With a heart full of the noblest phantasies, the most lofty aspirations; purified of the last trace of that popular egotism which makes the self-conscious striving for one's own salvation antecedent to every other aim of life; beating high with an all-embracing affection for earth and the children of earth, bred of a natural ardour of disposition and nurtured upon the sweet and mighty thoughts of all great men; with a heart yearning for action of some kind, weary of a life bounded within the lines of self-study and introspection, desirous of nothing more than to efface the recollection of self in complete devotion to the needs of those million sufferers whose voices had long cried to her with ever-growing pathos, Helen Norman had set foot once more upon the shores of England. Commencing upon that day a new page in her diary, she headed it with the lines of Longfellow, as an appropriate motto:
The first few days were spent in walks alone, which she planned each morning by reference to a map of London, choosing in preference those districts which she knew by reputation as mean and poverty-stricken. As yet she had never seen poverty in its worst shapes, and she now for the first time became acquainted with the appearance of a London slum. With a thin veil drawn close over her face, often with a step quickened by involuntary horror, or even fear, she walked in turn through the worst parts of Soho, through Seven Dials, and the thoroughfares which spread themselves around that reeking centre, through Drury Lane and Clare Market, through all the unutterable vileness which is to be found on the other side of the river, then through everything most heart-breaking that the wide extent of the East End has to show. In this way she learnt from actual experience what she had hitherto only been able to see in fancy, and it is but slight reproach to the powers of her imagination to say that never in her most fearful visions had she attained to a just appreciation of the reality. As she walked hurriedly along she would now and then behold sights which made the hot tears of pity or of indignation start to her eyes; but for the most part the ardour of a righteous wrath, to think that such things could be permitted to exist, dried up the fountain of tears, and only left her strengthening herself in firm resolve that what one determined heart and mind could effect towards the alleviation of all this hellish misery, that should be her aim as long as her life lasted.
Before setting to her task she deemed it necessary to procure her guardian's assent to what she was about to do, and, for the purpose of acquainting him with the designs, requested a quarter of an hour's conversation with him in the library. This opportunity being obtained, she laid before him all her aims and aspirations in clear, direct language, every word of which seemed to burn and glow, as fresh from the anvil of her thought; and then requested his permission to enter upon this mode of life. Mr. Gresham manifested no surprise, it was part of his philosophy never to be surprised at anything, but he allowed several minutes to elapse before making any reply.
"And how do you purpose setting about such a work, Helen?" he asked, at length, gazing at her with a half-suppressed ironical smile, which, however, could not hold its place upon his lips before the earnest, open gaze of his ward. "I suppose you must have some definite plan for -- for getting rid of your money?"
"I beg that you will not think that I am going to be recklessly extravagant, on pretence of charity," said Helen, in reply to the last phrase. "I shall indeed give money when I see it is needed, but I have already convinced myself that money can by no means be the principal instrument of one who sincerely wishes to benefit these poor people. On this point I have my own ideas."
"But would it not be better, if you are determined to trouble yourself so much about these tatterdemalions, to give your relief in the form of subscriptions to well-known charities, which have much better opportunities of doing good than any single individual can have?"
"Doubtless they have better opportunities," returned Helen, "but what I have already seen convinces me that they do not use them. The efforts of. bodies are commendable and excellent -- in their proper places. But for the work I see before me, individual effort is alone fitted; of that I am convinced."
"But, my dear child," said Mr. Gresham, with a smile of indulgent pity, "you surely have not got the idea into your head that you are going alone the rounds of these pestilence-breeding slums? Have you the remotest notion of the kind of beings by whom they are inhabited?"
"Only too exact a notion. I have spent the last few days in penetrating the worst districts. I know precisely the nature of my task."
Mr. Gresham looked into his ward's face, where exquisite beauty was heightened by a flash of generous ardour, and he felt, though he yet would not confess it, that here was a nature for which in his classification of mankind he had left no place.
"But you altogether lack experience in such affairs," he urged, compelled, in spite of himself, to assume a tone of serious argument very unusual in him. "You will be robbed and pillaged wherever you go."
"For my lack of experience I must try to find a remedy. It is my present intention to apply to some clergyman in one of these neighbourhoods, and to offer him my services in the capacity I have chosen for myself, asking him to afford me the benefit of the experience he must naturally have obtained in the fulfilment of his duties."
"Then you will become what they call a Bible-reader."
"I shall not willingly class myself under that head," replied Helen, "but if I am convinced that good might in some instances be done by reading the Bible aloud, I shall have no hesitation in doing so."
Mr. Gresham smiled, with an expression of humorous despair, and began to pace the room.
"May I hope to have your consent, Mr. Gresham, to what I propose?" asked Helen, when some minutes had thus elapsed.
"If you proceed as you suggest," said her guardian, "and act strictly under the advice of some clergyman, whom, bye-the-by, I must see and have a little talk with, I shall make no further objection, for I am perfectly convinced that a very brief trial will give you a wholesome distaste for these abominations. Would you like to know my opinion of the people you are going to endeavour to benefit?"
"I should, if you please, sir," replied Helen, calmly.
"Very well. In my opinion, then, they are not to be classed with human beings, but rather with the brutes. Persistent self-brutalisation, through many generations, by all the processes of odious vice which the brain of man has ever invented, has brought them to a condition worse, far worse, than that of the dogs or horses that do their bidding. It is my firm belief that their degeneration is actually and literally physical; that the fine organs of virtue in which we possess all that we have of the intellectual and refined, have absolutely perished from their frames; that you might as well endeavour to teach a pig to understand Euclid as to teach one of these gaol-birds to know and feel what is meant by honesty, virtue, kindness, intellectuality. That they have become such is, I say, the result of their own vices. Unless you can take all the children, one by one, as they are born in these kennels, and remove them to some part of the New World where they shall grow up under the best influences of every kind, so, by degrees, letting the old generations rot away in their foulness, and then, when they are all dead, set fire to the districts they inhabited, totally rebuild them, and fetch back to their renovated homes the young men and women who have grown to maturity, healthy, clean, and educated -- unless you can do all that, you need never hope, Helen, to better the condition of the poor of London."
"That, I fear," replied Helen, with a sweet smile, "would be beyond my power; and yet I will venture to persevere in the belief that I can better the condition of at least a few. This belief depends upon the view I have formed of their condition, and it is this: Without denying that their vices may have had very much to do with the misery they suffer under, I firmly believe that this misery is in the greatest degree the result of the criminal indifference and the actual cruelty and oppression of the higher ranks of society, those ranks out of which come the leaders of popular fashion and the actual governors of the country. And even those vices are in a very great measure the result of this indifference and oppression; for does it seem credible that not until this very year have the governors of England made any effort to provide adequate education, even of the simplest kind, for the poor of this country? I should not tell the truth if I denied that these wretched creatures excite horror and disgust in me as often as they excite pity, but I am glad to say that my reason outweighs my mere emotions, and the allowances it makes for them forbid me to regard them with absolute contempt. I will grant that they often seem mere beasts, but I cannot, I will not believe that this is more than seeming. The greatest men that the world has known have ever retained to the last a vivid faith in humanity. If ever I feel disposed to fall into doubt and despair I shall seek consolation in their words, and I doubt not I shall find it."
"Very well, Helen," replied Mr. Gresham, with a slight shrug, "far he it from me to act the domestic tyrant. Only acquaint me with your exact plans."
"I will not fail to do so as soon as they are formed," returned Helen. And so the interview concluded.
After a few more days spent in investigation, in which she had no aid, Helen obtained the names of three clergymen to whom she determined to write, offering her services in their respective parishes for charitable and educational purposes. Two of these were Church of England clergymen, the third was a Dissenter. To the first she wrote as follows: --
"30th July, 1870.
"Having considerable leisure and some little means at my disposal, it is my desire to employ both in an effort to improve the condition, physical, moral, and intellectual, of at least a few among the multitudes of poverty-stricken people that inhabit. the worst districts of London. But as I am quite without experience in such work, and have no adequate knowledge of London, I should be glad if I could place myself under the direction of some clergyman whose acquaintance with such scenes of misery is extensive, and who would be glad of an earnest volunteer to give him some little assistance in his charitable endeavours. It is in consequence of this wish that I venture to address myself to you.
"I must, however, refer to one point which is of essential importance to me. Though my age is but little more than nineteen, I have for some years devoted myself to serious study, one' of the results of which has been that I am no longer able to conscientiously consider myself a member of any of the Christian Churches. Nothing is farther from my thoughts than a desire to press upon you the reasons which have led me to this attitude. I must merely say that for the present it is unalterable, and I could not undertake to devote attention to arguments intended for my conversion. Under these circumstances you will think it strange that I make these offers to a clergyman. My reason is, that as I am myself, I trust, quite free from bigotry in my beliefs, I can also hope that a minister of the Church will bear with what he may consider my errors, and not allow them to stand in the way of any usefulness of which I may be capable. I need hardly say that I should confine my attention solely to the bodily and mental condition of the poor, seeing that I believe it is their bodies and minds that most pressingly call for attention.
"I trust, sir, that the earnestness of my motives may prove an excuse for my freedom in thus addressing you, and beg to remain,
Alas for the naïveté which could lead a high-minded girl to despatch such a letter to a minister of the Church of England! Two days after sending this to the clergyman who stood first on the list, she received in reply the following note: --
"I am in receipt of your letter of the 30th July, but I may not say that I regret I cannot accept your offered services. Should I do so, I should be a traitor to the Church and to my God, introducing into my flock a wolf in sheep's clothing, who would devour their souls as surely as Satan will devour the souls of all who, Testing on their pride of intellect, reject the authority of Holy Scripture and are guilty of the sin against the Holy Ghost.
"I may add, however, that as money offered for good purposes does not lose in utility from the fact that the giver is devoid of that grace of God which passeth all understanding, and may possibly plead before the throne of the Almighty for the soul of such giver, if you shall be willing to allow me to add your name to the enclosed subscription list for the restoring St. ----'s Church, I shall with pleasure receive your subscription, and have it acknowledged, with other names, in the daily papers.
"In conclusion, I trust you may soon be brought to see the error of your ways, and to wash away in the blood of the Lamb their sins which, I am sure, must be as scarlet. I regret that the extent to which my leisure is occupied does not allow me time to engage in the work of your conversion.
"Yours, in hope and trust,
This letter caused Helen not a little mirth, and, on being communicated to Mr. Gresham, brought to his face one of those sarcastic smiles which were the best expression of his ordinary mood of mind. He read the present effusion with gusto. It so thoroughly confirmed his view with regard to a very large portion of mankind.
Undaunted, Helen despatched the same letter to the second name upon her list, but, after waiting more than a week, she received no reply whatever. The Dissenting clergyman still remained; and to him at length she wrote. She received, almost by return of post, a note, requesting that she would appoint an hour at which he might have the honour of waiting upon her. Having immediately replied, Helen awaited the stranger's arrival with some interest.
At the appointed hour she repaired to the library, where she was shortly apprised, by a card, of the arrival of Mr. Edgar Walton Heatherley, who was accordingly introduced.
Helen had exerted her imagination considerably in endeavours to depicture Mr. Heatherley's personal appearance, and, strange to say, the original did not rudely overturn her preconceived notions. She liked the man as soon as she saw him. He was evidently young, and his countenance slightly florid in complexion, with but a moderate growth of rather reddish whiskers and moustache, had an open, pleasing, intelligent air, though its lines were not regular enough to constitute a handsome face. Its expression bespoke, moreover, considerable firmness. The eye was honest and cheerful, proclaiming immediately the total absence of all cant, hypocrisy, or bigotry. He was decidedly tall and almost athletic in frame, holding himself as upright as a soldier. It was apparent at the first glance that Mr. Heatherley was no town growth, but had drunk in health and spirits during his earlier years from the fresh breezes of meadow, wood and hill. He was a man whose character could at once be determined from his face and form. Inspiring confidence himself, he had the hearty manners of one who was wont to thoroughly confide in his acquaintances. Here there was no trace of the execrable theory of believing every man a rogue till he be proved honest. Rather was it written in plain characters upon his open brow, that he never suspected without overpowering cause, and, even if deceived seventy times seven, would not cease to cling to his gospel of eternal trust and hope.
Helen advanced to meet him with her wonted open smile. They were friends from the first glance. After exchanging the ordinary greeting, they resumed seats, and Helen introduced the subject of the conversation.
"My letter will have acquainted you with almost all that I wish to say," she began. "Your reply contained nothing beyond the request for an interview. May I suppose that you look favourably upon my proposition?"
"The character of your letter, Miss Norman," returned the other, speaking in very firm and rather quick tones, "from the first inclined me to do so. But I am now not so sure as I was."
"Indeed? Why not?"
"I am but little acquainted with the West End of London," replied Mr. Heatherley, "and I did not know Portland Place at all. I fear that residence in the midst of such refinement is hardly a good preparation for work among our East End courts and alleys. Have you any idea, Miss Norman, of the character of the task for which you volunteer?"
"A very exact idea, I believe, Mr. Heatherley."
"You have seen the worst part of the East End?"
"I believe so."
"And you think you possess the courage to face their horrors day after day?"
"I am sure of it, sir."
Mr. Heatherley examined the girl's face for an instant, dropped his eyes, bit his lower lip and mused.
"You will excuse my cross-examination, Miss Norman. Whatever I undertake it is with my whole heart. If I thought this were an idle fancy of a wealthy young lady, possessed of rather too much leisure, I should grieve that I had wasted time over it."
"I like your frankness, Mr. Heatherley," replied Helen, smilingly. "As far as I know my own character, I think I may say that I, also, whatever I undertake, do it with my whole heart. My energy has as yet had no fields for exercise but those of learning, it is true; yet I have there learned some confidence in my own powers of perseverance."
"So far, so good," said the clergyman, who had keenly watched Helen's countenance as she spoke. "But I believe you told me you were a minor, Miss Norman. Have you parents living, may I ask?"
"Neither parents nor any near relatives. I am living with my guardian, Mr. Gresham."
"And have you informed Mr. Gresham of your intention to undertake this work?"
"I have, and have obtained his consent, with the proviso that he should see and become acquainted with the clergyman under whose direction I placed myself."
"Good," replied Mr. Heatherley sententiously; then sunk into reflection.
"You have not yet touched upon the second portion of my letter," said Helen, at length, looking with some timidity into the clergyman's face. The latter raised his eyes, and they gazed at each other for several seconds, neither faltering.
"Am I right in concluding from the tenor of your letter," asked the clergyman, "that you have no intention of propagating your special views among the poor people you visit?"
"You are, Mr. Heatherley."
"Would you oblige me by stating exactly in what light you regard the matter of religious teaching?"
"I will do so as well as I can. My own religion teaches me to confine my thoughts to the present world, and it appears to me that one of the most pressing needs under which the world suffers is that of attention to the bodily and mental state of the poorest classes. For my own part, I regard the necessity of their having enough food, and being able to read and write, as much more urgent than the necessity of their being taught religious dogmas, which, in my belief, would exercise a scarcely appreciable influence upon their lives. You, Mr. Heatherley, are, of course, of a different opinion in this matter. You exert yourself to the uttermost to make them religious; and, whilst you may do good in this, you certainly do no active harm. For the comprehension of my creeds, considerable culture is necessary, and it would be madness to attempt to make poor ignorant working-people understand them. Under these circumstances it appears to me that I cannot do better than devote my attention to clothing, feeding and in some degree teaching them; to the former two on the score of compassion, to the latter because it is the only true way of rendering the results of charity enduring."
"Very well, Miss Norman. At least your position is intelligible. Such being the case, I suppose it would be impossible for you to join any of the charitable associations founded on a religious basis?"
"If you think it possible, I had rather -- at present, at all events -- work alone."
"You have plans, doubtless? You have thought out methods of procedure?"
"I have thought much on the subject, but shall require much advice from you."
"Well," returned the clergyman, after a slight pause, "it would perhaps be the best way for us to walk over my neighbourhood together."
"Certainly. When might I come to you?"
"Could we say to-morrow at ten?" asked Mr. Heatherley, in his decisive manner.
"I shall be punctual," replied: Helen, at once. "And now, if you will excuse me, I will inform Mr. Gresham that you are at liberty to see him."
