The Crown of Life
Part 1 out of 8
This etext was produced by Charles Aldarondo (Aldarondo@yahoo.com).
THE CROWN OF LIFE
Amid the throng of suburban arrivals volleyed forth from Waterloo
Station on a May morning in the year '86, moved a slim, dark,
absent-looking young man of one-and-twenty, whose name was Piers
Otway. In regard to costume--blameless silk hat, and dark morning
coat with lighter trousers--the City would not have disowned him,
but he had not the City countenance. The rush for omnibus seats left
him unconcerned; clear of the railway station, he walked at a
moderate pace, his eyes mostly on the ground; he crossed the
foot-bridge to Charing Cross, and steadily made his way into the
Haymarket, where his progress was arrested by a picture shop.
A window hung with engravings, mostly after pictures of the day;
some of them very large, and attractive to a passing glance. One or
two admirable landscapes offered solace to the street-wearied
imagination, but upon these Piers Otway did not fix his eye; it was
drawn irresistibly to the faces and forms of beautiful women set
forth with varied allurement. Some great lady of the passing time
lounged in exquisite array amid luxurious furniture lightly
suggested; the faint smile of her flattered loveliness hovered about
the gazer; the subtle perfume of her presence touched his nerves;
the greys of her complexion transmuted themselves through the
current of his blood into life's carnation; whilst he dreamed upon
her lips, his breath was caught, as though of a sudden she had
smiled for him, and for him alone. Near to her was a maiden of
Hellas, resting upon a marble seat, her eyes bent towards some AEgean
isle; the translucent robe clung about her perfect body; her breast
was warm against the white stone; the mazes of her woven hair shone
with unguent. The gazer lost himself in memories of epic and idyll,
warming through worship to desire. Then his look strayed to the next
engraving; a peasant girl, consummate in grace and strength, supreme
in chaste pride, cheek and neck soft-glowing from the sunny field,
eyes revealing the heart at one with nature. Others there were,
women of many worlds, only less beautiful; but by these three the
young man was held bound. He could not satisfy himself with looking
and musing; he could not pluck himself away. An old experience; he
always lingered by the print shops of the Haymarket, and always went
on with troubled blood, with mind rapt above familiar circumstance,
dreaming passionately, making wild forecast of his fate.
At this hour of the morning not many passers had leisure to stand
and gaze; one, however, came to a pause beside Piers Otway, and
viewed the engravings. He was a man considerably older; not so well
dressed, but still, on the strength of externals, entitled to the
style of gentleman; his brown, hard felt hat was entirely
respectable, as were his tan gloves and his boots, but the cut-away
coat began to hint at release from service, and the trousers owed a
superficial smartness merely to being tightly strapped. This man had
a not quite agreeable face; inasmuch as it was smoothly shaven, and
exhibited a peculiar mobility, it might have denoted him an actor;
but the actor is wont to twinkle a good-natured mood which did not
appear upon this visage. The contour was good, and spoke
intelligence; the eyes must once have been charming. It was a face
which had lost by the advance of years; which had hardened where it
was soft, and seemed likely to grow harder yet; for about the lips,
as he stood examining these pictures, came a suggestion of the vice
in blood which tends to cruelty. The nostrils began to expand and to
tremble a little; the eyes seemed to project themselves; the long
throat grew longer. Presently, he turned a glance upon the young man
standing near to him, and in that moment his expression entirely
"Why," he exclaimed, "Piers!"
The other gave a start of astonishment, and at once smiled
"Daniel! I hadn't looked--I had no idea----" They shook hands,
with graceful cordiality on the elder man's part, with a slightly
embarrassed goodwill on that of the younger. Daniel Otway, whose age
was about eight-and-thirty, stood in the relation of
half-brotherhood to Piers, a relation suggested by no single trait
of their visages. Piers had a dark complexion, a face of the square,
emphatic type, and an eye of shy vivacity; Daniel, with the long,
smooth curves of his countenance and his chestnut hair was, in the
common sense, better looking, and managed his expression with a
skill which concealed the characteristics visible a few moments ago;
he bore himself like a suave man of the world, whereas his brother
still betrayed something of the boy in tone and gesture, something,
too, of the student accustomed to seclusion. Daniel's accent had
nothing at all in keeping with a shabby coat; that of the younger
man was less markedly refined, with much more of individuality.
"You live in London?" inquired Daniel, reading the other's look as
"No. Out at Ewell--in Surrey."
"Oh yes, I know Ewell. Reading?"
"Yes for the Civil Service. I've come up to lunch with a man who
knows father--Mr. Jacks."
"John Jacks, the M.P.?"
Piers nodded nervously, and the other regarded him with a smile of
"But you're very early. Any other engagements?"
"None," said Piers. It being so fine a morning, he had proposed a
long ramble about London streets before making for his destination
in the West End.
"Then you must come to my club," returned Daniel. "I shall be glad
of a talk with you, very glad, my dear boy. Why, it must be four
years since we saw each other. And, by the bye, you are just of age,
"Three days ago."
"To be sure. Heard anything from father?--No?--You're looking
very well, Piers--take my arm. I understood you were going into
business. Altered your mind? And how is the dear old man?"
They walked for a quarter of an hour, turning at last into a quiet,
genteel byway westward of Regent Street, and so into a club house of
respectable appearance. Daniel wrote his brother's name, and led up
to the smoking-room, which they found unoccupied.
"You smoke?--I am very glad to hear it. I began far too young, and
have suffered. It's too early to drink--and perhaps you don't do
that either?--Really? Vegetarian also, perhaps?--Why, you are
the model son of your father. And the regime seems to suit you. _Per
Bacco_! couldn't follow it myself: but I, like our fat friend, am
little better than one of the wicked. So you are one-and-twenty. You
have entered upon your inheritance, I presume?"
Piers answered with a look of puzzled inquiry.
"Haven't you heard about it? The little capital due to you."
"Not a word!"
"That's odd. _Was soil es bedeuten_?--By the bye, I suppose you
speak German well?"
"_Benissimo_!" Daniel had just lit a cigar; he lounged gracefully,
observing his brother with an eye of veiled keenness. "Well, I think
there is no harm in telling you that you are entitled to something
--your mother's money, you know."
"I had no idea of it," replied Piers, whom the news had in 'some
"Apropos, why don't you live with father? Couldn't you read as well
"Not quite, I think, and--the truth is, the stepmother doesn't
much like me. She's rather difficult to get on with you know."
"I imagined it. So you're just in lodgings?"
"I am with some people called Hannaford. I got to know them at
Geneva--they're not very well off; I have a room and they board
"I must look you up there--Piers, my dear boy, I suppose you know
your mother's history?"
It was asked with an affected carelessness, with a look suggestive
of delicacy in approaching the subject. More and more perturbed,
Piers abruptly declared his ignorance; he sat in an awkward
attitude, bending forward; his brows were knit, his dark eyes had a
solemn intensity, and his square jaw asserted itself more than
"Well, between brothers, I don't see why you shouldn't. In fact, I
am a good deal surprised that the worthy old man has held his peace
about that legacy, and I don't think I shall scruple to tell you all
I know. You are aware, at all events, that our interesting parent
has been a little unfortunate in his matrimonial adventures. His
first wife--not to pick one's phrase--quarrelled furiously with
him. His second, you inform me, is somewhat difficult to live with."
"His _third_," interrupted Piers.
"No, my dear boy," said the other gravely, sympathetically. "That
intermediate connection was not legal."
"Not----? My mother was not----?"
"Don't worry about it," proceeded Daniel in a kind tone. "These are
the merest prejudices, you know. She could not become Mrs. Otway,
being already Mrs. Somebody-else. Her death, I fear, was a great
misfortune to our parent. I have gathered that they suited each
other--fate, you know, plays these little tricks. Your mother, I
am sure, was a most charming and admirable woman--I remember her
portrait. _A l'heure qu'il est_, no doubt, it has to be kept out of
sight. She had, I am given to understand, a trilling capital of her
own, and this was to become yours."
THE CROWN OF LIFE
Piers stared at vacancy. When he recovered himself he said with
"Of course I shall hear about it. There's no hurry. Father knows I
don't want it just now. Why, of course he will tell me. The exam.
comes off in autumn, and no doubt he keeps the news back as a sort
of reward when I get my place. I think that would be just like him,
"Or as a solatium, if you fail," remarked the other genially.
"Fail? Oh, I'm not going to fail," cried Piers in a voice of
"Bravo!" laughed the other; "I like that spirit. So you're going to
lunch with John Jacks. I don't exactly know him, but I know friends
of his very well. Known him long?"
Piers explained that as yet he had no personal acquaintance with Mr.
Jacks; that he had, to his surprise, received a written invitation a
few days ago.
"It may be useful," Daniel remarked reflectively. "But if you'll
permit the liberty, Piers, I am sorry you didn't pay a little more
attention to costume. It should have been a frock coat--really it
"I haven't such a thing," exclaimed the younger brother, with some
annoyance and confusion. "And what can it matter? You know very well
how father would go."
"Yes, yes; but Jerome Otway the democratic prophet and young Mr.
Piers Otway his promising son, are very different persons. Never
mind, but take care to get a frock coat; you'll find it
indispensable if you are going into that world. Where does Jacks
Daniel Otway meditated, half closing his eyes as he seemed to watch
the smoke from his cigar. Dropping them upon his brother, he found
that the young man wore a look of troubled thoughtfulness.
"Daniel," began Piers suddenly, "are you quite sure about all you
have told me?"
"Quite. I am astonished it's news to you."
Piers was no longer able to converse, and very soon he found it
difficult to sit still. Observant of his face and movements, the
elder brother proposed that they should resume their walk together,
and forth they went. But both were now taciturn, and they did not
walk far in company.
"I shall look you up at Ewell," said Daniel, taking leave. "Address
me at that club; I have no permanent quarters just now. We must see
more of each other."
And Piers went his way with shadowed countenance.
