What had passed between Smilash and Henrietta remained unknown except to themselves. Agatha had seen Henrietta clasping his neck in her arms, but had not waited to hear the exclamation of "Sidney, Sidney," which followed, nor to see him press her face to his breast in his anxiety to stifle her voice as he said, "My darling love, don't screech I implore you. Confound it, we shall have the whole pack here in a moment. Hush!"
"Don't leave me again, Sidney," she entreated, clinging faster to him as his perplexed gaze, wandering towards the entrance to the shrubbery, seemed to forsake her. A din of voices in that direction precipitated his irresolution.
"We must run away, Hetty," he said "Hold fast about my neck, and don't strangle me. Now then." He lifted her upon his shoulder and ran swiftly through the grounds. When they were stopped by the wall, he placed her atop of it, scrabbled over, and made her jump into his arms. Then he staggered away with her across the fields, gasping out in reply to the inarticulate remonstrances which burst from her as he stumbled and reeled at every hillock, "Your weight is increasing at the rate of a stone a second, my love. If you stoop you will break my back. Oh, Lord, here's a ditch!"
"Let me down," screamed Henrietta in an ecstasy of delight and apprehension. "You will hurt yourself, andOh, DO take"
He struggled through a dry ditch as she spoke, and came out upon a grassy place that bordered the towpath of the canal. Here, on the bank of a hollow where the moss was dry and soft, he seated her, threw himself prone on his elbows before her, and said, panting:
"Nessus carrying off Dejanira was nothing to this! Whew! Well, my darling, are you glad to see me?"
"But me no buts, unless you wish me to vanish again and for ever. Wretch that I am, I have longed for you unspeakably more than once since I ran away from you. You didn't care, of course?"
"I did. I did, indeed. Why did you leave me, Sidney?"
"Lest a worse thing might befall. Come, don't let us waste in explanations the few minutes we have left. Give me a kiss."
"Then you are going to leave me again. Oh, Sidney"
"Never mind to-morrow, Hetty. Be like the sun and the meadow, which are not in the least concerned about the coming winter. Why do you stare at that cursed canal, blindly dragging its load of filth from place to place until it pitches it into the seajust as a crowded street pitches its load into the cemetery? Stare at ME, and give me a kiss."
She gave him several, and said coaxingly, with her arm still upon his shoulder: "You only talk that way to frighten me, Sidney; I know you do."
"You are the bright sun of my senses," he said, embracing her. "I feel my heart and brain wither in your smile, and I fling them to you for your prey with exultation. How happy I am to have a wife who does not despise me for doing sowho rather loves me the more!"
"Don't be silly," said Henrietta, smiling vacantly. Then, stung by a half intuition of his meaning, she repulsed him and said angrily, "YOU despise ME."
"Not more than I despise myself. Indeed, not so much; for many emotions that seem base from within seem lovable from without."
"You intend to leave me again. I feel it. I know it."
"You think you know it because you feel it. Not a bad reason, either."
"Then you ARE going to leave me?"
"Do you not feel it and know it? Yes, my cherished Hetty, I assuredly am."
She broke into wild exclamations of grief, and he drew her head down and kissed her with a tender action which she could not resist, and a wry face which she did not see.
"My poor Hetty, you don't understand me."
"I only understand that you hate me, and want to go away from me."
"That would be easy to understand. But the strangeness is that I LOVE you and want to go away from you. Not for ever. Only for a time."
"But I don't want you to go away. I won't let you go away," she said, a trace of fierceness mingling with her entreaty. "Why do you want to leave me if you love me?"
"How do I know? I can no more tell you the whys and wherefores of myself than I can lift myself up by the waistband and carry myself into the next county, as some one challenged a speculator in perpetual motion to do. I am too much a pessimist to respect my own affections. Do you know what a pessimist is?"
"A man who thinks everybody as nasty as himself, and hates them for it."
"So, or thereabout. Modern English polite society, my native sphere, seems to me as corrupt as consciousness of culture and absence of honesty can make it. A canting, lie-loving, fact-hating, scribbling, chattering, wealth-hunting, pleasure-hunting, celebrity-hunting mob, that, having lost the fear of hell, and not replaced it by the love of justice, cares for nothing but the lion's share of the wealth wrung by threat of starvation from the hands of the classes that create it. If you interrupt me with a silly speech, Hetty, I will pitch you into the canal, and die of sorrow for my lost love afterwards. You know what I am, according to the conventional description: a gentleman with lots of money. Do you know the wicked origin of that money and gentility?"
"Oh, Sidney; have you been doing anything?"
"No, my best beloved; I am a gentleman, and have been doing nothing. That a man can do so and not starve is nowadays not even a paradox. Every halfpenny I possess is stolen money; but it has been stolen legally, and, what is of some practical importance to you, I have no means of restoring it to the rightful owners even if I felt inclined to. Do you know what my father was?"
"What difference can that make now? Don't be disagreeable and full of ridiculous fads, Sidney dear. I didn't marry your father."
"No; but you marriedonly incidentally, of coursemy father's fortune. That necklace of yours was purchased with his money; and I can almost fancy stains of blood "
"Stop, Sidney. I don't like this sort of romancing. It's all nonsense. DO be nice to me."
"There are stains of sweat on it, I know."
"You nasty wretch!"
"I am thinking, not of you, my dainty one, but of the unfortunate people who slave that we may live idly. Let me explain to you why we are so rich. My father was a shrewd, energetic, and ambitious Manchester man, who understood an exchange of any sort as a transaction by which one man should lose and the other gain. He made it his object to make as many exchanges as possible, and to be always the gaining party in them. I do not know exactly what he was, for he was ashamed both of his antecedents and of his relatives, from which I can only infer that they were honest, and, therefore, unsuccessful people. However, he acquired some knowledge of the cotton trade, saved some money, borrowed some more on the security of his reputation for getting the better of other people in business, and, as he accurately told me afterwards, started FOR HIMSELF. He bought a factory and some raw cotton. Now you must know that a man, by laboring some time on a piece of raw cotton, can turn it into a piece of manufactured cotton fit for making into sheets and shifts and the like. The manufactured cotton is more valuable than the raw cotton, because the manufacture costs wear and tear of machinery, wear and tear of the factory, rent of the ground upon which the factory is built, and human labor, or wear and tear of live men, which has to be made good by food, shelter, and rest. Do you understand that?"
"We used to learn all about it at college. I don't see what it has to do with us, since you are not in the cotton trade."
"You learned as much as it was thought safe to teach you, no doubt; but not quite all, I should think. When my father started for himself, there were many men in Manchester who were willing to labor in this way, but they had no factory to work in, no machinery to work with, and no raw cotton to work on, simply because all this indispensable plant, and the materials for producing a fresh supply of it, had been appropriated by earlier comers. So they found themselves with gaping stomachs, shivering limbs,, and hungry wives and children, in a place called their own country, in which, nevertheless, every scrap of ground and possible source of subsistence was tightly locked up in the hands of others and guarded by armed soldiers and policemen. In this helpless condition, the poor devils were ready to beg for access to a factory and to raw cotton on any conditions compatible with life. My father offered them the use of his factory, his machines, and his raw cotton on the following conditions: They were to work long and hard, early and late, to add fresh value to his raw cotton by manufacturing it. Out of the value thus created by them, they were to recoup him for what he supplied them with: rent, shelter, gas, water, machinery, raw cottoneverything, and to pay him for his own services as superintendent, manager, and salesman. So far he asked nothing but just remuneration. But after this had been paid, a balance due solely to their own labor remained. 'Out of this,' said my father, 'you shall keep just enough to save you from starving, and of the rest you shall make me a present to reward me for my virtue in saving money. Such is the bargain I propose. It is, in my opinion, fair and calculated to encourage thrifty habits. If it does not strike you in that light, you can get a factory and raw cotton for yourselves; you shall not use mine.' In other words, they might go to the devil and starveHobson's choice!for all the other factories were owned by men who offered no better terms. The Manchesterians could not bear to starve or to see their children starve, and so they accepted his terms and went into the factory. The terms, you see, did not admit of their beginning to save for themselves as he had done. Well, they created great wealth by their labor, and lived on very little, so that the balance they gave for nothing to my father was large. He bought more cotton, and more machinery, and more factories with it; employed more men to make wealth for him, and saw his fortune increase like a rolling snowball. He prospered enormously, but the work men were no better off than at first, and they dared not rebel and demand more of the money they had made, for there were always plenty of starving wretches outside willing to take their places on the old terms. Sometimes he met with a check, as, for instance, when, in his eagerness to increase his store, he made the men manufacture more cotton than the public needed; or when he could not get enough of raw cotton, as happened during the Civil War in America. Then he adapted himself to circumstances by turning away as many workmen as he could not find customers or cotton for; and they, of course, starved or subsisted on charity. During the war-time a big subscription was got up for these poor wretches, and my father subscribed one hundred pounds, in spite, he said, of his own great losses. Then he bought new machines; and, as women and children could work these as well as men, and were cheaper and more docile, he turned away about seventy out of every hundred of his HANDS (so he called the men), and replaced them by their wives and children, who made money for him faster than ever. By this time he had long ago given up managing the factories, and paid clever fellows who had no money of their own a few hundreds a year to do it for him. He also purchased shares in other concerns conducted on the same principle; pocketed dividends made in countries which he had never visited by men whom he had never seen; bought a seat in Parliament from a poor and corrupt constituency, and helped to preserve the laws by which he had thriven. Afterwards, when his wealth grew famous, he had less need to bribe; for modern men worship the rich as gods, and will elect a man as one of their rulers for no other reason than that he is a millionaire. He aped gentility, lived in a palace at Kensington, and bought a part of Scotland to make a deer forest of. It is easy enough to make a deer forest, as trees are not necessary there. You simply drive off the peasants, destroy their houses, and make a desert of the land. However, my father did not shoot much himself; he generally let the forest out by the season to those who did. He purchased a wife of gentle blood too, with the unsatisfactory result now before you. That is how Jesse Trefusis, a poor Manchester bagman, contrived to be come a plutocrat and gentleman of landed estate. And also how I, who never did a stroke of work in my life, am overburdened with wealth; whilst the children of the men who made that wealth are slaving as their fathers slaved, or starving, or in the workhouse, or on the streets, or the deuce knows where. What do you think of that, my love?"
"What is the use of worrying about it, Sidney? It cannot be helped now. Besides, if your father saved money, and the others were improvident, he deserved to make a fortune."
"Granted; but he didn't make a fortune. He took a fortune that others made. At Cambridge they taught me that his profits were the reward of abstinencethe abstinence which enabled him to save. That quieted my conscience until I began to wonder why one man should make another pay him for exercising one of the virtues. Then came the question: what did my father abstain from? The workmen abstained from meat, drink, fresh air, good clothes, decent lodging, holidays, money, the society of their families, and pretty nearly everything that makes life worth living, which was perhaps the reason why they usually died twenty years or so sooner than people in our circumstances. Yet no one rewarded them for their abstinence. The reward came to my father, who abstained from none of these things, but indulged in them all to his heart's content. Besides, if the money was the reward of abstinence, it seemed logical to infer that he must abstain ten times as much when he bad fifty thousand a year as when he had only five thousand. Here was a problem for my young mind. Required, something from which my father abstained and in which his workmen exceeded, and which he abstained from more and more as he grew richer and richer. The only thing that answered this description was hard work, and as I never met a sane man willing to pay another for idling, I began to see that these prodigious payments to my father were extorted by force. To do him justice, he never boasted of abstinence. He considered himself a hard-worked man, and claimed his fortune as the reward of his risks, his calculations, his anxieties, and the journeys he had to make at all seasons and at all hours. This comforted me somewhat until it occurred to me that if he had lived a century earlier, invested his money in a horse and a pair of pistols, and taken to the road, his objectthat of wresting from others the fruits of their labor without rendering them an equivalentwould have been exactly the same, and his risk far greater, for it would have included risk of the gallows. Constant travelling with the constable at his heels, and calculations of the chances of robbing the Dover mail, would have given him his fill of activity and anxiety. On the whole, if Jesse Trefusis, M.P., who died a millionaire in his palace at Kensington, had been a highwayman, I could not more heartily loathe the social arrangements that rendered such a career as his not only possible, but eminently creditable to himself in the eyes of his fellows. Most men make it their business to imitate him, hoping to become rich and idle on the same terms. Therefore I turn my back on them. I cannot sit at their feasts knowing how much they cost in human misery, and seeing how little they produce of human happiness. What is your opinion, my treasure?"
Henrietta seemed a little troubled. She smiled faintly, and said caressingly, "It was not your fault, Sidney. _I_ don't blame you."
"Immortal powers!" he exclaimed, sitting bolt upright and appealing to the skies, "here is a woman who believes that the only concern all this causes me is whether she thinks any the worse of me personally on account of it!"
"No, no, Sidney. It is not I alone. Nobody thinks the worse of you for it."
"Quite so," he returned, in a polite frenzy. "Nobody sees any harm in it. That is precisely the mischief of it."
"Besides," she urged, "your mother belonged to one of the oldest families in England."
"And what more can man desire than wealth with descent from a county family! Could a man be happier than I ought to be, sprung as I am from monopolists of all the sources and instruments of productionof land on the one side, and of machinery on the other? This very ground on which we are resting was the property of my mother's father. At least the law allowed him to use it as such. When he was a boy, there was a fairly prosperous race of peasants settled here, tilling the soil, paying him rent for permission to do so, and making enough out of it to satisfy his large wants and their own narrow needs without working themselves to death. But my grandfather was a shrewd man. He perceived that cows and sheep produced more money by their meat and wool than peasants by their husbandry. So he cleared the estate. That is, he drove the peasants from their homes, as my father did afterwards in his Scotch deer forest. Or, as his tombstone has it, he developed the resources of his country. I don't know what became of the peasants; HE didn't know, and, I presume, didn't care. I suppose the old ones went into the workhouse, and the young ones crowded the towns, and worked for men like my father in factories. Their places were taken by cattle, which paid for their food so well that my grandfather, getting my father to take shares in the enterprise, hired laborers on the Manchester terms to cut that canal for him. When it was made, he took toll upon it; and his heirs still take toll, and the sons of the navvies who dug it and of the engineer who designed it pay the toll when they have occasion to travel by it, or to purchase goods which have been conveyed along it. I remember my grandfather well. He was a well-bred man, and a perfect gentleman in his manners; but, on the whole, I think he was wickeder than my father, who, after all, was caught in the wheels of a vicious system, and had either to spoil others or be spoiled by them. But my grandfatherthe old rascal!was in no such dilemma. Master as he was of his bit of merry England, no man could have enslaved him, and he might at least have lived and let live. My father followed his example in the matter of the deer forest, but that was the climax of his wickedness, whereas it was only the beginning of my grandfather's. Howbeit, whichever bears the palm, there they were, the types after which we all strive."
"Not all, Sidney. Not we two. I hate tradespeople and country squires. We belong to the artistic and cultured classes, and we can keep aloof from shopkeepers."
"Living, meanwhile, at the rate of several thousand a year on rent and interest. No, my dear, this is the way of those people who insist that when they are in heaven they shall be spared the recollection of such a place as hell, but are quite content that it shall exist outside their consciousness. I respect my father moreI mean I despise him lessfor doing his own sweating and filching than I do the sensitive sluggards and cowards who lent him their money to sweat and filch with, and asked no questions provided the interest was paid punctually. And as to your friends the artists, they are the worst of all."
"Oh, Sidney, you are determined not to be pleased. Artists don't keep factories."
"No; but the factory is only a part of the machinery of the system. Its basis is the tyranny of brain force, which, among civilized men, is allowed to do what muscular force does among schoolboys and savages. The schoolboy proposition is: 'I am stronger than you, therefore you shall fag for me.' Its grown up form is: 'I am cleverer than you, therefore you shall fag for me.' The state of things we produce by submitting to this, bad enough even at first, becomes intolerable when the mediocre or foolish descendants of the clever fellows claim to have inherited their privileges. Now, no men are greater sticklers for the arbitrary dominion of genius and talent than your artists. The great painter is not satisfied with being sought after and admired because his hands can do more than ordinary hands, which they truly can, but he wants to be fed as if his stomach needed more food than ordinary stomachs, which it does not. A day's work is a day's work, neither more nor less, and the man who does it needs a day's sustenance, a night's repose, and due leisure, whether he be painter or ploughman. But the rascal of a painter, poet, novelist, or other voluptuary in labor, is not content with his advantage in popular esteem over the ploughman; he also wants an advantage in money, as if there were more hours in a day spent in the studio or library than in the field; or as if he needed more food to enable him to do his work than the ploughman to enable him to do his. He talks of the higher quality of his work, as if the higher quality of it were of his own makingas if it gave him a right to work less for his neighbor than his neighbor works for himas if the ploughman could not do better without him than he without the ploughmanas if the value of the most celebrated pictures has not been questioned more than that of any straight furrow in the arable worldas if it did not take an apprenticeship of as many years to train the hand and eye of a mason or blacksmith as of an artistas if, in short, the fellow were a god, as canting brain worshippers have for years past been assuring him he is. Artists arc the high priests of the modern Moloch. Nine out of ten of them are diseased creatures, just sane enough to trade on their own neuroses. The only quality o theirs which extorts my respect is a certain sublime selfishness which makes them willing to starve and to let their families starve sooner than do any work they don't like."
