Part 3 out of 10
to-night. No, I'll never, never go back to Mary--to Miss Starbrow."
"And you'll be able to take care of yourself?"
"Yes; will you let me go now?"
"Come then, I'll put you in your train with your bag; and don't you go
and speak to anyone about what happened here, and then you'll be quite
safe. Let Miss Starbrow think you are shut up safe out of her sight, and
then she won't trouble herself about you."
"There's no one I can speak to--I have no one," said Fan, mournfully;
after which they went on to the station, and she was put into her train
with her bag, and about three o'clock in the afternoon arrived at
Westbourne Park Station.
There were clothes enough in her bag to last her for some time with those
she was wearing, and money in her purse--two or three shillings in small
change and the sovereign which had been in her possession for several
months. Food and shelter could therefore be had, and she was not a poor
girl in rags now, but well dressed, so that she could go without fear or
shame to any registry office to seek an engagement. These thoughts passed
vaguely through her brain; her head seemed splitting, and she could
scarcely stand on her legs when she got out of the train at Westbourne
Park. It would be a dreadful thing if she were to fall down in the
streets, overcome with faintness, she thought, for then her bag and purse
might be stolen from her, or worse still, she might be taken back to the
house of her cruel enemy. Clinging to her bag, she walked on as fast as
she could seeking for some humble street with rooms to let--some refuge
to lie down in and rest her throbbing head. She passed through Colville
Gardens, scarcely knowing where she was; but the tall, gloomy, ugly
houses there were all too big for her; and she did not know that in some
of them were refuges for poor girls--servants and governesses out of
place--where for a few shillings a week she might have had board and
lodging. Turning aside, she came into the long, narrow, crooked
Portobello Road, full of grimy-looking shops, and after walking a little
further turned at last into a short street of small houses tenanted by
people of the labourer class.
At one of these houses she was shown a small furnished room by a
suspicious-looking woman, who asked four-and-sixpence a week for it,
including "hot water." Fan agreed to take it for a week at that rent. The
poor woman wanted the money, but seemed undecided. Presently she said,
"You see, miss, it's like this, you haven't got no box, and ain't dressed
like one that lodges in these places, and--and I couldn't let you the
room without the money down."
"Oh, I'll pay you now," said Fan; and taking the sovereign from her
purse, asked the woman to get change.
"Very well, miss; if you'll go downstairs, I'll put the room straight for
"Oh, I must lie down now, my head is aching so," said Fan, feeling that
she could no longer stand.
"What ails you--are you going to be ill?"
"No, no; this morning I had a fall and struck my head and hurt it so--
look," and taking off her hat, she showed the plaster on her forehead.
That satisfied the woman, who had only been thinking of fever and her own
little ones, who were more to her than any stranger, and her manner
became kind at once. She imagined that her lodger was a young lady who
for some reason had run away from her friends. Smoothing down the
coverlet, she went away to get change, closing the door after her, and
then, with a sigh of relief, Fan threw herself on to the poor bed.
The pain she was in, and state of exhaustion after the violent emotions
and the rough handling she had experienced, prevented her from thinking
much of her miserable forlorn condition. She only wished for rest Yet she
could not rest, but turned her hot flushed face and throbbing head from
side to side, moaning with pain. By-and-by the woman came back with the
change and a very big cup of hot tea.
"This'll do your head good," she said. "Better drink it hot, miss; I
always say there's nothing like a cup of tea for the headache."
Fan took it gratefully and drank the whole of it, though it was rougher
tea than she had been accustomed to of late. And the woman proved a good
physician; it had the effect of throwing her into a profuse perspiration,
and before she had been alone for many minutes she fell asleep.
She did not wake until past nine o'clock, and found a lighted candle on
her table; her poor landlady had been up perhaps more than once to visit
her. She felt greatly refreshed; the danger, if there had been any, was
over now, but she was still drowsy--so drowsy that she longed to be
asleep again; and she only got up to undress and go to bed in a more
regular way. The time to think had not come yet; sleep alone seemed sweet
to her, and in its loving arms she would lie, for it seemed like one that
loved her always, like her poor dead mother who had never turned against
her and used her cruelly. Before she closed her heavy eyes the landlady
came into her room again to see her, and Fan gave her a shilling to get
some tea and bread-and-butter for her breakfast next day.
When Fan awoke, physically well and refreshed by her long slumber, it had
been light some time, with such dim light as found entrance through the
clouded panes of one small window. The day was gloomy, with a bitterly
cold blustering east wind, which made the loose window-sashes rattle in
their frames, and blew the pungent smell of city smoke in at every crack.
She sat up and looked round at the small cheerless apartment, with no
fireplace, and for only furniture the bed she was lying on, one cane-
chair over which her clothes were thrown, and a circular iron wash-stand,
with yellow stone jug and ewer, and underneath a shelf for the soap dish.
She shivered and dropped her head again on the pillow. Then, for the
first time since that terrible experience of the previous day, she began
to realise her position, and to wonder greatly why she had been subjected
to such cruel treatment. The time had already come of which Mary had once
spoken prophetically, when they would be for ever separated, and she
would have to go out into the world unaided and fight her own battle.
But, oh! why had not Mary spoken to her, and told her that she could no
longer keep her, and sent her away? For then there would still have been
affection and gratitude in her heart for the woman who had done so much
for her, and she would have looked forward with hope to a future meeting.
Love and hope would have cheered her in her loneliness, and made her
strong in her efforts to live. But now all loving ties had been violently
sundered, now the separation was eternal. Even as death had divided her
from her poor mother, this cruel deed had now put her for all time apart
from the one friend she had possessed in the world. What had she done,
what had she done to be treated so hardly? Had she not been faithful,
loving her mistress with her whole heart? It was little to give in return
for so much, but it was her all, and Mary had required nothing more from
her. It was not enough; Mary had grown tired of her at last. And not
tired only: her loving-kindness had turned to wormwood and gall; the very
sight of the girl she had rescued and cared for had become hateful to
her, and her unjust hatred and anger had resulted in that cruel outrage.
Now she understood the reason of that change in Mary, when she grew
silent and stern and repellent before that fatal morning when she went
away to carry out her heartless scheme of revenge. But revenge for what?
--and Fan could only moan again and again, "What had I done? what had I
done?" What had she ever done that she should not be loved and allowed to
live in peace and happiness--what had she done to her brutal stepfather,
or to Captain Horton and to Rosie, that they should take pleasure in
When the woman came in with the breakfast she found Fan lying sobbing on
"Oh, that's wrong to cry so," she said, putting the tray on the table and
coming to the bedside. "Don't take on so, my poor young lady. Things'll
come right by-and-by. You'll write to your mother and father----"
"I've no mother and father," said Fan, trying to repress her sobs.
"Then you'll have brothers and sisters and friends."
"No, I've got no one. I only had one friend, and she's turned against me,
and I'm alone. I'm not a young lady; my mother was poorer than you, and I
must get something to do to make my living."
This confession was a little shock to the woman, for it spoilt her
romance, and the result was that her interest in her young lodger
"Well, it ain't no use taking on, all the same," she said, in a tone
somewhat less deferential and kind than before. "And it's too bad a day
for you to go out and look for anything. It's going to snow, I'm
thinking; so you'd better have your breakfast in bed and stay in to-day."
Fan took her advice and remained all day in her room, thinking only of
the strange thing that had happened to her, of the misery of a life with
no one to love. Mary's image remained persistently in her mind, while the
bitter wind without made strange noises in the creaking zinc chimney-
pots, and rattled the window and hurled furious handfuls of mingled dust
and sleet against the panes. And yet she felt no anger in her heart;
unspeakable grief and despair precluded anger, and again and again she
cried, her whole frame convulsed with sobs, and the tears and sobs
exhausted her body but brought no relief to her mind.
Next day there was no wind, though it was still intensely cold, with a
dull grey cloud threatening snow over the whole sky; but it was time for
her to be up and doing, and she went out to seek for employment. She
wandered about in a somewhat aimless way, until, in the Ladbroke Grove
Road, she found a servants' registry-office, and went in to apply for a
place as nursemaid or nursery-governess. Mary had once told her that she
was fit for such a place, and there was nothing else she could think of.
A woman in the office took down her name and address, and promised to
send for her if she had any applications. She did not know of anyone in
need of a nursemaid or nursery-governess. "But you can call again to-
morrow and inquire," she added.
On the following day she was advised to wait in the office so as to be on
the spot should anyone call to engage a girl. After waiting for some
hours the woman began to question her, and finding that she had no
knowledge of children, and had never been in service and could give no
references, told her brusquely that she was giving a great deal of
unnecessary trouble, and that she need not come to the office again, as
in the circumstances no lady would think of taking her.
Fan returned to her lodgings very much cast down, and there being no one
else to seek counsel from, told her troubles to her landlady. But the
poor woman had nothing very hopeful to say, and could only tell Fan of
another registry-office in Notting Hill High Street, and advise her to
This was a larger place, and after her name, address, and other
particulars had been taken down in a book, she ventured to ask whether
her not having been in a place before, and being without a reference,
would make it very difficult for her to get a situation; the woman of the
office merely said, "One never knows."
This was not very encouraging, but she was told that she could come every
day and sit as long as she liked in the waiting-room. There were always
several girls and women there--a row of them sitting chatting together on
chairs ranged against the wall--house, parlour, and kitchen-maids out of
places; and a few others of a better description, modest-looking, well-
dressed young women, who came and stood about for a few minutes and then
went away again. Of the girls of this kind Fan alone remained patiently
at her post, taking no interest in the conversation of the others,
anxious only to avoid their bold inquisitive looks and to keep herself
apart from them. Yet their conversation, to anyone wishing to know
something of the lights and shadows of downstair life, was instructive
and interesting enough.
"Only seven days in your last place!"
"Oh, I say!"
"But what did you leave for?"
"Because she was a beast--my missus was; and what I told her was that it
was seven days too much."
"You never did!"
"Oh, I say!"
"And what did she say?"
"Well, it was like this. I was a-doing of my hair in the kitchen with the
curling-iron, when down comes Miss Julia. 'Oh, you are frizzing your
hair!' she says. 'Yes, miss,' I says, 'have you any objection?' I says.
'Ma won't let you have a fringe,' she says. When I loses my temper, and I
says, 'Well, Miss Himperence, you can go and tell your ma that she can
find a servant as can do without a fringe.'"
"Oh, I say!" etc., etc., etc.
They also made critical remarks on Fan's appearance, wondering what a
"young lady" wanted among servants. She felt no pride at being taken for
a lady; she had no feeling and no thought that gave her any pleasure, but
only a dull aching at the heart, only the wish in her mind to find
something to do and save herself from utter destitution.