Straying about Kensington Gardens in the pleasant sunshine, his mind
occupied with Daniel's information, Piers Otway lost count of time,
and at last had to hurry to keep his engagement. As he entered the
house in Queen's Gate, a mirrored image of himself made him uneasy
about his costume. But for Daniel, such a point would never have
troubled him. It was with an unfamiliar sense of Irritation and
misgiving that he moved into the drawing-room.
A man of sixty or so, well preserved, with a warm complexion, broad
homely countenance and genial smile, stepped forward to receive him.
Mr. Jacks was member for the Penistone Division of the West Riding;
new to Parliament, having entered with the triumphant Liberals in
the January of this year 1886. His friends believed, and it seemed
credible, that he had sought election to please the lady whom, as a
widower of twenty years' endurance, he had wedded only a short time
before; politics interested him but moderately, and the greater part
of his life had been devoted to the manufacturing business which
brought him wealth and local influence. Not many people remembered
that in the days of his youth John Jacks had been something of a
Revolutionist, that he had supported the People's Charter; that he
had written, nay had published, verses of democratic tenor, earning
thereby dark reputation in the respectable society of his native
town. The turning-point was his early marriage. For a while he still
wrote verses--of another kind, but he ceased to talk about
liberty, ceased to attend public meetings, and led an entirely
private life until, years later, his name became reputably connected
with municipal affairs. Observing Mr. Jacks' face, one saw the
possibility of that early enthusiasm; he had fine eyes full of
subdued tenderness, and something youthful, impulsive, in his
expression when he uttered a thought. Good-humoured, often merry,
abounding in kindness and generosity, he passed for a man as happy
as he was prosperous; yet those who talked intimately with him
obtained now and then a glimpse of something not quite in harmony
with these characteristics, a touch of what would be called
fancifulness, of uncertain spirits. Men of his world knew that he
was not particularly shrewd in commerce; the great business to which
his name was attached had been established by his father, and was
kept flourishing mainly by the energy of his younger brother. As an
occasional lecturer before his townsfolk, he gave evidence of wide
reading and literary aptitudes. Of three children of his first
marriage, two had died; his profound grief at their loss, and the
inclination for domestic life which always appeared in the man, made
it matter for surprise that he had waited so long before taking
another wife. It would not have occurred to most of those who knew
him that his extreme devotion to women made him shy, diffident, all
but timorous in their presence. But Piers Otway, for all his mental
disturbance at this moment, remarked the singular deference, the
tone and look of admiring gentleness, with which Mr. Jacks turned to
his wife as he presented their guest.
Mrs. Jacks was well fitted to inspire homage. Her age appeared to be
less than five-and-twenty; she was of that tall and gracefully
commanding height which became the English ideal in the last quarter
of the century--her portrait appears on every page illustrated by
Du Manner. She had a brilliant complexion, a perfect profile; her
smile, though perhaps a little mechanical, was the last expression
of immutable sweetness, of impeccable self-control; her voice never
slipped from the just note of unexaggerated suavity. Consummate as
an ornament of the drawing-room, she would be no less admirably at
ease on the tennis lawn, in the boat, on horseback, or walking by
the seashore. Beyond criticism her breeding; excellent her
education. There appeared, too, in her ordinary speech, her common
look, a real amiability of disposition; one could not imagine her
behaving harshly or with conscious injustice. Her manners--within
the recognised limits--were frank, spontaneous; she had for the
most part a liberal tone in conversation, and was evidently quite
incapable of bitter feeling on any everyday subject. Piers Otway
bent before her with unfeigned reverence; she dazzled him, she
delighted and confused his senses. As often as he dared look at her,
his eye discovered some new elegance in her attitude, some marvel of
delicate beauty in the details of her person. A spectator might have
observed that this worship was manifest to Mr. Jacks, and that it by
no means displeased him.
"You are very like your father, Mr. Otway," was the host's first
remark after a moment of ceremony. "Very like what he was forty
years ago." He laughed, not quite naturally, glancing at his wife.
"At that time he and I were much together. But he went to London; I
stayed in the North; and so we lost sight of each other for many a
long year. Somewhere about 1870 we met by chance, on a Channel
steamer; yes, it was just before the war; I remember your father
prophesied it, and foretold its course very accurately. Then we
didn't see each other again until a month ago--I had run down into
Yorkshire for a couple of days and stood waiting for a train at
Northallerton. Someone came towards me, and looked me in the face,
then held out his hand without speaking; and it was my old friend.
He has become a man of few words."
"Yes, he talks very little," said Piers. "I've known him silent for
two or three days together."
"And what does he do with himself there among the moors? You don't
know Hawes," he remarked to the graciously attentive Mrs. Jacks. "A
little stony town at the wild end of Wensleydale. Delightful for a
few months, but very grim all the rest of the year. Has he any
"None outside his home, I think. He sits by the fire and reads
"Yes, Dante; he seems to care for hardly anything else. It has been
so for two or three years. Editions of Dante and books about Dante
crowd his room--they are constantly coming. I asked him once if he
was going to write on the subject, but he shook his head."
"It must be a very engrossing study," remarked Mrs. Jacks, with her
most intelligent air. "Dante opens such a world."
"Strange!" murmured her husband, with his kindly smile. "The last
thing I should have imagined."
They were summoned to luncheon. As they entered the dining-room,
there appeared a young man whom Mr. Jacks greeted warmly.
"Hullo, Arnold! I am so glad you lunch here to-day. Here is the son
of my old friend Jerome Otway."
Arnold Jacks pressed the visitor's hand and spoke a few courteous
words in a remarkably pleasant voice. In physique he was quite
unlike his father; tall, well but slenderly built, with a small
finely-shaped head, large grey-blue eyes and brown hair. The
delicacy of his complexion and the lines of his figure did not
suggest strength, yet he walked with a very firm step, and his whole
bearing betokened habits of healthy activity. In early years he had
seemed to inherit a very feeble constitution; the death of his
brother and sister, followed by that of their mother at an untimely
age, left little hope that he would reach manhood; now, in his
thirtieth year, he was rarely on troubled the score of health, and
few men relieved from the necessity of earning money found fuller
occupation for their time. Some portion of each day he spent at the
offices of a certain Company, which held rule in a British colony of
considerable importance. His interest in this colony had originated
at the time when he was gaining vigour and enlarging his experience
in world-wide travel; he enjoyed the sense of power, and his voice
did not lack weight at the Board of the Company in question. He had
all manner of talents and pursuits. Knowledge--the only kind of
knowledge he cared for, that of practical things, things alive in
the world of to-day--seemed to come to him without any effort on
his part. A new invention concealed no mysteries from him; he looked
into it; understood, calculated its scope. A strange piece of news
from any part of the world found him unsurprised, explanatory. He
liked mathematics, and was wont to say jocosely that an abstract
computation had a fine moral affect, favouring unselfishness. Music
was one of his foibles; he learnt an instrument with wonderful
facility, and, up to a certain point, played well. For poetry,
though as a rule he disguised the fact, he had a strong distaste;
once, when aged about twenty, he startled his father by observing
that "In Memoriam" seemed to him a shocking instance of wasted
energy; he would undertake to compress the whole significance of
each section, with its laborious rhymings, into two or three lines
of good clear prose. Naturally the young man had undergone no
sentimental troubles; he had not yet talked of marrying, and cared
only for the society of mature women who took common-sense views of
life. His religion was the British Empire; his saints, the men who
had made it; his prophets, the politicians and publicists who held
most firmly the Imperial tone.
Where Arnold Jacks was in company, there could be no dullness. Alone
with his host and hostess, Otway would have found the occasion
rather solemn, and have wished it over, but Arnold's melodious
voice, his sprightly discussion and anecdotage, his frequent
laughter, charmed the guest into self-oblivion.
"You are no doubt a Home Ruler, Mr. Otway," observed Arnold, soon
after they were seated.
"Yes, I am," answered Piers cheerily. "You too, I hope?"
"Why, yes. I would grant Home Rule of the completest description,
and I would let it run its natural course for--shall we say five
years? When the state of Ireland had become intolerable to herself
and dangerous to this adjacent island, I would send over dragoons.
And," he added quietly, crumbling his bread, "the question would not
"Arnold," remarked Mr. Jacks, with good humour, "you are quite
incapable of understanding this question. We shall see. Mr.
"Mr. Gladstone's _little_ Bill--do say his _little_ Bill."
"Arnold, you are too absurd!" exclaimed the hostess mirthfully.
"What does your father think?" Mr. Jacks inquired of their guest.
"Has he broken silence on the subject?"
"I think not. He never says a word about politics."
"The little Bill hasn't a chance," cried Arnold. "Your majority is
melting away. You, of course, will stand by the old man, but that is
chivalry, not politics. You don't know what a picturesque figure you
make, sir; you help me to realise Horatius Codes, and that kind of
John Jacks laughed heartily at his own expense, but his wife seemed
to think the jest unmannerly. Home Rule did not in the least commend
itself to her sedate, practical mind, but she would never have
committed such an error in taste as to proclaim divergence from her
"It is a most difficult and complicated question," she said,
addressing herself to Otway. "The character of the people makes it
so; the Irish are so sentimental."
Upon the young man's ear this utterance fell strangely; it gave him
a little shock, and he could only murmur some commonplace of assent.
With men, Piers had plenty of moral courage, but women daunted him.
"I heard a capital idea last night," resumed Arnold Jacks, "from a
man I was dining with--interesting fellow called Hannaford. He
suggested that Ireland should be made into a military and naval
depot--used solely for that purpose. The details of his scheme
were really very ingenious. He didn't propose to exterminate the
John Jacks interrupted with hilarity, which his son affected to
resent: the look exchanged by the two making pleasant proof of how
little their natural affection was disturbed by political and other
differences. At the name of Hannaford, Otway had looked keenly
towards the speaker.
"Is that Lee Hannaford?" he asked. "Oh, I know him. In fact, I'm
living in his house just now."
Arnold was interested. He had only the slightest acquaintance with
Hannaford, and would like to hear more of him.
