The Golden Calf
M. E. Braddon
Part 7 out of 9
shelf in his search for picture-books, while Lady Palliser and her
stepdaughter sat at tea by the fire.
The lady of the house gave a faint sigh.
'I don't know, Vernie,' she said. 'I almost think I was happier there
than I am here. It was a poor little place, but I felt it was my own
house, and I never feel that here.'
'It will be my house when papa's dead,' replied Vernon, cheerfully,
seating himself on the ground in front of the broad bay window and
turning over Gell's 'Pompeiianai'; 'everything will be mine. Is that why
you don't feel as if it was yours now?'
'No, Vernie, that's not it. I hope it will be a great many years before
your father is taken away.'
'But you don't think so,' argued Vernon. 'You told him the other day that
if he did not walk more, and take less champagne, he would soon kill
'But I didn't mean it, darling. I only spoke for his good. The doctor
says he must take no champagne, or only the dryest of the dry.'
'What a silly that doctor must be!' interrupted Vernon; 'all wine is
'The doctor meant wine that is not sweet, dear.'
'Then he should have said so,' remarked Vernon, sententiously. He had
lived all his little life in grown-up society, and had been allowed to
hear everything, and to talk about everything, whereby he had come to
consider himself an oracle.
'The doctor thinks your poor papa has a lym--lym--'
'Lymphatic temperament?' suggested Ida.
'Yes, dear, that's the name of his complaint,' replied Lady Palliser, who
was not scientific. 'He has a--well, that particular disease,' continued
the little woman, breaking down again, 'and he ought to diet himself and
take regular exercise; and he won't diet himself, and he won't walk or
ride; and I lay awake at nights thinking of it,' she concluded,
'You can't lay awake,' said the boy; 'Ida says you can't. You can lay
down your hat or your umbrella, but _you_ can't lay. It's impossible.
'But I tell you I do, Vernie; I lay awake night after night,' protested
Lady Palliser, not seeing the grammatical side of the question. 'Oh,
Vernie!' as the folio plates gave an alarming crackle, 'you are tearing
that beautiful big book which cost your grandfather so much money.'
'It's a nasty book,' said Vernon, 'all houses and posts and things. Show
me some nice books, Ida; please, do.'
Ida was sitting on the carpet beside him in the next minute and together
they went through a bulky quarto Shakespeare with awe-inspiring
illustrations by Fuseli. She told him what the pictures meant, and this
naturally compelled her to tell the stories of the plays, and in this
manner she kept him amused till it was time to dress for dinner, and
almost bedtime for the little man. The happiest hours of her life were
those in which she devoted herself mentally and bodily to her young
brother. If he had loved her in adversity a year ago, he loved her still
better in prosperity, when she was able to do so much more for his
comfort and amusement. He was rarely out of her sight, the companion of
all her rides and rambles, the exacting charge of her life. Brian Walford
was not slow to perceive that the boy took precedence of him in all his
wife's thoughts, that the boy's society was more agreeable to her than
that of her husband, and his health and happiness of more importance. As
a wife she was amiable, submissive, dutiful; but it needed no
hypersensitiveness on the husband's part to warn him that she gave him
duty without love, submission without reverence or esteem The
consciousness of his wife's indifference made Mr. Wendover less agreeable
than he had been during that brief courtship among the willows and rushes
by the river. He was inclined to be captious, and did not conceal his
jealousy of the boy from Ida, although he set a watch upon his tongue in
the presence of Vernon's father and mother.
After all it was a rather pleasant thing to have free quarters at
Wimperfield, to have hunters to ride, and covers to shoot over which were
almost as much his own as if they had belonged to him. Sir Reginald
Palliser had a large way of conferring benefits, which was instinctive in
a man of his open and careless temper. Having given Brian Wendover what
he called the run of his teeth at Wimperfield, he had no idea of limiting
the privileges of residence there. Even when the stud-groom grumbled at
the laming of a fine horse by injudicious bucketting up hill and down
hill in a lively run with the Petersfield Harriers Sir Reginald made
light of the injury, and sent Pepperbox into the straw-yard to recover at
his leisure. His own use of the stable was restricted to an occasional
ride on an elderly brown cob, of aristocratic lineage and manners that
would have been perfect but for the old-gentleman-like habit of dropping
asleep over his work. The new baronet was too lazy to hunt, too liberal
to put down the hunting stable established by his predecessor. The horses
were there--let Ida and Brian ride them. Of those good things which the
blind goddess had flung into his lap nothing was too good for his
daughter or his daughter's husband in Sir Reginald's opinion.
Happily for the domestic peace, Lady Palliser was able to get on
harmoniously with her stepdaughter's husband, and was not disposed to
grudge him the luxuries of Wimperfield.
Brian Walford had been quick to take that good-hearted little woman's
intellectual measure. He flattered her small vanities, and made her so
pleased with herself that she was naturally pleased with him. His shallow
and frivolous nature made him livelier company than a man of profounder
thought and deeper feeling. He sang light and lively music from the comic
operas of the day, nay, would even stoop to some popular strain from the
music-halls. He was clever at all round games and drawing-room
amusements. He enlivened conversation with puns, which ranged from the
utterly execrable to the tolerably smart. He quoted all the plays and
burlesques that had been acted in London during the last five years; he
could imitate all the famous actors; and he was a past master of modern
slang. There was not much society within an easy drive of Wimperfield,
but the few jog-trot county people who dined, or lunched, or
afternoon-tea'd with the Pallisers were enlivened by Mr. Wendover's
social gifts, and talked of him afterwards as a talented young man.
So far Mr. Wendover had taken the goods the gods provided with a placid
acceptance, and had shown no avidity for independence. He was silent as
to his professional prospects, although Sir Reginald had told him in the
beginning of things that if he wanted to make his way at the Bar any
money required for the smoothing of his path should be provided.
'You are too good,' Brian answered lightly; 'but it isn't a question of
money--it's a question of time. The Bar is a horribly slow profession. A
man has to eat his heart out waiting for briefs.'
'Yes, I have always heard as much,' said Sir Reginald; 'but will it do as
well for you to eat your heart out down here as in the Temple? Will the
briefs follow you to Wimperfield when the propitious time comes?'
'I believe they are about as likely to find me here as anywhere else,'
answered Brian, moodily,--he was apt to turn somewhat sullen at any
suggestion of hard work--'and in the meanwhile I am not wasting my time.
I can go on writing for the magazines.'
That writing for the magazines was an unknown quantity. The young man
occasionally shut himself in a little upstairs study on a wet day, smoked
excessively, and was supposed to be writing laboriously, his intellect
being fed and sustained by tobacco. Sometimes the result of the day was a
fat package of manuscript despatched to the post-office; sometimes there
was no result except a few torn sheets of foolscap in the waste-paper
basket Sometimes the manuscript came back to the writer after a
considerable interval; and at other times Mr. Wendover informed his wife
vaguely that 'those fellows' had accepted his contribution. Whatever
honorarium he received for his work was expended upon his _menus
plaisirs_--or may be said rather to have dribbled from his waistcoat
pocket in a series of trivial ex-travagances which won him a reputation
for generosity among grooms and such small deer. To his wife he gave
nothing: she was amply provided with money by her father, who would have
lavished his newly-acquired wealth upon her if she had been disposed to
spend it; but she was not. Her desires were no more extravagant now than
when she was receiving ten pounds a quarter from Miss Wendover. Sooth to
say, the temptations to extravagance at Wimperfield were not manifold.
Ida's only need for money was that she might give it to the poor, and
that, according to Jeremy Taylor, is to send one's cash straight to
The few old-established inhabitants of the neighbourhood, mostly sons of
the soil, who attended the village church, were very plain in their
raiment, knowing that they occupied a position in the general regard
which no finery of velvets or satins could modify. Did not everybody
about Wimperfield know everybody else's income, how much or how little
the various estates were encumbered, the poverty or richness of the soil,
and the rent of every farm upon it? It was only when Lady Pontifex of
Heron Court came down from town, bringing gowns and cloaks and bonnets
from Regent Street or the Rue de la Paix, that a transitory flash of
splendour lighted up the shadowy old nave with the glow of newly-invented
hues and the sheen of newly-woven fabrics. But the natives only gazed and
admired. There was nobody adventurous enough to imitate the audacities of
a lady of fashion. Miss Emery, of Petersfield, was quite good enough for
the landed gentry of this quiet region. She had the fashions direct from
Paris in the gaily-coloured engravings of _Le Follet_, and what could
anyone want more fashionable than Paris fashions? True that Miss Emery's
conscientious cutting and excellent workmanship imparted a certain
heaviness to Parisian designs; but who would care to have a gown blown
together, as it were, by girls who were not allowed to sit down at their
The life at Wimperfield was a pleasant life, albeit exceedingly quiet.
There were times when Brian Walford felt the dulness of this rustic
existence somewhat oppressive; but if life indoors was monotonous and
uneventful, he had a good deal of amusement out of doors--hunting,
shooting, football, and an occasional steeple-chase within a day's drive.
And a grand point was that nobody asked him to work hard. He could make a
great show of industry with books and foolscap, and nobody pryed too
closely into the result.
LADY PALLISER STUDIES THE UPPER TEN.
Ida was not left long in ignorance as to the friendly feelings of those
she had left behind at Kingthorpe. Bessie's first letter reached her
within a few days of her arrival at Wimperfield--a loving little letter,
full of sorrowful expressions about the two good young fellows who were
gone, yet not concealing the writer's pleasure at her friend's elevation.
'When are we to meet again, dearest?' asked Bessie, after she had given
full expression to her feelings; 'are you to come to us, or are we to
go to you? What is the etiquette of the situation? Father and mother
know nothing about outside points of etiquette. Beyond the common
rules of dinners and calls, calls and dinners, I believe they are in
benighted ignorance. Shall we tell John Coachman to put four horses to
the landau--with himself and the under-gardener as postilions--and post
over to Wimperfield--just as they pay visits in Miss Austin's novels?
Perhaps now we have gone back to Chippendale furniture, we shall return
to muslin frocks and the manners of Miss Austin's time. I'm sure I wish
we could. Life seems to have been so much simpler in her day, and so much
cheaper. Darling, I am longing to see you. Remember you are my cousin
now--my very own near relation. It was Fate, you see, that made me so
fond of you, from that first evening when you helped me so kindly with my
There was also a letter from Aunt Betsy, quite as affectionate, but in
much fewer words, and more to the purpose.
'We shall drive over to see your father and mother as soon as we hear
that they are disposed to receive visitors,' said Miss Wendover in
'I wonder Miss Wendover did not say Sir Reginald and Lady Palliser,'
observed Ida's stepmother, when she had read this letter.
The little woman had been devoting herself very earnestly to the perusal
of books of etiquette--'The Upper Circles,' 'What is What,' 'The Creme de
la Creme,' and works of a corresponding order, and was now much more
learned in the infinitesimals of polite life than was Sir Reginald or his
daughter. She had a profound belief in the mysterious authors of these
'The "Creme de la Creme" must be right, you know, Ida,' she said, when
some dictum was disputed, 'for the book was written by a Countess.'
