The Crown of Life
Part 5 out of 8
touch a piano since."
There was one in the room. Olga glanced at it, and then smilingly at
"My playing was so very primitive," said Mrs. Hannaford, with a
"I liked it."
"Because you were a boy then."
"Let me try to be a boy again. Play something you used to. One of
those bits from 'Tell,' which take me back to the lakes and the
mountains whenever I hear them."
Mrs. Hannaford rose, laughing as if ashamed; Olga lit the candies on
"I shall have to play from memory--and a nice mess I shall make of
But memory served her for the passages of melody which Piers wished
to hear. He listened with deep pleasure, living again in the years
when everything he desired seemed a certainty of the future,
depending only on the flight of time, on his becoming "a man." He
remembered his vivid joy in the pleasures of the moment, the natural
happiness now, and for years, unknown to him. So long ago, it
seemed; yet Mrs. Hannaford, sitting at the piano, looked younger to
him than in those days. And Olga, whom as a girl of fourteen he had
not much liked, thinking her both conceited and dull, now was a very
different person to him, a woman who seemed to have only just
revealed herself, asserting a power of attraction he had never
suspected in her. He found himself trying to catch glimpses of her
face at different angles, as she sat listening abstractedly to the
When it was time to go, he took leave with reluctance. The talk had
grown very pleasantly familiar. Mrs. Hannaford said she hoped they
would often see him, and the hope had an echo in his own thoughts.
This house might offer him the refuge he sought when loneliness
weighed too heavily. It was true, he could not accept the idea with
a whole heart; some vague warning troubled his imagination; but on
the way home he thought persistently of the pleasure he had
experienced, and promised himself that it should be soon repeated.
A melody was singing in his mind; becoming conscious of it, he
remembered that it was the air to which his friend Moncharmont had
set the little song of Alfred de Musset. At Odessa he had been wont
to sing it--in a voice which Moncharmont declared to have the
quality of a very fair tenor, and only to need training.
"Quand on perd. par triste occurrence,
Et sa gaite,
Le remede au melancolique
O'est la musique
Et la beaute.
Plus oblige et peut davantage
Un beau visage
Qu'un homme arme,
Et rien n'est meilleur que d'entendre
Air doux et tendre
It haunted him after he had gone to rest, and for once he did not
A week passed. On Friday, Piers said to himself that to-morrow he
would go in the afternoon to Campden Hill, on the chance of finding
his friends at home. On Saturday morning the post brought him a
letter which he saw to be from Mrs. Hannaford, and he opened it with
pleasant anticipation; but instead of the friendly lines he expected
he found a note of agitated appeal. The writer entreated him to come
and see her exactly at three o'clock; she was in very grave trouble,
had the most urgent need of him. Three o'clock; neither sooner or
later; if he could possibly find time. If he could not come, would
he telegraph an appointment for her at his office?
With perfect punctuality, he arrived at the house, and in the
drawing-room found Mrs. Hannaford awaiting him. She came forward
with both her hands held out; in her eyes a look almost of terror.
Her voice, at first, was in choking whispers, and the words so
confusedly hurried as to be barely intelligible.
"I have sent Olga away--I daren't let her know--she will be away
for several hours, so we can talk--oh, you will help me--you
will do your best----"
Perplexed and alarmed, Piers held her hand as he tried to calm her.
She seemed incapable of telling him what had happened, but kept her
eyes fixed upon him in a wild entreaty, and uttered broken phrases
which conveyed nothing to him; he gathered at length that she was in
fear of some person.
"Sit down and let me hear all about it," he urged.
"Yes, yes--but I'm so ashamed to speak to you about such things. I
don't know whether you'll believe me. Oh, the shame--the dreadful
shame! It's only because there seems just this hope. How shall I
bring myself to tell you?"
"Dear Mrs. Hannaford, we have been friends so long. Trust me to
understand you. Of course, of course I shall believe what you say!"
"A dreadful, a shameful thing has happened. How shall I tell you?"
Her haggard face flushed scarlet. "My husband has given me notice
that he is going to sue for a divorce. He brings a charge against me
--a false, cruel charge! It came yesterday. I went to the solicitor
whose name was given, and learnt all I could. I have had to hide it
from Olga, and oh! what it cost me! At once I thought of you; then
it seemed impossible to speak to you; then I felt I must, I must. If
only you can believe me! It is--your brother."
Piers was overcome with amazement. He sat looking into the eyes
which stared at him with their agony of shame.
"You mean Daniel?" he faltered.
"Yes--Daniel Otway. It is false--it is false! I am not guilty of
this! It seems to me like a hateful plot--if one could believe
anyone so wicked. I saw him last night. Oh, I must tell you all,
else you'll never believe me--I saw him last night. How can anyone
behave so to a helpless woman? I never did him anything but
kindness. He has me in his power, and he is merciless."
A passion of disgust and hatred took hold on Piers as he remembered
the meeting in Piccadilly.
"You mean to say you have put yourself into that fellow's power?" he
"Not willingly! Oh, not willingly! I meant only kindness to him.
Yes, I have been weak, I know, and so foolish! It has gone on so
long.--You remember when I first saw him, at Ewell? I liked him,
just as a friend. Of course I behaved foolishly. It was my miserable
life--you know what my life was. But nothing happened--I mean, I
never thought of him for a moment as anything but an ordinary friend
--until I had my legacy."
The look on the listener's face checked her.
"I begin to understand," said Piers, with bitterness.
"No, no! Don't say that--don't speak like that!"
"It's not you I am thinking of, Mrs. Hannaford. As soon as money
comes in--. But tell me plainly. I have perfect confidence in what
you say, indeed I have."
"It does me good to hear you say that! I can tell you all, now that
I have begun. It is true, he _did_ ask me to go away with him, again
and again. But he had no right to do that--I was foolish in
showing that I liked him. Again and again I forbade him ever to see
me; I tried so hard to break off! It was no use. He always wrote,
wherever I was, sending his letters to Dr. Derwent to be forwarded.
He made me meet him at all sorts of places--using threats at last.
Oh, what I have gone through!"
"No doubt," said Piers gently, "you have lent him money?"
She reddened again; her head sank.
"Yes--I have lent him money, when he was in need. Just before the
death of your father."
"To be sure. Lately, too, I daresay?"
"Then you quite understand his character?"
"I do now," Mrs. Hannaford replied wretchedly. "But I must tell you
more. If it were only a suspicion of my husband's I should hardly
care at all. But someone must have betrayed me to him, and have told
deliberate falsehoods. I am accused--it was when I was at the
seaside once--and he came to the same hotel--Oh, the shame, the
She covered her face with her hands, and turned away.
"Why," cried Piers, in wrath, "that fellow is quite capable of
having betrayed you himself. I mean, of lying about you for his own
"You think he could be so wicked?"
"I don't doubt it for a moment. He has done his best to persuade you
to ruin yourself for him, and he thinks, no doubt, that if you are
divorced, nothing will stand between him and you--in other words,
"He said, when I saw him yesterday, that now it had come to this, I
had better take that step at once. And when I spoke of my innocence,
he asked who would believe it? He seemed sorry; really he did.
Perhaps he is not so bad as one fears?"
"Where did you see him yesterday?" asked Otway.
"At his lodgings. I was _obliged_ to go and see him as soon as
possible. I have never been there before. He behaved very kindly. He
said of course he should declare my innocence----"
"And in the same breath assured you no one would believe it? And
advised you to go off with him at once?"
"I know how bad it seems," said Mrs. Hannaford. "And yet, it is all
my own fault--my own long folly. Oh, you must wonder why I have
brought you here to tell you this! It's because there is no one else
I could speak to, as a friend, and I felt I should go mad if I
couldn't ask someone's advice. Of course I could go to a lawyer--
but I mean someone who would sympathise with me. I am not very
strong; you know I have been ill: this blow seems almost more than I
can bear; I thought I would ask you if you could suggest anything--
if you would see him, and try to arrange something." She looked at
Piers distractedly. "Perhaps money would help. My husband has been
having money from me; perhaps if we offered him more? Ought I to see
him, myself? But there is ill-feeling between us; and I fear he
would be glad to injure me, glad!"
"I will see Daniel," said Piers, trying to see hope where reason
told him there was none. "With him, at all events, money can do
"You will? You think you may be able to help me? I am in such terror
when I think of my brother hearing of this. And Irene! Think, if it
becomes public--everyone talking about the disgrace--what will
Irene do? Just at the time of her marriage!" She held out her hands,
pleadingly. "You would be glad to save Irene from such a shame?"
Piers had not yet seen the scandal from this point of view. It came
upon him with a shock, and he stood speechless.
"My husband hates them," pursued Mrs. Hannaford, "and you don't know
what _his_ hatred means. Just for that alone, he will do his worst
against me--hoping to throw disgrace on the Derwents."
"I doubt very much," said Piers, who had been thinking hard,
"whether, in any event, this would affect the Derwents in people's
"You don't think so? But do you know Arnold Jacks? I feel sure he is
the kind of man who would resent bitterly such a thing as this. He
is very proud--proud in just that kind of way--do you
understand? Oh, I know it would make trouble between him and Irene."
"In that case," Piers began vehemently, and at once checked himself.
"What were you going to say?"
"Nothing that could help us."
When he raised his eyes again, Mrs. Hannaford was gazing at him with
"For _her_ sake," she said, in a low, shaken voice, "you will try to
"If only I can!"