They shook hands, Mr. Heatherley smiling pleasantly, as Helen repeated -- "To-morrow at ten." She then disappeared, and the next moment Mr. Gresham entered the room.
Had Mr. Gresham been a sincere man, even to himself, he would have inwardly confessed that the applicability of his law of universal doubt had now found a second exception. In the depths of his heart he knew that Helen Norman was truth incarnate; and now on first beholding Mr. Heatherley he felt instinctively that here was a man in whom he could absolutely trust. But the yoke of old habit was too strong for him, and he commenced the conversation with that ironical smile which betokened distrust of all things human or divine.
"You must understand, Mr. Heatherley," he began, "that I have given my consent to this freak of Miss Norman's simply because I wish her to be cured as quickly as possible of certain girlish fancies that have taken possession of her lately. She has just returned from a two years' stay in Germany, and she appears to have come back a trifle eccentric. Vigorous treatment, I imagine, is the best for this ailment. Let her by all means disgust herself with a peep into these eastern dens of yours. I only hope she won't bring us some infectious disease here, that's all."
"Miss Norman has not long exhibited these philanthropic tendencies, sir?"
"Pooh! -- of course not. Only let her have a few days' experience. She will perhaps throw away a little money, but that is fortunately of no great consequence. We shall have her back cured, and then an end of it."
"Are you sure you gauge this young lady's character quite correctly?" asked the clergyman, who had hitherto regarded Mr. Gresham's face with an observant eye.
"Do you imagine the contrary, Mr. Heatherley?"
"I do, sir."
"From anything in particular she has said to you?"
"From her countenance and the tenor of her discourse. I fancy the trial will last longer than you imagine, Mr. Gresham."
"Well, well; we shall see," said the artist, with careless good-humour. "I confess to but little faith in enthusiasm of any kind."
"And yet, sir, it has been the most powerful operative force in the world's history," returned the clergyman, in his decisive manner.
"That, of course, is a matter of argument," said the artist, turning slightly. away. "But having seen you, Mr. Heatherley," he pursued, "I have fulfilled my object, which was merely to be sure that my ward had placed herself in the care of a responsible man. Possibly you could find time to see me again, say this day week? We shall then see more clearly the course that events are likely to take."
"I shall have pleasure in doing so," returned the clergyman.
Whereupon they parted, Mr. Gresham ascending to his studio, whistling a subdued air, and smiling the while; Mr. Heatherley turning his face eastward, musing much with serious countenance.
Mr. Heatherley lived in a pair of agreeable rooms on the ground-floor in a street a short distance from the City Road. Here Helen Norman arrived on the following morning, after some little difficulty in discovering the address, and was admitted by a most unusually neat servant girl, the sight of whom impressed her with the feeling that this neatness was directly or indirectly due to Mr. Heatherley's presence in the house. On entering the parlour she found the clergyman seated at the table, side by side with a very shock-headed youngster of some twelve years old, who appeared to have been reading aloud from an open book before him.
"Well, that will do for this morning, James," said Mr. Heatherley, after rising and requesting his visitor to be seated. "Rather better than usual, I think. Look over bonus, niger, and tristis again for Monday's lesson. Good-bye."
The lad collected his books together and went off at a sort of trot, turning towards Helen, as he went out, a bright though rather ugly face.
"A little pupil of mine," said the clergyman, by way of explanation. "His parents are unable to give him more than a very poor education, and as he is a sharp little chap I have got into the way of teaching him a little at odd times. On Saturday he doesn't go to school, so we have our lessons rather later than usual. I am glad we have a fine morning, Miss Norman. I almost think we had better take our walk first of all, then return and discuss your plans with the work fresh in our minds. Do you approve?"
As he spoke, he arranged a few books which he took from the table in their places in a well-filled book-case. Helen replied to his proposition with a cheerful assent, watching him the while.
"Latin, I suppose, you have not attempted to subdue?" he asked, turning a curious face towards his visitor.
"I can read Virgil and Horace with tolerable ease," replied Helen. "But I am afraid my knowledge of the niceties of the language is very imperfect."
"And Greek?" said Mr. Heatherley, without affecting surprise.
"Of Greek I have a very trifling knowledge."
"Young ladies usually devote more attention to modern than to ancient languages, I believe," said the clergyman.
"And I am no exception to the rule," replied Helen.
"You know Italian?"
"Ha! I envy you. I have a desperate desire to read Dante in the original -- but time, time, time!"
"You would very quickly learn sufficient of the language for that," said Helen, smiling slightly.
"You think so? Ah, well, I must make an attempt one of these days. In the meantime we have our work before us, Miss Norman. You are ready?"
"Good. Then we will set out."
As they issued into the street, Mr. Heatherley consulted a small note-book, in which appeared to be jotted memoranda concerning the poor he visited daily. Conversing agreeably as he walked -- always in the same pithy, energetic language, showing considerable information, both as regards books and men, and always such a healthy freedom from mere conventionality that Helen felt herself more and more at home with him -- he led his companion by degrees into dark, dirty, narrow streets, where low-browed arches frowned on either side, leading off into courts and alleys of indescribable foulness, and over-running with a population as horrible to view as their own abodes.
"Now," said the clergyman, as they paused for a moment to gaze down a court not more than three feet wide, the entrance into which was down a flight of broken stone steps, and at the other end of which was just visible another low archway precisely like the entrance to a kennel, "I should neither advise nor permit you, Miss Norman, to venture into places such as that. The worst of these courts are the haunts of such unutterable brutality and wickedness that it is often dangerous for hardy men to venture into them. For a woman to do so would be folly. It would be quite impossible for her to do good there at all adequate to the risk she ran. I trust that you will confine your visits to these wider streets. God knows there is enough wickedness everywhere in this neighbourhood, but you are not so remote from assistance in the open streets. And here we come to our first place of call. If you will follow me I will enter here."
They stood before a second-hand clothes shop, the front of which was quite open to the street, where an old woman and a young girl sat on the floor amidst heaps of ragged clothing, stitching remnants together to form saleable articles. They looked up as the clergyman entered, and the old woman nodded a palsy-stricken head, the total baldness of which gave her a hideous appearance, and began to mutter unintelligibly between her bare gums.
"What does your grandmother say, Kitty?" asked Mr. Heatherley of the young girl.
The latter bent her ear close to the old woman's mouth before replying.
"She says she's better to-day. She's been a wearin' the flannel you giv' her for her rheumatics, and she thinks as how it done her good."
"That's right. I'm glad to hear it. Is your mother in, Kitty?"
"She's gone to the station," replied the girl.
"What now? More trouble between her and your father?"
"Father come 'ome this mornin' drunker than ever," said the girl, in a matter of fact way, continuing her stitching as she spoke. "Mother got up, and they begun to 'ave words; an' then father 'it her on the 'cad with his boot-heel, as he'd just took horff. And mother's 'ead bleeded -- my! how it did bleed! An' so she's gone to the station for another summons, you see."
Mr. Heatherley glanced at Helen to see the effect of this city-idyl upon her. She was rather paler than usual, but listened attentively to what was said.
"And where's your father?" pursued the clergyman.
"Well, father got mad like, you see, at some words as mother used to him about 'Arry as used to lodge 'ere. She said as 'ow he'd have been a better 'usbin to her than father ever was. So father got mad like, an' he said as he'd go and murder 'Arry this mornin'. An' he's gone to do it."
The calm naïveté with which the girl uttered these last words chilled Helen's very blood. The clergyman, more accustomed to such remarks, reassured her with a look, and proceeded with the conversation.
"Any new lodgers yet, Kitty?"
"Yes, there's one -- a young woman in the third floor back. Leastwise so mother tell'd me. I ain't seen her."
"What does she do?"
"Don't do nothink, mother said."
"How does she pay for her lodging then?"
"I suppose she's out now?"
"No; she ain't comed out this mornin' yet, cos I's been here sen' seven o'clock."
"Is she ill?"
"Could we go up to see her?"
"Why not? Don't suppose as you'll steal nothink, Mr. 'Eatherley!"
Leave thus graciously granted, Mr. Heatherley led the way through the shop into a pitch-dark passage, where he was obliged to strike a match, a box of which he fortunately carried in his pocket, before he could venture to lead Helen up the mouldy staircase. The walls, Helen observed, had once been papered, but they now so reeked with damp that only an old strip or two still hung loose to indicate where the paper had been. She could feel the stairs often bend beneath her feet, so rotten were they. On reaching the third floor they tapped at the back-room door, and received permission to enter, delivered in a shrill, childish voice.
In a garret, empty but for a small iron bedstead and a wooden stool, sat, upon the latter article, a child, whose age the visitors at first put down for some twelve years. She was dressed in rags which scarcely concealed her nakedness, and on her lap lay an infant sleeping. The elder child's face was thick with grime, the only places where the original colour of the skin could be discovered being narrow streaks from the corners of the eyes, a sufficient indication that she cried long and frequently. She seemed frightened at the entrance of the strangers, and quickly stood up, gathering the infant carefully in her arms.
Mr. Heatherley instinctively yielded place to Helen. She seemed the more suitable person to commence the conversation.
"They told us down-stairs," said Helen, "that there was a lodger here who was in want of employment. Is it you, my poor child?"
"Yes, mum. I's got no 'ployment. I on'y wish I 'ad."
"But are you quite alone here?"
"Have you no father or mother?"
"Both doin' six weeks, mum."
Helen looked interrogatively at Mr. Heatherley, who whispered that she meant to say her parents were both in prison for six weeks.
"But how do you feed your little sister? Is it sister or brother?"
"It's my child, mum," said the little creature, with perfect simplicity, without a trace of shame.
"What! your child!"
"Yes, mum," returned the other, surprised at the astonishment her remark had excited.
"But -- but how old are you?" asked Helen, blushing as she spoke.
"Turned fifteen, mum."
Here Mr. Heatherley came forward.
"If you will speak to this poor child for a few minutes, Miss Norman," he said, "I will return directly. There is another lodger below I should like to see."
He left the room, and Helen, after a brief pause, continued her questions.
"Are -- are you married?" she asked.
"No, mum, not yet," returned the child.
"Does the father of your child support you now?"
"No, mum, not yet."
"Who is he? What does he do?"
"He's a butcher-boy, mum."
"Does he mean to marry you?"
"Some day, mum. When he gets fifteen shillin' a week, that is."
"How much does he get now?"
"Nine an' six, mum."
"But how are you going to live for the present?" asked Helen, bending down to stroke the miserable little baby's face, at which a look of pleasure and pride lit up the young mother's countenance.
"He's big for his age, an' he grows every day, mum, he does," she remarked.
Helen could scarcely restrain the tears from rushing to her eyes.
"How are you living now?" she repeated.
"I've got four shillin's as mother give me the night afore she was locked up, mum, an' that'll last me a few days. And when that's gone, I -- I -- oh, I really don't know what I'll do, mum!"
Here, for the first time, her fortitude broke down, and she wept bitterly. The baby set up a piercing shriek out of sympathy, and Helen's tears at length refused to be held back. At this moment Mr. Heatherley again entered the room.
"Are you quite well?" asked Helen, hastily brushing away her tears with a handkerchief.
"Yes, mum, thanke, mum."
"Take this, then, for the present," she said, pressing two half-crowns into the child's dirty palm, "and buy better food. Would you like me to come and see you again in a day or two to see how the little baby gets on?"
"0 yes, mum; I should, please, mum!" exclaimed the child, a radiant look upon her dirty face which Helen felt to be a heavenly reward for her little kindness.
"I will do so then. And I will tell the people below to find some clothes to fit you, as soon as possible, and some for the baby, too. Have you no wash-hand basin?"
"Where do you wash, then?"
"The tap in the wash'us, mum."
"If I send you a jug and basin you will promise me to use it twice a day till I come again?"
"I'd be glad to, mum."
"Very well. Good-bye for the present, then."
And, bending once more to pat the baby's check, she left the room, followed by Mr. Heatherley. On reaching the shop she soon made arrangements with regard to the clothing and the utensils, after which they bade the old woman and her grand-daughter good-bye, and issued again into the street.
"I must warn you, Miss Norman," said the clergyman, as they walked on, "against being too easily caught by affecting stories. I believe this is a really deserving case, but you will often be seriously imposed upon. I should advise you never to give much money at once. In any cases where you think more extensive relief desirable we will always appoint a meeting at the chapel with the people. It is often easier to arrive at a correct judgment of the poor when they are away from their ordinary horrible surroundings."
After this they paid many visits, passing from one haunt of abominations to another, from one scene of heart-rending sufferings to another, till the morning had worn away. Everywhere Helen admired Mr. Heatherley's kindness and readiness of speech, his thorough acquaintance with the circumstances of those he visited, his broad charity when faults seemed to call for reprobation, his entire devotion to the work of alleviating wretchedness. When she began to feel weary and weak in consequence of the long walk and the excessive pressure upon her sympathies wherever they went, she admired and envied, too, the robustness of frame which rendered such a morning as this but child's play to her guide.
On their return to Mr. Heatherley's, they found a light lunch ready laid for them. Helen did not disguise her need of rest and refreshment, and frankly accepted the clergyman's friendly attentions. For a time she was very silent, her thoughts busy with the morning's experiences, and with the devising of plans for future efforts. The clergyman was the first to commence the conversation.
"When we remember our Poor Laws, our hospitals, all our great efforts of public charity and private benevolence, one who had not visited these poor neighbourhoods could scarcely believe that such misery existed."
"It is an all-sufficing proof," returned Helen, "that neither the public nor the private charity is well conducted. And yet it is, perhaps, unjust to speak so of the latter. In the midst of a social chaos, such as ours, individual effort must necessarily be poor in results. Is it not a disgrace to our civilisation, Mr. Heatherley, that such exertions as ours should be needful?"
"It used to be a favourite mental exercise with me," replied the clergyman, smiling, "to originate schemes of future Utopias. But I fear I now see only too clearly the futility of all such dreams. The powers of Government are slight, Miss Norman, when weighed in the balance against human passions."
"Then you cannot hope for a state of society in which disgraceful poverty, such as that we have witnessed this morning, will no longer exist, in which the will to earn a respectable livelihood shall be equivalent to success?"
"My hopes are unbounded," replied Mr. Heatherley, rather sadly, "but my expectations, when confined to this life, arc of the most modest character."
The phrase "this life" jarred terribly on Helen's cars. Enthusiastic as she was for the future of humanity, she could scarcely restrain a hasty answer; but good taste withheld her from rudely shocking the clergyman's ears.
"Well," she replied, with a smile and a slight sigh, "it is this life in which I am principally interested, and doubtless you would laugh at me if I expressed to you all my expectations regarding it. When in Germany I thought and read much on social matters, and in the end formed my own theories as to the future constitution of society. But as such hopes have by no means reference to any immediate future, I may say that my stand-point is one with your own, Mr. Heatherley, in all practical matters. Whilst I know that even at this moment history is bringing about such changes for us as we cannot dream of, I am content in the meantime to do my little utmost towards rendering the transition somewhat easier. I have not much patience with those who look so much to the future, and stop their ears against the groans of the present. I tell you this, Mr. Heatherley, that you may understand more clearly the source of my eagerness to be a worker, that you may feel more convinced that my conduct is something beyond mere caprice, as you expressed it yesterday."
The clergyman watched Helen calmly as she spoke, and then sank once more into thought. He seemed to be endeavouring to get at the bottom of her character, and the task appeared to be a troublesome one.
"You have studied in Germany, Miss Norman?" he asked at length.
"For about two years; I only returned a little more than a fortnight ago. I think," she continued, after a short silence, "that I ought to give you some slight information with regard to myself; I am sure you think me somewhat bizarre; perhaps you even condemn me for being too forward."
"You interest me much, Miss Norman," replied Mr. Heatherley, in his frank way, "but, as yet, I have seen nothing in your conduct to warrant condemnation."
"The truth is," pursued Helen, "I have always lived a rather solitary life, my only companions being people very much older than myself. My father was a clergyman; he died nearly four years ago. I have never been to a school in the ordinary way, but have studied privately with tutors and professors. For several years before my father's death I lived with him in the south of France. We hardly mixed with society, and saw rarely anyone except one or two literary friends. In Germany, too, I made very few acquaintances, and those were grave, thoughtful people. These influences may, in some degree, explain to you, my habit of mind."
