The Irrational Knot
George Bernard Shaw
Part 2 out of 8
enter upon another London season, through which I cannot be at your
side, I would obtain from you some assurance of the nature of your
regard for me. I do not wish to harass you with jealous importunity. You
have given me the most unequivocal tokens of a feeling different from
that which inspires the ordinary intercourse of a lady and gentleman in
society; but of late it has seemed to me that you maintain as little
reserve toward other men as toward me. I am not thinking of Marmaduke:
he is your cousin. But I observed that even the working man who sang at
the concert last night was received--I do not say intentionally--with a
cordiality which might have tempted a more humbly disposed person than
he seemed to be to forget----" Here Douglas, seeing Marian's bearing
change suddenly, hesitated. Her beautiful gray eyes, always pleading for
peace like those of a good angel, were now full of reproach; and her
mouth, but for those eyes, would have suggested that she was at heart an
"Sholto," she said, "I dont know what to say to you. If this is
jealousy, it may be very flattering; but it is ridiculous. If it is a
lecture, seriously intended, it is--it is really most insulting. What
do you mean by my having given you unequivocal signs of regard? Of
course I think of you very differently from the chance acquaintances I
make in society. It would be strange if I did not, having known you so
long and been your mother's guest so often. But you talk almost as if I
had been making love to you."
"No," said Douglas, forgetting his ceremonious manner and speaking
angrily and naturally; "but you talk as though I had not been making
love to _you_."
"If you have, I never knew it. I never dreamt it."
"Then, since you are not the stupidest lady of my acquaintance, you must
be the most innocent."
"Tell me of one single occasion on which anything has passed between us
that justifies your speaking to me as you are doing now."
"Innumerable occasions. But since I cannot compel you to acknowledge
them, it would be useless to cite them."
"All I can say is that we have utterly misunderstood one another," she
said, after a pause.
He said nothing, but took up his hat, and looked down at it with angry
determination. Marian, too uneasy to endure silence, added:
"But I shall know better in future."
"True," said Douglas, hastily putting down his hat and advancing a step.
"You cannot plead misunderstanding now. Can you give me the assurance I
Douglas shook his shoulders impatiently.
"You expect me to know everything by intuition," she said.
"Well, my declaration shall be definite enough, even for you. Do you
"No, I dont think I do. In fact, I am quite sure I do not--in the way
you mean. I wish you would not talk like this, Sholto. We have all got
on so pleasantly together: you, and I, and Nelly, and Marmaduke, and my
father. And now you begin making love, and stuff of that kind. Pray let
us agree to forget all about it, and remain friends as before."
"You need not be anxious about our future relations: I shall not
embarrass you with my society again. I hoped to find you a woman capable
of appreciating a man's passion, even if you should be unable to respond
to it. But I perceive that you are only a girl, not yet aware of the
deeper life that underlies the ice of conventionality."
"That is a very good metaphor for your own case," said Marian,
interrupting him. "Your ordinary manner is all ice, hard and chilling.
One may suspect that there are depths beneath, but that is only an
additional inducement to keep on the surface."
"Then even your amiability is a delusion! Or is it that you are amiable
to the rest of the world, and reserve taunts of coldness and treachery
"No, no," she said, angelic again. "You have taken me up wrongly. I did
not mean to taunt you."
"You conceal your meaning as skilfully as--according to you--I have
concealed mine. Good-morning."
"Are you going already?"
"Do you care one bit for me, Marian?"
"I do indeed. Believe me, you are one of my special friends."
"I do not want to be _one_ of your friends. Will you be my wife?"
"Will you be my wife?"
"Pardon me. That is quite sufficient. Good-morning."
The moment he interrupted her, a change in her face shewed she had a
temper. She did not move a muscle until she heard the house door close
behind him. Then she ran upstairs to the drawing-room, where Miss
McQuinch was still practising.
"Oh, Nelly," she cried, throwing herself into an easy chair, and
covering her face with her hands. "Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh! Oh!" She opened her
fingers and looked whimsically at her cousin, who, despising this stage
business, said, impatiently:
"Do you know what Sholto came for?"
"To propose to you."
"Stop, Nelly. You do not know what horrible things one may say in jest.
He _has_ proposed."
"When will the wedding be?"
"Dont joke about it, please. I scarcely know how I have behaved, or what
the meaning of the whole scene is, yet. Listen. Did you ever suspect
that he was--what shall I say?--_courting_ me?"
"I saw that he was trying to be tender in his own conceited way. I fully
expected he would propose some day, if he could once reconcile himself
to a wife who was not afraid of him."
"And you never told me."
"I thought you saw it for yourself; particularly as you encouraged him."
"There! The very thing he has been accusing me of! He said I had given
him unequivocal tokens--yes, unequivocal tokens--that I was madly in
love with him."
"What did you say?--if I may ask."
"I tried to explain things to him; but he persisted in asking me would I
be his wife; and when I refused he would not listen to anything else,
and went off in a rage."
"Yes, I can imagine Sholto's feelings on discovering that he had
humbled himself in vain. Why did you refuse him?"
"Why! Fancy being Sholto's wife! I would as soon think of marrying
Marmaduke. But I cannot forget what he said about my flirting with him.
Nelly: will you promise to tell me whenever you think I am behaving in a
way that might lead anybody on to--like Sholto, you know?"
"Nonsense! If men choose to make fools of themselves, you cannot prevent
them. Hush! I hear someone coming upstairs. It is Marmaduke, I think."
"Marmaduke would never come up so slowly. He generally comes up three
steps at a time."
"Sulky after last night, no doubt. I suppose he wont speak to me."
Marmaduke entered listlessly. "Good morning, Marian," he said, sitting
down on an uncomfortable chair. "Good morrow, Nell."
Elinor, surprised at the courtesy, looked up and saluted him snappishly.
"Is there anything the matter, Duke?" said Marian. "Are you ill?"
"No, I'm all right. Rather busy: thats all."
"Busy!" said Elinor. "There must be something even more unusual than
that, when you are too low spirited to keep up a quarrel with me. Why
dont you sit on the easy chair, or sprawl on the ottoman, after your
"Anything for a quiet life," he replied, moving to the ottoman.
"You must be hungry," said Marian, puzzled by his obedience. "Let me get
"No, thank you," said Marmaduke. "I couldnt eat. Just had lunch. Ive
come to pack up a few things of mine that you have here."
"We have your banjo."
"Oh, I dont want that. You may keep it, or put it in the fire, for all I
care. I want some clothes I left behind me when we had the theatricals."
"Are you leaving London?"
"Yes. I am getting tired of loafing about here. I think I ought to go
home for a while. My mother wants me to."
Miss McQuinch, by a subdued but expressive snort, conveyed the most
entire scepticism as to his solicitude about his mother. She then turned
to the piano calmly, observing, "You have probably eaten something that
disagrees with you."
"What a shame!" said Marian. "Come, Duke: I have plenty of good news for
you. Nelly and I are invited to Carbury Park for the autumn; and there
will be no visitors but us three. We shall have the whole place to
"Time enough to think of the autumn yet awhile," said Marmaduke,
"Well," said Miss McQuinch, "here is some better news for you.
Constance--_Lady_ Constance--will be in town next week."
Marmaduke muttered something.
"I beg your pardon?" said Elinor, quickly.
"I didnt say anything."
"I may be wrong; but I thought I heard you say 'Hang Lady Constance!'."
"Oh, Marmaduke!" cried Marian, affectedly. "How dare you speak so of
your betrothed, sir?"
"Who says she is my betrothed?" he said, turning on her angrily.
"Why, everybody. Even Constance admits it."
"She ought to have the manners to wait until I ask her," he said,
subsiding. "I'm not betrothed to her; and I dont intend to become so in
a hurry, if I can help it. But you neednt tell your father I said so. It
might get round to my governor; and then there would be a row."
"You _must_ marry her some day, you know," said Elinor, maliciously.
"_Must_ I? I shant marry at all. I've had enough of women."
"Indeed? Perhaps they have had enough of you." Marmaduke reddened. "You
seem to have exhausted the joys of this world since the concert last
night. Are you jealous of Mr. Conolly's success?"
"Your by-play when you found how early it was at the end of the concert
was not lost on us," said Marian demurely. "You were going somewhere,
were you not?"
"Since you are so jolly curious," said Marmaduke, unreasonably annoyed,
"I went to the theatre with Connolly; and my by-play, as you call it,
simply meant my delight at finding that we could get rid of you in time
to enjoy the evening."
"With Conolly!" said Marian, interested. What kind of man is he?"
"He is nothing particular. You saw him yourself."
"Yes. But is he well educated, and--and so forth?"
"Dont know, I'm sure. We didnt talk about mathematics and classics."
"Well; but--do you like him?"
"I tell you I dont care a damn about him one way or the other," said
Marmaduke, rising and walking away to the window. His cousins,
astonished, exchanged looks.
"Very well, Marmaduke," said Marian softly, after a pause: "I wont tease
you any more. Dont be angry."
"You havnt teased me," said he, coming back somewhat shamefacedly from
the window. "I feel savage to-day, though there is no reason why I
should not be as jolly as a shrimp. Perhaps Nelly will play some Chopin,
just to soothe me. I should like to hear that polonaise again."
"I should enjoy nothing better than taking you at your word," said
Elinor. "But I heard Mr. Lind come in, a moment ago; and he is not so
fond of Chopin as you and I."