"Yes! I know you! You are good and generous--It ought surely to be
possible to stop this before it gets talked about? If I were guilty,
it would be different. But I have done no wrong; I have only been
weak and foolish. I thought of going straight to my brother, but
there is the dreadful thought that he might not believe me. It is so
hard for a woman accused in this way to seem innocent; men always
see the dark side. He has no very good opinion of me, as it is, I
know he hasn't. I turned so naturally to you; I felt you would do
your utmost for me in my misery.--If only my husband can be
brought to see that I am not guilty, that he wouldn't win the suit,
then perhaps he would cease from it. I will give all the money I can
--all I have!"
Piers stood reflecting.
"Tell me all the details you have learnt," he said. "What evidence
do they rely on?"
Her head bowed, her voice broken, she told of place and time and the
assertions of so-called witnesses.
"Why has this plot against you been a year in ripening?" asked
"Perhaps we are wrong in thinking it a plot. My husband may only
just have discovered what he thinks my guilt in some chance way. If
so, there is hope."
They sat mute for a minute or two.
"If only I can hide this from Olga," said Mrs. Hannaford. "Think how
dreadful it is for me, with her! We were going to ask you to spend
another evening with us--but how is it possible? If I send you the
invitation, will you make an answer excusing yourself--saying you
are too busy? To prevent Olga from wondering. How hard, how cruel it
is! Just when we had made ourselves a home here, and might have been
Piers stood up, and tried to speak words of encouragement. The
charge being utterly false, at worst a capable solicitor might
succeed in refuting it. He was about to take his leave, when he
remembered that he did not know Daniel's address: Mrs. Hannaford
"I am sorry you went there," he said.
And as he left the room, he saw the woman's eyes follow him with
that look of woe which signals a tottering mind.
Without investigating her motives, Irene Derwent deferred as long as
possible her meeting with the man to whom she had betrothed herself.
Nor did Arnold Jacks evince any serious impatience in this matter.
They corresponded in affectionate terms, exchanging letters once a
week or so. Arnold, as it chanced, was unusually busy, his
particular section of the British Empire supplying sundry problems
just now not to be hurriedly dealt with by those in authority; there
was much drawing-up of reports, and translating of facts into
official language, in Arnold's secretarial department. Of these
things he spoke to his bride-elect as freely as discretion allowed;
and Irene found his letters interesting.
The ladies in Cheshire were forewarned of the new Irene who was
about to visit them; political differences did not at all affect
their kindliness; indeed, they saw with satisfaction the girl's keen
mood of loyalty to the man of her choice. She brought with her the
air of Greater Britain; she poke much, and well, of the destinies of
"I see it all more clearly since this bit of Colonial experience,"
she said. "Our work in the world is marked out for us; we have no
choice, unless we turn cowards. Of course we shall be hated by other
countries, more and more. We shall be accused of rapacity, and
arrogance, and everything else that's disagreeable in a large way;
we can't help that. If we enrich ourselves, that is a legitimate
reward for the task we perform. England means liberty and
enlightenment; let England spread to the ends of the earth! We
mustn't be afraid of greatness! We _can't_ stop--still less draw
back. Our politics have become our religion. Our rulers have a
greater responsibility than was ever known in the world's history--
and they will be equal to it!"
The listeners felt that a little clapping of the hands would have
been appropriate; they exchanged a glance, as if consulting each
other as to the permissibility of such applause. But Irene's
eloquent eyes and glowing colour excited more admiration than
criticism; in their hearts they wished joy to the young life which
would go on its way through an ever changing world long after they
and their old-fashioned ideas had passed into silence.
In a laughing moment, Irene told them of the proposal she had
received from Trafford Romaine. This betokened her high spirits, and
perchance indicated a wish to make it understood that her acceptance
of Arnold Jacks was no unconsidered impulse. The ladies were
interested, but felt this confidence something of an indiscretion,
and did not comment upon it. They hoped she would not be tempted to
impart her secret to persons less capable of respecting it.
During these days there came a definite invitation from Mrs.
Borisoff, who was staying in Hampshire, at the house of her widowed
mother, and Irene gladly accepted it. She wished to see more of
Helen Borisoff, whose friendship, she felt, might have significance
for her at this juncture of life. The place and its inhabitants, she
found on arriving, answered very faithfully to Helen's description;
an old manor-house, beautifully situated, hard by a sleepy village;
its mistress a rather prim woman of sixty, conventional in every
thought and act, but too good-natured to be aggressive, and living
with her two unmarried daughters, whose sole care was the spiritual
and material well-being of the village poor.
"Where I come from, I really don't know," said Helen to her friend.
"My father was the staidest of country gentlemen. I'm a sport,
plainly. You will see my mother watch me every now and then with
apprehension. I fancy it surprises her that I really do behave
myself--that I don't even say anything shocking. With you, the
dear old lady is simply delighted; I know she prays that I may not
harm you. You are the first respectable acquaintance I have made
since my marriage."
In the lovely old garden, in the still meadows, and on the
sheep-cropped hillsides, they had many a long talk. Now that Irene
was as good as married, Mrs. Borisoff used less reserve in speaking
of her private circumstances; she explained the terms on which she
stood with her husband.
"Marriage, my dear girl, is of many kinds; absurd to speak of it as
one and indivisible. There's the marriage of interest, the marriage
of reason, the marriage of love; and each of these classes can be
almost infinitely subdivided. For the majority of folk, I'm quite
sure it would be better not to choose their own husbands and wives,
but to leave it to sensible friends who wish them well. In England,
at all events, they _think_ they marry for love, but that's mere
nonsense. Did you ever know a love match? I never even heard of one,
in my little world. Well," she added, with her roguish smile,
"putting yourself out of the question."
Irene's countenance betrayed a passing inquietude. She had an air of
reflection; averted her eyes; did not speak.
"The average male or female is _never_ in love," pursued Helen.
"They are incapable of it. And in this matter I--_moi qui vous
parle_--am average. At least, I think I am; all evidence goes to
prove it, so far. I married my husband because I thought him the
most interesting man I had ever met. That was eight years ago, when
I was two-and-twenty. Curiously, I didn't try to persuade myself
that I was in love; I take credit for this, my dear! No, it was a
marriage of reason. I had money, which Mr. Borisoff had not. He
really liked me, and does still. But we are reasonable as ever. If
we felt obliged to live always together, we should be very
uncomfortable. As it is, I travel for six months when the humour
takes me, and it works _a merveille_. Into my husband's life, I
don't inquire; I have no right to do so, and I am not by nature a
busybody. As for my own affairs, Mr. Borisoff is not uneasy; he has
great faith in me--which, speaking frankly, I quite deserve. I am,
my dear Irene, a most respectable woman--there comes in my
"Then," said Irene, looking at her own beautiful fingernails, "your
experience, after all, is disillusion."
"Moderate disillusion," replied the other, with her humorously
judicial air. "I am not grievously disappointed. I still find my
husband an interesting--a most interesting--man. Both of us
being so thoroughly reasonable, our marriage may be called a
"Clearly, then, you don't think love a _sine qua non_?"
"Clearly not. Love has nothing whatever to do with marriage, in the
statistical--the ordinary--sense of the term. When I say love, I
mean love--not domestic affection. Marriage is a practical concern
of mankind at large; Love is a personal experience of the very few.
Think of our common phrases, such as 'choice of a wife'; think of
the perfectly sound advice given by sage elders to the young who are
thinking of marriage, implying deliberation, care. What have these
things to do with love? You can no more choose to be a lover, than
to be a poet. _Nascitur non fit_--oh yes, I know my Latin.
Generally, he man or woman born for love is born for nothing else."
"A deplorable state of things!" exclaimed Irene, laughing.
"Yes--or no. Who knows? Such people ought to die young. But I
don't say that it is invariably the case. To be capable of loving,
and at the same time to have other faculties, and the will to use
them--ah! There's your complete human being."
"I think----" Irene began, and stopped, her voice failing.
"You think, _belle Irene_?"
"Oh, I was going to say that all this seems to me sensible and
right. It doesn't disturb me."
"Why should it?"
"I think I will tell you, Helen, that my motive in marrying is the
same as yours was."
"I surmised it."
"But, you know, there the similarity will end. It is quite certain"
--she laughed--"that I shall have no six-months' vacations. At
present, I don't think I shall desire them."
"No. To speak frankly, I auger well of your marriage."
These words affected Irene with a sense of relief. She had imagined
that Mrs. Borisoff thought otherwise. A bright smile sunned her
countenance; Helen, observing it, smiled too, but more thoughtfully.
"You must bring your husband to see me in Paris some time next year.
By the bye, you don't think he will disapprove of me?"
"Do you imagine Mr. Jacks----"
"What were you going to say?"
Irene had stopped as if for want of the right word She was
"It never struck me," she said, "that he would wish to regulate my
choice of friends. Yet I suppose it would be within his right?"
"Conventionally speaking, undoubtedly."
"Don't think I am in uncertainty about this particular instance,"
said Irene. "No, he has already told me that he liked you. But of
the general question, I had never thought."
"My dear, who does, or can, think before marriage of all that it
involves? After all, the pleasures of life consist so largely in the
Irene paced a few yards in silence, and when she spoke again it was
of quite another subject.