For three days she continued to attend at the office, and beyond a short
"Good morning" from the woman that kept it each day, not a word was
spoken to her. The third day was Saturday, when the office would close
early; and after twelve o'clock, seeing that the others were all going,
she too left, to spend the time as best she could until the following
Monday. The day was windless and bright, and full of the promise of
spring. Not feeling hungry she did not return to her lodgings, but went
for a short walk in Kensington Gardens. Leaving the Broad Walk, she went
into that secluded spot near the old farm-like buildings of Kensington
Palace and sat down on one of the seats among the yews and fir trees. The
new gate facing Bayswater Hill has changed that spot now, making it more
public, but it was very quiet on that day as she sat there by herself. On
that beautiful spring morning her heart seemed strangely heavy, and her
life more lonely and desolate than ever. The memory of her loss came over
her like a bitter flood, and covering her face with her hands she gave
free vent to her grief. There was no person near, no one to be attracted
by her sobs. But one person was passing at some distance, and glancing in
her direction through the trees, saw her, and stopped in her walk. It was
Miss Starbrow, and in the figure of the weeping girl she had recognised
Fan. Her face darkened, and she walked on, but presently she stopped
again, and stood irresolute, swinging the end of her sunshade over the
young grass. At length she turned and walked slowly towards the girl, but
Fan was sobbing with covered face, and did not hear her steps and
rustling dress. For some moments Miss Starbrow continued watching her, a
scornful smile on her lips and a strange look in her eyes as of a
slightly cruel feeling struggling against compassion. At length she
spoke, startling Fan with her voice sounding so close to her.
"Crying? Well, I am glad that your sin has found you out! Glad you have
met with some thief cleverer than yourself, who has stolen your booty, I
suppose, and left you penniless--a beggar as I found you! I admire your
courage in coming here, but you needn't be afraid; I'll have mercy on
you. You have punished yourself more than I could punish you; and some
day I shall perhaps see you again in rags, starving in the streets, and
shall fling a penny to you."
Fan had started at first with an instinctive fear--a vague apprehension
that she would be seized and dragged away to be shut up and tortured as
Miss Starbrow had desired. But suddenly this feeling gave place to
another, to a burning resentment experienced for the first time against
this woman who had made her suffer so cruelly, and now came to taunt her
and mock at her misery. It suffocated and made her dumb for a time. Then
she burst out: "You wicked bad woman! You beast--you beast, how I hate
you! Oh, I wish God would strike you dead!"
"How dare you say such things to me, you ungrateful, shameless little
"You liar--you beast of a liar!" exclaimed Fan, still torn with the rage
that possessed her. "Go away, you liar! Leave me, you wicked devil! I
hate you! I hate you!"
Miss Starbrow uttered a little scornful laugh. "You would have some
reason to hate me if I were to shut you up for six months with hard
labour," she answered, turning aside as if about to walk away.
To shut her up for six months! Yes, that was what she had tried to do
with the assistance of a strong man and woman. And what other tortures
and sufferings had she intended to inflict on her victim! It was too much
to be reminded of this. It turned her blood into liquid fire, and
maddened her brain; and struggling to find words to speak the rage that
overmastered her, suddenly, as if by a miracle, every evil term of
reproach, every profane and blasphemous expression of drunken brutish
anger she had heard and shuddered at in the old days in Moon Street,
flashed back into her mind, and she poured them out in a furious torrent,
hurled them at her torturer; and then, exhausted, sunk back into her
seat, and covering her face again, sobbed convulsively.
Miss Starbrow's face turned crimson with shame, and she moved two or
three steps away; then she turned, and said in cold incisive tones:
"I see, Fan, that you have not forgotten all the nice things you learnt
before I took you out of the slums to shelter and feed and clothe you.
This will be a lesson to me: I had not thought so meanly of the suffering
poor as you make me think. They say that even dogs are grateful to those
that feed them. And I did more than feed you, Fan. That's the last word
you will ever hear from me."
She was moving away, but Fan, stung by a reproach so cruelly unjust,
started to her feet with a cry of passion.
"Yes, I know you gave me these things--oh, I wish I could tear off this
dress you gave me! And this is the money you gave me--take it! I hate
it!" And drawing her purse from her pocket, she flung it down at Miss
Starbrow's feet. Then, searching for something else to fling back to the
donor, she drew out that crumpled pink paper which had been all the time
in her pocket. "And take this too--the wicked telegram you sent me. It is
yours, like the money--take it, you bad, hateful woman!"
Miss Starbrow still remained standing near, watching her, and in spite of
her own great anger, she could not help feeling very much astonished at
such an outburst of fury from a girl who had always seemed to her so
mild-spirited. She touched the crumpled piece of paper with her foot,
then glanced back at the girl seated again with bowed head and covered
face. What had she meant by a telegram? Curiosity overcame the impulse to
walk away, and stooping, she picked up the paper and smoothed it out and
read, "From Miss Starbrow, Twickenham. To Miss Affleck, Dawson Place."
She had not been to Twickenham, and had sent no telegram to Fan. Then she
read the message and turned the paper over, and read it again and again,
glancing at intervals at the girl. Then she went up to her and put her
hand on her shoulder. Fan started and shook the hand off, and raised her
eyes wet with tears and red with weeping, but still full of anger.
Miss Starbrow caught her by the arm. "Tell me what this means--this
telegram; when did you get it, and who gave it to you?" she said in such
a tone that the girl was compelled to obey.
"You know when you sent it," said Fan.
"I never sent it! Oh, my God, can't you understand what I say? Answer--
answer my question!"
"Rosie gave it to me."
"And you went to Twickenham?"
"And what happened?"
"And the woman you sent to meet me--"
"Hush! don't say that. Are you daft? Don't I tell you I never sent it.
Tell me, tell me, or you'll drive me mad!"
Fan looked at her in astonishment. Could it be that it had never entered
into Mary's heart to do this cruel thing? That raging tempest in her
heart was fast subsiding. She began to collect her faculties.
"The woman met me," she continued, "and took me a long way from the
station to a little house. She tried to take me upstairs. She said you
were waiting for me, but I looked up and saw Captain Horton peeping over
Miss Starbrow clenched her hands and uttered a little cry. Her face had
become white, and she turned away from the girl. Presently she sat down,
and said in a strangely altered voice, "Tell me, Fan, did you take some
jewels from my dressing-table--a brooch and three rings, and some other
"I took nothing except what you--what the telegram said, and Rosie put
the things in a bag and got the cab for me."
For a minute or two Miss Starbrow sat in silence, and then got up and
"Home with me to Dawson Place." Then she added, "Must I tell you again
that I have done nothing to harm you? Do you not understand that it was
all a wicked horrible plot to get you away and destroy you, that the
telegram was a forgery, that the jewels were taken to make it appear that
you had stolen them and run away during my absence from the house?"
Fan rose and followed her, and when they got to the Bayswater Road Miss
Starbrow called a cab.
"Where is your bag--where did you sleep last night?" she asked; and when
Fan had told her she said, "Tell the man to drive us there," and got in.
In a few minutes they arrived at her lodging, and Fan got out and went in
to get her bag. She did not owe anything for rent, having paid in
advance, but she gave the woman a shilling.
"I knew I was right," said the woman, who was now all smiles. "Bless you,
miss, you ain't fit to make your own living like one of us. Well, I'm
real pleased your friends has found you."
Fan got into the cab again, and they proceeded in silence to Dawson
Place. A small boy in buttons, who had only been engaged a day or two
before, opened the door to them. They went up to the bedroom on the first
"Sit down, Fan, and rest yourself," said Miss Starbrow, closing and
locking the door; then after moving about the room in an aimless way for
a little while, she came and sat down near the girl. "Before you tell me
this dreadful story, Fan," she said, "I wish to ask you one thing more.
One day last week when it was raining you came home from Kensington with
a young man. Who was he--a friend of yours?"
"A friend of mine! oh no. I was hurrying back in the rain when he came up
to me and held his umbrella over my head, and walked to the door with me.
It was kind of him, I thought, because he was a stranger, and I had never
seen him before."
"It was a small thing, but you usually tell me everything, and you did
not tell me this?"
"No, I was waiting to tell you that--and something else, and didn't tell
you because you seemed angry with me, and I was afraid to speak to you."
"What was the something else you were going to tell me?"
Fan related the scene she had witnessed in the drawing-room. It had
seemed a great thing then, and had disturbed her very much, but now,
after all she had recently gone through, it seemed a very trivial matter.
To the other it did not appear so small a matter, to judge from her black
looks. She got up and moved about the room again, and then once more sat
down beside the girl.
"Now tell me your own story--everything from the moment you got the
telegram up to our meeting in the Gardens."
With half-averted face she listened, while the girl again began the
interrupted narration, and went on telling everything to the finish,
wondering at times why Mary sat so silent with face averted, as if afraid
to meet her eyes. But when she finished Mary turned and took her hand.
"Poor Fan," she said, "you have gone through a dreadful experience, and
scarcely seem to understand even now what danger you were in. But there
will be time enough to talk of all this--to congratulate you on such a
fortunate escape; just now I have got to deal with that infamous wretch
of a girl who still poisons the house with her presence."
She rose and rung the bell sharply, and when the boy in buttons answered
it, she ordered him to send Rosie to her.
"She's gone," said he.
"Gone! what do you mean--when did she go?"
"Just now, ma'am. She came up to speak to you when you came in, and then
she got her box down and went away in a cab."
Miss Starbrow then sent for the cook. "What does this mean about Rosie's
going?" she demanded of that person. "How came you to let her go without
"She came down and said she had had some words with you, and was going to
leave because Miss Fan had been took back."
"And the wretch has then got away with my jewellery! What else did she
"Nothing very good, ma'am. I'd rather not tell you."
"Tell me at once when I order you."
"I asked if she was going without her wages and a character, and she said
as you had paid her her wages, \and she didn't want a character, because
she didn't consider the house was respectable."
Miss Starbrow sent her away and closed the door; presently she sat down
at some distance from Fan, but spoke no word. Fan was in a low easy-chair
near the window, through which the sun was shining very brightly. She
looked pale and languid, resting her cheek on her palm and never moving;
only at intervals, when Miss Starbrow, with an exclamation of rage, would
rise and take a few steps about the room and then drop into her seat
again, the girl would raise her eyes and glance at her. All the keen
suffering, the strife, the bitterness of heart and anger were over, and
the reaction had come. It had all been a mistake; Mary had never dreamt
of doing her harm: the whole trouble had been brought about by Captain
Horton and Rosie; but she remembered them with a strange indifference;
the fire of anger had burnt itself out in her heart and could not be
With the other it was different. It had been a great shock to her to
discover that the girl she had befriended, and loved as she had never
loved anyone of her own sex before, was so false, so unutterably base.
