Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 7 out of 16
only left her two fingers for her guests. The mistress of the
Hall--as diminutive and elf-like as ever in spite of the added
dignity of her sweeping silk and the draperies of black lace with
which her tiny head was adorned--kept tight hold of Catherine, and
called a gentleman standing in a group just behind her.
'Roger, here are Mr. and Mrs. Robert Elsmere. Mr. Elsmere, the
Squire remembers you in petticoats, and I'm not sure that I don't,
Robert, smiling, looked beyond her to the advancing figure of the
Squire, but if Mr. Wendover heard his sister's remark he took no
notice of it. He held out his hand stiffly to Robert, bowed to
Catherine and Rose before extending to them the same formal greeting,
and just recognized Langham as having met him at Oxford.
Having done so he turned back to the knot of people with whom he
had been engaged on their entrance. His manner had been reserve
itself. The _hauteur_ of the grandee on his own ground was clearly
marked in it, and Robert could not help fancying that toward himself
there had even been something more. And not one of those phrases
which, under the circumstances, would have been so easy and so
gracious, as to Robert's childish connection with the place, or as
to the Squire's remembrance of his father, even though Mrs. Darcy
had given him a special opening of the kind.
The young Rector instinctively drew himself together, like one who
had received a blow, as he moved across to the other side of the
fireplace to shake hands with the worthy family doctor, old Meyrick,
who was already well known to him. Catherine, in some discomfort,
for she too had felt their reception at the Squire's hands to be a
chilling one, sat down to talk to Mrs. Darcy, disagreeably conscious
the while that Rose and Langham, left to themselves, were practically
tete-a-tete, and that, moreover, a large stand of flowers formed a
partial screen between her and them. She could see, however, the
gleam of Rose's upstretched neck, as Langham, who was leaning on
the piano beside her, bent down to talk to her; and when she looked
next she caught a smiling motion of Langham's head and eyes toward
the Romney portrait of Mr. Wendover's grandmother, and was certain
when he stopped afterward to say something to his companion, that
he was commenting on a certain surface likeness there was between
her and the young auburn-haired beauty of the picture. Hateful!
And they would be sent down to dinner together to a certainty.
The other guests were Lady Charlotte Wynnstay, a cousin of the
Squire--a tall, imperious, loud-voiced woman, famous in London
society for her relationships, her audacity, and the salon which
in one way or another she managed to collect round her; her dark,
thin, irritable-looking husband; two neighboring clerics--the first,
by name Longstaffe, a somewhat inferior specimen of the cloth, whom
Robert cordially disliked; and the other, Mr. Bickerton, a gentle
Evangelical, one of those men who help to ease the harshness of a
cross-grained world, and to reconcile the cleverer or more impatient
folk in it to the worries of living.
Lady Charlotte was already known by name to the Elsmeres as the
aunt of one of their chief friends of the neighborhood--the wife
of a neighboring squire whose property joined that of Murewell Hall,
one Lady Helen Varley, of whom more presently. Lady Charlotte was
the sister of the Duke of Sedbergh, one of the greatest of Dukes,
and the sister also of Lady Helen's mother, lady Wanless. Lady
Wanless had died prematurely, and her two younger children, Helen
and Hugh Flaxman, creatures both of them of unusually fine and fiery
quality, had owed a good deal to their aunt. There were family
alliances between the Sedberghs and the Wendovers, and Lady Charlotte
made a point of keeping up with the Squire. She adored cynics and
people who said piquant things, and it amused her to make her large
tyrannous hand felt by the Squire's timid, crackbrained, ridiculous
As to Dr. Meyrick, he was tall and gaunt as Don Quixote. His gray
hair made a ragged fringe round his straight-backed head; he wore
an old-fashioned neck-cloth; his long body had a perpetual stoop,
as though of deference, and his spectacled look of mild attentiveness
had nothing in common with that medical self-assurance with which
we are all nowadays so familiar. Robert noticed presently that
when he addressed Mrs. Darcy he said 'Ma'am,' making no bones at
all about it; and his manner generally was the manner of one to
whom class distinctions were the profoundest reality, and no burden
at all on a naturally humble temper. Dr. Baker, of Whindale,
accustomed to trouncing Mrs. Seaton, would have thought him a poor
When dinner was announced, Robert found himself assigned to Mrs.
Darcy; the Squire took Lady Charlotte. Catherine fell to Mr.
Bickerton, Rose to Mr. Wynnstay, and the rest found their way in
as best they could. Catherine seeing the distribution was happy
for a moment, till she found that if Rose was covered on her right
she was exposed to the full fire of the enemy on her left, in other
words that Langham was placed between her and Dr. Meyrick.
'Are your spirits damped at all by this magnificence?' Langham said
to his neighbor as they sat down. The table was entirely covered
with Japanese lilies, save for the splendid silver candelabra from
which the light flashed, first on to the faces of the guests, and
then on to those of the family portraits hung thickly round the
room. A roof embossed with gilded Tudor roses on a ground of black
oak hung above them; a rose-water dish in which the Merry Monarch
had once dipped his hands, and which bore a record of the fact in
the inscription on its sides, stood before them; and the servants
were distributing to each guest silver soup-plates which had been
the gift of Sarah Duchess of Marlborough, in some moment of generosity
or calculation, to the Wendover of her day.
'Oh dear no!' said Rose carelessly. 'I don't know how it is, I
think I must have been born for a palace.'
Langham looked at her, at the daring harmony of color made by the
reddish gold of her hair, the warm whiteness of her skin, and the
brown-pink tints of her dress, at the crystals playing the part of
diamonds on her beautiful neck, and remembered Robert's remarks to
him. The same irony mingled with the same bitterness returned to
him, and the elder brother's attitude became once more temporarily
difficult. 'Who is your neighbor?' he inquired of her presently.
'Lady Charlotte's husband,' she answered mischievously, under her
breath. 'One needn't know much more about him, I imagine!'
'And that man opposite?'
'Robert's pet aversion,' she said calmly, without a change of
countenance, so that Mr. Longstaffe opposite, who was studying her
as he always studied pretty young women, stared at her through her
remark in sublime ignorance of its bearing.
'And your sister's neighbor?'
'I can't hit him off in a sentence, he's too good!' said Rose
laughing; 'all I can say is that Mrs. Bickerton has too many children,
and the children have too many ailments for her ever to dine out.'
'That will do; I see the existence,' said Langham with a shrug.
'But he has the look of an apostle, though a rather hunted one.
Probably nobody here, except Robert, is fit to tie his shoes.'
The Squire could hardly be called _empresse_,' said Rose, after a
second, with a curl of her red lips. Mr. Wynnstay was still safely
engaged with Mrs. Darcy, and there was a buzz of talk largely
sustained by Lady Charlotte.
'No,' Langham admitted; 'the manners I thought were not quite equal
to the house.'
'What possible reason could he have for treating Robert with those
airs?' said Rose indignantly, ready enough, in girl fashion, to
defend her belongings against the outer world. 'He ought to be
only too glad to have the opportunity of knowing him and making
friends with him.'
'You are a sister worth having;' and Langham smiled at her as she
leant back in her chair, her white arms and wrists lying on her
lap, and her slightly flushed face turned toward him. They had
been on these pleasant terms of _camaraderie_ all day, and the
intimacy between them had been still making strides.
'Do you imagine I don't appreciate Robert because I make bad jokes
about the choir and the clothing club?' she asked him, with a little
quick repentance passing like a shadow through her eyes. 'I always
feel I play an odious part here. I can't like it--I can't--their
life. I should hate it! And yet--'
She sighed remorsefully and Langham, who five minutes before could
have wished her to be always smiling, could now have almost asked
to fix her as she was: the eyes veiled, the soft lips relaxed in
this passing instant of gravity.
'Ah! I forgot--' and she looked up again with light, bewitching
appeal--'there is still that question, my poor little question of
Sunday night, when I was in that fine moral frame of mind and you
were near giving me, I believe, the only good advice you ever gave
in your life;--how shamefully you have treated it!'
One brilliant look, which Catherine for her torment caught from the
other side of the table, and then in an instant the quick face
changed and stiffened. Mr. Wynnstay was speaking to her, and Langham
was left to the intermittent mercies of Dr. Meyrick, who though
glad to talk, was also quite content, apparently, to judge from the
radiant placidity of his look, to examine his wine, study his _menu_,
and enjoy the _entrees_ in silence, undisturbed by the uncertain
pleasures of conversation.
Robert, meanwhile, during the first few minutes, in which Mr.
Wynnstay had been engaged in some family talk with Mrs. Darcy, had
been allowing himself a little deliberate study of Mr. Wendover
across what seemed the safe distance of a long table. The Squire
was talking shortly and abruptly yet with occasional flashes of
shrill, ungainly laughter, to Lady Charlotte, who seemed to have
no sort of fear of him and to find him good company, and every now
and then Robert saw him turn to Catherine on the other side of him
and with an obvious change of manner address some formal and
constrained remark to her.
Mr. Wendover was a man of middle height and loose, bony frame, of
which, as Robert had noticed in the drawing-room, all the lower
half had a thin and shrunken look. But the shoulders, which had
the scholar's stoop, and the head were massive and squarely outlined.
The head was specially remarkable for its great breadth and
comparative flatness above the eyes, and for the way in which the
head itself dwarfed the face, which, as contrasted with the large
angularity of the skull, had a pinched and drawn look. The hair
was reddish-gray, the eyes small, but deep-set under fine brows,
and the thin-lipped wrinkled mouth and long chin had a look of hard,
Generally the countenance was that of an old man, the furrows were
deep, the skin brown and shrivelled. But the alertness and force
of the man's whole expression showed that, if the body was beginning
to fail, the mind was as fresh and masterful as ever. His hair,
worn rather longer than usual, his loosely-fitting dress and slouching
carriage gave him an un-English look. In general he impressed
Robert as a sort of curious combination of the foreign _savant_
with the English grandee, for while his manner showed a considerable
consciousness of birth and social importance, the gulf between him
and the ordinary English country gentleman could hardly have been
greater, whether in points of appearance or, as Robert very well
knew, in points of social conduct. And as Robert watched him, his
thoughts flew back again to the library, to this man's past, to all
that those eyes had seen and those hands had touched. He felt
already a mysterious, almost a yearning, sense of acquaintance with
the being who had just received him with such chilling, such
The Squire's manners; no doubt, were notorious, but even so, his
reception of the new Rector of the parish, the son of a man intimately
connected for years with the place, and with his father, and to
whom he had himself shown what was for him considerable civility
by letter and message, was sufficiently startling.