'A Countess who wears a shoddy tourist suit, and smokes shag, and sleeps
in a two pair back in Camden Town, most likely,' said Sir Reginald,
The new baronet utterly refused to be governed by the hard and fast rules
of the 'Creme de la Creme.' He daily did things which were absolute and
awful heresies in the sight of that authority, and Lady Palliser was
sorely exercised at her very first dinner-party by seeing the county
people of Wimperfield setting at naught the precepts of the anonymous
Countess at every stage of the evening. They did those things which they
ought not to have done, and they left undone those things which they
ought to have done, and, from the Countess's point of view were utterly
But although Lady Palliser thought Miss Wendover's letter deficient in
ceremony, she was not the less ready to welcome Ida's Kingthorpe friends;
so a hearty invitation to dine and stay the night was sent to the Colonel
and his wife, to Aunt Betsy, and as many of the junior members of the
family as the biggest available carriage would hold.
It was the beginning of November when this visit occurred, but the
foliage was still green on the elm tree tops, while many a lovely tint of
yellow and brown still glowed on the woodland. The weather was balmy,
sunshiny, the sky as blue as at midsummer; and Ida, with her face as
radiant as the sunlight, stood in the porch ready to welcome her friends
when the wagonette drove up.
'Oh! but where are Blanche and Eva? and why did not the boys come?' she
inquired, when she had shaken hands with the Colonel, and had been kissed
and embraced by Mrs. Wendover, Aunt Betsy, and Bessie: 'surely they are
'No, dear; I think we are quite a strong enough party as it is,' answered
'Not half strong enough! you have no idea what a barrack Wimperfield
is--but Bessie knows, and ought to have told you. There are
two-and-twenty bedrooms. It would have been a charity to have filled some
of them. I am dreadfully disappointed!'
'Never mind, dear, you will see enough of them, depend upon it. But where
'Oh! it is one of his harrier days. He left all sorts of apologies for
not being at home to receive you. He will be home before dinner. Here is
mamma,' as Lady Palliser came sailing out, in a forty-guinea gown from
Jay, all glitter of bugles, and sheen of satin, putting Mrs. Wendover's
homespun travelling dress to shame. There was a dinner-gown with the
luggage, but a gown which, in comparison with Lady Palliser's satin and
jet, would be like the cloudy countenance of Luna on a November night, as
compared with the glory of Sol on a midsummer morning. But then, happily,
Mrs. Wendover was not the kind of person to suffer at being worse dressed
than her hostess. Lady Palliser sank in a low curtsey when Ida murmured a
rather vague presentation, and again beheld the Countess's eternal laws
violated by her guests, for the Colonel and his wife shook hands with a
vigour which in the 'Creme de la Creme' was stigmatised as a barbarous
vulgarity; while Aunt Betsy was so taken up with Ida that, after a smile
and a nod, she actually turned her back upon the lady of the house.
'My poor child, how horridly ill you are looking,' Miss Wendover
exclaimed, holding Ida by both hands and looking searchingly into her
face. 'Prosperity has not agreed with you. I can see the traces of
sleepless nights under your eyes.'
'It was such a shock,' murmured Ida.
'Yes, it was a terrible shock. Those fine frank young fellows! It was
ever so long before I could get the images of them out of my mind. And I
could not help feeling very sorry for them, in spite of your good
'Don't call it my good fortune,' said Ida; 'I am glad my father is better
off; but I was happier when I was poor.'
'And yet you used to say such bitter things about poverty?'
'Yes, I was a worshipper of Mammon in those days; but now I have got
inside the temple and have found out that he is a false god.'
'He is not a god, but a devil. "The least erected spirit that fell from
heaven." My poor Ida! And so you have found out that there are dust and
ashes inside golden apples! Never mind; you will learn to enjoy the
privileges and comforts of wealth better when you are better used to
being rich. And in the meantime tell me that you are happy in your
married life, that you and Brian are getting on pleasantly together.'
'We never quarrel,' said Ida, looking downward.
'Oh, that is a bad sign. Tell me something better than that.'
'You all told me that it was my duty to live with my husband. I am trying
to do my duty,' Ida answered gravely.
There was no radiance upon her face now. All the happiness--the unselfish
delight of welcoming her friends--had faded, and left her pale and
She threw off all gloomy thoughts presently, and was running about the
house, showing her friends their rooms, giving directions to servants,
making a good deal more fuss, and making more use of her own hands, than
the author of 'La Creme de la Creme' would have tolerated.
'A lady's hands,' said that exalted personage, 'are not for use, but for
ornament. Her first object should be to preserve their delicacy of form
and colour; her second to be always _bien gantee_. She should never lift
anything heavier than her teacup; and she should rather endure some
inconvenience from cold while waiting the attendance of her footman than
she should so far derogate from feminine dignity as to put on a shovel of
coals. The rule of her life should be to do nothing which her domestics
or her _dame de compagnie_ can do for her.'
'My dearest Ida,' remonstrated Lady Palliser, remembering this classic
passage, 'what do you mean by carrying that bag?' Are there no servants
in the house?'
'Half-a-dozen too many, mamma; but I like to do something with my own
hands for those I love.'
Lady Palmer sighed, recalling the days when she had cooked her husband's
breakfasts and dinners, and had been happier--so it seemed to her now--in
performing that domestic duty than in giving orders to a housekeeper of
whom she stood in awe. But Fanny Palliser had made up her mind that she
ought to become a fine lady, in order to do credit to her husband's
altered fortunes, and she was working assiduously with that intent.
The guests had arrived in time for luncheon, and after luncheon Lady
Palliser and the three elders went for a long drive in the landau, to
explore the best points in the surrounding scenery, while Ida and Bessie,
with Vernon in their company, started for a long ramble in the Park and
woods. The boy ran about hither and thither, flitting from bank to bank,
in quest of flowers or insects, curious about everything in nature, vivid
as a flash in all his movements. Thus the two girls were left very much
to themselves, and were able to talk as they liked, only occasionally
giving their attention to some newly-discovered wonder of Vernon's, a
tadpole in the act of shedding his horny beak, or some gigantic
development of the genus toadstool, which species was just then in full
At first there was a shadow of constraint upon Bessie's manner; and in
one whose nature was so frank, the faintest touch of reserve was
painfully obvious. For a little while all her talk was of Wimperfield and
'And to think that my dear old pet should be a leading member of our
county families!' she exclaimed; 'it is too delightful.'
'Indeed, Bess, I am nothing of the kind. I am a very insignificant
person--nothing but my father's daughter. Brian and I are only here on
'Oh, that's nonsense, dear. I heard Sir Reginald tell my father that
Wimperfield was to be your home and Brian's as long as ever you both
like--as long as your father lives, in fact. Brian can have his chambers
in town, and work at his profession, but you are to live at Wimperfield.'
'That can hardly be,' answered Ida, gloomily; 'when Brian goes to London,
I must go with him. It will be my duty, you know,' with a shade of
'Well, then, this will be your country house--and that will be ever so
much better; for after all, you know, however delightful the country may
be, it is rather like being buried alive to live in it all the year
round. I suppose Brian will soon begin to work at his profession--to read
law books, and wait for briefs, don't you know.'
'I hope so,' answered Ida, coldly; 'but I do not think your cousin is
very fond of hard work.'
'Oh, but he must work--manhood demands it. He cannot possibly go on
sponging upon your father for ever.'
'There is no question of sponging. Brian is welcome here, as you have
heard. Lady Palliser likes him very much, and we all get on very well
'But you would like your husband to work, wouldn't you, Ida?'
'I should like him to be a man,' answered Ida, curtly.
In all this time there had been no mention of that other Brian--the owner
of Wendover Abbey. No word of congratulation had come to Ida from him
upon the change in her fortunes; nor had her husband told her of any
communication from his cousin. She concluded, therefore, that Brian the
elder had made no sign. It might be that he had dismissed her from his
mind as unworthy of further thought or care. He had discovered her
falsehood, her worthlessness, and she was no longer the woman he had once
loved and honoured She had passed out of his life, like an evil dream
which he had dreamed and forgotten.
His voice had been silent when those other voices--the Colonel's and the
Curate's--had told her that it was her duty to fulfil the vow she had
vowed before God's altar: to share her husband's fate for good or ill.
Brian, her lover of a few minutes before, had held his peace. What had he
thought of her in those bitter moments? Had there been one touch of pity
mingled with his scorn? She could not tell. He had made no sign.
From the moment of her friends arrival she had tremulously expected some
mention of Mr. Wendover's name; but that name had not been spoken. The
silence was a relief: and yet she yearned to know something more: whether
he had spoken of her with friendly feeling, whether he thought of her
Not for worlds would she have questioned Bessie upon this subject: not
even Bessie, whose childish love so invited confidence, before whose
tender eyes she could never feel ashamed.
After that little talk about Brian Walford there followed a good deal of
talk about Mr. Jardine. He was promised a living, not a big benefice by
any means, but still an actual living and an actual Vicarage, in the
vicinity of Salisbury Plain; and he and Bessie were to be married early
in the following year, as soon as there were enough spring flowers to
decorate Kingthorpe Church, the Colonel had said.
'It is to be in the time of daffodils, just before Lent,' said Bess;
'Easter comes late next year, you know.'
'I don't know; but no doubt you have found out all about it,' Ida
answered, laughing. 'God bless you, dear, and make your wedded life one
'I have seen marriages like that,' said Bess. 'Father and mother, for
instance. They are always spooning. Oh, Ida! doesn't it seem dreadfully
soon to be married?'
'There is plenty of time for reflection,' answered Ida, with a sigh.
Bessie remembered how sudden a thing matrimony had been in her friend's
'Ah, darling, I know what you are thinking about,' she said tenderly.
'You married on the spur of the moment, and were just a little sorry
afterwards; but I have been so fenced and guarded by parental wisdom that
I could not do anything foolish--if I tried ever so. And then John is far
too wise to propose anything wild or romantic--yet I think if he had come
to me and said, "There is a dog-cart at the gate, let us drive over to
Romsey Church and be married," I should hardly have known how to say no.
But, Ida, dear, tell me that your hasty marriage has turned out a happy
one after all. Brian is so very nice. Confess now that you are happy with
Bessie had intended scrupulously to avoid any such home question; but her
feelings carried her away directly she began to talk of John Jardine.
'I cannot tell you a lie. Bessie; no, my life is not a happy one. All
colour and brightness, all youthfulness and fervour, went out of me when
I left Kingthorpe; but it is an endurable life, and I make the best of
'Brian is not unkind to you, I hope?' cried Bessie, prepared to be
'No, he is not unkind. I have no complaint to make against him.'
'But surely he is nice,' argued Bessie; 'I have always thought him one of
the nicest young men I know. He has very good manners, he knows a good
deal, can talk of almost any subject, and he is full of life and spirits,
when he wants to be amusing.'
'I have no doubt he is a very agreeable person,' answered Ida, gloomily.