Mr. Lind entered whilst she was speaking. He was a dignified gentleman,
with delicately chiselled features and portly figure. His silky light
brown hair curled naturally about his brow and set it off imposingly.
His hands were white and small, with tapering fingers, and small thumbs.
"How do you do, sir?" said Marmaduke, blushing.
"Thank you: I am better than I have been."
Marmaduke murmured congratulations, and looked at his watch as if
pressed for time. "I must be off now," he said, rising. "I was just
going when you came in."
"So soon! Well, I must not detain you, Marmaduke. I heard from your
father this morning. He is very anxious to see you settled in life."
"I suppose I shall shake down some day, sir."
"You have very good opportunities--very exceptional opportunities. Has
Marian told you that Constance is expected to arrive in town next week?"
"Yes: we told him," said Marian.
"He thought it too good to be true, and would hardly believe us," added
Mr. Lind smiled at his nephew, happily forgetful, worldly wise as he
was, of the inevitable conspiracy of youth against age. They smiled too,
except Marmaduke, who, being under observation, kept his countenance
like the Man in the Iron Mask. "It is quite true, my boy," said the
uncle, kindly. "But before she arrives, I should like to have a talk
with you. When can you come to breakfast with me?"
"Any day you choose to name, sir. I shall be very glad."
"Let us say to-morrow morning. Will that be too soon?"
"Not at all. It will suit me quite well. Good evening, sir."
"Good evening to you."
When Marmaduke was in the street, he stood for a while considering which
way to go. Before the arrival of his uncle, he had intended to spend the
afternoon with his cousins. He was now at a loss for a means of killing
time. On one point he was determined. There was a rehearsal that day at
the Bijou Theatre; and thither, at least, he would not go. He drove to
Charing Cross, and drifted back to Leicester Square. He turned away from
the theatre, and wandered down Piccadilly. Then he thought he would
return as far as the Criterion, and drink. Finally he arrived at the
stage door of the Bijou Theatre, and inquired whether the rehearsal was
"Theyve bin at it since eleven this mornin, and will be pretty nigh til
the stage is wanted for to-night," said the janitor. "I'd as lief youd
wait here as go up, if you dont mind, sir. The guvnor is above; and he
aint in the best o' tempers. I'll send word up."
Marmaduke looked round irresolutely. A great noise of tramping and
"Thats the new procession," continued the doorkeeper. "Sixteen hextras
took on for it. It's Miss Virtue's chance for lunch, sir: you wont have
long to wait now."
Here there was a rapid pattering of feet down the staircase. Marmaduke
started, and stood biting his lips as Mademoiselle Lalage, busy, hungry,
and in haste, hurried towards the door.
"Come! Come on," she said impatiently to him, as she went out. "Go and
get a cab, will you. I must have something to eat; and I have to get
back sharp. Do be qu----there goes a hansom. Hi!" She whistled shrilly,
and waved her umbrella. The cab came, and was directed by Marmaduke to a
restaurant in Regent Street.
"I am absolutely starving," she said as they drove off. "I have been in
since eleven this morning; and of course they only called the band for
half-past. They are such damned fools: they drive me mad."
"Why dont you walk out of the theatre, and make them arrange it properly
for next day?"
"Oh yes! And throw the whole day after the half, and lose my rehearsal.
It is bad enough to lose my temper. I swore, I can tell you."
"I have no doubt you did."
"This horse thinks he's at a funeral. What o'clock is it?"
"It's only eight minutes past four. There is plenty of time."
When they alighted, Lalage hurried into the restaurant; scrutinized the
tables; and selected the best lighted one. The waiter, a decorous
elderly man, approached with some severity of manner, and handed a bill
of fare to Marmaduke. She snatched it from him, and addressed the waiter
"Bring me some thin soup; and get me a steak to follow. Let it be a
thick juicy one. If its purple and raw I wont have it; and if its done
to a cinder, I wont have it: it must be red. And get me some spring
cabbage and potatoes, and a pint of dry champagne--the decentest you
have. And be quick."
"And what for you, sir?" said the waiter, turning to Marmaduke.
"Never mind him," interrupted Susanna. "Go and attend to me."
The waiter bowed and retired.
"Old stick-in-the-mud!" muttered Miss Lalage. "Is it half-past four
"No. It's only quarter past. There's lots of time."
Mademoiselle Lalage ate until the soup, a good deal of bread, the steak,
the vegetables, and the pint of champagne--less a glassful taken by her
companion--had disappeared. Marmaduke watched her meanwhile, and
consumed two ices.
"Have an ice to finish up with?" he said.
"No. I cant work on sweets," she replied. "But I am beginning to feel
alive again and comfortable. Whats the time?"
"Confound the time!" said Marmaduke. "It's twenty minutes to five."
"Well, I'll drive back to the theatre. I neednt start for quarter of an
"Thank heaven!" said Marmaduke. "I was afraid I should not be able to
get a word with you."
"That reminds me of a crow I have to pluck with you, Mr. Marmaduke Lind.
What did you mean by telling me your name was Sharp?"
"It's the name of a cousin of mine," said Marmaduke, attempting to
dismiss the subject with a laugh.
"It may be your cousin's name; but it's not yours. By the bye, is that
the cousin youre engaged to?"
"What cousin? I'm not engaged to anybody."
"That's a lie, like your denial of your name. Come, come, Master
Marmaduke: you cant humbug me. Youre too young. Hallo! What do _you_
It was the waiter, removing some plates, and placing a bill on the
table. Marmaduke put his hand into his pocket.
"Just wait a minute, please," said Susanna. The waiter retired.
"Now then," she resumed, placing her elbows on the table, "let us have
no more nonsense. What is your little game? Are you going to pay that
bill or am I?"
"I am, of course."
"There is no of course in it--not yet, anyhow. What are you hanging
about the theatre after me for? Tell me that. Dont stop to think."
Marmaduke looked foolish, and then sulky. Finally he brightened, and
said, "Look here. Youre angry with me for bringing your brother last
night. But upon my soul I had no idea--"
"That's not what I mean at all. You are dodging a plain question. When
you came to the theatre, I thought you were a nice fellow; and I made
friends with you. Now I find you have been telling me lies about
yourself, and trying to play fast and loose. You must either give that
up or give me up. I wont have you pass that stage door again if you only
want to amuse yourself like other lounging cads about town."
"What do you mean by playing fast and loose, and being a cad about
town?" said Marmaduke angrily.
"I hope youre not going to make a row here in public."
"No; but I have you where _you_ cant make a row; and I intend to have it
out with you once and for all. If you quarrel now, so help me Heaven
I'll never speak to you again!"
"It is you who are quarrelling."
"Very well," said Susanna, opening her purse as though the matter were
"I am going to pay."
"So you can--for what you had yourself. I dont take dinners from strange
men, nor pay for their ices."
Marmaduke did not reply. He took out his purse determinedly; glanced
angrily at her; and muttered, "I never thought you were that sort of
"What sort of woman?" demanded Susanna, in a tone that made the other
occupants of the room turn and stare.
"Never mind," said Marmaduke. She was about to retort, when she saw him
looking into his purse with an expression of dismay. The waiter came.
Susanna, instead of attempting to be beforehand in proffering the money,
changed her mind, and waited. Marmaduke searched his pockets. Finding
nothing, he muttered an imprecation, and, fingering his watch chain,
glanced doubtfully at the waiter, who looked stolidly at the tablecloth.
"There," said Susanna, putting down a sovereign.
Marmaduke looked on helplessly whilst the waiter changed the coin and
thanked Susanna for her gratuity. Then he said, "You must let me settle
with you for this to-night. Ive left nearly all my cash in the pocket of
"You will not have the chance of settling with me, either to-night or
any other night. I am done with you." And she rose and left the
restaurant. Marmaduke sat doggedly for quarter of a minute. Then he went
out, and ran along Regent Street, anxiously looking from face to face in
search of her. At last he saw her walking at a great pace a little
distance ahead of him. He made a dash and overtook her.
"Look here, Lalage," he said, keeping up with her as she walked: "this
is all rot. I didnt mean to offend you. I dont know what you mean, or
what you want me to do. Dont be so unreasonable."
"I can stand a good deal from you; but it's too much to be kept at your
heels as if I were a beggar or a troublesome dog. _Lalage_." She took no
notice of him; and he stopped, trying to compose his features, which
were distorted by rage. She walked on, turning into Glasshouse Street.
When she had gone twenty yards, she heard him striding behind her.
"If you wont stop and talk to me," he said, "I'll make you. If anybody
interferes with me I'll smash him into jelly. It would serve you right
if I did the same to you."
He put his hand on her arm; and she instantly turned and struck him
across the face, knocking off his hat. He, who a moment before had been
excited, red, and almost in tears, was appalled. There was a crowd in a
moment; and a cabman drew up close to the kerb with a calm conviction
that his hansom would be wanted presently.
"How dare you put your hand on me, you coward?" she exclaimed, with
remarkable crispness of utterance and energy of style. "Who are you? I
dont know you. Where are the police?" She paused for a reply; and a
bracelet, broken by the blow she had given him, dropped on the pavement,
and was officiously picked up and handed to her by a battered old woman
who shewed in every wrinkle her burning sympathy with Woman turning at
bay against Man. Susanna looked at the broken bracelet, and tears of
vexation sprang to her eyes. "Look at what youve done!" she cried,
holding out the bracelet in her left hand and shewing a scrape which had
drawn blood on her right wrist. "For two pins I'd knock your head off!"