Whether this sojourn with her experienced and philosophical friend
made her better able to face the meeting with Arnold Jacks was not
quite certain. At moments she fancied so; she saw her position as
wholly reasonable, void of anxiety; she was about to marry the man
she liked and respected--safest of all forms of marriage. But
there came troublesome moods of misgiving. It did not flatter her
self-esteem to think of herself as excluded from the number of those
who are capable of love; even in Helen Borisoff's view, the elect,
the fortunate. Of love, she had thought more in this last week or
two than in all her years gone by. Assuredly, she knew it not, this
glory of the poets. Yet she could inspire it in others; at all
events, in one, whose rhythmic utterance of the passion ever and
again came back to her mind.
A temptation had assailed her (but she resisted it) to repeat those
verses of Piers Otway to her friend. And in thinking of them, she
half reproached herself for the total silence she had preserved
towards their author. Perhaps he was uncertain whether the verses
had ever reached her. It seemed unkind. There would have been no
harm in letting him know that she had read the lines, and--as
Was her temper prosaic? It would at any time have surprised her to
be told so. Owing to her father's influence, she had given much time
to scientific studies, but she knew herself by no means defective in
appreciation of art and literature. By whatever accident, the
friends of her earlier years had been notable rather for good sense
and good feeling than for aesthetic fervour; the one exception, her
cousin Olga, had rather turned her from thoughts about the
beautiful, for Olga seemed emotional in excess, and was not without
taint of affectation. In Helen Borisoff she knew for the first time
a woman who cared supremely for music, poetry, pictures, and who
combined with this a vigorous practical intelligence. Helen could
burn with enthusiasm, yet never exposed herself to suspicion of
weak-mindedness. Posturing was her scorn, but no one spoke more
ardently of the things she admired. Her acquaintance with recent
literature was wider than that of anyone Irene had known; she talked
of it in the most interesting way, giving her friend new lights,
inspiring her with a new energy of thought. And Irene was sorry to
go away. She vaguely felt that this companionship was of moment in
the history of her mind; she wished for a larger opportunity of
benefiting by it.
Dr. Derwent and his son were now at Cromer; there Irene was to join
them; and thither, presently, would come Arnold Jacks.
On the day of her departure there arose a storm of wind and rain,
which grew more violent as she approached the Norfolk coast; and
nothing could have pleased her better. Her troubled mood harmonised
with the darkened, roaring sea; moreover, this atmospheric
disturbance made something to talk about on arriving. She suffered
no embarrassment at the meeting with her father and Eustace, who of
course awaited her at the station. To their eyes, Irene was m
excellent spirits, though rather wearied after the tiresome journey.
She said very little about her stay in Hampshire.
The last person in the world with whom Irene would have chosen to
converse about her approaching marriage was her excellent brother
Eustace; but the young man was not content with offering his good
wishes; to her surprise, he took the opportunity of their being
alone together on the beach, to speak with most unwonted warmth
about Arnold Jacks.
"I really was glad when I heard of it! To tell you the truth, I had
hoped for it. If there is a man living whom I respect, it is Arnold.
There's no end to his good qualities. A downright good and sensible
"Of course I'm very glad you think so, Eustace," replied his sister,
stooping to pick up a shell.
"Indeed I do. I've often thought that one's sister's choice in
marriage must be a very anxious thing; it would have worried me
awfully if I had felt any doubts about the man."
Irene was inclined to laugh.
"It's very good of you." she said.
"But I mean it. Girls haven't quite a fair chance, you know. They
can't see much of men."
"If it comes to that," said Irene merrily, "men seem to me in much
the same position."
"Oh, it's so different. Girls--women--are good. There's nothing
unpleasant to be known about them."
"Upon my word, Eustace! _On n'cest pas plus galant_! But I really
feel it my duty to warn you against that amiable optimism. If you
were so kind as to be uneasy on my account, I shall be still more so
on yours. Your position, my dear boy, is a little perilous."
Eustace laughed, not without some amiable confusion. To give himself
a countenance, he smote at pebbles with the head of his
"Oh, I shan't marry for ages!"
"That shows rather more prudence than faith in your doctrine."
"Never mind. Our subject is Arnold Jacks. He's a splendid fellow.
The best and most sensible fellow I know."
It was not the eulogy most agreeable to Irene in her present state
of mind. She hastened to dismiss the topic, but thought with no
little surprise and amusement of Eustace's self-revelation. Brothers
and sisters seldom know each other; and these two, by virtue of
widely differing characteristics, were scarce more than mutually
Less emphatic in commendation, Dr. Derwent appeared not less
satisfied with his future son-in-law. Irene's scrutiny, sharpened by
intense desire to read her father's mind, could detect no
qualification of his contentment. As his habit was, the Doctor,
having found an opportunity, broached the subject with humorous
"It's no business of mine; I don't wish to be impertinent; but if I
_may_ be allowed to express approval----"
Irene raised her eyes for a moment, bestowing upon him a look of
affection and gratitude.
"He's a thorough Englishman, and. that means a good deal in the
laudatory sense. The best sort of husband for an English girl, I've
no manner of doubt."
Dr. Derwent was not effusive; he had said as much as he cared to say
on the more intimate aspect of the matter. But he spoke long and
carefully regarding things practical. Irene had his entire
confidence; nothing in the state of his affairs needed to be kept
from her knowledge. He spoke of the duty he owed to his two children
respectively, and in sufficient detail of Arnold Jacks'
circumstances. On the death of John Jacks (which the Doctor
suspected was not remote) Arnold would be something more than a
well-to-do man; his wife, if she aimed that way, might look for a
social position such as the world envied.
"And on the whole," he added, "as society must have leaders, I
prefer that they should he people with brains as well as money. The
ambition is quite legitimate. Do your part in civilising the
drawing-room, as Arnold conceives he is doing his on a larger scale.
A good and intelligent woman is no superfluity in the world of
Irene tried to believe that this ambition appealed to her. Nay, at
times it certainly did so, for she liked the brilliant and the
commanding. On the other hand, it seemed imperfect as an ideal of
life. In its undercurrents her thought was always more or less
A letter from Arnold announced his coming. A day after, he arrived.
Many times as she had enacted in fancy the scene of their meeting,
Irene found in the reality something quite unlike her anticipation.
Arnold, it was true, behaved much as she expected; he was perfect in
well-bred homage; he said the right things in the right tone; his
face declared a sincere emotion, yet he restrained himself within
due limits of respect. The result in Irene's mind was disappointment
He gave her too little; he seemed to ask too much.
The first interview--in a private sitting-room at the hotel where
they were all staying--lasted about half an hour; it wrought a
change in Irene for which she had not at all prepared herself,
though the doubts and misgivings which had of late beset her pointed
darkly to such a revulsion of feeling. She had not understood; she
could not understand, until enlightened by the very experience.
Alone once more, she sat down all tremulous; pallid as if she had
suffered a shock of fright. An indescribable sense of immodesty
troubled her nerves: she seemed to have lost all self-respect: the
thought of going forth again, of facing her father and brother, was
scarcely to be borne. This acute distress presently gave way to a
dull pain, a sinking at the heart. She felt miserably alone. She
longed for a friend of her own sex, not necessarily to speak of what
she was going through, but for the moral support of a safe
companionship. Never had she known such a feeling of isolation, and
of over-great responsibility.
A few tears relieved her. Irene was not prone to weeping; only a
great crisis of her fate would have brought her to this extremity.
It was over in a quarter of an hour--or seemed so. She had
recovered command of her nerves, had subdued the excess of emotion.
As for what had happened, that was driven into the background of her
mind, to await examination at leisure. She was a new being, but for
the present could bear herself in the old way. Before leaving her
room, she stood before the looking-glass, and smiled. Oh yes, it
Arnold Jacks was in the state of mind which exhibited him at his
very best. An air of discreet triumph sat well on this elegant
Englishman; it prompted him to continuous discourse, which did not
lack its touch of brilliancy; his features had an uncommon
animation, and his slender, well-knit figure--of course clad with
perfect seaside propriety--appeared to gain an inch, so gallantly
he held himself. He walked the cliffs like one on guard over his
country. Without for a moment becoming ridiculous, Arnold, with his
first-rate English breeding, could carry off a great deal of radiant
Side by side, he and Irene looked very well; there was suitability
of stature, harmony of years. Arnold's clean-cut visage, manly yet
refined, did no discredit to the choice of a girl even so striking
in countenance as Irene. They drew the eyes of passers-by. Conscious
of this, Irene now and then flinched imperceptibly; but her smile
held good, and its happiness flattered the happy man.
Eustace Derwent departed in a day or two, having an invitation to
join friends in Scotland. He had vastly enjoyed the privilege of
listening to Arnold's talk. Indeed to his sister's amusement, he
plainly sought to model himself on Mr. Jacks, in demeanour, in
phraseology, and in sentiments; not without success.
On one of those evenings at the seaside, Dr. Derwent, glancing over
the newspapers, came upon a letter signed "Lee Hannaford." It had
reference to some current dispute about the merits of a new bullet.
Hannaford, writing with authority, criticised the invention; he gave
particulars (the result of an experiment on an old horse) as to its
mode of penetrating flesh and shattering bone; there was a gusto in
his style, that of the true artist in bloodshed. pointing out the
signature to Arnold Jacks, Dr. Derwent asked in a subdued tone, as
when one speaks of something shameful:
"Have you seen or heard of him lately?"
