Sandra Belloni by George Meredith, complete
Part 3 out of 11
Wilfrid's Club. "He calls Besworth the most habitable place in the
county, and promises to be there as many months out of the twelve as you
like to have him. I agree with him that Stornley can't hold a candle to
it. There are three residences in England that might be preferred to it,
and, of those, two are ducal."
The letter was a piece of that easy diplomacy which comes from habit.
The "of those, two are ducal," was masterly. It affected the imagination
of Brookfield. "Which two?" And could Besworth be brought to rival
them? Ultimately, it might be! The neighbourhood to London, too, gave
it noble advantages. Rapid relays of guests, and a metropolitan
reputation for country attractions, would distinguish Besworth above most
English houses. A house where all the chief celebrities might be
encountered: a house under suave feminine rule; a house, a home, to a
chosen set, and a refreshing fountain to a widening circle!
"We have a dispute," they wrote playfully to Wilfrid "a dispute we wish
you or Lady Charlotte to settle. I, Arabella, know nothing of trout. I,
Cornelia, know nothing of river-beds. I, Adela, know nothing of
engineering. But, we are persuaded, the latter, that the river running
for a mile through Besworth grounds may be deepened: we are persuaded,
the intermediate, that the attempt will damage the channel: we are
persuaded, the first, that all the fish will go."
In reply, Wilfrid appeared to have taken them in earnest. "I rode over
yesterday with Lady Charlotte," he said. "We think something might be
done, without at all endangering the fish or spoiling the channel. At
all events, the idea of making the mile of broad water serviceable for
boats is too good to give up in a hurry. How about the dining-hall? I
told Lady Charlotte you were sure to insist upon a balcony for musicians.
She laughed. You will like her when you know her."
Thus the ladies of Brookfield were led on to be more serious concerning
Besworth than they had thought of being, and began to feel that their
honour was pledged to purchase this surpassing family seat. In a
household where every want is supplied, and money as a topic utterly
banished, it is not surprising that they should have had imperial views.
Adela was Wilfrid's favoured correspondent. She described to him gaily
the struggle with their papa. "But, if you care for Besworth, you may
calculate on it.--Or is it only for our sakes, as I sometimes think?--
Besworth is won. Nothing but the cost of the place (to be considered you
know!) could withhold it from us; and of that papa has not uttered a
syllable, though he conjures up every possible objection to a change of
abode, and will not (perhaps, poor dear, cannot) see what we intend doing
in the world. Now, you know that rich men invariably make the question
of the cost their first and loudest outcry. I know that to be the case.
They call it their blood. Papa seems indifferent to this part of the
affair. He does not even allude to it. Still, we do not progress. It
is just possible that the Tinleys have an eye on beautiful Besworth.
Their own place is bad enough, but good enough for them. Give them
Besworth, and they will sit upon the neighbourhood. We shall be invaded
by everything that is mean and low, and a great chance will be gone for
us. I think I may say, for the county. The country? Our advice is,
that you write to papa one of your cleverest letters. We know, darling,
what you can do with the pen as well as the sword. Write word that you
Wilfrid's reply stated that he considered it unadviseable that he should
add his voice to the request, for the present.
The ladies submitted to this quietly until they heard from their father
one evening at dinner that he had seen Wilfrid in the city.
"He doesn't waste his time like some young people I know," said Mr. Pole,
with a wink.
"Papa; is it possible?" cried Adela.
"Everything's possible, my dear."
"There is a Lady Charlotte."
"Who would be Lady Charlotte still, whatever occurred!"
Mr. Pole laughed. "No, no. You get nothing out of me. All I say is, be
practical. The sun isn't always shining."
He appeared to be elated with some secret good news.
"Have you been over to Besworth, the last two or three days?" he asked.
The ladies smiled radiantly, acknowledging Wilfrid's wonderful persuasive
powers, in their hearts.
"No, papa; we have not been," said Adela. "We are always anxious to go,
as I think you know."
The merchant chirped over his glass. "Well, well! There's a way."
"Over a gate; ha, ha!"
His gaiety would have been perplexing, but for the allusion to Lady
The sisters, in their unfailing midnight consultation, persuaded one
another that Wilfrid had become engaged to that lady. They wrote
forthwith Fine Shades to him on the subject. His answer was Boeotian,
and all about Besworth. "Press it now," he said, "if you really want it.
The iron is hot. And above all things, let me beg you not to be
inconsiderate to the squire, when he and I are doing all we can for you.
I mean, we are bound to consider him, if there should happen to be
anything he wishes us to do."
What could the word 'inconsiderate' imply? The ladies were unable to
summon an idea to solve it. They were sure that no daughters could be
more perfectly considerate and ready to sacrifice everything to their
father. In the end, they deputed the volunteering Adela to sit with him
in the library, and put the question of Besworth decisively, in the name
of all. They, meantime, who had a contempt for sleep, waited aloft to
hold debate over the result of the interview.
An hour after midnight, Adela came to them, looking pale and uncertain:
her curls seeming to drip, and her blue eyes wandering about the room, as
if she had seen a thing that kept her in a quiver between belief and
The two ladies drew near to her, expressing no verbal impatience, from
which the habit of government and great views naturally saved them, but
Adela's first exclamation: "I wish I had not gone," alarmed them.
"Has any change come to papa?" breathed Arabella.
Cornelia smiled. "Do you not know him too well?"
An acute glance from Adela made her ask whether Besworth was to be
"Oh, no! my dear. We may have Besworth."
"But, there are conditions?" said Arabella.
"Yes. Wilfrid's enigma is explained. Bella, that woman has seen papa."
"She has our permission to see him in town, if that is any consolation to
"She has told him," continued Adela, "that no explanation, or whatever it
may be, was received by her."
"Certainly not, if it was not sent."
"Papa," and Adela's voice trembled, "papa will not think of Besworth,--
not a word of it!-until--until we consent to welcome that woman here as
Cornelia was the first to break the silence that followed this astounding
intelligence. "Then," she said, "Besworth is not to be thought of. You
told him so?"
Adela's head drooped. "Oh!" she cried, "what shall we do? We shall be a
laughing-stock to the neighbourhood. The house will have to be locked
up. We shall live like hermits worried by a demon. Her brogue! Do you
remember it? It is not simply Irish. It's Irish steeped in brine. It's
She feigned the bursting into tears of real vexation.
"You speak," said Cornelia contemptuously, "as if we had very humbly
bowed our heads to the infection."
"Papa making terms with us!" murmured Arabella.
"Pray, repeat his words."
Adela tossed her curls. "I will, as well as I can. I began by speaking
of Besworth cheerfully; saying, that if he really had no strong
affection for Brookfield, that would make him regret quitting it, we saw
innumerable advantages in the change of residence proposed.
Predilection,--not affection--that was what I said. He replied that
Besworth was a large place, and I pointed out that therein lay one of its
principal merits. I expected what would come. He alluded to the
possibility of our changing our condition. You know that idea haunts
him. I told him our opinion of the folly of the thing. I noticed that
he grew red in the face, and I said that of course marriage was a thing
ordained, but that we objected to being submerged in matrimony until we
knew who and what we were. I confess he did not make a bad reply, of its
kind. 'You're like a youngster playing truant that he may gain
knowledge.' What do you think of it?"
"A smart piece of City-speech," was Arabella's remark: Cornelia placidly
observing, "Vulgarity never contains more than a minimum of the truth."
"I said," Adela went on, "Think as you will, papa, we know we are right."
He looked really angry. He said, that we have the absurdest ideas--you
tell me to repeat his words--of any girls that ever existed; and then he
put a question: listen: I give it without comment: 'I dare say, you all
object to widows marrying again.' I kept myself quiet. 'Marrying again,
papa! If they marry once they might as well marry a dozen times.' It
was the best way to irritate him. I did not intend it; that is all I can
say. He jumped from his chair, rubbed his hair, and almost ran up and
down the library floor, telling me that I prevaricated. 'You object to a
widow marrying at all--that's my question!' he cried out loud. Of course
I contained my voice all the more. 'Distinctly, papa.' When I had
spoken, I could scarcely help laughing. He went like a pony that is
being broken in, crying, I don't know how many times, 'Why? What's your
reason?' You may suppose, darlings, that I decline to enter upon
explanation. If a person is dense upon a matter of pure sentiment, there
is no ground between us: he has simply a sense wanting. 'What has all
this to do with Besworth?' I asked. 'A great deal more than you fancy,'
was his answer. He seemed to speak every word at me in capital letters.
Then, as if a little ashamed, he sat down, and reached out his hand to
mine, and I saw his eyes were moist. I drew my chair nearer to him.
Now, whether I did right or wrong in this, I do not know I leave it
entirely to your judgement. If you consider how I was placed, you will
at all events excuse me. What I did was--you know, the very farthest
suspicion one has of an extreme possibility one does not mind mentioning:
I said 'Papa, if it should so happen that money is the objection to
Besworth, we will not trouble you.' At this, I can only say that he
behaved like an insane person. He denounced me as wilfully insulting him
that I might avoid one subject."
"And what on earth can that be?" interposed Arabella.
"You may well ask. Could a genie have guessed that Mrs. Chump was at the
bottom of it all? The conclusion of the dreadful discussion is this,
that papa offers to take the purchase of Besworth into his consideration,
if we, as I said before, will receive Mrs. Chump as our honoured guest.
I am bound to say, poor dear old man, he spoke kindly, as he always does,
and kissed me, and offered to give me anything I might want. I came from
him stupefied. I have hardly got my senses about me yet."
The ladies caressed her, with grave looks; but neither of them showed a
perturbation of spirit like that which distressed Adela.
"Wilfrid's meaning is now explained," said Cornelia. "He is in league
with papa; or has given in his adhesion to papa's demands, at least. He
is another example of the constant tendency in men to be what they call
'practical' at the expense of honour and sincerity."
"I hope not," said Arabella. "In any case, that need not depress you so
She addressed Adela.
"Do you not see?" Adela cried, in response. "What! are you both blind to
the real significance of papa's words? I could not have believed it! Or
am I this time too acute? I pray to heaven it may be so!"
Both ladies desired her to be explicit; Arabella, eagerly; Cornelia with
"The question of a widow marrying! What is this woman, whom papa wishes
to force on us as our guest? Why should he do that? Why should he
evince anxiety with regard to our opinion of the decency of widows
contemplating re-union? Remember previous words and hints when we lived
in the city!"
