Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 6 out of 16
shy impulsiveness--'sometimes a stranger sees clearer. Do _you_
think me a monster, as Catherine does?'
Even as she spoke her own words startled her--the confidence, the
abandonment of them. But she held to them bravely; only her eyelids
quivered. She had absurdly misjudged this man, and there was a
warm penitence in her heart. How kind he had been, how sympathetic!
He rose with her last words, and stood leaning against the mantelpiece,
looking down upon her gravely, with the air, as it seemed to her,
of her friend, her confessor. Her white childish brow, the little
curls of bright hair upon her temples, her parted lips, the pretty
folds of the muslin dress the little foot on the fender--every
detail of the picture impressed itself once for all. Langham will
carry it with him to his grave.
'Tell me,' she said again, smiling divinely, as though to encourage
him--'tell me quite frankly, down to the bottom, what you think?'
The harsh noise of an opening door in the distance, and a gust of
wind sweeping through the house--voices and steps approaching.
Rose sprang up, and for the first time during all the latter part
of their conversation felt a sharp sense of embarrassment.
'How early you are, Robert!' she exclaimed, as the study door opened
and Robert's wind-blown head and tall form wrapped in an Inverness
cape appeared on the threshold. 'Is Catherine tired?'
'Rather,' said Robert, the slightest gleam of surprise betraying
itself on his face. 'She has gone to bed, and told me to ask you
to come and say good-night to her.'
'You got my message about not coming from old Martha?' asked Rose.
'I met her on the common.'
'Yes, she gave it us at the church door.' He went out again into
the passage to hang up his greatcoat. She followed, longing to
tell him that it was pure accident that took her to the study, but
she could not find words in which to do it, and could only say
good-night a little abruptly.
'How tempting, that fire looks!' said Robert, re-entering the study.
'Were you very cold, Langham, before you lit it?
'Very,' said Langham smiling, his arm behind his head, his eyes
fixed on the blaze; 'but I have been delightfully warm and happy
Catherine stopped beside the drawing-room window with a start,
caught by something she saw outside.
It was nothing, however, but the figures of Rose and Langham strolling
round the garden. A bystander would have been puzzled by the sudden
knitting of Catherine's brows over it.
Rose held a red parasol, which gleamed against the trees; Dandie
leapt about her, but she was too busy talking to take much notice
of him. Talking, chattering, to that cold cynic of a man, for whom
only yesterday she had scarcely had a civil word! Catherine felt
herself a prey to all sorts of vague, unreasonable alarms.
Robert had said to her the night before, with an odd look: 'Wifie,
when I came in I found Langham and Rose had been spending the evening
together in the study. And I don't, know when I have seen Langham
so brilliant or so alive as in our smoking talk just now!'
Catherine had laughed him to scorn; but, all the same, she had been
a little longer going to sleep than usual. She felt herself almost
as much as ever the guardian of her sisters, and the old sensitive
nerve was set quivering. And now there could be no question about
it--Rose had changed her ground toward Mr. Langham altogether. Her
manner at breakfast was evidence enough of it.
Catherine's self-torturing mind leapt on for an instant to all sorts
of horrors. _That_ man!--and she and Robert responsible to her
mother and her dead father! Never! Then she scolded herself back
to common-sense. Rose and he had discovered a common subject in
music and musicians. That would be quite enough to account for the
new-born friendship on Rose's part. And in five more days, the
limit of Langham's stay, nothing very dreadful _could_ happen,
argued the reserved Catherine.
But she was uneasy, and after a bit, as that _tete-a-tete_ in the
garden still went on, she could not, for the life of her, help
interfering. She strolled out to meet them with some woollen stuff
hanging over her arm, and made a plaintive and smiling appeal to
Rose to come and help her with some preparations for a mothers'
meeting to be held that afternoon. Rose, who was supposed by the
family to be 'taking care' of her sister at a critical time, had a
moment's prick of conscience, and went off with a good grace.
Langham felt vaguely that he owed Mrs. Elsmere another grudge, but
he resigned himself and took out a cigarette, wherewith to console
himself for the loss of his companion.
Presently, as he stood for a moment turning over some new books on
the drawing-room table, Rose came in. She held an armful of blue
serge, and, going up to a table in the window, she took from it a
little work-ease, and was about to vanish again when Langham went
up to her.
'You look intolerably busy,' he said to her, discontentedly.
'Six dresses, ten cloaks, eight petticoats to cut out by luncheon
time,' she answered demurely, with a countenance of most Dorcas-like
seriousness--'and if I spoil them I shall have to pay for the stuff!'
He shrugged his shoulders, and looked at her smiling, still master
of himself and of his words.
'And no music--none at all? Perhaps you don't know that I too can
'You play!' she exclaimed, incredulous.
The light of his fine black eyes seemed to encompass her. She moved
backward a little, shaking her head. 'Not this morning,' she said.
'Oh dear, no, not this morning! I am afraid you don't know anything
about tacking or fixing, or the abominable time they take. Well,
it could hardly be expected. There is nothing in the world'--and
she shook her serge vindictively--'that I hate so much!'
'And not this afternoon, for Robert and I go fishing. But this
evening?' he said, detaining her.
She nodded lightly, dropped her lovely eyes with a sudden embarrassment,
and went away with lightning quickness.
A minute or two later Elsmere laid a hand on his friend's shoulder.
'Come and see the Hall, old fellow. It will be our last chance,
for the Squire and his sister come back this afternoon. I must
parochialize a bit afterward, but you shan't be much victimized.'
Langham submitted, and they sallied forth. It was a soft rainy
morning, one of the first heralds of autumn. Gray mists were
drifting silently across the woods and the wide stubbles of the now
shaven cornfield, where white lines of reapers were at work, as the
morning cleared, making and stacking the sheaves. After a stormy
night the garden was strewn with _debris_, and here and there
noiseless prophetic showers of leaves were dropping on the lawn.
Elsmere took his guest along a bit of common, where great black
junipers stood up like magnates in council above the motley undergrowth
of fern and heather, and then they turned into the park. A great
stretch of dimpled land it was, falling softly toward the south and
west, bounded by a shining twisted river, and commanding from all
its highest points a heathery world of distance, now turned a stormy
purple under the drooping fringes of the rain clouds. They walked
downward from the moment of entering it, till at last, when they
reached a wooded plateau about a hundred feet above the river, the
house itself came suddenly into view.
That was a house of houses! The large main building, as distinguished
from the lower stone portions to the north which represented a
fragment of the older Elizabethan house, had been in its day the
crown and boast of Jacobean house-architecture. It was fretted and
jewelled with Renaissance terra-cotta work from end to end; each
gable had its lace work, each window its carved setting. And yet
the lines of the whole were so noble, genius had hit the general
proportions so finely, that no effect of stateliness or grandeur
had been missed through all the accumulation of ornament. Majestic
relic of a vanished England, the house rose amid the August woods
rich in every beauty that site, and wealth, and centuries could
give to it. The river ran about it as though it loved it. The
cedars which had kept it company for well nigh two centuries gathered
proudly round it; the deer grouped themselves in the park beneath
it, as though they were conscious elements in a great whole of
The two friends were admitted by a housemaid who happened to be
busy in the hall, and whose red cheeks and general breathlessness
bore witness to the energy of the storm of preparation now sweeping
through the house.
The famous hall to which Elsmere at once drew Langham's attention
was, however, in no way remarkable for size or height. It told
comparatively little of seignorial dignity, but it was as though
generation after generation had employed upon its perfecting the
craft of its most delicate fingers, the love of its most fanciful
and ingenious spirits. Over-head, the stucco-work ceiling, covered
with stags and birds and strange heraldic creatures unknown to
science, had the deep creamy tint, the consistency and surface of
antique ivory. From the white and gilt frieze beneath, untouched,
so Robert explained, since the Jacobean days when it was first
executed, hung Renaissance tapestries which would have made the
heart's delight of any romantic child, so rich they were in groves
of marvellous trees hung with red and golden fruits, in far reaching
palaces and rock-built citadels, in flying shepherdesses and pursuing
shepherds. Between the tapestries again, there were breadths of
carved panelling, crowded with all things round and sweet, with
fruits and flowers and strange musical instruments, with flying
cherubs, and fair faces in laurel-wreathed medallions; while in the
middle of the Hall a great oriel window broke the dim, venerable
surfaces of wood and tapestry with stretches of jewelled light.
Tables crowded with antiques, with Tanagra figures or Greek verses,
with Florentine bronzes or specimens of the wilful, vivacious
wood-carving of seventeenth century Spain, stood scattered on the
Persian carpets. And, to complete the whole, the gardeners had
just been at work on the corners of the hall and of the great window,
so that the hard-won subtleties of man's bygone handiwork, with
which the splendid room was incrusted from top to bottom, were
masked and renewed here and there by the careless, easy splendor
of flowers, which had but to bloom in order to eclipse them all.
Robert was at home in the great pile, where for many months he had
gone freely in and out on his way to the library, and the housekeeper
only met him to make an apology for her working dress, and to hand
over to him the keys of the library bookcases, with the fretful
comment that seemed to have in it the ghostly voice of generations
of housemaids, Oh lor', sir, they are a trouble, them books !'
From the drawing-rooms, full of a more modern and less poetical
magnificence, where Langham turned restless and refractory, Elsmere
with a smile took his guest silently back into the hall, and opened
a carved door behind a curtain. Passing through, they found
themselves in a long passage lighted by small windows on the left-hand
'This passage, please notice,' said Robert, 'leads to nothing but
the wing containing the library, or rather libraries, which is the
oldest part of the house. I always enter it with a kind of pleasing
awe! Consider these carpets, which keep out every sound, and look
how everything gets older as we go on.'
For half-way down the passage the ceiling seemed to descend upon
their heads, the flooring became uneven, and woodwork and walls
showed that they had passed from the Jacobean house into the much
older Tudor building. Presently Robert led the way up a few shallow
steps, pushed open a heavy door, also covered by curtains, and bade
his companion enter.
They found themselves in a low, immense room, running at right
angles to the passage they had just quitted. The long diamond-paned
window, filling almost half of the opposite wall, faced the door
by which they had come in; the heavy, carved mantelpiece was to
their right; an open doorway on their left, closed at present by
tapestry hangings, seemed to lead into yet other rooms.
