Part 8 out of 10
"Oh yes, thank you, there is one thing," and she told him all about her
friend Constance, and her anxiety to find her.
Mr. Travers made a note of the matter. "There will be no difficulty in
finding them," he said. "I shall have inquiries made to-morrow. I hope,"
he added with a smile, "you are not going to become a convert to Mr.
Merton Chance's doctrines."
"Oh no," she replied laughing. "My only wish is to find Mrs. Chance. Mrs.
Churton once said, when she was a little vexed with me, that it was like
pouring water on a duck's back to give me religious instruction. I am
sure that if Mr. Chance ever speaks to me about his new beliefs I shall
have my feathers well oiled."
Meanwhile Mrs. Travers had been keeping the luncheon back, and watching
them engaged in that long conversation from her seat at the window. The
good woman had been the wife of her husband for a great many years, but
she had not yet outlived that natural belief that a wife has to "know
everything" her husband knows; and she had guessed that those two were
discussing secret matters which they had no intention of imparting to
her. A woman has a faculty about such things which corresponds to scent
in the terrier; the little mystery is there--the small rodent lurks
behind the wainscot; she is consumed with a desire to get at it--to worry
its life out; and if it refuse to leave its hiding-place she cannot rest
and be satisfied. It was her nature; and though she asked no questions,
knowing that her husband was not to be caught in that way, he did not
fail to remark the slight frost which had fallen on her manner and her
polite and distant tone towards their guest. Well aware of the cause, and
too old to be annoyed, it only gave him a little secret amusement. He had
warned the girl, and that was enough. The little chill would pass off in
time, and no harm would result.
It did not pass off quickly, however, but lasted three or four days,
during which time Mrs. Travers was somewhat distant in her manner, and
declined Fan's offer to read to her; and Fan remarked the change, but was
at a loss to account for it. But one day, after lunch, when they rose
from the table, she said, "Oh, Mrs. Travers, do you know that the
_Pic_. is in the drawing-room? I have been anxiously waiting since
Saturday to know what the last 'Eastern Idyll' is about."
"And why have you not read it, Miss Eden?" said the other, a little
"I thought that you would perhaps let me read it to you--I did not wish
to read it first."
The good woman smiled and consented. Her sight was not good, and the
sketches were always printed in a painfully small type; and besides, they
seemed different to her when the girl read them; her low musical voice,
so clear and penetrating, yet pathetic, had seemed to interpret the
writer's feeling so well. And so the frost melted, and she became more
kind and friendly than ever.
Mr. Travers, much to his own surprise, failed to discover Fan's lost
friends. One thing he had done was to send a clerk to the office of the
paper with the singular title to ask for Mr. Chance's address. The answer
he received from a not over-polite gentleman he met there was, "We don't
know nothing about Mr. Merton Chance in this horfice, and don't want to,
Mr. Travers had to confess that he could not find Merton Chance.
Before Fan's visit came to an end, the Travers gave a dinner to some of
their Kingston friends and neighbours. The hour was seven, and all the
guests, save one, arrived at the right time, and after fifteen minutes'
grace had been allowed, Mrs. Travers discovered to her dismay that they
would sit down thirteen at table. She was superstitious, in the
restricted sense in which her husband used the word, and was plainly
distressed. Two or three of the ladies, including Fan, who were in the
secret, were discussing this grave matter with her.
"I shall not dine, Mrs. Travers; do please let me stop out!" said Fan.
"No, my dear Miss Eden, I couldn't think of such a thing," said Mrs.
Then another lady offered to eat her dinner standing, for so long as they
did not sit down thirteen "it would be all right," she said. But it was
one of those unfortunate remarks which sound personal, the obliging lady
being very tall and slender, while her short and stout hostess did not
look much higher when standing than when seated.
"It is really too bad of him!" was her sole remark.
"Is he nice?" asked another lady.
"Not very, I think, if he makes us sit down thirteen, and leaves Miss
Eden with no one to take her in. But you can judge for yourself, for here
he is--I am _so_ glad!"
The late guest advancing to them was now shaking hands with his hostess,
and apologising for being the last to arrive; while Fan, who had suddenly
turned very pale, shrank back as if anxious to avoid being seen by him.
It was Captain Horton, not much changed in appearance, but thinner and
somewhat care-worn and jaded. Mrs. Travers at once proceeded to introduce
him to Fan, and asked him to take her in to dinner, and being preoccupied
she did not notice the girl's altered and painfully distressed
appearance. He bowed and offered his arm, but he started perceptibly when
first glancing at her face. Fan, barely resting her fingers on his
sleeve, moved on by his side, her eyes cast down, as they followed the
other guests, both keeping silence. At the table, their neighbours on
either side being deeply engaged in conversation with their respective
partners, Captain Horton found himself placed in an exceedingly trying
position, but until he had finished his soup, which he ate but did not
taste, he made no attempt to speak. The name of Eden mystified him, and
more than once his eyes wandered to that portrait hanging on the wall
opposite to where he was sitting, to find its grey eyes watching him; yet
he had no doubt in his mind that the young lady by his side was the girl
he had known at Dawson Place as Fan Affleck. At length, to avoid
attracting attention, he felt compelled to say something, and made some
commonplace remarks about the weather--its excessive heat and dryness; it
had not been so hot for years. "At noon in the City to-day," he said,
"the thermometer marked eighty-nine degrees in the shade."
Fan's monosyllabic replies were scarcely audible; she was very pale, and
kept her eyes religiously fixed on the table before her. At length she
ventured to glance at him, and could not help noticing, in spite of her
distress, that he seemed as ill at ease as herself. He crumbled his bread
to powder on the cloth, and when he raised his glass to drink, which he
did often enough to fill up the time, his hand shook so as almost to
spill his wine. Seeing him so nervous, she began to experience a kind of
pity for him--some such complex feeling as a very humane person might
have for a reptile he has been taught to loathe and fear when seeing it
in pain--and at length surprised him by asking if he lived in Kingston.
He replied that he usually spent the summer months there for the sake of
the boating; and then, as if afraid that they would drop into silence
again, he put the same question to her. Fan replied that she was only
staying for a few days with her friends the Travers. A few vapid remarks
about Kingston and the river was all they could find to say after that,
and it was an immense relief when the ladies at length rose and left the
Mrs. Travers led the way through the drawing-room to the garden, but when
all her guests, except Fan, who came last, had passed out, she came back
to speak alone to the girl.
"I am afraid you are not feeling well, my dear," she said. "You look as
pale as a ghost, and I noticed that you scarcely ate anything at dinner,
and were very silent.
"Please don't think anything of it, Mrs. Travers. I feel quite well now--
perhaps it was the heat."
"It _was_ hot, but it never seems like dinner unless we have the gas
lighted and draw the curtains."
"I suppose I must have seemed very stupid to--the gentleman who took me
in," remarked Fan. "Can you tell me something about him, Mrs. Travers? Is
he a friend of yours and Mr. Travers?"
"Are you really interested in him, Miss Eden?" said the other, with a
The girl's face flushed painfully. After a little reflection she said:
"I was so silent at table, hardly answering a word when he spoke--perhaps
he thought me very strange and shy." She paused, blushing again at her
own disingenuousness. "I must have felt nervous, or frightened, at
something in him. Do you know him well--is he a bad man, Mrs. Travers?"
"My dear child, what a shocking thing to say--and of a gentleman you have
scarcely spoken to! You shall hear his whole biography, since you are so
curious about him. We have known him a long time: he is a nephew of an
old friend of ours--Mr. George Horton, a stockbroker, very wealthy.
Captain Horton had a small fortune left to him, but he ran through with
it, and so--had to leave the army. He was a sporting man, and had the
misfortune to lose; that, I think, is the worst that can be said of him.
About two years ago he went to his uncle and begged to be taken on in the
office; he was sick of an idle life, he said. His uncle did not believe
that he would do any good in the City, but consented to give him a trial.
Since then he has been as much absorbed in the business as if he had been
in it all his life. His uncle thinks him wonderfully clever, and I dare
say will make him a partner in the firm before very long. And now, my
dear Miss Eden, you must get rid of that fancy about him, because it is
wrong; and later in the evening when you hear him sing--you are so fond
of music!--you will like him as much as we do."
After this little discourse the good woman took her station at a table in
the garden to pour out the coffee.
But there was a tumult in the girl's heart, a strange feeling she could
not analyse. It was not fear--she feared him no longer; nor hate, since,
as she had said, her happiness had taken from her the power to hate
anyone; yet it was strong as these, importunate, and its object was clear
to her soul, but how to give it expression she knew not.
The hum of conversation suddenly grew loud in the dining-room; the
gentlemen had finished their wine, if not their discussion; they had
risen, and were about to join the ladies in the garden. The impulse in
her was so strong that it was an anguish, and she could not resist it.
Coming to the side of her hostess, she spoke hesitatingly:
"Mrs. Travers, when they come out, I must talk to him--to Captain Horton,
I mean, and--and try to do away with the bad impression I must have made.
He must think me so shy and silent. Will it seem strange if I should ask
him to go with me round the garden to see the roses?"
"Strange! no, indeed," returned the other with a little laugh. "He will
be very glad to look at the roses with you, I should think."
Fan kept her place by the table when the gentlemen came out. Captain
Horton's eyes studiously avoided her face.
"Mrs. Travers," he said, taking a cup of coffee from her hand, "I hope
you will not think worse of me than you already do if I leave you at
once. Unfortunately for me, I have an appointment which must be kept."
"Oh that is really too bad of you," said the lady. "We were anticipating
so much pleasure from your singing this evening. And here is Miss Eden
just waiting to take you round the garden to show you our roses--perhaps
you can spare ten minutes to see them?"
He glanced at the girl's pale, troubled face.
"I shall be very pleased to look at the roses with Miss Eden," he
returned, setting down his cup with a somewhat unsteady hand.
His voice, however, expressed no pleasure, but only surprise, and while
speaking he anxiously consulted his watch. Fan came round to his side at
once, and together they moved towards the lower end of the grounds.
"Do you admire flowers?" She spoke mechanically.
"Yes, I do."
After an interval she spoke again.
"Mr. Travers takes great pride in his roses. They are very lovely."
He made no reply.
Then at last, in a kind of despair, she added:
"But it was not to show you the roses that I asked you to come with me."
He inclined his head slightly, but said nothing.
"You remember me--do you not?" she asked after a while.
He considered the question for a few moments, then answered, "Yes, Miss
"Perhaps it surprised you to hear me called by that name. It was my
father's name, and I have now taken it in obedience to my brother's
At this mention of father and brother he involuntarily glanced at her
face--that same pure delicate face to which he had once brought so
terrified a look and a pallor as of death.
For some minutes more they paced the walks at the end of the garden in
silence, he waiting for her to speak, she unable to say anything.
"Allow me to remind you," he said at length, looking again at his watch,
"that I am a little pressed for time. I understood, or imagined, that you
had something to say to me--not about roses."
"I am so sorry--I can say nothing," she murmured in reply. Then after an
interval, with an effort, "But perhaps it will be the same if you know
what I came out for--if you can guess."
