Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 5 out of 16
there only to attract and make a centre for the sunsets.
As compared with her Westmoreland life, the first twelve months of
wifehood had been to Catherine Elsmere a time of rapid and changing
experience. A few days out of their honeymoon had been spent at
Oxford. It was a week before the opening of the October term, but
many of the senior members of the University were already in
residence, and the stagnation of the Long Vacation was over. Langham
was up; so was Mr. Grey, and many another old friend of Robert's.
The bride and bridegroom were much feted in a quiet way. They
dined in many common rooms and bursaries; they were invited to many
luncheons, where at the superabundance of food and the length of
time spent upon it made the Puritan Catherine uncomfortable; and
Langham, devoted himself to taking the wife through colleges and
gardens, schools and Bodleian, in most orthodox fashion, indemnifying
himself afterward for the sense of constraint her presence imposed
upon him by a talk and a smoke with Robert.
He could not understand the Elsmere marriage. That a creature so
mobile, so sensitive, so susceptible as Elsmere should have fallen
in love with this stately, silent woman, with her very evident
rigidities of thought and training, was only another illustration
of the mysteries of matrimony. He could not get on with her, and
after a while did not try to do so.
There could be no doubt as to Elsmere's devotion. He was absorbed,
wrapped up in her.
'She has affected him,' thought the tutor, 'at a period of life
when he is more struck by the difficulty of being morally strong
than by the difficulty of being intellectually clear. The touch
of religious genius in her braces him like the breath of an Alpine
wind. One can see him expanding, growing under it. _Bien!_ sooner
he than! To be fair, however, let me remember that she decidedly
does not like me--which may cut me off from Elsmere. However'--and
Langham sighed over his fire--'what have he and I to do with one
another in the future? By all the laws of character something
untoward might come out of this marriage. But she will mould him,
rather than he her. Besides, she will have children--and that
solves most things.'
Meanwhile, if Langham dissected the bride as he dissected most
people, Robert, with that keen observation which lay hidden somewhere
under his careless boyish ways, noticed many points of change about
his old friend. Langham seemed to him less human, more strange
than ever; the points of contact between him and active life were
lessening in number term by term. He lectured only so far as was
absolutely necessary for the retention of his post, and he spoke
with whole-sale distaste of his pupils. He had set up a book on
'The Schools of Athens,' but when Robert saw the piles of disconnected
notes already accumulated, he perfectly understood that the book
was a mere blind, a screen, behind which a difficult, fastidious
nature trifled and procrastinated as it pleased.
Again, when Elsmere was an undergraduate Langham and Grey had been
intimate. Now, Laugham's tone _a propos_ of Grey's politics and
Grey's dreams of Church Reform was as languidly sarcastic as it was
with regard to most of the strenuous things of life. 'Nothing
particular is true,' his manner said, 'and all action is a degrading
_pis-aller_. Get through the day somehow, with as little harm to
yourself and other people as may be; do your duty if you like it,
but, for heaven's sake, don't cant about it to other people!'
If the affinities of character count for much, Catherine and Henry
Grey should certainly have understood each other. The tutor liked
the look of Elsmere's wife. His kindly brown eyes rested on her
with pleasure; he tried in his shy but friendly way to get at her,
and there was in both of them a touch of homeliness, a sheer power
of unworldiness that should have drawn them together. And indeed
Catherine felt the charm, the spell of this born leader of men.
But she watched him with a sort of troubled admiration, puzzled,
evidently, by the halo of moral dignity surrounding him, which
contended with something else in her mind respecting him. Some
words of Robert's, uttered very early in their acquaintance, had
set her on her guard. Speaking of religion, Robert said, 'Grey is
not one of us;' and Catherine, restrained by a hundred ties of
training and temperament, would not surrender herself, and could
not if she would.
Then had followed their home-coming to the rectory, and the first
institution of their common life, never to be forgotten for the
tenderness and the sacredness of it. Mrs. Elsmere had received
them, and had then retired to a little cottage of her own close by.
She had of course already made the acquaintance of her daughter-in-law,
for she had been the Thornburghs' guest for ten days before the
marriage in September, and Catherine, moreover, had paid her a short
visit in the summer. But it was now that for the first she realized
to the full the character of the woman Robert had married. Catherine's
manner to her was sweetness itself. Parted from her own mother as
she was, the younger wowan's strong filial instincts spent themselves
in tending the mother who had been the guardian and life of Robert's
youth. And, Mrs. Elsmere in return was awed by Catherine's moral
force and purity of nature, and proud of her personal beauty, which
was so real, in spite of the severity of the type, and to which
marriage had given, at any rate for the moment, a certain added
softness and brilliancy.
But there were difficulties in the way. Catherine was a little too
apt to treat Mrs. Elsmere as she would have treated her own mother.
But to be nursed and protected, to be, screened from draughts, and
run after with shawls and stools was something wholly new and
intolerable to Mrs. Elsmere. She could not away with it, and as
soon as she had sufficiently lost her first awe of her daughter-in-law
she would revenge herself in all sorts of droll ways, and with
occasional flashes of petulant Irish wit which would make Catherine
color and drawback. Then Mrs. Elsmere, touched with remorse, would
catch her by the neck and give her a resounding kiss, which perhaps
puzzled Catherine no less than her sarcasm of a minute before.
Moreover Mrs. Elsmere felt ruefully from the first that her new
daughter was decidedly deficient in the sense of humor.
'I believe it's that father of hers,' she would say to herself
crossly. 'By what Robert tells me of him he must have been one of
the people who get ill in their minds for want of a good mouth-filling
laugh now and then. The man who can't amuse himself a bit out of
the world is sure to get his head addled somehow, poor creature.'
Certainly it needed a faculty of laughter to be always able to take
Mrs. Elsmere on the right side. For instance, Catherine was more
often scandalized than impressed by her mother-in-law's charitable
Mrs. Elsmere's little cottage was filled with workhouse orphans
sent to her from different London districts. The training of these
girls was the chief business of her life, and a very odd training
it was, conducted in the noisiest way and on the most familiar
terms. It was undeniable that the girls generally did well and
they invariably adored Mrs. Elsmere, but Catherine did not much
like to think about them. Their household teaching under Mrs.
Elsmere and her old servant Martha--as great an original as herself,
was so irregular, their religious training so extraordinary, the
clothes in which they were allowed to disport themselves so scandalous
to the sober taste of the rector's wife, that Catherine involuntarily
regarded the little cottage on the hill as a spot of misrule in the
general order of the parish. She would go in, say, at eleven o'clock
in the morning, find her mother-in-law in bed, half-dressed, with
all her handmaidens about her, giving her orders, reading her letters
and the newspaper, cutting out her girls' frocks, instructing them
in the fashions, or delivering little homilies on questions suggested
by the news of the day to the more intelligent of them. The room,
the whole house, would seem to Catherine in a detestable litter.
If so, Mrs. Elsmere never apologized for it. On the contrary, as
she saw Catherine sweep a mass of miscellaneous _debris_ off a chair
in search of a seat, the small bright eyes would twinkle with
something that was certainly nearer amusement than shame.
And in a hundred other ways Mrs. Elsmere's relations with the poor
of the parish often made Catherine miserable. She herself had the
most angelic pity and tenderness for sorrows and sinners; but sin
was sin to her, and when she saw Mrs. Elsmere more than half attracted
by the stronger vices, and in many cases more inclined to laugh
with what was human in them, than to weep over what was vile,
Robert's wife would go away and wrestle with herself, that she might
be betrayed into nothing harsh toward Robert's mother.
But fate allowed their differences, whether they were deep or
shallow, no time to develop. A week of bitter cold at the beginning
of January struck down Mrs. Elsmere, whose strange ways of living
were more the result of certain longstanding delicacies of health
than she had ever allowed anyone to imagine. A few days of acute
inflammation of the lungs, borne with a patience and heroism which
showed the Irish character at its finest a moment of agonized
wrestling with that terror of death which had haunted the keen
vivacious soul from its earliest consciousness, ending in a glow
of spiritual victory--Robert found himself motherless. He and
Catherine had never left her since the beginning of the illness.
In one of the intervals toward the end, when there was a faint power
of speech, she drew Catherine's cheek down to her and kissed her.
'God bless you!' the old woman's voice said, with a solemnity in
it which Robert knew well, but which Catherine had never heard
before. 'Be good to him, Catherine--be always good to him!'
And she lay looking from the husband to the wife with a certain
wistfulness which pained Catherine, she knew not why. But she
answered with tears and tender words, and at last the mother's face
settled into a peace which death did but confirm.
This great and unexpected loss, which had shaken to their depths
all the feelings and affections of his youth, had thrown Elsmere
more than ever on his wife. To him, made as it seemed for love and
for enjoyment, grief was a novel and difficult burden. He felt
with passionate gratitude that his wife helped him to bear it so
that he came out from it not lessened but ennobled, that she preserved
him from many a lapse of nervous weariness and irritation into which
his temperament might easily have been betrayed.
And how his very dependence had endeared him to Catherine! That
vibrating responsive quality in him, so easily mistaken for mere
weakness, which made her so necessary to him--there is nothing
perhaps which wins more deeply upon a woman. For all the while it
was balanced in a hundred ways by the illimitable respect which his
character and his doings compelled from those about him. To be the
strength, the inmost joy, of a man who within the conditions of his
life seems to you a hero at every turn--there is no happiness more
penetrating for a wife than this.
On this August afternoon the Elsmeres were expecting visitors.
Catherine had sent the pony-carriage to the station to meet Rose
and Langham, who was to escort her from Waterloo. For various
reasons, all characteristic, it was Rose's first visit to Catherine's
Now she had been for six weeks in London, and had been persuaded
to come on to her sister, at the end of her stay. Catherine was
looking forward to her coming with many tremors. The wild ambitious
creature had been not one atom appeased by Manchester and its
opportunities. She had gone back to Whindale in April only to fall
into more hopeless discontent than ever. 'She can hardly be civil
to anybody,' Agnes wrote to Catherine. 'The cry now is all "London"
or at least "Berlin," and she cannot imagine why papa should ever
have wished to condemn us to such a prison.'
Catherine grew pale with indignation as she read the words, and
thought of her father's short-lived joy in the old house and its
few green fields, or of the confidence which had soothed his last
moments, that it would be well there with his wife and children,
far from the hubbub of the world.
But Rose and her whims were not facts which could be put aside.
