The Crown of Life
Part 4 out of 8
When Olga had run out, Kite, as if examining a poster on the wall,
turned his back to Miss Bonnicastle. She, after a glance or two in
his direction, addressed him by name, and the man looked round.
"You don't mind if I speak plainly?"
"Of course I don't," he replied, his features distorted, rather than
graced, by a smile.
The girl approached him, arms akimbo, but, by virtue of a frank
look, suggesting more than usual of womanhood.
"You've got to be either one thing or the other. She doesn't care
_that_"--a snap of the fingers--"for this man Otway, and she
knows he doesn't care for her. But she's playing him against you,
and you must expect more of it. You ought to make up your mind. It
isn't fair to her."
"Thank you," murmured Kite, reddening a little. "It's kind of you."
"Well, I hope it is. But she'd be furious if she guessed I'd said
such a thing. I only do it because it's for her good as much as
yours. Things oughtn't to drag on, you know; it isn't fair to a girl
Kite thrust his hands into his pockets, and drew himself up to a
full five feet eleven.
"I'll go away," he said. "I'll go and live in Paris for a bit."
"That's for _you_ to decide. Of course if you feel like that--it's
none of my business, I don't pretend to understand _you_; I'm not
quite sure I understand _her_. You're a queer couple. All I know is,
it's gone on long enough, and it isn't fair to a girl like Olga. She
isn't the sort that can doze through a comfortable engagement of ten
or twelve years, and surely you know that."
"I'll go away," said Kite again, nodding resolutely.
He turned again to the poster, and Miss Bonnicastle resumed her
work. Thus Olga found them when she came back.
"I've asked him to come at three," she said. "You'll be out then,
Bonnie. When you come in we'll put the kettle on, and all have tea."
She chanted it, to the old nursery tune. "Of course you'll come as
well"--she addressed Kite--"say about four. It'll be jolly!"
So, on the following afternoon, Olga sat alone, in readiness for her
visitor. She had paid a little more attention than usual to her
appearance, but was perfectly self-possessed; a meeting with Piers
Otway had never yet quickened her pulse, and would not do so to-day.
If anything, she suffered a little from low spirits, conscious of
having played a rather disingenuous part before Kite, and not
exactly knowing to what purpose she had done so. It still rained; it
had been gloomy for several days. Looking at the heavy sky above the
gloomy street, Olga had a sense of wasted life. She asked herself
whether it would not have been better, on the decline of her
love-fever, to go back into the so-called respectable world, share
her mother's prosperity, make the most of her personal attractions,
and marry as other girls did--if anyone invited her. She was doing
no good; all the experience to be had in a life of mild Bohemianism
was already tasted, and found rather insipid. An artist she would
never become; probably she would never even support herself. To
imagine herself really dependent on her own efforts, was to sink
into misery and fear. The time had come for a new step, a new
beginning, yet all possibilities looked so vague.
A knock at the door. She opened, and saw Piers Otway.
If they had been longing to meet, instead of scarcely ever giving a
thought to each other, they could not have clasped hands with more
warmth. They gazed eagerly into each other's eyes, and seemed too
much overcome for ordinary words of greeting. Then Olga saw that
Otway looked nothing like so well as when on his visit to England
some couple of years ago. He, in turn, was surprised at the change
in Olga's features; the bloom of girlhood had vanished; she was
handsome, striking, but might almost have passed for a married woman
"A queer place, isn't it?" she said, laughing, as Piers cast a
glance round the room.
"Is this your work?" he asked, pointing to the posters.
"No, no! Mine isn't for exhibition. It hides itself--with the
modesty of supreme excellence!"
Again they looked at each other; Olga pointed to a chair, herself
became seated, and explained the conditions of her life here.
Bending forward, his hands folded between his knees, Otway listened
with a face on which trouble began to reassert itself after the
emotion of their meeting.
"So you have really begun business at last?" said Olga.
"Yes. Rather hopefully, too."
"You don't look hopeful, somehow."
"Oh, that's nothing. Moncharmont has scraped together a fair
capital, and as for me, well, a friend has come to my help, I
mustn't say who it is. Yes, things look promising enough, for a
start. Already I've seen an office in the City, which I think I
shall take. I shall decide to-morrow, and then--_avos_!"
"What does that mean?"
"A common word in Russian. It means 'Fire away.'"
"I must remember it," said Olga, laughing. "It'll make a change from
English and French slang--_Avos_!"
There was a silence longer than they wished. Olga broke it by asking
"Have you seen my mother?"
"I'm afraid she's not well."
"Then why do you keep away from her?" said Piers, with good-humoured
directness. "Is it really necessary for you to live here? She would
be much happier if you went back."
"I'm not sure of that."
"But I am, from what she says in her letters, and I should have
thought that you, too, would prefer it to this life."
He glanced round the room. Olga looked vexed, and spoke with a note
"My tastes are unaccountable, I'm afraid. You, no doubt, find it
difficult to understand them. So does my cousin Irene. You have
heard that she is going to be married?"
Piers, surprised at her change of tone, regarded her fixedly, until
she reddened and her eyes fell.
"Is the engagement announced, then?"
"I should think so; but I'm not much in the way of hearing
Still Piers regarded her; still her cheeks kept their colour, and
her eyes refused to meet his.
"I see I have offended you," he said quietly. "I'm very sorry. Of
course I went too far in speaking like that of the life you have
chosen. I had no righ----"
"Nonsense! If you mustn't tell me what you think, who may?"
Again the change was so sudden, this time from coldness to smiling
familiarity, that Piers felt embarrassed.
"The fact is," Olga pursued, with a careless air, "I don't think I
shall go on with this much longer. If you said what you have in your
mind, that I should never be any good as an artist, you would be
quite right. I haven't had the proper training; it'll all come to
nothing. And--talking of engagements--I daresay you know that
mine is broken off?"
"No, I didn't know that."
"It is. Mr. Kite and I are only friends now. He'll look in
presently, I think. I should like you to meet him, if you don't
"Of course I shall be very glad."
"All this, you know," said Olga, with a laugh, "would be monstrously
irregular in decent society, but decent society is often foolish,
don't you think?"
"To be sure it is," Piers answered genially, "and I never meant to
find fault with your preference for a freer way of living. It is
only--you say I may speak freely--that I didn't like to think of
your going through needless hardships."
"You don't think, then, it has done me good?"
"I am not at all sure of that."
Olga lay back in her chair, as if idly amused.
"You see," she said, "how we have both changed. We are both much
more positive, in different directions. To be sure, it makes
conversation more interesting. But the change is greatest in me. You
always aimed at success in a respectable career."
Otway looked puzzled, a little disconcerted.
"Really, is that how I always struck you? To me it's new light on my
"How did you think of yourself, then?" she asked, looking at him
from beneath drooping lids.
"I hardly know; I have thought less on that subject than on most."
Again there came a silence, long enough to be embarrassing. Then
Olga took up a sketch that was lying on the table, and held it to
"Don't you think that good? It's one of Miss Bonnicastle's. Let us
talk about her; she'll be here directly. We don't seem to get on,
talking about ourselves."
The sketch showed an elephant sitting upright, imbibing with gusto
from a bottle of some much-advertised tonic. Piers broke into a
laugh. Other sketches were exhibited, and thus they passed the time
until Miss Bonnicastle and Kite arrived together.
Strangers with whom Piers Otway had business at this time saw in him
a young man of considerable energy, though rather nervous and
impulsive, capable in all that concerned his special interests, not
over-sanguine, inclined to brevity of speech, and scrupulously
courteous in a cold way. He seldom smiled; his clean-cut,
intelligent features expressed tension of the whole man, ceaseless
strain and effort without that joy of combat which compensates
physical expenditure. He looked in fair, not robust, health; a
shadowed pallor of complexion was natural to him, and made
noticeable the very fine texture of his skin, which quickly betrayed
in delicate flushes any strong feeling. He shook hands with a short,
firm grip which argued more muscle than one might have supposed in
him. His walk was rapid; his bearing upright; his glance direct,
with something of apprehensive pride. The observant surmised a force
more or less at odds with the facts of life. Shrewd men of commerce
at once perceived his qualities, but reserved their judgment as to
his chances he was not, in any case, altogether of their world,
however well he might have studied its principles and inured himself
to its practice.
He took rooms in Guildford Street. Indifferent to locality, asking
nothing more than decency in his immediate surroundings, he fell by
accident on the better kind of lodging-house, and was at once what
is called comfortable; his landlady behaved to him with a peculiar
respectfulness, often noticeable in the uneducated who had relations
with Otway, and explained perhaps by his quiet air of authority. To
those who served him, no man was more considerate, but he never
became familiar with them; without a trace of pretentiousness in his
demeanour, he was viewed by such persons as one sensibly above them,
with some solid right to rule.
In the selection of his place of business, he of course exercised
more care, but here, too, luck favoured him. A Russian merchant
moving into more spacious quarters ceded to him a small office in
Fenchurch Street, with furniture which he purchased at a very
reasonable price. To begin with, he hired only a lad; it would be
seen in a month or so whether he had need of more assistance. If
business grew, he was ready to take upon himself a double share, for
the greater his occupation the less his time for brooding. Labour
was what he asked, steady, dogged toil; and his only regret was that
he could not work with his hands in the open air, at some day-long
employment followed by hunger and weariness and dreamless sleep.
The partner whose name he did not wish to mention was John Jacks.