"INDEED you are quite wrong, Sidney. There was a girl at the Slade school who supported her mother and two sisters by her drawing. Besides, what can you do? People were made so."
"Yes; I was made a landlord and capitalist by the folly of the people; but they can unmake me if they will. Meanwhile I have absolutely no means of escape from my position except by giving away my slaves to fellows who will use them no better than I, and becoming a slave myself; which, if you please, you shall not catch me doing in a hurry. No, my beloved, I must keep my foot on their necks for your sake as well as for my own. But you do not care about all this prosy stuff. I am consumed with remorse for having bored my darling. You want to know why I am living here like a hermit in a vulgar two-roomed hovel instead of tasting the delights of London society with my beautiful and devoted young wife."
"But you don't intend to stay here, Sidney?"
"Yes, I do; and I will tell you why. I am helping to liberate those Manchester laborers who were my father's slaves. To bring that about, their fellow slaves all over the world must unite in a vast international association of men pledged to share the world's work justly; to share the produce of the work justly; to yield not a farthingcharity apartto any full-grown and able-bodied idler or malingerer, and to treat as vermin in the commonwealth persons attempting to get more than their share of wealth or give less than their share of work. This is a very difficult thing to accomplish, because working-men, like the people called their betters, do not always understand their own interests, and will often actually help their oppressors to exterminate their saviours to the tune of 'Rule Britannia,' or some such lying doggerel. We must educate them out of that, and, meanwhile, push forward the international association of laborers diligently. I am at present occupied in propagating its principles. Capitalism, organized for repressive purposes under pretext of governing the nation, would very soon stop the association if it understood our aim, but it thinks that we are engaged in gunpowder plots and conspiracies to assassinate crowned heads; and so, whilst the police are blundering in search of evidence of these, our real work goes on unmolested. Whether I am really advancing the cause is more than I can say. I use heaps of postage stamps, pay the expenses of many indifferent lecturers, defray the cost of printing reams of pamphlets and hand-bills which hail the laborer flatteringly as the salt of the earth, write and edit a little socialist journal, and do what lies in my power generally. I had rather spend my ill-gotten wealth in this way than upon an expensive house and a retinue of servants. And I prefer my corduroys and my two-roomed chalet here to our pretty little house, and your pretty little ways, and my pretty little neglect of the work that my heart is set upon. Some day, perhaps, I will take a holiday; and then we shall have a new honeymoon."
For a moment Henrietta seemed about to cry. Suddenly she exclaimed with enthusiasm: "I will stay with you, Sidney. I will share your work, whatever it may be. I will dress as a dairymaid, and have a little pail to carry milk in. The world is nothing to me except when you are with me; and I should love to live here and sketch from nature."
He blenched, and partially rose, unable to conceal his dismay. She, resolved not to be cast off, seized him and clung to him. This was the movement that excited the derision of Wickens's boy in the adjacent gravel pit. Trefusis was glad of the interruption; and, when he gave the boy twopence and bade him begone, half hoped that he would insist on remaining. But though an obdurate boy on most occasions, he proved complaisant on this, and withdrew to the high road, where he made over one of his pennies to a phantom gambler, and tossed with him until recalled from his dual state by the appearance of Fairholme's party.
In the meantime, Henrietta urgently returned to her proposition.
"We should be so happy," she said. "I would housekeep for you, and you could work as much as you pleased. Our life would be a long idyll."
"My love," he said, shaking his head as she looked beseechingly at him, "I have too much Manchester cotton in my constitution for long idylls. And the truth is, that the first condition of work with me is your absence. When you are with me, I can do nothing but make love to you. You bewitch me. When I escape from you for a moment, it is only to groan remorsefully over the hours you have tempted me to waste and the energy you have futilized."
"If you won't live with me you had no right to marry me."
"True. But that is neither your fault nor mine. We have found that we love each other too much that our intercourse hinders our usefulnessand so we must part. Not for ever, my dear; only until you have cares and business of your own to fill up your life and prevent you from wasting mine."
"I believe you are mad," she said petulantly. "The world is mad nowadays, and is galloping to the deuce as fast as greed can goad it. I merely stand out of the rush, not liking its destination. Here comes a barge, the commander of which is devoted to me because he believes that I am organizing a revolution for the abolition of lock dues and tolls. We will go aboard and float down to Lyvern, whence you can return to London. You had better telegraph from the junction to the college; there must be a hue and cry out after us by this time. You shall have my address, and we can write to one another or see one another whenever we please. Or you can divorce me for deserting you."
"You would like me to, I know," said Henrietta, sobbing.
"I should die of despair, my darling," he said complacently. "Ship aho-o-o-y! Stop crying, Hetty, for God's sake. You lacerate my very soul."
"Ah-o-o-o-o-o-o-oy, master!" roared the bargee.
"Good arternoon, sir," said a man who, with a short whip in his hand, trudged beside the white horse that towed the barge. "Come up!" he added malevolently to the horse.
"I want to get on board, and go up to Lyvern with you," said Trefusis. "He seems a well fed brute, that."
"Better fed nor me," said the man. "You can't get the work out of a hunderfed 'orse that you can out of a hunderfed man or woman. I've bin in parts of England where women pulled the barges. They come cheaper nor 'orses, because it didn't cost nothing to get new ones when the old ones we wore out."
"Then why not employ them?" said Trefusis, with ironical gravity. "The principle of buying laborforce in the cheapest market and selling its product in the dearest has done much to make Englishmenwhat they are."
"The railway comp'nies keeps 'orspittles for the like of 'IM," said the man, with a cunning laugh, indicating the horse by smacking him on the belly with the butt of the whip. "If ever you try bein' a laborer in earnest, governor, try it on four legs. You'll find it far preferable to trying on two."
"This man is one of my converts," said Trefusis apart to Henrietta. "He told me the other day that since I set him thinking he never sees a gentleman without feeling inclined to heave a brick at him. I find that socialism is often misunderstood by its least intelligent supporters and opponents to mean simply unrestrained indulgence of our natural propensity to heave bricks at respectable persons. Now I am going to carry you along this plank. If you keep quiet, we may reach the barge. If not, we shall reach the bottom of the canal."
He carried her safely over, and exchanged some friendly words with the bargee. Then he took Henrietta forward, and stood watching the water as they were borne along noiselessly between the hilly pastures of the country.
"This would be a fairy journey," he said, "if one could forget the woman down below, cooking her husband's dinner in a stifling hole about as big as your wardrobe, and"
"Oh, don't talk any more of these things," she said crossly; "I cannot help them. I have my own troubles to think of. HER husband lives with her."
"She will change places with you, my dear, if you make her the offer."
She had no answer ready. After a pause he began to speak poetically of the scenery and to offer her loverlike speeches and compliments. But she felt that he intended to get rid of her, and he knew that it was useless to try to hide that design from her. She turned away and sat down on a pile of bricks, only writhing angrily when he pressed her for a word. As they neared the end of her voyage, and her intense protest against desertion remained, as she thought, only half expressed, her sense of injury grew almost unbearable.
They landed on a wharf, and went through an unswept, deeply-rutted lane up to the main street of Lyvern. Here he became Smilash again, walking deferentially a little before her, as if she had hired him to point out the way. She then saw that her last opportunity of appealing to him had gone by, and she nearly burst into tears at the thought. It occurred to her that she might prevail upon him by making a scene in public. But the street was a busy one, and she was a little afraid of him. Neither consideration would have checked her in one of her ungovernable moods, but now she was in an abject one. Her moods seemed to come only when they were harmful to her. She suffered herself to be put into the railway omnibus, which was on the point of starting from the innyard when they arrived there, and though he touched his hat, asked whether she had any message to give him, and in a tender whisper wished her a safe journey, she would not look at or speak to him. So they parted, and he returned alone to the chalet, where he was received by the two policemen who subsequently brought him to the college.
The year wore on, and the long winter evenings set in. The studious young ladies at Alton College, elbows on desk and hands over ears, shuddered chillily in fur tippets whilst they loaded their memories with the statements of writers on moral science, or, like men who swim upon corks, reasoned out mathematical problems upon postulates. Whence it sometimes happened that the more reasonable a student was in mathematics, the more unreasonable she was in the affairs of real life, concerning which few trustworthy postulates have yet been ascertained.
Agatha, not studious, and apt to shiver in winter, began to break Rule No. 17 with increasing frequency. Rule No. 17 forbade the students to enter the kitchen, or in any way to disturb the servants in the discharge of their duties. Agatha broke it because she was fond of making toffee, of eating it, of a good fire, of doing any forbidden thing, and of the admiration with which the servants listened to her ventriloquial and musical feats. Gertrude accompanied her because she too liked toffee, and because she plumed herself on her condescension to her inferiors. Jane went because her two friends went, and the spirit of adventure, the force of example, and the love of toffee often brought more volunteers to these expeditions than Agatha thought it safe to enlist. One evening Miss Wilson, going downstairs alone to her private wine cellar, was arrested near the kitchen by sounds of revelry, and, stopping to listen, overheard the castanet dance (which reminded her of the emphasis with which Agatha had snapped her fingers at Mrs. Miller), the bee on the window pane, "Robin Adair" (encored by the servants), and an imitation of herself in the act of appealing to Jane Carpenter's better nature to induce her to study for the Cambridge Local. She waited until the cold and her fear of being discovered spying forced her to creep upstairs, ashamed of having enjoyed a silly entertainment, and of conniving at a breach of the rules rather than face a fresh quarrel with Agatha.
There was one particular in which matters between Agatha and the college discipline did not go on exactly as before. Although she had formerly supplied a disproportionately large number of the confessions in the fault book, the entry which had nearly led to her expulsion was the last she ever made in it. Not that her conduct was betterit was rather the reverse. Miss Wilson never mentioned the matter, the fault book being sacred from all allusion on her part. But she saw that though Agatha would not confess her own sins, she still assisted others to unburden their consciences. The witticisms with which Jane unsuspectingly enlivened the pages of the Recording Angel were conclusive on this point.
Smilash had now adopted a profession. In the last days of autumn he had whitewashed the chalet, painted the doors, windows, and veranda, repaired the roof and interior, and improved the place so much that the landlord had warned him that the rent would be raised at the expiration of his twelvemonth's tenancy, remarking that a tenant could not reasonably expect to have a pretty, rain-tight dwelling-house for the same money as a hardly habitable ruin. Smilash had immediately promised to dilapidate it to its former state at the end of the year. He had put up a board at the gate with an inscription copied from some printed cards which he presented to persons who happened to converse with him. _______________________________________________________
PAINTER, DECORATOR, GLAZIER, PLUMBER & GARDENER. Pianofortes tuned. Domestic engineering in all its Branches. Families waited upon at table or otherwise.
CHAMOUNIX VILLA, LYVERN. (N.B. Advice Gratis. No Reasonable offer refused.) _______________________________________________________
The business thus announced, comprehensive as it was, did not flourish. When asked by the curious for testimony to his competence and respectability, he recklessly referred them to Fairholme, to Josephs, and in particular to Miss Wilson, who, he said, had known him from his earliest childhood. Fairholme, glad of an opportunity to show that he was no mealy mouthed parson, declared, when applied to, that Smilash was the greatest rogue in the country. Josephs, partly from benevolence, and partly from a vague fear that Smilash might at any moment take an action against him for defamation of character, said he had no doubt that he was a very cheap workman, and that it would be a charity to give him some little job to encourage him. Miss Wilson confirmed Fairholme's account; and the church organist, who had tuned all the pianofortes in the neighborhood once a year for nearly a quarter of a century, denounced the newcomer as Jack of all trades and master of none. Hereupon the radicals of Lyvern, a small and disreputable party, began to assert that there was no harm in the man, and that the parsons and Miss Wilson, who lived in a fine house and did nothing but take in the daughters of rich swells as boarders, might employ their leisure better than in taking the bread out of a poor work man's mouth. But as none of this faction needed the services of a domestic engineer, he was none the richer for their support, and the only patron he obtained was a housemaid who was leaving her situation at a country house in the vicinity, and wanted her box repaired, the lid having fallen off. Smilash demanded half-a-crown for the job, but on her demurring, immediately apologized and came down to a shilling. For this sum he repainted the box, traced her initials on it, and affixed new hinges, a Bramah lock, and brass handles, at a cost to himself of ten shillings and several hours' labor. The housemaid found fault with the color of the paint, made him take off the handles, which, she said, reminded her of a coffin, complained that a lock with such a small key couldn't be strong enough for a large box, but admitted that it was all her own fault for not employing a proper man. It got about that he had made a poor job of the box; and as he, when taxed with this, emphatically confirmed it, he got no other commission; and his signboard served thenceforth only for the amusement of pedestrian tourists and of shepherd boys with a taste for stone throwing.
One night a great storm blew over Lyvern, and those young ladies at Alton College who were afraid of lightning, said their prayers with some earnestness. At half-past twelve the rain, wind, and thunder made such a din that Agatha and Gertrude wrapped themselves in shawls, stole downstairs to the window on the landing outside Miss Wilson's study, and stood watching the flashes give vivid glimpses of the landscape, and discussing in whispers whether it was dangerous to stand near a window, and whether brass stair-rods could attract lightning. Agatha, as serious and friendly with a single companion as she was mischievous and satirical before a larger audience, enjoyed the scene quietly. The lightning did not terrify her, for she knew little of the value of life, and fancied much concerning the heroism of being indifferent to it. The tremors which the more startling flashes caused her, only made her more conscious of her own courage and its contrast with the uneasiness of Gertrude, who at last, shrinking from a forked zigzag of blue flame, said:
"Let us go back to bed, Agatha. I feel sure that we are not safe here."
"Quite as safe as in bed, where we cannot see anything. How the house shakes! I believe the rain will batter in the windows before"
"Hush," whispered Gertrude, catching her arm in terror. "What was that?"
"I am sure I heard the bellthe gate bell. Oh, do let us go back to bed."
"Nonsense! Who would be out on such a night as this? Perhaps the wind rang it."
They waited for a few moments; Gertrude trembling, and Agatha feeling, as she listened in the darkness, a sensation familiar to persons who are afraid of ghosts. Presently a veiled clangor mingled with the wind. A few sharp and urgent snatches of it came unmistakably from the bell at the gate of the college grounds. It was a loud bell, used to summon a servant from the college to open the gates; for though there was a porter's lodge, it was uninhabited.
"Who on earth can it be?" said Agatha. "Can't they find the wicket, the idiots?"
"Oh, I hope not! Do come upstairs, Agatha."
"No, I won't. Go you, if you like." But Gertrude was afraid to go alone. "I think I had better waken Miss Wilson, and tell her," continued Agatha. "It seems awful to shut anybody out on such a night as this."
"But we don't know who it is."
"Well, I suppose you are not afraid of them, in any case," said Agatha, knowing the contrary, but recognizing the convenience of shaming Gertrude into silence.
They listened again. The storm was now very boisterous, and they could not hear the bell. Suddenly there was a loud knocking at the house door. Gertrude screamed, and her cry was echoed from the rooms above, where several girls had heard the knocking also, and had been driven by it into the state of mind which accompanies the climax of a nightmare. Then a candle flickered on the stairs, and Miss Wilson's voice, reassuringly firm, was heard.
"Who is that?"
"It is I, Miss Wilson, and Gertrude. We have been watching the storm, and there is some one knocking at the" A tremendous battery with the knocker, followed by a sound, confused by the gale, as of a man shouting, interrupted her.
"They had better not open the door," said Miss Wilson, in some alarm. "You are very imprudent, Agatha, to stand here. You will catch your death ofDear me! What can be the matter? She hurried down, followed by Agatha, Gertrude, and some of the braver students, to the hall, where they found a few shivering servants watching the housekeeper, who was at the keyhole of the house door, querulously asking who was there. She was evidently not heard by those without, for the knocking recommenced whilst she was speaking, and she recoiled as if she had received a blow on the mouth. Miss Wilson then rattled the chain to attract attention, and demanded again who was there.
"Let us in," was returned in a hollow shout through the keyhole. "There is a dying woman and three children here. Open the door."
Miss Wilson lost her presence of mind. To gain time, she replied, "II can't hear you. What do you say?"
"Damnation!" said the voice, speaking this time to some one outside. "They can't hear." And the knocking recommenced with increased urgency. Agatha, excited, caught Miss Wilson's dressing gown, and repeated to her what the voice had said. Miss Wilson had heard distinctly enough, and she felt, without knowing clearly why, that the door must be opened, but she was almost over-mastered by a vague dread of what was to follow. She began to undo the chain, and Agatha helped with the bolts. Two of the servants exclaimed that they were all about to be murdered in their beds, and ran away. A few of the students seemed inclined to follow their example. At last the door, loosed, was blown wide open, flinging Miss Wilson and Agatha back, and admitting a whirlwind that tore round the hall, snatched at the women's draperies, and blew out the lights. Agatha, by a hash of lightning, saw for an instant two men straining at the door like sailors at a capstan. Then she knew by the cessation of the whirlwind that they had shut it. Matches were struck, the candles relighted, and the newcomers clearly perceived.