They would have to be grappled with, probably humored. As Catherine
strolled out into the garden, listening alternately for Robert and
for the carriage, she told herself that it would be a difficult
visit. And the presence of Mr. Langham would certainly not diminish
its difficulty. The mere thought of him set the wife's young form
stiffening. A cold breath seemed to blow from Edward Langham, which
chilled Catherine's whole being. Why was Robert so fond of him?
But the more Langham cut himself off from the world, the more Robert
clung to him in his wistful affectionate way. The more difficult
their intercourse became, the more determined the younger man seemed
to be to maintain it. Catherine imagined that he often scourged
himself in secret for the fact that the gratitude which had once
flowed so readily had now become a matter of reflection and resolution.
'Why should we always expect to get pleasure from our friends?' he
had said to her once with vehemence. 'It should be pleasure enough
to love them.' And she knew very well of whom he was thinking.
How late he was this afternoon. He must have been a long round.
She had news for him of great interest. The lodge-keeper from the
Hall had just looked in to tell the rector that the Squire and his
widowed sister were expected home in four days.
But, interesting as the news was, Catherine's looks as she pondered
it were certainly not looks of pleased expectation. Neither of
them, indeed, had much cause to rejoice in the Squire's advent.
Since their arrival in the parish the splendid Jacobean Hall had
been untenanted. The Squire, who was abroad to With his sister at
the time of their coming, had sent a civil note to the new rector on
his settlement in the parish, naming some common Oxford
acquaintances, and desiring him to make what use of the famous
Murewell Library he pleased. 'I hear of you as a friend to
letters,' he wrote; 'do my books a service by using them.' The
words were graceful enough. Robert had answered them warmly. He
had also availed himself largely of the permission they had
conveyed. We shall see presently that the Squire, though absent, had
already made a deep impression on the young man's imagination.
But unfortunately he came across the Squire in two capacities.
Mr. Wendover was not only the owner of Murewell, he was also the
owner of the whole land of the parish, where, however, by a curious
accident of inheritance, dating some generations back, and implying
some very remote connection between the Wendover and Elsmere families,
he was not the patron of the living. Now the more Elsmere studied
him under this aspect, the deeper became his dismay. The estate
was entirely in the hands of an agent who had managed it for some
fifteen years, and of whose character the Rector, before he had
been two months in the parish, had formed the very poorest opinion.
Robert, entering upon his duties with the Order of the modern
reformer, armed not only with charity but with science, found himself
confronted by the opposition of a man who combined the shrewdness
of an attorney with the callousness of a drunkard. It seemed
incredible that a great landowner should commit his interests and
the interests of hundreds of human beings to the hands of such a
By-and-by, however, as the Rector penetrated more deeply into the
situation, he found his indignation transferring itself more and
more from the man to the master. It became clear to him that in
some respects Henslowe suited the Squire admirably. It became also
clear to him that the Squire had taken pains for years to let it
be known that he cared not one rap for any human being on his estate
in any other capacity than as a rent-payer or wage-receiver. What!
Live for thirty years in that great house, and never care whether
your tenants and laborers lived like pigs or like men, whether the
old people died of damp, or the children of diphtheria, which you
might have prevented! Robert's brow grew dark over it.
The click of an opening gate. Catherine shook off her dreaminess
at once, and hurried along the path to meet her husband. In another
moment Elsmere came in sight, swinging along, a holly stick in his
hand, his face aglow with health and exercise and kindling at the
sight of his wife. She hung on his arm, and, with his hand laid
tenderly on hers, he asked her how she fared. She answered briefly,
but with a little flush, her eyes raised to his. She was within a
few weeks of motherhood.
Then they strolled along talking. He, gave her an account of his
afternoon which, to judge from the worried expression which presently
effaced the joy of their meeting, had been spent in some unsuccessful
effort or other. They paused after awhile and stood looking over
the plain before them to a spot beyond the nearer belt of woodland,
where from a little hollow about three miles off there rose a cloud
of bluish smoke.
'He will do nothing!' cried Catherine, incredulous.
'Nothing! It is the policy of the estate, apparently, to let the
old and bad cottages fall to pieces. He sneers at one for supposing
any landowner has money for "philanthropy" just now. If the people
don't like the houses they can go. I told him I should appeal to
the Squire as soon as he came home.'
'What did he say?'
He smiled, as much as to say, "Do as you like and be a fool for
your pains." How the Squire can let that man tyrannize over the
estate as he does, I cannot conceive. Oh, Catherine, I am full of
qualms about the Squire!'
'So am I,' she said, with a little darkening of her clear look.
'Old Benham has just been in to say they are expected on Thursday.'
Robert started. 'Are these our last days of peace?' he said
wistfully--'the last days of our honeymoon, Catherine?'
She smiled at him with a little quiver of passionate feeling under
'Can anything touch that?' she said under her breath.
'Do you know,' he said, presently, his voice dropping, 'that it is
only a month to our wedding day? Oh, my wife, have I kept my
promise--is the new life as rich as the old?'
She made no answer, except the dumb sweet answer that love writes
on eyes and lips. Then a tremor passed over her.
'Are we too happy? Can it be well--be right?'
Oh, let us take it like children!' he cried, with a shiver, almost
petulantly. 'There will be dark hours enough. It is so good to
She leant her cheek fondly against his shoulder. To her, life
always meant self-restraint, self-repression, self-deadening, if
need be. The Puritan distrust of personal joy as something dangerous
and ensnaring was deep ingrained in her. It had no natural hold
They stood a moment hand in hand fronting the corn-field and the
sun-filled West, while the afternoon breeze blew back the man's
curly reddish hair, long since restored to all its natural abundance.
Presently Robert broke into a broad smile.
'What do you suppose Langham has been entertaining Rose with on the
way, Catherine? I wouldn't miss her remarks to-night on the escort
we provided her for a good deal.'
Catherine said nothing, but her delicate eyebrows went up a little.
Robert stooped and lightly kissed her.
'You never performed a greater art of virtue even in _your_ life
Mrs. Elsmere, than when you wrote Langham that nice letter of
And then the young Rector sighed, as many a boyish memory came
crowding upon him.
A sound of wheels! Robert's long legs took him to the gate in a
twinkling, and he flung it open just as Rose drove up in fine style,
a thin dark man beside her.
Rose lent her bright cheek to Catherine's kiss, and the two sisters
walked up to the door together, while Robert and Langham loitered
after them talking.
'Oh, Catherine!' said Rose under her breath, as they got into the
drawing-room, with a little theatrical gesture, 'why on earth did
you inflict that man and me on each other for two mortal hours?'
'Sh-sh!' said Catherine's lips, while her face gleamed with laughter.
Rose sank flushed upon a chair, her eyes glancing up with a little
furtive anger in them as the two gentlemen entered the room.
'You found each other easily at Waterloo?' asked Robert.
'Mr. Langham would never have found me,' said Rose, dryly, 'but I
pounced on him at last, just, I believe, as he was beginning to
cherish the hope of an empty carriage and the solitary enjoyment
of his "Saturday Review."'
Langham smiled nervously. 'Miss Leyburn is too hard on a blind
man,' he said, holding up his eye-glass apologetically; 'it was my
eyes, not my will, that were fault.'
Rose's lip curled a little. 'And Robert,' she cried, bending forward
as though something had just occurred to her, 'do tell, me--I vowed
I would ask--_is_ Mr. Langham a Liberal or a conservative? _He_
Robert laughed, so did Langham.
'Your sister,' he said, flushing, 'will have one so very precise
in all one says.'
He turned his handsome olive face toward her, an unwonted spark of
animation lighting up his black eyes. It was evident that he felt
himself persecuted, but it was not so evident whether he enjoyed
the process or disliked it.
'Oh dear, no!' said Rose nonchalantly. 'Only I have just come from
a house where everybody either loathes Mr. Gladstone or would die
for him to-morrow. There was a girl of seven and a boy of nine who
were always discussing "Coercion" in the corners of the schoolroom.
So, of course, I have grown political too, and began to catechize
Mr. Langham at once, and when he said "he didn't know," I felt I
should like to set those children at him! They would soon put some
principles into him!'
'It is not generally lack of principle, Miss Rose,' said her
brother-in-law, 'that turns a man a doubter in politics, but too
And while he spoke, his eyes resting on Langham, his smile broadened
as he recalled all those instances in their Oxford past, when he
had taken a humble share in one of the Herculean efforts on the
part of Langham's friends, which were always necessary whenever it
was a question of screwing a vote out of him on any debated University
'How dull it must be to have too much principle!' cried Rose. 'Like
a mill choked with corn. No bread because the machine can't work!'
'Defend me from my friends!' cried Langham, roused. 'Elsmere, when
did I give you a right to caricature me in this way? If I were
interested,' he added, subsiding into his usual hesitating
ineffectiveness, 'I suppose I should know my own mind.'
And then seizing the muffins, he stood presenting them to Rose as
though in deprecation of any further personalities. Inside him there
was a hot protest against an unreasonable young beauty whom he had
done his miserable best to entertain for two long hours, and who
in return had made feel himself more of a fool than he had done for
years. Since when had young women put on all these airs? In his
young days they knew their place.
Catherine meanwhile sat watching her sister. The child was more
beautiful than ever, but in other outer respects the Rose of Long
Whindale had undergone much transformation. The puffed sleeves,
the _aesthetic_ skirts, the naive adornments of bead and shell, the
formless hat, which it pleased her to imagine 'after Gainsborough,'
had all disappeared. She was clad in some soft fawn-colored garment,
cut very much in the fashion; her hair was closely rolled and twisted
about her lightly balanced head; everything about her was treat and
fresh and tight-fitting. A year ago she had been a damsel from the
'Earthly Paradise;' now, so far as an English girl can achieve it
she might have been a model for Tissot. In this phase, as in the
other, there was a touch of extravagance. The girl was developing
fast, but had clearly not yet developed. The restlessness, the
self-consciousness of Long Whindale were still there; but they spoke
to the spectator in different ways.
But in her anxious study of her sister Catherine did not forget her
place of hostess. 'Did our man bring you through the park, Mr.
Langham?' she asked him timidly.
'Yes. What an exquisite old house!' he said, turning to her, and
feeling through all his critical sense the difference between the
gentle matronly dignity of the one sister and the young self-assertion
of the other.
'Ah,' said Robert, 'I kept that as a surprise! Did you ever see a
more perfect place?'