Very soon after learning the result to the young man of Jerome
Otway's death (the knowledge came in an indirect way half a year
later), Mr. Jacks wrote to Piers a letter implying what he knew, and
made offer of a certain capital towards the proposed business. Piers
did not at once accept the offer, for difficulties had arisen on the
side of his friend Moncharmont, who, on Otway's announcement of
inability to carry out the scheme they had formed together, turned
in another direction. A year passed; John Jacks again wrote; and,
Moncharmont's other projects having come to nothing, the friends
decided at length to revert to their original plan, with the
difference that a third partner supplied capital equal to that which
Moncharmont himself put into the venture. The arrangement was
strictly business-like; John Jacks, for all his kindliness, had no
belief in anything else where money was concerned, and Piers Otway
would not have listened to any other sort of suggestion. Piers put
into the affair only his brains, his vigour, and his experience; he
was to reap no reward but that fairly resulting from the exercise of
Only a day or two before leaving Odessa he received a letter from
Mrs. Hannaford, in which she hinted that Irene Derwent was likely to
marry. On reaching London, he found at the hotel her answer to his
reply; she now named Miss Derwent's wooer, and spoke as if the
marriage were practically a settled thing. This turned to an ordeal
for Piers what would otherwise have been a pleasure, his call upon
John Jacks. He had to dine at Queen's Gate; be had to converse with
Arnold Jacks; and for the first time in his life he knew the meaning
of personal jealousy.
The sight of Irene's successful lover made active in him what had
for years been only a latent passion. All at once it seemed
impossible that he should have lost what hitherto he had scarcely
ever felt it possible to win. An unconsciously reared edifice of
hope collapsed about him, laid waste his life, left him standing in
desolate revolt against fate. Arnold Jacks was the embodiment of a
cruel destiny; Piers regarded him, not so much with hate, as with a
certain bitter indignation. He had no desire to disparage the man,
to caricature his assailable points; rather, in undiminished worship
of Irene, he exaggerated the qualities which had won her, the power
to which her gallant pride had yielded. These qualities, that power,
were so unlike anything in himself, that they gave boundless scope
to a jealous imagination. He knew so little of the man, of his
pursuits, his society, his prospects or ambitions. But he could not
imagine that Irene's love would be given to any man of ordinary
type; there must be a nobility in John Jacks' son, and indeed,
knowing the father, one could readily believe it. Piers suffered a
cruel sense of weakness, of littleness, by comparison.
And Arnold behaved so well to him, with such frank graceful
courtesy; to withhold the becoming return was to feel oneself a
shrinking creature, basely envious.
It was at Mrs. Hannaford's suggestion that he asked to be allowed to
call on Olga. A few days later, having again exchanged letters with
Irene's aunt, he sat writing in the office after business hours, his
door and that of the anteroom both open. Footsteps on the staircase
had become infrequent since the main exodus of clerks; he listened
whenever there was a sound, and looked towards the entrance. There,
at length, appeared a lady, Mrs. Hannaford herself. Piers went
forward, and greeted her without words, motioning her with his hand
into the inner office; the outer door he latched.
"So I have tracked you to your lair!" exclaimed the visitor, with a
nervous laugh, as she sank in fatigue upon the chair he placed for
her. "I looked for your name on the wall downstairs, forgetting that
you are Moncharmont & Co."
"It is very, very kind of you to have taken all this trouble!"
He saw in her face the signs of ill-health for which he was
prepared, and noticed with pain her tremulousness and shortness of
breath after the stair-climbing. The friendship which had existed
between them since his boyhood was true and deep as ever; Piers
Otway could, as few men can, be the loyal friend of a woman. A
reverent tenderness coloured his feeling towards Mrs. Hannaford; it
was something like what he would have felt for his mother had she
now been living. He did not give much thought to her character or
circumstances; she had always been kind to him, and he in turn had
always liked her: that was enough. Anything in her service that
might fall within his power to do, he would do right gladly.
"So you saw poor Olga?"
"Yes, and the friend she lives with--and Mr. Kite."
"Ah! Mr. Kite!" The speaker's face brightened. "I have news about
him; it came this morning. He has gone to Paris, and means to stay
"Indeed! I heard no syllable of that the other day."
"But it is true. And Olga's letter to me, in which she mentions it;
gives hope that that is the end of their engagement. Naturally, the
poor child won't say it in so many words, but it is to be read
between the lines. What's more, she is willing to come for her
holiday with me! It has made me very happy!--I told you I was
going to Malvern; my brother thinks that is most likely to do me
good. Irene will go down with me, and stay a day or two, and then I
hope to have Olga. It is delightful! I hadn't dared to hope. Perhaps
we shall really come together again, after this dreary time!"
Piers was listening, but with a look which had become uneasily
"I am as glad, almost, as you can be," he said. "Malvern, I never
"So healthy, my brother says! And Shakespeare's country, you know;
we shall go to Stratford, which I have never seen. I have a feeling
that I really shall get better. Everything is more hopeful."
Piers recalled Olga's mysterious hints about her mother. Glancing at
the worn face, with its vivid eyes, he could easily conceive that
this ill-health had its cause in some grave mental trouble.
"Have you met your brother?" she asked.
"My brother? Oh no!" was the careless reply. Then on a sudden
thought, Piers added, "You don't keep up your acquaintance with him,
"Oh--I _have_ seen him--now and then----"
There was a singular hesitancy in her answer to the abrupt question.
Piers, preoccupied as he was, could not but remark Mrs. Hannaford's
constraint, almost confusion. At once it struck him that Daniel had
been borrowing money of her, and the thought aroused strong
indignation. His own hundred and fifty pounds he had never
recovered, for all Daniel's fine speeches, and notwithstanding the
fact that he had taken suggestive care to let the borrower know his
address in. Russia. Rapidly he turned in his mind the question
whether he ought not to let Mrs. Hannaford know of Daniel's
untrustworthiness; but before he could decide, she launched into
"So this is to be your place of business? Here you will sit day
after day. If good wishes could help, how you would flourish I Is it
orthodox to pray for a friend's success in business?"
"Why not? Provided you add--so long as he is guilty of no
"That, _you_ will never be."
"Why, to tell you the truth, I shouldn't know how to go about it.
Not everyone who wishes becomes a rascal in business. It's difficult
enough for me to pursue commerce on the plain, honest track; knavery
demands an expertness altogether beyond me. Wherefore, let us give
thanks for my honest stupidity!"
They chatted a while of these things. Then Piers, grasping his
courage, uttered what was burning within him.
"When is Miss Derwent to be married?"
Mrs. Hannaford's eyes escaped his hard look. She murmured that no
date had yet been settled.
"Tell me--I beg you will tell me--is her engagement absolutely
"I feel sure it is."
"No! I want more than that. Do you know that it is?"
"I can only say that her father believes it to be a certain thing.
No announcement has yet been made."
"H'm! Then it isn't settled at all."
Piers sat stiffly upon his chair. He held an ivory paperknife, which
he kept bending across his knee, and of a sudden the thing snapped
in two. But he paid no attention, merely flinging the handle away.
Mrs. Hannaford looked him in the face; he was deeply flushed; his
lips and his throat trembled like those of a child on the point of
"Don't! Oh, don't take it so to heart! It seems impossible--after
all this time----"
"Impossible or not, it _is_!" he replied impetuously. "Mrs.
Hannaford, you will do something for me. You will let me come down
to Malvern, whilst she is with you, and see her--speak with her
She drew back, astonished.
"Oh! how can you think of it, Mr. Otway?"
"Why should I not?" he spoke in a low and soft voice, but with
vehemence. "Does she know all about me?"
"Everything. It was not I who told her. There has been talk----"
"Of course there has"--he smiled--"and I am glad of it. I wished
her to know. Otherwise, I should have told her. Yes, I should have
told her! It shocks you, Mrs. Hannaford? But try to understand what
this means to me. It is the one thing I greatly desire in all the
world, shall I be hindered by a petty consideration of etiquette? A
wild desire--you think. Well, the man sentenced to execution
clings to life, clings to it with a terrible fierce desire; is it
less real because utterly hopeless? Perhaps I am behaving
frantically; I can't help myself. As that engagement is still
doubtful--you admit it to be doubtful--I shall speak before it
is too late. Why not have done so before? Simply, I hadn't the
courage. I suppose I was too young. It didn't mean so much to me as
it does now. Something tells me to act like a man, before it is too
late. I feel I _can_ do it. I never could have, till now."
"But listen to me--do listen! Think how extraordinary it will seem
to her. She has no suspicion of----"
"She has! She knows! I sent her: a year ago, a poem--some verses
of my writing, which told her."
Mrs. Hannaford kept silence with a face of distress.
"Is there any harm," he pursued, "in asking you whether she has ever
spoken of me lately--since that time?"
"She has," admitted the other reluctantly, "but not in a way to make
"No, no! I expected nothing of the kind. She has mentioned me; that
is enough. I am not utterly expelled from her thoughts, as a
creature outlawed by all decent people----"
"Of course not. She is too reasonable and kind."
"That she is!" exclaimed Piers, with a passionate delight on his
visage and in his voice. "And she would _rather_ I spoke to her--I
feel she would! She, with her fine intelligence and noble heart, she
would think it dreadful that a man did not dare to approach her,
just because of something not his fault, something that made him no
bit the less a man, and capable of honour. I know that thought would
shake her with pity and indignation. So far I can read in her. What!
You think I know her too little? And the thought of her never out of
my mind for these five years! I have got to know her better and
better, as time went on. Every word she spoke at Ewell stayed in my
memory, and by perpetual repetition has grown into my life. Every
sentence has given me its full meaning. I didn't need to be near her
to study her. She was in my mind; I heard her and saw her whenever I
wished; as I have grown older and more experienced in life, I have
been better able to understand her. I used to think this was enough.
I had--you know--that exalted sort of mood; Dante's Beatrice,
and all that! It _was_ enough for the time, seeing that I lived with
it, and through it. But now--no! And there is no single reason why
I should be ashamed to stand before her, and tell her that--What I
He checked himself, and gloomed for an instant, then continued in
"Yet that isn't true. There _are_ reasons--I believe no man living
could say that when speaking of such a woman as Irene Derwent. I
cannot face her without shame--the shame of every man who stands
before a pure-hearted girl. We have to bear that, and to hide it as
best we can."
The listener bent upon him a wondering gaze, and seemed unable to
avert it, till his look answered her.
"You will give me this opportunity, Mrs. Hannaford?" he added
"I have no right whatever to refuse it. Besides, how could I, if I
"When shall I come? I must remember that I am not free to wander
about. If it could be a Sunday----"
"I have forgotten something I ought to have told you already," said
Mrs. Hannaford. "Whilst she was on her travels, Irene had an offer
from someone else."