"Not long ago," Piers responded, "he was a teacher of chemistry at
Geneva--I got to know him there. He seems to speak half a dozen
languages in perfection; I believe he was born in Switzerland. His
house down in Surrey is a museum of modern weapons--a regular
armoury. He has invented some new gun."
"So I gathered. And a new explosive, I'm told."
"I hope he doesn't store it in his house?" said Mr. Jacks, looking
with concern at Piers.
"I've had a moment's uneasiness about that, now and then," Otway
replied, laughing, "especially after hearing him talk."
"A tremendous fellow!" Arnold exclaimed admiringly. "He showed me,
by sketch diagrams, how many men he could kill within a given
"If this gentleman were not your friend, Mr. Otway," began the host,
"I should say----"
"Oh, pray say whatever you like! He isn't my friend at all, and I
detest his inventions."
"Shocking!" fell sweetly from the lady at the head of the table.
"As usual, I must beg leave to differ," put in Arnold. "What would
become of us if we left all that kind of thing to the other
countries? Hannaford is a patriot. He struck me as quite
disinterested; personal gain is nothing to him. He loves his
country, and is using his genius in her service."
John Jacks nodded.
"Well, yes, yes. But I wish your father were here, Mr. Otway, to
give his estimate of such genius; at all events if he thinks as he
did years ago. Get him on that topic, and he was one of the most
eloquent men living. I am convinced that he only wanted a little
more self-confidence to become a real power in public life--a
genuine orator, such, perhaps, as England has never had."
"Nor ever will have," Arnold interrupted. "We act instead of
"My dear boy," said his father weightily, "we talk very much, and
very badly; in pulpit, and Parliament, and press, We want the man
who has something new to say, and knows how to say it. For my own
part, I don't think, when he comes, that he will glorify explosives.
I want to hear someone talk about Peace--and _not_ from the
commercial point of view. The slaughterers shan't have it all their
own way, Arnold; civilisation will be too strong for them, and if
Old England doesn't lead in that direction, it will be her shame to
the end of history."
Arnold smiled, but kept silence. Mrs. Jacks looked and murmured her
"I wish Hannaford could hear you," said Piers Otway.
When they rose from the table, John Jacks invited the young man to
come with him into his study for a little private talk.
"I haven't many books here," he said, noticing Otway's glance at the
shelves. "My library is down in Yorkshire, at the old home; where I
shall be very glad indeed to see you, whenever you come north in
vacation-time. Well now, let us make friends; tell me something
about yourself. You are reading for the Civil Service, I
Piers liked Mr. Jacks, and was soon chatting freely. He told how his
education had begun at a private school in London, how he had then
gone to school at Geneva, and, when seventeen years old, had entered
an office of London merchants, dealing with Russia.
"It wasn't my own choice. My father talked to me, and seemed so
anxious for me to go into business that I made no objection. I
didn't understand him then, but I think I do now. You know"--he
added in a lower tone--"that I have two elder brothers?"
"Yes, I know. And a word that fell from your father at Northallerton
the other day--I think I understand."
"Both went in for professions," Otway pursued, "and I suppose he
wasn't very well satisfied with the results. However, after I had
been two years in the office, I felt I couldn't stand it, and I
began privately to read law. Then one day I wrote to my father, and
asked whether he would allow me to be articled to a solicitor. He
replied that he would, if, at the age of twenty, I had gone steadily
on with the distasteful office work, and had continued to read law
in my leisure. Well, I accepted this, of course, and in a year's
time found how right he had been; already I had got sick of the law
books, and didn't care for the idea of being articled. I told father
that, and he asked me to wait six months more, and then to let him
know my mind again. I hadn't got to like business any better, and
one day it seemed to me that I would try for a place in a Government
office. When the time came, I suggested this, and my father
ultimately agreed. I lived with him at Hawes for a month or two,
then came into Surrey, to work on for the examination. We shall see
what I get."
The young man spoke with a curious blending of modesty and
self-confidence, of sobriety beyond his years and the glow of a
fervid temperament. He seemed to hold himself consciously in
restraint, but, as if to compensate for subdued language, he used
more gesticulation than is common with Englishmen. Mr. Jacks watched
him very closely, and, when he ceased, reflected for a moment.
"True; we shall see. You are working steadily?"
"About fourteen hours a day."
"Too much! too much!--All at the Civil Service subjects?"
"No; I manage a few other things. For instance, I'm trying to learn
Russian. Father says he made the attempt long ago, but was beaten. I
don't think I shall give in."
"Your father knew Herzen and Bakounine, in the old days. Well, don't
overdo it; don't neglect the body. We must have another talk before
Again Mr. Jacks looked thoughtfully at the keen young face, and his
countenance betrayed a troublous mood.
"How you remind me of my old friend, forty years ago--forty years
A little apart from the village of Ewell, within sight of the noble
trees and broad herbage of Nonsuch Park, and looking southward to
the tilth and pasture of the Downs, stood the house occupied by Mr.
Lee Hannaford. It was just too large to be called a cottage; not
quite old enough to be picturesque; a pleasant enough dwelling, amid
its green garden plot, sheltered on the north side by a dark hedge
of yew, and shut from the quiet road by privet topped with lilac and
laburnum. This day of early summer, fresh after rains, with a clear
sky and the sun wide-gleaming over young leaf and bright blossom,
with Nature's perfume wafted along every alley, about every field
and lane, showed the spot at its best. But it was with no eye to
natural beauty that Mr. Hannaford had chosen this abode; such
considerations left him untouched. He wanted a cheap house not far
from London, where his wife's uncertain health might receive
benefit, and where the simplicity of the surroundings would offer no
temptations to casual expense. For his own part, he was a good deal
from home, coming and going as it suited him; a very small income
from capital, and occasional earnings by contribution to scientific
journalism, left slender resources to Mrs. Hannaford and her
daughter after the husband's needs were supplied. Thus it came about
that they gladly ceded a spare room to Piers Otway, who, having
boarded with them during his student time at Geneva, had at long
intervals kept up a correspondence with Mrs. Hannaford, a lady he
The rooms were indifferently furnished; in part, owing to poverty,
and partly because neither of the ladies cared much for things
domestic. Mr. Hannaford's sanctum alone had character; it was hung
about with lethal weapons of many kinds and many epochs, including a
memento of every important war waged in Europe since the date of
Waterloo. A smoke-grimed rifle from some battlefield was in
Hannaford's view a thing greatly precious; still more, a bayonet
with stain of blood; these relics appealed to his emotions. Under
glass were ranged minutiae such as bullets, fragments of shells, bits
of gore-drenched cloth or linen, a splinter of human bone--all
ticketed with neat inscription. A bookcase contained volumes of
military history, works on firearms, treatises on (chiefly
explosive) chemistry; several great portfolios were packed with maps
and diagrams of warfare. Upstairs, a long garret served as
laboratory, and here were ranged less valuable possessions; weapons
to which some doubt attached, unbloody scraps of accoutrements, also
a few models of cannon and the like.
In society, Hannaford was an entertaining, sometimes a charming,
man, with a flow of well-informed talk, of agreeable anecdote; his
friends liked to have him at the dinner-table; he could never be at
a loss for a day or two's board and lodging when his home wearied
him. Under his own roof he seldom spoke save to find fault, rarely
showed anything but acrid countenance. He and his wife were
completely alienated; but for their child, they would long ago have
parted. It had been a love match, and the daughter's name, Olga,
still testified to the romance of their honeymoon; but that was
nearly twenty years gone by, and of these at least fifteen had been
spent in discord, concealed or flagrant. Mrs. Hannaford was
something of an artist; her husband spoke of all art with contempt
--except the great art of human slaughter. She liked the society of
foreigners; he, though a remarkable linguist, at heart distrusted
and despised all but English-speaking folk. As a girl in her teens,
she had been charmed by the man's virile accomplishments, his
soldierly bearing and gay talk of martial things, though Hannaford
was only a teacher of science. Nowadays she thought with dreary
wonder of that fascination, and had come to loathe every trapping
and habiliment of war. She knew him profoundly selfish, and
recognised the other faults which had hindered so clever a man from
success in life; indolent habits, moral untrustworthiness, and a
conceit which at times menaced insanity. He hated her, she was well
aware, because of her cold criticism; she returned his hate with
Save in suicide, of which she had sometimes thought, Mrs. Hannaford
saw but one hope of release. A sister of hers had married a rich
American, and was now a widow in falling health. That sister's death
might perchance endow her with the means of liberty; she hung upon
every message from across the Atlantic.
She had a brother, too; a distinguished, but not a wealthy man. Dr.
Derwent would gladly have seen more of her, gladly have helped to
cheer her life, but a hearty antipathy held him aloof from Lee
Hannaford. Communication between the two families was chiefly
maintained through Dr. Derwent's daughter Irene, now in her
nineteenth year. The girl had visited her aunt at Geneva, and since
then had occasionally been a guest at Ewell. Having just returned
from a winter abroad with her father, and no house being ready for
her reception in London, Irene was even now about to pass a week
with her relatives. They expected her to-day. The prospect of
Irene's arrival enabled Mrs. Hannaford and Olga to find pleasure in
the sunshine, which otherwise brought them little solace.
Neither was in sound health. The mother had an interesting face; the
daughter had a touch of beauty; but something morbid appeared on the
countenance of each. They lived a strange life, lonely, silent; the
stillness of the house unbroken by a note of music, unrelieved by a
sound of laughter. In the neighbourhood they had no friends; only at
long intervals did a London acquaintance come thus far to call upon
them. Hut for the presence of Piers Otway at meals, and sometimes in
the afternoon or evening, they would hardly have known conversation.
