Project Gutenberg's The Three Brothers Complete, by Mrs. Margaret Oliphant

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Title: The Three Brothers Complete

Author: Mrs. Margaret Oliphant

Release Date: November 22, 2018 [EBook #58323]

Language: English

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Produced by Chuck Greif and the Online Distributed
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XIII. REACTION {v.1-vi}188





The reason why Mr. Renton’s sons were sent out into the world in the humble manner, and with the results we are about to record, must be first told, in order that their history may be comprehensible to the reader. Had they been a poor man’s sons no explanation would have been necessary; but their father was anything but a poor man. The family was one of those exceptional families which add active exertion to hereditary endowments. Though the Rentons had been well-known people in Berks for two or three centuries, it had almost been a family tradition that each successive heir, instead of resting content with the good things Providence had given him, should add by his own efforts to the family store. There had been pirates among them in Elizabeth’s time. They had made money when everybody else lost money in the time of the ‘South Sea.’ Mr. Renton’s father had gone to India young, and had returned, what was then called, a ‘Nabob.’ Mr.{v.1-2} Renton himself was sent off in his turn to Calcutta, as remorselessly as though he had not been the heir to heaven knows how many thousands a-year; and he too had increased the thousands. There was not a prettier estate nor a more commodious house in the whole county than Renton Manor. The town-house was in Berkeley Square. The family had everything handsome about them, and veiled their bonnet to none. Mr. Renton was a man who esteemed wealth as a great power; but he esteemed energy still more, and placed it high above all other qualities. As he is just about to die, and cannot have time to speak for himself in these pages, we may be permitted to describe a personage so important to this history. He was a spare, middle-sized man, with a singular watchfulness and animation in his looks; his foot springy and light; his sight, and hearing, and all his senses, unusually keen;—a man always on the alert, body and mind, yet not incapable of repose. Restless was not an epithet you could apply to him. A kind of vigilant, quiet readiness and promptitude breathed out from him. He would have sooner died than have taken an unfair advantage over any one; but he was ready to seize upon any and every advantage which was fair and lawful, spying it out with the eyes of an eagle, and coming down upon it with the spring of a giant. Twice, or rather let us say four times in his life he had departed from the traditions of the Rentons. Instead of the notable, capable woman whom{v.1-3} they had been wont to choose, and who had helped to make the family what it was, he had married a pretty, useless wife, for no better reason than that he loved her. And partly under her influence, partly by reason of a certain languor and inclination towards personal ease which had crept over him, he had been—as he sometimes felt—basely neglectful of the best interests of his sons. The eldest, Ben, had not been sent to India at sixteen, as his father was; nor had Laurie, the second, gone off to the Colonies, as would have been natural; and as for Frank, his father’s weakness had gone so far as to permit of the purchase of a commission for him when the boy had fallen in love with a red coat. Frank was a Guardsman, and he a Renton! Such a thing had never been heard of in the family before.

The eldest surviving aunt, Mrs. Westbury, who was full of Renton traditions, almost went mad of this event, so afflicted was she by such a departure from use and wont. She had two boys of her own, whom she had steadfastly kept in the family groove, and, accordingly, had the very best grounds for her indignation. ‘But what was to be expected,’ she said, ‘from such a wife?’ Mrs. Renton was as harmless a soul as ever lay on a sofa, and had little more than a passive influence in the affairs of her family; but her husband’s sister, endowed with that contempt for the masculine understanding which most women entertain, put all the blame upon her soft shoulders. Two{v.1-4} men-about-town, and a boy in the Guards! ‘Is Laurence mad?’ said Mrs. Westbury. It was her own son who had gone to the house in Calcutta, which might have mollified her; but it did not. ‘My boy has to banish himself, and wear out the best of his life in that wilderness,’ she said, vehemently, ‘while Ben Renton makes a fool of himself at home.’ When they brought their fine friends to the Manor for shooting or fishing, she had always something to say of her boy who was banished from all these pleasures; though, indeed, there had been a great rejoicing in the Westbury household when Richard got the appointment. It was but a very short time before her brother’s death that Aunt Lydia’s feelings became too many for her, and she felt that for once she must speak and deliver her soul.

‘Ben is to succeed you, I suppose?’ she said, perhaps in rather an unsympathetic way, as she took Mr. Renton to the river-side for a walk, under pretence of speaking to him ‘about the boys.’ He thought, poor man, that it was her own boys she meant, and was very good-natured about it. And then it was his favourite walk. The river ran through the Renton woods, at the foot of a steep bank, and was visible from some of the windows of the Manor. The road to it was a charming woodland walk, embowered in great beeches, the special growth of Berks. Through their vast branches, and round about their giant trunks, playing with the spectator’s charmed vision like a child, came{v.1-5} glimpses of the broad, soft water, over which willows hung fondly, and the swans and water-lilies shone. Mr. Renton was not sentimental, but he had known the river all his life, and was fond of it;—perhaps all the more so as he found out what mistakes he had made, and that life had not been expended to so much purpose as it ought to have been; so that he walked down very willingly with his sister, and inclined his ear with much patience and good-nature to hear what she had to say about her boys.

‘Ben will succeed you, I suppose?’ she said, looking at him in a disapproving way, as they came to the very margin of the stream where Laurie’s boat, with its brightly painted sides and red cushions reflected in the water, lay moored by the bank. It was a fantastic little toy, meant for speed, and not for safety; and Mrs. Westbury would have walked ten miles round by Oakley Bridge rather than have trusted herself to that arrowy bark. She sighed as her eyes fell upon it. ‘Poor Laurie! poor boy!’ she said, shaking her head. The sight seemed to fill her with a compassion beyond words.

‘Why poor Laurie?’ said Mr. Renton; but he knew what she meant, and it made him angry. ‘Of course Ben will succeed me. I succeeded my father. It is his right.’

‘Ah, Laurence, but how did you succeed your father?’ said Mrs. Westbury. ‘You had the satisfaction of being the greatest comfort to dear papa.{v.1-6} He felt the property would be safe in your hands, and be improved, as it has always been. People say we are such a lucky family, but you and I know better. We know it is work that has always done it,—alas! until now!’ she said, suddenly lifting up her eyes to heaven. Truth compels us to add that Mr. Renton was very much disconcerted. He could not bear to hear his own family attacked; but he felt the justice of all she said.

‘Well, Lydia, manners change,’ he said. ‘It seemed natural enough in our time; but, when you come to consider it, I don’t see what reason I have for sending the boys away. I can leave them very well off. We were never so well off as we are now. You know I managed to buy that last farm my father had set his mind upon. I don’t see why I should have broken their mother’s heart.’

‘Ah, I knew it would come out,’ said Mrs. Westbury, with a little bitterness. ‘Why should Mary’s heart be more tender than other people’s? I have to send my boys away, though I love them as well as she does hers; and people congratulate me on having such a good appointment for Richard. It never occurs to anybody that I shall break my heart.’

‘You are a Renton,’ said her brother, with some dexterity. ‘I often think you are the best Renton of us all. But if poor Westbury had lived, you know, he might have contrived to spare you the {v.1-7}parting, as I have spared Mary; and—— The short and the long of it is the boys are doing very well. I have no fault to find with them, and I mean to take my own way with my own family, Lydia; no offence to you.’

‘Oh, no; no offence,’ said Mrs. Westbury, with a little toss of her head. ‘It is all for my advantage, I am sure. When my Richard comes home at a proper time with the fortune your Ben ought to have made, I shall have no reason to complain for one.’

‘Ben will be very well off,’ said Mr. Renton, but with an uncomfortable smile.

‘Oh, very well off, no doubt,’ said his sister, with a touch of contempt; ‘a vapid squire, like the rest of them. People used to say the Rentons were like a fresh breeze blowing in the county. Always motion and stir where they were! And, poor Laurie!’ she added once more, with offensive compassion, as they turned and came again face to face with Laurie’s boat.

‘I should like to know why Laurie so particularly excites your pity,’ said Mr. Renton, much irritated. Laurie was his own namesake and favourite, and this was the animadversion which he could least bear.

‘Poor boy! I don’t know who would not pity him,’ said Aunt Lydia; ‘it would melt a heart of stone to see a boy with such abilities all going to wrack and ruin. It is all very well as long as he is at home; but when he comes to have his own money{v.1-8} what will he do with it? Spend it on pictures and nonsense, and encourage a set of idle people about him to eat him up. Laurence, you mark my words—that is just the kind of boy to be eaten up by everybody, and to come to poverty in the end. Whereas, if he had been taught from the first that work was the natural destiny of man——’

‘There, Lydia,—there,—I wish you would make an end of this croaking,’ cried Mr. Renton. ‘I am not quite well to-day, and can’t bear it. That’s enough for one time.’

‘As for Frank, I give him up,’ said Mrs. Westbury,—‘a soldier, that can never make a penny,—and, of all soldiers, a Guardsman! I am very sorry for you, Laurence, I am sure. How a man of your sense could give in so to Mary’s whims I can’t understand.’

‘Mary had nothing to do with it,’ said Mr. Renton angrily; and he led the way up the bank, and changed the subject abruptly. Mrs. Westbury, though she was not susceptible, felt that she must say no more; and they returned in comparative silence to the house. This walk had been taken late in a summer evening after dinner, and in the solemnity of evening dress, over which, Aunt Lydia, who was stout and felt the heat, had thrown a little shawl. As they reached the lawn in front of the Manor they came upon a pretty scene. Mrs. Renton, who was feebly pretty still, lay on a sofa, which had been{v.1-9} brought out and placed in the shadow of the trees. Mary Westbury, her godchild, who bore a curious softened resemblance to her mother, sat upright on a footstool by her aunt’s side, working and talking to her. The third figure was Laurie, lying at full length on the soft grass. Probably since dinner he had been having a cigar; for instead of the regular evening coat he wore a fantastic velvet vestment, which half veiled the splendour of his white linen and white tie. He was lying stretched out on his back,—handsome, lazy, and contented,—a practical commentary on his aunt’s speech. There were books lying about, which his energetic cousin had been coaxing and boring him to read aloud; but Laurie had only shaken his head at her, ruffling his chestnut locks against the grass: and a little sketch-book lay by his side, where it had fallen from his indolent hand. Mrs. Westbury looked at him and then at her brother. What words could say as much? There lay lazy Laurence, with an unspeakable sentiment of far niente, in every line of him; and he a Renton, whose very ease had always been energetic! Mr. Renton saw it, too, and, for once in his life, was heartily ashamed of his favourite son.

‘There you lie,’ said Aunt Lydia, ‘resting after your hard day’s work. What a laborious young man you must be, Laurie! I never saw any one who wanted so much rest.’

‘Thanks,’ said Laurence, with a little nod of his chin from the grass. ‘My constitution requires a{v.1-10} great deal of rest, as you say. If you don’t mind moving a little, Aunt Lydia, you are sitting on my note-book. Thanks. There are some swans there I should not like to lose.’

‘And of what use are swans?’ said Mrs. Westbury. ‘I wish you would tell me, Laurie; I am such an ignorant creature, and I should like to know.’

‘Use?’ said Laurie, opening his eyes. ‘They don’t get made into patties, as far as I know;—but they are of about as much use as the most of us, I suppose.’

‘The most of us have a great deal to do in the world,’ said Aunt Lydia, growing very red, for she was fond of pâtés; ‘if you knew how many things have to pass through my hands from morning to night——’

‘Yes, I know,’ said lazy Laurence, raising his hand in soft deprecation. ‘Mary has been telling us;—but what is the use of that, Aunt Lydia? Why should you worry yourself? Things would go on just as well if you let them alone,—that’s what I always tell Ben. What’s the good of fidgeting? If you’ll believe,’ continued Laurie, raising himself a little on one elbow, ‘all the people who have ever made any mark in the world have been people who knew how to keep quiet and let things work themselves out. There’s your Queen Elizabeth,’ he said, warming to his subject, and giving a slight kick with his polished boot to a big volume on the grass; ‘the only{v.1-11} quality she had was a masterly inaction. She kept quiet, and things settled themselves.’

‘Oh, Laurie! not when she killed that poor, dear, Queen Mary!’ cried his mother from the sofa. ‘I hate that woman’s very name.’

‘No,’ said Laurie, gracefully sinking down again among the grass, ‘that’s an instance of energy, mother,—a brutal quality, that always comes to harm.’

‘Laurence, you are a fool!’ said Mr. Renton sharply, to his son’s surprise; and he turned his back upon them all abruptly, and went in across the soft grass, through the magical, evening atmosphere that tempted all the world to rest. His sister had taken all restfulness out of him. Though he was a sensible man, he was a Renton; and the family traditions when thus recalled to his mind had a great power over him. He went into the library, which looked out upon a dark corner of the grounds full of mournful evergreens; the blank wall of the kitchen-garden showed a little behind them, and the room at this time of day was a very doleful room. It was a kind of penance to put upon himself to come in from that air, all full of lingering hues of sunset and soft suggestions of falling dew, to the grim-luxurious room, in which he already wanted artificial light. Here he sat and pondered over his own life, and that of his boys. Up to this moment they had been a great deal happier than he had been. Like a gust of air from the old plains of his youth, a remembrance came over him of loneliness{v.1-12} and wistfulness, and a certain impossible longing for a little pleasure now and then, and some love to brighten the boyish days. He had not been aware of wanting those vanities then; but he saw now that he had done so, and that his youth had been very bare and unlovely. He had scattered roses before his sons, while only thorns had been in his own path; but what if he had kept from them the harder training which should make them men? He sat till the darkness grew almost into night thinking over these things. They were men now,—the lads. Ben was five-and-twenty; Laurie but a year younger; and Frank, the happy boy, was only twenty, glorious in his red coat. Mr. Renton pondered long, and when the lamp came he made a great many notes and calculations, which he locked up carefully in his desk. He had a headache, which was very unusual. It was his wife’s rôle in the family to have the headaches; and it did not occur to Mr. Renton that there could be anything the matter with him. It was the heat, no doubt, or a little worry. The ladies had come into the drawing-room when his ponderings were over. It was a large room, full of windows, with one large bow projecting out upon the cliff, from which you could see the river through the cloud of intervening beeches. On the other side the room was open to the soft darkness of the lawn. There were two lamps in it, but both were shadowed; for Mrs. Renton’s eyes, like her head, were weak; and the cool air of night breathed in, odorous and soft,{v.1-13} making a scarcely perceptible draught from window to window. Mrs. Renton lay quite out of this current of air, which naturally she was afraid of, on another sofa. Mary made tea in a corner, with the light of one of the lamps falling concentrated upon her pretty hands in twinkling motion about the brilliant little spots of china and silver. She had a ring or two upon her pink transparent fingers, and a bracelet, which sparkled in the light. Mrs. Westbury sat apart in a great chair, and fanned herself. Now and then, with a dash against the delicate abat-jour of the lamp, came a mad moth, bent on self-destruction. Mr. Renton dropped into the first chair he could find, not knowing why he was so uncomfortable, and Mary brought him some tea. The weather had been very warm, and everybody was languid with the heat. They all sat a great way apart from each other, and were not energetic enough for conversation. ‘Where is Laurie?’ Mr. Renton asked; and they told him that Laurie, with his usual wilfulness, had gone down to the river. ‘There will be a moon to-night,’ Mrs. Renton said, with some fretfulness; for she liked to have one of her boys by her, if only lying on the grass, or on the deep mossy carpet, which was almost as soft as the grass.

‘He has gone off to his moonlight, and his swans, and his water-lilies,’ said Mrs. Westbury, with disdain; but even she felt the heat too much to proceed.{v.1-14}

‘The water-lilies are closed at night,’ said Mary apologetically; venturing to this extent to take her cousin’s part; lazy Laurence was a favourite with most people, though he had no energy. Then, all at once, a larger swoop than usual went circling through the dim upper atmosphere of the room, and Mrs. Renton gave a scream.

‘It is a bat!’ she cried. ‘Ring, Mary, ring,—I am so superstitious about bats; and Laurie out all by himself on that river. Mr. Renton, I wish you would put a stop to it. I never can think it is safe. Oh, tell them to drive out that creature, Mary! I always know something must happen when a bat comes into one’s room.’

‘No, godmamma, never mind,’ said Mary. ‘It is only the light. How should a bat know anything that was going to happen? They come into the Cottage every evening, and we never mind.’

‘Then you will be found some morning dead in your beds,’ said Mrs. Renton; ‘I know you will. Oh, it makes me so unhappy, Mary! and Laurie all by himself in that horrid little boat!’

‘Laurie is all right,’ said Mr. Renton; ‘he knows how to manage a boat, if he knows nothing else.’ This was muttered half to himself and half aloud; and then he went to the bow-window and looked out upon the river. The moon had just risen, and was shining straight down upon one gleam of water which blazed intensely white amid all the darkling shadows.{v.1-15} As Mr. Renton stood looking out, a boat shot into this gleaming spot, with long oars glistening, balancing, touching the water like wings of a bird. ‘Laurie is all right,’ he said to himself, in a mechanical way. He did not himself care for a thousand bats. But his wife’s alarm struck into his own uneasiness like a key-note,—the key-note to something he could not tell what. It was all so lovely and peaceful as he looked, soft glooms, soft light, rustling rhythm of foliage, wistful breathing of the night air over that pleasant landscape he knew so well. After all, was it not better to have the boy there in his boat, than scorching out in India or toiling like a slave in some Canadian or Australian forest? What is the good of the father’s work but to better the condition of the sons? But, on the other hand, if life when it came should find the sons incapable? Mr. Renton had been a prosperous man; but he knew that life was no holiday. When it came like an armed man with temptations, and cares, and responsibilities upon that silken boy, how would he meet it? These were the father’s thoughts as the bat was hunted out with much commotion, and his wife lay sighing on her sofa. If he had been well, probably, Mrs. Westbury’s talk would have had no such effect upon him; but he was not well; and it had made him very ill at ease.

Next day his lawyer came, and was closeted for a long time with him, and there were witnesses called in,—the Rector who happened to be calling, and the{v.1-16} lawyer’s clerk—to witness Mr. Renton’s signature. And within a week, though he was still in what is called the prime of life, the father of the house was dead; and his will alone remained behind him to govern the fate of his three sons.{v.1-17}



There was great consternation in the family when this sudden misfortune came upon it. All the bustling household from the Cottage overflowed into the Manor in the excitement of the unlooked-for event; and the eldest and the youngest son came as fast as the telegraph could summon them to their father’s bedside. During the two or three days of his illness the three young men wandered about the place, as young men do when there is fatal illness in a house—useless,—not liking to go about their usual employments, and not knowing what else to do. They took silent walks up and down to the river, and cast wistful looks at the boats, and dropped now and then into ordinary conversation, only to break off and pull themselves up with contrition when they remembered. They were very good sons, and felt their father’s danger, and would have done anything for him; but there are no special arts or occupations made for men in such circumstances. The only alternative the poor boys had was to resort to their ordinary pleasures, or{v.1-18} to do nothing; and they did nothing, as that was the most respectful thing to do,—and were as dispirited and miserable as heart could desire.

On the last day of all they were called up together to their father’s death-bed. He had known from the first that he was going to die; and Mrs. Westbury, who was his principal nurse, and a very kind and patient one, had felt that her brother had something on his mind. More than once she had exhorted him to speak out and relieve himself; but he had always turned his face to the wall when she made this proposition. It was a close, warm, silent afternoon when the boys were called up-stairs; a brooding calm, like that which comes before a thunder-storm; a yellow light was all over the sky, and the birds were fluttering about with a frightened, stealthy look. Even the leaves about the open windows shook with a terrified rustling,—clinging, as it were, to the human walls to give them support in this crisis of nature. The light was yellow in the sick-room, for the patient would not have the day excluded, as it is proper to do. He looked like an old man on his bed, though he was not old. The reflection of lurid colour tinged the ashen face with yellow. He called them to him, and looked at them all with keen anxiety in his eyes.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I’m going, boys;—it’s unexpected, but one has to give in. I hope you’ll all do well. If you don’t do well, I’ll get no rest in my grave.{v.1-19}

‘Don’t you trust us, father?’ cried Ben, who was the eldest, with a thickness in his voice. ‘We’ll do as you have done. That will be our guide. But don’t think of us,—think of yourself now.’

‘You can’t do as I have done,’ said the father; ‘I started different. Perhaps it is too late now. Laurie, you will not blame me? And, Frank, my boy, it won’t make so much difference to you. Frank’s but a boy, and Laurie’s very soft-hearted—’ he said, as if to himself.

‘Then it is me you are afraid of, father?’ said Ben, whose face darkened in spite of himself. ‘If I have done anything to make you distrust me, God knows I did not mean it. Believe me now.’

‘The boy does not know,’ said Mr. Renton to himself, in a confused way; and then he added more loudly, ‘I don’t distrust you. You’ve always been a good lad; but it’s hard on you,—ay, it’s hard on Ben,—very hard;—I wonder if I should have done it!’ said the dying man. They could get very little more out of him as they stood round his bed, grave, sorrowful, and bewildered, looking for other words, for another kind of leave-taking. He bade them no farewell, but mused and murmured on about something he had done; and that it would be hard on Ben. It was not the kind of scene,—of conscious farewell and tender adieu,—the last words of the dying father, which we are so often told of; but perhaps it was a more usual state of mind at such a{v.1-20} moment. His intelligence was lost in mists, from the coming end. Energy enough to be coherent had forsaken him. He could do nothing but go over in his enfeebled mind the last great idea that had taken possession of him. ‘Your mother had nothing to do with it,’ he said; ‘she knows no more than you do. And don’t think badly of me. It has all been so sudden. How was I to know that a week after,—is it a week?—without any time to think, I should have to die? It’s very strange,—very strange,’ he added, in a tone of musing, as if he were himself a spectator; ‘to go right away, you know, from one’s business, that one understands,—to——’

Then he paused, and they all paused with him, gazing, wondering, penetrated to the heart by that suggestion. Frank, who was the youngest, wept aloud. Mary Westbury, behind the curtain at one side of the bed, busied herself, noiselessly, in smoothing the bed-clothes, and arranging the drapery, so as to shade the patient’s eyes, with trembling hands, and trembling lips, and tears that dropped silently down her white cheeks. These two being the youngest were the most overcome. But there was no harshness or coldness about the bedside of the prosperous man. They had all perfect faith in him, and no fear that he was going out of the world leaving any thorns in their path. His words seemed to them as dreams. Why should they think badly of him? What could they ever have to forgive him? There had never been any{v.1-21} mystery in the house, and it was easier to think their father’s mind was affected by the approach of death than to believe in any mystery now.

Mr. Renton died that night; and it was on a very sad and silent house that the moon rose—the same moon which he had watched shining on Laurie’s boat. Mrs. Renton, poor soul, shut herself up in her room, taking refuge in illness, as had been her habit all her life, with Mary nursing and weeping over her. Aunt Lydia, worn out with watching, went to bed as soon as ‘all was over.’ The lads were left alone. They huddled together in the library where all the shutters had been closed, and one lamp alone burned dimly on the table. Only last night there had still been floods of light and great windows open to the sky. They gathered about the table together, not knowing what to do. Nothing could be done that night. It was too soon to talk of plans, and of their altered life. They could not read anything that would have amused their minds; that would have been a sin against the proprieties of grief; so the poor fellows gathered round the dim lamp, and tried to talk, with now and then something that choked them climbing into their throats.

‘Have you any idea what he could mean by that,—about me,—about it being hard?’ said Ben, resting his head on both his hands, and gazing steadfastly with two dilated eyes into the light of the lamp.

‘I don’t think he could mean anything,’ said{v.1-22} Laurie, ‘unless it was the responsibility. What else could it be?’

‘There must always have been the responsibility,’ said Ben. ‘He spoke as if it were something more.’

‘His mind was wandering,’ said Laurie; and then there was a long pause. It was broken by Frank with a sudden outburst.

‘Ben, you’ll be awfully good to poor mamma,’ cried the boy; ‘she can’t bear things as we can.’ The two elder ones held their breath tightly when Frank’s sob disturbed the quiet;—they were too much men to sob with him,—and yet there came that convulsive contraction of the throat. The only thing to be done was to grasp each other’s hands silently, not daring to look into each other’s faces, and to go to bed,—to take refuge in darkness and solitude, and that soft oblivion of sleep, universal asylum of humanity, to which one gains access so easily when one is young! Stealthily, on tiptoe, each one of Mr. Renton’s sons paid a secret visit to the dimly-lighted room, all shrouded and covered, with faint puffs of night air stealing in like spirits through the shuttered windows, where their father lay all quiet and at rest. True tears,—genuine sorrow was in all their hearts; and yet——

As each went away with a heart strained and exhausted by the outburst of grief, something of the new life beyond, something that breathed vaguely across them in the dark, like the air from the window, filled{v.1-23} the impatient human souls within them. The one idea could not retain undisturbed possession even so long as that. The world itself could no more stand still, poising itself in its vast orbit, than the spirits of its inhabitants. It was not that Ben thought of his new wealth, nor Laurie of his future freedom; but only that a thrill of the future passed through them, as they stood for this melancholy moment by the death-bed of their past.

Five days passed thus, each of them as long as a year. Duty and propriety kept the young men in-doors, in the languid stillness; or if they went out at all, it was only for a disconsolate stroll through the grounds, on which, sometimes singly, sometimes in pairs, they would set out, saying little. The funeral relieved them from the painful artificiality of this seclusion. When they met together after it, it was with faces in which there was neither fear nor hope, that the sons of the dead man appeared. Their father had always been just to them and kind, and they had no reason to expect that he could have been otherwise in the last act of his life. The persons present were Mrs. Renton, Mrs. Westbury, her children Mary and Laurence, and the three Renton boys; with the lawyer, Mr. Pounceby, and his clerk, and a few old friends of the family, who had just accompanied them from the grave. They all took their places without excitement. He might have left a few legacies, more or less, but nobody could doubt what would be the{v.1-24} disposal of his principal property. The ladies sat together, a heap of mournful crape, at one end of the room. The whole company was quiet, and languid, and trustful. There was no anxiety in any one’s mind,—unless, indeed, it was in that of Mr. Pounceby, who did not look to be at his ease. For the first quarter of an hour he did nothing but clear his throat; then he had a blind pulled up, that he might have a light to read by; then he pulled it down, because of a gleam of the sun that stole in and worried him. His task was such that he did not like to begin it, or to go through it when begun. But with the obtuseness of people who have not their attention directed to a subject, nobody noticed his confusion; he had a cold, no doubt, which made him clear his throat;—he was always fidgety;—they were not suspicious, and found nothing out.

‘I ought to explain first,’ said Mr. Pounceby, ‘I promised my excellent friend and client,—my late excellent client,—to make a little explanation before I read what must be a painful document, in some points of view. Mr. Ben Renton, I believe your father was particularly anxious that it should be explained to you. He sent for me suddenly last week. It was, alas! only on Friday morning that I came here by his desire. He wanted certain arrangements made. Boys,’ said Mr. Pounceby, who was an old friend, turning round upon them, ‘I give you my solemn word, had I known how little{v.1-25} time he would have lived to think it over, or change again, if necessary, I should never have had any hand in it,—nor would he,—nor would he. Had he thought his time was running so short, he would have made no change.’

Then there ensued a little movement among the boys, which showed how correct their father’s opinion of all the three had been. Frank bent forward with a little wonder in his face, poising in his fingers a paper-knife he had picked up, and looked calmly on as a spectator; Laurie only woke up as it were from another train of thought, and turned his eyes with a certain mild regret towards the lawyer; Ben alone, moved out of his composure, rose up and faced the man, who held, as it seemed, their fate in his hands. ‘Whatever my father planned will no doubt be satisfactory to us,’ he said firmly. ‘You forget that we are ignorant what change was made.’

He began to read now, but to an audience much more interested than at first. There was, of course, a long technical preamble, to which Ben listened breathlessly, his lips slightly moving with impatience, and a hot colour on his cheeks, and then the real matter in question came.

Mr. Pounceby shook his grizzled head, ‘It was a great change that was made,’ he said; ‘but I will not waste your time with further explanation. As you say, what your excellent father arranged, will, I hope, be satisfactory to you all.{v.1-26}

Having been led much to think in recent days of the difference between my sons’ education and my own, and having in addition a strong sense that without energy no man ever made any mark in this world, I have made up my mind, after much reflection, to postpone the distribution of my property among my children until seven years from the date of my death. In the meantime I appoint my executors to receive all my income and revenue from whatsoever sources,—rents, interest on stock, mortgages, and all other investments, as afterwards described,—and to hold them in trust, accumulating at interest, until the seventh anniversary of my death, when my first will and testament, which I have deposited in the hands of Mr. Pounceby, shall be read, and my property distributed according to the stipulations therein contained.

It is also my desire, which I hereby request my said executors to carry out, that my sons should receive respectively a yearly allowance of two hundred pounds. I do this with the object of affording to my boys the opportunity of working their own way, and developing their own characters in a struggle with the world, such as every one of their kindred from the earliest time has had to do, and has done, with a success of which their own present position is a proof. If they shrink from the trial I put upon them, they will be the first of their name who have ever done so. As to the final distribution of the property, in order{v.1-27} that no untimely revelation may be made, I request my executors to retain my will in their possession unopened until the day I have mentioned,—the seventh anniversary of my decease.”

Up to this moment all the audience had listened breathless, with a mixture of wonder, dismay, and alarm, to this extraordinary document. It is a mild statement of the case to say that it took them by surprise. The boys themselves rose up one after the other to bear the shock which came upon them so unexpectedly, and bore it like men, holding their breath, and clenching their hands to give no outward expression. Ben was the foremost of the three, and it was with him that the struggle was hardest. His pride was wounded to the quick, and it was strong within him. He was wounded, too, in his love and respect for his father, of whose justice and goodness he had never for a moment till now entertained a doubt. And then he was ruined,—so he thought. For the first moment he was stunned by the blow. Seven years! Half a man’s life,—half of the brightest part of his life,—the flower and cream of his existence. By this time dreams had begun to steal into his heart unawares,—dreams half inarticulate of the life which his father’s heir, the reigning Renton of Renton, would naturally lead, tinged with all tender regrets, and loyal to all memories, but still his own life, master of himself and his lands and of the position his forefathers had{v.1-28} made for him. It was not possible that he should be unaware that few young men in England would be better endowed, or have a better start in the world than he. Everything was open to him,—a political career, if he chose, the power of wealth, the thrill of independence, and all the hopes of happiness which move a young man. Even while these visions formed in his mind, they were struck by this sharp stroke of reality, and faded away. He grew pale; the muscles tightened round his mouth; a heavy damp came on his forehead. At one time the room reeled round with him,—a mist of pale eager faces, through which that monotonous voice rose. He was the foremost, and he did not see his brothers. He did not even think of them, it must be confessed. The blow was hardest to him, and he thought of himself.

When, however, the reading reached the point at which we have stopped, Mrs. Westbury, forgetting herself, rose up, and rushed to the boys, with a sudden burst of sobs. ‘Forgive me!’ she cried wildly. ‘Oh, boys, forgive me! I will never, never forgive myself!’

At this interruption Mr. Pounceby stopped, and all the spectators turned round surprised. Then nature appeared in the three young men. Ben made a little imperative gesture with his hand, ‘Aunt Lydia, you can have nothing to do with it,’ he said; ‘don’t interrupt us. We must not detain our friends.’ Laurie, for his part, took her hand, and drew it through his{v.1-29} arm. ‘We can have nothing to forgive you,’ he said, compassionately supporting her, having more insight than the rest. Frank, glad for his boyish part to be relieved from this tension of interest by any incident, went and fetched her a chair. ‘Hush!’ he said, as the sound of her sobbing died into a half-terrified stillness. And thus they heard it out to the end.

The interruption did them all good. It dispersed the haze of bewilderment that had gathered round the young men. The dust of the ruins falling round them might have blinded them but for this sudden call back to themselves. When all was over, Ben had so far recovered himself as to speak, though his tongue clove to the roof of his mouth.

‘We are much obliged to you all for joining us to-day,’ he said; ‘I am sure you will excuse my mother, and indeed all of us. She is never very strong. Mr. Pounceby, I know you are anxious to get back to town.’

‘But, Ben, my dear fellow,’ said one of the party, stepping forward and grasping his hand, ‘stop a little. It is not any want of respect to your excellent father,—but it must have been disease, you know. Such things happen every day. You will not accept this extraordinary rigmarole. He must have been out of his mind!’

‘We are quite satisfied with my father’s will; thanks,’ said Ben proudly, though with a quiver of his lip, and he looked round for the first time at his{v.1-30} brothers. ‘Quite satisfied,’ said Laurie once more, with that look of compassion which seemed uncalled for at the moment, when he himself was one of the chief persons to be compassionated. ‘Quite satisfied,’ echoed Frank steadily, with wonder in his eyes. Then Mr. Pounceby interposed.

‘Mr. Renton was of perfectly sound mind when he executed this document,’ he said. ‘I was with him nearly all day, and went through a great deal of business. I never saw him more clear and business-like. On that point nothing can be said.’

‘Nothing must be said on any point,’ said Ben quickly. ‘My brothers and myself are satisfied. My father had a perfect right—— I would rather not enter into the subject. We are much obliged to our friends all the same.’

And thus all remark was peremptorily cut short. The neighbours dispersed, carrying all over the country the news of poor Renton’s extraordinary will; of how much he must have lost his head; and that Ben and the other boys were Quixotic enough not to dispute it. It was monomania, people said; and everybody knew that monomaniacs were sound on all points but one. Before nightfall there had arisen a body of evidence to prove that Mr. Renton had long been mad on this subject. One man remembered something he had said on one occasion, and another man on a second. He had been mad about his family; and the boys must be mad, too, to bear it. These reports, how{v.1-31}ever, did not break the stillness which had fallen on the Manor,—a stillness almost more blank than that of death. The sobs of two women, one weeping faintly over her boys’ disappointment, the other wildly in self-reproach, were the only sounds that disturbed the calm of the house. The boys themselves were stunned, and for that day, at least, had not the heart to say a word.{v.1-32}



It was twenty-four hours before the brothers met to consult over their darkened prospects. Their mother could kiss and weep over them, but she was not the kind of woman to direct or guide her boys. Such faint idea as she had in her mind was of a kind which would have entirely defeated their father’s purpose. ‘Never mind, my darling boy,’ she had said soothingly to her eldest son, though he was already a bearded man, with the stern Renton lines of resolution about his mouth. The poor little woman knew no better than to console him as if he had lost a toy. ‘We can go on living at Renton all the same. I shall only have you so much the longer. We shall only want a little more economy, my dear,’ she said. ‘Perhaps that was what your dear papa meant. He knew how lonely I would be. Why can’t we all live together as we have done? I have enough for you all by my settlement, and I am to keep Renton; and when the seven years are past, it will be quite time enough to think of marrying. {v.1-33}I should not be against you travelling——or anything, Ben, my dear boy,’ the poor mother added faltering, seeing the sternness on his face.

‘No, mother dear,’ said her son. ‘No. What you have is for yourself. We shall all come to see you; but we are not such mean creatures as to live on you. Besides, that was not what he meant.’

‘Then what did he mean?’ said Mrs. Renton. ‘Oh, boys, that I should be driven to blame your dear papa! What could he mean if it was not to keep you a little longer with me?’

‘He meant to put us on our mettle,’ said Laurie; ‘and he was right. We would be a set of sad lazy fellows if we stayed on here. We’ll come and see you, mamma, as Ben says. Don’t cry. We none of us want to marry, thank heaven!—at least,’ said Laurie, thoughtfully, ‘I hope so; that complication is spared at least.’

‘Dear boys, it is so much better you should not marry too soon,’ said Mrs. Renton, drying her soft eyes. ‘He must have been thinking of that. Oh, believe me, Ben, my own boy, it will turn out all for the best.’

‘Yes, mother,’ said Ben, with the sigh of submission perforce, and he went away with his own thoughts; Laurie followed him after a little interval; and Frank, upon whom the shock had fallen more lightly, stayed with his mother to amuse and cheer her. But they all met in the library in the afternoon{v.1-34} to have a consultation over their fate. They were brothers in misfortune,—a bond almost as strong as that of nature. It hurt their pride to go over the ground with any other creature, even their mother, who could not refrain from a hundred suggestions as to their father’s meaning. But among themselves they were safe, and could speak freely, with the consciousness of having the same meaning, the same impulse, the same pride. They never discussed the will, but accepted it proudly, owing it to themselves, as their father’s sons, to make no question. Already their hearts had risen a little from the blank depression of the previous night. It was Frank who was the first to speak.

‘I tell you what I shall do,’ he said with the rapid decision of youth. Frank had never been thought clever, though he was reasonable and high-spirited; and, consequently, the decision to him was a less complicated business. ‘I shall exchange into the line, and go to India if I can. More fun,’ said the young soldier, trying hard for his old gaiety, though there was still the gleam of a tear in his eye, ‘and better pay.’

‘Well, that is easily settled,’ said Laurie; ‘and I think very sensible too. Only one thing we ought to think of. Whatever the others may decide upon, let one of us always be at hand for the sake of my poor mother. He always took such care of her. She wants{v.1-35} to have one of us to refer to. We might take it in turns, you know—’

‘All right,’ said Frank, to whom, if he carried out his own plan, such a turn would be simply impossible; but the boy did not think of that. As for Ben, he was very hard at work considering his own problem, and knitting his brows.

‘We are like the three princes in the fairy tales,’ said Laurie, ‘sent out to find,—what?—a shawl that will pass through a ring, or a little dog in a nutshell. That was to decide which should reign, though. I hope our probation does not include so much.’

‘I have made up my mind it does,’ said Ben, with a darker contraction of his brows; ‘it would be unmeaning else. When the seven years are over we shall be judged according to our works. It’s rather a startling realisation, you know.’

‘Old fellow,’ said Laurie hastily, ‘of course I stand up for my father’s will through thick and thin; but, will or no will, you know Frank and me too well to think either of us would ever take your place.’

‘I should hope so,’ said young Frank, leaning half over the table in his eagerness. ‘Ben can’t think us such cads as that.’

‘I don’t think you cads,’ said Ben; ‘but I shall stand by the will, whatever it is. I’ll fight for my birthright, of course; but since we are placed in this{v.1-36} position, Laurie, it’s of no use talking. He that wins must have. I shall stand by that.’

‘Well,’ said Laurence, ‘it is easy to tell which is most like to win; so we need not dispute about it beforehand. The thing in the meantime is,—what to do? I wonder how the fellow set to work who had the ten talents. As for me, I am the unlucky soul with one. You need not say psha! so impatiently. We have got into the midst of the parables, and may as well take example——’

‘The question is,’ said Ben, ‘not what we have got into the midst of, but what you mean to do?’

Laurie shrugged his shoulders. ‘It is a great deal easier to talk than to do anything else,’ he said, ‘for me at least. I suppose I must take to art. You need not tell me I have no genius,’ he added, with a slight flush. ‘I know that well enough. But what else can I take to? Moralising is not a trade; or at least if it is, it’s overstocked; and I can’t moralise on paper. I must go in for illustrations and that sort of thing. Undignified, perhaps, but how can I help it? There is nothing else I can do.’

‘A fellow with a university education, and as good blood in his veins as any in England,’ said Ben, with a little impatience, ‘might surely do better than that.’

‘What good will my blood do me?’ said Laurie. ‘Get me a few invitations, perhaps. And as for a university education,—I might take pupils, if I had not forgotten most of what I’ve learned; or I might{v.1-37} take orders; or I might go and eat my terms at the Temple. And what would any of these three things do for me? Fellows that have meant it all their lives would, of course, do better than a fellow who never meant it till now. No; I have a little taste for art, if I have not much talent. I might turn picture-dealer, perhaps. Don’t look so black, Ben. A man must make use of what faculty he has.’

After that there was a pause, for Laurie did not care to put the same inquiry which he had just answered, to his elder brother. And Ben did not volunteer any information about the part he meant to take. Ben could not evaporate in talk, as Laurie could. He could not make up his mind to his fate, and adapt himself to circumstances. Though his pride had forbidden him any struggle against his father’s will, yet in his heart he was embittered against his father. There was injustice in it. Of course, he repeated to himself, fellows who had meant it all their lives must do better than fellows who only began to mean it in necessity. Laurie was right so far. And under this frightful disadvantage their father, of his own will, had placed them. Frank had a profession, and might be not much the worse. But Ben himself had been brought up to be heir of Renton. His heart grew hard within him as he thought it all over. It seemed to him that if he had known it from the beginning he would not have cared. He would have gone in for anything,—what{v.1-38} did it matter?—professional work, or trade, or anything, so long as he started fair, and had the same advantages as his neighbours. Now he must thrust himself into something which was already full of legitimate competitors. He sat and looked into the flame of the lamp, and took no notice of his brothers. But their fate added an aggravation to his own. Frank was not so bad; it made less difference to Frank than to any of them. An officer in a marching regiment was as good a gentleman as a Guardsman. But Laurie a poor artist, and himself he could not tell what! The thought galled him to the heart.

‘And, Ben, what shall you do?’ said Frank. ‘We have told you, and you ought to tell us. I don’t suppose you mean to stay on with mamma. What shall you do?’

‘I don’t know,’ said Ben, with a sudden descent into the depths of despondency. He had almost wept as he spoke. One had his profession, the other at least a taste, if nothing more. Poor Ben, the first-born, had no speciality. He might have been a political man, with a hand in the government of his country, or he might have been a farmer, or he might have gone to Calcutta, as Dick Westbury had done; whereas, now, at five-and-twenty, he could not tell what to do.

‘Never mind, you’ll do the best of us all;—you were always the cleverest of us all,’ said Frank, shocked at his brother’s dejected looks; and then it{v.1-39} flashed across them what their father had said, that it would be most hard upon Ben.

‘It is you who have the ten talents,’ said Laurie, ‘and Frank has the five; and you will go away one to your farm, and the other to your merchandise,—isn’t that how the story runs?—while I am left with one in my napkin. Or, if that is too serious for you, let’s take it on the other side. But whatever you do, beware of the old woman whom we are all sure to meet as we set out, who will ask us to help her, and give us three gifts. I shall keep a very sharp look out for that old woman,’ said Laurie, breaking the spell of stillness, and getting up, ‘Laugh at it? Yes, I am trying to laugh a little. Would you rather I should cry?’ he said, turning upon his brother, with tears glistening in his eyes. It was a question which it would be. They were all at this point, standing upon the alternative, between such poor laughter as might be possible and bitter tears.

All this sad and wonderful overthrow had come from Mrs. Westbury’s indiscreet taunts to her brother upon the up-bringing of his sons. If that could have been any comfort to them, their Aunt Lydia was very miserable. They had never allowed her to finish her confession, and her heart was very sore over the injustice that had been done them. That same night she stole to Ben’s door, and would have wept over him had that been possible. She was not an unkind or hard-hearted woman. It had{v.1-40} been a kind of pleasure to her to contrast her nephews’ idleness with the Renton traditions; but she was a true Renton, strong in her sense of justice, and there was nothing she would not have done for them now.

‘Ben, let me speak to you,’ she said. ‘I did not mean it,—far from that, heaven knows! I wish my tongue had been cut out first. I know it would go against you to admit such a thing if any one else said it; but, Ben, your father could not have been in his right senses. He never could have done it, if he had known.’

‘It is a question I can’t discuss with you, Aunt Lydia,’ said Ben, standing at the open door and barring her entrance. ‘I think you are mistaken. I don’t think it could be anything you said.’

‘Ben, I know it!’ said Mrs. Westbury. ‘I could not be mistaken. Let me come in, and I will tell you. It was done on Friday, and that unfortunate conversation was on Thursday night. He was very snappish to poor Laurie when we went back to the lawn;—but, oh, if I could have known what was to follow it! Ben, I must come in and speak to you; I have a great deal to say. You know, there is our Dick——’

‘Yes,’ said Ben. He had to let her in, though he did it with an ill grace. He placed his easy-chair for her, and stood leaning against the table, to hear what she had to say. He would not countenance or encourage her to remain by sitting down, but{v.1-41} stood with his candle in his hand, a most unwilling host.

‘You are angry with me,’ said Aunt Lydia, ‘and you have reason. But what I want to say is about Dick. If your father had made this move at the right time, it is you who should have gone to Calcutta, Ben. You have the best right. My boy only went, as it were, to fill your place; and he ought to give it up to you now. Of course it was to my brother he owed the appointment. I don’t say Dick should come home; but he has made some money and some friends; and, I think he might do something for himself still, in another way, instead of taking your place.’

‘It is nonsense to call it my place,’ said Ben.

‘I don’t think it is nonsense; for my part, I think of justice,’ said Mrs. Westbury. ‘It would have been yours had you been sent off six or seven years ago, as you ought to have been. Yes, I say as you ought to have been, Ben, like all the Rentons. None of us were ever fine gentlemen. The men always worked before they took their ease, and the women always managed and saved in our house; but you should not be turned out now, when you were not brought up to it. Ben, my brother was very cross to me that Thursday night. It was not him, poor fellow, it was illness that was working on him. He was not in his right mind; and the will ought to be broken.{v.1-42}

‘I can’t have you say this,’ said Ben. ‘I can’t let anybody say it. Aunt Lydia, we had better not discuss the question. We have all made up our minds to my father’s will, such as it is.’

‘Then you are very foolish boys,’ said Mrs. Westbury; ‘when I, who would stand up for him in reason or out of reason, tell you so! Your father’s good name is of as much consequence to me as it is to you. There never was a Renton like that before; but still if it was to stand in the way of justice——! And about Dick. You ought to write to him at once, to tell him he is to look out for something else for himself, and that you mean to take your own place.’

‘I shall never go to Calcutta,’ said Ben shortly.

‘Then what will you do?’ said his aunt. ‘You can’t live on two hundred a-year,—at least you were never meant to live on it,—you know that. And you can’t live on your mother. Unless you are going out to India what are you to do?’

‘I shall find something to do,’ said Ben briefly; and then he softened a little. ‘I know you mean to be kind,’ he said. ‘I am sure you always meant to be kind; but I can’t do any of the things you propose. I can neither question my father’s will, nor live on my mother, nor turn out Dick. Let him make the best of it. I should think he had got the worst over now. And don’t blame yourself. I don’t think you were to blame. There must have been{v.1-43} some foundation to work on in my father’s thoughts; and it is done; and I will never try to undo it. We must all make the best of it now. Will you do one thing to please me, Aunt Lydia? Let Mary be with my mother as much as you can spare her. She will feel it when we are all gone.’

‘I will do anything you please,’ said Mrs. Westbury, melted to tears. ‘Oh, to think I should have done you so much harm, and be so powerless to do you any good! But, Ben, you have not told me what you are going to do?’

‘Because I don’t know,’ said Ben abruptly. He could not come to any decision. His aunt left him reluctantly when they had reached this point, thinking, notwithstanding her compunction, or perhaps in consequence of it, that if his petition about Mary meant any special regard for her, she would not hesitate to give him her child. ‘He will make his way,’ she said to herself; ‘he will make his way.’ It was because he was a little hard and stern in his downfall that she thought so well of him; and her feelings were very different as she went prowling through the passages in her dressing-gown to knock at Laurie’s door. Poor Laurie! nobody entertained any such confidence about him.

When Mrs. Westbury paused at Laurie’s door he was seated with his head buried in his hands before his table, on which lay the ruins, so to speak, of various youthful hopes. Though he had said so con{v.1-44}fidently that none of them wanted to marry, yet there were one or two notes on the table before him, in a woman’s hand, which he had been looking over, poor boy, with a certain tightening of his heart. And there were hopes too of another kind; plans for travel, plans for such study as suited his mind, which it had been his delight to form for some time past, and which he had so little doubt of persuading his father to let him carry out. His little maps and calculations lay before him, all huddled together. That chapter of his life was over. He could smile at the change when they were all together, to help the others to bear it; but grief, and disappointment, and downfall, all fell upon him with additional force when he was alone. His eyes were wet when he sprang up at Aunt Lydia’s summons, and shouted a ‘Come in,’ which was as cheerful as he could make it, sweeping his papers away as he did so into the open drawer of his table. He thought it was one of his brothers, perhaps Ben, come to get some comfort from his lighter heart. When Mrs. Westbury came in he was taken aback, poor fellow; but Laurie was too tender-hearted to be anything but kind to his aunt. He cast down a heap of books, which were occupying the most comfortable seat in the room, and made a place for her, glad to turn away his face for the moment and conceal the tears in his eyes; but those tears would not be concealed. They kept springing up again, though he kept them from falling;{v.1-45} and though he smiled, and began cheerfully, ‘Well, Aunt Lydia?’ there was a sufficiently melancholy tone in both voice and face.

‘We shall be going away to-morrow, Laurie,’ said Mrs. Westbury, ‘and I could not go without speaking to you. Oh, what a week this has been! When I think that it was only last Thursday night——’

‘Don’t speak of it, please,’ said Laurie; ‘one has need of all one’s strength. It is bad enough, but we must make the best of it. I wish you were not going away. I thought Mary would stay with my mother. How is she to get on when we are all gone?’

‘I might leave Mary for a little,’ said Mrs. Westbury, doubtfully; ‘and then we shall be close by at the Cottage, where your mother can send for us when she pleases. Ah, Laurie, if you had only had a sister of your own!’

‘If we had only had a great many things!’ said Laurie, with an attempt at a smile; ‘but, as for that, Mary is as good as a sister. I never knew the difference. I think she is the best creature in the world.’

‘Yes,’ said Aunt Lydia, looking at him keenly, with an inspection very different from her manner to Ben; ‘she is a good girl; but you always used to quarrel, Laurie. I did not think she was so much to you.’

‘She always thought me a good-for-nothing fellow,’ said Laurie, with a little laugh, ‘like most other peo{v.1-46}ple. I must show you now, if I can, that I’ve got some mettle in me. But, Aunt Lydia, you have not come to say good-bye?’

‘No,’ said Mrs. Westbury; and then she made a pause. ‘I can’t rest, Laurie; I can’t keep quiet and see you all in trouble,—when it is my fault!’

‘That is nonsense,’ said Laurence decidedly. ‘You may be quite sure it had been turning over in his mind for some time; and quite right, too,’ the young man added bravely. ‘How could we ever have known what stuff we were made of else? If there is any good in being a Renton, as you have so often told us, now is the time for it to show.’

‘Oh, Laurie,’ said his aunt, weeping, ‘that is what breaks my heart. ‘You have not a chance now, with the up-bringing you have had, and your poor mother’s soft ways,—not a chance! If my brother had only thought in time. This will could never stand if it was brought into a court of justice. He could not be in his right mind. Ben would not listen to me when I said so; but I must speak to you.’

‘You shall speak to me as much as you like,’ said Laurie, with his mother’s soft ways, ‘but not on that subject. It is sacred for us, whatever other people may think. And, after all, you know,’ he said, with a smile, ‘it is but for seven years. I shall only be about thirty at the end of the trial;—quite a boy!’

‘Quite a boy!’ said Aunt Lydia, very seriously; ‘but still I can’t bear it. And, Laurie, though you{v.1-47} are the least like a Renton of any of them, I have always been the fondest of you!’

‘Thanks, dear aunt,’ said the young man, and he kissed her, and led her half resisting to her own room. ‘All this excitement and want of rest will upset you,’ he said to her tenderly; ‘and, Aunt Lydia, don’t say anything to Frank.’

Laurie went back to his musings and his papers when she had made him this promise;—and Mrs. Westbury had a good cry over the whole miserable business. ‘Upset me!’ she said to herself, ‘as if I was a woman like his mother to be upset! Oh, if I could but do anything for these poor boys!’

But at the same time she was glad in her heart that Laurie thought of Mary only as his sister. A mother has to consider everything; and that could never have been,—though it was a different thing with Ben.

These preliminaries, being told, and the singular and unexpected nature of this family crisis fully explained, the historian of the Renton family feels justified in proceeding with this narrative of the fortunes of the three boys, and their adventures in the big changed world, upon which they were launched so abruptly. They all left the Manor together on a sultry September day, just the day on which, under other circumstances, they would have been off to shoot grouse or to climb Mont Blanc. Their mourning prevented such invitations as even in their changed fortune they would{v.1-48} certainly have received, and the shock was so fresh on all of them that pleasure-making of any kind would have been impossible. They went out as if they had been put to sea, each man in his own bark, with no very sure compass or chart to rely on, and with minds braced high by resolution, but altogether unprepared for the trial, and unaccustomed to the labour. Perhaps it was as well for them that their ideas were so utterly vague and undefined touching the rocks and shoals and dangerous passages that lay in their way.{v.1-49}



The young men separated when they left the Manor,—one to his farm, and another to his merchandise, as Laurie said. It is our business at the present moment to follow only the eldest. Ben went back to his chambers in the Albany, his personal head-quarters, though he did not occupy them for more than three months in the year. Though he was called Ben, his name was the solemn family name of Benedict. It suited him better than the contraction. He was one of those men who are in the way of taking things very much in earnest,—too much in earnest, some people thought. The fashion of the period had accustomed him to the light outward appearance and pretence of general indifference common to his kind; but in his heart he was not indifferent to anything. He had felt his advantages keenly, taking all the more anxious care that no one should suspect him of doing so; and he felt his downfall now, to the bottom of his heart. He went back to London, which seemed the only place to go to in the emer{v.1-50}gency. He had been on a pleasant visit at a pleasant house when the call came to his father’s death-bed. Now, in September, when he had not a friend remaining in town, he took his solitary way there, and went to the handsome, forlorn rooms, the very rent of which would now have swallowed up so great a part of his income. He went in listlessly, amid all the tokens of his former life, almost hating the signs of a luxury so far beyond his means. Ben had taste as well as Laurie, though in a different way. His chambers were furnished daintily, as became a man accustomed to spend as he pleased and spare nothing. It had always been a comfort to Mr. Renton’s practical eye, that his son’s knick-knacks were all knick-knacks of a thoroughly saleable kind,—things which had a real value; and the same thought, as he entered, brought a smile upon Ben’s face. ‘I shall make some money out of the d——d trash,’ he said to himself bitterly, thrusting away with his foot a little graceful guéridon, on which stood a Sèvres déjeûner service. The toy tottered, and would have fallen, but that he put out his hand by instinct to save it. Then,—if the reader will not despise him for it,—it must be allowed that Ben sank down into a chair, and did something equivalent to what a woman would have done had she cried. He muttered ill things of himself under his breath,—he called himself a confounded fool to risk by his ill-temper anything that might bring him the money he stood so much in{v.1-51} need of,—and then he covered his eyes with his hands, and felt a sudden contraction in his throat. He had nobody to appeal to, nobody to consult. He had the problem of life to resolve for himself as he best could, and he had lost a father whom he loved, not a week before. All these thoughts came over him as he went into his old rooms, where all his favourite possessions were. Of course, neither the rooms nor their ornaments could be retained. All that Ben could pretend to now was of a much humbler description; but he would not hand over to another even the pain of putting things in order, and making ready for the final sacrifice. His servant would have to be given up too. He had not the means of hiring help to do anything that he could do for himself. Henceforward he would have to learn to do things for himself, and here was the first thing to do.

It is true that he would have given up these same rooms without a pang for various other reasons;—had he been going to take possession of the house in Berkeley Square, which now, he supposed, would either be let or shut up;—had he been going abroad, or, indeed, for almost any other reasonable cause;—just as the people would do who break their hearts over the hall, or rectory, or deceased father’s house, which they would have abandoned joyfully a dozen times in as many years, had a pleasant chance come in their way. It was the wreck of circumstance surrounding this change which wounded Ben; the{v.1-52} breaking up of all his habits, and failure of everything he had been used to. When he had recovered himself a little, he took a disconsolate stroll through the rooms, and reckoned up what his things had cost him;—his pictures,—some of which were copies picked up abroad, and some chef-d’œuvres of young artists at home, which Laurie had persuaded him to give good prices for;—the cabinets he had attained after unexampled efforts at Lady Bertram’s sale,—his choice little collection of old Dresden,—even his pipes and his whips, and a hundred other trifles, which, when he counted them up, had cost heaps of money. Some of them, alas! were not even paid for, which was the worst sting of all. Ben had been in debt before now, and cared little enough, perhaps too little for it. He had felt the weight of wealth behind him, and that he could pay his arrears without much difficulty when he chose to make the effort. But now everything was changed. It is only when debt becomes a necessity that it is a burden. He felt it now, dragging him down, as it were staring into his face, hemming him in. Debt for bits of china, and pretty follies of furniture! And now, for aught he could tell, he might not have enough for daily bread. To be sure, a man could not starve upon two hundred a-year; but there are such different ways of starving. And his whole first year’s income would not be nearly enough to pay off his rent, and his man, and the expenses of the break-up, not to speak of tradesmen.{v.1-53} Such reflections were so novel to him that he sat down again in despair, with his brain going round and round. He did not even know how to set about being ruined. There was nobody in town likely to buy his pretty things at this time of the year, or to take his rooms off his hands. He had come up fully resolved to be sufficient to himself, to manage everything himself, and to give no one the opportunity of pity or remark. But it was less easy than he supposed. As for his servant, he had been with him at the Manor, and had heard, or found out, or divined, as servants do, something of what had happened, and was not unprepared for dismissal. ‘Yes, sir,’ he said, without hesitation, when his master spoke to him. ‘I hope it’s not that I don’t give satisfaction, sir: I’ve always done my best.’

‘No, no,’ said Ben, with a young man’s unnecessary explanatoriness. ‘I can’t afford now to keep anybody but myself. I am very sorry. It is not that I have any objection to you.’

‘Yes, sir,’ said the man once more. ‘Of course it’s understood that there’s board-wages, sir, if I’m sent away in a hurry before the end of the month?’

‘Have what you like,’ said Ben, with a little indignation; ‘if that’s all; give me a note exactly of what’s owing to you, and you can take yourself off as soon as you like.’

‘Yes, sir; but it looks pecooliar being sent away so sudden,’ said the fellow standing his ground.{v.1-54} ‘Perhaps you would not mind just giving a bit of an explanation to any gentleman as may come about my character. I hope you consider I deserve a good character, sir. Gentlemen, and ‘specially ladies, is very apt to ask, “How was it as you was turned away?”

‘You may go now,’ said Ben, coldly. ‘I have nothing more to say to you. I’ll give you your money as soon as you’re ready to go.’

‘But my character, sir?’ insisted the man. Ben, in his wrath, seized his hat and went off, leaving Morris holding the door open with these words on his lips. He was unreasonably angry in spite of his better judgment. The very first man he had spoken to after his downfall was so entirely indifferent to his concerns, so wrapped up in his own! What were Morris’s board-wages or miserable character in comparison to Ben’s overthrow and changed existence? He went out angry—in a passion, as Morris said not without reason. Naturally the man had his own theory of the whole matter, and held it for certain that his master had been going to the bad, or why should his father disinherit him?—to which question, indeed, it was difficult to make any answer. Ben’s next errand was to a fashionable auctioneer and house-agent, who was very civil, and yet very different from what he had been when the young man of fashion took his rooms. ‘Going abroad, sir?’ Mr. Robins said, with a certain scrutiny which{v.1-55} made the young fellow, for the first time in his life, feel himself a doubtful character, required to give an account of himself.

‘Perhaps. I can’t say,’ he answered; ‘but these rooms have become too expensive for me, anyhow, and I want to sell my things.’

‘The worst possible time to do it,’ said the auctioneer, shaking his head. ‘There is not a soul in town, sir, as you know as well as I do. Even in our humble way, we are going to the country ourselves. They would not fetch a third of their proper price now.’

‘But I want the money,’ said Ben; ‘and I can’t keep up the place. I must get rid of them now.’

‘I can take your orders, of course, sir,’ said Mr. Robins, deprecatingly; ‘but it will be at a frightful sacrifice. Nobody but dealers will look at them now,—and we all know what dealers are. Buy in the cheapest market and sell in the dearest,—a fine maxim, sir, for trade; but ruinous for fancy articles, when you have to push them to a sale, and there’s nobody to buy.’

‘I can’t help myself,’ said Ben, abruptly. He had almost said, ‘What would you advise me to do?’ But his mind was in such a restless state, that the pendulum had veered back again to its first throb of obstinacy ere he could say the other words. And the orders were taken accordingly. Then he went to his club with the listlessness of a man who does not{v.1-56} know what to do. What was he to do? Supposing he could make his club his home, with a bedroom somewhere to sleep in, and the Manor and his friends to fall back upon—would that do? Probably he could manage it, even on his small income, by dint of economy,—that unknown quality to which ignorance gave a certain appearance of facility. With no servant, no expensive habits, no entertainment of friends, he might be able to manage. This was what some one of his spiritual enemies whispered in Ben’s ear. The next moment he jumped up and began to walk about the long vacant room,—of which at the moment he was the sole occupant,—with sudden agitation. His idle, pleasant life had come natural to him in the past; but already, though so little time had elapsed, it was no longer natural. To spend seven years of his existence planning how to save shillings and keep up appearances,—to live, he a young man at the height of his strength and powers, the life of a genteel old maid! That was impossible. A day-labourer would be better, he said to himself. But it is so easy to say that. He knew well enough that he could not be a day-labourer; and what could he be?

He had come thus far in his uncomfortable thoughts when somebody struck him familiarly on the shoulder, with an exclamation of surprise. ‘You here!’ said the new-comer. ‘You in London when there is nobody in it, Ben Renton! You are the last fellow I expected to see.{v.1-57}

‘What, Hillyard!’ said Ben, though his cordiality was languid in comparison. ‘Back so soon? Have you made your fortune already?’ And as he spoke it occurred to him that going to Australia must be the thing to do.

‘Not much of that,’ said his friend, who was very brown and very hairy, and in clothes that would not bear examination. ‘That is easier said than done. I have spent all I had, which comes to about the same thing; and now I’ve come back to try my luck at home,—my ill-luck, I should say.’

‘Then it is no good going to Australia,’ was the thought that passed, rapid as the light, through Ben’s mind. ‘But I thought all sorts of people made fortunes at the diggings, or in the bush, or whatever you call it,’ was what he said.

‘Yes, that’s how one deceives one’s self,’ said the adventurer. ‘One throws everything together in a lump, and one thinks it’s all right; whereas it’s all wrong, you know. If I had been brought up to be a shepherd, I might have got on in the bush; and if I had been brought up a bricklayer’s labourer, I might have succeeded at the diggings; but I was not, you see. And even in these elevated branches of industry the requirements are quite different. Let us have some dinner, Renton. It’s great luck to find any one to hob-and-nob with, especially such a fellow as you.’

‘Dinner!’ said Ben amazed, looking at his watch. ‘Why, it’s only three o’clock.{v.1-58}

Upon which Mr. Hillyard burst into a great laugh. ‘I forgot I was back in civilisation,’ he said; ‘but I must have something to eat, whatever you call it. Yes, here I am, no better than when I went away. I believe it’s all luck, after all. Some fellows get on like a house on fire. Some are thankful for bread and cheese all their lives. Some, if they work themselves sick, don’t get that. What’s the good of making one’s self miserable?—it’s all fate.’

‘I suppose one must live, however, in spite of fate,’ said Ben, not caring much what were the first words that came to his lips, nor with any positive meaning in what he said.

‘Oh, I never was one of your tragical heroes,’ said Hillyard; ‘better luck next time is always my motto; though, mind you, I’m not so sure that one is bound to live in spite of everything. I don’t see the necessity. If there’s anything better to go to, why shouldn’t one have a try for it? And if there isn’t, what does it matter? It’s a man’s own responsibility. If he likes to face it, let him, and don’t abuse the poor devil as if he were a pickpocket. Why, there was a fellow the other day,—and, by the way, I am taking his things home to his mother, which is a nice commission,—who squared off his fate with a bullet, by my side. I must say, I can’t blame him for one. Things could not well be worse up there,’ said this savage philosopher, waving his hand vaguely towards the roof, ‘than they were down below. But{v.1-59} this is a queer sort of talk when one has just come home, and to a favourite of fortune like you.’

‘I am not much of a favourite of fortune just now,’ said Ben, with a certain longing for human sympathy. ‘But I’ll tell you about that afterwards. Now you have come home, are you going to stay in town, or what do you mean to do?’

The question was asked not quite in good faith, for it glided vaguely across Ben’s mind that the plans of a man who had long lived on his wits might suggest something for his own aid; and the answer was not more ingenuous, for it naturally occurred to Hillyard that his friend, who had the liberal hospitality of a great country-house to fall back on, and the probability of a shooting-box somewhere of his own, might intend to offer him an invitation, and so bridge over some portion of those autumn months, which were of so little use to a man who is looking for something to do.

‘I shall get along, I suppose, in the old way,’ he said, shrugging his shoulders. ‘I’ll serve up my Australian experiences for the papers, perhaps; or do them philosophically, with all their chances and dangers for intending emigrants, for the “Monthly,” if I can get hold of Rathbone; or go in as a coach. I flatter myself I could give the Colonial Secretary a hint or two if I could get at him. A little tall talk hurts no one. The fact is, I don’t know what I am going to be about,’ he added with a sigh. ‘Living on{v.1-60} one’s wits is hard work enough. I have kept up nothing of old days except the club, which is always a kind of haven; though, I daresay, that sounds strange to you.’

‘Not now,’ said Ben, with a contraction in his throat. ‘I am as poor as you, and more helpless. I rather think I am good for nothing. I suppose I shall get used to it in time, but it’s not a pleasant feeling as yet.’ And then he told his companion all with a curious effusion, which did not surprise Hillyard more than it did himself. He had resolved to say nothing to anyone,—to lock up his troubles in his own breast, and seek no advice even from his oldest friends; and here he was unbosoming himself to the first-comer,—a man whom he had not seen for two years, and who was by no means one of his close friends. He was not aware, poor fellow, what necessity of nature it was that moved him. He justified himself afterwards by the reflection that Hillyard was, so to speak, a stranger and safe confidant,—that there was nobody in town to whom he could repeat it,—that he was a brother in misfortune, shifty and full of expedients, and might help him. But all these were after-thoughts. His real impulse was the mere instinct of nature to relieve himself from the secret pressure of a burden which was more than his unaccustomed shoulders could bear.

Hillyard was much amazed and mystified by the{v.1-61} strange tale, and could with difficulty be brought to believe it. But he was very sympathetic and consolatory when his first incredulity was got over. ‘After all, it’s only for seven years,’ he said; ‘that is not so very much in a life. If I knew I should come into a good estate at forty,—ay, or at fifty,—I shouldn’t mind the struggle now; and you will be only a little over thirty. It’s nothing,—it’s absolutely nothing. You’re down just now, and taken by surprise, and out of spirits with what’s happened, and all that. But things will look better presently. You think it’s hard to struggle and work, and never know where you’re to get to-morrow’s dinner,’ said the adventurer, with a certain light kindling in his eyes; ‘but sometimes it gives a wonderful relish to life. You enjoy the dinner all the better. It’s more exciting than fox-hunting, or even elephant-hunting; and what does a fellow want in life but lots of excitement and movement and stir? As long,’ he added, after a pause, ‘as your strength lasts, and your mind, and your spirit, it is all very well. I don’t care for tame well-being, with no risks in it. It will be nothing but fun for you.’

‘I don’t see the fun,’ said Ben; but certainly the dark clouds over him were moved by the suggestion. ‘And I have not your knowledge or resources. Absolutely, if you’ll believe me, I have not an idea what to do.{v.1-62}

‘So I should think,’ said Hillyard. ‘It would be odd if you had, plunged into it like this, without a moment’s notice. Lie on your oars, my dear fellow, for a day or two, and come about with me. We may hit on something, you know; and, at all events, a few days’ waiting can do you no harm.’

By this time his meal had been served to him, and its arrival interrupted the talk. Ben rose and walked away to a distant window, already feeling some qualms of self-disgust at what he had done. As he stood looking out upon the flood of human beings, each absorbed in his own interests, he felt, perhaps for the first time in his life, how utterly unimportant to the world was his individual comfort, or that of any one mortal creature. He was no more to the crowd, not so much, as one drop of perfume or of bitterness would be to the pleasant Thames as it floated past his father’s house,—not near so much. The sea would be a juster emblem,—that sea which swallowed up rivers and showed no increase, which threw forth its lavish atoms to the air and knew no diminution. He had been an important personage up to this moment, even in his own opinion, though he had always known theoretically the insignificance of the individual. But he knew it now with a certainty beyond theory. When Hillyard and he were driven against the rocks, who would know the difference or be any the wiser? He who a month ago would have compassionately{v.1-63} taken Hillyard home with him, to give him a little time to consider, was now, under the adventurer’s guidance, a more hopeless adventurer than Hillyard. Ben’s thoughts were not pleasant as he stood and looked out, watching the stream,—deep, no doubt, with human passion, sorrow, and perplexity, but so inexpressive on the surface,—which kept flowing on like water, as perennial and unbroken. His own life flitted before him like a dream as he stood looking out,—so useless, and luxurious, and free; so care-laden and overwhelmed by storms; so vague and doubtful in the future. Had he even known what would await him in the end his fate would have been less hard. Perhaps his very efforts to work out the time of his probation might secure the loss of his birthright. He might find that he worked the wrong way, that he had missed the end, even after his best exertions. A funeral procession was making its way at the moment up the busy street, to which it gave so strange a moral. And Ben turned away his head and sat down, sickened by the sight of the slow hearse with its waving plumes. To think he should have been defrauded even of his natural grief, even of the softening of his heart, which should have come over his father’s grave! Was the inmate of that other coffin leaving a wrong behind him, casting a stone with his dead hands to crush his children? This, no doubt, was a harsh way of taking his trouble; but{v.1-64} there are men to whom all crosses come harshly, and Ben Renton was one of them. Hillyard, satisfied and comfortable, with a slight flush of bodily well-being on his face, came up to him as he mused, with a glass of sherry in his hand.

‘Not bad wine,’ he said, with a sigh of comfort, ‘and not a bad dinner, I can tell you, to a man fresh from the backwoods. Ben, I’ve got a wretched thing to do, and I want you to go with me. You’re out of spirits, at any rate, and it will do you no harm.’

‘What is it?’ said Ben.

‘I am going to see the mother of the poor fellow I told you of. She’s a widow living somewhere about Manchester Square. I rather think he was the only son. He made a mull of it at some of those confounded examinations, and rushed out to Australia in despair; and all went wrong with him there, and he squared it off, as I told you. I have to take her some of his things. You look more like the kind of thing, with your black clothes and your grave face, than I do. Stand by me, Ben, and I’ll stand by you.’

‘As you please,’ said Ben, languidly. Already the familiarity of his new-old friend jarred on him a little. But he did not care what he did at that moment; he did not much care even what became of him. He had nothing to do and nobody to see. It was as easy to go to Manchester Square as anywhere else, though the locality was not delectable. He suf{v.1-65}fered Hillyard to take his arm and draw him along, without much interest one way or another, not seeing how his compliance with such a trifling request could particularly affect even the hour of time which it occupied, much less his character or his life.{v.1-66}



The address was Guildford Street, Manchester Square, a narrow, dingy, very respectable street, with a good many public-houses in it, and livery stables under three or four different archways, where the genteel population round about got their ‘flys.’ The houses were tall and rather decayed, with smoky remains of the flowers which had been kept fresh and bright in the season lingering in their narrow little balconies, and no small amount of cards hung up in the windows announcing lodgings to let. It occurred to Ben as he walked listlessly through it that here was a place which would be more suitable to his fallen fortunes than the Albany; but the thought was inarticulate, and took no form. There was even a similar ticket in the ground-floor window of No. 10, where Mrs. Tracy lived, and where they were immediately admitted and conducted to the drawing-room. Ben followed his friend mechanically into the dingy room, with three long windows glimmering down to the faded carpet, commanding a view of the opposite{v.1-67} livery stable, from which one inevitable fly was creeping slowly out under the archway. This particular vehicle was drawn by an old white horse, and it was that spot of white upon the dim foreground, and the white cotton gloves of the driver, that caught Ben’s eye as he went in. He was so little interested that he scarcely noticed anything in the room. It was a disagreeable business. He had come listlessly because he had been asked. But though he had heard the story of the widow’s son it had not touched him. Perhaps he was not very tender-hearted by nature; perhaps it was because he was absorbed in his own affairs. But certainly when he saw a tall figure in black rise from the small room behind and make a step forward to meet his friend, Ben woke up with a little start to realise the fact that he was thrusting himself in, without any call, to be a spectator of what might be a tragical scene. He stopped short and grew red with the embarrassment of a well-bred man suddenly placed in a position where he is one too many; and, notwithstanding Hillyard’s almost nervous glance back at him and appeal for support, might have made his way out again had not his course been suddenly arrested by another figure in intense mourning, which rose from a low seat by the vacant window. It was getting late in the afternoon, and twilight begins soon in a narrow London street; besides which the blinds were half down, the curtains hanging over the long{v.1-68} narrow windows, and such light as there was falling on the floor. For this reason the lady at the window had been seated on a very low chair against the wall, to secure all the light she could for the work in her hand. She rose up facing Ben as the other faced his friend, rising slowly from the long sweep of black drapery which had lain coiled round her on the carpet, and suddenly flashing upon the young man, out of the shadows, with such a face as he had never in all his life seen before. She gave him a hurried glance from head to foot, taking in every detail of his appearance, and settling in a second what manner of man he was; and then she pointed to a chair, with a soft murmur of invitation to him to seat himself. He obeyed her, not knowing why. His brain began to whirl. The long window bound with its high, narrow, smoky rail of balcony; the faded curtains hanging over and darkening the room; the pale light below upon the carpet, and the figure which sank slowly down once more with its black dress in waves on the floor; the white hands joined with some white work between them; the face against that dusky background,—was it true that he had never seen them all till that moment, or had they been there waiting for him, attending this moment all his life?

Ben Renton had been a great deal in society, and had seen beautiful women in his day; and he knew quantities of pretty girls, and had fancied himself a{v.1-69} little in love with some of them also in his time. But something, perhaps, in the surrounding made this woman different from anything he had ever seen. She was very tall, almost as tall as himself. She was pale, with none of that adventitious charm of colour which often stands in the place of beauty. Her hair was dark, without any gleams in it. The only colour about her was in her eyes, which were blue, like a winter sky,—blue of the sweetest and purest tone, shining out under her dark hair from her pale, beautiful face, from the shadow and the darkness, like a bit of heaven itself. Ben sat down and looked at her, struck dumb, in a kind of stupor. What had he to do with this wonderfully beautiful, silent creature? Who was she? How came she here? How did it come about that he sat by her, having no right to such an acquaintance, struck dumb, like a man in a dream? He looked on stupidly, and saw the other lady sink down and cover her face with her hands as Hillyard delivered his melancholy commission. Of course it was Hillyard’s duty to do so, and even to remain with them while the daughter rose noiselessly and went to her mother, bending over her, turning her beautiful pale face appealingly to the strangers, with the blue eyes full of tears. With all this strange scene his companion had a certain connexion by right of his errand; but why was Ben Renton there, or what could it ever be to him?{v.1-70}

And yet she came back to the seat by the window, and Ben, looking on, saw the tears fall upon her white hands and white work, and met in his turn the same wistful look. ‘Were you there too?’ she said with a little sob. He was ashamed of himself to say no; but perhaps because her heart was full of her dead brother she gave no sign that she thought his presence was intrusive. She put her handkerchief to her eyes, and then she looked into his face again. ‘It is very, very hard for poor mamma,’ she said, in the softest, lowly-whispering voice. ‘Her only son! She was so proud of him. She always hoped he would do so well; and papa died so long ago, and we had no one else to look to. It is so hard upon mamma!’

‘She has you,’ said Ben, wildly, feeling that some reply was looked for, and not knowing what he said.

‘Ah! yes; but I am only a girl. I can love her, but what more can I do?’ said this celestial creature with piteous looks. Ben’s brain went round and round. He was in some enchanted place, some magician’s castle. What had he to do there, listening to these soft plaints, receiving those looks which would have melted a heart of stone? In his amaze he turned half round to his friend, who alone gave him any title to be present, and his appeal was not in vain.

‘I came home only this morning,’ said Hillyard, ‘and, of course, the first thing I thought of was to discharge my sad commission. My friend, Mr. Ren{v.1-71}ton, came with me, as he knows better how things go on here than I do. If we could be of any use——’

Ben had got up and bowed in his embarrassment. He was overcome, he thought, with pity, certainly with another and stronger sentiment. ‘If there is anything I can do—?’ he said eagerly. As he spoke the mother raised her head and shot him through and through with a sudden glance of her eyes,—eyes which must once have been soft like her daughter’s, but which had grown keen, clear, and cold, instead of soft—with a hungry look in them. But how can you criticise a woman in such circumstances? They might be puckered up with grief; it might be the anguish of Rachel’s weeping that looked through them. She said, ‘It is very kind,’ looking at them both, contrasting as it were the two together; and then with a certain abruptness, ‘What was it you were saying to me about some Rentons, Millicent?’ she asked.

‘You know, mamma,’ said the daughter, ‘Thornycroft, where I was at school, was close to the Manor, and Mary Westbury was always talking of her cousins. But perhaps this gentleman——’

‘Yes; I am one of Mary Westbury’s cousins,’ said Ben, with a throb of delight; and then he paused, thinking what else he could say to ingratiate himself. ‘I am the eldest;—Ben,’ he added, with heightened colour;—and mother and daughter both looked at him with an interest which they did not attempt to disguise.{v.1-72}

‘I have heard so often of Ben,’ said Miss Tracy, with a soft, little laugh. The sound of his own name so softly uttered completed the young man’s bewilderment. He forgot how soon that laugh had followed on the tears, and how entirely the mother and daughter had both thrown themselves into the new subject. As for Hillyard, he sat between the two with a puzzled expression on his face. Nobody took any notice of him after the telling of his story. His friend who had the cachet of the latest civilisation on him, who was a Renton of Renton, the eldest son, was a very different person from an adventurer out of the bush. Mrs. Tracy herself came forward from the little back drawing-room where she had been sitting, and took a chair near the new object of interest. She was a handsome woman still for her age, and showed traces of having been like her daughter. She had the same clear, fine features; the same dark hair, still unchanged in colour; the same height and drooping grace of form. But her eyes, instead of being soft and dewy, were hard and keen; her lips were thin, and the muscles all tightened about them. Her hands were thin and long, and looked as if they could grasp and hold fast. ‘The daughter will grow like the mother, and I’d trust neither of them,’ Hillyard said to himself; but there might be a certain spite in it, for they showed no interest in him.

‘It is very kind of you to come,’ said the widow, leaving it undecided whom she was addressing, but{v.1-73} looking at Ben. ‘Though it is three months since I first heard of my dear boy’s death, this visit brings it all back. He was my only son; and oh! what hopes are buried with him, Mr. Renton! I thought that it was he that would have restored us to our natural place in the world. My Millicent was not born to live in a back street opposite livery stables. I expected everything from her brother. Man proposes, but God disposes. I cannot tell you what heaps of money I spent on him getting him ready for that examination; and yet it all came to nothing:—and now he is gone!’

‘Dear mamma, we must not strive against Providence,’ said Millicent, putting her handkerchief lightly to her eyes.

‘No, my dear,’ said her mother; ‘but if it was to be, I might have been spared all that waste of money,—when we are so ill able to afford it. Providence knows best, to be sure; but still, when it was to be, it might have been so arranged that I should have saved that. You will think it strange of me to say so; but my thought by night and by day is, what will my child do when I die?’

‘Dear mamma, don’t say any more,’ said Millicent again. ‘I never grudged anything that was for poor Fitzgerald’s advantage; and I am sure, neither did you.’

‘Not if it had been for his advantage,’ said Mrs. Tracy, gloomily; ‘but you know how he broke down{v.1-74} in his examination, poor fellow. I don’t want to blame Providence,—but still I might have been spared that.’

‘Perhaps, Ben, we had better go,’ said Hillyard. ‘We are only intruding upon painful recollections. He was heartbroken, poor fellow. He never could forget what you had spent upon him, and that he made so little return. Ben, I think we should go.’

‘No; he never made any return,’ said Mrs. Tracy. ‘When one spends so much on one child without a return, one feels that one has been unjust to the rest. We are not very lively people; but I hope you will not hurry away. It was so very good of you to come. Millicent, ring for some tea. I shall be very glad to see both of you if you like to come to us sometimes of an evening. It is a very dull time of year to be in town. My poor boy has made it impossible for me to take Millicent to the sea this year; and if you are going to be in town, Mr. Renton, as you and she are almost old friends, I shall be very glad to see you; and you too, Mr. Hillyard,’ she added, turning half round to him. Hillyard muttered ‘By Jove!’ to himself, under his breath. But as for Ben, so suddenly and enthusiastically received into the bosom of the family, his eyes brightened, and his face crimsoned over with pleasure.

‘I shall be in town all the rest of the year,’ he said; ‘indeed, I am looking for rooms in this neigh{v.1-75}bourhood. I have something to do,—that is,—I shall want to be near Manchester Square. I shall be too glad, if you will let me, to come now and then. I must write to Mary and tell her what her relationship has gained me,’ said Ben, with a glow of satisfaction; while Hillyard looked on sardonic, probably because he had been asked, ‘too,’ as Ben’s appendage, which was a curious reversal of affairs.

‘How is dear Mary?’ said Miss Tracy; ‘and where is she just now? I dare say going on a round of nice visits,’ she added, with a soft sigh; ‘her circumstances are so different from ours.’

‘She was with my mother when I left home,’ said Ben, his face clouding over. ‘She will not have many visits this year, poor girl. My mother is very fond of her, which is a great comfort to us all just now.’

Millicent Tracy looked at him with her blue eyes, which seemed ready to overflow with soft tears; and Ben, who had the calm consciousness, common to great people, that everybody must ‘know what had happened,’ felt her sympathy go to his heart. But as it chanced she had not the least idea what had happened. The ladies had not had their ‘Times’ the day on which Mr. Renton’s death was announced, or else they had been interrupted by visitors, or some accident had happened to the supplement; but, anyhow, they were in ignorance of that event. It was sufficiently clear, however, that something had come upon the{v.1-76} Renton family to call for sympathy, and sympathy accordingly shone sweetly out of Millicent’s eyes. As for Mrs. Tracy, her attention was turned to more practical matters.

‘The ground-floor here is to let,’ she said. ‘I can’t suppose it would be good enough for you, Mr. Renton; but still, if you had any particular reason for being in this neighbourhood,—the people of the house are honest sort of people. There is a parlour and a bedroom, quite quiet and respectable. And if we could be of any use——’

‘A thousand thanks,’ said Ben. He was very reluctant to leave the paradise on which he had thus suddenly stumbled, but Hillyard, the neglected one, had got up and stood waiting for him. ‘I shall look at them as I go down-stairs.’

And then Millicent gave him her soft hand. ‘I have known Mary’s cousin for years,’ she said, smiling at him, with a little blush and half apology. It was as if an angel had apologised for entering a mortal household unawares. Ben went down the narrow staircase dazed and giddy, treading, not on the poor worn carpets, but on some celestial path of flowers. He looked at the low, melancholy room below clothed in black haircloth, and veiled with curtains of darkling red, and thought it a bower of bliss. Something, however, restrained him from securing this paradise while Hillyard was still with him. He whispered to the eager landlady that he would return and settle{v.1-77} with her, and went out into the street a different being. It looked a different street, transfigured somehow. The old white horse and the rusty carriage, and the man in white cotton gloves, with his pretence at livery, stood before a house, a little farther down; and it seemed to Ben an equipage for the gods. Everything was changed. The only thing that troubled him was that Hillyard took his arm once more, as if supposing he meant to be dragged back to that wretched club.

‘It is easy to see I am not a swell like you,’ said Hillyard. ‘I never pretended I was; but I had no idea it was written on my face so plainly till I read it in that old woman’s eyes.’

‘She is not exactly an old woman,’ said Ben, making an effort to get free of his companion’s arm.

‘Oh dear, no; not at all!’ said Hillyard. ‘But if the daughter is,—say five-and-twenty——’

‘I should say eighteen,’ said Ben.

‘Oh, by Jove! that’s going too fast,’ cried his companion; ‘though I can’t wonder, considering the dead set they made at you. That girl is stunning, Ben; but she thinks you’re the heir of all your father’s property, and have the Manor at your command. Mind what you’re after if you go there again. The old woman is as crafty as an old fox, and as for the young one——’

‘Look here, Hillyard,’ said Ben, hotly. ‘I am{v.1-78} introduced to this family not by you, but by my cousin Mary. If it had been you, of course you might say what you like of your own friends; but I consider they are Mary Westbury’s friends, and I can’t have you speak of them in such a tone,—for my cousin’s sake.’

‘Ah! I see,’ said Hillyard, ironically. ‘But poor Tracy was my friend, not Miss Westbury’s, and I suppose I may talk of him if I like. It was the mother that drove him to it, Ben. Don’t you think it’s my line to speak ill of women. I’ve a dear little mother myself, thank God; and a little sister as sweet as a daisy,—and about as poor,’ the adventurer added, with a sigh; ‘but I hate that kind of woman. You may growl if you please. I do. After he broke down in his examination she never gave him a moment’s peace. She kept writing to him for money, and upbraiding him for having none to send her, when the poor wretch could not earn bread for himself. That much I know;—and you heard how she spoke of him. If you have anything to do with these two women you will come to grief.’

‘If every woman who has a good-for-nothing son or brother was to be judged as harshly——’ said Ben, making an effort to keep his temper. Hillyard turned round upon him with a hoarse exclamation of anger.

‘He was not a good-for-nothing, by——!’ he cried. ‘You know nothing about him. You call a{v.1-79} man names in his grave, poor fellow, because a girl has got a pair of pretty blue eyes.’

‘It appears to me that our road is no longer the same,’ said Ben, with the superiority of temper and good manners. ‘I am going to my rooms, and you, I suppose, are going back to the club. I daresay we shall meet there shortly, as we are the only men in town. Good morning, just now.’

And thus they parted almost as suddenly as they met. Ben went into the Park, and composed himself with a long walk, at first with a pretence of making his way to his rooms, as he had said. He went across almost to the gate, and then he turned and made a circuit back again. He wanted cheap lodgings, that was evident,—and then!—The truth was that his mind was swept and garnished, emptied of all the traditions, and occupations, and hopes of his previous life. All had ended for him as by a sudden deluge, and the chambers stood open for the first inhabitant that had force enough to enter. Was it love that had burst in like an armed man? A certain sweet agitation took possession of his whole being. His agitation had been bitter enough in the morning, when he took the account of all those dead household gods of his, from which no comfort came; or rather it had been a kind of bitter calm,—death after a fashion. Now life had rushed back and tingled in all his veins. The world was no more a desert, but full of unknown beauty and wonder. Since his first step out of the{v.1-80} familiar ways had taught him so much, what might not his further progress reveal? Might it not be, after all, that his deliverance from the conventional round was the opening of a new, and fresh, and glorious existence? Would not he be as free in Guildford Street, Manchester Square, as in the backwoods,—as undisturbed by impertinent observation? What were the buhl cabinets and the old Dresden in comparison with horsehair, and mahogany, and Millicent Tracy’s blue eyes up-stairs? He tried to consider the matter calmly without reference to those eyes, and he thought he succeeded in doing so. He reminded himself with elaborate, almost judicial, calm that he had but two hundred pounds a-year; that he could not afford to live at the Albany any longer; that cheap lodgings were necessary to him, not altogether out of reach of the world, but beyond the inspection of curious acquaintances. Under these circumstances the adaptation to all his wants of the ground-floor at No. 10 was almost miraculous. It was Providential. Ben had not been in the habit of using that word as some people do; but yet he felt that in the present remarkable circumstances the use of it was justifiable. Something beyond ordinary chance must have guided him in his ignorance to exactly the place he wanted. And the machinery employed to bring about this single result had been so elaborate and complicated. First, a suicide far off in Australia; second, the return of an adventurer{v.1-81} who had been sent there expressly to make Fitzgerald Tracy’s acquaintance, and convey his dying message;—a friendship which had been brought about by such means surely must count for something in a man’s life.

And so by degrees Ben found himself once more approaching the street. He knocked at the door with a curious thrill and tremor. What if he should see her again! What if she might be passing up and down after some of her celestial concerns! He was admitted by a dismal maid-of-all-work, and shown in this time to the rooms which were the object of his ambition. They were very dingy little rooms. In their original and normal state they made a double room with folding-doors; but as arranged for a lodger, the folding-doors had been closed and barricaded, the front half made into a sitting-room, and the back into a bed-room. The windows were closed, and in the sultry September evening the four mean walls seemed to close round the inmate and stifle him. Such a thought had half stolen across his mind when a sudden movement above thrilled him through and through. It seemed to vibrate through the house and through him. No need to ask any further question—undoubtedly it must have been her step; and immediately the musty air grew sweet as summer to foolish Ben.

The result was that he took the wretched little rooms for thirty shillings a-week, conveying to his{v.1-82} future landlady as he did so the meanest possible opinion of his intellectual powers. ‘Some fool,’ she replied to her husband, ‘as never asked no questions.’ He thought them very cheap, poor fellow; he thought them highly economical, retired, respectable, and exactly what he wanted. And he was rewarded, and more than rewarded, for his promptitude. Just as he had settled with the landlady a little creak on the stairs and rustling of ladies’ dresses set all his pulses beating. And when he turned sharply round there were the mother and daughter in their crape bonnets equipped for their evening walk. They were immensely surprised at the sight of Ben; more, perhaps, than could have been fully accounted for in conjunction with the fact that Miss Tracy had been seated, all this time, at the window, seeing who came and went.

‘Is it possible that Mr. Renton has come to look at the rooms?’ the innocent Millicent said to her mother, stopping short in the narrow little lobby.

‘I have not only come to look at them, but I have taken them,’ Ben said, coming forward. ‘They suit me exactly.’ And there was a charming little flutter of pleasure and surprise.

‘I never thought you could be in earnest,’ Mrs. Tracy said; ‘the rooms are well enough, but after what you have been accustomed to,—I was just saying to Millicent that of course it was impossible. But now I shall be quite comfortable in my mind,{v.1-83} knowing you are there. Living in lodgings is very trying for ladies,’ continued the widow, lowering her voice confidentially as she went in with Ben to give a critical look round the sitting-room. ‘You cannot think how anxious I have been to have some one I know here,—on Millicent’s account, Mr. Renton. The last lodger used positively to lie in wait for my innocent child at the door.’

‘Confounded impudence!’ said Ben. ‘I hope the fellow was kicked out.’

‘Ah, we had no such champions as you,’ said Mrs. Tracy, with a dubious smile. ‘It was after my poor boy went away on that ill-fated voyage, so much against my will, Mr. Renton.—Yes, he has actually taken them, Millicent,’ she went on, speaking louder as she turned round. ‘We were just going out for our little walk. It is cool now, and there are not so many people about. We neither of us feel equal to fashionable promenades, Mr. Renton. We take our little walk for health’s sake in the cool of the evening. It is all the amusement my poor child has.’

‘Don’t say so, mamma dear,’ said Millicent. ‘I am quite happy. And oh, Mr. Renton, couldn’t you have dear Mary up for a day or two to see you? Cousins may visit, may not they, mamma? It would be such a pleasure to see her again.’

‘Hush, child, you don’t think what you are saying. Young ladies can’t visit young men, you{v.1-84} silly girl,’ said Mrs. Tracy. And Millicent blushed and glided round to the other side of her mother, as they all emerged into the street. Why should that mass of crape be put between them? Ben thought. But yet he had the happiness of walking to the Park with them, and catching, across Mrs. Tracy’s shadow now and then, a glance of the blue eyes. They talked and amused him the whole way, leading him to the grateful shadows of Kensington Gardens, away from all chance of recognition by his fashionable friends, even had there been any fashionable friends to recognise him. They would not permit him, however, to return with them, but dismissed him under the trees. ‘I am sure we are keeping you from dinner,’ Mrs. Tracy said, ‘and we could only ask you to tea. But I trust you will come to us often to tea, Mr. Renton, when you are our fellow-lodger at No. 10.’