Marmaduke, quite out of countenance, and yet sullenly very angry,
vacillated for a moment between his conflicting impulses to knock her
down and to fly to the utmost ends of the earth. If he had been ten
years older he would probably have knocked her down: as it was, he
signed to the cabman, who gathered up the reins and held them clear of
his fare's damaged hat with the gratification of a man whose judgment in
a delicate matter had just been signally confirmed by events.
As they started, Susanna made a dash at the cab, which was pulled up,
amid a shout from the crowd, just in time to prevent an accident. Then,
holding on to the rail and standing on the step, she addressed herself
to the cabman, and, sacrificing all propriety of language to intensity
of vituperation, demanded whether he wanted to run his cab over her body
and kill her. He, with undisturbed foresight, answered not a word, but
again shifted the reins so as to make way for her bonnet. Acknowledging
the attention with one more epithet, she seated herself in the cab, from
which Marmaduke at once indignantly rose to escape. But the hardiest
Grasmere wrestler, stooping under the hood of a hansom, could not resist
a vigorous pull at his coat tails; and Marmaduke was presently back in
his seat again, with Susanna clinging to him and half sobbing:
"Oh, Bob, youve killed me. How could you?" Then, with a suspiciously
sudden recovery of energy, she screamed "Bijou Theatre. Drive on, will
you" up at the cabman, who was looking down through the trapdoor. The
horse plunged forward, and, with the jolt, she was fawning on
Marmaduke's arm again, saying, "Dont be brutal to me any more, Bob. I
cant bear it. I have enough trouble without your turning on me."
He was young and green, and too much confused by this time to feel sure
that he had not been the aggressor. But he did, on the whole, the wisest
thing--folded his arms and sat silent, with his cheeks burning.
"Say something to me," she said, shaking his arm. "I have nothing to
say," he replied. "I shall leave town for home to-night. I cant shew my
face again after this."
"Home," she said, in her former contemptuous tone, flinging his arm
away. "That means your cousin Constance."
"Who told you about her?"
"Never mind. You are engaged to her."
Susanna was shaken. She looked hard at him, wondering whether he was
deceiving her or not. "Look me in the face, Bob," she said. If he had
complied, she would not have believed him. But he treated the challenge
with supreme disdain and stared straight ahead, obeying his male
instinct, which taught him that the woman, with all the advantages on
her side, would nevertheless let him win if he held on. At last she came
caressingly to his shoulder again, and said:
"Why didnt you tell me about her yourself?"
"Damn it all," he exclaimed, violently, "there is nothing to tell! I am
not engaged to her: on my oath I am not. My people at home talk about a
match between us as if it were a settled thing, though they know I dont
care for her. But if you want to have the truth, I cant afford to say
that I wont marry her, because I am too hard up to quarrel with the
governor, who has set his heart on it. You see, the way I am
"Oh, bother your circumstances! Look here, Bob, I dont want you to
introduce me to your swell relations; it is not worth _my_ while to
waste time on people who cant earn their own living. And never mind your
governor: we can get on without him. If you are hard up for money, and
he is stingy, you had better get it from me than from the Jews."
"I couldnt do that," said Marmaduke, touched. "In fact, I am well enough
off. By the bye, I must not forget to pay you for that lunch. But if I
ever am hard up, I will come to you. Will that do?"
"Of course: that is what I meant. Confound it, here we are already. You
mustnt come in, you would only be in the way. Come to-night after the
burlesque, if you like. Youre not angry with me, are you?"
Her breast touched his arm just then; and as if she had released some
spring, all his love for her suddenly surged up within him and got the
better of him. "Wait--listen," he said, in a voice half choked with
tenderness. "Look here, Lalage: the honest truth is that I shall be
ruined if I marry you openly. Let us be married quietly, and keep it
dark until I am more independent."
"Married! Catch me at it--if you can. No, dear boy, I am very fond of
you, and you are one of the right sort to make me the offer; but I wont
let you put a collar round _my_ neck. Matrimony is all very fine for
women who have no better way of supporting themselves, but it wouldnt
suit me. Dont look so dazed. What difference does it make to _you_?"
"But----" He stopped, bewildered, gazing at her.
"Get out, you great goose!" she said, and suddenly sprang out of the
hansom and darted into the theatre.
He sat gaping after her, horrified--genuinely horrified.
The Earl of Carbury was a youngish man with no sort of turn for being a
nobleman. He could not bring himself to behave as if he was anybody in
particular; and though this passed for perfect breeding whenever he by
chance appeared in his place in society, on the magisterial bench, or in
the House of Lords, it prevented him from making the most of the
earldom, and was a standing grievance with his relatives, many of whom
were the most impudent and uppish people on the face of the earth. He
was, if he had only known it, a born republican, with no natural belief
in earls at all; but as he was rather too modest to indulge his
consciousness with broad generalizations of this kind, all he knew about
the matter was that he was sensible of being a bad hand at his
hereditary trade of territorial aristocrat. At a very early age he had
disgraced himself by asking his mother whether he might be a watchmaker
when he grew up, and his feeble sense on that occasion of the
impropriety of an earl being anything whatsoever except an earl had
given his mother an imperious contempt for him which afterward got
curiously mixed with a salutary dread of his moral superiority to her,
which was considerable. His aspiration to become a watchmaker was an
early symptom of his extraordinary turn for mechanics. An apprenticeship
of six years at the bench would have made an educated workman of him: as
it was, he pottered at every mechanical pursuit as a gentleman amateur
in a laboratory and workshop which he had got built for himself in his
park. In this magazine of toys--for such it virtually was at first--he
satisfied his itchings to play with tools and machines. He was no
sportsman; but if he saw in a shop window the most trumpery patent
improvement in a breechloader, he would go in and buy it; and as to a
new repeating rifle or liquefied gas gun, he would travel to St.
Petersburg to see it. He wrote very little; but he had sixteen different
typewriters, each guaranteed perfect by an American agent, who had also
pledged himself that the other fifteen were miserable impostures. A
really ingenious bicycle or tricycle always found in him a ready
purchaser; and he had patented a roller skate and a railway brake. When
the electric chair for dental operations was invented, he sacrificed a
tooth to satisfy his curiosity as to its operation. He could not play
brass instruments to any musical purpose; but his collection of double
slide trombones, bombardons with patent compensating pistons, comma
trumpets, and the like, would have equipped a small military band;
whilst his newly tempered harmonium with fifty-three notes to each
octave, and his pianos with simplified keyboards that nobody could play
on, were the despair of all musical amateurs who came to stay at Towers
Cottage, as his place was called. He would buy the most expensive and
elaborate lathe, and spend a month trying to make a true billiard ball
at it. At the end of that time he would have to send for a professional
hand, who would cornet the ball with apparently miraculous skill in a
few seconds. He got on better with chemistry and photography; but at
last he settled down to electrical engineering, and, giving up the idea
of doing everything with his own half-trained hand, kept a skilled man
always in his laboratory to help him out.
All along there had been a certain love of the marvelous at the bottom
of his fancy for inventions. Therefore, though he did not in the least
believe in ghosts, he would "investigate" spiritualism, and part with
innumerable guineas to mediums, slatewriters, clairvoyants, and even of
turbaned rascals from the East, who would boldly offer at midnight to
bring him out into the back yard and there and then raise the devil for
him. And just as his tendency was to magnify the success and utility of
his patent purchases, so he would lend himself more or less to gross
impostures simply because they interested him. This confirmed his
reputation for being a bit of a crank; and as he had in addition all the
restlessness and eccentricity of the active spirits of his class,
arising from the fact that no matter what he busied himself with, it
never really mattered whether he accomplished it or not, he remained an
unsatisfied and (considering the money he cost) unsatisfactory specimen
of a true man in a false position.
Towers Cottage was supposed to be a mere appendage to Carbury Towers,
which had been burnt down, to the great relief of its noble owners, in
the reign of William IV. The Cottage, a handsome one-storied Tudor
mansion, with tall chimneys, gabled roofs, and transom windows, had
since served the family as a very sufficient residence, needing a much
smaller staff of servants than the Towers, and accommodating fewer
visitors. At first it had been assumed on all hands that the stay at the
Cottage was but a temporary one, pending the re-erection of the Towers
on a scale of baronial magnificence; but this tradition, having passed
through its primal stage of being a standing excuse with the elders
into that of being a standing joke with the children, had naturally
lapsed as the children grew up. Indeed, the Cottage was now too large
for the family; for the Earl was still unmarried, and all his sisters
had contracted splendid alliances except the youngest, Lady Constance
Carbury, a maiden of twenty-two, with a thin face and slight angular
figure, who was still on her mother's hands. The illustrious matches
made by her sisters had, in fact, been secured by extravagant dowering,
which had left nothing for poor Lady Constance except a miserable three
hundred pounds a year, at which paltry figure no man had as yet offered
to take her. The Countess (Dowager) habitually assumed that Marmaduke
Lind ardently desired the hand of his cousin; and Constance herself
supported tacitly this view; but the Earl was apt to become restive when
it was put forward, though he altogether declined to improve his
sister's pecuniary position, having already speculated quite heavily
enough in brothers-in-law.
