The Crown of Life
Part 2 out of 8
His voice was choked into silence.
"But you will get over it--oh, yes, you will! Your work----"
"I can't work!" he broke out vehemently--"I shall never work
again. She has changed all my life. I must find something else to do
--I don't care what. I can't go in for that examination."
Then abruptly he turned to her with a look of eagerness.
"Would it be any use? Suppose I got a place in one of the offices?
Would there be any hope for me?"
Mrs. Hannaford's eyes dropped.
"Don't think of her," she answered. "She has such brilliant
prospects--it is so unlikely. You think me unsympathetic--oh,
I'm not!" Again she let her fingers rest on his arm. "I feel so much
with you that I daren't offer imaginary hopes. She belongs to such a
different world, try, try to forget her."
"Of course I know she cares and thinks nothing about me now. But if
I made my way----"
"She will marry very early, and someone----"
With an upward movement of her hand the speaker, was sufficiently
explicit. Otway, he knew not why, tried to laugh, and frightened
himself with the sound.
"She is not the only girl, good and beautiful," Mrs. Hannaford
continued, pleading with him.
"For me she is," he replied, in a hard voice. "And I believe she
will be always."
For a minute or two the little warbler sang in silence, then Piers,
of a sudden, stood up, and strode hastily away.
Mrs. Hannaford fell into reverie. Her daughter was in London to-day,
her husband absent somewhere else. But she had not been solitary,
for Daniel Otway, failing to meet his brother, lingered a couple of
hours in the drawing-room. As she sat dreaming under the soft light,
her face relieved for the moment of its weariness and discontent,
had a beauty more touching than that of youth.
Upstairs, Piers found a letter awaiting him. He did not know the
writing, and found with surprise that it came from his brother
Alexander, who had addressed it to him through their father's
solicitor. Alexander wrote from the neighbourhood of Bloomsbury
Square; it was an odd letter, beginning formally, almost paternally,
and running off into chirruping facetiousness, as if the writer had
tried in vain to subdue his natural gaiety. There were extraordinary
phrases. "I congratulate you on being gazetted major in the regiment
of Old Time." "For my own part I am just beginning my thirty-fifth
round with knuckly life, and I rejoice to say that I have come up
smiling. Floorers I have suffered, not a few, in the rounds
preceding, but I am harder for it, harder and gamer." "Shall we not
crack a bottle together on this side of the circumfluent Oceanus?"
And so on, to the effect that Alexander much wished for a meeting
with his brother, and urged him to come to Theobald's Road as soon
as possible, at his own convenience.
It gave Piers--what he needed badly--something new to think
about. From what he remembered of Alexander, he did not dislike him,
and this letter made, on the whole, an agreeable impression; but he
remembered Daniel's warning. In any case, there could be no harm in
calling on his brother; it made an excuse for a day in London, the
country stillness having driven him all but to frenzy. So he replied
at once, saying that he would call on the following afternoon.
Alexander occupied the top floor of a great old house in Theobald's
Road. Whether he was married or not, Piers had not heard; the
appearance of the place suggested bachelor quarters, but, as he
knocked at what seemed the likely door, there sounded from within an
infantine wail, which became alarmingly shrill when the door was
thrown open by a dirty little girl. At sight of Piers this young
person, evidently a servant, drew back smiling, and said with a
strong Irish accent:
"Please to come in. They're expecting of you."
He passed into a large room, magnificently lighted by the sunshine,
but very simply furnished. A small round table, two or three chairs
and a piano were lost on the great floor, which had no carpeting,
only a small Indian rug being displayed as a thing of beauty, in the
very middle. There were no pictures, but here and there, to break
the surface of the wall, strips of bright-coloured material were
hung from the cornice. At the table, next the window, sat a man
writing, also, as his lips showed, whistling a tune; and on the bare
boards beside him sat a young woman with her baby on her lap,
another child, of two or three years old, amusing itself by pulling
her dishevelled hair.
"Here's your brother, Mr. Otw'y," yelled the little servant. "Give
that baby to me, mum. I know what'll quoiet him, bless his little
Alexander sprang up, waving his arm in welcome. He was a stoutish
man of middle height, with thick curly auburn hair, and a full
beard; geniality beamed from his blue eyes.
"Is it yourself, Piers?" he shouted, with utterance suggestive of
the Emerald Isle, though the man was so loudly English. "It does me
good to set eyes on you, upon my soul, it does! I knew you'd come.
Didn't I say he'd come, Biddy?--Piers, this is my wife, Bridget
the best wife living in all the four quarters of the world!"
Mrs. Otway had risen, and stood smiling, the picture of cordiality.
She was not a beauty, though the black hair broad-flung over her
shoulders made no common adornment; but her round, healthy face,
with its merry eyes and gleaming teeth, had an honest
attractiveness, and her soft Irish tongue went to the heart. It
never occurred to her to apologise for the disorderly state of
things. Having got rid of her fractious baby--not without a kiss
--she took the other child by the hand and with pride presented "My
daughter Leonora"--a name which gave Piers a little shock of
"Sit down, Piers," shouted her husband. "First we'll have tea and
talk; then we'll have talk and tobacco; then we'll have dinner and
talk again, and after that whatever the gods please to send us. My
day's work is done--_ecce signum_!"
He pointed to the slips of manuscript from which he had risen.
Alexander had begun life as a medical student, but never got so far
as a diploma. In many capacities, often humble but never
disgraceful, he had wandered over Broader Britain--drifting at
length, as he was bound to do, into irregular journalism.
"And how's the old man at home?" he asked, whilst Mrs. Otway busied
herself in getting tea. "Piers, it's the sorrow of my life that he
hasn't a good opinion of me. I don't say I deserve it, but, as I
live, I've always meant to And I admire him, Piers. I've written
about him; and I sent him the article, but he didn't acknowledge it.
How does he bear his years, the old Trojan? And how does his wife
use him? Ah, that was a mistake, Piers; that was a mistake. In
marriage--and remember this, Piers, for your time'll come--it
must be the best, or none at all. I acted upon that, though Heaven
knows the trials and temptations I went through. I said to myself--
the best or none! And I found her, Piers; I found her sitting at a
cottage door by Enniscorthy, County Wexford, where for a time I had
the honour of acting as tutor to a young gentleman of promise, cut
short, alas!--'the blind Fury with the abhorred shears!' I wrote
an elegy on him, which I'll show you. His father admired it, had it
printed, and gave me twenty pounds, like the gentleman he was!"
There appeared a handsome tea-service; the only objection to it
being that every piece was chipped or cracked, and not one
thoroughly clean. Leonora, a well-behaved little creature who gave
earnest of a striking face, sat on her mother's lap, watching the
visitor and plainly afraid of him.
"Well," exclaimed Mrs. Otway, "I should never have taken you two for
brothers--no, not even the half of it!"
"He has an intellectual face, Biddy," observed her husband. "Pale
just now, but it's 'the pale cast of thought.' What are you aiming
"I don't know," was the reply, absently spoken.
"Ah, but I'm sorry to hear that. You should have concentrated
yourself by now, indeed you should. If I had to begin over again, I
should go in for commerce."
Piers gave him a look of interest.
"Indeed? You mean that?"
"I do. I would apply myself to the science and art of money-making
in the only hopeful way--honest buying and selling. There's
something so satisfying about it. I envy even the little shopkeeper,
who reckons up his profits every Saturday night, and sees his
business growing. But you must begin early; you must learn
money-making like anything else. If I had made money, Piers, I
should be at this moment the most virtuous and meritorious citizen
of the British Empire!"
Alexander was vexed to find that his brother did not smoke. He lit
his pipe after tea, and for a couple of hours talked ceaselessly,
relating the course of his adventurous life; an entertaining story,
told with abundant vigour, with humorous originality. Though he had
in his possession scarce a dozen volumes, Alexander was really a
bookish man and something of a scholar; his quotations, which were
frequent, ranged from Homer to Horace, from Chaucer to Tennyson. He
recited a few of his own poetical compositions, and they might have
been worse; Piers made him glow and sparkle with a little praise.
Meanwhile, Bridget was putting the children to bed and cooking the
evening meal--styled dinner for this occasion. Both proceedings
were rather tumultuous, but, amid the clamour they necessitated, no
word of ill-temper could be heard; screams of laughter, on the other
hand, were frequent. With manifest pride the little servant came in
to lay the table; she only broke one glass in the operation, and her
"Sure now, who'd have thought it!" as she looked at the fragments,
delighted Alexander beyond measure. The chief dish was a stewed
rabbit, smothered in onions; after it appeared an immense gooseberry
tart, the pastry hardly to be attacked with an ordinary table knife.
Compromising for the nonce with his teetotalism as well as his
vegetarianism--not to pain the hosts--Piers drank bottled ale.
It was an uproarious meal. The little servant, whilst in attendance,
took her full share of the conversation, and joined shrilly in the
laughter. Mrs. Otway had arrayed herself in a scarlet gown, and her
hair was picturesquely braided. She ceased not from hospitable
cares, and set a brave example in eating and drinking. Yet she was
never vulgar, as an untaught London woman in her circumstances would
have been, and many a delightful phrase fell from her lips in the
mellow language of County Wexford.
When the remnants of dinner were removed, a bottle of Irish whisky
came forth, with the due appurtenances. Then it was that Alexander,
with pride in his eyes, made known Bridget's one accomplishment; she
had a voice, and would presently use it for their guest's
delectation. She was trying to learn the piano, as yet with small
success; but Alexander who had studied music concurrently with
medicine, and to better result, was able to furnish accompaniments.
The concert began, and Piers, who had felt misgivings, was most
agreeably surprised. Not only had Bridget a voice, a very sweet
mezzo-contralto, but she sang with remarkable feeling. More than
once the listener had much ado to keep tears out of his eyes; they
were at his throat all the time, and his heart swelled with the
passionate emotion which had lurked there to the ruin of his peace.
But music, the blessed, the peacemaker (for music called martial is
but a blustering bastard), changed his torments to ecstasy; his
love, however hopeless, became an inestimable possession, and he
seemed to himself capable of such great, such noble things as had
never entered into the thought of man.
The crying of her baby obliged Bridget to withdraw for a little.
Alexander, who had already made a gallant inroad on the whisky
bottle, looked almost fiercely at his brother, and exclaimed:
"What do you day to _that_? Isn't that a woman? Isn't that a wife to
be proud of?"
Piers replied with enthusiasm.
"Not long ago," proceeded the other, "when we were really hard up,
she wanted me to let her try to earn money with her voice. She
could, you know! But do you think I'd allow it? Sooner I'll fry the
soles of my boots and make believe they're beefsteak!--Look at
her, and remember her when you're seeking for a wife of your own.