'I have never disputed that. And yet our marriage was a mistake, all the
'But when you married him, surely then you must have cared for him, just
'I thought I did. It was the glamour of his imaginary wealth. It was the
worship of the golden calf, exemplified in one of its vilest phases, a
'Do not lower yourself too much, dearest,' pleaded Bessie hugging her
friend's arm affectionately, as they tramped across the withered
bracken.' You are too good to have been governed by any sordid feeling.
The delusion must have gone deeper?'
'It did. I married in a rhapsody of gratitude, thinking that I had found
a modern Cophetua. Say no more about it, Bess, if you love me!'
'I will never say another word, dear,' sighed Bess; 'but I do wish you
had been single when you met the other Brian, for I know he was more than
half in love with you. And now he is going off to the other end of the
world again, and goodness knows if he will ever come back.'
The upper tracts of heaven were beginning to grow gray, the sun was
sinking in a bed of red and gold behind a clump of oaks on the edge of
the horizon--the dark and delicate outline of leafless branches
distinctly marked against that yellow light. Wimperfield Park was almost
at its best upon such an afternoon as this, the turf soft and springy
after autumnal rains, the atmosphere tranquil and balmy, and all animal
creation--deer, oxen, rabbits, feathered game, and an innumerable army of
rooks--full of life and motion. Ida was slow to reply to Bessie's news
about her cousin. The two girls walked on in silence for a little way,
Vernon running ever so far ahead of them to look for fallen nuts in a
grove of fine old Spanish chestnuts, which stood boldly out on the top of
'Don't you feel sorry that he is going away?' asked Bessie at last; 'just
as he had established himself among us, and begun all kinds of
improvement at the Abbey farm, and was even thinking of building new
'It is a pity,' said Ida.
'It is simply horrid. He is quite as bad as those Irish Absentees who are
continually getting murdered; or he would be as bad, if he had not
arranged with my father for the carrying on of all his plans while he is
'That is very good of him.'
'Good, yes; but it will be a dreadful responsibility for poor father, and
I daresay we shall all be worried about it. He will have builders on the
brain till the work is finished. My poor John has promised to look after
the schools; and he is so conscientious that he will wear himself to a
shadow rather than neglect the smallest detail.'
'But are you not pleased that he can be of so much use?'
'I am obliged to be pleased. I am going to be a clergyman's wife; and I
must teach myself to look at everything from the parochial point of view.
John and I will not belong to ourselves, but to our parish. Our own
pleasure, our own health, our own interests, must be as nothing to us. We
must only exist as machines for the maintenance of the proper church
services and for the relief of the sick and poor.'
'If you think it too hard a life, dear, there is time for you to draw
'Oh, Ida, do you think I am like Lot's wife, regretting the false
frivolous world I am going to renounce? What life could be too hard
shared with _him?_'
'God bless you, dear. I believe your life will be a very happy one,' said
Ida, earnestly, and with a touch of melancholy. There was so much that
was enviable in Bessie's fate. Then, after a pause, she said
hesitatingly, 'Do you know why your cousin is going to leave England?'
'No; I know no reason except his natural restlessness. He is a member of
the Geographical, you know, and attends all their meetings. The other day
he went up to hear some old fellow prose about the regions north of
Afghanistan, and he was so interested that he made arrangements at once
for an exploration on his own account. And I daresay he will get killed
by some savage tribe, or die of fever.'
'He is not going alone, I hope?'
'No, he has a friend almost as mad as himself, and they are going
together. That will mean two for the savages to kill instead of one; and
I suppose they will have an interpreter and two or three servants, which
will be a few more for the savages.'
'Let us hope they will not go into really dangerous places, There must be
so much for a traveller to see in India, without running any great
risks,' said Ida, affecting a cheerful tone.
'But you know English travellers love to run risks. It is their only idea
of enjoyment. A man like Brian is told of some mountain or some
settlement where no Englishman has ever set his foot before, and he says,
"That is the very place for me," and the experiment naturally results in
his getting murdered.' They had finished their ramble, and were in front
of the portico by this time.
'Oh, Bessie!' said Ida, with a stifled sob, 'life is full of sad changes.
Do you remember that summer afternoon, three mouths ago, when Vernon and
Peter stood on those steps bidding us good-bye, as we drove away with
your cousin? and now those two are lying at the bottom of the sea, and he
is going to the other end of the world.'
The Wendover visit was altogether a success. There was something so
conciliating, so sympathetic, so entirely comfortable in Mrs. Wendover's
nature and outward characteristics, that Lady Palliser felt almost
immediately at her ease with her, and forgot her newly-acquired manners,
becoming a good deal more ladylike in consequence; since the strict and
stern system of etiquette, formulated in the 'Creme de la Creme,' did not
lie conformably to the original formation of the little woman's
disposition. To be free and easy, loquacious, fussy, and kind was Fanny
Palliser's nature, and she became odious when she tried to restrain those
simple impulses by the armour of formal manners.
'I never had a lady friend I liked better than Mrs. Wendover,' she told
Ida, in confidence, on the second day of the visit.
Fanny Palliser was not quite so much at ease with Aunt Betsy. She had an
idea that the spinster was satirical, and was inwardly critical of her
shortcomings. She was impressed by the wide extent of Aunt Betsy's
information, most especially when that lady talked politics with Sir
Reginald, and contrived to hem him into corners whence there was no
logical thoroughfare. Aunt Betsy was Liberal to the verge of Radicalism;
Sir Reginald a Tory of the good old pig-headed type, who looked upon all
advance movements as revolutionary, and thought that his own party had
'I don't like strong-minded women,' Lady Palliser told Ida when the
guests had left. 'I have no doubt Miss Wendover is very kind-hearted and
generous--I'm sure her kindness to you was wonderful--but she is not _my_
idea of a lady. That brocade dinner-gown was lovely, and fitted her like
a glove; but the way she put her elbows on the table when she talked to
Sir Reginald at dessert--well, I never did!'
Brian Walford had made himself particularly agreeable during the brief
visit of his kindred--agreeable to both sides of the house. It was his
desire to stand well with both. He wanted his uncle and aunts to see that
he was thought much of at Wimperfield--that he was a valued member of the
household, respected and liked by his wife's family, that he had done
well for himself by his marriage, and that whatever cloud had
overshadowed the opening of his wedded life had vanished altogether from
his horizon. People so soon forgive and forget a little wrong-doing if
the sinner comes comfortably out of his difficulties, and becomes a
prosperous member of society. The Colonel and his wife, who had always
liked Ida, liked her all the better now that they saw her established in
a stately home--the only daughter of a man of fortune and position.
On the morning of her departure, Miss Wendover contrived to have a
_tete-a-tete_ with Sir Reginald; in the course of which she informed
him that she meant to leave half her money to her niece Bessie, and the
other half to her nephew--Brian Walford.
'The land, of course, will go to Brian of the Abbey,' she said. 'We
Wendovers can't afford to divide the soil. Out chances of doing good in
the land depend upon our having a large interest in the neighbourhood.'
'Why, Miss Wendover, I thought you were a Radical!' exclaimed Sir
'So I am in many of my ideas, but not for cutting up the land into little
bits, to pass from hand to hand like a ten-pound note, until there should
not be an estate left in England with a long family history, nor a rich
man left in the rural districts to take care of the poor. England would
be badly off without her squirearchy.'
Sir Reginald and Miss Wendover were thoroughly agreed upon this point. He
thanked her for her generous intentions towards her nephew; and he told
her that he meant to provide fairly for his daughter. 'The entail expires
in my person,' he said; 'I can do what I like for my girl. Of course the
whole of the estate will go to Vernon. He is the last of his race, and I
hope I may live to see him married, and the father of sons to inherit his
name. It is a hard thing to think that a good old name must perish off
the face of the land. However, I am free to make my will as I like, and I
shall leave Ida six or seven hundred a year. She and Brian ought to get
on very well with that, and his profession. I should like to see him a
little more energetic--a little fonder of hard work,' pursued Sir
Reginald, with a sigh, conscious of having never felt a strong
inclination that way on his own part; 'but I suppose all young men are
'No, they are not,' retorted Aunt Betsy, sharply. 'There are workers
and idlers in all families--men born to honour or to dishonour--races
apart--like the drones and the working bees. Look at my other nephew, for
example--a man who has seven thousand a year, and not a creature to
gainsay him if he chose to dissipate his days and nights on worldly
pleasures. He is your true type of worker--a fine Greek scholar--a
naturalist, a traveller, a thorough sportsman, where sport means courage,
adventure, intelligence, endurance. Fortune made him a rich man, but he
has made himself a man of mark in every circle in which he has ever
lived, and I am proud to own him for my own flesh and blood. Nature gave
Brian Walford many gifts, and what has he done for himself? Learnt to
dress as foplings dress, and to think as foplings think!'
'He is a very nice young fellow!' said Sir Reginald kindly; 'we are all
fond of him; only we think--for his own sake--it would be better if he
took life more seriously.'
'He must be made to take life seriously,' replied the spinster sternly.
'Yes, he is very nice--that is the worst of it; if he were nasty no one
would tolerate him. I'm afraid his good qualities will be his ruin.' And
thus, promising good things, yet prophesying evil, Miss Wendover left
Wimperfield. Ida was to go and stay with her later on at the Homestead,
when Brian Walford should be reading law in those new Chambers which he
often talked about. There were times when to hear him talk people thought
him a youth gnawed and consumed by ambition, only panting for the
opportunity to work.
Two days after the Wendovers had gone back, Brian showed his wife a
letter from his cousin, Brian of the Abbey.
'I am leaving England for a longer period than usual, and going farther
afield,' wrote the master of Wendover Abbey; 'so before starting I feel
myself bound to do something definite for you.'
'He has helped me with odd sums now and then, I suppose you know?' said
Brian, as Ida read this passage.
'I did not know,' she answered coldly; 'but I am not surprised to hear
that he has been generous to you.'
'No, he is your paragon--your preux chevalier--is he not?' sneered Brian.
'Bessie told me as much.'
'She told you only the truth. No one who lives at Kingthorpe can help
knowing that your cousin is a good man.'
She went on with the letter.
'Now you are married the claims upon you will be larger than they
have been, and I know you will not care to be a pensioner upon your
father-in-law's bounty. I have, therefore, arranged with my bankers that
you should draw on me quarterly for a hundred and fifty pounds while I am
away. This will help you to keep the wolf from the door while you are
reading for the Bar. I hope to find you a successful junior, in the first
stage of a prosperous journey to the Bench, when I come back.'
'Six hundred a year. Not half bad, is it, Ida?'
'It is very good of him. I hope you will do as he suggests.'
'How do you mean?'
'Work hard at your profession.'
'I shall work hard enough,' answered Brian, turning sullen, 'unless you
all badger me. I hate being badgered.'
'ALL OUR LIFE IS MIXED WITH DEATH.'