"About ten days ago," replied Arnold. "He was at the Hyde Wilson's,
and he had the impertinence to congratulate me. He did it, too,
before other people, so that I couldn't very well answer as I
wished. You are aware, by the bye, that he is doing very well--
belongs to a firm of manufacturers of explosives?"
"Indeed?--I wish he would explode his own head off."
The Doctor spoke with most unwonted fierceness. Arnold Jacks,
without verbally seconding the wish, showed by an uneasy smile that
he would not have mourned the decease of this relative of the
Derwents. Mrs. Hannaford's position involved no serious scandal, but
Arnold had a strong dislike for any sort of social irregularity;
here was the one detail of his future wife's family circumstances
which he desired to forget. What made it more annoying than it need
have been was his surmise that Lee Hannaford nursed rancour against
the Derwents, and would not lose an opportunity of venting it. In
the public congratulation of which Arnold spoke, there had been a
distinct touch of malice. It was not impossible that the man hinted
calumnies with regard to his wife, and, under the circumstances,
slander of that kind was the most difficult thing to deal with.
But in Irene's society these unwelcome thoughts were soon dismissed.
With the demeanour of his betrothed, Arnold was abundantly
satisfied; he saw in it the perfect medium between demonstrativeness
and insensibility. Without ever having reflected on the subject, he
felt that this was how a girl of entire refinement should behave in
a situation demanding supreme delicacy. Irene never seemed in "a
coming-on disposition," to use the phrase of a young person who had
not the advantage of English social training; it was evidently her
wish to behave, as far as possible, with the simplicity of mere
friendship. In these days, Mr. Jacks, for the first time, ceased to
question himself as to the prudence of the step he had taken.
Hitherto he had been often reminded that, socially speaking, he
might have made a better marriage; he had felt that Irene conquered
somewhat against his will, and that he wooed her without quite
meaning to do so. On the cliffs and the sands at Cromer, these
indecisions vanished. The girl had never looked to such advantage;
he had never been so often apprised of the general admiration she
excited. Beyond doubt, she would do him credit--in Arnold's view
the first qualification in a wife. She was really very intelligent,
could hold her own in any company, and with experience might become
a positively brilliant woman.
For caresses, for endearments, the time was not yet; that kind of
thing, among self-respecting people of a certain class, came only
with the honeymoon. Yet Arnold never for a moment doubted that the
girl was very fond of him. Of course it was for his sake that she
had refused Trafford Romaine--a most illuminating incident. That
she was proud of him, went without saying. He noted with
satisfaction how thoroughly she had embraced his political views,
what a charming Imperialist she had become. In short, everything
promised admirably. At moments, Arnold felt the burning of a lover's
They parted. The Derwents returned to London; Arnold set off to pay
a hasty visit or two in the North. The wedding was to take place a
couple of months hence, and the pair would spend their Christmas in
A few days after her arrival in Bryanston Square, Irene went to see
the Hannafords. She found her aunt in a deplorable state, unable to
converse, looking as if on the verge of a serious illness. Olga
behaved strangely, like one in harassing trouble of which she might
not speak. It was a painful visit, and on her return home Irene
talked of it to her father.
"Something wretched is going on of which we don't know," she
declared. "Anyone could see it. Olga is keeping some miserable
secret, and her mother looks as if she were being driven mad."
"That ruffian, I suppose," said the Doctor. "What can he be doing?"
The next day he saw his sister. He came home with a gloomy
countenance, and called Irene into his study.
"You were right. Something very bad indeed is going on, so bad that
I hardly like to speak to you about it. But secrecy is impossible;
we must use our common sense--Hannaford is bringing a suit for
Irene was so astonished that she merely gazed at her father, waiting
his explanation. Under her eyes Dr. Derwent suffered an increase of
embarrassment, which tended to relieve itself in anger.
"It will kill her," he exclaimed, with a nervous gesture. "And then,
if justice were done, that scoundrel would be hanged!"
"You mean her husband?"
"Yes. Though I'm not sure that there isn't another who deserves the
name. She wants to see you, Irene, and I think you must go at once.
She says she has things to tell you that will make her mind easier.
I'm going to send a nurse to be with her: she mustn't be left alone.
It's lucky I went to-day. I won't answer for what may happen in
four-and-twenty hours. Olga isn't much use, you know, though she's
doing what she can."
It was about one o'clock. Saying she would be able to lunch at her
aunt's house, Irene forthwith made ready, and drove to Campden Hill.
She was led into the drawing-room, and sat there, alone, for five
minutes; then Olga entered. The girls advanced to each other with a
natural gesture of distress.
"She's asleep, I'm glad to say," Olga whispered, as if still in a
sickroom. "I persuaded her to lie down. I don't think she has closed
her eyes the last two or three nights. Can you wait? Oh, do, if you
can! She does so want to see you."
"But why, dear? Of course I will wait; but why does she ask for
Olga related all that had come to pass, in her knowledge. Only by
ceaseless importunity had she constrained her mother to reveal the
cause of an anguish which could no longer be disguised. The avowal
had been made yesterday, not long before Dr. Derwent's coming to the
"I wanted to tell you, but she had forbidden me to speak to anyone.
What's the use of trying to keep such a thing secret? If uncle had
not come, I should have telegraphed for him. Of course he made her
tell him, and it has put her at rest for a little; she fell asleep
as soon as she lay down. Her dread is that we shan't believe her.
She wants, I think, only to declare to you that she has done no
"As if I could doubt her word!"
Irene tried to shape a question, but could not speak. Her cousin
also was mute for a moment. Their eyes met, and fell.
"You remember Mr. Otway's brother?" said Olga, in an unsteady voice,
and then ceased.
"He? Daniel Otway?"
Irene had turned pale; she spoke under her breath. At once there
recurred to her the unexplained incident at Malvern Station.
"I knew mother was foolish in keeping up an acquaintance with him,"
Olga answered, with some vehemence. "I detested the man, what I saw
of him. And I suspect--of course mother won't say--he has been
having money from her."
An exclamation of revolted feeling escaped Irene. She could not
speak her thoughts; they were painful almost beyond endurance. She
could not even meet her cousin's look.
"It's a hideous thing to talk about," Olga pursued, her head bent
and her hands crushing each other, "no wonder it seems to be almost
driving her mad. What do you think she did, as soon as she received
the notice? She sent for Piers Otway, and told him, and asked him to
help her. He came in the afternoon, when I was out. Think how
dreadful it must have been for her!"
"How could _he_ help her?" asked Irene, in a strangely subdued tone,
still without raising her eyes.
"By seeing his brother, she thought, and getting him, perhaps, to
persuade my father--how I hate the name!--that there were no
grounds for such an action."
"What"--Irene forced each syllable from her lips--"what are the
Olga began a reply, but the first word choked her. Her self-command
gave way, she sobbed, and turned to hide her face.
"You, too, are being tried beyond your strength," said Irene, whose
womanhood fortified itself in these moments of wretched doubt and
shame. "Come, we must have some lunch whilst aunt is asleep."
"I want to get it all over--to tell you as much as I know," said
the other. "Mother says there is not even an appearance of
wrong-doing against her--that she can only be accused by
deliberate falsehood. She hasn't told me more than that--and how
can I ask? Of course _he_ is capable of everything--of any
"You mean Daniel Otway?"
"No--her husband--I will never again call him by the other
"Do you know whether Piers Otway has seen his brother?"
"He hadn't up to yesterday, when he sent mother a note, saying that
the man was away, and couldn't be heard of."
With an angry effort Olga recovered her self-possession. Apart from
the natural shame which afflicted her, she seemed to experience more
of indignation and impatience than any other feeling. Growing
calmer, she spoke almost with bitterness of her mother's folly.
"I told her once, quite plainly, that Daniel Otway wasn't the kind
of man she ought to be friendly with. She was offended: it was one
of the reasons why we couldn't go on living together. I believe, if
the truth were known, it was worry about him that caused her
breakdown in health. She's a weak, soft-natured woman, and he--I
know very well what _he_ is. He and the other one--both Piers
Otway's brothers--have always been worthless creatures. She knew
it well enough, and yet----! I suppose their mother----"
She broke off in a tone of disgust. Irene, looking at her with more
attentiveness, waited for what she would next say.
"Of course you remember," Olga added, after a pause, "that they are
only half-brothers to Piers Otway?"
"Of course I do."
"_His_ mother must have been a very different woman. You have heard
They exchanged looks. Irene nodded, and averted her eyes, murmuring,
"Aunt explained to me, after his father's death."
"One would have supposed," said Olga, "that _they_ would turn into
the honourable men, and _he_ the scamp. Nature doesn't seem to care
much about setting us a moral lesson."
And she laughed--a short, bitter laugh. Irene, her brows knit in
painful thought, kept silence.
They were going to the dining-room, when a servant made known to
them that Mrs. Hannaford was asking for her daughter.
"Do have something to eat," said Olga, "and I'll tell her you are
here. You _shall_ have lunch first; I insist upon it, and I'll join
you in a moment."
In a quarter of an hour, Irene went up to her aunt's room. Mrs.
Hannaford was sitting in an easy chair, placed so that a pale ray of
sunshine fell upon her. She rose, feebly, only to fall back again;
her hands were held out in pitiful appeal, and tears moistened her
cheeks. Beholding this sad picture, Irene forgot the doubt that
offended her; she was all soft compassion. The suffering woman clung
about her neck, hid her face against her bosom, sobbed and moaned.
