Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 6 out of 6
with an old friend, in a place which Carrie and her parents had lived
in when she was a baby, near to the town where she was born. She knew
already that her mother was from Westmoreland, from a place called
Keswick; but she understood that her mother's father was dead, and all
her people scattered.
Until they came actually in sight of the cottage, the child had
betrayed no memory of her own; though as they entered Langdale
her chatter ceased, and her eyes sped nervously from side to side,
considering the woods and fells and whitewashed farms. As they
stopped, however, at the foot of the steep pitch leading to the
little house, Carrie suddenly caught sight of it--the slate porch, the
yew-tree to the right, the sycamore in front. She changed colour, and
as she jumped down, she wavered and nearly fell.
And without waiting for the others she ran up the hill and through the
gate. When she met them again at the house-door, her eyes were wet.
'I've been into the kitchen,' she said, breathlessly--'and it's so
strange! I remember sitting there, and a man'--she drew her hand
across her brow--'a man, feeding me. That--that was father?'
Phoebe could not remember how she had answered her; only some
trembling words from Anna Mason, and an attempt to draw the child
away--that her mother might enter the cottage alone and unwatched. And
she had entered it alone--had walked into the little parlour.
The next thing she recollected--amid that passion of desperate tears
which had seemed to dissolve her, body and soul--were Carrie's arms
round her, Carrie's face pressed against hers.
'Mother! mother! Oh! what is the matter? Why did we come here? You've
been keeping things from me all these weeks--for years even. There
is something I don't know--I'm sure there is. Oh, it _is_ unkind. You
think I'm not old enough--but I am. Oh! you ought to tell me, mother!'
How had she defended herself? staved off the inevitable once again?
All she knew was that Miss Anna had again come to the rescue, had
taken the child away, whispering to her. And since then, in these
last forty-eight hours--oh! Carrie had been good! So quiet, so
useful--unpacking their clothes, helping Miss Anna's maid with the
supper, cooking, dusting, mending, as a Canadian girl knows how--only
stopping sometimes to look round her, with that clouded, wondering
look, as though the past invaded her.
Oh! she was a darling! John would see that--whatever he might feel
towards her mother. 'I stole her--but I've brought her back. I may be
a bad wife--but there's Carrie! I've not neglected her--I've done the
best by her.'
It was in incoherent, unspoken words like this that Phoebe was for
ever pleading with her husband, even now.
Presently, in her walk about the room, she came to stand before the
mantelpiece, where a photograph had been propped up against the
wall by Carrie--of a white walled farm, with its out-buildings and
orchards--and, gleaming beneath it, the wide waters of Lake Ontario.
Phoebe shuddered at the sight of it. Twelve years of her life had been
Carrie, indeed, took a very different view.
Restlessly the mother left her room and wandered into Carrie's. It was
already--by half-past nine--spotlessly clean and neat; and Eliza, the
girl from Hawkshead, had not been allowed to touch it. On the bed lay
a fresh 'waist,' which Carrie had just made for herself, and on the
dressing-table stood another photograph--not a place this time, but a
person--a very evident and very good-looking young man!
Phoebe stood looking at it forlornly. Carrie's young romance--and her
own spoilt life--these two images held her. Carrie would go back, in
time, across the sea--would marry, would forget her mother.
'And I'm not old, neither--I'm not old.'
Trembling she left the room. The door of Miss Anna's was open. Phoebe
stood on the threshold, looking in. It had been her room and John's in
the old days. Their very furniture was still there--as in the parlour,
too. For John had sold it all to their landlord, when he wound up
affairs. Miss Anna knew even what he had got for it--poor John!
She dared not go in. She stood leaning against the door-post, looking
from outside, like one in exile, at the low-raftered room, with its
oak press, and its bed, and its bit of green carpet. Thoughts passed
through her mind--thoughts which shook her from head to foot.
The cottage was now enlarged. Miss Mason, when she took it on lease
three years before this date, had built two new rooms, or got the
Hawkshead landlord to build them. She had retired now, on her savings;
and there lived with her an old friend, a tired teacher like herself.
It was one of those spinster marriages--honourable and seemly
_menages_--for which the Lakes have always been famous. But Miss
Wetherby was now away, visiting her relations in the South. Had she
been there, Phoebe could never have made up her mind to accept Miss
Anna's urgent invitation. She shrank from everybody--strangers, or old
acquaintance--it was all one. The terror which ranked, in her mind,
next to the disabling, heart-arresting terror of the first meeting
with her husband, was that of the first moment when she must discover
herself to her old acquaintance in Langdale or Elterwater--in Kendal
or Keswick--as Phoebe Fenwick. She had arrived, closely veiled, as
'Mrs. Wilson,' and she had never yet left the cottage door.
Then again she caught her breath, remembering that at that very moment
Carrie was learning her true name from Miss Anna--was realising that
she had seen her father without knowing it--was hearing the story of
what her mother had done.
'Perhaps she'll hate me!' thought Phoebe, miserably. Through the
window came the soft spring air. The big sycamore opposite was nearly
in full leaf, and in the field below sprawled the helpless, new-born
lambs, so white beside their dingy mothers. The voice of the river
murmured through the valley, and sometimes, as the west wind blew
stronger, Phoebe's fine and long-practised ear could distinguish other
and more distant sounds, wafted from the leaping waterfalls which
threaded the ghyll, perhaps even from the stream of Dungeon Ghyll
itself, thundering in its prison of rocks. It was a characteristic
Westmoreland day, with high grey cloud and interlacing sun, the fells
clear from base to top, their green or reddish sides marked with white
farms or bold clumps of fir; with the blackness of scattered yews,
landmarks through generations; or the purple-grey of the emerging
limestone. Fresh, lonely, cheerful--a land at once of mountain
solitude, and of a long-settled, long-humanised life--it breathed
kindly on this penitent, anxious woman; it seemed to bid her take
Ah! the sound of a horn echoing along the fell. Phoebe flew down to
the porch; then, remembering she might be seen, perhaps recognised, by
the postman, she stepped back into the parlour, listening, but out of
The servant, who had run down to fetch the letters, seemed to be
having something of an argument with the postman. In a few minutes she
'There's no letters, mum,' she said, seeing Phoebe at the parlour
window--'and I doan't think this has owt to do here.' She held up a
telegram, doubtfully--yet with an evident curiosity and excitement
in her look. It was addressed to 'Mrs. John Fenwick.' The postman had
clearly made some remark upon it.
Phoebe took it.
'It's all right. Tell him to leave it.'
The girl, noticing her agitation and her shaking fingers, ran down the
hill again to give the message. Phoebe carried the telegram upstairs
to her room, and locked the door.
For some moments she dared not open it. If it said that he refused to
come?--that he would never see her again? Phoebe felt that she should
die of grief--that life must stop.
At last she tore it open:
Sending messenger to-day. Hope to follow immediately. Welcome.
She gasped over the words, feeling them in the first instance as a
blow--a repulse. She had feared--but also she had hoped--she scarcely
knew for what--yet at least for something more, something different
He was not coming, then, at once! A messenger! What messenger could a
man send to his wife in such a case? Who knew them both well enough
to dare to come between them? Old fiercenesses woke up in her. Had
the word been merely cold and unforgiving it would have crushed her
indeed; but there was that in her which would have scarcely dared
complain. An eye for an eye--no conscience-stricken creature but
admits the wild justice of that.
But a 'messenger'!--when she that was lost is found, when a man's wife
comes back to him from the dead! Phoebe sat voiceless, the telegram on
her lap, a kind of scorn trembling on her lip.
Then her eye caught the word 'welcome,' and it struck home. She began
to sob, her angry pride melting. And suddenly the door of her room
opened, and there on the threshold stood Carrie--Carrie, who had been
crying, too--with wide, startled eyes and flushed cheeks. She looked
at her mother, then flew to her, while Phoebe instinctively covered
the telegram with her hand.
'Oh, mother! mother!--how could you? And I _laughed_ at him--I did--I
_did_!' she cried, wringing her hands. 'And he looked so tired! And on
the way home Amelie mimicked him--and his voice--and his queer ways;
and I laughed. Oh, what a beast I was! Oh, mother, and I told you his
name, and you never--never--said a word!'
The child flung herself on the floor, her feet tucked under her, her
hands clasped round her knees, swaying backwards and forwards in a
tempest of excited feeling, hardly knowing what she said.