"Can that surprise one? Should I wonder if I were told she had
"Yes, but this was not of the ordinary kind. You know that Mr. Jacks
is well acquainted with Trafford Romaine. And it was Trafford
The news did not fail of its impression. Piers smiled vaguely, and
on the smile came a look of troubled pride.
"Well, it is not astonishing, but it gives me a better opinion of
the man. I shall always feel a sort of sympathy when I come across
his name. Why did you think I ought to know?"
"For a reason I feel to be rather foolish, now I come to speak of
it," replied Mrs. Hannaford. "But--I had a feeling that Irene is
by nature rather ambitious; and if, after such an experience as
that, she so soon accepts a man who has done nothing particular,
whose position is not brilliant----"
"I understand. She must, you mean, be very strongly drawn to him.
But then I needed no such proof of her feeling--if it is _certain_
that she is going to marry him. Could I imagine her marrying a man
for any reason but one? Surely you could not?"
The denial had a certain lack of emphasis. Otway's eyes flashed.
"You doubt? You speak in that way of Irene Derwent?"
Gazing into Mrs. Hannaford's face, he saw rising tears. She gave a
little laugh, which did not disguise her emotion as she answered
"Oh, what an idealist it makes a man!--don't talk of your
unworthiness. If some women are good, it is because they try hard to
be what the best men think them. No, no, I have no doubts of Irene.
And that is why it really grieves me to see you still hoping. She
would never have gone so far----"
"But there's the very question!" cried Piers excitedly. "Who knows
how far she has gone? It may be the merest conjecture on your part,
and her father's. People are so ready to misunderstand a girl who
respects herself enough to be free and frank in her association with
men. Let me shame myself by making a confession. Five years ago,
when I all but went mad about her, I was contemptible enough to
think she had treated me cruelly." He gave a scornful laugh. "You
know what I mean. At Ewell, when I lived only for my books, and she
drew me away from them. Conceited idiot! And she so bravely honest,
so simple and direct, so human! Was it _her_ fault if I lost my
"She certainly changed the whole course of your life," said Mrs.
"True, she did. And to my vast advantage! What should I have become?
A clerkship at Whitehall--heaven defend us! At best a learned
pedant, in my case. She sent me out into the world, where there is
always hope. She gave me health and sanity. Above all, she set
before me an ideal which has never allowed me to fall hopelessly--
never will let me become a contented brute! If she never addresses
another word to me, I shall owe her an infinite debt as long as I
live. And I want her to hear that from my own lips, if only once."
Mrs. Hannaford held out her hand impulsively.
"Do what you feel you must. You make me feel very strangely. I never
Her voice faltered. She rose.
When she had left him, Piers sat for some time communing with his
thoughts. Then he went home to the simple meal he called dinner, and
afterwards, as the evening was clear, walked for a couple of hours
away from the louder streets. His resolve gave him a night of quiet
Again Irene was going down into Cheshire, to visit the two old
ladies, her relatives. It was arranged that she should accompany
Mrs. Hannaford to Malvern, and spend a couple of days there. The
travellers arrived on a Friday evening. Before leaving town Mrs.
Hannaford had written to Piers Otway to give him the address of the
house at Malvern in which rooms had been taken for them.
On Saturday morning there was sunshine over the hills. Irene walked,
and talked, but it was evident with thoughts elsewhere. When they
sat down to rest and to enjoy the landscape before them, the rich
heart of England, with its names that echo in history and in song,
Irene plucked at the grass beside her, and presently began to strip
a stem, after the manner of children playing at a tell-fortune game.
She stripped it to the end; her hands fell and she heaved a little
sigh. From that moment she grew merry and talked without
After lunch she wrote a short letter, and herself took it to the
post. Mrs. Hannaford was lying on the sofa, with eyes closed, but
not in sleep; her forehead and lips betraying the restless thoughts
which beset her now as always. On returning, Irene took a chair, as
if to read; but she gave only an absent glance at the paper in her
hands, and smiled to herself in musing.
"I'm sure those thoughts are worth far more than a penny," fell from
the lady on the couch, who had observed her for a moment.
"I may as well tell you them," was the gently toned reply, as Irene
bent forward. "I have just done something decisive."
Mrs. Hannaford raised herself, a sudden anxiety in her features; she
"You guess, aunt? Yes, that's it, I have written to Mr. Jacks."
"To answer an ultimatum. In the right way, I hope; any way, it's
"You have accepted him?"
Mrs. Hannaford tried to smile, but could not smooth away the
uneasiness which had come into her look. She spoke a few of the
natural words, and in doing so looked at the clock.
"There is something I have forgotten," she said, starting to her
feet hurriedly. "You reminded me of it--speaking of a letter; I
must send a telegram at once--indeed I must. No, no, I will go
myself, dear. I had rather!"
She hastened away. leaving Irene in wonder.
When they were together again, Mrs. Hannaford seemed anxious to
atone for her brevity on the all-important subject. She spoke with
pleasure of her niece's decision thought it wise; abounded in happy
prophecy; through the rest of the day she had a face which spoke
relief, all but contentment. The morning of Sunday saw her nervous.
She made an excuse of the slightly clouded sky for lingering within
doors; she went often to the window and looked this way and that
along the road, as if judging the weather, until Irene, when the
church bells had ceased, grew impatient for the open air.
"Yes, we will go," said her aunt. "I think we safely may."
Each went to her room to make ready. At Mrs. Hannaford's door, just
as she was about to come forth, there sounded a knock; the servant
announced that a gentleman had called to see her--Mr. Otway.
Quivering, death-pale, she ran to the sitting-room. Irene had not
yet reappeared. Piers Otway stood there alone.
"You didn't get my telegram?" broke from her lips, in a hurried
whisper. "Oh! I feared it would be too late, and all is too late."
"The engagement is announced."
She had time to say no more. At that moment Irene entered the room,
dressed for walking. At first she did not seem to recognise the
visitor, then her face lighted up; she smiled, subdued the slight
embarrassment which had succeeded to her perplexity, and stepped
"Mr. Otway! You are staying here?"
"A few hours only. I came down yesterday on business--which is
His voice was so steady, his bearing so self-possessed, that Irene
found herself relieved from the immediate restraint of the
situation. She could not quite understand his presence here; there
was a mystery, in which she saw that her aunt was involved; the
explanation might be forthcoming after their visitor's departure.
For the moment, enough to remark that the sun was dispersing the
clouds, and that all were ready to enjoy a walk. Mrs. Hannaford,
glancing anxiously at Irene before she spoke, hoped that Mr. Otway
would return with them to lunch; Irene added her voice to the
invitation; and Piers at once accepted.
Talk suggested by the locality occupied them until they were away
from the houses; by that time Irene had thoroughly reassured
herself, and was as tranquil in mind as in manner. Whatever the
meaning of Piers Otway's presence, no difficulty could come about in
the few hours he was to spend with them. Involuntarily she found
herself listening to the rhythm of certain verses which she had
received some months ago, and which she still knew by heart; but
nothing in the author's voice or look indicated a desire to remind
her of that romantic passage in their acquaintance. If they were
still to meet from time to time--and why not?--common sense must
succeed to vain thoughts in the poet's mind. He was quite capable of
the transition, she felt sure. His way of talking, the short and
generally pointed sentences in which he spoke on whatever subject,
betokened a habit of lucid reflection. Had it been permissible, she
would have dwelt with curiosity on the problem of Piers Otway's life
and thoughts; but that she resolutely ignored, strong in the
irrevocable choice which she had made only yesterday. He was
interesting, but not to her. She knew him on the surface, and cared
to know no more.
Business was a safe topic; at the first noticeable pause, Irene led
Piers laughed with pleasure as he began to describe Andre
Moncharmont. A man of the happiest vivacity, of the sweetest humour,
irresistibly amusing, yet never ridiculous--entirely competent in
business, yet with a soul as little mercantile as man's could be.
Born a French Swiss, be had lived a good deal in Italy, and had all
the charm of Italian manners; but in whatever country, he made
himself at home, and by virtue of his sunny temper saw only the best
in each nationality. His recreation was music, and he occasionally
"There is a song of Musset's--you know it, perhaps--beginning
'_Quand on perd, par triste occurrence_'--which he has set, to my
mind, perfectly. I want him to publish it. If he does I must let you
Irene did not know the verses and made no remark.
"There are English men of business," pursued Otway, "who would smile
with pity at Moncharmont. He is by no means their conception of the
merchant. Yet the world would be a vastly better place if its
business were often in the hands of such men. He will never make a
large fortune, no; but he will never fall into poverty. He sees
commerce from the human point of view, not as the brutal pitiless
struggle which justifies every form of ferocity and of low cunning.
I never knew him utter an ignoble thought about trade and
money-making. An English acquaintance asked me once, 'Is he a
gentleman?' I was obliged to laugh--delicious contrast between
what _he_ meant by a gentleman and all I see in Moncharmont."
"I picture him," said Irene, smiling, "and I picture the person who
made that inquiry."
Piers flashed a look of gratitude. He had, as yet, hardly glanced at
her; he durst not; his ordeal was to be gone through as became a
man. Her voice, at moments, touched him to a sense of faintness; he
saw her without turning his head; the wave of her dress beside him
was like a perfume, was like music; part of him yielded, languished,
part made splendid resistance.
"He is a lesson in civilisation. If trade is not to put an end to
human progress, it must be pursued in Moncharmont's spirit. It's
only returning to a better time; our man of business is a creation
of our century, and as bad a thing as it has produced. Commerce must
be humanised once more. We invented machinery, and it has enslaved
us--a rule of iron, the servile belief that money-making is an end
in itself, to be attained by hard selfishness."
He checked himself, laughed, and said something about the beauty of
the lane along which they were walking.
"Don't you think," fell from Irene's lips, "that Mr. John Jacks is a
very human type of the man of business?"
"Indeed he is!" replied Piers, with spirit. "An admirable type."
"I have been told that he owed most of his success to his brothers,
who are a different sort of men."
"His wealth, perhaps."
