Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 12 out of 16
'He is going to work with them now,' she thought bitterly; 'soon
he will be one of them--perhaps a Unitarian minister himself.'
And for the life of her, as he told his tale, she could find nothing
but embarrassed monosyllables, and still more embarrassed silences,
wherewith to answer him. Till at last he too fell silent, feeling
once more the sting of a now habitual discomfort.
Presently, however, Catherine came to sit down beside him. She
laid her head against his knee, saying nothing; but gathering his
hand closely in both her own.
Poor woman's heart! One moment in rebellion, the next a suppliant.
He bent down quickly and kissed her.
'Would you like,' he said presently, after both had sat silent
awhile in the firelight, 'would you care to go to Madame de
'By all means' said Catherine, with a sort of eagerness. It _was_
Friday she asked us for, wasn't it? We will be quick over dinner,
and I will go and dress.'
In that last ten minutes which Robert had spent with the Squire in
his bedroom, on the Monday afternoon, when they were to have walked,
Mr. Wendover had dryly recommended Elsmere to cultivate Madame de
Netteville. He sat propped up in his chair, white, gaunt, and
cynical, and this remark of his was almost the only reference he
would allow to the Elsmere move.
'You had better go there,' he said huskily, 'it will do you good.
She gets the first-rate people and she makes them talk, which Lady
Charlotte can't. Too many fools at Lady Charlotte's; she waters
the wine too much.'
And he had persisted with the subject--using it as Elsmere thought,
as a means of warding off other conversation. He would not ask
Elsmere's plans, and he would not allow a word about himself.
There had been a heart attack, old Meyrick thought, coupled with
signs of nervous strain and excitement. It was the last ailment
which evidently troubled the doctor most. But behind the physical
breakdown, there was to Robert's sense something else, a spiritual
something, infinitely forlorn and piteous, which revealed itself
wholly against the elder man's will, and filled the younger with
a dumb helpless rush of sympathy. Since his departure Robert had
made the keeping up of his correspondence with the Squire a binding
obligation, and he was to-night chiefly anxious to go to Madame de
Netteville's that he might write an account of it to Murewell.
Still the Squire's talk, and his own glimpse of her at Murewell,
had made him curious to see more of the woman herself. The Squire's
ways of describing her were always half approving, half sarcastic.
Robert sometimes imagined that he himself had been at one time
more under her spell than he cared to confess. If so, it must have
been when she was still in Paris, the young English widow of a man
of old French family, rich, fascinating, distinguished, and the
centre of a small _salon_, admission to which was one of the social
blue ribbons of Paris.
Since the war of 1870 Madame de Netteville had fixed her headquarters
in London, and it was to her house in Hans Place that the Squire
wrote to her about the Elsmeres. She owed Roger Wendover debts of
various kinds, and she had an encouraging memory of the young
clergyman on the terrace at Murewell. So she promptly left her
cards, together with the intimation that she was at home always on
'I have never seen the wife,' she meditated, as her delicate jewelled
hand drew up the window of the brougham in front of Elsmere's
lodgings. 'But if she is the ordinary country clergyman's spouse,
the Squire of course will have given the young man a hint.'
But whether from oblivion, or from some instinct of grim humor
toward Catherine, whom he had always vaguely disliked, the Squire
said not one word about his wife to Robert, in the course of their
talk of Madame de Netteville.
Catherine took pains with her dress, sorely wishing to do Robert
credit. She put on one of the gowns she had taken to Murewell when
she married. It was black, simply made, and had been a favorite
with both of them in the old surroundings.
So they drove off to Madame de Netteville's. Catherine's heart was
beating faster than usual as she mounted the twisting stairs of the
luxurious little house. All these new social experiences were a
trial to her. But she had the vaguest, most unsuspicious ideas of
what she was to see in this particular house.
A long low room was thrown open to them. Unlike most English rooms,
it was barely though richly furnished. A Persian carpet of
self-colored grayish blue, threw the gilt French chairs and the
various figures sitting upon them into delicate relief. The walls
were painted white, and had a few French mirrors and girandoles
upon them, half a dozen fine French portraits, too, here and there,
let into the wall in oval frames. The subdued light came from the
white sides of the room, and seemed to be there solely for social
purposes. You could hardly have read or written in the room, but
you could see a beautiful woman in a beautiful dress there, and you
could talk there, either _tete-a-tete_ or to the assembled company,
to perfection, so cunningly was it all devised.
When the Elsmeres entered, there were about a dozen people present--ten
gentleman and two ladies. One of the ladies, Madame de Netteville,
was lying back in the corner of a velvet divan placed against the
wall, a screen between her and a splendid fire that threw its blaze
out into the room. The other, a slim woman with closely curled
fair hair, and a neck abnormally long and white, sat near her, and
the circle of men were talking indiscriminately to both.
As the footman announced Mr. and Mrs. Elsmere, there was a general
stir of surprise. The men looked round; Madame de Netteville half
rose with a puzzled look. It was more than a month since she had
dropped her invitation. Then a flash, not altogether of pleasure,
passed over her face, and she said a few hasty words to the woman
near her, advancing the moment afterward to give her hand to
'This is very kind of you, Mrs. Elsmere, to remember me so soon.
I had imagined you were hardly settled enough yet to give me the
pleasure of seeing you.'
But the eyes fixed on Catherine, eyes which took in everything,
were not cordial for all their smile.
Catherine, looking up at her, was overpowered by her excessive
manner, and by the woman's look of conscious sarcastic strength,
struggling through all the outer softness of beauty and exquisite
'Mr. Elsmere, you will find this room almost as hot, I am afraid,
as that afternoon on which we met last. Let me introduce you to
Count Wielandt--Mr. Elsmere. Mrs. Elsmere, will you come over here,
beside Lady Aubrey Willert,'
Robert found himself bowing to a young diplomatist, who seemed to
him to look at him very much as he himself might have scrutinized
an inhabitant of New Guinea. Lady Aubrey made an imperceptible
movement of the head as Catherine was presented to her, and Madame
de Netteville, smiling and biting her lip a little, fell back into
There was a faint odor of smoke in the room. As Catherine sat down,
a young exquisite a few yards from her threw the end of a cigarette
into the fire with a little sharp decided gesture. Lady Aubrey
also pushed away a cigarette case which lay beside her hand.
Everybody there had the air more or less of an _habitue_ of the
house; and when the conversation began again, the Elsmeres found
it very hard, in spite of certain perfunctory efforts on the part
of Madame de Netteville, to take any share in it.
'Well, I believe the story about Desforets is true,' said the
fair-haired young Apollo, who had thrown away his cigarette, lolling
back in his chair.
Catherine started, the little scene with Rose and Langham in the
English rectory garden flashing incongruously back upon her.
'If you got it from _The Ferret_, my dear Evershed,' said the ex-Tory
minister, Lord Rupert, 'you may put it down as a safe lie. As for
me, I believe she has a much shrewder eye to the main chance.'
'What do you mean?' said the other, raising astonished eyebrows.
'Well, it doesn't _pay_, you know, to write yourself down a fiend--not
'What--you think it will affect her audiences? Well, that is a
good joke!' and the young man laughed immoderately joined by several
of the other guests.
'I don't imagine it will make any difference to you, my good friend,'
returned Lord Rupert imperturbably; 'but the British public haven't
got your nerve. They may take it awkwardly--I don't say they
will--when a woman who has turned her own young sister out of doors
at night, in St. Petersburg, so that ultimately as a consequence
the girl dies--comes to ask them to clap her touching impersonations
of injured virtue.'
'What has one to do with an actress' private life, my dear Lord
Rupert?' asked Madame de Netteville, her voice slipping with a
smooth clearness into the conversation, her eyes darting light from
under straight black brows.
'What indeed!' said the young man who had begun the conversation,
with a disagreeable enigmatical smile, stretching his hand for
another cigarette, and drawing it back out with a look under his
drooped eyelids--a look of cold impertinent scrutiny--at Catherine
'Ah! well--I don't want to be obtrusively moral--Heaven Forbid!
But there is such a thing as destroying the illusion to such an
extent that you injure your pocket. Desforets is doing it--doing
it actually in Paris too.'
There was a ripple of laughter.
'Paris and illusions--_O mon Dieu!_' groaned young, Evershed, when
he had done laughing, laying meditative hands on his knees and
gazing into the fire.
'I tell you I have seen it,' said Lord Rupert, waxing combative,
and slapping the leg he was nursing with emphasis. 'The last time
I went to see Desforets in Paris the theatre was crammed, and the
house--theatrically speaking--_ice_. They received her in dead,
silence--they gave her not one single recall--and they only gave
her a clap, that I can remember, at those two or three points in
the play where clap they positively must or burst. They go to see
her--but they loathe her--and they let her know it.'
'Bah!' said his opponent, 'it is only because they are tired of
her. Her vagaries don't amuse them any longer--they know them by
heart. And--by George! she has some pretty rivals too, now!' he
added reflectively,--'not to speak of the Bernhardt.'
'Well, the Parisians _can_ be shocked,' said Count Wielandt in
excellent English, bending forward so as to get a good view of his
hostess. 'They are just now especially shocked by the condition
of English morals!'
The twinkle in his eye was irresistible. The men, understanding
his reference to the avidity with which certain English aristocratic
scandals had been lately seized upon by the French papers, laughed
out--so did Lady Aubrey. Madame de Netteville contented herself
with a smile.
'They profess to be shocked, too, by Renan's last book,' said the
editor from the other side of the room.
'Dear me!' said Lady Aubrey, with meditative scorn, fanning herself
lightly the while, her thin but extraordinarily graceful head and
neck thrown out against the golden brocade of the cushion behind
'Oh! what so many of them feel in Renan's case, of course' said
Madame de Netteville, 'is that every book he writes now gives a
fresh opening to the enemy to blaspheme. Your eminent freethinker
can't afford just yet, in the present state of the world, to make
himself socially ridiculous. The cause suffers.'
'Just my feeling,' said young Evershed calmly. 'Though I mayn't
care a rap about him personally, I prefer that a man on my own front
bench shouldn't make a public ass of himself if he can help it--not
for his sake, of course, but for mine!'