Never mind if you have to wait; it's worth it. When it comes to
wives, the best or none! That's my motto."
In his emotional mood, Piers had an impulse. He bent forward and
"Are things all right now? About money, I mean."
"Oh, we get on. We could do with a little more furniture, but all in
Piers again listened to his impulse. He spoke hurriedly of the money
he had received, and hinted, suggested, made an embarrassed offer.
Impossible not to remark the gleam of joy that came into Alexander's
eyes; though he vehemently, almost angrily, declared such a thing
impossible, it was plain he quivered to accept. And in the end
accept he did--a round fifty pounds. A loan, strictly a loan, of
course, the most binding legal instrument should be given in
acknowledgment of the debt; interest should be paid at the rate of
three and a half per cent. per annum--not a doit less! And just
when this was settled, Bridget came back again, the sleepless baby
at her breast.
"He wants to have his share of the good company," she exclaimed.
"And why shouldn't he, bless um!"
Alexander grew glorious. It was one of his peculiarities that, when
he had drunk more than enough, he broke into noisy patriotism.
"Piers, have you ever felt grateful enough for being born an
Englishman? I've seen the world, and I know; the Englishman is the
top of creation. When I say English, I mean all of us, English,
Irish, or Scotch. Give me an Englishman and an Irishwoman, and let
all the rest of the world go hang!--I've travelled, Piers, my boy.
I've seen what the great British race is doing the world round; and
I'm that proud of it I can't find words to express myself."
"I've seen something of other races," interposed Piers, lifting his
glass with unsteady hand, "and I don't think we've any right to
"I don't exactly despise them, but I say, What are they compared
with us? A poor lot! A shabby lot!--I'm a journalist, Piers, and
let me tell you that we English newspaper men have the destiny of
the world in our hands. It makes me proud when I think of it. We
guard the national honour. Let any confounded foreigner insult
England, and he has to reckon with _us_. A word from _us_, and it
means war, Piers, glorious war, with triumphs for the race and for
civilisation! England means civilisation; the other nations don't
"I tell you they don't count!" roared Alexander, his hair wild and
his beard ferocious. "You're not one of the muffs who want to keep
England little and tame, are you?"
"I think pretty much with father about these things."
"The old man! Oh, I'd forgotten the old man. But he's not of our
time, Piers; he's old-fashioned, though a good old man, I admit. No,
no; we must be armed and triple-armed; we must be so strong that not
all the confounded foreigners leagued together can touch us. It's
the cause of civilisation, Piers. I preach it whenever I get the
chance; I wish I got it oftener. I stand for England's honour,
England's supremacy on sea and land. I st-tand----"
He tried to do so, to reach the bottle, which proved to be empty.
"Send for another, Biddy--the right Irish, my lass! Another bottle
to the glory of the British Empire! Piers, we'll make a night of it.
I haven't a bed to offer you, but Biddy'll give you a shake-down
here on the floor. You're the right sort, Piers. You're a
noble-minded, generous-hearted Englishman."
Mrs. Otway, with a glance at the visitor, only made pretence of
sending for more whisky, and Piers, after looking at his watch,
insisted on taking leave. Alexander would have gone with him to the
station, but Bridget forbade this. The patriot had to be content
with promises of another such evening, and Piers, saying
significantly "You will hear from me," hastened to catch his train.
When he awoke next morning from a heavy sleep, Piers suffered the
half-recollection of some reproachful dream. His musty palate and
dull brain reminded him of Alexander's whisky; matter, that, for
self-reproach; but in the background was something more. He had
dreamt of his father, and seemed to have discharged in sleep a duty
still in reality neglected; that, namely, of responding to the old
man's offer of advice respecting the use he should make of his
money. Out of four hundred pounds, two hundred were already given
away--for he had no serious expectation that his brothers would
repay the so-called loans. Plainly it behoved him to be frank on
this subject. Affectionate loyalty to his father had ever been a
guiding principle in Piers Otway's life; he was uneasy under the
sense that he had begun to slip towards neglectfulness, towards
He would have written this morning, but, after all, it was better to
wait until he had settled the doubt which made havoc of his days. At
heart he knew that he would not present himself for the Civil
Service examination; but he durst not yet put the resolve into
words. It seemed a sort of madness, after so many months of
laborious preparation, and the fixity of purpose which had grown
with his studious habit. And what a return for the patient kindness
with which his father had counselled and assisted him! He thought of
Daniel and Alexander. Was he, too, going to drift in life, instead
of following a steadfast, manly course? The perception and fear of
such a danger were something new to him. Piers had seen himself as
an example of moral and intellectual vigour. His abandonment of
commerce had shown as a strong step in practical wisdom; the
fourteen hours of daily reading had flattered his pride. Thereupon
came this sudden collapse of the whole scheme. He could no longer
endure the prospects for which he had toiled so strenuously.
But for shame, he would have bundled together all the books that lay
on his table, and have flung them out of sight.
In the afternoon, he sought a private conversation with Mrs.
Hannaford. It was not easily managed, as Hannaford and Olga were
both at home; but, by watching and waiting, he caught a moment when
the lady stood alone in the garden.
"Do you think," he asked, with tremulous, sudden speech, "that I
might call at Dr. Derwent's?"
"Why not?" was the answer, but given with troubled countenance. "You
mean"--she smiled--"call upon Miss Derwent. There would be no
harm; she is the lady of the house, at present."
"Would she be annoyed?"
"I don't see why. But of course I can't answer for another person in
Their eyes met. Mrs. Hannaford gazed at him sadly for an instant,
shook her head, and turned away. Piers went back to lonely misery.
Early next day he stole from the house, and went to London. His
business was at the tailor's; he ordered a suit of ceremony--the
frock coat on which his brother Daniel had so pathetically insisted
--and begged that it might be ready at the earliest possible
moment. Next he made certain purchases in haberdashery. Through it
all, he had a most oppressive feeling of self-contempt, which--
Piers was but one-and-twenty--he did not try to analyze. Every
shop-mirror which reflected him seemed to present a malicious
caricature; he hurried away on to the pavement, small, ignoble,
silly. His heart did battle, and at moments assailed him in a
triumph of heroic desire; but then again came the sinking moments,
the sense of a grovelling fellowship with people he despised.
It was raining. His shopping done, he entered an omnibus, which took
him as far as the Marble Arch; thence, beneath his umbrella, he
walked in search of Bryanston Square. Here was Dr. Derwent's house.
Very much like a burglar, a beginner at the business, making survey
of his field, he moved timidly into the Square, and sought the
number; having found it with unexpected suddenness, he hurried past.
To be detected here would be dreadful; he durst not go to the
opposite side, lest Irene should perchance be at a window; yet he
wanted to observe the house, and did, from behind his umbrella, when
a few doors away.
Never had he known what it was to feel such an insignificant mortal.
Standing here in the rain, he saw no distinction between himself and
the ragged, muddy crossing-sweeper; alike, they were lost in the
huge welter of common London. On the other hand, there in the
hard-fronted, exclusive-looking house sat Irene Derwent, a pearl of
women, the prize of wealth, distinction, and high manliness. What
was this wild dream he had been harbouring? Like a chill wind,
reality smote him in the face; he turned away, saying to himself
that he was cured of folly.
On the journey home he shaped a project. He would seek an interview
with the head of the City house in which he had spent so much time
and worked so conscientiously, a quite approachable man as he knew
from experience, and would ask if he might be allowed to re-enter
their service not, however, in London, but in their place of
business at Odessa. He had made a good beginning with Russian, and
living in Russia, might hope soon to master the language. If
necessary, he would support himself at Odessa for a time, until he
was capable of serving the firm in some position of trust. Yes, this
was what he would do; it gave him a new hope. For Alexander, foolish
fellow as he might be in some respects, had spoken the truth on the
subject of money-making; the best and surest way was by honourable
commerce. Money he must have; a substantial position; a prospect of
social advance. Not for their own sake, these things, but as steps
to the only end he felt worth living for--an ideal marriage.
He marvelled that the end of life should have been so obscure to him
hitherto. Knowledge! What satisfaction was there in that? Fame! What
profit in that by itself? Yet he had thought these aims predominant;
had been willing to toil day and night in such pursuits. His eyes
were opened. His first torturing love might be for ever frustrate,
but it had revealed him to himself. He looked forth upon the world,
its activities, its glories, and behold there was for him but one
prize worth winning, the love of the ideal woman.
He found a letter at Ewell. It contained a card of invitation; Mrs.
John Jacks graciously announced to him that she would be at home on
an evening a week hence, at nine o'clock.
How came he to have forgotten the Jacks family? Not once had he
mentioned to Miss Derwent that he was on friendly terms with these
most respectable people. What a foolish omission! It would at once
have given him a better standing in her sight, have smoothed their
Instantly, his plan of exile was forgotten. He would accept this
invitation, and on the same day, in the afternoon, he would boldly
call at the Derwents'. Why not?--as Mrs. Hannaford said. John
Jacks, M.P., was undoubtedly the social superior of Dr. Derwent;
admitted to the house at Queen's Gate, one might surely with all
confidence present oneself in Bryanston Square. Was he not an
educated man, by birth a gentleman? If he had no position, why, who
had at one-and-twenty? How needlessly he had been humiliating and
discouraging himself! In the highest spirits he went down into the
garden to talk with Mrs. Hannaford and Olga. They gazed at him,
astonished; he was a new creature; he joked and laughed and could
hardly contain his exuberance of joy. When there fell from him a
casual mention of Mrs. Jacks' card, no one could have imagined that
this was the explanation of his altered mood. Mrs. Hannaford felt
sure that he had been to see Irene, and had received, or fancied,
some sort of encouragement. Olga thought so too, and felt sorry to
see him in a fool's paradise.
That very evening he sat down and resolved to work. He had an
appetite for it once more. He worked till long after midnight, and
on the morrow kept his old hours. Moreover, he wrote a long letter
to Hawes, a good, frank letter, giving his father a full account of
the meetings with Daniel and Alexander, and telling all about the
pecuniary transactions:--"I hope you will not think I behaved very
foolishly. Indeed, it has given me pleasure to share with them. My
trouble is lest you should think I acted in complete disregard of
you; but, if I am glad to do a good turn, remember, dear father,
that it is to you I owe this habit of mind. And I shall not need
money. I feel it practically certain that I shall get my office, and
then it will go smoothly. The examination draws near, and I am
working like a Trojan!"
"I cannot carp at you," wrote Jerome Otway in reply, "but tighten
the purse-strings after this, and be not overmuch familiar with
Alexander the Little or Daniel the Purblind. Their ways are not
mine; let them not be yours!"
