The Crown of Life
Part 7 out of 8
Piers Otway had come out. Olga could not have recognised him at this
distance, but she knew the Italian's eyes would not be deceived.
Instantly she took to flight, along a cross-street leading eastward.
Florio kept at her side, and neither spoke until breathlessness
stopped her as she entered Fitzroy Square.
"You are safe," said her pursuer, or companion. "He is gone the
other way. Ah! you are pale! You are suffering! Why did you run--
run--run? There was no need."
His voice had turned soothing, caressing; his eyes melted in
compassion as they bent upon her.
"I have given you no right to hunt me like this," said Olga,
panting, timid, her look raised for a moment to his.
"I take the right," he laughed musically. "It is the right of the
man who loves you."
She cast a frightened glance about the square, which was almost
deserted, and began to walk slowly on.
"Why was the door shut with the key?" asked Florio, his head near to
hers. "I thought I would break it open And I wish I had done so," he
added, suddenly fierce again.
"I have given you no right," stammered Olga, who seemed to suffer
under a sort of fascination, which dulled her mind.
"I take it!--Has _he_ a right? Tell me that! You are not good to
me; you are not honest to me; you deceive--deceive! Why was the
door shut with the key? I am astonished! I did not think this was
done in England--a lady--a young lady!"
"Oh, what do you mean?" Olga exclaimed, with a face of misery.
"There was no harm. It wasn't _I_ who wished it to be locked!"
Florio gazed at her long and searchingly, till the blood burned in
"Enough!" he said with decision, waving his arm. "I have learnt
something. One always learns something new in England. The English
are wonderful--yes, they are wonderful. _Basta_! and _addio_!"
He raised his hat, turned, moved away. As if drawn irresistibly,
Olga followed. Head down, arms hanging in the limpness of shame, she
followed, but without drawing nearer. At the corner of the square,
Florio, as if accidentally, turned his head; in an instant, he stood
"Then you do not wish good-bye?"
"You are very cruel! How can I let you think such things? You _know_
"But there must be explanation!"
"I can easily explain. But not here--one can't talk in the street
"Naturally!--Listen! It is twelve o'clock. You go home; you eat:
you repose. At three o'clock, I pay you a visit. Why not? You said
it yourself the other day, but I could not decide. Now I have
decided. I pay you a visit; you receive me privately--can you not?
We talk, and all is settled!"
Olga thought for a moment, and assented. A few minutes afterwards,
she was roiling in a cab towards Bryanston Square.
On Monday evening, Piers received a note from Olga. It ran thus:
"I warned you not to trust me. It is all over now; I have, in your
own words, 'put an end to it.' We could have given no happiness to
each other. Miss Bonnicastle will explain. Good-bye!"
He went at once to Great Portland Street. Miss Bonnicastle knew
nothing, but looked anxious when she had seen the note and heard its
"We must wait till the morning," she said. "Don't worry. It's just
what one might have expected."
Don't worry! Piers had no wink of sleep that night. At post-time in
the morning he was at Miss Bonnicastle's, but no news arrived. He
went to business; the day passed without news; he returned to Great
Portland Street, and there waited for the last postal delivery. It
brought the expected letter; Olga announced her marriage that
morning to Mr. Florio.
"It's better than I feared," said Miss Bonnicastle. "Now go home to
bed, and sleep like a philosopher."
Good advice, but not of much profit to one racked and distraught
with amorous frenzy, with disappointment sharp as death. Through the
warm spring night, Piers raved and agonised. The business hour found
him lying upon his bed, sunk in dreamless sleep.
Again it was springtime--the spring of 1894. Two years had gone by
since that April night when Piers Otway suffered things unspeakable
in flesh and spirit, thinking that for him the heavens had no more
radiance, life no morrow. The memory was faint; he found it hard to
imagine that the loss of a woman he did not love could so have
afflicted him. Olga Hannaford--Mrs. Florio--was matter for a
smile; he hoped that he might some day meet her again, and take her
hand with the old friendliness, and wish her well.
He had spent the winter in St. Petersburg, and was making
arrangements for a visit to England, when one morning there came to
him a letter which made his eyes sparkle and his heart beat high
with joy. In the afternoon, having given more than wonted care to
his dress, he set forth from the lodging he occupied at the lower
end of the Nevski Prospect, and walked to the Hotel de France, near
the Winter Palace, where he inquired for Mrs. Borisoff. After a
little delay, he was conducted to a private sitting-room, where
again he waited. On a table lay two periodicals, at which he
glanced, recognising with a smile recent numbers of the _Nineteenth
Century_ and the _Vyestnik Evropy_.
There entered a lady with a bright English face, a lady in the years
between youth and middle age, frank, gracious, her look of interest
speaking a compliment which Otway found more than agreeable.
"I have kept you waiting," she said, in a tone that dispensed with
formalities, "because I was on the point of going out when they
brought your card----"
"Oh, I am sorry----"
"But I am not. Instead of twaddle and boredom round somebody or
other's samovar, I am going to have honest talk under the
chaperonage of an English teapott--my own teapot, which I carry
everywhere. But don't be afraid; I shall not give you English tea.
What a shame that I have been here for two months without our
meeting! I have talked about you--wanted to know you. Look!"
She pointed to the periodicals which Piers had already noticed.
"No," she went on, checking him as he was about to sit down, "_that_
is your chair. If you sat on the other, you would be polite and
grave and--like everybody else; I know the influence of chairs.
That is the chair my husband selects when he wishes to make me
understand some point of etiquette. Miss Derwent warned you, no
doubt, of my shortcomings in etiquette?"
"All she said to me," replied Piers, laughing, "was that you are
very much her friend."
"Well, that is true, I hope. Tell me, please; is the article in the
_Vyestnik_ your own Russian?"
"Not entirely. I have a friend named Korolevitch, who went through
it for me."
"Korolevitch? I seem to know that name. Is he, by chance, connected
with some religious movement, some heresy?"
"I was going to say I am sorry he is; yet I can't be sorry for what
honours the man. He has joined the Dukhobortsi; has sold his large
estate, and is devoting all the money to their cause. I'm afraid
he'll go to some new-world colony, and I shall see little of him
henceforth. A great loss to me."
Mrs. Borisoff kept her eyes upon him as he spoke, seeming to reflect
rather than to listen.
"I ought to tell you," she said, "that I don't know Russian. Irene
--Miss Derwent almost shamed me into working at it; but I am so
lazy--ah, so lazy! you are aware, of course, that Miss Derwent has
"Has learnt Russian?" exclaimed Piers. "I didn't know--I had no
"Wonderful girl! I suppose she thinks it a trifle."
"It's so long," said Otway, "since I had any news of Miss Derwent. I
can hardly consider myself one of her friends--at least, I
shouldn't have ventured to do so until this morning, when I was
surprised and delighted to have a letter from her about that
_Nineteenth Century_ article, sent through the publishers. She spoke
of you, and asked me to call--saying she had written an
introduction of me by the same post."
Mrs. Borisoff smiled oddly.
"Oh yes; it came. She didn't speak of the _Vyestnik_?"
"Yet she has read it--I happen to know. I'm sorry I can't. Tell me
about it, will you?"
The Russian article was called "New Womanhood in England." It began
with a good-tempered notice of certain novels then popular, and
passed on to speculations regarding the new ideals of life set
before English women. Piers spoke of it as a mere bit of apprentice
work, meant rather to amuse than as a serious essay.
"At all events, it's a success," said his listener. "One hears of it
in every drawing-room. Wonderful thing--you don't sneer at women.
I'm told you are almost on our side--if not quite. I've heard a
passage read into French--the woman of the twentieth century. I
rather liked it."
"Not altogether?" said Otway, with humorous diffidence.
"Oh! A woman never quite likes an ideal of womanhood which doesn't
quite fit her notion of herself. But let us speak of the other
thing, in the _Nineteenth Century_--'The Pilgrimage to Kief.' For
life, colour, sympathy, I think it altogether wonderful. I have
heard Russians say that they couldn't have believed a foreigner had
"That's the best praise of all."
"You mean to go on with this kind of thing? You might become a sort
of interpreter of the two nations to each other. An original idea.
The everyday thing is to exasperate Briton against Russ, and Russ
against Briton, with every sort of cheap joke and stale falsehood.
All the same Mr. Otway, I'm bound to confess to you that I don't
"No more do I," returned Piers, in an undertone. "But that only
means, I don't like the worst features of the Middle ages. The
Russian-speaking cosmopolitan whom you and I know isn't Russia; he
belongs to the Western Europe of to-day, his country represents
Western Europe of some centuries ago. Not strictly that, of course;
we must allow for race; but it's how one has to think of Russia."
Again Mrs. Borisoff scrutinised him as he spoke, averting her eyes
at length with an absent smile.
"Here comes my tutelary teapot," she said, as a pretty maid-servant
entered with a tray. "A phrase I got from Irene, by the bye--from
Miss Derwent, who laughs at my carrying the thing about in my
luggage. She has clever little phrases of that sort, as you know."
"Yes," fell from Piers, dreamily. "But it's so long since I heard
When he had received his cup of tea, and sipped from it, he asked
with a serious look:
"Will you tell me about her?"
"Of course I will. But you must first tell me about yourself. You
were in business in London, I believe?"
"For about a year. Then I found myself with enough to live upon, and
came back to Russia. I had lived at Odessa----"
"You may presuppose a knowledge of what came before," interrupted
Mrs. Borisoff, with a friendly nod.