Robert looked at Catherine. She sat upright by the side of Lady
Aubrey; her face, of which the beauty tonight seemed lost in rigidity,
pale and stiff. With a contraction of heart he plunged himself
into the conversation. On his road home that evening he had found
an important foreign telegram posted up at the small literary club
to which he had belonged since Oxford days. He made a remark about
it now to Count Wielandt; and the diplomatist, turning rather
unwillingly to face his questioner, recognized that the remark was
a shrewd one.
Presently the young man's frank intelligence had told. On his way
to and from the Holy Land three years before, Robert had seen
something of the East, and it so happened that he remembered the
name of Count Wielandt as one of the foreign secretaries of legation
present at an official party given by the English Ambassador at
Constantinople, which he and his mother had attended on their return
journey, in virtue of a family connection with the Ambassador. All
that he could glean from memory he made quick use of now, urged at
first by the remorseful wish to make this new world into which he
had brought Catherine less difficult than he knew it must have been
during the last quarter of an hour.
But after a while he found himself leading the talk of a section
of the room, and getting excitement and pleasure out of the talk
itself. Ever since that Eastern journey he had kept an eye on the
subjects which had interested him then, reading in his rapid voracious
way all that came across him at Murewell, especially in the Squire's
foreign newspapers and reviews, and storing it when read in a
Catherine, after the failure of some conversational attempts between
her and Madame de Netteville, fell to watching her husband with a
start of strangeness and surprise. She had scarcely seen him at
Oxford among his equals; and she had very rarely been present at
his talks with the Squire. In some ways, and owing to the instinctive
reserves set up between them for so long, her intellectual knowledge
of him was very imperfect. His ease, his resource among these men
of the world, for whom--independent of all else--she felt a
country-woman's dislike, filled her with a kind of bewilderment.
'Are you new to London?' Lady Aubrey asked her presently, in that
tone of absolute detachment from the person addressed which certain
women manage to perfection. She, too, had been watching the husband,
and the sight had impressed her with a momentary curiosity to know
what the stiff, handsome, dowdily-dressed wife was made of.
'We have been two months here,' said Catherine, her large gray eyes
taking in her companion's very bare shoulders, the costly fantastic
dress, and the diamonds flashing against the white skin.
'In what part?'
'In Bedford Square.'
Lady Aubrey was silent. She had no ideas on the subject of Bedford
Square at command.
'We are very central,' said Catherine, feeling desperately that she
was doing Robert no credit at all, and anxious to talk if only
something could be found to talk about.
'Oh, yes, you are near the theatres,' said the other indifferently.
This was hardly an aspect of the matter which had yet occurred to
Catherine. A flash of bitterness ran through her. Had they left
their Murewell life to be near the theatres, and kept at arm's
length by supercilious great ladies?
'We are very far from the Park,' she answered with an effort. 'I
wish we weren't for my little girl's sake.'
'Oh, you have a little girl! How old?'
'Too young to be a nuisance yet. Mine are just old enough to be
in everybody's way. Children are out of place in London. I always
want to leave mine in the country, but my husband objects,' said
Lady Aubrey coolly. There was a certain piquancy in saying frank
things to this stiff, Madonna-faced woman.
Madame de Netteville, meanwhile, was keeping up a conversation in
an undertone with young Evershed, who had come to sit on a stool
beside her, and was gazing up at her with eyes of which the expression
was perfectly understood by several persons present. The handsome,
dissipated, ill-conditioned youth had been her slave and shadow for
the last two years. His devotion now no longer mused her, and she
was endeavoring to, get rid of it and of him. But the process was
a difficult one, and took both time and _finesse_.
She kept her eye, notwithstanding, on the newcomers where the
Squire's introduction had brought to her that night. When the
Elsmeres rose to go, she said good-by to Catherine with an excessive
politeness, under which her poor guest, conscious of her own
_gaucherie_ during the evening, felt the touch of satire she was
perhaps meant to feel. But when Catherine was well ahead Madame
de Netteville gave Robert one of her most brilliant smiles.
'Friday evening, Mr. Elsmere; always Fridays. You will remember?'
The _naivete_ of Robert's social view, and the mobility of his
temper, made him easily responsive. He had just enjoyed half an
hour's brilliant talk with two or three of the keenest and most
accomplished men in Europe. Catherine had slipped out of his sight
meanwhile, and the impression of their _entree_ had been effaced.
He made Madame de Netteville, therefore, a cordial smiling reply,
before his tall slender form disappeared after that of his wife.
'Agreeable--rather an acquisition!' said Madame de Netteville to
Lady Aubrey, with a light motion of the head toward Robert's
retreating figure. 'But the wife! Good heavens! I owe Roger
Wendover a grudge. I think he might have made it plain to those
good people that I don't want strange women at my Friday evenings.'
Lady Aubrey laughed. 'No doubt she is a genius, or a saint, in
mufti. She might be handsome too if some one would dress her.'
Madame de Netteville shrugged her shoulders. 'Oh! life is not long
enough to penetrate that kind of person,' she said.
Meanwhile the 'person' was driving homeward very sad and ill at
ease. She was vexed that she had not done better, and yet she was
wounded by Robert's enjoyment. The Puritan in her blood was all
aflame. As she sat looking into the motley lamp-lit night she could
have 'testified' like any prophetess of old.
Robert meanwhile, his hand slipped into hers, was thinking of
Wielandt's talk, and of some racy stories of Berlin celebrities
told by a young _attache_ who had joined their group. His lips
were lightly smiling, his brow serene.
But as he helped her down from the cab, and they stood in the hall
together, he noticed the pale discomposure of her looks. Instantly
the familiar dread and pain returned upon him.
'Did you like it, Catherine?' he asked her, with something like
timidity, as they stood together by their bedroom fire.
She sank into a low chair and sat a moment staring at the blaze.
He was startled by her look of suffering, and, kneeling, he put his
arms tenderly round her.
'Oh, Robert, Robert!' she cried, falling on his neck.
'What is it?' he asked, kissing her hair.
'I seem all at sea,' she said in a choked voice, her face hidden,--'the
old landmarks swallowed up! I am always judging and condemning,--always
protesting. What am I that I should judge? But how,--how,--can I
She drew herself away from him, once more looking into the fire
with drawn brows.
'Darling, the world is full of difference. Men and women take life
in different ways. Don't be so sure yours is the only right one.'
He spoke with a moved gentleness, taking her hand the while.
'"_This_ is the way, walk ye in it!"' she said presently, with
strong, almost stern emphasis. 'Oh those women, and that talk!
He rose and looked down on her from the mantelpiece. Within him
was a movement of impatience, repressed almost at once by the thought
of that long night at Murewell, when he had vowed to himself to
And if that memory had not intervened she would still have disarmed
'Listen!' she said to him suddenly, her eyes kindling with a strange
childish pleasure. 'Do you hear the wind, the west wind? Do you
remember how it used to shake the house, how it used to come sweeping
through the trees in the wood-path? It must be trying the study
window now, blowing the vine against it.'
A yearning passion breathed through every feature. It seemed to
him she saw nothing before her. Her longing soul was back in the
old haunts, surrounded by the old loved forms and sounds. It went
to his heart. He tried to soothe her with the tenderest words
remorseful love could find. But the conflict of feeling--grief,
rebellion, doubt, self-judgment--would not be soothed, and long
after she had made him leave her and he had fallen asleep, she knelt
on, a white and rigid figure in the dying firelight, the wind shaking
the old house, the eternal murmur of London booming outside.
Meanwhile, as if to complete the circle of pain with which poor
Catherine's life was compassed, it began to be plain to her that,
in spite of the hard and mocking tone Rose generally adopted with
regard to him, Edward Langham was constantly at the house in Lerwick
Gardens, and that it was impossible he should be there so much
unless in some way or other Rose encouraged it.
The idea of such a marriage--nay, of such a friendship--was naturally
as repugnant as ever to her. It had been one of the bitterest
moments of a bitter time, when, at their first meeting after the
crisis in her life, Langham, conscious of a sudden movement of pity
for a woman he disliked, had pressed the hand she held out to him
in a way which clearly showed her what was in his mind, and had
then passed on to chat and smoke with Robert in the study, leaving
her behind to realize the gulf that lay between the present and
that visit of his to Murewell, when Robert and she had felt in
unison toward him, his opinions and his conduct to Rose, as toward
everything else of importance in their life.
Now it seemed to her Robert must necessarily look at the matter
differently, and she could not make up her mind to talk to him about
it. In reality, his objections had never had the same basis as
hers, and he would have given her as strong a support as ever, if
she had asked for it. But she held her peace, and he, absorbed in
other things, took no notice. Besides, he knew Langham too well.
He had never been able to take Catherine's alarms seriously.
An attentive onlooker, however, would have admitted that this time,
at any rate, they had their justification. Why Langham was so much
in the Leyburns' drawing-room during these winter months, was a
question that several people asked--himself not least. He had not
only pretended to forget Rose Leyburn during the eighteen months
which had passed since their first acquaintance at Murewell--he had
for all practical purposes forgotten her. It is only a small
proportion of men and women who are capable of passion on the great
scale at all; and certainly, as we have tried to show, Langham was
not among them. He had had a passing moment of excitement at
Murewell, soon put down, and followed by a week of extremely pleasant
sensations, which, like most of his pleasures, had ended in reaction
and self-abhorrence. He had left Murewell remorseful, melancholy,
and ill-at-ease, but conscious, certainly, of a great relief that
he and Rose Leyburn were not likely to meet again for long.
Then his settlement in London had absorbed him, as all such matters
absorb men who have become the slaves of their own solitary habits,
and in the joy of his new freedom, and the fresh zest for learning
it had aroused in him, the beautiful unmanageable child who had
disturbed his peace at Murewell was not likely to be more, but less
remembered. When he stumbled across her unexpectedly in the National
Gallery, his determining impulse had been merely one of flight.
However, as he had written to Robert toward the beginning of his
London residence, there was no doubt that his migration had made
him for the time much more human, observant, and accessible. Oxford
had become to him an oppression and a nightmare and as soon as he
had turned his back on it, his mental lungs seemed once more to
fill with air. He took his modest part in the life of the capital;
happy in the obscurity afforded him by the crowd; rejoicing in the
thought that his life and his affairs were once more his own, and
the academical yoke had been slipped for ever.