"This at least you may spare us," said Cornelia, ruffling offended.
Adela smiled in tenderness for her beauty.
"But, it is important, if we are following a track, dear. Think over
"No!" cried Arabella. "It cannot be true. We might easily have guessed
this, if we ever dreamed of impossibilities."
"In such cases, when appearances lean in one direction, set principles in
the opposite balance," added Cornelia. "What Adela apprehends may seem
to impend, but we know that papa is incapable of doing it. To know that,
shuts the gates of suspicion. She has allowed herself to be troubled by
a ghastly nightmare."
Adela believed in her own judgement too completely not to be sure that
her sisters were, perhaps unknowingly, disguising a slowness of
perception they were ashamed of, by thus partially accusing her of
giddiness. She bit her lip.
"Very well; if you have no fears whatever, you need not abandon the idea
"I abandon nothing," said Arabella. "If I have to make a choice, I take
that which is least objectionable. I am chagrined, most, at the idea
that Wilfrid has been treacherous."
"Practical," Cornelia suggested. "You are not speaking of one of our
Questions were then put to Adela, whether Mr. Pole had spoken in the
manner of one who was prompted: whether he hesitated as he spoke:
whether, in short, Wilfrid was seen behind his tongue. Adela resolved
that Wilfrid should have one protectress.
"You are entirely mistaken in ascribing treachery to him," she said. "It
is papa that is changed. You may suppose it to be without any reason, if
you please. I would tell you to study him for yourselves, only I am
convinced that these special private interviews are anything but good
policy, and are strictly to be avoided, unless of course, as in the
present instance, we have something directly to do."
Toward dawn the ladies had decreed that it was policy to be quite
passive, and provoke no word of Mrs. Chump by making any allusion to
Besworth, and by fencing with the mention of the place.
As they rarely failed to carry out any plan deliberately conceived by
them, Mr. Pole was astonished to find that Besworth was altogether
dropped. After certain scattered attempts to bring them upon Besworth,
he shrugged, and resigned himself, but without looking happy.
Indeed he looked so dismal that the ladies began to think he had a great
longing for Besworth. And yet he did not go there, or even praise it to
the discredit of Brookfield! They were perplexed.
"Let me ask you how it is," said Cornelia to Mr. Barrett, "that a person
whom we know--whose actions and motives are as plain to us as though
discerned through a glass, should at times produce a completer
mystification than any other creature? Or have you not observed it?"
"I have had better opportunities of observing it than most people," Mr.
Barren replied, with one of his saddest amused smiles. "I have come to
the conclusion that the person we know best is the one whom we never
"You answer me with a paradox."
"Is it not the natural attendant on an assumption?"
"That you know a person thoroughly."
"May we not?"
"Do you, when you acknowledge this 'complete mystification'?"
"Yes." Cornelia smiled when she had said it. "And no."
Mr. Barrett, with his eyes on her, laughed softly. "Which is paradox at
the fountain-head! But, when we say we know any one, we mean commonly
that we are accustomed to his ways and habits of mind; or, that we can
reckon on the predominant influence of his appetites. Sometimes we can
tell which impulse is likely to be the most active, and which principle
the least restraining. The only knowledge to be trusted is a grounded or
scientific study of the springs that move him, side by side with his
method of moving the springs. If you fail to do this, you have two
classes under your eyes: you have sane and madman: and it will seem to
you that the ranks of the latter are constantly being swollen in an
extraordinary manner. The customary impression, as we get older, is that
our friends are the maddest people in the world. You see, we have grown
accustomed to them; and now, if they bewilder us, our judgement, in self-
defence, is compelled to set them down lunatic."
Cornelia bowed her stately head with gentle approving laughter.
"They must go, or they despatch us thither," she said, while her fair
face dimpled into serenity. The remark was of a lower nature than an
intellectual discussion ordinarily drew from her: but could Mr. Barrett
have read in her heart, he might have seen that his words were beginning
to rob that organ of its native sobriety. So that when he spoke a cogent
phrase, she was silenced, and became aware of a strange exultation in her
blood that obscured grave thought. Cornelia attributed this display of
mental weakness altogether to Mr. Barrett's mental force. The
interposition of a fresh agency was undreamt of by the lady.
Meanwhile, it was evident that Mr. Pole was a victim to one of his fevers
of shyness. He would thrum on the table, frowning; and then, as he met
the look of one of the ladies, try to disguise the thought in his head
with a forced laugh. Occasionally, he would turn toward them, as if he
had just caught a lost idea that was peculiarly precious. The ladies
drawing up to attend to the communication, had a most trivial matter
imparted to them, and away he went. Several times he said to them "You
don't make friends, as you ought;" and their repudiation of the charge
made him repeat: "You don't make friends--home friends."
"The house can be as full as we care to have it, papa."
"Yes, acquaintances! All very well, but I mean friends--rich friends."
"We will think of it, papa," said Adela, "when we want money."
"It isn't that," he murmured.
Adela had written to Wilfrid a full account of her interview with her
father. Wilfrid's reply was laconic. "If you cannot stand a week of the
brogue, give up Besworth, by all means." He made no further allusion to
the place. They engaged an opera-box, for the purpose of holding a
consultation with him in town. He wrote evasively, but did not appear,
and the ladies, with Emilia between them, listened to every foot-fall by
the box-door, and were too much preoccupied to marvel that Emilia was
just as inattentive to the music as they were. When the curtain dropped
they noticed her dejection.
"What ails you?" they asked.
"Let us go out of London to-night," she whispered, and it was difficult
to persuade her that she would see Brookfield again.
"Remember," said Adela, "it is you that run away from us, not we from
Soft chidings of this description were the only reproaches for her
naughty conduct. She seemed contrite very still and timid, since that
night of adventure. The ladies were glad to observe it, seeing that it
lent her an air of refinement, and proved her sensible to correction.
At last Mr. Pole broke the silence. He had returned from business,
humming and rubbing his hands, like one newly primed with a suggestion
that was the key of a knotty problem. Observant Adela said: "Have you
seen Wilfrid, papa?"
"Saw him in the morning," Mr. Pole replied carelessly.
Mr. Barrett was at the table.
"By the way, what do you think of our law of primogeniture?" Mr. Pole
He replied with the usual allusion to a basis of aristocracy.
"Well, it's the English system," said Mr. Pole. "That's always in its
favour at starting. I'm Englishman enough to think that. There ought to
be an entail of every decent bit of property, eh?"
It was observed that Mr. Barrett reddened as he said, "I certainly think
that a young man should not be subject to his father's caprice."
"Father's caprice! That isn't common. But, if you're founding a family,
you must entail."
"We agree, sir, from my point of view, and from yours."
"Knits the family bond, don't you think? I mean, makes the trunk of the
tree firm. It makes the girls poor, though!"
Mr. Barrett saw that he had some confused legal ideas in his head, and
that possibly there were personal considerations in the background; so he
let the subject pass.
When the guest had departed, Mr. Pole grew demonstrative in his paternal
caresses. He folded Adela in one arm, and framed her chin in his
fingers: marks of affection dear to her before she had outgrown them.
"So!" he said, "you've given up Besworth, have you?"
At the name, Arabella and Cornelia drew nearer to his chair.
"Given up Besworth, papa? It is not we who have given it up," said
"Yes, you have; and quite right too. You say, 'What's the use of it, for
that's a sort of thing that always goes to the son.'"
"You suppose, papa, that we indulge in ulterior calculations?" came from
"Well, you see, my love!--no, I don't suppose it at all. But to buy a
place and split it up after two or three years--I dare say they wouldn't
insure me for more, that's nonsense. And it seems unfair to you, as you
"Darling papa! we are not selfish!" it rejoiced Adela to exclaim.
His face expressed a transparent simple-mindedness that won the
confidence of the ladies and awakened their ideal of generosity.
"I know what you mean, papa," said Arabella. "But, we love Besworth; and
if we may enjoy the place for the time that we are all together, I shall
think it sufficient. I do not look beyond."
Her sisters echoed the sentiment, and sincerely. They were as little
sordid as creatures could be. If deeply questioned, it would have been
found that their notion of the position Providence had placed them in (in
other words, their father's unmentioned wealth), permitted them to be as
lavish as they pleased. Mr. Pole had endowed them with a temperament
similar to his own; and he had educated it. In feminine earth it
flourished wonderfully. Shy as himself, their shyness took other forms,
and developed with warm youth. Not only did it shut them up from others
(which is the first effect of this disease), but it tyrannized over them
internally: so that there were subjects they had no power to bring their
minds to consider. Money was in the list. The Besworth question, as at
present considered, involved the money question. All of them felt that;
father and children. It is not surprising, therefore, that they hurried
over it as speedily as they could, and by a most comical exhibition of
implied comprehension of meanings and motives.
"Of course, we're only in the opening stage of the business," said Mr.
Pole. "There's nothing decided, you know. Lots of things got to be
considered. You mean what you say, do you? Very well. And you want me
to think of it? So I will. And look, my dears, you know that--" (here
his voice grew husky, as was the case with it when touching a shy topic
even beneath the veil; but they were above suspicion) "you know that--a--
that we must all give way a little to the other, now and then. Nothing
like being kind."
"Pray, have no fear, papa dear!" rang the clear voice of Arabella.
"Well, then, you're all for Besworth, even though it isn't exactly for
your own interest? All right."
The ladies kissed him.
"We'll each stretch a point," he continued. "We shall get on better if
we do. Much! You're a little hard on people who're not up to the mark.
There's an end to that. Even your old father will like you better."
These last remarks were unintelligible to the withdrawing ladies.
On the morning that followed, Mr. Pole expressed a hope that his
daughters intended to give him a good dinner that day; and he winked
humorously and kindly by which they understood him to be addressing a
sort of propitiation to them for the respect he paid to his appetite.
"Papa," said Adela, "I myself will speak to Cook."
She added, with a smile thrown to her sisters, without looking at them,
"I dare say, she will know who I am."
Mr. Pole went down to his wine-cellar, and was there busy with bottles
till the carriage came for him. A bason was fetched that he might wash
off the dust and cobwebs in the passage. Having rubbed his hands briskly
with soap, he dipped his head likewise, in an oblivious fit, and then
turning round to the ladies, said, "What have I forgotten?" looking
woebegone with his dripping vacant face. "Oh, ah! I remember now;" and
he chuckled gladly.
