The Case of Richard Meynell
Mrs. Humphry Ward
Part 6 out of 9
transference of its whole proof and evidence from the outward to the
inward field, and therewith the uprush of a certainty and joy unknown to
our modern life; one can but bow one's head, as those that hear
mysterious voices on the wind.
"For so into the temple of man's spirit, age by age, comes the renewing
Master of man's life--and makes His tabernacle with man. 'Lift up your
heads, O ye gates, and be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors, And the King
of Glory shall come in.'"
Meynell bowed his head upon his hands. The pulse of hope and passion in
the letter was almost overpowering. It came, he knew, from an elderly
man, broken by many troubles, and tormented by arthritis, yet a true
saint, and at times a great preacher.
The next letter he opened came from a priest in the diocese of Aix....
"The effect of the various encyclicals and of the ill-advised attempt to
make both clergy and laity sign the Modernist decrees has had a
prodigious effect all over France--precisely in the opposite sense to
that desired by Pius X. The spread of the Movement is really amazing.
Fifteen years ago I remember hearing a French critic say--Edmond Scherer,
I think, the successor of Sainte Beuve--'The Catholics have not a single
intellectual of any eminence--and it is a misfortune for _us_, the
liberals. We have nothing to fight--we seem to be beating the air.'
"Scherer could not have said this to-day. There are Catholics
everywhere--in the University, the Ecole Normale, the front ranks of
literature. But with few exceptions _they are all Modernist_; they have
thrown overboard the whole _fatras_ of legend and tradition. Christianity
has become to them a symbolical and spiritual religion; not only
personally important and efficacious, but of enormous significance from
the national point of view. But as you know, _we_ do not at present
aspire to outward or ceremonial changes. We are quite content to leaven
the meal from within; to uphold the absolute right and necessity of the
two languages in Christianity--the popular and the scientific, the
mythological and the mystical. If the Pope could have his way,
Catholicism would soon be at an end--except as a peasant-cult--in the
Latin countries. But, thank God, he will not have his way. One hears of a
Modernist freemasonry among the Italian clergy--of a secret press--an
enthusiasm, like that of the Carboneria in the forties. So the spirit of
the Most High blows among the dead clods of the world--and, in a moment
the harvest is there!"
* * * * *
Meynell let the paper drop. He began to write, and he wrote without
stopping with great ease and inspiration for nearly two hours. Then as
midnight struck, he put down his pen, and gazed into the dying fire. He
felt as Wordsworth's skater felt on Esthwaite, when, at a sudden pause,
the mountains and cliffs seemed to whirl past him in a vast headlong
procession. So it was in Meynell's mind with thoughts and ideas.
Gradually they calmed and slackened, till at last they passed into an
abstraction and ecstasy of prayer.
When he rose, the night had grown very cold. He hurriedly put his papers
in order, before going to bed, and as he did so, he perceived two
unopened letters which had been overlooked.
One was from Hugh Flaxman, communicating the news of the loss of two
valuable gold coins from the collection exhibited at the party. "We are
all in tribulation. I wonder whether you can remember seeing them when
you were talking there with Norham? One was a gold stater of Velia with a
head of Athene."...
The other letter was addressed in Henry Barron's handwriting. Meynell
looked at it in some surprise as he opened it, for there had been no
communication between him and the White House for a long time.
"I should be glad if you could make it convenient to see me to-morrow
morning. I wish to speak with you on a personal matter of some
importance--of which I do not think you should remain in ignorance. Will
it suit you if I come at eleven?"
Meynell stood motionless. But the mind reacted in a flash. He thought--
"_Now_ I shall know what she told him in those two hours!"
"The Rector will be back, sir, direckly. I was to I tell you so
pertickler. They had 'im out to a man in the Row, who's been drinkin'
days, and was goin' on shockin'--his wife was afraid to stop in the
house. But he won't be long, sir."
And Anne, very stiff and on her dignity, relieved one of the two
armchairs of its habitual burden of books, gave it a dusting with her
apron, and offered it to the visitor. It was evident that she regarded
his presence with entire disfavour, but was prepared to treat him with
prudence for the master's sake. Her devotion to Meynell had made her
shrewd; she perfectly understood who were his enemies, and who his
Barron, with a sharp sense of annoyance that he should be kept waiting,
merely because a drunken miner happened to be beating his wife, coldly
accepted her civilities, and took up a copy of the _Times_ which was
lying on the table. But when Anne had retired, he dropped the newspaper,
and began with a rather ugly curiosity to examine the room. He walked
round the walls, looking at the books, raising his eyebrows at the rows
of paper-bound German volumes, and peering closely into the titles of the
English ones. Then his attention was caught by a wall-map, in which a
number of small flags attached to pins were sticking. It was an outline
map of England, apparently sketched by Meynell himself, as the notes and
letterings were in his handwriting. It was labelled "Branches of the
Reform League." All over England the little flags bristled, thicker here,
and thinner there, but making a goodly show on the whole. Barron's face
lengthened as he pondered the map.
Then he passed by the laden writing-table. On it lay an open copy of the
_Modernist_, with a half-written "leader" of Meynell's between the
sheets. Beside it was a copy of Thomas Ó Kempis, and Father Tyrrell's
posthumous book, in which a great soul, like a breaking wave, had foamed
itself away; a volume of Sanday, another of Harnack, into the open cover
of which the Rector had apparently just pinned an extract from a Church
paper. Barron involuntarily stooped to read it. It ran:
"This is no time for giving up the Athanasian Creed. The moment when the
sewage of continental unbelief is pouring into England is not the moment
for banishing to a museum a screen that was erected to guard the
Beneath it, in Meynell's writing:
"A gem, not to be lost! The muddle of the metaphor, the corruption of the
style, everything is symbolic. In a preceding paragraph the writer makes
an attack on Harnack, who is described as 'notorious for opposing' the
doctrines of the Virgin Birth and the Resurrection. That history has a
right to its say on so-called historical events never seems to have
occurred to this gentleman; still less that there is a mystical and
sacred element in all truth, all the advancing knowledge of mankind,
including historical knowledge, and that therefore his responsibility,
his moral and spiritual risk even, in disbelieving Harnack, is probably
infinitely greater than Harnack's in dealing historically with the Birth
Stories. The fact is the whole onus is now on the orthodox side. It is
not we that are on our defence; but they."
Barron raised himself with a flushed cheek, and a stiffened mouth.
Meynell's note had removed his last scruples. It was necessary to deal
drastically with a clergyman who could write such things.
A step outside. The sleeping dogs on the doorstep sprang up and noisily
greeted their master. Meynell shut them out, to their great disgust, and
came hurriedly toward the study.
Barron, as he saw him in the doorway, drew back with an exclamation. The
Rector's dress and hair were dishevelled and awry, and his face--pale,
drawn, and damp with perspiration--showed that he had just come through a
"Sorry to have kept you waiting, Mr. Barron. But that fellow,
Pinches--you remember?--the new blacksmith--has been drinking for nearly
a week, and went quite mad this morning. We just prevented him from
killing his wife, but it was a tough business. I'll go and wash and
change my coat, if you will allow me."
So he went away, and Barron had a few more minutes in which to meditate
on the room and its owner. When at last Meynell came back, and settled
himself in the chair opposite to his visitor, with a quiet "Now I am
quite at your service," Barron found himself overtaken with a curious and
unwelcome hesitation. The signs--a slightly strained look, a quickened
breathing--that Meynell still bore upon him of a physical wrestle,
combined perhaps with a moral victory, suddenly seemed, even in Barron's
own eyes, to dwarf what he had to say--to make a poor mean thing out of
his story. And Meynell's shining eyes, divided between close attention to
the man before him and some recent and disturbing recollections in which
Barron had no share, reinforced the impression.
But he recaptured himself quickly. After all, it was at once a charitable
and a high-judicial part that he had come to play. He gathered his
dignity about him, resenting the momentary disturbance of it.
"I am come to-day, Mr. Meynell, on a very unpleasant errand."
The formal "Mr." marked the complete breach in their once friendly
relations. Meynell made a slight inclination.
"Then I hope you will tell it me as quickly as may be. Does it concern
yourself, or me? Maurice, I hope, is doing well?"
Barron winced. It seemed to him an offence on the Rector's part that
Meynell's tone should subtly though quite innocently remind him of days
when he had been thankful to accept a strong man's help in dealing with
the escapades of a vicious lad.
"He is doing excellently, thank you--except that his health is not all I
could wish. My business to-day," he continued, slowly--"concerns a woman,
formerly of this village, whom I happened by a strange accident to see
just after her return to it--"
"You are speaking of Judith Sabin?" interrupted Meynell.
"I am. You were of course aware that I had seen her?"
"Naturally--from the inquest. Well?"
The quiet, interrogative tone seemed to Barron an impertinence. With a
suddenly heightened colour he struck straight--violently--for the heart
of the thing.
"She told me a lamentable story--and she was led to tell it me by
seeing--and identifying--yourself--as you were standing with a lady in
the road outside the cottage."
"Identifying me?" repeated Meynell, with a slight accent of astonishment.
"That I think is hardly possible. For Judith Sabin had never seen me."
"You were not perhaps aware of it--but she had seen you."
Meynell shook his head.
"She was mistaken--or you are. However, that doesn't matter. I gather you
wish to consult me about something that Judith Sabin communicated to
"I do. But the story she told me turns very closely on her identification
of yourself; and therefore it does matter," said Barron, with emphasis.
A puzzled look passed again over Meynell's face. But he said nothing. His
attitude, coldly expectant, demanded the story.
Barron told it--once more. He repeated Judith Sabin's narrative in the
straightened, rearranged form he had now given to it, postponing,
however, any further mention of Meynell's relation to it till a last
He did not find his task so easy on this occasion. There was something in
the personality of the man sitting opposite to him which seemed to make a
narrative that had passed muster elsewhere sound here a mere vulgar
impertinence, the wanton intrusion of a common man on things sacredly and
justly covered from sight.