"Perhaps I can guess only too well," he returned bitterly. "You were
kindly going to warn me that you intend bringing some damning accusation
against me to the Travers. You need not have troubled yourself about it;
you might have spared yourself, and me, the misery of this interview. It
surprised me very much to meet you here, as I had no desire to cross your
path. I shall not enter this house again, and Kingston will soon see the
last of me. It would have been better, I think--more maidenly, if you
will allow me to say so--to have met me as a perfect stranger and made no
"I could not do that," she answered, with a ring of pain in her voice.
"You speak angrily, and take it for granted that I am going to do you
some injury. Oh, what a mistake you are making! Nothing would ever induce
me to breathe one word to the Travers, nor to anyone, of what I know of
He looked surprised and relieved. "Then, in heaven's name, why not try
and forget all about it? You have friends and relations now, and seem to
have made the best of your opportunities. Is there anything to be gained
by stirring up the past?"
"I do not know. I thought so, but perhaps I was wrong."
He looked at her again, openly, and with growing interest. He had hated
her memory, had cursed her a thousand times, for having come between him
and the woman he wanted to marry; but it made a wonderful difference in
his feelings towards her just at present to find that she was not his
enemy. "Will you sit down here, Miss Eden," he said, speaking now not
only without animosity but gently, "and let me hear what you wished to
say? I beg your pardon for the injustice I did you a minute ago, but I am
still in the dark as to your motive in seeking this interview."
She sat down on a garden seat, under the shade of a wide-branching lime;
he a little apart. But she could say nothing, albeit so much was in her
heart, and her impulse had been so strong; so far as her power to express
that strange emotion went, in the dark he would have to remain. She could
not say to him--it was a feeling, not a thought--that her clear soul had
taken some turbidness that was foreign to it from his; that when she
forgot the past and his existence it settled and left her pure again; she
could not say--the thought existed without form in her mind--that it
would have been better if he had never been born because he had offended;
but that just because the offence had been against herself, something of
the guilt seemed to attach itself to her, causing her to know remorse and
shrink from herself; that it was somehow in his power--he having
performed this miracle--to deliver her.
From time to time her companion glanced at her pale face; he did not
press her to speak, he could see that she was powerless; but he was
thinking of many things, and it was borne in on him that if he could
bring about a change in her feelings towards him, it might be well for
him--not in any spiritual sense; he was only thinking of Mary and his
passion for her, which had never filled his heart until the moment of
that separation which had promised to be eternal. In a vague way he
comprehended something of the feeling that was in the girl's heart; for
it was plain that to be near him was unspeakably painful to her, and yet
--strange contradiction!--she had now put herself in his way. He dropped a
few tentative words that seemed to express regret for the past, and when
he remarked that she listened eagerly, and waited for more, he knew that
he was on safe and profitable ground. Safe, and how easy to walk on! At a
moment's notice he had accepted this new, apparently unsuitable part, and
its strange passion at once grew familiar to him, and could be expressed
easily. Perhaps he even deceived himself, for a few minutes or for half
an hour while the process of deceiving another lasted, that he had
actually felt as he said--that his changed manner of life had resulted
from this feeling. "If I have not known remorse," he said, "I pity the
poor fellows who do." And much more he said, speaking not fluently, but
brokenly, with intervals of silence, as if something that had long
remained hidden had at last been wrung from him.
All this time Fan had said nothing, nor did she speak when he had
finished his story. Nor did he wish it; the strange trouble and pallor
had passed away, and there was a tender light in her eyes that was better
They rose and moved slowly towards the house. The drawing-room was
lighted, and the guests were now gathering there to listen to a lady at
the piano singing. They could hear her plainly enough, for her voice,
said to be soprano, was exceedingly shrill, and she was singing, _Tell
me, my heart_--a difficult thing, all flourishes, and she rendered it
like an automaton lark with its internal machinery gone wrong.
"Shall we go in?" said Fan.
"Yes, Miss Eden, if you wish; but don't you think we can hear this song
best where we are? I find it hard to ask you a question I have had in my
mind for some minutes, but I must ask it. Are you still with Miss
"Oh, no; we separated a long time ago, and for very long--nearly eighteen
months--I never heard from her."
"I hope you will not think it an impertinent question; but--there must
have been some very serious reason to have kept you apart so long?"
"No, scarcely that. I have always felt the same towards her. She did so
much for me. It was only a misunderstanding."
"Now I am so glad to say that it is all over, and that she is my dearest
"And is she still living at Dawson Place--and single?"
"Yes." But after a few moments she said, "You had one question more to
ask, Captain Horton, had you not?"
"Yes," he returned. "You must know what it is."
"But it is hard to answer. She mentioned your name once--lately; but her
feelings are just as bitter against you."
"I could not expect it to be otherwise," he returned, and they walked on
towards the house.
Before they reached it Mrs. Travers appeared to them. "Still looking at
the roses?" she said with a laugh. "How fond of flowers you two must be!
Can you spare us another ten minutes before keeping your appointment,
Captain Horton, and sing us one of your songs?"
"As many as you like, Mrs. Travers," he returned. "You see, after going
to see the roses it was too late to keep the appointment. And I am very
glad it was, for I have had a very pleasant conversation with Miss Eden,
about flowers, and the beauties of Kingston, and of the Stock Exchange,
and a dozen things besides."
Fan, sitting a little apart and beside the open window, listened with a
strange pleasure to that fine baritone voice which she now heard again
after so long a time, and wondered to herself whether it would ever again
be joined with Mary's in that rich harmony to which she had so often
listened standing on the stairs.
It was nearly eleven o'clock before Captain Horton found an opportunity
to speak to her again. "Miss Eden," he said, dropping into a seat next to
her, "I am anxious to say one--no, two things, before leaving you. One is
that I know that after this evening I shall be a happier man. The other
is this: if I should ever be able to serve you in any way--if you could
ever bring yourself to ask my assistance in any way, it would give me a
great happiness. But perhaps it is a happiness I have no right to
Before he had finished speaking her wish to find Constance, and Mr.
Travers' failure, came to her mind, and she eagerly caught at his offer.
"I am so glad you did not leave me before saying this," she replied. "You
can help me in something now, I think."
"How glad I am to hear you say that, Miss Eden! I am entirely at your
service; tell me what I can do for you."
She told him about the marriage of his former friend, Merton Chance, with
Constance, and about their disappearance, and her anxiety to find her
Captain Horton, after hearing all the particulars, promised to write to
her on her return to Quebec Street to let her know the result of the
inquiries he would begin making on the morrow.
Two days later Fan returned to her apartments, and shortly after arriving
there received a letter from Captain Horton, giving her an account of
what he had been doing for her since their memorable meeting at Kingston.
He had gone to work in a very systematic way, enlisting the services of a
number of clergymen and other philanthropic workers at the East End to
make inquiries for him; and it would be strange, he concluded, if the
Chances escaped being discovered, unless they had quitted that part of
A few days later, about the middle of August, came a second letter, which
made Fan's heart leap with joy. Captain Horton had found out that the
Chances were living at Mile End, but did not know their address yet. He
had come across a gentleman--a curate without a curacy, a kind of
Christian free-lance--who lived in that neighbourhood and knew the
persons sought for intimately, but declined to give their address or to
say anything about them; but he had consented to meet Miss Eden at
Captain Horton's office in the City and speak to her; and the meeting had
been arranged to take place at two o'clock on the following day. Fan took
care to be at the office punctually at two.
"Our friend has not yet arrived," said Captain Horton, after giving her a
chair in the office, "but we can look for him soon, I think, as he did
not seem like a person who would fail to keep an engagement. He is a very
good fellow, I have heard, but seemed rather to resent being questioned
about his mysterious friends, and was very reticent. Ah, here he is."
"Mr. Northcott!" exclaimed Fan, starting up with a face full of joy; for
it was he, looking older, and with a pale, care-worn face, which,
together with his somewhat rusty clerical coat and hat, seemed to show
that the world had not gone well with him since he had left Eyethorne.
"Miss Affleck--if I had only imagined that it was you! How glad I am to
meet you once more! How glad Mrs. Chance will be to hear from you," he
said, taking her hand.
"But I wish to see her, Mr. Northcott--I _must_ see her," said Fan;
and the curate at once offered to conduct her to her friend's home at
Leaving the office, they took a cab and set out for their destination;
but during the drive Fan had little chance of hearing any details
concerning her friend's life; for what with the noise of the streets and
the rattling of the cab, it was scarcely possible to hear a word; and
whenever there came a quieter interval the curate wished to hear how Fan
had passed her time, and why she had been addressed as Miss Eden.
At length they got to their journey's end, the cab, for some reason,
being dismissed at some distance from the house they had come to visit.
It was one in a row of small, mean-looking tenements containing two
floors each, and facing other houses of the same description on the
opposite side of the narrow macadamised road, which, with the loose
stones and other rubbish in it, presented a dirty, ill-kept appearance.
At the tenth or eleventh house in the row Mr. Northcott stopped and
knocked lightly at the low front door, warped and blistered by the sun
which poured its intolerable heat full upon it.
A woman opened the door and greeted the curate with a smile; then casting
a surprised look at his companion, stood aside to let them pass into the
narrow, dark, stuffy hallway. "He'll be sleeping just now," said the
woman, pointing up the stairs. "You can just go quietly up. She'll be
there by herself doing of her writing."
"We must go up softly then," he said, turning to Fan. "Poor Chance is
very ill, and sleeps principally in the daytime. That's why I got rid of
the cab some distance from the house."
He led the way up the narrow creaking stairs to a door on the first
landing standing partly open; before it hung a wet chintz curtain,
preventing their seeing into the room. Her conductor tapped lightly on
the doorframe, and presently the wet curtain was moved aside by
Constance, who greeted her visitor with a glad smile while giving him her
hand, but the darkness of the small landing, which had no light from
above, prevented her from seeing Fan for some moments.
"Harold--at last!" she said, her hand still resting in his. "I have
waited two days for you; but I was resolved not to send the manuscript
till you had read it." Then she caught sight of Fan, standing a little
behind him, and started back, a look of the greatest astonishment coming
into her face.
"I have brought you an old friend, Constance," said the curate, stepping
"Fan--my darling Fan!" she exclaimed, but still in a subdued voice, and
in a moment the two friends were locked in a long and close embrace.
"Constance--what a change! Let me look at your dear face again. Oh, how
unkind of you to keep your address from me all this time!"
The other raised her face, and for some moments they gazed into each
other's eyes, wet with tears. She was indeed changed; and that rich brown
tint, which had looked so beautiful, and made her so different from
others, had quite faded from her pale thin face, so that she no longer
looked like the Constance Churton of the old days. Even her hair had been
affected by trouble and bad health; it was combed out and hanging loose
on her back, and Fan noticed that the fine bronze glint had gone out of
the heavy brown tresses like joy or hope from a darkened life. She was
wearing a very simple cotton wrapper, and though evidently made of the
very cheapest kind of stuff, it had faded almost white with many
washings. Altogether it was plain to see that the Chances were very poor;
and yet the expression on her friend's altered face was not a desponding
"You must forgive me for not writing, dearest Fan," she said at length.
"There would have been things to tell which could not be told without
pain. It was wrong--cowardly in me to keep silence, I know. And it
grieved me to think that you too might be in trouble and want." Then,
after surveying Fan's costume for some moments, she added with a smile.