The walls of this one were completely covered from floor to ceiling
with latticed bookcases, enclosed throughout in a frame of oak
carved in light classical relief by what appeared to be a French
hand of the sixteenth century. The checkered bindings of the books,
in which the creamy tints of vellum predominated, lined the whole
surface of the wall with a delicate sobriety of color; over the
mantelpiece, the picture of the founder of the house--a Holbein
portrait, glorious in red robes and fur and golden necklace--seemed
to gather up and give voice to all the dignity and impressiveness
of the room beneath him; while on the window side the book-lined
wall was, as it were, replaced by the wooded face of a hill, clothed
in dark lines of trimmed yews, which rose abruptly, about a hundred
yards from the house and overshadowed the whole library wing.
Between the window and the hill, however, was a small old English
garden, closely hedged round with yew hedges, and blazing now with
every flower that an English August knows--with sunflowers, tiger
lilies, and dahlias, white and red. The window was low, so that
the flowers seemed to be actually in the room, challenging the pale
tints of the books, the tawny browns and blues of the Persian carpet
and the scarlet splendors of the courtier over the mantelpiece.
The room was lit up besides by a few gleaming casts from the antique,
by the 'Diane Chasseresse' of the Louvre, by the Hermes of Praxiteles
smiling with immortal kindness on the child enthroned upon his arm,
and by a Donatello figure of a woman in marble, its subtle, sweet
austerity contrasting with the Greek frankness and blitheness of
Langham was penetrated at once by the spell of this strange and
beautiful place. The fastidious instincts which had been half
revolted by the costly accumulations, the over-blown splendors of
the drawing-room, were abundantly satisfied here.
'So it was here,' he said, looking round him, 'that that man wrote
the "Idols of the Market Place"?'
'I imagine so,' said Robert; 'if so, he might well have felt a
little more charity toward the human race in writing it. The race
cannot be said to have treated him badly on the whole. But now
look, Langham, look at these books--the most precious things are
And he turned the key of a particular section of the wall, which
was not only latticed but glazed.
'Here is "A Mirror for Magistrates." Look at the title-page; you
will find Gabriel Harvey's name on it. Here is a first edition of
"Astrophol and Stella," another of the Arcadia. They may very well
be presentation copies, for the Wendover of that day is known to
have been a wit and a writer. Imagine finding them _in situ_ like
this in the same room, perhaps on the same shelves, as at the
beginning! The other rooms on this floor have been annexed since,
but this room was always a library.'
Langham took the volumes reverently from Robert's hands into his
own, the scholar's passion hot within him. That glazed case was
indeed a storehouse of treasures. Ben Jonson's 'Underwoods' with
his own corrections; a presentation copy of Andrew Marvell's 'Poems,'
with autograph notes; manuscript volumes of letters, containing
almost every famous name known to English literature in the seventeenth
and eighteenth centuries, the literary cream, in fact, of all the
vast collection which filled the muniment room upstairs; books which
had belonged to Addison, to Sir William Temple, to Swift, to Horace
Walpole; the first four folios of Shakespeare, all perfect, and
most of the quartos--everything that the heart of the English
collector could most desire was there. And the charm of it was
that only a small proportion of these precious things represented
conscious and deliberate acquisition. The great majority of them
had, as it were, drifted thither one by one, carried there by the
tide of English letters as to a warm and natural resting-place.
But Robert grew impatient, and hurried on his guest to other
things--to the shelves of French rarities, ranging from Du Bellay's
'Visions,' with his autograph, down to the copy of 'Les Memoires
d'Outre-Tombe' presented by Chateaubriand to Madame Recamier, or
to a dainty manuscript volume in the fine writing of Lamartine.
'These,' Robert explained, 'were collected, I believe, by the
Squire's father. He was not in the least literary, so they say,
but it had always been a point of honor to carry on the library,
and as he had learnt French well in his youth he bought French
things, taking advice, but without knowing much about them, I
imagine. It was in the room overhead,' said Robert, laying down
the book he held, and speaking in a lower key, 'so the old doctor
of the house told me a few weeks ago, that the same poor soul put
an end to himself twenty years ago.'
'What in the name of fortune did he do that for?'
'Mania,' said Robert quietly.
'Whew!' said the other, lifting his eyebrows. 'Is that the skeleton
in this very magnificent cupboard?'
'It has been the Wendover scourge from the beginning, so I hear.
Everyone about here of course explains this man's eccentricities
by the family history. But I don't know,' said Robert, his lip
hardening, 'it may be extremely convenient sometimes to have a
tradition of the kind. A man who knew how to work it might very
well enjoy all the advantages of sanity and the privileges of
insanity at the same time. The poor old doctor I was telling you
of--old Meyrick--who has known the Squire since his boyhood, and
has a dog-like attachment to him, is always hinting at mysterious
excuses. Whenever I let out to him, as I do sometimes, as to the
state of the property, he talks of "inherited melancholy," "rash
judgments," and so forth. I like the good old soul, but I don't
believe much of it. A man who is sane enough to make a great name
for himself in letters is sane enough to provide his estate with a
'It doesn't follow,' said Langham, who was, however, so deep in a
collection of Spanish romances and chronicles, that the Squire's
mental history did not seem to make much impression upon him. 'Most
men of letters are mad, and I should be inclined,' he added, with
a sudden and fretful emphasis, 'to argue much worse things for the
sanity of your Squire, Elsmere, from the fact that this room is
undoubtedly allowed to get damp sometimes, than from any of those
absurd parochial tests of yours.'
And he held up a couple of priceless books, of which the Spanish
sheepskin bindings showed traces here and there of moisture.
'It is no use, I know, expecting you to preserve a moral sense when
you get among books,' said Robert with a shrug. 'I will reserve
my remarks on that subject. But you must really tear yourself away
from this room, Langham, if you want to see the rest of the Squire's
quarters. Here you have what we may call the ornamental, sensational
part of the library, that part of it which would make a stir at
Sotheby's; the working parts are all to come.'
Langham reluctantly allowed himself to be dragged away. Robert
held back the hangings over the doorway leading into the rest of
the wing, and, passing through, they found themselves in a continuation
of the library totally different in character from the magnificent
room they had just left. The walls were no longer latticed and
carved; they were closely packed, in the most business-like way,
with books which represented the Squire's own collection, and were
in fact a chart of his own intellectual history.
'This is how I interpret this room,' said Robert, looking round it.
'Here are the books he collected at Oxford in the Tractarian
movement and afterward. Look here,' and he pulled out a volume of
Langham looked, and saw on the title-page a note in faded characters:
'_Given to me by Newman at Oxford, in 1845._'
'Ah, of course, he was one of them in '45; he must have left them
very soon after,' said Langham reflectively.
Robert nodded. 'But look at them! There are the Tracts, all the
Fathers, all the Councils, and masses, as you see, of Anglican
theology. Now look at the next case, nothing but eighteenth century!'
'I see,--from the Fathers to the Philosophers, from Hooker to Hume.
How history repeats itself in the individual!'
'And there again,' said Robert, pointing to the other side of the
room, 'are the results of his life as a German student.'
'Germany--ah, I remember! How long was he there?'
'Ten years, at Berlin and Heidelberg. According to old Meyrick,
he buried his last chance of living like other men at Berlin. His
years of extravagant labor there have left marks upon him physically
that can never be effaced. But that bookcase fascinates me. Half
the great names of modern thought are in those books.'
And so they were. The first Langham opened had a Latin dedication
in a quavering old man's hand, 'Amico et discipulo meo,' signed
'Fredericus Gulielmus Schelling.' The next bore the autograph of
Alexander von Humboldt, the next that of Boeckh, the famous classic,
and so on. Close by was Niebuhr's History, in the title-page of
which a few lines in the historian's handwriting bore witness to
much 'pleasant discourse between the writer and Roger Wendover, at
Bonn, in the summer of 1847.' Judging from other shelves further
down, he must also have spent some time, perhaps an academic year,
at Tubingen, for here were most of the early editions of the 'Leben
Jesu,' with some corrections from Strauss's hand, and similar records
of Baur, Ewald, and other members or opponents of the Tubingen
school. And so on, through the whole bookcase. Something of
everything was there--Philosophy, Theology, History, Philology.
The collection was a medley, and made almost a spot of disorder in
the exquisite neatness and system of the vast gathering of which
it formed part. Its bond of union was simply that it represented
the forces of an epoch, the thoughts, the men, the occupations which
had absorbed the energies of ten golden years. Every bock seemed
to be full of paper marks; almost every title-page was covered with
minute writing, which, when examined, proved to contain a record
of lectures, or conversations with the author of the volume, sometimes
a string of anecdotes or a short biography, rapidly sketched out
of the fulness of personal knowledge, and often seasoned with a
subtle causticity and wit. A history of modern thinking Germany,
of that 'unextinguished hearth' whence the mind of Europe has been
kindled for three generations, might almost have been evolved from
that bookcase and its contents alone.
Langham, as be stood peering among the ugly, vilely-printed German
volumes, felt suddenly a kind of magnetic influence creeping over
him. The room seemed instinct with a harsh, commanding presence.
The history of a mind and soul was written upon the face of it;
every shelf, as it were, was an autobiographical fragment, an
'Apologia pro Vita Mea.' He drew away from the books at last with
the uneasy feeling of one who surprises a confidence, and looked
for Robert. Robert was at the end of the room, a couple of volumes
under his arm, another, which he was reading, in his hand.
'This is _my_ corner,' he said, smiling and flushing a little, as
his friend moved up to him. 'Perhaps you don't know that I too am
engaged upon a great work.'
'A great work--you?'
Langham looked at his companion as though to find out whether his
remark was meant seriously, or whether he might venture to be
cynical. Elsmere writing! Why should everybody write books? It
was absurd! The scholar who knows what toll scholarship takes of
life is always apt to resent the intrusion of the man of action
into his domains. It looks to him like a kind of ridiculous
assumption that anyone _d'un coeur leger_ can do what has cost him
his heart's blood.
Robert understood something of the meaning of his tone, and replied
almost apologetically; he was always singularly modest about himself
on the intellectual side.
'Well, Grey is responsible. He gave me such a homily before I left
Oxford on the absolute necessity of keeping up with books, that I
could do nothing less than set up a "subject" at once. "Half the
day," he used to say to me, "you will be king of your world: the
other half be the slave of something which will take you out of
your world into the general world;" and then he would quote to me
that saying he was always bringing into lectures--I forget whose
it is--"_The decisive events of the world take place in the intellect_.
It is the mission of books that they help one to remember it."
Altogether it was striking, coming from one who has always had such
a tremendous respect for practical life and work, and I was much
impressed by it. So blame him!'
Langham was silent. Elsmere had noticed that any allusion to Grey
found Langham less and less responsive.
'Well what is the "great work"?' he said at last, abruptly.