Robert, however, had no time to speculate on the causes of it, for
Mrs. Darcy, released from Mr. Wynnstay, threw herself with glee on
to her longed-for prey, the young and interesting-looking Rector.
First of all she cross-examined him as to his literary employments,
and when by dint of much questioning she had forced particulars
from him, Robert's mouth twitched as he watched her scuttling away
from the subject, seized evidently with internal terrors lest she
should have precipitated herself beyond hope of rescue into the
jaws of the sixth century. Then with a view to regaining the lead
and opening another and more promising vein, she asked him his
opinion of Lady Selden's last novel, 'Love in a Marsh;' and when
he confessed ignorance she paused a moment, fork in hand, her small
wrinkled face looking almost as bewildered as when, three minutes
before, her rashness had well-nigh brought her face to face with
Gregory of Tours as a topic of conversation.
But she was not daunted long. With little air and bridlings
infinitely diverting, she exchanged inquiry for the most beguiling
confidence. She could appreciate 'clever men,' she said, for
she--she too--was literary. Did Mr. Elsmere know--this in a hurried
whisper, with sidelong glances to see that Mr. Wynnstay was safely
occupied with Rose, and the Squire with Lady Charlotte--that she
had once _written a novel_?
Robert, who had been posted up in many things concerning the
neighborhood by Lady Helen Varley, could answer most truly that he
had. Whereupon Mrs. Darcy beamed all over.
'Ah! but you haven't read it,' she said regretfully. 'It was when
I was Maid of Honor, you know. No Maid of Honor had ever written
a novel before. It was quite an event. Dear Prince Albert borrowed
a copy of me one night to read in bed--I have it still, with the
page turned down where he left-off.' She hesitated. 'It was only
in the second chapter,' she said at last with a fine truthfulness,
'but you know he was so busy, all the Queen's work to do, of course,
besides his own--poor man!'
Robert implored her to lend him the work, and Mrs. Darcy, with
blushes which made her more weird than ever, consented.
Then there was a pause, filled by an acid altercation between Lady
Charlotte and her husband, who had not found Rose as grateful for
his attentions as, in his opinion, a pink and white nobody, at a
country dinner-party ought to be, and was glad of the diversion
afforded him by some aggressive remark of his wife. He and she
differed on three main points: politics; the decoration of their
London house, Sir. Wynnstay being a lover of Louis Quinze, and Lady
Charlotte a preacher of Morris; and the composition of their
dinner-parties. Lady Charlotte in the pursuit of amusement and
notoriety, was fond of flooding the domestic hearth with all the
people possessed of any sort of a name for any sort of a reason in
London. Mr. Wynnstay loathed such promiscuity; and the company in
which his wife compelled him to drink his wine had seriously soured
a small irritable Conservative with more family pride than either
nerves or digestion.
During the whole passage of arms, Mrs. Darcy watched Elsmere,
cat-and-mouse fashion, with a further confidence burning within
her, and as soon as there was once more a general burst of talk,
she pounced upon him afresh. Would he like to know that after
thirty years she had just finished her _second_ novel, unbeknown
to her brother--as she mentioned him the little face darkened, took
a strange bitterness--and it was just about to be entrusted to the
post and a publisher?
Robert was all interest, of course, and inquired the subject.
Mrs. Darcy expanded still more--could, in fact, have hugged him.
But, just as she was launching into the plot a thought, apparently
a scruple of conscience, struck her.
'Do you remember,' she began, looking at him a little darkly,
askance, 'what I said about my hobbies the other day? Now, Mr.
Elsmere, will you tell me--don't mind me--don't be polite--have you
ever heard people tell stories of me? Have you ever, for instance,
heard them call me a--a--tuft-hunter?'
'Never! 'said Robert heartily.
'They might,' she said sighing. 'I am a tuft-hunter. I can't help
it. And yet we _are_ a good family, you know. I suppose it was
that year at Court, and that horrid Warham afterward. Twenty years
in a cathedral town--and a very _little_ cathedral town, after
Windsor, and Buckingham Palace, and dear Lord Melbourne! Every
year I came up to town to stay with my father for a month in the
season, and if it hadn't been for that I should have died--my husband
knew I should. It was the world, the flesh, and the devil, of
course, but it couldn't be helped. But now,' and she looked
plaintively at her companion, as though challenging him to a candid
reply: 'You _would_ be more interesting, wouldn't you, to tell the
truth, if you had a handle to your name?'
'Immeasurably,' cried Robert, stifling his laughter with immense
difficulty, as he saw she had no inclination to laugh.
'Well, yes, you know. But it isn't right;' and again she sighed.
'And so I have been writing this novel just for that. It is
called--what do you think?--"Mr. Jones." Mr. Jones is my hero--it's
so good for me, you know, to think about a Mr. Jones.'
She looked beamingly at him. 'It must be indeed! Have you endowed
him with every virtue?'
'Oh yes, and in the end, you know--' and she bent forward eagerly--'it
all comes right. His father didn't die in Brazil without children
after all, and the title--'
'What,' cried Robert, 'so he _wasn't_ Mr. Jones?'
Mrs. Darcy looked a little conscious.
'Well, no,' she said guiltily, 'not just at the end. But it really
doesn't matter--not to the story.'
Robert shook his head, with a look of protest as admonitory as he
could make it, which evoked in her an answering expression of
anxiety. But just at that moment a loud wave of conversation and
of laughter seemed to sweep down upon them from the other end of
the table, and their little private eddy was effaced. The Squire
had been telling an anecdote, and his clerical neighbors had been
laughing at it.
'Ah!' cried Mr. Longstaffe, throwing himself back in his chair with
a chuckle, 'that was an Archbishop worth having!'
'A curious story,' said Mr. Bickerton, benevolently, the point of
it, however, to tell the truth, not being altogether clear to him.
It seemed to Robert that the Squire's keen eye, as he sat looking
down the table, with his large nervous hands clasped before him,
was specially fixed upon himself.
'May we hear the story?' he said, bending forward. Catherine,
faintly smiling in her corner beside the host, was looking a little
flushed and moved out of her ordinary quiet.
'It is a story of Archbishop Manners Sutton,' said Mr. Wendover,
in his dry, nasal voice. 'You probably know it, Mr. Elsmere. After
Bishop Heber's consecration to the see of Calcutta, it fell to the
Archbishop to make a valedictory speech, in the course of the
luncheon at Lambeth which followed the ceremony. "I have very
little advice to give you as to your future career," he said to the
young Bishop, "but all that experience has given me I hand on to
you. Place before your eyes two precepts, and two only. One
is--Preach the Gospel; and the other is--_Put down enthusiasm!_"'
There was a sudden gleam of steely animation in the Squire's look
as he told his story, his eye all the while fixed on Robert. Robert
divined in a moment that the story had been retold for his special
benefit, and that in some unexplained way, the relations between
him and the Squire were already biased. He smiled a little with
faint politeness, and falling back into his place made no comment
on the Squire's anecdote. Lady Charlotte's eyeglass, having adjusted
itself for a moment to the distant figure of the Rector, with regard
to whom she had been asking Dr. Meyrick for particulars quite
unmindful of Catherine's neighborhood, turned back again toward the
'An unblushing old worldling, I should call your Archbishop,' she
said briskly, 'and a very good thing for him that he lived when he
did. Our modern good people would have dusted his apron for him.'
Lady Charlotte prided herself on these vigorous forms of speech,
and the Squire's neighborhood generally called out an unusual crop
of them. The Squire was still sitting with his hands on the table,
his great brows bent, surveying his guests.
'Oh, of course all the sensible men are dead!' he said indifferently.
'But that is a pet saying of mine--the Church of England in a
Robert flushed, and after a moment's hesitation bent forward.
'What do you suppose,' he asked quietly, your Archbishop meant, Mr.
Wendover, by enthusiasm? Nonconformity, I imagine.'
'Oh, very possibly!' and again Robert found the hawk-like glance
concentrated on himself. 'But I like to give his remark a much
wider extension. One may make it a maxim of general experience,
and take it as fitting all the fools with a mission who have teased
our generation--all your Kingsleys, and Maurices, and Ruskins--everyone
bent on making any sort of aimless commotion, which may serve him
both as an investment for the next world and an advertisement for
'Upon my word, Squire,' said Lady Charlotte, 'I hope you don't
expect Mr. Elsmere to agree with you?'
Mr. Wendover made her a little bow.
'I have very little sanguineness of any sort in my composition,'
he said dryly.
'I should like to know,' said Robert, taking no notice of this
by-play; 'I should like to know, Mr. Wendover, leaving the Archbishop
out of count, what _you_ understand by this word enthusiasm in this
maxim of yours?'
'An excellent manner,' thought Lady Charlotte, who with all her
noisiness, was an extremely shrewd woman, 'an excellent manner and
an unprovoked attack.'
Catherine's trained eye, however, had detected signs in Robert's
look and bearing which were lost on Lady Charlotte, and which made
her look nervously on. As to the rest of the table, they had all
fallen to watching the 'break' between the new Rector and their
host with a good deal of curiosity.
The Squire paused a moment before replying.
'It is not easy to put it tersely,' he said at last; 'but I may
define it, perhaps, as the mania for mending the roof of your
right-hand neighbor with straw torn off the roof of your left-hand
neighbor; the custom, in short, of robbing Peter to propitiate
'Precisely,' said Mr. Wynnstay, warmly; 'all the ridiculous Radical
nostrums of the last fifty years--you have hit them off exactly.
Sometimes you rob more and propitiate less; sometimes you rob less
and propitiate more. But the principle is always the same.' And
mindful of all those intolerable evenings, when these same Radical
nostrums had been forced down his throat at his own table he threw
a pugnacious look at his wife, who smiled back serenely in reply.
There is small redress indeed for these things, when out of the
common household stock the wife possesses most of the money, and a
vast proportion of the brains.
'And the cynic takes pleasure in observing,' interrupted the Squire,
'that the man who effects the change of balance does it in the
loftiest manner, and profits in the vulgarest way. Other trades
may fail. The agitator is always sure of his market.'