In the August following the Wandsworth concert Lord Carbury began to
take his electrical laboratory with such intensified seriousness that he
flatly refused to entertain any visitors until the 12th, and held fast
to his determination in spite of his mother's threat to leave the house,
alleging, with a laugh, that he had got hold of a discovery with money
in it at last. But he felt at such a disadvantage after this incredible
statement that he hastened to explain that his objection to visitors did
not apply to relatives who would be sufficiently at home at Towers
Cottage to require no attention from him. Under the terms of this
capitulation Marian, as universal favorite, was invited; and since there
was no getting Marian down without Elinor, she was invited too, in
spite of the Countess's strong dislike for her, a sentiment which she
requited with a pungent mixture of detestation and contempt. Marian's
brother, the Reverend George Lind, promised to come down in a day or
two; and Marmaduke, who was also invited, did not reply.
The morning after her arrival, Marian was awakened at six o'clock by a
wagon rumbling past the window of her room with a sound quite different
from that made by the dust-cart in Westbourne Terrace. She peeped out at
it, and saw that is was laden with packages of irregular shape, which,
judging by some strange-looking metal rods that projected through the
covering, she took to be apparatus for Lord Jasper's laboratory. From
the wagon, with its patiently trudging horse and dull driver, she lifted
her eyes to the lawn, where the patches of wet shadow beneath the cedars
refreshed the sunlit grass around them. It looked too fine a morning to
spend in bed. Had Marian been able to taste and smell the fragrant
country air she would not have hesitated a moment. But she had been
accustomed to believe that fresh air was unhealthy at night, and though
nothing would have induced her to wash in dirty water, she thought
nothing of breathing dirty air; and so the window was shut and the room
close. Still, the window did not exclude the loud singing of the birds
or the sunlight. She ventured to open it a little, not without a sense
of imprudence. Twenty minutes later she was dressed.
She first looked into the drawing-room, but it was stale and dreary. The
dining-room, which she tried next, made her hungry. The arrival of a
servant with a broom suggested to her that she had better get out of the
way of the household work. She felt half sorry for getting up, and went
out on the lawn to recover her spirits. There she heard a man's voice
trolling a stave somewhere in the direction of the laboratory. Thinking
that it might be Lord Carbury, and that, if so, he would probably not
wait until half past nine to break his fast, she ran gaily off round the
southwest corner of the Cottage to a terrace, from which there was
access through a great double window, now wide open, to a lofty
apartment roofed with glass.
At a large table in the middle of the room sat a man with his back to
the window. He had taken off his coat, and was bending over a small
round block with little holes sunk into it. Each hole was furnished with
a neat brass peg, topped with ebony; and the man was lifting and
replacing one of these pegs whilst he gravely watched the dial of an
instrument that resembled a small clock. A large straw hat concealed his
head, and protected it from the rays that were streaming through the
glass roof and open window. The apparent triviality of his occupation,
and his intentness upon it, amused Marian. She stole into the
laboratory, came close behind him, and said:
"Since you have nothing better to do than play cribbage with yourself,
She had gently lifted up his straw hat, and found beneath a head that
was not Lord Carbury's. The man, who had cowered with surprise at her
touch and voice, but had waited even then to finish an observation of
his galvanometer before turning, now turned and stared at her.
"I _beg_ your pardon," said Marian, blushing vigorously. "I thought it
was Lord Carbury. I have disturbed you very rudely. I----"
"Not at all," said the man. "I quite understand. I was not playing
cribbage, but I was doing nothing very important. However, as you
certainly did take me by surprise, perhaps you will excuse my coat."
"Oh, pray dont mind me. I must not interrupt your work." She looked at
his face again, but only for an instant, as he was watching her. Then,
with another blush, she put out her hand and said, "How do you do, Mr.
Conolly. I did not recognize you at first."
He shook hands, but did not offer any further conversation. "What a
wonderful place!" she said, looking round, with a view to making herself
agreeable by taking an interest in everything. "Wont you explain it all
to me? To begin with, what is electricity?"
Conolly stared rather at this question, and then shook his head. "I dont
know anything about that," he said; "I am only a workman. Perhaps Lord
Carbury can tell you: he has read a good deal about it."
Marian looked incredulously at him. "I am sure you are joking," she
said. "Lord Carbury says you know ever so much more than he does. I
suppose I asked a stupid question. What are those reels of green silk
"Ah," said Conolly, relaxing. "Come now, I can tell you that easily
enough. I dont know what it _is_, but I know what it does, and I can lay
traps to catch it. Here now, for instance----"
And he went on to deliver a sort of chatty Royal Institution Children's
Lecture on Electricity which produced a great impression on Marian, who
was accustomed to nothing better than small talk. She longed to interest
him by her comments and questions, but she found that they had a most
discouraging effect on him. Redoubling her efforts, she at last reduced
him to silence, of which she availed herself to remark, with great
earnestness, that science was a very wonderful thing.
"How do you know?" he said, a little bluntly.
"I am sure it must be," she replied, brightening; for she thought he had
now made a rather foolish remark. "Is Lord Carbury a very clever
Conolly looked just grave enough to suggest that the question was not
altogether a discreet one. Then, brushing off that consideration, he
"He has seen a great deal and read a great deal. You see, he has great
means at his disposal. His property is as good as a joint-stock company
at his back. Practically, he is very good, considering his method of
working: not so good, considering the means at his disposal."
"What would you do if you had his means?"
Conolly made a gesture which plainly signified that he thought he could
do a great many things.
"And is science, then, so expensive? I thought it was beyond the reach
"Oh, yes: science may be. But I am not a scientific man: I'm an
inventor. The two things are quite different. Invention is the most
expensive thing in the world. It takes no end of time, and no end of
money. Time is money; so it costs both ways."
"Then why dont you discover something and make your fortune?"
"I have already discovered something."
"Oh! What is it?"
"That it costs a fortune to make experiments enough to lead to an
"You are exaggerating, are you not? What do you mean by a fortune?"
"In my case, at least four or five hundred pounds."
"Is that all? Surely you would have no difficulty in getting five
Conolly laughed. "To be sure," said he. "What is five hundred pounds?"
"A mere nothing--considering the importance of the object. You really
ought not to allow such a consideration as that to delay your career. I
have known people spend as much in one day on the most worthless
"There is something in that, Miss Lind. How would you recommend me to
"First," said Marian, with determination, "make up your mind to spend
the money. Banish all scruples about the largeness of the sum. Resolve
not to grudge even twice as much to science."
"That is done already. I have quite made up my mind to spend the money.
"Well, I suppose the next thing is to spend it."
"Excuse me. The next thing is to get it. It is a mere detail, I know;
but I should like to settle it before we go any further."
"But how can I tell you that? You forget that I am quite unacquainted
with your affairs. You are a man, and understand business, which of
course I dont."
"If you wanted five hundred pounds, Miss Lind, how would you set about
getting it?--if I may ask."
"What? I! But, as I say, I am only a woman. I should ask my father for
it, or sign a receipt for my trustees, or something of that sort."
"That is a very simple plan. But unfortunately I have no father and no
trustees. Worse than that, I have no money. You must suggest some other
"Do what everybody else does in your circumstances. Borrow it. I am sure
Lord Carbury would lend it to you."
Conolly shook his head. "It doesnt do for a man in my position to start
borrowing the moment he makes the acquaintance of a man in Lord
Carbury's," he said. "We are working a little together already on one of
my ideas, and that is as far as I care to ask him to go. I am afraid I
must ask you for another suggestion."
"Save up all your money until you have enough."
"That would take some time. Let me see. As I am an exceptionally
fortunate and specially skilled workman, I can now calculate on making
from seventy shillings to six pounds a week. Say four pounds on the
"Ah," said Marian, despondingly, "you would have to wait more than two
years to save five hundred pounds."
"And to dispense with food, clothes, and lodging in the meantime."
"True," said Marian. "Of course, I see that it is impossible for you to
save anything. And yet it seems absurd to be stopped by the want of such
a sum. I have a cousin who has no money at all, and no experiments to
make, and he paid a thousand pounds for a race-horse last spring."
Conolly nodded, to intimate that he knew that such things happened.
Marian could think of no further expedient. She stood still, thinking,
whilst Conolly took up a bit of waste and polished a brass cylinder.
"Mr. Conolly," she said at last, "I cannot absolutely promise you; but I
think I can get you five hundred pounds." Conolly stopped polishing the
cylinder, and stared at her. "If I have not enough, I am sure we could
make the rest by a bazaar or something. I should like to begin to invest
my money; and if you make some great invention, like the telegraph or
steam engine, you will be able to pay it back to me, and to lend me
money when _I_ want it."
Conolly blushed. "Thank you, Miss Lind," said he, "thank you very much
indeed. I--It would be ungrateful of me to refuse; but I am not so ready
to begin my experiments as my talking might lead you to suppose. My
estimate of their cost was a mere guess. I am not satisfied that it is
not want of time and perseverance more than of money that is the real
obstacle. However, I will--I will--a----Have you any idea of the value
of money, Miss Lind? Have you ever had the handling of it?"
"Of course," said Marian, secretly thinking that the satisfaction of
shaking his self-possession was cheap at five hundred pounds. "I keep
house at home, and do all sorts of business things."
Conolly glanced about him vaguely; picked up the piece of waste again as
if he had been looking for that; recollected himself; and looked
unintelligibly at her. Her uncertainty as to what he would do next was a
delightful sensation: why, she did not know nor care. To her intense
disappointment, Lord Carbury entered just then, and roused her from what
was unaccountably like a happy dream.
Nothing more of any importance happened that day except the arrival of a
letter from Paris, addressed to Lady Constance in Marmaduke's
handwriting. Miss McQuinch first heard of it in the fruit garden, where
she found Constance sitting with her arm around Marian's waist in a
summer-house. She sat down opposite them, at a rough oak table.