"Was your father a clergyman of the English Church?"
Helen replied affirmatively, and there was again silence.
"There is also another matter," resumed Helen, "not without importance at present. My father left me at his death considerable wealth, and, though I am still a ward, my guardian allows me great freedom in disposing of this. I mention this, not for its own sake, but because I am bent upon carrying out one or two rather extensive schemes. I could not be satisfied with merely relieving a few individual cases of distress; when my means enable me, I trust, to do much more."
"Would you let me hear a few of your plans?"
"Naturally they are at present mere outlines," pursued Helen, her eyes glowing with pleasure, and her tones becoming more rapid as she unfolded her thoughts. "I shall depend very greatly upon your suggestions in the practical details. First of all, then, I shall visit these haunts of poverty day after day, and do my best to become acquainted with the most pressing needs, and to learn the best ways of meeting them. I shall endeavour to gain the personal confidence of these poor people, so that they will freely impart to me their difficulties, and allow me to help them in the most effectual way. Then, as I am firmly convinced that no radical change for the better can take place in these people's condition till they are educated, I shall endeavour to establish a free evening school for girls, principally for those who are engaged in earning their living, and who have never had the opportunity of being taught anything. Then, again, it has seemed to me that some good provision might be made for those suffering from illness. You tell me that the public hospitals are by no means sufficient to deal with these wants, so I would suggest something of this kind. Suppose I were to establish a good dispensary in the centre of this district, and to find one or two earnest physicians, who would be willing to attend there for certain hours every day -- of course receiving adequate compensation for their work -- the poor who wished to avail themselves of the dispensary could then apply either to you or to me, and we, if we thought fit, would give them tickets entitling them to gratuitous advice and medicine. The physicians would report to me any especially noticeable cases, and I should then be able to provide needful things which would be beyond the people's own power to purchase. Do you think this a practicable scheme, Mr. Heatherley?"
"With care I think it might be made so," replied the clergyman, after a moment's thought, his tone and countenance showing that he derived much pleasure from these suggestions.
"I fear I shall burden you with work," went on Helen, "if you are good enough to undertake to assist me. But, above all, I wish everything to be done with the utmost quietness. Publicity of my efforts would be the very last thing I should desire; for, of course, they will be nothing more than efforts for a long time. But I should like to lose no time in putting my theories into practice. Doubtless you could at once name several girls who could be induced to attend an evening class?"
"I think I could," replied Mr. Heatherley, cautiously; "but the hour would necessarily have to be late. I should think eight o'clock would be the earliest practicable. Your pupils would, for the most part, be engaged in work-rooms, and they rarely regain their liberty before half-past seven.
"Oh, I would arrange for any hour, of course. And do you think I could find a physician to undertake the dispensary work?"
"I do not myself know of one," replied the clergyman, reflecting. "Probably we should be obliged to have recourse to advertisement. In the nature of things it would not be a very difficult matter."
"Then I may conclude that you approve these two plans?"
"I do, heartily; and will help you with my utmost power, Miss Norman."
"Thank you, thank you," returned Helen, fervently. "Oh," she continued, "I have many more plans, some even more extensive still, but at present they are too immature; I must gain experience. But, in the meantime, promise me, Mr. Heatherley, that you will never let a deserving case of poverty go unrelieved as long as I have the means of charity. Charity! I hate the word! It is justice to these poor sufferers to share my wealth with them! What right have I to such a superfluity?"
The conversation lasted for some half hour longer, during which many plans were discussed and some details of work arranged. When at length Helen rose to go, Mr. Heatherley, on shaking hands with her, said, solemnly --
"Miss Norman, though you deny the authority of Christ, you nevertheless are eager in His service."
It was with a joyous heart that the noble girl returned home. The same evening she wrote to her friend, Dr. Gmelin, a long account of her plans in a letter where every word throbbed, as it were, with fine enthusiasm. When she retired late at night it was only to spend many long wakeful hours, rendered restless by impatient longing for the new day.
These were happy days for Arthur Golding, destined, indeed, to be the happiest of his life. Whilst he was hard at work all day with crayon or brush, studying theoretical works till far into the night, or rising with the sun to convert the theory into practice -- whilst his thoughts between sleep and sleep, and all the happy visions which circled around his mind during the hours of repose, had their origin in but one idea, that the result of all this delightful labour would before long declare itself to the world in the shape of fame and fortune -- he little knew that this labour must be its own reward, or look for none at all; that the happiness he yearned for was now absolutely existent, that the future held for him no single day that would not appear gloomy by the side of these glowing hours.
Similarly Helen Norman was progressing day by day in the struggle upwards and onwards, but in her case there was more consciousness of effort, and less of advance. Though she seemed to have chosen between two paths, resigning the constant care of her own intellect in favour of weary, and often seemingly ungrateful, labour in the cause of others, there was in reality no one of her thousand acts of sweetness, charity, and perseverance but reacted with tenfold effect upon her own nature, rendering her day by day more patient and enduring, as well as bolder, in the campaign against the mistakes and the vices of society upon which she had entered. For her, too, in all likelihood, this was the happiest period of her life, though she was as little conscious of the fact as Arthur. In these days, when the energy of young enthusiasm wrought up her strength to the performance of any severe or disgusting toil, when as yet she could see nothing but the bright results of her efforts, and firmly believed that every new day would add to this brightness, she did indeed experience true happiness. When Mr. Heatherley met her from time to time in the course of her daily visits, and saw her lovely features aglow with the fire of boundless benevolence, and that active virtue, which is so very different a thing from the mere passive virtue upon which her sex, for the most part, prides itself, he could not but marvel in his mind that any impulse other than that of religion could give the spur to such wonderful exertions.
On the other hand, the more Helen saw of the clergyman the more she respected him. If he marvelled at the inspiration which Helen derived from her natural religion, the latter, in her turn, could not but admire Mr. Heatherley's abounding charity. For, with a generous divergence from the letter of his creed, the latter held that the merit of good works was not solely dependent upon the faith of their performer; there was such a thing, he maintained, as unconsciously fulfilling the Gospel; and, far from esteeming error damnable, he looked upon it as deserving the most tender pity and consideration. So from the first, Helen Norman, with her noble and generous freethinking, had been to Mr. Heatherley an object of wonder at times almost of reverence. Was it not a truth that the ways of God are not the ways of men, and could he for a moment believe that the eternal law of justice would permit the co-existence in one bosom of such heavenly purity of intention with heresy in doctrine nothing less than blasphemous? Surely this was but one phase in the life of a soul struggling towards the truth.
Despite all this, Helen was frequently made to feel those other points, besides mere intellectual attitude, upon which there was no contact between them. Whereas her own nature was richly poetical -- esteeming poetry the perfection of the noble faculty of speech, as the highest outward expression of that law of perpetual striving which alone she worshipped -- Mr. Heatherley's, she soon learnt, was only in a very moderate degree appreciative of anything apart from the hard details of social life. They agreed in believing that, for the present, their scene of duty was the earth, their work amidst the misery with which it abounded; but whilst Helen idealised everything she looked upon, he viewed all things alike in the light of common day; where she saw higher significances, he saw merely facts. Such was indeed the necessary result of their difference in religious views. The man who convinces himself that he has ever at his elbow the key to the mystery of the universe, whose profession it is to make manifest to the world that he has this key, and to apply it for everyone's behoof, who conceives that the great laws of duty have long ago been written down in black and white for the use of man, and are not capable of discovery otherwise; such a man cannot but regard the world in a more or less prosaic light, compared with the point of view of one who recognises no patent key as in existence, for whom the mystery of life and death begins and ends with a vast doubt, whose every thought is the fruit of, and leads to, boundless conjecture, and who is compelled at length to confess with the poet, that
Some such thoughts as these had occupied Helen's mind on her way homeward one afternoon early in August, when in body she was fatigued almost past endurance, though her reflecting powers were no less vivid than ordinary. On her arrival in Portland Place, instead of mounting to her room she repaired forthwith to the library, which she knew was always empty at this hour, after giving orders that a cup of tea should be brought to her there. Throwing off her hat, she allowed herself to sink into the luxury of an easy chair, and was continuing her reflections, when the door opened suddenly and Maud entered, equipped for riding.
"You here!" she exclaimed to Helen. "I was that moment imagining you in some frightful cellar, or else garret, scattering your gold like a beneficent fairy to a whole family of destitute drunkards. But really, Helen, you are as pale as a ghost. You are working yourself to death, depend upon it. If I were an Irishwoman, I would add that you will acknowledge I am right when you actually are dead. I just came in to have a look at my pistols. I think you haven't seen them yet?"
With that she proceeded to open one of the drawers in the centre-table, of which she took the key from her pocket, and to take from it two small American revolvers, holding one in each hand, and regarding them with the peculiar ironical smile which she had learnt from her father.
"They're both loaded," she said, calmly.
"Do you say they are yours, Maud?" asked Helen, in surprise.
"Yes; I bought them in the Strand, last Monday."
"But whatever for?"
"What for? Why, you know I am on the point of being married."
"And what is the connection between the two circumstances?" asked Helen.
Maud shrugged her shoulders, once more examined the pistols carefully, replaced them in the drawer, and locked them up.
"One can never foresee what may happen," she said at length. "Supposing robbers broke into one's room at night. There are a thousand contingencies rendering the possession of such little defenders very desirable."
Helen was silent and thoughtful. At this moment a servant brought in her tea.
"Bring me a cup, too, will you, Mary?" said Maud. Then, turning to her friend, "It will strengthen me to endure my ride."
"Where is your ride to be to-day?" asked Helen.
"Where, my dear child? Why, in the Row, of course. Where else can a civilised person ride, I should like to know. Waghorn calls for me at four."
"Do you enjoy your ride in the Row?"
"Enjoy it? My dear Helen, you grow more naïve every day. Is it meant to be enjoyed, think you? Do you suppose that any soul ever does enjoy it?"
"It is somewhat difficult to account for their persisting in the practice if it brings them no enjoyment," returned Helen.
"Duty, Helen, duty. Do not suppose that you philanthropists monopolise that article. We go to the Row to show ourselves, and purely from a sense of duty. Society requires it of us. Who would venture to question the dictates of society?"
"But I suppose the dictates of society are sometimes one with those of pleasure?"
"Give me a single instance in which they are," returned Maud, "and I'll -- allow you to congratulate me on my wedding-day. Which, bye-the-by, I herewith seriously forbid you to do, Helen Norman."
"You mean it?"
"I mean it."
"May I ask why?"
"Because I esteem you too highly, my dear girl, to allow you to make a hypocrite of yourself out of deference to these same social rules of which we have been speaking."
There was silence for some time, which Helen was the first to break.
"You could hardly regard the concert last night as disagreeable," she said. "Mr. Gresham told me that it was admirable."
"Never trust papa," returned Maud, "especially when he praises anything or anybody. He does so purely out of deference to your optimistic views; for, you must know, papa is a trifle afraid of you. I assure you the concert was fatiguing to the last degree."
"Do you ever enjoy anything, Maud?"
"What, may I ask?"
"Why, talking with you. It seems to do me good to mingle my insipid ideas with your vigorous, healthy thoughts. It refreshes me to come into contact with your genuine nature, after feeding my littleness upon the affected admiration of fools. You see I can be severe in a downright manner when I choose, Helen, and upon myself, too."
Helen did not reply, but enjoyed her tea with gravity.
"Do you know, Helen," pursued the talkative young lady, "I have only seen one person in my life very much like you. Can you guess who it is?"
"I fear not."
"You will be surprised. I mean Mr. Golding."
Helen looked up with a surprised smile.
"What are the points of resemblance?" she asked.
"Many. You are both grave habitually, and enthusiastic upon occasion You are both furious advocates of what you will permit me to call the canaille, their rights and wrongs. You have both a manner of smiling quite peculiar, and which, to atone for the other expression, I may perhaps be permitted to call angelic. Also you are both, in conclusion, extraordinarily good-looking."
"How can you know all this of Mr. Golding?" asked Helen, smiling.
"Oh, I frequently have a little conversation with him in the studio of a morning. I find him rather interesting."
"Upon what subjects has he waxed enthusiastic to you?"
"Principally upon the merits of an old gentleman with whom, it seems, he has lived for many years, but whose name is a trifle uncouth, and I forget it. Oh, I know! Tollady -- Mr. Tollady. To hear Mr. Golding speak of him, he must be an angel, before whom even you, Helen, must veil your wings. He impoverishes himself by giving to the poor, and has been known to walk home shoeless at night that a beggar's feet might be shod."
Helen listened with an expression of the most lively interest upon her features, but made no remark.
"But I shall cease my connection with Mr. Golding," pursued Maud.
"His enthusiasm is contagious. If I talked to him for an hour every day during a week he would scatter my calm philosophy to the winds."
Helen made no reply.
"It is very unfortunate," said Maud, "that his position is so ambiguous."
"In what sense ambiguous?" asked Helen.
"Why, you know, he is not, to begin with, what the world calls a gentleman."
"Indeed! Has he been rude to you?"
"Far from it."
"What has he done, then, to forfeit the title of a gentleman?"
"He never owned it, Helen. He must have been as poor as a church mouse all his life, and Heaven forbid that he should disclose how he got his living always."
"Are you speaking seriously, Maud?"
"Quite seriously, Helen, as the mouthpiece of the world, which you know is the character I love to adopt."
"But as the mouthpiece of your own thoughts?"
"Why, what is your opinion?"
"I never saw him act, or heard him speak otherwise than as a gentleman, on the two occasions I had for speaking to him."
"Well, when I speak of his ambiguous position, I mean to say one is not quite sure whether one ought to talk to him as an equal or not."
"That I consider an unworthy doubt, Maud."
"You have no scruples in the matter?"
"I confess that I have not. If I wish to do so, I shall speak with as much freedom to Mr. Golding as to Mr. Gresham."
"You consider him an equal?"
"In many respects, my superior," replied Helen, unconsciously straightening herself, as was her habit when desirous of speaking with special force. "As an artist he has shown that he possesses genius, and that is a property I bow to wherever I meet it."
"The genius Mr. Golding owns is, unfortunately, not always so useful as its namesakes of the 'Arabian Nights.' Genius is highly agreeable company in the world's estimation as long as it is able to keep a carriage; but genius in rags is the most objectionable of mendicants."
"And can you rank yourself, Maud, on the side of a world with principles such as these?"
"Don't say can; the proper word is must. Depend upon it, the world is too strong for an individual will to combat. It will conquer, sooner or later. The difference between you and me, Helen, is, that whilst you are determined to fight out the struggle to the bitter end, I, rather more sensible, I flatter myself, calculate the chances to begin with, and give in at once."
"Well," said Helen, with a sigh, "if I am fated to be beaten, I still think it will be a consolation to me to remember that I struggled. But why do you always practise this insincerity with me, Maud? I know quite well you think far other than you speak."
"You know that?"
"I am sure of it."
"Well, well. Then you know more of me, Helen, than I do of myself. But here is John. You are very late, sir."
These words were addressed to Mr. John Waghorn, who just then entered the library, looking, if possible, even more respectable in his riding clothes than he had done in evening dress.
There was, however, to-day, a certain sallowness in his cheeks, and a slight heaviness about the eyes, which, in any less respectable man, would have awakened a strong suspicion that he had been "making a night of it" the evening before, and had but very lately risen from bed. In Mr. John Waghorn's case this supposition was, of course, inadmissible. Doubtless the "seedy" look could be attributed to undue strain in business matters.
"May not we have the pleasure of Miss Norman's company?" he asked, in an accent of much politeness.
"Thank you," returned Helen, with a not altogether successful effort to conceal the dislike she had of the speaker; "I never ride."
"Pity, that," remarked Mr. Waghorn. "The Row is a loser by your absence."
"I thought you had already learnt that Miss Norman does not care for compliments, put in Maud. "Besides, all your esprit in that direction should be reserved for me. Are you ready?"
"I wait your pleasure," returned Mr. Waghorn, turning to Maud with a smile of remarkable insipidity, very different from the bold look of genuine admiration with which his eyes had rested upon Helen.