For some little time she refused to believe it, and a horrible suspicion
of foul play had crossed her mind. But the proofs stared her in the face,
and she remembered that Fan had kept that acquaintance she had formed
with someone out of doors a secret. On returning to the house in the
evening, she was told that shortly after she had gone out for the day a
letter was brought addressed to Fan, and, when questioned, she had
refused to tell Rosie who it was from. At one o'clock Rosie had gone up
with her dinner, and, missing her, had searched for her in all the rooms,
and was then amazed to find that most of the girl's clothes had also
disappeared. But she did not know that anything else had been taken. Miss
Starbrow missed some jewels she had put on her dressing-table, and on a
further search it was discovered that other valuables, and one of her
best travelling bags, were also gone. The astonishment and indignation
displayed by the maid, who exclaimed that she had always considered Fan a
sly little hypocrite, helped perhaps to convince her mistress that the
girl had taken advantage of her absence to make her escape from the
house. Miss Starbrow remembered how confused and guilty she had looked
for two or three days before her flight, and came to the conclusion that
the young friend out of doors, not being able to see Fan, had kept a
watch on the house, and had cunningly arranged it all, and finally sent
or left the letter instructing her where to meet him, also probably
advising her what to take.
But Miss Starbrow had not been entirely bound up in the girl: she had
other affections and interests in life, and great as the shock had been
and the succeeding anger, she had recovered her self-possession, and had
set herself to banish Fan from her remembrance. She was ashamed to let
her servants and friends see how deeply she had been wounded by the
little starving wretch she had compassionately rescued from the streets.
Outwardly she did not appear much affected; and when Rosie, with well-
feigned surprise, asked if the police were not to be employed to trace
the stolen articles and arrest the thief, she only laughed carelessly and
replied: "No; she has punished herself enough already, and the trinkets
have no doubt been sold before now, and could not be traced."
Rosie hurried away to hide the relief she felt, for she had been
trembling to think what might happen if some cunning detective were to be
employed to make investigations in the house.
Now, however, when Mary began to recover from the amazement caused by
Fan's narrative, a dull rage took such complete possession of her that it
left no room for any other feeling. The girl sitting there with bent head
seemed no more to her than some stranger who had just come in, and about
whom she knew and cared nothing. All that Fan had suffered was forgotten:
she only thought of herself, of the outrage on her feelings, of the vile
treachery of the man who had pretended to love her, whom she had loved
and had treated so kindly, helping him with money and in other ways, and
forgiving him again and again when he had offended her. She could not
rest or sit still when she thought of it, and she thought of it
continually and of nothing else. She rose and paced the room, pausing at
every step, and turning herself from side to side, like some savage
animal, strong and lithe and full of deadly rage, but unable to spring,
trapped and shut within iron bars. Her face had changed to a livid white,
and looked hard and pitiless, and her eyes had a fixed stony stare like
those of a serpent. And at intervals, as she moved about the room, she
clenched her hands with such energy that the nails wounded her palms. And
from time to time her rage would rise to a kind of frenzy, and find
expression in a voice strangely harsh and unnatural, deeper than a man's,
and then suddenly rising to a shrill piercing key that startled Fan and
made her tremble. Poor Fan! that little burst of transitory anger she had
experienced in the Gardens seemed now only a pitifully weak exhibition
compared with the black tempest raging in this strong, undisciplined
"And I have loved him--loved that hell-hound! God! shall I ever cease to
despise and loathe myself for sinking into such a depth of infamy! Never
--never--until his viper head has been crushed under my heel! To strike!
to crush! to torture! How?--have I no mind to think? Nothing can I do--
nothing--nothing! Are there no means? Ah, how sweet to scorch the skin
and make the handsome face loathsome to look at! To burn the eyes up in
their sockets--to shut up the soul for ever in thick blackness!... Oh, is
there no wise theologian who can prove to me that there is a hell, that
he will be chained there and tortured everlastingly! That would satisfy
me--to remember it would be sweeter than Heaven."
Suddenly she turned in a kind of fury on Fan, who had risen trembling
from her seat. "Sit down!" she said. "Hide your miserable white face from
my sight! You could have warned me in time, you could have saved me from
this, and you failed to do it! Oh, I could strike you dead with my hand
for your imbecile cowardice!... And he will escape me! To blast his name,
to hold him up to public scorn and hatred, years of imprisonment in a
felon's cell--all, all the suffering we can inflict on such a fiendish
wretch seems weak and childish, and could give no comfort to my soul. Oh,
it drives me mad to think of it--I shall go mad--I shall go mad!" And
shrieking, and with eyes that seemed starting from their sockets, she
began madly tearing her hair and clothes.
Fan had risen again, white and trembling at that awful sight; and unable
to endure it longer, she sprang to the door, and crying out with terror,
flew down to the kitchen. The cook returned with her, and on entering the
room they discovered their mistress in a mad fit of hysterics, shrieking
with laughter, and tearing her clothes off. The woman was strong, and
seeing that prompt action was needed, seized her mistress in her arms and
threw her on to the couch, and held her there in spite of her frantic
struggles. Assisted by Fan, she then emptied the contents of the toilet
jug over her face and naked bosom, half drowning her; and after a while
Miss Starbrow ceased her struggles, and sank back gasping and half
fainting on the cushion, her eyes closed and her face ghostly white.
"You see," said the cook to Fan, "she never had one before, and she's a
strong one, and it's always worse for that sort when it do come. Lor',
what a temper she must have been in to take on so!"
Between them they succeeded in undressing and placing her on her bed,
where she lay for an hour in a half-conscious state; but later in the day
she began to recover, and moved to the couch near the fire, while Fan sat
beside her on the carpet, watching the face that looked so strange in its
whiteness and languor, and keeping the firelight from the half-closed
"Oh, Fan, how weak I feel now--so weak!" she murmured. "And a little
while ago I felt so strong! If he had been present I could have torn the
flesh from his bones. No tiger in the jungle maddened by the hunters has
such strength as I felt in me then. And now it has all gone, and he has
escaped from me. Let him go. All the kindly feeling I had for him--all
the hopes for his future welfare, all my secret plans to aid him--they
are dead. But it was all so sudden. Was it to-day, Fan, that I saw you
sitting in Kensington Gardens, crying by yourself, or a whole year ago?
Poor Fan! poor Fan!"
The girl had hid her face against Mary's knee.
"But why do you cry, my poor girl?"
"Oh, dear Mary, will you ever forgive me?" said Fan, half raising her
"Forgive you, Fan! For what?"
"For what I said to-day in the Gardens. Oh, why, why did I say such
dreadful things! Oh, I am so--so sorry--I am so sorry!"
"I remember now, but I had forgotten all about it. That was nothing, Fan
--less than nothing. It was not you that spoke, but the demon of anger
that had possession of you. I forgive you freely for that, poor child,
and shall never think of it again. But I shall never be able to feel
towards you as I did before. Never, Fan."
"Mary, Mary, what have I done!"
"Nothing, child. It is not anything you have done, or that you have left
undone. But I took you into my house and into my heart, and only asked
you to love and trust me, and you forgot it all in a moment, and were
ready to believe the worst of me. A stranger told you that I had secretly
planned your destruction, and you at once believed it. How could you find
it in your heart to believe such a thing of me--a thing so horrible, so
Fan, with her face hidden, continued crying.
"But don't cry, Fan. You shall not suffer. If you could lose all faith in
me, and think me such a demon of wickedness, you are not to blame. You
are not what I imagined, but only what nature made you. Where I thought
you strong you are weak, and it was my mistake."
Suddenly Fan raised her eyes, wet with tears, and looked fixedly at the
other's face; nor did she drop them when Mary's eyes, opening wide and
expressing a little surprise at the girl's courage, and a little
resentment, returned the look.
"Mary," she said, speaking in a voice which had recovered its firmness,
"I loved you so much, and I had never done anything wrong, and--and you
said you would always love and trust me because you knew that I was
"And you believed what Rosie said about me, and that I was a thief, and
had taken your jewels and ran away."
Mary cast down her eyes, and the corners of her mouth twitched as if with
a slight smile.
"That is true," she said slowly. "You are right, Fan; you are not so poor
as I thought, but can defend yourself with your tongue or your teeth, as
occasion requires. Perhaps my sin balances yours after all, and leaves us
quits. Perhaps when I get over this trouble I shall love you as much as
"And you are not angry with me now, Mary?"
"No, Fan, I was not angry with you: kiss me if you like. Only I feel
very, very tired--tired and sick of my life, and wish I could lie down
and sleep and forget everything."
On the very next day Miss Starbrow was herself again apparently, and the
old life was resumed just where it had been broken off. But although
outwardly things went on in the old way, and her mistress was not unkind,
and she had her daily walk, her reading, sewing, and embroidery to fill
her time, the girl soon perceived that something very precious to her had
been lost in the storm, and she looked and waited in vain for its
recovery. In spite of those reassuring well-remembered words Mary had
spoken to her, the old tender affection and confidence, which had made
their former relations seem so sweet, now seemed lost. Mary was not
unkind, but that was all. She did not wish Fan to read to her, or give
her any assistance in dressing, or to remain long in her room, but
preferred to be left alone. When she spoke, her words and tone were not
ungentle, but she no longer wished to talk, and after a few minutes she
would send her away; and then Fan, sad at heart, would go to her own
room--that large back room where her bed had been allowed to remain, and
where she worked silent and solitary, sitting before her own fire.
One day, just as she came in from her morning walk, a letter was left by
the postman, and Fan took it up to her mistress, glad always of an excuse
to go to her--for now some excuse seemed necessary.
Miss Starbrow, sitting moodily before her fire in her bedroom, took it;
but the moment she looked at the writing she started as if a snake had
bitten her, and flung the letter into the fire. Then, while watching it
blaze up, she suddenly exclaimed:
"I was a fool to burn it before first seeing what was in it!"
Before she finished speaking Fan darted her hand into the flame, and
tossing the burning letter on the rug, stamped out the fire with her
foot. The envelope and the outer leaf of the letter were black and
charred, but the inner leaf, which was the part written on, had not
"Thanks, Fan; that was clever," said Miss Starbrow, taking it; and then
proceeded to read it, holding it far from her face as if her eyesight had
suddenly fallen into decay.