"A letter, Nelly!" said Marian. "A letter! A letter from Marmaduke! I
have extorted leave for you to read it. Here it is. Handle it carefully,
"Has he proposed?" said Elinor, taking it.
Constance changed color. Elinor opened the letter in silence, and read:
My dear Constance:
I hope you are quite well. I am having an awfully jolly time of it
here. What a pity it is you dont come over! I was wishing for you
yesterday in the Louvre, where we spent a pleasant day looking at
the pictures. I send you the silk you wanted, and had great trouble
hunting through half-a-dozen shops for it. Not that I mind the
trouble, but just to let you see my devotion to you. I have no more
to say at present, as it is nearly post hour. Remember me to the
P.S.--How do Nelly and your mother get along together?
Whilst Elinor was reading, the gardener passed the summer-house, and
Constance went out and spoke to him. Elinor looked significantly at
"Nelly," returned Marian, in hushed tones of reproach, "you have stabbed
poor Constance to the heart by telling her that Marmaduke never proposed
to her. That is why she has gone out."
"Yes," said Elinor, "it was brutal. But I thought, as you made such a
fuss about the letter, that it must have been a proposal at least. It
cant be helped now. It is one more enemy for me, that is all."
"What do you think of the letter? Was it not kind of him to
write--considering how careless he is usually?"
"Hm! Did he match the silk properly?".
"To perfection. He must really have taken some trouble. You know how he
botched getting the ribbon for his fancy dress at the ball last year."
"That is just what I was thinking about. Do you remember also how he
ridiculed the Louvre after his first trip to Paris, and swore that
nothing would ever induce him to enter it again?"
"He has got more sense now. He says in the letter that he spent
"Not exactly. He says '_we_ spent a pleasant day looking at the
pictures.' Who is '_we_'?"
"Some companion of his, I suppose. Why?"
"I was just thinking could it be the person who has matched the silk so
well. The same woman, I mean."
"Oh, Marian! Do you suppose Marmaduke would spend an afternoon at the
Louvre with a man, who could just as well go by himself? Do men match
"Of course they do. Any fly-fisher can do it better than a woman.
Really, Nell, you have an odious imagination."
"Yes--when my imagination is started on an odious track. Nothing will
persuade me that Marmaduke cares a straw for Constance. He does not want
to marry her, though he is too great a coward to own it."
"Why do you say so? I grant you he is unceremonious and careless. But he
is the same to everybody."
"Yes: to everybody _we_ know. What is the use of straining after an
amiable view of things, Marian, when a cynical view is most likely to be
the true one."
"There is no harm in giving people credit for being good."
"Yes, there is, when people are not good, which is most often the case.
It sets us wrong practically, and holds virtue cheap. If Marmaduke is a
noble and warmhearted man, and Constance a lovable, innocent girl, all I
can say is that it is not worth while to be noble or lovable. If
amiability consists in maintaining that black is white, it is a quality
anyone may acquire by telling a lie and sticking to it."
"But I dont maintain that black is white. Only it seems to me that as
regards white, you are color blind. Where I see white, you see black;
and----hush! Here is Constance."
"Yes," whispered Elinor: "she comes back quickly enough when it occurs
to her that we are talking about her."
Instead of simply asking why Constance should not behave in this very
natural manner if she chose to, Marian was about to defend Constance
warmly by denying all motive to her return, when that event took place
and stopped the discussion. Marian and Nelly spent a considerable part
of their lives in bandying their likes and dislikes under the impression
that they were arguing important points of character and conduct.
They knew that Constance wanted to answer Marmaduke's letter; so they
alleged correspondence of their own, and left her to herself.
Lady Constance went to her brother's study, where there was a
comfortable writing-table. She began to write without hesitation, and
her pen gabbled rapidly until she had covered two sheets of paper,
when, instead of taking a fresh sheet, she wrote across the lines
already written. After signing the letter, she read it through, and
added two postscripts. Then she remembered something she had forgotten
to say; but there was no more room on her two sheets, and she was
reluctant to use a third, which might, in a letter to France, involve
extra postage. Whilst she was hesitating her brother entered.
"Am I in your way?" she said. "I shall have done in a moment."
"No, I am not going to write. By-the-bye, they tell me you had a letter
from Marmaduke this morning. Has he anything particular to say?"
"Nothing very particular. He is in Paris."
"Indeed? Are you writing to him?"
"Yes," said Constance, irritated by his disparaging tone. "Why not?"
"Do as you please, of course. I am afraid he is a scamp."
"Are you? You know a great deal about him, I dare say."
"I am not much reassured by those who do know about him."
"And who may they be? The only person you know who has seen much of him
is Marian, and she doesnt speak ill of people behind their backs."
"Marian takes rather a rose-colored view of everybody, Marmaduke
included. You should talk to Nelly about him."
"I knew it. I knew, the minute you began to talk, who had set you on."
"I am afraid Nelly's opinion is worth more than Marians."
"_Her_ opinion! Everybody knows what her opinion is. She is bursting
with jealousy of me."
"What else? Marmaduke has never taken the least notice of her, and she
is madly in love with him."
"This is quite a new light upon the affair. Constance, are you sure you
are not romancing?"
"Romancing! Why, she cannot conceal her venom. She taunted me this
morning in the summer-house because Marmaduke has never made me a formal
proposal. It was the letter that made her do it. Ask Marian."
"I can hardly believe it: I should not have supposed, from what I have
observed, that she cared about him."
You should not have supposed it from what she _said_: is that what you
mean? I dont care whether you believe it or not."
"Well, if you are so confident, there is no occasion to be acrimonious
about Elinor. She is more to be pitied than blamed."
"Yes, everybody is to pity Elinor because she cant have her wish and
make me wretched," said Constance, beginning to cry. Whereupon Lord
Carbury immediately left the room.
Long before the harvest was home, preparations were made at Towers
Cottage to receive another visitor. The Rev. George Lind was coming.
Lord Carbury drove in the wagonet to the railway station, and met him on
"How are you, my dear fellow?" cried the clergyman, shaking the earl's
hand. "Why did you trouble to meet me? I could have taken a fly. Most
kind of you, I am sure. How is your dear mother? And Constance: how is
"All quite well, thank you. Just show my fellow your traps; he will see
"Oh, there is no need to trouble him. I myself or a porter--oh, thank
you, I am sure; the brown one with G.L. on it--and that small green
metal box too, if you will be so good. Thank you very much. And how are
you, Jasper, if I may call you so? Studious still, eh? I hope he will be
careful of the box. No, not a word to him, I beg: it does not matter at
all. What a charming little trap! What air! Happy man, Jasper! These
fields are better than the close alleys and garrets to which my
profession leads me."
"Thank you. And how is Marian?"
"Quite well, thank you. _Everybody_ is quite well. The girls are at a
tennis party, or they would have come to meet you. Constance desired me
particularly to apologize."
"Oh, needless, most needless. Why should they not enjoy themselves?
What a landscape! The smiling beauty of nature in the country is like
a--like a message to us. This is indeed a delightful drive."
"Yes, she is a capital trotter, this mare of mine. What do you think of
"A noble animal, Jasper. Although I never studied horseflesh much, even
in my university days, I can admire a spirited nag on occasion. But I
have to content myself with humbler means of locomotion in my own
calling. A poor parson cannot entertain his friends as a magnate like
you can. Have you any one at the hall now, besides the girls?"
"No. The place will be rather dull for you, I am afraid."
"Not at all, my dear fellow, not at all. I shall be satisfied and
thankful under all circumstances."
"We have led a humdrum life for the past month. Marian and Elinor have
begun to potter about in my laboratory. They come there every day for an
hour to work and study, as they call it."
"Indeed! I have no doubt Marian will find the study of nature most
improving. It is very generous of you to allow her to trespass on you."
"I occupy myself chiefly with Nelly McQuinch. Marian is my assistant's
pupil, and he has made a very expert workwoman of her already. With a
little direction, she can put a machine together as well as I can."
"I am delighted to hear it. And dear Nelly?"
"Oh, dear Nelly treats the subject in her usual way. But she is very
"Ah, Jasper! Ah! An unstable nature there, an unstable nature! Elinor
has not been firmly trained. She needs to be tried by adversity."
"No doubt she will be. Most of us are."
"And dear Constance? Does she study?"
"Ahem! A--have you----? That is St. Mildred's yonder, is it not?"
"It is. They have put a new clock in the tower, worth about sixty
pounds. I believe they collected a hundred and fifty for the purpose.
But you were going to say something else."
"No. At least, I intended to ask you about Marmaduke. He is coming down,
"I dont know what he is doing. Last week he wrote to us that he had just
returned from Paris; but I happened to know that he had then been back
for some time. He has arranged to come twice, but on each occasion, at
the last moment, he has made excuses. He can do as he likes now. I wish
he would say definitely that he doesnt intend to come, instead of
shilly-shallying from week to week. Hallo, Prentice, have the ladies
returned yet?" This was addressed to the keeper of the gate-lodge, at
which they had now arrived. He replied that the ladies were still
"Then," said Lord Carbury, "we had better get down and stroll across the
lawn. Perhaps you are tired, though?"
"Not at all. I should prefer it. What a lovely avenue! What greenery!
"We were talking about Marmaduke. Do you know what he is doing at
present? He talks of being busy, and of not having a moment to spare. I
can understand a fellow not having a moment to spare in June or July,
but what Marmaduke has to do in London in September is more than I can
"I do not care to enquire into these things too closely. I had intended
to speak to you on the subject. Marmaduke, as I suppose you know, has
taken a house at West Kensington."