He spoke with a harsh contemptuous insistence which was gradually
setting every nerve in Robert's body tingling. He bent forward
again, his long, thin frame and boyish, bright complexioned face
making an effective contrast to the Squire's bronzed and wrinkled
'Oh, if you and Mr. Wynnstay are prepared to draw an indictment
against your generation and all its works I have no more to say,'
he said, smiling still, though his voice had risen a little in spite
of himself. 'I should be content to withdraw with my Burke into
the majority. I imagined your attack on enthusiasm had a narrower
scope, but if it is to be made synonymous with social progress I
give up. The subject is too big. Only----'
He hesitated. Mr. Wynnstay was studying him with somewhat insolent
coolness; Lady Charlotte's eyeglass never wavered from his face,
and he felt through every fibre the tender, timid admonitions of
his wife's eyes.
'However,' he went on after an instant, 'I imagine that we should
find it difficult anyhow to discover common ground. I regard your
Archbishop's maxim, Mr. Wendover,' and his tone quickened and grew
louder, 'as first of all a contradiction in terms; and in the next
place, to me, almost all enthusiasms are respectable!'
'You are one of those people, I see,' returned Mr. Wendover, after
a pause, with the same nasal emphasis and the same hauteur, 'who
imagine we owe civilization to the heart; that mankind has _felt_
its way--literally. The school of the majority, of course--I admit
it amply. I, on the other hand, am with the benighted minority who
believe that the world, so far as it has lived to any purpose, has
lived by the head,' and he flung, the noun at Robert scornfully.
'But I am quite aware that in a world of claptrap the philosopher
gets all the kicks, and the philanthropists, to give them their own
label, all the halfpence.'
The impassive tone had gradually warmed to a heat which was
unmistakable. Lady Charlotte looked on with interesting relish.
To her all society was a comedy played for her entertainment, and
she detected something more dramatic than usual in the juxtaposition
of these two men. That young Rector might be worth looking after.
The dinners in Martin Street were alarming in want of fresh blood.
As for poor Mr. Bickerton, he had begun to talk hastily to Catherine,
with a sense of something tumbling about his ears, while Mr.
Longstaffe, eyeglass in hand, surveyed the table with a distinct
sense of pleasurable entertainment. He had not seen much of Elsmere
yet, but it was as clear as daylight that the man was a firebrand,
and should be kept in order.
Meanwhile there was a pause between the two main disputants; the
storm-clouds were deepening outside, and rain had begun to patter
on the windows. Mrs. Darcy was just calling attention to the
weather, when the Squire unexpectedly returned to the charge.
'The one necessary thing in life,' he said, turning to Lady Charlotte,
a slight irritating smile playing round his strong mouth, 'is--not
to be duped. Put too much faith in these things the altruists talk
of, and you arrive one day at the condition of Louis XIV. after the
battle of Ramillies: "Dieu a donc oublie tout ce que j'ai fait
pour lui?" Read your Renan; remind yourself at every turn that it
is quite possible after all the egotist may turn out to be in the
right of it, and you will find at any rate that the world gets on
excellently well without your blundering efforts to set it straight.
And so we get back to the Archbishop's maxim--adapted, no doubt,
to English requirements,' and he shrugged his great shoulders
expressively: '_Pace_ Mr. Elsmere, of course, and the rest of our
Again he looked down the table, and the strident voice sounded
harsher than ever as it rose above the sudden noise of the storm
outside. Robert's bright eyes were fixed on the Squire, and before
Mr. Wendover stopped, Catherine could see the words of reply trembling
on his lips.
'I am well content,' he said, with a curious dry intensity of tone.
'I give you your Renan. Only leave us poor dupes our illusions.
We will not quarrel with the division. With you all the cynics
of History; with us all the "scorners of the ground" from the world's
beginning until now!'
The Squire made a quick, impatient movement. Mr. Wynnstay looked
significantly at his wife, who dropped her eyeglass with a little
As for Robert, leaning forward with hastened breath, it seemed to
him that his eyes and the Squire's crossed like swords. In Robert's
mind there had arisen a sudden passion of antagonism. Before his
eyes there was a vision of a child in a stifling room, struggling
with mortal disease, imposed upon her, as he hotly reminded himself,
by this man's culpable neglect. The dinner-party, the splendor of
the room, the conversation, excited a kind of disgust in him. If
it were not for Catherine's pale face opposite, he could hardly
have maintained his self-control.
Mrs. Darcy, a little bewildered, and feeling that things were not
going particularly well, thought it best to interfere.
'Roger,' she said, plaintively, 'you must not be so philosophical.
It's too hot! He used to talk like that,' she went on, bending
over to Mr. Wynnstay, 'to the French priests who came to see us
last winter in Paris. They never minded a bit--they used to laugh:
"Monsieur votre frere, madame, c'est un homme qui a trop lu," they
would say to me when I gave them their coffee. Oh, they were such
dears, those old priests! Roger said they had great hopes of me.'
The chatter was welcome, the conversation broke up. The Squire
turned to Lady Charlotte, and Rose to Langham.
'Why didn't you support Robert?' she said to him, impulsively, with
a dissatisfied face. 'He was alone, against the table!'
'What good should I have done him?' he asked, with a shrug. 'And
pray, my lady confessor, what enthusiasms do you suspect me of?'
He looked at her intently. It seemed to her they were by the gate
again--the touch of his lips on her hand. She turned from him
hastily to stoop for her fan which had slipped away. It was only
Catherine who, for her annoyance, saw the scarlet flush leap into
the fair face. An instant later Mrs. Darcy had given the signal.
After dinner, Lady Charlotte fixed herself at first on Catherine,
whose quiet dignity during the somewhat trying ordeal of the dinner
had impressed her, but a few minutes' talk produced in her the
conviction that without a good deal of pains--and why should a
Londoner, accustomed to the cream of things, take pains with a
country clergyman's wife?--she was not likely to get much out of
her. Her appearance, promised more, Lady Charlotte thought, than
her conversation justified, and she looked about for easier game.
'Are you. Mr. Elsmere's sister?' said a loud voice over Rose's head;
and Rose, who had been turning over an illustrated book, with a
mind wholly detached from it, looked up to see Lady Charlotte's
massive form standing over her.
'No, his sister-in-law,' said Rose, flushing in spite of herself,
for Lady Charlotte was distinctly formidable.
'Hum,' said her questioner, depositing herself beside her. 'I never
saw two sisters more unlike. You have got a very argumentative
Rose said nothing, partly from awkwardness, partly from rising
'Did you agree with him?' asked Lady Charlotte, putting up her glass
and remorselessly studying every detail of the pink dress, its
ornaments, and the slippered feet peeping out beneath it.
'Entirely,' said Rose fearlessly, looking her full in the face.
'And what can you know about it, I wonder? However, you are on the
right side'. It is the fashion nowadays to have enthusiasms. I
suppose you muddle about among the poor like other people?'
'I know nothing about the poor,' said Rose.
'Oh, then, I suppose you feel yourself effective enough in some
other line?' said the other, coolly. 'What is it--lawn tennis, or
private theatricals, or--h'em--prettiness?' And again the eyeglass
'Whichever you like,' said Rose, calmly, the scarlet on her cheek
deepening, while she resolutely reopened her book. The manner of
the other had quite effaced in her all that sense of obligation,
as from the young to the old, which she had been very carefully
brought up in. Never had she beheld such an extraordinary woman.
'Don't read,' said Lady Charlotte complacently. 'Look at me. It's
your duty to talk to me, you know; and I won't make myself any more
disagreeable than I can help. I generally make myself disagreeable,
and yet, after all, there are a great many people who like me.'
Rose turned a countenance rippling with suppressed laughter on her
companion. Lady Charlotte had a large fair face, with a great deal
of nose and chin, and an erection of lace and feathers on her head
that seemed in excellent keeping with the masterful emphasis of
those features. Her eyes stared frankly and unblushingly at the
world, only softened at intervals by the glasses which were so used
as to make them a most effective adjunct to her conversation.
Socially she was absolutely devoid of weakness or of shame. She
found society extremely interesting, and she always struck straight
for the desirable thing in it, making short work of all those
delicate tentative processes of acquaintanceship by which men and
women ordinarily sort themselves. Roses brilliant, vivacious beauty
had caught her eye at dinner; she adored beauty as she adored
anything effective, and she always took a queer pleasure in bullying
her way into a girl's liking. It is a great thing to be persuaded
that at bottom you have a good heart. Lady Charlotte was so
persuaded, and allowed herself many things in consequence.
'What shall we talk about?' said Rose demurely. 'What a magnificent
old house this is!'
'Stuff and nonsense! I don't want to talk about the house. I am
sick to death of it. And if your people live in the parish you
are, too. I return to my question. Come, tell me, what is your
particular line in life? I am sure you have one, by your face.
You had better tell me; it will do you no harm.'
Lady Charlotte settled herself comfortably on the sofa, and Rose,
seeing that there was no chance of escaping her tormentor, felt her
spirits rise to an encounter.
'Really--Lady Charlotte--' and she looked down, and then up, with
a feigned bashfulness--'I--I--play a little.'
'Humph!' said her questioner again, rather disconcerted by the
obvious missishness of the answer. 'You do, do you? More's the
pity. No woman who respects herself ought to play the piano nowadays.
A professional told me the other day that until nineteen-twentieths
of the profession were strung up, there would be no chance for the
rest, and, as for amateurs, there is simply _no_ room for them
whatever. I don't conceive anything more passe than amateur
'I don't play the piano,' said Rose, meekly.
'What--the fashionable instrument, the banjo?' laughed Lady Charlotte.
'That would be really striking.'
Rose was silent again, the corners of her month twitching.
'Mrs. Darcy,' said her neighbor raising her voice. 'This young lady
tells me she plays something; what is it?'
Mrs. Darcy looked in a rather helpless way at Catherine. She was
dreadfully afraid of Lady Charlotte.
Catherine, with a curious reluctance, gave the required information,
and then Lady Charlotte insisted that the violin should be sent
for, as it had not been brought.
'Who accompanies you?' she inquired of Rose.
'Mr. Langham plays very well,' said Rose, indifferently.
Lady Charlotte raised her eyebrows. 'That dark, Byronic-looking
creature who came with you? I should not have imagined him capable
of anything sociable. Letitia, shall I send my maid to the Rectory,
or can you spare a man?'
Mrs. Darcy hurriedly gave orders, and Rose, inwardly furious, was
obliged to submit. Then Lady Charlotte, having gained her point,
and secured a certain amount of diversion for the evening, lay back
on the sofa, used her fan, and yawned till the gentlemen appeared.
When they came in, the precious violin which Rose never trusted to
any other hands but her own without trepidation had just arrived,
and its owner, more erect than usual, because more nervous, was
trying to prop up a dilapidated music-stand which Mrs. Darcy had
unearthed for her. As Langham came in, she looked up and beckoned
'Do you see?' she said to him impatiently, 'They have made me play.