Dear Pollie [ran the letter], When I saw that girl back in your
house I knew that it would be all over between us. It is a terrible
thing for me to lose you in that way, but there is no help for it now;
I know that you will not forgive me. But I don't wish you to think of
me worse than I deserve. You know as well as I do that since you took
Fan into the house you have changed towards me, and that without
quite throwing me over you made it as uncomfortable for me as you
could. As things did not improve, I became convinced that as long as
you had her by you it would continue the same, so I resolved to get
her out of the way. I partially succeeded, and she would have been
kept safely shut up for a few days, and then sent to a distant part
of the country, to be properly taken care of. That is the whole of my
offence, and I am very sorry that my plan failed. Nothing more than
that was intended; and if you have imagined anything more you have
done me an injustice. I am bad enough, I suppose, but not so bad as
that; and I hate and always have hated that girl, who has been my
greatest enemy, though perhaps unintentionally. That is all I have to
say, except that I shall never forget how different it once was--how
kind you could be, and how happy you often made me before that
miserable creature came between us.
Good-bye for ever,
Miss Starbrow laughed bitterly. "There, Fan, read it," she said. "It is
all about you, and you deserve a reward for burning your fingers. Coward
and villain! why has he added this infamous lie to his other crimes? It
has only made me hate and despise him more than ever. If he had had the
courage to confess everything, and even to boast of it, I should not have
thought so meanly of him."
The wound was bleeding afresh. Her face had grown pale, and under her
black scowling brows her eyes shone as if with the reflected firelight.
But it was only the old implacable anger flashing out again.
Fan, after reading the letter for herself, and dropping it with trembling
fingers on to the fire, turned to her mistress. Her face had also grown
very pale, and her eyes expressed a new and great trouble.
"Why do you look at me like that?" exclaimed Miss Starbrow, seizing her
by the arm. "Speak!"
Fan sank down on to her knees, and began stammeringly, "Oh, I can't bear
to think--to think--"
"To think what?--Speak, I tell you!"
"_Did_ I come between you?--oh, Mary, are you sorry--"
"Hush!" and Miss Starbrow pushed her angrily from her. "Sorry! Never dare
to say such a thing again! Oh, I don't know which is most hateful to me,
his villainy or your whining imbecility. Leave me--go to your room, and
never come to me unless I call you."
Fan went away, sad at heart, and cried by herself, fearing now that the
sweet lost love would never again return to brighten her life. But after
this passionate outburst Miss Starbrow was not less kind and gentle than
before. Once at least every day she would call Fan to her room and speak
a few words to her, and then send her away. The few words would even be
cheerfully spoken, but with a fictitious kind of cheerfulness; under it
all there was ever a troubled melancholy look; the clouds which had
returned after the rain had not yet passed away. To Fan they were very
much, those few daily words which served to keep her hope alive, while
her heart hungered for the love that was more than food to her.
Even in her sleep this unsatisfied instinct of her nature and perpetual
craving made her dreams sad. But not always, for on more than one
occasion she had a very strange sweet dream of Mary pressing her lips and
whispering some tender assurance to her; and this dream was so vivid, so
like reality, that when she woke she seemed to feel still on face and
hands the sensation of loving lips and other clasping hands, so that she
put out her hands to return the embrace. And one night from that dream
she woke very suddenly, and saw a light in the room--the light of a small
shaded lamp moving away towards the door, and Mary, in a white wrapper,
with her dark hair hanging unbound on her back, was carrying it.
"Mary, Mary!" cried the girl, starting up in bed, and holding out her
The other turned, and for a little while stood looking at her; no ghost
nor somnambulist was she in appearance, with those bright wakeful eyes,
the curious smile that played about her lips, and the rich colour,
perhaps from confusion or shame at being detected, surging back into her
lately pale face. She did not refuse the girl's appeal, or try any longer
to conceal her feelings. Setting the lamp down she came to the bedside,
and taking Fan in her arms, held her in a long close embrace. When she
had finished caressing the girl she remained standing for some time
silent beside the bed, her eyes cast down as if in thought, and an
expression half melancholy but strangely tender and beautiful on her
Presently she bent down over the girl again and spoke.
"Don't fret, dearest, if I seem bad-tempered and strange. I love you just
the same; I have come here more than once to kiss you when you were
asleep. Do you remember how angry you made me when you asked if you had
come between that man and me, and if I were sorry? You _did_ come
between us, Fan, in a way that his wholly corrupt soul would never
understand. But you could not have done me a greater service than that--
no, not if you had spilt your heart's blood for me. You have repaid me
for all that I have done, or ever can do for you, and have made me your
debtor besides for the rest of my life."
That midnight interview with her mistress had thereafter a very bright
and beautiful place in Fan's memory, and still thinking of it she would
sometimes lie awake for hours, wishing and hoping that Mary would come to
her again in one of her tender moods. But it did not happen again; for
Mary was not one to recover quickly from such a wound as she had
suffered, and she still brooded, wrapped up in her own thoughts, dreaming
perhaps of revenge. And in the meantime bitter blustering March wore on
to its end, the sun daily gaining power; and then, all at once, it was
April, with sunshine and showers; and some heavenly angel passed by and
touched the brown old desolate elms in Kensington Gardens with tenderest
green; and as by a miracle the baskets of the flower-girls in Westbourne
Grove were filled to overflowing with spring flowers--pale primroses that
die unmarried; and daffodils that come before the swallow dares, shining
like gold; and violets dim, but sweeter than the lids of Juno's eyes, or
One afternoon, returning from Westbourne Grove, where she had been out to
buy flowers for the table, on coming into the hall, Fan was surprised to
hear Miss Starbrow in the dining-room talking to a stranger, with a
cheerful ring in her voice, which had not been heard for many weeks. She
was about to run upstairs to her room, when her mistress called out, "Is
that you, Fan? Come in here; I want you."
Miss Starbrow and her visitor were sitting near the window. How changed
she looked, with her cheeks so full of rich red colour, and her dark eyes
sparkling with happy, almost joyous excitement! But she did not speak
when Fan, blushing a little with shyness, advanced into the room and
stood before them, her eyes cast down in a pretty confusion. Smiling, she
watched the girl's face, then the face of her guest, her eyes bright and
mirthful glancing from one to the other. Fan, looking up, saw before her
a tall broad-shouldered young man with good features, hair almost black;
no beard, but whiskers and moustache, very dark brown; and, in strange
contrast, grey-blue eyes. Over these eyes, too light in colour to match
the hair, the eyelids drooped a little, giving to them that partially-
closed sleepy appearance which is often deceptive. Just now they were
studying the girl standing before him with very keen interest. A slender
girl, not quite sixteen years old, in a loose and broad-sleeved olive-
green dress, and yellow scarf at the neck; brown straw hat trimmed with
spring flowers; flowers also in her hand, yellow and white, and ferns, in
a great loose bunch; and her golden hair hanging in a braid on her back.
But the face must be imagined, white and delicate and indescribably
lovely in its tender natural pallor.
"Fan," said Miss Starbrow at last, and speaking with a merry smile, "this
is my brother Tom, from Manchester, you have so often heard me speak of.
Tom, this is Fan."
"Well," exclaimed Miss Starbrow, after he had shaken hands with Fan and
sat down again, "what do you think of my little girl? You have heard all
about her, and now you have seen her, and I am waiting to hear your
"Do you remember the old days at home, Mary, when we were all together?
How you do remind me of them now!"
"Oh, bother the old days! You know how I hated them, and I--why don't you
answer my question, Tom?"
"That's just it," he returned. "It was always the same: you always wanted
an answer before the question was out of your mouth. Now, it was quite
different with the rest of us."
"Yes, you were a slow lot. Do you remember Jacob?--it always took him
fifteen minutes to say yes or no. There's an animal--I forget what it's
called--rhinoceros or something--at the Zoo that always reminds me of
him; he was so fearfully ponderous."
"Yes, that's all very well, Mary, but I fancy he's more than doubled the
fortune the gov'nor left him; so he has been ponderous to some purpose."
"Has he? how? But what do I care! Tom, you'll drive me crazy--why can't
you answer a simple question instead of going off into fifty other
"Well, Mary, if you'll kindly explain which of all the questions you have
asked me during the last minute or two, I'll try my best."
She frowned, made an impatient gesture, then laughed.
"Go upstairs and take off your things, Fan," she said. "Well?" she
continued, turning to her brother again, and finding his eyes fixed on
her face. "Do you tell me, Mary, that this white girl was born and bred
in a London slum, that her drunken mother was killed in a street fight,
and that she had no other life but that until you picked her up?"
"Can't you say _Mon Dieu_, Tom? Your north-country expressions sound
rather shocking to London ears."
He rose, and coming to her side put his arm about her and kissed her
cheek very heartily.
"You were always a good old girl, Mary," he said, "and you are one still,
in spite of your vagaries."
"Thank you for your very equivocal compliments," she returned,
administering a slight box on his ear. "And now tell me what you think of
"I'll tell you presently, if you have not guessed already; but I'd like
to know first what you are going to do with her."
"I don't know; I can't bother about it just now. There's plenty of time
to think of that. Perhaps I'll make a lady's-maid of her, though it
doesn't seem quite the right thing to do."
"No, it doesn't. Don't go and spoil what you have done by any such folly
"Do you want me to make a lady of her--or what?"
"A lady? Well that is a difficult question to answer; but I have heard
that sometimes ladies, like poets, are born, not made. At all events, it
would not be right, I fancy, to keep the girl here. It might give rise to
disagreeable complications, as you always have a parcel of fellows
hanging about you."
Her face darkened with a frown.
"Now, Mary, don't get into a tantrum; it is best for us to be frank. And
I say frankly that you never did a better thing in your life than when
you took this girl into your house, if my judgment is worth anything. My
advice is, send her away for a time--for a year or two, say. She is
young, and would be better for a little more teaching. There are poor
gentlefolks all over the country who are only too glad to take a girl
when they can get one, and give her a pleasant home and instruction for a
moderate sum. Find out some such place, and give her a year of it at
least; and then if you should have her back she would be more of a
companion for you, and, if not, she would be better able to earn her own
living. Take my advice, Mary, and finish a good work properly."
"A good work! You have nearly spoilt the effect of everything you said by
that word. I never have done and never will do good works. It is not my
nature, Tom. What I have done for Fan is purely from selfish motives. The
fact is I fell in love with the girl, and my reward is in being loved by
her and seeing her happy. It would be ridiculous to call that
He smiled and shook his head. "You can abuse yourself if you like, Mary;
we came from Dissenters, and that's a fashion of theirs--"
"Cant and hypocrisy is a fashion of theirs, if you like," she
interrupted. "You are not going the right way about it if you wish me to
pay any attention to your advice."
"Come, Mary, don't let us quarrel. I'll agree with you that we are all a
lot of selfish beggars; and I'll even confess that I have a selfish
motive in advising you to send the girl away to the country for a time."
"What is your motive?" she asked.
"Well, I hate going slap-dash into the middle of a thing without any
preface; I like to approach it in my own way."