'Early Tudor--as to the oldest part. It was built by a relation
of Bishop Fisher's; then largely rebuilt under James I. Elizabeth
stayed there twice. There is a trace of a visit of Sidney's.
Waller was there, and left a copy of verses in the library. Evelyn
laid out a great deal of the garden. Lord Clarendon wrote part of
his History in the garden, et cetera, et cetera. The place is
steeped in associations, and as beautiful as a dream to begin with.'
'And the owner of all this is the author of the "Idols of the Market
'Did you ever meet him at Oxford? I believe he was there once or
twice during my time, but I never saw him.'
'Yes,' said Langham, thinking. 'I met him at dinner at the
Vice-Chancellor's, now I remember. A bizarre and formidable
person--very difficult to talk to,' he added reflectively.
Then as he looked up he caught a sarcastic twitch of Rose Leyburn's
lip and understood it in a moment. Incontinently he forgot the
Squire and fell to asking himself what had possessed him on that
luckless journey down. He had never seemed to himself more perverse,
more unmanageable; and for once his philosophy did not enable him
to swallow the certainty that this slim flashing creature must have
thought him a morbid idiot with as much _sang-froid_ as usual.
Robert interrupted his reflections by some Oxford question, and
presently Catherine carried off Rose to her room. On their way
they passed a door, beside which Catherine paused hesitating, and
then with a bright flush on the face, which had such maternal calm
in it already, she threw her arm round Rose and drew her in. It
was a white empty room, smelling of the roses outside, and waiting
in the evening stillness for the life that was to be. Rose looked
at it all--at the piles of tiny garments, the cradle, the pictures
from Retsch's 'Song of the Bell,' which had been the companions of
their own childhood, on the walls--and something stirred in the
'Catherine, I believe you have everything you want, or you soon
will have!' she cried, almost with a kind of bitterness, laying her
hands on her sister's shoulders.
'Everything but worthiness!' said Catherine softly, a mist rising
in her calm gray eyes. 'And you, 'Roeschen,' she added wistfully--'have
you been getting a little more what you want?'
'What's the good of asking?' said the girl, with a little shrug of
impatience. 'As if creatures like we ever got what they want!
London has been good fun certainly--if one could get enough, of it.
Catherine, how long is that marvelous person going to stay?' and
she pointed in the direction of Langham's room.
'A week,' said Catherine, smiling at the girl's disdainful tone.
'I was afraid you didn't take to him.'
'I never saw such a being before,' declared Rose--'never! I thought
I should never get a plain answer from him about anything. He
wasn't even quite certain it was a fine day! I wonder if you set
fire to him whether he would be sure it hurt! A week, you say?
Heigho! what an age!'
'Be kind to him,' said Catherine, discreetly veiling her own feelings,
and caressing the curly golden head as they moved toward the door.
'He's a poor lone don, and he was so good to Robert!'
'Excellent reason for you, Mrs. Elsmere,' said Rose pouting; 'but----'
Her further remarks were cut short by the sound of the front-door
'Oh, I had forgotten Mr. Newcome!' cried Catherine, starting. 'Come
down soon, Rose, and help us through.'
'Who is he?' inquired Rose, sharply.
'A High Church clergyman near here, whom Robert asked to tea this
afternoon,' said Catherine, escaping.
Rose took her hat off very leisurely. The prospect down-stairs did
not seem to justify despatch. She lingered and thought, of 'Lohengrin'
and Albani, of the crowd of artistic friends that had escorted her
to Waterloo, of the way in which she had been applauded the night
before, of the joys of playing Brahms with a long-haired pupil of
Rubinstein's, who had dropped on one knee and kissed her hand at
the end of it, etc. During the last six weeks the colors of 'this
thread-bare world' had been freshening before her in marvellous
fashion. And now, as she stood looking out, the quiet fields
opposite, the sight of a cow pushing its head through the hedge,
the infinite sunset sky, the quiet of the house, filled her with a
sudden depression. How dull it all seemed--how wanting in the glow
Meanwhile downstairs a curious little scene was passing, watched
by Langham, who, in his usual anti-social way, had retreated into
a corner of his own as soon as another visitor appeared. Beside
Catherine sat a Ritualist clergyman in cassock and long cloak--a
saint clearly, though perhaps, to judge from the slight restlessness
of movement that seemed to quiver through him perpetually, an
irritable one. But he had the saint's wasted unearthly look, the
ascetic brow, high and narrow, the veins showing through the skin,
and a personality as magnetic as it was strong.
Catherine listened to the new-comer, and gave him his tea, with an
aloofness of manner which was not lost on Langham. 'She is the
Thirty-nine Articles in the flesh!' he said to himself. 'For her
there must neither be too much nor too little. How can Elsmere
Elsmere apparently was not perfectly happy. He sat balancing his
long person over the arm of a chair listening to the recital of
some of the High Churchman's parish troubles with a slight
half-embarrassed smile. The Vicar of Mottringham was always in
trouble. The narrative he was pouring out took shape in Langham's
sarcastic sense as a sort of classical epic, with the High Churchman
as a new champion of Christendom, harassed on all sides by pagan
parishioners, crass churchwardens, and treacherous bishops.
Catherine's fine face grew more and more set, nay disdainful. Mr.
Newcome was quite blind to it. Women never entered into his
calculations except as sisters or as penitents. At a certain
diocesan conference he had discovered a sympathetic fibre in the
young Rector of Murewell, which had been to the imperious, persecuted
zealot like water to the thirsty. He had come to-day, drawn by the
same quality in Elsmere as had originally attracted Langham to the
St. Anselm's undergraduate, and he sat pouring himself out with as
much freedom as if all his companions had been as ready as he was
to die for an alb, or to spend half their days in piously circumventing
But presently the conversation had slid, no one knew how, from
Mottringham and its intrigues to London and its teeming East.
Robert was leading, his eye now on the apostalic-looking priest,
now on his wife. Mr. Newcome resisted, but Robert had his way.
Then it came out that behind these battles of kites and crows at
Mottringhan, there lay an heroic period when the pale ascetic had
wrestled ten years with London Poverty, leaving health and youth
and nerves behind him in the meelee. Robert dragged it out at last,
that struggle, into open view, but with difficulty. The Ritualist
may glory in the discomfiture of an Erastian bishop--what Christian
dare parade ten years of love to God and man? And presently round
Elsmere's lip there dawned a little smile of triumph. Catherine
had shaken off her cold silence, her Puritan aloofness, was bending
forward eagerly--listening. Stroke by stroke, as the words and
facts were beguiled from him, all that was futile and quarrelsome
in the sharp-featured priest sank out of sight; the face glowed
with inward light; the stature of the man seemed to rise; the angel
in him unsheathed its wings. Suddenly the story of the slums that
Mr. Newcome was telling--a story of the purest Christian heroism
told in the simplest way--came to an end, and Catherine leaned
toward him with a long quivering breath.
'Oh, thank you, thank you! That must have been a joy, a privilege!'
Mr. Newcome turned and looked at her with surprise.
'Yes, it was a privilege,' he said slowly--the story had been an
account of the rescue of a young country lad from a London den of
thieves and profligates--'you are right; it was just that.'
And then some sensitive inner fibre of the man was set vibrating,
and he would talk no more of himself or his past, do what they
So Robert had hastily to provide another subject, and he fell upon
that of the Squire.
Mr. Newcome's eyes flashed.
'He is coming back? I am sorry for you, Elsmere. "Woo is me that
I am constrained to dwell with Mesech, and to have my habitation
among the tents of Kedar!"'
And he fell back in his chair, his lips tightening, his thin long
hand lying along the arm of it, answering to that general impression
of combat, of the spiritual athlete, that hung about him.
'I don't know,' said Robert brightly, as he leant against the
mantelpiece looking curiously at his visitor. 'The Squire is a man
of strong-character, of vast learning. His library is one of the
finest in England, and it is at my service. I am not concerned with
'Ah, I see,' said Newcome in his driest voice, but sadly. You are
one of the people who believe in what you call tolerance--I remember.'
'Yes, that is an impeachment to which I plead guilty,' said Robert,
perhaps with equal dryness; 'and you--have your worries driven you
to throw tolerance overboard?'
Newcome bent forward quickly. Strange glow and intensity of the
fanatical eyes--strange beauty of the wasted, persecuting lips!
'Tolerance!' he said with irritable vehemence--'tolerance! Simply
another name for betrayal, cowardice, desertion--nothing else.
God, Heaven, Salvation on the one side, the Devil and Hell on the
other--and one miserable life, one wretched sin-stained will, to
win the battle with; and in such a state of things _you_--' He
dropped his voice, throwing out every word with a scornful, sibilant
'_You_ would have us believe as though our friends were our enemies
and our enemies our friends, as though eternal misery were a
bagatelle, and our faith a mere alternative. _I stand for Christ_,
and His foes are mine.'
'By which I suppose you mean,' said Robert, quietly, that you would
shut your door on the writer of "The Idols of the Market-place"?'
And the priest rose, his whole attention concentrated on Robert,
as though some deeper-lying motive were suddenly brought into play
than any suggested by the conversation itself.
'Certainly. _Judge not_--so long as a man has not judged himself,--only
till then. As to an open enemy, the Christian's path is clear.
We are but soldiers under orders. What business have we to be
truce-making on our own account? The war is not ours, but God's!'
Robert's eyes had kindled. He was about to indulge himself in such
a quick passage of arms as all such natures as his delight in, when
his look travelled past the gaunt figure of the Ritualist vicar to
his wife. A sudden pang smote, silenced him. She was sitting with
her face raised to Newcome; and her beautiful gray eyes were full
of a secret passion of sympathy. It was like the sudden re-emergence
of something repressed, the satisfaction of something hungry.
Robert moved closer to her, and the color rushed over all his young
'To me,' he said in a low voice, his eyes fixed rather on her than
on Newcome, 'a clergyman has enough to do with those foes of Christ
he cannot choose but recognize. There is no making truce with vice
or cruelty. Why should we complicate our task and spend in needless
struggle the energies we might give to our brother?'
His wife turned to him. There was trouble in her look, then a swift
lovely dawn of something indescribable. Newcome moved away, with
a gesture that was half bitterness, half weariness.
'Wait, my friend,' he said slowly, 'till you have watched that man's
books eating the very heart out of a poor creature, as I have.
When you have once seen Christ robbed of a soul that might have
been His, by the infidel of genius, you will loathe all this Laodicean
cant of tolerance as I do!'