'Historical. Oh, I should have written something without Grey; I
have always had a turn for it since I was a child. But he was clear
that history was especially valuable--especially necessary to a
clergyman. I felt he was right, entirely right. So I took my Final
Schools' history for a basis, and started on the Empire, especially
the decay of the Empire. Some day I mean to take up one of the
episodes in the great birth of Europe-the makings of France, I
think, most likely. It seems to lead farthest and tell most. I
have been at work now nine months.'
'And are just getting into it?'
'Just about. I have got down below the surface, and am beginning
to feel the joys of digging;' and Robert threw back his head with
one of his most brilliant, enthusiastic smiles. 'I have been shy
about boring you with the thing, but the fact is, I am very keen
indeed; and this library has been a godsend!'
'So I should think.' Langham sat down on one of the carved wooden
stools placed at intervals along the bookcases and looked at his
friend, his psychological curiosity rising a little.
'Tell me,' he said presently--'tell me what interests you specially--what
seizes you--in a subject like the making of France, for instance?'
'Do you really want to know?' said Robert, incredulously.
The other nodded. Robert left his place, and began to walk up and
down, trying to answer Langham's questions, and at the same time
to fix in speech a number of sentiments and impressions bred in him
by the work of the past few months. After a while Langham began
to see his way. Evidently the forces at the bottom of this new
historical interest were precisely the same forces at work in
Elsmere's parish plans, in his sermons, in his dealings with the
poor and the young forces of imagination and sympathy. What was
enchaining him to this new study was not, to begin with, that patient
love of ingenious accumulation which is the learned temper proper,
the temper, in short, of science. It was simply a passionate sense
of the human problems which underlie all the dry and dusty detail
of history and give it tone and color, a passionate desire to rescue
something more of human life from the drowning, submerging past,
to realize for himself and others the solidarity and continuity of
mankind's long struggle from the beginning until now.
Langham had had much experience of Elsmere's versatility and
pliancy, but he had never realized it so much as now, while he sat
listening to the vivid, many-colored speech getting quicker and
quicker, and more and more telling and original as Robert got more
absorbed and excited by what he had to say. He was endeavoring to
describe to Langham the sort of book be thought might be written on
the rise of modern society in Gaul, dwelling first of all on the
outward spectacle of the blood-stained Frankish world as it was,
say, in the days of Gregory the Great, on its savage kings, its
fiendish women, its bishops and its saints; and then, on the
conflict of ideas going on behind all the fierce incoherence of the
Empire's decay, the struggle of Roman order and of German freedom,
of Roman luxury and of German hardness; above all, the war of
orthodoxy and heresy, with its strange political complications. And
then, discontented still, as though the heart of the matter was
still untouched, he went on, restlessly wandering the while, with
his long arms linked behind him, throwing out words at an object in
his mind, trying to grasp and analyze that strange sense which
haunts the student of Rome's decline as it once overshadowed the
infancy of Europe, that sense of a slowly departing majesty, of a
great presence just withdrawn, and still incalculably potent,
traceable throughout in that humbling consciousness of Goth or Frank
that they were but 'beggars hutting in a palace--the place had
harbored greater men than they!'
'There is one thing,' Langham said presently, in his slow, nonchalant
voice, when the tide of Robert's ardor ebbed for a moment, 'that
doesn't seem to have touched you yet. But you will come to it.
To my mind, it makes almost the chief interest of history. It is
just this. History depends on _testimony_. What is the nature and
the value of testimony at given times? In other words, did the man
of the third century understand or report, or interpret facts in
the same way as the man of the sixteenth or the nineteenth? And
if not, what are the differences, and what are the deductions to
be made from them, if any?' He fixed his keen look on Robert, who
was now lounging against the books, as though his harangue had taken
it out of him a little.
'Ah, well,' said the Rector smiling, 'I am only just coming to that.
As I told you, I am only now beginning to dig for myself. Till
now it has all been work at second hand. I have been getting a
general survey of the ground as quickly as I could with the help
of other men's labors. Now I must go to work inch by inch, and
find out what the ground is made of. I won't forget your point.
It is enormously important, I grant--enormously,' he repeated
'I should think it is' said Langham to himself as he rose; 'the
whole of orthodox Christianity is in it, for instance!'
There was not much more to be seen. A little wooden stair-case led
from the second library to the upper rooms, curious old rooms, which
had been annexed one by one as the Squire wanted them, and in which
there was nothing at all--neither chair, nor table, nor carpet--but
books only. All the doors leading from room to room had been taken
off; the old worm-eaten boards had been roughly stained; a few old
French engravings had been hung here and there where the encroaching
books left an opening; but otherwise all was bare. There was a
curious charm in the space and air of these empty rooms, with their
latticed windows opening on to the hill, and letting in day by day
the summer sun-risings or the winter dawns, which had shone upon
them for more than three centuries.
'This is my last day of privilege,' said Robert. 'Everybody is
shut out when once he appears, from this wing, and this part of the
grounds. This was his father's room,' and the Rector led the way
into the last of the series; 'and through there,' pointing to a
door on the right, 'lies the way to his own sleeping-room, which
is of course connected with the more modern side of the house.'
'So this is where that old man ventured "what Cato did and Addison
approved," murmured Langham, standing in the middle of the room and
looking around him. This particular room was now used as a sort
of lumber place, a receptacle for the superfluous or useless books,
gradually thrown off by the great collection all around. There
were innumerable volumes in frayed or broken bindings lying on the
ground. A musty smell hung over it all; the gray light from outside,
which seemed to give only an added subtlety and charm, to the other
portions of the ancient building through which they had been moving,
seemed here _triste_ and dreary. Or Langham fancied it.
He passed the threshold again with a little sigh, and saw suddenly
before him at the end of the suite of rooms, and framed in the
doorways facing him, an engraving of a Greuze picture--a girl's
face turned over her shoulder, the hair waving about her temples,
the lips parted, the teeth gleaming mirth and provocation and tender
yielding in every line. Langham started, and the blood rushed to
his heart. It was as though Rose herself stood there and beckoned
'Now, having seen our sight,' said Robert, as they left the great
mass of Murewell behind them, 'come and see our scandal. Both run
by the same proprietor, if you please. There is a hamlet down there
in the hollow'--and he pointed to a gray speck in the distance--'I
which deserves a Royal Commission all to itself, which is a
_disgrace_'--and his tone warmed--'to any country, any owner, any
agent! It is owned by Mr. Wendover, and I see the pleasing prospect
straight before me of beginning my acquaintance with him by a fight
over it. You will admit that it is a little hard on a man who wants
to live on good terms with the possessor of the Murewell library
to have to open relations with him by a fierce attack on his drains
and his pigsties.'
He turned to his companion with a half-rueful spark of laughter in
his gray, eyes. Langham hardly caught what he said. He was far
away in meditations of his own.
'An attack,' he repeated vaguely; 'why an attack?'
Robert plunged again into the great topic of which his quick mind
was evidently full. Langham tried to listen, but was conscious
that his friend's social enthusiasms bored him a great deal. And
side by side with the consciousness there slid in a little stinging
reflection that four years ago no talk of Elsmere's could have bored
'What's the matter with this particular place?' he asked languidly,
at last, raising his eyes toward the group of houses now beginning
to emerge from the distance.
An angry, red mounted in Robert's cheek.
'What isn't the matter with it? The houses which were built on a
swamp originally, are falling into ruin; the roofs, the drains, the
accommodation per head, are all about equally scandalous. The place
is harried with illness; since I came there has been both fever and
diphtheria there. They are all crippled with rheumatism, but _that_
they think nothing of; the English laborer takes rheumatism as quite
in the day's bargain! And as to _vice_--the vice that comes of
mere endless persecuting opportunity--I can tell you one's ideas
of personal responsibility get a good deal shaken up by a place
like this! And I can do nothing. I brought over Henslowe to see
the place, and he behaved like a brute. He scoffed at all my
complaints, said that no landlord would be such a fool as to build
fresh cottages on such a site, that the old ones must just be allowed
to go to ruin; that the people might live in them if they chose,
or turn out of them if they chose. Nobody forced them to do either;
it was their own look-out.'
'That was true,' said Langham, 'wasn't it?'
Robert turned upon him fiercely.
'Ah! you think it so easy for these poor creatures to leave their
homes their working places! Some of them have been there thirty
years. They are close to the two or three farms that employ them,
close to the osier beds which give them extra earnings in the spring.
If they were turned out, there is nothing nearer than Murewell,
and not a single cottage to be found there. I don't say it is a
landlord's duty to provide more cottages than are wanted; but if
the labor is wanted, the laborer should be decently housed. He is
worthy of his hire, and woe to the man who neglects or ill-treats
Langham could not help smiling, partly at the vehemence of the
speech, partly at the lack of adjustment between his friend's mood
and his own. He braced himself to take the matter more seriously,
but meanwhile Robert had caught the smile, and his angry eyes melted
at once into laughter.
'There I am, ranting as usual,' he said penitently, 'Took you for
Henslowe, I suppose! Ah, well, never mind. I hear the Provost has
another book on the stocks?'
So they diverged into other things, talking politics and new books,
public men and what not, till at the end of a long and gradual
descent through wooded ground, some two miles to the northwest of
the park, they emerged from the trees beneath which they had been
walking, and found themselves on a bridge, a gray sluggish stream
flowing beneath them, and the hamlet they sought rising among the
river flats on the farther side.
'There,' said Robert, stopping, 'we are at our journey's end. Now,
then--what sort of a place of human habitation do you call _that_?'
The bridge whereon they stood crossed the main channel of the river,
which just at that point, however, parted into several branches,
and came meandering slowly down through a little bottom or valley,
filled with osier beds, long since robbed of their year's growth
of shoots. On the other side of the river, on ground all but level
with the osier beds which interposed between them and the stream,
rose a miserable group of houses, huddled together as though their
bulging walls and rotten roofs could only maintain themselves at
all by the help and support which each wretched hovel gave to its
neighbor. The mud walls were stained with yellow patches of lichen,
the palings round the little gardens were broken and ruinous. Close
beside them all was a sort of open drain or water-course, stagnant
and noisome, which dribbled into the river a little above the bridge.
Behind them rose a high gravel bank edged by firs, and a line of
oak trees against the sky. The houses stood in the shadow of the
bank looking north, and on this gray, lowering day, the dreariness,
the gloom, the squalor of the place were indescribable.
'Well, that is a God-forsaken hole!' said Langham, studying it, his
interest roused at last, rather perhaps by the Ruysdael-like
melancholy and picturesqueness of the scene than by its human
suggestiveness. 'I could hardly have imagined such a place existed
in southern England. It is more like a bit of Ireland.'