"Yes, there's a difference," said Irene, glancing at him. "You may
be successful without becoming wealthy; though not of course in the
common opinion. But what would have been the history of England
these last fifty years, but for our men of iron selfishness? Isn't
it a fact that only in this way could we have built up an Empire
which ensures the civilisation of the world?"
Piers could not answer with his true thought, for he knew all that
was implied in her suggestion of that view. He bent his head and
spoke very quietly.
"Some of our best men think so."
An answer which gratified Irene more keenly than he imagined; she
showed it in her face.
When they returned to luncheon, and the ladies went upstairs, Mrs.
Hannaford stepped into her niece's room.
"What you told me yesterday," she asked, in a nervous undertone,
"may it be repeated?"
"Then please not to come down until I have had a few minutes' talk
with Mr. Otway. All this shall be explained, dear, when we are alone
On entering the sitting-room Irene found it harder to preserve a
natural demeanour than at her meeting with the visitor a couple of
hours ago. Only when she had heard him speak and in just the same
voice as during their walk was she able to turn frankly towards him.
His look had not changed. Impossible to divine the thoughts hidden
by his smile; he bore himself with perfect control.
At table all was cheerfulness. Speaking of things Russian, Irene
recalled her winter in Finland, which she had so greatly enjoyed.
"I remember," said Otway, "you had just returned when I met you for
the first time."
It was said with a peculiar intonation, which fell agreeably on the
listener's ear; a note familiar, in the permitted degree, yet
touchingly respectful; a world of emotion subdued to graceful
friendliness. Irene passed over the reminiscence with a light word
or two, and went on to gossip merely of trifles.
"Do you like caviare, Mr. Otway?"
"Except perhaps that supplied by the literary censor," was his
"Now I am _intriguee_. Please explain."
"We call caviare the bits blacked out in our newspapers and
"Unpalatable enough!" laughed Irene. "How angry that would make me!"
"I got used to it," said Piers, "and thought it rather good fun
sometimes. After all, a wise autocrat might well prohibit newspapers
altogether, don't you think? They have done good, I suppose, but
they are just as likely to do harm. When the next great war comes,
newspapers will be the chief cause of it. And for mere profit,
that's the worst. There are newspaper proprietors in every country,
who would slaughter half mankind for the pennies of the half who
were left, without caring a fraction of a penny whether they had
preached war for a truth or a lie."
"But doesn't a newspaper simply echo the opinions and feelings of
"I'm afraid it manufactures opinion, and stirs up feeling. Consider
how very few people know or care anything about most subjects of
international quarrel. A mere handful at the noisy centre of things
who make the quarrel. The business of newspapers, in general, is to
give a show of importance to what has no real importance at all--
to prevent the world from living quietly--to arouse bitterness
when the natural man would be quite different."
"Oh, surely you paint them too black! We must live, we can't let the
world stagnate. Newspapers only express the natural life of peoples,
acting and interacting."
"I suppose I quarrel with them," said Piers, once more subduing
himself, "because they have such gigantic power and don't make
anything like the best use of it."
"That is to say, they are the work of men--I don't mean," Irene
added laughingly, "of men instead of women. Though I'm not sure that
women wouldn't manage journalism better, if it were left to them."
"A splendid idea! All men to go about their affairs and women to
report and comment. Why, it would solve every problem of society!
There's the hope of the future, beyond a doubt! Why did I never
think of it!"
The next moment Piers was talking about nightingales, how he had
heard them sing in Little Russia, where their song is sweeter than
in any other part of Europe. And so the meal passed pleasantly, as
did the hour or two after it, until it was time for Otway to take
"You travel straight back to London?" asked Irene.
"Straight back," he answered, his eyes cast down.
"To-morrow," said Mrs. Hannaford, "we think of going to Stratford."
Piers had an impulse which made his hands tremble and his head
throb; in spite of himself he had all but asked whether, if he
stayed at Malvern overnight, he might accompany them on that
expedition. Reason prevailed, but only just in time, and the
conquest left him under a gloomy sense of self-pity, which was the
worst thing he had suffered all day. Not even Mrs. Hannaford's
whispered words on his arrival had been so hard to bear.
He sat in silence, wishing to rise, unable to do so. When at length
he stood up, Irene let her eyes fall upon him, and continued to
observe him, as if but half consciously whilst he shook hands with
Mrs. Hannaford. He turned to her, and his lips moved, but what he
had tried to say went unexpressed. Nor did Irene speak; she could
have uttered only a civil commonplace, and the tragic pallor of his
countenance in that moment kept her mute. He touched her hand and
When the house door had closed behind him, the eyes of the two women
met. Standing as before, they conversed with low voices, with
troubled brows. Mrs. Hannaford rapidly explained her part in what
"You will forgive me, Irene? I see now that I ought to have told you
about it yesterday."
"Better as it was, perhaps, so far as I am concerned. But he--I'm
"He behaved well, don't you think?"
"Yes," replied Irene thoughtfully, slowly, "he behaved well."
They moved apart, and Irene laid her hand on a book, but did not sit
"How old is he?" she asked of a sudden.
"One would take him for more. But of course his ways of thinking
show how young he is." She fluttered the pages of her book, and
smiled. "It will be interesting to see him in another five years."
That was all. Neither mentioned Otway's name again during the two
more days they spent together.
But Irene's mind was busy with the contrast between him and Arnold
Jacks. She pursued this track of thought whithersoever it led her,
believing it a wholesome exercise in her present mood. Her choice
was made, and irrevocable; reason bade her justify it by every means
that offered. And she persuaded herself that nothing better could
have happened, at such a juncture, than this suggestion of an
alternative so widely different.
An interesting boy--six-and-twenty is still a boyish age--with
all sorts of vague idealisms; nothing ripe; nothing that convinced;
a dreary cosmopolite, little likely to achieve results in any
direction. On the other hand, a mature and vigorous man, English to
the core, stable in his tested views of life, already an active
participant in the affairs of the nation and certain to move
victoriously onward; a sure patriot, a sturdy politician. It was
humiliating to Piers Otway. Indeed, unfair!
On Monday, when she returned from her visit to Stratford, a telegram
awaited her. "Thank you, letter tomorrow, Arnold." That pleased her;
the British laconicism; the sensible simplicity of the thing! And
when the letter arrived (two pages and a half) it seemed a suitable
reply to hers of Saturday, in which she had used only everyday words
and phrases. No gushing in Arnold Jacks! He was "happy," he was
"grateful"; what more need an honest man say to the woman who has
accepted him? She was his "Dearest Irene"; and what more could she
ask to be?
A curious thing happened that evening. Mrs. Hannaford and her niece,
both tired after the day's excursion, and having already talked over
its abundant interests, sat reading, or pretending to read.
Suddenly, Irene threw her book aside, with a movement of impatience,
and stood up.
"Don't you find it very close?" she said, almost irritably. "I shall
go upstairs. Good-night!"
Her aunt gazed at her in surprise.
"You are tired, my dear."
"I suppose I am--Aunt, there is something I should like to say, if
you will let me. You are very kind and good, but that makes you,
sometimes, a little indiscreet. Promise me, please, never to make me
the subject of conversation with anyone to whom you cannot speak of
me quite openly, before all the world."
Mrs. Hannaford was overcome with astonishment, with distress. She
tried to reply, but before she could shape a word Irene had swept
from the room.
When they met again at breakfast, the girl stepped up to her aunt
and kissed her on both cheeks--an unusual greeting. She was her
bright self again; talked merrily; read aloud a letter from her
father, which proved that at the time of writing he had not seen
"I must write to the Doctor to-morrow," she said, with an air of
At ten o'clock they drove to the station. While Miss Derwent took
her ticket Mrs. Hannaford walked on the platform. On issuing from
the booking-office, Irene saw her aunt in conversation with a man,
who, in the same moment, turned abruptly and walked away. Neither
she nor her aunt spoke of this incident, but Irene noticed that the
other was a little flushed.
She took her seat; Mrs. Hannaford stood awaiting the departure of
the train. Before it moved, the man Irene had noticed came back
along the platform, and passed them without a sign. Irene saw his
face, and seemed to recognise it, but could not remember who he was.
Half an hour later, the face came back to her, and with it a name.
"Daniel Otway!" she exclaimed to herself.
It was five years and more since her one meeting with him at Ewell,
but the man, on that occasion, had impressed her strongly in a very
disagreeable way. She had since heard of him, in relation to Piers
Otway's affairs, and knew that her aunt had received a call from him
in Bryanston Square. What could be the meaning of this incident on
the platform? Irene wondered, and had an unpleasant feeling about
On the journey homeward, and for two or three days after, Piers held
argument with his passions, trying to persuade himself that he had
in truth lost nothing, inasmuch as his love had never been founded
upon a reasonable hope. Irene Derwent was neither more nor less to
him now than she had been ever since he first came to know her: a
far ideal, the woman he would fain call wife, but only in a dream
could think of winning. What audacity had speeded him on that wild
expedition? It was well that he had been saved from declaring his
folly to Irene herself, who would have shared the pain her answer
inflicted. Nay, when the moment came, reason surely would have
checked his absurd impulse. In seeing her once more, he saw how wide
was the distance between them. No more of that! He had lost nothing
but a moment's illusion.
The ideal remained; the worship, the gratitude. How much she had
been to him! Rarely a day--very rarely a day--that the thought
of Irene did not warm his heart and exalt his ambition. He had
yielded to the fleshly impulse, and the measure of his lapse was the
sincerity of that nobler desire; he had not the excuse of the
ordinary man, nor ever tried to allay his conscience with facile
views of life. What times innumerable had he murmured her name,
until it was become to him the only woman's name that sounded in
truth womanly--all others cold to his imagination. What long
evenings had he passed, yonder by the Black Sea, content merely to
dream of Irene Derwent; how many a summer night had he wandered in
the acacia-planted streets of Odessa, about and about the great
square, with its trees, where stands the cathedral; how many a time
had his heart throbbed all but to bursting when he listened to the
music on the Boulevard, and felt so terribly alone--alone! Irene
was England. He knew nothing of the patriotism which is but shouted
politics; from his earliest years of intelligence he had learnt,
listening to his father, a contempt for that loud narrowness; but
the tongue which was Irene's, the landscape where shone Irene's
figure--these were dear to him for Irene's sake. He believed in
his heart of hearts that only the Northern Island could boast the
perfect woman--because he had found her there.