He had just for one moment forgotten that he was acting, and a pang of
apprehension had caught him when the water covered his face, to the
effect that he must forfeit the natural artistic sequence of speech and
conduct which disguised him so perfectly. Away he drove, nodding and
waving his hand.
"Dear, simple, innocent old man!" was the pitiful thought in the bosoms
of the ladies; and if it was accompanied by the mute exclamation, "How
singular that we should descend from him!" it would not have been for the
They passed one of their delightful quiet days, in which they paved the
future with gold, and, if I may use so bold a figure, lifted parasols
against the great sun that was to shine on them. Now they listened to
Emilia, and now strolled in the garden; conversed on the social skill of
Lady Gosstre, who was nevertheless narrow in her range; and on the
capacities of mansions, on the secret of mixing people in society, and
what to do with the women! A terrible problem, this latter one. Not
terrible (to hostesses) at a mere rout or drum, or at a dance pure and
simple, but terrible when you want good talk to circulate for then they
are not, as a body, amused; and when they are not amused, you know, they
are not inclined to be harmless; and in this state they are vipers; and
where is society then? And yet you cannot do without them!--which is the
revolting mystery. I need not say that I am not responsible for these
critical remarks. Such tenderness to the sex comes only from its
So went a day rich in fair dreams to the ladies; and at the hour of their
father's return they walked across the parvenu park, in a state of
enthusiasm for Besworth, that threw some portion of its decorative light
on the, donor of Besworth. When his carriage was heard on the road, they
stood fast, and greeted his appearance with a display of pocket-
handkerchiefs in the breeze, a proceeding that should have astonished
him, being novel; but seemed not to do so, for it was immediately
responded to by the vigorous waving of a pair of pocket-handkerchiefs
from the carriage-window! The ladies smiled at this piece of simplicity
which prompted him to use both his hands, as if one would not have been
enough. Complacently they continued waving. Then Adela looked at her
sisters; Cornelia's hand dropped and Arabella, the last to wave, was the
first to exclaim: "That must be a woman's arm!"
The carriage stopped at the gate, and it was one in the dress of a woman
at least, and of the compass of a big woman, who descended by the aid of
Mr. Pole. Safely alighted, she waved her pocket-handkerchief afresh.
The ladies of Brookfield did not speak to one another; nor did they move
their eyes from the object approaching. A simultaneous furtive
extinction of three pocket-handkerchiefs might have been noticed. There
was no further sign given.
A letter from Brookfield apprised Wilfrid that Mr. Pole had brought Mrs.
Chump to the place as a visitor, and that she was now in the house.
Formal as a circular, the idea of it appeared to be that the bare fact
would tell him enough and inspire him with proper designs. No reply
being sent, a second letter arrived, formal too, but pointing out his
duty to succour his afflicted family, and furnishing a few tragic
particulars. Thus he learnt, that while Mr. Pole was advancing toward
the three grouped ladies, on the day of Mrs. Chump's arrival, he called
Arabella by name, and Arabella went forward alone, and was engaged in
conversation by Mrs. Chump. Mr. Pole left them to make his way to Adela
and Cornelia. "Now, mind, I expect you to keep to your agreement," he
said. Gradually they were led on to perceive that this simple-minded man
had understood their recent talk of Besworth to signify a consent to the
stipulation he had previously mentioned to Adela. "Perfect simplicity is
as deceiving as the depth of cunning," Adela despairingly wrote, much to
A third letter followed. It was of another tenor, and ran thus, in
"My Darling Wilfrid,
"We have always known that some peculiar assistance would never be wanting
in our extremity--aid, or comfort, or whatever you please to call it. At
all events, something to show we are not neglected. That old notion of
ours must be true. I shall say nothing of our sufferings in the house.
They continue. Yesterday, papa came from town, looking important. He
had up some of his best wine for dinner. All through the service his
eyes were sparkling on Cornelia. I spare you a family picture, while
there is this huge blot on it. Naughty brother! But, listen! your place
is here, for many reasons, as you will be quick enough to see. After
dinner, papa took Cornelia into the library alone, and they were together
for ten minutes. She came out very pale. She had been proposed for by
Sir Twickenham Pryme, our Member for the borough. I have always been
sure that Cornelia was born for Parliament, and he will be lucky if he
wins her. We know not yet, of course, what her decision will be. The
incident is chiefly remarkable to us as a relief to what I need not
recount to you. But I wish to say one thing, dear Wilfrid. You are
gazetted to a lieutenancy, and we congratulate you: but what I have to
say is apparently much more trifling, and it is, that--will you take it
to heart?--it would do Arabella and myself infinite good if we saw a
little more of our brother, and just a little less of a very gentlemanly
organ-player phenomenon, who talks so exceedingly well. He is a very
pleasant man, and appreciates our ideas, and so forth; but it is our duty
to love our brother best, and think of him foremost, and we wish him to
come and remind us of our duty.
"At our Cornelia's request, with our concurrence, papa is silent in the
house as to the purport of the communication made by Sir T.P.
"By the way, are you at all conscious of a sound-like absurdity in a
Christian name of three syllables preceding a surname of one? Sir
Twickenham Pryme! Cornelia's pronunciation of the name first gave me the
feeling. The 'Twickenham' seems to perform a sort of educated monkey
kind of ridiculously decorous pirouette and entrechat before the 'Pryme.'
I think that Cornelia feels it also. You seem to fancy elastic limbs
bending to the measure of a solemn church-organ. Sir Timothy? But Sir
Timothy does not jump with the same grave agility as Sir Twickenham! If
she rejects him, it will be half attributable to this.
"My own brother! I expect no confidences, but a whisper warns me that
you have not been to Stornley twice without experiencing the truth of our
old discovery, that the Poles are magnetic? Why should we conceal it
from ourselves, if it be so? I think it a folly, and fraught with
danger, for people not to know their characteristics. If they attract,
they should keep in a circle where they will have no reason to revolt at,
or say, repent of what they attract. My argumentative sister does not
coincide. If she did, she would lose her argument.
"Adieu! Such is my dulness, I doubt whether I have made my meaning
"Your thrice affectionate
"P.S.--Lady Gosstre has just taken Emilia to Richford for a week. Papa
starts for Bidport to-morrow."
This short and rather blunt exercise in Fine Shades was read impatiently
by Wilfrid. "Why doesn't she write plain to the sense?" he asked, with
the usual injustice of men, who demand a statement of facts, forgetting
how few there are to feed the post; and that indication and suggestion
are the only language for the multitude of facts unborn and possible.
Twilight best shows to the eye what may be.
"I suppose I must go down there," he said to himself, keeping a
meditative watch on the postscript, as if it possessed the capability of
slipping away and deceiving him. "Does she mean that Cornelia sees too
much of this man Barrett? or, what does she mean?" And now he saw
meanings in the simple passages, and none at all in the intricate ones;
and the double-meanings were monsters that ate one another up till
nothing remained of them. In the end, however, he made a wrathful guess
and came to a resolution, which brought him to the door of the house next
day at noon. He took some pains in noting the exact spot where he had
last seen Emilia half in moonlight, and then dismissed her image
peremptorily. The house was apparently empty. Gainsford, the footman,
gave information that he thought the ladies were upstairs, but did not
volunteer to send a maid to them. He stood in deferential footman's
attitude, with the aspect of a dog who would laugh if he could, but being
a footman out of his natural element, cannot.
"Here's a specimen of the new plan of treating servants!" thought
Wilfrid, turning away. "To act a farce for their benefit! That fellow
will explode when he gets downstairs. I see how it is. This woman,
Chump, is making them behave like schoolgirls."
He conceived the idea sharply, and forthwith, without any preparation, he
was ready to treat these high-aspiring ladies like schoolgirls. Nor was
there a lack of justification; for when they came down to his shouts in
the passage, they hushed, and held a finger aloft, and looked altogether
so unlike what they aimed at being, that Wilfrid's sense of mastery
became almost contempt.
"I know perfectly what you have to tell me," he said. "Mrs. Chump is
here, you have quarrelled with her, and she has shut her door, and you
have shut yours. It's quite intelligible and full of dignity. I really
can't smother my voice in consequence."
He laughed with unnecessary abandonment. The sensitive young women
wanted no other schooling to recover themselves. In a moment they were
seen leaning back and contemplating him amusedly, as if he had been the
comic spectacle, and were laughing for a wager. There are few things so
sour as the swallowing of one's own forced laugh. Wilfrid got it down,
and commenced a lecture to fill the awkward pause. His sisters
maintained the opera-stall posture of languid attention, contesting his
phrases simply with their eyebrows, and smiling. He was no match for
them while they chose to be silent: and indeed if the business of life
were conducted in dumb show, women would beat men hollow. They posture
admirably. In dumb show they are equally good for attack and defence.
But this is not the case in speech. So, when Arabella explained that
their hope was to see Mrs. Chump go that day, owing to the rigorous
exclusion of all amusement and the outer world from the house, Wilfrid
regained his superior footing and made his lecture tell. In the middle
of it, there rang a cry from the doorway that astonished even him, it was
so powerfully Irish.
"The lady you have called down is here," said Arabella's cold glance, in
answer to his.
They sat with folded hands while Wilfrid turned to Mrs. Chump, who
advanced, a shock of blue satin to the eye, crying, on a jump: "Is ut Mr.
"It's I, ma'am." Wilfrid bowed, and the censorious ladies could not deny
that, his style was good, if his object was to be familiar. And if that
was his object, he was paid for it. A great thick kiss was planted on
his cheek, with the motto: "Harm to them that thinks ut."
Wilfrid bore the salute like a man who presumes that he is flattered.
"And it's you!" said Mrs. Chump. "I was just off. I'm packed, and
bonnutted, and ready for a start; becas, my dear, where there's none but
women, I don't think it natural to stop. You're splendud! How a little
fella like Pole could go and be father to such a mighty big son, with
your bit of moustache and your blue eyes! Are they blue or a bit of grey
in 'em?" Mrs. Chump peered closely. "They're kill'n', let their colour
be annyhow. And I that knew ye when ye were no bigger than my garter!
Oh, sir! don't talk of ut; I'll be thinkin', of my coffin. Ye're glad
to see me? Say, yes. Do!"
"Very glad," quoth Wilfrid.
"Upon your honour, now?"