"A house at West Kensington! No, I did not know it. What has he done
"I fear he has been somewhat disingenuous with me on the subject. I
think he tried to prevent the matter coming to my ears; and when I asked
him about it, he certainly implied--in fact, I grieve to say he left me
under the impression that he had taken the house with a view to marrying
dear Constance, and settling down. I expressed some surprise at his
going so far out of town; but he did not volunteer any further
explanation, and so the matter dropped." The Rev. George paused, and
then continued in a lower tone, "Not long afterward I met him at a very
late hour. He had perhaps exceeded a little in his cups; for he spoke to
me with the most shocking cynicism, inviting me to supper at this house
of his, and actually accusing me of knowing perfectly well the terrible
truth about his occupation of it. He assured me that she--meaning, I
presume, the unhappy person with whom he lives there--was exceptionally
attractive; and I have since discovered that she is connected with the
theatre, and of great notoriety. I need not tell you how dreadful all
this is to me, Jasper; but to the best of my judgment, which I have
fortified by earnest prayers for guidance, it is my imperative duty to
tell you of it."
"The vagabond! It is exactly as I have always said: Constance is too
tame for him. He does not care a d----"
"Jasper, my dear fellow, gently," said the clergyman, pressing his arm.
"Pshaw!" said the Earl, "I dont care. I think Constance is well out of
it. Let us drop the subject for the present. I hear the carriage."
"Yes, here it is. Dear Lady Carbury has recognized me, and is waving her
hand." The Rev. George stood on tiptoe as he spoke, and flourished his
low-crowned soft felt hat.
During the ensuing greetings Carbury stood silent, looking at the horses
with an expression that made the coachman uneasy. At dinner he ate
sedulously, and left the task of entertaining the visitor to his mother
and the girls. The clergyman was at no loss for conversation. He was
delighted with the dinner, delighted with the house, delighted to see
the Countess looking so well, and delighted to hear that the tennis
party that day had been a pleasant one. The Earl listened with
impatience, and was glad when his mother rose. Before she quitted the
dining-room he made a sign to her, and she soon returned, leaving
Marian, Constance, and Elinor in the drawing-room.
"You will not mind my staying, I hope, George," she said, as she resumed
"A delightful precedent, and from a distinguished source," said the Rev.
George. "Allow me to pass the bottle. Ha! ha!"
"Thank you, no," said the Countess. "I never take wine." Her tone was
inconclusive, as if she intended to take something else.
"Will you take brandy-and-soda?" said her son, rather brusquely.
Lady Carbury lowered her eyelids in protest. Then she said: "A very
little, if you please, Jasper. I dare not touch wine," she continued to
the clergyman. "I am the slave of my medical man in all matters relating
to my unfortunate digestion."
"Mother," said Jasper, "George has brought us a nice piece of news
concerning your pet Marmaduke."
The clergyman became solemn and looked steadily at his glass.
"I do not know that it is fair to describe him as my pet exactly," said
the Countess, a little troubled. "I trust there is nothing unpleasant
"Oh, nothing! He has settled down domestically in a mansion at West
Kensington, that is all."
"Unhappily," said the Rev. George, "no, not married."
"Oh!" said the Countess slowly, as an expression of relief. "It is very
shocking, of course; very wrong indeed. Young men _will_ do these
things. It is especially foolish in Marmaduke's case, for he really
cannot afford to make any settlement such as this kind of complication
usually involves when the time comes for getting rid of it. Pray do not
let it come to Constance's ears. It is not a proper subject for a girl."
"Quite as proper a subject as marriage with a fellow like Marmaduke,"
said Jasper, rising coolly and lighting a cigaret. "However, it will be
time enough to trouble about that when there is any sign of his having
the slightest serious intentions toward Constance. For my part I dont
believe, and I never did believe, that there was anything real in the
business. This last move of his proves it--to my satisfaction, at any
Lady Carbury, with a slight but impressive bridling, and yet with an
evident sense of discomfiture, proceeded to assert herself before the
clergyman. "I beg you will control yourself, Jasper," she said. "I do
not like to be spoken to in that tone. In discharging the very great
responsibility which rests with a mother, I am compelled to take the
world as I find it, and to acknowledge that certain very deplorable
tendencies must be allowed for in society. You, in the solitude of your
laboratory, contemplate an ideal state of things that we all, I am sure,
long for, but which unhappily does not exist. I have never enquired into
Marmaduke's private life, and I think you ought not to have done so. I
could not disguise from myself the possibility of his having entered
into some such relations as those you have alluded to."
Jasper, without the slightest appearance of having heard this speech,
strolled casually out of the room. The Countess, baffled, turned to her
"I am sure that you, George, must feel that it is absolutely necessary
for us to keep this matter to ourselves."
The Rev. George said, gravely, "I do not indeed see what blessing can
rest on our interference in such an inexpressibly shocking business. It
is for Marmaduke to wrestle with his own conscience."
"Quite so," said the Countess, shrugging her shoulders as if to invite
her absent son's attention to this confirmation of her judgment. "Is it
not absurd of Jasper to snatch at such an excuse for breaking off the
"I can sympathize with Jasper's feeling, I trust. It is natural for a
candid nature to recoil from duplicity. But all our actions need
charitable construction; and, remembering that, we should take heed to
prevent our forebearance toward others from wavering. Who knows that the
alliance with your pure and lovely daughter may not be the means
specially ordained to rescue him from his present condition."
"I think it very possible," drawled the Countess, looking at him,
nevertheless, with a certain contempt for what she privately considered
his priggish, underbred cant. "Besides, such things are recognized,
though of course they are not spoken of. No lady could with common
decency pretend to know that such connexions are possible, much less
assign one of them as a reason for breaking off an engagement."
"Pardon me," said the Rev. George; "but can these worldly considerations
add anything to the approval of our consciences? I think not. We will
keep our own counsel in this matter in the sight of Heaven. Then,
whatever the world may think, all will surely come right in the end."
"Oh, it is sure to come right in the end: these wretched businesses
always do. I cannot imagine men having such low tastes--as if there were
anything in these women more than in anybody else! Come into the
They went into the drawing-room and found it deserted. The ladies were
in the veranda. The Countess took up the paper and composed herself for
a nap. George went into the porch, where the girls, having seen the sun
go down, were now watching the deepening gloom among the trees that
skirted the lawn. Marian proposed that they should walk through the
plantation whilst there was still a little light left, and the clergyman
readily assented. He rather repented of this when they got into the deep
gloom under the trees, and Elinor began to tell stories about adders,
wild cats, poachers, and anything else that could possibly make a
nervous man uncomfortable under such circumstances. He was quite
relieved when they saw the spark of a cigaret ahead of them and heard
the voices of Jasper and Conolly coming toward them through the
"Oh, I believe I have had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Conolly," said the
Rev. George, formally, when they met. "I am glad to see you."
"Thank you," said Conolly. "If you ladies have thin shoes on as usual,
we had better come out of this."
"As we ladies happen to have our boots on," said Marian, "we shall stay
as long as we like."
Nevertheless, they soon turned homeward, and as the path was narrow,
they walked in pairs. The clergyman, with Constance, led the way. Lord
Jasper followed with Elinor. Conolly and Marian came last.
"Does that young man--Mr. Conolly--live at the Hall?" was the Rev.
George's first remark to Constance.
"No. He has rooms in Rose Cottage, that little place on Quilter's farm."
"Ha! Then he is very well off here."
"A great deal too well off. Jasper allows him to speak to him as though
he were an equal. However, I suppose Jasper knows his own business
"I have observed that he is rather disposed to presume upon any
encouragement he receives. It is a bad sign in a young man, and one, I
fear, that will greatly interfere with his prospects."
"He is an American, and I suppose thinks it a fine thing to be
republican. But it is Jasper's fault. He spoils him. He once wanted to
have him in the drawing-room in the evenings to play accompaniments; but
mamma positively refused to allow it. Jasper is excessively obstinate,
and though he did not make a fuss, he got quite a habit of going over
to Rose Cottage and spending his evenings there singing and playing.
Everybody about the place used to notice it. Mamma was greatly
"Do you find him unpleasant--personally, I mean?"
"I! Oh dear, no! I should never dream of speaking to him. His presence
is unpleasant, because he exercises a bad influence on Jasper; so I
wish, on that account alone, that he would go."
"I trust Marian is careful to limit her intercourse with him as much as
"Well, Marian learns electricity from him; and of course that makes a
difference. I do not care about such things; and I never go into the
laboratory when he is there; so I do not know whether Marian lets him be
familiar with her or not. She is rather easygoing; and he is
insufferably conceited. However, if she wants to learn electricity, I
suppose she must put up with him. He is no worse, after all, than the
rest of the people one has to learn things from. They are all
"It is a strange fancy of the girls, to study science."
"I am sure I dont know why they do it. It is great nonsense for Jasper
to do it, either. He will never keep up his position properly until he
shuts up that stupid workshop. He ought to hunt and shoot and entertain
a great deal more than he does. It is very hard on us, for we are
altogether in Jasper's hands for such matters. I think he is very
"Not foolish. Dont say that. Excuse my giving you a little lecture; but
it is not right to speak, even without thought, of your brother as a
fool. No doubt he is a little injudicious; but all men are not called to
the same pursuits."