Phoebe looked at her, bewildered; then she removed her hand, and
Carrie saw the telegram. She threw herself on it, read the address,
gulping, then the words:
'A messenger!' She understood that no more than her mother. It meant a
letter, perhaps? But she fastened on 'immediately'--'welcome.'
And presently--all in a moment--she leapt to her feet, and began to
dance and spring about the room. And as Phoebe watched her, startled
and open-mouthed, wondering if this was all the reproach that Carrie
was ever going to make her, the flushed and joyous creature came and
flung her arms round Phoebe's neck, so that the fair hair and the
brown were all in a confusion together, and the child's cheek was on
'Mummy!--and I was only five, and you weren't so very old--only
seven years older than I am now--and you thought father was tired
of you--and you went off to Canada right away. My!--it was plucky of
you--I will say that for you. And if you hadn't gone, I should never
have seen George. But--oh, mummy, mummy!'--this between laughing and
crying--'I do guess you were just a little fool! I guess you were!'
Miss Anna sat downstairs listening to the murmur of those hurrying
voices above her in Phoebe's room. She was darning a tablecloth,
with the Manchester paper beside her; and she sat peculiarly erect, a
little stern and pinched,--breathing protest.
It was extraordinary how Carrie had taken it. These were your Canadian
ways, she supposed. No horror of anything--no shyness. Looking a thing
straight in the face, at a moment's notice--with a kind of humorous
common sense--refusing altogether to cry over spilt milk, even
such spilt milk as this--in a hurry, simply, to clear it up! A mere
metaphorical refusal to cry, this--for, after all, there had been
tears. But the immediate rebound, the determination to be cheerful,
though the heavens fell, had been so amazing! The child had begun
to laugh before her tears were dry--letting loose a flood of sharp,
shrewd questions on her companion; wondering, with sparkling looks,
how 'George' would take it; and quite refusing to provide that
fine-drawn or shrinking sentiment, that 'moral sense,' in short, with
which, as it seemed to the elder woman, half-hours of this quality in
life should be decently accompanied. Little heathen! Miss Anna thought
grimly of all the precautions she had taken to spare the young lady's
feelings--of her own emotions--her sense of a solemn and epoch-making
experience. She might have saved her pains!
But at this point the door upstairs opened, and the 'little heathen'
descended presently to the parlour, bringing the telegram. She came in
shyly, and it might perhaps have been seen that she was conscious of
her disgrace with Miss Anna. But she said nothing; she merely held
out the piece of pink paper; and Miss Anna, surprised out of her own
'moral sense,' fell upon it, hastily adjusting her spectacles to a
large and characteristic nose.
She read it frowning. A messenger! What on earth did they want with
such a person? Just like John!--putting the disagreeables on other
people. She said to herself that one saw where the child's levity came
'It's nice of father, isn't it?' said Carrie, rather timidly, touching
'He'd better have come himself,' said Miss Anna, sharply.
'But he is coming!' cried Carrie. 'He's only sending a letter--or a
present--or something--to smooth the way--just as George does with me.
Well, now then'--she bent down and brought her resolute little face
close to Miss Anna's--'where's he to sleep?'
Miss Anna jumped, pushed back her chair, and said, coldly, 'I'll see
'Because, if he's going into my room,' said Carrie, thoughtfully,
'something'll have to be done to lengthen that bed. The pillow slips
down, and even I hung my feet out last night. But, if you'll let me, I
could fix it up--I could make that room real nice.'
Miss Anna told her to do what she liked. 'And where'll you sleep
'Oh, I'll go in to mother.'
'There's a second bed in my room,' said Miss Anna, stiffly.
'Ah! but that would crowd you up,' said the girl, softly; and off she
Presently there was a commotion upstairs--hammering, pulling, pushing.
Miss Anna wondered what on earth she was doing to the bed.
Then, Phoebe came down, white and fluttered enough to satisfy the most
exacting canons. Miss Anna tried not to show that she was dissatisfied
with the terms of the telegram, and Phoebe did not complain. But her
despondency was very evident, and Miss Anna was extremely sorry for
her. In her restlessness she presently said that she would go out to
the ghyll and sit by the water a little. If anybody came, they were to
shout for her. She would only be a stone's throw from the house.
She went away along the fell-side, her head drooping--so tall and
thin, in her plain dress of grey Carmelite and her mushroom hat
trimmed with black.
Miss Anna looked after her. She knew very little indeed, as yet,
of what it was that had really brought the poor thing home. Her
own fault, no doubt. Phoebe would have poured out her soul, without
reserve, on that first night of her return to her old home. But Miss
Anna had entirely refused to allow it. 'No, no!' she had said, even
putting her hand on the wife's trembling lips; 'you shan't tell me.
Keep that for John--it's his right. If you've got a confession--it
belongs to _John_!'
On the other hand, of the original crisis--of the scene in
Bernard Street, the spoilt picture, and the letters of Madame de
Pastourelles--Miss Anna had let Phoebe tell her what she pleased;
and in truth--although Phoebe seemed to be no longer of a similar
opinion--it appeared to the ex-schoolmistress that John had a good
deal to explain--John and the French lady. If people are not married,
and not relations, they have no reasonable call whatever to write each
other long and interesting letters. In spite of her education and
her reading, Miss Anna's standards in these respects were the small,
Puritanical standards of the English country town.
The gate leading to the steep pitch of lane opened and shut. Miss Anna
rose hastily and looked out.
A lady in black entered the little garden, walked up to the door, and
knocked timidly. Was this the 'messenger'? Miss Anna hurried into the
'Is Mrs. Fenwick in?' asked a very musical voice.
'Mrs. Fenwick is sitting a little way off on the fell,' said Miss
Anna, advancing. 'But I can call her directly. What name, please?'
The lady took out her card.
'It's a French name,' she said, with smiling apology, handing it to
Miss Anna glanced at it, and then at the bearer.
'Kindly step this way,' she said, pointing to the parlour, and holding
her grey-capped head rather impressively high.
Madame de Pastourelles obeyed her, murmuring that she had sent her
carriage on to the Dungeon Ghyll Hotel, whence it would return for her
in an hour.
Eugenie had made her first speech--her first embarrassed explanation.
She and Miss Anna sat on either side of the parlour table, their eyes
on each other. Eugenie felt herself ill at ease under the critical
gaze of this handsome, grey-haired woman, with her broad shoulders and
her strong brows. She had left London in hurry and agitation, and
was, after all, but very slenderly informed as to the situation
in Langdale. Had she inadvertently said something to set this
formidable-looking person against her and her mission?
On her side Miss Anna surveyed the delicate refinement of her visitor;
the black dress so plain, yet so faultless; the mass of brown hair,
which even after a night's railway journey was still perfectly
dressed, no doubt by the maid without whom these fine ladies never
venture themselves abroad; the rings which sparkled on the thin
fingers; the single string of pearls, which alone relieved the
severity of the black bodice. She noticed the light, distinguished
figure, the beauty of the small head; and her hostility waxed within
her. John's smart friend belonged to the pampered ones of the earth,
and Miss Anna did not intend to be taken in by her, not for a moment.
'Mr. Fenwick has been terribly overworked,' Eugenie repeated,
colouring against her will, 'and yesterday he was quite broken down
by your letter. It seemed too much for him. You will understand, I'm
sure. When a person is so weak, they shrink--don't they?--even from
what they most desire. And so he asked me--to--to come and tell Mrs.
Fenwick something about his health, and his circumstances these
last two years--just to prepare the way. There is so much--isn't
there?--Mrs. Fenwick cannot yet know; and I'm afraid--it will pain her
The speaker's voice faltered and ceased. She felt through every nerve
that she was in a false position, and wondered how she was to mend it.
'Do I understand you that John Fenwick is coming to see his wife
to-night?' said Miss Mason at last, in a voice of battle.
'He arrives by the afternoon train,' said Eugenie, looking at her
questioner with a slight frown of perplexity.
'What is the matter with him?' said Miss Anna, dryly.
Eugenie hesitated; then she bent forward, the colour rushing again
into her cheeks.
'I think'--her voice was low and hurried, and she looked round her to
see that the door was shut and they were really alone--'I think it has
been an attack of depression--perhaps--perhaps melancholia. He has had
great misfortunes and disappointments. Unfortunately, my father and I
were abroad, and did not understand. But, thank God!'--she clasped her
hands involuntarily--'I got home yesterday--I went to see him--just in
She paused, looking at her companion as though she asked for the
understanding which would save her further words. But Miss Anna sat
puzzled and cold.