"Yes, I know; _your_ way of approaching a subject is to walk in a
circle round it. But please dash into the middle of it for once."
"Well, then, to tell you the plain truth, I am beginning to think that
money-getting is not the only thing in life--"
"What a discovery for a Manchester man to make! The millennium must have
dawned at last on your smoky old town!"
He laughed at her words, but refused to go on with the subject.
"I was only teasing you a little," he said. "It gladdens me even to see
you put yourself in a temper, Mary--it brings back old times when we were
always such good friends, and sometimes had such grand quarrels."
Mary also laughed, and rang the bell for afternoon tea. She was curious
to hear about the "selfish motive," but remembered the family failing,
and forbore to press him.
According to his own accounts, Mr. Tom Starbrow was up in town on
business; apparently the business was not of a very pressing nature, as
most of his time during the next few days was spent at Dawson Place,
where he and his sister had endless conversations about old times. Then
he would go with Fan to explore Whiteley's, which seemed to require a
great deal of exploring; and from these delightful rambles they would
return laden with treasures--choice bon-bons, exotic flowers and hot-
house grapes at five or six shillings a pound; quaint Japanese knick-
knacks; books and pictures, and photographs of celebrated men--great
beetle-browed philosophers, and men of blood and thunder; also of women
still more celebrated, on and off the stage. Mr. Starbrow would have
nothing sent; the whole fun of the thing, he assured Fan, was in carrying
all their purchases home themselves; and so, laden with innumerable small
parcels, they would return chatting and laughing like the oldest and best
of friends, happy and light-hearted as children.
At last one day Mr. Starbrow went back to the old subject. "Mary, my
girl," he said, "have you thought over the advice I gave you about this
white child of yours?"
"No, certainly not; we were speaking of it when you broke off in the
middle of a sentence, if you remember. You can finish the sentence now if
you like, but don't be in a hurry."
"Well then, to come at once to the very pith of the whole matter, I think
I've been sticking to the mill long enough--for the present. And it may
come to pass that some day I shall be married, and then----"
"Your second state will be worse than your first."
"That will be according to how it turns out. I was only going to say that
a married man finds it more difficult to do some things."
"To flirt with pretty young girls, for instance?"
"No, no. But I haven't finished yet. I haven't even come to the matter at
"Oh, you haven't! How strange!"
He smiled and was silent.
"I hope, Tom, you'll marry a big strong woman."
"Because you want an occasional good shaking."
"You see, my difficulty is this," he began again, without noticing the
last speech. "When I tell you what I want, I'm afraid you'll only laugh
at me and refuse my request."
"It won't hurt you much, poor old Tom, if I do laugh."
"No, perhaps not--I never thought of that." Then he proceeded to explain
that he had made up his mind to spend two or three years in seeing the
world, or at all events that portion of it to be found outside of
England; and the first year he wished to spend on the Continent. Alone he
feared that he would have a miserable time of it; but if his sister would
only consent to accompany him, then he thought it would be most
enjoyable; for he would have her society, and her experience of travel,
and knowledge of German and French, would also smooth the way. "Now,
Mary," he concluded--it had taken him half an hour to say this--"don't
say No just yet. I know I shall be an awful weight for you to drag about,
I'll be so helpless at hotels and stations and such places. But there
will perhaps be one advantage to you. I know you spend rather freely, and
your income is not too large, and I dare say you have exceeded it a
little. Now, if you will give a year to me, and have your house shut up
or let in the meantime, there would be a year's income saved to put you
"That means, Tom, that you would pay all my expenses while we were
"Well, sis, I couldn't well take you away from your own life and
pleasures and ask you to pay your own. That would be a strangely one-
sided proposal to make."
"I must take time to think about it."
"That's a good girl. And, Mary, what would it cost to put this girl with
some family where she would have a pleasant home and be taught for a
"About sixty or seventy pounds, I suppose. Then there would be her
clothing, and pocket-money, and incidental expenses--altogether a hundred
pounds, I dare say."
"And you would let me pay this also?"
"No indeed, Tom. Three or four months would be quite time enough to put
me straight; and if I consent to go, it must be understood that there are
to be no presents, and nothing except travelling expenses."
"All right, Mary; you haven't consented yet definitely, but it is a great
relief that you do not scout the idea, and tell me to go and buy a ticket
at Ludgate Circus."
"Well, no, I couldn't well say that, considering that you are the only
one of the family who has treated me rightly, and that I care anything
about." She laughed a little, and presently continued: "I dare say the
others are all well enough in their way; they are all honest men, of
course, and someone says, 'An honest man's the noblest work of God.' For
my part, I think it His poorest work. Fancy dull, slow old calculating
Jacob being the noblest work of the Being that created--what shall I
say?--this violet, or--"
"Fan," suggested her brother.
"Yes, Fan if you like. By the way, Tom, before I forget to mention it, I
think you are a little in love with Fan."
Tom, taken off his guard, blushed hotly, which would not have mattered if
his sister's keen eyes had not been watching his face.
"What nonsense you talk!" he exclaimed a little too warmly. "In love with
"Yes, I know she's but a lassie yet," replied his sister with a mocking
It was too much for his Starbrow temper, and taking up his hat he rose
and marched angrily out of the room--angry as much with himself as with
his sister. But in a moment she was after him, and before he could open
the hall door her arms were round his neck.
"Oh, Tom, you foolish fellow, can't you take a little joke good-
humouredly?" she said. "I'm afraid our year on the Continent will be a
very short one if you are going to be so touchy."
"Then you will consent?" he said, glad to change the subject and be
And a day or two later she did finally consent to accompany him. His
proposal had come at an opportune moment, when she was heartsore, and
restless, and anxious to escape from the painful memories and
associations of the past month.
One of her first steps was to advertise in the papers for a home with
tuition for a girl under sixteen, in a small family residing in a rural
district in the west or south-west of England. The answers were to be
addressed to her newspaper agent, who was instructed not to forward them
to her in driblets, but deliver them all together.
Mr. Starbrow stayed another week in town, and during that time he went
somewhere every day with his sister and Fan; they drove in the Park, went
to picture galleries, to morning concerts, and then, if not tired, to a
theatre in the evening. It was consequently a very full week to Fan, who
now for the first time saw something of the hidden wonders and glories of
London. And she was happy; but this novel experience--the sight of all
that unimagined wealth of beauty--was even less to her than Mary's
perfect affection, which was now no longer capricious, bursting forth at
rare intervals like sunshine out of a stormy sky. Then that week in
fairyland was over, and Tom Starbrow went back to Manchester to arrange
his affairs; but before going he presented Fan with a very beautiful
lady's watch and chain, the watch of chased gold with blue enamelled
"I do not wish you to forget me, Fan," he said, holding her hand in his,
and looking into her young face smilingly, yet with a troubled expression
in his eyes, "and there is nothing like a watch to remind you of an
absent friend; sometimes it will even repeat his words if you listen
attentively to its little ticking language. It is something like the sea-
shell that whispers about the ocean waves when you hold it to your ear."
That pretty little speech only served to make the gift seem more precious
to Fan; for she was not critical, and it did not sound in the least
studied to her. It was delivered, however, when Mary was out of the room;
when she returned and saw the watch, after congratulating the girl she
threw a laughing and somewhat mocking glance at her brother; for which
Tom was prepared, and so he met it bravely, and did not blush or lose his
In due time the answers to the advertisement arrived--in a sack, for they
numbered about four hundred.
"Oh, how will you ever be able to read them all!" exclaimed Fan, staring
in a kind of dismay at the pile, where Miss Starbrow had emptied them on
"I have no such mad intention," said the other with a laugh, and turning
them over with her pretty slippered foot. "As a rule people that answer
advertisements--especially women--are fools. If you advertise for a piece
of old point lace, about a thousand people who have not got such a thing
will write to say that they will sell you wax flowers, old books, ostrich
feathers, odd numbers of _Myra's Journal_, or any rubbish they may
have by them; I dare say that most of the writers of these letters are
just as wide of the mark. Sit here at my feet, Fan; and you shall open
the letters for me and read the addresses. No, not that way with your
fingers. If you stop to tear them to pieces, like a hungry cat tearing
its meat, it will take too long. Use the paper-knife, and open them
neatly and quickly."
Fan began her task, and found scores of letters from the suburbs of
London and all parts of the kingdom, from Land's End to the north of
Scotland; and in nine cases out of ten after reading the address her
mistress would say, "Tear it twice across, and throw it into the basket,
It seemed a pity to Fan to tear them up unread; for some were so long and
so beautifully written, with pretty little crests at the top of the page;
but Mary knew her own mind, and would not relent so far as even to look
at one of these wasted specimens of calligraphic art. In less than an
hour's time the whole heap had been disposed of, with the exception of
fifteen or twenty letters selected for consideration on account of their
addresses. These Miss Starbrow carefully went over, and finally selecting
one she read it aloud to Fan. It was from a Mrs. Churton, an elderly
lady, residing with her husband, a retired barrister, and her daughter,
in their own house at a small place called Eyethorne, in Wiltshire. She
offered to take the girl into her house, treat her as her own child, and
give her instruction, for seventy pounds a year. The tuition would be
undertaken by the daughter, who was well qualified for such a task, and
could teach languages--Latin, German, and French were mentioned; also
mathematics, geology, history, music, drawing, and a great many other
branches of knowledge, both useful and ornamental.
Fan listened to this part of the letter with a look of dismay on her
face, which made Miss Starbrow laugh.
"Why, my child, what more can you want?" she said.
"Don't you think it a little too much, Mary?" she returned with some
distress, which made the other laugh again.
"Well, my poor girl, you needn't study Greek and archaeology and
logarithms unless you feel inclined. But if you ever take a fancy for
such subjects it will always be a comfort to know that you may dive down
as deeply as you like without knocking your head on the bottom. I mean
that you will never get to know too much for Miss Churton, who knows more
than all the professors put together."
"Do you think she will be nice?" said Fan, wandering from the subject.
"Nice! That depends on your own taste. I fancy I can draw a picture of
what she is like. A tall thin lady of an uncertain age. Thin across
here"--placing her hands on her own shoulders. "And very flat here,"
--touching her own well-developed bust.
"But I should like to know about her face."
"Should you? I'm afraid that it is not a very bright smiling face, that
it is rather yellow in colour, that the hair is rather dead-looking, of
the door-mat tint, and smoothed flat down. The eyes are dim, no doubt,
from much reading, and the nose long, straddled with a pair of
spectacles, and red at the end from dyspepsia and defective circulation.