Smilash, bareheaded, without a coat, his corduroy vest and trousers heavy with rain; a rough-looking, middle-aged man, poorly dressed like a shepherd, wet as Smilash, with the expression, piteous, patient, and desperate, of one hard driven by ill-fortune, and at the end of his resources; two little children, a boy and a girl, almost naked, cowering under an old sack that had served them as an umbrella; and, lying on the settee where the two men had laid it, a heap of wretched wearing apparel, sacking, and rotten matting, with Smilash's coat and sou'wester, the whole covering a bundle which presently proved to be an exhausted woman with a tiny infant at her breast. Smilash's expression, as he looked at her, was ferocious.
"Sorry fur to trouble you, lady," said the man, after glancing anxiously at Smilash, as if he had expected him to act as spokesman; "but my roof and the side of my house has gone in the storm, and my missus has been having another little one, and I am sorry to ill-convenience you, Miss; butbut"
"Inconvenience!" exclaimed Smilash. "It is the lady's privilege to relieve youher highest privilege!"
The little boy here began to cry from mere misery, and the woman roused herself to say, "For shame, Tom! before the lady," and then collapsed, too weak to care for what might happen next in the world. Smilash looked impatiently at Miss Wilson, who hesitated, and said to him:
"What do you expect me to do?"
"To help us," he replied. Then, with an explosion of nervous energy, he added: "Do what your heart tells you to do. Give your bed and your clothes to the woman, and let your girls pitch their books to the devil for a few days and make something for these poor little creatures to wear. The poor have worked hard enough to clothe THEM. Let them take their turn now and clothe the poor."
"No, no. Steady, master," said the man, stepping forward to propitiate Miss Wilson, and evidently much oppressed by a sense of unwelcomeness. "It ain't any fault of the lady's. Might I make so bold as to ask you to put this woman of mine anywhere that may be convenient until morning. Any sort of a place will do; she's accustomed to rough it. Just to have a roof over her until I find a room in the village where we can shake down." Here, led by his own words to contemplate the future, he looked desolately round the cornice of the hall, as if it were a shelf on which somebody might have left a suitable lodging for him.
Miss Wilson turned her back decisively and contemptuously on Smilash. She had recovered herself. "I will keep your wife here," she said to the man. "Every care shall be taken of her. The children can stay too."
"Three cheers for moral science!" cried Smilash, ecstatically breaking into the outrageous dialect he had forgotten in his wrath. "Wot was my words to you, neighbor, when I said we should bring your missus to the college, and you said, ironical-like, 'Aye, and bloomin' glad they'll be to see us there.' Did I not say to you that the lady had a noble 'art, and would show it when put to the test by sech a calamity as this?"
"Why should you bring my hasty words up again' me now, master, when the lady has been so kind?" said the man with emotion. "I am humbly grateful to you, Miss; and so is Bess. We are sensible of the ill-convenience we"
Miss Wilson, who had been conferring with the housekeeper, cut his speech short by ordering him to carry his wife to bed, which he did with the assistance of Smilash, now jubilant. Whilst they were away, one of the servants, bidden to bring some blankets to the woman's room, refused,saying that she was not going to wait on that sort of people. Miss Wilson gave her warning almost fiercely to quit the college next day. This excepted, no ill-will was shown to the refugees. The young ladies were then requested to return to bed.
Meanwhile the man, having laid his wife in a chamber palatial in comparison with that which the storm had blown about her ears, was congratulating her on her luck, and threatening the children with the most violent chastisement if they failed to behave themselves with strict propriety whilst they remained in that house. Before leaving them he kissed his wife; and she, reviving, asked him to look at the baby. He did so, and pensively apostrophized it with a shocking epithet in anticipation of the time when its appetite must be satisfied from the provision shop instead of from its mother's breast. She laughed and cried shame on him; and so they parted cheerfully. When he returned to the hall with Smilash they found two mugs of beer waiting for them. The girls had retired, and only Miss Wilson and the housekeeper remained.
"Here's your health, mum," said the man, before drinking; "and may you find such another as yourself to help you when you're in trouble, which Lord send may never come!"
"Is your house quite destroyed?" said Miss Wilson. "Where will you spend the night?"
"Don't you think of me, mum. Master Smilash here will kindly put me up 'til morning."
"His health!" said Smilash, touching the mug with his lips.
"The roof and south wall is browed right away," continued the man, after pausing for a moment to puzzle over Smilash's meaning. "I doubt if there's a stone of it standing by this."
"But Sir John will build it for you again. You are one of his herds, are you not?"
"I am, Miss. But not he; he'll be glad it's down. He don't like people livin' on the land. I have told him time and again that the place was ready to fall; but he said I couldn't expect him to lay out money on a house that he got no rent for. You see, Miss, I didn't pay any rent. I took low wages; and the bit of a hut was a sort of set-off again' what I was paid short of the other men. I couldn't afford to have it repaired, though I did what I could to patch and prop it. And now most like I shall be blamed for letting it be blew down, and shall have to live in half a room in the town and pay two or three shillin's a week, besides walkin' three miles to and from my work every day. A gentleman like Sir John don't hardly know what the value of a penny is to us laborin' folk, nor how cruel hard his estate rules and the like comes on us."
"Sir John's health!" said Smilash, touching the mug as before. The man drank a mouthful humbly, and Smilash continued, "Here's to the glorious landed gentry of old England: bless 'em!"
"Master Smilash is only jokin'," said the man apologetically. "It's his way."
"You should not bring a family into the world if you are so poor," said Miss Wilson severely. "Can you not see that you impoverish yourself by doing soto put the matter on no higher grounds."
"Reverend Mr. Malthus's health!" remarked Smilash, repeating his pantomime.
"Some say it's the children, and some say it's the drink, Miss," said the man submissively. "But from what I see, family or no family, drunk or sober, the poor gets poorer and the rich richer every day."
"Ain't it disgustin' to hear a man so ignorant of the improvement in the condition of his class?" said Smilash, appealing to Miss Wilson.
"If you intend to take this man home with you," she said, turning sharply on him, "you had better do it at once."
"I take it kind on your part that you ask me to do anythink, after your up and telling Mr. Wickens that I am the last person in Lyvern you would trust with a job."
"So you arethe very last. Why don't you drink your beer?"
"Not in scorn of your brewing, lady; but because, bein' a common man, water is good enough for me."
"I wish you good-night, Miss," said the man; "and thank you kindly for Bess and the children."
"Good-night," she replied, stepping aside to avoid any salutation from Smilash. But he went up to her and said in a low voice, and with the Trefusis manner and accent:
"Good-night, Miss Wilson. If you should ever be in want of the services of a dog, a man, or a domestic engineer, remind Smilash of Bess and the children, and he will act for you in any of those capacities."
They opened the door cautiously, and found that the wind, conquered by the rain, had abated. Miss Wilson's candle, though it flickered in the draught, was not extinguished this time; and she was presently left with the housekeeper, bolting and chaining the door, and listening to the crunching of feet on the gravel outside dying away through the steady pattering of the rain.
Agatha was at this time in her seventeenth year. She had a lively perception of the foibles of others, and no reverence for her seniors, whom she thought dull, cautious, and ridiculously amenable by commonplaces. But she was subject to the illusion which disables youth in spite of its superiority to age. She thought herself an exception. Crediting Mr. Jansenius and the general mob of mankind with nothing but a grovelling consciousness of some few material facts, she felt in herself an exquisite sense and all-embracing conception of nature, shared only by her favorite poets and heroes of romance and history. Hence she was in the common youthful case of being a much better judge of other people's affairs than of her own. At the fellow-student who adored some Henry or Augustus, not from the drivelling sentimentality which the world calls love, but because this particular Henry or Augustus was a phoenix to whom the laws that govern the relations of ordinary lads and lasses did not apply, Agatha laughed in her sleeve. The more she saw of this weakness in her fellows, the more satisfied she was that, being forewarned, she was also forearmed against an attack of it on herself, much as if a doctor were to conclude that he could not catch smallpox because he had seen many cases of it; or as if a master mariner, knowing that many ships are wrecked in the British channel, should venture there without a pilot, thinking that he knew its perils too well to run any risk of them. Yet, as the doctor might hold such an opinion if he believed himself to be constituted differently from ordinary men; or the shipmaster adopt such a course under the impression that his vessel was a star, Agatha found false security in the subjective difference between her fellows seen from without and herself known from within. When, for instance, she fell in love with Mr. Jefferson Smilash (a step upon which she resolved the day after the storm), her imagination invested the pleasing emotion with a sacredness which, to her, set it far apart and distinct from the frivolous fancies of which Henry and Augustus had been the subject, and she the confidant.
"I can look at him quite coolly and dispassionately," she said to herself. "Though his face has a strange influence that must, I know, correspond to some unexplained power within me, yet it is not a perfect face. I have seen many men who are, strictly speaking, far handsomer. If the light that never was on sea or land is in his eyes, yet they are not pretty eyesnot half so clear as mine. Though he wears his common clothes with a nameless grace that betrays his true breeding at every step, yet he is not tall, dark, and melancholy, as my ideal hero would be if I were as great a fool as girls of my age usually are. If I am in love, I have sense enough not to let my love blind my judgment."
She did not tell anyone of her new interest in life. Strongest in that student community, she had used her power with good-nature enough to win the popularity of a school leader, and occasionally with unscrupulousness enough to secure the privileges of a school bully. Popularity and privilege, however, only satisfied her when she was in the mood for them. Girls, like men, want to be petted, pitied, and made much of, when they are diffident, in low spirits, or in unrequited love. These are services which the weak cannot render to the strong and which the strong will not render to the weak, except when there is also a difference of sex. Agatha knew by experience that though a weak woman cannot understand why her stronger sister should wish to lean upon her, she may triumph in the fact without understanding it, and give chaff instead of consolation. Agatha wanted to be understood and not to be chaffed. Finding herself unable to satisfy both these conditions, she resolved to do without sympathy and to hold her tongue. She had often had to do so before, and she was helped on this occasion by a sense of the ridiculous appearance her passion might wear in the vulgar eye. Her secret kept itself, as she was supposed in the college to be insensible to the softer emotions. Love wrought no external change upon her. It made her believe that she had left her girlhood behind her and was now a woman with a newly-developed heart capacity at which she would childishly have scoffed a little while before. She felt ashamed of the bee on the window pane, although it somehow buzzed as frequently as before in spite of her. Her calendar, formerly a monotonous cycle of class times, meal times, play times, and bed time, was now irregularly divided by walks past the chalet and accidental glimpses of its tenant.
Early in December came a black frost, and navigation on the canal was suspended. Wickens's boy was sent to the college with news that Wickens's pond would bear, and that the young ladies should be welcome at any time. The pond was only four feet deep, and as Miss Wilson set much store by the physical education of her pupils, leave was given for skating. Agatha, who was expert on the ice, immediately proposed that a select party should go out before breakfast next morning. Actions not in themselves virtuous often appear so when performed at hours that compel early rising, and some of the candidates for the Cambridge Local, who would not have sacrificed the afternoon to amusement, at once fell in with her suggestion. But for them it might never have been carried out; for when they summoned Agatha, at half-past six next morning, to leave her warm bed and brave the biting air, she would have refused without hesitation had she not been shamed into compliance by these laborious ones who stood by her bedside, blue-nosed and hungry, but ready for the ice. When she had dressed herself with much shuddering and chattering, they allayed their internal discomfort by a slender meal of biscuits, got their skates, and went out across the rimy meadows, past patient cows breathing clouds of steam, to Wickens's pond. Here, to their surprise, was Smilash, on electro-plated acme skates, practicing complicated figures with intense diligence. It soon appeared that his skill came short of his ambition; for, after several narrow escapes and some frantic staggering, his calves, elbows, and occiput smote the ice almost simultaneously. On rising ruefully to a sitting posture he became aware that eight young ladies were watching his proceedings with interest.
"This comes of a common man putting himself above his station by getting into gentlemen's skates," he said. "Had I been content with a humble slide, as my fathers was, I should ha' been a happier man at the present moment." He sighed, rose, touched his hat to Miss Ward, and took off his skates, adding: "Good-morning, Miss. Miss Wilson sent me word to be here sharp at six to put on the young ladies' skates, and I took the liberty of trying a figure or two to keep out the cold."
"Miss Wilson did not tell me that she ordered you to come," said Miss Ward.
"Just like her to be thoughtful and yet not let on to be! She is a kind lady, and a learnedlike yourself, Miss. Sit yourself down on the camp-stool. and give me your heel, if I may be so bold as to stick a gimlet into it."
His assistance was welcome, and Miss Ward allowed him to put on her skates. She was a Canadian, and could skate well. Jane, the first to follow her, was anxious as to the strength of the ice; but when reassured, she acquitted herself admirably, for she was proficient in outdoor exercises, and had the satisfaction of laughing in the field at those who laughed at her in the study. Agatha, contrary to her custom, gave way to her companions, and her boots were the last upon which Smilash operated.
"How d'you do, Miss Wylie?" he said, dropping the Smilash manner now that the rest were out of earshot.
"I am very well, thank you," said Agatha, shy and constrained. This phase of her being new to him, he paused with her heel in his hand and looked up at her curiously. She collected herself, returned his gaze steadily, and said: "How did Miss Wilson send you word to come? She only knew of our party at half-past nine last night."
"Miss Wilson did not send for me."
"But you have just told Miss Ward that she did."
"Yes. I find it necessary to tell almost as many lies now that I am a simple laborer as I did when I was a gentleman. More, in fact."
"I shall know how much to believe of what you say in the future."
"The truth is this. I am perhaps the worst skater in the world, and therefore, according to a natural law, I covet the faintest distinction on the ice more than immortal fame for the things in which nature has given me aptitude to excel. I envy that large friend of yoursJane is her name, I thinkmore than I envy Plato. I came down here this morning, thinking that the skating world was all a-bed, to practice in secret."
"I am glad we caught you at it," said Agatha maliciously, for he was disappointing her. She wanted him to be heroic in his conversation; and he would not.
"I suppose so," he replied. "I have observed that Woman's dearest delight is to wound Man's self-conceit, though Man's dearest delight is to gratify hers. There is at least one creature lower than Man. Now, off with you. Shall I hold you until your ankles get firm?"
"Thank you," she said, disgusted: "_I_ can skate pretty well, and I don't think you could give me any useful assistance." And she went off cautiously, feeling that a mishap would be very disgraceful after such a speech.
He stood on the shore, listening to the grinding, swaying sound of the skates, and watching the growing complexity of the curves they were engraving on the ice. As the girls grew warm and accustomed to the exercise they laughed, jested, screamed recklessly when they came into collision, and sailed before the wind down the whole length of the pond at perilous speed. The more animated they became, the gloomier looked Smilash. "Not two-penn'orth of choice between them and a parcel of puppies," he said; "except that some of them are conscious that there is a man looking at them, although he is only a blackguard laborer. They remind me of Henrietta in a hundred ways. Would I laugh, now, if the whole sheet of ice were to burst into little bits under them?"
Just then the ice cracked with a startling report, and the skaters, except Jane, skimmed away in all directions.
"You are breaking the ice to pieces, Jane," said Agatha, calling from a safe distance. "How can you expect it to bear your weight?"
"Pack of fools!" retorted Jane indignantly. "The noise only shows how strong it is."
The shock which the report had given Smilash answered him his question. "Make a note that wishes for the destruction of the human race, however rational and sincere, are contrary to nature," he said, recovering his spirits. "Besides, what a precious fool I should be if I were working at an international association of creatures only fit for destruction! Hi, lady! One word, Miss!" This was to Miss Ward, who had skated into his neighborhood. "It bein' a cold morning, and me havin' a poor and common circulation, would it be looked on as a liberty if I was to cut a slide here or take a turn in the corner all to myself?"
"You may skate over there if you wish," she said, after a pause for consideration, pointing to a deserted spot at the leeward end of the pond, where the ice was too rough for comfortable skating.
"Nobly spoke!" he cried, with a grin, hurrying to the place indicated, where, skating being out of the question, he made a pair of slides, and gravely exercised himself upon them until his face glowed and his fingers tingled in the frosty air. The time passed quickly; when Miss Ward sent for him to take off her skates there was a general groan and declaration that it could not possibly be half-past eight o'clock yet. Smilash knelt before the camp-stool, and was presently busy unbuckling and unscrewing. When Jane's turn came, the camp-stool creaked beneath her weight. Agatha again remonstrated with her, but immediately reproached herself with flippancy before Smilash, to whom she wished to convey an impression of deep seriousness of character.
"Smallest foot of the lot," he said critically, holding Jane's foot between his finger and thumb as if it were an art treasure which he had been invited to examine. "And belonging to the finest built lady."
Jane snatched away her foot, blushed, and said:
"Indeed! What next, I wonder?"
"T'other 'un next," he said, setting to work on the remaining skate. When it was off, he looked up at her, and she darted a glance at him as she rose which showed that his compliment (her feet were, in fact, small and pretty) was appreciated.
"Allow me, Miss," he said to Gertrude, who was standing on one leg, leaning on Agatha, and taking off her own skates.
"No, thank you," she said coldly. "I don't need your assistance."
"I am well aware that the offer was overbold," he replied, with a self-complacency that made his profession of humility exasperating. "If all the skates is off, I will, by Miss Wilson's order, carry them and the camp-stool back to the college."