And he went back to the Albany, not miserable and misanthropical as he left it, but full of loving-kindness and charity to all mankind. He went and dressed himself in honour of ‘the ladies’ whom he had just left, and who had already taken that name in his thoughts; and was most Christian in his treatment of Morris, promising him the best of characters and fullest explanations of why he was leaving; and he dined at his club, feeling that there was still light and comfort in the world. Hillyard was there, too, in the evening, reading all the newspapers, and{v.1-85} yawning horribly over them. To him ‘the ladies’ had opened no paradise. With a temper that was half angelical, notwithstanding the adventurer’s rudeness in the morning, Ben was pitiful and compassionate to him in his heart.{v.1-86}



For the next six months Ben Renton lived a strange life,—strange at least for him, who up to this time had been a young man of fashion,—répandu in the world,—with an interest in all the events, and all the gossip almost as important as events, that circulated in that curious, insincere, most limited sphere. He put his rooms into the hands of Messrs. Robins to be let, and he put his buhl and his pictures into those of the Messrs. Christie to sell,—and naturally, as it was September, no good came of either attempt for some months; and he took the ground-floor at No. 10, Guildford Street, Manchester Square. It would be difficult to describe the change which thus fell upon him. He who had gone about the Parks, about the highways and thoroughfares of the world, as in a hamlet, knowing everybody,—dining, dancing, chattering with every third person he met; now walked about the humdrum streets like a creature dropped out of the sky,—a stranger to all, seeing only strange faces around him. He whose life had{v.1-87} been minutely regulated and mapped out, not indeed by duty, but by that routine of society which serves the same purpose, wandered aimlessly about all day, or sat in his dingy parlour over a novel, with the strangest sense of idleness and uselessness. He had not been much more industrious in the old days, when he went from the Row to his club, from his club to the Drive, with the weighty duties before him of dressing and dining, strolling down, perhaps to the Lobby of the ‘House,’ or going from box to box at an opera. These occupations were not of very profound note among the industries of the day; but they filled up the vacant hours with a certain system and necessity. Now he had nothing of that kind to do. He might go and stroll about the deserted Parks; he might sit at home and work his way through one bundle of three volumes after another, and nobody would interfere with him. He had nothing to do. He had never done anything all his life, and yet he had never found it out before. One event there was still to break the monotonous existence of each dull day. Sometimes it was that he encountered Mrs. Tracy and her daughter as they went out, and was permitted to accompany them; sometimes that he was admitted to the drawing-room up-stairs in the evening. They were very cautious in those first openings of friendship; more cautious than they had been in its earliest beginning. Sometimes it so happened that for an entire day, or{v.1-88} even two days, all that Ben heard of his neighbours was the sound of their steps as they crossed the floor overhead, sending vibrations through the house and through his foolish heart. But yet the meeting with them was the event of the day to him,—the only one that gave life or colour to it. It was the sole gleam of light within his range of vision, and naturally his eye fixed on that gleam. Sometimes it seemed to him that, instead of being the fallen man he was, he had come there in a voluntary abandonment of luxury and pleasantness for Millicent Tracy’s sake. Though the young men of the nineteenth century are not given to romance, such a proceeding is still possible among them. And there were moments in which Ben forgot that he had any other motive for his seclusion. It was a sudden infatuation, and yet there was nothing extraordinary in it. Everything was so new to him in this changed and strange life, that any powerful influence suddenly brought into being was sure to take entire possession of the vacant space. As he sat in the gloom and quiet, with all that had hitherto occupied him gone from his grasp, and this one subtle fascination filling the air, it was scarcely wonderful that he should feel himself a pilgrim of love, giving up everything for the sake of his divinity,—keeping watch at her door, as it were, laying himself down at her feet, separating himself from the world for her service. A certain indescribable sense of her presence filled the house. The ceiling over his head thrilled under her{v.1-89} step,—the rustle of her dress on the stair, the distant sound of her voice or her name, seemed to echo down to him in the silence. Though he saw her at the most once a-day, and not always so often, he felt her perpetually, and his mind was intoxicated by this magical new sense. He lived upon it like a fool,—like a man in love, which he was, though he knew nothing of Millicent except that her eyes were heavenly eyes, and her voice as sweet as poetry. He had not cared much even for poetry hitherto, nor had much time for dreaming, and Nature now took her revenge. His youth, his extraordinary circumstances, his unoccupied life, all conspired with this most potent of influences against him. At first there was not even any intention in his mind except that of seeing her, looking at her, filling his vacancy with the new lovely creature so suddenly placed before him; the place was empty and she had come in unawares, startling him by her smile. That was all that Ben knew about it for the moment. To win her, and marry her, and enter into another and fuller phase of life, had not yet dawned on his thoughts. She had stolen in upon him like a new atmosphere,—a delicious air in which he lived and breathed. That was all. He meant nothing by it in the first place. He was not a free agent, voluntarily and consciously approaching a woman whom he wanted to make his wife. On the contrary, he was a man suddenly, without any will or purpose of his own, launched into a new world. He might not have{v.1-90} known that such worlds existed, so strange and new was everything to him; but the unthought-of, unknown influence possessed itself in a moment of the very fountains of his life.

It is not, however, to be supposed that Ben was petted or made much of by the ladies whose retirement he had thus hastened to share. At first they even appeared to keep him at arm’s length with a reserve which chilled him much after their frank reception of dear Mary Westbury’s cousin. They retired within the enclosure of their grief when he became their fellow-lodger, passing him with slight salutations, with crape veils over their faces and all the adjuncts of woe, and receiving his visits, when he screwed up his courage to the point of going up-stairs, with the dignity of sorrow not yet able ‘to see people,’—a mode of treatment which gave Ben a pang, not only of disappointment, but of shame, at his own vain hopes, and the false interpretations he had put on their first little overtures of cordiality. ‘That I should have dreamed they would care to see me,—and their grief still so fresh,’ he muttered to himself with self-disgust. But the ladies up-stairs, in their retirement, were by no means without thoughts of their new acquaintance. They discussed him fully, though he was so little aware of it, and considered him and his ways in more detail, and with much more understanding, than characterised his brooding over theirs. It was not{v.1-91} Mrs. Tracy’s fault that he was so coldly received. It was Millicent who had barred the way against him,—Millicent herself, whose paleness and sorrowful looks had given the last touch of tender pity and interest to his admiration. They were mutually mistaken in each other, as it happened; for the mother and daughter knew no more of Ben than that he was the heir of Renton, and were so foolish in their dreams as to believe that he had, indeed, given up all the delights of his former life to live in dingy lodgings in order to be near Millicent. He had been struck with ‘love at first sight,’ they thought, and despised him a little, and were amused at the fact, though fully determined to take advantage of it. And so strange is human nature, that the mother and daughter would have been as much disgusted and disappointed had they known the complication of motives which sent the young man into their snare, as Ben would have been had he been able to conceive the aspect in which they regarded him. He was a man of the world; and they were of the still sharper class of adventurers living on their wits; and yet they mutually believed in the single-mindedness, each of the other, with the simplicity of the peasant of romance. He thought the beautiful creature who had smiled so softly on him, and her kind mother, were interested really about himself; and they believed that he had thrown away all the daily brightness of existence for Millicent’s sweet sake;{v.1-92}—so much faith had remained at the bottom of natures so sophisticated. It was a curious conjunction of cunning and innocence.

‘I am not going to make any pounce upon him,’ said Millicent to her mother. ‘I won’t. You need not look so surprised. You may say what you like, but I know it is fatal to go too fast. Men don’t like that sort of thing. They see through it, though you don’t think they do. They are not quite such fools. You must go softly this time, or I shall not go into it at all.’

‘Millicent!’ said her mother severely, ‘when you talk in this wild way, how can you expect me to know what you mean?’

‘Oh, bother!’ said Millicent. The profile turned half away as she spoke was so perfect, and the lips that uttered the words so soft and rose-like, that any listener less accustomed would have distrusted her ears. Mrs. Tracy only made a little gesture of disapproval. Even to herself the mother kept up her pretensions; but Millicent was a girl of her century, and made believe only when the eye of the world was upon her. ‘I mean to take this into my own hands,’ she said. ‘You are not so clever as you were, mamma. You are getting rather old. Let me alone to treat a man like Ben Renton. I must not throw myself at his head; he must suppose, at least, that he has had hard work to secure me.’

‘And I trust it will be so, Millicent,’ said Mrs.{v.1-93} Tracy. ‘Heaven forbid that a child of mine should throw herself at any gentleman’s head! It would break my heart, you know.’

‘Oh, yes; I know,’ said the daughter, with a laugh; ‘though I never can understand what pleasure you have in pretending and keeping up your character to me. We ought to understand each other,—if any two people do understand each other in the world,’ the young woman added, not with much perception of the melancholy mystery she was thus skimming over, but yet vaguely conscious that even the mother beside her had secrets, and would take her own way if occasion served. Each of them shocked the other by turns, though both stood low enough in point of moral appreciation. ‘You would sell me, as soon as look at me, if you could,’ Millicent went on. ‘Don’t deny it, for I know it; but Ben Renton is not in your line. It is I who must manage him.’

‘You will have your own way, I suppose, Millicent,’ said her mother; ‘though what you mean by these coarse expressions I don’t understand. What I feel is that the poor young fellow is very solitary. And I am a mother,’ Mrs. Tracy said, with a little grandeur. ‘I feel it might be of use to him to ask him up here. It keeps a young man respectable when ladies notice him. It keeps him out of bad hands.’

Millicent looked at her mother, with a gleam of laughter in her eyes. ‘It is beautiful to see you,{v.1-94} mamma,’ she said; ‘it is as good as a sermon. But I am not so anxious about his morals. You had much better leave it in my hands.’

This was how it came about that Ben was so much thrown back on himself, and dismissed from the paradise of a drawing-room where his lady was, to the close, little, dingy, black-hair-clothed purgatory on the lower floor, to wait his promotion. A word, a look, half-an-hour’s talk now and then, raised him into the seventh heaven; but he was always cast back again; while, at the same time, her presence so near, the constant possibility of a meeting, the excitement of the situation, and the utter havoc of his own life, kept him suspended, he could not tell how, and banished all wholesome thoughts out of his head. The mutual pursuit and defence, the plans to see and to avoid being seen, the art of bestowing and with-holding, the perpetual expectation and possibility, engrossed the two completely after a time. It engrossed the witch as much as it did the victim. When men and women have passed the age,—if the age is ever passed,—of such contests, it is difficult to realise the way in which the lives of those engaged in them become absorbed in one interest. Each meeting between the two, were it only of a minute’s duration, occupied their minds as if it had been an event. To watch him out and in, to calculate what she should say to him next time, how soon she might venture the next tightening of her line, filled Milli{v.1-95}cent’s thoughts as she sat over her work by the window up-stairs; while the sound of her foot, the faintest movement over-head, the coming or going on the stairs, the rustle of the dress passing his door, occupied Ben like the most exciting drama. It was madness, yet it was nature. The mother, who was looking on with an eve merely to the result, grew impatient, and felt disposed to throw up the matter and turn her attention to other things. Mrs. Tracy was poor, and now that her son had altogether failed her, even in possibility, it was essential that her daughter should take his place. But Millicent gave no encouragement to the vague plans that fluttered through her mother’s mind. She, too, was engrossed, as people are engrossed only by such a strange duel and struggle of two lives. And the six months passed with her, as with Ben, like one long, exciting, feverish day.

‘You don’t get a step farther on,’ said Mrs. Tracy; ‘you are just where you were, shilly-shallying,—no better than your brother. My poor Fitzgerald! if he had been spared, he might have been a help to me. Providence is very strange! He lived long enough to be a burden and take every penny we had; and then, when he might have made me some return—— And it is just the same thing, over again, with you.’

‘Don’t speak of Fitzgerald, mamma,’ said Millicent. ‘I was fond of him, although you may not think it. You worried him till he could not bear it{v.1-96} any longer; but you cannot get rid of me like that. I will never shoot myself. I mean to live in spite of everything,—and I mean to take my own time.’

‘You are an unnatural girl!’ cried Mrs. Tracy, with excitement. ‘Did not I do everything for that boy? Tutors and books, and I don’t know what; and then to break down. A young man has no business to fail when his people have done so much for him. And now there is you,—I have spared no expense about you, either. You have had the best masters I could give you, and the prettiest dresses; and now you stand doing nothing. I should like to know what this young Renton means.’

‘It would be very easy to ask him,—and drive him away for ever,’ said Millicent, with a heightened colour. ‘Mamma, I tell you, you are not so clever as you were.’

‘I believe you are in love with him,’ said the mother, with an accent of scorn;—‘nothing else could account for it. That is all that is wanting to make up the story. But I tell you this will not do,’ she added, with an instant change of tone. ‘We shall have to run away if some determination is not come to. I have no money to carry on with, and there is a month’s rent owing to this horrid woman; and the tradespeople and all—— Millicent, there must be something done. If you are going to marry young Renton, it will be all very well; but if it is to come {v.1-97}to nothing, as so many other things have done——’

‘What would you have me do?’ said Millicent, in a low tone of restrained passion. Perhaps she was angry with herself for playing so poor a rôle; but, at all events, she was disgusted with the mother who had trained her to do it, and thus kept her to the humiliating work. Mrs. Tracy was getting, as her daughter said, rather old. Her ear was not fine enough for the inflections of tone and shades of meaning which once she could have caught in a moment.

‘If you will listen to me,’ she answered, in perfect good faith, ‘I will soon tell you what to do. Tell him that we are going abroad. You know how often I have spoken of going abroad. If we could only get a hundred pounds, we might go to Baden, or Homburg, or somewhere. We don’t want so many dresses, being in mourning; and, with your complexion, you look very nice in mourning. I should like to start to-morrow, for my part. You might tell him it was for my health,—that I was ordered to take the baths. And I am sure it would be quite true. After all the wear and tear I have gone through I must want baths when you come to think of it. That ought to bring matters to a decision; and the fact is, that unless something happens, we shall have to make a change. It will be impossible to stay here.’

‘If it is an explanation you want,’ said Millicent, ‘it will not be difficult to bring that about,—now;’ and the blood rushed to her face, and her heart began to beat. Not because she loved Ben. It was a dif{v.1-98}ferent feeling that moved her. The object for which she had been trained, the aim of her life, had come so near to her,—in a day, in an hour, in a few minutes more, if it came to that, she might be a changed creature, with all that was wretched banished from her, and all that was good made possible. She might be, instead of a poor girl, immersed in all the shameful shifts of dishonest poverty, a rich man’s bride, fearing no demand, above all tricks, with honourable plenty in her hands and about her. What a change it would be! The chance of leaping at one step from misery to wealth, from destitution to luxury, has always a more or less demoralising effect when held steadily before human eyes, and this chance had always been put foremost in those of Millicent Tracy. Nobody had ever dreamed of work for her, or honest earning. She was to win wildly the prize of wealth out of the very depths of abject poverty. Hers was not the extraordinary nobility of character which could resist the influences of such training. She was demoralised by it. Ben Renton was to her a prize in the lottery which she might win and be rich and splendid and exalted for ever,—or which she might lose in mortification and deepest downfall. It was this which flushed her cheek and made her heart beat. Not because he was a man who loved her. And yet something not mercenary, something like nature, had been in the vague intercourse between the two,—the man’s advances, the woman’s retreat from them and{v.1-99} interest in them. Alas! Millicent had been wooed, and had done her best to attract and fascinate before. It was a trade to her. She lighted up into a gambler’s flush of excitement now when the crisis was so near.

‘Then let it come,’ said Mrs. Tracy; ‘it is time after six months of nonsense. I never knew a young man before who would be kept off and on so long, living in such a hole, out of those lovely rooms. And, by-the-bye, I wonder why he wants to sell those sweet cabinets. Getting rid of his chambers one can understand. Perhaps it is for some racing debt or something; but he must not be allowed to do it. If the family should make themselves disagreeable, Millicent, I hope I can trust to your good sense. Of course they must come round in the end.’

‘You may trust me, mamma,’ said Millicent, with a smile; and her mother came round to her and kissed her, as she might have kissed her had she been on her way to draw the fateful ticket at a lottery.

‘Now, mind you have your wits about you,’ Mrs. Tracy said.

It was the afternoon of a spring day, rather cold but bright, and a remnant of dusty fire, half choked with ashes, was in the grate. Millicent trembled as she sat in her favourite place by the window, chiefly with cold,—for she was very susceptible to discomfort,—and a little with excitement. When her mother left her, she let her work fall on her lap, and felt, as many a woman of truer heart has felt, the very air{v.1-100} rustling and whispering in her ears with excess of stillness, as if a hundred unseen spectators were pressing round to look on. He would come, and she would listen to him and lead him on, and the step would be taken;—the immense, unspeakable change would be made. A curious medley of thoughts was in the young woman’s mind,—not all of them bad or unnatural thoughts. She would be grateful to the man who changed her life for her so completely. She would be kind to the poor,—those poor, struggling, shifting, miserable creatures upon whom already she felt herself entitled to look with pity. She would be very fine and grand, and deck her beauty with every adornment, and win admiration on every side; and yet she would be good at the same time. She would be good,—that she determined upon. And poor Fitz, if he had but been less impatient! if he had but lived to see this day! Thus she sat awaiting her lover. Poor, polluted, and yet unawakened virgin soul, knowing nothing about love!

The mother for her part put on her bonnet,—not without a keen momentary observation that the crape was beginning to be rusty,—and drew her shawl slowly round her shoulders. She had been a handsome woman in her day, and with her rusty crape still looked more imposing than many a silken fine lady. With a thrill of excitement, too, she took her way down-stairs, with more sordid thoughts than those of her child. She was thinking, also, which{v.1-101} would be best for herself,—to live with them and share their grandeur, or to secure a certainty for herself from the bridegroom’s liberality. There are women ignoble enough to act as Mrs. Tracy was doing, and still with so much divinity in them as to be willing to disappear, or die, or obliterate themselves when the daughter for whom they laboured has won her prize. But Millicent’s mother had not even this virtue. She was drawing her ticket by her child’s hand;—which would be most comfortable, she was thinking; and it was in the very midst of this thought that she contrived to brush past Ben, who was lingering at the door of his room, hoping to see something of his neighbours.

‘I beg your pardon, Mr. Renton,’ she said. ‘I did not see you were there. Not out this lovely afternoon? It is the old people who are active now; you young ones are all alike, dreaming and building castles, I suppose. Millicent stays up-stairs all by herself, instead of coming out with me. But indeed she is dull, poor child. An old woman, even when it is her mother, is poor company for a young girl.’

‘I am sure she does not think so,’ said Ben, to whom Millicent was half divine.

‘No, I am sure she does not think so,’ said Mrs. Tracy; ‘she is such a good child. But you may run up and talk to her for half-an-hour, and cheer her up while I am gone. There are not many gentlemen I would say as much to,’ she added playfully. Her{v.1-102} playful speeches were not very successful generally, but Ben was no critic at that moment. His eyes blazed up with sudden fire. He took her hand, and would have kissed it, so much was he touched by this mark of confidence, but Mrs. Tracy knew there were holes in her glove, and drew it back.

‘May I?’ he said. ‘How good you are to me!’ and had rushed up-stairs before she had time to draw breath. She turned round, looking after him, with a certain grim satisfaction on her handsome worn face.

‘That is all safe,’ she said to herself with a little sigh of relief; and went out philosophically to let the crisis enact itself, and buy a little lobster for Millicent’s supper, by way of reward to her fortunate child.{v.1-103}



Ben rushed up the narrow stairs three steps at a time, while Millicent sat listening with her heart beating against her breast. If he had known the flutter it was making, how glad, how hopeful, how proud the poor young fool would have been! And it was all for him. A sudden hush fell upon him as he went in at the sacred door. Such a privilege had never been accorded him before. He had sat with Millicent by her mother’s side; he had spoken to her even while Mrs. Tracy went about from one occupation to another, leaving them virtually alone; but to have her all to himself for,—how long?—a year,—half an hour,—a splendid moment detached from ordinary calculations of time! His eagerness died into the stillness of passion as he went in. She did not get up from her seat, but greeted him with a little touch of her lovely hand, with a subdued gracious smile. If it could be possible that she was a little moved by it,—a little breathless, too! He came and sat down opposite the window, as near her{v.1-104} as he dared;—his eyes now shining, poor fellow! and great waves of colour passing over his face.

‘Your mother said I might come,’ he faltered, with the very imbecility of blessedness. And Millicent nodded her beautiful head kindly at him again.

‘Mamma thought I would be lonely,’ she said. ‘Poor dear mamma! she thinks too much of me.’

‘That is not possible,’ said Ben. ‘And,—how could she think of anything else? Ah, if you would but let me try to amuse you a little! You are so young,—so——; I envy your brother,’ said the lover, growing red, ‘when I see how you give him all your thoughts.’

‘Not all,’ said Millicent, ‘oh, indeed, not all! Poor Fitzgerald! But we have so many things to think of. There is no more amusement for poor mamma and me.’

‘Amusement is a poor sort of thing,’ said Ben. ‘You don’t think I meant balls and operas? I am not such a wretched fellow as that. What I meant was, if—if you would but try to look round you, and see that there are others in the world——’ here he made a pause, half out of awe of the words that were on his lips, half with a lover’s device to fix her attention upon them, half because of the grasp of passion upon himself which impeded his breathing and his voice,—‘who love you,’ said Ben at last, abruptly, ‘as well,—ten thousand times better than any brother in the world.{v.1-105}

He was not thinking of Hamlet,—but passion is something like genius, and finds a similar expression now and then in very absence of all thought.

‘Ah, Mr. Renton,’ said Millicent, ‘you must not say those sort of things to me. Poor, dear Fitzgerald was not so very fond of me. Some women get loved like that, but I don’t think I am one of them. Hush now! If you are going to speak nonsense I must send you away.’

‘It is no nonsense,’ said Ben. ‘If you could but have seen my heart all the time I have been here! It has had no thought but one. I know I am a fool to say so,—if I were a prince instead of a disinherited knight—— ’

‘Disinherited?’ said Millicent, losing in a moment the soft droop of her hand, the soft fall of her eyelids,—all those tender indications of a modest emotion,—sitting bolt upright and looking him straight in the face. ‘Mr. Renton, what do you mean?’

The suddenness of the change gave him a certain thrill. He did not understand it, nor had he time at such a moment to pause and ask himself what it meant. He felt the jar all over him, but went on all the same. ‘Yes, I am disinherited,’ he said, leaning over her, meeting her startled glance with eyes full of such a real and fiery glow of passion as struck her dumb. ‘If it had not been so, could I have borne to keep silent all this time and never say a word to you? I am a wretch to say anything now. I have been a{v.1-106} fool to come here. Now I think of it, I have no right to any answer. I have nothing—nothing to offer. But, Millicent, let me tell you,—don’t deny me that,—this once!’

‘Mr. Renton,’ said Millicent, ‘I do not know what you have to tell me. It is so strange, all this. And I have been thinking all the time you were—— Never mind speaking to me about myself; that does not interest me. Tell me about this.’

‘I will tell you everything,’ said Ben, ‘and then you will give me my sentence,—death or life,—that is what it will be. Don’t take up your work. Oh, how can you be so calm, you women? Cannot you see what it is to me;—death or life?’

Millicent looked up at him, dropping her work hesitatingly on her knee. When he met that glance, the blue eyes looked so wondering, so wistful, so innocent, that poor Ben in his madness got down on his knees and kissed the hand that lay in her lap and the muslin that surrounded it, and cried out, with a kind of sweet heart-break;—‘Yes, it is right you should be calm; I love you best so. For me, the earth and the passions; for you, heaven. I agree,—that is what God must have meant.’

With a deeper wonder still,—a real wonder,—that made her face angelic, Millicent listened, and felt the hot lips touch her hand. What did the madman mean? What was he agreeing to and approving? Had he found her out? Was he mocking{v.1-107} her? She was so bewildered that she said nothing; and she was touched, too, at her heart. She had an impulse to lay her other hand on his head, and smooth down the curls upon it with a touch of natural kindness and pity. Poor boy! whose head was all running on wild nonsense, and who could not understand the nature of her thoughts. ‘Mr. Renton,’ she said, with a little tremble in her voice, which was not affected,—‘I am alone. Whatever you have to say to me it must not be said in this way.’

He rose up abashed and penitent, poor fellow! feeling the serene, fair creature worlds above him; and yet taking courage because of that little shake in her voice. ‘Forgive me,’ he said, with broken words,—‘I did not know any better. I thought on my knees was the most natural way. But I see. A man goes on his knees to the woman that loves him; but I—— only love you.’

And then he stood away from her and gazed at her, looking down from his height on her low seat, her drooping head, with such humility and splendour of devotion, that poor Millicent was dazzled. Men had told her this same thing before, but never in this way. Somehow it made her shrink a little, and feel a certain shame. Not good enough to go on his knees to her, he thought;—and yet, oh, so much more innocent, so much purer and better than she! Such an extraordinary scene had never occurred to{v.1-108} her before; and in face of the unknown being standing before her, all her experience failed, and she could not tell what to do. ‘Don’t speak like that,’ she said, half peevishly, in her discomfiture. ‘I am not a queen, nor Una, nor anything of the kind; and you are not King Arthur, that I know of. Come and sit down by me as you were before, and tell me about yourself. That is much more interesting. I do not believe you are disinherited. Come and tell me what you mean.’

After a moment Ben obeyed. He was nearer to her so; and she sat and gazed up at him, with heartfelt interest, which made him flush all over with a warm thrill of happiness. She gave all her attention to his story. He told her everything, watching the fluctuations, the shades of surprise, of sympathy, of something else which he could not divine, on her face. Once she put out her hand to him with a momentary compassionate impulse. She was deeply interested; there was no fiction in that. She was still more deeply disappointed,—sorry for herself, sorry for him. And Ben thought it was all for him. When she took her hand back again, away from him, and sighed, and suffered the cloud to fall over her face, his heart began to ache for her; for her, not for himself. He had roused her sympathy too far;—he had given her pain.

‘Don’t be so sorry for me,’ he said, with his lip quivering, ‘or you will make me too happy. What{v.1-109} do I mind if you care? I am young enough to make a way for myself,—and, Millicent, for you too,—if——’ cried the young man, drawing closer to her. What could she do with such a passionate suitor? Perhaps she was not so sensitive to avoid the touch, the close approach, the almost embrace of the man she could not accept, as a more innocent girl would have been; though, indeed, there was not a touch of the wanton in her, poor girl! She was an adventuress and mercenary;—that was all.

‘Oh, Mr. Renton, don’t speak so!’ she said, ‘you don’t know what you are saying. Though I am a woman I know the world better than you do. It is very, very hard to make your way. Look at poor Fitzgerald. And when you have tied a burden round your neck to begin with! Ah, no; you must not talk of this any more.’

‘Burden!’ cried Ben, all glowing and brightening. ‘I like that! Divine cordial, you mean;—elixir of life, to make a man twice as strong, twice as able. Ah, look here, Millicent—you said round my neck!’

‘I said nonsense,’ she said, withdrawing from him; ‘and so do you. Double nonsense,—folly! What could we two do together? I did not know about this, or that your father was dead, or anything. Don’t look so wondering at me. What had I to do with it? Mr. Renton, I have not been brought up rich like you. I know what the world is,{v.1-110} and bitter, bitter poverty. Oh, how bitter it is! You are playing at being poor; but if you should ever be put to such shifts as some people are;—if you should have to fly and hide yourself for the want of a little money;—if you had to live hard, and be shabby, and not very honest—— Oh, don’t speak to me!’ cried Millicent, turning away from him, and bursting into uncontrollable tears. She was angry, and her heart was sore; she had seemed so near comfort, and prosperity, and happiness. ‘Even I could have been fond of him!’ she said to herself, bitterly. And now he could tell her calmly that he was disinherited! Such a disappointment after such a delicious sense of security was more than Millicent could bear. She could govern herself, as a man guides a horse, when she chose; but when she did not choose, her self-abandonment was absolute. Since he was to be good for nothing to her, she cared no longer for what Ben Renton might think. She thrust her pretty shoulders up, and turned from him and cried. She was sick with disappointment. And it was her way not to care for appearances except when they were of use, which they could no longer be here.

As for Ben, he sat looking on with a consternation and amazement not to be described. He grew sick, too, and faint, and giddy with the great downfall. But he was no more able to understand her now than she had been to understand him a little while before.{v.1-111} For some minutes he only gazed at her, his own eyes brimming over with remorse,—for was it not he who had driven her to tears? And he felt for her the tenderest longing and pity. He wanted to take her into his arms to comfort her; and would not, being too reverent to take such advantage of her distress. But he could not sit still and look on. He got up and went away to the other end of the room, shaking the whole house with his agitated steps. Then he came and knelt down before her, and touched softly the hands that covered her face.

‘Oh, Millicent,’ he cried, ‘don’t break my heart! I would rather have died than deceived you. Tell me what is the matter. Tell me what I can do. I will do anything in the world you please. It cannot be you who are poor. You ought to have everything. Oh, Millicent, say one word to me if you do not mean to break my heart!’

‘It would do no good if I were to speak,’ sobbed Millicent. ‘I have nothing to say. Go away, and never mind,—that is the best.’

‘But I will mind; and I cannot go away,’ said Ben; and he drew one of her hands from her flushed cheek, and held it fast. He ‘made her do it.’ That was what she said to herself years after when the remembrance would rankle in her mind. He made her do it. He held her hand close in his, and drew from her the story of all her woes: their debts, their destitution; her mother’s health, which was failing,{v.1-112} the baths in Germany which she was ordered, but could not get to,—all the miserable story. She poured it out to Ben as she never would have done had he been her accepted lover,—mingling the narrative with tears, with broken sobs, with entreaties to him not to make her say more. And all the time her hand was in his,—soft, and warm, and trembling;—her eyes now raised to him with pitiful looks, now sinking in shame and distress. And there was nobody near to interfere in this humiliating scene. Even the mother, who was lingering intentionally along the streets to give full time for the explanation, would have shrunk with a pang of pride and horror from such a revelation as this. But the two were alone, and had it all their own way. Ben himself sat by Millicent’s side in a very ecstasy of tenderness and pity. If he could but have taken her in his arms, and carried her away,—away from the suffering, the trouble, the shame! Yes, he felt there was shame in it,—confusedly, painfully, with a burning red on his cheek,—and yet was intoxicated and overwhelmed by her touch, by her look, by the love he had for her. They sat together as in a trance,—passion, tenderness, trickery, mean hopes and great, shame and pride and dear love, all mingling together. Such a story to be linked on to a love-tale! such a love, veiling its face with its wings, loving the deeper to hide the shame!

When Mrs. Tracy returned, with a very audible{v.1-113} knock at the door, Ben rose and tore himself away, his heart, and even his bodily frame, all thrilling and tingling with the excitement through which he had passed. She had no sooner ascended the stairs than he seized his hat and tore out, jumping into the first hansom he encountered, with the instinct of old times, and dashing down to the far-off City,—blocked up as ever in all its thoroughfares where men in haste would pass. It was not too late to find his father’s agent in one of the mean alleys about Cheapside, who would pay him his allowance. It was just the time for it, by good luck. And then he rushed off to Christie’s, and had an earnest conversation about the buhl and the china which were not yet sold. He took no time to consider anything;—such a state of affairs could not, must not last a day. This was what he was saying to himself over and over. It must not last. He had no room for more than that thought.

When Mrs. Tracy entered the drawing-room she found her daughter lying back in her chair, with her handkerchief pressed to her eyes. Millicent let her approach without uncovering her face, or taking any notice, and the anxiety of the mother grew into alarm as she drew near. She had said ‘Well?’ with expectation and interest as she came in, feeling very sure of the tale there must be to tell. But as she came nearer and saw that Millicent did not move, Mrs. Tracy got very much frightened. ‘Good heavens, Millicent! do you mean to say it has come{v.1-114} to nothing?’ she cried sharply, with keen anxiety. But Millicent was by no means prepared to answer. She had been shaken by this totally unexpected, unlikely sort of interview. It had gone to her heart, though she had not been very sure whether she had a heart; and she did not know now how to explain, or what to say.

‘Has it come to nothing?’ Mrs. Tracy repeated, coming up and shaking her daughter by the shoulder. ‘Millicent! are not you ashamed of yourself? What have you been doing? I know he has only just left you, for I heard him rush down-stairs.’

‘It has come to a great deal,’ said Millicent, uncovering her flushed and tear-stained cheeks. ‘Don’t worry me, mamma. I will tell you everything if you will but let me alone.’

‘Everything!’ said Mrs. Tracy in an excited tone.

‘Yes, everything; but it is nothing,’ said Millicent, doggedly. ‘You must not give yourself any hopes. It is all over. It will never come to more; but you shall not say a word,’ she added, with indignation. ‘I tell you I am fond of him. I will not have anything said. He is too good for you or me.’

‘It will never come to more!’ echoed Mrs. Tracy, holding up her hands in amaze and appeal to heaven. ‘And she dares to look me in the face and say so! Six months lost,—and rent, and firing, and the bills!’ cried the injured mother. Then she threw herself{v.1-115} down in a chair, and moaned, and rocked herself. ‘If it is to come to nothing!’ she said. ‘Oh, you ungrateful, unkind girl! oh, my poor Fitzgerald!—perhaps you’ll tell me what we are to do.’

A little pause ensued. The disappointment was too sharp and bitter to be kept within the bounds of politeness, and Millicent was not prepared to enter into full explanations. While Mrs. Tracy vented her disappointment in reproaches, her daughter sat flushed, tearful, motionless, dreaming over the scene that had passed, wondering within herself whether anything could, anything would come of it after all,—neither hearing nor listening to her mother,—half ashamed of herself, and yet not come to an end of expectation still. ‘He will do something, whatever it is,’ she said to herself. ‘It has not ended here.’

‘I never would have stayed on in these dear lodgings,’ Mrs. Tracy went on: ‘never, but for this; you know I wouldn’t. It was only to have been for a week or two when we came. Oh, the money you have cost me,—you and your nonsense! And now nothing is to come of it! Am I never to be the better of my children,—I that have done so much for them? To waste all my life and my means, and everything; and nothing to come of it!’ she cried. ‘Oh, you are a beautiful manager! And six months lost for this!’

‘Mamma, you need not be so violent,’ said Millicent. ‘It is not my fault. Do you think I am not{v.1-116} as disappointed as you can be? And some good may come of it, though not what we thought. He will make it up to you somehow. For my part I have no doubt of that.’

‘What is it you have no doubt of?’ said Mrs. Tracy. ‘You are more and more a mystery to me. Good gracious, Millicent! you make me think you have fallen in love with him,—or—some folly! But you must leave that sort of thing to people who can afford it. We must have some prospect for the future,—or—we must leave this.’

‘Yes, mamma; only just leave me alone,—I can’t talk,’ she said, fretfully; but then added, with an effort, ‘It is not his fault, poor fellow! He is disinherited. Could he help that? It was we who were the fools to think he would come to this poky place all for me.’

Mrs. Tracy swelled to such heights of moral indignation as would have annihilated Ben had he been present, when she heard this. ‘Disinherited!’ she cried. ‘Millicent, you may say what you like, but it is nothing less than swindling. Good heavens, to think of such a thing! Disinherited! Do you mean to tell me it is a man without a penny that one has been paying such attention to? Oh, what a world this is! He might just as well have robbed me of fifty pounds,—not that fifty pounds would pay the expense I have been at. And I don’t believe a word of it!’ she cried, getting up with sudden passion. If{v.1-117} there had been any one below to hear how her foot thrilled across the echoing floor, she might even now have restrained herself. But she knew that nobody was below.

‘I believe it,’ said Millicent, rousing up. ‘He was too much in earnest, poor boy! He wanted to work for me, and all kinds of nonsense. And it would be better to have him to work for me,’ she added, half-tenderly, half-defiant, ‘though he has not a penny, than be worried and bullied like this every day of one’s life.’

‘Are you mad?’ cried her mother, stopping suddenly, appalled by the words. ‘You are in love with him, you wicked girl! You are in a plot with this beggar against me.’

‘He shall not be called a beggar!’ cried Millicent, ‘so long as I am here to speak for him. It is we who are beggars, not Ben Renton.’

‘You are in love with him!’ cried Mrs. Tracy, almost with a scream of scorn. The accusation was such that Millicent shrank before it for the moment, but she did not give way.

‘I wonder if I shall be in love with anybody again?’ she said; and then a sigh burst from her unawares. ‘Poor fellow! poor boy! He is so good, and he will never forget me!’

‘If he had really cared a straw for you he would never have come here!’ cried Mrs. Tracy. ‘Love{v.1-118}!—call that love! for a man without a penny! I call it pure selfishness. But he shall never come near you again,—never. Oh, what am I to do?—where am I to take you? We cannot stay here.’

‘We are going to Wiesbaden, for your health,’ said Millicent. It came upon her all at once that she had told him so, making use, involuntarily, of her mother’s suggestion. ‘Wait, and see what comes of it,’ she added, with oracular meaning, which she did not herself understand. And after a while Mrs. Tracy’s passion sank into quiet too. When people live from day to day without any power of arranging matters beforehand, and specially when they live upon their wits, trusting to the scheme of the minute for such comforts as it can secure, they have to believe in chances good and evil. Something might come of it. Somehow, at the last moment, matters might mend. She sat down with that power of abstracting herself from her anxiety which is given to the mind of the adventurer, and recovered her breath, and took her cup of tea. She had scarcely finished that refreshment when the maid knocked at the drawing-room door with Ben’s letter. Mrs. Tracy flew at her daughter as though she would have torn the meaning out of the paper, which Millicent opened with the slowness of agitation; but she had to wait all the same while it was gone over twice, every word; the very enclosures in it,—and it was very evident that{v.1-119} there were enclosures,—were hidden in Millicent’s clenched hand from her mother’s eyes. She was wilfully cruel in her self-humiliation. And yet it was Mrs. Tracy, and not Millicent, who answered the letter which poor Ben had written, as it were, with his heart’s blood.{v.1-120}



Mrs. Tracy’s answer to Ben’s letter was as follows:—

My Dear Mr. Renton,—Millicent has placed your most kind and generous letter in my hands. It is everything I have said, but it is a very extraordinary letter as well; and it is impossible for a young creature without any knowledge of the world to answer it. It takes all my judgment,—and I have passed through a good deal,—to decide how to do it. I would not for the world hurt your feelings, dear Mr. Renton, and I am convinced that to act according to the dictates of pride, and decline your most kind little loan, would be to hurt your feelings. Therefore I make the sacrifice of my own. I don’t replace your notes in this, as pride tempts me to do. I keep them for your sake.

‘And, besides,—why should I hesitate to confess it?—we are poor. I cannot do for Millicent,—I cannot{v.1-121} do for myself, though that matters less,—what I would. I don’t know how far my poor child went in her confidences to you to-day. She was agitated,—and she is still agitated,—though I have done all I could to soothe her. She is much affected by your sympathy and generosity; and yet, with the shrinking delicacy which characterises her, she cannot forgive herself for telling you. “I could not help it, mamma,—he was so feeling,” my poor darling says to me, with tears in her eyes. God bless you, dear Mr. Renton! With this timely aid, which I accept as a loan, my Millicent’s poor mother may still be spared to watch over her child. It would have been impossible for me to go, and I tried to hide from my pet the urging of my physicians. Now it is all clear before us. I enclose a memorandum for the amount at five per cent interest; but what interest can ever repay the kind consideration, the ready thoughtfulness? I can never forget it, and neither can Millicent. When I say that we shall leave almost immediately, I but say that we are carrying out your intention. We shall miss you in that strange land. How sweet if we could hope to meet our benefactor among its gay groups! Millicent tells me something about your circumstances, which it seems impossible to believe. But if it should be true, dear Mr. Renton, how sweet it will be to your mind to feel that your little savings, if diverted from their original intention, will yet go to carry out one of the most sacred offices{v.1-122} of Christianity,—to save a mother, the sole guide and protector of her innocence, to her only child!

‘Believe me, my dear Mr. Renton, with the sincerest kind regards and good wishes,

‘Yours obliged and most truly,
Maria Tracy.’

‘Will that do?’ she said, thrusting the paper across the table to Millicent, who sat looking on. Her mother’s style of letter-writing was very well known to her; but her heart was beating a little quicker than usual, and it was not without excitement that she took it up. Altogether, the day had been a strange one for her. It had brought her in contact with genuine, real passion; and at the same time with a rare, almost unknown thing to her,—a man, with all the instincts of power, unconscious of those restraints which make I dare not wait upon I would. There is something in wealth which now and then confers a certain moral power and unthought-of force and energy. Millicent’s friends and lovers had been hitherto of a class quite different from Ben. They had been men to whom appearance was more than reality,—who were accustomed to look richer than they were, and to own the restrictions of small means,—men who could not, had they wished it, have cut a way for her through a difficulty, as Ben did with sudden flash of purpose. In fact, he was poorer than{v.1-123} any of the half-bred men to whom Mrs. Tracy had all but offered her daughter; but the habit of hesitation or considering possibilities had not yet come upon him. Simply, he had not been able to bear the thought of want or difficulty or pain for her, and had rushed at the matter without a moment’s pause, or any consideration but that of doing her service. It was quite new to Millicent. It dazzled her imagination more a long way than it touched her heart. She was not grateful to speak of, but she was profoundly impressed by the man to whom a hundred pounds,—that mighty object of thought to herself and everybody she had ever known,—was no more than a bouquet or a pair of gloves. She was not, even at that moment, ashamed of having all but asked, or of receiving, his help. She was only dazzled by the magnificence, the sudden lavish zeal and service of her lover. She read her mother’s letter slowly and critically. ‘As if he wanted to be paid back, or have interest at five per cent!’ she said. The mother’s were very different thoughts.

‘It looks better,’ she said. ‘And if we ever are able to pay him back, Millicent,—besides, it is putting it in a business way. Every man likes to see things put in a business way; though this is such a young fool——’ said Mrs. Tracy. ‘I never met with such a fool in my life.’

‘He is not a fool,’ said Millicent, angrily. ‘It is the way he has been brought up. He has not been{v.1-124} taught to consider money as we have. Oh, me! should we all be like that if we were all rich?’ she asked herself with a thrill of wonder. Mrs. Tracy smiled grimly as she put poor Ben’s bank-notes,—everything the foolish youth had possessed in the world,—into an old pocket-book, which she took out of her desk.

‘No, indeed,’ she said, ‘not such fools as to give solid good for nonsense. Why, only fancy what he might have had for his hundred pounds! He might have gone to Homburg himself, and got a great deal of amusement out of it. He might have gone to Switzerland. With all his friends and good introductions, he might have got through the season with it,’—this was all Mrs. Tracy knew,—‘with his club and dining out, and so forth. And because you cry a little he gives it to you! No, if I were made of money, I never could be so foolish as that.’

‘Nobody ever minded my crying much before,’ said Millicent, with a touch of sullenness; and then she threw the letter on the table. ‘Certainly,’ she said, ‘a hundred pounds is a high price for that.’

‘I accept it as a loan,’ said Mrs. Tracy, wrapping herself once more in the appearances she loved. Of course I should never think of taking money from Mr. Renton in any other way. And I wish you would see to your packing at once. We never had such a chance before. Oh, Millicent, if you don’t make something of it this time, how can I ever have any{v.1-125} heart again? There are all sorts of people at Homburg; and you look very nice in your mourning. One does when one has a nice complexion. What will become of us if I have to bring you back here again?’

‘I have no desire to be brought back,’ said Millicent, sharply. ‘I am ready to do whatever I can;—you may see that. But fate seems against me somehow,’ she added, putting up her hand to her eyes. ‘One had every reason to think it was settled and done with without any more trouble; and here is the treadmill just beginning again. You are pleased because you have got your money; but it is hard upon me all the same.’

‘I believe you are in love with him, after all,’ said the mother with profound scorn. Millicent did not make any direct answer; but she turned away indignantly, with a frown on her face. In love with him!—no, not so foolish as that; but still it was hard when you come to think of it,—never to be any nearer the end,—just to have to begin again. And when everything seemed so clear and easy! A hundred pounds was very nice, but it was not equal to Renton Manor and a house in Berkeley Square, and everything that heart could desire. Poor Millicent sighed,—she could not help it. And he was so fond of her too, poor fellow! It seemed breaking faith with him to take his money and go off to Germany to marry somebody else on the strength of it. And it was{v.1-126} nice to have him always there,—ready, on the shortest notice, to come and worship. ‘All because I am rather pretty,’ Millicent said to herself, with that half scorn with which a woman recognises that it is the least part of her that is loved. Her beauty was everything she had in the world, and yet it was a little strange that that was all Ben Renton could see in her. Her transparent scheming,—her hungry poverty,—her readiness to marry him or any man who had money enough, and asked her,—that all this should be glozed over and hidden by a pair of pretty eyes! This is a weakness of which a great many women take advantage, but which always fills them with a certain contempt. Millicent, who might have had something better in her, and who could have been fond of Ben had he not have been disinherited, saw his folly with a half-disdain. No woman would have been such a fool as that! And yet she could not bear to hear her mother call him a fool.

She got up immediately, however, to begin her packing; and then she took into very serious consideration the question whether a new dress was not absolutely necessary for the new campaign,—a thin dress which she could wear over her old black silk, and which would looked ‘dressed’ at a table-d’hôte or other public place. ‘Don’t you think grenadine would be best?’ she asked her mother, anxiously,—‘or perhaps my white with black ribbons?’ What{v.1-127}ever might be her feelings towards Ben Renton, it was evident there was no time to be lost.

‘It must be black,’ said Mrs. Tracy, decisively, ‘when you can have so few dresses. White is always the next step to colours, and we can’t afford that,—not to speak of washing. Black grenadine wears very well, and looks very nice,—on you, at least,’ Mrs. Tracy added, with a stifled sigh. She was too old for grenadine herself. To play her part aright, she wanted a rich black silk becoming her years. But it would make such a hole in the hundred pounds! She was compelled to give that up. They spent the evening with the room littered all over with ‘things,’ examining into their deficiencies,—two warriors setting out for the battle, and looking to all the crevices of their armour. And Ben down-stairs heard their soft, womanly footsteps thrill the floor over his head, and strained his ears to catch every moment they made. They seemed to have accepted his offering;—what were they going to do with himself? He sat, sick at heart, and listened while they went to and fro up-stairs to their sleeping-rooms, down again to the drawing-room. He had put his door ajar, and heard everything. Sometimes her mother called ‘Millicent!’ from below; sometimes it was the sweeter voice of the daughter that replied; and every word rang through his heart, poor fellow! as he sat and listened. That there was a commotion of some sort going on up{v.1-128}-stairs was certain; and it was he who was the cause of it; and yet they did not call him to share the excitement. Or were they, perhaps, preparing to go away, to punish him for his presumption,—to return him his impudent gift of money, and reject his friendship? Poor Ben sat trembling, absorbed in a cruel fever of suspense all the evening. Perhaps they had meant him to be so,—perhaps it was only carelessness, their own suspense being over; but certain it is that Mrs. Tracy’s answer to his letter was not put into Ben’s hands till the movement up-stairs was quieted, and the ladies preparing to go to bed. Then Mrs. Tracy rang the bell. ‘That poor boy has not got his answer yet,—how careless, Millicent!’ she said; and Millicent half smiled as she went and sought it on the writing-table, underneath a heap of muslin. ‘It can’t matter much,’ she said, with a slight shrug of her graceful shoulders, and yet gave it with her own hands to the maid. ‘Tell Mr. Renton you forgot it,’ said Mrs. Tracy; ‘it should have gone to him some time ago.’ And this was how the evening ended for the adventurers on the eve of their campaign.

It had been a trying day for Millicent. Thinking it over when she finally retired to the little dressing-room she occupied, this was the conclusion she came to,—a very trying day. Neither her education nor her experience, such as it was, had at all prepared her for such trials. She knew how to deal with the ordinary young man who was to be met with in{v.1-129} Guildford Street; and as she sat with her hair hanging about her shoulders, in the thoughtfulness of the moment a whole array rose up before her of men who had admired her, followed her about, and satisfied her vanity to the fullest extent, but who were not to be compared to Ben Renton in any particular. Millicent, knowing no better, would have married young Mr. Cholmley, of the firm of Cholmley and Territ, if he could have settled anything on her; or young Hurlstone, the solicitor, if he had been in better practice; or the engineer, who everybody said was likely to make so much money, had he not been so impudent about mothers-in-law, and so determined that Mrs. Tracy should have nothing to do in his house. She would have taken any of them, and thought it her duty. She had been even—must it be confessed?—a quarter part engaged to all of them before their shortcomings were apparent. And each in succession was eager to have purchased her and her beauty, though they all haggled about the price. But to have betrayed her poverty to them, or her mother’s difficulties, was the last thing in the world that Millicent would have dreamed of doing. Had she done so her lovers would have regarded her,—she knew it,—with a certain contempt. Her beauty was much, and that she was an officer’s daughter, and supposed to have high connexions, was much too,—enough to cover the want of fortune which she never attempted to conceal; but penniless, struggling with poverty, in{v.1-130} debt—oh, words of fear!—Millicent would have starved rather than have breathed such damning syllables in the ears of Cholmley or Hurlstone. But she had told Ben all, ‘as if he were a friend,’ she said to herself in amazement. And Ben, still as if he were a friend, had rushed forth and found what she wanted, letting no grass grow under his feet. What a curious, bewildering, unaccountable business it was! Poor fellow! Could he be a fool, as Mrs. Tracy thought? or was he more infatuated, more wild about her than any of them had been? or was it a new species she had to deal with,—a being of a different kind? She was so puzzled that she let her hair stray all over her shoulders and get into hopeless tangles. Poor Ben! And after all it was out of the question that she should marry him. This hundred pounds which he had thrust upon her,—and surely, surely, if he were not a fool he must be a very indiscreet, prodigal sort of young man, throwing his money about in such a wild way,—must be the end, as it was the beginning, of anything between them. It was very hard, Millicent thought; but for that horrid old Mr. Renton and his ridiculous will, instead of setting out on her adventures to Homburg, in the hope of finding somebody to marry her, she might have had Ben and the Manor and excellent settlements, and no more trouble. Old men should not be allowed to be so wicked, she said to herself. She would have made Ben a very{v.1-131} good wife; she would even have grown fond of him. A sigh trembled out of Millicent’s rose lips as these thoughts filled her soul. What a hair’s breadth it was that divided this shifty, tricky, sordid life, with its most miserable aim, from an existence so different! Berkeley Square,—that was, alas! the foremost thing in her thoughts. Her mind strayed off to caress the idea for a moment. She saw herself in the great old-fashioned, splendid rooms,—splendid to Mrs. Tracy’s daughter, and not old-fashioned, you may be sure of that, from the moment Mrs. Benedict Renton had got possession of them. She saw herself getting into her carriage at the door, with such horses, such footmen, such a glimmer and sheen of luxury, and sighed again very heavily. Last night it seemed so near, so certain; and now, the old treadmill to begin again, the old game to be played, the old risks to be run! It had not occurred to Millicent even now how humiliating was that game. It was natural to her;—she had been brought up to it. But she doubled the beautiful, soft, white hand which Ben had kissed, and shook it figuratively at his horrid old father. ‘Wretched old miser!’ said Millicent, setting her pearly teeth together. And she could have made a good wife, and even grown fond of Ben.

Mrs. Tracy, on the other side of the partition, was not half so much disturbed. She had a hundred{v.1-132} pounds in her pocket, as good as a gift, she said to herself; for, of course, he would never ask either interest or principal. What a fool the young man must be! or did he, could he, think that she was such a fool as to throw away her beautiful daughter upon him because of his hundred pounds? Not quite so silly as that, Mrs. Tracy said to herself. It was the first real bit of good fortune her beautiful daughter had brought her. For husband-hunting, adopted as a profession in the very serious way in which Mrs. Tracy had entered into it, is a dangerous and difficult trade. Perhaps it would be safe to say there is no work in the world more hazardous, dreary, and unremunerative. Millicent’s dresses had cost a great deal, and it had been very expensive taking her ‘out,’ before poor Fitzgerald’s downfall and death made that impossible, and on the whole she had lost a great deal more than she had gained up to this moment. Now, here was the first earnest of coming fortune. With her looks Millicent might marry anybody;—a Russian prince rolling in money, most likely; or a millionnaire with more than he could count. The world was at her feet. Notwithstanding the small results her beauty had produced in the past, Mrs. Tracy jumped to the highest heights of hope. And as for Ben Renton and his hundred pounds! instead of regretting, like her daughter, she was rather glad that the game was still all to play. The{v.1-133} excitement had its charm for her. She was a gambler going about the world with one piece to stake; and, like most gamblers, could not divest herself of the idea that if she could but wait and hold on, she must win.{v.1-134}



When Ben received Mrs. Tracy’s letter his mind was in a condition which it would be very difficult to describe. He had taken, as he thought, a step which would decide his whole life. And even in the moment of taking it he had been put to the severest test which a man can meet;—his love had been suddenly arrested in its high tide, and the woman he loved placed, as it were, at the bar before his better judgment, his finer taste. The shock had been so great that Ben’s mind for the moment had reeled under it. He had felt equal to nothing but wild and sudden action, it did not matter much of what kind. He had rushed out and had done what we have already recorded, and now for two or three hours he had been sitting with no pretence at doing anything, waiting to see what was to come of it. Wild visions of being called to her,—of being made to forget in the charm and intoxication of her presence all the tinglings of shame and disquietude which against his will had come upon him,—possessed him at{v.1-135} first. He sat for long, expecting that every movement he heard was towards him,—expecting to hear her voice, or her mother’s voice, calling him. He could not go out to his club for dinner as he generally did; he could not have eaten anything; he did not even recollect that it was his duty to go and dine. Such a madness to have taken possession of Ben Renton, a practised man of the world! But so it was. He sat and listened, thinking he heard her on the stair, thinking he heard soft taps at the door, saying sometimes, ‘Come in!’ in his foolishness, to the ghost of his own fancy. But nobody came near him. One would have thought that this want of any response after the great sacrifice he had made for her, would have acted upon him like a shrill gust of reality blowing away the mists. But, in fact, it was not so. Instead of opening his eyes it but dimmed them more with a feverish haze of suspense. How could he judge her when he was watching with breathless anxiety for her call, for her answer, for some message from her? The footsteps above him were treading lightly, cruelly on his heart; but the very continuance of their sound rapt him so that he could think of nothing else. What were they doing? What meaning had they towards himself, these women who seemed to hold his life in their hands? Every lingering moment in which the true state of affairs should have become visible to him, in which he should have come to see,{v.1-136} however unwilling, something of the real character of the creature that had bewitched him, encircled Ben with but another coil of her magic. Not now!—not now! After he knew what she was going to do he might then be able to judge. At present he could but listen, breathless,—watch, wait, wonder, and catch with a quickened ear the meaning of every movement. Any rational observer would have concluded that Ben Renton was out of his wits before, but the climax of his madness was reached that night. He had stripped himself of everything he had in the world,—at the moment,—for Millicent; he would have spent his life for her if she had but made him a sign; not in the way of self-murder, which nobody could have required of him, but of that more total suicide which consists in the sacrifice of all the prospects, and hopes, and possibilities of life. His love was not a selfish, complacent impulse, but a passion which mastered him. Thus the moments which passed so lightly overhead in that argument about the black grenadine were ages of sickening uncertainty to Ben.

This was brought to an end by Mrs. Tracy’s letter. Such a plunge into dead fact after the wild heat of his excitement was enough to have brought any man to his wits. He read it over and over in his consternation. At first there shot across him a pang of disappointment, a sinking of heart, such as comes inevitably to those who are thrown{v.1-137} back upon themselves out of a roused state of expectation. And then he re-read it till the words lost their meaning. But there was something else which could not fail of expressiveness, and that was the silence which had succeeded so much movement and commotion up-stairs. For half-an-hour he refused to believe, even with the sudden stillness above and the letter in his hand to prove it, that all possibility of further intercourse was over for the night. He could not believe it. They were only stiller than usual. The note should have come to him earlier. There was still time to call him to them. He took out his watch and placed it on the table before him. Eleven o’clock, and every thing so quiet. Then he went out and listened in the dingy little hall, where a faint lamp was burning; then, half mad, opened the outer door, and rushed into the street to make sure. There, indeed, he was convinced of the fact which had been evident to all his faculties before. The dining-room was quite dark, evidently vacant, and above, in the higher storey, was the glimmer of Mrs. Tracy’s candles. She was going to bed, respectable, virtuous woman that she was, with the hundred pounds accepted as a loan under her pillow, too virtuous to think of rewarding the giver even by a smile from Millicent’s lips, which would have cost nothing. The poor young fellow came in with his heart bleeding and palpitating, one knows how, and then seized his hat and went out again for a long, agitated walk in the dark, not caring nor knowing{v.1-138} where he went. Yes; this was how it was to be. They had accepted his offering, but they had not a word to give him, nor a look, nor a smile; nothing but the formal acknowledgment of his ‘kindness,’ and Mrs. Tracy’s I. O. U.,—which was worth so much! Ben walked on and on through the dreary, half-lighted streets, thinking, he supposed; but he was not in the least thinking. He was but going over and over the fact that there was nothing for him that night, that all hope was over, that the exquisite moment he had been expecting,—and it was only now that he knew how he had been expecting it,—was not to be. When some long-desired and promised meeting has failed to take place, and the watcher, obstinately believing to the last, has to confess that the day is over, the possibility gone, that the hour is never to be won out of the hands of time,—then he or she knows how Ben felt. And most of us have had some experience of such feelings. Thrills came over him, as he walked, of wild suggestion,—how she might, after all, have stolen down-stairs to say the fault was not hers; how she might have tapped at his door after he was gone. Ah! no, never that! Millicent would never have done that. And it was over for to-night, absolutely over! A hot dew of mortification and disappointment forced itself into his eyes as he marched along, nobody seeing him. Those dark London streets, wet pavements, gleams of dreary lamplight, miserable creatures here and there huddled up at corners, here and there loud{v.1-139} in miserable gaiety, danced before his eyes, a kind of grey phantasmagoria. What had he done? what was he doing? What would life be with all its inconceivable chances missed, and the golden moments gone away into darkness like this? For the moment Ben was ready to have recognised the claim of fellowship with the most pitiable wreck upon that stony strand. Like every real pang of the heart, his sudden ache went beyond its momentary cause. It struck out from that small misery,—as anybody in their senses would have thought it,—into the wide ocean of suffering beyond. The thrill that shook his being cast off echoes into the awful depths around him, of which he was but vaguely conscious. Such fooling,—because a young man had been disappointed of an hour’s talk with his love! But these fantastic pangs are not the least sharp that humanity has to bear, though even the sufferer may get to smile at them afterwards; and any pain, if it is keen enough, brings the sufferer into the comprehension of pain; just as nature, it is said, makes the whole world kin. He walked for hours, forgetful of the poor maid-of-all-work in No. 10, Guildford Street, who was nodding with her head against the wall, and her arms wrapped up in her apron, waiting up for his return; and yet during all this time not one rational thought about the real position of Millicent Tracy and her mother, not one sensible reflection about his lost money, presented themselves to the young man’s mind. He had not{v.1-140} seen her, could not see her now till the morning of another day,—most probably was going to lose her altogether. Such were the vain things that occupied his thoughts.

Next morning, however, Ben was desperate. The day went on till past its height and no further notice was taken of him,—perhaps intentionally, perhaps only because the ladies were packing, and had no time for visitors. When he could stand it no longer he went boldly up-stairs, and knocked at their door. To tell the truth, they had forgotten him,—even Millicent had forgotten him, having given him but too much of her thoughts the night before, and exhausted the subject. They were in full discussion of the black grenadine when he went to the door, and bade him ‘Come in,’ calmly, expecting the maid, or the landlady, or some other unimportant visitor. ‘I must have something decent for evenings,’ Millicent was saying, with quiet decision, absorbed in her subject, and not thinking it worth while to raise her eyes; and then, suddenly feeling a presence of some sort in the room, she started and looked up, and gave a little scream. ‘Oh! it is Mr. Renton, mamma!’ she said, with sudden bewilderment. She had thought he could be kept off,—kept at arm’s-length,—and she had forgotten the important part he played in all this preparation, and the new start which was coming. She dropped her work, and her hands trembled a{v.1-141} little. ‘Mr. Renton!’ There was dissatisfaction, annoyance, surprise, in every inflection of her tone.

‘How glad I am to see you so early!’ said Mrs. Tracy, with the ‘tact’ which distinguished her, rising and coming up to him with outstretched hands. She gave her daughter a reproving glance, which was not lost upon poor Ben. ‘Do come in. We had hoped to see you this evening; but this is quite an unlooked-for pleasure. You gentlemen are generally so much engaged in the day.’

‘I have not much to engage me,’ said Ben; and then he stopped short, with his heart aching, and gave a piteous look at Millicent, who was not paying the least attention to him. ‘If I have come too soon,’ he said, ‘let me return in the evening. I did not mean to disturb you.’

‘You could not disturb us,’ said Mrs. Tracy, with her most gracious smile. ‘If Millicent is too busy to talk, she shall go away and look after her chiffons, and come back to us when her mind is at rest. As we are going so soon, I shall be very glad of a little talk with our kindest friend.’

‘Oh, very well, mamma,’ said Millicent; and she got up, with no softening of her looks. She was vexed that he had come; yet vexed to go away and leave him with her mother,—vexed to see him, with a feeling of doing him wrong, with which Mrs. Tracy’s obtuse faculties were not troubled. She{v.1-142} swept out of the room without so much as looking at him, and then stood outside with a thousand minds to go back. She was not callous, nor cruel, nor without heart, though she had been brought up to one debasing trade. If she had never seen him after, it would have made the whole matter practicable; but to know all he had done, and why he had done it; to see the love,—such love!—in his eyes; and to be obliged to be polite and grateful, and no more! Nature rebelled to such an extent in the young woman’s mind that it woke her to sudden alarm! Could she be falling in love with Ben? as her mother said. When that absurd idea entered her thoughts she turned quickly away, and ran up-stairs to her room, and went to her packing, leaving her mother to deal with him. No, not quite;—not so ridiculous as that!

‘Have I offended her?’ said Ben. ‘Is she angry with me for my—presumption? What have I done to make her go away?’

‘Nothing, my dear friend,’ said Mrs. Tracy, taking his hand, and pressing it; ‘nothing but the kindest, the noblest action. Oh, Mr. Renton, you must not be hard upon my poor child! She feels your generosity so much, and she feels our miserable position so much,—and, in short, it is a conflict of pride and gratitude——’

‘Gratitude!’ said Ben, sadly. ‘Ah, how ill you judge me;—as if I wanted gratitude! I wish I had{v.1-143} wealth to pour at her feet. I wish I could give her—— But that is folly. Has she not a word to say to me, after all?’

What he meant by ‘after all,’ was, after the opening of his heart,—after the pouring forth of his love. But to Mrs. Tracy it meant after the hundred pounds; and here was a way of making an end of him very ready to her hands.

‘Mr. Renton,’ she said, with an assumption of dignity which sat very well, and looked natural enough, ‘it was my doing, accepting it,—it was not Millicent’s doing. I thought it was offered out of kindness and friendship. Any one, almost, would pity two women left alone as we were; and I accepted it, as I thought, in the spirit it was offered; but if I had thought it was a price for my child’s affections——’

Ben turned away, sickening at her, as she spoke to him. ‘Bah!’ he said, half aloud in his disgust. He would not condescend to explain. He turned half round to the door, and gazed at it in an uncertain pause. Millicent might come back. When he thought of it, mothers were,—or books were liars,—all miserable, bargaining creatures like this. He would not take the trouble to discuss it with her. If he had not been so weary and worn-out and sick at heart he would not have been thus incivil. But he said to himself that he could not help it, and turned impatiently away.

‘Ah, I thought it was not so,—I felt sure it was{v.1-144} not so!’ cried Mrs. Tracy, recovering herself as her mistake became apparent. ‘Dear Mr. Renton, sit down, and let us talk it over. Forgive a mother’s jealous care. But let me thank you first——’

‘I don’t want any thanks,’ said Ben, with a certain sullenness, as he sat down at her bidding on the nearest chair.

‘For my life,’ said Mrs. Tracy, looking him calmly in the face. ‘Yes, it was as serious as that. Not that I care much for my life, except for Millicent’s sake. It has no more charms nor hopes for me, Mr. Renton! But I could not die until I see her in better hands than mine. Don’t be angry with me. You asked her,—you offered her—— What was it, in reality, that passed between you yesterday? My darling child was too much agitated to know.’

‘I had nothing to offer,’ said Ben, with sullen disgust. To pour out his heart to Millicent, and to make his confession thus to her mother, were two very different things. ‘I am penniless, and disinherited. I had to tell her so. Nothing but what I might be able to make as a day-labourer, perhaps,’ he went on, with angry vehemence. ‘Whatever folly said, she has apparently no answer to give.’

‘In such a case, Mr. Renton,’ said Mrs. Tracy, facing him, ‘it is not my daughter who has to be consulted, but me.’ He had given her an advantage by his ill-breeding, and now he had to rouse himself, and turn round to her and mutter some prayer for par{v.1-145}don. He was in the wrong. As this flashed upon him his colour rose. Had he spoken as he now said he had it would have been an insult. It was an insult, the way in which he was addressing her mother now. ‘Mr. Renton,’ she said, ‘I have put myself into a false position by taking your money; and what is life itself in comparison with one’s true character? I cannot let you despise Millicent’s mother. Here it is; you shall have it back.’

‘Mrs. Tracy, forgive me, for heaven’s sake! I did not know what I was saying,’ cried Ben.

‘There it is,’ said his opponent, laying the pocket-book on the table between them. ‘Now I can speak. Millicent is an innocent girl, Mr. Renton. She is not one of the kind who fall in love without being asked. Probably, now that she knows you love her, she might learn to love you if you were thrown together. But after the honourable way in which you have told me what your position is, I cannot permit that. I will speak to you frankly. If things had been different I should have been on your side; but I cannot let my child marry a man with nothing. She is too sensitive, too finely organised, too—— I cannot suffer it, Mr. Renton. That is the honest truth. We are going away, and you may not meet again, perhaps.’

‘That is impossible,’ said Ben, with a firmness of resolution which made her pause in her speech. He{v.1-146} spoke so low that it might have been to himself, but she heard it, and it startled her much.

‘I will not let her marry a poor man,’ cried Mrs. Tracy with the violence of alarm, ‘whatever comes of it. She is not a girl who may marry anybody! She must make a good marriage. She must have comfort. She must have what she has been used to,’ the woman cried in agitation, with a certain gloomy irony. She was afraid of him, not knowing that he might not put his hand across the table, and clutch his money back.

‘Good; I will work for that,’ said Ben. ‘She shall have it. It is only a question of time. What more? What do you want more?’

‘What do I want?’ cried Mrs. Tracy. ‘Is that how you speak to a lady, Mr. Renton? I want a good deal more. I want position and respect for my Millicent, and civility, at least, for myself.’

Ben got up and went and made a gloomy survey of the room, round and round, after the fashion of men, and then he came back to the point he had started from. ‘I did not mean to be rude,’ he said; ‘I beg your pardon. I have spoken to you like an ass. I feel I have; but it is you who have the better of me. Put away that rubbish, for heaven’s sake, if you would not drive me mad! I don’t suppose she cares for me,—how should she? I’ll go to work and take myself out of the way to-morrow. Only promise{v.1-147} me to wait,—wait till you see how I get on. You can’t tell what progress I may make. If I do well you have nothing against me. You said so this minute. Wait and see.’

‘And let my child sacrifice her youth,—for what?’ cried Mrs. Tracy. ‘Oh, my dear Mr. Renton, things are harder than you think! You don’t know what you say.’

‘Perhaps I don’t,’ said Ben; ‘perhaps I do. Neither of us know. Give me your word to this, at least,—that nothing shall be done without telling me; nothing shall happen before I know.’

‘Oh, what am I to do?’ said Mrs. Tracy. ‘How can I make such an engagement? As if I should be sure to know even before—anything happened! I will do what I can. You know I wish you well.’

‘You will promise to let me know before—you bind her to any other,’ Ben repeated, bending over the little table which stood between them, to look into her face. She thought it was to take up the famous pocket-book upon which everything depended, and uttered a little scream.

‘I will do whatever I can,’ she said. ‘I will plead your cause all I can. I will promise,—oh, yes! Mr. Renton, I promise,’ she cried, eagerly. He had even, as he stooped towards her, touched the price,—as she thought,—of the promise with his sleeve.

And then, utterly to Mrs. Tracy’s bewilderment, Ben dropped into his chair, and covered his face with{v.1-148} his hands, and sighed. The sigh was so deep, and heavy, and full of care that it startled her. Had he not just got what he had been struggling for? She had given him her promise,—a reluctant, and perhaps not very certain bond,—and yet he gave but a sigh over it,—the sigh of a man ruined and broken. She looked at his bowed head, at the curious strain of the hands into which his face was bent. What a strange, unsatisfactory, ungracious way of receiving a favour! What a highflown, exaggerated sort of a young man! She was thinking so, gazing across the table at him, sometimes letting her eye stray a little anxiously to the pocket-book, with a pucker on her forehead and a cold dread in her heart, when the unaccountable fellow as suddenly unveiled his cloudy countenance and looked straight up into her face. Probably he caught her glance retreating from the pocket-book, for he laughed, and all at once, to her amaze and consternation, took that up.

‘You must take care of your health,’ he said,—and whether he was speaking in mockery or in kindness Mrs. Tracy could not make out,—‘and when this is done let me know,’ he added, dropping it softly without any warning into her lap. ‘I may be rich by that time; and when I am rich, you know, you are to be on my side.’

‘Oh my dear, I am on your side now!’ she cried with a half-sob, and stretched out to take his hand, and would have kissed it, in the relief of getting what{v.1-149} she wanted. She did not understand the glow of shame that came over Ben’s face, the stern clasp he gave to her hand, almost hurting her, resisting her soft attempt to draw it to her. And he held her thus, as in a vice, and looked down upon her stormily, keenly, as if asking himself whether he could believe her or not. ‘And I will see her, too, before you go,’ he said, with an abruptness she had never seen in him before; and then suddenly left her, without another word, closing the door behind him, and audibly, with heavy, rude footsteps, descending the stairs.

Mrs. Tracy sat motionless, with her fingers all white and crumpled together, and the pocket-book lying in her lap, and heard the street-door shut behind him, and his steps echo along the street. Then only did she draw breath. It had been a tough moment, but she could flatter herself she had won the victory. And yet she had a cry to herself, as she sat alone awaking out of her stupefaction. What a brute he was! Her fingers were crushed, her nerves quite shaken. But then she had the hundred pounds in her lap, and had given only the vaguest general promise by way of paying for it,—a promise which might be forgotten or not as it should happen when there were a thousand miles of land and water between the two.

‘Of course I shall see him,’ Millicent said, when she came down-stairs and heard a kind of report of the interview,—a very partial report given to suit the{v.1-150} exigencies of the moment. ‘I would not be so ungrateful,’ she said; and there was a little flutter of colour and light about her, which looked like excitement, the anxious mother thought. Could she be such a fool as to have fallen in love with him? was the painful idea which flashed again across Mrs. Tracy’s mind. Surely, surely, not anything so ridiculous as that. And the best thing in the circumstances was to fall back upon the black grenadine, which indeed was a matter of the first importance. It was not quite so pretty as tulle, nor so light: but then it would be cheaper and wear better, and at those summer dinners in daylight, which are always so trying, would probably look even better than tulle. ‘It must be put in hand at once,’ Mrs. Tracy said, ‘for we have no time to lose.’ And it was a great relief to her when Millicent settled down quietly to try a new trimming, which she thought would be pretty for the sleeve. After all, she was a very good girl, with no nonsense about her; and her mother’s blessing, could it have secured her the best reward a good girl can have,—the conventional reward for all exemplary young women,—fell upon Millicent on the spot. A good husband, a rich husband,—a very rich, very grand, very noble mate; if that were but attained what more could the round world give? Mrs. Tracy went and locked up her pocket-book, and got through an endless amount of arrangements that very afternoon. She had been in haste before, but now{v.1-151} she was in a hurry. It occurred to her even that it would be better to get the black grenadine in Paris, though it might be a little dearer. Anything rather than another such interview! On that point her mind was made up.{v.1-152}



Mothers were like that,—calculating, merchandising creatures, not worthy to unloose the shoes of the fair and innocent angels who, by some strange chance, were in their hands,—sordid beings whom it was just, and even virtuous, to balk and deceive. If this were not the case, then most books were false, and most sketches of contemporary life founded on a mistake. Ben Renton was not more given to novels than most men, but if there is one fact to be learned from the best studies of the best humorists, is it not this? And there was much comfort in the thought. It stopped him short in the course of disenchantment, which otherwise would have wrung his heart cruelly, and perhaps convinced him. She was not to blame. She had opened her heart to him, poor darling!—she could not help it. And now she was separated from him by an agony of embarrassment and shame, his money standing like a ghost between him,—who had thought of nothing but of serving her on his knees, like a slave,—and her delicacy, her pride, the revul{v.1-153}sion of all her fine and tender instincts against the burden of such a vulgar obligation! This was how he managed to free himself from all doubts of Millicent. Her mother, it was clear, was a mercenary, poverty-stricken, scheming, sordid ‘campaigner,’—but then most mothers are so;—and she herself was as spotless as she was lovely,—the soul of tender honour, the ideal and purest type of woman. God bless her! he said in his heart. Even the cloud he had seen on her face endeared her more to him. And if it should be his to deliver this noble creature from her mean surroundings, to take her from the society of the poor mercenary mother, to enrich her with everything that was fair and honest, and of good report! Ben’s foot spurned the ground as this anticipation came upon him. He felt himself able to conquer everything, thrilling with the strength of a hundred men. Who said it was hard? If it were not hard it would be too sweet, too delicious, the day’s work of Paradise amid the yielding roses and golden apples, not bitter sweat of the brow and mortal toil.

Two or three days passed, however, before the interview he had determined upon, and to which Millicent assented as a matter of course, could come to pass. Mrs. Tracy staved it off with an alarm which was partly selfish and partly affectionate. Her own conversation with Ben had been of a character quite unprecedented in her experience, and had{v.1-154} taken, as she admitted, a great deal out of her; and she was reluctant to expose her daughter to a similar experience. And then Millicent was still young, and there had been curious signs about her for some time back,—signs of something unknown, which her mother was afraid of. Such things had been heard of as that a girl, even in circumstances as important as Millicent’s, with everything, so to speak, hanging upon her decision, and a good marriage the one thing indispensable in the world, should cheat all her friends and ruin her own hopes by falling in love with an objectionable suitor. Mrs. Tracy almost blushed at the thought; but still, as an experienced woman, she could not shut her eyes to the possibility. And Millicent certainly was not quite like herself. Sometimes she could not bear to hear Ben Renton’s name; but again, if he were spoken slightly of, would flash up. And she was cross and uneasy and restless, exacting about the grenadine and the little things she wanted,—not easy to manage in any way. It might be dangerous to leave them alone together. For these very different reasons Mrs. Tracy exercised all her diplomatic skill to delay, and, if possible, put off altogether, this unlucky interview. And in the meantime all the boxes were packed, and such of the tradespeople as she could not help paying were paid. A hundred pounds is not a very large sum of money after all. She took care to point out to the landlady that she was only going for the baths, and might be{v.1-155} expected back again, so that people were not so very sharp about their accounts as perhaps they might have been. And she went so far as to leave her superfluous luggage in Guildford Street,—an unmistakable sign of probity. If the end of all their schemes were attained in Homburg, why then there would,—no doubt,—be money for everything; and, if not, why it was no use burning their ships until they saw how things would go. It was on the last evening that Ben found his way to the drawing-room with a smouldering fire of excitement in his heart. Not all Mrs. Tracy’s skill could balk him of that last gratification; but she had succeeded in postponing it to the last night.

Millicent was seated where she had been the first time he saw her,—where she had been on that memorable day when she told him their need,—on a low, straight-backed chair in the corner, against the wall, with the light coming in on her from under the half-lowered blind. She was innocent of any consciousness of that perfection of effect. The blind was down only because Mrs. Tracy felt that it looked well from the outside, neither of them being sufficiently skilled to know how cleverly this device concentrated the light upon the beautiful head. She had some work in her hands, as usual, by way of relief and refuge in what was likely to be an agitating interview. And yet Millicent did not look much as if she should herself be agitated. Her lips were drawn{v.1-156} in the least in the world; her forehead had the ghost of a line on it; her foot patted in soft impatience upon the carpet. She was anxious, very anxious to have it over. What was the use of talk? She was ready to see him, ready to please him so far as she could, and yet she could not but be irritated with the man who had disappointed her,—could not but feel that his hundred pounds was a very paltry substitute for what she had expected of him. Millicent was not beginning her new campaign with any very brilliant hopes. She was ready, even now, to cry with vexation and disappointment. She never had brought a man to the point and felt that she could put up with him, and might have a comfortable life before her, but he went and got himself disinherited! It was all very well for the others, who had no particular trouble in the matter; and nobody sympathised sufficiently with Millicent to see that the very sight of him was tantalising to her, now that he was no good! At the same time, she was used to commanding herself, and did not betray these emotions. Ben went into the room with the noiseless rapidity of passion. She did not know he was coming until he was there, leaning against the window, gazing down upon her. Mrs. Tracy was out of the room, though she had not meant to be so. He had seized upon the moment, determined, at least for this once, to have everything his own way.{v.1-157}

‘Oh, Mr. Renton, how you startled me!’ said Millicent. ‘I never heard you come up-stairs.’

‘I did not mean you should,’ said Ben. He had come up very wild in his passion, with a hundred violent, tender words on his lips to say; but when he came before her, and gazed down on her passionless face, somehow the fire went out of him. A kind of wonder stole over his mind,—a wonder not unusual to men before such a woman. Was it anything to her at all,—anything out of the ordinary way? The meeting, the parting,—which shook his very being,—was it merely an every-day incident with her, saying, ‘Good-bye to poor Mr. Renton?’ He stood and gazed, with his heart in his eyes, at the calm creature. The very marble warms a little on its surface, at least, under the shining of the sun. When she raised her lovely eyes to him,—undimmed, unbrightened, no haze of feeling nor sparkle of excitement in them,—shining calmly, as they always did, a sense of half adoration, half scorn, awoke in Ben’s mind. Was she chillier than the marble, then? Or was not this passionless sweetness of the woman, before the fiery love which blazed about her, a something half divine? ‘You do not care much,’ he said. ‘I was a fool to think you would care; and yet I have been counting the moments till this moment should come.’

‘It is very kind of you to think so much of me,’ said Millicent; ‘and I did want to see you, Mr.{v.1-158} Renton. I wanted to tell you that I never for one moment thought,—never imagined you would do anything, like what you have done. I should not have told you, had I thought so; I should have died sooner.’

‘Oh, Millicent! is this all you have to say to me?’ cried her lover. ‘I wish it was at the bottom of the sea;—I wish—— Never mind. Think for one moment, if you can, that I have never done anything—except—love you. That does not sound much,’ the young man went on, stooping down, almost kneeling before her, that his eyes might help his words. A smile of half disdain at himself broke over his face as he caught her eye. ‘It does not sound much,’ he cried. ‘You will say to yourself, small thanks to him,—everybody does that; but it is everything in the world to me. Have you nothing to say to me for that, Millicent?—not one word?’

‘It is very kind of you. You are very good,—you always were very good to me,’ said Millicent, hurriedly under her breath, with a glance at the door. Undoubtedly, Mrs. Tracy’s presence would have been a relief now.

‘Kind!’ he cried, with a sort of groan,—‘good to you! Then that is all I am to have by way of farewell?’

‘Mr. Renton,’ said Millicent, rousing herself up, ‘I don’t know what you think I can say. You know what you told me last time we spoke of this. You{v.1-159} said you were disinherited. You said you had nothing to offer me. Well, then, what can I answer? It is very good of you to—care for me. I shall always feel you have done me an honour. But there is nothing to give an answer to that I know of; and, indeed, I can’t tell what else to say.’

‘Ah, if it is only that there is nothing to answer!’ cried Ben. ‘Millicent, tell me I am to work for you,—tell me that when I have changed all this,—when I have made my way in the world,—when I have something to offer,—that I am to come back to you. Tell me so,—only that I am to come!’

With a little laugh, half of natural embarrassment, half of art, Millicent glanced at, and turned away from her lover, who was now fairly on his knees before her, looking up with eager, pleading, impassioned eyes into her face. ‘That would be very like making you an offer,’ she said, shaking her head. ‘You cannot expect me to do that.’

‘But I may come?’ said Ben. He took her calm, soft hands into his, which burned and trembled. He kissed them with his quivering, passionate lips. Oh, what a fool he was! That was the uppermost thought in the mind of the beautiful creature at whose feet he thus threw himself. A man of the world, too, who ought to have seen through her,—who ought to have known that she was not the sort of woman to wait years and years on such a vague, nay, hopeless prospect. Yes, he might come if he{v.1-160} liked. What did it matter? If he was to make his own way in the world, no doubt it would be years and years first, and by that time his feelings would have changed, of course. It was easier to pretend to yield to him, and satisfy him for the moment, than to set the truth plainly before him and make a scene. Thus Millicent reasoned, not without compassion, not without kindness, for the foolish fellow who held her hands in such a tremulous, passionate embrace. There lay the special hardness of her fate. She could have liked him had everything been as it ought to be. She was sorry for him even now; but, after all, what did it matter? It must be years and years before he could have anything to offer, and of course his feelings would have changed a dozen times before that. It was best to smooth over matters, and make him happy now. Thus Ben came off victorious from both mother and daughter,—victorious,—conqueror of all real obstacles that could stand between him and his love. So he thought.

When he went down stairs again he found the vulgarest little envelope on his table,—dirty, crumpled, with his name scrawled on it in a style he was quite familiar with,—his weekly bill,—and he had not anything to pay it with,—not a shilling in the world!{v.1-161}



There are different ways of being penniless, as we have said. The man who does his work from day to day may have nothing, and yet be easy enough; and the man who has wealth or expectations behind him may treat a momentary impecuniosity as a good joke. And most people, too, find it easy enough to be largely in debt. A big balance against him in some big tradesman’s books seldom, unless he comes to the point of desperation, is very deeply afflictive to a young man; but your little, greasy, weekly bill,—handed in by your poor, greasy, termagant landlady, with hungry, or wistful, or furious eyes,—and not a penny in your pocket to pay it,—this is, indeed, to look poverty in the face.

And this is what happened to Ben Renton the day he took leave of Millicent. If it had been a snake in his path he could not have looked at the poor little crumpled envelope on his table with greater horror. He had been nearly penniless, it is true, for the six months which he had spent in{v.1-162} Guildford Street, as has been related, but he had never been troubled about his weekly bill; and he had nothing, nor any prospect of anything, for three months. And he could not dig, and to beg was ashamed. All the horrors of his position flashed upon him as he stood and gazed at it. His occupation was gone,—his enchantress was leaving him,—everything was over and ended. And he had no money, and nothing to do now that the delirium was over. With his pulses all tingling from the last meeting, and the strange intoxication of mingled content and despair in his brain, to plunge into this cold sea of reality, was something terrible. He caught his breath and shivered like a man near drowning. Then he sat down and took out his purse, and counted over the money in it. There were a few shillings left, and one sovereign,—the last of its race; and that was all he should have for three months,—he, Benedict Renton, the representative of an old wealthy house,—he who imagined himself Millicent Tracy’s betrothed. He was going to make wealth and a fortune for her, and this was the foundation he had to start upon. And how to dig he knew not, nor to what to apply himself.

Then Ben seized his hat and went out, leaving the thunderbolt which had thus shaken him,—Mrs. Barton’s little bill,—lying on the table. He had no need to look at it. Its crooked column of shillings was quite as appalling to him as if it had been{v.1-163} hundreds of pounds, for he had not a penny, so to speak. He had some five-and-twenty shillings in the world; and when a man has come to that, the mere amount of what he owes does not much matter to him. Small or great, it involved the same impossibility,—he had nothing wherewith to pay it. The evening had come on,—a May evening,—with a little fresh wind blowing, and a scent of growing grass and fresh foliage even in the dingiest of squares. London had revolved upon its axis since he had gone to Guildford Street. Even in that sombre neighbourhood the thrill of the new season was in everybody’s veins; the tall dark houses round the corner, which had slumbered all winter, had now lights gleaming all over them. The old fly with the white horse, and the driver in white cotton gloves, which Ben had caught a vision of through the window the first time he entered that house and met his fate, drove past him now as he went out, with a semblance of dash and spirit, conveying ladies in full dress to some dinner-party. Six months,—and had he been slumbering, too, and had dreams?—or taking the most important step of his life, laying a sweet foundation for after happiness?—or throwing away so much time, and his peace into the bargain? Heaven knows! He went out and made his way through the twilight streets into the Park, where the dew was falling and the stars shining. Even yet he had not come to ask himself seriously the{v.1-164} question, What was he to do? His mind was in a haze of excitement, and uncertainty, and passion. It was like the evening landscape amidst which he went abroad,—lights gleaming about all its edges,—vague noises,—a haze about that blurred the distant outlines,—calm with the compulsory quiet which comes with an ending, whatever that ending may be,—yet agitated with fears and hopes and uncertain resolutions. There was the faint fragrance of the spring, and the soft sadness of the night, and the mystery of that indistinct hum and roar of the great city, so near yet so unseen! All this was round about Ben as he walked, and it was but a shadow of the commotion, the silence, the despair and excitement, that were in his heart.

He walked up and down so long, having the whole soft world of space and darkness to himself, as it seemed, that positive fatigue stole over him at last; and then he turned instinctively, almost without knowing; it, to the familiar ways from which he had long been a comparative exile. When he found himself in the lighted street, pursuing the way to his club, Ben had become languid and listless, and was scarcely conscious of any stronger feeling than weariness. It was past eight o’clock, and in his exhaustion he remembered that he had not dined. For some time past, since the stream of life had begun to pour back to town, he had avoided the club, not wishing to meet former friends; but he was{v.1-165} weary and stupefied, and did not seem to care for anything that night. He went in and ordered himself a spare dinner, and sat down under cover of a newspaper, entrenching himself behind the vast sheet of the ‘Times’ to wait for it. Ben Renton, once amongst the most distinguished, the wealthiest, hope-fullest, best-known of all the community,—and that only six months ago,—now with five-and-twenty shillings in his pocket, his life as uncertain as that of any adventurer, poorer than any day-labourer who knew where to get work for the morrow, waiting for his cutlet, concealed behind a newspaper! Could any imagination conceive so vast a change?

As he rose to go to his meal, however, Ben discovered that he had not been hid. Friends came up to greet him whom it was not easy to shake off; and when at last he got to the door of the room in which he had been sitting, a danger which he had not apprehended befell him. His name was called out with a positive shout that roused everybody’s attention, and, before he could get out of the way, he was caught, and all but hugged, by his mother’s brother,—a hobbling, gouty old sea-captain, who was the last man in the world he wished to see. ‘What, Ben Renton! God bless us, come to the surface at last!’ Captain Ormerod cried loudly, as he posted down to meet his nephew, making such a clatter with his stick and his lame foot as roused everybody. Such an encounter at such a moment was terrible to{v.1-166} Ben; but he had to swallow his impatience, and to brave it as he best could.

‘Going to get some dinner? I’ll go with ye, my boy,’ said his uncle. ‘Why, I’ve been to the Manor, and seen them all except yourself, Ben; and there is as much lamentation over ye as if ye had gone down at sea. Why don’t ye go and see your mother, boy? My poor fellow!’ the sailor continued, as they sat down together at the table where poor Ben’s dinner was served to him, ‘I don’t much wonder. If the old boy had played me such a trick when I was your age——’

‘Remember it is my father you are speaking of,’ said Ben, hastily, his pride and his affection all in arms. Home and its associations had been as things before the deluge to him ten minutes ago. How they rushed back upon him now at the very sound of this old man’s voice! His father,—ah, yes, his father, had been very hard upon him; but, still, was not to be breathed against by any living man save himself.

‘Well said, Ben,’ said his uncle; ‘well said, my boy! I like that. To be sure he was your father, and my poor sister’s husband. But I may say I wish he had made a will like other people. Why, you might have been enjoying your own, a fine young Squire, among the best of them, if some one had not put such devilish nonsense in his head.’

As the sailor spoke, the phantasmagoria of those six months rolled away, as it were, from Ben’s eyes.{v.1-167} A vision of what he might have been rose before him. A man, important to so many people, with power and influence in his hands, with a voice perhaps in the ruling of his country, with all kinds of private interests at least to take charge of, dependants to protect, friends to support and assist; and instead he had spent his time in the little parlour at Guildford Street, madly possessed with one woman’s image, dead and useless to every creature in the world. Was this his father’s fault?

‘I’d rather not think on the subject,’ he said. ‘My father, no doubt, meant well by us. He meant to teach us to depend on ourselves, to rouse our energies——’

‘Well, my dear fellow, well,’ said Captain Ormerod, with an impatient sigh, ‘I hope he has done so, that’s all. I should have said you looked more as if you had been asleep and dreaming than anything else. And it was not your poor mother’s fault, you may be sure, whoever was to blame. You might have written home.’

‘I should,’ said Ben, with compunction. ‘I will write at once. I am very sorry. How is my mother?’ his voice faltered in spite of himself as he named her. He had not so much as remembered he had a mother in the absorption of his passion. He almost thought he could see her now on her sofa smiling at him. Poor weakly woman! Not of sufficient mark in the world to be remembered{v.1-168} even by her son; but yet giving the lie very distinctly, now he came to think of it, to his bitter identification of Mrs. Tracy as the type of mothers. It seemed strange to him to be able to recollect so clearly, all in a moment, that he had a mother of his own.

‘That’s right, my boy,’ said the Captain; ‘and now tell me what you have been doing with yourself all this time.’

‘Nothing!’ said Ben. He had been hungry, and weary, and faint, and wanted his dinner, poor fellow! but the question took away his appetite. He pushed his plate away from him as he answered it. Nothing, and yet how much! But he could not betray what his occupation had been to this old man, who had outlived such folly, and, at the best, would have laughed at the young fellow’s idiocy. He felt his colour rise, however, in spite of himself, and in his heart called himself a fool.

‘Nothing! Well, I am not surprised,’ said his uncle. ‘They all feel, my dear fellow, that it has been most hard upon you. Laurie has been working, they tell me, in his way; and Frank is taking to his profession with all his heart. Frank, you know, is my boy, Ben. But, my dear fellow, notwithstanding your respect for your father, and all that, which is very creditable to you, I’d rather question the will, and get it set aside, if possible, than let myself fall into this sort of way, you know.{v.1-169}

‘What sort of way?’ said Ben; and then an odd, painful curiosity came over him. He seemed to have fallen out of acquaintance with himself in his old character, and was not quite sure what kind of a being he was now. ‘You don’t think that I have improved after six months’ sulking?’ he said, with a forced smile.

‘If you ask me honestly I must say, no,’ said the Captain. ‘I don’t think you have. I don’t make you out, Ben. You haven’t taken to—— drink, or anything of that kind? That’s poor consolation. My dear fellow, I beg your pardon. One does not know what to suppose.’

‘No; I have not taken to drink,’ said Ben, trying to laugh; but his lip quivered in spite of himself. When he tried a second time he succeeded, but the laugh was harsh. ‘I have been living on my income,’ he said.

Captain Ormerod shook his head. ‘I am very sorry for you, my boy,’ he said; ‘but I hoped you would have taken it better than this. Your mother was very much upset about your silence; but I persuaded her you were not the fellow to sulk, as you say; and Laurie and Frank have really borne it so well.’

‘Don’t speak to me of Laurie and Frank!’ cried Ben, stung beyond bearing. ‘What difference does it make to them? Frank is a boy, and a soldier, with his profession to fall back on; and Laurie is a{v.1-170} fellow that would always have mooned his life away; whereas I——’

‘Well, if you talk of mooning,’ said the Captain, sadly; and then he paused. ‘Couldn’t we do something among us, Ben? We ought to have some influence at least. If you had only been a seaman now, one might have managed somehow; but of course there’s heaps of things. Why, there’s all those public offices,’ said the sailor, getting up from his chair, with a little excitement, and waving his hand in the direction of Whitehall and Downing Street; ‘and very good berths, I believe, in some of them. ‘Why can’t we get you something there?’

‘It’s too late, uncle,’ said Ben, gradually waking into rationality as the old life came back and grew familiar to him. He was able even to give a softened momentary laugh at the futility of the proposition. ‘Don’t you know there’s nothing but merit and examinations now-a-days for every office under the sun?’

‘Well,’ said Captain Ormerod, pleased to feel that he had brought the wanderer back to a more natural tone, ‘I don’t see why that should frighten you. I have always heard you had a fine education, Ben.’

Ben laughed again, more softened still, and with moisture creeping into the corners of his eyes. ‘I am too old to go to school again,’ he said. ‘A man has to be shut up and crammed like a turkey before{v.1-171} he can go in for that sort of thing. One has to be brought up to it. I am afraid that would not do.’

‘Then why don’t you go to India?’ cried his uncle;—‘or somewhere. You don’t mean to tell me there are no fortunes to be made in the world, when a young fellow has the spirit to try?’

Ben made no answer. What could he say? A sudden sickness of heart came over him. She was going away to-morrow morning. Mrs. Barton’s bill was lying on his table. He had five-and-twenty shillings in his pocket, and despair in his heart. And to be called upon to answer all in a moment, as if it was a thing that could be settled out of hand, how he would choose to go and make his fortune! In his impatience he leaned his head on his two hands, almost hiding his face between them, and turned half away.

‘Or else dispute the will,’ said the trenchant old sailor. ‘Obeying your parents is one thing, and sacrificing yourself to a piece of nonsense is another. Your poor father’s mind must have been touched—it must have been——’

‘My father had a right to dispose of what was his own,’ said Ben, haughtily; and then he broke down a little. ‘Forgive me, uncle. I am dreadfully tired to-night, and down on my luck. We could not touch my father’s will if even I would consent to try. I’ll talk it all over with you another day.’

The old captain gave the young man a com{v.1-172}passionate look as he sat thus huddled up, hiding his face in his hands, and made that curious little sound with his tongue against the roof of his mouth which is one of the primitive signs of distress and perplexity. Then he hobbled off into a corner and pulled out a pocket-book from his pocket and examined its contents. ‘A little money can’t do him any harm,’ he said to himself. And as it happened, by a lucky chance for Ben, there were two notes, a ten-pound and a five, among the papers in that receptacle. The Captain made a bundle of them, folding them up with his gouty, lumpy fingers, which trembled a little, and came back and thrust it into his nephew’s hand. ‘You’re not too old yet for a tip, though you’re wiser than your elders,’ he said. ‘God bless you, my dear boy! Come and see me as soon as you can.’

And thus deliverance, utterly unlocked for, came to Ben Renton in his downfall. Such a tiny, little deliverance out of such a paltry ruin as Mrs. Barton’s bill might have brought him to! But if the bill had been thousands, and this treasure a million, it could not have been more emphatically a deliverance. He would have avoided the club altogether could he have supposed his uncle to be there; indeed, nothing but sheer weariness could have carried him into it at such a moment. And yet the chance had saved him. Saved him! Only a ten and a five-pound note; but at this moment to Ben it was salvation, neither less{v.1-173} nor more. How curiously words differ in their meaning from one day to another in a man’s life!