"Upon my honour!"
"My dears" (Mrs. Chump turned to the ladies), "I'll stop; and just thank
your brother for't, though you can't help being garls."
Reduced once more to demonstrate like schoolgirls by this woman, the
ladies rose together, and were retiring, when Mrs. Chump swung round and
caught Arabella's hand. "See heer," she motioned to Wilfrid. Arabella
made a bitter effort to disengage herself. "See, now! It's jeal'sy of
me, Mr. Wilfrud, becas I'm a widde and just an abom'nation to garls, poor
darlin's! And twenty shindies per dime we've been havin', and me such a
placable body, if ye'll onnly let m' explode. I'm all powder, avery bit!
and might ha' been christened Saltpetre, if born a boy. She hasn't so
much as a shot to kill a goose, says Chump, poor fella! But he went,
annyway. I must kiss somebody when I talk of 'm. Mr. Wilfrud, I'll take
the girls, and entitle myself to you."
Arabella was the first victim. Her remonstrance was inarticulate.
Cornelia's "Madam!" was smothered. Adela behaved better, being more
consciously under Wilfrid's eye; she prepared her pocket-handkerchief,
received the salute, and deliberately effaced it.
"There!" said Mrs. Chump; "duty to begin with. And now for you, Mr.
The ladies escaped. Their misery could not be conveyed to the mind. The
woman was like a demon come among them. They felt chiefly degraded, not
by her vulgarity, but by their inability to cope with it, and by the
consequent sickening sense of animal inefficiency--the block that was put
to all imaginative delight in the golden hazy future they figured for
themselves, and which was their wine of life. An intellectual adversary
they could have combated; this huge brogue-burring engine quite
overwhelmed them. Wilfrid's worse than shameful behaviour was a common
rallying-point; and yet, so absolutely critical were they by nature,
their blame of him was held mentally in restraint by the superior ease of
his manner as contrasted with their own lamentably silly awkwardness.
Highly civilized natures do sometimes, and keen wits must always, feel
dissatisfied when they are not on the laughing side: their dread of
laughter is an instinctive respect for it.
Dinner brought them all together again. Wilfrid took his father's seat,
facing his Aunt Lupin, and increased the distress of his sisters by his
observance of every duty of a host to the dreadful intruder, whom he thus
established among them. He was incomprehensible. His visit to Stornley
had wrought in him a total change. He used to like being petted, and
would regard everything as right that his sisters did, before he went
there; and was a languid, long-legged, indifferent cavalier, representing
men to them: things made to be managed, snubbed, admired, but always
virtually subservient and in the background. Now, without perceptible
gradation, his superiority was suddenly manifest; so that, irritated and
apprehensive as they were, they could not, by the aid of any of their
intricate mental machinery, look down on him. They tried to; they tried
hard to think him despicable as well as treacherous. His style was too
good. When he informed Mrs. Chump that he had hired a yacht for the
season, and added, after enlarging on the merits of the vessel, "I am
under your orders," his sisters were as creatures cut in twain--one half
abominating his conduct, the other approving his style. The bow, the
smile, were perfect. The ladies had to make an effort to recover their
"Oh!" cried Mrs. Chump; "and if you've got a yacht, Mr. Wilfrud, won't ye
have a great parcel o' the arr'stocracy on board?"
"You may spy a title by the aid of a telescope," said Wilfrid.
"And I'm to come, I am?"
"Are you not elected captain?"
"Oh, if ye've got lords and real ladies on board, I'll come, be sure of
ut! I'll be as sick as a cat, I will. But, I'll come, if it's the rroon
of my stomach. I'd say to Chump, "Oh, if ye'd only been born a lord, or
would just get yourself struck a knight on one o' your shoulders,--oh,
Chump!" I'd say, 'it wouldn't be necessary to be rememberin' always the
words of the cerr'mony about lovin' and honourin' and obeyin' of a little
whistle of a fella like you." Poor lad! he couldn't stop for his luck!
Did ye ask me to take wine, Mr. Wilfrud? I'll be cryin', else, as a
widde should, ye know!"
Frequent administrations of wine arrested the tears of Mrs. Chump, until
it is possible that the fulness of many a checked flow caused her to
redden and talk slightly at random. At the first mention of their
father's name, the ladies went out from the room. It was foolish, for
they might have watched the effect of certain vinous innuendoes addressed
to Wilfrid's apprehensiveness; but they were weakened and humbled, and
everything they did was foolish. From the fact that they offended their
keen critical taste, moreover, they were targets to the shaft that wounds
more fatally than all. No ridicule knocks the strength out of us so
thoroughly as our own.
Whether or not he guessed their condition favourable for his plans,
Wilfrid did not give them time to call back their scattered powers. At
the hour of eleven he sent for Arabella to come to him in the library.
The council upstairs permitted Arabella to go, on the understanding that
she was prepared for hostilities, and ready to tear the mask from
He commenced, without a shadow of circumlocution, and in a matter-of-fact
way, as if all respect for the peculiar genius of the house of Pole had
vanished: "I sent for you to talk a word or two about this woman, who, I
see, troubles you a little. I'm sorry she's in the house."
"Indeed!" said Arabella.
"I'm sorry she's in the house, not for my sake, but for yours, since the
proximity does not seem to... I needn't explain. It comes of your
eternal consultations. You are the eldest. Why not act according to
your judgement, which is generally sound? You listen to Adela, young as
she is; or a look of Cornelia's leads you. The result is the sort of
scene I saw this afternoon. I confess it has changed my opinion of you;
it has, I grieve to say it. This woman is your father's guest; you can't
hurt her so much as you hurt him, if you misbehave to her. You can't
openly object to her and not cast a slur upon him. There is the whole
case. He has insisted, and you must submit. You should have fought the
battle before she came."
"She is here, owing to a miserable misconception," said Arabella.
"Ah! she is here, however. That is the essential, as your old governess
Madame Timpan would have said."
"Nor can a protest against coarseness be sweepingly interpreted as a
piece of unfilial behaviour," said Arabella.
"She is coarse," Wilfrid nodded his head. "There are some forms of
coarseness which dowagers would call it coarseness to notice.
"Not if you find it locked up in the house with you--not if you suffer
under a constant repulsion. Pray, do not use these phrases to me,
Wilfrid. An accusation of coarseness cannot touch us."
"No, certainly," assented Wilfrid. "And you have a right to protest. I
disapprove the form of your protest nothing more. A schoolgirl's...but
you complain of the use of comparisons."
"I complain, Wilfrid, of your want of sympathy."
"That for two or three weeks you must hear a brogue at your elbow? The
poor creature is not so bad; she is good-hearted. It's hard that you
should have to bear with her for that time and receive nothing better
than Besworth as your reward."
"Very; seeing that we endure the evil and decline the sop with it."
"We have renounced Besworth."
"Have you! And did this renunciation make you all sit on the edge of
your chairs, this afternoon, as if Edward Buxley had arranged you? You
give up Besworth? I'm afraid it's too late."
"Oh, Wilfrid! can you be ignorant that something more is involved in the
purchase of Besworth?"
Arabella gazed at him with distressful eagerness, as one who believes in
the lingering of a vestige of candour.
"Do you mean that my father may wish to give this woman his name?" said
Wilfrid coolly. "You have sense enough to know that if you make his home
disagreeable, you are taking the right method to drive him into such a
course. Ha! I don't think it's to be feared, unless you pursue these
consultations. And let me say, for my part, we have gone too far about
Besworth, and can't recede."
"I have given out everywhere that the place is ours. I did so almost at
your instigation. Besworth was nothing to me till you cried it up. And
now I won't detain you. I know I can rely on your sense, if you will
rely on it. Good night, Bella."
As she was going a faint spark of courage revived Arabella's wits.
Seeing that she was now ready to speak, he opened the door wide, and she
kissed him and went forth, feeling driven.
But while Arabella was attempting to give a definite version of the
interview to her sisters, a message came requesting Adela to descend.
The ladies did not allow her to depart until two or three ingenuous
exclamations from her made them share her curiosity.
"Ah?" Wilfrid caught her hand as she came in. "No, I don't intend to let
it go. You may be a fine lady, but you're a rogue, you know, and a
charming one, as I hear a friend of mine has been saying. Shall I call
him out? Shall I fight him with pistols, or swords, and leave him
bleeding on the ground, because he thinks you a pretty rogue?"
Adela struggled against the blandishment of this old familiar style of
converse--part fun, part flattery--dismissed since the great idea had
"Please tell me what you called me down for, dear?"
"To give you a lesson in sitting on chairs. 'Adela, or the Puritan
sister,' thus: you sit on the extremest edge, and your eyes peruse the
"Oh! will you ever forget that perfectly ridiculous scene?" Adela cried
She was led by easy stages to talk of Besworth.
"Understand," said Wilfrid, "that I am indifferent about it. The idea
sprang from you--I mean from my pretty sister Adela, who is President of
the Council of Three. I hold that young woman responsible for all that
they do. Am I wrong? Oh, very well. You suggested Besworth, at all
events. And--if we quarrel, I shall cut off one of your curls."
"We never will quarrel, my darling," quoth Adela softly. "Unless--" she
Wilfrid kissed her forehead.
"Well, then, you must tell me who it is that talks of me in that
objectionable manner; I do not like it."
"Shall I convey that intimation?"
"I choose to ask, simply that I may defend myself."
"I choose to keep him buried, then, simply to save his life."
Adela made a mouth, and Wilfrid went on: "By the way, I want you to know
Lady Charlotte; you will take to one another. She likes you, already--
says you want dash; but on that point there may be two opinions."
"If dash," said Adela, quite beguiled, "--that is, dash!--what does it
mean? But, if Lady Charlotte means by dash--am I really wanting in it?
I should define it, the quality of being openly natural without
vulgarity; and surely...!"
"Then you two differ a little, and must meet and settle your dispute.
You don't differ about Besworth: or, didn't. I never saw a woman so much
in love with a place as she is."
"A place?" emphasized Adela.
"Don't be too arch. I comprehend. She won't take me minus Besworth, you
may be sure."
"Did you, Wilfrid!--but you did not--offer yourself as owner of
Wilfrid kept his eyes slanting on the floor.
"Now I see why you should still wish it," continued Adela. "Perhaps you
don't know the reason which makes it impossible, or I would say--Bacchus!
it must be compassed. You remember your old schoolboy oath which you
taught me? We used to swear always, by Bacchus!"