Should he talk of loss--he who had gained so unspeakably by an
ideal love through the hot years of his youth, who to the end of his
life would be made better by it? That were the basest ingratitude.
Irene owed him nothing, yet had enriched him beyond calculation. He
did not love her less; she was the same power in his life. This
sinking of the heart, this menace of gloom and rebellion, was
treachery to his better self. He fought manfully against it.
Circumstances were unfavourable to such a struggle. Work, absorption
in the day's duty, well and good; but when work and duty led one
into the City of London! At first, he had found excitement in the
starting of his business; so much had to be done, so many points to
be debated and decided, so many people to be seen and conversed
with, contended with; it was all an exhilarating effort of mind and
body. He felt the joy of combat; sped to the City like any other
man, intent on holding his own amid the furious welter, seeing a
delight in the computation of his chances; at once a fighter and a
gambler, like those with whom he rubbed shoulders in the roaring
ways. He overtaxed his energy, and in any case there must have come
reaction. It came with violence soon after that day at Malvern.
The weather was hot; one should have been far away from these huge
rampart-streets, these stifling burrows of commerce. But here toil
and stress went on as usual, and Piers Otway saw it all in a lurid
light. These towering edifices with inscriptions numberless,
announcing every imaginable form of trade with every corner of the
world; here a vast building, consecrate in all its commercial
magnificence, great windows and haughty doorways, the gleam of
gilding and of brass, the lustre of polished woods, to a single
company or firm; here a huge structure which housed on its many
floors a crowd of enterprises, names by the score signalled at the
foot of the gaping staircase; arrogant suggestions of triumph side
by side with desperate beginnings; titles of world-wide significance
meeting the eye at every turn, vulgar names with more weight than
those of princes, words in small lettering which ruled the fate of
millions of men;--no nightmare was ever so crushing to one in
Otway's mood. The brute force of money; the negation of the
individual--these, the evils of our time, found there supreme
expression in the City of London. Here was opulence at home and
superb; here must poverty lurk and shrink, feeling itself alive only
on sufferance; the din of highway and byway was a voice of
blustering conquest, bidding the weaker to stand aside or be
crushed. Here no man was a human being, but each merely a portion of
an inconceivably complicated mechanism. The shiny-hatted figure who
rushed or sauntered, gloomed by himself at corners or made one of a
talking group, might elsewhere be found a reasonable and kindly
person, with traits, peculiarities; here one could see in him
nothing but a money-maker of this or that class, ground to a certain
pattern. The smooth working of the huge machine made it only the
more sinister; one had but to remember what cold tyranny, what
elaborate fraud, were served by its manifold ingenuities, only to
think of the cries of anguish stifled by its monotonous roar.
Piers had undertaken a task and would not shirk it; but in spite of
all reasonings and idealisms he found life a hard thing during those
weeks of August. He lost his sleep, turned from food, and for a
moment feared collapse such as he had suffered soon after his first
going to Odessa.
By the good offices of John Jacks he had already been elected to a
convenient club, and occasionally he passed an evening there; but
his habit was to go home to Guildford Street, and sit hour after
hour in languid brooding. He feared the streets at night-time; in
his loneliness and misery, a gleam upon some wanton face would
perchance have lured him, as had happened ere now. Not so much at
the bidding of his youthful blood, as out of mere longing for
companionship, the common cause of disorder in men condemned to
solitude in great cities. A woman's voice, the touch of a soft hand
--this is what men so often hunger for, when they are censured for
lawless appetite. But Piers Otway knew himself, and chose to sit
alone in the dreary lodging-house. Then he thought of Irene, trying
to forget what had happened. Now and then successfully; in a waking
dream he saw and heard her, and knew again the exalting passion that
had been the best of his life, and was saved from ignoble impulse.
When he was at the lowest, there came a letter from Olga Hannaford,
the first he had ever received in her writing. Olga had joined her
mother at Malvern, and Mrs. Hannaford was so unwell that it seemed
likely they would remain there for a few weeks. "When we can move,
the best thing will be to take a house in or near London. Mother has
decided not to return to Bryanston Square, and I, for my part, shall
give up the life you made fun of. You were quite right; of course it
was foolish to go on in that way." She asked him to write to her
mother, whom a line from him would cheer. Piers did so; also
replying to his correspondent, and trying to make a humorous picture
of the life he led between the City and Guilford Street. It was a
sorry jest, but it helped him against his troubles. When, in a
week's time, Olga again wrote, he was glad. The letter seemed to him
interesting; it revived their common memories of life at Geneva,
whither Olga said she would like to return. "What to do--how to
pass the years before me--is the question with me now, as I
suppose it is with so many girls of my age. I must find a _mission_.
Can you suggest one? Only don't let it have anything humanitarian
about it. That would make me a humbug, which I have never been yet.
It must be something entirely for my own pleasure and profit. Do
think about it in an idle moment."
With recovery from his physical ill-being came a new mental
restlessness; the return, rather, of a mood which had always
assailed him when he lost for a time his ideal hope. He demanded of
life the joy natural to his years; revolted against the barrenness
of his lot. A terror fell upon him lest he should be fated never to
know the supreme delight of which he was capable, and for which
alone he lived. Even now was he not passing his prime, losing the
keener faculties of youth? He trembled at the risks of every day;
what was his assurance against the common ill-hap which might
afflict him with disease, blight his life with accident, so that no
woman's eye could ever be tempted to rest upon him? He cursed the
restrictions which held him on a straight path of routine, of narrow
custom, when a world of possibilities spread about him on either
hand, the mirage of his imprisoned spirit. Adventurous projects
succeeded each other in his thoughts. He turned to the lands where
life was freer, where perchance his happiness awaited him, had he
but the courage to set forth. What brought him to London, this
squalid blot on the map of the round world? Why did he consume the
irrecoverable hours amid its hostile tumult, its menacing gloom?
On the first Sunday in September he aroused himself to travel by an
early train, which bore him far into the country. He had taken a
ticket at hazard for a place with a pleasant-sounding name, and
before village bells had begun to ring he was wandering in deep
lanes amid the weald of Sussex. All about him lay the perfect
loveliness of that rural landscape which is the old England, the
true England, the England dear to the best of her children. Meadow
and copse, the yellow rank of new-reaped sheaves, brown roofs of
farm and cottage amid shadowing elms, the grassy borders of the
road, hedges with their flowered creepers and promise of wild fruit
--these things brought him comfort. Mile after mile he wandered,
losing himself in simplest enjoyment, forgetting to ask why he was
alone. When he felt hungry, an inn supplied him with a meal. Again
he rambled on, and in a leafy corner found a spot where he could
idle for an hour or two, until it was time to think of the railway
He had tired himself; his mind slipped from the beautiful things
around him, and fell into the old reverie. He murmured the haunting
name--Irene. As well as for her who bore it, he loved the name for
its meaning. Peace! As a child he had been taught that no word was
more beautiful, more solemn; at this moment, he could hear it in his
father's voice, sounding as a note of music, with a tremor of deep
feeling. Peace! Every year that passed gave him a fuller
understanding of his father's devotion to that word in all its
significance; he himself knew something of the same fervour, and was
glad to foster it in his heart. Peace! What better could a man
pursue? From of old the desire of wisdom, the prayer of the aspiring
And what else was this Love for which he anguished? Irene herself,
the beloved, sought with passion and with worship, what more could
she give him, when all was given, than content, repose, peace?
He had been too ambitious. It was the fault of his character, and,
thus far on his life's journey, in recognising the error might he
not correct it? Unbalanced ambition explained his ineffectiveness.
At six-and-twenty he had done nothing, and saw no hope of activity
correspondent with his pride. In Russia he had at least felt that he
was treading an uncrowded path: he had made his own a language
familiar to very few western Europeans, and constantly added to his
knowledge of a people moving to some unknown greatness; the position
was not ignoble. But here in London he was lost amid the uproar of
striving tradesmen. The one thing which would still have justified
him, hope of wealth, had all but vanished. He must get rid of his
absurd self-estimate, see himself in the light of common day.
Peace! He could only hope for it in marriage; but what was marriage
without ideal love? Impossible that he should ever love another
woman as he had loved, as he still loved, Irene. The ordinary man
seeks a wife just as he takes any other practical step necessary to
his welfare; he marries because he must, not because he has met with
the true companion of his life; he mates to be quiet, to be
comfortable, to get on with his work, whatever it be. Love in the
high sense between man and woman is of all things the most rare. Few
are capable of it; to fewer still is it granted. "The crown of
life!" said Jerome Otway. A truth, even from the strictly scientific
point of view; for is not a great mutual passion the culminating
height of that blind reproductive impulse from which life begins?
Supreme desire; perfection of union. The purpose of Nature
translated into human consciousness, become the glory of the highest
soul, uttered in the lyric rapture of noblest speech.
That, he must renounce. But not thereby was he condemned to a
foolish or base alliance. Women innumerable might be met, charming,
sensible, good, no unfit objects of his wooing; in all modesty he
might hope for what the world calls happiness. But, put it at the
best, he would be doing as other men do, taking a wife for his
solace, for the defeat of his assailing blood. It was the bitterness
of his mere humanity that he could not hope to live alone and
faithful. Five years ago he might have said to himself, "Irene or no
one!" and have said it with the honesty of youth, of inexperience.
No such enthusiasm was possible to him now. For the thing which is
common in fable is all but unknown in life: a man, capable of loving
ardently, who for the sake of one woman, beyond his hope, sacrifices
love altogether. Piers Otway, who read much verse, had not neglected
his Browning. He knew the transcendent mood of Browning's ideal
lover--the beatific dream of love eternal, world after world,
hoping for ever, and finding such hope preferable to every less
noble satisfaction. For him, a mood only, passing with a smile and a
sigh. To that he was not equal; these heights heroic were not for
his treading. Too insistent were the flesh and blood that composed
his earthly being.