Will you accompany me? I am very sorry, but there is no one else.'
If there was one thing Langham loathed on his own account, it was
any sort of performance in public. But the half-plaintive look
which accompanied her last words showed that she knew it, and he
did his best to be amiable.
'I am altogether at your service,' he said, sitting down with
'It is all that tiresome woman, Lady Charlotte Wynnstay,' she
whispered to him behind the music-stand. I never saw such a person
in my life.'
'Macaulay's Lady, Holland without the brains,' suggested Langham
with languid vindictiveness as he gave her the note.
Meanwhile Mr. Wynnstay and the Squire sauntered in together.
'A village Norman-Neruda?' whispered the guest to the host. The
Squire shrugged his shoulders.
'Hush!' said Lady Charlotte, looking severely at her husband. Mr.
Wynnstay's smile instantly disappeared; he leant against the doorway
and stared sulkily at the ceiling. Then the musicians began, on
some Hungarian melodies put together by a younger rival of Brahms.
They had not played twenty bars before the attention of everyone
in the room was more or less seized--unless we except Mr. Bickerton,
whose children, good soul, were all down with some infantile ailment
or other, and who was employed in furtively watching the clock all
the time to see when it would be decent to order round the pony-carriage
which would take him back to his pale overweighted spouse.
First came wild snatches of march music, primitive, savage,
non-European; then a waltz of the lightest, maddest rhythm, broken
here and there by strange barbaric clashes; then a song, plaintive
and clinging, rich in the subtlest shades and melancholies of modern
'Ah, but _excellent!_' said Lady Charlotte once, under her breath,
at a pause; 'and what _entrain_--what beauty!'
For Rose's figure was standing thrown out against the dusky blue
of the tapestried walls, and from that delicate relief every curve,
every grace, each tint--hair and cheek and gleaming arm gained an
enchanting picturelike distinctness. There was jessamine at her
waist and among the gold of her hair; the crystals on her neck, and
on the little shoe thrown forward beyond her dress, caught the
'How can that man play with her and not fall in love with her?'
thought Lady Charlotte to herself, with a sigh perhaps for her own
youth. 'He looks cool enough, however; the typical don with his
nose in the Air!'
Then the slow, passionate sweetness of the music swept her away
with it, she being in her way a connoisseur, and she ceased to
speculate. When the sounds ceased there was silence for a moment.
Mrs. Darcy, who had a piano in her sitting-room whereon she strummed
every morning with her tiny rheumatic fingers, and who had, as we
know, strange little veins of sentiment running all about her,
stared at Rose with open mouth. So did Catherine. Perhaps it was
then for the first time that, touched by this publicity this contagion
of other people's feelings, Catherine realized fully against what
a depth of stream she had been building her useless barriers.
'More! More!' cried Lady Charlotte.
The whole room seconded the demand save the Squire and Mr. Bickerton.
They withdrew together into a distant oriel. Robert, who was
delighted with his little sister-in-law's success, went smiling to
talk of it to Mrs. Darcy, while Catherine with a gentle coldness
answered Mr. Longstaffe's questions on the same theme.
'Shall we?' said Rose, panting a little, but radiant--looking down
on her companion.
'Command me!' he said, his grave lips slightly smiling, his eyes
taking in the same vision that had charmed Lady Charlotte's. What
a 'child of grace and genius!'
'But do you like it?' she persisted.
'Like it--like accompanying your playing?'
'Oh no,'--impatiently; 'showing off, I mean. I am quite ready to
'Go on; go on!' he said, laying his finger on the A. 'You have
driven all my _mauvaise honte_ away. I have not heard you play so
She flushed all over. 'Then we will go on,' she said briefly.
So they plunged again into an Andante and Scherzo of Beethoven.
How the girl threw herself into it, bringing out the wailing love-song
of the Andante, the dainty tripping mirth of the Scherzo, in a way
which set every nerve in Langham vibrating! Yet the art of it was
wholly unconscious. The music was the mere natural voice of her
inmost self. A comparison full of excitement was going on in that
self between her first impressions of the man beside her, and her
consciousness of him, as he seemed to-night human, sympathetic,
kind. A blissful sense of a mission filled the young silly soul.
Like David, she was pitting herself and her gift against those
dark powers which may invade and paralyze a life.
After the shouts of applause at the end had yielded to a burst of
talk, in the midst of which Lady Charlotte, with exquisite infelicity,
might have been heard laying down the law to Catherine as to how
her sister's remarkable musical powers might be best perfected,
Langham turned to his companion,--
'Do you know that for years I have enjoyed nothing so much as the
music of the last two days?'
His black eyes shone upon her, transfused with something infinitely
soft and friendly. She smiled. 'How little I imagined that first
evening that you cared for music!'
'Or about anything else worth caring for?' he asked her, laughing,
but with always that little melancholy note in the laugh.
'Oh, if you like,' she said, with a shrug of her white shoulders.
'I believe you talked to Catherine the whole of the first evening,
when you weren't reading "Hamlet" in the corner, about the arrangements
for women's education at Oxford.'
'Could I have found a more respectable subject?' he inquired of
'The adjective is excellent,' she said with a little face, as she
put her violin into its case. 'If I remember right, Catherine and
I felt it personal. None of us were ever educated, except in
arithmetic, sewing, English history, the Catechism, and "Paradise
Lost."--I taught myself French at seventeen, because one Moliere
wrote plays in it, and German because of Wagner. But they are _my_
French and _my_ German. I wouldn't advise anybody else to steal
Langham was silent, watching the movements of the girl's agile
'I wonder,' he said at last, slowly, 'when I shall play that Beethoven
'To-morrow morning if you have a conscience,' she said dryly; 'we
murdered one or two passages in fine style.'
He looked at her, startled. 'But I go by the morning train!' There
was an instant silence. Then the violin case shut with a snap.
'I thought it was to be Saturday,' she said abruptly.
'No,' he answered with a sigh, 'it was always Friday. There is a
meeting in London I must get to to-morrow afternoon.'
'Then we shan't finish these Hungarian duets,' she said slowly,
turning away from him to collect some music on the piano.
Suddenly a sense of the difference between the week behind him,
with all its ups and downs, its quarrels, its _ennuis_, its moments
of delightful intimity, of artistic freedom and pleasure, and those
threadbare, monotonous weeks into which he was to slip back on the
morrow, awoke in him a mad inconsequent sting of disgust, of
'No, we shall finish nothing,' he said in a voice which only she
could hear, his hands lying on the keys; 'there are some whose
destiny it is never to finish--never to have enough--to leave the
feast on the tables and all the edges of life ragged!'
Her lips trembled. They were far away, in the vast room, from the
group Lady Charlotte was lecturing. Her nerves were all unsteady
with music and feeling, and the face looking down on him had grown
'We make our own destiny,' she said impatiently. '_We_ choose.
It is all our own doing. Perhaps destiny begins things--friendship,
for instance; but afterward it is absurd to talk of anything but
ourselves. We keep our friends, our chances, our--our joys,' she
went on hurriedly, trying desperately to generalize, 'or we throw
them away wilfully, because we choose.'
Their eyes were riveted on each other.
'Not wilfully,' he said under his breath. 'But--no matter. May I
take you at your word, Miss Leyburn? Wretched shirker that I am,
whom even Robert's charity despairs of: have I made a friend? Can
I keep her?'
Extraordinary spell of the dark effeminate face--of its rare smile!
The girl forgot all pride, all discretion. 'Try,' she whispered,
and as his hand, stretching along the keyboard, instinctively felt
for hers, for one instant--and another, and another--she gave it
'Albert, come here!' exclaimed Lady Charlotte, beckoning to her
husband; and Albert, though with a bad grace, 'obeyed. 'Just go
and ask that girl to come and talk with me, will you? Why on earth
didn't you make friends with her at dinner?'
The husband made some irritable answer, and the wife laughed.
'Just like you!' she said, with a good humor which seemed to him
solely caused by the fact of his non-success with the beauty at
table. 'You always expect to kill at the first stroke. I mean to
take her in tow. Go and bring her here.'
Mr. Wynnstay sauntered off with as much dignity as his stature was
capable of. He found Rose tying up her music at one end of the
piano, while Langham was preparing to shut up the keyboard.
There was something appeasing in the girl's handsomeness. Mr.
Wynnstay laid down his airs, paid her various compliments, and led
her off to Lady Charlotte.
Langham stood by the piano, lost in a kind of miserable dream.
Mrs. Darcy fluttered up to him.
'Oh, Mr. Langham, you play so _beautifully!_ Do Play a solo!'
He subsided onto the music-bench obediently. On any ordinary
occasion tortures could not have induced him to perform in a room
full of strangers. He had far too lively and fastidious a sense
of the futility of the amateur.
But he played-what, he knew not. Nobody listened but Mrs. Darcy,
who sat lost in an armchair a little way off, her tiny foot beating
time. Rose stopped talking, started, tried to listen. But Lady
Charlotte had had enough music, and so had Mr. Longstaffe, who was
endeavoring to joke himself into the good graces of the Duke of
Sedbergh's sister. The din of conversation rose at the challenge
of the piano, and Langham was soon overcrowded.
Musically, it was perhaps as well, for the player's inward tumult
was so great, that what his hands did he hardly knew or cared. He
felt himself the greatest criminal unhung. Saddenly, through all
that wilful mist of epicurean feeling, which had been enwrapping
him, there had pierced a sharp illumining beam from a girl's eyes
aglow with joy, with hope, with tenderness. In the name of Heaven,
what had this growing degeneracy of every moral muscle led him to
now? What! smile and talk, and smile--and be a villain all the
time? What! encroach on a young life, like some creeping parasitic
growth, taking all, able to give nothing in return--not even one
genuine spark of genuine passion? Go philandering on till a child
of nineteen shows you her warm impulsive heart, play on her
imagination, on her pity, safe all the while in the reflection that
by the next day you will be far away, and her task and yours will
be alike to forget! He shrinks from himself as one shrinks from a
man capable of injuring anything weak and helpless. To despise the
world's social code, and then to fall conspicuously below its
simplest articles; to aim at being pure intelligence, pure open-eyed
rationality, and not even to succeed in being a gentleman, as the
poor commonplace world understands it! Oh, to fall at her pardon
before parting for ever! But no--no more posing; no more dramatizing.
How can he get away most quietly--make least sign? The thought
of that walk home in the darkness fills him with a passion of
'Look at that Romney, Mr. Elsmere; just look at it!' cried Dr.