He had to run up to town for the trying-on of his new garments, and
this time the business gave him satisfaction. In future he would be
seeing much more society; he must have a decent regard for
His spirits faltered not; they were in harmony with the June
weather. Never had he laboured to such purpose. Everything seemed
easy; he strode with giant strides into the field of knowledge.
Papers such as would be set him at the examination were matter for
his mirth, mere schoolboy tests. Now and then he rose from study
with a troublesome dizziness, and of a morning his head generally
ached a little; but these were trifles. _Prisch zu_!--as a German
friend of his at Geneva used to say.
Even on the morning of the great day he worked; it was to prove his
will-power, his worthiness. After lunch, clad in the garb of
respectability, he went up by a quick train.
His evening suit he had previously despatched to Alexander's abode,
where he was to dine and dress.
At four o'clock he was in Bryanston Square, tremulous but sanguine,
a different man from him who had sneaked about here under the
umbrella. He knocked. The servant civilly informed him that Miss
Derwent was not at home, asked his name, and bowed him away.
It was a shock. This possibility had not entered his mind, so
engrossed was he in forecasting, in dramatising, the details of the
interview. Looking like one who has received some dreadful news, he
turned slowly from the door and walked away with head down. Probably
no event in all his life had given him such a sense of desolating
frustration. At once the sky was overcast, the ways were woebegone;
he shrank within his new garments, and endured once more the feeling
of personal paltriness.
Though the time before him was so long, he had no choice but to go
at once to Theobald's Road, where at all events friendly faces would
greet him. The streets of London are terrible to one who is both
lonely and unhappy; the indifference of their hard egotism becomes
fierce hostility; instead of merely disregarding, they crush. As
soon as he could command his thoughts, Piers made for the shortest
way, and hurried on.
Mrs. Otway admitted him; Alexander, she said, was away on business,
but would soon return. On entering the large room, Piers was
startled at the change in its appearance. The well-carpeted floor,
the numerous chairs of inviting depth and softness, the
centre-table, the handsome bureau, the numerous pictures, and a
multitude of knickknacks not to be taken in at one glance, made it
plain that most of the money he had lent his brother had been
expended at once in this direction. Bridget stood watching his face,
and at the first glimmer of a smile broke into jubilation. What did
he think? How did he like it? Wasn't it a room to be proud of? She
knew it would do his kind heart good to see such splendours! Let him
sit down--after selecting his chair--and take it all in whilst
she got some tea. No wonder it took away his breath! She herself had
hardly yet done gazing in mute ecstasy.
"It's been such a feast for my eyes, Mr. Piers, that I've scarcely
wanted to put a bit in my mouth since the room was finished!"
When Alexander arrived, he greeted his brother as though with
rapturous congratulation; one would have thought some great good
fortune had befallen the younger man.
"Biddy!" he shouted, "I've a grand idea! We'll celebrate the
occasion with a dinner out; we'll go to a restaurant. Hanged if you
shall have the trouble of cooking on such a day as this! Get ready;
make yourself beautiful--though you're always that. We'll dine
early, as Piers has to leave us at nine o'clock."
Outcries and gesticulations confirmed the happy thought. Tea over,
Piers was dismissed to the bedroom (very bare and uncomfortable,
this) to don his evening suit, and by six o'clock the trio set
forth. They drove in a cab to festive regions, and, as one to the
manner born, Alexander made speedy arrangements for their banquet.
An odd-looking party; the young man's ceremonious garb and not
ungraceful figure contrasting with his brother's aspect of Bohemian
carelessness and jollity, whilst Bridget, adorned in striking
colours, would have passed for anything you like but a legitimate
and devoted spouse. Once again did Piers stifle his conscience in
face of the exhilarating bottle; indeed, he drank deliberately to
drown his troubles, and before the second course had already to some
Alexander talked of his journalistic prospects. Whether there was
any special reason for hopefulness, Piers could not discover; it
seemed probable that here also the windfall of fifty pounds had
changed the aspect of the world. To hear him, one might have
supposed that the struggling casual contributor had suddenly been
offered some brilliant appointment on a great journal; but he
discoursed with magnificent vagueness, and could not be brought to
answer direct questions. His attention to the wine was unremittent;
he kept his brother's glass full, nor was Bridget allowed to shirk
her convivial duty. At dessert appeared a third bottle; by this
time, Piers was drinking without heed to results; jovially,
mechanically, glass after glass, talking, too, in a strain of
nebulous imaginativeness. There could be little doubt, he hinted,
that one of his Parliamentary friends (John Jacks had been
insensibly multiplied) would give him a friendly lift. A
secretaryship was sure to come pretty quickly, and then, who knew
what opening might present itself! He wouldn't mind a consulship,
for a year or two, at some agreeable place. But eventually--who
could doubt it?--he would enter the House. "Why, of course!" cried
Alexander; the outline of his career was plain beyond discussion.
And let him go in strong for Home Rule. That would be the great
question for the next few years, until it was triumphantly settled.
Private information--from a source only to be hinted at--assured
him that Mr. Gladstone (after the recent defeat) was already hard at
work preparing another Bill. Come now, they must drink Home Rule--
"Justice to Ireland, and the world-supremacy of the British Empire!"
--that was his toast. They interrupted their sipping of green
Chartreuse to drink it in brimming glasses of claret.
"We'll drive you to Queen's Gate!" said Alexander, when Piers began
to look at his watch. "No hurry, my boy! The night is young! 'And'"
--he broke into lyric quotation--"'haply the Queen Moon is on her
throne, clustered around with all her starry fays.'--I shall never
forget this dinner; shall you, Biddy? We'll have a song when we get
One little matter had to be attended to, the paying of the bill.
Having glanced carelessly at the total, Alexander began to search
"Why, hang it!" he exclaimed. "What a fellow I am! Piers, it's
really too absurd, but I shall have to ask you to lend me a
sovereign; I can't make up enough--stupid carelessness! Biddy, why
didn't you ask me if I'd got money?--No, no; just a sovereign,
Piers; I have the rest. I'll pay you back to-morrow morning."
With laughter at such a capital joke, Piers disbursed the coin.
Quaint, comical fellow, this brother of his I He liked him, and was
beginning to like Biddy too.
A cab bore them all to Queen's Gate, Alexander and his wife making
the journey just for the fun of the thing. Piers would have paid for
the vehicle back to Theobald's Road, but this his brother declined;
he and Mrs. Otway preferred the top of a 'bus this warm night. They
parted at Mr. Jacks' door, where carriages and cabs were stopping
every minute or two.
"I'll sit up for you, Piers," roared Alexander genially. "You'll
want a whisky-and-soda after this job. Come along, Biddy!"
In another frame of mind, Piers would have felt the impropriety of
these loud remarks at such a moment. Even as it was, he would
doubtless have regretted the incident had he turned his head to
observe the two persons who had just alighted and were moving up the
steps close behind him. A young, slim, perfectly equipped man, with
features expressive of the most becoming sentiment; a lady--or
girl--of admirable figure, with bright, intelligent, handsome
face. These two exchanged a look; they exchanged a discreet murmur;
and were careful not to overtake Piers Otway in the hall.
He, hat and overcoat surrendered, moved up the gleaming staircase. A
sound of soft music fluttered his happy temper. Seeing his form in a
mirror, he did not at once recognise himself; for his face had a
high colour, with the result of making him far more comely than at
ordinary times. He stepped firmly on, delighted to be here, eager to
perceive his hostess. Mrs. Jacks, for a moment, failed to remember
him; but needless to say that this did not appear in her greeting,
which, as she recollected, dropped upon a tone of special
friendliness. To her, Piers Otway was the least interesting of young
men; but her husband had spoken of him very favourably, and Mrs.
Jacks had a fine sense of her duty on such points. Piers was dazzled
by the lady's personal charm; her brilliantly pure complexion, her
faultless shoulders and soft white arms, her pose of consummate
dignity and courtesy. Happily, his instincts and his breeding held
their own against perilous circumstance; excited as he was, nothing
of the cause appeared in his brief colloquy with the hostess, and he
acquitted himself very creditably. A little farther on, John Jacks
advanced to him with cordial welcome.
"So glad you could come. By the bye"--he lowered his voice--"if
you have any trouble about trains back to Ewell, do let us put you
up for the night. Just stay or not, as you like. Delighted if you
Piers replied that he was staying at his brother's. Whereupon John
Jacks became suddenly thoughtful, said, "Ah, I see," and with a
pleasant smile turned to someone else. Only when it was too late did
Piers remember that Mr. Jacks possibly had a private opinion about
Jerome Otway's elder sons. He wished, above all things, that he
could have accepted the invitation. But doubtless it would be
repeated some other time.
As he looked about him at the gathering guests, he recalled his
depression this afternoon in Bryanston Square, and it seemed to him
so ridiculous that he could have laughed aloud. As if he would not
have other chances of calling upon Irene Derwent! Ah, but, to be
sure, he must provide himself with visiting-cards. A trifling point,
but he had since reflected on it with some annoyance.
A hand was extended to him, a pink, delicate, but shapely hand,
which his eyes fell upon as he stood in half-reverie. He exchanged
civilities with Arnold Jacks.
"I think some particular friends of yours are here," said Arnold.
"Indeed! Are they? Miss Derwent?"
Piers' vivacity caused the other to examine him curiously.
"I only learned a day or two ago," Arnold pursued, "that you knew
"I knew Miss Derwent. I haven't met Dr. Derwent or her brother. Are
they here yet? I wish you would introduce me."
Again Arnold, smiling discreetly, scrutinised the young man's
countenance, and for an instant seemed to reflect as he glanced
"The Doctor perhaps hasn't come. But I see Eustace Derwent. Shall we
go and speak to him?"
They walked towards Irene's brother, Piers gazing this way and that
in eager hope of perceiving Irene herself. He was wild with delight.
Could fortune have been kinder? Under what more favourable
circumstance could he possibly have renewed his relations with Miss
Derwent? Eustace, turning at the right moment, stood face to face
with Arnold Jacks, who presented his companion, then moved away. Had
he lingered, John Jacks' critical son would have found hints for
amused speculation in the scene that followed. For Eustace Derwent,
remembering, as always, what he owed to himself and to society,
behaved with entire politeness; only, like certain beverages
downstairs, it was iced. Otway did not immediately become aware of
"I think we missed each other only by an hour or two, when you
brought Miss Derwent to Ewell. That very day, curiously, I was
"Indeed?" said Eustace, with a marble smile.