"I lived for several months with Korolevitch, on his estate near
Poltava. We used to talk--heavens! how we talked! Sometimes eight
hours at a stretch. I learnt a great deal. Then I wandered up and
down Russia, still learning."
"The time hadn't come for writing. Korolevitch gave me no end of
useful introductions. I've had great luck on my travels."
"Pray, when did you make your studies of English women?"
Piers tried to laugh; declared he did not know.
"I shouldn't wonder if you generalise from one or two?" said his
hostess, letting her eyelids droop as she observed him lazily. "Do
you know Russian women as well?"
By begging for another cup of tea, and adding a remark on some other
subject, Piers evaded this question.
"And what are you going to do?" asked Mrs. Borisoff "Stay here, and
write more articles?"
"I'm going to England in a few days for the summer."
"That's what I think I shall do. But I don't know what part to go
to. Advise me, can you? Seaside--no; I don't like the seaside. Do
you notice how people--our kind of people, I mean--are losing
their taste for it in England? It's partly, I suppose, because of
the excursion train. One doesn't grudge the crowd its excursion
train, but it's so much nicer to imagine their blessedness than to
see it. Or are you for the other point of view?"
Otway gave an expressive look.
"That's right. Oh, the sham philanthropic talk that goes on in
England! How it relieves one to say flatly that one does _not_ love
the multitude!--No seaside, then. Lakes--no; Wales--no;
Highlands--no. Isn't there some part of England one would like if
one discovered it?"
"Do you want solitude?" asked Piers, becoming more interested.
"Solitude? H'm!" She handed a box of cigarettes, and herself took
one. "Yes, solitude. I shall try to get Miss Derwent to come for a
time. New Forest--no, Please, please, do suggest! I'm nervous;
your silence teases me."
"Do you know the Yorkshire dales?" asked Otway, watching her as she
watched a nice little ring of white smoke from the end of her
"No! That's an idea. It's your own country, isn't it?"
"But--how do you know that?"
"I wasn't born there, but lived there as a child, and later a
little. You might do worse than the dales, if you like that kind of
country. Wensleydale, for instance. There's an old Castle, and a
very interesting one, part of it habitable, where you can get
"A Castle? Superb!"
"Where Queen Mary was imprisoned for a time, till she made an escape
"Magnificent! Can I have the whole Castle to myself?"
"The furnished part of it, unless someone else has got it already
for this summer. There's a family, the caretakers, always in
possession--if things are still as they used to be."
"Write for me at once, will you? Write immediately! There is paper
on the desk."
Piers obeyed. Whilst he sat penning the letter, Mrs. Borisoff
lighted a second cigarette, her face touched with a roguish smile.
She studied Otway's profile for a moment; became grave; fell into a
mood of abstraction, which shadowed her features with weariness and
melancholy. Turning suddenly to put a question, Piers saw the change
in her look, and was so surprised that he forgot what he was going
"Finished?" she asked, moving nervously in her chair.
When the letter was written, Mrs. Borisoff resumed talk in the same
tone as before.
"You have heard of Dr. Derwent's discoveries about diphtheria?--
That's the kind of thing one envies, don't you think? After all,
what can we poor creatures do in this world, but try to ease each
other's pain? The man who succeeds in _that_ is the man I honour."
"I too," said Piers. "But he is lost sight of, nowadays, in
comparison with the man who invents a new gun or a new bullet."
"Yes--the beasts!" exclaimed Mrs. Borisoff, with a laugh. "What a
world! I'm always glad I have no children. But you wanted to speak,
not about Dr. Derwent, but Dr. Derwent's daughter."
Piers bent forward, resting his chin on his hand.
"Tell me about her--will you?"
"There's not much to tell. You knew about the broken-off marriage?"
"I knew it _was_ broken off."
"Why, that's all anyone knows, except the two persons concerned. It
isn't our business. The world talks far too much about such things
--don't you think? when we are civilised, there'll be no such
things as public weddings, and talk about anyone's domestic concerns
will be the grossest impertinence. That's an _obiter dictum_. I was
going to say that Irene lives with her father down in Kent. They
left Bryanston Square half a year after the affair. They wander
about the Continent together, now and then. I like that chumming of
father and daughter; it speaks well for both."
"When did you see her last?"
"About Christmas. We went to a concert together. That's one of the
things Irene is going in for--music. When I first knew her, she
didn't seem to care much about it, though she played fairly well."
"I never heard her play," fell from Piers in an undertone.
"No; she only did to please her father now and then. It's a mental
and moral advance, her new love of music. I notice that she talks
much less about science, much more about the things one really likes
--I speak for myself. Well, it's just possible I have had a little
influence there. I confess my inability to chat about either physic
or physics. It's weak, of course, but I have no place in your new
world of women."
"You mistake, I think," said Piers. "That ideal has nothing to do
with any particular study. It supposes intelligence, that's all."
"So much the better. You must write about it in English; then we'll
debate. By the bye, if I go to your Castle, you must come down to
show me the country."
"I should like to."
"Oh, that's part of the plan. If we don't get the Castle, you must
find some other place for me. I leave it in your hands--with an
apology for my impudence."
After a pause, during which each of them mused smiling, they began
to talk of their departure for England. Otway would go direct in a
few days' time; Mrs. Borisoff had to travel a long way round, first
of all accompanying her husband to the Crimea, on a visit to
relatives. She mentioned her London hotel, and an approximate date
when she might be heard of there.
"Get the Castle if you possibly can," were her words as they parted.
"I have set my heart on the Castle."
"So have I," said Piers, avoiding her look.
And Mrs. Borisoff laughed.
Once in the two years' interval he had paid a short visit to
England. He came on disagreeable business--to see his brother
Daniel, who had fallen into the hands of the police on an infamous
charge, and only by the exertions of clever counsel (feed by Piers)
received the benefit of a doubt and escaped punishment. Daniel had
already written him several begging letters, and, when detected in
what looked like crime, declared that poverty and ill-health were
his excuse. He was a broken man. Surmising his hidden life, Piers
wondered at the pass a man can be brought to, in our society, by his
primitive instincts; instincts which may lead, when they are
impetuous, either to grimiest degradation or loftiest attainment. To
save him, if possible, from the worst extremities, Piers granted him
a certain small income, to be paid weekly, and therewith bade him
The firm of Moncharmont & Co. grew in moderate prosperity. Its
London representative was a far better man, from the commercial
point of view, than Piers Otway, and on visiting the new offices--
which he did very soon after reaching London, in the spring of 1894
--Piers marvelled how the enterprise had escaped shipwreck during
those twelve months which were so black in his memory with storm and
stress. The worst twelve month of his life!--with the possible
exception of that which he spent part at Ewell, part at Odessa.
Since, he had sailed in no smooth water; had seen no haven. But at
least he sailed onward, which gave him courage. Was courage to be
now illumined with hope? He tried to keep that thought away from
him; he durst not foster it. Among the papers he brought with him to
England was a letter, which, having laid it aside, he never dared to
open again. He knew it by heart--unfortunately for his peace.
He returned to another London than that he had known, a London which
smiled welcome. It was his duty, no less than his pleasure, to call
upon certain people for whom he had letters of introduction from
friends in Russia, and their doors opened wide to him. Upon
formalities followed kindness; the season was beginning, and at his
modest lodgings arrived cards, notes, bidding to ceremonies greater
and less; one or two of these summonses bore names which might have
stirred envy in the sons of fashion.
_Solus feci_! He allowed himself a little pride. His doing, it was
true, had as yet been nothing much to the eye of the world; but he
had made friends under circumstances not very favourable, friends
among the intelligent and the powerful. That gift, it seemed, was
his, if no other--the ability to make himself liked, respected.
He, by law the son of nobody, had begun to approve himself true son
of the father he loved and honoured.
His habits were vigorous. Rising very early, he walked across the
Park, and had a swim in the Serpentine. The hours of the solid day
he spent, for the most part, in study at the British Museum. Then,
if he had no engagement, he generally got by train well out of town,
and walked in sweet air until nightfall; or, if weather were bad, he
granted himself the luxury of horse-hire, and rode--rode, teeth
set against wind and rain. This earned him sleep--his daily prayer
to the gods.
At the date appointed, he went in search of Mrs. Borisoff, who
welcomed him cordially. Her first inquiry was whether he had got the
"I have got it," Piers replied, and entered into particulars. They
talked about it like children anticipating a holiday. Mrs. Borisoff
then questioned him about his doings since he had been in England.
On his mentioning a certain great lady, a Russian, with whom he was
to dine next week, his friend replied with a laugh, which she
refused to explain.
"When can you spend an evening here? I don't mean a dinner. I'll
give you something to eat, but it doesn't count; you come to talk,
as I know you can, though you didn't let me suspect it at
Petersburg. I shall have one or two others, old chums, not
respectable people. Name your own day."
When the evening came, Piers entered Mrs. Borisoff's drawing-room
with trepidation. He glanced at the guest who had already arrived--
a lady unknown to him. When again the door opened, he looked,
trembling. His fearful hope ended only in a headache, but he talked,
as was expected of him, and the hostess smiled approval.
"These friends of yours," he said aside to her, before leaving, "are
nice people to know. But----"
And he broke off, meeting her eyes.
"I don't understand," said his hostess, with a perplexed look.
"Then I daren't try to make you."
