The Crown of Life
George Gissing

Part 3 out of 8

length. To the maternal eye, a singular, problematic being, anything
but likely to inspire confidence. Yet he talked agreeably, if oddly;
his incomplete sentences were full of good feeling; above all, he
evidently meant to be frank, put his poverty in the baldest aspect,
set forth his hopes with extreme moderation. "We seem to suit each
other," was his quiet remark, with a glance at Olga; and Mrs.
Hannaford could not doubt that he meant well. But what a match!
Scarcely had he gone, when the mother began her dissuasions, and
from that moment there was misery.

For Olga, Mrs. Hannaford had always been ambitious. The girl was
clever, warm-hearted, and in her way handsome. But for the
disastrous father, she would have had every chance of marrying
"well." Mrs. Hannaford was not a worldly woman, and all her secret
inclinations were to romance, but it is hard for a mother to
dissociate the thought of marriage from that of wealth and
respectability. Mr. Kite, well-meaning as he might be, would never

To-day there was truce. They talked much of Piers Otway, and in the
afternoon, as had been arranged by letter, both went to the railway
station, to meet the train by which it was hoped he would come--
Piers arrived.

"How much improved!" was the thought of both. He was larger,
manlier, and though still of pale complexion had no longer the
bloodless look of years ago. Walking, he bore himself well; he was
self-possessed in manner, courteous in not quite the English way;
brief, at first, in his sentences, but his face lit with cordiality.
On the way to the ladies' lodgings, he stole frequent glances at one
and the other; plainly he saw change in them, and perhaps not for
the better.

Mrs, Hannaford kept mentally comparing him with the scarecrow Kite.
A tremor of speculation took hold upon her; a flush was on her
cheeks, she talked nervously, laughed much.

Nothing was to be said about the flight from home; they were at
Epsom for a change of air. But Mrs. Hannaford could not keep silence
concerning her good fortune; she had revealed it in a few nervous
words, before they reached the house.

"You will live in London?" asked Otway.

"That isn't settled. It would be nice to go abroad again. We liked

"I must tell you about a Swiss friend of mine," Piers resumed. "A
man you would like; the best, jolliest, most amusing fellow I ever
met; his name is Moncharmont. He is in business at Odessa. There was
talk of his coming to England with me, but we put it off; another
time. He's a man who does me good; but for him, I shouldn't have
held on."

"Then you don't like it, after all?" asked Mrs. Hannaford.

"Like it? No. But I have stuck to it--partly for very shame, as
you know. I've stuck to it hard, and it's getting too late to think
of anything else. I have plans; I'll tell you."

These plans were laid open when tea had been served in the little
sitting-room. Piers had it in mind to start an independent business,
together with his friend Moncharmont; one of them to live in Russia,
one in London.

"My father has promised the money. He promised it three years ago. I
might have had it when I liked; but I should have been ashamed to
ask till a reasonable time had gone by. It won't be a large capital,
but Moncharmont has some, and putting it together, we shall manage
to start, I think."

He paused, watching the effect of his announcement. Mrs. Hannaford
was radiant with pleasure; Olga looked amused.

"Why do you laugh?" Piers asked, turning to the girl.

"I didn't exactly laugh. But it seems odd. I can't quite think of
you as a merchant."

"To tell you the truth, I can't quite think of myself in that light
either. I'm only a bungler at commerce, but I've worked hard, and I
have a certain amount of knowledge. For one thing, I've got hold of
the language; this last year I've travelled a good deal in Russia
for our firm, and it often struck me that I might just as well be
doing the business on my own account. I dreamt once of a partnership
with our people; but there's no chance of that. They're very close;
besides, they don't make any serious account of me; I'm not the type
that gains English confidence. Strange that I get on so much better
with almost any other nationality--with men, that is to say."

He smiled, reddened, turned it off with a laugh. For the moment he
was his old self, and his wandering eyes kept a look such has had
often been seen in them during that month of torture three years

"You are quite sure," said Mrs. Hannaford, "that it wouldn't be
better to use your capital in some other way?"

"Don't, don't!" Piers exclaimed, tossing his arm in exaggerated
dread. "Don't set me adrift again. I've thought about it; it's
settled. This is the only way of making money, that I can see."

"You are so set on making money?" said Olga, looking at him in

"Savagely set on it!"

"You have really come to see that as the end of life?" Olga asked,
regarding him curiously.

"The end? Oh, dear no! The means of life, only the means!"

Olga was about to put another question, but she met her mother's
eye, and kept silence. All were silent for a space, and meditative.

They went out to walk together. Looking over the wide prospect from
the top of the Downs, the soft English landscape, homely, peaceful,
Otway talked of Russia. It was a country, he said, which interested
him more the more he knew of it. He hoped to know it very well, and
perhaps--here he grew dreamy--to impart his knowledge to others.
Not many Englishmen mastered the language, or indeed knew anything
of it; that huge empire was a mere blank to be filled up by the
imaginings of prejudice and hostility. Was it not a task worth
setting before oneself, worth pursuing for a lifetime, that of
trying to make known to English folk their bugbear of the East?

"Then this," said Olga, "is to be the end of your life?"

"The end? No, not even that."

On their return, he found himself alone with Mrs. Hannaford for a
few minutes. He spoke abruptly, with an effort.

"Do you see much of the Derwents?"

"Not much. Our lives are so different, you know."

"Will you tell me frankly? If I called there--when I come south
again--should I be welcome?"

"Oh, why not?" replied the lady, veiling embarrassment. "I see."
Otway's face darkened. "You think it better I shouldn't. I

Olga reappeared, and the young man turned to her with resolute
cheerfulness. When at length he took leave of his friends, they saw
nothing but good spirits and healthful energy. He would certainly
see them again before leaving England, and before long would let
them know all his projects in detail. So he went his way into the
summer night, back to the roaring world of London; one man in the
multitude who knew his heart's desire, and saw all else in the light

For three days, Mrs. Hannaford and her daughter lived expectant;
then arrived in answer to the letter left behind at Hammersmith. It
came through Dr. Derwent's solicitor, whose address Mrs. Hannaford
had given for this purpose. A curt, dry communication, saying simply
that the fugitive might do as she chose, and would never be
interfered with. Parting was, under the circumstances, evidently the
wise course; but it must be definite, legalised; the writer had no
wish ever to see his wife again. As to her suggestion about money,
in that too she would please herself; it relieved him to know her
independent, and he was glad to be equally so.

For all that, Lee Hannaford made no objection to receiving the
portion of his wife's income which she offered. He took it without
thanks, keeping his reflections to himself. And therewith was
practically dissolved one, at least, of the innumerable mock
marriages which burden the lives of mankind. Mrs. Hannaford's only
bitterness was that in law she remained wedded. It soothed her but
moderately to reflect that she was a martyr to national morality.

She was pressed to come and stay for a while in Bryanston Square,
but Olga would not accept that invitation. Her mother's affairs
being satisfactorily settled, the girl returned to her fixed
purpose; she would hear of no further postponement of her marriage.
Thereupon Mrs. Hannaford took a step she feared to be useless, but
which was the only hope remaining to her. She wrote to Kite; she
explained to him her circumstances; she asked him whether, out of
justice to Olga, who might repent a hasty union, he would join her
(Mrs. Hannaford) in a decision to put off the marriage for one year.
If, in a twelvemonth, Olga were still of the same mind, all
opposition should be abandoned, and more than that, pecuniary help
would be given to the couple. She appealed to his manhood, to his
generosity, to his good sense.

And, much to her surprise, the appeal was successful. Kite wrote the
oddest letter in reply, all disjointed philosophising, with the gist
that perhaps Mrs. Hannaford was right. No harm in waiting a year;
perhaps much good. Life was a mystery; love was uncertain. He would
get on with his art, the only stable thing from his point of view.

From her next meeting with her lover, Olga came hack pale and

"I must go and live alone, mother," she said. "I must go to London
and work. This life would be impossible to me now."

She would hear of nothing else. Her marriage was postponed; they
need say no more about it. If her mother would let her have a little
money, till she could support herself, she would be grateful; but
she must live apart. And so, after many tears it was decided. Olga
went by herself into lodgings, and Mrs. Hannaford accepted her
brother's invitation to Bryanston Square.


Piers Otway spent ten days in Yorkshire. His father was well, but
more than ever silent, sunk in prophetic brooding; Mrs. Otway kept
the wonted tenor of her life, apprehensive for the purity of the
Anglican Church (assailed by insidious papistry), and monologising
at large to her inattentive husband upon the godlessness of his
impenitent old age.

"Piers," said the father one day, with a twinkle in his eye, "I find
myself growing a little deaf. Your stepmother is fond of saying that
Providence sends blessings in disguise, and for once she seems to
have hit upon a truth."

On a glorious night of stars, he walked with his son up to the open
moor. A summer breeze whispered fitfully between the dark-blue vault
and the grey earth; there was a sound of water that leapt from the
bosom of the hills; deep answering to deep, infinite to infinite.
After standing silent for a while, Jerome Otway laid a hand on his
companion's shoulder, and muttered, "The creeds--the dogmas!"

They had two or three long conversations. Most of his time Piers
spent in rambling alone about the moorland, for health and for
weariness. When unoccupied, he durst not be physically idle; the
passions that ever lurked to frenzy him could only be baffled at
such times by vigorous exercise. His cold bath in the early morning
was followed by play of dumb-bells. He had made a cult of physical
soundness; he looked anxiously at his lithe, well-moulded limbs;
feebleness, disease, were the menaces of a supreme hope. Ideal love
dwells not in the soul alone, but in every vein and nerve and muscle
of a frame strung to perfect service. Would he win his heart's
desire?--let him be worthy of it in body as in mind. He pursued to
excess the point of cleanliness. With no touch of personal conceit,
he excelled the perfumed exquisite in care for minute perfections.
Not in costume; on that score he was indifferent, once the
conditions of health fulfilled. His inherited tone was far from
perfect; with rage he looked back upon those insensate years of
study, which had weakened him just when he should have been
carefully fortifying his constitution. Only by conflict daily
renewed did he keep in the way of safety; a natural indolence had
ever to be combated; there was always the fear of relapse, such as
had befallen him now and again during his years in Russia; a relapse
not alone in physical training, but from the ideal of chastity. He
had cursed the temper of his blood; he had raved at himself for
vulgar gratifications; and once more the struggle was renewed.
Asceticism in diet had failed him doubly; it reduced his power of
wholesome exertion, and caused a mental languor treacherous to his
chief purpose. Nowadays he ate and drank like any other of the sons
of men, on the whole to his plain advantage.