He laboured through it, however, while Meynell sat with bent head,
looking at the floor, making no sign whatever. And at last the speaker
arrived at the incident of the Grenoble visitor.
"I naturally find this a very disagreeable task," he said, pausing a
moment. He got, however, no help from Meynell, who was dumb; and he
presently resumed--"Judith Sabin saw the gentleman who came distinctly.
She felt perfectly certain in her own mind as to his relation to Miss
Puttenham and the child; and she was certain also, when she saw you and
Miss Puttenham standing in the road, while I was with her that--"
Meynell looked up, slightly frowning, awaiting the conclusion of the
--"that she saw--the same man again!"
Barron's naturally ruddy colour had faded a little; his eyes blinked. He
drew his coat forward over his knee, and put it back again nervously.
Meynell's face was at first blank, or bewildered. Then a light of
understanding shot through it. He fell back in his chair with an odd
"So _that_--is what you have in your mind?"
Barron coughed a little. He was angrily conscious of an anxiety and
misgiving he had not expected. He made all the greater effort to recover
what seemed to him the proper tone.
"It is all most sad--most lamentable. But I had, you perceive, the
positive statement of a woman who should have known the facts first-hand,
if any one did. Owing to her physical state, it was impossible to
cross-examine her, and her sudden death made it impossible to refer her
to you. I had to consider what I should do--"
"Why should you have done anything--" said Meynell dryly, raising his
eyes--"but forget as quickly as possible a story you had no means of
verifying, and which bore its absurdity on the face of it?"
Barron allowed himself a slight and melancholy smile.
"I admit of course--at once--that I could not verify it. As to its _prima
facie_ absurdity, I desire to say nothing offensive to you, but there
have been many curious circumstances connected with your relation to
the Fox-Wilton family which have given rise before now to gossip in this
neighbourhood. I could not but perceive that the story told me threw
light upon them. The remarkable language of Sir Ralph's will, the
position of Miss Hester in the Fox-Wilton family, your relation to
her--and to--to Miss Puttenham."
Meynell's composure became a matter of some difficulty, but he maintained
"What was there abnormal--or suspicious--in any of these circumstances?"
he asked, his eyes fixed intently on his visitor.
"I see no purpose to be gained by going into them on this occasion," said
Barron, with all the dignity he could bring to bear. "For the unfortunate
thing is--the thing which obliged me whether I would or no--and you will
see from the dates that I have hesitated a long time--to bring Judith
Sabin's statement to your notice--is that she seems to have talked to
some one else in the neighbourhood before she died, besides myself. Her
son declares that she saw no one. I have questioned him; of course
without revealing my object. But she must have done so. And whoever it
was has begun to write anonymous letters--repeating the story--in full
detail--_with_ the identification--that I have just given you."
"Anonymous letters?" repeated Meynell, raising himself sharply. "To
"Dawes, the colliery manager, received the first."
"To whom did he communicate it?"
"To myself--and by his wish, and in the spirit of entire friendliness to
you, I consulted your friend and supporter, Mr. Flaxman."
Meynell raised his eyebrows.
"Flaxman? You thought yourself justified?"
"It was surely better to take so difficult a matter to a friend of yours,
rather than to an enemy."
Meynell smiled--but not agreeably.
"Any one else?"
"I have heard this morning on my way here that Miss Nairn has received a
"Miss Nairn? That means the village."
"She is a gossipping woman," said Barron.
Meynell pondered. He got up and began to pace the room--coming presently
to an abrupt pause in front of his visitor.
"This story then is now all over the village--will soon be all over the
diocese. Now--what was your object in yourself bringing it to me?"
"I thought it right to inform you--to give you warning--perhaps also to
suggest to you that a retreat from your present position--"
"I see--you thought it a means of bringing pressure to bear upon me?--you
propose, in short, that I should throw up the sponge, and resign my
"Unless, of course, you can vindicate yourself publicly."
Barron to his annoyance could not keep his hand which held a glove from
shaking a little. The wrestle between their personalities was rapidly
growing in intensity.
"Unless I bring an action, you mean--against any one spreading the story?
No--I shall not bring an action--I shall _not_ bring an action!" Meynell
repeated, with emphasis.
"In that case--I suggest--it might be better to meet the wishes of your
Bishop, and so avoid further publicity."
"By resigning my living?"
"Precisely. The scandal would then drop of itself. For Miss Puttenham's
sake alone you must, I think, desire to stop its development."
Meynell flushed hotly. He took another turn up the room--while Barron sat
silent, looking straight before him.
"I shall not take action"--Meynell resumed--"and I shall not dream of
retreating from my position here. Judith Sabin's story is untrue. She did
not see me at Grenoble and I am not the father of Hester Fox-Wilton. As
to anything else, I am not at liberty to discuss other people's affairs,
and I shall not answer any questions whatever on the subject."
The two men surveyed each other.
"Your Bishop could surely demand your confidence," said Barron coldly.
"If he does, it will be for me to consider."
A silence. Barron looked round for his stick. Meynell stood motionless,
his hands in his baggy pockets, his eyes on Barron. Lightings of thought
and will seemed to pass through his face. As Barron rose, he began to
"I have no doubt you think yourself justified in taking the line
you clearly do take in this matter. I can hardly imagine that you
really believe the story you say you got from Judith Sabin--which you
took to Flaxman--and have, I suppose, discussed with Dawes. I am
convinced--forgive me if I speak plainly--that you cannot and do not
believe anything so preposterous--or at any rate you would not believe it
in other circumstances. As it is, you take it up as a weapon. You think,
no doubt, that everything is fair in controversy as in war. Of course the
thing has been done again and again. If you cannot defeat a man in fair
fight, the next best thing is to blacken his character. We see that
everywhere--in politics--in the church--in private life. This story _may_
serve you; I don't think it will ultimately, but it may serve you for a
time. All I can say is, I would rather be the man to suffer from it than
the man to gain from it!"
Barron took up his hat. "I cannot be surprised that you receive me in
this manner," he said, with all the steadiness he could muster. "But as
you cannot deal with this very serious report in the ordinary way, either
by process of law, or by frank explanation to your friends--"
"My 'friends'!" interjected Meynell.
"--Let me urge you at least to explain matters to your diocesan. You
cannot distrust either the Bishop's discretion, or his good will. If he
were satisfied, we no doubt should be the same."
Meynell shook his head.
"Not if I know anything of the _odium theologicum!_ Besides, the Miss
Nairns of this world pay small attention to bishops. By the way--I forgot
to ask--you can tell me nothing on the subject of the writer of the
anonymous letters?--you have not identified him?"
"Not in the least. We are all at sea."
"You don't happen to have one about you?"
Barron hesitated and fumbled, and at last produced from his breast-pocket
the letter to Dawes, which he had again borrowed from its owner that
morning. Meynell put it into a drawer of his writing-table without
looking at it.
The two men moved toward the door.
"As to any appeal to you on behalf of a delicate and helpless
lady--" said Meynell, betraying emotion for the first time--"that I
suppose is useless. But when one remembers her deeds of kindness in this
village, her quiet and irreproachable life amongst us all these years,
one would have thought that any one bearing the Christian name would have
come to me as the Rector of this village on one errand only--to consult
how best to protect her from the spread of a cruel and preposterous
story! You--I gather--propose to make use of it in the interests of your
own Church party."
Barron straightened himself, resenting at once what seemed to him the
intrusion of the pastoral note.
"I am heartily sorry for her"--he said coldly. "Naturally it is the women
who suffer in these things. But of course you are right--though you put
the matter from your own point of view--in assuming that I regard this as
no ordinary scandal. I am not at liberty to treat it as such. The honour
concerned--is the honour of the Church. To show the intimate connection
of creed and life may be a painful--it is also an imperative duty!"
He threw back his head with a passion which, as Meynell clearly
recognized, was not without its touch of dignity.
Meynell stepped back.
"We have talked enough, I think. You will of course take the course that
seems to you best, and I shall take mine. I bid you good day."
* * * * *
From the study window Meynell watched the disappearing figure of his
adversary. The day was wet, and the funereal garden outside was dank with
rain. The half-dead trees had shed such leaves as they had been able to
put forth, and behind them was a ragged sky of scudding cloud.
In Meynell's soul there was a dull sense of catastrophe. In Barron's
presence he had borne himself as a wronged man should; but he knew very
well that a sinister thing had happened, and that for him, perhaps,
to-morrow might never be as yesterday.
What was passing in the village at that moment? His quick visualizing
power showed him the groups in the various bar parlours, discussing the
Scandal, dividing it up into succulent morsels, serving it up with every
variety of personal comment, idle or malicious; amplyfying, exaggerating,
completing. He saw the neat and plausible spinster from whose cruel hands
he had rescued a little dumb, wild-eyed child, reduced by ill-treatment
to skin and bone--he saw her gloating over the anonymous letter, putting
two and two maliciously together, whispering here, denouncing there. He
seemed to be actually present in the most disreputable public-house of
the village, a house he had all but succeeded in closing at the preceding
licensing sessions. How natural, human, inevitable, would be the coarse,
venomous talk--the inferences--the gibes!
There would be good men and true of course, his personal friends in the
village, the members of his Parish Council, who would suffer, and stand
firm. The postponed meeting of the Council, for the acceptance of the new
Liturgy, was to be held the day after his return from Paris. To them he
would speak--so far as he could; yes, to them he would speak! Then his
thought spread to the diocese. Charges of this kind spread with
extraordinary rapidity. Whoever was writing the anonymous letters had
probably not confined himself to two or three. Meynell prepared himself
for the discovery of the much wider diffusion.
He moved back to his writing-table, and took the letter from the drawer.
Its ingenuity, its knowledge of local circumstance, astonished him as he
read. He had expected something of a vulgarer and rougher type. The
handwriting was clearly disguised, and there was a certain amount of
intermittent bad spelling, which might very easily be a disguise also.