Adela laughed and blushed, like one who petitions pardon for this her
utmost sin, that is not regretted as it should be.
"Mrs. Chump again, isn't it?" said Wilfrid. "Pole would be a preferable
name. If she has the ambition, it elevates her. And it would be rather
amusing to see the dear old boy in love."
Adela gave her under-lip a distressful bite.
"Why do you, Wilfrid--why treat such matters with levity?"
"Levity? I am the last to treat ninety thousand pounds with levity."
"Has she so much?" Adela glanced at him.
"She will be snapped up by some poor nobleman. If I take her down to the
yacht, one of Lady Charlotte's brothers or uncles will bite; to a
"It would be an excellent idea to take her!" cried Adela.
"Excellent! and I'll do it, if you like."
"Could you bear the reflex of the woman?"
"Don't you know that I am not in the habit of sitting on the extreme
Adela started, breathing piteously: "Wilfrid, dear! you want something of
me--what is it?"
"Simply that you should behave civilly to your father's guest."
"I had a fear, dear; but I think too well of you to entertain it for a
moment. If civility is to win Besworth for you, there is my hand."
"Be civil--that's all," said Wilfrid, pressing the hand given. "These
consultations of yours and acting in concert--one tongue for three women-
-are a sort of missish, unripe nonsense, that one sees only in bourgeoise
girls--eh? Give it up. Lady Charlotte hit on it at a glance."
"And I, my chameleon brother, will return her the compliment, some day,"
Adela said to herself, as she hurried back to her sisters, bearing a
message for Cornelia. This lady required strong persuasion. A word from
Adela: "He will think you have some good reason to deny him a private
interview," sent her straight to the stairs.
Wilfrid was walking up and down, with his arms folded and his brows bent.
Cornelia stood in the doorway.
"You desire to speak to me, Wilfrid? And in private?"
"I didn't wish to congratulate you publicly, that's all. I know it's
rather against your taste. We'll shut the door, and sit down, if you
don't mind. Yes, I congratulate you with all my heart," he said, placing
a chair for Cornelia.
"May I ask, wherefore?"
"You don't think marriage a matter for congratulation?"
"Sometimes: as the case may be."
"Well, it's not marriage yet. I congratulate you on your offer."
"I thank you."
"You accept it, of course."
"I reject it, certainly."
After this preliminary passage, Wilfrid remained silent long enough for
Cornelia to feel uneasy.
"I want you to congratulate me also," he recommenced. "We poor fellows
don't have offers, you know. To be frank, I think Lady Charlotte
Chillingworth will have me, if--She's awfully fond of Besworth, and I
need not tell you that as she has position in the world, I ought to show
something in return. When you wrote about Besworth, I knew it was as
good as decided. I told her so and--Well, I fancy there's that sort of
understanding between us. She will have me when... You know how the
poorer members of the aristocracy are situated. Her father's a peer, and
has a little influence. He might push me; but she is one of a large
family; she has nothing. I am certain you will not judge of her as
common people might. She does me a particular honour."
"Is she not much older than you, Wilfrid?" said Cornelia.
"Or, in other words," he added, "is she not a very mercenary person?"
"That, I did not even imply."
"Honestly, was it not in your head?"
"Now you put it so plainly, I do say, it strikes me disagreeably; I have
heard of nothing like it."
"Do you think it unreasonable that I should marry into a noble family?"
"That is, assuredly, not my meaning."
"Nevertheless, you are, on the whole, in favour of beggarly alliances."
"Why do you reject this offer that has been made to you?"
Cornelia flushed and trembled; the traitorous feint had thrown her off
her guard. She said, faltering:
"Would you have me marry one I do not love?"
"Well, well!" He drew back. "You are going to do your best to stop the
purchase of Besworth?"
"No; I am quiescent."
"Though I tell you how deeply it concerns me!"
"Wilfrid, my own brother!" (Cornelia flung herself before him, catching
his hand,) "I wish you to be loved, first of all. Think of the horror of
a loveless marriage, however gilded! Does a woman make stipulations ere
she gives her hand? Does not love seek to give, to bestow? I wish you
to marry well, but chiefly that you should be loved."
Wilfrid pressed her head in both his hands.
"I never saw you look so handsome," he said. "You've got back your old
trick of blushing, too! Why do you tremble? By the way, you seem to
have been learning a great deal about that business, lately?"
A river of blood overflowed her fair cheeks.
"How long has this been?" his voice came to her.
There was no escape. She was at his knees, and must look up, or confess
"Come, my dearest girl!" Wilfrid soothed her. "I can help you, and will,
if you'll take advice. I've always known your heart was generous and
tender, under that ice you wear so well. How long has this been going
"You want plain speech?"
She wanted that still less.
"We'll call it 'this,'" he said. "I have heard of it, guessed it, and
now see it. How far have you pledged yourself in 'this?'"
Wilfrid held silent. Finding that her echo was not accepted as an
answer, she moaned his name lovingly. It touched his heart, where a
great susceptibility to passion lay. As if the ghost of Emilia were
about him, he kissed his sister's hand, and could not go on with his
His next question was dew of relief to her.
"Has your Emilia been quite happy, of late?"
"Oh, quite, dear! very. And sings with more fire."
"She does not romp. Her eyes are full and bright."
"She's satisfied with everything here?"
"How could she be otherwise?"
"Yes, yes! You weren't severe on her for that escapade--I mean, when she
ran away from Lady Gosstre's?"
"We scarcely alluded to the subject, or permitted her to."
"Or permitted her to!" Wilfrid echoed, with a grimace. "And she's
"I mean, she doesn't mope?"
"Why should she?"
Cornelia had been too hard-pressed to have suspicion the questions were
an immense relief.
Wilfrid mused gloomily. Cornelia spoke further of Emilia, and her
delight in the visits of Mr. Powys, who spent hours with her, like a man
fascinated. She flowed on, little aware that she was fast restoring to
Wilfrid all his judicial severity.
He said, at last: "I suppose there's no engagement existing?"
"You have not, what they call, plighted your troth to the man?"
Cornelia struggled for evasion. She recognized the fruitlessness of the
effort, and abandoning it stood up.
"I am engaged to no one."
"Well, I should hope not," said Wilfrid. "An engagement might be
"Not by me."
"It might, is all that I say. A romantic sentiment is tougher. Now, I
have been straightforward with you: will you be with me? I shall not
hurt the man, or wound his feelings."
He paused; but it was to find that no admission of the truth, save what
oozed out in absence of speech, was to be expected. She seemed, after
the fashion of women, to have got accustomed to the new atmosphere into
which he had dragged her, without any conception of a forward movement.
"I see I must explain to you how we are situated," said Wilfrid. "We are
in a serious plight. You should be civil to this woman for several
reasons--for your father's sake and your own. She is very rich."
"Well, I find money well thought of everywhere."
"Has your late school been good for you?"
"This woman, I repeat, is rich, and we want money. Oh! not the ordinary
notion of wanting money, but the more we have the more power we have.
Our position depends on it."
"Yes, if we can be tempted to think so," flashed Cornelia.
"Our position depends on it. If you posture, and are poor, you provoke
ridicule: and to think of scorning money, is a piece of folly no girls of
condition are guilty of. Now, you know I am fond of you; so I'll tell
you this: you have a chance; don't miss it. Something unpleasant is
threatening; but you may escape it. It would be madness to throw such a
chance away, and it is your duty to take advantage of it. What is there
plainer? You are engaged to no one."
Cornelia came timidly close to him. "Pray, be explicit!"
"Yes; but what--there is something to escape from."
Wilfrid deliberately replied: "There is no doubt of the Pater's
intentions with regard to Mrs. Chump."
"He means to marry her."
"And you, Wilfrid?"
"Well, of course, he cuts me out. There--there! forgive me: but what can
"Do you conspire--Wilfrid, is it possible?--are you an accomplice in the
degradation of our house?"
Cornelia had regained her courage, perforce of wrath. Wilfrid's singular
grey eyes shot an odd look at her. He is to be excused for not
perceiving the grandeur of the structure menaced; for it was invisible to
all the world, though a real fabric.
"If Mrs. Chump were poor, I should think the Pater demented," he said.
"As it is--! well, as it is, there's grist to the mill, wind to the
organ. You must be aware" (and he leaned over to her with his most
suspicious gentleness of tone) "you are aware that all organs must be
fed; but you will make a terrible mistake if you suppose for a moment
that the human organ requires the same sort of feeding as the one in
"Good-night," said Cornelia, closing her lips, as if for good.
Wilfrid pressed her hand. As she was going, the springs of kindness in
his heart caused him to say "Forgive me, if I seemed rough."
"Yes, dear Wilfrid; even brutality, rather than your exultation over the
wreck of what was noble in you."
With which phrase Cornelia swept from the room.
"Seen Wilfrid?" was Mr. Pole's first cheery call to his daughters, on his
return. An answer on that head did not seem to be required by him, for
he went on: "Ah the boy's improved. That place over there, Stornley,
does him as much good as the Army did, as to setting him up, you know;
common sense, and a ready way of speaking and thinking. He sees a thing
now. Well, Martha, what do you,--eh? what's your opinion?"
Mrs. Chump was addressed. "Pole," she said, fanning her cheek with
vehement languor, "don't ask me! my heart's gone to the young fella."
In pursuance of a determination to which the ladies of Brookfield had
come, Adela, following her sprightly fancy, now gave the lead in
affability toward Mrs. Chump.
"Has the conqueror run away with it to bury it?" she laughed.
"Och! won't he know what it is to be a widde!" cried Mrs. Chump. "A
widde's heart takes aim and flies straight as a bullet; and the hearts o'
you garls, they're like whiffs o' tobacca, curlin' and wrigglin' and not
knowin' where they're goin'. Marry 'em, Pole! marry 'em!" Mrs. Chump
gesticulated, with two dangling hands. "They're nice garls; but, lord!
they naver see a man, and they're stuputly contented, and want to remain
garls; and, don't ye see, it was naver meant to be? Says I to Mr.
Wilfrud (and he agreed with me), ye might say, nice sour grapes, as well
as nice garls, if the creatures think o' stoppin' where they are, and
what they are. It's horrud; and, upon my honour, my heart aches for 'm!"