He sat there a long time after in one of those lulls which follow great excitement, sipping his sherry, which, though he had eaten no dinner, gave a certain soothing to his outward man, and looking as if he were in very deep thought. But naturally, poor fellow! he was not thinking, nor capable of thinking. Heaps of things were flitting before him in a kind of fantastic procession. The home, which seemed so far away; the mother whom he had almost forgotten; the life,—had it ever been, or had he but dreamed it?—which he had lived a year ago. Was it he, Ben Renton, whom Captain Ormerod’s fifteen pounds had just saved from bankruptcy, who lived in the Albany once, and was the heir of Renton Manor, and one of the most popular men in society? or was it but a tale he had read somewhere in a book? His weariness lent another shade of confusion to the picture. And now and then these dim thoughts were traversed by one so sharp, so clear, so acute, that it chased all the mists away. She was going to-morrow. He had said his farewell to her. Her hand had been in those hands of his, on which he looked down with a sudden thrill. Her lips had consented, or at least assented, with that passive softness of the unimpassioned woman, which drove him wild, yet held him fast, to wait for him. Was it to wait for him? or was it only to let him come when his fortune was{v.1-174} made to try his chance again? What did it matter which? One form of folly or the other would have been much the same to Millicent, in her strange, compassionate, worldly-minded conviction that he would never make his fortune, or, if he did, would change his mind;—and in the confidence of his love and passion would have been the same to Ben.

Thus when the witch had routed once more all the softening charm of old association, he sat till there was nobody but himself in the dining-room. He had so much the air of a man who had no mind to be interrupted, that several of his old friends had felt themselves suppressed by a nod, and had gone without speaking to him. And even that unpleasant suggestion which had occurred to the Captain about the habits of the impoverished man came into the heads of two or three who saw him sitting with that absorbed look over his sherry. Could he have taken in his downfall to the meanest of all consolations? The thought troubled some friendly souls; but perhaps it helped to keep him quite undisturbed in the solitude he wished. It was getting quite late when some one rushed in with his hands full of papers, disturbing the quiet of the place—some one who demanded coffee—and threw himself down in a chair at the other end of the room; and then got up and began to walk about, filling the languid air with a certain commotion, a sound of rustling papers, and vibration of busy thought. This intruder caught{v.1-175} sight of Ben after he had been about ten minutes in the room, and catching up his documents, whatever they were, made a rush at his table. ‘The very man I wanted!’ he cried. ‘Ben Renton! I thought you were dead, or mad, or at the other end of the world.’

‘And I am neither, as you perceive,’ said Ben, not well pleased with the encounter. There was no man in the world he less cared to see at this particular time.

‘I have not seen you for ages,’ said Hillyard. ‘Mind, I don’t want to intrude myself if I’m a bore. You have only to say so. But unless you’ve had more luck than most men, I have something that may be of use to you here.’ And he put down his rustling burden on the table, and swallowed his coffee with a kind of impatient eagerness. ‘I’d rather have had something more cheering,’ he said, with a laugh; ‘but a man must have his wits clear when he has business in hand. You don’t answer my question, Ben.’

‘If I am in luck!’ said Ben. Already he had suppressed the inclination to impatience with which he had been disposed to answer his old acquaintance. Surely this was not a moment to repel any offer of aid. ‘I am just as you saw me six months ago, which does not come to much.’

‘Doing nothing?’ said Hillyard, eagerly.

‘Doing nothing,’ said Ben.{v.1-176}

‘Then, by Jove, I’ll make your fortune, my boy!’ cried the adventurer, striking the table with his hand in his excitement. ‘I’m going out to America next week to make a railway. Didn’t you know I was an engineer? That before everything;—in a secondary way, traveller, sheep-farmer, colonial agent, litterateur,—anything you please, but engineer first of all. And I’ve got a railway in America to make, and I want a man to help me. Ben, don’t say another word. If you like you shall be the man.’

Then there was a pause, and Hillyard plunged into the midst of his papers, from which he drew an unintelligible drawing, diversified with dabs of colour and dotted lines. Ben said not a word while the search was going on. A strange sensation, half fear, half hope, seemed to go through his veins. It was the first offer of work that had ever been made to him,—from Hillyard, of all men, who had taken him to Guildford Street and actually made Millicent known to him,—whom he had kept clear of since as a vulgar adventurer, not able to estimate such a heavenly creature but in his own coarse way. And now it was he who offered him the first round, perhaps, of the ladder by which he should reach her! With this there mingled a doubt of the reality of Hillyard’s good fortune. An adventurer himself, what solid help could he have to offer to others? All these mingled thoughts rushed through Ben’s mind while his companion was finding the plan.{v.1-177} When he had spread it out on the table, Ben gave an unsteady, nervous laugh, glancing at it without an idea what it could mean.

‘I know nothing of railways,’ he said, ‘except travelling on them. I don’t know even the meaning of the words on the margin there. How could I be of any use to you,—unless as a navvy?’ he added, holding out his arm; ‘and it would be easy to find a finer development of muscle than mine.’

‘Pshaw!’ said Hillyard, ‘it is no joke. I mean what I say. You may trust to me to find you what you can do. The only question is, Will you do it? Do you want work? or is it only a makebelief about Renton and all that? How can I tell? You bury yourself out of the world, and never throw yourself in the way of anything, so far as one can see. You may be contenting yourself with what you have. You may be above taking a share of one’s good fortune. I say again, how can I tell?’

‘I am ready to work at anything. It is the height of my wishes,’ said Ben, with a huskiness in his voice. Further explanation he could make none; but his heart smote him all the same. What right had he to a share of any one’s good fortune,—and of this man’s above all, for whom he had never done anything? He had not even the gratification of thinking that he had been kind to him in his wealthier days.

‘Then look here,’ said Hillyard, plunging into his work.{v.1-178}

The two sat with their heads together over the inarticulate drawing till long past midnight. By degrees it became intelligible to the novice. Shortly it opened up before him into a possibility,—a thing practicable, a new hope. When he went back to Guildford Street in the early morning,—the morning which was still night,—his head was full of the new idea. He was no longer an aimless, half-desperate man, detached from everything but the one absorbing madness which had taken possession of his empty life; he had linked himself on again to fact and nature, recovered his identity, his independence, himself. The change that lay before him,—palpable, visible, unmistakable change from one hemisphere to another, from doing nothing to hard, open-air, undisguisable work,—had dispersed already the mists which made a mystery and vision of all former changes. He stretched out his hands to the past, even as he lifted them to the future. It was but this unwholesome, unreal interval which had made life itself look as a dream and a thing untrue.{v.1-179}



While Ben was thus, unconsciously to himself, being drawn back across the threshold of wholesome life, the morning was passing in a very different way at No. 10, Guildford Street. The packing was not yet finished, which of itself was a troublesome matter, and, to tell the truth, Mrs. Tracy’s feeling was that she would be glad to get Millicent safely away, and that she did not know what had come over the girl. Notwithstanding her displeasure with her, and fears as to her state of mind, Mrs. Tracy took care to provide a nice little supper for Millicent, on that last night,—such as her soul loved. The two ladies were rather fond of nice little suppers. They dined very hurriedly and quietly in the middle of the day, eschewing hot and dainty dishes and everything that had a good odour, lest anybody should call; and accordingly, in the evening, when they were free, and could indulge themselves without any scruples about gentility, they made up for their self-denial by having something they liked, which was generally of a{v.1-180} savoury kind. They supped comfortably after the labour of packing, and refreshed themselves ere they went to bed. It was at a late hour, and they had the prospect of but a short night’s rest, for they were to start very early in the morning; and naturally this, their last night upon English soil, had a certain pensiveness about it, notwithstanding the savoury fragrance and comfort of their favourite meal.

‘It seems strange to think that it is the last night,’ said Mrs. Tracy, with not inappropriate reflectiveness. ‘How many things have happened to us within these walls, Millicent! And perhaps we may never enter them again.’

‘I hope not, I am sure,’ said her daughter; ‘a more dreary set of rooms I never was in. If we cannot make out something better than this, I should never wish to come back at all.’

‘Of course we must both wish never to come back at all,’ said Mrs. Tracy. ‘I trust your next home, my dear, may be of a totally different kind. If I could but live to see my child settled, and enjoy the change a little,’ the mother added, putting her hands softly together, ‘I should have all I want in this world.’

‘I don’t see that, mamma,’ said Millicent. ‘You are old, it is true; but I think you want quite as much as I do in the world. You are very fond of being comfortable;—most people are, I suppose. And then you can get the good of things without the{v.1-181} trouble;—I should have more pleasure, perhaps,—if I ever come to anything,—but then I shall have all the trouble as well.’

‘The trouble of looking nice and making yourself agreeable! I don’t think there is much in that,’ said Mrs. Tracy, with a little contempt. ‘The serious business,—managing matters, and getting introductions, and all that,—always falls to my share.’

‘I am sure I wish we were done with it all;—I hate it. I wish I had been brought up to be a governess,’ said Millicent, ‘or a dressmaker, or something. I should not have liked the work; but then one would not have had to be thinking always what would please some man.’

‘You don’t find it so difficult to please them,’ said Mrs. Tracy, with a little gentle maternal flattery, such as was necessary now and then to keep the sullen shade,—which spoiled it,—off Millicent’s beautiful face.

‘I wonder I don’t hate them,’ cried the young woman, ‘after all I have gone through! I am sure it would not be half so hard to go in for examinations and things like poor Fitzgerald. I don’t see how a girl can be good if she were to try,—always brought up to think she may get to be rich in a moment, like a gambler! I declare, mamma, I will go to the gaming-place in Homburg and try.’

‘I hope, Millicent, you will not be such a fool!’ cried her mother, ‘after all the pains I have taken to{v.1-182} keep respectable,—paying bills many a time when it was like taking my heart’s blood; and you know, among the English, it’s only disreputable people who play.’

‘It comes to just the same thing,’ said Millicent; ‘and I tell you, mamma, a girl has no chance to be good, brought up like that to play for a man for his money. I hate the men! Let us go and play for the money; it will be far better; and then nobody like Ben Renton can come and look in one’s face, and make one feel like,—like——’

‘Like what?’ cried Mrs. Tracy. ‘Millicent, I have told you again and again that you are falling in love with that boy.’

‘Not such a fool as that,’ said Millicent, with a faint colour on her averted face. ‘Like a swindler; that is what I meant. Why should he care for me? It was not him I was thinking of;—and then to think it should all come to nothing, after one felt so sure!’

‘My dear, I know it was a great disappointment,’ said the mother, with soft sympathy. ‘I don’t wonder you felt it; but there are better than him in the world, after all. I would not vex myself about what’s past. You will enjoy the change, and your spirits will come back, and you’ll find something better before long.’ Millicent did not answer; she made a little impatient movement with her head when her mother spoke of change, and that sullen cloud, which awoke an incipient line in her forehead and{v.1-183} frightened Mrs. Tracy, came over her brow. ‘You don’t know what work is,’ resumed the mother. ‘Fancy what it would be to sit still at your needle for hours at a time! But to be sure it is all nonsense, and you don’t mean it. I don’t say it is not of more importance to us than to most people: but of course it’s every young woman’s aim to be married. It’s all nonsense what people talk of women’s work. You may depend upon it, Millicent, it’s only ugly women and old women that talk that stuff. No man can bear to hear it. They like you a great deal best as you are.’

‘As if I cared!’ cried Millicent, with scorn. ‘They are such fools! Just think of Ben Renton,—doing nothing, and losing his time, and never seeing through us all these months, and going on with his nonsense to me, as if I was one to understand it! And all because I’m rather pretty!’ she said with disgust. ‘It is enough to make one sick. I wonder I don’t hate them or despise them,—they are such fools!’

‘Millicent, you are out of temper,’ said Mrs. Tracy. ‘I wish you would not talk in that way. If anybody were to hear you——’

‘I wish they could all hear me!’ said Millicent, growing fiercer. ‘Let’s go and gamble at Homburg, mamma. I think I should like it I think I should be lucky. Do I care for a stupid man to come and mumble over my hands? Bah!’ cried Millicent,{v.1-184} looking at her own white, rose-tipped fingers, which Ben Renton, in his passion, had kissed. She looked at them with a certain disgust; but it was not Ben who disgusted her. Perhaps in that sudden fit of sullenness and temper she was nearer the purer world than ever she had been before in her life. Other men would kiss those hands,—other voices would tell that same tale in her ear,—while she sat and smiled and considered whether the suitor was rich enough; and, oh, heaven! why was it all? Because she was rather pretty, and had no heart nor womanly soul in her,—and because they were such fools!

Something like this Millicent thought as she sat with her elbows on the table, leaning her head in her hands. It was not that any impulse in favour of her ‘sex’ moved her altogether unintellectual, unspeculative being. She did not care a straw for the sex. Women were not perhaps ‘such fools’ as men in this particular way. Beyond that she had never thought on the subject. ‘How nice it would be to have money of one’s own!’ she said; ‘how nice it would be to win it over a table with no trouble,—and have all the excitement in the bargain! And if one lost, one could always begin again; whereas with men,—I don’t believe I shall ever marry well,’ she said, suddenly. ‘If I marry at all it will be some adventurer who will take us in. Now, mamma, you’ll remember what I say; I feel sure of it in my heart.{v.1-185}

‘I never saw you in such a dreadful temper,’ said her mother. ‘Is it my fault that you go on at me? But I know what is the reason. You are in love with this fellow that has not a penny. I knew how it would be.’

‘In love with him!’ said Millicent. ‘I wonder if I am in love with him! If I were I could not think him such a fool. Poor fellow! he’s gone and robbed himself to send you to the baths, and you don’t want the baths any more than he does. He ought to marry Mary Westbury and settle down, and get back his money. Most likely he would get back his money if he married Mary. And yet I think I should hate her too; but that would be for the sake of the Manor, and not for Ben. I had set my heart on the Manor, and that lovely house in Berkeley Square. Oh, don’t speak to me! It’s too bad! I can’t bear it!’ cried Millicent, suddenly hiding her face in her hands.

Thus confused, not knowing what was in her own mind, Millicent Tracy ran on, driving her mother wild. She did not know what she meant any more than Mrs. Tracy did. Acute disappointment, a kind of reverence and admiration of Ben, mixed strangely with a worldling’s unfeigned astonishment and contempt at his simplicity, were in her mind. And there were other things besides. Regrets, not only for the house in Berkeley Square, but for the lost opportunity of perhaps catching at a different kind of life,{v.1-186}—longings quite undefined and inarticulate for something better,—self-disgust, self-pity,—all of which took form somehow in this bitter outburst of ‘temper,’ and supreme, unspeakable discontent. Was she, after all, ‘in love’ with Ben? But how could Millicent answer that question, not knowing what love was? Sometimes she was seized with a sort of passionate kindness for him, gratitude for his devotion, always mingled with half contempt, half pity. In short, she did not know what was in her, vaguely struggling for the mastery. Principles which, perhaps, if good influence had been possible,—if!—poor hypothesis, that hangs about the road to ruin! And yet who knows what tears the angels may weep over those blind strugglings of the human soul towards something better, or of what account they may be in the eyes of One kinder than all angels? Who knows what such agitation means, what hopes rise with it, and in what blank sickening of soul and darkening of the world it comes to an end?

Mrs. Tracy frankly had no idea what her daughter could mean. She concluded she was tired, and had got worried over her packing, and perhaps was sorry to lose her lover,—for her mother was less stoical than the daughter, and prized a lover quand même. So the natural thing to do was to get the poor child to bed, and give her some more wine and water, and finish the work herself. ‘I will do that box for you,’ she said; ‘and remember, Millicent, you must be up{v.1-187} early. You want more sleep than I do.’ She was up half the night herself, but did not mind it. It was a new campaign, and great thoughts were in the mother’s mind. Thus the two prepared themselves to set out to spend poor Ben Renton’s hundred pounds. He, too, slept little that night. When they got to the railway in the morning he was there, pale and feverish from want of sleep, and from excess of love and misery and hope. ‘I am going to work for you,’ he whispered, as he put Millicent into the carriage, with that look of anguish and passion and appropriation which made her somehow despise herself. His Millicent he called her once more, kissing her hand in open day, in sight of all the world. Oh, how could he be such a fool! And yet——

Thus Millicent Tracy passed away for the moment out of Ben’s life; and he turned and walked from London Bridge all through the City in the cordial air of the May morning,—walked all the way to be alone and think of her in that crowd of London, before he should begin to work and win her,—with a hundred sweet pangs and stings of hope and suffering in his foolish heart.{v.1-188}



Everybody who has ever passed by that passage of life’s poignant yet ordinary way, knows what a reaction there is when the one is gone who has thus occupied the first place in the thoughts of a man,—or woman either, for that matter. The moment she,—or he,—is gone, what a sudden quickening of energy, what a rush of all the faculties at the suspended work,—suspended for the sake of that engrossing presence. It had been natural to delay and muse the day before, recalling what sweet moments there might be in the past, imagining what might be in the future; but now, when all is over, with what an impulse the man works at his occupation, to fill the void, to hasten, if he could, the very movement of the earth, till the time of meeting again. Ben had a double motive at this crisis of his history. For the first time in his life he had actual work in hand, and the positive prick of necessity to drive him to it; and at the same time the hope of making,—of winning,—what?—his fortune,—Millicent,—a position in the{v.1-189} world,—all out of the chance that had fallen into his hands, of becoming assistant to an engineer on some little bit of American railway,—a profession of which he knew nothing. Knowledge, or skill, did not seem to him at this moment to count for much. It was a beginning a man wanted. Given that beginning, and what had he to do but follow it to the ultimate success which must come? It was in itself a foolish idea, common to the novice in every department; but perhaps in Ben’s case it was less foolish than in that of most men, for it was his nature to hold by anything he took up desperately, until success of one kind or another rewarded him. He was intense in everything, taking what happened to him not lightly, but very seriously,—and such men are not apt to fail.

It was still early, when fresh from his long walk, and with his faculties all cleared up and awakened by the withdrawal of the presence which had absorbed him, he went to Hillyard’s rooms to breakfast, as his friend had invited him to do. It was in one of those dingy parlours in Jermyn Street, which to so many young men are radiant with that freedom from domestic restraints, and privilege of having things their own way, which makes the long, unlovely street into a succession of palaces. Hillyard was sitting in his dressing-gown, over the same papers which he had carried to the club the night before. He was not less eager, not less excited than Ben,—or, indeed, it would be safe to say he was more excited. It was the end{v.1-190} only Ben was looking at; but the means, with which he was so much better acquainted than his assistant was,—the work itself, with its difficulties and obstacles,—had inflamed the mind of the adventurer. Of course there would be a great many difficulties,—there would be schemes to lead the line, one way or another, through this man’s grounds or that man’s, by this village or away from that; and Hillyard felt, with a little thrill of delight, that he was the man who could solve all these difficulties. It was not a work of the first importance, and yet he had never had such an opening before. He was to be chief engineer, and have everything in his hands. It was to an American, who had travelled home part of the way with him from Australia, that he owed this preferment; and the new chance was as precious to Hillyard as to Ben, though not perhaps of so much supposed importance in his life.

‘I will run down and see my mother before I go,’ he said; ‘and I suppose, so will you: but we must meet at Liverpool on the 1st, and go out in the Africa. If I do not keep the ball in my hands now I have got the thread, never trust me! Ben, you will think it strange when I say it, but it is this I have been trying for all my life.’

‘I don’t think it the least strange,’ said Ben; ‘though, if I were to say it was the same thing with myself——’

‘Oh, you!’ said Hillyard, ‘you have not been so{v.1-191} many weeks on the world as I have been years; and, besides, you don’t know what awaits you at the end of your probation. The money must come to some one,—and, even if it were divided among the three of you, your share would be more than enough to make a man happy;—whereas, for me this is the only chance in life.’

‘I wonder what made you think of me,’ said Ben, simply. ‘It was very good of you. I was at the end of my resources and my hopes when I came out last night.’ Hillyard looked at him keenly, and in spite of himself a little colour rose to Ben’s face. ‘It was kind of you to think of me,’ he added hastily. ‘I do not know,—had it been me——’

‘That you would have been so forgiving?’ said his friend; ‘but I had done you no injury, Ben,—unless in taking you there. I suppose I must not ask what you have been doing with yourself all this time, nor what they are to you now, these—ladies?’

‘The railway is a safer subject,’ said Ben, clearing up his countenance with an effort; and then he added, after a little pause, ‘Mrs. Tracy and her daughter have just gone off to one of the German baths.’

Hillyard eyed his companion with a curious look, restraining with difficulty the whistle of wonder which rose to his lips. He, much-experienced man, had seen through the mother and daughter at a glance; though, to be sure, he had been pre-instructed by his acquaintance with Fitzgerald Tracy. He could not under{v.1-192}stand how it was that they had allowed Ben to slip through their finders. ‘If he had but a third of the property he would still be a prize,’ he said to himself, casting a rapid engineering glance, as it were, along the line of his friend’s life, and jumping over the intervening seven years. ‘It was strange they should have let him go.’ But the news of their departure explained how it was that he found Ben so disengaged, so ready to enter into his plans; and curious as he was, he could go no farther. A certain preoccupation that came into the young man’s eyes, a wavering breath of colour on his face, and, at the same time, a strain of the lines about his mouth, his lips shutting, as it were, upon his secret, warned Hillyard off the unprofitable inquiry. He went back to the paper on the table, and began to describe the new life they would lead,—the voyage,—all the novel circumstances before them. He was himself so much of an adventurer that the sudden change of scene from St. James’s to Ohio excited him, and gave a zest to his good fortune. But, curiously enough, this did not tell on Ben. His interest was in the work, and nothing else,—the work as a means to his end. The small excitement of the journey, or the new world which he was about to enter, Ben at this moment of exaltation contemplated almost with contempt. After all, crossing the Atlantic, except in the mere point of duration, was little more than crossing the Channel; and that naturally he would do without even thinking of it.{v.1-193} And what was America to him? There was not even the difficulty of a new language to contend with. He was not moved by that; at least, not now. What did excite him was the new profession he was going to enter; the necessity of knowing it and mastering the tool which was to carve out his fortune;—a necessity which Hillyard, to tell the truth, had not realised.

‘I know all that is necessary for both of us,’ he said, with a laugh. ‘As for you, of course I consider it only a momentary occupation that will fill up your time while you are waiting. I should never have thought of offering it as more than that.’

‘I am not waiting,’ said Ben,—‘I am beginning. Do you think I am going to build my expectations now upon my father’s will, whatever it may be? How can I tell what it may be? Perhaps I am going about the very best way to disinherit myself completely. That is not my concern. I mean to work my own way. And if you can teach me enough to make me of real use——’

‘I’ll see to that,’ said Hillyard, with a cordial grasp of his hand. But, nevertheless, the chief engineer was not quite so sure that he liked it as well on this ground. What he wanted had been a gentleman-assistant, whom to guide as he pleased, and of whom to boast a little, ‘A fellow with I don’t know how many thousands a-year to fall back upon.’ He had rather intended to dazzle his American acquaintances with Ben; but a man who meant to learn his trade,{v.1-194} and practise it, might turn out rather a stumbling-block, and come in his master’s way.

However, all was settled ere they parted, and Ben supplied with lists of books and instruments, and various unthought-of necessities which must be provided for somehow. His face lengthened perceptibly, as Hillyard perceived, when he heard of them, and he was for some minutes lost in thought. ‘Considering how to raise the money,’ his friend thought, but did not offer any help, wisely considering that Ben had friends much more able to help him than he—Hillyard—was. Perhaps he was rather pleased, on the whole, that the new-born professional zeal of his companion should receive a check in the bud. Ben went away very thoughtful with those lists in his pocket, and not very much more than his uncle’s fifteen pounds to rely upon, but very resolute not to be damped in his ardour. It gave him plenty to think of for the rest of that day,—a day which was of feverish, interminable length, begun, as it was, hours too early. And Guildford Street had a gloom upon it as of the very grave when in the evening he went back to it.

They were to sail in the Africa on the 1st of June, so that he had but ten days for all his preparations. So close an approach to ruin had quickened Ben’s powers, and his return to the realities of practical life, and to reasonable hopes and prospects, made the business of providing for his new wants less appalling{v.1-195} than had been that first tragical symptom of destitution, Mrs. Barton’s little bill. There was no despair in the business now, but hope, and all the possibilities of active life. He had never been addicted to ornament, but yet had a little store of bijouterie which was of some value; and being no longer ashamed of his needs, he had the heart to go back to Messrs. Christie’s, to inquire after his buhl and china, and drive a final bargain. The result of all these proceedings was, that Ben found enough in his pocket to stock himself with instruments and books for the profession he had taken up so hastily, substituting them for the pretty toys which had been the luxuries of his youth. To be sure, his Sèvres and his cabinets went for half, or less than half, their value; but of what value were such dainty articles to him at this point of his career? And as the natural spring of feeling came back, no doubt his new theodolite awakened a little pleasure in Ben’s mind, which was still young, and could not but respond to the pleasant thrill of novelty in the long run. The very possession of the implements of a trade brought him nearer to practical work. He began to think such work was worth doing, after all, for its own sake; primitive work—making roads, building bridges—the first necessities of man. Had it not been the hackneyed iron way—the railroad, on which we have all heard so many big words wasted that its wonders have become a vulgar brag—Ben might actually have been seized with a young ma{v.1-196}n’s passion for his work, and thought it superior to every other occupation under the sun. As it was, it loosed his lips, and restored him to the common intercourse of men. ‘I am going to make a railway in America,’ he said to the friends whom he no longer avoided at his club, and it was regarded as a very good joke among them. Some of them delivered a decided opinion—by Jove, that it was a capital idea. And the announcement of Ben Renton thus taking to work, after having been under a cloud, was like a brisk breeze blowing through the languid, gossiping community for one evening at least. He was able himself to see the humour of it, and discuss the subject freely in the course of a few days. He had touched the earth, like the giant in the story, and got new vigour. He was even able to go home—to that house which, in his first disgust, he had felt as if he never could enter again. He had found an independent standing apart from the past, in which he belonged to his family, and was now no more the embittered, disappointed, ruined heir of Renton, but a man erect in the world by himself, and with a work and life of his own.{v.1-197}



It was on a beautiful afternoon, in one of the last days of May, that Ben Renton went back to his father’s house. When he left it, he had not the slightest intention of separating himself so completely from his family; and yet, when he thought of it, he did not see what else he could have done. To go back now, when a definite beginning had been made in his career, and there was something decided upon—something to tell them of—was natural; but to have gone when his whole heart was full of Millicent Tracy, and no object beyond seeing her occupied his thoughts, would have been simply impossible. He felt that now, though he had not seen it at the time, and, feeling it, asked himself, with a flush of shame, how he could have ever hoped that she could love him—a man whose sole proof of his love was that he made himself useless for her sake! He was but on the threshold of Armida’s garden, and already he blushed to think that he could have lingered there so long. But it was Armida’s garden without the Armida. It{v.1-198} was not by her will that he had lingered. The moment he had opened his heart to her, had she not urged him forth to the brighter daylight and more wholesome life? Yes, or at least Ben thought she had done so—he forgot exactly how. That it was to supply her wants that he had been roused out of his dream, and that afterwards downright destitution had threatened him, did not occur to him now. It was all so recent that it was obscure to him, except that he had woke up and found his feet standing on firm earth again, after he had told his story into her ear; for which poor Ben’s heart poured forth litanies of thanksgiving to his Lady of Succour. He was awakened, but he was not undeceived.

In a county so richly wooded as Berks, it is difficult to say which is more lovely, September or May. It was on a day of the St. Martin’s summer that he had left Renton, when the great rich, lavish trees were but beginning to carry here and there a faint fiery mark of Autumn’s ‘burning finger.’ Now they were all in their spring green, so new, so fresh, so silken in this year’s garments, that it seemed impossible any autumn could ever change the soft, glossy texture of the young leaves. It was the last day’s leisure he might have, except on the sea, for ever so long; and everything tempted him to enjoy it. He went as far as Cookesley by the railway, and then got a boat and went up the stream for the short remaining distance. The Renton woods were renowned—indeed,{v.1-199} uncomfortably so—parties going from far and near to visit them, and litter the leafy corners with signs of picnics. ‘I can’t say as they’ll let you land, sir,’ said the man from whom Ben hired his boat. ‘The old lady’s there for ever, and shuts herself up and spoils our trade.’ Before he could take any notice of this speech, or do more than feel a natural amazement to find himself so soon a stranger in his own country, another boatman thrust aside the new-comer, who had not recognised the young master. ‘I ask your pardon, sir; it’s a new man I’ve got,’ said the owner of the boat. ‘He don’t know no better, sir; and it’s long since we seen any o’ you gentlemen on the river. It do look a change.’

‘What! not even my brother?’ said Ben; and somehow it was a kind of comfort to his mind that Laurie had not been there.

‘Mr. Frank do come by times,’ said the boatman; ‘but things is changed since last summer, when you gentlemen was allays about—you and your friends.’

‘Yes, Tom, things are changed,’ said Ben, as he pushed off from the bank. But somehow he did not feel so cast down about that change as he had been. Even the sight of the silvery, quiet river, which had not altered, and the trees drooping over it, every branch of which he seemed to know; and the bank that swelled into soft cliffs and wooded heights, as a sudden turn brought him within sight of Renton, did not bring up, as he had feared it would, any bitter{v.1-200} sense of injury and misfortune to his mind. Instead of being the heir and proprietor of all this, he was but Ben Renton, assistant to a railway man, going engineering without knowing how, away to the other end of the world. He said so to himself, and still, somehow, he did not feel bitter, which was curious. On the contrary, a soft sense of well-being stole over him. The river was as beautiful as ever, though he had no territorial rights over it—the woods rustled as softly in the sweet air of the spring; the sky was so bright above him, and hope, and energy, and resolution so strong in his breast! And Millicent! He had not known there was such a creature when he had last been there—reason enough to take away all the bitterness from his sensations now. Yet it was strange to see the house exactly as it used to be—the outer blinds dropped over Mrs. Renton’s windows, her flowers arranged in their old order, her very sofa placed beneath the trees, as if she had been there a moment before. The only change Ben could see was in his mother’s crape-covered dress and the dead white of the cap which surrounded her pretty, faded face. That was an improvement, though she did not think so; but it was the only visible sign of all the great events that had occurred at the Manor within this eventful year.

‘Oh, Ben, I thought I had lost you!’ cried his mother. ‘I thought you were gone, too, like your father;’ and she clasped her arms round her boy, and{v.1-201} wept on his shoulder. That was all the reproach she made to him. And Ben, as was natural, fell immediately into self-accusation. But in his heart he felt that it would have been impossible. He could not have kept coming and going to this familiar place while his mind was full of Millicent Tracy, and of nothing else in the world. It could not have been. He would have been driven to some violent step—he knew not what—had he come home in the midst of that time of enchantment. The contrast would have killed him, or made him desperate. It would have dispersed the rosy mists, and brought him back to sober day. Now that the spell was broken, he recognised, so far, its nature. And yet it was the magic of this spell which brought him home with a clear brow and unembittered heart, and defended him against all the suggestions of discontent. There was nothing of the injured man in his look, no consciousness of misfortune or downfall. Perhaps Mrs. Renton would not have been quick enough to see this; but there were another pair of eyes looking on—fairly bright ones, though not like Millicent’s—which took it in at a glance, and wondered, and thought of Ben more highly than he deserved. Mary Westbury had been with her godmother all the winter through, giving many a thought to her cousins, to whom she had been as a sister, and saying many a prayer in her heart for poor Ben, the most hardly treated of all, whose wound was so deep that he had not the fortitude to come{v.1-202} home. Mary had been seized with a pang of fear when she saw her cousin, without any warning of his approach, come in, as of old times, by the window which opened on the garden. She expected to see him with a gloomy face, ‘feeling it’ so deeply as to make everybody else miserable. But, on the contrary, Ben’s countenance was unclouded, and his demeanour that of a man satisfied with his own position. Mary’s heart gave a little jump, and then settled into a pleasant glow of friendly warmth and soft agitation. After all, what a noble fellow he was! How fine it was of him to take to the change so kindly, and bear no malice! She left the mother and son by themselves at first, as soon as she could do it without ostentation, and went out, being excited, and walked about by herself in a very pleasant flutter of spirits. She was fond of Laurie, as everybody was, poor fellow; but Ben—Ben was different; and how noble of him to come home with that easy look, that unconstrained smile! Poor Mary made out a whole little romance as she came and went—an innocent, ingenuous creature, with summer in her face and in her heart—under the silken greenness of the lime-trees. No doubt he must have had a hard fight to subdue himself at first—not an easy, facile temper like Laurie—not a boy like Frank—but a man with settled plans of his own, and strong feelings, and an almost stern character. He had kept away until he had overcome himself. He had fought it out all{v.1-203} alone, struggling with his dragon, until at last he had been able to set his foot upon him; and then the victor had come with a smile on his face to see his mother. Such was Mary’s fancy, knowing no better; and if she had vaguely admired, vaguely dreamed of her splendid cousin—the special hero of this drama—before, think with what a sudden thrill of enthusiasm, of dangerous approbation and applause, she regarded him now!

‘They must have had their first talk out, and perhaps he will want something,’ Mary said to herself after a while, and was turning to go in, when Ben met her,—coming to look for her, he said. It was Mrs. Renton’s time for her sleep, and he had settled her pillows for her, and Mary was to have a holiday for once.

‘We are to leave her alone for an hour or two,’ said Ben; ‘and, Mary, you must tell me all about her. You have been doing our duty while we have been,—pleasing ourselves. I have behaved like a brute to my poor mother.’

‘Oh, no,’ said Mary; ‘we have never thought so. You are not like,—the rest of us. I always understood how it was. You were waiting till you could come as you ought,—as you are. I would not write to you, Ben. I thought, perhaps, it was better you should not hear from any of us; but I felt how it was.’

This little speech, which came out of Mar{v.1-204}y’s very heart, and was founded upon utter conviction, struck Ben with the wildest perplexity. Could she know how he had in reality spent his time? Could she be mocking him? But a glance at her face made that idea impossible. Mary believed in him somehow, though he did not even guess why. It gave him a little uncomfortable thrill of self-consciousness; and, what was still more strange, it gave him just a momentary amusement; but, on the whole, perhaps its effect was encouraging, and set him at his ease with his new companion.

‘I have behaved like a brute,’ he said again; ‘though you, with your kind heart, make excuses for me; but, after all, it has been a little hard. A man cannot be twisted out of his socket and set into another without feeling it, Mary; though I do not dwell upon that now.’

‘Oh, I know,’ cried Mary, with all her heart; ‘and there has never been a day that I have not thought of you, Ben; but you have overcome it nobly,’ the girl cried in her enthusiasm, with tears in her eyes. Dear, little, soft, foolish creature!—what did she mean?

‘Put on your hat and come down with me to the river,’ said Ben. ‘My mother says you have no variety, nor even air. And she is to be left by herself till dinner. Come, and I will row you up to the Swan’s Nest. Do you remember?’

‘Do I remember!’ cried Mary, rushing into the{v.1-205} house for her hat. Her heart beat as it had never beat before in its life. Ben to recollect the old story of the Swan’s Nest! It was natural that Laurie, her own playfellow, should think of all those childish follies,—but Ben! She came rushing out again, putting on her hat as she came, not to keep the prince waiting. If poor Mary had but known the use that had been made of her name six months before in Guildford Street, or why it was that her lordly cousin was so gracious to her now!

But, meanwhile, they went very pleasantly together down the winding road under the trees to the river. Both of them, in their different ways, had that enthusiasm for the beauty of their home which is common to well-educated young English people, not fine enough to be blasés. Mary,—to whom it was a delight at any time to approach the beautiful river near which she had been born, by this winding woodland road, shaded by those great trees under which her mother and her mother’s mother had watched it gliding past,—was this day wrapt in a tender content which gave additional beauty to everything around. There was splendour in the grass and glory in the flower wherever she set her foot on that day of days; and when the humblest things were thus enhanced, what was it to float forth on the blessed river, all encompassed by summer light, and the sweetest sounds and sights of nature! Even to Ben, pre-occupied as he was, there was a{v.1-206} pleasure in her gentle company, in the familiar home-look of everything, that penetrated his heart in spite of himself. The sense of life had risen strongly in him after his voluntary banishment. The unusual exercise, the soft gliding of the water round the boat, the glimmer and murmur of the stream, and Mary’s pleasant face,—not beautiful, like the other face he was thinking of,—her soft talk and tremulous, gentle laughter, her happiness and ingenuous confidence, all soothed and consoled him. It would have been rapture with that other; now, it was not rapture, but a certain soft content. She was a good girl, so kind to his mother, like a sister to them all,—a dear, little, sweet-voiced, bright-faced creature. Ben would have defended her against all the world; he would have pitched into the river, without a moment’s hesitation, any man who harmed her so much as by a thought;—he looked at her with a certain affectionate observation and loving-kindness,—poor Mary! and yet with his heart full of that other,—possessed by the enchantress all the time.

‘You are looking a little pale,’ he said, with that frank, affectionate interest in her; ‘but you must not let my mother keep you too much with her. She does not mean to be selfish, poor dear. You must run out and see your friends, Mary, and get your roses back.’

‘He cares for my roses then,’ said mistaken Mary{v.1-207} to herself, with a flush of shy pleasure which restored them to her cheeks. But,—‘Indeed, I am quite well, Ben; and I like to be with godmamma. How strange you should tell me she is not selfish,—I who know her so well!’—was what she said.

‘Perhaps better than I do,’ said Ben. ‘I think women know each other best;’ and he stopped short with sudden gravity, and perhaps just a lingering doubt of what Mary’s opinion might be of another. He meant to ask her, but somehow he was embarrassed about it. It could wait for another time, at least till they had finished their row. And they began to talk of family matters, the familiar talk which is so pleasant in its mild interest;—how old Sargent was having it all his own way with the garden; how Willis the butler was tyrannical to the ladies; the little mots of the house, and its opinions upon things in general. And then they reached the Swan’s Nest, which Mary had made a child’s romance about once like little Ella in Mrs. Browning’s poem. The two knew every water-lily and every flag, and the separate droop of every willow-branch at that fairy nook.

‘I did not think you would have remembered,’ Mary said in her shy delight. And they turned and floated down again with the oars laid silent in the boat, and the sweet water plashing softly with a quiver and ripple of sound and sunshine, so twined together that they seemed but one, about its tiny{v.1-208} bows. Even Ben was hushed, and charmed, and softened by the exquisite tender stillness and brightness. Fancy what poor Mary must have been, shut up so long in Mrs. Renton’s shaded room, with one day of delight thus dropped unawares into her life!

They had reached the bank again, and were wandering slowly up the ascent towards the house before the charm was broken. It was just as they turned and stood still by mutual consent,—as everybody did who knew that view,—to look down upon the river from between the two great beeches, which framed it in, and made an ideal picture of the lovely reality. There was an opening below among the trees, and a silvery nook, with an island just appearing, a goodly bank opposite with groups of sleek cattle, and in the distance Cookesley Church with its ivied tower. The view was always perfect just there; a little ‘bit’ of nature’s own composition, in which the trees, and cows, and the very swans, posed themselves by instinct, as the most exquisite art would have posed them. Many a time afterwards Mary Westbury looked at that scene, and felt again the sudden twang of the bowstring and the quiver of the arrow in her heart. That was the metaphor under which she represented it to herself.

‘You have never been out of Berks, have you, Mary,’ said her cousin, ‘you home-keeping girl?—you were educated close by here, were you not?{v.1-209}

‘What people call educated,’ said Mary, with her soft, happy laugh. ‘I never learned anything. It was at Thornycroft, not more than ten miles off. But it is so odd that you should remember, Ben.’

‘Do you recollect a Miss Tracy there?’ said Ben, with a slight breathlessness,—the road was so steep; was that the cause?

‘Miss Tracy? Oh, you mean Millicent. What! do you know her?’ cried Mary, turning round upon him. He was taken by surprise, and perhaps his face betrayed him. At all events, she grew pale in a moment, poor child, and leaned her arm against one of the beech-trees. That was the moment at which she often thought the string of the bow twanged and the arrow came home.

‘I have met her,’ said Ben;—‘that is, I have seen a good deal of her; and she seemed to be fond of you.’

‘Millicent Tracy!’ repeated Mary, with a little tremulous movement. ‘Oh, I don’t think she was fond of me.’

‘You do not seem, at least, to have been fond of her,’ said Ben, with a little pique in his tone.

‘She was not in my set,’ said Mary, plucking up a little spirit. ‘We were younger. She was so pretty,—oh, so pretty! We all thought there never was any one like her. Is she as pretty now?’ Mary asked, with an attempt at interest; but her tone was not so eager and hearty as her words.{v.1-210}

‘She is not pretty at all;—she is beautiful,’ said Ben, his passion betraying itself in spite of him. And then they stood silent, looking down on the river, and for some minutes not another word was said. It was Ben who was the first to speak. The man was angry, after the fashion of men, with the girl who up to this moment had been so sweetly ready to adopt what tone he pleased to give the conversation. ‘I seem to have been unfortunate in my subject,’ he said, turning abruptly to go in. ‘Miss Tracy, I see, cannot have been a favourite among the girls at Thornycroft. She was too beautiful, I suppose.’

‘Indeed, no,’ said Mary, with a little indignation, following him. ‘We were all very proud of her beauty. Though I don’t think we thought of beauty. We thought she was very pretty,—oh, so pretty! No girl at Thornycroft was ever so nice-looking; and nice too,’ she continued with a hesitating attempt to please him. ‘I always did think that she was nice, too.’

‘That was very good of you,’ Ben said, with a little scornful laugh; but Mary was silent again, and grew frightened, and felt as if her heart would break. What was Millicent Tracy to him? his cousin thought. If this was all he had come home for, only to ask about such a girl as that!—not for his mother at all, nor for Mary, nor for the sake of home. The idea so disturbed her temper and patience that she{v.1-211} had some difficulty in keeping the ready tears from falling; and this, of course, was going a great deal too far, for it was not for the sole purpose of asking about Millicent that Ben had gone home.

From that moment a cloud fell over the shining day,—not in reality, for the sun shone as bright as ever,—but upon the cousins, as they climbed the winding path. All its exquisite greenness and intervals of sunshine and shade,—all the play of light and colour about, the silvery gleam of the river, the soft, full verdure behind,—were lost upon them. A jar had struck into the magical harmony of the summer air. Mary, after the first moment, recovering herself from that pang of mortification and disappointment, began to struggle with herself for something to say. What could she say? Millicent had not been popular at Thornycroft. She had turned the heads of the young masters, and being new to the delights of conquest, had encouraged them to make fools of themselves, and had scandalised the entire community. She had tempted the curate, who was the brother of Miss Thorny, the head of the establishment at Thornycroft, into a flirtation, and broken his heart; and in consequence of this feat had left the school abruptly. ‘Perhaps she was not so very much to blame,’ Mary said to herself as she went painfully along by Ben’s side, watching his averted face. ‘Men are such fools;’—unconsciously she repeated in her innocence that sentiment which was the fruit of{v.1-212} Millicent’s experience;—‘they will do anything for beauty.’ Probably it was their own doing. Could it be Millicent’s fault if they went crazy about her lovely face? Thus the good girl reasoned herself into tolerance. She made a great many little feints to call Ben’s attention,—cleared her throat, dropped her gloves, tried what she could, by every innocent artifice which occurred to her, to get him to resume the interrupted conversation;—but Ben, with something of the brutality of a big brother mingling, as was inevitable, with his brotherly kindness, marched on and took no notice. She had to make a faltering beginning herself without any aid from him.

‘Ben,’ she said, ‘you are not to think I did not like Millicent, or that she was not very nice. I daresay it was not her fault. Everybody made a fuss about her wherever she went;—she was so very pretty. I don’t think it could have been her fault.’

‘Being pretty?’ said Ben, with the sneer that women hate.

‘You know I did not mean that,’ said Mary, injured. ‘I think it must have been the gentlemen’s own doing. Mr. Thorny was very silly to think she would ever have had him. I am sure that must have been his foolishness. She so pretty and so clever, and he only a common curate, you know;—just like other curates, nothing particular about him. It must have been his own fault.’

‘I have not the advantage of knowing what you{v.1-213} refer to,’ said Ben, with the haughtiest assumption of indifference, though his temper had taken fire and his pride was all in arms. A curate,—a common curate,—to have been associated anyhow, by any means whatever, with Millicent! In his heart he was furious, though he managed to keep some outward calm.

‘Oh, it was nothing,’ said Mary, faltering, and feeling that her attempt at making up had not been successful,—‘only they said it was that that threw him into a consumption. But it was not her fault,—it might have happened to any of us,’ said Mary, with a sudden blush; for had it not fallen to her lot, though she was no flirt and not even a beauty like Millicent, to inflict a passing wound without knowing it on a curate of her own?

Then Ben laughed, but it was a very unpleasant laugh. ‘When a lady frowns a man can but die,’ he said. ‘How could he do less? I suppose that is what you mean?’

‘Oh, Ben!’ cried Mary, with a hopeless appeal to his sense of justice. But he only shrugged his shoulders and began to whistle, and walked the rest of the way at such a pace that it was all she could do to keep up with him. Not another word did he say to her on the subject, nor did he pay any attention to her little faltering speeches. He whistled, which was very rude of him; and, after a while, Mary, who had a spirit of her own, grew indignant, and, if she did not{v.1-214} whistle, did what was equivalent,—she took up the air he was whistling, and sang it softly with a pretty little voice. ‘I did not know you had been fond of music, Ben,’ she said with a laugh; but it cost her a good cry when she got into her own room. Ben, who was so superior, who had borne his trial so nobly, who was going to work like a hero,—Ben, who had always been, more than she knew, her own ideal of man,—to think that Millicent Tracy with her pretty face——! ‘Why, even Laurie would have seen through her!’ Mary said to herself, and wept with the poignant prick of self-knowledge, which gives the chief bitterness to such a discovery,—not self-esteem, but that indignant, sorrowful, honest insight which, on such a provocation, reveals one’s worth to oneself in pain and not in vanity. ‘Having known me, to decline on a range of lower feelings and a narrower heart than mine!’ Mary did not say this, any more than Ben had said of whose image his heart was full; but she felt it with a sharp mingling of pride and humiliation. ‘Not that it can be anything to me,’ she added aloud, to save her own credit, as it were, with herself; and put on her prettiest dress, and was very cheerful and amusing at dinner, when the mother was rather melancholy and had need of enlivenment. Ben’s spirits had flagged, partly with the shock his pride had received, and partly with the associations which began to creep over him. The dinner-room, in which it was so strange to take his father’s place; the{v.1-215} old servants, who were connected so completely with the old time; all the routine of the house, in which nothing was changed but one thing,—affected the young man in spite of himself. He had been defrauded, as it were, out of his natural grief for his father; and now the mute eloquence of the vacant place seized upon him. So good a father up to the last moment; so kind,—even at the last moment filled with special compunction for Ben! Mr. Renton’s son felt, almost for the first time, how much wisdom, and support, and guidance, how much tender affection and watchful care, were lost to him. When his mother, faltering, spoke, as to the boy she still felt him to be, of ‘your dear papa,’ Ben fell back into the boy she thought him, and soft tears came into his eyes. Perhaps the sadness did him more good than his former mood of satisfaction; but it somewhat defeated his cousin Mary, who meant to be gay, and prove to him that his enthusiasm for Millicent Tracy was nothing to her. On the contrary, the soft-hearted, sympathetic creature turned her pleasant eyes upon him, all shining with tears when his change of mood became visible, and forgave him his Millicent, and comforted herself that it was but a fancy; and they were all very affectionate together, and somewhat pathetic, with that common grief behind them and the common pang of parting before them, for the rest of the night.

Yet when Ben went to his room, he paused on his way at the great window on the staircase, from which{v.1-216} all the noble gardens of the manor, and the west wing, and the line of trees which overhung the river, were visible, all ghostly and mysterious in the moonlight, and stood looking out with a sudden flutter at his heart. His thoughts were not at home, nor of the past. The question which suddenly flashed across his mind was, Should he ever bring her here to be the mistress of it all? It was the first time he had ever allowed himself to speculate upon the distant future at the end of his seven years’ probation. Mrs. Renton had gone to bed weeping, yet consoled by her son’s presence and sympathy; and Mary was taking herself to task, in her maiden retirement, for having been hard upon poor Ben; while Ben stood at the window looking out on the moonlight, forgetting the very existence of these two, and asking himself, with a thrill that ran through all his veins, Should he ever bring her here? Mary’s hesitating story, her faint praise, her deprecation of all intention to blame, even the curate,—contemptible shadow!—angry as they had made him at the moment, had faded from his thoughts. He seemed to see her in her stately beauty coming across the lordly lawn. How lovely she was! Even the silly school-girls, unimpassioned, feminine creatures, impervious to that influence, were compelled to acknowledge it. What if she might stand with him here by this very window, and look out on the moonlight some other night?

This was how Ben Renton went out upon the{v.1-217} world,—in charity with his own people, even with his father who had been so hard upon him; and feeling, after all, that at five-and-twenty a man, even when disinherited, with work in his hands to occupy him, fresh air to breathe, and novel scenes to see, and energies to exercise in a big spacious world where there was room to do something, had no particular occasion to quarrel with life or fate. The thread of actual work, as soon as he got it into his hands, had enabled him to trace his way out of all the morbid labyrinths of solitary musing. Armida’s garden was left behind for ever; but the witch, who had enchanted him and possessed herself of his life, was so far from suffering by the change, that she had developed in his imagination into a white angelic woman, worthy reward of all labour. Poor, foolish Ben! And yet it could not have been anything but a high nature which emerged from that six months’ mist of self-inspection, bitterness, idleness, and insane passion, with at least a true sense of the realities of his position, and a true love in his heart.

And thus equipped he disappears from us for seven years into the vast and troubled world.{v.1-218}



Laurence Renton’s state of mind when he left the Manor immediately after his father’s death was very different from that of his brother Ben. He was a different man altogether, as will be seen. He had that unconscious natural generosity of temper and unselfishness of disposition which is more a woman’s quality than a man’s. By instinct, he put himself, as it were, on the secondary level, and considered matters in general rather as they affected other people. It was no virtue in him, and he did not even know it. Such a disposition could scarcely have existed with a passionate or energetic mind; and Laurie was not energetic. He could no more have absorbed himself in a foolish passion as Ben had done, than he could have set to work with the practical sense of his younger brother. He was lazy Laurence under all circumstances; fond of philosophising over his mischances, taking most things very quietly; and he had a faculty of contenting himself with what was pleasant in whatsoever aspect it might{v.1-219} come, which is the very death of ambition in every shape and form. He had occupied some rooms at Kensington, with a pretty studio attached to them, in his father’s lifetime, when money was plentiful. No wonder Mrs. Westbury had mourned over him, and denounced so luxurious a mode of bringing up. He was of course a younger son, and had no pretensions to lead an idle life. Providence seemed indeed to have indicated a public office, or some such moderate occupation, which would have left him time for his favourite dilettantism and required no particular activity or exercise of intellect. But Laurence had been a perplexing subject to deal with all his life. He had been one of those trying boys who have no particular bent one way or another. He was a bright, intelligent, indolent, inaccurate lad, utterly incapable of dates or facts in general, but full of social qualities,—good-natured, tender-hearted, ready to do anything for anybody. And then he had travelled a little, and drifted among an artist set, and from that day hoped and imagined himself capable of art. He had always had a certain facility in drawing, and everybody knows how easy it is to glide into the busy dawdling, the thousand pleasant trifles of occupation which fill the time of an amateur. It seemed to Laurie, as it has seemed to many another, that a life made beautiful by that faculty of discovering beauty which the humblest artist prides himself on possessing,—and the privilege of claiming{v.1-220} a kind of membership with a noble craft,—was superior to the loftiest stool and the most dignified desk even in a Foreign Office. He was proud to call himself, as he often did, ‘a poor painter;’ and, alas! a poor painter in the literal sense of the words Laurie was. He had no genius, poor fellow! only a tender, amiable, pleasant, little talent, which would have led him into verses had his turn been literary. His friends and relations would have been more deeply shocked still had they known what a toss-up it was whether Laurie’s amateurship had taken the literary or artistic turn,—but fortunately it was the latter; and as he made pretty little sketches, and had given them away with charming liberality, and harmed nobody, it was only the high moralists, such as his Aunt Lydia, who found any fault with what he was fond of calling his ‘trade.’ And there was this to be said in his favour, that he had no expensive tastes, and that, given this mode of idleness, which he called work, Laurie’s was about as harmless a life as a young man could lead;—‘especially as he will never need to maintain himself,’ people had been used to say.

All this, however, had changed for him as for his brother. Even Laurie’s modest establishment could not be kept on two hundred a-year; and he had been used to be liberal, and manage his money matters with an easy hand, always ready to help a comrade in distress. So that it was absolutely necessary for him now to{v.1-221} work. He went into his Kensington rooms with feelings not unlike those which moved Ben when he made his melancholy inventory of his things at the Albany. There were accumulations of all kinds in the place. Bits of old carpet, bits of ‘drapery,’ bits of still life, a little china, a little of everything; and a north light, perfect of its kind, in the studio. He had fitted it all up to suit himself, with a hundred handy devices,—stands for his portfolios, velvet-covered shelves, all sorts of nooks for the artistic trumpery which is supposed to be necessary in a studio; and the tiny little sitting-room into which the studio opened had a queer, little, round bow-window, looking into the Park, which was something like a box at the opera without the music. All the world streamed under Laurie’s bow-window coming and going, and many a nod and pleasant smile reached the artist.—save the mark!—in his velvet coat, as he came now and then from behind his fresh flowers to look out upon the fashion and beauty, sometimes with a palette in his hand or maul-stick, on which he leaned as he looked out. It gave him a certain pleasure to pose in this professional way. Perhaps it was as well for the consistency of Laurie’s philosophy that it was September when he came back to Kensington Gore. He went and sat down in his bow-window, and nobody passed,—nobody except the unknown people who stream about London streets all day long, and of whom no one takes any notice. No{v.1-222} doubt there were human figures enough; but the trees were very shabby in the Park, and the grass, as far as he could see, was burnt to a pale yellow, and two nursemaids and one Guardsman had all the expanse to themselves. In these circumstances, perhaps, it was easier to take leave of his pleasant little hermitage. He sat in his window and looked carelessly out, and mused on the change. A pot of China asters, showy enough, yet betokening the winter which approached, replaced all the roses and bright geraniums which generally filled the stand. The season was over, and this kind of thing was over, and the first part of life.

Well! he said to himself,—and no particular harm either. Life was not Kensington Gore. Many admirable artists had lived and died in Fitzroy Square; and there was Turner in Queen Anne Street,—not that one would choose to be like Turner. After all, it was but for half the year that Kensington Gore was desirable. When people were out of town, what did it matter? And then a smile crossed his face as it occurred to him that henceforward he was not likely to be one of those who go out of town. Looking down, his vacant eye caught the succession of figures passing along the pavement; many very well-dressed, well-looking people, not having the least appearance of being outcasts of society. And yet such they must be, or else they would scarcely be there in such numbers in September. Then he went{v.1-223} on to reflect what heaps of people he himself knew who lived in London all the year round, with the exception of a month or two, or a week or two, somewhere for health’s sake. Most painters were of this class. It was but identifying himself more entirely with the art he had chosen; and in that point of view it would be good for him. An amateur is never good for anything, thought Laurie; but a man who has to devote himself to his work without any vain interruptions has a chance to make something of it. Then a gleam of pleasant and conscious vanity, for which he smiled at himself, flitted over his meditations. He could almost see the people pausing before a picture in the Academy,—or two or three pictures for that matter,—why not?—when he had nothing else to do,—and telling each other how the painter had been maltreated by fortune, and how this was the result of it,—hard work and success, and substantial pudding and sweetest praise;—ay, and a reputation very different from that of the dilettante who strolled from his studio to the bow-window, and looked out in his professional costume to receive the salutations of the ladies. ‘There is poor Laurie Renton, who has been so foolish as to take to art and nonsense; but, fortunately, he will never need to be dependent on it.’ That was what the ladies used to say as they passed. How different it would be when they stood before the great picture in the Academy, and read the name in the catalogue.{v.1-224} He saw the expression on certain faces as they read that name. ‘What, Laurie Renton! who would have thought he could ever have been good for anything?’ This was what Laurie called thinking over his changed affairs.

There was one drop of bitterness, however, in his cup which had not been in Ben’s. We have said that when Mrs. Westbury visited Laurie in his room on the night of his father’s funeral, there were some little notes lying on his table, over which he was making himself miserable, with his face hidden in his hands. It is not necessary to mention her name, as she has, unfortunately, nothing to do with this story; but the fact was that there had been somebody whose little notes made Laurie’s heart beat. They had been the simplest kind of letters:—‘Dear Mr. Renton,—Mamma bids me say that she will be very glad if you will come to dinner on Thursday;’—nothing more: and yet he had tied them up very carefully together and preserved them,—the foolish fellow,—as if they were pearls and diamonds.

It was one of those might-have-beens, which are in every life. She had very good blood, and very sweet looks, and that perfect homely training of an English girl which people try to persuade us has vanished from the world,—had we not eyes of our own to see otherwise. She knew no Latin nor Greek, but she was more brightly intelligent than her brother, for instance, who was a fellow of All{v.1-225} Souls. And she had not a penny; and if Laurie Renton had come in, as seemed likely, to as much money as would have produced him 1500l. or even 1000l. a-year——!

Alas! that is how things happen in this life. Laurie was not the kind of man, like Ben, to dare the impossible and keep his love at all hazards. He knew well enough it would not do. Years must pass before he painted that picture at which his friends should stare in the Academy; and in the interval no doubt some one would come in who could give her everything she ought to have, and for whom her sweet face would brighten, and not for him. This had been the first thought that had occurred to Laurie when his father’s will was read. He had seen her standing in her bridal veil beside some one else, five minutes after the sound of the lawyer’s voice had died on his ear. It had wrung his heart, but he had said, ‘God bless her!’ all the same. Never word of love had passed between them. When the returning season brought her back to the little house in Mayfair, she would wonder, perhaps sigh, perhaps ask what had become of Mr. Renton? But by that time Laurie knew his little boat would have been so long gone down under the sea that there would not be even a circle left on the smooth, treacherous water. It might cost her a little gentle expectation or disappointment,—a wistful look here and there for the face that was not to be seen again.{v.1-226} Unselfish as he was, Laurie hoped it would cost her as much as that; but it would not cost her more. And long before the seven years were out or his great picture exhibited in the Academy—to which, perhaps, her friends would object as much as to his poverty—she would be some one else’s wife. And it would be better for her. She had always been too good for Laurie. Some one who could give her rank, wealth, whatever heart could desire——! Poor Laurie’s heart contracted with a sudden pang, and forced the moisture to his eyes. He was only four-and-twenty, poor fellow! But it was to be so. Not his the force or the passion to resist fate. It was one of the might-have-beens which gave so strange, so shadowy a character to this existence. Strange to stand amid the unalterable laws of nature and see what caprice moves the fate of the chief of nature’s works. If Aunt Lydia had held her peace! If Mr. Renton had not changed his mind! We are such stuff as dreams are made of! Laurie said to himself as he turned from the scentless China asters in his window and the empty Park, and this concluded phase of life.

But still things might have been worse. This overthrow might have happened a year ago, at the moment when Laurie had pledged all his credit, and given all his money to Geoffrey Sutton,—poor old fellow!—after the brigands sacked his little villa up{v.1-227} on Lake Nemi, and took everything he had in the world. When old Geoff was going about, wild and penniless, girt round with pistols, to revenge his loss, without thinking that his life might go instead of Masaccio’s, and that nobody would be left to pay his friends at home! What a business it would have been had this happened then! But in the meantime Geoff’s old uncle had been so obliging as to die, and all was right again. Or had it occurred that time when Laurie took his last twenty pounds out of the bank to send Harry Wood to Rome to nurse his lungs and pursue his studies! Fortunately at this moment there was nothing in hand to make matters worse than they were by nature, which Laurie reflected was the greatest good luck,—a chance which he scarcely deserved, imprudent as he was. So that on the whole, except for the necessity of leaving Kensington Gore, it would not make much difference. That he should feel a little, of course;—everything was so handy, so nice, so bright, and Mrs. Brown understood his ways. But after all, what did it matter where a man lived? A good light to paint by, any sort of a clean room to sleep in, and a friendly face now and then to look in upon his work. Of that last particular he was always certain. Indeed, Laurie was fully aware that among his artist friends he was likely to be rather more than less popular when he ceased to be a ‘swell’ and amateur.{v.1-228}

Such were the young man’s thoughts when he began to feel the ground under his feet again after his overthrow. Poor Ben! how hard it would be upon him! but after all for himself it was no such terrible business. Art is long; and so, for that matter, is life too, at four-and-twenty, or at least appears so, which comes to much the same thing. Laurie for his part would have been very glad to have stood by his brother and given him all the succour that brotherly sympathy can give, had the elder been so inclined; but, to tell the truth, Ben had been morose when they parted, and had requested to be left alone, and that no attempt should be made to condole with or help him until he himself took the initiative. Laurie went and made a sketch of the three fairy princes setting out on their travels, to solace himself when he had ‘thought over’ as above for a sufficiently long period. Such little sketches were the best things he ever did, his friends said. There was young Frank marching in advance on a noble steed, with the sun shining on his helmet and all his gorgeous apparel; and Laurie himself following after with his easel on his shoulder, his portfolios, half-finished canvases, palettes, colour-boxes, and accompanying trumpery hung about his person. Ben came last, with his coat buttoned, and his face set against the wind. Poor Ben! it was more difficult to make out how he would take it than{v.1-229} how it would affect the others. Thus Laurie, even in the first shock, made light of his own share. There were three beautifully distinct paths on which the three were setting out. In Frank’s case the road was continuous, and led through sundry stormy indications of battle, and fantastic,—supposed,—Indian towers, to where a coronet hung in mid air,—the infallible reward, as everybody knows, of energetic young soldiers who leave the Guards for the line. In Laurie’s own path, the glorious cupolas of the National Gallery, with laughing little imps fondly embracing each pepper-pot, closed the vista. These were easy of execution; but what was to be the end of Ben’s painful way? It lay up hill in his brother’s sketch, a perfect alp of ascent. But on the height, though so austere, stood Renton Manor in full sunshine, at one side; while on the other appeared a stately Tudor interior, full of gentlemen in their hats, where some one with the features of the pedestrian below was addressing the interested audience. ‘For of course that is how it will end,’ Laurie said to himself; and yet his heart melted, poor foolish fellow, over the rocks and glaciers in his brother’s way.

‘And I wonder which of them will meet the White Cat,’ Laurie said to himself, hanging over his drawing-block with his pencil in hand, giving here and there a touch; ‘Frank, perhaps, as becomes a{v.1-230} soldier; but I wish it might be Ben.’ And then he bent over his own part of the sketch, and did something to the imps on the National Gallery and sighed. With that soft ache in his heart, poor fellow! enchanted primrose-paths were not for him. So the next thing he did was to plant a lovely little ideal figure on the rocks through which his elder brother was to make his way, beckoning to Ben and cheering him on. That was how it should be. He spent a great deal of time over his drawing, and took pleasure in the comic burdens which were suspended from his own person,—brushes dangling at his heels, a lay figure suspended over his shoulder, and a little dog barking in amaze at the wonderful apparition. He laughed over it just as he had sighed. Fate was good to Laurie, who could find some way of extracting a little pleasure, a little amusement, out of everything. It was quite late in the afternoon when he put his drawing-block aside, placing it on the mantel-piece, where the drawing might catch his eye whenever he returned, and took his hat and went out. He was going to ask advice of old Welby, an old R.A. of his acquaintance, as to what course of study he should adopt, and what would be best for him in general, in the way of art. ‘And there’s the padrona as well, who understands a fellow better than Welby,’ he added to himself as he went out; and perhaps that was why he put one of Mrs. Brow{v.1-231}n’s monthly roses,—for lack of a better,—in his button-hole as he passed. For he was a young fellow who was fond of the society of women, and liked to appear well in their eyes, notwithstanding that ache in his heart.{v.1-232}



Old Welby, R.A., lived in No. 375 Fitzroy Square. He had lived there or thereabouts all his life; but his immediate dwelling-place was one which he had not occupied for above a year or two, and to which he had come out of charitable, friendly motives which he would have denied reluctantly had he been accused of them. It was poor Severn’s house, and Severn’s widow never would have been able to keep it but for old Welby, who had suddenly become dissatisfied with his rooms, and discovered that the ground-floor of 375 was the very thing he wanted. The old gentleman was very well off and very famous; but he was a bachelor, and had never aspired to the honour and worry of a house of his own. He was a thorough painter, steeped to the lips in that theory of life which is more destructive of social follies and more wedded to liberty than any other. Of all things in this world there was nothing he cared so much for as art. He loved the artist and the artist hand wherever he met with them, though{v.1-233} he did not always display his feeling. Mere intelligence, even, when it was bright and genuine, the uncultivated eye that perceived an effect, though in utter ignorance of its why or wherefore, pleased him; but he was very little interested in fine people, or about enthusiasts who would come and rave to him of his lovely pictures. ‘And had never found out the meaning of one of them, sir,’ he would say with a little snort of indignation. He had had his day of society, and had been much petted as an original as well as a great painter, but had borne his distinction very soberly, with a head it proved impossible to turn; and now having surmounted that ordeal, he lived as he liked living, seeing such people as he liked, going out when he pleased, dining when he pleased, dressing according to his own taste, with an utter disregard of anybody’s opinions. He had taken to Laurie as he seldom took to young men, and it was of him that our amateur went to seek counsel,—one of the most foolish things, had Laurie but known it, that he ever did in his life.

The ground-floor of the mansion in Fitzroy Square consisted of the dining-room in the front, an immense dark room with sober-toned walls and great pictures in heavy old frames, which was Welby’s sitting-room. The room beyond, which opened into it by folding doors, was a bare, scantily-furnished ante-chamber, where strangers, and models, and Philistines in general, were sent to wait his pleasure: beyond that{v.1-234} again, with a separate passage of its own, was the studio, which was not a part of the original building, but had been added to it by one of the many artists who had inhabited the house. Still farther on, following the plan of the original dwelling-place, was Mr. Welby’s bedroom, which was not very large, and looked into the dingy, smoky London garden, with a few trees in it which made your fingers black when you touched them, but which, nevertheless, flourished and threw out their fresh leaves every spring as if they had been in the depths of the country. It was Forrester, Mr. Welby’s man, who was almost as great an authority on art as himself, who opened the door to Laurie with frank salutation, and showed him into the studio, where his master was. ‘Mr. Renton, sir, come to see you,’ he said with the pleasant confidence that he was making an agreeable announcement, and lingered a moment in the room to shake down the contents of a portfolio which bulged inharmoniously and wounded his sensitive eye. ‘I told you, sir, as them Albert Doorers you went and bought was too big for any of the books,’ he said with a gentle reproach. ‘Then go and order some bigger,’ retorted his master; and with this little episode Laurie’s salutations were broken. Mr. Welby was not at work. He was looking over some tiny little scraps of drawings which were worth a great deal more than their weight in gold, carefully examining a frayed edge here and there, mounting them with his own hands,{v.1-235} caressing them as if they had been his children. The studio was a great, solemn, stately place, not like Laurie’s little shed. There was a rich old mossy Turkish carpet on the floor, and wonderful pieces of old art-furniture worth a fortune in themselves. Two or three easels stood about, one bearing a picture, set there clearly for purposes of exhibition; and another honoured by a pure white square of canvas without a line upon it. The picture was not Welby’s own. He worked but little now-a-days, and that little only when the inspiration was upon him. It was by an old Italian master little known, who was the R.A.’s special pet and protégé. He had been pointing out its beauties to some bewildered visitors only that morning, who would much rather have seen a Welby, even in the most fragmentary condition, than the curious, quaint Angelichino which required a very profound artistic taste to understand. Nobody knew whether old Welby’s admiration for his pet master was genuine, or was his way of jeering at a partially educated amateur public. That and his pure white canvas were his favourite show-pieces, and these accordingly were the most prominent objects in the studio when Laurie went in. The painter himself was a little man with refined features, but many wrinkles; his eyes were very keen and bright under the shaggy mobile eyebrows with which he almost talked, and the colour on his cheek was as fresh as a winter apple. His hair was almost white, and so was his beard, but yet he{v.1-236} was not old. He had a black velvet bonnet on his white locks,—not a skull-cap, but a round bonnet such as the Dutch painters wear in their pictures,—and a velvet coat; and was not above adding,—it was apparent,—a skilful touch to the picturesqueness of his appearance by means of dress. Such was the man who held out both his hands to Laurie, with a half foreign warmth mingled with his English calm. ‘Ah, Renton, I am glad to see you,’ he said; ‘a young fellow like you in September is a rarity: and I wanted some one to look at my little Titians. I picked them up in Venice for an old song. There is where you boys should go. Such lights, such reflexions! Look here, my dear fellow,—what do you say to that?’

Laurie gazed and applauded as was expected of him; but somehow, though he had been moderately cheerful before, the sight of this life which was no life filled him suddenly with an uncalled-for depression. To go wild about a scrap of paper with some pencilled lines made how many hundred years ago, and never to think of the lives getting wrecked, the hearts getting broken round you! This was what Laurie suddenly thought,—with great injustice, as was natural,—and felt disposed to walk away again on the spot without betraying the troubles of which the other was unconscious. ‘The padrona would have known before I had said a word,’ he said to himself in his heart.

Whether Mr. Welby, whose eye was keen enough, whatever his sympathy might be, read his young{v.1-237} friend’s thoughts at once it would be impossible to tell. If he did he showed no feeling for them. He went on calmly to the end of his new acquisitions, pointing out their beauties; and then when Laurie was sick and faint, and felt that he hated Titian, put them all together in a most leisurely way and locked them up in a drawer of a beautiful ebony cabinet all inlaid with silver. Then he returned to his visitor and drew a chair to a table and pointed to one near him. ‘Come and tell me all about it,’ he said with the most sudden change in his tone.

‘Ah, you have heard!’ cried Laurie, half indignant, half mollified.

‘I have heard nothing,’ said the painter; ‘but I see you have brought a heap of troubles to cast down at your neighbour’s door. Come, let us have them out.’ Whereupon poor Laurie told his story, brightening as he told it. Curiously enough, when he brought himself face to face with his misfortunes, the burden of them always was lightened for him,—a case so much unlike what it is with ordinary men. When he stood at a distance from them, so to speak, they swelled into great mystic, devouring giants; but they were only manageable human difficulties, and no more, when he faced them near. ‘I must take to work in earnest,’ said Laurie, ‘that’s all, so far as I am concerned. It is worse for Ben; but fortunately, as I have a profession——’

‘Have you a profession?’ Mr. Welby broke in{v.1-238} abruptly, looking Laurie, without a shadow of a smile, in the face, as if moved by genuine curiosity; and the young man gave a little nervous smile.

‘You thought I was amateur all over,’ he said, ‘and I daresay I deserved it. But don’t tear me to pieces altogether; that stage of existence is past.’

‘I asked for simple information,’ said the R.A. ‘If you have a profession now is the time to stick to it. I thought you were only a virtuoso; but if you have really been brought up to anything——’

‘You make me feel very small,’ said poor Laurie, blushing like a girl up to his hair. ‘I have not been brought up to it, I know. I have been a virtuoso merely, but I am not too old to begin to work in earnest. And there is nothing I love like art.’

‘Art!’ said Mr. Welby, with great strain and commotion of his eyebrows. He gave his shoulders a little shrug, and he talked volumes with those shaggy brows. Laurie felt himself scolded, pushed aside as a puny pretender.

‘I did not mean to say anything so very presumptuous,’ he said with momentary youthful petulance, in answer to this silent lecture; and then added, with equally sudden youthful compunction, ‘I beg your pardon. I do want your advice.’

‘Art!’ repeated the R.A. with a little snort. ‘You had much better take to a crossing at once. I went at it, sir, when I was twelve years old. I never had a thought in my noddle but pictures. I’ve gone{v.1-239} here and there and everywhere to study my trade; and after fifty years of it, sir,’ cried the Academician, springing suddenly to his feet, seizing a canvas which stood against the wall and thrusting it upon one of the vacant easels up to Laurie,—‘look at that!’

It was the beginning of a sketch half smeared over. One exquisite pair of eyes, looking out as from a mist of vague colour, seemed to look reproachfully upon their creator; but there certainly was an arm and leg also visible, of which Laurie felt like poor Andrea in Mr. Browning’s wonderful poem, that if he had a piece of chalk——. Welby, R.A. was growing old. He knew it perfectly, and perhaps in his soul was not sorry; but when he saw the signs of it on his canvas it went to his heart.

‘Look at that!’ he said, with a sort of savage triumph; ‘drawing any lad in the Academy would be ashamed of!—after fifty years as hard work as ever man had. I might have been Lord Chancellor in those fifty years. I might have sat on the wool-sack or been Governor of India; and here I stand, a British painter, not able to draw the tibia! By Jove, sir, a man would need to be trained to bear mortification before he could stand that!’

‘I should think you might laugh at it if any man could,’ said Laurie, feeling half disposed to laugh himself; but he had too true an eye to attempt to contradict his master.{v.1-240}

‘I can’t laugh at failure,’ said Mr. Welby, snatching the sketch he had just exhibited off the easel and thrusting it back into its place against the wall. ‘I had some people here to-day who would have given me a heap of money for that piece of idiocy. What do they care? It would have been a Welby, no matter what else it was. Welby in his drivelling stage, the critics would have called it, and just as good for a specimen of the master as any other. And that is what a man comes to, my dear fellow, after fifty years—of art!’

‘Yes,’ said Laurie, with the confidence which he had as a young man of the world, and not as an art student; ‘I don’t say anything about the tibia, for you know best; but to put a soul into a smeared bit of canvas is what no Lord Chancellor in the world could do; and you know quite well it would have made any young fellow’s fortune to have painted that pair of eyes.’

‘Eyes! Stuff!’ said the R.A., but he took back the canvas again and looked at it with a softened expression. ‘The short and long of it is, my dear boy,’ he said, ‘that Art is a hard mistress even to those who serve her all their lives; and you have done no more than flirt with her yet. Is there anything else open to you? You were quite right to come to me for advice. Nobody knows better the shipwrecks that have been made by art. Why, you cannot come into this house, sir, without feeling what an uncertain{v.1-241} syren she is. There was poor Severn, as good a fellow as ever breathed. I don’t say he could ever have been Lord Chancellor; but he might have made a very respectable attorney, perhaps, or merchant, or shoemaker, or something; and here he’s gone and died, the fool, at forty, leaving all those children, and not a penny, all along of art.’

‘But what do you say of the padrona?’ said Laurie, kindling into a little subdued enthusiasm. ‘What else could she have done? What would have become of the children?’

‘They would have gone to the workhouse, sir, and there would have been an end,’ said the Academician, sternly. ‘The padrona, as you call her—and, by Jove! had I been Severn, I’d have shut her up sooner than let a parcel of young fellows talk of her like that. Well, then, Mrs. Severn—as we’ll call her, if you please—the young woman has a pretty talent, and her husband taught her after a fashion how to use it. And her pictures sell—at present. But how long do you think it will be before everybody is stocked with those pretty groups of children? They’re very pretty, I don’t deny; and sometimes there’s just a touch that shows, if she had time, if she had not to work for daily bread, if she wasn’t a woman, and could be properly educated, why that she might do something with it which——. But everything is against her, poor soul! and she’s not wise enough to make hay while the sun shines;{v.1-242} and when the sun has done shining, I wish you would tell me what the poor thing is to do?’

‘I hope the sun will shine as long as she needs it,’ said Laurie, warmly.

‘Ah! hope, I dare say; so do I. But that’s as much as wishing she may die early, like him,’ said Mr. Welby, rubbing his eyelid. ‘It can’t last, my dear fellow; and that’s why I say the workhouse at once, and have done with it. But anyhow. Mrs. Severn is no example for you. She was made for work, that woman. As long as she has her baby to carry about at nights, and her boys to make a row, and that child Alice, with her curls—why the woman is a tiger for work, I tell you. But you are made of different matter. And besides,’ said the R.A., with the faintest twist of a smile about his lip, ‘a woman may content herself with the homely sort of work she can do; but a young fellow aims at high art—or he’s a muff if he don’t.’ The old man concluded with a little half-affectionate fierceness, softening towards Laurie, who was everybody’s favourite, and who was thus affronted, stimulated, and solaced in a breath.

‘Perhaps I am a muff,’ said Laurie, laughing. ‘I am inclined to think so, sometimes. I am not sure that I want to go in for high art. I want to master my profession as a profession, as I might go and eat in the Temple. I am not too old for that,’ he said, wistfully, giving his adviser one of those half-{v.1-243}feminine, appealing glances which never come amiss from young eyes.

Once more the R.A. became pantomimically eloquent. He shrugged his shoulders, he shook his head, he delivered whole volumes of remonstrance from his eyebrows. Then, after a few minutes of this mute animadversion, suddenly put his head between his hands, and stared right into Laurie’s eyes across the table. ‘Let us hear what chances you have otherwise,’ he said. ‘I beg your pardon for insinuating such a thing, but hasn’t your family some sort of connexion with—trade?’

‘Oh, yes,’ said Laurie. ‘You need not beg my pardon. It is too big a connexion to be ashamed of—Renton, Westbury, and Co., at Calcutta, and there’s a house in Liverpool, I believe. Ben ought to have been sent out, had we stuck to the traditions of the family. It has been in existence for a hundred and fifty years.’

‘Well, then, suppose you go out in place of Ben,’ said Mr. Welby, musingly, as he might have asked him to take physic; upon which Laurie laughed, and grew rather red.

‘My cousin, Dick Westbury, went in Ben’s place,’ he said;—‘the very sort of fellow to make a merchant of. You might as well tell me to go and stand on my head.’

‘If I could make all the money by it that those fellows do, I should not mind standing on my{v.1-244} head,’ said Laurie’s counsellor, reprovingly. ‘Why shouldn’t you be “the very sort” as well? I don’t see that any particular talent is required. A good head, sir, and close attention, and a knowledge of the multiplication-table. But perhaps they did not teach you that at Eton?’ Mr. Welby added, with a gentle sneer, such as he loved.

‘If they did, I have forgotten it years ago,’ said Laurie. ‘Indeed it would not do. You know it would not do. A fellow has to be brought up to it; and besides, I shouldn’t go if I were asked,’ he added, with a sudden cloud on his face.

‘That settles the question,’ said his adviser. ‘You are a fool, my dear fellow; but I thought as much. Well, then, there are all the Government offices;—couldn’t your friends get you into one of them? The very thing for you, sir. Not too much to do, and plenty of time to do it in. You could keep up your studio still.’

‘But you forget the competitive examination,’ cried Laurie, just as his brother Ben had replied to a similar suggestion. ‘I don’t know Julius Cæsar from Adam,’ he said, laughing. ‘I have not an idea which Göthe it was that discovered printing. I can’t tell whereabouts are the Indian Isles. They’d pluck me as fast as look at me. You forget that we’re high-minded, and that influence is no good now.’

‘Confound it!’ said Mr. Welby, with energy,{v.1-245} pausing to find something else more feasible. Then he bent confidentially across the table, coaxing, almost appealing, to his intractable neophyte. ‘My dear fellow, what do you say to literature?’ said the R.A. in his softest tone. Upon which Laurie burst into uncontrollable laughter.

‘I see no occasion for laughter,’ the Academician continued, half offended. ‘Why shouldn’t you write as well as another? I assure you, sir, I know half-a-dozen men who write, and they have not an ounce of brains among them. All you require is the knack of it. They tell me they make heaps of money; and it does not matter what lies you tell, or how much idiocy you give vent to,—especially about art,’ he said, with sudden fierceness. ‘And, to be sure, in this beautiful age of ours everybody reads. I don’t see why you should not go in for the newspapers or the magazines, or something. There is no study wanted for that; there’s the beauty of it. The more nonsense you talk the more people like it. And so far as I can see, it’s as easy to talk nonsense on paper as in company; easier, indeed, for there’s nobody to contradict you. All you want is the knack. I know the editor of the “Sword,” my dear fellow. I’ll get you an engagement on that.’

‘But I never wrote two sentences in my life,’ said Laurie; ‘and, as for literature, it cannot be less uncertain than art.’

‘Quite a different thing, my dear fellow,’ said the{v.1-246} R.A., eagerly; ‘not one in fifty, let us say, knows a picture when he sees it. I might say one in a hundred. Whereas everybody, I suppose, understands the rubbish in the papers; everyone reads it, at least, which comes to the same thing. I know men who are making their thousands a-year. It is only getting the knack of it.’

Laurie gave a faint laugh; but the fun had by this palled upon him. For a moment he covered his face with his hands. It was part of his temperament to have these moments of impatience and disgust with everything. Then Mr. Welby got up and began to walk about the room in some excitement. ‘Confound the fellow, he will do nothing one tells him!’ he said. But after a while the old painter came back to his seat, and was very kind. He entered into the question, more gravely, even with a certain melancholy. He pointed out to him, again, how many wrecks there were on all the coasts, of men who had mistaken their profession, and gave him an impressive sketch of all the toils he ought to go through ere he could worthily bear the name of painter. ‘And, after all, find yourself like me, baffled by the tibia!’ he cried, with a kind of passion. But in this talk Laurie recovered his spirits. His friend, in his compunction, gave him practical advice which would have been of the highest importance to any beginner. ‘I warn you against it all the same,’ he said, working his eyebrows like the old-fashioned telegraph. But{v.1-247} Laurie took the information and the advice without the warning, and went away, once more seeing in a vision that picture on the line in the Academy with Laurence Renton’s name to it, and a crowd of his fine friends wondering around.{v.1-248}



When Laurie left Mr. Welby’s studio he had not, however, satisfied himself either with No. 375, Fitzroy Square, or with the advice on art subjects which he had come to seek. Old Forrester replied to his inquiry if Mrs. Severn was at home with a benevolent smile:—‘It ain’t often as she’s anywhere else, sir,’ said that authority. ‘I never see such a lady to work,—and a-singing at it, as if it was pleasure. Them’s the sort, Mr. Renton, for my money,’ the old man added with enthusiasm. ‘Master, he’s ready to swear at it sometimes, which ain’t consistent with art.’

‘Don’t you think so?’ said Laurie. ‘But when art becomes a passion, you know——’

‘I don’t hold with passion,’ said Forrester. ‘It stands to reason, Mr. Renton, that a thing as is to hang for ages and ages on a wall, didn’t ought to have no violence about it. I hate to see them poor things a-hurting of themselves for centuries. You look at ’em, sir,’ he added, pointing to an old picture, in{v.1-249} which the action was somewhat violent, which hung in the hall; ‘they couldn’t do that nohow, not if they were paid millions for it. Me and Shaw was talking it over the last time he was here. I don’t hold with that sort of passion, not in a picture. And I don’t always hold with master himself, Mr. Renton, between you and me. He’s been swearing hawful, sir, over that poor tibbie there. And what business has any man, sir, to have his tibbie in such a hattitude? It’s hoisted right round, nigh out of its socket. I wouldn’t do it, not for no money, if it was me.’

‘But you have no such fault to find with Mrs. Severn,’ said Laurie, who, in the impatience of youthful criticism, had made a similar observation to himself.

‘Bless you, sir, there’s never nothing out of harmony in them groups,’ said Forrester; ‘and easy, too, to tell why. Not as I’m a-making light of her heye; she’s got a fine heye for a lady, sir,—in composition;—but, seeing it’s her own little things as is the models, would she put ’em in hattitudes to hurt ’em, Mr. Renton? You may take your oath as a lady wouldn’t. Master, he pays his models, and he don’t care. Will you walk up, or will I go and say you’re here?’

‘I think I may go without being announced,’ said Laurie, who was a little proud of the petites entrées, though it was only to a humble house. As he went up the great, dingy staircase he put his{v.1-250} fingers lightly through his hair, and looked with some dismay at the limp pinkness of the rose in his button-hole. It was hanging its head, as roses will when they feel the approach of frost in the air. There is a curious dinginess, which is not displeasing, in those old-fashioned houses. The walls were painted in a faint grey-green; the big stairs had a narrow Turkey carpet, very much worn, upon them, and went winding up the whole height of the house to a pale skylight in the roof. A certain size, and subdued sense, of airiness, and quiet, and space was in the house, though London raged all around, like a great battle. The arrangement of the first floor was much like that of Mr. Welby’s apartments. There was a great shadowy, dingy drawing-room, with three vast windows, always filled with a kind of pale twilight,—for it was the shady side of the Square,—and opening from that, by folding-doors, a second room, which did duty as Mrs. Severn’s dining-room; and behind that, again, the studio. The door of the dining-room was open, and Laurie paused, and went half in as he passed. The children were there with their daily governess, who was, poor soul! almost at the end of her labours. She was struggling hard to keep their attention to the last half of the last hour when the intruder’s head thrust in at the door made further control impossible. There were two small boys, under ten, and one little creature with golden locks, seated at the feet of the eldest of the family, who was working at the window.{v.1-251} ‘Alice, with her curls,’ was almost too big for Miss Hadley’s teaching. She was seated in that demure, soft dignity of the child-woman, with all the importance of an elder sister, working at little Edith’s frock; a girl who rarely said anything, but thought the more; not beautiful, for her features were not regular, but with lovely, thoughtful brown eyes, and a complexion so sweet in its varying colour that it felt like a quality of the heart, and one loved her for it. Her curls were what most people of the outside world knew her by. In these days of crée locks and elaborate hair-dressing, Alice’s soft, silken, perfect curls, nestling about her pretty neck, softly shed behind her ears, were distinction enough for any girl. They were chestnut,—that chestnut, with the gold in it, which comes next to everybody’s favourite colour in everybody’s estimation;—and there was a silken gloss upon them which was old-fashioned, but very sweet to see, once in a way. She sat,—in the perfectly unobtrusive dress of modern girlhood; simple frock up to the throat, little white frill, tiny gold locket, without even a ribbon on her hair,—against the afternoon light in the window, just raising her eyes with a smile in them to Laurie, and lifting up one slender finger by way of warning. ‘Mamma is in the studio,’ said Alice, under her breath. He thought he had never seen a prettier picture than that little interior he had peeped into. Miss Hadley was not bad-looking, Laurie decided. She had keen black eyes under those deep brows,{v.1-252} and not a bad little figure. And little Frank, with such a despairing languor over his soft, round, baby face; and Edith, all crumpled up like a dropped rose by Alice’s feet; and the light slanting in through the big window, trying and failing to penetrate the dimness of the grey-green walls, all covered with pictures. Everything was in the shade, even little Edith, all overshadowed by her sister’s dress and figure;—an afternoon picture, with every tone subdued, and a touch of that weariness upon all things which comes with the waning light;—a weariness which would vanish as soon as it was dark enough to have lights, and when the hour came for the family tea.

When Laurie knocked at the studio door, he could hear, even before he was told to come in, the painter singing softly over her work, as Forrester had said. She was no musician, which, we suppose, may be understood from the fact of this singing at her work. Her voice was not good enough to be saved up for the pleasure of others, and accordingly was left free to hum a little accompaniment to her own not unmelodious life. Mrs. Severn was not a partisan of work for women, carrying out her theory, but a widow, with little children, working with the tools that came handiest to her for daily bread; and she had been accordingly adopted respectfully into a kind of comradeship by all the artists about, who had known her husband, and were ready to stand by her{v.1-253} as much as men of the same profession might. Nobody ever dreamt of thinking she was going out of her proper place, or taking illegitimate work upon her, when she took up poor Severn’s palette. There are ways of doing a thing which people do not always consider when they are actuated by strong theoretical principles. The padrona took to her work quite quietly, as if she had been born to it; did not think it any hardship; worked her regular hours like any man, and asked little advice from any one. In short, if she had a fault, it was generally believed that it was her indifference to advice. She rarely asked it, and still more rarely took it. Since the time when poor Severn died, and when she passionately explained to her friends that it was less pain to manage her own affairs than to talk them over with others, she had gone on doing everything for herself. Whether that was a wise way of proceeding it would be hard to tell; but at least it was her way. Poor Severn had not been a great painter, poor fellow; he had done very well up to a certain point, but there he had stopped; and then he had travelled about a great deal with his family, and studied all the great pictures in the world, and made sketches of a great many novel customs and practices, with the view of making a new start,—‘as Phillip did.’ John Phillip, as every one knows, being an ordinary painter, went to Spain, and came home a great one; but poor Severn found no inspiration awaiting him{v.1-254} at any wayside. One of the children had been born in Florence, and one in Dresden; they were almost the only evidences that remained of those piteous wanderings and labours.

But wherever the poor fellow went, a pair of bright, observant eyes were always by his side, taking note of things which he only tried to make use of, and by degrees his wife had got possession of the pencil as it dropped out of his failing hands. Of course, her drawing would not bear examination as his would have done. He did the best he could to give her a more masculine touch, but failed. She was feeble in her anatomy, very irregular in respect to everything that was classical; but, somehow, bits of life stole upon the forlorn canvases in Fitzroy Square under her hand. ‘You may trust her for the sentiment,’ he said, poor fellow! almost with his last breath, ‘and her eye for colour; but, Welby, I’d like to see her drawing a little firmer before I leave her.’ This he was never fated to see; and Mrs. Severn’s drawing was not likely to get firmer when her teacher was gone. It was never very firm, we are bound to admit; and we are also obliged to confess, against our will, that the padrona catered a great deal for the British public in the way of pretty babies, and tender little nursery scenes. Her pictures were domestic, in the fullest sense of the word. In her best there would be the little child saying its prayers at its mother’s knee, which never fails to touch the Cockney soul;{v.1-255} and in her worse there would be baby at table breaking his mug and thrusting his spoon everywhere but where he ought. They were very pretty, and sometimes, as if by chance, they stumbled into higher ground, and caught a look, a gleam of heaven; an unconscious essay, as it were, at the English Mary and her Blessed Child, which has never yet been produced by an insular painter—only an essay—and it never had time or hope to come to more. But the British public, bless it! liked the pictures, and bought them—not for their gleams of loftier meaning, but for the exquisite painting of baby’s mug, and because the carpet under the mother’s feet was so real that you could count the threads. The painter did not ask herself particularly why her pictures became popular; she was very thankful, very glad, and took the money as a personal favour for some time, feeling that it was too good a joke. But all the freshness of the beginning was over long before the day on which Laurie knocked at the studio door. She painted now with a more swift and practised hand, but still very unequally; sometimes mere mugs and carpets, with little human dolls; and sometimes women with children, more and more like the divine ideal; and out of her sorrow had grown softly happy again without knowing how—happy in her work, and her freedom, and her independence, and her children. Alas! yes; in her independence and freedom. She liked that, though many a reader will think the worse of her for liking{v.1-256} it. But it is not as a perfect creature she is here introduced, but as a woman with faults like others. Everybody knew that she had been very fond of poor Severn, and had stood by him faithful and tender till his last breath; and that she was very desolate when he was gone, and cried out even against God and His providence a little in her anguish and solitude—but pondered and was silent, and pondered and was cheerful—and, at last, things being as they were, got to be glad that she was free and could work for herself. And she was comparatively young, and had plenty to do, and there were her children. A woman cannot go on being heart-broken with such props as these. And it pleased her, we avow, since she could not help it, to have her own way.

It was her husband who had called her padrona caressingly to everybody when they came back from Italy—the ‘missis,’ as he would explain—and what had been a joke at first had become the tenderest of titles now. Those only who had been Severn’s friends dared continue to address her by that name, and Laurie was one of them, young though he was. When she said ‘Come in,’ he opened the door softly. She was standing by her easel, hastily finishing something with the little light that remained. ‘Don’t disturb me, please, for five minutes,’ she said, without looking round, ‘whoever you are. I must not lose this last little bit of light.’

‘Don’t hurry,’ said Laurie, sitting down behind{v.1-257} her in a Louis Quinze fauteuil, which had figured in many pictures.

‘Ah, it is you!’ said the padrona; but she did not turn round for the moment, or take any further notice of him. This third studio was not like any of the others. It was much barer, and, indeed, poorer. There was in it none of the classic wealth of casts and friezes which adorned Laurie’s sanctuary. There were no pictures in it, as in Mr. Welby’s stately studio. Had the padrona possessed ebony cabinets inlaid with silver, or a rare Angelichino, no doubt she would have sold them for some mean-spirited consideration of Alice’s music-lessons, or a month at the seaside for the bundle of children whose pleasure was more to her, alas! though she was a painter, than all the pictures in the world. There were some prints only on the walls, grey-green here as elsewhere throughout the house—prints of Raphael’s Madonnas—she of San Sisto within reach of the painter’s eye as she worked, and she of Fogligno, in her maturer splendour, on the mantel-piece; but there was a great dearth of the usual ‘materials’ with which an artist’s studio abounds. The padrona’s work was of a kind which did not require much consultation of examples; her draperies were chiefly modern, her subject the ever-varying child-life, which she had under her eye. A little lay-figure, which little Edith called her wooden sister, was in a corner, dressed—alas! for art—in one of Edith’s frocks, considerably torn and{v.1-258} ragged, which was about the highest touch of effect Mrs. Severn permitted herself. There was something curious altogether in the commonplace, untechnical air of the room. It is the defect of women in general when they adopt a profession to be rather too technical; but the padrona took her own way. She had given in so far, however, to the use and wont of the craft as to wear a grey garment over her gown, which fitted very nicely, and looked as well as if it had been the gown itself. She was a middle-sized woman, fully developed, and not girlish in any way, though her face had the youthfulness of a gay temperament and elastic disposition. Her eyes were hazel, with a great deal of light in them; her mouth full of laughter and merriment, except when she was thinking, and then it might perhaps be a trifle too firm; her hair brown, and soft, and abundant. Laurie sat in the fauteuil and watched her taking the good of the last remnant of the light with a curious mixture of kindness and admiration, and a kind of envy. ‘If I could but go at it like that!’ he said to himself, knowing that had he been in her place he would so gladly have thrown down his brush on the pleasant excuse of a visitor. There was a certain professional ease in the way he seated himself to wait her leisure, such as perhaps could have been bred in none other but this atmosphere, softly touched with the odour of pigments, and with the lay figure in the corner. Literature has less of this brotherhood of mutual{v.1-259} comprehension—at least, in England—being a morose art which demands to a certain extent seclusion and silence; but art is friendly, gregarious, talkative. The padrona began to talk to him immediately, though she did not turn her head.