They spoke together till dusk. The confession which Mrs. Hannaford
made to her niece went further than that elicited from her either by
Olga or Dr. Derwent. In broken sentences, in words of shamefaced
incoherence, but easily understood, she revealed a passion which had
been her torturing secret, and a temptation against which she had
struggled year after year. The man was unworthy; she had long known
it; she suffered only the more. She had been imprudent, once or
twice all but reckless, never what is called guilty. Convinced of
the truth of what she heard, Irene drew a long sigh, and became
almost cheerful in her ardour of solace and encouragement. No one
had ever seen the Irene who came forth under this stress of
circumstance; no one had ever heard the voice with which she uttered
her strong heart. The world? Who cared for the world? Let it clack
and grin! They would defend the truth, and quietly wait the issue.
No more weakness Brain and conscience must now play their part.
"But if it should go against me? If I am made free of that man
"Then be free of him!" exclaimed the girl, her eyes flashing through
tears. "Be glad!"
"No--no! I am afraid of myself----"
"We will help you. When you are well again, your mind will be
stronger to resist. Not _that_--never _that_! You know it is
"I know. And there is one thing that would really make it so. I
haven't told you--another thing I had to say--why I wanted so to
Irene looked kindly into the agitated face.
"It's about Piers Otway. He came to see us here. I had formed a hope
"Yes. Oh, if that could be!"
She caught the girl's hand in her hot palms, and seemed to entreat
her for a propitious word. Irene was very still, thinking; and at
length she smiled.
"Who can say? Olga is good and clever----"
"It might have been; I know it might. But after this?"
"More likely than not," said Irene, with a half-absent look, "this
would help to bring it about."
"Dear, only your marriage could have changed him--nothing else.
Oh, I am sure, nothing else! He has the warmest and truest heart!"
Irene sat with bowed head, her lips compressed; she smiled again,
but more faintly. In the silence there sounded a soft tap at the
"I will see who it is," said Irene.
Olga stood without, holding a letter. She whispered that the
handwriting of the address (to Mrs. Hannaford) was Piers Otway's,
and that possibly this meant important news. Irene took the letter,
and re-entered the room. It was necessary to light the gas before
Mrs. Hannaford could read the sheet that trembled in her hand.
"What I feared! He can do nothing."
She held the letter to Irene, who perused it. Piers began by saying
that as result of a note he had posted yesterday, Daniel had this
morning called upon him at his office. They had had a long talk.
"He declared himself quite overcome by what had happened, and said
he had been away from town endeavouring to get at an understanding
of the so-called evidence against him. Possibly his inquiries might
effect something; as yet they were useless. He was very vague, and
did not reassure me; I could not make him answer simple questions.
There is no honesty in the man. Unfortunately I have warrant for
saying this, on other accounts. Believe me when I tell you that the
life he leads makes him unworthy of your lightest thought. He is
utterly, hopelessly ignoble. It is a hateful memory that I, who feel
for you a deep respect and affection, was the cause of your coming
to know him.
"But for the fear of embarrassing you, I should have brought this
news, instead of writing it. If you are still keeping your trouble a
secret, I beseech you to ease your mind by seeing Dr. Derwent, and
telling him everything. It is plain that your defence must at once
be put into legal hands. Your brother is a man of the world, and
much more than that; he will not, cannot, refuse to believe you, and
his practical aid will comfort you in every way. Do not try to hide
the thing even from your daughter; she is of an age to share your
suffering, and to alleviate it by her affection. Believe me, silence
is mistaken delicacy. You are innocent; you are horribly wronged;
have the courage of a just cause. See Dr. Derwent at once; I implore
you to do so, for your own sake, and for that of all your true
At the end, Irene drew a deep breath.
"He, certainly, is one of them," she said.
"Of my true friends? Indeed, he is."
Again they were interrupted. Olga announced the arrival of the nurse
sent by Dr. Derwent to tend the invalid. Thereupon Irene took leave
of her aunt, promising to come again on the morrow, and went
downstairs, where she exchanged a few words with her cousin. They
spoke of Piers Otway's letter.
"Pleasant for us, isn't it?" said Olga, with a dreary smile.
"Picture us entertaining friends who call!"
Irene embraced her gently, bade her be hopeful, and said good-bye.
At home again, she remembered that she had an engagement to dine out
this evening, but the thought was insufferable. Eustace, who was to
have accompanied her, must go alone. Having given the necessary
orders, she went to her room, meaning to sit there until dinner. But
she grew restless and impatient; when the first bell rang, she made
a hurried change of dress, and descended to the drawing-room. An
evening newspaper failed to hold her attention; with nervous
movements, she walked hither and thither. It was a great relief to
her when the door opened and her father came in.
Contrary to his custom, the Doctor had not dressed. He bore a
wearied countenance, but at the sight of Irene tried to smooth away
the lines of disgust.
"It was all I could do to get here by dinner-time. Excuse me,
Mam'zelle Wren; they're the clothes of an honest working-man."
The pet syllable (a joke upon her name as translated by Thibaut
Rossignol) had not been frequent on her father's lips for the last
year or two; be used it only in moments of gaiety or of sadness.
Irene did not wish to speak about her aunt just now, and was glad
that the announcement of dinner came almost at once. They sat
through an unusually silent meal, the few words they exchanged
having reference to public affairs. As soon as it was over, Irene
asked if she might join her father in the library.
"Yes, come and be smoked," was his answer.
This mood did not surprise her. It was the Doctor's principle to
combat anxiety with jests. He filled and lit one of his largest
pipes, and smoked for some minutes before speaking. Irene, still
nervous, let her eyes wander about the book-covered walls; a flush
was on her cheeks, and with one of her hands she grasped the other
wrist, as if to restrain herself from involuntary movement.
"The nurse came," she said at length, unable to keep silence longer.
"That's right. An excellent woman; I can trust her."
"Aunt seemed better when I came away."
Volleys of tobacco were the only sign of the stress Dr. Derwent
suffered. He loathed what seemed to him the sordid tragedy of his
sister's life, and he resented as a monstrous thing his daughter's
involvement in such an affair. This was the natural man; the
scientific observer took another side, urging that life was life and
could not be escaped, refine ourselves as we may; also that a
sensible girl of mature years would benefit rather than otherwise by
being made helpful to a woman caught in the world's snare.
"Whilst I was there," pursued Irene, "there came a letter from Mr.
Otway. No, no; not from _him_; from Mr. Piers Otway."
She gave a general idea of its contents, and praised its tone. "I
daresay," threw out her father, almost irritably, "but I shall
strongly advise her to have done with all of that name."
"It's true they are of the same family," said Irene, "but that seems
a mere accident, when one knows the difference between our friend
Mr. Otway and his brothers."
"Maybe; I shall never like the name. Pray don't speak of 'our
friend.' In any case, as you see, there must be an end of that."
"I should like you to see his letter, father. Ask aunt to show it
The Doctor smoked fiercely, his brows dark. Rarely in her lifetime
had Irene seen her father wrathful--save for his outbursts against
the evils of the world and the time. To her he had never spoken an
angry word. The lowering of his features in this moment caused her a
painful flutter at the heart; she became mute, and for a minute or
two neither spoke.
"By the bye," said Dr. Derwent suddenly, "it is a most happy thing
that your aunt's money was so strictly tied up. No one can be
advantaged by her death--except that American hospital. Her
scoundrelly acquaintances are aware of that fact no doubt."
"It's a little hard, isn't it, that Olga would have nothing?"
"In one way, yes. But I'm not sure she isn't safer so." Again there
Again Irene's eyes wandered, and her hands moved nervously.
"There is one thing we must speak of," she said at length "If the
case goes on, Arnold will of course hear of it."
Dr. Derwent looked keenly at her before replying.
"He knows already."
"He knows? How?"
"By common talk in some house he frequents. Agreeable! I saw him
this afternoon; he took me aside and spoke of this. It is his belief
that Hannaford himself has set the news going."
Irene seemed about to rise. She sat straight, every nerve tense, her
face glowing with indignation.
"What an infamy!"
"Just so. It's the kind of thing we're getting mixed up with."
"How did Arnold speak to you? In what tone?"
"As any decent man would--I can't describe it otherwise. He said
that of course it didn't concern him, except in so far as it was
likely to annoy our family. He wanted to know whether you had heard,
and--naturally enough--was vexed that you couldn't be kept out
of it. He's a man of the world, and knows that, nowadays, a scandal
such as this matters very little. Our name will come into it, I
fear, but it's all forgotten in a week or two."
They sat still and brooded for a long time. Irene seemed on the
point of speaking once or twice, but checked herself. When at length
her father's face relaxed into a smile, she rose, said she was
weary, and stepped forward to say good-night.
"We'll have no more of this subject, unless compelled," said the
Doctor. "It's worse that vivisection."
And he settled to a book--or seemed to do so.
Irene passed a restless night. The snatches of unrefreshing sleep
which she obtained as the hours dragged towards morning were crowded
with tumultuous dreams; she seemed to be at strife with all manner
of people, now defending herself vehemently against some formless
accusation, now arraigning others with a violence strange to her
nature. Worst of all, she was at odds with her father, about she
knew not what; she saw his kind face turn cold and hard in reply to
a passionate exclamation with which she had assailed him. The wan
glimmer of a misty October dawn was very welcome after this pictured
darkness. Yet it brought reflections that did not tend to soothe her
Several letters for her lay on the breakfast-table; among them, one
from Arnold Jacks, which she opened hurriedly. It proved to be a
mere note, saying that at last he had found a house which seemed in
every respect suitable, and he wished Irene to go over it with him
as soon as possible; he would call for her at three o'clock.