'Just in time?' she repeated.
'I didn't understand at first,' said Eugenie, with emotion; 'I only
saw that he was ill and terribly broken. But he has told me since--in
a letter I got just before I started. And I want you to advise me--to
tell me whether you think Mrs. Fenwick should know--'
'Know what?' cried Miss Anna.
Madame de Pastourelles bent forward again, and said a few words under
Anna Mason recoiled.
'Horrible!' she said; 'and--and so cowardly! So like a man!'
Eugenie could not help a tremulous smile; then she resumed:
'The picture had come--just come. It was that which saved him. Ah,
yes'--the smile flashed out again--'I had forgotten! Of course Mrs.
Fenwick must know! It was the picture--it was _she_ that _saved_
him. But your note, by some strange accident, had escaped him. It had
fallen out, among some other papers on the floor--and he was nearly
beside himself with disappointment. I was lucky enough to find it and
give it him. But oh! it was pitiful to see him.'
She shaded her eyes with her hand a moment, waiting for composure.
Miss Anna watched her, the strong mouth softening unconsciously.
'And so, when he asked me to come and see his wife first--to tell
her about his troubles and his breakdown--I felt as if I could not
refuse--though, of course, I know'--she looked up appealingly--'it may
well seem strange and intrusive to Mrs. Fenwick. But perhaps when
she understands how we have all been searching for her these many
'Searching!' exclaimed Miss Anna. 'Who has been searching?'
Her question arrested her companion. Eugenie drew herself more erect,
collecting her thoughts.
'Shall we face the facts as they are?' she said at last, quietly. 'I
can tell you very shortly how the case stands.'
Miss Anna half-rose, looked at the door, sat down again.
'Mrs. Fenwick, you understand, may return at any time!'
'I will be very short. We must consult--mustn't we?--for them both?'
Timidly, her eyes upraised to the vigorous old face beside her,
Eugenie held out her delicate hand. With a quick, impulsive movement,
wondering at herself, Miss Anna grasped it.
A little while later Miss Anna emerged from the parlour. She went
upstairs to find Carrie.
Carrie was sitting beside the open door of her room, calmly ripping
up a mattress. The bed behind her had been substantially lengthened,
apparently by the help of a packing-case in which Mrs. Fenwick had
brought some of her possessions across the Atlantic. A piece of white
dimity had been tacked round the packing-case.
'Carrie, what on earth are you doing?' cried Miss Anna, in dismay.
'It's all right,' said Carrie--'I'm only making it over. It's got
lumpy.' Then she laid down her scissors, flushed, and looked at Miss
Anna. 'Who's that downstairs?'
'It's a lady who wants to see your mother. Will you go and fetch her?'
'Father's "messenger"?' cried Carrie, springing up, and breathing
Miss Anna nodded.
'Your mother should be very grateful to her,' she said, in rather a
Carrie put on her hat in silence, and descended. The door of the
parlour was open, and between it and the parlour window stood the
strange lady, staring at the river and the fell opposite, apparently
deep in thought.
At the sound of the girl's step Eugenie turned.
'Carrie!' she cried, involuntarily--'you are Carrie!' And she came
forward, impetuously holding out both her hands. 'How like the
And Eugenie gazed in delight at the small, slight creature, so
actively and healthily built, in spite of her fairy proportions, at
the likeness to Fenwick in hair and skin, at the apple-freshness of
her colour, the beauty of her eyes, the lightness of her pretty feet.
Twelve years!--and then to find _this_, dropped into your arms by the
gods--this living, breathing promise of all delight! Deep in Eugenie's
heart there stirred the pang of her own pitiful motherhood, of the
child who had just flickered into life, and out of it, through one
She shyly put her arm round the girl.
'May I,' she said, timidly--'may I kiss you?'
Carrie, with down-dropped eyes, a little grave, submitted.
'I am going to tell my mother. Father sent you, didn't he?'
Eugenie said 'Yes' gently, and released her. The child ran off.
Phoebe came slowly into the room, with an uncertain gait, touching the
door and the walls like one groping her way.
'Oh, Mrs. Fenwick!'
It was a little cry from Eugenie--deprecating, full of pain.
Phoebe took no notice of it. She went straight to her visitor.
'Where is my husband, please?' she said, in a strong, hoarse voice,
mechanically holding out her hand, which Eugenie touched and then let
drop--so full of rugged, passionate things were the face and form she
'He's coming by the afternoon train.' Eugenie threw all her will into
calmness and clearness. 'He gets to Windermere before five--and
he thought he might be here a little after six. He was so ill
yesterday--when I found him--when I went to see him! That's what
he wanted me to tell you before you saw him again--and so I came
first--by the night train.'
'You went to see him--yesterday?' said Phoebe, still in the same tense
She had never asked her guest to sit, and she stood herself, one hand
leaning heavily on the table.
'I had heard from the lawyers--the lawyers my father had recommended
to Mr. Fenwick--that they had found a clue--they had discovered some
traces of you in Canada--and I went to tell him.'
'Lawyers?' Phoebe raised her left hand in bewilderment. 'I don't
Eugenie came a little nearer. Hurriedly, with changing colour, she
gave an account of the researches of the lawyers during the preceding
seven months--interrupted in the middle by Phoebe.
'But why was John looking for us, after--after all this time?' she
said, in a fainter, weaker voice, dropping at the same time into a
Eugenie hesitated; then said, firmly, 'Because he wished to find you,
more than anything else in the world. And my father and I helped him
all we could--'
'But you didn't know?'--Phoebe caught piteously at her dress--'you
'That Mr. Fenwick was married? No--never!--till last autumn. That was
his wrong-doing, towards all his old friends.'
Phoebe looked at the dignity and pureness of the face before her, and
shrank a little.
'And how was it found out?' she breathed, turning away.
'There was a Miss Morrison--'
'Bella Morrison!' cried Phoebe, suddenly, clasping her hands--'Bella!
Of course, she did it to disgrace him.'
'We never knew what her motive was. But she told--an old friend--who
'And then--what did John say?'
The wife's hands shook--her eyes were greedy for an answer.
'Oh! it was all miserable!' said Eugenie, with a gesture of emotion.
'It made my father very angry, and we could not be friends any
more--as we had been. And Mr. Fenwick had a wretched winter. He was
ill--and his painting seemed to go wrong--and he was terribly in need
of money--and then came that day at the theatre--'
'I know,' whispered Phoebe, hanging on the speaker's lips--'when he
'It nearly killed him,' said Eugenie, gently. 'It was like a light
kindled, and then blown out.'
Phoebe leant her head against the table before her, and began to sob--
'If I'd never let her go up that day! When we first landed I didn't
know what to do--I couldn't make up my mind. We'd taken lodgings down
at Guildford--near some acquaintances we'd made in Canada. And
the girl was a great friend of Carrie's--we used to stay with
them sometimes in Montreal. She had acted a little at Halifax and
Montreal--and she wanted an opening in London--and somebody told her
to apply at that theatre--I forget its name.'
'Halifax!' cried Eugenie--'Halifax, Nova Scotia? Oh, now I understand!
We have searched England through. The stage-manager said one of the
young ladies mentioned Halifax. Nobody ever thought--'
She paused. Phoebe said nothing; she was grappling with some of the
new ideas presented to her.
'And this was his second search, you know,' said Eugenie, laying a
hand timidly on Phoebe's shoulder. 'He had done all he could--when
you left him. But when he lost sight of Carrie again--and so of you
both--it wore his heart out. I can see it did. He is a broken man.'
Her voice trembled. 'Oh, you will have to nurse--to comfort him. He
has been in despair about his art--in despair about everything. He--'
But she checked herself. The rest was for him to tell.
'For a long time he seemed so--so--successful,' said Phoebe, plucking
at the tablecloth, trying to compose voice and features.
'Yes--but it didn't last. He seemed to get angry with himself--and
everybody else. He quarrelled with the Academy--and his work didn't
improve--it went back. But then--when one's unhappy--'
Her smile and the pressure of her hand said the rest.
'He'll never forgive me!' said Phoebe, her voice thick and shaking.
'It can never be the same again. I was a fool to come home.'
Eugenie withdrew her hand. Unconsciously, a touch of sternness showed
itself in her bearing, her pale features.