"Miss Derwent is here, I hope?" pursued Piers; not with any
offensive presumption, but speaking as he thought, rather
"I believe Miss Derwent is in the room," was the answer, uttered
with singular gravity and accompanied with a particularly freezing
This time, Piers could not but feel that Eustace Derwent was
speaking oddly. In his peculiar condition, however, he thought it
only an amusing characteristic of the young man. He smiled, and was
about to continue the dialogue, when, with a slight, quick bow, the
other turned away.
"Disagreeable fellow, that!" said Piers to himself. "I hope the
Doctor isn't like him. Who could imagine him Irene's brother?"
His spirits were not in the least affected; indeed, every moment
they grew more exuberant, as the wine he had drunk wrought
progressively upon his brain. Only he could have wished that his
cheeks and ears did not burn so; seeing himself again in a glass, he
decided that he was really too high-coloured. It would pass, no
doubt. Meanwhile, his eyes kept seeking Miss Derwent. The longer she
escaped him, the more vehement grew his agitation. Ah, there!
She was seated, and had been hidden by a little group standing in
front. At this moment, Eustace Derwent was bending to speak to her;
she gave a nod in reply to what he said. As soon as the
objectionable brother moved from her side, Piers stepped quickly
"How delightful to meet you here! It seems too good to be true. I
called this afternoon at your house--called to see you--but you
were not at home. I little imagined I should see you this evening."
Irene raised her eyes, and let them fall back upon her fan; raised
them again, and observed the speaker attentively.
"I was told you had called, Mr. Otway."
How her voice thrilled him! What music like that voice! It made him
live through his agonies again, which by contrast heightened the
rapture of this hour.
"May I sit down by you?"
He remarked nothing of her coldness; he was conscious only of her
presence, of the perfume which breathed from her and made his heart
faint with longing.
Irene again glanced at him, and her countenance was troubled. She
looked to left and right, sure that they were not overheard, and
addressed him with quick directness.
"Where did you dine, Mr. Otway?"
"Dine?--Oh, at a restaurant, with one of my brothers and his
"Did your brother and his wife accompany you to this house?"
Piers was startled. He gazed into her face, and Irene allowed him to
meet her eyes, which reminded him most unpleasantly of the look he
had seen in those of Eustace.
"Why do you ask that, Miss Derwent?" he faltered.
"I will tell you. I happened to be just behind you as you entered,
and couldn't help hearing the words shouted to you by your brother.
Will you forgive me for mentioning such a thing? And, as your
friend, will you let me say that I think it would be unfortunate if
you were introduced to my father this evening? He is not here yet,
but he will be--I have taken a great liberty, Mr. Otway; but it
seemed to me that I had no choice. When an unpleasant thing _has_ to
be done, I always try to do it quickly."
Piers was no longer red of face. A terrible sobriety had fallen upon
him; his lips quivered; cold currents ran down his spine. He looked
at Irene with the eyes of a dog entreating mercy.
"Had I"--his dry throat forced him to begin again--"had I better
"That is as you think fit."
Piers stood up, bowed before her, gave her one humble, imploring
look, and walked away.
He went down, as though to the supper-room; in a few minutes, he had
left the house. He walked to Waterloo Station, and by the last train
returned to Ewell.
At the head of Wensleydale, where rolling moor grows mountainous
toward the marches of Yorkshire and Westmorland, stands the little
market-town named Hawes. One winding street of houses and shops,
grey, hard-featured, stout against the weather; with little byways
climbing to the height above, on which rises the rugged church,
stern even in sunshine; its tower, like a stronghold, looking out
upon the brooding-place of storms. Like its inhabitants, the place
is harsh of aspect, warm at heart; scornful of graces, its honest
solidity speaks the people that built it for their home. This way
and that go forth the well-kept roads, leading to other towns, their
sharp tracks shine over the dark moorland, climbing by wind-swept
hamlets, by many a lonely farm; dipping into sudden hollows, where
streams become cascades, and guiding the wayfarers by high, rocky
passes from dale to dale. A country always impressive by the severe
beauty of its outlines; sometimes speaking to the heart in radiant
stillness, its moments of repose mirthful sometimes, inspiring
joyous life, with the gleams of its vast sky, the sweet, keen breath
of its heaths and pastures; but for the most part shadowed,
melancholy, an austere nurse of the striving spirit of man, with
menace in its mountain-rack, in the rushing voice of its winds and
Here, in a small, plain cottage, stone-walled, stone-roofed, looking
over the wide and deep hollow of a stream--a beck in the local
language--which at this point makes a sounding cataract on its
course from the great moor above, lived Jerome Otway. It had been
his home for some ten years. He lived as a man of small but
sufficient means, amid very plain household furniture, and with no
sort of social pretence. With him dwelt his wife, and one
On an evening of midsummer, still and sunny, the old man sat among
his books; open before him the great poem of Dante. His much-lined
face, austere in habitual expression, yet with infinite
possibilities of radiance in the dark eyes, of tenderness on the
mobile lips, was crowned with hair which had turned iron-grey but
remained wonderfully thick and strong; the moustache and beard, only
a slight growth, were perfectly white. He had once been of more than
average stature; now his bent shoulders and meagre limbs gave him an
appearance of shortness, whilst he suffered on the score of dignity
by an excessive disregard of his clothing. He sat in a round-backed
wooden chair at an ordinary table, on which were several volumes
ranked on end, a large blotter, and an inkstand. The room was
exclusively his, two bookcases and a few portraits on the walls
being almost the only other furniture; but at this moment it was
shared by Mrs. Otway, who, having some sort of woman's work on her
lap, sat using her fingers and her tongue with steady diligence. She
looked about forty, had a colourless but healthy face, not
remarkable for charm, and was dressed as a sober, self-respecting
gentlewoman. In her accents sounded nothing harsh, nothing vehement;
she talked quietly, without varied inflections, as if thoughtfully
expounding an agreeable theme; such talk might well have inclined a
disinterested hearer to somnolence. But her husband's visage, and
his movements, betokened no such peaceful tendency; every moment he
grew more fidgety, betrayed a stronger irritation.
"I suppose," Mrs. Otway was saying, "there are persons who live
without any religious conscience. It seems very strange; one would
think that no soul could be at rest in utter disregard of its Maker,
in complete neglect of the plainest duties of a creature endowed
with human intelligence--which means, of course, power to perceive
spiritual truths. Yet such persons seem capable of going through a
long life without once feeling the impulse to worship, to render
thanks and praise to the Supreme Being. I suppose they very early
deaden their spiritual faculties; perhaps by loose habits of life,
or by the indulgence of excessive self-esteem, or by----"
Jerome made a quick gesture with his hands, as if defending himself
against a blow; then he turned to his wife, and regarded her
"Will it take you much longer," he asked, with obvious struggle for
self-command, but speaking courteously, "to exhaust this theme?"
"It annoys you?" said the lady, very coldly, straightening herself
to an offended attitude.
"I confess it does. Or rather, it worries me. If I may beg----"
"I understood you to invite me to your room."
"I did. And the fact of my having done so ought, I should think, to
have withheld you from assailing me with your acrid tedium."
"Thank you," said Mrs. Otway, as she rose to her full height. "I
will leave you to your own tedium, which must be acrid enough, I
imagine, to judge from the face you generally wear."
And she haughtily withdrew.
A scene of this kind--never more violent, always checked at the
right moment--occurred between them about once every month. During
the rest of their time they lived without mutual aggression; seldom
conversing, but maintaining the externals of ordinary domestic
intercourse. Nor was either of them acutely unhappy. The old man
(Jerome Otway was sixty-five, but might have been taken for seventy)
did not, as a rule, wear a sour countenance; he seldom smiled, but
his grave air had no cast of gloominess; it was profoundly
meditative, tending often to the rapture of high vision. The lady
had her own sufficient pursuits, chief among them a rigid attention
to matters ecclesiastical, local and national. That her husband held
notably aloof from such interests was the subject of Mrs. Otway's
avowed grief, and her peculiar method of assailing his position
brought about the periodical disturbance which seemed on the whole
an agreeable feature of her existence.
He lived much in the past, brooding upon his years of activity as
author, journalist, lecturer, conspirator, between 1846 and 1870. He
talked in his long days of silence with men whose names are written
in history, men whom he had familiarly known, with whom he had
struggled and hoped for the Better Time. Mazzini and Herzen, Kossuth
and Ledru-Rollin, Bakounine, Louis Blanc, and a crowd of less
eminent fighters in the everlasting war of human emancipation. The
war that aims at Peace; the strife that assails tyranny, and
militarism, and international hatred. Beginning with Chartism (and
narrowly escaping the fierce penalties suffered by some of his
comrades), he grew to wider activities, and for a moment seemed
likely to achieve a bright position among the liberators of mankind;
but Jerome Otway had more zeal than power, and such powers as he
commanded were scattered over too wide a field of enthusiastic
endeavour. He succeeded neither as man of thought nor as man of
action. His verses were not quite poetry; his prose was not quite
literature; personally he interested and exalted, but without
inspiring confidence such as is given to the born leader. And in
this year 1886, when two or three letters on the Irish Question
appeared over his signature, few readers attached any meaning to the
name. Jerome Otway had fought his fight and was forgotten.
He married, for the first time, at one-and-twenty, his choice being
the daughter of an impoverished "county" family, a girl neither
handsome nor sweet-natured, but, as it seemed, much in sympathy with
his humanitarian views. Properly speaking, he did not choose her;
the men who choose, who deliberately select a wife, are very few,
and Jerome Otway could never have been one of them. He was ardent
and impulsive; marriage becoming a necessity, he clutched at the
first chance which in any way addressed his imagination; and the
result was calamitous. In a year or two his wife repented the
thoughtlessness with which she had sacrificed the possibilities of
her birth and breeding for marriage with a man of no wealth. Narrow
of soul, with a certain frothy intelligence, she quickly outgrew the
mood of social rebellion which had originated in personal
discontent, and thenceforward she had nothing but angry scorn for
the husband who allowed her to live in poverty. Two sons were born
to them; the elder named Daniel (after O'Connell), the second called
Alexander (after the Russian Herzen). For twelve years they lived in
suppressed or flagrant hostility; then Mrs. Otway died of cholera.
To add to the bitterness of her fate, she had just received, from
one of her "county" relatives, a legacy of a couple of thousand
This money, which became his own, Otway invested in a newspaper then
being started by certain of his friends; a paper, as it seemed,
little likely to have commercial success, but which, after many
changes of editorship, ultimately became an established organ of
Liberalism. The agitator retained an interest in this venture, and
the small income it still continued to yield him was more than
enough for his personal needs; it enabled him to set a little aside,
year after year, thus forming a fund which, latterly, he always
thought of as destined to benefit his youngest son--the child of
his second marriage.