A day or two after receiving a letter from Mrs. Hannaford, in which
she told him of her removal to Dr. Derwent's house, he bade farewell
to his father.

To his hotel in London, that night, came a note he had expected.
Mrs. Hannaford asked him to call in Bryanston Square at eleven the
next morning.

As he approached the house, memories shamed him. How he had slunk
about the square under his umbrella; how he had turned away in black
despair after that "Not at home"; his foolish long-tailed coat, his
glistening stovepipe! To-day, with scarce a thought for his dress,
he looked merely what he was: an educated man, of average physique,
of intelligent visage, of easy hearing. For all that, his heart
throbbed as he stood at the door, and with catching breath, he
followed the servant upstairs.

Before Mrs. Hannaford appeared, he had time to glance round the
drawing-room, which was simpler in array than is common in such
houses. His eye fell upon a portrait, a large crayon drawing, hung
in a place of honour; he knew it must represent Irene's mother;
there was a resemblance to the face which haunted him, with more of
sweetness, with a riper humanity. Whilst his wife still lived, Dr.
Derwent had not been able to afford a painting of her; this drawing
was done and well done, in the after days from photographs. On the
wall beneath it was a little bracket, supporting a little glass
vessel which held a rose. The year round, this tiny altar never
lacked its flower.

Mrs. Hannaford entered. Her smile of greeting was not untroubled,
but seeing her for the first time somewhat ornately clad, and with
suitable background, Piers was struck by the air of youth that
animated her features. He had always admired Mrs. Hannaford, had
always liked her, and as she took his hand in both her own, he felt
a warm response to her unfeigned kindliness.

"Well, is it settled?"

"It is settled. I go back to Odessa, remain with the firm for
another six months, then make the great launch!"

They laughed together, both nervously. Piers' eyes wandered, and
Mrs. Hannaford, as she sat down, made an obvious effort to compose

"I didn't ask you, the other day," she began, as if on a sudden
thought, "whether you had seen either of your brothers."

Piers shook his head, smiling.

"No. Alexander, I hear, is somewhere in the North, doing provincial
journalism. Daniel--I believe he is in London, but I'm not very
likely to meet him."

"Don't you wish to?" asked the other lightly.

"Oh, I'm not very anxious. Daniel and I haven't a great interest in
each other, I'm afraid. You haven't seen him lately?"

"No, no," Mrs. Hannaford answered, with an absent air. "No--not
for a long time. I have hoped to see an announcement of his book."

"His book?--Ah, I remember. I fear we shall wait long for that."

"But he really was working at it," said Mrs. Hannaford, bending
forward with a peculiar earnestness. "When he last spoke to me about
it, he said the material grew so on his hands. And then, there is
the expense of publication. Such a volume, really well illustrated,
must cost much to produce, and the author would have to bear----"

Piers was smiling oddly; she broke off, and observed him, as if the
smile pained her.

"Let us have faith," said Otway. "Daniel is a clever man no doubt,
and may do something yet."

Mrs. Hannaford abruptly changed the subject, returning to Piers'
prospects. They talked for half an hour, the lady's eyes
occasionally turning towards the door, and Otway sometimes losing
himself as he glanced at the crayon portrait. He was thinking of a
reluctant withdrawal, when the door opened. He heard a soft rustle,
turned his head, and rose.

It was Irene! Irene in all the grace of her earlier day, and with
maturer beauty; Irene with her light step, her bravely balanced
head, her smile of admirable courtesy, her golden voice. Otway knew
not what she said to him; something frank, cordial, welcoming. For
an instant he had held her hand, and felt its coolness thrill him to
his heart of hearts; he had bent before her, mutely worshipping. His
brain was on fire with the old passion newly kindled. He spoke, he
was beginning to converse; the room grew real again; he was aware
once more of Mrs. Hannaford's presence, of a look she had fixed upon
him. A look half amused, half compassionate; he answered it with a
courageous smile.

Miss Derwent was in her happiest mood; impossible to be kinder and
friendlier in that merry way of hers. Scarce having expected to meet
her, still keeping in his mind the anguish of that calamitous and
shameful night three years ago when he fled before her grave
reproof, Piers beheld her and listened to her with such a sense of
passionate gratitude that he feared lest some crazy word should
escape him. That Irene remembered, no look or word of hers
suggested; unless, indeed, the perfection of her kindness aimed at
assuring him that the past was wholly past. She made inquiry about
his father's health; she spoke of his life at Odessa, and was full
of interest when he sketched his projects. To crown all, she said,
with her eyes smiling upon him:

"My father would so like to know you; could you dine with us one
evening before you go?"

Piers declared his absolute freedom for a week to come.

"Suppose, then, we say Thursday? An old friend of ours will be with
us, whom you may like to meet."

She spoke a name which surprised and delighted him; that of a
scientific man known the world over. Piers went his way with
raptures and high resolves singing at his heart.

For the rest of daytime it was enough to walk about the streets in
sun and shower, seeing a glorified London, one exquisite presence
obscuring every mean thing and throwing light upon all that was
beautiful. He did not reason with himself about Irene's
friendliness; it had cast a spell upon him, and he knew only his
joy, his worship. Three years of laborious exile were trifling in
the balance; had they been passed in sufferings ten times as great,
her smile would have paid for all.

Fortunately, he had a little business to transact in London; on the
two mornings that followed he was at his firm's house in the City,
making reports, answering inquiries--mainly about wool and hemp.
Piers was erudite concerning Russian wool and hemp. He talked about
it not like the ordinary business man, but as a scholar might who
had very thoroughly got up the subject. His firm did not altogether
approve this attitude of mind; they thought it _queer_, and would
have smiled caustically had they known Otway's purpose of starting
as a merchant on his own account. That, he had not yet announced,
and would not do so until he had seen his Swiss friend at Odessa

The evening of the dinner arrived, and again Piers was rapt above
himself. Nothing could have been more cordial than Dr. Derwent's
reception of him, and he had but to look into the Doctor's face to
recognise a man worthy of reverence; a man of genial wisdom, of the
largest humanity, of the sanest mirth. Eustace Derwent was present;
he behaved with exemplary good-breeding, remarking suavely that they
had met before, and betraying in no corner of his pleasant smile
that that meeting had been other than delightful to both. Three
guests arrived, besides Otway, one of them the distinguished person
whose name had impressed him; a grizzled gentleman, of bland brows,
and the simplest, softest manner.

At table there was general conversation--the mode of civilised
beings. His mind in a whirl at first, Otway presently found himself
quite capable of taking part in the talk. Someone had told a story
illustrative of superstition in English peasant folk, and Piers had
only to draw upon his Russian experiences for pursuit of the
subject. He told how, in a time of great drought, he had known a
corpse dug up from its grave by peasantry, and thrown into a muddy
pond--a vigorous measure for the calling down of rain; also, how
he had seen a priest submit to be dragged on his back across a
turnip field, that thereby a great crop might be secured. These
things interested the great man, who sat opposite; he beamed upon
Otway, and sought from him further information regarding Russia.
Piers saw that Irene had turned to him; he held himself in command,
he spoke neither too much nor too little, and as the things he knew
were worth knowing, his share in the talk made a very favourable
impression. In truth, these three years had intellectually much
advanced him. It was at this time that he had begun to use the
brief, decisive turn of speech which afterwards became his habit; a
mode of utterance suggesting both mental resources and force of

Later in the evening, he found himself beside Mrs. Hannaford in a
corner of the drawing-room. He had hoped to speak a little with Miss
Derwent, in semi-privacy, but of that there seemed no chance; enough
that he had her so long before his eyes. Nor did he venture to speak
of her to her aunt, though with difficulty subduing the desire. He
knew that Mrs. Hannaford understood what was in his mind, and he
felt pleased to have her for a silent confidante. She, not
altogether at ease in this company, was glad to talk to Otway of
everyday things; she mentioned her daughter, who was understood to
be living elsewhere for the convenience of artistic studies.

"I hope you will be able to meet Olga before you go. She shuts
herself up from us a great deal--something like you used to do at
Ewell, you remember."

"I do, only too well. Why mayn't I go and call on her?"

Mrs. Hannaford shook her head, vaguely, trying to smile.

"She must have her own way, like all artists. If she succeeds, she
will come amongst us again."

"I know that spirit," said Piers, "and perhaps it's the right one.
Give her my good wishes--they will do no harm."

The image of Olga Hannaford was distinct before his mind's eye, but
did not touch his emotions. He thought with little interest of her
embarking on an artist's career, and had small belief in her chances
of success. Under the spell of Irene, he felt coldly critical
towards all other women; every image of feminine charm paled and
grew remote when hers was actually before him, and it would have
cost a great effort of mind to assure himself that he had not felt
precisely thus ever since the days at Ewell. The truth was, of
course, that though imagination could always restore Irene's
supremacy, and constantly did so, though his intellectual being
never failed from allegiance to her, his blood had been at the mercy
of any face sufficiently alluring. So it would be again, little as
he could now believe it.

Before he departed, he had his wish of a few minutes' talk with her.
The words exchanged were insignificant. Piers had nothing ready to
his tongue but commonplace, and Miss Derwent answered as became her.
As he left the room he suffered a flush of anger, the natural revolt
of every being who lives by emotion against the restraints of polite
intercourse. At such moments one _feels_ the bonds wrought for
themselves by civilised mankind; commonly accepted without
consciousness of voluntary or involuntary restraint. In revolt, he
broke through these trammels of self-subduing nature, saw himself
free man before her free woman, in some sphere of the unembarrassed
impulse, and uttered what was in him, pleaded with all his life,
conquered by vital energy. Only when he had walked back to the hotel
was he capable of remembering that Irene, in taking leave, had
spoken the kindest wishes for his future, assuredly with more than
the common hostess-note. Dr. Derwent, too, had held his hand with a
pleasant grip, saying good things. It was better than nothing, and
he felt humanly grateful amid the fire that tortured him.