'If it were Ireland it might be to somebody's interest to ferret
it out,' said Robert bitterly. 'But these poor folks are out of the
world. They may be brutalized with impunity. Oh, such a case as
I had here last autumn! A young girl of sixteen or seventeen, who
would have been healthy and happy anywhere else, stricken by the
damp and the poison of the place, dying in six weeks, of complications
due to nothing in the world but preventable cruelty and neglect?
It was a sight that burnt into my mind, once for all, what is meant
by a landlord's responsibility. I tried, of course, to move her,
but neither she nor her parents--elderly folk--had energy enough
for a change. They only prayed to be let alone. I came over the
last evening of her life to give her the communion. "Ah, sir!"
said the mother to me--not bitterly--that is the strange thing,
they have so little bitterness! "If Mr. 'Enslowe would just 'a
mended that bit o' roof of ours last winter, Bessie needn't have
laid in the wet so many nights as she did, and she coughin' fit to
break your heart, for all the things yer could put over'er."'
Robert paused, his strong young face, so vehemently angry a few
minutes before, tremulous with feeling, 'Ah, well,' he said at last
with a long breath, moving away from the parapet of the bridge on
which he had been leaning, 'better be oppressed than oppressor any
day! Now, then, I must deliver my stores. There's a child here
Catherine and I have been doing our best to pull through typhoid.'
They crossed the bridge and turned down the track leading to the
hamlet. Some planks carried them across the ditch, the main sewer
of the community, as Robert pointed out, and they made their way
through the filth surrounding one of the nearest cottages.
A feeble, elderly man, whose shaking limbs and sallow, bloodless
skin made him look much older than he actually was, opened the door
and invited them to come in. Robert passed on into an inner room,
conducted thither by a woman who had been sitting working over the
fire. Langham stood irresolute, but the old man's quavering 'Kindly
take a chair Sir; you've come a long way,' decided him, and he
Inside, the hovel was miserable indeed. It belonged to that old
and evil type which the efforts of the last twenty years have done
so much all over England to sweep away: four mud walls, enclosing
an oblong space about eight yards long, divided into two unequal
portions by a lath and plaster partition, with no upper story, a
thatched roof, now entirely out of repair, and letting in the rain
in several places, and a paved floor little better than the earth
itself, so large and cavernous were the gaps between the stones.
The dismal place had no small adornings--none of those little
superfluities which, however ugly and trivial, are still so precious
in the dwellings of the poor, as showing the existence of some
instinct or passion which is not the creation of the sheerest
physical need; and Langham, as he sat down, caught the sickening
marsh smell which the Oxford man, accustomed to the odors of damp
meadows in times of ebbing flood and festering sun, knows so well.
As old Milsom began to talk to him in his weak, tremulous voice,
the visitor's attention was irresistibly held by the details about
him. Fresh as he was from all the delicate sights, the harmonious
colors and delightful forms of the Squire's house, they made an
unusually sharp impression on his fastidious senses. What does
human life become lived on reeking floors and under stifling roofs
like these? What strange, abnormal deteriorations, physical and
spiritual, must it not inevitably undergo? Langham felt a sudden
inward movement of disgust and repulsion. 'For Heaven's sake, keep
your superstitions!' he could have cried to the whole human race,
'or any other narcotic that a grinding fate has left you. What
does _anything_ matter to the mass of mankind but a little ease, a
little lightening of pressure on this side or on that?'
Meanwhile the old man went maundering on, talking of the weather,
and of his sick child, and 'Mr. Elsmere,' with a kind of listless
incoherence which hardly demanded an answer, though Langham threw
in a word or two here and there.
Among other things, he began to ask a question or two about Robert's
predecessor, a certain Mr. Preston, who had left behind him a memory
of amiable evangelical indolence.
'Did you see much of him?' he asked.
'Oh law, no, sir!' replied the man, surprised into something like
energy. I Never seed 'im more'n once a year, and sometimes not
'Was he liked here?'
'Well, sir, it was like this, you see. My wife, she's north-country,
she is, comes from Yorkshire; sometimes she'd used to say to me,
"Passon 'ee ain't much good, and passon 'ee ain't much harm. 'Ee's
no more good nor more 'arm, so fer as _I_ can see, nor a chip in a
basin o' parritch." And that was just about it, sir,' said the old
man, pleased for the hundredth time with his wife's bygone flight
of metaphor and his own exact memory of it.
As to the Rector's tendance of his child his tone was very cool and
'It do seem strange, sir, as nor he nor Doctor Grimes 'ull let her
have anything to put a bit of flesh on her, nothin' but them messy
things as he brings--milk an' that. An' the beef jelly--lor! such
a trouble! Missis Elsmere, he tells my wife, strains all the stuff
through a cloth, she do; never seed anythin' like it, nor my wife
neither. People is clever nowadays,' said the speaker dubiously.
Langham realized, that in this quarter of his parish at any rate,
his friend's pastoral vanity, if he had any, would not find much
to feed on. Nothing, to judge from this specimen at least, greatly
affected an inhabitant of Mile End. Gratitude, responsiveness,
imply health and energy, past or present. The only constant defence
which the poor have against such physical conditions as those which
prevailed at Mile End is apathy.
As they came down the dilapidated steps at the cottage door, Robert
drew in with avidity a long draught of the outer air.
'Ugh!' he said, with a sort of groan, 'that bedroom! Nothing gives
one such a sense of the toughness of human life as to see a child
recovering, actually recovering, in such a pestilential den! Father,
mother, grown up son, girl of thirteen, and grandchild--all huddled
in a space just fourteen feet square. Langham!' and he turned
passionately on his companion, 'what defence can be found for a man
who lives in a place like Murewell Hall, and can take money from
human beings for the use of a sty like that?'
'Gently, my friend. Probably the Squire, being the sort of recluse
he is, has never seen the place, or at any rate not for-years, and
knows nothing about it!'
'More shame for him!'
'True in a sense,' said Langham, a little dryly; 'but as you may
want hereafter to make excuses for your man, and he may give you
occasion, I wouldn't begin by painting him to yourself any blacker
than need be.'
Robert laughed, sighed, and acquiesced. 'I am a hot-headed, impatient
kind of creature at the best of times,' he confessed. 'They tell
me that great things have been done for the poor round here in the
last twenty years. Something has been done, certainly. But why
are the old ways, the old evil neglect and apathy, so long, so
terribly long in dying! This social progress of ours we are so
proud of is a clumsy limping jade at best!'
They prowled a little more about the hamlet, every step almost
revealing some new source of poison and disease. Of their various
visits, however, Langham remembered nothing afterward but a little
scene in a miserable cottage, where they found a whole family partly
gathered round the mid-day meal. A band of puny black-eyed children
were standing or sitting at the table. The wife, confined of twins
three weeks before, sat by the fire, deathly pale, a 'bad leg'
stretched out before her on some improvised support, one baby on
her lap and another dark-haired bundle asleep in a cradle beside
her. There was a pathetic, pinched beauty about the whole family.
Even the tiny twins were comparatively shapely; all the other
children had delicate, transparent skins, large eyes, and small
colorless mouths. The father, a picturesque, handsome fellow,
looking as though he had gypsy blood in his veins, had opened the
door to their knock. Robert, seeing the meal, would have retreated
at once, in spite of the children's shy inviting looks, but a glance
past them at the mother's face checked the word of refusal and
apology on his lips, and he stepped in.
In after years Langham was always apt to see him in imagination as
he saw him then, standing beside the bent figure of the mother, his
quick, pitiful eyes taking in the pallor and exhaustion of face and
frame, his hand resting instinctively on the head of a small creature
that had crept up beside him, his look all attention and softness
as the woman feebly told him some of the main facts of her state.
The young Rector at the moment might have stood for the modern
'Man of Feeling,' as sensitive, as impressionable, and as free from
the burden of self, as his eighteenth-century prototype.
On the way home Robert suddenly remarked to his companion, 'Have
you heard my sister-in-law play yet, Langham? What did you think
'Extraordinary!' said Langham briefly. 'The most considerable gift
I ever came across in an amateur.'
His olive cheek flushed a little involuntarily. Robert threw a
quick observant look at him.
'The difficulty,' he exclaimed, 'is to know what to do with it!'
'Why do you make the difficulty? I gather she wants to study abroad.
What is there to prevent it?'
Langham turned to his companion with a touch of asperity. He could
not stand it that Elsmere should be so much narrowed and warped by
that wife of his, and her prejudices. Why should that gifted
creature be cribbed, cabined, and confined in this way?
'I grant you,' said Robert with a look of perplexity, 'there is not
much to prevent it.'
And he was silent a moment, thinking, on his side, very tenderly
of all the antecedents and explanations of that old-world distrust
of art and the artistic life so deeply rooted in his wife, even
though in practice and under his influence she had made concession
'The great solution of all,' he said presently, brightening, would
be to get her married. I don't wonder her belongings dislike the
notion of anything so pretty and so flighty, going off to live by
itself. And to break up the home in Whindale would be to undo
everything their father did for them, to defy his most solemn last
'To talk of a father's wishes, in a case of this kind, ten years
after his death, is surely excessive,' said Langham with dry
interrogation; then, suddenly recollecting himself, 'I beg your
pardon, Elsmere. I am interfering.'
'Nonsense,' said Robert brightly, 'I don't wonder, it seems like a
difficulty of our own making. Like so many difficulties, it depends
on character, present character, bygone character--' And again he
fell musing on his Westmoreland experiences, and on the intensity
of that Puritan type it had revealed to him. 'However, as I said,
marriage would be the natural way out of it.'
'An easy way, I should think,' said Langham, after a pause.
'It won't be so easy to find the right man. She is a young person
with a future, is Miss Rose. She wants somebody in the stream;
somebody with a strong hand who will keep her in order and yet give
her a wide range; a rich man, I think--she hasn't the ways of a
poor man's wife; but, at any rate, someone who will be proud of
her, and yet have a full life of his own in which she may share.'
'Your views are extremely clear,' said Langham, and his smile had
a touch of bitterness in it. 'If hers agree, I prophesy you won't
have long to wait. She has beauty, talent, charm--everything that
rich and important men like.'
There was the slightest sarcastic note in the voice. Robert winced.
It was borne in upon one of the least worldly of mortals that he
had been talking like the veriest schemer. What vague, quick impulse
had driven him on?