They walked together to the front door, where their horses awaited them, and rode away in silence, with a distance of ten feet between them. Strangers viewing them as they passed took them for man and wife.
Helen, when left alone, took up her hat with a sigh, and ascended to her room. As she passed the studio she saw the curtain drawn aside from the door, which stood wide open
"Maud!" cried Mr. Gresham's voice from within.
"It is I, Mr. Gresham," said Helen, entering the room "Maud has this moment gone for her ride."
"Ha!" returned the artist, in an abstracted tone. Then added, with an affectation of indifference, "Did you see Waghorn?"
"For a moment."
"He -- he wasn't quite well, was he?"
"I didn't hear him say so," replied Helen; "but I thought he appeared to have a headache."
Mr. Gresham was standing at his easel, palette and brushes in hand, and between his words he hummed a tune carelessly. Suddenly he faced Helen.
"I suppose I shall have to give you away next?" he said, smiling in his old manner.
"I think there is no present prospect of that," returned Helen, with a slight laugh.
"What sort of a man will it be, Helen, when the time does come? -- anything like Waghorn?"
He added the last words after a scarcely perceptible pause, and in a slightly lower tone.
"I cannot say that I have ever thought on the point," returned his ward, calmly. "I should not be surprised if I never did."
"Shouldn't you? But I should. Do you think your beauty should serve no better purpose than to be cast away in drunkards' dens and reeking hospital wards? When do you mean to tire of your silly whim, Helen?"
The girl looked with surprise into his face. She had never heard him speak with so much energy, with so little of his habitual irony of tone.
But he seemed to be himself immediately conscious of this, and coloured slightly as he relapsed into indifference.
"Haven't you had enough of it yet, Helen?"
"It would be a sad thing for me, sir," she replied, "if I were already weary of the work of my life."
Mr. Gresham shrugged his shoulders and smiled, continuing to add touches to the picture before him. His ward turned to go, but he recalled her.
"Will you allow me to paint your portrait some day, Helen?" he asked, still keeping his eyes fixed upon the picture.
"To exhibit at the Academy, like Maud's?" she asked in reply, with a touch of irony.
"Psha!" exclaimed the artist. "To hang up in the drawing-room, or, better still, over the mantel-piece, here in the studio."
"I fear I could not spare the time to sit," returned Helen. Changing the subject, she added immediately, "I think you know the gentleman with whom Mr. Golding lives, do you not?"
"Know him?" said the artist, in surprise. "What about him?"
"Maud made some remarks with regard to him to-day which excited my interest. Do you know whether he is a very charitable man?"
"I think I have heard something to that effect from Golding; but I fancy he is not possessed of too ample means for the bestowal of charity. It must be in a very small way."
"And therefore the more creditable to him," said Helen. "You would have no objection to my making myself known to him, with a view to his acquainting me with any particularly deserving case of want which he may not be able to relieve himself?"
"I suppose if I were to refuse my consent you would do so without it?" said the artist, keenly examining Helen from under his heavy eyebrows.
"Certainly not," replied his ward. "I trust I shall always have a proper respect for your wishes, Mr. Gresham, as I should for those of my father, were he living."
Her guardian's face softened wonderfully as she spoke these words. He continued to regard her, as she stood with downcast eyes.
"Helen," he said, in a lower tone, "you must not take everything I say too much au sérieux. I should not like always to be judged by my words."
"And yet," returned the girl, simply, "it is generally by that criterion that we judge and are judged."
And nodding a pleasant adieu she left the studio, closing the door behind her, whilst Mr. Gresham, with an expression upon his countenance somewhat strange to it, went on with his painting.
Helen had scarcely had time to doff her walking dress and assume that in which she ordinarily sat down to study, when a knock at her door disturbed her, and a servant informed her that she was inquired for by two ladies, who had declined to send their names on the plea that they were perfect strangers.
She descended to the drawing-room in some surprise, and, on entering, saw two ladies, one about her own age, one middle-aged, who rose to meet her. They were both very richly dressed, but rather too showily, and their countenances were wonderfully meaningless.
"Oh!" exclaimed the younger lady, before Helen had time to speak. "Oh! you really must excuse our unceremonious call, you know. But we have heard so very much of you, Miss Norman, that we really couldn't resist the quite too delightful chance of seeing you, you know. Could we, Mrs. Hopper, now?"
"No, indeed, Miss Norman," put in Mrs. Hopper. "We are only too glad to find you at home. We really hope that you will excuse our freedom, really."
"Oh, yes, Miss Norman!" exclaimed the voluble young lady. "We have heard so much, so very much of your too beautiful charity, you know. And oh! Miss Norman, what church do you attend?"
"May I ask what your purpose is in asking the question?" said Helen, who had at first been somewhat disconcerted by the enthusiasm of the pair, but soon recovered her calmness, and felt considerably indignant at their intrusion.
"Oh, Miss Norman!" exclaimed the young lady. "We do so want to know, if you would tell us, you know. Of course you are high, Miss Norman?"
"I am afraid I do not quite understand you," said Helen, doing her best to show her distaste for this conversation.
"Miss Pitcher means, Miss Norman," explained the elder lady, "that you are, of course, devoted entirely to the High Church service?"
"Really, ladies," said Helen, distantly, "I fail to see how my religious opinions can interest you. May I request that you will state the object of your visit?"
The elderly lady seemed somewhat abashed by the speaker's calm dignity of manner, but the younger returned to the attack, not at all discouraged.
"Oh, Miss Norman, we ask, you know, because we are so awfully anxious to get you to attend our Church, St. Abinadab's, you know. You could be so very useful there, you know, Miss Norman; a person of your too charitable disposition! There is so much work to be done in the Sunday schools, and with regard to the bazaars, and the tea-meetings, and -- and so awfully many things, you know. And we have got such a delightful new incumbent, such a quite too dear man, Miss Norman. It is such a pity he is married, and has thirteen children! And his name's Mr. Whiffle, Miss Norman. Oh, I'm sure you would so like him!"
"Miss Pitcher is quite right," interposed Mrs. Hopper, the young lady being out of breath. "It would be such a great blessing if we could secure your services for St. Abinadab's. We have heard so much of your indefatigable charity. And I'm sure you would so like poor Mr. Whiffle."
Helen started slightly as she heard the name of the new incumbent of St. Abinadab's. She could scarcely doubt that it was the Mr. Whiffle with whom she was acquainted. She was about to speak when Miss Pitcher cut her short.
"Oh, yes! Poor Mr. Whiffle, Miss Norman. You can't think how he has been persecuted by that quite too dreadful man, his former bishop! And all because he was so devotedly high, Miss Norman, and altogether refused to become either broad or low! Is it not shocking? But I am so thankful that friends have obtained St. Abinadab's for him. Oh, what sermons! and oh! what singing, Miss Norman!"
"Mrs. Hopper," said Helen, as soon as a pause came, turning to the elder lady, "if I rightly understand that is your name -- I must really request that you will tell me whether you had any serious object in visiting me. If not, I must tell you that I do not feel justified in wasting more of my time in hearing of matters which do not at all interest me."
"Oh, yes, Miss Norman," said the elder lady, shrinking a little before Helen's eyes, "yes, we had a very serious object in view. It is this, Miss Norman. Finding that our new incumbent, Mr. Whiffle, suffers severely at times from rheumatism in the right leg -- poor man! -- we have decided to raise a subscription to purchase him a very handsome leg-rest; and -- and, we have really heard so very much of your extreme charity, Miss Norman, that -- that we have ventured to call upon you in the hope that you would add your name to the subscription list."
As she spoke Mrs. Hopper drew out of her pocket a small note-book, which she opened at a page headed, "The Rev. Mr. Whiffle's leg-rest," and handed it to Helen together with a pencil.
"Oh, yes, Miss Norman!" exclaimed the younger lady, "and for something quite handsome, you know. Something worthy of you!"
Indignation burned fiercely in Helen's breast. Stepping to the bell-cord, she pulled it sharply, whilst she spoke in decided tones.
"I see," she said, "that we scarcely agree in our opinions as to what a serious object is. That which you are pleased to call such, I can only term, with no desire to offend you, frivolous and impertinent. I wish you good afternoon, ladies, and hope you may before long find a more worthy occupation for your abundant leisure. Kindly let these ladies out, James," she added, as the footman knocked and entered.
Not even Miss Pitcher's audacity was proof against this. The two departed with blank countenances, and without uttering a word. As soon as she was alone, Helen gave way to irresistible laughter, and ran up to her room again.
On the following day, Arthur Golding, entering Mr. Tollady's shop at two different times, met on the door-step two very different people, both of whom, however, excited surprise in him and one a somewhat different emotion also.
The first of these occasions was about noon. As he was returning from making a few purchases of colours, he met, just issuing from the shop, a gentleman whom he immediately recognised as Mr. John Waghorn. At the same moment he recalled to mind how it was that, on meeting Mr. Waghorn in Mr. Gresham's dining-room, he had been so strongly impressed with the feeling of having seen him before. He now felt sure that it was here he must have seen him, indeed, thought he remembered the very occasion. In the present instance Mr. Waghorn's eyes fell upon Arthur for a moment, but were immediately removed. He either did not recognise the young man, or did not wish to appear to do so.
On entering the shop, Arthur found it empty, and, on stepping into the parlour at the back, found the old man sitting with his head leaning forward and his face hidden in his hands. He had not heard Arthur's approach, and raised his head with a start when the latter spoke.
"Are you ill, Mr. Tollady?" asked Arthur, in an anxious voice.
"No, no, Arthur," replied the printer, in rather tremulous tones, which he strove to make firm. "No; I was only thinking."
"Of no pleasant subject, I fear," returned Arthur, sitting by the other's side, and looking concernedly into his face.
Mr. Tollady seemed to reflect for a moment, but then his face cleared up, and he smiled in the old benevolent way.
"Perhaps I am not quite as well as I might be, Arthur," he said. "Never mind, we will have a walk into the country on Sunday, if it's fine. That will set me up."
"Who was that who just left the shop as I entered?" asked Arthur, not content with this dismissal of the subject.
"Someone I had a little business with, Arthur," replied the old man, calmly.
Arthur knew the tone in which these words were spoken, and respected Mr. Tollady's wish to avoid further explanation. But he went up to his work with an uneasy mind.
The second meeting occurred about five o'clock in the evening, when he was returning from an errand in connection with the printing office, for he still insisted on finding time to do much of this work. Just as he had met Mr. Waghorn, he now encountered a tall, veiled lady, whose identity his heart at once revealed to him by a sudden leap. Even had he not discerned her features faintly through the veil, he would have known this lady to be Miss Norman. The form, the bearing, the walk could belong to no other.
She recognised him, bowed, said -- "Good-evening, Mr. Golding," and passed on. It seemed as though she had held a whole conversation with him, so sweet and lingering in his ears was the voice which uttered the commonplace words.
Mr. Tollady was in the shop, and wearing an expression of countenance far other than that he had worn in the morning.
"Why, whatever was Miss Norman doing here?" cried Arthur, as he bounded into the shop.
"She has been here nearly half an hour," replied Mr. Tollady, smiling.
"And I was away!" exclaimed Arthur, in a tone of disappointment. Then, observing the old man's clear eye fixed searchingly upon him, he affected to laugh.
"Whatever was her business? Is it rude to ask?" he said.
"Not at all," replied Mr. Tollady. "She has made me the happiest man in London, bless her kind heart! You remember, Arthur, how bitterly I was regretting only this morning that I was unable to help poor Sarah Thomson, whose husband died last week?"
"Well; even whilst I was brooding over the poor woman's lot and making myself quite miserable, who should come in but an angel with the very succour that was wanted! Upon my word, I shall believe henceforth in angels, Arthur."
"I don't quite understand you," said the young man, amused at Mr. Tollady's unusual enthusiasm. "Have you known Miss Norman long?"
"Not till half an hour ago. Then she came and introduced herself, saying that you -- silly boy! -- had been telling tales about my poor efforts to help a few needy people, and begging to be allowed to contribute from her purse if ever I should know of a worthy person. I at once told her Mrs. Thomson's story, and -- see the result!"
He held up a five-pound note, with almost childish glee.
"Yes!" he exclaimed. "And more to follow if it be necessary. And sewing for the poor thing to employ herself with, too! Yes, Arthur, I shall believe henceforth in angels. Her very voice has done me good. If there were but more like hers!"
For a moment an unworthy feeling arose in Arthur's mind -- he felt half ashamed that Helen should have seen the poor place in which he lived. It was only for a moment; the next, he had crushed the base thought, as he would have done a poisonous insect beneath his foot. He felt that, for the future, the shop would seem brighter and more cheerful, glorified as it was by the reminiscence of her presence. What if it were a poor place? Would not Helen think all the better of him that he had conceived the idea of making himself an artist under such discouraging circumstances? It was but the third time he had set eyes upon Miss Norman, and yet he felt it a matter of inexpressible importance that she should think well of him. The idea that she might not think of him at all did not enter his head; his feelings were not sufficiently developed for that. At present the mere thought that she had been beneath this roof invested the whole house with a vague sanctity, as with a perfume. With a day-dream of lovely forms and faces dazzling before his eyes, he mounted the stairs, and once more set eagerly to his work.
Another week has elapsed, and it is the eve of Maud Gresham's wedding-day. Before, however, paying a visit to Portland Place, to see how Maud conducts herself on the last evening of her maiden life, let us visit the rooms of a certain student of divinity, situated in the humbler neighbourhood of University Street.
This student has, it is true, only a very indirect connection with the forthcoming marriage; but, for all that, the consideration of his movements on the evening in question may not prove altogether inappropriate. The student was no other than Mr. Augustus Whiffle. Pending his attainment of the age at which the law permitted him to be ordained to the service of the Church, Mr. Whiffle still continued to hold the position of an occasional student at King's College; but his attendance at the lectures was very occasional indeed.
When Mr. Whiffle, senior, removed from Bloomford to become incumbent of St. Abinadab's he naturally made the proposition that his eldest son should live with the family, for the sake of economy, if for no other reason; and this proposition Augustus, also quite naturally, declined to consider. He found himself extremely comfortable in lodgings, and had no desire to alter his mode of life. On the whole, it may be considered as somewhat to Augustus' credit that he declined to transfer himself, with all his companions and his habits of life, to the house wherein dwelt his mother and his young brothers and sisters.
Mr. Augustus Whiffle's sitting-room was a tolerably comfortable one, of the ordinary lodging-house type, situated upon the first floor, and from the windows could be caught, on the right hand, a glimpse of University College; on the left, a peep at the busy traffic of Tottenham Court Road; whilst the Hospital loomed darkly over the way. The occupant of this room has altered considerably since we caught a glimpse of him a little more than two years ago. In those days, with all the will to be a thorough-paced rascal, neither his age nor his knowledge of life was sufficiently advanced for that; with just a tinge of recently acquired profligacy, he was, on the whole, what nature made him -- a fool.
But he has learned much since then. Bitter experience has taught him how easy it is to be duped by those a little older, a little shrewder, a little more wicked than oneself, and mature reflection has convinced him that it is just as easy to live on others as to permit others to live on you, and far more agreeable to boot. Any little compunction in a course of villainy, which might once have clung to him, has now been entirely shaken off, together with the outward and visible symptoms of his folly. For Augustus is not a fool now -- at all events not in his own conceit. He is shrewd, long-sighted, devoid of feeling; he has a quick hand and a clear brain for cards or dice, and a mind stored with unquestionable lore on the recondite subject of horse-racing. If Augustus were to keep accounts and to reckon how much he makes in a year, nett, out of these various pursuits, the total would represent a very respectable sum. But he is not reckless, far from it. Is he not still an occasional student at King's College, and does he not ever keep in view the day on which he will become eligible to receive a "cure of souls?"
Even in personal appearance Augustus has altered of late considerably. Curious to tell, his hair, whiskers, and moustache, instead of being what nature made them, an emphatic red, have taken to themselves a hue of glossy brown, a deep, rich tint, which ladies might envy. Then his face has by no means that empty, would-be-wicked expression which it wore when he sucked the top of his cane on the way home from Bloomford with Helen and Maud. With the very least stretch of the imagination, it could even be pronounced handsome, for though nothing less than intellectual in mould, the lines are fairly regular, and the nose has even an aristocratic bend. The habitual expression it wears, too, is one of thoughtfulness, which produces an effect altogether independent of the subject of thought.