'No, no!'--she said, with energy. 'You will comfort him, Mrs.
Fenwick--you will give him heart and hope again. It was a cruel
thing--forgive me if I say it once!--it was a cruel thing to leave
him! A man like that--with his weaknesses and his temperament--which
are part of his gift really--its penalty--wants his wife at every
turn--the woman who loves him--who understands. But to desert him for
a suspicion!--a dream! Oh! Mrs. Fenwick, there are those who--who are
really starved--really forsaken--really trampled under foot--by those
Her voice broke. She stood gazing straight before her, quivering with
the passion of recollection. Phoebe looked up--awed--remembering what
John had said, so long ago, of the unhappy marriage, the faithless and
cruel husband. But Eugenie's hand touched her again.
'And I know that you thought--_I_--had made Mr. Fenwick--forget you.
That was so strange! At that time--and for many years afterwards--my
husband was still alive. If he had sent me a word--any day--any
hour--I would have gone to him--to the ends of the world. I don't
mean--I don't pretend--that my feeling for him remained unchanged. But
my pride was--my duty was--that he should never find _me_ lacking. And
last year--he turned to me--I was able to help him--through his death.
I had been his true wife--and he knew it.'
She spoke quietly, brushing the tears from her eyes. But with the last
words, her voice wavered a little. Phoebe had bowed her head upon the
hand which held hers, and there was no spectator of the feeling in
Eugenie's face. Was her pure conscience tormented with the thought
that she had not told all, and could never tell it? Her innocent
tempting of Fenwick--as an act, partly, of piteous self-defence
against impulses of quite another quality and power--this must remain
her secret to the end. Sad evasions, which life forces upon even the
noblest worshippers of truth!
After a minute she stooped and kissed Phoebe's golden hair.
'I was so glad to help Mr. Fenwick--he interested me so. If I had only
known of you--and the child--why, how happy we might all have been!'
She withdrew her hand, and walked away to the window, trying to calm
Phoebe rose and followed her.
'Do you know?'--she said, piteously--'can't you tell me?--will John
take me back?'
Eugenie paused just a moment; then said, steadily, 'He is coming here,
because you are his wife--because he is faithful to you--because he
wants you. Don't agitate him too much! He wants resting and healing.
And so do you!' She took Phoebe's hands again in hers. 'And how do you
think anybody is to deny you anything, when you bring such a gift as
Carrie and Miss Mason were entering the little garden. Eugenie's
smile, as she motioned towards the girl, seemed to reflect the May
sunshine and Carrie's young charm.
But after Madame de Pastourelles was gone, a cloud of nervous
dread fell upon the little cottage and its inmates. Phoebe wandered
restlessly about the garden, waiting--and listening--hour after hour.
The May evening drew towards sunset. Flame descended on the valley,
striking athwart the opening which leads to its furthest recess,
superbly guarded by the crags of Bowfell, and turning all the
mountain-side above the cottage, still dyed with the fern of
'yesteryear,' to scarlet. A fresh breeze blew through the sycamore
leaves, bringing with it the cool scents of rain-washed grass. All
was hushed--richly hued--expectant--like some pageant waiting for its
Alas--poor king! In the full glory of the evening light, a man
alighted from a wagonette at the foot of the cottage hill, and dragged
his weary limbs up the steep ground. He opened the gate, looking round
him slowly to right and left.
Then, in the porch, Fenwick saw his wife. He walked up to her, and
gripped her wrists. She fell back with a stifled cry; and they stood
there--speechless and motionless--looking into each other's eyes.
Phoebe first withdrew herself. In that first moment of contact,
Fenwick's changed aspect had pierced her to the heart. But the shock
itself brought self-control.
'Come in,' she said, mechanically; 'Miss Anna's gone out.'
He followed her in, glancing from side to side.
'She--she'll be here directly.'
Phoebe's voice stumbled over the words.
Fenwick understood that the child and Anna Mason were leaving them
to themselves, out of delicacy; and his exhaustion of mind and body
recoiled impatiently from the prospect of a 'scene,' with which he
felt himself wholly unable to cope. He had been sorely tempted to stay
at Windermere, and telegraph that he was too ill to come that day.
Such a course would at least have given him the night's respite. But a
medley of feelings had prevailed over the impulse; and here he was.
They entered the little parlour, and he looked round him in amazement,
muttering, 'Why, it looks just as it did--not a thing changed.'
Phoebe closed the door, and then turned to him, trembling.
'Won't you--won't you say you're glad to see me, John?'
He looked at her fixedly, then threw himself down beside the table,
and rested his head on his hands.
'It's no good to suppose we can undo these twelve years,' he said,
roughly; 'it's no good whatever to suppose that.'
'No,' said Phoebe--'I know.'
She too sat down on the other side of the table, deadly pale, not
knowing what to say or do.
Suddenly he raised his head and looked at her, with his searching
'My God!' he said, under his breath. 'We are changed, both of
She too studied the face before her--the grey hair, the red-rimmed
eyes, of which the lids fluttered perpetually, shrinking from the
light, the sombre mouth; and slowly a look of still more complete
dismay overspread her own; reflected, as it were, from that
half-savage discouragement and weariness which spoke from the drawn
features, the neglected dress, and slouching figure, and seemed
to make of the whole man one sore, wincing at a touch. Her heart
'Can't we begin again?' she said, in a low voice, while the tears rose
in her eyes. 'I'm sorry for what I did.'
'How does that help it?' he said, irritably. 'I'm a ruined man.
I can't paint any more--or, at any rate, the world doesn't care a
ha'p'orth _what_ I paint. I should be a bankrupt--but for Madame de
'John!' cried Phoebe, bending forward--'I've got a little money--I
saved it--and there are some shares a friend advised me to buy, that
are worth a lot more than I gave for them. I've got eight hundred
pounds--and it's all yours, John,--it's all yours.' She stretched out
her hands in a yearning anguish, and touched his.
'What friend?' he said, with a quick, suspicious movement, taking no
notice of her statement; 'and where have you been--all these years?'
He turned and looked at her sharply.
'I've been in Canada--on a farm--near Montreal.'
She held herself erect, speaking slowly and carefully, as though a
moment had arrived for which she had long prepared; through rebellion,
and through yielding; now in defiance, and now in fear: the moment
when she should tell John the story of her flight. Her manner,
indeed--for one who could have understood it--proved a curious thing;
that never, throughout their separation, had she ceased to believe
that she should see her husband again. There had been no finality in
her action. In her eyes the play had been always going on, the curtain
'You know I told you about Freddy--Freddy Tolson's--coming to see
me--that night? Well, it was the things he said about Canada made me
do it. Of course I didn't want to go where he was going. But he said
that one could get to Canada for a few pounds, and it took about
nine days. And it was a fine place, and any one could find work. He'd
thought of it, he said, but as he had friends in Australia, he was
going there. And so, when he'd left the cottage, I thought--if, when
I came up to town--I--I did find what I expected--I'd take Carrie--and
go to Canada.'
Fenwick rose, and, thrusting his hands into his pockets, began to walk
up and down excitedly.
'And of course--as you expected it--you found it,' he said, bitterly.
'Who could ever have _conceived_ that a woman could act in such a way!
Why, I had been kissing your photograph the minute before! Lord Findon
had been there, to tell me my pictures were in the Academy all right,
and he'd given me five hundred pounds for them--and the cheque'--he
stopped in front of her, rapping the table with his finger for
emphasis--'the cheque was actually in the drawer!--under your
hand--where I'd left it. It was too late to catch the North post for a
letter to you, so I went out to tell one or two people, and on the way
I bought some things for you at a shop--prettinesses that I'd never
been able to give you. Why, I thought of nothing but you.'
His voice had risen to a cry. He stooped, bending over the table, his
haggard face close to hers.
She recoiled, and burst into a wild sob:
'John, I--I couldn't know!'
'Well, go on,' he said, abruptly, raising himself--'go on. You found
that picture in my room--I'll tell you about that presently--and you
wrote me the letter. Well, then you went back to Euston, and you sent
Daisy away. After that?'
His stern, sharp tone, which was really the result of a nerve-tension
hardly to be borne, scared her. It was with painful difficulty that
she collected her forces enough to meet his gaze and to reply.