"But that was a false fear, I hope."
"Yes, dear. At any rate, for some time past I have had everything I could
wish for, and dear friends to care for me. But that is a very long story,
Constance, and I am anxious to hear how your husband is."
All this time the curate had been standing patiently by; he now took his
departure, after arranging to return to see Fan as far west as the City
on her way home at six o'clock in the evening.
Constance raised the wet curtain and led Fan into the sitting-room. It
was small and mean enough, with a very low ceiling, dingy, discoloured
wall-paper, and a few articles of furniture such as one sees in a
working-man's lodging. Near the front window stood a small deal table, on
which were pens, ink, and a pile of closely-written sheets of paper,
showing how Constance had been employed. The two doors--one by which they
had entered, and another leading to the bedroom--also the window, were
open, and before them all wet pieces of chintz were hanging. This was
done to mitigate the intense heat, Constance explained; the sun shining
directly down on the slates made the low-roofed rooms like an oven, and
the quickly evaporating moisture created a momentary coolness. Merton was
asleep in the second room; his nights, she said, were so bad that he
generally fell asleep during the day; he had not risen yet, and her whole
study was to keep the rooms cool and quiet while he rested.
Fan took off her hat and settled down to have a long talk with her
"Fan, dear," said the other, after returning from the bedroom to make
sure that Merton still slept, "we must talk in as low a tone as possible,
I mean without whispering. And we have so much to say to each other."
"Yes, indeed; I am dying to hear all about your life since you vanished
from Notting Hill."
"But, Fan, my curiosity about your life is still greater--and no wonder!
I have been constantly thinking about you--crying, too, sometimes--
imagining all sorts of painful things--that you were destitute and
friendless, perhaps, in this cruel London. And now here you are, I don't
know how, like a vision of the West End, with that subtle perfume about
you, and looking more beautiful than I have ever seen you, except on that
one occasion; do you remember?--on that first evening in the orchard at
dear old Eyethorne. Look at _my_ dress, Fan, my second best! But how
much more did it astound me to hear Harold--I call Mr. Northcott by his
Christian name now--addressing you as _Miss Eden_ when he left. What
does it all mean? If he had called you _Mrs._ Eden I might have
guessed what wonderful things had happened to you."
Fan was prepared for this. There were some things not to be revealed; she
remembered that Mary had looked into her very soul when she had heard the
strange story, and her quick apprehension and knowledge of human nature
had no doubt supplied the links that were missing in it. Now by
anticipation she had prepared a narrative which would run smoothly, and
began it without further delay; and for half an hour Constance listened
with intense interest, only interrupting to bestow a kiss and whisper a
tender consoling word when her friend was at last compelled, with
faltering speech, to confess that she was no legitimate child of her
"Oh, Fan, I am so glad that this has happened to you. So much more glad
than if I had myself experienced some great good fortune. And your
brother--oh, how nobly he has acted--how much you must love and admire
him! I remember that evening so well when you met him; I thought then
that I had never seen anyone with so charming a manner. And there was
something so melodious and sympathetic in his voice; how strange that it
never struck me as being like yours, and that he was like you in his
eyes, and so many things!"
"But tell me about yourself, Constance."
"I could put it all in twenty words, but that would not be fair, and
would not satisfy you. Since our marriage we have simply been drifting
down the current, getting poorer and poorer, and also moving about from
place to place--I mean since you lost sight of us. And at last it was
impossible for us to go any lower, for we were destitute, and--it will
shock you to hear it--obliged even to pledge our clothes to buy bread."
"And you would not write to me, Constance, nor even to your mother! I
know that, because I wrote to her to ask for your address, and she
replied that she did not know it, that I knew more about your movements
in London than she did."
"I could not write to you, Fan, knowing that you barely had enough to
keep yourself, and that it would only have distressed you. Nor could I
write to them at home. Those poor fields they have to live on are
mortgaged almost up to their value, and after paying interest they have
little left for expenses in the house. Besides, Fan, we had already
received help from Mr. Eden and other friends, and it had proved worse
than useless. It only seemed to have the effect of making us less able to
"And your husband--was he not earning something with his lecturing and
the articles he wrote?"
"Not with the lecturing, as you call it. With the articles, yes, but very
little. They were political articles, you know, and were printed in
socialistic papers, and not many of them were paid for. But after a while
all his enthusiasm died out; he could not go on with it, and was not
prepared with anything else. He grew to hate the whole thing at last, and
was a little too candid with his former friends when he told them that
they were a living proof of the judgment Carlyle had passed on his
countrymen. It was hardly safe for him to walk about the streets among
the people who had begun to expect great things from him. It is a
dreadful thing to say, but it is the simple truth, that our next move
would have been to the workhouse. And just then his illness began. He was
out all night and met with some accident; it was a pouring wet night, and
he was brought home in the morning bruised and injured, soaking wet, and
the result was a fever and cough, which turned to something like
consumption. He has suffered terribly, and I have sometimes despaired of
his life; but he is better now, I think--I hope. Only this dreadful heat
we are having keeps him so weak. You can't imagine how anxiously we are
looking forward to a change in the weather; the cool days will so refresh
him when they come."
"But, Constance, you haven't told me yet how you escaped what you were
fearing when he first fell ill."
The other looked up, tears starting in her eyes, and a glow of warm
colour coming into her pale cheeks. "Oh, Fan," she said, her voice
trembling with emotion, "have you not yet guessed who came to us in our
darkest hour and saved us from worse things than we had already known?
Yes; Mr. Northcott, a poor unemployed clergyman, without any private
income, struggling for his own subsistence, and frequently in bad health;
but no rich and powerful man could have given us such help and comfort.
How can I tell it all to you? He found us out after we left Norland
Square. He had left Eyethorne shortly after we did, but not before he had
heard from mother about my marriage, and my husband's name. He introduced
himself to Merton one evening at a socialistic meeting, and after that he
occasionally came to see us, and he and Merton had endless arguments, for
he was not a socialist. But they became great friends, and he was always
trying to persuade my husband to turn his talents to other things. He
wished Merton to try his hand at little descriptive and character
sketches, interspersed with incidents partly true and partly fictitious.
He said that I would be able to help; and one day he related a little
incident, minutely describing the actors in it, and begged us to write it
out in the way he suggested, but unfortunately the idea never took with
Merton. He thought it too trivial; or else he could not work. So I tried
my hand alone at it; and Harold saw what I had done, and asked me to
rewrite it, and make some alterations which he suggested. Then he sent me
a rough sketch he had written and asked me to work it up in the same way
as the first; and when I had finished it I sent him the two papers
together. Shortly afterwards, when Merton was ill and I was at my wits'
end, Harold came to say that he had sold the sketches to the editor of
the _Lady's Pictorial_, who liked them so much that he wished to
have more from the same hand. Imagine how glad I was to get the cheque
Harold had brought me! But about the other sketches asked for, I told him
that I could not write them because I had no materials. He had supplied
me with incidents, characters, and descriptions of localities for the
first time, and I could not go about to find fresh matter for myself. He
said that he had thought of that, and that he was prepared to supply me
with as much material as I required. He would give me facts, and my fancy
would do the rest. He only laughed at the idea that I would be sucking
his brains and depriving him of his own means of subsistence. He was
always about among the poor, he said, and talking to people of all
descriptions, and hearing and seeing things well worth being told in
print, but he was without the special kind of talent and style of writing
necessary to give literary form to such matter. His tastes lay in other
directions, and the only writing he could do was of a very different
kind. Then I gladly consented, and Merton was pleased also, and promised
to help; but--poor fellow--he has not had the strength to do anything
"Oh, Constance, how glad I am to hear this. But is it not terribly trying
for you to do so much work in this close hot room, and attend to your
husband at the same time? And you get no proper rest at night, I suppose.
Is it not making you ill?"
"No, dear; it comes easier every week, and has made me better, I think.
The heat is very trying, I must say; and I can only write when Merton is
asleep, generally in the early part of the day. But do you know, Fan,
that in spite of our poverty and my great and constant anxiety about
Merton's health, I feel some happiness in my heart now. If I possessed a
morbid mind or conscience I should probably call myself heartless for
being able to feel happiness at such a time--happiness and pride at my
success. But I am not morbid, thank goodness, or at war with my own
nature--with the better part of my nature, I might say. And it is so
sweet--oh, Fan, how unutterably sweet it is, to feel that I am doing
something for him and for myself, that my life is not being wasted, that
my brains are beginning to bear fruit at last!"
"I wonder whether I have ever seen any of your sketches, Constance? I
have read some things, and cried and laughed over them, in the
_Pictorial_, called 'Eastern Idylls.'"
"Yes, Fan, that is the title of my sketches. How strange that you should
have seen them! How glad I am!"
Fan related the circumstances; then Constance paid another visit to the
bedroom to listen to the invalid's breathing. Returning, she presently
resumed, "Fan, is it not wonderful that we should experience such
goodness from one who after all was no more than an acquaintance, and who
has so little of life's good things? He has never offered to help us even
with one shilling in money, and that only shows his delicacy. Had he been
ever so rich and given us help in money there would have been a sting in
it. And yet look how much more than money he gives us--how much time he
spends, and what trouble he takes to keep me supplied with fresh matter
for my writings. I'm sure he goes about with eyes and ears open to all he
sees and hears more for our sakes than for his own. Is it not wonderful,
"Yes; it is very sweet, but not strange, I think," said Fan, smiling; and
after reflecting a few moments she was just about to add: "He has always
loved you, since he knew you at Eyethorne, and he would do anything for
But at that moment Constance half turned her head to listen, and so the
perilous words were not spoken. "Consideration like an angel came," and
before the other turned to her to resume the conversation, Fan looked
back on what she had just escaped with a feeling like that of the mariner
who sees the half-hidden rock only after he has safely passed it.
They talked on for half an hour longer, when a low moan, followed by a
fit of coughing in the adjoining room, made Constance start up and go to
her husband. She returned in a few minutes, but only to say that she
would be absent some time assisting Merton to dress; then giving Fan the
proof of the last "Idyll" she had sent to the paper to read, she again
left the room.
Fan read the sketch, but her mind was too much occupied with all she had
just heard, in addition to the joy she felt at having recovered her
friend, to pay much attention to it. Moreover the increasing heat began
to oppress her; she marvelled that Constance, accustomed all her life to
the freedom and cool expanse of the country, should find it possible to
work in such an atmosphere and amidst such surroundings.
At length, Merton, who had been coughing a great deal while dressing,
came in assisted by his wife, but quite exhausted with the exertion of
walking from one room to the other; and after shaking hands with their
visitor he sunk into his easy-chair, not yet able to talk. She was
greatly shocked at the change in him; the once fine, marble-like face was
horribly wasted, so that the sharp unsightly bones looked as if they
would cut their way through the deadly dry parchment-yellow skin that
covered them; and the deep blue eyes now looked preternaturally large and
bright--all the brighter for the dark purple stains beneath them. He was
low indeed, nigh unto death perhaps; yet he did not appear cast down in
the least, but even while he sat breathing laboriously, still unable to
speak, the eyes had a pleased hopeful look as they rested on their
visitor's face. A smile, too, hovered about the corners of his mouth as
his glance wandered over her costume. For, in spite of feeling the heat a
great deal, she _looked_ cool in her light-hued summer dress, with
its dim blue pattern on a cream-coloured ground. The loose fashion in
which it was made, the tints, and light frosting of fine lace on neck and
sleeves, harmonised well with the grey tender eyes, the pure delicate
skin, and golden hair.