But whoever wrote it was acquainted with the Fox-Wilton family, with
their habits and his own, as well as with the terms of Sir Ralph's will,
so far as--mainly he believed through the careless talk of the elder
Fox-Wilton girls--it had become a source of gossip in the village. The
writer of it could not be far away. Was it a man or a woman? Meynell
examined the handwriting carefully. He had a vague impression that he had
seen something like it before, but could not remember where or in what
He put it back in his drawer, and as he did so his eyes fell upon his
half-written article for the _Modernist _and on the piles of
correspondence beside it. A sense of bitter helplessness overcame him, a
pang not for himself so much as for his cause. He realized the inevitable
effect of the story in the diocese, weighted, as it would be, with all
the colourable and suspicious circumstances that could undoubtedly be
adduced in support of it; its effect also beyond the diocese, through
the Movement of which he was the life and guiding spirit; through
England--where his name was rapidly becoming a battle-cry.
And what could he do to meet it? Almost nothing! The story indeed as a
whole could be sharply and categorically denied, because it involved a
fundamental falsehood. He was not the father of Hester Fox-Wilton.
But simple denial was all that was open to him. He could neither explain,
nor could he challenge inquiry. His mouth was shut. He had made no formal
vow of secrecy to any one. He was free to confide in whom he would. But
all that was tender, pitiful, chivalrous in his soul stood up and
promised for him, as he stood looking out into the October rain, that for
no personal--yes!--and for no public advantage--would he trifle with what
he had regarded for eighteen years as a trust, laid upon him by the dying
words of a man he had loved, and enforced more and more sharply with time
by the constant appeal of a woman's life--its dumb pain, the paradox of
its frail strength, its shrinking courage. That life had depended upon
him during the worst crisis of its fate as its spiritual guide. He had
toward Alice Puttenham the feeling of the "director," as the saints have
understood it; and toward her story something of the responsibility of a
priest toward a confession. To reveal it in his own interest was simply
impossible. If the Movement rejected him--it must reject him.
"Not so will I fight for thee, my God!--not so!" he said to himself in
great anguish of mind.
It was true indeed that at some future time Alice Puttenham's poor secret
must be told--to a specified person, with her consent, and by the express
direction of that honest, blundering man, her brother-in-law, whose life,
sorely against his will, had been burdened with it. But the
indiscriminate admission of the truth, after the lapse of years, would,
he believed, simply bring back the old despair, and paralyze what had
always been a frail vitality. And as to Hester, the sudden divulgence of
it might easily upset the unstable balance in her of mind and nerve and
drive her at once into some madness. He _must_ protect them, if he could.
Could he? He pondered it.
At any moment one of these letters might reach Alice. What if this had
already happened? Supposing it had, he might not be able to prevent her
from doing what would place the part played toward her by himself in its
true light. She would probably insist upon his taking legal action, and
allowing her to make her statement in court.
The thought of this was so odious to him that he promptly put it from
him. He should assume that she knew nothing; though as a practical man he
was well aware that she could not long remain ignorant; certainly not if
she continued to live in Upcote. Then, it was a question probably of days
or hours. Her presence in the cottage, when once the village was in full
possession of the slander, would be a perpetual provocation. One way or
another the truth must penetrate to her.
An idea occurred to him. Paris! So far he had insisted on going himself
with Hester to Paris because of his haunting feeling of responsibility
toward the girl, and his resolve to see with his own eyes the household
in which he was placing her. But suppose he made excuses? The burden of
work upon him was excuse enough for any man. Suppose he sent Alice in his
stead, and so contrived as to keep her in or near Paris for a while? Then
Edith Fox-Wilton would of course have the forwarding of her sister's
correspondence, and might, it seemed to him, take the responsibility of
intercepting whatever might inform or alarm her.
Not much prospect of doing so indefinitely!--that he plainly saw. But to
gain time was an immense thing; to prevent her from taking at once
Quixotic steps. He knew that in health she had never been the same since
the episode of Judith's return and death. She seemed suddenly to have
faded and drooped, as though poisoned by some constant terror.
He stood lost in thought a little longer by his writing-table. Then his
hand felt slowly for a parcel in brown paper that lay there.
He drew it toward him and undid the wrappings. Inside it was a little
volume of recent poems of which he had spoken to Mary Elsmere on their
moonlit walk through the park. He had promised to lend her his copy, and
he meant to have left it at the cottage that afternoon. Now he
lingeringly removed the brown paper, and walking to the bookcase, he
replaced the volume.
He sat down to write to Alice Puttenham, and to scribble a note to Lady
Fox-Wilton asking her to see him as soon as possible. Then Anne forced
some luncheon on him, and he had barely finished it when a step outside
made itself heard. He looked up and saw Hugh Flaxman.
"Come in!" said the Rector, opening the front door himself. "You are very
Flaxman grasped--and pressed--the proffered hand, looking at Meynell the
while with hesitating interrogation. He guessed from the Rector's face
that the errand on which he came had been anticipated.
Meynell led him into the study and shut the door.
"I have just had Barron here," he said, turning abruptly, after he had
pushed a chair toward his guest. "He told me he had shown one of these
precious documents to you." He held up the anonymous letter.
Flaxman took it, glanced it over in silence and returned it.
"I can only forgive him for doing it when I reflect that I may
thereby--perhaps--be enabled to be of some little use to you. Barron
knows what I think of him, and of the business."
"Oh! for him it is a weapon--like any other. Though to do him justice
he might not have used it, but for the other mysterious person in the
case--the writer of these letters. You know--" he straightened himself
vehemently--"that I can say nothing--except that the story is untrue?"
"And of course I shall ask you nothing. I have spent twenty-four hours in
arguing with myself as to whether I should come to you at all. Finally I
decided you might blame me if I did not. You may not be aware of the
letter to my sister-in-law?"
Meynell's start was evident.
"To Mrs. Elsmere?"
"She brought it to us on Friday, before the party. It was, I think,
identical with this letter"--he pointed to the Dawes envelope--"except
for a few references to the part Mrs. Elsmere had played in helping the
families of those poor fellows who were killed in the cage-accident."
"And Miss Elsmere?" said Meynell in a tone that wavered in spite of
himself. He sat with his head bent and his eyes on the floor.
"Knows, of course, nothing whatever about it," said Flaxman hastily. "Now
will you give us your orders? A strong denial of the truth of the story,
and a refusal to discuss it at all--with any one--that I think is what
"In the village, I shall deal with it at the Reform meeting on Thursday
night." Then he rose. "Are you going to ForkÚd Pond?"
"I was on my way there."
"I will go with you. If Mrs. Elsmere is free, I should like to have some
conversation with her."
They started together through a dripping world on which the skies had but
just ceased to rain. On his way through the park Meynell took off his hat
and walked bareheaded through the mist, evidently feeling it a physical
relief to let the chill, moist air beat freely on brow and temples.
Flaxman could not help watching him occasionally--the forehead with its
deep vertical furrow, the rugged face, stamped and lined everywhere by
travail of mind and body, and the nobility of the large grizzled head. In
the voluminous cloak--of an antiquity against which Anne protested in
vain--which was his favourite garb on wet days, he might have been a
friar of the early time, bound on a preaching tour. The spiritual,
evangelic note in the personality became--so Flaxman thought--ever more
conspicuous. And yet he walked to-day in very evident trouble, without,
however, allowing to this trouble any spoken expression whatever.
As they neared the ForkÚd Pond enclosure, Meynell suddenly paused.
"I had forgotten--I must go first to Sandford--where indeed I am
"Sandford? I trust there is no fresh anxiety?"
"There _is_ anxiety," said Meynell briefly.
Flaxman expressed an unfeigned sympathy.
"What is Miss Hester doing to-day?"
"Packing, I hope. She goes to-morrow."
"And you--are going to interview this fellow?" asked Flaxman reluctantly.
"I have done it already--and must now do it again. This time I am going
"With anything to go upon?"
"Yes. I hope at last to be able to get some grip on him; though no doubt
my chances are not improved since yesterday," said Meynell, with a grim
shadow of a smile, "supposing that anybody from Upcote has been
gossipping at Sandford. It does not exactly add to one's moral influence
to be regarded as a Pharisaical humbug."
"I wish I could take the business off your shoulders!" said Flaxman,
Meynell gave him a slight, grateful look. They walked on briskly to the
high road, Flaxman accompanying his friend so far. There they parted, and
Hugh returned slowly to the cottage by the water, Meynell promising to
join him there within an hour.
"Such was my mother's way, learnt from Thee in the school of the heart,
where Thou art Master."
In the little drawing-room at ForkÚd Pond Catharine and Mary Elsmere were
sitting at work. Mary was embroidering a curtain in a flowing Venetian
pattern--with a handful of withered leaves lying beside her to which she
occasionally matched her silks. Catharine was knitting. Outside the rain
was howling through the trees; the windows streamed with it. But within,
the bright wood-fire threw a pleasant glow over the simple room, and the
figures of the two ladies. Mary's trim jacket and skirt of prune-coloured
serge, with its white blouse fitting daintily to throat and wrist, seemed
by its neatness to emphasize the rebellious masses and the fare colour of
her hair. She knew that her hair was beautiful, and it gave her a
pleasure she could not help, though she belonged to that type of
Englishwoman, not yet nearly so uncommon as modern newspapers and books
would have us believe, who think as little as they can of personal
adornment and their own appearance, in the interests of some hidden ideal
that "haunts them like a passion; of which even the most innocent vanity
seems to make them unworthy."
In these feelings and instincts she was, of course, her mother's
daughter. Catharine Elsmere's black dress of some plain woollen stuff
could not have been plainer, and she wore the straight collar and cuffs,
and--on her nearly white hair--the simple cap of her widowhood. But the
spiritual beauty which had always been hers was hers still. One might
guess that she, too, knew it; that in her efforts to save persons in sin
or suffering she must have known what it was worth to her; what the gift
of lovely line and presence is worth to any human being. But if she had
been made to feel this--passingly, involuntarily--she had certainly
shrunk from feeling it.