There was, an awkward pause. Langham, with his eyeglass on, was
carefully examining the make of a carved paper-knife lying near
him. The strained, preoccupied mind of the High Churchman had never
taken the smallest account of his presence, of which Robert had
been keenly, not to say humorously, conscious throughout.
But after a minute or so the tutor got up, strolled forward, and
addressed Robert on some Oxford topic of common interest. Newcome,
in a kind of dream which seemed to have suddenly descended on him,
stood near them, his priestly cloak falling in long folds about
him, his ascetic face grave and rapt. Gradually, however, the talk
of the two men dissipated the mystical cloud about him. He began
to listen, to catch the savour of Langham's modes of speech, and
of his languid, indifferent personality.
'I must go,' he said abruptly, after a minute or two, breaking in
upon the friends' conversation. 'I shall hardly get home before
He took a cold, punctilious leave of Catherine, and a still colder
and lighter leave of Langham. Elsmere accompanied him to the gate.
On the way the older man suddenly caught him by the arm.
'Elsmere, let me--I am the elder by so many years--let me speak to
you. My heart goes out to you!'
And the eagle face softened; the harsh, commanding presence became
enveloping, magnetic. Robert paused and looked down upon him, a
quick light of foresight in his eye. He felt what was coming.
And down it swept upon him, a hurricane of words hot from Newcome's
inmost being, a protest winged by the gathered passion of years
against certain 'dangerous tendencies' the elder priest discerned
in the younger, against the worship of intellect and science as
such which appeared in Elsmere's talk, in Elsmere's choice of
friends. It was the eternal cry of the mystic of all ages.
'Scholarship! Learning!' Eyes and lips flashed into a vehement
scorn. 'You allow them a value in themselves, apart from the
Christian's test. It is the modern canker, the modern curse! Thank
God, my years in London burnt it out of me! Oh, my friend, what
have you and I to do with all these curious triflings, which lead
men oftener to rebellion than to worship? Is this a time for
wholesale trust, for a maudlin universal sympathy? Nay, rather a
day of suspicion, a day of repression!--a time for trampling on the
lusts of the mind no less than the lusts of the body, a time when
it is better to believe than to know, to pray than to understand!'
Robert was silent a moment, and they stood together, Newcome's gaze
of fiery appeal fixed upon him.
'We are differently made, you and I' said the young Rector at last
with difficulty. 'Where you see temptation I see opportunity. I
cannot conceive of God as the Arch-plotter against His own creation!'
Newcome dropped his hold abruptly.
'A groundless optimism,' he said with harshness. 'On the track of
the soul from birth to death there are two sleuth-hounds--Sin and
Satan. Mankind forever flies them, is forever vanquished and
devoured. I see life always as a thread-like path between abysses
along which man _creeps_'--and his gesture illustrated the words--'with
bleeding hands and feet toward one-narrow-solitary outlet. Woe to
him if he turn to the right hand or the left--"I will repay, saith
Elsmere drew himself up suddenly; the words seemed to him a blasphemy.
Then something stayed the vehement answer on his lips. It was a
sense of profound, intolerable pity. What a maimed life! what an
indomitable soul! Husbandhood, fatherhood, and all the sacred
education that flows from human joy; for ever self-forbidden, and
this grind creed for recompense!
He caught Newcome's hand with a kind filial eagerness.
'You are a perpetual lesson to me,' he said, most gently. 'When
the world is too much with me, I think of you and am rebuked. God
bless you! But I know myself. If I could see life and God as you
see them for one hour, I should cease to be a Christian in the
A flush of something like sombre resentment passed over Newcome's
face. There is a tyrannical element in all fanaticism, an element
which makes opposition a torment. He turned abruptly away, and
Robert was left alone.
It was a still, clear evening, rich in the languid softness and
balm which mark the first approaches of autumn. Elsmere walked
back to the house, his head uplifted to the sky which lay beyond
the cornfield, his whole being wrought into a passionate protest--a
passionate invocation of all things beautiful and strong and free,
a clinging to life and nature as to something wronged and outraged.
Suddenly his wife stood beside him. She had come down to warn him
that it was late and that Langham had gone to dress; but she stood
lingering by his side after her message was given, and he made no
movement to go in. He turned to her, the exaltation gradually dying
out of his face, and at last he stooped and kissed her with a kind
of timidity unlike him. She clasped both hands on his arm and stood
pressing toward him as though to make amends--for she knew not what.
Something--some sharp, momentary sense of difference, of antagonism,
had hurt that inmost fibre which is the conscience of true passion.
She did the most generous, the most ample penance for it as she
stood there talking to him of half-indifferent things, but with a
magic, a significance of eye and voice which seemed to take all the
severity from her beauty and make her womanhood itself.
At the evening meal Rose appeared in pale blue, and it seemed to
Langham, fresh from the absolute seclusion of college-rooms in
vacation, that everything looked flat and stale beside her, beside
the flash of her white arms, the gleam of her hair, the confident
grace of every movement. He thought her much too self-conscious
and self-satisfied; and she certainly did not make herself agreeable
to him; but for all that he could hardly take his eyes off her; and
it occurred to him once or twice to envy Robert the easy childish
friendliness she showed to him, and to him alone of the party. The
lack of real sympathy between her and Catherine was evident to the
stranger at once--what, indeed, could the two have in common? He
saw that Catherine was constantly on the point of blaming, and Rose
constantly on the point of rebelling. He caught the wrinkling of
Catherine's brow as Rose presently, in emulation apparently of some
acquaintances she had been making in London, let slip the names of
some of her male friends without the 'Mr.,' or launched into some
bolder affectation than usual of a comprehensive knowledge of London
society. The girl, in spite of all her beauty, and her fashion,
and the little studied details of her dress, was in reality so
crude, so much of a child under it all, that it made her audacities
and assumptions the more absurd, and he could see that Robert was
vastly amused by them.
But Langham was not merely amused by her. She was too beautiful
and too full of character.
It astonished him to find himself afterward edging over to the
corner where she sat with the Rectory cat on her knee--an inferior
animal, but the best substitute for Chattie available. So it was,
however; and once in her neighborhood he made another serious effort
to get her to talk to him. The Elsmeres had never seen him so
conversational. He dropped his paradoxical melancholy; he roared
as gently as any sucking dove; and Robert, catching from the pessimist
of St. Anselm's, as the evening went on, some hesitating common-places
worthy of a bashful undergraduate on the subject of the boats and
Commemoration, had to beat a hasty retreat, so greatly did the
situation tickle his sense of humor.
But the tutor made his various ventures under a discouraging sense
of failure. What a capricious, ambiguous creature it was, how
fearless, how disagreeably alive to all his own damaging peculiarities!
Never had he been so piqued for years, and as he floundered about
trying to find some common ground where he and she might be at ease,
he was conscious throughout of her mocking indifferent eyes, which
seemed to be saying to him all the time, 'You are not interesting,--no,
not a bit! You are tiresome, and I see through you, but I must
talk to you, I suppose, _faute de mieux_.'
Long before the little party separated for the night, Langham had
given it up, and had betaken himself to Catherine, reminding himself
with some sharpness that he had come down to study his friend's
life, rather than the humors of a provoking girl. How still the
summer night was round the isolated rectory; how fresh and spotless
were all the appointments of the house; what a Quaker neatness and
refinement everywhere! He drank in the scent of air and flowers
with which the rooms were filled; for the first time his fastidious
sense was pleasantly conscious of Catherine's grave beauty; and
even the mystic ceremonies of family prayer had a certain charm for
him, pagan as he was. How much dignity and persuasiveness it has
still he thought to himself, this commonplace country life of ours,
on its best sides!
Half-past ten arrived. Rose just let him touch her hand; Catherine
gave him a quiet good-night, with various hospitable wishes for his
nocturnal comfort, and the ladies withdrew. He saw Robert open the
door for his wife and catch her thin white fingers as she passed
him with all the secrecy and passion of a lover.
Then they plunged into the study, he and Robert, and smoked their
fill. The study was an astonishing medley. Books, natural history
specimens, a half-written sermon, fishing rods, cricket bats, a
huge medicine cupboard--all the main elements of Elsmere's new
existence were represented there. In the drawing-room with his
wife and his sister-in-law he had been as much of a boy as ever;
here clearly he was a man, very much in earnest. What about? What
did it all come to? Can the English country clergyman do much with
his life and his energies. Langham approached the subject with his
Robert for awhile, however, did not help him to solve it. He fell
at once to talking about the Squire, as though it cleared his mind
to talk out his difficulties even to so ineffective a counsellor
as Langham. Langham, indeed was but faintly interested in the
Squire's crimes as a landlord, but there was a certain interest to
be got out of the struggle in Elsmere's mind between the attractiveness
of the Squire, as one of the most difficult and original personalties
of English letters, and that moral condemnation of him as a man of
possessions and ordinary human responsibilities with which the young
reforming Rector was clearly penetrated. So that, as long as he
could smoke under it, he was content to let his companion describe
to him, Mr. Wendover's connection with the property, his accession
to it in middle life after a long residence in Germany, his ineffectual
attempts to play the English country gentleman, and his subsequent
complete withdrawal from the life about him.
'You have no idea what a queer sort of existence he lives in that
huge place,' said Robert with energy. 'He is not unpopular exactly
with the poor down here. When they want to belabor anybody they
lay on at the agent, Henslowe. On the whole, I have come to the
conclusion the poor like a mystery. They never see him; when he
is here the park is shut up; the common report is that he walks,
at night; and he lives alone in that enormous house with his books.
The country folk have all quarrelled with him, or nearly. It
pleases him to get a few of the humbler people about, clergy,
professional men, and so on, to dine with him sometimes. And be
often fills the Hall, I am told, with London people for a day or
two. But otherwise, he knows no one, and nobody knows him.'
'But you say he has a widowed sister? How does she relish the kind
'Oh, by all accounts,' said the Rector with a shrug, 'she is as
little like other people as himself. A queer elfish little creature,
they say, as fond of solitude down here as the Squire, and full of
hobbies. In her youth she was about the Court. Then she married
a Canon of Warham, one of the popular preachers, I believe, of the
day. There is a bright little cousin of hers, a certain Lady Helen
Varley, who lives near here, and tells one stories of her. She
must be the most whimsical little aristocrat imaginable. She liked
her husband apparently, but she never got over leaving London and
the fashionable world, and is as hungry now, after her long fast,
for titles and big-wigs, as though she were the purest parvenu.