'I took Carrie to Liverpool. We had to wait three days there. Then we
got on a steamer for Quebec. The voyage was dreadful. Carrie was ill,
and I was so--so miserable! We stopped at Quebec a little. But I felt
so strange there, with all the people speaking French--so we went
on to Montreal. And the Government people there who look after
the emigrants found me a place. I got work in an hotel--a sort of
housekeeper. I looked after the linen, and the servants, and after a
bit I learnt how to keep the accounts. They paid me eight dollars
a week, and Carrie and I had a room at the top of the hotel. It was
awfully hard work. I was so dead tired at night, sometimes, I couldn't
undress. I would sit down on the side of my bed to rest my feet; and
then the next thing I'd know would be waking in the morning, just as
I was, in my clothes. But so long as I slept, it was all right. It was
lying awake--that killed me!'
The trembling of her lips checked her, and she began to play nervously
with the fringe of the tablecloth, trying to force back emotion. He
had again seated himself opposite to her, and was observing her with
a half-frowning attention, as of one in whom the brain action is
physically difficult. He led her on, however, with questions, seeing
how much she needed the help of them.
From Montreal, it appeared, she had gone to a fruit-farm in the
Hamilton district, Ontario, as housekeeper to a widower with a family
of children varying in age from five to sixteen. She had made the
acquaintance of this man--a decent, rough, good-tempered fellow,
Canadian-born--through the hotel. He had noticed her powers of
management, and her overwork; and had offered her equal pay, an easier
task, and country air, instead of the rush of Montreal.
'I accepted for Carrie's sake. It was an apple-farm, running down to
Lake Ontario. I had to look after the house and the children--and to
cook--and wash--and bake--and turn one's hand to anything. It wasn't
too hard--and Carrie went to school with the others--and used to run
about the farm. Mr. Crosson was very kind. His old mother was living
there--or I--wouldn't have gone'--she flushed deeply--'but she
was very infirm, and couldn't do anything. I took in two English
papers--and used to get along somehow. Once I was ill, with congestion
of the lungs, and once I went to Niagara, with some people who lived
near. And I can hardly remember anything else happening. It was all
just the same--day after day--I just seemed to be half-alive.'
'Ah! you felt that?' he said, eagerly--'you felt that? There's a
stuff they call curare. You can't move--you're paralysed--but you feel
horrible pain. That's what I used to feel like--for months and months.
And then sometimes--it was different--as if I didn't care twopence
about anything, except a little bit of pleasure--and should never vex
myself about anything again. One was dead, and it didn't matter--was
rather pleasant indeed.'
She was silent. Her seeking, pitiful eyes were on him perpetually,
trying to make him out, to acquaint herself with this new personality,
which spoke in these harsh staccato phrases--to reconcile it with the
exciteable, sanguine, self-confident man whom she had deserted in his
'Well,' he resumed, 'and what was your farmer like?' Then,
suddenly--lifting his eyes--'Did he make love to you?'
She coloured hotly, and threw back her head.
'And if he did, it was no one's fault!--neither his nor mine. He
wasn't a bad fellow!--and he wanted some one to look after his
'Naturally. Quite content also to look after mine!' said Fenwick,
with a laugh which startled her--resuming his agitated walk, a curious
expression of satisfaction, triumph even, on his dark face. 'So _you_
found yourself in a false position?'
He stopped to look at her, and his smile hurt her sorely. But she had
made up her mind to a long patience, and she struggled on.
'It was partly that made me come home--that, and other things.'
'What other things?'
'Things--I saw--in some of the papers about you,' she said, with
'What--that I was a flat failure?--a quarrelsome ass, and that kind of
thing? You began to pity me?'
'Oh, John, don't talk to me like that?' She held out her hands to
him in appealing misery. 'I was _sorry_, I tell you!--I saw how I'd
behaved to you. I thought if you hadn't been getting on, perhaps it
was my fault. It upset me altogether!'
But he didn't relent. He stood still--fiercely interrogative--his
hands in his pockets, on the other side of the table.
'And what else was there?'
Phoebe choked back her tears.
'There was a woman--who came to live near us--who had been a maid--'
'Please go on!'
'Maid to Madame de Pastourelles'--she said, hastily, stumbling over
the French name.
'She married a man she had been engaged to for years; he'd been making
a home for her out there. I liked her directly I saw her; and she was
too delicate for the life; she came in the fall, and the winter
tried her dreadfully. I used to go in to nurse her--she was very much
alone--and she told me all about herself--and about--'
Phoebe nodded, her eyes swimming again in tears.
'And you found out you'd been mistaken?'
She nodded again.
'You see--she talked about her to me a great deal. Of course I--I
never said anything. She'd been with her fifteen years--and she just
worshipped her. And she told me about her bad husband--how she'd
nursed him, and that--and how he died last year!'
A wild colour leapt into Fenwick's cheeks.
'And you began to think--there might be a false position--there
too--between her and me?'
His cruel, broken words stung her intolerably. She sprang up, looking
at him fiercely.
'And if I did, it wasn't all selfishness. Can't you understand, I
might have been afraid for her--and you--as well as for myself?'
He moved again to the window, and stood with head bent, twisting his
'And to-day you've seen her?' he said, still looking out.
'Yes--she was very, very kind,' said Phoebe, humbly.
He paused a moment, then broke out--
'And now you see--what you did!--what a horrible thing!--for the most
ridiculous reasons! But after you'd left me--in that way--you couldn't
expect me to give her up--her friendship--all I had. For nine or ten
years, if I prospered at all, I tell you it was her doing--because she
upheld me--because she inspired me--because her mere existence shamed
me out of doing--well, what I could never have resisted, but for her.
If I ever did good work, it was her doing--if I have been faithful to
you, in spite of everything, it was her doing too!'
He sank down upon the window-seat--his face working. And suddenly
Phoebe was at his knees.
'Oh, John--John--forgive me!--do, John!--try and forgive me!' She
caught his hands in hers, kissing them, bathing them with her tears.
'John, we _can_ begin again!--we're not so old. You'll have a long
rest--and I'll work for you night and day. We'll go abroad with some
of my money. Don't you know how you always said, if you could study
abroad a bit, what good it'd do you? We'll go, won't we? And you'll
paint as well as ever--you'll get everything back. Oh, John! don't
hate me!--don't hate me! I've loved you always--always--even when I
was so mad and cruel to you. Every night in Canada, I used to long for
it to be morning--and then in the morning I longed for it to be night.
Nothing was any good to me, or any pleasure--without you. But at
first, I was just in despair--I thought I'd lost you for ever--could
never, never come back. And then afterwards--when I wanted to come
back--when I knew I'd been wicked--I didn't know how to do it--how
to face it. I was frightened--frightened of what you'd say to me--how
She paused, her arms flung round him, her tear-stained face upraised.
In her despair, and utter sincerity, she was once more beautiful--with
a tragic beauty of character and expression, not lost for one moment
upon the man beside her.
He laid his right hand on her head amid the masses of her fair hair,
and held it there, forcing her head back a little, studying her in
a bitter passion--the upper lip drawn back a little over the teeth,
which held and tormented the lower.
'Twelve years!' he said, slowly, after a minute, his eyes plunging
into hers--'twelve years! What do you know of me now?--or I of you?
I should offend you twenty times a day. And--perhaps--it might be the
same with me.'
Phoebe released herself, and laid her head against his knee.
'John!--take me back--take me back!'
'Why did you torture me?' he said, hoarsely. 'You sent me Carrie six
weeks ago--and then swept her away again.'
She cried out. 'It was the merest accident!' And
He listened to her, but without seeming to understand--his own mind
working irrelevantly all the time. And presently he interrupted her.
'Besides--I'm unhinged--I'm not fit to have women dependent on me. I
can't answer for myself. Yesterday--if that picture had come at eight
o'clock instead of seven--it would have been too late!'
His voice altered strangely.
Phoebe fell back upon the floor, huddled together--staring at him.
'What do you mean?'
'I should have destroyed myself. That's what I mean. I had made up my
mind. It was just touch and go.'
Phoebe sat speechless. It seemed as though her eyes--so wide and
terrified--were fixed in their places, and could not release him. He
moved impatiently; the appeal, the horror of them, were more than he
'And much better for you if I had!--and as for Carrie!--Ah!--good
Heavens! there she is.'
He sprang up in agitation, looking through the open window, yet
withdrawing from it. Phoebe too rose, the colour rushing back into
her cheeks. This was to be her critical, her crucial moment. If she
recovered him, she was to owe it to her child.