Miss Ward handed him her skates and turned away. Gertrude placed hers on the stool and went with Miss Ward. The rest followed, leaving him to stare at the heap of skates and consider how he should carry them. He could think of no better plan than to interlace the straps and hang them in a chain over his shoulder. By the time he had done this the young ladies were out of sight, and his intention of enjoying their society during the return to the college was defeated. They had entered the building long before he came in sight of it.
Somewhat out of conceit with his folly, he went to the servants' entrance and rang the bell there. When the door was opened, he saw Miss Ward standing behind the maid who admitted him.
"Oh," she said, looking at the string of skates as if she had hardly expected to see them again, "so you have brought our things back?"
"Such were my instructions," he said, taken aback by her manner. "You had no instructions. What do you mean by getting our skates into your charge under false pretences? I was about to send the police to take them from you. How dare you tell me that you were sent to wait on me, when you know very well that you were nothing of the sort?"
"I couldn't help it, Miss," he replied submissively. "I am a natural born liaralways was. I know that it must appear dreadful to you that never told a lie, and don't hardly know what a lie is, belonging as you do to a class where none is ever told. But common people like me tells lies just as a duck swims. I ask your pardon, Miss, most humble, and I hope the young ladies'll be able to tell one set of skates from t'other; for I'm blest if I can."
"Put them down. Miss Wilson wishes to speak to you before you go. Susan, show him the way."
"Hope you ain't been and got a poor cove into trouble, Miss?"
"Miss Wilson knows how you have behaved."
He smiled at her benevolently and followed Susan upstairs. On their way they met Jane, who stole a glance at him, and was about to pass by, when he said:
"Won't you say a word to Miss Wilson for a poor common fellow, honored young lady? I have got into dreadful trouble for having made bold to assist you this morning."
"You needn't give yourself the pains to talk like that," replied Jane in an impetuous whisper. "We all know that you're only pretending."
"Well, you can guess my motive," he whispered, looking tenderly at her.
"Such stuff and nonsense! I never heard of such a thing in my life," said Jane, and ran away, plainly understanding that he had disguised himself in order to obtain admission to the college and enjoy the happiness of looking at her.
"Cursed fool that I am!" he said to himself; "I cannot act like a rational creature for five consecutive minutes."
The servant led him to the study and announced, "The man, if you please, ma'am."
"Jeff Smilash," he added in explanation.
"Come in," said Miss Wilson sternly.
He went in, and met the determined frown which she cast on him from her seat behind the writing table, by saying courteously:
"Good-morning, Miss Wilson."
She bent forward involuntarily, as if to receive a gentleman. Then she checked herself and looked implacable.
"I have to apologize," he said, "for making use of your name unwarrantably this morningtelling a lie, in fact. I happened to be skating when the young ladies came down, and as they needed some assistance which they would hardly have accepted from a common manexcuse my borrowing that tiresome expression from our acquaintance SmilashI set their minds at ease by saying that you had sent for me. Otherwise, as you have given me a bad characterthough not worse than I deservethey would probably have refused to employ me, or at least I should have been compelled to accept payment, which I, of course, do not need."
Miss Wilson affected surprise. "I do not understand you," she said.
"Not altogether," he said smiling. "But you understand that I am what is called a gentleman."
"No. The gentlemen with whom I am conversant do not dress as you dress, nor speak as you speak, nor act as you act."
He looked at her, and her countenance confirmed the hostility of her tone. He instantly relapsed into an aggravated phase of Smilash.
"I will no longer attempt to set myself up as a gentleman," he said. "I am a common man, and your ladyship's hi recognizes me as such and is not to be deceived. But don't go for to say that I am not candid when I am as candid as ever you will let me be. What fault, if any, do you find with my putting the skates on the young ladies, and carryin' the campstool for them?"
"If you are a gentleman," said Miss Wilson, reddening, "your conduct in persisting in these antics in my presence is insulting to me. Extremely so."
"Miss Wilson," he replied, unruffled, "if you insist on Smilash, you shall have Smilash; I take an insane pleasure in personating him. If you want Sidneymy real Christian nameyou can command him. But allow me to say that you must have either one or the other. If you become frank with me, I will understand that you are addressing Sidney. If distant and severe, Smilash."
"No matter what your name may be," said Miss Wilson, much annoyed, "I forbid you to come here or to hold any communication whatever with the young ladies in my charge."
"Because I choose."
"There is much force in that reason, Miss Wilson; but it is not moral force in the sense conveyed by your college prospectus, which I have read with great interest."
Miss Wilson, since her quarrel with Agatha, had been sore on the subject of moral force. "No one is admitted here," she said, "without a trustworthy introduction or recommendation. A disguise is not a satisfactory substitute for either."
"Disguises are generally assumed for the purpose of concealing crime," he remarked sententiously.
"Precisely so," she said emphatically.
"Therefore, I bear, to say the least, a doubtful character. Nevertheless, I have formed with some of the students here a slight acquaintance, of which, it seems, you disapprove. You have given me no good reason why I should discontinue that acquaintance, and you cannot control me except by your wisha sort of influence not usually effective with doubtful characters. Suppose I disregard your wish, and that one or two of your pupils come to you and say: 'Miss Wilson, in our opinion Smilash is an excellent fellow; we find his conversation most improving. As it is your principle to allow us to exercise our own judgment, we intend to cultivate the acquaintance of Smilash.' How will you act in that case?"
"Send them home to their parents at once."
"I see that your principles are those of the Church of England. You allow the students the right of private judgment on condition that they arrive at the same conclusions as you. Excuse my saying that the principles of the Church of England, however excellent, are not those your prospectus led me to hope for. Your plan is coercion, stark and simple."
"I do not admit it," said Miss Wilson, ready to argue, even with Smilash, in defence of her system. "The girls are quite at liberty to act as they please, but I reserve my equal liberty to exclude them from my college if I do not approve of their behavior."
"Just so. In most schools children are perfectly at liberty to learn their lessons or not, just as they please; but the principal reserves an equal liberty to whip them if they cannot repeat their tasks."
"I do not whip my pupils," said Miss Wilson indignantly. "The comparison is an outrage."
"But you expel them; and, as they are devoted to you and to the place, expulsion is a dreaded punishment. Yours is the old system of making laws and enforcing them by penalties, and the superiority of Alton College to other colleges is due, not to any difference of system, but to the comparative reasonableness of its laws and the mildness and judgment with which they are enforced."
"My system is radically different from the old one. However, I will not discuss the matter with you. A mind occupied with the prejudices of the old coercive despotism can naturally only see in the new a modification of the old, instead of, as my system is, an entire reversal or abandonment of it."
He shook his head sadly and said: "You seek to impose your ideas on others, ostracizing those who reject them. Believe me, mankind has been doing nothing else ever since it began to pay some attention to ideas. It has been said that a benevolent despotism is the best possible form of government. I do not believe that saying, because I believe another one to the effect that hell is paved with benevolence, which most people, the proverb being too deep for them, misinterpret as unfulfilled intentions. As if a benevolent despot might not by any error of judgment destroy his kingdom, and then say, like Romeo when he got his friend killed, 'I thought all for the best!' Excuse my rambling. I meant to say, in short, that though you are benevolent and judicious you are none the less a despot."
Miss Wilson, at a loss for a reply, regretted that she had not, before letting him gain so far on her, dismissed him summarily instead of tolerating a discussion which she did not know how to end with dignity. He relieved her by adding unexpectedly:
"Your system was the cause of my absurd marriage. My wife acquired a degree of culture and reasonableness from her training here which made her seem a superior being among the chatterers who form the female seasoning in ordinary society. I admired her dark eyes, and was only too glad to seize the excuse her education offered me for believing her a match for me in mind as well as in body."
Miss Wilson, astonished, determined to tell him coldly that her time was valuable. But curiosity took possession of her in the act of utterance, and the words that came were, "Who was she?"
"Henrietta Jansenius. She is Henrietta Trefusis, and I am Sidney Trefusis, at your mercy. I see I have aroused your compassion at last."
"Nonsense!" said Miss Wilson hastily; for her surprise was indeed tinged by a feeling that he was thrown away on Henrietta.
"I ran away from her and adopted this retreat and this disguise in order to avoid her. The usual rebuke to human forethought followed. I ran straight into her armsor rather she ran into mine. You remember the scene, and were probably puzzled by it."
"You seem to think your marriage contract a very light matter, Mr. Trefusis. May I ask whose fault was the separation? Hers, of course."
"I have nothing to reproach her with. I expected to find her temper hasty, but it was not soher behavior was unexceptionable. So was mine. Our bliss was perfect, but unfortunately, I was not made for domestic blissat all events I could not endure itso I fled, and when she caught me again I could give no excuse for my flight, though I made it clear to her that I would not resume our connubial relations just yet. We parted on bad terms. I fully intended to write her a sweet letter to make her forgive me in spite of herself, but somehow the weeks have slipped away and I am still fully intending. She has never written, and I have never written. This is a pretty state of things, isn't it, Miss Wilson, after all her advantages under the influence of moral force and the movement for the higher education of women?"
"By your own admission, the fault seems to lie upon your moral training and not upon hers."
"The fault was in the conditions of our association. Why they should have attracted me so strongly at first, and repelled me so horribly afterwards, is one of those devil's riddles which will not be answered until we shall have traced all the yet unsuspected reactions of our inveterate dishonesty. But I am wasting your time, I fear. You sent for Smilash, and I have responded by practically annihilating him. In public, however, you must still bear with his antics. One moment more. I had forgotten to ask you whether you are interested in the shepherd whose wife you sheltered on the night of the storm?"
"He assured me, before he took his wife away, that he was comfortably settled in a lodging in Lyvern."
"Yes. Very comfortably settled indeed. For half-a-crown a week he obtained permission to share a spacious drawing-room with two other families in a ten-roomed house in not much better repair than his blown-down hovel. This house yields to its landlord over two hundred a year, or rather more than the rent of a commodious mansion in South Kensington. It is a troublesome rent to collect, but on the other hand there is no expenditure for repairs or sanitation, which are not considered necessary in tenement houses. Our friend has to walk three miles to his work and three miles back. Exercise is a capital thing for a student or a city clerk, but to a shepherd who has been in the fields all day, a long walk at the end of his work is somewhat too much of a good thing. He begged for an increase of wages to compensate him for the loss of the hut, but Sir John pointed out to him that if he was not satisfied his place could be easily filled by less exorbitant shepherds. Sir John even condescended to explain that the laws of political economy bind employers to buy labor in the cheapest market, and our poor friend, just as ignorant of economics as Sir John, of course did not know that this was untrue. However, as labor is actually so purchased everywhere except in Downing Street and a few other privileged spots, I suggested that our friend should go to some place where his market price would be higher than in merry England. He was willing enough to do so, but unable from want of means. So I lent him a trifle, and now he is on his way to Australia. Workmen are the geese that lay the golden eggs, but they fly away sometimes. I hear a gong sounding, to remind me of the fight of time and the value of your share of it. Good-morning!"
Miss Wilson was suddenly moved not to let him go without an appeal to his better nature. "Mr. Trefusis," she said, "excuse me, but are you not, in your generosity to others a little forgetful of your duty to yourself; and"
"The first and hardest of all duties!" he exclaimed. "I beg your pardon for interrupting you. It was only to plead guilty."
"I cannot admit that it is the first of all duties, but it is sometimes perhaps the hardest, as you say. Still, you could surely do yourself more justice without any great effort. If you wish to live humbly, you can do so without pretending to be an uneducated man and without taking an irritating and absurd name. Why on earth do you call yourself Smilash?"
"I confess that the name has been a failure. I took great pains, in constructing it, to secure a pleasant impression. It is not a mere invention, but a compound of the words smile and eyelash. A smile suggests good humor; eyelashes soften the expression and are the only features that never blemish a face. Hence Smilash is a sound that should cheer and propitiate. Yet it exasperates. It is really very odd that it should have that effect, unless it is that it raises expectations which I am unable to satisfy."
Miss Wilson looked at him doubtfully. He remained perfectly grave. There was a pause. Then, as if she had made up her mind to be offended, she said, "Good-morning," shortly.
"Good-morning, Miss Wilson. The son of a millionaire, like the son of a king, is seldom free from mental disease. I am just mad enough to be a mountebank. If I were a little madder, I should perhaps really believe myself Smilash instead of merely acting him. Whether you ask me to forget myself for a moment, or to remember myself for a moment, I reply that I am the son of my father, and cannot. With my egotism, my charlatanry, my tongue, and my habit of having my own way, I am fit for no calling but that of saviour of mankindjust of the sort they like." After an impressive pause he turned slowly and left the room.
"I wonder," he said, as he crossed the landing, "whether, by judiciously losing my way, I can catch a glimpse of that girl who is like a golden idol?"
Downstairs, on his way to the door, he saw Agatha coming towards him, occupied with a book which she was tossing up to the ceiling and catching. Her melancholy expression, habitual in her lonely moments, showed that she was not amusing herself, but giving vent to her restlessness. As her gaze travelled upward, following the flight of the volume, it was arrested by Smilash. The book fell to the floor. He picked it up and handed it to her, saying:
"And, in good time, here is the golden idol!"
"What?" said Agatha, confused.
"I call you the golden idol," he said. "When we are apart I always imagine your face as a face of gold, with eyes and teeth of bdellium, or chalcedony, or agate, or any wonderful unknown stones of appropriate colors."
Agatha, witless and dumb, could only look down deprecatingly.
"You think you ought to be angry with me, and you do not know exactly how to make me feel that you are so. Is that it?"
"No. Quite the contrary. At leastI mean that you are wrong. I am the most commonplace person you can imagineif you only knew. No matter what I may look, I mean."
"How do you know that you are commonplace?"
"Of course I know," said Agatha, her eyes wandering uneasily.
"Of course you do not know; you cannot see yourself as others see you. For instance, you have never thought of yourself as a golden idol."
"But that is absurd. You are quite mistaken about me."
"Perhaps so. I know, however, that your face is not really made of gold and that it has not the same charm for you that it has for othersfor me."
"I must go," said Agatha, suddenly in haste.
"When shall we meet again?"
"I don't know," she said, with a growing sense of alarm. "I really must go."
"Believe me, your hurry is only imaginary. Do you fancy that you are behaving in a manner quite ubdued ardor that affected Agatha strangely. "But first tell me whether it is new to you or not."
"It is not an emotion at all. I did not say that it was."
"Do not be afraid of it. It is only being alone with a man whom you have bewitched. You would be mistress of the situation if you only knew how to manage a lover. It is far easier than managing a horse, or skating, or playing the piano, or half a dozen other feats of which you think nothing."
Agatha colored and raised her head.
"Forgive me," he said, interrupting the action. "I am trying to offend you in order to save myself from falling in love with you, and I have not the heart to let myself succeed. On your life, do not listen to me or believe me. I have no right to say these things to you. Some fiend enters into me when I am at your side. You should wear a veil, Agatha."
She blushed, and stood burning and tingling, her presence of mind gone, and her chief sensation one of relief to hearfor she did not dare to seethat he was departing. Her consciousness was in a delicious confusion, with the one definite thought in it that she had won her lover at last. The tone of Trefusis's voice, rich with truth and earnestness, his quick insight, and his passionate warning to her not to heed him, convinced her that she had entered into a relation destined to influence her whole life.
"And yet," she said remorsefully, "I cannot love him as he loves me. I am selfish, cold, calculating, worldly, and have doubted until now whether such a thing as love really existed. If I could only love him recklessly and wholly, as he loves me!"
Smilash was also soliloquizing as he went on his way.
"Now I have made the poor childwho was so anxious that I should not mistake her for a supernaturally gifted and lovely woman as happy as an angel; and so is that fine girl whom they call Jane Carpenter. I hope they won't exchange confidences on the subject."
Mrs. Trefusis found her parents so unsympathetic on the subject of her marriage that she left their house shortly after her visit to Lyvern, and went to reside with a hospitable friend. Unable to remain silent upon the matter constantly in her thoughts, she discussed her husband's flight with this friend, and elicited an opinion that the behavior of Trefusis was scandalous and wicked. Henrietta could not bear this, and sought shelter with a relative. The same discussion arising, the relative said:
"Well, Hetty, if I am to speak candidly, I must say that I have known Sidney Trefusis for a long time, and he is the easiest person to get on with I ever met. And you know, dear, that you are very trying sometimes."
"And so," cried Henrietta, bursting into tears, "after the infamous way he has treated me I am to be told that it is all my own fault."
She left the house next day, having obtained another invitation from a discreet lady who would not discuss the subject at all. This proved quite intolerable, and Henrietta went to stay with her uncle Daniel Jansenius, a jolly and indulgent man. He opined that things would come right as soon as both parties grew more sensible; and, as to which of them was, in fault, his verdict was, six of one and half a dozen of the other. Whenever he saw his niece pensive or tearful he laughed at her and called her a grass widow. Henrietta found that she could endure anything rather than this. Declaring that the world was hateful to her, she hired a furnished villa in St. John's Wood, whither she moved in December. But, suffering much there from loneliness, she soon wrote a pathetic letter to Agatha, entreating her to spend the approaching Christmas vacation with her, and promising her every luxury and amusement that boundless affection could suggest and boundless means procure. Agatha's reply contained some unlooked-for information.