For he did not long remain solitary, and his next adventure was
somewhat in keeping with the character he had earned in public
estimate. Living for a time in Switzerland, he there met with a
young Englishwoman, married, but parted from her husband, who was
maintaining herself at Geneva as a teacher of languages; Jerome was
drawn to her, wooed her, and won her love. The husband, a Catholic,
refused her legal release, but the irregular union was a true
marriage. It had lasted for about four years when their only child
was born. In another twelvemonth, Jerome was again a widower. A
small sum of money which had belonged to the dead woman, Jerome, at
her wish, put out at interest for their boy, if he should attain
manhood. The child's name was Piers; for Jerome happened at that
time to be studying old Langland's "Vision," with delight in the
brave singer, who so long ago cried for social justice--one of the
few in Christendom who held by the spirit of Christ.
He was now forty-five years old; he mourned the loss of his comrade,
a gentle, loving woman, whom, though she seldom understood his views
of life, his moods and his aims, he had held in affection and
esteem. For eight years he went his way alone; then, chancing to be
at a seaside place in the north of England, he made the acquaintance
of a mother and daughter who kept a circulating library, and in less
than six months the daughter became Mrs. Otway. Aged not quite
thirty, tall, graceful, with a long, pale face, distinguished by its
air of meditative refinement, this lady probably never made quite
clear to herself her motives in accepting the wooer of fifty-three,
whose life had passed in labours and experiences with which she
could feel nothing like true sympathy. Perhaps it was that she had
never before received offer of marriage; possibly Jerome's eloquent
dark eyes, of which the gleam was not yet dulled, seconded the
emotional language of his lips, and stirred her for the moment to
genuine feeling. For a few months they seemed tolerably mated, then
the inevitable divergence began to show itself. Jerome withdrew into
his reveries, became taciturn, absorbed himself at length in the
study of Dante; Mrs. Otway, resenting this desertion, grew critical,
condemnatory, and, as if to atone for her union with a man who stood
outside all the creeds, developed her mild orthodoxy into a
peculiarly virulent form of Anglican puritanism. The only thing that
kept them together was their common inclination for a retired
existence, and their love of the northern moorland.
Looking back upon his marriages, the old man wondered sadly. Why had
he not--he who worshipped the idea of womanhood--sought
patiently for his perfect wife? Somewhere in the world he would have
found her, could he but have subdued himself to the high seriousness
of the quest. In a youthful poem, he had sung of Love as "the crown
of life," believing it fervently; he believed it now with a fervour
more intense, because more spiritual. That crown he had missed, even
as did the multitude of mankind. Only to the elect is it granted--
the few chosen, where all are called. To some it falls as if by the
pure grace of Heaven, meeting them as they walk in the common way.
Some, the fewest, attain it by merit of patient hope, climbing
resolute until, on the heights of noble life, a face shines before
them, the face of one who murmurs "_Guardami ben_!"
He thought much, too, about his offspring. The two children of his
first marriage he had educated on the approved English model, making
them "gentlemen." Partly because he knew not well how else to train
them, for Jerome was far too weak on the practical side to have
shaped a working system of his own--a system he durst rely upon;
and partly, too, because they seemed to him to inherit many
characteristics from their mother, and so to be naturally fitted for
some conventional upper-class career. The result was grievous
failure. In the case of Piers, he decided to disregard the boy's
seeming qualifications, and, after having him schooled abroad for
the sake of modern languages, to put him early into commerce. If
Piers were marked out for better things, this discipline could do
him no harm. And to all appearances, the course had been a wise one.
Piers had as yet given no cause for complaint. In wearying of trade,
in aiming at something more liberal, he claimed no more than his
With silent satisfaction, Jerome watched the boy's endeavours, his
heart warming when he received one of those well-worded and dutiful,
yet by no means commonplace letters, which came from Geneva and from
London. On Piers he put the hope of his latter day; and it gladdened
him to think that this, his only promising child, was the offspring
of the union which he could recall with tenderness.
When Mrs. Otway had withdrawn with her sour dignity, the old man
sighed and lost himself in melancholy musing. The house was, as
usual, very still, and from without the only sound was that of the
beck, leaping down over its stony ledges. Jerome loved this sound.
It tuned his thoughts; it saved him from many a fit of ill-humour.
It harmonised with the melody of Dante's verses, fit accompaniment
to many a passage of profound feeling, of noble imagery. Even now he
had been brooding the anguish of Maestro Adamo who hears for ever
Li ruscelletti che de' verdi colli
Del Casentin discendon giuso in Arno--"
and the music of the Tuscan fountains blended with the voice of this
There was a knock at the door; the maid-servant handed him a letter;
it came from Piers. The father read it, and, after a few lines, with
grave visage. Piers began by saying that, a day or two ago, he had
all but resolved to run down to Hawes, for he had something very
serious to speak about; on the whole, it seemed better to make the
communication in writing.
"I have abandoned the examination, and all thought of the Civil
Service. If I invented reasons for this, you would not believe them,
and you would think ill of me. The best way is to tell you the plain
truth, and run the risk of being thought a simpleton, or something
worse. I have been in great trouble, have gone through a bad time.
Some weeks ago there came to stay here a girl of eighteen or
nineteen, the daughter of Dr. Lowndes Derwent (whose name perhaps
you know). She is very beautiful, and I was unlucky enough--if I
ought to use such a phrase--to fall in love with her. I won't try
to explain what this meant to me; you wouldn't have patience to read
it; but it stopped my studies, utterly overthrew my work. I was all
but ill; I suffered horribly. It was my first such experience; I
hope it may be the last--in that form. Indeed, I believe it will,
for I can't imagine that I shall ever feel towards anyone else in
the same way, and--you will smile, no doubt--I have a conviction
that Irene Derwent will remain my ideal as long as I live."
Enough of that. It being quite clear to me that I simply could not
go in for the examination, I hit upon another scheme; one, it seemed
to me, which might not altogether displease you. I went to see Mr.
Tadworth, and told him that I had decided to go back into business;
could he, I asked, think of giving me a place in their office at
Odessa? If necessary, I would work without salary till I had
thoroughly learned Russian, and could substantially serve them.
Well, Mr. Tadworth was very kind, and, after a little questioning,
promised to send me out to Odessa in some capacity or other, still
to be determined. I am to go in about ten days.
"This, father, is my final decision. I shall give myself to the
business, heartily and energetically. I think there is no harm in
telling you that I hope to make money. If I do so, it will be done,
I think, honourably, as the result of hard work. I had better not
see you; I should be ashamed. But I beg you will write to me soon. I
hope I shall not have overtried your patience. Bear with me, if you
can, and give me the encouragement I value."
Jerome pondered long. He looked anything but displeased: there was
tenderness in his smile, and sympathy; something, too, of pride.
Very much against his usual practice, he wrote a reply the same day.
"So be it, my dear lad! I have no fault to find, no criticism to
offer. Your letter is an honest one, and it has much moved me. Let
me just say this: you rightly doubt whether you should call yourself
unlucky. If, as I can imagine, the daughter of Dr. Derwent is a girl
worth your homage, nothing better could have befallen you than this
discovery of your 'ideal.' Whether you will be faithful to be
faithful to it, the gods alone know. If you _can_ be, even for a few
ears of youth, so much the happier and nobler your lot!
"Work at money-making, then. And, as I catch a glimmer of your
meaning in this resolve, I will tell you something for your comfort.
If you hold on at commerce, and verily make way, and otherwise
approve yourself what I think you, I promise that you shall not lack
advancement. Plainly, I have a little matter of money put by, for
sundry uses; and, if the day comes when something of capital would
stead you (after due trial, as I premise), it shall be at your
"Write to me with a free heart. I have lived my life perchance I can
help you to live yours better. The will, assuredly, is not wanting.
"Courage, then! Pursue your purpose--
'Con l'animo che vince ogni battaglia,
Se col suo grave corpo non s'accascia.'
"And, believe me that you could have no better intimate for leisure
hours than the old Florentine, who knew so many things; among them,
your own particular complaint."
Clad for a long railway journey on a hot day; a grey figure of
fluent lines, of composedly decisive movements; a little felt hat
close-fitting to the spirited head, leaving full and frank the soft
rounded face, with its quietly observant eyes, its lips of contained
humour--Irene Derwent stepped from a cab at Euston Station and
went forward into the booking-office. From the box-seat of the same
vehicle descended a brisk, cheerful little man, looking rather like
a courier than an ordinary servant, who paid the cabman, saw to the
luggage, and, at a respectful distance, followed Miss Derwent along
the platform; it was Thibaut Rossignol.
Grey-clad also, with air no less calm and sufficient, a gentleman
carrying newspapers in Britannic abundance moved towards the train
which was about to start. Surveying for a moment, with distant
curiosity, the travellers about him, his eye fell upon that maiden
of the sunny countenance just as she was entering a carriage; he
stopped, insensibly drew himself together, subdued a smile, and
advanced for recognition.
"I am going to Liverpool, Miss Derwent. May I have the pleasure
"If you will promise not to talk politics, Mr. Jacks."
"I can't promise that. I want to talk politics."
"From here to Crewe?"
"As far as Rugby, let us say. After that--morphology, or some
other of your light topics."
It seemed possible that they might have the compartment to
themselves, for it was mid-August, and the tumult of northward
migration had ceased. Arnold Jacks, had he known a moment sooner,
would have settled it with the guard. He looked forbiddingly at a
man who approached; who, in his turn, stared haughtily and turned
Irene beckoned to Thibaut, and from the window gave him a trivial
message for her father, speaking in French; Thibaut, happy to serve
her, put a world of chivalrous respect into his "Bien,
Mademoiselle!" Arnold Jacks averted his face and smiled. Was she
girlish enough, then, to find pleasure in speaking French before
him? A charming trait!
The train started, and Mr. Jacks began to talk. It was not the first
time that they had merrily skirmished on political and other
grounds; they amused each other, and, as it seemed, in a perfectly
harmless way; the English way of mirth between man and maid, candid,
inallusive, without self-consciousness. Arnold made the most of his
thirty years, spoke with a tone something paternal. He was wholly
sure of himself, knew so well his own mind, his scheme of existence,
that Irene's beauty and her charm were nothing more to him than an
aesthetic perception. That she should feel an interest in him, a
little awe of him, was to be hoped and enjoyed: he had not the least
thought of engaging deeper emotion--would, indeed, have held
himself reprobate had such purpose entered his head. Nor is it
natural to an Englishman of this type to imagine that girls may fall
in love with him. Love has such a restricted place in their lives,
is so consistently kept out of sight in their familiar converse.