In his room the sight of pen, ink and paper was a sore temptation.
At Odessa he had from time to time written what he thought poetry
(it was not quite that, yet as verse not contemptible), and now,
recalling to memory some favourite lines, he asked himself whether
he might venture to write them out and send them to Miss Derwent.
Could he leave England, this time, without confessing himself to
her? Faint heart--he mused over the proverb. The thought of a
laboured letter repelled him, and perhaps her reply--if she
replied at all--would be a blow scarce endurable. In the offer of
a copy of verses there is no undue presumption; it is a consecrated
form of homage; it demands no immediate response. But were they good
enough, these rhymes of his?--He would decide to-morrow, his last

And as was his habit, he read a little before sleeping, in one of
the half-dozen volumes which he had chosen for this journey. It was
_Les Chants du Crepuscule_, and thus the page sang:

"Laisse-toi donc aimer! Car l'amour, c'est la vie,
C'est tout ce qu'on regrette et tout ce qu'on envie
Quand on voit sa jeunesse au couchant decliner.
Sans lui rien n'est complet, sans lui rien ne rayonne.
La beante c'est le front. l'amour c'est la couronne.
Laisse-toi couronner!"

His own lines sounded a sad jingle; he grew ashamed of them, and in
the weariness of his passions he fell asleep.

He had left till to-morrow the visit he owed to John Jacks. It was
not pleasant, the thought of calling at the house at Queen's Gate;
Mrs. Jacks might have heard strange things about him on that mad
evening three years ago. Yet in decency he must go; perhaps, too, in
self-interest. And at the wonted hour he went.

Fortunately; for John Jacks seemed unfeignedly glad to see him, and
talked with him in private for half an hour after the observances of
the drawing-room, where Mrs. Jacks had been very sweetly proper and
properly sweet. In the library, much more at his ease, Otway told
what he had before him, all the details of his commercial project.

"It occurs to me," said John Jacks--who was looking far from well,
and at times spoke with an effort--"that I may be able to be of
some use in this matter. I'll think about it, and--leave me your
address--I shall probably write to you. And now tell me all about
your father. He is hale and hearty?"

"In excellent health, I think," Piers replied cheerfully. "Dante
suffices him still."

"Odd that you should have come to-day. I don't know why, I was
thinking of your father all last night--I don't sleep very well
just now. I thought of the old days, a lifetime ago; and I said to
myself that I would write him a letter. So I will, to-day. And in a
month or two I shall see him. I'm a walking-copybook-line;
procrastination--nothing but putting off pleasures and duties
these last years; I don't know how it is. But certainly I will go
over to Hawes when I'm in Yorkshire. And I'll write today, tell him
I've seen you."

Much better in spirits, Piers returned to the hotel. Yes, after all,
he would copy out those verses of his, and send them to Miss
Derwent. They were not bad; they came from his heart, and they might
speak to hers. Just his name at the end; no address. If she desired
to write to him, she could easily learn his address from Mrs.
Hannaford. He would send them!

"A telegram for you, sir," said the porter, as he entered.

Wondering, he opened it.

"Your father has suddenly died. Hope this will reach you in time.


For a minute or two, the message was meaningless. He stood reading
and re-reading the figures which indicated hour of despatch and of
delivery. Presently he asked for a railway-guide, and with shaking
hands, with agony of mental confusion, sought out the next train
northwards. There was just time to catch it; not time to pack his
bag. He rushed out to the cab.


"The circumstances are these. On the day after I said good-bye to
him, my father went for his usual morning walk, and was absent for
two hours. He returned looking very pale and disturbed, and with
some difficulty was persuaded (you know how he disliked speaking of
himself) to tell what had happened. It seems that, somewhere on the
lonely road, he came across two men, honest-looking country folk,
engaged in a violent quarrel; their language made it clear that one
accused the other of some sort of slander, a very trivial affair.
Just as my father came up to them, they began fighting. He
interfered, tried to separate them--as he would have done, I am
sure, had they been armed with pistols, for the sight of fighting
was intolerable to him, it put him beside himself with a sort of
passionate disgust. They were great strong fellows, and one of them,
whether intentionally or not, dealt him a fierce blow on the chest,
knocking him down. That put an end to the fight. My father had to
sit by the roadside for a time before he could go home.

"The next day he did not look well, but spent his time as usual, and
on the morning after, he seemed to be all right again. The next day
again he went for his walk, and did not return. When his absence
became alarming, messengers were sent to look for him, and by one of
these he was found lying on the moorside, dead. The postmortem
showed that the blow he had received affected the heart, which was
already diseased (he did not know that). Of course the man who
struck him cannot be discovered, and I don't know that it matters.
My father would no doubt have been glad to foresee such a death as
this. It was sudden (for that he always hoped), and it came of a
protest against the thing he most hated, brutal violence."

So Piers Otway wrote in a letter to John Jacks. He did not add that
his father had died intestate, but of that he was aware before any
inquiries had been set on foot; in one of their last talks, Jerome
had expressly told his son that he would shortly make a will, not
having hitherto been able to decide how his possessions should be
distributed. This intestacy meant (if Daniel Otway had spoken truth)
that Piers would have no fruit whatever of his father's promises;
that his recent hopes and schemes would straightway fall to the

And so it was. A telegram from Piers brought down into Yorkshire the
solicitor who had for many years been Jerome Otway's friend and
adviser; he answered the young man's inquiries with full and
decisive information. Mrs. Otway already knew the fact; whence her
habitual coldness to Piers, and the silent acerbity with which she
behaved to him at this juncture.

"Mrs. Otway," said Piers to her, on the day of the inquest, "I shall
stay for my father's funeral, and to avoid gossip I still ask your
hospitality. I do it with reluctance, but you will very soon see the
last of me."

"You are of course welcome to stay in the house," replied the lady.
"There is no need to say that we shall in future be strangers, and I
only hope that the example of this shockingly sudden death in the
midst of----"

His blood boiling, Piers left the room before the sentence was

Had he obeyed his conscience, he would have followed the coffin in
the clothes he was wearing, for many a time he had heard his father
speak with dislike of the black trappings which made a burial
hideous; but enforced regard for public opinion, that which makes
cowards of good men and hampers the world's progress, sent him to
the outfitter's, where he was duly disguised. With the secret tears
he shed, there mingled a bitterness at being unable to show respect
to his father's memory in such small matters. That Jerome Otway
should be buried as a son of the Church, to which he had never
belonged, was a ground of indignation, but neither in this could any
effective protest be made. Mute in his sorrow, Piers marvelled with
a young man's freshness of feeling at the forms and insincerities
which rule the world. He had a miserable sense of his helplessness
amid forces which he despised.

On the day of the inquest arrived Daniel Otway, Piers having
telegraphed to the club where he had seen his brother three years
ago. Before leaving London, Daniel had provided himself with solemn
black, of the latest cut; Hawes people remarked him with curiosity,
saying what a gentleman he looked, but whispering at the same time
rumours and doubts; for the little town had long gossiped about
Jerome, a man not much to its mind. A day later came Alexander. With
him there had been no means of communicating, and a newspaper
paragraph informed him of his father's death. Appearing in rough
tweeds, with a felt hat, he inspired more curiosity than respect.
Both brothers greeted Piers cordially; both were curt and formal
with the widow, but, for appearances' sake, accepted a cramped
lodging in the cottage. Piers kept very much to himself until the
funeral was over; he was then invited by Daniel to join a conference
in what had been his father's room. Here the man of law (Jerome's
name for him) expounded the posture of things; with all
professional, and some personal, tact and delicacy. Will there was
certainly none; Daniel, in the course of things, would apply for
letters of administration. The estate, it might be said, consisted
of certain shares in a prosperous newspaper, an investment which
could be easily realised, and of a small capital in consols; to the
best of the speaker's judgment, the shares were worth about six
thousand pounds, the consols amounted to nearly fifteen hundred.
This capital sum, the widow and the sons would divide in legal
proportion. Followed technicalities, with conversation. Mrs. Otway
kept dignified silence; Piers, in the background, sat with eyes

"I think," remarked the solicitor gravely and firmly, "that,
assembled as we are in privacy, I am only doing my duty in making
known that the deceased had in view (as I know from hints in his
correspondence) to assist his youngest son substantially, as soon as
that son appeared likely to benefit by such pecuniary aid. I think I
am justified in saying that that time had arrived, that death
interposed at an unfortunate moment as regards such plans. I wished
only to put the point before you, as one within my own knowledge. Is
there any question you would like to ask me at present, Mrs. Otway?"

The widow shook her head (and her funeral trappings). Thereupon
sounded Piers Otway's voice.

"I should like to say that as I have no legal claim whatever upon my
father's estate, I do not wish to put forward a claim of any other
kind. Let that be understood at once."

There was silence. They heard the waters of the beck rushing over
its stony channel. For how many thousand years had the beck so
murmured? For how many thousand would it murmur still?

"As the eldest son," then observed Daniel, with his Oxford accent,
and a sub-note of feeling, "I desire to say that my brother"--he
generously emphasised the word--"has expressed himself very well,
in the spirit of a gentleman. Perhaps I had better say no more at
this moment. We shall have other opportunities of--of considering
this point."

"Decidedly," remarked Alexander, who sat with legs crossed. "We'll
talk it over."

And he nodded with a good-natured smile in Piers' direction.

Later in the day--a family council having been held at which Piers
was not present--Daniel led the young man apart.

"You insist on leaving Hawes to-night? Well, perhaps it is best.
But, my dear boy, I can't let you go without saying how deeply I
sympathise with your position. You bear it like a man, Piers; indeed
you do. I think I have mentioned to you before how strong I am on
the side of morals."

"If you please," Piers interrupted, with brow dark.