A few days after, at the great house of the great Russian lady, he
ascended the stairs without a tremor, glanced round the room with
indifference. No one would be there whom he could not face calmly.
Brilliant women awed him a little at first, but it was not till
afterwards, in the broken night following such occasions as this,
that they had power over his imagination; then he saw them, drawn
upon darkness, their beauty without that halo of worldly grandeur
which would not allow him to forget the gulf between them. The
hostess herself shone by quality of intellect rather than by charm
of feature; she greeted him with subtlest flattery, a word or two of
simple friendliness in her own language, and was presenting him to
her husband, when, from the doorway, sounded a name which made
Otway's heart leap, and left him tongue-tied.
"Mrs. Borisoff and Miss Derwent."
He turned, but with eyes downcast: for a moment he durst not raise
them. He moved, insensibly, a few steps backward, shadowed himself
behind two men who were conversing together. And at length he
With thrill of marvelling and rapture, with chill of self-abasement.
When, years ago, he saw Irene in the dress of ceremony, she seemed
to him peerlessly radiant; but it was the beauty and the dignity of
one still girlish. What he now beheld was the exquisite fulfilment
of that bright promise. He had not erred in worship; she who had
ever been to him the light of life, the beacon of his passionate
soul, shone before him supreme among women. What head so noble in
its unconscious royalty! What form so faultless in its mould and
bearing! He heard her speak--the graceful nothings of introduction
and recognition; it was Irene's voice toned to a fuller music. Then
her face dazzled, grew distant; he turned away to command himself.
Mrs. Borisoff spoke beside him.
"Have you no good-evening for me?"
"So this is what you meant?"
"You have a way of speaking in riddles."
"And you--a way of acting divinely. Tell me," his voice sank, and
his words were hurried. "May I go up to her as any acquaintance
would? May I presume that she knows me?"
"You mean Miss Derwent? But--why not? I don't understand you."
"No--I forget--it seems to you absurd. Of course--she wrote
and introduced me to you----"
"You are amusing--which is more than can be said of everyone."
She bent her head and turned to speak with someone else. Piers, with
what courage he knew not, stepped across the carpet to where Miss
Derwent was sitting. She saw his approach, and held her hand to him
as if they had met only the other day. That her complexion was a
little warmer than its wont, Piers had no power of perceiving; he
saw only her eyes, soft-shining as they rose to his, in their depths
an infinite gentleness.
"How glad lam that you got my letter just before leaving
"How kind of you to introduce me to Mrs. Borisoff!"
"I thought you would soon be friends."
It was all they could say. At this moment, the host murmured his
request that Otway would take down Mrs. Borisoff; the hostess led up
someone to be introduced to Miss Derwent. Then the procession began.
Piers was both disappointed and relieved. To have felt the touch
upon his arm of Irene's hand would have been a delight unutterable,
yet to desire it was presumption. He was not worthy of that
companionship; it would have been unjust to Irene to oblige her to
sit by him through the dinner, with the inevitable thoughts rising
in her mind. Better to see her from a distance--though it was hard
when she smiled at the distinguished and clever-looking man who
talked, talked. It cost him, at first, no small effort to pay
becoming attention to Mrs. Borisoff; the lady on his other hand, a
brilliant beauty, moved him to a feeling almost hostile--he knew
not why. But as the dinner progressed, as the kindly vintage circled
in his blood, he felt the stirrings of a deep joy. By his own effort
he had won reception into Irene's world. It was something; it was
much--remembering all that had gone before.
He spoke softly to his partner.
"I am going to drink a silent health--that of my friend
Korolevitch. To him I owe everything."
"I don't believe _that_, but I will drink it too--I was speaking
of him to Miss Derwent. She wants to know all about the Dukhobortsi.
Instruct her, afterwards, if you get a chance. Do you think her
"By the bye, how long is it really since you first knew her?"
"Eight years--just eight years."
"You speak as if it were eighty."
"Why, so it seems, when I look back. I was a boy, and had the
strangest notions of the world."
"You shall tell me all about that some day," said Mrs. Borisoff,
glancing at him. "At the Castle, perhaps----"
"Oh yes! At the Castle!"
When the company divided, and Piers had watched Irene pass out of
sight, he sat down with a tired indifference. But his host drew him
Into conversation on Russian subjects, and, as had happened before
now in gatherings of this kind, Otway presently found himself amid
attentive listeners, whilst he talked of things that interested him.
At such moments he had an irreflective courage, which prompted him
to utter what he thought without regard to anything but the common
civilities of life. His opinions might excite surprise; but they did
not give offence; for they seemed impersonal, the natural outcome of
honest and capable observation, with never a touch of national
prejudice or individual conceit. It was well, perhaps, for the young
man's natural modesty, that he did not hear certain remarks
afterwards exchanged between the more intelligent of his hearers.
When they passed to the drawing-room, the piano was sounding there.
It stopped; the player rose, and moved away, but not before Piers
had seen that it was Irene. He felt robbed of a delight. Oh, to hear
Better was in store for him. With a boldness natural to the hour, he
drew nearer, nearer, watching his opportunity. The chair by Irene's
side became vacant; he stepped forward, and was met with a frank
countenance, which invited him to take the coveted place. Miss
Derwent spoke at once of her interest in the Russian sectaries with
whom--she had heard--Otway was well acquainted, the people
called Dukhobortsi, who held the carrying of arms a sin, and
suffered persecution because of their conscientious refusal to
perform military service. Piers spoke with enthusiasm of these
"They uphold the ideal above all necessary to our time. We ought to
be rapidly outgrowing warfare; isn't that the obvious next step in
civilisation? It seems a commonplace that everyone should look to
that end, and strive for it. Yet we're going back--there's a
military reaction--fighting is glorified by everyone who has a
loud voice, and in no country more than in England. I wish you could
hear a Russian friend of mine speak about it, a rich man who has
just given up everything to join the Dukhobortsi. I never knew
before what religious passion meant. And it seems to me that this is
the world's only hope--peace made a religion. The forms don't
matter; only let the supreme end be peace. It is what people have
talked so much about--the religion of the future."
His tones moved the listener, as appeared in her look and attitude.
"Surely all the best in every country lean to it," she said.
"Of course! That's our hope--but at the same time the pitiful
thing; for the best hold back, keep silence, as if their quiet
contempt could prevail against this activity of the reckless and the
"One can't _make_ a religion," said Irene sadly. "It is just this
religious spirit which has decayed throughout our world.
Christianity turns to ritualism. And science--we were told you
know, that science would be religion enough."
"There's the pity--the failure of science as a civilising force. I
know," added Piers quickly, "that there are men whose spirit, whose
work, doesn't share in that failure; they are the men--the very
few--who are above self-interest. But science on the whole, has
come to mean money-making and weapon-making. It leads the
international struggle; it is judged by its value to the capitalist
and the soldier."
"Isn't this perhaps a stage of evolution that the world must live
through--to its extreme results?"
"Very likely. The signs are bad enough."
"You haven't yourself that enthusiastic hope?"
"I try to hope," said Piers, in a low, unsteady voice, his eyes
falling timidly before her glance. "But what you said is so true--
one can't create the spirit of religion. If one hasn't it----" He
broke off, and added with a smile, "I think I have a certain amount
of enthusiasm. But when one has seen a good deal of the world, it's
so very easy to feel discouraged. Think how much sheer barbarism
there is around us, from the brutal savage of the gutter to the
cunning savage of the Stock Exchange!"
Irene had a gleam in her eyes; she nodded appreciation.
"If," he went on vigorously, "if one could make the multitude really
understand--understand to the point of action--how enormously
its interest is peace!"
"More hope that way, I'm afraid," said Irene, "than through
"Yes, yes. If it comes at all, it'll be by the way of self-interest.
And really it looks as if the military tyrants might overreach
themselves here and there. Italy, for instance. Think of Italy,
crushed and cursed by a blood-tax that the people themselves see to
be futile. One enters into the spirit of the men who freed Italy
from foreigners--it was glorious; but how much more glorious to
excite a rebellion there against her own rulers! Shouldn't you enjoy
At times, there is no subtler compliment to a woman than to address
her as if she were a man. It must be done involuntarily, as was the
case with this utterance of Otway's. Irene rewarded him with a look
such as he had never had from her, the look of rejoicing
"Indeed I should! Italy is becoming a misery to those who love her.
Is no plot going on? Couldn't one start a conspiracy against that
"There's an arch-plotter at work. His name is Hunger. Let us be glad
that Italy can't enrich herself by manufactures. Who knows? The
revolution against militarism may begin there, as that against
feudalism did in France. Talk of enthusiasm! How should we feel if
we read in the paper some morning that the Italian people had formed
into an army of peace--refusing to pay another centesimo for
"The next boat for Calais! The next train for Rome!" Their eyes met,
interchanging gleams of laughter.
"Oh, but the crowd, the crowd!" sighed Piers. "What is bad enough to
say of it? who shall draw its picture with long enough ears?"
"It has another aspect, you know."
"It has. At its best, a smiling simpleton; at its worst, a murderous
"You are not exactly a socialist," remarked Irene, with that smile
which, linking past and present, blended in Otway's heart old love
and new--her smile of friendly irony.
"Socialism? I seldom think of it; which means, that I have no faith
in it.--When we came in, you were playing."
"I miss the connection," said Irene, with a puzzled air.
"Forgive me. I am fond of music, and it has been in my mind all the
time--the hope that you would play again."