"If people have a certain position, they ought to make up their minds
to the duties of their position, whether they are called to them or
The Rev. George, missing the deference with which ladies not related to
him usually received his admonitions, changed the subject.
Meanwhile, Conolly and Marian, walking more slowly than the rest, had
fallen far behind. They had been silent at first. She seemed to be in
trouble. At last, after some wistful glances at him, she said:
"Have you resolved to go to London to-morrow; or will you wait until
"To-morrow, Miss Lind. Can I do anything for you in town?"
Marian hesitated painfully.
"Do not mind giving me plenty of bother," he said. "I am so accustomed
to superintend the transit of machines as cumbersome as trunks and as
fragile as bonnet boxes, that the care of a houseful of ordinary luggage
would be a mere amusement for me."
"Thank you; but it is not that. I was only thinking--Are you likely to
see my cousin, Mr. Marmaduke Lind, whilst you are in London?"
"N--no. Unless I call upon him, which I have no excuse for doing."
"Oh! I thought you knew him."
"I met him at that concert."
"But I thought you were in the habit of going about with him. At least,
I understood him one day to say that you had been to the theatre
"So we were; but only once. We went there after the concert, and I have
never seen him since."
"Oh, indeed! I quite mistook."
"If you have any particular reason for wishing me to see him, I will.
It will be all right if I have a message from you. Shall I call on him?
It will be no trouble to me."
"No, oh no. I wanted--it was something that could only be told to him
indirectly by an intimate friend--by some one with influence over him.
More a hint than anything else. But it does not matter. At least, it
cannot be helped."
Conolly did not speak until they had gone some thirty yards or so in
silence. Then he said: "If the matter is of serious importance to you,
Miss Lind, I think I can manage to have a message conveyed to him by a
person who has influence over him. I am not absolutely certain that I
can; but probably I shall succeed without any great difficulty."
Marian looked at him in some surprise. "I hardly know what I ought to
do," she said, doubtfully.
"Then do nothing," said Conolly bluntly. "Or, if you want anything said
to this gentleman, write to him yourself."
"But I dont know his address, and my brother says I ought not to write
to him. I dont think I ought, either; but I want him to be told
something that may prevent a great deal of unhappiness. It seems so
unfeeling to sit down quietly and say, 'It is not my business to
interfere,' when the mischief might so easily be prevented."
"I advise you to be very cautious, Miss Lind. Taking care of other
people's happiness is thankless and dangerous. You dont know your
cousin's address, you say?"
"No. I thought you did."
Conolly shook his head. "Who does know it?" he said.
"My brother George does; but he refused to tell me. I shall not ask him
"Of course not. I can find it out for you. But of what use will that be,
since you think you ought not to write to him?"
"I assure you, Mr. Conolly, that if it only concerned myself, I would
not hesitate to tell you the whole story, and ask your advice. I feel
sure you would shew me what was right. But this is a matter which
concerns other people only."
"Then you have my advice without telling me. Dont meddle in it."
"After all, what I wish to do could not possibly bring about mischief.
If Marmaduke could be given a hint to come down here at once--he has
been invited, and is putting off his visit from week to week--it would
be sufficient. He will get into trouble if he makes any more excuses.
And he can set everything right by coming down now."
"Are you sure you dont mean only that he can smooth matters over for the
"No, you mistake. It is not so much to smooth matters over as to rescue
him from a bad influence that is ruining him. There is a person in
London from whom he must he got away at all hazards. If you only knew--I
_wish_ you knew."
"Perhaps I know more than you suppose. Come, Miss Lind, let us
understand one another. Your family want your cousin to marry Lady
Constance. I know that. She does not object. I know that too. He does."
"Oh!" exclaimed Marian, "you are wrong. He does not."
"Anyhow," continued Conolly, "he acts with a certain degree of
indifference toward her--keeps away at present, for instance. I infer
that the bad influence you have mentioned is the cause of his
"Yes, you are right; only, looking at it all from without as you do, you
are mistaken as to Marmaduke's character. He is easily led away, and
very careless about the little attentions that weigh so much with women;
but he is thoroughly honorable, and incapable of trifling with Lady
Constance. Unfortunately, he is easily imposed on, and impatient of
company in which he cannot be a little uproarious. I fear that somebody
has taken advantage of this part of his character to establish a great
ascendency over him. I"--here Marian became nervous, and controlled her
voice with difficulty--"I saw this person once in a theatre; and I can
imagine how she would fascinate Marmaduke. She was so clever, so
handsome, and--and so utterly abominable. I was angry with Duke for
bringing us to the place; and I remember now that he was angry with me
because I said she made me shudder."
"Utterly abominable is a strong thing for one woman to say of another,"
said Conolly, with a certain sternness. "However, I can understand your
having that feeling about her. I know her; and it is through her that I
hope to find out his address for you."
"But her address is his address now, Mr. Conolly. I think it is
somewhere in West Kensington."
Conolly stopped, and turned upon her so suddenly that she recoiled a
"Since when, pray?"
"Very lately, I think. I do not know."
They neither moved nor spoke for some moments: she earnestly regretting
that she had lingered so far behind her companions in the terrible
darkness. He walked on at last faster than before. No more words passed
between them until they came out into the moonlight close to the
veranda. Then he stopped again, and took off his hat.
"Permit me to leave you now," he said, with an artificial politeness
worthy of Douglas himself. "Good-night."
"Good-night," faltered Marian.
He walked gravely away. Marian hurried into the veranda, where she found
Jasper and Elinor. The other couple had gone into the drawing-room.
"Hallo!" said Jasper, "where is Conolly? I want to say a word to him
before he goes."
"He has just gone," said Marian, pointing across the lawn. Jasper
immediately ran out in the direction indicated, and left the two cousins
"Well, Marian," said Elinor, "do you know that you have taken more than
quarter of an hour longer to come from the plantation than we did, and
that you look quite scared? Our sweet Constance, as the parson calls
her, has been making some kind remarks about it."
"Do I look disturbed? I hope Auntie wont notice it. I wish I could go
straight to bed without seeing anybody."
"Why? What is the matter?"
"I will tell you to-night when you come in to me. I am disgusted with
myself; and I think Conolly is mad."
"On my word, I think Conolly has gone mad," said Lord Jasper, returning
at this moment out of breath and laughing.
Elinor, startled, glanced at Marian.
"He was walking quite soberly toward the fence of the yellow field when
I caught sight of him. Just as I was about to hail him, he started off
and cleared the fence at a running jump. He walked away at a furious
rate, swinging his arms about, and laughing as if he was enjoying some
uncommonly good joke. I am not sure that I did not see him dance a
hornpipe; but as it is so dark I wont swear to that."
"You had better not," said Elinor, sceptically. "Let us go in; and pray
do not encourage George to talk. I have a headache, and want to go to
"You have been in very good spirits, considering your headache," he
replied, in the same incredulous tone. "It has come on rather suddenly,
has it not?"
When they went into the drawing-room they found that Constance had
awakened her mother, and had already given her an account of their walk.
Jasper added a description of what he had just witnessed. "I have not
laughed so much for a long time," he said, in conclusion. "He is usually
such a steady sort of fellow."
"I see nothing very amusing in the antics of a drunken workman," said
the Countess. "How you could have left Marian in his care even for a
moment I am at a loss to conceive."
"He was not drunk, indeed," said Marian.
"Certainly not," said Jasper, rather indignantly. "I was walking with
him for some time before we met the girls. You are very pale, Marian.
Have you also a headache?"
"I have been playing tennis all day; and I am quite tired out."
Soon afterward, when Marian was in bed, and Miss McQuinch, according to
a nightly custom of theirs, was seated on the coverlet with her knees
doubled up to her chin inside her bedgown, they discussed the adventure
"Dont understand him at all, I confess," said Elinor, when Marian had
related what had passed in the plantation. "Wasnt it rather rash to make
a confidant of him in such a delicate matter?"
"That is what makes me feel so utterly ashamed. He might have known that
I only wanted to do good. I thought he was so entirely above false
"I dont mean that. How do you know that the story is true? You only have
it from Mrs. Leith Fairfax's letter; and she is perhaps the greatest
liar in the world."
"Oh, Nelly, you ought not to talk so strongly about people. She would
never venture to tell me a made-up tale about Marmaduke."
"In my opinion, she would tell anybody anything for the sake of using
her tongue or pen."
"It is so hard to know what to do. There was nobody whom I could trust,
was there? Jasper has always been against Marmaduke; and Constance, of
course, was out of the question. There was Auntie, but I did not like to
"Because she is an evil-minded old Jezebel, whom no nice woman would
talk to on such a subject," said Elinor, giving the bed a kick with her
"Hush, Nelly. I am always in terror lest you should say something like
that before other people, out of sheer habit."
"Never fear. Well, you have done the best you could. No use regretting
what cannot be recalled. You cannot have the security of conventionality
along with the self-respect of sincerity. By the bye, do you remember
that Jasper and his fond mamma and George had a family council after
dinner? You may be sure that George has told them everything."
"What! Then my wretched attempt to have Marmaduke warned was useless.
Oh, Nelly, this is too bad. Do you really think so? When I told him
before dinner what Mrs. Leith Fairfax wrote, he only said he feared it
was true, and refused to give me the address."
"And so threw you back on Conolly. I am glad the responsibility rests
with George. He knew very well that it was true; for he had only just
been telling Jasper. Jasper told me as much in the plantation. Master
Georgy has no right to be your brother. He is worse than a dissenter.