They do not entirely believe in it; it ill accords with their
practical philosophy. Marriage--that is another thing. The
approaches to wedlock are a subject of honourable convention, not to
be confused with the trivialities of romance.
"I'm going down to Liverpool," he said, presently, "to meet Trafford
It gratified him to see the gleam in Miss Derwent's eyes the'
announcement had its hoped-for effect. Trafford Romaine, the Atlas
of our Colonial world; the much-debated, the universally interesting
champion of Greater British interests! She knew, of course, that
Arnold Jacks was his friend; no one could talk with Mr. Jacks for
half an hour without learning that; but the off-hand mention of
their being about to meet this very day had an impressiveness for
"I saw that he was coming to England."
"From the States--yes. He has been over there on a holiday--
merely a holiday. Of course, the papers have tried to find a meaning
in it. That kind of thing amuses him vastly. He says in his last
letter to me----"
Carelessly, the letter was drawn from an inner pocket. Only a page
and a half; Arnold read it out. A bluff and rather slangy epistolary
"May I see his hand?" asked Irene, trying to make fun of her wish.
He gave her the letter, and watched her amusedly as she gazed at the
first page. On receiving it back again, he took his penknife,
carefully cut out the great man's signature, and offered it for
"Thank you. But you know, of course, that I regard it as a mere
"Oh, yes! Why not? So do I the theory of Evolution."
By a leading question or two, Miss Derwent set her companion talking
at large of Trafford Romaine, his views and policies. The greatest
man in the Empire! he declared. The only man, in fact, who held the
true Imperial conception, and had genius to inspire multitudes with
his own zeal. Arnold's fervour of admiration betrayed him into no
excessive vivacity, no exuberance in phrase or unusual gesture such
as could conflict with "good form"; he talked like the typical
public schoolboy, with a veneering of wisdom current in circles of
higher officialdom. Enthusiasm was never the term for his state of
mind; instinctively he shrank from that, as a thing Gallic,
"foreign." But the spirit of practical determination could go no
further. He followed Trafford Romaine as at school he had given
allegiance to his cricket captain; impossible to detect a hint that
he felt the life of peoples in any way more serious than the sports
of his boyhood, yet equally impossible to perceive how he could have
been more profoundly in earnest. This made the attractiveness of the
man; he compelled confidence; it was felt that he never exaggerated
in the suggestion of force concealed beneath his careless, mirthful
manner. Irene, in spite of her humorous observation, hung upon his
speech. Involuntarily, she glanced at his delicate complexion, at
the whiteness and softness of his ungloved hand, and felt in a
subtle way this combination of the physically fine with the morally
hard, trenchant, tenacious. Close your eyes, and Arnold Jacks was a
high-bred bulldog endowed with speech; not otherwise would a game
animal of that species, advanced to a world-polity, utter his
"You take for granted," she remarked, "that our race is the finest
fruit of civilisation."
"Certainly. Don't you?"
It's having a pretty good conceit of ourselves. Is every foreigner
who contests it a poor deluded creature? Take the best type of
Frenchman, for instance. Is he necessarily fatuous in his criticism
"Why, of course he is. He doesn't understand us. He doesn't
understand the world. He has his place, to be sure, but that isn't
in international politics. We are the political people; we are the
ultimate rulers. Our language----"
"There's a quotation from Virgil----"
"I know. We are very like the Romans. But there are no new races to
He began to sketch the future extension of Britannic lordship and
influence. Kingdoms were overthrown with a joke, continents were
annexed in a boyish phrase; Armageddon transacted itself in sheer
lightness of heart. Laughing, he waded through the blood of nations,
and in the end seated himself with crossed legs upon the throne of
"Do you know what it makes me wish?" said Irene, looking wicked.
"That you may live to see it?"
"No. That someone would give us a good licking, for the benefit of
Having spoken it, she was ashamed, and her lip quivered a little.
But the train had slackened speed; they entered a station.
"Rugby!" she exclaimed, with relief. "Have you any views about
treatment of the phylloxera?"
"Odd that you should mention that. Why?"
"Only because my father has been thinking about it: we have a friend
from Avignon staying with us--all but ruined in his vineyards."
Jacks had again taken out his letter-case. He selected a folded
sheet of paper, and showed what looked like a dry blade of grass.
The wheat, he said, on certain farms in his Company's territory had
begun to suffer from a strange disease; here was an example of the
parasite-eaten growth; no one yet had recognised the disease or
discovered a cheek for it.
"Let my father have it," said Irene. "He is interested in all that
kind of thing."
"Quite seriously. He would much like to see it."
"Then I will either call on him, or write to him, when I get back."
Miss Derwent had not yet spoken of her destination. She mentioned,
now, that she was going to spend a week or two with relations at a
country place in Cheshire. She must change trains at Crewe. This
gave a lighter turn to the conversation. Arnold Jacks launched into
frank gaiety, and Irene met him with spirit. Not a little remarkable
was the absence of the note of sex from their merry gossip in the
narrow seclusion of a little railway compartment. Irene was as safe
with this world-conquering young man as with her own brother; would
have been so, probably, on a desert island. They were not man and
woman, but English gentleman and lady, and, from one point of view,
very brilliant specimens of their kind.
At Crewe both alighted, Arnold to stretch his legs for a moment.
"By the bye," he said, as Miss Derwent, having seen to her luggage,
was bidding him farewell, "I'm sorry to hear that young Otway has
been very ill."
"Ill?--I had no knowledge of it. In Russia?"
"Yes. My father was speaking of it yesterday. He had heard it from
his friend, old Mr. Otway. A fever of some kind. He's all right
again, I believe."
"We have heard nothing of it. There's your whistle. Good-bye!"
Jacks leapt into his train, waved a hand from the window, and was
For the rest of her journey, Irene seemed occupied with an
alternation of grave and amusing thoughts. At moments she looked
seriously troubled. This passed, and the arrival found her bright as
ever; the pink of modern maidenhood, fancy free.
The relatives she was visiting were two elderly ladies, cousins of
her mother; representatives of a family native to this locality for
hundreds of years. One of the two had been married, but husband and
child were long since dead; the other, devoted to sisterly
affection, had shared in the brief happiness of the wife and
remained the solace of the widow's latter years. They were in
circumstances of simple security, living as honoured gentlewomen,
without display as without embarrassment; fulfiling cheerfully the
natural duties of their position, but seeking no influence beyond
the homely limits; their life a humanising example, a centre of
charity and peace. The house they dwelt in came to them from their
yeoman ancestors of long ago; it was held on a lease of one thousand
years from near the end of the sixteenth century, "at a quit-rent of
one shilling," and certain pieces of furniture still in use were
contemporary with the beginning of the tenure. No corner of England
more safely rural; beyond sound of railway whistle, bosomed in great
old elms, amid wide meadows and generous tillage; sloping westward
to the river Dee, and from its soft green hills descrying the
mountains of Wales.
Here in the old churchyard lay Irene's mother. She died in London,
but Dr. Derwent wished her to rest by the home of her childhood,
where Irene, too, as a little maid, had spent many a summer holiday.
Over the grave stood a simple slab of marble, white as the soul of
her it commemorated, graven thereon a name, parentage, dates of
birth and death--no more. Irene's father cared not to tell the
world how that bereavement left him.
Round about were many kindred tombs, the most noticeable that of
Mrs. Derwent's grandfather, a ripe old scholar, who rested from his
mellow meditations just before the century began.
Pii, docti, integri,
Reliquiae seu potius exuviae."
It was the first Latin Irene learnt, and its quaint phrasing to this
day influenced her thoughts of mortality. Standing by her mother's
grave, she often repeated to herself "_seu potius exuviae_," and
wondered whether her father's faith in science excluded the hope of
that old-world reasoning. She would not have dared to ask him, for
all the frank tenderness of their companionship. On that subject Dr.
Derwent had no word to say, no hint to let fall. She knew only that,
in speaking of her they had lost, his voice would still falter; she
knew that he always came into this churchyard alone, and was silent,
troubled, for hours after the visit. Instinctively, too, she
understood that, though her father might almost be called a young
man, and had abounding vitality, no second wife would ever obscure
to him that sacred memory. It was one of the many grounds she had
for admiring as much as she loved him. His loyalty stirred her
heart, coloured her view of life.
The ladies had some little apprehension that their young relative,
fresh from contact with a many-sided world, might feel a dulness in
their life and their interests; but nothing of the sort entered
Irene's mind. She was intelligent enough to appreciate the
superiority of these quiet sisters to all but the very best of the
acquaintances she had made in London or abroad, and modest enough to
see in their entire refinement a correction of the excessive
_sans-gene_ to which society tempted her. They were behind the times
only in the sense of escaping, by seclusion, those modern tendencies
which vulgarise. An excellent library of their own supplied them
with the essentials of culture, and one or two periodicals kept them
acquainted with all that was worth knowing in the activity of the
day. They belonged to the very small class of persons who still
read, who have mind and leisure to find companionship in books.
Their knowledge of languages passed the common; in earlier years
they had travelled, and their reminiscences fostered the liberality
which was the natural tone of their minds. To converse familiarly
with them was to discover their grasp of historical principles,
their insight into philosophic systems, their large apprehension of
world-problems. At the same time, they nurtured jealously their
intellectual preferences, differing on such points from each other
as they did from the common world. One of them would betray an
intimate knowledge of some French or Italian poet scarce known by
name to ordinary educated people; something in him had appealed to
her mind at a certain time, and her memory held him in gratitude.
The other would be found to have informed herself exhaustively
concerning the history of some neglected people, dear to her for
some subtle reason of affinity or association. But in their
table-talk appeared no pedantry; things merely human were as
interesting to them as to the babbler of any drawing-room, and their
inexhaustible kindliness sweetened every word they spoke.
Nothing more salutary for Irene Derwent than this sojourn with
persons whom she in every way respected--with whom there was not
the least temptation to exhibit her mere dexterities. In London,
during this past season, she had sometimes talked as a young, clever
and admired girl is prone to do; always to the mockery of her sager
self when looking back on such easy triumphs. How very easy it was
to shine in London drawing-rooms, no one knew better. Here, in the
country stillness, in this beautiful old house sacred to sincerity
of heart and mind, to aim at "smartness" would indeed have been to
condemn oneself. Instead of phrasing, she was content, as became her
years, to listen; she enjoyed the feeling of natural youthfulness,
of spontaneity without misgiving. The things of life and intellect
appeared in their true proportions; she saw the virtue of repose.
