech. The officer says commiseratingly:—"Poor devil!—he's quite off his jaw"; and then, going to the open window, calls out to his mates of the river-service, below in the garden:—"Keep an eye on the roof, boys."

Then he goes out on the stair-landing. That woman is too long away—it is out of all reason. As he passes the paralytic man, he notes that he seems to be struggling violently for something—either to speak or to rise. He cannot tell which, and he does best to hasten the return of the woman who can.

Out on the landing, Miss Hawkins, who has not been looking for keys, but supplying her first Sunday customers in their own jugs, protests that she has fairly turned the house over in her key-hunt—all in vain! Her interest seems vivid that these police shall not be kept off her roof. She suggests that a builder's yard in the Kew Road will furnish a ladder long enough to reach the roof. "Shut on Sunday!" says Sub-Inspector Cardwell conclusively. Then let someone who knows how be summoned to pick the lock. By all means, if such a person is at hand. But no trade will come out Sunday, except the turn-cock, obviously useless. That is the verdict. "You'll never be for breaking down the door, Mr. Inspector, with my father there ill in the room!"—is the woman's appeal. "Not till we've looked everywhere else," is the reply. "I'll say that much. I'll see through the cupboards in the room, though. That won't hurt him."[Pg 146]

Little did either of them anticipate what met their eyes as the door opened. There on the couch, no longer on his back, but sitting up and gasping for clearer speech, which he seemed to have achieved in part, was the paralysis-stricken man. The left hand, powerless no longer, was still uncertain of its purpose, and wavered in its ill-directed motion; the right, needed to raise him from his pillow, grasped the level moulding of the couch-back. Its fingers still showed a better colour than those of its fellow, which trembled and closed and reopened, as though to make trial of their new-found power. His eyes were fixed on this hand rather than on his daughter or the stranger. His knees jerked against the light bondage of a close dressing-gown, and his right foot was striving to lift or help the other down to the floor. Probably life was slower to return to it than to the hand, as the blood returns soonest to the finger-tips after frost. Only the face was quite changed from its seeming of but ten minutes back. The voice choked and stammered still, but speech came in the end, breaking out with a shout-burst:—"Stop—stop—stop!"

"Easy so—easy so!" says the police-officer, as the woman gives way to a fit of hysterical crying, more the breaking-point of nerve-tension than either joy or pain. "Easy so, master!—easy does it. Don't you be frightened. Plenty of time and to spare!"

The old man gets his foot to the floor, and his daughter, under no impulse of reason—mere nerve-paroxysm—runs to his side crying out:—"No, dear father! No, dear father! Lie down—lie down!" She is trying to force him back to his pillow, while he chokes out something he finds it harder to say than "Stop—stop!" which still comes at intervals.

"I should make it easy for him, Miss Hawkins, if I was in your place. Let the old gentleman please himself." Thus the officer, whose sedateness of manner acts beneficially. She accepts the suggestion, standing back from her father with a stupid, bewildered gaze, between him and the exit to the roof. "Give him time," says Sub-Inspector Cardwell.

He takes the time, and his speech dies down. But he can move that hand better now—may make its action serve for speech. Slowly he raises it and points—points straight at his daughter. He wants her help—is that it? She thinks so, but when she acts on the impulse he repels her, feebly shouting out: "No—no—no!"

"Come out from between him and the clock, missis," says the officer, thinking he has caught a word right, and that a clock near the door is what the old man points at. "He thinks it's six o'clock."[Pg 147]

But the word was not six. The daughter moves aside, and yet the finger points. "It's nowhere near six, father dear!" she says. "Not one o'clock yet!" But still the finger points. And now a wave of clearer articulation overcomes a sibilant that has been the worst enemy of speech, and leaves the tongue free. "Wix!" That's the word.

"Got it!" exclaims the officer, and the woman with a shriek falls insensible. He takes little notice of her, but whistles for his mate below—a peculiar whistle. It brings the man who was keeping watch in the lane. "Got him all right," says his principal. "Out here on the tiles. That's your meaning, I take it, Mr. Hawkins?" The old man nods repeatedly. "And he's took the key out with him and locked to the door. That's it, is it?" More nods, and then the officer mounts the short ladder and knocks hard upon the door. He speaks to the silence on the other side. "You've been seen, Mr. Wix. It's a pity to spoil a good lock. You've got the key. We can wait a bit. Don't hurry!"

Footsteps on the roof, and a shout from the garden below! He is seen now—no doubt of it—whatever he was before. What is that they are calling from the garden? "He's got a loose tile. Look out!"

"Don't give him a chance to aim with it," says Jacomb below to his chief on the ladder. Who replies:—"He's bound to get half a chance. Keep your eyes open!" A thing to be done, certainly, with that key sounding in the lock.

The officer Cardwell only waited to hear it turn to throw his full weight on the door, which opened outwards. He scarcely waited for the back-click to show that the door, which had no hasp or clutch beyond the key-service, was free on its hinges. Nevertheless, he was not so quick but that the man beyond was quicker, springing back sharp on the turn of his own hand. Cardwell stumbled as the door gave, unexpectedly easily, and nearly fell his length on the leads.

Jacomb, on the second rung of the step-ladder, feels the wind of a missile that all but touches his head. He does not look round to see what it strikes, but he hears a cry; man or woman, or both. In front of him is his principal, on his legs again, grasping the wrist of the right hand that threw the tile, while his own is on its owner's throat.

"All right—all right!" says Mr. Wix. "You can stow it now. I could have given you that tile under your left ear. But the right man's got the benefit. You may just as well keep the snitchers for when I'm down. There's no such * * * hurry." Nevertheless,[Pg 148] the eyes of both officers are keen upon him as he descends the ladder under sufferance.

On the floor below, beside the bed he lay on through so many weary years, lies Miss Julia's old father, stunned or dead. Her own insensibility has passed, but has left her in bewilderment, dizzy and confused, as she kneels over him and tries for a sign of life in vain. At the ladder-foot the officers have fitted their prisoner with handcuffs; and then Cardwell, leaving him, goes to lift the old man back to his couch. But first he calls from the window:—"Got him all right! Fetch the nearest doctor."

Through the short interval between this and Daverill's removal, words came from him which may bring the story home or explain it if events have not done so already. "The old * * * has got his allowance. He won't ask for no more. Who was he, to be meddling? You was old enough in all conscience, July-ar!" His pronunciation of her name has a hint of a sneer in it—a sneer at the woman he victimised, some time in the interval between his desertion of his wife and his final error of judgment—dabbling in burglary. She might have been spared insult; for whatever her other faults were, want of affection for her betrayer was not among them, or she would not have run the risks of concealing him from the police.

Her paralytic father's sudden reanimation under stress of excitement was, of course, an exceptionally well-marked instance of a phenomenon well enough known to pathologists. It had come within his power to avenge the wrong done to his daughter, and never forgiven by him. Whether the officers would have broken down the door, if he had not seized his opportunity, may be uncertain, but there can be no doubt that the operative cause of Daverill's capture was his recovery of vital force under the stimulus of excitement at the amazing chance offered him of bringing it about.

The affair made so little noise that only a very few Sunday loiterers witnessed what was visible of it in the lane, which was indeed little more than the unusual presence of two policemen. Then, after a surgeon had been found and had attended to the injured man, it leaked out that a malefactor had been apprehended at The Pigeons and taken away in the police-boat to the Station lower down the river.

That singular couple, Michael Ragstroar and his great-aunt, had got to the cherry-tart before a passing neighbour, looking in at their window, acquainted them what had happened. If after Michael come from the bake-'us with the meat, which kep' hot[Pg 149] stood under its cover in the sun all of five minutes and no one any the worse, while the old lady boiled a potato—if Michael had not been preoccupied with a puppy in this interim, he might easy have seen the culprit took away in the boat. He regretted his loss; but his aunt, from whom we borrow a word now and then, pointed out to him that we must not expect everything in this world. Also the many blessings that had been vouchsafed to him by a Creator who had his best interests at heart. Had he not vouchsafed him a puppy?—on lease certainly; but he would find that puppy here next time he visited Hammersmith, possibly firmer in his gait and nothing like so round over the stomach. And there was the cherry-tart, and the crust had rose beautiful.

Michael got home very late, and was professionally engaged all the week with his father. He saw town, but nothing of his neighbours, returning always towards midnight intensely ready for bed. By the time he chanced across our friend Dave on the following Saturday, other scenes of London Life had obscured his memory of that interview at The Pigeons and its sequel. So, as it happened, Sapps Court heard nothing about either.

The death of Miss Hawkins's father, a month later, did not add a contemptible manslaughter to Thornton Daverill's black list of crimes. For the surgeon who attended him—while admitting to her privately that, of course, it was the blow on the temple that brought about the cause of death—denied that it was itself the cause; a nice distinction. But it seemed needless to add to the score of a criminal with enough to his credit to hang him twice over; especially when an Inquest could be avoided by accommodation with Medical Jurisprudence. So the surgeon, at the earnest request of the dead man's daughter, made out a certificate of death from something that sounded plausible, and might just as well have been cessation of life. It was nobody's business to criticize it, and nobody did.[Pg 150]



The unwelcome visitor who, in the phrase of Uncle Mo, had made Sapps Court stink—a thing outside the experience of its inhabitants—bade fair to be forgotten altogether. Michael, the only connecting link between the two, had all memory of the Hammersmith arrest quite knocked out of his head a few days later by a greater incident—his father having been arrested and fined for an assault on a competitor in business, with an empty sack. It was entirely owing to the quality of the beer at the King's Arms that Mr. Rackstraw lost his temper.

But Daverill's corruption of the Court's pure air was not destined to oblivion. It was revived by the merest accident; the merest, that is, up to that date. There have been many merer ones since, unless the phrase has been incorrectly used in recent literature.

One day in July, when Uncle Moses was enjoying his afternoon pipe with his old friend Affability Bob, or Jerry Alibone, and reading one of the new penny papers—it was the one called the Morning Star, now no more—he let his spectacles fall when polishing them; and, rashly searching for them, broke both glasses past all redemption. He was much annoyed, seeing that he was in the middle of a sensational account of the escape of a prisoner from Coldbath Fields house of detention; a gaol commonly known the "The Jug." It was a daring business, and Uncle Mo had just been at the full of his enjoyment of it when the accident happened.

"Have you never another pair, Mo?" said Mr. Alibone. And Uncle Mo called out to Aunt M'riar:—"M'riar!—just take a look round and see for them old glasses upstairs. I've stood down on mine, and as good as spiled 'em. Look alive!" For, you see, he was all on end to know how this prisoner, who had been put in[Pg 151] irons for violence, and somehow got free and overpowered a gaoler who came alone into his cell, had contrived his final escape from the prison.

Mr. Alibone was always ready to deserve his name of Affability Bob. "Give me hold of the paper, Mo," said he. "Where was you?... Oh yes—here we are!... 'almost unparalleled audacity.' ... I'll go on there." For Uncle Mo had read some aloud, and Mr. Alibone he wanted to know too, to say the truth. And he really was a lot better scollard than Mo—when it came to readin' out loud—and tackled "unparalleled" as if it was just nothing at all; it being the word that brought Moses up short; and, indeed, Aunt M'riar, whom we quote, had heard him wrestling with it through the door, and considered it responsible for the accident. Anyhow, Mr. Jerry was equal to it, and read the remainder of the paragraph so you could hear every word.

"What I don't make out," said Uncle Mo, "is why he didn't try the same game without getting the leg-irons on him. He hadn't any call to be violent—that I see—barring ill-temper."

"That was all part of the game, Mo. Don't you see the game? It was putting reliance on the irons led to this here warder making so free. You go to the Zoarlogical Gardens in the Regency Park, and see if the keeper likes walking into the den when the Bengal tiger's loose in it. These chaps get like that, and they have to get the clinkers on 'em."

"Don't quite take your idear, Jerry. Wrap it up new."

"Don't you see, old Mo? He shammed savage to get the irons on his legs, knowing how he might come by a file—which I don't, and it hasn't come out, that I see. Then he spends the inside o' the night getting through 'em, and rigs himself up like a picter, just so as if they was on. So the officer was took in, with him going on like a lamb. Then up he jumps and smashes his man's skull—makes no compliments about it, you see. Then he closes to the door and locks it to enjoy a little leisure. And then he changes their sootes of cloze across, and out he walks for change of air. And he's got it!"

Uncle Mo reflected and said:—"P'r'aps!" Then Aunt M'riar, who had hunted up the glasses without waking the children, reappeared, bringing them; and Uncle Mo found they wouldn't do, and only prevented his seeing anything at all. So he was bound to have a new pair and pay by the week. A cheap pair, that would see him out, come to threepence a week for three months.

The discovery of this painful fact threw the escaped prisoner into the shade, and the Morning Star would have been lost sight[Pg 152] of—because it was only Monday's paper, after all!—unless Aunt M'riar she'd put it by for upstairs to have their turn of it, and Mrs. Burr could always read some aloud to Mrs. Prichard, failing studious energy on the part of the old lady. She reproduced it in compliance with the current of events.

For Uncle Moses, settling down to a fresh pipe after supper, said to his friend, similarly occupied:—"What, now, was the name of that charackter—him as got out at the Jug?"

"Something like Mackerel," said Mr. Alibone.

"Wrong you are, for once, Jerry! 'Twarn't no more Mackerel than it was Camberwell."

Said Mr. Jerry:—"Take an even tizzy on it, Mo?" He twisted the paper about to recover the paragraph, and found it. "Here we are! 'Ralph Daverill, alias Thornton, alias Wix, alias!'....

"Never mind his ale-houses, Jerry. That's the name I'm consarned with—Daverill.... What's the matter with M'riar?"

Uncle Mo had not finished his sentence owing to an interruption. For Aunt M'riar, replacing some table-gear she was shifting, had sat down suddenly on the nearest chair.

"Never you mind me, you two. Just you go on talking." So said Aunt M'riar. Only she looked that scared it might have been a ghost. So Mrs. Burr said after, who came in that very minute from a prolonged trying on.

"Take a little something, M'riar," said Uncle Mo. He got up and went to the cupboard close at hand, to get the something, which would almost certainly have taken the form of brandy. But Aunt M'riar she said never mind her!—she would be all right in a minute. And in a metaphorical minute she pulled herself together, and went on clearing off the supper-table. Suggestions of remedies or assistance seemed alike distasteful to her, whether from Mrs. Burr or the two men, and there was no doubt she was in earnest in preferring to be left to herself. So Mrs. Burr she went up to her own supper, with thanks in advance for the newspaper when quite done with, according to the previous intention of Aunt M'riar.

The two smokers picked life up at the point of interruption, while Aunt M'riar made a finish of her operations in the kitchen. Uncle Mo said:—"Good job for you I didn't take your wager, Jerry. Camberwell isn't in it. Mackerel goes near enough to landing—as near as Davenant, which is what young Carrots called him."

This was the case—for Michael, though he had been silent at the time about the Inquest, had been unable to resist the temptation[Pg 153] to correct Uncle Moses when the old boy asked: "Wot did he say was the blooming name of the party he was after—Daverill—Daffodil?" His answer was:—"No it warn't! Davenant was what he said." His acumen had gone the length of perceiving in the stranger's name a resemblance to the version of it heard more plainly in the Court at Hammersmith. This correction had gratified and augmented his secret sense of importance, without leading to any inquiries. Uncle Mo accepted Davenant as more intrinsically probable than Daffodil or Daverill, and forgot both names promptly. For a subsequent mention of him as Devilskin, when he referred to the incident later in the day, can scarcely be set down to a recollection of the name. It was quite as much an appreciation of the owner.

"But what's your consarn with any of 'em, Mo?" said Mr. Jerry.

Uncle Moses took his pipe out of his mouth to say, almost oratorically:—"Don't you re-member, Jerry, me telling you—Sunday six weeks it was—about a loafing wagabond who came into this Court to hunt up a widder named Daverill or Daffodil, or some such a name?" Uncle Moses paused a moment. A plate had fallen in the kitchen. Nothing was broke, Aunt M'riar testified, and closed the door. Uncle Mo continued:—"I told you Davenant, because of young Radishes. But I'll pound it I was right and he was wrong. Don't you call to mind, Jeremiah?" For Uncle Mo often addressed his friend thus, for a greater impressiveness. Jeremiah recalled the incident on reflection. "There you are, you see," continued Uncle Mo. "Now you bear in mind what I tell you, sir;"—this mode of address was also to gain force—"He's him! That man's him—the very identical beggar! And this widder woman he was for hunting up, she's his mother or his aunt."

"Or his sister—no!—sister-in-law."

"Not if she's a widder's usual age, Jerry." Uncle Mo always figured to himself sisters, and even sisters-in-law, as essentially short of middle life. You may remember also his peculiar view that married twins could not survive their husbands.

"What sort of man did you make him out to be, Mo?"

"A bad sort in a turn-up with no rules. Might be handy with a knife on occasion. Foxy sort of wiper!"

"Not your sort, Mo?"

"Too much ill-will about him. Some of the Fancy may have run into bad feeling in my time, but mostly when they shook hands inside the ropes they meant it. How's yourself, M'riar?"[Pg 154] Here Aunt M'riar came in after washing up, having apparently overheard none of the conversation.

"I'm nicely, Mo, thankee! Have you done with the paper, Mr. Alibone?... Thanks—I'll give it to 'em upstairs.... Oh yes! I'm to rights. It was nothing but a swimming in the head! Goodnight!" And off went Aunt M'riar, leaving the friends to begin and end about two more pipes; to talk over bygones of the Ring and the Turf, and to part after midnight.

Observe, please, that until Mr. Jerry read aloud from the Star Mr. Wix's aliases, Aunt M'riar had had no report of this escaped convict, except under the name of Davenant; and, indeed, very little under that, because Uncle Mo, in narrating to her the man's visit to Sapps Court, though he gave the name of his inquiry as Davenant, spoke of the man himself almost exclusively as Devilskin. And really she had paid very little attention to the story, or the names given. At the time of the man's appearance in the Court nothing transpired to make her associate him with any past experience of her own. He was talked about at dinner on that Sunday certainly; but then, consider the responsibilities of the carving and distribution of that shoulder of mutton.

Aunt M'riar did not give the newspaper to Mrs. Burr, to read to Mrs. Prichard, till next day. Perhaps it was too late, at near eleven o'clock. When she did, it was with a reservation. Said she to Mrs. Burr:—"You won't mind losing the bit I cut out, just to keep for the address?—the cheapest shoes I ever did!—and an easy walk just out of Oxford Street." She added that Dave was very badly off in this respect. But she said nothing about what was on the other side of the shoe-shop advertisement. Was she bound to do so? Surely one side of a newspaper-cutting justifies the scissors. If Aunt M'riar could want one side, ever so little, was she under any obligation to know anything about the other side?

Anyhow, the result was that old Mrs. Prichard lost this opportunity of knowing that her son was at large. And even if the paragraph had not been removed, its small type might have kept her old eyes at bay. Indeed, Mrs. Burr's testimony went to show that the old lady's inspection of the paper scarcely amounted to solid perusal. Said she, accepting the Star from Aunt M'riar next morning, apropos of the withdrawn paragraph: "That won't be any denial to Mrs. Prichard, ma'am. There's a-many always wants to read the bit that's tore off, showin' a contradictious temper like. But she ain't that sort, being more by way of looking at the paper[Pg 155] than studying of its contents." Mrs. Burr then preached a short homily on the waste of time involved in a close analysis of the daily press, such as would enable the reader to discriminate between each day's issue and the next. For her part the news ran similar one day with another, without, however, blunting her interest in human affairs. She imputed an analogous attitude of mind to old Mrs. Prichard, the easier of maintenance that the old lady's failing sight left more interpretations of the text open to her imagination.

Mrs. Burr, moreover, went on to say that Mrs. Prichard had been that upset by hearing about the builders, that she wasn't herself. This odd result could not but interfere with the reading of even the lightest literature. Its cause calls for explanation. Circumstances had arisen which, had they occurred in the wintertime, would have been a serious embarrassment to the attic tenants in Sapps Court. As it chanced, the weather was warm and dry; otherwise old Mrs. Prichard and Mrs. Burr would just have had to turn out, to allow the builder in, to attend to the front wall. For there was no doubt that it was bulging and ought to have been seen to, æons ago. And it was some days since the landlord's attention had been called, and Bartletts the builders had waked all the dwellers in Sapps Court who still slept at six o'clock, by taking out a half a brick or two to make a bearing for as many putlogs—pronounced pudlocks—as were needed for a little bit of scaffold. For there was more than you could do off a ladder, if you was God A'mighty Himself. Thus Mr. Bartlett, and Aunt M'riar condemned his impiety freely. Before the children! Closely examined, his speech was reverential, and an acknowledgment of the powers of the Constructor of the Universe as against the octave-stretch forlorn of our limitations. But it was Anthropomorphism, no doubt.[Pg 156]



If you have ever given attention to buildings in the course of erection in London, you must have been struck with their marvellous stability. The mere fact that they should remain standing for five minutes after the removal of the scaffold must have seemed to you to reflect credit on the skill of the builder; but that they should do so for a lifetime—even for a century!—a thing absolutely incredible. Especially you must have been impressed by the nine-inch wall, in which every other course at least consists of bats and closures. You will have marvelled that so large a percentage of bricks can appear to have been delivered broken; but this you would have been able to account for had you watched the builder at work, noting his vicious practice of halving a sound brick whenever he wants a bat. It is an instinct, deep-rooted in bricklayers, against which unprofessional remonstrance is useless—an instinct that he fights against with difficulty whenever popular prejudice calls for full bricks on the face. So when the wall is not to be rendered in compo or plaster, he just shoves a few in, on the courses of stretchers, leaving every course of headers to a lifetime of effrontery. What does it matter to him? But it must be most painful to a conscientious bat to be taken for a full brick by every passer-by, and to be unable to contradict it.

Now the real reason why the top wall of No. 7, Sapps Court was bulging was one that never could surprise anyone conversant to this extent with nine-inch walls. For there is a weakest point in every such wall, where the plate is laid to receive the joists, or jystes; which may be pronounced either way, but should always be nine-inch. For if they are six-inch you have to shove 'em in[Pg 157] nearer together, and that weakens your wall, put it how you may. You work it out and see if it don't come out so. So said the builder, Mr. Bartlett, at No. 7, Sapps Court, when having laid bare the ends of the top-floor joists in Mrs. Prichard's front attic it turned out just like he said it would—six-inch jystes with no hold to 'em, and onto that all perished at the ends! Why ever they couldn't go to a new floor when they done the new roof Mr. Bartlett could not conceive. They had not, and what was worse they had carried up the wall on the top of the old brickwork, adding to the dead weight; and it only fit to pull down, as you might say.

However, the weather was fine and warm all the time Mr. Bartlett rebuilt two foot of wall by sections; which he did careful, a bit at a time. And all along, till they took away the scaffolding and made good them two or three pudlock-holes off of a ladder, they was no annoyance at all to Mrs. Prichard, nor yet to Mrs. Burr, excepting a little of that sort of flaviour that goes with old brickwork, and a little of another that comes with new, and a bit of plasterers' work inside to make good. Testimony was current in and about the house to this effect, and may be given broadly in the terms in which it reached Uncle Moses. His comment was that the building trade was a bad lot, mostly; you had only to take your eye off it half a minute, and it was round at the nearest bar trying the four-half. Mr. Jerry's experience had been the same.

Mrs. Burr was out all day, most of the time; so it didn't matter to her. But it was another thing for the old woman, sometimes alone for hours together; alone with her past. At such times her sleeping or waking dreams mixed with the talk of the bricklayers outside, or the sound of a piano from one of the superior houses that back-wall screened the Court from—though they had no call to give theirselves airs that the Court could see—a piano on which talent was playing scales with both hands, but which wanted tuning. Old Mrs. Prichard was not sensitive about a little discord now and again. As she sat there alone, knitting worsteds or dozing, it brought back old times to her, before her troubles began. She and her sister could both play easy tunes, such as the "Harmonious Blacksmith" and the "Evening Hymn," on the square piano she still remembered so well at the Mill. And this modern piano—heard through open windows in the warm summer air, and mixing with the indistinguishable sounds of distant traffic—had something of the effect of that instrument of seventy years ago, breaking the steady monotone of rushing waters under the wheel that scarcely ever paused, except on Sunday. What had become of the old[Pg 158] square piano she and Phoebe learned to play scales on? What becomes of all the old furnishings of the rooms of our childhood? Did any man ever identify the bed he slept in, the table he ate at, half a century ago, in the chance-medley of second-hand—third-hand—furniture his father's insolvency or his own consigned it to? Would she know the old square piano again now, with all its resonances dead—a poor, faint jargon only in some few scattered wires, far apart? Yes—she would know it among a hundred, by the inlaid bay-leaves on the lid that you could lift up to look inside. But that was accounted lawless, and forbidden by authority.

She dreamed herself back into the old time, and could see it all. The sound of the piano became mixed, as she sat half dozing, with the smell of the lilies of the valley which—according to a pleasing fiction of Dolly Wardle—that little person's doll had brought upstairs for her, keeping wide awake until she see 'em safe on the table in a mug. But the sound and the smell were of the essence of the mill, and were sweet to the old heart that was dying slowly down—would soon die outright. Both merged in a real dream with her sister's voice in it, saying inexplicably: "In the pocket of your shot silk, dear." Then she woke with a start, sorry to lose the dream; specially annoyed that she had not heard what the carman—outside with her father—had begun to say about the thing Phoebe was speaking of. She forgot what that was, and it was very stupid of her.

That was Mr. Bartlett outside, laying bricks; not the carman at all. What was that he was saying?

"B'longed to a Punch's show, he did. Couldn't stand it no longer, he couldn't. The tune it got on his narves, it did! If it hadn't 'a been for a sort o' reel ease he got takin' of it quick and slow—like the Hoarperer—he'd have gave in afore; so there was no pretence. It's all werry fine to say temp'ry insanity, but I tell you it's the contrairy when a beggar comes to his senses and drownds hisself. Wot'd the Pope do if he had to play the same tune over and over and over and over?... Mortar, John! And 'and me up a nice clean cutter. That's your quorlity, my son." And the Court rang musically to the destruction of a good brick.

John—who was only Mr. Bartlett's son for purposes of rhetoric—slapped his cold unwholesome mortar-pudding with a spade; and ceded an instalment, presumably. Then his voice came: "Wot didn't he start on a new toon for, for a wariation?"

Mr. Bartlett was doing something very nice and exact with the three-quarter he had just evolved, so his reply came in fragments as from a mind preoccupied. "Tried it on he had—that game—more[Pg 159] times than once.... But the boys they took it up, and aimed stones.... And the public kep' its money in its pocket—not to encourage noo Frenchified notions—not like when they was a boy. So the poor beggar had to jump in off of the end of Southend Pier, and go out with the tide." He added, as essential, that Southend Pier was better than two mile long; so there was water to drownd a man when the tide was in.

The attention of very old people may be caught by a familiar word, though such talk as this ripples by unheeded. The sad tale of the Punch's showman—the exoteric one, evidently—roused no response in the mind of old Mrs. Prichard, until it ended with the tragedy at Southend. The name brought back that terrible early experience of the sailing of the convict-ship—of her despairing effort at a farewell to be somehow heard or seen by the man whom she almost thought of as in a grave, buried alive! She was back again in the boat in the Medway, keeping the black spot ahead in view—the accursed galley that was bearing away her life, her very life; the man no sin could change from what he was to her; the treasure of her being. She could hear again the monotonous beat of her rowers' pair of oars, ill-matched against the four sweeps of the convicts, ever gaining—gaining....

Surely she would be too late for that last chance, that seemed to her the one thing left to live for. And then the upspringing of that blessed breeze off the land that saved it for her. She could recall her terror lest the flagging of their speed for the hoisting of the sail should undo them; the reassuring voice of a hopeful boatman—"You be easy, missis; we'll catch 'em up!"—the less confident one of his mate—"Have a try at it, anyhow!" Then her joy when the sail filled and the plashing of her way spoke Hope beneath her bulwark as she caught the wind. Then her dread that the Devil's craft ahead would make sail too, and overreach them after all, and the blessing in her heart for her hopeful oarsman, whose view was that the officer in charge would not spare his convicts any work he could inflict. "He'll see to it they arn their breaffastis, missis. He ain't going to unlock their wristis off of the oars for to catch a ha'porth o' blow. You may put your money on him for that." And then the sweet ship upon the water, and her last sight of the man she loved as he was dragged aboard into the Hell within—scarcely a man now—only "213 M"!

Then the long hours that followed, there in the open boat beneath the sun, whose setting found her still gazing in her dumb despair on what was to be his floating home for months. Such a home! Scraps of her own men's talk were with her still—the[Pg 160] names of passing craft—the discontent in the fleet—the names of landmarks on either coast. Among these Southend—the word that caught her ear and set her a-thinking. But there was no pier two miles long there then. She was sure of that.

What was it Mr. Bartlett was talking about now? A grievance this time! But grievances are the breath of life to the Human Race. The source of this one seemed to be Sapps proprietor, who was responsible for the restrictions on Mr. Bartlett's enthusiasm, which might else have pulled the house down and rebuilt it. "Wot couldn't he do like I told him for?"—thus ran the indictment—"Goard A'mighty don't know, nor yet anybody else! Why—he don't know, hisself! I says to him, I says, just you clear out them lodgers, I says, and give me the run of the premises, I says, and it shan't cost you a fi'-pun note more in the end, I says. Then if he don't go and tie me down to a price for to make good front wall and all dy-lapidations. And onlest he says wot he means by good, who's to know?... Mortar, John!" John supplied mortar with a slamp—a sound like the fall of a pasty Titan on loose boards. The grievance was resumed, but with a consolation. "Got 'im there, accordin' as I think of it! Wot's his idear of good?—that's wot I want to know. Things is as you see 'em...." Mr. Bartlett would have said the esse of things was percipi, had he been a Philosopher, and would have felt as if he knew something. Not being one, he subsided—with truisms—into silence, content with the weakness of Sapps owner's entrenchments.

Mr. Bartlett completed his contract, according to his interpretation of the word "good"; and it seems to have passed muster, and been settled for on the nail. Which meant, in this case, as soon as a surveyor had condemned it on inspection, and accepted a guinea from Mr. Bartlett to overlook its shortcomings; two operations which, taken jointly, constituted a survey, and were paid for on another nail later. The new bit of brickwork didn't look any so bad, to the eye of impartiality, now it was pointed up; only it would have looked a lot better—mind you!—if Mr. Bartlett had been allowed to do a bit more pointing up on the surrounding brickwork afore he struck his scaffold. But Sapps landlord was a narrer-minded party—a Conservative party—who wouldn't go to a sixpence more than he was drove, though an economy in the long-run. The remarks of the Court and its friends are embodied in these statements, made after Mr. Bartlett had got his traps away on a truck, which couldn't come down the Court by reason of the jam. It was, however, a source of satisfaction to Dave Wardle, whose friends climbed into it while he sat on the handle,[Pg 161] outweighing him and lifting him into the air. Only, of course, this joy lasted no longer than till they started loading of it up.

It lasted long enough, for all that, to give quite a turn to Mrs. Tapping, whom you may remember as a witness of Dave's accident—the bad one—nine months ago. Ever since then—if Mrs. Riley, to whom she addressed her remarks, would believe her—Mrs. Tapping's heart had been in her mouth whenever she had lighted her eye on young children a-playing in the gutters. As children were plentiful, and preferred playing wherever the chances of being run over seemed greatest, this must have been a tax on Mrs. Tapping's constitution. She had, however, borne up wonderfully, showing no sign of loss of flesh; nor could her flowing hair have been thinned—to judge by the tubular curls that flanked her brows, which were neither blinkers nor cornucopias precisely; but which, opened like a scroll, would have resembled the one; and, spirally prolonged, the other. It was the careful culture of these which distracted the nose of Mrs. Tapping's monde, preoccupied by a flavour of chandled tallow, to a halo of pomatum. Mrs. Riley was also unchanged; she, however, had no alarming cardiac symptoms to record.

But as to that turn Dave Wardle giv' Mrs. Tapping. It really sent your flesh through your bones, all on edge like, to see a child fly up in the air like that. So she testified, embellishing her other physiological experience with a new horror unknown to Pathologists. Mrs. Riley, less impressionable, kept an even mind in view of the natural invulnerability of childhood and the special guardianship of Divine Omnipotence. If these two between them could not secure small boys of seven or eight from disaster, what could? The unbiassed observer—if he had been passing at the time—might have thought that Dave's chubby but vigorous handgrip and his legs curled tight round the truck-handle were the immediate and visible reasons why he was not shot across the truck into space. Anyhow, he held on quite tight, shouting loudly the next item of the programme—"Now all the other boys to jump out when oy comes to free. One, two, free!" In view of the risk of broken bones the other boys were prompt, and Dave came down triumphantly. Mrs. Riley's confidence had been well founded.

"Ye'll always be too thinder-harruted about the young spalpeens, me dyurr," she said. "Thrust them to kape their skins safe! Was not me son Phalim all as bad or wurruss. And now to say his family of childher!"

Mrs. Tapping perceived her opportunity, and jumped at it. "That is the truth, ma'am, what you say, and calls to mind the[Pg 162] very words my poor husband used frequent. So frequent, you might say, that as often as not they was never out of his mouth. 'Mary Ann Tapping, you are too tender-hearted for to carry on at all; bein', as we are, subjick.' And I says back to him: 'Tapping'—I says—'no more than my duty as a Christian woman should. Read your Bible and you will find,' I says. And Tapping he would say:—'Right you are, Mary Ann, and viewin' all things as a Gospel dispensation. But what I look at, Mary Ann'—he says—'is the effect on your system. You are that 'igh-strung and delicate organized that what is no account to an 'arder fibre tells. So bear in mind what I say, Mary Ann Tapping'—he says—'and crost across the way like the Good Samaritan, keepin' in view that nowadays whatever we are we are no longer Heathens, and cases receive attention from properly constitooted Authorities, or are took in at the Infirmary.' Referring, Mrs. Riley, ma'am, to an Italian organ-boy bit by his own monkey, which though small was vicious, and open to suspicion of poison...." Mrs. Tapping dwelt upon her past experience and her meritorious attitude in trying circumstances, for some time. As, in this instance, she had offered refreshment to the victim, which had been requisitioned by his monkey, who escaped and gave way to his appetite on the top of a street-lamp, but was recaptured when the lamplighter came with his ladder.

"Shure there'll be nothing lift of the barrow soon barring the bare fragmints of it," said Mrs. Riley, who had been giving more attention to the boys and the truck than to the Italian and the monkey. And really the repetition of the pleasing performance with the handle pointed to gradual disintegration of Mr. Bartlett's property.

However, salvage was at hand. A herald of Mr. Bartlett himself, or of his representatives, protruded slowly from Sapps archway, announcing that his scaffold-poles were going back to the sphere from which they had emanated on hire. It came slowly, and gave a margin for a stampede of Dave and his accomplices, leaving the truck very much aslant with the handle in the air; whereas we all know that a respectable hand-barrer, that has trusted its owner out of sight, awaits his return with the quiet confidence of horizontality; or at least with the handle on the ground. Mr. Bartlett's comment was that nowadays it warn't safe to take one's eyes off of anything for half-a-quarter of a minute, and there would have to be something done about it. He who analyses this remark may find it hard to account for its having been so intelligible at first hearing.[Pg 163]

But Mrs. Tapping and Mrs. Riley—who were present—were not analytical, and when Mr. Bartlett inquired suspiciously if any of them boys belonged to either of you ladies, one of the latter replied with a counter-inquiry:—"What harrum have the young boys done ye, thin, misther? Shure it's been a playzin' little enjoyment forr thim afther school-hours!" Which revealed the worst part of Mr. Bartlett's character and his satellite John's, a sullen spirit of revenge, more marked perhaps in the man than in the master; for while the former merely referred to the fact that he would know them again if he saw them, and would then give them something to recollect him by, the latter said he would half-skin some of 'em alive if he could just lay hands on 'em. But the subject dropped, and Mr. Bartlett loaded up his truck and departed. And was presently in collision with the authorities for leaving it standing outside the Wheatsheaf, while he and John consumed a half-a-pint in at the bar.

When the coast was quite clear, the offenders felt their way back, not disguising their satisfaction at their transgression. Mrs. Riley seemed to think that she ought to express the feeling the Bench would have had, had it been present. For she said: "You'll be laying yoursilves open to pinalties, me boys, if ye don't kape your hands off other payple's thrucks, and things that don't consurrun ye. So lave thim be, and attind to your schooling, till you're riddy for bid." Dave's blue eyes dwelt doubtfully on the speaker, expressing their owner's uncertainty whether she was in earnest or not. Indeed, her sympathy with the offenders disqualified her for judicial impressiveness. Anyhow, Dave remained unimpressed, to judge by his voice as he vanished down the Court to narrate this pleasant experience to Uncle Moses. It was on Saturday afternoon that this took place. Have you ever noticed the strange fatality which winds up all building jobs on Saturday? Only not this Saturday—always next Saturday. It is called by some "making a clean finish."

Old Mrs. Prichard lent herself to the fiction that she would rejoice when the builders had made this clean finish. But she only did so to meet expectation half-way. She had no such eagerness for a quiet Sunday as was imputed to her. Very old people, with hearing at a low ebb, are often like this. The old lady during the ten days Mr. Bartlett had contrived to extend his job over—for his contract left all question of extras open—had become accustomed to the sound of the men outside, and was sorry when they died away in the distance, after breeding dissension with poles in the middle distance; that is to say, the Court below. She had[Pg 164] felt alive to the proximity of human creatures; for Mr. Bartlett and John still came under that designation, though builders by trade. If it had not been Saturday, with a prospect of Dave and Dolly Wardle when they had done their dinners, she would have had no alleviation in view, and would have had to divide the time between knitting and dozing till Mrs. Burr came in—as she might or might not—and tea eventuated: the vital moment of her day.

However, this was Saturday, and Dave and Dolly came up in full force as the afternoon mellowed; and Aunt M'riar accompanied them, and Mrs. Burr she got back early off her job, and there was fourpennyworth of crumpets. Only that was three-quarters of an hour later.

But Dave was eloquent about his adventure with the truck, judging the old lady of over eighty quite a fit and qualified person to sympathize with the raptures of sitting on a handle, and being jerked violently into the air by a counterpoise of confederates. And no doubt she was; but not to the extent imputed to her by Dave, of a great sense of privation from inability to go through the experience herself. Nevertheless there was that in his blue eyes, and the disjointed rapidity of his exposition of his own satisfaction, that could bridge for her the gulf of two-thirds of a century between the sad old now—the vanishing time—and the merry then of a growing life, and all the wonder of the things to be. The dim illumination of her smile spread a little to her eyes as she made believe to enter into the glorious details of the exploit; though indeed she was far from clear about many of them. And as for Dave, no suspicion crossed his mind that the old lady's professions of regret were feigned. He condemned Aunt M'riar's attitude, as that of an interloper between two kindred souls.

"There, child, that'll do for about Mr. Bartlett's truct." So the good woman had said, showing her lack of geist—her Philistinism. "Now you go and play at The Hospital with Dolly, and don't make no more noise than you can help." This referred to a game very popular with the children since Dave's experience as a patient. It promised soon to be the only record of his injuries, as witness his gymnastics of this morning.

But he was getting to be such a big boy now—seven, last birthday—that playing at games was becoming a mere concession to Dolly's tender youth. Old Mrs. Prichard's thin soprano had an appeal to this effect in it—on Dave's behalf—as she said: "Oh, but the dear child may tell me, please, all about the truck and[Pg 165] some more things, too, before he goes to play with Dolly. He has always such a many things to tell, has this little man! Hasn't he now, Mrs. Wardle?"

Aunt M'riar—good woman as she was—had a vice. She always would improve occasions. This time she must needs say:—"There, Davy, now! Hear what Mrs. Prichard says—so kind! You tell Mrs. Prichard all about Mrs. Marrowbone and the bull in the duckpond. You tell her!"

Dave, with absolute belief in the boon he was conferring on his venerable hearer, started at once on a complicated statement, as one who accepted the instruction in the spirit in which it was given. But first he had to correct a misapprehension. "The bool wasn't in the duckpong. The bool was in Farmer Jones's field, and the field was in the duckpong on the other side. And the dusk was in the pong where there wasn't no green." Evidently an oasis of black juice in the weed, which ducks enjoy. Dave thought no explanation necessary, and went on:—"Then Farmer Jones he was a horseback, and he rodid acrost the field, he did. And he undooed the gate with his whip to go froo, and it stumbled and let the bool froo, and Farmer Jones he rodid off to get the boy that understoodid the bool. He fetched him back behind his saddle, he did. And then the boy he got the bool's nose under control, and leaded him back easy, and they shet to the gate." One or two words—"control," for instance—treasured as essential and conscientiously repeated, gave Dave some trouble; but he got through them triumphantly.

"Is that all the story, Dave?" said Mrs. Prichard, who was affecting deep interest; although it was by now painfully evident that Dave had involved himself in a narrative without much plot. He nodded decisively to convey that it was substantially complete, but added to round it off:—"Mr. Marrowbone the Smith from Crincham he come next day and mended up the gate, only the bool he was tied to a post, and the boy whistled him a tune, or he would have tostid Mr. Marrowbone the Smith."

Said Aunt M'riar irrelevantly:—"What was the tune he whistled, Dave? You tell Mrs. Prichard what tune it was he whistled!" To which Dave answered with reserve:—"A long tune." Probably the whistler's stock was limited, and he repeated the piece, whatever it was, da capo ad libitum. This legend—the thin plot of Dave's story—will not strike some who have the misfortune to own bulls as strange. In some parts of the country boys are always requisitioned to attend on bulls, who especially hate men, perhaps resenting their monopoly of the term manhood.[Pg 166]

This conversation would scarcely have called for record but for what it led to.

Old Mrs. Prichard, like Aunt M'riar, had a vice. It was jealousy. Her eighty years' experience of a bitter world had left her—for all that she would sit quiet for hours and say never a word—still longing for the music of the tide that had gone out for her for ever. The love of this little man—which had not yet learned its value, and was at the service of age and youth alike—was to her even as a return of the sea-waves to some unhappy mollusc left stranded to dry at leisure in the sun. But her heart was in a certain sense athirst for the monopoly of his blue eyes. She did not grudge him to any legitimate claimant—to Uncle Mo or to Aunt M'riar, nor even to Mrs. Burr; though that good woman scarcely challenged jealousy. Indeed, Mrs. Burr regarded Dave and Dolly as mere cake-consumers—a public hungering for sweet-stuffs, and only to be bought off by occasional concessions. It was otherwise with unknown objects of Dave's affection, whose claims on him resembled Mrs. Prichard's own. Especially the old grandmother at the Convalescent Home, or whatever it was, where the child had recovered from his terrible accident. She grudged old Mrs. Marrowbone her place in Dave's affections, and naturally lost no opportunity of probing into and analysing them.

Said the old lady to Dave, when the bull was disposed of: "Was Mr. Marrowbone the Smith old Mrs. Marrowbone's grandson?" Dave shook his head rather solemnly and regretfully. It is always pleasanter to say yes than no; but in this case Truth was compulsory. "He wasn't anyfink of Granny Marrowbone's. No, he wasn't!" said he, and continued shaking his head to rub the fact in.

"Now you're making of it up, Dave," said Aunt M'riar. "You be a good little boy, and say Mr. Marrowbone the Smith was old Mrs. Marrowbone's grandson. Because you know he was—now don't you, Davy? You tell Mrs. Prichard he was old Mrs. Marrowbone's grandson!" Dave, however, shook his head obdurately. No concession!

"Perhaps he was her son," said Mrs. Prichard. But this surmise only prolonged the headshake; which promised to become chronic, to pause only when some ground of agreement could be discovered.

"The child don't above half know what he's talking about, not to say know!" Thus Aunt M'riar in a semi-aside to the old lady. It was gratuitous insult to add:—"He don't reely know what's a grandson, ma'am."[Pg 167]

Dave's blue eyes flashed indignation. "Yorse I does know!" cried he, loud enough to lay himself open to remonstrance. He continued under due restraint:—"I'm going to be old Mrs. Marrowbone's grangson." He then remembered that the treaty was conditional, and added a proviso:—"So long as I'm a good boy!"

"Won't you be my grandson, too, Davy darling?" said old Mrs. Prichard. And, if you can conceive it, there was pain in her voice—real pain—as well as the treble of old age. She was jealous, you see; jealous of this old Mrs. Marrowbone, who seemed to come between her and her little new-found waterspring in the desert.

But Dave was embarrassed, and she took his embarrassment for reluctance to grant her the same status as old Mrs. Marrowbone. It was nothing of the sort. It was merely his doubt whether such an arrangement would be permissible under canon law. It was bigamy, however much you chose to prevaricate. The old lady's appealing voice racked Dave's feelings. "I carn't!" he exclaimed, harrowed. "I've spromussed to be Mrs. Marrowbone's grangson—I have." And thereupon old Mrs. Prichard, perceiving that he was really distressed, hastened to set his mind at ease. Of course he couldn't be her grandson, if he was already Mrs. Marrowbone's. She overlooked or ignored the possible compromise offered by the fact that two grandmothers are the common lot of all mankind. But it would be unjust—this was clear to her—that Dave should suffer in any way from her jealous disposition. So she put her little grievance away in her inmost heart—where indeed there was scarcely room for it, so preoccupied had the places been—and then, as an active step towards forgetting it, went on to talk to Dave about old Mrs. Marrowbone, although she was not Mr. Marrowbone the Smith's grandmother.

"Tell us, Dave dear, about old Mrs. Marrowbone. Is she very old? Is she as old as me?" To which Aunt M'riar as a sort of Greek chorus added:—"There, Davy, now, you be a good boy, and tell how old Mrs. Marrowbone is."

Dave considered. "She's not the soyme oyge," said he. "She can walk to chutch and back, Sunday morning." But this was a judgment from physical vigour, possibly a fallible guide. Dave, being prompted, attempted description. Old Mrs. Marrowbone's hair was the only point he could seize on. A cat, asleep on the hearthrug, supplied a standard of comparison. "Granny Marrowbone's head's the colour of this," said Dave, with decision, selecting a pale grey stripe. And Widow Thrale's was like that—one with a deeper tone of brown, with scarcely any perceptible grey.[Pg 168]

"And which on Pussy is most like mine, Dave?" said Mrs. Prichard. There was no hesitation in the answer to this. It was "that sort";—that is, the colour of Pussy's stomach, unequivocal white. And which did Dave like best—an unfair question which deserved and got a Parliamentary answer. "All free," said Dave.

But this was merely colour of hair, a superficial distinction. How about Granny Marrowbone's nose. "It's the soyme soyze," was the verdict, given without hesitation. What colour were her eyes? "Soyme as yours." But Dave was destined to incur public censure—Aunt M'riar representing the public—for a private adventure into description. "She's more teef than you," said he candidly.

"Well, now, I do declare if ever any little boy was so rude! I never did! Whatever your Uncle Moses would say if he was told, I can't think." Thus Aunt M'riar. But her attitude was artificial, for appearance sake, and she knew perfectly well that Uncle Moses would only laugh and encourage the boy. The culprit did not seem impressed, though ready to make concessions. Yet he did not really better matters by saying:—"She's got some teef, she has"; leaving it to be inferred that old Mrs. Prichard had none, which was very nearly true. The old lady did not seem the least hurt. Nor was she hurt even when Dave—seeking merely to supply accurate detail—added, in connection with the old hand that wandered caressingly over his locks and brows:—"Her hands is thicker than yours is, a lot!"

"I often think, Mrs. Wardle," said she, taking no advantage of the new topic offered, "what we might be spared if only our teeth was less untrustworthy. Mine stood me out till over fifty, and since then they've been going—going. Never was two such rows of teeth as I took with me to the Colony. Over fifty years ago, Mrs. Wardle!"

"To think of that!" said Aunt M'riar. It was the time—not the teeth—that seemed so wonderful. Naturally old Mrs. Prichard's teeth went with her. But fifty years! And their owner quite bright still, when once she got talking.

She was more talkative than usual this afternoon, and continued:—"No, I do not believe, Mrs. Wardle, there was ever a girl with suchlike teeth as mine were then." And then this memory brought back its companion memory of the long past, but with no new sadness to her voice: "Only my dear sister Phoebe's, Mrs. Wardle, I've told you about. She was my twin sister ... I've told you ... you recollect?..."

"Yes, indeed, ma'am, and died when you was in the Colony!"[Pg 169]

"I've never seen another more beautiful than Phoebe." She spoke with such supreme unconsciousness of the twinship that Aunt M'riar forgot it, too, until her next words came. "I was never free to say it of her in those days, for they would have made sport of me for saying it. There was none could tell us apart then. It does not matter now." She seemed to fall away into an absent-minded dream, always caressing Dave's sunny locks, which wanted cutting.

Aunt M'riar did not instantly perceive why a twin could not praise her twin's beauty; at least, it needed reflection. She was clear on the point, however, by the time Dave, merely watchful till now, suddenly asked a question:—"What are stwins?" He had long been anxious for enlightenment on this point, and now saw his opportunity. His inquiry was checked—if his curiosity was not satisfied—by a statement that when a little boy had a brother the same age that was twins, incorrectly stwins. He had to affect satisfaction.

The old woman, roused by Dave's question, attested the general truth of his informant's statements; then went back to the memory of her sister. "But I never saw her again," said she.

"No, ma'am," said Aunt M'riar. "So I understood. It was in England she died?"

"No—no! Out at sea. She was drowned at sea. Fifty years ago ... Yes!—well on to fifty years ago." She fell back a little into her dreamy mood; then roused herself to say:—"I often wonder, Mrs. Wardle, suppose my sister had lived to be my age, should we have kept on alike?"

Aunt M'riar was not a stimulus to conversation as far as perspicuity went. A general tone of sympathy had to make up for it. "We should have seen, ma'am," said she.

"Supposing it had all gone on like as it was then, and we had just grown old together! Supposing we had neither married, and no man had come into it, should we all our lives have been mistaken for one another, so you could not tell us apart?"

Aunt M'riar said "Ah!" and shook her head. She was not imaginative enough to contribute to a conversation so hypothetical.

There was nothing of pathos, to a bystander, in the old woman's musical voice, beyond its mere age—its reedy tone—which would have shown in it just as clearly had she been speaking of any topic of the day. Conceive yourself speaking about long forgotten events of your childhood to a friend born thirty—forty—fifty years later, and say if such speech would not be to you what old Mrs. Prichard's was to herself and her hearer, much like revival of the[Pg 170] past history of someone else. It was far too long ago now—if it had ever been real; for sometimes indeed it seemed all a dream—to lacerate her heart in recollecting it. The memories that could do that belonged to a later time; some very much later—the worst of them. Not but that the early memories could sting, too, when dragged from their graves by some remorseless resurrectionist—some sound, like that piano; some smell, like those lilies of the valley. Measure her case against your own experience, if its span of time is long enough to supply a parallel.

Her speech became soliloquy—was it because of a certain want of pliancy in Aunt M'riar?—and seemed to dwell in a disjointed way on the possibility that her sister might have changed with time otherwise than herself, and might even have been hard to recognise had they met again later. It would be different with two girls of different ages, each of whom would after a long parting have no guide to the appearance of her sister; while twins might keep alike; the image of either, seen in the glass, forecasting the image of the other.

Aunt M'riar made a poor listener to this, losing clues and forging false constructions. But her obliging disposition made her seem to understand when she did not, and did duty for intelligence. Probably Dave—on the watch for everything within human ken—understood nearly as much as Aunt M'riar. Something was on the way, though, to rouse her, and when it came she started as from a blow. What was that the old lady had just said? How came that name in her mouth?...

"What I said just now, Mrs. Wardle?... Let me see!... About what my husband used to say—that Phoebe's memory would go to sleep, not like mine, and I was a fool to fret so about her. I would not know her again, maybe, if I saw her, nor she me.... Yes—he said all that.... What?"

"What was the name you said just now? Ralph ... something! Ralph what?"

"Oh—yes—I know! What Phoebe would have been if she had married my husband's brother—Mrs. Ralph Daverill...."

"Good Lord!" exclaimed Aunt M'riar.

"Ah, there now!" said the old lady. "To think I should never have told you his name!" She missed the full strength of Aunt M'riar's exclamation; accounted it mere surprise at what was either a reference to a former husband or an admission of a pseudonym. Aunt M'riar was glad to accept matters as they stood, merely disclaiming excessive astonishment and suggesting that she might easy have guessed that Mrs. Prichard had been married[Pg 171] more than once. She was not—she said—one of the prying sort. But she was silent about the cause of her amazement; putting the name in a safe corner of her memory, to grapple with it later.

The old woman, however, seemed to have no wish for concealments, saying at once:—"I never had but one husband, Mrs. Wardle; but I'll tell you. I've always gone by the name of Prichard ever since my son.... But I never told you of him neither! It is he I would forget...." This disturbed her—made her take the caressing hand restlessly from Dave's head, to hold and be held by the other. She had to be silent a moment; then said hurriedly:—"He was Ralph Thornton, after his father and uncle. His father was Thornton—Thornton Daverill.... I'll tell you another time." Thereupon Aunt M'riar held her tongue, and Mrs. Burr came in with the fourpennyworth of crumpets.

An unskilful chronicler throws unfair burdens on his reader. The latter need not read the chronicle certainly; there is always that resource! If, however, he reads this one, let him keep in mind that Aunt M'riar did not know that the escaped prisoner of her newspaper-cutting had been asking for a widow of the name of Daverill, whom he had somehow traced to Sapps Court, any more than she knew—at that date—that old Mrs. Prichard should really have been called old Mrs. Daverill. She only knew that his name was Daverill. So it was not in order to prevent Mrs. Prichard seeing it that she cut that paragraph out of the Morning Star. She must have had some other reason.



It is three weeks later at the Castle; three weeks later, that is, than the story's last sight of it. It is the hottest night we have[Pg 172] had this year, says general opinion. Most of the many guests are scattered in the gardens after dinner, enjoying the night-air and the golden moon, which means to climb high in the cirrus-dappled blue in an hour or so. And then it will be a fine moonlight night.

On such a night there is always music somewhere, and this evening someone must be staying indoors to make it, as it comes from the windows of the great drawing-room that opens on the garden. Someone is playing a Beethoven sonata one knows well enough to pretend about with one's fingers, theoretically. Only one can't think which it is. So says Miss Smith-Dickenson, in the Shrubbery, to her companion, who is smoking a Havana large enough to play a tune on if properly perforated. But she wishes Miss Torrens would stop, and let Gwen and the Signore sing some Don Juan. That is Miss Dickenson's way. She always takes exception to this and to that, and wants t'other. It does not strike the Hon. Percival Pellew, the smoker of the big cigar, as a defect in her character, but rather as an indication of its illumination—a set-off to her appearance, which is, of course, at its best in the half-dark of a Shrubbery by moonlight, but is passée for all that. Can't help that, now, can we? But Mr. Pellew can make retrospective concession; she must have told well enough, properly dressed, fifteen years ago. She don't exactly bear the light now, and one can't expect it.

The Hon. Percival complimented himself internally on a greater spirituality, which can overlook such points—mere clay?—and discern a peculiar essence of soul in this lady which, had they met in her more palatable days, might have been not uncongenial to his own. Rather a pity!

Miss Dickenson could identify a glow-worm and correct the ascription of its light to any fellow's cigar-end thrown away. She made the best figure that was compatible with being indubitably passée when she went down on one knee in connection with this identification. Mr. Pellew felt rather relieved. Her outlines seemed somehow to warrant or confirm the intelligence he had pledged himself to. He remarked, without knowing anything about it, that he thought glow-worms didn't show up till September.

"Try again, Mr. Pellew. It's partridge-shooting that doesn't begin till September. That's what you're thinking of."

"Well—August, then!"

"No—that's grouse, not glow-worms. You see, you are reduced to July, and it's July still. Do take my advice, Mr. Pellew, and leave Natural History alone. Nobody will ever know you know nothing about it, if you hold your tongue."[Pg 173]

The Hon. Percival was silent. He was not thinking about his shortcomings as a Natural Historian. The reflection in his mind was:—"What a pity this woman isn't twenty years younger!" He could discriminate—so he imagined—between mere flippancy and spontaneous humour. The latter would have sat so well on the girl in her teens, and he would then have accepted the former as juvenile impertinence with so much less misgiving that he was being successfully made game of. He could not quite shake free of that suspicion. Anyhow, it was a pity Miss Smith-Dickenson was thirty-seven. That was the age her friend Lady Ancester had assessed her at, in private conversation with Mr. Pellew. "Though what the deuce my cousin Philippa"—thus ran a very rapid thought through his mind—"could think I wanted to know the young woman's age for, I can't imagine."

"There it is!" said the lady, stooping over the glow-worm. "Little hairy thing! I won't disturb it." She got on her feet again, saying:—"Thank you—I'm all right!" in requital of a slight excursion towards unnecessary help, which took the form of a jerk cut short and an apologetic tone. "But don't talk Zoölogy or Botany, please," she continued. "Because there's something I want you to tell me about."

"Anything consistent with previous engagements. Can't break any promises."

"Have you made any promises about the man upstairs?"

"Not the ghost of a one! But he isn't 'the man upstairs' to me. He's the man in the room at the end of my passage. That's how I came to see him."

"You did see him?"

"Oh yes—talked to him till the nurse stopped it. I found we knew each other. Met him in the Tyrol—at Meran—ten years ago. He was quite a boy then. But he remembered me quite well. It was this morning."

"Did he recognise you, or you him?"

"Why—neither exactly. We found out about Meran by talking. No—poor chap!—he can't recognise anybody, by sight at least. He won't do that yet awhile."

The lady said "Oh?" in a puzzled voice, as though she heard something for the first time; then continued: "Do you know, I have never quite realised that ... that the eyes were so serious. I knew all along that there was something, but ... but I understood it was only weakness."

"They have been keeping it dark—quite reasonably and properly, you know—but there is it! He can't see—simply can't see.[Pg 174] His eyes look all right, but they won't work. His sister knows, of course, but he has bound her over to secrecy. He made me promise to say nothing, and I've broken my promise, I suppose. But—somehow—I thought you knew."

"Only that there was something—no idea that he was blind. But I won't betray your confidence."

"Thank you. It's only a matter of time, as I gather. But a bad job for him till he gets his sight again."

"He will, I suppose, in the end?"

"Oh yes—in the end. Sir Coupland is cautious, of course. But I don't fancy he's really uneasy. His sight might come back suddenly, he said, at any moment. Of course, he believes his eyesight will come back. Only meanwhile he wants—it was a phrase of his own—to keep all the excruciation for his own private enjoyment. That's what he said!"

"I see. Of course, that makes a difference. And you think Sir Coupland thinks he will get all right again?"

Mr. Pellew says he does think so, reassuringly. "It has always struck me as peculiar," says he, "that Tim's family ... I beg pardon—I should have said the Earl's. But you see I remember him as a kid—we are cousins, you know—and his sisters always called him Tim.... Well, I mean the family here, you know, seem to know so little of the Torrenses. Lady Gwen doesn't seem to have recognised this chap in the Park."

"I believe she has never seen him. He has been a great deal abroad, you know."

"Yes, he's been at German Universities, and games of that sort."

"Is that your third cigar, Mr. Pellew?"

"No—second. Come, I say, Miss Dickenson, two's not much...."

But her remark was less a tobacco-crusade than a protest against too abrupt a production of family history by a family friend. Mr. Pellew felt confident it would come, though; and it did, at about the third whiff of the new cigar.

"I suppose you know the story?"

"Couldn't say, without hearing it first to know."

"About Philippa and Sir Hamilton Torrens?"

"Can't say I have. But then I'm the sort of fellah nobody ever tells things to."

"I suppose I oughtn't to have mentioned it."

"I shall not tell anyone you did so. You may rely on that." Mr. Pellew gave his cigar a half-holiday to say this seriously, and Miss Dickenson felt that his type, though too tailor-made, was[Pg 175] always to be relied on; you had only to scratch it to find a Gentleman underneath. No audience ever fails to applaud the discovery on the stage. Evidently there was no reserve needed—a relation of the Earl, too! Still, she felt satisfied at this passing recognition of Prudence on her part. Preliminaries had been done justice to.