It was in this mood of greater cheerfulness and energy that his
fresh sight of Rose found him. For the moment, he was perhaps more
susceptible than he ever could have been before to her young
perfections, her beauty, her brilliancy, her provoking, stimulating
ways. Certainly, from that first afternoon onward he became more
and more restless to watch her, to be near her, to see what she
made of herself and her gifts. In general, though it was certainly
owing to her that he came so much, she took small notice of him.
He regarded, or chose to regard, himself as a mere 'item'--something
systematically overlooked and forgotten in the bustle of her days
and nights. He saw that she thought badly of him, that the friendship
he might have had was now proudly refused him, that their first
week together had left a deep impression of resentment and hostility
in her mind. And all the same he came; and she asked him! And
sometimes, after an hour when she had been more difficult or more
satirical than usual, ending notwithstanding with a little change
of tone, a careless 'You will find us next Wednesday as usual;
So-and-so is coming to play,' Langham would walk home in a state
of feeling he did not care to analyze, but which certainly quickened
the pace of life a good deal. She would not let him try his luck
at friendship again, but in the strangest slightest ways did she
not make him suspect every now and then that he _was_ in some sort
important to her, that he sometimes preoccupied her against her
will; that her will, indeed, sometimes escaped her, and failed to
control her manner to him?
It was not only his relations to the beauty, however, his interest
in her career, or his perpetual consciousness of Mrs. Elsmere's
cold dislike and disapproval of his presence in her mother's
drawing-room, that accounted for Langham's heightened mental
temperature this winter. The existence and the proceedings of Mr.
Hugh Flaxman had a very considerable share in it.
'Tell me about Mr. Langham,' said Mr. Flaxman once to Agnes Leyburn,
in the early days of his acquaintance with the family; 'is he an
'Of Robert's,' replied Agnes, her cheerful impenetrable look fixed
upon the speaker. 'My sister met him once for a week in the country
at the Elsmeres'. My mother and I have been only just introduced
Hugh Flaxman pondered the information a little.
'Does he strike you as--well--what shall we say?--unusual?'
His smile struck one out of her.
'Even Robert might admit that' she said demurely.
'Is Elsmere so attached to him? I own I was provoked just now by
his tone about Elsmere. I was remarking on the evident physical
and mental strain your brother-in-law had gone through, and he said
with a _nonchalance_ I cannot convey: "Yes, it is astonishing Elsmere
should have ventured it. I confess I often wonder whether it was
worth while." "Why?" said I, perhaps a little hotly. Well, he
didn't know--wouldn't say. But I gathered that according to him,
Elsmere is still swathed in such an unconscionable amount of religion
that the few rags and patches he has got rid of are hardly worth
the discomfort of the change. It seemed to me the tone of the very
cool spectator, rather than the friend. However--does your sister
'I don't know,' said Agnes, looking her questioner full in the face.
Hugh Flaxman's fair complexion flushed a little. He got up to go.
'He is one of the most extraordinarily handsome persons I ever saw,'
he remarked as he buttoned up his coat. 'Don't you think so?'
'Yes,' said Agnes dubiously, 'if he didn't stoop, and if he didn't
in general look half-asleep.'
Hugh Flaxman departed more puzzled than ever as to the reason for
the constant attendance of this uncomfortable anti-social person
at the Leyburns' house. Being himself a man of very subtle and
fastidious tastes, he could imagine that so original a suitor, with
such eyes, such an intellectual reputation so well sustained by
scantiness of speech and the most picturesque capacity for silence,
_might_ have attractions for a romantic and wilful girl. But where
were the signs of it? Rose rarely talked to him, and was always
ready to make him the target of a sub-acid raillery. Agnes was
clearly indifferent to him, and Mrs. Leyburn equally clearly afraid
of him. Mrs. Elsmere, too, seemed to dislike him, and yet there
he was, week after week. Flaxman could not make it out.
Then he tried to explore the man himself. He started various topics
with him--University reform, politics, music. In vain. In his
most characteristic Oxford days Langham had never assumed a more
wholesale ignorance of all subjects in heaven and earth, and never
stuck more pertinaciously to the flattest forms of commonplace.
Flaxman walked away at last boiling over. The man of parts
masquerading as the fool is perhaps at least as exasperating as the
fool playing at wisdom.
However, he was not the only person irritated. After one of these
fragments of conversation, Langham also walked rapidly home in a
state of most irrational petulance, his hands thrust with energy
into the pockets of his overcoat.
'No, my successful aristocrat, you shall not have everything your
own way so easily with me or with _her!_ You may break me, but you
shall not play upon me. And as for her, I will see it out--I will
see it out!'
And he stiffened himself as he walked, feeling life electric all
about him and a strange new force tingling in every vein.
Meanwhile, however, Mr. Flaxman was certainly having a good deal
of his own way. Since the moment when his aunt, Lady Charlotte,
had introduced him to Miss Leyburn--watching him the while with a
half-smile which soon broadened into one of sly triumph--Hugh Flaxman
had persuaded himself that country houses are intolerable even in
the shooting season, and that London is the only place of residence
during the winter for the man who aspires to govern his life on
principles of reason. Through his influence and that of his aunt,
Rose and Agnes--Mrs. Leyburn never went out--were being carried
into all the high life that London can supply in November and
January. Wealthy, highborn, and popular, he was gradually devoting
his advantages in the freest way to Rose's service. He was an
excellent musical amateur, and was always proud to play with her;
he had a fine country house, and the little rooms on Campden Hill
were almost always filled with flowers from his gardens; he had a
famous musical library, and its treasures were lavished on the girl
violinist; he had a singularly wide circle of friends, and with his
whimsical energy he was soon inclined to make kindness to the two
sisters the one test of a friend's good-will.
He was clearly touched by Rose; and what was to prevent his making
an impression on her? To her sex he had always been singularly
attractive. Like his sister, he had all sorts of bright impulses
and audacities flashing and darting about him. He had a certain
_hauteur_ with men, and could play the aristocrat when he pleased,
for all his philosophical radicalism. But with women he was the
most delightful mixture of deference and high spirits. He loved
the grace of them, the daintiness of their dress, the softness of
their voices. He would have done anything to please them, anything
to save them pain. At twenty-five, when he was still 'Citizen
Flaxman' to his college friends, and in the first fervors of a
poetic defiance of prejudice and convention, he had married a
gamekeeper's pretty daughter. She had died with her child--died,
almost, poor thing! of happiness and excitement--of the over-greatness
of Heaven's boon to her. Flaxman had adored her, and death had
tenderly embalmed a sentiment to which life might possibly have
been less kind. Since then he had lived in music, letters, and
society, refusing out of a certain fastidiousness to enter politics,
but welcomed and considered wherever he went, tall, good-looking,
distinguished, one of the most agreeable and courted of men, and
perhaps the richest _parti_ in London.
Still, in spite of it all, Langham held his ground--Langham would
see it out! And indeed, Flaxman's footing with the beauty was by
no means clear--least of all to himself. She evidently liked him,
but she bantered him a good deal; she would not be the least subdued
or dazzled by his birth and wealth, or by those of his friends; and
if she allowed him to provide her with pleasure, she would hardly
ever take his advice, or knowingly consult his tastes.
Meanwhile she tormented them both a good deal by the artistic
acquaintance she gathered about her. Mrs. Pierson's world, as we
have said, contained a good many dubious odds and ends, and she had
handed them all over to Rose. The Leyburns' growing intimacy with
Mr. Flaxman and his circle, and through them with the finer types
of the artistic life, would naturally and by degrees have carried
them away somewhat from this earlier circle if Rose would have
allowed it. But she clung persistently to its most unpromising
specimens, partly out of a natural generosity of feeling, but partly
also for the sake of that opposition her soul loved, her poor prickly
soul, full under all her gayety and indifference of the most desperate
doubt and soreness,--opposition to Catherine, opposition to Mr.
Flaxman, but, above all, opposition to Langham.
Flaxman could often avenge himself on her--or rather on the more
obnoxious members of her following--by dint of a faculty for light
and stinging repartee which would send her, flushed and biting her
lip, to have her laugh out in private. But Langham for a long time
was defenseless. Many of her friends in his opinion were simply
pathological curiosities--their vanity was so frenzied, their
sensibilities so morbidly developed. He felt a doctor's interest
in them coupled with more than a doctor's scepticism as to all they
had to say about themselves. But Rose would invite them, would
assume a _quasi_-intimacy with them; and Langham as well as everybody
else had to put up with it.
Even the trodden worm however----And there came a time when the
concentration of a good many different lines of feeling in Langham's
mind betrayed itself at last in a sharp and sudden openness. It
began to seem to him that she was specially bent often on tormenting
_him_ by these caprices of hers, and he vowed to himself finally,
with an outburst of irritation due in reality to a hundred causes,
that he would assert himself, that he would make an effort at any
rate to save her from her own follies.
One afternoon, at a crowded musical party, to which he had come
much against his will, and only in obedience to a compulsion he
dared not analyze, she asked him in passing if he would kindly find
Mr. MacFadden, a bass singer, whose name stood next on the programme,
and who was not to be seen in the drawing-room.
Langham searched the dining-room and the hall, and at last found
Mr. MacFadden--a fair, flabby, unwholesome youth--in the little
study or cloak room, in a state of collapse, flanked by whisky and
water, and attended by two frightened maids, who handed over their
charge to Langham and fled.
Then it appeared that the great man had been offended by a change
in the programme, which hurt his vanity, had withdrawn from the
drawing-room on the brink of hysterics, had called for spirits,
which had been provided for him with great difficulty by Mrs.
Leyburn's maids, and was there drinking himself into a state of
rage and rampant dignity which would soon have shown itself in a
melodramatic return to the, drawing-room, and a public refusal to
sing at all in a house where art had been outraged in his person.
Some of the old disciplinary instincts of the Oxford tutor awoke
in Langham at the sight of the creature, and, with a prompt sternness
which amazed himself, and nearly set MacFadden whimpering, he got
rid of the man, shut the hall door on him, and went back to the
'Well?' said Rose in anxiety, coming up to him.