‘I am so glad to see you,’ she said; ‘at least I shall be glad to see you whenever I have finished this arm. It has worried me all day, and if I don’t do it at once it will slip out of my mind again. I wish one could paint without drawing; it is hard upon an uneducated person; and I am sure if it was not for those horrid critics, the British public does not care if one’s arm is out of drawing or not.’

‘Welby does not think so,’ said Laurie. ‘Have you seen his tibia that he is raving about?’

‘Ah, but then that wounds his own eye,’ said Mrs. Severn, half turning round; ‘just as a false note in music wounds my child, though it does not disturb me much. The dreadful thing is not to know when you’re out of drawing or out of tune. One feels something is wrong, but one is not clever enough to see what it is.’

‘I don’t think you are often out of tune, padrona nostra, or out of drawing either,’ said poor Laurie, with a sigh.

‘Dear, dear!’ said Mrs. Severn, ‘what does this mean I wonder—that our friend is out of tune himself?’

‘Dreadfully out of tune,’ said Laurie, ‘all ajar{v.1-260} and not knowing what to do with myself, and come to you to set me right.’

Then there was a pause of a minute or two, and the painter turned from her easel and put down her palette with a sigh of relief. ‘That’s over for to-day at least,’ she said, and came and held out her hand to her visitor. ‘I saw it in the papers,’ she said, ‘but I would not say anything till I could give you my hand and look you in the face. Was it sudden? We have all to bear it one way or other; but it’s very hard all the same, and especially the first blow.’

It was the first time since the reading of the will that anybody had sympathised honestly with one of Mr. Renton’s sons for their father’s death; and, near as that event was, the voice of natural pity startled Laurie back to natural feeling. The twilight, too, which hid the tears that rushed to his eyes, and the soft, kind clasp of the hand which had come into his, and the voice full of all sympathies, united to move him. A sudden ache for his loss, for the father who had been so good to him, struck, with all its first freshness, into the mind where dwelt so many harder thoughts. When Mrs. Severn sat down, and bade him tell her about it, the young man went back to the sudden death-bed, and was softened, touched, and mollified in spite of himself; his voice trembled when he told her those wanderings of the dying man,—as everybody thought them,—and of his affectionate confidence that ‘Laurie would not mind.{v.1-261}

‘I see there is something more coming,’ said the padrona, with that insight in which he had trusted; ‘but whatever it is I am sure he was right, and Laurie will not be the one to mind.’

‘I don’t mind,’ said Laurie, with a sob that did no discredit to his manhood; and if there had been a shadow of resentment in his heart for the injury done him, in these words it passed away; and instead of asking the padrona’s advice as he had intended, as he had asked old Welby’s, he told her, on the contrary, about his father, and his anxieties touching Ben, and all the sinkings of heart, of which he did not himself seem to have been conscious till sympathy called them forth. I do not know whether the softness of the domestic quiet, and the padrona’s face shining upon him across the table, with all the light in the room concentrated in her hazel eyes, and the soft monosyllables of sympathy—the ‘poor Laurie’—that dropped from her lips now and then,—one cannot tell what effect these might have had in making the character of this interview so different from that he had held with Mr. Welby. Had it been her daughter to whom he was talking there could of course have been no doubt about it. But anyhow this was how it happened. Laurie made it apparent to her and to himself that it was the tender anguish of bereavement which had brought him here to be comforted, and was perfectly real and true in thus representing himself; and Mrs. Severn was{v.1-262} very sorry for him, and thought more highly of him than ever. It had grown almost dark before she rose from her chair and brought the conversation to an end.

‘You are too young to dwell always on one subject,’ she said, ‘Come in now and have tea with the children. They are all very fond of you, and it will do you good. Of course you have not dined: you can go and dine later at eight or nine: it does not matter to you young men. And, if the talk is too much, Alice will play to you.’

‘The talk will not be too much,’ said Laurie; but as he followed the padrona out of the room he plucked the rose out of his button-hole and crushed it up in his hand and let it drop on the floor. A rose in a man’s coat is perhaps not quite consistent with the deepest phase of recent grief. But he was no deceiver in spite of this little bit of involuntary humbug. Other thoughts had driven his grief away, and diminished its force perhaps; but those were true and natural tears he had been shedding, and he felt ashamed of himself for having been able to think of the rose, and did not want the padrona’s quick eye to light upon that gentlest inconsistency; but on the whole it did not appear to him that he was unequal to their talk. So he went and played with the children while Mrs. Severn withdrew to change her dress for the evening, seating himself in the inner room where the lamp was burning and the table{v.1-263} arrayed for tea, while Alice in the dim grey drawing-room, with the folding-doors open, played softest Lieder, such as her soul loved, in the dusk; and Miss Hadley sat and knitted, casting now and then a keen look from under her deep brows at Laurie in his mourning; and the urn bubbled and steamed, and little Edith climbed up into her high seat by the table, waiting till the padrona in her lace collar should come down to tea.{v.1-264}



Mrs. Severn’s society was of a peculiar kind,—it had something of the ease of French society, with the homeliness of the true Briton. Very rarely, indeed, did she make calls. She never gave parties of any description whatever; and yet there was always a little flow and current of human minds and faces about her. The class which in London is perhaps more at liberty to please itself than any other class,—at least in England,—was that to which she belonged, both in right of her husband and of herself, and which circulated about her, very independent of rule, and very full of life. I do not know if I should call it the artist-class, for that is a wide world, and has many divisions, and fine people abound in that as in every other division of society. The padrona’s friends were painters, authors, journalists, people with crotchets, public reformers, persons of every kind to whom intellect, as they called it, clearness and brightness, and talk, and the absence of ceremony, were sweeter than any other{v.1-265} conditions of society. They came to her studio, some of them, with only a knock at the door,—but these were intimates,—and chatted while she went on with her work. They dropped in in the evening, and chatted again sometimes till midnight; they filled the rooms with discussion of everything in earth and heaven,—art news, political news, society news, a little of everything; they held hot discussions on social questions with the zeal of people immediately concerned, not with the languor of good society. The padrona ‘received’ almost every evening in this way after her work was done; and it was people whose work was done also who came to see her,—with fresh air in their faces, and all the eagerness and commotion of fresh life in their minds. I do not mean to say that the intelligence of these visitors was of the highest class, or that anything like the tone of a French salon,—the salon which has now become almost as much a tradition as Mrs. Montague’s drawing-room with its feather hangings,—pervaded the grey-green drawing-room in Fitzroy Square; but only that the people there came together to talk, and kept up an unfailing stream of comments, not merely on the people of their acquaintance, but on everything that was going on. It was easier work for a stranger to get on with them than it was in society where conversation is so personal, and the doings of that small class which calls itself the world, are so uppermost in everybody’s thoughts. Nobody{v.1-266} asked, ‘Did you hear what Lady Drum said to Lady Fife last night at the Clarionett’s ball?’ or went into raptures over the dear Duchess, or discussed the causes which led to that unfortunate separation between Sir Edward and his wife. To be sure, you might get just as tired, perhaps more so, listening to discussions about the ‘sweet feeling’ of this or that picture, or its bad drawing, or the uncertainty of its meaning, or about whether this exhibition was better than the last, or what Horton had said about it in the ‘Sword,’ or about spiritualism,—of which there were many distinguished professors in the padrona’s circle, or about social science, or women’s work, or the Archæological Society; but still it was a different sort of thing from the common languor and the common wit.

When Laurie had played with the children, and taken his cup of tea, and the lamp was carried into the large drawing-room, he did not care to leave the easy-chair in which he had placed himself and undertake that long walk to Kensington Gore. A certain sensation of ease had stolen over him. He had thrown down his pack of troubles at his neighbour’s door, as old Welby had said, and, with a certain soft exhaustion, stretched himself at full length in the low chair, with his feet at the other end of the hearth-rug. There was no fire, and it was dark at that end of the room; and the lamp had been placed on a table near the opposite wall, where the ladies sat working.{v.1-267} The padrona herself was making something up with lace and ribbons, and Miss Hadley, not yet gone home, but with her bonnet on ready to start, had returned to her knitting. Alice had gone up with the children to see them put to bed. It would be difficult to tell why Laurie lingered at the other end of the room in comparative darkness. Perhaps because he meant still to ask closer counsel from the padrona,—perhaps because his artist eye was pleased with the effect of that spark of light, with her head fully revealed in it. They let him alone, that being the fashion of the house. ‘He is tired and sad, poor boy!’ Mrs. Severn said to her friend; and they went on with their talk, and left him to come to himself when he pleased. Laurie was in no hurry to come to himself. He lay back lazily resting from thought, and let the picture, as it were, steal into him and take possession of him. The room was so large that it was quite dim everywhere but round that one table, and the furniture looked a little ghostly in the obscurity, the chairs placing themselves, as chairs have such a way of doing, in every sort of weird combination, as though unseen beings sat and chattered around the vacant tables. And in the distance the white, bright light of the lamp came out with double force. There was, perhaps, a touch of carelessness in the padrona’s coiffure, or else it was that she could not help it, her hair being less manageable than those silken, lovely curls of her child’s; but she was{v.1-268} different in black silk gown and her lace collar from what she was in her blouse. Laurie sat dreamily with his eyes turned towards the light, and listened to the hum of the voices, and sometimes caught a word or two of what they said. No doubt some one would come in presently to break up this quiet, but in the meantime there was a charm in the stillness, in the dimness, in the presence of the women, and motion of their hands as they worked; such soft sounds, scarcely to be called sounds at all, and yet they gave Laurie a certain languid pleasure as he sat exhausted in his easy chair.

‘Work does not suit everybody,’ he heard Mrs. Severn say. ‘We think so just as we think people who are always ill must be enjoying bad health;—because we are fond of work, and never have headaches. It is unjust.’

‘I thought we were born to labour in the sweat of our brow!’ said Miss Hadley, who was a little strong-minded, and had her doubts about Genesis.

‘Not born,’ said the padrona, with a soft laugh; ‘only after Eden, you know; and there are some people who have never come out of Eden; for instance, my child.’

‘Ah, Alice!’ Miss Hadley answered, with a little wave of her head, as if Alice was understood to be exceptional, and exempted from ordinary rule.

‘Fancy the child having to work as I do!’ said Mrs. Severn. ‘Fancy her being trained to my pro{v.1-269}fession, as some people tell me I should do. I think it would be nothing less than profane.’

‘My dear, you know I think all girls should know how to work at something,’ said the governess, ‘when they have no fortunes; and you will never save money. You couldn’t, if your pictures were to sell twice as well; and though you are young and strong, still——’

‘I might die,’ said the padrona. ‘I often think of it. It is a frightful thought when one looks at these little things; but I have made up my mind for a long time that it is best never to think. One can’t live more than a day at a time, were one to try ever so much; and there is always God at hand to take care or the rest.’

‘But generally, so far as I know,’ said Miss Hadley, ‘God gives the harvest only when the farmer has sown the seed.’

‘Which means I am to bring up my child to do something,’ said Mrs. Severn. ‘And so she does,—a hundred things,—now, doesn’t she?—and makes the whole house go to music. I can’t train Alice to a trade. If necessity comes upon her, some work or other will drop into her hands. I was never trained to it myself,’ the padrona added, with a half-conscious smile about the corners of her mouth, and perhaps just a touch of innocent complacency in her own success, ‘and yet I get on,—as well as most.’

‘Better than most, my dear; better than most,{v.1-270}’ the governess said, with a little enthusiasm. ‘But you know how much you have been worried about your drawing, and how sensitive you are to what those wretched men say in the “Sword.” Do you think I don’t notice? You take it quite sweetly when they talk about the colour, or texture, or the rest of their jargon; but you flush up the moment they mention your drawing. Now, if you had been trained to it, don’t you see, as a girl——’

The padrona grew very red as her friend spoke. It was clear that the criticism touched even when thus put, and Laurie, in the background, felt an overwhelming inclination to wring the neck of the strong-minded woman. But then she laughed very softly, with a certain sound of emotion that might have brought tears just as well.

‘When I was a girl,’ she said, ‘how every one would have stared to think I should ever be a painter, making my living!—how they would have laughed! “What, our Mary!” they would all have said. It came so natural to do one’s worsted work, and read one’s books, and go to one’s parties! And I suppose, as you say, I should have been working from the round, and studying anatomy,—faugh!—my child to do that! I would rather work my fingers to the bone!’

‘I think you are wrong, my dear,’ the governess said; and Laurie hated her, listening to the talk.

As for the padrona, she shook something like a{v.1-271} tear from her eyelash. Laurie thought it was pretty to see her hands moving among the lace and the ribbon, with that look of power in them, knowing exactly how to twist it, how to make the lace droop as it ought. Not a very monstrous piece of work, to be sure. ‘Hush!’ she said, ‘here are some people coming up-stairs. Most likely Bessie Howard, who will tell us what the spirits are doing; or the Suffolks from over the way, who are great friends of hers. They have just come home from Dresden, and I want to hear what they have been about there.’

‘I hate travel-talk,’ said Miss Hadley, ‘and I detest the spirits, so I’ll go; and though it is not the first time, nor the second, we have spoken on this subject, I do hope, my dear, you’ll think of what I’ve said.’

The padrona shook her head; but the two women kissed each other with true friendliness just as the other visitors came into the dim room. Laurie had risen reluctantly from his seat in the darkness to bid the governess, who was one of the family, good-night. ‘I am sorry to hear of your trouble, Mr. Renton,’ she said, as she gave him her hand. She was not bad-looking, though she was strong-minded; and though he had wanted to wring her neck a moment before, the brightness of her eyes,—though she was half as old again as Laurie,—and the kindness of her tone mollified the woman-loving young man in spite of himself.{v.1-272}

‘Thanks,’ he said; ‘you must have thought me a brute; but I don’t feel up to talk,—yet.’

‘It is not to be expected,’ said Miss Hadley; ‘but it is a blessing to be young and have all your forces unimpaired. You must do as much as you can, and not think any more than you can help. Good-night!’

‘Good-night!’ Laurie said, opening the door for her; and then he stood about in the room helplessly, as men stand when they object to join the other visitors; and finally went back to his chair by the vacant fire. ‘He is waiting for the child,’ Miss Hadley said to herself as she went down-stairs; and the thought was in her mind all the way home to her little rooms in one of the streets adjoining Fitzroy Square, where she lived with her old sister, who was an invalid. They had a parlour and two bed-rooms, and bought their own ‘things,’ and were attended and otherwise ‘done for’ by their landlady; and, on the whole, were very comfortable, though all the noises of the little street, and echoes from the bigger streets at hand, went on under their windows, and the geraniums in their little balcony were coated with ‘blacks,’ and the dinginess of the surroundings, out and in, were unspeakable. People live so in the environs of Fitzroy Square, and are very lively, pleasant sort of people; and think very well of themselves all the same.

Laurie was not waiting for the child; he was{v.1-273} waiting to catch the padrona’s eye and say good-night to her; but that inconsistent woman was now all brightness and eager attention to the travel-talk which Miss Hadley hated. The people who had just come from Dresden were a young painter and his wife, and there were so many things and places and people to be talked of between them. ‘You saw old Hermann,’ the padrona said, with a smile and a tear. ‘Ah, he used to be so kind to,—us;—and the big Baron with all his orders, and Madame Kurznacht? Did they ever speak of us?—and hasn’t old Hermann a lovely old head? Did you paint him? Ah! it is so strange.—it is like a dream to think of the old times!’

Could any man, though jealous, and sulky, and neglected, interrupt this to say a gruff good-night? Not Laurie, at least. He thought to himself that letting alone sometimes went too far, and that he, too, might have had a word addressed to him now and then; but still it went to his heart to hear her recollections and the tone in her voice. She was thinking, not of these new people and their travels, but of poor Severn, and the days when he and she had wandered over the world together. She was better off now. Laurie believed that there was no doubt she was better off, and less harassed with care and bowed down with anxiety; but yet,—poor Severn! And two painter-folk straying about the world, free to go anywhere, the man emancipating{v.1-274} the woman by his society,—is not that better than one alone? And how could her friend, with a heart in him, stop her in her tender thoughts by thrusting himself into the midst of them? While Laurie, sulky but Christian, was thus cogitating, Alice came into the room, and came softly up to him. ‘Are you here all by yourself, Mr. Renton?’ she said.

‘Yes, Alice, all alone. Sit down and talk to me,’ said Laurie.

‘I wish I could go and play to you,’ said Alice; ‘but that would disturb the people. It is so strange to see you sad.’

‘I am not so very sad,’ Laurie said, ‘not to trouble my friends with it, Alice; and I am only waiting now to say good-night. I am going to work so hard I shall have no time to be sad.’

‘At that pretty window with the flowers in it,’ said Alice, ‘away at Kensington? It must be nice to be so near the Park.’

‘I don’t care much for the Park now,’ said Laurie. ‘I must go without disturbing the padrona. You will tell her I said good-night.’

‘Mamma is coming,’ said Alice; ‘she always hears what people say if they were miles off; and I want to ask about dear old Dresden and old Hermann, too.’

Then the padrona came up to him still with her lace in one hand, and sat down by him in the shade. ‘Did you think I had forgotten you were there?’ she{v.1-275} said. ‘I know you want to go now, and I have come to tell you what you are to do,—that is, what I think you should do;—you don’t mind my interfering, and giving my advice?’

‘I want it,’ said Laurie. ‘I have been waiting all this time to see what you would have to say to me before I went away.’

The padrona smiled and nodded her head. ‘You must not stay at Kensington Gore,’ she said. ‘It is too dear and too fine if you are going to work. You must come to this district, and content yourself with two rooms. There are plenty of lodgings to be had with the window made on purpose, and a good light. I will look out for you, if you please; and then you must go in for it,—the life-school, and all that sort of thing. It is odious,’ said the woman-painter, with a little impatient movement of her head, ‘but you men must go through everything. And you can come here, you know, as much as you like; and I am sure Mr. Welby will give you what help he can; and you will do very well,’ said Mrs. Severn, smiling at him. ‘When I can get on with no training at all, what should not you do? And we shall all be proud of you,’ she added, patting his arm softly with her disengaged hand. She was his comrade, and still she was a woman, which made it different; and he went away with a little reflection of the kind glow in the padrona’s eyes warming his heart. No doubt that was the thing to do. He saw her seat herself at the{v.1-276} table again where by this time other people had made their appearance, and begin to smile and talk to everybody without a moment’s interval: but she lifted her eyes as he went out at the door with a little sign of amity. How pleasant it is to have friends! Love is sweet, but upon love he had turned his back, poor fellow! giving up all the vague delight of its hopes. Alice, with her curls, had no power to move him. That ground was occupied. But friendship, too, was sweet. And to have a friend who understood him at the first word—who saw what he meant almost before it was spoken; who could give him bright, rapid, decisive advice, the very sound of which had encouragement in it,—not hesitating, prudential, disheartening, like old Welby’s;—a friend besides who had bright, lambent-glowing eyes, which consoled what they looked at, and a soft voice——. In this, at least, Laurie was in luck. He met two or three people that night at the club, which was not of such lofty pretensions as White’s or Boodle’s, and called itself the Hiboux or the Hydrographic, I am not sure which,—a place where men were to be met with all the year through, and which was not deserted even in September. Laurie belonged to a grander club as well, but his dilettante tastes had made him proud of the Hiboux. And his friends collected round him to hear the news, and were very sympathetic, and approved of his intention to face his difficulties. ‘It may be the making of you, my dear fellow, as it was the making of Frank{v.1-277} Pratt,’ said the man who wrote those papers in the ‘Sword’ which threw half the artists in England into convulsions. ‘Thanks,’ said Laurie; ‘you think you will have one more innocent to massacre.’ And he looked so fierce at the representative of literature that the audience was moved to a shout of laughter. It was not himself Laurie was thinking of, but the padrona, whose drawing this ruffian had reviled. He had disturbed a woman whose shoes he was not worthy to brush, Laurie said to himself, and avoided the reptile, with a bitterness worthy of his misdeeds. He could not eat his partridge in comfort under that fellow’s eye; who was not a brute by any means, and had a certain kindness for a young man in misfortune, even though he did write for the ‘Sword.’

When Laurie got home to Kensington Gore the first thing he saw was the drawing on the mantel-piece of the Three Princes, or the Three Paths. He took it down and examined it, not without a certain complacency. No doubt it was a clever drawing. Then he took his pencil with a sudden suggestion in his mind. Somehow since he drew it his own figure seemed to him scarcely dignified enough for the subject:—it was too comic, with all those traps festooned about it. He took his pencil, as I have said, and put lightly in, half-way between himself and the National Gallery, a shadow of a figure with one arm stretched out towards him. Not a sylph like that fairy form which he had pictured on the rocks Ben{v.1-278} was climbing. This was a full, mature, matron figure, Friendship, steadfast and sweet, not beckoning the hero on to the delights of life, but holding out a helping hand. A hand may be very strong and helpful and sustaining, though it is soft and fair and delicate. This thought passed through Laurie’s mind as he indicated by a line or two the gracious, open, extended palm. Alas! no sylph,—not her of the little letters who might have been all the world to Laurie,—but Friendship, the only feminine presence that could ever enter his existence. He sighed as he put in this new personage in the drama, yet hung over it all the same, feeling that even this lent an interest to his own path. Not glory and a coronet which Frank, no doubt, as a soldier had his chance of winning; not wealth and honour which more naturally and certainly would come to Ben;—but the National Gallery finally, and Friendship on the way to give him a hand. Such were to be the special characteristics of Laurie’s way through the world.{v.1-279}



Laurie’s removal was not accomplished with the passionate haste which distinguished that of his brother Ben. There was no particular hurry about it. The padrona, with the natural impatience of a woman, found a lodging almost immediately, which he saw and approved; but Laurie took his time, and consoled poor Mrs. Brown at Kensington Gore, and found her a lodger in the shape of a ‘real hartis-gentleman,’ as she herself perspicuously expressed it, having felt in her soul from the beginning that Laurie was something of a sham. Her new tenant was a young painter who had made a successful debút at the last Academy, and was for the moment a man whom the picture-dealers delighted to honour. He was ready to take Laurie’s pretty fittings, his contrivances, everything he had done for himself; but Laurie’s good sense deserted him on that point. The money would have been convenient no doubt; but he could not part with the rubbish of his own collecting and contriving, which represented to him{v.1-280} not so much money, but so many moments of amusement and pleasant thoughts. There was not room for half of them in Charlotte Street, where he was going; so he carried his shelves, and stands, and quaint little cupboards, to No. 375, Fitzroy Square, and put them up in every corner he could find, the children hanging on him as he did so in an admiring crowd. So that he got a great deal more good of his belongings than Ben did of the marqueterie and buhl; and his successor furnished the rooms at Kensington Gore with conveniences of a much more expensive kind, and was altogether more splendid, and lavish, and prodigal than Laurie, whose tastes were very unobtrusive. His new lodging in Charlotte Street was on the first floor; the front room,—called the drawing-room,—had three windows in it, one of which was cut up into the wall a few feet higher than the others, giving that direct sky-light which is necessary to a painter; and there was a sleeping-room behind. This was all Laurie’s domain now-a-days, and the rooms were not large. There was a table in the corner near the fireplace, as much out of the way as possible of the great easel and the professional part of the room, where he ate his breakfast, and anything else he might find it necessary to regale himself with at home, in a meek kind of humble way,—under protest, as it were, that he could not help himself. His new landlady’s ideas on the subject of cooking were of the most limited{v.1-281} character. She gave him weak tea and bacon for breakfast without any apparent consciousness of the fact that such luxuries pall upon the taste by constant repetition, and that a diet of toujours perdrix wearies the meekest soul. Laurie thought it most expedient, on the whole, not to inquire into her sentiments in respect to dinner, but swallowed his morning rasher with a grimace, and was, on the whole, ‘a comfortable sort of gentleman,’ the woman reported;—‘not like some as thinks they can’t give too much trouble.’ But he missed the mistress of Kensington Gore. He missed the neat maid, and his boy, who exasperated him in the studio, and kept all his friends in amusement; and it was a different thing looking out from the dreary windows in Charlotte Street upon the dreary houses opposite,—upon the milkman and the potboy wending their rounds, and the public-house at the corner, and the awful blank of gentility in the windows on the other side, to what it used to be when he could glance forth upon the sunny Park from among his flowers, with, even at this time of the year, the old ladies taking their airing, and the nurserymaids under the leafless trees. Nurserymaids and old ladies are not entrancing objects of contemplation except to their respective life-guards and medical men; but still it was better than in Charlotte Street. Miss Hadley lived opposite to him, and was by no means of his opinion; and when she was at home watched with a little amusement for such{v.1-282} glimpses of her neighbour as were to be had. In the morning,—when there was not a fog,—Laurie, to start with, barricaded his windows, leaving only the upper part of the middle one unshuttered, and then set himself to work before his easel with Spartan heroism. Old Miss Hadley, who knew all his story, had her chair near her window, entering into the little drama with zest, and kept her eye upon him. For the first day or two he would remain in this sheltered condition until the afternoon light began to fail, when all at once he would sally forth with an alacrity and air of relief which much amused the watcher. But by-and-by this power of activity began to wane. ‘My dear, he’s getting a little tired,’ the old lady said, with a chuckle, to her sister, a week after Laurie’s arrival. ‘I heard the bolts go about one o’clock, and the window opened; and there he was in his velvet coat, with his palette and all the rest of it. I am sure Mr. Welby never looked so professional; and he has a nice brown beard coming, and I like the looks of the lad,’ said Miss Hadley, who was a soft-hearted old soul.

‘He is not such a lad,’ said Miss Jane, ‘and his beard has been come this twelvemonth at least; but I never thought it would last very long. I hate amateurs.’ For all that, however, she would look up and nod at Laurie, when she came home early and the young man appeared at his window. As the days went on old Miss Hadley found her life quite bright{v.1-283}ened up by the new neighbour, whose proceedings she watched with so good-humoured an interest.

‘He had Shaw the Guardsman to sit to him to-day,’ was her next report; ‘and dreadfully bored the poor boy did look to be sure. I saw the warrior go away, and then our friend stepped out on his balcony and yawned as if his head would have come off.’ Next time the report was of a different character. ‘The boy is getting used to us,’ the old lady said; ‘he has been buying some plants for his window. He stood a long time to-day and watched the Jenkinses getting into their dog-cart. He took off his hat, my dear, when he was going out, when he saw me come to the window. He knows I am your sister, I suppose.’

‘I do not admire his taste watching the Jenkinses,’ said Miss Jane, with a momentary frown of jealousy. She would have been very indignant had any one called her a match-maker, and yet almost without knowing it there had come into her head a little plan about Laurie and ‘the child.’

‘Bless you, he was only amusing himself,’ said the elder sister. ‘I have no doubt it looked very funny to him,—and the fuss and the cloaks, and the bottles sticking out of the basket. They were going to see their married sister at Battersea, my dear. Her husband is a coal-merchant, and I believe they are very well to do. But I am very glad, I must say, that Mr. Renton went opposite to live, and not{v.1-284} at the Jenkinses. So many girls in a house when people let lodgings is not nice; a young man may be inveigled before he knows; and Mrs. Robinson is a very respectable sort of a person; I am very glad he has gone there.’

‘I daresay he thinks it miserable enough,’ said the governess. These little talks occurred every evening; and though Miss Hadley did not confide all the vicissitudes of Laurie’s life to Mrs. Severn, yet the main incidents became generally known ‘in the Square.’ They knew that Shaw had been sitting to him, and that he had been bored, and the incident afforded no small amusement to a circle of admiring friends.

‘It must be Miss Hadley who has betrayed me,’ said Laurie; ‘the fellow has such heaps of talk. I declare I know everything about his family, from the first of his name down to his sister’s little Polly. Little Polly it was. And if a man may not be permitted to yawn after two hours of that——’

‘A man might be permitted to yawn in the midst of it,’ said the padrona, ‘which I am sure you didn’t. But it was droll to rush out into your balcony, and relieve yourself as soon as he was gone.’

‘There is no air in that little hole of a place,’ said Laurie; and then he bethought himself that the other people about him were all of them inmates of similar holes. ‘I mean it’s very nice, you know,’ he added, ‘and close to everything,—schools, and{v.1-285} British Museum, and everything a man can desire. But I am very fond of as much air as I can get.’

‘I always thought this was a very airy neighbourhood,’ said little Mrs. Suffolk, who lived in another of the streets near Fitzroy Square, ‘and so handy for the children, in five minutes they can be in the Park.’

‘One gets never to listen to those fellows,’ said her husband; ‘if you take an interest in them they go and make money of you. Their wives are always ill, and their children dying, and that sort of thing. Glossop’s got your old rooms over at Kensington, do you know, Renton? And come out no end of a swell. I don’t know why, I am sure, unless that he has a friend on the “Sword.”

‘Not so bad as that,’ said Laurie. ‘Those were two very pretty pictures of his this year.’

‘Oh, ah, pretty enough,’ said the other; ‘if that is all you want in a picture. British taste! But I’d like to know what sort of people they must be who like to hang these eternal simperings on their walls. I believe there are heaps of men who don’t care twopence for art. But to choose bad art where good is to be had, out of mere perverseness!—I don’t believe in that. They pin their faith on the “Sword,” and the “Sword” lies and cheats right and left, and looks after its own friends; and the British public pays the piper. When one thinks of Glossop, that{v.1-286} one has known all over the world, in Laurie Renton’s pretty rooms at Kensington Gore!’

‘And Laurie here!’ said the padrona, ‘which is great luck for us. But, my friend, you are mistaken. There are heaps of people, as you say, who prefer bad art to good. It is of no use pretending to deny it;—and,’ Mrs. Severn added with a little sigh, ‘we all trade upon it, I fear, if the truth were told.’

‘No, indeed, I am sure not that,’ said the painter’s wife. ‘There stands one who never does, I say to him a hundred times, “Reginald dear, do think of a popular subject; do paint something for common sort of folks!”—but he never will. They say it is only the nouveaux riches that buy now-a-days,’ Mrs. Suffolk continued in injured tones, ‘or dealers; and we know nobody who writes on the “Sword.” You do, of course, Mr. Renton,—you have been so much in the world.’

‘I met Slasher the other day at the club,’ said Laurie, with a laugh which he could only half restrain. ‘He is not such a bad fellow. If you will let Suffolk bring you to my little place some time, I will show him to you. He does not bite in private life.’

‘Oh, I don’t know that I should like to meet such a man,’ the little woman said, with an anxious glance at her husband; and then she took Laurie a step aside, and became confidential. ‘If you would but make Reginald and him friends, Mr. Renton! I don’t mind speaking to you. Nobody knows what talent{v.1-287} Reginald has; and I am so afraid he will get soured with never finding an opening; and he can’t afford to keep up a club like you young men, and we have been so much out of the world. What does it matter studying nature and studying the great masters, and staying out of London till everybody forgets you?’ the poor young woman continued, with tears in her eyes. She was young, and it was hard upon her to keep from crying when she met Laurie’s sympathetic look. ‘It is not so much the money I am thinking of,’ she said; ‘but if Reginald were to get soured——’

‘I’ll get Slasher to meet him directly,’ said Laurie, with eager promptitude; ‘and you may be sure everything I can do——’

‘Oh, thanks!’ said the painter’s wife. ‘It is not that he wants any favour, Mr. Renton, but only an opening; and we have been so much out of the world.’

‘I wonder you don’t get up a Trades-Union, and make a stand,’ said Mrs. Thurston, who was literary. ‘How anything can keep alive that is so badly written as the “Sword,” I don’t know. It is because you are all so eager to see what it says about you, even though you hate it. Just like the articles in all the papers about women! If women were not so curious to see “what’s next,” do you think any one would take the trouble to write all that? Don’t mind it, and you take away its power.’

‘Ah, it is so easy for you,’ cried Mrs. Suffolk;{v.1-288}—‘you have nothing to do but to go to your publisher; but what with the Hanging Committee putting all their friends on the line, and those wicked papers that never think of merit, but only of some one the writers know——’

‘That’s enough, Helen,’ said her husband, with an attempt at a smile; ‘you talk as if we minded. But what is the criticism of an ignorant fellow, who does not know a picture when he sees it, to me,—or any one?’ he added, with the slightest half-perceptible quiver of his lip. ‘Constable has just come back from Italy, Renton;—one of our old set;’ and so the talk ran on.

This little party was assembled as before in the great drawing-room. There was a fire now which made it brighter and took away something of its quaintness, and the padrona and her guests had drawn near it, carrying the light and the circle of faces into the centre of the room. Now and then somebody would sing, or play,—but talk was what they all loved best, and music as an interruption of the latter was not greatly cultivated. The padrona herself was always working at something with her swift, dextrous fingers; and the ladies who formed her court had generally brought her work in their pockets, to add to their comfort while they talked. Laurie spent the next half-hour standing with Suffolk before the fire, talking of Italy, where they had met, and of the old set, with all that curious mingling of{v.1-289} laughter and sadness which accompanies such recollections. Of ‘the old set’ so many had already dropped by the way, as the passengers dropped through the trapdoors in Mirza’s Vision, while yet the fun of their jokes and their adventures lasted vividly in their comrades’ minds. ‘You remember poor old So-and-so,’ the young men said to each other, looking down with their brown faces on the soft glow of the fire; ‘what fun he was! what scrapes he was always getting into! There was not a painter in Rome who did not turn out the day of his funeral!—and poor Untell, with his bad Italian. What nights those were in the Condotti! There never was a better fellow. Did you hear what an end his was?’ This was how the talk went on,—without any moral in it as of the vanity of human joys; nothing but pure fact, the laughter and the tragedy interlaced and woven together; while the ladies round the lamp with the light on their faces, talked too, but not with such historical calm, of the injustices of the ‘Sword,’ and of the Academy, and of the public; of the advantages of other professions,—literature, for example,—at which its representative shook her head; of the children’s education and their health, and, perhaps, a little of the ills of housekeeping,—subject sacred to feminine discussion. Women do not meet, I suppose, nor do women die, as men do. They had no such melancholy, jovial records behind them to go over,—their talk was of the present and the future,—a{v.1-290} curious distinction,—and the padrona’s society numbered always more women than men.

Next day, perhaps, it would be at Suffolk’s house that Laurie spent his evening, which was a house not unlike the one in which he himself lived,—a thin, tall strip of building in which two rooms were piled upward upon two rooms to the fourth storey. The two parlours on the ground-floor were domestic, and there Mrs. Suffolk sat, very glad to see her husband’s friends when they came in, but not so entirely one of the party as when the padrona was the hostess. Her little room, though it was as prettily furnished as humble means would allow, was not calculated for the reception of a crowd, and after they had paid her their devoirs, the men streamed up-stairs to the corresponding but larger room above, which was the studio,—a place in which there were no hangings to be poisoned with their tobacco, nor much furniture to impede their movements. Perhaps the wife of one would come with him and take off her bonnet and stay with Mrs. Suffolk, bringing her work with her, and resuming those endless, unfailing talks about the children, and the housekeeping, and the injustice of the world. For it must be understood that the artist-life I am attempting to describe is not that of the highly-placed, successful painter, against whom the Academy has no power,—who is perhaps himself on the Hanging Committee, and has the ‘Sword’ at his feet in abject adoration;—but of the younger{v.1-291} brotherhood, in a chronic state of resistance to the powers that be, and profoundly conscious of all the opposing forces that beset their path. Little Mrs. Suffolk had care on her brow, as she sat with her sister in art and war, in the little drawing-room down-stairs, discussing the inexpediency of those wanderings to and fro over the earth, which probably both had gone through and enjoyed, but which ofttimes made the public and the picture-dealers oblivious of a young painter’s name. Up-stairs, however, there would probably be five or six young fellows, of a Bohemian race, bearded, and bronzed, and full of talk, who had not yet taken the responsibilities of life on their shoulders, and laughed at the wolf when he approached their door. Two or three of them would collect round Suffolk’s picture, which he had been working at all day, to give him the benefit of their counsel, in the midst of the wreath of smoke which filled the room. Most of them were picturesque young fellows enough,—thanks to the relaxed laws of costume and hair-dressing prevalent among them. And to see Suffolk with the lamp, raising it in one hand to show his work, shading it with the other that the light might fall just where it ought to fall, tenderly gazing at the canvas on which hung so many hopes, with the eager heads round him studying it judicially, would have made such a picture as Rembrandt loved to paint.

‘I don’t quite like that perspective,’ said one.{v.1-292} ‘Look here, Suffolk, your light is coming round a corner,—the sun is there, isn’t he?—or ought to be at that time of the day.’

‘What time of the day do you call it?’ said a second.

‘Why, afternoon, to be sure,’ cried the first critic; ‘don’t you see the shadows fall to the left hand, and the look in that woman’s eyes? It’s afternoon, or I’m an ass! Did you ever see a woman look like that except in the afternoon?—sleepiest time, I tell you, of the whole day.’

‘She’s weary of watching, don’t you see?’ said his neighbour. ‘Matter-of-fact soul! But I’d get that light straight if I were you, Suffolk. He’s wrong about the sentiment, but he’s right about the light.’

‘Give us the chalk here,’ said Constable, who had just come back from Italy; ‘there’s just a touch wanted about the arm, if you don’t mind.’

‘The colour’s good, my dear fellow,’ said Spyer, who was older than any of them, and a kind of authority in his way, ‘and the sentiment is good. I like that wistful look in her eye. She’s turned off her lover, but she can’t help that gaze after him. Poor thing!—just like women. And I like that saffron robe; but I think you might mend the drawing. I don’t quite see how she’s got her shoulder. It’s not out of joint, is it? You had better send for the surgeon before it goes down to Trafalgar Square.{v.1-293}

All these blasts of criticism poor Suffolk received, tant bien que mal, doing his best to seem unmoved. He even suffered the chalk which ‘that beggar, Constable—a tree-painter, by Jove!—a landscape man,’ he said afterwards, with the fervour of indignation, permitted himself to mark the dimpled elbow of his Saxon maiden. The mists of smoke and the laughter that came out of the room from cheery companions who were lost in these mists, and the system of give and take, which made him prescient of the moment when Spyer and Constable too would be at his mercy, as he was now at theirs, made their comments quite bearable, when one word from the ‘Sword’ would have driven the painter frantic. And to do them justice, it was only the pictures which were in the course of painting on which they were critical. Groups now and then would collect before that picture of the English captive boys in the Forum, which the Academy had hung at the roof, and which had come home accordingly unapplauded and unsold, though later;—but I need not anticipate the course of events. Suffolk’s visitors gathered before it, and looked at it with their heads on one side, and pointed out its special qualities to each other, not with the finger, as do the ignorant, but with that peculiar caressing movement of the hand which is common to the craft. ‘What colour! by Jove, that’s a bit of Italian air brought bodily into our fogs;—and the cross light is perfect, sir!’ Spyer{v.1-294} said, who had just been so hard on his friend’s drawing. If they found out faults which the uninstructed eye was slow to see, they discovered beauties too; and then gathered round the fire, and fell into twos and threes, and went back to that same talk of the past and the ‘old set,’ in which Laurie had indulged on the previous night. The ‘old set’ varied according to the speakers; with some it was only the fellows at Clipstone Street; but with all the moral was the same; the cheery days and nights, the wild sallies of youthful freedom, the great hopes dwindled into nothing, the many, many fallen by the way, not one-half of the crowd seeming to have come safely through the struggles of the beginning. ‘Poor So-and-so! If ever there was a man who had a real feeling for art, it was he; and as good a fellow’—they added, puffing forth meditative clouds; and there would be a laugh the next moment over some remembered pranks. Laurie had formed one of many such parties ere now. He, too, had been of the ‘old set:’ he had his stories to contribute, his momentary sigh to breathe forth along with the fumes of his cigar. But, perhaps, he had never in his amateur days felt so completely belonging to the society in which he found himself. Sometimes, perhaps, he had laughed a little, and given himself a little shake of half-conscious superiority when he left them, and set out to Kensington Gore as to another world; but Charlotte Street was emphatically the{v.1-295} same world, and the esprit de corps was strong in Laurie’s heart. ‘Anch’io pittore,’ he said to himself as he stood indignant before Suffolk’s beautiful picture which had been hung up at the roof. It was a beautiful picture; and one of these days the Hanging Committee might treat himself in the same way; and if by chance criticism should really be so effectual as everybody said, why should not something be done for Suffolk—using the devil’s tools, as it were, to do a good action—by means of Slasher and the ‘Sword?’

The majority of the young men went away after an hour’s talk and smoke unlimited; but Laurie was one of those who remained and went down to supper, along with Spyer and Constable, to the back room down-stairs, which was the little dining-room. Mrs. Suffolk was very careful to keep the folding-doors shut, and to make two rooms, though it certainly would have been larger and might have been more comfortable had they been thrown into one. It was Mrs. Spyer who was her companion that evening, who was older than she, and commented a little sharply on this poor little bit of pretension, as Laurie walked part of the way home with the pair. ‘I like nice dining and drawing-rooms as well as any one,’ Mrs. Spyer said, ‘but if I were Helen, I would be comfortable, and never mind.’ ‘All the same she is a good little woman,’ her husband had said, irrelevantly;—for, to be sure, nobody doubted that{v.1-296} she was a good little woman. They had cold beef and celery and cheese on the table, and refreshed themselves with copious draughts of beer. I do not say it was a very refined conclusion to the evening, but I think Laurie was better amused and more interested than after many a fine party. He walked home with Spyer, talking of Suffolk’s picture, and the injustice that had been done him, jettant feu et flamme, as they mentioned the Academy, yet hoping that band of tyrants could not be so foolish two years running. ‘The thing is, to have him written up in the papers,’ Spyer said; ‘a fellow of his talent cannot be long kept in the background; but if the papers were to take him up, it would shorten his probation.’ ‘I hate the papers,’ said Mrs. Spyer. ‘Why don’t we have private patrons, as we used to have, and never mind the public? To think of a wretched newspaper deciding a man’s fate! I would not give in to it for a day.’

‘But we must give in to it, or else be left behind in the race,’ said her husband. And Laurie thought more and more, as he listened to all this talk, of the influence he himself might exercise at the club and elsewhere upon Slasher and the ‘Sword.{v.1-297}



The first grand question to be decided, when Laurie settled in Charlotte Street, was what his first picture was to be. It is true that Mr. Welby, and even the padrona, who was so much more hopeful, were all for mere study and life-schools, and the lectures at the Academy, and anatomical demonstrations, and other disagreeable things, which Laurie, always amiable, gave in to, to please them, not doubting of the advantage of the studies in question. But still his anatomy, and his notes, and studies from the life, however careful, were only means to an end; and there was no reason why the end itself should not be pursued at the same time,—or at least so he thought. He had painted pictures before now as a mere amateur, and in that capacity had even,—once,—obtained a nook in the Academy’s exhibition; and why he should now suspend his chief work, and, having become a professional painter, paint no longer, was what Laurie could not perceive. He was not the man to exhibit his study of the Norman{v.1-298} fisherwoman or Italian peasant who might chance to be posing at the school, as some of the Clipstone Street fellows did. His work there, of course, would help him in his real work at home; but to spend his entire time in preparation for work, and do nothing, seemed to Laurie plain idiocy. ‘I painted nothing for three years on end when I was like you,’ old Welby said. ‘You require to be a painter, sir, before you can paint a picture; and it is hard enough work to make yourself a painter. If I were in your place I’d never look at a canvas bigger than that for at least a year.’

‘That’ was the study of a head which Laurie had taken down with him to Mr. Welby’s studio. It was one of the padrona’s, and the old painter had praised the sketch. As for Laurie, he turned it hastily with its face to the easel, and laughed the uneasy laugh of embarrassment and offence.

‘I rather flattered myself I was a painter,’ he said, and then paused and recovered his temper. ‘The fact is, I must keep myself up,’ he exclaimed; ‘I must feel as if I were doing something. So long as I paint merely scraps I feel myself demoralised. And then you forget I am not a novice,’ Laurie said, with some pride. He had been all over Italy, and had studied in Rome, and was very learned in many artistic matters. To be told that he had first to make himself a painter was rather hard.

‘Of course you are a novice,’ said the R.A., ‘and{v.1-299} quite natural too. I don’t want to be disagreeable, my dear fellow, but an amateur is really worse,—you may take my word for it,—than an absolute beginner. The very traditions of amateur art are different. If you were making a fair start I should know exactly what to tell you; but how can I tell how much you may have to unlearn?’

This, it will be allowed, was not encouraging. Laurie went up-stairs afterwards three steps at a time, with his blood boiling in his veins. He gave the padrona an animated little address about old fogies in general, and R.A.’s in particular, to her extreme amazement, as she stood at her work. It was a crisp, sunny, wintry morning, and Mrs. Severn was very busy. She opened her brown eyes and laughed, as Laurie, breathless, came to an end.

‘They will be giving advice,’ she said, ‘I know; and advice, unless when it is just what one wants, is a terrible nuisance. I see exactly what you mean.’

‘I have no objection to advice,’ said Laurie, half angry, half laughing, ‘when it is kept within due limits; but there is such a thing as going too far.’ And then he told her the extent of Mr. Welby’s sin, not without a momentary thought gleaming through his mind as he spoke, that it was the fresh, new life which the old painter objected to see coming within the exclusive boundaries of the profession. ‘Art is like any other trade,’ he said, as he concluded his tale; ‘the workmen are bent on pursuing their mystery,{v.1-300} and would like to stone away any interloper who inclines to come in.’

Mrs. Severn said nothing for a minute or two, but went on working at her easel with her back to him; and when one is eager and excited to start with, there is nothing more exasperating than to have one’s warm and one-sided statement received thus with chilling silence. It is the surest way to fill up what is wanting of the cup of indignation. ‘You say nothing,’ Laurie continued, with impatience, ‘and yet, of course, you must have suffered from it yourself.’

‘You will think I am helping to bar the door of my trade,’ said the padrona, ‘and I know I deserve that you should fly through the window or through the ceiling in wrath; but I can’t help it. He was quite right. You have all your amateur habits to break yourself of, and to get to work like,—like,—one of us. Don’t be vexed. I have wanted to say it before, and, of course, with the generosity of my kind, I say it now when you are down.’

‘You too!’ Laurie said with a pang. He took two or three turns up and down the painting-room before he could speak. And but for pride, which would not permit him to show how deep was his mortification, I fear he would have blazed and exploded out of the house; but as soon as he had come to himself, pride, more potent than any better feeling, cleared the cloud from his brow.{v.1-301}

‘I thought you had a better opinion of me,’ he said, reproachfully, standing behind the easel and casting pathetic glances at her. ‘I came to you to be,—consoled, I suppose,—like an ass. I thought I was already something of a painter,—at least to you,—or why should I be encouraged to attempt anything? Why didn’t you say to me, “Go and be a shoemaker?”—as, indeed, Welby was honest enough to do.’

‘Now, Laurie, don’t be unjust,’ said the padrona. ‘Don’t you see it is because I expect you to do something worth while that I want you to study hard and learn everything? What is a year’s work to you at your age? When one gets old one would give everything for the chance of such a preparation. What am I but an amateur myself, not half instructed as I ought to be? And that is why I am so anxious that it should be different with you,—at your age.’

‘I cannot see what my age has to do with it,’ said Laurie, ‘nor why you should always want to set me down as a boy;’ and then he paused and compunction overtook him. He went up to his adviser, in the coaxing way which Laurie had been master of all his life. He could not take her hand, for she had her brush in it and was working all the time; but he took the wide sleeve of her painting-dress between his fingers and caressed it, which came to much the same thing. ‘You are so good to me,’ he said,—‘always{v.1-302} so kind and so good. I never thought you would be against me too.’

Thus it will be seen that to be advised, and even ill-used and trodden upon by a friend who is a woman, and not uncomely to look at, is on the whole less disagreeable than to be snubbed by an ancient R.A.

The padrona laughed, but her eye melted into loving-kindness as well as laughter. ‘You are a boy,’ she said, ‘and a very insinuating one into the bargain. But I am not going to be coaxed out of my opinion. You ought to go home this very minute and lock up all your canvases and take to chalk and paper and pencils for a whole year; and then you can come back to me and I will tell you what I think you should do.’

‘If I am not to come back for a whole year I may as well go and hang myself at once,’ said Laurie; and so the talk fell into lighter channels. The truth was that he spent a great deal more time than he had any call to do in the padrona’s studio, and hindered, or did his best to hinder, her work; and perhaps liked better to examine her sketches and criticise them, and make suggestions thereupon, than to labour steadily, as he ought to have been doing, at sketches of his own. But this had not yet lasted long enough to attract anybody’s attention,—even hers or his own; for, of course, after such a shock as his life had sustained, this was still an unsettled mo{v.1-303}ment. He had not shaken himself down yet, nor found his standing-ground after the convulsion; and it was natural he should seek the counsel of his friends.

But the result was, after these conversations,—the one more discouraging than the other,—that Laurie went direct to his colourman’s and chose himself a lovely milk-white canvas six feet by ten, and had it sent home immediately, and went on his knees before it in silent adoration. His imagination set to work upon it immediately, though he was self-denying enough not to touch it for days; but undeniably that very night there were various sketches made of a heroic character before he went to bed. It was difficult to choose a subject,—much more difficult than he supposed. Several great historical events which struck his fancy had to be rejected as demanding an amount of labour which in the meantime was impracticable. He wandered in a range of contending fancies all night long in his sleep, with Suffolk’s Saxon maiden in the doorway of her father’s grange, dismissing the Norman squire who had become her lover, floating through his brain in conjunction with various Shakspearian scenes, and some of the padrona’s baby groups, with the padrona herself in the midst; and when he woke the dream continued. Sometimes he thought he would abandon history and paint a Mary with that face,—not a girl Mary in the simplicity of youth, but one with{v.1-304} thoughts matured, and the wider, greater heart of experience and ripe womanhood. Foolish boy! For, to be sure, he was a boy after all.

It took Laurie a long time to decide this matter in a satisfactory way. One day his inclinations were scriptural, and another historical; and on the third he would have made up his mind to a modern genre picture, but for the size of his canvas, which was clearly intended for something heroic. He settled at last,—which indeed was almost a matter of course,—upon a very hackneyed and trite subject, being somehow driven to it as he felt by the influence of Suffolk’s pictures, which he admired with all a young man’s indignant warmth. The subject which he chose was Edith seeking the body of Harold. ‘In the lost battle, borne down by the flying.’ Nothing could well have been more inconsistent with his state of mind, or tastes, or general inclinations. He was not given to melancholy thoughts, neither,—though Laurie was sufficiently fanciful,—had any analogy struck him between his own first beginning of the fight and that end, always so linked with the beginning, of utter loss and overthrow and darkness. It was not any chance gleam of a forecasting, profound imagination, or passionate sense of the fatal chances of the battle, that suggested it to him. Such an idea might have occurred to Suffolk, but it was inconsistent with the very constitution of Laurie’s mind. He chose his subject in pure caprice, pro{v.1-305}bably because it was the most unlike of anything he could imagine, to his own tender, friendly, unimpassioned nature. There are moments of youthful ease and hope in which tragedy comes most natural to the cheerful, unforeboding soul; I cannot tell why,—perhaps, as Wordsworth says, out of the very ‘prodigal excess’ of its personal content. Laurie was so absorbed in his subject,—in sketching it out, and putting it on the canvas, and bringing his figures into harmonious composition,—that his Clipstone Street studies suffered immensely, and he even failed in the usual frequency of his visits to ‘the Square.’ Had he gone there as usual, he would, of course, have betrayed himself, and he was determined that not a word should be said until he could,—with a certain triumph,—the triumph of individual conviction and profound consciousness of what was best for himself over all advice,—invite his counsellors to come and look at what was about to be. So long as this fit of fervour lasted Miss Hadley had nothing to report, except the barricading of his windows from morning till afternoon, as long as the light lasted,—unless, indeed, on foggy days, when the painter would glance out at the sky from his balcony, palette in hand, a dozen times a day, with despair in his face. The padrona thought she had gone too far, and affronted him, and was sorry, and sent him friendly messages, recalling the truant; but Laurie, notwithstanding the yearning of his heart, was true to his grand object.{v.1-306} As he stood before the big canvas, putting in those vast, vague outlines of the future picture, it seemed to him that he already saw it ‘on the line’ in the Academy, with the little scene he had already imagined going on below. But by this time he had half forgotten the fine people whose astonishment he had once amused himself by imagining. Kensington Gore had been swept away by the current, and looked like some haunt of his boyhood. What he thought now was chiefly, ‘They will have changed their opinion by that time.’ ‘They,’ no doubt, included old Welby, who had been so hard on the young painter; but I fear that the special spite of this anticipation was directed against the padrona. What did it matter after all, except, indeed, in the strictest professional point of view, what old Welby thought?

Edith had not got beyond the first chalk outline, when Forrester, Mr. Welby’s man, came one morning to Charlotte Street, with a message from his master. Forrester was understood to know nearly as much about art as his master did, and resembled him, as old servants often do,—and I rather think Laurie was secretly glad, now matters had progressed so far, of this means of conveying, in an indirect way, the first news of his rebellion to ‘the Square.’ At all events he sent for him to come up-stairs, awaiting his appearance with a little trepidation. Forrester, however, was not arrogant, as some critics are. He came in with the most bland and patronising looks, ready,{v.1-307} it was evident, to be indulgent to everything. When he had delivered his message, he cast an amiable glance around him. The room was lighted only by the upper light of the middle window, all the rest being carefully closed, and even that amount of daylight was obscured by the shadow of the great canvas which was placed on the easel, where all the rays that were to be had out of a November sky might be concentrated upon it. Forrester was too thoroughly acquainted with the profession of which he was a retainer not to understand at once the meaning of this big shadow, and Laurie in his anxiety thought or imagined that the critic’s lips formed themselves into an involuntary whistle of astonishment, though no sound was audible. But the old servitor of art felt the claims of politeness. Instead of displaying at once his curiosity about the work in hand, he paid his tribute of applause with a grace which his master could scarcely have emulated. ‘That’s a nice sketch, sir,’ Forrester said, indicating one of the Clipstone Street studies. ‘I hope you ain’t working too hard now, we see you so little in the Square. I like that effect, Mr. Renton; master would be pleased with that effect.’

‘I am very glad you think so, Forrester,’ said artful Laurie, leading his visitor on.

‘Master’s a little severe, Mr. Renton,’ said Forrester, ‘but you young gentlemen take him a deal too much at his word. Bless you, he don’t mean half he{v.1-308} says. I know he’d be pleased. I call that a very nice drawin’, Mr. Renton; better nor many a dealer buys for a picture. I always said, sir, as you was one as would come on.’

‘I am much obliged to you for your good opinion, Forrester,’ said Laurie; ‘it is very kind of you to take so much interest in me.’

‘I’ve been among painters all my days,’ said Forrester. ‘I sat to Opie, sir, though you wouldn’t think it, when I was a lad. I don’t know as there is a man living as understands ’em better nor I do. I knows their ways; and if I don’t know a picture when I sees one, who should, Mr. Renton? I’ve been about ’em since I was a lad o’ fifteen, and awful fond o’ them, like as they was living creatures,—and a man ain’t worth much if he don’t form no opinion of his own in five-and-forty years. Me and master goes on the same principle. It’s the first sketch as he’s always mad about. “Take the big picture and hang it in your big galleries,” he says, “and give me the sketch with the first fire into it, and the invention.” I’ve heard him a saying of that scores of times; and them’s my sentiments to a tee. But master, he’s all for the hantique, and me, I go in for the modern school. There’s more natur’ in it, to my way of thinking. You’ve got something on your easel, sir, as looks important,’ Forrester continued, edging his way with curious looks towards the central object in the room.{v.1-309}

‘I don’t know if I should let you see it.’ said Laurie; ‘I have only just begun to put it on the canvas; and you are an alarming critic, Forrester,—as awful as Mr. Welby himself.’

‘No, sir; no, no,’ said Forrester, affably; ‘don’t you be frightened; I know how to make allowances for a beginner. We must all make a beginning, bless you, one time or other. Master ’ud grieve if he see a big canvas like that. He’d say, “It’s just like them boys;” but I ain’t one to set a young gentleman down. Encourage the young, and tell your mind to the hold, that’s my motto, sir,’ the old man said, as he placed himself in front of the easel. As for poor Laurie, the fact is that he grew cold with fright and expectation as he watched the face of the critic. Forrester gave vent to a prolonged Ah! accompanied by a slight expressive shrug when he took his first look of the canvas, and for several moments he made no further observation. To Laurie, standing behind him in suspense, the white chalk shadows seemed to twist and distort themselves, and put all their limbs out of joint, in pure perversity, under this first awful critical gaze.

‘If I might make so bold, sir,’ said Forrester, mildly, ‘what is the subject of the picture, Mr. Renton?’ which was not an encouraging remark.

‘Of course I ought to have told you,’ cried Laurie, very red and hot. ‘It is an incident after the{v.1-310} Battle of Hastings,—Edith looking for the body of Harold. Edith, you know, was——’

‘I’ve seen a many Hediths,’ said Forrester. ‘I ought to know. I’m an old stupid, sir, not to have seen what it was; but being as it’s in the chalk, and me not having the time to study it as I could wish——. I don’t doubt, Mr. Renton, as it’s a fine subject. It did ought to be, seeing the many times as it’s been took.’

‘I don’t think I have seen it many times,’ said Laurie, profoundly startled; ‘I only remember one picture, and that very bad,’ the young man added hastily. Forrester shook his head.

‘Not in the exhibitions, I daresay, sir,’ said the critic, solemnly; ‘but there’s a many pictures, Mr. Renton, as never get as far as the Academy. Mr. Suffolk, he did it, sir, for one; and young Mr. Warleigh, as has give up art, and gone off a engineering; and Robinson, as has fallen into the portrait line,’ Forrester continued, counting on his fingers; ‘and poor Mr. Tinto, as died in Italy; and there’s the same subject,’ the old man added, solemnly, after a pause, ‘turned with its face again the wall in our hattic, as Mr. Severn hisself, sir, did when he was young.’

Laurie was overwhelmed. He gazed at the ruthless destroyer of his dreams with a certain terror. ‘Good heavens, I had no idea!’ said the young man, growing green with sudden despair. Then, however,{v.1-311} his pride came to his aid. ‘It’s a dreadful list,’ he said; ‘but, you perceive, as they never came under the public eye, and nobody was the wiser——’

‘To be sure, sir—to be sure,’ said Forrester, with pitying complacency. ‘A many failures ain’t what you may call a reason for your failing as is a new hand. I hope it’ll be just the contrary; but if you hadn’t a begun of it, Mr. Renton,—and being as it’s but in the chalk, it ain’t to call begun;——couldn’t Hedith be a looking out for her lover, sir, of an evening, as young women has a way? I don’t suppose there was no difference in them old times. And a bit o’ nice sunset, and him a-coming out of it with his shadow in front of him, like. I don’t say as the subject’s as grand, but it’s a deal cheerfuller. And when you come to think of it, Mr. Renton, to hang up all them dead corpses and a skeered woman, say, in your dining-room, sir, when it’s cheerful as you want to be——’

‘Thanks,’ said Laurie, with a little offence. ‘I have no doubt you are very judicious, but I am sorry I can’t see the matter in the same light. You will give Mr. Welby my compliments, please. I’ll be glad to dine with him on Saturday, as he asks me. Perhaps you will be so good as to say nothing—. But no, that’s of no consequence,’ Laurie added, hastily. Of course he was not going to give in. Of course they must know sooner or later what he was doing, and better sooner than later. They{v.1-312} might laugh, or sneer, or consider him childish if they pleased; but the moment his picture was hung on the line in the Academy, all that would be changed. So Laurie mounted his high horse. But he did it in a splendid, magnanimous sort of way. He smoothed down Forrester’s wounded feelings by a ‘tip,’ which, indeed, was more than he could afford, and which the old man took with reluctance,—and opened the door for him with his own hands. ‘Offended! because you tell me how popular my subject has been? Most certainly not! Much obliged to you, on the contrary, Forrester, and very proud of your good opinion,’ he said, with a most gracious smile and nod, as his critic went away, which Forrester did with a certain satisfaction mingling with his regret.

‘It’s for his good,’ the old man said to himself; ‘and there ain’t no way of doing them young fellows good without hurting of their feelings.’

Laurie for his part went back to his painting-room, and sat down moodily before his big canvas. It was too ridiculous to care for such a piece of criticism. Forrester;—Mr. Welby’s servant!—to think of minding anything that a stupid old fellow in his dotage might venture to say! Laurie laughed what he meant for a mocking laugh, and then bit his lip and called himself a fool. Of course the old rascal had been crammed beforehand and taught what to say; or if not, at least it was no wonder if{v.1-313} the servant repeated what the master thought. It was not this picture or that, but every picture that Welby had set his face against. And what a piece of idiocy to show his man, his echo,—the very first beginning,—the most chaotic indication,—such as none but an eye at once keen and indulgent could have made out,—of the great work that was to be! Laurie concluded proudly that nobody was to blame but himself, as he sat down in his first quiver of mortification, half inclined to tear his canvas across, and pitch his chalks to the other end of the room. Then he looked at it, and found his Edith looking down upon him with her tragic eyes,—eyes which to her creator looked tragic and full of awful meaning, though they were but put in in chalk. Perhaps, indeed, it was the chalk that made her divine in her despair, whitely shadowing out of the white canvas, owing everything to the imagination,—a suggestion of horror and frantic grief and misery. What if it was a common subject! The more common a thing is, the more universal and all-influencing must it be. A tender woman, made sublime by her despair, seeking on a field of battle the body of the man she loved most,—a thing of primitive passion such as must move all humanity. What if it were hackneyed! All the more distinctly would it be apparent which was the touch of the real power which could embody the scene, and which the mere painter of costumed figures. Such were{v.1-314} Laurie’s thoughts as he sat, discouraged and cast down, before his picture,—poor fellow!—after Forrester’s visit. If the man’s criticisms had so much effect upon him, what would the master’s have had? What could he have said to the padrona had it been she who had come to look at his picture? Then the long array of names which Forrester had quoted came back upon him. In short, poor Laurie had received a downright unexpected blow, and ached and smarted under it, as was natural to a sensitive being loving applause and approbation. He turned his back on Edith for the rest of the day, throwing open his windows, to Miss Hadley’s astonishment, the first time for a week, and affording her a dim vision of a figure thrown into an arm-chair by the fire, with a novel. It was the first time since he came to Charlotte Street that he had in broad daylight and cold blood given himself over to such an indulgence. He was disgusted with his work and himself. He had not the heart to go out. He could not go to the Square, where probably by this time they were all laughing over his folly. He read his novel doggedly all the afternoon, in sight of Miss Hadley, who could not tell what to make of it. The light was gone and the day lost before he roused himself, and pitched his book into the farthest corner. His kindly spy could not tell what the perverse young fellow would do next. Probably go and have his dinner, she said to herself;{v.1-315} which, indeed, Laurie did; and came home much better, beginning to be able to laugh at Forrester, and snap his fingers at his predecessors. ‘The more reason it should be done now,’ he said to himself, ‘if Suffolk, and Severn, and all those fellows broke down over it.’ And he suffered a little gleam of self-complacency to steal over his face, and went to work all night at his sketch, to improve and perfect the composition. So that, on the whole, Laurie, though no genius, had that nobler quality of genius which overcomes all criticism and surmounts every discouragement. He had been shut up long enough in silence with his conception. That day, he made up his mind, instead of permitting himself to be ignominiously snubbed by old Forrester, that he would face the world, and carry the sketch which he was completing to the padrona herself.{v.1-316}



Forrester went back very full of his discovery, and there was a certain solemnity in his manner which made it evident to his master that he had something to tell. When he had delivered Laurie’s message about the dinner on Saturday, he paused with a look of meaning. ‘And glad he’ll be of a good dinner, too, sir,’ the old man said, solemnly, ‘before all is done.’

‘I’m sorry to hear that, Forrester,’ said Mr. Welby. ‘He must have been extravagant: for, after all, though it’s a change to him, a man need not starve on two hundred a-year.’

‘It’s not now as I’m meaning, sir,’ said Forrester, with a sigh. ‘He’s been and started in a bad way. For aught I can tell he’s as well off as you and me now; but I know what it all comes to, Mr. Welby, when a young man sets hisself agoing, and won’t hear no advice,—in that way.’

‘God bless me! you don’t mean to say the young fellow has got married?’ said Mr. Welby, with agitation; for his interest in Laurie was great.{v.1-317}

‘No, sir,’ said Forrester, ‘worse nor that. Marrying’s a lottery, but sometimes a wife’s a help. You may shake your head, sir; but sometimes she’s a help. It’s more nor that; but I won’t keep you no longer in misery. That young gentleman, sir, as you take an interest in, and I take an interest in, and the good lady up-stairs, though he’s been well-instructed and had all our advice, and ain’t an idiot, not to speak of, in other things, he’s been and took up the Saxon line. I see, with my own eyes, a sketch of that ere blessed Hedith as is always a seeking somebody’s body. He’s got it stuck up on a big canvas six by ten, sir; you take my word; and you know what that comes to as well as me.’

‘Bless my soul!’ said Mr. Welby; and though his emotion took a different form, it was quite as genuine as Forrester’s outspoken despair. He took a few turns through his studio, repeating this disclosure to himself. ‘The Saxon line!’ he said with horror. ‘Infatuated boy! When a young man is thus bent on destroying himself, what can any one do?’ ‘You are sure you are making no mistake?’ said the R.A.; ‘it was not some other fellow’s canvas that had been left in his place? And what did you say to him? After all the trouble we’ve taken! I will never interest myself in any young man again,’ said Mr. Welby, with effusion, ‘not if I should live a hundred years!’


‘What did I say, sir?’ said Forrester. ‘I told him plain where he was going to; to destruction. I gave him a piece of my mind, sir. I spoke to him that clear as he couldn’t make no mistake. I told him the times and times I’ve seen it done, and what followed. I counted ’em over to him,—Mr. Suffolk, and young Mr. Warleigh, and——’

‘Then you behaved like an ass,’ cried the R.A., with indignation. ‘Suffolk! the cleverest painter he knows. Why, there’s not a man among us can hold the candle to Suffolk for some things! Why didn’t you tell him of Baxter, and Robinson, and Simpson, and half-a-dozen other young fools like himself? Suffolk! A man of genius! I thought you had more sense.’

‘He may be a bit of a genius,’ said Forrester, standing his ground; ‘but he don’t sell his pictures, and Mr. Renton knows it. He was struck all of a heap, sir, when he’d heard all I’d got to say. I don’t approve of the subject, nor I don’t approve of the size; but as far as I could judge of the chalk, it wasn’t badly put on. I wouldn’t say he’s a genius, but he’s got a way, has Mr. Renton; and always a nice-spoken, civil gentleman, even when he’s put out a bit, as he might have been to-day.’

‘Pshaw!’ said the master; ‘that means, I suppose, that he did not kick you down-stairs. Foolish boy! after all I said to him. I daresay some of the women have put it into his head to go and distinguish himself. Go up and give my compliments to Mrs.{v.1-319} Severn, and I’d like to speak to her if she is not busy; and mind you don’t say a word of this. Don’t speak of it anywhere. I hope what you’ve said to him, and what I shall say to him, will bring him to his senses. Don’t say a word about it to any soul.’

‘I’ve been trusted with greater secrets,’ said Forrester, with dignity. ‘He’ll tell her, sir, as fast as look at her; and he’ll build more on her advice, though she don’t know half nor a quarter. I’m a going, sir. He thinks a deal more of what she says than of either you or me.’

‘Insufferable old bore!’ Mr. Welby said to himself. ‘Outrageous young ass! It must be those silly women that have bidden him go and distinguish himself. And what have I got to do with it, I’d like to know?’ The truth was the Academician had begun to take a greater interest in Laurie than was consistent with his principles; and he wanted to blame somebody for his favourite’s rebellion. He put down his palette, for he was at work at the moment, and washed his hands, and prepared for the interview he had asked. Perhaps Mr. Welby was doubly ceremonious as a kind of protest against the ease with which other members of the profession penetrated into the padrona’s studio.

‘A lady is a lady, however she may be occupied,’ the old man said. And, in accordance with this principle, Forrester’s mien and voice were very {v.1-320}solemn when he made his appearance up-stairs. ‘Master’s compliments, ma’am, and if you’re not busy he’d like to speak to you,’ he said, standing ceremoniously at the door.

‘Mr. Welby, Forrester?’ said the padrona. ‘Oh, surely; I shall be glad to see him. I hope there’s nothing the matter. Come in and tell me what you think of this. I hope there’s nothing wrong.’

‘No, ma’am; not as I knows of,’ said Forrester, with profound gravity. ‘I don’t know what else could be thought of it, but that it’s a sweet little bit of colour, ma’am. You never done nothing finer nor that flesh. It’s breathing, that is. Miss Alice called me in to have a look at it before you came down.’

‘Miss Alice is always an early bird,’ said the padrona, pleased. ‘I’m glad you like it, Forrester; but I don’t think I’ve got the light quite right here. Tell Mr. Welby I shall be glad to see him; but you look horribly grave, all the same, as if something had gone wrong.’

‘No, ma’am, nothing,’ said Forrester, with a glance over his shoulder;—‘only about Mr. Renton, as we’re afraid is in a bad way.’

‘Good heavens! Laurie! What is the matter with him?’ cried Mrs. Severn. The old man shook his head in the most tragical and desponding way.

‘Master will tell you himself, ma’am,’ Forrester said, withdrawing suddenly out of temptation and closing the door behind him. The padrona did not{v.1-321} know what to think. Laurie had not been visible for a week at least in the Square; but even a young man, with all the proclivities towards mischief common to that animal, cannot go very far wrong in a week. She too prepared for the impending interview, as Mr. Welby was doing. She put away all her working materials, and set the big Louis Quinze fauteuil near the fire for her visitor. She even went so far as to put a sketching-block on the table, and sat down before it with a pencil in her hand, posing half consciously, as an amateur might have posed. The padrona, though she was not timid in general, was a little afraid of her tenant. If she left her picture on the easel it was because there was no time to get it comfortably smuggled away, and some inarticulate beginning placed in its stead. She turned the Louis Quinze, however, with its back to the easel by way of security. A word of approbation from old Welby was worth gold; but yet the risk of obtaining it was one Mrs. Severn did not care to run.

A few minutes after he tapped at the door, and came in, taking off the velvet cap which,—as he knew very well,—had such a picturesque effect on his white hair. The moment he entered the room the padrona saw how vain had been her precaution in turning the Louis Quinze chair. He glanced round him with the quick artist-eye which sees everything, and went up to the easel of course as{v.1-322} politeness required, and delivered his little speech of courteous applause, under which Mrs. Severn discovered not a word of criticism, such as her usual visitors threw about so lightly. ‘I don’t think I have got the light quite here,’ she said, as she had said to Forrester,—but with alarm in her face. ‘Indeed, I don’t see what there is to find fault with,’ Mr. Welby answered, with his old-fashioned bow. Nothing could be more sweet or more unsatisfactory. The padrona almost forgot poor Laurie, as with a flush of vexation on her face she indicated to her visitor the Louis Quinze chair.

‘I hope you are not over-exerting yourself, my dear madam,’ the old painter said. ‘I am struck dumb by your energy. Where I produce one little picture you exhibit half-a-dozen. I admire, but I fear; and, if you will let an old man say so, you must take care not to overwork your brain.’

Tears sprang to the padrona’s eyes; but she kept them fixed steadily on her block, so that the old cynic, who, no doubt, knew all the commonplaces about women’s tears, should not see them. She said, with all the composure she was mistress of, ‘You and I are very different, Mr. Welby. Your one picture, of course, is more than worth my half-dozen; but one must do what one can.’

‘No one knows better than I what Mrs. Severn can do,’ said the R. A., with one of those smiles for which the padrona could have strangled him. ‘I{v.1-323} was but taking the privilege of my age to warn you against overwork,—which is the grand disease of these times, and kills more people than cholera does. Pardon me. I want to speak to you about young Renton, in whom I know you take an interest. I advised him,’ Mr. Welby said, slowly, ‘to give up all idea of producing anything for the moment, and to devote himself to preparatory work,—hard work.’

‘So he told me,’ said the padrona, with a little spirit; for there was no mistaking the implied blame in old Welby’s tone. ‘And so I told him, too.’

‘Then somebody has been undermining us, my dear madam,’ said the R. A. ‘Somebody has been egging up the foolish boy to make a name for himself, and win fame, and so forth. Forrester brings me word that he has begun a great picture. High art, life-size, Edith finding the body of Harold. The young fellow must be mad.’

‘Edith finding the body of Harold!’ repeated Mrs. Severn, bewildered;—and then, what with her personal agitation, what with the curious anti-climax of this announcement after her fears about Laurie, the padrona, we are obliged to confess, burst into a sudden fit of nervous laughter. She laughed till the tears came into her eyes; and, to be sure, old Welby had no way of knowing how near to the surface were those tears before.

‘I confess I do not see the joke,’ he said, slowly.{v.1-324} ‘Of course I have nothing to do with the boy. If he goes and makes a fool of himself, like so many others, it is nothing to me. Indeed, I don’t know who advised him to come here, where one can’t help seeing what he’s about. He would have been a great deal better, and out of one’s way, had he stayed at Kensington Gore.’

‘He was paying four guineas a-week for his rooms at Kensington Gore,’ said the padrona, meekly. ‘It was I who advised him to come to Charlotte Street. A man cannot live on nothing. If he had given all his income for rent——’

‘When I was like him I lived on nothing,’ said the R.A.; ‘but young men now-a-days must have their clubs and their luxuries. Why, what education has he had that he should begin to paint pictures? A few lines scratched on a bit of paper, or dabs of paint on a canvas do well enough for an amateur; but, good heavens, a painter! You don’t see it, ma’am; you don’t see it! Women never do. You think it’s all genius, and nonsense. You will tell me it’s genius that makes a Michael Angelo, I suppose; but, I tell you, it’s hard work.’

‘I do see it,’ said the padrona. ‘Sit down, please, and don’t be angry with me. I see it very well; but I can’t help laughing all the same. It is Laurie’s way. He will never be a Michael Angelo. It is so like him to go and set up a great picture to surprise us. One of these days, if you take no{v.1-325} notice, he will come like Innocence itself, and invite us to go and look at it. I was afraid something was wrong with him; but this quite explains why he stayed away.’

‘And that is all a woman cares for!’ said Mr. Welby. ‘The boy’s quite well, and his absence accounted for; and what does it matter if he makes an ass of himself?’ Here the painter rose, and made a little giro round the room, pausing at the easel with a certain vindictiveness. ‘I wouldn’t give much for that baby’s chances of life,’ he said. ‘The creature will be a cripple if it grows up. It has no joints to its legs; and that little girl’s got her shoulder out. There’s where the elbow should come,’ he went on, making an imaginary line in the air. It was the same picture he had made a pretty speech about when he came into the room, from which it may be perceived that Mrs. Severn’s terror of her lodger’s visit was not without cause.

‘I shall be so glad if you tell me what you see wrong,’ the padrona said, with, I fear, more submission than she felt.

‘Wrong, ma’am,—it’s all wrong!’ cried the R.A.; ‘there’s not a line that could not be mended, nor a limb that is quite in its right place;—but I couldn’t paint such a picture for my life,’ Mr. Welby continued, with a sudden melting in his voice; ‘nor anybody else but yourself. The body’s out of drawing, but the soul’s divine. Light!—nonsense,—the light’s all{v.1-326} as it ought to be; the light’s in that woman’s face. I don’t know how to better it. But this is not what we were talking of,’ he continued, suddenly turning his back on the picture. ‘We were talking of Laurie Renton. What is to be done about this ridiculous boy?’

The padrona was a little disturbed. She was overwhelmed by the praise, feeling all the sweetness of it; and she was pricked, and stung to smarting by the blame. It cost her a considerable effort to master herself, and to bring back her thoughts even to Laurie Renton. ‘You must not be too hard upon him,’ she said, with her voice a little tremulous. ‘A mind that has any energy in it must work in its own way.’ This was said half on Laurie’s account, no doubt, but also half on her own, after the assault she had sustained. ‘I think it would be best not to say too much about his big picture. He will read your disapproval in your eye.’

Mr. Welby shrugged his shoulders. ‘I doubt if a young fellow would take much interest in reading my eye. But he may read yours, perhaps,’ said the cynic, with a questioning glance, which Mrs. Severn was too much occupied to perceive, much less understand. And this was about the end of the consultation. They might admire and warn, and hold up beacons before the unwary youth, but there is no Act of Parliament forbidding a young painter to purchase for himself canvases six feet by ten, and to paint, or attempt to paint, heroic pictures thereupon. His{v.1-327} advisers might regret and might do their best to turn him to wiser ways, but that was all; and the question was not urgent enough to demand the sacrifice of the very best hours of a November day,—which, heaven knows! are short enough for a painter’s requirements, in a district so rapidly reached by the rising fog from the city as Fitzroy Square.

It was the evening of the next day before Laurie carried out his resolution. With a little impatience he waited till it was dark, or nearly so, and then, with his sketch under his arm, went round the corner to the Square. To carry a portfolio or a picture under your arm is nothing wonderful in these regions; and I think it was something of a foppery on Laurie’s part to wait till the twilight; but, on the whole, it was rather Mr. Welby and old Forrester he was afraid of than the general public. The padrona was,—as he knew she would be,—in her dining room, sitting in the fire-light, with a heap of little scorched, shining faces about her, when he went in. One good thing of these short winter days was, that the woman-painter had a special hour in which it was impossible to do anything, and a perfectly legitimate indulgence to play with the little ones to her heart’s content. They were all upon her,—little Edie seated upon her mother’s lap, with her arms closely clasped round her neck, and the boys on either side embracing her shoulders. ‘She is my mamma,’ said little Edie; ‘go away, you boys.’ ‘She is my mamma as well,{v.1-328}’ said Frank and Harry, with one voice. They could not see Laurie as he came in softly into the ruddy, warm, homelike darkness, nor hear the voice of the maid who opened the door for him; and Laurie, soft-hearted as he was, lingered over this little glimpse of those most intimate delights with which neither he nor any other stranger could intermeddle. When he saw the mother with her children,—who were all hers, and in whom no one else had any share,—the helpless, hopeful, joyous creatures, encircled by the woman’s soft, strong arms, which were all the protection, all the shelter they had in this world,—his heart melted within him, the foolish fellow! Alice sat at her piano in the drawing-room, playing the soft dream-music which was natural to the hour; and to her, had he been like other young men, Laurie’s thoughts and steps would naturally have turned; instead of which he stood gazing at her mother, who at that moment no more remembered him than if there had been no such being in existence. Laurie’s heart melted so that he could have gone and sat down on the hearth-rug at her feet, as one of the boys did, had he dared, and asked her to let him help her and stand by her. Help her in what? Laurie gave no answer to his own question; and, to be sure, he could not stand in the dark for more than a minute spying upon the fireside hour. He put down his sketch on a side-table with a little noise, which made the padrona start.{v.1-329}

‘I am not a ghost,’ said Laurie, coming into the warmer circle of the firelight.

‘Then you should not behave as such,’ Mrs. Severn said, holding out her hand to him with a smile: and then the mere accident of the moment brought him beside little Frank on the hearth-rug, as he had thought, with a little sentimental impulse, of placing himself. He sat down on the child’s stool, and held out his hands to the fire, and looked up at the padrona’s face, which shone out in glimpses by the cheerful firelight. Sometimes little Edith, with her wreath of hair, would come between him and her mother like a little golden, rose-tinted, cloud; sometimes the fitful blaze would decline for a moment, and throw the whole scene into darkness. But Mrs. Severn did not change her attitude, or put down the child from her lap, or ring for the lamp, on Laurie’s arrival. He came in without breaking the spell,—without disturbing the calm of the moment. And after an absence of more than a week, and some days’ work and seclusion, it is not wonderful if he felt as if he had suddenly come home.

‘This would not be a bad time to lecture you, as I am going to do,’ said the padrona. ‘He has been very naughty, children; he ought to be put in the corner. Let us make up our minds what we will do to him, now we have him here.’

‘Give him some bad sums to do, mamma,’ said little Harry, whose life was made a burden to him in{v.1-330} that way; ‘or make him write out fifty lines; and don’t tell him any stories. What have you done, Mr. Renton? I want to know.’

‘Give him a bad mark in the pantomime book,’ said Frank. Now, the pantomime-book was a ledger of the severest penalties; the bad marks disabled a sinner altogether from the enjoyment of the highest of pleasures, and was as good as a pantomime lost. The savage suggestion awoke the sympathy of little Edie on her mother’s knee.

‘What has he done?’ said Edie. ‘Poor Laurie! But mamma won’t listen to these cruel boys. Mamma listens to me. I am the little princess in the new picture. Mamma, I love Laurie. Make him go down on his knees and beg pardon, and I know he will never do it any more.’

‘I will never do it any more,’ said Laurie, with one knee upon the hearth-rug. There was something in the soft, genial warmth, and kindly, flickering light, the touches of the children, and their sweet, ringing tones,—the face of their mother now and then shining upon him, and her voice coming out of the shadow,—which captivated him in some unintelligible way. There was no romance in the matter, certainly. She was years older than he was, and thought of him as a grandmother might have thought. But Laurie Renton was that kind of man. His heart was full of tenderness and sympathy, and a certain sense of the pathos of the situation which did not strike the chief{v.1-331} actors in it. Mrs. Severn thought herself a happy woman,—notwithstanding all that had befallen her,—when she sat down by her fire, and felt the soft pressure of those soft, baby arms; but to Laurie there was a pathos in it which brought the tears to his eyes. ‘I will never do it any more,’ he said; ‘I will do whatever mamma tells me. I will be her servant if she will let me.’ Perhaps it was well for Laurie that the children immediately burst into a chorus of laughter and jubilation over his proposal. ‘He will be our Forrester, and do everything we tell him,’ cried the boys; and the padrona, carried away by their delight, thought nothing of the bended knee nor the unnecessary fervour of submission. I doubt even if she heard very clearly what he said, or was the least aware of his attitude; but probably instinct warned her that there was enough of this. She rang the bell, which was close to her hand, without saying anything. After all, the firelight and the hearth-rug was only for the children and herself. And I think Laurie even was a little ashamed of his temporary intoxication when the lamp came in, carried by the maid, bringing back the light of common evening,—the clear outlines of prose and matter-of-fact.

It was not till after tea that he brought his sketch to exhibit it. The children had gone up-stairs, and Miss Hadley had returned home, and no evening visitor had as yet arrived. When Laurie was left alone with the padrona, she laid down her needlework and lifted{v.1-332} up her eyes to him, beaming with a kindly light. ‘I have something serious to say to you now,’ she said. ‘I have been hearing dreadful things about you. You have not taken our advice.’

‘Our advice! I don’t know what that means,’ said Laurie. ‘There is but one padrona in the world, and her advice I always take.’

‘Do not be hypocritical,’ said Mrs. Severn. ‘You promised to paint no pictures, but to be busy and study and do your work; and here you have set up an Edith as big as Reginald Suffolk’s, and you call that taking my advice.’

‘Here she is,’ said Laurie, producing his sketch. He placed it on the table, propped up against the open workbox, and took the lamp in his hand that the light might fall on it as it ought. He did not defend himself. ‘I kept away as long as I could, meaning not to tell you yet; but that did not answer,’ said Laurie; ‘and here she is.’

The padrona put away her work out of her hands, and gave all her attention to the new object thus placed before her; and whatever might be the qualities of Edith, the group thus formed was pictorial enough;—the room all brightness and warmth, centering in the pure light of the lamp which Laurie held up in his hand; the fair, ample, seated figure gazing earnestly at the little picture, with her own face partially in the shade,—behind her the open{v.1-333} doors of the larger room, dark, but warm, with a redness in it of the fire, and a pale gleam from the curtained windows. But the actors in this still interior were unconscious of its effect. She was looking intently at the sketch, and he, pausing to hear what she should say of it, holding his breath.

‘Put down the lamp,’ said the padrona after a pause, ‘it is too heavy to hold, and I can see. And sit down here till I speak to you. You have not taken our advice.’

‘I understand,’ said Laurie, and his lip quivered a little, poor fellow! ‘That means I may take away the rubbish. You need not say any more, for it will pain you. I understand.’

‘You don’t understand anything about it,’ said Mrs. Severn, putting out her hand to retain the sketch where it was. ‘Let me say out my say. I don’t want to like it. I wish I could say it was very bad. If it had been atrocious it would have been better for you, you rash boy! But I must not tell any fibs. I like the sketch; there is something in it. I can’t tell how you should know about that woman, expecting every moment to see—— Yes, put her away, Laurie, for a little; her eyes have gone to my heart.’

Laurie put down his creation upon the table with a face all glowing with pride and delight. ‘I hoped you would like it,’ he said; ‘but that it {v.1-334}should move you,——’ and in his gratitude he would have kissed the hand of the friend to whose counsel he owed so much. As for the padrona, she withdrew her hand quickly, with a momentary look of surprise.

‘But I have more to say,’ she went on. ‘You must wait till you have heard me out. Don’t be vexed or disappointed. I doubt if you will ever make any more of her. Now don’t speak. I will say to you what I have never said to any one. How many sketches like that have I seen in my life, full of talent, full of meaning! It is not a sketch;—it is all the picture you will paint of that subject. I know what I am saying. She who is so real in that, with her awful expectations, will be staring like a woman on the stage in the big picture. I know it, Laurie. I have seen such things, over and over again.’

Laurie said nothing. He saw her eyes, which were still fixed on his sketch, suddenly brim over, quite silently, in two big drops, which fell at Edith’s feet. Mortification, disappointment, and, at the same time, a kind of consolatory feeling, took possession of him. The downfall was great from the first flush of joy in her approbation; but yet—— Clearly it was of poor Severn she was thinking. Poor Severn, of whom it was certainly the fact that he never did anything good except in sketches. Laurie’s heart rose magnanimous at this thought. If that was all, how soon he could prove to her that he was a different man from poor Severn! ‘It is not worth a tear,’ he{v.1-335} said; ‘never mind it. I ought to have known that it would bring things to your mind——’

‘It is not that,’ said the padrona, recovering herself; ‘it is because I am anxious you should not waste your strength. Put it up again where it can be seen, or, rather, bring it into the other room, where there is a better place. Take the lamp, and I will take the picture. I like it,’ she said, as she followed him into the larger drawing-room. ‘Let it stand here, where it can be seen. And I will send for Mr. Welby if he is at home. I like it very much;—but I don’t want you to paint the big picture all the same.’

‘If you like it, that is reason enough why I should paint the big picture,’ said Laurie. If the padrona discerned the touch of tender enthusiasm in his tone, she took no notice whatever of it, but busied herself placing the sketch in the most favourable light.

‘Mr. Welby came up-stairs, and insulted me, all on your account,’ she said with a laugh. ‘Oh, don’t look furious. I don’t want any one to fight my battles. But it is cruel of him, all the same. He congratulated me on my energy, and on sending six pictures to the Exhibitions where he sent one. It was very ill-natured of him,—a man who has had a whole long life to perfect himself, and nothing to hurry him on. Does not he think, I wonder, that even I would like to take time and spare no labour, and paint something that would last and live?’ Mrs. Severn said, with a flush coming over her face.{v.1-336}

‘And so you do, and so they will,’ said Laurie, carried away by his feelings. The padrona shook her head.

‘No,’ she said, ‘I don’t deceive myself. I get money for my pictures, and that is about what they are worth. But don’t you think, Laurie,—you who understand things that are not spoken,—don’t you think it sometimes makes my heart sick, to feel that, if I could but wait, if I could but take time, I might do work that would be worth doing,—real work,—one picture, say, that would have a whole soul in it? But I can’t take time: there are the children, and daily bread; and—he taunts me that I paint six pictures for his one!’

‘Padrona mia, nothing that could be painted would be half so good as you are,’ cried Laurie, not knowing in the thrill and pain of sympathy what he said.

‘I should like to paint something that would be better than me,’ said the padrona, ‘but I cannot. I have to work for their bread,—and you feel for me when I tell you this. And don’t you see,—don’t you see why I bid you work?’ cried the artful woman, suddenly turning upon him, standing on her own heart, as it were, to reach him. ‘There is nothing to urge you into execution, to compel you to exhibit and sell and get money. Why don’t you take the good of your blessed leisure, you foolish boy? Never think of the Academy, nor of what you will paint, nor of{v.1-337} what people think. Make yourself a painter, Laurie, now that you have your life in your hands, and heaps of time, and nothing to urge you on. But, good heavens! here are people coming,’ cried Mrs. Severn,—‘to find me flushed and half crying over all this, I declare. Talk to them till I come back, and I will send down the child to help you; and don’t forget what I’ve been saying,’ she said, as she rushed out of the room.

This assault had been so sudden, so trenchant, so effective;—he had been led so artfully to the softness of real feeling, in order to have the thrust made at his most unguarded moment, that Laurie stood confused when his Mentor left him, not quite sure where he was, or what had happened. Had it been any stranger who had appeared, Mrs. Severn’s young friend would have made a poor impression upon her visitor; but, happily, it was Alice who came in,—Alice with her curls,—harmonious spirit, setting the house to music, as her mother said. This was all poor Laurie made by his honesty in carrying his Edith, in her earliest conception, for the approval of the Square.


Strangeways and Walden, Printers,
28 Castle St. Leicester Sq.









The Right of Translation is Reserved.


Strangeways and Walden, Printers, Castle St., Leicester Sq.


XIII. SUNDAY {v.2-vi}210





It must be admitted that the counsel thus bestowed upon Laurie in respect to his work had rather a discouraging than a stimulating effect upon him. It disgusted him, no doubt, with Edith and his big canvas, but it did not fill him, as it was intended to do, with enthusiasm for Clipstone Street, and his other opportunities of legitimate work. He made it an excuse for doing nothing, which was unfortunate, after so much trouble had been taken about him. Perhaps, on the whole, it would have been better to have let him have his way. The padrona herself thought so, though she had not been able to refrain from interfering when she had the opportunity. The Square, and the adjacent regions, had pronounced almost unanimously that the sketch was a very clever sketch; but, notwithstanding, deprecated with one voice the big canvas, and the{v.2-2} ambitious work. ‘I did it, and you see I have not made much of it,’ said Suffolk. ‘If I thought I could make as much of it as you have done, I should go in for it to-morrow,’ cried Laurie, with an enthusiasm for which the painter’s wife could have hugged him. ‘But, dear Mr. Renton, if you would but advise him to take simpler subjects!’ Mrs. Suffolk said, with her pathetic voice. Suffolk was a man of genius, as even old Welby admitted, and slowly, by degrees, the profession itself was beginning to be awake to his merits; but as for the British public, it knew nothing of the painter, except that up to this moment he had been hung down on the floor, or up at the roof, in the Academy’s exhibition, and sneered at in the ‘Sword.’ This was what came of high art.

Mr. Welby paid Laurie a visit in his rooms, to enforce the lesson upon him. ‘If we had room and space for that sort of thing, it would be all very well, sir,’ said the R.A., ‘but in a private collection what can you do with it? The best thing Suffolk could hope for would be to have his picture hung in some Manchester man’s dining-room;—best patrons we have now-a-days. But it would fill up the whole wall, and naturally the Manchester man would rather have two or three Maclises, and a Mulready, and a Webster, and even a Welby, my dear fellow,—not to speak of Millais, and the young ones. There’s how it is.{v.2-3} A dozen pictures are better than one in our patrons’ eyes,—more use, and more variety, and by far more valuable if anything should happen to the mills. Though it’s a work of genius, Renton,—I don’t deny it’s a work of genius,—whereas this——’

‘Is nothing but a beginner’s attempt, I know,’ said poor Laurie. ‘That is all settled and understood. Let us talk of something else.’

Mr. Welby, without heeding the young man, got up, and gazed upon the white canvas, which still stood on the easel like a ghost, with the white outlines growing fainter. Laurie had not had the heart to touch it since that evening in the Square. ‘I don’t understand how you young men can be so rash,’ he said; ‘for my part, I think there is no picture that ever was painted equal to the sublimity of that blank canvas. Why, sir, it might be anything! Buonarotti or Leonardo never equalled what it might be. It is a thing that strikes me with awe; I feel like a wretch when I put the first daub of vulgar colour on it. Colour brings it down to reality,—to our feeble efforts after expression,—but in itself it is the inexpressible. I don’t mind your chalk so much. It’s a desecration, but not sacrilege,—a white shadow on the white blank,—and it might turn out anything, sir! Whereas, if you put another touch on it, you would bring it down to your own level. The wonder to me{v.2-4} always is how a man who is a true painter ever paints a line!’

‘It is well for the world that you have not always been of that opinion,’ said Laurie, forcing out a little compliment in spite of himself.

‘But I have always been of that opinion,’ said Mr. Welby. ‘Unfortunately, man is a complex being, my dear fellow, and whatever your convictions and higher sentiments may be, the other part of you will force itself into expression. But the thing is to keep it down as long as possible, and subdue and train it like any other slave. That is always my advice to you young men. Never draw two lines when you can do with one. Don’t spoil an inch more of that lovely white canvas than your idea will fill. Keep within your idea, my dear Laurie. You should no more tell it all out than a woman should tell out how fond she is of you. Art is coy, and loves a secret,’ said the old man, warming into a kind of enthusiasm.