She proceeded to tell what she knew of the episode of her friend's early engagement to the father of the gentleman who had been shot. It was really a very flat story; so like a thousand others of its sort as scarcely to claim narration-space. Youth, beauty, high spirits, the London season, first love—warranted the genuine article—parental opposition to the union of Romeo and Juliet, on the vulgar, unpoetical ground of Romeo having no particular income and vague expectations; the natural impatience of eighteen and five-and-twenty when they don't get their own way in everything; misunderstandings, ups-and-downs, reconciliations and new misunderstandings; finally one rather more serious than its predecessors, and judicious non-interference of bystanders—underhanded bystanders who were secretly favouring another suitor, who wasn't so handsome and showy as Romeo certainly, but who was of sterling worth and all that sort of thing. Besides, he was very nearly an Earl, and Hamilton Torrens was three-doors off his father's Baronetcy and Pensham Steynes. This may have had its weight with Juliet. Miss Dickenson candidly admitted that she herself would have been influenced; but then, no doubt she was a worldling. Mr. Pellew admired the candour, discerning in it exaggeration to avoid any suspicion of false pretence. He did not suspect himself of any undue leniency to this lady. She was altogether too passée to admit of any such idea.

The upshot of the flat episode, of course, was that Philippa "became engaged" to her new suitor, and did not fall out with him. They were married within the year, and three months later her former fiancé's father died, rather unexpectedly. His eldest son, coming home from Burmah on sick-leave, died on the voyage, of dysentery; and his second brother, a naval officer, was in the autumn of the same year killed by a splinter at the Battle of Navarino. So by a succession of fatalities Romeo found himself the owner of his father's estate, and a not very distant neighbour of Juliet and his successful rival.

It appeared that he had consoled himself by marrying a Miss Abercrombie, Miss Dickenson believed. These Romeos always marry a Miss Something; who, owing to the way she comes into the story, is always on the top-rung of the ladder of insipidity. Nobody cares for her; she appears too late to interest us. No[Pg 176] doubt there were several Miss Abercrombies on draught, and he selected the tallest or the cleverest or the most musical, avoiding, of course, the dowdiest.

However, there was Lady Ancester's romance, told to account for the languid intercourse between the Castle and Pensham Steynes, and the non-recognition of one another by Gwen and the Man in the Park. Miss Dickenson added a rider to the effect that she could quite understand the position. It would be a matter of mutual tacit consent, tempered down by formal calls enough to allay local gossip. "I think Miss Torrens has stopped," said she collaterally; you know how one speaks collaterally? "Shall we walk towards the house?"

Then the Hon. Percival made a speech he half repented of later; videlicet, when he woke next morning. It became the fulcrum, as it were, of an inexplicable misgiving that Miss Dickenson would be bearing the light worse than ever when he saw her at breakfast. The speech was:—"It's very nice out here. One can hear the Don at Covent Garden. Besides ... one can hear out here just as well." This must have been taken to mean that two could. For the lady's truncated reply was:—"Till you've finished your cigar, then!"

Combustion was lip-close when the cigar-end was thrown away. The reader of this story may be able to understand a thing its writer can only record without understanding—the fact that this gentleman felt grateful to the fine moonlight night, now nearly a fait-accompli, for enhancing this lady's white silk, which favoured a pretence that she was only reasonably passée, and enabled him to reflect upon the contour of her throat without interruption from its skin. For it had a contour by moonlight. Well!—sufficient to the day is the evil thereof; daylight might have its say to-morrow. Consider the clock put back a dozen years!

"Oh yes, he's asleep still, but I've seen him—looked in on my way down. Do you know, I really believe he will be quite fit for the journey to-morrow. He's getting such a much better colour, and last night he seemed so much stronger." Thus the last comer to the morning-rally of breakfast claimants, in its ante-room, awaiting its herald. Miss Irene Torrens is a robust beauty with her brother's eyes. She has been with him constantly since she came with her father three weeks ago, and the two of them watched his every breath through the terrible day and night that followed.

"Then perhaps he will let us see him," says Lady Gwen. "At last!"[Pg 177]

"You must not expect too much," says Miss Torrens. She does not like saying it, but facts are overpowering. Her brother has exacted a pledge from her to say nothing, even now, about his blindness—merely to treat him as weak-eyed temporarily. He will pass muster, he says—will squeak through somehow. "I can't have that glorious girl made miserable," were the words he had used to her, half an hour since. This Irene will be all on tenterhooks till the interview is safely over. Meanwhile it is only prudent not to sound too hopeful a note. It is as well to keep a margin in reserve in case the performance should fall through.

Irene's response to her brother's words had been, "She is a glorious girl," and she was on the way to "You should have seen her eyes last night over that Beethoven!" But she broke down on the word eyes. How else could it have been? Then the blind man had laughed, in the courage of his heart, as big a laugh as his pitiable weakness could sustain, and had made light of his affliction. He had never given way from the first hour of his revival, when he had asked to have the shutters open, and had been told they were already wide open, and the July sun streaming into the room.

It was the Countess who answered Irene's caution, as accompaniment to her morning salute. "We are not to expect anything, my dear. That is quite understood. It would be unreasonable. And we won't stop long and tire him. But this girl of mine will never be happy if he goes away without our—well!—becoming acquainted, I might almost say. Because really we are perfect strangers. And when one has shot a man, even by accident...." Her ladyship did not finish, but went on to hope the eyesight was recovering.

"Oh yes!" said Irene audaciously. "We are quite hopeful about it now. It will be all right with rest and feeding up. Only, if I let you in to see him you will promise me, won't you—not to say a word about his eyes? It only frightens him, and does no one any good." Of course, Miss Torrens got her promise. It was an easy one to make, because reference to the eyes only seemed a means towards embarrassment. Much easier to say nothing about them. Gwen and Miss Torrens, very liées already, went out by the garden window to talk, but would keep within hearing because breakfast was imminent.

More guests, and the newspapers; as great an event in the early fifties as now, but with only a fraction of the twentieth century's allowance of news. Old General Rawnsley, guilty of his usual rudeness in capturing the Times from all comers, had to[Pg 178] surrender it to the Hon. Percival because none but a dog-in-the-manger could read a letter from Sir C. Napier of Scinde, and about Dr. Livingstone and Sekeletu and the Leeambye all at the same time. All comers, or several male comers at least, essayed to pinion the successful captor of the Times, thirsting for information about their own special subjects of interest. No—the Hon. Percival did not see anything, so far, about the new Arctic expedition that was to unearth, or dis-ice, the Erebus and Terror; but the inquirer, a vague young man, shall have the paper directly. Neither has he come on anything, as yet, about a mutiny in the camp at Chobham. But the paper shall be at the disposal of this inquirer, too, as soon as the eye in possession has been run down to the bottom of this column. In due course both inquirers get hold of corners at the moment of surrender, and then have paroxysms of polite concession which neither means in earnest, during which the bone of contention becomes the prey of a passing wolf. Less poetically, someone else gets hold of the paper and keeps it.

The Hon. Percival really surrendered the paper, not because his interest in Lord Palmerston's speech had flagged, but because he had heard Miss Dickenson come in, and that consideration about her endurance of the daylight weighed upon him. On the whole, she is standing the glare of day better than he expected, and her bodice seems very nicely cut. It may have been an accident that she looked so dowdy yesterday morning. He and she exchange morning greetings, passionlessly but with civility. The lady may be accounting a tête-à-tête by moonlight with a gentleman, an hour long, an escapade, and he may be resolving on caution for the future. By-the-by, can a lady have a tête-à-tête with another lady by moonlight? Scarcely!

Mr. Norbury, the butler, always feels the likeness of the breakfast rally to fish in a drop-net. If he acts promptly, he will land his usual congregation. He must look in at the door to see if there is a quorum. A quarum would do. A cujus is a great rarity; though even that happens after late dances, or when influenza is endemic. Mr. Norbury looked in at the rally and recognised its psychological moment. More briefly, he announced that breakfast was ready, while a gong rang up distant sheep astray most convincingly.

Adrian Torrens, too weak still to show alacrity in waking, hears the sound and is convinced. How he would rejoice to join the party below! He knows that, in his sleep; and resolves as soon[Pg 179] as he can speak to tell Mrs. Bailey the nurse he could perfectly well have got up for breakfast. Yet he knows he is glad to be kept lying down, for all that.

He wakes cherishing his determination to say this to his tyrant, and is conscious of the sun by the warmth, and the unanimity of the birds. He knows, too, that the casement is open, by the sound of voices in the garden below. His sister's voice and another, whose owner's image was the last thing human he had seen, with the eyes that he dared not think had looked their last upon the visible world when the crash came from Heaven-knows-where and shut it out. He could identify it beyond a doubt; could swear to it, now that he had come to understand the real story of his terrible mishap, as the first sound that mixed with his returning life, back from a painless darkness which was a Heaven compared to the torture of his reviving consciousness. It was strange to be told now that at that moment the medical verdict had been given that he was dead. But he could swear to the voice—even to the words! What was it saying now?

"You may rely on me—indeed you may—to say nothing about the eyes. He will be just able to see us, I suppose?"

"He will hardly recognise you. How long was it altogether, do you think?"

"At Arthur's Bridge? Five minutes—perhaps less."

"He took a good look at you?"

"I suppose so. I think he did, as soon as he had got the dog chained. Oh yes—I should say certainly! I fancied he might have seen me before, but it seems not."

"He says not. But you were not out when he went to Konigsberg."

"Oh no—I had quite a long innings after that.... Well!—it does sound like cricket, doesn't it? Go on."

"Oh—I see what you mean. What a ridiculous girl you are! What was I saying!... Oh, I recollect! That was just after he graduated at Oxford. Then he went to South America with Engelhardt. He really has been very little at home for three years—over three years—past."

"We shall see if he knows me. I won't say anything to guide him." Then he heard his sister's voice reply to the speaker with words she had used before:—"You know you must not expect too much." To which Lady Gwendolen reiterated: "Oh, you may trust me. I shall say nothing to him about it.... Oh, you darling!" This was to Achilles, manifestly. He had become restless at the sound of conversation below, and had been looking[Pg 180] round the door-jamb to see if by any chance a dog could get out. The entry of the nurse a moment since, with a proto-stimulant on a tray, had let him out to tear down the stairs to the garden, rudely thrusting aside the noble owner of the house, out of bounds in a dressing-gown and able to defy Society.

No lack of sight can quench the image in its victim's brain of Achilles' greeting to the owners of the two voices. His sister has her fair share of it—no more!—but her friend gets an accolade of a piece with the one she received that morning by Arthur's Bridge, three weeks since. So his owner's brain-image says, confirmed by sounds from without. He is conscious of the absurdity of building so vivid and substantial a superstructure on so little foundation, and would like to protest against it.

"Good-morning, Nurse. I'm better. What is it?—beef-tea. Earls' cooks make capital beef-tea. On the whole I am in favour of Feudalism. Nothing can be sweeter or neater or completer—or more nourishing—than its beef-tea. Don't put any salt in till I tell you.... Oh no—I'm not going to spill it!" This is preliminary; the protest follows. "Who's talking to my sister under the window?... that's her voice." Of course, he knew perfectly well all the time.

The nurse listens a moment. "That's her ladyship," says she, meaning the Countess. Gwen's voice is not unlike her mother's, only fuller. "They are just going in to breakfast. The gong went a minute ago."

Now is his time to condemn the tyranny which keeps him in bed in the morning and lying down all day. "I could have got up and gone downstairs, Mrs. Bailey, you know I could."

Mrs. Bailey pointed out that had this scheme been carried out a life would have been sacrificed. She explained to a newcomer, no less a person than the Earl himself, that Mr. Torrens would kill himself in five minutes if she did not keep the eyes of a lynx on him all the blessed day. She is always telling him so without effect, he never being any the wiser, even when she talks her head off. Patients never are, being an unmanageable class at the best. A nurse with her head on ought to be a rarity, according to Mrs. Bailey.

The image of the Earl in the blind man's mind is very little helped by recollection of the few occasions, some years ago, on which he has seen him. It becomes now, after a short daily chat with him each morning since he gained strength for interviews, that of an elderly gentleman with a hesitating manner anxious to accommodate difficulties, soothing an unreasonable race with a[Pg 181] benevolent optimism, pouring oil on the troubled waters of local religion and politics, taking no real interest in the vortices into which it has pleased God to drag him, all with one distinct object in view—that of adding to his collections undisturbed. That is the impression he has produced on Mr. Adrian Torrens in a dozen of his visits to his bedside. His lordship has made it a practice to look in at his victim—for that is the way he thinks of him, will he nill he!—as early every day as possible, and as late. He has suffered agonies from constant longings to talk about his Amatis or his Elzevirs or his Petitots, checked at every impulse by the memory of the patient's blindness. He is always beginning to say how he would like to show him this or that, and collapsing. This also is an inference of Mr. Torrens, drawn in the dark, from sudden hesitations and changes of subject.

"How are we this morning, Nurse?" On the mend, it seems, being more refractory than ever; always a good sign with patients. But we must be kept in bed, till midday at any rate, for some days yet. Or weeks or months or years according to the degree of our intractability. The Earl accepts this as common form, and goes to the bedside saying sum-upwardly:—"No worse, at any rate!"

"Tremendously better, Lord Ancester! Tremendously better, thanks to you and Mrs. Bailey.... Catch hold of the cup, Nurse.... Yes, I've drained it to the dregs.... I know what you are going to say, my lord...."

"I was going to say that Mrs. Bailey and I are not on the same footing. Mrs. Bailey didn't shoot you.... Yes, now grip hard! That's right! Better since yesterday certainly—no doubt of it!"

"Mrs. Bailey didn't shoot me in the mere vulgar literal sense. But she was contributory, if not an accessory after the fact. It was written in the Book of Fate that Mrs. Bailey would bring me beef-tea this very day. If she had accepted another engagement the incident would have had to be rewritten; which is impossible by hypothesis. Moreover, so far as I can be said to have been shot, it was as a trespasser, not as a man.... Is there a close season for trespassers? If there is, I admit that you may be technically right. Qui facit per alium facit per se.... By-the-by, I hope poor Alius is happier in his mind...."

"Poor who?" says the Earl. He is not giving close attention to the convalescent's disconnected chatter. He has been one himself, and knows how returning life sets loose the tongue.

"The alius you facitted per. The poor chap that had the bad[Pg 182] luck to shoot me. Old Stephen—isn't he? Poor old chap! What a mischance!"

"Oh yes—old Stephen! I see—he's alius, of course. He comes over two or three times a day to see how you are going on. They think him rather a nuisance in the house, I believe. I have tried to comfort him as well as I could. He will be glad of to-day's report. But he can't help being dispirited, naturally."

"He's so unaccustomed to homicide, poor old chap! People should be educated to it, in case of accidents. They might be allowed to kill a few women and children for practice—should never be left to the mercy of their consciences, all raw and susceptible. Poor old Stephen! I really think he might be allowed to come and see me now. I'm so very much improved that a visit from my assassin would be a pleasant experience—a wholesome stimulus. Wouldn't throw me back at all! Poor old Stephen!" He seemed seriously concerned about the old boy; would not be content without a promise that he and his wife should pay him an early visit.

He had been immensely better after that M.P. paid him a visit yesterday morning. Mrs. Bailey confirmed this, testifying to the difficulty with which the patient had been persuaded to remain in bed. But she had the whip-hand of him there, because he couldn't find his clothes without her help. This gives the Earl an idea of the condition of the patient's eyesight beyond his previous concept of its infirmities. He has been misled by its apparent soundness—for no one would have guessed the truth from outward seeming—and the nurse's accident of speech rouses his curiosity.

"Ah, by-the-by," he says, "I was just going to ask." Which is not strictly true, but apology to himself for his own neglect, "How are the eyes?"

"Oh, the eyes are right enough," says the patient. He goes on to explain that they are no inconvenience whatever so long as he keeps them shut. It is only when he opens them that he notices their defect; which is, briefly, that he can't see with them. His lordship seems to feel that eyes so conditioned are hardly satisfactory. It is really new knowledge to him, and he accepts it restlessly. He spreads his fingers out before the deceptive orbs that look so clear, showing indeed no defect but a kind of uncertainty; or rather perhaps a too great stillness as though always content with the object in front of them. "What do you see now?" he asks in a nervous voice.

"Something dark between me and the light."[Pg 183]

"Is that all? Can't you see what it is?"

"A book." A mere guess based on the known predilections of the questioner.

"Oh dear!" says the Earl. "It was my hand." He sees that the nurse is signalling with headshakes and soundless lip-words, but has not presence of mind to catch her meaning.

The other seems to feel his speech apologetically, as though it were his own fault. "I see better later in the day," he says. Which may be true or not.

The nurse's signalling tells, and the questioner runs into an opposite extreme. "One is like that in the morning sometimes," says he absurdly, but meaning well. He is not an Earl who would be of much use in a hospital for the treatment of nervous disorders. However, having grasped the situation he shows tact, changing the conversation to the heat of the weather and the probable earliness of the crops. No one should ever show tact. He will only be caught flagrante delicto. Mr. Torrens is perfectly well aware of what is occurring; and, when he lies still and unresponsive with his eyes closed, is not really resting after exertion, which is the nurse's interpretation of the action, but trying to think out something he wants to say to the Earl, and how to say it. It is not so easy as light jesting.

The nurse telegraphs silently lipwise that the patient will doze now for a quarter of an hour till breakfast; and the visitor, alive to the call of discretion, has gone out gently before the patient knows he has left the bedside.

Things that creak watch their opportunity whenever they hear silence. So the Earl's gentle exit ends in a musical and penetrating arpeggio of a door-hinge, equal to the betrayal of Masonic secrecy if delivered at the right moment. "Is Mrs. Bailey gone?" says the patient, ascribing the wrong cause to it.

"His lordship has gone, Mr. Torrens. He thought you were dropping off."

"Stop him—stop him! Say I have something particular to say. Do stop him!" It must be something very particular, Nurse thinks. But in any case the patient's demand would have to be complied with. So the Earl is recaptured and brought back.

"Is it anything I can do for you, Mr. Torrens? I am quite at your service."

"Yes—something of importance to me. Is Mrs. Bailey there?"

"She is just going." She had not intended to do so. But this was a hint clearly. It was accepted.

"All clear!" says the Earl. "And the door closed."[Pg 184]

"My sister has promised to ask the Countess and your daughter—Lady Gwen, is it not?"

"That is my daughter's name, Gwendolen. 'Has promised to ask them' ... what?"

"To give me an opportunity before I go of thanking them both for all the great kindness they have shown me, and of apologizing for my wish to defer the interview."

"Yes—but why me?... I mean that that is all quite in order, but how do I come in?" As the speaker's voice smiles as well as his face, his hearer's blindness does not matter.

"Only this way. You know the doctors say my eyesight is not incurable—probably will come all to rights of itself...."

"Yes—and then?"

"I want them—her ladyship and...."

"My wife and daughter. I understand."

"... I want them to know as little about it as possible; to know nothing about it if possible. You knew very little about it yourself till just now."

"I was misled—kindly, I know—but misled for all that. And the appearance is so extraordinary. Nobody could guess...."

"Exactly. Because the eyes are really unaffected and are sure to come right. See now what I am asking you to do for me. Help me to deceive them about it. They will not test my eyesight as you did just now...."

"How do you know that?"

"Because I heard Irene and your daughter talking in the garden a few minutes ago—just after the breakfast-bell rang—talking about me, and I eavesdropped as hard as I could. Lady Gwendolen has promised Irene to say nothing about my eyesight for my sake. She will keep her promise...."

"How do you know that?"

"By the sound of her voice."

"She is only a human girl."

"I am convinced that she will keep it; though, I grant you, circumstances are against her. And neither she nor her mother will try to find out, if they believe I see them dimly. That is where you come in. Only make them believe that. Don't let them suppose I am all in the dark. Say nothing of your crucial experiment just now. Irene—dear girl—has been a good sister to me, and has told many good round lies for my sake. But she will explain to God. I cannot ask you, Lord Ancester, to tell stories on my behalf. My petition is only for a modest prevarication—the cultivation of a reasonable misapprehension to attain a justifiable[Pg 185] end. Consider the position analogous to that of one of Her Majesty's Ministers catechized by an impertinent demagogue. No fibs, you know—only what a truthful person tells instead of a fib! For my sake!"

"I am not thinking of my character for veracity," says the Earl thoughtfully. "You should be welcome to a sacrifice of that under the circumstances. I was thinking what form of false representation would be most likely to gain the end, and safest. Do you know, I am inclined to favour the policy of saying as little as possible? My dear wife is in the habit of imputing to me a certain slowness and defective observation of surrounding event. It is a common wifely attitude. You need not fear my being asked any questions. In any case, I fully understand your wishes, and you may rely on my doing my best. Here is your breakfast coming. I hope you will not be knocked up with all this talk."



The morning passed, with intermittent visitors, one at a time. Each one, coming away from the bedside, confirmed the report of his predecessor as to the visible improvement of the convalescent. Each one in turn, when questioned about the eyesight, gave a sanguine report—an echo of the patient's own confidence, real or affected, in its ultimate restoration. He would be all right again in a week or so.

Underhand ways were resorted to of cheating despair and getting at the pocket of Hope. Said one gentleman to the Earl—who was keeping his counsel religiously—"He can't read small print." Whereto the Earl replied—"Not yet awhile, but one could hardly expect that"; and felt that he was carrying out his promise with a minimum of falsehood. Yet his conscience wavered, because an eyesight may be unable to read small print, and yet unable to read large print, or any print at all. Perhaps he had better have[Pg 186] left the first broad indisputable truth to impose on its hearer unassisted.

Another visitor scored a success on behalf of Optimism by reporting that the patient had smoked a cigar in defiance of medical prohibitions. "Can't be much wrong with his eyes," said this one, "if he can smoke. You shut your eyes, and try!" Put to the proof, this dictum received more confirmation than it deserved, solely to secure an audience for the flattering tales of Hope.

Much of the afternoon passed too, but without visitors. Because it would never do, said Irene, for her brother not to be at his best when Gwen and her mother came to pay their visit, resolved on this morning, at what was usually the best moment of his day—about five o'clock. Besides, he was to be got up and really dressed—not merely huddled into clothes—and this was a fatiguing operation, never carried out in dire earnest before. Doctor and Nurse had assented, on condition that Mr. Torrens should be content to remain in his room, and not insist on going downstairs. Where was the use of his doing so, with such a journey before him to-morrow? Better surely to husband the last grain of strength—the last inch-milligramme of power—for an eighteen-mile ride, even with all the tonics in the world to back it! Mr. Torrens consented to this reservation, and promised not to be rebellious.

So—in time—the hour was at hand when he would see.... No!—not see—there was the sting of it!... that girl he had spoken with at Arthur's Bridge. The vision of her in the sunset was upon him still. He had pleaded with his sister that, come what might, she should not come to him in his darkness, in the hope that this darkness might pass away and leave her image open to him as before. For this hope had mixed itself with that strong desire of his heart that his own disaster should weigh upon her as little as possible. He had kept this meeting back almost till the eleventh hour, hoping against hope that light would break; longing each day for a gleam of the dawn that was to give him his life once more, and make the whole sad story a matter of the past. And now the time had come; and here he stood awaiting the ordeal he had to pass successfully, or face his failure as he might.

If he could but rig up an hour's colourable pretext of vision, however imperfect, the reality might return in its own good time—if that was the will of Allah—and that time might be soon enough. She might never know the terrible anticipations his underthought had had to fight against.[Pg 187]

"You look better in the blue Mandarin silk than you would in your tailor's abominations," said Irene, referring to a dressing-gown costume she had insisted on. "Only your hair wants cutting, dear boy! I won't deceive you."

"That's serious!" He lets it pass nevertheless. "Look here, 'Rene, I want you to tell me.... Where are you?—oh, here!—all right.... Now tell me—should you say I saw you, by the look of my eyes?"

"Indeed I should. Indeed, indeed, nobody could tell. Your eyes look as strong as—as that hooky bird's that sits in the sun at the Zoölogical and nictitates ... isn't that the word?... Goes twicky-twick with a membrane...."

"Fish eagle, I expect."

"Shouldn't wonder! Only, look here!... You mustn't claw hold of Gwen like that. How can you tell, without?"

"Where they are, do you mean? Oh, I know by the voice. You go somewhere else and speak." Whereupon Irene goes furtively behind him, and says suddenly:—"Now look at me!" It is a success, for the blind man faces round, looking full at her.

She claps her hands. "Oh, Adrian!" she cries, "are you sure you don't see—aren't you cheating?" A memory, in this, of old games of blindman's-buff. "You always did cheat, darling, you know, when we played on Christmas Eve. How do I know I can trust you?" She goes close to him again caressing his face. "Oh, do say, dear boy, you can see a little!" But it is no use. He can say nothing.

There are a few moments of distressing silence, and then the brother says:—"Never mind, dear! It will be all right. They say so. Take me to the window that I may look out!" They stand together at the open casement, listening to the voices of the birds. The shrewdest observer might fail to detect the flaw in those two full clear eyes that seem to look out at the leagues of park-land, the spotted deer in the distance, the long avenue-road soon indistinguishable in the trees. The sister sees those eyes, no other than she has always known them, but knows that they see nothing.

"When I was here first," says the brother, "the thrushes were still singing. They are off duty by now, the very last of them." He stops listening. "That's a yellow-hammer. And that's a linnet. You can't tell one from the other."

"I know. I'm shockingly ignorant.... What, dear? What is it you want?" Her brother has been exploring the window-frame[Pg 188] with a restless hand, as though in search of some latch or blind-cord. He cannot find what he wants.

"I want to come to a clearness about the position of this blessed window," he says. "Which direction is the bed in now? Well—describe it this way, suppose! Say I'm looking north now, with my shoulder against the window. Where's the bed? South-west—south-east—due south?"

"South-west by south. Perhaps that's not nautical, but you know what I mean."

"All right! Now, look here! As I stand here—looking out slantwise—where's the sunset? I mean, where would it be?—where does it mean to be?"

"You would be looking straight at it. Of course, you are not really looking north.... There—now you are!" She had taken her hands from the shoulder they were folded on and turned his head to the right. "But, I say, Adrian dear!..." She hesitates.

"What, for instance?"

"Don't try to humbug too much. Don't try to do it, darling boy. You'll only make a hash of it."

"All right, goosey-woosey! I'll fry my own fish. Don't you be uneasy!" And then they talk of other things: the journey home to-morrow, and how it shall be as good as lying in bed to Adrian, in the big carriage with an infinity of cushions; the new friends they have made here at the Towers, with something of wonderment that this chance has been so long postponed; the kindness they have had from them, and the ill-requital Adrian made for it yesterday by breaking that beautiful blue china tea-cup—any trifle that comes foremost—anything but the great grief that underlies the whole.

For Irene would have her brother at his best, that the visit to him of her new-made friend Gwen may go off well, and steer clear of the ambushes that beset it. Better that that visit should never come off, than that her friend should be left to share their fears for the future. Each is hiding from the other a weakening confidence in the renewal of suspended eyesight, weaker at the outset than either had been prepared to admit to the other.

"Look here, 'Rene," says Adrian, an hour later, during which his sister has read aloud to him, lying by the open window. "Never mind Becky Sharp; she'll keep till the evening. Can we see Arthur's Bridge from this window, where I saw your friend Lady Gwen? It was Arthur's, wasn't it? What Arthur? King Arthur?"

"Yes, if you like. Only don't go and call it Asses' Bridge, as[Pg 189] you did the other day—not when the family's here. It sounds disrespectful."

"Not a bit. It only looks as if Euclid had been round. But answer my question.... Oh, we can see it! Very well, then; show me which way it lies. Is it visible—the actual bridge itself, I mean—not the place it's in?"

Irene got up and looked out of the window from behind her brother's chair. "Yes," she said. "One sees the stone arch plain. How can I show you?" She took his head in her hands again to guide it to a true line of sight.

"Between us and the sunset?"

"Thereabouts. Rather on the left."

"Very good. Now we can go on with Becky Sharp."

"That's it, my lord, is it? Where was I?—oh, Sir Pitt Crawley...." And then the reading was continued, till tea portended, and Irene went away to capture her visitors.

All the sting of his darkness came upon him in its fulness as he heard that voice on the stairs. Oh, could he but see her for one moment—only one moment—to be sure that that dazzling image of three weeks since was not a mere imagination! He knew well the enchantment of the rainbow gleam on sea and earth and sky—the glory that makes Aladdin's palace of the merest hovel. He could scarcely have said to a nicety why a self-deception on this score seemed to him fraught with such evil. If it was a terror on Gwen's behalf, that a false image cherished through a period of reviving eyesight should in the end prove an injustice to her, and cast a chill over his own passionate admiration—for it was that at least that a chance of five minutes had enthralled him with—he banished that terror artificially from his mind. What could it matter to her, if he was taken aback and disappointed at her not turning out what his excited fancy had made her that evening at Arthur's Bridge? What was he to her that any chance man might not have been, after so scanty an interchange of words?

That was his dominant feeling, or underlying it, as her voice neared the door of his room, saying:—"Fancy your carrying him away without our seeing him—so much as thinking of it! I call you a wicked, unprincipled sister." To which another voice, a maternal sort of voice, said what must have been: "Don't speak so loud!"—or its equivalent. For the girl's voice dropped, her last words being:—"He won't hear, at this distance."

Then, she was actually coming in at the door! He could hear the prodigious skirt-rustle that is now a thing of womanhood's[Pg 190] past—though we adored every comely example, mind you, we oldsters in those days, for all that she carried a milliner's shop on her back—and as it climaxed towards entry had to remember by force how slight indeed had been his interchange of words with the visitor he wished to see—to see by hearing, and to touch the hand of twice. For he had counted his coming privileges in his heart already, even if his reason had made light of its arithmetic. He would be on the safe side now—so he said to himself—and think of the elder lady as the player of the leading rôle. No disparagement to her subordinate; the merest deference to convention!

There was no mishap about the first meeting; only a narrow escape of one. The man in the dark reckoned it safest to extend his hand and leave it, to await the first claimant. He took for granted this would be the mother, and as his hand closed on a lady's, not small enough to call his assumption in question, said half interrogatively:—"Lady Ancester?"

"That's Gwen," said his sister's voice. And at the word an electric shock of a sort passed up his arm, the hand that still held his showing no marked alacrity to release it.

"Yes, this is me," says the voice of its owner, "that's mamma."

Lady Ancester, standing close to her, meets his outstretched hand and shakes it cordially. Then follows pleasantry about mistaking the mother for the daughter, with assumption of imperfect or dim vision only to account for it, and a declaration from Adrian that he had been cautioned not to confuse the one with the other. There is a likeness, as a matter of fact, and Irene has talked to him of it. The whole thing is slighter than the telling of it.

Then the three ladies and the one man have grouped—composed themselves—for reasonable chat. He is in his invalid chair by special edict, at the window, and the two visitors face him half-flanking it. His sister leans over him behind on the chair-back. She has kept very close to him, guiding him under pretence that he wants support, which is scarcely the case now, so rapid has been his progress in this last week. She is very anxious lest her brother should venture too rashly on fictitious proofs of eyesight that does not exist. But it can all be put down to uneasiness about his strength.

The platitudes of mere chat ensue, the Countess being prolocutrix. But she can be sincerely earnest in speaking of her own concern about the accident, and her family's. Also to the full about the rejoicing of everyone when it was "certain that all would[Pg 191] turn out well." She has been bound over to say nothing about the eyesight, and keeps pledges; almost too transparently, perhaps. A word or two about it as a thing of temporary abeyance might have been more plausible.

Gwen has become very silent since that first warmth of her greeting. She is leaving the conversation to her mother, which puzzles Irene, who had framed a different picture of the interview, and is disappointed so far. Achilles, the dog, too, may be disappointed—may be feeling that something more demonstrative is due to the position. Irene imputes this view to him, inferring it from his restless appeals to Gwen, as he leans against her skirts, throwing back a pathetic gaze of remonstrance for something too complex for his powers of language. Her comment:—"He is always like that,"—seems to convey an image of his whereabouts to his master, confirmed perhaps by expressive dog-substitutes for speech.

"You mustn't let my bow-wow worry you, Lady Gwendolen. He presumes till he's checked, on principle. Send him to lie down over here. Here, Ply, Ply, Ply!... Oh, won't he come?" Probably Achilles knows that his master, who speaks, is only being civil.

"No—because I'm holding him. I want him here. He's a darling!" So says Gwen; and then continues:—"Oh yes, I know why he's Ply—short for Pelides. I think he thinks I think it was his fault, and wants forgiveness."

"Possibly. But it is also possible that he sees his way by cajolery to all the sweet biscuits with a little crown on them that come about with tea. He wants none of us to have any. Pray do not think any the worse of him. How is he to know that a well-bred person hungers for little crown biscuits? We are so affected that there is nothing for him to go by."

"And he's a dear, candid darling! Of course he is. He shall have everything he wants." Achilles appears to accept the concession as deserved, but to be ready to requite it with undying love.

"It is all the excellence of his heart, I am aware, and a certain simplicity and directness," says Adrian. "But all the same he mustn't spoil ladies' dresses—beyond a certain point, of course. I have been very curious to know, Lady Gwendolen, whether his paws came off—the marks of them, I mean—on that lovely India muslin I saw you in three weeks ago, just before this unfortunate affair which has given so much trouble to everybody at—at ... Arthur's Bridge, of course! Couldn't think of the name at the[Pg 192] moment. At Arthur's Bridge. I'm afraid he didn't do that dress any good."

"It wasn't a new dress," says Gwen, "as far as I remember." A point her maid would know more about, clearly.

Lady Ancester seems to think a little ex post facto chaperonage would not be inappropriate. "Gwen was out of bounds, I understand," she says; which means absolutely nothing, but sounds well.

The remark seems somehow to focus the conversation, and become a stepping-stone to a review of the recent events. Evidently the principal actor in them takes that view. "I had no idea whom I was speaking to," he says, "still less that Lady Gwendolen had taken the trouble to come away from the house with so kind a motive. Of course, I have heard all about it from my sister."

Gwen perfectly understands. "And then you walked over to Drews Thurrock, and Achilles' collar broke, and he got away." She speaks as one who waits for more.

"He did, and I am sorry to say he forgot himself. The old Adam broke out in him in connection with the sudden springing of a hare, just under his nose. It was almost the moment after his collar broke, and it is quite possible he thought I meant to let him go. But after all, Achilles is human, and really I could not blame him in any case. Try to see the thing from his point of view. Fancy discovering an unused faculty lying dormant—art, song, eloquence—and an unprecedented opportunity for its use! Do you know, I don't believe Achilles had ever so much as seen a hare before?—not a live one! He smelt one once at a poulterer's—a dead one that was starting for the Antipodes with its legs crossed. The poulterer lost his temper, very absurdly...."

"Well—did he catch the hare? I mean the first hare."

"That I can't say. Both vanished, and I suspect the hare got away. I'm sure of one thing, that if Achilles did catch him he didn't know what to do with him. He has not the sporting spirit. Cats interest him in his native town, but when they show fight he comes and complains to me that they are out of order. He overhauled a kitten three weeks old once, that had come out to see the world, and it defied him to mortal combat. Achilles talked to me all the way down the street about that kitten."

"I want to know what happened next." From Gwen.

"Yes—silly old chatterbox!—keep to the point." Thus Irene; and Lady Ancester, who has been accepting the hare and the cats with dignity, even condescension, adds:—"We were just at the[Pg 193] most interesting part of the story." This was practically her ladyship's first sight of the son of the man she had gone so near to marrying over five-and-twenty years ago. The search to discover a modus vivendi between a past and present at war may have thrown her a little out of her usual demeanour. Gwen wondered why mamma need be so ceremonious.

Adrian was perfectly unconscious of it, even if Irene was not. He ran on:—"Oh—the story! Yes—Achilles forgot himself, and was off after the hare like a whirlwind.... I don't know, Lady Ancester, whether you have ever blown a whistle in the middle of an otherwise unoccupied landscape, with no visible motive?"

Her ladyship had not apparently. Irene found fault with the narrator's style, suggesting a more prosaic one. But Gwen said: "Oh, Irene dear, what a perfect sister you are! Why can't you let Mr. Torrens tell his tale his own way?"

So Mr. Torrens went on:—"It doesn't matter. If you had ever done so, I believe you would confirm my experience of the position. If Orpheus had whistled, instead of singing to a lute, Eurydice would have stopped with Pluto, and Orpheus would have cut a very poor figure. I began to perceive that Achilles wasn't going to respond, and I knew the hare wouldn't, all along. So I walked on and got to a wood of oaks with an interesting appearance. The interesting appearance was inviting, so I went inside. Achilles was sure to turn up, I thought. Poor dear!—I didn't see him for some days after that, when I came to and heard all about it. He had been very uneasy about me, I'm afraid."

"But inside the wood with the interesting appearance—what happened then?" Gwen would not tolerate digression.

"Well, I came to the edge of a wall with a little sunk glade beyond, and was looking across some blackberry bushes when I heard a rifle-shot, and the whirr of a bullet. I had just time to notice that the whirr came with the gunshot—if it had been in the opposite direction it would have followed it—when I was struck on the head and fell. It was the fall that knocked me insensible, but it was the gunshot that was responsible for all that bleeding.... Do you know, I can't tell you how sorry I am for that old boy that fired the shot? I can't imagine anything more miserable than shooting a man by accident."

It was then that an uneasy feeling about those eyes, that looked so clear and might be so deceiving, took hold of Gwen's mind, and would not be ignored on any terms. The speaker's "you"—was it addressed in this case to her or to her mother? The line of his vision seemed to pass between them. If he could see at all, ever[Pg 194] so dimly, he could look towards the person he addressed. One does not always do so; true enough! But one does not stare to right or to left of him. And she felt sure these words had been spoken to herself.

So while her mother was joining in commiseration of old Stephen, towards whom she herself felt rather brutal, she was casting about for some means of coming at the truth. Irene was no good, however altruistic her motives might be for story-telling.... No!—his eyes looked at her in quite another fashion that evening at Arthur's Bridge, in the light of the sunset. She must get at the truth, come what might!

She left her mother to express sympathy for old Stephen, remaining rather obdurately silent; checking a wish to say that it served the old man right for meddling with loaded guns. She waited for the subject to die down, and then recurred to its predecessor. Did Mr. Torrens walk straight from Arthur's Bridge to the Thurrock or go roundabout? She did not really want to know—merely wanted to get him to talk about himself again. He might say something about his sight, by accident.

He replied:—"I did not go absolutely straight. I went first to where a couple of stones—a respectable married couple, I should say—were standing close together in the fern, with big initials cut on them. Their own, I presume." Gwen said she knew them; they were parish boundaries. "Well—probably that hare was trying what it felt like to be in two parishes at once, for he jumped from behind that stone and started for the Thurrock—that's right, isn't it?"

"Drews Thurrock? Yes."

"It was unfortunately just then that the collar broke. I whistled until I felt undignified, and then went straight for the said Thurrock, rather dreading that I should find Achilles awaiting applause for an achievement in—in leporicide, I suppose...."

"I'm sure you didn't."

"I did not. So I waited a little, and was thinking what I had better do next, when the shot came. You can almost see the place from this window." He got up from his chair, standing exactly where he had stood when his sister made his hand point out Arthur's Bridge in blind show. He made a certain amount of pretence that he could see; and, indeed, seemed to do so. No stranger to the circumstances could have detected it. "I couldn't be sure about the place of the stones, though," said he, carefully avoiding direct verbal falsehood; at least, so Irene thought, trembling at his rashness. He went on:—"Oh dear, how doddery one[Pg 195] does feel on one's legs after a turn out of this kind!" and fell back in his chair, his sister alone noticing how he touched it with his hand first to locate it. "I shall be better after a cup of tea," said he. And the whole thing was so natural that although he had not said in so many words that he could see anything, the impression that he could was so strong that Gwen could have laughed aloud for joy. "He really does see something!" she exclaimed to herself.

If he could only have been content with this much of success! But he must needs think he could improve upon it—reinforce it. His remark about the cup of tea had half-reference to its appearance on the horizon; or, rather on the little carved-oak table near the window, whose flaps were being accommodated for its reception as he spoke. The dwellers in this part of the country considered five o'clock tea at this time an invention of their own, and were rather vain of it. Another decade made it a national institution.

"If there is one thing I enjoy more than another," he said, "it is a copper urn that boils furiously by magic of its own accord. When I was a kid our old cook Ursley used to allow me to come into the kitchen and see the red-hot iron taken out of the fire and dropped into the inner soul of ours, which was glorious." This was all perfectly safe, because there was the urn in audible evidence. Indeed, the speaker might have stopped there and scored. Why need he go on? "And these blue Nankin cups are lovely. I never could go crockery-mad as some people do. But good Nankin blue goes to my heart." And he really thought, poor fellow, that he had done well, and been most convincing.

Alas for his flimsy house of cards! Down it came. For there had only been four left of that blue tea-service, and he had broken one. The urn was hissing and making its lid jump in the middle of a Crown Derby tea-set, so polychromatic, so self-assertive in its red and blue and gold, that no ghost of a chance was left of catching at the skirts of colour-blindness to find a golden bridge of escape from the blunder. The most colour-blind eyes in the world never confuse monochrome and polychrome.

There is a sudden terror-struck misgiving on the beautiful face of Gwen, and an uneasy note of doubt in her mother's voice, seeking by vague speech to elude and slur over the difficulty. "The patterns are quite alike," she says weakly. The blind man feels he has made a mistake, and is driven to safe silence. He understands his slip more clearly when the servant, speaking half-aside, but audibly, to the Countess, says:—"Mrs. Masham said the blue was spoiled for four, my lady, and to bring four of[Pg 196] the China." Crown Derby is more distinctly China in English vernacular than Nankin blue.

Please understand that the story is giving at great length incidents that passed in fractions of a minute—incidents Time recorded currente calamo for Memory to rearrange at leisure.

The incident of the tea-cups was easily slurred over and forgotten. Adrian Torrens saw the risks of attempting too much, and gave up pretending that he could see. Irene and the Countess let the subject go; the former most willingly, the latter with only slight reluctance. Gwen alone dwelt upon it, or rather it dwelt upon her; her memory could not shake it off. Do what she would the thought came back to her: "He cannot see at all. I must know—I must know!" She could not join in the chit-chat which went on under the benevolent influence of the tea-leaf, the great untier of tongues. She could only sit looking beautiful, gazing at the deceptive eyes she felt so sure were blind to her beauty, devising some means of extracting confession from their owner, and thereby knowing the worst, if it was to come. It was interesting to her, of course, to hear Mr. Torrens talk of the German Universities, with which he seemed very familiar; and of South America, the area of which, he said, had stood in the way of his becoming equally familiar with it. He had been about the world a good deal for a man of five-and-twenty.

"Gwen thought you were more," said Irene. "At Arthur's Bridge, you know! She thought you were twenty-seven."

"Because I was so wet through. Naturally. I was soaked and streaky. Are you sure it wasn't thirty-seven, Lady Gwendolen?"

It has been mentioned that Lady Ancester had a matter-of-fact side to her character. But was it this that made her say thoughtfully:—"Twenty-five perhaps—certainly not more!" Probably her mind had run back nearly thirty years, and she was calculating from the date of this man's father's marriage, which she knew; or from that of his eldest brother's birth, which she also knew. She was not so clear about Irene. At the time of that young lady's first birthday—her only one, in fact—her close observation of her old flame's family dates was flagging. But she was clear that this Adrian's birth had followed near upon that of her own son Frank, drowned a few years since so near the very place of this gunshot accident. The coincidence may have made her identifications keener. Or Adrian's reckless chat, so like his father's in old days that she had more than once gone near to comment on it, may have roused old memories and set her a-fixing dates.

Adrian laughed at the way his age seemed to be treated as an[Pg 197] open question. "We have the Registrar on our side, at any rate, Lady Ancester. I can answer for that. By-the-by, wasn't my father ... did not my father?..." He wanted to say: "Was not my father a friend of your brother in old days?" But it sounded as if the friendship, whatever it was, had lessened in newer days, and he knew of nothing to warrant the assumption. He knew nothing of his father's early love passages, of course. Fathers don't tell their sons what narrow escapes they have had of being somebody else, or somebody else being they—an awkward expression!

Her ladyship thought over a phrase or two before she decided on:—"Your father used to come to Clarges Street in my mother's time." She was pleased with the selection; but less so with a second, one of several she tried to herself and rejected. "We have really scarcely met since those days. I thought him wonderfully little changed."

Has a parent of yours, you who read—or of ours, for that matter—ever spoken to one or other of us, I wonder, of some fancy of his or her bygone days; one whose greeting, company manners apart, was an embrace; whose letters were opened greedily; whose smile was rapture, and whose frown a sleepless night? If he or she did so, was the outcome better than the Countess's?

She wanted to run away, but could not just yet. She made believe to talk over antecedents—making a conversation of indescribable baldness, and setting Irene's shrewd wits to work to find out why. It was not her brother, but her husband's, who had been Sir Hamilton's college-friend. Yes, her father was well acquainted with Mr. Canning, and so on. This was her contribution to general chat, until such time had elapsed as would warrant departure and round the visit plausibly off.

It was Clarges Street that had done it. Irene was sure of that! She, the daughter of the Miss Abercrombie her father had married, sitting there and coming to conclusions!

However, the Countess meant to go—no doubt of it. "You have paid my brother such a short visit, after all," said Irene. "Please don't go away because you fancy you are tiring him." But it was no use. Her ladyship meant to go, and went. Regrets of all sorts, of course; explanatory insincerities about stringent obligations elsewhere; even specific allegations of expected guests; false imputation of exacting claims to the Earl. All with one upshot—departure.

Gwen had taken little or no notice of what was passing, since that betraying incident of the Crown Derby set. Her mind was[Pg 198] at work on schemes for discovery of the truth about those eyes. She got on the track of a good one. If she could only contrive to be alone with him for one moment. Yes—it was worth trying?

It was her mother's inexplicable alacrity to be gone that gave the opportunity. Her ladyship said good-bye to Mr. Torrens; was sorry she had to go, but the Earl was so fussy about anything the least like an appointment—some concession to conscience in the phrasing of this—in short, go she must! Having committed herself thus, to wait for her daughter would have been the merest self-stultification. She went out multiplying apologies, and Irene naturally accompanied her along the lobby, assisted and sanctioned by Achilles. Gwendolen was alone with the man who was still credited with sight enough to see something—provided that it was a palpable something. Now—if she could only play her part right!

"Mamma is always in such a fuss to go somewhere and do something else," she said, rather affecting the drawl of a fashionable young lady; for she could hide anxiety better, she felt, that way. "Do you know, Mr. Torrens, I don't believe a word of all that about people coming. Nobody's coming. If there is, they've been there ever so long. I did so want to talk to you about one of your poems. I mustn't stop now, I suppose, or I shall be in a scrape." But all the while that she was saying this she was standing with her right hand outstretched, as though to say good-bye. Only the word remained unspoken.

"Which of my poems was it?" He was to all seeming looking full at her, yet his hand did not come out to meet hers. There was hope still. How could he ratify an adieu with a handshake, on the top of a question that called for an answer?

Gwen had not arranged the point in her mind—had not thought of any particular poem in fact. She took the first that occurred to her. "It's the one called 'A Vigil in Darkness,'" she said. And then she would have been so glad to withdraw it and substitute another. That was not possible—she had to finish:—"I wanted to know if any other English poet has ever used 'starren' for stars."

Adrian laughed. "I remember," said he; then quoted: "'The daughters of the dream witch come and go,' don't they? 'The black bat hide the starren of the night.' That's it, isn't it?... No—so far as I know! But they are a queer lot. Nobody ever knows what they'll be at next in the way of jargon. It's some rubbish I wrote when I was a boy. I put it with the others to please 'Re." This was his shortest for Irene.[Pg 199]

If he would only have toned down his blank ignorance of the beautiful white hand stretched out so appealingly to him—made the least concession! If he had but held in readiness an open-fingered palm, with intent, there would have been hope. But alas!—no such thing. When, instead, he thrust both hands into the pockets of the blue Mandarin-silk dressing-gown, Gwen felt exactly as if a knife had cut her heart. And there were his two beautiful eyes looking—looking—straight at her! Need Fate have worded an inexorable decree so cruelly?

Hope caught at a straw, more suo. What was more likely than that darkness was intermittent? Many things—most things for that matter! Any improbability to outwit despair. Anything rather than final surrender. Therefore, said Gwen to herself, her hand outstretched should await his, however sick at heart its owner felt, till the last pretext of belief had flagged and died—belief in the impossibility of so terrible a doom, consistently with any decent leniency of the Creator towards His creatures.

"Oh—to please Irene, was it?" said Gwen, talking chancewise; not meaning much, but hungering all the while for the slightest aliment for starving Hope. "Who were 'the daughters of the Dream Witch?'" And then she was sorry again. Better that a poem about darkness should have been forgotten! She kept her hand outstretched, mind you!—even though Adrian made matters worse by folding his hands round his arms on a high chair-back, and leaning on it. "I wonder who she is," was the girl's thought, as she looked at a ring.

"Let me see!" said he. "How does it go?" Then he quoted, running the lines into one: "'In the night-watches in the garden of Night ever the watchman sorrowing for the light waiteth in silence for the silent Dawn. Dead sleep is on the city far below.' Then the daughters of the Dream Witch came and went as per contract. No—I haven't the slightest idea who they were. They didn't leave their names."

"You will never be serious, Mr. Torrens." She felt too heartsick to answer his laugh. She never moved her hand, watching greedily for a sign that never came. There was Irene coming back, having disposed of her ladyship! "I must go," said Gwen, "because of mamma. She's the Dream Witch, I suppose. I must go. Good-bye, Mr. Torrens! But I can leave my name—Gwen or Gwendolen. Choose which you prefer." She had to contrive a laugh, but it caught in her throat.

"Gwen, I think." It was such a luxury to call her by her name, holding her hand in his—for, the moment she spoke "good-bye,"[Pg 200] his hand had come to meet hers like a shot—that he seemed in no hurry to relinquish it. Nor did she seem concerned to have it back at the cost of dragging. "Did you ever live abroad?" said he. "In Italy they always kiss hands—it's rather rude not to. Let's pretend it's Italy."

She was not offended; might have been pleased, in fact—for Gwen was no precisian, no drawer of hard-and-fast lines in flirtation—if it had not been for the black cloud that in the last few minutes had been stifling her heart. As it was, Adrian's trivial presumption counted for nothing, unless, indeed, it was as the resolution of a difficulty. It was good so far. Even so two pugilists are glad of a way out of a close grip sometimes. It ended a handshake neither could withdraw from gracefully. "Good-bye, Mr. Torrens," she said, and contrived another laugh. "I'll come again to talk about the poetry. I must go now." She passed Irene, coming in from a moment's speech with the nurse outside, with a hurried farewell, and ran on to her mother's room breathless.



Lady Ancester, not sorry to get away from a position which involved the consideration that she was unreasonable in feeling reluctance to remain in it, endeavoured on arriving in her own room to congratulate herself on her own share in an embarrassing interview.

She had got through it very well certainly, but not so well as she had been led to expect by her meeting with his father three weeks since. She had had her misgivings before that interview, and had been pleasantly surprised to find how thoroughly the inexorable present had ridden rough-shod over the half-forgotten past. Their old identities had vanished, and it was possible to be civil and courteous, and that sort of thing; even to send messages of[Pg 201] sympathy, quite in earnest, to the lady who up till now had been little more than the Miss Abercrombie Hamilton Torrens married. Being thus set at ease about what seemed rocks of embarrassment ahead, in the father's case, Lady Ancester had looked forward with perfect equanimity to making the acquaintance of the son—had, in fact, only connected him in her mind with this deplorable accident, which, however, she quite understood to be going to be a thing of the past. All in good time. Her equanimity had, however, been disturbed by the young man's inherited manner, which his father had so completely lost; above all things by his rapid nonsense, one of his father's leading characteristics in youth. She condemned it as more nonsensical, which probably only meant that she herself was older. But the manner—the manner of it! How it brought back Clarges Street and her mother, and the family earthquake over her resolution to marry a young Dragoon, with three good lives between him and his inheritance! She was taken aback to find herself still so sensitive about that old story.

She had not succeeded in ridding herself of her disquieting memories when her daughter followed her, choking back tense excitement until she had fairly closed the door behind her. Then her words came with a rush, for all that she kept her voice in check to say them.

"He cannot see, mamma—he cannot see at all! He is dead stone-blind—for life—for life! And we have done it—we have done it!" Then she broke down utterly, throwing herself on a sofa to hide in its cushions the torrent of tears she could no longer keep back. "We have done it—we have done it!" she kept on crying. "We have ruined his life, and the guilt is ours—ours—all!"

The Countess, good woman, tried to mix consolation with protest against such outrageous pessimism. She pointed out that there was no medical authority for such an extreme view as Gwen's. On the contrary, Sir Coupland had spoken most hopefully. And, after all, if Mr. Torrens could see Arthur's Bridge he could not be absolutely blind.

"He could not see Arthur's Bridge at all," said Gwen, sitting up and wiping her tears, self-possessed again for the moment from the stimulus of contradiction, always a great help. "I stood facing him for five minutes holding out my hand for him to shake, and he never—never—saw it!"

"Perhaps he doesn't like shaking hands," said her mother weakly. "Some people don't."[Pg 202]

"They do mine," said Gwen. "Besides, he did in the end, and...."

"And what?"

"And nothing." At which point Gwen broke down again, crying out as before that he was blind, and she knew it. The doctors were only talking against hope, and they knew it. "Oh, mother, mother," she cried out, addressing her mother as she would often do when in trouble or excited, "how shall we bear it, years from now, to know that he can see nothing—nothing!—and to know that the guilt of his darkness lies with us—is ours—is yours and mine? Have we ever either of us said a word of protest against that wicked dog-shooting order? It was in the attempt to commit a crime that we sanctioned, that old Stephen tried to shoot that darling Achilles. Oh, I know it was no fault of old Stephen's!" She became a little calmer from indulgence of speech that had fought for hearing. "Oh no, mother dear, it's no use talking. If Mr. Torrens never recovers his eyesight he has only us to thank for it." She paused a moment, and then added:—"And how I shall look that girl in the face I don't know!"

"What girl?"

"Oh, didn't you see? The girl he's got that engaged ring on his finger about. You didn't see? You never do see, mamma dear!"

"I didn't notice any particular ring, dear." Her ladyship may have felt a relief about something, to judge by her manner. "Has Irene said anything to you?" she asked.

Gwen considered a little. "Irene talks a good deal about a Miss Gertrude Abercrombie, a cousin. But she has never said anything."

"Oh!—it's Miss Gertrude Abercrombie?..."

"I know nothing about it. I was only guessing. She may be Miss Gertrude Anybody. Whoever she is, it's the same thing. Think what she's lost!"

"She has, indeed, my dear," says the elder lady, who is not going to give up this acceptable Miss Gertrude Anybody, even at the risk of talking some nonsense about her. "And we must all feel for the cruelty of her position. But if she is—as I have no doubt she is—truly attached to Mr. Torrens, she will find her consolation in the thought that it is given to her to ... to...." But the Countess was not rhetorician enough to know that choice words should be kept for perorations. She had quite taken the edge off her best arrow-head. She could not wind up "to be a consolation to her husband" with any convincingness. So when Gwen interrupted her with:—"I see what you mean, but it's nonsense,"[Pg 203] she fell back upon the strong entrenchment of seniors, who know the Will of God. They really do, don't you know? "At least," she said, "this Miss Abercrombie must admit that no blame can fairly be laid at our door for what was so manifestly ordained by the Almighty. Sir Hamilton Torrens himself was the first to exonerate your father. His own keeper is instructed to shoot all dogs except poodles."

"It was not the Will of God at all...."

"My dear!—how can you know that?"

"Well—not more than everything else is! It was old Stephen's not hitting his mark. And he would have killed Achilles, then. Oh dear, how I do sometimes wish God could be kept out of it!... No, mamma, it's no use looking shocked. Whatever makes out that it was not our fault is wrong, and Sir Hamilton Torrens didn't mean that when he said it."

"My dear, it is his own son."

"Very well, then, all the more! Oh, you know what I mean.... No, mamma," said she as she left the room, "it isn't any use. I am utterly miserable about it."

And she was, though she herself scarcely knew yet how miserable. So long as she had someone else to speak to, the whole deadly truth lingered on the threshold of her mind and would not enter. She ascribed weight to opinions she would have disregarded had she had no stake on the chance of their correctness.

She caught at the narration of her maid Lutwyche, prolonging her hair-combing for talk's sake. Lutwyche had the peculiarity of always accommodating her pronunciation to the class she was speaking with, elaborating it for the benefit of those socially above her. So her inquiry how the gentleman was getting on was accounted for by her having seen him from the guardian. Speaking with an equal, she would have said garden. She had seen him therefrom, and been struck by his appearance of recovered vigour, especially by his visible enjoyment of the land escape. She would have said landscape to Cook. Pronounced anyhow, her words were a comfort to her young mistress, defending her a very little against the black thoughts that assailed her. Similarly, Miss Lutwyche's understanding that Mr. Torrens would come to table this evening was a flattering unction to her distressed soul, and she never questioned her omniscient handmaid's accuracy. On the contrary, she utilised a memory of some chance words of her mother to Irene, suggesting that her brother might be "up to coming down" that evening, as a warrant for replying:—"I believe so."

Nevertheless, she had no hope of seeing him make his appearance[Pg 204] in the brilliantly illuminated Early Jacobean drawing-room, where at least two of the upstairs servants had to light wax tapers for quite ten minutes at dusk, to be even with a weakness of the Earl's for wax-candlelight and no other. And when Irene appeared without him, her "Oh dear!—your brother wasn't up to coming down, then?" was spiritless and perfunctory. Nor did she believe her friend's "No—we thought it best to be on the safe side." For she knew now why it was that this absence from the evening banquet—"family dinner-table" is too modest a phrase—had been so strenuously insisted on. There was no earthly reason why Irene's brother should not have dressed and sat at table. Were there no sofas in the Early Jacobean drawing-room? There was no reason against his presence at all except that his absolute blindness must needs have been manifest to every observer. She could see it all now.

"You know, dear," said Irene, "if Adrian were a reasonable being, there would be no harm in his dining down, as Lutwyche calls it. He could sit up to dinner perfectly, but no earthly persuasion would get him up to bed till midnight. And as for lying down on sofas in the drawing-room after dinner, you could as soon get a mad bull to lie down on a sofa as Adrian, if there was what Lutwyche calls company."

So that evening the beauty of the Earl's daughter—whose name among the countryfolk, by-the-by, was "Gwen o' the Towers"—was less destructive than usual to the one or two new bachelors who helped the variation of the party. For monumental beauty kills only poets and dreamers, and these young gentlemen were Squires. The verdict of one of them about her tells its tale:—"A stunner to look at, but too standoffish for my money!" She was nothing of the sort; and would gladly, to oblige, have shot a smile or an eye-flash at either of them if her heart had not been so heavy. But she wanted terribly to be alone and cry all the evening, and was of no use as a beauty. Perhaps it was as well that it was so, for these unattached males.

When the time came for the loneliness of night she was frightened of it, and let Irene go at her own door with reluctance. In answer to whom she said at parting:—"No—no, dear! I'm perfectly well, and nothing's the matter." Irene spoke back after leaving her:—"You know I'm not the least afraid about him. It will be all right." Then Gwen mustered a poor laugh, and with "Of course it will, dear!" vanished into her bedroom.

She got to sleep and slept awhile; then awoke to the worst solitude a vexed soul knows—those terrible "small hours" of the morning. Then, every mere insect of evil omen that daylight has[Pg 205] kept in bounds grows to the size of an elephant, and what was the whirring of his wings becomes discordant thunder. Then palliatives lose their market-value, and every clever self-deception that stands between us and acknowledged ill bursts, bubblewise, and leaves the soul naked and unarmed against despair.