Carrie and Miss Mason came along the path together. They had been in
a wood beside the Elterwater road; not knowing how to talk to each
other; wandering apart, and gathering flowers idly, to pass the time.
Carrie held a large bunch of bluebells in her hand. She wore a cotton
dress of greyish-blue, just such a dress as Phoebe might have worn in
her first youth. The skirt was short, and showed her tripping feet.
Under her shady hat with its pink rose, her eyes glanced timidly
towards the house, and then withdrew themselves again. Fenwick saw
that the eyes were in truth darker than Phoebe's, and the hair much
darker--no golden mist like her mother's, but nearer to his own--a
warm brown, curly and vigorous. Her face was round and rosy, but so
delicately cut and balanced, it affected him with a thrill of delight.
He perceived also that she was very small--smaller than he had
thought, in the theatre. But at the same time, her light proportions
had in them no hint of weakness or fragility. If she were a fairy, she
was no twilight spirit, but rather a cheerful dawn-fairy--one of those
happy household sprites that help the work of man.
He went and opened the door for them, trembling.
Carrie saw him there--paused--and then walked on quickly--ahead of
'Father!' she said, gravely, and looking at him, she held out her
He took it, and then, drawing her to him, he kissed her hurriedly.
Carrie's cheeks grew very red, and her eyes moist, for a moment. But
she had long since determined not to cry--because poor mummy would be
'I guess you'll be wanting your tea,' she said, shyly, looking from
him to her mother; 'I'll go and see to it.'
Miss Anna came up behind, concealing as best she could the impression
made upon her by the husband and wife as they stood in the porch,
under the full western light. Alack! here was no happy meeting!--and
it was no good pretending.
[Illustration: _Robin Ghyll Cottage_]
Fenwick greeted her with little or no demonstration of any sort,
though he and she, also, had never met since the year of Phoebe's
flight. His sunken eyes indeed regarded her with a look that seemed to
hold her at bay--a strange look full of bitterness. She understood it
to mean that he was not there to lend himself to any sham sentimental
business; and that physically he was ill, and could stand no strain,
whatever women might wish.
After a few questions about his journey, Miss Anna quietly begged him
to come in and rest. He hesitated a moment, then with his hands in his
pockets followed her to the parlour; while Phoebe, with Carrie's arm
round her, went falteringly upstairs.
Miss Anna made no scene and asked for no information. She and Carrie
bustled to and fro, preparing supper. Fenwick at his own request
remained alone in the parlour. But when supper-time came, it was
evident that he was too feeble to face an ordinary meal. He lay
back in Miss Anna's armchair with closed eyes, and took no notice
of Phoebe's timid summons. The women looked in upon him, alarmed and
whispering together. Then Miss Anna drew Phoebe away, and mixing some
milk and brandy sent Carrie in with it. 'He will go away to-morrow!'
she said, in Phoebe's ear, referring to a muttered saying of the
patient,--'we shall see!'
As Carrie entered the parlour with the milk and brandy, Fenwick looked
'Where am I to sleep?' he asked her, abruptly, his eyes lingering on
'In my room,' she said, softly; 'I'm going in to Miss Anna. I've
lengthened the bed!'
A faint smile flickered over his face.
'How did you do that?'
'I nailed on a packing-case. Isn't it queer?--Miss Anna hadn't any
tools. I had to borrow some at the farm--and they were the poorest
scratch lot you ever saw. Why, everybody in Canada has tools.'
He held her with a shaking hand, still looking intently at her bright
'Did you like Canada?'
'Why, it's _lovely_!'
Then her lips parted eagerly. She would have liked to go on talking,
to make acquaintance. But she refrained. This man--this strange new
father--was 'sick'--and must be kept quiet.
'Will you help me up to bed?' he murmured--as she was just going away.
She obeyed, and he leant on her shoulder as they mounted the steep
cottage stair. Her physical strength astonished him--the amount of
support that this child of seventeen was able to give him.
She led him into his room, where she had already brought his bag, and
unpacked his things.
'Is it all right, father? Do you want anything else? Shall I send
'No, no,' he said, hastily--'I'm all right. Tell them I'm all right; I
only want to go to sleep.'
She turned at the door, and looked at him wistfully.
'I did make that mattress over--part of it. But it's a real bad one.'
He nodded, and she went.
'A dream!' he said to himself--'_a dream_!'
He was thinking of the child as she stood bathed in the mingled glory
of sunset and moonlight flowing in upon her from the open window; for
the long day of northern summer was still lingering in the valley.
'Ah! if I could only _paint_!--oh, God, if I could _paint_!' he
groaned aloud, rubbing his hands together in a fever of impotence and
Then he tumbled into bed, and lay there weak and passive, feeling the
strangeness of the remembered room, of the open casement window, of
the sycamore outside, and the mountain forms beyond it; of this pearly
or golden light in which everything was steeped.
In the silence he heard the voice of the beck, as it hurried down the
ghyll. Twelve years since he had heard it last; and the eternal water
'at its priestlike task' still murmured with the rocks, still drank
the rain, and fed the river. No rebellion there, no failure; no
He tried to think of Phoebe, to remember what she had said to him. He
wondered if he had been merely brutal to her. But his heart seemed a
dry husk within him. It was, as it had been. He could neither think
Next day he was so ill that a doctor was sent for. He prescribed long
rest, said all excitement must be avoided, all work put away.
Four or five dreary weeks followed. Fenwick stayed in bed most of the
day, struggled down to the garden in the afternoon, was nursed by the
three women, and scarcely said a word from morning till night that
was not connected with some bodily want or discomfort. He showed no
repugnance to his wife, would let her wait upon him, and sit beside
him in the garden. But he made no spontaneous movement towards her
whatever; and the only person who evidently cheered him was Carrie.
He watched the child incessantly--in her housework, her sewing, her
gardening, her coaxing of her pale mother, her fun with Miss Anna, who
was by now her slave. There was something in the slight foreignness
of her ways and accent, in her colonial resource and independence that
delighted and amused him like a pleasant piece of acting. She had the
cottage under her thumb. By now she had cleaned all the furniture,
'coloured' most of the walls, and mended all the linen, which had been
in a sad condition--Miss Anna's powers being rather intellectual
than practical. And through it all she kept a natural daintiness and
refinement, was never clumsy, or loud, or untidy. She came and went
so lightly--and always bringing with her the impression of something
hidden and fragrant, a happiness within, that gave a dancing grace and
perfume to all her life.
To her father she chattered mostly of Canada, and he would sit in the
shade of the cottage, listening to her while she described their life;
the big, rambling farm, the children she had been brought up with,
the great lake with its ice and its storms, the apple-orchards, the
sleighing in winter, the beauty of the fall, the splendour of the
summers, the boom that was beginning 'up west.' Cunningly, in fact,
she set the stage for an actor to come; but his 'cue' was not yet.
It was only from her, indeed, that he would hear of these things.
If Phoebe ventured on them his manner stiffened at once. Miss Anna's
strong impression was, still, that with his wife he was always on his
guard against demands he felt himself physically unable to meet. Yet
it seemed to her, as time went on, that he was more and more aware of
Phoebe, more sensitive to her presence, her voice.
She too watched Phoebe, and with a growing, involuntary respect.
This changed woman had endured 'hardness,' had at last followed her
conscience; and, rebuffed and unforgiven as she seemed to be, she was
clothed none the less in a new dignity, modest and sad, but real. She
might be hopeless of recovering her husband; but all the same, the
law which links that strange thing, spiritual peace, with certain
surrenders, had already begun to work, unknown even to herself.
As she moved about the cottage and garden, indeed, new contacts, new
relations, slowly established themselves, unseen and unexpressed,
between her and the man who scarcely noticed her in words, from
morning till night. 'I should offend you twenty times a day,' he had
said to her--'and perhaps it might be the same with me!' But they
did not offend each other!--that was the merciful new fact, asserting
itself through this silent, suspended time. She was still beautiful.
The mountain air restored her clear, pure colour; and what time had
robbed her of in bloom it had given her back in _character_--the
artist's supreme demand. Self-control, bitterly learnt--fresh
capacities, moral or practical--these expressed themselves in a
thousand trifles. Not only in her tall slenderness and fairness was
she presently a challenge to Fenwick's sharpening sense; she began,
in a wholly new degree, to interest his intelligence. Her own had
blossomed; and in spite of grief, she had brought back with her some
of the ways of a young and tiptoe world. Soon he was, in secret,
hungry for her history--the history he had so far refused to hear.