For when Hannaford was at home, his sour muteness discouraged any
kind of talk; in his absence, mother and daughter soon exhausted all
they had to say to each other, and read or brooded or nursed their
With the coming of Irene, gloom vanished. It had always been so,
since the beginning of her girlhood; the name of Irene Derwent
signified miseries forgotten, mirthful hours, the revival of health
and hope. Unable to resist her influence, Hannaford always kept as
much as possible out of the way when she was under his roof; the
conflict between inclination to unbend and stubborn coldness towards
his family made him too uncomfortable. Vivaciously tactful in this
as in all things, Irene had invented a pleasant fiction which
enabled her to meet Mr. Hannaford without embarrassment; she always
asked him "How is your neuralgia?" And the man, according as he
felt, made answer that it was better or worse. That neuralgia was
often a subject of bitter jest between Mrs. Hannaford and Olga, but
it had entered into the life of the family, and at times seemed to
be believed in even by the imagined sufferer.
Nothing could have been more characteristic of Irene. Wit at the
service of good feeling expressed her nature.
Her visit this time would be specially interesting, for she had
passed the winter in Finland, amid the intellectual society of
Helsingfors. Letters had given a foretaste of what she would have to
tell, but Irene was no great letter-writer. She had an impatience of
remaining seated at a desk. She did not even read very much. Her
delight was in conversation, in movement, in active life. For
several years her father had made her his companion, as often as
possible, in holiday travel and on the journeys prompted by
scientific study. Though successful as a medical man, Dr. Derwent no
longer practised; he devoted himself to pathological research, and
was making a name in the world of science. His wife, who had died
young, left him two children; the elder, Eustace, was an amiable and
intelligent young man, but had small place in his father's life
compared with that held by Irene.
She was to arrive at Ewell in time for luncheon. Her brother would
bring her, and return to London in the afternoon.
Olga walked to the station to meet them. Mrs. Hannaford having paid
unusual attention to her dress--she had long since ceased to care
how she looked, save on very exceptional occasions--moved
impatiently, nervously, about the house and the garden. Her age was
not yet forty, but a life of disappointment and unrest had dulled
her complexion, made her movements languid, and was beginning to
touch with grey her soft, wavy hair. Under happier circumstances she
would have been a most attractive woman; her natural graces were
many, her emotions were vivid and linked with a bright intelligence,
her natural temper inclined to the nobler modes of life.
Unfortunately, little care had been given to her education; her best
possibilities lay undeveloped; thrown upon her inadequate resources,
she nourished the weaknesses instead of the virtues of her nature.
She was always saying to herself that life had gone by, and was
wasted; for life meant love, and love in her experience had been a
flitting folly, an error of crude years, which should, in all
justice, have been thrown aside and forgotten, allowing her a second
chance. Too late, now. Often she lay through the long nights
shedding tears of misery. Too late; her beauty blurred, her heart
worn with suffering, often poisoned with bitterness. Yet there came
moments of revolt, when she rose and looked at herself in the
mirror, and asked----But for Olga, she would have tried to shape
her own destiny.
To-day she could look up at the sunshine. Irene was coming.
A sound of young voices in the quiet road; then the shimmer of a
bright costume, the gleam of a face all health and charm and
merriment. Irene came into the garden, followed by her brother, and
behind them Olga.
Her voice woke the dull house; of a sudden it was alive, responding
to the cheerful mood of its inhabitants. The rooms had a new
appearance; sunlight seemed to penetrate to every shadowed comer;
colours were brighter, too familiar objects became interesting. The
dining-room table, commonly so uninviting, gleamed as for a
festival. Irene's eyes fell on everything and diffused her own happy
spirit. Irene had an excellent appetite; everyone enjoyed the meal.
This girl could not but bestow something of herself on all with whom
she came together; where she felt liking, her influence was
"How much better you look than when I last saw you." she said to her
aunt. "Ewell evidently suits you."
And at once Mrs. Hannaford felt that she was stronger, younger, than
she had thought. Yes, she felt better than for a long time, and
Ewell was exactly suited to her health.
"Is that pastel yours, Olga? Admirable! The best thing of yours I
And Olga, who had thought her pastel worthless, saw all at once that
it really was not bad; she glowed with gratification.
The cousins were almost of an age, of much the same stature; but
Olga had a pallid tint, tawny hair, and bluish eyes, whilst Irene's
was a warm complexion, her hair of dark-brown, and her eyes of
hazel. As efficient human beings, there could be no comparison
between them; Olga looked frail, despondent, inclined to sullenness,
whilst Irene impressed one as in perfect health, abounding in gay
vitality, infinite in helpful resource. Straight as an arrow, her
shoulders the perfect curve, bosom and hips full-moulded to the
ideal of ripe girlhood, she could not make a gesture which was not
graceful, nor change her position without revealing a new excellence
of form. Yet a certain taste would have leant towards Miss
Hannaford, whose traits had more mystery; as an uncommon type, she
gained by this juxtaposition. Miss Derwent, despite her larger
experience of the world, her vastly better education, was a much
younger person than Olga; she had an occasional _naivete_ unknown to
her cousin; her sex was far less developed. To the average man,
Olga's proximity would have been troubling, whereas Irene's would
simply have given delight.
During the excitement of the arrival, and through the cheerful meal
which followed, Eustace Derwent maintained a certain reserve, was
always rather in the background. This implied no defect of decent
sentiment; the young man--he was four-and-twenty--could not
regard his aunt and cousin with any fond emotion, but he did not
dislike them, and was willing to credit them with all the excellent
qualities perceived by Irene, wondering merely how his father's
sister, a member of the Derwent family, could have married such a
"doubtful customer" as Lee Hannaford. Eustace never became
demonstrative; he had in perfection the repose of a self-conscious,
delicately bred, and highly trained Englishman. In a day of
democratisation, he supported the ancient fame of the University
which fostered gentlemen. Balliol was his College. His respect for
that name, and his reverence for the great master who ruled there,
were not inconsistent with a private feeling that, whatever he might
owe to Balliol, Balliol in turn lay under a certain obligation to
him. His academic record had no brilliancy; he aimed at nothing of
the kind, knowing his limltations--or rather his distinctions; but
he was quietly conscious that no graduate of his year better
understood the niceties of decorum, more creditably represented the
tone of that famous school of manners.
Eustace Derwent was in fact a thoroughly clear-minded and
well-meaning young man; sensitive as to his honour; ambitious of
such social advancement as would illustrate his name; unaffectedly
attached to those of his own blood, and anxious to fulfil with
entire propriety all the recognised duties of life. He was
intelligent, with originality; he was good-natured without shadow of
boisterous impulse. In countenance he strongly resembled his mother,
who had been a very handsome woman (Irene had more of her father's
features), and, of course, he well knew that the eyes of ladies
rested upon him with peculiar interest; but no vulgar vanity
appeared in his demeanour. As a matter of routine, he dressed well,
but he abhorred the hint of foppishness. In athletics he had kept
the golden mean, as in all else; he exercised his body for health,
not for the pride of emulation. As to his career, he was at present
reading for the Bar. In meditative moments it seemed to him that he
was, perhaps, best fitted for the diplomatic service.
Not till this gentleman had taken his leave, which he did (to catch
a train) soon after lunch, was there any mention of the fact that
the Hannafords had a stranger residing under their roof: in coarse
English, a lodger.
To Eustace, as his aunt knew, the subject would necessarily have
been painful; and not only in the snobbish sense; it would really
have distressed him to learn that his kinsfolk were glad of such a
supplement to their income. But soon after his retirement, Mrs.
Hannaford spoke of the matter, and no sooner had she mentioned Piers
Otway's name than Irene flashed upon her a look of attentive
"Is he related to Jerome Otway, the agitator?--His son? How
delightful! Oh, I know all about him; I mean, about the old man. One
of our friends at Helsingfors was an old French revolutionist, who
has lived a great deal in England; he was always talking about his
English friends of long ago, and Jerome Otway often came in. He
didn't know whether he was still alive. Oh, I must write and tell
The ladles gave what information they could (it amounted to very
little) about the recluse of Wensleydale; then they talked of the
"We knew him at Geneva, first of all," said Mrs. Hannaford. "Indeed,
he lived with us there for. a time; he was only a boy, then, and
such a nice boy! He has changed a good deal--don't you think so,
Olga? I don't mean for the worse; not at all; but he is not so
talkative and companionable. You'll find him shy at first, I fancy."
"He works terrifically," put in Olga. "It's certain he must be
injuring his health."
"Then," exclaimed Irene, "why do you let him?"
"Let him? We have no right to interfere with a young man of
"Surely you have, if he's behaving foolishly, to his own harm. But
what do you call terrific work?"
"All day long, and goodness knows how much of the night. Somebody
told us his light had been seen burning once at nearly three
"Is he at it now?" asked Irene, with a comical look towards the
They explained Otway's absence.
"Oh, he lunches with Members of Parliament, does he?"
"It's a very exceptional thing for him to leave home," said Mrs.
Hannaford. "He only goes out to breathe the air for half an hour or
so in an afternoon."
"You astonish me, aunt! You oughtn't to allow it--_I_ shan't allow
it, I assure you."
The listeners laughed gaily.
"My dear Irene," said her aunt, "Mr. Otway will be much flattered,
I'm sure. Hut his examination comes on very soon, and he was telling
us only yesterday that he didn't want to lose an hour if he could
"He'll lose a good many hours before long, at this rate. Silly
fellow! That's not the way to do well at an exam! I must counsel him
for his soul's good, I must, indeed. Will he dine here to-night?"
"And make all haste to get away when dinner is over," said Olga,
with a smile.
"Then we won't let him. He shall tell us all about the Member of
Parliament; and then all about his famous father. I undertake to
keep him talking till ten."
"Then, poor fellow, he'll have to work all night to make it up."
"Indeed, no! I shall expressly forbid it. What a shocking thing if
he died here, and it got into the papers! Aunt, do consider; they
would call you his _landlady_!"
Mrs. Hannaford reddened whilst laughing, and the girl saw that her
joke was not entirely relished, but she could never resist the
temptation to make fun of certain prejudices.
"And when you give your evidence," she went on, "the coroner will
remark that if the influence of a lady so obviously sweet and
right-feeling and intelligent could not avail to save the poor
youth, he was plainly destined to a premature end."
At which Mrs. Hannaford again laughed and reddened, but this time
If Irene sometimes made a mistake, no one could have perceived it
more quickly, and more charmingly have redeemed the slip.