"Remember," he added, "you dine with us. We are by ourselves."
She glanced at her father, as if to acquaint him with this news; but
the Doctor was deep in a leading-article, and she did not disturb
him. Eustace had correspondence of his own which engrossed him. No
one seemed disposed for talk this morning.
The letter which most interested her came from Helen Borisoff, who
was now at home, in Paris. It was the kind of letter that few people
are so fortunate as to receive nowadays, covering three sheets with
gaiety and good-nature, with glimpses of interesting social life and
many an amusing detail. Mrs. Borisoff was establishing herself for
the winter, which promised all sorts of good things yonder on the
Seine. She had met most of the friends she cared about, among whom
were men and women with far-echoing names. With her husband she was
on delightful terms; he had welcomed her charmingly; he wished her
to convey his respectful homage to the young English lady with whom
his wife had become _liee_, and the hope that at no distant time he
might make her acquaintance. After breakfast, Irene lingered over
this letter, which brightened her imagination. Paris shone luringly
as she read. Had circumstances been different, she would assuredly
have spent a month there with Helen.
Well, she was going to Egypt, after--
One glance she gave at Arnold's short note. "My dear Irene"--"In
haste, but ever yours." These lines did not tempt her to muse. Yet
Arnold was ceaselessly in her mind. She wished to see him, and at
the same time feared his coming. As for the house, it occupied her
thoughts with only a flitting vagueness. Why so much solicitude
about the house? In any decent quarter of London, was not one just
as good as another? But for the risk of hurting Arnold, she would
have begged him to let her off the inspection, and to manage the
business as he thought fit.
A number of small matters claimed her attention during the morning,
several of them connected with her marriage. Try as she might, she
could not bring herself to a serious occupation with these things;
they seemed trivial and tiresome. Her thoughts wandered constantly
to the house at Campden Hill, which had a tragic fascination. She
had promised to see her aunt to-day, but it would be difficult to
find time, unless she could manage to get there between her business
with Arnold and the hour of dinner. Olga was to telegraph if
anything happened. A chill misgiving took hold upon her as often as
she saw her aunt's face, so worn and woe-stricken; and it constantly
hovered before her mind's eye.
The revelation made to her yesterday had caused a mental shock
greater than she had yet realised. That Mrs. Hannaford, a woman whom
she had for many years regarded as elderly, should be possessed and
overcome by the passion of love, was a thing so strange, so at
conflict with her fixed ideas, as to be all but incredible. In her
aunt's presence, she scarcely reflected upon it; she saw only a
woman bound to her by natural affection, who had fallen into dire
misfortune and wretchedness. Little by little the story grew upon
her understanding; the words in which it had been disclosed came
back to her, and with a new significance, a pathos hitherto unfelt.
She remembered that Olga's mother was not much more than forty years
old; that this experience began more than five years ago; that her
life had been loveless; that she was imaginative and of emotional
temper. To dwell upon these facts was not only to see one person in
a new light, but to gain a wider perception of life at large. Irene
had a sense of enfranchisement from the immature, the conventional.
She would have liked to be alone, to sit quietly and think. She
wanted to review once more, and with fuller self-consciousness, the
circumstances which were shaping her future. But there was no
leisure for such meditation; the details of life pressed upon her,
urged her onward, as with an impatient hand. This sense of
constraint became an irritation--due in part to the slight
headache, coming and going, which reminded her of her bad night.
Among the things she meant to do this morning was the writing of
several letters to so-called friends, who had addressed her in the
wonted verbiage on the subject of her engagement. Five minutes
proved the task impossible. She tore up a futile attempt at
civility, and rose from the desk with all her nerves quivering.
"How well I understand," she said to herself, "why men swear!"
At eleven o'clock, unable to endure the house, she dressed for going
out, and drove to Mrs. Hannaford's.
Olga was not at home. Before going into her aunt's room, Irene spoke
with the nurse, who had no very comforting report to make; Mrs.
Hannaford could not sleep, had not closed her eyes for some
four-and-twenty hours; Dr. Derwent had looked in this morning, and
was to return later with another medical man. The patient longed for
her niece's visit; it might do good.
She stayed about an hour, and it was the most painful hour her life
had yet known. The first sight of Mrs. Hannaford's face told her how
serious this illness was becoming; eyes unnaturally wide, lips which
had gone so thin, head constantly moving from side to side as it lay
back on the cushion of the sofa, were indications of suffering which
made Irene's heart ache. In a faint, unsteady, lamenting voice, the
poor woman talked ceaselessly; now of the wrong that was being done
her, now of her miseries in married life, now again of her present
pain. Once or twice Irene fancied her delirious, for she seemed to
speak without consciousness of a hearer. To the inquiry whether it
was in her niece's power to be of any service, she answered at first
with sorrowful negatives, but said presently that she would like to
see Piers Otway; could Irene write to him, and ask him to come?
"He shall come," was the reply.
On going down, Irene met her cousin, just returned. To her she spoke
of Mrs. Hannaford's wish.
"I promised he should be sent for. Will you do it, Olga?"
"It is already done," Olga answered. "Did she forget? One of the
things I went out for was to telegraph to him."
They gazed at each other with distressful eyes.
"Oh, what does the man deserve who has caused tills?" exclaimed
Olga, who herself began to look ill. "It's dreadful! I am afraid to
go into the room. If I had someone here to live with me!"
Irene's instinct was to offer to come, but she remembered the
difficulties. Her duties at home were obstacles sufficient. She had
to content herself with promising to call as often as possible.
Returning to Bryanston Square, she thought with annoyance of the
possibility that her father and Piers Otway might come face to face
in that house. Never till now had she taxed her father with
injustice. It seemed to her an intolerable thing that the blameless
man should be made to share in obloquy merited by his brother. And
what memory was this which awoke in her? Did not she herself once
visit upon him a fault in which he had little if any part? She
recalled that evening, long ago, at Queen's Gate, when she was
offended by the coarse behaviour of Piers Otway's second brother.
True, there was something else that moved her censure on that
occasion, but she would scarcely have noticed it save for the
foolish incident at the door. Fortune was not his friend. She
thought of the circumstances of his birth, which had so cruelly
wronged him when Jerome Otway died. Now, more likely than not, her
father would resent his coming to Mrs. Hannaford's, would see in it
something suspicious, a suggestion of base purpose.
"I can't stand that!" Irene exclaimed to herself. "If he is
calumniated, I shall defend him, come of it what may!"
At luncheon, Dr. Derwent was grave and disinclined to converse. On
learning where Irene had been, he nodded, making no remark. It was a
bad sign that his uneasiness could no longer be combated with a dry
As three o'clock drew near, Irene made no preparation for going out.
She sat in the drawing-room, unoccupied, and was found thus when
Arnold Jacks entered.
"You got my note?" he began, with a slight accent of surprise.
Irene glanced at him, and perceived that he did not wear his wonted
countenance. This she had anticipated, with an uneasiness which now
hardened in her mind to something like resentment.
"Yes. I hoped you would excuse me. I have a little headache."
"Oh, I'm sorry!"
He was perfectly suave. He looked at her with a good-natured
anxiety. Irene tried to smile.
"You won't mind if I leave all that to you? Your judgment is quite
enough. If you really like the house, take it at once. I shall be
"It's rather a responsibility, you know. Suppose we wait till
Irene's nerves could not endure an argument. She gave a strange
laugh, and exclaimed:
"Are you afraid of responsibilities? In this case, you must really
face it. Screw up your courage."
Decidedly, Arnold was not himself. He liked an engagement of banter;
it amused him to call out Irene's spirit, and to conquer in the end
by masculine force in guise of affectionate tolerance. To-day he
seemed dull, matter-of-fact, inclined to vexation; when not
speaking, he had a slightly absent air, as if ruminating an
"Of course I will do as you wish, Irene. Just let me describe the
She could have screamed with irritation.
"Arnold, I entreat you! The house is nothing to me. I mean, one will
do as well as another, if _you_ are satisfied."
"So be it. I will never touch on the subject again."
His tone was decisive. Irene knew that he would literally keep his
word. This was the side of his character which she liked, which had
always impressed her; and for the moment her nerves were soothed.
"You will forgive me?" she said gently.
"Forgive you for having a headache?--Will it prevent you from
coming to us this evening?"
"I should be grateful if you let me choose another day."
He did not stay very long. At leave-taking, he raised her hand to
his lips, and Irene felt that he did it gracefully. But when she was
alone again, his manner, so slightly yet so noticeably changed,
became the harassing subject of her thought. That the change
resulted from annoyance at the scandal in her family she could not
doubt; such a thing would be hard for Arnold to bear. When were they
to speak of it? Speak they must, if the affair went on to publicity.
And, considering the natural difficulty Arnold would find in
approaching such a subject, ought not she to take some steps of her
By evening, she saw the position in a very serious light. She asked
herself whether it did not behove her to offer to make an end of
"Your aunt has brain fever," said Dr. Derwent, in the library after
dinner. And Irene shuddered with dread.
Early next morning she accompanied her father to Mrs. Hannaford's.