When she had been here a day or two, the conversation chanced to
take a turn which led to her showing the autograph of Trafford
Romaine; she said merely that a friend had given it to her.
"An interesting man, I should think," remarked the elder of the two
sisters, without emphasis.
"An Englishman of a new type, wouldn't you say?" fell from the
"So far as I understand him. Or perhaps of an old type under new
Irene, paying close attention, was not sure that she understood all
that these words implied.
"He is immensely admired by some of our friends," she said with
restraint. "They compare him to the fighting heroes of our history."
"Indeed?" rejoined the elder lady. "But the question is: Are those
the qualities that we want nowadays? I admire Sir Walter Raleigh,
but I should be sorry to see him, just as he was, playing an active
part in our time."
"They say," ventured Irene, with a smile, "that but for such men, we
may really become a mere nation of shopkeepers."
"Do they? But may we not fear that their ideal is simply a
shopkeeper ready to shoot anyone who rivals him in trade? The finer
qualities I admit; but one distrusts the objects they serve."
"We are told," said Irene, "that England _must_ expand."
"Probably. But the mere necessity of the case must not become our
law. It won't do for a great people to say, 'Make room for us, and
we promise to set you a fine example of civilisation; refuse to make
room, and we'll blow your brains out!' One doubts the quality of the
Irene laughed, delighted with the vigour underlying the old lady's
calm and gentle habit of speech. Yet she was not convinced, though
she wished to be. A good many times she had heard in thought the
suavely virile utterances of Arnold Jacks; his voice had something
that pleased her, and his way of looking at things touched her
imagination. She wished these ladies knew Arnold Jacks, that she
might ask their opinion of him.
And yet, she felt she would rather not have asked it.
From this retreat, Irene wrote to her cousin Olga Hannaford, and in
the course of the letter made inquiry whether anything was known at
Ewell about a severe illness that had befallen young Mr. Otway. Olga
replied that she had heard of no such event; that they had received
no news at all of Mr. Otway since his leaving England. This did not
allay an uneasiness which, in various forms, had troubled Irene ever
since she heard that her studious acquaintance had abandoned his
ambitions and gone back to commerce. A few weeks more elapsed, and
--being now in Scotland--she received a confirmation of what
Arnold Jacks had reported. Immediately on reaching Odessa, Piers
Otway had fallen ill, and for a time was in danger. Irene mused. She
would have preferred not to think of Otway at all, but often did so,
and could not help it. A certain reproach of conscience connected
itself with his name. But as time went on, and it appeared that the
young man was settled to his mercantile career in Russia, she
succeeded in dismissing him from her mind.
For the next three years she lived with her father in London; a life
pretty evenly divided between studies and the amusements of her
Dr. Derwent pursued his quiet activity. In a certain sphere he had
reputation; the world at large knew little or nothing of him. All he
aimed at was the diminution of human suffering; whether men thanked
him for his life's labour did not seem to him a point worth
considering. He knew that only his scientific brethren could gauge
the advance in knowledge, and consequent power over disease, due to
his patient toil; it was a question of minute discoveries, of
investigations unintelligible to the layman. Some of his colleagues
held that he foolishly restricted himself in declining to
experimentalise _in corpore vili_, whenever such experiments were
attended with pain; he was spoken of in some quarters as a
"sentimentalist," a man who might go far but for his "fads." One
great pathologist held that the whole idea of pursuing science for
mitigation of human ills was nothing but a sentimentality and a fad.
A debate between this personage and Dr. Derwent was brought to a
close by the latter's inextinguishable mirth. He was, indeed, a man
who laughed heartily, and laughter often served him where another
would have waxed choleric.
"Only a dog!" he exclaimed once to Irene, apropos of this subject,
and being in his graver mood. "Why, what assurance have I that any
given man is of more importance to the world than any given dog? How
can I know what is important and what is not, when it comes to the
ultimate mystery of life? Create me a dog--just a poor little
mongrel puppy--and you shall torture him; then, and not till then.
And in that event I reserve my opinion of the----" He checked
himself on the point of a remark which seemed of too wide bearing
for the girl's ears. Hut Irene supplied the hiatus for herself, as
she was beginning to do pretty often when listening to her father.
Dr. Derwent was, in a sense, a self-made man; in youth he had gone
through a hard struggle, and but for his academic successes he could
not have completed the course of medical training. Twenty years of
very successful practice had made him independent, and a mechanical
invention--which he had patented--an ingenuity of which he
thought nothing till some friend insisted on its value--raised his
independence to moderate wealth. For his children's sake he was glad
of this comfort; like every educated man who has known poverty at
the outset of life, he feared it more than he cared to say.
His wife had brought him nothing--save her beauty and her noble
heart. She wedded him when it was still doubtful whether he would
hold his own in the fierce fight for a living; she died before the
days of his victory. Now and then, a friend who heard him speak of
his wife's family smiled with the thought that he only just escaped
being something of a snob. Which merely signified that a man of
science attached value to descent. Dr. Derwent knew the properties
of such blood as ran in his wife's veins, and it rejoiced him to
mark the characteristics which Irene inherited from her mother.
He often suffered anxiety on behalf of his sister, Mrs. Hannaford,
whom he knew to be pinched in circumstances, but whom it was
impossible to help. Lee Hannaford he disliked and distrusted; the
men were poles apart in character and purpose. The family had now
left Ewell, and lived in a poor house in London. Olga was trying to
earn money by her drawing, not, it seemed, with much success.
Hannaford was always said to be on the point of selling some
explosive invention to the British Government, whence would result a
fortune; but the Government had not yet come to terms.
"What a shame it is," quoth Dr. Derwent, "that an honest man who
facilitates murder on so great a scale should be kept waiting for
Hannaford pursued his slight acquaintance with Arnold Jacks, who. in
ignorance of any relationship, once spoke of him to Miss Derwent.
"An ingenious fellow. I should like to make some use of him, but I
don't quite know how."
"I am sorry to say he belongs by marriage to our family," replied
"Indeed? Why sorry?"
"I detest his character. He is neither a gentleman, nor anything
else that one can respect."
It closed a conversation in which they had differed more sharply
than usual, with--on Irene's part--something less than the
wonted gaiety of humour. They did not see each other very often, but
always seemed glad to meet, and always talked in a tone of peculiar
intimacy, as if conscious of mutual understanding. Yet no two
acquaintances could have been in greater doubt as to each other's
mind and character. Irene was often mentally occupied with Mr.
Jacks, and one of the questions she found most uncertain was whether
he in turn ever thought of her with like interest. Now she seemed to
have proof that he sought an opportunity of meeting; now, again, he
appeared to have forgotten her existence. He interested her in his
personality, he interested her in his work. She would have liked to
speak of him with her father; but Dr. Derwent never broached the
subject, and she could not herself lead up to it. Whenever she saw
his name in the paper--where it often stood in reports of public
festivities or in items of social news--her eye dwelt upon it, and
her fancy was stirred. Curiosity, perhaps, had the greater part in
her feeling. Arnold Jacks seemed to live so "largely," in contact
with such great affairs and such eminent people. One day, at length,
a little paragraph in an evening journal announced that he was
engaged to be married, and to a lady much in the light, the widowed
daughter of a Conservative statesman. It was only an hour or two
after reading this news that Irene met him at dinner, and spoke with
him of Hannaford; neither to Arnold himself nor to anyone else did
she allude to the rumoured engagement; but that night she was not
About lunch time on the next day she received a note from Jacks. His
attention had been drawn--he wrote--to an absurd bit of gossip
connecting his name with that of a lady whose friend he was, and
absolutely nothing more. Would Miss Derwent, if occasion arose, do
him the kindness to contradict this story in her circle? He would be
greatly obliged to her.
Irene was something more than surprised. It struck her as odd that
Arnold Jacks should request her services in such a matter as this.
In an obscure way she half resented the brief, off-hand missive. And
she paid no further attention to it.
A month later, she, her father and brother, were on their way to
Switzerland. Stepping into the boat at Dover, she saw in front of
her Arnold Jacks. It was a perfectly smooth passage, and they talked
all the way; for part of the time, alone.
"I think," said Arnold, at the first opportunity, looking her in the
face, "you never replied to a letter of mine last month about a
certain private affair?"
"A letter? Oh, yes. I didn't think it required an answer."
"Don't you generally answer letters from your friends?"
Irene, in turn, gave him a steady look.
"Generally, yes. But not when I have the choice between silence and
"You were both silent _and_ disagreeable," said Arnold, smiling. "Do
you mind being disagreeable again, and telling me what your answer
would have been?"
"Simply that I never, if I can help it, talk about weddings and
rumours of weddings, and that I couldn't make an exception in your
Arnold laughed in the old way.
"A most original rule, Miss Derwent, and admirable. If all kept to
it I shouldn't have been annoyed by that silly chatter. It occurs to
me that I perhaps ought not to have sent you that note. I did it in
a moment of irritation--wanting to have the stupid thing
contradicted right and left, as fast as possible. I won't do it
They were on excellent terms once more. Irene felt a singular
pleasure in his having apologised; it was one of the very rare
occasions of his yielding to her on any point whatever. Never had
she felt so kindly disposed to him.
Arnold was going to Paris, and on business; he hinted at something
pending between his Company and a French Syndicate.
"You are a sort of informal diplomatist," said Irene, her interest
"Now and then, yes. And"--he added with the frankness which was
one of his more amiable points--"I rather like it."
"One sees that you do. Better, I suppose, than the thought of going
"That may come some day," he answered, glancing at a gull that
hovered above the ship. "Not whilst my father sits there."
"You would be on different sides, I suppose."
Arnold smiled, and went on to say that he was uneasy about his
father's health. John Jacks had fallen of late into a habit of worry
about things great and small, as though age were suddenly telling
upon him. He fretted over public affairs; he suffered from the death
of old friends, especially that of John Bright, whom he had held in
affectionate regard for a lifetime. Irene was glad to hear this
expression of anxiety. For it sometimes seemed to her that Arnold
Jacks had little, if any, domestic feeling.