He must renounce the best of himself, step consciously to a lower
level. Only let it not prove sheer degradation.
In all his struggling against the misery of loss, one thought never
tempted him. Never for a fleeting instant did he doubt that his
highest love was at the same time highest reason. Men woefully
deceive themselves, yearning for women whose image in their minds is
a mere illusion, women who scarce for a day could bring them
happiness, and whose companionship through life would become a
curse. Be it so; Piers knew it, dwelt upon it as a perilous fact; it
had no application to his love for Irene Derwent. Indeed, Piers was
rich in that least common form of intelligence--the intelligence
of the heart. Emotional perspicacity, the power of recognising
through all forms of desire one's true affinity in the other sex, is
bestowed upon one mortal in a vast multitude. Not lack of
opportunity alone accounts for the failure of men and women to mate
becomingly; only the elect have eyes to see, even where the field of
choice is freely opened to them. But Piers Otway saw and knew, once
and for ever. He had the genius of love: where he could not observe,
divination came to his help. His knowledge of Irene Derwent
surpassed that of the persons most intimate with her, and he could
as soon have doubted his own existence as the certainty that Irene
was what he thought her, neither more nor less. But he had erred in
dreaming it possible that he might win her love. That he was not all
unworthy of it, his pride continued to assure him; what he had
failed to perceive was the impossibility, circumstances being as
they were, of urging a direct suit, of making himself known to
Irene. His birth, his position, the accidents of his career--all
forbade it. This had been forced upon his consciousness from the
very first, in hours of despondency or of torment; but he was too
young and too ardent for the fact to have its full weight with him.
Hope resisted; passion refused acquiescence. Nothing short of what
had happened could reveal to him the vanity of his imaginings. He
looked back on the years of patient confidence with wonder and
compassion. Had he really hoped? Yes, for he had lived so long
Paragraphs, morning, evening, and weekly, had long since published
Miss Derwent's engagement. Those making simple announcement of the
fact were trial enough to him when his eye fell upon them;
intolerable were those which commented, as in the case of a society
journal which he had idly glanced over at his club. This taught him
that Irene had more social importance than he guessed; her marriage
would be something of an event. Heaven grant that he might read no
journalistic description of the ceremony! Few things more disgusted
him than the thought of a fashionable wedding; he could see nothing
in it but profanation and indecency. That mattered little, to be
sure, in the case of ordinary people, who were born, and lived, and
died, in fashionable routine, anxious only to exhibit themselves at
any given moment in the way held to be good form; but it was hard to
think that custom's tyranny should lay its foul hand on Irene
Derwent. Perhaps her future husband meant no such thing, and would
arrange it all with quiet becomingness. Certainly her father would
not favour the tawdry and the vulgar.
No date was announced. Paragraphs said merely that it would be
"before the end of the year."
After all, his day amid the fields was spoilt. He had allowed his
mind to stray in the forbidden direction, and the seeming quiet to
which he had attained was overthrown once more. Heavily he moved
towards the wayside station, and drearily he waited for the train
that was to take him back to his meaningless toil and strife.
In the compartment he entered, an empty one, some passenger had left
a weekly periodical; Piers seized upon it gladly, and read to
distract his thoughts. One article interested him; it was on the
subject of national characteristics: cleverly written, what is
called "smart" journalism, with grip and epigram, with hint of
universal knowledge and the true air of British superiority. Having
scanned the writer's comment on the Slavonic peoples, Piers laughed
aloud; so evidently it was a report at second or third hand, utterly
valueless to one who had any real acquaintance with the Slavs. This
moment of spontaneous mirth did him good, helped to restore his
self-respect. And as he pondered old ambitions stirred again in him.
Could he not make some use of the knowledge he had gained so
laboriously--some use other than that whereby he earned his
living? Not so long ago, he had harboured great designs, vague but
not irrational. And to-day, even in bidding himself be humble, his
intellect was little tuned to humility. He had never, at his point
of darkest depression, really believed that life had no shining
promise for him. The least boastful of men, he was at heart one of
the most aspiring. His moods varied wonderfully. When he alighted at
the London terminus, he looked and felt like a man refreshed by some
Half by accident, he kept the paper he had been reading. It lay on
his table in Guildford Street for weeks, for months. Years after, he
came upon it one day in turning out the contents of a trunk, and
remembered his ramble in the Sussex woodland, and smiled at the
chances of life.
On Monday morning he had a characteristic letter from Moncharmont,
part English, part French, part Russian. Nothing, or only a passing
word, about business; communications of that sort were all addressed
to the office, and were as concise, as practical, as any trader
could have desired. In his friendly letter, Moncharmont chatted of a
certain Polish girl with whom he had newly made acquaintance, whose
beauty, according to the good Andre, was a thing to dream of, not to
tell. It meant nothing, as Piers knew. The cosmopolitan Swiss fell
in love some dozen times a year, with maidens or women of every
nationality and every social station. Be the issue what it might, he
was never unhappy. He had a gallery of photographs, and delighted to
pore over it, indulging reminiscences or fostering hopes. Once in a
twelvemonth or so, he made up his mind to marry, but never went
further than the intention. It was doubtful whether he would ever
commit himself irrevocably. "It seems such a pity," he often said,
with his pensively humorous smile, "to limit the scope of one's
emotions--_borner la carriere a ses emotions_!" Then he sighed,
and was in the best of spirits.
Not even to Moncharmont--with whom he talked more freely than with
any other man--had Piers ever spoken of Irene. Andre of course
suspected some romantic attachment, and was in constant amaze at
"Ah, you English! you English!" he would exclaim. "You are the
stoics of the modern world. I admire; yes, I admire; but, my friend,
I do not wish to imitate."
The letter cheered Otway's breakfast; he read it instead of the
newspaper, and with vastly more benefit.
Another letter had come to his private address, a note from Mrs.
Hannaford. She was regaining strength, and hoped soon to come South
again. Her brother had already taken a nice little house for her at
Campden Hill, where Olga would have a sort of studio, and, she
trusted, would make herself happy. Both looked forward to seeing
Piers; they sent him their very kindest remembrances.
The passionate temperament is necessarily sanguine. To desire with
all one's being is the same thing as to hope. In Piers Otway's case,
the temper which defies discouragement existed together with the
intellect which ever tends to discourage, with the mind which probes
appearances, makes war upon illusions. Hence his oft varying moods,
as the one or the other part of him became ascendent. Hence his
fervours of idealism, and the habit of destructive criticism which
seemed inconsistent with them. Hence his ardent ambitions, and his
appearance of plodding mediocrity in practical life.
Intensely self-conscious, he suffered much from a habit of
comparing, contrasting himself with other men, with men who achieved
things, who made their way, who played a part in the world. He could
not read a newspaper without reflecting, sometimes bitterly, on the
careers and position of men whose names were prominent in its
columns. So often, he well knew, their success came only of accident
--as one uses the word: of favouring circumstance, which had no
relation to the man's powers and merits. Piers had no overweening
self-esteem; he judged his abilities more accurately, and more
severely, than any observer would have done; yet it was plain to him
that he would be more than capable, so far as endowment went, of
filling the high place occupied by this or the other far-shining
personage. He frankly envied their success--always for one and the
Nothing so goaded his imagination as a report of the marriage of
some leader in the world's game. He dwelt on these paragraphs,
filled up the details, grew faint with realisation of the man's
triumphant happiness. At another moment, his reason ridiculed this
self-torment. He knew that in all probability such a marriage
implied no sense of triumph, involved no high emotions, promised
nothing but the commonest domestic satisfaction. Portraits of brides
in an illustrated paper sometimes wrought him to intolerable
agitation--the mood of his early manhood, as when he stood before
the print shop in the Haymarket; now that he had lost Irene, the
whole world of beautiful women called again to his senses and his
soul. With the cooler moment came a reminder that these lovely faces
were for the most part mere masks, tricking out a very ordinary
woman, more likely than not unintelligent, unhelpful, as the
ordinary human being of either sex is wont to be. What seemed to
_him_ the crown of a man's career, was, in most cases, a mere
incident, deriving its chief importance from social and pecuniary
considerations. Even where a sweet countenance told truth about the
life behind it, how seldom did the bridegroom appreciate what he had
won! For the most part, men who have great good fortune, in
marriage, or in anything else, are incapable of tasting their
success. It is the imaginative being in the crowd below who marvels
and is thrilled.
How was it with Arnold Jacks? Did he understand what had befallen
him? If so, on what gleaming heights did he now live and move! What
rapture of gratitude must possess the man! What humility! What
Piers had not met him since the engagement was made known; he hoped
not to meet him for a long time. Happily, in this holiday season,
there was no fear of an invitation to Queen's Gate.
Yet the unexpected happened. Early in September, he received a note
from John Jacks, asking him to dine. The writer said that he had
been at the seaside, and was tired of it, and meant to spend a week
or two quietly in London; he was quite alone, so Otway need not
Reassured by the last sentence of the letter, Piers gladly went; for
he liked to talk with John Jacks, and had a troubled pleasure in the
thought that he might hear something about the approaching marriage.
On his arrival, he was shown into the study, where his host lay on a
sofa. The greeting was cordial, the voice cheery as ever, but as Mr.
Jacks rose he had more of the appearance of old age than Piers had
yet seen in him; he seemed to stand with some difficulty, his face
betokening a body ill at ease.
"How pleasant London is in September!" he exclaimed, with a laugh.
"I've been driving about, as one does in a town abroad, just to see
the streets. Strange that one knows Paris and Rome a good deal
better than London. Yet it's really very interesting--don't you
The twinkling eye, the humorous accent, which had won Piers'
affection, soon allayed his disquietude at being in this house. He
spoke of his own recent excursion, confessing that he better
appreciated London from a distance.
"Ay, ay! I know all about that," replied Mr. Jacks, his Yorkshire
note sounding, as it did occasionally. "But you're young, you're
young; what does it matter where you live? To be your age again, I'd
live at St. Helens, or Widnes. You have hope, man, always hope. And
you may live to see what the world is like half a century from now.