The Squire of course makes mock of her, and she has no influence
with him. However, there is something naive in the stories they
tell of her. I feel as if I might get on with her. But the Squire!'
And the Rector, having laid down his pipe, took to studying his
boots with a certain dolefulness.
Langham, however, who always treated the subjects of conversation
presented to him as an epicure treats food, felt at this point that
he had had enough of the Wendovers, and started something else.
'So you physic bodies as well as Minds?' he said, pointing to the
'I should think so!' cried Robert, brightening at once. Last winter
I causticked all the diphtheritic throats in the place with my own
hand. Our parish doctor is an infirm old noodle, and I just had
to do it. And if the state of part of the parish remains what it
is, it's a pleasure I may promise myself most years. But it shan't
remain what it is.'
And the Rector reached out his hand again for his pipe, and gave
one or two energetic puffs to it as he surveyed his friend stretched
before him in the depths of an armchair.
'I will make myself a public nuisance, but the people shall have
'It seems to me,' said Langham, musing, 'that in my youth people
talked about Ruskin; now they talk about drains.'
'And quite right too. Dirt and drains, Catherine says I have gone
mad upon them. It's all very well, but they are the foundations
of a sound religion.'
'Dirt, drains, and Darwin,' said Langham meditatively, taking up
Darwin's 'Earthworms,' which lay on the study table beside him,
side by side with a volume of Grant Allen's 'Sketches.' 'I didn't
know you cared for this sort of thing!'
Robert did not answer for a moment, and a faint flush stole into
'Imagine, Langham!' he said presently, 'I had never read even the
"Origin of Species" before I came here. We used to take the thing
half for granted, I remember, at Oxford, in a more or less modified
sense. But to drive the mind through all the details of the evidence,
to force one's self to understand the whole hypothesis and the
grounds for it, is a very different matter. It is a revelation.'
'Yes,' said Langham; and could not forbear adding, 'but it is a
revelation, my friend, that has not always been held to square with
In general these two kept carefully off the religious ground. The
man who is religious by nature tends to keep his treasure hid from
the man who is critical by nature, and Langham was much more
interested in other things. But still it had always been understood
that each was free to say what he would.
'There was a natural panic,' said Robert, throwing back his head
at the challenge. 'Men shrank and will always shrink, say what you
will, from what seems to touch things dearer to them than life.
But the panic is passing. The smoke is clearing away, and we see
that the battle-field is falling into new lines. But the old truth
remains the same. Where and when and how you will, but somewhen
and somehow, God created the heavens and the earth!'
Langham said nothing. It had seemed to him for long that the clergy
were becoming dangerously ready to throw the Old Testament overboard,
and all that it appeared to him to imply was that men's logical
sense is easily benumbed where their hearts are concerned.
'Not that everyone need be troubled with the new facts,' resumed
Robert after a while, going back to his pipe. 'Why should they?
We are not saved by Darwinism. I should never press them on my
wife, for instance, with all her clearness and courage of mind.'
His voice altered as he mentioned his wife--grew extraordinarily
soft, even reverential.
'It would distress her?' said Langham interrogatively, and inwardly
conscious of pursuing investigations begun a year before.
'Yes, it would distress her. She holds the old ideas as she was
taught them. It is all beautiful to her, what may seem doubtful
or grotesque to others. And why should I or anyone else trouble
her? I above all, who am not fit to tie her shoe-strings.'
The young husband's face seemed to gleam in the dim light which
fell upon it. Langham involuntarily put up his hand in silence and
touched his sleeve. Robert gave him a quiet friendly look, and the
two men instantly plunged into some quite trivial and commonplace
Langham entered his room that night with a renewed sense of pleasure
in the country quiet, the peaceful flower-scented house. Catherine,
who was an admirable housewife, had put out her best guest-sheets
for his benefit, and the tutor, accustomed for long years to the
second-best of college service, looked at their shining surfaces
and frilled edges, at the freshly matted floor, at the flowers on
the dressing-table, at the spotlessness of everything in the room,
with a distinct sense that matrimony had its advantages. He had
come down to visit the Elsmeres, sustained by a considerable sense
of virtue. He still loved Elsmere and cared to see him. It was a
much colder love, no doubt, than that which he had given to the
undergraduate. But the man altogether was a colder creature, who
for years had been drawing in tentacle after tentacle, and becoming
more and more content to live without his kind. Robert's parsonage,
however, and Robert's wife had no attractions for him; and it was
with an effort that he had made up his mind to accept the invitation
which Catherine had made an effort to write.
And, after all, the experience promised to be pleasant. His
fastidious love for the quieter, subtler sorts of beauty was touched
by the Elsmere surroundings. And whatever Miss Leyburn might be,
she was not commonplace. The demon of convention had no large part
in _her!_ Langham lay awake for a time analyzing his impressions
of her with some gusto, and meditating, with a whimsical candor
which seldom failed him, on the manner in which she had trampled
on him, and the reasons why.
He woke up, however, in a totally different frame of mind. He was
preeminently a person of moods, dependent, probably, as all moods
are, on certain obscure physical variations. And his mental
temperature had run down in the night. The house, the people who
had been fresh and interesting to him twelve hours before, were now
the burden he had more than half-expected them to be. He lay and
thought of the unbroken solitude of his college rooms, of Senancour's
flight from human kind, of the uselessness of all friendship, the
absurdity of all effort, and could hardly persuade himself to get
up and face a futile world, which had, moreover, the enormous
disadvantage for the moment of being a new one.
Convention, however, is master even of an Obermann. That prototype
of all the disillusioned had to cut himself adrift from the society
of the eagles on the Dent du Midi, to go and hang, like any other
ridiculous mortal, on the Paris law courts. Langham, whether he
liked it or not, had to face the parsonic breakfast and the parsonic
He had just finished dressing when the sound of a girl's voice drew
him to the window, which was open. In the garden stood Rose, on
the edge of the sunk fence dividing the Rectory domain from the
cornfield. She was stooping forward playing with Robert's Dandie
Dinmont. In one hand she held a mass of poppies, which showed a
vivid scarlet against her blue dress; the other was stretched out
seductively to the dog leaping round her. A crystal buckle flashed
at her waist; the sunshine caught the curls of auburn hair, the
pink cheek, the white moving hand, the lace ruffles at her throat
and wrist. The lithe, glittering figure stood thrown out against
the heavy woods behind, the gold of the cornfield, the blues of the
distance. All the gayety and color which is as truly representative
of autumn as the gray languor of a September mist had passed into
Langham stood and watched, hidden, as be thought, by the curtain,
till a gust of wind shook the casement window beside him, and
threatened to blow it in upon him. He put out his hand perforce
to save it, and the slight noise caught Rose's ear. She looked up;
her smile vanished. 'Go down, Dandie,' she said severely, and
walked quickly into the house with as much dignity as nineteen is
At breakfast the Elsmeres found their guest a difficulty. But they
also, as we know, had expected it. He was languor itself; none of
their conversational efforts succeeded; and Rose, studying him out
the corners of her eyes, felt that it would be of no use even to
torment so strange and impenetrable a being. Why on earth should
people come and visit their friends, if they could not keep up even
the ordinary decent pretences of society?
Robert had to go off to some clerical business afterward and Langham
wandered out into the garden by himself. As he thought of his Greek
texts and his untenanted Oxford rooms, he had the same sort of
craving that an opium-eater has cut off from his drugs. How was
he to get through?
Presently he walked back into the study, secured an armful of
volumes, and carried them out. True to himself in the smallest
things, he could never in his life be content with the companionship
of one book. To cut off the possibility of choice and change in
anything whatever was repugnant to him.
He sat himself down in the shade of a great chestnut near the house,
and an hour glided pleasantly away. As it happened, however, he
did not open one of the books he had brought with him. A thought
had struck him as he sat down, and he went groping in his pockets
in search of a yellow-covered brochure, which, when found, proved
to be a new play by Dumas, just about to be produced by a French
company in London. Langham, whose passion for the French theatre
supplied him, as we know, with a great deal of life, without the
trouble of living, was going to see it, and always made a point of
reading the piece beforehand.
The play turned upon a typical French situation, treated in a manner
rather more French than usual. The reader shrugged his shoulders
a good deal as he read on. 'Strange nation!' he muttered to himself
after an act or two. 'How they do revel in mud!'
Presently, just as the fifth act was beginning to get hold of him
with that force which, after all, only a French playwright is master
of, he looked up and saw the two sisters coming round the corner
of the house from the great kitchen garden which stretched its grass
paths and tangled flower-masses down the further slope of the hill.
The transition was sharp from Dumas' heated atmosphere of passion
and crime to the quiet English rectory, its rural surroundings, and
the figures of the two Englishwomen advancing toward him.
Catherine was in a loose white dress with a black lace scarf draped
about her head and form. Her look hardly suggested youth, and there
was certainly no touch of age in it. Ripeness, maturity, serenity--these
were the chief ideas which seemed to rise in the mind at sight of
'Are you amusing yourself, Mr. Langham?' she said, stopping beside
him and retaining with slight, imperceptible force Rose's hand,
which threatened to slip away.
'Very much. I have been skimming through a play, which I hope to
see next week, by way of preparation.'
Rose turned involuntarily. Not wishing to discuss 'Marianne' with
either Catherine or her sister, Langham had just closed the book
and was returning it to his pocket. But she had caught sight of
You are reading "Marianne,"' she exclaimed, the slightest possible
touch of wonder in her tone.
'Yes, it is "Marianne,"' said Langham, surprised in his turn. He
had very old-fashioned notions about the limits of a girl's
acquaintance with the world, knowing nothing, therefore, as may be
supposed, about the modern young woman, and he was a trifle scandalized
by Rose's accent of knowledge.
'I read it last week,' she said carelessly; 'and the Piersons'--turning
to her sister--'have promised to take me to see it next winter if
Desforets comes, again, as everyone expects.'
'Who wrote it?' asked Catherine innocently. The theatre not only
gave her little pleasure, but wounded in her a hundred deep
unconquerable instincts. But she had long ago given up in despair
the hope of protecting against Rose's dramatic instincts with
'Dumas _fils_' said Langham dryly. He was distinctly a good deal
Rose looked at him, and something brought a sudden flame into her
'It is one of the best of his,' she said defiantly. 'I have read
a good many others. Mr. Pierson lent me a volume. And when I was
introduced to Madame Desforets last week, she agreed with me that
"Marianne" is nearly the best of all.'