She wished they could have travelled further together. Their talks
were always broken off too soon, just when she began to get a
glimpse of characteristics still unknown to her. On the journey she
thought constantly of him; not with any sort of tender emotion, but
with much curiosity. It would have gratified her to know what degree
of truth there was in that rumour of his engagement a month ago;
some, undoubtedly, for she had noticed a peculiar smile on the faces
of persons who alluded to it. His apparent coldness towards women in
general might be natural, or might conceal mysteries. So difficult a
man to know! And so impossible to decide whether he was really worth
Among intimates of her own sex Irene had a reputation for a certain
chaste severity becoming at moments all but prudery. It did not
altogether harmonise with the tone of highly taught young women who
rather prided themselves on freedom of thought, and to some extent
of utterance. Singular in one so far from cold-blooded, so abounding
in vitality. Towards men, her attitude seemed purely intellectual;
no one had ever so much as suspected a warmer interest. A hint of
things forbidden with regard to any male acquaintance caused her to
turn away, silent, austere. That such things not seldom came to her
hearing was a motive of troubled reflection, common enough in all
intelligent girls who live in touch with the wider world. Men
puzzled her, and Irene did not like to be puzzled. As free from
unwholesome inquisitiveness as a girl can possibly be, she often
wished to know, once for all, whatever was to be learnt about the
concealed life of men; to know it and to have done with it; to
settle her mind on that point, as on any other that affected the
life of a reasonable being. Yet she shrank from all such enquiry,
with a sense of womanly pride, doing her best to believe that there
was no concealment in the case of any man with whom she could have
friendly relations. She scorned the female cynic; she disliked the
carelessly liberal in moral judgment. Profoundly mysterious to her
was everything covered by the word "passion"--a word she detested.
Her way of seeing life on the amusing side aided, of course, her
maidenly severity against trouble of sense and sentiment. This she
had from her father, a man of quips and jokes on the surface of his
seriousness. As she grew older, it threatened a decline of intimacy
between her and her cousin Olga, who, never naturally buoyant, was
becoming so cheerless, so turbid of temper, that Irene found it
difficult to talk with her for long together. Domestic miseries
might greatly account for the girl's mood, but Irene had insight
enough to perceive that this was not all. And she felt uncomfortably
helpless. To jest seemed unfeeling; sympathy of the sentimental sort
she could not give. She feared that Olga was beginning to shrink
Since the Hannaford's removal to London, they had not been able to
see much of each other. Irene understood that she was not very
welcome in the little house at Hammersmith, even before her aunt
wrote to ask her not to come. Lee Hannaford's aloofness from his
wife's relatives had turned to hostility; he spoke of them with
increasing bitterness, threw contempt on Dr. Derwent's scientific
work, and condemned Irene as a butterfly of fashion. Olga ceased to
visit the house in Bryanston Square, and the cousins only
corresponded. It was Dr. Derwent's opinion that Hannaford could not
be quite sane; he was much troubled on his sister's account, and had
often pondered extreme measures for her rescue from an intolerable
At length there came to pass the event to which Mrs. Hannaford had
looked as her only hope. The widowed sister in America died, and,
out of her abundance, her children all provided for, left to the
unhappy wife in England a substantial bequest. News of this came
first to Dr. Derwent, who was appointed trustee.
But before he had time to communicate with Mrs. Hannaford, a letter
from her occasioned him new anxiety. His sister wrote that Olga was
bent on making a most undesirable marriage, having fallen in love
with a penniless nondescript who called himself an artist; a man
given, it was suspected, to drink, and without any decent connection
that one could hear of. A wretched, squalid affair! Would the Doctor
come at once and see Olga? Her father was away, as usual; of course
the girl would not be influenced by _him_, in any case; she was
altogether in a strange, wild, headstrong state, and one could not
be sure how soon the marriage might come about.
With wrinkled brows, the vexed pathologist set forth for
A semi-detached dwelling in a part of Hammersmith just being invaded
by the social class below that for which it was built; where, in
consequence, rents had slightly fallen, and notices of "apartments"
were beginning to rise; where itinerant vendors, finding a new
market, strained their voices with special discord; where hired
pianos vied with each other through party walls; where the earth was
always very dusty or very muddy, and the sky above in all seasons
had a discouraging hue. The house itself furnished half-heartedly,
as if it was felt to be a mere encampment; no comfort in any
chamber, no air of home. Hannaford had not cared to distribute his
mementoes of battle and death in the room called his own; they
remained in packing-cases. Each member of the family, unhappy trio,
knew that their state was transitional, and waited rather than
With the surprise of a woman long bitter against destiny, Mrs.
Hannaford learnt that something _had_ happened, and that it was a
piece of good, not ill, fortune. When her brother left the house
(having waited two hours in vain for Olga's return), she made a
change of garb, arranged her hair with something of the old grace,
and moved restlessly from room to room. A light had touched her
countenance, dispelling years of premature age; she was still a
handsome woman; she could still find in her heart the courage for a
There was no maid--Mrs. Hannaford herself laid upon the table what
was to serve for an evening meal; and she had just done so when her
daughter came in. Olga had changed considerably in the past three
years; at one-and-twenty she would have passed for several years
older; her complexion was fatigued, her mouth had a nervous mobility
which told of suppressed suffering, her movements were impatient,
irritable. But at this moment she did not wear a look of
unhappiness; there was a glow in her fine eyes, a tremour of resolve
on all her features. On entering the room where her mother stood,
she at once noticed a change. Their looks met: they gazed excitedly
at each other.
"What is it? Why have you dressed?"
"Because I am a free woman. My sister is dead, and has left me a lot
They rushed into each other's arms; they caressed with tears and
sobs; it was minutes before they could utter more than broken
phrases and exclamations.
"What shall you do?" the girl asked at length, holding her mother's
hand against her heart. Of late there had been unwonted conflict
between them, and in the reaction of joy they became all tenderness.
"What I ought to have done long ago--go and live away----"
"Will it be possible, dear?"
"It shall be!" exclaimed the mother vehemently. "I am not a slave--
I am not a wife! I ought to have had courage to go away years since.
It was wrong, wrong to live as I have done. The money is my own, and
I will be free. He shall have a third of it every year, if he leaves
me free. One-third is yours, one mine."
"No, no!" said Olga drawing back. "For me, none of it!"
"Yes, you will live with me--you will, Olga! This makes everything
different. You will see that you cannot do what you thought of!
Don't speak of it now--think--wait----"
The girl moved apart. Her face lost its brightness; hardened in
"I can't begin all that again," she said, with an accent of
"No! I won't speak of it now, Olga. But will you do one thing for
me? Will you put it off for a short time? I'll tell you what I've
planned; your uncle and I talked it all over. I must leave this
house before _he_ comes back, to-morrow morning. I can't go to your
uncle's house, as he asked me; you see why it is better not, don't
you? The best will be to go into lodgings for a time, and not to let
_him_ know where I am, till I hear whether he will accept the terms
I offer. Look, I have enough money for the present." She showed gold
that had been left with her by Dr. Derwent. "But am I to go alone?
Will you desert me in my struggle? I want you, dear; I need your
help. Oh, it would be cruel to leave me just now! Will you put it
off for a few weeks, until I know what my life is going to be? You
won't refuse me this one thing, Olga, after all we have gone through
"For a few weeks: of course I will do that," replied the girl, still
in an attitude of resistance. "But you mustn't deceive yourself,
mother. My mind is made up; _nothing_ will change it. Money is
nothing to me; we shall be able to live----"
"I can count on you till the struggle is over?"
"I won't leave you until it is settled. And perhaps there will be no
struggle at all. I should think it will be enough for you to say
what you have decided----"
"Perhaps. But I can't feel sure. He has got to be such a tyrant, and
it will enrage him--But perhaps the money--Yes, he will be glad
of the money."
Presently they sat down to make a pretence of eating; it was over in
a few minutes. Mrs. Hannaford made known in detail what she had
rapidly decided with her brother. Tonight she would pack her
clothing and Olga's; she would leave a letter for her husband; and
early in the morning they would leave London. Not for any distant
hiding-place; it was better to be within easy reach of Dr. Derwent,
and a retreat in Surrey would best suit their purposes, some place
where lodgings could be at once obtained. The subject of difference
put aside, they talked again freely and affectionately of this
sudden escape from a life which in any case Mrs. Hannaford could not
have endured much longer. About nine o'clock, the quiet of the house
was broken by a postman's knock; Olga ran to take the letter, and
exclaimed on seeing the address--
"Why, it's from Mr. Otway, and an English stamp!"
Mrs. Hannaford found a note of a few lines. Piers Otway had reached
London that morning, and would be in town for a day or two only,
before going on into Yorkshire. Could he see his old friends
to-morrow? He would call in the afternoon.
"Better reply to-night," said Olga, "and save him the trouble of
The letter in her hand, Mrs. Hannaford stood thinking, a half-smile
about her lips.
"Yes; I must write," she said slowly. "But perhaps he could come and
see us in the country. I'll tell him where we are going."
They talked of possible retreats, and decided upon Epsom, which was
not far from their old home at Ewell; then Mrs. Hannaford replied to
Otway. Through the past three years she had often heard from him,
and she knew that he was purposing a visit to England, but no date
had been mentioned. After writing, she was silent, thoughtful. Olga,
too, having been out to post the letter, sat absorbed in her own
meditations. They did some hasty packing before bedtime, but talked
little. They were to rise early, and flee at once from the hated
A sunny morning--it was July--saw them start on their journey,
tremulous, but rejoicing. Long before midday they had found lodgings
that suited them, and had made themselves at home. The sense of
liberty gave everything a delightful aspect; their little
sitting-room was perfection the trees and fields had an ideal beauty
after Hammersmith, and they promised themselves breezy walks on the
Downs above. Not a word of the trouble between them. The mother held
to a hope that the great change of circumstance would insensibly
turn Olga's thoughts from her reckless purpose; and, for the moment,
Olga herself seemed happy in self-forgetfulness.
The man to whom she had plighted herself was named Kite. He did not
look like a bird of prey; his countenance, his speech, were anything
but sinister; but for his unlucky position, Mrs. Hannaford would
probably have rather taken to him. Olga's announcement came with
startling suddenness. For a twelvemonth she had been trying to make
money by artistic work, and to a small extent had succeeded,
managing to sell a few drawings to weekly papers, and even to get a
poor little commission for the illustrating of a poor little book.
In this way she had made a few acquaintances in the so-called
Bohemian world, but she spoke seldom of them, and Mrs. Hannaford
suspected no special intimacy with anyone whose name was mentioned
to her. One evening (a week ago) Olga said quietly that she was
going to be married.
Mr. Kite was summoned to Hammersmith. A lank, loose-limbed,
indolent-looking man of thirty or so, with a long, thin face,
tangled hair, gentle eyes. The clothes he wore were decent, but
suggested the idea that they had been purchased at second-hand; they
did not fit him well; perhaps he was the kind of man whose clothes
never do fit. Unless Mrs. Hannaford was mistaken, his breath wafted
an alcoholic odour; but Mr. Kite had every appearance of present
sobriety. He seemed chronically tired; sat down with a little sigh
of satisfaction; stretched his legs, and let his arms fall full
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