Meyrick excitedly; 'did you ever see anything finer? There was one
of those London dealer fellows down here last summer offered the
Squire four thousand pounds down on the nail for it.'
In this way Meyrick had been taking Robert round the drawing-room,
doing the honors of every stick and stone in it, his eyeglass in
his eye, his thin old face shining with pride over the Wendover
possessions. And so the two gradually neared the oriel where the
Squire and Mr. Bickerton were standing.
Robert was in twenty minds as to any further conversation with the
Squire. After the ladies had gone, while every nerve in him was
still tingling with anger, he had done his best to keep up indifferent
talk on local matters with Mr. Bickerton. Inwardly he was asking
himself whether he could ever sit at the Squire's table and eat his
bread again. It seemed to him that they had had a brush which would
be difficult to forget. And as he sat there before the Squire's
wine, hot with righteous heat, all his grievances against the man
and the landlord crowded upon him. A fig for intellectual eminence
if it make a man oppress his inferiors and bully his equals!
But as the minutes passed on, the Rector had cooled down. The
sweet, placable, scrupulous nature began to blame itself. 'What,
play your cards so badly, give up the game so rashly, the very first
round? Nonsense! Patience and try again. There must be some cause
in the background. No need to be white-livered, but every need,
in the case of such a man as the Squire, to take no hasty, needless
So he had cooled and cooled, and now here were Meyrick and he close
to the Squire and his companion. The two men, as the Rector
approached, were discussing some cases of common enclosure that had
just taken place in the neighborhood. Robert listened a moment,
then struck in. Presently, when the chat dropped, he began to
express to the Squire his pleasure in the use of the library. His
manner was excellent, courtesy itself, but without any trace of
'I believe,' he said at last, smiling, 'my father used to be allowed
the same privileges. If so, it quite accounts for the way in which
he clung to Murewell.'
'I had never the honor of Mr. Edward Elsmere's acquaintance,' said
the Squire frigidly. 'During the time of his occupation of the
Rectory I was not in England.'
'I know. Do you still go much to Germany? Do you keep up your
relations with Berlin?'
'I have not seen Berlin for fifteen years,' said the Squire briefly,
his eyes in their wrinkled sockets fixed sharply on the man who
ventured to question him about himself, uninvited. There was an
awkward pause. Then the Squire turned again to Mr. Bickerton.
'Bickerton, have you noticed how many trees that storm of last
February has brought down at the northeast corner of the park?'
Robert was inexpressibly galled by the movement, by the words
themselves. The Squire had not yet addressed a single remark of
any kind about Murewell to him. There was a deliberate intention
to exclude implied in this appeal to the man who was not the man
of the place, on such a local point, which struck Robert very
He walked away to where his wife was sitting.
'What time is it?' whispered Catherine, looking up at him.
'Time to go,' he returned, smiling, but she caught the discomposure
in his tone and look at once, and her wifely heart rose against the
Squire. She got up, drawing herself together with a gesture that
Then let us go at once,' said she. 'Where is Rose?'
A minute later there was a general leave-taking. Oddly enough it
found the Squire in the midst of a conversation with Langham. As
though to show more clearly that it was the Rector personally who
was in his black books, Mr. Wendover had already devoted some cold
attention to Catherine both at and after dinner, and he had no
sooner routed Robert than he moved in his slouching way across from
Mr. Bickerton to Langham. And now, another man altogether, he was
talking and laughing--describing apparently a reception at the
French Academy--the epigrams flying, the harsh face all lit up, the
thin bony fingers gesticulating freely.
The husband and wife exchanged glances as they stood waiting, while
lady Charlotte, in her loudest voice, was commanding Rose to come
and see her in London any Thursday after the first of November.
Robert was very sore. Catherine passionately felt it, and forgetting
everything but him, longed to be out with him in the park comforting
'What an absurd fuss you have been making about that girl,' Wynnstay
exclaimed to his wife as the Elsmere party left the room, the Squire
conducting Catherine with a chill politeness. 'And now, I suppose,
you will be having her up in town, and making some young fellow who
ought to know better fall in love with her. I am told the father
was a grammar-school headmaster. Why can't you leave people where
'I have already pointed out to you,' Lady Charlotte observed calmly,
'that the world has moved on since you were launched into it. I
can't keep up class-distinctions to please you; otherwise, no doubt,
being the devoted wife I am, I might try. However, my dear, we
both have our fancies. You collect Sevres china with or without a
pedigree,' and she coughed dryly; 'I collect promising young women.
On the whole, I think my hobby is more beneficial to you than yours
is profitable to me.'
Mr. Wynnstay was furious. Only a week before he had been childishly,
shamefully taken in by a Jew curiosity dealer from Vienna, to his
wife's huge amusement. If looks could have crushed her, Lady
Charlotte would have been crushed. But she was far too substantial
as she lay back in her chair, one large foot crossed over the other,
and, as her husband very well knew, the better man of the two. He
walked away, murmuring under his mustache words that would hardly
have borne publicity, while Lady Charlotte, through her glasses,
made a minute study of a little French portrait hanging some two
yards from her.
Meanwhile the Elsmere party were stepping out into the warm damp
of the night. The storm had died away, but a soft Scotch mist of
rain filled the air. Everything was dark, save for a few ghostly
glimmerings through the trees of the avenue; and there was a strong
sweet smell of wet earth and grass. Rose had drawn the hood of her
waterproof over her head, and her face gleamed an indistinct whiteness
from its shelter. Oh this leaping pulse--this bright glow of
expectation! How had she made that stupid blunder about his going?
Oh, it was Catherine's mistake, of course, at the beginning. But
what matter? Here, they were in the dark, side by side, friends
now, friends always. Catherine should not spoil their last walk
together. She felt a passionate trust that he would not allow it.
'Wifie!' exclaimed Robert, drawing her a little apart, 'do you know
it has just occurred to me that, as I was going through the park
this afternoon by the lower footpath, I crossed Henslowe coming
away from the house. Of course this is what has happened! _He_
has told his story first. No doubt just before I met him he had
been giving the Squire a full and particular account--_a la_
Henslowe--of my proceedings since I came. Henslowe lays it on
thick--paints with a will. The Squire receives me afterward as the
meddlesome, pragmatical priest he understands me to be; puts his
foot down to begin with; and, _hinc illae lacrymae_. It's as clear
as daylight! I thought that man had an odd twist of the lip as he
'Then a disagreeable evening will be the worst of it,' said Catherine
proudly. 'I imagine, Robert, you can defend yourself against that
'He has got the start; he has no scruples; and it remains to be
seen whether the Squire has a heart to appeal to,' replied the young
Rector with sore reflectiveness. 'Oh, Catherine, have you ever
thought, wifie, what a business it will be for us if I can't make
friends with that man? Here we are at his gates--all our people
in his power; the comfort, at any rate, of our social life depending
on him. And what a strange, unmanageable, inexplicable being!'
Elsmere sighed aloud. Like all quick imaginative natures he was
easily depressed, and the Squire's sombre figure had for the moment
darkened his whole horizon. Catherine laid her check against his
arm in the darkness, consoling, remonstrating, every other thought
lost in her sympathy with Robert's worries. Langham and Rose slipped
out of her head; Elsmere's step had quickened as it always did when
he was excited, and she kept up without thinking.
When Langham found the others had shot ahead in the darkness, and
he and his neighbor were _tete-a-tete_, despair seized him. But for
once he showed a sort of dreary presence of mind. Suddenly, while
the girl beside him was floating in a golden dream of feeling he
plunged with a stiff deliberation born of his inner conflict into
a discussion of the German system of musical training. Rose,
startled, made some vague and flippant reply. Langham pursued the
matter. He had some information about it, it appeared, garnered
up in his mind, which might perhaps some day prove useful to her.
A St. Anselm's undergraduate, one Dashwood, an old pupil of his,
had been lately at Berlin for six months, studying at the Conservatorium.
Not long ago, being anxious to become a schoolmaster, he had written
to Langham for a testimonial. His letter had contained a full
account of his musical life. Langham proceeded to recapitulate it.
His careful and precise report of hours, fees, masters, and methods
lasted till they reached the park gate. He had the smallest powers
of social acting, and his _role_ was dismally overdone. The girl
beside him could not know that he was really defending her from
himself. His cold altered manner merely seemed to her a sudden and
marked withdrawal of his petition for her friendship. No doubt she
had received that petition too effusively--and he wished there
should be no mistake.
What a young smarting soul went through in that half mile of listening
is better guessed than analyzed. There are certain moments of
shame, which only women know, and which seem to sting and burn out
of youth all its natural sweet self-love. A woman may outlive them,
but never forget them. If she pass through one at nineteen her
cheek will grow hot over it at seventy. Her companion's measured
tone, the flow of deliberate speech which came from him, the nervous
aloofness of his attitude--every detail in that walk seemed to
Rose's excited sense an insult.
As the park gate swung behind them she felt a sick longing for
Catherine's shelter. Then all the pride in her rushed to the rescue
and held that swooning dismay at the heart of her in check. And
forthwith she capped Langham's minute account of the scale-method
of a famous Berlin pianist by some witty stories of the latest
London prodigy, a child-violinist, incredibly gifted, dirty, and
greedy, whom she had made friends with in town. The girl's voice
ran out sharp and hard under the trees. Where, in fortune's name,
were the lights of the Rectory? Would this nightmare never come
to an end?
At the Rectory gate was Catherine waiting for them, her whole soul
one repentant alarm.
'Mr. Langham, Robert has gone to the study; will you go and smoke
'By all means. Good-night, then, Mrs. Elsmere.'
Catherine gave him her hand. Rose was trying hard to fit the lock
of the gate into the hasp, and had no hand free. Besides, he did
not approach her.
'Good-night!' she said to him over her shoulder.
'Oh, and Mr. Langham!' Catherine called after him as he strode away,
'will you settle with Robert about the carriage?'
He turned, made a sound of assent, and went on.
'When?' asked Rose lightly.
'For the nine-o'clock train.'
'There should be a law against interfering with people's breakfast
hour,' said Rose; 'though, to, be sure, a guest may as well get
himself gone early and be done with it. How you and Robert raced,
Cathie! We did our best to catch you up, but the pace was too
Was there a wild taunt, a spice of malice in the girl's reckless
voice? Catherine could not see her in the darkness, but the sister
felt a sudden trouble invade her.
'Rose darling, you are not tired?'