The Doctor went upstairs; Irene waited in the dining-room, where she
was soon joined by Olga. The girl's face was news sufficient; her
mother grew worse--had passed a night of delirium. Two nurses were
in the house, and the medical man called every few hours. Olga
herself looked on the point of collapse; she was haggard with fear;
she trembled and wept. In spite of her deep concern and sympathy,
Irene's more courageous temper reproved this weakness, wondered at
it as unworthy of a grown woman.
"Did Mr. Otway come?" she asked, as soon as It was possible to
"Yes. He was a long time in mother's room, and just before he left
her your father came."
"No. Uncle seemed angry when I told him. He said, 'Get rid of him at
once!' I suppose he dislikes him because of his brother. It's very
Irene kept silence.
"He came down--and we talked. I am so glad to have any friend near
me! I told him how uncle felt. Of course he will not come again
"Why not? This is _your_ house, not my father's!"
"But poor mother couldn't see him now--wouldn't know him. I
promised to send him news frequently. I'm going to telegraph this
"Of course," said Irene, with emphasis. "He must understand that
_you_ have no such feeling----"
"Oh, he knows that! He knows I am grateful to him--very grateful
She broke down again, and sobbed. Irene, without speaking, put her
arms around the girl and kissed her cheek.
Dr. Derwent and his daughter met again at luncheon. Afterwards,
Irene followed into the library.
"I wish to ask you something, father. When you and Arnold spoke
about this hateful thing, did you tell him, unmistakably, that aunt
"I told him that I myself had no doubt of it."
"Did he seem--do you think that _he_ doubts?"
Irene kept silence, feeling that her impression was too vague to be
"Try," said her father, "to dismiss the matter from your thoughts.
It doesn't concern you. You will never hear an allusion to it from
Jacks. Happen what may"--his voice paused, with suggestive
emphasis--"you have nothing to do with it. It doesn't affect your
position or your future in the least."
As she withdrew, Irene was uneasily conscious of altered relations
with her father. The change had begun when she wrote to him
announcing her engagement; since, they had never conversed with the
former freedom, and the shadow now hanging over them seemed to chill
their mutual affection. For the first time, she thought with serious
disquiet of the gulf between old and new that would open at her
marriage, of all she was losing, of the duties she was about to
throw off--duties which appeared so much more real, more sacred,
than those she undertook in their place. Her father's .widowerhood
had made him dependent upon her in a higher degree than either of
them quite understood until they had to reflect upon the
consequences of parting; and Irene now perceived that she had
dismissed this consideration too lightly. She found difficulty in
explaining her action, her state of mind, her whole self. Was it
really only a few weeks ago? To her present mood, what she had
thought and done seemed a result of youth and inexperience, a
condition long outlived.
When she had sat alone for half an hour in the drawing-room, Eustace
joined her. He said their father had gone out. They talked of
indifferent things till bedtime.
In the morning, the servant who came into Irene's room gave her a
note addressed in the Doctor's hand. It contained the news that Mrs.
Hannaford had died before daybreak. Dr. Derwent himself did not
appear till about ten o'clock, when he arrived together with ills
niece. Olga had been violently hysterical; it seemed the wisest
thing to bring her to Bryanston Square; the change of surroundings
and Irene's sympathy soon restored her to calm.
At midday a messenger brought Irene a letter from Arnold Jacks.
Arnold wrote that he had just heard of her aunt's death: that he was
deeply grieved, and hastened to condole with her. He did not come in
person, thinking she would prefer to let this sad day pass over
before they met, but he would call to-morrow morning. In the
meantime, he would be grateful for a line assuring him that she was
Having read this, Irene threw it aside as if it had been a
tradesman's circular. Not thus should he have written--if write he
must instead of coming. In her state of agitation after the hours
spent with Olga, this bald note of sympathy seemed almost an insult;
to keep silence as to the real cause of Mrs. Hannaford's death was
much the same, she felt, as hinting a doubt of the poor lady's
innocence. Arnold Jacks was altogether too decorous. Would it not
have been natural for a man in his position to utter at least an
indignant word? It might have been as allusive as his fine propriety
demanded, but surely the word should have been spoken!
After some delay, she replied in a telegram, merely saying that she
was quite well.
Olga, as soon as she felt able, had sat down to write a letter. She
begged her cousin to have it posted at once.
"It's to Mr. Otway," she said, in an unsteady voice. And, when the
letter had been despatched, she added, "It will be a great blow to
him. I had a letter last night asking for news--Oh, I meant to
bring it!" she exclaimed, with a momentary return of her distracted
manner. "I left it in my room. It will be lost-destroyed!"
Irene quieted her, promising that the letter should be kept safe.
"Perhaps he will call," Olga said presently. "But no, not so soon.
He may have written again. I must have the letter if there is one.
Someone must go over to the house this evening."
Through a great part of the afternoon, she slept, and whilst she was
sleeping there arrived for her a telegram, which, Irene did not
doubt, came from Piers Otway. It proved to be so, and Olga betrayed
nervous tremors after reading the message.
"I shall have a letter in the morning," she said to her cousin,
several times; and after that she did not care to talk, but sat for
hours busy with her thoughts, which seemed not altogether sad.
At eleven o'clock next morning, Arnold Jacks was announced. Irene,
who sat with Olga in the drawing-room, had directed that her visitor
should be shown into the library, and there she received him. Arnold
stepped eagerly towards her; not smiling indeed, but with the
possibility of a smile manifest in every line of his countenance.
There could hardly have been a stronger contrast with his manner of
the day before yesterday. For this Irene had looked. Seeing
precisely what she expected, her eyes fell; she gave a careless
hand; she could not speak.
Arnold talked, talked. He said the proper things, and said them
well; to things the reverse of proper, not so much as the faintest
reference. This duty discharged, he spoke of the house he had taken;
his voice grew animated; at length the latent smile stole out
through his eyes and spread to his lips. Irene kept silence.
Respecting her natural sadness, the lover made his visit brief, and
retired with an air of grave satisfaction.
Olga knew that by her mother's death she became penniless. The
income enjoyed by Mrs. Hannaford under the will of her sister in
America was only for life by allowing a third of it to her husband,
she had made saving impossible, and, as she left no will, her
daughter could expect only such trifles as might legally fall to her
share when things were settled. To her surviving parent, the girl
was of course no more than a stranger. It surprised no one that Lee
Hannaford, informed through the lawyers of what had happened, simply
kept silence, leaving his wife's burial to the care of Dr. Derwent.
Three days of gloom went by; the funeral was over; Irene and her
cousin sat together in their mourning apparel, not simply possessed
by natural grief, but overcome with the nervous exhaustion which
results from our habits and customs in presence of death. Olga had
been miserably crying, but was now mute and still; Irene, pale, with
an expression of austere thoughtfulness, spoke of the subject they
both had in mind.
"There is no necessity to take any step at all--until you are
quite yourself again--until you really wish. This is your home; my
father would like you to stay."
"I couldn't live here after you are married," replied the other,
Irene glanced at her, hung a moment on the edge of speech, then
spoke with a self-possession which made her seem many years older
than her cousin.
"I had better tell you now, that we may understand each other. I am
not going to be married."
To Olga's voiceless astonishment she answered with a pale smile.
Grave again, and gentle as she was firm, Irene continued.
"I am going to break my engagement. It has been a mistake. To-night
I shall write a letter to Mr. Jacks, saying that I cannot marry him;
when it has been sent, I shall tell my father."
Olga had begun to tremble. Her features were disturbed with an
emotion which banished every sign of sorrow; which flushed her
cheeks and made her eyes seem hostile in their fixed stare.
"How can you do that?" she asked, in a hard voice "How is it
"It seems to me far more possible then the alternative--a life of
"But--what do you mean, Irene? When everything is settled--when
your house is taken--when everyone knows! What do you mean? Why
shall you do this?"
The words rushed forth impetuously, quivering on a note of
resentment. The flushed cheeks were turning pallid; the girl's
breast heaved with indignant passion.
"I can't fully explain it to you, Olga." The speaker's tones sounded
very soft and reasonable after that outbreak. "I am doing what many
a girl would do, I feel sure, if she could find courage--let us
say, if she saw clearly enough. It will cause confusion,
ill-feeling, possibly some unhappiness, for a few weeks, for a month
or two; then Mr. Jacks will feel grateful to me, and my father will
acknowledge I did right; and everybody else who knows anything about
it will have found some other subject of conversation."
"You are fond of somebody else?"
It was between an exclamation and an inquiry. Bending forward, Olga
awaited the reply as if her life depended upon it.
"I am fond of no one--in that sense."
Irene's look was so fearless, her countenance so tranquil in its
candour, that the agitated girl grew quieter.
"It isn't because you are _thinking_ of someone else that you can't
marry Mr. Jacks?"
"I am thinking simply of myself. I am afraid to marry him. No
thought of the kind you mean has entered my head."
"But how will it be explained to everybody?"
"By telling the truth--always the best way out of a difficulty. I
shall take all the blame on myself, as I ought."
"And you will live on here, just as usual, seeing people----?"
"No, I don't think I could do that. Most likely I shall go for a
time to Paris."
Olga's relief expressed itself in a sigh.
"In all this," continued Irene, "there's no reason why you shouldn't
stay here. Everything, you may be sure, will be settled very
quietly. My father is a reasonable man."