Gwen waked without provocation at about three in the morning; waked Heaven knew why!—for there was all the raw material of a good night's rest; the candidate for the sleepership; a prodigiously comfortable bed; dead silence, not so much as an owl in the still night she looked out into during an excursion warranted to promote sleep—but never sleep itself! She had been dragged reluctantly from a dreamless Nirvana into the presence of a waking nightmare—two great beautiful eyes that looked at her and saw nothing; and this coercion, she somehow felt, was really due to an unaccountable absence of mind on her part. Surely she could have kept asleep with a little more common sense. She would go back from that excursion reinforced, and bid defiance to that nightmare. Sleep would come to her, she knew, if she could find a modus vivendi with a loose flood of golden hair, and could just get hold of a feather-quill that was impatient of imprisonment and wanted to see the world. She searched for it with the tenderest of finger-tips because she knew—as all the feather-bed world knows—that if one is too rough with it, it goes in, and comes out again just when one is dropping off....

There!—it was caught and pulled out. She would not burn it. It would smell horribly and make her think of Lutwyche's remedy for fainting fits, burned feathers held to the nostrils. No!—she would put it through the casement into the night-air, and it would float away and think of its days on the breast of an Imbergoose, and believe them back again. Oh, the difference between the great seas and winds, and the inside of that stuffy ticking! Poor little breast-feather of a foolish bird! Yes—now she could go to sleep! She knew it quite well—she had only to contrive a particular attitude.... There, that was right! Now she had only to put worrying thoughts out of her head and count a thousand ... and then—oblivion!

Alas, no such thing! In five minutes the particular attitude was a thing of the past, and the worrying thoughts were back upon her with a vengeance. Or, rather, the worrying thought; for her plural number was hypocrisy. She was in for a deadly wakeful night, a night of growing fever, with those sightless eyes expelling every other image from her brain. She was left alone with the darkness and a question she dared not try to answer. Suppose that[Pg 206] when those eyes looked upon her that evening at Arthur's Bridge for the first time—suppose it was also the last? What then? How could she know it, and know how the thing came about, and whom she held answerable for it, and go on living?...

No—her life would end with that. Nothing would again be as it had been for her. Her childhood had ended when she first saw Death; when her brother's corpse was carried home dripping from within a stone's throw of this new tragedy. But was not that what bills of lading call the "Act of God"—fair play, as it were, on the part of Fate? What was this?... Come—this would never do, with a pulse like that!

No one should ever feel his pulse, or hers, at night. Gwen was none the better for doing it. Nor did she benefit by an operation which her mind called looking matters calmly in the face. It consisted in imaginary forecasts of a status quo that was to come about. She had to skip some years as too horrible even to dream of; years needed to live down the worst raw sense of guilt, and become hardened to inevitable life. Then she filled in her scenario with Sir Adrian Torrens, the blind Squire of Pensham Steynes, and his beautiful and accomplished wife, a dummy with no great vitality, constructed entirely out of a ring on Mr. Torrens's finger and an allusion of Irene's to the Miss Gertrude Abercrombie, whose skill in needlework surpassed Arachne's. Gwen did not supply this lady with a sufficiently well-marked human heart. Perhaps the temptation to make her clever and shrewd but not sympathetic, not quite up to her husband's deserts, was irresistible. It allowed of an unprejudiced consciousness of what she, Gwen, would have been in this dummy's situation. It allowed latitude to a fancy that portrayed Lady Gwendolen Whatever-she-had-become—because, of course, she would have to marry some fool—as the staunch and constant friend of the family at Pensham. Her devotion to the dummy when in trouble—and, indeed, she piled up calamities for the unhappy lady—was monumental; an example to her sex. And when, to the bitter grief of her devoted husband, the dummy died—all parties being then, at a rough estimate, forty—and she herself, his dearest friend, stood by the dummy's grave with him, and, generally speaking, sustained him in his tribulation, a disposition to get the fool out of the way grew strong enough to make its victim doubt her own vouchers for her own absolute disinterestedness. She turned angrily upon her fancies, tore them to tatters, flung them to the winds. One does this, and then the pieces join themselves together and reappear intact.

She was no nearer sleep after looking matters calmly in the[Pg 207] face, that way, for a full hour. Similar trials to dramatize a probable future all ended on the same lines, and each time Gwen was indignant with herself for her own folly. What was this man to her, whom she had seen twice? Little enough!—she pledged herself to it in the Court of Conscience! What was she to him, who had spoken with her twice certainly; but seen her—oh, how little! Why, she had seen him more, of the two, if one came to close quarters with Time. See how long he was stooping over that unfortunate dog-chain!

Sitting up in bed in the dim July dawn, wild-eyed in an unshepherded flock of golden locks, this young lady was certainly surpassingly beautiful. She was revolving in her poor, aching head a contingency she had not fully allowed for. Suppose—merely to look other things in the face, you see!—suppose there were no dummy! What chance would the poor fellow have then of winning the love of any woman, with those blind eyes in his head? Gwen got up restlessly and went to the casement, meeting a stream of level sunlight that the swallows outside in the ivy were making the subject of comment, and stood looking out over the leagues of the ancient domain of her forefathers. "Gwen o' the Towers"—that was her name. It seemed to join chorus with her own answer to the last question, to her satisfaction.

To offer the consolation of her love, to give all she had to give, to this man as compensation for the great curse that had fallen on him through the fault of her belongings, seemed to her in her excited state easy and nowise strange—mere difficulty of the negotiation apart. She elected to shut her eyes to a fact we and the story can guess—we are so shrewd, you see!—and to make a parade in her own eyes of a self-renunciation approaching that of Marcus Curtius. If only the gulf would open to receive her she would fling herself in. She ignored the dissimilarities of detail in the two cases, especially the conceivable promised land at the bottom of her gulf. The Roman Eques had nothing but death and darkness to look forward to.

The difficulties of the scheme shot across her fevered conception of it. How if, though he was not affianced to the dummy, or any other lay figure she might provide, his was a widowed heart left barren by the hand of Death? How if some other disappointment had marred his life?—some passion for a woman who had rashly accepted somebody else before meeting him? This happens we know; so did Gwen, and was sorry. How if some minx—Lutwyche's expression—had bewitched him and slighted him? He might nurse a false ideal of her till Doomsday. Men did sometimes,[Pg 208] coeteris paribus. But how could she—how could she?... Anyhow, Gwen might have seen her way through that difficulty with a fair chance. But—to be invisible!

The morning sun had been at variance with some flames, hard to believe clouds, and had just dispersed them so successfully that their place in the heavens knew them no more. His rays, unveiled, bore hard upon the blue eyes, sore with watching, of the girl a hundred million miles off, and drove her from her casement. Gwen of the Towers fell back into the room, all the flowing lawn of the most luxurious robe-de-nuit France could provide turned to gold by the touch of Phoebus. She paused a moment before a mirror, to glance at her pallor in it, and to wonder at the sunlight in the wealth of its setting of ungroomed, uncontrollable locks. It was not vanity exactly that provoked the despairing thought:—"But he will never see me—never!" A girl would have been a hypocrite indeed who could shut her eyes to what Gwen saw in that looking-glass. She knew all about it—had done so from babyhood.

Some relaxation of the mind gave Morpheus an opportunity, and he took such advantage of a willing victim that Lutwyche, coming three hours later, scarcely knew how to deal with the case, and might have been uneasy at such an intensive cultivation of sleep if she had been a nervous person. But she was prosaic and phlegmatic, and held to the general opinion that nothing unusual ever happened. So she was content to make a little extra noise; and, when nothing came of it, to go away till rung for. That was how Gwen came to be so late at breakfast that morning.



The Hon. Percival Pellew had not been at the Towers continuously throughout the whole three weeks following the accident. The best club in London could not have spared him as long as[Pg 209] that. He had returned to his place in the House a day or two later, had voted on the Expenses at Elections Bill, and had then gone to a by-election in Cornwall to help his candidate to keep his expenses at a minimum. His way back to the club did not lie near Ancester Towers, but he reconciled a renewal of his visit there to his conscience by the consideration that an unusually late Session was predicted. A little more country air would do him no harm, and the Towers was the best club in the country.

He had had absolutely no motive whatever for going there, outside what this implies. Unless, indeed, something else was implied by his pledging his honour to himself that this was the case. Self-deception is an art that Man gives a great deal of attention to, and Woman nearly as much.

The Countess said to him, on the evening of his reappearance in time to dress for dinner:—"Everybody's gone, Percy—I mean everybody of your lot a fortnight ago." Whereto he replied:—"How about the wounded man?" and her ladyship said:—"Mr. Torrens? Oh yes, Mr. Torrens is here still and his sister—they'll be here a few days longer.... There's nobody else. Yes, there's Constance Dickenson. Norbury, tell them to keep dinner back a little because of Mr. Pellew." This was all in one sentence, chiefly to the butler. She ended:—"All the rest are new," and the gentleman departed to dress in ten minutes—long ones probably. This was two or three evenings before Miss Dickenson saw that glow-worm in the garden. Perhaps three, because two are needed to account for the lady's attitude about that cigar, and twelve hours for a coolness occasioned by her ladyship's saying in her inconsiderate way:—"Oh, you are quite old friends, you two, of course—I forgot." Only fancy saying that a single lady and gentleman were "quite old friends"! Both parties exhibited mature courtesy, enriched with smiles in moderation. But for all that their relations painfully resembled civility for the rest of that evening.

However, whatever they were then, they were reinstated by now; that is to say, by the morning after Gwen's bad night. Eavesdrop, please, and overhear what you can in the arbutus walk, half-way through the Hon. Percival's first cigar.

The gentleman is accounting for something he has just said. "What made me think so was his being so curious about our friend Cumberworld. As for Gwen, I wouldn't trust her not to be romantic. Girls are."

The lady speaks discreetly:—"Certainly no such construction would have occurred to me. One has to be on one's guard against[Pg 210] romantic ideas. She might easily be—a—éprise, to some extent—as girls are...."

"But spooney, no! Well—perhaps you're right."

"I don't know whether I ought to say even that. I shouldn't, only to you. Because I know I can rely on your discretion...."

"Rather. Only you must admit that when she appeared this morning—and last night—she was looking...."

"Looking what?"

"Well ... rather too statuesque for jollity."

"Perhaps the heat. I know she complains of the heat; it gives her a headache."

"Come, Miss Dickenson, that's not fair. You know it was what you said began it."

"Began what?"

"Madam, what I am saying arises naturally from...."

"There!—do stop being Parliamentary and be reasonable. What you mean is—have those two fallen head over ears in love, or haven't they?" Discussions of this subject of Love are greatly lubricated by exaggeration of style. It is almost as good as a foreign tongue. She continued more seriously:—"Tell me a little more of what Mr. Torrens said."

"When I saw him this morning?" Mr. Pellew looked thoughtfully at what was left of his cigar, as if it would remind him if he looked long enough, and then threw it abruptly away as though he gave it up as a bad job. "No," he said, falling back on his own memory. "It wasn't what he said. It was the way of saying it. Manner is incommunicable. And he said so little about her. He talked a good deal about Philippa in a chaffy sort of way—said she was exactly his idea of a Countess—why had one such firm convictions about Countesses and Duchesses and Baronets and so on? It led to great injustice, causing us to condemn nine samples out of ten as Pretenders, not real Countesses or Duchesses or Baronets at all. He was convinced his own dear dad was a tin Baronet; or, at best, Britannia-metal. Alfred Tennyson had spoken of two sorts—little lily-handed ones and great broad-shouldered brawny Englishmen. Neither would eat the sugar nor go to sleep in an armchair with the Times over his head. His father did both. I admitted the force of his criticism, but could not follow his distinction between Countesses and Duchesses. Duchesses were squarer than Countesses, just as Dukes were squarer than Earls."

"I think they are," said Miss Dickenson. She shut her eyes a moment for reflection, and then decided:—"Oh yes—certainly[Pg 211] squarer—not a doubt of it!" Mr. Pellew formed an image in his mind, of this lady fifteen years ago, with its eyes shut. He did not the least know why he did so.

"Torrens goes on like that," he continued. "Makes you laugh sometimes! But what I was going to say was this. When he had disposed of Philippa and chaffed Tim a little—not disrespectfully you know—he became suddenly serious, and talked about Gwen—spoke with a hesitating deference, almost ceremoniously. Said he had had some conversation with Lady Gwendolen, and been impressed with her intelligence and wit. Most young ladies of her age were so frivolous. He was the more impressed that her beauty was undeniable. The brief glimpse he had had of her had greatly affected him artistically—it was an Aesthetic impression entirely. He overdid this."

Miss Dickenson nodded slightly in confidence with herself. Her insight jotted down a brief memorandum about Mr. Pellew's, and the credit it did him. That settled, she recalled a something he had left unfinished earlier. "You were asking about Lord Cumberworld, Mr. Pellew?"

"Whether there was anything afoot in that quarter? Yes, he asked that, and wanted to know if Mrs. Bailey, who had been retailing current gossip, was rightly informed when she said that there was, and that it was going to come off. He was very anxious to show how detached he was personally. Made jokes about its 'coming off' like a boot...."

"Stop a minute to see if I understand.... Oh yes—I see. 'If there was anything afoot.' Of course. Go on."

"It was a poor quip, and failed of its purpose. His relief was too palpable when I disallowed Mrs. Bailey.... By-the-by, that's a rum thing, Miss Dickenson,—that way young men have. I believe if I did it once when I was a young fillah I did it fifty times."

"Did what?"

"Well—breathed free on hearing that a girl wasn't engaged. Doesn't matter how doosid little they know of her—only seen her in the Park on horseback, p'r'aps—they'll eat a lot more lunch if they're told she's still in the market. Fact!"

Miss Dickenson said that no doubt Mr. Pellew knew best, and that it was gratifying to think how many young men's lunches her earlier days might have intensified without her knowing anything about it. The gentleman felt himself bound to reassure and confirm, for was not the lady passée? "Rather!" said he; this favourite expression this time implying that the name of these lunches was no doubt Legion. An awkward sincerity of the lady[Pg 212] caused her to say:—"I didn't mean that." And then she had to account for it. She was intrepid enough to venture on: "What I meant was, never being engaged," but not cool enough to keep of one colour exactly. It didn't rise to the height of embarrassment, but something rippled for all that.

A cigar Mr. Pellew was lighting required unusual and special attention. It had a mission, that cigar. It had to gloss over a slight flush on its smoker's cheeks, and to take the edge off the abruptness with which he said,—"Oh, gammon!" as he threw a Vesuvian away.

He picked up the lost thread at the point of his own indiscreet excursion into young-manthropology—his own word when he apologized for it. "Anyhow," said he, "it struck me that our friend upstairs was very hard hit. He made such a parade of his complete independence. Of course, I'm not much of a judge of such matters. Not my line. I understand that he has been prorogued—I mean his departure has. He's to try his luck at coming downstairs this evening after feeding-time. He funks finding the way to his mouth in public. Don't wonder—poor chap!"

Then this lady had a fit of contrition about the way in which she had been gossiping, and tried to back out. She had the loathsome meanness to pretend that she herself had been entirely passive, a mere listener to an indiscreet and fanciful companion. "What gossips you men are!" said she, rushing the position boldly. "Fancy cooking up a romance about this Mr. Torrens and Gwen, when they've hardly so much as," she had nearly said, "set eyes on each other"; but revised it in time for press. It worked out "when she has really only just set eyes on him, and chatted half an hour."

Mr. Pellew's indignation found its way through a stammer which expressed the struggle of courtesy against denunciation. "Come—hang it all!" said he. "It wasn't my romance.... Oh, well, perhaps it wasn't yours either. Only—play fair, Miss Dickenson. Six of the one and half a dozen of the other! Confess up!"

The lady assumed the tone of Tranquillity soothing Petulance. "Never mind, Mr. Pellew!" she said. "You needn't lie awake about it. It doesn't really matter, you know.... Have you got the right time? Because I have to be ready at half-past eleven to drive with Philippa. I promised.... What!—a quarter past? I must run." She looked back to reassure possible perturbation. "It really does not matter between us," said she, and vanished down the avenue.

The Hon. Percival Pellew walked slowly in the opposite direction[Pg 213] in a brown study, leaving his thumbs in his armholes, and playing la ci darem with his fingers on his waistcoat. He played it twice or thrice before he stopped to knock a phenomenal ash off his cigar. Then he spoke, and what he said was "Pooh!"

The story does not know why he said "Pooh!" It merely notes, apropos of Miss Dickenson's last words, that the first person plural pronoun, used as a dual by a lady to a gentleman, sometimes makes hay of the thirdness of their respective persons singular. But if it had done so, this time, "Pooh!" was a weak counter-blast against its influence.

Irene's friend Gretchen von Trendelenstein had written that morning that she was coming to stay with the Mackworth Clarkes at Toft, only a couple of miles off. She would only have two days, and could not hope to get as far as Pensham, but couldn't Irene come to her? She was, you see, Irene's bosom friend. The letter had gone to Pensham and been forwarded, losing time. This was the last day of visiting-possibility at Toft. So Irene asked to be taken there; and, if she stayed, would find her way back somehow. Mr. Norbury, however, after referring to Archibald, the head of the stables, made dernier ressorts needless, and Irene was driven away behind a spirited horse by the young groom, Tom Kettering.

Her brother would have devolved entirely on Mrs. Bailey and chance visitors, if he had not struck vigorously against confinement to his room, after a recovery of strength sufficient to warrant his removal to his home eighteen miles away. If he was strong enough for that, he was strong enough for an easy flight of stairs, down and up, with tea between. Mrs. Bailey, the only obstacle, was overruled. Indeed, that good woman was an anachronism by now, her only remaining function being such succour as a newly blinded man wants till he gets used to his blindness. Tonics and stimulants were coming to an end, and her professional extinction was to follow. Nevertheless, Mr. Torrens held fast to dining in solitude until he recovered his eyesight, or at least until he had become more dexterous without it.

Now, it happened that on this day of all others three attractive events came all at once—the Flower Show at Brainley Thorpe, the Sadleigh Races, and a big Agricultural Meeting at King's Grantham, where the County Members were to address constituents. The Countess had promised to open the first, and the absence of the Earl from the second would have been looked upon as a calamity. All the male non-coronetted members of the company of mature years were committed to Agriculture or Bookmaking,[Pg 214] and the younger ones to attendance on Beauty at the Flower Show. Poor Adrian Torrens!—there was no doubt he had been forgotten. But he was not going to admit the slightest concern about that. "Go away to your Von, darling Stupid!" said he. "And turn head over heels in her and wallow. Do you want to be the death of me? Do you want to throw me back when I'm such a credit to Mrs. Bailey and Dr. Nash?" Irene had her doubts—but there!—wasn't Gretchen going to marry an Herr Professor and be a Frau when she went back to Berlin, and would she ever see her again? Moreover, Gwen said to her:—"He won't be alone if he's downstairs in the drawing-room. Some of the women are sure to stop. It's too hot for old Lady Cumberworld to go out. I heard her say so."

"She'll be no consolation for him," said Irene.

"No—that she won't! But unless there's someone else there she'll have Inez—you've seen the Spanish dame-de-compagnie?—and she'll enjoy a flirtation with your brother. He'll speak Spanish to her, and she'll sing Spanish songs. He won't hurt for a few hours."

So Tom Kettering drove Irene away in the gig, and Adrian was guided downstairs to an empty hall by Mrs. Bailey at four o'clock, so as to get a little used to the room before anyone should return. Prophecy depicted Normal Society coming back to tea, and believed in itself. Achilles sanctioned his master's new departure by his presence, accompanying him to the drawing-room. This dog was not only tolerated but encouraged everywhere. Dogs are, when their eyes are pathetic, their coats faultless, and their compliance with household superstitions unhesitating.

"Anybody in sight, Mrs. Bailey?"

"Nobody yet, Mr. Torrens."

"Speriamo! Perhaps there's a piano in the room, Mrs. Bailey?"

"There's two. One's stood up against the wall shut. The other's on three legs in the middle of the room." That one was to play upon, she supposed, the other to sing to.

"If you will be truly obliging—you always are, you know—and conduct me to the one on three legs in the middle of the room, I will play you an air from Gluck's 'Orfeo,' which I am sure you will enjoy.... Oh yes—I can do without any music-books because I have played it before, not infrequently...."

"I meant to set upon." In fact, Mrs. Bailey regarded this as the primary purpose of music-books; and so it was, at the home of her niece, who could play quite nicely. There was only two and they "just did." She referred to this while Mr. Torrens was[Pg 215] spinning the music-stool to a suitable height for himself. He responded with perfect gravity—not a fraction of a smile—that books were apt to be too high or too low. It was the fault of the composers clearly, because the binders had to accept the scores as they found them. If the binders were to begin rearranging music to make volumes thicker or thinner, you wouldn't be able to play straight on. Mrs. Bailey concurred, saying that she had always said to her niece not to offer to play a tune till she could play it right through from beginning to end. Mr. Torrens said that was undoubtedly the view of all true musicians, and struck a chord, remarking that the piano had been left open. "How ever could you tell that now, Mr. Torrens?" said Mrs. Bailey, and felt that she was in the presence of an Artist.

Nevertheless, she seemed to be lukewarm about Che faro, merely remarking after hearing it that it was more like the slow tunes her niece played than the quick ones. The player said with unmoved gravity this was andante. Mrs. Bailey said that her niece, on the contrary, had been christened Selina. She could play the Polka. So could Mr. Torrens, rather to the good woman's surprise and, indeed, delight. He was so good-humoured that he played it again, and also the Schottische; and would have stood Gluck over to meet her taste indefinitely, but that voices came outside, and the selection was interrupted.

The voice of Lady Ancester was one, saying despairingly:—"My dear, if you're not ready we must go without you. I must be there in time." Miss Dickenson's was another, attesting that if the person addressed did not come, sundry specified individuals would be in an awful rage.

"Well, then, you must go without me. Flower shows always bore me to death." This was a voice that had not died out of the blind man's ears since yesterday; Lady Gwendolen's, of course. It added that its owner must finish her letter, or it would miss the six o'clock post and not catch the mail; which would have, somehow, some disastrous result. Then said her mother's voice, she should have written it before. Then justification and refutation, and each voice said its say with a difference—more of expounding, explaining—with a result like in Master Hugues of Saxe-Gotha's mountainous fugue, that one of them, Gwen's, stood out all the stiffer hence. No doubt you know your Browning. Gwen asserted herself victor all along the line, and remonstrance died a natural death. But what was she going to do all the afternoon? A wealth of employments awaited her, she testified. Rarely had so many arrears remained unpaid. Last and least she must try[Pg 216] through that song, because she had to send the music back to the Signore. So the Countess supposed she must go her own way, and presently Adrian Torrens was conscious that her ladyship had gone hers, by the curt resurrection of sounds in abeyance somewhile since; sounds of eight hoofs and four wheels; suddenly self-assertive, soon evanescent.

Was Gwen really going to come to sing at this piano? That was something worth living for, at least. But no!—conclusions must not be jumped in that fashion. Perhaps she had a piano in her own room. Nothing more likely.

Achilles had stepped out, hearing sounds as of a departure; and now returned, having seen that all was in satisfactory order. He sighed over his onerous responsibilities, and settled down to repose—well-earned repose, his manner suggested.

"I suppose I shall have to clear out when her young ladyship comes in to practise," said Mrs. Bailey. Mr. Torrens revolted inwardly against ostracising the good woman on social grounds; but then, did he want her to remain if Gwen appeared? Just fancy—to have that newcomer all to himself for perhaps an hour, as he had her for five minutes yesterday! Too good to be true! He compromised with his conscience about Mrs. Bailey. "Don't go away till she does, anyhow," said he. And then he sang Irish Melodies with Tom Moore's words, and rather shocked his hearer by the message the legatee of the singer received about his heart. She preferred the Polka.

It chanced that Mrs. Bailey also had weighty correspondence on hand, relating to an engagement with a new patient; and, with her, correspondence was no light matter. Pride had always stood between Mrs. Bailey and culture, ever since she got her schooling done. Otherwise she might have acquired style and a fluent caligraphy. As it was, her style was uncertain and her method slow. Knowing this—without admitting it—she was influenced by hearing a six o'clock post referred to, having previously thought her letters went an hour later. So she developed an intention of completing her letter, of which short instalments had been turned out at intervals already, as soon as ever the advent of a guest or visitor gave her an excuse for desertion. Of course a member of the household was better than either; so she abdicated without misgiving when—as she put it—she heard her young ladyship a-coming.

Her young ladyship was audible outside long enough for Mrs. Bailey to abdicate before she entered the room. They met on the stairs and spoke. Was that Mr. Torrens at the piano?—asked[Pg 217] Gwen. Because if it was she mustn't stop him. She would cry off and try her song another time.

But Mrs. Bailey reassured her, saying:—"He won't go on long, my lady. You'll get your turn in five minutes," in an undertone. She added:—"He won't see your music-paper. Trust him for that." These words must have had a new hope in them for the young lady, for she said quickly: "You think he does see something, then?" The answer was ambiguous. "Nothing to go by." Gwen had to be content with it.

Is there any strain of music known to man more harrowingly pathetic than the one popularly known as Erin go bragh? Does it not make hearers without a drop of Erse blood in their veins thrill and glow with a patriotism that complete ignorance of the history of Ireland never interferes with in the least? Do not their hearts pant for the blood of the Saxon on the spot, even though their father's name be Baker and their mother's Smith? Ours does.

Adrian Torrens, though his finger-tips felt strange on the keys in the dark, and his hands were weak beyond his own suspicion of their weakness, could still play the Polka for Mrs. Bailey. When his audience no longer claimed repetition of that exciting air, he struck a chord or two of some Beethoven, but shook his head with a sigh and gave it up. However, less ambitious attempts were open to him, and he had happened on Irish minstrelsy; so, left to himself, he sang Savourneen Dheelish through.

Gwen, entering unheard, was glad she could dry her eyes undetected by those sightless ones that she knew showed nothing to the singer—nothing but a black void. The pathos of the air backed by the pathos of a voice that went straight to her heart, made of it a lament over the blackness of this void—over the glorious bygone sunlight, never a ray of it to be shed again for him! There was no one in the room, and it was a relief to her to have this right to unseen tears.

The feverish excitement of her sleepless night had subsided, but the memory of a strange resolve clung to her, a resolution to do a thing that then seemed practicable, reasonable, right; that had seemed since, more than once, insurmountable—yes! Insane—yes! But wrong—no! Now, hard hit by Savourneen Dheelish, the strength to think she might cross the barriers revived, and the insanity of the scheme shrank as its rightness grew and grew. After all, did she not belong to herself? To whom else, except her parents? Well—her duty to her parents was clear; to ransom[Pg 218] their consciences for them; to enable them to say "We destroyed this man's eyesight for him, but we gave him Gwen." If only this pianist could just manage to love her on the strength of Arthur's Bridge and that rainbow gleam! But how to find out? She could see herself in a mirror near by as she thought it, and the resplendent beauty that she could not handle was a bitterness to her; she gazed at it as a warrior might gaze at his sword with his hands lopped off at the wrists. Still, he had seen her; that was something! She would not have acknowledged later, perhaps, that at this moment her mind was running on a foolish thought:—"Did I, or did I not, look my best at that moment?"

She never noticed the curious naïveté which left unquestioned her readiness to play the part she was casting for herself—the rôle of an eyeless man's mate for life—yet never taxed her with loving him. Perhaps it was the very fact that the circumstances of the case released her from confessing her love, that paved the way for her to action that would else have been impossible. "By this light," said Beatrice to Benedick, "I take thee for pure pity." It was a vast consolation to Beatrice to say this, no doubt.

Achilles stopped Savourneen Dheelish by his welcome to the newcomer. To whom Gwen said:—"Oh, you darling!" But to his master she said:—"Go on, it's me, Mr. Torrens. Gwen."

"I know—'Gwen or Gwendolen.'" How easy it would have been for this quotation from yesterday's postscript to seem impertinent! This man had just the right laugh to put everything in its right place, and this time it disclaimed audacious Christian naming. He went on:—"I mustn't monopolize your ladyship's piano," and accommodated this mode of address to the previous one by another laugh, exactly the right protest against misinterpretation.

"My ladyship doesn't want her piano," said Gwen. "She wants to hear you go on playing. I had no idea you were so musical. Say good-evening, and play some more."

He went his nearest to meeting her hand, and his guesswork was not much at fault. A galvanic thrill again shot through him at her touch, and again neither of them showed any great alacrity to disconnect. "You are sorry for me," said he.

"Indeed I am. I cannot tell you how much so." She seemed to keep his hand in hers to say this, and the action and the word were mated, to his mind. She could not have done this but for my misfortune, thought he to himself. But oh!—what leagues apart it placed them, that this semi-familiarity should have become possible on so short an acquaintance! Society reserves would[Pg 219] have kept him back still in the ranks of men. This placed him among cripples, a disqualified ruin.

His heart sank, for he knew now that she had no belief that this awful darkness would end. So be it! But, for now, there was the pure joy of holding that hand for a moment! Forget it all—forget everything!—think only of this little stolen delirium I can cheat the cruelty of God out of, before I am the forsaken prey of Chaos and black Night. That was his thought. He said not a word, and she continued:—"How much can you play? I mean, can you do the fingering in spite of your eyes? Try some more." She had barely withdrawn her hand even then.

"I only make a very poor business of it at present," he said. "I shall have to practise under the new circumstances. When the music jumps half a mile along the piano I hit the wrong note. Anything that runs easy I can play." He played the preliminary notes of the accompaniment of Deh vieni alla finestra. "Anything like that. But I can't tackle anything extensive. My hands haven't quite got strong again, I suppose. Now you come!"

He was beginning a hesitating move from the music-stool with a sense of the uncertainty before him when his anchorage was forsaken, but postponed it as a reply to his companion's remark:—"I'm not coming yet. I'll play presently.... You were accompanying yourself just now. I was listening to you at the end of the piano."

"Anybody can accompany himself; he's in his own confidence." He struck a chord or two, of a duet, this time, and she said:—"Yes—sing that. I can recollect it without the music. I've sung it with the Signore no end of times." They sang it together, and Gwen kept her voice down. She was not singing with the tenor known all over Europe, this time; nor was the room at any time, big as it was, more than large enough for this young lady à pleine voix. Besides, Mr. Torrens was not in force, on that score. In fact, at the end of this one song he dropped his fingers on his knees from the keyboard, and said in a tone that professed amusement at his own exhaustion: "That's all I'm good for. Funny, isn't it?"[Pg 220]



The Philosopher may see absurdity in the fact that, when two persons make concordant consecutive noises for ten minutes, the effect upon their relativities is one that without them might not have come about in ten weeks. We are not prepared to condemn the Philosopher, for once. He is prosy, as usual; but what he says refers to an indisputable truth. Nothing turns diversity into duality quicker than Music.

Gwen did not think the breakdown of the tenor at all funny, and was rather frightened, suggesting Mrs. Bailey. "Bother Mrs. Bailey!" said Adrian. "Only it's very ungrateful of me to bother Mrs. Bailey." Said Gwen:—"She really is a good creature." He replied:—"That's what she is precisely. A good creature!" Gwen interpreted this as disposing of Mrs. Bailey. Acting as her agent, she piloted the blind man through the perils of the furniture to a satisfactory sofa, but could not prevail on him to lie down on it. He seemed determined to assert his claim to a discharge cured; allowing a small discount, of course, in respect of this plaguy eye-affection. In defence of his position that it was a temporary inconvenience, sure to vanish with returning vigour, he simply nailed his colours to the mast—would hear of no surrender.

Tea was negotiated, as customary at the Towers, and he made a parade of his independence over it. No great risks were involved, the little malachite table placed as a cup-haven being too heavy to knock over easily. He was able, too, to make a creditable show of eyesight over the concession of little brown biscuits to Achilles; only really Achilles did all the seeing. A certain pretence of vision was possible too, in the distinguishing of those biscuits which were hard from a softer sort; which Achilles accepted,[Pg 221] under protest always, with an implication that he did it to oblige the donor. He had sacrificed his sleep—that was his suggestion—and he did not deserve to be put off with shoddy goods.

"He always has a nap during music now," said his master. "He used to insist on singing too, if he condescended to listen. I had some trouble to convince him that he couldn't sing—hadn't been taught to produce his voice...."

"Dear creature!—his voice produced itself like mine. M. Sanson—you know the great training man?—wanted me to sing in one of my thoraxes or glottises or oesophaguses. I believe I have several, but I don't know which is which. He said my voice would last better. But I said I would have both helpings at once; a recollection of nursery dinner, you know...."

"I understand—Achilles's view. There, you see!" This was a claim that an audible tail-flap on the ground was applause. It really was nothing but its owner's courteous recognition of his own name, to which he was always alive.

Gwen continued:—"Luckily I met the Signore, who told me Sanson's view was very natural. What would become of all the trainers if people produced their own voices?"

"What, indeed? But you did get some sort of drill?"

"Of course. The dear old Signore gave me some lessons. He told me an infallible rule for people with souls. I was to sing as if the composer was listening. I might sing scales and exercises if I liked. They had a use. They prevented one's spoiling the great composers by hacking them over and over before one could sing."

Adrian felt that chat of this sort was the best after all, to keep safe for him his modus vivendi with this girl, in a world she was suddenly lighting up for him in defiance of his darkness. He could have friendship, and he was not prepared to admit that estrangement might be the more livable modus of the two. So he shut his mental eyes as close as his physical ones, and chatted. He told a story of how a great poet, being asked a question in a lady's album:—"What is your favourite employment?" wrote in reply:—"Cursing the schoolmaster who made me hate Horace in my boyhood." It was a pity to spoil "Ah vous dirai-je, maman?" for the young pianist, but pluies de perles taught nobody anything.

Gwen for her part was becoming painfully alive to the difficulties of her Quixotic undertaking. Marcus Curtius's self-immolation was easy by comparison, with all the cheers of assembled Rome crowding the Forum to back him. If only the horse her metaphor[Pg 222] had mounted would take the bit in his teeth and bolt, tropically, how useful a phantasy it would be! She became terribly afraid her heroic resolve might die a natural death during intelligent conversation. Bother pluies de perles and the young pianist! This dry alternation of responses quashed all serious conversation. And if this Adrian Torrens went away, to-morrow or next day, what chance would there be in the uncertain future to compare with this one? When could she be sure of being alone with him for an hour, at his father's house or elsewhere? She must—she would—at least find from him whether some other parallel of the Roman Knight had bespoken the plunge for herself. She could manage that surely without being "unmaidenly," whatever that meant. If she couldn't, she would just cut the matter short and be unmaidenly. But know she must!

There is a time before the sun commits himself to setting—as he has done every day till now, and we all take it for granted he will do to-morrow—when the raw afternoon relents and the shadows lengthen over the land; an hour that is not sunset yet, but has begun to know what sunset means to do for roof and tree-top, and the high hills when a forecast of the night creeps round their bases; and also for the good looks of man and wench and beast, and even ugly girls. This hour had come, and with it the conviction that everybody was sure to be very late to-night, before Gwen, sitting beside the blind man on the sofa he had flouted as a couch, got a chance to turn the conversation her way—to groom the steed, so to speak, of Marcus Curtius for that appointment in the Forum. It came in a lull, consequent on the momentary dispersion of subject-matter by the recognition of Society's absence and its probable late recurrence.

"I was so sorry yesterday, Mr. Torrens." A modulation of Gwen's tone was not done intentionally. It came with her wish to change the subject.

"What for, then?" said Mr. Torrens, affecting a slight Irish accent with a purpose not quite clear to himself. It might have given his words their degree on a seriometer, granted the instrument.

"Don't laugh at me, because I'm in earnest. I mean for being so unfeeling...."


"Yes. I don't think talking about it again can make it any worse. But I do want you to know that I only said it because I got caught—you know how words get their own way sometimes...."[Pg 223]

"But what?—why?—when? What words got their way this time?"

"I'm almost sorry I've spoken, if you didn't notice it. Because then I'm such a fool for raking it up again.... Why, of course, when I pitched on those lines of yours. And any others would have done just as well...."

"Lord 'a massy me!—as Mrs. Bailey says. 'The daughters of the Dream Witch'? What's the matter with them? They're all right."

"Oh yes—they're all right, no doubt. But I was thinking of.... Oh, I can't bear to talk about it!... Oh dear!—I wish I hadn't mentioned it...."

"Yes, but do mention it. Mention it again. Mention it lots of times. Besides, I know what you mean...."


"The 'watchman sorrowing for the light,' of course! It seemed like me. Do you know it never crossed my mind in that connection?"

"Is that really true? But, then, what an idiot I was for saying anything about it! Only I couldn't help myself. I was so miserable! It laid me awake all night to think of it." This was not absolutely true, because Gwen had really lain awake on the main question, the responsibility of her family for that shot of old Stephen's. But, to our thinking, she was justified in using any means that came to hand. She went on:—"I'm not sure that it would not have come to nearly the same thing in any case—the sleepless night, I mean. I did not know till yesterday how ... b-bad your eyes were"—for she had nearly said the word blind—"because they kept on making the best of it for our sakes, Irene and Mrs. Bailey did...."

Adrian cut her speech across with an ebullition of sound sense—a protest against extremes—a counterblast to hysterical judgments. Obviously his duty! He succeeded in saying with a sufficient infusion of the correct bounce:—"My dear Lady Gwendolen, indeed you are distressing yourself about me altogether beyond anything that this unlucky mishap warrants. In a case of this sort we must submit to be guided by medical opinion; and nothing that either Sir Coupland Merridew or Dr. Nash has said amounts to more than that recovery will be a matter of time. We must have patience. In the meantime I am really the gainer by the accident, for I shall always look upon my involuntary intrusion on your hospitality as one of the most fortunate events of my life...."[Pg 224]

"'Believe me to remain very sincerely yours, Adrian Torrens.'" She struck in with a ringing laugh, and finished up what really would have been a very civil letter from him. "Now, dear Mr. Torrens, do stop being artificial. Say you're sorry, and you won't do so any more."

"Please, I'm sorry and I won't do so any more.... But I did do it very well, now didn't I? You must allow that."

"You did indeed, and Heaven knows how glad I should be to be able to be taken in by it and believe every word the doctors say. But when one has been hocus-pocussed about anything one ... one feels very strongly about, one gets suspicious of everybody.... Oh yes—indeed, I think very likely the doctors are right, and if Dr. Merridew had only said that you couldn't see at all now, but that the sight was sure to come back, I should have felt quite happy yesterday when...." She stopped, hesitating, brought up short by suddenly suspecting that she was driving home the fact of his blindness, instead of helping him to keep up heart against it. But how could she get to her point without doing so? How could Marcus Curtius saddle up for his terrible leap, and keep the words of the Oracle a secret?

At any rate, he could not see her confusion at her own malapropos—that was something! She recovered from it to find him saying:—"But what I want to know is—what happened yesterday? I mean, how came you to know anything you did not know before? Was it anything I did? I thought I got through it so capitally." He spoke more dejectedly than hitherto, palpably because his efforts at pretence of vision had failed. The calamity itself was all but forgotten.

Gwen saw nothing ahead but confession. Well—it might be the best way to the haven she wanted to steer for. "It was not what you did," said she. "You made believe quite beautifully all the time we were sitting there, talking talk. It was when I was just going. You remember when mamma had gone away with 'Rene, and I put my foot in it over those verses?"

"Yes, indeed I do. Only, you know, that wasn't because of the Watchman. I never mixed him in—not with my affairs. A sort of Oriental character!"

"Well—that was my mistake. You remember when, anyhow? Now, do you know, all the time I was standing there talking about the Watchman, I was holding out my hand to you to say good-night, and you never offered to take it, and put your hands in your pockets? It must have gone on for quite two minutes. And I was determined not to give a hint, and there was no one else[Pg 225] there...." Gwen thought she could understand the gesture that made her pause, a sudden movement of the blind man's right hand as though it had been stung by the discovery of its own backwardness.

He dropped it immediately in a sort of despairing way, then threw it up impatiently. "All no use!" he said. "No use—no use—no use!" The sound of his despair was in his voice as he let the hand fall again upon his knee. He gave a heart-broken sigh:—"Oh dear!" and then sat on silent.

Gwen was afraid to speak. For all she knew, her first word might be choked by a sob. After a few moments he spoke again:—"And there was I—thinking—thinking...." and stopped short.

"Thinking what?" said Gwen timidly.

"I will tell you some time," he said. "Not now!" And then he drew a long breath and spoke straight on, as though some obstacle to speech had gone. "It has been a terrible time, Lady Gwendolen—this first knowledge of ... of what I have lost. Put recovery aside for a moment—let the chance of it lie by, until it is on the horizon. Think only what the black side of the shield means—the appalling darkness in the miserable time to come—the old age when folk will call me the blind Mr. Torrens; will say of me:—'You know, he was not born blind—it was an accident—a gunshot wound—a long while back now.' And all that long while back will have been a long vacuity to me, and Heaven knows what burden to others.... I have known it all from the first. I knew it when I waked to my senses in the room upstairs—to all my senses but one. I knew it when I heard them speak hopefully of the case; hope means fear, and I knew what the fear was they were hoping against. That early morning when stupor came to an end, and my consciousness came back, I remembered all. But I thought the darkness was only the sweet, wholesome darkness of night, and my heart beat for the coming of the day. The day came, sure enough, but I knew nothing of it. The first voice I heard was Mrs. Bailey's, singing pæans over my recovery. She had been lying in wait for it, in a chair beside the bed which I picture to myself as a chair of vast scope and pretensions. I did not use my tongue, when I found it, to ask where I was—because I knew I was somewhere and the bed was very comfortable. I asked what o'clock it was, and was told it was near nine. Then, said I, why not open the shutters and let in the light?"

"What did Mrs. Bailey say?"

"Mrs. Bailey said Lord have mercy, gracious-goodness-her, and I at once perceived that I was in the hands of a good creature.[Pg 226] I must have done so, because I exhorted her to act in her official capacity. When she said:—'Why ever now, when the sun's a-shining fit to brile the house up!' I said to her—to remove ambiguity, you see—'Do be a good creature and tell me, is the room light or dark? She replied in a form of affidavit:—'So help me, Mr. Torrens, if this was the last Bible word I was to speak, this room is light, not dark, nor yet it won't be, not till this blessed evening when there come candles or the lamp, as preferred.' I had a sickening perplexity for a while whether I was sane or mad, awake or dreaming, lying there with my heart adding to my embarrassment needlessly by beating in a hurry. Then I remember how it came to me all at once—the whole meaning of it. Till now, blind men had been other people. Now I was to be one myself.... Say something!... I don't like my own voice speaking alone.... there is no one else in the room, is there?"

"Not a soul. And nobody will come. The dowager-duchess is having tea in her own room, and all the others will be late."

Something in this caused Mr. Torrens to say, with ridiculous inconsecutiveness:—"Then you're not engaged to Lord Cumberworld?"

"I certainly am not engaged to Lord Cumberworld," said Gwen with cold emphasis. "Why did you think I was?"

"Mrs. Bailey."

"Mrs. Bailey! And why did you think I wasn't?"

"That requires thought. I don't quite see, now I come to think of it, why a lady shouldn't be engaged to a party and speak about his grandma as...."

"As I spoke of his just now? Why not, indeed? She is a dowager-duchess."

"I admit it. But there are ways and ways of calling people dowager-duchesses. It struck me that your way suggested that there was something ridiculous about ... about dowadging."

"So there is—to me. I believe it arose from the newspaper saying, when we had a ball in London for me to come out, that the Dowager Lady Scamander had a magnificent diamond stomacher. Perhaps you don't happen to know the shape of that good lady?... Never mind. Anyhow, I am not engaged to this one's grandson; and she's safe in the west wing, where the ghost never goes. We've got it all to ourselves. Go on!"

"My first idea was how to prevent Europe and Asia finding it out and frightening my family, at least until my eyes had had time to turn round. The next voice I heard was the doctor's, summoned, I suppose, by Mrs. Bailey. It was cheerful, and said[Pg 227] that was good hearing, and now we should do. He said:—'You lie quiet, Mr. Torrens, and I'll tell you what it all was; because I daresay you don't know, and would like to.' I said yes—very much. So he told me the story in a comfortable optimist way—said it was a loss of blood from the occipital artery that had made such a wreck of me, but that a contusion of the head had been the cause of the insensibility, which had nearly stopped the action of the heart, else I might have bled to death...."

"Oh, how white you were when we found you!" Gwen exclaimed—"So terribly white! But I half think I can see how it happened. Your heart stopped pumping the blood out, because you were stunned, and that gave the artery a chance to pull itself together. That's the sort of idea Dr. Merridew gave me, with the long words left out."

"What a very funny thing!" said Adrian thoughtfully, "to have one's life saved by being nearly killed by something else. Similia similibus curantur. However, all's fish that comes to one's net. Well—when Sir Coupland had told me his story, he said casually:—'What's all this Mrs. Bailey was telling me about your finding the room so dark?' I humbugged a little over it, and said my eyesight was very dim. Whatever he thought, he said very little to me about it. Indeed, he only said that he was not surprised. A shock to the head and loss of blood might easily react on the optic nerve. It would gradually right itself with rest. I said I supposed he could try tests—lenses and games—to find out if the eyes were injured. He said he would try the lenses and games later, if it seemed necessary. For the present I had better stay quiet and not think about it. It would improve. Then my father and 'Rene came, and were jolly glad to hear my voice again. For I had only been half-conscious for days, and only less than half audible, if, indeed, I ever said anything. But I was on my guard, and my father went away home without knowing, and I don't believe 'Rene quite knows now. It was your father who spotted the thing first. Had he told you, to put you up to the hand-shaking device?"

"He never said a word. The handshaking was my own brilliant idea. When I found—what I did find out—I went away and had a good cry in mamma's room." This speech was an effort on Gwen's part to get a little nearer—ever so little—to Marcus Curtius; nearer, that is, to her metaphorical parallel of his heroism. Marcus had got weaker as an imitable prototype during the conversation, and it had seemed to Gwen that he might slip through her fingers altogether, if no help came. Her "good cry" reinforced[Pg 228] Marcus, and quite blamelessly; for who could find fault with her for that much of concern for so fearful a calamity? What had she said that she might not have said to a friend's husband, cruelly and suddenly stricken blind? Indeed, could she as a friend have said less? Was her human pity to be limited to women and children and cases of special licence, or pass current merely under chaperonage? No—she was safe so far certainly.

"Oh, Lady Gwendolen, I can't stand this," was Adrian's exclamation in a tone of real distress. "Why—why—should I make you miserable and lay you awake o' nights? I couldn't help your finding out, perhaps. But what a selfish beast I am to go on grizzling about my own misfortune.... Well—I have been grizzling! And all the while, as like as not, the medicos are right, and in six weeks I shall be reading diamond type as merry as a grig...."

"Do grigs read diamond type?"

"I may be doing so, anyhow, grigs or no!" He paused an instant, his absurdity getting the better of him. "I may have employed the expression 'grigs' rashly. I do not really know how small type they can read. I withdraw the grigs. Besides, there's another point of view...."

"What's that?" Gwen is a little impatient and absent. Marcus Curtius has waned again perceptibly.

"Why—suppose I had been knocked over two miles off, carried in, for instance, at the Mackworth Clarkes', where 'Rene's gone...!"

"But you weren't!"

"Lady Gwendolen, you don't understand the nature of an hypothesis"—his absurdity gets the upper hand again—"the nature of an hypothesis is that its maker is always in the right. I am, this time. If I had been nursed round at the Mackworth Clarkes', you would have known nothing about me except as a mere accident—a person in the papers—a person one inquires after...."

Gwen interrupts him with determination. "Stop, Mr. Torrens," she says, "and listen to me. If you had been struck by a bullet fired by my father's order, by his servant, on his land, it would not have mattered what house you were taken to, nor who nursed you round. I should have felt that the guilt—yes, the guilt!—the sin of it was on the conscience of us all; every one of us that had had a hand, a finger, in it, directly or indirectly. How could I have borne to look your sister in the face...?"

"You wouldn't have known her! Come, Lady Gwen!"

"Very well, then, give her up. Suppose, instead, the girl you[Pg 229] are engaged to had been a friend of mine, how could I have borne to look her in the face?"

"She's a hypothesis. There's no such interesting damsel—that I know of...."

"Oh, isn't there?... Well—she's a hypothesis, and I've a right to as many hypothesisses as you have."

"I can't deny it."

"Then how should I look her in the face? Answer my question, and don't prevaricate."

"What a severe—Turk you are! But I won't prevaricate. You wouldn't be called on to look the hypothesis in the face. She would have broken me off, like a sensible hypothesis that knew what was due to itself and its family...."

"Do be serious. Indeed I am serious. It was in my mind all last night—such a dreadful haunting thought!—what would this girl's feelings be to me and mine? I made several girls I know stand for the part. You know how one overdoes things when one is left to oneself and the darkness?..."

"Yes—that I do! No doubt of it!" The stress of a meaning he could not help forced its way into his words, in spite of himself. Surely you need not have shown it, said an inner voice to him. He made no reply. But he did not see how.

Almost before he had time to repent she had cried out:—"Oh, there now! See what I have done again! I did not mean it. Do forgive me!" Neither saw a way to patching up this lapse, and it was ruled out by tacit consent. Gwen resumed:—"You know, I mean, how one dreams a thousand things in a minute, and everything is as big as a house, even when it's only strong coffee. This was worse than strong coffee. There were plenty of them, these hypothesisses.... Oh yes!—we know plenty of girls you do. I could count you up a dozen...."

"—One's enough!—that means that one's the allowance, not that it's one too many...."

"Well—there were a many reproachful dream-faces, and every one of them said to me:—'See what you have made of my life that might have been so happy. See how you have con....'" Gwen had very nearly said condemned, but stopped in time. She could not refer to the demands of an eyeless mate for constant help in little things, and all the irksomeness of a home.

Adrian, pretending not to hear "con," spoke at once. "But did none of these charming girls—I'm sure I should have loved heaps of them—did none of them remind you that they were hypothetical?"[Pg 230]

"Dear Mr. Torrens, I can't tell you how good and brave you seem to me for laughing so much, and turning everything to a joke. But I was in earnest."

"So was I."

"Then I did not understand."

"What did you think I meant?"

"I thought you were playing fast and loose with the nonsense about the hypothesis. I did indeed."

"Well, I was serious underneath. Listen, and I'll tell you. This fiancée of mine that you seem so cocksure about has no existence. I give you my honour that it is so, and that I am glad of it.... Yes—glad of it! How could I bear to think I was inflicting myself on a woman I loved, and making her life a misery to her?"

Gwen thought of beginning:—"If she loved you," and giving a little sketch of a perfect wife under the circumstances. It never saw the light, owing to a recrudescence of Marcus Curtius, who stood to win nothing by his venture—was certainly not in love with Erebus. An act of pure self-sacrifice on principle! Nothing could be farther from her thoughts, be so good as to observe, than that she loved this man!

He went on uninterrupted:—"No, indeed I am heartily glad of it. It would be a terrible embarrassment at the best. I should want to let her off, and she would feel in honour bound to hold on, and really of all the things I can't abide self-sacrifice is.... Well, Lady Gwendolen, only consider the feelings of the chap on the altar! Hasn't he a right to a little unselfishness for his own personal satisfaction?" This was a sad wet blanket for Marcus Curtius.

Gwen did not believe that Adrian's disclaimer of any preoccupation of his affections was genuine. According to her theory of life—and there is much to be said for it—a full-blown Adonis, that is to say, a lovable man, refusing to love any woman on any terms, was a sort of monstrosity. The original Adonis of Art and Song was merely an homme incompris, according to this young lady. He hated Venus—odious woman!—and no wonder. She to claim the rank of a goddess! Besides, Gwen suspected that Adrian was only prevaricating. Trothplight was one thing, official betrothal another. It was almost too poor a shuffle to accuse him of, but she was always flying at the throat of equivocation, even when she knew she might be outclassed by it. "You are playing with words, Mr. Torrens," said she. "You mean that you and this young lady are not 'engaged to be married'? Perhaps not, but[Pg 231] that has nothing to do with the matter. I cannot feel it in my bones—as Mrs. Bailey says—that any woman you could care for would back out of it because you ... because of this dreadful accident." Her voice was irresolute in referring to it, and some wandering wave of that electricity that her finger-tips were so full of made a cross-circuit and quickened the beating of her hearer's heart. The vessel it struck in mid-ocean had no time to right itself before another followed. "Surely—if she were worth a straw—if she were worth the name of a woman at all—she would feel it her greatest happiness to make it up to you for such...." She was going to say "a privation," but she always shied off designating the calamity. In her hurry to escape from "privation" she landed her speech in a phrase she had not taken the full measure of—"Well—perhaps I oughtn't to say that! I may be taking the young woman's name in vain. I only mean that that is what I should feel in her position."

It had come as a chance speech before she saw its bearings. There was not the ghost of an arrière pensée behind the simple fact that she had no choice but to judge another woman's mind by her own; a natural thought! Her first instinct was to spoil the force she had not meant it to have, by dragging the red herring of some foolish joke across the trail.

But—to think of it! Here had she been hatching such a brave scheme of making her own life, and all the devotion she somehow believed she could give, a compensation for a great wrong, and here she was now affrighted at the smell of powder! Pride stepped in, and the memory of Quintus Curtius. No—she would not say a single word to undo the effect of her heedlessness. Let the worst stand! They had left her in the place of that hypothesis whom she had herself discarded. It was no fault of hers that had involved her personally. Was she bound to back out? She bit her lip to check her own impulse to utter some cheap corrective.

Until that rather scornful disclaimer of the Duke's son, Mrs. Bailey's piece of fashionable intelligence had served—whether Adrian believed it or not—as a sort of chaperon's ægis extended over this interview. It had protected him against himself—against his impulse to break through a silence that his three weeks' memory of this girl's image had made painful. Recollect that her radiant beauty, in that setting sun-gleam, was the last thing human his eyes had rested on before the night came on him—the night that might be endless. It was not so easy, now that an imaginary fiancée had been curtly swept away, to fight against a temptation he conceived himself bound in honour not to give way[Pg 232] to. Not so easy because something, that he hoped was not his vanity, was telling him that this girl beside him, her very self that he had seen once, whose image was to last for ever, was at least not placing obstacles in his way. For anything that she was doing to prevent it, he might drive a coach-and-six through the social code that blocks a declaration of passion to a girl under age without the consent of her parents. He was conscious of this code, and his general acceptance of it. But he was not so law-abiding but that he must needs get on the box—of the coach-and-six—and flick the leaders with his whip.

For he asked abruptly:—"How do you know that?" driving home the nail of personality to the head.

"Perhaps I am wrong," said Gwen, dropping her flag an inch. "But I was thinking so all last night. I was in a sort of fever, you see, because I felt so guilty, and it grew worse and worse...."

"You were thinking that...?"

"Well—you know—it was before I had any idea she was a hypothesis. I thought she was real because of the ring."

"My ring! Fancy!... But I'll tell you about my ring presently. Tell me what you were thinking...."

"Why—what I said before!"

"But what was it?"

"Do you know, I think it was only a sort of attempt to get a little sleep. You were so fearfully on my conscience, and it made it so much easier to bear.... Only it worried me to think that perhaps she might turn round and say:—'This was no fault of mine. Why should I bear for life the burden of other people's sins?' ... If she was a perfect beast—beast, you know!..."

"The hypothesis would not have been a perfect beast. She would have been a perfect lady, and Mrs. Bailey would have attested it. She would have pointed out the desirability of a sister's love—at reasonable intervals; visits and so on—for a man with his eyes poked out. She might even have gone the length of insinuating that the finger of Providence did it...."

"Now you are talking nonsense again. Do be serious!"

"Well—let's be serious! Suppose you tell me what it was you were thinking that made the existence of that very dry and unsatisfying hypothesis such a consolation!"

"I should like to tell you—only I know I shall say it wrong, and you will think me an odd girl; or unfeeling; which is worse."

"I should do nothing of the sort. But I'll tell you what I should think—what I have thought all this time I have been hearing[Pg 233] your voice—I merely mention it as a thing of pathological interest...."

"Go on."

"I should think it didn't matter what you said so long as you went on speaking. Because whenever I hear your voice I can shut my eyes and forget that I am blind."

"Is that empty compliment, or are you in earnest?"

"I was jesting a minute ago, but now I am in earnest. I mean what I say. Your voice takes the load off my heart and the darkness off my brain, and we are standing again by that stone bridge over yonder—Arthur's Bridge—and I see you in all your beauty—oh! such beauty—as I look up from Ply's cut collar against the sunset sky. That was my last hour of vision, and its memory will go with me to the grave. And now when I hear your voice, it all comes back to me, and the terrible darkness has vanished—or the sense of it anyhow!..."

"If that is so you shall hear it until your sight comes back—it will—it must!"

"How if it never comes back? How if I remain as I am now for life?"

"I shall not lose my voice."

How it came about neither could ever say; but each knew that it happened then, just at that turn in the conversation, and that no one came rushing into the drawing-room as they easily might have done—this lax structure of language was employed later in reference to it—nor did any of the thousand interruptions occur that might have occurred. Mrs. Bailey might have come to Mr. Torrens to know how many g's there were in agreeable, or a tea-collector might have prowled in to add relics to her collection, or even the sound of the carriage afar—inaudible by man—might have caused Achilles to requisition the opening of the drawing-room door, that he might rush away to sanction its arrival. Two guardian angels—the story thinks—stopped any of these things happening. What did happen was that Gwen and Adrian, who a moment before were nominally a lady and gentleman chatting on a sofa near the piano, whose separation involved no consequences definable for either, were standing speechless in each other's arms—speechless but waiting for the power to speak. For nobody can articulate whose heart is thumping out of all reason. He has to wait—or she, as may be. One of each is needed to develope an earthquake of this particular kind.

It was just as well that the Hon. Percival Pellew and Aunt Constance Smith-Dickenson, who had started to walk from the[Pg 234] flower-show with a couple of young monkeys whose object in life was to spare everybody else their company from selfish motives, did not come rushing into the drawing-room just then, but a quarter of an hour later. For even if the parties had caught the sound of their arrival in time, the peculiarity of Mr. Torrens' blindness would have stood in the way of any successful pretence that he and Lady Gwendolen had been keeping their distance up to Society point. We know how easy it is for normal people, when caught, to pretend they are looking at dear Sarah's interesting watercolours together, or anything of that sort. And even if the blind man had been able to strike a bar or two carelessly on the piano, to advertise his isolation, their faces would have betrayed them. Not that the tears of either could have been identified on the face of the other. It was a matter of expression. Every situation in this world has a stamp of its own for the human face, and no stamp is more easily identified than that on the face of lovers who have just found each other out.

Anyhow this story cannot go on, until the absurd tempest that has passed over these two allows them to speak. Then they do so on an absolutely new footing, and the man calls the girl his dearest and his own, and Heaven knows what else. There one sees the difference between the B.C. and A.D. of the Nativity of Love. It is a new Era. Call it the Hegira, if you like.

"I saw you once, dear love,"—he is saying—"I saw you once, and it was you—you—you! The worst that Fate has in store for me cannot kill the memory of that moment. And if blindness was to be the price of this—of this—why, I would sooner be blind, and have it, than have all the eyes of Argus and ... and starve."

"You wouldn't know you were starving," says Gwen, who is becoming normal—resuming the equanimities. "Besides, you would be such a Guy. No—please don't! Somebody's coming!"

"Nobody's coming. It's all right. I tell you, Gwen, or Gwendolen—do you know I all but called you that, when you came in, before we sang...?"

"Why didn't you quite? However, I'm not sorry you didn't on the whole. It might have seemed paternal, and I should have felt squashed. And then it might never have happened at all, and I should just have been a young lady in Society, and you a gentleman that had had an accident."

"It would have happened just the same, I believe. Because why? I had seen you. At least, it might have."

"It has happened, and must be looked in the face. Now whatever[Pg 235] you do, for Heaven's sake, don't go talking to papa and being penitent, till I give you leave."

"What should I be able to say to him? I don't know. I can't justify my actions—as the World goes...."

"Why not?"

"Nobody would hold a man blameless, in my circumstances, who made an offer of marriage to a young lady under...."

"It's invidious to talk about people's ages."

"I wasn't going to say twenty-one. I was going to say under her father's roof...."

"Nobody ever makes offers of marriage on the top of anybody's father's roof. Besides, you never made any offer, strictly speaking. You said...."

"I said that if I had my choice I would have chosen it all as it now is, only to hear your voice in the dark, rather than to be without it and have all the eyes of ... didn't I say Argus?"