Mr. Pole threw an uneasy side-glance of inquisition at his daughters, to
mark how they bore this unaccustomed language, and haply intercede
between the unworthy woman and their judgement of her. But the ladies
merely smiled. Placidly triumphant in its endurance, the smile said: "We
decline even to feel such a martyrdom as this."
"Well, you know, Martha; I," he said, "I--no father could wish--eh? if
you could manage to persuade them not to be so fond of me. They must
think of their future, of course. They won't always have a home--a
father, a father, I mean. God grant they may never want!--eh? the
dinner; boh! let's in to dinner. Ma'am!"
He bowed an arm to Mrs. Chump, who took it, with a scared look at him:
"Why, if ye haven't got a tear in your eye, Pole?"
"Nonsense, nonsense," quoth he, bowing another arm to Adela.
"Papa, I'm not to be winked at," said she, accepting convoy; and there
was some laughter, all about nothing, as they went in to dinner.
The ladies were studiously forbearing in their treatment of Mrs. Chump.
Women are wonderfully quick scholars under ridicule, though it half-kills
them. Wilfrid's theory had impressed the superior grace of civility upon
their minds, and, now that they practised it, they were pleased with the
contrast they presented. Not the less were they maturing a serious
resolve. The suspicion that their father had secret vile designs in
relation to Mrs. Chump, they kept in the background. It was enough for
them that she was to be a visitor, and would thus destroy the great
circle they had projected. To accept her in the circle, they felt, was
out of the question. Wilfrid's plain-speaking broke up the air-bubble,
which they had so carefully blown, and in which they had embarked all
their young hopes. They had as much as given one another a pledge that
their home likewise should be broken up.
"Are you not almost too severe a student?" Mr. Barrett happened to say to
Cornelia, the day after Wilfrid had worried her.
"Do I show the signs?" she replied.
"By no means. But last night, was it not your light that was not
extinguished till morning?"
"We soon have morning now," said Cornelia; and her face was pale as the
first hour of the dawn. "Are you not a late foot-farer, I may ask in
"Mere restlessness. I have no appetite for study. I took the liberty to
cross the park from the wood, and saw you--at least I guessed it your
light, and then I met your brother."
"Yes? you met him?"
Mr. Barrett gestured an affirmative.
"And he--did he speak?"
"He nodded. He was in some haste."
"But, then, you did not go to bed at all that night? It is almost my
turn to be lecturer, if I might expect to be listened to."
"Do you not know--or am I constitutionally different from others?" Mr.
Barrett resumed: "I can't be alone in feeling that there are certain
times and periods when what I would like to call poisonous influences are
abroad, that touch my fate in the days to come. I know I am helpless. I
can only wander up and down."
"That sounds like a creed of fatalism."
"It is not a creed; it is a matter of nerves. A creed has its 'kismet.'
The nerves are wild horses."
"It is something to be fought against," said Cornelia admonishingly.
"Is it something to be distrusted?"
"I should say, yes."
"Then I was wrong?"
He stooped eagerly, in his temperate way, to catch sight of her answering
face. Cornelia's quick cheeks took fire. She fenced with a question of
two, and stood in a tremble, marvelling at his intuition. For possibly,
at that moment when he stood watching her window-light (ah, poor heart!)
she was half-pledging her word to her sisters (in a whirl of wrath at
Wilfrid, herself, and the world), that she would take the lead in
breaking up Brookfield.
An event occurred that hurried them on. They received a visit from their
mother's brother, John Pierson, a Colonel of Uhlans, in the Imperial-
Royal service. He had rarely been in communication with them; his visit
was unexpected. His leave of absence from his quarters in Italy was not
longer than a month, and he was on his way to Ireland, to settle family
business; but he called, as he said, to make acquaintance with his
nieces. The ladies soon discovered, in spite of his foreign-cut chin and
pronounced military habit of speech and bearing, that he was at heart
fervidly British. His age was about fifty: a man of great force of
shoulder and potent length of arm, courteous and well-bred in manner, he
was altogether what is called a model of a cavalry officer. Colonel
Pierson paid very little attention to his brother-in-law, but the ladies
were evidently much to his taste; and when he kissed Cornelia's hand, his
eyes grew soft, as at a recollection.
"You are what your mother once promised to be," he said. To her he gave
that mother's portrait, taking it solemnly from his breast-pocket, and
attentively contemplating it before it left his hands. The ladies
pressed him for a thousand details of their mama's youthful life; they
found it a strange consolation to talk of her and image her like
Cornelia. The foreign halo about the Colonel had an effect on them that
was almost like what nobility produces; and by degrees they heated their
minds to conceive that they were consenting to an outrage on that
mother's memory, in countenancing Mrs. Chump's transparent ambition to
take her place, as they did by staying in the house with the woman. The
colonel's few expressive glances at Mrs. Chump, and Mrs. Chump's
behaviour before the colonel, touched them with intense distaste for
their present surly aspect of life. Civilized little people are moved to
fulfil their destinies and to write their histories as much by distaste
as by appetite. This fresh sentimental emotion, which led them to
glorify their mother's image in their hearts, heightened and gave an acid
edge to their distaste for the think they saw. Nor was it wonderful that
Cornelia, said to be so like that mother, should think herself bound to
accept the office of taking the initiative in a practical protest against
the desecration of the name her mother had borne. At times, I see that
sentiment approaches too near the Holy of earthly Holies for us to laugh
at it; it has too much truth in it to be denounced--nay, if we are not
alert and quick of wit, we shall be deceived by it, and wonder in the
end, as the fool does, why heaven struck that final blow; concluding that
it was but another whimsy of the Gods. The ladies prayed to their
mother. They were indeed suffering vile torture. Ethereal eyes might
pardon the unconscious jugglery which made their hearts cry out to her
that the step they were about to take was to save her children from
seeming to acquiesce in a dishonour to her memory. Some such words
Adela's tongue did not shrink from; and as it is a common habit for us to
give to the objects we mentally address just as much brain as is wanted
for the occasion, she is not to be held singular.
Colonel Pierson promised to stay a week on his return from Ireland.
"Will that person be here?" he designated Mrs. Chump; who, among other
things, had reproached him for fighting with foreign steel and wearing
any uniform but the red.
The ladies and Colonel Pierson were soon of one mind in relation to Mrs.
Chump. Certain salient quiet remarks dropped by him were cherished after
his departure; they were half-willing to think that he had been directed
to come to them, bearer of a message from a heavenly world to urge them
to action. They had need of a spiritual exaltation, to relieve them from
the palpable depression caused by the weight of Mrs. Chump. They
encouraged one another with exclamations on the oddness of a visit from
their mother's brother, at such a time of tribulation, indecision, and
Mrs. Chump remained on the field. When Adela begged her papa to tell her
how long the lady was to stay, he replied: "Eh? By the way, I haven't
asked her;" and retreated from this almost too obvious piece of
simplicity, with, "I want you to know her: I want you to like her--want
you to get to understand her. Won't talk about her going just yet."
If they could have seen a limit to that wholesale slaughter of the Nice
Feelings, they might have summoned patience to avoid the desperate step
to immediate relief: but they saw none. Their father's quaint kindness
and Wilfrid's treachery had fixed her there, perhaps for good. The
choice was, to let London come and see them dragged through the mire by
the monstrous woman, or to seek new homes. London, they contended, could
not further be put off, and would come, especially now that the season
was dying. After all, their parting from one another was the bitterest
thing to bear, and as each seemed content to endure it for the good of
all, and as, properly considered, they did not bury their ambition by
separating, they said farewell to the young delicious dawn of it. By
means of Fine Shades it was understood that Brookfield was to be
abandoned. Not one direct word was uttered. There were expressions of
regret that the village children of Ipley would miss the supervizing eyes
that had watched over them--perchance! at any rate, would lose them. All
went on in the household as before, and would have continued so, but that
they had a chief among them. This was Adela Pole, who found her powers
with the occasion.
Adela thought decisively: "People never move unless they are pushed."
And when you have got them to move ever so little, then propel; but by no
means expect that a movement on their part means progression. Without
propulsion nothing results. Adela saw what Cornelia meant to do. It was
not to fly to Sir Twickenham, but to dismiss Mr. Barrett. Arabella
consented to write to Edward Buxley, but would not speak of old days, and
barely alluded to a misunderstanding; though if she loved one man, this
was he. Adela was disengaged. She had moreover to do penance, for a
wrong committed; and just as children will pinch themselves, pleased up
to the verge of unendurable pain, so do sentimentalists find a keen
relish in performing secret penance for self-accused offences. Thus they
become righteous to their own hearts, and evade, as they hope, the public
scourge. The wrong committed was (translated out of Fine Shades), that
she had made love to her sister's lover. In the original tongue--she had
innocently played with the sacred fire of a strange affection; a child in
the temple!--Our penitent child took a keen pinching pleasure in
dictating words for Arabella to employ toward Edward.
And then, recurring to her interview with Wilfrid, it struck her:
"Suppose that, after all, Money!..." Yes, Mammon has acted Hymen before
now. Nothing else explained Mrs. Chump; so she thought, in one clear
glimpse. Inveterate sentimental habit smeared the picture with two
exclamations--"Impossible!" and "Papa!" I desire it to be credited that
these simple interjections absolutely obscured her judgement. Little
people think either what they are made to think, or what they choose to
think; and the education of girls is to make them believe that facts are
their enemies-a naughty spying race, upon whom the dogs of Pudeur are to
be loosed, if they surprise them without note of warning. Adela silenced
her suspicion, easily enough; but this did not prevent her taking a
measure to satisfy it. Petting her papa one evening, she suddenly asked
him for ninety pounds.
"Ninety!" said Mr. Pole, taking a sharp breath. He was as composed as
"Is that too much, papa, darling?"
"Not if you want it--not if you want it, of course not."
"You seemed astonished."
"The sum! it's an odd sum for a girl to want. Ten, twenty, fifty--a
hundred; but you never hear of ninety, never! unless it's to pay a debt;
and I have all the bills, or your aunt has them."
"Well, papa, if it excites you, I will do without it. It is for a
Mr. Pole fumbled in his pocket, muttering, "No money here--cheque-book in
town. I'll give it you," he said aloud, "to-morrow morning--morrow
"That will do, papa;" and Adela relieved him immediately by shooting far
away from the topic.