"No, no, no!" exclaimed the other. "I was far from casting any
reflection. _De mortuis_, you know; much more so when one speaks of
a father. I think, by the bye, Alec ought to write something about
him for publication; don't you? I was going to say, Piers, that, if
I remember rightly, I am in your debt for a small sum, which you
very generously lent me. Ah, that book! It grows and grows; I
_can't_ get it into final form. The fact is Continental art critics
--But I was going to say that I must really insist on being allowed
to pay my debt--indeed I must--soon as this business is

He paused, watching Piers' face. His own had not waxed more
spiritual of late years, nor had his demeanour become more likely to
inspire confidence; but he was handsome, in a way, and very fluent,
very suave.

"Be it so," replied Piers frankly; "I shall be glad of the money, I

"To be sure! You shall have it with the least possible delay. And,
Piers, it has struck us, my dear fellow, that you might like to
choose a volume or two of the good old man's library as a memento.
We beg you will do so. We beg you will do it at once, before you

"Thank you. I should like the Dante he used to carry in his pocket."

"A most natural wish, Piers. Take it by all means. Nothing else, you

"Yes. You once told me that you had seen a portrait of my mother. Do
you think it still exists?"

"I will inquire about it," answered Daniel gravely. "It was a framed
photograph, and at one time--many years ago--used to stand on
his writing-table. I will inquire, my dear boy."

Next, Alexander sought a private colloquy with his disinherited

"Look here, Piers," he began bluffly, "it's a cursed shame! I'm
hanged if it isn't! If we weren't so solemn, my boy, I should quote
Bumble about the law. Of course it's the grossest absurdity, and as
far as I'm concerned----. By Jove, Piers!" he cried, with sudden
change of subject, "if you knew the hard times Biddy and I have been
going through! Eh, but she's a brick, is Biddy; she sent you her
love, old boy, and that's worth something, I can tell you. But I was
going to say that you mustn't suppose I've forgotten about the debt.
You shall be repaid as soon as ever we realise this property; you
shall, Piers! And, what's more, you shall be repaid with interest;
yes, three per cent. It would be cursed meanness if I didn't."

"The fifty pounds I shall be glad of," said Piers. "I want no
interest. I'm not a money-lender."

"We won't quarrel about that," rejoined Alexander, with a merry
look. "But come now, why don't you let a fellow hear from you now
and then? What are you doing? Going back among the Muscovites?"

"Straight back to Odessa, yes."

"I may look you up there some day, if Biddy can spare me for a few
weeks. A glimpse of the bear--it might be useful to me. Terrible
savages I suppose?"

Piers laughed impatiently, and gave no other answer.

"Well, the one thing I really wanted to say, Piers--you _must_ let
me say it--I, for one, shall take a strong stand about your moral
rights in this business here, Of course your claim is every bit as
good as ours; only a dunder-headed jackass would see it in any other
way. Daniel quite agrees with me. The difficulty will be that woman.
A terrible woman! She regards you as sealed for perdition by the
mere fact of your birth. But you will hear from us, old boy, be sure
of that. Give me your Muscovite address."

Piers carelessly gave it. He was paying hardly any attention to his
brother's talk, and would have felt it waste of energy to reassert
what he had said in the formal conclave. Weariness had come upon him
after these days of grief and indignant tumult; he wanted to be

The portrait for which he had asked was very quickly found. It lay
in a drawer, locked away among other mementoes of the past. With a
shock of disappointment, Piers saw that the old photograph had faded
almost to invisibility. He just discerned the outlines of a pleasant
face, the dim suggestion of womanly charm--all he would ever see
of the mother who bore him.

"It seems to me," said Daniel, after sympathising with his chagrin,
"that there must be a lot of papers, literary work, letters, and
that kind of thing, which will have more interest for you than for
anyone else. When we get things looked through, shall I send you
whatever I think you would care for?"

With gratitude Piers accepted what he could not have brought himself
to ask for.

On the southward journey he kept taking from his pocket two letters
which had reached him at Hawes. One was from John Jacks, full of the
kindliest condolence; a manly letter which it did him good to read.
The other came from Mrs. Hannaford, womanly, sincere; it contained a
passage to which Piers returned again and again. "My niece is really
grieved to hear of your sudden loss; happening at a moment when all
seemed to be going well with you. She begs me to assure you of her
very true sympathy, and sends every good wish." Little enough, this,
but the recipient tried to make much of it. He had faintly hoped
that Irene might send him a line in her own hand. That was denied,
and perhaps he was foolish even to have dreamt of it.

He could not address his verses to her, now. He must hurry away from
England, and try to forget her.

Of course she would bear, one way or another, about the
circumstances of his birth. It would come out that he had no share
in the property left by his father, and the reason be made known. He
hoped that she might also learn that death had prevented his
father's plan for benefiting him. He hoped it; for in that ease she
might feel compassion. Yet in the same moment he felt that this was
a delusive solace. Pity for a man because he had lost money does not
incline to warmer emotion. The hope was sheer feebleness of spirit.
He spurned it; he desired no one's compassion.

How would Irene regard the fact of his illegitimacy? Not, assuredly,
from Mrs. Otway's point of view; she was a century ahead of that.
Possibly she was capable of dismissing it as indifferent. But he
could not be certain of her freedom from social prejudice. He
remembered the singular shock with which he himself had first learnt
what he was a state of mind quite irrational, but only to be
dismissed with an effort of the trained intelligence. Irene would
undergo the same experience, and it might affect her thought of him
for ever.

Not for one instant did he visit these troubles upon the dead man.
His loyalty to his father was absolute; no thought, or half-thought,
looked towards accusation.

He arrived at his hotel in London late at night, drank a glass of
spirits and went to bed. The sleep he hoped for came immediately,
but lasted only a couple of hours. Suddenly he was wide awake, and a
horror of great darkness enveloped him. What he now suffered he had
known before, but with less intensity. He stared forward into the
coming years, and saw nothing that his soul desired. A life of
solitude, of bitter frustration. Were it Irene, were it another, the
woman for whom he longed would never become his. He had not the
power of inspiring love. The mere flesh would constrain him to
marriage, a sordid union, a desecration of his ideal, his worship;
and in the latter days he would look back upon a futile life. What
is life without love? And to him love meant communion with the
noblest. Nature had kindled in him this fiery ambition only for his

All the passion of the great hungry world seemed concentrated in his
sole being. Images of maddening beauty glowed upon him out of the
darkness, glowed and gleamed by he knew not what creative mandate;
faces, forms, such as may visit the delirium of a supreme artist. Of
him they knew not; they were worlds away, though his own brain
bodied them forth. He smothered cries of agony; he flung himself
upon his face, and lay as one dead.

For the men capable of passionate love (and they are few) to miss
love is to miss everything. Life has but the mockery of consolation
for that one gift denied. The heart may be dulled by time; it is not
comforted. Illusion if it be, it is that which crowns all other
illusions whereof life is made. The man must prove it, or he is born
in vain.

At sunrise, Piers dressed himself, and made ready for his journey.
He was worn with fever, had no more strength to hope or to desire.
His body was a mechanism which must move and move.


In the saloon of a homeward-bound steamer, twenty-four hours from
port, and that port Southampton, a lady sat writing letters. Her age
was about thirty; her face was rather piquant than pretty; she had
the air of a person far too intelligent and spirited to be involved
in any life of mere routine, on whatever plane. Two letters she had
written in French, one in German, and that upon which she was now
engaged was in English, her native tongue; it began "Dearest

"All's well. A pleasant and a quick voyage. The one incident of it
which you will care to hear about is that I have made friends--a
real friendship, I think--with a delightful girl, of
respectability which will satisfy even you. Judge for yourself; she
is the daughter of Dr. Derwent, a distinguished scientific man, who
has been having a glimpse of Colonial life. When we were a day or
two out I found that Miss Derwent was the object of special
interest; she and her father had been the guests of no less a
personage than Trafford Romaine, and it was reported that the great
man had offered her marriage! Who started the rumour I don't know,
but it is quite true that Romaine _did_ propose to her--and was
refused! I am assured of it by a friend of theirs on board, Mr.
Arnold Jacks, an intimate friend of Romaine; but he declared that he
did not start the story, and was surprised to find it known. Miss
Derwent herself? No, my dear cynical mamma! She isn't that sort. She
likes me as much as I like her, I think, but in all our talk not a
word from her about the great topic of curiosity. It is just
possible, I fear, that she means to marry Mr. Arnold Jacks, who, by
the bye, is a son of a Member of Parliament, and rather an
interesting man, but, I am quite sure, not the man for _her_. If she
will come down into Hampshire with me may I bring her? It would so
rejoice your dear soul to be assured that I have made such a friend,
after what you are pleased to call my riff-raff foreign intimacies."

A few words more of affectionate banter, and she signed herself
"Helen M. Borisoff."

As she was addressing the envelope, the sound of a book thrown on to
the table just in front of her caused her to look up, and she saw
Irene Derwent.

"What's the matter? Why are you damaging the ship's literature?" she
asked gaily.

"No, I can't stand that!" exclaimed Irene. "It's too imbecile. It
really is what our slangy friend calls 'rot,' and very dry rot. Have
you read the thing?"

Mrs. Borisoff looked at the title, and answered with a headshake.

"Imagine! An awful apparatus of mystery; blood-curdling hints about
the hero, whose prospects in life are supposed to be utterly
blighted. And all because--what do you think? Because his father
and mother forgot the marriage ceremony."

The other was amused, and at the same time surprised. It was the
first time that Miss Derwent, in their talk, had allowed herself a
remark suggestive of what is called "emancipation." She would talk
with freedom of almost any subject save that specifically forbidden
to English girls. Helen Borisoff, whose finger showed a wedding
ring, had respected this reticence, but it delighted her to see a
new side of her friend's attractive personality.

"I suppose in certain circles"--she began.

"Oh yes! Shopkeepers and clerks and so on. But the book is supposed
to deal with civilised people. It really made me angry!"

Mrs. Borisoff regarded her with amused curiosity. Their eyes met.
Irene nodded.

"Yes," she continued, as if answering a question, "I know someone in
just that position. And all at once it struck me--I had hardly
thought of it before--what an idiot I should be if I let it affect
my feelings or behaviour!"