"Yes—you said Argus. But that was a façon-de-parler; at least I hope so, for the sake of the Hypothesis.... Oh dear!—what nonsense we two are talking...." Some silence; otherwise the status quo remained unchanged. Then he said:—"I wonder if it's all a dream and we shall wake." And she replied: "Not both—that's absurd!" But she made it more so by adding:—"Promise you'll tell me your dream when we wake, and I'll tell you mine." He assented:—"All right!—but don't let's wake yet."

By now the sun was sinking in a flame of gold, and every little rabbit's shadow in the fern was as long as the tallest man's two hours since, and longer. The level glare was piercing the sheltered secrets of the beechwoods, and choosing from them ancient tree-trunks capriciously, to turn to sudden fires against the depths of hidden purple beyond—the fringe of the mantle the vanguard of night was weaving for the hills. Not a dappled fallow-deer in the coolest shade but had its chance of a robe of glory for a little moment—not a bird so sober in its plumage but became, if only it flew near enough to Heaven, a spark against the blue. And the long, unhesitating rays were not so busy with the world without, but that one of them could pry in at the five-light window at the west end of the Jacobean drawing-room at the Towers, and reach the marble Ceres the Earl's grandfather brought from Athens. And on the way it paused and dwelt a moment on a man's hand caressing the stray locks of a flood of golden hair he could not see—might never see at all. Or who might live on—such things have been—to find it grey to a half-illuminated sight in the dusk of life. So invisible to him now; so vivid in his memory of what seemed[Pg 236] to him no more than a few days since! For half the time, remember, had been to him oblivion—a mere blank. And now, in the splendid intoxication of this new discovery, he could well afford to forget for the moment the black cloud that overhung the future, and the desperation that might well lie hidden in its heart, waiting for the day when he should know that Hope was dead. That day might come.

"Shall I tell you now, my dearest, my heart, my life"—this is what he is saying, and every word he says is a mere truth to him; a sort of scientific fact—"shall I tell you what I was going to say an hour ago?..."

"It's more than an hour, but I know when. About me sticking my hand out?"

"Just exactly then. I was thinking all the while that in another moment I should have your hand in mine, and keep it as long as I dared. Eyes were nothing—sight was nothing—life itself was nothing—nothing was anything but that one moment just ahead. It would not last, but it would fill the earth and the heavens with light and music, and keep death and the fiend that had been eating up my soul at bay—as long as it lasted. Dear love, I am not exaggerating...."

"Do you expect me to believe that? Now be quiet, and perhaps I'll tell you what I was thinking when I found out you couldn't see—have been thinking ever since. I thought it well over in the night, and when I came into this room I meant it. I did, indeed."

"Meant what?"

"Meant to get at the truth about that ring of yours. I had got it on the brain, you see. I meant to find out whether she was anybody or nobody. And if she was nobody I was going to...." She comes to a standstill; for, even now—even after such a revelation, with one of his arms about her waist, and his free hand caressing her hair—Marcus Curtius sticks in her throat a little.

"What were you going to?" said Adrian, really a little puzzled. Because even poets don't understand some women.

"Well—if it wasn't you I wouldn't tell. I ... I had made up my mind to apply for the vacant place." This came with a rush, and might not have come at all had she felt his eyes could see her; knowing, as she did, the way the blood would quite unreasonably mount up to her face the moment she had uttered it. "It all seemed such plain sailing in the middle of the night, and it turned out not quite so easy as I thought it would be. You[Pg 237] know.... Be quiet and let me talk now!... it was the guilt—my share in it—that was so hard to bear. I wanted to do something to make it up to you. And what could I do? A woman is in such a fix. Oh, how glad I was when you opened fire on your own account! Only frightened, you know." He was beginning to say something, but she stopped him with:—"I know what you are going to say, but that's just where the difficulty came in. If only I hadn't cared twopence about you it would have been so easy!... Did you say how? Foolish man!—can't you see that if I hadn't loved you one scrap, or only half across your lips as we used to say when we were children, it would have been quite a let-off to be met with offers of a brother's love ... and that sort of thing.... Isn't that them?" This was colloquial. No doubt Gwen was exceptional, and all the other young ladies in the Red Book would have said:—"Are not these they?"

This story does not believe that Gwen's statement of her recent embarrassment covered the facts. Probably a woman in her position would be less held at bay by the chance of a rebuff, than by a deadly fear of kisses chilled by a spirit of self-sacrifice.... Ugh!—the hideous suspicion! The present writer, from information received, believes that little girls like to think that they are made of sugar and spice and all that's nice, and that their lover's synthesis of slugs and snails and puppy-dogs' tails doesn't matter a rap so long as they are ravenous. But they mustn't snap, however large a percentage of puppy-dogs they contain.

Anyhow, Marcus Curtius never came off. He was really impossible; and, as we all know, what's impossible very seldom comes to pass. And this case was not among the exceptions.

It wasn't them. But a revision of the relativities was necessary. When Miss Dickenson and the Hon. Percival did come in, Gwen was at the piano, and Adrian at the right distance for hearing. Nothing could have been more irreproachable. The newcomers, having been audibly noisy on the stairs, showed as hypocritical by an uncalled-for assumption of preternatural susceptibility to the absence of other members of their party acknowledging their necessity to make up a Grundy quorum. There is safety in number when persons are of opposite sexes, which they generally are.

"Can't imagine what's become of them!" said Mr. Pellew, rounding off some subject with a dexterous implication of its nature. "By Jove!—that's good, though! Mr. Torrens down at last!" Greetings and civilities, and a good pretence by the blind man of seeing the hands he meets half-way.

"That young Lieutenant What's-his-name and the second Accrington[Pg 238] girl, Gwen dear. They must have missed us and gone round by Furze Heath. I shall be in a fearful scrape with Lady Accrington, I know. Why didn't you come to the flower-show?" Thus Miss Dickenson, laying unnecessary stress on the absentees.

"I had a headache," says Gwen, "and Gloire de Dijon roses always make my headaches worse.... Yes, it's very funny. Mr. Torrens and I have been boring one another half the afternoon. But I've written some letters. Do you know this in the new Opera—Verdi's?" She played a phrase or two of the Trovatore. For it was the new Opera that year, and we were boys ... eheu fugaces!

"I really think I ought to walk back a little and see about those young people," says Aunt Constance fatuously. Thereupon Gwen finds she would like a little walk in the cool, and will accompany Aunt Constance. But just after they have left the room Achilles, whose behaviour has really been perfect all along, is seized with a paroxysm of interest in an inaudible sound, and storms past them on the stairs to meet the carriage and keep an eye on things. So they only take a short turn on the terrace in the late glow of the sunset, and go up to dress.

Adrian and the Hon. Percival spend five minutes in the growing twilight, actively ignoring all personal relations during the afternoon. They discuss flower-shows on their merits, and recent Operas on theirs. They censure the fashions in dress—the preposterous crinolines and the bonnets almost hanging down on the back like a knapsack—touch politics slightly: Louis Napoleon, Palmerston, Russian Nicholas. But they follow male precedents, dropping trivialities as soon as womankind is out of hearing, and preserve a discreet silence—two discreet silences—about their respective recencies. They depart to their rooms, Adrian risking his credit for a limited vision by committing himself to Mr. Pellew's arm and a banister.[Pg 239]



The galaxy of wax lights had illuminated the Jacobean drawing-room long enough to have become impatient, if only they had had human souls, before the first conscientious previous person turned up dressed for dinner, and felt ashamed and looked at a book. He affected superiority to things, saying to the subsequent conscientious person:—"Seen this?—'The Self-Renunciation of Theophilus Gotobed?'—R'viewers sayts 'musing;" and handing him Vol. I., which he was obliged to take. He just looked inside, and laid it on the table. "Looks intristin'!" he said.

It was bad enough, said Mr. Norbury to Cook sympathetically in confidence, to put back three-quarters of an hour, without her ladyship making his lordship behindhander still. This was because news travelled to the kitchen—mind you never say anything whatever in the hearing of a servant!—that their two respective ships were in collision in the Lib'ary; harguing was the exact expression. It was the heads of the household who were late. Lady Gwendolen apologized for them, saying she was afraid it was her fault. It was. But she didn't look penitent. She looked resplendent.

The two couples who had parted company, being anxious to advertise their honourable conduct, executed a quartet-without-music in extenuation of what appeared organized treachery. The soprano and tenor had lost sight of the alto and basso just on the other side of Clocketts Croft, where you came to a stile. They had from sheer good-faith retraced their steps to this stile and sat on it reluctantly, in bewilderment of spirit, praying for the spontaneous reappearance of the wanderers. These latter testified unanimously that they had seen the tenor assist the soprano over[Pg 240] this stile, and that then the couple had disappeared to the right through the plantation of young larches, and they had followed them along a path of enormous length with impenetrable arboriculture on either hand, without seeing any more of them, and expected to find them on arriving. The tenor and soprano gave close particulars of their return along this self-same path. All the evidence went to show that a suspension of natural laws had taken place, the simultaneous presence of all four at that stile seeming a mathematical certainty from which escape was impossible.

Guilty conscience—so Gwen thought at least—was discernible in every phrase of the composition. This was all very fine for Lieutenant Tatham and Di Accrington, the two young monkeys. But why Aunt Constance and her middle-aged M.P.? If they wanted to, why couldn't they, without any nonsense? That was the truncated inquiry Gwen's mind made.

She herself was radiant, dazzling, in the highest spirits. But her mother was silent and pre-occupied, and rather impatient with her more than once during the evening. The Earl was the same, minus the impatience.

This was because of two very short colloquies under pressure, between Gwen's departure upstairs and the Countess's overdue appearance at dinner. The first began in the lobby outside Gwen's room, where her mother overtook her on her way to her own. Here it is in full:

"Oh—there you are, child! What a silly you were not to come! How's your headache?... I do wish your father would have those stairs altered. It's like the ascent of Mount Parnassus." Buckstone was presenting a burlesque of that name just then, and her ladyship may have had it running in her head.

"It wasn't a real headache—only pretence. Come in here, mamma. I've something to say.... No—I haven't rung for Lutwyche yet. She's all right. Come in and shut the door."

"Why, girl, what's the matter? Why are you...?"

"Why am I what?"

"Well—twinkling and—breathing and—and altogether!" Her ladyship's descriptive power is fairly good as far as it goes, but it has its limits.

"I don't believe I'm either twinkling or breathing or altogether.... Well, then—I'm whatever you like—all three! Only listen to me, mamma dear, because there's not much time. I'm going to marry Adrian Torrens. There!"

"Oh—my dear!" It is too much for the Countess after those[Pg 241] stairs! She sinks on a chair clutching her fingers tight, with wide eyes on her daughter. It is too terrible to believe. But even in that moment Gwen's beauty has such force that the words "A blind man!—never to see it!" are articulate in her mind. For her child never looked more beautiful—one half queenly effrontery, her disordered locks against the window-light making a halo of rough gold round a slight flush its wearer would resent the name of shame for; the other half, the visible flinching from confession she would resent still more for justifying it.

"Why—do you know anything against him?"

"Darling!—you might marry anybody, and you know it."

"Oh yes; I know all about it. I prefer this one. But do you know anything against him?"

"Only ... only his eyes!... Oh dear! You know you said so yourself yesterday—that the sight was destroyed...."

"Who destroyed his sight? Tell me that!"

"If you are going to take that tone, Gwendolen, I really cannot talk about it. You and your father must settle it between you somehow. It was an accident—a very terrible accident, I know—but I must go away to dress. It's eight.... Anyhow, one thing, dear! You haven't given him any encouragement—at least, I hope not...."

"Given him any what?"

"Any practical encouragement ... any...."

"Oh yes—any quantity." She has to quash that flinching and brazen it out. One way is as good as another. "I didn't tell him to pull my hair down, though. I didn't mind. But if he had been able to see I should have been much more strict."

"Gwen dear—you are perfectly ... shameless!... Well—you are a very odd girl...." This is concession; oddity is not shamelessness.

"Come, mamma, be reasonable! If you can't see anybody and you mayn't touch them, it comes down to making remarks at a respectful distance, and then it's no better than acquaintance—visiting and leaving cards and that sort of thing.... Come in!" Lutwyche interrupted with hot water, her expression saying distinctly:—"I am a young woman of unimpeachable character, who can come into a room where a titled lady and her daughter are at loggerheads, no doubt about a love-affair, and can shut my eyes to the visible and my ears to the audible. Go it!"

Nevertheless, the disputants seemed to prefer suspension of their discussion, and the elder lady departed, saying they would both be late for dinner.[Pg 242]

This was the first short colloquy. The second was in the Earl's dressing-room, from which he was emerging when his wife, looking scared, met him coming out in grande tenue through the district common to both, the room Earls and Countesses had occupied from time immemorial. He saw there was some excitement afoot, but was content to await the information he knew would come in the end. Tacit reciprocities of misunderstanding ensuing, he felt it safest to say:—"Nothing wrong, I hope?" This is what followed:

"I think you might show more interest. I have been very much startled and annoyed.... But I must tell you later. There's no time now."

"I think," says his lordship deferentially, "that, having mentioned it, it might be better to...."

"I suppose you mean I oughtn't to have mentioned it.... Starfield, I cannot possible wear that thick dress to-night. It's suffocating. Get something thinner.... Oh, well—if I must tell you I must tell you! Go back in your room a minute while Starfield finds that dress.... Oh no—she's not listening ... never mind her! There, the door's shut!"

"Well—what is it?"

"It's Gwen. However, I dare say it's only a flash in the pan, and she'll be off after somebody else. If only my advice had been taken he never would have come into the house...."

"But who is he, and what is it?"

"My dear, I'll tell you if you'll not be so impatient. It's this young Torrens.... Yes—now you're shocked. So was I." For no further explanations are necessary. When one hears that "it" is John and Jane, one knows.

"But, Philippa, are you sure? It seems to me perfectly incredible."

"Speak to her yourself."

"She's barely seen him; and as for him, poor fellow, he has never seen her at all." The rapidity of events seems out of all reason to a constitutionally cautious Earl.

"My dear, how unreasonable you are! If he could see her, of course, she wouldn't think of him for one moment. At least, I suppose not."

"I cannot understand," says the bewildered Earl. And then he begins repeating her ladyship's words "If—he—could...." as though inviting a more intelligible repetition. This is exasperating—a clear insinuation of unintelligibility.

"Oh dear, how slow men are!" The lady passes through a short[Pg 243] phase of collapse from despair over man's faculties, then returns to a difficult task crisply and incisively. "Well, at any rate, you can see this? The girl's got it into her head that the accident was our fault, and that it's her duty to make it up to him."

"But, then, she's not really in love with him, if it's a self-denying ordinance."

The Countess is getting used to despair, so she only shrugs a submissive shoulder and remarks with forbearance:—"It is no use trying to make you understand. Of course, it's because she is in love with him that she is going in for ... what did you call it?..."

"A self-denying ordinance."

"I call it heroics. If she wasn't in love with him, do you suppose she would want to fling herself away?"

"Then it isn't a self-denying ordinance at all. I confess I don't understand. I must talk to Gwen herself."

"Oh, talk to her by all means. But don't expect to make any impression on her. I know what she is when she gets the bit in her teeth. Certainly talk to her. I really must go and dress now...."

"Stop one minute, Philippa...."


"Apart from the blindness—poor fellow!—is there anything about this young man to object to? There's nothing about his family. Why!—his father's Hamilton Torrens, that was George's great friend at Christ Church. And his mother was an Abercrombie...."

"I can't go into that now." Her ladyship cuts Adrian's family very short. Consider her memories of bygones! No wonder she became acutely alive to her duties as a hostess. She had created a precedent in this matter, though really her husband scarcely knew anything about her affaire de coeur with Adrian's father thirty years ago. It was not a hanging matter, but she could not object to the young man's family after such a definite attitude towards his father.

Here ends the second short colloquy, which was the one that caused the Earl to be so more than usually absent that evening. It had the opposite effect on her ladyship, who felt better after it; braced up again to company-manners after the first one. Gwen, as mentioned before, was dazzling; superb; what is apt to be called a cynosure, owing to something Milton said. Nevertheless, the Shrewd Observer, who happened in this case to be Aunt Constance, noticed that at intervals the young lady let her right-hand neighbour talk, and died away into preoccupation, with a vital undercurrent[Pg 244] of rippled lip and thoughtful eye. Another of her shrewd observations was that when the Hon. Percival, referring to Mr. Torrens, still an absentee by choice, said:—"I tried again to persuade him to come down at feeding-time, but it was no go," Gwen came suddenly out of one dream of this sort to say from her end of the table, miles off:—"He really prefers dining by himself, I know," and went in again.

It was this that Aunt Constance referred to in conversation with Mr. Pellew, at about half-past ten o'clock in that same shrubbery walk. They had cultivated each other's absence carefully in the drawing-room, and had convinced themselves that neither was necessary to the other. That clause having been carried nem. con., they were entitled to five minutes' chat, without prejudice. Neither remembered, perhaps, the convert to temperance who decided that passing a public-house door à contre-coeur entitled him to half-a-pint.

"How did you get on with little Di Accrington?" the lady had said. And the gentleman had answered:—"First-rate. Talked to her about your partner all the time. How did you hit it off with him?" A sympathetic laugh over the response: "Capitally—he talked about her, of course!" quite undid the fiction woven with so much pains indoors, and also as it were lighted a little collateral fire they might warm their fingers at, or burn them. However, a parade of their well-worn seniority, their old experience of life, would keep them safe from that. Only it wouldn't do to neglect it.

Mr. Pellew recognised the obligation first. "Offly amusin'!—young people," said he, claiming, as the countryman of Shakespeare, his share of insight into Romeo and Juliet.

"Same old story, over and over again!" said Aunt Constance. They posed as types of elderliness that had no personal concern in love-affairs, and could afford to smile at juvenile flirtations. Mr. Pellew felt interested in Miss Dickenson's bygone romances, implied in the slight shade of sentiment in her voice—wondered in fact how the doose this woman had missed her market; this was the expression his internal soliloquy used. She for her part was on the whole glad that an intensely Platonic friendship didn't admit of catechism, as she was better pleased to leave the customers in that market to the uninformed imagination of others, than to be compelled to draw upon her own.

The fact was that, in spite of its thinness and slightness, this Platonic friendship with a mature bachelor whose past—while she acquitted him of atrocities—she felt was safest kept out of[Pg 245] sight, had already gone quite as near to becoming a love-affair as anything her memory could discover among her own rather barren antecedents. So there was a certain sort of affectation in Aunt Constance's suggestion of familiarity with Romeo and Juliet. She wished, without telling lies, to convey the idea that the spinsterhood four very married sisters did not scruple to taunt her with, was either of her own choosing or due to some tragic event of early life. She did not relish the opposite pole of human experience to her companion's. Of course, he was a bachelor nominally unattached—she appreciated that—just as she was a spinster very actually unattached. But all men of his type she had understood were alike; only some—this one certainly—were much better than others. Honestly she was quite unconscious of any personal reason for assigning to him a first-class record.

Attempts to sift the human mind throw very little light upon it, and the dust gets in the eyes of the story. Perhaps that is why it cannot give Miss Dickenson's reason for not following up her last remark with:—"And will go on so, I suppose, to the end of time!" as she had half-intended to do, philosophically. Possibly she thought it would complicate the topic she was hankering after. It would be better to keep that provisionally clear of subjects made to the hand of writers of plays. She would not go beyond hypnotic suggestion at present. She approached it with the air of one who dismisses a triviality.

"It seems Mr. Adrian Torrens is a musician as well as a poet."

"Had they been playing the piano?"

"Really, Mr. Pellew, how absurd you are! Where does 'they' come in?"

"Oh—well—a—of course—I thought you were referring to...."

"Whom did you suppose I was referring to?" Aggressive equanimity here that can wait weeks, if necessary.

"Torrens and my cousin Gwen! Be hanged if I can see why I shouldn't refer to them!"

"Do so by all means. I wasn't, myself; but it doesn't matter. It was Nurse Bailey told Lutwyche, whom I borrow from Gwen sometimes, that Mr. Torrens was a great musician."

"How does Nurse Bailey know?"

"He was playing to her quite beautiful in the drawing-room just before her young ladyship came in. And then Mrs. Bailey went upstairs to write a letter because there was plenty of time before the post."

"Can't say I believe Nurse Bailey's much of a dab at music." Mr. Pellew was reflecting on the humorous background of Miss[Pg 246] Dickenson's character, clear to his insight in her last speech. "But it was just post-time when we got back from the flower-show.... What then? Why, her young ladyship must have been there long enough for Mrs. Bailey to write a letter."

"Is that the way you gossip at your Club, Mr. Pellew?"

"Come, I say, Miss Dickenson, that's too bad! I merely remark that a lady and gentleman must have had plenty of time for music, and you call it 'gossip.'"


"Well, I say it's a jolly shame!... You don't suppose there is anything there, do you?" This came with a sudden efflux of seriousness.

Aunt Constance had landed her fish and was blameless. Nobody could say she had been indiscreet. She, too, could afford to be suddenly serious. "I don't mind saying so to you, Mr. Pellew," she said, "because I know I can rely upon you. But did you notice at dinner-time, when you said you had tried to persuade Mr. Torrens to come down, that Gwen took upon herself to answer for him all the way down the table?"

"By Jove—so she did! I didn't notice it at the time. At least, I mean I did notice it at the time, but I didn't take much notice of it. Well—you know what I mean!" As Miss Dickenson knows perfectly well, she tolerates technical flaws of speech with a nod, and allows Mr. Pellew to go on:—"But, I say, this will be an awful smash for the family. A blind man!" Then he becomes aware that a conclusion has been jumped at, and experiences relief. "But it may be all a mistake, you know." Aunt Constance's silence has the force of speech, and calls for further support of this surmise. "They haven't had the time. She has only known him since yesterday. At least he had never seen her but once—he told me so—that time just before the accident."

"Gwen is a very peculiar girl," says the lady. "A spark will fire a train. Did you notice nothing when we came in from the flower-show?"

"Nothing whatever. Did you?"

"Little things. However, as you say, it may be all a mistake. I don't think anything of the time, though. Some young people are volcanic. Gwen might be."

"I saw no sign of an eruption in him—no lunacy. He chatted quite reasonably about the division on Thursday, and the crops and the weather. Never mentioned Gwen!"

"My dear Mr. Pellew, you really are quite pastoral. Of course, Gwen is exactly what he would not mention."[Pg 247]

Mr. Pellew seems to concede that he is an outsider. "You think it was Love at first sight, and that sort of thing," he says. "Well—I hope it will wash. It don't always, you know."

"Indeed it does not." The speaker cannot resist the temptation to flavour philosophy with a suggestion of tender regrets—a hint of a life-drama in her own past. No questions need be answered, and will scarcely be asked. But it is candid and courageous to say as little as may be about it, and to favour a cheerful outlook on Life. She is bound to say that many of the happiest marriages she has known have been marriages of second—third—fourth—fifth—nth Love. She had better have let it stand at that if she wanted her indistinct admirer to screw up his courage then and there to sticking point. For the Hon. Percival had at least seen in her words a road of approach to a reasonably tender elderly avowal. But she must needs spoil it by adding—really quite unconsciously—that many such marriages had been between persons in quite mature years. Somehow this changed the nascent purpose kindled by a suggestion of nth love in Autumn to a sudden consciousness that the conversation was sailing very near the wind—some wind undefined—and made Mr. Pellew run away pusillanimously.

"By-the-by, did you ever see the Macganister More man that died the other day? Married the Earl's half-sister?"

"Never. Of course, I know Clotilda perfectly well."

"Let's see—oh yes!—she's Sister Nora. Oh yes, of course I know Clotilda. She's his heiress, I fancy—comes into all the property—no male heir. She'll go over to Rome, I suppose."


"Always do—with a lot of independent property. Unless some fillah cuts in and snaps her up."

"Do tell me, Mr. Pellew, why it is men can never credit any woman with an identity of her own?"

"Well, I only go by what I see. If they don't marry they go over to Rome—when there's property—dessay I'm wrong.... What o'clock's that?—ten, I suppose. No?—well, I suppose it must be eleven, when one comes to think of it. But it's a shame to go in—night like this!" And then this weak-minded couple impaired the effect of their little declaration of independence of the united state—the phrase sounds familiar somehow!—by staying out five or six minutes longer, and going in half an hour later; two things only the merest pedant would declare incompatible. But it kept the servants up, and Miss Dickenson had to apologise to Mr. Norbury.[Pg 248]

How many of us living in this present century can keep alive to the fact that the occupants of country-mansions, now resplendent with an electric glare which is destroying their eyesight and going out suddenly at intervals, were sixty years ago dependent on candles and moderator lamps, which ran down and had to be wound up, and then ran down again, when there was no oil. There was no gas at the Towers; though there might have been, granting seven miles of piping, from which the gas would have escaped into the roots of the beeches and killed them.

Even if there had been, it does not follow that Miss Dickenson, in full flight to her own couch, would not have come upon the Earl in the lobby near Mr. Torrens's quarters, with a candle-lamp in his hand, which he carried about in nocturnal excursions to make sure that a great conflagration was not raging somewhere on the premises. He seemed, Miss Dickenson thought, to be gazing reproachfully at it. It was burning all right, nevertheless. She wished his lordship good-night, and fancied it was very late. The Earl appeared sure of it. So did a clock with clear ideas on the subject, striking midnight somewhere, ponderously. The lady passed on; not, however, failing to notice that the lamp stopped at a door on the way, and that its bearer was twice going to knock thereat and didn't. Then a dog within intimated that he should bark presently, unless attention was given to an occurrence he could vouch for, which his master told him to hold his tongue about; calling out "Come in!" nevertheless, to cover contingencies.

The passer-by connected this with Gwen's behaviour at dinner, and other little things she had noticed, and meant to lie awake on the chance of hearing his lordship say good-night to Mr. Torrens, perhaps illuminating the situation. But resolutions to lie awake are the veriest gossamer, blown away by the breath that puts the bedside candle out. Miss Dickenson and Oblivion had joined hands some time when his lordship said good-night to Mr. Torrens.

He had found him standing at his window, as though the warm night-air was a luxury to him, in the blue silk dressing-gown he had affected since his convalescence. There was no light in the room; indeed, light would have been of no service to him in his state. He did not move, but said: "I suppose I ought to be thinking of turning in now, Mrs. Bailey?"

"It isn't Mrs. Bailey," said the Earl. "It's me. Gwen's father."

"God bless my soul!" exclaimed Adrian, starting back from the window. "I thought it was the good creature. I had given you up, Lord Ancester—it got so late." For his lordship had[Pg 249] made a visit of inquiry and a short chat with this involuntary guest an invariable finish to his daily programme, since the latter recovered consciousness. "I'm afraid there's no light in the room," said Adrian. "I told 'Rene to blow the candles out. I can move about very fairly, you see, but I never feel safe about knocking things down. I might set something on fire." If he had had his choice, he would rather not have had another interview with his host until he was at liberty to confess all and say peccavi. Even "Gwen's father's" announcement of himself did not warrant his breaking his promise.

"There is no light," said the visitor, "except mine that I have brought with me. I expected to find you in the dark—indeed, I was afraid I might wake you out of your first sleep. I came because of Gwen—because I felt I must see you before I went to bed myself." He paused a moment, Adrian remaining silent, still at a loss; then continued:—"This has been very sudden, so sudden that it has quite...."

Then Adrian broke out:—"Oh, how you must be blaming me! Oh, what a brute I've been!..."

"No—no, no—no! Not that, not that at all! Not a word of blame for anybody! None for you—none for Gwen. But it has been so—so sudden...." Indeed, Gwen's father seems as though all the breath, morally speaking, had been knocked out of his body by this escapade of his daughter's. For, knowing from past experience the frequent tempestuous suddenness of her impulses, and convinced that Adrian in his position neither could nor would have shown definitely the aspirations of a lover, his image of their interview made Gwen almost the first instigator in the affair. "Why, you—you have hardly seen her——" he says, referring only to the shortness of their acquaintance, not to eyesight.

Adrian accepts the latter meaning without blaming him. "Yes," he says, "but see her I did, though it was but a glimpse. I tell you this, Lord Ancester—and it is no rhapsody; just bald truth—that if this day had never come about.... I mean if it had come about otherwise; I might have gone away this morning, for instance ... and if I had had to learn, as I yet may, that this black cloud I live in was to be my life for good, and all that image I saw for a moment of Gwen—Gwen in her glory in the light of the sunset, for one moment—one moment!..." He breaks down over it.

The Earl's voice is not in good form for encouragement, but he does his best. "Come—come! It's not so bad as all that yet. See what Merridew said. Couldn't say anything for certain for[Pg 250] another three months. Indeed he said it might be more, and yet you might have your sight back again without a flaw in either eye. He really said so!"

"Well—he's a jolly good fellow. But what I mean is, what I was going to say was that my recollection of her in that one moment would have been the one precious thing left for me to treasure through the pitch-darkness.... You remember—or perhaps not—that about a hand's breadth of it—the desert, you know—shining alone in the salt leagues round about...."

"N-no. I don't think I do. Is it ... a ... Coleridge?"

"No—Robert Browning. He'd be new to you. You would hardly know him. However, I should try to forget the rest of the desert this time."

The Earl did not follow, naturally, and changed the subject. "It is very late," he said, "and I have only time to say what I came to say. You may rely on my not standing arbitrarily in the way of my daughter's wishes when the time comes—and it has not come yet—for looking at that side of the subject. It can only come when it is absolutely certain that she knows her own mind. She is too young to be allowed to take the most important step in life under the influence of a romantic—it may be Quixotic—impulse. I have just had a long talk with her mother about it, and I am forced to the conclusion that Gwen's motives are not so unmixed as a girl's should be, to justify bystanders in allowing her to act upon them—bystanders I mean who would have any right of interference.... I am afraid I am not very clear, but I shrink from saying what may seem unfeeling...."

"Probably you would not hurt me, and I should deserve it, if you did."

"What I mean is that Gwen's impulse is ... is derived from ... from, in short, your unhappy accident. I would not go so far as to say that she has schemed a compensation for this cruel disaster ... which we need hardly be so gloomy about yet awhile, it seems to me. But this I do say"—here the Earl seemed to pick up heart and find his words easier—"that if Gwen has got that idea I thoroughly sympathize with her. I give you my word, Mr. Torrens, that not an hour passes, for me, without a thought of the same kind. I mean that I should jump at any chance of making it up to you, for mere ease of mind. But I have nothing to give that would meet the case. Gwen has a treasure—herself! It is another matter whether she should be allowed to dispose of it her own way, for her own sake. Her mother and I may both feel it our duty to oppose it."[Pg 251]

Adrian said in an undertone, most dejectedly: "You would be right. How could I complain?" Then it seemed to him that his words struck a false note, and he tried to qualify them. "I mean—how could I say a word of any sort? Could I complain of any parents, for trying to stop their girl linking her life to mine? And such a life as hers! And yet if it were all to do again, how could I act otherwise than as I did a few hours since. Is there a man so strong anywhere that he could put a curb on his heart and choke down his speech to convention-point, if he thought that a girl like Gwen ... I don't know how to say what I want. All speech goes wrong, do what I will."

"If he thought that a girl like Gwen was waiting for him to speak out? Is that it?... Oh—well—not exactly that! But something of the sort, suppose we say?" For Adrian's manner had entered a protest. "Anyhow I assure you I quite understand my Gwen is—very attractive. But nobody is blaming anybody. After all, what would the alternative have been? Just some hypocritical beating about the bush to keep square with the regulations—to level matters down to—what did you call it?—convention-point! Nothing gained in the end! Let's put all that on one side. What we have to look at is this—meaning, of course, by 'we,' my wife and myself:—Is Gwen really an independent agent? Is she not in a sense the slave of her own imagination, beyond and above the usual enthralment that one accepts as part of the disorder. I myself believe that she is, and that the whole root and essence of the business may be her pity for yourself, and also I should say an exaggerated idea of her own share in the guilt...."

"There was none," Adrian struck in decisively. "But I understand your meaning exactly. Listen a minute to this. If I had thought what you think possible—well, I would have bitten my tongue off rather than speak. Why, think of it! To ask a girl like that to sacrifice herself to a cripple—a half-cripple, at least...."

"Without good grounds for supposing she was waiting to be asked," said the Earl; adding, to anticipate protest:—"Come now!—that's what we mean. Let's say so and have done with it," to which Adrian gave tacit assent. His lordship continued:—"I quite believe you; at least, I believe you would rather have held your tongue than bitten it off. I certainly should. But—pardon my saying so—I cannot understand ... I'm not finding fault or doubting you ... I cannot understand how you came to be so—so ... I won't say cocksure—let's call it sanguine. If there had[Pg 252] been time I could have understood it. But I cannot see where the time came in."

Adrian fidgetted uneasily, and felt his cheeks flush. "I can answer for when it began, with me. I walked across that glade from Arthur's Bridge quite turned into somebody else, with Gwen stamped on my brain like a Queen's head on a shilling, and her voice in my ears as plain as the lark's overhead. But whether we started neck and neck, I know not. I do know this, though, that I shall never believe that if I had been first seen by her in my character as a corpse, either she or I would ever have been a penny the wiser."

"You are the wiser?—quite sure?" The Earl seemed to have his doubts.

"Quite sure. Do you recollect how 'the Duke grew suddenly brave and wise'? He was only the 'fine empty sheath of a man' before. But it's no use quoting Browning to you."

"Not the slightest. I suppose he was referring to a case of love at first sight—is that it?... It is a time-honoured phenomenon, only it hardly comes into practical politics, because young persons are so secretive about it. I can't recollect any lady but Rosalind who mentioned it at the time—or any gentleman but Romeo, for that matter. Gwen has certainly kept her own counsel for three weeks past."

"Dear Lord Ancester, you are laughing at me...."

"No—no! No, I wouldn't do that. Perhaps I was laughing a little at human nature. That's excusable. However, I understand that you are cocksure—or sanguine—about the similarity of Romeo's case. I won't press Gwen about Rosalind's. Of course, if she volunteers information, I shall have to dismiss the commiseration theory—you understand me?—and suppose that she is healthily in love. By healthily I mean selfishly. If no information is forthcoming, all I can say is—the doubt remains; the doubt whether she is not making herself the family scapegoat, carrying away the sins of the congregation into the wilderness."

"You know I think that all sheer nonsense, whatever Gwen thinks? She may think the sins of the congregation are as scarlet. To me they are white as wool."

"The whole question turns on what Gwen thinks. Believing, as I do, that my child may be sacrificing herself to expiate a sin of mine, I have no course but to do my best to prevent her, or, at least to postpone irrevocable action until it is certain that she is animated by no such motive. I might advocate that you and she should not meet, for—suppose we say—a twelvemonth, but that I[Pg 253] have so often noticed that absence not only 'makes the heart grow fonder,' as the song says, but also makes it very turbulent and unruly. So I shall leave matters entirely alone—leave her to settle it with her mother.... Your sister knows of this, I suppose?"

"Oh yes! Gwen told her of it across the table at dinner-time."

"Across the table at dinner-time? Imp-ossible!"

"Well—look at this!" Adrian produces from his dressing-gown pocket a piece of paper, much crumpled, with a gilt frill all round, and holds it out for the Earl to take. While the latter deciphers it at his candle-lamp, he goes on to give its history. Irene had been back very late from the Mackworth Clarkes, and had missed the soup. She had not spoken with Gwen at all, and as soon as dessert had effloresced into little confetti, had been told by that young lady to catch, the thing thrown being the wrapper of one of these, rolled up and scribbled on. "She brought it up for me to see," says Adrian, without thought of cruel fact. Blind people often speak thus.

The Earl cannot help laughing at what he reads aloud. "'I am going to marry your brother'—that's all!" he says. "That's what she borrowed Lord Cumberworld's pencil for. Really Gwen is...!" But this wild daughter of his is beyond words to describe, and he gives her up.

If the Duke's son had not been honourable, he might have peeped and known his own fate. For he had been entrusted with this missive, to hand across the table to Irene lower down. Lady Gwendolen ought to have given it to Mr. Norbury, to hand to Miss Torrens on a tray. That was Mr. Norbury's opinion.

When the Earl looked up from deciphering the pencil-scrawl, he saw that Adrian's powers were visibly flagging; and no wonder, convalescence considered, and such a day of strain and excitement. He rose to go, saying:—"You see what I want—nothing in a hurry."

Adrian's words were slipping away from him as he replied, or tried to reply:—"I see. If I were to get my eyes back, Gwen might change her mind." But he failed over the last two letters. Mrs. Bailey, still in charge, lived on the other side of a door, at which the Earl tapped, causing a scuttling and a prompt appearance of the good creature, who seemed to have an ambush of grog ready to spring on her patient. It was what was wanted.

"Remember this, Mr. Torrens," said his lordship, when a rally encouraged him to add a postscript, "that in spite of what you[Pg 254] say, I feel just as Gwen does, that the blame of your mishap lies with me and mine—with me chiefly...."

"All nonsense, my lord! Excuse my contradicting you flatly. Your instruction, not expressed but implied, to old Stephen, was clearly not to miss his mark. If he had killed Achilles you would have been responsible, as Apollo was responsible for the arrow of Paris.... Yes, my dear, we were talking about you." This was to the collie, who woke up from deep sleep at the sound of his name, and felt he could mix with a society that recognised him. But not without shaking himself violently and scratching his head, until appealed to to stop.

The Earl let further protest stand over, and said good-night, rather relieved at the beneficial effect of the good creature's ministrations. The excellent woman herself, when the grog was disposed of, facilitated her charge's dispositions for the night, and retired to rest with an ill-digested idea that she had interrupted a conversation about the corrupt gaieties of a vicious foreign capital, inhabited chiefly by atheists and idolaters.

The Countess's long talk with her husband, wedged in between an early abdication of the drawing-room and the sound of Gwen laughing audaciously with Miss Torrens on the staircase, and more temperate good-nights below, had tended towards a form of party government in which the Earl was the Liberal and her ladyship the Conservative party. The Bill before the House was never exactly read aloud, its contents being taken for granted. When the Countess had said, in their previous interview, first that it was Gwen, and then that it was this young Torrens, she had really exhausted the subject.

Nevertheless she seemed now to claim for herself credit for a clear exposition of the contents of this Bill, in spite of constant interruptions from a factious Opposition. "I hope," she said, "that, now that I have succeeded in making you understand, you will speak to Gwen yourself. I suppose she's not going to stop downstairs all night."

The Earl also supposed not. But even in that very improbable event the resources of human ingenuity would not be exhausted. He could, for instance, go downstairs to speak to her. But other considerations intervened. Was her ladyship's information unimpeachable? Was it absolutely impossible that she should have been misled in any particular? Could he, in fact, consider his information official?

The Countess showed unexampled forbearance under extreme[Pg 255] trial. "My dear," she said, "how perfectly absurd you are! How can there be any doubt of the matter? Listen to me for one moment and think. When a girl insists on talking to her mother when both are late for dinner, and have hardly five minutes to dress, and says flatly, 'Mamma dear, I am going to marry So-and-so, or So-and-so'—because it's exactly the same thing, whoever it is—how can there be any possibility of a mistake?"

"Very little, certainly," says the Earl reflectively. He seemed to consider the point slowly. "But it can hardly be said to be exactly the same thing in all cases. This case is peculiar—is peculiar."

"I can't see where the peculiarity comes in. You mean his eyes. But a girl either is, or is not, in love with a man, whether he has eyes in his head or not."

"Indisputably. But it complicates the case. You must admit, my dear, that it complicates the case."

"You mean that I am unfeeling? Wouldn't it be better to say so instead of beating about the bush? But I am nothing of the sort."

"My dear, am I likely to say so? Have you ever heard me hint such a thing? But one may be sincerely sorry for the victim of such an awful misfortune, and yet feel that his blindness complicates matters. Because it does."

"I'm not sure that I understand what you are driving at. Perhaps we are talking about different things." This is not entirely without forbearance—may show a trace of uncalled-for patience, as towards an undeserved conundrum-monger.

"Perhaps we are, my dear. But as to what I'm driving at. Can you recall what Gwen said about his eyes?"

"I think so. Let me see.... Yes—she said did I know anything against him. I said—nothing except his eyes. And then she said—I recollect it quite plainly—'Who destroyed his sight? Tell me that!'"

"What did you answer to that?"

"I refused to talk any longer, and said you and she must settle it your own way."

"Nothing else?"

"Oh—well—nothing—nothing to speak of! Lutwyche came worrying in with hot water."

The Earl sat cogitating until her ladyship roused him by saying "Well!" rather tartly. Then he echoed back:—"Well, Philippa, I think possibly you are right."

"Only possibly!"[Pg 256]

"Probably then. Yes—certainly probably!"

"What about?"

"I thought I understood you to say that, in your opinion, Gwen had got it into her head that...."

"Oh dear!... There—never mind!—go on." She considered her husband a prolix Earl, sometimes.

"... That the accident was our fault, and that it was her duty to make it up to him."

"Of course she has. What did you suppose?"

"I supposed she might have—a—fallen in love with him. I thought you thought so, too, from what you said."

"My dear Alexander, shall I never make you understand?" Her ladyship only used the long inconvenient name to emphasize rhetoric, which she did also in this instance by making every note staccato. "Gwen, has, fallen, in, love, with, Mr. Torrens, because, we, did it? Now do you see?"

"She has a—mixture of motives, in fact?"

"Absolutely none whatever! She's over head and ears in love with him because his eyes are out. No other reason in life! What earthly good do you think the child thinks she could do him if she didn't love him? Men will never understand girls if they live till Doomsday."

The Earl did not grapple with the problems this suggested; but reflected, while her ladyship waited explicitly. At last he said:—"It certainly appears to me that if Gwen's ... predilection for this man depends in any degree on a mistaken conviction of duty, the only course open to us is to—to temporise—to deprecate rash actions and undertakings. Under the circumstances it would be impossible to condemn or find fault with either. It is perfectly inconceivable that poor Torrens—should have—should have taken any initiative...."

"Oh, my dear, what nonsense! Of course, Gwen did that. She proposed to him when I was away at the flower-show...."

"Philippa—how can you? How would such a thing be possible? Really—really!....

"Well, really really as much as you like, but any woman could propose to a blind man—a little way off, certainly—only I don't know that Gwen...." However, the Countess stopped short of her daughter's reference to a respectful distance and card-leaving.

It was at this point that Gwen and Irene were audible on the stairs, suggesting the lateness of the hour. The Earl said:—"I think I shall go and see Torrens as soon as there's quiet. I have[Pg 257] gone to him every evening till now. I may speak to him about this." To which her ladyship replied:—"Now mind you put your foot down. What I am always afraid of with you is indecision." He made no answer, but listened, waiting for the last disappearance couchwards. Then he went to his room for his hand-lamp, as described, and after satisfying himself about that conflagration's non-existence, was just in time to cross Miss Dickenson, a waif overdue, and wonder what on earth had made that very spirit and image of all conformity guilty of such a lapse.

Then followed his interview with Mr. Torrens already detailed. Perhaps the foregoing should have come first. If ever you retell the tale you can make it do so. But whatever you do be careful to insist on that point of not talking before the servants. Dwell on the fact that Miss Lutwyche went straight to the Servants' Hall, after putting a finishing touch on her young ladyship, and said to the housekeeper:—"You'll be very careful, Mrs. Masham, to say nothing whatever about her young ladyship and Mr. Torrenson"; it being one of her peculiarities to alter the names of visitors on the strength of alleged secret information, to prove that she was in the confidence of the family. To which Mrs. Masham replied:—"Why not be outspoken, Anne Lutwyche?" provoking, or licensing, further illumination on the subject; with the result that in half an hour the household was observing discreet silence about it, and exacting solemn promises of equal discretion from acquaintances as discreet as itself. But there were words between Mrs. Starfield, the Countess's abettor in dressing, and Miss Lutwyche; the former having found herself forestalled in her theory of the argument in the Lib'ary, which she had reported as the cause of delay, by the latter's prompt expression of cautious reserve, and having accused her of throwing out hints and nothing to go upon. Whereupon the young woman had indignantly repudiated the idea that a frank nature like hers could be capable of an underhand insinuendo, and had felt a great and just satisfaction with her powers of handling her mother-tongue.[Pg 258]



The Countess of Ancester was mistaken when she said to Gwen's mother that that young lady was sure to cool down, as other young ladies, noteworthily her own mother's daughter, had done under like circumstances. The story prefers this elaborate way of referring to what that august lady said to herself, to more literal and commonplace formulas of speech; because it emphasizes the official, personal, and historical character of the speaker, the hearer, and the instance she cited, respectively. She spoke as a Countess, a Woman of the World, one who knew what her duty was to herself and her daughter, and had made up her mind to perform it, and not be influenced by sentimental nonsense. She listened as a parent, really very fond of this beautiful creature for which she was responsible, and painfully conscious of a bias towards sentimental nonsense, which taxed her respect for her official adviser. She referred to her historical precedent—her own early experience—with a confidence akin to that of the passenger in sight of Calais, who dares to walk about the deck because he knows how soon it will be safe to say he was always a very good sailor.

But just as that very good sailor is never quite free from painful memories of moments on the voyage, over which he might have had to draw a veil, so this lady had to be constantly on her guard against recurrent images of her historical precedent, during her periods of wavering between her two suitors. Could she not remember—could she ever forget rather?—Romeo's passionate epistles and Juliet's passionate answers, during that period of enforced separation; when the latter had not begun to cool down, and was still able to speak of Gwen's father—undeveloped then[Pg 259] in that capacity—as a tedious, middle-aged prig whom her ridiculous aunt wanted to force upon her? Was it a sufficient set-off against all this fiery correspondence that she had burned one preposterous—and red-hot—effusion, and started seriously on cooling, because a friend brought her news that Romeo was not pining at all, but had, on the contrary, danced three waltzes with a fascinating cousin of hers? Of course it was, said the Countess officially, and she had behaved like a good historical precedent, which Gwen would follow in due course. Give her time.

Nevertheless her unofficial self was grave and reflective more than once over the likeness of this young Adrian to Hamilton, his father, especially in his faculty for talking nonsense. Some people seemed to think his verses good. Perhaps the two things were not incompatible. Hamilton had never written verses, as far as she knew. No doubt that Miss Abercrombie his father married was responsible for the poetry. If he had married another Miss Abercrombie it might have been quite different. She found it convenient to utilise a second example of the same name; some suppositions are more convenient than others. She shirked one which would have cancelled Gwen, as an impossibility. One must look accomplished facts in the face.

The cooling down did not start with the alacrity which her ladyship had anticipated. She had expected a fall of at least one degree in the thermometer within a couple of months. Time seems long or short to us in proportion as we are, so to speak, brought up against it. Only the unwatched pot boils over; and, broadly speaking, pudding never cools, and blowing really does very little good. This lady would have blown her daughter metaphorically—perhaps thrown cold water on her passion would be a better metaphor—if her husband had not earnestly dissuaded her from doing so. It would only make matters worse. If Gwen was to marry a blind man, at least do not let her do it in order to contradict her parents. Fights and Love Affairs alike are grateful to bystanders who do not interfere; but interference is admissible in the former, to assist waverers up to the scratch. In the latter, the sooner time is called, the better for all parties. But if time is called too soon, ten to one the next round will last twice as long.

The Earl also interposed upon his wife's attempt to stipulate for a formal declaration of reciprocal banishment. "Very well, my dear Philippa!" said he. "Forbid their meeting, if you like! You can do it, because Adrian is bound in honour to forward it if we insist. But in my opinion you will by doing so destroy the last chance of the thing dying a natural death." Said Philippa:—"I[Pg 260] don't believe you want it to"—a construction denounced, we believe, by sensitive grammarians. The Earl let it pass, replying:—"I do not wish it to die a violent death." Her ladyship dropped the portcullis of her mind against a crowd of useless reflections. One was, whether her own relation with this young man's father had died a violent death; and, if so, was she any the worse? The rest were a motley crowd, with "might have been!" tattooed upon their brows and woven into the patterns of the garments. Among them, two images—a potential Adrian and a potential Gwen—each with one variation of parentage, but quite out of court for St. George's, Hanover Square. Are the Countess's thoughts obscure to you? They were, to her. So she refused to entertain them.

In the Earl's mind there was an element bred of his short daily visits to the young man, whose disaster had been a constant source of self-reproach to him. If only its victim had been repugnant to him, he would have been greatly helped in the continual verdicts of the Court of his own conscience, which frequently discharged him without a stain on his character. How came it, then, that he so soon found himself back in the dock, or re-arguing the case as counsel for the prisoner? Probably his sentiments towards the young man himself were responsible for some of his discontent with his own impartial justice, however emphatically he rejected the idea. There is nothing like a course of short attendances at the bedside of a patient to generate an affection for its occupant, and in this case everything was in its favour. All question of responsibility for Adrian's accident apart, there was enough in his personality to get at the Earl's soft corners, especially the one that constantly reminded its owner that he was now without a son and heir. For, since his son Frank was drowned, he was the father of daughters only. It was not surprising that he should enter some protest against any but a spontaneous cancelling of Gwen's trothplight. It was only fair that spontaneity should have a chance. He did not much believe that the cooling down process would be materially assisted by a spell of separation; but if Philippa would not be content without it, try it, by all means! If she could persuade her daughter to go with her to Paris, Rome, Athens—New York, for that matter!—why, go! But the Earl's shrug as he said this meant that her young ladyship had still to be reckoned with, and that pig-headed young beauties in love were kittle cattle to shoe behind. Those were the words his brain toyed with, over the case, for a moment.

The reckoning bristled with difficulties, and every unit was disputed.[Pg 261] Paris was not fit to be visited, with the present government; and was not safe, for that matter. Cholera was raging in Rome. Athens was a mass of ruins from the recent earthquakes. Gwen wavered a moment over New York, not seriously suggested. It was so absurd as to be worth a thought. This seems strange to us, nowadays; but it was then nearly as far a cry to Broadway as it is now to Tokio.

Appeals to Gwen to go abroad with her mother failed. She also made difficulties—good big ones—about going with her parents to Scotland. Her scheme was transparent, though she indignantly disclaimed it. How could anything be more absurd than to accuse her of conspiring with Irene towards a visit to that young lady at Pensham Steynes? Had she not promised to live without seeing Adrian for six months, and was she not to be trusted to keep her word?

She really wished to convince her father of the reality of her attachment, apart from compensation due to loss of sight. So she agreed to accompany Cousin Clotilda to London, and to stay with her at the town-mansion of the Macganister More, who had just departed this life, leaving the whole of his property to the said Cousin, his only daughter and heiress. She rather looked forward to a sojourn in the great house in Cavendish Square, a mysterious survival of the Early Georges, which had not been really tenanted for years, though Sister Nora had camped in it on an upstairs floor you could see Hampstead Heath from. It would be fun to lead a gypsy life there, building castles in the air with Sister Nora's great inheritance, and sometimes peeping into the great unoccupied rooms, all packed-up mirrors and chandeliers and consoles and echoes and rats—a very rough inventory, did you say? But admit that you know the house! Its individuality is unimportant here, except in so far as it supplied an attraction to London for a love-sick young lady. Its fascination and mystery were strong. So were the philanthropies that Sister Nora was returning to, refreshed by a twelve-month of total abstinence, with more power to her elbow from a huge balance at her banker's, specially contrived to span the period needed for the putting of affairs in order.

So when Miss Grahame—that was the family name—went on to London, after a month's stay at the Towers, Gwen was to accompany her. That was the arrangement agreed upon. But before they departed, they paid a visit to Granny Marrable at Chorlton, who was delighted at the reappearance of Sister Nora, and was guilty of some very transparent insincerity in her professions of[Pg 262] heartfelt sorrow for the Macganister More. He, however, was very soon dismissed from the conversation, to make way for Dave Wardle.

Her young ladyship from the Castle hardly knew anything about Dave. In fact, his fame reached her for the first time as they drove past the little church at Chorlton on their way to Strides Cottage, Mrs. Marrable's residence. Sister Nora was suddenly afraid she had "forgotten Dave's letter after all." But she found it, in her bag; and rejoiced, for had she not promised to return it to Granny Marrable, to whom—not to herself—it was addressed, after Dave's return last year to his parents. Lady Gwendolen was, or professed to be, greatly interested; reading the epistle carefully to herself while her cousin and Granny Marrable talked over its writer. But she was fain to ask for an occasional explanation of some obscurity in the text.

It was manifestly a dictated letter, written in a shaky hand as of an old person, but not an uneducated one by any means; the misspellings being really intelligent renderings of the pronunciation of the dictator. As, for instance, the opening:—"Dear Granny Marrowbone," which caused the reader to remark:—"I suppose that doesn't mean that the writer thinks you spell your name that way, Mrs. Marrable, only that the child says Marrowbone." The owner of the name assented, saying:—"That would be so, my lady, yes." And her ladyship proceeded: "I like you. I like Widow Thrale. I like Master Marmaduke!"—This was the other small convalescent, he who had an unnatural passion for Dave's crutch, likened to Ariadne—"I like Sister Nora. I like the Lady. I like Farmer Jones, but not much. I am going to scrool on Monday, and shall know how to read and write with a peng my own self." "Quite a love-letter," said Gwen, after explanations of the persons referred to—as that "the lady" was the mother of her own personal ladyship; that is, the Countess herself. Gwen continued, identifying one of the characters:—"But that was hypocrisy about Farmer Jones. He didn't like Farmer Jones at all. I don't.... That's not all. What's this?" She went on, reading aloud:—"'Writited for me by Mrs. Picture upstairs on her decks with hink.' I see he has signed it himself, rather large. I wonder who is Mrs. Picture, who writes for him."

"We heard a great deal about Mrs. Picture, my lady." Sister Nora thought her name might be Mrs. Pitcher, though odd. "I could hardly say myself," said Granny Marrable diffidently.

Gwen speculated. "Pilcher, or Pilchard, perhaps! It couldn't be Picture. What did he tell you about her?"[Pg 263]

"Oh dear—a many things! Mrs. Picture had been out to sea, in a ship. But she will be very old, too, Mrs. Picture. I call to mind now, that the dear child couldn't tell me from Mrs. Picture when he first came, by reason of the white hair. So she may be nigh my own age."

Gwen was looking puzzled over something in the letter. "'Out to sea in a ship!'" she repeated. "I wonder, has 'decks' anything to do with that?... N-n-no!—it must be 'desk.' It can't be anything else." It was, of course, Mrs. Prichard's literal acceptance of Dave's pronunciation. But it had a nautical air for the moment, and seemed somehow in keeping with that old lady's marine experience.

Widow Thrale then came in, bearing an armful of purchases from the village. With her were two convalescents; who must have nearly done convalescing, they shouted so. The ogress abated them when she found her granny had august company, and removed them to sup apart with an anæmic eight-year-old little girl; in none of whom Sister Nora showed more than a lukewarm interest, comparing them all disparagingly with Dave. In fact, she was downright unkind to the anæmic sample, likening her to knuckle of veal. It was true that this little girl had a stye in her eye, and two corkscrew ringlets, and lacked complete training in the use of the pocket-handkerchief. All the ogress seemed to die out of Widow Thrale in her presence, and the visitors avoided contact with her studiously. She seemed malignant, too, driving her chin like a knife into the nuque of one of the small boys, who kicked her shins justifiably. However, they all went away to convalesce elsewhere, as soon as their guardian the ogress had transplanted from a side-table a complete tea-possibility; a tray that might be likened to Minerva, springing fully armed from the head of Jove. "Your ladyship will take tea," said Granny Marrable, in a voice that betrayed a doubt whether the Norman Conquest could consistently take tea with Gurth the Swineherd.

Her ladyship had no such misgiving. But an aristocratic prejudice dictated a reservation:—"Only it must be poured straight off before it gets like ink.... Oh, stop!—it's too black already. A little hot water, thank you!" And then Mrs. Thrale, in cold blood, actually stood her Rockingham teapot on the hob; to become an embittered deadly poison, a slayer of the sleep of all human creatures above a certain standard of education. When all other class distinctions are abolished, this one will remain, like the bones of the Apteryx.

"We'll pay a visit to Dave," said Sister Nora. "Perhaps he'll[Pg 264] introduce us to Mrs. Picture." Nothing hung on the conversation, and Mrs. Picture, always under that name—there being indeed none to correct it—cropped up and vanished as often as Dave was referred to. One knows how readily the distortions of speech of some lovable little man or maid will displace proper names, whose owners usually surrender them without protest. That Granny Marrowbone and Mrs. Picture were thereafter accepted as the working designations of the old twins was entirely owing to Dave Wardle.

"Mrs. Picture lives upstairs, it seems," said Gwen, referring to the letter. "I wonder you saw nothing of her, Cousin Chloe."

"Why should I, dear? I never went upstairs. I heard of her because the little sister-poppet wanted to take the doll I gave her to show to a person the old prizefighter spoke of as the old party two-pair-up. But I thought the name was Bird."

"A prizefighter!" said Gwen. "How interesting! We must pay a visit to the Wardle family. Is it a very awful place they live in?" This question was asked in the hope of an affirmative answer, Gwen having been promised exciting and terrible experiences of London slums.

"Sapps Court?" said Miss Grahame, speaking from experience. "Oh no!—quite a respectable place. Not like places I could show you out of Drury Lane. I'll show you the place where Jo was, in this last Dickens." Which would fix the date of this story, if nothing else did.

Granny Marrowbone looked awestruck at this lady's impressive knowledge of the wicked metropolis, and was, moreover, uneasy about Dave's surroundings. She had had several other letters from Dave; the latter ones to some extent in his own caligraphy, which often rendered them obscure. But the breadth of style which distinguished his early dictated correspondence was always in evidence, and such passages as lent themselves to interpretation sometimes contained suggestions of influences at work which made her uneasy about his future. These were often reinforced by hieroglyphs, and one of these in particular appeared to refer to persons or associations she shrank from picturing to herself as making part of the child's life. She handed the letter which contained it to Sister Nora, and watched her face anxiously as she examined it.

Sister Nora interpreted it promptly. "A culprit running away from the Police, evidently. His legs are stiff, but the action is brisk. I should say he would get away. The police seem to[Pg 265] threaten, but not to be acting promptly. What do you think, Gwen?"

"Unquestionably!" said Gwen. "The Police are very impressive with their batons. But what on earth is this thing underneath the malefactor?" Sister Nora went behind her chair, and they puzzled over it, together. It was inscrutable.

At last Sister Nora said slowly, as though still labouring with perplexity:—"Is it possible?—but no, it's impossible—possible he means that?..."

"Possible he means what?"

"My idea was—but I think it's quite out of the question—— Well!—you know there is a prison called 'The Jug,' in that sort of class?"

"I didn't know it. It looks very like a jug, though—the thing does.... Yes—he's a prisoner that's got out of prison. He must have had the Jug all to himself, though, it's so small!"

"I do believe that's what it is, upon my word. There was an escape from Coldbath Fields—which is called the Stone Jug—some time back, that was in the papers. It made a talk. That's it, I do believe!" Sister Nora was pleased at the solution of the riddle; it was a feather in Dave's cap.

Said Gwen:—"He did escape, though! I'm glad. He must have been a cheerful little culprit. I should have been sorry for him to get into the hands of those wooden police." Her acceptance of Dave's Impressionist Art as a presentment of facts was a tribute to the force of his genius. Some explanatory lettering, of mixed founts of type, had to be left undeciphered.

The ogress came back from the convalescents; having assigned them their teas, and enjoined peace. "You should ask her ladyship to read what's on the back, Granny," she said; not to presume overmuch by direct speech to the young lady from the Towers. The old lady said acquiescingly:—"Yes, child, that would be best. If you please, my lady!"

"This writing here?" said Gwen, turning the paper. "Oh yes—this is Mrs. Picture again. 'Dave says I am to write for him what this is he has drawed for Granny Marrowbone to see. The lady may see it, too.' ... That's not me; he doesn't know me.... Oh, I see!—it's my mother...."

"Yes—that's Cousin Philippa. Go on."

Gwen went on:—"'It is the Man in High Park at the Turpentine Micky'—some illegible name—'knew and that is Michael in the corner larfing at the Spolice. The Man has got out of sprizzing and the Spolice will not cop him.' There was no room for Michael[Pg 266] Somebody, and he hasn't worked out well," said Gwen, turning the image of Michael several ways up, to determine its components. But it was too Impressionist. "I suppose 'cop' means capture?" said she.