By the time they emerged again upon the Murewell Green the rain had
cleared altogether away, and the autumnal morning had broken into
sunshine which played mistily on the sleeping woods, on the white
fronts of the cottages, and the wide green where the rain-pools
glistened. On the hill leading to the Rectory there was the flutter
of a woman's dress. As they hurried on, afraid of being late for
luncheon, they saw that it was Rose in front of them.
Langham started as the slander figure suddenly refined itself against
the road. A tumult within, half rage, half feeling, showed itself
only in an added rigidity of the finely-cut features.
Rose turned directly she heard the steps and voices, and over the
dreaminess of her face there flashed a sudden brightness.
'You _have_ been along time!' she exclaimed, saying the first thing
that came into her head, joyously, rashly, like the child she in
reality was. 'How many halt and maimed has Robert taken you to
see, Mr. Langham?'
'We went to Murewell first. The library was well worth seeing.
Since then we have been a parish round, distributing stores.'
Rose's look changed in an instant. The words were spoken by the
Langham of her earliest acquaintance. The man who that morning had
asked her to play to him had gone--vanished away.
'How exhilarating!' she said scornfully. 'Don't you wonder how
anyone can ever tear themselves away from the country?'
'Rose, don't be abusive,' said Robert, opening his eyes at her tone.
Then, passing his arm through hers he looked banteringly down upon
her. 'For the first time since you left the metropolis you have
walked yourself into a color. It's becoming--and it's Murewell--so
'Oh, nobody denies you a high place in milkmaids!' she said, with
her head in air--and they went off into a minute's sparring.
Meanwhile, Langham, on the other side of the road, walked up slowly,
his eyes on the ground. Once, when Rose's eye caught him, a shock
ran through her. There was already a look of slovenly age, about
his stooping bookworm's gait. Her companion of the night
before--handsome, animated, human--where was he? The girl's heart
felt a singular contraction. Then she turned and rent herself, and
Robert found her more mocking and sprightly than ever.
At the Rectory gate Robert ran on to overtake a farmer on the road.
Rose stooped to open the latch; Langham mechanically made a quick
movement forward to anticipate her. Their fingers touched; she
drew hers hastily away and passed in, an erect and dignified figure,
in her curving garden hat.
Langham went straight up to his room, shut the door and stood before
the open window, deaf and blind to everything save an inward storm
'Fool! Idiot!' he said to himself at last, with fierce stifled
emphasis, while a kind of dumb fury with himself and circumstance
swept through him.
That he, the poor and solitary student whose only sources of
self-respect lay in the deliberate limitations, the reasoned and
reasonable renunciations he had imposed upon his life, should have
needed the reminder of his old pupil not to fall in love with his
brilliant, ambitious sister! His irritable self-consciousness
enormously magnified Elsmere's motive and Elsmere's words. That
golden vagueness and softness of temper which had possessed him
since his last sight of her gave place to one of bitter tension.
With sardonic scorn he pointed out to himself that his imagination
was still held by, his nerves were still thrilling under, the mental
image of a girl looking up to him as no woman had ever looked--a
girl, white-armed, white-necked--with softened eyes of appeal and
confidence. He bade himself mark that during the whole of his
morning walk with Robert down to its last stage, his mind had been
really absorbed in some preposterous dream he was now too
self-contemptuous to analyze. Pretty well for a philosopher, in
four days! What a ridiculous business is life--what a contemptible
creature is man, how incapable of dignity, of consistency!
At luncheon he talked rather more than usual, especially on literary
matters with Robert. Rose, too, was fully occupied in giving
Catherine a sarcastic account of a singing lesson she had been
administering in the school that morning. Catherine winced sometimes
at the tone of it.
That afternoon Robert, in high spirits, his rod over his shoulder,
his basket at his back, carried off his guest for a lounging afternoon
along the river. Elsmere enjoyed these fishing expeditions like a
boy. They were his holidays, relished all the more because he kept
a jealous account of them with his conscience. He sauntered along,
now throwing a cunning and effectual fly, now resting, smoking, and
chattering, as the fancy took him. He found a great deal of the
old stimulus and piquancy in Langham's society, but there was an
occasional irritability in his companion, especially toward himself
personally, which puzzled him. After a while, indeed, he began to
feel himself the unreasonably cheerful person which he evidently
appeared to his companion. A mere ignorant enthusiast, banished
for ever from the realm of pure knowledge by certain original and
incorrigible defects--after a few hours' talk with Langham Robert's
quick insight always showed him some image of himself resembling
this in his friend's mind.
At last he turned restive. He had been describing to Langham his
acquaintance with the Dissenting minister of the place--a strong,
coarse-grained fellow of sensuous, excitable temperament, famous
for his noisy 'conversion meetings,' and for a gymnastic dexterity
in the quoting and combining of texts, unrivalled in Robert's
experience. Some remark on the Dissenter's logic, made, perhaps,
a little too much in the tone of the Churchman conscious of University
advantages, seemed to irritate Langham.
'You think your Anglican logic in dealing with the Bible so superior!
On the contrary, I am all for your Ranter. He is your logical
Protestant. Historically, you Anglican parsons are where you are
and what you are, because English-men, as a whole, like attempting
the contradictory--like, above all, to eat their cake and have it.
The nation has made you and maintains you for its own purposes.
But that is another matter.'
Robert smoked on a moment in silence. Then he flushed and laid
down his pipe.
'We are all fools in your eyes, I know! _A la bonne heure!_ I have
been to the University, and talk what he is pleased to call
"philosophy"--therefore Mr. Colson denies me faith. You have always,
in your heart of hearts, denied me knowledge. But I cling to both
in spite of you.'
There was a ray of defiance, of emotion, in his look. Langham met
it in silence.
'I deny you nothing,' he said at last, slowly. 'On the contrary,
I believe you to be the possessor of all that is best worth having
in life and mind.'
His irritation had all died away. His tone was one of indescribable
depression, and his great black eyes were fixed on Robert with a
melancholy which startled his companion by a subtle transition
Elsmere felt himself touched with a pang of profound pity for the
man who an instant before had seemed to pose as his scornful superior.
He stretched out his hand, and laid it on his friend's shoulder.
Rose spent the afternoon in helping Catherine with various parochial
occupations. In the course of them Catherine asked many questions
about Long Whindale. Her thoughts clung to the hills, to the gray
farmhouses, the rough men and women inside them. But Rose gave her
'Poor old Jim Backhouse!' said Catherine, sighing; Agnes tells me
he is quite bedridden now.'
'Well, and a good thing for John, don't yon think--' said Rose
briskly, covering a parish library book the while in a way which
made Catherine's fingers itch to take it from her--'and for us?
It's some use having a carrier now.'
Catherine made no reply. She thought of the 'noodle', fading out
of life in the room where Mary Backhouse died; she actually saw the
white hair, the blurred eyes, the palsied hands, the poor emaciated
limbs stretched along the settle. Her heart rose, but she said
'And has Mrs. Thornburgh been enjoying her summer?'
'Oh! I suppose so,' said Rose, her tone indicating a quite measureless
indifference. 'She had another young Oxford man staying with her
in June--a missionary--and it annoyed her very much that neither
Agnes nor I would intervene to prevent his resuming his profession.
She seemed to think it was a question of saving him from being
eaten, and apparently he would have proposed to either of us.'
Catherine could not help laughing. 'I suppose she still thinks she
married Robert and me.'
'Of course. So she did.'
Catherine colored a little, but Rose's hard lightness of tone was
'Or if she didn't,' Rose resumed, 'nobody could have the heart to
rob her of the illusion. Oh, by the way, Sarah has been under
warning since June! Mrs. Thornburgh told her desperately that she
must either throw over her young man, who was picked up drunk at
the Vicarage gate one night, or vacate the Vicarage kitchen. Sarah
cheerfully accepted her month's notice, and is still making the
Vicarage jams and walking out with the young man every Sunday. Mr.
Thornburgh sees that it will require a convulsion of nature to get
rid either of Sarah or the young man, and has succumbed.'
'And the Tysons? And that poor Walker girl?'
'Oh, dear me, Catherine!' said Rose, a strange disproportionate
flash of impatience breaking through. 'Everyone in Long Whindale
is always just where and what they were last year. I admit they
are born and die, but they do nothing else of a decisive kind.'
Catherine's hands worked away for a while, then she laid down her
book and said, lifting her clear, large eyes on her sister,--
'Was there never a time when you loved the valley, Rose?'
'Never!' cried Rose.
Then she pushed away her work, and leaning her elbows on the table
turned her brilliant face to Catherine. There was frank mutiny in
'By the way, Catherine, are you going to prevent mamma from letting
me go to Berlin for the winter?'
'And after Berlin, Rose?' said Catherine, presently, her gaze bent
upon her work.
'After Berlin? What next?' said Rose recklessly. 'Well, after
Berlin I shall try to persuade mamma and Agnes, I suppose, to come
and back me up in London. We could still be some months of the
year at Burwood.'
Now she had said it out. But there was something else surely goading
the girl than mere intolerance of the family tradition. The
hesitancy, the moral doubt of her conversation with Langham, seemed
to have vanished wholly in a kind of acrid self-assertion.
Catherine felt a shock sweep through her, It was as though all the
pieties of life, all the sacred assumptions and self-surrenders at
the root of it, were shaken, outraged by the girl's tone.
'Do you ever remember,' she said, looking up, while her voice
trembled, 'what papa wished when he was dying?'
It was her last argument. To Rose she had very seldom used it in
so many words. Probably, it seemed to her too strong, too sacred,
to be often handled.
But Rose sprang up, and pacing the little work-room with her white
wrists locked behind her, she met that argument with all the
concentrated passion which her youth had for years been storing up
against it. Catherine sat presently overwhelmed, bewildered. This
language of a proud and tameless individuality, this modern gospel
of the divine right of self-development--her soul loathed it! And
yet, since that night in Marrisdale, there had been a new yearning
in her to understand.
Suddenly, however, Rose stopped, lost her thread. Two figures were
crossing the lawn, and their shadows were thrown far beyond them
by the fast disappearing sun.
She threw herself down on her chair again with an abrupt--'Do you
see they have come back? We must go and dress.'
And as she spoke she was conscious of a new sensation altogether--the
sensation of the wild creature lassoed on the prairie, of the bird
exchanging in an instant its glorious freedom of flight for the
pitiless meshes of the net. It was stifling--her whole nature
seemed to fight with it.
Catherine rose and began to put away the books they had been covering.
She had said almost nothing in answer to Rose's tirade. When she
was ready she came and stood beside her sister a moment, her lips
trembling. At last she stooped and kissed the girl--the kiss of
deep, suppressed feeling--and went away. Rose made no response.