Mary put her embroidery away, made up the fire, and sat down on a stool
at her mother's feet.
"Darling, how many socks have you knitted since we came here? Enough to
stock a shop?"
"On the contrary. I have been very idle," laughed Catharine, putting her
knitting away. "How long is it? Four months?" she sighed.
"It _has_ done you good?--yes, it has!" Mary looked at her closely.
"Then why don't you let me go back to my work?--tyrant!" said Catharine,
stroking the red-gold hair.
"Because the doctor said 'March'--and you sha'n't be allowed to put your
feet in London a day earlier," said Mary, laying her head on Catharine's
knee. "You needn't grumble. Next week you'll have your fells and your
becks--as much Westmoreland as ever you want. Only ten days more here,"
and this time it was Mary who sighed, deeply, unconsciously.
The face above her changed--unseen by Mary.
"You've liked being here?"
"It's a dear little house, and the woods are beautiful."
"Yes. And--I've made a new friend."
"You like Miss Puttenham so much?"
"More than anybody I have seen for years," said Mary, raising herself and
speaking with energy; "but, oh dear, I wish I could do something for
Catharine moved uneasily.
"Comfort her--help her--make her tell me what's the matter."
"You think she's unhappy?"
Mary propped her chin on her hand, and looked into the fire.
"I wonder whether she's ever had any real joy--a week's--a
day's--happiness--in her life?"
[Illustration: "'I wonder whether she's ever had any real joy--a
week's--a day's--happiness--in her life?'"]
She said it musingly but intensely. Catharine did not know how to answer
her. All the day long, and a good deal of the night, she had been
debating with herself what to do--toward Mary. Mary was no longer a
child. She was a woman, of nearly six and twenty, strong in character,
and accustomed of late to go with her mother into many of the dark places
of London life. The betrayal--which could not be hidden from her--of a
young servant girl in their employ, the year before, and the fierce
tenderness with which Mary had thrown herself into the saving of the girl
and her child, had brought about--Catharine knew it--a great deepening
and overshadowing of her youth. Catharine had in some ways regretted it
bitterly; for she belonged to that older generation which believed--and
were amply justified in believing--that it is well for the young to be
ignorant, so long as they can be ignorant, of the ugly and tragic things
of sex. It was not that her Mary seemed to her in the smallest degree
besmirched by the experience she had passed through; that any bloom had
been shaken from the flower. Far from it. It was rather that some touch
of careless joy was gone forever from her child's life; and how that
may hurt a mother, only those know who have wept in secret hours over the
first ebbing of youth in a young face.
So that she received Mary's outburst in silence. For she said to herself
that she could have no right to reveal Alice Puttenham's secret, even to
Mary. That cruel tongues should at that moment be making free with it
burnt like a constant smart in Catharine's mind. Was the poor thing
herself aware of it?--could it be kept from her? If not, Mary must
know--would know--sooner or later. "But for me to tell her without
permission"--thought Catharine firmly--"would not be right--or just.
Besides, I know nothing--directly."
As to the other and profounder difficulty involved, Catharine wavered
perpetually between two different poles of feeling. The incidents of the
preceding weeks had made it plain that her resistance to Meynell's
influence with Mary had strangely and suddenly broken down. Owing to an
experience of which she had not yet spoken to Mary, her inner will had
given way. She saw with painful clearness what was coming; she was blind
to none of the signs of advancing love; and she felt herself powerless.
An intimation had been given her--so it seemed to her--to which she
submitted. Her submission had cost her tears often, at night, when
there was no one to see. And yet it had brought her also a strange
happiness--like all such yieldings of soul.
But if she had yielded, if there was in her a reluctant practical
certainty that Mary would some day be Meynell's wife, then her
conscience, which was that of a woman who had passionately loved her
husband, began to ask: "Ought she not to be standing by him in this
trouble? If we keep it all from her, and he suffers and perhaps breaks
down, when she might have sustained him, will she not reproach us? Should
I not have bitterly reproached any one who had kept me from helping
Robert in such a case?"
A state of mind, it will be seen, into which there entered not a trace of
ordinary calculations. It did not occur to her that Mary might be injured
in the world's eyes by publicly linking herself with a man under a cloud.
Catharine, whose temptation to "scruple" in the religious sense was
constant and tormenting, who recoiled in horror from what to others were
the merest venial offences, in this connection asked one thing only.
Where Barron had argued that an unbeliever must necessarily have a carnal
mind, Catharine had simply assured herself at once by an unfailing
instinct that the mind was noble and the temper pure. In those matters
she was not to be deceived; she knew.
That being so, and if her own passionate objections to the marriage were
to be put aside, then she could only judge for Mary as she would judge
for herself. _Not_ to love--_not_ to comfort--could there be--for
Love--any greater wound, any greater privation? She shrank, in a kind of
terror, from inflicting it on Mary--Mary, unconscious and unknowing.
... The soft chatter of the fire, the plashing of the rain, filled the
room with the atmosphere of reverie. Catharine's thoughts passed from her
obligations toward Mary to grapple anxiously with those she might be
under toward Meynell himself. The mere possession of the anonymous
letter--and Flaxman had not given her leave to destroy it--weighed upon
her conscience. It seemed to her she ought not to possess it; and she had
been only half convinced by Flaxman's arguments for delay. She was
rapidly coming to the belief that it should have been handed instantly to
A step outside.
"Uncle Hugh!" said Mary, springing up. "I'll go and see if there are any
scones for tea!" And she vanished into the kitchen, while Catharine
admitted her brother-in-law.
"Meynell is to join me here in an hour or so," he said, as he followed
her into the little sitting-room. Catharine closed the door, and looked
at him anxiously. He lowered his voice.
"Barron called on him this morning--had only just gone when I arrived.
Meynell has seen the letter to Dawes. I informed him of the letter to
you, and I think he would like to have some talk with you."
Catharine's face showed her relief.
"Oh, I am glad--I am _glad_ he knows!"--she said, with emphasis. "We were
wrong to delay."
"He told me nothing--and I asked nothing. But, of course, what the
situation implies is unfortunately clear enough!--no need to talk of it.
He won't and he can't vindicate himself, except by a simple denial. At
any ordinary time that would be enough. But now--with all the hot feeling
there is on the other subject--and the natural desire to discredit
him--" Flaxman shrugged his shoulders despondently. "Rose's maid--you
know the dear old thing she is--came to her last night, in utter distress
about the talk in the village. There was a journalist here, a reporter
from one of the papers that have been opposing Meynell most actively--"
"They are quite right to oppose him," interrupted Catharine quickly. Her
face had stiffened.
"Perfectly! But you see the temptation?"
Catharine admitted it. She stood by the window looking out into the rain.
And as she did so she became aware of a figure--the slight figure of a
woman--walking fast toward the cottage along the narrow grass causeway
that ran between the two ponds. On either side of the woman the autumn
trees swayed and bent under the rising storm, and every now and then a
mist of scudding leaves almost effaced her. She seemed to be breathlessly
struggling with the wind as she sped onward, and in her whole aspect
there was an indescribable forlornness and terror.
Catharine peered into the rain....
"Hugh!"--She turned swiftly to her brother-in-law--"There is some one
coming to see me. Will you go?"--she pointed to the garden door on the
farther side of the drawing-room--"and will you take Mary? Go round to
the back. You know the old summer-house at the end of the wood-walk. We
have often sheltered there from rain. Or there's the keeper's cottage a
little farther on. I know Mary wanted to go there this afternoon. Please,
He looked at her in astonishment. Then through the large French window he
too saw the advancing form. In an instant he had disappeared by the
garden door. Catharine went into the hall, opened the door of the kitchen
and beckoned to Mary, who was standing there with their little maid.
"Don't come back just yet, darling!" she said in her ear--"Get your
things on, and go with Uncle Hugh. I want to be alone."
Mary stepped back bewildered, and Catharine shut her in. Then she went
back to the hall, just as a bell rang faintly.
"Is Mrs. Elsmere--"
Then as the visitor saw Catharine herself standing in the open doorway,
she said with broken breath: "Can I come in--can I see you?"
Catharine drew her in.
* * * * *
"Dear Miss Puttenham!--how tired you are--and how wet! Let me take the
And as she drew off the soaked waterproof, Catharine felt the trembling
of the slight frame beneath.
"Come and sit by the fire," she said tenderly.
Alice sank into the chair that was offered her, her eyes fixed on
Catharine. Every feature in the delicate oval face was pinched and drawn.
The struggle with wild weather had drained the lips and the cheeks of
colour, and her brown hair under her serge cap fell limply about her
small ears and neck. She was an image not so much of grief as of some
Catharine began to chafe her hands--but Alice stopped her--
"I am not cold--oh no, I'm not cold. Dear Mrs. Elsmere! You must think it
so strange of me to come to you in this way. But I am in trouble--such
great trouble--and I don't know what to do. Then I thought I'd come to
you. You--you always seem to me so kind--you won't despise--or repulse
me--I know you won't!"
Her voice sank to a whisper. Catharine took the two icy hands in her warm
"Tell me if there is anything I can do to help you."
"I--I want to tell you. You may be angry--because I've been Mary's
friend--when I'd no right. I'm not what you think. I--I have a
secret--or--I had. And now it's discovered--and I don't know what I shall
do--it's so awful--so awful!"
Her head dropped on the chair behind her--and her eyes closed. Catharine,
kneeling beside her, bent forward and kissed her.
"Won't you tell me?" she said, gently.
Alice was silent a moment. Then she suddenly opened her eyes--and spoke
in a whisper.
"I--I was never married. But Hester Fox-Wilton's--my child!"
The tears came streaming from her eyes. They stood in Catharine's.
"You poor thing!" said Catharine brokenly, and raising one of the cold
hands, she pressed it to her lips.
But Alice suddenly raised herself.
"You knew!"--she said--"You knew!" And her eyes, full of fear, stared
into Catharine's. Then as Catharine did not speak immediately she went on
with growing agitation, "You've heard--what everybody's saying? Oh! I
don't know how I can face it. I often thought it would come--some time.