Four years and more had gone, and there were changes at
Wimperfield--changes at Kingthorpe. Death had come to the Georgian
mansion among the wood-crowned hills. The easy-going master of that good
old house had taken life a little too easily, had disregarded the
warnings of wife and doctor, had dined and slept, and drunk his favourite
wines--not immoderately, but with utter disregard of medical regimen--had
neither walked, nor ridden, but had let life slip by him in a placid,
plethoric self-indulgence--shunning all exertion, all pleasure even, if
it were allied with activity of any kind. So, in an existence almost as
sleepy as the spell-bound slumber in Beauty's enchanted palace, Ida's
father had left the door of his mansion ajar to the fell visitor Death,
and the fatal day had come suddenly, with no more warning than Sir
Reginald heard Sunday after Sunday in church, or read any evening in his
favourite Horace, as he turned the carmine-bordered leaves of one of
Firmin Didot's exquisite duodecimos, and mused pleasantly over the poet's
perpetual variations upon the old theme--
'Brother, we must all die.'
The guest came like a thief in the night, and snatched his prey, in the
midst of the family circle, in the leisurely lamplit hour after dinner,
with the sound of gay voices and light laughter in the air. The senseless
body breathed and throbbed for another day and another light: and then
all was over--and Ida and her stepmother knelt side by side, clasped in
each other's arms, by the clay which both had fondly loved.
They were alone in their sorrow. Brian was in London. Vernon was with Mr.
and Mrs. Jardine, at their parsonage on Salisbury Plain, being prepared
for Eton. The two women grieved together in a mournful solitude for the
first day on which the house was darkened, and the presence of death was
palpable in their midst.
Brian hurried down to Wimperfield directly the news reached him. He was
agitated by the event, which had happened without any note of warning. He
was not given to forecasting the future, and it had seemed to him that
life at Wimperfield was to go on for ever in the same groove--immutable
as the course of the planets; that he was always to have a luxurious home
there--a fine stable--an indulgent father-in-law. He had been really fond
of Sir Reginald, after his manner, and his sudden death shocked and
grieved him. And then it gave a shade of uncertainty to his own future.
He did not know how the estate might be left--how tied up and hedged
round by executors and trustees, shutting him out of his present almost
proprietorial enjoyment of the place. Some smug London lawyer, perhaps,
would put his sleek paw upon everything during the boy's minority. Sir
Reginald had never talked to Brian of his will.
The smug town lawyer came down, but not to impound Wimperfield--only to
read the late baronet's will, which was entirely in harmony with the dead
man's easy and generous temper.
He left his widow an annuity of fifteen hundred pounds, and the privilege
of occupying Wimperfield until his son should come of age, and on leaving
Wimperfield she was to receive the sum of two thousand pounds, to enable
her to furnish any house she might choose to rent for herself. To his
daughter he left any two horses she might select from the existing stud,
and seven hundred a year in the Three per Cents, the principal to be
divided among her children, if of age at the date of her death, or to be
held in trust for them if under age. In the event of Vernon dying
unmarried, Ida was to inherit everything; in the event of his marrying
but having no children, his widow was to take the same annuity as that
bequeathed to Lady Palliser, and the estate was to go to Ida, with
reversion to her eldest son, or, in the event of no son, to her eldest
daughter, whose husband was to take the name of Palliser. In this manner
had short-lived man endeavoured to make his name live after him.
Ida and her stepmother were left joint guardians of the boy, Vernon.
To Brian Walford Wendover, Sir Reginald bequeathed only his favourite
hunter, a leash of chumber spaniels, and fifty pounds for a memorial
ring. Mr. Wendover could not find fault with a will which left his wife
seven hundred a year; but he felt that his position was diminished by his
father-in-law's death, and he was morbidly jealous of the boy, who had
absorbed so much of his wife's care and affection from the first hour of
their coming to Wimperfield.
'I suppose we are to turn out now,' he said to Ida the night after the
funeral, when they two were slowly and sadly pacing the terrace, in front
of the drawing-room windows. It was the beginning of December--bleak,
cheerless weather--and the woods looked black against a dull gray sky.
There was only one feeble streak of pale yellow light in the west Bonder,
behind gaunt patriarchal oaks.
'Your father's will is a very handsome will,' continued Brian, 'but it
leaves no provision for our living on here, and I suppose we shall have
to clear out.'
'Leave Wimperfield! Oh, no, I'm sure Lady Palliser has no idea of such a
thing. Leave Wimperfield, and Vernon? He has a double claim upon me now,
my fatherless darling.'
'Of course, Vernon is your first thought,' sneered Brian. 'But wouldn't
it be just as well to think of ways and means! Who is to keep up
Wimperfield? Lady Palliser, on her fifteen hundred a year; or you, on
your seven hundred?'
'I can help mamma. She can have all my income, except just enough to buy
my clothes; and my father gave me gowns enough to last for the next five
years. But I heard the lawyer say that the place would be kept up for
Vernie. Lady Palliser would hardly have any occasion to spend her income,
except in paying for actual personal expenses, her own servants, and so
'Good for Lady Palliser; but that doesn't make our position any more
secure, if she should want to get rid of us?'
'I'm sure she will want us to stay. You ought to know her better than to
suggest such a thing. You must know her affectionate nature, and how fond
she is of us both.'
'I never presume to _know_ anything of any woman. She seems to like us;
but who can tell what may lurk under that seeming. She may marry again,
and want to make a clean sweep of old associations.'
'Mamma! How can you think of such a horrid thing? No, she is as true as
steel; she has been a good and loyal wife to my father.'
'That doesn't prevent her being good and loyal to a second husband; nay,
her very virtues--affectionateness, a soft clinging nature--point to the
probability of a second marriage. It is just such women who fail into the
adventurer's trap. However, we won't quarrel about her, and so long as
she is cordial, and likes to have us here, Wimperfield can be our country
This was a somewhat loose way of sneaking, for Wimperfield had been
Ida's only house during her married life. Brian had his chambers in
the Temple at a rent of a hundred and twenty-five pounds a year, his
sitting-room furnished with none of that Spartan ruggedness which so well
became George Warrington, of Pump Court, but in the willow-pattern and
peacock-feather style of art; the dingy old walls glorified by fine
photographs of Gerome's Roman Gladiators, Phryne before her judges,
Socrates searching for Alcibiades at the house of Aspasia, and enlarged
carbonized portraits of the reigning beauties in London society. But
these chambers, though supposed to be devoted to days of patient work and
much consumption of midnight oil, had served chiefly as a basis for late
breakfasts, club-dinners, and theatre-going, while the midnight oil had
been mostly associated with lobster salad at snug little suppers after
the play. Ida had never been at these chambers, although she had been
invited there frequently during the first few months of her husband's
tenancy. As time went by Mr. Wendover found it was more convenient that
his town and country residences should be completely distinct; and it had
gradually become an accepted fact at Wimperfield that Temple Chambers
were a kind of habitation which a man's wife could hardly visit without
violating the first principles of legal etiquette.
Brian Walford was speedily reassured as to his position at Wimperfield.
Lady Palliser clung to her stepdaughter in her widowhood with a still
warmer affection than she had shown during her husband's lifetime. Ida
was her adviser, her strong rock, her resource in all difficulties and
perplexities, social or domestic. Nor would she allow her stepdaughter or
her stepdaughter's husband to share the expenses of housekeeping at
Wimperfield. The allowance for the young baronet's maintenance during
his minority was large enough to cover all expenses of the very quiet
household, likely to be even more quiet now that Sir Reginald Palliser, a
man of particularly social habits, was gone.
Lady Palliser had never been able to feel thoroughly at home among the
county people. Their language was not her language, nor their habits her
habits. She could have got on ever so much better with them had they been
less homely and free and easy in their ways. She had schooled herself in
a politeness of line and rule, had learnt good manners by rote; and to
find all her theories continually ignored or traversed was a perplexity
and a trouble to her. If the county people had only treated her with the
rigid stiffness enjoined in a three-and-sixpenny manual, she could have
met them upon equal ground. She could have remembered the social laws
made and provided for her guidance as guest or hostess--how to enter and
leave a room, in what attitude to stand or sit, with the fitting use of
every item of table furniture, from the fish knife and fork to the salver
of rose water. But when she beheld the county people doing outrageous
things with their legs, and altogether heterodox in their way of eating
and drinking, when she heard them talk very much as the 'lady friends' of
her girlhood had talked over their washtubs, or kitchen ranges, yet with
an indescribable difference, and never by any chance realising her own
innate ideas of company manners, Lady Palliser felt herself more and more
at sea in this new world of hers. Thus it was that she fell into the way
of letting Ida manage everything for her, and of meekly accepting such
friends as Ida brought round her, and making much of those mothers whose
boys were of an age to be play-fellows for her own beloved son.
And now the master of the house, the central figure in the family
picture, was gone, and the two women had to face life for the most part
alone. Brian had grown fonder of London lately. He had held a few briefs
during the last twelve months and could plead business in the
metropolitan law-courts as a reason for being very little at Wimperfield
out of the hunting season. The boy was with the Jardines at Hopsley
Vicarage, except during the happy interval of holidays. He was always
glad to come home, but he was generally tired of home before the holiday
was over, and went back to the Jardines with a keen delight which made
his mother's heart ache.
Ida's character had ripened and strengthened in the years which were
gone, years of quiet, submissive performance of duty. She had been a fond
and obedient daughter, an almost adoring sister, a good and faithful
wife. If she had not given her husband the love he had hoped to inspire,
she had been more considerate, more sympathetic than many a wife who has
married for love. She had never wounded him by hard words, had never
exacted sacrifices from him, never pursued her own pleasure when it was
at variance with his. She had long ago gauged his shallow nature--she
knew but too well that he was a reed, and not a rock, and that in all the
trials of life she would have to stand alone; but if she sometimes
inwardly scorned him, she never betrayed her scorn, either to him or to
the world after she had once made up her mind as to the nature of the
bond between them, and the duties attached to that bond. With ripening
years and growing wisdom she had atoned nobly for the errors of impulse
and reckless anger.
Brian knew that she was good and loyal; but although he admired and
respected her, he could not forgive her for that innate superiority which
made him all the more conscious of his own shortcomings, for that growing
strength of character which accentuated his own weakness. When the charm
of novelty had departed, when the triumph of having won her in spite of
herself was over, Brian Walford's love for his beautiful wife wore to a
very thin thread. The tie was not broken, but it was sorely attenuated.
He had never ceased to be jealous of the brother whom she loved so much
more fondly than she had ever loved, or even pretended to love, her
husband; but he had left off expressing that jealousy in open unbraiding.
Once he had been in the habit of saying, 'You will have a boy of your own
some day, and then Master Vernie will be nowhere;' but that hoped-for son
had never come, and Vernon was still all in all to his sister. Brian knew
that it was so, and submitted to his lot in sullen acquiescence. After
all, his marriage had brought him much that was good--had smoothed his
pathway in life; and if--if, by-and-by, some such fatality as that which
had cleared the way for Reginald Palliser, should clear the way for Ida,
his wife would be the owner of one of the finest estates in Sussex. He
wished no evil to the young baronet, he bore no grudge against him for
Ida's idiotic fondness; but the fact remained that the boy's death would
make Brian Walford Wendover's wife a rich woman. It is not in the nature
of a man living among sharp-witted lawyers and men about town to ignore a
fact of this kind. His friends had talked to him about it after the
publication of Sir Reginald Palliser's will.