"You could not have chosen a fitter costume to visit us in," said Merton
at length. "I can hardly believe that you come to us from some other part
of this same foul, hot, dusty London. To my fever-parched fancy you seem
rather to have come from some distant unpolluted place, where green
leaves flutter in the wind and cast shadows on the ground; where crystal
showers fall, and the vision of the rainbow is sometimes seen."
Constance came to his side and bent over him.
"You must not be tyrannical, Connie," he said. "I really must talk. Even
a bird in prison sings its song after a fashion, and why not I?"
And seeing him so anxious to begin she made no further objection,
contenting herself with giving him a draught from his medicine bottle.
She had already told him Fan's story, and he had heard it with some
interest. He congratulated the girl on having found a brother in his old
school-fellow, Arthur Eden, and took some merit to himself for having
brought them together. But he did not make the remark that truth was
stranger than fiction. It was evident that he was impatient to get to
other more important matters.
"You have doubtless heard from my wife," he said, "that I have parted
company with those misguided people that call themselves socialists.
Well, Miss Affleck, the fact is--"
"Eden," corrected Constance with a smile. She was quietly moving about
the room in her list slippers, engaged in remoistening the hangings,
which had now grown dry and hot.
"I beg your pardon, Miss Eden. Yes, thanks--Fan; that will be better
still among such old friends as we are. What I wish to say is, that my
mind was never really carried away with their fantastical theories--their
dreams of a social condition where all men will be equally far removed
from want and excessive wealth. I could have told them at once that they
were overlooking the first and greatest law of organic nature, that the
stone which the builders despised would fall on them and grind them to
powder. At the same time my feelings were engaged on their side, I am
bound to confess; I did think it possible to educe some good out of this
general ferment and dissatisfaction with the conditions of life. For,
after all, this ferment--this great clamour and shouting and hurrying to
and fro--represents force--blind brute force, no doubt, like that of
waves dashing themselves to pieces on the rocks, or of the tempest let
loose on the world. A tempest unhappily without an angel to guide it; for
I look upon the would-be angels--the Burnses--Morrises--Champions--
Hyndmans--merely as so many crows, rooks, and jackdaws, who have
incontinently rushed in to swell the noise with their outrageous cawing,
and to be tossed and blown about, hither and thither, among the dust,
sticks, old newspapers, and pieces of rotten wood stirred up by the wind.
Good would have come of it if it had been possible to introduce a gleam
of sense and reason into the foggy brains of these wretched men. But that
was impossible. I am ashamed to have to confess that I ever believed it
possible--that I assumed, when planning their welfare, that they were not
absolutely irrational. I have not only thrown the whole thing up, but the
disgust, the revulsion of feeling I have experienced, has had the effect
of making me perfectly indifferent as to the ultimate fate of these
people. If some person were to come to me to-morrow to say that all the
East-enders, from Bishopsgate Street to Bow, had been seized with a kind
of frenzy, like that which from time to time takes possession of the
Norway marmots, or bandicoots, or whatever they are called--"
"Lemmings," said Constance.
"Yes, lemmings. Thanks, Connie, you are a perfect walking encyclopaedia.
And--like these Norway lemmings--had rushed into the Thames at Tilbury,
men, women, and children, and been drowned, I should say, 'I am very
pleased to hear it.' For to my mind these people are no more worthy of
being saved than a migrating horde of Norway rats, or than the Gadarene
swine that ran down the steep and were drowned in the sea."
Fan listened with astonishment, and turned to Constance, wondering what
would be the effect of such dreadful sentiments on her, and not without
recalling some of those "Idylls," inspired by a spirit so loving and
gentle and Christian. But she seemed to be paying little attention to the
matter of her husband's discourse, to be concerned only at the state of
"Merton, dear," she said, "if you talk so much at a stretch you will
bring on another fit of coughing."
"Ah, yes, thanks for reminding me. Let me have another sip of that
mixture. Then I shall speak of other more hopeful things. And the
sweetness of hope shall be like that rosy honey, rose-scented, to soften
my throat, made dry and harsh with barren themes. After all, Connie,
these troubles which have tried us so severely have only proved blessings
in disguise. Yes, Fan, we have been driven hither and thither about the
sea, encountering terrible storms, and sometimes fearing that our bark
was about to founder; but they have at last driven us into a haven more
sweet and restful than storm-tossed mariners ever entered before. And
looking back we can even feel grateful to the furious wind, and the
hateful dark blue wave that brought us to such a goal."
All this figurative language, which was like the prelude to a solemn
piece of music, gave Fan the idea that something of very great importance
was about to follow. But, alas! the mixture, and the rose-honey sweetness
of hope, failed to prevent the attack which Constance had feared, and he
coughed so long and so violently that Fan, after being a distressed
spectator for some time, grew positively alarmed. By-and-by, glancing at
her friend's face as she stood bending over the sufferer, holding his
bowed head between her palms, she concluded that it was no more than an
everyday attack, and that no fatal results need be feared. Relieved of
her apprehension, she began to think less of the husband and more of the
wife; for what resignation, what courage and strength she had shown since
her unhappy marriage, and what self-sacrificing devotion to her weak
unworthy life-partner! Or was it a mistake, she now asked herself, to
regard him as weak and unworthy? Had not Constance, with a finer insight
--her superior in this as in most things--seen the unapparent strength,
the secret hidden virtue, that was in him, and which would show itself
when the right time came? No, Fan could not believe that. Tom Starbrow
and the poor pale-faced curate in his rusty coat were true strong men,
and the woman that married either of them would not lean on a reed that
would break and pierce her to the quick; and Captain Horton was also a
strong man, although he had certainly been a very bad one. But this man,
in spite of his nimble brains and eloquent tongue, was weak and unstable,
hopelessly--fatally. The suffering and the poverty which had come to
these two, which in the wife's case only made the innate virtue of her
spirit to shine forth with starlike lustre, would make and could make no
difference to him. Words were nothing to Fan; not because of his words
had she forgiven Captain Horton his crime; and if Merton had spoken with
the eloquence of a Ruskin, or an angel, it would have had no effect on
her. She considered his life only, and it failed to satisfy her.
Recovered from his attack, Merton sat resting languidly in his chair, his
half-closed eyes looking straight before him.
"Ah, to lead men," he said, speaking in a low voice, with frequent
pauses, as if soliloquising. "Not higher in their sense--what they with
minds darkened with a miserable delusion call higher.... Up and still up,
and higher still, through ways that grow stonier, where vegetation
shrivels in the bleak winds, and animal life dies for lack of
nourishment. Will they find the Promised Land there, when their toil is
finished, when they have reached their journey's end? A vast plateau of
sand and rock; a Central Asian desert; a cavern blown in by icy winds for
only inn; a 'gaunt and taciturn host' to receive them; and at last, to
perform the last offices, the high-soaring vulture, and the wild wind
scattering dust and sleet on their bones.... Ah, to make them see--to
make them know!... Poor dumb brutish cattle, consumed with fever of
thirst, bellowing with rage, trampling each other down in a pen too small
to hold them! Ah, to show them the gate--the wide-open gate--to make them
lie down in green pastures, to lead them beside the still waters!...
Better for me, if I cannot lead, to leave them; to go away and dwell
alone! to seek in solitary places, as others have done, some wild bitter
root to heal their distemper; to come back with something in my hands;...
to consider by what symbols to address them; to send them from time to
time a message, to be scoffed at by most and heard with kindling hope by
those whose souls are not wholly darkened."
After a long silence he spoke again to ask his wife to get him a book
from his bedroom, which he had been reading that morning, to find in it
many sweet comforting things. She had been seated at some distance from
him, apparently paying no attention to his enigmatical words, but now
quickly put down her work and got the book for him from the next room.
"Thanks," he said, taking it. "Yes, here it is. I wish to read you this
passage, Connie: 'Now they began to go down the hill into the Valley of
Humiliation. It was a steep hill, and their way was slippery, but they
were very careful, so they got down pretty well. Then said Mr. Great-
heart, We need not be afraid in this Valley, for here is nothing to hurt
us, unless we procure it for ourselves. It is true that Christian did
here meet with Apollyon, with whom he also had a sore combat; but that
fray was the fruit of those slips that he got in his going down the hill;
for they that get slips there must look for combats here.' Do you see
what I mean, Connie?"
"Yes, dear," she replied, very quietly.
Then he continued, "'For the common people, when they hear that some
frightful thing has befallen such a one in such a place, are of an
opinion that that place is haunted with some foul fiend or evil spirit,
when, alas! it is for the fruit of their own doing that such things do
befall them there!' Listen, Connie: 'No disparagement to Christian, more
than to many others, whose hap and lot was his; for it is easier going up
than down this hill, and that can be said but of few hills in all these
parts of the world. But we will leave the good man, he is at rest, he
also had a brave victory over his enemy; let Him grant that dwelleth
above that we fare no worse, when we come to be tried, than he. But we
will come again to this Valley of Humiliation. It is fat ground, and, as
you see, consisteth much in meadows, and if a man was to come here in the
summer-time, as we do now, and if he also delighted himself in the sight
of his eyes, he might see that that would be delightful to him. Behold
how green this Valley is, also how beautiful with lilies. Some have also
wished that the next way to their Father's house were here, that they
might be no more troubled with hills and mountains to go over, but the
way is the way, and there is an end.
"'Now, as they were going along and talking, they espied a boy feeding
his father's sheep. The boy was in very mean clothes, but of a very fresh
and well-favoured countenance; and as he sat by himself he sang. Then
said the guide, Do you hear him? I will dare to say, that this boy lives
a merrier life, and wears more of that herb called heart's-ease in his
bosom, than he that is clad in silk and velvet. Here a man shall be free
from noise and the hurryings of this life. All states are full of noise
and confusion, only the Valley of Humiliation is that empty and solitary
place. Here a man shall not be so hindered in his contemplation, as in
other places he is apt to be. This is a valley that nobody walks in but
those that love a pilgrim's life; and I must tell you that in former
times men have met with angels here, have found pearls here, and here in
this place found the words of life.'"
He closed the book and swallowed some more of the mixture, which
Constance, standing at his side, had been holding in readiness for him.