'I have sent him away,' he said briefly, an eye of unusual quickness
and brightness looking down upon her; 'he was in no condition to
sing. He chose to be offended, apparently because he was put out
of his turn, and has been giving the servants trouble.'
Rose flushed deeply, and drew herself up with a look of half trouble,
half defiance, at Langham.
'I trust you will not ask him again,' he said, with the same decision.
'And if I might say so, there are one or two people still here
whom I should like to see you exclude at the same time.'
They had withdrawn into the bow window out of earshot of the rest
of the room. Langham's look turned significantly toward a group
near the piano. It contained one or two men whom he regarded as
belonging to a low type; men who, if it suited their purpose, would
be quite ready to tell or invent malicious stories of the girl they
were now flattering, and whose standards and instincts represented
a coarser world than Rose in reality knew anything about.
Her eyes followed his.
'I know,' she said, petulantly, 'that you dislike artists. They
are not your world. They are mine.'
'I dislike artists? What nonsense, too! To me personally these
men's ways don't matter in the least. They go their road and I
mine. But I deeply resent any danger of discomfort and annoyance
He still stood frowning, a glow of indignant energy showing itself
in his attitude, his glance. She could not know that he was at
that moment vividly realizing the drunken scene that might have
taken place in her presence if he had not succeeded in getting the
man safely out of the house. But she felt that he was angry, and
mostly angry with her, and there was something so piquant and
unexpected in his anger!
'I am afraid,' she said, with a queer sudden submissiveness, 'you
have been going through something very disagreeable. I am very
sorry. Is it my fault?' she added, with a whimsical flash of eye,
half fun, half serious.
He could hardly believe his ears.
'Yes, it is your fault, I think!' he answered her, amazed at his
own boldness. 'Not that _I_ was annoyed--Heavens! what does that
matter?--but that you and your mother and sister were very near an
unpleasant scene. You will not take advice, Miss Leyburn, you will
take your own way in spite of what anyone else can say or hint to
you, and some day you will expose yourself to annoyance when there
is no one near to protect you!'
'Well, if so, it won't be for want of a mentor,' she said, dropping
him a mock courtesy. But her lips trembled under its smile, and
her tone had not lost its gentleness.
At this moment Mr. Flaxman, who had gradually established himself
as the joint leader of these musical afternoons, came forward to
summon Rose to a quartet. He looked from one to the other, a little
surprise penetrating through his suavity of manner.
'Am I interrupting you?'
'Not at all,' said Rose; then, turning back to Langham, she said,
in a hurried whisper: 'Don't say anything about the wretched man:
it would make mamma nervous. He shan't come here again.'
Mr. Flaxman waited till the whisper was over, and then led her off,
with a change of manner which she immediately perceived, and which
lasted for the rest of the evening.
Langham went home and sat brooding over the fire. Her voice had
not been so kind, her look so womanly, for months. Had she been
reading 'Shirley,' and would she have liked him to play Louis Moore?
He went into a fit of silent convulsive laughter as the idea
occurred to him.
Some secret instinct made him keep away from her for a time. At
last, one Friday afternoon, as he emerged from the Museum, where
he had been collating the MSS. of some obscure Alexandrian, the old
craving returned with added strength and he turned involuntarily
An acquaintance of his, recently made in the course of work at the
Museum, a young Russian professor, ran after him, and walked with
him. Presently they passed a poster on the wall, which contained
in enormous letters the announcement of Madame Desforets' approaching
visit to London, a list of plays, and the dates of performances.
The young Russian suddenly stopped and stood pointing at the
advertisement, with shaking derisive finger, his eyes aflame, the
whole man quivering with what looked like antagonism and hate.
Then he broke into a fierce flood of French. Langham listened till
they had passed Piccadilly, passed the Park, and till the young
_savant_ turned southward toward his Brompton lodgings.
Then Langham slowly climbed Campden Hill, meditating. His thoughts
were an odd mixture of the things he had just heard, and of a scene
at Murewell long ago when a girl had denounced him for 'calumny.'
At the door of Lerwick Gardens he was informed that Mrs. Leyburn
was upstairs with an attack of bronchitis. But the servant thought
the young ladies were at home. Would he come in? He stood irresolute
a moment, then went in on a pretext of 'inquiry.'
The maid threw open the drawing-room door, and there was Rose sitting
well into the fire--for it was a raw February afternoon--with a
She received him with all her old hard brightness. He was indeed
instantly sorry that he had made his way in. Tyrant! was she
displeased because he had slipped his chain for rather longer than
However, he sat down, delivered his book, and they talked first
about her mother's illness. They had been anxious, she said, but
the doctor, who had just taken his departure, had now completely
'Then you will be able probably after all to put in an appearance
at Lady Charlotte's this evening?' he asked her.
The omnivorous Lady Charlotte of course had made acquaintance with
him, in the Leyburns' drawing-room, as she did with everybody who
crossed her path, and three days before he had received a card from
her for this evening.
'Oh, yes! But I have had to miss a rehearsal this afternoon. That
concert at Searle House is becoming a great nuisance.'
'It will be a brilliant affair, I suppose. Princes on one side of
you--and Albani on the other. I see they have given you the most
conspicuous part as violinist.'
'Yes,' she said with a little satirical tightening of the lip.
'Yes--I suppose I ought to be much flattered.'
'Of course--' he said, smiling, but embarrassed. 'To many people
you must be at this moment one of the most enviable persons in the
world. A delightful art--and every opportunity to make it tell!'
There was a pause. She looked into the fire.
'I don't know whether it is a delightful art,' she said presently,
stifling a little yawn. 'I believe I am getting very tired of
London. Sometimes I think I shouldn't be very sorry to find myself
suddenly spirited back to Burwood!'
Langham gave vent to some incredulous interjection. He had apparently
surprised her in a fit of _ennui_ which was rare with her.
'Oh no, not yet!' she said suddenly, with a return of animation.
'Madame Desforets comes next week, and I am to see her.' She drew
herself up and turned a beaming face upon him. Was there a shaft
of mischief in her eye? He could not tell. The firelight was
'You are to see her?' he said slowly. 'Is she coming here?'
'I hope so. Mrs. Pierson is to bring, her. I want mamma to have
the amusement of seeing her. My artistic friends are a kind of
tonic to her--they excite her so much. She regards them as a sort
of show--much as you do, in fact, only in a more charitable fashion.'
But he took no notice of what she was saying.
'Madame Desforets is coming here?' he sharply repeated, bending
forward, a curious accent in his tone.
'Yes!' she replied, with apparent surprise. Then with a careless
smile: 'Oh, I remember when we were at Murewell, you were exercised
that we should know her. Well, Mr. Langham, I told you then that
you were only echoing unworthy gossip. I am in the same mind still.
I have seen her, and you haven't. To me she is the greatest actress
in the world, and an ill-used woman to boot!'
Her tone had warmed with every sentence. It struck him that she
had wilfully brought up the topic--that it gave her pleasure to
quarrel with him.
He put down his hat deliberately, got up, and stood with his back
to the fire. She looked up at him curiously. But the dark regular
face was almost hidden from her.
'It is strange,' he said slowly; 'very strange--that you should
have told me this at this moment! Miss Leyburn, a great deal of
the truth about Madame Desforets I could neither tell, nor could
you hear. There are charges against her proved in open court, again
and again, which I could not even mention in your presence. But
one thing I can speak of. Do you know the story of the sister at
'I know no stories against Madame Desforets,' said Rose loftily,
her quickened breath responding to the energy of his tone. 'I have
always chosen not to know them.'
'The newspapers were full of this particular story just before
Christmas. I should have thought it must have reached you.'
'I did not see it,' she replied stiffly; 'and I cannot see what
good purpose is to be served by your repeating it to me, Mr. Langham.'
Langham could have smiled at her petulance, if he had not for once
been determined and in earnest.
'You will let me tell it, I hope?' he said quietly. 'I will tell
it so that it shall not offend your ears. As it happens, I myself
thought it incredible at the time. But, by an odd coincidence, it
has just this afternoon been repeated to me by a man who was an
eyewitness of part of it.'
Rose was silent. Her attitude Was _hauteur_ itself, but she made
no further active opposition.
'Three months ago--' he began, speaking with some difficulty, but
still with a suppressed force of feeling which amazed his hearer-'Madame
Desforets was acting in St. Petersburg. She had with her a large
company, and among them her own young sister, Elise Romey, a girl
of eighteen. This girl had been always kept away from Madame
Desforets by her parents, who had never been sufficiently consoled
by their eldest daughter's artistic success for the infamy of her
Rose started indignantly. Langham gave her no time to speak.
'Elise Romey, however, had developed a passion for the stage. Her
parents were respectable--and you know young girls in France are
brought up strictly. She knew next to nothing of her sister's
escapades. But she knew that she was held to be the greatest actress
in Europe--the photographs in the shops told her that she was
beautiful. She conceived a romantic passion for the woman whom she
had last seen when she was a child of five, and actuated partly by
this hungry affection, partly by her own longing wish to become an
actress, she escaped from home and joined Madame Desforets in the
South of France. Madame Desforets seems at first to have been
pleased to have her. The girl's adoration pleased her vanity. Her
presence with her gave her new opportunities of posing. I believe,'
and Langham gave a little dry laugh, 'they were photographed together
at Marseilles with their arms round each other's necks, and the
photograph had an immense success. However on the way to St.
Petersburg, difficulties arose. Elise was pretty, in a _blonde_
childish way, and she caught the attention of the _jeune premier_
of the company, a man'--the speaker became somewhat embarrassed-'whom
Madame Desforets seems to have regarded as her particular property.
There were scenes at different towns on the journey. Elise became
frightened--wanted to go home. But the elder sister, having begun
tormenting her, seems to have determined to keep her hold on her,
as a cat keeps and tortures a mouse--mainly for the sake of annoying
the man of whom she was jealous. They arrived at St. Petersburg
in the depth of winter. The girl was worn out with travelling,
unhappy, and ill. One night in Madame Desforets apartment there was
a supper party, and after it a horrible quarrel. No one exactly
knows what happened. But toward twelve o'clock that night Madame
Desforets turned her young sister in evening dress, a light shawl
round her, out into the snowy streets of St Petersburg, barred the
door behind her, and revolver in hand dared the wretched man who
had caused the _fracas_ to follow her.'