Augustus was just turned twenty-one, and had grown of late several inches, so that he now stood not much less than six feet. His dress, it is almost superfluous to state, was in the latest fashion, exhibiting not inconsiderable care and conveying an impression of wealth. On the whole, Mr. Whiffle was unmistakably an attractive young man to any one with whom he might choose to display only the amiable side. It had taken him some little time to learn all this, it is true, but his progress in savoir vivre had been very wonderful when contrasted with his progress in letters. At present he was still studying the former ardently. Mr. Whiffle, senior's, position at the aristocratic church of St. Abinadab's had thrown open to him a circle of society very superior, in worldly possessions at least, to any he had hitherto moved in; and though on but indifferent terms with his father, Augustus had no scruple in using the latter's prestige to procure an entry into the same circle. He felt it was necessary for him to obtain the acquaintance of a few wealthy families, and as he always presented himself under the character of the divinity student, he was remarkably well received.
At half-past seven, then, on the present evening, Augustus was sitting at his open window, smoking a cigar. Meantime his eyes found employment in watching the streams of girls who at this hour pour out of the work-rooms in which the neighbourhood abounds, on their weary way home.
The occupation was a congenial one. Not unfrequently he would see one pass with whom he had, or desired to have, some kind of acquaintance, and at such times a loud cough or a low whistle on his part would attract the girl's attention, when he would smile graciously, or wave his delicate hand. Augustus had evidently a good taste in such matters, for the girls whom he appeared to know were invariably the prettiest that passed.
Once he went through the usual pantomime, and, in addition, took a little piece of paper from his waistcoat pocket, rolled it up, and let it fall, as if through carelessness, on to the pavement. The next moment it was picked up by the person for whom it was meant, and Augustus smiled contentedly.
He was interrupted in the midst of these delights by hearing a double knock at the front door below, and on bending forward out of the window he recognised an acquaintance who now and then called for him. Hastily putting one or two things in order in the room, he closed the window and was ready to receive his visitor.
The latter is already known to the reader as Mr. John Waghorn. Though his dress was, as usual, extremely genteel, and his hair arranged with the ordinary care, for some reason or other he had by no means a respectable look this evening. It seemed as though he had the power of altering his face to suit the occasion. At present he looked what he really was, brutish, sensual, ugly.
"Game for a night of it, my boy, eh?" he asked, as he flung himself carelessly into an armchair.
"Don't mind," returned Augustus. "Are you?"
"Yes; for the last time."
"What do you mean?" asked Augustus. "Going to give up wine and women, and turn moral in your old age? Bye-the-by, how old are you, Waghorn?"
"Turned six and thirty," replied the other, lighting a cigar. "Think of that."
"Sound in wind, too. You won't begin to knock up for another ten years. Let's look at your teeth old boy."
Mr. Waghorn seemed to resent the refined joke.
"Teeth be damn'd!" he exclaimed. "Sound or not, I've come to the end of my tether. I mean to have a frisk to-night, and for the last time, I tell you."
"For God's sake, why?"
"For a very good reason. I'm going to be married to-morrow.
"What!" cried Augustus, in amazement.
"Fact!" said Mr. Waghorn.
"And who the devil has been fool enough to have you, Waghorn?" asked Augustus, with friendly frankness.
"That's nothing to do with the matter," returned the other. "You don't know her."
"How do you know I don't? What's her name?"
"Well, if it interests you particularly, her name's Maud Gresham."
"Maud Gresham! The devil! Daughter of an artist?"
"Do you know her?"
"As well as I know you!" exclaimed Augustus, with trifling exaggeration. "Well I'm damn'd! Uncommon fine girl, and heaps of tin, I believe. I say, old fellow, I must be best man!"
"Impossible! My brother's volunteered for that. Must have a respectable fellow, you know."
"Thanks for the compliment," returned Augustus, laughing. "After all, the affair would be a good deal too tedious. But, I say, Waghorn, you'll invite me to dinner before long? How long shall you be away?"
"Couple of months, perhaps."
"Suppose so. What a damned slow life it will be!" exclaimed Mr. Waghorn, with agreeable anticipation of the delights of the honeymoon.
"Do the other fellows at the Eau de Vie know?"
The institution thus referred to was a club which both our friends much frequented, the proper name of which was the Young Men's Conversational Club, but which, in relation to the beverage principally consumed there, was chiefly known by the habitués as the Eau de Vie, sometimes shortened, with a punning reference, to D. V.
"Don't think so," replied Mr. Waghorn, in reply to the question.
"Mean to tell them, eh?"
"Why yes, I think so. May as well let the boys have a joke."
"Waghorn married!" exclaimed Augustus, leaning back with a roar of laughter; after which, by way of being facetious, he imprecated curses upon himself for several minutes.
As soon as it began to grow dark, the two issued forth to fulfil their purpose of making a night of it. We shall not endeavour to follow their nocturnal wanderings, in the course of which they picked up several congenial acquaintances equally bent on spending a jovial evening; but let it suffice to say that a popular music-hall, an indecent exhibition, numberless restaurants, the green-room of a second-rate theatre, and a notorious casino enjoyed in turn the honour of a visit from these choice spirits.
In the last-named resort several equally choice spirits of the opposite sex were selected to join the company, and eventually they all repaired to some supper-rooms of unsavoury reputation, where they disported themselves till closing time, the performance of a pas seul by one of the ladies on the centre of the table being a prominent feature of the merriment.
On leaving the house the attractions of their female companions drew in different directions the majority of the choice spirits, and Mr. Waghorn and Augustus repaired alone to the Young Men's Conversational Club, otherwise known as the Eau de Vie. Here the sweet of the night was but just commencing.
Around a number of small tables some twenty or thirty young men were engaged at cards, each supplied with his glass of the eponymous beverage, the odour of which was perceptible even in the street. Owing to Mr. Whiffle's care, the great event to take place upon the morrow soon became generally known. It created a furor. One young man, more than half drunk, sprang on to a table and proposed the health of the bride and bridegroom, suggesting in conclusion that every member of the club should turn out on the following morning to conduct Mr. Waghorn from his residence to the church, a proposal which was vigorously cheered, but received a polite refusal from the prospective bridegroom, delivered in the form of a speech from behind the drinking-bar, whither Mr. Waghorn had betaken himself to avoid his companions' too boisterous congratulations.
The greater part of the conversation ensuing upon the proclamation of this piece of intelligence was of that description which the newspapers call "unsuited for publication." Mr. Waghorn was evidently a highly popular member of the club, and, moreover, owing to his advantage in years over the majority of the members, a constant source of jokes of the most approved "Eau de Vie" flavour -- which was high.
When the excitement had cooled a little, Augustus, as was his wont, proposed a little play to while away an hour or two, which Mr. Waghorn, being already weak in the legs, readily agreed to; the result being that Augustus rose from the table towards four o'clock in the morning appreciably richer than when he sat down. But these little losses were nothing to Mr. Waghorn. During the day he was always a sharp-eyed, hard-hearted, close-fisted man of business; and if he occasionally relaxed by making a brute of himself at night, why, he could afford it.
Leaving Mr. Waghorn to celebrate in appropriate style the eve of his wedding day, we return to Portland Place and to respectability. Mr. Gresham of course intended that his daughter's wedding should be marked with all the éclat which became his own position, and frequent had been the visits paid by milliners and outfitters of every description during the past month. Maud found a good deal of pleasure in all this. To pay attention to such matters was to fulfil the world's requirements, and this, in Maud's philosophy, constituted the only serious business of life. Never had she been so caustic and sceptical in her conversation as during these last few weeks. With Helen in particular, it seemed as though she felt bound to show herself absolutely consistent in what is normally considered one of the most momentous epochs of life, to make it clear that she regarded the whole affair in the light of a more or less tedious farce, even as she regarded all the every-day occurrences of her existence. To Helen this mental attitude of her friend was painful in the extreme. Day after day she studied Maud's manner and countenance, and always with a growing conviction that there was nothing genuine at the bottom of all this cynicism, that it was merely acted. It seemed to her, also, that it was a part of which the actor was beginning to grow weary. Very closely did she watch for any sign of sincere emotion, any indication, however slight, of a growth of seriousness as the eventful day approached. Nothing of this kind was perceptible, Maud seemed only to harden in her indifference. It was with deep apprehension that Helen looked forward to a union entered upon in such a spirit.
Helen had not failed to notice the peculiarity in Mr. Gresham's manner when last he spoke to her of Mr. Waghorn, and she had observed since then that her guardian did not greet his future son-in-law altogether as heartily as he was wont to do. She noticed all this, and it made her uneasy, though it was as impossible for her to conjecture causes as it was to conceive remedies. She had observed, moreover, that Maud and her father had seemed to shun each other of late. They spoke but seldom in her presence, and Maud never now visited the studio when her father was at work there, as she had previously been in the habit of doing. Was it possible that this marriage was distasteful to one or other of them? If so, to which?
On the present evening Helen made a point of visiting Maud's chamber, ostensibly to view her friend's trousseau, but in reality to seek the opportunity for a serious conversation which had never yet presented itself. Helen was not to take any formal part in the ceremony, and that at Maud's earnest request. Mr. Gresham had wished his ward to be first bridesmaid, but to this Maud had strenuously objected, though altogether without reasons, and her father had yielded. But Helen yearned for a few sincere words from her friend of so many years, and could not but hope that this evening would see her desire satisfied.
Waiting till she knew Maud was in her chamber, Helen knocked at the door, and entered. Maud was sitting in the midst of an immense quantity of magnificent equipments, her hands crossed upon her lap, her face thoughtful, even sad. But as soon as she saw her friend enter, she rose with a brisk movement and greeted her with an ironical smile.
"Have you come to obtain food for future meditation upon earthly follies and vanities?" she said, glancing scornfully around at the muslin and lace. "Don't spare me, Helen. Lecture me soundly, and with as little remorse as if I were the fool in the Proverbs. Now if all the money that has here been wasted upon knavish drapers and milliners, had only been put into Helen Norman's hands for distribution among her multifarious pensioners -- isn't that how you are going to begin?"
Helen sighed in disappointment. Maud seemed more frivolous than ever.
"Why do you sigh and look miserable?" pursued the bride. Surely it is I who should have the monopoly of such performances; and yet I am in excellent spirits, as you see. But why should you have the monopoly of misery, Maud?" Why? Am I not about to be married to-morrow? Am I not about to play the fool on a broader stage and before a larger audience than I have yet had experience of? Am I not about to exchange liberty for slavery?"
"But surely, Maud," replied Helen, with much gravity, "you cannot mean what you say? If you look forward to marriage as only a state of misery, why do you marry at all?"
"Why, my dear Helen? Doesn't everyone get married sooner or later? Depend upon it you yourself will be no exception to the rule."
"I trust I shall never marry with such a disposition," returned Helen. "I should be deeply grieved if I thought you were in earnest, I should indeed. Have you lost all confidence in your old friend, Maud?"
"Confidence? How can you ask me the question? I protest, Helen, I have this moment been more confidential to you with regard to the state of my mind than I would or could be with anyone else."
"And you seriously tell me, Maud, that you look for no happiness from this marriage? That you have no love for your future husband? That you enter upon married life merely because it is conventional to do so? -- I cannot believe you!"
Helen had risen as she spoke, and trembled with the excess of her emotion. Maud continued sitting, and smiled in her wonted manner.
"And could you believe me," she began, in turn, speaking in a hard, inflexible voice, "if I were to tell you that I not only look for no pleasure but for intolerable wretchedness -- at all events till I have got used to it? That, so far from loving my future husband, I hate and despise him? That I am altogether unable to say why I am going to be married, except that papa wishes me to be, and that I know I may as well marry this man as any other? Do you believe all that?"
"If I must believe it," replied Helen, "I can only say that you are acting very wrongly, Maud, and that I should not be a true friend if I did not tell you so."
Maud suddenly rose to her feet with a flash of anger in her eyes, an expression which Helen had never before seen on her face.
"And what is it to me," she cried, in a voice shaken with passion, "whether you are a true friend or not! Do you think I have any faith in friendship of any kind? What does it matter to me whether I am doing right or wrongly? Who commissioned you to come here and tell me so? Am I a child to be lectured in this way?"
Helen trembled like a leaf before this display of most unwonted passion; she was scarcely able to realise that Maud had spoken. She saw, however, that the latter had turned her back to her, and, looking straight before her into the glass, could see the girl's face all distorted by a thousand conflicting emotions, among which anger still held the supremacy. Bursting into tears, she quitted the room and sought the quietness of her own chamber.
As soon as she saw that she was alone, Maud sank into a chair and sat there in the same attitude as before. But her face soon lost its angry expression. Before many minutes had passed tears rose irresistibly to her eyes, and began to trickle down her cheeks. She made no effort either to check them or dry them as they fell, but sat as motionless as a statue, weeping, weeping. And even so she sat and wept till far on into the night.
When it was nearly one o'clock, her father, on his way to his room, paused at her door. He could see that there was a light within, but could hear no sound. For a moment his hand sought the handle, but the next it dropped again to his side. Once, twice he moved away from the door and returned to it. But not a sound came from within, and he walked softly away.
Early next morning bustle and bell-ringing was the order of the day. The usual stately quietness of the house in Portland Place was violated by innumerable unwonted intruders, who drove up in carriages or cabs, and vied with each other in showing undoubted appreciation of the dignity and felicity of the occasion. The Greshams had few friends, but a very great number of acquaintances, and as Mr. Gresham was determined to spare no means to ensure the brilliancy of the festival, invitations had been issued in the most liberal and open-hearted manner. Mr. Gresham himself, perhaps a trifle paler than usual, as if from a bad night, undertook the duty of receiving the guests, and went through the task with that perfect gentility of demeanour which he prided himself upon, never allowing it to be mistaken, however, that he hid beneath this outward complaisance a serene contempt for the whole affair which was extremely edifying. Now and then he would whisper in a friend's ear some sarcastic remark on social conventionalities, the next moment he would delight his inward soul by discussing ironically to this or that lady, perfectly sure that his listener understood him in the literal sense. There was a pleasure in all this for Mr. Gresham. Perhaps the only real pleasure he had experienced in life had been this successful blending of outward respect for society with never-ceasing internal ridicule of its vanities. Mr. Gresham had not met with much affection in the course of his three and forty years, and had been equally sparing in imparting it to others. Thus there was probably not one among this crowd of strangers for whom he entertained anything approaching friendship. They, for their part, regarded him with considerable admiration, as a perfect gentleman, a man of money, a man of talent; but beyond that, little, if anything. Maud Gresham excited even less real interest in those who had come to witness her marriage. With a contempt of society equal to that entertained by her father, she exercised less care in glossing it over with external forms and graces, and had seriously offended not a few of her so-called friends by her carelessness in this particular. Under these auspicious circumstances it was hardly to be expected that conversation amongst the visitors should greatly turn upon the chief business of the day. There was a little chat with regard to the dowery with which it was probable Mr. Gresham would make up for lack of sweet disposition in his daughter, a little subdued scandal with regard to the bridegroom, with whose habits of life a few of the gentlemen present were rather more acquainted than Mr. Gresham was; also a few instances of sweetly spiteful vaticination on the part of certain ladies in regard to the probable relations of the couple a year hence; after all which they turned their attention principally to their private affairs, discussed matches likely to come about and talked scandal with regard to others already effected. Truly, Mr. Gresham and his daughter had some grounds for their attitude of mind as regards this world of society.