Who was this man who had made love to her?--how far had it gone?--he
tossed at nights thinking of it. There came a time when he would
gladly have exchanged Carrie's gossip for hers; and through her soft
silence, as she sat beside him, he would hear suddenly, in memory,
the echoes of her girlish voice, and make a quick movement towards
her--only to check himself in shyness or pride.
Meanwhile he could not know that he too had grown in her eyes, as she
in his. In spite of all his errors and follies, he had not wrestled
with his art, he had not lived among his intellectual peers, he had
not known Eugenie de Pastourelles through twelve years, for nothing.
Embittered he was, but also refined. The nature had grown harsher and
more rugged--but also larger, more complex, more significant,
better worth the patiences of love. As for his failure, the more
she understood it, the more it evoked in her an angry advocacy, a
passionate championship, a protesting faith--which she had much ado to
And all this time letters came occasionally from Madame de
Pastourelles--indifferently to her or to him--full of London artistic
gossip, the season being now in full swim, of sly stimulus and cheer.
As they handed them to each other, without talking of them, it was as
though the shuttle of fate flew from life to life--these in Langdale,
and that in London--weaving the three into a new pattern which day by
day replaced and hid away the old.
The days lengthened towards midsummer. After a spell of rain, June
descended in blossom and sunshine on the Westmoreland vales. The
hawthorns were out, and the wild cherries. The bluebells were
fading in the woods, but in the cottage gardens the lilacs were all
fragrance, and the crown-imperials showed their heads of yellow and
red. Each valley and hillside was a medley of soft and shimmering
colour, save in the higher, austerer dales, where, as in Langdale,
the woods scarcely climb, and the bare pastures have only a livelier
emerald to show, or the crags a warmer purple, as their testimony to
Fenwick was unmistakeably better. The signs of it were visible in many
directions. His passive, silent ways, so alien to his natural self and
temperament, were at last breaking down.
One evening, Carrie, who had been to Elterwater, brought back some
afternoon letters. They included a letter from Canada, which Carrie
read over her mother's shoulder, laughing and wondering. Phoebe was
sitting on a bench in the garden, an old yew-tree just above her on
the slope. The heads of both mother and child were thrown out sharply
on the darkness of the yew background--Phoebe's profile, upturned, and
the abundant coils of her hair, were linked in harmonious line with
the bending figure and beautiful head of the girl.
Suddenly Fenwick put down the newspaper which Carrie had brought him.
He rose, muttered something, and went into the house. They could hear
him rummaging in his room, where Phoebe had lately unpacked some boxes
forwarded from London. He had never so far touched brush or crayon
during his stay at the cottage.
Presently he returned with a canvas and palette.
'Don't go!' he said, peremptorily, to Carrie, raising his hand. 'Stand
as you were before.'
'You don't want me?' asked Phoebe, startled, her pale cheeks suddenly
'Yes, yes, I do!' he said, impatiently. 'For God's sake, don't move,
either of you!'
He went back for an easel, then sat down and began to paint.
They held themselves as still as mice. Carrie could see her mother's
hands trembling on her lap.
Suddenly Fenwick said, in emotion:
'I don't know how it is--but I _see_ much better than I did.'
Miss Anna looked up from the low wall on which she was sitting.
'The doctor said you would, John, when you got strong,' she put in,
quickly. 'He said you'd been suffering from your eyes a long time
without knowing it. It was nerves like the rest.'
Fenwick said nothing. He went on painting, painting fast and
freely--for nearly an hour. All the time Phoebe could hardly breathe.
It was as though she felt the doors opening upon a new room in the
House of Life.
[Illustration: _Fenwick stood looking at the canvas_]
Then the artist threw his canvas on the grass, and stood looking at
'By Jove!' he said, presently. 'By Jove!--that'll do.'
Phoebe said nothing. Carrie came up to him and put her hand in his
'Father, that's enough. Don't do any more.'
'All right. Take it away--and all these things.'
She lifted the sketch, the palette and brushes, and carried them into
Then Fenwick looked up irresolutely. His wife was still sitting on the
bench. She had her sewing in her hands.
'Your hair's as pretty as ever, Phoebe,' he said, in a queer voice.
Phoebe raised her deep lids slowly, and her eyes spoke for her. She
would offer herself no more--implore no more--but he knew in that
moment that she loved him more maturely, more richly, than she had
ever loved him in the old days. A shock, that was also a thrill, ran
through him. They remained thus for some seconds gazing at each other.
Then, as Carrie returned, Phoebe went into the house.
Carrie studied her father for a little, and then came to sit down on
the grass beside him. Miss Anna had gone for a walk along the fell.
'Are you feeling better, father?'
'Yes--a good deal.'
'Well, then--now--I can tell you _my_ news.'
And she deliberately drew out a photograph from her pocket, and held
it up to him.
'Well'--said Fenwick, mystified. 'Who's the young man?'
'He's _my_ young man'--was Carrie's entirely self-possessed reply.
'I'm going to marry him.'
'_What_?' cried Fenwick. 'Show him to me.'
Carrie yielded up her treasure rather timidly.
Fenwick looked at the picture, then put it down angrily.
'What nonsense are you talking, Carrie! Why, you're only a baby. You
oughtn't to be thinking of any such things.'
Carrie shook her head resolutely. 'I'm not a baby. I've been in love
with him more than a year.'
'Upon my word!' said Fenwick; 'who allowed you to be in love with him?
And has it never occurred to you--lately--that you'd have to ask my
Carrie hesitated. 'In Canada I wouldn't have to,' she said, at last,
'Oh! they've abolished the Fifth Commandment there, have they?'
'No, no. But the girls choose for themselves!' said Carrie, tossing
back her brown curls with the slightest touch of defiance.
Fenwick observed her, his brow clouding.
'And you suppose that I'm going to say "Yes" at once to this mad
proposal?--that I'm going to give you up altogether, just as I've got
you back? I warn you at once, I shall not consent to any such thing!'
There was silence. Fenwick sat staring at her, his lips moving,
angry sentences of authority and reproach forming themselves in his
mind--but without coming to speech. It was intolerable, inhuman--that
at this very moment, when he wanted her most, this threat of fresh
loss should be sprung upon him. She was _his_--his property. He would
not give her up to any Canadian fellow, and he altogether disapproved
of such young love-affairs.
'Father,' said Carrie, after a moment, 'when George asked me--we
'About me? Well, now you do know,' said Fenwick, roughly. 'I'm
here--and I have my rights.'
He put out his hand and seized her arm, looking at her, devouring her,
in a kind of angry passion.
Carrie grew a little pale, and, coming nearer, she laid her head
against his knee.
'Father, you don't understand what we propose.'
'Well, out with it, then!'
'We wouldn't think about being married for three years. Why, of course
we wouldn't! I don't want to be all settled that soon. And, besides,
we're going abroad--you and mummy and I. I'm going to take you!' She
sat up, tossing her pretty head, her eyes as bright as stars.
'And be thinking all the time of the Canadian chap?--bored with
everything!' growled Fenwick.
Carrie surveyed him. A film of tears sparkled.
'I'm never bored. Father!'--she held herself erect, throwing all her
soul into every word--'George is--_awfully--nice!_'
Ah! the 'life-force'! There it was before him, embodied in this light,
ardent creature, on whose brown head and white dress the June sun
streamed through the sycamore-leaves. With a groan--suddenly--Fenwick
'What's his horrid name?--who is he?--quick!'
Carrie gave a little crow--and began to talk, sitting there on the
grass, with her hands round her knees. The interloper, it appeared,
had every virtue and every prospect. What was to be done? Presently
Carrie crept up to him again.
'Father!--he wants to come to Europe. When you've found a plan--if we
let him come and hitch up alongside of us somewhere--why, he
wouldn't be any trouble!--_I'd_ see to that! And you don't know
whether--whether a son--mightn't suit you! Why!--you've never tried!'
He made an effort, and held her at arm's length.
'I tell you, I can say nothing about it--nothing--till George has
written to _me_!'
'But he has--this mail!' And in triumph she hastily dragged a letter
out of the little bag at her waist, and gave it him. 'It came this
afternoon, only I didn't know if you might have it.'
He laughed excitedly, and took it.