"I think no one would have suspected you of such narrowness."

"Indeed I hope not!--Have you done your letters? Do come up and
watch Mrs. Smithson playing at quoits--a sight to rout the brood
of cares!"

In the smoking-room on deck sat Dr. Derwent and Arnold Jacks,
conversing gravely, with subdued voices. The Doctor had a smile on
his meditative features; his eyes were cast down he looked a trifle

"Forgive me," Arnold was saying, with some earnestness, "if this
course seems to you rather irregular."

"Not at all! Not at all! But I can only assure you of my honest
inability to answer the question. Try, my dear fellow! _Solvitur

Jacks' behaviour did, in fact, appear to the Doctor a little odd.
That the young man should hint at his desire to ask Miss Derwent to
marry him, or perhaps ask the parental approval of such a step, was
natural enough; the event had been looming since the beginning of
the voyage home. But to go beyond this, to ask the girl's father
whether he thought success likely, whether he could hold out hopes,
was scarcely permissible. It seemed a curious failure of tact in
such a man as Arnold Jacks.

The fact was that Arnold for the first time in his life, had turned
coward. Having drifted into a situation which he had always regarded
as undesirable, and had felt strong enough to avoid, he lost his
head, and clutched rather wildly at the first support within reach.
That Irene Derwent should become his wife was not a vital matter; he
could contemplate quite coolly the possibility of marrying some one
else, or, if it came to that, of not marrying anyone at all. What
shook his nerves was the question whether Irene would be sure to
accept him.

Six months ago, he had no doubt of it. He viewed Miss Derwent with
an eye accustomed to scrutinise, to calculate (in things Imperial
and other), and it amused him to reflect that she might be numbered
among, say, half a dozen eligible women who would think it an honour
to marry him. This was his way of viewing marriage; it was on the
woman's side a point of ambition, a gratification of vanity; on the
man a dignified condescension. Arnold conceived himself a brilliant
match for any girl below the titled aristocracy; he had grown so
accustomed to magnify his place, to regard himself as one of the
pillars of the Empire, that he attributed the same estimate to all
who knew him. Of personal vanity he had little; purely personal
characteristics did not enter, he imagined, into a man's prospects
of matrimony. Certain women openly flattered him, and these he
despised. His sense of fitness demanded a woman intelligent enough
to appreciate what he had to offer, and sufficiently well-bred to
conceal her emotions when he approached her. These conditions Miss
Derwent fulfilled. Personally she would do him credit (a wife, of
course, must he presentable, though in the husband appearance did
not matter), and her obvious social qualities would be useful. Yet
he had had no serious thought of proposing to her. For one thing,
she was not rich enough.

The change began when he observed the impression made by her upon
Trafford Romaine. This was startling. Romaine, the administrator of
world-wide repute, the man who had but to choose among Great
Britain's brilliant daughters (or so his worshippers believed), no
sooner looked upon Irene Derwent than he betrayed his subjugation.
No woman had ever received such honour from him, such homage public
and private. Arnold Jacks was pricked with uneasiness; Irene had at
once a new value in his eyes, and he feared he had foolishly
neglected his opportunities. If she married Romaine, it would be
mortifying. She refused the great man's offer, and Arnold was at
first astonished, then gratified. For such refusal there could be
only one ground: Miss Derwent's "heart" was already disposed of.
Women have "hearts"; they really do grow fond of the men they
admire; a singular provision of nature.

He would propose during the voyage.

But the voyage was nearly over; he might have put his formal little
question fifty times; it was still to be asked--and he felt
afraid. Afraid more than ever, now that he had committed himself
with Dr. Derwent. The Doctor had received his confession so calmly,
whereas Arnold hoped for some degree of effusiveness. Was he--
hideous doubt--preparing himself for an even worse disillusion?

Undoubtedly the people on board had remarked his attentions; for all
he knew, jokes were being passed, nay, bets being made. It was a
serious thing to proclaim oneself the wooer of a young lady who had
refused Trafford Romaine; who was known to have done so, and talked
about with envy, admiration, curiosity. You either carried her off,
or you made yourself fatally. ridiculous. Half a dozen of the
passengers would spread this gossip far and wide through England.
There was that problematic Mrs. Borisoff, a frisky grass widow, who
seemed to know crowds of distinguished people, and who was watching
him day by day with her confounded smile! Who could say what passed
between her and Irene, intimates as they had become? Did they make
fun of him? Did they _dare_ to?

Arnold Jacks differed widely from the common type of fatuous young
man. He was himself a merciless critic of fatuity; he had a faculty
of shrewd observation, plenty of caustic common sense. Yet the
position into which he had drifted threatened him with ridiculous
extremes of self-consciousness. Even in his personal carriage, he
was not quite safe against ridicule; and he felt it. This must come
to an end.

He sought his moment, and found it at the hour of dusk. The sun had
gone down gloriously upon a calm sea; the sky was overspread with
clouds still flushed, and the pleasant coolness of the air foretold
to-morrow's breeze on the English Channel. With pretence of watching
a steamer that had passed, Arnold drew Miss Derwent to a part of the
deck where they would be alone.

"You will feel," he said abruptly, "that you know England better now
that you have seen something of the England beyond seas."

"I had imagined it pretty well," replied Irene.

"Yes, one does."

Under common circumstances, Arnold would have scornfully denied the
possibility of such imagination. He felt most unpleasantly tame.

"You wouldn't care to make your home out yonder?"

"Heaven forbid!"

This was better. It sounded like emphatic rejection of Trafford
Romaine, and probably was meant to sound so.

"I myself," he pursued absently, "shall always live in England. If I
know myself, I can be of most service at the centre of things.
Parliament, when the moment arrives----"

"The moment when you can be most mischievous?" said Irene, with a
glance at him.

"That's how you put it. Yes, most mischievous. The sphere for
mischief is growing magnificent."

He talked, without strict command of his tongue, just to gain time;
spoke of expanding Britain, and so on, a dribble of commonplaces.
Irene moved as if to rejoin her company.

"Don't go just yet--I want you--now and always."

Sheer nervousness gave his voice a tremor as if of deep emotion.
These simple words, which had burst from him desperately, were the
best he could have uttered--Irene stood with her eyes on the
darkening horizon.

"We know each other pretty well," he continued, "and the better we
know each other, the more we find to talk about. It's a very good
sign--don't you think? I can't see how I'm to get along without
you, after this journey. I don't like to think of it, and I _won't_
think of it I Say there's no need to."

Her silence, her still attitude, had restored his courage. He spoke
at length like himself, with quiet assurance, with sincerity; and
again it was the best thing he could have done.

"I am not quite sure, Mr. Jacks, that I think about it in the same

Her voice was subdued to a very pleasant note, but it did not

"I can allow for that uncertainty--though I have nothing of it
myself. We shall both be in London for a month or so. Let me see you
as often as I can, and, before you leave town, let me ask whether
the doubt has been overcome."

"I hold myself free," said Irene impulsively.


"I do you no wrong if it seems to me impossible."

"None whatever."

His eyes were fixed on her face, dimly beautiful in the fading
shimmer from sea and sky. Irene met his glance for an instant, and
moved away, he following.

Arnold Jacks had never known a mood so jubilant. He was saved from
the terror of humiliation. He had comported himself as behoved him,
and the result was sure and certain hope. He felt almost grateful,
almost tender, towards the woman of his choice.

But Irene as she lay in her berth, strangely wakeful to the wash of
the sea as the breeze freshened, was frightened at the thought of
what she had done. Had she not, in the common way of maidenhood, as
good as accepted Arnold Jacks' proposal? She did not mean it so; she
spoke simply and directly in saying that she was not clear about her
own mind; on any other subject she would in fact, or in phrase, have
reserved her independence. But an offer of marriage was a thing
apart, full of subtle implications, needing to be dealt with
according to special rules of conscience and of tact. Some five or
six she had received, and in each case had replied decisively, her
mind admitting no doubt. As when to her astonishment, she heard the
frank and large confession of Trafford Romaine; the answer was an
inevitable--No! To Arnold Jacks she could not reply thus promptly.
Relying on the easy terms of their intercourse, she told him the
truth; and now she saw that no form of answer could be less

For about a year she had thought of Arnold as one who _might_ offer
her marriage; any girl in her position would have foreseen that
possibility. After every opportunity which he allowed to pass, she
felt relieved, for she had no reply in readiness. The thought of
accepting him was not at all disagreeable; it had even its
allurements; but between the speculation and the thing itself was a
great gap for the leaping of mind and heart. Her relations with him
were very pleasant, and she would have been glad if nothing had ever
happened to disturb them.

When her father suggested this long journey in Arnold's company, she
hesitated. In deciding to go, she said to herself that if nothing
resulted, well and good; if something did, well and good also. She
would get to know Arnold better, and on that increase of
acquaintance must depend the outcome, as far as she was concerned.
She was helped in making up her mind by a little thing that
happened. There came to her one day a letter from Odessa; on opening
it, she found only a copy of verses, with the signature "P.O." A
love poem; not addressed to her, but about her; a pretty poem, she
thought, delicately felt and gracefully worded. It surprised her,
but only for a moment; thinking, she accepted it as something
natural, and was touched by the tribute. She put it carefully away
--knowing it by heart.

Impertinence! Surely not. Long ago she had reproached herself with
her half-coquetry to Piers Otway, an error of exuberant spirits when
she was still very young. There was no obscuring the fact;
deliberately she had set herself to draw him away from his studies;
she had made it a point of pride to show herself irresistible. Where
others failed in their attack upon his austere seclusion, _she_
would succeed, and easily. She had succeeded only too well, and it
never quite ceased to trouble her conscience. Now, learning that
even after four years her victim still remained loyal, she thought
of him with much gentleness, and would have scorned herself had she
felt scorn of his devotion.

No other of her wooers had ever written her a poem; no other was
capable of it. It gave Piers a distinction in her mind which more
than earned her pardon.

But--poor fellow!--he must surely know that she could never
respond to his romantic feeling. It was pure romance, and charming
--if only it did not mean sorrow to him and idle hopes. Such a love
as this, distant, respectful, she would have liked to keep for
years, for a lifetime. If only she could be sure that romance was as
dreamily delightful to her poet as to her!