And ever since that woman--since Judith--came home--it's been a
nightmare. For I felt certain she'd come home because she was angry with
us--and that she'd said something--before she died. Then nothing
happened--and I've tried to think--lately--it was all right. But last
She paused for self-control. Catharine was alarmed by her state--by its
anguish, its excitement. It required an effort of her whole being before
the sufferer could recover voice and breath, before she hurried on,
holding Catharine's hands, and looking piteously into her face.
"Last night a woman came to see me--an old servant of mine who's nursed
me sometimes--when I've been ill. She loves me--she's good to me. And she
came to tell me what people were saying in the village--how there were
letters going round, about me--and Hester--how everybody knew--and they
were talking in the public-houses. She thought I ought to know--she
cried--and wanted me to deny it. And of course I denied it--I was fierce
to her--but it's true!"
She paused a moment, her pale lips moving soundlessly, unconsciously.
"I--I'll tell you about that presently. But the awful thing was--she said
people were saying--that the Rector--that Mr. Meynell--was Hester's
father--and Judith Sabin had told Mr. Barron so before her death. And
they declared the Bishop would make him resign--and give up his living.
It would be such a scandal, she said--it might even break up the League.
And it would ruin Mr. Meynell, so people thought. Of course there were
many people who were angry--who didn't believe a word--but this woman who
told me was astonished that so many _did_ believe.... So then I thought
all night--what I should do. And this morning I went to Edith, my sister,
and told her. And she went into hysterics, and said she always knew I
should bring disgrace on them in the end--and her life had been a burden
to her for eighteen years--oh! that's what she says to me so often!
But the strange thing was she wanted to make me promise I would say
nothing--not a word. We were to go abroad, and the thing would die away.
She withdrew her hands from Catharine, and rising to her feet she
pressed the damp hair back from her face, and began to pace the
"I asked her what was to happen about Richard--about the Rector. I said
he must bring an action, and I would give evidence--it must all come out.
And then she fell upon me--and said I was an ungrateful wretch. My sin
had spoilt her life--and Ralph's. They had done all they could--and now
the publicity--if I insisted--would disgrace them all--and ruin the
girls' chances of marrying, and I don't know what besides. But if I held
my tongue--we could go away for a time--it would be forgotten, and nobody
out of Upcote need ever hear of it. People would never believe such a
thing of Richard Meynell. Of course he would deny it--and of course his
word would be taken. But to bring out the whole story in a law-court--"
She paused beside Catharine, wringing her hands, gathering up as it were
her whole strength to pour it--slowly, deliberately--into the words that
"But I--will run no risk of ruining Richard Meynell! As for me--what does
it matter what happens to me! And darling Hester!--we could keep it from
her--we would! She and I could live abroad. And I don't see how it could
disgrace Edith and the girls--people would only say she and Ralph had
been very good to me. But Richard Meynell!--with these trials coming
on--and all the excitement about him--there'll be ever so many who would
be wild to believe it! They won't care how absurd it is--they'll want
to _crush_ him! And he--he'll _never_ say a word for himself--to
explain--never! Because he couldn't without telling all my story. And
that--do you suppose Richard Meynell would ever do _that_?--to any poor
human soul that had trusted him?"
The colour had rushed back into her cheeks; she held herself erect,
transfigured by the emotion that possessed her. Catharine looked at her
in doubt--trouble--amazement. And then, her pure sense divined
something--dimly--of what the full history of this soul had been; and her
heart melted. She put out her hands and drew the speaker down again into
the seat beside her.
"I think you'll have to let him decide that for you. He's a strong
man--and a wise man. He'll judge what's right. And I ought to warn you
that he'll be here probably--very soon. He wanted to see me."
Alice opened her startled eyes.
"About this? To see you? I don't understand."
"I had one of these letters--these wicked letters," said Catharine
Alice shrank and trembled. "It's terrible!"--her voice was scarcely to be
heard. "Who is it hates me so?--or Richard?"
There was silence a moment. And in the pause the stress and tumult of
nature without, the beating of the wind, and the plashing of the rain,
seemed to be rushing headlong through the little room. But neither
Catharine nor Alice was aware of it, except in so far as it played
obscurely on Alice's tortured nerves, fevering and goading them the more.
Catharine's gaze was bent on her companion; her mind was full of projects
of help, which were also prayers; moments in that ceaseless dialogue with
a Greater than itself, which makes the life of the Christian. And it was
as though, by some secret influence, her prayers worked on Alice; for
presently she turned in order that she might look straight into the face
"I'd like to tell you"--she said faintly--"oh--I'd like to tell you!"
"Tell me anything you will."
"It was when I was so young--just eighteen--like Hester. Oh! but you
don't know about Neville--no one does now. People seem all to have
forgotten him. But he came into his property here--the Abbey--the old
Abbey--just when I was growing up. I saw him here first--but only once or
twice. Then we met in Scotland. I was staying at a house near his
shooting. And we fell in love. Oh, I knew he was married!--I can never
say that I didn't know, even at the beginning. But his wife was so cruel
to him--he was very, very unhappy. She couldn't understand him--or make
allowances for him--she despised him, and wouldn't live with him. He was
miserable--and so was I. My father and mother were dead! I had to live
with Ralph and Edith; and they always made me feel that I was in their
way. It wasn't their fault!--I _was_ in the way. And then Neville came.
He was so handsome, and so clever--so winning and dear--he could do
everything. I was staying with some old cousins in Rossshire, who used to
ask me now and then. There were no young people in the house. My cousins
were quite kind to me, but I spent a great deal of time alone--and
Neville and I got into a way of meeting--in lonely places--on the moors.
No one found out. He taught me everything I ever knew, almost. He gave me
books--and read to me. He was sorry for me--and at last--he loved me! And
we never looked ahead. Then--in one week--everything happened together. I
had to go home. He talked of going to Sandford, and implored me still to
meet him. And I thought how Ralph and Edith would watch us, and spy upon
us, and I implored him never to go to Sandford when I was at Upcote. We
must meet at other places. And he agreed. Then the day came for me to go
south. I travelled by myself--and he rode twenty miles to a junction
station and joined me. Then we travelled all day together."
Her voice failed her. She pressed her thin hands together under the onset
of memory, and that old conquered anguish which in spite of all the life
that had been lived since still smouldered amid the roots of being.
"I may tell you?" she said at last, with a piteous look. Catharine bent
"Anything that will help you. Only remember I don't ask or expect you to
"I ought"--said Alice miserably--"I ought--because of Mary."
Catharine was silent. She only pressed the hand she held. Alice resumed:
"It was a day that decided all my life. We were so wretched. We thought
we could never meet again--it seemed as though we were both--with every
station we passed--coming nearer to something like death--something worse
than death. Then--before we got to Euston--I couldn't bear it--I--I gave
way. We sent a telegram from Euston to Edith that I was going to stay
with a school friend in Cornwall--and that night we crossed to Paris--"
She covered her face with her hands a moment; then went on more calmly:
"You'll guess all the rest. I was a fortnight with him in Paris. Then I
went home. In a few weeks Edith guessed--and so did Judith Sabin, who was
Edith's maid. Edith made me tell her everything. She and Ralph were
nearly beside themselves. They were very strict in those days; Ralph was
a great Evangelical, and used to speak at the May meetings. All his party
looked up to him so--and consulted him. It was a fearful blow to him. But
Edith thought of what to do--and she made him agree. We went abroad, she
and I--with Judith. It was given out that Edith was delicate, and must
have a year away. We stopped about in little mountain places--and Hester
was born at Grenoble. And then for the last and only time, they let
Neville come to see me--"
Her voice sank. She could only go on in a whisper.
"Three weeks later he was drowned on the Donegal coast. It was called an
accident--but it wasn't. He had hoped and hoped to get his wife to
divorce him--and make amends. And when Mrs. Flood's--his wife's--final
letter came--she was a Catholic and nothing would induce her--he just
took his boat out in a storm, and never came back--"
The story lost itself in a long sobbing sigh that came from the depths of
life. When she spoke again it was with more strength:
"But he had written the night before to Richard--Richard Meynell. You
know he was the Rector's uncle, though he was only seven years older? I
had never seen Richard then. But I had often heard of him from Neville.
Neville had taken a great fancy to him a year or two before, when Richard
was still at college, and Neville was in the Guards. They used to talk of
religion and philosophy. Neville was a great reader always--and they
became great friends. So on his last night he wrote to Richard, telling
him everything, and asking him to be kind to me--and Hester. And
Richard--who had just been appointed to the living here--came out to
the Riviera, and brought me the letter--and the little book that was in
his pocket--when they found him. So you see ..."
She spoke with fluttering colour and voice, as though to find words at
all were a matter of infinite difficulty:
"You see that was how Richard came to take an interest in us--in Hester
and me--how he came to be the friend too of Ralph and Edith. Poor
Ralph!--Ralph was often hard to me, but he meant kindly--he would never
have got through at all but for Richard. If Richard was away for a week,
he used to fret. That was eighteen years ago--and I too should never have
had any peace--any comfort in life again--but for Richard. He found
somebody to live with me abroad for those first years, and then, when I
came back to Upcote, he made Ralph and Edith consent to my living in that
little house by myself--with my chaperon. He would have preferred--indeed
he urged it--that I should go on living abroad. But there was
Hester!--and I knew by that time that none of them had the least bit of
love for her!--she was a burden to them all. I couldn't leave her to
them--I _couldn't!_... Oh! they were terrible, those years!" And again
she caught Catharine's hands and held them tight. "You see, I was so
young--not much over twenty--and nobody suspected anything. Nobody in the
world knew anything--except Judith Sabin, who was in America, and _she_
never knew who Hester's father was--and my own people--and Richard!
Richard taught me how to bear it--oh! not in words--for he never preached
to me--but by his life. I couldn't have lived at all--but for him. And
now you see--you see--how I am paying him back!"