"That's it," said Sister Nora. "I think I know who Michael is. He's Michael Rackstraw, a boy. Dave's Uncle had a bad impression of him—said he would live to be hanged at an early date. He wouldn't be surprised to hear that that young Micky had been pinched, any minute. 'Pinched' is the same as 'copped.' Uncle Moses' slang is out-of-date."

She looked again at the undeciphered inscription. "I think 'Michael' explains this lot of big and little letters," she said; and read them out as: "'m, i, K, e, y, S, f, r, e, N, g.' Mickey's friend, evidently!"

"Oh, dearie me!" said the old lady. "To think now that that dear child should be among such dreadful ways. I do wonder now—and, indeed, my lady and Miss Nora, I've been thinking a deal about him, with his blue eyes and curly brown hair, and him but just turned of seven.... I have been thinking, my lady, only perhaps it's hardly for me to say ... I have been a wondering whether this ... elderly person ... only God forgive me if I do her wrong!... whether this Mrs. Picture...." Granny Marrable wavered in her indictment—hoped perhaps that one of the ladies would catch her meaning and word her interpretation.

Sister Nora understood, and was quite ready with one. "Oh yes, I see what you mean, Mrs. Marrable—whether the old woman is the right sort of old woman for Dave. And it's very natural and quite right of you to wonder. I should if I hadn't seen the boy's parents—his uncle and aunt.... Oh yes, of course, they are not his parents in the vulgar sense! Don't be commonplace, Gwen!... nice, quiet, old-fashioned sort of folk, devoted to the children. As for the prizefighting, I don't think anything of that. I'm sure he fought fair; and it was the same for both anyhow! He's an old darling, I think. I'll show him to you, Gwen, down his native court. Really, dear Granny Marrable, I don't think you need be the least uneasy. We'll go and see Dave the moment we get up to London—won't we, Gwen?"

"We'll go there first," said Gwen. But for all this reassurance the old lady was clearly uneasy. "With regard to the boy Michael," said she hesitatingly, "did you happen, ma'am, to see the boy Michael.... I mean, did he?..."

"Did he turn up when I was there, you mean? Well—no, he didn't! But after all, what does the boy Michael come to in it?[Pg 267] He'd made a slide down the middle of the Court, and Uncle Moses prophesied his death on the gallows! But, dear me, all children make slides—girls as well as boys. I used to make slides, all by myself, in Scotland."

Granny Marrable's mind ran back seventy years or so. "Yes, indeed, that is true; and so did I." She nodded towards the chimneyshelf, where the mill-model stood—Dave's model. "There's the mill where I had my childhood, and it's there to this day, they tell me, and working. And the backwater above the dam, it's there, too, I lay, where my sister Maisie and I made a many slides when it froze over in the winter weather. And there's me and Maisie in our lilac frocks and white sun-bonnets. Five-and-forty years ago she died, out in Australia. But I've not forgotten Maisie."

She could mention Maisie more serenely than Mrs. Prichard, per contra, could mention Phoebe. But, then, think how differently the forty-five years had been filled out in either case. Maisie had been forced to ricordarsi del tempo felice through so many years of miseria. Phoebe's journey across the desert of Life had paused at many an oasis, and their images remained in her mind to blunt the tooth of Memory. The two ladies at least heard nothing in the old woman's voice that one does not hear in any human voice when it speaks of events very long past.

Gwen showed an interest in the mill. "You and your sister were very much alike," she said.

"We were twins," said Granny Marrable. But, as it chanced, Gwen at this moment looked at her watch, and found it had stopped. She missed the old woman's last words. When she had satisfied herself that the watch was still going she found that Granny Marrable's speech had lost its slight trace of sadness. She had become a mere recorder, viva voce. "Maisie married and went abroad—oh dear, near sixty years ago! She died out there just after our father—yes, quite forty-five—forty-six years ago!" Her only conscious suppression was in slurring over the gap between Maisie's departure and her husband's; for both ladies took her meaning to be that her sister married to go abroad, and did not return.

It was more conversation-making than curiosity that made Gwen ask:—"Where was 'abroad'? I mean, where did your sister go?" The old lady repeated:—"To where she met her death, in Australia. Five-and-forty years ago. But I have never forgotten Maisie." Gwen, looking more closely at the mill-model as one bound to show interest, said:—"And this is where you used to[Pg 268] slide on the ice with her, on the mill-dam, all that time ago. Just fancy!" The reference to Maisie was the merest chat by the way; and the conversation, at this mention of the ice, harked back to Sapps Court.

"Of course you made slides, Granny Marrable," said Sister Nora; "and very likely somebody else tumbled down on the slides. But you have never been hanged, and Michael won't be hanged. It was only Uncle Moses's fun. And as for old Mrs. Picture, I daresay if the truth were known, Mrs. Picture's a very nice old lady? I like her for taking such pains with Dave's letter-writing. But we'll see Mrs. Picture, and find out all about it. Won't we, Gwen?" Gwen assented con amore, to reassure the Granny, who, however, was evidently only silenced, not convinced, about this elderly person in London, that sink of iniquities.

Gwen resumed her seat and took another cup of tea, really to please her hosts, as the tea was too strong for anything. Then Feudalism asserted itself as it so often does when County magnates foregather with village minimates—is that the right word? Landmarks, too, indisputable to need recognition were ignored altogether, and all the hearsays of the countryside were reviewed. The grim severance between class and class that up-to-date legislation makes every day more and more well-defined and bitter had no existence in fifty-four at Chorlton-under-Bradbury. Granny Marrable and the ogress, for instance, could and did seek to know how the gentleman was that met with the accident in July. Of course, they knew the story of the gentleman's relation with "Gwen o' the Towers," and both visitors knew they knew it; but that naturally did not come into court. It underlay the pleasure with which they heard that Mr. Adrian Torrens was all but well again, and that the doctors said his eyesight would not be permanently affected. Gwen herself volunteered this lie, with Sir Coupland's assurance in her mind that, if Adrian's sight returned, it would probably do so outright, as a salve to her conscience.

"There now!" said Widow Thrale. "There will be good hearing for Keziah when she comes nigh by us next, maybe this very day. For old Stephen he's just gone near to breaking his heart over it, taking all the fault to himself." Keziah was Keziah Solmes, Stephen Solmes's old wife, whose sentimentalism would have saved Adrian Torrens's eyesight if she had not had such an obstinate husband. Stephen was a connection of the departed saddler, the speaker's husband.

Said Sister Nora as they rose to rejoin the carriage:—"Now remember!—you're not to fuss over Dave, Mrs. Thrale. We'll[Pg 269] see that he comes to no harm." The ogress did not seem so uneasy about the child, saying:—"It's the picture of the man running from the Police Granny goes by, and 'tis no more than any boy might draw." Whereat Sister Nora said, laughing: "You needn't get scared about Mickey, if that's it. He's just a young monkey." But the old woman seemed still to be concealing disquiet, saying only:—"I had no thought of the boy." She had formed some misapprehension of Dave's surrounding influences, which seemed hard to clear up.

Riding home Gwen turned suddenly to her cousin, after reflective silence, saying:—"What makes the old Goody so ferocious against the little boy's Mrs. Picture?" To which the reply was:—"Jealousy, I suppose. What a beautiful sunset! That means wind." But Sister Nora was talking rather at random, and there may have been no jealousy of old Maisie in the heart of old Phoebe.

Moreover, Gwen's was not an inquiry-question demanding an answer. It was interrogative chat. She was thinking all the while how amused Adrian would have been with Dave's letter and the escaped prisoner. Then her thought was derailed by one of the sudden jerks that crossed the line so often in these days. Chat with herself must needs turn on the mistakes she had made in not borrowing that letter to enclose with her next one to Adrian, for him to ... to what? There came the jerk! What could he see? Indeed, one of the sorest trials of this separation from him was the way her correspondence—for she had insisted on freedom in this respect—was handicapped by his inability to read it. How could she allow all she longed to say to pass under the eyes even of Irene, dear friend though she had become? She would have given worlds for an automaton that could read aloud, whose speech would repeat all its eyes saw, without passing the meaning of it through an impertinent mind.

Sister Nora was quite in her confidence about her love-affair; in fact, she had seen Adrian for a moment, her arrival at the Towers on her way from Scotland after her father's death having overlapped his departure—which had been delayed a few days by pretexts of a shallow nature—just long enough to admit of the introduction. She inclined to partisanship with the Countess. Why—see how mad the whole thing was! The girl had fancied herself in love with him after seeing him barely once, for five minutes. It never could last. She was, however, quite prepared to back Gwen if it did show signs of being, or becoming, a grande passion. Meanwhile, evidently the kindest thing was to turn her[Pg 270] mind in another direction, and the inoculation of an Earl's daughter with the virus of an enthusiasm which has been since called slumming presented itself to her in the light of an effort-worthy end. Sister Nora was far ahead of her time; it should have fallen twenty years later.

But she was not going to imperil her chances of success by using too strong a virus at the first injection. Caution was everything. This projected visit to Sapps Court was a perfect stepping-stone to a stronger regimen, such as an incursion into the purlieus of Drury Lane. Tom-all-alone's might overtax the nervous system of a neophyte. The full-blown horrors which civilisation creates wholesale, and remedies retail, were not to be grappled with by untrained hands. A time might come for that; meanwhile—Sapps Court, clearly!

The two ladies had a quiet drive back to the Towers. How very quiet the latter end of a drive often is, as far as talk goes! Does the Ozymandian silence on the box react upon the rank and file of the expedition, or is it the hypnotic effect of hoof-monotony? Lady Gwen and Miss Grahame scarcely exchanged a word until, within a mile of the house, they identified two pedestrians. Of whom their conversation was precisely what follows, not one word more or less:—

"There they are, Cousin Chloe, exactly as I prophesied."

"Well—why shouldn't they be?"

"I didn't say anything about shoulds and shouldn't. I merely referred to facts.... Come—say you think it ridiculous!"

"I can't see why. Their demeanour appears to me unexceptionable, and perfectly dignified. Everything one would expect, knowing the parties...."

"Are they going to walk about like that to all eternity, being unexceptionable? That's what I want to know?"

"You are too impatient, dear!"

"They have been going on for months like that; at least, it seems months. And never getting any nearer! And then when you talk to them about each other, they speak of each other respectfully! They really do. He says she is a shrewd observer of human nature, and she says he appears to have had most interesting experiences. Indeed, I'm not exaggerating."

"My dear Gwen, what do you expect?"

"Oh—you know! You're only making believe. Why, when I said to him that she had been a strikingly pretty girl in her young days, and had refused no end of offers of marriage, he ... What do you say?"[Pg 271]

"I said 'not no end.'"

"Well—of course not! But I thought it as well to say so."

"And what did he say to that?"

"He got his eyeglass right to look at her, as if he had never seen her before, and came to a critical decision:—'Ye-es, yes, yes—so I should have imagined. Quite so!' It amounted to acquiescing in her having gone off, and was distinctly rude. She's better than that when I speak to her about him certainly. This morning she said he smoked too many cigars."

"How absurd you are, Gwen! Why was that better?"

"H'm—it's a little difficult to say! But it is better, distinctly. There—they've heard us coming!"


"Because they both jumped farther off. They were far enough already, goodness knows!... Good evening, Percy! Good evening, Aunt Constance! We've had such a lovely drive home from Chorlton. I suppose the others are on in front." And so forth. Every modus vivendi, at arm's length, between any and every single lady and gentleman, was to be fooled to the top of its bent, in their service.

The carriage was aware it was de trop, but was also alive to the necessity of pretending it was not. So it interested itself for a moment in some palpable falsehoods about the cause of the pedestrians figuring as derelicts; and then, representing itself as hungering for the society of their vanguard, started professedly to overtake it. It was really absolutely indifferent on the subject.

"I suppose," said Miss Grahame enigmatically, as soon as inaudibility became a certainty, "I suppose that's why you wanted Miss Smith-Dickenson to come to Cavendish Square?"

Gwen did not treat this as a riddle; but said, equally inexplicably:—"He could call." And very little light was thrown on the mystery by the reply:—"Very well, Gwen dear, go your own way." Perhaps a little more, though not much, by Gwen's marginal comment:—"You know Aunt Constance lives at an outlandish place in the country?"

"Do you know, Gwen dear," said Miss Grahame, after reflection, "I really think we ought to have offered them a lift up to the house. Stop, Blencorn!" Blencorn stopped, without emotion. Gwen said:—"What nonsense, Cousin Chloe! They're perfectly happy. Do leave them alone. Go on, Blencorn!" Who, utterly unmoved, went on. But Sister Nora said:—"No, Gwen dear, we really ought! Because I know Mr. Pellew has to catch his train, and he'll be late. Don't go on, Blencorn!" Gwen appearing to[Pg 272] assent reluctantly, the arrangement stood; as did the horses, gently conversing with each other's noses about the caprices of the carriage.



The Hon. Percival was called away to town that evening, and was to catch the late train at Grantley Thorpe, where it stopped by signal. There was no need to hurry, as he belonged to the class of persons that catch trains. This class, when it spends a holiday at a country-house, dares to leave its packing-up, when it comes away, to its valet or lady's-maid pro tem., and knows to a nicety how low it is both liberal and righteous to assess their services.

If this gentleman had not belonged to this class, it is, of course, possible that he would still have joined the party that had walked over, that afternoon, to see the Roman Villa at Ticksey, the ancient Coenobantium, in company with sundry Antiquaries who had lunched at the Towers, and had all talked at once in the most interesting possible way on the most interesting possible subjects. It was the presence of these gentlemen that, by implication, supplied a reason why Gwen and Sister Nora should prefer the others, on in front, to the less pretentious stragglers whom they had overtaken.

Archaic Research has an interest short of the welfare of Romeo and Juliet; or, perhaps, murders. But neither of these topics lend themselves, at least until they too become ancient history, to discussion by a Society, or entry on its minutes. Perhaps it was the accidental occurrence of the former one, just as the party started to walk back to the Towers, that had caused Mr. Percival and Aunt Constance to lag so far behind it, and substitute their own interest in a contemporary drama for the one they had been professing, not very sincerely, in hypocausts and mosaics and terra-cottas.

For this lady had then remarked that, for her part, she thought the Ancient Romans were too far removed from our own daily[Pg 273] life for any but Antiquarians to enter sympathetically into theirs. She herself doted on History, but was inclined to draw the line at Queen Ann. It would be mere affectation in her to pretend to sympathize with Oliver Cromwell or the Stuarts, and as for Henry the Eighth he was simply impossible. But the Recent Past touched a chord. Give her the four Georges. This was just as she and the Hon. Percival began to let the others go on in front, and the others began to use their opportunity to do so.

Three months ago the gentleman might have decided that the lady was talking rot. Her position now struck him as original, forcible, and new. But he was so keenly alive to the fact that he was not in the least in love with her, that it is very difficult to account for his leniency towards this rot. It showed itself as even more than leniency, if he meant what he said in reply:—"By Jove, Miss Dickenson, I shouldn't wonder if you were right. I never thought of it that way before!"

"I'm not quite sure I ever did," she answered; telling the truth; and not seeming any the worse, in personality, for doing so. "At least, until I got rather bored by having to listen. I really hate speeches and lectures and papers and things. But what I said is rather true, for all that. I'm sure I shall be more interested in the house the Prince Regent was drunk in, where I'm going to stay in town, than in any number of atriums. It does go home to one more—now, doesn't it?"

Mr. Pellew did not answer the question. He got his eyeglass right, and looked round—he had contracted a habit of doing this—to see if Aunt Constance was justifying the tradition of her youth, reported by her adopted niece. He admitted that she was. Stimulated by this conviction, he decided on:—"Are you going to stay in town? Where?"

"At Clotilda's—Sister Nora, you know. In Cavendish Square. I hope it's like what she says. Scarcely anything has been moved since her mother died, when she was a baby, and for years before that the drawing-rooms were shut up. Why did you ask?" This was a perfectly natural question, arising out of the subject before the house.

Nevertheless it frightened the gentleman into modifying what he meant to say next, which was:—"May I call on you there?" He gave it up, as too warm on the whole, considering the context, and said instead:—"I could leave your book." Something depended on the lady's answer to this. So she paused, and worded it:—"By all means bring it, if you prefer doing so," instead of:—"You needn't take any trouble about returning the book."[Pg 274]

Only the closest analysis can be even with the contingencies of some stages in the relativities of grown-ups, however easily one sees through the common human girl and boy. Miss Dickenson's selected answer just saved the situation by the skin of its teeth. For there certainly was a situation of a sort. Nobody was falling in love with anybody, that saw itself; but for all that a fatality dictated that Mr. Pellew and Aunt Constance were in each other's pockets more often than not. Neither had any wish to come out, and popular observation supplied the language the story has borrowed to describe the fact.

The occupant of Mr. Pellew's pocket was, however, dissatisfied with her answer about the book. Her tenancy might easily become precarious. She felt that the maintenance of Cavendish Square, as a subject of conversation, would soften asperities and dispel misunderstandings, if any. So, instead of truncating the subject of the book-return, she interwove it with the interesting mansion of Sister Nora's family, referring especially to the causes of her own visit to it. "Gwen and Cousin Clo, as she calls her, very kindly asked me to go there if I came to London; and I suppose I shall, if my sister Georgie and her husband are not at Roehampton. Anyway, even if I am not there, I am sure they will be delighted to see you.... Oh no!—Roehampton's much too far to come with it, and I can easily call for it." This was most ingenious, for it requested Mr. Pellew to make his call a definite visit, while depersonalising that visit by a hint at her own possible absence. This uncertainty also gave latitude of speech, her hypothetical presence warranting an attitude which would almost have implied too warm a welcome from a certainty. She even could go so far as to add:—"However, I should like to show you the Prince's drawing-room—they call it so because he got drunk there; it's such an honour, you see!—so I hope I shall be there."

"Doosid int'ristin'—shall certainly come! Gwen's to go to London to get poor Torrens out of her head—that's the game, isn't it?"

"That sort of thing, I believe. Change of scene and so on." Miss Dickenson spoke as one saturated with experience of refractory lovers, not without a suggestion of having in her youth played a leading part in some such drama.

"Well—I'm on his side. P'r'aps that's not the right way to put it; I suppose I ought to say their side. Meaning, the young people's, of course! Yes, exactly."

"One always takes part against the stern parent." The humour of this received a tributary laugh. "But do you really think[Pg 275] Philippa wrong, Mr. Pellew? I must say she seems to me only reasonable. The whole thing was so absurdly sudden."

Mr. Pellew was selecting a cigar—why does one prefer smoking the best one first?—and was too absorbed to think of anything but "Dessay!" as an answer. His choice completed, he could and did postpone actually striking a match to ask briefly:—"Think anything'll come of it?"

Miss Dickenson, being a lady and non-smoker, could converse consecutively, as usual. "Come of what, Mr. Pellew? Do you mean come of sending Gwen to London to be out of the young man's way, or come of ... come of the ... the love-affair?"

"Well—whichever you like! Either—both!" The cigar, being lighted, drew well, and the smoker was able to give serious attention. "What do you suppose will be the upshot?"

"Impossible to say! Just look at all the circumstances. She sees him first of all for five minutes in the Park, and then he gets shot. Then she sees him when he's supposed to be dead, just long enough to find out that he's alive. Then she doesn't see him for a fortnight—or was it three weeks? Then she sees him and finds out that his eyesight is destroyed...."

"That's not certain."

"Perhaps not. We'll hope not. She finds out—what she finds out, suppose we say! Then they get left alone at the piano the whole of the afternoon, and....

"And all the fat was in the fire?"

"What a coarse and unfeeling way of putting it, Mr. Pellew!"

"Well—I saw it was, the moment I came into the room. So did you, Miss Dickenson! Don't deny it."

"I certainly had an impression they had been precipitate."

"Exactly. Cut along!"

"And then, you know, he was to have gone home next day, and didn't. He was really here four days after that; and, of course, all that time it got worse."

"They got worse?"

"I was referring to their infatuation. It comes to the same thing. Anyhow, there was plenty of time for it, or for them—which ever one calls it—to get up to fever-heat. Four days is plenty, at their time of life. But the question is, will it last?"

"I should say no!... Well, no—I should say yes!"


"H'm—well, perhaps no! Yes—no! At the same time, the parties are peculiar. He'll last—there's no doubt of that!...[Pg 276] And I don't see any changed conditions ahead.... Unless...."

"Unless what?"

"Unless he gets his eyesight again."

"Do you mean that Gwen will put him off, if he sees her?"

"No—come now—I say, Miss Dickenson—hang it all!"

"Well, I didn't know! How was I to?"

Some mysterious change in the conditions of the conversation came about unaccountably, causing a laugh both joined in with undisguised cordiality; they might almost be said to have hob-nobbed over a unanimous appreciation of Gwen. Its effect was towards a mellower familiarity—an expurgation of starch, which might even hold good until one of them wrote an order for some more. For this lady and gentleman, however much an interview might soften them, had always hitherto restiffened for the next one. At this exact moment, Mr. Pellew entered on an explanation of his meaning in a lower key, for seriousness; and walked perceptibly nearer the lady. Because a dropped voice called for proximity.

"What I meant to say was, that pity for the poor chap's misfortune may have more to do with Gwen's feelings towards him—you understand?—than she herself thinks."

"I quite understand. Go on."

"If he were to recover his sight outright there would be nothing left to pity him for. Is it not conceivable that she might change altogether?"

"She would not admit it, even to herself."

"That is very likely—pride and amour propre, and that sort of thing! But suppose that he suspected a change?"

"I see what you mean."

"These affairs are so confoundedly ... ticklish. Heaven only knows sometimes which way the cat is going to jump! It certainly seems to me, though, that the peculiar conditions of this case supply an element of insecurity, of possible disintegration, that does not exist in ordinary everyday life. You must admit that the circumstances are ... are abnormal."

"Very. But don't you think, Mr. Pellew, that circumstances very often are abnormal?—more often than not, I should have said. Perhaps that's the wrong way of putting it, but you know what I mean." Mr. Pellew didn't. But he said he did. He recognised this way of looking at the unusual as profound and perspicuous. She continued, reinforced by his approval:—"What I was driving at was that when two young folks are very—as the phrase goes—spooney, they won't admit that peculiar conditions[Pg 277] have anything to do with it. They have always been destined for one another by Fate."

"How does that apply to Gwen and Torrens?"

"Merely that when Mr. Torrens's sight comes back.... What?"

"Nothing. I only said I was glad to hear you say when, not if. Go on."

"When his sight comes back—unless it comes back very quickly—they will be so convinced they were intended for one another from the beginning of Time, that they won't credit the accident with any share in the business."

"Except as an Agent of Destiny. I think that quite likely. It supplies a reason, though, for not getting his sight back in too great a hurry. How long should you say would be safe?"

"I should imagine that in six months, if it is not broken off, it will have become chronic. At present they are rather ... rather....

"Rather underdone. I see. Well—I don't understand that anyone wants to take them off the hob...."

"I think her mother does."

"Not exactly. She only wishes them to stand on separate hobs for three months. They will hear each other simmer. My own belief is that they will be worked up to a sort of frenzy, compared to which those two parties in Dante ... you know which I mean?..."

"Paolo and Francesca?"

Mr. Pellew thought to himself how well enformed Miss Dickenson was. He said aloud:—"Yes, them. Paolo and Francesca would be quite lukewarm—sort of negus!—compared to our young friends. Correspondence is the doose. Not so bad in this case, p'r'aps, because he can't read her letters himself.... I don't know, though—that might make it worse.... Couldn't say!" And he seemed to find that cigar very good, and, indeed, to be enjoying himself thoroughly.

Had Aunt Constance any sub-intent in her next remark? Had it any hinterland of discussion of the ethics of Love, provocative of practical application to the lives of old maids and old bachelors—if the one, then the other, in this case—strolling in a leisurely way through bracken and beechmast, fancy-free, no doubt? If she had, and her companion suspected it, he was not seriously alarmed, this time. But then he was off to London in a couple of hours.

Her remark was:—"You seem to be quite an authority on the subject, Mr. Pellew."[Pg 278]

"No—you don't mean that? Does me a lot of credit, though! Guessin', I am, all through. No experience—honour bright!"

"You don't expect me to believe that, Mr. Pellew?"

"Needn't believe it, unless you like, Miss Dickenson. But it's true, for all that. Never was in love in my life!"

"You must have found life very dull, Mr. Pellew. How a man can contrive to exist without.... Isn't that wheels?" It didn't matter whether it was or not, but the lady's speech had stumbled into a pitfall—she was exploring a district full of them—and she thought the wheels might rescue her.

But the gentleman was not going to let her off, though he was ready to suppose the wheels were the carriage coming back. "It won't catch us up for ever so long, you'll see! Such a quiet evening as this, one hears miles off...." He interrupted his own speech by a variation of tone, repeating the pitfall words:—"'Contrive to exist without'"—and then supplied as sequel:—"'womankind somehow or other.' That's what you mean to say, isn't it?"

"Yes." No qualification!—more pitfalls, perhaps.

"Only I never said anything of the sort! Never meant it, anyhow. What I meant was that I had never caught the disorder like my blind friend. He went off at score like Orlando in 'Winter's Tale.'"

"In 'As You Like It.'"

"I meant 'As You Like It.' I suppose it was because he happened to come across thingummybob—Rosalind."

"It always is."

"P'r'aps I never came across Rosalind. Anyhow, I give you my honour I never had any experience to make me an authority on the subject. I expect you are a much better one than I."

"Why?" Miss Dickenson's share of the conversation had become very dry and monosyllabic.

What was passing in her mind, and reducing her to monosyllables, was the thought that she was a woman, and, as such, handicapped in speech with a man; while he could say all he pleased about himself, and expect her to listen to it with interest. They had been gradually becoming intimate friends, and this intimacy had ripened sensibly even during this short chat, the sequel of the separation from the Archæological Congress, which it suited them to believe only just out of sight and hearing: quite within shot considered as chaperons. Their familiarity had got to such a pitch that the Hon. Percival had contrived to take her into his[Pg 279] confidence about his own life, and she had to remain tongue-tied about hers, being a woman.

How could she say to him:—"I have never had the ghost of a love-affair in the whole of my colourless, but irreproachable, life. A mystic usage of my family of four sisters, a nervous invalid mother, and an absent-minded father, determined my status in early girlhood. I was to show a respectful interest in the love-affairs of my sisters, who were handsome and pretty and charming and attractive and piquantes, while I was relatively plain and backward, besides having an outcrop on one cheek which has since been successfully removed. I was not to presume upon my position as a sister to express opinions about these said love-affairs, because I was not supposed to know anything about such matters. They were not in my department. My rôle was a domestic one, and I had a high moral standpoint; which I would gladly have dispensed with, but the force of family tradition overpowered me. It has been a poor consolation to me to carry about this standpoint like a campstool to the houses of the friends I visit at intervals, now that my sisters are all married, and my mother has departed this life, and my father has married a Mrs. Dubosc, with whom I don't agree. I lead a life of constant resentment against unattached mankind, who decide, after critical inspection, that they won't, when I have really never asked them to. You and I have been more companionable—more like keeping company, as Lutwyche would say—than any man I ever came across, and I should like to be able to say to you that, even as you never met with Rosalind, even so I never met with Orlando, but without any phase of my career to correspond with the one you so delicately hinted at just now, in your own. For I fancied I read between your lines that your scheme of life had not been precisely that of an anchorite. Pray understand that I have never supposed it was so, and that I rather honour your attempt to indicate the fact to me without outraging my maidenly—old maidish, if you will—susceptibilities"?

It was because Miss Constance Dickenson, however improbable it may seem, had wanted to say all this and a great deal more, and could not see her way to any of it, that she had become dry and monosyllabic. It was because of this compulsory silence that she felt that even her brief:—"Why?" in answer to Mr. Pellew's suggestion that an Orlando must have come on her stage though no Rosalind had come on his, struck her after it had passed her lips as a false step.

He in his turn was at a loss to get something worded so as not[Pg 280] to overstep his familiarity-licence. Rough-hewn, it might have run thus:—"Because no girl, as pretty as you must have been, fifteen or twenty years ago, ever goes without a lover in posse, though he may never work out as a husband in esse, nor even a fiancé." He did not see his way to polishing and finishing it so that it would be safe. He could manage nothing better than "Obviously!" He said it twice certainly, and threw away the end of his cigar to repeat it. But he might not have done this if he had not been so near departure.

Somehow, it left them both silent. Sauntering along on the new-fallen beechmast, struck by the gleams of a sunset that seemed to be giving satisfaction to the ringdoves overhead, it could not be necessary to prosecute the conversation. All the same, if it had paused on a different note, an incredibly slight incident that counted for something quite measurable in the judgment of each, might have had no importance whatever.

But really it was so slight an incident that the story is almost ashamed to mention it. It was this. An island of bracken, with briars in its confidence, not negotiable by skirts—especially in those days—must needs split a path of turf-velvet wide enough for acquaintances, into two paths narrow enough for lovers. Practically, the choice between walking in one of these at the risk of some little rabbit misinterpreting their relations, and going round the island, lay with the gentleman. The Hon. Percival did not mince the matter, as he might have done last week, but diminished his distance from his companion in order that one narrow pathway should accommodate both. It was just after they had passed the island that Miss Dickenson exclaimed:—"There's the carriage," and Gwen perceived their consciousness of its proximity. The last episode of the story comes abreast of the present one.

The story is ashamed of its own prolixity. But how is justice to be done to the gradual evolution of a situation if hard-and-fast laws are to be laid down, restricting the number of words that its chronicler shall employ? Condemn him by all means, but admit at least that every smallest incident of the foregoing narrative had its share of influence on the future of its actors.

It is true that nothing very crucial followed. For when, after the carriage had pulled up and interrupted the current of conversation, and gone on again leaving it doubtful how it should be resumed, it again stopped for the pedestrians to overtake it, it became morally incumbent on them to do so, and also prudent to accept its statement that it was nearly half-past six, and to take advantage of a lift that it offered. For Mr. Pellew must not miss[Pg 281] that train. The carriage may have noticed that it never overtook the Archæological Congress, which must have walked very quick, unless indeed the two stragglers walked very slow.

Miss Dickenson must have dressed for dinner much quicker than they walked along the avenue. For when Mr. Pellew, after a short snack, on his way to put himself in the gig beside his traps, looked in at the drawing-room to see if there was anyone he had failed to say good-bye to, he found that lady very successfully groomed in spite of her alacrity, and suggesting surprise at its success. Fancy her being down before everyone else after all! Here is the conversation:

"Well, good-bye! I'll remember the book. I've enjoyed my visit enormously."

"It has been quite delightful. We've had such wonderful weather. Don't put yourself out of the way to bring the book, though. I don't want it back yet a while."

"All right. Thursday morning you leave here, didn't I hear you say? I shall have read it by then. I could drop round Thursday evening. Just suit me!"

"That will do perfectly. Only not if it's the least troublesome to bring it."

"Oh no; not the very slightest! Nine?—half-past?"

"Nine—any time. I would say come to dinner, only I haven't mentioned it to Miss Grahame, and I don't know her arrangements...."

"Bless me, no—the idea! I'll drop round after dinner at the Club. Nine or half-past."

"We shall expect you. Good-bye!"

"Good-bye!" But Mr. Pellew, turning to go and leaving his eyes behind him, collided with the Earl, who was adhering to a conscientious rule of always being punctual for dinner.

"Oh—Percy! You'll lose your train. Stop a minute!—there was something I wanted to say. What was it?... Oh, I know. Gwen's address in London—have you got it? She's going to stay with her cousin, you know—hundred-and-two, Cavendish Square. She'll be glad to see you if you call, I know." This was founded on a misapprehension, which the family resented, that it was not able to take care of itself in his absence. The Countess would have said:—"Fancy Gwen wanting to be provided with visitors!"

This estimable nobleman was destined to suspect he had put his foot in it, this time, from the way in which his suggestion was received. An inexplicable nuance of manner pervaded his two[Pg 282] guests, somewhat such as the Confessional might produce in a penitent with a sense of humour, who had committed a funny crime. It was, you see, difficult to assign a plausible reason why Mr. Pellew and Miss Dickenson should have already signed a treaty on the subject.

Perhaps it was not altogether disinterested in the gentleman to look at his watch, and accept its warning that nothing short of hysterical haste would catch his train for him. However, the grey mare said, through her official representative in the gig behind her, that we should do it if the train was a minute or so behind. So possibly he was quite sincere.



esthetic Topography is an interesting study. Seen by its light, at the date of this story, Oxford Street was certainly at one and the same time the South of the North of London, and the North of the South. For whereas Hanover Square, which is only a stone's throw to the south of it, is, so to speak, saturated with Piccadilly—and when you are there you may just as well be in Westminster at once—it is undeniable that Cavendish Square is in the zone of influence of Regent's Park, and that Harley and Wimpole Streets, which run side by side north from it, never pause to breathe until they all but touch its palings. Once in Regent's Park, how can Topography—the geometric fallacy apart—ignore St. John's Wood? And once St. John's Wood is admitted, how is it possible to turn a cold shoulder to Primrose Hill? Cross Primrose Hill, and you may just as well be out in the country at once.

But there!—our impressions may be but memories of fifty years ago, and our reader may wonder why Cavendish Square suggests them.

He himself, probably very much our junior—a bad habit other people acquire as Time goes on—may consider Harley Street and[Pg 283] Wimpole Street just as much town as Hanover Square, and St. John's Wood—even Primrose Hill!—as on all fours with both. We forgive him. One, or possibly we ought to say several, should learn to be tolerant of the new-fangled opinions of hot-headed youth. We were like that ourself, when a boy. But let him have his own way. These streets shall be unmitigated Town now, to please him, in spite of the walks Dr. Johnson had in Marylebone Fields. To be sure, Marylebone Fields soon became Gardens then-abouts, like Ranelagh, and you drove along Harley Street to a musical entertainment there, with music by Pergolesi and Galuppi.

The time of this story is post-Johnsonian, but it is older than its readers; unless, indeed, a chance oldster now and then opens it to see if it is a proper book to have in the house. The world in the early fifties was very unlike what it is in the present century, and that isn't yet in its teens. It was also very unlike what it had been in the days when the family mansion in Cavendish Square, that had not had a family in it then for forty years, was as good as new. It was so, no doubt, for a good while after George the Third ceased to be King, because the thorough griming it has had since had hardly begun, and fields were sweet at Paddington, and the Regent could be bacchanalian in that big drawing-room on the first floor without any consciousness that he had a Park in the neighbourhood. Oh dear—how near the country Cavendish Square was in those days!

By the time Queen Victoria was on the throne the grime had set in in earnest, and was hard at work long before the fifty-one Exhibition reported progress—progress in bedevilment, says the Pessimist? Never mind him! Let him sulk in a corner while the Optimist dwells on the marvellous developments of which fifty-one was only symptomatic—the quick-firing guns and smokeless powder; the mighty ships, a dozen of them big enough to take all the Athenians of the days of Pericles to the bottom at once; the machines that turn out books so cheap that their contents may be forgotten in six months, and no one be a penny the worse; the millionaires who have so much money they can't spend it—heaps and heaps of wonders up-to-date that no one ever feels surprised at nowadays. The Optimist will tell you all about them. For the moment, let's pretend that none of them have come to pass, and get back to Cavendish Square at the date of the story, and the suite of rooms on the second floor that had been Sister Nora's town anchorage when she first made Dave Wardle's acquaintance as an unconscious Hospital patient, and that had been renovated[Pg 284] since her father's death to serve as a pied-à-terre until she could be sure of her arrangements in the days to come.

Her friends were not the least too tired, thank you, after the journey, to be shown the great drawing-room, on which the touching incident in the life of a Royal Personage had conferred an historical dignity. "I think—" said she "—only I haven't quite made up my mind yet—that I shall call this ward Mrs. Fitzherbert, and the next room Princess Caroline. Or the other way round. Which do you think?" For one of her schemes was to turn the old family mansion into a Hospital.

"Let me see!" said Gwen. "I've forgotten my history. Mrs. Fitzherbert was his wife, wasn't she?"

Miss Dickenson was always to be relied on for general information. "Unquestionably," said she. "But he repudiated her for political reasons, a course open to him as heir to the throne. Legally, Princess Caroline of Brunswick was his lawful wife...."

"And, lawfully," said Gwen, "Mrs. Fitzherbert was his legal wife. Nothing can be clearer. Yes—I should say certainly call the big room Mrs. Fitzherbert. Whom shall you call the other rooms after, Clo?"

"All the others. There's any number! Mrs. Robinson, Lady Jersey, Lady Conyngham ... one for every room in the house, and several over. Just fancy!—the room has never been altered, since those days. It was polished up for my poor mother—whom no doubt I saw in my youth, but took no notice of. You see, I wasn't of an age to take notice, when she departed to Kingdom-come, and my father exiled himself to Scotland...."

"And he kept it packed up like this—how long?"

"Well—you know how old I am. Twenty-seven."

Aunt Constance corrected dates. "George the Fourth," said she chronologically, "ascended the throne in 1820. Consequently he cannot have become intoxicated in this room...."

Sister Nora interrupted. Of course he couldn't—not in her father's time. The cards and dice were going in her great-uncle's time, who drank himself to death forty years ago. "There used to be some packs of cards," said she, "in one of these drawers. I know I saw some there, only it's a long time back—almost the only time I ever came into the room. I'll look.... Take care of the dust!"

It was lucky that the cabinet-maker who framed that inlaid table knew his business—they did, in his day—or the rounded front might have called for a jerk, instead of giving easily to the pull it had awaited so patiently, through decades. "There they[Pg 285] are!" said Gwen, "with nobody to deal them. Poor cards—locked up in the dark all these years! Do let's have them out and play dummy to-night."

A spirit of Conservatism suggested that it would be impious to disturb a status quo connected with Royalty. But Gwen said, touching a visible ace:—"Just think, Clo, if you were an ace, and had a chance of being trumps, how would you like to be shut up in a drawer again?" This appeal to our common humanity had its effect, and a couple of packs were brought out for use. No language could describe the penetrating powers of the dust that accompanied their return to active duties. It ended the visit en passant of these three ladies, who were not sorry to find themselves in an upstairs suite of rooms with a kitchen and a miniature household, just established regardless of expense. Because three hundred a year was what Miss Grahame was "going to" live upon, as soon as she had "had time to turn round," and for the moment it was absurd to draw hard and fast lines. Just wait and give her time, to get a little settled!

The fatigue of the journey was enough to negative any idea of going out anywhere, and indeed there was nothing in the way of theatre or concert that was at all tempting. But it was not enough to cause collapse, and whist became plausible within half an hour after dinner. There was something delightful in the place, too, with its windows opening on the tree-tops of the Square, and the air of a warm autumn evening bringing in the sound of a woebegone brass band from afar, mixed with the endless hum of wheels with hoof-beats in the heart of it, like currants in a cake. The air was all the sweeter that a whiff of chimney-smoke broke into it now and again, and emphasized its quality. When the band left off the "Bohemian Girl" and rested, and imagination was picturing the trombone in half, at odds with condensation, a barrel-organ was able to make itself heard, with Il Pescatore, till the band began again with The Sicilian Bride, and drowned it.

Miss Dickenson had been discreet about her expectation of a visitor. She maintained her discretion even when the sound of a hansom's lids, followed by "Yes—this house!" and a double knock below, turned out not to be a mistake, but the Hon. Percival Pellew, Carlton Club. She nevertheless roused the interested suspicion of Gwen and her hostess, who looked at each other, and said respectively:—"Oh, it's my cousin Percy," and "Oh, Mr. Pellew"; the former adding:—"He can take Dummy's hand"; the latter,—"Oh, of course, ask him to come up, Maggie! Don't let him go away on any account." But neither of these ladies[Pg 286] expressed any surprise at the rather prompt recrudescence of Mr. Pellew, last seen at the Towers two days since.

The only flaw in a pretext that Mr. Pellew had come to leave Tennyson's "Princess," with his card in it, and run away as if the book-owner would bite him, was perhaps the ostentation with which that lady left his detention to her hostess. It would have been at once more candid and more skilful to say, "Oh yes, it's my book. But I didn't want Mr. Pellew to bother about bringing it back," with a judicious infusion of enthusiasm that the visitor's efforts to get away should fail. However, the flaw was slight, and no one cared about the transparency of the pretext. Moreover, Maggie, a new importation from the Highlands, thought that her young ladyship, whose beauty had overwhelmed her, was at the bottom of it—not Aunt Constance.

"Now you are here, Percy, you had better make yourself useful. Sit as we are. I'm not sorry you're come, because I hate playing dummy." This was Gwen, naturally.

The impersonality of Dummy furnished a topic to tide over the assimilation of things, and help the social fengshui to plausibility. There was a fillah—said Mr. Pellew—at the Club, who wouldn't take Dummy unless that fiction was accommodated with a real chair. And there was another fillah who couldn't play unless the vacant chair was taken away. Something had happened to this fillah when he was a boy, and anything like a ghost was uncongenial to him. You shouldn't lock up children in the dark or make grimaces at them if you wanted them not to be nervous in after-life ... and so forth.

Gwen was a bad whist-player, sometimes taking a very perverted view of the game. As, for instance, when, after Mr. Pellew had dealt, she asked her partner how many trumps she held. "Because, Clo," said she, "I've only got two, and unless you've got at least four, I don't see the use of going on." Public opinion condemned this attitude as unsportsmanlike, and demanded another deal. Gwen welcomed the suggestion, having only a Knave and a Queen in all the rest of her hand.

Her partner expressed disgust. "I think," she said, "you might have held your tongue, Gwen, and played it out. But I shan't tell you why."

"Oh, I know, of course, without your telling me. You're made of trumps. I'm so sorry, dear! There—see!—I've led." She played Knave.

"This," said Mr. Pellew, with shocked gravity, "is not whist."

"Well," said Gwen, "I can not see why one shouldn't say how[Pg 287] many cards one has of any suit. Everyone knows, so it must be fair. Everyone sees Dummy's hand."

"I see your point. But it's not whist."

"Am I to play, or not?" said Aunt Constance. She looked across at her partner, as a serious player rather amused at the childish behaviour of their opponents. A sympathetic bond was thereby established—solid seriousness against frivolity.

"Fire away!" said Gwen. "Second player plays lowest." Miss Dickenson played the Queen. "That's not whist, aunty," said Gwen triumphantly. Her partner played the King. "There now, you see!" said Gwen. She belonged to the class of players who rejoice aloud, or show depression, after success or failure.

This time her exultation was premature. Mr. Pellew, without emotion, pushed the turn-up card, a two, into the trick, saying to his partner:—"Your Queen was all right. Quite correct!" The story does not vouch for this. It may have been wrong.

"Do you mean to say, Cousin Percy"—thus Gwen, with indignant emphasis—"that you've not got a club in your hand, at the very first round. You cannot expect us to believe that!" Mr. Pellew pointed out that if he revoked he would lose three tricks. "Very well," said Gwen. "I shall keep a very sharp look out." But no revoke came, and she had to console herself as a loser with the reflection that it was only the odd trick, after all—one by cards and honours divided.

This is a fair sample of the way this game went on establishing a position of moral superiority for Mr. Pellew and his partner, who looked down on the irregularities of their opponents from a pinnacle of True Whist. Their position as superior beings tended towards mutual understandings. A transition state from their relations in that easy-going life at the Towers to the more sober obligations of the metropolis was at least acceptable; and this isolation by a better understanding of tricks and trumps, a higher and holier view of ruffing and finessing, appeared to provide such a state. There was partnership of souls in it, over and above mere vulgar scoring.

Nothing of interest occurred until, in the course of the second rubber, Gwen made a misdeal. Probably she did so because she was trying at the same time to prove that having four by honours was absurd in itself—an affront to natural laws. It was the merest accident, she maintained, when all the court-cards were dealt to one side—no merit at all of the players. Her objection to whist was that it was a mixture of skill and chance. She was inclined to favour games that were either quite the one or quite the other.[Pg 288] Roulette was a good game. So was chess. But whist was neither fish nor flesh nor good red herring.... Misdeal! The analysis of games stopped with a jerk, the dealer being left without a turn-up card.

"But what a shame!" said Gwen. "Is it fair I should lose my deal when the last card's an ace? How would any of you like it?" The appeal was too touching to resist, though Mr. Pellew again said this wasn't whist. A count of the hands showed that Aunt Constance held one card too few and Gwen one too many. A question arose. If a card were drawn from the dealer's hand, was the trump to remain on the table? Controversy ensued. Why should not the drawer have her choice of thirteen cards, as in every analogous case? On the other hand, said Gwen, that ace of hearts was indisputably the last card in the pack; and therefore the trump-card, by predestination.

Mr. Pellew pointed out that it mattered less than Miss Dickenson thought, as if she pitched on this very ace to make up her own thirteen, its teeth would be drawn. It would be no longer a turn-up card, and some new choice of trumps would have to be made, somehow; by sortes Virgilianæ, or what not. Better have another deal. Gwen gave up the point, under protest, and Miss Dickenson dealt. Spades were trumps, this time.

It chanced that Gwen, in this deal, held the Knave and Queen of hearts. She led the Knave, and only waiting for the next card, to be sure that it was a low one, said deliberately to her partner:—"Don't play your King, Cousin Clo; Percy's got the ace," in defiance of all rule and order.

"Can't help it," said Cousin Clo. "Got nothing else!" Out came the King, and down came the ace upon it, naturally.

"There now, see what I've done," said Gwen. "Got your King squashed!" But she was consoled when Mr. Pellew pointed out that if Miss Grahame had played a small card her King would almost certainly have fallen to a trump later. "It was quite the right play," said he, "because now your Queen makes. You couldn't have made with both."

"I believe you've been cheating, and looking at my hand," said Gwen. "How do you know I've got the Queen?"

"How did you know I had got the ace?" said Mr. Pellew. And really this was a reasonable question.

"By the mark on the back. I noticed it when I turned it up, when hearts were trumps, last deal. I don't consider that cheating. All the same, I enjoy cheating, and always cheat whenever I can. Card games are so very dull, when there's no cheating."[Pg 289]

"But, Gwen dear, I don't see any mark." This was Miss Grahame, examining the last trick. She put the ace, face down, before this capricious whist-player, who, however, adhered to her statement, saying incorrigibly:—"Well, look at it!"

"I only see a shadow," said Mr. Pellew. But it wasn't a shadow. A shadow moves.

Explanation came, on revision of the ace's antecedents. It had lain in that drawer five-and-twenty years at least, with another card half-covering it. In the noiseless air-tight darkness where it lay, saying perhaps to itself:—"Shall I ever take a trick again?" there was still dust, dust of thought-baffling fineness! And it had fallen, fallen steadily, with immeasurable slowness and absolute impartiality, on all the card above had left unsheltered. There was the top-card's silhouette, quite recognisable as soon as the shadow was disestablished.

"It will come out with India-rubber," said Miss Grahame.

"I shouldn't mess it about, if I were you," said Gwen. "I know India-rubber. It grimes everything in, and makes black streaks." Which was true enough in those days. The material called bottle-rubber was notable for its power of defiling clean paper, and the sophisticated sort for becoming indurated if not cherished in one's trouser-pockets. The present epoch in the World's history can rub out quite clean for a penny, but then its dramatis personæ have to spend their lives dodging motor-cars and biplanes, and holding their ears for fear of gramophones. Still, it's something!

Mr. Pellew suggested that the best way to deal with the soiled card would be for whoever got it to exhibit it, as one does sometimes when a card's face is seen for a moment, to make sure everyone knows. We were certainly not playing very strictly. This was accepted nem. con.

But the chance that had left that card half-covered was to have its influence on things, still. Who can say events would have run in the same grooves had it not directed the conversation to dust, and caused Mr. Pellew to recollect a story told by one of those Archæological fillahs, at the Towers three days ago? It was that of the tomb which, being opened, showed a forgotten monarch of some prehistoric race, robed, crowned, and sceptred as of old; a little shrunk, perhaps, a bit discoloured, but still to be seen by his own ghost, if earth-bound and at all interested. Still to be seen, even by Cook's tourists, had he but had a little more staying-power. But he was never seen, as a matter of fact, by any man but the desecrator of his tomb. For one whiff of fresh air brought[Pg 290] him down, a crumbling heap of dust with a few imperishable ornaments buried in it. His own ghost would not have known him again; and, in less time than it takes to tell, the wind blew him about, and he had to take his chance with the dust of the desert.

"I suppose it isn't true," said Gwen incredulously. "Things of that sort are generally fibs."

"Don't know about this one," said Mr. Pellew, sorting his cards. "Funny coincidence! It was in the Quarterly Review—very first thing I opened at—Egyptian Researches.... That's our trick, isn't it?"

"Yes—my ten. I'll lead.... Yes!—I think I'll lead a diamond. I always envy you men your Clubs. It must be so nice to have all the newspapers and reviews...." Aunt Constance said this, of course.

"It wasn't at the Club. Man left it at my chambers three months ago—readin' it by accident yesterday evening—funny coincidence—talkin' about it same morning! Knave takes. No—you can't trump. You haven't got a trump."

"Now, however did you know that?" said Gwen.

"Very simple. All the trumps are out but two, and I've got them here in my hand. See?"

"Yes, I see. But I prefer real cheating, to taking advantages of things, like that.... What are you putting your cards down for, Cousin Percy?"

"Because that's game. Game and the rubber. We only want two by cards, and there they are!"

When rubbers end at past ten o'clock at night, well-bred people wait for their host to suggest beginning another. Ill-bred ones, that don't want one, say suddenly that it must be getting late—as if Time had slapped them—and get at their watches. Those that do, say that that clock is fast. In the present case no disposition existed, after a good deal of travelling, to play cards till midnight. But there was no occasion to hustle the visitor downstairs.

Said Miss Dickenson, to concede a short breathing pause:—"Pray, Mr. Pellew, when a gentleman accidentally leaves a book at your rooms, do you make no effort to return it to him?"

"Well!" said Mr. Pellew, tacitly admitting the implied impeachment. "It is rather a jolly shame, when you come to think of it. I'll take it round to him to-morrow. Gloucester Place, is it—or York Place—end of Baker Street?... Can't remember the fillah's name to save my life. Married a Miss Bergstein—rich bankers. Got his card at home, I expect. However, that's where[Pg 291] he lives—York Place. He's a Sir Somebody Something.... What were you going to say?"

"Oh—nothing.... Only that it would have been very interesting to read that account. However, Sir Somebody Something must be wanting his Quarterly Review.... Never mind!"

Gwen said:—"What nonsense! He's bought another copy by this time. He can afford it, if he's married a Miss Bergstein. Bring it round to-morrow, Percy, to keep Aunt Constance quiet. We shan't take her with us to see Clo's little boy. We should make too many." Then, in order to minimise his visit next day, Mr. Pellew sketched a brief halt in Cavendish Square at half-past three precisely to-morrow afternoon, when Miss Dickenson could "run her eye" through the disintegration of that Egyptian King, without interfering materially with its subsequent delivery at Sir Somebody Something's. It was an elaborate piece of humbug, welcomed with perfect gravity as the solution of a perplexing and difficult problem. Which being so happily solved, Mr. Pellew could take his leave, and did so.

"Didn't I do that capitally, Clo?"

"Do which, dear?"

"Why—making her stop here to see him. Or giving her leave to stop; it's the same thing, only she would rather do it against her will. I mean saying we should make too many at Scraps Court, or whatever it is."

"Oh yes—quite a stroke of genius! Gwen dear, what an inveterate matchmaker you are!"

"Nonsense, Clo! I never...." Here Gwen hung fire for a moment, confronted by an intractability of language. She took the position by storm, more suo:—"I never mutchmoke in my life.... What?—Well, you may laugh, Clo, but I never did! Only when two fools irritate one by not flying into each other's arms, and wanting to all the time.... Oh, it's exasperating, and I've no patience!"

"You are quite sure they do ... want to?"

"Oh yes—I think so. At least, I'm quite sure Percy does."

"Why not Aunt Constance?"

"Because I can't imagine anyone wanting to rush into any of my cousins' arms—my he-cousins. It's a peculiarity of cousins, I suppose. If any of mine had been palatable, he would have caught on, and it would have come off. Because they all want me, always."

"That's an old story, Gwen dear." The two ladies looked ruefully at one another, with a slight shoulder-shrug apiece over a[Pg 292] hopeless case. Then Miss Grahame said:—"Then you consider Constance Dickenson is still palatable?" She laughed on the word a little—a sort of protest. "At nearly forty?"

"Oh dear, yes! Not that she's forty, nor anything like it. She's thirty-six. Besides, it has nothing to do with age. Or very little. Why—how old is that dear old lady at Chorlton that was jealous of your little boy's old woman in London?"

"Old Goody Marrable? Over eighty. But the other old lady is older still, and Dave speaks well of her, anyhow! We shall see her to-morrow. We must insist on that."

"Well—I could kiss old Goody Marrable. I should be sorry for her bones, of course. But they're not her fault, after all! She's quite an old darling. I hope Aunt Connie and Percy will manage a little common sense to-morrow. They'll have the house to themselves, anyhow. Ta bye-bye, Chloe dear!"

Miss Grahame looked in on her way to her own room to see that Miss Dickenson had been provided with all the accessories of a good night—a margin of pillows and blankets à choix, and so on. Hot-water-bottle time had scarcely come yet, but hospitality might refer to it. There was, however, a word to say touching the evening just ended. What did Miss Grahame think of Gwen? Aunt Constance's parti pris in life was a benevolent interest in the affairs of everybody else.

Miss Grahame thought Gwen was all right. The amount of nonsense she had talked to-night showed she was a little excited. A sort of ostentatious absurdity, like a spoiled child! Well—she has been a spoiled child. But she—the speaker—always had believed, did still believe, that Gwen was a fine character underneath, and that all her nonsense was on the surface.

"Will she hold to it, do you think?"

"How can I tell? I should say yes. But one never knows. She's writing him a long letter now. She's in the next room to me, and I heard her scratching five minutes after she said good-night. I hope she won't scribble all night and keep me awake. My belief is she would be better for some counter-excitement. A small earthquake! Anything of that sort. Good-night! It's very late." But it came out next day that Gwen's pen was still scratching when this lady got to sleep an hour after.[Pg 293]



"I shouldn't take any violent exercise, if I was you, Mr. Wardle," said Mr. Ekings, the Apothecary, whose name you may remember Michael Ragstroar had borrowed and been obliged to relinquish. "I should be very careful what I ate, avoiding especially pork and richly cooked food. A diet of fowls and fish—preferably boiled...."

"Can't abide 'em!" said Uncle Moses, who was talking over his symptoms with Mr. Ekings at his shop, with Dolly on his knee. "And whose a-going to stand Sam for me, livin' on this and livin' on that? Roasted chicking's very pretty eating, for the sake of the soarsages, when you're a Lord Mayor; but for them as don't easy run to half-crowns for mouthfuls, a line has to be drawed. Down our Court a shilling has to go a long way, Dr. Ekings."

The medical adviser shook his head weakly. "You're an intractable patient, Mr. Moses," he said. He knew that Uncle Moses's circumstances were what is called moderate. So are a church mouse's; and, in both cases, the dietary is compulsory. Mr. Ekings tried for a common ground of agreement. "Fish doesn't mount up to much, by the pound," he said, vaguely.

"Fishes don't go home like butcher's meat," said Uncle Moses.

"You can't expect 'em to do that," said Mr. Ekings, glad of an indisputable truth. "But there's a vast amount of nourishment in 'em, anyway you put it."

"So there is, Dr. Ekings. In a vast amount of 'em. But you have to eat it all up. Similar, grass and cows. Only there's no bones in the grass. Now, you know, what I'm wanting is a pick-me-up—something with a nice clean edge in the smell of it,[Pg 294] like a bottle o' salts with holes in the stopper. And tasting of lemons. I ain't speaking of the sort that has to be shook when took. Nor yet with peppermint. It's a clear sort to see through, up against the light, what I want."

Mr. Ekings, a humble practitioner in a poor neighbourhood, supplied more mixtures in response to suggestions like Uncle Mo's, than to legitimate prescriptions. So he at once undertook to fill out the order, saying in reply to an inquiry, that it would come to threepence, but that Uncle Mo must bring or send back the bottle. He then added a few drops of chloric ether and ammonia, and some lemon to a real square bottleful of aq. pur. haust., and put a label on it with superhuman evenness, on which was written "The Mixture—one tablespoonful three times a day." Uncle Moses watched the preparation of this elixir vitæ with the extremest satisfaction. He foresaw its beneficial effect on his system, which he had understood was to blame for his occasional attacks of faintness, which had latterly been rather more frequent. Anything in such a clean phial, with such a new cork, would be sure to do his system good.

Mrs. Riley came in for a bottle which was consciously awaiting her in front of the leeches, and identified it as "the liniment," before Mr. Ekings could call to mind where he'd stood it. She remarked, while calculating coppers to cover the outlay, that she understood it was to be well r-r-r-rhubbed in with the parrum of her hand, and that she was to be thr-rusted not to lit the patiint get any of it near his mouth, she having been borrun in Limerick morr' than a wake ago. She remarked to Uncle Mo that his boy was looking his bist, and none the wurruss for his accidint. Uncle Mo felt braced by the Celtic atmosphere, and thanked Mrs. Riley cordially, for himself and Dave.

"Shouldn't do that, if I was you, Mr. Wardle," said Mr. Ekings the Apothecary, as Uncle Mo hoisted Dolly on his shoulder to carry her home.

"No more shouldn't I, if you was me, Dr. Ekings," was the intractable patient's reply. "Why, Lard bless you, man alive, Dolly's so light it's as good as a lift-up, only to have her on your shoulders! Didn't you never hear tell of gravitation? Well—that's it!" But Uncle Mo was out of his depth.

"It'll do ye a powerful dale of good, Mr. Wardle," said Mrs. Riley. "Niver you mind the docther!" And Uncle Mo departed, braced again, with his elixir vitæ in his left hand, and Dolly on his right shoulder, conversing on a topic suggested by Dr. Ekings's remarks about diet.[Pg 295]

"When Dave tooktid Micky to see the fisses corched in the Turpentine, there was a jenklum corched a fiss up out of the water, and another jenklum corched another fiss up out of the water...." Dolly was pursuing the subject in the style of the Patriarchs, who took their readers' leisure for granted, and never grudged a repetition, when Uncle Mo interrupted her to point out that it was not Dave who took Michael Ragstroar to Hy' Park, but vice versa. Also that the whole proceeding had been a disgraceful breach of discipline, causing serious alarm to himself and Aunt M'riar, who had nearly lost their reason in consequence—the exact expression being "fritted out of their wits." If that young Micky ever did such a thing again, Uncle Mo said, the result would be a pretty how-do-you-do, involving possibly fatal consequences to Michael, and certainly local flagellation of unheard-of severity.

Dolly did not consider this was to the point, and pursued her narrative without taking notice of it. "There was a jenklum corched a long fiss, and there was another jenklum corched a short fiss, and there was another jenklum corched a short fiss...." This seemed to bear frequent repetition, but came to an end as soon as history ceased to supply the facts. Then another phase came, that of the fishers who didn't corch no fiss, whose name appeared to be Legion. They lasted as far as the arch into Sapps Court, and Uncle Mo seemed rather to relish the monotony than otherwise. He would have made a good Scribe in the days of the Pharaohs.

But Dolly came to the end of even the unsuccessful fishermen. Just as they reached home, however, she produced her convincing incident, all that preceded it having evidently been introduction pure and simple. "And there was a man saided fings to Micky, and saided fings to Dave, and saided fings to...." Here Dolly stuttered, became confused, and ended up weakly: "No, he didn't saided no fings, to no one else."

A little finesse was necessary to land the elixir vitæ on the parlour chimney-piece, and Dolly on the hearthrug. Then Uncle Mo sat down in his own chair to recover breath, saying in the course of a moment:—"And what did the man say to Dave, and what did he say to young Sparrowgrass?" He did not suppose that "the man" was a person capable of identification; he was an unknown unit, but good to talk about.

"He saided Mrs. Picture." Dolly placed the subject she proposed to treat broadly before her audience, with a view to its careful analysis at leisure.[Pg 296]

"What on 'arth did he say Mrs. Picture for? He don't know Mrs. Picture." The present tense used here acknowledged the man's authenticity, and encouraged the little maid—three and three-quarters, you know!—to further testimony. It came fairly fluently, considering the witness's recent acquisition of the English language.