The worst of it was that Piers Otway had suffered a sad wrong, an
injustice which, when she heard of it, made her nobly angry. A month
after the death of the old philosopher at Hawes, Mrs. Hannaford
startled her with a strange story. The form it took was this: That
Piers, having for a whispered reason no share in his father's
possessions, had perforce given up his hopes of commercial
enterprise, and returned to his old subordinate position at Odessa.
The two legitimate sons would gladly have divided with him their
lawful due, but Piers refused this generosity, would not hear of it
for a moment, stood on his pride, and departed. Thus Mrs. Hannaford,
who fully believed what she said; and as she had her information
direct from the eldest son, Daniel Otway, there could be no doubt as
to its correctness. Piers had behaved well; he could not take alms
from his half-brothers. But what a monstrous thing that accident and
the law of the land left him thus destitute! Feeling strongly about
it, Irene begged her aunt, when next she wrote to Odessa, to give
Piers, from her, a message of friendly encouragement; not, of
course, a message that necessarily implied knowledge of his story,
but one that would help him with the assurance of his being always
kindly remembered by friends in London.

Six months after came the little poem, which Irene, without
purposing it, learnt by heart.

A chapter of pure romance; one which, Irene felt, could not possibly
have any relation to her normal life. And perhaps because she felt.
that so strongly, perhaps because her conscience warned her against
the danger of still seeming to encourage a lover she could not dream
of marrying, perhaps because these airy nothings threw into stronger
relief the circumstances which environed her, she forthwith made up
her mind to go on the long journey with her father and Arnold Jacks.
Mrs. Hannaford did not fail to acquaint Piers Otway with the

And those two months of companionship told in Arnold's favour. Jacks
was excellent in travel; he had large experience, and showed to
advantage on the highways of the globe. No more entertaining
companion during the long days of steamship life; no safer guide in
unfamiliar lands. His personality made a striking contrast with the
robustious semi-civilisation of the colonists with whom Irene became
acquainted; she appreciated all the more his many refinements.
Moreover, the respectful reception he met with could not but impress
her; it gave reality to what Miss Derwent sometimes laughed at, his
claim to be a force in the great world. Then, that eternal word
"Empire" gained somewhat of a new meaning. She joked about it,
disliking as much as ever its baser significance but she came to
understand better the immense power it represented. On that subject,
her father was emphatic.

"If," remarked Dr. Derwent once, "if our politics ever fall into the
hands of a stock-jobbing democracy, we shall be the hugest force for
evil the poor old world has ever known."

"You think," said Irene, "that one can already see some danger of

"Well, I think so sometimes. But we have good men still, good men."

"Do you mind telling me," Miss Derwent asked, "whether our
fellow-traveller seems to you one of them?"

"H'm! On the whole, yes. His faults are balanced, I think, by his
aristocratic temper. He is too proud consciously to make dirty
bargains. High-handed, of course; but that's the race--the race.
Things being as they are, I would as soon see him in power as

Irene pondered this. It pleased her.

On the morning after Arnold's proposal, she knew that he and her
father had talked. Dr. Derwent, a shy man, rather avoided her look;
but he behaved to her with particular kindliness; as they stood
looking towards the coast of England, he drew her hand through his
arm, and stroked it once or twice--a thing he had not done on the
whole journey.

"The brave old island!" he was murmuring. "I should be really
disturbed if I thought death would find me away from it. Foolish
fancy, but it's strong in me."

Irene was taciturn, and unlike herself. The approach to port enabled
her to avoid gossips, but one person, Helen Borisoff, guessed what
had happened; Irene's grave countenance and Arnold Jacks' meditative
smile partly instructed her. On the railway journey to London, Jacks
had the discretion to keep apart in a smoking-carriage. Dr. Derwent
and his daughter exchanged but few words until they found themselves
in Bryanston Square.

During their absence abroad, Mrs. Hannaford had been keeping house
for them. With brief intervals spent now and then in pursuit of
health, she had made Bryanston Square her home since the change in
her circumstances two years ago. Lee Hannaford held no communication
with her, content to draw the modest income she put at his disposal,
and Olga, her mother knew not why, was still unmarried, though
declaring herself still engaged to the man Kite. She lived here and
there in lodgings, at times seeming to maintain herself, at others
accepting help; her existence had an air of mystery far from

On meeting her aunt, Irene found her looking ill and troubled. Mrs.
Hannaford declared that she was much as usual, and evaded inquiries.
She passed from joy at her relatives' return to a mood of silent
depression; her eyes made one think that she must have often shed
tears of late. In the past twelvemonth she had noticeably aged; her
beauty was vanishing; a nervous tremor often affected her thin
hands, and in her speech there was at times a stammering
uncertainty, such as comes of mental distress. Dr. Derwent, seeing
her after two months' absence, was gravely observant of these

"I wish you could find out what's troubling your aunt," he said to
Irene, next day. "Something is, and something very serious, though
she won't admit it. I'm really uneasy about her."

Irene tried to win the sufferer's confidence, but without success.
Mrs. Hannaford became irritable, and withdrew as much as possible
from sight.

The girl had her own trouble, and it was one she must needs keep to
herself. She shrank from the next meeting with Arnold Jacks, which
could not long be postponed. It took place three days after her
return, when Arnold and Mrs. Jacks dined in Bryanston Square. John
Jacks was to have come, but excused himself on the plea of
indisposition. As might have been expected of him, Arnold was
absolute discretion; he looked and spoke, perhaps, a trifle more
gaily than usual, but to Irene showed no change of demeanour, and
conversed with her no more than was necessary. Irene felt grateful,
and once more tried to convince herself that she had done nothing
irreparable. In fact, as in assertion, she was free. The future
depended entirely on her own will and pleasure. That her mind was
ceaselessly preoccupied with Arnold could only be deemed natural,
for she had to come to a decision within three or four weeks' time.
But--if necessary the respite should be prolonged.

Eustace Derwent dined with them, and Irene noticed--what had
occurred to her before now--that the young man seemed to have
particular pleasure in the society of Mrs. Jacks; he conversed with
her more naturally, more variously, than with any other lady of his
friends; and Mrs. Jacks, through the unimpeachable correctness of
her exterior, almost allowed it to be suspected that she found a
special satisfaction in listening to him. Eustace was a frequent
guest at the Jacks'; yet there could hardly be much in common
between him and the lady's elderly husband, nor was he on terms of
much intimacy with Arnold. Of course two such excellent persons,
such models of decorum, such examples of the English ideal,
masculine and feminine, would naturally see in each other the most
desirable of acquaintances; it was an instance of social and
personal fitness, which the propriety of our national manners
renders as harmless as it is delightful. They talked of art, of
literature, discovering an entire unanimity in their preferences,
which made for the safely conventional. They chatted of common
acquaintances, agreeing that the people they liked were undoubtedly
the very nicest people in their circle, and avoiding in the suavest
manner any severity regarding those they could not approve. When
Eustace apologised for touching on a professional subject (he had
just been called to the Bar), Mrs. Jacks declared that nothing could
interest her more. If he ventured a jest, she smiled with surpassing
sweetness, and was all but moved to laugh. They, at all events,
spent a most agreeable evening.

Not so Mrs. Hannaford, who, just before dinner, had received a
letter, which at once she destroyed. The missive ran thus:

"DEAR MRS. HANNAFORD--I am distressed to hear that you suffer so
in health. Consult your brother; you will find that the only thing
to do you good will be a complete change of climate and of habits.
You know how often I have urged this; if you had listened to me, you
would by now have been both healthy and happy--yes, happy. Is it
too late? Don't you value your life? And don't you care at all for
the happiness of mine? Meet me to-morrow, I beg, at the Museum,
about eleven o'clock, and let us talk it all over once more. Do be
sensible; don't wreck your life out of respect for social
superstitions. The thing once over, who thinks the worse of you? Not
a living creature for whom you need care. You have suffered for
years; put an end to it; the remedy is in your hands. Ever yours,



A few days after her return, Irene left home in the morning to make
an unceremonious call. She was driven to Great Portland Street and
alighted before a shop, which bore the number of the house she
sought. Having found the private entrance--a door that stood wide
open--and after ringing once or twice without drawing anyone's
attention, she began to ascend the uncarpeted stairs. At that moment
there came down a young woman humming an air; a cheery-faced,
solidly-built damsel, dressed with attention to broad effect in
colours which were then--or recently had been--known as
"aesthetic." With some diffidence, for the encounter was not of a
kind common in her experience, Irene asked this person for a
direction to the rooms occupied by Miss Hannaford.

"Oh, she's my chum," was the genial reply. "Top floor, front. You'll
find her there."

With thanks the visitor passed on, but had not climbed half a dozen
steps when the clear-sounding voice caused her to stop.

"Beg your pardon and all that kind of thing, but would you mind
telling her that Tomkins is huffy? I forgot to mention it before I
came out. Thanks, awfully."

Puzzled, if not disconcerted, Miss Derwent reached the top floor and
knocked. A voice she recognised bade her enter. She found herself in
a bare-floored room, furnished with a table, a chair or two, and a
divan, on the walls a strange exhibition of designs in glaring
colours which seemed to be studies for street posters. At the table,
bending over a drawing-board, sat Olga Hannaford, her careless
costume and the disorder of her hair suggesting that she had only
just got up. She recognised her visitor with some embarrassment.

"Irene--I am so glad--I really am ashamed--we keep such hours
here--please don't mind!"

"Not I, indeed! What is there to mind? I spoke to someone downstairs
who gave me a message for you. I was to say that Tomkins was huffy.
Do you understand?"

Olga bit her lip in vexation, and to restrain a laugh.

"No, that's too bad! But just like her. That was the girl I live
with--Miss Bonnicastle. She's very nice really--not a bit of
harm in her; but she will play these silly practical jokes."

"Ah, it was a joke?" said Irene, not altogether pleased with Miss
Bonnicastle's facetiousness. But the next moment, good humour coming
to her help, she broke into merriment.