These were the kind of addresses which were made to Laurie in this his first attempt to stumble out of his pleasant amateur ways into professional work and its habits. He could not but ask himself, with a tragi-comic wonder, whether it was anxiety for his good alone which wound up his friends into eloquence, or whether there had ever been a novice so overwhelmed by good advice before. He had done what he liked in the old days, when{v.2-5} what he liked was of little consequence; but it was clear that he was not to be permitted to do what he liked now. He was affronted, disgusted, amused, and discouraged, all in a breath. Work in cold blood for work’s sake, to lead to no immediate end, was something of which Laurie was incapable. It seemed to him that the way to become a painter was by painting pictures, and he did not give the weight they deserved to his friends’ counsels when they adjured him to work at smaller matters, and to postpone the great. ‘I shall never satisfy them,’ he said to himself; and accordingly the spur being thus removed, his natural habit of mind returned upon him. He had no tendency to extravagance, being simple in all his tastes, and it seemed to him that he could get on very well on his two hundred a-year. ‘I shall never marry,’ Laurie said to himself, with a sigh, ‘nor think of marrying. That sort of thing is all over; and there is enough to keep me alive, I suppose. And why should I go worrying everybody about pictures which I don’t suppose I am fit to paint? But I may be of use to my friends,’ he added in his self-communion. So he took to play instead of work, which he found to be more congenial to his ancient habits, and he fell back into it as naturally as possible. It would have been better for him, so far as his profession was concerned, had they let him have his own way.

But if he could not be a great painter himself, it{v.2-6} was possible enough that he might be of use to those who were so. Though he had been momentarily absorbed by his abortive project, and momentarily thrown off his balance by all the opposition it met, yet he had not forgotten his promise to Mrs. Suffolk. If there was anything he could do to open the eyes of the British public, and show it what a blunder it was making, that would always be so much rescued from the blank of existence. Laurie’s Edith, even had she come to the first development which he once hoped for her, could never be,—or at least it was not probable that she would ever be,—equal to that scene in the Forum, which hung neglected on the wall of Suffolk’s studio. To bring the one into the light of day was perhaps a better work than to paint the other. It was the first thought that roused Laurie out of his own mortification. He bore no malice. He was too sweet-hearted, too easy and forgiving, for that. Indeed, on the contrary, he was very grateful to one at least of his hardest critics. The padrona had uncovered her heart to him by way of pointing her objection. He had seen into her mind and spirit as perhaps no one else had ever done. He was sorry for the pain it must have given her to speak to him,—even more sorry than for himself; but Laurie could not, though Mrs. Severn would have wondered, speak what people call ‘a good word’ on her behalf when he got Slasher in his power. The words would have choked him. Ask any man in ordinary {v.2-7}Art-jargon and common print to applaud the woman to whom his own heart began to give a kind of wordless, half-unconscious worship! Ask for praise, public praise, for his padrona. He would as soon have thought of leading her upon the stage to have garlands thrown at her feet like a prima donna. Here was a disability of woman which nobody had ever thought of before. It did not matter much, from Laurie’s point of view, whether they blamed her or praised her. To name her at all was a presumption unpardonable, the mere thought of which made his cheek burn. And yet it would have done Mrs. Severn a great deal of good had the ‘Sword’ taken an enthusiasm for her. And Laurie had no objection to her work. He knew that he could not have done it for her had he tried his hardest. Her independence, and her labours, and her artist life, were all part of herself. He could not realise her otherwise. But to have her talked of in the papers! Laurie’s private feeling was, that instead of influencing Slasher in her favour, he would like to knock down the fellow who should dare to have the presumption to think that she could be the better for his praise!

But Suffolk was a totally different matter. And Laurie, having turned his back upon the studio, and turned himself loose, so to speak, upon the world again, set to work at the club and elsewhere, to cultivate Slasher with devotion. Slasher was understood to be the special art-critic of the ‘Sword;’ and he{v.2-8} had qualified himself for such a post, as most men do, by an unsuccessful beginning as a painter, which had, however, happened so long ago that some people had forgotten, and some even were not aware of the fact. Though he was not ill-natured, it must be admitted that Laurie commended himself to the critic by the want of success which the young fellow did not attempt to disguise. ‘My friends are a great deal too good to me,’ Laurie said, with comic simpleness; ‘they have all fallen upon my picture so, that I have given it up. What is the use of trying to paint with every man’s opinion against you? I have not stuff enough in me for that!’

‘Poor Laurie!’ Slasher said, with a laugh which was not unkind. ‘If you had persevered, probably I, too, should have been compelled, in the interests of art, to let loose my opinion. So it is as well for me you stopped in time.’

‘But I want you to let loose your opinion, and do a service to the nation,’ said Laurie. ‘I want you to come to my place and meet a friend of mine,—the cleverest fellow I know. All he wants is, that you should speak a good word for him in the “Sword.”

‘Ah!’ said the critic, with a groan of disgust; ‘I am tired of speaking good words. I don’t mind walking into anybody to do you a favour, my dear fellow. There’s always some justice in anything you like to say against a picture,—or a man either. But if you knew the sickening stuff one has to pour forth for one’s own{v.2-9} friends, or one’s editor’s friends! I am never asked to give a good notice in the ‘Sword’ but I feel that it’s for an ass. Instinct, Laurie! I dare say your friend is everything that’s delightful, but if his pictures were worth twopence you would never come to me for a good word.’

‘I should not ask you to praise him, certainly, if I did not think he deserved it,’ said Laurie, with a little offence.

‘Ah! if you were as well used to that sort of thing as I am,’ said Slasher, with a sigh. ‘I don’t mind cutting ’em all up in little pieces to please the public. A slashing article is the easiest writing going. You have only to seize upon a man’s weak point,—and every man has a weak point,—and go at it without fear or favour; but when Crowther comes and lays his hand on my shoulder in his confounded condescending way, “My dear fellow,” he says, “here’s a poor devil who is always pestering me. He is a cousin of my wife’s;” or, “He’s a friend of my brother-in-law’s;” or, “He was at school with my boy,” as the case may be. “I suppose his picture’s as weak as water; but, hang it! say a good word for him. It may do him good, and it can’t do us any harm.” That’s what I’ve got to do, till it makes me sick, I tell you. I’ll pitch into your aversions, my dear Laurie, and welcome; but don’t ask me to say good words for your friends.’

‘But my friend is a man of genius,’ said Laurie.{v.2-10} ‘I don’t want you to speak up for him because he is my friend; but because his pictures are as fine as anything you ever saw.’

Slasher shook his head mournfully. ‘I don’t know anything about his pictures,’ he said; ‘but that’s how criticism gets done now-a-days. A man speaks well of his friend, and ill of the fellows he don’t like. And, as for justice, you know, and appreciation of merit, and so forth,—except, perhaps, once in a way, in the case of a new name, that nobody knows,—you might as well look for snow in July. And it’s just the same in literature. I said to Crowther the other day: “That’s a nice book, I suppose, as you praised it so.” “No,” he says, “it’s not a very nice book; but the man that wrote it is a nice fellow, which comes to the same thing.” No, Laurie, my boy, I’m sick of praising people that don’t deserve it. That’s why I go in for cynicism and abuse, and all that. It may be hard upon a poor fellow now and then, but at all events, it isn’t d——d lies.’

‘I don’t want you to tell lies,’ said Laurie, half-affronted, half laughing. ‘Come with me on Thursday to the Hydrographic. It’s Suffolk’s night for exhibition, and you shall see him, and see his work——’

‘Suffolk!’ said Slasher. ‘That fellow! By Jove! I like your modesty, Laurie Renton, to come here calmly and ask me to praise a man’s pictures whom I have cut up a score of times at least.{v.2-11}

‘But I don’t suppose you ever saw them’, said Laurie, standing his ground.

‘I’ve seen them as well as anybody could see them’, said Slasher. ‘I remember there was one in the North Room down on the floor one year, and one over the doorway. My dear fellow, I’ve seen the kind of thing,—that’s enough. Heroic figures, with big bones, and queer garments—red hair, that never was combed in its life—and big blue saucer eyes, glaring out of the canvas. I know;—there are two or three fellows that do that sort of thing. But it will never take, you may be sure. The British public likes respectable young women with their clothes put properly on them; in nice velvet and satin, that they can guess at how much it cost a yard.’

‘The British public ought to be ashamed of itself,’ said Laurie; ‘but you may come with me on Thursday all the same.’

‘I don’t mind if I do for once,’ said the critic. And so the matter was settled. Laurie was a very busy man until Thursday came. He was as busy as he had been when his mind was full of Edith, but, on the whole, in a more agreeable way. After all, to shut yourself up all day long in a first floor in Charlotte Street, with a terrible litter about you,—for when there is nobody to keep you neat but a maid-of-all-work, and you have no time for ‘tidying’ yourself, litter is the inevitable consequence,—your{v.2-12} windows shut up, and the light coming in over your head, as in a prison, is not a seductive occupation. Now that Edith was pushed aside out of the way and the windows were open, the room was more bearable. And why a man should make himself wretched by pursuing high art in direct opposition to all his friends? But Laurie betook himself, without entering into any explanations, to Suffolk’s house, and devoted himself to the task of collecting together his friend’s loose drawings. They had grown intimate by their frequent meetings in the Square. And Suffolk, who was in danger, as his wife feared, of getting ‘soured,’ and who was busy, and did not care to exhibit himself at the Hydrographic, gave in to Laurie with a half-sullen acquiescence. ‘What’s the good?’ he said. ‘But, Reginald dear, it may be a great deal of good,’ his wife said, turning wistful eyes upon him. And Laurie went and came, bringing his spick-and-span new portfolios to receive the drawings, which were huddled up in all sorts of dusty, battered, travel-worn receptacles. In such matters amateurs are safe to have the advantage over the brethren in the profession. He mounted, and trimmed, and arranged all day long, with his mouth full of dust, and his heart full of hope; and confided his anticipations to the padrona in the evening, having established a right to the entrée at that moment of moments which she spent with her children over the fire. It came to look natural that{v.2-13} Laurie should take his place on the hearth, in the firelight, along with little Frank and Harry. ‘A curious taste,’ the padrona said, and laughed; but not without a little wonder rising in her mind as to how this fancy was to be accounted for. ‘The boy likes to feel as if he were one of the family, I suppose,’ she said to Miss Hadley, who looked on sometimes, with her knitting, and did not approve;—‘for he is only a boy.’

‘He is boy enough to be fond of women a dozen years older than himself,’ said Miss Hadley, with a significant nod. To which Mrs. Severn, with her eyes fixed on the fire, made no immediate reply.

‘After all, it is quite natural,’ the padrona continued, after a pause; ‘he is separated from his own family by this strange business;—and such an affectionate, soft-hearted fellow!’

‘Well, I think it is chiefly affectionateness,’ Miss Hadley admitted: and she added after a moment: ‘It cannot be for Alice, as I thought!’

‘The child!’ cried Mrs. Severn, in alarm. ‘She is but a child. Don’t talk as if it were possible any one should dream of stealing her from me. What should we do without Alice?’ cried the mother, with a sudden pang. ‘Jane, I hope you will not do anything to put such ideas in any one’s mind.’

‘Such ideas come of themselves,’ said Miss Hadley. ‘She will be sixteen in summer. She is of more use than many a woman of six-and-twenty.{v.2-14} She must marry some time or other. Why, what else could you look for when you refused to bring her up to do anything? A girl who has no fortune in this world must either marry, or work, or starve; and I don’t know,’ said the strong-minded woman, with energy, ‘which is the worst.’

‘Hush,’ said the padrona, with a smile, ‘infidel! and here is the child going to her music. Alice, come and look me in the face.’

‘Have I been naughty, mamma?’ said Alice, bending over her mother. For a moment the two looked into each other’s eyes, with the perfect love, and trust, and understanding which belongs to that dearest of relationships. If it gave a pang to the heart of the woman looking on, who had no child, I cannot tell. The mother lifted her face, still warm with all the vigour, and softness, and beauty of life, and kissed the lovely, soft cheek, in its perfection of youth. ‘It would be no wonder if any one loved her,’ she said softly, when the child had disappeared into the soft darkness in the next room, her heart wrung with a premonitory pang of tender anguish. That was the night on which Laurie brought his brother Frank,—splendid young Guardsman, who had run up to town to endeavour to arrange the exchange he wanted into a regiment going to India,—to introduce him to his friends in the Square.

But on the Thursday he rushed in breathless for{v.2-15} five minutes only in the gloaming, to keep the padrona au courant of affairs. ‘We have placed the picture, and it shows splendidly!’ he cried. ‘The only thing I fear is that Suffolk will be sulky, and not show as well as the picture. Could not you send for him before he goes, and put him in a good humour? If he were out of temper it might spoil all.’

‘I will send for them,’ said the padrona, ‘and keep his wife with me till you come back. It is very good of you to take all this trouble. I wish you had a picture to show splendidly too.’

‘How inconsistent some people are,’ said Laurie. ‘After making an end of my poor picture! No, padrona, that is all over. Let us now be of some use to our friends.’

‘But it is not all over,’ said Mrs. Severn. And then she paused, seeing, perhaps, some signs of impatience in him. ‘Heaps of people can paint pictures,’ she said; ‘but it is not everybody who can serve their friends,—like this.’

‘If it but succeed it will be something gained,’ said Laurie, with a sigh of anxiety; ‘and you will think me, after all, not useless in the world?’ he went on, holding out his hand. Miss Hadley was looking on, with very sharp eyes; and she saw that the young man stood holding the padrona’s hand much longer than was necessary for the formality of leave-taking. ‘Slasher is to dine with me at the{v.2-16} club,’ he continued. ‘He will be in good humour at least. And you will think of us, and wish us good speed.’

‘Surely,’ the padrona said, withdrawing her hand; and Miss Hadley sat glancing out of the darkness with her keen eyes; knitting for ever, and looking on. When the young man was gone a certain embarrassment stole over Mrs. Severn,—she could not tell why. ‘He is as eager and excited as if his own fate were to be decided to-night,’ she said. ‘What a good fellow he is!’ Miss Hadley made no reply. No sound but that of the knitting-needles clicking against each other with a certain fierceness came out of the twilight in the corner. In this silence there was a certain disapproval, which made the padrona uncomfortable in spite of herself. ‘I am afraid you have changed your opinion of poor Laurie,’ she said, after a pause. ‘I thought you used to like him?’ The children had not yet come down from their game of romps in the nursery up-stairs, and the two were alone.

‘I like him very well,’ said Miss Hadley. ‘I like him so well that I can’t bear to see him making a fool of himself.’

‘How is he making a fool of himself?’ said Mrs. Severn, quickly.

‘Or to see other people making a fool of him,’ said Miss Hadley. ‘There, I have said my say! I don’t know if it be his fault or yours; but the young{v.2-17} fellow is losing his head, my dear, and you must see it as well as I do.’

‘I see nothing of the kind,’ said the padrona, with dignity. ‘I am surely old enough to be safe from such nonsense; and you are too old to talk like a school-girl. You are as jealous as a man,’ she added, after a pause, relapsing into easier tones. ‘Would you like me to forbid the poor boy the house?’

‘It might be best,’ said Miss Hadley, stiffly;—‘certainly for him. I don’t know about you.’

‘What folly!’ cried the padrona, with momentary anger; but the children rushed in at the moment, sweeping away all other thoughts. Mrs. Severn, however, was more silent than usual as she sat in the firelight with Edie’s soft arms clasped round her neck. She told but one story all the evening, and that an old one. Her mind was pre-occupied. The governess sitting in the corner grew bitter as she gazed at her. ‘A woman with every blessing of life,—a woman with all those children,’ Miss Hadley said to herself; ‘yet a young man’s silly love is enough to draw her mind away from them,—at her age! What fools we are!’ Thus another little drama sprang into life in a corner, with actors, and accessories, and spectators, all complete. There was Alice in the great dim drawing-room, as usual, playing softly, till the very air seemed to dream and murmur with the wistfulness of her music. ‘This romance should have come to the child,’ Miss Hadley mused, with{v.2-18} anger; ‘with the child it would have been natural. With the mother——’ She could not trust herself to realise what she thought about the mother. She had held so different an opinion of her at all former times; the padrona had shown herself so entirely unmoved by such vanities! And now, good heavens, at her age! Such were Miss Hadley’s thoughts as she sat in the twilight, while her friend played with her children. She forgot her sister, who was waiting for her, and all the comforts of the little parlour in Charlotte Street. She would have liked to stay there all night, to keep at her post without intermission, to save the padrona from herself. ‘She cannot realise what she is doing,’ Miss Hadley said in her self-communion. And probably Mrs. Severn was aware of her friend’s inquisition. She had a little flush on her cheeks when she received the Suffolks, for whom she had sent. She went into all the arrangements of the Hydrographic for that evening with an interest which was a little nervous and overstrained. ‘I trust some illustrious stranger may be there to be of use to you,’ she said, with a smile; and took no notice of Miss Hadley, who kept immovably in the background. And when Suffolk, in his best humour and his evening coat, went out to the Hydrographic, where his pictures were being exhibited, the two women, whom he left behind, talked a great deal about Laurie. Poor Laurie! He was very happy, and excited, and in earnest at{v.2-19} that moment, believing himself in the fair way of serving his friend. And they both liked him with tenderness, such as women feel for such men. But yet they said ‘Poor Laurie!’ even in their commendation and gratitude; and did not well know why.{v.2-20}



When Laurie left the Hydrographic in company with his friend Slasher, he had still a hope of being able to present himself for a few moments in the Square to report how he had sped. But his companion, as it turned out, had no such idea. The Hydrographic held its meetings in the artists’ quarter,—in that region which, but for art, no man of fashion would think of visiting. But being in it, for once in a way, Slasher, who considered himself a man of fashion, had made up his mind to make the best of it. He went with Laurie to his rooms, talking all the way of Suffolk’s pictures. That the critic had been shaken by the sight of them, there could be no doubt. He had been moved by the admiration of so many men who knew better than he did. The mere fact that the painter had been invited to make such an exhibition showed that he was becoming known to his own profession, and had been owned by it. There was light, and space, and leisure to look at the pictures. There was the comfortable sensation,—in Slasher’s case,—of a good dinner and pleasant company, and just such an{v.2-21} amount of deference to himself as soothed and glorified his self-esteem. He insisted on going with Laurie to finish the evening, letting his tongue loose as they walked along. ‘There is something in it, I don’t deny,’ he said. ‘The contrast between that fair group of children and the dark Romans is very well done, and the monk’s figure is full of expression. Let us see what you have yourself, Laurie. I, for one, am more interested in that. Welby is such a friend of yours, he might have found a place for something of your own to-night. It is not a bad room for showing a picture,—and all sorts of men go to the Hydrographic. It would be as good a thing as you could do to make Welby exhibit you there next time he has a chance. Yes, I don’t deny there’s a good deal that’s fine about that picture. The light is very well managed. It sets one thinking of Rome, you know, and how the air all smiles and glows about you on a spring morning. It’s not a bad picture. Is this where you live? It is not so nice as Kensington Gore.’

‘No,’ said Laurie, ‘it’s not so nice; but it’s better for work;’ and he ushered his companion into his room, where the contents of his portfolios, which he had carried off for Suffolk’s sketches, lay about, all mingled with books and studies in oil and a great deal of litter. The big canvas, thrust back into a corner, a pale shadow of what might have been, presided over the confusion. It was not so nice as Kensington Gore; but to Slasher, who liked to feel himself a man{v.2-22} of fashion and superior to professional persons, the disorder of the place was not disagreeable. Laurie Renton had once been ‘a cut above him,’ and it was not unpleasant to feel that Laurie Renton was now in circumstances to appeal to his patronage. They sat down together over the fire, and lighted their cigars; and what with the smoke, and what with the liquids that accompanied it, and the witching hour of night which makes men confidential, and the old associations, Slasher’s lips were opened, and he unfolded to Laurie many particulars of his life. ‘You would not think it, but I began the world in much such a place as this,’ said the critic. Laurie, of course, knew all about the manner in which his companion had begun the world; for everybody does know all about everybody else, especially in respect to those circumstances of which everybody else is the least proud. The listener in this case had the embarrassing privilege of contrasting autobiography with history, which is always a curious process. But, notwithstanding this difficulty, Laurie was, as always, a good listener,—not from policy, which seldom deceives any one, but because he preserved that tender politeness of the heart and regard for other people’s feelings which make it impossible for a man to contradict, or doubt, or sneer at his neighbour. ‘I suppose he thinks it all happened so,’ Laurie said to himself; and Slasher was grateful to him for the good faith,—a little puzzled certainly, but genuine,—with which he listened. In{v.2-23} the breaks of his story he would get up and saunter about the room, turning over Laurie’s sketches, and now and then he would interject some remark upon the special subject of the evening.

‘Some of those studies of your friend’s were fine,’ he said, suddenly. ‘I hope they’ll do him justice next year at the Academy. I’ll speak to Sir Peter, if you like; and if the picture he is doing now is as good as the one we saw to-night——’

‘One bird in the hand is worth two in the bush,’ said Laurie, oracularly. ‘And half a loaf is better than no bread.’

‘Hang it, what can a fellow do?’ cried Slasher. ‘You are the most pertinacious little beggar I ever came across. Do you think a man can go and eat his own words and stultify himself? Look here, I’ll tell you what I’ll do. You shall write a notice of the Hydrographic for the “Sword.” Blow the fellow’s trumpet up to the skies, if you like; say there’s never been anything like him since Titian. And I’ll take it to Crowther. Now I don’t see what more a man can do.’

‘I write the notice for the “Sword!” cried Laurie, laughing,—‘that is a little too strong. I never put a sentence together in my life.’

‘As if that had anything to do with it!’ said the critic. ‘Why that’s the only good thing I can see in this blessed trade of literature. You can go at it off-hand. Put a sentence together! Why I’ve heard{v.2-24} you put twenty. It’s nothing but talking, my dear fellow. A practical writer like myself, you know, goes off at the nail, and talks of fifty other subjects before he touches the right one; but I can fancy that the public, by way of a change, might prefer to hear what you wanted to say at once. Of course you can do it; and I’ll take it to Crowther. A man cannot make a fairer offer than that.’

‘It is awfully good of you,’ said Laurie, in a ferment. The proposal went tingling through his veins like wine. It had seemed supremely ridiculous to him when old Welby had suggested that he should take to writing, just as he might have suggested shoe-making or carpentry. But from Slasher, to whom the doors of the ‘Sword’ were open,—and in Suffolk’s interest,—the idea changed its aspect. Though there are no labourers of any description who so systematically underrate their trade as do professors of literature, yet it is astonishing how pleased every outsider is who is invited to enter that magic circle. Laurie felt that Slasher in his turn had paid him the most delicate compliment. Though he might have laughed at the ‘Sword’ and the critic, and at newspapers and critics in general, at another moment, no sooner was he asked to strike in, in the mêlée, than the craft and all its adjuncts became splendid to Laurie. What a power it was! How a word in the ‘Sword’ thrilled through and through those regions where artists congregated, filling some with boundless{v.2-25} satisfaction and others with despair! When he cried out, in modest delight and surprise, ‘I write a notice for the “Sword!” thinking it too grand to be true, he already felt himself ever so much more important, so much cleverer and greater a person than he had been five minutes before. Perhaps, it is true, the smoke and the beverage that accompanied it, and the fact that it was two o’clock in the morning, had something to do with Laurie’s pleasure in the proposal, as it had with Mr. Slasher’s liberality in making it;—but still there it was. Laurie Renton, whom everybody had snubbed, down to Forrester,—whom everybody had interfered with and advised and ordered about ‘for his good,’—might now become, all at once, an authority before whom they would tremble in their turn,—who would dispense justice, or favour, or vengeance, from his high-placed seat. It was when he looked at it from this point of view, and not out of any disinterested love of literature, that he jumped at the idea. Laurie leaned over the fire with his eyes glowing, and revelled in the wonderful thought. He was a little particular about his drawings in most cases, preferring to show them himself, and give what elucidation he saw necessary; but this time he permitted Slasher to make his own investigations undisturbed. All he had hoped for in his most sanguine moments had been to extract from the critic some grudging word of praise which should rouse public curiosity about Suffolk’s picture. But to have the organ in{v.2-26} his own hands, to say what he would,—to secure in his own person that art should be spoken of with understanding, commended without fear or favour, condemned with impartiality,—this was something beyond his highest hopes. Such a critic as he himself would be was the thing of all others wanted in the world of art. How often had the painters round him,—how often had he himself,—asked each other if such a thing were possible? And here was the possibility placed within his reach,—thrust, as it were, into his own hands!

Suffolk had gone home hours before, calling at the Square for his wife. He gave the ladies the very scantiest account of what had happened, but suffered the particulars to be drawn out of him, bit by bit, as he walked home through the dimly-lighted streets. Though he was too proud to make any demonstration of satisfaction before Mrs. Severn, yet his wife read in the eyes, whose expression she knew so well, that for once in his life the sense of general approbation had warmed him. ‘It is all Laurie Renton’s doing,’ she said, in the candour of delight, with a generosity which was not so easy to her husband. Suffolk himself had never made any appeal to Laurie, and did not see it in the same light.

‘I don’t think Laurie Renton has so much in his power,’ he said, ‘though he has taken a great deal of trouble. It was Welby’s affair chiefly, of course; and then, after all, a man who has been labouring a{v.2-27} dozen years surely does not need to be grateful to anybody if he gets a bit of recognition on his own merits at last.’

‘Of course it is on your own merits, Reginald,’ said his wife; but the woman was more grateful than the man. She knew very well that it was not her husband’s merits,—which, indeed, had met with but little recognition hitherto,—but that wistful word she had once spoken to Laurie, and his soft heart which had not forgotten it. Suffolk went on, quite unconscious of her thoughts and of her interference, to set down poor Laurie at his just value.

‘Renton was there with a friend of his,’ he continued;—‘Slasher, Helen,—that confounded snob who has the impudence to give us all our deserts in the “Sword,”—as shallow an ape as you ever saw. Laurie’s a very good fellow, but he’s too general in his friendships. After feeling really obliged to him for his handiness, to see him arm in arm with a conceited ass like that——’

‘Did you speak to him?’ cried Mrs. Suffolk. ‘What did he look like? Reginald, of course it is natural that you should be affronted; but if you consider how much influence the “Sword” has——’

‘Oh, I was civil; don’t be frightened,’ said Suffolk. ‘Deadly civil we both were; and he had something complimentary to say, like the rest. Trust those fellows to see which way the wind’s blowing. But what disgusts one is to find Laurie Renton,—a{v.2-28} fellow one likes,—hand in glove with a snob like that.’

‘He does not mean it, Reginald, I am sure,’ said Mrs. Suffolk, driven to her wits’ end, and feeling at once disposed to assault her husband for his stupidity, and to cry over poor Laurie, thus cruelly belied.

‘Oh, no, he doesn’t mean it,’ said the painter; ‘it’s only that confounded friendliness of his that likes to please everybody. If he had more stamina and less good nature——’ said his critic, severely.

But he never knew how near his wife was to shaking him as she clung to his arm. And Mrs. Suffolk said no more on the subject,—reflecting, first, that when a man takes a ridiculous idea into his head, it is of no use reasoning with him; and, secondly, that Laurie should never know how little gratitude had attended his efforts. That at least she would take into her own hands. If Reginald did not know what his friend had done for him, she at least did. And so did the padrona; and the chances were that their thanks would be more congenial to Laurie than any gruff acknowledgments that might be made from another quarter. Thus the pair walked on, excited by the faint prospect of better days, through the glimmering, silent streets, when most people were in bed—the husband making his report in snatches, the wife drawing it forth bit after bit, and piecing the fragments together with an art familiar to women. She knew about as well what had passed as he did{v.2-29} by the time they reached their own narrow, dingy door. And after one peep at the children, sleeping up on the fourth floor at the top of the house, Mrs. Suffolk joined her husband in his studio,—where he had gone to smoke his final pipe,—and drew forth further his bits from him, and added her words of assent or advice to the deliberations he fell into, standing with a candle in his hand before his half-finished picture. ‘Please God, you shall have your comforts like the rest, if this comes to anything, my good little wife,’ he said at last. ‘Oh, Reginald, it is for you I wish it most,’ she cried, with tears in her pretty eyes. That gleam of a possible brightening in their lot went to their hearts. Ah, hard, happy, chequered life!—so hard to bear while it is present, so sweet to look back upon when it is past!

But everything was hushed and asleep in the house of the Suffolks when Laurie shook hands with the critic, and stood at his door in the raw, chilly air of the winter morning to see him go. Laurie had not been keeping late hours for some time past, and the excitement had roused him out of all inclination for sleep. He went back to his fire and pushed away the impedimenta from his table, and with his nerves all thrilling, and his brain in a feverish commotion, began to write. Perhaps the soda-water had affected him slightly too—and the hours of talk, and the novelty of what he had in hand, had undoubtedly affected him. He sat till his fire burned out and his{v.2-30} lamp ran down, making his first essay at composition. It seemed to him very easy in his excitement. ‘If this is all they make so much fuss about!’ he said, feeling himself not only capable of the ‘Sword,’ but of greater things. The street was beginning to wake to the first sounds of the morning when he threw himself on his bed, chilled and exhausted, yet full of content. Surely, after all, this rapid art, which could be caught up without any study, and the effect of which was immediate, was more to the purpose than the labour of months upon one piece of canvas, which might affect nobody, not even the Hanging Committee. New prospects seemed opening before him also,—prospects more vast and boundless than those which flickered before the eyes of Suffolk and his wife. What if this were now that tide in the affairs of men, which it behoved him to take in its flow! He left his sketches lying about,—paper, and chalk, and canvas, all muddled together,—to be dealt with, in the absence of the portfolios, by the maid-of-all work; but he took his little writing-desk, with his new production in it, to his bedroom with him, where it might be in safety; and fell asleep when the milkman was going his rounds, feeling himself, as it were, on the edge of an altogether new career.

His composition, however, did not look so hopeful when he got up a few hours later, and read it over in the calm of noon as he ate his breakfast. Miss{v.2-31} Hadley over the way had seen that his room was vacant all this time, the windows open, and papers fluttering about in the chilly air. She could not understand why he lost so many hours on such a bright morning, or what had become of him. It was nearly one o’clock before he had done dawdling over his tea, reading and re-reading his criticism. After all, it was not quite so easy. He made a great many emendations, and then took to doubting whether they were emendations; and grew querulous over it, and sadly disturbed in his confidence. Then he folded it up and put it in his pocket, and, snatching up his hat, rushed down-stairs. ‘He is going to the Square,’ Miss Hadley said, as she saw him dart round the corner; and she stood for a long time at her window pondering whether Jane could be right about that matter. ‘She will never be so silly, and he will never be such a fool,’ said the old lady; and sat down again, with her mind quite excited, to watch when he should come back.

The padrona, for her part, was standing at her easel, troubled with many uncomfortable thoughts. She had looked at herself in the glass that morning longer than usual, and had decided that there were a great many lines in her face which she had not thought of noticing. ‘I am getting old,’ the padrona said to herself, and laughed; and then, perhaps, sighed a little. She laughed because she felt as young as ever, and age seemed a joke as it entered{v.2-32} her thoughts; and she sighed because—— who can follow those subtle shades of fancy? And then she began to think. Laurie Renton was but a boy,—not more than four-and-twenty at the outside, she calculated, reckoning as mothers do. ‘Harry was beginning to walk when I saw him first, and Harry will be eight in March,’ said the padrona; ‘and Laurie was but a schoolboy then, not more than seventeen.’ Four-and-twenty! He could not be more,—nothing but a boy. And Jane Hadley is an old fool;—that was the easiest solution of the difficulty. Mrs. Severn liked Laurie, she said frankly to herself. It was pleasant to have him running in and out, with all his difficulties and all his wants. He was such a good fellow,—so frank, so natural, so willing to help everybody, so transparent about his own affairs, so——affectionate. Yes, that was the word;—he was affectionate. Half banished as it were from his own family, he had linked himself on to hers, and she was pleased it should be so. And as for any folly that might enter any one’s head! ‘These old maids!’ Mrs. Severn said to herself,—though it was not like her to say it; and thus she tried to dismiss the subject. If he came too often, she might perhaps suggest to him that it would do him a great deal of good to go and study in Italy for the winter. ‘And I should miss the boy,’ the padrona said to herself with candour. But in the meantime there was nothing she could say or do. It was{v.2-33} simply ridiculous to think of taking any other step. At her age! and such a boy!

She was still working at the picture which Mr. Welby had commended. It was a commission from her patrons, the Riches of Richmont, and was to be hung in a spot chosen by herself in the bright country-house, full of light, and air, and flowers, and everything sweet, to which they sometimes invited her. Edith’s little ‘wooden sister’ was standing to her at the moment, draped in great folds of white. She was working hard at the folds of the dress, and studying with puzzled anxiety the position of the limbs, which, Mr. Welby had declared, had no joints in them. And she was anything but grateful to Jane Hadley for throwing, just at this moment, an additional embarrassment into her mind. It was while she was thus occupied that Laurie rushed in breathless with his tale of last night’s proceedings and his paper to read to her. Any prudential thoughts that might have entered her mind as to the propriety of keeping him at a distance vanished at the sight of him. It was all so perfectly natural. Whom else should he go to, poor fellow, to tell his doings, to communicate all his difficulties and his hopes? Mrs. Severn blushed to think that she could have allowed herself for one moment to be swayed from her natural course by such absurdity. Jane Hadley must have lost her senses. Should the boy go to old Welby and tell him? Should he confide in his{v.2-34} landlady? Who was there that he could come to in his difficulties but herself?

‘I have brought it to read to you,’ said Laurie, ‘if you can take the trouble to listen. I am afraid it is dreadful trash. The truth is, I was a little excited about it last night; and now, this morning——’ He was abashed, poor fellow, and explanatory, and very anxious to impress upon her all the excuses there were for its imperfection. Somehow, everything had a different aspect in the morning! He went on, playing with the paper; and then, making a dash at it, began to read. It was not very good, to tell the truth. There was an attempt to be funny in it, which was not very successful, and there was an effort after that airy style which so many young writers attempt unsuccessfully; and then there was a rather grand conclusion, full of big words, which Laurie had risen into just as he heard the first cry of the milkman, and felt that it was necessary to come to an effective close. The padrona went on painting very steadily at her easel. She had the notion, which women so often entertain, that a young man, with all those advantages which a man has over her own sex, could do anything he chose to do,—and especially Laurie, her own protégé; and yet here, it was evident, was something he could not do. The writing in the ‘Sword,’ though it was said to be nothing remarkable, was not like Laurie’s writing. Poor Laurie’s narrative, instead of the{v.2-35} sober little history it ought to have been, read like a bad joke. He might have been sneering at Suffolk for anything the reader could have made out, and patronising him oppressively at the same moment. Never woman was in a more uncomfortable position than was Mrs. Severn standing at her easel. Laurie himself was so conscious of its weakness and flatness that he attempted, by dramatic tricks with his voice, to give it effect. ‘Good heavens! Suffolk will go mad,’ the padrona said to herself; and then there was a word or two about Mr. Welby. And the author sat breathless, trembling, yet with a smile of complacency on his face, to hear her opinion. Poor Laurie! whom she had already driven to the utmost bounds of patience in respect to his picture! She shivered as she stopped to arrange the drapery on the little lay figure. Certainly, to be Laurie’s adviser-in-chief was a post which had its difficulties as well as its pleasures.

‘Is that all?’ she said, when an awful pause of a minute in duration warned her that the moment to deliver her judgment had come.

‘All!’ said Laurie, flattered by the question, and beginning to take courage. ‘I should have thought you had found it quite long enough.’

‘Well, perhaps it is long enough,’ said the trembling critic; ‘but still I think there might be another paragraph. You have not said anything about the German sketches, for instance, which were{v.2-36} so clever; and you know, if I am to be a critic, you must let me find fault. There are one or two turns of expression. What is that you say about Mr. Suffolk having lived out of the world?’

This young artist has little acquaintance with the ways of the world,” read Laurie. ‘He loves nature, which is open to high and low. Instead of conciliating the critics and picture-dealers, he has satisfied himself with the models on the steps at the Trinita di Monte. Perhaps we ought to warn him that this is not the best way to please the British public.”

‘Mr. Suffolk will not like that,’ said the padrona. ‘It looks as if you meant something against his character. It looks like a sort of accusation——’

‘Why, it is a joke!’ cried Laurie; ‘every one must see that at a glance.’

‘But people are stupid,’ said his critic, taking courage. ‘I think you should change it. And then about Mr. Welby. Don’t you say he has almost given up painting? There is nothing he hates to hear said like that.’

Our veteran master in the art,” read Laurie, ‘feeling his own strength decay, has called upon a younger brother to fill his place,—a substitution at which artists will rejoice.” I mean, of course, that everybody will be pleased to find he is spared the trouble.’

‘But he will not like it,’ said the padrona. ‘I{v.2-37} think I would say, instead of that about the Trinita di Monte, that he has spent a great deal of his time in Rome, and has caught the warmth of the atmosphere and brilliancy of the colour, and so on; and Mr. Welby,—I would say how graceful it was on his part to lend his aid to a younger man, and how ready he is to appreciate excellence. You told me to say what I think. And don’t you think if you were to begin just plainly by saying Mr. Suffolk’s works were exhibited at the Hydrographic, instead of that about the gem that is born to blush unseen——?’

‘In short,’ said Laurie, with a flush on his face, ‘you don’t like any part of it,—beginning, or middle, or end.’

‘Yes, indeed I do,’ said the treacherous woman. ‘I think it is very nice; but I am sure you could improve it. Don’t be offended. You could not expect to turn out a Thackeray all at once.’

‘Nor a Michael Angelo,’ said Laurie, desponding; ‘nor anything. I shall always be a poor pretender, good for little;—and this attempt is more ridiculous than all the rest. Well, never mind. If it were not for poor Suffolk’s sake——’

‘For Suffolk’s sake you are bound to do it,—and do it well,’ said Mrs. Severn; ‘and for mine,—I mean for everybody’s who cares for you. To begin at three o’clock in the morning, after a night of talk and smoke, and then to be melancholy because you{v.2-38} are not pleased with your work! There are pens and paper on that table, Laurie, and I will not so much as look at you. Go and try again.’

‘Do you mean to say you care?’ said Laurie; and he went and stood by her, while she continued to work.

He thought it was a little hard that she never turned, never looked at him, but went on painting faster than usual, making false lines in her haste. He had no thought that she was afraid of him, and of any foolish word or look which might change their position to each other. He stood wistfully with his heart full of unspeakable things, yearning for he knew not what, longing for a little more of her, if it were but a glance from her eye, a touch of her hand. She had wounded and mortified him, and then she had bidden him try again; but would not spare him a glance to show that she cared,—would not stop painting, and going wrong. He stood and looked on, watching her in a kind of fascination. She had been hard upon him, and he had felt the sting, and forgiven her; and now he might make reprisals if he would. He put out his hand suddenly and took the brush from her hand. ‘I am not going to be trodden on for ever,’ he said; ‘I am the worm that turns at last. I am going to put in that elbow; you are doing it all wrong.’

The padrona never said a word. She gave the{v.2-39} brush up to him, and stood looking on while he carried out his threat,—looking at the canvas, not at him. He did it, and then his heart failed him. He had not an idea how much alarmed she was, and terrified for the next word. He had not made any investigations like Miss Hadley’s into the state of his own feelings. He did not want anything,—except to be near her, to have her attention, her sympathy, and do whatever she wanted. Now he became alarmed, in his turn, at his own boldness, and humbly laid the brush out of his rash hand.

‘Padrona mia, I am a wretch, and you are angry with me!’ he said. Then Mrs. Severn laughed, and broke the spell.

‘We are quits,’ she cried, with a nervousness in her voice which Laurie could not account for. ‘You have given me the upper hand of you, Laurie. Now go and sit down yonder, and write your paper all over again from the beginning. I accept your elbow. You are bound to do what I tell you now.’

‘As if I did not always do what you tell me!’ said Laurie, and he went and sat down at the writing-table, eager to please her. As for the padrona, she took up her brush with a little shudder, feeling she had escaped for this time, but that it might not be safe to trust to chance again. The foolish boy! And yet with all his folly there was so much to like in him! Perhaps even the folly itself was not so{v.2-40} despicable in Mrs. Severn’s eyes as it was in those of Jane Hadley, who had never been fluttered by alarms of this description, the good soul! But this sort of thing, it was clear, must not be allowed to happen again.

The paper, however, was written, and much improved, and at last, toned down by repeated corrections, was declared ready for the ‘Sword,’ and worthy of that illustrious journal. By that time it was dusk, and there was no choice but to let him stay to tea. The padrona sent her attendant from her to listen to something new Alice was playing, with a genuine horror of Jane Hadley’s comments, and annoyed consciousness of which she could not divest herself. But the young man stayed only ten minutes by Alice, fair though the child was, and sweet as was her music in the soft wintry gloaming, and came straying back again to the little group on the hearth-rug, to share Frank’s foot-stool. ‘He says he is to go to the pantomime, mamma,’ said Frank, whose whole being was pervaded by the sense that Christmas was coming. ‘And I say he is to go to the pantomime. Mamma, I love Laurie,’ said little Edith. ‘But my pet, I am not Laurie’s mamma to take him to the pantomime,’ cried the padrona loud, so that Miss Hadley could hear. Alas! Miss Hadley did not take the trouble to listen. She looked, and saw Laurie half on the stool, half-kneel{v.2-41}ing, with the fire-light shining on his face, and that turned upwards to Mrs. Severn who sat back in the shadow, with an expression, as the governess thought, which nobody could mistake. Was it the padrona’s fault?{v.2-42}



Nothing could be more satisfactory in every way than the notice in the ‘Sword.’ It was not eloquent, nor too long, and Slasher was pleased. ‘By Jove, Laurie, I was afraid you’d go in for fine writing, or for chaff, which is as bad,’ he said, with an air of relief. And it was very clear and distinct as to Suffolk’s merits. It made such a commotion through the whole district round Fitzroy Square as has seldom been equalled, except just at the opening of the Academy. The paper was lent about almost from house to house. ‘Have you seen what the “Sword” says of Suffolk’s picture?’ one would say to another. ‘I hear it was all through Laurie Renton.’ It almost seemed to Laurie as if people looked at him more respectfully in the streets. At all events, the fellows at Clipstone Street showed a difference in their manner; and yet there were some even there who shook their heads. ‘He would never have made much by art,’ said Spyer, who went now and then, and drew for an hour or two, by way of keeping himself up, ‘or I{v.2-43} should have been sorry; the pen and the pencil don’t agree. But it’s a good thing for Suffolk. The dealers are beginning to look after him. It’s enough to make a man sick, by Jove! years of work go for nothing, when a paltry half-dozen words in a newspaper——! If I was a young fellow like the most of you, I’d do something to put a stop to that.’

‘What can any one do put a stop to it?’ said one of the young men. ‘We have no private patrons now-a-days. We have only got the public and the press, to do our best with them. Laurie Renton draws very well for an amateur; I hope he will not end in the “Sword.”

‘Laurie Renton was born an amateur,’ said Spyer; ‘he never was anything better, and couldn’t be. Let him take to writing. That’s what heaps of people do after coquetting with art. He may make something of that; but he never will paint a picture that has any chance to live.’

‘He draws very well, all the same,’ said Laurie’s defender. But on the whole, though it gained him an amount of respect and importance among them, his little attempt at literature did not raise Laurie’s reputation. It looked like a defection to the painters round him. Though it was but for once, and took up but two columns in the ‘Sword,’ he was given up as having gone over to literature, which, in the opinion of the Clipstone Street fellows, was a very easy and well-rewarded trade. Suffolk himself did{v.2-44} not quite know what to think. He lost not a moment in going to see his critic, and thanking him for the good word he had said for him. But yet he was a little unwilling to acknowledge that it was Laurie’s paper which brought that picture-dealer to see him. The very next week after, the ‘Looker-on’ had a notice of the Hydrographic, and followed Laurie’s lead, praising the picture with still greater effusion than he had allowed himself; and even Mrs. Suffolk, when she saw this, was moved in her heart by a momentary feeling that Laurie had been very measured and even cold, in his approbation. She was grateful, and so was her husband,—but——. There was a degree of pleasure in their satisfaction with the ‘Looker-on,’ which was wanting in their gratitude to Laurie. Gratitude is a cumbrous thing to move about with. And Laurie felt that even the padrona expected him, now he had begun, to go on writing articles. One morsel of print implied to all these innocent people an engagement on the ‘Sword’ at least, and ready entry into literature in general. If he had gone on writing, and stood up like a man for his friends, the society which surrounded him would have felt that he had done his duty. But there seemed to all his comrades a certain cowardice in contenting himself with one effort. That he should have exerted himself on Suffolk’s account was quite comprehensible; but to stop there, and do nothing further, and say no good word for anybody else! It{v.2-45} was that he did not choose to take the trouble, people thought,—not even for the padrona;—for nobody suspected that Laurie would have been torn by wild horses rather than have put her sacred name into profane print. This was a refinement of sentiment which no man could be expected to enter into. Mrs. Severn herself was perhaps a little disappointed too. It would have been but natural that she, his closest friend, to whom he came with all his troubles, should reap the benefit of the pains she had taken in getting him to write; but never a word in celebration of the padrona’s pictures came into the ‘Sword.’ ‘He does not care for them, I suppose,’ she said to herself with a little sigh, not taking it unkindly, but with a doubt which clouded her sunny sky sometimes,—a secret suggestion in her mind that her pictures did not deserve admiration. She sighed, poor soul, because she could not make them better, not because it was not in her heart to conceive of higher things. But then she could not afford to wait and think, and collect her full strength, and do her very best. Sometimes she pulled at the tether that bound her, with that impulse towards excellence which is in every sensitive nature. But she could not stop long enough in her ordinary work to achieve anything beyond it. She thought Laurie did not consider her pictures worth talking about, and contented herself without any bitterness. He was not doing what in the merest commonplace way he might have done for her; but{v.2-46} the padrona, who was fond of Laurie, did for him what few painters are disposed to do for one another,—she offered him a share in the one special piece of goods which no artist likes to share;—she had the magnanimity to send him a note to Charlotte Street, in the end of March, on one of those coldest of spring mornings, to come and meet her patrons, the Riches of Richmont, at lunch.

The padrona was not given to the writing of notes, nor indeed had she much occasion so far as Laurie was concerned, who seldom was absent from the Square for an entire day. But he had felt, without knowing how, a certain difference in his reception since the day on which he wrote his paper at Mrs. Severn’s writing-table. Not that she was less kind or less interested in him;—perhaps it was, though the young man did not think of that, that there was always somebody there, and that the third person, instead of keeping in the background, was brought into the conversation, and spoiled it. Perhaps Mrs. Severn, too, thought the interloper spoiled it. Talk is pleasant, a quattr’ occhi; but then the interloper was needful. This depressed Laurie’s spirits in spite of himself. There was not much that was exhilarating in his prospects generally. Nothing more had come of his literary ambition after that one paper, and his work as an artist went on by fits and starts, with no particular aim in it to spur him on; and his friends, who were{v.2-47} all in the heat and fervour of their work for the exhibition, naturally felt that a man who was not preparing for the Academy, who had no share in their white heat of excitement as to the decision of the Hanging Committee, was still something of an outsider. And a cloud had risen on his intercourse with the Square. Laurie was low, and felt despondent about affairs in general. And the chilly spring and the east winds affected his—temper, he said. Probably it was something else besides his temper that was affected. He had begun to say to himself that he was a useless wretch, and not good for much, and that it was ridiculous to hope that he could ever make any mark in the world; and would come home from seeing his friends of nights, who were all so busy, with a certain sensation of misery. The padrona’s pictures had been put into their frames, though she was still working at that one for Mr. Rich, and her studio was beginning to get freshened up and decorated in preparation for the private view, which every painter affords to his or her friends and patrons. Even old Welby had taken down the white canvas and the Angelichino, and placed two of his own pictures to have the final touches given to them and to be exhibited before they went to the Academy. As for Suffolk, he was working with a kind of passion at the big picture which had been so unsparingly criticised; the canvas was as big as that one of Laurie’s, on which the chalk outlines still lingered,{v.2-48}—and there were but two figures in it. The maid in the low arched doorway, in her white kirtle, was dismissing her lover with an inexorable sweetness and sadness; the young man was resisting, and refusing to be dismissed, his dark face glowing with love, and trouble, and angry protest against fate. They were the representatives of two races, hostile, yet fated to mingle; and there was in the picture, moreover, a deeper issue,—that struggle of love and duty which it is sometimes best for the world should not be decided on duty’s side. Laurie would stand and look at it, and wonder why he could not have done it as well. Sometimes a vision of the Edith of his imagination, with a still deeper force of expression in her face, would flit across this canvas; but he had discrimination enough to know that Suffolk, in his place, would have painted that Edith had all the world been against him. After all, it was his own fault, but that was no particular consolation; and he felt himself left outside, out of their calculations, almost out of their sympathy, at this particular crisis of fate, when everybody was too much excited about his own luck, and his neighbour’s, to have leisure to think of the rest of the world. The moment for sending in to the Academy was like the eve of a great battle in Fitzroy Square and its environs; and Laurie, who was not even a volunteer to come in the mêlée, could not but find himself sometimes out of place among those excited groups, with their one sub{v.2-49}ject. He was interested in their fate; but he was not himself putting his own to the touch—and he was a little low in consequence, and heartily wished the crisis over, and things going on again in their usual way. Let who would object, Laurie said to himself, with a kind of desperate resolution, he would have something to send next year.

It was while he was full of these melancholy thoughts that the padrona’s little note came to him. He had been there the night before, and Miss Hadley had been present,—even in the studio, to which, in former times, she never dreamt of penetrating. To be sure, there was a kind of a reason for that now in the renovation that everything was undergoing; but still it was rather hard never to be able to say a word to one’s friend, never to receive an expression of her opinion or of her kindness, without Miss Hadley’s keen eyes upon one’s face. And Laurie had grown almost angry at this perpetual intrusion. He was idling over one of his school studies when Mrs. Severn’s note was brought to him. It was the briefest little note,—but at least Miss Hadley had not interfered with that.

‘Come,’ it said, ‘and lunch with us at two, and meet the Riches. They have just sent me word they are coming to see my pictures. They are my great patrons, and they may be of use to you. I will tell them who you are,—a Grand Seigneur turned painter,{v.2-50}—and they will be immensely interested. Don’t laugh at them; they are such good souls.

‘You were a little cross, do you know, the other day? and I cannot have you cross. We are all so busy there is no time for talk.

‘M. S.’

This was the note, and there was not much in it. It was the padrona’s soft heart which had made her add that last little coaxing, half-apologetic sentence, and perhaps it was foolish of her. But then, though it was certainly necessary that Laurie should be cured,—and that without mercy,—of any foolish notions that might have stolen into his foolish young head, still for one moment, once in a way, it was a comfort to be free of Miss Hadley; and she had said nothing that his mother might not have said. But perhaps Mrs. Severn would not have been so sure of the perfect judiciousness of her words had she seen how Laurie lighted up under them, and expanded into content. It was eleven then, and his invitation was for two; but yet he decided it was best to send a note in return. It is a species of communication which is very attractive sometimes. Laurie jumped at it with an exhilaration for which he did not attempt to account. It was a different thing altogether from those other little notes conveying mamma’s messages, which he still preserved somewhere; but not, it must be confessed, with such lively feeling as he once did.{v.2-51} Quite a different matter! It was his friend who had written to him now,—only a dozen words, and yet herself was in them,—herself, always full of kind thought, of that gracious interest in him, wanting to help him on though he was so unsatisfactory, finding fault with him in that soft, caressing way, which was sweeter than praise. Laurie,—foolish fellow,—put away his work, and spent half-an-hour of the short time that was to elapse before he should see her in writing the following note. It could have been written in five minutes; but there was, it cannot be denied, a certain pleasure in lingering over it, and a certain skill was required to put a great deal of meaning into few words. He did not think he had succeeded, after all, when it was written. But here it is:—

‘I will never be cross any more, padrona mia. I have been thinking you meant to cast me off. But you don’t? I will go and meet the Riches or the Poors, or anybody else you like, and thank them for the chance. You I never could thank,—not half or quarter enough. So silence shall speak for me.

‘Yr—— ‘L. R.’

It is not to be supposed that Laurie wrote ‘your’ in plain letters. He made a hieroglyphic of it. It might have been only ‘&c.;’ in short, it was as like that as anything else. He was beguiled into the use{v.2-52} of the pronoun, he did not quite know how, as he hung over it with his pen in his hand like a pencil, anxious to add just a touch somewhere, as might have been done in the line of the lip or the droop of an eyelid, to express what he was feeling. It was of purpose and intention that he made it undecipherable. Perhaps she would find it out; and if not, still at least he had expressed himself, which was always something. He was not thinking of any result, or anything that might come of it, as Miss Hadley did. At the present stage such an idea would have been simple profanity. He did not think of it at all. He was her disciple, her servant, her subject. That she should reverse the position and be his, and subject to him, was an idea which had never entered Laurie’s mind. It would indeed, as we have said, have appeared sheer profanity to him. Such delicacies of feeling do not come within the range of the Miss Hadleys of life. And so Laurie made his hieroglyphic, expressive of the deepest devotion, and felt his heart and his face expand with a delicious softness, and put on his hat, and himself gave the note to the maid-servant in the Square. It was but a few steps round the corner; and when he was out, he went a few steps farther and got himself a lily of the valley to put in his coat. It was still early, and the flower cost him as much as a meal; but when a young man’s heart gives a sudden jump in his bosom, reasonably or unreasonably, it would be hard if he could not give{v.2-53} utterance to his satisfaction with himself and the universe in general by so simple an expedient as a flower in his coat. And at the same time he ordered some pots of the same lilies to be sent to the Square, not for that day, but for to-morrow, on which Mrs. Severn was to exhibit her pictures to her friends before sending them to the Academy. This little matter occupied the morning until it was time to present himself at the Square. A very fine carriage stood before No. 375 when he reached the door, with a gorgeous coat-of-arms on the panel, and liveries and hammer-cloth, which looked like a duke’s at least. The big footman stared superciliously at Laurie as he went up the steps. He was but ‘a poor hartis’ it was evident to that splendid apparition. The patron had arrived with all the pomp which ought to attend such a celestial visitor, and naturally the house from top to bottom bore evidence of a certain excitement. Forrester, in his best coat, opened the door to Laurie, his face beaming with cordiality and smiles. ‘I can’t say as he knows much, Mr. Renton,’ said Forrester, ‘but he’s a stunning one to buy; and I wouldn’t take no notice, sir, if I was you, of his little ways,—nor the lady’s neither, sir,’ said the old man. Laurie laughed and nodded in answer to this advice, without any distinct idea what Mr. Rich’s little ways might be; and so walked into the great drawing-room, which it was strange to see by daylight, full of the grey spring atmosphere, out of which an east wind had taken all{v.2-54} the colour. The white curtains hung over the long windows; the fire burned with a little cheerful noise; and the padrona, in her black dress, sat on a sofa beside a rich, rustling, luxurious woman, fifteen or twenty years older than herself. Mrs. Severn’s figure had filled out into the gracious fulness of matronhood. She was not a sylph, like her child; but she looked something like a sylph beside the vast form on the sofa. And in front of her stood a little man, very plump and rosy, with a double-eyeglass in his hand. The padrona looked a little flushed and a little excited. Perhaps it is not in human nature to receive unmoved a visit from a patron.

‘This is Mr. Renton,’ she said, as Laurie came in. ‘Mr. Laurence Renton, Mrs. Rich;’ and, to Laurie’s great surprise, the large lady got up from the sofa to shake hands with him, which was a great deal more than the padrona did. Mrs. Rich was very large and very wealthy, and looked as if she might be rather oppressive; but, nevertheless, she had been smiling very benignly on the padrona, and Laurie consequently saw some good in her face.

‘Mr. Renton, I ought to know you, for we are almost neighbours in the country,’ said Mrs. Rich. ‘Don’t you know Richmont? Ah, I daresay you have been a great deal from home, like so many young men. Mr. Rich, Mr. Renton has not seen Richmont. It is only six months since we took{v.2-55} possession. Mr. Rich bought it for the situation, and gave I am ashamed to say how much money for it; and then the house wanted everything done to it,—new rooms built, and I can’t tell you all what. I believe your mamma does not visit anywhere, Mr. Renton. She is a great invalid, I hear; and of course, unless she was so kind as to signify a wish, I could not call first. But I am sure if you are at Renton when we are there, it will give us the greatest pleasure to see you at Richmont.’

‘Thanks,’ said Laurie, feeling rather aghast. He did not know what more to say till a half-comic, appealing glance reached him from the padrona’s eyes. Then he bestirred himself. ‘I have been a long time from home,’ he said, ‘and at present my mother goes nowhere; but I don’t know,—pardon me,—where Richmont is. I am so stupid about localities,—I never know anything that is not close to my eye.’

‘It was called Beecham once,’ said the rich woman; ‘but we are not the old family;—we are the new family, Mr. Renton; and Mr. Rich thinks it only right, when he has bought it, to give it his own name. We are not ashamed of being new people. I have just been talking to our friend here about painting one of the rooms for us,—in panels, you know. She is so clever. I never knew a woman so clever; but that is between you and me,’ said the patroness, patting the painter patronisingly on the{v.2-56} arm. ‘She does not hear a word we are saying. I never would tell her she was anything out of the ordinary to her face.’ Such were the astounding manners and customs of the new species of humanity to which Laurie had been unexpectedly presented. It took him half-an-hour at least to realise the unfamiliar being. No doubt there are patrons in England of the type known in old days, when one monarch leaned on his painter’s shoulder, and another picked up his painting-brush. But these are chiefly patrons of the old masters, not of the new; and Mr. Rich and his wife were the specimens best known in Fitzroy Square. When they went in to luncheon the padrona looked more and more flushed, though Forrester was present to wait, looking as solemn as any family butler, and listening with a sore heart,—but no outward token,—to Mr. Rich’s views about art. He had his views, too, as well as his wife, though he was not so immediately audible. It was when he had swallowed some wine that he found his tongue, and then Mrs. Rich was silenced by the more influential stream.

‘Glad to make your acquaintance, Mr. Renton,’ he said. ‘We’d have been very glad if your mother had come to see us. It would have done her no harm, and it might have done Mrs. Rich a little good. We don’t pretend to be above that sort of thing. But of course all this fuss about the will must have been{v.2-57} hard upon you. I’m told you’re one of the rising young men of the time. Stick to that. You may buy houses and lands, but you can’t buy talent. I’ll be very glad to go and see anything you may have to show. If our friend Mrs. Severn is to be trusted,—and I’ve always found her to be trusted, sir,—her eye is so true,—you’ve got something that will suit me very well; and I hope we shall know each other better before we part.’

‘I did not mean that Mr. Renton had anything to show this year,’ said the padrona. Laurie had never seen her so embarrassed. Was it that the people were overpowering?—or was it——? But there was no time to cogitate possibilities in the midst of this stream of talk.

‘Mr. Renton must come and see us at Richmont?’ said Mrs. Rich. ‘He must come with you, some day, Mrs. Severn. I have got some of her sweet pictures hung in my morning room; and she has been so kind in her suggestions about the furniture. It is such a thing to have an artist’s eye; and such pretty eyes too,’ added the stout lady, in an audible aside to Laurie, who was seated next to her. ‘Don’t you think so? To me she is prettier than ever she was. She is like Alice’s sister. She looks young,—and she is young,—and to think of all she has done!’

Laurie sat by her, and never said a word. He could not pay compliments to the padrona as a mere{v.2-58} indifferent spectator might have done, entering into the fun of the situation. And Mrs. Severn sat at the head of the table, with a flush of embarrassment on her cheek. But perhaps even she was not so sensitive as Laurie; and they were patrons, and brought her commissions,—and they were bread! These are mean recommendations, no doubt, but they have a wonderful effect.

‘What I like is a picture I can understand,’ said Mr. Rich. ‘What I say to a painter is;—“Tell your story. Choose what subject you like, old, or new, or middle-aged; but, whatever your incident is, stick to it, and tell it, without need of any description in a book.” That’s my principle, sir. And I like a good, warm wholesome colour; none of your cadaverous-looking things. There are plenty of sad things and nasty things in life without putting them in pictures. Like as I prefer a good ending in a story. I have some pretty pictures to show you, sir, when you come to see me. Crowquill painted that last series out of the “Vicar of Wakefield” for me. I could have got twice the price I gave for them from a gentleman I know in Manchester; but nothing but necessity would make me part with these pictures. When a thing’s painted for you, it has a value it would not have had otherwise. And I have as fine a little Millais as you ever saw. I hope to have a picture from you in my collection before all is done.{v.2-59}

‘You have not a Welby, I think,’ said the padrona, who worked rather hard at her part of the conversation. ‘You should make haste to secure that; for he paints very little now.’

‘I don’t care very much for Welby,’ said Mr. Rich, indifferent to the awful countenance of Forrester behind his chair. ‘He’s a deal too classical for me. I had not a classical education myself; and I am not ashamed to say I don’t appreciate that sort of thing. Nature is what I like. I don’t pretend to go in for the old masters. They’re very fine, I daresay; but give me a nice modern picture with colours, sir, like what you see in life. I hope you are of the real school, Mr. Renton,—not to carry it to excess, you know. The thing for modern collections,—and I know a great many collectors of my way of thinking,—is modern life; the sort of thing one understands. How am I to know about your Greeks and your Romans? I like pretty English girls, and nice young fellows making love to them. Why shouldn’t they make love to ’em, Mrs. Severn? I did it in my day. And as for your pictures, could anything be sweeter? It’s the next step in life. We’ve all gone through that phase,’ said Mr. Rich, waving his hands; ‘and that’s the sort of thing we want in our collections. I say this to you, Mr. Renton, as a young man beginning life.’

‘Mr. Renton will prefer the pretty girls, of course,’ said the patron’s wife, with a good-humoured{v.2-60} laugh. And Laurie sat by, not knowing what reply to make, while the padrona, with that flush on her face, sat at the head of the table, and let them talk. What was the use of arguing the question? The finest reasoning in the world does not convince people whose minds are incapable of receiving it. And they bought the pictures they commended, which is what better critics seldom do.

‘There must be a variety of tastes,’ Mrs. Severn said, with a meekness that was not natural to her. ‘I am not so pleased with my tame little groups that you are so good-natured about. There are many things I would rather do if I could.’

Then Mr. Rich laughed, and told the story of Listen, whose dream it was that tragedy was his forte,—not a novel story certainly, but not inappropriate at the moment. ‘I should like to see Welby’s pictures all the same,’ he said, cheerfully. ‘We could not come to-morrow, so I should like to make a round to-day. I’m going to Crowquill, and Baxter, and some more,—as long as the light holds out;—and if you can tell me of any others——’

‘There is Suffolk,’ said Laurie, looking at the head of the table; and then he paused surprised. The padrona was but human. To let her own live patron go out of her hands to the studios of celebrated painters whom everybody knew was a thing inevitable, against which she could never dream of{v.2-61} struggling; but to send him, in cold blood,—her own precious property,—to Suffolk,—a new name, a rising painter,—one of the men whom it would be a credit to patronise! Mrs. Severn had a struggle with herself. Generosity was easy where Laurie Renton was concerned; and she would have shared her purse with the Suffolks, with all the unthinking open-heartedness of her kind. But send him her patron! That was a trial. Laurie looked at her surprised. He knew her face so well that he saw the struggle in it, though without knowing what it meant; and he was startled by the pause she made before she answered him. A flood of thoughts rushed through the padrona’s mind at that moment. She thought of herself and the children, and the need she had of patronage; and then, on the other hand, she thought of Suffolk’s wife, with an unmanageable man, who would not paint popular subjects, with no power to help herself, with children too,—babies always coming,—and all sorts of troubles. It was not of the artist she thought, and his long unrewarded labours. She was only a woman, after all; and it was the woman who came to her mind, anxious and powerless, and overwhelmed with anxiety. All at once the face, obscured by some cloud which Laurie could not penetrate,—to his supreme annoyance,—cleared up with a sudden light, which he did not understand. ‘Yes,’ she said, ‘I should like Mr. Rich to see that{v.2-62} picture. It is not quite the kind of subject he likes; but we all think it one of the finest things; Mr. Renton will tell you about it. It was spoken very highly of the other day in the “Sword.”

‘Ah; then it must be fine,’ said Mrs. Rich. ‘Perhaps Mr. Renton will take a seat in the carriage with us, and introduce us. I like to see everything I can see; and we have not much time for the light. And you will not forget, dear, that you are engaged to us for Easter week. It will be so nice to have you; and you shall plan out your pictures for the east room. She is going to do the fairy tales for us, Mr. Renton,—it will be charming. If the carriage is up, Mr. Rich, I am afraid we ought to go.’

The padrona called Laurie to her as he was about to follow them down-stairs. ‘They have given me a beautiful commission,’ she said, with a little excitement,—‘a year’s work! And I was so mean that I hesitated to send them to Suffolk after that. Try and make them buy the picture, Laurie. They will, if you are clever, and talk to them a little of Renton, and draw them on. I trust you to do it.’ It was only for a moment at the drawing-room door. Was it the year’s work, and the contest with herself about Suffolk’s picture, which gave her that look of agitation and excitement? Or was it the time of year, the eve of the Academy, and all the crowd that would come to-morrow? Laurie could not give{v.2-63} himself any answer as he rushed down-stairs to guide the Riches on their beneficent course; but his eyes shone, too, and his heart beat loud. As if he could have had anything to do with it,—a mere boy!{v.2-64}



When Laurie Renton drove from the padrona’s door in Mr. Rich’s carriage, opposite to that patron of art, it was his sense of the comicality of the situation which came uppermost. Art student, art critic, artist, he had been with a certain satisfaction in each office. But to be showman and salesman too was a new branch. These are the vicissitudes to which a man is subject who puts himself under the dominion of a woman, in the absolute and unconditional way which Laurie had done. But that was not how he regarded the matter. He was pleased to do it even for Suffolk’s sake; though he could not but laugh within himself when he took his seat on the luxurious cushions, with the couple opposite to him who breathed wealth, and filled the very atmosphere with its exhalations. One of the exhalations was not so pleasant as could be wished; for Mrs. Rich’s favourite perfume was of a character too distinct and decided for the narrow enclosure of a carriage; but the rustle of her silk, and the soft warmth of her velvet and her{v.2-65} furs, and the wealthy look about her altogether,—wealthy and liberal and self-important and kindly,—was not without a certain human interest. She had been a pretty woman. Laurie, whose eyes were open to such particulars, was at once aware of that; and she was a good-looking woman of her age still. Her husband had less apparent character about him; but there was in both a consciousness of being able to give pleasure and scatter benefit around them, which was not unprepossessing. No doubt they were vulgar, perhaps purse-proud,—horribly ostentatiously rich. But they meant to benefit other people with their wealth, which was always something in their favour. Laurie glided with natural skill into the part allotted to him. He talked of Renton; of his mother’s invalid condition, which made it impossible for her to call; and of his young brother Frank the Guardsman,—for he had not yet negotiated his exchange,—whose battalion was stationed at Royalborough, and who, he was sure, would be glad to make their acquaintance. And then he went on to Suffolk’s story with the most natural sequence;—a man so full of talent, so laborious, so devoted to art, with such a pretty little wife!

‘Ah, there we have you, Mr. Renton!’ said jolly Mrs. Rich; ‘but it is naughty to talk so of a married lady. You ought to have eyes only for the pretty girls.’

‘A pretty young woman is a pretty young wo{v.2-66}man, whether she’s married or single,’ said her husband; ‘but I don’t like a man who goes on painting pictures that don’t sell. What is the good of it? No man in business would think of such a thing. It’s a sinful waste of capital as well as a waste of time. He ought to have changed his style. I’ll tell him so. You do a many foolish things, Mr. Renton, you artists, for want of a plain common-sense man of business to give you a little advice.’

‘That is very possible,’ said Laurie, with candour; ‘but even in business a man may go on with a speculation for a long time, though it is not immediately successful, if he is sure it will succeed in the end;—so long as he can afford to wait.’

‘Ah, yes, that is the whole question,’ said Mr. Rich,—‘as long as he can afford to wait; but a man should think of his wife and children. If I had a little family dependent on me, and had to paint for a living, I’d make them comfortable, Mr. Renton, if I had to change my style every other day.’

‘But that is not so easy as you think,’ said Laurie; ‘and the wife and children do not complain. Mrs. Suffolk is as proud of those boys in the Forum as she is of her own babies.’

‘Are there boys in the picture?’ said Mrs. Rich. ‘Then I shall like it for one. And she must be a nice little woman; but you young men, you should not go paying attention to a married lady. It is not{v.2-67} because it is wrong,—for I never was so strait-laced as some, and never objected to a bit of fun,—but it keeps you from marrying and settling, which is dreadful. You are all so selfish, you gentlemen. As long as you have a woman to go and tell your little tales to, and get her sympathy and so forth, and no danger of going any further, you are quite satisfied;—and the girls are left, and nobody pays any attention to them. That is what I don’t approve of. We matrons have had our day, Mr. Renton, and we should be content with it. When I see married women dancing and going on, and young girls sitting without partners, I could beat them, though, perhaps, it is vulgar of me to say so. I like a young man when he falls in love honestly, as people did in my days, with a nice young girl.’

‘We can’t all afford to fall in love,’ said Laurie, laughing, yet with a faint, distant recollection of the possibility he had himself given up. Curious it was how far off that looked now! But, like most sinners, he was utterly unconscious that there was any moral which he could apply to his own case in this little sermon. His mind glanced off to somebody else whom, perhaps, it might have touched. ‘And as for Mrs. Suffolk,’ he added, ‘she does not think there is a man in the world who comes within a hundred miles of her Reginald; and, as I said, she is as proud of those boys in the Forum——’

‘What’s the Forum? Tell me the story; I like to know the story of every picture,’ said Mr. Rich.{v.2-68} And Laurie told, to ears which received it with all the interest of ignorance, that well-known tale. Mr. Rich thought he had read something about it in a book; and shook his head over an incident so remote in antiquity. ‘I like English subjects,’ said the patron. ‘I don’t care for your Italian things. I never was in Italy myself, and how should I know if they are true or not? English pictures are the things for me.’

Then Mrs. Rich reminded the millionnaire that he had promised to take her to Italy next winter, and that it would be well in the meantime to make a little acquaintance with that country. And Laurie fell back on the ‘Sword,’ giving his companions the benefit of his own article, which, being a solitary effort, he had kept in his memory. It was a scene of genteel comedy, in which he was at once actor and audience,—and perhaps no other description of audience had such an exquisite sense of the points of the drama. He went through his part with a fluency which amazed himself, and chuckled and clapped his hands in secret with an infinite sense of his own humour. Mr. Rich’s grand coachman was too fine to know the locality, and made a great many turns and rounds before he reached Suffolk’s door, which left time for the little play to play itself out. It was curious to see the vast woman of wealth in her vast seal-skin cloak, in her rustling silken train, with plumes nodding on her bonnet, and lace streaming, get in at the narrow door. The house looked as if it could not possibly contain her. Laurie{v.2-69} gave a comical glance to the upper window, with a momentary idea that he must see her head looking out there while still her train was on the steps at the door. And when she shook hands with the painter’s little wife, who got up from her work to receive them in a nervous flutter of agitation, not knowing what to expect, it seemed to Laurie as if he had brought a good-humoured ogress into this little fairy palace.

‘And a very pretty little woman she is,’ the patroness said in a whisper, nodding to him aside. ‘I like your taste, Mr. Renton.’ Thus it will be seen that Laurie’s hands were full.

‘We did not expect anybody till to-morrow; and I don’t know if Reginald is ready. If you would but go up and tell him, Mr. Renton?’ Mrs. Suffolk said, appealing to him also in an aside.

Suffolk was not the least ready to receive visitors. It was an east wind, which had impaired his light and affected his temper. ‘I’ve no time to go and change my coat,’ he said, like a savage. ‘What’s the good? Laurie, you’re the best fellow in the world; but Thursday is the last day, and you know what I’ve got to do. Look at that sky! By Jove! stop a man in the middle of a sky like that, and ask him to be civil to strangers! You might as well tell me to put this confounded east wind out of my eyes!’

‘Only for ten minutes,’ said Laurie, ‘there’s a good fellow! You are doing too much to that sky. Leave it for an hour, and you’ll see what’s wanting twice as{v.2-70} well as you do now. And I do believe there’s a chance of selling the Angles! Think of Mrs. Suffolk and the children. Surely they’re worth half-an-hour and the trouble of changing your coat.’

Suffolk paused in his painting, and grew pale, and stared at his friend. ‘Selling the Angles!’ he said; and then he put down his brush, and turned away with an impatient exclamation. While Laurie stood looking anxiously on, the painter went to the nearest window and began to open the shutters, but stopped in the midst and turned back upon him. ‘It’s all rubbish,’ he said; ‘I don’t believe in selling the Angles. Why do you come here and mock a fellow even in the midst of his work? I say, Laurie, tell me one thing,—who is it?—quick!’

‘It’s old Rich, the City man,—the padrona’s friend. It was she who sent him,’ said Laurie, breathless with suspense.

Then the painter broke down; he gave a sudden sob all at once. ‘God bless that woman!’ he said, and rushed at his shutters. As for Laurie, he made himself housemaid, studio-boy, with his usual facility. It was he who dragged out the spare easel to the best light, and took down the picture from the wall where it hung somewhat in the shade. He took the dust off it lovingly with his handkerchief, while Suffolk changed his coat. His hands were rather black, and there was a cobweb on his breast close to the lily in his button-hole when he went down-stairs; and it{v.2-71} would be hard to say which was the fairer ornament. Then he turned himself into a groom of the chambers, and ushered the patron and patroness up-stairs, Mrs. Suffolk following. The little woman trembled all over, though she did her best to hide it; and Laurie’s heart went jumping like a thing independent of him, in his breast. Suffolk was the most self-possessed of the three, but he purchased his composure by putting on a morose and forbidding aspect. Not that he meant to be morose; on the contrary, his brain was in a greater whirl than that of either of the others. If it might indeed come to pass,—if he too should really possess a patron, giving commissions, making life secure beforehand for his wife and the children! And then it occurred to him that this was the padrona’s patron. The thought nearly overcame the painter. If she had taken her children’s bread from her table and sent it to his, he would not have felt it so much. ‘God bless that woman!’ he said again in his heart. If the attempt failed or succeeded he was equally bound to her for his life. But he did not think of Laurie’s good offices with the same effusion, though Laurie by this time had come forward equal to the emergency, and resumed the showman’s part.

‘When you are in Italy, Mrs. Rich,’ said Laurie, ‘I know what you will say to yourself some spring morning. You will say, “Now I feel Mr. Suffolk’s picture!” Look at that golden air; you can see the{v.2-72} motes dancing in it; and I can smell the orange-blossom out of the convent gardens. I have seen English children look like that,—like little roses,—with the dark Romans all round, admiring them.’

‘Have you now, Mr. Renton?’ cried Mrs. Rich; ‘I should like to see that. Dear little angels! Though my own are all grown up, I adore little children. And you never saw such a skin and such hair as my Nelly had when she was a little thing. They are lovely, Mrs. Suffolk—I think they are quite lovely. Mr. Rich, don’t you think that group is just like our Charlie and Alf? I mean what they used to look. And that woman with the white thing on her head,—that is a beauty! I am sure your husband must have painted you scores of times,’ she went on, graciously laying her hand upon little Mrs. Suffolk’s shoulders. ‘Now come and show me this other one, and let the gentlemen talk. I hope Mr. Rich will buy that picture. I think he will buy it. And they tell me there was something very nice about it in the “Sword.”

‘Yes,’ said the painter’s wife, all confused and breathless with anxiety, straining her ears to hear what the gentlemen were saying; ‘and the “Looker-on” had an article too. They were all very complimentary; they said it was quite a work of genius——’

‘But it has not begun to pay just yet,’ said Mrs. Rich, with a little wave of her hand. There was a melting, liberal grandeur about her patroness. She{v.2-73} looked like a conferrer of favours,—a rich, mellow, embodied Fortune. ‘I think Mr. Rich will buy it,’ she repeated, looking round upon her husband.

This was not a speech calculated to still Mrs. Suffolk’s agitation. Could it be possible? Oh, if Reginald would only be civil! If he would but condescend to talk and show it off to the best advantage! But it was Laurie who was talking. It was he who was pointing out all its great qualities. And then there was a pause, awful as the pause,—not before a thunderstorm,—that is nothing,—a mere accident of nature,—awful almost as the pause you make when you have opened the letter which is to bring you news of life or death!

And then, once more, it was Laurie Renton’s voice that broke the silence. If he had been pleading with a woman whom he loved, his tones could scarcely have been more insinuating. ‘If I remember Beecham rightly,’ he said, ‘there was a space left for a picture just opposite the little organ in what used to be the music-room. Have you changed that? or perhaps you have placed some picture there?’

‘That is just the thing,’ said Mr. Rich; ‘I knew there was a place. You have got an eye, Mr. Renton, and a memory too. Fancy, my dear,’ he said, calling to his wife, ‘he remembers the rooms at Richmont better than I do myself,—calls it Beecham though; but of course that is quite natural. Yes. And he is quite right too. I should not wonder if it{v.2-74} was the exact size. The music-room is Nelly’s particular room, Mr. Renton;—my daughter Nelly, the only one I have at home. I think that is just the sort of thing she would like. Girls are full of fancies. She would not have my last Crowquill, though it is a lovely specimen, and that one of Mrs. Severn’s that she fancied was not big enough. I should think this was just about the size. Mr. Suffolk, a word with you, sir,’ said the patron, with all the confidence of a man whose cheque-book was in his pocket. Laurie stood with his back to them, measuring the picture with his handkerchief, and Mrs. Suffolk, before the new picture on the easel, stood trembling, trying to show it to the patron’s wife. What a moment it was! Mr. Rich was very audible; but Suffolk, in his agitation, spoke low, and looked more nervous than ever. His wife thought, oh, if Reginald should be disagreeable!—oh, if the rich man should be affronted, driven away by his bad manners! And it was only manner all the time. She stood in a fever of suspense, not knowing what Mrs. Rich said, who chattered on, drowning even her husband’s voice. She gave Laurie one look of appeal. Oh, if it were only ordained in Parliament, or by nature, that artists’ wives and friends should do their business for them;—at least when they were men like Suffolk! If it had lasted long, Mrs. Suffolk must have fallen fainting at her patroness’s feet.{v.2-75}

But just when the strain had reached its highest point, Mrs. Rich fell silent by some chance, and took to examining one particular corner of the picture, and the voice of the millionnaire became distinctly audible. ‘If that’s all, I’ll give you a cheque at once,’ he said. ‘I’d like to have the picture as soon as you can send it; for you see Nelly is from home, and I’d like to give her a surprise. Perhaps Mr. Renton and you would run down and see it hung? A day in the country would do you good after all your hard work. Have you pen and ink? What, not pen and ink in your place!—every man of business should be supplied with that. I couldn’t put in my signature in paint, you know,’ the man of wealth said, with his large laugh of ease and careless liberality. He joked over it as if it were sixpence! as if it was a thing that happened every day! while to two of the people who listened to him it was something like coming back from the dead.

Suffolk, with his voice choked, made some feeble response. He tried to laugh too; he tried to say it did not matter,—there was no hurry,—any time would do. A poor little piece of hypocrisy, at which his wife quailed, trembling lest he should be taken at his word.

‘No, no; I like to settle such matters off-hand,’ said the patron;—‘there’s Renton, like a sensible fellow, off for the ink. I like that young man;{v.2-76} never saw him in my life till this morning; but he feels like an old friend, and his people are our neighbours in the country. You and he must make a run down by the one o’clock train,—I don’t know a better train,—brings you down twenty-five miles in thirty minutes,—not bad, that. And I’ll send over a trap for you. What day will you come? Thank you, Renton; that’s practical; that’s the sort of thing I like. I want you both to come down and have some luncheon, and see the picture hung. Let it be a day in the end of the week; a day in the country never harms any man. Settle it with my wife. My dear, come here and look at the picture. It’s ours; or rather, it’s Nelly’s. Don’t you think she’ll like it? And I want to have them down to see it hung.’

Thus was this extraordinary piece of business accomplished, in a moment,—as it were in the twinkling of an eye. Neither Suffolk nor his wife knew what their visitors said and did, or where they were, or what had happened to them, till Mr. Rich suddenly recollected that there was no time to lose, and so many other studios to visit in daylight. It was all settled about that visit to Richmont, which Laurie, disagreeable though it was to him, had not the heart to refuse. And I suppose Suffolk talked and assented and behaved himself like any ordinary mortal, though he knew no more of what had passed{v.2-77} than a man in a dream. Laurie put these blessed rich people into their carriage afterwards, and took as much care of the vast woman as if she had been the queen. ‘I will ask your brother over to meet you, Mr. Renton,’ she said, as she took leave of him; and Mr. Rich followed her, rubbing his hands. ‘I have done a good morning’s work,’ said that happy man. ‘Two hundred and fifty! I don’t doubt I could sell it for six to-morrow,—that’s what it is to go to the fountain-head.’ Laurie himself felt a little giddy as the carriage drove away. And when he returned to the studio, he found that Mrs. Suffolk was crying, and her husband not much more steady. The painter had forgotten all about his sky. He had his cheque in his hand, and was looking, first at that, and then at his Angles. ‘By Jove, Laurie, you have done it at last!’ he said, bursting into a loud laugh, and crushing Laurie’s hand as in a vice,—and then he went to the inner room, and put on his old painting-coat, which was a good excuse.

But whether it was Laurie who was to be commended this time, or the padrona, who,—let it be confessed,—with a moment’s hesitation and reluctance, had sent the patron to her friend, was a doubtful matter. They had both a hand in it. It was ‘our little business,’ as Laurie said, pleasing himself, in his foolishness, with the thought of this partner{v.2-78}ship. And he went, of course, to the Square, not by roundabout ways, like the fine coachman, but as fast as his feet could carry him, to report how everything had happened. Duty and courtesy both demanded that not a moment should be lost till the report was made.{v.2-79}



When Laurie reached No. 375 with his budget of news, the padrona was out! It was nothing very dreadful to be sure. She did go out sometimes, like everybody else; and in all likelihood no very long time would elapse before she returned. But, all the same, Laurie was intensely contrarié, and felt as if this were a special spite of fortune. She must have known he would come to make his report of what had happened at Suffolk’s, and to inquire into the news she had given him as he left the house. A beautiful commission,—work for a year! That was what she had said. And then, without any regard for his curiosity, his interest in everything that concerned her, she had gone out! He went up to the studio to wait for her, passing the door of the dining-room very quietly that Miss Hadley might not hear him, and rush in with her usual officiousness to make one of the party. At this moment, after all his excitement, he did not feel equal to general talk with three or four people. It was the intimate{v.2-80} conversation à deux for which Laurie longed. Never had he seen the studio in such preternatural good order before. The pictures that were going to the Academy were placed all ready for exhibition, each on its separate easel; a few touches were still wanting to one of them, but that it was evident the padrona had calculated upon doing with the morning light, before her visitors began to arrive. The Louis Quinze fauteuil was placed in front of the principal picture; a great Turkish curtain of many colours, one of poor Severn’s acquisitions in the days when he was rich enough to buy things that pleased his eye, had been put up across the farther window, to be drawn as might be needful for the light. A great many sketches were placed about the room,—poor Severn’s last drawing, unfinished, but always holding the chief place among his wife’s treasures, hanging in the best light. And everything was cleared away that impaired the appearance of the studio, a proceeding which gave positive delight to the housemaid, and even filled the padrona’s soul with a sense of comfort. ‘If I could only keep it tidy like this!’ Mrs. Severn had said, with a sigh. Whereas Laurie, with the untidiness natural to man, was disgusted with it, and hated the place in its unusual decorum. He walked about with his hands in his pockets, and stared blankly at everything. What did she mean by going away? What did she mean by putting herself, as it were, out of her studio,{v.2-81} and filling it up with knickknacks that did not belong to it? As for poor Severn’s last sketch, it was not a drawing for a woman to be proud of. She might have known that at least by this time. It might be valuable to her for the sake of association, of course,—anything, a table, or a chair, might be dear for association’s sake,—but she must have known better than to prize it as a drawing. And then Laurie went and looked at the picture, which smiled sweetly at him out of its frame, full of sweet nature and expression, but undeniably wanting a few finishing touches still. How could she go out roaming about in that strange way, and leave the picture unfinished? Laurie in his heart was angry with his padrona. It was not like her to go out and stay out like this,—doing shopping perhaps!—which any woman without an ounce of brains could have done just as well;—which Miss Hadley might have been sent to do: getting her out of the way at the same time! Laurie in his impatience hunted up his friend’s brushes, and mixed her colours, and went at the unfinished picture himself to fill up those tedious moments. There was a pleasure, too, in thinking he would have a hand in it; not that there was anything of the least importance to do;—a touch of light upon the floor, a bit of perspective which was not quite complete. When he had put in a few lines caressingly, with a half sense that it was her hand, or her dress, or something belonging to her that he{v.2-82} was touching, another fit of impatience came upon him. Where could she have gone? What could she be doing? It was of no use waiting here, making himself angry in her absence. He might as well go and see old Welby, and leave her to the surprise of finding that some one had been doing her work while she was out. Of course if she came in, Miss Hadley would be with her, or Alice, or somebody. Laurie accordingly put down the brushes again, restoring the room to something of its ordinary aspect, and took up his hat and went down-stairs. ‘She will think of the lubber-fiend,’ said Laurie to himself; ‘and I wonder if she will put me a bowl of cream for my hire.’ Would the bowl of cream answer the purpose? or was there any other hire of which Laurie thought? There came a little gleam over his face, and the shadow of a smile; but I do not think it was in anticipation of anything in particular, only a certain pleasant sentiment, half tenderness, half amusement. Laurie was the kind of man whose eye softens and whose lip smiles under any circumstances at the thought of a reward from a woman. It was as he went down-stairs that he noticed for the first time the film of cobweb on his coat beside the flower,—and he left it there, though he was very dainty in point of personal appearance. Perhaps he thought it was a mark of the work he had been doing, which the padrona{v.2-83} would smile to see; or, perhaps, that her hand was the hand which should brush it off.

With these ideas in his mind he went down-stairs, possessed by a kind of sweet love-in-idleness; not the passion of a young man for a girl; a tenderness made up of many things,—of that soft reverence just touched with pity, which a man of generous temper has for a woman in such a position; and yet pity is not the word,—or else it was a kind of pity in which there was all the softness and none of the superiority which usually mingles with that sentiment; and of admiration for the brave creature who had gradually grown the central figure in his landscape; and of a longing to help her; and of pride in the regard she gave him and the sympathy between them. There was perfect sympathy between them, though he had never, Laurie thought, seen any woman worthy to stand by her side. This was part of his delusion, for there were women as good, and with far greater gifts than the padrona, to be met with in the world. But still it was not wonderful if the young man was proud of her friendship. Friendship,—that was the word; with no result to come, no thickening of the plot towards a climax; but only a delicious accompaniment to life, an interchange of every thought and sentiment, a soft but strong support in every chance that might befall a man. This was all that was in{v.2-84} Laurie’s mind. It was something more akin to worship than the passion which appropriates can ever be. It had not occurred to him to seize, to take possession of, to secure her as his own; the idea itself would have been a profanity; only to be nearer to her than any one else, to be her subject and yet her counsellor; an indescribable perfect relationship such as exists only in imagination. Laurie himself had never gone any deeper. The padrona’s life and condition were to him as settled and everlasting as the skies, the ordinary constitution of the world. And all would go on as it was going on. And at the present moment he would not have exchanged that visionary tie for anything actual in life.

Mr. Welby was standing before his picture when Laurie went in, looking at it with that intense inspection of the cultivated eye, which no uneducated critic can give. He held out his hand to his visitor, but did not change his attitude. Welby, R.A., had his anxieties about the Academy’s Exhibition as well as another. True, his picture was sure of a place on ‘the line,’ and every advantage a benign Hanging Committee could give it; but there were other dangers before the face of the Academician from which the younger men were safe. Mr. Welby knew that if there was a faltering line in his canvas, or one neglected detail, even the critics who were his friends would say he was growing old. ‘It would{v.2-85} ill become us, who are indebted to Mr. Welby for so many noble pictures, to be eager to mark the indications of approaching decadence; but, alas! no man can remain of primitive strength for ever,’ would be the philosophical comment of the ‘Looker-on.’ And the ‘Sword’ would be still sharper in its judgment. Such words as these were echoing in the old painter’s ear as he looked at his picture. He was aware he was old, and life had no such charm to him that he should cling to it unduly,—but such criticisms were hard to bear. He was going over the picture himself, criticising its every detail, and he held up his hand with an unspoken warning to Laurie, who understood, as he had a faculty of doing, and waited behind till the inspection was over.

‘I think that will do,’ said Mr. Welby at last, with a long and deeply-drawn sigh. ‘Come here, Renton, and give me your opinion.’ Laurie was full of the natural instinct of admiring and believing in the work of the old man,—who was leader and patriarch, as it were, of his own special party;—and, besides, it was a fine picture, and he thought it so, though very different no doubt from Suffolk’s ‘Saxon Maiden,’ or from the lovely children in the padrona’s pictures upstairs. Art, to be the everlasting thing it is, is as yet as much bound by fashion as any silly woman. The fashion of the day had changed; but yet old Welby’s picture was a fine picture still.{v.2-86}

‘I don’t want those fellows to be picking holes in my coat,’ said the R.A., ‘though of course they will do it all the same.’

‘I don’t see what holes there are to pick,’ said Laurie, strong in his esprit de corps, and ready to swear to the excellence of his master in contradiction of all the critics in the world. ‘We have just sold Suffolk’s picture,’ he added suddenly, glad to deliver himself of the wonderful news, which had been burning holes, as it were, for want of utterance, in his heart.

‘Sold Suffolk’s picture!’ the Academician said with a start. It was the most wonderful piece of news that had been heard in the artists’ quarter for many a year. For no man had gone so consistently in the face of popular opinion as Suffolk, or held so obstinately by his own style. Laurie, nothing loth, told the whole story, with excitement and a natural satisfaction; and how it was old Rich, the City man, who was well known to be the padrona’s special property. And as he told it he looked down upon the bit of cobweb, by this time gone to the merest speck,—the sign in that particular matter, of his close partnership with the padrona,—which was still on his coat.

‘So she sent him her own patron?’ said Mr. Welby; ‘that was good of her, Renton,—that was very good of her. To be sure, he had just given her a commission. I suppose you heard of that. A private{v.2-87} patron is a great institution, my dear fellow,—there is more satisfaction in it than in dealers. He has given her a commission to fill one room with pictures. There are to be twelve of them I think, and the subjects from the fairy tales. She’ll do it very well. She has wonderful invention, you know, in her way, and Cinderella and little Red Riding Hood, and all the rest will just suit her; and there is a year’s living secured at once. I am sorry for that woman, Renton. I am more sorry for her than I can tell,’ cried the R.A., with unquestionable emotion in his voice.

‘Sorry for—the padrona?’ cried Laurie, half laughing, half angry. He would have liked to have knocked down the man who presumed,—and yet to be sorry for that hopeful, dauntless woman, so full of life, and strength, and energy, seemed too good a joke.

‘Yes, sorry for her,’ said Mr. Welby, severely, ‘though you don’t know what I mean, of course. She is at her best now, and I suppose she is making a good deal of money; but look at her principles, sir. Her principles are,—you need not contradict me, I know her better than you do,—never to shut her heart nor her purse against anybody she can help. What kind of an idea is that, I ask you, for this world? Of course, she can’t lay by a penny; and when the fellows in the newspapers begin to {v.2-88}say of her as they say already of me——’

‘But you!’ cried Laurie, ‘you——’ and then he stopped, not knowing how to end his sentence.

‘I am old, that is what you were going to say,’ said Mr. Welby. ‘I am two-and-twenty years older than she is,—just two-and-twenty years. It’s almost as long as you have been in the world, my dear fellow, and you think it’s centuries; but two-and-twenty years pass very quickly after thirty-five. And she’ll age sooner than I did,—never having been, you know, so thoroughly trained a painter. Her quick eye will fail her, and her fine touch, and she will not have knowledge and experience to fall back upon; and the public will tire of those pretty pictures. Her genius will pall, and then her courage will fail, though she has pluck at present for anything. Do you think I’ve never seen such things happen? If she has ten years more of success it will be all she can hope for; and the boys will scarcely be doing for themselves by that time; and she will have to reduce her living, which will go sadly against the grain, and struggle with all sorts of anxieties. When I look at that woman, sir, my heart bleeds. It’s all very pleasant just now,—plenty of work and plenty of strength, and a light heart, and her friends round her, and her children; and she feels she is up to her work,—knows she is up to her work. But when they come to say of her what they are beginning to say of me——’

Laurie raised his hand with a speechless protest{v.2-89} and denial of the possibility, but the words he would have spoken died in his throat. What could he say against this prophet of evil?—only that every pulse in him and every nerve thrilled fiercely at the suggestion;—and that was no answer, heaven knows.

‘Even if she did keep on long enough to get the boys launched in the world,’ said Mr. Welby, who seemed, Laurie thought, to take a certain pleasure in the torture he was inflicting,—‘what is to become of her afterwards, unless she were to die off-hand, which is not likely? People don’t die at the convenient moment. Most likely she’ll linger for years, poor, and old, and unable to work, on some pittance or other,—lucky if she has that. It’s hard upon such a woman, Renton. I tell you, when I look at that fine creature and think what’s before her, it makes my heart bleed.’