There was, however, one point of interest common to most of those present, curiosity with regard to which had not, as yet, been satisfied. It soon became evident what this was when at length Helen Norman unobtrusively joined the company. A few of the guests were altogether unconscious of Helen's existence, but the greater part had, notwithstanding her retired and simple life, both heard and talked very much of her lately. I should but display my incapacity to deal with the mysterious problems of the world of fashion if I attempted to explain how intelligence of Helen's so-called eccentricities had permeated the walls of her guardian's house and filtered through a great variety of social strata; creating an itching sensation as it went, an eager curiosity to know more of this strange beast in woman's form that Mr. Gresham sheltered beneath his roof. If I might hazard a very private conjecture, I might possibly be disposed to imagine that certain unusual gratuities which had of late found their way into the pockets of Mr. Gresham's servants were not unconnected with this phenomenon. We know that when the gods of old quarrelled they were wont to tell each other somewhat unpleasant truths, and we likewise are aware of the portentous fact that, in our own day, rival editors of rival papers have in anger charged each other with procuring their "fashionable" intelligence by the means here hinted at. As I say, I must not, however, venture to account for mysteries such as these. It is certain that neither from Mr. Gresham nor his daughter did the information proceed, for both of these cherished in the depths of their hearts too sincere and involuntary a respect for Helen Norman to permit of their making her a common subject of conversation. Be the matter how it may, it is certain that reports concerning Helen, often widely exaggerated, were very rife among all who knew the Greshams, and the main inducement of not a few to honour the house with their presence this morning had been the hope of seeing this peculiar creature in the flesh. The ladies, in particular, were prepared to be scandalised. The idea that a young, handsome, and unmarried lady should think of benefiting her poorer fellow-creatures was, to begin with, altogether shocking; and how disgracefully immodest must any young lady be who could visit the East End -- positively, it was asserted, the East End -- and there mix with people whose very aspect ought to be enough to create loathing, if not still worse feelings, in the mind of any properly trained young person. But there was even worse behind. It was whispered -- who would have dared to speak it aloud? -- it was actually whispered, with bated breath and blanched lips, that Mr. Gresham's ward never went to church! Though the very monstrosity of this accusation was sufficient to deprive it of all credit, save among those whose attendance at the same church as the Greshams has enabled them to be personal observers, yet the mere fact that the accusation could be made pointed to the existence of moral depravity in the unfortunate individual in question, scarcely inferior to that which would have been implied by habitual absence from church.
Helen had reflected much upon the part it became her to take in the day's proceedings. If she had obeyed the truest impulse of her heart she would have proceeded with her usual work and have kept entirely aloof from the wedding. This, however, she had felt to be impossible. Ordinary respect for her guardian demanded that she should pay some attention to his guests, and, disagreeable as the duty was, Helen faced it like every other duty, and resolved to be present. Accordingly, when she made her appearance in the drawing-room in Mr. Gresham's company, she was dressed with considerably more attention to effect than usual, but still in a very plain manner compared with those who surrounded her; and her countenance wore its accustomed expression of calm self-possession, though perhaps with a trifle more colour in the cheeks than they were wont to show. Her manner displayed just as little of gaucherie as of immodest effrontery. Helen was, indeed, as she always was, beautiful, unaffected, queenly.
The first effect produced by her appearance upon those who had already arrived was one of disappointment. After all, her likeness to the Scarlet Woman of Babylon was faint in the extreme. But, before long, more positive feelings began to assume the place of mere disappointment. Glances of undeniable admiration were exchanged between the gentlemen; little shrugs, smiles and sneers began to indicate the emotions of the ladies. But, however bold the man who was favoured with an introduction, his eyes fell involuntarily before Helen's calm, frank look; however envious the ladies, they had to confess to themselves an influence in her face and tone which made their miserable little souls shrink and pine within them. This made many of them absolutely vicious. They could not bear to be made to feel their vast inferiority by one who spent her days distributing charity in the East End, and -- did not go to church.
It is none of my purpose to give a detailed account of this notable wedding. Let the curious in such matters refer to the account in the Times of the marriage between Sir Horace Good-for-Nothing and Miss Lydia Rake-at-Heart, which made so much fuss last week. The description of the proceedings will apply equally to the present case. The same singular ceremony was gone through; the same wonderful vows were plighted between John Waghorn, immaculate in his Sunday dress of respectability, and Maud Gresham, impassive and slightly smiling; the same tears were wept by hysterical brides-maids (the only appropriate part of the entertainment); the same benedictions were pronounced by a similar priest in a similar hurry to get home to lunch; and then -- Glory to God in the Highest! Maud Gresham is no longer Maud Gresham, but Mrs. Waghorn; and all go away, charitably hoping that the result of it will be more children, who will in turn, if parental affection spare them, take their part in a similar pantomime.
Helen passed through this day of benedictions and congratulations with sorrow in her heart. As soon as she saw Maud in the morning she had turned towards her, hoping that she would come forward in her wonted easy manner, and show that the scene of the previous evening had been forgotten. But Maud evidently avoided her among the company, and Helen saw but little good in pressing upon her friend in this mood. Her friend? Helen asked herself whether Maud, no longer Maud Gresham, would henceforth be her friend, and she experienced keen pangs as she thought that the marriage might be the means of severing their intimacy. She cherished a sincere affection for the strange girl, notwithstanding the slight sympathy which appeared to exist between their respective thoughts and aims. She could not but believe that beneath the cold surface of Maud's character lay seeds capable of bearing at least the ordinary fruits of human kindness. Even till the last minute she endeavoured to afford her opportunities of speaking one friendly word before they parted, but Maud would not avail herself of them.
When, at length, the carriage stood at the door waiting to take Mr. and Mrs. Waghorn to the railway station, and when farewells were being exchanged all round, Helen received a kiss just like that Maud gave to her bridesmaids, but not a direct look, not a pressure of the hand. She was on the point of whispering an ardent wish for her happiness in the bride's ear, but her voice failed her, and the chance was past. Mr. and Mrs. Waghorn were already on their way to Italy.
In a dark corner of the church, whilst the marriage ceremony was going on, sat one spectator who had no eyes for the magnificent toilette of the bride, the starched respectability of the bridegroom, or any of the follies attendant upon the occasion. Arthur Golding's sole purpose in coming had been to obtain, if possible, a glimpse of Helen Norman. He had seen her hitherto only in her simple morning dress, or in her neat but plain walking costume, and he was curious to observe the effect her beauty would produce when arrayed in the costume appropriate to a wedding. This, at least, was the excuse he made to himself for giving Mr. Tollady to understand that he was about to take an ordinary walk, and then hurrying off to the church where he knew the marriage was to take place and securing a "coign of vantage" before the strangers began to arrive.
It was purely an artist's fancy, he had thought, a piece of study which might give him new ideas.
But never did artist gaze upon mere model with the fervour which led Arthur to seek eagerly for Helen's face in the crowd, and, when he had found it, keep his eyes fixed upon its beauty till the very moment when it again disappeared from the church. For him the place was vacant of other forms and features, so intensely was his interest centred in that one alone. He had no need to compare her appearance with that of the other ladies present; for him her beauty was something absolute, a type of perfection which, in the nature of things, could not be compared with other types. He did not notice that her dress was much plainer and simpler than of those all around her; he merely knew that it was richer than that in which he had previously seen her, and that its adaptability to her loveliness was perfect. The strength of his admiration almost amounted to frenzy. He gazed at her till an actual halo, a visible aureola, seemed to glitter about her, and he feared to turn away his eyes for a moment lest the beautiful effect should vanish.
When at length he suddenly found the church empty, and rose to go away, he was not conscious of any one of his actions. So visibly did he retain Helen's features in his memory, that they floated before him in the air as he walked, still surrounded by the aureola.
He regained his bedroom, which served him for a studio, and sat down before a picture he was then working at, intending to paint. It was impossible. Even as a vision of the sweet-faced Madonna may have floated before the eyes of Fra Angelico, and held his mind in a state of pious rapture till he took his pencil and, almost without the exertion of his will, embodied the tender outline in a tangible form, so Arthur sat, brush in hand, gazing into vacancy, unable to think of anything but the chaste features of Helen Norman, till, scarcely knowing what he did, he took up a fresh sheet of paper and began slowly and lovingly to outline what he saw. In ten minutes the sketch was finished, the likeness was complete, and with a loud cry of delight Arthur sprang to his feet and held it at arm's length to sate his eyes upon it. He dared not add another touch, erase a line, lest the exquisite resemblance should be destroyed. What if it were but a rough outline in crayon? His imagination filled it out with the hues of life; it seemed to him to breathe, to smile. He had drawn it with the eyes directed full upon his own, and he now thought with rapture that Helen, his Helen, made his by this portrait, would for ever gaze upon him with that sweet, tender smile. No one could deprive him of this joy. However great the gulf that wealth and social dictates spread between himself and the original, however little Helen might think of him, she could not prevent her lifelike image from gazing upon him as he sat at work, breathing into his blood a rapture of enthusiasm for love, for beauty, for art, which would urge him to the achievement of great things. Henceforth Helen must be his Muse, his tutelary goddess. For a moment he had a glimpse into those regions of immeasurable exaltation which genius alone admits to; he felt that the world was within his grasp.
The sketch was too precious to be put away with the others. Repairing to a stationer's hard by, he purchased a piece of mill-board, and upon this carefully mounted the drawing. He then emptied his best portfolio, henceforth to be reserved for the idol alone, and, having carefully tied the strings, put it away in a safe place. This done, he was too over-wrought to proceed as usual with his work. Seeing the afternoon to be very fine, he slung over his shoulders the little bag containing his sketch-book and pencils, and set off on a walk to Hampstead Heath.
Meanwhile, the house in Portland Place had assumed its wonted quiet air, but with the departure of the newly-married couple and, very shortly thereafter, of all the guests, a sense of loneliness had come upon those left behind which they did not ordinarily experience.
Mr. Gresham was in his studio, making believe to paint, for his hand refused to work as usual when his thoughts were straying he knew not where. Helen was in her room, busy at some correspondence which arose out of her work in the East End. Upon the completion of this, she endeavoured to study, but wholly without success. The thought of Maud too completely occupied her mind, and made her sad. It was a relief to both guardian and ward when at length the dinner bell rang, calling them from the cheerless company of their own reflections.
"Well, Helen," said Mr. Gresham, as they took their seats at table, "now that Maud has left us to our own devices, I suppose the first thing to be done is to decide how we are to spend the next two months. What do you propose?"
"My time will be quite fully occupied," replied Helen, in a tone of natural decision; "but no doubt you purpose taking your usual holiday?"
"And no doubt you purpose doing the same," said her guardian, with good-natured mockery. "Do you imagine I shall permit you to remain in town all through the autumn, and come back to find you worn to a skeleton?"
"You need not anticipate the latter extremity," said Helen, smiling; "but it will be impossible for me to leave town."
Mr. Gresham had learned the significance of the quiet but decisive tone in which his ward delivered these words. He glanced at her furtively, and read the same significance in her undisturbed features.
The rest of the dinner, which was quickly finished, passed almost in silence. Only when the dessert was on the table, and the servant who had been waiting had retired, did the artist renew the conversation in earnest.
"Bye-the-by, Helen," he began, "did it ever strike you that, now we have lost Maud, I must have some one to look after my house in her place?"
"Yes, I have thought it might be necessary," replied Helen.
"You have? I never thought of it till Maud brought up the subject the other day."
Mr. Gresham played with his walnuts as he spoke, and from time to time glanced timidly at Helen from beneath his eyebrows.
"Do you know," he said, at length, smiling as he always did when about to advance some particularly audacious proposition, "I have been thinking that, rather than go to the trouble of hunting up such a person from among my list of distant relatives, I would sell the house and emigrate to the farm in Dorsetshire. I might live there in rural peace and happiness for the few remaining years of my life. Might I not, Helen?"
"The few remaining years!" exclaimed Helen, smiling. "I trust that you may reasonably hope for more than a few, Mr. Gresham."
"Think so? Well, perhaps I may. Do you know my age?"
"I am a bad judge of such questions.
"Well, I am just forty-three. Upon the whole, one is rather young than otherwise at forty-three. Don't you think so, Helen?"
"At all events, far from old."
"Yes," said the artist, as if reflecting, "I was married at twenty-two, when I was a boy, and didn't know my own mind."
Helen looked curiously at him; but, meeting his covert glance, again dropped her eyes.
"Upon my word I have a good mind to carry out the scheme. Do you think I should make a good gentleman-farmer, Helen? Should I be apt to learn the price of grains and bullocks, think you?"
"Not very, I fear."
"Indeed! But why?"
"It is merely a guess," said Helen; "but I fancy you would never be so much at home in the country as you are in the city."
"Upon the whole, I think you are right," exclaimed her guardian laughing. "No, the Dorsetshire farm is in very good hands, and doubtless had better remain as it is. But then we revert to the old question. Who is to take care of my house?"
"You spoke of distant relatives," said Helen; "do you know of anyone who would suit you?"
"Only one. That is an aunt, a sister of my mother, who, I believe, is very little older than myself. She is a widow without children, living in Birmingham."
"Do you think she would like to come to London?"
"I really have no idea, but I might ask her."
There was again a short silence.
"But I had hoped there would be no need of that just yet," pursued, in a disappointed tone. "I imagined you would town till at least the end of September, and then it would have been time enough to think of my aunt. It would be the easiest thing in the world to make up a party. The Lights are just thinking of going to Ireland, and they would be delighted if we would join them. You would have Mrs. Leigh with her two daughters to chaperon you. Surely you do not mean, Helen, that you intend to stay at home?"
"I seriously mean it, Mr. Gresham."
"But why? Are you too ascetical to permit yourself a holiday?"
"At present I really have no need of one," replied Helen. "Then next week I begin my evening school. You would not wish me to disappoint the poor girls who are looking forward to a chance of learning to read and write? Mr. Heatherley thinks I shall have at least a dozen to begin with."
Helen ceased, and her guardian made no reply. His brow lowered slightly as he heard the clergyman's name mentioned.
"Mr. Heatherley," pursued Helen, in unconsciousness of the last movement, "has had no holiday for three years. I heard so from an old lady whom I occasionally meet at his house."
"Do you go often to his house?" asked Mr. Gresham, cracking a walnut somewhat fiercely.
"Not very frequently. If I wish to see him we generally meet at the chapel. Indeed he is very seldom at home. I should not have thought it possible for anyone to work as hard and as continuously as Mr. Heatherley does."
The artist rose suddenly from his chair.
"Then I understand," he said in a rather husky tone, which caused Helen to look up in surprise, "that it is impossible to persuade you to leave town?"
"I really must not," returned Helen, rising and looking at her guardian with a smile which was not returned.
"Then I remain at home myself," said the latter.
"But not, I trust, on my account?" said Helen. "Mrs. Thomson -- the housekeeper -- is quite capable of seeing ----"
"No, no," broke in Mr. Gresham, turning away his head, "of course not only on your account, Helen. I have a picture or two that I must get off my hands. Yes, I shall stay at home."
"I am sure you will alter your mind," urged his ward. "You really require a holiday. I hope you will alter your mind, Mr. Gresham."
"You are anxious to get me away?" he said, and immediately feeling that the words had been spoken unguardedly and with some rudeness, reddened a little and laughed. "Yes, yes," he repeated, in a jocular tone, "you are anxious to get rid of me, Helen."
"I am anxious that you should not break an agreeable custom solely on my account," returned his ward. "It would distress me to think you did so."
"It would? Then I shall think the matter over."
Helen nodded, smiled, and left the room.
"What the devil did she mean by that," muttered her guardian to himself, when he was left alone. Then he struck the table a blow with his clenched fist, drank off what remained in his wine-glass, and walked away, seemingly in no very good humour.
What could be the matter with Mr. Gresham? All the next day he paced up and down, first in the studio, then in the library, quite unable to settle to anything. Several visitors who called were dismissed with the reply that he was not at home; he had no taste whatever for conversation. At meals he spoke very little, but, as often as Helen was not looking, watched her from beneath his eyebrows constantly. When she asked him whether he had decided to go to Ireland, he replied that he was thinking the matter over. If so, it appeared to occasion him more reflection than so slight a matter had ever done before. He could scarcely be well.
In the evening he decided to take a walk. Just as he issued from the door into the street, the postman was about to put some letters into the box. He took them from his hands instead, and examined the addresses. Two were for himself, and one was for Helen. Mr. Gresham altered his intention of going for a walk, and went into the library.
He was in no hurry to open his own letters; that directed to Helen seemed to absorb all his attention. On looking at the post-mark he saw that it had been posted in the east of London. That, and the fact that the address was written in a bold male hand, satisfied him that it was from Mr. Heatherley. It was a pity that Mr. Gresham had not just missed the post. man on leaving the house.