"That's what she does," said Olga, pointing to the walls. "She's
awfully clever really, and she'll make a great success with that
sort of thing before long, I'm sure. Look at that advertisement of
Honey's Castor Oil. Isn't the child's face splendid?"

"Very clever indeed," assented Irene, and laughed again, her cousin
joining in her mirth. Five minutes ago she had felt anything but
hilarious; the impulse to gaiety came she knew not how, and she
indulged it with a sense of relief.

"Are you doing the same sort of thing, Olga?"

"Wish I could. I've a little work for a new fashion paper; have to
fill in the heads and arms, and so on. It isn't high art, you know,
but they pay me."

"Why in the world do you do it? _Why_ do you live in a place like

"Oh, I like the life; on the whole. It's freedom; no society
nonsense--I beg your pardon, Irene----"

"Please don't. I hope I'm not much in the way of society nonsense.
Sit down; I want to talk. When did you see your mother?"

"Not for a long time," answered Olga, her countenance falling. "I
sent her the new address when I came here, but she hasn't been yet."

"Why don't you go to her?"

"No! I've broken with that world. I can't make calls in Bryanston
Square--or anywhere else. That's all over."


"It isn't nonsense!" exclaimed Olga, flushing angrily. "Why do you
come to interfere with me? What right have you, Irene? I'm old
enough to live as I please. I don't come to criticise your life!"

Irene was startled into silence for a moment. She met her cousin's
look, and so gravely, so kindly, that Olga turned away in shame.

"You and I used to be friends, and to have confidence in each
other," resumed Irene. "Why can't that come over again? Couldn't you
tell me what it all means, dear?"

The other shook her head, keeping her eyes averted.

"My first reason for coming," Irene pursued, "was to talk to you
about your mother. Do you know that she is very far from well? My
father speaks very seriously of her state of health. Something is
weighing on her mind, as anyone can see, and we think it can only be
_you_--your strange life, and your neglect of her."

Olga shook her head.

"You're mistaken, I know you are."

"You know? Then can you tell us how to be of use to her? To speak
plainly, my father fears the worst, if something isn't done."

With elbow on knee, and chin in hand, Olga sat brooding. She had a
dishevelled, wild appearance; her cheeks were hollow, her eyes and
lips expressed a reckless mood.

"It is not on my account," she let fall, abstractedly.

"Can you help her, Olga?"

"No one can help her," was the reply in the same dreamy tone.

Then followed a long silence. Irene gazed at one of the flaring
grotesques on the wall, but did not see it.

"May I ask you a question about your own affairs?" she said at
length, very gently. "It isn't for curiosity. I have a deeper

"Of course you may ask Irene. I'm behaving badly to you, but I don't
mean it. I'm miserable--that's what it comes to."

"I can see that, dear. Am I right in thinking that your engagement
has been broken off?"

"I'll tell you; you shall know the whole truth. It isn't broken; yet
I'm sure it'll never come to anything. I don't think I want it to.
He behaves so strangely. You know we were to have been married after
the twelvemonth, with mother's consent. When the time drew near, I
saw he didn't wish it. He said that after all he was afraid it would
be a miserable marriage for me. The trouble is, he has no character,
no will. He cares for me a great deal; and that's just why he won't
marry me. He'll never do anything--in art, I mean. We should have
to live on mother's money, and he doesn't like that. If we had been
married straight away, as I wanted, two years ago, it would have
been all right. It's too late now."

"And this, you feel, is ruining your life?"

"I'm troubled about it, but more on his account than mine. I'll tell
you, Irene, I want to break off, for good and all, and I'm afraid.
It's a hard thing to do."

"Now I understand you. Do you think"--Irene added in another tone
--"that it's well to be what they call in love with the man one

"Think? Of course I do!"

"Many people doubt it. We are told that French marriages are often
happier than English, because they are arranged with a practical
view, by experienced people."

"It depends," replied Olga, with a half-disdainful smile, "what one
calls happiness. I, for one, don't want a respectable, plodding,
money-saving married life. I'm not fit for it. Of course some people

"Then, you could never bring yourself to marry a man you merely
liked--in a friendly way?"

"I think it horrible, hideous!" was the excited reply. "And yet"--
her voice dropped--"it may not be so for some women. I judge only
by myself."

"I suspect, Olga, that some people are never in love--never could
be in that state."

"I daresay, poor things!"

Irene, though much in earnest, was moved to laugh.

"After all, you know," she said, "they have less worry."

"Of course they have, and live more useful lives, if it comes to

"A useful life isn't to be despised, you know."

Olga looked at her cousin; so fixedly that Irene had to turn away,
and in a moment spoke as though changing the subject.

"Have you heard that Mr. Otway is coming to England again?"

"What!" cried Olga with sudden astonishment. "You are thinking of
_him_--of Piers Otway?"

Irene became the colour of the rose; her eyes flashed with

"How extraordinary you are, Olga! As if one couldn't mention anyone
without that sort of meaning! I spoke of Mr. Otway by pure accident.
He had nothing whatever to do with what I was saying before."

Olga sank into dulness again, murmuring, "I beg your pardon." When a
minute had elapsed in silence, she added, without looking up, "He
was dreadfully in love with you. poor fellow. I suppose he has got
over it."

An uncertain movement, a wandering look, and Miss Derwent rose. She
stood before one of the rough-washed posters, seeming to admire it;
Olga eyed her askance, with curiosity.

"I know only one thing," Irene exclaimed abruptly, without turning.
"It's better not to think too much about all that."

"How _can_ one think too much of it?" said the other.

"Very easily, I'm afraid," rejoined the other, her eyes still on the

"It's the only thing in life _worth_ thinking about!"

"You astonish me. We'll agree to differ--Olga dear, come and see
us in the old way. Come and dine this evening; we shall be alone."

But the unkempt girl was not to be persuaded, and Irene presently
took her leave. The conversation had perturbed her; she went away in
a very unwonted frame of mind, beset with troublesome fancies and
misgivings. Olga's state seemed to her thoroughly unwholesome, to be
regarded as a warning; it was evidently contagious; it affected the
imagination with morbid allurement. Morbid, surely; Irene would not
see it in any other light. She felt the need of protecting herself
against thoughts which had never until now given her a moment's
uneasiness. Happily she was going to lunch with her friend Mrs.
Borisoff, anything but a sentimental person. She began to discern a
possibility of taking Helen Borisoff into her confidence. With
someone she _must_ talk freely; Olga would only harm her; in Helen
she might find the tonic of sound sense which her mood demanded.

Olga Hannaford, meanwhile, finished her toilet, and, having had no
breakfast, went out a little after midday to the restaurant in
Oxford Street where she often lunched. Her walking-dress showed
something of the influence of Miss Bonnicastle; it was more
picturesque, more likely to draw the eye, than her costume of former
days. She walked, too, with an air of liberty which marked her
spiritual progress. Women glanced at her and looked away with a toss
of the head--or its more polite equivalent. Men observed her with
a smile of interest; "A fine girl," was their comment, or something
to that effect.

Strolling westward after her meal, intending to make a circuit by
way of Edgware Road, she was near the Marble Arch when a man who had
caught sight of her from the top of an omnibus alighted and hastened
in her direction. At the sound of his voice, Olga paused, smiling,
and gave him her hand with friendliness. He was an Italian, his name
Florio; they had met several times at a house which she visited with
Miss Bonnicastle. Mr. Florio had a noticeable visage, very dark of
tone, eyes which at one time seemed to glow with noble emotion, and
at another betrayed excessive shrewdness; heavy eyebrows and long
black lashes; a nose of classical Perfection; large mouth with thick
and very red lips. He was dressed in approved English fashion, as a
man of leisure, wore a massive watchguard across his buff summer
waistcoat, and carried a silver-headed cane.

"You are taking a little walk," he said, with a very slight foreign
accent. "If you will let me walk with you a little way I shall be
honoured. The Park? A delightful day for the Park! Let us walk over
the grass, as we may do in this free country. I have something to
tell you, Miss Hannaiord."

"That's nice of you, Mr. Florio. So few people tell one anything one
doesn't know; but yours is sure to be real news."

"It is--I assure you it is. But, first of all, I was thinking on
the 'bus--I often ride on the 'bus, it gives one ideas--I was
thinking what a pity they do not use the back of the 'bus driver to
display advertisements. It is a loss of space. Those men are so
beautifully broad, and one looks at their backs, and there is
nothing, nothing to see but an ugly coat. I shall mention my little
scheme to a friend of mine, a very practical man."

Olga laughed merrily.

"Oh, you are too clever, Mr. Florio!"

"Oh, I have my little ideas. Do you know, I've just come back from

"I envy you--I mean, I envy you for having been there."

"Ah, that is your mistake, dear Miss Hannaford! That is the mistake
of the romantic English young lady. Italy? Yes, there is a blue sky
--not always. Yes, there are ruins that interest, if one is
educated. And, there is misery, misery! Italy is a poor country,
poor, poor, poor, poor." He intoned the words as if speaking his own
language. "And poverty is the worst thing in the world. You make an
illusion for yourself, Miss Hannaford. For a holiday when one's
rich, yes, Italy is not bad--though there is fever, and there are
thieves--oh, thieves! Of course The man who is poor will steal--
_ecco_! It amuses me, when the English talk of Italy."

"But you are proud of--of your memories?"

"Memories!" Mr. Florio laughed a whole melody. "One is not proud of
former riches when one has become a beggar. It is you, the English,
who can be proud of the past, because you can be proud of the
present. You have grown free, free, free! Rich, rich, rich, ah!"

Olga laughed.

"I am sorry to say that I have not grown rich."

He bent his gaze upon her, and it glowed with tender amorousness.

"You remind me--I have something to tell you. In Italy, not
everybody is quite poor. For example, my grandfather, at Bologna. I
have made a visit to my grandfather. He likes me; he admires me
because I have intelligence. He will not live very long, that poor

Olga glanced at him, and met the queer calculating melancholy of his
fine eyes.