When Piers Otway got back to Ewell, about four o'clock, he felt the
beginning of a headache. The day of excitement might have accounted
for it, but in the last few weeks it had been too common an
experience with him, a warning, naturally, against his mode of life,
and of course unheeded. On reaching the house, he saw and heard no
one; the door stood open, and he went straight up to his room.
He had only one, which served him for study and bedchamber. In front
of the window stood a large table, covered with his books and
papers, and there, on the blotting pad, lay a letter which had
arrived for him since his departure this morning. It came, he saw,
from his father. He took it up eagerly, and was tearing the envelope
when his eye fell on something that stayed his hand.
The wide-open window offered a view over the garden at the back of
the house, and on the lawn he saw a little group of ladies. Seated
in basket chairs, Mrs. Hannaford and her daughter were conversing
with a third person whom Piers did not know, a tall, fair-faced girl
who stood before them and seemed at this moment to be narrating some
lively story. Even had her features been hidden, the attitude of
this stranger, her admirable form and rapid, graceful gestures, must
have held the young man's attention; seeing her with the light full
on her countenance, he gazed and gazed, in sudden complete
forgetfulness of his half-opened letter. Just so had he stood before
the print shop in London this morning, with the same wide eyes, the
same hurried breathing; rapt, self-oblivious.
He remembered. The Hannafords' relative, Miss Derwent, was expected
to-day; and Miss Derwent, doubtless, he beheld.
The next moment it occurred to him that his observation, within
earshot of the group, was a sort of eavesdropping; he closed his
window and turned away. The sound must have drawn attention, for
very soon there came a knock at the door, and the servant inquired
of him whether he would have tea, as usual, in his room, or join the
"Bring it here, please," he replied. "And--yes, tell Mrs.
Hannaford that I shall not come down to dinner--you can bring me
anything you like--just a mouthful of something."
Now there went, obscurely, no less than three reasons to the quick
shaping of this decision. In the first place, Piers had glanced over
his father's letter, and saw in it matter for long reflection.
Secondly, his headache was declared, and he would be better alone
for the evening. Thirdly, he shrank from meeting Miss Derwent. And
this last was the predominant motive. Letter and headache
notwithstanding, he would have joined the ladies at dinner but for
the presence of their guest. An inexplicable irritation all at once
possessed him; a grotesque resentment of Miss Derwent's arrival.
Why should she have come just when he wanted to work harder than
ever? That was how things happened--the perversity of
circumstance! She would be at every meal for at least a week; he
must needs talk with her, look at her, think about her. His
annoyance became so acute that he tramped nervously about the floor,
It passed. A cup of tea brought him to his right mind, and he no
longer saw the event in such exaggerated colours. But he was glad of
his decision to spend the evening alone.
His father's letter had come at the right moment; in some degree it
allayed the worry caused by his brother Daniel's talk this morning.
Jerome Otway wrote, as usual, briefly, on the large letter-paper he
always used; his bold hand, full of a certain character, demanded
space. He began by congratulating Piers on the completion of his
one-and-twentieth year. "I am late, but had not forgotten the day;
it costs me an effort to put pen to paper, as you know." Proceeding,
he informed his son that a sum of money, a few hundred pounds, had
become payable to him on the attainment of his majority. "It was
your mother's, and she wished you to have it. A man of law will
communicate with you about the matter. Speak of it to me, or not, as
you prefer. If you wish it, I will advise; if you wish it not, I
will keep silence." There followed a few words about the beauty of
spring in the moorland; then: "Your ordeal approaches. An absurdity,
I fear, but the wisdom of our day will have it thus. I wish you
success. If you fall short of your hopes, come to me and we will
talk once more. Befall what may, I am to the end your father who
wishes you well." The signature was very large, and might have drawn
censure of affectation from the unsympathetic. As, indeed, might the
whole epistle: very significant of the mind and temper of Jerome
To Piers, the style was too familiar to suggest reflections besides,
he had a loyal mind towards his father, and never criticised the old
man's dealing with him. The confirmation of Daniel's report about
the legacy concerned him little in itself; he had no immediate need
of money, and so small a sum could not affect the course of his
life; but, this being true, it seemed probable that Daniel's other
piece of information was equally well founded. If so, what matter?
Already he had asked himself why the story about his mother should
have caused him a shock. His father, in all likelihood, would now
never speak of that; and, indeed, why should he? The story no longer
affected either of them, and to worry oneself about it was mere
"philistinism," a favourite term with Piers at that day.
In replying, which he did this same night, he decided to make no
mention of Daniel. The name would give his father no pleasure.
When he rang to have his tea-things taken away, Mrs. Hannaford
presented herself. She was anxious about him. Why would he not dine?
She wished him to make the acquaintance of Miss Derwent, whose talk
was sure to interest him. Piers pleaded his headache, causing the
lady more solicitude. She entreated. As he could not work, it would
be much better for him to spend an hour or two in company. Would he
not? to please her?
Mrs. Hannaford spoke in a soft, caressing voice, and Piers returned
her look of kindness; but he was firm. An affection had grown up
between these two; their intercourse, though they seldom talked long
together, was much like that of mother and son.
"You are injuring you health," said Mrs. Hannaford gravely, "and it
is unkind to those who care for you."
"Wait a few weeks," he replied cheerily, "and I'll make up the
"You refuse to come down to please me, this once?"
"I must be alone--indeed I must," Piers replied, with unusual
abruptness. And Mrs. Hannaford, a little hurt, left the room without
He all but hastened after her, to apologise; but the irritable
impulse overcame him again, and he had to pace the room till his
nerves grew steady.
Very soon after it was dark he gave up the effort to read, and went
to bed. A good night's sleep restored him. He rose with the sun,
felt the old appetite for work, and when the breakfast bell rang had
redeemed more than three good hours. He was able now to face Miss
Derwent, or anyone else. Indeed, that young lady hardly came into
his mind before he met her downstairs. At the introduction he
behaved with his natural reserve, which had nothing, as a rule, of
awkwardness. Irene was equally formal, though a smile at the corner
of her lips half betrayed a mischievous thought. They barely spoke
to each other, and at table Irene took no heed of him.
But with the others she talked as brightly as usual, managing, none
the less, to do full justice to the meal. Miss Derwent's vigour of
mind and body was not sustained on air, and she never affected a
delicate appetite. There was still something of the healthy
schoolgirl in her manner. Otway glanced at her once or twice, but
immediately averted his eyes--with a slight frown, as if the light
had dazzled him.
She was talking of Finland, and mentioned the name of her father's
man-servant, Thibaut. It entered several times into the narrative,
and always with an approving epithet, the excellent Thibaut, the
"Oh!" exclaimed Mrs. Hannaford, presently, "do tell Mr. Otway the
story of Thibaut."
"Yes, do!" urged Olga.
Piers raised his eyes to the last speaker, and moved them timidly
towards Irene. She smiled, meeting his look with a sort of merry
"Mr. Otway is occupied with serious thoughts," was her good-humoured
"I should much like to hear the story of Thibaut," said Piers,
bending forward a little.
"Would you? You shall--Thibaut Rossignol; delightful name, isn't
it? And one of the most delightful of men, though only a servant,
and the son of a village shopkeeper. It begins fifteen years ago,
just after the Franco-Prussian War. My father was taking a holiday
in eastern France, and he came one day to a village where an
epidemic of typhoid was raging. _Tant mieux_! Something to do; some
help to be given. If you knew my father--but you will understand.
He offered his services to the overworked couple of doctors and was
welcomed. He fought the typhoid day and night--if you knew my
father! Well, there was a bad case in a family named Rossignol: a
boy of twelve. What made it worse was that two elder brothers had
been killed in the war, and the parents sat in despair by the
bedside of their only remaining child. The father was old and very
shaky; the mother much younger, but she had suffered dreadfully from
the death of her two boys--you should hear my father tell it! I
make a hash of it; when _he_ tells it people cry. Madame Rossignol
was the sweetest little woman--you know that kind of Frenchwoman,
don't you? Soft-voiced, tender, intelligent, using the most
delightful phrases; a jewel of a woman. My father settled himself by
the bedside and fought; Madame Rossignol watching him with eyes he
did not dare to meet--until a certain moment. Then--_then_ the
soft voice for once was loud. '_Ii est sauve_!' My father shed
tears; everybody shed tears--except Thibaut himself."
Piers hung on the speaker's lips. No music had ever held him so
rapt. When she ceased he gazed at her.
"No, of course, that's not all," Irene proceeded, with the
mischievous smile again; and she spoke much as she might have done
to an eagerly listening child. "Six years pass by. My father is
again la the east of France, and he goes to the old village. He is
received with enthusiasm; his name has become a proverb. Rossignol
_pere_, alas, is dead, long since. Dear Madame Rossignol lives, but
my father sees at a glance that she will not live long. The
excitement of meeting him was almost too much for her--pale, sweet
little woman. Thibaut was keeping shop with her, but he seemed out
of place there; a fine lad of eighteen; very intelligent,
wonderfully good-humoured, and his poor mother had no peace, night
or day, for the thought of what would become of him after her death;
he had no male kinsfolk, and certainly would not stick to a dull
little trade. My father thought, and after thinking, spoke. 'Madame,
will you let me take your son to England, and find something for him
to do?' She screamed with delight. 'But will Thibaut consent?'
Thibaut had his patriotic scruples; but when he saw and heard his
poor mother, he consented. Madame Rossignol had a sister near by,
with whom she could live. And so on the spot it was settled."
Piers hung on the speaker's lips; no tale had ever so engrossed him.
Indeed, it was charmingly told; with so much girlish sincerity, so
much womanly feeling.
"No, that's not all. My father went to his inn for the night. Early
in the morning he was hastily summoned; he must come at once to the
house of the Rossignols; something was wrong. He went, and there, in
her bed, lay the little woman, just as if asleep, and a smile on her
face--but she was dead."