Rose sat immovable. She had grown pale, but the firelight was not
Langham turned away from her toward the blaze, holding out his hands
to it mechanically.
'The poor child,' he said, after a pause, in a lower voice, 'wandered
about for some hours. It was a frightful night--the great capital
was quite strange to her. She was insulted--fled this way and
that--grew benumbed with cold and terror, and was found unconscious
in the early morning under the archway of a house some two miles
from her sister's lodgings.'
There was a dead silence. Then Rose drew a long quivering breath.
'I do not believe it!' she said passionately. 'I cannot believe
'It was amply proved at the time,' said Langham dryly, 'though of
course Madame Desforets tried to put her own color on it. But I
told you I had private information. On one of the floors of the
house where Elise Romey was picked up, lived a young university
professor. He is editing an important Greek text, and has lately
had business at the Museum. I made friends with him there. He
walked home with me this afternoon, saw the announcement of Madame
Desforets coming, and poured out the story. He and his wife nursed
the unfortunate girl with devotion. She lived just a week, and
died of inflammation of the lungs. I never in my life heard anything
so pitiful as his description of her delirium, her terror, her
appeals, her shivering misery of cold.'
There was a pause.
'She is not a woman,' he said presently, between his teeth. 'She
is a wild beast.'
Still there was silence, and still he held out his hand to the flame
which Rose too was staring at. At last he turned round.
'I have told you a shocking story,' he said hurriedly, 'Perhaps I
ought not to have done it. But, as you sat there talking so lightly,
so gayly, it suddenly became to me utterly intolerable that that
woman should ever sit here in this room--talk to you--call you by
your name--laugh with you--touch your hand! Not even your wilfulness
shall carry you so far--you _shall_ not do it!'
He hardly knew what he said. He was driven on by a passionate sense
of physical repulsion to the notion of any contact between her pure
fair youth and something malodorous and corrupt. And there was
beside a wild unique excitement in claiming for once to stay--to
Rose lifted her head slowly. The fire was bright. He saw the tears
in her eyes, tears of intolerable pity for another girl's awful
story. But through the tears something gleamed--a kind of
exultation--the exultation which the magician feels when he has
called spirits from the vasty deep and after long doubt and difficult
invocation they rise at last before his eyes.
'I will never see her again'--she said in a low wavering voice, but
she too was hardly conscious of her own words. Their looks were
on each other; the ruddy capricious light touched her glowing cheeks,
her straight-lined grace, her white hand. Suddenly from the gulf
of another's misery into which they had both been looking, there
had sprung up, by the strange contrariety of human things, a heat
and intoxication of feeling, wrapping them round, blotting out the
rest of the world from them like a golden mist. 'Be always thus!'
her parted lips, her liquid eyes were saying to him. His breath
seemed to fail him; he was lost in bewilderment.
There were sounds outside--Catherine's voice. He roused himself
with a supreme effort.
'To-night--at Lady Charlotte's?'
'To-night,' she said, and held out her hand.
A sudden madness seized him--he stooped--his lips touched it--it
was hastily drawn away, and the door opened.
'In the first place, my dear aunt,' said Mr. Flaxman, throwing
himself back in his chair in front of Lady Charlotte's drawing-room
fire, 'you may spare your admonitions, because it is becoming more
and more clear to me that, whatever my sentiments may be, Miss
Leyburn never gives a serious thought to me.'
He turned to look at his companion over his shoulder. His tone and
manner were perfectly gay, and Lady Charlotte was puzzled by him.
'Stuff and nonsense!' replied the lady with her usual emphasis; 'I
never flatter you, Hugh, and I don't mean to begin now, but it would
be mere folly not to recognize that you have advantages which must
tell on the mind of any girl in Miss Leyburn's position.'
Hugh Flaxman rose, and, standing before the fire with his hands in
his pockets, made what seemed to be a close inspection of his
'I am sorry for your theory, Aunt Charlotte,' he said, still stooping,
'but Miss Leyburn doesn't care twopence about my advantages.'
'Very proper of you to say so,' returned Lady Charlotte sharply;
'the remark, however, my good sir, does more credit to your heart
than your head.'
'In the next place,' he went on undisturbed, 'why you should have
done your best this whole winter to throw Miss Leyburn and me
together, if you meant in the end to oppose my marrying her, I don't
He looked up smiling. Lady Charlotte reddened ever so slightly.
'You know my weakness,' she said presently, with an effrontery which
delighted her nephew. 'She is my latest novelty, she excites me,
I can't do without her. As to you, I can't remember that you wanted
much encouragement, but I acknowledge, after all these years of
resistance--resistance to my most legitimate efforts to dispose of
you--there was a certain piquancy in seeing you caught at last!'
'Upon my word!' he said, throwing back his head with a not very
cordial laugh, in which, however, his aunt joined. She was sitting
opposite to him, her powerful, loosely-gloved hands crossed over
the rich velvet of her dress, her fair large face and grayish hair
surmounted by a mighty cap, as vigorous, shrewd, and individual a
type of English middle age as could be found. The room behind her
and the second and third drawing-rooms were brilliantly lighted.
Mr. Wynnstay was enjoying a cigar in peace in the smoking-room,
while his wife and nephew were awaiting the arrival of the evening's
Lady Charlotte's mind had been evidently much perturbed by the
conversation with her nephew of which we are merely describing the
latter half. She was laboring under an uncomfortable sense of being
hoist with her own petard--an uncomfortable memory of a certain
warning of her husband's, delivered at Murewell.
'And now,' said Mr. Flaxman, 'having confessed in so many words
that you have done your best to bring me up to the fence, will you
kindly recapitulate the arguments why in your opinion I should not
'Society, amusement, flirtation, are one thing,' she replied with
judicial imperativeness, 'marriage is another. In these democratic
days we must know everybody; we should only marry our equals.'
The instant, however, the words were out of her mouth, she regretted
them. Mr. Flaxman's expression changed.
'I do not agree with you,' he said calmly, 'and you know I do not.
You could not, I imagine, have relied much upon _that_ argument.'
'Good gracious, Hugh!' cried Lady Charlotte crossed, 'you talk as
if I were really the old campaigner some people suppose me to be.
I have been amusing myself--I have liked to see you amused. And
it is only the last few weeks, since you have begun to devote
yourself so tremendously, that I have come to take the thing seriously
at all. I confess, if you like, that I have got you into the
scrape--now I want to get you out of it! I am not thin-skinned,
but I hate family unpleasantnesses--and you know what the Duke will
'The Duke be--translated!' said Flaxman, coolly. 'Nothing of what
you have said or could say on this point, my dear aunt, has the
smallest weight with me. But Providence has been kinder to you and
the Duke than you deserve. Miss Leyburn does not care for me, and
she does care--or I am very much mistaken--for somebody else.'
He pronounced the words deliberately, watching their effect upon
'What, that Oxford nonentity, Mr. Langham, the Elsmeres' friend?
Ridiculous! What attraction could a man of that type have for a
girl of hers?'
'I am not bound to supply an answer to that question,' replied her
nephew. 'However, he is not a nonentity. Far from it! Ten years
ago, when I was leaving Cambridge, he was certainly one of the most
distinguished of the young Oxford tutors.'
'Another instance of what university reputation is worth!' said
Lady Charlotte scornfully. It was clear that even in the case of
a beauty whom she thought it beneath him to marry, she was not
pleased to see her nephew ousted by the _force majeure_ of a
rival--and that rival whom she regarded as an utter nobody, having
neither marketable eccentricity, nor family, nor social brilliance
to recommend him.
Flaxman understood her perplexity and watched her with critical,
'I should like to know--' he said presently, with a curious slowness
and suavity,--'I should greatly like to know why you asked him here
'You know perfectly well that I should ask anybody--a convict, a
crossing sweeper--if I happened to be half an hour in the same room
'Well, it may be convenient to-night,' he said reflectively. 'What
are we to do--some thought-reading?'
'Yes. It isn't a crush! I have only asked about thirty or forty
people. Mr. Denman is to manage it.'
She mentioned an amateur thought-reader greatly in request at the
Flaxman cogitated for a while and then propounded a little plan to
his aunt, to which she, after some demur, agreed.
'I want to make a few notes,' he said dryly, when it was arranged;
'I should be glad to satisfy myself.'
When the Miss Leyburns were announced, Rose, though the younger,
came in first. She always took the lead by a sort of natural right,
and Agnes never dreamt of protesting. To-night the sisters were
in white. Some soft creamy stuff was folded and draped about Rose's
slim shapely figure in such a way as to bring out all its charming
roundness and grace. Her neck and arms bore the challenge of the
dress victoriously. Her red-gold hair gleamed in the light of Lady
Charlotte's innumerable candles. A knot of dusky blue feathers on
her shoulder, and a Japanese fan of the some color, gave just that
touch of purpose and art which the spectators seems to claim as the
tribute answering to his praise in the dress of a young girl. She
moved with perfect self-possession, distributing a few smiling looks
to the people she knew as she advanced toward Lady Charlotte.
Anyone with a discerning eye could have seen that she was in that
stage of youth when a beautiful woman is like a statue to which the
master is giving the finishing touches. Life, the sculptor, had
been at work upon her, refining here, softening there, planing away
awkwardness, emphasizing grace, disengaging as it were, week by
week, and month by month, all the beauty of which the original
conception was capable. And the process is one attended always by
a glow and sparkle, a kind of effluence of youth and pleasure, which
makes beauty more beautiful and grace more graceful.
The little murmur and rustle of persons turning to look, which had
already begun to mark her entrance into a room, surrounded Rose as
she walked up to Lady Charlotte. Mr. Flaxman, who had been standing
absently silent, woke up directly she appeared, and went to greet
her before his aunt.
'You failed us at rehearsal,' he said with smiling reproach; 'we
were all at sixes and sevens.'
'I had a sick mother, unfortunately, who kept me at home. Lady
Charlotte, Catherine couldn't come. Agnes and I are alone in the
world. Will you chaperon us?'