"Alton College, Lyvern,
"Dearest Hetty: I don't think I can do exactly what you want, as I must spend Xmas with Mamma at Chiswick; but I need not get there until Xmas Eve, and we break up here on yesterday week, the 20th. So I will go straight to you and bring you with me to Mamma's, where you will spend Xmas much better than moping in a strange house. It is not quite settled yet about my leaving the college after this term. You must promise not to tell anyone; but I have a new friend herea lover. Not that I am in love with him, though I think very highly of himyou know I am not a romantic fool; but he is very much in love with me; and I wish I could return it as he deserves. The French say that one person turns the cheek and the other kisses it. It has not got quite so far as that with us; indeed, since he declared what he felt he has only been able to snatch a few words with me when I have been skating or walking. But there has always been at least one word or look that meant a great deal.
"And now, who do you think he is? He says he knows you. Can you guess? He says you know all his secrets. He says he knows your husband well; that he treated you very badly, and that you are greatly to be pitied. Can you guess now? He says he has kissed youfor shame, Hetty! Have you guessed yet? He was going to tell me something more when we were interrupted, and I have not seen him since except at a distance. He is the man with whom you eloped that day when you gave us all such a frightMr. Sidney. I was the first to penetrate his disguise; and that very morning I had taxed him with it, and he had confessed it. He said then that he was hiding from a woman who was in love with him; and I should not be surprised if it turned out to be true; for he is wonderfully originalin fact what makes me like him is that he is by far the cleverest man I have ever met; and yet he thinks nothing of himself. I cannot imagine what he sees in me to care for, though he is evidently ensnared by my charms. I hope he won't find out how silly I am. He called me his golden idol"
Henrietta, with a scream of rage, tore the letter across, and stamped upon it. When the paroxysm subsided she picked up the pieces, held them together as accurately as her trembling hands could, and read on.
"but he is not all honey, and will say the most severe things sometimes if he thinks he ought to. He has made me so ashamed of my ignorance that I am resolved to stay here for another term at least, and study as hard as I can. I have not begun yet, as it is not worth while at the eleventh hour of this term; but when I return in January I will set to work in earnest. So you may see that his influence over me is an entirely good one. I will tell you all about him when we meet; for I have no time to say anything now, as the girls are bothering me to go skating with them. He pretends to be a workman, and puts on our skates for us; and Jane Carpenter believes that he is in love with her. Jane is exceedingly kindhearted; but she has a talent for making herself ridiculous that nothing can suppress. The ice is lovely, and the weather jolly; we do not mind the cold in the least. They are threatening to go without megood-bye!
"Ever your affectionate
Henrietta looked round for something sharp. She grasped a pair of scissors greedily and stabbed the air with them. Then she became conscious of her murderous impulse, and she shuddered at it; but in a moment more her jealousy swept back upon her. She cried, as if suffocating, "I don't care; I should like to kill her!" But she did not take up the scissors again.
At last she rang the bell violently and asked for a railway guide. On being told that there was not one in the house, she scolded her maid so unreasonably that the girl said pertly that if she were to be spoken to like that she should wish to leave when her month was up. This check brought Henrietta to her senses. She went upstairs and put on the first cloak at hand, which was fortunately a heavy fur one. Then she took her bonnet and purse, left the house, hailed a passing hansom, and bade the cabman drive her to St. Pancras.
When the night came the air at Lyvern was like iron in the intense cold. The trees and the wind seemed ice-bound, as the water was, and silence, stillness, and starlight, frozen hard, brooded over the country. At the chalet, Smilash, indifferent to the price of coals, kept up a roaring fire that glowed through the uncurtained windows, and tantalized the chilled wayfarer who did not happen to know, as the herdsmen of the neighborhood did, that he was welcome to enter and warm himself without risk of rebuff from the tenant. Smilash was in high spirits. He had become a proficient skater, and frosty weather was now a luxury to him. It braced him, and drove away his gloomy fits, whilst his sympathies were kept awake and his indignation maintained at an exhilarating pitch by the sufferings of the poor, who, unable to afford fires or skating, warmed themselves in such sweltering heat as overcrowding produces in all seasons.
It was Smilash's custom to make a hot drink of oatmeal and water for himself at half-past nine o'clock each evening, and to go to bed at ten. He opened the door to throw out some water that remained in the saucepan from its last cleansing. It froze as it fell upon the soil. He looked at the night, and shook himself to throw off an oppressive sensation of being clasped in the icy ribs of the air, for the mercury had descended below the familiar region of crisp and crackly cold and marked a temperature at which the numb atmosphere seemed on the point of congealing into black solidity. Nothing was stirring.
"By George!" he said, "this is one of those nights on which a rich man daren't think!"
He shut the door, hastened back to his fire, and set to work at his caudle, which he watched and stirred with a solicitude that would have amused a professed cook. When it was done he poured it into a large mug, where it steamed invitingly. He took up some in a spoon and blew upon it to cool it. Tap, tap, tap, tap! hurriedly at the door.
"Nice night for a walk," he said, putting down the spoon; then shouting, "Come in."
The latch rose unsteadily, and Henrietta, with frozen tears on her cheeks, and an unintelligible expression of wretchedness and rage, appeared. After an instant of amazement, he sprang to her and clasped her in his arms, and she, against her will, and protesting voicelessly, stumbled into his embrace.
"You are frozen to death," he exclaimed, carrying her to the fire. "This seal jacket is like a sheet of ice. So is your face" (kissing it). "What is the matter? Why do you struggle so?"
"Let me go," she gasped, in a vehement whisper. "I hhate you."
"My poor love, you are too cold to hate anyone even your husband. You must let me take off these atrocious French boots. Your feet must be perfectly dead."
By this time her voice and tears were thawing in the warmth of the chalet and of his caresses. "You shall not take them off," she said, crying with cold and sorrow. "Let me alone. Don't touch me. I am going awaystraight back. I will not speak to you, nor take off my things here, nor touch anything in the house."
"No, my darling," he said, putting her into a capacious wooden armchair and busily unbuttoning her boots, "you shall do nothing that you don't wish to do. Your feet are like stones. Yes, yes, my dear, I am a wretch unworthy to live. I know it."
"Let me alone," she said piteously. "I don't want your attentions. I have done with you for ever."
"Come, you must drink some of this nasty stuff. You will need strength to tell your husband all the unpleasant things your soul is charged with. Take just a little."
She turned her face away and would not answer. He brought another chair and sat down beside her. "My lost, forlorn, betrayed one"
"I am," she sobbed. "You don't mean it, but I am."
"You are also my dearest and best of wives. If you ever loved me, Hetty, do, for my once dear sake, drink this before it gets cold."
She pouted, sobbed, and yielded to some gentle force which he used, as a child allows herself to be half persuaded, half compelled, to take physic.
"Do you feel better and more comfortable now?" he said.
"No," she replied, angry with herself for feeling both.
"Then," he said cheerfully, as if she had uttered a hearty affirmative, "I will put some more coals on the fire, and we shall be as snug as possible. It makes me wildly happy to see you at my fireside, and to know that you are my own wife."
"I wonder how you can look me in the face and say so," she cried.
"I should wonder at myself if I could look at your face and say anything else. Oatmeal is a capital restorative; all your energy is coming back. There, that will make a magnificent blaze presently."
"I never thought you deceitful, Sidney, whatever other faults you might have had."
"Precisely, my love. I understand your feelings. Murder, burglary, intemperance, or the minor vices you could have borne; but deceit you cannot abide."
"I will go away," she said despairingly, with a fresh burst of tears. "I will not be laughed at and betrayed. I will go barefooted." She rose and attempted to reach the door; but he intercepted her and said:
"My love, there is something serious the matter. What is it? Don't be angry with me."
He brought her back to the chair. She took Agatha's letter from the pocket of her fur cloak, and handed it to him with a faint attempt to be tragic.
"Read that," she said. "And never speak to me again. All is over between us."
He took it curiously, and turned it to look at the signature. "Aha!" he said, "my golden idol has been making mischief, has she?"
"There!" exclaimed Henrietta. "You have said it to my face! You have convicted yourself out of your own mouth!"
"Wait a moment, my dear. I have not read the letter yet."
He rose and walked to and fro through the room, reading. She watched him, angrily confident that she should presently see him change countenance. Suddenly he drooped as if his spine had partly given way; and in this ungraceful attitude he read the remainder of the letter. When he had finished he threw it on the table, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and roared with laughter, huddling himself together as if he could concentrate the joke by collecting himself into the smallest possible compass. Henrietta, speechless with indignation, could only look her feelings. At last he came and sat down beside her.
"And so," he said, "on receiving this you rushed out in the cold and came all the way to Lyvern. Now, it seems to me that you must either love me very much- -"
"I don't. I hate you."
"Or else love yourself very much."
"Oh!" And she wept afresh. "You are a selfish brute, and you do just as you like without considering anyone else. No one ever thinks of me. And now you won't even take the trouble to deny that shameful letter."
"Why should I deny it? It is true. Do you not see the irony of all this? I amuse myself by paying a few compliments to a schoolgirl for whom I do not care two straws more than for any agreeable and passably clever woman I meet. Nevertheless, I occasionally feel a pang of remorse because I think that she may love me seriously, although I am only playing with her. I pity the poor heart I have wantonly ensnared. And, all the time, she is pitying me for exactly the same reason! She is conscience-stricken because she is only indulging in the luxury of being adored 'by far the cleverest man she has ever met,' and is as heart-whole as I am! Ha, ha! That is the basis of the religion of love of which poets are the high-priests. Each worshipper knows that his own love is either a transient passion or a sham copied from his favorite poem; but he believes honestly in the love of others for him. Ho, ho! Is it not a silly world, my dear?"
"You had no right to make love to Agatha. You have no right to make love to anyone but me; and I won't bear it."
"You are angry because Agatha has infringed your monopoly. Always monopoly! Why, you silly girl, do you suppose that I belong to you, body and soul?that I may not be moved except by your affection, or think except of your beauty?"
"You may call me as many names as you please, but you have no right to make love to Agatha."
"My dearest, I do not recollect calling you any names. I think you said something about a selfish brute."
"I did not. You called me a silly girl."
"But, my love, you are."
"And so YOU are. You are thoroughly selfish."
"I don't deny it. But let us return to our subject. What did we begin to quarrel about?"
"I am not quarrelling, Sidney. It is you."
"Well, what did I begin to quarrel about?"
"About Agatha Wylie."
"Oh, pardon me, Hetty; I certainly did not begin to quarrel about her. I am very fond of hermore so, it appears, than she is of me. One moment, Hetty, before you recommence your reproaches. Why do you dislike my saying pretty things to Agatha?"
Henrietta hesitated, and said: "Because you have no right to. It shows how little you care for me."
"It has nothing to do with you. It only shows how much I care for her."
"I will not stay here to be insulted," said Hetty, her distress returning. "I will go home."
"Not to-night; there is no train."
"I will walk."
"It is too far."
"I don't care. I will not stay here, though I die of cold by the roadside."
"My cherished one, I have been annoying you purposely because you show by your anger that you have not ceased to care for me. I am in the wrong, as I usually am, and it is all my fault. Agatha knows nothing about our marriage."
"I do not blame you so much," said Henrietta, suffering him to place her head on his shoulder; "but I will never speak to Agatha again. She has behaved shamefully to me, and I will tell her so."
"No doubt she will opine that it is all your fault, dearest, and that I have behaved admirably. Between you I shall stand exonerated. And now, since it is too cold for walking, since it is late, since it is far to Lyvern and farther to London, I must improvise some accommodation for you here."
"But there is no help for it. You must stay."
Next day Smilash obtained from his wife a promise that she would behave towards Agatha as if the letter had given no offence. Henrietta pleaded as movingly as she could for an immediate return to their domestic state, but he put her off with endearing speeches, promised nothing but eternal affection, and sent her back to London by the twelve o'clock express. Then his countenance changed; he walked back to Lyvern, and thence to the chalet, like a man pursued by disgust and remorse. Later in the afternoon, to raise his spirits, he took his skates and went to Wickens's pond, where, it being Saturday, he found the ice crowded with the Alton students and their half-holiday visitors. Fairholme, describing circles with his habitual air of compressed hardihood, stopped and stared with indignant surprise as Smilash lurched past him.
"Is that man here by your permission?" he said to Farmer Wickens, who was walking about as if superintending a harvest.
"He is here because he likes, I take it," said Wickens stubbornly. "He is a neighbor of mine and a friend of mine. Is there any objections to my having a friend on my own pond, seein' that there is nigh on two or three ton of other people's friends on it 108 without as much as a with-your-leave or a by-your- leave."
"Oh, no," said Fairholme, somewhat dashed. "If you are satisfied there can be no objection."
"I'm glad on it. I thought there mout be."
"Let me tell you," said Fairholme, nettled, "that your landlord would not be pleased to see him here. He sent one of Sir John's best shepherds out of the country, after filling his head with ideas above his station. I heard Sir John speak very warmly about it last Sunday."
"Mayhap you did, Muster Fairholme. I have a lease of this landand gravelly, poor stuff it isand I am no ways beholden to Sir John's likings and dislikings. A very good thing too for Sir John that I have a lease, for there ain't a man in the country 'ud tak' a present o' the farm if it was free to-morrow. And what's a' more, though that young man do talk foolish things about the rights of farm laborers and such-like nonsense, if Sir John was to hear him layin' it down concernin' rent and improvements, and the way we tenant farmers is put upon, p'raps he'd speak warmer than ever next Sunday."
And Wickens, with a smile expressive of his sense of having retorted effectively upon the parson, nodded and walked away.
Just then Agatha, skating hand in hand with Jane Carpenter, heard these words in her ear: "I have something very funny to tell you. Don't look round."
She recognized the voice of Smilash and obeyed.
"I am not quite sure that you will enjoy it as it deserves," he added, and darted off again, after casting an eloquent glance at Miss Carpenter.
Agatha disengaged herself from her companion, made a circuit, and passed near Smilash, saying: "What is it?"
Smilash flitted away like a swallow, traced several circles around Fairholme, and then returned to Agatha and proceeded side by side with her.
"I have read the letter you wrote to Hetty," he said.
Agatha's face began to glow. She forgot to maintain her balance, and almost fell.
"Take care. And so you are not fond of mein the romantic sense?"
No answer. Agatha dumb and afraid to lift her eyelids.
"That is fortunate," he continued, "becausegood evening, Miss Ward; I have done nothing but admire your skating for the last hourbecause men were deceivers ever; and I am no exception, as you will presently admit."
Agatha murmured something, but it was unintelligible amid the din of skating.
"You think not? Well, perhaps you are right; I have said nothing to you that is not in a measure true. You have always had a peculiar charm for me. But I did not mean you to tell Hetty. Can you guess why?"
Agatha shook her head.
"Because she is my wife."
Agatha's ankles became limp. With an effort she kept upright until she reached Jane, to whom she clung for support.
"Don't," screamed Jane. "You'll upset me."
"I must sit down," said Agatha. "I am tired. Let me lean on you until we get to the chairs."
"Bosh! I can skate for an hour without sitting down," said Jane. However, she helped Agatha to a chair and left her. Then Smilash, as if desiring a rest also, sat down close by on the margin of the pond.
"Well," he said, without troubling himself as to whether their conversation attracted attention or not, "what do you think of me now?"
"Why did you not tell me before, Mr. Trefusis?"
"That is the cream of the joke," he replied, poising his heels on the ice so that his skates stood vertically at legs' length from him, and looking at them with a cynical air. "I thought you were in love with me, and that the truth would be too severe a blow to you. Ha! ha! And, for the same reason, you generously forbore to tell me that you were no more in love with me than with the man in the moon. Each played a farce, and palmed it off on the other as a tragedy."
"There are some things so unmanly, so unkind, and so cruel," said Agatha, "that I cannot understand any gentleman saying them to a girl. Please do not speak to me again. Miss Ward! Come to me for a moment. II am not well."
Ward hurried to her side. Smilash, after staring at her for a moment in astonishment, and in some concern, skimmed away into the crowd. When he reached the opposite bank he took off his skates and asked Jane, who strayed intentionally in his direction, to tell Miss Wylie that he was gone, and would skate no more there. Without adding a word of explanation he left her and made for his dwelling. As he went down into the hollow where the road passed through the plantation on the college side of the chalet he descried a boy, in the uniform of the post office, sliding along the frozen ditch. A presentiment of evil tidings came upon him like a darkening of the sky. He quickened his pace.
"Anything for me?" he said.
The boy, who knew him, fumbled in a letter case and produced a buff envelope. It contained a telegram.
From Jansenius, London.
TO J. Smilash, Chamoounix Villa, Lyvern. _________________________________________
Henrietta dangerously ill after journey wants to see you doctors say must come at once _________________________________________
There was a pause. Then he folded the paper methodically and put it in his pocket, as if quite done with it.
"And so," he said, "perhaps the tragedy is to follow the farce after all."
He looked at the boy, who retreated, not liking his expression.
"Did you slide all the way from Lyvern?"
"Only to come quicker," said the messenger, faltering. "I came as quick as I could."
"You carried news heavy enough to break the thickest ice ever frozen. I have a mind to throw you over the top of that tree instead of giving you this half-crown."
"You let me alone," whimpered the boy, retreating another pace.
"Get back to Lyvern as fast as you can run or slide, and tell Mr. Marsh to send me the fastest trap he has, to drive me to the railway station. Here is your half-crown. Off with you; and if I do not find the trap ready when I want it, woe betide you."