It's strange to look at you, and think that!"
John Jacks' presence in London, and alone, at this time of the year
had naturally another explanation than that he felt tired of the
seaside. In truth, he had come up to see a medical specialist.
Carefully he kept from his wife the knowledge of a disease which was
taking hold upon him, which--as he had just learnt--threatened
rapidly fatal results. From his son, also, he had concealed the
serious state of his health, lest it should interfere with Arnold's
happy mood in prospect of marriage. He was no coward, but a life
hitherto untroubled by sickness had led him to hope that he might
pass easily from the world, and a doom of extinction by torture
perturbed his philosophy.
He liked to forget himself in contemplation of Piers Otway's youth
and soundness. He had pleasure, too, in Piers' talk, which reminded
him of Jerome Otway, some half-century ago.
Mrs. Jacks was staying with her own family, and from that house
would pass to others, equally decorous, where John had promised to
join her. Of course she was uneasy about him; that entered into her
role of model spouse: but the excellent lady never suspected the
true cause of that habit of sadness which had grown upon her husband
during the last few years, a melancholy which anticipated his
decline in health. John Jacks had made the mistake natural to such a
man; wedding at nearly sixty a girl of much less than half his age,
he found, of course, that his wife had nothing to give him but duty
and respect, and before long he bitterly reproached himself with the
sacrifice of which he was guilty.
"Soar on thy manhood clear of those
Whose toothless Winter claws at May,
And take her as the vein of rose
Athwart an evening grey."
These lines met his eye one day in a new volume which bore the name
of George Meredith, and they touched him nearly; the poem they
closed gave utterance to the manful resignation of one who has
passed the age of love, yet is tempted by love's sweetness, and John
Jacks took to heart the reproach it seemed to level at himself.
Putting aside the point of years, he had not chosen with any
discretion; he married a handsome face, a graceful figure, just as
any raw boy might have done. His wife, he suspected, was not the
woman to suffer greatly in her false position; she had very
temperate blood, and a thoroughly English devotion to the
proprieties; none the less he had done her wrong, for she belonged
to a gentle family in mediocre circumstances, and his prospective
"M.P.," his solid wealth, were sore temptations to put before such a
girl. He had known--yes, he assuredly knew--that it was nothing
but a socially sanctioned purchase. Beauty should have become to him
but the "vein of rose," to be regarded with gentle admiration and
with reverence, from afar. He yielded to an unworthy temptation,
and, being a man of unusual sensitiveness, very soon paid the
penalty in self-contempt.
He could not love his wife; he could scarce honour her--for she
too must consciously have sinned against the highest law. Her
irreproachable behaviour only saddened him. Now that he found
himself under sentence of death, his solace was the thought that his
widow would still be young enough to redeem her error--if she were
capable of redeeming it.
Alone with his guest in the large dining-room, and compelled to make
only pretence of eating and drinking, he talked of many things with
the old spontaneity, the accustomed liberal kindliness, and dropped
at length upon the subject Piers was waiting for.
"You know, I daresay, that Arnold is going to marry?"
"I have heard of it," Piers answered, with the best smile he could
"You can imagine it pleases me. I don't see how he could have been
luckier. Dr. Derwent is one of the finest men I know, and his
daughter is worthy of him."
"She is, I am sure," said Piers, in a balanced voice, which sounded
And when silence had lasted rather too long, the host having fallen
into reverie, he added:
"Will it take place soon?"
"Ah--the wedding? About Christmas, I think. Arnold is looking for
a house. By the bye, you know young Derwent--Eustace?"
Piers answered that he had only the slightest acquaintance with the
"Not brilliant, I think," said Mr. Jacks musingly. "But amiable,
straight. I don't know that he'll do much at the Bar."
Again he lost himself for a little, his knitted brows seeming to
indicate an anxious thought.
"Now you shall tell me anything you care to, about business," said
the host, when they had seated themselves in the library. "And after
that I have something to show you--something you'll like to see, I
Otway's curiosity was at a loss when presently he saw his host take
from a drawer a little packet of papers.
"I had forgotten all about these," said Mr. Jacks. "They are
manuscripts of your father; writings of various kinds which he sent
me in the early fifties. Turning out my old papers, I came across
them the other day, and thought I would give them to you."
He rustled the faded sheets, glancing over them with a sad smile.
"There's an amusing thing--called 'Historical Fragment.' I
remember, oh I remember very well, how it pleased me when I first
He read it aloud now, with many a chuckle, many a pause of sly
"'The Story of the last war between the Asiatic kingdoms of Duroba
and Kalaya, though it has reached us in a narrative far too concise,
is one of the most interesting chapters in the history of ancient
"'They were bordering states, peopled by races closely akin, whose
languages, it appears, were mutually intelligible; each had
developed its own polity, and had advanced to a high degree of
refinement in public and private life. Wars between them had been
frequent, but at the time with which we are concerned the spirit of
hostility was all but forgotten in a happy peace of long duration.
Each country was ruled by an aged monarch, beloved of the people,
but, under the burden of years, grown of late somewhat less vigilant
than was consistent with popular welfare. Thus it came to pass that
power fell into the hands of unscrupulous statesmen, who, aided by
singular circumstances, succeeded in reviving for a moment the old
"'We are told that a General in the army of Duroba, having a turn
for experimental chemistry, had discovered a substance of terrible
explosive power, which, by the exercise of further ingenuity, he had
adapted for use in warfare. About the same time, a public official
in Kalaya, whose duty it was to convey news to the community by
means of a primitive system. of manuscript placarding, hit upon a
mechanical method whereby news-sheets could be multiplied very
rapidly and be sold to readers all over the kingdom. Now the Duroban
General felt eager to test his discovery in a campaign, and,
happening to have a quarrel with a politician in the neighbouring
state, did his utmost to excite hostile feeling against Kalaya. On
the other hand, the Kalayan official, his cupidity excited by the
profits already arising from his invention, desired nothing better
than some stirring event which would lead to still greater demand
for the news-sheets he distributed, and so he also was led to the
idea of stirring up international strife. To be brief, these
intrigues succeeded only too well; war was actually declared, the
armies were mustered, and marched to the encounter.
"'They met at a point of the common frontier where only a little
brook flowed between the two kingdoms. It was nightfall; each host
encamped, to await the great engagement which on the morrow would
decide between them.
"'It must be understood that the Durobans and the Kalayans differed
markedly in national characteristics. The former people was
distinguished by joyous vitality and a keen sense of humour; the
latter, by a somewhat meditative disposition inclining to timidity;
and doubtless these qualities had become more pronounced during the
long peace which would naturally favour them. Now, when night had
fallen on the camps, the common soldiers on each side began to
discuss, over their evening meal, the position in which they found
themselves. The men of Duroba, having drunk well, as their habit
was, fell into an odd state of mind. "What!" they exclaimed to one
another. "After all these years of tranquillity, are we really going
to fight with the Kalayans, and to slaughter them and be ourselves
slaughtered! Pray, what is it all about? Who can tell us?" Not a man
could answer, save with the vaguest generalities. And so, the debate
continuing, the wonder growing from moment to moment, at length, and
all of a sudden, the Duroban camp echoed with huge peals of
laughter. "Why, if we soldiers have no cause of quarrel, what are we
doing here? Shall we be mangled and killed to please our General
with the turn for chemistry? That were a joke, indeed!" And, as soon
as mirth permitted, the army rose as one man, threw together their
belongings, and with jovial songs trooped off to sleep comfortably
in a town a couple of miles away.
"'The Kalayans, meanwhile, had been occupied with the very same
question. They were anything but martial of mood, and the soldiery,
ill at ease in their camp, grumbled and protested. "After all, why
are we here?" cried one to the other. "Who wants to injure the
Durobans? And what man among us desires to be blown to pieces by
their new instruments of war? Pray, why should we fight? If the
great officials are angry, as the news-sheets tell us, e'en let them
do the fighting themselves." At this moment there sounded from the
enemy's camp a stupendous roar; it was much like laughter; no doubt
the Durobans were jubilant in anticipation of their victory. Fear
seized the Kalayans; they rose like one man, and incontinently fled
far into the sheltering night!
"'Thus ended the war--the last between these happy nations, who,
not very long after, united to form a noble state under one ruler.
It is interesting to note that the original instigators of hostility
did not go without their deserts. The Duroban General, having been
duly tried for a crime against his country, was imprisoned in a
spacious building, the rooms of which were hung with great pictures
representing every horror of battle with the ghastliest fidelity;
here he was supplied with materials for chemical experiment, to
occupy his leisure, and very shortly, by accident, blew himself to
pieces. The Kalayan publicist was also convicted of treason against
the state; they banished him to a desert island, where for many
hours daily he had to multiply copies of his news-sheet--that
issue which contained the declaration of war--and at evening to
burn them all. He presently became imbecile, and so passed away.'"
Piers laughed with delight.
"Whether it ever got into print," said Mr. Jacks, "I don't know.
Your father was often careless about his best things. I'm afraid he
was never quite convinced that ideals of that kind influence the
world. Yet they do, you know, though it's a slow business. It's
thought that leads."
"The multitude following in its own fashion," said Piers drily.
"Rousseau teaches liberty and fraternity; France learns the lesson
and plunges into '93."
"With Nap to put things straight again. For all that a step was
taken. We are better for Jean Jacques--a little better."
"And for Napoleon, too, I suppose. Napoleon--a wild beast with a
genius for arithmetic."
John Jacks let his eyes rest upon the speaker, interested and
"That's how you see him? Not a bad definition. I suppose the truth
is, we know nothing about human history. The old view was good for
working by--Jehovah holding his balance, smiting on one side, and
rewarding on the other. It's our national view to this day. The
English are an Old Testament people; they never cared about the New.