'Oh dear no! Good-night, sleep well. What a goose Mrs. Darcy is!'
And, barely submitting to be kissed, Rose ran up the steps and
Langham and Robert smoked till midnight. Langham for the first
time gave Elsmere an outline of his plans for the future, and Robert,
filled with dismay at this final breach with Oxford and human
society, and the only form of practical life possible to such a
man, threw himself into protests more and more vigorous and
affectionate. Langham listened to them at first with sombre silence,
then with an impatience which gradually reduced Robert to a sore
puffing at his pipe. There was a long space during which they sat
together, the ashes of the little fire Robert had made dropping on
the hearth, and not a word on either side.
At last Elsmere could not bear it, and when midnight struck he
sprang up with an impatient shake of his long body, and Langham
took the hint, gave him a cold good-night, and went.
As the door shut upon him, Robert dropped back into his chair, and
sat on, his face in his hands, staring dolefully at the fire. It
seemed to him the world was going crookedly. A day on which a man
of singularly open and responsive temper makes a new enemy, and
comes nearer than ever before to losing an old friend, shows very
blackly to him in the calendar, and by way of aggravation, a Robert
Elsmere says to himself at once, that somehow or other there must
be fault of his own in the matter.
Rose!--pshaw! Catherine little knows what stuff that cold, intangible
soul is made of.
Meanwhile, Langham was standing heavily, looking out into the night.
The different elements in the mountain of discomfort that weighed
upon him were so many that the weary mind made no attempt to analyze
them. He had a sense of disgrace, of having stabbed something
gentle that had leant upon him, mingled with a strong intermittent
feeling of unutterable relief. Perhaps his keenest regret was that,
after all it had not been love! He had offered himself up to a
girl's just contempt, but he had no recompense in the shape of a
great addition to knowledge, to experience. Save for a few doubtful
moments at the beginning, when he had all but surprised himself in
something more poignant, what he had been conscious of had been
nothing more than a suave and delicate charm of sentiment, a subtle
surrender to one exquisite aesthetic impression after another. And
these things in other relations, the world had yielded him before.
'Am I sane?' he muttered to himself. 'Have I ever been sane?
Probably not. The disproportion between my motives and other men's
is too great to be normal. Well at least I am sane enough to shut
myself up. Long after that beautiful child has forgotten she ever
saw me I shall still be doing penance in the desert.'
He threw himself down beside the open window with a groan. An hour
later he lifted a face blanched and lined, and stretched out his
band with avidity toward a book on the table. It was an obscure
and difficult Greek text, and he spent the greater part of the night
over it, rekindling in himself with feverish haste the embers of
his one lasting passion.
Meanwhile, in a room overhead, another last scene in this most
futile of dramas was passing. Rose, when she came in, had locked
the door, torn off her dress and her ornaments, and flung herself
on the edge of her bed, her hands on her knees, her shoulders
drooping, a fierce red spot on either cheek. There for an indefinite
time she went through a torture of self-scorn. The incidents of
the week passed before her one by one; her sallies, her defiances,
her impulsive friendliness, the elan, the happiness of the last two
days, the self-abandonment of this evening. Oh, intolerable--intolerable!
And all to end with the intimation that she had been behaving like
a forward child--had gone too far and must be admonished--made to
feel accordingly! The poisoned arrow pierced deeper and deeper
into the girl's shrinking pride. The very foundations of self-respect
Suddenly her eye caught a dim and ghostly reflection of her own
figure, as she sat with locked hands on the edge of the bed, in a
long glass near, the only one of the kind which the Rectory household
possessed. Rose sprang up, snatched at the candle, which was
flickering in the air of the open window, and stood erect before
the glass, holding the candle above her heart.
What the light showed her was a slim form in a white dressing-gown,
that fell loosely about it; a rounded arm up-stretched; a head,
still crowned with its jessamine wreath, from which the bright hair
fell heavily over shoulders and bosom; eyes, under frowning brows,
flashing a proud challenge at what they saw; two lips, 'indifferent
red' just open to let the quick breath come through--all thrown
into the wildest chiaroscuro by the wavering candle flame.
Her challenge was answered. The fault was not there. Her arm
dropped. She put down the light.
'I _am_ handsome,' she said to herself, her mouth quivering childishly.
'I am. I may say it to myself.'
Then, standing by the window, she stared into the night. Her room,
on the opposite side of the house from Langham's, looked over the
cornfields and the distance. The stubbles gleamed faintly; the
dark woods, the clouds teased by the rising wind, sent a moaning
voice to greet her.
'I hate him! I hate him!' she cried to the darkness, clenching her
cold little hand.
Then presently she slipped on to her knees, and buried her head in
the bed-clothes. She was crying--angry stifled tears which had the
hot impatience of youth in them. It all seemed to her so untoward.
This was not the man she had dreamed of--the unknown of her inmost
heart. _He_ had been young, ardent, impetuous like herself. Hand
in hand, eye flashing into eye, pulse answering to pulse, they would
have flung aside the veil hanging over life and plundered the golden
mysteries behind it.
She rebels; she tries to see the cold alien nature which has laid
this paralyzing spell upon her as it is, to reason herself back to
peace--to indifference. The poor child flies from her own
half-understood trouble; will none of it; murmurs again wildly,--
'I hate him! I hate him! Cold-blooded--ungrateful--unkind!'
In vain. A pair of melancholy eyes haunt, inthrall her inmost soul.
The charm of the denied, the inaccessible is on her, womanlike.
That old sense of capture, of helplessness, as of some lassoed,
struggling creature, descended upon her. She lay sobbing, there,
trying to recall what she had been a week before; the whirl of her
London visit, the ambitions with which it had filled her; the
bewildering, many-colored lights it had thrown upon life, the
intoxicating sense of artistic power. In vain.
The stream will not flow, and the hills will not rise;
And the colors have all passed away from her eyes.
She felt herself bereft, despoiled. And yet through it all, as
she lay weeping, there came flooding a strange contradictory sense
of growth, of enrichment. In such moments of pain does a woman
first begin to live? Ah! why should it hurt so--this long-awaited
birth of the soul?
The evening of the Murewell Hall dinner-party proved to be a date
of some importance in the lives of two or three persons. Rose was
not likely to forget it; Langham carried about with him the picture
of the great drawing-room, its stately light and shade, and its
scattered figures, through many a dismal subsequent hour: and to
Robert it was the beginning of a period of practical difficulties
such as his fortunate youth had never yet encountered.
His conjecture had hit the mark. The Squire's sentiments toward
him, which had been on the whole friendly enough, with the exception
of a slight nuance of contempt provoked in Mr. Wendover's mind by
all forms of the clerical calling, had been completely transformed
in the course of the afternoon before the dinner-party, and transformed
by the report of his agent. Henslowe who knew certain sides of the
Squire's character by heart, had taken Time by the forelock. For
fourteen years before Robert entered the parish he had been king
of it. Mr. Preston, Robert's predecessor, had never given him a
moment's trouble. The agent had developed a habit of drinking, had
favored his friends and spited his enemies, and he allowed certain
distant portions of the estate to go finely to ruin, quite undisturbed
by any sentimental meddling of the priestly sort. Then the old
Rector had been gathered to the majority, and this long-legged
busybody had taken his place, a man, according to the agent, as
full of communistical notions as an egg is full of meat, and always
ready to poke his nose into other people's business. And as all
men like mastery, but especially Scotchmen, and as during even the
first few months of the new Rector's tenure of office it became
tolerably evident to Henslowe that young Elsmere would soon become
the ruling force of the neighborhood unless measures were taken to
prevent it, the agent, over his nocturnal drams, had taken sharp
and cunning counsel with himself concerning the young man.
The state of Mile End had been originally the result of indolence
and caprice on his part rather than of any set purpose of neglect.
As soon, however, as it was brought to his notice by Elsmere, who
did it to begin with, in the friendliest way, it became a point of
honor with the agent to let the place go to the devil, nay, to hurry
it there. For some time notwithstanding, he avoided an open breach
with the Rector. He met Elsmere's remonstrances by a more or less
civil show of argument, belied every now and then by the sarcasm
of his coarse blue eye, and so far the two men had kept outwardly
on terms. Elsmere had reason to know that on one or two occasions
of difficulty in the parish Henslowe had tried to do him a mischief.
The attempts, however, had not greatly succeeded, and their
ill-success had probably excited in Elsmere a confidence of ultimate
victory which had tended to keep him cool in the presence of
Henslowe's hostility. But Henslowe had been all along merely waiting
for the Squire. He had served the owner of the Murewell estate for
fourteen years, and if he did not know that owner's peculiarities
by this time, might he obtain certain warm corners in the next life
to which he was fond of consigning other people! It was not easy
to cheat the Squire out of money, but it was quite easy to play
upon him ignorance of the details of English land management--ignorance
guaranteed by the learned habits of a lifetime--on his complete
lack of popular sympathy, and on the contempt felt by the disciple
of Bismarck and Mommsen for all forms of altruistic sentiment. The
Squire despised priests. He hated philanthropic cants. Above all
things be respected his own leisure, and was abnormally, irritably
sensitive as to any possible inroads upon it.
All these things Henslowe knew, and all these things be utilized.
He saw the Squire within forty-eight hours of his arrival at
Murewell. His fancy picture of Robert and his doings was introduced
with adroitness, and colored with great skill, and he left the
Squire walking up and down his library, chafing alternately at the
monstrous fate which had planted this sentimental agitator at his
gates, and at the memory of his own misplaced civilities toward the
intruder. In the evening those civilities were abundantly avenged,
as we have seen.
Robert was much perplexed as to his next step. His heart was very
sore. The condition of Mile End--those gaunt-eyed women and wasted
children, all the sordid details of their unjust, avoidable suffering
weighed upon his nerves perpetually. But he was conscious that
this state of feeling was one of tension, perhaps of exaggeration,
and though it was impossible he should let the matter alone, he was
anxious to do nothing rashly.
However, two days after the dinner-party he met Henslowe on the
hill leading up to the Rectory. Robert would have passed the man
with a stiffening of his tall figure and the slightest possible
salutation. But the agent just returned from a round wherein the
bars of various local inns had played a conspicuous part, was in a
truculent mood and stopped to speak. He took up the line of insolent
condolence with the Rector on the impossibility of carrying his
wishes with regard to Mile End into effect. They had been laid
before the Squire of course, but the Squire had his own ideas and
wasn't just easy to manage.