"He doos know Mrs. Picture, ass he doos, and he saided Mrs. Picture to Micky, ass he did." This was plenty for a time, and during that time the witness could go on nodding with her eyes wide open, to present the subject lapsing, for she had found out already how slippery grown-up people are in argument. Great force was added by her curls, which lent themselves to flapping backwards and forwards as she nodded.

It was impossible to resist such evidence, outwardly at least, and Uncle Mo appeared to accept it. "Then the man said Mrs. Picture to Dave," said he. "And Dave told it on to you, was that it?" He added, for the general good of morality:—"You're a nice lot of young Pickles!"

But this stopped the nodding, which changed suddenly to a negative shake, of great decision. "The man never saided nuffint to Dave, no he didn't."

"Thought you said he did. You're a good 'un for a witness-box! Come up and sit on your old uncle. The man said Mrs. Picture to young Sparrowgrass—was that it?" Dolly nodded violently. "And young Sparrowgrass he passed it on to Dave?" But it appeared not, and Dolly had to wrestle with an explanation. It was too much involved for letterpress, but Uncle Mo thought he could gather that Dave had been treated as a mere bystander, supposed to be absorbed in angling, during a conversation between Michael Ragstroar and the Man. "Dave he came home and told you what the Man said to Micky—was that it?" So Uncle Mo surmised aloud, not at all clear that Dolly would understand him. But, as it turned out, he was right, and Dolly was glad to be able to attest his version of the facts. She resumed the nodding, but slower, as though so much emphasis had ceased to be necessary. "Micky toldited Dave," she said. She then became immensely amused at a way of looking at the event suggested by her uncle. The Man had told Micky; Micky had told Dave; Dave had told Dolly; and Dolly had told Uncle Mo, who now intensified the interest of the event by saying he should tell Aunt M'riar. Dolly became vividly anxious for this climax, and felt that this was life indeed, when Uncle Mo called out to Aunt M'riar:—"Come along here, M'riar, and see what sort of head[Pg 297] and tail you can make of this here little Dolly!" Whereupon Aunt M'riar came in front out at the back, and listened to a repetition of Dolly's tale while she dried her arms, which had been in a wash-tub.

"Well, Mo," she said, when Dolly had repeated it, more or less chaotically, "if you ask me, what I say is—you make our Dave speak out and tell you, when he's back from school, and say you won't have no nonsense. For the child is that secretive it's all one's time is worth to be even with him.... What's the Doctor's stuff for you've been spending your money on at Ekingses?"

"Only a stimulatin' mixture for to give tone to the system. Dr. Ekings says it'll do it a world o' good. Never known it fail, he hasn't."

"Have you been having any more alarming symptoms, Mo, and never told me?"

"Never been better in my life, M'riar. But I thought it was getting on for time I should have a bottle o' stuff, one sort or other. Don't do to go too long without a dose, nowadays." Whereupon Aunt M'riar looked incredulous, and read the label, and smelt the bottle, and put it back on the mantelshelf. And Uncle Mo asked for the wineglass broke off short, out of the cupboard; because it was always best to be beforehand, whether you had anything the matter or not.

Whatever Aunt M'riar said, Dave was not secretive. Probably she meant communicative, and was referring to the fact that Dave, whenever he was called on for information, though always prompt to oblige, invariably made reply to his questioner in an undertone, in recognition of a mutual confidence, and exclusion from it of the Universe. He had a soul above the vulgarities of publication. Aunt M'riar merely used a word that sounded well, irrespective of its meaning—a common literary practice.

Therefore Dave, when applied to by Uncle Mo for particulars of what "the Man" said, made a statement of which only portions reached the general public. This was the usual public after supper; for Mr. Alibone's companionship in an evening pipe was an almost invariable incident at that hour.

"What's the child a-sayin' of, Mo?" said Aunt M'riar.

"Easy a bit, old Urry Scurry!" said Uncle Mo, drawing on his imagination for an epithet. "Let me do a bit of listening.... What was it the party said again, Davy—just precisely?..." Dave was even less audible than before in his response to this, and Uncle Mo evidently softened it for repetition:—"Said if[Pg 298] Micky told him any—etceterer—lies he'd rip his heart out? Was that it, Dave?"

"Yorce," said Dave, aloud and emphatically. "This time!" Which seemed to imply that the speaker had refrained from doing so, to his credit, on some previous occasion. Dave laid great stress on this point.

Aunt M'riar seemed rather panic struck at the nature of this revelation. "Well now, Mo," said she, "I do wonder at you, letting the child tell such words! And before Mr. Alibone, too!"

Mr. Jerry's expression twinkled, as though he protested against being credited with a Pharisaical purity, susceptible to shocks. Uncle Mo said, with less than usual of his easy-going manner:—"I'm a going, M'riar, to get to the bottom of this here start. So you keep outside o' the ropes!" and then after a little by-play with Dave and Dolly, which made the hair of both rougher than ever, he said suddenly to Dave:—"Well, and wasn't you frightened?"

"Micky wasn't frightened," said Dave, discreetly evasive. He objected to pursuing the subject, and raised a new issue. The sketch that followed of the interview between Micky and the Man was a good deal blurred by constant India-rubber, but its original could be inferred from it—probably as follows, any omissions to conciliate public censorship being indicated by stars. Micky speaks first:

"Who'll you rip up? You lay 'ands upon me, that's all! You do, and I'll blind your eyesight, s'elp me! Why, I'd summing a Police Orficer, and have you took to the Station, just as soon as look at you...." It may be imagined here that Michael's voice rose to a half-shriek, following some movement of the Man towards him. "I would, by Goard! You try it on, that's all!"

"Shut up with your * * row, you * * young * * ... No, master, I ain't molestin' of the boy; only just frightening him for a bit of a spree! I don't look like the sort to hurt boys, do I, guv'nor?" This was addressed to a bystander, named in Dave's report as "the gentleman." Who was accompanied by another, described as "the lady." The latter may have said to the former:—"I think he looks a very kind-hearted man, my dear, and you are making a fuss about nothing." The latter certainly said "Hggrromph!" or something like it, which the reporter found difficult to render. Then the man assumed a hypocritical and plausible manner, saying to Michael:—"I'm your friend, my boy, and there's a new shilling for you, good for two * * tanners any day of the week." Micky seemed to have been softened[Pg 299] by this, and entered into a colloquy with the donor, either not heard or not understood by Dave, whose narrative seemed to point to his having been sent to a distance, with a doubt about inapplicable epithets bestowed on him by the Man, calling for asterisks in a close report. Some of these were probably only half-understood, even by Micky; being, so to speak, the chirps of a gaol-bird. But Dave's report seemed to point to "Now, is that * * young * * to be trusted not to split?" although he made little attempt to render the asterisky parts of speech.

Uncle Mo and Mr. Jerry glanced at one another, seeming to understand a phrase that had puzzled Aunt M'riar.

"That was it, Mo," said Mr. Jerry, exactly as if Uncle Mo had spoken, "spit upon meant split upon." Dave in his innocence had supposed that a profligacy he was himself sometimes guilty of had been referred to. He felt that his uncle's knee was for the moment the stool of repentance, but was relieved when a new reading was suggested. There could be no disgrace in splitting, though it might be painful.

"And, of course," said Uncle Mo, ruffling Dave's locks, "of course, you kept your mouth tight shut—hay?" Dave, bewildered, assented. He connected this bouche cousue with his own decorous abstention, not without credit to himself. Who shall trace the inner workings of a small boy's brain? "Instead of telling of it all, straight off, to your poor old uncle!" There was no serious indignation in Uncle Mo's tone, but the boy was too new for nice distinctions. The suggestion of disloyalty wounded him deeply, and he rushed into explanation. "Becorze—becorze—becorze—becorze," said he—"becorze Micky said not to!" He arrived at his climax like a squib that attains its ideal.

"Micky's an owdacious young varmint," said Uncle Mo. "Small boys that listened to owdacious young varmints never used to come to much good, not in my time!" Dave looked shocked at Uncle Mo's experience. But he had reservations to offer as to Micky, which distinguished him from vulgar listeners to incantations. "Micky said not to, and Micky said Uncle Mo didn't want to hear tell of no Man out in Hoy' Park, and me to keep my mouth shut till I was tolded to speak."

"And you told him to speak, and he spoke!" said Mr. Jerry, charitably helping Dave. "You couldn't expect any fairer than that, old Mo." Public opinion sanctioned a concession in this sense, and Dave came off the stool of repentance.

"Very good, then!" said Uncle Mo. "That's all squared, and we can cross it off. But what I'm trying after is, how did this[Pg 300] here ... bad-languagee"—he halted a minute to make this word—"come to know anything about Goody Prichard upstairs?"

"Did he?" said Mr. Jerry, who of course had only heard Dave on the subject.

"This young party said so," said Uncle Mo, crumpling Dolly to identify her, "at the very first go off. Didn't you, little ginger-pop, hay?" This new epithet was a passing recognition of the suddenness with which Dolly had broken out as an informant. It gratified her vanity, and made her chuckle.

Dave meanwhile had been gathering for an oratorical effort, and now culminated. "I never told Dolly nuffint about Mrs. Picture upstairs. What I said was 'old widder lady.'"

"Dolly translated it, Mo, don't you see?" said Mr. Jerry. Then, to illuminate possible obscurity, he added:—"Off o' one slate onto the other! Twig?"

"I twig you, Jerry." Uncle Mo winked at his friend to show that he was alive to surroundings and tickled Dave suddenly from a motive of policy. "How come this cove to know anything about any widder lady—hay? That's a sort of p'int we've got to consider of." Dave was impressed by his uncle's appearance of profound thought, and was anxious not to lag behind in the solution of stiff problems. He threw his whole soul into his answer. "Because he was The Man." Nathan the prophet can scarcely have been more impressive. Perhaps, on the occasion Dave's answer recalls, someone said:—"Hullo!" in Hebrew, and gave a short whistle. That was what Mr. Jerry did, this time.

Uncle Mo enjoined self-restraint, telegraphically; and said, verbally:—"What man, young Legs? Steady a minute, and tell us who he was." Which will be quite intelligible to anyone whose experience has included a small boy in thick boots sitting on his knee, and becoming excited by a current topic.

Dave restrained his boots, and concentrated his mind on a statement. It came with pauses and repetitions, which may be omitted. "He worze the same Man as when you and me and Micky, only not Dolly, see him come along down the Court Sunday morning. Munce ago!" This was emphatic, to express the date's remoteness. "He wanted for to be told about old Widow Darrable who lived down this Court, and Micky he said no such name, nor yet anywhere's about this neighbourhood, he said. And the Man he said Micky was a young liar. And Micky he said who are you a-callin' liar?..."

"What name did he say?" Uncle Mo interrupted, with growing interest. Dave repeated his misapprehension of it, which incorporated[Pg 301] an idea that similar widows would have similar surnames. If one was Marrable, it was only natural that another should be Darrable.

Aunt M'riar, whose interest also had been some time growing, struck in incisively. "The name was Daverill. He's mixed it up with the old lady in the country he calls his granny." She was the more certain this was so owing to a recent controversy with Dave about this name, ending in his surrender of the pronunciation "Marrowbone" as untenable, but introducing a new element of confusion owing to Marylebone Church, a familiar landmark.

There was something in Aunt M'riar's manner that made Uncle Mo say:—"Anything disagreed, M'riar?" Because, observe, his interest in this mysterious man in the Park turned entirely on Mrs. Prichard's relations with him, and he had never imputed any knowledge of him to Aunt M'riar. Why should he? Indeed, why should we, except from the putting of two and two together? Of which two twos, Uncle Mo might have known either the one or the other—according to which was which—but not both. This story has to confess occasional uncertainty about some of its facts. There may have been more behind Uncle Mo's bit of rudeness about Aunt M'riar's disquiet than showed on the surface. However, he never asked any questions.

Those who have ever had the experience of keeping their own counsel for a long term of years know that every year makes it harder to take others into confidence. A concealed troth-plight, marriage, widowhood—to name the big concealments involving no disgrace—gets less and less easy to publish as time slips by, even as the hinges rust of doors that no man opens. There may be nothing to blush about in that cellar, but the key may be lost and the door-frame may have gripped the door above, or the footstone jammed it from below, and such fungus-growth as the darkness has bred has a claim to freedom from the light. Let it all rest—that is its owner's word to his own soul—let it rest and be forgotten! All the more when the cellar is full of garbage, and he knows it.

There was no garbage in Aunt M'riar's cellar that she was guilty of, but for all that she would have jumped at any excuse to leave that door tight shut. The difficulty was not so much in what she had to tell—for her conscience was clear—as in rousing an unprepared mind to the hearing of it. Uncle Mo, quite the reverse of apathetic to anything that concerned the well-being[Pg 302] of any of his surroundings, probably accounted Aunt M'riar's as second to none but the children's. Nevertheless, the difficulty of rousing him to an active interest in this hidden embarrassment of hers, of which he had no suspicion, was so palpable to Aunt M'riar, that she was sorely put to it to decide on a course of action. And the necessity for action was not imaginary. Keep in mind that all Uncle Mo's knowledge of Aunt M'riar's antecedents was summed up in the fact of her widowhood, which he took for granted—although he had never received it totidem verbis when she first came to supplant Mrs. Twiggins—and which had been confirmed as Time went on, and no husband appeared to claim her. Even if he could have suspected that her husband was still living, there was nothing in the world to connect him with this escaped convict. No wonder Uncle Mo's complete unconsciousness seemed to present an impassable barrier to a revelation. Aunt M'riar had not the advantages of the Roman confessional, with its suggestive guichet. Had some penitent, deprived of that resource, been driven back on the analogous arrangement of a railway booking-office, the difficulty of introducing the subject could scarcely have been greater.

However, Aunt M'riar was not going to be left absolutely without assistance. That evening—the evening, that is, of the day when Dave told the tale of the Man in the Park—Uncle Moses showed an unusual restlessness, following on a period of thoughtfulness and silence. After supper he said suddenly:—"I'm a-going to take a turn out, M'riar. Any objection?"

"None o' my making, Mo. Only Mr. Jerry, he'll be round. What's to be told him?"

"Ah—I'll tell you. Just you say to Jerry—just you tell him...."

"What'll I tell him?" For Uncle Mo appeared to waver.

"Just you tell him to drop in at The Sun, and bide till I come. They've a sing-song going on to-night, with the pianner. He'll make hisself happy for an hour. I'll be round in an hour's time, tell him."

"And where are you off for all of an hour, Mo?"

"That's part of the p'int, M'riar. Don't you be too inquis-eye-tive.... No—I don't mind tellin' of ye, if it's partic'lar. I'm going to drop round to the Station to shake hands with young Simmun Rowe—they've made him Inspector there—he's my old pal Jerky Rowe's son I knew from a boy. Man under forty, as I judge. But he won't let me swaller up his time, trust him! Tell Jerry I'll jine him at half-after nine, the very latest."[Pg 303]

"I'll acquaint him what you say, Mo. And you bear in mind what Mr. Jeffcoat at The Sun had to say about yourself, Mo."

"What was it, M'riar? Don't you bottle it up."

"Why, Mr. Jeffcoat he said, after passing the time of day, round in Clove Street, 'I look to Mr. Wardle to keep up the character of The Sun,' he said. So you bear in mind, Mo."

Whereupon Uncle Mo departed, and Aunt M'riar was left to her own reflections, the children being abed and asleep by now; Dolly certainly, probably Dave.

Presently the door to the street was pushed open, and Mr. Jerry appeared. "I don't see no Moses?" said he.

Aunt M'riar gave her message, over her shoulder. To justify this she should have been engaged on some particular task of the needle, easiest performed when seated. Mr. Alibone, to whom her voice sounded unusual, looked round to see. He only saw that her hands were in her lap, and no sign was visible of their employment. This was unlike his experience of Aunt M'riar. "Find the weather trying, Mrs. Wardle?"

"It don't do me any harm."

"Ah—some feels the heat more than others."

Aunt M'riar roused herself to reply:—"If you're meaning me, Mr. Alibone, it don't touch me so much as many. Only my bones are not so young as they were—that's how it came I was sitting down. Now, supposin' you'd happened in five minutes later, you might have found me tidin' up. I've plenty to do yet awhile." But this was not convincing, although the speaker wished to make it so; probably it would have been better had less effort gone to the utterance of it. For Aunt M'riar's was too obvious.

Mr. Jerry laughed cheerfully, for consolation. "Come now, Aunt M'riar," said he, "you ain't the one to talk as if you was forty, and be making mention of your bones. Just you let them alone for another fifteen year. That'll be time." Mr. Jerry had been like one of the family, so pleasantry of this sort was warranted.

It was not unwelcome to Aunt M'riar. "I'm forty-six, Mr. Jerry," she said. "And forty-six is six-and-forty."

"And fifty-six is six-and-fifty, which is what I am, this very next Michaelmas. Now I call that a coincidence, Mrs. Wardle."

Aunt M'riar reflected. "I should have said it was an accident, Mr. Jerry. Like anythin' else, as the sayin' is. You mention to Mo, not to be late, no more than need be. Not to throw away good bedtime!" Mr. Jerry promised to impress the advantages of early hours, and went his way. But his reflections on his short[Pg 304] interview with Aunt M'riar took the form of asking himself what had got her, and finding no answer to the question. Something evidently had, from her manner, for there was nothing in what she said.

He asked the same question of Uncle Mo, coming away from The Sun, where they did not wait for the very last tune on the piano, to the disgust of Mr. Jeffcoat, the proprietor. "What's got Aunt M'riar?" said Uncle Mo, repeating his words. "Nothin's got Aunt M'riar. She'd up and tell me fast enough if there was anything wrong. What's put you on that lay, Jerry?"

"I couldn't name any one thing, Mo. But going by the looks of it, I should judge there was a screw loose in somebody's wheelbarrow. P'r'aps I'm mistook. P'r'aps I ain't. S'posing you was to ask her, Mo!—asking don't cost much."

Uncle Moses seemed to weigh the outlay. "No," he said. "Asking wouldn't send me to the work'us." And when he had taken leave of his friend at their sundering-point, he spent the rest of his short walk home in speculation as to what had set Jerry off about Aunt M'riar. It was with no misgiving of hearing of anything seriously amiss that he said to her, as he sat in the little parlour recovering his breath, after walking rather fast, while she cultured the flame of a candle whose wick had been cut off short:—"Everything all right, M'riar?" He was under the impression that he asked in a nonchalant, easy-going manner, and he was quite mistaken. It was only perfectly palpable that he meant it to be so, and he who parades his indifference is apt to overreach himself.

Aunt M'riar had been making up her mind that she must tell Mo what she knew about this man Daverill, at whatever cost to herself. It would have been much easier had she known much less. Face to face with an opportunity of telling it, her resolution wavered and her mind, imperfectly made up, favoured postponement. To-morrow would do. "Ho yes," said she. "Everything's all right, Mo. Now you just get to bed. Time enough, I say, just on to midnight!" But her manner was defective and her line of argument ill-chosen. Its result was to produce in her hearer a determination to discover what had got her. Because it was evident that Jerry was right, and that something had.

"One of the kids a-sickenin' for measles! Out with it, M'riar! Which is it—Dave?"

"No, it ain't any such a thing. Nor yet Dolly.... Anyone ever see such a candle?"

"Then it's scarlatinar, or mumps. One or other on 'em!"[Pg 305]

"Neither one nor t'other, Mo. 'Tain't neither Dave nor Dolly, this time." But something or other was somebody or something, that was clear! Aunt M'riar may have meant this, and yet not seen how very clear she made it. She recurred to that candle, and a suggestion of Uncle Mo's. "It's easy sayin', 'Run the toller off,' Mo; but who's to do it with such a little flame?"

Presently the candle, carefully fostered, picked up heart, and the tension of doubt about its future was relieved. "She'll do now," said Uncle Mo, assigning it a gender it had no claim to. "But what's gone wrong, M'riar?"

The appeal for information was too simple and direct to allow of keeping it back; without, at least, increasing its implied importance. Aunt M'riar only intensified this when she answered:—"Nothing at all! At least, nothing to nobody but me. Tell you to-morrow, Mo! It's time we was all abed. Mind you don't wake up Dave!" For Dave was becoming his uncle's bedfellow, and Dolly her aunt's; exchanges to vary monotony growing less frequent as the children grew older.

But Uncle Mo did not rise to depart. He received the candle, adolescent at last, and sat holding it and thinking. He had become quite alive now to what had impressed Mr. Jerry in Aunt M'riar's appearance and manner, and was harking back over recent events to find something that would account for it. The candle's secondary education gave him an excuse. Its maturity would have left him no choice but to go to bed.

A light that flashed through his mind anticipated it. "It's never that beggar," said he, and then, seeing that his description was insufficient:—"Which one? Why, the one we was a-talking of only this morning. Him I've been rounding off with Inspector Rowe—our boy's man he saw in the Park. You've not been alarmin' yourself about him?" For Uncle Mo thought he could see his way to alarm for a woman, even a plucky one, in the mere proximity of such a ruffian. He would have gone on to say that the convict was, by now, probably again in the hands of the police, but he saw as the candle flared that Aunt M'riar's usually fresh complexion had gone grey-white, and that she was nodding in confirmation of something half-spoken that she could not articulate.

He was on his feet at his quickest, but stopped at the sound of her voice, reviving. "What—what's that, M'riar?" he cried. "Say it again, old girl!" So strange and incredible had the words seemed that he thought he heard, that he could not believe in his own voice as he repeated them:—"Your husband!" He was not clear about it even then; for, after a pause long enough for the[Pg 306] candle to burn up, and show him, as he fell back in his seat, Aunt M'riar, tremulous but relieved at having spoken, he repeated them again:—"Your husband! Are ye sure you're saying what you mean, M'riar?"

That it was a relief to have said it was clear in her reply:—"Ay, Mo, that's all right—right as I said it. My husband. You've known I had a husband, Mo." His astonishment left him speechless, but he just managed to say:—"I thought him dead;" and a few moments passed. Then she added, as though deprecatingly:—"You'll not be angry with me, Mo, when I tell you the whole story?"

Then he found his voice. "Angry!—why, God bless the wench!—what call have I to be angry?—let alone it's no concern of mine to be meddlin' in. Angry! No, no, M'riar, if it's so as you say, and you haven't gone dotty on the brain!"

"I'm not dotty, Mo. You'll find it all right, just like I tell you...."

"Well, then, I'm mortal sorry for you, and there you have it, in a word. Poor old M'riar!" His voice went up to say:—"But you shan't come to no harm through that character, if that's what's in it. I'll promise ye that." It fell again. "No—I won't wake the children.... I ain't quite on the shelf yet, nor yet in the dustbin. There's my hand on it, M'riar."

"I know you're good, Mo." She caught at the hand he held out to give her, and kept it. "I know you're good, and you'll do like you say. Only I hope he won't come this way no more. I hope he don't know I'm here." She seemed to shudder at the thought of him.

"Don't he know you're here? That's rum, too. But it's rum, all round. Things are rum, sometimes. Now, just you take it easy, M'riar, and if there's anything you'll be for telling me—because I'm an old friend like, d'ye see?—why, just you tell me as much as comes easy, and no more. Or just tell me nothing at all, if it sootes you better, and I'll set here and give an ear to it." Uncle Mo resumed his former seat, and Aunt M'riar put back the hand he released in her apron, its usual place when not on active service.

"There's nothing in it I wouldn't tell, Mo—not to you—and it won't use much of the candle to tell it. I'd be the easier for you to know, only I'm not so quick as some at the telling of things." She seemed puzzled how to begin.

Uncle Moses helped. "How long is it since you set eyes on him?"[Pg 307]

"Twenty-five years—all of twenty-five years."

Uncle Mo was greatly relieved at hearing this. "Well, but, M'riar—twenty-five years! You're shet of the beggar—clean shet of him! You are that, old girl, legally and factually. But then," said he, "when was you married to him?"

"I've got my lines to show for that, Mo. July six, eighteen twenty-nine."

Uncle Mo repeated the date slowly after her, and then seemed to plunge into a perplexing calculation, very distorting to the natural repose of his face. Touching his finger-tips appeared to make his task easier. After some effort, which ended without clear results, he said:—"What I'm trying to make out is, how long was you and him keeping house? Because it don't figure up. How long should you say?"

"We were together six weeks—no more."

"And you—you never seen him since?"

"Never since. Twenty-five years agone, this last July!" At which Uncle Mo was so confounded that words failed him. His only resource was a long whistle. Aunt M'riar, on the contrary, seemed to acquire narrative powers from hearing her own voice, and continued:—"I hadn't known him a twelvemonth, and I should have been wiser than to listen to him—at my age, over one-and-twenty!"

"But you made him marry you, M'riar?"

"I did that, Mo. And I have the lines and my ring, to show it. But I never told a soul, not even mother. I wouldn't have told her, to be stopped—so bad I was!... What!—Dolly—Dolly's mother? Why, she was just a young child, Dave's age!... How did I come to know him? It was one day in the bar—he came in with Tom Spring, and ordered him a quart of old Kennett. He was dressed like a gentleman, and free with his money...."

"I knew old Tom Spring—he's only dead this two years past. I s'pose that was The Tun, near by Piccadilly, I've heard you speak on."

"... That was where I see him, Mo, worse luck for the day! The One Tun Inn. They called him the gentleman from Australia. He was for me and him to go to Brighton by the coach, and find the Parson there. But I stopped him at that, and we was married in London, quite regular, and we went to Brighton, and then he took me to Doncaster, to be at the races. There's where he left me, at the Crown Inn we went to, saying he'd be back afore the week was out. But he never came—only letters[Pg 308] came with money—I'll say that for him. Only no address of where he was, nor scarcely a word to say how much he was sending. But I kep' my faith towards him; and the promise I made, I kep' all along. And I've never borne his name nor said one word to a living soul beyond one or two of my own folk, who were bound to be quiet, for their sake and mine. Dolly's mother, she came to know in time. But the Court's called me Aunt M'riar all along."

A perplexity flitted through Uncle Mo's reasoning powers, and vanished unsolved. Why had he accepted "Aunt M'riar" as a sufficient style and title, almost to the extent of forgetting the married name he had heard assigned to its owner five years since? He would probably have forgotten it outright, if the post had not, now and then—but very rarely—brought letters directed to "Mrs. Catchpole," which he had passed on, if he saw them first, with the comment:—"I expect that's meant for you, Aunt M'riar"; treating the disposition of some person unknown to use that name as a pardonable idiosyncrasy. When catechized about her, he had been known to answer:—"She ain't a widder, not to my thinking, but her husband he's as dead as a door-nail. Name of Scratchley; or Simmons—some such a name!" As for the designation of "Mrs. Wardle" used as a ceremonial title, it was probably a vague attempt to bring the household into tone. Whoever knows the class she moved in will have no trouble in recalling some case of a similar uncertainty.

This is by way of apology for Uncle Mo's so easily letting that perplexity go, and catching at another point. "What did he make you promise him, M'riar? Not to let on, I'll pound it! He wanted you to keep it snug—wasn't that the way of it?"

"Ah, that was it, Mo. To keep it all private, and never say a word." Then Aunt M'riar's answer became bewildering, inexplicable. "Else his family would have known, and then I should have seen his mother. Seein' I never did, it's no wonder I didn't know her again. I might have, for all it's so many years." It was more the manner of saying this than the actual words, that showed that she was referring to a recent meeting with her husband's mother.

Uncle Mo sat a moment literally open-mouthed with astonishment. At length he said:—"Why, when and where, woman alive, did you see his mother?"

"There now, Mo, see what I said—what a bad one I am at telling of things! Of course, Mrs. Prichard upstairs, she's Ralph Daverill's mother, and he's the man who got out of prison in[Pg 309] the Mornin' Star and killed the gaoler. And he's the same man came down the Court that Sunday and Dave see in the Park. That's Ralph Thornton Daverill, and he's my husband!"

Uncle Mo gave up the idea of answering. The oppression of his bewilderment was too great. It seemed to come in gusts, checked off at intervals by suppressed exclamations and knee-slaps. It was a knockdown blow, with no one to call time. But then, there were no rules, so when a new inquiry presented itself, abrupt utterance followed:—"Wasn't there any?... wasn't there any?..." followed by a pause and a difficulty of word-choice. Then in a lowered voice, an adjustment of its terms, due to delicacy:—"Wasn't there any consequences—such as one might expect, ye know?"

Aunt M'riar did not seem conscious of any need for delicacies. "My baby was born dead," she said. "That's what you meant, Mo, I take it?" Then only getting in reply:—"That was it, M'riar," she went on:—"None knew about it but mother, when it was all over and done with, later by a year and more. I would have called the child Polly, being a girl, if it had lived to be christened.... Why would I?—because that was the name he knew me by at The Tun."

Uncle Mo began to say:—"If the Devil lets him off easy, I'll.... and stopped short. It may have been because he reflected on the limitations of poor Humanity, and the futility of bluster in this connection, or because he had a question to ask. It related to Aunt M'riar's unaccountable ignorance throughout of Daverill's transportation to Norfolk Island, and the particular felony that led to it. "If you was not by way of seeing the police-reports, where was all your friends, to say never a word?"

"No one said nothing to me," said Aunt M'riar. She seemed hazy as to the reason at first; then a light broke:—"They never knew his name, ye see, Mo." He replied on reflection:—"Course they didn't—right you are!" and then she added:—"I only told mother that; and she's no reader."

A mystery hung over one part of the story—how did she account for herself to her family? Was she known to have been married, or had popular interpretation of her absence inclined towards charitable silence about its causes—asked no questions, in fact, giving up barmaids as past praying for? She seemed to think it sufficient light on the subject to say:—"It was some length of time before I went back home, Mo," and he had to press for particulars.

His conclusion, put briefly, was that this deserted wife, reappearing[Pg 310] at home with a wedding-ring after two years' absence, had decided that she would fulfil her promise of silence best by giving a false married name. She had engineered her mother's inspection of her marriage-lines, so as to leave that good woman—a poor scholar—under the impression that Daverill's name was Thornton; not a very difficult task. The name she had chosen was Catchpole; and it still survived as an identifying force, if called on. But it was seldom in evidence, "Aunt M'riar" quashing its unwelcome individuality. The general feeling had been that "Mrs. Catchpole" might be anybody, and did not recommend herself to the understanding. There was some sort o' sense in "Aunt M'riar."

The eliciting of these points, hazily, was all Uncle Mo was equal to after so long a colloquy, and Aunt M'riar was not in a condition to tell more. She relit another half-candle that she had blown out for economy when the talk set in, and called Uncle Mo's attention to the moribund condition of his own:—"There's not another end in the house, Mo," said she. So Uncle Mo had to use that one, or get to bed in the dark.

He had been already moved to heartfelt anger that day against this very Daverill, having heard from his friend the Police-Inspector the story of his arrest at The Pigeons, at Hammersmith; and, of course, of the atrocious crime which had been his latest success with the opposite sex. This Police-Inspector must have been Simeon Rowe, whom you may remember as stroke-oar of the boat that was capsized there in the winter, when Sergeant Ibbetson of the river-police met his death in the attempt to capture Daverill. Uncle Mo's motive in visiting the police-station had not been only to shake hands with the son of an old acquaintance. He had carried what information he had of the escaped convict to those who were responsible for his recapture.

If you turn back to the brief account the story gave of Maisie Daverill's—or Prichard's—return to England, and her son's marriage, and succeed in detecting in Polly the barmaid at the One Tun any trace of the Aunt M'riar with whom you were already slightly acquainted, it will be to the discredit of the narrator. For never did a greater change pass over human identity than the one which converted the beauté de diable of the young wench just of age, who was serving out stimulants to the Ring, and the Turf, and the men-about-town of the late twenties, to that of the careworn, washtub-worn, and needle-worn manipulator of fine linen and broidery, who had been in charge of Dolly and Dave[Pg 311] Wardle since their mother's death three years before. Never was there a more striking testimony to the power of Man to make a desolation of the life of Woman, nor a shrewder protest against his right to do so. For Polly the Barmaid, look you, had done nothing that is condemned by the orthodox moralities; she had not even flown in the face of her legal duty to her parents. Was she not twenty-one, and does not that magic numeral pay all scores?

The Australian gentleman had one card in his pack that was Ace of Trumps in the game of Betrayal. He only played it when nothing lower would take the trick. And Polly got little enough advantage from the sanction of the Altar, her marriage-lines and her wedding-ring, in so far as she held to the condition precedent of those warrants of respectability, that she should observe silence about their existence. The only duplicity of which she had been guilty was the assumption of a false married name, and that had really seemed to her the only possible compromise between a definite breach of faith and passive acceptance of undeserved ill-fame. And when the hideous explanation of Daverill's long disappearance came about, and éclaircissement seemed inevitable, she saw the strange discovery she had made of his relation to Mrs. Prichard, as an aggravation to the embarrassment of acknowledging his past relation to herself.

There was one feeling only that one might imagine she might have felt, yet was entirely a stranger to. Might she not have experienced a longing—a curiosity, at any rate—to set eyes again on the husband who had deserted her all those long years ago? And this especially in view of her uncertainty as to how long his absence had been compulsory? As a matter of fact, her only feeling about this terrible resurrection was one of shrinking as from a veritable carrion, disinterred from a grave she had earned her right to forget. Why need this gruesome memory be raked up to plague her?

The only consolation she could take with her to a probably sleepless pillow was the last charge of the old prizefighter to her not to fret. "You be easy, M'riar. He shan't come a-nigh you. I'll square him fast enough, if he shows up down this Court—you see if I don't!" But when she reached it, there was still balm in Gilead. For was not Dolly there, so many fathoms deep in sleep that she might be kissed with impunity, long enough to bring a relieving force of tears to help the nightmare-haunted woman in her battle with the past?

As for Mo, his threat towards this convicted miscreant had no connection with his recent interview with his police-officer friend—no[Pg 312] hint of appeal to Law and Order. The anger that burnt in his heart and sent the blood to his head was as unsullied, as pure, as any that ever Primeval Man sharpened flints to satisfy before Law and Order were invented.



"You're never fidgeting about him?" said Aunt M'riar to Uncle Mo, one morning shortly after she had told him the story of her marriage. "He's safe out of the way by now. You may rely on your police-inspectin' friend to inspect him. Didn't he as good as say he was took, Mo?"

"That warn't precisely the exact expression used, M'riar," said Uncle Mo, who was doing something with a tool-box at the door that opened on the front-garden that opened on the Court. Dolly was holding his tools, by permission—only not chisels or gouges, or gimlets, or bradawls, or anything with an edge to it—and the sunflower outside was watching them. Uncle Mo was extracting a screw with difficulty, in spite of the fact that it was all but out already. He now elucidated the cause of this difficulty, and left the Police Inspector alone. "'Tain't stuck, if you ask me. I should say there never had been no holt to this screw from the beginning. But by reason there's no life in the thread, it goes round and round rayther than come out.... Got it!—wanted a little coaxin', it did." That is to say, a few back-turns with very light pressure brought the screw-head free enough for a finger-grip, and the rest was easy. "It warn't of any real service," said Uncle Mo. "One size bigger would ketch and hold in. This here one's only so much horse-tentation. Now I can't get a bigger one[Pg 313] through the plate, and I can't rimer out the hole for want of a tool—not so much as a small round file.... Here's a long 'un, of a thread with the first. He'll ketch in if there's wood-backin' enough.... That's got him! Now it'll take a Hemperor, to get that out." Uncle Mo paused to enjoy a moment's triumph, then harked back:—"No—the precise expression made use of was, they might put their finger on him any minute."

"Which don't mean the same thing," said Aunt M'riar.

"No more it don't, M'riar, now you mention it. But he won't trust his nose down this Court. If he does, and I ain't here, just you do like I tell you...."

Aunt M'riar interrupted. "I couldn't find it in me to give him up, Mo. Not for all I'm worth!" She spoke in a quick undertone, with a stress in her voice that terrified Dolly, who nearly let go a hammer she had been allowed to hold, as harmless.

"Not if you knew what he's wanted for, this time?"

"Don't you tell me, Mo. I'd soonest know nothing.... No—no—don't you tell me a word about it!" And Aunt M'riar clapped her hands on her ears, leaving an iron, that she had been trying to abate to a professional heat, to make a brown island on its flannel zone of influence. All her colour—she had a fair share of it—had gone from her cheeks, and Dolly was in two minds whether she should drop the hammer and weep.

Uncle Mo's reassuring voice decided her to do neither, this time. "Don't you be frightened, M'riar," said he. "I wasn't for telling you his last game. Nor it wouldn't be any satisfaction to tell. I was only going to say that if he was to turn up in these parts, just you put the chain down—it's all square and sound now—and tell him he'll find me at The Sun." He closed the door and put the chain he had been revising on its mettle; adding as he did so, in defiance of Astronomy:—"'Tain't any so far off, The Sun." Dolly's amusement at the function of the chain, and its efficacy, was so great as to cause her aunt to rule, as a point of Law, that six times was plenty for any little girl, and that she must leave her uncle a minute's peace.

Dolly granting this, Aunt M'riar took advantage of it, to ask what course Uncle Mo would pursue, if she complied with his instructions. "If you gave him up to the Police, Mo," she said, "and I'd sent him to you, it would be all one as if I'd done it."

"I'll promise not to give him to the Police, if he comes to me off of your sending, M'riar. In course, if he's only himself to thank for coming my way, that's another pair of shoes."[Pg 314]

"But if it was me, what'll you do, Mo?" Aunt M'riar wasn't getting on with those cuffs.

"What'll I do? Maybe I'll give him ... a bit of my mind."

"No—what'll you do, Mo?" There was a new apprehension in her voice as she dropped it to say:—"He's a younger man than you, by nigh twenty years."

The anticipation of that bit of Uncle Mo's mind had gripped his jaw and knitted his brow for an instant. It vanished, and left both free as he answered:—"You be easy, old girl! I won't give him a chance to do me no harm." Aunt M'riar bent a suspicious gaze on him for a moment, but it ended as an even more than usually genial smile spread over the old prizefighter's face, and he gave way to Dolly's request to be sut out only dest this once more; which ended in a Pyramus and Thisbe accommodation of kisses through as much thoroughfare as the chain permitted. They were painful and dangerous exploits; but it was not on either of those accounts that Mrs. Burr, coming home rather early, declined to avail herself of Dolly's suggestion that she also should take advantage of this rare opportunity for uncomfortable endearments; but rather in deference to public custom, whose rules about kissing Dolly thought ridiculous.

The door having to be really shut to release the chain, its reopening seemed to inaugurate a new chapter, at liberty to ignore Dolly's flagrant suggestions at the end of the previous one. Besides, it was possible for Uncle Mo to affect ignorance; as, after all, Dolly was outside. Mrs. Burr did not tax him with insincerity, and the subject dropped, superseded by less interesting matter.

"I looked in to see," said Aunt M'riar, replying to a question of Mrs. Burr's. "The old lady was awake and knitting, last time. First time she'd the paper on her knee, open. Next time she was gone off sound."

"That's her way, ma'am. Off and on—on and off. But she takes mostly to the knitting. And it ain't anything to wonder at, I say, that she drops off reading. I'm sure I can't hold my eyes open five minutes over the newspaper. And books would be worse, when you come to read what's wrote in them, if it wasn't for having to turn over the leaves. Because you're bound to see where, and not turn two at once, or it don't follow on." Aunt M'riar and Uncle Mo confirmed this view from their own experience. It was agreed further that small type—Parliamentary debates and the like—was more soporific than large, besides spinning out the length and deferring the relaxation of turning over, when in book-form. Short accidents, and not too prolix criminal[Pg 315] proceedings were on the whole the most palatable forms of literature. It was not to be wondered at that old Mrs. Prichard should go to sleep over the newspaper at her age, seeing that none but the profoundest scholars could keep awake for five minutes while perusing it. The minute Dave came in from school he should take Dolly upstairs to pay the old lady a visit, and brighten her up a bit.

"Very like she's been extra to-day"—thus Mrs. Burr continued—"by reason of rats last night, and getting no sleep."

"There ain't any rats in your room, missis," said Uncle Mo. "We should hear 'em down below if there was."

"What it is if it ain't rats passes me then, Mr. Wardle. I do assure you there was a loud crash like a gun going off, and we neither of us hardly got any sleep after."

"Queer, anyhow!" said Uncle Mo. But he evidently doubted the statement, or at least thought it exaggerated.

"I'll be glad to tell her you take the opposite view to rats, Mr. Moses," said Mrs. Burr. "For it sets her on fretting when she gets thinking back. And now she'll never be tired of telling about the rats on the ship when she was took out to Australia. Running over her face, and starting her awake in the night! It gives the creeps only to hear."

"There, Dolly, now you listen to how the rats run about on Mrs. Picture when she was on board of the ship." Thus Aunt M'riar, always with that haunting vice of perverting Art, Literature, Morals, and Philosophy to the oppressive improvement of the young. She seldom scored a success, and this time she was hoisted with her own petard. For Dolly jumped with delight at the prospect of a romance of fascinating character, combining Zoölogy and Travel. She applied for a place to hear it, on the knee of Mrs. Burr, who, however, would have had to sit down to supply it. So she was forced to be content with a bald version of the tale, as Mrs. Burr had to see to getting their suppers upstairs. She was rather disappointed at the size and number of the rats. She enquired:—"Was they large rats, or small?" and would have preferred to hear that they were about the size of small cats—not larger, for fear of inconveniencing old Mrs. Picture. And a circumstance throwing doubt on their number was unwelcome to her. For it appeared that old Mrs. Picture slept with her fellow-passengers in a dark cabin, and no one might light a match all night for fear of the Captain. And rats ran over those passengers' faces! But it may have been all the same rat, and to Dolly that seemed much less satisfactory than[Pg 316] troops. She was rather cast down about it, but there was no need to discourage Dave. She could invent some extra rats, when he came back from school.

Lay down the book, you who read, and give but a moment's thought to the strangeness of these two episodes, over half a century apart. One, in the black darkness of an emigrant's sleeping-quarters on a ship outward-bound, all its tenants huddled close in the stifling air; child and woman, weak and strong, sick and healthy even, penned in alike to sleep their best on ranks of shelves, a mere packed storage of human goods, to be delivered after long months of battle with the seas, ten thousand miles from home. Or, if you shrink from the thought that Maisie's luck on her first voyage was so cruel as that, conceive her interview with those rodent fellow-passengers as having taken place in the best quarters money could buy on such a ship—and what would they be, against a good steerage-berth nowadays?—and give her, at least, a couch to herself. Picture her, if you will, at liberty to start from it in terror and scramble up a companion ladder to an open deck, and pick her way through shrouds and a bare headway of restless sprits above, and Heaven knows what of coiled cordage and inexplicable bulkhead underfoot, to some haven where a merciful old mariner, alone upon his watch, shuts his eyes to his duty and tolerates the beautiful girl on deck, when he is told by her that she cannot sleep for the rats. Make the weather fair, to keep the picture at its best, and let her pass the hours till the coming of the dawn, watching the mainmast-truck sway to and fro against the Southern Cross, as the breeze falls and rises, and the bulwark-plash is soft or loud upon the waters.

And then—all has vanished! That was half a century ago, and more. And a very little girl with very blue eyes and a disgracefully rough shock of golden curls has just been told of those rats, and has resolved to add to their number—having power to do so, like a Committee—when she comes to retell the tale to her elder brother; and then they will both—and this is the strangest of all!—they will both go and make a noisy and excited application to an authority to have it confirmed or contradicted. And this authority will be that girl who sat on that deck beneath the stars, and listened to the bells sounding the hours through the night, to keep the ship's time for a forgotten crew, on a ship that may have gone to the bottom many a year ago, on its return voyage home perhaps—who knows?

Before Dave heard Dolly's version of the rats, he had a tale of[Pg 317] his own to tell, coming in just after Mrs. Burr had departed. As he was excited by the event he was yearning to narrate, he did not put it so lucidly as he might have done. He said:—"Oy saw the lady, and another lady, and another lady, all in one carriage. And they see me. And the lady"—he still pronounced this word loydy—"she see me on the poyvement, and 'Stop' she says. And then she says, 'You're Doyvy, oyn't you, that had the ax-nent?' I says these was my books I took to scrool...."

"Didn't you say you was Davy?" said Uncle Mo. And Aunt M'riar she actually said:—"Well, I never!—not to tell the lady who you was!"

Dave was perplexed, looking with blue-eyed gravity from one to the other. "The loydy said I was Doyvy," said he, in a slightly injured tone. He did not at all like the suggestion that he had been guilty of discourtesy.

"In course the lady knew, and knew correct," said Uncle Mo, drawing a distinction which is too often overlooked. "Cut along and tell us some more. What more did the lady say?"

Dave concentrated his intelligence powerfully on accuracy:—"The loydy said to the yuther loydy—the be-yhooterful loydy...."

"Oh, there was a beautiful lady, was there?"

Dave nodded excessively, and continued:—"Said here's a friend of mine, Doyvy Wardle, and they was coming to poy a visit to, to-morrow afternoon."

"And what did the other lady say?"

Dave gathered himself together for an effort of intense fidelity:—"She said—she said—'He's much too dirty to kiss in the open street'—she said, 'and better not to touch.' Yorce!" He seemed magnanimous towards Gwen, in spite of her finical delicacy.

Aunt M'riar turned his face to the light, by the chin. "What's the child been at?" said she.

"The boys had some corks," was Dave's explanation. Nothing further seemed to be required; Uncle Mo merely remarking: "It'll come off with soap." However, there was some doubt about the identity of these carriage ladies. Was one of them the original lady of the rings; who had taken Dave for a drive or vice versa. "Not her!" said Dave; and went on shaking his head so long to give his statement weight, that Aunt M'riar abruptly requested him to stop, as her nervous system could not bear the strain. It was enough, she said, to make her eyes come out by the roots.

"She must have been somebody else. She couldn't have been nobody," said Uncle Mo cogently. "Spit it out, old chap, Who was she?"[Pg 318]

It was easy to say who she was; the strain of attestation had turned on who she wasn't. Dave became fluent:—"Whoy, the loydy what was a cistern, and took me in the roylwoy troyne and in the horse-coach to Granny Marrowbone." For he had never quite dissociated Sister Nora from ball-taps and plumbings. He added after reflection:—"Only not dressed up like then!"

At this point Dolly, whose preoccupation about those rats had stood, between her and a reasonable interest in Dave's adventure, struck in noisily and rudely with disjointed particulars about them, showing a poor capacity for narrative, and provoking Uncle Mo to tickling her with a view to their suppression. Aunt M'riar seized the opportunity to capture Dave and subject him to soap and water at the sink.

As soon as the boys' corks, or the effect of using them after ignition as face-pigments, had become a thing of the past, Dave and Dolly were ready to pay their promised visit to Mrs. Prichard. Uncle Mo suggested that he might act as their convoy as far as the top-landing. This was a departure from precedent, as stair-climbing was never very welcome to Uncle Mo. But Aunt M'riar consented, the more readily that she was all behind with her work. Uncle Mo not only went up with the children, but stayed up quite a time with the old lady and Mrs. Burr. When he came down he did not refer to his conversation with them, but went back to Dave's encounter with his aristocratic friends in the street.

"The lady that sighted our boy out," said he, "she'll be Miss What's-her-name that come on at the Hospital—her with the clean white tucker...." This referred to a vaguely recollected item of the costume in which Sister Nora was dressed up at the time of Dave's accident. It had lapsed, as inappropriate, during her nursing of her father in Scotland, and had not been resumed.

"That's her," said Aunt M'riar. "Sister of Charity—that's what she is. The others are ladyships, one or both. They all belong." The tone of remoteness might have been adopted in speaking of inhabitants of Mars and Venus.

"I thought her the right sort, herself," said Uncle Mo, implying that others of her monde might be safely assumed to be the wrong sort, pending proof of the contrary. "Anyways, she's coming to pay Dave a visit, and I'll be glad of a sight of her, for one!"

"Oh, I've no fault to find, Mo, if that's what you mean." Aunt M'riar was absorbed in her mystery, doing justice to what was probably a lady's nightgear, of imperial splendour. So she probably had spoken rather at random; and, indeed, seemed to think[Pg 319] apology necessary. She took advantage of the end of an episode to say, while contemplating the perfection of two unimpeachable cuffs:—"So long as the others don't give theirselves no airs." Isolated certainly, as to structure; but, after all, has speech any use except to communicate ideas?

Uncle Mo presumably understood, as he accepted the form of speech, saying:—"And so long as we do ourselves credit, M'riar."

"Well, Mo, you never see me do anything but behave."

"That I never did, M'riar. Right you are!" Which ended a little colloquy that contained or implied a protest against the compulsory association of classes, expressed to a certain extent by special leniency towards an exceptional approach from without. Having entered his own share of the protest, Uncle Mo announced his intention of seeking Mr. Bartlett the builder, to speak to him about them rats. This saying Aunt M'riar did not even condemn as enigmatical, so completely did all that relates to buildings lie outside her jurisdiction.

"I've got my 'ands so full just now," said Mr. Bartlett, when Uncle Mo had explained the object of his visit, "or I'd step round to cast an eye on that bressumer. Only you may make your mind easy, and say I told you to it. If we was all of us to get into a perspiration whenever a board creaked or a bit of loose parging come down a chimley, we shouldn't have a minute's peace of our lives. Some parties is convinced of Ghosts the very first crack! Hysterical females in partic'lar." Mr. Bartlett did not seem busy, externally; but he contrived to give an impression that he was attending to a job at Buckingham Palace.

Uncle Mo felt abashed at his implied rebuke. It was not deserved, for he was guiltless of superstition. However, he had accepted the position of delegate of the top-floor, which, of course, was an hysterical floor, owing to the sex of its tenants. For Mr. Bartlett's meaning was the conventional one, that all women were hysterical, not some more than others. Uncle Mo felt that his position was insecure; and that he had better retire from it. Noises, he conceded, was usually nothing at all; but he had thought he would mention them, in this case.

Mr. Bartlett professed himself sincerely obliged to all persons who would mention noises, in spite of their equivocal claims to existence. It might save a lot of trouble in the end, and you never knew. As soon as he had a half an hour to spare he would give attention. Till Tuesday he was pretty well took up. No one need fidget himself about the noises he mentioned; least of all need the landlord be communicated with, as he was not a Practical[Pg 320] Man, but in Independent Circumstances. Moreover, he lived at Brixton.



An effort of horticulture was afoot in the front-garden of No. 7, Sapps Court. Dave Wardle and Dolly were engaged in an attempt to remedy a disaster that had befallen the Sunflower. There was but one—the one that had been present when Uncle Mo was adjusting that door-chain.

Its career had been cut short prematurely. For a boy had climbed up over the end wall of those gardens acrost the Court, right opposite to where it growed; and had all but cut through the stem, when he was cotched in the very act by Michael Ragstroar. That young coster's vigorous assertion of the rights of property did a man's heart good to see, nowadays. The man was Uncle Mo, who got out of the house in plenty of time to stop Michael half-murdering the marauder, as soon as he considered the latter had had enough, he being powerfully outclassed by the costermonger boy. Why, he was only one of them young Druitts, when all was said and done! Michael felt no stern joy in him—a foeman not worth licking, on his merits. But the knife that he left behind, with a buckhorn handle, was a fizzing knife, and was prized in after-years by Michael.

The Wardle household had gone into mourning for the Sunflower. Was it not the same Sunflower as last year, reincarnated? Dolly sat under it, shedding tears. Uncle Mo showed ignorance of gardening, saying it might grow itself on again if you giv' it a chance; not if you kep' on at it like that. Dave disagreed with this view, but respectfully. His Hospital experience had taught him the use of ligatures; and he kept on at it, obtaining from Mrs. Burr a length of her wide toyp to tie it in position.[Pg 321] If limbs healed up under treatment, why not vegetation? The operator was quite satisfied with his handiwork.

In fact, Dave and Dolly both foresaw a long and prosperous life for the flower. They rejected Aunt M'riar's suggestion, that it should be cut clear off and stood in water, as a timid compromise—a stake not worth playing for. And Michael Ragstroar endorsed the flattering tales Hope told, citing instances in support of them derived from his own experience, which appeared to have been exceptional. As, for instance, that over-supplies of fruit at Covent Garden were took back and stuck on the stems again, as often as not. "I seen 'em go myself," said he. "'Ole cartloads!"

"Hark at that unblushing young story!" said Aunt M'riar, busy in the kitchen, Michael being audible without, lying freely. "He'll go on like that till one day it'll surprise me if the ground don't open and swallow him up."

But Uncle Mo had committed himself to an expression of opinion on the vitality of vegetables. He might condemn exaggeration, but he could scarcely repudiate a principle he had himself almost affirmed. He took refuge in obscurity. "'Tain't for the likes of us, M'riar," said he, shaking his head profoundly, "to be sayin' how queer starts there mayn't be. My jiminy!—the things they says in lecters, when they gets the steam up!" He shook his head a little quicker, to recover credit for a healthy incredulity, and arranged a newspaper he was reading against difficulties, to gain advantages of position and a better discrimination of its columns.

"If it was the freckly one with the red head," said Aunt M'riar, referring back to the fracas of the morning, "all I can say is, I'm sorry you took Micky off him." From which it appeared that this culprit was not unknown. Indeed, Aunt M'riar was able to add that Widow Druitt his mother couldn't call her soul her own for that boy's goings on.

"He'd got a tidy good punishing afore I got hold of the scruff of my man's trousers," said Uncle Mo, who seemed well contented with the culprit's retribution; and, of course, he knew. "Besides," he added, "he had to get away over them bottles." That is to say, the wall-top, bristling with broken glass. Humanity had paved the way for the enemy's retreat. Uncle Mo added inquiry as to how the freckly one's behaviour to his family had come to the knowledge of Sapps Court.

"You can see acrost from Mrs. Prichard's. He do lead 'em all a life, that boy! Mrs. Burr she saw him pour something down his[Pg 322] sister's back when she was playing scales. Ink, she says, by the look. But, of course, it's a way off from here, over to Mrs. Druitt's."

"Oh—she's the one that plays the pyanner. Same tune all through—first up, then down! Good sort of tune to go to sleep to!"

"'Tain't a tune, Mo. It's scales. She's being learned how. One day soon she'll have a tune to play. An easy tune. Mrs. Prichard says she could play several tunes before she was that girl's age. Then she hadn't no brother to werrit her. I lay that made a difference." Aunt M'riar went on to mention other atrocities ascribed by Mrs. Burr to the freckly brother. His behaviour to his musical sister had, indeed, been a matter of serious concern to the upstairs tenants, whose window looked directly upon the back of Mrs. Druitt's, who took in lodgers in the main street where Dave had met with his accident.

The boy Michael was suffering from enforced leisure on the day of this occurrence, as his father's cart had met with an accident, and was under repair. Its owner had gone to claim compensation personally from the butcher whose representative had ridden him down; not, he alleged, by misadventure, but from a deep-rooted malignity against all poor but honest men struggling for a livelihood. No butcher, observe, answers this description. Butchers are a class apart, whose motives are extortion, grease, and blood. They wallow in the last with joy, and practise the first with impunity. If they can get a chance to run over you, they'll do it! Trust them for that! Nevertheless, so hopeless would this butcher's case be if his victim went to a lawyer, that it was worth having a try at it afore he done that—so Mr. Rackstraw put it, later. Therefore, he had this afternoon gone to High Street, Clapham, to apply for seven pun' thirteen, and not take a penny less. Hence his son's ability to give attention to local matters, and a temporary respite to his donkey's labours in a paddock at Notting Hill. As for Dave, and for that matter the freckly boy, it was not term-time with them, for some reason. Dave was certainly at home, and was bidden to pay a visit to Mrs. Prichard in the course of the afternoon, if those lady-friends of his whom he met in the street yesterday did not come to pay him a visit. It was not very likely they would, but you never could tell. Not to place reliance!

Uncle Mo kept looking at his watch, and saying that if this here lady meant to turn up, she had better look alive. Being reproved for impatience by Aunt M'riar, he said very good, then—he'd stop on to the hour. Only it was no use runnin' through the[Pg 323] day like this, and nothing coming of it, as you might say. This was only the way he preferred of expressing impatience for the visit. It is a very common one, and has the advantages of concealing that impatience, putting whomsoever one expects in the position of an importunate seeker of one's society, and suggesting that one is foregoing an appointment in the City to gratify him. Uncle Mo did unwisely to tie himself to the hour, as he became thereby pledged to depart, he having no particular wish to do so, and no object at all in view.

But he was not to be subjected to the indignity of a recantation. As the long hand of his watch approached twelve, and he was beginning to feel on the edge of an embarrassment, Dave left off watering the Sunflower, and ran indoors with the news that there were two ladies coming down the Court, one of whom was Sister Nora, and the other "the other lady." Dave's conscience led him into a long and confused discrimination between this other lady and the other other lady, who had shared with her the back-seat in that carriage yesterday. It was quite unimportant which of the two had come, both being unknown to Dave's family. Moreover, there was no time for the inventory of their respective attributes Dave wished to supply. He was still struggling with a detail, in an undertone lest it should transpire in general society, when he found himself embraced from behind, and kissed with appreciation. He had not yet arrived at the age when one is surprised at finding oneself suddenly kissed over one's shoulder by a lady. Besides, this was his old acquaintance, whom he was delighted to welcome, but who made the tactical mistake of introducing "the other lady" as Lady Gwendolen Rivers. Stiffness might have resulted, if it had not been for the conduct of that young lady, which would have thawed an iceberg. It was not always thus with her; but, when the whim was upon her, she was irresistible.

"I know what Dave was saying to you when we came in, Mr. Wardle," said she, after capturing Dolly to sit on her knee, and coming to an anchor. "He was telling you exactly what his friend had said to him about me. He was Micky. I've heard all about Micky. This chick's going to tell me what Micky said about me. Aren't you, Dolly?" She put Dolly at different distances, ending with a hug and a kiss, of which Dolly reciprocated the latter.

Dolly would have embarked at once on a full report, if left to herself. But that unfortunate disposition of Aunt M'riar's to godmother or countersign the utterances of the young, very nearly nipped her statement in the bud. "There now, Dolly[Pg 324] dear," said the excellent woman, "see what the lady says!—you're to tell her just exactly what Micky said, only this very minute in the garden." Which naturally excited Dolly's suspicion, and made her impute motives. She retired within herself—a self which, however, twinkled with a consciousness of hidden knowledge and a resolution not to disclose it.

Gwen's tact saved the position. "Don't you tell them, you know—only me! You whisper it in my ear.... Yes—quite close up, like that." Dolly entered into this with zest, the possession of a secret in common with this new and refulgent lady obviously conferring distinction.

Sister Nora—not otherwise known to Sapps Court—was resuming history during the past year for the benefit of Uncle Mo. She had seen nothing of Dave, or, indeed, of London, since October; till, yesterday, when she got back from Scotland, whom should she see before she had been five minutes out of the station but Dave himself! Only she hardly knew him, his face was so black. Here Uncle Mo and Aunt M'riar shook penitential heads over his depravity. Sister Nora paid a passing tribute to the Usages of Society, which rightly discourage the use of burnt cork on the countenance, and proceeded. She had heard of him, though, having paid a visit to Widow Thrale in the country, where he got well after the Hospital.

This was a signal for Dave to find his voice, and he embarked with animation on a variegated treatment of subjects connected with his visit to the country. A comparison of his affection for Widow Thrale and Granny Marrable, with an undisguised leaning to the latter; a reference to the lady with the rings, her equipage, and its driver's nose; Farmer Jones's bull, and its untrustworthy temper; the rich qualities of duckweed; the mill-model on the mantelshelf, and individualities of his fellow-convalescents. This took time, although some points were only touched lightly.

Possibly Uncle Moses thought it might prove prolix, as he said:—"If I was a young shaver now, and ladies was to come to see me, I should get a letter I was writing, to show 'em." The delicacy and tact with which this suggestion was offered was a little impaired by Aunt M'riar's:—"Yes, now you be a good boy, Dave, and.... and so forth.

Many little boys would not have been so magnanimous as Dave, and would have demurred or offered passive resistance. Dave merely removed Sister Nora's arm rather abruptly from his neck, saying:—"Storp a minute!" and ran up the stairs that opened[Pg 325] on the kitchen where they were sitting. There was more room there than in the little parlour.