'A fine thing for you if that young gentleman were to go off the hooks,'
said they; but Brian protested that he had no desire for such promotion.
He was fond of the boy, and was very well satisfied with his own
'I daresay you do like the little beggar,' answered his particular
friend, who was loafing away the earlier half of the afternoon in Mr.
Wendover's chambers, smoking Mr. Wendover's cigarette, and sipping Mr.
Wendover's Apollinaris slightly coloured with brandy--a very modest form
of entertainment surely, and yet the cigarettes and the superfine cognac,
which were always on tap in Elm Court, made no small appearance in the
accounts of tobacconist and wine merchant. 'You would be sorry if
anything were to happen to him, no doubt; just as I shall be sorry when
the governor bursts up--poor old fellow! But I know I want his money very
badly; and I think you could spend a good deal more than your present
Brian admitted with a light laugh that his capacity for expenditure was
considerably in excess of his resources,
'You know how quietly I live,' he began.
_'Comme ci, comme ca,'_ muttered his friend.
'And yet even now I am in debt.'
'And have been ever since I first knew you, and would be if you had fifty
thousand a year!'
'Oh, that's inevitable,' said Brian. 'A man with an income of that kind
must always be in debt. He never can know when he comes to the boundary
line. When a man starts in life by believing he is enormously rich, and
can have everything he wants, he is pretty sure to go to the dogs. That's
the way the sons of millionaires so often drift towards the gutter.'
'FRUITS FAIL AND LOVE DIES AND TIME RANGES.'
Brian found Wimperfield duller as a place of residence after Sir
Reginald's death; or it may be that he found London gayer, and his
professional duties more absorbing. It was not often that his wife and
mother-in-law were gratified by any public notification of his
engagements; but now and then the name of Mr. Wendover appeared as junior
counsel in some insignificant case, and Lady Palliser, who read the
_Times_ and _Post_, diligently apprised Ida of the fact.
'You see Brian is getting on quite nicely,' she said approvingly, 'and
by-and-by when he has plenty of work, you will have a small house in
town, I suppose--somewhere about Belgravia--and only come to Wimperfield
for your holidays.'
Fanny Palliser had never left off compassionating Ida for her frequent
separation from her husband. She had never divined that Ida was happier
in Brian's absence than when he was with her. The wife had so borne
herself that her husband should not be put to shame by her indifference.
She lived the larger half of her life apart from him; but Lady Palliser
and her gossips believed that in so doing the young couple sacrificed
inclination to prudence. So soon as they could afford to maintain a town
house they would have one.
It was midsummer weather, and the rose garden at Wimperfield, that garden
which had been Ida's own peculiar care for the last four years, the
garden which she had improved and beautified with every art learned from
that ardent rose-worshipper Aunt Betsy, was glorious with its first
blooms. Sir Reginald Palliser had been dead a year and a half, but Ida
still wore black gowns, and the widow had in no wise mitigated the
severity of her weeds. The two women had lived peaceably and
affectionately together ever since the baronet's death, leading a quiet
but not unhappy life, the placid monotony of their existence agreeably
varied by frequent intercourse with the family at Kingthorpe.
The only changes at The Knoll were of a gentle domestic character. No
cloud of trouble had darkened that happy household. Bessie had become a
brisk, business-like little matron, dividing her cares between her
yearling baby and her husband's parish; troubled, like Martha, about many
things, but only in such a manner as women of her temperament like to be
troubled. Reginald had begun his University career as an undergraduate of
Balliol, and talked largely about Professor Jowett, and Greek. Horatio
was still a Wintonian. The Colonel had grown a little stouter, and his
wife was too polite to cultivate a slimness which might have seemed a
reproach to her husband's comfortable figure. Blanche was 'out,' a
development of her being which meant that she was occasionally invited to
a friendly dinner-party with her father and mother, that her clothes cost
three times as much as they had cost while she was 'in,' that she had
ideas about blue china and sunflowers, lamented the shabbiness of The
Knoll drawing-room and the general untidiness of the household, and that
she abandoned herself to despondency whenever there was a long interval
between one garden party and another. The child Eva had become exactly
what Blanche had been four years ago. Urania was still Urania Rylance,
just a shade more self-opinionated, and more conscious of the inferiority
of her fellow-creatures. These innate instincts had been ripened and
developed by several London seasons, and were now accompanied by a
flavour of sourness which was meant for wit. She had not been without
offers, but there had been no offer tempting enough to induce her to
abandon her privileges as Dr. Rylance's daughter. She had an idea that
her marriage would be the signal for Dr. Rylance to take unto himself a
second wife; and she was disinclined to give that signal. The more
anxious her father seemed to dispose of her in the marriage market, the
more tenaciously she clung to the privileges of spinsterhood.
'I hope you are not in a hurry to get rid of me, father,' she said at
breakfast one morning, when Dr. Rylance urged the claims of a cultured
youth in the War Office.
'No, my dear; I don't think I have shown any undue haste. This is your
fifth London season.'
I hope you do not call my intermittent glimpses of town a season,'
'I have you here as often and as long as I can,' answered her father,
becoming suddenly stony of countenance, 'and I take you out as much as I
can. Mr. Fitz Wilson has seven hundred a year. I could give you--say
three; and surely with a thousand a year two young people might live in
very good style--even in these pretentious days.'
'No doubt. But I don't care for Mr. Fitz Wilson, and I care still less
for the kind of style which can be maintained upon a thousand a year,'
replied Urania, with the air of a duchess. 'That would mean a small house
011 the skirts of Regent's Park, or a flat in the Marylebone Road, I
suppose--and no carriage.'
'Marry whom you please, my love, and when you please,' said her father;
'but remember that time is not standing still with any of us.'
There had been no change at the Abbey in the years which were gone since
Brian Walford claimed his bride, except that the new schools had been
built under Colonel Wendover's superintendence. The old house still
resembled the palace of the sleeping beauty; except that trustworthy
servants took care of it, and kept moths, spiders, mice, and all such
small deer at a distance. The owner of the mansion was still absent,
roaming about somewhere in Northern India, as it was supposed; but his
letters were few and far between. His kindred at Kingthorpe were
accustomed to think of him as a wanderer in far-away places, and gave
themselves very little anxiety about him. To have been anxious once would
be to be anxious always, since a traveller's risks are manifold, and
there is never a year when the eager spirit of some valiant explorer is
not quenched in sudden death. Brian Wendover had been away so long that
people had left off talking about him; and it seemed a natural condition
for the Abbey to be tenantless--a capital place for picnics and afternoon
teas. The Wendovers of The Knoll took all their visitors there as a
matter of course--played tennis on the lawn between the goodly old
cedars; and Blanche, who was of a much more enterprising disposition than
her sister Bessie, had tried her hardest to induce Mrs. Wendover to give
a ball in the old refectory.
Ida and her husband were strolling about the rose-garden in the quiet
hour after luncheon, while Lady Palliser dozed over her knitting-needles
in her favourite chair by the long French window. Brian had come to
Wimperfield somewhat unexpectedly, while the London season was still at
its height, and all the law courts in full swing. He came home invalided,
and wanting rest and care: but he refused to consult the family doctor, a
general practitioner born and bred in the adjacent village,--clever,
sagacious, homely in dress and manners, and, in the opinion of Lady
Palliser, a tower of strength. She liked a fatherly doctor.
'What is the use of seeing old Fosbroke when I have had the best advice
in London?' Brian said, peevishly, when urged by his mother-in-law to
take advice from the family doctor. 'I know exactly what ails me--nervous
exhaustion, an over-worked brain, and that kind of thing. I suppose it is
a natural consequence of modern civilisation: men's brains have to go at
express speed in order to keep pace with the average intelligence of the
'If you had only a better appetite!' sighed Lady Palliser, who had been
distressed at seeing her son-in-law send away plate after plate, with its
contents hardly touched.
'I wouldn't mind having a bad appetite if I could sleep, said he; 'it's
insomnia that tells upon a fellow.'
Brian did not enter into the causes of this dire malady, which had begun
with long nights given to dissipation--not to gross pleasures or vulgar
companions, but to a semi-intellectual dissipation: wit, fun, copious
talk about all things between heaven and earth, in the society of
artists, actors, journalists, Bohemians of all the arts. To the man who
begins by doing without sleep there sometimes comes a day when sleep will
refuse to answer to his bidding. He has acquired the habit of perpetual
wakefulness. The sleep-mechanism of the brain is out of gear. It will go
for half-an-hour, perhaps, or for a few minutes, in spasmodic jerks: and
then it stops all at once, as if the machinery had gone wrong.
So it was with Brian. Those festive nights given over to the feast of
reason and the flow of soul--not to riot or drunkenness, but to the
half-unconscious consumption of much brandy and soda--nights in which
the atmosphere seemed charged with wit and wisdom as with mental
electricity--nights in which a young man, able to talk smartly upon any
given topic, was carried away by the consciousness of his power, and
thought himself a god.
Brian was a member of all those joyous clubs--the night flowers of the
club world, which unfold their petals in the small hours, when the
playhouses are shut, and the lights have been extinguished in all sober
households. There was no offence in any of these institutions, and they
offered a fine intellectual arena, afforded a splendid training for
literary youth: but to a man who loved them too well they meant a
Brian had come to Wimperfield in the hope that quiet and country air
would bring back sleep to his eyelids and steadiness to his nerves; but
he had been there a week, and his hand was no steadier, his nights were
no less wakeful. He fancied himself growing weaker day by day, and
although the great authority in Harley Street had strictly forbidden any
stimulant except one glass of stout with his mutton chop at luncheon,
Brian, who was quite unable to eat the chop, found it impossible to lunch
without plenty of dry sherry, or to dine without champagne, and after
dinner drank a good deal of that fine old port which had been laid down
by old Sir Vernon Palliser in forty-seven.
Ida was very kind and gentle to her husband at this time, seeing that he
was really in need of her tenderness. She devoted herself to his
amusement, walked with him, rode with him, drove with him; but although
he was grateful, he was not happy. A terrible depression of mind, broken
by flashes of hilarity, had taken possession of him. The London physician
had told him frankly that his nerves were shattered, but that all would
be well with him if he left off all stimulants, ate chops and steaks, and
lived in the open air; but as yet he had been unable to cope with the
most diminutive chop, or to exist for three hours without stimulants.
Even those rides and drives with Ida seemed a weariness to him, and he
would have escaped them if he could.
This afternoon he paced the rose-garden listlessly by Ida's side, smoking
a cigarette--that cigarette which was rarely absent from his lips.
'Are you sure your London doctor does not object to your smoking so
much?' Ida asked presently, noting the languid uncertainty of the fingers
which held the cigarette.
'I am not sure about anything. I told him I could not live without
tobacco, and he said I might smoke two or three cigarettes in the course
of the day--'
'Oh, Brian, and you smoke--'
'Two or three dozen! Not quite so bad as that, eh? But no doubt I do go
considerably outside the medico's mark. I could no more exist by line and
rule in that way than I could fly. No, if I am to die of tobacco and late
hours, I am doomed.'
'But there is no such thing as being doomed; every man is his own
master--he can mould his life as he likes.'