Fan by this time had come to the conclusion that Merton had become
religious, although the scornful way in which he had spoken of the
inhabitants of East London scarcely seemed to favour such an idea. But
she knew that he had been reading from _The Pilgrim's Progress_, a
book which Mrs. Churton had put in her hands, and helped her to
understand. She did not know that he was putting an interpretation of his
own on the allegory which might have made the glorious Bedford tinker
clench his skeleton fist and hammer a loud "No--no!" on his mouldy
"Fan, my dear girl," he said, after a while, "I cannot expect you to
understand what I am talking about. You must be satisfied to wait many
days longer before it is all made plain. I have a thousand things to say
which will be said in good time. A thousand thousand things. Books to
write--volume following volume; so much to do for poor humanity that the
very thought of it would make my heart fail were it not for the great
faith that is in me. But the paper is still white, and the pen lies idle
waiting for this unnerved hand to gain strength to hold it. For you must
know that in my descent into this valley I have met with many a slip and
fall, and have suffered the consequences: Apollyon has come forth to bar
my way, and I have not done with him yet, nor he with me. I have answered
all his sophistical arguments, have resisted all his temptations, and it
has come to a life-and-death struggle between us. With what deadly fury
his thrusts and cuts are made, my poor wife will tell you. My days are
comparatively peaceful; I feel that I am near the green meadows,
beautiful with lilies, and can almost hear the singing of the light-
hearted shepherd-boy. But at night the shadows come again; the shouts and
vauntings of my adversary are heard; I can see his crimson eyeballs, full
of malignant rage, glaring at me. To drop metaphor, my dear girl, my
nights are simply hellish. But I shall conquer yet; my time will come.
Only, to me, a sufferer turning on his bed and wishing for the dawn, how
long the time delays its coming! If I could only feel the fresh breeze in
my lungs once more; if instead of this loathsome desert of squalid
streets and slums I could look on the cool green leafy earth again, and
listen to nature's sounds, bidding me be of good courage, then these dark
days would be shortened and the new and better life begin."
This was something easy to understand, even to Fan's poor intellect, and
she had begun to listen to his words attentively. Here was matter for her
practical mind to work upon, and her reply followed quick on his speech.
"It must be dreadful for you to remain here all through the hot weather,
Mr. Chance. I wish--I wish----" But at this moment the face of Constance,
who had drawn near and was bending over her husband's chair, caught her
eye, and she became silent, for the face had suddenly clouded at her
"What were you going to say, Fan--what is it that you wish?" said Merton,
with a keener interest than he usually manifested in other people's
"I wish that--that you and Constance would accompany me to some place a
little way out of town--not too far--where you would be out of this
dreadful heat and smoke, and stand----" She was about to add, stand a
better chance of recovery, but at this stage she broke off again and cast
down her eyes, fearing that she had offended her friend.
"Most willingly we will go with you, my dear girl, if you will only ask
us," said Merton, finding that she was unable to finish her speech.
"Oh, I should be so glad--so very glad!" returned Fan, in her excitement
and relief rising from her seat. "Dear Constance, what do you say?"
But the other did not answer at once. This sudden proposal had come on
her as a painful surprise. For the last few weeks she had, even in the
midst of anxiety and suffering, rejoiced that she was self-dependent at
last, and had proudly imagined that her strength and talents would now be
sufficient to keep them in health and in sickness. And now, alas! her
husband had eagerly clutched at this offer of outside help; and, most
galling of all, from the very girl who, a short time before when she was
poor and friendless, he had found not good enough to be his wife's
At length she raised her head and spoke, but there was a red flush on her
cheek, and a tone of pain, if not of displeasure, in her voice. "Fan,"
she said, "I am so sorry you have made us this offer. It is very, very
kind of you; but, dearest, we cannot, cannot accept it."
"And for what reason, Connie?" said her husband.
She looked down on his upturned face, and for a moment was sorely tempted
to stoop and whisper the true reason in his ear, to reply that it would
be dishonourable--a thing to be remembered after with a burning sense of
shame--to accept any good gift at the hands of this girl, who had been
thrown over and left by them without explanation or excuse a short time
before, only because circumstances had made her for a time their
inferior--their inferior, that is, according to a social code, which they
might very well have ignored in this case, since it related to a society
they had never been privileged to enter since their marriage, which knew
and cared nothing for them. But as she looked down, the yellow skin and
sunken cheek and the hollow glittering eyes that met her own made her
heart relent, and she could not say the cruel words. She kept silence for
a few moments, and then only said, "How can we go, Merton? We cannot move
without money, and besides, we have nothing fit to wear."
"Pshaw, Connie, do you put such trifles in the scale? Have you so little
faith in our future as to shrink from this small addition to our debt?
Fan, of course, knows our circumstances and just what we would require.
Why, a paltry two or three pounds would take us out of London; and as for
clothes--well, you know how much we raised on them--a few miserable
shillings. You are proud, I know, but you mustn't forget that Fan is
Arthur Eden's sister--my old school-fellow and familiar friend; and also
that she is your old pupil, and--as I have heard you say times without
number--the dearest friend you have on earth."
He did not see the effect of these words, and that her face had reddened
again with anger and shame, and a feeling that was almost like scorn.
Fan, seeing her distress, half-guessing its cause, went to her side and
put her arm round her.
"Constance dear," she said, "you only need a little help at first, and I
shall be very careful and economical, and some day, when things improve,
you shall repay me every shilling I spend now. Oh, you don't know how
hard it is for me to say this to you! For I know, Constance, that if our
places were changed you would wish to act as a sister to me, and--and you
will not let me be a sister to you."
The other kissed her and turned aside to hide her tears. Merton smiled,
and taking Fan's hand in his, stroked and caressed it.
"My dear girl," he said, "I cannot express to you all I feel now; but
away out of this stifling atmosphere, this nightmare of hot bricks and
slates and smoking chimney-pots, in some quiet little green retreat where
you will take us, I shall be able to speak of it. What a blessing this
visit you have made us will prove! It refreshed my soul only to see you;
with that clear loveliness on which the evil atmosphere and life of this
great city has left no mark or stain, and in this dress with its tender
tints and its perfume, you appeared like a messenger of returning peace
and hope from the great Mother we worship, and who is always calling to
us when we go astray and forget her. How appropriate, how natural, how
almost expected, this kind deed of yours then seems to me!"
Constance, seeing him so elated at the prospect of the change, made no
further objection, but waited Mr. Northcott's return before discussing
details. The curate when he at last appeared suggested that it would be
well to consult a young practitioner in the neighbourhood who had been
attending Merton; and in the end he went off to look for him. While he
was gone the two girls talked about the proposed removal in a quiet
practical way, and Merton, quite willing to leave the subject of ways and
means to his wife and her friend, took no part in the conversation. Then
the curate returned with the doctor's opinion, which was that the change
of air would be beneficial, if Merton could stand being removed; but that
the journey must be short and made easy: he suggested a well-covered van,
with a bed to lie on, and protected from draughts, as better than the
Fan at once promised to find a van as well as a house near East London to
go to, and after she had prevailed on Constance to accept a loan of a few
pounds for necessary expenses, she set out with Mr. Northcott on her
return to the West End.
Fan resolved to employ Captain Horton again, and as it was too late in
the day to see him at his office on her way home, she wrote that evening,
asking him to find her a suitable house near East London, removed from
other houses, with garden and trees about it, and with two cool rooms for
her friends on the ground floor, and a room for herself. She knew, she
wrote, that she was putting him to great inconvenience, but felt sure
that he would be glad to serve her.
When the next day came she began to be sorely troubled in her mind; or
rather the trouble which had been in it ever since her return from
Kingston, and which she had tried not to think about, had to be faced,
and it looked somewhat formidable. For she had not yet seen Mary, in
spite of her promise made at their last parting to go to her immediately
on her return from Kingston. But much had happened since their parting:
she had met and had become friendly with the man that Mary hated with a
great hatred; and she feared that when she came to relate these things,
which would have to be related, there would be a storm. But she could no
longer delay to encounter it, and Fan knew, better than most perhaps, how
to bow her head and escape harm; and so, putting a bold face on it--
though it was not a very bold face--she got into a cab about noon and had
herself driven to Dawson Place.
Her friend received her in a strangely quiet way, with just a kiss which
was not warm, a few commonplace words of welcome, and a smile which did
not linger long on her lips.
"Why are you so cold, Mary?"
"Why are you shamefaced, Fan?"
"Am I shamefaced? I did not know."
"Yes, and I can guess the reason. You did not keep your word to me,
though you knew how anxious I was to see you at the end of your fortnight
at Kingston; and the reason is that you have something on your mind which
you fear to tell me--which you are ashamed to tell."
"No, Mary, that is not so. I am not ashamed, but----"
"Oh yes, of course, I quite understand--_but!_"
"Dear Mary, if you will be a little patient with me you shall know
everything I have to tell, and then you will know exactly why I didn't
come to you the moment I got back to town. For the last two or three days
I have been in pursuit of the Chances, and have at last found them."
"How did you find them?"
"It is a very long story, Mary, and someone you know and that you are not
friendly with is mixed up with it. I met him accidentally at Kingston,
where there was a dinner-party and he was among the guests. Mrs. Travers
introduced him to me, and he took me in to dinner; and it was very
painful to me--to both of us; but after a time a thought came into my
head--Mary, listen to me, I can't tell you how it all came about--how I
found Constance--without speaking of him. Don't you think it would be
better to tell you everything, from my first chance meeting with him, and
all that was said as well as I can remember it now?"
Miss Starbrow had listened quietly, with averted face, which Fan imagined
must have grown very black; she was silent for some time, and at last
"Fan, I can hardly credit my own senses when you talk in that calm way
about a person who--of course I know who you mean. What are you made of,
I wonder--are you merely a wax figure and not a human being at all? Once
I imagined that you loved me, but now I see what a delusion it was; only
those who can hate are able to love, and you are as incapable of the one
as of the other."
After delivering herself of this protest she half turned her back on her
friend, and for a time there was silence between them, and then Fan
"Mary, you have not yet answered me; am I to tell you about it or not?"
"You can tell me what you like; I have no power to prevent you from
speaking. But I give you a fair warning. I know, and it would be useless
to try to hide it, that you have great power over me, and that I could
make any sacrifice, and do anything within reason for you, and be glad to
do it. But if you go too far--if you attempt to work on my feelings about
this--this person, or try to make _me_ think that he is not--what I
think him, I shall simply get up and walk out of the room."
"You need not have said all that, Mary--I am not trying to work on your
feelings. I simply wanted to tell you what happened, and--how _he_
came to be mixed up with it."
As the other did not reply, she began her story, and related what had
happened at the Travers' dinner-party faithfully; although she was as
unable now to give a reason for her own strange behaviour as she had been
to answer Captain Horton when he had asked her what she had to say to
At length she paused.
"Have you finished?" said Mary sharply, but the sharpness this time did
not have the true ring.
"No. If your name was mentioned, Mary, must I omit that part?--because I
wish to tell you everything just as it happened."
"You can tell me what you like so long as you observe my conditions."
But when the story was all finished she only remarked, although speaking
now without any real or affected asperity:
"I am really sorry for your friend Mrs. Chance. I could not wish an enemy
a greater misfortune than to be tied for life to such a one as Merton.
Poor country girl, ignorant of the world--what a terrible mistake she
She was in a much better temper now, willing to discuss the details of
the expedition, to give her friend advice, and help with money if it
should be needed. Fan was surprised and delighted at the change in her,
and at last they parted very pleasantly.
"If you can find time before leaving town, Fan, come and say good-bye. I
shall be at home in the afternoon to-morrow and next day, and then you
can tell me all your arrangements."
By the first post on the following morning she received a letter from the
Captain, who had taken a day from the office to look for a place, and had
succeeded in finding a pleasant farm-house, within easy distance of Mile
End and about a mile from Edmonton, as rural a spot in appearance as one
could wish to be in. He had also exceeded his instructions by engaging a
covered van, with easy springs, to convey the invalid to his new home.