'I don't know whether I will accept the responsibility to-night--in
that new gown'--replied Lady Charlotte grimly, putting up her
eyeglass to look at it and the wearer. Rose bore the scrutiny with
a light smiling silence, even though she knew Mr. Flaxman was looking
'On the contrary,' she said, 'one always feels so particularly good
and prim in a new frock.'
'Really? I should have thought it one of Satan's likeliest moments,'
said Flaxman, laughing--his eyes, however, the while saying quite
other things to her, as they finished their inspection of her dress.
Lady Charlotte threw a sharp glance first at him and then at Rose's
smiling ease, before she hurried off to other guests.
'I have made a muddle as usual,' she said to herself in disgust,
'perhaps even a worse one than I thought!'
Whatever might be Hugh Flaxman's state of mind, however, he never
showed greater self-possession than on this particular evening.
A few minutes after Rose's entry he introduced her for the first
time to his sister, Lady Helen. The Varleys had only just come up
to town for the opening of Parliament, and Lady Helen had come
to-night to Martin Street, all ardor to see Hugh's new adoration,
and the girl whom all the world was beginning to talk about--both
as a beauty and as an artist. She rushed at Rose, if any word so
violent can be applied to anything so light and airy as Lady Helen's
movements, caught the girl's hands in both hers, and, gazing up at
her with undisguised admiration, said to her the prettiest, daintiest,
most effusive things possible. Rose--who with all her lithe
shapeliness, looked over-tall and even a trifle stiff beside the
tiny bird-like Lady Helen--took the advances of Hugh Flaxman's
sister with a pretty flush of flattered pride. She looked down at
the small radiant creature with soft and friendly eyes, and Hugh
Flaxman stood by, so far well pleased.
Then he went off to fetch Mr. Denman, the hero of the evening, to
be introduced to her. While he was away, Agnes, who was behind her
sister, saw Rose's eyes wandering from Lady Helen to the door,
restlessly searching and then returning.
Presently through the growing crowd round the entrance Agnes spied
a well-known form emerging.
'Mr. Langham! But Rose never told me he was to be here to-night,
and how dreadful he looks!'
Agnes was so startled that her eyes followed Langham closely across
the room. Rose had seen him at once; and they had greeted each
other across the crowd. Agnes was absorbed, trying to analyze what
had struck her so. The face was always melancholy, always pale,
but to-night it was ghastly, and from the whiteness of cheek and
brow, the eyes, the jet black hair stood out in intense and
disagreeable relief. She would have remarked on it to Rose, but
that Rose's attention was claimed by the young thought-reader, Mr.
Denman, whom Mr. Flaxman had brought up. Mr. Denman was a fair-haired
young Hercules, whose tremulous, agitated manner contrasted oddly
with his athlete's looks. Among other magnetisms he was clearly
open to the magnetism of women, and he stayed talking to Rose,--staring
furtively at her the while from under his heavy lids,--much longer
than the girl thought fair.
'Have you seen any experiments in the working of this new force
before?' he asked her with a solemnity which sat oddly on his
commonplace bearded face.
'Oh, yes!' she said flippantly. 'We have tried it sometimes. It
is very good fun.'
He drew himself up. 'Not _fun_,' he said impressively; 'not fun.
Thought-reading wants seriousness; the most tremendous things
depend upon it. If established it will revolutionize our whole
views of life. Even a Huxley could not deny that!'
'She studied him with mocking eyes. 'Do you imagine this party
to-night looks very serious?'
His face fell.
'One can seldom get people to take it scientifically,' he admitted,
sighing. Rose, impatiently, thought him a most preposterous young
man. Why was he not cricketing, or shooting, or exploring, or using
the muscles Nature had given him so amply, to some decent practical
purpose, instead of making a business out of ruining his own nerves
and other people's night after night in hot drawing-rooms? And
when would he go away?
'Come, Mr. Denman,' said Flaxman, laying hands upon him; 'the
audience is about collected, I think. Ah, there you are!' and he
gave Langham a cool greeting. 'Have you seen anything yet of these
fashionable dealings with the devil!'
'Nothing. Are you a believer?'
Flaxman shrugged his shoulders. 'I never refuse an experiment of
any kind,' he added with an odd change of voice. Come, Denman.'
And the two went off. Langham came to stand beside Rose, while
Lord Rupert, as jovial as ever, and bubbling over with gossip about
the Queen's speech, appropriated Lady Helen, who was the darling
of all elderly men.
They did not speak. Rose sent him a ray from eyes full of a new
divine shyness. He smiled gently in answer to it, and full of her
own young emotions, and of the effort to conceal it from all the
world, she noticed none of that change which had struck Agnes.
And all the while, if she could have penetrated the man's silence!
An hour before this moment Langham had vowed that nothing should
take him to Lady Charlotte's that night. And yet here he was,
riveted to her side, alive like any normal human being to every
detail of her loveliness, shaken to his inmost being by the
intoxicating message of her look, of the transformation which had
passed in an instant over the teasing difficult creature of the
last few months.
At Murewell, his chagrin had been _not_ to feel, _not_ to struggle,
to have been cheated out of experience. Well, here is the experience
in good earnest! And Langham is wrestling with it for dear life.
And how little the exquisite child beside him knows of it or of
the man on whom she is spending her first wilful passion! She
stands strangely exulting in her own strange victory over a life,
a heart, which had defied and eluded her. The world throbs and
thrills about her, the crowd beside her is all unreal, the air is
full of whisper, of romance.
The thought-reading followed its usual course. A murder and its
detection were given in dumb show. Then it was the turn of
card-guessing, bank-note-finding, and the various other forms of
telepathic hide and seek. Mr. Flaxman superintended them all, his
restless eye wandering every other minute to the further drawing-room
in which the lights had been lowered, catching there always the
same patch of black and white,--Rose's dress and the dark form
'Are you convinced? Do you believe?' said Rose, merrily looking
up at her companion.
'In telepathy? Well--so far--I have not got beyond the delicacy
and perfection of Mr. Denman's muscular sensation. So much I am
'Oh, but your scepticism is ridiculous!' she said gayly. 'We know
that some people have an extraordinary power over others.'
'Yes, that certainly we know!' he answered, his voice dropping, an
odd, strained note in it. 'I grant you that.'
She trembled deliciously. Her eyelids fell. They stood together,
conscious only of each other.
'Now,' said Mr. Denman, advancing to the doorway between the two
drawing-rooms, 'I have done all I can--I am exhausted. But let me
beg of you all to go on with some experiments among yourselves.
Every fresh discovery of this power in a new individual is a gain
to science. I believe about one in ten has some share of it. Mr.
Flaxman and I will arrange everything, if anyone will volunteer?'
The audience broke up into groups, laughing, chatting, suggesting
this and that. Presently Lady Charlotte's loud dictatorial voice
made itself heard, as she stood eyeglass in hand looking round the
circle of her guests.
'Somebody must venture--we are losing time.'
Then the eyeglass stopped at Rose, who was now sitting tall and
radiant on the sofa, her blue fan across her white knees. 'Miss
Leyburn--you are always public-spirited--will you be victimized for
the good of science?'
The girl got up with a smile.
'And Mr. Langham--will you see what you can do with Miss Leyburn?
Hugh--we all choose her task, don't we--then Mr. Langham wills?'
Flaxman came up to explain. Langham had turned to Rose--a wild
fury with Lady Charlotte and the whole affair sweeping through him.
But there was no time to demur; that judicial eye was on them; the
large figure and towering cap bent toward him. Refusal was impossible.
'Command me!' he said with a sudden straightening of the form and
a flush on the pale cheek. 'I am afraid Miss Leyburn will find me
a very bad partner.'
'Well, now then!' said Flaxman; 'Miss Leyburn, will you please go
down into the library while we settle what you are to do?'
She went, and he held the door open for her. But she passed out
unconscious of him--rosy, confused, her eyes bent on the ground.
'Now, then, what shall Miss Leyburn do?' asked Lady Charlotte in
the same loud emphatic tone.
'If I might suggest something quite different from anything that
has been yet tried,' said Mr. Flaxman, 'suppose we require Miss
Leyburn to kiss the hand of the little marble statue of Hope in the
far drawing-room. What do you say, Langham?'
'What you please!' said Langham, moving up to him. A glance passed
between the two men. In Langham's there was a hardly sane antagonism
and resentment, in Flaxman's an excited intelligence.
'Now then,' said Flaxman coolly, 'fix your mind steadily on what
Miss Leyburn is to do--you must take her hand--but except in
thought, you must carefully follow and not lead her. Shall I call
'Langham abruptly assented. He had a passionate sense of being
watched--tricked. Why were he and she to be made a spectacle for
this man and his friends! A mad irrational indignation surged
Then she was led in blindfolded, one hand stretched out feeling the
air in front of her. The circle of people drew back. Mr. Flaxman
and Mr. Denman prepared, notebook in hand, to watch the experiment.
Langham moved desperately forward.
But the instant her soft trembling hand touched his, as though by
enchantment, the surrounding scene, the faces, the lights, were
blotted out from him. He forgot his anger, he forgot everything
but her and this thing she was to do. He had her in his grasp--he
was the man, the master--and what enchanting readiness to yield in
the swaying pliant form! In the distance far away gleamed the
statue of Hope, a child on tiptoe, one outstretched arm just visible
from where he stood.
There was a moment's silent expectation. Every eye was riveted on
the two figures--on the dark handsome man--on the blindfolded girl.
At last Rose began to move gently forward. It was a strange wavering
motion. The breath came quickly through her slightly parted lips;
her bright color was ebbing. She was conscious of nothing but the
grasp in which her hand was held,--otherwise her mind seemed a
blank. Her state during the next few seconds was not unlike the
state of some one under the partial influence of an anaesthetic; a
benumbing grip was laid on all her faculties; and she knew nothing
of how she moved or where she was going.
Suddenly the trance cleared away. It might have lasted half an
hour or five seconds, for all she knew. But she was standing beside
a small marble statue in the farthest drawing-room, and her lips
had on them a slight sense of chill as though they had just been
laid to something cold.
She pulled off the handkerchief from her eyes. Above her was
Langham's face, a marvellous glow and animation in every line of
'Have I done it?' she asked in a tremulous whisper.