"Oh, that was merely the slow music, as one might say, of the
drawing-room mysteries--an obligato in the after-dinner harmony. I
play only to amuse myself--or when it is a painful duty."
Piers was warned by his tactful conscience that he had held Miss
Derwent quite long enough in talk. A movement in their neighbourhood
gave miserable opportunity; he resigned his seat to another
expectant, and did his best to converse with someone else.
Her voice went with him as he walked homewards across the Park,
under a fleecy sky silvered with moonlight; the voice which now and
again brought back so vividly their first meeting at Ewell. He lived
through it all again, the tremors, the wild hopes, the black despair
of eight years ago. How she encountered him on the stairs, talked of
his long hours of study, and prophesied--with that indescribable
blending of gravity and jest, still her characteristic--that he
would come to grief over his examination. Irene! Irene! Did she
dream what was in his mind and heart? The long, long love, his very
life through all labours and cares and casualties--did she suspect
it, imagine it? If she had received his foolish verses (he grew hot
to think of them), there must have been at least a moment when she
knew that he worshipped her, and does such knowledge ever fade from
a woman's memory?
Irene! Irene! Was she brought nearer to him by her own experience of
heart-trouble? That she had suffered, he could not doubt; impossible
for her to have given her consent to marriage unless she believed
herself in love with the man who wooed her. It could have been no
trifling episode in her life, whatever the story; Irene was not of
the women who yield their hands in jest, in pique, in lighthearted
ignorance. The change visible in her was more, he fancied, than
could be due to the mere lapse of time; during her silences, she had
the look of one familiar with mental conflict, perhaps of one whose
pride had suffered an injury. The one or two glances which he
ventured whilst she was talking with the man who succeeded to his
place beside her, perceived a graver countenance, a reserve such as
she had not used with him; and of this insubstantial solace he made
a sort of hope which winged the sleepless hours till daybreak.
He had permission to call upon Mrs. Borisoff at times alien to
polite routine. Thus, when nearly a week had passed, he sought her
company at midday, and found her idling over a book, her seat by a
window which viewed the Thames and the broad Embankment with its
plane trees, and London beyond the water, picturesque in squalid
hugeness through summer haze and the sagging smoke of chimneys
numberless. She gave a languid hand, pointed to a chair, gazed at
him with embarrassing fixity.
"I don't know about the Castle," were her first words. "Perhaps I
shall give it up."
"You are not serious?"
Piers spoke and looked in dismay; and still she kept her heavy eyes
"What does it matter to _you_?" she asked carelessly.
"I counted on--on showing you the dales----"
Mrs. Borisoff nodded twice or thrice, and laughed, then pointed to
the prospect through the window.
"This is more interesting. Imagine historians living a thousand
years hence--what would they give to see what we see now!"
"Oh, one often has that thought. It's about the best way of making
ordinary life endurable."
They watched the steamers and barges, silent for a minute or two.
"So you had rather I didn't give up the castle?"
"I should be horribly disappointed."
"Yes--no doubt you would. Why did you come to see me to-day? No,
no, no! The real reason.
"I wanted to talk about Miss Derwent," Piers answered, bracing
himself to frankness.
Mrs. Borisoff's lips contracted, in something which was not quite a
smile, but which became a smile before she spoke.
"If you hadn't told the truth, Mr. Otway, I would have sent you
about your business. Well, talk of her; I am ready."
"But certainly not if it wearies you----"
"I'll begin with a question. Does Miss Derwent go much into
"No; not very much. And it's only the last few months that she has
been seen at all in London--I mean, since the affair that people
"Did they talk--disagreeably?"
"Gossip--chatter--half malicious without malicious intention--
don't you know the way of the sweet creatures? I would tell you more
if I could. The simple truth is that Irene has never spoken to me
about it--never once. When it happened, she came suddenly to
Paris, to a hotel, and from there wrote me a letter, just saying
that her marriage was off; no word of explanation. Of course I
fetched her at once to my house, and from that moment to this I have
heard not one reference from her to the matter. You would like to
know something about the hero? He has been away a good deal--
building up the Empire, as they say; which means, of course, looking
after his own and other people's dividends."
"Thank you. Now let us talk about the Castle."
But Mrs. Borisoff was not in a good humour to-day, and Piers very
soon took his leave. Her hand felt rather hot; he noticed this
particularly, as she let it lie in his longer than usual--part of
Piers had often resented, as a weakness, his susceptibility to the
influence of others' moods; he did so to-day, when having gone to
Mrs. Borisoff in an unusually cheerful frame of mind, he came away
languid and despondent. But his scheme of life permitted no such
idle brooding as used to waste his days; self-discipline sent him to
his work, as usual, through the afternoon, and in the evening he
walked ten miles.
The weather was brilliant. As he stood, far away in rural stillness,
watching a noble sunset, he repeated to himself words which had of
late become his motto, "Enjoy now! This moment will never come
again." But the intellectual resolve was one thing, the moral
aptitude another. He did not enjoy; how many hours in all his life
had brought him real enjoyment? Idle to repeat and repeat that life
was the passing minute, which must be seized, made the most of; he
could not live in the present; life was to him for ever a thing
postponed. "I will live--I will enjoy--some day!" As likely as
not that day would never dawn.
Was it true, as admonishing reason sometimes whispered, that
happiness cometh not by observation, that the only true content is
in the moments which we pass without self-consciousness? Is all
attainment followed by disillusion? A man aware of his health is on
the verge of malady. Were he to possess his desire, to exclaim, "I
am happy," would the Fates chastise his presumption?
That way lay asceticism, which his soul abhorred. On, rather,
following the great illusion, if this it were! "The crown of life"
--philosophise as he might, that word had still its meaning, still
its inspiration. Let the present pass untasted; he preferred his
dream of a day to come.
Next morning, very unexpectedly, he received a note from Mrs.
Borisoff inviting him to dine with her a few days hence. About her
company she said nothing, and Piers went, uncertain whether it was a
dinner _tete-a-tete_ or with other guests. When he entered the room,
the first face he beheld was Irene's.
It was a very small party, and the hostess wore her gayest
countenance. A delightful evening, from the social point of view;
for Piers Otway a time of self-forgetfulness in the pleasures of
sight and hearing. He could have little private talk with Irene; she
did not talk much with anyone; but he saw her, he heard her voice,
he lived in the glory of her presence. Moreover, she consented to
play. Of her skill as a pianist, Otway could not judge; what he
heard was Music, music absolute, the very music of the spheres. When
it ceased, Mrs. Borisoff chanced to look at him; he was startlingly
pale, his eyes wide as if in vision more than mortal.
"I leave town to-morrow," said his hostess, as he took leave. "Some
friends are going with me. You shall hear how we get on at the
Perhaps her look was meant to supplement this bare news. It seemed
to offer reassurance. Did she understand his look of entreaty in
Music breathed about him in the lonely hours. It exalted his
passion, lulled the pains of desire, held the flesh subservient to
spirit. What is love, says the physiologist, but ravening sex? If
so, in Piers Otway's breast the primal instinct had undergone
strange transformation. How wrought?--he asked himself. To what
destiny did it correspond, this winged love soaring into the
infinite? This rapture of devotion, this utter humbling of self,
this ardour of the poet soul singing a fellow-creature to the heaven
of heavens--by what alchemy comes it forth from blood and tissue?
Nature has no need of such lyric life her purpose is well achieved
by humbler instrumentality. Romantic lovers are not the ancestry of
And if--as might well be--his love were defeated, fruitless,
what end in the vast maze of things would his anguish serve?
After his day's work, he had spent an hour among the pictures at
Burlington House. He was lingering before an exquisite landscape,
unwilling to change this atmosphere of calm for the roaring street,
when a voice timidly addressed him:
How altered! The face was much, much older, and in some
indeterminable way had lost its finer suggestions. At her best, Olga
Hannaford had a distinction of feature, a singularity of emotional
expression, which made her beautiful in Olga Florio the lines of
visage were far less subtle, and classed her under an inferior type.
Transition from maidenhood to what is called the matronly had been
too rapid; it was emphasised by her costume, which cried aloud in
its excess of modish splendour.
"How glad I am to see you again!" she sighed tremorously, pressing
his hand with fervour, gazing at him with furtive directness. "Are
you living in England now?"
Piers gave an account of himself. He was a little embarrassed but
quite unagitated. A sense of pity averted his eyes after the first
"Will you--may I venture--can you spare the time to come and
have tea with me? My carriage is waiting--I am quite alone--I
only looked in for a few minutes, to rest my mind after a lunch
with, oh, such tiresome people!"
His impulse was to refuse, at all costs to refuse. The voice, the
glance, the phrases jarred upon him, shocked him. Already he had
begun "I am afraid"--when a hurried, vehement whisper broke upon
"Don't be unkind to me! I beg you to come! I entreat you!"
"I will come with pleasure," he said in a loud voice of ordinary
At once she turned, and he followed. Without speaking, they
descended the great staircase; a brougham drove up; they rolled away
westward. Never had Piers felt such thorough moral discomfort; the
heavily perfumed air of the carriage depressed and all but nauseated
him; the inevitable touch of Olga's garments made him shrink. She
had begun to talk, and talked incessantly throughout the homeward
drive; not much of herself, or of him, but about the pleasures and
excitements of the idle-busy world. It was meant, he supposed, to
convey to him an idea of her prosperous and fashionable life. Her
husband, she let fall, was for the moment in Italy; affairs of
importance sometimes required his presence there; but they both
preferred England. The intellectual atmosphere of London--where
else could one live on so high a level?