The letter contained full particulars, and concluded with an expression
of the sincere pleasure the writer felt at having received this
additional proof of Miss Eden's friendly feelings towards him, and with
the hope that the change of air would benefit his poor old friend Merton
Fan replied at once, asking him to send the van next day at noon to Mile
End. Then she telegraphed to the people of the house to have the rooms
ready for them on the morrow, and also wrote to Constance to inform her
of the arrangements that had been made; and the rest of the day was spent
in preparing for her sojourn in the country.
In the evening she went to Dawson Place to see and say good-bye to her
friend. Mary was at home, and glad to see her.
"My dear Fan," she said, embracing the girl, "I have had two or three
callers this evening, and was not at home to them only because I thought
you might turn up, and I wished to have you all to myself for a little
while before you leave. Goodness only knows when we shall meet again!"
"Why, Mary, are you thinking of going away for a long time? I hope not."
"Well, I don't know what I'm thinking of. Of course it's very disgusting
and unnatural to be in London at this time of the year; but the worst of
the matter is, I had hoped to get you to go somewhere with me. But now
this affair has completely thrown me out. Have you made your
"Yes, I got the letter I expected this morning, and it explains
everything. You had better read it for yourself."
Mary pushed the letter back with an indignant gesture.
"Oh, very well," returned Fan, not greatly disconcerted. "Then I suppose
I can read it to you, as it tells just what arrangements have been made."
The other frowned but said nothing, and Fan proceeded to read the letter.
Mary made no remark on its contents; but when she went on to speak of
other things, there was no trace of displeasure in her voice. They were
together until about ten o'clock, and then, after taking some
refreshment, Fan rose to go. But the parting was not to be a hurried one;
her friend embraced and clung to her with more than her usual warmth.
"Mary dear," said Fan, bending back her head so as to look into her
friend's face, "you were very angry with me yesterday, but to-day--now
you love me as much as you ever did. Is it not so?"
"Yes, Fan, I think I love you more to-night than ever. I know I cling to
you more and seem afraid to lose you from my sight. But you must not get
any false ideas into your head."
"To prevent that, Mary, you must tell me why you cling to me to-night?"
"Because--Fan, is it necessary that I should tell you something which I
have a dim, vague idea that you already know? Is it known to you, dear
girl, that in all our hearts there are things our lips refuse to speak,
even to those who are nearest and dearest to our souls? Did you feel
that, Fan, when you came to me again, after so long a time, and told me
all--_all_ that had befallen you since our parting?"
Fan reddened, but her lips remained closed.
"That which my lips refuse to speak you cannot know," continued Mary;
"but there is another simple reason I can give you. I cling to you
because you are going away to be with people I am not in sympathy with.
As far as giving poor miserable Merton a chance to live, I dare say you
are doing only what is right, but----"
Fan stopped her mouth. "You shall say no more, Mary. Long, long ago you
thought that because I and Constance were friends I could not have the
same feeling I had had for you. Oh, what a mistake you made! Nothing,
nothing could ever make you less dear to me. Even if you should break
with me again and refuse to see me--"
"And that is what I fear, Fan; I really do fear it, when it is actually
in your heart to get me to forgive things which it would be unnatural and
shameful to forgive. I must warn you again, Fan, if you cannot pluck that
thought out of your heart, if I cannot have you without that man's
existence being constantly brought to my mind, that there will be a fatal
rupture between us, and that it will never be healed."
Fan drew back a little and looked with a strange, questioning gaze into
her friend's face; but Mary, for once, instead of boldly meeting the
look, dropped her eyes and reddened a little.
"There will never, never be any rupture, Mary. If you were to shut your
door against me, I would come and sit down on the doorstep, which
"Be quiet!" exclaimed Mary, with sudden passion. "How can you have the
courage to speak of such things! The little consideration! If your memory
of the past is so faithful--so--so _unforgetting_, I dare say you
can remember only too well that I once--"
"You must be quiet now," said Fan, stopping her friend's mouth with her
hand for the second time, and with a strange little laugh that was half
sob. "I only remember, Mary darling, that I was homeless, hungry, in
rags, and that you took me in, and were friend and sister and mother to
me. Promise, promise that you will never quarrel with me."
"Never, Fan--unless you, with your wild altruism, drive me to it."
Fan went home, wondering all the way what her wild altruism was, ashamed
of her ignorance. She looked in her dictionary, but it was an old cheap
one, and the strange word was not in it. Perhaps Mary had coined it. As
to that she would consult Constance, who knew everything.
Miss Starbrow did not leave London after all, but day followed day only
to find her in the same unsettled mind as at first. Having no one else to
quarrel with, she quarrelled with and mocked at herself. "I shall wait
till the heats are over," she said, "and then stay on to see the end of
the November fogs; then I can go north to winter at Aberdeen or some such
delightful place." But these late London days, while her mind was in this
unsatisfactory state, studying to deceive itself, had one great pleasure
--the letters which came at intervals of two or three days from her loved
friend. Even to her eyes they looked beautiful. The girl of the period,
when she writes to her friend, usually dips the handle of her sunshade in
a basin of ink, and scrawls characters monstrous in size and form, an
insult to the paper-maker's art and shocking to man's aesthetic feelings.
Now from the first Fan had spontaneously written a small hand, with fine
web-like lines and flourishes, which gave it a very curious and delicate
appearance; for, unlike the sloping prim Italian hand, it was all
irregular, and the longer curves and strokes crossed and recrossed
through words above and beneath, so that, while easy enough to read, at
first sight it looked less like writing than an intricate pattern on the
paper, as if a score of polar gnats had been figure-skating on the
surface with inked skates. To her complaint that she was not clever, not
musical, like other girls, Mary had once said:
"Ah, yes; all your cleverness and originality has gone into your
"It is such a comfort, such a pleasure," said Fan in one of her letters,
"to have you to write to and put Mary--Mary--Mary twenty times over in a
single letter, wondering whether it gives you the same pleasure to see
your name written by me as you often say it is to hear it from my lips.
Do you remember that when I promised to write everything you sneered and
told me not to forget to make the usual mental reservations? That is the
way you always talk to me, Mary; but I make no reservation, I tell you
everything, really and truly--everything I see and hear and think. I know
very well that Constance will never tell me any of her secrets--that she
will never open her heart to anyone, as one friend does to another,
except her husband; so that it was quite safe for me to make you that
Again she wrote: "For some hidden reason Constance consented very
reluctantly to take Merton out of town, and I feel convinced that it was
not on account of the risk there would be in moving him, nor because they
were too poor to move away from Mile End. There was some other reason,
and I feel pretty sure that if the proposal had come from some other
person, even a stranger, instead of from me, it would not have given the
same feeling. That it should give her pain was a surprise to me, and has
puzzled me a great deal, because I know that Constance loves me as much
as she ever did, and that she would gladly do as much and more for me if
it were in her power at any time. Perhaps she thinks, poor Constance,
that when she and her husband suddenly went away from Netting Hill and
left no address, and never wrote to me again, although she knew that I
had no other friend in London at that time, that she had treated me
badly. Once or twice, since we have been together here, she has mentioned
that going away, so sadly, almost with tears, speaking as if
circumstances had compelled her to act unkindly, but without giving any
explanation. I do not believe, I cannot believe, she left me in that way
of her own will; I can only guess the reason, but shall probably never
really know; but I feel that this has brought a shadow into our
friendship, and that while we are as dear as ever to each other, we both
feel that there is something that keeps us apart."
Another letter spoke more particularly of Merton: "I am sure you would
like to know what I think of him now, after living under the same roof
for the first time, and seeing so much of him every day. I cannot say
what I think of him. As a rule he is out in the garden after eleven
o'clock; and then he sends Constance away. 'You have had enough of me
now,' he says, 'and if I wish to talk, I can talk to Fan--she is a good
listener.' This reminds me of one thing which is a continual vexation to
me. He does not seem to appreciate her properly. He does not believe, I
think, that she has any talent, or, at any rate, anything worthy of being
called talent compared with his own. Just fancy, she is usually up all
night, fearing to sleep lest he should need something; and then when he
comes out, and is made comfortable on the garden-seat, he tells her to go
and have an hour if she likes at her 'idyllic pastimes,' as he calls her
writing; and if he mentions her literary work at all, he speaks of it
just as another person would of a little piece of crochet-work or
netting, or something of that sort.
"After she goes in he talks to me, for an hour sometimes, and when it is
over I always feel that I am very little wiser, and what he has said
comes back to me in such an indistinct or disconnected way that it would
be impossible for me to set it down on paper. I do wish, Mary, that you
could come and sit next to me--invisible to him, I mean--and listen for
half an hour, and then tell me what it all means."
Mary laughed. "Tell you, sweet simple child? I wish Fan, that you could
come here and sit down next to me for half an hour and read out a chapter
from _Alice in Wonderland_, and then tell me what it all means. It
was Sir Isaac Newton, I think, who said of poetry that it was a
'beautiful kind of nonsense'; at all events, if he did not say it he
thought it, being a scientific man. And that is the best description I
can give of Merton's talk. That's his merit, his one art, which he has
cultivated and is proficient in. He reminds me of those street performers
who swallow match-boxes and tie themselves up with fifty knots and then
wriggle out of the rope, and keep a dozen plates, balls, and knives and
forks all flying about at one time in the air. The mystery is how a woman
like his wife--who is certainly clever, judging from the sketches I have
read, and beautiful, as I have good reason to remember--should have
thrown herself away on such a charlatan. Love is blind, they say, but I
never imagined it to be quite so blind as that!"
Here Miss Starbrow suddenly remembered the case of another woman, also
clever and beautiful; and with a scornful glance at her own image in the
glass, she remarked, "Thou fool, first pluck the beam out of thine own
Then she returned to the letter: "Another thing that seems strange to me
is his cheerfulness, for he is really very bad, and Constance is in great
fear lest his cough should bring on consumption; and it is sometimes so
violent that it frightens me to hear it. Yet he is always so lively and
even gay, and sometimes laughs like a child at the things he says
himself; and I sometimes know from the way Constance receives them that
they can't be very amusing, for I do not often see the point myself. He
firmly believes that he will soon throw his illness off, and that when he
is well he will do great things. The world, he says, knows nothing of its
greatest men, and he will be satisfied to be an obscurity, even a
laughing-stock, for the next thirty or thirty-five years. But when he is
old, and has a beard, like Darwin's, covering his breast and whiter than
snow, then his name will be great on the earth. Then it will be said that
of all leaders of men he is greatest; for whereas others led men into a
barren wilderness without end, to be destroyed therein by dragons and
men-eating monsters, he led them back to that path which they in their
blind eager hurry had missed, and by which alone the Promised Land could
"Perhaps you will think, Mary, from my telling you all this, that I am
beginning to change my mind about him, that I am beginning to think that
there is something more in him than in others, and that it will all come
out some day. But it would be a mistake; what I have always thought I
"Sensible girl," said Mary, putting the letter down with a smile.
And thus did these two not infallible women, seeing that which appeared
on the surface--empty quick--vanishing froth and iridescent bubbles--pass
judgment on Merton Chance.