For the moment her self-control was gone. She was still
He nodded, smiling.
'I am so glad,' she said, still in the same quick whisper, gazing
at him. There was the most adorable abandon in her whole look and
attitude. He could but just restrain himself from taking her in
his arms, and for one bright flashing instant each saw nothing but
The heavy curtain which had partially hidden the door of the little
old-fashioned powder-closet as they approached it, and through which
they had swept without heeding, was drawn back with a rattle.
'She has done it! Hurrah!' cried Mr. Flaxman. 'What a rush that
last was, Miss Leyburn! You left us all behind!'
Rose turned to him, still dazed, drawing her hand across her eyes.
A rush? She had known nothing about it!
Mr. Flaxman turned and walked back, apparently to report to his
aunt, who, with Lady Helen, had been watching the experiment from
the main drawing-room. His face was a curious mixture of gravity
and the keenest excitement. The gravity was mostly sharp compunction.
He had satisfied a passionate curiosity, but in the doing of it
he had outraged certain instincts of breeding and refinement which
were now revenging themselves.
'Did she do it exactly?' said Lady Helen eagerly.
'Exactly,' he said, standing still.
Lady Charlotte looked at him significantly. But he would not see
'Lady Charlotte, where is my sister?' said Rose, coming up from the
back room, looking now nearly as white as her dress.
It appeared that Agnes had just been carried off by a lady who lived
on Campden Hill close to the Leyburns, and who had been obliged to
go at the beginning of the last experiment. Agnes, torn between
her interest in what was going on and her desire to get back to her
mother, had at last hurriedly accepted this Mrs. Sherwood's offer
of a seat in her carriage, imagining that her sister would want to
stay a good deal later, and relying on Lady Charlotte's promise
that she should be safely put into a hansom.
'I must go,' said Rose, putting her hand to her head. How tiring
this is! How long did it take, Mr. Flaxman?'
'Exactly three minutes' he said, his gaze fixed upon her with an
expression that only Lady Helen noticed.
'So little! Good-night, Lady Charlotte!' and giving her hand first
to her hostess, then to Mr. Flaxman's bewildered sister, she moved
away into the crowd.
'Hugh, of course you are going down with her?' exclaimed Lady
Charlotte under her breath. 'You must. I promised to see her
safely off the promises.'
He stood immovable. Lady Helen with a reproachful look made a step
forward, but he caught her arm.
'Don't spoil sport,' he said, in a tone which, amid the hum of
discussion caused by the experiment, was heard only by his aunt and
They looked at him--the one amazed, the other grimly observant--and
caught a slight significant motion of the head toward Langham's
Langham came up and made his farewells. As he turned his back,
Lady Helen's large astonished eyes followed him to the door.
'Oh Hugh!' was all she could say as they came back to her brother.
'Never mind, Nellie,' he whispered, touched by the bewildered
sympathy of her look; 'I will tell you all about it to-morrow. I
have not been behaving well, and am not particularly pleased with
myself. But for her it is all right. Poor, pretty little thing!'
And he walked away into the thick of the conversation.
Downstairs the hall was already full of people waiting for their
carriages. Langham, hurrying down, saw Rose coming out of the
cloak-room, muffled up in brown furs, a pale, child-like fatigue
in her looks which set his heart beating faster than ever.
'Miss Leyburn, how are you going home?'
'Will you ask for a hansom, please?'
'Take my arm,' he said, and she clung to him through the crush till
they reached the door.
Nothing but private carriages were in sight. The street seemed
blocked, a noisy tumult of horses and footmen and shouting men with
lanterns. Which of them suggested, 'Shall we walk a few steps?'
At any rate, here they were, out in the wind and the darkness, every
step carrying them farther away from that moving patch of noise and
'We shall find a cab at once in Park Lane,' he said. 'Are you
A fur hood fitted round her face, to which the color was coming
back. She held her cloak tightly round her, and her little feet,
fairly well shod, slipped in and out on the dry frosty pavement.
Suddenly they passed a huge unfinished house, the building of which
was being pushed on by electric light. The great walls, ivory white
in the glare, rose into the purply-blue of the starry February sky,
and as they passed within the power of the lamps each saw with
noonday distinctness every line and feature in the other's face.
They swept on-the night, with its alternations of flame and shadow,
an unreal and enchanted world about them. A space of darkness
succeeded the space of daylight. Behind them in the distance was
the sound of hammers and workmen's voices; before them the dim trees
of the park. Not a human being was in sight. London seemed to
exist to be the mere dark friendly shelter of this wandering of
A blast of wind blew her cloak out of her grasp. But before she
could close it again, an arm was flung around her. Should not speak
or move, she stood passive, conscious only of the strangeness of
the wintry wind, and of this warm breast against which her cheek
'Oh, stay there!' a voice said close to her ear. 'Rest there--pale
tired child--pale tired little child!'
That moment seemed to last an eternity. He held her close, cherishing
and protecting her from the cold--not kissing her--till at length
she looked up with bright eyes, shining through happy tears.
'Are you sure at last?' she said, strangely enough, speaking out
of the far depths of her own thought to his.
'Sure!' he said, his expression changing. 'What can I be sure of?
I am sure that I am not worth your loving, sure that I am poor,
insignificant, obscure, that if you give yourself to me you will
be miserably throwing yourself away!'
She looked at him, still smiling, a white sorceress weaving spells
about him in the darkness. He drew her lightly gloved hand through
his arm, holding the fragile fingers close in his, and they moved
'Do you know,' he repeated--a tone of intense melancholy replacing
the tone of passion-'how little I have to give you?'
'I know,' she answered, her face turned shly away from him, her
words coming from under the fur hood which had fallen forward a
little. 'I know that-that--you are not rich, that you distrust
'Oh, hush,' he said, and his voice was full of pain. 'You know so
little; let me paint myself. I have lived alone, for myself, in
myself, till sometimes there seems to be hardly anything left in
me to love or be loved; nothing but a brain, a machine that exists
only for certain selfish ends. My habits are the tyrants of years;
and at Murewell, though I loved you there, they were strong enough
to carry me away from you. There is something paralyzing in me,
which is always forbidding me to feel, to will. Sometimes I think
it is an actual physical disability--the horror that is in me of
change, of movement, of effort. Can you bear with me? Can you be
poor? Can you live a life of monotony? Oh, impossible!' he broke
out, almost putting her hand away from him. 'You, who ought to be
a queen of this world, for whom everything bright and brilliant is
waiting if you will but stretch out your hand to it. It is a
crime--an infamy--that I should be speaking to you like this!'
Rose raised her head. A passing light shone upon her. She was
trembling and pale again, but her eyes were unchanged.
'No, no,' she said wistfully; 'not if you love me.'
He hung above her, an agony of feeling in the fine rigid face, of
which the beautiful features and surfaces were already worn and
blanched by the life of thought. What possessed him was not so
much distrust of circumstance as doubt, hideous doubt, of himself,
of this very passion beating within him. She saw nothing, meanwhile,
but the self-depreciation which she knew so well in him, and against
which her love in its rash ignorance and generosity cried out.
'You will not say you love me!' she cried, with hurrying breath.
'But I know--I know--you do.'
Then her courage sinking, ashamed, blushing, once more turning away
from him--'At least, if you don't, I am very--very--unhappy.'
The soft words flew through his blood. For an instant he felt
himself saved, like Faust,--saved by the surpassing moral beauty
of one moment's impression. That she should need him, that his
life should matter to hers! They were passing the garden wall of
a great house. In the deepest shadow of it, he stooped suddenly
and kissed her.
Langham parted with Rose at the corner of Martin Street. She would
not let him take her any farther.
'I will say nothing,' she whispered to him, as he put her into a
passing hansom, wrapping her cloak warmly round her, 'till I see
you again. To-morrow?'
'To-morrow morning,' he said, waving his hand to her, and in another
instant he was facing the north wind alone.
He walked on fast toward Beaumont Street, but by the time he reached
his destination midnight had struck. He made his way into his room
where the fire was still smouldering, and striking a light, sank
into his large reading chair, beside which the volumes used in the
afternoon 1ay littered on the floor.
He was suddenly penetrated with the cold of the night, and hung
shivering over the few embers which still glowed. What had happened
to him? In this room, in this chair, the self-forgetting excitement
of that walk, scarcely half an hour old, seems to him already long
And yet the brain was still full of images, the mind still full of
a hundred new impressions. That fair head against his breast, those
soft confiding words, those yielding lips. Ah! it is the poor,
silent, insignificant student that has conquered. It is he, not
the successful man of the world, that has held that young and
beautiful girl in his arms, and heard from her the sweetest and
humblest confession of love. Fate can have neither wit nor conscience
to have ordained it so; but fate has so ordained it. Langham takes
note of his victory, takes dismal note also, that the satisfaction
of it has already half departed.
So the great moment has come and gone! The one supreme experience
which life and his own will had so far rigidly denied him, is his.
He has felt the torturing thrill of passion--he has evoked such
an answer as all men might envy him,--and fresh from Rose's kiss,
from Rose's beauty, the strange maimed soul falls to a pitiless
analysis of his passion, her response! One moment he is at her
feet in a voiceless trance of gratitude and tenderness; the next--is
nothing what it promises to be?--and has the boon already, now that
he has it in his grasp, lost some of its beauty, just as the sea-shell
drawn out of the water, where its lovely iridescence tempted eye
and hand, loses half its fairy charm?
The night wore on. Outside an occasional cab or cart would rattle
over the stones of the street, an occasional voice or step would
penetrate the thin walls of the house, bringing a shock of sound
into that silent upper room. Nothing caught Langham's ear. He was
absorbed in the dialogue which was to decide his life.
Opposite to him, as it seemed, there sat a spectral reproduction
of himself, his true self, with whom he held a long and ghastly
'But I love her!--I love her! A little courage--a little effort--and
I too can achieve what other men achieve. I have gifts, great
gifts. Mere contact with her, the mere necessities of the situation,
will drive me back to life, teach me how to live normally, like
other men. I have not forced her love--it has been a free gift.
Who can blame me if I take it, if I cling to it, as the man freezing
in a crevasse clutches the rope thrown to him?'