The carriage stopped in a street beyond Edgware Road, at a house of
more modest appearance than Otway had looked for. Just as they
alighted, a nursemaid with a perambulator was approaching the door;
Piers caught sight of a very pale little face shadowed by the hood,
but his companion, without heeding, ran up the steps, and knocked
violently. They entered.
Still the oppressive atmosphere of perfumes. Left for a few minutes
in a little drawing-room, or boudoir, Piers stood marvelling at the
ingenuity which had packed so much furniture and bric-tate-brac, so
many pictures, so much drapery, into so small a space. He longed to
throw open the window; he could not sit still in this odour-laden
hothouse, where the very flowers were burdensome by excess. When
Olga reappeared, she was gorgeous in flowing tea-gown; her tawny
hair hung low in artful profusion; her neck and arms were bare, her
feet brilliantly slippered.
"Ah! How good, how good, it is to sit down and talk to you once
more!--Do you like my room?"
"You have made yourself very comfortable," replied Otway, striking a
note as much as possible in contrast to that of his hostess. "Some
of these drawings are your own work, no doubt?"
"Yes, some of them," she answered languidly. "Do you remember that
pastel? Ah, surely you do--from the old days at Ewell!"
"Of course!--That is a portrait of your husband?" he added,
indicating a head on a little easel.
She laughed and put the subject away. Then tea was brought in, and
after pouring it, Olga grew silent. Resolute to talk, Piers had the
utmost difficulty in finding topics, but he kept up an everyday sort
of chat, postponing as long as possible the conversation foreboded
by his companion's face. When he was weary, Olga's opportunity came.
"There is something I _must_ say to you----"
Her arms hung lax, her head drooped forward, she looked at him from
under her brows.
"I have suffered so much--oh, I have suffered! I have longed for
this moment. Will you say--that you forgive me?"
"My dear Mrs. Florio"--Piers began with good-natured
expostulation, a sort of forced bluffness; but she would not hear
"Not that name! Not from _you_. There's no harm; you won't--you
can't misunderstand me, such old friends as we are. I want you to
call me by my own name, and to make me feel that we are friends
still--that you can really forgive me."
"There is nothing in the world to forgive," he insisted, in the same
tone. "Of course we are friends! How could we be anything else?"
"I behaved infamously to you! I can't think how I had the heart to
Piers was tortured with nervousness. Had her voice and manner
declared insincerity, posing, anything of that kind, he would have
found the situation much more endurable; but Olga had tears in her
eyes, and not the tears of an actress; her tones had recovered
something of their old quality, and reminded him painfully of the
time when Mrs. Hannaford was dying. She held a hand to him, her pale
face besought his compassion.
"Come now, let us talk in the old way, as you wish," he said, just
pressing her fingers. "Of course I felt it--but then I was myself
altogether to blame. I importuned you for what you couldn't give.
Remembering that, wasn't your action the most sensible, and really
"I don't know," Olga murmured, in a voice just audible.
"Of course it was! There now, we've done with all that. Tell me more
about your life this last year or two. You are such a brilliant
person. I felt rather overcome----"
"Nonsense!" But Olga brightened a little. "What of your own
brilliancy? I read somewhere that you are a famous man in Russia
Piers laughed, spontaneously this time, and, finding it a way of
escape, gossiped about his own achievements with mirthful
"Do you see the Derwents?" Mrs. Florio asked of a sudden, with a
So vexed was Otway at the embarrassment he could not wholly hide,
and which delayed his answer, that he spoke the truth with excessive
"I have met Miss Derwent in society."
"I don't often see them," said Olga, in a tone of weariness. "I
suppose we belong to different worlds."
At the earliest possible moment, Piers rose with decision. He felt
that he had not pleased Mrs. Florio, that perhaps he had offended
her, and in leaving her he tried to atone for involuntary
"But we shall see each other again, of course!" she exclaimed,
retaining his hand. "You will come again soon?"
"Certainly I will."
"And your address--let me have your address----"
He breathed deeply in the open air. Glancing back at the house when
he had crossed the street, he saw a white hand waved to him at a
window; it hurried his step.
On the following day, Mrs. Florio visited her friend Miss
Bonnicastle, who had some time since exchanged the old quarters in
Great Portland Street for a house in Pimlico, where there was a
larger studio (workshop, as she preferred to call it), hung about
with her own and other people's designs. The artist of the poster
was full as ever of vitality and of good-nature, but her humour had
not quite the old spice; a stickler for decorum would have said that
she was decidedly improved, that she had grown more womanly; and
something of this change appeared also in her work, which tended now
to the graceful rather than the grotesque. She received her
fashionable visitant with off-hand friendliness, not altogether with
"Oh, I've something to show you. Do you know that name?"
Olga took a business-card, and read upon it: "Alexander Otway,
Dramatic & Musical Agent."
"It's his brother," she said, in a voice of quiet surprise.
"I thought so. The man called yesterday--wants a fetching thing to
boom an Irish girl at the halls. There's her photo."
It represented a piquant person in short skirts; a face neither very
pretty nor very young, but likely to be deemed attractive by the
public in question. They amused themselves over it for a moment.
"He used to be a journalist," said Olga. "Does he seem to be doing
"Couldn't say. A great talker, and a furious Jingo."
"This woman is to sing a song of his composition, all about the
Empire. Not the hall; the British. Glorifies the Flag, that blessed
rag--a rhyme I suggested to him, and asked him to pay me for. It's
a taking tune, and we shall have it everywhere, no doubt. He sang a
verse--I wish you could have heard him. A queer fish!"
Olga walked about, seeming to inspect the pictures, but in reality
much occupied with her thoughts.
"Well," she said presently, "I only looked in, dear, to say
Miss Bonnicastle was drawing; she turned, as if to shake hands, but
looked her friend in the face with a peculiar expression, far more
earnest than was commonly seen in her.
"You called on Kite yesterday morning."
Olga, with slight confusion, admitted that she had been to see the
artist. For some weeks Kite had suffered from an ailment which
confined him to the house; he could not walk, and indeed could do
nothing but lie and read, or talk of what he would do, when he
recovered his health. Cheap claret having lost its inspiring force,
the poor fellow had turned to more potent beverages, and would ere
now have sunk into inscrutable deeps but for Miss Bonnicastle, who
interested herself in his welfare. Olga, after losing sight of him
for nearly two years, by chance discovered his whereabouts and his
circumstances, and twice in the past week had paid him a visit.
"I wanted to tell you," pursued Miss Bonnicastle, in a steady,
matter-of-fact voice, "that he's going to have a room in this house,
and be looked after."
There was a touch of malice in Olga's surprise. She held herself
"It's just as well to be straightforward," continued the other. "I
should like to say that it'll be very much better if you don't come
to see him at all."
Olga was now very dignified indeed.
"Oh, pray say no more I quite understand--quite!"
"I shouldn't have said it at all," rejoined Miss Bonnicastle, "if I
could have trusted your--discretion. The fact is, I found I
"Really!" exclaimed Olga, red with anger. "You might spare me
"Come, come! We're not going to fly at each other, Olga. I intended
no insult; but, whilst we're about it, do take advice from one who
means it well. Sentiment is all right, but sentimentality is all
wrong. Do get rid of it, there's a good girl. You're meant for
Olga made a great sweep of the floor with her skirts, and vanished
in a whirl of perfume.
She drove straight to the address which she had seen on Alexander
Otway's card. It was in a decently sordid street south of the river;
in a window on the ground floor hung an announcement of Alexander's
name and business. As Olga stood at the door, there came out,
showily dressed for walking, a person in whom she at once recognised
the original of the portrait at Miss Bonnicastle's. It was no other
than Mrs. Otway, the "Biddy" whose simple singing had so pleased her
brother-in-law years ago.
"Is it the agent you want to see?" she asked, in her tongue of
County Wexford. "The door to the right."
Alexander jumped up, all smiles at the sight of so grand a lady. He
had grown very obese, and very red about the neck; his linen might
have been considerably cleaner, and his coat better brushed. But he
seemed in excellent spirits, and glowed when his visitor began by
saying that she wished to speak in confidence of a delicate matter.
"Mr. Otway, you have an elder brother, his name Daniel."
The listener's countenance fell.
"Madam, I'm sorry to say I have."
"He has written to me, more than once, a begging letter. My name
doesn't matter; I'll only say now that he used to know me slightly
long ago. I wish to ask you whether he is really in want."
Alexander hesitated, with much screwing of the features.
"Well, he may be, now and then," was his reply at length. "I have
helped him, but, to tell the truth, it's not much good. So far as I
know, he has no regular supplies--but it's his own fault."
"Exactly." Olga evidently approached a point still more delicate. "I
presume he has worn out the patience of _both_ brothers?"
"Ah!" The agent shook his head, "I'm sorry to say that the _other's_
patience--I see you know something of our family circumstances--
never allowed itself to be tried. He's very well off, I believe, but
he'll do nothing for poor Dan, and never would. I'm bound to admit
Dan has his faults, but still----"
His brows expressed sorrow rather than anger on the subject of his
"Do you happen to know anything," pursued Olga, lowering her voice,
"of a transaction about certain--certain letters, which were given
up by Daniel Otway?"
"Why--yes. I've heard something about that affair."
"Those letters, I always understood, were purchased from him at a
"That's true," replied Alexander, smiling familiarly as he leaned
across the table. "But the considerable price was never paid--not
one penny of it."