One afternoon, coming in from a walk, Mary found a letter from Fan on the
hall table, and taking it up was startled to see a superfluous black seal
over the fastening. Guessing the news it contained, she carried it up to
her bedroom before opening it. "It is all over," the letter ran; "Merton
died this morning, and it was so unexpected, so terribly sudden; and I
was with him at the last moment. How shall I tell you about it? It is
anguish to think of it, and yet think of it I must, and of nothing else;
and now at ten o'clock at night I feel that I cannot rest until I have
described it all to you, and imagined what you will feel and say to-
morrow when you read my letter.
"For the last two or three days he had seemed so much better; but this
morning after breakfasting he coughed violently for a long time, and
seemed so shaken after it that we tried to persuade him not to go out.
But he would not be persuaded; and it was such a lovely morning, he said,
and would do him good; and he felt more hopeful and happy than ever--a
sure sign that he had reached the turning-point and was already on the
way to recovery. So we came out, he leaning on our arms, to a garden-seat
under the trees at the end of a walk, quite near to the house. When he
had settled himself comfortably on the seat with some rugs and cushions
we had got with us, he said, 'Now, Connie, you can go back if you like
and leave me to talk to Fan. She is our guardian angel, and will watch
over me, and keep away all ugly phantoms and crawling many-legged things
--spiders, slugs, and caterpillars. And I shall repay her angelic
guardianship with wise, instructive speech.'
"'But an angel looks for no instruction--no reward,' said Constance.
"'Not so,' he replied. 'An angel is not above being taught even by a
creature of earth. And in Fan there is one thing lacking, angel though
she be, and this I shall point out to her. I can find no mysticism in
her: what she knows she knows, and with the unknowable, which may yet be
known, she concerns herself not. Who shall say of the seed I scatter that
it will not germinate in this fair garden without weeds and tares, and
strike root and blossom at last? For why should she not be a mystic like
"Constance laughed and answered, 'Can an angel be a mystic?'
"'Yes, certainly,' he said. 'An angel need not necessarily be a mystic,
else Fan were no angel, but even to angels it adds something. It is not
that splendour of virtue and immortality which makes their faces shine
like lightning and gives whiteness to their raiment; but it is the
rainbow tint on their wings, the spiritual melody which they eternally
make, which the old masters symbolised by placing harps and divers
strange instruments in their hands--that melody which faintly rises even
from our own earthly hearts.'
"Constance smiled and looked at me--at the white dress I had on--shall I
ever wear white again?--and answered that she had first liked me in
white, and thought it suited me best, and would have to see the rainbow
tints before saying that they would be an improvement.
"Then she went back to the house, and from the end of the walk turned
round and gave us a smile, and Merton threw her a kiss.
"Then he turned to me and said, 'Fan, do you hear that robin--that little
mystic robin-redbreast? Listen, he will sing again in less than twenty
seconds.' And almost before he had finished speaking, while I was looking
at him, a change came over him, and his face was of the colour of ashes;
and he said, with a kind of moan and so low that I could scarcely catch
the last words, 'Oh, this is cruel, cruel!' And almost at the same moment
there came a rush of blood from his mouth, and he started forward and
would have fallen to the ground had I not caught him and held him in my
arms. I called to Constance, over and over again, but she did not hear
me--no one in the house heard me. Oh, how horrible it was--for I knew
that he was dying--to hear the sounds of the house, voices talking and
the maid singing, and a boy whistling not far off, and to call and call
and not be heard! Then a dreadful faintness came over me, and I could
call no more; I shivered like a leaf and closed my eyes, and my heart
seemed to stand still, and still I held him, his head on my breast--held
him so that he did not fall. Then at last I was able to call again, and
someone must have heard, for in a few moments I saw Constance coming
along the walk running with all her speed, and the others following. But
I knew that he was already dead, for he had grown quite still, and his
clenched hand opened and dropped like a piece of lead on my knee.
"After that I only remember that Constance was kneeling before him,
calling out so pitifully, 'Oh, Merton, my darling, what is it? Merton,
Merton, speak to me--speak to me--one word, only one word!' Then I
fainted. When I recovered my senses I was lying on a sofa in the house,
with some of them round me doing what they could for me; and they told me
that they had sent for a doctor, and that Merton was dead.
"But how shall I tell you about Constance? I have done nothing but cry
all day, partly from grief, and partly from a kind of nervous terror
which makes me imagine that I am still covered with those red stains,
although I took off all my things, even my shoes and stockings, and made
the servant-girl take them away out of my sight. But she does not shed a
tear, and is so quiet, occupied all the time arranging everything about
the corpse. And there is such a still, desolate look on her face; her
eyes seem to have lost all their sweetness; I am afraid to speak to her--
afraid that if I should attempt to speak one word of comfort she would
look at me almost with hatred. This afternoon I was in the room where
they have laid him, and he looked so different, younger, and his face so
much clearer than it has been looking, that it reminded me of the past
and of the first time I saw him, when he spoke so gently to me at Dawson
Place, and asked me to look up to show my eyes to him. I could not
restrain my sobs. And at last Constance said, 'Fan, if you go on in this
way you will make me cry for very sympathy.' I could not bear it and left
the room. It was so strange for her to say that! Perhaps I am wrong to
think it, but I almost believe from her tone and expression that all her
love for me has turned to bitterness because I, and not she, was with him
at the end, and heard his last word, and held him in my arms when he
"She has refused to sleep in my room, and now that the whole house is
quiet I am almost terrified at being alone, and to think that I must
spend the night by myself. I know that if I sleep I shall start up from
some dreadful dream, that I shall feel something on my hands, after so
many washings, and shall think of that last look on his ashen face, and
his last bitter words when he knew that the end had so suddenly come to
him. I wish, I wish, Mary, that I had you with me to-night, that I could
rest with your arms about me, to gain strength with your strength, for
you are so strong and brave, I so weak and cowardly. But I am alone in my
room, and can only try to persuade myself that you are thinking of me,
that when you sleep you will be with me in your dreams."
Having finished reading the letter, Mary covered her eyes with her hand
and cried to herself quietly for a while. Cried for despised Merton
Chance; and remembered, no longer with mocking laughter, some fragments
of the "beautiful nonsense" which he had spoken to her in bygone days.
For in that bright sunshine of the late summer, among the garden trees,
the Black Angel had come without warning to him, and with one swift
stroke of his weapon had laid him, with all his dreams and delusions, in
the dust; and its tragic ending had given a new dignity, a touch of
mournful glory, and something of mystery, to the vain and wasted life.
After a while, drying her eyes, she rose and went out again, and in
Westbourne Grove ordered a wreath for Merton's coffin, and instructed the
florist to send it on the following day to the house of mourning.
That mention of her first meeting with Merton in the girl's letter had
brought up the past very vividly to Mary's mind; at night, after
partially undressing, as she sat combing out her dark hair before the
glass, she thought of the old days when Fan had combed it for her, and of
her strange mixed feelings, when she had loved the poor girl she had
rescued from misery, and had studied to hide the feeling, being ashamed
of it, and at the same time had scorned herself for feeling shame--for
being not different from others in spite of her better instincts and
affected independence of a social code meant for meaner slavish natures.
How well she remembered that evening when Merton had amused her with his
pretty paradoxes about women not being reasonable beings, and had come
back later to make her an offer of marriage; and how before going to bed
she had looked at herself in the glass, proud of her beauty and strength
and independence, and had laughed scornfully and said that to no Merton
Chance would she give her hand; but that to one who, although stained
with vice, had strength of character, and loved her with a true and not a
sham love, she might one day give it. And thus thinking the blood rushed
to her face and dyed it red; even her neck, shoulders, and bosom changed
from ivory white to bright rose, and she turned away, startled and
ashamed at seeing her own shame so vividly imaged before her. And moving
to the bedside, while all that rich colour faded away, she dropped
languidly into a chair, and throwing her white arms over the coverlid,
laid her cheek on them with a strange self-abandonment, "Do you call me
strong and brave, Fan?" she murmured sadly. "Ah, poor child, what a
mistake! I am the weak and cowardly one, since I dare not tell you this
shameful secret, and ask you to save me. Oh, how falsely I put it to you
when I said that there are things in every heart which cannot be told,
even to the nearest and dearest! when I hinted to you that you had not
told me _all_ the story of your acquaintance with Arthur Eden. That
which you kept back was his secret as well as your. This is mine, only
mine, and I have no courage to tell you that you are only working my
ruin--that the heart you are trying to soften has no healthy hardness in
it. I shall never tell you. Only to one being in the whole world could I
tell it--to my brother Tom. But to think of him is futile; for I shall
keep my word, and never address him again unless he first begs my
forgiveness for insulting me at Ravenna, when he called me a demon.
Never, never, and he will not do that, and there is no hope of help from
him. You shall know the result of your work one day, Fan, and how
placable this heart is. And it will perhaps grieve you when you know that
your own words, your own action, gave me back this sickness of the soul--
this old disease which had still some living rootlet left in me when I
thought myself well and safe at last. How glad I shall be to see you
again, Fan! And you will not know that under that open healthy gladness
there will be another gladness, secret and base. That I shall eagerly
listen again to hear the name my false lips forbade you to speak--to hear
it spoken with some sweet word of praise. And in a little while I shall
sink lower, and be glad to remember that my courage was so small; and
lower still, and give, reluctantly and with many protests, the
forgiveness which will prove to you--poor innocent child!--that I have a
very noble spirit in me. How sweet it is to think of it, and how I loathe
myself for the thought! And I know what the end will be. I shall gain my
desire, but my gain will be small and my loss too great to be measured.
And then farewell to you, Fan, for ever; for I shall never have the
courage to look into your eyes again, and the pure soul that is in them.
I shall be a coward still. Just as all that is weak and unworthy in me
makes me a coward now, so whatever there is that is good in me will make
me a coward then."
A couple of days after the funeral Fan, accompanied by her friend,
returned to London, and the rooms she had occupied in Quebec Street.
Fortunately for her young lodger's peace of mind, now less inclined for
delicate feeding than ever, Mrs. Fay had gone off on her annual holiday.
Not that her health required change of air, nor because she took any
delight in the sublime and beautiful as seen in the ocean and nature
generally, but because it was a great pleasure to her to taste of many
strange dishes, and criticise mentally and gloat over the abominable
messes which other lodging--and boarding-house keepers are accustomed to
put before their unhappy guests. And as the woman left in charge of the
establishment knew not Francatelli, and never rose above the rude
simplicity of "plain" cookery--depressing word!--and was only too glad
when nothing was required beyond the homely familiar chop, with a
vegetable spoiled in the usual way, dinner at Quebec Street, if no longer
a pleasure, was not a burden.