To which the pale spectre self said scornfully--
'_Courage_ and _effort_ may as well be dropped out of your vocabulary.
They are words that you have no use for. Replace them by two
others--_habit_ and _character_. Slave as you are of habit, of the
character you have woven for yourself--out of years of deliberate
living--what wild unreason to imagine that love can unmake, can
re-create! What you are, you are to all eternity. Bear your own
burden, but for God's sake beguile no other human creature into
trusting you with theirs!'
'But she loves me! Impossible that I should crush and tear so kind,
so warm a heart! Poor child--poor child! I have played on her
pity. I have won all she had to give. And now to throw her gift
back in her face--oh monstrous--oh inhuman!' and the cold drops
stood on his forhead.
But the other self was inexorable. 'You have acted as you were
bound to act--as any man may be expected to act in whom will and
manhood and true human kindness are dying out, poisoned by despair
and the tyranny of the critical habit. But at least do not add
another crime to the first. What in God's name have you to offer
a creature of such claims, such ambitions? You are poor--you must
go back to Oxford--you must take up the work your soul loathes--grow
more soured, more embittered--maintain a useless degrading struggle,
till her youth is done, her beauty wasted, and till you yourself
have lost every shred of decency and dignity, even that decorous
outward life in which you can still wrap yourself from the world!
Think of the little house--the children--the money difficulties--she,
spiritually starved, every illusion gone,--you incapable soon of
love, incapable even of pity, conscious only of a dull rage with
her, yourself, the world! Bow the neck--submit--refuse that long
agony for yourself and her, while there is still time. _Kismet!--Kismet!_'
And spread out before Langham's shrinking soul there lay a whole
dismal Hogarthian series, image leading to image, calamity to
calamity, till in the last scene of all the maddened inward sight
perceived two figures, two gray and withered figures, far apart,
gazing at each other with old and sunken eyes across dark rivers
of sordid irremediable regret.
The hours passed away, and in the end, the spectre self, cold and
bloodless conqueror, slipped back into the soul which remorse and
terror, love and pity, a last impulse of hope, a last stirring of
manhood, had been alike powerless to save.
The February dawn was just beginning when he dragged himself to a
table and wrote.
Then for hours afterward he sat sunk in his chair, the stupor of
fatigue broken every now and then by a flash of curious introspection.
It was a base thing which he had done--it was also a strange thing
psychologically--and at intervals he tried to understand it--to
track it to its causes.
At nine o'clock he crept out into the frosty daylight, found a
commissionaire who was accustomed to do errands for him, and sent
him with a letter to Lerwick Gardens.
On his way back he passed a gunsmith's, and stood looking fascinated
at the shining barrels. Then he moved away, shaking his head, his
eyes gleaming as though the spectacle of himself had long ago passed
the bounds of tragedy--become farcical even.
'I should only stand a month--arguing--with my finger on the trigger.'
In the little hall his landlady met him, gave a start at the sight
of him, and asked him if he ailed and if she could do anything for
him. He gave her a sharp answer and went upstairs, where she heard
him dragging books and boxes about as though he were packing.
A little later Rose was standing at the dining-room window of No.
27, looking on to a few trees bedecked with rime which stood outside.
The ground and roofs were white, a promise of sun was struggling
through the fog. So far everything in these unfrequented Campden
Hill roads was clean, crisp, enlivening, and the sparkle in Rose's
mood answered to that of nature.
Breakfast had just been cleared away. Agnes was upstairs with Mrs.
Leyburn. Catherine, who was staying in the house for a day or two,
was in a chair by the fire, reading some letters forwarded to her
from Bedford Square.
He would appear some time in the morning, she supposed. With an
expression half rueful, half amused, she fell to imagining his
interview, with Catherine, with her mother. Poor Catherine! Rose
feels herself happy enough to allow herself a good honest pang of
remorse for much of her behavior to Catherine this winter; how
thorny she has been, how unkind often, to this sad changed sister.
And now this will be a fresh blow! 'But afterward, when she has
got over it--when she knows that it makes me happy,--that nothing
else would make me happy,--then she will be reconciled, and she and
I perhaps will make friends, all over again, from the beginning.
I won't be angry or hard over it--poor Cathie!'
And with regard to Mr. Flaxman. As she stands there waiting idly
for what destiny may send her, she puts herself through a little
light catechism about this other friend of hers. He had behaved
somewhat oddly toward her of late; she begins now to remember that
her exit from Lady Charlotte's house the night before had been a
very different matter from the royally attended leave takings,
presided over by Mr. Flaxman, which generally befell her there.
Had he understood? With a little toss of her head she said to
herself that she did not care if it was so. 'I have never encouraged
Mr. Flaxman to think I was going to marry him.'
But of course Mr. Flaxman will consider she has done badly for
herself. So will Lady Charlotte and all her outer world. They
will say she is dismally throwing herself away, and her mother, no
doubt influenced by the clamor, will take up very much the same
What matter! The girl's spirit seemed to rise against all the
world. There was a sort of romantic exaltation in her sacrifice
of herself, a jubilant looking forward to remonstrance, a wilful
determination to overcome it. That she was about to do the last
thing she could have been expected to do, gave her pleasure. Almost
all artistic faculty goes with a love of surprise and caprice in
life. Rose had her full share of the artistic love for the impossible
and the difficult.
Besides--success! To make a man hope and love, and live again--_that_
shall be her success. She leaned against the window, her eyes
filling, her heart very soft.
Suddenly she saw a commissionaire coming up the little flagged
passage to the door. He gave in a note, and immediately afterward
the dining-room door opened.
'A letter for you, Miss,' said the maid.
Rose took it--glanced at the hand-writing. A bright flush--a
surreptitious glance at Catherine, who sat absorbed in a wandering
letter from, Mrs. Darcy. Then the girl carried her prize to the
window and opened it.
Catherine read on, gathering up, the Murewell names and details as
some famished gleaner might gather up the scattered ears on a
plundered field. At last something in the silence of the room, and
of the other inmate in it, struck her.
'Rose,' she said, looking up, 'was that someone brought you a note?'
The girl turned with a start--a letter fell to the ground. She
made a faint ineffectual effort to pick it up, and sank into a
'Rose--darling!' cried Catherine, springing up, 'are you ill?'
Rose looked at her with a perfectly colorless fixed face, made a
feeble negative sign, and then laying her arms on the breakfast-table
in front of her, let her head fall upon them.
Catherine stood over her aghast. 'My darling--what is it? Come
and lie down--take this water.'
She put some close to her sister's hand, but Rose pushed it away.
'Don't talk to me, 'she said, with difficulty.
Catherine knelt beside her in helpless pain and perplexity, her
cheek resting against her sister's shoulder as a mute sign of
sympathy. What could be the matter? Presently her gaze travelled
from Rose to the letter on the floor. It lay with the address
uppermost, and she at once recognized Langham's handwriting. But
before she could combine any rational ideas with this quick perception,
Rose had partially mastered herself. She raised her head slowly
and grasped her sister's arm.
'I was startled,' she said, a forced smile on her white lips. 'Last
night Mr. Langham asked me to marry him--I expected him here this
morning to consult with mamma and you. That letter is to inform
me that--he made a mistake--and he was very sorry! So am I! It
She got up restlessly and went to the fire as though shivering with
cold. Catherine thought she hardly knew what she was saying. The
older sister followed her, and throwing an arm round her pressed
the slim irresponsive figure close. Her eyes were bright with
anger, her lips quivering.
'That he should _dare!_' she cried. 'Rose--my poor little Rose?'
'Don't blame him!' said Rose, crouching down before the fire, while
Catherine fell into the arm-chair again. 'It doesn't seem to count,
from you--you have always been so ready to blame him!'
Her brow contracted--she looked frowning into the fire--her still
colorless mouth working painfully.
Catherine was cut to the heart. 'Oh Rose!' she said, holding out
her hands, 'I will blame no one, dear, I seem hard--but I love you
so. Oh, tell me--you would have told we everything once!'
There was the most painful yearning in her tone. Rose lifted a
listless right hand and put it into her sister's out-stretched
palms. But she made no answer, till suddenly, with a smothered
cry, she fell toward Catherine.
'Catherine! I cannot bear it. I said I loved him--he kissed me--I
could kill myself and him.'
Catherine never forgot the mingled tragedy and domesticity of the
hour that followed--the little familiar morning sounds in and about
the house, maids running up and down stairs, tradesmen calling,
bells ringing--and here, at her feet, a spectacle of moral and
mental struggle which she only half understood, but which wrung her
inmost heart. Two strains of feeling seemed to be present in Rose--a
sense of shook, of wounded pride, of intolerable humiliation--and
a strange intervening passion of pity, not for herself but for
Langham, which seemed to have been stirred in her by his letter.
But though the elder questioned, and the younger seemed to answer,
Catherine could hardly piece the story together, nor could she find
the answer to the question filling her own indignant heart, 'Does
she love him?'
At last Rose got up from her crouching position by the fire and
stood, a white ghost of herself, pushing back the bright encroaching
hair from eyes that were dry and feverish.
'If I could only be angry,--downright angry,' she said, more to
herself than Catherine--'it would do one good.'
'Give others leave to be angry for you!' cried Catherine.
'Don't!' said Rose, almost fiercely drawing herself away. 'You
don't know. It is a fate. Why did we ever meet? You may read his
letter; you must--you misjudge him--you always have. No, no'--and
she nervously crushed the letter in her hand--'not yet. But you
shall read it some time--you and Robert too. Married people always
tell one another. It is due to him, perhaps due to me too,' and a
hot flush transfigured her paleness for an instant. 'Oh, my head!
Why does one's mind effect one's body like this? It shall not--it
is humiliating! "Miss Leyburn has been jilted and cannot see
visitors,"--that is the kind of thing. Catherine, when you have
finished that document, will you kindly come and hear me practise
my last Raff?--I am going. Good-by.'
She moved to the door, but Catherine had only just time to catch
her, or she would have fallen over a chair from sudden giddiness.
'Miserable!' she said, dashing a tear from her eyes, 'I must go and
lie down then in the proper missish fashion. Mind, on your peril,
Catherine, not a word to anyone but Robert. I shall tell Agnes.
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