‘But, good heavens! why should you imagine such things?’ cried Laurie, when he could speak. ‘Of course we may all go mad, or get ruined, or perish miserably,—one as well as another;—but to forebode such a fate for her——’

‘I said nothing about getting ruined or going mad,’ said Mr. Welby, pettishly. ‘I said Mrs. Severn would outlive her market,—ay, and outlive her powers,—and that my heart ached for her, poor thing! I declare to you, Laurie, my heart so aches for her, that if I thought she could make up her mind to it, I would marry her to-morrow,—though{v.2-90} it would break in upon all my habits,’ said the R.A., sinking his voice, ‘in a most annoying way.’

‘Marry—her—to-morrow!’ cried Laurie, and he made a step towards the old painter with a savage impulse which he could scarcely restrain. He was wild with sudden passion. ‘Marry her!’ It was hard to tell what kept him from raising the hand which he had clenched in spite of himself. But he did not, though it was a courageous thing of old Welby to keep facing the young fellow with that sudden transport of fury in his eye.

‘Yes,’ he said, calmly. ‘I am getting old, and I have saved a little money, and I have no near relations. If I thought she could make up her mind to it, I would ask her to marry me to-morrow. I have thought of it often. For her sake, that is what I would do.’

Laurie made no answer; he walked away from the old man to the very end of the studio, and stood there staring at the Angelichino which stood against the wall. His blood seemed to be boiling in all his veins, and his heart throbbing as if it would burst. Why should he be angry? Why should he object to old Welby for his desire to shield the padrona from even a possible evil? But Laurie’s mind was in too great a ferment to permit him to think articulately. He did not understand what was the meaning of the sudden tumult within him,—the sharp shock which his nature seemed to have sustained.{v.2-91} To get away and be alone was the immediate necessity upon him. If he could have gone through the wall, or leaped out of the window, probably he would have done it. But that being impossible, he composed himself as well as he could, and returned to where old Welby stood calmly, taking no notice of him, looking once more at his picture. At the sight of the old man’s tranquillity Laurie felt ashamed of himself.

‘I suppose my nerves are more easily affected than most people’s,’ he said, with an attempt at a laugh. ‘I can’t think of all those dreadful things happening,—to—the padrona,—and take it calmly. Good-night! I must go now.’

‘If such a thing as I said should ever happen,’ said Welby, shaking hands with him,—‘I may as well warn you,—I’d have no more padronas. How poor Severn put up with it is more than I can say.’

This parting speech sent Laurie forth in a renewed tempest of rage and indignation. He had meant to return up-stairs after his visit to old Welby, but that was now impossible. He had let himself out, and closed the door sharply behind him, before old Forrester could make his appearance. Daylight by this time was beginning to fail, and the lamps were being lit along the street, twinkling across the Square through the smoky trees, which were swelling with the fulness of spring. The look of the outside world{v.2-92} as he came thus suddenly into it,—the tall, glimmering houses,—the lamps like candies in the pale, waning daylight,—the trees all bristling with half-opened leaves, and the sky, leaden yet light, with its remoteness, and colourless serenity, looking down upon all, never went out of Laurie’s mind. He forgot all his displeasure at her absence, all his wondering where she was. He did not even look if she might be coming, or remember that he might meet her suddenly face to face so near her own door. His mind was too full of her idea to remember herself, if we may say so. He went round and round the Square without any particular sense of where he was going, and then took the first street, any street,—what did it matter?—and got out into a crowded thoroughfare, where lights were gleaming, and men hurrying, and every sound and stir of life. It was a long time before he could even make out his own thoughts, what they were. All was dimness and chaos and commotion, like the scene around at first; lights gleaming, cries coming out of the obscurity,—a tumult he could not comprehend. Then by degrees the clouds rolled off, each to its own corner; the foreground cleared, the central figure reappeared. What was it? Laurie stood still for a moment, and looked himself, as it were, in the face, aghast. He had not so much as suspected it till now. She had been his friend; nothing so tender, nothing so near, had ever been in his life; yet he had not dreamed{v.2-93} what the truth was until old Welby, with his detestable suggestion, had thrust it thus unveiled in his face.

And Laurie stood aghast. It may injure him in some people’s eyes, yet I cannot but avow that when the young man found that he loved a woman much older than himself,—a woman with children, and a separate, independent past, with twice his experience, and,—metaphorically at least,—twice his age,—he was appalled by the discovery. He had known her another man’s wife; he had himself been as a child beside her in the first days of their acquaintance. There was less difference in point of age between himself and her daughter than between himself and her; and yet he loved her. No, it was not friendship. Friendship would not have resented hotly and wildly, with a half-murderous passion, old Welby’s suggestion. Friendship would not have moved any man’s heart into such a mad commotion. He loved her. That it never had occurred to himself to change the relationship between them, or seek a closer one, was nothing. Another man had but to talk of marrying her, and lo! the whole world was lit into conflagration. There was a sweetness in the discovery too. His heart warmed and glowed in that fire; words which he but half understood went whispering through the air about him,—‘There is none like her; none.’ No girl, no young heroine of romance, could be such a creature as was this woman, tried,{v.2-94} and proved, and developed, with all the sweetness in her still, and yet all the strength of life. If he had been proud of her regard, proud of her sympathy, how much more proud would he be of her love! If that were possible! Could it be possible? Going on in this distracted range of thoughts, the fact gleamed upon Laurie that no girl could make such sacrifice of pride and natural position in loving him as this woman should,—if she would; and was it likely? It would be as vain to attempt to follow him in the maze of passion that possessed him, as in the streets he wound his way through, while the night darkened round him, and the lights shone brighter. A storm of thunder and lightning might have been going on, and he would never have known it. Such a thing had befallen as he had never dreamt of. The soft love which he had put aside with a pang of tender regret as a thing impossible,—too sweet for him and too costly,—had come back at unawares, and come in and taken possession, no longer soft and easy to be vanquished, but twined in with every thread of life. It was so easy to come away from Kensington Gore,—from the world he had lived in for years,—from the pensive-pleasant hopes of his youth; but to leave this place, which had not an attraction but one, would be tearing up his life by the roots. This was the fact, though he had not known it. Wonder, and terror, and delight, and a vague overwhelming dismay, filled Lauri{v.2-95}e’s mind as he found himself standing thus after the earthquake, with the solid ground rent under his very feet. There were flowers growing still, so sweet that he was intoxicated with their breath; but yet there had been an earthquake, and the sober soil was torn with that convulsion. He walked and walked, charged with those thoughts, till he got to the very skirts of far-reaching London, and came to himself in a gloomy, suburban road. It was the rain falling in his face out of the almost invisible skies that roused him first, and then he had to grope his way back to a thoroughfare and get a cab, and go home. When he reached his room and looked at himself in the little glass over the mantel-piece he saw a pale apparition, with gleaming eyes and a visionary smile; appalled, shaken to the very depths of his being, and yet with a subtle happiness at his heart. He was happier, and more bewildered and utterly astray in all his reckonings, than he had ever been in his life.{v.2-96}



Next day was the day of the private exhibition made in the artists’ houses of their pictures before they were sent off to the Academy; not a day in which a man could make his appearance with any passionate or sentimental errand in the studio of a painter. All day long a stream of carriages were flocking about Fitzroy Square, and driving into the adjacent street, where carriages were not frequent visitors. There was a suppressed excitement about the district generally. It was, as we have said, like the eve of a battle, and every new spectator who appeared to judge of the pretensions of the combatants increased the commotion. Perhaps at another moment Laurie would have felt a certain oppression in a day which was so exciting for all his friends and so indifferent to himself; but now he had a shield against any such sentiment. He got up that morning with something of the lassitude of a man exhausted by great exertions. The sun was shining, which had been a rarity of late, and the consternation of the previous night had{v.2-97} somehow died out of his mind. To-day he should see her, that was certain. To-day the sweetness of the presence of the woman whom he loved would smooth away all perversity of circumstances, and make rough places seem straight. He had a longing to see her, to make sure that she at least was the same, notwithstanding the wonderful change that had taken place in himself, or rather the wonderful unsuspected revelation he had had of his own sentiments. Somehow, with such a sympathy as there was between them, she must have divined, must have been affected by the extraordinary convulsion he had passed through. The daily impulse to seek her, and lay bare his thoughts to her, which had become a second nature to him, was mingled now with the curiosity a young man might have felt to see the person to whom he had been betrothed in his cradle, but had never seen. In a manner, Laurie had never seen this lady of his affections. When he parted with her yesterday she had been his friend; now she was his love,—the first and only woman in the world to him. It was impossible that she could be the same, look the same, in the face of this amazing change. He hurried to get one glimpse of her while the morning lasted,—to make acquaintance with her,—to familiarise himself with her looks and her ways.

But when Laurie reached the Square he found, alas! that he was not the only one who had been moved to visit the padrona in the early sunshine.{v.2-98} Miss Hadley was there putting the finishing touches to the room; and so was Mrs. Suffolk, leaning back in the Louis Quinze chair, laughing and crying and chattering to the children in the picture as if they had been real babies. ‘Oh, you darlings!’ the little woman was saying, ‘I wonder how many people will go on their knees to you when you are out in the world. But though you are little angels, you are not so nice as your mother. You are sweet, but not so sweet as our padrona.’ This was the chatter Laurie heard as he went in. And it gave him a shock which it would be impossible to describe, when the padrona herself turned round upon him, palette in hand, smiling and placid and gracious, the very same woman from whom he had parted yesterday. All the heat and agitation of suppressed passion might be in his eyes, but in hers there was only the brightness of every day,—the composure of her usual, ordinary looks. Nay, as if to emphasize more and more the perfect unity, so far as she was concerned, of to-day and yesterday, she turned to him with the very words which, when he left that room last, before heaven and earth had changed for him, he had fancied her using. ‘Here comes the lob of spirits,’ said the padrona, ‘and his bowl of cream has not been placed for him as it ought to have been. Here is Robin Goodfellow, who does his friends’ work, and never asks even to be praised for it.{v.2-99} Where were you that you never came near us all the night?’

‘Where was I?’ said Laurie. He was too much agitated to tune himself immediately to the key of his present companions. Fortunately Miss Hadley was busy arranging his lilies of the valley, and Mrs. Suffolk, who had sprung up to take him by both his hands, was not sharp-sighted. He looked over the little woman’s shoulder with dilated eyes, which looked to the padrona as if he had been up all night, or in some trouble. ‘I will tell you another time where I was,’ Laurie said, with a voice full of tender meaning. The padrona gazed at him with wonder unfeigned. ‘The boy has got into some scrape,’ she said to herself. And then both the women plunged without drawing breath into the story of the Angles and Mr. Rich, and Suffolk’s sudden and unhopedfor success.

‘We had given up thinking of it even,’ Mrs. Suffolk cried. ‘I did hope if the Saxon Maiden got a good place at the Academy——but I never even hoped for the Angles. Call him the lubber-fiend! when he rushed up to poor Reginald yesterday, and made him put on his good coat, and did everything for him, he was more like our guardian angel.’

What was it all about? Laurie had to stop and ask himself, glancing at them in a kind of consternation. Suffolk’s picture! why that was months and{v.2-100} months ago! What did they mean by bringing that up again? And before he had recovered himself, the visitors began to arrive. He stood by her a little, watching, as in a dream, while the padrona shook hands with her friends, and explained her pictures to them, and received their plaudits. Yesterday he would have been proud of their universal admiration; but to-day it made him sick to see her receive such vulgar homage. He would have liked to take her hand publicly before them all, and draw it within his arm, and lead her away from such a scene. ‘Do you think your praise is anything to her?’ he felt himself saying; and then he took his hat abruptly and disappeared. So far, at least, the revelation to himself of the nature of his own feelings had not increased his happiness. And I cannot tell what old Welby meant by lifting the curtain so rudely from the poor young fellow’s dream; whether it was done in spite or kindness, or whether it was entirely unintentional,—a simple expression of his sentiments without any reference to Laurie,—is what I cannot tell.

The next day was again a day of exhibition, and the day after that was the one on which Laurie had engaged to go down with Suffolk to Richmont. He had been very reluctant to go at the time, and it may be supposed how much more reluctant he was now. It was his own country,—the very journey in the railway would bring a hundred recollections before him. His mother and his home would be within{v.2-101} reach; but how could he go near that peaceful place with this agitation in his heart? Two days before he could have done it, and spoken of the padrona with that tender fervour which knew no need of concealing itself. Now,—his mother would find him out in a moment, and so would Mary Westbury. Indeed, it was wonderful to him that Suffolk did not find him out. So that it would be Saturday before he could actually see her with any chance of knowing her mind.

I will not enter into the visit to Richmont, which belongs to another portion of this history and had nothing to do, so to speak, with Laurie’s life. He got it over, and he got over those three days, but from Wednesday to Saturday he never entered the house at which he had hitherto been a daily visitor. He could not go now while she was surrounded with people, and talk ordinary talk to her as if she was anybody else. When he saw her, he must see her alone; and accordingly Laurie denied himself, and passed by her door, and saw others admitted, and watched the light come into the windows of the great drawing-room, and shadows appear on the blinds. This curious experience he went through as well as the rest, and gradually came to forget what was unusual in the story of his love; though not even now, after three days’ brooding over it, could he see how it was to be, or how she was to answer what he would have to say.{v.2-102}

It was on Saturday morning that at last he made his way to the Square. It was a holiday, thank heaven, and the children were out in the Park with their maid, and Alice was at her music when he went in. To-day, at least, there could be no Miss Hadley. To-day there was no excuse for the presence of strangers. Somehow the sound of Alice’s piano struck him with an unpleasant sensation as he went up the stairs almost stealthily, fearing that a third person might start out from behind some door at the sound of his step, to mar the interview he sought. Alice was no common musician, even at her early age; and yet was her daughter. It may be understood how this consciousness, and the sound of the music the girl was playing, came in like one of the discords in his strange story. Had Alice been a child like her little sister, the effect would have been much lessened; but to love a woman whose daughter sat playing Mozart and Beethoven! The thought which passed through Laurie’s mind was not articulate, but yet the sound jarred upon him. Softly he went past the door. If his love-tale had been for Alice there would have been no incongruity in it. He went past the room where the young girl in her meditations sat alone, and knocked softly at the door of the other, in which her mother was pursuing her occupation. The padrona was not painting on that particular afternoon. She was standing by the table, with a portfolio of drawings open before her,{v.2-103} searching for something. She called him to come in, and looked up with a bright look of pleasure when she saw who it was.

‘You have come at last,’ she said, holding out her hand to him. ‘What has been wrong? I thought you had forsaken us;’ and looked at him full in the face with candid, unembarrassed eyes.

‘Nothing has been wrong,’ said Laurie, holding her hand fast. His heart began to beat, but what could a man say in cold blood with a pair of frank, steady eyes looking at him, restraining him with their friendliness? The padrona withdrew her hand without even any appearance of wonder at his clinging clasp. She was glad to see him. She had wanted to see him; and new events had come in, effacing from her mind for the moment her temporary alarm on his account; and she could understand that he was glad to come back, though his absence had lasted only three days.

‘I was looking over some old sketches,’ she said. ‘I told you of the commission Mr. Rich had given me; I was looking for a drawing my dear Harry made some years ago,—you may have seen it,—for Cinderella. It would be a pleasure to me to go upon that; but I can’t find it in all those great portfolios,’ she said, with a sigh. Why she should have brought poor Severn in at that special moment it would have been hard to say; perhaps it was chance alone; perhaps there was in her some unconscious warning{v.2-104} of nature as to what was coming. Laurie withdrew a step or two with sudden discomfiture. He hated poor Severn for the moment as he had never hated any man before.

‘You will do it much better yourself,’ he said, and his tone was such that the padrona turned and looked at him with wonder in her eyes.

‘How strangely you speak!’ she said; ‘and now I look at you, how strangely you look, Laurie! What is the matter? I have scarcely seen you since you were so good to the Suffolks. Something has happened. I heard from them last night that you had been in the country. Is it anything about home?’

‘No,’ said Laurie, in a kind of despair, ‘it is nothing about home.’

‘Perhaps it is something you cannot tell me,’ said the padrona, ‘and in that case never mind my questions; you may be sure of my sympathy anyhow, even without explanation. If you are vexed, I am sorry; you know that.’

‘How should I know it?’ said Laurie. ‘Yes, perhaps if I did not tell you,—if I left it to your imagination,—you are so kind to everybody,—you would be kind to me. If I did not tell you,—that might be my safeguard!’ For by this time it had begun to appear to him that madness itself could not be more mad than his dream.

‘It is strange to hear you speak so to me,’ said{v.2-105} Mrs. Severn. ‘I never thought of being kind to you, as I am kind to everybody. What is it, Laurie,—tell me?’ And she laid her hand softly on his arm.

Then the young man’s composure and his boldness both abandoned him. He took her hand and kissed it wildly. ‘Perhaps it would be best to go and leave you,’ he cried, ‘never to come near you more!’ And then he left her, and paced up and down the room, trying to master the strange tumult of his thoughts. Nothing in the world could have disarmed him as her kindness did, and sympathy. But as he turned away, the padrona came to herself, or rather came to a recollection of the warning she had received. In a moment she saw how it was; and, as was natural, in a moment her anxiety to know what ailed him suddenly came to an end. Mr. Rich’s commission, which was a great event to Mrs. Severn, had startled her out of thought of Laurie. His little hieroglyph at the end of his note had gone almost unnoticed in the excitement of the moment, and every hour had been occupied since then. But now it all rushed back upon her, and the error she had been guilty of in asking any questions. If she had not made this discovery, most likely her sympathetic, kind unconsciousness would have staved off what was coming. But the moment she found it out, a thrill of tremulous knowledge came into her voice.{v.2-106}

‘Well, never mind,’ she said, hastily; ‘you must not think that I want to pry into your secrets. Come, I am not working now; let us go to Alice and hear what she is about. You are pre-occupied,’ said the padrona, closing her portfolio and talking against time, ‘and I am désœuvrée. Let us go and listen to the child. Come, I will lead the way.’

‘Not yet,’ said Laurie. As soon as she knew the truth she lost her power, and he recovered a portion at least of his courage. He came and took her hand and brought her back. ‘Perhaps I may never ask it again,’ he said, ‘but you must listen to me now.’

‘Of course I will listen,’ said Mrs. Severn, much alarmed; ‘but just as well beside the child as anywhere else. If you have anything to tell me, she will be too much engaged with her music to hear. Come,—I was going to her when you came in.’

‘But now you will stay with me,’ said Laurie, leading her back. She was so much afraid of betraying any signs of trouble, that this time she did not even withdraw her hand. She sat down in the great chair, growing pale, but preserving with a great effort her composure, at least in appearance.

‘This looks very solemn,’ she said, with an attempt at a laugh. ‘What dreadful tale of misdemeanours has your mother-confessor to hear? Have you been robbing an orchard, or running away with a lady? I will put the Suffolks’ story against it,{v.2-107} whatever it may be, and grant you absolution. You never did an hour’s work that will give you more pleasure than that. I suspect they had been badly off, much more than they permitted any one to know.’

‘Do you think I care for Suffolk,’ said Laurie, ‘or anybody else? Padrona! you know what I am going to say before I speak. You have found it out as well as I. Don’t you know for months back,—since ever I came here,—there has been but one person in the world for me,—but one! Whatever I have done, it has been to please you;—whatever I have given up, it has been for your sake. Night and day I have been thinking of you,—contriving to get a word from you or a smile. And I tried to make myself believe I could be content with what you give to your friends;—but that delusion is over. Padrona mia, what will you do with me?’ he cried, kneeling down by the arm of her chair.

It never occurred to him that he was kneeling, nor did he intend to kneel. It was but the most practicable way of getting close to her, and seeing into her face. There was something of the pleading look of a child in Laurie’s eyes. He did not make any passionate claim on her, nor appeal; he only put his fate into her hands, with a humility more like the diffidence of age than the equality of love.

Then there was a pause. The padrona was too much overwhelmed, too agitated, to speak. She said{v.2-108}—‘For heaven’s sake, Laurie, rise, and do not break my heart!’ and took away her hand which he was still holding; but that was no answer,—rather the reverse.

‘Break your heart!’ he said. ‘I would heal every wound it ever had, if I had the power. I don’t seem to care for anything else in the world. Give me a right to stand by you, to take care of you. Padrona mia, you cannot always do all things, as you are doing, for yourself. Let me be the man to guard you, to labour for you. I don’t know what I am saying, and you don’t answer me one word,—not one word!’

‘To labour for her, to take care of her!’ Such words to her who was far better able to protect and care for another than he was. But that was not the thought that entered her mind. Her eyes filled with tears. To see this young man at her feet pleading with such passionate folly, woke all the tenderness in her heart. She was fond of him at all times. She put her hand caressingly on his head; her voice softened and broke as she spoke to him.

‘Laurie, I am old enough to be your mother,’ she said.

‘It is not true!’ he cried, with sudden fierceness; ‘and if it were, what matter? All the happiness I desire in life is in your hands.’

And then the woman, quite melted and overcome, was so weak as to cry, leaving him to think for the{v.2-109} moment that he had won his wild suit. This love was so strange to her, so new, so old, such a sudden dash of the sweetness of youth into her sober cup! She was roused by the words that he began to pour into her ears, and with a little cry of pain drew back from her lover,—her lover! What a word for such as she to speak! She put him back with her outstretched hands.

‘Laurie,’ she said, ‘are we mad, both you and I? Do you know what you are doing? For some moments you have made me as foolish as yourself. But I am ashamed. Do you know who I am? Harry Severn’s wife,—Alice Severn’s mother! Yes,—that, and nothing else, so long as this life lasts! Can a woman make herself into two people? Laurie, let all this be as if it had never been.’

‘It can never be as if it had not been!’ he cried. ‘For a punctilio, for a form, for your pride,—you would cast aside a man’s love and life for that! Padrona! that is no answer. The past has nothing to do between us. To-day is to-day.’

Mrs. Severn turned upon him, and took his hand in hers. ‘Laurie,’ she said, ‘let me speak.’ Her eyes were full of tears; her face lighted up with a tremulous smile. ‘To-day is to-day, as you say. I am very fond of you. I will say I love you, if you like. Patience, and hear me to an end. If you go away, I shall miss you every hour; but if my child’s finger were to ache I should forget your existence,{v.2-110} Laurie. A single hair on their heads is more to me than all the world beside. Do you understand? My poor Harry is past, if you will. God forgive me for saying so!—but to-day is so full there is no room in it for any other. Laurie, I want my friend. I want nothing else;—nothing else that any man can give.’

The young man stumbled up to his feet with the strongest passion he had ever known in his life maddening him, as it seemed. His heart was wounded, and so was his pride, bitterly,—beyond reach of healing. It was he who drew away from her the hand she had retained in hers, with kindness which felt to him like an insult.

‘Mrs. Severn, I have made an ass of myself!’ he said. ‘Don’t think of me any more,—it is not worth your while. As for your friend——’

He went to the table and took up his hat, and made as though he would go away. He was half blind, and did not see where he was going,—the room and the house swimming round him in his agitation. His last word had been said in a tone of contempt,—contempt to her, after all this passion! The padrona had not moved; she sat looking after him with her eyes full of tears and her hands clasped. Was it all to end and be over like this,—like a bad dream? But poor Laurie had not hardness enough in him to make such a conclusion. He faltered on his way to the door; he turned round, only half{v.2-111} conscious of what he was doing, to look once more at the woman who had become the life of his life. And she, on her part, made a half-conscious movement of her hands towards him. He went back to her, and threw himself again at her feet. I don’t suppose anything was said,—at least, anything that either recollected. They kissed each other with that strange refinement of anguish which belongs to those movements of human affection which are beyond the simplicity of nature. The two beings met and clung together for a moment, and parted. He was speeding along the streets, half wild, wrapt in a mist of excitement and misery, not caring,—as he thought,—what became of him, before the steady hand of the clock had moved two minutes farther on. And she, in the great chair where her visitors used to sit and criticise her work, lay back, trembling, with her face hidden in her hands.

Alice, meanwhile, had played through Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata, the pure, young soul carried away by it into a celestial dream; nothing articulate in her mind,—soft breathings of blessedness present, of joy to come, making an atmosphere around her,—a sacred creature, without a single discord in her, or jar of pain or trouble. And old Welby in his studio in the leisure of the moment,—his pictures gone to the Academy, and his year’s work completed,—mounted, classified, and made a catalogue of his Titians, with the truest satisfaction{v.2-112} and content, thinking no more of what he had said three days before to Laurie Renton than of last year’s snow. The old painter and the young girl pursued their serene occupations under the same roof while this scene was going on, and knew no more than that the door had opened and closed abruptly, when poor Laurie, with all his wounds fresh and bleeding, rushed out into the outer world.{v.2-113}



The padrona was not a woman given to little ailments,—headaches, or the other visionary sufferings which are conventional names for those aches of the heart or temper to which we are all liable; but yet on the evening of this day she found herself unable for once to face her little world. It was not so much that her eyes were red, for eyes that have had to weep the bitterest of tears, and which have watched and toiled through most of life’s serious experiences, soon recover their outward serenity; but her heart was sore. It has been said so often, that most people by this time must be sick of hearing it, that love is the grand occupation of a woman’s life; and that, while in man it is subordinate to a hundred other matters, in her existence it is the chief interest. Whether this is or is not the case with the great majority of women, is a question which must be decided according to the experience of the observer; but we doubt much whether in any case it applies to women over thirty,—and it certainly did not apply{v.2-114} to the padrona. There were many interests in her life; and love, as ordinarily so called, had no more to do with it than if she had been a stockbroker. Nothing more annoying, more out of place and harmony with her existence, could have happened than this curious interpolation of misplaced passion. Being a woman, her heart had melted over the foolish boy. She was fond of him, as she had avowed. His soft, devoted, tender ways,—the deference and subdued enthusiasm which women love,—had made his society a very pleasant feature in her life, and perhaps she had not seen as she ought to have done the dangers that might attend it. And now this sudden awakening all at once,—the force and reality of his feelings,—the doubt lest she had been to blame,—the compunctions over his pain, and even her sorrow at the loss of him, which was not the least poignant part of it all,—overwhelmed her. She went to her room as soon as the little ones had gone to bed. These little ones should of themselves have been a safeguard to her. A certain shame came over her when she looked at her own daughter, who was almost old enough to be herself the chief figure in some episode of the universal drama, and remembered what words had been said, what wild ovations made to Alice’s mother. The padrona’s friends were aghast when they were told that she was not well enough to receive them. Miss Hadley, who had come round to the Square with a mixture{v.2-115} of jealousy and alarm on finding out that no sign of life had that day been seen at Laurie’s windows, was driven almost out of her senses with curiosity to know what it could have been that had given the padrona a headache. ‘Gone to bed with a headache!’ Miss Hadley did not believe it. She was angry not to be admitted,—not to judge with her own eyes what it was. But Alice, who suspected nothing, watched her mother’s rest like a young lioness. ‘I cannot let you go up; she will be better to-morrow,’ said Alice; and Miss Hadley could not for shame ask the child, as she longed to do it, if this mysterious headache had come on after a visit from Laurie. ‘She has been working too hard,’ people who were more charitable concluded without question, and congratulated themselves that the pictures had been sent in, and that now, if ever, a painter might draw breath for a moment. But the padrona had not gone to bed. She heard them come and go away as she sat up in her room; and she heard Jane Hadley’s voice, and trembled lest that enterprising woman should seek her out even in her retirement. She could not have borne any keen eye upon her that night. Alice was different, to whom her mother was as far lifted above such vanities or such suspicions as if she had been a saint in heaven. ‘I think it would kill Alice!’ the mother said to herself with a shudder. And I believe she would rather have died herself than betray{v.2-116} to her woman-child what had happened;—although nothing had happened, except that a foolish young man had mistaken himself and her, and put love in the place of friendship. But her thoughts were very soft towards poor Laurie,—poor, foolish fellow!—to throw away all his love and fresh heart and feelings upon a woman old enough to be his mother! Anybody else might have laughed at him for it, or despised him; but Mrs. Severn did not despise him. It went to her heart to think of that gift being thrown at her feet. And she was fond of the boy,—poor Laurie!—and if all the world scorned him for his mad, boyish fancy, at all events it was not her place to scorn.

At the same time, after the edge of her compunction and regret and soft yearning over the poor boy that loved her had become a little blunted, the padrona had reason enough to be put out and vexed by the disturbing influence of this unlucky event. Love,—vulgarly so called,—was, as we have said, as much out of her way as if she had been an elderly stockbroker. Love,—of another kind,—was, it is true, her whole life and strength; but yet no man, however steeled by the world, could have been less disposed to any sentimental play of emotion than was this woman. Before Laurie came that morning her mind had been full of a hundred fancies, all pleasant of their kind. They were not thoughts of the highest elevation, perhaps. One of them was the{v.2-117} rude, material reflection that she had her work secured and clear before her for a year certain; her living secured; no doubt about the sale of a picture; no sharp reminder of the precariousness of her profession to keep her uneasy;—but her work safe and sure for twelve months. And then it was pleasant work, and such as her soul loved. She had been commended by her visitors,—some of whom were people whose praise was worth having,—as she had never been before. Things were going well with her. The children were well, and developing their characteristics every day. She could look the world in the face and know that she was doing her best for them. When all at once,—in a moment,—the bitter-sweet of this boy’s love was thrown into the crystal fountain, and the surface that had been so clear, reflecting the heavens, was in a moment troubled and turbid. With a certain impatient pang she said to herself, as so many have said, that there was always something to lessen one’s satisfaction, always some twist in the web of life to obscure its colours at its best. And poor foolish Laurie, who had thrown away the best he had for nothing! Poor boy! how her heart ached for him! how it hurt her to think of his pain! and there was little, very little comfort in the thought that he was lost to her. His friendly talk, his ready heart-service, his difficulties and errors, and even his weakness, which it had been so pleasant to minister to, to reprove, and exhort, and accept,{v.2-118}—that was all over now. A gap and dreary void was suddenly made in her closest surroundings,—a gap which was hard on him and hard on her, and yet inevitable,—to be made at all hazards. The padrona was very much downcast about the business altogether, and shed a few tears over it in her solitude. Nothing could have prevented, nothing could mend it,—except, perhaps, Time; and Time is a slow healer, whom it is hard to trust when one’s wound is of to-day.

If such was the effect this incident had on the padrona, it may be imagined what sort of a tempest it was which swept through Laurie’s mind and spirit when he left her. He disappeared under the bitter waves. Not only was there no sign of life in his windows, but, so far as he was himself conscious, there was no sign left in life to represent what he had done with that distracted, incoherent day. The chances are that he did most of the ordinary things he was in the habit of doing,—was seen at his club, and talked to his friends somewhat in his usual strain. Indeed, I have heard a mot attributed to Laurie, which could have been spoken but on that special evening, if it was spoken at all. I do not suppose he made any exhibition of himself to the outer world; but I can only take up the tale at the moment when, worn out and weary, he got back to his room in Charlotte Street, and came to the surface, as it were, and looked himself in the face once more. The{v.2-119} agitation of the past three days had told upon him. He had been shaken by the strange sweet shock of his discovery that he loved her; and now upon that came the other discovery, involved in the first, that he had spent his strength for naught, and wasted all his wealth of emotion on a dream. Of course he had known all along it must be a dream; so he said to himself. He had poured out his heart as a libation in her honour. What more had he ever hoped it could be? And now he was empty and drained of both strength and joy. His pain was even mingled with shame,—that shame of the sensitive mind when it discovers that its hopes have been beyond what ought to be hoped for. His cheeks burned when he remembered that he had dreamed it was possible for this woman, so much higher placed than himself in the dignity of life, so far before him in the road, to turn and stoop from her natural position, and love him in her turn. He would have dragged her down, taken her from her secure eminence, placed her in a false position, exposed her to the jeers and laughter of the world,—all for the satisfaction of his selfish craving! He would have gone in the face of nature, ignored all the sobering and maturing processes which had made her what she was, and drawn her back to that rudimentary place in the world which her own daughter was ready to fill. Was not this what he would have done had he had his will? A hot flush of shame{v.2-120} came over Laurie’s face in his solitude. He felt humiliated at the thought of his own vanity, his own folly. When she had held out her hands to him, when she had given him that kiss of everlasting dismissal, nature had asserted itself. Youth is sweet; it has the best of everything; it is the cream of existence; but yet when the grave soul of maturity drops back to youth, and gives up its own place, and ignores all its painful advantages, is there not a certain shame in it? Had the padrona been able to make that sudden descent,—could she have done what on his knees he would have prayed her to do,—then she would no longer have been herself. This consciousness, unexpressed, flashed across his mind in heat and shame, aggravating all his sufferings. That it could not be was bad enough; but to be compelled to allow that it was best that it should not be,—to feel that success for him would have been humiliation and downfall for her,—was not that the hardest of all?

It would be vain to follow Laurie through that long, distracted monologue, confused ‘In memoriam’ of the past, with jars and broken tones of the future stealing into it, through which every soul struggles, after one of those shocks and convulsions which are the landmarks of life. To be stopped every moment while forming forlorn plans of practicable life by mocking gleams of what might have been, by bitter-sweet recollections of what has been,—does not everybody know how it feels? Laurie’s life was snapped in{v.2-121} two, or so, at least, it seemed to him. What was he to do with it? Where was he to fasten the torn end of the thread? Could he stay here and turn his back upon the past, and work, and see her at intervals with eyes calmed out of all his old passion? But when he came to think of it, it had been for her he had come here. At the first, perhaps, when he had dreamed of that gigantic Edith and of fame, had he been permitted to go on, he might have found for himself a certain existence belonging to this place which could have been carried on in it after the other ties were broken. But he had not been allowed to go on; and Charlotte Street had become to him only a kind of lodge to the Square, a place where he could retire to sleep and muse in the intervals of the real life which was passed in her service or presence. He exaggerated, poor fellow! as was natural. It seemed to him at this moment as if in all his exertions, even for Suffolk, who was his friend, it had been her work he was doing. One thing at least was certain,—it would never have been done without her. She was mixed up with every action, every thought, even fancy, that had ever come into his mind. He had done nothing but at her bidding, or by her means, or with her co-operation. His work had languished for months past. If he had pretended to study, it was to please her. And how could life go on here, when it had but one motive, and that motive was taken away from it? There{v.2-122} are moments in a man’s life when everything that is painful surges up around him at once, rising, one billow after another, over his devoted head. That very morning, moved by some premonition of fate, he had been collecting his papers together, and putting his affairs in order; and though so vulgar a fact had made little impression on him in his state of excitement, still Laurie had been aware that his accounts were not in his favour, and that it might be necessary one day to look them full in the face, and put order in his life. He had gone on all the same, without pausing to think, in his mad love. That was perfectly true, though he was the same Laurie Renton who, six months ago, had put away the girl’s little notes whom he had begun to think might have been his wife. He had given up that hope then without a moment’s doubt or thought of resistance; and yet now, in a still worse position, he had rushed on blindly to make confession of his love and throw himself at another woman’s feet. I cannot account for the inconsistency.

But now,—whatever shock he may sustain, howsoever his hopes may perish, a man must go on living all the same. His life may be torn up by the roots; he may be thrown, like a transplanted seedling, into any corner; but yet the quivering tendrils must catch at the earth again, and existence go on, however broken. Laurie was a man easily turned from his ambitions, as has been seen; a man not too much{v.2-123} given to thought, easily satisfied, of a facile temper,—and with more power to work for others than for himself; but still he had to live. Something had to be done to reconcile natural difficulties, something decided upon for the future tenor of existence. Nor was he even the sort of man who could come to an abrupt stop, and stand upon it. His thoughts were discursive, and rushed forward. Even in the bitterest chords of that knell of the past there was the impatient whisper of the future. I think there can be no doubt, on the whole, that what would have been best for him would have been that government office, to which he would have been tied by the blind hand of routine, and which would still have left him leisure for his amateur tendencies. Had he been so fortunate as to possess such a prop of actual occupation, Laurie would probably have removed from Charlotte Street,—to which, indeed, he never need have come,—and gone on steadily with his work, composing his quivering nerves and healing his wounds. He would have gone on doing kindnesses to his neighbours, pleasing himself with little pensive sketches, reading more than usual perhaps; subdued, like a man who had gone through a bad illness; and by degrees he would have come back, calmed and healed, and able to take up his old friendship. But that was impossible now. A change of some kind or other he must have been compelled to make, even had there{v.2-124} been no personal cause for change. He must work; he must spare; he must recall himself to a sense of the probation on which he had entered six months before with a light heart. And the natural thing to do was at the same time the wisest thing. Rightly or wrongly, the artist, whoever he may be, trusts in Italy as the country of renovation, the fountain of strength. Laurie scarcely hesitated as to his alternative. He could stay no longer where he was; his experiment had failed, his position had become untenable. The readiest suggestion of all was that one in which there still lay a certain consolation,—he would go to Rome.

He resolved upon this step before he went to bed, and on the next morning he began to pack up. Miss Hadley, from the other side, watched his open windows with a curiosity much quickened by her sister’s surmises and doubts, and saw, to her amazement, the great canvas moved from its position in the corner,—a step which she found it difficult to understand. ‘I suppose he is going to take to his painting again,’ she said to Jane, when she came home. Jane shook her head, with dubious looks. The truth was she did not understand it. The most strange of all possible orders had proceeded that morning from Mrs. Severn’s studio. It was that she was extremely busy, and that no one was to be admitted. No one! Miss Jane Hadley had her doubts that, though this was the audible command, an exception had been made in{v.2-125} Laurie’s favour, and that so unusual a step was taken by the padrona in order to secure to herself, without interruption, the society of her lover. Though Miss Hadley loved her friend truly in her way, and had a respect for her, and even believed in her, this was the evil thought which had crossed her mind; and consequently she was disposed to scoff at her sister’s suggestions. But there were soon other facts to report of a still more bewildering character. A van came to Laurie’s door, and carried off the big canvas; and a workman in a paper cap became visible to the elder sister’s curious eyes in the centre of Laurie’s room, packing in a vast packing-case the young man’s belongings. ‘He is going away!’ Miss Hadley said, with dismay, when her sister came home. She could have cried as she said it. He was as good as a play to the invalid who never stirred out of her parlour. Laurie, with his kindly ways, had made himself a place in her heart. He had taken off his hat as he came out every day to the shadow of her cap between the curtains; he had waved his hand to her from his balcony; he had never found fault with her investigations; and when he bought the flowers for his window he had sent her some pots of the earliest spring blossoms to cheer her. She, too, had grown fond of Laurie. ‘He is going away!’ she said, with the corners of her mouth drooping. ‘And the very best thing he could do,’ said Miss Jane decidedly; upon which, though she was a very{v.2-126} model of decorum, old Miss Hadley felt for the minute as if she would have liked to fling her tea-cup at her sister’s head.

It did not take long to make Laurie’s preparations for this sudden change. He pushed them on with a certain feverish haste, glad to occupy himself, and eager to put himself at a distance from the house he could no longer go to as a privileged and perpetual guest. Somehow Charlotte Street, though it had two ends like other streets, seemed to converge from both upon the Square. It suggested the Square every time he looked out upon it; indeed, all roads led to that door which was shut upon him, which he knew must be shut. But he had not gone back to hear of the extraordinary barricade raised by the padrona against the world in general. Laurie had nobody to consult,—nothing to detain him now. He did not even see one of the ‘set’ for more than a week, during which all his preparations were made. The day on which by chance he met Suffolk in the street was ten days later, when everything was settled. Suffolk stopped eagerly, and turned with him, and took his arm.

‘What has become of you?’ he said; ‘and what did you mean by sending me that canvas? After all, I wish you had gone on with it. We waited, thinking you were coming to explain; and I have called twice, but you were always out; and you look like a ghost,—what does it mean?{v.2-127}

‘It don’t mean anything,’ said Laurie, with as gay a look as he could muster, ‘but that I’m off to Rome to-morrow; where, you’ll allow, a man cannot carry canvases with him measuring ten feet by six. I meant to have come to bid you good-bye to-night.’

‘Off to Rome!’ cried Suffolk, amazed, ‘without a word of warning? Why, nobody knows of it, eh? not the padrona, nor any of us? What do you mean, stealing a march upon your friends like this?’

‘My friends won’t mind it much,’ said Laurie. ‘No; I didn’t mean that. I should like you to miss me. I rather grudge going, indeed, till I know how they’ve hung the Saxon Maiden——’

‘Oh, confound the Saxon Maiden!’ said Suffolk; ‘it is you I want to know about, running off like this without a word. It is not anything that has happened, Laurie?’

‘What could happen?’ said Laurie, with a forced smile. ‘The fact is I am doing nothing here. You all set upon me, you know, about that picture; and I must do something. It is no use ignoring the fact. I am going in for our old work in the Via Felice. And I shall be in time for the Holy Week,—it is so late this year;’ he said, with a half laugh, at his own vain attempt at deception,—quite vain, as he could see, in Suffolk’s eyes.

‘But you don’t care for the Holy Week,’ said{v.2-128} the painter. ‘I don’t understand you, Laurie. What does the padrona say?’

‘The padrona approves,’ said Laurie. He got out the words without faltering, but he could not bear any more allusion to her. ‘Paint something on my poor canvas. I have got fond of it,’ he said. ‘I’d like to see something on it worth looking at.’

‘I won’t touch it!’ cried Suffolk. ‘By George, I won’t! I’ll beat Helen if she rubs out a line, whisking out and in. Laurie, think better of it. I don’t know the set at the Felice now; they are not equal to our old set. Stay, there’s a good fellow, and paint at home.’

‘I can’t,’ said Laurie; ‘I must not. I will not. And the worst is, you must take me at my word, and not ask why.’

‘I will never say another syllable on the subject,’ said Suffolk, humbly, and they walked half a mile, arm in arm, without uttering a word. This was the first notice Laurie’s friends had of his new resolution. When he had parted from Suffolk, he went straight, without pause or hesitation, to Mrs. Severn’s door. It was Forrester who opened it to him; and Forrester, being a privileged person, paused to look at Laurie as soon as he had closed the door.

‘You’ve been ill, sir,’ said Forrester; ‘the whites is all green, and the flesh tints yellow in your face, Mr. Renton. Master was asking about you just{v.2-129} yesterday. Don’t you say a word, sir. I can see as you’ve been ill.’

‘I can’t answer for my complexion,’ said Laurie; ‘but I’m not ill now, Forrester. I am going away, and I’ve been awfully busy. I want to see Mrs. Severn. I won’t disturb your master to-day.’

‘Master’s out, sir,’ said the man, ‘unfortunately; he’s at that blessed gallery, a hanging or a deciding on the poor gentlemen’s pictures. And a nice temper he do come home in, to be sure! And Mrs. Severn’s—— engaged, sir,’ said Forrester, making a stand in front of the stair.

‘Engaged!’ said Laurie, aghast.

‘Them’s the words, Mr. Renton,’ said the old man. ‘She’s a designing them twelve pictures, as far as I can hear. She’s busy, and can’t see nobody. It’s more than a week since them orders was give. And folks is astonished. It ain’t her way. But I can’t say but what I approve, Mr. Renton,’ said Forrester, stoutly; ‘designing of a series is hard work. They’ve all to hang together, and there’s harmony to be studied as well as composition. And she ain’t going to repeat herself if she can help it and, on the whole, I approve——’

‘That will do,’ said Laurie, putting him aside; ‘I will make my own way; and I will tell Mrs. Severn you did your duty, and stopped me. This could not include me.{v.2-130}

‘But, Mr. Renton!’ cried Forrester, making a step after him.

‘That is enough,—quite enough,’—said Laurie. ‘It could not include me.’

But his heart beat heavily as he went up the familiar stair. She had shut out all the world that she might make sure of shutting him out,—‘Though she might have known I would not molest her!’ poor Laurie said to himself, with a swelling heart. It was unkind of the padrona. Had he not been going away it would have wounded him deeply. He went up heavily, not with the half-stealthy eagerness of his last visit. It would not have troubled him had he encountered a dozen Miss Hadleys. ‘I must see Mrs. Severn alone;’ was what he would have said without flinching had he met her; but, as it happened, there was no one at all apprehensive or curious now. The order had been given, and the stream of callers had stopped, and there was an end of it. He went up without any haste, his foot sounding dully,—he thought,—through all the silent house. She would hear him coming, and she would know.

‘Come in,’ said the padrona.

She was standing at her easel, drawing, with a little sketch before her, putting in the outlines of her future picture. Somehow she looked lonely, deserted, melancholy; as if the stream of life that had flowed so warmly about her had met with some{v.2-131} interruption. In fact, she had felt the withdrawal of that daily current more than she could have told; and she had missed Laurie; and her mind had been full of wondering. Where was the poor boy? What was he doing? How was he bearing it? This was the thought that was uppermost in her mind as she put in the Sleeping Beauty. Somehow the picture was appropriate. Life seemed to have ebbed from her too, though it was her own doing. She did not feel quite sure sometimes that it was not a dream; and lo, all in a moment, without any warning, he appeared standing at the door!

The chalk dropped out of the padrona’s fingers. She trembled in spite of herself. It took her such an effort to master herself, and receive him with the tranquillity which was indispensable, that for some moments she did not say a word. Then she recovered herself, and let the chalk lie where she had dropped it, and made a step or two forward to meet him. ‘I am glad you have come,’ she said, holding out her hand. And it was quite true, notwithstanding that she had given orders to exclude the world for the sole purpose of excluding him, if he should come.

And thus they met, shaking hands with each other in the same room, under circumstances quite unchanged, except——

‘I am going away,’ said Laurie. ‘I would not have come,—you know I would not have annoyed{v.2-132} you. You need not have told the servants to keep everybody out. You might have trusted me.’

‘You know I do trust you, with all my heart,’ she said, ‘and that is why I tell you I am glad you are come; I am very glad;’ and then she sat down feeling somewhat breathless and giddy, and pointed him to a chair. He sat down, too, not knowing very well what he was about; and again there was a pause.

‘I am going away,’ he said, abruptly. ‘Looking over everything, I found it would be better on the whole to go away——’

The padrona bowed her head, feeling her guilt;—it was her fault;—how could she say she was sorry, or appeal against his decision as any other friend would have done? It was she who was the cause.{v.2-133}



I have already mentioned that Frank Renton, being up in town on the business of negotiating the change he desired into a regiment of the line, was taken one evening by his brother Laurie to No. 375, Fitzroy Square.

It was a thing very lightly done, as so many things are that affect our lives. ‘Come with me and see the padrona,’ Laurie had said, as the evening darkened, before they went out to dinner. ‘You’ve heard me talk of her. She has such charming children.’ This was the first thing it came into his head to say; for being foolish he could not launch into praise of herself. And Frank had gone very carelessly, looking with open eyes of amused wonder at all the artists’ houses, and at the dinginess of the Square. Alice was playing when they went in, and Frank, sitting down in the shade before the lamp was lighted, and observing, still with a half-amused surprise, how familiar his brother was in the house, was softly penetrated by those unknown strains coming{v.2-134} from he could not tell where, and made by he knew not whom. The door of the great drawing-room was open, and there came from it the usual gleam of red firelight, the usual ghostly appearance behind of the curtained windows. When he had listened for a long time in silence, not feeling himself quite able to join in the conversation which was going on, Frank at last took heart to ask who was the musician. The lamp was brought into the room at this moment, and the padrona turned to him, with a smile as soft and tender as the music, just dawning about her lips. ‘It is my child,’ she answered, in that full tone of love and pride which comes only out of the heart of a woman who has a daughter. There was such softness in the tone, such love and profound complacency and content, that it touched the young soldier. Somehow it occurred to him for the moment that there must be some painful defect about the creature whose name came thus from her mother’s lips—blind, perhaps, or sick, or somehow not just an ordinary child. Then with a curious impulse, which she could not have explained, the padrona lifted her voice and called ‘Alice!’ Frank turned to the open door as the music stopped, with unusual curiosity, expecting some pale vision, with signs of decay in its countenance, or sightless eyes at the least; when all at once there looked out upon him, ‘Alice with her curls,’ like a rose between the falling folds of the vague, dim-coloured curtains, with eyes like stars, half{v.2-135} dazzled, confused with the sudden light, and those sweet tints for which, as I have said, the beholder was grateful to her. He looked and looked, and the young man’s eyes were touched as by Ithuriel’s spear. No man had yet seen in her what, all at once, Frank Renton saw. She was to him no child, but a woman. He got up off his chair stumbling, confused. And Laurie was sitting calmly there talking to the mother with this fairy princess coming to them! It seemed incredible. And, in fact, Laurie scarcely looked at Alice even as he shook hands with her. He gave her a kind, half-paternal smile, and went on talking, which was to Frank such a mystery as no explanation could clear away. Then she sat down and took her work with the quiet of a child, totally unaware of young Frank’s reverential admiration. Fortunately he knew a little about music. ‘Was that so-and-so that you were playing?’ he said, when he had sat for some minutes looking at her work and listening to Laurie’s interminable talk with the padrona. The young soldier had a certain contempt for them as they sat and chattered—talking nonsense about any stupid subject that came into their heads, when they might have been talking to Alice, or listening to her music. ‘You must practise a great deal,’ then said the young man, in the safe obscurity into which his silence had thrown him—for, though the padrona had received him very graciously as Laurie’s brother, what was she to find that could be said to a speechless young Guardsman{v.2-136} who probably had not an idea in his head? Frank, however, had several ideas; but he was discomposed, as most people are when brought suddenly into the company of familiar friends who know all each other’s ways of thinking and habits of mind. He could not strike into the full stream of their conversation, and it was natural that he should draw towards Alice, who was also left out of it. ‘You must practise a great deal or you could not play so well,’ he repeated, taking a little courage. And nobody paid any great heed to the two sitting apart, as it were, in the shade.

‘I am very fond of music,’ said Alice; ‘I like it better than anything;’ and then there was a long pause, and the conversation on the other side of the table thrust itself into prominence again, and became offensively audible. There was talk chiefly about pictures of which Frank did not know very much, and about people of whom he knew nothing—not the kind of people talked of in society whom he would have known. Laurie had always had strange friends; but how odd it was to find him in the midst of a new world like this, and a world so entirely apart and separate from the known hemisphere! But yet Frank did not find it disagreeable to sit silent against the wall now that Alice was at the table with her work. After ten minutes more he made another attempt at conversation. ‘Have you heard Madame Schumann play that?’ he said; and Alice glanced up at him and softly shook her curls.{v.2-137}

‘I have not heard much music,’ she said. ‘We never go out. It bores mamma going out in the evening. I shall when I am older, perhaps; but not now.’

‘But if you never go out in the evening, what do you do with yourself?’ said Frank, with some consternation. Upon which Alice startled him completely by answering, in the softest matter-of-course voice, ‘We have mostly people with us at home.’

Here Frank came to a dead standstill. He glanced round upon the room, which, though pleasant, and cheerful, and homelike, bore no appearance of being adapted for such perpetual hospitality. ‘We have mostly people with us at home.’ Did they give dinners or dances, or what did they give in this curious, grey-green, picture-hung, half-lighted place? As if in answer to this question Mary at that moment came in with the tea, carrying a vast tray before her, with heaps of cups and saucers, substantial bread and butter, steaming urn, and all the paraphernalia of that modern meal. The young Guardsman looked on bewildered to see Alice rise, in the same calm, matter-of-course way, and rinse the teapot and make the tea. Was it the tea-party of humble life which he was in for? Would the guests come in presently and take their seats round the table and munch their bread and butter? And what if there might be muffins, perhaps, or buttered toast? Frank would have been amused had not Alice been{v.2-138} there in the midst of it. He would have concluded that his brother had brought him to make acquaintance with the habits of the aborigines in these dingy regions out of the world. But then how came this creature there? He was relieved when he saw little Edith clamber up to her high chair, and became aware that it was only to be a family party after all. Frank was not sufficiently philanthropical, being a Guardsman, to interest himself much in the children and the bread and butter; but by degrees Alice surmounted all the obstacles of her surroundings, and began to cast a lovely haze upon the whole scene. He did not say much; he sat, if the truth must be told, in rather an embarrassed, sheepish way in his chair against the wall, with very little of the assurance natural to his profession. But then it must be taken into account that this was an undiscovered country,—such an America, as Columbus discovered, full of strange new beings, new customs,—a foreign world to Frank. He was out of his depth. When the padrona now and then turned to address him, with a vain attempt to make him comfortable, he felt himself drawl and yaw-haw as does the ordinary young swell of romance. And it was evident to him that his brother’s friend gave him up as quite impracticable. Little Edith, however, was less fastidious. She got down out of her high chair and placed it close to the stranger, and took him under her little wing.{v.2-139}

‘Sit next to me,’ said Edith, ‘and you shall have some cake. Are you Laurie’s little brother? You are bigger than he is. Didn’t he say it was his little brother, Alice? But I always say Harry is my little brother, and he is a great deal,—such a great deal,—about six feet taller than me.’

‘And older too,’ said Harry. ‘I am eight and you are six. You’re not six till your birthday, and Alice is sixteen, and me and Frank——’

‘Nurse says girls are quite different,’ said little Edie. ‘You are only boys, you two. Are you Mr. Renton, as well as Laurie, Mr. Laurie’s brother?—how funny it would be to call you that!—or have you another name all to yourself?’

‘I am Frank,’ said the Guardsman, laughing; and then the boys drew near him, and Alice looked up smiling from her tea-making, and a certain acquaintance sprang up. To know that Alice was sixteen on the one side,—and to know that this young fellow, who gazed and addressed her in a tone so different from Laurie’s tone, for instance, was Frank, seemed somehow to give each of them a certain hold on the other. Frank put down his hat, and drew his chair to the table; and by-and-by they were all sitting round it, drinking tea and talking.

‘Laurie’s brother is not so stupid as I thought he was,’ the padrona said afterwards, as she made her resumé of the whole proceedings; and with that slight remark Mrs. Severn dismissed the matter from{v.2-140} her thoughts. Laurie himself was trouble enough, the foolish fellow; but that any further complication should arise through Laurie’s brother was a thing which never entered into her mind.

When the two brothers left the house there was silence between them for some time. Indeed, little was said till they had got as far as Harley Street. Then, all at once, Laurie spoke.

‘You were out of your element in the Square,’ he said, with a little forced laugh. ‘You don’t understand the kind of thing; but I can tell you it is no small matter to me to have such a house to go to.’ This was uttered abruptly, and was not at all what he meant to say. To seem to apologise for the padrona and her house was as far as possible from his intention, and yet it sounded like an apology in his brother’s ears.

‘I daresay,’ said Frank; and then he too added hastily, with a shade of embarrassment,—‘She is quite lovely, I think.’

‘No;—do you though?’ cried Laurie, with a mixture of amaze, and delight, and indignation. ‘I never saw you look at her even, all the time we were there.’

‘And she plays wonderfully,’ said Frank. ‘Music goes to one’s heart, you know, coming like that, out of the dark, one can’t tell how. I thought she must be blind, or consumptive, or something; and then to see a face like a little rose!{v.2-141}

‘Oh, you mean Alice,’ said Laurie, drawing a long breath of relief, and amusement, and kindly contempt. Alice was a very nice little thing; but how it should occur to any one to put her in the first place! To be sure, the boy was only twenty. Laurie, who was twenty-four, felt the difference strongly.

‘Who else could I mean?’ said Frank, calmly;—‘there was no other girl there. But, Laurie, really you ought to mind what you are about. We may have come down in the world, you know, and seen better days, and all that; but we need not fall quite out of the habits of gentlemen all the same.’

‘Am I falling out of the habits, &c.?’ said Laurie, laughing. ‘I am only a poor painter, my dear fellow. I am not a swell and a Guardsman like you.’

‘I shan’t be a Guardsman a minute longer than I can help it, and you know that,’ said Frank, with a little indignation; ‘but I hope I shall never see a girl like that come into a room without treating her with proper respect.’

‘Proper respect!’ cried Laurie, much mystified; and then he laughed. ‘Alice is only a child,’ he said. ‘I have known her since she was that height. She thinks me a kind of old uncle, or godfather, or something. Yes, of course, she plays charmingly,—but she is only a child all the same.’

‘A child! she is sixteen,’ said Frank; ‘and lovely, I think. I don’t know the family, of course; they{v.2-142} are your friends; but a young lady like Miss Severn is generally considered entitled to a little ceremony. I don’t want to be didactic,’ said the Guardsman, ‘but——’

This remonstrance furnished Laurie with laughter for the rest of the evening; but Frank did not see the joke. Of course the young lady was nothing to him. This he explained fully. But it vexed him to think that his brother was falling into the free and easy habits which, he supposed, were current among the people who lived in those dingy streets, where every house boasted a long, central window, and the very atmosphere was redolent of paint;—beings who lived all their lives in shooting-coats and wide-awakes,—wild, untrimmed, hairy men, not fit to come into a lady’s society at any time. People on that level might be utterly indifferent and irreverent, and treat a woman as they treated their comrades; but that Laurie should fall into such ways vexed Frank. This was the chief subject of his thoughts as he bowled down through the darkness in the twelve o’clock train to Royalborough, where his battalion was quartered. It was another of the results of his father’s unfortunate will. Frank had been, as Mr. Renton foresaw, the one who felt it least. His nominal allowance had always been just what it now was, and his mother was as ready now as ever to supply him with those odd five-pound notes which drop in so{v.2-143} pleasantly to a youthful pocket. It made no more difference than his father’s death must have made under any circumstances. There was no longer a bright and pleasant house to take his friends to, but that had nothing to do with the will, and was at the present moment a necessity of nature. And then he had his profession, and liked it, and might hope for advancement in it. And in the meantime he had made up his mind to go to India, a proceeding which had its pleasant as well as unpleasant aspects. He had sold his pet horse, to be sure, which cost him a pang; but still a man may get over that. And he was noway banished from the society he had been used to, or from the kind of life. Nothing was changed with him to speak of, but everything was changed with Laurie; and as for Ben, he had disappeared under the waters altogether,—disgusted, or indignant, or furious with fate. Frank’s heart was heavy as he went back in the dreary ‘last train,’ dropping people at all the stations,—coming every now and then to a jarring, tedious stoppage in the blackness of the night. It is not a cheerful mode of locomotion when a man is alone, and has thoughts which are the reverse of agreeable. Laurie’s intimacy in the painter’s house, the accustomed, familiar way in which he sat down amongst all those children and took his tea, the homely table, the talk in which his brother was so absorbed as to forget everything,{v.2-144}—even common politeness,—how fatal was all this! Had he gone there, indeed, kindly as a chance visitor,—as any potentate from Belgravia might look in now and then, it might have been well; but to become an habitué of such a house, to give up for it,—as he seemed to be doing,—all the charms of society, could that be well? ‘Why should it be so?’ Frank asked himself. No doubt Lady Grandmaison would have invited Laurie all the same,—as, indeed, she had invited himself, Frank,—notwithstanding the temporary cloud under which they all were living. No doubt the Barnards and the Courtenays would have been just as kind as ever. He might have kept up all his friends, Frank concluded to himself, with the premature prudence of a young man of society; why shouldn’t he? Nothing but the absence of a coat or a pair of gloves could have absolutely shut out Laurie Renton from society; and his coat, Frank felt, was quite presentable, and had even a flower in it, the extravagant wretch; and yet his world had become Fitzroy Square!

Frank Renton dwelt so much on this thought that the apparition of Alice Severn went out of his head,—and yet not, perhaps, quite out of his head. He had not been such a fool, he would have said, as to fall in love with a girl whom he had only seen once,—a girl belonging to the objectionable locality in which Laurie had lost himself; yet the little{v.2-145} picture she made as she stood for a moment answering her mother’s call in the doorway, with the dim curtains falling round her like a frame, and herself so bright in colouring, so sweet in all her rose-tints, lasted in his mind as such impressions seldom did. Perhaps it was the quite unexpected character of the appearance that made him dwell upon it. In a ball-room, or at a picnic, or, in short, at any party, or in a country-house where there are a number of people assembled, a man knows he is likely to meet some pretty girl or other, and is prepared for the vision; but when you are making a humdrum call, in a house quite out of the world, on people quite unacquainted with anybody you know,—in short, very respectable people, but moving in a different sphere,—and are, all at once, confronted by a creature like a rose, playing Beethoven in the dark, standing looking at you from the doorway with dazzling, lovely, half-seeing eyes,—of course you had not been looking for anything of the kind, and it makes a certain impression on you. Frank was not in any way addicted to art. He did not understand it much, nor care for it. Now and then something struck him as being ‘a pretty picture;’ but it might be one of Laurie’s drawings, or it might be a Raffael, and the difference was not very evident to the Guardsman. Perhaps it was the first time that he had of his own accord, or rather involuntarily, in{v.2-146} spite of himself, by impulsion of nature, hung up as it were a picture of his own making on the walls of his mind. ‘By Jove, if Laurie were to paint something like that,’ he said to himself, altogether unaware in his simplicity that neither Laurie nor any of his fellows could have done justice to the evening darkness, and the soft lamplight, and the dark, undefined curtains draping themselves about the bright young face. Frank made it for himself, which was much more satisfactory, and left it there, hanging in his private closet of recollections, though, so far as he was aware, he thought but little of Alice Severn, and was much too sensible a fellow to fall in love at first sight.

Besides, he was busy, and had no time just then for nonsense of any kind. It was not quite so easy to manage the exchange he wanted as he had believed it would be; and Mrs. Renton, though she interfered so little in her son’s proceedings, did what she could to put a stop to this movement on his part. ‘I never even hear from Ben,’ she said, pathetically. ‘I do not know where he has gone or what has become of him; and Laurie, though he writes punctually, has not been to see me for ever so long; what shall I do if you go too?’

‘But, mother, I must go,’ Frank would say; ‘I can’t get on where I am now. No, mamma,—thanks; I ought not to take it. What my father{v.2-147} meant was that we should go and seek our fortune. And beside, if Ben and Laurie don’t have money from you, I ought not to have it. That is as clear as daylight.’

‘If Ben and Laurie were here they would have everything I could give them,’ said Mrs. Renton; ‘they ought to know that; but you are the only one of my boys that stands by me, Frank. Put it in your pocket, dear, and never mind. Ah! if your poor dear papa could but have seen the harm it has done!’ and she cried, poor soul, longing for her other children, though she had not energy enough to seek them out; ‘but we must not blame your dear papa,’ she added, hastily, drying her eyes.

‘No,’ said Frank. ‘But it has done harm. Laurie was not like himself last time I saw him. He has got among a queer sort of people,—artists and that sort of thing. I don’t feel quite easy about him, to tell the truth.’

‘Among low people, do you mean?’ cried his mother, with the tears ready to flow from her eyes.

‘N—no; not exactly low people,’ said Frank; and somehow a hot flush of colour covered his own face. All at once that picture rose up before him, and Alice out of the doorway looked at him with reproachful eyes. ‘I heard that favourite thing of yours so beautifully played the other day,’ he added, hastily; and then he hummed a few bars to identify{v.2-148} the melody; ‘charmingly played. I don’t think any one could have done it better.’

‘Mary plays it very nicely,’ said his mother, who was easily led away from one subject to another.

‘Oh, Mary!’ said Frank. ‘Yes, she does very well, of course; but this was almost genius, you know. She played it as if she were making it up herself. Quite a young girl, fifteen or so,’ Frank went on; ‘and sitting in a dark room, so she must have played from memory. I wish you could have heard her.’

‘Was it any one I know?’ said Mrs. Renton.

‘It was somebody Laurie knows,’ said Frank shortly. ‘I suppose he’ll stick there for ever and ever, and never do anything. I wish he were not such a lazy beggar. In one way he is the cleverest of us all.’

‘My poor Laurie! so you all say,’ said the mother; ‘but this I know,—Laurie is never lazy when he can serve other people, Frank; and he is not so clever as Ben is,’ she added. ‘Your dear papa always said so. Ben was the clever one, he always said. I would not mind about cleverness if I but knew where he was and what he was doing. That breaks my heart.’

‘Oh, he will turn up,’ said Frank, whose heart was not in any danger of breaking. And he put{v.2-149} his mother’s gift in his pocket, though not without compunction. ‘It seems like stealing a march upon them,’ he said to himself as he went away. This was just about a month before the time when Ben suddenly appeared at Renton Manor to bid them all good-bye, and when Laurie was near the climax of his little drama. Frank, whom no necessity had urged on, was but beginning to make his arrangements for setting out in the world, when they voluntarily or involuntarily had completed theirs, and were about to take their plunge. As he went down the walk to the river, under the budded trees, his own idea was that he was the only one of the three who would really go off, as his father wished, to seek his fortune. Ben had hidden himself somewhere in a fit of disgust, but would repent and become reasonable, and return to Renton to manage his mother’s affairs, which needed some one to look after them. After all, Renton was his mother’s for the time being, and it was the natural home of her eldest son; and as for Laurie, he would stick fast where he was, and would not have pluck enough to make any change. So that it was utterly out of the question that he, Frank, should relinquish his plans and prospects in order that one of his mother’s children might be near her. Mrs. Renton, indeed, was not a woman to exercise such an influence on her sons. They were fond of her; but either they were{v.2-150} not fond enough to make a sacrifice for her, or she was not the kind of woman to require it. She kept in the background, wailing softly, but was not energetic enough to demand a response from any one. Frank marched down to his boat, which lay waiting for him, with a feeling that if he was not the clever one, he was at least the energetic one, of the family, and probably would be the only one to make his fortune. The first step, to be sure, was a little slow and troublesome, but, once in India, everything became possible. He resolved within himself that he would scorn delight and live laborious days, as soon as he had got himself made into a real soldier instead of an ornamental Guardsman. He would go in for his profession with all his heart. No doubt it was a resolve which might call for a good deal of self-denial, but for that young Frank was prepared. Parties, and pleasure, and music, and even love affairs, were things he meant to be out of his way. As for falling into a lower sphere contentedly, as Laurie seemed to have done, Frank hoped that such a descent was impossible to him. He pulled down the stream to Cookesley, though it was cold; for the river was at once the best and most expeditious way of passing between the manor and Royalborough. Frank pulled down the stream, and felt his heart glow and tingle as he thought of all he was going to do. He had some ‘pluck’ he admitted to himself, if not so much{v.2-151} cleverness as Laurie or Ben. So it will be seen he had quite forgotten that momentary peep at Alice Severn, and the equally temporary impression which her young beauty had made upon his imagination or his heart.{v.2-152}



It was not very long after this that Frank Renton was accosted by one of his friends in the regiment with what seemed to him a very odd sort of request. ‘Look here, Frank,’ said young Edgbaston, who was a son,—it is unnecessary to add,—of Lord Brummagem, and a very popular, good-natured young fellow, ‘I’ve promised to produce you at the Riches’, where I am going to lunch. Don’t struggle, my boy. They are going to have your brother Laurie, and you must come.’

‘My brother Laurie!’ cried Frank in amazement. ‘And who are the Riches; and what do they want me for? I never heard of the people that I know of. I suppose it is one of your jokes?’

‘It’s very witty to be sure,’ said Edgbaston, ‘but it is not one of my jokes. Papa Rich is something in the City. He was a cheesemonger once upon a time, I believe; but that’s all left behind long ago. Alf Rich, of the Buffs, is one of his sons. You know Alf. He gives capital dinners and eke lunch{v.2-153}eons. And they’re all intensely jolly, from the pater down to little Nelly. Come along. I promised to bring you. And you’ll meet your brother, if that’s any inducement. Old Rich told me he was to be there.’

‘Laurie to be there! I don’t understand it,’ said Frank.

‘Old Rich buys pictures to no end,’ said Edgbaston; ‘perhaps that’s why your brother’s going; or perhaps he’s after little Nelly. And not a bad speculation either, I can tell you. She’s a nice little girl;—and heaps, cartloads, mountains of tin. If Laurie don’t go in for that style of thing, I’d recommend it to your own consideration.’

‘If it’s so desirable, why do you let it go among your friends in this liberal way?’ said Frank. ‘It’s not in Laurie’s line, I fear,’ he added with a sigh. To tell the truth, the conditions and prospects of his elder brothers lay much on Frank’s mind. He felt easy about himself; but he disapproved of the others, especially Laurie, whom everybody had disapproved of from his cradle,—and felt that he was in a bad way.

‘Then come along, and try your luck, my boy,’ said his friend. And the consequence was that by noon Frank and half-a-dozen more were flying over the green, balmy, awakening country on Edgbaston’s drag. They were all in high spirits, with that delightful sense of fulfilling every duty that can be{v.2-154} looked for from a Guardsman which is the soul of pleasure. And Frank Renton, puritanical as he had been in respect to his brother Laurie and Alice Severn, was soon chatting about ‘little Nell,’ whom he had never seen, as familiarly as any of them. So that it is evident stern principle alone was not involved in his displeasure with his brother. The young men were not at all contemptuous of the good things to be had at Richmont; but the family who were to receive them there did not count for much. Old Rich spent his money freely to give them pleasure, and got laughed at for his pains; Mamma Rich, or Rich mère, as they call her, was not much more respectfully treated; and as for Nelly Rich, her name was bandied about from mouth to mouth with the most unscrupulous ease. ‘If I were you, So-and-so, I’d certainly go in for little Nell,’ one and another of those lively youths would say from time to time. She had ‘heaps of tin’—that was her grand characteristic,—and was evidently ready to drop into anybody’s arms who should do her the honour to hold them out to her. But the talk was a matter of course, not meaning half that it seemed to mean. And half at least of her critics were dumb before Nelly, and had an unfeigned dread of her keen little bright eyes and sharp speeches. Richmont itself was a big house in a big park, conveying to the ordinary spectator no sense of present incongruity with its past. The old part of the mansion was in the east{v.2-155} wing, and not visible from the front, and all that could be seen by the party in the drag was the vast white modern façade, very fresh and clean as yet, with great plate-glass windows, and a wide hospitable door, opening into a hall with scagliola pillars. At this door old Rich stood, waving his hand in sign of welcome. The flower-beds on the lawn were already full of every bright thing which could be had at the season, and the whole place was alit and alive with wealth, and warmth, and movement. ‘To think that a fine old place like this should drop into the greasy hands of an old cheesemonger!’ said one of the men as they drove through the leafy avenue. But they were all quite willing to be the cheesemonger’s guests, and to drink his wine, and enjoy the good things his greasy gold had provided.

‘Glad to see you all,’ shouted Mr. Rich; ‘delighted we’ve got such a fine day; almost good enough for croquet, it appears to me. Good morning, my lord. Oh, any friend of yours! Ah-ha, Mr. Frank Renton,’ stretching forth his hand with a cordiality which took Frank by surprise, ‘now I call this kind. Had everything been as it ought to be, of course we’d have met before now,—country neighbours, you know. Your brother has just come by the last train with a friend of his, a wonderful clever fellow from town. He’s too much of a swell himself ever to paint much, eh? but he’s hand and glove with all of them. Come along up-stairs, and I’ll take you to him. Lord{v.2-156} Edgbaston, you know your way to the drawing-room. Mrs. Rich will be delighted to see you; and I trust to you not to let my Nelly leave the room till I send for her. I mean to give the child a little surprise,’ added the millionnaire, rubbing his fat hands. ‘Come along, Mr. Renton.’ Frank followed in a state of partial stupefaction. What reason there could be for this old fellow’s cordiality; why he should leave a live lord to find his own way up-stairs and conduct him, Frank Renton, instead; why Laurie should be here; what he had to do with the surprise Mr. Rich was going to give his child;—all these were mysteries to Frank. He seemed to have gone into an enchanted house. Had Mr. Rich taken him aside and offered him his daughter’s hand and fortune on the spot, his surprise would scarcely have been increased. Was this what it meant? Or if it was not this, what did it mean?

The Rentons and the Beauchamps had been friends in the old days, and Frank knew the house through which he was being guided almost as well, perhaps, as the owner of it did, who walked before him, looking not half so imposing as his own butler. Frank, who had a good deal of prudence for so young a man, thought it would be better on the whole to say nothing about this; but when his host preceded him through passage after passage, and up one short flight of stairs after another, surprise got the better of him.{v.2-157}

‘We must be going to the music-room, I suppose,’ he said; ‘this is the way;’ for the new master paused uncertain between two turns.

‘That’s about it,’ said Mr. Rich; ‘droll though, to see a stranger know one’s house better than one does oneself. I suppose you were a deal here in the time of the old people? Very nice people according to all I hear. But, you know, I didn’t turn them out. Bought the place at a fair price, as anybody else might have done. It was their doing, not mine. Ah! it’s a sad thing to outrun the constable, Mr. Frank. It should be a lesson to you as a young man.’

‘I am just going off to India,’ said Frank, determined, at least, to let his new acquaintance know that little was to be made of him in the way of society, ‘and I shall not have much chance.’

‘To India, eh?’ said Mr. Rich, with an unchanged tone. Clearly after all, he did not mean to offer the young Guardsman on the spot his daughter and her fortune. ‘India’s a fine thing at your age. My eldest boy went off a dozen years ago, when we were not quite so well off as we are now; and he’s coming home this summer, please God. If you had been at home we might have had no end of jolly meetings; but your mother goes out nowhere, I hear.’

‘Not now,’ said Frank; ‘my mother is a great invalid.’ And there was something in his tone which betrayed a certain offence,—What right had this{v.2-158} man to speak of his mother? And this tone conveyed itself at once to the other’s lively ear.

‘Ah, well! she has a right to please herself,’ said Mr. Rich. ‘Here we are at last. Halloo, gentlemen, I hope it fits. I wouldn’t have it too large or too small for a hundred pounds.’

‘Never fear, it will fit beautifully,—I knew it would,’ cried Laurie’s voice from behind a great picture, which was being hoisted into its place. After having been rather splendid and haughty about his mother to this commonplace individual, who had no right to hope for her acquaintance, it must be admitted that it gave Frank a pang to find his brother as busy as a workman, and quite at his ease in his occupation, putting up Mr. Rich’s pictures. Here was something worse even than Laurie’s slovenly ways and contented relapse into lower life. When a man has a brother in the Guards he owes it, if not to himself, at least to his relations, to remember that he is a gentleman. And to play the fool in such a house as this was worse than anything, with all those fellows below to tell each other how sadly Frank Renton’s brother, ‘the artist fellow,’ had fallen back in the world.

‘I did not know my brother was in the habit of carrying home his work,’ he said, with a certain savage irony. But Laurie did not hear this speech, and Mr. Rich, who did hear it, took no notice. There was nothing for it but to stand and stare at the daub as it was raised to its place. In the middle of the floor, in{v.2-159} front of it, stood a bearded stranger, whom Frank did not know, nor care to know. He was watching the progress of the picture with anxious interest. Was it Laurie’s picture? Whether it were or not, Laurie condescending to make a carpenter of himself for the moment was a sight which shocked his brother much. He strode away to the end window, and gazed out to show his indifference, with a soft whistle of impatience, which would have made itself into words anything but soft had circumstances permitted. But nobody remarked either his impatience or his anger. The room was long and not very broad, and the panel in which the picture was being placed was immediately opposite the gilded pipes of a chamber organ, which was let into the wall. To be sure, if it had been a picture of chorister boys instead of little barbarians it would have been more harmonious with the place; but Suffolk’s Angles shone out of the dark wall like positive sunshine. There were three broad mullioned windows in one end of the room, and at the other a great east window full of heraldic designs in painted glass,—the arms of the Beauchamps and their connexions. Under this blaze of colour, on either side, the panels were carved, running into little pinnacles and canopy work of a semi-ecclesiastical kind. It had been, indeed, a chapel in the early ages, when the Beauchamps were Catholic. A few high-backed, heavy, oak chairs were all the furniture in it now, except quite at the west end of the room, near where{v.2-160} the picture was being placed, where a grand piano stood under one window, and a small easel in the other. This picturesque place, in which priests in glittering vestments, and knights in steel, and ladies in flowing robes, would have been the natural actors, was now the music-room in Richmont, occupied chiefly by the ex-cheesemonger’s daughter,—an out-of-the-way place in which she could pursue her occupations as she pleased. Reflections, not exactly to this effect, but of a somewhat similar meaning, were in Frank’s mind as he turned with disgust from his unconscious brother. The poor Beauchamps!—who had the best blood in England in their veins, and were now vegetating at all sorts of wretched Continental baths and watering-places. To be sure, old Beauchamp was a blackleg, and his wife no better than she should be,—and the music-room, when Frank knew it, had been a lumber-room and play-room, dear to the children, though nobody thought anything about its picturesqueness. Still, those were the Beauchamps, and these Riches,—and what a falling off was there! Frank was full of these thoughts, and in a very discontented mind generally, not condescending to look at the picture with which all the rest were absorbed, when Laurie emerged from behind the frame, and, to his amazement, saw that it was his brother who interrupted the light in the middle window. It was a kind of bay window, projecting just a little out beyond the line of the others, and in it{v.2-161} there stood a low chair covered with old brocade, and a small table with a vase of fresh spring flowers. Frank had not noticed these little accessories, but Laurie, having the eye of an artist, took them in at a glance. Somehow Frank’s attitude, standing between the low chair and the little table, suggested ideas to Laurie’s mind of a different kind from those which moved his brother. This was the favourite haunt of the millionnaire’s daughter. The chair was hers, and the flowers, and the book which lay on the ledge of the window; and Royalborough was close at hand, not too far for a young soldier to ride over any day. Could Frank be Nelly Rich’s property too?

‘Frank!’ cried Laurie, ‘you here! Who could have dreamt of seeing you?’

‘I have more reason to say so,’ said Frank. ‘We are quartered close by; but what can you be doing carpentering in a house like this? Perhaps that’s the branch of art you have taken to at last,’ the Guardsman continued with a sneer. As for Laurie, he had been good-natured from his cradle, and laughed at this little ebullition.

‘Not quite,’ he said. ‘Come and look at the picture. Of course, I know you don’t know anything about it; but so long as you have eyes you may look, at least. What games we used to have up here! Is the goddess worthy of the shrine now?’ he added, glancing up with a little curiosity into the young soldier’s face.{v.2-162}

‘I don’t know what you mean by shrines and goddesses,’ said Frank, still angry; ‘but I do think, for the sake of your friends, if not for your own, you ought to mind what you’re about, and not be so very complaisant in the house of a cad like this.’

‘Hush!’ said Laurie, ‘don’t call names, my big brother. What have I been doing, I wonder, to come under your great displeasure? Dust on my coat, is it?’ and Laurie suddenly bethought himself of the cobwebs which he had hoped the padrona might have brushed off for him; and stopped short, the foolish fellow, and smiled and sighed.

‘Dust!’ cried Frank, indignantly. ‘I wonder you did not take it off to do your work the better. It would have been the right thing to do.’

‘And so it would,’ said Laurie; ‘I will recollect another time. But come along, old fellow, and look at the picture, and don’t make yourself so disagreeable. Old Rich has sent for his daughter, and we can’t go on squaring before a lady. Stand here, and look at it well.’

‘Is it yours?’ said the reluctant Frank. And Laurie laughed and shook his head.

‘He asks if it is mine,’ he said; ‘there’s a Guardsman’s idea of the possibilities, Suffolk! You might as well have asked if that Madonna was mine.’

‘Well, and what if I had?’ said Frank, stoutly, in his ignorance—and went and stared with a deter{v.2-163}mination to see nothing. The three figures were standing thus grouped,—Frank looking at the picture, and Suffolk, who had taken no part in the conversation, looking with mild surprise at the natural curiosity called a Guardsman of which he knew little more than the other did about the Angles,—when Mr. Rich came back triumphant with his daughter. They made a curious centre to the room, from which, by this time, the workmen who had been placing the picture had disappeared, leaving them alone. Frank, the very impersonation of scepticism and critical ignorance, stood with his face turned upward to the Angles, and defiance and disdain in the very attitude of his feet resentfully planted on the polished oaken floor. Suffolk, turning round and round in his fingers the rule which one of the workmen had left behind him, stood half a step behind, looking at Frank, with the faintest of smiles on his face, and that curious faculty of seeing, which never deserts a true painter, somehow making itself visible in his eyes. He was not studying the figure which thus defiantly posed before him, and yet there was an amusing consciousness of the pose, and of all expressed by it, in his look. Frank was so unaware of this, and Laurie, as he recognised it, became so divided between sympathy with his brother and amusement with his friend, that the three faces made a very curious group; and so Nelly Rich thought as she came into the room, not knowing why it was that{v.2-164} her father had brought her here. She was followed by the entire party, Mrs. Rich leading the way, and leaning her substantial weight on Edgbaston’s arm. She had but a minute to notice the group, but it made an impression on her; and curiously enough,—or, perhaps not curiously,—Nelly’s sympathies fixed upon Frank in the moment she had to identify him. The others were laughing at him, and he was young and single-handed, and,—so handsome. Nelly Rich piqued herself upon being intellectual and fond of art; and yet it was neither the painter nor the amateur that caught her eyes; it was the ignorant, unintellectual, handsome young Guardsman, which no doubt was quite natural in a way.

She gave a cry of wonder and delight when she saw the picture; but the kind father, to whom that cry was music, had made a mistake by bringing the party with him. After the first outburst Nelly retreated and was silent. She was not the kind of Nelly Rich whom either Frank or Laurie Renton had expected to see. Anything more unlike the portly, comely mother who came in after her, sweeping her gorgeous skirts all over the brown oak floor, could not be conceived. Nelly was very small; she had the figure and the foot of a fairy; and how her dark, clear, olive complexion,—her hair so dark as to be almost black,—her brilliant dark-brown eyes,—could have been derived from the two ruddy, roundabout people beside her, was a puzzle to everybody. She{v.2-165} might have been a fairy changeling, but that her small figure was perfect in form, and instinct with life, health, and activity. She was as plainly dressed as her mother was gorgeous, with a black gown and knots of crimson ribbons, like a Spaniard, which, indeed, was the most becoming dress she could have chosen. And she was not a timid maiden generally, taking shelter from the crowd; but a creature quite able to express herself and defend herself. Nevertheless she stepped aside as her mother entered on Edgbaston’s arm, and said not a word more about the picture. The party invaded the music-room, filling it with noise and movement. The scene was changed. It was no longer a retired, half-solemn place, full of associations of the past, and one soft, pleasant suggestion of the present conveyed by the fresh flowers, the instruments, the little easel, and the book, which harmonised everything; but a show place, with vulgar sightseers and a vulgar showman,—vulgar, though the visitors came of blood to which no objection could be taken. They gazed at the painted window, and at the carved oak, and at the pictures, alike with suppressed yawns, and referred stealthily to their watches, wondering when luncheon would be announced. Suffolk, who was the only stranger whom no one knew, stood aside, and looked on with a certain indignation. His picture, newly placed, newly arrived,—a picture which Academicians had condescended to praise, and the ‘Sword{v.2-166}’ had noticed favourably,—should have been, no one could doubt, the chief thing to be noticed; but what the newcomers did was to cast a careless glance at it, and say, ‘Ah! oh! pretty thing, to be sure,’ and turn their backs with that unspeakable calm of indifference which galls the artist mind beyond endurance. ‘Like old Woodland’s style, ain’t it?’ said Edgbaston, with his glass in his eye. If there was one man or painter whom Suffolk regarded with especial contempt it was old Woodland! The painter turned to the window stung and smarting all over, and tried to look out; and then one of the young men found a sketch upon Nelly’s little easel, and went into ecstasies over it. They all crowded, a mass of tall heads, to look at it with an interest which no one had dreamt of showing in the Angles. ‘Parcel of empty-headed coxcombs!’ Suffolk said to himself; and then certain reflections overtook him as to the kind of people who were likely to see his work where it was now placed. Was not the Guardsman the very highest possible class of visitor who could come to Richmont; and was this all for which he had spent his brains and his strength? He had turned, and was looking with the most curious wonder and contempt upon the group round Nelly’s easel. Could he help being contemptuous? The sketch was an unobtrusive little performance, pretending nothing, and not meaning much. And it was for such eyes as these that he had painted his picture! He was thinking so with a{v.2-167} certain bitterness, when Nelly herself, with a little rush, penetrated the group, and, seizing upon the harmless drawing they were gazing at, thrust it before their eyes into a portfolio.

‘It is not worth a glance,’ she cried; ‘it’s a bit of waste paper. Oh, for heaven’s sake, don’t stare, and make me ashamed of myself before Mr. Suffolk! It was the picture you came to see.’

‘I came because you were coming,’ said one of the young men.

‘Oh, never mind the picture. Come and show us what you have here,’ said another, laying his hand on the portfolio. This was how they talked, with Suffolk looking on. As for Nelly, her cheeks grew crimson. She was not, as we have said, a timid maiden; and she was given to speaking her mind, as even these gentlemen knew.

‘Yes,’ she said, with her eyes sparkling; ‘to be sure, you know best. You shall have the portfolio to look at—art brought down to the meanest capacity. I might have known that would be the most suitable for you; and, Mr. Suffolk, come and tell me about it,’ she said softly, turning to the painter. She held out her hand, that he might offer her his arm, and led him, in spite of himself, opposite to the poor picture which had been so scorned. ‘I want to clear them all away, those stupid men,’ said Nelly, confidentially. ‘I hate young men; they are all so idiotic. Mr. Suffolk, when I look at this I could cry, out of envy{v.2-168} and spite. How is it you can do it?—And I work and work and can’t do anything. I would give my head if I could paint only that little bit of a tree; and I suppose you never gave it a thought?’ she said, turning the brilliant brown eyes upon him. ‘Tell me about it, please; for it will be my chief friend, and live with me all day long.’

‘What am I to tell you, Miss Rich?’ said the painter, taken by surprise, and yet standing on his dignity still.

And then Nelly gazed at the Angles for at least a minute in silence, holding his arm. ‘It does not matter,’ she said, at last, with a long-drawn breath of satisfaction,—‘I shall learn it all from their faces. You must know, I live in this room, and they will never ask me what they are to tell me. I shall find out all their story in little bits. That one is quite happy to have so much change and variety, and to feel himself in Rome,—you painted him when you were happy, Mr. Suffolk; and that one is thinking of home,—something had happened to you then. I shall find it all out by degrees. Those men don’t find themselves so happy as they thought they would be over the portfolio,’ she broke off suddenly, with a little laugh; ‘but please to remember I have got eyes, and there are other people besides Guardsmen who come here sometimes. Mamma, I hear the bell for luncheon; please take all those men away.’

‘You must not be shocked with Nelly, Mr.{v.2-169} Suffolk,’ said Mrs. Rich. ‘I have told her all about your charming little wife, so she knows she need not be afraid to speak to you; and that’s her way, making up all that nonsense about the pictures she likes. I think it looks perfectly charming, now that it is in its place. Nelly, this is Mr. Renton, whom I told you of. He is such a friend of Mrs. Severn’s; and this is Mr. Frank Renton; neighbours of ours, you know, when they are at home, and cousins to that nice Miss Westbury you made acquaintance with the other day,—such a nice, lady-like girl. But I hear the bell. I am sure you must all be quite hungry after your long drive.’

‘Yes, come along,’ said Mr. Rich; ‘come along, and let us have something to eat. Nothing like art for giving one an appetite. I am as hungry as a hunter. All with getting up Suffolk’s lovely picture! Gem of my collection, I call it, though I have half-a-dozen Crowquills down-stairs, which I’ll show you after lunch. Come along, gentlemen. As for Nelly, you know, and the painter, they’ll follow. Ladies and men of genius don’t want to eat like us common mortals. Come along, come along,’ said the millionnaire, his voice dying off in the passage. The two Rentons, who had just been presented to Nelly, stood by her, waiting till she led the way; and Nelly, for her part, had no inclination to lead the way. She had got rid of ‘those stupid men,’ and she was rather in the humour for a little talk.{v.2-170}

‘Now they’re gone one can breathe,’ she said, with complimentary confidentialness. ‘We need not go down just yet. Please, Mr. Renton, tell me about the Severns. You are grand people, and I don’t suppose Miss Westbury would like it if I quoted her as an acquaintance; but I may ask about the Severns. Do you know them too?’

‘I have only seen them once,’ said Frank; ‘but I don’t think you do Mary Westbury justice. I am sure she would be charmed——’

‘Tell me about the Severns, please,’ said Nelly, with a little wave of her hand.

Then there was a pause, which nobody could have explained. Laurie, it is true, knew very well why it was that he, excited and confused as he was, should feel himself unable to speak of the padrona; but why could not Frank answer so simple a question? In the meanwhile Frank, on his side, saw suddenly before him, as in a vision, that picture of Alice standing in the doorway, with all the shadows round her, and felt his lips sealed, and could not speak.

‘If these gentlemen will not tell me anything,’ said Nelly, ‘Mr. Suffolk, speak. I’m sure you know them too.’

‘I have only seen them once,’ repeated Frank, hastily. ‘Miss Severn plays like—St. Cecilia. I have not heard anything like her playing for a hundred years.{v.2-171}

‘Well,’ said Nelly, shrugging her shoulders, ‘here is one fact elicited by dint of inquiry. Miss Severn—that is, I suppose, Alice, who was a little darling when I saw her last—plays. I don’t care so much for playing as I ought to do. And I wanted to hear of the padrona and all the little ones. Couldn’t you tell me anything more, Mr. Renton? Yes, I call her the padrona too. Mr. Severn used to give me a lesson sometimes—not for money, but for love. It may seem strange to you,’ said Nelly, demurely, ‘but he was fond of me. And I am fond of her, and all of them. And Alice plays! I suppose that is all one could ever get out of a man. If any one asks you about me, Mr. Frank Renton, I know exactly what you will say: “Miss Rich—draws.” It is nice to be so concise, but oh, tell me about my pretty padrona, please!’ cried Nelly, clasping her hands together, and turning appealing eyes to Laurie. It was almost more than Laurie’s composure could bear, for it was just at the moment after he had made his discovery, and was waiting to know what was to be done with him; and his heart was, so to speak, in his mouth.

‘She is as pretty as ever,’ said Laurie, in that strange tone of suppressed emotion which makes itself almost more distinctly apparent than the plainest confession of feeling; ‘and I don’t think I could tell you how good she is. Suffolk knows her. We cannot trust ourselves to speak of the padrona,’ said{v.2-172} Laurie, nervously, ‘we people who live about the Square.’

And then Suffolk said something to the same purport in words, but in so different a tone as to throw the thrill in Laurie’s voice into fuller relief. And Nelly looked at him full in the face, not disguising the little gleams of discernment, half surprise, half mischief, in her eyes. This was the only sign about her of inferior breeding. She had not sufficient delicacy to conceal the enlightenment his tone had given her. She looked at him so that he felt he was discovered, and his face flamed with the sudden consciousness; and then she turned to Frank, who was the particular mouse with which at the moment Nelly felt disposed to play.

‘This room must have been made on purpose for Miss Severn, who plays,’ she said. ‘I should think anybody who was musical would be in paradise here. There is the organ and the piano, and in that closet there are harps, and sackbuts, and dulcimers, and all kinds of music. I shall ask Alice Severn to come to see me, and Mr. Frank Renton shall come too, and hear her—play.’

‘I ask no better,’ said Frank, responding to the challenge as became a Guardsman. And Nelly took them down-stairs, leaving the two graver, pre-occupied men to follow, and making Frank her partner by some subtle sleight of hand. He was very much at home at Richmont before the day was over. Even{v.2-173} Laurie remarked the rising flirtation, and laughed to himself in the midst of his own excitement at the possibility of his brother’s fortune coming in so easy a way. And his friends congratulated him on his success, and pledged him in bumpers when they got home. ‘I tell you, my boy, she has cartloads of tin,’ said Edgbaston. ‘Better that than going out to India.’ And as for Frank, he did not deny to himself that on the whole, notwithstanding Laurie’s undignified aspect, and Mr. Rich’s soap-boiling, or cheesemongering—which was it?—he had spent a very pleasant day.{v.2-174}



Next day, however, Frank Renton was full of many thoughts.