'Seen him yet, sir?' Henslowe wound up jauntily, every line of his
flushed countenance, the full lips under the fair beard, and the
light prominent eyes, expressing a triumph he hardly cared to
'I have seen him, but I have not talked to him on this particular
matter,' said the Rector quietly, though the red mounted in his
cheek. 'You may, however, be very sure, Mr. Henslowe, that everything
I know about Mile End, the Squire shall know before long.'
'Oh, lor' bless me, air!' cried Henslowe with a guffaw, 'it's all
one to me. And if the Squire ain't satisfied with the way his
work's done now, why he can take you on as a second string you know.
You'd show us all, I'll be bound, how to make the money fly.'
Then Robert's temper gave way, and he turned upon the half-drunken
brute before him with a few home truths delivered with a rapier-like
force which for the moment staggered Henslowe, who turned from red
to purple. The Rector, with some of those pitiful memories of the
hamlet, of which we had glimpses in his talk with Langham, burning
at his heart felt the man no better than a murderer, and as good
as told him so. Then, without giving him time to reply, Robert
strode off, leaving Henslowe planted in the pathway. But he was
hardly up the hill before the agent, having recovered himself by
dint of copious expletives, was looking after him with a grim
chuckle. He knew his master, and he knew himself, and he thought
between them they would about manage to keep that young spark in
Robert meanwhile went straight home into his study, and there fell
upon ink and paper. What was the good of protracting the matter
any longer? Something must and should be done for these people,
if not one way, then another.
So he wrote to the Squire, showing the letter to Catherine when it
was done, lest there should be anything over-fierce in it. It was
the simple record of twelve months' experience told with dignity
and strong feeling. Henslowe was barely mentioned in it, and the
chief burden of the letter was to implore the Squire to come and
inspect certain portions of his property with his own eyes. The
Rector would be at his service any day or hour.
Husband and wife went anxiously through the document, softening
here, improving there, and then it was sent to the Hall. Robert
waited nervously through the day for an answer. In the evening,
while he and Catherine were in the footpath after dinner, watching
a chilly autumnal moonrise over the stubble of the cornfield, the
'Hm,' said Robert dubiously as he opened it, holding it up to the
moonlight: 'can't be said to be lengthy.'
He and Catherine hurried into the house. Robert read the letter,
and handed it to her without a word.
After some curt references to one or two miscellaneous points raised
in the latter part of the Rector's letter, the Squire wound up as
"As for the bulk of your communication, I am at a loss to understand
the vehemence of your remarks on the subject of my Mile End property.
My agent informed me shortly after my return home that you had
been concerning yourself greatly, and, as he conceived, unnecessarily,
about the matter. Allow me to assure you that I have full confidence
in Mr. Henslowe, who has been in the district for as many years as
you have spent months in it, and whose authority on points connected
with the business management of my estate naturally carries more
weight with me, if you will permit me to say so, than your own.
"I am, sir, your obedient servant,
Catherine returned the letter to her husband with a look of dismay.
He was standing with his back to the chimney-piece, his hands
thrust far into his pockets, his upper lip quivering. In his happy,
expansive life this was the sharpest personal rebuff that had ever
happened to him. He could not but smart under it.
'Not a word,' he said, tossing his hair bank impetuously, as Catherine
stood opposite watching him--'not one single word about the miserable
people themselves! What kind of stuff can the man be made of?'
'Does he believe you?' asked Catherine, bewildered.
'If not, one must try and make him,' he said energetically, after
a moments pause. 'To-morrow, Catherine, I go down to the Hall and
She quietly acquiesced, and the following afternoon, first thing
after luncheon, she watched him go, her tender inspiring look
dwelling with him as he crossed the park, which was lying delicately
wrapped in one of the whitest of autumnal mists, the sun just playing
through it with pale invading shafts.
The butler looked at him with some doubtfulness. It was never safe
to admit visitors for the Squire without orders. But he and Robert
had special relations. As the possessor of a bass voice worthy of
his girth, Vincent, under Robert's rule, had become the pillar of
the choir, and it was not easy for him to refuse the Rector.
So Robert was led in, through the hall, and down the long passage
to the curtained door, which he knew so well.
'Mr. Elsmere, Sir!'
There was a sudden, hasty movement. Robert passed a magnificent
lacquered screen newly placed round the door, and found himself in
the Squire's presence.
The Squire had half risen from his seat in a capacious chair, with
a litter of books round it, and confronted his visitor with a look
of surprised annoyance. The figure of the Rector, tall, thin, and
youthful, stood out against the delicate browns and whites of the
book-lined walls. The great room, so impressively bare when Robert
and Langham had last seen it, was now full of the signs of a busy
man's constant habitation. An odor of smoke pervaded it; the table
in the window was piled with books just unpacked, and the half-emptied
case from which they had been taken lay on the ground beside the
'I persuaded Vincent to admit me, Mr. Wendover,' said Robert,
advancing hat in hand, while the Squire hastily put down the German
professor's pipe he had just been enjoying, and coldly accepted his
proffered greeting. 'I should have preferred not to disturb you
without an appointment, but after your letter it seemed to me some
prompt personal explanation was necessary.'
The Squire stiffly motioned toward a chair, which Robert took, and
then slipped back into his own, his wrinkled eyes fixed on the
Robert, conscious of almost intolerable embarrassment, but maintaining
in spite of it an excellent degree of self-control, plunged at once
into business. He took the letter he had just received from the
Squire as a text, made a good-humored defence of his own proceedings,
described his attempt to move Henslowe, and the reluctance of his
appeal from the man to the master. The few things he allowed himself
to say about Henslowe were in perfect temper, though by no means
without an edge.
Then having disposed of the more personal aspects of the matter,
he paused, and looked hesitatingly at the face opposite him, more
like a bronzed mask at this moment than a human countenance. The
Squire, however, gave him no help. He had received his remarks so
far in perfect silence, and seeing that there were more to come,
he waited for them with the same rigidity of look and attitude.
So, after a moment or two, Robert went on to describe in detail
some of those individual cases of hardship and disease at Mile End,
during the preceding year, which could be most clearly laid to the
sanitary condition of the place. Filth, damp, leaking roofs, foul
floors, poisoned water--he traced to each some ghastly human ill,
telling his stories with a nervous brevity, a suppressed fire, which
would have burnt them into the sense of almost any other listener.
Not one of these woes but he and Catherine had tended with sickening
pity and labor of body and mind. That side of it he kept rigidly
out of sight. But all that he could hurl against the Squire's
feeling, as it were, he gathered up, strangely conscious through
it all of his own young persistent yearning to right himself with
this man, whose mental history, as it lay chronicled in these rooms,
had been to him, at a time of intellectual hunger, so stimulating,
But passion, and reticence, and bidden sympathy were alike lost
upon the Squire. Before he paused Mr. Wendover had already risen
restlessly from his chair, and from the rug was glowering down on
his, unwelcome visitor.
Good heavens! had he come home to be lectured in his own library
by this fanatical slip of a parson? As for his stories, the Squire
barely took the trouble to listen to them.
Every popularity-hunting fool, with a passion for putting his hand
into other people's pockets, can tell pathetic stories; but it was
intolerable that his scholar's privacy should be at the mercy of
one of the tribe.
'Mr. Elsmere,' he broke out at last with contemptuous emphasis, 'I
imagine it would have been better--infinitely better--to have spared
both yourself and me the disagreeables of this interview. However,
I am not sorry we should understand each other. I have lived a
life which is at least double the length of yours in very tolerable
peace and comfort. The world has been good enough for me, and I
for it, so far. I have been master in my own estate, and intend to
remain so. As for the new-fangled ideas of a landowner's duty,
with which your mind seems to be full'--the scornful irritation of
the tone was unmistakable--' I have never dabbled in them, nor do
I intend to begin now. I am like the rest of my kind; I have no
money to chuck away in building schemes, in order that the Rector
of the parish may pose as the apostle of the agricultural laborer.
That, however, is neither here nor there. What is to the purpose
is, that my business affairs are in the hands of a business man,
deliberately chosen and approved by me, and that I have nothing to
do with them. Nothing at all!' he repeated with emphasis. 'It may
seem to you very shocking. You may reward it as the object in life
of the English landowner to inspect the pigstyes and amend the
habits of the English laborer. I don't quarrel with the conception,
I only ask you not to expect me to live up to it. I am a student
first and foremost, and desire to be left to my books. Mr. Henslowe
is there on purpose to protect my literary freedom. What he thinks
desirable is good enough for me, as I have already informed you.
I am sorry for it if his methods do not commend themselves to you.
But I have yet to learn that the Rector of the parish has an
ex-officio right to interfere between a landlord and his tenants.'
Robert kept his temper with some difficulty. After a pause he said,
feeling desperately, however, that the suggestion was not likely
to improve matters,--
'If I were to take all the trouble and all the expense off your
hands, Mr. Wendover would it be impossible for you to authorize me
to make one or two alterations most urgently necessary for the
improvement of the Mile End cottages?'
The Squire burst into an angry laugh.
'I have never yet been in the habit, Mr. Elsmere, of doing my repairs
by public subscription. You ask a little too much from an old man's
powers of adaptation.'
Robert rose from his seat, his hand trembling as it rested on his
'Mr. Wendover,' he said, speaking at last with a flash of answering
scorn in his young vibrating voice, 'what I think you cannot
understand, is that at any moment a human creature may sicken and
die, poisoned by the state of your property, for which you--and
nobody else--are ultimately responsible.'
The Squire shrugged his shoulders.
So you say, Mr. Elsmere. If true, every person in such a condition
has a remedy in his own hands. I force no one to remain on my
'The people who live there,' exclaimed Robert, 'have neither home
nor subsistence if they are driven out. Murewell is full--times
bad--most of the people old.'
'And eviction "a sentence of death," I suppose,' interrupted the
Squire, studying him with sarcastic eyes. 'Well, I have no belief
in a Gladstonian Ireland, still less in a Radical England. Supply
and demand, cause and effect, are enough for me. The Mile End
cottages are out of repair, Mr. Elsmere, so Mr. Henslowe tells me,
because the site is unsuitable, the type of cottage out of date.
People live in them at their peril; I don't pull them down, or
rather'--correcting himself with exasperating consistency--'Mr.
Henslowe doesn't pull them down, because, like other men, I suppose,
he dislikes an outcry. But if the population stays, it stays at
its own risk. Now have I made myself plain?'
The two men eyed one another.
'Perfectly plain,' said Robert quietly. 'Allow me to remind you,
Mr. Wendover, that there are other matters than eviction capable
of provoking an outcry.'