Piers had a lump in his throat; he straightened himself, and tried
to command his features. Irene, smiling, looked steadily at him.
"From that day," she added, "Thibaut has been my father's servant.
He wouldn't be anything else. This, he always says, would best have
pleased his mother. He will never leave Dr. Derwent. The good
All were silent for a minute; then Piers pushed back his chair.
"Work?" said Mrs. Hannaford, with a little note of allusion to last
"Work!" Piers replied grimly, his eyes down.
"Well, now," exclaimed Irene, turning to her cousin, "what shall we
do this splendid morning? Where can we go?"
Piers left the room as the words were spoken. He went upstairs with
slower step than usual, head bent. On entering his room (it was
always made ready for him while he was at breakfast), he walked to
the window, and stared out at the fleecy clouds in the summer blue,
at the trees and the lawn. He was thinking of the story of Thibaut.
What a fine fellow Dr. Derwent must be! He would like to know him.
To work! He meant to give an hour or two to his Russian, with which
he had already made fair progress. By the bye, he must tell his
father that; the old man would be pleased.
An hour later, he again stood at his window, staring at the clouds
and the blue. Russian was against the grain, somehow, this morning.
He wondered whether Miss Derwent had learnt any during her winter at
What a long day was before him! He kept looking at his watch. And,
instead of getting on with his work, he thought and thought again of
the story of Thibaut.
At lunch Piers was as silent as at breakfast; he hardly spoke, save
in answer to a chance question from Mrs. Hannaford. His face had an
unwonted expression, a shade of sullenness, a mood rarely seen in
him. Miss Derwent, whose animation more than made up for this
muteness in one of the company, glanced occasionally at Otway, but
did not address him.
As his habit was, he went out for an afternoon walk, and returned
with no brighter countenance. On the first landing of the staircase,
as he stole softly to his room, he came face to face with Miss
"We are going to have tea in the garden," she exclaimed, with the
friendliest look and tone.
"Are you? It will be enjoyable--it's so warm and sunny."
"You will come, of course?"
"I'm sorry--I have too much to do."
He blundered out the words with hot embarrassment, and would have
passed on. Irene did not permit it.
"But you have been working all the morning?"
"Since about--oh, five o'clock----"
"Then you have already worked something like eight hours, Mr. Otway.
How many more do you think of working?"
"Five or six, I hope," Piers answered, finding courage to look into
her face, and trying to smile.
"Mr. Otway," she rejoined, with an air of self-possession which made
him feel like a rebuked schoolboy, "I prophesy that you will come to
grief over your examination."
"I don't think so, Miss Derwent," he said, with the firmness of
desperation, as he felt his face grow red under her gaze.
"I am the daughter of a medical man. Prescriptions are in my blood.
Allow me to tell you that you have worked enough for one day, and
that it is your plain duty to come and have tea in the garden."
So serious was the note of interest which blended with her natural
gaiety as she spoke these words that Piers felt his nerves thrill
with delight. He was able to meet her eyes, and to respond in
"You are right. Certainly I will come, and gladly."
Irene nodded, smiled approval, and moved past him.
In his room he walked hither and thither aimlessly, still holding
his hat and stick. A throbbing of the heart, a quickening of the
senses, seemed to give him a new consciousness of life. His mood of
five minutes ago had completely vanished. He remembered his dreary
ramble about the lanes as if it had taken place last week. Miss
Derwent was still speaking to him; his mind echoed again and again
every word she had said, perfectly reproducing her voice, her
intonation; he saw her bright, beautiful face, its changing lights,
its infinite subtleties of expression. The arch of her eyebrows and
the lovely hazel eyes beneath; the small and exquisitely shaped
mouth; the little chin, so delicately round and firm; all were
engraved on his memory, once and for ever.
He sat down and was lost in a dream. His arms hung idly; all his
muscles were relaxed. His eyes dwelt on a point of the carpet which
he did not see.
Then, with a sudden start of activity, he went to the looking-glass
and surveyed himself. His tie was the worse for wear. He exchanged
it for another. He brushed his hair violently, and smoothed his
moustache. Never had he felt such dissatisfaction with his
appearance. Never had it struck him so disagreeably before that he
was hard-featured, sallow, anything but a handsome man. Yet, he had
good teeth, very white and regular; that was something, perhaps.
Observing them, he grinned at himself grotesquely--and at once was
so disgusted that he turned with a shudder away.
Ordinarily, he would have awaited the summons of the bell for tea.
But, after making himself ready, he gazed from the window and saw
Miss Derwent walking alone in the garden; he hastened down.
She gave him a look of intelligence, but took his arrival as a
matter of course, and spoke to him about a flowering shrub which
pleased her. Otway's heart sank. What had he expected? He neither
knew nor asked himself; he stood beside her, seeing nothing, hearing
only a voice and wishing it would speak on for ever. He was no
longer a reflecting, reasoning young man, with a tolerably firm will
and fixed purposes, but a mere embodied emotion, and that of the
vaguest, swaying in dependence on another's personality.
Olga Hannaford joined them. Olga, for all the various charms of her
face, had never thus affected him. But then, he had known her a few
years ago, when, as something between child and woman, she had
little power to interest an imaginative boy, whose ideal was some
actress seen only in a photograph, or some great lady on her travels
glimpsed as he strayed about Geneva. She, in turn, regarded him with
the coolest friendliness, her own imagination busy with far other
figures than that of a would-be Government clerk.
Just as tea was being served, there sounded a voice welcome to no
one present, that of Lee Hannaford. He came forward with his wonted
air of preoccupation; a well-built man, in the prime of life,
carefully dressed, his lips close-set, his eyes seemingly vacant,
but in reality very attentive; a pinched ironical smile meant for
cordiality. After greetings, he stood before Miss Derwent's chair
conversing with her; a cup of tea in his steady hand, his body just
bent, his forehead curiously wrinkled--a habit of his when he
talked for civility's sake and nothing else. Hannaford could never
be at ease in the presence of his wife and daughter if others were
there to observe him; he avoided speaking to them, or, if obliged,
did so with awkward formality. Indeed, he was not fond of the
society of women, and grew less so every year. His tone with regard
to them was marked with an almost puritanical coldness; he visited
any feminine breach of the proprieties with angry censure. Yet,
before his marriage, he had lived, if anything, more laxly than the
average man, and to his wife he had confessed (strange memory
nowadays), that he owed to her a moral redemption. His morality, in
fact, no one doubted; the suspicions Mrs. Hannaford had once
entertained when his coldness to her began, she now knew to be
baseless. Absorbed in meditations upon bloodshed and havoc, he held
high the ideal of chastity, and, in company agreeable to him, could
allude to it as the safeguard of civil life.
When he withdrew into the house, Mrs. Hannaford followed him. Olga,
always nervous when her father was near, sat silent. Piers Otway,
with a new reluctance, was rising to return to his studies, when
Miss Derwent checked him with a look.
"What a perfect afternoon!"
"It is, indeed," he murmured, his eyes falling.
"Olga, are you too tired for another walk?"
"I? Oh, no! I should enjoy it."
"Do you think"--Irene looked roguishly at her cousin--"Mr. Otway
would forgive us if we begged him to come, too?"
Olga smiled, and glanced at the young man with certainty that he
would excuse himself.
"We can but ask," she said.
And Piers, to her astonishment, at once assented. He did so with
sudden colour in his cheeks, avoiding Olga's look.
So they set forth together; and, little by little, Piers grew
remarkably talkative. Miss Derwent mentioned his father, declared an
interest in Jerome Otway, and this was a subject on which Piers
could always discourse to friendly hearers. This evening he did so
with exceptional fervour, abounded in reminiscences, rose at moments
to enthusiasm. His companions were impressed; to Irene it was an
unexpected revelation of character. She had imagined young Otway dry
and rather conventional, perhaps conceited; she found him
impassioned and an idealist, full of hero-worship, devoted to his
father's name and fame.
"And he lives all the year round in that out-of-the-way place?" she
asked. "I must make a pilgrimage to Hawes. Would he be annoyed? I
could tell him about his old friends at Helsingfors----"
"He would be delighted to see you!" cried Piers, his face glowing.
"Let me know before--let me write----"
"Is he quite alone?"
"No, his wife--my stepmother--is living."
Irene's quick perception interpreted the change of note.
"It would really be very interesting--if I can manage to get so
far," she said, less impulsively.
They walked the length of the great avenue at Nonsuch, and back
again in the golden light of the west. Piers Otway disregarded the
beauty of earth and sky, he had eyes for nothing but the face and
form beside him. At dinner, made dull by Hannaford's presence, he
lived still in the dream of his delight, listening only when Irene
spoke, speaking only when she addressed him, which she did several
times. The meal over, he sought an excuse for spending the next hour
in the drawing-room; but Mrs. Hannaford, unconscious of any change
in his habits, offered no invitation, and he stole silently away.
He did not light his lamp, but sat in the dim afterglow till it
faded through dusk into dark. He sat without movement, in an
enchanted reverie. And when night had fallen, he suddenly threw off
his clothes and got into bed, where for hours he lay dreaming in
He rose at eight the next morning, and would, under ordinary
circumstances, have taken a book till breakfast. But no book could
hold him, for he had already looked from the window, and in the
garden below had seen Irene. Panting with the haste he had made to
finish his toilet, he stepped towards her.
"Three hours' work already, I suppose," she said, as they shook
"Unfortunately, not one. I overslept myself."
"Come, that's reasonable! There's hope of you. Tell me about this
examination. What are the subjects?"
He expounded the matter as they walked up and down. It led to a
question regarding the possibilities of such a career as he had in
"To tell the truth, I haven't thought much about that," said Piers,
with wandering look. "My idea was, I fancy, to get a means of
earning my living which would leave me a good deal of time for
"What, literary work?"
"No; I didn't think of writing. I like study for its own sake."
"Then you have no ambitions, of the common kind?"
"Well, perhaps not. I suppose I have been influenced by my father's
talk about that kind of thing."
"To be sure."