'Can he? That depends upon the man. I am not going into the mystery of
fate and free will. There is the question of temperament--hereditary
instinct. If I cannot have intellectual society--new ideas--variety--I
must die. I could not lead the life you live here--not life, but
'I have the books I love, this dear park, and all the lovely country
round us--horses--dogs--and some very pleasant neighbours: and I try to
do a little good in my generation.'
'All very well; but you are as much out of the world as if you were in
the centre of Africa. I could not exist under such conditions. Better
fifty years of Europe than a cycle of Cathay. This to me would be as bad
as Cathay. But now I suppose you are going to be perfectly happy, now
that your brother is coming home.'
'Yes. I am always happy, when I have him--he is more and more
companionable every day of his life.'
Vernon was expected that afternoon. He was coming home for a summer
holiday, just when summer was at her loveliest He was not bound by public
school rules, or obliged to wait for the stereotyped watering-place
season. The Jardines were to bring him over this afternoon, and were to
stay at Wimperfield for a couple of days. Ida glanced towards the avenue
every now and then, expecting to catch a glimpse of the approaching
carriage between the leafy elms.
Brian strolled by her side with a listless air, smoking, and murmuring a
few words now and then for courtesy's sake. He had very little to say to
his wife. She did not care for the things he cared for, or understand the
kind of life he lived. She loved books, the books which are for all time;
he was a mere skimmer of books and reviews--mostly reviews; and he cared
only for new books, new ideas, new theories, new paradoxes. His
cleverness was the cleverness of the daily press--the floating froth upon
the sea of knowledge. He liked to talk to a man of his own stamp, with
whom he could argue upon equal terms; but not to a woman who had steeped
her mind in the wisdom and poetry of the past.
He stifled a yawn every now and then, in that half-hour of waiting,
longing to go back to the dining-room and refresh his parched lips with
the contents of a syphon dashed with brandy. He had given his own orders
to the butler, and the spirit stand was always on the sideboard ready for
his use. The butler had made a note of the brandy which was dribbled away
in this desultory form of refreshment, and had made up his own mind as to
Mr. Wendover's habits; but it is a servant's duty to hold his peace upon
At last there came the sound of wheels, and Ida flew round to the portico
to receive her guests, Brian following at his leisure. The slender figure
in the black gown reminded Brian of those old days by the river--the
tranquil October afternoons--the clear light--the placid water--a gray
river under a gray sky, with a lovely line of yellow light behind the
tufted willows. How happy he had been in those days!--caring nothing for
the future--bent on winning this girl at any price--laughing within
himself at her delusion--trusting to his own merits as an ample set-off
against his empty purse when he should stand revealed as the wrong Brian.
Things had gone fairly enough with him since then. He had had plenty of
pleasure; a good deal of money, though not half enough; and very little
work. And yet he felt that his life was a failure--and he was languid and
old before his time. An idle life had exhausted him sooner than other men
are exhausted by a hard-working career. He knew of men at the Bar who had
lived hard and worked like galley slaves, and who yet retained all the
fire and freshness of youth.
The guests had alighted by the time Brian reached the portico, and Vernon
was in his sister's arms. She held him away from her, to show him to her
husband--a thin fair-haired boy of eleven, in a gray highland kilt and
jacket, like a gillie--fresh rosy cheeks, bright blue eyes.
'Hasn't he grown, Brian I and isn't he a darling?' she asked, hugging him
'He is a jolly little fellow, and he shall go out shooting with me as
soon as there is anything to shoot.'
'We can fish,' said Vernon; 'there's plenty of trout; but you don't look
strong enough to throw a fly. My rod's ever so heavy,' he added, with a
flourish of his arm.
That weakness and languor which was obvious even to the boy, was still
more apparent to Mr. and Mrs. Jardine. Bessie had not seen her cousin
since Christmas, when he and Ida had spent a couple of days at
'Oh, Brian,' she exclaimed, 'have you been ill? Nobody told me anything.'
'I have had no illness worth telling about; but I have not been in
vigorous health. London life takes too much out of a man.'
'Then you should not live in London. You ought to be out all day, roaming
about on those pine-clad hills yonder--"hangers," I think you call them
in these parts.'
'Yes,' answered Ida, 'we are very proud of our hangers; but Brian is not
able to walk much just yet.'
Bessie was full of concern for Brian after this. She devoted herself to
him in the interval before dinner, and left Ida free to roam about the
garden with Vernie. She remembered how he had always been her favourite
cousin. She had been angry with him for allowing that foolish practical
joke of hers to take so fixed and fatal a form; but now she saw him wan
and broken-looking she was prepared to forgive him everything.
'You must take care of yourself, Brian,' she said, when they were sitting
side by side in one of the drawing-room windows, while Lady Palliser
dispensed afternoon tea.
'I am taking care of myself; I am here for that purpose; but it is dreary
'What! dreary work to live in this lovely place, and with such a sweet
wife! But I know you never liked the country.'
'I frankly detest it.'
'And you miss the intellectual society to which you are accustomed in
London--literary men--poets--playwrights. How delightful it must be to
know the men who write books!'
'They are not always the pleasantest people in the world. I never cared
much for your deep-thinker--the man who believes he is sent into the
world to promulgate his own particular gospel. But the men who write for
newspapers--critics, humourists--they are jolly fellows enough.'
'And you have glorious nights at your clubs, don't you? We had a friend
of John's with us the other day who had met you at some literary club
near the Strand. Do you ever sing comic songs now?'
'Sometimes, after midnight. One does not feel moved to that kind of thing
till the small hours.'
'Ah!' sighed Bessie, 'our only idea of the small hours is getting up at
four, to be ready for a five o'clock service. But I don't think the small
hours agree with you, Brian. You are looking ten years older than when
you were at Kingthorpe last summer.'
'Better wear out than rust out,' said Brian.
After dinner Vernie was eager for an exploration of the village, and
Blackman's Hanger, the wild, pine-clad hill which sheltered the village
from north-east winds and the salt breath of a distant sea.
Ida was ready to go with him, and the Jardines, always tremendous
walkers, were equally anxious for a ramble; but Brian was much too
languid for evening walks.
'I'll stay and smoke my smoke and talk to the Mater,' he said, always
contriving to keep on pleasant terms with Lady Palliser; 'I hate bats,
owls, twilight, and all the Gray's Elegy business.'
'But you stop such a time over your cigar,' said the widow. 'Last night I
sat for an hour waiting tea for you. I like company over my cup of tea.'
'To-night you shall have the advantage of intellectual society,' said
Brian. 'I will come and dribble out my impressions of the last
_Contemporary Review,_ which I dozed over between breakfast and
Brian stayed in the dining-room, dimly lighted by two hanging moderator
lamps, while the soft shades of evening were just beginning to steal over
the landscape outside. He had his favourite pointer for company--the
last Sir Vernon's favourite, a magnificent beast, and of almost human
intelligence, and he had plenty of wine in the decanters before
him--choice port and claret, which had been set on the table in honour of
the Jardines, who had hardly touched it. He had his cigarette case and
his own thoughts, which were idle as the smoke-wreaths which went curling
up to the ceiling, light as the ashes of his tobacco.
Out of doors the evening was divine. Vernon was delighted to be frisking
about upon his patrimonial soil. The five years he had lived at
Wimperfield seemed the greater half of his life--seemed, indeed, almost
to have absorbed and blotted out his former history. He remembered very
little of the shabbier circumstances of his babyhood, and had all the
feelings of a boy born in the purple, to whom it was natural to be
proprietor of the landscape, and to patronise the humbler dwellers on the
Blackman's Hanger was a rugged ridge of hill above the village of
Wimpertield. They lingered here to listen to the nightingales, and to
admire the sunset; and then, when the glow above the western horizon was
changing from golden to deepest crimson, they all went down into the
village, where lights were beginning to glimmer faintly in some of the
Wimperfield was a snug primitive settlement, consisting of about
five-and-twenty habitations, not one of which had been built within the
last century, a general shop, a bakery, and three public-houses, a fact
which shows that the brewing interests were well protected in this part
of the world. One of village taverns, a dingy old low-browed cottage,
with a pile of out-buildings which served for stable, piggery, or
anything else, and about half an acre of garden, stood a little way aloof
from the village, and on the skirt of the copse that clothed the sloping
steep below Blackman's Hanger. There was a piece of waste land in front
of this inn which served as the theatre for such itinerary exhibitors,
Cheap Jacks, and Bohemians of all kinds who took quiet little Wimperfield
in the course of their perambulations.
Here to-night in the dusk, there stood a covered cart of the pedler order
and Vernon, who had been walking on in front with Mr. Jardine, rushed
back to his sister to say that there was a Cheap Jack in front of the
'Oh, he has been there for a long time--ever since the beginning of the
year,' said Ida; 'he is quite an institution.'
'What's an institution?' asked Vernon.
'Something fixed and lasting, don't you know. I believe he does no end of
good among the villagers--doctoring them, and advising them, and helping
them when they are ill or out of work; but he has a very churlish way
with the gentry. Mr. Mason, our curate, says the man always reminds him
of the Black Dwarf, except that he is not so ugly, nor deformed in any
'Then he can't be like the Black Dwarf,' said Vernon, who knew almost all
Sir Walter's novels, his sister having read Shakespeare, Scott, and
Dickens to him for hours on end, during the long winter evenings at
'Does he live in that cart always?' asked Bessie.
'Not always; he has taken possession of that dilapidated cottage upon the
Hanger, which used to be occupied by Lord Pontifex's gamekeeper, and I
believe he oscillates between the cart and the cottage. I have hardly
seen him, for he is such a morose personage that he always hides when any
of the gentry approach his hut.'
'Sulks in his tent, like Achilles,' said Mr. Jardine.
They were on the edge of the little patch of green by this time.
The cart--painted a lively yellow, and with a little window on each
side--stood in the middle of the green, backed by a clump of tall elms.
There was a little crowd in front of the cart, and a man with a black
beard and a red fez cap was discoursing in a deep, sonorous voice to the
assembly--descanting, with seeming fluency, upon a picture which he held
in his hand, his tawny, gipsy-like face only half shown by the flame of a
flaring naphtha lamp, and his features rendered grotesque by the play of
lights and shadows. The party from the park, however, had very little
opportunity for seeing what manner of man he was; for no sooner did he
catch sight of Mr. Jardine's tail hat over the circle of rustic heads,
than he flung the engraving he had been exhibiting inside the cart,
extinguished his lamp, wished his audience an abrupt good night, and shut
the door of his dwelling upon the outside world.
The rustics gave him a round of applause before they dispersed. The women
and children moved towards the village; the men and lads lingered a
little on the green, irresolute, and then slowly gravitated to the 'Royal
Oak,' touching their hats as they passed the gentlefolks. Mr. Jardine
stopped one of the men midway.
'A curious customer that,' he said, looking towards the cart.
'Yes, sir, so he be; but rale right down clever.'
'Was he trying to sell you that picture?'