All this, of course, with the delicate nose well in air.
'You were introduced to Madame Desforets?' cried Langham, surprised
this time quite out of discretion. Catherine looked at him with
anxiety. The reputation of the black-eyed little French actress,
who had been for a year or two the idol of the theatrical public
of Paris and London, had reached even to her, and the tone of
Langham's exclamation struck her painfully.
'I was,' said Rose proudly. 'Other people may think it a disgrace.
_I_ thought it an honor!'
Langham could not help smiling, the girl's naivete was so evident.
It was clear that, if she had read "Marianne," she had never
'Rose, you don't know!' exclaimed Catherine, turning to her sister
with a sudden trouble in her eyes. 'I don't think Mrs. Pierson
ought to have done that, without consulting mamma especially.'
'Why not?' cried Rose vehemently. Her face was burning, and her
heart was full of something like hatred of Langham but she tried
hard to be calm.
'I think,' she said, with a desperate attempt at crushing dignity,
'that the way in which all sorts of stories are believed against a
woman, just because she is an actress, is _disgraceful!_ Just because
a woman is on the stage, everybody thinks they may throw stones at
her. I _know_, because--because she told me,' cried the speaker,
growing, however, half embarrassed as she spoke, 'that she feels
the things that are said of her deeply! She has been ill, very
ill, and one of her friends said to me, "You know it isn't her work,
or a cold, or anything else that's made her ill--it's calumny!"
And so it is.'
The speaker flashed an angry glance at Langham. She was sitting
on the arm of the cane chair into which Catherine had fallen, one
hand grasping the back of the chair for support, one pointed foot
beating the ground restlessly in front of her, her small full mouth
pursed indignantly, the greenish-gray eyes flashing and brilliant.
As for Langham, the cynic within him was on the point of uncontrollable
laughter. Madame Desforets complaining of calumny to this little
Westmoreland maiden! But his eyes involuntarily met Catherine's,
and the expression of both fused into a common wonderment--amused
on his side, anxious on hers. 'What a child, what an infant it
is!' they seemed, to confide to one another. Catherine laid her
hand softly on Rose's, and was about to say something soothing,
which might secure her an opening for some sisterly advice later
on, when there was a sound of calling from the gate. She looked
up and saw Robert waving to her. Evidently, he had just run up
from the school to deliver a message. She hurried across the drive
to him and afterwards into the house, while he disappeared.
Rose got up from her perch on the armchair, and would have followed,
but a movement of obstinacy or Quixotic wrath, or both, detained
'At any rate, Mr. Langham,' she said, drawing herself up, and
speaking with the most lofty accent, 'if you don't know anything
personally about Madame Desforets, I think it would be much fairer
to say nothing--and not to assume at once that all you hear is
Langham had rarely felt more awkward than he did then, as he sat
leaning forward under the tree, this slim, indignant creature
standing over him, and his consciousness about equally divided
between a sense of her absurdity and a sense of her prettiness.
'You are an advocate worth having, Miss Leyburn,' he said at last,
an enigmatical smile he could not restrain playing about his mouth.
'I could not argue with you; I had better not try.'
Rose looked at him, at his dark regular face, at the black eyes
which were much vivider than usual, perhaps because they could not
help reflecting some of the irrepressible memories of Madame Desforets
and her _causes celebres_ which were coursing through the brain
behind them, and with a momentary impression of rawness, defeat,
and yet involuntary attraction, which galled her intolerably, she
turned away and left him.
In the afternoon Robert was still unavailable to his own great
chagrin, and Langham summoned up all his resignation and walked
with the ladies. The general impression left upon his mind by the
performance was, first that the dust of an English August is
intolerable, and, secondly, that women's society ought only to be
ventured on by the men who are made for it. The views of Catherine
and Rose may be deduced from his with tolerable certainty.
But in the late afternoon, when they thought they had done their
duty by him, and he was again alone in the garden reading, he
suddenly heard the sound of music.
Who was playing, and in that way? He got up and strolled past the
drawing-room window to find out.
Rose had got hold of an accompanist, the timid, dowdy daughter of
a local solicitor, with some capacity for reading, and was now, in
her lavish, impetuous fashion, rushing through a quantity of new
music, the accumulations of her visit to London. She stood up
beside the piano, her hair gleaming in the shadow of the drawing-room,
her white brow hanging forward over her violin as she peered her
way through the music, her whole soul absorbed in what she was
doing, Langham passed unnoticed.
What astonishing playing! Why had no one warned him of the presence
of such a gift in this dazzling, prickly, unripe creature? He sat
down against the wall of the house, as close as possible, but out
of sight, and listened. All the romance of his spoilt and solitary
life had come to him so far through music, and through such music
as this! For she was playing Wagner, Brahms, and Rubinstein,
interpreting all those passionate voices of the subtlest moderns,
through which the heart of our own day has expressed itself even
more freely and exactly than through the voice of literature. Hans
Sachs' immortal song, echoes from the love duets in 'Tristan und
Isolde,' fragments from a wild and alien dance-music, they rippled
over him in a warm, intoxicating stream of sound, stirring association
after association, and rousing from sleep a hundred bygone moods
What magic and mastery in the girl's touch! What power of divination,
and of rendering! Ah! she too was floating in passion and romance,
but of a different sort altogether from the conscious reflected
product of the man's nature. She was not thinking of the past, but
of the future; she was weaving her story that was to be into the
flying notes, playing to the unknown of her Whindale dreams, the
strong, ardent unknown,--'insufferable, if he pleases, to all the
world besides, but to _me_ heaven!' She had caught no breath yet
of his coming, but her heart was ready for him.
Suddenly, as she put down her violin, the French window opened and
Langham stood before her. She looked at him with a quick stiffening
of the face which a minute before had been all quivering and relaxed,
and his instant perception of it chilled the impulse which had
brought him there.
He said something _banal_ about his enjoyment, something totally
different from what he had meant to say. The moment presented
itself, but he could not seize it or her.
'I had no notion you cared for music,' she said carelessly, as she
shut the piano, and then she went away.
Langham felt a strange, fierce pang of disappointment. What had
he meant to do or say? Idiot! What common ground was there between
him and any such exquisite youth? What girl would ever see in him
anything but the dull remains of what once had been a man!
The next day was Sunday. Langham, who was as depressed and home-sick
as ever, with a certain new spice of restlessness, not altogether
intelligible to himself, thrown in, could only brace himself to the
prospect by the determination to take the English rural Sunday as
the subject of severe scientific investigation. He would 'do it'
So he donned a black coat and went to church with the rest. There,
in spite of his boredom with the whole proceeding, Robert's old
tutor was a good deal more interested by Robert's sermon than he
had expected to be. It was on the character of David, and there
was a note in it, a note of historical imagination, a power of
sketching in a background of circumstance, and of biting into the
mind of the listener, as it were, by a detail or an epithet, which
struck Langham as something new in his experience of Elsmere. He
followed it at first as one might watch a game of skill, enjoying
the intellectual form of it, and counting the good points, but by
the end he was not a little carried away. The peroration was
undoubtedly very moving, very intimate, very modern, and Langham
up to a certain point was extremely susceptible to oratory, as he
was to music and acting. The critical judgment, however, at the
root of him kept coolly repeating as he stood watching the people
defile out of the church,--'This sort of thing will go down, will
make a mark: Elsmere is at the beginning of a career!'
In the afternoon Robert, who was feeling deeply guilty towards his
wife, in that he had been forced to leave so much of the entertainment
of Langham to her, asked his old friend to come for him to the
school at four o'clock and take him for a walk between two engagements.
Langham was punctual, and Robert carried him off first to see the
Sunday cricket, which was in full swing. During the past year the
young Rector had been developing a number of outdoor capacities
which were probably always dormant in his Elsmere blood, the blood
of generations of country gentlemen, but which had never had full
opportunity before. He talked of fishing as Kingsley might have
talked of it, and, indeed, with constant quotations from Kingsley;
and his cricket, which had been good enough at Oxford to get him
into his College eleven, had stood him in specially good stead with
the Murewell villagers. That his play was not elegant they were
not likely to find out; his bowling they set small store by; but
his batting was of a fine, slashing, superior sort which soon carried
the Murewell Club to a much higher position among the clubs of the
neighborhood than it had ever yet aspired to occupy.
The Rector had no time to play on Sundays, however, and, after they
had hung about the green a little while, he took his friend over
to the Workmen's Institute, which stood at the edge of it. He
explained that the Institute had been the last achievement of the
agent before Henslowe, a man who had done his duty to the estate
according to his lights, and to whom it was owing that those parts
of it, at any rate, which were most in the public eye, were still
in fair condition.
The Institute was now in bad repair and too small for the place.
'But catch that man doing anything for us!' exclaimed Robert hotly.
'He will hardly mend the roof now, merely, I believe, to spite me.
But come and see my new Naturalists' Club.'
And he opened the Institute door. Langham followed, in the temper
of one getting up a subject for examination.
Poor Robert! His labor and his enthusiasm deserved a more appreciative
eye. He was wrapped up in his Club, which had been the great success
of his first year, and he dragged Langham through it all, not indeed,
sympathetic creature that he was, without occasional qualms. 'But
after all,' he would say to himself indignantly, 'I must do something
Langham, indeed, behaved with resignation. He looked at the
collections for the year, and was quite ready to take it for granted
that they were extremely creditable. Into the old-fashioned
window-sills glazed compartments had been fitted, and these were
now fairly filled with specimens, with eggs, butterflies, moths,
beetles, fossils, and what not. A case of stuffed tropical birds
presented by Robert stood in the centre of the room; another
containing the birds of the district was close by. On a table
further on stood two large opera books, which served as records of
observations on the part of members of the Club. In one, which was
scrawled over with mysterious hieroglyphs, anyone might write what
he would. In the other, only such facts and remarks as had passed
the gauntlet of a Club meeting were recorded in Robert's neatest
hand. On the same table stood jars full of strange creatures--tadpoles
and water larvae of all kinds, over which Robert hung now absorbed
poking among them with a straw, while Langham, to whom only the
generalizations of science were congenial, stood by and mildly
As they came out a great loutish boy, who had evidently been hanging
about waiting for the Rector, came up to him, boorishly touched his
cap, and then, taking a cardboard box out of his pocket, opened it
with infinite caution, something like a tremor of emotion passing
over his gnarled countenance.
The Rector's eyes glistened.
'Hullo! I say, Irwin, where in the name of fortune did you get
that? You lucky fellow! Come in, and let's look it out!'