Holding this letter in both hands behind his back he once more began to pace the room. Mr. Gresham was, without doubt, a gentleman as far as ordinary manners and social condition went, but it was unfortunate for him that he had decided to live without the guidance of any such thing as principle, that, indeed, he did not think the business of life serious enough to require more than tact in its transaction. This state of mind would have been still more unfortunate had Mr. Gresham been so unhappy as to be a poor man; being, on the contrary, a rich man, he had never yet met with any temptation sufficiently strong to call for firm principle to resist it. Without a doubt he would himself have conceded this to you in argument, and, for the same reasons, would have looked with the most liberal tolerance on a poor man whom temptation had caught unawares and led into mischief. This was one of the better points in his character. But the fact remained that Mr. Gresham had not principle. Had he possessed it, he would, in the present instance, have thrown Helen's letter on to the table, rung the bell, and ordered it to be taken to her. As it was, for some cause or other, he seemed wholly incapable of letting it escape his hands. The expression which rested upon his face, meanwhile, was half a frown, half an ironical grin -- a smile it could hardly be called -- just as if there were at that moment two voices speaking within himself, the one a rather angry and serious one, the other an ironical, bantering voice, very much like that in which he usually spoke. Several times he gave utterance to exclamations, such as "Pooh! psha!" evidently part of the internal argument. Then he again looked at the letter, and it seemed to decide him.
Quickly he tore it open and came to the contents. They were these --
"Dear Miss Norman,
"You will be glad to hear that I have a list of thirteen girls, all more than fifteen years old, who will gladly attend your class on Tuesday and Saturday evenings. I have told them, as you instructed me, that next Tuesday would be the first evening.
"E. W. Heatherley."
Mr. Gresham quickly crushed the letter in his hand, and then thrust it into his pocket, with an extremely unpleasant expression of countenance. He seemed disappointed that he had not found more. The next moment he broke into a low laugh.
"And I have made a damned fool of myself for that! Pooh! I need not fear Heatherley. He's only a parson.
Muttering this he resumed his intention of taking a walk, and left the house.
This little event formed an epoch in the life of Mr. Gresham. Had he been told, but a very few months previously, by some plain-speaking and clear-seeing cynic, that he would one day commit an act which the polite world has agreed to brand as dishonourable, he would have listened to the prophecy with silent contempt; had he been further told that he would commit this act under the impulse of an ignoble jealousy, he would have laughed the idea to scorn. For all that, he had to-day been both shamefully dishonourable and unmistakably jealous. The effect of the unconsidered act could not but prove most disastrous to himself. If previously he had renounced the guidance of principle, he had at all events been tolerably well led by pride and prudence in the same paths in which the former would have guided him; now that he had absolutely set principle at defiance, his pride would henceforth be his evil genius, bidding him look with contempt upon the rules of morality he had hitherto observed, whilst his prudence would only serve him in keeping secret the outrages of which he might be guilty. Had he been twenty years younger, it is just possible that this act of dishonour with its altogether futile results might have proved such a salutary lesson that, with the help of that new and strong passion which was for the first time taking possession of his being, it might have effected a wholesome revolution in his views of life. As it was, such a result was impossible. The man was too hardened in his career of eternal scepticism. For the future, instead of being a mere sceptic, he would be a hypocrite, a character still more despicable. But nature, whose dictates he had so long violated, had prepared a severe punishment for him. Henceforth Mr. Gresham is rather a subject for pity than indignation.
When he and Helen met at dinner on the following evening the latter's first remark caused him acute suffering.
"It is a curious thing," she said, looking directly at h guardian, "Mr. Heatherley tells me that he posted a letter for me yesterday, about noon, which I ought to have received by one of the evening posts. Yet it has never come.
"Very curious," replied Mr. Gresham, forcing himself to re turn her direct gaze. "Have you made enquiry of the servants?"
"Yes. They tell me we had no letters yesterday except by the morning post. No doubt it is the fault of the post office. Have you ever failed to receive letters?"
"Once or twice, I think, at long intervals. But never anything of consequence. I hope your letter was not important?"
"Oh, no; not at all. Merely a note in reference to my evening classes. I begin on Tuesday, Mr. Gresham."
"What sort of pupils shall you have?" asked Mr. Gresham, relieved at length, and smiling in the usual manner.
"Mostly grown up girls. Girls who are hard at work all day, poor things, and have never had the opportunity of learning to read and write."
"What are your hours?"
"From eight to ten, using a room in the chapel for schoolroom. You cannot imagine the pleasure with which I look forward to these lessons. As the attendance is of course purely voluntary, I know I shall have some capital scholars. And then I hope by degrees to be able to find better situations for those who show themselves able and industrious. Mr. Heatherley is doing his best to interest several ladies in the scheme, whose help will be very useful."
"But eight to ten!" exclaimed Mr. Gresham. "That is horribly late, Helen. You won't be home till eleven. Do you consider it altogether ladylike to be travelling about London, alone, at such hours?"
"I certainly see no objection to it," replied Helen, "when one's engagements make it necessary.
"H'm. You are aware, I presume, that young ladies do not, as a rule, permit themselves to indulge in such night excursions; that, in fact, it is hardly considered bon ton?"
"The ordinances of so-called society concern me very little, as you know, Mr. Gresham. As yet I am unconscious of having in any way neglected propriety. It is only between the chapel and the station that there could be any real danger for me, and in that walk Mr. Heatherley will always be kind enough to accompany me. It happens to lie in his way as he goes home."
Mr. Gresham flinched visibly at these words, and endeavoured, by raising his glass to drink, to conceal the expression which rose involuntarily to his countenance. He made no reply, and the meal continued in silence.
As they rose, at its conclusion, Helen asked whether Mr. Gresham had yet. decided upon leaving town.
"I find I have too much work on hand," he replied. "I shall not leave town at all."
"Indeed? I am sorry."
"I wrote last night to my aunt, Mrs. Cumberbatch," he continued. "In. all probability I shall have a reply to-morrow morning. I hope it will be favourable."
Helen said nothing, but left the room, pondering on the possible character of Mrs. Cumberbatch. Mr. Gresham, unable to find rest at home, went out very shortly and passed his evening at the theatre.
On the following morning the anticipated letter arrived, bringing the news that Mrs. Cumberbatch, after mature reflection, had decided to accept her nephew's proposition. As it happened, she was just then on the point of removing from her house, so that it only remained for her to dispose of her furniture and come at once to London. In all probability she would present herself at the house in Portland Place in not later than a week.
After hearing her guardian read this letter, Helen went up to her sitting-room. She purposely left her door slightly ajar, and when at ten o'clock she recognised the footstep of Arthur Golding passing by and entering the studio, which was on the same landing, she left her room and followed him.
"Have you heard anything from Mr. Tollady lately," she asked, "with regard to Mrs. Thomson?"
This, as the reader will perhaps remember, was the woman Helen had assisted at the printer's request.
"Yes," replied Arthur, who had been startled by Helen s entrance, his pulses throbbing with delight at the sound of her voice. "Only this morning Mr. Tollady told me that she was getting better every day, and able to do more work. She is very anxious to see you, Miss Norman, and to thank you with her own mouth for your kindness to her."
"I am so glad to hear she is better!" exclaimed Helen. "I must see Mr. Tollady again very shortly; perhaps he has found some other poor people for me."
"I am afraid he is himself far from well," said Arthur, only venturing to glance for a moment at the face before him.
"Not well!" exclaimed Helen, in a tone of pained surprise. "What is he suffering from?"
"I hardly know. A short time ago, after we had been a rather long walk together, he fainted as soon as he entered the house. The same thing happened again last night, and this morning I left him seeming very depressed."
"But has he seen a physician?"
"I think not. He makes light of it, and says that it is only what he must expect now he is growing old. But it makes me very uneasy."
"But he must certainly have advice, Mr. Golding," urged Helen, earnestly, "I am sure his life is of far too much value to be lightly risked. Pray tell him this from me, will you? Say that I beg he will consult a doctor."
"I have myself frequently urged him to do so," replied Arthur, feeding his eyes upon the speaker's beauty, thus heightened by emotion, "but he always puts me off with a good-natured excuse. Perhaps your request will weigh more with him. It is very kind of you to express so much interest in his welfare."
"I must see him," pursued Helen. "Though I have only spoken with him once, I feel as if I had known him all my life. It is only noble natures that can inspire such confidence."
"And only noble natures, Miss Norman, that are so quick to recognise nobility in others. You do not exaggerate Mr. Tollady's goodness. I have not seen a day pass for several years without some act of kindness on his part to those who were in need of it."
For a moment their eyes met. The sincere feeling with which the young man spoke gave to his countenance a striking vivacity, and Helen saw in its expression a spirit in closer sympathy with her own than any she had discerned elsewhere. When Arthur turned his head away, she followed his look, and her eyes fell upon the picture he was then working at. It was a copy of a small Rembrandt which Mr. Gresham possessed. She bent forward to examine it.
"You are making wonderful progress," she said, frankly. "To my uncritical eyes this piece that is finished seems scarcely inferior to the original. I envy you your talent, Mr. Golding."
The last words were spoken warmly, with a look which avouched their genuineness. Arthur's reply followed rapidly, and in eager tones --
"You envy me, Miss Norman; you, who are so richly endowed with every excellent quality, envy another's trifling facility in handling a brush or a pencil? It may excite your wonder, perhaps, but never your envy!"
"That is hardly fair, Mr. Golding," said Helen, smiling. "I spoke truth, and you reply to me with flattery. Let me advise you, if it is not too great a liberty, never to depreciate your art. In your estimation nothing should excel it. You will be more zealous for its claims some day, when you become one of its foremost representatives."
And nodding a pleasant good-morning she left the studio. For some seconds Arthur remained gazing at the door through which she had disappeared, with passionate longing and regret depicted upon his countenance, then, with a deep sigh, passed his hand over his eyes, as if to prepare them for their ordinary functions, and hurried to his work.
It happened that the studio had two doors, the one ordinarily used, which led out into the landing; the other, at present concealed behind an easel supporting a large canvas, which communicated with Mr. Gresham's dressing-room Through this latter Mr. Gresham had passed a few minutes before Arthur entered the studio, and had left it very slightly ajar, but quite sufficiently to admit of his becoming acquainted with every word of the conversation between his pupil and his ward. He had no scruples in listening; in his present state of mind would have had none even if the act had been far more objectionable, than, considering his relationship to Helen, it in reality was. What he had heard, innocent and meaningless as it would have sounded to any less interested auditor, inflicted upon him the keenest torture. That Helen should so far transgress the bounds of conventional propriety as to enter into conversation under such circumstances at all, was alone sufficient to aggravate his new-born intolerance; that the conversation should terminate in what he regarded as unwarrantable familiarities exasperated him almost beyond endurance. For a full half-hour he sat in his dressing-room, exerting his utmost ingenuity in the devising of self-torment. Doubtless she was in the habit of indulging in these morning interviews. No doubt, also, she saw Golding at other times, when he knew nothing of it; for what considerations could restrain a girl who openly defied all social regulations. These same social regulations which he had hitherto looked upon with such scorn, how he now respected them in his heart, how convinced he was of their propriety and necessity! Yet how was it possible for him to begin to assert his authority as guardian for the purpose of compelling Helen to observe them. It would be to stultify himself, nothing less. He thought with exasperation of her spending all the day in going from place to place alone, making acquaintances of which he knew nothing, meeting with respect and admiration which he had no means of checking. For, had he possessed the power, he would have reduced her to the condition of a Turkish slave, allowing her to see, and be seen by no one; so fiercely had his involuntary infatuation begun its operation upon him.
That morning he did not visit the studio at all, sending a servant to excuse him to Arthur on the ground of other engagements. He felt it would be impossible to face his pupil with any degree of calmness, and an acute feeling of shame, which was but a little less strong than his jealousy, withheld him from any risk of self-exposure.
The same evening Helen fulfilled her intention of visiting Mr. Tollady. Arthur was again away from home, and Mr. Tollady, when he had submitted to his visitor's pressing interrogations with regard to his health, turned the conversation by asking what she thought of Arthur's progress in the studio.
"It is impossible to speak too hopefully of it, Mr. Tollady," she replied. "I have been delighted with what little I have seen of his work. I suppose you have many pictures of his here?"
"A great many drawings," replied the old man, with that air of justifiable pride which always marked his tone when he spoke of Arthur. "It is possible you would like to see a few, Miss Norman?"
"If it would not be taking too great a freedom in Mr. Golding's absence," replied Helen.
"It is one of the greatest pleasures my life affords me to look over his work," said the printer. "I frequently take down his portfolios when I am alone. But it is so seldom that I have the opportunity of looking over them with anyone capable of appreciating their merits that you will confer a real favour on me, Miss Norman, by allowing me to show them to you."
He went up accordingly to Arthur's room, and brought down the portfolios which held the young artist's work. The first they opened was full of copies, some in crayon, some in sepia or Indian-ink, of celebrated pictures by old masters.
"It is Arthur's habit to make copies such as these," said Mr. Tollady, as he turned them over with a loving hand, "whenever he meets with engravings of old pictures in books or elsewhere. His collection will soon be a large one. Ah! Here are his copies of Raphael's Cartoons. Are they not admirably finished? There is a Madonna of Correggio; the original is in the Museum of Parma. I always think he has caught the expression of the child's face wonderfully. Here are a series of pen and ink copies from Albert Dürer, grand old pictures, and finely drawn."
They passed on to another portfolio.
"That is a copy of an etching by Nasmyth, 'The Alchemist.' It took Arthur more than a week's hard work, there is such an immense amount of detail in it. You like it? I knew you would. Ah! Here are a few water-colours. I like that copy of Rosa Bonheur; the sheep are admirable. I often laugh at my learning iii these matters, Miss Norman. Arthur has made quite a connoisseur of me."
The next portfolio was a smaller one; and contained only a few drawings, most of them in pencil.
"These," said Mr. Tollady, with a smile of peculiar delight, and with a confidential lowering of his voice, "these are his original designs. He has made a great number at times, but there are only a few that he has cared to preserve. Indeed he often destroys drawings which I think admirable These are a series illustrating Shelley's 'Witch of Atlas.' It was a bold flight to undertake, but I notice that Arthur is most at home at regions farthest removed from the earth. It seems to me there is much of delicate fancy in these drawings What is your opinion, Miss Norman?"
"I should say they were quite admirable. I certainly never saw illustrations of the poem which at all approached them. I know they are defective in drawing here and there," she added, "but the ideas are wonderful in each case."
"Here again," went on Mr. Tollady, his face beaming with pleasure, "are a few sketches of subjects from Scott. There is Rob Roy's wife challenging the invaders from the top of the rocks. There is astonishing force in that woman's attitude. That is meant for a portrait of Habbakuk Mucklewrath. Ha, ha! I always think that capital. There is the Master of Ravenswood on his last ride."
And so the old man went on, pointing out all the merits of the drawings -- and indeed the merits were not few -- delighted whenever Helen put in an assent or expressed herself pleased. When they. came to the last of the four portfolios, he exclaimed --
"What have we in this other? He has been making some changes here lately. It is a portrait, carefully mounted, too. Why, it is ----"
Indeed it was no other than Arthur's memory-drawn portrait of Helen. She saw it, and blushed deeply.
"I did not know you had favoured him with a sitting," said the old man, regarding Helen with wonderful naïevé. "But it is an admirable likeness, though so slight."
"I never did," replied Helen, in some confusion. "It -- it must be some picture he has copied which bears some slight likeness to me. Have we seen all, Mr. Tollady?"
"Those are all his finished drawings. He has an abundance of crayon studies from casts, and of sketches from nature, but those I know he does not like to be seen. He calls them his chips."