'No, sir; him don't often sell things to we; sometimes him do--knives,
and comforters, and corderoy waistcoats, and flannel shirts, and such
like, and oncommon good they be, too, and oncommon cheap. He wor givin'
we a bit of a lecture loike, on lions and tigers, and ryenosed-horses,
and such-loike beasts, and on they queer creatures wot lived before the
flood. Lord! there was one beast with a long neck, and paddles for
swimmin' with, as made we all ready to bust with laughin' when him showed
us the pictur' of his skeleton.'
'Does he often give you a lecture of that kind?'
'Yes, sir; him do lecture we about all manner o' things--flowers, and
ferns, and insects--kindness to hanimals--hinstinct in dogs--Lord knows
what; but he have a way of makin' it all go down--much better nor parson;
and ha allus gets a good laugh out o' we. And when there's any on us ill,
or out o' work, then Cheap Jack be a real good friend, and very ready
with the brass.'
'But can he afford to help you? is he so much better off than you are?'
'Well, sir, you see him haven't got no missus nor young 'uns, and I
fancy him's got a few pounds saved in a old stocking. Him don't drink,
nayther--not so much as a mug o' beer.'
'Is he a native of these parts?'
'Lor no, sir, turn's a furriner; why, his skin's as brown as a berry!'
'Is he a gipsy, do you think?'
'I ain't sure o' that, but him can talk their patter; and when the
gipsies come this way him and them is as thick as thaves.'
'I see--half a gipsy and half a foreigner, and altogether a rover, I
suppose. Well, I'm glad he gives you a little instruction and amusement
now and then, and I hope he'll find the way to keep you out of the
public-house,' said Mr. Jardine.
'Why, you see, parson, a man must have his mug o' beer; but it's summot
to the good if he don't sit down over it and make it three or four mugs
o' beer. There ain't been so much sitting down since Cheap Jack corned
'Isn't that a desolate hovel up on the hill where he lives sometimes?'
'It was oncommon deserlate till Cheap Jack took it in hand there ain't a
owl in the wood that would have liked to live in it; but Jack hammers a
bit of wood here, and a plank there, and a bit o' matting up agen the
walla, and puta in a stove from Petersfield, and makes it as snug as a
burd's nest. I've smoked many a pipe with him alongside that stove, and
drank many a cup o' coffee. That's Jack's drink--not a drain o' beer or
sperrits ever goes inside o' he.'
'That accounts for the money in the stocking,' said Bessie.
The rustic shook his head dubiously.
'Him ain't got no childer,' he said. 'It's them as makes the coin go.'
'I wish he'd come out again and go on lecturing,' exclaimed Vernon, with
an aggrieved air. 'I do so want to hear him.'
'Oh, but him won't show the end of his nose now you're here, Sir Vernon,'
answered the rustic. 'Him can't abide gentlefolks. Parson ha' tried his
hardest to get round he, but Jack shuts the door in parson's face. Him
don't want nothing of 'em, and don't want their company.'
'A natural corollary,' said Mr. Jardine, laughing. 'But I'm afraid your
friend is a desperate radical.'
'Well, I don't know, sir. Him don't speak hard agen the Queen; him don't
want to do away with soldiers and sailors, like grocer down street; and
though Jack don't go to church, Jack reads his Bible, and holds by his
Bible. I fancy as some rich gentleman must ha' done he a great injury
once upon a time, and that it turned he agen the breed.'
'Very like the Black Dwarf,' said Mr. Jardine to Ida. 'I daresay I shall
hear of your playing the part of Isabella Vere, and interviewing this
half-savage, half-Christian recluse. But do you mean to tell me that he
has lived here six months, within a mile and a half of your house, and
you have never seen him?'
'It is a fact. You had a specimen of his manners just now. Whenever I
have passed his cottage he has shut the door or the window in my face, if
he happened to be standing at either. To Mr. Mason he has been absolutely
'It isn't every man who appreciates the privilege of being interviewed by
a parson,' said John Jardine.
'Oh, Jack,' cried Bessie! 'all your people love to see you at their
'Yes, they are a sociable lot. That comes from living on Salisbury Plain,
far from the madding crowd.'
After this they went home, watching the golden summer moon rise above the
pine-clad Hanger as they went. They found Lady Palliser nodding in her
arm-chair in front of the low tea table, the teapot still intact. It was
ten o'clock, but Brian had not come in to talk to her after her tea. John
Jardine went in quest of him, and found him in the dining-room, mooning
over his wine. He murmured a vague excuse about feeling too tired to talk
to anybody, and then bade Mr. Jardine good night, and vent up to his
room; not to sleep, but to fling the window wide open, and lean his
elbows on the sill, and stare out into the exquisite summer night, the
leafy wood, the moon-kissed crest of the hill, in a half-dreamy,
half-hysterical state of mind.
'I begin to think I am like Swift, and shall go first at top,' he said to
himself; 'this quiet life is killing; and yet if I was to go back I
should be worse. The nights in Elm Court, when I went home alone after a
glorious evening, were devilish.
'MY SEED WAS YOUTH, MY CROP WAS ENDLESS CAKE.'
Mr. and Mrs. Jardine went back to their Wiltshire parsonage after a two
days' visit, and Ida had her boy all to herself. His education, from a
classical and mathematical point of view, had only begun when he went to
John Jardine; but the foundations of education, the development of
thought and imagination had begun long ago at Les Fontaines, when Ida and
he took their long wintry rambles together, and the girl talked to the
child of all things in heaven and earth, imparting in the easiest way
much of that information which she had acquired as pupil and teacher in
the educational mill at Mauleverer. Beyond learning to read and to write,
and the most elementary forms of arithmetic, this oral instruction was
all the education which Vernie had received up to the time of his leaving
home; but then what a large range of information can be imparted by an
intelligent woman who reads a great deal, and who reads with the
student's deep love of knowledge. Vernon, without being a prodigy, like
the infant Goethe, or that wondrous product of paternal scholarship, John
Stuart Mill, knew more about things in general, from the course of the
planets to the constitution of the glowworms in the hedges, than many
full-grown undergraduates. Flowers and ferns, shells and minerals, had
been his playthings. His sister had taught him the nature and attributes
of all the animals and birds he loved, or slaughtered; and then his
imagination had been fed upon Shakespeare and Scott, Dickens and
Goldsmith. He had derived his first vivid impressions of history from
Shakespeare and Scott, his knowledge of a wide range of life outside his
own home from Dickens; and with that knowledge a quickened sympathy with
the joys and sorrows of the humbler classes. All that Vernon knew of the
struggles of the lower middle classes was derived from that great
panorama of life which Charles Dickens painted for us. His own small
experiences of village life had taught the boy very little; for he had
only seen the rustic from that outside and smoothly varnished aspect
which the tiller of the soil presents to the squire.
And now the boy had come home, after an absence of some months, and he
wanted to absorb Ida from morning till night She must walk and drive with
him, read to him, play with him, be interested in his dogs, his guns, his
fishing-tackle, every detail of his busy young life.
Ida was never happier than when thus occupied. The boy seemed to her the
incarnate spirit of youth, and joy, and hope, and all those bright
impulses which wear out in ourselves at so early a stage of life's
journey that we are very glad to taste them vicariously in the unspoiled
ardour of childhood. To be with Vernon was to escape from the narrowness
of her own fettered life, to forget its disappointments, its
disillusions, its one deep incurable regret--regret for her own mad
folly, which had bartered freedom for a sordid hope--folly as mad as
Esau's when he sold his birthright--regret for him who loved her too
Unhappily, even her unselfish delight in her brother's society was not
unalloyed with pain. She never forgot her duty as a wife, nor failed in
any act of attention to her husband. And yet Brian's morbid jealousy of
the boy was but too evident. He rarely spoke of Vernon without a sneer,
when he and his wife were alone; although he was careful not to say
anything uncivil before Lady Palliser. He scoffed at the little lad's
position, as if it had been an offence in the child himself--called him
the microscopic baronet, the baby thane, laughed with bitterest laughter
at any little touch of arrogance which clouded the natural sweetness of
the boy's character.
Ida endured this morbid jealousy with a patience that was almost heroic.
She saw that her husband was ill, and that this mysterious malady of his,
which had at first seemed to her sheer hypochondriasis, was only too
real. It was a malady which affected the mind more than the body. Brian's
character had undergone a complete change since his illness. He who had
been of old so easy-tempered, so lively, was now melancholy and
irritable, at times garrulous to a degree that was painful to his
hearers, keenly resentful of trifles, always fancying himself neglected
In vain did Lady Palliser and Ida urge the necessity of medical advice.
Brian obstinately refused to see the local apothecary; and, as there was
nothing tangible in his illness and he was able to be about all day, to
go out of doors, and do pretty much as he pleased, there was no excuse
for calling in the doctor without his permission.
'If I felt that I wanted advice, I would go up to town and see Mallison,'
he said; 'but there is nothing amiss with me, except a disappointed life.
I begin to feel that I am a failure. Other fellows of my age have passed
me in the race; and it is hard at nine-and-twenty to feel oneself
'But, Brian,' his wife answered gently, 'don't you think if your
contemporaries have outstripped you, it is because they have tried harder
than you? Remember what St. Paul says about the one who obtaineth the
'For Heaven's sake, don't preach!' cried Brian, irritably. I tell you I
tried hard enough; tried--yes, slaved night after night; scribbling
articles for those infernal magazines, to get my manuscript returned with
thanks after nearly a twelve-month's detention; spelling over dry-as-dust
briefs for a guinea fee, in order to post up some bloated Queen's
Counsel, who treated me as if I were dirt, and pretended not to know my
name. I tell you, Ida, the Bar is a sickening profession; literature is
worse; all the professions are played out, Europe is overcrowded with
educated men; they swarm like aphides in a hot summer--your single fly
the progenitor of a quintillion of living creatures. When I see the men
in their wigs and gowns, hurrying up and down the Temple courts, swarming
on all the staircases, choking up the doors of the law-courts, they
remind me of the busy, hungry creatures on an ant-heap.
"Every door is barred with gold, and opens but to golden keys, Every gate
is thronged with suitors, all the markets overflow."
He was walking up and down the room in an agitated way, angry, excited
beyond the occasion.
'But in your case, Brian, it seems to me that the path has been made so
smooth. With such an independence as ours, it must be so easy to get on.'
'I thank you for reminding me how much I owe your father,' sneered her
'I was not thinking especially of my father. You owe as much to your
'Yes, my cousin has been vastly generous--damnably generous; but if I had
married any other woman, do you suppose he would have done as much? Of
course, I know it was for your sake he gave me that income. Was he ever
so liberal before, do you think? No, he dribbled out an occasional
hundred or two when I was up a tree, but nothing more. It was for your
sake his purse-strings relaxed.'
'You have no right to say that,' Ida answered indignantly. 'I have a
right to say what I think to my wife. I have not forgotten what you said
to me at the hotel that day. You told me to my face that you loved
another man. Do you think I was such a dullard as not to guess that man's
name? You fell in love with Wendover of the Abbey, before you saw him;
and your innocent love for the shadow grew into guilty love for the man,
after you were my wife. I knew all about it; but I was not going to let
you give me the slip. I have known all along that I am nothing to you,
that you despise me, detest me, perhaps; and that knowledge has made me
what I am--a broken, blighted man, a wreck, at nine-and-twenty.'