An hour later Fenwick rose. The day had grown cool. A fresh breeze was
blowing from the north down the fell-side. He put his arm round Carrie
as she stood beside him, kissed her, and in a gruff, unintelligible
voice, murmured something that brought the tears again to her eyes.
Then he announced that he was going for a short walk. Neither Phoebe
nor Miss Anna were to be seen. Carrie protested on the score of his
'Nonsense! The doctor said I might do what I felt I could do.'
'Then you must say good-bye to me. For Miss Anna and I are going
Fenwick looked scared, but was soon reminded that Miss Anna was
to drive the child that evening to Bowness, where Carrie was to be
introduced to some old friends of Miss Anna's and stay with them a
couple of days. He evidently did not like the prospect, but he made
no audible protest against it, as he would perhaps have done a week
Carrie watched him go--followed his figure with her eyes along the
'And I'm glad _we're_ off!'--she said to herself, her small feet
dancing--'we've been cumbering this ground, Miss Anna and I--a deal
He was soon nearly a mile from home; rejoicing strangely in his
recovered power of movement, and in the freshness of the evening air.
He found himself on a hill above Elterwater, looking back on the
lake, and on a wide range of hills beyond, clothed, in all their lower
slopes, with the full leaf of June. Wood rose above wood, in every
gradation of tone and loveliness, creeping upwards through blue haze,
till they suddenly lost hold on the bare peaks, which rose, augustly
clear, into the upper sky. The lake with its deep or glowing
reflexions--its smiling shore--the smoke of its few houses--lay below
him; and between him and it, glistening sharply, in a sun-steeped
magic, upon the blue and purple background of the hills and woods--a
wild cherry, in its full mantle of bridal white.
What tranquillity!--what colour!--what infinite variety of beauty!
His heart swelled within him. Life of the body--and life of the
soul--seemed to be flowing back upon him, lifting him on its wave,
steeping him in its freshening strength. 'My God!' he thought,
remembering the sketch he had just made, and the mastery with which he
had worked--'if I am able to paint again!--if I am!'
An ecstasy of hope arose in him. What if really there had been
something wrong with his eyes!--something that rest might set right?
What if he had wanted rest for years?--and had gone on defying nature
and common sense?
And in a moment, as he sat there, looking out into the evening, the
old whirl of images invaded him--the old tumult of ideas--clamouring
for shape and form--flitting, phantom-like, along the woods and over
the bosom of the lake. He let himself be carried along, urging his
brain, his fancy, filled with indescribable happiness. It was years
since the experience had last befallen him! Did it mean the return
of youth?--conception?--creative power? What matter!--years, or
hardship?--if the mind could still imagine, the hand still shape?
He thought of his own series of the 'Months'--which he had planned
among these hills, and had carried out perfunctorily and vulgarly,
in the city, far from the freshness and infinity of Nature. All
the faults of his designs appeared to him, and the poverty of their
execution. But he was only exultant, not depressed. Now that he could
judge himself, now that his brain had begun to react once more, with
this vigour, this wealth of idea--surely all would be well.
Then for the first time he thought of the money which Phoebe had
saved. Abroad! Italy?--or France? To go as a wanderer and a student,
on pilgrimage to the sources of beauty and power. What was old, or
played out? Not Beauty!--not the mind within him--not his craftsman's
sense. He threw himself on the grass, face downwards, praying as he
had been wont to do in his youth, but in a far more mystical, more
inward way; not to a far-off God, invited to come down and change or
tamper with external circumstance; but to something within himself,
identified with himself, the power of beauty in him, the resurgent
forces of hope--and love.
At last, after a long time, as the summer twilight was waning,
there struck through his dream the thought of Phoebe--alone in the
cottage--waiting for him. He sprang up, and began to hurry down the
Phoebe was quite alone. The little servant who only came for the day
had gone back to the farm where she slept, and Carrie and Miss Anna
had long since departed on their visit.
Carrie had told her mother that 'father' had gone for a walk. And
strangely enough, though he was away two hours, and she knew him
still far from his usual strength, Phoebe was not anxious. But she
was mortally tired--as though of a sudden a long tension had been
loosened, a long effort relaxed.
So she had gone upstairs to bed. But she had not begun to undress, and
she sat in a low chair near the window, with the casements wide open,
and the twin-peaks visible through them under a starry sky. Her head
had fallen back against the chair; her hands were folded on her lap.
Then she heard Fenwick come in and his step coming up the stairs.
It paused outside her door, and her heart beat so that she could
hardly bear it.
'May I come in?'
It seemed to her that he did not wait for her low reply. He came in,
and shut the door. There was a bright colour in his face, and his
breath came fast, as he stood beside her, with his hands on his sides.
'Are you sure you like my coming?' he said, brusquely.
She did not answer in words, but she put out her hand, and drew him
He knelt down by her, and she flung an arm round his neck, and laid
her fair head on his shoulder with a long sigh.
'You are very tired?'
'No. I knew you would come.'
A silence. Then he said, waveringly, stooping over her:
'Phoebe--I was very hard to you. But there was a black pall on me--and
now it's lifting. Will you forgive me?--my dear--my dear!'
She clung to him with a great cry. And once more the torrent of love
and repentance was unsealed, which had been arrested through all
these weeks. In broken words--in mutual confession--each helping, each
excusing the other--the blessed healing time passed on its way; till
suddenly, as her hand dropped again upon her knee, he noticed, as he
had often bitterly noticed before, the sham wedding-ring on the third
She saw his eyes upon it, and flushed.
'I had to, John,' she pleaded. 'I had to.'
He said nothing, but he thrust his hand into the breast-pocket of his
coat, and brought out the same large pocket-book which still held her
last letter to him. He took out the letter, and offered it to her.
'Don't read it,' he said, peremptorily. 'Tear it up.'
She recognised it, with a sob, and, trembling, did as he bade her. He
gathered up the small fragments of it, took them to the grate, and lit
a match under them. Then he returned to her--still holding the open
'Give me your hand.'
She held it out to him, bewildered. He slowly drew off the ring, put
it aside; then from the inmost fold of the pocket-book he took another
ring, slipt it on her finger, and kissed the hand. After which he
knelt down again beside her, and they clung to each other--close and
'I return it'--he murmured--'after twelve years! God bless you for
Carrie. God bless you for coming back to me. We'll go to Italy. You
shall do that for me. But I'll repay you--if I live. Now, are you
happy? Why, we're young yet!'
And so they kissed; knowing well that the years are irreparable, and
yet defying them; conscious, as first youth is never conscious, of
the black forces which surround our being, and yet full of passionate
hope; aware of death, as youth is never aware of it, and yet
determined to shape something out of life; sad and yet rejoicing,
'cast down, but not destroyed.'
Of Eugenie, still a few words remain to say. About a year after
Fenwick's return she lost her father. A little later Elsie Welby died.
To the end of her life she had never willingly accepted Eugenie's
service, and the memory of this, alack, is for Eugenie among the pains
that endure. What influence it may have had upon her later course can
hardly be discussed here. She continued to live in Westminster, and
to be the friend of many. One friend was tacitly accepted by all
who loved her as possessing a special place and special privileges.
Encouraged and inspired by her, Arthur Welby outlived the cold and
academic manner of his later youth, and in the joy of richer powers,
and the rewards of an unstained and pure affection, he recovered much
that life seemed once to have denied him. Eugenie never married him.
In friendship, in ideas, in books, she found the pleasures of her
way. Part of her life she spent--with yearning and humility--among
the poor. But with them she never accomplished much. She was timid in
their presence, and often unwise; neither side understood the other.
Her real sphere lay in what a great Oxford preacher once enforced
at St. Mary's, as--'our duty to our equals'--the hardest of all. Her
influence, her mission, were with her own class; with the young girls
just 'out,' who instinctively loved and clung to her; with the tired
or troubled women of the world, who felt her presence as the passage
of something pure and kindling which evoked their better selves; and
with those men, in whom the intellectual life wages its difficult
war with temperament and circumstance, for whom beauty and truth are
realities, and yet--great also is Diana of the Ephesians! Thus in her
soft, glancing, woman's way, she stood with 'the helpers and friends
of mankind.' But she never knew it. In her own opinion, few persons
were so unprofitable as she; and but for her mystical belief, the
years would have brought her melancholy. They left her smile, however,
undimmed. For the mystic carries within a little flame of joy, very
hard to quench. The wind of Death itself does but stir and strengthen
[Illustration: _Robin Ghyll Cottage_]
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