I doubt whether it is in my power to give any clear impression of the reflections naturally produced in a young man’s mind by the first suggestion of marrying money. In ordinary cases, marriage is not the object set before the youth—the purpose contemplated from the beginning of an acquaintance. He is attracted by some stranger, whose name he never heard before, perhaps, and of whose existence, previous to the eventful hour which brought them together, he had no knowledge. Chance or inclination brings them together. Then the germ warms, quickens, bursts into flower. Love comes spontaneous, unsought, perhaps almost unwelcome, and marriage becomes but a necessary accident in its course. But to approach that idea of marriage in cold blood, and without any soft compulsion of feeling, is a very different matter. It is a thing which women are called upon to do every day; but it is not so inevit{v.2-175}able among men. It had been brought before Frank in what seemed a very distinct way. True, Nelly Rich was a little flirt, almost confessedly avenging herself on the world for her father’s uncomfortable position, and the spurns her family endured, by doing as much harm as she could among the men who ate Mr. Rich’s dinners and laughed at him. She had no mercy upon them, and more than one, within the knowledge even of the battalion at Royalborough, who had supposed themselves sure of Nelly and her fortune, had been ignominiously turned off when the crisis came. This very fact naturally made Frank think the more of the impression, which all his comrades informed him he had produced. Fifty thousand pounds down, and some further share in all probability when the father and mother died, not to speak of Nelly herself—pretty, and bright, and amusing, and clever as she was! The idea, as was natural, awoke many reflections in the young soldier’s mind. I have said that he had not suffered by his father’s death; but yet had he meant to remain in his present position at home, no doubt Frank would have shared in the disadvantages which his brothers had felt so keenly; and to have it in his power at twenty to secure his own comfort for life without any particular trouble was a dazzling prospect. It is not to be supposed by this that Frank had developed at so early an age the mercenary instincts of a fortune-hunter. On the contrary, the good things which{v.2-176} the gods seemed thus to have placed within his reach, gave him a shock rather than a thrill of satisfaction. He had no wish to marry,—to plunge into serious life at his age, and give up the wayward ways of youth. The idea would never have entered his mind had he been left to himself. But when a young man sees such a golden apple nodding at him from an accessible bough, and thinks he has but to put forth his hand and secure to himself at one stroke all the advantages of wealth, the sensation is a startling one. He went about thoughtful for two days, turning it over and over in his mind. It is true he did not think very much about Nelly. She was very nice, very jolly, and a man need not fear to have a dull companion for life whom duty called upon to marry Mr. Rich’s daughter; but the truth was that she did not count for very much in the matter. Frank was honest with himself, and affected no delusion on that subject; but then he had heard of people marrying money all his life without any particular reprobation. Many men had done it, as he knew, who got on very well with their wives, and made admirable husbands. Indeed, as Frank reflected to himself, with the mild cynicism which was inseparable from the kind of education he had gone through, marriage was one of the things in which there must be many mixed motives. Love, of course, was all very well to romance about; but love could not be, never was, the only thing taken{v.2-177} into account, except indeed by fools. If it was mere love you married for, of course you did it in the style of King Cophetua, and scorned the consequences. But few men went so far as that. There were questions of income and settlements, and how people were to live, which came in along with the purest affection, and brought marriage,—necessarily,—into the same category with all other human affairs. Edgbaston, for instance, as everybody knew, had been desperately in love with Fanny Trent, who married old Oatley, the brewer, after all. Edgbaston himself, in a melting moment, had told the story to Frank. ‘I’ve got nothing but mortgages to look forward to,’ the young lord said, ‘and of course I knew that was how it must end. I had only a shabby old coronet to offer her, and Oatley was a bag of money. Poor Fanny! I don’t think she liked it any more than I did; but what can a fellow do when circumstances are dead against him?’ That was how it happened in ordinary life. Even when a man was as fond of a woman as he could be, still he must take other matters into account,—how they were to live, what provision was to be made for the future, and a hundred other details about connexions and position and the like. Therefore, whatever your feelings might be, Frank argued with himself, marriage was always a matter of mixed motives; and to reject a rich alliance which had nothing particularly disagreeable in it, or indeed to put aside{v.2-178} the thought of it, as if marriage was not one of the things to be calculated about and carefully considered in all its bearings, was simple folly. He had never thought so deeply on any subject, his profession and general circumstances being rather against any very lively exercise of his mental faculties. This question of Nelly Rich cost him two days’ painful deliberation. To have her and to suspend his negotiations about India and the marching regiment, and to strike out a shorter path instead to wealth, and ease, and comfort—or not to have her! It even interfered with his sleep, though he was so young and healthy. It was not a matter on which he could consult any one, and this increased the difficulty tenfold. Even as to Edgbaston, though he was so good a fellow, Frank had sufficient delicacy to feel that if he should hereafter marry a woman about whom he had thus consulted his friend, he could never allow that friend to enter the house in which his wife should be supreme. If she ever became his wife it would be indispensable that no living creature should know how he had once questioned and doubted. Frank might be susceptible to worldly motives, as most people are; but he was full of honourable feeling all the same. He might marry money, but no one should ever be able so much as to hint to the woman who brought it that it was not her he loved best. He would do all a man could to love her if he did marry her; and{v.2-179} he would breathe his secret to no one. And thus he turned his difficulty over and over in his mind, and denied himself the comfort of friendly counsel on the subject, which indeed was as high an evidence of the young man’s honourable feeling as could well be desired.

But his reasonings with himself were far from being successful. His arguments, like those of philosophy, were irrefutable, but produced no conviction. The more clearly he saw that it was expedient for him to seize so unusual an opportunity, and secure his own prospects for life, the more unwilling did he feel to take the first necessary steps. India suddenly acquired an attraction for Frank which it never had before. Tiger-hunts, warlike expeditions,—all the pomp and circumstance of Eastern life,—suddenly gleamed up in his imagination as contrasted with the tame amusements and monotonous life at home. Yes, home had been very pleasant before any other visions came. Hunting, and fishing, and boating, and going to balls, are very agreeable modes of filling up a young man’s time, and leave him little leisure to think what is the good of it all. But if by any chance that question should penetrate through the maze of pleasures, it either has to be answered or it leaves an unpleasant echo among sounds otherwise most agreeable. Frank had made a virtue of necessity after his father’s death, and had compelled himself to ask and to find{v.2-180} an answer to this demand. After all there was no good except amusement in it. He was a lovely spectacle,—he was modestly aware,—on state occasions in his grand uniform; but these occasions were but few, and there would still be heaps of men left to hunt the foxes and fish the rivers of England after he was gone. A man who remained and grew old and yet was never anything more than a beautiful Guardsman, was not an imposing being. And the money he might marry was not enough to give him occupation and a solemn status in the country. Had it been fifty thousand a-year indeed, that would have been as good as a profession; for of course it would have involved estates to manage, and a hundred things to do; but fifty thousand down, though it would make him extremely comfortable, would leave him as ornamental and useless as ever. And India was all novel, and fresh, and full of excitement;—troops to lead, mutinies to quell for anything he knew, principalities to conquer perhaps,—shawls, diamonds, tigers, everything new. Frank had a hard time of it with all these thoughts. And once or twice there did actually spring up before him, quite uncalled-for, among his serious reflections, the shadowy apparition of that doorway with its curtains, and the young face looking through. That had nothing to do with it, you may well say,—less than nothing; but yet it had a sort of confusing effect on the young man’s intellect, and added a perplexity the more.{v.2-181} The way in which he finally extricated himself from the maze, and saw daylight at last, is one which, I suppose, few people would divine, and which could have occurred only to a younger brother in conscious possession of many qualities, both intuitive and the result of experience, which Providence had denied to the rest of his family. He wrote a letter to his brother Laurie; and this is what the young Machiavel said;—

My dear Laurie,—

‘You will be surprised I don’t doubt when you see what I am writing to you about. Perhaps you will think it is not the part of the younger to advise the elder; but if we don’t hang together, and do the best we can for each other, what are we, under our present circumstances, to do? I am not quite as old as you are, but perhaps I have been thrown more into the world. You have always taken to artists, and those kind of people, you know, who are out of the tide, and have queer notions; beside being,—no offence intended,—of a diffeent sphere from us. You think, on the other hand, that we are an empty-headed set, and perhaps you are not far wrong; but a fellow picks up a great many wrinkles even among men that are stupid enough to look at,—don’t you see?—when they’ve got some knowledge of the world.

‘The fact is I am beating about the bush a little,{v.2-182} because I don’t very well know how to begin what I’ve got to say. It is just this. You must have noticed the other day when you were at Richmont how favourable everybody was to you and to me. Of course, one does not care for the opinion of an old beggar like Rich. But his wife isn’t at all so bad, and the girl, on the whole, is very nice. I assure you frankly I do think so. She’s a clever little thing, and decidedly pretty and amusing too, and fond of pictures, and that sort of thing, so that there would be a sympathy between you. To say it out plump, my opinion is that she is the very sort of girl you ought to marry. It is not everybody that would suit you. You want some one that has money, and yet doesn’t stand upon her money; and that would not be conventional or stuck-up, but take your friends along with yourself, and make up her mind to it. Now Nelly Rich has no right to be stuck-up; and yet she’s nice, and looks nice, and we Rentons are well enough known to marry anybody we please. As for the father, I don’t think you need mind about him. He is very liberal and hospitable, and ready to throw his money about in buckets-full, and that always tells. People may snigger at him, but they’ll go to his house all the same. And you may marry a girl, you know, without marrying her father too. The mother is not at all so bad. She’s motherly, and that sort of thing. And Nelly has fifty thousand pounds. I can’t tell{v.2-183} you how much I have been thinking of it since that day. The fellows here have all advised me to go in for it myself, but I’m rather too young to marry; and besides I think it would suit you far better than me. I have my profession, and I can do very well for a few years on my allowance, especially in India, where there is double pay. But you,—forgive me, my dear Laurie,—have always been a fellow to talk, you know, and to do things for other people. I don’t think you’re the man to make your way in the world, and I can’t help feeling that to have a nice wife who would take an interest in your pursuits, and a nice steady income that would keep you out of anxiety, would be the very thing for you. I have made every inquiry, and as far as I can make out, Nelly Rich is not what you would call a flirt. She is fond of a little fun, and I like her for that; and when a man is cheeky, they say she leads him on till he makes a fool of himself; but no sensible fellow would object to a girl for having a little spirit. She is very good-tempered, and no end of fun; and very clever at drawing, and everything of that kind. She doesn’t go in for music, but neither do you; and she’s the sort of girl that would travel with you, and work with you, and make an ass of herself about pictures, and old churches, and rubbish, just as much as you would. I think, on my word, Laurie, it’s the very thing for you.

‘Anyhow, old fellow, you won’t take it amiss my{v.2-184} having put it into your head? It would be a most sensible thing to do; and I feel sure a man might get quite fond of Nelly Rich, were he to try. I suppose it is because the Manor is so near that they are so friendly to us. As soon as mamma is well enough I’ll make her call. She’ll do it at once when she knows what depends on it. And if you play your cards at all well, you are as sure of success as anything can be. And then you would not need to give up any of your friends. She was as pleased with that painter-fellow the other day as if he had been a prince. And you remember how she talked about the people in Fitzroy Square. The more I think of it, the more it seems providential for you. My dear fellow, go in and win. I should have recommended her to Ben, had Ben been within knowledge. But she will suit you much better than she would have suited him. And it will be a real comfort to think that one of us is saved from the wreck, whether the others sink or swim.

‘Yrs. affec.,   
F. Renton.

This was Frank’s grand device for utilising Nelly’s fortune, and yet preserving his own freedom. Laurie only received the letter when he was in the midst of his preparations for going to Italy, and he threw it aside with a painful smile. But our Guardsman knew nothing about his brother’s preoccupied{v.2-185} mind, and, satisfied that he had done the best for everybody, laid aside the subject, and went upon his way as usual. He was rather anxious for Laurie’s answer, it is true; but then there are often irregularities in family correspondence, and Laurie might think it best to leave it until they met. As it happened Frank did not even visit his mother for the next ten days; and Mary Westbury, who was his home correspondent, was so full of the news of an unexpected visit from Ben, that she quite omitted to mention Laurie’s intimation, which came immediately after, of his intended departure. So that Frank had actually no information about his brother when he went on the following Saturday to dine at Richmont.{v.2-186}



Frank was alone on his second expedition to Richmont, which was a satisfaction to him. He was full of his scheme, and anxious to see how the land lay, and what Laurie’s prospects might be should he make up his mind to ‘go in’ for the fifty thousand pounds. And he was quite willing to divert himself in the society of his future sister-in-law. The invitation had a family aspect altogether, he thought; and, instead of returning to his quarters, he had made his arrangements to go home for the Sunday, and rouse his mother to such steps as were practicable for securing Laurie’s advantage. Frank left Royalborough with all the lively zest of a matchmaker, pleased with himself and his own generosity, and rather elated on his brother’s account. Fifty thousand pounds!—two thousand five hundred a-year, and always the prospect of something coming at the end of the seven years’ probation! For a man who had no expensive tastes, and whose whole soul was wrapped up in pictures, it was a fortune! He could{v.2-187} dabble in paint as much as he liked, and his wife could help him; and they could travel about as much as they liked, and go to all the pretty places that took their fancy. There was no one to whom he could have said as much in actual words; but the feeling in his mind was, that if anybody had ever originated a better plan he’d like to hear of it. Ben had turned up, as Mary Westbury’s letter told him; and no doubt Ben would make his way in the world. And as for himself, Frank thought that there was no particular fear; but Laurie was the feeble one of the family, the one most likely to do little, to spend his strength for naught, or waste his own life for the advantage of others. And nothing could be so good for him as to be thus put on a comfortable shelf out of harm’s way at the very beginning of his career. He was fond of Laurie, as most people were; and it pleased him as much in his brotherliness as in his vanity to take Laurie thus in hand and be the one to provide for him. This time it was to dinner he was going at Richmont, and he had written to the Manor to beg his mother to send over the dog-cart for him and his portmanteau. The millionnaire’s house was beginning to be lit up in all its windows when he drove along the avenue: the lights in it sparkled like fairy lamps in the blue, spring twilight; and when he entered the great hall he was informed that nobody had come down-stairs yet, and that the dinner had been made an hour later in conse{v.2-188}quence of some one else who was to arrive by the train.

‘The young ladies is in the music-room, sir,’ the butler said respectfully, being himself a native of Berks, and feeling that the advent of a Renton was an honour to the house; ‘and I was to tell you as tea is served in the drawing-room.’

‘Oh, I’ll join the young ladies,’ said Frank, lightly, thinking of Nelly only, his sister-in-law that was to be. No doubt some one must be with her, but that did not matter. Indeed, on the whole, it was so much the better, for it would not be becoming to flirt, except in the very mildest way, with a girl who was going to be your brother’s wife. He ran up-stairs, telling the man he knew the way, and thus making a daring leap into intimacy such as he would never have dreamed of had he taken time to think. But his own plan had taken possession of him. Of course she was going to be his sister-in-law, and it would be absurd to stand upon ceremony. Thus Frank, being unused to the excitement of so much thinking, was carried away by it, and took his own imaginations for granted. As he ran up-stairs, however, his ear was caught by the sound of the organ, a sound which had not been heard in Beecham so long as he had known the house, and to which Richmont, according to Nelly’s description, was as little accustomed. The music seemed to fill the place, swelling through the stairs and passages, which{v.2-189} were full of the darkness and stillness of the approaching night. Frank stood still to listen, and then went on with a surprised face, and with a new thrill in his heart. It was surely the same sonata he had heard softly breathing out of the dark drawing-room that night he visited Fitzroy Square. Who could be playing? Could there be two girls in the world who had the same power, the same feeling for music, the same subtle sentiment, and expressive strength? But then how did he know at all that it was a girl who was playing? It might be some old music-master, one of the sort of people whom Nelly loved. All the same, it had the effect of subduing his steps, and making his approach much less confident and unembarrassed. He lingered,—he thought of going back,—he felt himself a coxcomb and presumptuous animal. And yet he went on, led partly by the force of the impulse which was still upon him, and partly allured by the dulcet and harmonious sound to which he was so susceptible. He knocked at the door, but his summons was unheard in the midst of the music. Then he opened it softly, and went in. There was no light in the room except the pale twilight, which marked out every line of the windows, and the glimmering of the painted glass at the end by which he entered. He seemed to step out of the real world altogether into an enchanted place when he crossed that darkling threshold. The gilded organ-pipes caught a certain faint reflection, and under that dim{v.2-190} shimmer sat a shadow, which was playing; while in the centre window, in the bay, looking out, as it seemed, into the night, another shadow, light and small as a fairy, stood listening or musing. The opposite wall of the room, and the picture which was so bright in the daylight, had retreated altogether into the gloom; and the painted window hung as if suspended in the air; and all the solid wall in which it was set, and the dark oak carving under it, had receded into obscurity. Frank stood with his hand on the door, and held his breath. He felt at once like a fool and like an intruder, not knowing who they were whose privacy he was invading, and having no right whatever to be there even had he been sure it was Nelly who stood in the window. He had burst into her particular privacy unannounced the second time he had been in the house! But Frank was bewitched, and stood still, blotting himself out as small as possible against the door.

But either the door had creaked or her quick ear had caught some sound of movement, for Nelly Rich turned round suddenly. She was not so absorbed in the music as the player was, or as Frank would have been had he been listening in a legitimate and proper way. Her mind was divided between that and a great many other thoughts, and gave but a partial attention to the sounds which filled the room. When she saw that another shadow had intruded into her retirement,{v.2-191} Nelly gave a little cry, and flitted like a ghost towards the door.

‘Who is there?’ she cried with a sharpness which struck in just at a pianissimo passage, and startled the player as well as the intruder. The music ceased with a kind of long-drawn wail, and the musician too gave a little scream. Frank would have been thankful if the old oak floor had suddenly opened and swallowed him up.

‘A thousand pardons,’ he cried; ‘it is I, Miss Rich; Frank Renton. I don’t know how to explain my intrusion. Pray forgive me. I was told I should find you here,—and then the music; I have not a word to say for myself. Pardon?—that is all.’

‘Was it papa who told you you would find me here?’ said Nelly. ‘It is just like him. But, Mr. Renton, I am not papa, and I admit nobody but my friends to this room,—especially in the dark,’ she added, with a quiver of coming laughter, which reassured Frank. He sank down upon his knee, as she stood with her arms extended, metaphorically thrusting him away.

‘What can I say for myself?’ said Frank. ‘I am a wretched sinner, not worthy to be admitted as a friend. Let me come in as a captive, like one of your Angles; or as a beggar, or—— Don’t be too hard upon me. The evil is done. The mortal has crossed the threshold of fairyland. Let him stay.{v.2-192}

‘Alice, advise me,’ cried Nelly, turning to the silent figure at the piano. ‘Shall we let him stay?’

So it was Alice! Something had told him so the instant he recognised that sonata. Now he turned his head towards her in the gloom, breathless, awaiting her answer. Alice, however, made no reply. She only returned to her organ, and took up her pianissimo passage. I cannot tell how she intimated her pleasure to the slave on the other side of the wall who ‘blew;’ but, anyhow, she took it up where she had left off, and the soft, delicious sounds, the very voice of the darkness and stillness, whispered over the two darkling, undiscernible figures,—one standing, one kneeling, in the gloom. A certain soft thrill of consciousness, half comic, half sentimental, moved Nelly. No doubt it had been partly in jest that Frank had put himself on his knees; but might it not be partly in earnest, too? Frank, for his part, had forgotten Nelly’s very existence. It seemed natural to him to listen thus to such a strain. He was not intellectual, and could have heard the finest poetry in the world unmoved. All his pretty sentiments about fairyland, etcetera, were also the most superficial words; but the music seized upon, mastered him, put a soul into the young soldier. He turned half towards the instrument, kneeling, and unconscious that he was kneeling. To him it was poetry, art, passion, imagination, all in one. And Alice went on playing softly as in a dream; and the remaining rays{v.2-193} of half light gradually extinguished themselves, till even the two shadows at the door became scarcely discernible, and the organ-pipes faded into obscurity. It was a curious situation altogether, but only Nelly was aware of it. To her the fact was very evident that a handsome young Guardsman, still kneeling on one knee, as to his sovereign, was before her; that twilight was settling down into night; that Mr. Frank Renton was a stranger: and that it was time to dress. Something prevented her from speaking, and cutting short the music; but her impatient mind having got over the first charm, began to grow weary, and long for a change. She could not make out how it was that the musician went on, unfatigued with all those lingering notes. ‘That’s the same thing over again,’ Nelly said to herself, not being so fond of music as she ought to have been, as may easily be perceived. She glided back to the window, at last; and Frank, roused by her motion, rose from his reverential attitude. He knew that Alice could not stop till the movement had come to an end; and was not impatient, but absorbed in the lovely harmony. But after a while the thought stole into even his mind that it would be best to get as much into the light as possible, and he followed Nelly to the window. There was a glimmering of the park visible outside, and, what was more to the purpose, a great expanse of blue sky and stars. And in the room there was the painted window, hanging in the air like a picture{v.2-194} worked in jewels, suspended without visible support; and the music—and the two girls;—even a poet could not have objected to all the accessories of the scene.

‘Thanks, Alice, it is lovely,’ cried Nelly; ‘but all the same for the moment, my dear, I am glad it is done; for this is growing very ghostly. Mr. Renton, I think I can see that you have come in, though you never got permission. Go before us, please, and let us know if there are lights in the passages: and if you are good, and do everything you are told, we will forgive you for coming in. Alice, give me your hand. They are both intoxicated with the music, these two, cried Nelly, as if to herself; ‘and I don’t believe they have any eyes to see that window hanging there all by itself. Come along, you people, who can hear and can’t see:—let us get into the light.’

‘But I can see, too,’ said Alice, softly, coming to Nelly’s side.

‘Ah, you are a painter’s daughter,’ said Nelly: ‘but you would need to be a cat to see anything now. Thanks, Mr. Renton. Now wait a moment till our eyes are used to the light.’

‘Coming down to the common world again,’ said Frank, ‘is hard. No one can feel it more than I do. Take care of that step,—even painters themselves cannot always see.’

‘I wish the common world were not down so many stairs,’ said Nelly; and then they emerged into{v.2-195} the light. They were still in their morning dresses; and Frank’s eyes, once more out of the darkness fell upon the fresh, girlish face, the mass of shining hair,—all those tints of rose and lily which belonged to Alice Severn and her sixteen years. There was a great deal more expression in Nelly’s little brown, sparkling countenance. She had lived a year or two longer in reality, a hundred years or so longer in experience. Alice’s face lay like an inland lake moved from above, from without, by soft, kissing breezes, by beams of sunshine, but not by any movements from within. There were no volcanoes underneath, nor quicksands, nor sunken rocks. She was very young, and ignorant as a child. That want of definite expression which was a trouble to some of her friends, to Frank was a beauty. She looked like a saint, or an angel, to his eyes. In his worldly-mindedness and curious calculations of what he called practical matters, this face disturbed him, experienced man of the world as he was. What would she think of his scheme for Laurie? The first effect of her presence had been to drive Laurie and all his schemes out of his mind. And now the very contrast of her innocence brought them all back with a rush. It was not this visionary creature concerning whom the plot was laid;—but Nelly, little sprite, who stood by her, a being manifestly of this world.

‘I wish Laurie had been here,’ cried Frank, abruptly, remembering his rôle. ‘He is the only one{v.2-196} of our family who has an eye. He would have raved about your window, Miss Rich.’

‘That would have been kind of him,’ said Nelly, with a slight touch of disdain. ‘It was Mr. Laurence Renton you were speaking of, Alice. Did you say he had gone away?’

‘Gone away!’ cried Frank, with a start, which endangered his footing on the stair.

‘To Italy,’ said Alice. ‘We were all so sorry. He went yesterday morning, and the night before he came to bid mamma good-bye. They say it was quite suddenly that he had made up his mind.’

‘To Italy!’ repeated Frank, in tones of absolute consternation. He stopped on the stair as he went down, to apostrophise mentally both heaven and earth. Gone! notwithstanding all the plans that were making for him. Frank stopped short, so much affected by the news that he forgot even the odd appearance that he made, standing on the stair. ‘Then how is it to be done,—and who is to do it?’ was the question that immediately suggested itself to his mind. Nelly Rich stood and looked up at him through the rails of the stair with bright eyes, full of mischief, contemplating his puzzled countenance. Who was to do it? By this time it seemed a matter of conscience to Frank that some Renton should appropriate Nelly and her fifty thousand pounds. And Ben was going to America, and Laurie had disappeared into the South.{v.2-197} His face expressed the liveliest perplexity and self-interrogation. Who was to do it? Laurie being gone, and Nelly’s fortune still unsecured, was it not necessary that he himself, casting all weaker ideas aside, should go in himself for the fifty thousand pounds!{v.2-198}



Frank found it very difficult to make out, both at that and a subsequent period, how it was that no dog-cart came for him from the Manor on that Saturday night. To be sure, the circumstance was easily enough explained as a matter of fact, and meant simply this, neither more nor less,—that his letter, intimating his intention to spend the Sunday with his mother, and giving instructions when he was to be sent for, reached Mrs. Renton only on Sunday at noon. But what Providence meant by permitting such a thing to happen, was of course a totally different matter. The mistake fitted in wonderfully, as mistakes so often do, with the course of events. Richmont might not be so refined as the Manor, but it certainly was, at the present moment, much more amusing. And though of course Frank, like a good son, had been quite willing to give up the Sunday to his mother, yet he was aware of the fact beforehand that the Sunday would be dull. Mrs. Renton had lived a semi-invalid life so long that it{v.2-199} was rather a pleasure to her, now she was alone, to relapse into full and unmitigated invalidism. She had so many draughts to take, and precautions to bear in mind, that her whole time was filled up, and that not so unpleasantly as might have been supposed. She had her favourite maid, who never permitted her to forget anything; and when there was no draught to be taken, was always hovering in the background with cups of tea or arrowroot to sustain her mistress’s strength. Mrs. Renton was very fond of her boys, but still, her own circumstances being of such a character, she was not entirely dependent upon them for her happiness. To be sure, if any one had so much as mentioned happiness to her, she would have wept, poor soul, and declared positively that no such thing was possible to her, thus left alone in the vacant house, her husband dead, and her sons absent. But, nevertheless, the draughts, and the care, and the tea, and the arrowroot, occupied her time, and gave that gentle support of routine which is so invaluable to a languid life. But it may be supposed that her room was not the most lively place in the world to a young man; and Frank, in the drawing-room at Richmont, with Mrs. Rich making all sorts of comical speeches, and Nelly quite disposed to flirt, and Alice ready to play, did not feel any sensation of despair when he was informed that no dog-cart had come, and that it was now too late to expect it. ‘All the better luck for us,’ said Mr. Rich. ‘Nothing for making{v.2-200} acquaintance like a Sunday in the country. There is your room ready, and we’re delighted to have you. By Monday you will know how you like us, and we shall have found out how much we like you.’

‘We know that already,’ said Mrs. Rich, who was fond of little inuendos; ‘and I am sure I don’t know how far it is safe to keep a handsome young Guardsman in the house along with two girls. For my part, I don’t answer for the consequences. I can’t be sure how I shall stand it myself,’ she added, with a laugh, which was a little vulgar, no doubt, but mellow, and not unpleasant to hear. Nelly looked up at her mother as if she could have pinched her; but as for papa Rich, this kind of humour was in his way, and he laughed too.

‘I’ll risk it,’ he said, ‘especially as the Guardsman has other fish to fry, my dear, and isn’t likely to interfere with you. What’s the matter, little Nell? You need not knit your brows at me. I hope I may express myself as I like in my own house, and no offence to any one. Mr. Frank, here, understands what I mean; and I am very glad he is going to stop with us, whatever you may be, you little flirt. And where has Alice Severn gone to? I want to speak to her. Don’t you think you could play us some nice, old-fashioned tunes, my dear? I don’t understand your grand music. That’s why I like your mamma’s pictures, you know. ’Igh art goes a step beyond me; but give me a pretty woman{v.2-201} and a bunch of nice children, and I know what that means. And it is just the same in music;—“Sally in our Alley,” and two or three more,—I like them better than your sonatas; but I suppose you think me an ignorant old wretch for that?’

‘No, indeed,’ said Alice; ‘I will play whatever you please.’

‘Then come with me,’ said the patron of art, giving Alice his fat arm. Alf of the Buffs, who had arrived by the train, and on whose account dinner had been postponed, was the only other member of the party, and he had stretched himself at full length on the sofa with all the appearance of being asleep. The other people had gone away early; and Frank had Mrs. Rich and Nelly, in the intimacy of the domestic circle, all to himself. Old Rich took Alice quite to the other end of the great drawing-room, to the piano, which stood there, and the conversation went on with a distracting accompaniment of tunes and the clapping of hands, with which Alice’s audience hailed each air in succession. Frank’s attention in particular was sadly distracted,—he could neither listen nor stop listening; and yet the talk had taken a turn which, on the whole, was rather interesting.

‘How will your mamma bear your going away?’ said Mrs. Rich. ‘Her youngest;—I can feel for her. My eldest are married, and out in the world; and I know it’s best for themselves, and I do{v.2-202}n’t mind. But Alf and Nelly are my babies, just as you are your mother’s, Mr. Frank. What should I do, if any one came to carry my little girl off to the end of the world? And it will be harder still on your poor, dear mamma.’

‘But I can’t help it,’ said Frank. ‘You know,—I suppose everybody knows,—the peculiarity in our circumstances. I can’t go on as I am doing. India’s the place when a man has no money. I don’t know what would become of me if I were to stay at home.’

‘Well,—you might marry an heiress, you know,’ said Mrs. Rich.

‘Mamma,’ said Alf, from the sofa,—not asleep, though he looked like it,—‘if you have any heiresses in your pocket remember your own flesh and blood first of all; don’t turn them over to Renton;—he can manage for himself.’

‘Oh, yes; I don’t doubt he can manage beautifully for himself,’ said Mrs. Rich, nodding her head; ‘but still he may be the better for a little advice. An heiress is the very thing for you, Mr, Frank. As for Alf, of course,—though I say it that shouldn’t,—he’ll be very well off, and a catch for any one; as you would have been, but for that fancy of your poor papa’s; Mr. Rich’s opinion has always been that his brain must have been touched. But that is the thing for you,—as clear as daylight. Marry a girl with money, and settle down at home; and do{v.2-203}n’t go and break your mother’s heart. You take my advice, and tell her it was I who gave it, and she’ll order her carriage directly, and come over to Richmont and hug me,—though she would not so much as call, you know, only for me.’

‘Indeed you do her an injustice,’ said Frank; ‘she is a great invalid,—she never goes anywhere now.’

‘Then her carriage goes to the Rectory, which is not half a mile off; but never mind,’ said Mrs. Rich. ‘I am sure I don’t mind. Give us a little time, and well make our way. Yes; that’s what you’ve got to do. Marry a girl with money. I’m sure you’d make her a good husband all the same.’

I hope, if I were a husband at all, I should be a good one,’ said Frank, laughing; ‘but I don’t think I should like to marry money. A little could do no harm, of course,—just enough to keep her comfortable, and as she had been used to be.’ As he said this, Frank, without knowing it, looked direct at Nelly; and, to his consternation, caught her eye, and saw her grow suddenly crimson; an example which, man of the world as he was, he immediately followed. Then, to make things worse, he came to an alarmed, embarrassed pause. ‘The man who ought to marry money is my brother Laurie,’ he said hastily, and then stopped. What had he done? Was it the fifty thousand pounds he was thinking of?—or what was it? This was only the second time he had been in{v.2-204} her company, and yet he had committed both himself and Nelly,—or, at least, in the consternation of the moment, so he thought.

‘It must be pleasant for the heiress to be discussed so calmly,’ said Nelly all at once. ‘Of course, any woman is ready to marry any man who presents himself. That’s the conclusion, isn’t it? But some girls are of a different way of thinking. Why should Mr. Laurence Renton marry money, I should like to know? I think he is very nice,—a great deal nicer than——most men,’ said Nelly, with emphasis. Her cheek was more crimson than ever, and the defiance was an exquisite compliment which went to Frank’s heart. Yes,—it was droll, but it did really seem to him that if he was disposed he might have that fifty thousand pounds. With that he could have his horse and a great many luxuries besides; and Nelly was very pretty, sitting there, opposite to him, with that blush on her cheek, and soft indignation in her eyes.

‘Laurie is the best fellow that ever lived,’ he cried, recovering himself with an effort; ‘but he does things for other people with a much better grace than for himself. He has always been like that. Lazy Laurence everybody calls him. He will never make his own way. I don’t know what he has gone to do in Italy. But, all the same, there never was such a good fellow. He is the kind of fellow,’ said{v.2-205} Frank, with a little effusion, ‘that something out of the way should happen to. He ought to find a beautiful princess in a wood, and fall in love with her, and save her from the giant; and then find out after all that she was the daughter of the king of the gold-mines, and had her pockets full of diamonds. That is the fate I should like for Laurie. Somehow he seems to deserve it; and it never would occur to him to plan anything for himself.’

‘Now I like that,’ cried Mrs. Rich; ‘I like you for being so proud of your brother. There are heaps of heiresses, you know, in Italy—at least so one reads in books; ladies travelling alone, that a young man could make himself very useful to, and then in common gratitude—— Why it is quite like a fairy tale. And when will your brother go? and what will he do in Italy? Mr. Rich has promised to take us there next winter. I have wanted to go all my life, Mr. Frank. It has been my dream. How strange it would be if we should meet him! But, alas! we have no heiresses,’ said Mrs. Rich, casting a glance at Nelly, who, for her part, gave her mother a quick, indignant look.

‘We shall go like a caravanserai,’ said Nelly, ‘with servants, and companions, and all sorts of dead-weights. Papa says he means to take that Count with him who is sick, and heaps of people. What I should like to do would be to go all by{v.2-206} myself, and live out of the English quarter, and see all the pictures, and never say a word to anybody. Fancy going to Rome and somebody saying to you, “ Isn’t it lovely?” as if it were a scene in a pantomime! I do so hate all that. I hate the books about parties to the Colosseum and rides in the Campagna. I want to go to Rome, and live and work. I wish I were your brother. I wish I could go wherever I pleased, and run about everywhere alone.’

‘I wish you could go with Laurie,’ said Frank, and for the moment it was said with absolute simplicity, without a thought of his scheme; ‘that is precisely what he will do; and he knows everything,—where to go, and what to see.’ Then he caught the odd, inquiring glance Nelly shot at him, and grew confused, he could scarcely tell why. ‘Of course, that is nonsense,’ he said, with a laugh. ‘But it must be the pleasantest of all when two people, just two, can ramble all about the world alone.’

Then there was another pause. What did he mean? He asked himself the question, and could not answer it. Was it that he himself would like to be one of the two, with a bright, little, vivacious, enthusiastic creature by his side to make everything interesting? Or was it Laurie who should take that place? Frank was so bewildered that he did not know; and Nelly, sitting opposite to him, was so{v.2-207} softened by this curious talk, and looked so much a sweeter version of herself, as with her face crimsoned and her eyes lit up, she sent a glance at him now and then, half stealthy, half candid, that the heart began to beat in the Guardsman’s bosom. Not that he cared much for Rome, or for rambling about the world in general. The pictures would bore him. The rides in the Campagna and the parties to the Colosseum would be best for Frank; and as for running about among all the old holes and corners as Laurie did, would not India be a thousand times better, with promotion, and fighting, and tigers, and general novelty? Clearly Providence had made a mistake about that dog-cart. It was Laurie who should have been stranded at Richmont, and left to concert an Italian tour with Nelly Rich. How perfectly they would have suited each other! But all the time Frank’s heart felt soft to the bright, sparkling creature, who was actually waiting, expecting the next words which he should speak.

‘It is very stupid on my part to talk like this,’ he said, with a little forced laugh. ‘I shall be crossing the Desert most likely when you are on your way, or creeping about Bombay or Calcutta, or some other wretched place. But I must tell Laurie to look out for you, Mrs, Rich. He is sure to be of use,’ he added, hastily. And then Frank’s temples throbbed and grew crimson, and his heart gave a jump. Was{v.2-208} it that Nelly sighed, and gave her head a little, scarcely perceptible shake, like one who has relinquished some pleasant thought? It was intensely flattering, and Frank could not but feel the compliment. What a dear little thing she was! How warm-hearted and how discriminating in her judgment! Frank felt disposed to kiss her hand, or even her cheek, out of pure gratitude. But still he was not disposed to give up India and his own way, and wander over the world with her, even had she possessed twice fifty thousand pounds.

And there was still the music going on at the other end of the room, and Mr. Rich clapping his hands at the conclusion of each melody. It was very different certainly from the programme up-stairs in the dark in the music-room; but yet there was a charm in the quaint old airs which Alice went on playing one after another, over and over again, without a sign of weariness. A distant, visionary, unconscious creature, still unawakened to any sense of personal life, rapt in the strains of her own music—half child, half angel—as calmly indifferent to him and every man as though they had all been like old Rich! Somehow this was the image which most captivated the young man’s perverse fancy. He turned his chair round and listened when the talk had come to this point. And Nelly did not wonder. It seemed as if all had been said that could be said{v.2-209} thus. And Mrs. Rich began to applaud loudly. And then the Saturday came to an end. It was only the second time he had been in this house. That was the extraordinarily ludicrous part of it! In such a house men grow quickly intimate.{v.2-210}



People are apt to talk of Sunday in the country as a pleasant thing, and yet there are few things which require a more delicate combination of circumstances to make it bearable. Far be it from me to say a word against the English Sunday which is good for man and beast, and only a little heavy upon the idle portion of the world, who have no particular occasion for rest. Sunday at home, with one’s own occupations and pleasures about one, is precisely what one chooses to make it,—an oasis in the desert, a peaceful break upon the frets of life, or a weariness and a nuisance, according to the inclinations of the individual. But your Sunday is taken out of your hands when you visit your friends. Frank Renton was nothing more than an ordinary young man, neither less nor more devout than the average; and felt the weekly holiday often enough lie heavy on his hands. But he, like everybody else, floated upon the surface of the Sunday at Richmont,—a waif and stray, without any will of his own, to be made what his enter{v.2-211}tainers pleased. Sunday usually comprises morning church, which is one’s duty, and a blessed relief from one’s friends; and then lunch, which is a happy interlude of life; and then a dreadful afternoon to be got through somehow; enforced aimless walks, if it is fine; aimless compulsory talk, in any case; if it rains, confusion and despair till dinner comes,—a heavenly interval of occupation! After that, if there is anything at all genial in the nature of your interlocutors, the evening may be got through, with the assistance of sacred music; but, oh, the joy, the relief, the satisfaction, when ten o’clock comes, and one is justified in lighting one’s candle and going to bed! Two girls in the house to walk with, and talk to, naturally modified this frightful programme to the young man. They all walked to church in the morning,—for Mr. Rich was old-fashioned,—and after luncheon looked at each other to know what was to be done. There was the flower-garden to visit, and the stables, and Mr. Rich’s favourite walk round the grounds. Frank, being a stranger, went through the whole of these varied operations. He visited the flower-garden with Mrs. Rich, and the stables with Alf, and made the round of the little park with the father and son together, and had all the views pointed out to him. ‘But you know all this ground as well as we do,’ the millionnaire said, though not until after he had cheerfully pointed out everything that was to be seen, and all the points of vision. ‘Ten thousand times better,{v.2-212}’ Frank groaned to himself; but he was too civil to speak out. It was a lovely day, in the end of April; heaps of primroses were clustering in the woods, and the flower-beds were gay with the first flush of spring; the lilacs and laburnums were beginning to bloom; the orchards were all white, and the air full of perfume. On such a day, as Mr. Rich justly said, it was a pleasure merely to be out-of-doors. But Frank, who had abundant opportunity of being out-of-doors, was indifferent to the pleasure. He had not anything particular to say to Alf, and Alf had nothing particular to say to him. So that Mr. Rich had it all his own way, and did the chief part of the talking, and enjoyed himself. He went through the walks, a little in advance of the two young men, with his hands folded under the tails of his coat. His step was brisk, though theirs was sufficiently languid. ‘This was a sad desert when I came here,’ he would say, turning round, and bringing them to a stop for a moment, ‘I had cartloads of rubbish cleared away from this bank,—scrubby bushes, all choked and miserable, without air to breathe or space to grow in. I had ’em all cleared away, sir. And over there, there had been a little landslip, as you see, which I stopped just in time. The whole slope would have fallen with those pretty birches, but for what we had done. You can see how it’s all bound and shored up. They told me I never could manage it; that a City man knew nothing about such things. But just look at it now,{v.2-213} and tell me if anything could be more steady. It would defy an avalanche, that bank would.’ And Mr. Rich stopped and patted the slope with his fat hands.

‘It seems beautifully done,’ said Frank, and Alf gave a little grunt, as who should say, The old fellow knows what he is about.

‘I flatter myself you won’t see better work anywhere,’ said the millionnaire. ‘We City men know a thing or two, Mr. Frank. We may not be so fine as you soldiers, but we have an eye for practical matters. I was not much to brag of in the way of prosperity when I first came to this neighbourhood. We took a little house down here, my wife and I, for change in the summer; and I set my eye on this place. I said to myself, ‘If I thrive I’ll settle there, if money will buy it.’ And there’s nothing money will not buy. Here I am, you see, and my children after me. What would the Beauchamps have thought if they had known that the very name of their place was to be changed, and it was to be called after the Riches, people nobody ever heard of? But a great many people have heard of me now.’

‘Immense numbers, I am sure, sir,’ said Frank, throwing away his cigar. He had the natural civility of his family, and could not turn an absolutely deaf ear, sick as he was of the monologue. Even Alf took his cigar out of his mouth, and looked at it curiously, as if it perhaps could clear up the situation. ‘All the same; I don’t see that we are anything remarkable,{v.2-214}’ said Alf; which was almost as great a puzzle to his father as a similar accident was to Balaam.

‘Oh dear, no, not all remarkable,’ said Mr. Rich, after he had stared wildly at his son; and he gave a glance at Frank, and a little nod, to signify his appreciation of his boy. ‘I don’t suppose you soldiers have much need for brains,’ he added, with benevolent jocularity. ‘But to return to the subject. I don’t know if you have observed how much I have done to the house, Mr. Frank. That music-room Nelly is so fond of was the merest wreck and ruin. Lumber in it,—actually lumber!—old pictures turned against the wall that were not worth sixpence, and trunks full of old papers, and everything that is most dreary. I had Runnymede, the architect, down, who knows all about that style of thing. I said, “Name your own price, and take your time, and come and dine with me whenever you are in the county.” These were all the conditions I made, and in six months, sir, I had everything restored; and as pretty a little domestic chapel,—the best judges tell me,—as exists in England. All money, sir,—money and a little taste. You may think I have too high an opinion of what money can do; but I don’t think one can have too high an idea. It can do anything. It’s the greatest power known. You may have the best intentions in the world, but you can’t carry them out without money. You can’t serve your friends without money; for influence means money, you know, however incorrupt{v.2-215}ible we are now-a-days. When I stand and look round me, and see all the changes that have been made, I feel that nothing but money could have done it. We did not have all this by birth, as the Beauchamps had. You should see my cattle at the farm. The Beauchamps never could afford to keep up that home-farm. I feel sorry for them; but it was clearly the best thing they could do to go away. They were keeping the sunshine off the land, and preventing it from thriving. You must have money, Mr. Renton, before you can do anything. It would be a great deal better for you young men if you recognised that at the first start.’

‘I don’t see what good it would do us,’ said Frank. ‘We can’t invent money. Of course I know it would be very nice to have it,—but wishing is not having;’ and with that he turned his eye towards the music-room, the windows of which were open. He was wishing to be there, there could be no doubt; but I don’t think there was any calculation in his head, or at that moment the smallest recollection of the fifty thousand pounds.

‘That is true,’ said Mr. Rich; ‘but when it comes in your way you should know better than to put it aside, as I have known some foolish young fellows do. There is your brother, for instance. Knowing who he was, and being neighbours, and so forth, why I’d have bought anything of his own as fast as look at it,—anything! As for merit, I should never have asked{v.2-216} if it was good or bad. But, no! Instead of taking me to his own studio, where he must have had something to show,—must have had, don’t you see, or what is the good of a studio at all?—he took me to Suffolk’s and I bought that picture instead. That is what I call running in the face of Providence. Serve your friends next to yourself, if you like,—I don’t object to that; but to serve them before yourself is going counter to every right feeling. Friendship is all very well, but you can command even friendship if you have money enough. You prefer to think of disinterestedness and all that sort of thing, you young fellows; but the only man that can really be disinterested is a rich man. Therefore be as rich as you can,—that has been my motto all my life.’

Frank laughed, though he did not much like the lecture. ‘That is all very well,’ he said; ‘but how are we to grow rich, except on the turf, or at cards, or something? And you are just as likely, for that matter, to grow poorer than richer. They are having some music up there,’ he said, turning decidedly in the direction of the music-room. Mr. Rich shook his head.

‘You won’t make much by music,’ he said,—‘at least, you amateurs don’t. If I were Mrs. Severn I’d train that girl for the stage, or something. Why not? She must work for her living, poor thing! And do you take my advice, Mr. Frank,—don’t waste{v.2-217} your chances, or refuse a good thing when you may have it. Friends are all very well, but serve yourself first. You know the proverb,—“He who will not when he may, when he would he shall have nay.”

‘If I should ever have any good things in my power I will recollect,’ said Frank, laughing. But he was disturbed by this strange persistency. They had come at last, he thanked heaven, to the end of the walk; and it was on Mr. Rich’s lips to propose another round. ‘I think I’ll go up-stairs and see what the young ladies are doing,’ said Frank, hastily. Then Alf uttered a haw-haw under his moustache, and his father chorused loudly,—a liberty which the subject of this mirth somewhat resented.

‘Ay, do,’ said Mr. Rich; ‘more natural than listening to an old fogey chattering, isn’t it? Go to the young ladies,—I don’t doubt you’ll be very welcome; but nevertheless, Mr. Frank, don’t forget that I have been giving you good advice,—and very good advice, too, you’ll find it. Come along, Alf.’

Frank turned back to the house with a wonderful sense of relief, while the father and son resumed their walk. What could old Rich mean? What were the good things that might be coming his way that he was to be careful not to refuse? The question sent the blood to his face, and a thrill, for which it was difficult to account, through his whole frame. Was{v.2-218} it Nelly’s fortune that was thus waiting his acceptance? Was it—— He quickened his pace, and felt his temples throb, and something buzz in his ears. He had put aside the idea. He had resolved in his own mind that it was Laurie who was to face this question; but Laurie was gone, and, so far as he could see, everybody was agreed in thrusting it on his own notice. Was it necessary that he should go over all the arguments once more? ‘Serve yourself first and then your friends,’ old Rich had said, as if he had divined the intention of the young soldier to transfer this possible piece of good fortune to his brother,—as if he had any right to transfer Nelly Rich to any one! All this time she might be, and probably was, quite unconscious of the whole business. A girl might flirt a little with a man without ever thinking of him after. He was the only fellow at present with whom she could flirt. His face grew hotter and hotter as he went up-stairs. ‘Don’t waste your chances, or refuse a good thing when you may have it,’ old Rich had said. After all, Frank himself was but a younger son. However matters turned out, he could not come in to a great fortune; and here was competence, comfort, security, before him. Frank had never been brought up to be anything but a young man of the world, and he did not know indeed how far it was right for him to put aside this chance. It was not a temptation he had to set his face against,—it was a reasonable, sensible {v.2-219}prospect which probably he would be a fool not to seize upon. His freedom, after all, was but a poor thing to set against all that he would gain by such a marriage,—freedom for the mess, and the club, and the monotonies of a young man’s life! For gaiety is as monotonous in its way as dulness; and Frank was man enough to feel that the kind of existence he was leading was not so good or so delightful as to be held fast at all costs. He would not be rendered miserable by being withdrawn from the mess. It would be no unendurable bondage to have a bright little companion to go everywhere with him! His mind dwelt for a moment on that thought with a softening sense of tenderness and gratified vanity. Then he pulled himself up, as it were, with a start. Was that Nelly, that sudden vision that had flitted before him? or was it—some one else? Breathless, not stopping to make any further investigation, he rushed up-stairs.

They were both there as usual;—Nelly in the low chair, with a book in her hand, talking to Alice, who stood leaning against the window, which was open. The sounds Frank had heard had been imaginary sounds. ‘Come and talk,’ Nelly had said, not caring at that moment for music. The soft air breathing through the window,—the sight of the budding trees and green of the park,—the sweetness of the flowers, were all music to Alice. How different it was from Fitzroy Square! The world, with which the child had as yet made so little{v.2-220} acquaintance, breathed melodies to her from every corner. She was glad to play for anybody who asked her; but for herself, music was not so much a necessity there as at home. And she was very content to stand by the open casement with that sweetness which was sweeter even than the Lieder breathing about her, and the air rustling softly through her curls. Nelly was asking her all sorts of questions about home, and about Laurie Renton, who had at that moment an interest for her. Why had he gone away so suddenly? Had anything happened? ‘You did not refuse him, did you?’ she had asked, just as Frank entered the house.

‘I,—refuse him? What do you mean?’ cried Alice, opening her brown eyes.

‘I mean what everybody means,’ cried Nelly. ‘Alice, my dear, you are a perfect baby. Did you never hear of a girl refusing a man before? Then you must have been very badly brought up. Perhaps you think we are to give in to them whenever they ask us; but that would never suit me.’

‘I have not thought anything about it,’ said Alice, with a sudden blush on her innocent cheeks.

‘And yet you are sixteen,’ said Nelly. ‘I had not only thought about it, but done it, before I was your age. But then I have money. In this house we think a great deal of money. It seems quite right and natural to them all that men should ask{v.2-221} me, and pretend to be in love with me, because papa is rich. Did you hear Frank Renton say last night he would never marry for that? Young men are all so frightfully prudent now-a-days; they laugh, and smirk, and say, ‘Oh yes, of course,’ and look at me as if I was something into the bargain that had to be taken with my fortune. I wish I had been an artist’s daughter, like you. Then I could have taken up my father’s profession, and nobody would have thought it strange. If I married that Laurie Renton now——’ said Nelly, with meditative calm. Alice’s blush grew deeper and deeper, and she turned away her face. She was a fanciful child, full of ideas which most people would think overstrained; and it made her cheeks flame, though she had nothing to do with it, to hear Nelly’s philosophical peradventures. And then she remembered how suddenly Mr. Frank Renton had come in upon them last night. If he should by chance hear anything of a conversation like this!

‘I don’t know what you mean. I—can’t—understand how you can—speak so,’ said Alice.

‘That is because you have been kept in the nursery, and never heard anything,’ said Nelly; ‘and much the best thing too. But it is long enough since I have been in the nursery, and there are always heaps of people about the house who do not care a straw for us. Why shouldn’t I have married Laurie{v.2-222} Renton? It would have been a very good thing for him, and he is living just as I should like to live. Ah! you have heard a great deal about love, and all that nonsense,’ said Nelly, with a sigh.

‘I have never heard anything about it. Why should people talk of such things?’ cried the indignant Alice.

‘Why shouldn’t you talk of anything you think about?’ said her companion; ‘for of course you have thought about it, and read about it, and believe in it. But one comes not to believe. I don’t care a straw for Laurie Renton. I don’t know him. I have seen him once, and most likely I shall never see him again. But he and I might have made what you may call a reasonable match. He would have been a great deal the better of my money; and I should have been much the better of having him to go about with me, and take care of me, and tell me what to do. It would have been the very thing for us both.’ And Nelly sighed again, having thus oddly brought herself just to the same point to which Frank’s deliberations had brought him. But the sigh was not for Laurie; indeed, as she admitted, she did not know Laurie. If Frank had been like his brother, perhaps—— But he was not like his brother, nor was he like herself. He was Frank, a young Guardsman and butterfly, like the rest; one of the men who had seized upon her own faulty sketch, and taken no{v.2-223} notice of Suffolk’s beautiful picture; a young fellow,—she said to herself,—without two ideas in his head; and yet——; ‘I suppose you don’t know much about his brother?’ she said to Alice, leaning her arm upon the broad ledge of the window, and her head on that. The two girls were in this attitude, the one looking up to the other, when Frank himself arrived at the door.

This time he was very modest and discreet. He knocked, which startled them much, and then he asked, ‘May I come in?’ and entered softly after a pause. ‘I was told I might come,’ said Frank, folding his hands. ‘I hope I have not done anything wrong.’

And Nelly looked up at him with a sudden blush. He was handsome, and young, and full of that splendid freedom and independence of movement which girls, being excluded from it, admire so intensely. Why should he insist on coming, and stand thus suppliant, with his hands folded, unless—— And last night he had knelt,—he had gone down on his knees as men are not in the habit of doing out of novels; and he was not like the other men. He was not exactly like them, at least, as they were like each other. And—— Nelly extended her hand, which was unnecessary. ‘When a man has made up his mind in this determined way to effect an entrance, of course he must do it,’ said Nelly. ‘Come in, since you will come. Come and talk: we were{v.2-224} talking of you, and you can give us all the information we want.’

‘Talking of me?—that is too much happiness,’ said Frank.

‘That is, of your brother, which comes to about the same thing,’ said Nelly, carelessly. ‘Please give us a full account of all you have ever done, and your motives for doing it. I am full of curiosity to-day. It is Sunday, and one has nothing else to do. You had better begin at Eton, and tell us all about it,’ cried the girl, laying back her head upon her high-backed chair, and looking full at him, with that calm observation in her face which is so exasperating to ordinary mortals. Frank was not exasperated, however, for there was a certain trace of nervousness in Nelly’s audacity. As for Alice, she was horror-stricken.

‘Oh, Nelly! how can you speak so?’ she cried. To Alice, Frank Renton was a paladin,—too fine a being to approach with freedom at all, much less with candid questioning. Tell them everything he ever did! He would be angry, Alice thought. ‘Oh, Nelly! how dare you?’ she cried. And Frank was as much touched by the sound of that soft little exclamation as if her utterances had been those of the highest wisdom.

‘Begin with Eton?’ he said. ‘It is so long ago I forget; and besides, I have always been so good, and gentle, and well behaved, that there is nothing to tell{v.2-225} about me. I will tell you about Laurie, if you like. He was always an unlucky fellow,—too late for everything, and never quite sure whether he was right or wrong;—but the best fellow that ever was born. You would have liked Laurie if you had known him. And I wanted you to know him,’ continued Frank. ‘You would have suited each other so well.’

‘Should we?’ said Nelly, still looking up, and leaning back her head against the high back of her chair. ‘Alice, please go and play us something. If you cannot manage the organ, there is the piano. Mr. Renton, tell me why you wanted me to know your brother, and why you thought he would have particularly suited me.’ The question brought the guilty blood to Frank’s face. What a little inquisitor she was! What strange, outspoken people were the entire family! ‘Why did you think he would have suited me?—tell me,’ she asked, looking fixedly into his face.

‘Oh, I only thought,—I don’t know that I had any motive;—I suppose because you are both fond of pictures, and both.’—here Frank paused to take breath,—‘both,—why both artists, you know, in a way,’ he said, with confusion; and during this broken utterance Nelly never once removed from him her brilliant eyes.

‘I see,’ she said quietly, while Frank looked out at the window, and saw Mr. Rich and Alf leisurely{v.2-226} turning down towards the woods, and wished he were with them after all. Being advised for his good was bad enough, but to have his secrets thus demanded of him, and himself looked through and through, was worse. Confound it! what did she see? that he had been thinking of handing her over to Laurie? that he had been ready to traffic with her, presuming on the notice she had taken of him, and coolly planning to get her money for his brother? Was this what she saw, the little sorceress? Just then Alice, who had been sent away not to disturb the investigation, began to strike some plaintive chords on the piano. Ah, there was a creature who would never gaze at a man with such disdainful, suspicious scrutiny—a consolatory being, that would sweeten and smooth life, and make its sorrows bearable, instead of adding distraction to distraction! Frank felt sure that she had heard what was passing, and struck in at the most difficult moment to relieve his embarrassment and tranquillise his mind. Bless her! and of the other he had said, in his perplexity, Confound her! While he stood silent, looking out, the music stole about his heart and caressed and soothed him. He felt as if it had not been the music but the musician who did so; but of course that was nonsense. It freed him from the necessity of making Nelly any further answer, or asking what it was she saw, as a man strong in conscious right might have done. But all Frank’s consciousness was of wrong.{v.2-227}

It was Nelly who was the first to speak. She changed her position rapidly, and with it her manner and all that was objectionable in her looks. She leaned forward to him with her arm on the ledge of the window. ‘I am impertinent,’ she said; ‘yes, I know you think so; but you must not be angry, Mr. Renton, as Alice says.’

‘Angry!’ cried Frank.

‘Yes, angry; you might be, for I have been very disagreeable. I can’t help being disagreeable now and then. You are very fond of your brother, and you wanted me to know him. It was a great compliment; and before you came I was saying to Alice how I wished I could have gone with him, and lived just as he did. But I can’t, you know. A girl never can do anything she wants to do. That is what makes us envy you so, and admire your independence and your freedom,’ said Nelly, looking up with different eyes,—with eyes as plaintive and insinuating as the music,—into Frank’s face.

What could he do? He was mollified in spite of himself. ‘Not so very independent, after all,’ he said. ‘A subaltern cannot boast of much in that way. I have to come and go as I am told, and ask leave before I can get away to see my friends.’

‘And have a hard life altogether,’ said Nelly. ‘That is very sad; but if I were to ask leave ever so they would not let me go to Rome as your brother has done. I wish he had been my{v.2-228} brother, and then I might have gone with him; but our poor boys don’t understand that sort of thing. George knows about the money market and all that. And when Harry comes home he will probably be able to talk of indigo. Isn’t it indigo? And Alf,—what should you say Alf knows most about, Mr. Renton?’ said Nelly, with fun dancing in her eyes.

Poor Alf! Frank could not but laugh, though he was conscious of not being particularly clever himself. And it was impossible not to look down upon the sparkling face that gazed up at him. The music plucked at his heart and called him to attention; but he could not be so rude as to turn from Nelly. And then something might still be done in Laurie’s interest. ‘If you go to Italy next winter you will meet my brother,’ he said; ‘at least I hope so. I should like to be able to tell him to look out for you, if I knew when you were going;—I am sure he could be of use.’

‘Next winter!’ said Nelly, ‘that is a long time off yet. No one can tell what may have happened before next winter. Do you expect to be gone from here that you speak in that uncertain way about where we are going?’

‘I expect to be in India by that time,’ said Frank.

‘In India? Oh, yes, I remember; so you said,’ said Nelly, and made a pause; then she asked suddenly, with a hurried glance at him, ‘And you think{v.2-229} there is nothing that could happen that would make you change your mind?’

‘I don’t know what could happen that would change my mind,’ said Frank. He faltered as he spoke, knowing that there was one thing,—and that her very self,—which might alter all his plans; and yet feeling no desire to have his plans altered; but a more energetic determination, on the contrary, to carry them out. But what could a girl possibly mean by such a question? Not that, surely, of all things in the world! The pause that ensued was full of embarrassment. And the music swept in again suddenly and filled the whole place, and the rustling, palpitating silence between them. Nelly spoke no more. She let her head drop upon one hand, and with the fingers of her other beat time softly on the little table. The subject of the conversation was nothing to her; that was the inference in her change of attitude. ‘Listen; how lovely that is!’ were the first words she spoke; and yet she admitted that she did not care for music. Frank stood and leaned upon the open casement, with his eyes vacantly fixed upon the green world without; and though there was still the vibration in the air caused by the strange, secret, unacknowledged duel which had been going on between Nelly and himself, the sweet sounds once more entered into and possessed him. The strain took him upon its growing current like a toy, and flooded him, as it were, with{v.2-230} changed sensations and a curious quietness. It soothed, and cheered, and stilled him all in a moment. And strangely enough, though he was a young man who should have known better, all these results seemed to him to have been produced not by the music but by the musician. It was to Frank as if Alice herself had whispered a soft ‘Never mind’ into his ear, and had charmed him instantly into such dreams as put away from him all recollection of the former embarrassment. He stood thus till long after Nelly had ceased to beat with her fingers on the table, and till she had almost grown tired of wondering at his absorbed countenance. She had suffered the music to end that particular conversation, feeling that it could go no further; but she had naturally expected that another conversation should begin after a proper interval. But such an idea did not occur to Frank. He was really absorbed in the music,—a thing which bewildered Nelly. She sat and beat time for five minutes, and then she stopped and looked at the Guardsman and at Alice with a look of wonder in her face. But Frank did not even observe her look. When she could no longer refrain herself, she burst into sudden speech.

‘I do not understand music,’ she said. ‘Do you know what that means, you two? You are both so absorbed you have lost sight of everything else. Does it mean anything? Pray tell me what it is?’

‘What it means?’ said Frank; and Alice, though{v.2-231} she had but half heard the question, paused as by instinct, the chords still vibrating under her fingers. She had been perfectly passive, taking no part in the talk, not even knowing what was said; yet suddenly she too felt as Frank did, that they were engaged in opposite armies, two against one. Nelly affronted, a little hurt, angry without meaning to be angry, stood on one side—and on the other, the performer and the listener stood together, having forgotten everything. Alice felt this by instinct, with a quick pang of sorrow, yet of satisfaction. He and she were on the same side. It was pleasant not to stand alone.

‘You look moon-struck,’ said Nelly, more and more indignant, ‘and it is still broad daylight. Yes; tell me what it means. What wailing spirit is in the keys? I cannot make it out. I have been listening and wondering for ten minutes. I know what books mean, and pictures; but I can’t understand music. Tell me, you two, who are fond of it, what it is all about?’

Then Frank turned round upon Alice, and a look of mutual appeal passed between them. Mean? It was part of a mass; but Frank, for his part at least, did not know the solemn words to which the music was wedded; and he wanted no meaning that could be put into words. He felt what it was, instinctively. It was the only poetry of which his mind was susceptible. Alice was more fanciful,{v.2-232} more imaginative, perhaps more intellectual than the young Guardsman; but yet the question was to her much what the question, What did ‘In Memoriam’ mean? would have been to a mind of different inclinations. The two looked at each other in a momentary wondering consultation. They were the two against one, connected by a secret bond. In a moment the colour flamed from one young face to the other. A sensation of happiness, tenderness, exquisite satisfaction and contentment, came over them both. Neither could explain, and yet both knew, felt, and felt together. And were ashamed!—Surely a more innocent bond could not have been. As for Nelly, with her quick eyes she saw the glance, and understood, and flamed up also, all over, with resentment and indignation, and a mortified sense of being superseded.

‘Yes.’ she said, with a hard little laugh, ‘consult each other! I have asked heaps of musical people the same question; but they never could tell me. What is it about? Is there a story in it, or any meaning? Have a consultation; two heads are better than one. And please, when you make it out, tell me,’ she cried, rising from her seat. ‘I will go and get a book that I can understand.’

And before they could either of them say a word she was gone out of the room. The movement was so sudden, that they were both taken by surprise. ‘What is the matter? Is she affronted?’ said Frank,{v.2-233} with a secret sense that he himself was the sinner. As for Alice, she was struck with consternation. ‘What have we done?’ she said, faltering, and then recollected herself, and blushed more deeply than ever. And there was a pause of dismay, during which the two strangers listened and waited for the return of the daughter of the house. Then Alice rose with tears in her eyes.

‘Mr. Renton, I am so sorry,’ she said. ‘Miss Hadley always tells me musical people are so selfish, thinking everybody must like it. I will go and beg Nelly’s pardon. I did not mean any harm.’

‘Harm?’ said Frank with indignation; but before he could add another word he found himself alone.{v.2-234}



It will be perceived, from all that has been said, that Nelly Rich used more freedom in the expression of her sentiments than is generally expected from girls of her age. A well brought-up young woman is not supposed to go off affronted when her admirer, real or supposed, shows a sudden interest in music, or anything else, independent of herself. The modern code of manners exacts that she should, if not grin, at least smile and bear it, with as much courage and as little of the air either of offence or resignation, as possible. Nelly betrayed her less exalted origin in this, that she allowed her real sentiments to escape her. There can be no doubt that she had given Frank intimations of her readiness to look favourably upon him which a more reticent girl would have blushed to give, and on which was built much that would else have seemed coxcombical in his behaviour. When a young woman asks if there is no possible chance that would induce a young man to change his mind about going to India or elsewhere, she is either beguiling{v.2-235} and deluding that young man, or she is exhibiting, as far as she can, ‘intentions’ which are generally supposed to originate on the other side. And then her abrupt exit was a startling thing. When he was left alone in the music-room with the open piano, and Nelly’s book lying on the table, Frank did not feel comfortable. He was left, as it were, master of the field. But it cannot be said that it is a pleasant thing to rout your friends so completely in their own house, and find yourself in solitary possession of their usual haunts. The evening passed, however, less unpleasantly than this scene would have led a looker-on to suppose. Alice, learning wisdom from experience, excused herself on the plea of being tired from playing; and Frank made his peace with Nelly, saying no more about his brother, and talking of the Beauchamps, and Mary Westbury, and his own home. The Renton woods were an unfailing subject,—as were also his own boyish adventures, into the history of which he was drawn by Mrs. Rich, whose inquiries were manifold. A man, especially if he is still a boy, has always a certain pleasure in uttering such reminiscences to sympathetic ears. The ladies laughed at his Eton scrapes, and were edified by his adventures on the river, and listened with ready interest, and smiles, and wanderings, to all his schoolboy tales. He felt himself of importance as he turned from one to another, and it pleased him to see Nelly seriously inclined to listen. She was interested,{v.2-236}—it was no make-believe,—interested in Frank in the first place, and after that, like a true woman, interested in every detail about him. She liked to know how he had distinguished, and how he had committed, himself. It seemed to give her something to do with him; and Frank, too, felt the charm of confidence. She had put aside her waywardness, and listened with bright eyes of interest, with an eager ear, with smiles and exclamations. She made him describe Renton to her over and over again, and those points of view which people went to see.

‘I could row you over,’ he said, ‘any day. From Cookesley to Renton is an easy pull. Let us make up a party and do it. The river is lovely, and if you have not seen it before——’

‘I have never been higher up than Cookesley,’ said Nelly; and thus it was arranged, though Mrs. Rich shook her head.

‘We shall see when the time comes,’ that wise mother said; and Frank perceived that it was only in case his mother should make up her mind to be civil that this little expedition would be permitted.

He made himself very agreeable to Nelly that evening, undismayed by the events of the afternoon. Alice was out of the way. She was at the other end of the room, looking over engravings, and resisting Alf’s entreaties that she should play something. ‘Nelly would not like it,’ she said to herself; ‘she is talking, and she likes that better.’ And Alice felt{v.2-237} herself somewhat silent and wistful, and wished herself back in Fitzroy Square. That evening it appeared to her that she was not enjoying her visit as she had expected to do. She missed her mother, and she missed the children, and Miss Hadley, and her usual duties, and perhaps something else too, though she did not know what was in her own thoughts. Sometimes she cast a wistful glance across the room at Nelly smiling and softened, with that look of absorbed attention in her brilliant eyes. Alice had been shocked by her friend’s freedom of speech, but, as was so natural, impressed by it also. Unconsciously she herself began to speculate about Nelly. Could there be—as girls say—anything between her and Frank Renton? Was that why she was cross, and was it not the music? Alice felt herself to be pushed aside, and it was not a cheerful feeling; but fortunately the only form it took was a longing for home. She had home to fall back upon whatever might befall her here. If any vague discontent came down upon her heart, happiness and peace, as of old, dwelt and waited for her in the Square. This was her feeling, as she sat in the distant corner looking over the photographs. Alf had settled down sulkily when she refused to play to him, on a sofa near, and Mr. Rich slept the sleep of the just, the Sunday evening crown of the week’s exertion, in an easy chair midway between her and the table, with a lamp burning brilliantly upon it, round which were{v.2-238} grouped Mrs. Rich and Nelly and the young visitor. When Alice saw them laughing and talking, she felt that she would have liked to be there too, and have a part in the fun. But they did not call her, and she was too shy to go unasked, and she found the evening a little long.

When Frank Renton left Richmont the next morning it was with a mind by no means settled or at rest. He had received the warmest invitations to return from the parent pair, and Nelly was not slow to intimate that she looked for him soon. ‘Come over here when Lord Edgbaston’s refined society palls upon you,’ Nelly said. ‘Indeed, Edgbaston is a very good fellow,’ Frank answered, apologetically. ‘I know he is a lord,’ was Nelly’s reply. She did not care for a lord, nor had she given so much of her society or conversation to any one of her followers, though many of them were much more eligible in every way than Frank. This compliment went to the bottom of his heart. No doubt she was full of intelligence and discrimination, and could see the difference between one man and another; and she was, when she liked, the brightest little sympathetic creature, and awfully clever,—clever enough to make up a man’s deficiencies in that way; but yet——! These were the young man’s thoughts as he walked down to Cookesley to get his boat. He was going to the Manor, after all, to see his mother; and on the way he turned everything over{v.2-239} again in his mind. Nelly was very nice, when she pleased; and though her connexions were nothing to brag of, still that was not a thing which people took into severe consideration when a man married money, especially when the money was young and pretty. And yet——! Frank could not but ask himself how it was that the girl who took a fellow’s fancy—the one he would really have gone after had he been able to choose for himself—should never be the one who had the fifty thousand pounds. It was a curious spite of fortune. When he directed his mind to the serious consideration of this grand question—the first great social problem he had ever tackled on his own account—a singular dissipating influence always arrested him. Stray notes of music would float across his mind,—a bit of a melody which compelled him to hum it,—a perplexing bar which would separate from everything else, and echo in his ear. And when he returned to the consideration of Nelly Rich, another little agile figure stepped in before her, the one shadow jostling the other out of the way with a curious reality. It was not he who did it, nor had his will any share in the matter. They did it themselves, independent of any influence of his. So that the more he thought it over the more perplexed he became; and yet it was not a matter which could be suffered to run on and be decided any time. It must be settled, and that at once.

With his head full of these thoughts, he walked{v.2-240} down across the cheerful, blooming country to Cookesley. The day was quite bright enough for the expedition he had proposed to Nelly; and when the recollection of this proposed expedition came back to his mind, Frank fell into pondering whether his mother would call. Why should she not call? It was quite true that she was an invalid; and also true that she was in the deepest of mourning; but still, the carriage, with Mary in it, and a card, would do. Mere civility! he said to himself. And if it should be for Laurie’s interest,—or even for his own! Instead of going to India. Frank knew that his mother would have visited anybody in the country on that inducement. And it might come to that. He stepped into his boat with so serious a countenance that the men at the wharf took note of it. ‘Them Rentons, they ain’t up to no good,’ one said to another. ‘The eldest gentleman, as was here the other day, was awful changed, and this one, as is the swellest of all, looks as black as if he was a-carrying of the world on his shoulders.’ This chance observation Frank overheard as he glided his boat through the maze of skiffs into clear water. It made him smile when he was fairly afloat and out of reach of observation. He had more than the world on his shoulders. What would the mere world have been, or any superficial weight, compared to the task of deciding what his whole life was to be? According as he made up his mind now would be{v.2-241} the direction and colour of his existence. No wonder he looked black. But how was it that the eldest gentleman had so changed? And Laurie was gone without giving any reason. It was hard to think that it was their father’s fault,—the father who had been so good to them. Seven months before they had all looked up to him with the undoubting, affectionate confidence of sons who had never known anything but kindness; and now they were all scattered to the different corners of the world, separated from each other, broken up, and set adrift. Frank was more a man of the world than either of his brothers, though he was so young. He could not but ask himself,—Was not old Rich right? Mr. Renton’s mind must have been touched. He could not have been guilty of such an injury to them all had he been in full possession of his reason. Thus, if he did not look black, he looked at least very grave, as he pulled up the river, unlike the light-hearted young Guardsman who had so often made the banks ring with his laughter and boyish nonsense. He was approaching his twenty-first birthday, and he was having the grand problem submitted to his decision. It was not pleasure and virtue, certainly, which stood before him offering; him the irrevocable choice. There was no particular sin in adopting either course, and no unspeakable delight; nothing infinitely seductive to move his senses, or loftily excellent to restrain them. If he were to marry Nelly and stay at home, he{v.2-242} would be to all intents and purposes as good and as honest as if he went to India. And if he went to India he would be sufficiently well off, and quite as happy,—perhaps happier than if he stayed at home. The question was a fine modern one between two neutral shades of well-doing, and not a primitive alternative between black and white, salvation and ruin. You will say that to marry a girl he did not love would have been a sin; but Frank did not see it in that light. If he did marry her, no doubt they would get on very well together. Nelly was not, as we have already said, a temptation to be resisted, but, most probably, a sober duty which he ought not to neglect. He was not passionate, like Ben, nor was he meditative, like his brother Laurie. He was the practical man of the family. If it had been decided to be right, no doubt he would have done it like a man, and been quite comfortable ever after. The difficulty was that there was too much neutral tint about the whole question. It was possible that he might do quite as well for himself in India as by marrying money. The chances were too equal, the gain too uncertain, to make the decision easy.

Mrs. Renton received him as usual in her dim room with the blinds down, a bottle of medicine on the table, and her arrowroot in the background. It was a different atmosphere, certainly, from that of Richmont. His mother wept a few tears as Frank kissed her. She was apt to do so now-a-days when one{v.2-243} of her sons appeared. And Ben’s farewell visit had been but a few days before, and had shaken her more than anything that had happened since her husband’s death. She could do nothing but talk of him. ‘He was looking quite well, Frank, quite well,’ she said, over and over again, ‘though I am sure living shut up in London all winter would have killed any one else. And he is to sail on Friday,’ Mrs. Renton added with a sigh. As for Mary Westbury, she, too, bore traces of having been moved by Ben’s visit. ‘Oh, he is quite in good spirits about going,’ she interposed. ‘I think he likes the idea.’ Frank, with his new-born experience, felt at once that something must have happened, and that all was not merely simple, straightforward, cousinly friendship between Mary and Ben.

‘I suppose that was why you did not send for me,’ he said; ‘but, mamma, you must take the consequences. Instead of only dining at Richmont, I have passed the Sunday there, and I hope you will be so polite as to call. They are very good sort of people, and they have been very kind to me.’

‘Those new people!’ said Mrs. Renton. ‘What a house for you to spend Sunday in! Your note never came till yesterday, when the servants came back from church; and I thought of course you must have gone back to Royalborough. Mary will tell you all about it, and how we consulted what to do.{v.2-244}

‘But, mother, I want you to call on Mrs. Rich,’ repeated Frank.

‘My dear!’ said Mrs. Renton, sitting up on her sofa.

But Frank was aware that she must not be allowed to stand up for herself, and confirm her own resolution by talk. ‘They are friends of Laurie’s,’ he said, making a little gulp at the fib; ‘they are fond of him, and they may have it in their power to be kind to him, too. They are going to Italy next year.’

‘My poor Laurie!’ cried Mrs. Renton. ‘He has written me such a nice letter. He says he could not come to say good-bye; that it would have been too much for him. So he says; but I am sure he was afraid to come to let me see how pale he was looking. You don’t think it is anything about his lungs which has taken him to Italy? He might confide in you.’

‘Why it is for his pictures, not his lungs,’ said Frank, with the cheerful confidence of ignorance. ‘Those Riches are friends of his. I am sure it would be good for him if you could make up your mind to call. Don’t you think he is the sort of man who ought to marry money?’ Frank added, with a little embarrassment, after a pause.

‘To marry money! Is he thinking of marrying?—and he has nothing!’ cried Mrs. Renton, with consternation.{v.2-245}

‘But if she had a good deal?’ said Frank. ‘He will never make any way for himself. Don’t you see, he is too good-natured and kind for that. So I think a nice little fortune that would keep him comfortable would be the very finest thing for Laurie. And I wish you would call at Richmont.’

‘Is it Miss Rich that is to supply the little fortune?’ asked Mary, with a smile.

‘Miss Rich is very nice,’ said Frank, with some indignation. Though he spoke thus of Laurie, it was not with any particular hope in respect to him. But if he himself should marry Nelly,—which seemed much more likely,—he would not drop any word which could be brought up against her. ‘She is very accomplished, and draws beautifully; but unless you can get my mother to attend to ordinary civility, they can’t be expected to like it. And it may be the worse for both Laurie and me.’

‘Neither Laurie nor you should have anything to do with such people,’ said Mrs. Renton; and then she stopped short, and a new current of thinking rose up in her mind. ‘I do not like such things to be spoken of, Frank,’ she said. ‘It is disgusting to hear some people talk of marrying money. Has the young lady a great fortune? Did you say she was nice? Sometimes the children of those vulgar people are wonderfully well brought up. They get all that money can buy, of course. And did you say they were fond of Laurie? He has never mentioned{v.2-246} them in any of his letters. Poor Laurie! Will his pictures ever bring him in any money, I wonder? And he never can go travelling about on his allowance,—that is impossible. Did you say Miss Rich had a very large fortune, Frank?’

‘Enough to be comfortable upon,’ said the Guardsman. ‘They would be immensely pleased if you would call.’

‘Oh, my dear, I am not strong enough, nor in spirits to call anywhere,’ said Mrs. Renton, sinking back on her pillows. But the seed had been dropped in the soil. Mary Westbury’s opinion, when she and Frank were alone, was that she would go. Frank, for his part, found himself a great deal more anxious about it than he had the least idea he was. Perhaps because of Nelly; perhaps only because of the difficulty,—he could scarcely say.

‘I shall feel very small if she does not go,’ he confided to Mary; ‘and really, you know, I had not the least claim upon them, and they were very kind to me.’

‘I thought you said they were friends of Laurie’s,’ said Mary. ‘He never mentioned them in any way; but people have begun to gossip about you, Frank. I nearly laughed when you were talking so wisely of Laurie. It never occurred to you that other people might be behind the scenes and know better. Everybody says it is you.’

‘What is me?’ said Frank, with some heat. ‘I{v.2-247} did not think you were the sort of girl to repeat such folly. Because Nelly Rich is a nice bright little thing, and would be the very thing for Laurie——’

‘Laurie again!’ cried Mary, laughing. ‘You are the strangest figure for a match-maker! They say, Frank, that these good people have quite made up their mind to have a gentleman of Berks for their daughter: and that is why they have always been so interested about us. And then they came to know you,—the very thing they want. I don’t know if it is true, but that is what they say.’

‘They say a great deal of nonsense,’ said Frank. ‘But, Mary, I have never had an opportunity to ask you anything. How about Ben?’

And now it was Mary’s turn to change countenance. ‘I don’t think there is much to tell about Ben,’ she said, with unusual curtness of expression. ‘He is going to America, you know.’

‘But there is something more than that,’ said Frank. ‘I can read it in your face.’

‘Then you know more than I do,’ said Mary Westbury, cooling down into that dogmatic obduracy and calmness which is a gift of woman. ‘I am sure Ben did not confide in me.’

No—and wild horses would not have drawn anything further from her, that was evident. Mary, who was always so open, and candid, and straightforward, closed up in a moment, put shutters to all her windows, sealed her lips as if hermetically. If{v.2-248} there had been nothing this would not have been necessary; but Frank had not time to go fully into the question. He gave her a keen, scrutinising glance, and then was silent. No doubt Ben had got into some scrape or other; but that his brother was not to know anything about it was equally clear.

‘It is dreadful that you should all be going off at once,’ said Mary. ‘Ben did come to bid us good-bye, but Laurie has disappeared without even so much as that. I wish you would tell me something about Laurie, Frank. He must have known somebody better than the Riches surely;—some of those artist people. When you went to see him in town did you never see any of his friends?’

‘Laurie’s friends?’ said the Guardsman, and it is undeniable that certain confusion stole over him. It was a kind of duel that was taking place between his cousin and himself. They were both of clearer sight than usual, enlightened by experience,—both anxious to find out something they did not know, and conceal something they did. ‘Oh, yes,’ Frank went on carelessly, ‘I have seen several of his friends;—Suffolk, the painter,—though I don’t suppose you ever heard of him; and there is a Mrs. Severn, in Fitzroy Square,—I think he was most intimate there.’

‘Tell me about her,’ cried Mary. ‘It is so odd of Laurie to go away without coming home; something must have happened to him. It might not be{v.2-249} anything of that kind, of course; but tell me,—were there daughters? or any one?’

Frank cleared his throat, nor could he keep a certain glow of colour from mounting to his temples,—most foolish and uncalled for, it was no doubt,—for Mrs. Severn’s household was not, and never could be, anything to him. Either it was Mary’s eyes looking at him so keenly, or simply a little excitement hanging about himself. Or he must have taken cold somehow on the river.

‘Daughters?’ he said. ‘Oh,—well,—children, that’s all; there is one little girl that plays charmingly,’ Frank added, with easy candour; ‘but Laurie never cared for music. I don’t think there’s anything in that.’

‘And it could not be Miss Rich?’ said Mary, fixing her eyes more keenly than ever on the young fellow’s face.

Then his countenance cleared. He was himself unaware of the change of expression, but Mary saw it, and perceived at once that Nelly, though he talked of her so much, was not dangerous ground to Frank. ‘No; frankly, I don’t think it could be Miss Rich,’ he said, with a laugh. ‘I think it would be a capital thing for both; but I cannot say that I believe either of them have thought of it for themselves.’

‘But this Mrs. Severn——?’ insisted Mary, and she was aware of an immediate gleam of intelligence and embarrassment in his eyes.{v.2-250}

‘She is a painter’ said Frank, ‘and a widow, and a very nice woman,—at least I suppose so. To hear Laurie chattering to her you would think he found her so. I cannot say I remarked it particularly myself.’

‘And young?’ said Mary, breathless with her discovery.

‘Oh dear, no,’ said Frank, ‘not at all young;—not old either, I suppose. A certain age, you know; that sort of thing. But really, if you are interested about her, you must apply to Miss Rich. I did not observe her much. Her little girl,’ Frank continued, with again that soft drop of the eyelids, and gleam of sudden light from beneath them,—‘she I told you of, who plays so charmingly,—is at Richmont now.’

‘Oh!’ said Mary. And Frank turned away to the window as if the conversation had come to a natural end. And as for his cousin, she seemed suddenly to have made a discovery; and yet, when she thought it over, could not make out what the discovery was. The little girl who played could not surely have anything to do with Laurie; or was it Frank himself who was moved by her music,—or,—. Mary was left as much in the dark as at the beginning. ‘The boys’ had all gone off on their separate courses; they had escaped out of the hands of their old confidante and unfailing sympathiser; and the idea grieved her. She would have given{v.2-251} a great deal to have been able to read the meaning of that look in her young cousin’s eyes. She would have liked in all sisterly tenderness and faithfulness to fathom Laurie’s secret,—for a secret Mary felt there must be. As for Ben, that was different. She felt that the secret in his case was somehow her own.

‘Old Sargent ought to be looked after, really,’ said Frank. ‘It is all very well to have a gardener who is a character; but those flower-beds are disgraceful, Mary. You should see the garden at Richmont. I suppose my mother does not mind; but, at least, you might look after it. I shall give the old beggar a piece of my mind if he comes across me to-day.’

‘Are the gardens really so wonderful at Richmont?’ said Mary; ‘altogether it must be an extraordinary place. I have met Miss Rich once, and I thought her pretty; of course, I should like to know her, if—— But, Frank, you might tell me—— If that is really what you are thinking of——’

‘If what is really what I am thinking of?’ said Frank, with a laugh. Mary had laid her hand on his shoulder, and was looking at him anxiously. His face had changed once more,—the gleam under the eyelash, the softened droop of the lid, had disappeared: but the colour rose again to his face, though with a difference. ‘Don’t inquire too much,’ he said, turning away from her. ‘I can’t tell you myself. No{v.2-252} one can say what may happen. Don’t ask me any more questions, there’s a dear.’

‘But Frank, only one thing;—is she really so very nice?’ said Mary, with another effort to catch his eye.

‘Oh, yes; she’s very nice?’ answered Frank, with a little impatience in his tone.

‘And if,—that were to happen—you would not require to go to India?’ said Mary, dropping her voice.


‘And,—only one word;—are you really, really fond of her, Frank?’

The young soldier shook her hand off his shoulder, and turned away with an impatient exclamation. ‘Good heavens! what an inquisitor you are! Can’t you let a fellow alone? As if a man can go and make a talk about everything like a set of girls!’ he cried, and stepped out of the open window on to the lawn, where old Sargent was visible in the distance. Frank went straight to the old gardener, and began to give him that piece of his mind he had promised, using considerable action, and pointing indignantly to the flower-beds, while Mary stood and watched, feeling that old Sargent was suffering the penalty of her own curiosity. Her cousins had always been as brothers to Mary,—at least the two younger ones had been brothers; and it vexed her beyond description to find how they had both glided{v.2-253} out of her knowledge upon their different paths. She was a good girl, and very sensible, everybody allowed; but still she was young, not in reality any older than Frank, and the first idea of love was sacred to her mind. The almost admission he had made struck her dumb. To think of a girl,—in that way,—and yet not be fond of her! Mary shrank from the idea as if she had received a blow. Of course, she had heard of marrying money, as everybody else has, and, like everybody else, had seen people who were said to have married money, and got on together as well as the rest of the world. It was a thing acknowledged in the society she was acquainted with to be a duty incumbent upon some people, and creditable to all. But yet,—one of the boys! Instinct carried the day over principle as inculcated everywhere around her. “With other people it might be well enough,—but one of us! Mary stood in great consternation, looking on while Frank delivered his lecture to the gardener. She wanted to say something more to him, and did not know how. Had not he better, far better, go to India, after all? It would be sad to have none of the boys at home, but not so sad as this. And then Mary cast a half-angry, half-pitying thought at Nelly Rich, poor wealthy girl, the ‘money’ whom Frank was trying to bring himself to marry. She was angry, like a woman, at this creature for so much as existing, and yet,—‘Oh!’ said Mary to herself, ‘what a fate for a{v.2-254} girl,—to be married as money! And how frightful, for Frank! and how base of him! and yet, oh, what a fate! poor, poor fellow!’ This is how her thoughts went on as she stood gazing after him, with consternation, and sympathy, and horror, and indignation. Everybody would say it was quite right; even Mrs. Renton would go and call, for this reason, though for no other, and smile upon them for their wealth. Mary grew sick as she thought of it. Ben was infatuated, and blind, and foolish. He was going to be miserable in a different way, for the creature he loved was not good enough for him. But it was not so bad as this.

In the meantime Frank was very bitter upon old Sargent about those flower-beds. He upbraided the gardener with taking advantage of his mother’s illness and her indifference to external things. He was so solemn about such a breach of trust that the old man was struck dumb, and had not a word to say for himself. It was a satisfaction to the mind of the young master, who had been stung by Mary’s injudicious question, more than he could have avowed. Frank had to take a long walk, and do an immense deal of thinking, before he could bring himself back to his former easy sense of duty. Fond of her! Of course, if he married her he should grow fond of Nelly. He liked her very well now, or he never would think of it. Girls were such foolish creatures, and could not understand all the breadth of a ma{v.2-255}n’s motives. A pretty thing the world would be if it were built only upon what they called love. Love! It was very well in its way, but society wanted a firmer, more practical basis; but yet, notwithstanding all these reasonings, Frank was more shaken than he had yet been by the surprise and the pain that had come into Mary Westbury’s face.{v.2-256}



Before Frank returned to his quarters, he had received his mother’s promise that she would call at Richmont. ‘I have given up all that sort of thing on my own account,’ Mrs. Renton had said. ‘I will never go into society again. All that is over for me; and I hope your friends understand so. I can’t entertain people, you know; but anything that is for my boy’s interests,’ the mother said, magnanimously, sitting up among her pillows,—that was quite a different matter. Fifty thousand pounds going a-begging, so to speak, when such a small affair as her own card, or, at the worst, ten minutes’ talk, might determine the house to which it should come! There could be no doubt about a mother’s duty in such circumstances. Laurie, it was true, was out of the way; but there was no reason why Frank should not take advantage of such a windfall. Mrs. Renton’s mind was not troubled by any of the scruples that moved Mary Westbury. Perhaps,—it was so long since it had come in her way,—love had lost its import{v.2-257}ance in her eyes. Perhaps she had never felt its necessity in any very urgent way. Mr. Renton had been the best of husbands, but yet it could not be said that there had been much sentiment, not to say passion, in their union. But Mrs. Renton, like every other sensible woman, understood the value of fifty thousand pounds. She had already made a calculation in her own mind as to the income it would produce. ‘It can’t possibly be at less interest than five per cent,—with a father to manage it who knows all about money,’ she said. ‘Five per cent on fifty thousand makes twenty-five hundred. They might take Cookesley Lodge and live very comfortably on that; and I should have them always near me.’ This reflection made Mrs. Renton not only willing, but anxious, to pay the promised visit. She questioned her son a great deal about Nelly before he left her. What she was like, and the colour of her hair, and her height, and a hundred other details. ‘If she is pretty it is so much the better,’ she said, with maternal indulgence for a young man’s weakness. ‘I do not say anything, Frank,’ she told him, as she bade him good-bye, ‘for I see you are turning it over in your mind. And you know I am not mercenary, nor given to think about money. Alas! there are many things that money cannot do! It can’t buy health when one has lost it. But it has always been my opinion that to marry young was the very best thing for a man. And, my dear{v.2-258} boy, if it is in your power to secure your own happiness, and other things as well, I hope you will be guided for the best.’ She meant that she hoped he would be guided to the fifty thousand pounds. And Frank understood what she meant as well as if she had said it. Mrs. Renton had never been poor in her life, and yet she appreciated money; whereas Mary Westbury, who had been brought up in a very limited household, and by a very prudent mother, felt in this present instance a scorn for it which no words could express. When she went out to the door in the starlight to see her cousin off, her mind was full of thoughts half contemptuous, half bitter. There was no moon, but a soft visionary light in the skies, partly of the stars, partly that lingering reflection of light which makes a summer evening so beautiful. Mary stood in the dark shadow of the doorway and watched Frank getting into the dog-cart. She said her good-night with a certain plaintive tone. ‘Good-night! but you don’t say good luck, Mary,’ cried Frank, as he lighted his cigar. She came out upon the steps, and looked up wistfully at him as he spoke. The shadows of the trees hung dark all round, swallowing up in gloom the road by which he was going; and in the opening, out of the shadow, Mary looked at him, and thought he looked half-defiant, half-deprecating, as he struck a light, which made his form visible for a moment. The horse was fresh, and stood with impatience waiting{v.2-259} the signal to start. ‘Good-night,’ Mary repeated; ‘I don’t know about the good luck:’ and then he was suddenly whirled away into the darkness. The dog-cart was audible going down the long line of avenue to the gate which opened on the highroad, and now and then appeared for a moment out of the shadow where the trees separated. She felt melancholy to see the boy thus dashing forth, doubting and unguided, into the world. She was very little older than he was, and yet Mary kindly felt the insufficiency of Frank’s youth to keep him in the straight way, much more keenly than he felt it himself. He was going, and nobody could tell what he was going to. And there was nobody to stand in his way and advise him. Thus Frank went out of sight, and the two ladies stopped behind with their different thoughts. Mary was not alone in her knowledge of his intentions; the entire household was soon pervaded by a sense of the coming event. Mrs. Renton, as she took her arrowroot, could not but give a hint of what she supposed to be going on to her confidential maid, and that trusted creature was not reticent. ‘Mr. Frank’s going to marry a lady as has made a terrible fuss about him,’ the butler said, ‘as rich,—as rich——! I hope, when he comes into his fortune, he’ll have something done to keep us a-going here. It’s hawful is this quiet,—and us as always had so much visiting.’ ‘He’ll beat the old ones all to sticks,’ said the cook; ‘but I always said Mr. Frank was the one.’ Thus it will be seen that{v.2-260} he left a universal excitement behind him, and that of a favourable character. A wedding in prospect is always pleasant to everybody, and the servants’ hall was as much impressed by the duty of marrying money as was their mistress. Only Mary in her heart, and one small housemaid, were sensible of the other side of the question. From Mrs. Renton, down to the boy who blacked the shoes, the feeling, with these two exceptions, was general. To have married for any other reason might have produced as many criticisms as congratulations. Frank would have been set down as too young,—a foolish boy; but to marry money was a thing so reasonable, that nobody could but applaud.

And Frank himself felt all its reasonableness as he returned to his quarters. He took the train at Cookesley Station for Royalborough; and when he had to change carriages at Slowley junction, stood and kicked his heels on the platform, so absorbed in his thoughts that he had not leisure to be impatient. In every way it was the most reasonable, the most natural, the most feasible thing. He cast his eye round the county, as it were, as he stood waiting for the down-train. For a man who was going to settle down, no county could be better than Berks. It was his own county, in the first place, where his family were known and considered,——and then it had a hundred advantages. It was so near town that a man could run up for a day as often as it pleased him; a good hunting{v.2-261} county, with pleasant society, and the garrison at Royalborough, in which there are always sure to be some of his regiment, within reach. He cast his eye metaphorically over the district, and recollected that Cookesley Lodge was to let, and also that pretty house near St. Leonard’s. Either of them, he thought, would do very well for a small establishment. So far as this his thoughts had advanced. He settled a great many things as he stood on the platform at the Slowley junction, and paced up and down with echoing feet, neither fuming nor fretting, absorbed in his own thoughts. The station-master kept out of Frank’s way, in fear of being called to account for the lateness of the train; but he was too much occupied even to think of the train. To be sure, he could afford a good hunter or two without interfering with the other needs of the ménage in respect of horses. He thought of everything,—from the little brougham and the pony-carriage, and the cart for his private use, down even to the dogs which should bark about the place, and hail him when he came home. He thought of everything, except of the central figure who would bring all these luxuries in her hand. Certainly, he did not think of her. A chorus of barking terriers, pointers, mastiffs,—I know not how many kinds of dogs,—seemed already in his thoughts to bid him welcome as he drew near the imaginary house. But there was no representation in his mind of any sweeter welcome. He imagined the terriers, but not the wife running to the{v.2-262} door to meet him. That he left out, and he was not even aware of the omission. On the whole, it grew pleasant to the eye,—this imaginary house. A Renton was sure of a good reception in the county which had known the family for hundreds of years; and if he wanted occupation, there was the Manor estate, left in the lawyer’s hands only during the seven years’ interregnum, which he could always keep an eye on; and his mother’s interests, and her own property, which she would be so glad to have him at hand to see after. Cookesley, on the whole, would be the best. It was near the Manor, and not quite so near Richmont; and then there would be the river for the amusement of idle hours. It was a pleasant prospect enough. Youth, health, a good hunter, a pretty house, a pleasantly-assured position, and,—say at the least,—two thousand five hundred pounds a-year! A man should have no call to mope who had all these good things. Something, it is true, he left out from the calculation, but there was enough to fill any man with very comfortable sensations in what remained.

Thus it happened that he had almost made up his mind when he got back to Royalborough. He had weighed all the arguments in favour of such a step, and had found them unanswerable. The arguments against,—what were they? It is, indeed, impossible to formalise them or set such weak pleas against the solid, sturdy weight of reason which lay on the other{v.2-263} side. Indeed, there was nothing that could be called an argument,—certain wandering notes of music that now and then stole with a bewildering effect upon his ear,—faint, momentary visions of a face which was not Nelly’s. But what then? To be fond of music is no reproach to a man, even if the future partner of his bosom does not play; and as for the face, why any face may spring up in your memory, and glance at you now and then by times without any blame of yours. Some people, as is well known, are haunted for days by a face in a picture; and what did it matter to anybody if Frank’s imagination, too, were momentarily haunted by the picture which he had made of a certain sweet countenance?