And again, as the rush of emotion came upon her, she threw herself into a
wild pleading, as though the gray-haired woman beside her were thwarting
and opposing her.
"How can I let my story--my wretched story--ruin his life--and all his
work? I can't--I can't! I came to you because you won't look at it as
Edith does. You'll think of what's right--right to others. Last night I
thought one must die of--misery. I suppose people would call it shame. It
seemed to me I heard what they were all saying in the village--how they
were gloating over it--after all these years. It seemed to strip one of
all self-respect--all decency. And to-day I don't care about that! I care
only that Richard shouldn't suffer because of what he did for me--and
because of me. Oh! do help me, do advise me! Your look--your manner--have
often made me want to come and tell you"--her voice was broken now with
stifled sobs--"like a child--a child. Dear Mrs. Elsmere!--what ought I to
And she raised imploring eyes to the face beside her, so finely worn with
living and with human service.
"You must think first of Hester," said Catharine, with gentle steadiness,
putting her arm round the bent shoulders. "I am sure the Rector would
tell you that. She is your first--your sacredest duty."
Alice Puttenham shivered as though something in Catharine's tender voice
"Oh, I know--my poor Hester! My life has set hers all wrong. Wouldn't
it have been better to face it all from the beginning--to tell the
truth--wouldn't it?" She asked it piteously.
"It might have been. But the other way was chosen; and now to undo
it--publicly--affects not you only, but Hester. It mayn't be possible--it
mayn't be right."
"I must!--I must!" said Alice impetuously, and rising to her feet she
began to pace the room again with wild steps, her hands behind her, her
slender form drawn tensely to its height.
At that moment Catharine became aware of some one standing in the porch
just beyond the drawing-room of the tiny cottage.
"This may be Mr. Meynell." She rose to admit him.
Alice stood expectant. Her outward agitation disappeared. Some murmured
conversation passed between the two persons in the little hall. Then
Catharine came in again, followed by Meynell, who closed the door, and
stood looking sadly at the pale woman confronting him.
"So they haven't spared even you?" he said at last, in a voice bitterly
subdued. "But don't be too unhappy. It wants courage and wisdom on our
part. But it will all pass away."
He quietly pushed a chair toward Alice, and then took off his dripping
cloak, carried it into the passage outside, and returned.
"Don't go, Mrs. Elsmere," he said, as he perceived Catharine's
uncertainty. "Stay and help us, if you will."
Catharine submitted. She took her accustomed seat by the fire; Alice, or
the ghost of Alice, sat opposite to her, in Mary's chair, surrounded by
Mary's embroidery things; and Meynell was between them.
He looked from one to the other, and there was something in his aspect
which restrained Alice's agitation, and answered at once to some high
expectation in Catharine.
"I know, Mrs. Elsmere, that you have received one of the anonymous
letters that are being circulated in this neighbourhood, and I presume
also--from what I see--that Miss Puttenham has given you her confidence.
We must think calmly what is best to do. Now--the first person who must
be in all our minds--is Hester."
He bent forward, looking into Alice's face, without visible emotion;
rather with the air of peremptory common sense which had so often helped
her through the difficulties of her life.
She sat drooping, her head on her hand, making no sign.
"Let us remember these facts," he resumed. "Hester is in a critical state
of life and mind. She imagines herself to be in love with my cousin
Philip Meryon, a worthless man, without an ounce of conscience where
women are concerned, who, in my strong belief, is already married
under the ambiguities of Scotch law, though his wife, if she is his wife,
left him some years ago, detests him, and has never been acknowledged. I
have convinced him at last--this morning--that I mean to bring this home
to him. But that does not dispose of the thing--finally. Hester is in
danger--in danger from herself. She is at war with her family--with the
world. She believes nobody loves her--that she is and always has been a
pariah at home--and with her temperament she is in a mood for desperate
things. Tell her now that she is illegitimate--let your sister Edith go
talking to her about 'disgrace'--and there is no saying what will happen.
She will say--and think--that she has no responsibilities, and may do
what she pleases. There is no saying what she might do. We might have a
tragedy that none of us could prevent."
Alice lifted her head.
"I could go away with her," she said, imploringly. "I could watch over
her day and night. But let me put this thing straight now publicly.
Indeed--indeed, it is time."
"You mean you wish to bring an action? In that case you would have to
return to give evidence."
"Yes--for a short time. But that could be managed. She should never see
the English papers--I could promise that."
"And what is to prevent Philip Meryon telling her? At present he is
entirely ignorant of her parentage. I have convinced myself of that this
morning. He has no dealings with the people here, nor they with him.
What has been happening here has not reached him. And he is really off
to-night. We must, of course, always take the risk of his knowing, and of
his telling her. A libel action would convert that risk into a certainty.
Would it not simply forward whatever designs he may have on her--for I do
not believe for a moment he will abandon them--it will be a duel, rather,
between him and us--would it not actually forward his designs--to tell
Alice did not reply. She sat wringing her delicate hands in a silent
desperation; while Catharine opposite was lost in the bewilderment of the
situation--the insistence of the woman, the refusal of the man.
"My advice is this"--continued Meynell, still addressing Alice--"that you
should take her to Paris tomorrow in my stead, and should stay near her
for some months. Lady Fox-Wilton--whom I have just seen--she overtook me
driving on the Markborough road half an hour ago, and we had some
conversation--talks of taking a house at Tours for a year--an excellent
thing--for them all. We don't want her on the spot any longer--we don't
want any of them!" said the Rector, dismissing the Fox-Wilton family with
an emphatic gesture which probably represented what he had gone through
in the interview with Edith. ... "In that way the thing will soon die
down. There will be nobody here--nobody within reach--for the scoundrel
who is writing these letters to attack--except, of course, myself--and
I shall know how to deal with it. He will probably tire of the amusement.
Other people will be ashamed of having read the letters and believed
them. I even dare to hope that Mr. Barron--in time--may be ashamed."
Alice looked at him in tremulous despair.
"Nobody to attack!" she said--"nobody to attack! And you,
A dry smile flickered on his face.
"Leave that to me--I assure you you may leave it to me."
"Richard!" said Alice imploringly--"just think. I know what you say is
very important--very true. But for me personally"--she looked round the
room with wandering eyes; then found a sudden passionate gesture,
pressing back the hair from her brow with both hands--"for me
personally--to tell the truth--to face the truth--would be
relief--infinite relief! It would kill the fear in which I have lived all
these years--kill it forever. It would be better for all of us if we had
told the truth--from the beginning. And as for Hester--she must know--you
say yourself she must know before long--when she is of age--when she
Meynell's face took an unconscious hardness.
"Forgive me!--the matter must be left to me. The only person who could
reasonably take legal action would be myself--and I shall not take it. I
beg you, be advised by me." He bent forward again. "My dear friend!"--and
now he spoke with emotion--"in your generous consideration for me you do
not know what you are proposing--what an action in the courts would mean,
especially at this moment. Think of the party spirit that would be
brought into it--the venom--the prejudice--the base insinuations.
No!--believe me--that is out of the question--for your sake--and
"And your work--your influence?"
"If they suffer--they must suffer. But do not imagine that I shall not
defend myself--and you--you above all--from calumny and lies. Of course I
shall--in my own way."
There was silence--a dismal silence. At the end of it Meynell stretched
out his hand to Alice with a smile. She placed her own in it, slowly,
with a look which filled Catharine's eyes once more with tears.
"Trust me!" said Meynell, as he pressed the hand. "Indeed you may." Then
he turned to Catharine Elsmere--
"I think Mrs. Elsmere is with me--that she approves?"
"With one reservation." The words came gravely, after a moment's doubt.
His eyes asked her to be frank.
"I think it would be possible--I think it would be just--if Miss
Puttenham were to empower you to go to your Bishop. He too has rights!"
said Catharine, her clear skin reddening.
Meynell paused: then spoke with hesitation.
"Yes--that I possibly might do--if you permit me?" He turned again to
"Go to him--go to him at once!" she said with a sob she could not
Another silence. Then Meynell walked to the window and looked at the
"It is not raining so fast," he said in his cheerful voice. "Oughtn't you
to be going home--getting ready and arranging with Hester? It's an awful
business going abroad."
Alice rose silently. Catharine went into the kitchen to fetch the
waterproof which had been drying.
Alice and Meynell were left alone.
She looked up.
"It is so hard to be hated!" she said passionately--"to see you hated. It
seems to burn one's heart--the coarse and horrible things that are being
He frowned and fidgeted--till the thought within forced its way:
"Christ was hated. Yet directly the least touch of it comes to us, we
rebel--we cry out against God."
"It is because we are so weak--we are not Christ!" She covered her face
with her hands.
"No--but we are his followers--if the Life that was in him is in us too.
'_Life that in me has rest_--_as I_--_Undying Life_--_have power in
Thee_!'" He fell--murmuring--into lines that had evidently been in his
thoughts, smiling upon her.
Then Catharine returned. Alice was warmly wrapped up, and Catharine took
her to the door, leaving Meynell in the sitting-room.
"We will come and help you this evening--Mary and I," she said tenderly,
as they stood together in the little passage.
"Mary?" Alice looked at her in a trembling uncertainty.
Alice thought a moment, and then said with a low intensity, a force to
which Catharine had no clue--"I want you--to tell her--the whole story.
Catharine kissed her cheek in silence, and they parted.
* * * * *
Catharine went slowly back to the little sitting-room. Meynell was
standing abstracted before the fire, his hands clasped in front of him,
his head bent. Catharine approached him--drawing quick breath.
"Mr. Meynell--what shall I do--what do you wish me to do or say--with
regard to my daughter?"
He turned--pale with amazement.
And so began what one may call--perhaps--the most romantic action of a
When Catharine returned to the little sitting-room, in which the darkness
of a rainy October evening was already declaring itself, she came shaken
by many emotions in which only one thing was clear--that the man before
her was a good man in distress, and that her daughter loved him.