Unmusical as she was, Catherine pined for her sister's music that
evening. Robert was busy in his study, and the hours seemed
interminable. After a little difficult talk Langham subsided into
a book and a corner. But the only words of which he was conscious
for long were the words of an inner dialogue. 'I promised to play
for her.--Go and offer then!--Madness! let me keep away from her.
If she asks me, of course I will go.--She is much too proud, and
already she thinks me guilty of a rudeness.'
Then, with a shrug, be would fall to his book again, abominably
conscious, however, all the while of the white figure between the
lamp and the open window, and of the delicate head and cheek lit
up against the trees and the soft August dark.
When the time came to go to bed he got their candles for the two
ladies. Rose just touched his hand with cool fingers.
'Good night, Mr. Langham. You are going in to smoke with Robert,
Her bright eyes seemed to look him through. Their mocking hostility
seemed to say to him, as plainly as possible: 'Your purgatory is
over--go, smoke and be happy!'
'I will go and help him wind up his sermon,' he said, with an attempt
at a laugh, and moved away.
Rose went upstairs, and it seemed to her that a Greek brow, and a
pair of wavering, melancholy eyes went before her in the darkness
chased along the passages by the light she held. She gained her
room, and stood by the window, seized again by that stifling sense
of catastrophe, so strange, so undefined. Then she shook it off
with an angry laugh, and went to work to see how far her stock of
light dresses had suffered by her London dissipations.
The next morning after breakfast the Rectory party were in the
garden; the gentlemen smoking, Catherine and her sister scrolling
arm in arm among the flowers. Catherine's vague terrors of the
morning before had all taken to themselves wings. It seemed to her
that Rose and Mr. Langham had hardly spoken to each other since she
had seen them walking about together. Robert had already made merry
over his own alarms, and hers, and she admitted he was in the right.
As to her talk with Rose, her deep meditative nature was slowly
working upon and digesting it. Meanwhile, she was all tenderness
to her sister, and there was even a reaction of pity in her heart
toward the lonely sceptic who had once been so good to Robert.
Robert was just bethinking himself that it was time to go off to
the school, when they were all startled by an unexpected visitor--a
short old lady, in a rusty black dress and bonnet, who entered the
drive and stood staring at the Rectory party, a tiny hand in a black
thread glove shading the sun from a pair of wrinkled eyes.
'Mrs. Darcy!' exclaimed Robert to his Wife after a moment's perplexity,
and they walked quickly to meet her.
Rose and Langham exchanged a few commonplaces till the others joined
them, and then for a while the attention of everybody in the group
was held by the Squire's sister. She was very small, as thin and
light as thistledown, ill-dressed, and as communicative as a babbling
child. The face and all the features were extraordinarily minute,
and moreover, blanched and etherealized by age. She had the elfish
look of a little withered fairy godmother. And yet through it all
it was clear that she was a great lady. There were certain poses
and gestures about her, which made her thread gloves and rusty
skirts seem a mere whim and masquerade, adopted, perhaps deliberately,
from a high-bred love of congruity, to suit the country lanes.
She had come to ask them all to dinner at the Hall on the following
evening, and she either brought or devised on the spot the politest
messages from the Squire to the new Rector, which pleased the
sensitive Robert and silenced for the moment his various misgivings
as to Mr. Wendover's advent. Then she stayed chattering, studying
Rose every now and then out of her strange little eyes, restless
and glancing as a bird's, which took stock also of the garden, of
the flower-beds, of Elsmere's lanky frame, and of Elsmere's handsome
friend in the background. She was most odd when she was grateful,
and she was grateful for the most unexpected things. She thanked
Elsmere effusively for coming to live there, 'sacrificing yourself
so nobly to us country folk,' and she thanked him with an appreciative
glance at Langham, for having his clever friends to stay with him.
'The Squire will be so pleased. My brother, you know, is very
clever; oh yes, frightfully clever!'
And then there was a long sigh, at which Elsmere cold hardly keep
She thought it particularly considerate of them to have been to see
the Squire's books. It would make conversation so easy when they
came to dinner.
'Though I don't know anything about his books. He doesn't like
women to talk about books. He says they only pretend--even the
clever ones. Except, of course, Madame de Stael. He can only say
she was ugly, and I don't deny it. But I have about used up Madame
de Stael,' she added, dropping into another sigh as soft and light
as a child's.
Robert was charmed with her, and even Langham smiled. And as Mrs.
Darcy adored 'clever men,' ranking them, as the London of her youth
had ranked them, only second to 'persons of birth,' she stood among
them beaming, becoming more and more whimsical and inconsequent,
more and more deliciously incalculable, as she expanded. At last
she fluttered off, only, however, to come hurrying back with little,
short, scudding steps, to implore them all to come to tea with her
as soon as possible in the garden that was her special hobby, and
in her last new summerhouse.
'I build two or three every summer,' she said. 'Now, there are
twenty-one! Roger laughs at me,' and there was a momentary bitterness
in the little eerie face, 'but how can one live without hobbies?
That's one--then I've two more. My album--oh, you _will_ all write
in my album, won't you? When I was young--when I was Maid of
Honor'--and she drew herself up slightly--'everybody had albums.
Even the dear Queen herself! I remember how she made M. Guizot
write in it; something quite stupid, after all. _Those_ hobbies--the
garden and the album--are _quite_ harmless, aren't they? They hurt
nobody, do they?' Her voice dropped, a little, with a pathetic
expostulating intonation in it, as of one accustomed to be rebuked.
'Let me remind you of a saying of Bacon's,' said Langham, studying
her, and softened perforce into benevolence.
'Yes, yes,' said Mrs. Darcy in a flutter of curiosity.
'God Almighty first planted a garden,' he quoted; 'and, indeed, it
is the purest of all human pleasures.'
'Oh, but how _delightful!_' cried Mrs. Darcy, clasping her diminutive
hands in their thread gloves. 'You must write that in my album,
Mr. Langham, that very sentence; oh, how _clever_ of you to remember
it! What it is to be clever and have a brain! But, then--I've
Here, however, she stopped, hung her head and looked depressed.
Robert, with a little ripple of laughter, begged her to explain.
'No,' she said plaintively, giving a quick uneasy look at him, as
though it occurred to her that it might some day be his pastoral
duty to admonish her. 'No, it's wrong. I know it is--only I can't
help it. Never mind. You'll know soon.'
And again she turned away, when, suddenly, Rose attracted her
attention, and she stretched out a thin, white, bird-claw of a hand
and caught the girl's arm.
'There won't be much to amuse you to-morrow, my dear--and there
ought to be--you're so pretty!' Rose blushed furiously and tried
to draw her hand away. 'No, no! don't mind, don't mind. I didn't
at your age. Well, we'll do our best. But your own party is so
_charming!_' and she looked round the little circle, her gaze
stopping specially at Langham before it returned to Rose. 'After
all, you will amuse each other.'
Was there any malice in the tiny withered creature? Rose, unsympathetic
and indifferent as youth commonly is when its own affairs absorb
it, had stood coldly outside the group which was making much of the
Squire's sister. Was it so the strange little visitor revenged
At any rate Rose was left feeling as if someone had pricked her.
While Catherine and Elsmere escorted Mrs. Darcy to the gate she
turned to go in, her head thrown back staglike, her cheek still
burning. Why should it be always open to the old to annoy the young
Langham watched her mount the first step or two; his eye travelled
up the slim figure so instinct with pride and will--and something
in him suddenly gave way. It was like a man who feels his grip
relaxing on some attacking thing he has been heading by the throat.
He followed her hastily.
'Must you go in? And none of us have paid our respects yet to those
phloxes in the back garden?'
Oh woman--flighty woman! An instant before, the girl, sore and
bruised in every fibre, she only half knew why, was thirsting that
this man might somehow offer her his neck that she might trample
on it. He offers it and the angry instinct wavers, as a man wavers
in a wrestling match when his opponent unexpectedly gives ground.
She paused, she turned her white throat. His eyes upturned met
'The phloxes did you say?' she asked, coolly redescending the steps.
'Then round here, please.'
She led the way, he followed, conscious of an utter relaxation of
nerve and will which for the moment had something intoxicating in
'There are your phloxes,' she said, stopping before a splendid line
of plants in full blossom. Her self-respect was whole again; her
spirits rose at a bound. 'I don't know why you admire them so much.
They have no scent and they are only pretty in the lump'--and she
broke off a spike of blossom, studied it a little disdainfully, and
threw it away.
He stood beside her, the southern glow and life of which it was
intermittently capable once more lighting up the strange face.
'Give me leave to enjoy everything countrified more than usual,'
he said. 'After this morning it will be so long before I see the
true country again.'
He looked, smiling, round on the blue and white brilliance of the
sky, clear again after a night of rain; on the sloping garden, on
the village beyond, on the hedge of sweet peas close beside them,
with its blooms.
on tiptoe for a flight,
With wings of gentle flush o'er delicate white.
'Oh! Oxford is countrified enough,' she said, indifferently, moving
down the broad grass-path which divided the garden into two equal
'But I am leaving Oxford, at any rate for a year,' he said quietly.
'I am going to London.'
Her delicate eyebrows went up. 'To London?' Then, in a tone of
mock meekness and sympathy: 'How you will dislike it!'
'Oh! Because--' she hesitated, and then laughed her daring girlish
laugh, 'because there are so many stupid people in London; the
clever people are not all picked out like prize apples, as I suppose
they are in Oxford.'
'At Oxford?' repeated Langham, with a kind of groan. At Oxford?
You imagine that Oxford is inhabited only by clever people?'
'I can only judge by what I see,' she said demurely. 'Every Oxford
man always behaves as if he were the cream of the universe. Oh!
I don't mean to be rude,' she cried, losing for a moment her defiant
control over herself, as though afraid of having gone too far. 'I
am not the least disrespectful, really. When you and Robert talk,
Catherine and I feel quite as humble as we ought.'
The words wore hardly out before she could have bitten the tongue
that spoke them. He had made her feel her indiscretions of Sunday
night as she deserved to feel them, and now after three minutes'
conversation she was on the verge of fresh ones. Would she never
grow up, never behave like other girls? That word _humble!_ It
seemed to burn her memory.
Before he could possibly answer she barred the way by a question
as short and dry as possible,--
What are you going to London for?'
'For many reasons,' he said, shrugging his shoulders. 'I have told
no one yet--not even Elsmere. And indeed I go back to my rooms for
a while from here. But as soon as Term begins, I become a Londoner.'
They had reached the gate at the bottom of the garden, and were
leaning against it. She was disturbed, conscious, lightly flushed.