He felt that he had quite made up his mind when he went to bed; but the morning brought back a certain uncertainty. What a pity that Laurie could not have been got to do it,—Laurie, for whom it would have been so completely suitable! leaving Frank free to go to India! He could not but feel that this was indeed a spite of fortune. Laurie, poor fellow! could not go to India,—he never would make his own way anywhere,—he would only moon about the world and make himself of use to other people; and, so far as his own interests were concerned, would end just where he began. Whereas Frank felt confident that he himself could have made his way. And Laurie wanted somebody to take care of him, to give a practical turn to his dreamings, to keep him comfort{v.2-264}able in his wanderings to and fro. If he could only be sent for from Italy even yet! What could have tempted him to go to Italy at this time of the year, which everybody knew was the very worst time,—bad for health, and impossible for work? Frank shook his head in his youthful prudence at the vagaries of those artist-folk. They never could be relied upon one way or another. They were continually doing things which nobody else did,—going away when they were wanted at home,—staying when they should go away. It must have been some demon which had put it into Laurie’s head to take himself off at this particular moment, leaving to his conscientious brother the task of dealing with that fifty thousand pounds. Indeed, the morning light brought home to Frank more and more clearly the sense that this step he was contemplating was duty. The evening had had certain softening effects. The pretty little house, and the hunters, and the terriers, and all the pleasant country-gentleman occupations to which the young man had been born, came clearly before him at that pleasant hour. But, by daylight, it was the duty involved which was most apparent to Frank. He had no right to allow such an opportunity to slip through his fingers. If he did so, he might never have such a chance again. To neglect it was foolish,—wrong,—even sinful. He gave a little half-suppressed sigh as he sat down to breakfast, feeling strongly that high principle involved some inevitable{v.2-265} pangs. But should he be the man to turn his back upon an evident duty because it cost him something? No! Ben might take the bit in his teeth and go out to America to make his fortune, like the head-strong fellow he was; and Laurie might prefer his own foolish devices to every substantial advantage under heaven; but Frank was not the man to run away. He could see what the exigencies of his position demanded, and he was not one to shirk his duty. And then, poor boy! he rounded his deliberations by humming very dolefully a bar or two of a certain plaintive melody, and ended all by a sigh.

‘Sighing like a furnace,’ said Edgbaston, who came in unceremoniously, followed by Frank’s servant with the kidneys,—for his thoughts did not much affect his appetite,—and his letters. ‘My dear fellow, that’s serious. Ah, I see you have a card for the grand fête. We are all invited, I think.’

‘What grand fête?’ said Frank.

‘There it is,’ said his friend, turning over the letters, and producing an enormous square envelope ornamented with a prodigious coat-of-arms in crimson and gold. ‘These are something like armorial bearings, you know. By Jove! people ought to pay double who go in for heraldry to that extent. Mine is not as big as a threepenny bit. It’s a case of swindling the Exchequer. The arms of the great house of Rich, my boy. Don’t you know?{v.2-266}

‘There are Riches who are as good gentlefolks as we are,’ said Frank, already feeling that this scoff affected his own credit.

‘Oh, better,’ cried Edgbaston. ‘We are only Brummagem,—I confess it,—with a pinchbeck coronet. But I doubt if our friends are of the old stock. Open and read, Frank; this day fortnight. Archery fête,—everything that is most alluring,—croquet, good luncheon, dance to wind up with. We’re all going. Hallo! there’s a note enclosed for you!’

‘And why shouldn’t there be a note enclosed?’ said Frank, colouring high, and thrusting the small epistle under his other letters. ‘I suppose all of you had the same?’

‘The card was thought enough for me,’ said Edgbaston. ‘Well, well, I don’t repine. But I say, Frank, if you are going in for that in earnest, I see no use in carrying on about India. And I came to tell you of a fellow in the 200th who wants to get off going. Montague,—he’s to be heard of at Cox’s. You can do what you like about it of course, but you can’t go in for both.’

‘For both?’ said Frank; ‘what do you mean? I don’t know anything else I am going in for. Did you say Montague of the 200th? Going to Calcutta, are they? Thanks, Edgbaston. I’ll think it over. Of course one can’t make one’s mind up all at once.{v.2-267}

‘I advise you to think it well over,’ said his friend; ‘and the other thing, too. You may look as unconscious as you please, but you can’t conceal that you are the favourite, Frank. And, by Jove, it shows her sense. She’s as jolly a little thing as ever I saw, and there’s no end to the tin. If I were in your place, I’d see India scuttled first. I don’t know a fellow who might be more comfortable; and I can tell you, you’ll be an awful fool, my dear boy, if you let her slip through your hands.’

‘Stuff!’ cried Frank. ‘I wish you’d let a man eat his breakfast in peace, without all this rubbish. Archery fête, is it? I didn’t know anybody went in for archery now-a-days; and, as for croquet, I am sick of it. I don’t think I shall go. What sort of a fellow is Montague? The best thing would be to run up to town, and have a talk with him at once.’

‘If that is what you have determined on,’ said Edgbaston; ‘but, Frank, if I were you, with such a chance——’

‘Oh, confound the chance!’ said Frank; and the rest of the conversation was based on the idea that his heart was set on the proposed exchange, on the prospects of the 200th, and his own immediate banishment. He thought he had done it very cleverly, when at last he got rid of his comrade. But Edgbaston was not the man to be so easily deceived. He explained the whole matter confidentially to the first group of men he encountered.{v.2-268} ‘Look here, you fellows,’ he said; ‘mind how you talk of little Rich to Frank Renton. He has made up his mind to go in for Nelly, and he’s awfully thin-skinned about it, and sets up all sorts of pretences. Frank’s the favourite, I always told you; I’ll give you five to one they are married in six months.’

Thus Frank’s affairs were discussed, though he flattered himself he had so skilfully blinded his critic. When Edgbaston was gone, he drew the little note from beneath the other papers. It was from Nelly, as he thought, and there was not much in it,—but yet,—

Dear Mr. Renton,—Mamma bids me say that she forgot, when you were here, to tell you of the little party to which the enclosed card is an invitation. They were all put up on Saturday, before you came, and we forgot them. And I open your envelope only lest you should think it strange that we never said anything about it. I hope you had a pleasant walk to Cookesley. The river must have been lovely.

‘The fête is in my poor little honour, so I hope you will come. It happens to be my birthday;—not that anybody except my own people can be supposed to care for that; but you, who are so fond of your family, will excuse poor papa and mamma{v.2-269} for making a fuss. You know I am the only girl they have; though I am only


Richmont,Monday morning.

Only,—Nelly! It was a tantalising, seductive little note, which tempted a young fellow to answer, even when he had nothing to say. She must have written it as soon as he was gone. She must have been thinking of him quite as much, at least, as he had been thinking of her. Something of the natural complacency and agreeable excitement which, even when there is nothing more serious in hand, moves a young man in his correspondence with a girl, breathed about Frank as he wrote his reply. He told her he could perfectly understand the fuss that would be made, and that it was astonishing how many follies other people, who could not claim such a tender right of relationship, might be tempted to do for the sake of a little personage who was only,—Nelly. And then he begged pardon on his knees for the familiarity. Thus it will be seen that things were making considerable progress in every way. This snatch of letter-writing did more for the sentimental side of the question than half-a-dozen interviews. The pretty little note with Nelly’s little cipher on it, the suggestions of the conclusion, the{v.2-270} humility which asserted a subtle claim on his discrimination as a man fond of his own family,—all this moved Frank, who was not used to such clever little suggestive correspondences. For the first time it occurred to him that Nelly was a sweet little name, and that it would be pleasant to have its little owner rush to meet him when he went home. For one moment the hunters and the terriers fell into the background. Thus it will be seen that the affair made admirable progress in every possible way.{v.2-271}



And it was not later than the Wednesday after when Mrs. Renton, moved to the pitch of heroism by the possible advantages to her boy, and fortified by a large cupful of arrowroot, with some sherry in it, got into her carriage and called at Richmont. Mary accompanied her, full of curiosity and opposition. Mary herself had thought Nelly Rich ‘nice’ when she met her and had no particular call to be interested in her; but now her feelings were much less amiable. A little sprite of evil tempting Frank to do what he ought not to do,—this was the idea which now entered Mary’s mind as to her little neighbour. But, nevertheless, of course she accompanied her aunt merely to smile and say polite things to everybody. She could not help it; it was the duty which life exacted of a well-bred maiden. It was a very fine day, and both the ladies sallied forth with the hope, common to people who pay morning visits, of finding that the Riches were out, and that a card would serve all purposes of civility.{v.2-272} ‘They are sure to be out such a beautiful day,’ said Mrs. Renton. ‘I hope you put some cards in my case, Mary; and write your name on one, my dear, that they may see we have both called, should like to pay every attention, in case of anything——’ Mary made a little wry face, but scribbled her name all the same, without any remark. But when they drew up before the door at Richmont their delusions were all scattered to the winds. Everybody was in,—Mr. Rich, Mrs. Rich, Miss Rich; and Mrs. Renton, not without an effort, got out of her carriage. She was much impressed by the beautiful footmen who stood about the hall. ‘Poor old Beecham!’ she said in her niece’s ear; ‘it never was kept up as it ought to be in their time,—poor things!’ and her heart melted towards the people who had everything in such order. ‘It would be a lesson to Sargent to see that garden,’ she said; ‘only to see it. Oh, my dear, what money can do!’ So went in, with her mind prepared to be friendly. Mrs. Rich received her in a considerable flutter. She was the first county lady of any importance who had done her so much honour. Finer people than Mrs. Renton, indeed, had come down from town to the Riches’ parties, and taken the good of all that was going, and laughed at the hosts for their pains; but no leader of the county had yet presented herself. Mrs. Renton was, as the maids say, passée, but, nevertheless, her counte{v.2-273}nance was as good as any one’s for a beginning. She might have withdrawn from the world, but so much the mere was the world likely to be impressed by her example. It was the first ray of the sunshine of local grandeur in which it was the desire of Mrs. Rich’s heart to bask.

‘This is so kind,—so very kind,’ she said in her flutter. ‘You must let me send for my daughter. She is in her favourite room, with her pictures and her books; but she would not miss you for the world. This is the most comfortable corner, with no draughts. Some tea, Baker; let Miss Rich know Mrs. Renton is here.’

‘Pray, don’t disturb yourself,’ Mrs. Renton said. ‘I scarcely ever go out; but it is such a lovely day.’

‘And so kind of you!’ repeated the lady of the house. ‘I had heard so much of your family,—such nice young men, and everything so charming, that I confess I have been longing for you to call. And I have the pleasure of knowing two of your sons, Mrs. Renton,—Mr. Frank, and the one next to him,—Mr. Laurence, I think,—delightful young men. I hope Mr. Frank does not really mean to go to India. It would be such a loss to the neighbourhood. I was telling him he ought to marry an heiress, and settle down in the county, and make himself comfortable. I told him I should have you on my side. And such a good{v.2-274} son as he seems to be,—so fond of you. He surely cannot mean to go away.’

‘I am sure,’ said Mrs. Renton, ‘I should be very thankful if any strong inducement fell in his way to keep him at home.’ And just at this moment Nelly came in, in a white gown, with her favourite scarlet ribbons. The dress was not of flimsy materials, but dead, solid white, relieved by the red; and there was a flush upon her dark, clear cheek, and unusual brilliancy in her eyes. Frank’s mother stopped short with these words on her lips, and looked at Nelly. Was she the strong inducement? She was a little agitated, and the nervousness and excitement made her almost beautiful. Mary Westbury stared at her too, open-mouthed, thinking, after all, Frank might have other motives. Nelly came in with a touch of shyness, very unusual to her. The nearest female relations of one who, perhaps——. If she had been even more agitated than she was, it would have been natural enough.

‘This is my daughter Nelly,’ said Mrs. Rich; ‘my only daughter. She can tell you more about it than I can. We are to have a little fête for her on Monday week,—archery and croquet, and that sort of thing, and a dance in the evening. It would give us all the greatest pleasure if Miss Westbury would come. Nelly, you must try and persuade Miss Westbury. Indeed, I assure you, I spoke to Mr.{v.2-275} Frank quite seriously,’ Mrs. Rich added, sinking into a confidential tone, as she changed her seat to one close to her much-prized visitor. ‘And he is so fond of you. I am sure he will not go if he can help it. How nice he is! and how popular among the gentlemen! We were delighted with the chance which kept him here all Sunday. Sunday in the country is such a nice domestic sort of day. There is nothing like it for making people acquainted with each other. I was so glad when I heard the hours pass and no sound of wheels. I think before he left us that he got really to feel that we were his friends.’

‘He was very grateful to you for your kindness, I am sure,’ said Mrs. Renton, who, though she could talk herself upon occasions, was fairly overflooded and carried away by this flowing current of speech.

‘Oh, grateful,—no!; said Mrs. Rich; ‘that word would be quite misapplied. It is we who should be grateful to him,—a young man accustomed to the best society,—for putting up with a family party. And your other son, Mrs. Renton, is delightful too. We met him in town. He took us to a friend of his, Mr. Suffolk, the painter, where Mr. Rich bought a most lovely picture. I should ask you to go up to the music-room and look at it but for the stairs. It is a trial going up so many stairs. Yes, we have done a great deal to the house. It{v.2-276} must be strange to you, coming to call at a house you once knew so well. But, as Mr. Rich says, it is not our fault. We gave a very good price for it; and, if we had not bought it, some one else would. My husband has laid out a great deal of money upon it. He has excellent taste, everybody says; and, of course, being well off, he does not need to consider every penny, as, unfortunately, so many excellent people have to do. You would be pleased if you saw the music-room,—quite a fine domestic chapel they tell us. We have hung Mr. Suffolk’s picture there. If you are fond of pictures——’

‘Oh, thanks! but I am not able to move about and look at things as I used to be,’ cried Mrs. Renton, in alarm.

‘To be sure,’ said her anxious hostess; ‘I ought to have thought of that. You will take a cup of tea? It is so refreshing after a long drive. Your son is quite a painter, I know, and so is my daughter. I tell her I cannot tell where she has got it, for we neither of us could draw a line to save our lives, neither her father nor me.’

Thus Mrs. Rich fluttered on, more fluent than ever, probably in consequence of her agitation. She was anxious to show herself at her best to her visitor, and the consequence was that Mrs. Renton went away sadly fatigued, and with a sensation of pity for Frank. ‘I never could get a word in,’ she said, indignantly, when she found herself safely ensconced{v.2-277} once more in the corner of the carriage. ‘Mary, have you some eau-de-Cologne? I feel as if I were good for nothing but to go to sleep.’

‘Then go to sleep, dear godmamma,’ said Mary, soothingly; ‘don’t mind me; I have plenty to think about, and I am sure you are tired. But Miss Rich is not so heavy as her mother,’ she added, conscientiously. Her heart compelled her to do justice to Nelly, but it was against the grain.

‘I don’t know much about Miss Rich,’ said Mrs. Renton, sighing in her fatigue. And she closed her eyes, lying back in her corner, and dozed, or appeared to doze. As for Mary, she had, as she said, a great deal to think about, and indulged herself accordingly, having perfect leisure. But Mary’s thoughts had more of a sting in them than her aunt’s. She was thinking somewhat bitterly of the difference between hope and reality. How hopeful, how promising had been all those young men, her cousins! She herself, feeling herself as a woman as old as the eldest, though she was in fact the same age as the youngest, had thought of them in the exalted way common to young women. Something better than usual, she had felt, must fall to their fate. And yet so soon, so suddenly, what a miserable end had come to her dreams! Ben, for whose express benefit some unimaginable creature had always been invented in Mary’s thoughts, had allowed himself to be taken captive by the first beautiful face, unaccom{v.2-278}panied by anything better. He had set a creature on the supremest pedestal who was not worthy to be his servant, Mary thought. He had been beguiled and taken in by mere beauty,—not beauty even in which there was any soul. And Frank was going to marry money! She did not know about Laurie. Perhaps had she been aware how far he had erred on the other side, and how his admiration for the soul and heart had led him away, she might have been still more horror-stricken. The difference between fact and expectation made her heart sink. Was this all that hope was good for? was this all that men were good for? to be deceived or to deceive; to fall victims to a little art and a pair of bright eyes; or to affect a love which they did not feel? Mary’s heart sank within her, as she thought it all over. But her thoughts were interrupted by Mrs. Renton, who stirred uneasily every five minutes and said something to her.

‘I never saw Beecham look the least like what it does now,’ Mrs. Renton murmured, and then closed her eyes again. ‘I wonder what they are really worth,’ she would say next, drowsily, with her eyes shut, ‘when they can afford to spend so much on setting the house to rights. But the woman is insupportable,’ Mrs. Renton added, with much energy.

Thus they went home again over Cookesley bridge and across the smiling country.{v.2-279}

‘I am sorry you did not speak to Miss Rich, godmamma,’ said Mary, as they approached the gate of the Manor; ‘she is very nice, and just as well bred as other people. I never could have told the difference.’ A sentiment which, forced as it was from her by pure conscientiousness, made Mrs. Renton shake her head,—

‘Ah, my dear, I never could have been deceived,’ she said. ‘When I saw her sitting by you, I said to myself in a moment, How easy it is to see which is the gentlewoman! But she is not so bad as her mother,—I can understand that.’

‘She is not bad at all,’ said Mary; ‘and if that is really what is going to happen,—though I hope not with all my heart——’

‘Why should you hope not? ‘Mrs. Renton cried, sitting bolt upright, and opening her eyes wide. ‘How unkind of you, Mary! Don’t you see the poor boy may never have such a chance again? If we had her entirely in our own hands we might make a difference. I must speak to Frank to begin from the beginning, keeping her as much as possible away from her own family. I wonder what the father looks like? The family are so objectionable,’ said Mrs. Renton, seriously, ‘that such an arrangement would be indispensable,—at least if he ever hoped to make his way in society. I don’t think I ever was so tired of any call in my life.{v.2-280}

‘But her family may be fond of her,’ said Mary, ‘all the same.’

‘Fond of her, my dear!’ cried Mrs. Renton, with energy; ‘what does that matter? You would not have a young man like Frank give up the society of his equals on account of his wife’s family. It would be absurd. Besides, it will be the very best thing he could do for her to bring her away from such an influence; nobody would ever visit her there.’

‘But, dear godmamma,’ said Mary, persisting with the unreasonableness of youth, ‘if that is the case, would it not be better for Frank to withdraw from it altogether? For nothing seems to be settled yet, and I think he might still withdraw.’

Mrs. Renton gave a cry of horror and alarm. ‘I can’t think where you have got such foolish notions,’ she said. ‘Why should he withdraw? I tell you I think it is very doubtful if he ever has such a chance again. Weak as I am, you see what an effort I have made to-day on his behalf. I am frightened by that woman, but I would do it again rather than anything should come in his way. I would actually do it again!’ said the devoted mother; and after such an heroic decision what could any one say?

As for Mrs. Rich and her daughter, they were quite unconscious of the feelings which moved Mrs. Renton. When the carriage disappeared down the avenue Mrs. Rich drew Nelly to her, and gave her a soft, maternal kiss. ‘If you ever have anything to{v.2-281} do with that old lady,’ she said, ‘you will not find her difficult to manage, my dear. I was thinking of that all the time she was here. “My Nelly will turn you round her little finger,” I said to myself. She is not one of your hard, fine ladies, that are as easy to be moved as the living rock.’

‘I don’t see that it matters to me,’ Nelly said, impatiently. ‘Mamma, I wish you would not go on thinking that every new person we meet——. It is quite ridiculous. Why should I have anything to do with her? And I don’t think she would be easy to manage. She gave me a look as I came in, and lifted her eyebrows while you were speaking,——’

‘She was as sweet as sugar to me,’ said Mrs. Rich, ‘and I hope I can see through people as fast as any one; and it is you who are ridiculous, my dear. As if you did not know as well as I do that Frank Renton does not come here without a reason. He is a young man who knows quite well what he is about; and, of course, it is he that has sent his mother. That Miss Westbury did not look half pleased, Nelly. I should not wonder if she wanted to keep her cousin for herself.’

‘Mamma, you are too bad; you are always saying things about people,’ said Nelly. ‘She may have all the Rentons in the world for me. What do I care for her cousin? And why cannot you let me alone as I am? I am much happier here than{v.2-282} I should be anywhere else. I hate all those silly young men.’

‘Ah! my dear, I know what nonsense girls talk,’ said Mrs. Rich; ‘but I hope I know better than to pay any attention. I should be glad to keep you always at home, Nelly; but I am not a fool, and that can’t be. And isn’t it better to fix upon somebody that is nice, and will be fond of you, and will not take you away from us? That has always been my idea for you. I made up my mind from your cradle, Nelly, that I would choose some one for you. Many people in our position, as well off as your papa is, would want a title for their only daughter; but I want somebody to make you happy, my pet, and that will not be too grand, and take you away from your father and me.’

‘That you may be sure no man shall ever do,’ said Nelly, returning her mother’s kiss.

If Mrs. Rich had but heard what the other mother was saying as she drove home,—‘I will speak to Frank to keep her as much away from her own family as possible!’ Or if she had been aware of the calculation in Frank’s mind about the houses which were to be had in the county, and his decision in favour of Cookesley Lodge as being farther off from Richmont! Thus the two sets of people went on in their parallel lines, never coming within sight of each other. After all, it was poor Nelly for whom the question was most important. She{v.2-283} went away across the park in her white gown, with her pretty waving ribbons, and a sketch-book under her arm, after this talk with her mother. Nelly had not attained the highest type of maidenly refinement. She had adopted something of that exalted code of manners which entitles a young princess to signify her preference. She was rich and petted, and set upon a pedestal, a kind of little princess in her way; and she had perhaps permitted Frank to see that his attentions would be acceptable to her in a more distinct manner than is quite usual. She was even conscious that she had done so, but the consciousness did not disturb her much. Communing with herself vaguely as she sat down under a tree, and arranged her materials for sketching, Nelly came to some very sensible conclusions about the matter. Yes; she liked Frank; he was nice, and he was very suitable. Her eye had singled him out instinctively from the little crowd of Guardsmen the first time she had seen him. Perhaps he was not clever,—not so clever as could have been wished; but he was very good-looking, and he was nice. And then, perhaps, he was younger than she quite liked him to be; but Nelly told herself philosophically that you could not expect to have everything. Her own ideal had been different. He had been thirty at least, a man of experience, with a story and unknown depths in his life; and he had been a man of splendid intellect,{v.2-284} and looked up to by everybody; and he had been dark, with wonderful eyes, and a face full of expression. Whereas Frank Renton was fair, with eyes just like other people’s, very young, and not intellectual at all. But he was nice,—that was the point to which Nelly’s reflections always came back. And he was a gentleman of a family very well known in Berks, and would please papa and mamma by settling near them. And Nelly in her heart secretly believed, though even in her thoughts she did not express it, that Frank, though he might please papa and mamma by settling down, would in the meantime please herself by taking her all over the world. His ideal of the hunters and the terriers was very different from her ideal, though the latter was quite as distinct in its way. No doubt a young couple moving about wherever they pleased, dancing through the world here and there, over mountains and valleys, stopping where they liked, rushing about wherever the spirit moved them,—would be a very different thing from the caravanserai progress through Italy contemplated by papa and mamma and all their dependants. This was Nelly’s ideal, very clearly drawn, and most seductive to her mind. Two people can go anywhere;—a young woman need not mind where she goes, nor how she travels, so long as her husband is with her. Even Mrs. Severn had told her stories of the early wanderings of the poor, joyous young painter-pair, which had filled{v.2-285} Nelly’s heart with longing. To be sure he was no artist; but still his presence would throw everything open to his young wife, and make every kind of pleasant adventure possible. No longer would there be necessity for pausing to reflect,—Was this proper? was it correct to do so and so? ‘You may go anywhere with your husband,’ was a sentiment that Nelly had been in the way of hearing all her life.

Thus it will be seen that Nelly Rich was not so much to be pitied as Mary Westbury thought. This marriage,—if it came to a marriage,—was an affair involving mingled motives on her part as well as Frank’s. Yet, as she sat under the tree with her bright face shadowed by the leaves, and her white dress blazing in the sunshine, she might have been a little lady of romance, with the flowers all breathing fragrance around her, and above the tenderest blue of summer skies.{v.2-286}



When Frank Renton had sent off his note to Nelly, accepting the invitation for the birthday fête, and adding such little compliments as have been recorded, a kind of sensation of having gone too far came over him. He had not yet by any means made up his mind finally, and he had no desire to commit himself. It seemed necessary, by way of holding the balance even, to take a step in the other direction. So he set about making very vigorous inquiries concerning the 200th, their destination, and the character of the officers, and all the other points of information most likely to be interesting. And the result of his inquiries was a resolution to go up to town and see Montague, who did not want to go to India. Edgbaston and the rest might laugh, but Frank said to himself that he was far from having made up his mind, and that it was very important for him to acquaint himself with all the circumstances. It was on a June day when he went up to town in pursuance of this resolution, hot enough to dissuade{v.2-287} any man from business, and especially from business connected with India. ‘If it is like this in Pall Mall, what will it be in Calcutta?’ Frank asked himself; but, nevertheless, he was not to be dissuaded. Montague, however, though certified on all sides to be at home, was not to be found. Frank sought him at his rooms, at one club after another, at the agent’s,—everywhere he could think of,—but was unsuccessful. To be sure he got all the necessary information, which answered his purpose almost as well; but the ineffectual search tired him out. He was so thoroughly sick of it, and the day was so hot, that none of his usual haunts or occupations attracted him as it happened. After he had fortified himself with sherry and biscuits, he went rambling forth to spend his time in some misanthropical way till it should be time to return to Royalborough; but the best way that occurred to him for doing that was to take a walk. The Row was deserted; so, of course, it would have been foolish to go there; and he did not feel disposed to make calls; and lounging about the club,—or, indeed, anywhere where he should meet men and be questioned on all hands about himself and his brothers,—was a trial he was not equal to in his present frame of mind. So he went out to walk, which was a curious expedient. And of all places in the world to go to, turned his steps in the direction of the Regent’s Park, which, as everybody knows, is close to Fitzroy Square.{v.2-288}

I have never been able to understand what was Frank’s motive in setting out upon this walk. He knew very well,—none better,—that it was entirely out of the world. What a Guardsman could have to do in such a neighbourhood, except, indeed, to visit a wayward brother, nobody could have imagined; and now the wayward brother was gone. He said to himself that he did not mind where he went, so long as it was quite out of the way of meeting anybody; and yet on ordinary occasions Frank had no objection to meeting people. He went up Harley Street, scowling at those scowling houses, and then he went into the smiling, plebeian park, among all the nursery-maids. How funny it was, he said to himself, to notice the difference between this and the other parks, and persuaded himself that he was studying life on its humdrum side. He looked into the steady little broughams meandering round and round the dull terraces. Was it any pleasure to the old ladies to drive about thus, each in her box? And then he walked down the centre walk, where all the children were playing. The children were just as pretty as if they had been in Kensington Gardens. Mrs. Suffolk’s babies trotted past, with signs of old Rich’s two hundred and fifty pounds in their little summer garments, though Frank knew nothing of them,—and he kept stumbling over two pretty boys, who recalled to him some face he knew, and to whom he seemed an object of lively curiosity. They held close conver{v.2-289}sations, whispering with their heads together, and discussing him, as he could see, and turned up wherever he went, hanging about his path. ‘I tell you it ain’t Laurie’s ghost,’ one of them said audibly, at length. ‘He’s twice as tall, and he’s Laurie’s brother.’ ‘Hallo!’ Frank said, turning round upon them; ‘you are the little Severns, to be sure.’ No doubt it was the first time the idea had occurred to him. He must be close to Fitzroy Square, and being so, and Mrs. Severn having been such a friend of Laurie’s, it was his duty to call. Clearly it was his duty to call. She was a friend of the Riches, too. There was thus a kind of connexion on two sides; and to be near and not to call would be very uncivil. Frank made friends with the boys without any difficulty, and took the opportunity of making them perfectly happy by a purchase of canes and whips from a passing merchant of such commodities, and set off for the Square under their guidance. It would not have mattered if Mrs. Severn had not known that he was in the neighbourhood; but of course the boys would hasten home and tell. And to be uncivil to so great a friend of Laurie’s was a sin Frank would not have been guilty of for the world. Thus it will be seen that it was in the simplest, most unpremeditated way that he was led to call at the Square.

The scene he saw when he went in was a scene of which Laurie had once made a little drawing. Though it was so hot and blazing out of doors,{v.2-290} the great window of Mrs. Severn’s dining-room, which looked into her garden, was by this time of the afternoon, overshadowed by the projecting ends of her neighbours’ houses, and admitted only a softened light. Alice sat full in the midst of this colourless day with her curls hanging about her shoulders, and her delicate face, with all its soft bright tints, like a flower a little bent upon its stem. The door of the dining-room was ajar; and this was how Frank managed to catch a passing glimpse as he was being ushered into the decorum of the great vacant drawing-room; for to be sure he was a stranger, and had no right to go as familiar visitors did, and tap at the padrona’s studio-door. He saw as he passed Alice sitting by the window, her hands full of work, and her face full of contentment and sweet peace. And at her feet, like a rose-bud, sat little Edith, in all a child’s carelessness of attitude, her little white frock tucked about her shapely, rosy limbs, her little feet crossed. Miss Hadley was in the shadow, and Frank did not see her. He thought Alice and her little sister were alone, and that he was in luck. He paused at the open door, though the maid led the way to the other. ‘May I come in?’ he said. Perhaps the tone was too much like that in which he had asked permission to enter the music-room at Richmont. Alice gave a great start at the sound of his voice, and dropped her work on the floor. ‘Oh, Mr. Laurie’s brother!{v.2-291}’ cried Edith, who was quite unembarrassed. And Frank felt himself charmed out of all reason by the little start and the flutter of the white work as it fell. ‘I feared you were still at Richmont,’ he said, ‘and that I should not see you.’ And so he went lightly in and found himself in Miss Hadley’s presence, with her sternest countenance on, a face enough to have driven out of his wits the most enterprising cavalier in the world.

‘It is Mr. Frank Renton,’ said Alice. ‘Miss Hadley, Mr. Renton’s brother;’ and Miss Hadley made him a curtsey, and looked him through and through with her sharp eyes, for which Frank was so entirely unprepared. The thought of finding Alice all by herself had been so charming to him, and he had brightened into such genuine exultation, that the way in which his face fell was amusing to see.

‘Your mamma will be very glad to see Mr. Renton’s brother, I am sure,’ said Miss Hadley. ‘Run, my dear, and tell her; and ask if he shall go to the studio, or if she will come here.’

‘Don’t disturb Mrs. Severn, pray, for me,’ said the discomfited Frank. ‘I was in the neighbourhood, and by accident met the boys in the park. I could not be so near without calling; but pray don’t disturb her for me.’

‘She is sure to want to see you,’ said Miss Hadley. ‘Have you heard from your brother? It was{v.2-292} so very unexpected to us all his going away. I hope it was not his health. But you young men think so little of travelling now-a-days. Is it you who are going to India, Mr. Renton? Your brother used to talk a great deal of you.’

‘Yes, I think I am going to India,’ said Frank. Alice was standing putting her work aside before she went to tell her mother of Frank’s presence; but at these words she turned half round with an involuntary movement,—he could see it was involuntary, almost unconscious,—and gave him a soft look of inquiry and grief. ‘Must you go away,—shall we never see you again?’ said the eyes of Alice. The tears were ready to spring and the lips to quiver, and then she returned to the folding of her work, and blushed all over her pretty throat. And Frank saw it, and his heart swelled within him. To think she should care! Nelly disappeared out of his thoughts like the merest shadow,—indeed, Nelly had not been in his thoughts since he left Royalborough. ‘I have not quite made up my mind yet; but I fear I must go,’ he continued, answering her look. And Miss Hadley, always sharp, noticed at once the changed direction of his eyes.

‘Run, my dear, and tell your mother,’ she said. ‘I will put your work away for you, and Edie may go and play with the boys. Run out into the garden, children. We cannot have you all making a noise when people are here.{v.2-293}

‘But I want to stay and talk to Mr. Laurie’s brother,’ cried Edith. ‘I love Laurie; there is nobody so nice ever comes now. And Alice loves him too,’ said the little traitor, ‘and tells me such stories when she is putting me to bed, about Richmont.’

‘But, you silly child, it was Mr. Frank Renton who was at Richmont,’ said Miss Hadley. Upon which the child nodded her head a great many times, and repeated, ‘I know, I know.’

‘Your brother was such a favourite with them all,’ said Miss Hadley, apologetically, ‘they get confused to know which Mr. Renton it is. He is very nice. Is he just wandering about on the face of the earth, or has he settled down anywhere? I don’t think Mrs. Severn has heard; and that is strange too.’

‘We don’t know exactly what route he has taken,’ said Frank, ‘He is not much of a letter-writer. Of course my mother hears. And I don’t think it is anything about his health. There is such pleasure to a fellow like Laurie, who never thinks of anything, in the mere fact of travelling about.’

‘I always thought he considered everybody before himself,’ said Miss Hadley.

‘He never pays the slightest attention to his own affairs,’ said Frank, ‘which comes to very nearly the same thing; and yet he is the best fellow that ever was born.{v.2-294}

Having thus exhausted the only subject which they had in common, he and Miss Hadley sat and gazed at each other for some time in silence. The governess was very well aware that Laurie had not gone away for his health,—indeed, she had a shrewd suspicion what it was that had driven him away,—and she could not but look at Frank with watchful, suspicious eyes, feeling that there was something in his uncalled-for visit, in his embarrassment, and Alice’s start and look of interest, more than met the eye. There might have been no harm in that, had he been staying at home. But a young man on the eve of starting for India! It would break her mother’s heart, Miss Hadley said to herself; and though she was sometimes troublesome, and almost intrusive in her vigilance, the governess loved her friend with that intense affection of one woman to another,—generally of a lonely woman to one more fortunate than herself,—which is so seldom appreciated and so little understood, but which sometimes rises to the height of passion. Jane Hadley made herself disagreeable by times to the padrona, but would have been cut in pieces for her,—would have lain down to be trampled over,—could she have done any good by such an act to the being she held highest in the world. Therefore it immediately occurred to her that her first duty was to discourage and snub this new visitor. Going away to India, and yet trying{v.2-295} to make himself agreeable in the eyes of Alice, was a sin of the deepest dye.

‘You were going to change into another regiment, your brother said,’ remarked Miss Hadley. ‘When do you leave? I should think, on the whole, it would be pleasanter to change the monotony of your leisure for a more active life.’

‘It is not settled yet,’ said Frank. ‘But I suppose I’ll go. Yes; it is rather monotonous doing garrison work at home.’

‘And what part of India are you going to?’ Miss Hadley continued. Frank began to get irritated by the questions. Confound India! he did not want to think of it,—or, indeed, to trouble his mind with anything at that moment. He wanted Alice to come back again, to look at him, to speak to him, to play for him. He kept his eyes on the door, and felt that the place was empty till she came. Here it was he had seen her first. There, under the curtains in the doorway, she had stood lighting up the darkness with her face; there she had sat making the tea;—how clearly every little incident dwelt on his mind! As for Nelly Rich, he had not the slightest recollection where he saw her first, nor what the circumstances were. He was never restless for her return when she was out of the room; but at that moment he did not even pay Nelly Rich the compliment of contrasting his feelings in respect to her with his feelings to Alice{v.2-296} Severn. He simply forgot her existence, and watched the door, and stammered what reply he could to the inquisitor who sat opposite to him,—like an old cat he said,—watching him with her keen eyes.

And when the door opened at last it was only Mrs. Severn who came in. Frank absolutely changed colour, and grew pale and green with disappointment. Laurie had thought her a type of everything most perfect in woman; but to Frank she was a sober personage, comely and middle-aged, and Alice’s mother, which indeed was her real appearance in the world. She came in with a gleam of interest in her eyes, and a little eagerness in her manner. She had not taken off her painting-dress, but she had put aside her brushes and her palette, and sat down by him without any fuss about abandoning her work. With her intimates she worked on without intermission, but to strangers the padrona ignored the constant labour which filled her life.

‘Have you brought us some news of your brother, Mr. Renton?’ she said. ‘I shall be so glad to hear he is safe in Rome. He should not have gone so late in the year.’

‘No, I have no particular news,’ said Frank. ‘His going took us all by surprise. My mother has had two or three little notes, I believe. I was in the neighbourhood,’ he added in an explanatory, apologetic way, ‘and thought I would call.’

‘I am very glad to see you,’ said the padrona; ‘Laurie{v.2-297} Renton’s brother can never be but welcome here. I have known him so long,—since he was a boy,’ she added, with a little colour rising on her cheek, seeking in her turn to excuse the warmth with which she spoke; but the blush was for Jane Hadley quietly seated in the background seeing everything, and not for the unconscious Frank.

‘Oh, thanks,’ said Frank. ‘Laurie was always speaking of you. I met Miss Severn the other day at Richmont. She might tell you, perhaps. How she plays! I don’t think I ever heard anything like it. It draws the heart out of one’s breast.’

‘Ah, yes, Alice plays very well,’ said Mrs. Severn, with placid complacency. ‘She is doing something for me in the studio. She is as clever with her needle as she is with her music,’ she added, calmly. Clever! and to compare her needlework with her music! This speech went a long way to prove that the padrona was a very ordinary, commonplace personage in Frank’s eyes. That, however, did not matter so much. What was a great deal more important was that Alice did not return.

‘I hope she liked Richmont,’ he said; ‘they are kind people, and the country is lovely just now. You don’t know Renton, Mrs. Severn? My mother, I am sure, would be charmed to see you, and Laurie must have told you of our woods. My mother is a great invalid. She has always been so as long as I can recollect, but she would be delighted to see you. I{v.2-298} wish I could persuade you and Miss Severn to come down for a day; I could row you up from Cookesley,’ said Frank, eagerly. Alice came in just in time to hear these last words, and gazed at her mother with a longing look. She had not heard the previous part of the proposal, but to be rowed up the river from Cookesley! The words flushed her young imagination with every kind of delight.

‘It is very tempting,’ Mrs. Severn said, ‘but I fear we must not think of it. Alice, you must go and make some music for Mr. Renton; he likes your playing. Are you in town only for the day?’

‘Only for the day,’ said Frank; and then he paused and put on his suppliant look. ‘When I was here with Laurie I was allowed to stay to tea.’

‘And so you shall stay to tea if you like it,’ said the padrona, laughing. And Alice gave him a momentary glance and a soft little smile of content. A paradisiacal sense of well-being and happiness glided over Frank he could not tell how. It was something quite new and strange to him. He had been happy most part of his life,—not being yet quite one-and-twenty, poor fellow!—happy for no particular reason,—because he was alive, because he was Frank Renton, because he had got something he wanted; but this was a totally different sort of happiness. It seemed to float him away from all mean and indifferent things; he was mounted up on a pinnacle from the heights of which he contemplated{v.2-299} the rest of the world with a tender pity; he was enveloped in an atmosphere of blessedness. This intoxicating yet subduing delight seemed to him the natural air of the place in which he was. They must breathe it all day long these happy people; even the governess who sat grim over her knitting and watched him with keen eyes. It was the air of the place, though the place was Fitzroy Square, in the heart of London, on the way to the City; for never in the summer woods, never at home in his hereditary house, never amid the luxuries and delights of society, had he breathed anything like it. He did his best to make himself agreeable to Mrs. Severn, but it cannot be asserted that he was sorry when she left the room, which she did after a while. True, Miss Hadley was there, more watchful than a dozen padronas; but the watchfulness seemed appropriate somehow and was harmonised by the atmosphere, just as summer air harmonises all out-door noises. The children rushed to the garden, getting tired of the quiet, and Alice went into the other room and began to play. I have said it was the only poetry of which Frank was susceptible. All the poets in one could not have moved him as these sweet, inarticulate floods of sound did, making the atmosphere more heavenly still, breathing a heart into it full of soft longings and a tender languor. The house, as we have said, was on the shady side of the Square—the great drawing-room felt like some cool, still, excluded{v.2-300} place, in the midst of the hot and lingering afternoon. Frank threw himself into a chair at the other end of the room, from whence he could watch the musician without disconcerting her. There were the three great windows draped in white like tall ghosts ranged against the wall; and the chairs and tables all grouped in a mysterious way as if there were whispering spectators who marked all; and the cool grey-green walls with here and there the frame of a picture catching the light; and Alice in her fresh muslin gown, white, with lines and specks of blue, with blue ribbons tied among her curls, and her bright eyes intent and her white hands rippling among the ivory keys. The only thing that had ever made a painter of Frank was his meeting with Alice. His mind was becoming a kind of picture-gallery hung with sketches of her. He remembered every look, almost every dress she had ever worn,—the dark neutral-tinted one that night, the white at Richmont, and now the glimmer of blue ribbons among the curls,——

After a time Miss Hadley, who sat there patient with her knitting, like a cat watching a mouse, was called away for something and had to leave them reluctantly. And then it is undeniable that Frank took advantage of her absence and stole a little closer to the piano. He even interrupted Alice ruthlessly in the midst of her sonata.

‘Play me this,’ he said, humming the bars that{v.2-301} haunted him. He was even so bold as to approach his hand to the piano and run over the notes. ‘It was the first thing I had ever heard you play,’ the young man added; ‘I have done nothing but sing it ever since. Ah, forgive me for stopping you! Let me hear it again.’

‘It is very lovely,’ faltered Alice, stooping her head over the keys; and then by chance their eyes met and they knew—— What? Neither said another word. Alice’s fingers flew at the keys with the precipitancy of haste and fear. She spoiled the air, her heart beating so loud as to drown both tune and time. As the notes rushed out headlong after each other, an indifferent looker-on would have concluded poor Alice to be a school-girl in the fullest musical sense of the word. But Frank, though he was a connoisseur, never found it out. He sat down behind her listening with a perfect imbecility of admiration. It might have been St. Cecilia, it might have been the angels playing in heaven whom Cecilia heard. To him it was a strain divine. To think that he had not known of Alice’s existence when he heard these notes first! He began to babble in the midst of the music, quite unconscious of doing anything amiss.

‘When I heard you play that first I had never seen you,’ he said, and though Alice was at the crisis of the melody her hand slackened and lightened to listen. ‘I could not think who it could be. I thought{v.2-302} you must be the sick one of the family or something. And then, when your mother called you and you came and stood in the door——’

Alice now stopped altogether and did her best to laugh. ‘What a very good memory you must have,’ she said. ‘I am sure I could not have remembered all that.’

‘Yes; I have a good memory,—for some things,’ said Frank, while she half unconsciously kept running on with one hand among the treble keys, half drowning his voice, half making an accompaniment to it. ‘Your mother spoke of you in such a tone—I understand it now, but it bewildered me at the time, I thought you must be ill—or—sickly—or something. And then she called Alice, and you appeared under the curtains; I can see it all as plain as if it had happened yesterday. Laurie chattering enough for six with his back turned, and you standing in the doorway like——’

Alice made a great crash on the piano and burst at once into a grand symphony. Instinct told her to play, and it was just as well she had done so, for one minute after Miss Hadley appeared with her perpetual knitting in her hand. She gave Frank a look when she perceived his change of position and herself approached the piano. A young fellow who was going to India! That was his sole and unique description to Miss Hadley,—and she was deeply indignant at his pre{v.2-303}sumption. The symphony was a long one, but Alice was restored to herself. Safety had come in place of danger. She had not wanted Miss Hadley to return, and yet under shelter of Miss Hadley her faculties came back to her. There was a good deal of crash and execution in what she was now playing, and it suited her feelings. It was a kind of music which Frank would have scorned at from any other player, but oddly enough it chimed in with his feelings now. They were both tingling all over with soft emotion and that first excitement of early love, in which it is the man’s object to say as much as he may under covert of commonplace observations, and the woman’s to receive it as if it meant nothing and to escape from all appearance of comprehension. And yet if by chance they looked at each other both knew, not what they were aiming at certainly, but in some darkened, vague degree that there was a meaning, and a very decided one underneath.

Then Mrs. Severn appeared again in her black silk gown, and the tea was set upon the table, and Alice made it as she had done before. It was like the same scene repeated, and yet it was not the same. Alice who had been to him but a fairy vision was now—— What was she now? Frank made a sudden jump from that side of the question, and felt his cheeks flush and a delicious glow come over his heart. But, not to speak of Alice, he{v.2-304} himself was no longer an accidental guest received for his brother’s sake; but if not a friend, at least an acquaintance received for his own. To Alice at least he was more than an acquaintance. ‘I have lived in the same house with Miss Severn, and I feel as if we were old friends,’ he said, and Alice, with a soft blush and smile, did not reject the claim. ‘How pretty it was at Richmont!’ she said, with a soft, little sigh. And if it had not been for that dreadful old governess, who broke in, in the most abrupt way, with something about India! What was India to her? What had she to do with it? If a man wanted for the moment to forget everything that was disagreeable, what business had Miss Hadley to interfere? Frank as nearly turned his back upon her when she made her second interpellation on the subject as good-breeding would allow. Was it her business? He was very wroth with the meddler, but very soft and benignant with every one else, talking to Edith—to the child’s immense delight—as if she were grown up, and discussing games with the boys, and making himself very generally agreeable. He stayed long enough to watch the people beginning to arrive on their evening calls, and accepted all the circumstances of the house with the profoundest satisfaction and sense of fitness. But he could not find any more private opportunities of making known his recollections or his fancies to Alice, and went{v.2-305} away at last when he had but time for his train, with a sense of intoxication and absorption in he knew not what golden dreams. India!—but soft—India, when a man came to think of it, might for anything he knew, involve brighter possibilities than he had yet contemplated. Speak low; whisper low. When this thought occurred to Frank he ran and took his leave with a sensation as if a whole hive of bees had set to buzzing in his head. As I have said it intoxicated him. He had need to go away, to get himself into the morose solitude of the train to think it over. The sudden light that had burst upon his path took all power of vision from his dazzled eyes.{v.2-306}



It has been seen that Frank Renton was not, in any sense of the words, a model young man. He was not offensive nor disagreeable, but as a pure matter of fact, the centre of his own world, as, indeed, we all are more or less. When it had been placed so very clearly before him that it was to his advantage to marry money, he had acquiesced, with a little struggle, feeling that the advantage was so great as to create a duty; but now, after this bewildering day, another prospect altogether opened before his eyes. He had forgotten Nelly. For the moment she passed from his mind, as if she had never been, and Alice had risen upon him like the sun. He could perceive now that from the first moment his heart had claimed her. Happiness, companionship, the very light of life, seemed to be concentrated for him in that simple youthful creature, ignorant of the world, innocent as a child, sweet with the earliest freshness of existence. He had no need{v.2-307} to reason about it, to say to himself that it was she whom he wanted, she whom he had unconsciously been groping for; he knew it; it was clear as daylight; he seemed to himself to have been aware of it all along, from the earliest moment. A voice from heaven had spoken to him, as to Adam, crying, ‘This is she.’ Such was the thought that filled his mind as he went down to Royalborough in the dark and damp loneliness of the railway carriage. He had so much thinking to do that he had warned the guard that he must have a compartment to himself; and there he lay back in his corner with a very black shadow thrown on him from the dim lamp, and floated forth upon this Elysian sea of thought. But it was only for the first two minutes that it was Elysian. All at once he sat bolt upright, and remembered that he had forgotten something. Nelly! This recollection rushed at him like another railway train in the darkness, so that there was a sharp and violent collision. After the first shock Frank began to consider anxiously how far he had gone on that other side, what words he might have spoken, what inferences had been made. Only yesterday, it must be allowed, he was making very decided way towards Nelly. He had been softened, and brought nearer to her personally, and the house and the hunters had held a very high place in his thoughts. He had persuaded his mother to call, and written a note which{v.2-308} was not at all unlike the first beginning of love-making. And yet, to-day, he had forgotten Nelly’s existence. When he recollected all this, he grew suddenly very hot, and very uncomfortable. Love, even when it is unfortunate, has something sweet in it; but the thought of Nelly’s little indignant face was not sweet. He had never loved her; he had never, even to himself, pretended to be fond of her. He had represented to himself that if they were married, no doubt the time would come when he should be fond of his wife. But while he was thus deciding in cold blood, the other had but to give a glance, and all was over with Nelly. When this terrible complication became apparent, Frank no longer found that there was anything Elysian in his circumstances; for this discovery suddenly revealed to him the entire circumstances of the case. Nelly was marriageable, for she was very rich; but Alice was poor. If the wealth of the one out-balanced the objections against her in respect to birth and breeding, there was no such saving clause in respect to the other. Even Mr. Rich patronised Mrs. Severn. The artist’s family was of no rank, and had no such social standing whatever, not even that conferred by money. As for the distinction of art,—Frank was too much a man of the world not to know for how little that counted. Penniless, without connexions or prospects, or blood, or anything,—a creature who was only herself, and pos{v.2-309}sessed only the qualities of her own mind and heart! To make such a marriage, Frank was aware, would be sheer madness. Nelly was different. Nelly meant Cookesley Lodge, with all its accompaniments and a certain sum a-year. Alice meant nothing but her simple self. No wonder the moisture stood heavy on his forehead. He had been a fool, in suffering himself to be thus moved out of all sense and prudence. And yet when he tried to turn to other thoughts his heart grew sick. He—almost—made a vow never to think of anybody, never to look at any one more. Why was fate always so spiteful? Why was it that Alice had not Nelly’s fortune, or Nelly Alice’s charms? It was not that he was mercenary. Money, except for what it brought, was not important to Frank; but there is a difference between being mercenary and being an idiot. And he knew so well what the world would say if, instead of marrying money, he married a girl who had nothing,—neither money nor any other substantial recommendation. He would be laughed at, and she would be snubbed,—and who could wonder at it? Thus Frank reasoned with himself, and groaned in his heart. And then he thought of India, and the world stood still for a moment that he might look that possibility in the face.

India! In the first place, it was out of the world, and the ridicule attending his fiasco would not, in India, be so overwhelming; but at the same{v.2-310} time, the world is a very small place, and news would travel faster than by telegraph to everybody who was anybody. In India the pay was double, which was a very great matter; but then, on the other hand, would not the expenses be greater too? Not, of course, in proportion to Cookesley Lodge and the hunters, which, alas! it was no use thinking any more about, but in proportion to the tiny ménage which a young soldier with two hundred a-year, besides his pay, might venture on at home. And here, once more, Frank drew himself up, with a sensation of misery. Two hundred a-year and his pay barely sufficed for himself. To marry upon it would be simple madness, neither more nor less. And to wait seven years—— No! India was the only chance. It was the most usual thing in the world for a young fellow going out there to marry before he went;—therefore it must be practicable. There would be no society nor expensive habits,—as he supposed, in his ignorance,—and there was the chance of appointments, which was always worth taking into account. Frank contemplated the question all round, but it was a very dreary horizon which encircled him on every side. Poverty, the renunciation of most things which had made life agreeable—a struggle with care and the burdens of serious life,—instead of Cookesley and the hunters and terriers, and the country gentleman’s existence, for which he had evidently been created!{v.2-311} There was so much good in the young man however, that though he could not but contrast the two existences which thus seemed to be set before him, he could not and did not contrast the two through whose hands their different threads must run. He made no comparison there. Nelly had been swept out of his sky the moment Alice appeared.

One thing was quite clear to him at this crisis of excitement and emotion, while the image of Alice still danced before his eyes with all her soft looks and words;—Cookesley and its delights,—meaning Nelly and her fortune,—were impossible,—quite impossible; altogether out of the question. He had been capable in the abstract of doing a duty to himself and the world, and securing,—in default of Laurie, for whom he always acknowledged the position would have been so much more suitable,—all those advantages which seemed to be held out to him in Nelly Rich’s hand. He liked her very well, and no doubt would have grown fond of her in time. That he could have done. His own interests, and the unanimous voice of his friends, and the appeal of the world in general, had all but decided the question. But Frank, notwithstanding the prudent and practical character of his understanding, was true and honest at bottom. And as soon as he discovered beyond question that he was in love with one woman, it became impossible for him to marry another, whatever the advantages might be which{v.2-312} she brought with her. He was not capable of that. It was indispensable to him to be true, if not to Alice, who knew nothing about his sentiments, at least to Nelly. She had a right to it. He could have married her yesterday, but he could not deceive her to-day. What could he do? The clouds closed in upon him, swallowed him up, the more he thought it over. Do! Nothing but trudge forth to India, leaving his hopes of every description behind him,—a saddened and a solitary man. Neither one thing nor another, neither love nor wealth were practicable.

‘I must never see her again,’ Frank said to himself, as he got out of the train; ‘I must never see her again!’ Perhaps it was because of the very practicality and matter-of-fact character of his mind that he felt it dangerous to permit himself such an indulgence. He could not go and gaze and moon about her, as other men might, without anything coming of it. The only safeguard would be to keep away altogether. But it was not a cheerful thought; and, consequently, when he emerged from the station with his hat down over his brows, a certain air of tragedy and misery was about the poor fellow. And if the reader of this sober history should at any time encounter on the railway between London and Royalborough an unfortunate and melancholy Guardsman, well thrown back into the shadow of the lamp, gnawing his moustache as he chews the{v.2-313} cud of fancy, let him remember the miserable perplexities of poor Frank Renton, and pity the man. The impulse of the mature spectator’s mind is so invariably to vituperate the military butterfly, that it is the duty of the benevolent moralist to turn the tide of sympathy towards that beautiful, frivolous, yet sometimes suffering creature, when he has the opportunity. After all, Guardsmen are men.

Frank kept his resolution for a week. He gave himself a fair trial. To describe the cogitations which passed through his mind during that time, would only weary the reader without bringing him any nearer to the issue of the conflict; for, to be sure, it does not matter so very much what conclusion a young man may arrive at in such a contest, after even weeks of thought. Five minutes may destroy the entire fabric at any time;—a sudden meeting,—three words,—all unpremeditated on either side,—a chance look,—even a few notes of music played unawares by strange hands,—will suffice to undo the finest piece of reasoning ever put together. Nor is it at all unusual in Frank’s circumstances for a young man to make an absolute determination against marriage one day, and go and lay himself at the feet of the lady of his affections on the next. Many times, it must be allowed, Cookesley Lodge would burst like a sudden revelation upon the young man’s soul. He could hear the hunters rattling up the avenue, and the dogs yelping{v.2-314} a chorus of welcome; and then this charming home-scene would give place to a misty conception of an Indian bungalow,—whatever that might be,—and the fierce delights of a jungle-hunt. The question was not Alice or Nelly,—that would have horrified him;—but Cookesley with all possible comforts and indulgences, and India with none;—question enough to make a man ponder. Four or five days after his visit to London, though it seemed four or five years from the multiplicity of his thoughts, he rode over to Richmont, on an unacknowledged mission to prove to himself whether that image of Alice, which he had been trying hard to banish, would disappear before the close realisation of all the good things on the other side. He had tried to forget her, or rather he had tried to shut her out from his thoughts; to divert his mind to anything else in the world rather than allow it to dwell upon her. And he was now going to test what success he had had. Nelly Rich was sketching under the trees, as we have before seen her, when he rode up to the door; and instead of going in to pay his respects to her mother, Frank,—with a strong sense of duty,—crossed the lawn to where the white figure, with sketching-block on her lap, and bright ribbons fluttering about her, sat in the shadow of the soft limes. A prettier picture could not have been desired. The dead white of the dress blazed out in the sunshine, lying in crisp folds upon the soft{v.2-315} grass. The silken lime-leaves made a flutter and chequer of light and shade upon the pretty drooping head. Nelly was older, more piquant, more expressive, indeed, to any unprejudiced eye more beautiful, than Alice Severn; not, as Frank said to himself hotly, that he ever had made such a profane comparison. But yet it was impossible thus to approach the one without thinking of the other. There was a technicality and a pretension, he thought, about all this paraphernalia of the artist. When Alice went softly to her piano, you never could have told, until you heard her, that she was anything but a school-girl. And no one seemed to give her any particular glory for her music. She was a little girl to all of them. Whereas Nelly was the mistress of everything, more mistress in the house than was her mother, and getting credit for all sorts of talent and cleverness. In his heart Frank took up a position of defence for the absent, whom, indeed, no one dreamt of attacking. No doubt he would have to talk of the sketch, and admire it as if it had been something very fine. At Fitzroy Square the mother had smiled and had just admitted that Alice played well;—and that she was as clever at her needle as at her music. How strange was the difference!

‘Is it you, Mr. Renton?’ said Nelly; and she put down her sketching-block hastily as he approached. ‘I could not make you out till you came quite close. Did you not find mamma?{v.2-316}

‘I confess I did not ask,’ said Frank; and the consciousness that he was paying a compliment which he did not mean embarrassed him in his peculiar circumstances; ‘I saw you here——’ and then he stopped, the unfortunate youth giving double meaning to his words.

Nelly blushed. It was very natural she should after such an address; and her change of colour told upon Frank as the most terrible reproach. ‘I thought Mrs. Rich would be with you,’ he added, hurriedly; ‘it is so pleasant out-of-doors on such a day. You were sketching, I am sure, and I have stopped your work.’

‘Oh, it does not matter,’ said Nelly. ‘I want to draw the house, and I cannot get it just as I want it. I must have in the window of the music-room. You know I live there. I don’t care for all the rest of the house in comparison with that one room.’

‘Yes,’ said Frank, with a sudden relapse, ‘with such music as we had there the other day, the place was like paradise.’

‘You liked little Alice Severn’s playing,’ said Nelly. ‘Ah! yes, I remember. She plays very well. For myself I am not fanatical about music. I don’t understand it. I want to know what it says, and it says nothing. And these musical people are so exclusively musical, they never seem to have brains for anything else.{v.2-317}

‘But that could not be the case with—Miss Severn, I should think,’ said Frank, taking a foolish pleasure in speaking of her, and making a little pause before her name like a worshipper. Nelly gave him a quick glance, and answered carelessly.

‘Oh, Alice! She is a good little thing enough; but I don’t think she has much brains,—few girls have,—or men either for that matter. I don’t expect anything of the kind from people who come to this house.’

‘You are not complimentary to your visitors,’ said Frank, feeling mortified, and with a secret sense that something at least of this condemnation was intended for himself.

‘Well, Mr. Renton, few of our visitors are complimentary to us,’ said Nelly, with a flush on her face, which even Frank perceived was quite different from the soft blush which had greeted his first appearance. Probably her quick ear had caught some difference in his tone, though he was not himself aware of it. ‘We are rich, and you come to us when we ask you, and are very civil; but I know you laugh at us behind our backs, and make very free with our names, and do not show us the respect you would to the most miserable creature who was of good family. And then you think we are taken in by it, and don’t know——’

‘Miss Rich, you must allow me to say that{v.2-318} personally you are doing me a great injustice,’ said Frank, colouring high. ‘I cannot undertake to be responsible for everybody who comes here; but so far as myself and my friends are concerned——’

‘Oh, I beg your pardon!’ cried Nelly, turning her face towards him with sudden shame and penitence which made it beautiful. Her large brilliant eyes were full of tears, and the eloquent blood had rushed to her cheeks. She held out her hands to him in the fervour of her compunction. ‘Oh, forgive me!—do forgive me! I was cross. I did not know what I was saying. I did not mean you.’

There was nothing that Frank could do but take the pretty, soft, appealing hands, and hold them in his own for a moment. He did not kiss them, as no doubt he would have done had he never paid that visit to the Square. ‘There is nothing for me to forgive,’ he said in softened tones. And then Nelly recovered herself, and took her hands away.

‘But you must forgive me,’ she said, ‘for being cross to you, who, I am sure, did not deserve it. Your mother called on Wednesday, and mamma was so pleased. You know we are new people,—very new people—and it is a great thing for us to have Mrs. Renton calling. But because we are such spick-and-span new people we have always{v.2-319} something happening to vex us. One hears bits of gossip about you officers,—how you laugh and discuss one, and take things in your head,’ said Nelly, breaking off suddenly, and looking full in Frank’s face. What did she mean? Whatever it was, it covered him with embarrassment and shame. This conversation at least was true. He had been taking things in his head, and he did not know how to meet her look, or give her any reply.

‘I don’t know to what you refer,’ he faltered. ‘I am sure, Miss Rich——’ and then he broke off altogether, so great was his confusion under the steady light of her keen eyes. ‘There is no doubt,’ he went on, as soon as he recovered himself, ‘that everything possible and impossible is talked about. It is the fashion everywhere now-a-days. You know it as well as I. But had anything that was less than respectful ever been breathed in my presence——’

‘I was quite sure of that,’ said Nelly, leaning towards him with glowing eyes and expressive face. The eyes were full of soft gratitude, and something that looked like a tender pride. ‘I know that,’ she repeated; ‘you have always been so different!’ The voice had fallen quite low, so that Frank had to lean forward to hear it. And there was encouragement in her look for anything he might have had to say, for anything{v.2-320} he might have been moved to do, in the excitement of the moment. And Frank’s heart was softened by compunction and the sense that he was not so blameless as he had claimed to be. The crisis of his fate had come.


Printed by Strangeways & Walden, Castle St. Leicester Sq.








The Right of Translation is Reserved.

Strangeways and Walden, Printers,
28 Castle St. Leicester Sq.


XIII.THE WILL{v.3-vi}220





Alice Severn was very innocent and very young,—just over sixteen,—a child to all intents and purposes,—as everybody thought around her. Old Welby, who had taken to meddling in the padrona’s affairs, with that regard which the friends of a woman who is alone feel themselves entitled to display for her interests, had been pressing very earnestly upon Mrs. Severn’s attention the necessity of preparing her child, who had an evident and remarkable talent, to exercise it in public.

‘Few people, indeed, have their way so clear before them,’ he had said repeatedly. ‘It is the finest thing in the world to have a girl or boy with a decided turn. If you could but see the parents who come to me with sons who don’t know what they would be at; and the idiots think they may be made painters because they care for nothing{v.3-2} in earth or heaven. But here is this child with a talent. Of course, if it were a talent for our own art, we might know better how to manage it; but such as it is, it is a gift. Never undervalue a gift, my dear madam. Providence itself points out the way for you. You have only got to train her for her work.’

‘But, Mr. Welby,’ pleaded the padrona, ‘she is such a child. How could I send my little maid out into the world to appear in public! I could not do it! It would drive me out of my senses. My child! You forget what kind of a creature she is.’

‘I don’t in the least forget,’ said the R.A. ‘She is very pretty, too, which is a pity; but you should be above foolish notions in that respect,—you who are so well known to the public yourself.’

‘Not so very well known,’ said the padrona, with a half smile; ‘and then it is only my name, not me. And even if it were my very self, why it would only be me still, not her. I am old, and what does it matter? But my lily, my darling! Mr. Welby, you are very kind, but you do not take the circumstances into consideration;—you do not realise to the full extent what the consequences would be.’

‘I don’t know what you mean by the full extent,’ said Mr. Welby; ‘but this I see as clear as{v.3-3} daylight, that some time or other the child will probably have her bread to earn. I say probably. She may marry, of course, but the papers tell us people have given up marrying now-a-days. You can’t live for ever, ma’am; and still more certainly you can’t work for ever. And the child has actually something in her fingers by which she could earn money, and provide for herself with the greatest ease. Besides, a musician is not like a singer, or a dancer, or anything of that sort. She comes on and sits down before her piano, and never pays any attention to her audience. She need not even look at them unless she likes. She has only a little curtsey to make, and so is off again. It is positively nothing. She may marry, of course, but that would be no protection against poverty. And what’s the alternative? A lingering, idle sort of life at home; saving scraps, and making her own gowns and bonnets; or, perhaps, giving music-lessons to tiresome children whom she would hate. You should not, my dear Mrs. Severn, do such injustice to your child.’

‘Indeed, I am the last person to do her injustice,’ said the padrona, half angered, half saddened, with tears in her eyes. It was a very trenchant style of argument. ‘If I were to die, or if I were to fail in my work!’ Mrs. Severn said to herself, with one of those awful throbs of dread which come upon a woman who is the sole protector and bread-{v.3-4}winner of her children. Such a thought was not unfamiliar to her mind. It came sometimes at chance hours, stealing upon her suddenly like an evil spirit, and wringing her heart. It set her now, for the hundredth time, to count up the little scraps of resource they would have in such a terrible contingency, the friends who would or might be kind to them. ‘If I might but live till Edie is twenty!’ was the silent prayer that followed. It did not seem possible that so long as she did live she would be unable to work. This frenzy of dread was but momentary. Had it lasted, so sharp and poignant was it, the life which was so important might have been put in jeopardy; but fortunately Mrs. Severn’s mind was as elastic as mind could be, and rose again like a flower after the heavy foot had pressed it down. Yet, Alice,—could she be doing injustice to Alice? These arguments had without doubt made a certain impression upon her. Let but this summer be over, she said to herself. It would be time enough certainly when the child was seventeen,—one more year of sweet childhood and leisure, and undisturbed girlish peace. And then the grateful thought came back upon the mother of Mr. Rich’s commission which she was working at, and her year’s work which was secure. Could there be comfort greater than that thought? And the morrow would care for the things of itself.{v.3-5}

While such discussions went on,—for they were frequent,—Alice moved about the house, a soft, domestic spirit, with light steps and a face like a flower. Every day it became more like a flower. The sweetness expanded, the husks of the lovely blossom opened, the woman came gliding noiselessly, so that nobody around perceived it, out of the silken bud of the girl. She was clever at her needle, as her mother had boasted, and made and mended with the homely natural satisfaction of a worker who is conscious of working well; and she was housekeeper, and managed the accounts, and ordered the dinners, proud of her importance and the duties of her office; and she saw the children put to bed, and heard them say their prayers. The homeliest, most limited life,—and yet what could the world give that was better? Not Nelly Rich’s leisure, and gaiety, and luxury; not Mary Westbury’s tedious comforts and occupations. Alice for her part had everything,—and the piano, and the talk of nights added to all. And yet her mind was not undisturbed, as her mother fondly thought. A little secret, no bigger than a pin’s point, had sprung into being in the virgin heart;—not worth calling a secret,—not a thing at all, in short,—only a murmur of soft, musing recollections,—dreams that were not half tangible enough to be called hopes. As, for instance, what was it he meant when their eyes met that afternoon as she played to him? how was it that he remembered so well every time he{v.3-6} had seen her,—even her dress?—questions which she asked and then retreated from, and eluded, and played with, and returned to them again. And would he go to India? Would he come back to Fitzroy Square? So misty was the sphere in which all this passed that the one question seemed to Alice as important as the other. What if he might come again some afternoon, flushing all the fading sky with new tints? What if he should go away and never be heard of more? All this was in the child’s mind when her mother resolved that this summer at least Alice should be left in undisturbed peace. The old story repeated itself, as everything does in this world,—the everlasting tale of individual identity, of isolation and separation of nature between those who are dearest and nearest to each other. The mother would have given her life cheerfully for her child, but could no more see into that child’s soul than if she had been entirely indifferent to her. And Alice, the most loving and dutiful of children, went sweetly on her way, shaping out her own individual life, and never suspecting in that any treason to her earliest loves, or any possible break in her existence. It all turned on the point whether a young Guardsman, who,—with all kindness towards Frank Renton be it said,—was not equal to either Alice or her mother, should call, or should not call, next time he might be in town. Certainly a very trifling matter,{v.3-7} and almost concluded against Alice beforehand, as may have been perceived.

I cannot take it upon me to say if he had never come that Alice would have broken her heart. Her heart was too young, too fresh, too visionary, to be tragically moved. She could have gone on looking for him, wondering if he would come, quite as capable of expecting that he would suddenly appear out of the depths of India as that he would come from Royalborough. She had so much time to spare yet before beginning life for herself that the fanciful delight of wondering what he meant by a look or a word, was actually more sweet to her than anything tangible could have been; but yet if he had never come again, a pathetic chord would have sounded among the fresh harmonies of her being,—perhaps a deeper note than any which had yet been awakened in her, at least a sadder one. She would have looked for him and grown weary, and a certain languor and melancholy would have come into her life. Already she had more pleasure in thinking than she had ever been known to have,—or at least she called it thinking,—and would sit silent for hours wrapped in soft dreams, forgetting to talk, to the great disgust of little Edith, and wonder of Miss Hadley, who was the sharpest observer in the household, and guessed what it all meant. But still Alice could have no reason to complain had Frank Renton never more made his appearance in the Square. She would{v.3-8} never have dreamt of complaining, poor child; she would have sighed, and a ray of light would have gone out of her life, and that would have been all;—and she had so many rays of light that there might well be one to spare!

It was not thus, however, that things turned out. Not much more than a week had elapsed when Frank again made his appearance in the Square. He had not said much to himself about it. He pretended to himself, indeed, that it was a sudden thought, as he had some time to spare. ‘One might as well go and bid them good-bye,’ he said aloud, the better to persuade himself that it was purely accidental. He had seen Montague, and had all but concluded with him about the exchange, though he had still been quite doubtful on the subject when he came up to town. Yet the sight of the other side, and the reality given to the matter by the actual discussion of it as a thing to be done, had an effect upon him which nothing else had yet had. It was made at once into a matter of fact by the first half-dozen words he exchanged with Montague of the 200th. And now it was all but settled, whatever other conclusions might follow. The suddenness with which this very serious piece of business had been concluded, or all but concluded, had filled Frank with a certain excitement. He did not know how he should announce it at home,—how he should tell it to his friends. But he had done it. No doubt his{v.3-9} mother would weep, and other eyes would look on him reproachfully. Not that any eyes had a right,—an absolute right,—to reproach him; but still——! Frank’s mind had been very much agitated and beaten about for some days past. That interview with Nelly had been hard upon him. He had not said all, nor nearly all, that he had been expected to say; but still he had said something which had drawn the indefinite bond between them a little closer. He would owe to her, he felt, after what had passed, some sort of embarrassing explanation of the reasons which had induced him all at once to make up his mind and choose India and work, instead of what was vaguely called his good prospects at home. These good prospects he knew, and everybody knew, herself included, were,—Nelly and her fifty thousand pounds; and it would be as much as saying, ‘I have given up all thoughts of you,’ when he told her of his sudden determination. He had said nothing about going to India in that last interview. On the contrary, he had been rather eloquent on the subject of staying at home. And now he would have to explain to her that India and freedom had more charms for him than she had, even when backed by all her advantages. It was not a pleasant intimation to make; neither was the thought pleasant of telling his mother, who would have still more occasion to reproach him. ‘Go to India, when{v.3-10} you might have fifty thousand for the asking, and heaven knows how much more!’ Mrs. Renton would say; and would feel herself deeply aggrieved by her son’s backsliding. He had been beguiled into all this by the talk of Montague of the 200th, and his own errant, foolish inclinations. It had seemed to him like an escape from himself, and he had taken advantage of the chance;—but it was terrible to contemplate the immediate results. And he had an hour or two to spare, and a little music had always so good an effect upon him! Besides, it would not be civil to go away without taking farewell of Laurie’s friends. The 200th were to go in three months. There would be little further time for anything but the business of his outfit. Frank turned his steps towards the Square with the resolution, declared,—to himself,—that this should be the last time. He would see them once more, as civility required, and then all would be over. He would put all such nonsense from his mind, the folly of thinking of either;—for was it not folly to entertain such an idea at his age?—and go away and enjoy his freedom. He would be twenty-one before the regiment set sail, which was no doubt a serious age, and the beginning of mature manhood; but still few men without money married so early. And Frank did not want a wife, though he had thus got himself into such difficulties with two girls at once. The clear course was evidently{v.3-11} to set himself free from such premature entanglements, and take refuge in distance and novelty, and rejoice in his escape.

By what strange chance it was that the padrona should have gone out that special afternoon, taking Miss Hadley with her, is what I never could explain. Things do occur so sometimes in this curious world, where everything happens that ought not to happen. Alice was alone, all by herself in that shadowy, silent drawing-room. It was a thing which did not occur thrice in a year. And lo! Frank Renton’s visit to say good-bye must happen on one of these rare occasions! Alice was not playing when he was ushered in. She was sitting at work close to the piano, though that too was not usual to her. She had gone in with the intention of practising, but the charm of thinking had been too strong for her. Even her work had fallen on her knee in the soft, profound stillness and loneliness which of late had come to be so sweet to her. She was thinking of him, asking herself once more those sweet, vague, fanciful questions. It was so pleasant, in her new mood, to feel herself all alone, free to think as she pleased, and lose herself in dreams for a whole, long, enchanted afternoon. And just at that moment, as good or evil fortune decided, Frank Renton was shown into the room. He himself was struck dumb by the chance, as well as Alice. She looked up at him, poor child,{v.3-12} with absolute consternation. ‘Oh, I am so sorry mamma is out!’ she said; and notwithstanding the stir and flutter of her heart at the sight of him, she was quite in earnest when she said so. Mamma being out, however, made all the difference between conscious safety and calm and the uneasy dread which she could not explain. What was she afraid of? Alice could not answer the question. Not of him, certainly, of whom she believed every good under heaven. Of herself, then? But she only repeated her little outcry of regret, and could give no reason for her shy shrinking and fears.

‘Is she?’ said Frank; ‘but I must not go away, must I?—though your tone seems somehow to imply it. Let me stay and wait for her. I have come to say good-bye.’

‘Good-bye?’ said Alice, faltering. The child grew cold all over in a moment, as if a chill had blown upon her. ‘Are you really, really going to India, after all?’

‘After all? after what?’ said Frank, turning upon her so quickly that she had no time to think.

‘Oh, I meant after——. I thought——. People said——. But, no, indeed; I am sure I never believed it, Mr. Renton; it is such stupid talk; only I was a little surprised,’ said Alice, recovering herself. ‘I mean, are you really going to India,—after all?{v.3-13}

Frank laughed. He was at no loss now as he had been with Nelly Rich. ‘I see that is what you mean,’ he said, looking at her with softened, shining eyes, and that delicious indulgence for her youth and simplicity which made him feel himself twice a man; ‘and you may say after all. There are some things I shall be glad to escape from, and there are other things,’ said Frank, rising and going close to her, ‘there are other things——’

He did not mean it,—certainly he did not mean it,—any more than he had meant going to India, when he came up that morning to town to talk the matter over in a vague, general way; but, somehow, as he stood in front of her, leaning over the high-backed chair on which she had placed her work, gazing into the sweet face lifted to him, which changed colour every moment, and was as full of light and shade as any summer sky, a sudden sense of necessity came over him. Leave her?—Was there anybody in the world but the two of them looking thus at each other? Did anything else matter in comparison? ‘What is the use of making any pretences?’ cried Frank; ‘if you will but come with me, Alice, going to India will be like going to heaven!’

She sat and gazed at him with consternation and wonder and dismay; growing pale to the very lips; straining her wistful eyes to make out what he meant. Was he mad? What was he thinking of?{v.3-14} ‘Go with, you?’ she faltered, under her breath, incapable of any expression but that of amaze. Her wondering eye sank under his look, and her heart began to beat, and her brow to throb. The suggestion shook her whole being, though she had not quite fathomed what it meant. And then the crimson colour rose like a sudden flame, and flew over all her face. The change, the trouble, the surprise, were like so many variations in the sky, and they combined to take from the young lover what little wits he had left.

‘Would it be so dreadful?’ he said, bending down over her. ‘Alice, just you and I. What would it matter where we were so long as we were together? I know it would matter nothing to me. I would take such care of you. I should be as happy as the day was long. I want nothing but to have you by me, to look at you, and listen to you. I do not care if there were not another creature in the world’, cried the youth; ‘just you and I!’

‘Oh, don’t speak so!’ cried Alice, trembling in her agitation and astonishment. ‘Don’t, oh, don’t! You must not! How could I ever, ever leave mamma?’

‘Then it is not me you object to?’ cried the lover, in triumph, taking her hands, taking herself to him in a tender delirium.

This was how it came about. With no more preparation on either side, with everything against it,{v.3-15}—friends, prudence, fortune, Nelly,—every influence you could conceive. And yet they did it without any intention of doing it,—on the mere argument of being left for half-an-hour alone together. True, it took more than half-an-hour to calm down the bewilderment of the girl’s mind, thus launched suddenly at a stroke into the wide waters of life. She looked back trembling upon her little haven, the harbour where she had lain so quietly a few minutes before. But we can never go back those few minutes. The thing was done, and nobody in the world could be more surprised at it than the two young, rash, happy creatures themselves, holding each other’s hands, and looking into each other’s faces, and asking themselves,—Could it be true?{v.3-16}



There are moments in life which are so sweet as to light up whole weeks of gloom; and there are moments so dreadful as to make the unfortunate actors in them tremble at the recollection to the end of their lives. Such a moment in the life of Frank Renton was that in which he suddenly heard the padrona’s knock at her own door. He had been as happy as a young man could be. He had felt himself willing, and over again willing, to give up everything without a regret, for the sake of the love he had won, and which was, he said to himself, of everything in earth and heaven the most sweet. This he had said to himself a hundred times over as he hung over Alice in the first ecstasy of their betrothal. He could not imagine how he ever could have doubted. Going to India would, as he had said, be going to heaven. Where he went, she would be with him. He should have her all to himself, free from any interference. They would be free to go forth together, hand in hand, like Adam{v.3-17} and Eve. What was any advantage the world could give in comparison to such blessedness? He was in the full flush of his delight when that awful knock was heard at the door.

At the sound of it Alice started too. She clung to him first, and then she shrank from him. ‘Oh, it is mamma!’ she cried, with sudden dismay. Then there was a pause. Frank let go the hand he had been holding. Nature and the world stood still in deference to the extraordinary crisis. He turned his face, which had suddenly grown pale, to the door. And they heard her talking as she came up the stairs, unconcerned, laughing as if nothing had happened! ‘It will be a surprise to Alice,’ she said audibly, pausing in the passage, at the dining-room door. And Alice shuddered as she listened. A surprise! If the padrona could but know what a terrible surprise had been prepared for herself!

And then she came in upon them, smiling and blooming, her soft colour heightened by a little fresh breeze that was blowing, bright from the pleasant unusual intercourse with the outside world. ‘I am sorry you did not come with us, Alice,’ she said. ‘It is not so hot as we thought it was. Ah, Mr. Renton!’ and she held out her hand to him. Upon what tiny issues does life hang. If Alice had not thought it too hot to go out, all this might never have happened. And the mother to speak of it so lightly, thinking of nothing more important than{v.3-18} the walk, ignorant what advantage had been taken of her absence! To the two guilty creatures who knew, every word was an additional stab.

‘I came up again to-day about the same business,’ said Frank, faltering.

Alice bent trembling over her work, and said nothing. She did not go, as was her wont, with soft, tender hands, to untie the bonnet and take off the shawl, taking pride in her office as ‘mamma’s maid.’ She put on an aspect of double diligence over her work, though her hands trembled so that she could scarcely hold her needle.

Even Mrs. Severn’s unsuspicious nature was startled. She turned to Miss Hadley, who had come in behind her, and said, half in dumb-show, with a certain impatience, ‘What does he mean by coming so often?’

‘No good,’ answered Miss Hadley, solemnly, under her breath; which laconic utterance amused the padrona so much, that her momentary uneasiness flew away. She sat down smiling, turning her kind face upon the trembling pair. ‘Poor Laurie’s brother!’ she said to herself. That was argument enough for tolerating him and showing him all kindness.

‘Alice, how is it you are so busy?’ she said. ‘I think you might order some tea. Though it is not so very hot, it is pleasant to get into the shade. I hope your business has made progress, Mr. Renton,’ she added, politely. As the padrona{v.3-19} looked at them it became slowly apparent to her that something was wrong. Alice had not liked the task of entertaining a stranger all by herself; or——! But of course it must be that. It was ill-bred of him, even though he was Laurie’s brother, to insist on coming in when there was nobody but the child to receive him. Mrs. Severn began to feel uncharitably towards the young man. Alice flushed one moment, and the next was quite pale. She was reluctant to raise her eyes, and neglected all her usual petits soins. When she had to get up to obey her mother, it was with a shy avoidance of her look, which went to the padrona’s heart. What could be the matter? Was she ill? Had he been rude to her? But that was impossible. ‘Is there anything wrong, my darling?’ she said, half rising from her seat.

‘Oh, no, mamma!’ said Alice, breathlessly, in a fainting voice.

The padrona gave Miss Hadley a look which meant,—Go and see what is the matter; and then with a very pre-occupied mind turned towards Frank to play politeness and do her social duties. ‘I hope your business has made progress,’ she repeated, vaguely; and then it became apparent that he was agitated too.

‘Yes,’ he said; and then he came forward to her quite pale and with an air of mingled supplication and alarm which filled her with the profoundest bewilderment. ‘Oh, Mrs. Severn, forgive us!’ he cried. He would have gone down on his{v.3-20} knees had he thought that would have been effectual; but he did not dare to go down on his knees. He stood before her like a culprit about to be sentenced; and she looked at him with eyes in which alarm and suspicion began to glow. There was something wrong; but even now the mother to whom her child was indeed a child did not guess what it was.

‘Us!’ she said; and somehow a thought of Laurie struck into the maze of her thoughts. He could not have done anything, poor fellow, in his exile, to call for forgiveness in this passionate way. ‘I cannot tell what you mean,’ she cried. ‘What have I to forgive? And who are the sinners?’ and she tried to laugh, though it was difficult enough.

‘Mrs. Severn,’ he said, ‘I would not, believe me, have taken advantage of your absence, not willingly. She is so young. I know I ought to have spoken to you first. I did not mean it when I came——’

‘She?’ cried the padrona, with a little cry. Not yet did she see what it was; but instinct told her what kind of a trenchant blow was coming, and all the blood seemed to rush back upon her heart.

‘Yes,’ said Frank, rising into the calm of passion, ‘I found her all by herself. And I loved her so! From that first moment I saw her,—when you called her, and she came and stood there,’ he cried, pointing vaguely at the door;{v.3-21} ‘and I had come to tell you I was going away. And she was sorry. It all came upon us in a moment. How could I help telling her? I loved her so! Forgive me for Alice’s sake.’

The padrona sat gazing at him for some moments with dilated eyes; then suddenly she hid her face in her hands, and uttered a low, moaning cry as of a creature in pain. All at once it had come upon her what it meant. Frank standing there, full of anxiety, yet full of confidence, was bewildered, not knowing what this meant in reference to himself. But the truth was that Mrs. Severn was not thinking of him, had no room in her mind for him at that terrible moment. It was her child she was thinking of,—Alice, who was here half an hour ago, and now was not here, and could never again be, for ever. It all burst upon her in an instant, not anything remediable, as a thing might be which was independent of the child’s own will, but voluntary, her own doing, her choice! Something sung and buzzed in her ears; her eyes felt hot and scorched up; sharp pulsations of pain came into her temples. ‘My child!—my baby!—my first-born!’ she said to herself. It was as if the earth had shaken beneath her feet, and the house had crumbled down about her. Her whole fabric of happiness seemed to shrink up; and yet it was not so much—not so much that she asked; not anything for{v.3-22} herself, not the ease, the comfort, the leisure, the pleasures, so many had. Was she not content, more than content to work late and early, to spare herself in nothing, to labour with both hands, as it were, never grudging? Only her children, that was all she asked to have! And here was the first of her children, the sweetest of all, her excellency and the beginning of her strength, her companion, and tender consoler, and sweet helper—gone! She gave a cry, a half-smothered moan, such as could not be put into words. And all this time Frank stood before her, pale, somewhat desperate, but courageous, knowing that however the mother might be against him, the daughter was for him,—and trusting in his fate.

When the padrona at last withdrew her hands from her face it struck her as with a sense of offence that he should still be standing there. Why did he, a stranger, stand and gaze at her misery? What right had he? And then she remembered that it was this boy whom her child had chosen out of the world, to give up her home for him. In her heart, at that moment, the padrona hated Frank. She raised her head, and even he, though he had no love in his eyes to enlighten him respecting the changes in her face, saw that the lines were drawn and haggard, the colour gone, and that a look of age and suffering had fallen upon her. But she commanded herself. She spoke after a minute with an effort.{v.3-23} ‘Mr. Renton, this is a very serious matter you tell me.’ she said; ‘my daughter is a child,’ and then she had to stop and take breath, and moisten her dry lips. ‘She is too young,—to judge what is best,—for her life. And so are you,’ she added, looking at him with a certain pity for the boy who was so young too, and Laurie’s brother to boot; ‘you are both too young to know what you are doing. You should not have disturbed my Alice!’ she cried, suddenly, unable to keep in the reproach. ‘Such thoughts would never have come into my darling’s mind. You had no right to disturb my child!’

She got up as she spoke in a blaze of momentary excitement,—anger, grief’s twin brother, rising sudden into the place of grief. She made a step or two away from him, and began to collect Alice’s work and fold it up with her trembling hands, turning her back upon him, as if this sudden piece of business she had found was the most important matter in the world. Then she turned round, raising her hand, with an outburst of natural eloquence. ‘She was only a child,’ she cried; ‘as much a child as when she sat on my lap. She had not a thought that was not open to me. I have worked for her almost all her life, watched over her, nursed her, smiled for her when my heart was breaking,—and all in a moment, for a young man’s vanity, my child is to be mine no longer. Why{v.3-24} did you not come to me fairly, like an honest enemy, and warn me what you meant to do?’

As she spoke, standing before him with her arm lifted in unconscious action, almost towering over him in the greatness of her suffering and indignation, Frank stood lost in astonishment. Mothers, so far as he knew, were glad to get their daughters off their hands. Such was the tradition in all regions he had ever frequented. He had expected difficulties, no doubt, but not of this kind. It was with a certain consternation that he gazed at her, asking himself what it meant. It was all real, there could be no doubt of that. But yet,—he was in Fitzroy Square. It was not a duke’s daughter he had ventured on engaging to himself, but a humble artist’s, who everybody would have thought would have been glad enough to have her child provided for. This Frank knew, or, at least, he believed he knew, was the light in which the matter would have been regarded by sensible people. And he, though Belgravia no doubt might have scorned him, was no such contemptible match for the daughter of the painter. He stood surprised and discomfited, not knowing how to reply to a woman who addressed him so strangely. Perhaps it would be best to let her have it all her own way, and exhaust her indignation without contradicting or opposing her; but then the passion in her face moved the young man.{v.3-25}

‘I never thought of coming as an enemy,’ he said, with some heat. ‘I have loved her ever since I saw her. I am not to blame for that.’ How could he be to blame? He had done naught in hate, but all in honour. And thus the mother and the lover stood confronting each other, rivals; but in a conflict which for one of them was without hope.

Then there was an interval of silence,—a truce between the foes. Frank mechanically turned over and over the books which lay on a little table against which he was leaning, and the padrona threw herself into her chair trembling in her agitation. Again and again her lips forced themselves to speak, but the effort was a vain one. She had not the heart to speak. What was there to say? If Alice’s heart was gone from her, then everything was gone. It was not as in old days, when she could have forbidden an unsuitable indulgence with the certainty that after the pain of the first few minutes the smiles would come back, the little heart melt, and the child be herself again. Here was a serious trial now, and the padrona’s heart was sick. She sat, not even looking at him, with her head turned to one side, and her mind full of bitter thoughts. This silence was worse than anything for Frank. He bore it as long as he could, standing with his eyes fixed upon her, expecting the verdict which was to come. Then, as she did not speak, he summoned up all his courage. He made a few{v.3-26} steps forward, so as to bring himself before her eyes, and thus addressed her, with as much steadiness and calm as he could command;—‘Mrs. Severn,’ he said, ‘could you not put yourself in my position? I did not mean to betray myself. I meant to say good-bye, and go away, and never trouble you more. But she was sorry, God bless her! She looked at me, and pitied me, and I did not know what I was saying. I will not tell you a lie, and say I regret,’ cried Frank, with excitement; ‘but I will say I am sorry I had not the chance of speaking to you first. Surely, surely, you will not refuse her to me for that!’

‘Refuse her to you!’ said the padrona, with an unconscious contempt; ‘refuse her to you! You cannot think it is you I am thinking of. Oh, young man, how little you know! There is the sting of it! I would give everything I have in the world she had never seen you; but you make me work out my own sorrow. Can you believe I would hesitate a moment if it were only refusing you?’ she cried, with a gesture unconsciously full of scorn, throwing, as it were, something from her. Frank had never been spoken to in such a tone before. He had been an important personage at Richmont. Not so would his prayer have been received there. The wounded amour propre of his youth made itself felt in his displeasure. He went to the nearest window, and stood staring out into the street,{v.3-27} disgusted with himself, and half disgusted, if the truth must be told, with all the circumstances. He had been a fool in thus committing himself. He had behaved like a fool in every way, and this was his reward;—not rejection even, but scorn!

‘But I can’t refuse her anything!’ the padrona said with a sigh, that came out of the very bottom of her heart. There was the sting of it. She could not turn away, as impulse would have made her, the lover whom she felt to be her enemy. There was the child to be considered. It was no plain and easy matter to be decided upon in an arbitrary way. Fathers and mothers have refused their children’s wishes before now for their good. Daughters have been even shut up in their rooms, starved, imprisoned, bullied into giving up the undesirable suitor, as everybody knows. But these courses were not open to the padrona. She could no more have stood by and seen her child suffer than she could have flown. The one was as much an impossibility of nature as the other. She could not refuse Alice the desire of her heart. Oh, gentle heavens! to think it could be the desire of that tender creature’s heart to go away from her home where she had been cherished since ever she was born,—from her mother, who had loved and shielded her for all her sixteen years,—away to the end of the world with a young man, whom six months before she had never seen! And she not a woman with any weari{v.3-28}ness in her heart, nor a girl of adventurous instincts, curious and longing for the unknown, but, on the contrary, the purest womanly domestic child, caring little about all the noises of the great world without,—only sixteen, a soft, contented creature, happy in all the little business of her limited life! There was the wonder,—a thing not new, familiar every day;—and yet ever miraculous, a wonder and a portent to the padrona, as if it had never happened before.

It was just then that Alice came faltering into the room. She had cried and leaned her head on Miss Hadley’s breast when she was questioned what was the matter; but she would not tell even that faithful friend until mamma knew. Her faithful friend, indeed, was at no great loss. Her eyes were sharp enough to make up the lack of all suspicion in the innocent household. She divined the truth, and she also divined the scene that must be going on in the drawing-room. ‘I knew this was what would come of it,’ she allowed herself to say,—which was but natural; and she led Alice back to the door, though it was against her will. ‘My love, these two will never agree without you.’ she said, and stayed outside with that purest self-denial of the secondary spectator, burning with curiosity and interest, yet giving way to the chief personages concerned, which is so often seen among women. She would not even go into the dining-room, where{v.3-29} she might have seen or heard something, but stayed outside in the passage, having carefully closed all the doors. So far as she herself was concerned, Miss Hadley was not Frank’s enemy. When a man spoke out she respected him, as she always said. It was only when he shilly-shallied that she had a contempt for him;—and to have one of them provided for would no doubt be a great matter. Such, taking Frank’s theory of what was proper and natural, was Miss Hadley’s way of thinking; but she knew only too well how impracticable Mrs. Severn could be.

Alice went in faltering, changing colour, ready to sink to the ground with innocent shame-facedness, but as much unaware of the struggle going on in her mother’s mind as if she had been a creature of a different species. When she had made a few steps into the room, she paused, and gave a quick timid glance at the two, who were both stirred by her approach. The padrona rose, and gazed at her child, who had thus left her side, while Frank started forward to place himself by her. This was the last touch, which the mother could not bear. She darted to Alice’s side, put him away with her hand, took the girl into her arms, and holding her fast, gazed into her face. ‘Alice,’ she said, ‘is it true? Never mind any one but me. Look at me,—at your mother, Alice. Tell me the truth,—the truth, my darling! Can it be? Do you want to{v.3-30} go with him, and leave us all,—the boys, and Edith, and all that love you? Is it true? Do you want to leave me, my child?’ cried the mother, in a voice of anguish. And she stood holding her fast, reading the answer before it came in her eyes, in the modulations of her lips,—elevated to such a height of passionate feeling as she had never known before in all her life.

Nor was it a less trial for the young inexperienced creature, knowing nothing of passion, who was held thus in the grip of despair. Fortunately, Alice could not understand the full force of the tempest in her mother’s heart. ‘Oh, mamma, how can you think I want to leave you?’ she cried, with tears; and Frank, listening, felt with a pang that he was cast aside. Then she paused. ‘But, oh, mamma, dear!’ said Alice, with a soft, pleading, breathless tone, melodious like the cooing of a dove,—‘oh, mamma, dear!’—and she slid her tender arm round her mother’s neck, changing her attitude to one of utter supplication,—‘you have Edie and the boys, and my dearest love for ever and ever. And he has nobody; and he says,—— Will you only hear what he says? It is not fancy. He wants me most.’

It was not more than a minute that they stood thus clinging together, but Frank thought it an hour. He was left out of the matter. It was they who had to decide a question so momentous to them.{v.3-31} And then he became aware that the padrona had cast her arms round her child to support herself, and was weeping wildly upon Alice’s shoulder. No need for any further questions. They had changed characters for the moment. The girl’s slight figure tottered, swayed, steadied itself, supporting with a supreme effort the weight of the mother’s yielding and anguish; and Alice gave him a look over that burthen,—a look of such pain and sweetness and confidence, that Frank’s heart was altogether melted. ‘Look what I have to bear,—what I have to give up for you!’ it seemed to say;—a pathetic glance; and yet there was in it the triumph of the new love rooting and establishing itself upon the ruins of the old.

When the padrona came to herself she called Frank Renton to her. It was not that she had fainted or become unconscious; but that, when a woman,—or a man either for that matter,—is suddenly called upon to sound the profoundest depths of suffering within her,—or his,—own being, a mist comes upon external matters, confusing place and fact, an