The ladies retired early to their hall of council in the bedchamber of
Arabella, and some time after midnight Cornelia went to her room; but she
could not sleep. She affected, in her restlessness, to think that her
spirits required an intellectual sedative, so she went down to the
library for a book; where she skimmed many--a fashion that may be
recommended, for assisting us to a sense of sovereign superiority to
authors, and also of serene contempt for all mental difficulties.
Fortified in this way, Cornelia took a Plutarch and an Encyclopaedia
under her arm, to return to her room. But one volume fell, and as she
stooped to recover it, her candle shared its fate. She had to find her
way back in the dark. On the landing of the stairs, she fancied that she
heard a step and a breath. The lady was of unshaken nerves. She moved
on steadily, her hand stretched out a little before her. What it touched
was long in travelling to her brain; but when her paralyzed heart beat
again, she knew that her hand clasped another hand. Her nervous horror
calmed as the feeling came to her of the palpable weakness of the hand.
"Who are you?" she asked. Some hoarse answer struck her ear. She asked
again, making her voice distincter. The hand now returned her pressure
with force. She could feel that the person, whoever it was, stood
collecting strength to speak. Then the words came--
"What do you mean by imitating that woman's brogue?"
"Papa!" said Cornelia.
"Why do you talk Irish in the dark? There, goodnight. I've just come up
from the library; my candle dropped. I shouldn't have been frightened,
but you talked with such a twang."
"But I have just come from the library myself," said Cornelia.
"I mean from the dining-room," her father corrected himself hastily.
"I can't sit in the library; shall have it altered--full of draughts.
Don't you think so, my dear? Good-night. What's this in your arm?
Books! Ah, you study! I can get a light for myself."
The dialogue was sustained in the hard-whispered tones prescribed by
darkness. Cornelia kissed her father's forehead, and they parted.
At breakfast in the morning it was the habit of all the ladies to
assemble, partly to countenance the decency of matin-prayers, and also to
give the head of the household their dutiful society till business called
him away. Adela, in earlier days, had maintained that early rising was
not fashionable; but she soon grasped the idea that a great rivalry with
Fashion, in minor matters (where the support of the satirist might be
counted on), was the proper policy of Brookfield. Mrs. Chump was given
to be extremely fashionable in her hours, and began her Brookfield career
by coming downstairs at ten and eleven o'clock, when she found a desolate
table, well stocked indeed, but without any of the exuberant smiles of
nourishment which a morning repast should wear.
"You are a Protestant, ma'am, are you not?" Adela mildly questioned,
after informing her that she missed family prayer by her late descent.
Mrs. Chump assured her that she was a firm Protestant, and liked to see
faces at the breakfast-table. The poor woman was reduced to submit to
the rigour of the hour, coming down flustered, and endeavouring to look
devout, while many uncertainties as to the condition of the hooks of her
attire distracted her mind and fingers. On one occasion, Gainsford, the
footman, had been seen with his eye on her; and while Mr. Pole read of
sacred things, at a pace composed of slow march and amble, this unhappy
man was heard struggling to keep under and extinguish a devil of
laughter, by which his human weakness was shaken: He retired from the
room with the speed of a voyager about to pay tribute on high seas. Mr.
Pole cast a pregnant look at the servants' row as he closed the book; but
the expression of his daughters' faces positively signified that no
remark was to be made, and he contained himself. Later, the ladies told
him that Gainsford had done no worse than any uneducated man would have
been guilty of doing. Mrs. Chump had, it appeared, a mother's feeling
for one flat curl on her rugged forehead, which was often fondly caressed
by her, for the sake of ascertaining its fixity. Doubts of the precision
of outline and general welfare of this curl, apparently, caused her to
straighten her back and furtively raise her head, with an easy upward
motion, as of a cork alighted in water, above the level of the looking-
glass on her left hand--an action she repeated, with a solemn aspect,
four times; at which point Gainsford gave way. The ladies accorded him
every extenuation for the offence. They themselves, but for the heroism
of exalted natures, must have succumbed to the gross temptation. "It is
difficult, dear papa, to bring one's mind to religious thoughts in her
company, even when she is quiescent," they said. Thus, by the prettiest
exercise of charity that can be conceived, they pleaded for the man
Gainsford, while they struck a blow at Mrs. Chump; and in performing one
of the virtues laid down by religion, proved their enemy to be hostile to
Mrs. Chump was this morning very late. The office of morning reader was
new to Mr. Pole, who had undertaken it, when first Squire of Brookfield,
at the dictate of the ladies his daughters; so that, waiting with the
book before him and his audience expectant, he lacked composure, spoke
irritably in an under-breath of 'that woman,' and asked twice whether she
was coming or not. At last the clump of her feet was heard approaching.
Mr. Pole commenced reading the instant she opened the door. She stood
there, with a face like a petrified Irish outcry. An imploring sound of
"Pole! Pole!" issued from her. Then she caught up one hand to her mouth,
and rolled her head, in evident anguish at the necessitated silence. A
convulsion passed along the row of maids, two of whom dipped to their
aprons; but the ladies gazed with a sad consciousness of wicked glee at
the disgust she was exciting in the bosom of their father.
"Will you shut the door?" Mr. Pole sternly addressed Mrs. Chump, at the
conclusion of the first prayer.
"Pole! ye know that money ye gave me in notes? I must speak, Pole!"
"Shut the door."
Mrs. Chump let go the door-handle with a moan. The door was closed by
Gainsford, now one of the gravest of footmen. A chair was placed for
her, and she sat down, desperately watching the reader for the fall of
his voice. The period was singularly protracted. The ladies turned to
one another, to question with an eyelid why it was that extra allowance
was given that morning. Mr. Pole was in a third prayer, stumbling on and
picking himself up, apparently unaware that he had passed the limit.
This continued until the series of ejaculations which accompanied him
waxed hotter--little muffled shrieks of: "Oh!--Deer--Oh, Lard!--When will
he stop? Oh, mercy! Och! And me burrstin' to speak!--Oh! what'll I do?
I can't keep 't in!--Pole! ye're kill'n me--Oh, deer! I'll be sayin'
somethin' to vex the prophets presently. Pole!"
If it was a race that he ran with Mrs. Chump, Mr. Pole was beaten. He
came to a sudden stop.
Mrs. Chump had become too deeply absorbed in her impatience to notice the
change in his tone; and when he said, "Now then, to breakfast, quick!"
she was pursuing her lamentable interjections. At sight of the servants
trooping forth, she jumped up and ran to the door.
"Ye don't go.--Pole, they're all here. And I've been robbed, I have.
Avery note I had from ye, Pole, all gone. And my purse left behind, like
the skin of a thing. Lord forbid I accuse annybody; but when I get up,
my first rush is to feel in my pocket. And, ask 'em!--If ye didn't keep
me so poor, Pole, they'd know I'm a generous woman, but I cann't bear to
be robbed. And pinmoney 's for spendin;' annybody'll tell you that. And
I ask ye t' examine 'em, Pole; for last night I counted my notes, wantin'
change, and I thought of a salmon I bought on the banks of the Suir to
make a present to Chump, which was our onnly visit to Waterford together:
for he naver went t' Ireland before or after--dyin' as he did! and it's
not his ingrat'tude, with his talk of a Severrn salmon-to the deuce with
'm! that makes me soft-poor fella!--I didn't mean to the deuce;--but
since he's gone, his widde's just unfit to bargain for a salmon at all,
and averybody robs her, and she's kept poor, and hatud!--D'ye heer, Pole?
I've lost my money, my money! and I will speak, and ye shann't interrupt
During the delivery of this charge against the household, Mr. Pole had
several times waved to the servants to begone; but as they had always the
option to misunderstand authoritative gestures, they preferred remaining,
and possibly he perceived that they might claim to do so under
"How can you bring this charge against the inmates of my house--eh? I
guarantee the honesty of all who serve me. Martha! you must be mad,
mad!--Money? why, you never have money; you waste it if you do."
"Not money, Pole? Oh! and why? Becas ye keep me low o' purpose, till I
cringe like a slut o' the scullery, and cry out for halfpence. But, oh!
that seventy-five pounds in notes!"
Mr. Pole shook his head, as one who deals with a gross delusion: "I
remember nothing about it."
"Not about--?" Mrs. Chump dropped her chin. "Ye don't remember the
givin' of me just that sum of seventy-five, in eight notes, Pole?"
"Eh? I daresay I have given you the amount, one time or other. Now,
let's be quiet about it."
"Yesterday mornin', Pole! And the night I go to bed I count my money,
and, says I, I'll not lock ut up, for I'll onnly be unlockin' again to-
morrow; and doin' a thing and undoin' ut's a sign of a brain that's
addled--like yours, Pole, if ye say ye didn't go to give me the notes."
Mr. Pole frowned at her sagaciously. "Must change your diet, Martha!"
"My dite? And what's my dite to do with my money?"
"Who went into Mrs. Chump's bedchamber this morning?" asked Mr. Pole
A pretty little housemaid replied, with an indignant flush, that she was
the person. Mrs. Chump acknowledged to being awake when the shutters
were opened, and agreed that it was not possible her pockets could have
been rifled then.
"So, you see, Martha, you're talking nonsense," said Mr. Pole. "Do you
know the numbers of those notes?"
"The numbers at the sides, ye mean, Pole?"
"Ay, the numbers at the sides, if you like; the 21593, and so on?"
"The 21593! Oh! I can't remember such a lot as that, if ever I leave off
"There! you see, you're not fit to have money in your possession, Martha.
Everybody who has bank-notes looks at the numbers. You have a trick of
fancying all sorts of sums in your pocket; and when you don't find them
there, of course they're lost! Now, let's have some breakfast."
Arabella told the maids to go out. Mr. Pole turned to the breakfast-
table, rubbing his hands. Seeing herself and her case abandoned, Mrs.
Chump gave a deplorable shout. "Ye're crool! and young women that look
on at a fellow-woman's mis'ry. Oh! how can ye do ut! But soft hearts
can be the hardest. And all my seventy-five gone, gone! and no law out
of annybody. And no frightenin' of 'em off from doin' the like another
time! Oh, I will, I will have my money!"