It struck her as another _gaucherie_ on her part that she should
have questioned him as to his plans. What did his life matter to
He was looking away from her, studying the half-ruined, degraded
Manor House spread out below them. Then suddenly he turned,--
If I could imagine for a moment it would interest you to hear my
reasons for leaving Oxford, I could not flatter myself you would
see any sense in them. I _know_ that Robert will think them
moonshine; nay, more, that they will give him pain.'
He smiled sadly. The tone of gentleness, the sudden breach in the
man's melancholy reserve affected the girl beside him for the second
time, precisely as they had affected her the first time. The result
of twenty-four hours' resentful meditation turned out to be precisely
_nil_. Her breath came fast, her proud look melted, and his quick
sense caught the change in an instant.
'Are you tired of Oxford?' the poor child asked him, almost shyly.
'Mortally!' he said, still smiling. 'And what is more important
still, Oxford is tired of me. I have been lecturing there for ten
years. They have had more than enough of me.'
'Oh! but Robert said'--began Rose impetuously, then stopped, crimson,
remembering many things Robert had said.
'That I helped him over a few stiles?' returned Langham calmly.
'Yes, there was a time when I was capable of that--there was a time
when I could teach, and teach with pleasure.' He paused. Rose
could have scourged herself for the tremor she felt creeping over
her. Why should it be to her so new and strange a thing that a
_man_, especially a man of these years and this calibre, should
confide in her, should speak to her intimately of himself? After
all she said to herself angrily, with a terrified sense of importance,
she was a child no longer, though her mother and sisters would treat
her as one. 'When we were chatting the other night,' he went on,
turning to her again as he stood leaning on the gate, 'do you know
what it was struck me most?'
His tone had in it the most delicate, the most friendly deference.
But Rose flushed furiously.
'That girls are very ready to talk about themselves, I imagine,'
she said scornfully.
'Not at all! Not for a moment! No, but it seemed to me so pathetic,
so strange that anybody should wish for anything so much as you
wished for the musician's life.'
'And you never wish for anything?' she cried.
'When Elsmere was at college,' he said, smiling, 'I believe I wished
he should get a First, Class. This year I have certainly wished
to say good-by to St. Anselm's, and to turn my back for good and
all on my men. I can't remember that I have wished for anything
else for six years.'
She looked at him perplexed. Was his manner merely languid, or was
it from him that the emotion she felt invading herself first started?
She tried to shake it off.
'And _I_ am just a bundle of wants,' she said, half-mockingly.
'Generally speaking, I am in the condition of being ready to barter
all I have for some folly or other--one in the morning another in
the afternoon. What have you to say to such people, Mr. Langham?
Her eyes challenged him magnificently, mostly out of sheer nervousness.
But the face they rested on seemed suddenly to turn to stone before
her. The life died out of it. It grew still and rigid.
'Nothing,' he said quietly. 'Between them and me there is a great
gulf fixed. I watch them pass, and I say to myself: "There are
_the living_--that is how they look, how they speak! Realize once
for all that you have nothing to do with them. Life is theirs--belongs
to _them_. You are already outside it. Go your way, and be a
spectre among the active and the happy no longer."'
He leant his back against the gate. Did he see her? Was he conscious
of her at all in this rare impulse of speech which had suddenly
overtaken one of the most withdrawn and silent of human beings?
All her airs dropped off her; a kind of fright seized her; and
involuntarily she laid her hand on his arm.
'Don't--don't--Mr. Langham! Oh, don't say such things! Why should
you be so unhappy? Why should you talk so? Can no one do anything?
Why do you live so much alone? Is there no one you care about?'
He turned. What a vision! His artistic sense absorbed it in an
instant--the beautiful tremulous lip, the drawn white brow. For a
moment he drank in the pity, the emotion of those eyes. Then a
movement of such self-scorn as even he had never felt swept through
him. He gently moved away; her hand dropped.
'Miss Leyburn,' he said, gazing at her, his olive face singularly
pale, 'don't waste your pity on me, for Heaven's sake. Some madness
made me behave as I did just now. Years ago the same sort of idiocy
betrayed me to your brother; never before or since. I ask your
pardon, humbly,' and his tone seemed to scorch her, 'that this
second fit of ranting should have seized me in your presence.'
But he could not keep it up. The inner upheaval had gone too far.
He stopped and looked at her--piteously, the features quivering.
It was as though the man's whole nature had for the moment broken
up, become disorganized. She could not bear it. Some ghastly
infirmity seemed to have been laid bare to her. She held out both
her hands. Swiftly he caught them, stooped, kissed them, let them
go. It was an extraordinary scene--to both a kind of lifetime.
Then he gathered himself together by a mighty effort.
'That was _adorable_ of you,' he said with a long breath. 'But I
stole it--I despise myself. Why should you pity me? What is there
to pity me for? My troubles, such as I have, are my own making--every
And he laid a sort of vindictive emphasis on the words. The tears
of excitement were in her eyes.
'Won't you let me be your friend?' she said, trembling, with a
kind of reproach. 'I thought--the other night--we were to be
friends. Won't you tell me--'
'--more of yourself?' her eyes said, but her voice failed her. And
as for him, as he gazed at her, all the accidents of circumstance,
of individual character, seemed to drop from her. He forgot the
difference of years; he saw her no longer as she was--a girl hardly
out of the schoolroom, vain, ambitious, dangerously responsive, on
whose crude romantic sense he was wantonly playing; she was to him
pure beauty, pure woman. For one tumultuous moment the cold,
critical instinct which had been for years draining his life of all
its natural energies was powerless. It was sweet to yield, to
speak, as it had never been sweet before.
So, leaning over the gate, he told her the story of his life, of
his cramped childhood and youth, of his brief moment of happiness
and success at college, of his first attempts to make himself a
power among younger men, of the gradual dismal failure of all his
efforts, the dying down of desire and ambition. From the general
narrative there stood out little pictures of individual persons or
scenes, clear cut and masterly--of his father, the Gainsborough
churchwarden; of his Methodistical mother, who had all her life
lamented her own beauty as a special snare of Satan, and who since
her husband's death had refused to see her son on the ground that
his opinions 'had vexed his father;' of his first ardent worship
of knowledge, and passion to communicate it; and of the first
intuitions in lecture, face to face with an undergraduate, alone
in college rooms, sometimes alone on Alpine heights, of something
cold, impotent, and baffling in himself, which was to stand for
ever between him and action, between him and human affection; the
growth of the critical pessimist sense which laid the axe to the
root of enthusiasm after enthusiasm, friendship after friendship--which
made other men feel him inhuman, intangible, a skeleton at the
feast; and the persistence through it all of a kind of hunger for
life and its satisfactions, which the will was more and more powerless
to satisfy: all those Langham put into words with an extraordinary
magic and delicacy of phrase. There was something in him which
found a kind of pleasure in the long analysis, which took pains
that it should be infinitely well done.
Rose followed him breathlessly. If she had known more of literature
she would have realized that she was witnessing a masterly dissection
of one of those many morbid growths of which our nineteenth-century
psychology is full. But she was anything but literary, and she
could not analyze her excitement. The man's physical charm, his
melancholy, the intensity of what he said, affected, unsteadied her
as music was apt to affect her. And through it all there was the
strange, girlish pride that this should have befallen _her_; a first
crude intoxicating sense of the power over human lives which was
to be hers, mingled with a desperate anxiety to be equal to the
occasion, to play her part well.
'So you see,' said Langham at last, with a great effort (to do him
justice) to climb back on to some ordinary level of conversation;
'all these transcendentalisms apart, I am about the most unfit man
in the world for a college tutor. The undergraduates regard me as
a shilly-shallying pedant. On my part,' he added dryly, 'I am not
slow to retaliate. Every term I live I find the young man a less
interesting animal. I regard the whole university system as a
wretched sham. Knowledge! It has no more to do with knowledge
than my boots.'
And for one curious instant he looked out over the village, his
fastidious scholar's soul absorbed by some intellectual irritation,
of which Rose understood absolutely nothing. She stood bewildered,
silent, longing childishly to speak, to influence him, but not
knowing what cue to take.
'And then--' he went on presently (but was the strange being speaking
to her?)--'so long as I stay there, worrying those about me, and
eating my own heart out, I am out off from the only life that might
be mine, that I might find the strength to live.'
The words were low and deliberate. After his moment of passionate
speech, and hers of passionate sympathy, she began to feel strangely
remote from him.
'Do you mean the life of the student?' she asked him after a pause,
Her voice recalled him. He turned and smiled at her.
'Of the dreamer, rather.'
And as her eyes still questioned, as he was still moved by the spell
of her responsiveness, he let the new wave of feeling break in
words. Vaguely at first, and then with a growing flame and force
he fell to describing to her what the life of thought may be to the
thinker, and those marvellous moments which belong to that life
when the mind which has divorced itself from desire and sense sees
spread out before it the vast realms of knowledge, and feels itself
close to the secret springs and sources of being. And as he spoke,
his language took an ampler turn, the element of smallness which
attaches to all more personal complaint vanished, his words flowed,
became eloquent, inspired--till the bewildered child beside him,
warm through and through as she was with youth and passion, felt
for an instant by sheer fascinated sympathy the cold spell, the
ineffable prestige, of the thinker's voluntary death in life.
But only, for an instant. Then the natural sense of chill smote
her to the heart.
'You make me shiver,' she cried, interrupting him. 'Have those
strange things--I don't understand them--made you happy? Can they
make anyone happy? Oh no, no! Happiness is to be got from living,
seeing, experiencing, making friends, enjoying nature! Look at the
world, Mr. Langham!' she, said with bright cheeks, half smiling at
her own magniloquence, her hand waving over the view before them.
'What has it done that you should hate it so? If you can't put
up with people you might love nature. I--I can't be content with
nature, because I want some life first. Up in Whindale there is
too much nature, not enough life. But if I had got through life--if
it had disappointed me--then I should love nature. I keep saying
to the mountains at home: "Not _now_, not _now_; I want something
else, but afterward if I can't get it, or if I get too much of it,
why then I will love you, live with you. You are my second string,
my reserve. You--and art--and poetry."'
'But everything depends on feeling,' he said softly, but lightly,
as though to keep the conversation from slipping back into those
vague depths it had emerged from; 'and if one has forgotten how to
feel--if when one sees or bears something beautiful that used to
stir one, one can only say "I remember it moved me once!"--if feeling
dies, like life, like physical force, but prematurely, long before
the rest of the man?'
She gave a long quivering sigh of passionate antagonism.