Dissenters try to be gentlemen; but George has no misgivings about
himself on that score; so he gives his undivided energy to his efforts
to be parsonic. He is an arrant hypocrite."
"I dont think he is a hypocrite. I think he sincerely believes that his
duty to the Church requires him to behave as he does."
"Then he is a donkey, which is worse."
"I wish he were more natural in his manner."
"He is natural enough. It is always the same with parsons: 'it is their
nature to.' Good-night. Men are all the same, my dear, all the same."
"How do you mean?"
"Never mind. Good-night."
A little removed from a pretty road in West Kensington, and
communicating with it by a shrubbery and an iron gate, there stood at
this time a detached villa called Laurel Grove. On the opposite side
were pairs of recently built houses, many of them still unlet. These,
without depriving the neighbourhood of its suburban quietude, forbade
any feeling of rustic seclusion, and so made it agreeable to Susanna
Conolly, who lived at Laurel Grove with Marmaduke Lind.
One morning in September they were at breakfast together. Beside each
was a pile of letters. Marmaduke deferred opening his until his hunger
was satisfied; but Susanna, after pouring out tea for him, seized the
uppermost envelope, thrust her little finger under the flap, and burst
"Hm," she said. "First rehearsal next Monday. Here he is at me again to
make the engagement renewable after Christmas. What an old fool he must
be not to guess why I dont want to be engaged next spring! Just look at
the _Times_, Bob, and see if the piece is advertized yet."
"I should think so, by Jupiter," said Marmaduke, patiently interrupting
his meal to open the newspaper.
"Here is a separate advertisement for everybody. 'The latest Parisian
success. _La petite Maison du Roi._ Music by M. de Jongleur. Mr.
Faulkner has the honor to announce that an adaptation by Mr. Cribbs of
M. de Jongleur's opera bouffe _La petite Maison du Roi_, entitled King
Lewis on the lewis'--what the deuce does that mean?"
"On the loose, of course."
"But it is spelt l-e-w----oh! its a pun. What an infernal piece of
idiocy! Then it goes on as usual, except that each name in the cast has
a separate line of large print. Here you are: 'Lalage Virtue as Madame
"Is that at the top?"
"Before Rose Stella?"
"Yes. Why!--I didnt notice it before--you are down fifteen times!
Every alternate space has your name over again. 'Lalage Virtue as Madame
Dubarry. Fred Smith as Louis XV. Lalage Virtue as the Dubarry. Felix
Sumner as the Due de Richelieu. Lalage Virtue as _la belle Jeanneton_.'
By the way, that is all rot. Cardinal Richelieu died four or five
hundred years before Madame Dubarry was born."
"Let me see the paper. I see they have given Rose Stella the last line
with a big AND before it. No matter. She is down only once; and I am
down fifteen times."
"I wonder what all these letters of mine are about! This is a bill, of
course. The West Kensington Wine Company. Whew! We are getting through
the champagne at the rate of about thirty pounds a month, not counting
what we pay for when we dine in town."
"Well, what matter! Champagne does nobody any harm; and I get awfully
low without it."
"All right, my dear. So long as you please yourself, and dont injure
your health, I dont care. Here's a letter of yours put among mine by
mistake. It has been forwarded from your old diggings at Lambeth."
"It's from Ned," said Susanna, turning pale. "He must be coming home,
or he would not write. Yes, he is. What shall I do?"
"What does he say?" said Marmaduke, taking the letter from her. "'_Back
at 6 on Wednesday evening. Have high tea. N.C._' Short and sweet! Well,
he will not turn up til to-morrow, at all events, even if he knows the
address, which of course he doesnt."
"He knows nothing. His note shews that. What _will_ he do when he finds
me gone? He may get the address at the post-office, where I told them to
send on my letters. The landlady has most likely found out for her own
information. There is no mistake about it," said Susanna, rising and
walking to the window: "I am in a regular funk about him. I have half a
mind to go back to Lambeth and meet him. I could let the murder out
gradually, or, perhaps, get him off to the country again before he
"Go back! oh no, nonsense! The worst he can do is to cut you--and a good
"I wish he would. It would be a relief to me at present to know for
certain that he would."
"He cant be so very thin-skinned as you fancy, considering the time you
have been on the stage."
"There's nothing wrong in being on the stage. There's nothing wrong in
being here either, in spite of Society. After all, what do I care about
Ned, or anybody else? He always went his own way when it suited him; and
he has no right to complain if I go mine. Let him come if he likes: he
will not get much satisfaction from me." Susanna sat down again, and
drank some tea, partly defiant, partly disconsolate.
"Dont think any more about it," said Marmaduke. "He wont come."
"Oh, let him, if he likes," said Susanna, impatiently. Marmaduke did not
quite sympathize with her sudden recklessness. He hoped that Conolly
would have the good sense to keep away.
"Look here, Bob," said she, when they had finished breakfast. "Let us go
somewhere to-day. I feel awfully low. Let us have a turn up the river."
"All right," said Marmaduke, with alacrity. "Whatever you please. How
shall we go?"
"Anyhow. Let us go to Hampton by train. When we get there we can settle
what to do afterward. Can you come now?"
"Yes, whenever you are ready."
"Then I will run upstairs and dress. Go out and amuse yourself with
that blessed old lawn-mower until I come."
"Yes, I think I will," said Marmaduke, seriously. "That plot near the
gate wants a trimming badly."
"What a silly old chap you are, Bob!" she said, stopping to kiss him on
each cheek as she left the room.
Marmaduke had become attached to the pursuit of gardening since his
domestication. He put on his hat; went out; and set to work on the plot
near the gate. The sun was shining brightly; and when he had taken a few
turns with the machine he stopped, raising his face to the breeze, and
saw Conolly standing so close to him that he started backward, and made
a vague movement as if to ward off a blow. Conolly, who seemed amused by
the mowing, said quietly: "That machine wants oiling: the clatter
prevented you from hearing me come. I have just returned from Carbury
Towers. Miss Lind is staying there; and she has asked me to give you a
This speech perplexed Marmaduke. He inferred from it that Conolly was
ignorant of Susanna's proceedings, but he had not sufficient effrontery
to welcome him unconcernedly at once. So he stood still and stared at
"I am afraid I have startled you," Conolly went on, politely. "I found
the gate unlocked, and thought it would be an unnecessary waste of time
to ring the bell. You have a charming little place here."
"Yes, it's a pretty little place, isnt it?" said Marmaduke. "A--wont you
come in and have a--excuse my bringing you round this way, will you? My
snuggery is at the back of the house."
"Thank you; but I had rather not go in. I have a great deal of business
to do in town to-day; so I shall just discharge my commission and go."
"At any rate, come into the shade," said Marmaduke, glancing uneasily
toward the windows of the house. "This open place is enough to give us
Conolly followed him to a secluded part of the shrubbery, where they sat
down on a bench.
"Is there anything up?" said Marmaduke, much oppressed.
"Will you excuse my speaking without ceremony?"
"Oh, certainly. Fire away!"
"Thank you. I must then tell you that the relations between you and Lady
Constance are a source of anxiety to her brother. You know the way men
feel bound to look after their sisters. You have, I believe, sisters of
Marmaduke nodded, and stole a doubtful glance at Conolly's face.
"It appears that Lord Carbury has all along considered your courtship
too cool to be genuine. In this view he was quite unsupported, the
Countess being strongly in your favor, and the young lady devoted to
"Well, I knew all that. At least, I suspected it. What is up now?"
"This. The fact of your having taken a villa here has reached the ears
of the family at Carbury. They are, not unnaturally, curious to know
what use a bachelor can have for such an establishment."
"But I have my rooms in Clarges Street still. This is not my house. It
was taken for another person."
"Precisely what they seem to think. But, to be brief with you, Miss Lind
thinks that unless you wish to break with the Earl, and quarrel with
your family, you should go down to Towers Cottage at once."
"But I cant go away just now. There are reasons."
"Miss Lind is fully acquainted with your reasons. They are her reasons
for wishing you to leave London immediately. And now, having executed my
commission, I must ask you to excuse me. My time is much occupied."
"Well, I am greatly obliged to you for coming all this way out of town
to give me the straight tip," said Marmaduke, relieved at the prospect
of getting rid of his visitor without alluding to Susanna. "It is very
good of you; and I am very glad to see you. Jolly place, Carbury Park
is, isnt it? How will the shooting be?"
"First rate, I am told. I do not know much about it myself." They had
risen, and were strolling along the path leading to the gate.
"Shall I see you down there--if I go?"
"Possibly. I shall have to go down for a day at least, to get my
luggage, in case I decide not to renew my engagement with Lord Jasper."
"I hope so," said Marmaduke. Then, as they reached the gate, he
proffered his hand, in spite of an inward shrinking, and said heartily,
"Good-bye, old fellow. Youre looking as well as possible."
Conolly took his hand, and retained it whilst he said: "Good-bye, Mr.
Lind. I am quite well, thank you. If I may ask--how is Susanna?"
Marmaduke was prevented by a spasm of the throat from replying. Before
he recovered, Susanna herself, attired for her proposed trip to Hampton,
emerged from the shrubbery and stood before them, confounded. Conolly,
still wearing the cordial expression with which he had shaken
Marmaduke's hand, looked at her, then at her protector, and then at her
"I have been admiring the villa, Susanna," said he, after an emphatic
silence. "It is better than our place at Lambeth. You wont mind my
hurrying away: I have a great deal to do in town. Good-bye. Good-bye,
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