And the two plunged back into the Club together, leaving Langham
to the philosophic and patient contemplation of the village green,
its geese, its donkeys, and its surrounding fringe of houses. He
felt that quite indisputably life would have, been better worth
living if, like Robert, he could have taken a passionate interest
in rare moths or common plough-boys; but Nature having denied him
the possibility, there was small use in grumbling.
Presently the two naturalists came out again, and the boy went off,
bearing his treasure with him.
'Lucky dog!' said Robert, turning his friend into a country road
leading out of the village, 'he's found one of the rarest moths
of the district. Such a hero he'll be in the Club to-morrow night.
It's extraordinary what a rational interest has done for that
fellow! I nearly fought him in public last winter.'
And he turned to his friend with a laugh, and yet with a little
quick look of feeling in the gray eyes.
'"Magnificent, but not war,"' said Langham dryly. 'I wouldn't have
given much for your chances against those shoulders.'
'Oh, I don't know. I should have had a little science on my side,
which counts for a great deal. We turned him out of the Club for
brutality toward the old grandmother he lives with--turned him out
in public. Such a scene! I shall never forget the boy's face.
It was like a corpse, and the eyes burning out of it. He made for
me, but the others closed up round, and we got him put out.'
'Hard lines on the grandmother,' remarked Langham.
'She thought so--poor old thing! She left her cottage that night,
thinking he would murder her, and went to a friend. At the end of
a week he came into the friend's house, where she was alone in bed.
She cowered under the bed-clothes, she told me, expecting him to
strike her. Instead of which he threw his wages down beside her
and gruffly invited her to come home. "He wouldn't do her no
mischief." Everybody dissuaded her, but the plucky old thing went.
A week or two afterward she sent for me and I found her crying.
She was sure the lad was ill, he spoke to nobody at his work.
"Lord, sir!" she said, "it do remind me, when he sits glowering at
nights, of those folks in the Bible, when the Devils inside 'em
kep' a-tearing 'em. But he's like a new-born babe to me, sir--never
does me no 'arm. And it do go to my heart, sir, to see how poorly
he do take his vittles!" So I made tracks for that lad,' said
Robert, his eyes kindling, his whole frame dilating. 'I found him
in the fields one morning. I have seldom lived through so much in
half an hour. In the evening I walked him up to the Club, and we
re-admitted him, and since then the boy has been like one clothed
and in his right mind. If there is any trouble in the Club I set
him on, and he generally puts it right. And when I was laid up
with a chill in the spring, and the poor fellow came trudging up
every night after his work to ask for me--well, never mind! but
it gives one a good glow at one's heart to think about it.'
The speaker threw back his head impulsively, as though defying his
own feeling. Langham looked at him curiously. The pastoral temper
was a novelty to him, and the strong development of it in the
undergraduate of his Oxford recollections had its interest.
A quarter to six,' said Robert, as on their return from their walk
they were descending a low wooded hill above the village, and the
church clock rang out. 'I must hurry, or I shall be late for my
'Story-telling!' said Langham, with a half-exasperated shrug. 'What
next? You clergy are too inventive by half!'
Robert laughed a trifle bitterly.
'I can't congratulate you on your epithets,' he said, thrusting his
hands far into his pockets. 'Good Heavens, if we _were_--if we
were inventive as a body, the Church wouldn't be where she is in
the rural districts! My story-telling is the simplest thing in the
world. I began it in the winter with the object of somehow or other
getting at the _imagination_ of these rustics. Force them for only
half an hour to live someone else's life--it is the one thing worth
doing with them. That's what I have been aiming at. I _told_ my
stories all the winter--Shakespeare, Don Quixote, Dumas--Heaven
knows what! And on the whole it answers best. But now we are
reading "The Talisman." Come and inspect us, unless you're a purist
about your Scott. None other of the immortals have such _longueurs_
as he, and we cut him freely.'
'By all means,' said Langham; lead on.' And he followed his companion
without repugnance. After all, there was something contagious in
so much youth and hopefulness.
The story-telling was hold in the Institute.
A group of men and boys were hanging round the door when they reached
it. The two friends made their way through, greeted in the dumb,
friendly English fashion on all sides, and Langham found himself
in a room half-filled with boys and youths, a few grown men, who
had just put their pipes out, lounging at the back.
Langham not only endured, but enjoyed the first part of the hour
that followed. Robert was an admirable reader, as most enthusiastic,
imaginative people are. He was a master of all those arts of look
and gesture which make a spoken story telling and dramatic, and
Langham marvelled with what energy, after his hard day's work and
with another service before him, he was able to throw himself into
such a hors-d'oeuvre as this. He was reading to night one of the
most perfect scenes that even the Wizard of the North has ever
conjured: the scene in the tent of Richard Lion-Heart, when the
disguised slave saves the life of the king, and Richard first
suspects his identity. As he read on, his arms resting on the high
desk in front of him, and his eyes, full of infectious enjoyment,
travelling from the book to his audience, surrounded by human beings
whose confidence he had won, and whose lives he was brightening
from day to day, he seemed to Langham the very type and model of a
man who had found his _metier_, found his niche in the world, and
the best means of filling it. If to attain to an 'adequate and
masterly expression of oneself' be the aim of life, Robert was
achieving it. This parish of twelve hundred souls gave him now all
the scope he asked. It was evident that he felt his work to be
rather above than below his deserts. He was content--more than
content to spend ability which would have distinguished him in
public life, or carried him far to the front in literature, on the
civilizing a few hundred of England's rural poor. The future might
bring him worldly success--Langham thought it must and would.
Clergymen of Robert's stamp are rare among us. But if so, it would
be in response to no conscious effort of his. Here, in the country
living he had so long dreaded and put from him, less it should tax
his young energies too lightly, he was happy--deeply, abundantly
happy, at peace with God, at one with man.
_Happy!_ Langham, sitting at the outer corner of one of the benches,
by the open door, gradually ceased to listen, started on other lines
of thought by this realization, warm, stimulating, provocative, of
another man's happiness.
Outside, the shadows lengthened across the green; groups of distant
children or animals passed in and out of the golden light spaces;
the patches of heather left here and here glowed as the sunset
touched them. Every now and then his eye travelled vaguely past a
cottage garden, gay with the pinks and carmines of the phloxes,
into the cool browns and bluish-grays of the raftered room beyond;
babies toddled across the road, with stooping mothers in their
train; the whole air and scene seemed to be suffused with suggestions
of the pathetic expansiveness and helplessness of human existence,
which generation after generation, is still so vulnerable, so
confiding, so eager. Life after life flowers out from the darkness
and sinks back into it again. And in the interval what agony, what
disillusion! All the apparatus of a universe that men may know
what it is to hope and fail, to win and lose! _Happy!_--in this
world, 'where men sit and hear each other groan.' His friend's
confidence only made Langham as melancholy as Job.
What was it based on? In the first place, on Christianity--'on the
passionate acceptance of an exquisite fairy tale,' said the dreamy
spectator to himself, 'which at the first honest challenge of the
critical sense withers in our grasp! That challenge Elsmere has
never given it, and in all probability never will. No! A man sees
none the straighter for having a wife he adores, and a profession
that suits him, between him and unpleasant facts!
In the evening, Langham, with the usual reaction of his afternoon
self against his morning self, felt that wild horses should not
take him to Church again, and, with a longing for something purely
mundane, he stayed at home with a volume of Montaigne, while
apparently all the rest of the household went to evening service.
After a warm day the evening had turned cold and stormy; the west
was streaked with jagged strips of angry cloud, the wind was rising
in the trees, and the temperature had suddenly fallen so much that
when Langham had shut himself up in Robert's study he did what he
had been admonished to do in case of need, set a light to the fire,
which blazed out merrily into the darkening room. Then he drew the
curtains and threw himself down into Robert's chair, with a sigh
of Sybaritic satisfaction. 'Good! Now for something that takes
the world less naively,' he said to himself; 'this house is too
virtuous for anything.'
He opened his Montaigne and read on very happily for half an hour.
The house seemed entirely deserted.
'All the servants gone too!' he said presently, looking up and
listening. 'Anybody who wants the spoons needn't trouble about me.
I don't leave this fire.'
And he plunged back again into his book. At last there was a sound
of the swing door which separated Robert's passage from the front
hall, opening and shutting. Steps came quickly toward the study,
the handle was turned, and there on the threshold stood Rose.
He turned quickly round in his chair with a look of astonishment.
She also started as she saw him.
'I did not know anyone was in,' she said awkwardly, the color
spreading over her face. 'I came to look for a book.'
She made a delicious picture as she stood framed in the darkness
of the doorway, her long dress caught up round her in one hand, the
other resting on the handle. A gust of some delicate perfume seemed
to enter the room with her, and a thrill of pleasure passed through
Can I find anything for you?' he said, springing up.
She hesitated a moment, then apparently made up her mind that it
would be foolish to retreat, and, coming forward, she said, with
an accent as coldly polite as she could make it,--
'Pray don't disturb yourself. I know exactly where to find it.'
She went up to the shelves where Robert kept his novels, and began
running her fingers over the books, with slightly knitted brows and
a mouth severely shut. Langham, still standing, watched her and
presently stepped forward.
'You can't reach those upper shelves,' he said; 'please let me.'
He was already beside her, and she gave way.
'I want "Charles Auchester,"' she said, still forbiddingly. It
ought to be there.'
'Oh, that queer musical novel--I know it quite well. No sign of
it here,' and he ran over the shelves with the practised eye of one
accustomed to deal with books.
'Robert must have lent it,' said Rose, with a little sigh. 'Never
mind, please. It doesn't matter,' and she was already moving away.
'Try some other, instead,' he said, smiling, his arm still upstretched.
'Robert has no lack of choice.' His manner had an animation and
ease usually quite foreign to it. Rose stopped, and her lips relaxed
'He is very nearly as bad as the novel-reading bishop, who was
reduced at last to stealing the servant's "Family Herald" out of
the kitchen cupboard,' she said, a smile dawning.
'Has he such an episcopal appetite for them? That accounts for the
fact that when he and I begin to task novels I am always nowhere.'
'I shouldn't have supposed you ever read them,' said Rose, obeying
an irresistible impulse, and biting her lip the moment afterward.
'Do you think that we poor people at Oxford are always condemned
to works on the "enclitic de**"?' he asked, his fine eyes lit up
with gayety, and his head, of which the Greek outlines were ordinarily
so much disguised by his stoop and hesitating look, thrown back
against the books behind him.