Uncle Moses explained:—"You see, ladies, this here young Dave, for all he's getting quite a scholar now, and can write any word he can spell, yet he don't take to doing it quite on his own hook just yet a while. So he gets round the old lady upstairs, for to let him set and write at her table. Then she can tip him a wink now and again, when he gets a bit fogged."

"That's Mrs. Picture," said Gwen, interested. But she did not speak loud enough to invite correction of her pronunciation of the name, and Sister Nora merely said:—"That's her!" and nodded. Dolly at once launched into a vague narrative of a misadventure that had befallen her putative offspring, the doll that Sister Nora had given her last year. Struvvel Peter had met with an accident, his shock head having got in a candle-flame in Mrs. Picture's room upstairs, so that he was quite smooth before he could be rescued. The interest of this superseded other matter.

"Davy he's a great favourite with the ladies," said Uncle Mo, as Struvvel Peter subsided. "He ain't partic'lar to any age. Likes 'em a bit elderly, if anythin', I should say." He added, merely to generalise the conversation, and make talk:—"Now this here old lady in the country she's maybe ten years younger than our Mrs. Prichard, but she's what you might call getting on in years."

"Prichard," said Gwen, for Sister Nora's ear. "I thought it couldn't be Picture."

"Prichard, of course! How funny we didn't think of it—so obvious!"

"Very—when one knows! I think I like Picture best."

Aunt M'riar, not to be out of the conversation, took a formal exception to Uncle Mo's remark:—"The ladies they know how old Old Mrs. Marrable in the country is, without your telling of 'em, Mo."

"Right you are, M'riar! But they don't know nothing about old Mrs. Prichard." Uncle Mo had spoken at a guess of Mrs. Marrowbone's age, of which he knew nothing. It was a sort of emulation that had made him assess his old lady as the senior. He felt vulnerable, and changed the conversation. "That young Squire's taking his time, M'riar. Supposin' now I was just to sing out to him?"

But both ladies exclaimed against Dave being hurried away from his old lady. Besides, they wanted to know some more about[Pg 326] her—what sort of classification hers would be, and so on. There were stumbling-blocks in this path. Better keep clear of classes—stick to generalities, and hope for lucky chances!

"What made Dave think the old souls so much alike, Mrs. Wardle?" said Sister Nora. "Children are generally so sharp to see differences."

"It was a kind of contradictiousness, ma'am, no better I do think, merely for to set one of 'em alongside the other, and look at." Aunt M'riar did not really mean contradictiousness, and can hardly have meant contradistinction, as that word was not in her vocabulary. We incline to look for its origin in the first six letters, which it enjoys in common with contrariwise and contrast. This, however, is Philology, and doesn't matter. Let Aunt M'riar go on.

"Now just you think how alike old persons do get, by reason of change. 'Tain't any fault of their own. Mrs. Prichard she's often by way of inquiring about Mrs. Marrowbone, and I should say she rather takes her to heart."

"How's that, Mrs. Wardle? Why 'takes her to heart'?" A joint question of the ladies.

"Well—now you ask me—I should say Mrs. Prichard she wants the child all to herself." Aunt M'riar's assumption that this inquiry had been made without suggestion on her own part was unwarranted.

"I'll tell you, ladies," said Uncle Mo, rolling with laughter. "The old granny's just as jealous as any schoolgirl! She's that, and you may take my word for it." He seemed afraid this might be interpreted to Mrs. Prichard's disadvantage; for he added, recovering gravity:—"Not that I blame her for it, mind you!"

"Do you hear that, Gwen?" said Sister Nora. "Mrs. Picture's jealous of Granny Marrowbone.... I must tell you about that, Mrs. Wardle. It's really as much as one's place is worth to mention Mrs. Prichard to Mrs. Marrable. I assure you the old lady believes I-don't-know-what about her—thinks she's a wicked old witch who will make the child as bad as herself! She does, indeed! But then, to be sure, Goody Marrable thinks everyone is wicked in London.... What's that, Gwen?"

"We want a pair of scissors, Dolly and I do. Do give us a pair of scissors, Aunt Maria.... Yes, go on, Clo. I hear every word you say. How very amusing!... Thank you, Aunt Maria!" For Gwen and Dolly had just negotiated an exchange of locks of hair, which had distracted the full attention of the[Pg 327] former from the conversation. She had, however, heard enough to confirm a half-made resolution not to leave the house without seeing Mrs. Prichard.

"Ass! Vis piece off vat piece," says Dolly, making a selection from the mass of available gold, which Gwen snips off ruthlessly.

"Well!" says Aunt M'riar, with her usual record of inexperience of childhood. "I never, never did, in all my christened days!"

"Quip off a bid, bid piece with the fidders," says Dolly, delighted at the proceeding. "A bid piece off me at the vethy top." The ideal in her mind is analogous to the snuffing of a candle. A lock of a browner gold than the one she gives it for is secured—big enough, but not what she had dreamed of.

Uncle Mo was seriously concerned at Dave's prolonged absence. Not that he anticipated any mishap!—it was only a question of courtesy to visitors. Supposing Aunt M'riar was to go up and collar Dave and fetch him down, drastically! Uncle Mo always shirked stair-climbing, partly perhaps because he so nearly filled the stairway. He overweighted the part, æsthetically.

Gwen perceived her opportunity. "Please do nothing of the sort, Aunt Maria," said she. "Look here! Dolly and I are going up to fetch him. Aren't we, Dolly?"

It would have needed presence of mind to invent obstacles to prevent this, and neither Uncle Mo nor Aunt M'riar showed it, each perhaps expecting Action on the other's part. Moreover, Dolly's approval took such a tempestuous form that opposition seemed useless. Besides, there was that fatal assurance about Gwen that belongs to young ladies who have always had their own way in everything. It cannot be developed in its fulness late in life.

Aunt M'riar's protest was feeble in the extreme. "Well, I should be ashamed to let a lady carry me! That I should!" If Aunt M'riar had known the resources of the Latin tongue, she might have introduced the expression ceteris paribus. No English can compass that amount of slickness; so her speech was left crude.

Uncle Mo really saw no substantial reason why this beautiful vision should not sweep Dolly upstairs, if it pleased her. He may have felt that a formal protest would be graceful, but he could not think of the right words. And Aunt M'riar had fallen through. Moreover, his memory was confident that he had left his bedroom-door shut. As to miscarriage of the expedition into Mrs. Prichard's territory, he had no misgiving.[Pg 328]

Miss Grahame was convinced that the incursion would have better results if she left it to its originator, than if she encumbered it with her own presence. After all, the room could be no larger than the one she sat in, and might be smaller. Anyhow, they could get on very well without her for half an hour. And she wanted a chat with Dave's guardians; she did not really know them intimately.

"The two little ones must be almost like your own children to you, Mr. Wardle," said she, to broach the conversation.

"Never had any, ma'am," said Uncle Mo, literal-minded from constitutional good-faith.

"If you had had any was what I meant." Perhaps the reason Miss Grahame's eye wandered after Aunt M'riar, who had followed Gwen and Dolly—to "see that things were straight," she said—was that she felt insecure on a social point. Uncle Mo's eye followed hers.

"Nor yet M'riar," said he, seeing a precaution necessary. "Or perhaps I should say one. Not good for much, though! Born dead, I believe—years before ever my brother married her sister. Never set eyes on M'riar's husband! Name of Catchpole, I believe.... That's her coming down." He raised his voice, dropped to say this, as she came within hearing:—"Yes—me and M'riar we share 'em up, the two young characters, but we ain't neither of us their legal parents. Not strickly as the Law goes, but we've fed upon 'em like, in a manner of speaking, from the beginning, or nigh upon it. Little Dave, he's sort of kept me a-going from the early days, afore we buried his poor father—my brother David, you see. He died down this same Court, four year back, afore little Dolly was good for much, to look at.... They all right, M'riar?"

"They're making a nice racket," said Aunt M'riar. "So I lay there ain't much wrong with them." She picked up a piece of work to go on with, and explored a box for a button to meet its views. Evidently a garment of Dolly's. Probably this was a slack season for the higher needlework, and the getting up of fine linen was below par.

Uncle Mo resumed:—"So perhaps you're right to put it they are like my own children, and M'riar's." He was so chivalrously anxious not to exclude his co-guardian from her rights that he might have laid himself open to be misunderstood by a stranger. Miss Grahame understood him, however. So she did, thoroughly, when he went on:—"I don't take at all kindly, though, to their growing older. Can't be helped, I suppose. There's a many peculiar[Pg 329] starts in this here world, and him as don't like 'em just has to lump 'em. As I look at it, changes are things one has to put up with. If we had been handy when we was first made, we might have got our idears attended to, to oblige. Things are fixtures, now."

Miss Grahame laughed, and abstained consciously from referring to the inscrutable decrees of Providence which called aloud for recognition. "Of course, children shouldn't grow," she said. "I should like them to remain three, especially the backs of their necks." Uncle Mo's benevolent countenance shone with an unholy cannibalism, as he nodded a mute approval. There was something very funny to his hearer in this old man's love of children, and his professional engagements of former years, looked at together.

Aunt M'riar took the subject au serieux. "Now you're talking silly, Mo," she said. "If the children never grew, where would the girls be? And a nice complainin' you men would make then!"

Miss Grahame made an effort to get away from abstract Philosophy. "I'm afraid it can't be helped now, anyhow," said she. "Dave is growing, and means to be a man. Oh dear—he'll be a man before we know it. He'll be able to read and write in a few months."

Uncle Mo's face showed a cloud. "Do ye really think that, ma'am?" he said. "Well—I'm afeared you may be right." He looked so dreadfully downcast at this, that Miss Grahame was driven to the conclusion that the subject was dangerous.

She could not, however, resist saying:—"He must know some time, you know, Mr. Wardle. Surely you would never have Dave grow up uneducated?"

"Not so sure about that, ma'am!" said Uncle Mo, shaking a dubious head. "There's more good men spiled by schoolmasters than we hear tell of in the noospapers." What conspiracy of silence in the Press this pointed at did not appear. But it was clear from the tone of the speaker that he thought interested motives were at the bottom of it.

Now Miss Grahame was said by critical friends—not enemies; at least, they said not—to be over-anxious to confer benefits of her own selection on the Human Race. Her finger-tips, they hinted, were itching to set everyone else's house in order. Naturally, she had a strong bias towards Education, that most formidable inroad on ignorance of what we want to know nothing about. Uncle Mo regarded the human mind, if not as a stronghold against knowledge, at least as a household with an inalienable[Pg 330] right to choose its guests. Miss Grahame was in favour of invitations issued by the State, and visé'd by the Church. Everything was to be correct, and sanctioned. But it was quite clear to her that these views would not be welcome to the old prizefighter, and she was fain to be content with the slight protest against Obscurantism just recorded. In short, Miss Grahame found nothing to say, and the subject had to drop.

She could, however, lighten the air, and did so. "What on earth are they about upstairs?" said she. "I really think I might go up and see." And she was just about to do so, with the assent of Aunt M'riar, when the latter said suddenly:—"My sakes and gracious! What's that?" rather as though taken aback by something unaccountable than alarmed by it.

Uncle Mo listened a moment, undisturbed; then said, placidly:—"Water-pipes, I should say." For in a London house no sound, even one like the jerk of a stopped skid on a half-buried boulder, is quite beyond the possible caprice of a choked supply-pipe.

Miss Grahame would have accepted the sound as normal, with some reservation as to the strangeness of everyday noises in this house, but for Aunt M'riar's exclamation, which made her say:—"Isn't that right?"

It was not, and the only human reply to the question was a further exclamation from Aunt M'riar—one of real alarm this time—at a disintegrating cracking sound, fraught with an inexplicable sense of insecurity. "That ain't water-pipes," said Uncle Mo.

Then something—something terrifying—happened in the Court outside. Something that came with a rush and roar, and ended in a crash of snapping timber and breaking glass. Something that sent a cloud of dust through the shivered window-panes into the room it darkened. Something that left behind it no sound but a sharp cry for help and moaning cries of pain, and was followed by shouts of panic and alarm, and the tramp of running feet—a swift flight to the spot of helpers who could see it without, the thing that had to be guessed by us within. Something that had half-beaten in the door that Uncle Mo, as soon as sight was possible, could be seen wrenching open, shouting loudly, inexplicably:—"They are underneath—they are underneath!"

Who were underneath? The children? And underneath what?

A few seconds of dumb terror seemed an age to both women. Then, Gwen on the stairs, and her voice, with relief in its ring of resolution. "Don't talk, but come up at once! The old lady[Pg 331] must be got down, somehow! Come up!" A consciousness of Dolly crying somewhere, and of Dave on the landing above, shouting:—"Oy say, oy say!" more, Miss Grahame thought, as a small boy excited than one afraid; and then, light through the dust-cloud. For Uncle Mo, with a giant's force, had released the jammed door, and a cataract of brick rubbish, falling inwards, left a gleam of clear sky to show Gwen, beckoning them up, none the less beautiful for the tension of the moment, and the traces of a rough baptism of dust.

What was it that had happened?



Had Gwen really been able to see to the bottom of her cousin's, the Hon. Percival's mind, she might not have felt quite so certain about his predispositions towards her adopted aunt. The description of these two as wanting to rush into each other's arms was exaggerated. It would have been fairer to say that Aunt Constance was fully prepared to consider an offer, and that Mr. Pellew was beginning to see his way to making one.

The most promising feature in the lady's state of mind was that she was formulating consolations, dormant now, but actively available if by chance the gentleman did not see his way. She was saying to herself that if another flower attracted this bee, she herself would thereby only lose an admirer with a disposition—only a slight one perhaps, but still undeniable—to become corpulent in the course of the next few years. She could subordinate her dislike of smoking so long as she could suppose him ever so little in earnest; but, if he did waver by any chance,[Pg 332] what a satisfaction it would be to dwell on her escape from—here a mixed metaphor came in—the arms of a tobacco shop! She could shut her eyes, if she was satisfied of the sincerity of a redeeming attachment to herself, to all the contingencies of the previous life of a middle-aged bachelor about town; but they would no doubt supply a set-off to his disaffection, if that was written on the next page of her book of Fate. In short, she would be prepared in that case to accept the conviction that she was well rid of him. But all this was subcutaneous. Given only the one great essential, that he was not merely philandering, and then neither his escapades in the past, nor his cigars, nor even his suggestions towards a corporation, would stand in the way of a whole-hearted acceptance of a companion for life who had somehow managed to be such a pleasant companion during that visit at the Towers. At least, she would be better off than her four sisters. For this lady had a wholesome aversion for her brothers-in-law, tending to support the creed which teaches that the sacrament of marriage makes of its votaries, or victims, not only parties to a contract, but one flesh, and opens up undreamed-of possibilities of real fraternal dissension.

The gentleman, on the other hand, was in what we may suppose to be a corresponding stage of uncertainty. He too was able to perceive, or affect a perception, that, after all, if he came to the scratch and the scratch eventuated—as scratches do sometimes—in a paralysis of astonishment on the lady's part that such an idea should ever have entered into the applicant's calculations, it wouldn't be a thing to break his heart about exactly. He would have made rather an ass of himself, certainly. But he was quite prepared not to be any the worse.

This was, however, not subcutaneous, with him. He said it to himself, quite openly. His concealment of himself from himself turned on a sort of passive resistance he was offering to a growing reluctance to hear a negative to his application. He was, despite himself, entertaining the question:—Was this woman whom he had been assessing and wavering over, more masculino, conceivably likely to reject him on his merits? Might she not say to him:—"I have seen your drift, and found you too pleasant an acquaintance to condemn offhand. But now that you force me to ask myself the question, 'Can I love you?' you leave me no choice but to answer, 'I can't.'" And he was beginning to have a misgiving that he would very much rather that that scratch, if ever he came to it, should end on very different lines from this. All this, mind you, was under the skin of his reflections.[Pg 333]

As he walked away slowly in the moonlight, with the appointment fresh in his mind to return next day on a shallow archæological pretext, he may have been himself at a loss for his reason for completing a tour of the square, and pausing to look up at the house before making a definite start for his Club, or his rooms in Brook Street. Was any reason necessary, beyond the fineness of the night? He had an indisputable right to walk round Cavendish Square without a reason, and he exercised it. He rather resented the policeman on his beat saying goodnight to him, as though he were abnormal, and walked away in the opposite direction from that officer, who was searchlighting areas for want of something to do, with an implication of profound purpose. He decided on loneliness and a walk exactly the length of a cigar, throwing its last effort to burn his fingers away on his doorstep. He carried the animation of his thoughts on his face upstairs to bed with him, for it lasted through a meditation at an open window, through a chorus of cats about their private affairs, and the usual controversy about the hour among all the town-clocks, which becomes embittered when there is only one hour to talk about, and compromise is impossible. Mr. Pellew heard the last opinion and retired for the night at nine minutes past. But he first made sure that that Quarterly Review was in evidence, and glanced at the Egyptian article to confirm his impression of the contents. They were still there. He believed all his actions were sane and well balanced, but this was credulity. One stretches a point sometimes, to believe oneself reasonable.

It was a model September afternoon—and what can one say more of weather?—when at half-past three precisely Mr. Pellew's hansom overshot the door of 102, Cavendish Square, and firmly but amiably insisted on turning round to deposit its fare according to the exact terms of its contract. Its proprietor said what he could in extenuation of its maladroitness. They shouldn't build these here houses at the corners of streets; it was misguiding to the most penetrating intellect. He addressed his fare as Captain, asking him to make it another sixpence. He had been put to a lot of expense last month, along of the strike, and looked to the public to make it up to him. For the cabbies had struck, some weeks since, against sixpence a mile instead of eightpence. Mr. Pellew's heart was touched, and he conceded the other sixpence.

There at the door was Miss Grahame's open landaulet, and there were she and Gwen in it, just starting to see the former's little boy. That was how Dave was spoken of, at the risk of creating a scandal. They immediately lent themselves to a gratuitous[Pg 334] farce, having for its object the liberation of Mr. Pellew and Miss Dickenson from external influence.

"Constance was back, wasn't she?" Thus Miss Grahame; and Gwen had the effrontery to say she was almost certain, but couldn't be quite sure. If she wasn't there, she would have to go without that pulverised Pharaoh, as Sir Somebody Something's just yearnings for his Quarterly were not to be made light of. "Don't you let Maggie take the book up to her, Percy. You go up in the sitting-room—you know, where we were playing last night?—and if she doesn't turn up in five minutes don't you wait for her!" Then the two ladies talked telegraphically, to the exclusion of Mr. Pellew, to the effect that Aunt Constance had only gone to buy a pair of gloves in Oxford Street, and was pledged to an early return. The curtain fell on the farce, and a very brief interview with Mary at the door ended in Mr. Pellew being shown upstairs, without reservation. So he and Aunt Constance had the house to themselves.

To do them justice, the attention shown to the covering fiction of the book-loan was of the very smallest. It could not be ignored altogether; so Miss Dickenson looked at the article. She did not read a word of it, but she looked at it. She went further, and said it was interesting. Then it was allowed to lie on the table. When the last possible book has been printed—for even Literature must come to an end some time, if Time itself does not collapse—that will be the last privilege accorded to it. It will lie on the table, while all but a few of its predecessors will stand on a bookshelf.

"It's quite warm out of doors," said Mr. Pellew.

"Warmer than yesterday, I think," said Miss Dickenson. And then talk went on, stiffly, each of its contribuents execrating its stiffness, but seeing no way to relaxation.

"Sort of weather that generally ends in a thunderstorm."

"Does it? Well—perhaps it does."

"Don't you think it does?"

"I thought it felt very like thunder an hour ago."

"Rather more than an hour ago, wasn't it?"

"Just after lunch—about two o'clock."

"Dessay you're right. I should have said a quarter to." Now, if this sort of thing had continued, it must have ended in a joint laugh, and recognition of its absurdity. Aunt Constance may have foreseen this, inwardly, and not been prepared to go so fast. For she accommodated the conversation with a foothold, partly ethical, partly scientific.[Pg 335]

"Some people feel the effect of thunder much more than others. No doubt it is due to the electrical condition of the atmosphere. Before this was understood, it was ascribed to all sorts of causes."

"I expect it's nerves. Haven't any myself! Rather like tropical storms than otherwise."

Here was an opportunity to thaw the surface ice. The lady could have done it in an instant, by talking to the gentleman about himself. That is the "Open Sesame!" of human intercourse. She preferred to say that in their village—her clan's, that is—in Dorsetshire, there was a sept named Chobey that always went into an underground cellar and stopped its ears, whenever there was a thunderstorm.

Mr. Pellew said weakly:—"It runs in families." He had to accept this one as authentic, but he would have questioned its existence if anonymous. He could not say:—"How do you know?" to an informant who could vouch for Chobey. Smith or Brown would have left him much freer. The foothold of the conversation was giving way, and a resolute effort was called for to give it stability. Mr. Pellew thought he saw his way. He said:—"How jolly it must be down at the Towers—day like this!"

"Perfectly delicious!" was the answer. Then, in consideration of the remoteness of mere landscape from personalities, it was safe to particularise. "I really think that walk in the shrubbery, where the gentian grew in such quantity, is one of the sweetest places of the kind I ever was in."

"I know I enjoyed my.... Mr. Pellew had started to say that he enjoyed himself there. He got alarmed at his own temerity and backed out ... "my cigars there," said he. A transparent fraud, for the possessive pronoun does not always sound alike. "My," is one thing before "self," another before "cigars." Try it on both, and see. Mr. Pellew felt he was detected. He could slur over his blunder by going straight on; any topic would do. He decided on:—"By-the-by, did you see any more of the dog?"

"Achilles? He went away, you know, with Mr. Torrens and his sister, a few days after."

"I meant that. Didn't you say something about seeing him with the assassin—the old gamekeeper—what was his name?"

"Old Stephen Solmes? Yes. I saw them walking together, apparently on the most friendly terms. Gwen told me afterwards. They were walking towards his cottage, and I believe Achilles saw him safe home, and came back."

"Just so. Torrens told me about the dog when old Solmes came[Pg 336] to say good-bye to him, and do a little more penance in sackcloth and ashes. I am using Torrens's words. The old chap made a scene—went down on his knees and burst out crying—and the dog tried to console him. Torrens seemed quite clear about what was passing in the dog's mind."

"What did he say the dog meant? Can you remember?" Miss Dickenson was settling down to chat, perceptibly.

"Pretty well. Achilles had wished to say that he personally, so far from finding fault with Mr. Solmes for trying to shoot him, fully recognised that he drew trigger under a contract to do so, given circumstances which had actually come about. He would not endeavour to extenuate his own conduct, but submitted that he was entitled to a lenient judgment, on the ground that a hare, the pursuit of which was the indirect cause of the whole mishap, had jumped up from behind a stone.... Well—I suppose I oughtn't to repeat all a profane poet thinks fit to say...."

"Please do! Never mind the profanity!" It really was a stimulus to the lady's curiosity.

Mr. Pellew repeated the apology which the collie's master had ascribed to him. Achilles had only acted in obedience to Instincts which had been Implanted in him in circumstances for which he was not responsible, and which might, for anything he knew, have been conceived in a spirit of mischief by the Author of all Good. This levity was stopped by a shocked expression on the lady's face. "Well," said the gentleman, "you mustn't blow me up, Miss Dickenson. I am only repeating, as desired, the words of a profane poet. He had apologized, he told me, for what he said, when his sister boxed his ears."

"Serve him right. But what was his apology?"

"That he owed it to Achilles, who was unable to speak for himself, to lay stress on what he conceived to be the dog's Manichæan views, which he had been most unwillingly forced to infer from his practice of suddenly barking indignantly at the Universe, in what certainly seemed an unprayerful spirit."

"It was only Mr. Torrens's nonsense. He wanted to blaspheme a little, and jumped at the opportunity. They are all alike, Poets. Look at Byron and Shelley!"

Mr. Pellew, for his own purposes no doubt, managed here to insinuate that he himself was not without a reverent side to his character. These fillahs were no doubt the victims of their own genius, and presumably Mr. Torrens was a bird of the same feather. He himself was a stupid old-fashioned sort of fillah, and couldn't always follow this sort of thing. It was as delicate[Pg 337] a claim as he could make to sometimes going to Church on Sunday, as was absolutely consistent with Truth.

To his great relief, Miss Dickenson did not catechize him closely about his religious views. She only remarked, reflectively and vaguely:—"One hardly knows what to think. Anyone would have said my father was a religious man, and what does he do but marry a widow, less than three years after my mother's death!"

Certainly the coherency of this speech was not on its surface. But Mr. Pellew accepted it contentedly enough. At least, it clothed him with some portion of the garb of a family friend; say shoes or gloves, not the whole suit. Whichever it was, he pulled them on, and felt they fitted. He began to speak, and stopped; was asked what he was going to say, and went on, encouraged:—"I was going to say, only I pulled up because it felt impertinent...."

"Not to me! Please tell me exactly!"

"I was going to ask, how old is your father? Is he older than me?"

"Why, of course he is! I'm thirty-six. How old are you? Tell the truth!" At this exact moment a funny thing happened. The passée elderly young lady vanished—she who had been so often weighed, found wanting, and been put back in the balance for reconsideration. She vanished, and a desirable alter ego—Mr. Pellew's, as he hoped—was looking across at him from the sofa by the window, swinging the tassel of the red blind that kept the sun in check, and hushed it down to a fiery glow on the sofa's occupant waiting to know how old he was.

"I thought I had told you. Nearly forty-six."

"Very well, then! My father is five-and-twenty years your senior."

"If you had to say exactly why you dislike your father's having married again, do you think you could?"

"Oh dear, no! I'm quite sure I couldn't. But I think it detestable for all that."

"I'm not sure that you're right. You may be, though! Are you sure it hasn't something to do with the ... with the party he's married?"

"Not at all sure." Dryly.

"Can't understand objecting to a match on its own account. It's always something to do with the outsider that comes in—the one one knows least of."

"You wouldn't like this one." It may seem inexplicable, that these words should be the cause of the person addressed taking the[Pg 338] nearest chair to the speaker, having previously been a nomad with his thumbs in the armholes of his waistcoat. Close analysis may connect the action with an extension of the family-friendship wardrobe, which it may have recognised—a neckcloth, perhaps—and may be able to explain why it seemed doubtful form to the Hon. Percival to keep his thumbs in those waistcoat-loops. To us, it is perfectly easy to understand—without any analysis at all—why, at this juncture, Miss Dickenson said:—"I suppose you know you may smoke a cigarette, if you like?"

In those days you might have looked in tobacconist's shopwindows all day and never seen a cigarette. It was a foreign fashion at which sound smokers looked askance. Mossoos might smoke it, but good, solid John Bull suspected it of being a kick-shaw not unconnected with Atheism. He stuck to his pipe chiefly. Nevertheless, it was always open to skill to fabricate its own cigarettes, and Mr. Pellew's aptitude in the art was known to Miss Dickenson. The one he screwed up on receipt of this licence was epoch-making. The interview had been one that was going to last a quarter of an hour. This cigarette made its duration indeterminate. Because a cigarette is not a cigar. The latter is like a chapter in a book, the former like a paragraph. At the chapter's end vacant space insists on a pause for thought, for approval or condemnation of its contents. But every paragraph is as it were kindled from the last sentence of its predecessor; as soon as each ends the next is ready. The reader aloud is on all fours with the cigarette-smoker. He doesn't always enjoy himself so much, but that is neither here nor there.

It was not during the first cigarette that Mr. Pellew said to Aunt Constance:—"Where is it they have gone to-day, do you know?" That first one heard, if it listened, all about the lady's home in Dorsetshire and her obnoxious stepmother. It may have wondered, if it was an observant cigarette, at the unreserve with which the narrator took its smoker into the bosom of her confidence, and the lively interest her story provoked. If it had—which is not likely, considering the extent of its experience—a shrewd perception of the philosophy of reciprocity, probably it wondered less. It heard to the end of the topic, and Mr. Pellew asked the question above stated, as he screwed up its successor, and exacted the death-duty of an ignition from it.

"They ought to be coming back soon," was the answer. "I told them I wouldn't have tea till they came. They're gone to see a protégée of Clotilda's, who lives down a Court. It's not very far off; under a mile, I should think. We saw him in the street,[Pg 339] coming from the railway-station. He looked a nice boy. That is to say, he would have looked nice, only he and his friends had all been blacking their faces with burnt cork."

"What a lark! Why didn't you go to the Court?... I'm jolly glad you didn't, you know, but you might have...." This was just warm enough for the position. With its slight extenuation of slang, it might rank as mere emphasized civility.

It was Miss Dickenson's turn to word something ambiguous to cover all contingencies. "Yes, I should have been very sorry if you had come to bring the book, and not found me here." This was clever, backed by a smile. She went on:—"They thought two would be quite enough, considering the size of the Court."

A spirit of accommodation prevailed. Oh yes—Mr. Pellew quite saw that. Very sensible! "It don't do," said he, "to make too much of a descent on this sort of people. They never know what to make of it, and the thing don't wash!" But he was only saying what came to hand; because he was extremely glad Miss Dickenson had not gone with the expedition. How far he perceived that his own visit underlay its arrangements, who can say? His perception fell short of being ignorant that he was aware of it. Suppose we leave it at that!

Still, regrets—scarcely Jeremiads—that she had not been included would be becoming, all things considered. They could not be misinterpreted. "I was sorry not to go," she said. "His father was a prizefighter and seems interesting, according to Clotilda. Her idea is to get Gwen enthusiastic about people of this sort, or any of her charitable schemes, rather than dragging her off to Switzerland or Italy. Besides, she won't go!"

"That's a smasher! The idea, I suppose, is to get her away and let the Torrens business die a natural death. Well—it won't!"

"You think not?"

"No thinking about it! Sure of it! I've known my cousin Gwen from a child—so have you, for that matter!—and I know it's useless. If she will, she will, you may depend on't; and if she won't she won't, and there's an end on't. You'll see, she'll consent to go fiddling about for three months or six months to Wiesbaden or Ems or anywhere, but she'll end by fixing the day and ordering her trousseau, quite as a matter of course! As for his changing—pooh!" Mr. Pellew laughed aloud. Miss Dickenson looked a very hesitating concurrence, which he felt would bear refreshing. He continued:—"Why, just look at the case! A man loses his eyesight and is half killed five minutes after seeing—for the first time, mind you, for the first time!—my cousin[Pg 340] Gwen Rivers, under specially favourable circumstances. When he comes to himself he finds out in double quick time that she loves him? He change? Not he!"

"Do tell me, Mr. Pellew.... I'm only asking, you know; not expressing any opinion myself.... Do tell me, don't you think it possible that it might be better for both of them—for Gwen certainly, if it ... if it never...."

"If it never came off? If you ask me, all I can say is, that I haven't an opinion. It is so absolutely their affair and nobody else's. That's my excuse for not having an opinion, and you see I jump at it."

"Of course it is entirely their affair, and one knows. But one can't help thinking. Just fancy Gwen the wife of a blind country Squire. It is heartbreaking to think of—now isn't it?"

But Mr. Pellew was not to be moved from his position. "It's their own look out," said he. "Nobody else's!" He suddenly perceived that this might be taken as censorious. "Not finding fault, you know! You're all right. Naturally, you think of Gwen."

"Whom ought I to think of? Oh, I see what you mean. It's true I don't know Mr. Torrens—have hardly seen him!"

"I saw him a fairish number of times—one time with another. He's a sort of fillah ... a sort of fillah you can't exactly describe. Very unusual sort of fillah!" Mr. Pellew held his cigarette a little way off to look at it thoughtfully, as though it were the usual sort of fellow, and he was considering how he could distinguish Mr. Torrens from it.

"You mean he's unusually clever?"

"Yes, he's that. But that's not exactly what I meant, either. He's clever, of course. Only he doesn't give you a chance of knowing it, because he turns everything to nonsense. What I wanted to say was, that whatever he says, one fancies one would have said it oneself, if one had had the time to think it out."

Miss Dickenson didn't really identify this as a practicable shade of character, but she pretended she did. In fact she said:—"Oh, I know exactly what you mean. I've known people like that," merely to lubricate the conversation. Then she asked: "Did you ever talk to the Earl about him?"

"Tim? Yes, a little. He doesn't disguise his liking for him, personally. He's rather ... rather besotted about him, I should say."

"She isn't." How Mr. Pellew knew who was meant is not clear, but he did.[Pg 341]

"Her mother, you mean," said he. "Do you know, I doubt if Philippa dislikes him? I shouldn't put it that way. But I think she would be glad for the thing to die a natural death for all that. Eyes apart, you know." When people begin to make so very few words serve their purpose it shows that their circumferences have intersected—no mere tangents now. A portion of the area of each is common to both. Forgive geometry this intrusion on the story, and accept the metaphor.

"Yes, that's what it is," said Aunt Constance. And then in answer to a glance that, so to speak, asked for a confirmation of a telegram:—"Oh yes, I know we both mean the same thing. You were thinking of that old story—the old love-affair. I quite understand." She might have added "this time," because the last time she knew what Mr. Pellew meant she was stretching a point, and he was subconscious of it.

"That's the idea," said he. "I fancy Philippa's feelings must be rather difficult to define. So must his papa's, I should think."

"I can't fancy anything more embarrassing."

"Of course Tim has a mighty easy time of it, by comparison."

"Does he necessarily know anything about it?"

"He must have heard of it. It wasn't a secret, though it wasn't announced in the papers. These things get talked about. Besides, she would tell him."

"Tell him? Of course she would! She would tell him that that young Torrens was a 'great admirer' of hers."

"Yes—I suppose she would make use of some expression of that sort. Capital things, expressions!"

Aunt Constance seemed to think this phrase called for some sort of elucidation. "I always feel grateful," said she, "to that Frenchman—Voltaire or Talleyrand or Rochefoucauld or somebody—who said language was invented to conceal our thoughts. That was what you meant, wasn't it?"

"Precisely. I suppose Sir Torrens—this chap's papa—told the lady he married....

"She was a Miss Abercrombie, I believe."

"Yes—I believe she was.... Told her he was a great admirer of her ladyship once on a time—a boyish freak—that sort of thing! Pretends all the gilt is off the gingerbread now. Wish I had been there when Sir Hamilton turned up at the Towers, after the accident."

"I was there."

"Well! And then?"

"Nothing and then. They were—just like anybody else. When[Pg 342] I saw them was after his son had begun to pull round. Till then I fancy neither he nor the sister....

"Irene. ''Rene,' he calls her. Jolly sort of girl, and very handsome."

"Neither Irene nor her father came downstairs much. It was after you went away."

"And what did they say?—him and Philippa, I mean."

"Oh—say? What did they say? Really I can't remember. Said what a long time it was since they met. Because I don't believe they had met—not to shake hands—for five-and-twenty years!"

"What a rum sort of experience! Do you know?... only of course one can't say for certain about anything of this sort....

"Do I know? Go on."

"I was going to say that if I had been them, I should have burst out laughing and said what a couple of young asses we were!" The Hon. Percival was very colloquial, but syntax was not of the essence of the contract, if any existed.

Aunt Constance was not in the mood to pooh-pooh the tendresses of a youthful passion. She was, if you will have it so, sentimental. "Let me think if I should," said she, with a momentary action of closing her eyes, to keep inward thought free of the outer world. In a moment they were open again, and she was saying:—"No, I should not have done anything of the sort. One laughs at young people, I know, when they are so very inflammatory. But what do we think of them when they are not?" She became quite warm and excited about it, or perhaps—so thought Mr. Pellew as he threw his last cigarette-end away through that open window—the blaze of a sun that was forecasting its afterglow made her seem so. Mr. Pellew having thrown away that cigarette-end conscientiously, and made a pretence of seeing it safe into the front area, was hardly bound to go back to his chair. He dropped on the sofa, beside Miss Dickenson, with one hand over the back. He loomed over her, but she did not shy or flinch.

"What indeed!" said he seriously, answering her last words. "A young man that does not fall in love seldom comes to any good." He was really thinking to himself:—"Oh, the mistakes I should have been saved in life, if only this had happened to me in my twenties!" He was not making close calculation of what the lady's age would have been in those days.

She was dwelling on the abstract question:—"You know, say what one may, the whole of their lives is at stake. And we never[Pg 343] think them young geese when the thing comes off, and they become couples."

"No. True enough. It's only when it goes off and they don't."

"And what is so creepy about it is that we never know whether the couple is the right couple."

"Never know anything at all about anything beforehand!" Mr. Pellew was really talking at random. Even the value of this trite remark was spoiled. For he added:—"Nor afterwards, for that matter!"

Miss Dickenson admitted that we could not lay too much stress on our own limitations. But she was not in the humour for platitudes. Her mind was running on a problem that might have worried Juliet Capulet had she never wedded her Romeo and taken a dose of hellebore, but lived on to find that County Paris had in him the makings of a lovable mate. Quite possible, you know! It was striking her that if a trothplight were nothing but a sort of civil contract—civil in the sense of courteous, polite, urbane, accommodating—an exchange of letters through a callous Post Office—a woman might be engaged a dozen times and meet the males implicated in after-life, without turning a hair. But even a hand-clasp, left to enjoy itself by its parents—not nipped in the bud—might poison their palms and recrudesce a little in Society, long years after! While, as for lips....

Something crossed her reflections, just on the crux of them—their most critical point of all. "There!" said she. "Did you hear that? I knew we should have thunder."

But Mr. Pellew had heard nothing and was incredulous. He verified his incredulity, going to the window to look out. "Blue sky all round!" said he. "Must have been a cart!" He went back to his seat, and the explanation passed muster.

Miss Dickenson picked up her problem, with that last perplexity hanging to it. No, it was no use!—- that equable deportment of Sir Hamilton and Philippa remained a mystery to her. She, however—mere single Miss Dickenson—could not of course guess how these two would see themselves, looking back, with all the years between of a growing Gwen and Adrian; to her, it was just the lapse of so much time, nothing more—a year or so over the time she had known Philippa. For Romeo and Juliet were metaphors out of date when she came on the scene, and Philippa was a Countess.

She was irritated by the inability she felt to comment freely on these views of the position. It would have been easier—she saw this—to do so had Mr. Pellew gone back to his chair, instead[Pg 344] of sitting down again beside her on the sofa. It was her own fault perhaps, because she could not have sworn this time that she had not seemed to make room. That unhappy sex—the female one—lives under orders to bristle with incessant safeguards against misinterpretation. Heaven only knows—or should we not rather say, Hell only knows?—what latitudes have claimed "encouragement" as their excuse! That lady in Browning's poem never should have looked at the gentleman so, had she meant he should not love her. So he said! But suppose she saw a fly on his nose—how then?

Therefore it would never have done for Miss Dickenson to go into close analysis of the problems suggested by the meeting of two undoubted fiancés of years long past, and the inexplicable self-command with which they looked the present in the face. She had to be content with saying:—"Of course we know nothing of the intentions of Providence. But it's no use pretending that it would not feel very—queer." She had to clothe this word with a special emphasis, and backed it with an implied contortion due to teeth set on edge. She added:—"All I know is, I'm very glad it wasn't me." After which she was clearly not responsible if the topic continued.

Mr. Pellew took the responsibility on himself of saying with deep-seated intuition:—"I know precisely what you mean. You're perfectly right. Perfectly!"

"A hundred little things," said the lady. The dragging in of ninety-nine of these, with the transparent object of slurring over the hundredth, which each knew the other was thinking of, merely added to its vividness. Aunt Constance might just as well have let it alone, and suddenly talked of something else. For instance, of the Sun God's abnormal radiance, now eloquent of what he meant to do for the metropolis when he got a few degrees lower, and went in for setting, in earnest. Or if she shrank from that, as not prosaic enough to dilute the conversation down to mere chat-point, the Ethiopian Serenaders who had just begun to be inexplicable in the Square below. But she left the first to assert its claim to authorship of the flush of rose colour that certainly made her tell to advantage, and the last to account for the animation which helped it. For the enigmatic character of South Carolina never interferes with a certain brisk exhilaration in its bones. She repeated in a vague way:—"A hundred things!" and shut her lips on particularisation.

"I don't know exactly how many," said Mr. Pellew gravely. He sat drawing one whisker through the hand whose elbow was on[Pg 345] the sofa-back, with his eyes very much on the flush and the animation. "I was thinking of one in particular."

"Perhaps I was. I don't know."

"I was thinking of the kissin'."

"Well—so was I, perhaps. I don't see any use in mincing matters." She had been the mincer-in-chief, however.

"Don't do the slightest good! When it gets to kissin'-point, it's all up. If I had been a lady, and broken a fillah off, I think I should have been rather grateful to him for getting out of the gangway. Should have made a point of getting out, myself."

The subject had got comfortably landed, and could be philosophically discussed. "I dare say everyone does not feel the point as strongly as I do," said Miss Dickenson. "I know my sister Georgie—Mrs. Amphlett Starfax—looks at it quite differently, and thinks me rather a ... prig. Or perhaps prig isn't exactly the word. I don't know how to put it...."

"Never mind. I know exactly what you mean."

"You see, the circumstances are so different. Georgie had been engaged six times before Octavius came on the scene. But, oh dear, how I am telling tales out of school!..."

"Never mind Georgie and Octavius. They're not your sort. You were saying how you felt about it, and that's more interesting. Interests me more!" Conceive that at this point the lady glanced at the speaker ever so slightly. Upon which he followed a slight pause with:—"Yes, why are you a prig, as she thought fit to put it?"

"Because I told her that if ever I found a young man who suited me—and vice versa—and it got to ... to what you called just now 'kissing-point,' I should not be so ready as she had been to pull him off like an old glove and throw him away. That was when I was very young, you know. It was just after she jilted Ludwig, who afterwards married my sister Lilian—Baroness Porchammer; my eldest sister...."

"Oh, she jilted Ludwig, and he married your sister Lilian, was that it?" Mr. Pellew, still stroking that right whisker thoughtfully, was preoccupied by something that diverted interest from this family history.

Aunt Constance did not seem to notice his abstraction, but talked on. "Yes—and what is so funny about Georgie with Julius is that they don't seem to mind kissing now from a new standpoint. Georgie particularly. In fact, I've seen her kiss him on both sides and call him an old stupid. However, as you say, the cases are not alike. Perhaps if Philippa's old love had[Pg 346] married her sister—Lady Clancarrock of Garter, you know—instead of Uncle Cosmo, as they call him, they could have got used to it, by now. Only one must look at these things from one's own point of view, and by the light of one's experience." A ring on her right hand might have been one of the things, and the sun-ray through the blind-slip the light of her experience, as she sat accommodating the flash-light of the first to the gleam of the second.

If everyone knew to a nicety his or her seeming at the precise point of utterance of any speech, slight or weighty, nine-tenths of our wit or profundity would remain unspoken. Man always credits woman with knowing exactly what she looks like, and engineering speech and seeming towards the one desired end of impressing him—important Him! He acquits himself of studying the subject! Probably he and she are, as a matter of fact, six of the one and half a dozen of the other. Of this one thing the story feels certain, that had Miss Dickenson been conscious of her neighbour's incorporation into a unit of magnetism—he being its victim—of her mere outward show in the evening light with the subject-matter of her discourse, this little lecture on the ethics of kissing would never have seen the light. But let her finish it. Consider that she gives a pause to the ring-gleam, then goes on, quite in earnest.

"It's very funny that it should be so, I know—but there it is! If I had ever been engaged, or on the edge of it—I never have, really and truly!—and the infatuated youth had ... had complicated matters to that extent, I never should have been able to wipe it off. That's an expression of a small niece of mine—three-and-a-quarter.... Oh dear—but I never said you might!..."

For the gentleman's conduct had been extraordinary! unwarranted, perhaps, according to some. According to others, he may only have behaved as a many in his position would have behaved half an hour sooner. "I am," said he, "the infatuated youth. Forgive me, Aunt Constance!" For he had deliberately taken that lady in his arms and kissed her.

The foregoing is an attempt to follow through an interview the development of events which led to its climax—a persistent and tenacious attempt, more concerned with its purpose than with inquiring into the interest this or that reader may feel who may chance to light upon this narrative. No very close analysis of the sublatent impulses and motives of its actors is professed or attempted; only a fringe of guesswork at the best. But let a protest be recorded against the inevitable vernacular judgment in[Pg 347] disfavour of the lady. "Of course—the minx! As if she didn't know what she was about the whole time. As if she wasn't leading him on!" Because that is the attitude of mind of the correct human person in such a case made and provided. That is, if an inevitable automatic action can be called an attitude of mind. Is rotation on its axis an attitude of a wheel's mind? To be sure, though, a wheel may turn either of two ways. A ratchet-wheel is needed for this metaphor.

However, the correct human person may be expressing a universal opinion. This is only the protest of the story, which thinks otherwise. But even if it were so, was not Miss Dickenson well within her rights? The story claims that, anyhow. At the same time, it records its belief that four-fifths of the dénouement was due to Helios. The magic golden radiance intoxicated Mr. Pellew, and made him forget—or remember—himself. The latter, the story thinks. That ring perhaps had its finger in the pie—but this may be to inquire too curiously.

One thing looks as though Miss Dickenson had not been working out a well-laid scheme. Sudden success does not stop the heart with a jerk, or cause speechlessness, even for a moment. Both had happened to her by the time she had uttered her pro forma remonstrance. Her breath lasted it out. Then she found it easiest to remain passive. She was not certain it would not be correct form to make a show of disengaging herself from the arms that still held her. But—she didn't want to!

This may have justified Mr. Pellew's next words:—"You do forgive me, don't you?" more as assertion than inquiry.

She got back breath enough to gasp out:—"Oh yes—only don't talk! Let me think!" And then presently:—"Yes, I forgive you in any case. Only—I'll tell you directly. Let's look out of the window. I want to feel the air blow.... You startled me rather, that's all!"

Said Mr. Pellew, at the window, as he reinstated an arm dispossessed during the transit:—"I did it to ... to clinch the matter, don't you see? I thought I should make a mess of it if I went in for eloquence."

"It was as good as any way. I wasn't the least angry. Only...."

"Only what?"

"Only by letting you go on like this"—half a laugh came in here—"I don't consider that I stand committed to anything."

"I consider that I stand committed to everything." The arm may have slightly emphasized this.[Pg 348]

"No—that's impossible. It must be the same for both."

"Dearest woman! Just as you like. But I know what I mean." Indeed, Mr. Pellew did seem remarkably clear about it. Where, by-the-by, was that passée young lady, and that middle-aged haunter of Clubs? Had they ever existed?

Bones was audible from below, as they stood looking out at the west, where some cirro-stratus clouds were waiting to see the sun down beyond the horizon, and keep his memory golden for half an hour. Bones was affecting ability to answer conundrums, asked by an unexplained person with a banjo, who treated him with distinction, calling him "Mr. Bones." Both were affecting an air of high courtesy, as of persons familiar with the Thrones and Chancelleries of Europe. The particulars of these conundrums were inaudible, from distance, but the scheme was clear. Bones offered several solutions, of a fine quality of wit, but wrong. He then produced a sharp click or snap, after his kind, and gave it up. His friend or patron then gave the true solution, whose transcendent humour was duly recognised by Europe, and moved Bones to an unearthly dance, dryly but decisively accompanied on his instrument. A sudden outburst of rhythmic banjo-thuds and song followed, about Old Joe, who kicked up behind and before, and a yellow girl, who kicked up behind Old Joe. Then the Company stopped abruptly and went home to possible soap and water. Silence was left for the lady and gentleman at No. 102 to speak to one another in undertones, and to wonder what o'clock it was.

"They ought to be back by now," says she. "I wonder they are so late. They are making quite a visitation of it."

Says he:—"Gwen is fascinated with the old prizefighter. Just like her! I don't care how long they stop; do you?"

"I don't think it matters," says she, "to a quarter of an hour. The sunset is going to be lovely." This is to depersonalise the position. A feeble attempt, under the circumstances.

It must have been past the end of that quarter of an hour, when—normal relations having been resumed, of course—Miss Dickenson interrupted a sub-vocal review of the growth of their acquaintance to say, "Come in!" The tap that was told to come in was Maggie. Was she to be making the tea? Was she to lay it? On the whole she might do both, as the delay of the absentees longer was in the nature of things impossible.

But, subject to the disposition of Mr. Pellew's elbows on the window-sill, they might go on looking out at the sunset and feel réglés. Short of endearments, Maggie didn't matter.[Pg 349]

The self-assertion of Helios was amazing. He made nothing of what one had thought would prove a cloud-veil—tore it up, brushed it aside. He made nothing, too, of the powers of eyesight of those whose gaze dwelt on him over boldly.

"It is them," said Miss Dickenson, referring to a half-recognised barouche that had turned the corner below. "But who on earth have they got with them? I can't see for my eyes."

"Only some friend they've picked up," said Mr. Pellew. But he rubbed his own eyes, to get rid of the sun. Recovered sight made him exclaim:—"But what are the people stopping for?... I say, something's up! Come along!" For, over and above a mysterious impression of the unusual that could hardly be set down to the bird's-eye view as its sole cause, it was clear that every passer-by was stopping, to look at the carriage. Moreover, there was confusion of voices—Gwen's dominant. Mr. Pellew did not wait to distinguish speech. He only repeated:—"Come along!" and was off downstairs as fast as he could go. Aunt Constance kept close behind him.

She was too bewildered to be quite sure, offhand, why Gwen looked so more than dishevelled, as she met them at the stairfoot, earnest with excitement. Not panic-struck at all—that was not her way—but at highest tension of word and look, as she made the decision of her voice heard:—"Oh, there you are, Mr. Pellew. Make yourself useful. Go out and bring her in. Never mind who! Make haste. And Maggie's to fetch the doctor." Mr. Pellew went promptly out, and Miss Dickenson was beginning:—"Why—what?..." But she had to stand inquiry over. For nothing was possible against Gwen's:—"Now, Aunt Connie dear, don't ask questions. You shall be told the whole story, all in good time! Let's get her upstairs and get the doctor." They both followed Mr. Pellew into the street, where a perceptible crowd, sprung from nowhere, was already offering services it was not qualified to give, in ignorance of the nature of the emergency that had to be met, and in defiance of a policeman.

Mr. Pellew had taken his instructions so quickly from Miss Grahame, still in the carriage, that he was already carrying the doctor's patient, whoever and whatever she was, but carefully as directed, into the house. At any rate it was not Miss Grahame herself, for that lady's voice was saying, collectedly:—"I don't think it's any use Maggie going, Gwen, because she doesn't know London. James must fetch him, in the carriage. Dr. Dalrymple, 65, Weymouth Street, James! Tell him he must come, at once! Say I said so." It was then that Aunt Constance perceived in[Pg 350] the clear light of the street, that not only was the person Mr. Pellew was carrying into the house—whom she could only identify otherwise as having snow-white hair—covered with dust and soiled, but that Gwen and Miss Grahame were in a like plight, the latter in addition being embarrassed by a rent skirt, which she was fain to hold together as she crossed the doorstep. Once in the house she made short work of it, finishing the rip, and acquiescing in the publicity of a petticoat. It added to Aunt Constance's perplexity that the carriage and James appeared in as trim order as when they left the door three hours since. These hours had been eventful to her, and she was really feeling as if the whole thing must be a strange dream.

She got no explanation worth the name at the time of the incident. For Gwen's scattered information after the old snow-white head was safe on her own pillow—she insisted on this—and its owner had been guaranteed by Dr. Dalrymple, was really good for very little. The old lady was Cousin Clo's little boy's old Mrs. Picture, and she was the dearest old thing. There had been an accident at the house while they were there, and a man and a woman had been hurt, but no fatality. The man had not been taken to the Hospital, as his family had opposed his going on the ground of his invulnerability. The old prizefighter was uninjured, as well as those two nice children. They might have been killed. But as to the nature of the accident, it remained obscure, or perhaps the ever-present consciousness of her own experience prevented Aunt Constance getting a full grasp of its details. The communication, moreover, was crossed by that lady's exclamation:—"Oh dear, the events of this afternoon!" just at the point where the particulars of the mishap were due, to make things intelligible.

At which exclamation Gwen, suddenly alive to a restless conscious manner of Aunt Constance's, pointed at her as one she could convict without appeal, saying remorselessly:—"Mr. Pellew has proposed and you have accepted him while we were away, Aunt Connie! Don't deny it. You're engaged!"

"My dear Gwen," said Miss Dickenson, "if what you suggest were true, I should not dream for one moment of concealing it from you. But as for any engagement between us, I assure you there is no such thing. Beyond showing unequivocal signs of an attachment which...."

Gwen clapped the beautiful hands, still soiled with the dirt of Sapps Court, and shook its visible dust from her sleeve. Her laugh rang all through the House. "That's all right!" she cried.[Pg 351] "He's shown unequivocal signs of an attachment which. Well—what more do you want? Oh, Aunt Connie, I'm so glad!"

All that followed had for Miss Dickenson the same dream-world character, but of a dream in which she retained presence of mind. It was needed to maintain the pretext of unruffled custom in her communications with her male visitor; the claim to be, before all things, normal, on the part of both, in the presence of at least one friend who certainly knew all about it, and another who may have known. Because there was no trusting Gwen. However, she got through it very well.

Regrets were expressed that Sir Somebody Something had not got his Quarterly after all; but it would do another time. Hence consolation. After Mr. Pellew had taken a farewell, which may easily have been a tender one, as nobody saw it, she heard particulars of the accident, which shall be told here also, in due course.

Some embarrassment resulted from Gwen's headstrong action in bringing the old lady away from the scene of this accident. She might have been provided for otherwise, but Gwen's beauty and positiveness, and her visible taking for granted that her every behest would be obeyed, had swept all obstacles away. As for her Cousin Clotilda, she was secretly chuckling all the while at the wayward young lady's reckless incurring of responsibilities towards Sapps Court.



If love-letters were not so full of their writers' mutual satisfaction with their position, what a resource amatory correspondence would be to history!

In the letters to her lover with which Gwen at this time filled every available minute, the amatory passages were kept in check[Pg 352] by the hard condition that they had to be read aloud to their blind recipient. So much so that the account which she wrote to him of her visit to Sapps Court will be very little the shorter for their complete omission.

It begins with a suggestion of suppressed dithyrambics, the suppression to be laid to the door of Irene. But with sympathy for her, too—for how can she help it? It then gets to business. She is going to tell "the thing"—spoken of thus for the first time—in her own way, and to take her own time about it. It is not even to be read fast, but in a leisurely way; and, above all, Irene is not to look on ahead to see what is coming; or, at least, if she does she is not to tell. Quite enough for the present that he should know that she, Gwen, has escaped without a scratch, though dusty. She addresses her lover, most unfairly, as "Mr. Impatience," in a portion of the letter that seems devised expressly to excite its reader's curiosity to the utmost. The fact is that this young beauty, with all her inherent stability and strength of character, was apt to be run away with by impish proclivities, that any good, serious schoolgirl would have been ashamed of. This letter offered her a rare opportunity for indulging them. Let it tell its own tale, even though we begin on the fifth page.

"I must pause now to see what sort of a bed Lutwyche has managed to arrange for me, and ring Maggie up if it isn't comfortable. Not but what I am ready to rough it a little, rather than that the old lady should be moved. She is the dearest old thing that ever was seen, with the loveliest silver hair, and must have been surpassingly beautiful, I should say. She keeps on reminding me of someone, and I can't tell who. It may be Daphne Palliser's grandmother-in-law, or it may be old Madame Edelweissenstein, who's a chanoinesse. But the nice old lady on the farm I told you of keeps mixing herself up in it—and really all old ladies are very much alike. By-the-by, I haven't explained her yet. Don't be in such a hurry!... There now!—my bed's all right, and I needn't fidget. Clo says so. The old lady is asleep with a stayed pulse, says Dr. Dalrymple, who has just gone. And anything more beautiful than that silver hair in the moonlight I never saw. Now I really must begin at the beginning.

"Clo and I started on our pilgrimage to Sapps Court at half-past three, without the barest suspicion of anything pending, least of all what I'm going to tell. Go on. We left Mr. Percival Pellew on the doorstep, pretending he was going to leave a book for Aunt Constance, and go away. Such fun! He went upstairs and stopped two hours, and I do believe they've got to some sort[Pg 353] of decorous trothplight. Only A. C. when accused, only says he has shown unmistakable evidence of something or other, I forget what. Why on earth need people be such fools? There they both are, and what more can they want? She admits, however, that there is 'no engagement'! When anybody says that, it means they've been kissing. You ask Irene if it doesn't. Any female, I mean. Now go on.

"A more secluded little corner of the world than Sapps Court I never saw! Clo's barouche shot us out at the head of the street it turns out of, and went to leave a letter at St. John's Wood and be back in half an hour. We had no idea of a visitation, then. Besides, Clo had to be at Down Street at half-past five. There is an arch you go in by, and we nearly stuck and could go neither way. I was sorry to find the houses looked so respectable, but Clo tells me she can take me to some much better ones near Drury Lane. Dave, the boy, and his Uncle and Aunt, and a little sister, Dolly, whom I nearly ate, live in the last house down the Court. When we arrived Dolly was watering a sunflower, almost religiously, in the front-garden eight feet deep. It would die vethy thoon, she said, if neglected. She told us a long screed, about Heaven knows what—I think it related to the sunflower, which a naughty boy had chopped froo wiv a knife, and Dave had tighted on, successfully.

"The old prizefighter is just like Dr. Johnson, and I thought he was going to hug Clo, he was so delighted to see her, and so affectionate. So was Aunt Maria, a good woman who has lost her looks, but who must have had some, twenty years ago. I got Dolly on my knee, and we did the hugging, Dolly telling me secrets deliciously, and tickling. She is four next birthday, a fact which Aunt Maria thought should have produced a sort of what the Maestro calls precisione. I preferred Dolly as she was, and we exchanged locks of hair.

"We had only been there a very short time when Uncle Moses suggested that Dave should fetch a letter he was writing, from 'Old Mrs. Prichard's Room' upstairs, and Dave—who is a dear little chap of six or seven or eight—rushed upstairs to get it. I forgot how much I told you about the family, but I know I said something in yesterday's letter. Anyhow, 'old Mrs. Prichard' was not new to me, and I was very curious to see her. So when more than five minutes had passed and no Dave reappeared, I proposed that Dolly and I should go up to look for him, and we went, Aunt Maria following in our wake, to cover contingencies. She went back, after introducing me to the very sweet old lady[Pg 354] in a high-backed chair, who comes in as the explanation of the beginning of this illegible scrawl. How funny children are! I do believe Uncle Moses was right when he said that Dave, if anything, preferred his loves to be 'a bit elderly.' I am sure these babies see straight through wrinkles and decay and toothless gums to the burning soul the old shell imprisons, and love it. Do you recollect that picture in the Louvre we both had seen, and thought the same about?—the old man with the sweet face and the appalling excrescence on the nose, and the little boy's unflinching love as he looks up at him. Oh, that nose!!! However, there is nothing of that in old Mrs. Picture, as Dave called her, according to her own spelling. Her face is simply perfect.... There!—I went in to look at it again by the moonlight, and I was quite right. And as for her wonderful old white hair!... I could write for ever about her.

"I think our incursion must have frightened the old soul, because she had lived up there by herself, except for her woman-friend who is out all day, and Aunt Maria and the children now and then, since she came to the house; so that a perfect stranger rushing in lawlessly—well, can't you fancy? However, she really stood it very well, considering.

"'I have heard of you, ma'am, from Dave. He's told me all about your rings. Where is the boy?... Haven't you, Dave—told me all about the lady's rings?'

"Dave came from some absorbing interest at the window, to say:—'It wasn't her,' with a sweet, impressive candour. He went back immediately. Something was going on outside. I explained, as I was sharp enough to guess, that my mother was the lady with the rings. I got into conversation with the old lady, and we soon became friends. She was very curious about 'old Mrs. Marrable' in the country. Indeed, I believe Uncle Mo was not far wrong when he said she was as jealous as any schoolgirl. It is most amusing, the idea of these two octogenarians falling out over this small bone of contention!

"While we talked, Dave and Dolly looked out of the window, Dave constantly supplying bulletins of the something that was going on without. I could not make it out at first, and his interjections of 'Now she's took it off'—'Now she's put it on again'—made me think he was inspecting some lady who was 'trying on' in the opposite house. It appeared, however, that the thing that was taken off and put on was not a dress, but some sort of plaister or liniment applied to the face of a boy, the miscreant who had made a raid on Dave's garden that morning, and spoiled his sunflower[Pg 355] (see ante). It was because Dave had become so engrossed in this that he had not come downstairs again with his letter.