The boy came for the money mistrustfully, and ran off with it as fast as he could. Smilash went into the chalet and never reappeared. Instead, Trefusis, a gentleman in an ulster, carrying a rug, came out, locked the door, and hurried along the road to Lyvern, where he was picked up by the trap, and carried swiftly to the railway station, just in time to catch the London train.
"Evening paper, sir?" said a voice at the window, as he settled himself in the corner of a first-class carriage.
"No, thank you."
"Footwarmer, sir?" said a porter, appearing in the news-vender's place.
"Ah, that's a good idea. Yes, let me have a footwarmer."
The footwarmer was brought, and Trefusis composed himself comfortably for his journey. It seemed very short to him; he could hardly believe, when the train arrived in London, that he had been nearly three hours on the way.
There was a sense of Christmas about the travellers and the people who were at the terminus to meet them. The porter who came to the carriage door reminded Trefusis by his manner and voice that the season was one at which it becomes a gentleman to be festive and liberal.
"Wot luggage, sir? Hansom or fourweoll, sir?"
For a moment Trefusis felt a vagabond impulse to resume the language of Smilash and fable to the man of hampers of turkey and plum-pudding in the van. But he repressed it, got into a hansom, and was driven to his father-in-law's house in Belsize Avenue, studying in a gloomily critical mood the anxiety that surged upon him and made his heart beat like a boy's as he drew near his destination. There were two carriages at the door when he alighted. The reticent expression of the coachmen sent a tremor through him.
The door opened before he rang. "If you please, sir," said the maid in a low voice, "will you step into the library; and the doctor will see you immediately."
On the first landing of the staircase two gentlemen were speaking to Mr. Jansenius, who hastily moved out of sight, not before a glimpse of his air of grief 174 and discomfiture had given Trefusis a strange twinge, succeeded by a sensation of having been twenty years a widower. He smiled unconcernedly as he followed the girl into the library, and asked her how she did. She murmured some reply and hurried away, thinking that the poor young man would alter his tone presently.
He was joined at once by a gray whiskered gentleman, scrupulously dressed and mannered. Trefusis introduced himself, and the physician looked at him with some interest. Then he said:
"You have arrived too late, Mr. Trefusis. All is over, I am sorry to say."
"Was the long railway journey she took in this cold weather the cause of her death?"
Some bitter words that the physician had heard upstairs made him aware that this was a delicate question. But he said quietly: "The proximate cause, doubtless. The proximate cause."
"She received some unwelcome and quite unlooked-for intelligence before she started. Had that anything to do with her death, do you think?"
"It may have produced an unfavorable effect," said the physician, growing restive and taking up his gloves. "The habit of referring such events to such causes is carried too far, as a rule."
"No doubt. I am curious because the event is novel in my experience. I suppose it is a commonplace in yours. Pardon me.
175 The loss of a lady so young and so favorably circumstanced is not a commonplace either in my experience or in my opinion." The physician held up his head as he spoke, in protest against any assumption that his sympathies had been blunted by his profession.
"Did she suffer?"
"For some hours, yes. We were able to do a little to alleviate her painpoor thing!" He almost forgot Trefusis as he added the apostrophe.
"Hours of pain! Can you conceive any good purpose that those hours may have served?"
The physician shook his head, leaving it doubtful whether he meant to reply in the negative or to deplore considerations of that nature. He also made a movement to depart, being uneasy in conversation with Trefusis, who would, he felt sure, presently ask questions or make remarks with which he could hardly deal without committing himself in some direction. His conscience was not quite at rest. Henrietta's pain had not, he thought, served any good purpose; but he did not want to say so, lest he should acquire a reputation for impiety and lose his practice. He believed that the general practitioner who attended the family, and had called him in when the case grew serious, had treated Henrietta unskilfully, but professional etiquette bound him so strongly that, sooner than betray his colleague's inefficiency, he would have allowed him to decimate London.
"One word more," said Trefusis. "Did she know that she was dying?"
"No. I considered it best that she should not be informed of her danger. She passed away without any apprehension."
"Then one can think of it with equanimity. She dreaded death, poor child. The wonder is that there was not enough folly in the household to prevail against your good sense."
The physician bowed and took his leave, esteeming himself somewhat fortunate in escaping without being reproached for his humanity in having allowed Henrietta to die unawares.
A moment later the general practitioner entered. Trefusis, having accompanied the consulting physician to the door, detected the family doctor in the act of pulling a long face just outside it. Restraining a desire to seize him by the throat, he seated himself on the edge of the table and said cheerfully:
"Well, doctor, how has the world used you since we last met?"
The doctor was taken aback, but the solemn disposition of his features did not relax as he almost intoned: "Has Sir Francis told you the sad news, Mr. Trefusis?"
"Yes. Frightful, isn't it? Lord bless me, we're here to-day and gone to-morrow."
"True, very true!"
"Sir Francis has a high opinion of you."
The doctor looked a little foolish. "Everything was done that could be done, Mr. Trefusis; but Mrs. Jansenius was very anxious that no stone should be left unturned. She was good enough to say that her sole reason for wishing me to call in Sir Francis was that you should have no cause to complain."
"An excellent mother! A sad event for her! Ah, yes, yes! Dear me! A very sad event!"
"Most disagreeable. Such a cold day too. Pleasanter to be in heaven than here in such weather, possibly."
"Ah!" said the doctor, as if much sound comfort lay in that. "I hope so; I hope so; I do not doubt it. Sir Francis did not permit us to tell her, and I, of course, deferred to him. Perhaps it was for the best."
"You would have told her, then, if Sir Francis had not objected?"
"Well, there are, you see, considerations which we must not ignore in our profession. Death is a serious thing, as I am sure I need not remind you, Mr. Trefusis. We have sometimes higher duties than indulgence to the natural feelings of our patients."
"Quite so. The possibility of eternal bliss and the probability of eternal torment are consolations not to be lightly withheld from a dying girl, eh? However, what's past cannot be mended. I have much to be thankful for, after all. I am a young man, and shall not cut a bad figure as a widower. And now tell me, doctor, am I not in very bad repute upstairs?"
"Mr. Trefusis! Sir! I cannot meddle in family matters. I understand my duties and never over step them." The doctor, shocked at last, spoke as loftily as he could.
"Then I will go and see Mr. Jansenius," said Trefusis, getting off the table.
"Stay, sir! One moment. I have not finished. Mrs. Jansenius has asked me to askI was about to say that I am not speaking now as the medical adviser of this family; but although an old friendandahem! Mrs. Jansenius has asked me to askto request you to excuse Mr. Jansenius, as he is prostrated by grief, and is, as I canas a medical manassure you, unable to see anyone. She will speak to you herself as soon as she feels able to do soat some time this evening. Meanwhile, of course, any orders you may giveyou must be fatigued by your journey, and I always recommend people not to fast too long; it produces an acute form of indigestionany orders you may wish to give will, of course, be attended to at once."
"I think," said Trefusis, after a moment's reflection, "I will order a hansom."
"There is no ill-feeling," said the doctor, who, as a slow man, was usually alarmed by prompt decisions, even when they seemed wise to him, as this one did. "I hope you have not gathered from anything I have said"
"Not at all; you have displayed the utmost tact. But I think I had better go. Jansenius can bear death and misery with perfect fortitude when it is on a large scale and hidden in a back slum. But when it breaks into his own house, and attacks his propertyhis daughter was his property until very recently he is just the man to lose his head and quarrel with me for keeping mine."
The doctor was unable to cope with this speech, which conveyed vaguely monstrous ideas to him. Seeing Trefusis about to leave, he said in a low voice: "Will you go upstairs?"
"II thought you might wish to see" He did not finish the sentence, but Trefusis flinched; the blank had expressed what was meant.
"To see something that was Henrietta, and that is a thing we must cast out and hide, with a little superstitious mumming to save appearances. Why did you remind me of it?"
"But, sir, whatever your views may be, will you not, as a matter of form, in deference to the feelings of the family"
"Let them spare their feelings for the living, on whose behalf I have often appealed to them in vain," cried Trefusis, losing patience. "Damn their feelings!" And, turning to the door, he found it open, and Mrs. Jansenius there listening.
Trefusis was confounded. He knew what the effect of his speech must be, and felt that it would be folly to attempt excuse or explanation. He put his hands into his pockets, leaned against the table, and looked at her, mutely wondering what would follow on her part.
The doctor broke the silence by saying tremulously, "I have communicated the melancholy intelligence to Mr. Trefusis."
"I hope you told him also," she said sternly, "that, however deficient we may be in feeling, we did everything that lay in our power for our child."
"I am quite satisfied," said Trefusis.
"No doubt you arewith the result," said Mrs. Jansenius, hardly. "I wish to know whether you have anything to complain of."
"Please do not imply that anything has happened through our neglect."
"What have I to complain of? She had a warm room and a luxurious bed to die in, with the best medical advice in the world. Plenty of people are starving and freezing to-day that we may have the means to die fashionably; ask THEM if they have any cause for complaint. Do you think I will wrangle over her body about the amount of money spent on her illness? What measure is that of the cause she had for complaint? I never grudged money to herhow could I, seeing that more than I can waste is given to me for nothing? Or how could you? Yet she had great reason to complain of me. You will allow that to be so."
"It is perfectly true."
"Well, when I am in the humor for it, I will reproach myself and not you." He paused, and then turned forcibly on her, saying, "Why do you select this time, of all others, to speak so bitterly to me?"
"I am not aware that I have said anything to call for such a remark. Did YOU," (appealing to the doctor) "hear me say anything?"
"Mr. Trefusis does not mean to say that you did, I am sure. Oh, no. Mr. Trefusis's feelings are naturallyare harrowed. That is all."
"My feelings!" cried Trefusis impatiently. "Do you suppose my feelings are a trumpery set of social observances, to be harrowed to order and exhibited at funerals? She has gone as we three shall go soon enough. If we were immortal, we might reasonably pity the dead. As we are not, we had better save our energies to minimize the harm we are likely to do before we follow her."
The doctor was deeply offended by this speech, for the statement that he should one day die seemed to him a reflection upon his professional mastery over death. Mrs. Jansenius was glad to see Trefusis confirming her bad opinion and report of him by his conduct and language in the doctor's presence. There was a brief pause, and then Trefusis, too far out of sympathy with them to be able to lead the conversation into a kinder vein, left the room. In the act of putting on his overcoat in the hall, he hesitated, and hung it up again irresolutely. Suddenly he ran upstairs. At the sound of his steps a woman came from one of the rooms and looked inquiringly at him.
"Is it here?" he said.
"Yes, sir," she whispered.
A painful sense of constriction came in his chest, and he turned pale and stopped with his hand on the lock.
"Don't be afraid, sir," said the woman, with an encouraging smile. "She looks beautiful."
He looked at her with a strange grin, as if she had uttered a ghastly but irresistible joke. Then he went in, and, when he reached the bed, wished he had stayed without. He was not one of those who, seeing little in the faces of the living miss little in the faces of the dead. The arrangement of the black hair on the pillow, the soft drapery, and the flowers placed there by the nurse to complete the artistic effect to which she had so confidently referred, were lost on him; he saw only a lifeless mask that had been his wife's face, and at sight of it his knees failed, and he had to lean for support on the rail at the foot of the bed.
When he looked again the face seemed to have changed. It was no longer a waxlike mask, but Henrietta, girlish and pathetically at rest. Death seemed to have cancelled her marriage and womanhood; he had never seen her look so young. A minute passed, and then a tear dropped on the coverlet. He started; shook another tear on his hand, and stared at it incredulously.
"This is a fraud of which I have never even dreamed," he said. "Tears and no sorrow! Here am I crying! growing maudlin! whilst I am glad that she is gone and I free. I have the mechanism of grief in me somewhere; it begins to turn at sight of her though I have no sorrow; just as she used to start the mechanism of passion when I had no love. And that made no difference to her; whilst the wheels went round she was satisfied. I hope the mechanism of grief will flag and stop in its spinning as soon as the other used to. It is stopping already, I think. What a mockery! Whilst it lasts I suppose I am really sorry. And yet, would I restore her to life if I could? Perhaps so; I am therefore thankful that I cannot." He folded his arms on the rail and gravely addressed the dead figure, which still affected him so strongly that he had to exert his will to face it with composure. "If you really loved me, it is well for you that you are deadidiot that I was to believe that the passion you could inspire, you poor child, would last. We are both lucky; I have escaped from you, and you have escaped from yourself."
Presently he breathed more freely and looked round the room to help himself into a matter-of-fact vein by a little unembarrassed action, and the commonplace aspect of the bedroom furniture. He went to the pillow, and bent over it, examining the face closely.
"Poor child!" he said again, tenderly. Then, with sudden reaction, apostrophizing himself instead of his wife, "Poor ass! Poor idiot! Poor jackanapes! Here is the body of a woman who was nearly as old as myself, and perhaps wiser, and here am I moralizing over it as if I were God Almighty and she a baby! The more you remind a man of what he is, the more conceited he becomes. Monstrous! I shall feel immortal presently."
He touched the cheek with a faint attempt at roughness, to feel how cold it was. Then he touched his own, and remarked:
"This is what I am hastening toward at the express speed of sixty minutes an hour!" He stood looking down at the face and tasting this sombre reflection for a long time. When it palled on him, he roused himself, and exclaimed more cheerfully:
"After all, she is not dead. Every word she utteredevery idea she formed and expressed, was an inexhaustible and indestructible impulse." He paused, considered a little further, and relapsed into gloom, adding, "and the dozen others whose names will be with hers in the 'Times' to-morrow? Their words too are still in the air, to endure there to all eternity. Hm! How the air must be crammed with nonsense! Two sounds sometimes produce a silence; perhaps ideas neutralize one another in some analogous way. No, my dear; you are dead and gone and done with, and I shall be dead and gone and done with too soon to leave me leisure to fool myself with hopes of immortality. Poor Hetty! Well, good-by, my darling. Let us pretend for a moment that you can hear that; I know it will please you."
All this was in a half-articulate whisper. When he ceased he still bent over the body, gazing intently at it. Even when he had exhausted the subject, and turned to go, he changed his mind, and looked again for a while. Then he stood erect, apparently nerved and refreshed, and left the room with a firm step. The woman was waiting outside. Seeing that he was less distressed than when he entered, she said:
"I hope you are satisfied, sir!"
"Delighted! Charmed! The arrangements are extremely pretty and tasteful. Most consolatory." And he gave her half a sovereign.
"I thank you, sir," she said, dropping a curtsey. "The poor young lady! She was anxious to see you, sir. To hear her say that you were the only one that cared for her! And so fretful with her mother, too. 'Let him be told that I am dangerously ill,' says she, 'and he'll come.' She didn't know how true her word was, poor thing; and she went off without being aware of it."
"Flattering herself and flattering me. Happy girl!"
"Bless you, I know what her feelings were, sir; I have had experience." Here she approached him confidentially, and whispered: "The family were again' you, sir, and she knew it. But she wouldn't listen to them. She thought of nothing, when she was easy enough to think at all, but of your coming. Andhush! Here's the old gentleman."
Trefusis looked round and saw Mr. Jansenius, whose handsome face was white and seamed with grief and annoyance. He drew back from the proffered hand of his son-in-law, like an overworried child from an ill-timed attempt to pet it. Trefusis pitied him. The nurse coughed and retired.
"Have you been speaking to Mrs. Jansenius?" said Trefusis.
"Yes," said Jansenius offensively.
"So have I, unfortunately. Pray make my apologies to her. I was rude. The circumstances upset me."
"You are not upset, sir," said Jansenius loudly. "You do not care a damn."
"You damned my feelings, and I will damn yours," continued Jansenius in the same tone. Trefusis involuntarily looked at the door through which he had lately passed. Then, recovering himself, he said quietly:
"It does not matter. She can't hear us."
Before Jansenius could reply his wife hurried upstairs, caught him by the arm, and said, "Don't speak to him, John. And you," she added, to Trefusis, "WILL you begone?"
"What!" he said, looking cynically at her. "Without my dead! Without my property! Well, be it so."
"What do you know of the feelings of a respectable man?" persisted Jansenius, breaking out again in spite of his wife. "Nothing is sacred to you. This shows what Socialists are!"
"And what fathers are, and what mothers are," retorted Trefusis, giving way to his temper. "I thought you loved Hetty, but I see that you only love your feelings and your respectability. The devil take both! She was right; my love for her, incomplete as it was, was greater than yours." And he left the house in dudgeon.
But he stood awhile in the avenue to laugh at himself and his father-in-law. Then he took a hansom and was driven to the house of his solicitor, whom he wished to consult on the settlement of his late wife's affairs.
The remains of Henrietta Trefusis were interred in Highgate Cemetery the day before Christmas Eve. Three noblemen sent their carriages to the funeral, and the friends and clients of Mr. Jansenius, to a large number, attended in person. The bier was covered with a profusion of costly Bowers. The undertaker, instructed to spare no expense, provided long-tailed black horses, with black palls on their backs and black plumes upon their foreheads; coachmen decorated with scarves and jack-boots, black hammercloths, cloaks, and gloves, with many hired mourners, who, however, would have been instantly discharged had they presumed to betray emotion, or in any way overstep their function of walking beside the hearse with brass-tipped batons in their hands.