Natures like Langham's, in which the nerves are never normal, have
their moments of felicity, balancing their weeks of timidity and
depression. After his melancholy of the last two days, the tide
of reaction had been mounting within him, and the sight of Rose had
carried it to its height.
She gave a little involuntary stare of astonishment. What had
happened to Robert's silent and finicking friend?
'I know nothing of Oxford,' she said a little primly, in answer to
his question. 'I never was there--but I never was anywhere, I have
seen nothing,' she added hastily, and, as Langham thought, bitterly.
'Except London, and the great world, and Madame Desforets!' he
answered, laughing. 'Is that so little?'
She flashed a quick, defiant look at him, as he mentioned Madame
Desforets, but his look was imperturbably kind and gay. She could
not help softening toward him. What magic had passed over him?
'Do you know,' said Langham, moving, 'that you are standing in a
draught, and that it has turned extremely cold?'
For she had left the passage-door wide open behind her, and as the
window was partially open the curtains were swaying hither and
thither, and her muslin dress was being blown in coils round her
'So it has,' said Rose, shivering. 'I don't envy the Church people.
You haven't found me a book, Mr. Langham!'
'I will find you one in a minute, if you will come and read it by
the fire,' he said, with his hand on the door.
She glanced at the fire and at him, irresolute. His breath quickened.
She too had passed into another phase. Was it the natural effect
of night, of solitude, of sex? At any rate, she sank softly into
the armchair opposite to that in which he had been sitting.
'Find me an exciting one, please.'
Langham shut the door securely, and went back to the bookcase, his
hand trembling a little as it passed along the books. He found
'Villette' and offered it to her. She took it, opened it, and
appeared deep in it at once. He took the hint and went back to his
The fire crackled cheerfully, the wind outside made every now and
then a sudden gusty onslaught on their silence, dying away again
as abruptly as it had risen. Rose turned the pages of her book,
sitting a little stiffly in her long chair, and Langham gradually
began to find Montaigne impossible to read. He became instead more
and more alive to every detail of the situation into which he had
fallen. At last seeing, or imagining, that the fire wanted attending
to, he bent forward and thrust the poker into it. A burning coal
fell on the hearth, and Rose hastily withdrew her foot from the
fender and looked up.
'I am so sorry!' he interjected. 'Coals never do what you want
them to do. Are you very much interested in "Villette"?'
'Deeply,' said Rose, letting the book, however, drop on her lap.
She laid back her head with a little sigh, which she did her best
to check, half way through. What ailed her to-night? She seemed
wearied; for the moment there was no fight in her with anybody.
Her music, her beauty, her mutinous, mocking gayety--these things
had all worked on the man beside her; but this new softness, this
touch of childish fatigue, was adorable.
'Charlotte Bronte wrote it out of her Brussels experience, didn't
She?' she resumed languidly. 'How sorry she must have been to come
back to that dull home and that awful brother after such a break!'
'There were reasons more than one that must have made her sorry to
come back,' said Langham, reflectively, 'But how she pined for her
wilds all through! I am afraid you don't find your wilds as
interesting as she found hers?'
His question and his smile startled her.
Her first impulse was to take up her book again, as a hint to him
that her likings were no concern of his. But something checked it,
probably the new brilliancy of that look of his, which had suddenly
grown so personal, so manly. Instead, 'Villette' slid a little
further from her hand, and her pretty head still lay lightly back
against the cushion.
'No, I don't find my wilds interesting at all,' she said forlornly.
'You are not fond of the people, as your sister is?'
'Fond of them?' cried Rose hastily. 'I should think not; and what
is more, they don't like me. It is quite intolerable since Catherine
left. I have so much more to do with them. My other sister and I
have to do all her work. It is dreadful to have to work after
somebody who has a genius for doing just what you do worst.'
The young girl's hands fell across one another with a little impatient
gesture. Langham had a movement of the most delightful compassion
toward the petulant, childish creature. It was as though their
relative positions had been in some mysterious way reversed. During
their two days together she had been the superior, and he had felt
himself at the mercy of her scornful, sharp-eyed youth. Now, he
knew not how or why, Fate seemed to have restored to him something
of the man's natural advantage, combined, for once, with the impulse
to use it.
'Your sister, I suppose, has been always happy in charity?' he said.
'Oh dear, yes,' said Rose irritably; 'anything that has two legs
and is ill, that is all Catherine wants to make her happy.'
'And _you_ want something quite different, something more exciting?'
he asked, his diplomatic tone showing that he felt he dared something
in thus pressing her, but dared it at least with his, wits about
him. Rose met his look irresolutely, a little tremor of self-consciousness
creeping over her.
'Yes, I want something different,' she said in a low voice and
paused; then, raising herself energetically, she clasped her hands
round her knees. 'But it is not idleness I want. I want to work,
but at things I was born for; I can't have patience with old women,
but I could slave all day and all night to play the violin.'
You want to give yourself up to study then, and live with musicians?'
he said quietly.
She shrugged her shoulders by way of answer, and began nervously
to play with her rings.
That under-self which was the work and the heritage of her father
in her, and which, beneath all the wilfulnesses and defiances of
the other self, held its own moral debates in its own way, well out
of Catherine's sight generally, began to emerge, wooed into the
light by his friendly gentleness.
'But it is all so difficult, you see,' she said despairingly. 'Papa
thought it wicked to care about anything except religion. If he had
lived, of course I should never have been allowed to study music.
It has been all mutiny so far, every bit of it, whatever I have been
able to do.'
'He would have changed with the times,' said Langham.
'I know he would,' cried Rose. 'I have told Catherine so a hundred
times. People--good people--think quite differently about art now,
don't they, Mr. Langham?
She spoke with perfect _naivete_. He saw more and more of the child
in her, in spite of that one striking development of her art.
'They call it the handmaid of religion,' he answered, smiling.
Rose made a little face.
'I shouldn't,' she said, with frank brevity. 'But then there's
something else. You know where we live--at the very ends of the
earth, seven miles from a station, in the very loneliest valley of
all Westmoreland. What's to be done with a fiddle in such a place?
Of course, ever since papa died I've just been plotting and planning
to get away. But there's the difficulty,'--and she crossed one
white finger over another as she laid out her case. 'That house
where we live, has been lived in by Leyburns ever since--the Flood!
Horrid set they were, I know, because I can't ever make mamma or
even Catherine talk about them. But still, when papa retired, he
came back and bought the old place from his brother. Such a dreadful,
dreadful mistake!' cried the child, letting her hands fall over her
'Had he been so happy there?'
'Happy!--and Rose's lip curled. 'His brothers used to kick and
cuff him, his father was awfully unkind to him, he never had a day's
peace till he went to school, and after he went to school he never
came back for years and years and years, till Catherine was fifteen.
What _could_ have made him so fond of it?'
And again looking despondently into the fire, she pondered that
far-off perversity of her father's.
'Blood has strange magnetisms,' said, Langham, seized as he spoke
by the pensive prettiness of the bent head and neck, 'and they show
themselves in the oddest ways.'
'Then I wish they wouldn't,' she said irritably. 'But that isn't
all. He went there, not only because he loved that place, but
because he hated other places. I think he must have thought'--and
her voice dropped--'he wasn't going to live long--he wasn't well
when he gave up the school--and then we could grow up there safe,
without any chance of getting into mischief. Catherine says be
thought the world was getting very wicked, and dangerous, and
irreligious, and that it comforted him to know that we should be
out of it.'
Then she broke off suddenly.
'Do you know,' she went on wistfully, raising her beautiful eyes
to her companion, 'after all, he gave me my first violin?'
'I like that little inconsequence,' he said.
'Then of course I took to it, like a cluck to water, and it began
to scare him that I loved it so much. He and Catherine only loved
religion, and us, and the poor. So he always took it away on
Sundays. Then I hated Sundays, and would never be good on them.
One Sunday I cried myself nearly into a fit on the dining-room
floor, because I mightn't have it. Then he came in, and he took
me up, and he tied a Scotch plaid around his neck, and he put me
into it, and carried me away right up on to the hills, and he talked
to me like an angel. He asked me not to make him sad before God
that he had given me that violin; so I never screamed again-on
Her companion's eyes were not quite as clear as before.
'Poor little naughty child,' he said, bending over to her. 'I think
your father must have been a man to be loved.'
She looked at him, very near to weeping, her face working with a
'Oh, so he was--so he was! If he had been hard and ugly to us, why
it would have been much easier for me, but he was so good! And
there was Catherine just like him, always preaching to us what he
wished. You see what a chain it's been--what a weight! And as I
must struggle--_must_, because I was I--to get back into the world
on the other side of the mountains, and do what all the dear wicked
people there were doing, why I have been a criminal all my life!
And that isn't exhilarating always.'
And she raised her arm and let it fall beside her with the quick,
over-tragic emotion of nineteen.
'I wish your father could have heard you play as I heard you play
yesterday,' he said gently.
'_Did_ you hear me--that Wagner?'
He nodded, smiling. She still looked at him, her lips slightly
'Do you want to know what I thought? I have heard much music, you
He laughed into her eyes, as much as to say 'I am not quite the
mummy you thought me, after all!' And she colored slightly.
'I have heard every violinist of any fame in Europe play, and play
often; and it seemed to me that with time--and work--you might play
as well as any of them.'
The slight flush became a glow that spread from brow to chin. Then
she gave a long breath and turned away, her face resting on her
'And I can't help thinking,' he went on, marvelling inwardly at his
own _role_ of mentor, and his strange enjoyment of it, 'that if
your father had lived till now, and had gone with the times a little,
as he must have gone, he would have learnt to take pleasure in your
pleasure, and to fit your gift somehow into his scheme of things.'
'Catherine hasn't moved with the times,' said Rose dolefully.
Langham was silent. _Gaucherie_ seized him again when it became a
question of discussing Mrs. Elsmere, his own view was so inconveniently
'And you think,' she went on, 'you _really_ think, without being
too ungrateful to papa, and too unkind to the old Leyburn ghosts'--and
a little laugh danced through the vibrating voice--'I might try and
get them to give up Burwood--I might struggle to have my way? I
shall, of course I shall! I never was a meek martyr, and never
shall be. But one can't help having qualms, though one doesn't
tell them to one's sisters and cousins and aunts. And sometimes'--she
turned her chin round on her hand and looked at him with a delicious,
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