He noticed a shrinking movement in Miss Derwent and saw that
Hannaford was approaching. This dislike of the man, involuntarily
betrayed, gave Piers an exquisite pleasure. Not only because it
showed they had a strong feeling in common; it would have delighted
him in any case, for he was jealous of any human being who
Hannaford made known at breakfast that he was leaving home again
that afternoon, and might be absent for several days. A sensitive
person must have felt the secret satisfaction caused all round the
table by this announcement; Hannaford, whether he noticed it or not,
was completely indifferent; certain letters he had received took
most of his attention during the meal. One of them related to an
appointment in London which he was trying to obtain; the news was
favourable, and it cheered him.
An hour later, as he sat writing in his study, Mrs. Hannaford
brought in a parcel, which had just arrived for him.
"Ah, what's that?" he asked, looking up with interest.
"I'm sure I don't know," answered his wife. "Something with blood on
it, I dare say"
Hannaford uttered a crowing laugh of scorn and amusement.
Through the afternoon Piers Otway sat in the garden with the ladies.
After tea he again went for a walk with Olga and Irene. After dinner
he lingered so significantly that Mrs. Hannaford invited him to the
drawing-room, and with unconcealed pleasure he followed her thither.
When at length he had taken his leave for the night, there was a
short silence, Mrs. Hannaford glancing from her daughter to Irene,
and smiling reflectively.
"Mr. Otway seems to be taking a holiday," she said at length.
"Yes, so it seemed to me," fell from Olga, who caught her mother's
"It'll do him good," was Miss Derwent's remark. She exchanged no
glance with the others, and seemed to be thinking of something else.
Next morning, though the sun shone brilliantly, she did not appear
in the garden before breakfast. From a window above, eyes were
watching, watching in vain. At the meal Irene was her wonted self,
but she did not enter into conversation with Otway. The young man
had grown silent again.
Heavily he went up to his room. Mechanically he seated himself at
the table. But, instead of opening books, he propped his head upon
his hands, and so sat for a long, long time.
When thoughts began to shape themselves (at first he did not think,
but lived in a mere tumult of emotions) he recalled Irene's
question: what career had he really in view? A dull, respectable
clerkship, with two or three hundred a year, and the chance of
dreary progress by seniority till it was time to retire on a decent
pension? That, he knew, was what the Civil Service meant. The far,
faint possibility of some assistant secretaryship to some statesman
in office; really nothing else. His inquiries had apprised him of
this delightful state of things, but he had not cared. Now he did
care. He was beginning to understand himself better.
In truth, he had never looked forward beyond a year or two.
Ambition, desires, he possessed in no common degree, but as a vague,
unexamined impulse. He had dreamt of love, but timidly, tremulously;
that was for the time to come. He had dreamt of distinction; that,
also, must be patiently awaited. In the meantime, labour. He enjoyed
intellectual effort; he gloried in the amassing of mental riches.
"To follow Knowledge like a sinking star
utmost bound of human thought--"
these lines were frequently in his mind, and helped to shape his
enthusiasm. Consciously he subdued a great part of himself, binding
his daily life in asceticism. He would not live in London because he
dreaded its temptations. Gladly he adhered to his father's
principles in the matter of food and drink; this helped him to
subdue his body, or at least he thought so. He was happiest when,
throwing himself into bed after some fourteen hours of hard reading,
he felt the stupor of utter weariness creep upon him, with certainty
of oblivion until the next sunrise.
He did not much reflect upon the course of his life hitherto, with
its false starts, its wavering; he had not experience enough to
understand their significance. Of course his father was mainly
responsible for what had so far happened. Jerome Otway, whilst
deciding that this youngest son of his should be set in the sober
way of commerce, to advance himself, if fate pleased, through
recognised grades of social respectability, was by no means careful
to hide from the lad his own rooted contempt of such ideals. Nothing
could have been more inconsistent than the old agitator's behaviour
in attempting to discharge this practical duty. That he meant well
was all one could say of him; for it was not permissible to suppose
Jerome Otway defective in intelligence. Perhaps the outcome of
solicitude in the case of his two elder sons had so far discouraged
him, that, on the first symptoms of instability, he ceased to regard
Piers as within his influence.
Piers, this morning, had a terrible sense of loneliness, of
abandonment. The one certainty by which he had lived, his delight in
books, his resolve to become erudite, now of a sudden vanished. He
did not know himself; he was in a strange world, and bewildered.
Nay, he was suffering anguish.
Why had Miss Derwent disregarded him at breakfast? He must have
offended her last night. And that could only be in one way, by
neglecting his work to loiter about the drawing-room. She had
respected him at all events; now, no doubt she fancied he had not
deserved her respect.
This magnificent piece of self-torturing logic sufficed to occupy
him all the morning.
At luncheon-time he was careful not to come down before the bell
rang. As he prepared himself, the glass showed a drawn visage, heavy
eyes; he thought he was uglier than ever.
Descending, he heard no voices. With tremors he stepped into the
dining-room, and there sat Mrs. Hannaford alone.
"They have gone off for the day," she said, with a kind look. "To
Dorking, and Leith Hill, and I don't know where."
Piers felt a stab through the heart. He stammered something about a
hope that they would enjoy themselves. The meal passed very
silently, for Mrs. Hannaford was meditative. She paid unusual
attention to Piers, trying to tempt his appetite; but with
difficulty he swallowed a mouthful. And, the meal over, he returned
at once to his room.
About four o'clock--he was lying on the bed, staring at the
ceiling--a knock aroused him. The servant opened the door.
"A gentleman wanting to see you, sir--Mr. Daniel Otway."
Piers was glad. He would have welcomed any visitor. When Daniel--
who was better dressed than the other day--came into the room,
Piers shook hands warmly with him.
"Delightful spot!" exclaimed the elder, with more than his
accustomed suavity. "Charming little house!--I hope I shan't be
wasting your time?"
"Of course not. We shall have some tea presently. How glad I am to
see you!--I must introduce you to Mrs. Hannaford."
"Delighted, my dear boy! How well you look!--stop though; you are
_not_ looking very well----"
Piers broke into extravagant gaiety.
There had only been time to satisfy Daniel's profound and touching
interest in his brother's work for the examination when the tea bell
rang, and they went down to the drawing-room. Piers noticed that
Mrs. Hannaford had made a special toilet; so rarely did a new
acquaintance enter the house that she was a little fluttered in
receiving Daniel Otway, whose manners evidently impressed and
pleased her. Had he known his brother well, Piers would have
understood that this exhibition of fine courtesy meant a peculiar
interest on Daniel's part. Such interest was not difficult to
excite; there needed only an agreeable woman's face of a type not
familiar to him, in circumstances which offered the chance of
intimacy. And Mrs. Hannaford, as it happened, made peculiar appeal
to Daniel's sensibilities. As they conversed, her thin cheeks grew
warm, her eyes gathered light; she unfolded a charm of personality
barely to be divined in her usual despondent mood.
Daniel's talk was animated, varied, full of cleverness and
character. No wonder if his hostess thought that she had never met
so delightful a man. Incidentally, in quite the permissible way, he
made known that he was a connoisseur of art; he spoke of his travels
on the track of this or that old master, of being consulted by
directors of great Galleries, by wealthy amateurs. He was gracefully
anecdotic; he allowed one to perceive a fine enthusiasm. And Piers
listened quite as attentively as Mrs. Hannaford, for he had no idea
how Daniel made his living. The kernel of truth in this fascinating
representation was that Daniel Otway, among other things, collected
_bric-a-brac_ for a certain. dealer, and at times himself disposed
of it to persons with more money than knowledge or taste. At the age
of thirty-eight this was the point he had reached in a career which
once promised brilliant things. In whatever profession he had
steadily pursued, Daniel would have come to the front; but precisely
that steady pursuit was the thing impossible to him. His special
weakness, originally amiable, had become an enthralling vice; the
soul of goodness in the man was corrupted, and had turned poisonous.
The conversation was still unflagging when Olga and her cousin
returned from their day's ramble. Daniel was presented to them. Olga
at once noticed her mother's strange vivacity, and, sitting silent,
closely observed Mr. Otway. Irene, also, studied him with her keen
eyes; not, one would have guessed, with very satisfactory results.
As time was drawing on, Mrs. Hannaford presently asked Daniel if he
could give them the pleasure of staying to dine; and Daniel accepted
without a moment's hesitation. When the ladies retired to dress, he
went up to Piers' room, where a little dialogue of some importance
passed between the brothers.
"Have you heard anything about that matter I spoke of?" Daniel began
by asking, confidentially.
Piers answered in the affirmative, and gave details, much to the
elder's satisfaction. Thereupon, Daniel began talking in a strain of
yet closer confidence, sitting knee to knee with Piers and tapping
him occasionally in a fraternal way. It might interest Piers to know
that he was writing a book--a book which would revolutionise
opinion with regard to certain matters, and certain periods of art.
The work was all but finished. Unfortunately, no publisher could be
found to bear the entire expense of this publication, which of
course appealed to a very small circle of readers. The illustrations
made it costly, and--in short, Daniel found himself pressingly in
need of a certain sum to complete this undertaking, which could not
but establish his fame as a connoisseur, and in all likelihood would
secure his appointment as Director of a certain Gallery which he
must not name. The money could be had for the asking from twenty
persons--a mere bagatelle of a hundred and fifty pounds or so; but
how much pleasanter it would be if this little loan could be
arranged between brothers Daniel would engage to return the sum on
publication of the book, probably some six months hence. Of course
he merely threw out the suggestion--
"I shall be only too glad to help," exclaimed Piers at once. "You
shall have the money as soon as I get it."
"That's really noble of you, my dear boy--By the bye, let all this
be very strictly _entre nous_. To tell you the truth. I want to give
the dear old philosopher of Wensleydale a pleasant surprise. I'm
afraid he misjudges me; we have not been on the terms of perfect
confidence which I should desire. But this book will delight him, I
know. Let it come as a surprise."