If she had been of the true bigot stuff she would have seen in the
threatened scandal a means of freeing Mary from an undesirable
attachment. But just as in her married life, her heart had not been able
to stand against her husband while her mind condemned him, so now. While
in theory, and toward people with whom she never came in contact, she had
grown even more bitter and intransigent since Robert's death than she had
been in her youth, she had all the time been living the daily life of
service and compassion which--unknown to herself--had been the real
saving and determining force. Impulses of love, impulses of sacrifice
toward the miserable, the vile, and the helpless--day by day she had felt
them, day by day she had obeyed them. And thus all the arteries, so to
speak, of the spiritual life had remained soft and pliant--that life
itself in her was still young. It was there in truth that her
Christianity lay; while she imagined it to lie in the assent to certain
historical and dogmatic statements. And so strong was this inward and
vital faith--so strengthened in fact by mere living--that when she was
faced with this second crisis in her life, brought actually to close
grips with it, that faith, against all that might have been expected,
carried her through the difficult place with even greater sureness than
at first. She suffered indeed. It seemed to her all through that she was
endangering Mary, and condoning a betrayal of her Lord. And yet she could
not act upon this belief. She must needs act--with pain often, and yet
with mysterious moments of certainty and joy, on quite another faith, the
faith which has expressed itself in the perennial cry of Christianity:
"Little children, love one another!" And therein lay the difference
between her and Barron.
It was therefore in this mixed--and yet single--mood that she came back
to Meynell, and asked him--quietly--the strange question: "What shall I
do--what do you wish me to do or say--with regard to my daughter?"
Meynell could not for a moment believe that he had heard aright. He
stared at her in bewilderment, at first pale, and then in a sudden heat
and vivacity of colour.
"I--I hardly understand you, Mrs. Elsmere."
They stood facing each other in silence.
"Surely we need not inform her," he said, at last, in a low voice.
"Only that a wicked and untrue story has been circulated--that you
cannot, for good reasons, involving other persons, prosecute those
responsible for it in the usual way. And if she comes across any signs of
it, or its effects, she is to trust your wisdom in dealing with it--and
not to be troubled--is not that what you would like me to say?"
"That is indeed what I should like you to say." He raised his eyes to her
"Or--will you say it yourself?"
"Mrs. Elsmere!"--he spoke with quick emotion--"You are wonderfully good
to me." He scanned her with an unsteady face--then made an agitated step
toward her. "It almost makes me think--you permit me--"
"No--no," said Catharine, hurriedly, drawing back. "But if you would like
to speak to Mary--she will be here directly."
"No!"--he said, after a moment, recovering his composure--"I couldn't!
"If you wish it." Then she added, "She will of course never ask a
question; it will be her business to know nothing of the matter--in
itself. But she will be able to show you her confidence, and to feel that
we have treated her as a woman--not a child."'
Meynell drew a deep breath. He took Catharine's hand and pressed it. She
felt with a thrill--which was half bitterness--that it was already a
son's look he turned upon her.
"You--you have guessed me?" he said, almost inaudibly.
"I see there is a great friendship between you."
"_Friendship!_" Then he restrained himself sharply. "But I ought not to
speak of it--to intrude myself and my affairs on her notice at all at
this moment...." He looked at his companion almost sternly. "Is it not
clear that I ought not? I meant to have brought her a book to-day. I have
not brought it. I have been even glad--thankful--to think you were going
away, although--" But again he checked the personal note. "The truth is I
could not endure that through me--through anything connected with me--she
might be driven upon facts and sorrows--ugly facts that would distress
her, and sorrows for which she is too young. It seemed to me indeed I
might not be able to help it. But at the same time it was clear to me,
to-day, that at such a time--feeling as I do--I ought not in the smallest
degree to presume upon her--and your--kindness to me. Above all"--his
voice shook--"I could not come forward--I could not speak to her--as at
another time I might have spoken. I could not run the smallest risk--of
her name being coupled with mine--when my character was being seriously
called in question. It would not have been right for her; it would not
have been seemly for myself. So what was there--but silence? And yet I
felt--that through this silence--we should somehow trust each other!"
He paused a moment, looking down upon his companion. Catharine was
sitting by the fire near a small table on which her elbow rested, her
face propped on her hand. There was something in the ascetic refinement,
the grave sweetness of her aspect, that played upon him with a tonic and
consoling force. He remembered the frozen reception she had given him at
their first meeting; and the melting of her heart toward him seemed a
wonderful thing. And then came the delicious thought--"Would she so treat
him, unless Mary--_Mary_!--"
But, at the same time, there was in him the mind of the practical man,
which plainly and energetically disapproved her. And presently he tried,
with much difficulty, to tell her so, to impress upon her--upon her,
Mary's mother--that Mary must not be allowed to hold any communication
with him, to show any kindness toward him, till this cloud had wholly
cleared away, and the sky was clear again. He became almost angry as he
urged this; so excited, indeed, and incoherent that a charming smile
stole into Catharine's gray eyes.
"I understand quite what you feel," she said as she rose, "and why you
feel it. But I am not bound to follow your advice--or to agree with
"Yes, I think you are," he said stoutly.
Then a shadow fell over her face.
"I suppose I am doing a strange thing"--her manner faltered a
little--"but it seems to me right--I have been _led_--else why was
it so plain?"
She raised her clear eyes, and he understood that she spoke of those
"hints" and "voices" of the soul that play so large a part in the more
mystical Christian experience. She hurried on:
"When two people--two people like you and Mary--feel such a deep
interest in each other--surely it is God's sign." Then, suddenly, the
tears shone. "Oh, Mr. Meynell!--trial brings us nearer to our Saviour.
Perhaps--through it--you and Mary--will find Him!"
He saw that she was trembling from head to foot; and his own emotion was
He took her hand again, and held it in both his own.
"Do you imagine," he said huskily "that you and I are very far apart?"
And again the tenderness of his manner was a son's tenderness.
She shook her head, but she could not speak. She gently withdrew her
hand, and turned aside to gather up some letters on the table.
A sound of footsteps could be heard outside. Catharine moved to the
"It is Mary," she said quietly. "Will you wait a little while I meet
her?" And without giving him time to reply, she left the room.
He walked up and down, not without some humorous bewilderment in spite of
his emotion. The saints, it seemed, are persons of determination! But,
after a minute, he thought of nothing, realized nothing, save that Mary
was in the little house again, and that one of those low voices he could
just hear, as a murmur in the distance, through the thin walls of the
cottage, was hers.
The door opened softly, and she came in. Though she had taken off her
hat, she still wore her blue cloak of Irish frieze, which fell round her
slender figure in long folds. Her face was rosy with rain and wind; the
same wind and rain which had stamped such a gray fatigue on Alice
Puttenham's cheeks. Amid the dusk, the fire-light touched her hair and
her ungloved hand. She was a vision of youth and soft life; and her
composure, her slight, shy smile, would alone have made her beautiful.
Their hands met as she gently greeted him. But there was that in his look
which disturbed her gentleness--which deepened her colour. She hurried to
"I am so glad that mother made you stay--just that I might tell
you." Then her breath began to hasten. "Mother says you are--or may
be--unjustly attacked--that you don't think it right to defend yourself
publicly--and those who follow you, and admire you, may be hurt and
troubled. I wanted to say--and mother approves--that whoever is hurt and
troubled, I can never be--except for you. Besides, I shall know and ask
nothing. You may be sure of that. And people will not dare to speak to
She stood proudly erect.
Meynell was silent for a moment. Then, by a sudden movement, he stooped
and kissed a fold of her cloak. She drew back with a little stifled cry,
putting out her hands, which he caught. He kissed them both, dropped
them, and walked away from her.
When he returned it was with another aspect.
"Don't let's make too much of this trouble. It may all die away--or it
may be a hard fight. But whatever happens, you are going to Westmoreland
immediately. That is my great comfort."
"Is it?" She laughed unsteadily.
He too smiled. There was intoxication he could not resist--in her
presence--and in what it implied.
"It is the best possible thing that could be done. Then--whatever
happens--I shall not be compromising my friends. For a while--there must
be no communication between them and me."
"Oh, yes!" she said, involuntarily clasping her hands. "Friends may
"May they?" He thought it over, with a furrowed brow, then raised it,
clear. "What shall they write about?"
An exquisite joyousness trembled in her look.
"Leave it to them!"
Then, as she once more perceived the anxiety and despondency in him,
the brightness clouded; pity possessed her: "Tell me what you are
"_If_ I preach--_if_ I write. And what will you tell me?"
"'How the water comes down at Lodore,'" she said gayly. "What the
mountains look like, and how many rainy days there are in a week."
"Excellent! I perceive you mean to libel the country I love!"
"You can always come and see!" she said, with a shy courage.
He shook his head.
"No. My Westmoreland holiday is given up."
"Because of the Movement?"
And sitting down by the fire, still with that same look of suppressed and
tremulous joy, she began to question him about the meetings and
engagements ahead. But he would not be drawn into any talk about them. It
was no doubt quite possible--though not, he thought, probable--that he
might soon be ostracized from them all. But upon this he would not dwell,
and though her understanding of the whole position was far too vague
to warn her from these questions, she soon perceived that he was
unwilling to answer them as usual. Silence indeed fell between them; but
it was a silence of emotion. She had thrown off her cloak, and sat
looking down, in the light of the fire; she knew that he observed her,
and the colour on her cheek was due to something more than the flame at
her feet. As they realized each other's nearness indeed, in the quiet of
the dim room, it was with a magic sense of transformation. Outside the
autumn storm was still beating--symbol of the moral storm which
threatened them. Yet within were trust and passionate gratitude and
tender hope, intertwined, all of them, with the sacred impulse of the
woman toward the man, and of the man toward the woman. Each moment as it
passed built up one of those watersheds of life from which henceforward
the rivers flow broadening to undreamt-of seas.