Among the genuine mourners were Mr. Jansenius, who burst into tears at the ceremony of casting earth on the coffin; the boy Arthur, who, preoccupied by the novelty of appearing in a long cloak at the head of a public procession, felt that he was not so sorry as he ought to be when he saw his papa cry; and a cousin who had once asked Henrietta to marry him, and who now, full of tragic reflections, was enjoying his despair intensely.
The rest whispered, whenever they could decently do so, about a strange omission in the arrangements. The husband of the deceased was absent. Members of the family and intimate friends were told by Daniel Jansenius that the widower had acted in a blackguard way, and that the Janseniuses did not care two-pence whether he came or stayed at home; that, but for the indecency of the thing, they were just as glad that he was keeping away. Others, who had no claim to be privately informed, made inquiries of the undertaker's foreman, who said he understood the gentleman objected to large funerals. Asked why, he said he supposed it was on the ground of expense. This being met by a remark that Mr. Trefusis was very wealthy, he added that he had been told so, but believed the money had not come from the lady; that people seldom cared to go to a great expense for a funeral unless they came into something good by the death; and that some parties the more they had the more they grudged. Before the funeral guests dispersed, the report spread by Mr. Jansenius's brother had got mixed with the views of the foreman, and had given rise to a story of Trefusis expressing joy at his wife's death with frightful oaths in her father's house whilst she lay dead there, and refusing to pay a farthing of her debts or funeral expenses.
Some days later, when gossip on the subject was subsiding, a fresh scandal revived it. A literary friend of Mr. Jansenius's helped him to compose an epitaph, and added to it a couple of pretty and touching stanzas, setting forth that Henrietta's character had been one of rare sweetness and virtue, and that her friends would never cease to sorrow for her loss. A tradesman who described himself as a "monumental mason" furnished a book of tomb designs, and Mr. Jansenius selected a highly ornamental one, and proposed to defray half the cost of its erection. Trefusis objected that the epitaph was untrue, and said that he did not see why tombstones should be privileged to publish false statements. It was reported that he had followed up his former misconduct by calling his father-in-law a liar, and that he had ordered a common tombstone from some cheap-jack at the East-end. He had, in fact, spoken contemptuously of the monumental tradesman as an "exploiter" of labor, and had asked a young working mason, a member of the International Association, to design a monument for the gratification of Jansenius.
The mason, with much pains and misgiving, produced an original design. Trefusis approved of it, and resolved to have it executed by the hands of the designer. He hired a sculptor's studio, purchased blocks of marble of the dimensions and quality described to him by the mason, and invited him to set to work forthwith.
Trefusis now encountered a difficulty. He wished to pay the mason the just value of his work, no more and no less. But this he could not ascertain. The only available standard was the market price, and this he rejected as being fixed by competition among capitalists who could only secure profit by obtaining from their workmen more products than they paid them for, and could only tempt customers by offering a share of the unpaid-for part of the products as a reduction in price. Thus he found that the system of withholding the indispensable materials for production and subsistence from the laborers, except on condition of their supporting an idle class whilst accepting a lower standard of comfort for themselves than for that idle class, rendered the determination of just ratios of exchange, and consequently the practice of honest dealing, impossible. He had at last to ask the mason what he would consider fair payment for the execution of the design, though he knew that the man could no more solve the problem than he, and that, though he would certainly ask as much as he thought he could get, his demand must be limited by his poverty and by the competition of the monumental tradesman. Trefusis settled the matter by giving double what was asked, only imposing such conditions as were necessary to compel the mason to execute the work himself, and not make a profit by hiring other men at the market rate of wages to do it.
But the design was, to its author's astonishment, to be paid for separately. The mason, after hesitating a long time between two-pounds-ten and five pounds, was emboldened by a fellow-workman, who treated him to some hot whiskey and water, to name the larger sum. Trefusis paid the money at once, and then set himself to find out how much a similar design would have cost from the hands of an eminent Royal Academician. Happening to know a gentleman in this position, he consulted him, and was informed that the probable cost would be from five hundred to one thousand pounds. Trefusis expressed his opinion that the mason's charge was the more reasonable, somewhat to the indignation of his artist friend, who reminded him of the years which a Royal Academician has to spend in acquiring his skill. Trefusis mentioned that the apprenticeship of a mason was quite as long, twice as laborious, and not half so pleasant. The artist now began to find Trefusis's Socialistic views, with which he had previously fancied himself in sympathy, both odious and dangerous. He demanded whether nothing was to be allowed for genius. Trefusis warmly replied that genius cost its possessor nothing; that it was the inheritance of the whole race incidentally vested in a single individual, and that if that individual employed his monopoly of it to extort money from others, he deserved nothing better than hanging. The artist lost his temper, and suggested that if Trefusis could not feel that the prerogative of art was divine, perhaps he could understand that a painter was not such a fool as to design a tomb for five pounds when he might be painting a portrait for a thousand. Trefusis retorted that the fact of a man paying a thousand pounds for a portrait proved that he had not earned the money, and was therefore either a thief or a beggar. The common workman who sacrificed sixpence from his week's wages for a cheap photograph to present to his sweet. heart, or a shilling for a pair of chromolithographic pictures or delft figures to place on his mantelboard, suffered greater privation for the sake of possessing a work of art than the great landlord or shareholder who paid a thousand pounds, which he was too rich to miss, for a portrait that, like Hogarth's Jack Sheppard, was only interesting to students of criminal physiognomy. A lively quarrel ensued, Trefusis denouncing the folly of artists in fancying themselves a priestly caste when they were obviously only the parasites and favored slaves of the moneyed classes, and his friend (temporarily his enemy) sneering bitterly at levellers who were for levelling down instead of levelling up. Finally, tired of disputing, and remorseful for their acrimony, they dined amicably together.
The monument was placed in Highgate Cemetery by a small band of workmen whom Trefusis found out of employment. It bore the following inscription:
THIS IS THE MONUMENT OF HENRIETTA JANSENIUS WHO WAS BORN ON THE 26TH JULY, 1856, MARRIED TO SIDNEY TREFUSIS ON THE 23RD AUGUST, 1875, AND WHO DIED ON THE 21ST DECEMBER IN THE SAME YEAR.
Mr. Jansenius took this as an insult to his daughter's memory, and, as the tomb was much smaller than many which had been erected in the cemetery by families to whom the Janseniuses claimed superiority, cited it as an example of the widower's meanness. But by other persons it was so much admired that Trefusis hoped it would ensure the prosperity of its designer. The contrary happened. When the mason attempted to return to his ordinary work he was informed that he had contravened trade usage, and that his former employers would have nothing more to say to him. On applying for advice and assistance to the trades-union of which he was a member he received the same reply, and was further reproached for treachery to his fellow-workmen. He returned to Trefusis to say that the tombstone job had ruined him. Trefusis, enraged, wrote an argumentative letter to the "Times," which was not inserted, a sarcastic one to the trades-union, which did no good, and a fierce one to the employers, who threatened to take an action for libel. He had to content himself with setting the man to work again on mantelpieces and other decorative stone-work for use in house property on the Trefusis estate. In a year or two his liberal payments enabled the mason to save sufficient to start as an employer, in which capacity he soon began to grow rich, as he knew by experience exactly how much his workmen could be forced to do, and how little they could be forced to take. Shortly after this change in his circumstances he became an advocate of thrift, temperance, and steady industry, and quitted the International Association, of which he had been an enthusiastic supporter when dependent on his own skill and taste as a working mason.
During these occurrences Agatha's school-life ended. Her resolution to study hard during another term at the college had been formed, not for the sake of becoming learned, but that she might become more worthy of Smilash; and when she learned the truth about him from his own lips, the idea of returning to the scene of that humiliation became intolerable to her. She left under the impression that her heart was broken, for her smarting vanity, by the law of its own existence, would not perceive that it was the seat of the injury. So she bade Miss Wilson adieu; and the bee on the window pane was heard no more at Alton College.
The intelligence of Henrietta's death shocked her the more because she could not help being glad that the only other person who knew of her folly with regard to Smilash (himself excepted) was now silenced forever. This seemed to her a terrible discovery of her own depravity. Under its influence she became almost religious, and caused some anxiety about her health to her mother, who was puzzled by her unwonted seriousness, and, in particular, by her determination not to speak of the misconduct of Trefusis, which was now the prevailing topic of conversation in the family. She listened in silence to gossiping discussions of his desertion of his wife, his heartless indifference to her decease, his violence and bad language by her deathbed, his parsimony, his malicious opposition to the wishes of the Janseniuses, his cheap tombstone with the insulting epitaph, his association with common workmen and low demagogues, his suspected connection with a secret society for the assassination of the royal family and blowing up of the army, his atheistic denial, in a pamphlet addressed to the clergy, of a statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury that spiritual aid alone could improve the condition of the poor in the East-end of London, and the crowning disgrace of his trial for seditious libel at the Old Bailey, where he was condemned to six months' imprisonment; a penalty from which he was rescued by the ingenuity of his counsel, who discovered a flaw in the indictment, and succeeded, at great cost to Trefusis, in getting the sentence quashed. Agatha at last got tired of hearing of his misdeeds. She believed him to be heartless, selfish, and misguided, but she knew that he was not the loud, coarse, sensual, and ignorant brawler most of her mother's gossips supposed him to be. She even felt, in spite of herself, an emotion of gratitude to the few who ventured to defend him.
Preparation for her first season helped her to forget her misadventure. She "came out" in due time, and an extremely dull season she found it. So much so, that she sometimes asked herself whether she should ever be happy again. At the college there had been good fellowship, fun, rules, and duties which were a source of strength when observed and a source of delicious excitement when violated, freedom from ceremony, toffee making, flights on the banisters, and appreciative audiences for the soldier in the chimney.
In society there were silly conversations lasting half a minute, cool acquaintanceships founded on such half-minutes, general reciprocity of suspicion, overcrowding, insufficient ventilation, bad music badly executed, late hours, unwholesome food, intoxicating liquors, jealous competition in useless expenditure, husband-hunting, flirting, dancing, theatres, and concerts. The last three, which Agatha liked, helped to make the contrast between Alton and London tolerable to her, but they had their drawbacks, for good partners at the dances, and good performances at the spiritless opera and concerts, were disappointingly scarce. Flirting she could not endure; she drove men away when they became tender, seeing in them the falsehood of Smilash without his wit. She was considered rude by the younger gentlemen of her circle. They discussed her bad manners among themselves, and agreed to punish her by not asking her to dance. She thus got rid, without knowing why, of the attentions she cared for least (she retained a schoolgirl's cruel contempt for "boys"), and enjoyed herself as best she could with such of the older or more sensible men as were not intolerant of girls.
At best the year was the least happy she had ever spent. She repeatedly alarmed her mother by broaching projects of becoming a hospital nurse, a public singer, or an actress. These projects led to some desultory studies. In order to qualify herself as a nurse she read a handbook of physiology, which Mrs. Wylie thought so improper a subject for a young lady that she went in tears to beg Mrs. Jansenius to remonstrate with her unruly girl. Mrs. Jansenius, better advised, was of opinion that the more a woman knew the more wisely she was likely to act, and that Agatha would soon drop the physiology of her own accord. This proved true. Agatha, having finished her book by dint of extensive skipping, proceeded to study pathology from a volume of clinical lectures. Finding her own sensations exactly like those described in the book as symptoms of the direst diseases, she put it by in alarm, and took up a novel, which was free from the fault she had found in the lectures, inasmuch as none of the emotions it described in the least resembled any she had ever experienced.
After a brief interval, she consulted a fashionable teacher of singing as to whether her voice was strong enough for the operatic stage. He recommended her to study with him for six years, assuring her that at the end of that periodif she followed his directionsshe should be the greatest singer in the world. To this there was, in her mind, the conclusive objection that in six years she should be an old woman. So she resolved to try privately whether she could not get on more quickly by herself. Meanwhile, with a view to the drama in case her operatic scheme should fail, she took lessons in elocution and gymnastics. Practice in these improved her health and spirits so much that her previous aspirations seemed too limited. She tried her hand at all the arts in succession, but was too discouraged by the weakness of her first attempts to persevere. She knew that as a general rule there are feeble and ridiculous beginnings to all excellence, but she never applied general rules to her own case, still thinking of herself as an exception to them, just as she had done when she romanced about Smilash. The illusions of adolescence were thick upon her.
Meanwhile her progress was creating anxieties in which she had no share. Her paroxysms of exhilaration, followed by a gnawing sense of failure and uselessness, were known to her mother only as "wildness" and "low spirits," to be combated by needlework as a sedative, or beef tea as a stimulant. Mrs. Wylie had learnt by rote that the whole duty of a lady is to be graceful, charitable, helpful, modest, and disinterested whilst awaiting passively whatever lot these virtues may induce. But she had learnt by experience that a lady's business in society is to get married, and that virtues and accomplishments alike are important only as attractions to eligible bachelors. As this truth is shameful, young ladies are left for a year or two to find it out for themselves; it is seldom explicitly conveyed to them at their entry into society. Hence they often throw away capital bargains in their first season, and are compelled to offer themselves at greatly reduced prices subsequently,when their attractions begin to stale. This was the fate which Mrs. Wylie, warned by Mrs. Jansenius, feared for Agatha, who, time after time when a callow gentleman of wealth and position was introduced to her, drove him brusquely away as soon as he ventured to hint that 200
his affections were concerned in their acquaintanceship. The anxious mother had to console herself with the fact that her daughter drove away the ineligible as ruthlessly as the eligible, formed no unworldly attachments, was still very young, and would grow less coy as she advanced in years and in what Mrs. Jansenius called sense.
But as the seasons went by it remained questionable whether Agatha was the more to be congratulated on having begun life after leaving school or Henrietta on having finished it.
Brandon Beeches, in the Thames valley, was the seat of Sir Charles Brandon, seventh baronet of that name. He had lost his father before attaining his majority, and had married shortly afterwards; so that in his twenty-fifth year he was father to three children. He was a little worn, in spite of his youth, but he was tall and agreeable, had a winning way of taking a kind and soothing view of the misfortunes of others, could tell a story well, liked music and could play and sing a little, loved the arts of design and could sketch a little in water colors, read every magazine from London to Paris that criticised pictures, had travelled a little, fished a little, shot a little, botanized a little, wandered restlessly in the footsteps of women, and dissipated his energies through all the small channels that his wealth opened and his talents made easy to him. He had no large knowledge of any subject, though he had looked into many just far enough to replace absolute unconsciousness of them with measurable ignorance. Never having enjoyed the sense of achievement, he was troubled with unsatisfied aspirations that filled him with melancholy and convinced him that he was a born artist. His wife found him selfish, peevish, hankering after change, and prone to believe that he was attacked by dangerous disease when he was only catching cold.
Lady Brandon, who believed that he understood all the subjects he talked about because she did not understand them herself, was one of his disappointments. In person she resembled none of the types of beauty striven after by the painters of her time, but she had charms to which few men are insensible. She was tall, soft, and stout, with ample and shapely arms, shoulders, and hips. With her small head, little ears, pretty lips, and roguish eye, she, being a very large creature, presented an immensity of half womanly, half infantile loveliness which smote even grave men with a desire to clasp her in their arms and kiss her. This desire had scattered the desultory intellectual culture of Sir Charles at first sight. His imagination invested her with the taste for the fine arts which ho required from a wife, and he married her in her first season, only to discover that the amativeness in her temperament was so little and languid that she made all his attempts at fondness ridiculous, and robbed the caresses for which he had longed of all their anticipated ecstasy. Intellectually she fell still further short of his hopes. She looked upon his favorite art of painting as a pastime for amateur and a branch of the house-furnishing trade for professional artists. When he was discussing it among his friends, she would offer her opinion with a presumption which was the more trying as she frequently blundered upon a sound conclusion whilst he was reasoning his way to a hollow one with his utmost subtlety and seriousness. On such occasions his disgust did not trouble her in the least; she triumphed in it. She had concluded that marriage was a greater folly, and men greater fools, than she had supposed; but such beliefs rather lightened her sense of responsibility than disappointed her, and, as she had plenty of money, plenty of servants, plenty of visitors, and plenty of exercise on horseback, of which she was immoderately fond, her time passed pleasantly enough. Comfort seemed to her the natural order of life; trouble always surprised her. Her husband's friends, who mistrusted every future hour, and found matter for bitter reflection in many past ones, were to her only examples of the power of sedentary habits and excessive reading to make men tripped and dull.
One fine May morning, as she cantered along the avenue at Brandon Beeches on a powerful bay horse, the gates at the end opened and a young man sped through them on a bicycle. He was of slight frame, with fine dark eyes and delicate nostrils. When he recognized Lady Brandon he waved his cap, and when they met he sprang from his inanimate steed, at which the bay horse shied.
"Don't, you silly beast!" she cried, whacking the animal with the butt of her whip. "Though it's natural enough, goodness knows! How d'ye do? The idea of anyone rich enough to afford a horse riding on a wheel like that!"