Piers undertook to say nothing; and Daniel after washing his hands
and face, and smoothing his thin hair, was radiant with
"Charming girl, Miss Derwent--eh, Piers? I seem to know the name
--Dr. Derwent? Why, to be sure! Capital acquaintance for you. Lucky
rascal, to have got into this house. Miss Hannaford, too, has
points. Nothing so good at your age, my dear boy, as the habit of
associating with intelligent girls and women. _Emollit mores_, and
something more than that. An excellent influence every way. I'm no
preacher, Piers, but I hold by morality; it's the salt of life--
the salt of life!"
At dinner, Daniel surpassed himself. He told admirable stories, he
started just the right topics, and dealt with them in the right way;
he seemed to know intuitively the habits of thought of each person
he addressed. The hostess was radiant; Olga looked almost happy;
Irene, after a seeming struggle with herself, which an unkind
observer might have attributed to displeasure at being rivalled in
talk, yielded to the cheery influence, and held her own against the
visitor in wit and merriment. Not till half-past ten did Daniel
resolve to tear himself away. His thanks to Mrs. Hannaford for an
"enjoyable evening" were spoken with impressive sincerity, and the
lady's expression of hope that they might meet again made his face
Piers accompanied him to the station. After humming to himself for a
few moments, as they walked along the dark lane, Daniel slipped a
hand through his brother's arm and spoke affectionately.
"You don't know how glad I am that we have met, old boy! Now don't
let us lose sight of each other--By the bye, do you ever hear of
Alexander, Jerome Otway's second son, had not communicated with his
father for a good many years. His reputation was that of a
good-natured wastrel. Piers replied that he knew nothing whatever of
"He is in London," pursued Daniel, "and he is rather anxious to meet
_you_. Now let me give you a word of warning. Alec isn't at all a
bad sort. I confess I like him, for all his faults--and
unfortunately he has plenty of them; but to you, Piers, he would be
dangerous. Dangerous, first of all, because of his want of prnciple
--you know my feelings on that point. Then, I'm afraid he knows of
your little inheritance, and he _might_--I don't say he would--
but he might be tempted to presume upon your good nature. You
"What is he doing?" Piers inquired.
"Nothing worth speaking of, I fear. Alec has no stability--so
unlike you and me in that. You and I inherit the brave old man's
love of work; Alec was born an idler. If I thought you might
influence him for good--but no, it is too risky. One doesn't like
to speak so of a brother, Piers, but I feel it my duty to warn you
against poor Alec. _Basta_!"
That night Piers did not close his eyes. The evening's excitement
and the unusual warmth of the weather enhanced the feverishness due
to his passionate thoughts. Before daybreak he rose and tried to
read, but no book would hold his attention. Again he flung himself
on to the bed, and lay till sunrise vainly groaning for sleep.
With the new day came a light rain, which threatened to continue.
Dullness ruled at breakfast. The cousins spoke fitfully of what they
might do if the rain ceased.
"A good time for work," said Irene to Piers. "But perhaps it's all
the same to you, rain or shine?
"Much the same," Piers answered mechanically.
He passed a strange morning. Though to begin with he had seated
himself resolutely, the attempt to study was ridiculous; the sight
of his books and papers moved him to loathing. He watched the sky,
hoping to see it broken. He stood by his door, listening, listening
if perchance he might hear the movements of the girls, or hear a
word in Irene's voice. Once he did hear her; she called to Olga,
laughingly; and at the sound he quivered, his breath stopped.
The clouds parted; a fresh breeze unveiled the summer blue. Piers
stood at the window, watching; and at length he had his reward; the
cousins came out and walked along the garden paths, conversing
intimately. At one moment, Olga gave a glance up at his window, and
he darted back, fearful of having been detected. Were they talking
of him? How would Miss Derwent speak of him? Did he interest her in
He peeped again. Irene was standing with her hands linked at the
back of her head, seeming to gaze at a lovely cloud above the great
elm tree. This attitude showed her to perfection. Piers felt sick
and dizzy as his eyes fed upon her form.
At an impulse as sudden as irresistible, he pushed up the sash.
"Miss Hannaford! It's going to be fine, you see."
The girls turned to him with surprise.
"Shall you have a walk after lunch?" he continued.
"Certainly," replied Olga. "We were just talking about it."
A moment's pause--then:
"Would you let me go with you?"
"Of course--if you can really spare the time."
He shut down the window, turned away, stood in an agony of shame.
Why had he done this absurd thing? Was it not as good as telling
them that he had been spying? Irene's absolute silence meant
disapproval, perhaps annoyance. And Olga's remark about his ability
to spare time had hinted the same thing: her tone was not quite
natural; she averted her look in speaking. Idiot that he was! He had
forced his company upon them, when, more likely than not, they much
preferred to be alone. Oh, tactless idiot! Now they would never be
able to walk in the garden without a suspicion that he was observing
He all but resolved to pack a travelling-bag and leave home at once.
It seemed impossible to face Irene at luncheon.
When the bell rang, he stole, slunk, downstairs. Scarcely had he
entered the dining-room, when he began an apology; after all, he
could not go this afternoon; he must work; the sky had tempted him,
"Mr. Otway," said Irene, regarding him with mock sternness, "we
don't allow that kind of thing. It is shameful vacillation--I love
a long word--What's the other word I was trying for?--still
longer--I mean, tergiversation! it comes from _tergum_ and
_verso_, and means turning the back. It is rude to turn your back on
Piers would have liked to fall at her feet, in his voiceless
gratitude. She had rescued him from his shame, had put an end to all
awkwardness, and, instead of merely permitting, had invited his
"That decides it, Miss Derwent. Of course I shall come. Forgive me
for being so uncivil."
At lunch and during their long walk afterwards, Irene was very
gracious to him. She had never talked with him in such a tone of
entire friendliness; all at once they seemed to have become
intimate. Yet there was another change less pleasing to the young
man; Irene talked as though either she had become older, or he
younger. She counselled him with serious kindness, urged him to make
rational rules about study and recreation.
"You're overdoing it, you know. To-day you don't look very well."
"I had no sleep last night," he replied abruptly, shunning her gaze.
"That's bad. You weren't so foolish as to try to make up for lost
"No, no! I _couldn't_ sleep."
He reddened, hung his head. Miss Derwent grew almost maternal. This,
she pointed out, was the natural result of nerves overstrained. He
must really use common sense. Come now, would he promise?
"I will promise you anything!"
Olga glanced quickly at him from one side; Irene, on the other,
looked away with a slight smile.
"No," she said, "you shall promise Miss Hannaford. She will have you
under observation; whereas you might play tricks with me after I'm
gone. Olga, be strict with this young gentleman. He is well-meaning,
but he vacillates; at times he even tergiversates--a shocking
There was laughter, but Piers suffered. He felt humiliated. Had he
been alone with Miss Derwent, he might have asserted his manhood,
and it would have been _her_ turn to blush, to be confused. He had a
couple of years more than she. The trouble was that he could not
feel this superiority of age; she treated him like a schoolboy, and
to himself he seemed one. Even more than Irene's, he avoided Olga's
look, and walked on shamefaced.
The remaining days, until Miss Derwent departed, were to him a mere
blank of misery. Impossible to open a book, and sleep came only with
uttermost exhaustion. How he passed the hours, he knew not. Spying
at windows, listening for voices, creeping hither and thither in
torment of multiform ignominy, forcing speech when he longed to be
silent, not daring to break silence when his heart seemed bursting
with desire to utter itself--a terrible time. And Irene persevered
in her elder-sister attitude; she was kindness itself, but never
seemed to remark a strangeness in his look and manner. Once he found
courage to say that he would like to know Dr. Derwent; she replied
that her father was a very busy man, but that no doubt some
opportunity for their meeting would arise--and that was all. When
the moment came for leave-taking, Piers tried to put all his soul
into a look; but he failed, his eyes dropped, even as his tongue
faltered. And Irene Derwent was gone.
If, in the night that followed, a wish could have put an end to his
existence, Piers would have died. He saw no hope in living, and the
burden seemed intolerable. Love-anguish of one-and-twenty; we smile
at it, but it is anguish all the same, and may break or mould a
A week went by, and Piers was as far as ever from resuming his
regular laborious life. One day he spent in London. His father's
solicitor had desired to see him, in the matter of the legacy; Piers
received his money, and on the same day made over one hundred and
fifty pounds to Daniel Otway, whom he met by appointment; in
exchange, Daniel handed him a beautifully written I.O.U., which the
younger brother would pocket only with protest.
Another week passed. Piers no longer pretended to keep his usual
times; he wandered forth whenever home grew intolerable, and
sometimes snatched his only sleep in the four-and-twenty hours under
the hawthorn blossom of some remote meadow. His mood had passed into
bitterness. "I was well before; why did she interfere with me? She
did it knowing what would happen; it promised her amusement. I
should have kept to myself, and have been safe. She waylaid me. That
first meeting on the stairs----"
He raged against her and against all women.
One evening, towards sunset, he came home dusty and weary and with a
hang-dog air, for he had done something which made him ashamed.
Miles away from Ewell thirst and misery had brought him to a wayside
inn, where--the first time for years--he drank strong liquor. He
drank more than he needed, and afterwards fell asleep in a lane, and
woke to new wretchedness.
As he entered the house and was about to ascend the stairs, a voice
called to him. It was Mrs. Hannaford's; she bade him come to her in
the drawing-room. Reluctantly he moved thither. The lady was sitting
idle and alone; she looked at him for a moment without speaking,
then beckoned him forward.
"Your brother has been here," she said, in a low voice not quite her
"Yes. He called very soon after you had gone out. He wouldn't--
couldn't stay. He'll let you know when he is coming next time."
"Oh, all right."
"Come and sit down." She pointed to a chair next hers. "How tired
Her tone was very soft, and, as he seated himself, she touched his
arm gently. The room was scented with roses. A blind, half-drawn on
the open window, broke the warm western rays; upon a tree near by, a
garden warbler was piping evensong.
"What is it?" she asked, with a timid kindness. "What has happened?
Won't you tell me?"
"You know--I am sure you know----"
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