Do you know that there's a sect who hold that the English are the
Lost Tribes--the People of the Promise? I see a great deal to be
said for that idea. No other nation has such profound sympathy with
the history and the creeds of Israel. Did you ever think of it? That
Old Testament religion suits us perfectly--our arrogance and our
pugnaciousness; this accounts for its hold on the mind of the
people; it couldn't be stronger if the bloodthirsty old Tribes were
truly our ancestors. The English seized upon their spiritual
inheritance as soon as a translation of the Bible put it before
them. In Catholic days we fought because we enjoyed it, and made no
pretences; since the Reformation we have fought for Jehovah."
"I suppose," said Piers, "the English are the least Christian of all
so-called Christian peoples."
"Undoubtedly. They simply don't know the meaning of the prime
Christian virtue--humility. But that's neither here nor there, in
talking of progress. You remember Goldsmith--
'Pride in their port, defiance in their eye,
I see the lords of human kind pass by.'
"Our pride has been a good thing, on the whole. Whether it will still
be, now that it's so largely the pride of riches, let him say who is
alive fifty years hence."
He paused and added gravely:
"I'm afraid the national character is degenerating. We were always
too fond of liquor, and Heaven knows our responsibility for
drunkenness all over the world; but worse than that is our gambling.
You may drink and be a fine fellow; but every gambler is a sneak,
and possibly a criminal. We're beginning, now, to gamble for slices
of the world. We're getting base, too, in our grovelling before the
millionaire--who as often as not has got his money vilely. This
sort of thing won't do for 'the lords of human kind.' Our pride, if
we don't look out, will turn to bluffing and bullying. I'm afraid we
govern selfishly where we've conquered. We hear dark things of
India, and worse of Africa. And hear the roaring of the Jingoes!
Johnson defined Patriotism you know, as the last refuge of a
scoundrel; it looks as if it might presently be the last refuge of a
"Meanwhile," said Piers, "the real interests of England, real
progress in national life, seem to be as good as lost sight of."
"Yes, more and more. They think that material prosperity is
progress. So it is--up to a certain point, and who ever stops
there? Look at Germany."
"Once the peaceful home of pure intellect, the land of Goethe."
"Once, yes. And my fear is that our brute, blustering Bismarck may
be coming. But," he suddenly brightened, "croakers be hanged! The
civilisers are at work too, and they have their way in the end.
Think of a man like your father, who seemed to pass and be
forgotten. Was it really so? I'll warrant that at this hour Jerome
Otway's spirit is working in many of our best minds. There's no
calculating the power of the man who speaks from his very heart. His
words don't perish, though he himself may lose courage."
Listening, Piers felt a glow pass into all the currents of his life.
"If only," he exclaimed, in a voice that trembled, "I had as much
strength as desire to carry on his work!"
"Why, who knows?" replied John Jacks, looking with encouragement
wherein mingled something of affection.
"You have the power of sincerity, I see that. Speak always as you
believe, and who knows what opportunity you may find for making
John Jacks reflected deeply for a few moments.
"I'm going away in a day or two," he said at length, in a measured
voice, "and my movements are uncertain--uncertain. But we shall
meet again before the end of the year."
When he had left the house, Piers recalled the tone of this remark,
and dwelt upon it with disquietude.
The night being fair, Piers set out to walk a part of the way home.
It was only by thoroughly tiring himself with bodily exercise that
he could get sound and long oblivion. Hours of sleeplessness were
his dread. However soon he awoke after daybreak, he rose at once and
drove his mind to some sort of occupation. To escape from himself
was all he lived for in these days. An ascetic of old times,
subduing his flesh in cell or cave, battled no harder than this
idealist of London City tortured by his solitude.
On the pavement of Piccadilly he saw some yards before him, a man
seemingly of the common lounging sort, tall-hatted and frock-coated,
who was engaged in the cautious pursuit of a female figure, just in
advance. A light and springy and half-stalking step; head jutting a
little forward; the cane mechanically swung--a typical
woman-hunter, in some doubt as to his quarry. On an impulse of
instinct or calculation, the man all at once took a few rapid
strides, bringing himself within sideview of the woman's face.
Evidently he spoke a word; he received an obviously curt reply; he
fell back, paced slowly, turned and Piers became aware of a
countenance he knew--that of his brother Daniel.
It was a disagreeable moment. Daniel's lean, sallow visage had no
aptitude for the expression of shame, but his eyes grew very round,
and his teeth showed in a hard grin.
"Why, Piers, my boy! Again we meet in a London street--which is
rhyme, and sounds like Browning, doesn't it? _Comment ca va-t-il_?"
Piers shook hands very coldly, without pretence of a smile.
"I am walking on," he said. "Yours is the other way, I think."
"What! You wish to cut me? Pray, your exquisite reason?"
"Well, then, I think you have behaved meanly and dishonourably to
me. I don't wish to discuss the matter, only to make myself
His ability to use this language, and to command himself as he did
so, was a surprise to Piers. Nothing he disliked more than personal
altercation; he shrank from it at almost any cost. But the sight of
Daniel, the sound of his artificial voice, moved him deeply with
indignation, and for the first time in his life he spoke out. Having
done so, he had a pleasurable sensation; he felt his assured
Daniel was astonished, disconcerted, but showed no disposition to
close the interview; turning, he walked along by his brother.
"I suppose I know what you refer to. But let me explain. I think my
explanation will interest you."
"No, I'm afraid it will not," replied Piers quietly.
"In any case, lend me your ears. You are offended by my failure to
pay that debt. Well, my nature is frankness, and I will plead guilty
to a certain procrastination. I meant to send you the money; I fully
meant to do so. But in the first place, it took much longer than I
expected to realise the good old man's estate, and when at length
the money came into my hands, I delayed and delayed--just as one
does, you know; let us admit these human weaknesses. And I
procrastinated till I was really ashamed--you follow the
psychology of the thing? Then I said to myself: Now it is pretty
certain Piers is not in actual want of this sum, or he would have
pressed for it. On the other hand, a day may come when he will
really be glad to remember that I am his banker for a hundred and
fifty pounds. Yes--I said--I will wait till that moment comes; I
will save the money for him, as becomes his elder brother. Piers is
a good fellow, and will understand. _Voila_!"
Piers kept silence.
"Tell me, my dear boy," pursued the other. "Alexander of course paid
that little sum he owed you?"
"He too has preferred to remain my banker."
"Now I call that very shameful!" burst out Daniel. "No, that's too
"How did you know he owed me money?" inquired Piers.
"How? Why, he told me himself, down at Hawes, after you went. We
were talking of you, of your admirable qualities, and in his bluff,
genial way he threw out how generously you had behaved to him, at a
moment when he was hard up. He wanted to repay you immediately, and
asked me to lend him the money for that purpose; unfortunately, I
hadn't it to lend. And to think that, after all, he never paid you!
A mere fifty pounds! Why, the thing is unpardonable! In my case the
sum was substantial enough to justify me in retaining it for your
future benefit. But to owe fifty pounds, and shirk payment--no, I
call that really disgraceful. If ever I meet Alexander----!"
Piers was coldly amused. When Daniel sought to draw him into general
conversation, with inquiries as to his mode of life, and where he
dwelt, the younger brother again spoke with decision. They were not
likely, he said, to see more of each other, and he felt as little
disposed to give familiar information as to ask it; whereupon Daniel
drew himself up with an air of dignified offence, and saying, "I
wish you better manners," turned on his heel.
Piers walked on at a rapid pace. Noticing again a well-dressed
prowler of the pavement, whose approaches this time were welcomed, a
feeling of nausea came upon him. He hailed a passing cab, and drove
A week later, he heard from Mrs. Hannaford that she and Olga were
established in their own home; she begged him to come and see them
soon, mentioning an evening when they would be glad if he could dine
with them. And Piers willingly accepted.
The house was at Campden Hill; a house of the kind known to agents
as "desirable," larger than the two ladies needed for their comfort,
and, as one saw on entering the hall, famished with tasteful care.
The work had been supervised by Dr. Derwent, who thought that his
sister and his niece might thus be tempted to live the orderly life
so desirable in their unfortunate circumstances. When Piers entered,
Mrs. Hannaford sat alone in the drawing room; she still had the look
of an invalid, but wore a gown which showed to advantage the lines
of her figure. Otway had been told not to dress, and it caused him
some surprise to see his hostess adorned as if for an occasion of
ceremony. Her hair was done in a new way, which changed the wonted
character of her face, so that she looked younger. A bunch of pale
flowers rested against her bosom, and breathed delicate perfume
"It was discussed," she said, in a low, intimate voice, "whether we
should settle in London or abroad. But we didn't like to go away.
Our only real friends are in England, and we must hope to make more.
Olga is so good, now that she sees that I really need her. She has
been so kind and sweet during my illness."
Whilst they were talking, Miss Hannaford silently made her entrance.
Piers turned his head, and felt a shock of surprise. Not till now
had he seen Olga at her best; he had never imagined her so handsome;
it was a wonderful illustration of the effect of apparel. She, too,
had reformed the fashion of her hair, and its tawny abundance was
much more effective than in the old careless style. She looked
taller; she stepped with a more graceful assurance, and in offering
her hand, betrayed consciousness of Otway's admiration in a little
flush that well became her.
She had subdued her voice, chastened her expressions. The touch of
masculinity on which she had prided herself in her later "Bohemian"
days, was quite gone. Wondering as they conversed, Piers had a
difficulty in meeting her look; his eyes dropped to the little silk
shoe which peeped from beneath her skirt. His senses were gratified;
he forgot for the moment his sorrow and unrest.
The talk at dinner was rather formal. Piers, with his indifferent
appetite, could do but scanty justice to the dainties offered him,
and the sense of luxury added a strangeness to his new relations
with Mrs. Hannaford and her daughter. Olga spoke of a Russian novel
she had been reading in a French translation, and was anxious to
know whether it represented life as Otway knew it in Russia. She
evinced a wider interest in several directions, emphasised--
perhaps a little too much--her inclination for earnest thought:
was altogether a more serious person than hitherto.
Afterwards, when they grouped themselves in the drawing-room, this
constraint fell away. Mrs. Hannaford dropped a remark which awakened
memories of their life together at Geneva, and Piers turned to her
with a bright look.
"You used to play in those days," he said, "and I've never heard you
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