But never mind, Fan, you needn't look so cast down about it. Miss Churton
will be your teacher, and I wish you joy, but you will have plenty of
time for play, and other things to think of besides study. When your
lessons are over you can chase butterflies and gather flowers if you
like. Luckily Miss Churton has not included botany and entomology in the
long list of her acquirements."
Fan did not quite understand all this; her mistress was always mocking at
something, she knew; she only asked if it was really in the country where
she would live.
Miss Starbrow took up the letter and read the remaining portion, which
contained a description of Wood End House--the Churtons' residence--and
its surroundings. The house, the writer said, was small, but pretty and
comfortable; and there was a nice garden and a large orchard with fruit
in abundance. There were also some fields and meadows, her own property,
let to neighbouring farmers. East of the house, and within fifteen
minutes walk, was the old picturesque village of Eyethorne, sheltered by
a range of grassy hills; also within a few minutes' walk began the
extensive Eyethorne woods, celebrated for their beauty.
Nothing could have been more charming than this, and the picture of
garden and orchard, green meadows and hills and shady woods, almost
reconciled Fan to the prospect of spending a whole year in the society of
an aged and probably ailing couple, and a lady of uncertain age, deeply
learned and of unprepossessing appearance--for she could not rid her mind
of the imaginary portrait drawn by Mary.
For some mysterious reason, or for no reason, Miss Starbrow resolved to
close at once with the Churtons; and as if fearing that her mind might
alter, she immediately tore up the other letters, although in some of
them greater advantages had been held out, lower terms, and the
companionship of girls of the same age as Fan. And in a very few days,
after a little further correspondence, everything was settled to the
entire satisfaction of everyone concerned, and it was arranged that Fan
should go down to Eyethorne on the 10th of May, which was now very near.
"I shall have one good dress made for you," said Miss Starbrow, "and you
can take the material to make a second for yourself; you are growing just
now, Fan. A nice dress for Sundays; down in the country most people go to
church. And, by the way, Fan, have you ever been inside a church in your
She seemed not to know how to answer this question, but at length spoke,
a little timidly. "Not since I have lived with you, Mary."
"Is that intended for a sarcasm, Fan? But never mind, I know what you
mean. When you are at Eyethorne you must still bear that in mind, and
even if questioned about it, never speak of that old life in Moon Street.
I suppose I must get you a prayer-book, and--show you how to use it. But
about dress. Your body is very much more important than your soul, and
how to clothe it decently and prettily must be our first consideration.
We must go to Whiteley's and select materials for half a dozen pretty
summer dresses. Blue, I fancy, suits you best, but you can have other
colours as well."
"Oh, Mary," said the girl with strange eagerness, "will you let me choose
one myself? I have so long wished to wear white! May I have one white
"White? You are so white yourself. Don't you think you look simple and
innocent enough as it is? But please yourself, Fan, you shall have as
many white dresses as you like."
So overjoyed was Fan at having this long-cherished wish at last gratified
that, for the first time she had ever ventured to do such a thing, she
threw her arms round Mary's neck and kissed her. Then starting back a
little frightened, she exclaimed, "Mary, was it wrong for me to kiss you
without being told?"
"No, dear, kiss me as often as you like. We have had a rather eventful
year together, have we not? Clouds and storms and some pleasant sunshine.
For these few remaining days there must be no clouds, but only perfect
love and peace. The parting will come quickly enough, and who knows--who
knows what changes another year will bring?"
At the last moment, when all the preparations were complete, Miss
Starbrow determined to accompany Fan to her new home, and, after dropping
her there, to pay a long-promised visit before leaving England to an old
friend of her girlhood, who was now married and living at Salisbury.
Eyethorne took her some distance out of her way; and at the small country
station where they alighted, which was two and a half miles from the
village, she found from the time-table that her interview with the
Churtons would have to be a short one, as there was only one train which
would take her to Salisbury so as to arrive there at a reasonably early
hour in the evening. At the station they took a fly, and the drive to
Eyethorne brought before Fan's eyes a succession of charming scenes--
green hills, broad meadows yellow with buttercups, deep shady lanes, and
old farm-houses. The spring had been cold and backward; but since the
beginning of May there had been days of warm sunshine with occasional
gentle rains, and the trees, both shade and fruit, had all at once rushed
into leaf and perfect bloom. Such vivid and tender greens as the foliage
showed, such a wealth of blossom on every side, such sweet fragrance
filling the warm air, Fan had never imagined; and yet how her prophetic
heart had longed for the sweet country!
A sudden turn of the road brought them in full sight of the village,
sheltered on the east side by low green hills; and beyond the village, at
some distance, a broad belt of wood, the hills on one hand and green
meadowland on the other. Five minutes after leaving the village they drew
up at the gate of Wood End House, which was at some distance back from
the road almost hidden from sight by the hedge and trees, and was
approached by a short avenue of elms. Arrived at the house, they were
received by Mr. and Mrs. Churton, and ushered into a small drawing-room
on the ground floor; a room which, with its heavy-looking, old-fashioned
furniture, seemed gloomy to them on coming in from the bright sunshine.
Mrs. Churton was rather large, approaching stoutness in her figure, grey-
haired with colourless face, and a somewhat anxious expression; but she
seemed very gentle and motherly, and greeted Fan with a kindliness in her
voice and manner which served in a great measure to remove the girl's
nervousness on coming for the first time as an equal among gentlefolks.
Mr. Churton had not, in a long married life, grown like his spouse in any
way, nor she like him. He was small, with a narrow forehead, irregular
face and projecting under-lip, which made him ugly. His eyes were of that
common no-colour type, and might or might not have been pigmented, and
classifiable as brown or blue--Dr. Broca himself would not have been able
to decide. But the absence of any definite colour was of less account
than the lack of any expression, good or bad. One wondered, on seeing his
face, how he could be a retired barrister, unless it meant merely that in
the days of his youth he had made some vague and feeble efforts at
entering such a profession, ending in nothing. Possibly he was himself
conscious that his face lacked a quality found in others, and failed to
inspire respect and confidence; for he had a trick of ostentatiously
clearing his throat, and looking round and speaking in a deliberate and
somewhat consequential manner, as if by these little arts to
counterbalance the weakness in the expression. His whole get-up also
suggested the same thought--could anyone believe the jewel to be missing
from a casket so elaborately chased? His grey hair was brushed sprucely
up on each side of his head, the ends of the locks forming a
supplementary pair of ears above the crown. He was scrupulously dressed
in black cloth and spotless linen, with a very large standing-up collar.
In manner he was gushingly amiable and polite towards Miss Starbrow, and
as he stood bowing and smiling and twirling the cord of his gold-rimmed
glasses about his finger, he talked freely to that lady of the lovely
weather, the beauty of the country, the pleasures of the spring season,
and in fact of everything except the business which had brought her
there. Presently she cut short his flow of inconsequent talk by remarking
that her time was short, and inquiring if Miss Churton were in.
Mrs. Churton quickly replied that she was expecting her every moment;
that she had gone out for a short walk, and had not perhaps seen the fly
arrive. No doubt, she added a little nervously, Miss Starbrow would like
to see and converse with Miss Affleck's future teacher and companion.
"Oh, no, not at all!" promptly replied the other, with the habitual
curling of the lip. "I came to-day by the merest chance, as everything
had been arranged by correspondence, and I am quite satisfied that Miss
Affleck will be in good hands." At which Mr. Churton bowed, and turning
bestowed a fatherly smile on Fan. "It is not at all necessary for me to
see Miss Churton," continued Miss Starbrow, "but there is one thing I
wish to speak to you about, which I omitted to mention in my letters to
Mr. and Mrs. Churton were all attention, but before the other had begun
to speak Miss Churton came in, her hat on, and with a sunshade in one
hand and a book in the other.
"Here is my daughter," said the mother. "Constance, Miss Starbrow and
Miss Churton advanced to the first lady, but did not give her hand as she
had meant to do; for the moment she appeared in the room and her name was
mentioned a cloud had come over the visitor's face, and she merely bowed
distantly without stirring from her seat.
For the real Miss Churton offered a wonderful contrast to that portrait
of her which the other had drawn from her imagination. She might almost
be called tall, her height being little less than that of the dark-browed
lady who sat before her, regarding her with cold critical eyes; but in
figure she was much slimmer, and her light-coloured dress, which was
unfashionable in make, was pretty and became her. She was, in fact, only
twenty-two years old. There were no lines of deep thought on her pure
white forehead when she removed her hat; and no dimness from much reading
of books in her clear hazel eyes, which seemed to Fan the most beautiful
eyes she had ever seen, so much sweet sympathy did they show, and so much
confidence did they inspire. In colour she was very rich, her skin being
of that tender brown one occasionally sees in the face of a young lady in
the country, which seems to tell of a pleasant leisurely life in woods
and fields; while her abundant hair was of a tawny brown tint with bronze
reflections. She was very beautiful, and when, turning from Miss
Starbrow, she advanced to Fan and gave her hand, the girl almost trembled
with the new keen sensation of pleasure she experienced. Miss Churton was
so different from that unlovely mental picture of her! She imagined for a
moment, poor girl, that Mary would show her feelings of relief and
pleasure; but she quickly perceived that something had brought a sudden
cloud over Mary's face, and it troubled her, and she wondered what it
Before Miss Churton had finished welcoming Fan, Miss Starbrow, looking at
her watch and directly addressing the elder lady, said in a cold voice:
"I think it would be as well if Miss Affleck could leave us for a few
minutes, and I will then finish what I had begun to say."
Miss Churton looked inquiringly at her, then turned again to Fan.
"Will you come with me to the garden?" she said.
Fan rose and followed her through a back door opening on to a grassy
lawn, beyond which were the garden and orchard. After crossing the lawn
and going a little way among the shrubs and flowers they came in sight of
a large apple-tree white with blossoms.
"Oh, can we go as far as that tree?" asked the girl after a little
delighted exclamation at the sight. When they reached the tree she went
under it and gazed up into the beautiful flowery cloud with wide-open
eyes, and lips half-parted with a smile of ineffable pleasure.
Miss Churton stood by and silently watched her face for some moments.
"Do you think you will like your new home, Miss Affleck?" she asked.
"Oh, how lovely it all is--the flowers!" she exclaimed. "I didn't know
that there was any place in the world so beautiful as this! I should like
to stay here for ever!"
"But have you never been in the country before?" said the other with some
"Yes. Only once, for a few days, years ago. But it was not like this. It
was very beautiful in Hyde Park and Kensington Gardens, but this--"
She could find no words to express her feeling; she could only stand
gazing up, and touching the white and pink clustering blossoms with her
finger-tips, as if they were living things to be gently caressed. "Oh, it
is so sweet," she resumed. "I have always so wished to be in the country,
but before Miss Starbrow took me to live with her, and before--they--
mother died, we lived in a very poor street, and were always so poor and
--" Then she reddened and cast down her eyes and was silent, for she had
suddenly remembered that Miss Starbrow had warned her never to speak of
her past life.