'Oh, I cannot imagine it!' she cried. 'I shall feel to my last
hour.' Then after a pause, in another tone, 'But, Mr. Langham, you
say music excites you, Wagner excites you?'
'Yes, a sort of strange second life I can still get out of music,'
he admitted, smiling.
'Well, then,' and she looked at him persuasively, 'why not give
yourself up to music? It is so easy--so little trouble to oneself--it
just takes you and carries you away.'
Then, for the first time, Langham became conscious--probably through
these admonitions of hers--that the situation had absurdity in it.
'It is not my _metier_,' he said hastily. 'The self that enjoys
music is an outer self, and can only bear with it for a short time.
No, Miss Leyburn, I shall leave Oxford, the college will sing a
_Te Deum_, I shall settle down in London, I shall keep a bit book
going, and cheat the years after all, I suppose, as well as most
'And you will know, you will remember,' she said faltering, reddening,
her womanliness forcing the words out of her, 'that you have friends:
Robert--my sister--all of us?'
He faced her with a little quick movement. And as their eyes met
each was struck once more with the personal beauty of the other.
His eyes shone--their black depths seemed all tenderness.
'I will never forget this visit, this garden, this hour,' he said
slowly, and they stood looking at each other. Rose felt herself
swept off her feet into a world of tragic mysterious emotion. She
all but put her hand into his again, asking him childishly to hope,
to be consoled. But the maidenly impulse restrained her, and once
more he leant on the gate, burying his face in his hands.
Suddenly he felt himself utterly tired, relaxed. Strong nervous
reaction set in. What had all this scene, this tragedy been about?
And then in another instant was that sense of the ridiculous again
clamoring to be heard. He--the man of thirty-five--confessing
himself, making a tragic scene, playing Manfred or Cain to this
adorable, half-fledged creature, whom he had known five days!
Supposing Elsmere had been there to hear--Elsmere with his sane
eye, his laugh! As he leant over the gate, he found himself quivering
with impatience to be away--by himself--out of reach--the critic
in him making the most bitter, remorseless mock of all these heroics
and despairs the other self had been indulging in. But for the
life of him he could not find a word to say--a move to make. He
stood hesitating, _gauche_, as usual.
'Do you know, Mr. Langham,' said Rose lightly, by his side, 'that
there is no time at all left for _you_ to give _me_ good advice in?
That is an obligation still hanging over you. I don't mean to
release you from it, but if I don't go in now, and finish the
covering of those library books, the youth of Murewell will be left
without any literature till Heaven knows when!'
He could have blessed her for the tone, for the escape into common
'Hang literature--hang the parish library!' he said with a laugh
as he moved after her. Yet his real inner feeling toward that
parish library was one of infinite friendliness.
'Hear these men of letters!' she said scornfully. But she was
happy; there was a glow on her cheek.
A bramble caught her dress; she stopped and laid her white hand to
it, but in vain. He knelt in an instant, and between them they
wrenched it away, but not till those soft slim fingers had several
times felt the neighborhood of his brown ones, and till there had
flown through and through him once more, as she stooped over him,
the consciousness that she was young, that she was beautiful, that
she had pitied him so sweetly, that they were alone.
It was Catherine calling--Catherine, who stood at the end of the
grass-path, with eyes all indignation and alarm.
Langham rose quickly from the ground.
He felt as though the gods had saved him--or damned him--which?
Murewell Rectory during the next forty-eight hours was the scene
of much that might have been of interest to a psychologist gifted
with the power of divining his neighbors.
In the first place Catherine's terrors were all alive again. Robert
had never seen her so moved since those days of storm and stress
before their engagement.
'I cannot bear it!' she said to Robert at night in their room. 'I
cannot bear it! I hear it always in my ears: "What hast thou done
with thy sister?" Oh, Robert, don't mind, dear, though he is your
friend. My father would have shrunk from him with horror--_An alien
from the household of faith! An enemy to the Cross of Christ!_'
She flung out the words with low intense emphasis and frowning brow,
standing rigid by the window, her hands locked behind her. Robert
stood by her much perplexed, feeling himself a good deal of a
culprit, but inwardly conscious that he knew a great deal more about
Langham than she did.
'My dear wife,' he said to her, 'I am certain Langham has no intention
'Then more shame for him,' cried Catherine flushing, 'They could
not have looked more conscious, Robert, when I found them together,
if he had just proposed.'
'What, in five days?' said Robert, more than half inclined to banter
his wife. Then he fell into meditation as Catherine made no answer.
'I believe with men of that sort,' he said at last, 'relations to
women are never more than half-real--always more or less
literature--acting. Langham is tasting experience, to be bottled
up for future use.'
It need hardly be said, however, that Catherine got small consolation
out of this point of view. It seemed to her Robert did not take
the matter quite rightly.
'After all, darling,' he said at last, kissing her, 'you can act
dragon splendidly; you have already--so can I. And you really
cannot make me believe in anything very tragic in a week.'
But Catherine was conscious that she had already played the dragon
hard, to very little purpose. In the forty hours that intervened
between the scene in the garden and the Squire's dinner party,
Robert was always wanting to carry off Langham, Catherine was always
asking Rose's help in some household business or other. In vain.
Langham said to himself calmly, this time, that Elsmere and his
wife were making a foolish mistake in supposing that his friendship
with Miss Leyburn was anything to be alarmed about, that they would
soon be amply convinced of it themselves, and meanwhile he should
take his own way. And as for Rose, they had no sooner turned back
all three from the house to the garden, than she had divined
everything in Catherine's mind, and set herself against her sister
with a wilful force in which many a past irritation found expression.
How Catherine hated the music of that week! It seemed to her she
never opened the drawing-room door but she saw Langham at the piano,
his head with its crown of glossy, curling black hair, and his eyes
lit with unwonted gleams of laughter and sympathy, turned toward
Rose, who was either chatting wildly to him, mimicking the airs of
some professional, or taking off the ways of some famous teacher;
or else, which was worse, playing with all her soul, flooding the
house with sound--now as soft and delicate as first love, now as
full and grand as storm waves on an angry coast. And the sister
going with compressed lip to her work-table would recognize sorely
that never had the girl looked so handsome, and never had the
lightnings of a wayward genius played so finely about her.
As to Langham, it may well be believed that after the scene in the
garden he had rated, satirized, examined himself in the most approved
introspective style. One half of him declared that scene to have
been the height of melodramatic absurdity; the other thought of it
with a thrill of tender gratitude toward the young pitiful creature
who had evoked it. After all, why, because he was alone in the
world and must remain so, should he feel bound to refuse this one
gift of the gods, the delicate, passing gift of a girl's--a child's
friendship? As for her, the man's very real, though wholly morbid,
modesty scouted the notion of love on her side. _He_ was a likely
person for a beauty on the threshold of life and success to fall
in love with; but she meant to be kind to him, and he smiled a
little inward indulgent smile over her very evident compassion, her
very evident intention of reforming him, reconciling him to life.
And, finally, he was incapable of any further resistance. He had
gone too far with her. Let her do what she would with him, dear
child, with the sharp tongue and the soft heart, and the touch of
genius and brilliancy which made her future so interesting! He
called his age and his disillusions to the rescue; he posed to
himself as stooping to her in some sort of elder-brotherly fashion:
and if every now and then some disturbing memory of that strange
scene between them would come to make his present _role_ less
plausible, or some whim of hers made it difficult to play, why then
at bottom there was always the consciousness that sixty hours, or
thereabouts, would see him safely settled in that morning train to
London. Throughout it is probable that that morning train occupied
the saving background of his thoughts.
The two days passed by, and the Squire's dinner-party arrived.
About seven on the Thursday evening a party of four might have been
seen hurrying across the park--Langham and Catherine in front,
Elsmere and Rose behind. Catherine had arranged it so, and Langham,
who understood perfectly that his friendship with her young sister
was not at all to Mrs. Elsmere's taste, and who had by now taken
as much of a dislike to her as his nature was capable of, was
certainly doing nothing to make his walk with her otherwise than
difficult. And every now and then some languid epigram would bring
Catherine's eyes on him with a fiery gleam in their gray depths.
Oh, fourteen more hours and she would have shut the Rectory gate
on this most unwelcome of intruders! She had never, felt so
vindictively anxious to see the last of anyone in her life. There
was in her a vehemence of antagonism to the man's manner, his
pessimism, his infidelity, his very ways of speaking and looking,
which astonished even herself.
Robert's eager soul meanwhile, for once irresponsive to Catherine's,
was full of nothing but the Squire. At last the moment was come,
and that dumb spiritual friendship he had formed through these long
months with the philosopher and the _savant_ was to be tested by
sight and speech of the man. He bade himself a hundred times pitch
his expectations low. But curiosity and hope were keen, in spite
Ah, those parish worries! Robert caught the smoke of Mile End in
the distance, curling above the twilight woods, and laid about him
vigorously with his stick on the Squire's shrubs, as he thought of
those poisonous hovels, those ruined lives! But, after all, it
might be mere ignorance, and that wretch Henslowe might have been
merely trading on his master's morbid love of solitude.
And then--all men have their natural conceits. Robert Elsmere would
not have been the very human creature he was if, half-consciously,
he had not counted a good deal on his own powers of influence.
Life had been to him so far one long social success of the best
kind. Very likely, as he walked on to the great house over whose
threshold lay the answer to the enigma of months, his mind gradually
filled with some naive young dream of winning the Squire, playing
him with all sorts of honest arts, beguiling him back to life--to
Those friendly messages of his through Mrs. Darcy had been very
'I wonder whether my Oxford friends have been doing me a good turn
with the Squire,' he said to Rose, laughing. 'He knows the Provost,
of course. If they talked me over it is to be hoped my scholarship
didn't come up. Precious little the Provost used to think of my
abilities for Greek prose!'
Rose yawned a little behind her gloved hand. Robert had already
talked a good deal about the Squire, and he was certainly the only
person in the group who was thinking of him. Even Catherine,
absorbed in other anxieties, had forgotten to feel any thrill at
their approaching introduction to the man who must of necessity
mean so much to herself and Robert.
'Mr. and Mrs. Robert Elsmere,' said the butler, throwing open the
carved and gilded doors.
Catherine following her husband, her fine grave head and beautiful
neck held a little more erect than usual--was at first conscious
of nothing but the dazzle of western light which flooded the room,
striking the stands of Japanese lilies, and the white figure of a
clown in the famous Watteau opposite the window.
Then she found herself greeted by Mrs. Darcy, whose odd habit of
holding her lace handkerchief in her right hand on festive occasions
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