Olga's face changed. She had a wondering lost, pained look.
"Mr. Otway, are you _sure_ of that?"
"Well, pretty sure. Dan has talked of it more than once, and I don't
think he could talk as he does if there wasn't a real grievance. I'm
very much afraid he was cheated. Perhaps I oughtn't to use that
word; I daresay Dan had no right to ask money for the letters at
all. But there was a bargain, and I'm afraid it wasn't honourably
kept on the other side."
Olga reflected for a moment, and rose, saying that she was obliged,
that this ended her business. Alexander's curiosity sought to
prolong the conversation, but in vain. He then threw out a word
concerning his professional interests; would the lady permit him to
bespeak her countenance for a new singer, an Irish girl of great
talent, who would be coming out very shortly?
"She has a magnificent song, madam! The very spirit of Patriotism--
stirring, stirring! Let me offer you one of her photos. Miss Ennis
Corthy--you'll soon see the announcements."
Olga drove away in a troubled dream.
"The 13th will suit admirably," wrote Helen Borisoff.
"That morning my guests leave, and we shall be quiet--except for
the popping of guns round about. Which reminds me that my big,
healthy Englishman of a cousin (him you met in town) will be down
here to slaughter little birds in aristocratic company, and may most
likely look in to tell us of his bags. I will meet you at the
So Irene, alone, journeyed from King's Cross into the North Riding.
At evening, the sun golden amid long lazy clouds that had spent
their showers, she saw wide Wensleydale, its closing hills higher to
north and south as the train drew onward, green slopes of meadow and
woodland rising to the beat and the heather. At a village station
appeared the welcoming face of her friend Helen. A countryman with
his homely gig drove them up the hillside, the sweet air singing
about them from moorland heights, the long dale spreading in grander
prospect as they ascended, then hidden as they dropped into a wooded
glen, where the horse splashed through a broad beck and the wheels
jolted over boulders of limestone. Out again into the sunset, and at
a turn of the climbing road stood up before them the grey old
Castle, in its shadow the church and the hamlet, and all around the
glory of rolling hills.
Of the four great towers, one lay a shattered ruin, one only
remained habitable. Above the rooms occupied by Mrs. Borisoff and
her guests was that which had imprisoned the Queen of Scots; a
chamber of bare stone, with high embrasure narrowing to the slit of
window which admitted daylight, and, if one climbed the sill, gave a
glimpse of far mountains. Down below, deep under the roots of the
tower, was the Castle's dungeon, black and deadly. Early on the
morrow Helen led her friend to see these things. Then they climbed
to the battlements, where the sun shone hot, and Helen pointed out
the features of the vast landscape, naming heights, and little dales
which pour their tributaries into the Ure, and villages lying amid
the rich pasture.
"And yonder is Hawes," said Irene, pointing to the head of the dale.
"Yes; too far to see."
They did not exchange a look. Irene spoke at once of something else.
There came to lunch Mrs. Borisoff's cousin, a grouse-guest at a
house some miles away. He arrived on horseback, and his approach was
watched with interest by two pairs of eyes from the Castle windows.
Mr. March looked well in the saddle, for he was a strong, comely man
of about thirty, who lived mostly under the open sky. Irene had met
him only once, and that in a drawing-room; she saw him now to
greater advantage, heard him talk freely of things he understood and
enjoyed, and on the whole did not dislike him. With Helen he was a
favourite; she affected to make fun of him, but had confessed to
Irene that she respected him more than any other of her
county-family kinsfolk. As he talked of his two days' shooting, he
seemed to become aware that Miss Derwent had no profound interest in
this subject, and there fell from him an unexpected apology.
"Of course it isn't a very noble kind of sport," he said, with a
laugh. "One is invited--one takes it in the course of things. I
prefer the big game, where there's a chance of having to shoot for
"I suppose one _must_ shoot something," remarked Irene, as if musing
Marck took it with good nature, like a man who cannot remember
whether that point of view ever occurred to him, but who is quite
willing to think about it. Indeed, he seemed more than willing to
give attention to anything Miss Derwent choose to say: something of
this inclination had appeared even at their first meeting, and
to-day it was more marked. He showed reluctance when the hour
obliged him to remount his horse. Mrs. Borisoff's hope that she
might see him again before he left this part of the country received
a prompt and cheerful reply.
Later, that afternoon, the two friends climbed the great hillside
above the Castle, and rambled far over the moorland, to a windy
height where they looked into deep wild Swaledale. Their talk was
only of the scenes around them, until, on their way back, they
approached a line of three-walled shelters, built of rough stone,
about the height of a man. In reply to Irene's question, Helen
explained the use of these structures; she did so in an off-hand
way, with the proper terms, and would have passed on, but Irene
"What! They lie in ambush here, whilst the men drive the birds
towards them, to be shot?"
"It's sport," rejoined the other indifferently.
"I see. And here are the old cartridges." A heap of them lay close
by amid the ling. "I don't wonder that Mr. March seemed a little
ashamed of himself."
"But surely you knew all about this sort of thing!" said Mrs.
Borisoff, with a little laugh of impatience.
"No, I didn't."
She had picked up one of the cartridge-cases, and, after examining
it, her eyes wandered about the vast-rolling moor. The wind sang
low; the clouds sailed across the mighty dome of heaven; not a human
dwelling was visible, and not a sound broke upon nature's infinite
"It amazes me," Irene continued, subduing her voice.
"Incredible that men can come up here just to bang guns and see
beautiful birds fall dead! One would think that what they _saw_ here
would stop their hands--that this silence would fill their minds
and hearts, and make it impossible!"
Her voice had never trembled with such emotion in Helen's hearing.
It was not Irene's habit to speak in this way. She had the native
reticence of English women, preferring to keep silence when she felt
strongly, or to disguise her feeling with irony and jest. But the
hour and the place overcame her; a noble passion shone in her clear
eyes, and thrilled in her utterance.
"Yet you know they are nothing of the kind," objected Helen. "At
least, not all of them."
"Mr. March?--You called him, yourself, a fine barbarian, quoting
from Matthew Arnold. I never before understood how true that
"I assure you, it doesn't apply to him, whatever I may have said in
joke. This shooting is the tradition of a certain class. It's one of
the ways in which great, strong men get their necessary exercise.
Some of them feel, at moments, just as you do, I've no doubt; but
there they are, a lot of them together, and a man can't make himself
ridiculous, you know."
"You're not like yourself in this, Helen," said Irene. "You're not
speaking as you think. Another time, you'll confess it's abominable
savagery, with not one good word to be said for it. And more
contemptible than I ever suspected! I'm so glad I've seen this. It
helps to clear my thoughts about--about things in general."
She flung away the little yellow cylinder-flung it far from her with
disgust, and, as if to forget it, plucked as she walked on a spray
of heath, which glowed with its purple bells among the redder ling.
Helen's countenance was shadowed. She spoke no more for several
When two days had passed, March again came riding up to the Castle,
and lunched with the ladies. Irene was secretly vexed. At breakfast
she had suggested a whole day's excursion, which her friend
persuaded her to postpone; the reason must have been Helen's private
knowledge that Mr. March was coming. In consequence, the lunch fell
short of perfect cheerfulness. For reasons of her own, Irene was
just a little formal in her behaviour to the guest; she did not talk
so well as usual, and bore herself as a girl must who wishes,
without unpleasantness, to check a man's significant approaches.
In the hot afternoon, chairs were taken out into the shadow of the
Castle walls, and there the three sat conversing. Someone drew near,
a man, whom the careless glance of Helen's cousin took for a casual
tourist about to view the ruins. Helen herself, and in the same
moment, Irene, recognised Piers Otway. It seemed as though Mrs.
Borisoff would not rise to welcome him; her smile was dubious, half
surprised. She cast a glance at Irene, whose face was set in the
austerest self-control, and thereupon not only stood up, but stepped
forward with cordial greeting.
"So you have really come! Delighted to see you! Are you walking--
as you said?"
"Too hot!" Piers replied, with a laugh. "I spent yesterday at York,
and came on in a cowardly way by train."
He was shaking hands with Irene, who dropped a word or two of mere
courtesy. In introducing him to March, Mrs. Borisoff said, "An old
friend of ours," which caused her stalwart cousin to survey the
dark, slimly-built man very attentively.
"We'll get you a chair, Mr. Otway----"
"No, no! Let me sit or lie here on the grass. It's all I feel fit
for after the climb."
He threw himself down, nearer to Helen than to her friend, and the
talk became livelier than before his arrival. Irene emerged from the
taciturnity into which she had more and more withdrawn, and March,
not an unobservant man, evidently noted this, and reflected upon it.
He had at first regarded the new-comer with a civil aloofness, as
one not of his world; presently, he seemed to ask himself to what
world the singular being might belong--a man who knew how to
behave himself, and whose talk implied more than common
_savoir-vivre_, yet who differed in such noticeable points from an
Englishman of the leisured class.
Helen was in a mischievous mood. She broached the subject of grouse,
addressing to Otway an ambiguous remark which led March to ask, with
veiled surprise, whether he was a sportsman.
"Mr. Otway's taste is for bigger game," she exclaimed. before Piers
could reply. "He lives in hope of potting Russians on the Indian
"Well, I can sympathise with him in that," said the large-limbed
man, puzzled but smiling. "He'll probably have a chance before very
No sooner had he spoken that a scarlet confusion glowed upon his
face. In speculating about Otway, he had for the moment forgotten
his cousin's name.