That strange quietude, tearless and repellent, concerning which Fan had
spoken in her letter, still had possession of Constance. But it was not
the quietude experienced by the overwrought spirit when the struggle is
over, and the reaction comes--the healing apathy which nature sometimes
gives to the afflicted. It was not that, nor anything like it. The
struggle had been prolonged and severe; he was gone in whom all her hopes
and affections had been centred, and life seemed colourless without him;
but she knew that it would not always be so, that the time would come
when she would again take pleasure in her work, when the applause of
other lips than those now cold would seem sweet to her. The quietude was
only on the surface; under it smouldered a sullen fire of rebellion and
animosity against God and man, because Merton had perished and had not
lived to justify his existence; and if the thought ever entered her soul
--and how often it was there to torture her!--that the world had judged
him rightly and she falsely, it only served to increase her secret
When spoken to by those around her, she would converse, unsmilingly,
neither sad nor cheerful, with but slight interest in the subject
started; it was plain to see that she preferred to be left alone, even by
her two dearest friends, Fan and the curate, who had attended the funeral
and had come afterwards two or three times to see her. After a few days
Fan had proposed moving to town, and Constance had at once consented. In
her present frame of mind the solitude of London seemed preferable to
that of the country. For two or three days Fan almost feared that the
move had been a mistake; for now Constance spent more time than ever in
silence and seclusion, never going out of the house, and remaining most
of the time in her own room. Even when they were together she would sit
silent and apathetic unless forced to talk; and the effect was that Fan
grew more and more reluctant to address her, although her heart was
overcharged with its unexpressed love and sympathy. Only once, a few days
after their return to town, did Constance give way to her poignant
feelings, and that was on the occasion of a visit from Mr. Northcott to
their rooms. She saw him reluctantly, and was strangely cold and
irresponsive in her manner, and as it quickly discouraged him when his
kindly efforts met with no appreciation, the conversation they had was
soon over. When taking his leave he spoke a few kind sympathetic words to
her, to which she made no reply, but her hand trembled in his, and she
averted her face. Not that she had tears to hide; on the contrary, it
seemed to Fan, who was watching her face, that the rising colour and
brightening eyes expressed something like resentment at the words he had
spoken. When he had gone she remained standing in the middle of the room,
but presently glancing up and encountering her friend's eyes fixed
wonderingly on her face, she turned away, and dropping into a chair burst
into a passion of tears.
Fan moved to her side. "Dear Constance," she said, putting a hand on the
other's shoulder, "it is better to cry than to be as you have been all
But Constance, mastering her sobs with a great effort, rose to her feet
and put her friend's hand aside.
"Do you think tears are a relief to me?" she said with bitterness. "You
are mistaken. They are caused by his words--his pretended grief and
sympathy with me for what he calls my great loss. But; I know that he
never understood and never appreciated my husband--I know that in his
heart of hearts he thinks, as _you_ think, Fan, that my loss is a
gain. I understood him as you and Harold never could. You knew only his
weakness, which he would have outgrown, not the hidden strength behind
it. I know what I have lost, and prefer to be left alone, and to hear no
condolences from anyone." Then, bursting into tears again, she left the
This was unspeakably painful to Fan--chiefly because the words Constance
had spoken were true. They were cruel words to come from her friend's
lips, but she considered that they had been spoken hastily, in a sudden
passion of grief, and she felt no resentment, and only hoped that in time
kindlier feelings would prevail. Her manner lost nothing of its loving
gentleness, but she no longer tried to persuade Constance to go out with
her; it was best, she thought, to obey her wish and leave her alone. She
herself, loving exercise, and taking an inexhaustible delight in the life
and movement of the streets, spent more time than ever out of doors. Her
walks almost invariably ended in Hyde Park, where she would sit and rest
for half an hour under the grateful shade of the elms and limes; and
then, coming out into the Bayswater Road, she would stand irresolute, or
walk on for a little distance into Oxford Street, with downcast eyes and
with slower and slower steps. For at home there would be Constance,
sitting solitary in her room and indisposed for any communion except that
with her own sorrow-burdened heart; while on the other hand, within a few
minutes' drive, there was Dawson Place--bright with flowers and pleasant
memories--and above all, Mary, who was always glad to see her, and would
perhaps be wishing for her and expecting her even now. And while
considering, hesitating, the welcome tingling "Keb!" uttered sharp and
clear like the cry of some wild animal, would startle her. For that
principal league-long thoroughfare of London is "always peopled with a
great multitude of"--no, not "vanities," certainly not! but loitering
hansoms, and cabby's sharp eye is quick to spot a person hesitating where
to go (and able to pay for a ride), as the trained rapacious eye of the
hawk is to spy out a wounded or sickly bird. Then the swift wheels would
be drawn up in tempting proximity to the kerb, and after a moment's
hesitation Fan would say "Dawson Place," and step inside, and in less
than twenty minutes she would be in her friend's arms.
These flying improvised visits to her friend were very dear to her, and
always ended with the promise given to repeat the visit very soon--
"perhaps to-morrow"; then she would hurry home, feeling a little guilty
at her own happiness while poor Constance was so lonely and so unhappy.
But one day there seemed to be a change for the better. Constance talked
with Fan, for some time, asking questions about Miss Starbrow, of the
books she had been reading, and showing a return of interest in life.
When she was about to leave the room Fan came to her side and put an arm
round her neck.
"Constance," she said, "I have been waiting anxiously to ask you when you
are going to begin your sketches again? I think--I'm sure it would be
good for you if you could write a little every day."
Constance cast down her eyes and reflected for a few moments.
"I could never take that up again," she said.
"I am so sorry," was all that Fan could say in reply, and then the other
without more words left her.
But in the evening she returned to the subject of her own accord.
"Fan, dear," she said, "I must ask your forgiveness for the way I have
acted towards you since we have been here together. It would not have
been strange if you had resented it--if you had judged me ungrateful. But
you never changed; your patience was so great. And now that he has gone
you are more to me than ever. Not only because you have acted towards me
like a very dear sister, but also because you did that for him which I
was powerless to do. Your taking us away out of that hot place made his
last days easier and more peaceful. And you were with him at the last,
Fan. Now I can speak of that--I _must_ speak of it! Death seemed
cruel to him, coming thus suddenly, when hope was so strong and the earth
looked so bright. And how cruel it has seemed to me--the chance that took
me from his side when that terrible moment was so near! How cruel that
his dying eyes should not have looked on me, that he should not have felt
my arms sustaining him! So hard has this seemed to me that I have thought
little about you--of the agony of pain and suspense you suffered, of the
strength and courage which enabled you to sustain him and yourself until
it was all over."
She was crying now, and ceased speaking. She had not told, nor would she
ever tell, the chief cause of the bitterness she felt at the
circumstances attending her husband's death. It was because Fan, and no
other, had been with him, sustaining him--Fan, who had always been
depreciated by him, and treated so hardly at the last; for she could not
remember that he had treated any other human creature with so little
justice. It had been hard to endure when the girl they had left, hiding
themselves from her, ashamed to know her, had found them in their
depressed and suffering condition, only to heap coals of fire on their
heads. Hard to endure that her husband seemed to have forgotten
everything, and readily took every good thing from her hands, as if it
had been only his due. But that final scene among the garden trees had
seemed to her less like chance than the deliberately-planned action of
some unseen power, that had followed them in all their wanderings, and
had led the meek spirit they had despised to their hiding-place, to give
it at last a full and perfect, yea, an angelic revenge.
After a while, drying her eyes, she resumed:
"But I particularly wish to speak about what you said this morning. I
could not possibly go back to those East-End sketches of life--even the
name of the paper I wrote them for is so painfully associated in my mind
with all that Merton and I went through. I was struggling so hard--oh, so
hard to keep our heads above water, and seemed to be succeeding. I was so
hopeful that better days were in store for us, and the end seemed to come
so suddenly ... and my striving had been in vain ... and the fight was
lost. I know that I must rouse myself, that I have to work for a living,
only just now I seem to have lost all desire to do anything, all energy.
But I know, Fan, that this will not last. Grief for the dead does not
endure long--never long enough. I must work, and there is nothing I shall
ever care to do for a living except literary work. I have felt and shall
feel again that a garret for shelter and dry bread for food would be
dearer to me earned in that way than every comfort and luxury got by any
other means. During the last day or two, while I have been sitting by
myself, an idea has slowly been taking shape in my mind, which will make
a fairly good story, I think, if properly worked out. But that will take
time, and just now I could not put pen to paper, even to save myself from
starving. For a little longer, dear, I must be contented to live on your
"My charity, Constance! It was better a little while ago when you said
that I had been like a very dear sister to you. But now you make me think
that you did not mean that, that there is some bitterness in your heart
because you have accepted anything at my hands."
"Darling, don't make that mistake. The word was not well-chosen. Let me
say your love, Fan--the love which has fed and sheltered my body, and has
done so much to sustain my soul."
And once more they kissed and were reconciled. From that day the
improvement for which Fan had been waiting began to show itself.
Constance no longer seemed strange and unlike her former self; and she no
longer refused to go out for a walk every day. But she would not allow
her walks with Fan to interfere with the latter's visits to Miss
Starbrow. "She must be more to you than I can ever be," she would insist.
"Well, dear, she cannot be _less_, and while she and you are in town
it is only natural that you should be glad to see each other every day."
And so after a walk in the morning she would persuade Fan to go later in
the day to Dawson Place.
One evening as they sat together talking before going to bed, Fan asked
her friend if she had written to inform Mrs. Churton of Merton's death.
"Yes," replied Constance. "A few days after his death I wrote to mother;
it was a short letter, and the first I have sent since I wrote to tell
her that I was married. She replied, also very briefly, and coldly I
think. She expressed the hope that my husband had left some provision for
me, so that she knows nothing about how I am situated."
After a while she spoke again.
"How strange that you should have asked me this to-night, Fan! All day I
have been thinking of home, and had made up my mind to say something to
you about it--something I wish to do, but I had not yet found courage to
"Tell me now, Constance."
"I think I ought to write again and tell mother just how I am left, and
ask her to let me go home for a few weeks or months. I have no wish to go
and stay there permanently; but just now I think it would be best to go
to her--that is, if she will have me. I think the quiet of the country
would suit me, and that I might be able to start my writing there. And,
Fan--you must not take offence at this--I do not think it would be right
to live on here entirely at your expense. But if I should find it
impossible to remain any time at home, perhaps I shall be glad to ask you
to shelter me again on my return to town."
She looked into Fan's eyes, but her apprehensions proved quite
"I am so glad you have thought of your home just now," Fan replied.
"Perhaps after all you have gone through it will be different with your
mother. But, Constance, may I go with you?"
"With me! And leave Miss Starbrow?"
"Yes, I must leave her for a little while. I was going to ask you to go
with me to the seaside for a few weeks, but it will be so much better at
Eyethorne. Perhaps Mrs. Churton still feels a little offended with me,
but I hope she will not refuse to let me go with you--if you will
consent, I mean."
"There is nothing that would please me better. I shall write at once and
ask her to receive us both, Fan."
"If you will, Constance; but I must also write and ask her for myself. I
cannot go to live on them, knowing that they are poor, and I must ask her
to let me pay her a weekly sum."
Constance reflected a little before answering.
"Do you mind telling me, Fan, what you are going to offer to pay? You
must know that I can only go as my mother's guest, that if you accompany
me you must not pay more than for one."
"Yes, I know that. I think that if I ask her to take me for about two
guineas a week it will be very moderate. It costs me so much more now in
London. And the money I am spending besides in cabs and finery--I am
afraid, Constance, that I am degenerating because I have this money, and
that I am forgetting how many poor people are in actual want."
The result of this conversation was that the two letters were written and
sent off the following day.
In the afternoon Fan went to Dawson Place, and Mary received her gladly,
but had no sooner heard of the projected visit to Wiltshire than a change
Back to Full Books