Miss Churton smiled slightly, but with a strange tenderness in her eyes
as she watched the girl's face.
"I hope we shall get on well together, and that you will like me a
little," she said.
"Oh, yes, I know I shall like you if--if you will not think me very
stupid. I know so little, and you know so much. Must you always call me
"Not if you would prefer me to call you Frances. I should like that
"That would seem so strange, Miss Churton. I have always been called
Just then the others were seen coming out to the garden, and Miss Churton
and Fan went back to meet them. Mr. Churton, polite and bare-headed,
hovered about his visitor, smiling, gesticulating, chattering, while she
answered only in monosyllables, and was blacker-browed than ever. Mrs.
Churton, silent and pale, walked at her side, turning from time to time a
troubled look at the dark proud face, and wondering what its stormy
expression might mean.
"Fan," said Miss Starbrow, without even a glance at the lady at Fan's
side, "my time is nearly up, and I wish to have three or four minutes
alone with you before saying good-bye."
The others at once withdrew, going back to the house, while Miss Starbrow
sat down on a garden bench and drew the girl to her side. "Well, my
child, what do you think of your new teacher?" she began.
"I like her so much, Mary, I'm sure--I know she will be very kind to me;
and is she not beautiful?"
"I am not going to talk about that, Fan. I haven't time. But I want to
say something very serious to you. You know, my girl, that when I took
you out of such a sad, miserable life to make you happy, I said that it
was not from charity, and because I loved my fellow-creatures or the poor
better than others; but solely because I wanted you to love me, and your
affection was all the payment I ever expected or expect. But now I
foresee that something will happen to make a change in you--"
"I can never change, or love you less than now, Mary!"
"So you imagine, but I can see further. Do you know, Fan, that you cannot
give your heart to two persons; that if you give your whole heart to this
lady you think so beautiful and so kind, and who will be paid for her
kindness, that her gain will be my loss?"
Fan, full of strange trouble, put her trembling hand on the other's hand.
"Tell me how it will be your loss, Mary," she said. "I don't think I
"I was everything to you before, Fan. I don't want a divided affection,
and I shall not share your affection with this woman, however beautiful
and kind she may be; or, rather, I shall not be satisfied with what is
over after you have begun to worship her. Your love is a kind of worship,
Fan, and you cannot possibly have that feeling for more than one person,
although you will find it easy enough to transfer it from one to another.
If you do not quite understand me yet, you must think it over and try to
find out what I mean. But I warn you, Fan, that if ever you transfer the
affection you have felt for me to this woman, or this girl, then you
shall cease to be anything to me. You shall be no more to me than you
were before I first saw you and felt a strange wish to take you to my
heart; when you were in rags and half-starved, and without one friend in
The tears started to the girl's eyes, and she threw her arms round the
other's neck. "Oh, Mary, nothing, nothing will ever make me love you
less! Will you not believe me, Mary?"
"Yes, dear Fan, don't cry. Good-bye, my darling. Write to me at least
once every fortnight, and when you want money or anything let me know,
and you shall have it. And when May comes round again let me see you
unchanged in heart, but with an improved mind and a little colour in your
dear pale face."
After Miss Starbrow's departure Fan was shown to her room, where her
luggage had already been taken by the one indoor servant, a staid,
middle-aged woman. It was a light, prettily furnished apartment on the
first floor, with a large window looking on to the garden at the back.
There were flowers on the dressing-table--Miss Churton had placed them
there, she thought--and the warm fragrant air coming in at the open
window seemed to bring nature strangely near to her. Looking away, where
the trees did not intercept the view, it was all green country--gently-
sloping hills, and the long Eyethorne wood, and rich meadow-land, where
sleepy-looking cows stood in groups or waded knee-deep in the pasture. It
was like an earthly paradise to her senses, but just now her mind was
clouded with a great distress. Mary's strange words to her, and the
warning that she would be cast out of Mary's heart, that it would be
again with her as it had been before entering into this new life of
beautiful scenes and sweet thoughts and feelings, if she allowed herself
to love her new teacher and companion, filled her with apprehension. She
sat by the window looking out, but with a dismayed expression in her
young eyes; and then she remembered how Mary, in a sudden tempest of
rage, had once struck her, and how her heart had almost burst with grief
at that unjust blow; and now it seemed to her that Mary's words if not
her hand had dealt her a second blow, which was no less unjust; and
covering her face with her hands she cried silently to herself. Then she
remembered how quickly Mary had repented and had made amends, loving her
more tenderly after having ill-treated her in her anger. It consoled her
to think that Mary had so great an affection for her; and perhaps, she
thought, the warning was necessary; perhaps if she allowed her heart to
have its way, and to give all that this lovely and loving girl seemed to
ask, Mary would be less to her than she had been. She resolved that she
would strive religiously to obey Mary's wishes, that she would keep a
watch over herself, and not allow any such tender feelings as she had
experienced in the garden to overcome her again. She would be Miss
Churton's pupil, but not the intimate, loving friend and companion she
had hoped to be after first seeing her.
While Fan sat by herself, occupied with her little private trouble, which
did not seem little to her, downstairs in the small drawing-room there
was another trouble.
"Before you go up to your room I wish to speak to you, Constance," said
Miss Churton stood swinging her straw hat by its ribbon, silently waiting
to hear the rest.
"All right, Jane," said Mr. Churton to his wife. "I am just going to run
up to the village for an hour. You don't require me any more, do you?"
"I think you should remain here until this matter is settled, and
Constance is made clearly to understand what Miss Starbrow's wishes are.
My wishes, which will be considered of less moment, I have no doubt,
shall be stated afterwards."
"Very well, my dear, I will do anything you like. At the same time, I
think I really must be going. I have been kept in all day, you know, and
should like to take a little--ahem--constitutional."
"Yes, Nathaniel, I have no doubt you would. But consider me a little in
this. I have succeeded in getting this girl, and you know how much the
money will be to us. Do you think it too much to keep away from your
favourite haunt in the village for a single day?"
"Oh, come, come, Jane. It's all right, my dear. I'm sure Miss Starbrow
was greatly pleased at everything. You can settle all the rest with
Constance. I think she's quite intelligent enough to understand the
matter without my presence." And here Mr. Churton gave vent to a slight
"I insist on your staying here, Nathaniel. You know how little regard our
daughter has for my wishes or commands; and as Miss Starbrow has spoken
to us both, you cannot do less than remain to corroborate what I have to
Her daughter reddened at this speech, but remained silent.
"Well, well, my dear, if you will only come to the point!" he exclaimed
"Constance, will you give me your attention?" said her mother, turning to
"Yes, mother, I am attending."
"Miss Starbrow has informed us that Miss Affleck, although of gentle
birth on her father's side, was unhappily left to be brought up in a very
poor quarter of London, among people of a low class. She has had little
instruction, except that of the Board School, and never had the advantage
of associating with those of a better class until this lady rescued her
from her unfortunate surroundings. She is of a singularly sweet,
confiding disposition, Miss Starbrow says, and has many other good
qualities which only require a suitable atmosphere to be developed. Miss
Starbrow will value at its proper worth the instruction you will give
her; and as to subjects, she has added nothing to what she had written to
us, except that she does not wish you to force any study on the girl to
which she may show a disinclination, but rather to find out for yourself
any natural aptitude she may possess. And what she particularly requests
of us is, that no questions shall be put to her and no reference made to
her early life in London. She wishes the girl to forget, if possible, her
suffering and miserable childhood."
"I shall be careful not to make any allusion to it," replied the other,
her face brightening with new interest. "Poor girl! She began to say
something to me about her early life in London when we were in the
garden, and then checked herself. I dare say Miss Starbrow has told her
not to speak of it."
"Then I suppose you had already begun to press her with questions about
it?" quickly returned Mrs. Churton.
"No; she spoke quite spontaneously. The flowers, the garden, the beauty
of the country, so strangely different to her former surroundings--that
suggested what she said, I think."
Her mother looked unconvinced. "Will you remember, Constance, that it is
Miss Starbrow's wish that such subjects are not to be brought up and
encouraged in your conversations with Miss Affleck? I cannot command you.
It would be idle to expect obedience to any command of mine from you. I
can only appeal to your interest, or whatever it is you now regard as
your higher law."
"I have always obeyed you, mother," returned Miss Churton with warmth. "I
shall, as a matter of course, respect Miss Starbrow's and your wishes in
this instance. You know that you can trust me, or ought to know, and
there is no occasion to insult me."
"Insult you, Constance! How can you have the face to say such a thing,
when you know that your whole life is one continual act of disobedience
to me! Unhappy girl that you are, you disobey your God and Creator, and
are in rebellion against Him--how little a thing then must disobedience
to your mother seem!"
Miss Churton's face grew red and pale by turns. "Mother," she replied,
with a ring of pain in her voice, "I have always respected your opinions
and feelings, and shall continue to do so, and try my best to please you.
But it is hard that I should have to suffer these unprovoked attacks; and
it seems strange that the girl's coming should be made the occasion for
one, for I had hoped that her presence in the house would have made my
life more bearable."
"You refer to Miss Affleck's coming," said her mother, without stopping
to reply to anything else, "and I am glad of it, for it serves to remind
me that I have not yet told you my wishes with regard to your future
intercourse with her."
At this point Mr. Churton, unnoticed by his wife, stole quietly to the
door, and stepping cautiously out into the hall made his escape.
"You need not trouble to explain your wishes, mother," said Miss Churton,
with flushing cheeks. "I can very well guess what they are, and I promise
you at once that I shall say nothing to cause you any uneasiness, or to
make any further mention of the subject necessary."
"No, Constance, I have a sacred duty to perform, and our respective
relations towards Miss Affleck must be made thoroughly clear, once for
"Why should you wish to make it clear after telling me that you cannot
trust me to obey your wishes, or even to speak the truth? Mother, I shall
not listen to you any longer!"
"You _shall_ listen to me!" exclaimed the other; and rising and
hurrying past her daughter, she closed the door and stood before it as if
to prevent escape.
Miss Churton made no reply; she walked to a chair, and sitting down
dropped her hat on the floor and covered her face with her hands. How sad
she looked in that attitude, how weary of the vain conflict, and how
despondent! For a little while there was silence in the room, but the
girl's bowed head moved with her convulsive breathing, and there was a
low sound presently as of suppressed sobbing.