"The old lady, I am happy to say, was most amiable, and took to me immensely. I couldn't undertake to say now exactly how we got on such good terms so quickly. We agreed about the wickedness of that boy, especially when Dave reported ingratitude on his part towards the sister, who was tending him, whom he smacked and whose hair he pulled. To think of his smacking that dear girl that played the piano so nicely all day! And pulling her back-tails so she called out when she was actually succouring his lacerated face. I gathered that her name may have been Matilda, and that she wore plaits.

"'I think her such a nice, dear girl,' said old Mrs. Picture—I like that name for her—'because she plays the piano all day long, and I sit here and listen, and think of old times.' I asked a question. 'Why, no, my dear!—I can't say she knows any tunes. But she plays her scales all day, very nicely, and makes me think of when my sister and I played scales—oh, so many years ago! But we played tunes too. I sometimes think I could teach her "The Harmonious Blacksmith," if only we was a bit nearer.' I could see in her old face that she was back in the Past, listening to a memory. How I wished I had a piano to play 'The Harmonious Blacksmith' for her again!

"I got her somehow to talk of herself and her antecedents, but rather stingily. She married young and went abroad, but she seemed not to want to talk about this. I could not press her. She had come back home—from wherever she was—many years after her husband's death, with an only son, the survivor of a family of four children. He was a man, not a boy; at least, he married a year or so after. She 'could not say that he was dead.' Otherwise, she knew of no living relative. Her means of livelihood was an annuity 'bought by my poor son before....'—before something she either forgot to tell, or fought shy of—the last, I think. 'I'm very happy up here,' she said. 'Only I might not be, if I was one of those that wanted gaiety. Mrs. Burr she lives with me, and it costs her no rent, and she sees to me. And my children—I call 'em mine—come for company, 'most every day. Don't you, Dave?'

"Dave tore himself away from the pleasing spectacle of his enemy in hospital, and came to confirm this. 'Yorce!' said he, with emphasis. 'Me and Dolly!' He recited rapidly all the days of the week, an appointment being imputed to each. But he weakened the force of his rhetoric by adding:—'Only not some of 'em[Pg 356] always!' Mrs. Picture then said:—'But you love your old granny in the country better than you do me, don't you, Davy dear?' Whereupon Dave shouted with all his voice:—'I doesn't!' and flushed quite red, indignantly.

"The old lady then said, most unfairly:—'Then which do you love best, dear child? Because you must love one best, you know!' I thought Dave's answer ingenious:—'I loves whichever it is, best.' If only all young men were as candid about their loves, wouldn't they say the same?

"Dolly had picked up the recitation of the days of the week for her own private use, and was repeating it ad libitum in a melodious undertone, always becoming louder on Flyday, Tackyday, Tunday. She was hanging over the window-sill watching the surgical case opposite. How glad I am now when I recollect my impulse to catch the little maid and keep her on my knee! Dolly's good Angel prompted this, and had a hand in my inspiration to tell the story of Cinderella, with occasional refrains of song which I do believe old Mrs. Picture enjoyed as much as the two smalls. I shudder as I think what it would have been if they had still been at the window when it came—the thing I have been so long postponing.

"It came without any warning that it would have been possible to act upon. We might certainly have shouted to those below to stand clear, if we had ourselves understood. But how could we? You can have no idea how bewildering it was.

"When something you can't explain portends Heavens-know-what, what on earth can you do? Pretend it's ghosts, and very curious and interesting? I think I might have done so this time, when an alarming noise set all our nerves on the jar. It was not a noise capable of description—something like Behemoth hiccuping goes nearest. Only I didn't want to frighten the babies, so I said nothing about the ghosts. Dolly said it wasn't her—an obvious truth. Old Mrs. Picture said it must have been her chair—an obvious fallacy. She then deserted her theory and suggested that Dave should 'go down and see if anything was broken,' which Dave immediately started to do, much excited.

"I felt very uncomfortable and creepy, for it recalled the shock of earthquake Papa and I were in at Pisa two years ago—it is a feeling one never gets over, that terremotitis, as Papa called it. I believe I was more alarmed than Dolly, and as for Dave, I am sure that so far he thought the whole thing the best fun imaginable. Picture to yourself, as he slams the door behind him and shouts his message to the world below, that I remain seated facing[Pg 357] the light, while Dolly on my knee listens to a postscript of Cinderella. My eyes are fixed on the beauty of the old side-face I see against the light. Get this image clear, and then I will tell you what followed.

"Even as I sat looking at the old lady, that noise came again, and plaster came tumbling down from the ceiling, obscuring the window behind. As I fixed my eyes upon it, falling, I saw beyond it what really made me think at first that I was taking leave of my senses. The houses opposite seemed to shoot straight up into the air, as though they were reflections in a mirror which had fallen forward. An instant after, I saw what had happened. It was the window that was moving, not the houses.

"It was so odd! I had time to see all this and change my mind, before the great crash came to explain what had happened. For until the roar of a cataract of disintegrated brickwork, followed by a cloud of choking dust, showed that the wall of the room had fallen outwards, leaving the world clear cut and visible under a glorious afternoon sky until that dust-cloud came and veiled it, I could not have said what the thing was, or why. There seemed to be time—good solid time!—between the sudden day-blaze and the crash below, and I took advantage of it to wonder what on earth was happening.

"Then I knew it all in an instant, and saw in another instant that the ceiling was sagging down; for aught I knew, under the weight of a falling roof.

"Old Mrs. Picture was not frightened at all. 'You get this little Dolly safe, my dear,' said she to me. 'I can get myself as far as the landing. But don't you fret about me. I'm near my time.' She seemed quite alive to the fact that the house was falling, but at eighty, what did that matter? She added quite quietly:—'It's owing to the repairs.' Dolly suddenly began to weep, panic-struck.

"I saw that Mrs. Picture could not rise from her chair, though she tried. But what could I do? Any attempt of mine to pick her up and carry her would only have led to delay. I saw it would be quicker to get help, and ran for it, overtaking Dave on the stairs.

"Below was chaos. The kitchen where I had left my cousin talking with Uncle Mo and Aunt Maria was all but darkened, and the place was a cloud of dust. I could see that Uncle Mo was wrenching open the street-door, which seemed to have stuck, and then that it opened, letting in an avalanche of rubbish, and some light. Cries came from outside, and Aunt Maria called out[Pg 358] that it was Mrs. Burr. Thereon Uncle Mo, crying 'Stand clear, all!' began flinging the rubbish back into the room with marvellous alacrity for a man of his years, and no consideration at all for glass or crockery. I felt sick, you may fancy, when it came home to me that someone was crying aloud with pain, buried under that heap of fallen brickwork.

"But we could be of no use yet a while, so I told Clo and Aunt Maria to come upstairs and help to get the old lady down. They did as they were bid, being, in fact, terrified out of their wits, and quite unable to make suggestions. A male voice came from within the room where I had just left Mrs. Picture by herself. I took it quite as a matter of course.

"'You keep out on that landing, some of you, till I tell you to come in. This here floor won't carry more than my weight.' This was what I heard a man say, speaking from where the window had been, mysteriously. I was aware that he had stepped from some ladder on to the floor of the room, jumping on it recklessly as though to test its bearing power. Then that he had gathered up my old new acquaintance in a bundle, carefully made in a few seconds, and had said:—'Come along down!' to all whom it might concern. He shepherded us, all three women and the two children, into a back-bedroom below, and went away, leaving his bundle on the bed; saying, after glancing round at the cornice:—'You'll be safe enough here for a bit, just till we can see our way.' He had a peculiar hat or cap, and I saw that he was a fireman. I did not know that firemen held any intercourse with human creatures. It appears that they do occasionally, under reserves.

"Then it was that I became alarmed about my old lady. Her face had lost what colour it had, and her finger-tips had become blue and lifeless. But she spoke, faintly enough, although quite clearly, always urging us to go to a safer place, and leave her to her luck. This was, of course, nonsense. Nor was there any safer place to go to, so far as I understood the position. Aunt Maria went down to find brandy, if possible, in the heart of the confusion below. She found half a wineglassful somewhere, and brought back with it a report of progress. They had to be cautious in removing the rubbish, so that no worse should come to the sufferer it had half buried. We kept it from the old lady that this was her fellow-lodger, Mrs. Burr, and made her take some brandy, whether she liked it or no. I then went down to see for myself, and Clo came too.

"The police had taken prompt possession of the Court, and only[Pg 359] a limited force of volunteers were allowed to share in the removal of the rubbish. Uncle Mo and the fireman, who seemed to be a personal friend, were attacking the ruin from within, throwing the loose bricks back into the kitchen, and working for the dear life.

"As we came in they halted, in obedience to, 'Easy a minute, you inside there. Gently does it,' from the spontaneous leading mind, whoever he was, without. Uncle Mo, streaming with perspiration, and forgetful of social niceties, turned to me saying:—'You go back, my dear, you go back! 'Tain't for you to see. You go back!' I replied:—'Nonsense, Mr. Wardle! What do you take me for?' For had I not stood beside you, my darling, when you lay dead in the Park?

"I could see what had taken place. The woman had been just about to knock at the door when the wall fell from above. Nothing had struck her direct, else she would almost surely have been killed. The ruin had fallen far enough from the house to avoid this, but the recoil of its disintegration (I'm so proud of that expression) had jammed her against the wall and choked the door.... I'm so sleepy I can't write another word."

No doubt the sequel described how Mrs. Burr, rescued alive, but insensible, was borne away on a stretcher to the Hospital, and how the party were released from the house, whose complete collapse must have presented itself to their excited imaginations as more than a possibility. No doubt also obscure points were made plain; as, for instance, the one which is prominent in the short newspaper report, which runs as follows:—"A singular fall of brickwork, the consequences of which might easily have proved fatal, occurred on Thursday last at Sapps Court, Marylebone, when the greater part of the front-wall of No. 7 fell forward into the street, blocking the main entrance and causing for a time the greatest alarm to the inhabitants, who, however, were all ultimately rescued uninjured. A remarkable circumstance was that the cloud of dust raised by the shower of loose brickwork was taken for smoke and was sufficient to cause an alarm of fire; as a matter of fact, two engines had arrived before the circumstances were explained. The mistake was not altogether unfortunate, as an escape ladder which was passing at the time was of use in reaching the upper floors, whose tenants were at one time in considerable danger. A sempstress, Mrs. Susan Burr, living upstairs, was returning home at the moment of the calamity, and was severely injured by the falling brickwork, but no serious result[Pg 360] is anticipated. A costermonger of the name of Rackstraw also received some severe contusions, but if we may trust the report of his son, an intelligent lad of thirteen, he is very little the worse by his misadventure."

Although "no serious result was anticipated" in Mrs. Burr's case—in the newspaper sense of the words, which referred to the Coroner—the results were serious enough to Mrs. Burr. She was disabled from work indefinitely, and was too much damaged to hope to leave the Hospital, for weeks at any rate. A relative was found, ready to take charge of her when that time should arrive, but apparently not ready to disclose her own name. For, so far as can be ascertained, she was never spoken of at Sapps Court otherwise than as "Mrs. Burr's married niece."

Mr. Bartlett was on the spot, within an hour, taking measures for the immediate safety of the inmates, and his own ultimate pecuniary advantage. He pointed out it was quite unnecessary for anyone to turn out of the rooms below, although he admitted that the open air had got through the top story. His immediate resources were quite equal to a temporary arrangement practicable in a couple of hours or so. A contrivance of inconceivable slightness, involving no drawbacks whatever to families occupying the premises it was engendered in, was necessary to hold the roof up up tempory, for fear it should come with a run. It was really a'most nothing in the manner of speaking. You just shoved a len'th of quartering into each room, all down the house to the bottom, with a short scaffold-board top and bottom to distribute out the weight, and tapped 'em across with a 'ammer, and there you were! The top one ketched the roof coming down, and you had no need to be apprehensive, because it would take a tidy weight—double what Mr. Bartlett was going to put upon it.

This was a security against a complete collapse of the roof and upper floor, but if it come on heavy rain, what would keep Aunt M'riar's room dry? She and Dolly could not sleep in a puddle. Mr. Bartlett, however, pledged himself to make all that good with a few yards of tarpauling, and Aunt M'riar and Dolly went to bed, with sore misgivings as to whether they would wake alive next day. Dolly woke in the night and screamed with terror at what she conceived was a spectre from the grave, but which was really nothing but a short length of scaffold-pole standing upright at the foot of her bed.

This was bad enough, but it further appeared next day that a new floor would be de rigueur overhead in Mrs. Prichard's room.[Pg 361] Not only were sundry timber balks shoved up against the house outside so they couldn't constitoot a hindrance to anyone—so Mr. Bartlett said when he giv' in a price for the job—but the street-door wouldn't above half shet to, and all the windows had to be seen to. Add to this afflictions from tarpaulings that would keep you bone-dry even if there come a thunderstorm—or perhaps, properly speaking, that would have done so only they were just a trifle wore at critical points—and smells of damp plaster that quite took away the relish from your food, and you will form some idea what remaining in the house during the repairs meant to Uncle Mo and his belongings.

Not that Dolly and Dave took their sufferings to heart much. The novelties of the position went far to compensate them for its drawbacks. One supreme grief there was for them, certainly. The avalanche of brickwork had destroyed, utterly and irrevocably, that cherished sunflower. They had clung to a lingering hope that, as soon as the claims of humanity had been discharged by the rescue of the victims of the catastrophe, the attention of the rescuers would be directed to carefully removing the débris from above their buried treasure. They were shocked at the callous indifference shown to its fate. It was an early revelation of the heartlessness of mankind. Nevertheless, the shattered sunflower was recovered in the end, and Dolly took it to bed with her, and cried herself to sleep over it.

So it seemed impossible for Dave and Dolly, and their uncle and aunt, all to remain on in the half-wrecked house. But then—where had they to go to? It was clear that Dolly and her aunt would have to turn out, and the only resource seemed to be that they should go away for a while to her grandmother's, an old lady at Ealing, who existed, but went no further. She had never entered Sapps Court, but her daughters, Aunt M'riar and Dolly's mother, had paid her dutiful visits. There was no ill-feeling—none whatever! So to Ealing Aunt M'riar went, two or three days later, and Dave went too, although he was convinced Uncle Mo couldn't do without him.

The old boy himself remained in residence, being fed by The Rising Sun; which sounds like poetry, but relates to chops and sausages and a half-a-pint, a monotonous dietary on which he subsisted until his family returned a month later to a reinstated mansion. He lived a good deal at The Sun during this period, relying on the society of his host and his friend Jerry. His retrospective chats with the latter recorded his impressions of the event[Pg 362] which had deprived him of his household, and left him a childless wanderer on the surface of Marylebone.

"Red-nosed Tommy," said he, referring to Mr. Bartlett, "he wouldn't have put in that bit of bressemer to ketch up those rotten joists over M'riar's room if I hadn't told him. We should just have had the floor come through and p'r'aps my little maid and M'riar squashed dead right off. You see, they would have took it all atop, and no mistake. Pore Susan got it bad enough, but it wasn't a dead squelch in her case. It come sideways." Uncle Mo emptied his pipe on the table, and thoughtfully made the ash do duty first for Mrs. Burr, and then for Aunt M'riar and Dolly, by means of a side-push and a top-squash with his finger. He looked at the last result sadly as he refilled his pipe—a hypothetically bereaved man. Dolly might have been as flat as that!

"How's Susan Burr getting on?" asked Mr. Alibone.

"That's according to how much money you're inclined to put on the doctors. Going by looks only—what M'riar says—she don't give the idea of coming to time. Only then, there's Sister Nora—Miss Grahame they call her now; very nice lady—she's on the doctor's side, and says Mrs. Burr means to pull round. Hope so!"

"How's Carrots—Carrots senior—young Radishes' dad?"

"Oh—him? He's all right. He ain't the sort to take to bein' doctored. He's getting about again."

"I thought a bit of wall came down on him."

"Came down bodily, he says. But it don't foller that it did, because he says so. Anyhow, he got a hard corner of his nut against it. He ain't delicate. He says he'll have it out of the landlord—action for damages—wilful neglect—'sorlt and battery—that kind o' thing!"

"Won't Mrs. Burr?"

"Couldn't say—don't know if a woman counts. But it don't matter. Sister Nora, she'll see to her. Goes to see her every day. She or the other one. I say, Jerry!..."

"What say, old Mo?"

"You haven't seen the other one."

"Oh, that's it, is it?" Mr. Jerry spoke perceptively, appreciatively. For Uncle Mo, by partly closing one eye, and slightly varying the expression of his lips, had contrived somehow to convey the idea that he was speaking of dazzling beauty, not by any means unadorned.

"I tell you this, Jerry, and you can believe me or not, as you like. If I was a young feller, I'd hang about Hy' Park all day long only to get a squint at her. My word!—there's nothing to[Pg 363] come anigh her—ever I saw! And there she was, a-kissing our little Dolly, like e'er a one of us!"

"What do you make out her name to be?" said Mr. Jerry.

"Sister Nora called her Gwen," replied Mo, speaking the name mechanically but firmly. "But what the long for that may be, I couldn't say. 'Tain't Gwenjamin, anyhow." He stopped to light his pipe.

"It was this young ladyship that carried off old Prichard in a two-horse carriage, I take it."

Uncle Mo nodded. "Round to Sister Nora's—in Cavendish Square—with a black Statute stood upright—behind palin's. M'riar she's been round to see the old lady there, being told to. And seemin'ly this here young Countess"—Uncle Mo seemed to object to using this word—"she's a-going to carry the old lady off to the Towels, where she lives when she's at home...."

"The Towels? Are you sure it isn't Towers? Much more likely!"

Uncle Mo made a mental note about Jerry, that he was tainted with John Bull's love of a lord. How could anything but a reverent study of Debrett have given such an insight into the names of Nobs' houses? "It don't make any odds, that I can see!" was his comment. The correction, however, resulted in an incumbrance to his speech, as he was only half prepared to concede the point. He continued:—"She's a-going, as I understand from M'riar, to pack off Mrs. Prichard to this here Towels, or Towers, accordin' as we call it. And, as I make it out, she'll keep her there till so be as Mr. Bartlett gets through the repairs. Or she'll send her back to a lodgin'; or not, as may be. Either, or eye-ther." Having thus, as it were, saturated his speech with freedom of alternative, Uncle Mo dismissed the subject, in favour of Gwen's beauty. "But—to look at her!" said he. The old man was quite in love.

Mr. Jerry disturbed his contemplation of the image Gwen had left him. "How long does Bartlett mean to be over the job?" he asked.

"He means to complete in a month. If you trust his word. I can't say I do."

"When will he complete, Mo? That's the question. What's the answer?"

"The Lord alone knows." Uncle Mo shook his head solemnly. But he recalled his words. "No—He don't! Even the Devil don't know. I tell you this, Jerry—there never was a buildin' job finished at any time spoke of aforehand. It's always after[Pg 364] any such a time. And if you jump on for to catch it up, it's afterer."

"Best to hold one's tongue about it, eh? Anyway, the old lady's got a berth for a time. Rum story! She'd have been put to it if it hadn't been for the turn things took. When's she to go?"

"To these here Towels, or Towers, whichever you call 'em? M'riar didn't spot that. When she's took back, I suppose. When the young lady goes."

"What'll your young customer say to Mrs. Prichard being gone, when his aunt brings him back?"

Uncle Mo seemed to cogitate over this. He had not perhaps been fully alive to the disappointment in store for Dave when he came back and found no Mrs. Picture at Sapps Court. Poor little man! The old prizefighter's tender heart was touched on his boy's behalf. But after all there would be worse trials than this on the rough road of life for Dave. "He'll have to lump it, I expect, Jerry," said he. "Besides, Mrs. P., she'll come back as soon as the new plaster's dry. She's not going to stop at the Towels—Towers—whatever they are!—for a thousand years."



How very improbable the Actual would sometimes feel, were it not for our knowledge of the events which led up to it!

Nothing could have been more improbable per se than that old Mrs. Prichard, upstairs at No. 7, down Sapps Court, should become the guest of the Earl and Countess of Ancester, at The Towers in Rocestershire. But a number of improbable antecedent events combined to make it possible, and once its possibility was established, it only needed one more good substantial improbability to make it actual. Gwen's individuality was more than[Pg 365] enough to supply this. But just think what a succession of coincidences and strange events had preceded the demand for it!

To our thinking the New Mud wanted for Dave's barrage was responsible for the whole of it. But for that New Mud, Dave would not have gone to the Hospital. But for the Hospital, he would never have excited a tender passion in the breast of Sister Nora; would never have visited Granny Marrowbone; would never have been sought for by The Aristocracy at his residence in Sapps Court. Some may say that at this point nothing else would have occurred but for the collapse of Mr. Bartlett's brickwork, and that therefore the rarity of sound bricks in that conglomerate was the vera causa of the events that followed. But why not equally the imperfection of old Stephen's aim at Achilles? If he had killed Achilles, it is ten to one Gwen would have gone abroad with her mother, instead of being spirited away to Cavendish Square by her cousin in order that she should thereby become entangled in slums. Or for that matter, why not the death of the Macganister More? Had he been living still, Cousin Clo would never have visited Ancester Towers at all.

No—no! Depend upon it, it was the New Mud. But then, Predestination would have been dreadfully put out of temper if, instead of imperious impulsive Gwen, ruling the roast and the boiled, and the turbot with mayonnaise, and everything else for that matter, some young woman who could be pulverised by a reproof for Quixotism had been her understudy for the part, and she herself had had mumps or bubonic plague at the time of the accident. In that case Predestination would hardly have known which way to turn, to get at some sort of compromise or accommodation that would square matters. For there can be no reasonable doubt that what did take place was quite in order, and that—broadly speaking—everyone had signed his name over the pencil marks, and filled in his witness's name and residence, in the Book of Fate. If Gwen's understudy had been called on, there would have been—to borrow a favourite expression of Uncle Mo's—a pretty how-do-you-do, on the part of Predestination.

Fortunately no such thing occurred, and Predestination's powers of evasion were not put to the test. The Decrees of Fate were fulfilled as usual, and History travelled on the line of least resistance, to the great gratification of The Thoughtful Observer. In the case of lines of compliance with the will of Gwen, there was no resistance at all. Is there ever any, when a spoiled young beauty is ready to kiss the Arbiters of Destiny as a bribe, rather than give way about a whim, reasonable or unreasonable?[Pg 366]

And, after all, so many improbabilities having converged towards creating the situation, there was nothing so very unreasonable in Gwen's whim that old Mrs. Picture should go back with her to the Towers. It was only the natural solution of a difficulty in a conjunction of circumstances which could not have varied materially, unless Gwen and her cousin had devolved the charge of the old lady on some Institution—say the Workhouse Infirmary—or a neighbour, or had forsaken her altogether. They preferred carrying her off, as the story has seen, in a semi-insensible state from the shock, to their haven in Cavendish Square. Next day an arrangement was made which restored to Gwen—who had slept on a sofa, when she was not writing the letter quoted in the foregoing text—the couch she had insisted on dedicating to "Old Mrs. Picture," as she continued to call her.

It was very singular that Gwen, who had seen the old twin sister—as we know her to have been—should have fallen so in love with the one whose acquaintance she last made. The story can only accept the fact that it was so, without speculating on its possible connection with the growth of a something that is not the body. It may appear—or may not—to many, that, in old Maisie's life, a warp of supreme love, shuttle-struck by a weft of supreme pain, had clothed her soul, as it were, in a garment unlike her sister's; a garment some eyes might have the gift of seeing, to which others might be blind. Old Granny Marrable had had her share of trouble, no doubt; but Fate had shown her fair play. Just simple everyday Death!—maternity troubles lived through in shelter; nursing galore, certainly—who escapes it? Of purse troubles, debts and sordid plagues, a certain measure no doubt, for who escapes them? But to that life of hers the scorching fires that had worked so hard to slay her sister's heart, and failed so signally, had never penetrated. Indeed, the only really acute grief of her placid life had been the supposed death of this very sister, now so near her, unknown. Still, Gwen might, of course, have taken just as strongly to Granny Marrable if some slight chance of their introduction had happened otherwise.

The old lady remained at Cavendish Square three weeks, living chiefly in an extra little room, which had been roughly equipped for service, to cover the contingency. As Miss Lutwyche seemed to fight shy of the task, Maggie, the Scotch servant, took her in hand, grooming her carefully and exhibiting her as a sort of sweet old curiosity picked up out of a dustheap, and now become the possession of a Museum. Aunt Constance, who kept an eye of culture[Pg 367] on Maggie's dialect, reported that she had said of the old lady, that she was a "douce auld luckie": and that she stood in need of no "bonny-wawlies and whigmaleeries," which, Miss Grahame said, meant that she had no need of artificial decoration. She was very happy by herself, reading any easy book with big enough print. And though she was probably not so long without the society of grown people as she had often been at Sapps Court, she certainly missed Dave and Dolly. But she seemed pleased and gratified on being told that Dave was not gone, and was at present not going, anywhere near old Mrs. Marrable in the country.

The young lady broached her little scheme to her venerable friend, or protégée, as soon as it became clear that a return to the desolation to which Mr. Bartlett had converted Sapps Court might be a serious detriment to her health. Mr. Bartlett himself admitted the facts, but disputed the inferences to be drawn from them. Yes—there was, and there would be, a trifle of myesture hanging round; nothing in itself, but what you might call traces of ewaporation. You saw similar phenomena in sinks, and at the back of cesterns. But you never come across anyone the worse for 'em. He himself benefited by a hatmosphere, as parties called it nowadays, such as warn't uncommon in basements of unoccupied premises, and in morasses. But you were unable to account for other people's constitutions not being identical in all respects with your own. Providence was inscrutable, and you had to look at the symptoms. These were the only guides vouchsafed to us. He would, however, wager that as soon as the paperhanger was out of the house and the plaster giv' a chance to 'arden, all the advantages of a bone-dry residence would be enjoyed by an incoming tenant.

Portions of this opinion leaked out during a visit of Aunt M'riar to Mrs. Prichard, at Cavendish Square, she having come from Ealing by the 'bus to overhaul the position with Uncle Mo, and settle whether she and Dave and Dolly could return next week with safety. They had decided in the negative, and Mr. Bartlett had said it was open to them to soote themselves. Uncle Mo's sleeping-room had, of course, been spared by the accident, so he only suffered from a clammy and depressing flavour that wouldn't hang about above a day or two. At least, Mr. Bartlett said so.

Gwen treated the idea that Mrs. Prichard should so much as talk about returning to her quarters, with absolute derision.

"I'm going to keep you here and see you properly looked after, Mrs. Picture, till I go to the Towers. And then I shall just take you with me." For she had installed the name Picture as the[Pg 368] old lady's working designation with such decision that everyone else accepted it, though one or two used it in inverted commas. "I always have my own way," she added with a full, rich laugh that Lord William Bentinck might have heard on his black pedestal in the Square below.

Aunt M'riar departed, not to be too late for her 'bus, and Gwen stayed for a chat. She often spent half an hour with the old lady, trying sometimes to get at more of her past history, always feeling that she was met by reticence, never liking to press roughly for information.

The two thin old palms that had once been a beautiful young girl's closed on the hand that was even now scarcely in its fullest glory of life, as its owner's eyes looked down into the old eyes that had never lost their sweetness. The old voice spoke first. "Why—oh why," it said, "are you so kind to me? My dear!"

"Is it strange that I should be kind to you?" said Gwen, speaking somewhat to herself. Then louder, as though she had been betrayed into a claim to benevolence, and was ashamed:—"The kindness comes to very little, when all's said and done. Besides, you can.... She paused a moment, taking in the pause a seat beside the arm-chair, without loosing the hand she held; then made her speech complete:—"Besides, you can pay it all back, you know!"

"I pay! How can I pay it back?"

"You can. I'm quite in earnest. You can pay me back everything I can do for you—everything and more—by telling me.... Now, you mustn't be put out, you know, if I tell you what it is." Gwen was rather frightened at her own temerity.

"My dear—just fancy! Why should I want you not to know—anything I can tell, if I can remember it to tell you? What is it?"

"How you come to be living in Sapps Court. And why you are so poor. Because you are poor."

"No, I have a pound a week still. I have been better off—yes! I have been well off."

"But how came you to live in Sapps Court?"

"How came I?... Let me see!... I came there from Skillicks, at Sevenoaks, where I was last. Six shillings was too much for me alone. It is only seven-and-sixpence at Sapps for both of us. It was through poor Susan Burr that I came there. To think of her in the Hospital!"

"She's going on very nicely to-day. I went to see her with my cousin. Go on. It was through her?..."[Pg 369]

"Through her I came to Sapps. She wanted to be in town for her work, and found Sapps. She had no furniture, or just a bed. And I had been able to keep mine. Then, you see, I wanted a helping hand now and again, and she had her sight, and could make shift to keep order in the place. I had every comfort, be sure!" This was spoken with roused emphasis, as though to dissipate uneasiness about herself.

"I saw you had some nice furniture," said Gwen. "I was on the look out for your desk, where Dave's letters were written."

"Yes, it's mahogany. I was frightened about it, for fear it should be scratched. But Davy's Aunt Maria was saying Mr. Bartlett's men had been very civil and careful, and all the furniture was safe in the bedroom at the back, and the door locked."

"But where did the furniture come from?"

"From the house."

"The house where you lived with your husband?"

The old woman started. "Oh no! Oh no—no! All that was long—long ago." She shrank from disinterring all but the most recent past.

But it was the deeper stratum of oblivion that had to be reached, without dynamite if possible. "I see," Gwen said. "Your own house after his death?"

Memory was restive, evidently—rather resented the inquiry. Still, a false inference could not be left uncorrected. "Neither my husband's nor mine," was the answer. "It was my son's house, after my husband's death." Its tone meant plainly:—"I tell you this, for truth's sake. But, please, no more questions!"

Gwen's idea honestly was to drop the curtain, and her half-dozen words were meant for the merest epilogue. When she said:—"And he is dead, too?" she only wanted to round off the conversation. She was shocked when the two delicate old hands hers lay between closed upon it almost convulsively, and could hardly believe she heard rightly the articulate sob, rather than speech, that came from the old lady's lips.

"Oh, I hope so—I hope so!"

"Dear Mrs. Picture, you hope so?" For Gwen could not reconcile this with the ideal she had formed of the speaker. At least, she could not be happy now without an explanation.

Then she saw that it would come, given time and a sympathetic listener. "Yes, my dear, I hope so. For what is his life to him—my son—if he is alive? The best I can think of for him, is that he is long dead."

"Was he mad or bad?"[Pg 370]

"Both, I hope. Perhaps only mad. Then he would be neither bad nor good. But he was lost for me, and we were well apart: before he was"—she hesitated—"sent away...."

"Sent away! Yes—where?"

"I ought not to tell you this ... but will you promise me?..."

"To tell no one? Yes—I promise."

"I know you will keep your promise." The old lady kept on looking into the beautiful eyes fixed on hers, still caressing the hand she held, and said, after a few moments' silence:—"He was sent to penal servitude, not under his own name. They said his name was ... some short name ... at the trial. That was at Bristol." Then, after another pause, as though she had read Gwen's thoughts in her scared, speechless face:—"It was all right. He deserved his sentence."

"Oh, I am so glad!" Gwen was quite relieved. "I was afraid he was innocent. I thought he could not be guilty, because of you. But was he really wicked—bad, I mean—as well as legally guilty?"

"I like to hope that he was mad. The offence that sent him to Norfolk Island was scarcely a wicked one. It was only burglary, and it was a Bank." The old face looked forgiving over this, but set itself in lines of fixed anger as she added:—"It was not like the thing that parted us."

"You wish not to tell me that?"

"My dear, it is not a thing for you to hear." The gentleness of the speaker averted the storm of indignation and contempt which similar expressions of the correctitudes had more than once excited in this rebellious young lady.

But Gwen felt at liberty to laugh a little at them, or could not resist the temptation to do so. "Oh dear!" she cried. "Am I a new-born baby, to be kept packed in cotton-wool, and not allowed to hear this and hear that? Do, dear Mrs. Picture—you don't mind my calling you by Dave's name?—do tell me what it was that parted you and your son. I shall understand you. I'm not Mary that had a little lamb."

"Well, my dear, when I was about your age, before I was married, I'm not at all sure that I should have understood. Perhaps that is really the reason why I took the girl's part...."

"Why you took the girl's part?" said Gwen, who had not understood, so far, and was puzzled at the expression.

"Yes. I believed her story. They tried to throw the blame on her; he did, himself. My dear, it was his cowardice and treachery that made me hate him. You are shocked at that?"[Pg 371]

"No—at least, I mean, I don't believe you meant it."

"I meant it at the time, my dear. And I counted him as dead, and tried to forget him. But it is hard for a mother to forget her son."

"I should have thought so." Gwen was not quite happy about old Mrs. Picture's inner soul. How about a possible cruel corner in it?

The old lady seemed to suspect this question's existence, unexpressed. Apology in her voice hinted at need of forgiveness—pleaded against condemnation. "But," she said, after a faltered word or two, short of speech, "you do not know, my dear, how bad a man can be. How should you?"

Perhaps the tone of her voice threw a light on some obscurity accepted ambiguities had left. For Gwen said, rather suddenly: "You need not tell me any more. You have told me plenty and I understand it." And so she did, for working purposes, though perhaps some latitudes in the sea of this Ralph Daverill's iniquities were by her unexplored and unexplorable.

This particular atrocity of his has no interest for the story, beyond the fact that it was the one that led to his separation from his mother, and that it accounts for the very slight knowledge that she seems to have had of the details of his conviction and deportation. It must have happened between his desertion of his lawful wife, Dave's Aunt M'riar, and his ill-advised attempt at burglary. Whether his offence against "the girl" whose part his mother took was made the subject of a criminal indictment is not certain, but if it was he must have escaped with a slight punishment, to be able to give his attention to the strong room of that Bank so soon after. Those who are inclined to think that his mother was unforgiving towards her own son, to the extent of vindictiveness, may find an excuse for her in a surmise which some facts connected with the case made plausible, that he adduced some childish levities on this girl's part as a warrant for his atrocious behaviour towards her, and so escaped legal penalty. Those who know with what alacrity male jurymen will accept evasions of this sort, will admit that this is at least possible.

This is conjecture, by the way, as Gwen asked to know no more of the incident, seeming to shrink from further knowledge of it in fact. She allowed it to pass out of the conversation, retaining the pleasant and wholesome attempt to redistribute the Bank's property as at least fit for discussion, and even pardonable—an act due to a mistaken economic theory—redistribution of property[Pg 372] by a free lance, not wearing the uniform of a School of Political Thought.

"But how long was his term of service?" she asked, coming back into the fresher air of mere housebreaking.

"I am afraid it was for fourteen years. But I have never known. I can hardly believe it now, but I know it is true for all that, that he was convicted and transported without the trial coming to my ears at the time. I only knew that he had disappeared, and thought it was by his own choice. And what means had I of finding him, if I had wanted to? That I never did."

"Because of ... because of the girl?"

"Because of the girl Emma.... Oh yes! I was his mother, but.... She stopped short. Her meaning was clear; some sons would cripple the strongest mother's love.

"Then you had to give up the house," said Gwen, to help her away from the memory that stung her, vividly.

"I gave it up and sold the furniture, all but one or two bits I kept by me—Dave Wardle's desk, and the arm-chair. I went to a lodging at Sidcup—a pretty place with honeysuckles round my window. I lived there a many years, and had friends. Then the railway came, and they pulled the cottage down—Mrs. Hutchinson's. And all the folk I knew were driven away—went to America, many of them; all the Hutchinsons went. I remember that time well. But oh dear—the many moves I had after that! I cannot tell them all one from another...."

"It tires you to talk. Never mind now. Tell me another time."

"No—I'm not tired. I can talk. Where was I? Oh—the lodgings! I moved many times—the last time to Sapps Court, not so very long ago. I made friends with Mrs. Burr at Skillicks, as I told you."

"And that is what made you so poor?"

"Yes. I have only a few hundred pounds of my own, an annuity—it comes to sixty pounds a year. I have learned how to make it quite enough for me." Nevertheless, thought Gwen to herself, the good living in her temporary home in Cavendish Square had begun to tell favourably. Enough is seldom as good as a feast on sixty pounds a year. The old lady seemed, however, to dismiss the subject, going on with something antecedent to it:—"You see now, my dear, why I said 'I hope.' What could the unhappy boy be to me, or I to him? But I shall never know where he died, nor when."

Gwen tried to get at more about her past; but, at some point antecedent to this parting from her son, she seemed to become[Pg 373] more reserved, or possibly she had overtasked her strength by so much talk. Gwen noticed that, in all she had told her, she had not mentioned a single name of a person. Some slight reference to Australia, which she had hoped would lead naturally to more disclosure, seemed rather, on second thoughts, to furnish a landmark or limit, with the inscription: "Thus far and no farther." You—whoever you are, reading this—may wonder why Gwen, who had so lately heard of Australia, and Mrs. Marrable's sister who went there over half-a-century ago, did not forthwith put two and two together, and speculate towards discovery of the truth. It may be strange to you to be told that she was reminded of old Mrs. Marrable's utterance of the word "Australia" when old Mrs. Prichard spoke it, and simply let the recollection drop idly, because it was so unlikely the two two's would add up. To be sure, she had quite forgotten, at the moment, what the old Granny at Chorlton had said about the Antipodes. It is only in books that people remember all through, quite to the end.

Bear this in mind, that this sisterhood of Maisie and Phoebe was entrenched in its own improbability, and that one antecedent belief of another mind at least would have been needed to establish it. A hint, a suggestion, might have capitalised a dozen claims to having said so all along. But all was primeval silence. There was not a murmur in Space to connect the two.

Mr. Bartlett, the builder, after inspecting the collapse of the wall, lost no time in drawing up a contract to reinstate same and make good roof, replacing all defective work with new where necessary; only in his haste to come to his impressive climax—"the work to be done to the satisfaction of yourself or your Surveyor for the sum of £99.8.4 (ninety-nine pounds eight shillings and fourpence),"—he spelt this last word nesseracy. He called on the landlord, the gentleman of independent means at Brixton, with this document in his pocket and a strong conviction of his own honesty in his face, and pointed out that what he said all along had come to pass. As his position had been that unless the house was rebuilt—by him—at great expense, it was pretty sure to come tumbling down, as these here old houses mostly did, it was difficult for the gentleman of independent means to gainsay him, especially as the latter's wife became a convert to Mr. Bartlett on the spot. It was his responsible and practical manner that did it. She directed her husband—a feeble sample of the manhood of Brixton—not to set up his judgment against that of professional experience, but to affix his signature forthwith to the[Pg 374] document made and provided. He said weakly:—"I suppose I must." The lady said:—"Oh dear, no!—he must do as he liked." He naturally surrendered at discretion, and an almost holy expression of contentment stole over Mr. Bartlett's countenance, superseding his complexion, which otherwise was apt to remain on the memory after its outlines were forgotten.

To return once more to the drying of the premises after their reconstruction. The accepted view seemed to be that as soon as Mr. Bartlett and his abettors cleared out and died away, the walls would begin to dry, and would make up for lost time. Everyone seemed inclined to palliate this backwardness in the walls, and to feel that they, themselves, had they been in a like position, could not have done much drying—with all them workmen in and out all day; just think!

But now a new era had dawned, and what with letting the air through, and setting alight to a bit of fire now and again, and the season keeping mild and favourable, with only light frosts in the early morning—only what could you expect just on to Christmas?—there seemed grounds for the confidence that these walls would do themselves credit, and yield up their chemically uncombined water by evaporation. HO_2, who existed in those days, was welcome to stay where he was.

However, these walls refused to come to the scratch on any terms. Homer is silent as to how long the walls of Ilium took to dry; they must have been wet if they were built by Neptune. But one may be excused for doubting if they took as long as wet new plaster does, in premises parties are waiting to come into, and getting impatient, in London. Ascribe this laxity of style to the historian's fidelity to his sources of information.

Not that it would be a fair comparison, in any case. For the walls of Troy were peculiar, having become a meadow with almost indecent haste during the boyhood of Ascanius, who was born before Achilles lost his temper; and before the decease of Anchises, who was old enough to be unable to walk at the sacking of the city. But no doubt you will say that that is all Virgil, and Virgil doesn't count.

The point we have to do with is that the walls at No. 7 did not dry. And you must bear in mind that it was not only Mrs. Prichard's apartment that was replastered, but that there was a lot done to the ceiling of Aunt M'riar's room as well, and a bit of the cornice tore away where the wall gave; so that the surveyor he ordered, when he come to see it, all the brickwork to come down as far as flush with the window, which had to be allowed extra[Pg 375] for on the contract. Hence the decision—and even that was coming on to November—that the children should stop with their granny at Ealing while their aunt come up to get things a little in order, and the place well aired.

Aunt M'riar's return for this purpose drags the story on two or three weeks, but may just as well be told now as later.

When she made this second journey up to London, she found Mr. Bartlett's ministrations practically ended, his only representatives being a man, a boy, and a composite smell, whereof one of the components was the smell of the man. Another, at the moment of her arrival, putty, was going shortly to be a smell of vivid green paint, so soon as ever he had got these two or three panes made good. For he was then going to put a finishing coat on all woodwork previously painted, and leave his pots in the way till he thought fit to send for them, which is a house-painter's prerogative. He seemed to be able to absorb lead into his system without consequences.

"There's been a young sarsebox making inquiry arter you, missis," said this artist, striving with a lump of putty that no incorporation could ever persuade to become equal to new. He was making it last out, not to get another half-a-pound just yet a while. "Couldn't say his name, but I rather fancy he belongs in at the end house."

Aunt M'riar identified the description, and went up to her room wondering why that young Micky had been asking for her. Uncle Moses was away, presumably at The Sun. She busied herself in endeavours to reinstate her sleeping-quarters. Disheartening work!—we all know it, this circumventing of Chaos. Aunt M'riar worked away at it, scrubbed the floor and made the bed, taking the dryness of the sheets for granted because it was only her and not Dolly to-night, and she could give them a good airing in the kitchen to-morrow. The painter-and-glazier, without, painted and glazed; maintaining a morose silence except when he imposed its observance also on a boy who was learning the trade from him very gradually, and suffering from ennui very acutely. He said to this boy at intervals:—"You stow that drumming, young Ebenezer, and 'and me up the turps"—or some other desideratum. Which suspended the drumming in favour of active service, after which it was furtively resumed.

Uncle Mo evidently meant to be back late. The fact was, his home had no attraction for him in the absence of his family, and the comfort of The Sun parlour was seductive. Aunt M'riar's visit was unexpected, as she had not written in advance. So when[Pg 376] the painter-and-glazier began to prepare to leave his tins and pots and brushes and graining-tools behind him till he could make it convenient to call round and fetch them, Aunt M'riar felt threatened by loneliness. And when he finally took his leave, with an assurance that by to-morrow morning any person so disposed might rub his Sunday coat up against his day's work, and never be a penny the worse, Aunt M'riar felt so forsaken that she just stepped up the Court to hear what she might of its news from Mrs. Ragstroar, who was momentarily expecting the return of her son and husband to domestic dulness, after a commercial career out Islington way. They had only got to stable up their moke, whose home was in a backyard about a half a mile off, and then they would seek their Penates, who were no doubt helping to stew something that smelt much nicer than all that filthy paint and putty.

"That I could not say, ma'am," said Mrs. Ragstroar, in answer to an inquiry about the object of Micky's visit. "Not if you was to offer five pounds. That boy is Secrecy Itself! What he do know, and what he do not know, is 'id in his 'art; and what is more, he don't commoonicate it to neither me nor his father. Only his great-aunt! But I can send him round, as easy as not."

Accordingly, about half an hour later, when Aunt M'riar was beginning to wonder at the non-appearance of Uncle Mo, Master Micky knocked at her door, and was admitted.

"'Cos I've got a message for you, missis," said he. He accepted the obvious need of his visit for explanation, without incorporating it in words. "It come from that party—party with a side-twist in the mug—party as come this way of a Sunday morning, askin' for old Mother Prichard—party I see in Hy' Park along of young Dave...."

Aunt M'riar was taken aback. "How ever come you to see more of him?" said she. For really this was, for the moment, a greater puzzle to her than why, being seen, he should send her a message.

Micky let the message stand over, to account for it. "'Cos I did see him, and I ain't a liar. I see him next door to my great-aunt, as ever is. Keep along the 'Ammersmith Road past the Plough and Harrow, and so soon as ever you strike the Amp'shrog, you bear away to the left, and anybody'll tell you The Pidgings, as soon as look at you. Small 'ouse, by the river. Kep' by Miss Horkings, now her father's kicked. Female party." This was due to a vague habit of the speaker's mind, which divided the opposite sex into two genders, feminine and neuter; the latter[Pg 377] including all those samples, unfortunate enough—or fortunate enough, according as one looks at it—to present no attractions to masculine impulses. Micky would never have described his great-aunt as a female party. She was, though worthy, neuter beyond a doubt.

Aunt M'riar accepted Miss Hawkins, without further analysis. "She don't know me, anyways," said she. "Nor yet your Hyde Park man, as far as I see. How come he to know my name? Didn't he never tell you?" She was incredulous about that message.

"He don't know nobody's name, as I knows on. Wot he said to me was a message to the person of the house at the end o' the Court. Same like you, missis!"

"And what was the message?"

"I'll tell you that, missis, straight away and no lies." Micky gathered himself up, and concentrated on a flawless delivery of the message:—"He said he was a-coming to see his mother; that's what he said—his mother, the old lady upstairs. Providin' she wasn't nobody else! He didn't say no names. On'y he said if she didn't come from Skillick's she was somebody else."

"Mrs. Prichard, she came from Skillick's, I know. Because she said so. That's over three years ago." Aunt M'riar was of a transparent, truthful nature. If she had been more politic, she would have kept this back. "Didn't he say nothing else?" she asked.

"Yes, he did, and this here is what it was:—'Tell the person of the house,' he says, 'to mention my name,' he says. 'Name o' Darvill,' he says. So I was a-lyin', missis, you see, by a sort o' chance like, when I said he said no names. 'Cos he did. He said his own. Not but what he goes by the name of Wix."

"What does he want of old Mrs. Prichard now?"

"A screw. Sov'rings, if he can get 'em. Otherwise bobs, if he can't do no better."

"Mrs. Prichard has no money."

"He says she has and he giv' it her. And he's going to have it out of her, he says."

"Did he say that to you?"

"Not he! But he said it to Miss Horkings. Under his nose, like." No doubt this expression, Michael's own, was a derivative of "under the rose." It owed something to sotto voce, and something to the way the finger is sometimes laid on the nose to denote acumen.

"Look you here, Micky! You're a good boy, ain't you?"[Pg 378]

"Middlin'. Accordin'." An uncertain sound. It conveyed a doubt of the desirability of goodness.

"You don't bear no ill-will neither to me, nor yet to old Mrs. Prichard?"

"Bones alive, no!" This also may have been coined at home. "That was the idear, don't you twig, missis? I never did 'old with windictiveness, among friends."

"Then you do like I tell you. When are you going next to your aunt at Hammersmith?"

Micky considered a minute, as if the number of his booked engagements made thought necessary, and then said decisively: "To-morrow mornin', to oblige."

"Very well, then! You go and find out this gentleman...."

"He ain't a gentleman. He's a varmint."

"You find him out, and say old Mrs. Prichard she's gone in the country, and you can't say where. No more you can't, and I ain't going to tell you. So just you say that!"

"I'm your man, missis. On'y I shan't see him, like as not. He don't stop in one place. The orficers are after him—the police."

Then Aunt M'riar showed her weak and womanish character. Let her excuse be the memory of those six rapturous weeks, twenty-five years ago, when she was a bride, and all her life was rosy till she found herself deserted—left to deal as she best might with Time and her loneliness. You see, this man actually was her husband. Micky could not understand why her voice should change as she said:—"The police are after him—yes! But you be a good boy, and leave the catching of him to them. 'Tain't any concern of yours. Don't you say nothing to them, and they won't say nothing to you!"

The boy paused a moment, as though in doubt; then said with insight:—"I'll send 'em the wrong way." He thought explanation due, adding:—"I'm fly to the game, missis." Aunt M'riar had wished not to be transparent, but she was not good at this sort of thing. True, she had kept her counsel all those years, and no one had seen through her, but that was mere opacity in silence.

She left Micky's apprehension to fructify, and told him to go back and get his supper. As he opened the door to go Uncle Mo appeared, coming along the Court. The sight of him was welcome to Aunt M'riar, who was feeling very lonesome. And as for the old boy himself, he was quite exhilarated. "Now we shall have those two young pagins back!" he said.[Pg 379]



Mr. Percival Pellew and Miss Constance Smith-Dickenson had passed, under the refining influence of Love, into a new phase, that of not being formally engaged. It was to be distinctly understood that there was to be nothing precipitate. This condition has its advantages; very particularly that it postpones, or averts, family introductions. Yet it cannot be enjoyed to the full without downright immorality, and it always does seem to us a pity that people should be forced into Evil Courses, in order to shun the terrors of Respectability. Why should not some compromise be possible? The life some couples above suspicion contrive to lead, each in the other's pocket as soon as the eyes of Europe wander elsewhere, certainly seems to suggest a basis of negotiation.

No doubt you know that little poem of Browning about the lady and gentleman who watched the Seine, and saw Guizot receive Montalembert, who rhymed to "flare"? Of course, the case was hardly on all fours with that of our two irreproachables, but we suspect a point in common. We feel sure that those lawless loiterers in a dissolute capital were joyous at heart at having escaped the fangs of the brothers of the one, and the sisters of the other, respectively, although at the cost of having the World's bad names applied to both. In this case there were no brothers on the lady's part, and only one sister on the gentleman's. But Aunt Constance was not sorry for a breathing-pause before being subjected to an inspection through glasses by the Hon. Mrs. Bembridge Corlett, which was the name of the unique sister-sample, and herself subjecting Mr. Pellew to a similar overhauling by her own numerous relatives. She had misgivings about the accolade he might receive from Mrs. Amphlett Starfax, and also about the[Pg 380] soul-communion which her sister Lilian, who had a sensitive nature, demanded as the price of recognition in public a second time of all persons introduced to her notice.

Mr. Pellew's description of the Hon. Mrs. Corlett had impressed her with the necessity of being ready to stand at bay when the presentation came off.

"Dishy will look at you along the top of her nose, with her chin in the air," said he. "But you mustn't be alarmed at that. She only does it because her glasses—we're all short-sighted—slip off her nose at ordinary levels. And when you come to think of it, how can she hold them on with her fingers when she looks at you. Like taking interest in a specimen!"

"I am a little alarmed at your sister Boadicea, Percy, for all that," said Miss Dickenson, and changed the conversation. This was only a day or two after the Sapps Court accident, and the phase of not being formally engaged had begun lasting as long as possible, being found satisfactory. So old Mrs. Prichard was a natural topic to change to. "Isn't it funny, this whim of Gwen's, about the old lady you carried upstairs?"

"What whim of Gwen's?"

"Oh, don't you know. Of course you don't! Gwen's fallen in love with her, and means to take her to the Towers with her when she goes back."

"Very nice for the old girl. What's she doing that for?"

"It's an idea of hers. However, there is some reason in it. The old lady's apartments must be dry before she goes back to them, and that may be weeks."

"Why can't she stop where she is?"

"All by herself? At least, only the cook! When Miss Grahame goes to Devonshire, Maggie goes with her, to lady's-maid her."

"I thought we were going to be pastoral, and only spend three hundred a year on housekeeping."

"So we are—how absurdly you do put things, Percy!—when we make a fair start. But just till we begin in earnest, there's no need for such strictness. Anyhow, if Maggie doesn't go to Devonshire, she'll go back to her parents at Invercandlish. So the old lady can't stop. And Gwen will go back to the Towers, of course. I don't the least believe they'll hold out six months, those two.... What little ducks Kinkajous are! Give me a biscuit.... No—one of the soft ones!"

For, you see, they were at the Zoölogical Gardens. They had felt that these Gardens, besides being near at hand, were the kind of Gardens in which the eyes of Europe would find plenty[Pg 381] to occupy them, without staring impertinently at a lady and gentleman who were not formally engaged. Who would care to study them and their ways when he could see a Thibetan Bear bite the nails of his hind-foot, or observe the habits of Apes, or sympathize with a Tiger about his lunch? Our two visitors to the Gardens had spent an hour on these and similar attractions, noting occasionally the flavour that accompanies them, and had felt after a visit to the Pythons, that they could rest a while out of doors and think about the Wonders of Creation, and the drawbacks they appear to suffer from. But a friendly interest in a Python had lived and recrudesced as the Kinkajou endeavoured to get at some soft biscuit, in spite of a cruel wire screen no one bigger than a rat could get his little claw through.

"I don't believe that fillah was moving. He was breathing. But he wasn't moving. I know that chap perfectly well. He never moves when anyone is looking at him, out of spite. He hears visitors hope he'll move, and keeps quite still to disappoint them." It was Mr. Pellew who said this. Miss Dickenson shook her head incredulously.

"He was moving, you foolish man. You should use your eyes. That long straight middle piece of him on the shelf moved; in a very dignified way, considering. The move moved along him, and went slowly all the way to his tail. When I took my eyes off I thought the place was moving, which is a proof I'm right.... Oh, you little darling, you've dropped it! I'm so sorry. I must have another, because this has been in the mud, and you won't like it." This was, of course, to the Kinkajou.

Mr. Pellew supplied a biscuit, but improved the occasion:—"Now if this little character could only keep his paws off the Public, he wouldn't want a wire netting. Couldn't you give him a hint?"

"I could, but he wouldn't take it. He's a little darling, but he's pig-headed...." A pause, and then a quick explanatory side-note:—"Do you know, I think that's Sir Coupland Merridew coming along that path. I hope he isn't coming this way.... I'm afraid he is, though. You know who I mean? He was at the Towers...."

"I know. Yes, it's him. He's coming this way. If he sees it's us, he'll go off down the side-path. But he won't see—he's too short-sighted. Can't be helped!"

"Oh dear—what a plague people are! Let's be absorbed in the Kinkajou. He'll pass us."

But the great surgeon did nothing of the sort. On the contrary[Pg 382] he said:—"I saw it was you, Miss Dickenson." Then he reflected about her companion, and said he was Mr. Pellew, he thought, and further:—"Met you at Ancester in July." It was a great relief that he did not say:—"You are a lady and gentleman, and can perhaps explain yourselves. I can't!" He appeared to decide on silence about them, as irrelevant, and went on to something more to the purpose—"Perhaps you know if the family are in town—any of them?" Miss Dickenson testified to the whereabouts of Lady Gwendolen Rivers, and Sir Coupland wrote it in a notebook. There seemed at this point to be an opportunity to say how delightful the Gardens were this time of the year, so Miss Dickenson seized it.

"I didn't come to enjoy the gardens," said the F.R.C.S. "I wish I had time. I came to see to a broken scapula. Keeper in the Ostrich House—bird pecked him from behind. Did it from love, apparently. Said to be much attached to keeper. Two-hundred-and-two, Cavendish Square, is right, isn't it?"

"Two-hundred-and-two; corner house.... Must you go on? Sorry!—you could have told us such interesting things." The effect of this one word "us," indiscreetly used, was that Sir Coupland, walking away to his carriage outside the turnstiles, wondered whether it would come off, and if it did, would there be a family? Which shows how very careful you have to be, when you are a lady and gentleman.

The former, in this case, remained unconscious of her lapsus linguæ; saying, in fact:—"I think we did that very well! I wonder whether he will go and see Gwen!"

"I hope he will. Do you know, I couldn't help suspecting that he had something to say about Torrens's eyesight—something good. Perhaps it was only the way one has of catching at straws. Still, unless he has, why should he want to see Gwen? He couldn't want to tell her there was no hope—to rub it in!"

"I see what you mean. But I'm afraid he only put down the address for us to tell her he did so—just to get the credit of a call without the trouble."

"When did you take to Cynicism, madam?... No—come, I say—that's not fair! It's only my second cigar since I came to the Gardens...." The byplay needed to make this intelligible may be imagined, without description.

Does not the foregoing lay further stress on the curious fact that the passée young lady and the oscillator between Pall Mall and that Club at St. Stephen's—this describes the earlier seeming of these two—have really vanished from the story? Is it not a[Pg 383] profitable commentary on the mistakes people make in the handling of their own lives?

Sir Coupland Merridew was not actuated by the contemptible motive Aunt Constance had ascribed to him. Moreover, the straw Mr. Pellew caught at was an actual straw, though it may have had no buoyancy to save a swimmer. It must have had some though, or Sir Coupland would never have thrown it to Gwen, struggling against despair about her lover's eyesight. Of course he did not profess to do so of set purpose; that would have pledged him to an expression of confidence in that straw which he could hardly have felt.

When he called at Cavendish Square two days later at an unearthly hour, and found Gwen at breakfast, he accounted for his sudden intrusion by producing a letter recently received from Miss Irene Torrens, of which he said that, owing to the peculiarity of the handwriting, he had scarcely been able to make out anything beyond that it related to her brother's blindness. Probably Lady Gwendolen knew her handwriting better than he did. At any rate, she might have a shot at trying to make it out. But presently, when she had time! He, however, would take a cup of coffee, and would then go on and remove a portion of a diseased thigh-bone from a Royal leg—that of Prince Hohenslebenschlangenspielersgeiststein—only he never could get the name right.

The story surmises that, having carefully read every word of the letter, he chose this way of letting Gwen know of a fluctuation in Adrian's eye-symptoms; which, he had inferred, would not reach her otherwise. But he did not wish false hopes to be built on it. The deciphering of the illegibilities by Gwen, under correctives from himself, would exactly meet the case.

"I can not see that 'Rene's writing is so very illegible," said Gwen. "Now be quiet and let me read it." She settled down to perusal, while Sir Coupland sipped his coffee, and watched her colour heighten as she read. That meant, said he to himself, that he must be ready to throw more cold water on this letter than he had at first intended.

Said Gwen, when she had finished:—"Well, that seems to me very plain and straightforward. And as for illegibility, I know many worse hands than 'Re's."

"What's that word three lines down?... Yes, that one!"


"I thought it was 'drinking.'"[Pg 384]

"It certainly is 'dreaming' plain enough!"

"What do you make of it? Don't read it all through. Tell me the upshot."

"I don't mind reading it. But I'll tell it short, as you're in a hurry. Adrian dropped asleep on the sofa, and woke with a start, saying:—'What's become of Septimius Severus on the bookshelf?' It was a bust, it seems. 'Re said:—'How did you know it had been moved?' and he seemed quite puzzled and said:—'I can't tell. I forgot I was blind, and saw the whole room.' Then 'Re said, he must have been dreaming. 'But,' said he, 'you say it has been moved.' So what does 'Re do but say he must have heard somehow that it was moved, because it was impossible that he should have been able to see only just that much and no more.... Oh dear!" said Gwen, breaking off suddenly. "What a pleasure people do seem to take in being silly!"

Sir Coupland proceeded to show deference to correct form. "It is far more likely," said he, "that Mr. Torrens had heard someone say the bust was moved, and had forgotten it till he woke up out of a dream, than that he should have a sudden flash of vision." A more cautious method than Irene's, of assuming the point at issue.

Gwen paid no attention to this, putting it aside to apologize to Irene. "However, 'Re had the sense to write straight to you about it. I'll say that for her." Then she read the letter again while Sir Coupland spun out his cup of coffee. She was still dwelling on it when he looked at his watch suddenly and said: "I must be off. Consider Prince Hohenschlangen's necrosis!" Then said Gwen, pinning him to truth with the splendour of her eyes:—"You are perfectly and absolutely certain, Dr. Merridew, that a momentary gleam of true vision in such a case would be impossible?"

"I never said that," said Sir Coupland.

"What did you say?" said Gwen.

"As improbable as you please, short of impossible. Now I'm off. Impossible's a long word, you know, and very hard to spell." Sir Coupland went off in a hurry, leaving Irene's letter in Gwen's possession, which was dishonourable; because he had really read the injunction it contained, on no account to show it to Gwen in case she should build false hopes on it. But then Gwen had not read this passage aloud to him, so he did not know it officially.

Lunch was the next conclave of the small household, and although Mr. Pellew was there—it was extraordinary how seldom he[Pg 385] was anywhere else!—Irene's let