After a short reflection, Olga said that she could not yet make up
her mind. And therewith ended their dialogue. Each was glad to go
apart into privacy, to revolve anxious thoughts, and to seek rest.
That her father was "a reasonable man," Irene had always held a
self-evident proposition. She had never, until a few days ago,
conceived the possibility of a conflict between his ideas of right
and her own. Domestic discord was to her mind a vulgar, no less than
an unhappy, state of things. Yet, in the step she was now about to
take, could she feel any assurance that Dr. Derwent would afford her
the help of his sympathy--or even that he would refrain from
censure? Reason itself was on her side; but an otherwise reasonable
man might well find difficulty in acknowledging it, under the
The letter to Arnold Jacks was already composed; she knew it by
heart, and had but to write it out. In the course of a sleepless
night, this was done. In the early glimmer of a day of drizzle and
fog, the letter went to post.
There needed courage--yes, there needed courage--on a morning
such as this, when the skyless atmosphere weighed drearily on heart
and mind, when hope had become a far-off thing, banished for long
months from a grey, cold world, to go through with the task which
Irene had set herself. Could she but have slept, it might have been
easier for her; she had to front it with an aching head, with eyes
that dazzled, with blood fevered into cowardice.
Dr. Derwent was plainly in no mood for conversation. His voice had
been seldom heard during the past week. At the breakfast-table he
read his letters, glanced over the paper, exchanged a few sentences
with Eustace, said a kind word to Olga; when he rose, one saw that
he hoped for a quiet morning in his laboratory.
"Could I see you for half an hour before lunch, father?"
He looked into the speaker's face, surprised at something unusual in
her tone, and nodded without smiling.
"When you like."
She stood at the window of the drawing-room, looking over the
enclosure in the square, the dreary so-called garden, with its gaunt
leafless trees that dripped and oozed. Opposite was the long facade
of characterless houses, like to that in which she lived; the steps,
the door-columns, the tall narrow windows; above them, murky vapour.
She moved towards the door, hesitated, looked about her with
unconsciously appealing eyes. She moved forward again, and on to her
"Well?" said the Doctor, who stood before a table covered with
scientific apparatus. "Is it about Olga?"
"No, dear father. It's about Irene."
He smiled; his face softened to tenderness.
"And what about Mam'zelle Wren? It's hard on Wren, all this worry at
such a time."
"If it didn't sound so selfish, I should say it had all happened for
my good. I suppose we can't help seeing the world from our own
little point of view."
"What follows on this philosophy?"
"Something you won't like to hear, I know; but I beg you to be
patient with me. When were you not? I never had such need of your
patience and forbearance as now--Father, I cannot marry Arnold
Jacks. And I have told him that I can't."
The Doctor very quietly laid down a microscopic slide. His forehead
grew wrinkled; his lips came sharply together; he gazed for a moment
at an open volume on a high desk at his side, then said composedly:
"This is your affair, Irene. All I can do is to advise you to be
sure of your own mind."
"I _am_ sure of it--very sure of it!"
Her voice trembled a little; her hand, resting upon the table, much
"You say you have told Jacks?"
"I posted a letter to him this morning."
"With the first announcement of your change of mind?--How do you
suppose he will reply?"
"I can't feel sure."
There was silence. The Doctor took up a piece of paper, and began
folding and re-folding it, the while he meditated.
"You know, of course," he said at length, "what the world thinks of
this sort of behaviour?"
"I know what the world is likely to _say_ about it. Unfortunately,
the world seldom thinks at all."
"Granted. And we may also assume that no explanation offered by you
or Jacks will affect the natural course of gossip. Still, you would
wish to justify yourself in the eyes of your friends."
"What I wish before all, of course, is to save Mr. Jacks from any
risk of blame. It must be understood that I, and I alone, am
responsible for what happens."
"Stick to your philosophy," said her father. "Recognise the fact
that you cannot save him from gossip and scandal--that people will
credit as much or as little as they like of any explanation put
forth. Moreover, bear in mind that this action of yours is defined
by a vulgar word, which commonly injures the man more than the
woman. In the world's view, it is worse to be made ridiculous than
to act cruelly."
A look of pain passed over the girl's face.
"Father I am not acting cruelly. It is the best thing I can do, for
him as well as for myself. On his side, no deep feeling is involved,
and as for his vanity--I can't consider that."
"You have come to the conclusion that he is not sufficiently devoted
"I couldn't have put it in those words, but that is half the truth.
The other half is, that I was altogether mistaken in my own feelings
--Father, you are accustomed to deal with life and death. Do you
think that fear of gossip, and desire to spare Mr. Jacks a brief
mortification, should compel me to surrender all that makes life
worth living, and to commit a sin for which there is no
Her voice, thoroughly under control, its natural music subdued
rather than emphasised, lent to these words a deeper meaning than
they would have conveyed if uttered with vehemence. They woke in her
father's mind a memory of long years ago, recalled the sound of
another voice which had the same modulations.
"I find no fault with you," he said gravely. "That you can do such a
thing as this proves to me how strongly you feel about it. Hut it is
a serious decision--more serious, perhaps, than you realise.
Things have gone so far. The mere inconvenience caused will be very
"I know it. I have felt tempted to yield to that thought--to let
things slide, as they say. Convenience, I feel sure, is a greater
power on the whole than religion or morals or the heart. It doesn't
weigh with me, because I have had such a revelation of myself as
blinds me to everything else. I _dare_ not go on!"
"Don't think I claim any authority over you," said the Doctor. "At
your age, my only right as your father is in my affection, my desire
for your welfare, Can you tell me more plainly how this change has
Irene reflected. She had seated herself, and felt more confidence
now that, by bending her head, she could escape her father's gaze.
"I can tell you one of the things that brought me to a resolve," she
said. "I found that Mr. Jacks was disturbed by the fear of a public
scandal which would touch our name; so much disturbed that, on
meeting me after aunt's death, he could hardly conceal his gladness
that she was out of the way."
"Are you sure you read him aright?"
"It was natural--in Arnold Jacks."
"It was. I had not understood that before."
"His relief may have been as much on your account as his own."
"I can't feel that," replied Irene. "If it were true, he could have
made me feel it. There would have been something--if only a word
--in the letter he wrote me about the death. I didn't expect him to
talk to me about the hateful things that were going on; I _did_ hope
that he would give me some assurance of his indifference to their
effect on people's minds. Yet no; that is not quite true. Even then,
I had got past hoping it. Already I understood him too well."
"Strange! All this new light came after your engagement?"
Irene bent her head again, for her cheeks were warm. In a flash of
intellect, she wondered that a man so deep in the science of life
should be so at a loss before elementary facts of emotional
experience. She could only answer by saying nothing.
Dr. Derwent murmured his next words.
"I, too, have a share in the blame of all this."
"I knew the man better than you did or could. I shirked a difficult
duty. But one reason why I did so, was that I felt in doubt as to
your mind. The fact that you were my daughter did not alter the fact
that you were a woman, and I could not have any assurance that I
understood you. If there had been a question of his life, his
intellectual powers, his views--I would have said freely just what
I thought. But there was no need; no objection rose on that score;
you saw the man, from that point of view, much as I did--only with
a little more sympathy. In other respects, I trusted to what we call
women's instinct, women's perceptiveness. To me, he did not seem
your natural mate; but then I saw with man's eyes; I was afraid of
"Don't reproach yourself, father. The knowledge I have gained could
only have come to me in one way."
"Of course he will turn to me, in appeal against you."
"If so, it will be one more proof how rightly I am acting."
The Doctor smiled, all but laughed.
"Considering how very decent a fellow he is, your mood seems severe,
Irene. Well, you have made up your mind. It's an affair of no small
gravity, and we must get through it as best we can. I have no doubt
whatever it's worse for you than for anyone else concerned."
"It is so bad for me, father, that, when I have gone through it, I
shall be at the end of my strength. I shall run away from the after
"What do you mean?"
"I shall accept Mrs. Horisoff's invitation and go to Paris. It is
deserting you, but----"
Dr. Derwent wore a doubtful look; he pondered, and began to pace the
"We must think about that."
Though her own mind was quite made up, Irene did not see fit to say
more at this juncture. She rose. Her father continued moving hither
and thither, his hands behind his back, seemingly oblivious of her
presence. To him, the trouble seemed only just beginning, and he was
not at all sure what the end would be.
"Jacks will come this evening, I suppose?" he threw out, as Irene
approached the door.
"Perhaps this afternoon."
He looked at her with sympathy, with apprehension. Irene
endeavouring to smile in reply, passed from his view.
Olga had gone out, merely saying that she wished to see a friend,
and that she might not be back to luncheon. She did not return.
Father and daughter were alone together at the meal. Contrary to
Irene's expectation, the Doctor had become almost cheerful; he made
one or two quiet jokes in the old way, of course on any subject but
that which filled their minds, and his behaviour was marked with an
unusual gentleness. Irene was so moved by grateful feeling, that now
and then she could not trust her voice.
"Let me remind you," he said, observing her lack of appetite, "that
an ill-nourished brain can't be depended upon for sanity of
"It aches a little," she replied quietly.
"I was afraid so. What if you rest to-day, and let me postpone for
you that interview----?"
The suggestion was dreadful; she put it quickly aside. She hoped
with all her strength that Arnold Jacks would have received the
letter already, and that he would come to see her this afternoon. To
pass another night with her suspense would be a strain scarce
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