"I _beg_ your pardon, Helen!--What an idiot I am Of course you
were joking, and I----"
"Don't, don't, don't apologise, Edward! Tell truth and shame--your
Russian relatives! I like you all the better for it."
"Thank you," he answered. "And after all, there's no harm in a
little fighting. It's better to fight and have done with it than
keeping on plotting between compliments. Nations arc just like
schoolboys, you know; there has to be a round now and then; it
settles things, and is good for the blood."
Otway was biting a blade of grass; he smiled and said nothing. Mrs.
Borisoff glanced from him to Irene, who also was smiling, but looked
"How can it be good, for health or anything else?" Miss Derwent
asked suddenly, turning to the speaker.
"Oh, we couldn't do without fighting. It's in human nature."
"In uncivilised human nature, yes."
"But really, you know," urged March, with good-natured deference,
"it wouldn't do to civilise away pluck--courage--heroism--
whatever one likes to call it."
"Of course it wouldn't. But what has pluck or heroism to do with
bloodshed? How can anyone imagine that courage is only shown in
fighting? I don't happen to have been in a battle, but one knows
very well how easy it must be for any coward or brute, excited to
madness, to become what's called a hero. Heroism is noble courage in
ordinary life. Are you serious in thinking that life offers no
opportunities for it?"
"Well--it's not quite the same thing----"
"Happily, not! It's a vastly better thing. Every day some braver
deed is done by plain men and women--yes, women, if you please--
than was ever known on the battle-field. One only hears of them now
and then. On the railway--on the sea--in the hospital--in
burning houses--in accidents of road and street--are there no
opportunities for courage? In the commonest everyday home life,
doesn't any man or woman have endless chances of being brave or a
coward? And this is civilised courage, not the fury of a bull at a
Piers Otway had ceased to nibble his blade of grass; his eyes were
fixed on Irene. When she had made a sudden end of speaking, when she
smiled her apology for the fervour forbidden in polite converse, he
still gazed at her, self-oblivious. Helen Borisoff watched him,
"Let us go in and have some tea," she said, rising abruptly.
Soon after, March said good-bye, a definite good-bye; he was going
to another part of England. With all the grace of his caste he
withdrew from a circle, in which, temptations notwithstanding, he
had not felt quite at ease. Riding down the dale through a sunny
shower, he was refreshed and himself again.
"Where do you put up to-night?" asked Helen of Otway, turning to
him, when the other man had gone, with a brusque familiarity.
"At the inn down in Redmire."
"And what do you do to-morrow?"
"Go to see the falls at Aysgarth, for one thing. There's been rain
up on the hills; the river will be grand."
"Perhaps we shall be there."
When Piers had left them, Helen said to her friend
"I wanted to ask him to stay and dine--but I didn't know whether
you would like it."
"I? I am not the hostess."
"No, but you have humours, Irene. One has to be careful."
Irene knitted her brows, and stood for a moment with face half
"If I cause this sort of embarrassment," she said frankly, I think I
oughtn't to stay."
"It's easily put right, my dear girl. Answer me a simple question.
If I lead Mr. Otway to suppose that his company for a few days is
not disagreeable to us, shall I worry you, or not?"
"Not in the least," was the equally direct answer.
"That's better. We've always got along so well, you know, that it's
annoying to feel there's something not quits understood between us.
Then I shall send a note down to the inn where he's staying, to
appoint a meeting at Aysgarth to-morrow. And I shall ask him to come
here for the rest of the day, if he chooses."
At nightfall, the rain-clouds spread from the hills of Westmorland,
and there were some hours of downpour. This did not look hopeful for
the morrow, but, on the other hand, it promised a finer sight at the
falls, if by chance the weather grew tolerable. The sun rose amid
dropping vapours, and at breakfast-time had not yet conquered the
day, but a steady brightening soon put an end to doubt. The friends
prepared to set forth.
As they were entering the carriage there arrived the postman, with
letters for both, which they read driving down to the dale. One of
Irene's correspondents was her brother, and the contents of
Eustace's letter so astonished her that she sat for a time absorbed
"No bad news, I hope?" said Helen, who had glanced quickly over the
few lines from her husband, now at Ostend.
"No, but startling. You may as well read the letter."
It was written in Eustace Derwent's best style; really a very good
letter, both as to composition and in the matter of feeling. After
duly preparing his sister for what might come as a shock, he made
known to her that he was about to marry Mrs. John Jacks, the widow
of the late member of Parliament. "I can quite imagine," he
proceeded, "that this may trouble your mind by exciting unpleasant
memories, and perhaps may make you apprehensive of disagreeable
things in the future. Pray have no such uneasiness. Only this
morning I had a long talk with Arnold Jacks, who was very friendly,
and indeed could not have behaved better. He spoke of you, and quite
in the proper way; I was to remember him very kindly to you, if I
thought the remembrance would not be unwelcome. As for my dear
Marian, you will find her everything that a sister should be."
Followed sundry details and promise of more information when they
met again in town.
"Describe her to me," said Helen, who had a slight acquaintance with
"One word does it--irreproachable. A couple of years older than
Eustace, I think; John Jacks was more than twice her age, so it's
only fair. The dear boy will probably give up his profession, and
become an ornament of society, a model of all the proprieties.
Wonderful I shan't realise it for a few days."
As they drove on to the bridge at Aysgarth, Piers Otway stood there
awaiting them. They exchanged few words; the picture before their
eyes, and the wild music that filled the air, imposed silence.
Headlong between its high banks plunged the swollen torrent, the
roaring spate; brown from its washing of the peaty moorland, and
churned into flying flakes of foam. Over the worn ledges, at other
times a succession of little waterfalls, rolled in resistless fury a
mighty cataract; at great rocks in mid-channel it leapt with surges
like those of an angry sea. The spectacle was fascinating in its
grandeur, appalling in its violence; with the broad leafage of the
glen arched over it in warm, still sunshine, wondrously beautiful.
They wandered some way by the river banks; then drove to other spots
of which Otway spoke, lunched at a village inn, and by four o'clock
returned altogether to the Castle. After tea, Piers found himself
alone with Irene. Mrs. Borisoff had left the room whilst he was
speaking, and so silently that for a moment he was not aware of her
withdrawal. Alone with Irene, for the first time since he had known
her; even at Ewell, long ago, they had never been together without
companionship. There fell a silence. Piers could not lift his eyes
to the face which had all day been before him, the face which seemed
more than ever beautiful amid nature's beauties. He wished to thank
her for the letter she had written him to St. Petersburg, but was
fearful of seeming to make too much of this mark of kindness. Irene
herself resumed the conversation.
"You will continue to write for the reviews, I hope?"
"I shall try to," he answered softly.
"Your Russian must be very idiomatic. I found it hard in places."
Overcome with delight, he looked at her and bent towards her.
"Mrs. Borisoff told me you had learnt. I know what that means--
learning Russian in England, out of books. I began to do it at Ewell
--do you remember?"
"Yes, I remember very well. Have you written anything besides these
"Written--yes, but not published. I have written all sorts of
things." His voice shook. "Even--verse."
He repented the word as soon as it was uttered. Again his eyes could
not move towards hers.
"I know you have," said Irene, in the voice of one who smiles.
"I have never been sure that you knew it--that you received those
"To tell you the truth, I didn't know how to acknowledge them. I
never received the dedication of a poem, before or since, and in my
awkwardness I put off my thanks till it was too late to send them.
But I remember the lines; I think they were beautiful. Shall you
ever include them in a volume?"
"I wrote no more, I am no poet. Yet if you had given a word of
praise"--he laughed, as one does when emotion is too strong--"I
should have written on and on, with a glorious belief in myself."
"Perhaps it was as well, then, that I said nothing. Poetry must come
of itself, without praise--don't you think?"
"Yes, I lived it--or tried to live it--instead of putting it
"That's exactly what I once heard my father say about himself. And
he called it consuming his own smoke."
Piers could not but join in her quiet laugh, yet he had never felt a
moment less opportune for laughter. As if to prove that she
purposely changed the note of their dialogue, Irene reached a volume
from the table, and said in the most matter-of-fact voice:
"Here's a passage of Tolstoi that I can't make out. Be my professor,
please. First of all, let me hear you read it aloud for the accent."
The lesson continued till Helen entered the room again. Irene so
She sat by her open window, which looked over the dale to the long
high ridge of moors, softly drawn against a moonlit sky. Far below
sounded the rushing Ure, and at moments there came upon the fitful
breeze a deeper music, that of the falls at Aysgarth, miles away. It
was an hour since she had bidden good-night to Helen, and two hours
or more since all else in the Castle and in the cottages had been
still and dark. She loved this profound quiet, this solitude guarded
by the eternal powers of nature. She loved the memories and
imaginings borne upon the stillness of these grey old towers.
The fortress of warrior-lords, the prison of a queen, the Royalist
refuge--fallen now into such placid dreaminess of age. Into the
dark chamber above, desolate, legend-haunted, perchance in some
moment of the night there fell through the narrow window-niche a
pale moonbeam, touching the floor, the walls of stone; such light in
gloom as may have touched the face of Mary herself, wakeful with her
recollections and her fears. Musing it in her fancy, Irene thought
of love and death.