'As you please,' said the other indifferently. 'I have no doubt I
shall find myself in the newspapers before long. If so, I dare say
I shall manage to put up with it. Society, is fanatics and the
creatures they hunt. If I am to be hunted, I shall be in good
Robert stood, hat in hand, tormented with a dozen cross-currents
of feeling. He was forcibly struck with the blind and comparatively
motiveless pugnacity of the Squire's conduct. There was an extravagance
in it which for the first time recalled to him old Meyrick's
'I have done no good, I see, Mr. Wendover,' he said at last, slowly.
'I wish I could have induced you to do an act of justice and mercy.
I wish I could have made you think more kindly of myself. I have
failed in both. It is useless to keep you any longer. Good morning.'
He bowed. The Squire also bent forward. At that moment Robert
caught sight beside his shoulder of an antique, standing on the
mantel piece, which was a new addition to the room. It was a head
of Medusa, and the frightful stony calm of it struck on Elsmere's
ruffled nerves with extraordinary force. It flashed across him
that here was an apt symbol of that absorbing and overgrown life
of the intellect which blights the heart and chills the senses.
And to that spiritual Medusa, the man before him was not the first
victim he had known.
Possessed with the fancy, the young man made his way into the hall.
Arrived there, he looked round with a kind of passionate regret:
'Shall I ever see this again?' he asked himself. During the past
twelve months his pleasure in the great house had been much more
than sensuous. Within those walls his mind had grown, had reached
to a fuller stature than before, and a man loves, or should love,
all that is associated with the maturing of his best self.
He closed the ponderous doors behind him sadly. The magnificent
pile, grander than ever in the sunny autumnal mist which unwrapped
it, seemed to look after him as he walked away, mutely wondering
that he should have allowed anything so trivial as a peasant's
grievance to come between him and its perfections.
In the wooded lane outside the Rectory gate he overtook Catherine.
He gave her his report, and they walked on together arm-in-arm, a
very depressed pair.
'What shall you do next?' she asked him.
'Make out the law of the matter,' he said briefly.
'If you get over the inspector,' said Catherine anxiously, 'I am
tolerably certain Henslowe will turn out the people.'
He would not dare, Robert thought. At any rate, the law existed
for such cases, and it was his bounden duty to call the inspector's
Catherine' did not see what good could be done thereby, and feared
harm. But her wifely chivalry felt that he must get through his
first serious practical trouble his own way. She saw that he felt
himself distressingly young and inexperienced, and would not for
the world have harassed him by over-advice.
So she let him alone, and presently Robert threw the matter from
him with a sigh.
'Let it be awhile,' he said with a shake of his long frame. 'I
shall get morbid over it if I don't mind. I am a selfish wretch
too. I know you have worries of your own, wifie.'
And he took her hand under the trees and kissed it with a boyish
'Yes,' said Catherine, sighing, and then paused. 'Robert,' she burst
out again, 'I am certain that man made love of a kind to Rose.
_He_ will never think of it again, but since the night before last
she, to my mind, is simply a changed creature.'
'_I_ don't see it,' said Robert doubtfully.
Catherine looked at him with a little angel scorn in her gray eyes.
That men should make their seeing in such matters the measure of
'You have been studying the Squire, sir--I have been studying Rose.'
Then she poured out her heart to him, describing the little signs
of change and suffering her anxious sense had noted, in spite of
Rose's proud effort to keep all the world, but especially Catherine,
at arm's length. And at the end her feeling swept her into a
denunciation of Langham, which was to Robert like a breath from the
past, from those stern hills wherein he met her first. The happiness
of their married life had so softened or masked all her ruggedness
of character, that there was a certain joy in seeing those strong
forces in her which had struck him first reappear.
'Of course I feel myself to blame,' he said when she stopped, 'but
how could one foresee, with such an inveterate hermit and recluse?
And I owed him--I owe him--so much.'
'I know,' said Catherine, but frowning still. It probably seemed
to her that that old debt had been more than effaced.
'You will have to send her to Berlin,' said Elsmere after a pause.
'You must play off her music against this unlucky feeling. If it
exists it is your only chance.'
'Yes, she must go to Berlin,' said Catherine slowly.
Then presently she looked up, a flash of exquisite feeling breaking
up the delicate resolution of the face.
'I am not sad about that, Robert. Oh, how you have widened my world
Suddenly that hour in Marrisdale came back to her. They were in
the woodpath. She crept inside her husband's arm and put up her
face to him, swept away by an overmastering impulse of self-humiliating
The next day Robert walked over to the little market town of Churton,
saw the discreet and long-established solicitor of the place, and
got from him a complete account of the present state of the rural
sanitary law. The first step clearly was to move the sanitary
inspector; if that failed for any reason, then any _bona fide_
inhabitant had an appeal to the local sanitary authority, viz. the
board of guardians. Robert walked home pondering his information,
and totally ignorant that Henslowe, who was always at Churton on
market-days, had been in the market-place at the moment when the
Rector's tall figure had disappeared within Mr. Dunstan's office-door.
That door was unpleasantly known to the agent in connection with
some energetic measures for raising money he had been lately under
the necessity of employing, and it had a way of attracting his eyes
by means of the fascination that often attaches to disagreeable
In the evening Rose was sitting listlessly in the drawing-room.
Catherine was not there, so her novel was on her lap and her eyes
were staring intently into a world whereof they only had the key.
Suddenly there was a ring at the bell. The servant came, and there
were several voices and a sound of much shoe-scraping. Then the
swing-door leading to the study opened and Elsmere and Catherine
came out. Elsmere stopped with an exclamation.
His visitors were two men from Mile End. One was old Milsom, more
sallow and palsied than ever. As he stood bent almost double, his
old knotted hand resting for support on the table beside him,
everything in the little hall seemed to shake with him. The other
was Sharland, the handsome father of the twins, whose wife had been
fed by Catherine with every imaginable delicacy since Robert's last
visit to the hamlet. Even his strong youth had begun to show signs
of premature decay. The rolling gypsy eyes were growing sunken,
the limbs dragged a little.
They had come to implore the Rector to let Mile End alone. Henslowe
had been over there in the afternoon, and had given them all very
plainly to understand that if Mr. Elsmere meddled any more they
would be all turned out at a week's notice to shift as they could,
'And if you don't find Thurston Common nice lying this weather,
with the winter coming on, you'll know who to thank for it,' the
agent had flung behind him as be rode off.
Robert turned white. Rose, watching the little scene with listless
eyes, saw him towering over the group like an embodiment of wrath
'If they turn us out, sir,' said old Milsom, wistfully looking up
at Elsmere with blear eyes, 'there'll be nothing left but the House
for us old 'uns. Why, lor' bless you, sir, it's not so bad but we
can make shift,'
'You, Milsom!' cried Robert; 'and you've just all but lost your
grandchild! And you know your wife'll never be the same woman since
that bout of fever in the spring. And----'
His quick eyes ran over the old man's broken frame with a world of
indignant meaning in them.
'Aye, aye, sir,' said Milsom, unmoved. 'But if it isn't fevers,
it's summat else. I can make a shilling or two where I be, speshally
in the first part of the year, in the basket work, and my wife she
goes charing up at Mr. Carter's farm, and Mr. Dodson, him at the
further farm, he do give us a bit sometimes. Ef you git us turned
away it will be a bad day's work for all on us, sir, you may take
my word on it.'
'And my wife so ill' Mr. Elsmere,' said Sharland, 'and all those
childer! I can't walk three miles further to my work, Mr. Elsmere,
I can't nohow. I haven't got the legs for it. Let un be, Sir.
We'll rub along.'
Robert tried to argue the matter.
If they would but stand by him he would fight the matter through,
and they should not suffer, if he had to get up a public subscription,
or support them out of his own pocket all the winter. A bold front,
and Mr. Henslowe must give way. The law was on their side, and
every laborer in Surrey would be the better off for their refusal
to be housed like pigs and poisoned like vermin.
In vain. There is an inexhaustible store of cautious endurance in
the poor against which the keenest reformer constantly throws himself
in vain. Elsmere was beaten. The two men got his word, and shuffled
off back to their pestilential hovels, a pathetic content beaming
on each face.
Catherine and Robert went back into the study. Rose heard her
brother-in-law's passionate sigh as the door swung behind them.
'Defeated!' she said to herself with a curious accent. 'Well,
everybody must have his turn. Robert has been too successful in
his life, I think.--You wretch!' she added, after a minute, laying
her bright head down on the book before her.
Next morning his wife found Elsmere after breakfast busily packing
a case of books in the study. They were books from the Hall library,
which so far had been for months the inseparable companion of his
Catherine stood and watched him sadly.
'Must You, Robert?'
'I won't be beholden to that man for anything an hour longer than
I can help,' he answered her.
When the packing was nearly finished he came up to where she stood
in the open window.
'Things won't be as easy for us in the future, darling,' he said
to her. 'A rector with both Squire and agent against him is rather
heavily handicapped. We must make up our minds to that.'
'I have no great fear,' she said, looking at him proudly.
'Oh, well--nor I--perhaps,' he admitted, after a moment. We can
hold our own. 'But I wish--oh, I wish'--and he laid his hand on
his wife's shoulder--'I could have made friends with the Squire.'
Catherine looked less responsive.
'As Squire, Robert, or as Mr. Wendover?'
'As both, of course, but specialty as Mr. Wendover.'
'We can do without his friendship,' she said with energy.
Robert gave a great stretch, as though to work off his regrets.
'Ah, but--,'he said, half to himself, as his arms dropped, 'if you
are just filled with the hunger to _know_, the people who know as
much as the Squire become very interesting to you!'
Catherine did not answer. But probably her heart went out once
more in protest against a knowledge that was to her but a form of
revolt against the awful powers of man's destiny.
'However, here go his books,' said Robert.
Two days later Mrs. Leyburn and Agnes made their appearance, Mrs.
Leyburn all in a flutter concerning the event over which, in her
own opinion, she had come to preside. In her gentle fluid mind all
impressions were short-lived. She had forgotten how she had brought
up her own babies, but Mrs. Thornburgh, who had never had any, had
filled her full of nursery lore. She sat retailing a host of
second-hand hints and instructions to Catherine, who would every
now and then lay her hand smiling on her mother's knee, well pleased
to see the flush of pleasure on the pretty old face, and ready in
her patient filial way, to let herself be experimented on to the
utmost, if it did but make the poor, foolish thing happy.
Then came a night where every soul in the quiet Rectory, even hot,
Back to Full Books