"But I am not rich enough to afford a horse," he said, approaching her to pat the bay, having placed the bicycle against a tree. "Besides, I am afraid of horses, not being accustomed to them; and I know nothing about feeding them. My steed needs no food. He doesn't bite nor kick. He never goes lame, nor sickens, nor dies, nor needs a groom, nor"
"That's all bosh," said Lady Brandon impetuously. "It stumbles, and gives you the most awful tosses, and it goes lame by its treadles and thingamejigs coming off, and it wears out, and is twice as much trouble to keep clean and scrape the mud off as a horse, and all sorts of things. I think the most ridiculous sight in the world is a man on a bicycle, working away with his feet as hard as he possibly can, and believing that his horse is carrying him instead of, as anyone can see, he carrying the horse. You needn't tell me that it isn't easier to walk in the ordinary way than to drag a great dead iron thing along with you. It's not good sense."
"Nevertheless I can carry it a hundred miles further in a day than I can carry myself alone. Such are the marvels of machinery. But I know that we cut a very poor figure beside you and that magnificent creature not that anyone will look at me whilst you are by to occupy their attention so much more worthily."
She darted a glance at him which clouded his vision and made his heart beat more strongly. This was an old habit of hers. She kept it up from love of fun, having no idea of the effect it produced on more ardent temperaments than her own. He continued hastily:
"Is Sir Charles within doors?"
"Oh, it's the most ridiculous thing I ever heard of in my life," she exclaimed. "A man that lives by himself in a place down by the Riverside Road like a toy savings bankdon't you know the things I mean?called Sallust's House, says there is a right of way through our new pleasure ground. As if anyone could have any right there after all the money we have spent fencing it on three sides, and building up the wall by the road, and levelling, and planting, and draining, and goodness knows what else! And now the man says that all the common people and tramps in the neighborhood have a right to walk across it because they are too lazy to go round by the road. Sir Charles has gone to see the man about it. Of course he wouldn't do as I wanted him."
"What was that?"
"Write to tell the man to mind his own business, and to say that the first person we found attempting to trespass on our property should be given to the police."
"Then I shall find no one at home. I beg your pardon for calling it so, but it is the only place like home to me."
"Yes; it is so comfortable since we built the billiard room and took away those nasty hangings in the hall. I was ever so long trying to per"
She was interrupted by an old laborer, who hobbled up as fast as his rheumatism would allow him, and began to speak without further ceremony than snatching off his cap.
"Th'ave coom to the noo groups, my lady, crowds of 'em. An' a parson with 'em, an' a flag! Sur Chorles he don't know what to say; an' sooch doin's never was."
Lady Brandon turned pale and pulled at her horse as if to back him out of some danger. Her visitor, puzzled, asked the old man what he meant.
"There's goin' to be a proceyshon through the noo groups," he replied, "an' the master can't stop 'em. Th'ave throon down the wall; three yards of it is lyin' on Riverside Road. An' there's a parson with 'em, and a flag. An' him that lives in Sallust's hoos, he's there, hoddin''em on."
"Thrown down the wall!" exclaimed Lady Brandon, scarlet with indignation and pale with apprehension by turns. "What a disgraceful thing! Where are the police? Chester, will you come with me and see what they are doing? Sir Charles is no use. Do you think there is any danger?"
"There's two police," said the old man, "an' him that lives at Sallust's dar'd them stop him. They're lookin' on. An' there's a parson among 'em. I see him pullin' away at the wall with his own han's."
"I will go and see the fun," said Chester.
Lady Brandon hesitated. But her anger and curiosity vanquished her fears. She overtook the bicycle, and they went together through the gates and by the highroad to the scene the old man had described. A heap of bricks and mortar lay in the roadway on each side of a breach in the newly built wall, over which Lady Brandon, from her eminence on horseback, could see, coming towards her across the pleasure ground, a column of about thirty persons. They marched three abreast in good order and in silence; the expression of all except a few mirthful faces being that of devotees fulfilling a rite. The gravity of the procession was deepened by the appearance of a clergyman in its ranks, which were composed of men of the middle class, and a few workmen carrying a banner inscribed THE SOIL or ENGLAND THE BIRTHRIGHT OF ALL HER PEOPLE. There were also four women, upon whom Lady Brandon looked with intense indignation and contempt. None of the men of the neighborhood had dared to join; they stood in the road whispering, and occasionally venturing to laugh at the jests of a couple of tramps who had stopped to see the fun, and who cared nothing for Sir Charles.
He, standing a little way within the field, was remonstrating angrily with a man of his own class, who stood with his back to the breach and his hands in the pockets of his snuff-colored clothes, contemplating the procession with elate satisfaction. Lady Brandon, at once suspecting that this was the man from Sallust's House, and encouraged by the loyalty of the crowd, most of whom made way for her and touched their hats, hit the bay horse smartly with her whip and rode him, with a clatter of hoofs and scattering of clods, right at the snuff-colored enemy, who had to spring hastily aside to avoid her. There was a roar of laughter from the roadway, and the man turned sharply on her. But he suddenly smiled affably, replaced his hands in his pockets after raising his hat, and said:
"How do you do, Miss Carpenter? I thought you were a charge of cavalry."
"I am not Miss Carpenter, I am Lady Brandon; and you ought to be ashamed of yourself, Mr. Smilash, if it is you that have brought these disgraceful people here."
His eyes as he replied were eloquent with reproach to her for being no longer Miss Carpenter. "I am not Smilash," he said; "I am Sidney Trefusis. I have just had the pleasure of meeting Sir Charles for the first time, and we shall be the best friends possible when I have convinced him that it is hardly fair to seize on a path belonging to the people and compel them to walk a mile and a half round his estate instead of four hundred yards between two portions of it."
"I have already told you, sir," said Sir Charles, "that I intend to open a still shorter path, and to allow all the well-conducted work-people to pass through twice a day. This will enable them to go to their work and return from it; and I will be at the cost of keeping the path in repair."
"Thank you," said Trefusis drily; "but why should we trouble you when we have a path of our own to use fifty times a day if we choose, without any man barring our way until our conduct happens to please him? Besides, your next heir would probably shut the path up the moment he came into possession."
"Offering them a path is just what makes them impudent," said Lady Brandon to her husband. "Why did you promise them anything? They would not think it a hardship to walk a mile and a half, or twenty miles, to a public-house, but when they go to their work they think it dreadful to have to walk a yard. Perhaps they would like us to lend them the wagonette to drive in?"
"I have no doubt they would," said Trefusis, beaming at her.
"Pray leave me to manage here, Jane; this is no place for you. Bring Erskine to the house. He must be"
"Why don't the police make them go away?" said Lady Brandon, too excited to listen to her husband.
"Hush, Jane, pray. What can three men do against thirty or forty?"
"They ought to take up somebody as an example to the rest."
"They have offered, in the handsomest manner, to arrest me if Sir Charles will give me in charge," said Trefusis.
"There!" said Lady Jane, turning to her husband. "Why don't you give himor someonein charge?"
"You know nothing about it," said Sir Charles, vexed by a sense that she was publicly making him ridiculous.
"If you don't, I will," she persisted. "The idea of having our ground broken into and our new wall knocked down! A nice state of things it would be if people were allowed to do as they liked with other peoples' property. I will give every one of them in charge."
"Would you consign me to a dungeon?" said Trefusis, in melancholy tones.
"I don't mean you exactly," she said, relenting. "But I will give that clergyman into charge, because he ought to know better. He is the ringleader of the whole thing."
"He will be delighted, Lady Brandon; he pines for martyrdom. But will you really give him into custody?"
"I will," she said vehemently, emphasizing the assurance by a plunge in the saddle that made the bay stagger.
"On what charge?" he said, patting the horse and looking up at her.
"I don't care what charge," she replied, conscious that she was being admired, and not displeased. "Let them take him up, that's all."
Human beings on horseback are so far centaurs that liberties taken with their horses are almost as personal as liberties taken with themselves. When Sir Charles saw Trefusis patting the bay he felt as much outraged as if Lady Brandon herself were being patted, and he felt bitterly towards her for permitting the familiarity. He uas relieved by the arrival of the procession. It halted as the 1eadere came up to Trefusis, who said gravely:
"Gentlemen, I congratulate you on the firmness with which you have this day asserted the rights of the people of this place to the use of one of the few scraps of mother earth of which they have not been despoiled."
"Gentlemen," shouted an excited member of the procession, "three cheers for the resumption of the land of England by the people of England! Hip, hip, hurrah!"
The cheers were given with much spirit, Sir Charles's cheeks becoming redder at each repetition. He looked angrily at the clergyman, now distracted by the charms of Lady Brandon, whose scorn, as she surveyed the crowd, expressed itself by a pout which became her pretty lips extremely.
Then a middle-aged laborer stepped from the road into the field, hat in hand, ducked respectfully, and said: "Look 'e here, Sir Charles. Don't 'e mind them fellers. There ain't a man belonging to this neighborhood among 'em; not one in your employ or on your land. Our dooty to you and your ladyship, and we will trust to you to do what is fair by us. We want no interlopers from Lunnon to get us into trouble with your honor, and"
"You unmitigated cur," exclaimed Trefusis fiercely, "what right have you to give away to his unborn children the liberty of your own?"
"They're not unborn," said Lady Brandon indignantly. "That just shows how little you know about it."
"No, nor mine either," said the man, emboldened by her ladyship's support. "And who are you that call me a cur?"
"Who am I! I am a rich manone of your masters, and privileged to call you what I please. You are a grovelling famine-broken slave. Now go and seek redress against me from the law. I can buy law enough to ruin you for less money than it would cost me to shoot deer in Scotland or vermin here. How do you like that state of things? Eh?"
The man was taken aback. "Sir Charles will stand by me," he said, after a pause, with assumed confidence, but with an anxious glance at the baronet.
"If he does, after witnessing the return you have made me for standing by you, he is a greater fool than I take him to be."
"Gently, gently," said the clergyman. "There is much excuse to be made for the poor fellow."
"As gently as you please with any man that is a free man at heart," said Trefusis; "but slaves must be driven, and this fellow is a slave to the marrow."
"Still, we must be patient. He does not know"
"He knows a great deal better than you do," said Lady Brandon, interrupting. "And the more shame for you, because you ought to know best. I suppose you were educated somewhere. You will not be satisfied with yourself when your bishop hears of this. Yes," she added, turning to Trefusis with an infantile air of wanting to cry and being forced to laugh against her will, "you may laugh as much as you pleasedon't trouble to pretend it's only coughingbut we will write to his bishop, as he shall find to his cost."
"Hold your tongue, Jane, for God's sake," said Sir Charles, taking her horse by the bridle and backing him from Trefusis.
"I will not. If you choose to stand here and allow them to walk away with the walls in their pockets, I don't, and won't. Why cannot you make the police do something?"
"They can do nothing," said Sir Charles, almost beside himself with humiliation. "I cannot do anything until I see my solicitor. How can you bear to stay here wrangling with these fellows? It is SO undignified!"
"It's all very well to talk of dignity, but I don't see the dignity of letting people trample on our grounds without leave. Mr. Smilash, will you make them all go away, and tell them that they shall all be prosecuted and put in prison?"
"They are going to the crossroads, to hold a public meeting andof coursemake speeches. I am desired to say that they deeply regret that their demonstration should have disturbed you personally, Lady Brandon."
"So they ought," she replied. "They don't look very sorry. They are getting frightened at what they have done, and they would be glad to escape the consequences by apologizing, most likely. But they shan't. I am not such a fool as they think."
"They don't think so. You have proved the contrary."
"Jane," said Sir Charles pettishly, "do you know this gentleman?"
"I should think I do," said Lady Brandon emphatically.
Trefusis bowed as if he had just been formally introduced to the baronet, who, against his will, returned the salutation stiffly, unable to ignore an older, firmer, and quicker man under the circumstances.
"This seems an unneighborly business, Sir Charles," said Trefusis, quite at his ease; " but as it is a public question, it need not prejudice our private relations. At least I hope not."
Sir Charles bowed again, more stiffly than before.
"I am, like you, a capitalist and landlord."
"Which it seems to me you have no right to be, if you are in earnest," struck in Chester, who had been watching the scene in silence by Sir Charles's side.
"Which, as you say, I have undoubtedly no right to be," said Trefusis, surveying him with interest; " but which I nevertheless cannot help being. Have I the pleasure of speaking to Mr. Chichester Erskine, author of a tragedy entitled 'The Patriot Martyrs,' dedicated with enthusiastic devotion to the Spirit of Liberty and half a dozen famous upholders of that principle, and denouncing in forcible language the tyranny of the late Tsar of Russia, Bomba of Naples, and Napoleon the Third?"
"Yes, sir," said Erskine, reddening; for he felt that this description might make his drama seem ridiculous to those present who had not read it.
"Then," said Trefusis, extending his handErskine at first thought for a hearty shake"give me half-a-crown towards the cost of our expedition here to-day to assert the right of the people to tread the soil we are standing upon."
"You shall do nothing of the sort, Chester," cried Lady Brandon. "I never heard of such a thing in my life! Do you pay us for the wall and fence your people have broken, Mr. Smilash; that would be more to the purpose."
"If I could find a thousand men as practical as you, Lady Brandon, I might accomplish the next great revolution before the end of this season." He looked at her for a moment curiously, as if trying to remember; and then added inconsequently: "How are your friends? There was a MissMissI am afraid I have forgotten all the names except your own."
"Gertrude Lindsay is staying with us. Do you remember her?"
"I thinkno, I am afraid I do not. Let me see. Was she a haughty young lady?"
"Yes," said Lady Brandon eagerly, forgetting the wall and fence. "But who do you think is coming next Thursday? I met her accidentally the last time I was in town. She's not a bit changed. You can't forget her, so don't pretend to be puzzled."
"You have not told me who she is yet. And I shall probably not remember her. You must not expect me to recognize everyone instantaneously, as I recognized you."
"What stuff! You will know Agatha fast enough."
"Agatha Wylie!" he said, with sudden gravity.
"Yes. She is coming on Thursday. Are you glad?"
"I fear I shall have no opportunity of seeing her."
"Oh, of course you must see her. It will be so jolly for us all to meet again just as we used. Why can't you come to luncheon on Thursday?"
"I shall be delighted, if you will really allow me to come after my conduct here."
"The lawyers will settle that. Now that you have found out who we are you will stop pulling down our walls, of course."
"Of course," said Trefusis, smiling, as he took out a pocket diary and entered the engagement. "I must hurry away to the crossroads. They have probably voted me into the chair by this time, and are waiting for me to open their meeting. Good-bye. You have made this place, which I was growing tired of, unexpectedly interesting to me."
They exchanged glances of the old college pattern. Then he nodded to Sir Charles, waved his hand familiarly to Erskine, and followed the procession, which was by this time out of sight.
Sir Charles, who, waiting to speak, had been repeatedly baffled by the hasty speeches of his wife and the unhesitating replies of Trefusis, now turned angrily upon her, saying:
"What do you mean by inviting that fellow to my house ?"
"Your house, indeed! I will invite whom I please. You are getting into one of your tempers."
Sir Charles looked about him. Erskine had discreetly slipped away, and was in the road, tightening a screw in his bicycle. The few persons who remained were out of earshot.
"Who and what the devil is he, and how do you come to know him?" he demanded. He never swore in the presence of any lady except his wife, and then only when they were alone.
"He is a gentleman, which is more than you are," she retorted, and, with a cut of her whip that narrowly missed her husband's shoulder, sent the bay plunging through the gap.
"Come along," she said to Erskine. "We shall be late for luncheon."
"Had we not better wait for Sir Charles?" he asked injudiciously.
"Never mind Sir Charles, he is in the sulks," she said, without abating her voice. "Come along." And she went off at a canter, Erskine following her with a misgiving that his visit was unfortunately timed. unworthy of yourself, and that a net is closing round you?"
"No. Nothing of the sort!"
"Then why are you so anxious to get away?"
"I don't know," said Agatha, affecting to laugh as he looked sceptically at her from beneath his lowered eyelids. "Perhaps I do feel a little like that; but not so much as you say."
"I will explain the emotion to you," he said, with a subdued ardor that affected Agatha strangely. "But first tell me whether it is new to you or not."
"It is not an emotion at all. I did not say that it was."
"Do not be afraid of it. It is only being alone with a man whom you have bewitched. You would be mistress of the situation if you only knew how to manage a lover. It is far easier than managing a horse, or skating, or playing the piano, or half a dozen other feats of which you think nothing."
Agatha colored and raised her head.
"Forgive me," he said, interrupting the action. "I am trying to offend you in order to save myself from falling in love with you, and I have not the heart to let myself succeed. On your life, do not listen to me or believe me. I have no right to say these things to you. Some fiend enters into me when I am at your side. You should wear a veil, Agatha."
She blushed, and stood burning and tingling, her presence of mind gone, and her chief sensation one of relief to hearfor she did not dare to seethat he was departing. Her consciousness was in a delicious confusion, with the one definite thought in it that she had won her lover at last. The tone of Trefusis's voice, rich with truth and earnestness, his quick insight, and his passionate warning to her not to heed him, convinced her that she had entered into a relation destined to influence her whole life.
"And yet," she said remorsefully, "I cannot love him as he loves me. I am selfish, cold, calculating, worldly, and have doubted until now whether such a thing as love really existed. If I could only love him recklessly and wholly, as he loves me!"
Smilash was also soliloquizing as he went on his way.
"Now I have made the poor childwho was so anxious that I should not mistake her for a supernaturally gifted and lovely womanas happy as an angel; and so is that fine girl whom they call Jane Carpenter. I hope they won't exchange confidences on the subject."