Had it come to her at length, that love which was so strange and
distant when, in ignorance, she believed it her companion? Verses in
her mind, verses that would never be forgotten, however lightly she
held them, sang and rang to a new melody. They were not poetry--
said he who wrote them. Yet they were truth, sweetly and nobly
uttered. The false, the trivial, does not so cling to memory year
They had helped her to know him, these rhyming lines, or so she
fancied. They shaped in her mind, slowly, insensibly, an image of
the man, throughout the lapse of time when she neither saw him nor
heard of him. Whether a true image how should she assure herself?
She only knew that no feature of it seemed alien when compared with
the impression of those two last days. Yet the picture was an ideal;
the very man she could honour, love; he and no other. Did she
perilously deceive herself in thinking that this ideal and the man
who spoke with her, were one?
It had grown without her knowledge, apart from her will, this
conception of Piers Otway. The first half-consciousness of such a
thought came to her when she heard from Olga of those letters,
obtained by him for a price, and given to the kinsfolk of the dead
woman. An interested generosity? She had repelled the suggestion as
unworthy, ignoble. Whether the giver was ever thanked, she did not
know. Dr. Derwent kept cold silence on the subject, after once
mentioning it to her in formal words. Thanks, undoubtedly, were due
to him. To-night it pained her keenly to think that perhaps her
father had said nothing.
She began to study Russian, and in secret; her impulse dark, or so
obscurely hinted that it caused her no more than a moment's reverie.
Looking back, she saw but one explanation of the energy, the zeal
which had carried her through these labours. It shone clear on the
day when a letter from Helen Borisoff told her that an article in a
Russian review, just published, bore the name of Piers Otway. Thence
onward, she was frank with herself. She recognised the meaning of
the intellectual process which had tended to harmonise her life with
that she imagined for her ideal man. There came a prompting of
emotion, and she wrote the letter which Piers received.
All things were made new to her; above all, her own self. She was
acting in a way which was no result of balanced purpose, yet, as she
perfectly understood, involved her in the gravest responsibilities.
She had no longer the excuse which palliated her conduct eight years
ago; that heedlessness was innocent indeed compared with the blame
she would now incur, if she excited a vain hope merely to prove her
feelings, to read another chapter of life. Solemnly in this charmed
stillness of midnight, she searched her heart. It did not fail under
A morning sleep held her so much later than usual that, before she
had left her chamber, letters were brought to the door by the child
who waited upon her. On one envelope she saw the Doctor's
handwriting; on the other that of her cousin, Mrs. Florio. Surprised
to hear from Olga, with whom she had had very little communication
for a year or two, she opened that letter first.
"Dear Irene," it began, "something has lately come to my knowledge
which I think I am only doing a duty in acquainting you with. It is
very unpleasant, but not the first unpleasant piece of news that you
and I have shared together. You remember all about Piers Otway and
those letters of my poor mother's, which he said he bought for us
from his horrid brother? Well, I find that he did _not_ buy them--
at all events that he never paid for them. Daniel Otway is now
broken-down in health, and depends on help from the other brother,
Alexander, who has gone in for some sort of music-hall business! Not
only did Piers _cheat_ him out of the money promised for the letters
(I fear there's no other word for it), but he has utterly refused to
give the man a farthing--though in good circumstances, I hear.
This is all very disagreeable, and I don't like to talk about it,
but as I hear Piers Otway has been seeing you, it's better you
should know." She added "very kind regards," and signed herself
"yours affectionately." Then came a postscript. "Mrs. A. Otway is
actually on the music-hall stage herself, in short skirts!"
The paper shook in Irene's hand. She turned sick with fear and
Mechanically the other letter was torn open. Dr. Derwent wrote about
Eustace's engagement. It did not exactly surprise him; he had
observed significant things. Nor did it exactly displease him, for
since talking with Eustace and with Marian Jacks (the widow), he
suspected that the match was remarkable for its fitness. Mrs. Jacks
had a large fortune--well, one could resign oneself to that.
"After all, Mam'zelle Wren, there's nothing to be uneasy about.
Arnold Jacks is sure to marry very soon (a dowager duchess, I should
say), and on that score there'll be no awkwardness. When the Wren
makes a nest for herself, I shall convert this house into a big
laboratory, and be at home only to bacteria."
But the Doctor, too, had a postscriptum. "Olga has been writing to
me, sheer scandal, something about the letters you wot of having
been obtained in a dishonest way. I won't say I believe it, or that
I disbelieve it. I mention the thing only to suggest that perhaps I
was right in not making any acknowledgment of that obligation. I
felt that silence was the wise as well as the dignified thing--
though someone disagreed with me."
When Irene entered the sitting-room, her friend had long since
"What's the matter?" Helen asked, seeing so pale and troubled a
"Nothing much; I overtired myself yesterday. I must keep quiet for a
Mrs. Borisoff herself was in no talkative frame of mind. She, too,
an observer might have imagined, had some care or worry. The two
very soon parted; Irene going back to her room, Helen out into the
A malicious letter this of Olga's; the kind of letter which Irene
had not thought her capable of penning. Could there be any
substantial reason for such hostile feeling? Oh, how one's mind
opened itself to dark suspicion, when once an evil whisper had been
She would not believe that story of duplicity, of baseness. Her very
soul rejected it, declared it impossible, the basest calumny. Yet
how it hurt! How it humiliated! Chiefly, perhaps, because of the
evil art with which Olga had reminded her of Piers Otway's
disreputable kinsmen. Could the two elder brothers be so worthless,
and the younger an honest, brave man, a man without reproach--her
Irene clutched at the recollection which till now she had preferred
to banish from her mind. Piers was not born of the same mother,
might he not inherit his father's finer qualities, and, together
with them, something noble from the woman whom his father loved?
Could she but know that history The woman was a law-breaker;
repeatability gave her hard names; but Irene used her own judgment
in such matters, and asked only for knowledge of facts. She had as
good as forgotten the irregularity of Piers Otway's birth. Whom,
indeed, did it or could it concern? Her father, least of all men,
would dwell upon it as a subject of reproach. But her father was
very capable of pointing to Daniel and Alexander, with a shake of
the head. He had a prejudice against Piers--this letter reminded
her of it only too well. It might be feared that he was rather glad
than otherwise of the "sheer scandal" Olga had conveyed to him.
Confident in his love of her, which would tell ill on the side of
his reasonableness, his justice, she had not, during these crucial
days, thought much about her father. She saw his face now, if she
spoke to him of Piers. Dr. Derwent, like all men of brains, had a
good deal of the aristocratic temper; he scorned the vulgarity of
the vulgar; he turned in angry impatience from such sorry creatures
as those two men; and often lashed with his contempt the ignoble
amusements of the crowd. Olga doubtless had told him of the singer
in short skirts----
She shed a few tears. The very meanness of the injury done her at
this crisis of emotion heightened its cruelty.
Piers might come to the Castle this morning. Now and then she
glanced from her window, if perchance she should see him
approaching; but all she saw was a group of holiday-makers, the
happily infrequent tourists who cared to turn from the beaten track
up the dale to visit the Castle. She did not know whether Helen was
at home, or had rambled away. If Piers came, and his call was
announced to her, could she go forth and see him?
Not to do so, would be unjust, both to herself and to him. The
relations between them demanded, of all things, honesty and courage.
No little courage, it was true; for she must speak to him plainly of
things from which she shrank even in communing with herself.
Yet she had done as hard a thing as this. Harder, perhaps, that
interview with Arnold Jacks which set her free. Honesty and courage
--clearness of sight and strength of purpose where all but every
girl would have drifted dumbly the common way--had saved her life
from the worst disaster: saved, too, the man whom her weakness would
have wronged. Had she not learnt the lesson which life sets before
all, but which only a few can grasp and profit by?
Towards midday she left her room, and went in search of Helen; not
finding her within doors, she stepped out on to the sward, and
strolled in the neighbourhood of the Castle. A child whom she knew
"Have you seen Mrs. Borisoff?" she asked.
"She's down at the beck, with the gentleman," answered the little
girl, pointing with a smile to the deep, leaf-hidden glen half a
Irene lingered for a few minutes and went in again.
At luncheon-time Helen had not returned. The meal was delayed for
her, more than a quarter of an hour. When at length she entered,
Irene saw she had been hastening; but Helen's features seemed to
betray some other cause of discomposure than mere unpunctuality.
Having glanced at her once or twice, Irene kept an averted face.
Neither spoke as they sat down to table; only when they had begun
the meal did Helen ask whether her friend felt better. The reply was
a brief affirmative. For the rest of the time they talked a little,
absently, about trivialities; then they parted; without any
arrangement for the afternoon.
Irene's mind was in that state of perilous commotion which invests
with dire significance any event not at once intelligible. Alone in
her chamber, she sat brooding with tragic countenance. How could
Helen's behaviour be explained? If she had met Piers Otway and spent
part of the morning with him, why did she keep silence about it? Why
was she so late in coming home, and what had heightened her colour,
given that peculiar shiftiness to her eyes?
She rose, went to Helen's door, and knocked.
"May I come in?"
"Of course--I have a letter to write by post-time."
"I won't keep you long," said Irene, standing before her friend's
chair, and regarding her with grave earnestness. "Did Mr. Otway call
"He was coming; I met him outside, and told him you weren't very
well. And"--she hesitated, but went on with a harder voice and a
careless smile--"we had a walk up the glen. It's very lovely, the
higher part. You must go. Ask him to take you."
"I don't understand you," said Irene coldly. "Why should I ask Mr.
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