"Tush! Come to breakfast, Martha," said Mr. Pole. "You shall have
money, if you want it; you have only to ask. Now, will you promise to be
quiet? and I'll give you this money--the amount you've been dreaming
about last night. I'll fetch it. Now, let us have no scenes. Dry your
Mr. Pole went to his private room, and returned just as Mrs. Chump had
got upon a succession of quieter sobs with each one of which she
addressed a pathetic roll of her eyes to the utterly unsympathetic ladies
"There, Martha; there's exactly the sum for you--free gift. Say thank
you, and eat a good breakfast to show your gratitude. Mind, you take
this money on condition that you let the servants know you made a
Mrs. Chump sighed heavily, crumpling the notes, that the crisp sweet
sound might solace her for the hard condition.
"And don't dream any more--not about money, I mean," said Mr: Pole.
"Oh! if I dream like that I'll be living double." Mrs. Chump put her
hand to the notes, and called him kind, and pitied him for being the
loser. The sight of a fresh sum in her possession intoxicated her. It
was but feebly that she regretted the loss to her Samuel Bolton Pole.
"Your memory's worth more than that!" she said as she filled her purse
with the notes. "Anyhow, now I can treat somebody," and she threw a wink
of promise at Adela. Adela's eyes took refuge with her papa, who leaned
over to her, and said: "You won't mind waiting till you see me again?
She's taken all I had." Adela nodded blankly, and the next moment, with
an angry glance toward Mrs. Chump, "Papa," said she, "if you wish to see
servants in the house on your return, you must yourself speak to them,
and tell them that we, their master and mistresses, do not regard them as
thieves." Out of this there came a quarrel as furious as the ladies
would permit it to be. For Mrs. Chump, though willing to condone the
offence for the sum she had received, stuck infamy upon the whole list of
them. "The Celtic nature," murmured Cornelia. And the ladies maintained
that their servants should be respected, at any cost. "You, ma'am," said
Arabella, with a clear look peculiar to her when vindictive--"you may
have a stain on your character, and you are not ruined by it. But these
"Ye dare to compar' me--!"
"Contrast you, ma'am."
"It's just as imp'dent."
"I say, our servants, ma'am..."
"Oh! to the deuce with your 'ma'am;' I hate the word. It's like fittin'
a cap on me. Ye want to make one a turbaned dow'ger, ye malicious young
"Those are personages that are, I believe, accepted in society!"
So the contest raged, Mrs. Chump being run clean through the soul twenty
times, without touching the consciousness of that sensitive essence. Mr.
Pole appeared to take the part of his daughters, and by-and-by Mrs.
Chump, having failed to arouse Mrs. Lupin's involuntary laugh (which
always consoled her in such cases), huffed out of the room. Then Mr.
Pole, in an abruptly serious way, bashfully entreated the ladies to be
civil to Martha, who had the best heart in the world. It sounded as if
he were going to say more. After a pause, he added emphatically, "Do!"
and went. He was many days absent: nor did he speak to Adela of the
money she had asked for when he returned. Adela had not the courage to
allude to it.
Emilia sat in her old place under the dwarf pine. Mr. Powys had brought
her back to Brookfield, where she heard that Wilfrid had been seen; and
now her heart was in contest with an inexplicable puzzle: "He was here,
and did not come to me!" Since that night when they had walked home from
Ipley Green, she had not suffered a moment of longing. Her senses had
lain as under a charm, with heart at anchor and a mind free to work. No
one could have guessed that any human spell was on the girl. "Wherever
he is, he thinks of me. I find him everywhere. He is safe, for I pray
for him and have my arms about him. He will come." So she waited, as
some grey lake lies, full and smooth, awaiting the star below the
twilight. If she let her thoughts run on to the hour of their meeting,
she had to shut her eyes and press at her heart; but as yet she was not
out of tune for daily life, and she could imagine how that hour was to be
strewn with new songs and hushed surprises. And 'thus' he would look:
and 'thus.' "My hero!" breathed Emilia, shuddering a little. But now
she was perplexed. Now that he had come and gone, she began to hunger
bitterly for the sight of his face, and that which had hitherto nourished
her grew a sickly phantom of delight. She wondered how she had forced
herself to be patient, and what it was that she had found pleasure in.
None of the ladies were at home when Emilia returned. She went out to
the woods, and sat, shadowed by the long bent branch; watching
mechanically the slow rounding and yellowing of the beam of sunlight over
the thick floor of moss, up against the fir-stems. The chaffinch and the
linnet flitted off the grey orchard twigs, singing from new stations; and
the bee seemed to come questioning the silence of the woods and droning
disappointed away. The first excess of any sad feeling is half
voluntary. Emilia could not help smiling, when she lifted her head out
of a musing fit, to find that she had composed part of a minuet for the
languid dancing motes in the shaft of golden light at her feet. "Can I
remember it?" she thought, and forgot the incident with the effort.
Down at her right hand, bordering a water, stood a sallow, a dead tree,
channelled inside with the brown trail of a goat-moth. Looking in this
direction, she saw Cornelia advancing to the tree. When the lady had
reached it, she drew a little book from her bosom, kissed it, and dropped
it in the hollow. This done, she passed among the firs. Emilia had
perceived that she was agitated: and with that strange instinct of hearts
beginning to stir, which makes them divine at once where they will come
upon the secret of their own sensations, she ran down to the tree and
peered on tiptoe at the embedded volume. On a blank page stood
pencilled: "This is the last fruit of the tree. Come not to gather
more." There was no meaning for her in that sentimental chord but she
must have got some glimpse of a meaning; for now, as in an agony, her
lips fashioned the words: "If I forget his face I may as well die;" and
she wandered on, striving more and more vainly to call up his features.
The--"Does he think of me?" and--"What am I to him?"--such timorous
little feather-play of feminine emotion she knew nothing of: in her heart
was the strong flood of a passion.
She met Edward Buxley and Freshfield Sumner at a cross-path, on their way
to Brookfield; and then Adela joined the party, which soon embraced Mr.
Barrett, and subsequently Cornelia. All moved on in a humming leisure,
chattering by fits. Mr. Sumner was delicately prepared to encounter Mrs.
Chump, "whom," said Adela, "Edward himself finds it impossible to
caricature;" and she affected to laugh at the woman.
"Happy the pencil that can reproduce!" Mr. Barrett exclaimed; and,
meeting his smile, Cornelia said: "Do you know, my feeling is, and I
cannot at all account for it, that if she were a Catholic she would not
seem so gross?"
"Some of the poetry of that religion would descend upon her, possibly,"
returned Mr. Barrett.
"Do you mean," Freshfield said quickly, "that she would stand a fair
chance of being sainted?"
Out of this arose some polite fencing between the two. Freshfield might
have argued to advantage in a Court of law; but he was no match, on such
topics and before such an audience, for a refined sentimentalist. More
than once he betrayed a disposition to take refuge in his class (he being
son to one of the puisne Judges). Cornelia speedily punished him, and to
any correction from her he bowed his head.
Adela was this day gifted with an extraordinary insight. Emilia alone of
the party was as a blot to her; but the others she saw through, as if
they had been walking transparencies. She divined that Edward and
Freshfield had both come, in concert, upon amorous business--that it was
Freshfield's object to help Edward to a private interview with her, and,
in return, Edward was to perform the same service for him with Cornelia.
So that Mr. Barrett was shockingly in the way of both; and the perplexity
of these stupid fellows--who would insist upon wondering why the man
Barrett and the girl Emilia (musicians both: both as it were, vagrants)
did not walk together and talk of quavers and minims--was extremely
comic. Passing the withered tree, Mr. Barrett deserved thanks from
Freshfield, if he did not obtain them; for he lingered, surrendering his
place. And then Adela knew that the weight of Edward Buxley's
remonstrative wrath had fallen on silent Emilia, to whom she clung
"I have had a letter," Edward murmured, in the voice that propitiates
"A letter?" she cried loud; and off flew the man like a rabbit into his
hole, the mask of him remaining.
Emilia presently found Mr. Barrett at her elbow. His hand clasped the
book Cornelia had placed in the tree.
"It is hers," said Emilia.
He opened it and pointed to his initials. She looked in his face.
"Are you very ill?"
Adela turned round from Edward's neighbouring head. "Who is ill?"
Cornelia brought Freshfield to a stop: "Ill?"
Before them all, book in hand, Mr. Barrett had to give assurance that he
was hearty, and to appear to think that his words were accepted, in spite
of blanched jowl and reddened under-lid. Cornelia threw him one glance:
his eyes closed under it. Adela found it necessary to address some such
comforting exclamation as 'Goodness gracious!' to her observant spirit.
In the park-path, leading to the wood, Arabella was seen as they came out
the young branches that fringed the firs. She hurried up.
"I have been looking for you. Papa has arrived with Sir Twickenham
Pryme, who dines with us."
Adela unhesitatingly struck a blow.
"Lady Pryme, we make place for you."
And she crossed to Cornelia. Cornelia kept her eyes fixed on Adela's
mouth, as one looks at a place whence a venomous reptile has darted out.
Her eyelids shut, and she stood a white sculpture of pain, pitiable to
see. Emilia took her hand, encouraging the tightening fingers with a
responsive pressure. The group shuffled awkwardly together, though Adela
did her best. She was very angry with Mr. Barrett for wearing that
absurdly pale aspect. She was even angry with his miserable bankrupt
face for mounting a muscular edition of the smile Cornelia had shown.
"His feelings!" she cried internally; and the fact presented itself to
her, that feelings were a luxury utterly unfit for poor men, who were to
be accused of presumption for indulging in them.
"Now, I suppose you are happy?" she spoke low between Arabella and
The effect of these words was to colour violently two pair of cheeks.
Arabella's behaviour did not quite satisfy the fair critic. Edward
Buxley was simply caught in a trap: He had the folly to imagine that by
laughing he released himself.
"Is not that the laugh of an engaged?" said Adela to Freshfield.
He replied: "That would have been my idea under other conditions," and
She met the look with: "There are harsh conditions in life, are there
not?" and left him sufficiently occupied by his own sensations.
"Mr. Barrett," she inquired (partly to assist the wretch out of his
compromising depression, and also that the question represented a real
matter of debate in her mind), "I want your opinion; will you give it me?
Apropos of slang, why does it sit well on some people? It certainly does
not vulgarize them. After all, in many cases, it is what they call 'racy
idiom.' Perhaps our delicacy is strained?"
Now, it was Mr. Barrett's established manner to speak in a deliberately
ready fashion upon the introduction of a new topic. Habit made him, on
this occasion, respond instantly; but the opening of the gates displayed
the confusion of ideas within and the rageing tumult.
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