"Would to God the tears you are shedding came from a contrite and
repentant heart," said the mother, with a tremor in her voice. "But they
are only rebellious and passing drops, and I know that your stony heart
Miss Churton raised her pale face, and brushed her tears away with an
angry gesture. "Forgive me, mother, for such an exhibition of weakness. I
sometimes forget that you have ceased to love me. Please say what you
wish, make things clear, add as many reproaches as you think necessary,
and then let me go to my room."
Mrs. Churton checked an angry reply which rose to her lips, and sat down.
She too was growing tired of this unhappy conflict, and her daughter's
tears and bitter words had given her keen pain. "Constance, you would not
say that I do not love you if you could see into my heart. God knows how
much I love you; if it were not so I should have ceased to strive with
you before now. I know that it is in vain, that I can only beat the air,
and that only that Spirit which is sharper than a two-edged sword, and
pierceth even to the dividing of the bones and marrow, can ever rouse you
to a sense of your great sin and fearful peril. I know it all only too
well. I shall say no more about it. But I must speak to you further about
this young girl, who has been entrusted to my care. When I replied to the
advertisement respecting her, I thought too much about our worldly
affairs and the importance of this money to us in our position, and
without sufficiently reflecting on the danger of bringing a girl at so
impressible an age under your influence. The responsibility rests with
me, and I cannot help having some very sad apprehensions. Wait,
Constance, you must let me finish. I have settled what to do, and I have
Miss Starbrow's authority to take on myself the guidance of the girl in
all spiritual matters. I spoke to her about it, and regret to have to say
that she seems absolutely indifferent about religion. I was deeply
shocked to hear that Miss Affleck has never been taught to say a prayer,
and, so far as Miss Starbrow knows, has never entered a church. Miss
Starbrow seemed very haughty and repellent in her manner, and declined,
almost rudely, to discuss the subject of religious teaching with me, but
would leave it entirely to me, she said, to teach the girl what I liked
about such things. It is terrible to me to think how much it may and will
be in your power to write on the mind of one so young and ignorant, and
who has been brought up without God. Constance, I will not attempt to
command, I will ask you to promise not to say things to her to destroy
the effect of my teaching, and of the religious influence I shall bring
to bear on her. I am ready to go down on my knees to you, my daughter, to
implore you, by whatever you may yet hold dear and sacred, not to bring
so terrible a grief on me as the loss of this young soul would be. For
into my charge she has been committed, and from me her Maker and Father
will require her at the last day!"
"There is no occasion for you to go on your knees to me, mother. I repeat
that I will obey your wishes in everything. Surely you must know that,
however we may differ about speculative matters, I am not immoral, and
that you can trust me. And oh, mother, let us live in peace together. It
is so unspeakably bitter to have these constant dissensions between us. I
will not complain that you have been the cause of so much unhappiness to
me, and made me a person to be avoided by the few people we know, if
only--if only you will treat me kindly."
"My poor girl, do you not know that it is more bitter to me, a thousand
times, than to you? Oh, Constance, will you promise me one thing?--
promise me that you will go back to the Bible and read the words of
Christ, putting away your pride of mind, your philosophy and critical
spirit; promise that you will read one chapter--one verse even--every
day, and read it with a prayer in your heart that the Spirit who inspired
it will open your eyes and enable you to see the truth."
"No, mother, I cannot promise you that, even to save myself from greater
unhappiness than you have caused me. It is so hard to have to go over the
old ground again and again."
"I have, I hope, made you understand my wishes," returned her mother
coldly. "You can go to your room, Constance."
The other rose and walked to the door, where she stood hesitating for a
few moments, glancing back at her mother; but Mrs. Churton's face had
grown cold and irresponsive, and finally Constance, with a sigh, left the
room and went slowly up the stairs.
For the rest of the day peace reigned at Wood End House. Mr. Churton,
whose absence at mealtime was never made the subject of remark, did not
return to tea when the three ladies met again; for now, according to that
proverb of the Peninsula which says "Tell me who you are with, and I will
tell you who you are," Fan had ceased to belong to the extensive genus
Young Person, and might only be classified as Young Lady, at all events
for so long as she remained on a footing of equality under the Churton
There was not much conversation. Miss Churton was rather pale and subdued
in manner, speaking little. Fan was shy and ill at ease at this her first
meal in the house. Mrs. Churton alone seemed inclined to talk, and looked
serene and cheerful; but whether the late scene in the drawing-room had
been more transient in its effects in her case, or her self-command was
greater, she alone knew. After tea they all went out to sit in the garden
for an hour; Miss Churton taking a book with her, which, however, she
allowed to rest unread on her lap. Her mother had some knitting, which
occupied her fingers while she talked to Fan. The girl, she perceived,
was not yet feeling at home with them, and she tried to overcome her
diffidence by keeping up an easy flow of talk which required no answer
from the other, chiefly about their garden and its products--flowers,
fruit, and vegetables.
Presently they had a visitor, who came out across the lawn to them
unannounced. He shook hands with the Churtons, and then with Fan, to whom
he was introduced as Mr. Northcott. A large and rather somewhat rough-
looking young man was Mr. Northcott, in a clerical coat, for he was
curate of the church at Eyethorne. His head was large, and the hair and a
short somewhat disorderly beard and moustache brown in colour; the eyes
were blue, deep-set, and habitually down-cast, and had a trick of looking
suddenly up at anyone speaking to him. His nose was irregular, his mouth
too heavy, and there was that general appearance of ruggedness about him
which one usually takes as an outward sign of the stuff that makes the
successful emigrant. To find him a curate going round among the ladies in
a little rural parish in England seemed strange. He had as little of that
professional sleekness of skin and all-for-the-best placidity of manner
one expects to see in a clergyman of the Established Church as Mr.
Churton had of that confident, all-knowing, self-assured look one would
like to see in a barrister's countenance before entrusting him with a
He at once entered into conversation with Mrs. Churton, replying to some
question she put to him; and presently Fan began to listen with deep
interest, for they were discussing the unhappy affairs of one of the
Eyethorne poor--a bad man who was always getting drunk, fighting with his
wife, and leaving his children to starve. The curate, however, did not
seem deeply interested in the subject, and glanced not infrequently at
Miss Churton, who had resumed her reading; but it was plain to see that
she gave only a divided attention to her book.
Mrs. Churton was at length summoned to the house about some domestic
matter; then, after a short silence, the curate began a fresh
conversation with her daughter. He did not speak to her of parish affairs
and of persons, but of books, of things of the mind, and it seemed that
his heart was more in talk of this description. Or possibly the person
rather than the subject interested him. Miss Churton was living under a
cloud in her village, which was old-fashioned and pious; to be friendly
with her was not fashionable; he alone, albeit a curate, wished not to be
in the fashion. He even had the courage to approach personal questions.
"Fan, I know what you are thinking of," said Miss Churton, turning to the
girl. "It is that you would like to go and caress the flowers again--you
are such a flower-lover. Would you like to go and explore the orchard by
Fan thanked her gladly, and going from them, soon disappeared among the
"You live in too small a place, too remote from the world, and old-world
in character, to be allowed to live your own life in peace," said the
curate, at a later stage of the conversation. "Your set here is composed
of barely half a dozen families, and they take their cue from the
vicarage. In London, in any large town, one is allowed to think what one
likes without the neighbours troubling their heads about it. Do you know,
Miss Churton, it is strange to me that with your acquirements and talent
you do not seek a wider and more congenial field."
She smiled. "You must forgive me, Mr. Northcott, for having included you
among the troublers of my peace. It gives me a strange pleasure to tell
you this; it makes me strong to feel that I have your friendship and
"You certainly have that, Miss Churton."
"Thank you. I must tell you why I remain here. I am entirely dependent on
my parents just now, and shrink from beginning a second dependent life--
as a governess, for instance."
"There should be better things than that for you. You might get a good
position in a young ladies' school."
"It would be difficult. But apart from that, I shrink from entering a
profession which would absorb my whole time and faculties, and from which
I should probably find myself powerless to break away. I have dreams and
hopes of other things--foolish perhaps--time will show; but I am not in a
hurry to find a position, to become a crystal. And I wish to live for
myself as well as for others. I have now undertaken to teach Miss
Affleck, who will remain one year at least with us. I am glad that this
has given me an excuse for remaining where I am. I do not wish my
departure to look like running away."
"I am glad that you have so brave a spirit."
"I did not feel very brave to-day," she replied, smiling sadly. "But a
little sympathy serves to revive my courage. Do you remember that passage
in Bacon, 'Mark what a courage a dog will put on when sustained by a
nature higher than its own'? That is how it is with us women--those of
the strong-minded tribe excepted; man is to us a kind of _melior
natura_, without whose sustaining aid we degenerate into abject
A red flush came into Mr. Northcott's dull-hued cheeks. "I presume you
are joking, Miss Churton; but if--"
"No, not joking," she quickly returned; "although I perhaps did not mean
as much as I said. But I wish I could show my gratitude for the comfort
you give me--for upholding me with your stronger nature."
"Do you, Miss Churton? Then I will be so bold as to make a request,
although I am perhaps running the risk of offending you. Will you come to
church next Sunday? I don't mean in the morning, but in the evening.
Please don't think for a moment that I have any faith in my power to
influence your mind in any way. I am not such a conceited ass as to
imagine anything of the sort. My motive for making the request was quite
independent of any such considerations. My experience is that those who
lose faith in Christianity do not recover it. I speak, of course, of
people who know their own minds."
"I know my own mind, Mr. Northcott."
"No doubt; and for that very reason I am not afraid to ask you this. You
used occasionally to come to church, so that it can't be scruples of
conscience that keep you away. As a rule, in London we always have a very
fair sprinkling of agnostics in a congregation, and sometimes more than a
"I am not an agnostic, Mr. Northcott, if I know what that word means. But
let that pass. In London the church-goer is in very many cases a stranger
to the preacher; if he hears hard things spoken in the pulpit of those
who have no creed, he does not take it as a personal attack. I absented
myself from our church because the vicar in his sermon on unbelief
preached against _me_. He said that those who rejected Christianity
had no right to enter a church; that by doing so they insulted God and
man; and that their only motive was to parade their bitter scornful
infidelity before the world, and that they cherish a malignant hatred
towards the faith which they have cast off, and much more in the same
strain. Every person in the congregation had his or her eyes fixed on me,
to see how I liked it, knowing that it was meant for me; and I dare say
that what they saw gave them great pleasure. For a stronger nature than
my own was not sustaining me then, but all were against me, and the agony
of shame I suffered I shall never forget. I could only shut my eyes and
try to keep still; but I felt that all the blood in my veins had rushed
to my face and brain, and that my blood was like fire. I seemed to be
able to see myself fiery red--redder than the setting sun--in the midst
of all those shadowed faces that were watching me. I have hated that man
since, much as it distresses me to have such a feeling against any
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