* * * * *
When Catharine returned, Meynell was hat in hand for departure. There was
no more expression of feeling or reference to grave affairs. They stood a
few moments chatting about ordinary things. Incidentally Hugh Flaxman's
loss of the two gold coins was mentioned. Meynell inquired when they were
"That very evening," said Mary. "Rose always puts them away herself. She
missed the two little cases at once. One was a coin of Velia, with a head
"I remember it perfectly," said Meynell. "It dropped on the floor when I
was talking to Norham--and I picked it up--with another, if I remember
Mary replied that the Hermes too was missing--that both were exceedingly
rare; and that in the spring a buyer for the Louvre had offered Hugh four
hundred pounds for the two.
"They feel most unhappy and uncomfortable about it. None of the servants
seems to have gone into that room during the party. Rose put all the
coins on the table herself. She remembers saying good-bye to Canon France
and his sister in the drawing-room--and two or three others--and
immediately afterward she went into the green drawing-room to lock up the
coins. There were two missing."
"She doesn't remember who had been in the room?"
"She vaguely remembers seeing two or three people go in and out--the
They both laughed. Then Meynell's face set sharply. A sudden recollection
shot through his mind. He beheld the figure of a sallow, dark-haired
young man slipping--alone--through the doorway of the green drawing-room.
And this image in the mind touched and fired others, like a spark running
through dead leaves....
* * * * *
When he had gone, Catharine turned to Mary, and Mary, running, wound her
arms close round her mother, and lay her head on Catharine's breast.
"You angel!--you darling!" she said, and raising her mother's hand she
kissed it passionately.
Catharine's eyes filled with tears, and her heart with mingled joy and
revolt. Then, quickly, she asked herself as she stood there in her
child's embrace whether she should speak of a certain event--certain
experience--which had, in truth, though Mary knew nothing of it, vitally
affected both their lives.
But she could not bring herself to speak of it.
So that Mary never knew to what, in truth, she owed the painful breaking
down of an opposition and a hostility which might in time have poisoned
all their relations to each other.
But when Mary had gone away to change her damp clothes, the visionary
experience of which Catharine could not tell came back upon her; and
again she felt the thrill--the touch of bodiless ecstasy.
It had been in the early morning, when all such things befall. For then
the mind is not yet recaptured by life and no longer held by sleep. There
is in it a pure expectancy, open to strange influences: influences from
memory and the under-soul. It visualizes easily, and dream and fact are
In this state Catharine woke on a September morning and felt beside her a
presence that held her breathless. The half-remembered images and
thoughts of sleep pursued her--became what we call "real."
"Robert!" she said, aloud--very low.
And without voice, it seemed to her that some one replied. A dialogue
began into which she threw her soul. Of her body, she was not conscious;
and yet the little room, its white ceiling, its open windows, and the
dancing shadows of the autumn leaves were all present to her. She poured
out the sorrow, the anxiety--about Mary--that pressed so heavy on her
heart, and the tender voice answered, now consoling, now rebuking.
"And we forbade him, because he followed not us ... Forbid him
not--_forbid him not_!"--seemed to go echoing through the quiet air.
The words sank deep into her sense--she heard herself sobbing--and
the unearthly presence came nearer--though still always remote,
intangible--with the same baffling distance between itself and her....
The psychology of it was plain. It was the upthrust into consciousness of
the mingled ideas and passions on which her life was founded, piercing
through the intellectualism of her dogmatic belief. But though she would
have patiently accepted any scientific explanation, she believed in her
heart that Robert had spoken to her, bidding her renounce her repugnance
to Mary's friendship with Meynell--to Mary's love for Meynell.
She came down the morning after with a strange, dull sense of change
and disaster. But the currents of her mind and will had set firmly in a
fresh direction. It was almost mechanically--under a strong sense of
guidance--that she had made her hesitating proposal to Mary to go with
her to the Upcote meeting. Mary's look of utter astonishment had sent new
waves of disturbance and compunction through the mother's mind.
* * * * *
But if these things could not be told--even to Mary--there were other
revelations to make.
When the lamp had been brought in, and the darkness outside shut out,
Catharine laid her hand on Mary's, and told the story of Alice Puttenham.
Mary heard it in silence, growing very pale. Then, with another embrace
of her mother, she went away upstairs, only pausing at the door of the
sitting-room to ask when they should start for the cottage.
Upstairs Mary sat for long in the dark, thinking.... Through her
uncurtained windows she watched the obscure dying away of the storm, the
calming of the trees, and the gradual clearing of the night sky. Between
the upfurling clouds the stars began to show; tumult passed into a great
tranquillity; and a breath of frost began to steal through the woods, and
over the water....
Catharine too passed an hour of reflection--and of yearning over the
unhappy. Naturally, to Mary, her lips had been sealed on that deepest
secret of all, which she had divined for a moment in Alice. She had
clearly perceived what was or had been the weakness of the woman,
together with the loyal unconsciousness and integrity of the man. And
having perceived it, not only pity but the strain in Catharine of plain
simplicity and common sense bade her bury and ignore it henceforward.
It was what Alice's true mind must desire; and it was the only way to
help her. She began however to understand what might be the full meaning
of Alice's last injunction--and her eyes grew wet.
* * * * *
Mother and daughter started about eight o'clock for the cottage. They had
a lantern with them, but they hardly needed it, for through the
tranquillized air a new moon shone palely, and the frost made way.
Catharine walked rejoicing apparently in renewed strength and recovered
powers of exertion. Some mining, crippling influence seemed to have been
removed from her since her dream. And yet, even at this time, she was not
without premonitions--physical premonitions--as to the future--faint
signal-voices that the obscure life of the body can often communicate to
They found the cottage all in light and movement. Servants were flying
about; boxes were in the hall; Hester had come over to spend the night at
the cottage that she and "Aunt Alice" might start by an early train.
Alice came out to meet her visitors in the little hall. Catharine slipped
into the drawing-room. Alice and Mary held each other enwrapped in one of
those moments of life that have no outward expression but dimmed eyes
and fluttering breath.
"Is it all done? Can't I help?" said Mary at last, scarcely knowing what
she said, as Alice released her.
"No, dear, it's all done--except our books. Come up with me while I pack
And they vanished upstairs, hand in hand.
Meanwhile Hester in her most reckless mood was alternately flouting and
caressing Catharine Elsmere. She was not in the least afraid of
Catharine, and it was that perhaps which had originally drawn Catharine's
heart to her. Elsmere's widow was accustomed to feel herself avoided by
young people who discussed a wild literature, and appeared to be without
awe toward God, or reverence toward man. Yet all the time, through her
often bewildered reprobation of them, she hungered for their affection,
and knew that she carried in herself treasures of love to give--though no
doubt, on terms.
But Hester had always divined these treasures, and was, besides, as a
rule, far too arrogant and self-centred to restrain herself in anything
she wished to say or do for fear of hurting or shocking her elders.
At this moment she had declared herself tired out with packing, and
was lounging in an armchair in the little drawing-room. A Japanese
dressing-gown of some pale pink stuff sprayed with almond blossom floated
about her, disclosing a skimpy silk petticoat and a slender foot from
which she had kicked its shoe. Her pearly arms and neck were almost bare;
her hair tumbled on her shoulders; her eyes shone with excitement
provoked by a dozen hidden and conflicting thoughts. In her beauty, her
ardent and provocative youth, she seemed to be bursting out of the little
room, with its artistic restraint of colour and furnishing.
"Don't please do any more fussing," she said imploringly to Catharine.
"It's all done--only Aunt Alice thinks it's never done. Do sit down and
And she put out an impatient hand, and drew the stately Catharine toward
a chair beside her.
"You ought to be in bed," said Catharine, retaining her hand. The girl's
ignorance of all that others knew affected her strangely--produced a
great softness and compunction.
"I shouldn't sleep. I wonder when I shall get a decent amount of sleep
again!" said Hester, pressing back the hair from her cheeks. Then she
turned sharply on her visitor:
"Of course you know, Mrs. Elsmere, that I am simply being sent away--in
"I know"--Catharine smiled, though her tone was grave--"that those who
love you think there ought to be a change."
"That's a nice way of putting it--a real gentlemanly way," said Hester,
swaying backward and forward, her hands round her knees. "But all the
same it's true. They're sending me away because they don't know what
I'll do next. They think I'll do something abominable."
The girl's eyes sparkled.
"Why will you give your guardians this anxiety?" asked Catharine, not
without severity. "They are never at rest about you. My dear--they only
wish your good."
Hester laughed. She threw out a careless hand and laid it on Catharine's
"Isn't it odd, Mrs. Elsmere, that you don't know anything about me,
though--you won't mind, will you?--though you're so kind to me, and I do
like you so. But you can't know anything, can you, about girls--like
And looking up from where she lay deep in the armchair, she turned
half-mocking eyes on her companion.
"I don't know--perhaps--about girls like you," said Catharine, smiling,
and shyly touching the hand on her knee. "But I live half my life--with
"Oh--poor girls? Girls in factories--girls that wear fringes, and sham
pearl beads, and six ostrich feathers in their hats on Sundays? No, I
don't think I'm like them. If I were they, I shouldn't care about
feathers or the sham pearls. I should be more likely to try and steal
some real ones! No, but I mean really girls like me--rich girls, though
of course I'm not rich--but you understand? Do you know any girls who
gamble and paint--their faces I mean--and let men lend them money, and
pay for their dresses?"
Hester sat up defiantly, looking at her companion.
"No, I don't know any of that kind," said Catharine quietly. "I'm
old-fashioned, you see--they wouldn't want to know me."
Hester's mouth twitched.
"Well, I'm not that kind exactly! I don't paint because--well, I suppose
I needn't! And I don't play for money, because I've nobody to play with.
As for letting men lend you money--"
"That you would never disgrace yourself by doing!" said Catharine
Hester's look was enigmatic.
"Well, I never did it. But I knew a girl in London--very pretty--and as
mad as you like. She was an orphan and her relatives didn't care twopence
about her. She got into debt, and a horrid old man offered to lend her a
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