'Oh, Brian, this is too cruel! Have I ever failed in my duty to you?'
'Damn duty!' cried Brian, savagely. 'I wanted your love, not your
duty--love such as I thought you gave me in those autumn days by the
river. Great God, how happy I was in those days! I hadn't a sixpence; I
was up to my eyes in debt; but I thought you loved me, and that we were
going to be happy in our garret till good fortune tumbled down the
'I don't think a garret would have suited you long, Brian, had I been
ever so devoted. You are too much of a sybarite.'
'I should have been happy with you. I should have thought myself in Eden.
Well, fate never meant me to be happy. I am a wretch, judged before I was
born, foredoomed to misery in this world and the next. Yes, I begin to
think Calvin was right--there are some creatures predestined to
damnation. Before ever the stars spun into their places, when all the
suns and moons and planets were rings of fiery gas revolving in space, my
doom was already written in the book of fate.
It had been a common thing of late for Brian to ramble on in such
despondent strains as these, half angry, half despairing. Ida was
supremely patient with him, sometimes soothing him, sometimes arguing
with him; yet hardly knowing how much of his talk arose from real gloom
of mind, or how much was sheer rhodomontade. The hours which she spent
with him were intensely painful, and as the days went by he became more
and more exacting, more and more resentful of her absence, and grudgingly
jealous of Vernon.
Another cause for pain was Ida's growing conviction that her husband's
frequent doses of soda and brandy, and the champagne which he drank at
dinner, and the port or Burgundy which he took after dinner, had a great
deal to do with his altered mental condition. Painful as it was to speak
of such a thing, she took courage one morning, and told him plainly that
she believed he was suffering from, the effect of habitual--almost
'You are taking soda and brandy all day long. You have brandy in your
bedroom at night, Brian,' she said. 'I am sure you can have no idea how
much you take in the course of the twenty-four hours.'
'I have no idea that I am a drunkard, if that's what you mean,' he
answered, white with rage; and then he burst into a torrent of
abuse--such language as she had never heard from mortal lips until that
hour, and his wife fled, shuddering and terror-stricken, from the room.
When next they met he cowed before her with a craven air, and made no
allusion to this scene. But after this she observed that he pretended to
drink less, and had a crafty way of getting his glass refilled at dinner.
He no longer kept a brandy bottle on the table beside his bed, as he had
done heretofore, on the pretence that a little weak brandy and water
helped him to sleep, nor did the soda-water bottles and spirit decanter
adorn one of the tables in his study; but more than once his wife met him
creeping to the dining-room with a stealthy air to supply himself at the
sideboard, and when she went into his room at night to see if he slept,
his fevered breath reeked of brandy. It seemed to her later, as time went
on, that even his garments exhaled spirituous odours.
It was not long after this that he began to talk mysteriously of some
trouble which menaced him, which gradually took the shape of a criminal
prosecution overhanging him. He had been falsely accused of some awful
crime--some nameless, unspeakable offence--hateful as the gates of hell.
He was innocent, but his enemies were legion; and at any moment a
detective might be sent to Wimperfield to arrest him. One evening, in
the summer twilight after dinner, he took it into his head that one of
the footmen--a man whose face ought to have been thoroughly familiar to
him--was a detective in disguise. He flew at the worthy young fellow in a
furious rage, and the butler had hard work to prevent his doing poor John
Thomas a mischief. But when the lamps were brought in, Brian perceived
his mistake, and apologised to the footman for his violence.
'You don't know what devils those detectives are,' he said,
deprecatingly; 'they can make themselves look like anybody. And if they
once get hold of me, the case will be tried at Westminster Hall. It will
take weeks to try, and all the Bar will be engaged; and then it will have
to go to the House of Lords. There has not been such a case within the
last century. All Europe will ring with it.'
'Dear Brian, I am sure this is a delusion of yours,' said Ida, trying to
soothe him; 'you cannot have done anything so wicked.'
'Done! no, I am as innocent as a baby; but the whole Bar--the Bench
too--is in league against me. They'll make out their case, depend upon
it. "It's a case for a jury;" that's what the Lord Chancellor said when I
told him about it.'
After this there could be no doubt that there was actual mental
disturbance. Lady Palliser sent for the local medical man, who had very
little difficulty in diagnosing the case. Sleeplessness, restless nights,
tossing from side to side, an utter inability to keep still, horrible
dreams, impaired vision, clouds floating before the eyes,--these symptoms
Mr. Fosbroke heard from the wife. The patient himself was obstinately
silent about his sensations, declared that there was nothing the matter
with him, and let the doctor know he considered his visit an impertinent
'I had a touch of brain fever early in the year,' he said. 'I had the
best advice in London during my illness, and afterwards. I know exactly
how to treat myself. The symptoms which alarm my wife are nothing but the
natural reaction after a severe shock to the nervous system. The tonics I
am taking will soon pull me up again; but as I am now under a special
treatment by Dr. Mallison, of Harley Street, you will under, stand that I
don't care about further advice.'
'Undoubtedly,' replied the medical man, meekly. 'But I believe it would
be a satisfaction to Lady Palliser and to Mrs. Wendover both if you would
do me the honour to consult me, and allow me to look after you while you
are here, I could place myself under Dr. Mallison's instructions, if you
'No, there is no necessity. I tell you I know exactly what is amiss, and
how to manage my own health.'
Mr. Fosbroke argued the point, but in vain. Brian would not even allow
him to feel his pulse. But the doctor knew very well what was amiss, and
told Mrs. Wendover, with delicate circumlocution, that her husband was
suffering from an imprudent use of stimulants for some time past.
'That is what I feared,' said Ida; but it is too dreadful. It is the very
last thing I expected. I thought nobody drank nowadays.'
'Very few people get drunk, my dear Mrs. Wendover,' replied the doctor;
'but, unhappily, though there is very little drunkenness, there is a
great deal of what is called "pegging"--an intermittent kind of tippling
which goes on all day long, beginning very early and ending very late. A
man, whose occupation in life is headwork, begins to think he wants a
stimulant--begins by having his brandy and soda at twelve o'clock
perhaps; then finds he can't get on without it after eleven; then takes
it before breakfast--in lieu of breakfast; and goes on with brandy and
soda at intervals till dinner-time. At dinner he has no appetite, tries
to create one with a bottle of dry champagne, eats very little, but dines
on the champagne, feels an unaccountable depression of spirits later on
in the evening, and takes more brandy, without soda this time; and so on,
and so on; till, after a period of sleeplessness, he begins to have ugly
dreams, then to see waking visions, hear imaginary voices, stumble upon
the edge of an imaginary precipice. If he is an elderly man he gets shaky
in the lower limbs, then his hands become habitually tremulous,
especially in the early morning, when he is like a figure hung on
wires--and so on, and so on; and unless he pulls himself up by a great
moral effort, the chances are that he will have a sharp attack of
'You do not fear such an attack for my husband?
'Mr. Wendover is a young man, but he has evidently abused his
constitution; there is no knowing what may happen if you don't take care
of him. Alcohol is a cumulative poison, and that "pegging" I have told
you of is diabolical. Nature throws off an over-dose of alcohol, but the
daily, hourly dose eats into the system.'
'How am I to take care of him?' asked Ida, despairingly.
'You must keep wine and spirits away from him, except in extreme
'What! speak to the butler? Tell him that my husband is a drunkard?'
'You need not go quite so far as that, but it will be necessary to cut
off the supplies somehow, and to substitute a nourishing diet for
'Yes, if he could eat: but he has no appetite--he eats hardly anything.'
'Unhappily, that is one of the symptoms of his disease, and the most
difficult to overcome. But you must do your utmost to make him eat, and
to prevent his getting brandy. A little light claret or Rhine wine may be
allowed; nothing more. I will send you a sedative which you can give him
'I do not think he will take anything of that kind. He has set his face
against accepting your advice.'
'I believe if you were to take a decided tone, he would succumb; if not,
you had better ask Dr. Mallison to come down and see him. It will be a
costly visit, and money thrown away, as the case is perfectly simple; but
I dare say you will not mind that.'
'I should mind nothing if he could be cured. It is horrible to see such
ruin of body and mind in one so young,' Ida answered sadly.
'Well, you must see what influence you can exercise over him for his own
good. I will call every other day, and hear how you are getting on with
him; and if you fail, we must summon Dr. Mallison.'
Ida spoke to the butler. It was a hard thing to do, and it seemed to her
a kind of treachery against her husband--as if she were inflicting
everlasting disgrace upon him in secret, like a midnight assassin, who
stabs his victim in the back. Her voice trembled, and her face was deadly
pale as she spoke to the butler, an old servant who had been in the
household from his boyhood.
'Rogers, I want you to be a little more careful in your arrangements
about wine and spirits,' she began, falteringly. 'Mr. Wendover is in a
low state of health--suffering from a nervous complaint, in fact; and we
fear that he is taking too much brandy. Will you kindly try to prevent
'It will be very difficult, ma'am. Mr. Wendover gives his orders, and he
expects to be obeyed.'
'But upon this one point you must not obey him. You can say that you have
Lady Palliser's orders that no more brandy is to be brought up from the
cellar. I shall tell her that I have told you this.'
'Yes, ma'am. I was afraid too much brandy was being drunk, but it was not
my place to mention it,' said Rogers, politely.
He would have said the same, perhaps, had the house been on fire.
Neither sherry nor champagne was served at dinner that day, and the
claret which was offered Mr. Wendover was of a very thin quality.
'I'll take champagne,' he said to the butler.
'There is not any upstairs, sir.'
Brian turned angrily upon the man, and Ida, pale but resolute, came to
'We do not drink champagne at dinner when we are alone, Brian,' she said;
'and I don't think it is quite fair to Vernie's cellars that Moet should
be served every day because you are here.
'Vernon's cellars! Ah, I forgot that we are all here on sufferance, and,
that I am drinking Vernon's wine.'
'You may have as much of my champagne as you like,' said Vernie, getting
very red; 'but I don't think it does you any good, for you are always so
Brian looked at the boy with a savage gleam in his eyes, and muttered
something, but made no audible reply.
'I'll go back to my chambers to-morrow,' he said: 'I can have a bottle of
Moet there without being under an obligation to anybody. Give me some
brandy and soda,' he said to the butler; 'I can't drink this verjuice.'
'There is no brandy, sir.'
'Oh! Sir Vernon's cognac is to be kept sacred, too. I congratulate you,
Vernon, upon having two such economical guardians. Your minority will be
a period of considerable saving.'
He made no further remonstrance, drank neither claret nor hock, ate
hardly anything, but sat through the dinner in sullen silence, and went
off to his room directly Lady Palliser had said grace, leaving the others
to take their strawberries and cream alone. Vernon was what Kogers the
butler called 'a mark on' strawberries and cream.
When Vernie had finished his strawberries, Ida went to her husband's
study; but the door was locked, and when she asked to be admitted Brian
'I'd rather be alone, thank you,' he answered, curtly. 'I have an article
to write for one of the legal papers. You can amuse yourself with the
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