"Miss Hannaford, if some day I am rich, I shall of course live in
England. In what other country can one live? I shall have a house in
the West End; I shall have a carriage; I shall nationalise--you
say naturalise?--myself, and be an Englishman, not a beggarly
Italian. And that will not be long. The poor old grandfather is
weak, weak; he decays, he loses his mind; but he has made his
testament, oh yes!"

The girl's look wandered about the grassy space, she was uneasy.

"Shall we turn and walk back, Mr. Florio?"

"If you wish, but slowly, slowly. I am so happy to have met you.
Your company is a delight to me, Miss Hannaford. Can we not meet
more often?"

"I am always glad to see you," she answered nervously.

"Good!--A thought occurs to me." He pointed to the iron fence they
were approaching. "Is not that a waste? Why does not the public
authority--what do you call it?--make money of these railings?
Imagine! One attaches advertisements to the rail, metal plates, of
course artistically designed, not to spoil the Park. They might
swing in the wind as it blows, and perhaps little bells might ring,
to attract attention. A good idea, is it not?"

"A splendid idea," Olga answered, with a laugh.

"Ah! England is a great country! But, Miss Hannaford, there is one
thing in which the Italian is not inferior to the Englishman. May I
say what that is?"

"There are many things, I am sure----"

"But there is one thing--that is Love!"

Olga walked on, head bent, and Florio enveloped her in his gaze.

"To-day I say no more, Miss Hannaford. I had something to tell you,
and I have told it. When I have something more to tell we shall meet
--oh, I am sure we shall meet."

"You are staying in England for some time?" said Olga, as if in
ordinary conversation.

"For a little time; I come, I go. I have, you know, my affairs, my
business. How is your friend, the admirable artist, the charming
Miss Bonnicastle?"

"Oh, very well, always well."

"Yes, the English ladies they have wonderful health--I admire
them; but there is one I admire most of all."

A few remarks more, of like tenor, and they drew near again to the
Marble Arch. With bows and compliments and significant looks, Mr.
Florio walked briskly away in search of an omnibus.

Olga, her eyes cast down as she turned homeward, was not aware that
someone who had held her in sight for a long time grew gradually
near, until he stepped to her side. It was Mr. Kite. He looked at
her with a melancholy smile on his long, lank face, and, when at
length the girl saw him, took off his shabby hat respectfully. Olga
nodded and walked on without speaking. Kite accompanying her.


Olga was the first to break silence.

"You ought to take your boots to be mended," she said gently. "If it
rains, you'll get wet feet, and you know what that means."

"You're very kind to think of it; I will."

"You can pay for them, I hope?"

"Pay? Oh, yes, yes! a trifle such as that--Have you had a long

"I met a friend. I may as well tell you; it was the Italian, Mr.

"I saw you together," said Kite absently, but not resentfully. "I
half thought of coming up to be introduced to him. But I'm rather
shabby, I feared you mightn't like it."

"It wouldn't have mattered a bit, so far as I'm concerned," replied
Olga good-naturedly. "But he isn't the kind of man you'd care for.
If he had been, I should have got you to meet him before now."

"You like him?"

"Yes, I rather like him. But it's nothing more than that; don't
imagine it. Oh, I had a call from my cousin Irene this morning. We
don't quite get on together; she's getting very worldly. Her idea is
that one ought to marry cold-bloodedly, just for social advantage,
and that kind of thing. No doubt she's going to do it, and then we
shall never see each other again, never!--She tells me that Piers
Otway is coming to England again."

"Oh, now I should like to know _him_, I really should!" exclaimed
Kite, with a mild vivacity.

"So you shall, if he stays in London. Perhaps you would suit each

"I'm sure, because you like him so much."

"Do I?" asked Olga doubtfully. "Yes, perhaps so. If he hasn't
changed for the worse. But it'll be rather irritating if he talks
about nothing but Irene still. Oh, that's impossible! Five years;
yes, that's impossible."

"One should think the better of him, in a way," ventured Kite.

"Oh, in a way. But when a thing of that sort is hopeless. I'm afraid
Irene looks down upon him, just because--you know. But he's better
than most of the men she'll meet in her drawing-rooms, that's
Certain. Shall I ask him to come to my place?"

"Do. And I hope he'll stay in England, and that you'll see a good
deal of him."

"Pray, why?"

"Because that's the right kind of acquaintance for you, he'll do you

Olga laughed a little, and said, with compassionate kindness:

"You _are_ queer!"

"I meant nothing unpleasant, Olga," was the apologetic rejoinder.

"Of course you didn't. Have you had dinner yet?"

"Dinner? Oh yes--of course, long ago!"

"I know what that means."

"'Sh! 'Sh! May I came home and talk a little?"

Dinner, it might be feared, was no immutable feature of Mr. Kite's
day. He had a starved aspect; his long limbs were appallingly
meagre; as he strode along, his clothing, thin and disreputable,
flapped about him. But his countenance showed nothing whatever of
sourness, or of grim endurance. Nor did he appear to be in a feeble
state of health; for all his emaciation, his step was firm and he
held himself tolerably upright. One thing was obvious, that at
Olga's side he forgot his ills. Each time he glanced at her, a
strange beautiful smile passed like a light over his hard features,
a smile of infinite melancholy, yet of infinite tenderness. The
voice in which he addressed her was invariably softened to express
something more than homage.

They had the habit of walking side by side, and could keep silence
without any feeling of restraint. Kite now and then uttered some
word or ejaculation, to which Olga paid no heed; it was only his
way, the trick of a man who lived much alone, and who conversed with

On ascending to the room in Great Portland Street, they found Miss
Bonnicastle hard at work on a design of considerable size, which
hung against the wall. This young lady, for all her sportiveness,
was never tempted to jest at the expense of Mr. Kite; removing a
charcoal holder from her mouth, she nodded pleasantly, and stood
aside to allow the melancholy man a view of her work.

"Astonishing vigour!" said Kite, in his soft, sincere voice. "How I
envy you!"

Miss Bonnicastle laughed with self-deprecation. She, no less than
Olga Hannaford, credited Kite with wonderful artistic powers; in
their view, only his constitutional defect of energy, his
incorrigible dreaminess, stood between him and great achievement.
The evidence in support of their faith was slight enough; a few
sketches, a hint in crayon, or a wash in water-colour, were all he
had to show; but Kite belonged to that strange order of men who,
seemingly without effort or advantage of any kind, awaken the
interest and gain the confidence of certain women. Even Mrs.
Hannaford, though a mother's reasons set her against him, had felt
this seductive quality in Olga's lover, and liked though she could
not approve of him. Powers of fascination in a man very often go
together with lax principle, if not with active rascality; Kite was
an instance to the contrary. He had a quixotic sensitiveness, a
morbid instinct of honour. If it is true that virile force,
preferably with a touch of the brutal, has a high place in the
natural woman's heart, none the less does an ideal of male purity,
of the masculine subdued to gentle virtues, make strong appeal to
the imagination in her sex. To the everyday man, Kite seemed a mere
pale grotesque, a creature of flabby foolishness. But Olga Hannaford
was not the only girl who had dreamed of devoting her life to him.
If she could believe his assurance (and she all but did believe it),
for her alone had he felt anything worthy to be called love, to her
alone had he spoken words of tenderness. The high-tide of her
passion had long since ebbed; yet she knew that Kite still had power
over her, power irresistible, if he chose to exercise it, and the
strange fact that he would not, that, still loving her, he did not
seem to be jealous for her love in return, often moved her to

She knew his story. He was the natural son of a spendthrift
aristocrat, who, after educating him decently had died and left a
will which seemed to assure Kite a substantial independence.
Unfortunately, the will dealt, for the most part, with property no
longer in existence. Kite's income was to be paid by one of the
deceased's relatives, who, instead of benefiting largely, found that
he came in for a mere pittance; and the proportion of that pittance
due to the illegitimate son was exactly forty-five pounds, four
shillings, and fourpence per annum. It was paid; it kept Kite alive;
also, no doubt, it kept him from doing what he might have done, in
art or anything else. On quarterly pay-day the dreamer always spent
two or three pounds on gifts to those of his friends who were least
able to make practical return. To Olga, of course, he had offered
lordly presents, until the day when she firmly refused to take
anything more from him. When his purse was empty he earned something
by journeyman work in the studio of a portrait painter, a keen man
of business, who gave shillings to this assistant instead of the
sovereigns that another would have asked for the same labour.

As usual when he came here, Kite settled himself in a chair,
stretched out his legs, let his arms depend, and so watched the two
girls at work. There was not much conversation; Kite never began it.
Miss Bonnicastle hummed, or whistled, or sang, generally the
refrains of the music-hall; if work gave her trouble she swore
vigorously--in German, a language with which she was well
acquainted and at the sound of her maledictions, though he did not
understand them, Kite always threw his head back with a silent
laugh. Olga naturally had most of his attention; he often fixed his
eyes upon her for five minutes at a time, and Olga, being used to
this, was not at all disturbed by it.

When five o'clock came, Miss Bonnicastle flung up her arms and

"Let's have some blooming tea!" she exclaimed. "All right, I'll get
it. I've just about ten times the muscle and go of you two put
together; it's only right I should do the slavey."

Kite rose, and reached his hat. Whereupon, with soft pressure of her
not very delicate hands, Miss Bonnicastle forced him back into his

"Sit still. Do as I tell you. What's the good of you if you can't
help us to drink tea?"

And Kite yielded, as always, wishing he could sit there for ever.

Three weeks later, on an afternoon of rain, the trio were again
together in the same way. Someone knocked, and a charwoman at work
on the premises handed in a letter for Miss Hannaford.

"I know who this is from," said Olga, looking up at Kite.

"And I can guess," he returned, leaning forward with a look of

She read the note--only a few lines, and handed it to her friend,

"He'd better come to-morrow."

"Who's that?" asked Miss Bonnicastle.

"Piers Otway."

The poster artist glanced from one face to the other, with a smile.
There had been much talk lately of Otway, who was about to begin
business in London; his partner, Andre Moncharmont, remaining at
Odessa. Olga had heard from her mother that Piers wished to see her,
and had allowed Mrs. Hannaford to give him her address; he now wrote
asking if he might call.

"I'll go and send him a wire," she said. "There isn't time to write.


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