And Mr. Tollady laughed with a quiet gaiety of heart which only appeared when he spoke of Arthur. A little conversation followed with regard to the poor people in whom the printer was interested, and then, leaving half-a-sovereign for one of these, Helen took her leave. She walked thoughtfully homewards, not unfrequently smiling to herself, as if her reflections were far from disagreeable. Throughout the evening she was distraite, being wholly unconscious that her guardian scarcely averted his eyes from her during dinner, and replying to his few questions in an absent manner which goaded him to hardly repressible irritation. But Helen was not aware of his feeling. When she retired to her room, it was with the intention of reading a new volume of poems she had just purchased, but the lines seemed to her lacking in inspiration. There are certain moods in which even the loftiest verse seems poor to us compared with the odes and poems which nature is chanting within our own hearts; and in such a mood Helen Norman found herself to-night.
The next day was Sunday.
"Will you read to me for an hour or two this morning, Helen?" Mr. Gresham asked, at breakfast.
It was a scheme which had just entered his head for keeping his ward near him.
Helen assented, and they shortly met in the studio, which was Mr. Gresham's favourite room at all times. After looking round the room as if in search of something, as soon as she entered Helen asked --
"Did Mr. Golding take away his picture yesterday?"
"I suppose so," replied Mr. Gresham, averting his face, and endeavouring to speak with indifference. It was only a few minutes ago that he had taken the picture in question from the easel and placed it with its face leaning against the wall, because he could not bear to have it before his eyes.
"I am sorry," said his ward. "I wished to look at it again."
Then she proceeded to tell her guardian of the treat she had enjoyed on the previous evening in looking at Arthur Golding's drawings. Every word of praise she uttered was torture to her hearer, but he mastered his feelings with a great effort and succeeded in keeping the slightly sneering smile upon his features unbroken.
"Golding will never make an artist," he said, with all the calmness of a habitual calumniator, though such had hitherto by no means been his character. A somewhat contemptuous universal toleration had always marked his criticisms; and in Arthur's case, that portion of genuine artistic feeling which he undoubtedly possessed had made him at first even sincerely laudatory. But the change which had for weeks been developing itself within him now began to make itself openly seen, and imparted a sincerity to many of his remarks which could hardly be mistaken.
On hearing him speak thus of Arthur, Helen looked at him in surprise.
"Never make an artist, Mr. Gresham?"
"Not he. He has no perseverance. He takes offence at my slightest corrections, and not unfrequently shows hastiness of temper. I shouldn't be surprised if he thanked me for my trouble and went off about his business one of these days."
He had begun to speak with his eyes firmly fixed on Helen's, but could not support her gaze to the end. In his heart he trembled lest her clear intelligence, of which he had always stood in awe, should see through his narrow disguise of words and pierce down to his inner purpose. Helen made no reply, however, save a pained look of infinite surprise. At Mr. Gresham's request she began to read, and continued for about an hour, the former standing at an easel the while and painting. At the end of that time he suddenly laid down his pallet and brushes, and stood with a satisfied smile upon his face till a pause came in the reading.
"There," he said, "we have had our first sitting. Will you inspect the result, Helen?"
Helen rose, surprised, and, on looking at the canvas at which the artist had been engaged, saw the first outline of her own face. She did not know whether to appear pleased or annoyed, for, in. truth, she was neither; the matter was indifferent to her.
"Does it please you?" asked Mr. Gresham.
"Any opinion would be premature," she answered. "Besides, I am, in any case, the worst person to consult with regard to my own portrait. Shall I continue to read, Mr. Gresham?"
For a moment the artist's lips worked, as if under some keen inward emotion, and once he raised his eyes with a serious expression, seeming about to speak. But a momentary paleness, followed by a flush, was the only result of this hesitation. He nodded merely, and Helen resumed her book.
When Arthur entered the studio on the following morning Mr. Gresham was in his dressing-room, purposely. The door was left slightly open, and an easel arranged in front of it so as still to permit a clear view of all that the artist desired to see. The first object that met Arthur's eyes on entering was the newly-commenced portrait. He could not help seeing it, one person well knew. He started as he recognised the likeness, then gazed at it long and intensely. Not one of the shades of expression which passed over his countenance escaped the notice of the watcher in the dressing-room.
Five minutes after Mr. Gresham entered the studio as usual. His reply to Arthur's "Good-morning" was a trifle curt, and he continued throughout the morning somewhat abstracted in manner. Not unfrequently he glanced searching looks at his pupil, when the latter was closely occupied with his work, and each look was more lowering than the last. When Arthur requested his assistance he replied in the briefest possible manner, scarcely turning his head whilst he spoke; and whilst. it yet wanted nearly half an hour to the usual time for the former's departure, he consulted his watch and excused himself on the plea of an engagement.
Arthur, whose temperament was keenly sensitive to the least slight, noticed these changes and did not cease during the rest of the day to distress himself in searching for an explanation of them. On the following morning, Mr. Gresham's inattention was yet more marked; it amounted to plain incivility. It was Arthur's way to be explicit in matters that nearly concerned him, and just before he left he could not resist speaking out the thought that had troubled him.
"I fear, sir," he said, speaking in decided, though respectful tones, "that I have been so unfortunate as to offend you. May I beg you to tell me how?"
"Offend me, Mr. Golding?" returned the artist, with a curl of the lip. "I scarcely understand you."
"Your altered manner to me yesterday and today," pursued the young man, and somewhat irritated by the ill-concealed contempt of the other's manner, "appeared to me only to admit of that explanation."
"Do you refer to my correcting a mistake in your colouring?" asked Mr. Gresham, without turning from his canvas. "I have noticed that you seemed to resent my interference of late. Perhaps it would be better if you finished the picture without consulting me, and then allow me to criticise it at the end."
"I certainly was not aware that I received your remarks otherwise than with gratitude, Mr. Gresham," replied the young man, with quiet dignity. "I much regret it if I should have given you reason to think me disrespectful."
"I am sorry I have not time to discuss terms with you," said the artist, consulting his watch. "I find I must leave you, for the present, to the guidance of your own genius. And, bye-the-by, I am sorry I shall not be able to see you to-morrow. I am engaged during the morning."
So saying he left the studio, and Arthur retraced his way slowly to Charlotte Place, half-grieved, half-angry, and altogether astonished at what had occurred. He scarcely knew whether he should return to the studio again. At all events he would tell Mr. Tollady what had happened, and ask his advice. Something must have occurred to annoy Mr. Gresham, in which case the next meeting would be sure to bring with it an explanation from him. To this, at least, Arthur felt he had a right. He forgot that superiority of social standing brings with it a licence in the matter of insults quite unknown to those whose civil bearing is the only test of their respectability.
When Arthur reached the shop he found Mr. Tollady standing in the doorway with his hat on, as if prepared to go out.
"Could you sit in the parlour for about an hour, Arthur?" he asked; "I have to go into the City."
Arthur looked up and saw that the old man's face was much paler than usual and wore a haggard look. As he took out his watch to see the time his hand trembled perceptibly. He had the appearance of a man just risen from a bed of sickness.
"Isn't the business such that I could see to for you?" asked Arthur. "You don't look well, Mr. Tollady. It is too far for you to go this hot day."
"No, my dear boy; no, thank you," replied the old man, with a forced smile. "I must see to it myself -- myself. I hope not to be long. Have dinner as usual, of course. I have just had a mouthful of lunch and that will serve me till tea-time."
Arthur brought down his drawing-board to the back parlour, and tried to get on with his work. But reflection upon his own sources of annoyance and on Mr. Tollady's evident suffering, the cause of which the old man persisted in keeping a secret, held his thoughts from the subject in hand. The time went very slowly; it seemed as though the printer would never return. When, at length, Mr. Tollady re-entered the shop, about three o'clock, it was in a state of exhaustion which he in vain endeavoured to conceal. Dropping his trembling limbs into the wonted chair, he let his head fall backwards, and sat gazing at the ceiling in a manner which seemed to bespeak lethargy both of mind and of body. Arthur walked to his side, when he had sat thus for a few minutes, and laid his hand upon his shoulder.
"Let me persuade you to lie down upon the bed for an hour," he said, in an affectionate tone. "It pains me to see you like this, Mr. Tollady. Have you no regard for me that you refuse to pay more attention to your health, though I every day beg you to? Your face is as pale as death; I can see you are suffering. I am neglecting my duty in allowing you to remain without advice. Will you let me go and ask a doctor to see you? I am determined to do so on my own account if you leave it later than to-night."
"You shall have your way, Arthur," replied the old man, smiling feebly. "I have such pains here on my left side; just now they are very severe. I will go to the hospital to-morrow morning; I shall have better advice there. Let me rest a little now. Can you continue to draw here?"
"No, I cannot, Mr. Tollady!" exclaimed Arthur, as he saw the other pressing his hand against his side, and turning his face away to conceal its expression. "I cannot do anything whilst I see you suffer so! I am sure that you are suffering in your mind as well as in your body. This business you have been seeing to has distressed you, it has been burdening you for a long time. Are you sure that you do wisely in keeping it from me? Are you sure I could not help you in it? You do not still consider me a boy, in whom you cannot confide?"
Mr. Tollady held down his head in reflection for some moments, then he took Arthur's hand and pressed it.
"I believe you are right, Arthur," he said. "It is not because I have not the fullest confidence in you that I have hidden from you this burden on my life; I kept it to myself to spare you needless trouble. But, perhaps, it was not wise to do so; sooner or later you must know, and I have several times been on the point of telling you lately. Go upstairs to your work as usual, Arthur, for the present. After tea we will have an hour's talk together. The pain has gone for the present; I feel better."
Accordingly, when tea was over, Arthur remained downstairs in the parlour, where Mr. Tollady also sat, the door being left open in case of customers entering the shop. For a long time the old man remained buried in deep reverie, the expression of his face changing as it was in turn lit by a gleam of pleasure or darkened by the shadow of gloomy recollections. Unfortunately the shadows predominated, and from time to time a slight sigh broke from between his lips. At length the entrance of a customer called Arthur away for a moment, and when he returned Mr. Tollady had roused himself from his abstraction, and was prepared to speak.
"I have been thinking, Arthur," he commenced, "that it would not be amiss for me to tell you the complete story of my life, now that I have made up my mind to let you know the trouble that has weighed upon me for the last few years. For very nearly forty years it has been a far from eventful life; during that time I have always lived very much as you have seen me. But my early years were neither so quiet nor, I think I may say, so profitably spent. As I look back from my sixty-fifth year upon those far-off memories, I can, at times, hardly believe that it is my own history I am reviewing, so utterly do I now find myself out of accord with all the impulses which then guided me. It is not, then, from any sense of pleasure that I go back to my early days, but because I think there is a lesson to be learned from them. Every thoughtful man is capable of receiving benefit from the contemplation of other men's lives, and I feel sure you will see what warning may be derived from mine. It is, indeed, little less than a homily against a special vice that I am about to recite to you."
Arthur gazed at the speaker in surprise as he heard these words. It seemed so impossible to him to conceive of his deeply-respected friend as capable of being under the dominion of any vice. It was with a sense of pain at his heart that he listened whilst Mr. Tollady went on.
"I was born," he said, "at Ipswich, in 1805. It seems a long time ago, doesn't it, Arthur? In that year Scott published his 'Lay of the Last Minstrel'; then Byron was still at Cambridge, and Shelley, a boy at Eton. Can you believe that I was nine years old when 'Waverley' first appeared, and that I distinctly remember the delight with which my dear father then read it? It is like looking back upon a glorious dream to think of my boyhood, spent amid such wonders, both of peace and war. I remember hearing our friends talk of Wellington's victories in the Peninsula as matters of yesterday; it may be self-deception, but I have always been convinced that I could recollect my father's enthusiasm at the result of Bonaparte's Russian campaign, when I was seven; and Waterloo, with all its wild excitement at home and abroad, is yet vivid in my mind. For you, Arthur, these are all matters of history, for me they seem dear and precious remembrances of a happy time that has gone for ever.
"My father was a bookseller, and, if only he had possessed the means, would have been an excellent publisher. With him, his trade was something far more than a mere mechanical occupation, the chief end of which was to secure daily bread. Rather, he regarded it as a means for the elevation of himself and all those with whom he had business or friendship. There was not a book in his shop of which he did not possess some accurate knowledge, quite distinct from those technicalities of the trade which a bookseller usually possesses. His books were living souls in his eyes, and on me, his only child, he never ceased to impress that to damage a book was to commit a sin. 'Books are men's brains' he would say, and I shall never forget a favourite quotation of his from Milton, often uttered to me when I was a child, and intended, of course, to be taken by me in the literal sense: 'As good almost kill a man as kill a good book. Who kills a man, kills a reasonable creature, God's image; but he who destroys a good book kills Reason itself; kills the image of God, as it were, in the eye. Many a man lives a burden to the earth; but a good book is the precious life-blood of a master-spirit, embalmed and treasured up on purpose to a life beyond life.' I had to write that passage out ten times for him on one occasion, when I had wantonly torn to pieces an old volume of 'Don Quixote,' which had strayed out of its proper place.
"I was sent to a day-school at Ipswich, where, I am sorry to say, that I did not learn much besides Greek and Latin; in those days they were alone thought worthy of being seriously taught; but I learned at home what a multitude of other things the world contained of vastly more interest than Virgil and Homer, and I had in after life to add to my education by pursuing such courses of reading as my tastes naturally led me to. For beyond the age of fifteen I did not remain at school. When I was so old my father died.
"He had been far too charitable and too generous to his own family to have saved much money, and one of the first things I learned after the funeral was that I should not return to a school. I cannot say that I was sorry to hear it; in those days the fervour of boyhood was added to a naturally adventurous disposition, and I felt decided pleasure in looking forward to so great a change as was involved in beginning to work for my living.
"The sale of the house and business brought my mother a little money, with the aid of which she established herself as a dressmaker, whilst I was apprenticed to a printer. When my time was out I became assistant to the same man, and thus I worked on till I reached my twenty-first year.
"Those six years were among the most miserable of my life. I detested my business, and would gladly have run away if I had had the least idea where to go or what to do. Day after day I made my poor mother wretched with my selfish complainings, whilst she was all the while working hard to keep us both in some degree of comfort. I was but a boy, and had no eyes for my mother's sufferings.
"I think it would be impossible for any youth to be more selfish than I was during these years. I had no thought but for my own annoyances, my own wishes and plans, and many an evening did I embitter for my mother by spending it in unceasing complaints of our poverty, and descriptions of the indescribably selfish things I would do if I were once rich. All my dear father's lessons seemed to have passed away from my mind I hate myself when I look back at these years. How heartless, how despicable I must have been!
"But at last came my twenty-first year, and with it came the news from my mother that an uncle of mine, who had died two years before, had left me a thousand pounds. I thought I should have gone mad when I heard this. A thousand pounds was for me a fortune. My visions were realised, and I was rich.
"In vain did my poor mother try to make me sensible, to advise me as to the use I ought to make of this money, to put before me, though in no selfish manner, the help it would be to her if I were to settle down in a business of my own, live with her still, and do my best to thrive. I was utterly deaf to all this. One idea alone possessed me, and that was a desire to see the world. For years this had been my ardent wish, and now I had the power of fulfilling it.
"When my mother heard this purpose she sighed and went away to her own room, doubtless to weep. I thought nothing of her grief. I do not believe that even then I was base and hard-hearted. The truth was that I did not realise my mother's position; I knew nothing of the world, and could not deem it possible that she had serious need of my assistance, though such was indeed the case. She was too fond of me to hold out long against my determination, and so, with many promises to write frequently, and not to be away more than a few months, I set off to see foreign countries. Was there ever such a young madman?
"I was away three whole years. I saw something of most countries of Europe, of India, and of America. Everywhere I lived as cheaply as possible, and in one or two cases I worked my passage from country to country. Often do I re-travel in thought over all that I saw in those three years, and, separated from the other circumstances of my life, how delightful is the memory of it to me.
"The mountains and the valleys of Switzerland became familiar to me, the grand old Italian cities, the vineyards, the blue Mediterranean, each place I came to I thought I should stop there for ever; but my eager and restless spirit drove me away. I walked through the streets of Athens, rushing thence to Constantinople, and thence again to the banks of the Ganges. I lived for a month at Benares, and can still see it as well as if I had been there yesterday; its bridge of boats across the river, its ghauts where I lounged and bathed, its numberless mosques and temples, its sacred bulls which roamed at will through the streets and bazaars, and over all that fierce Indian sun which so baked my skin that I often fancy it is still darker than that of most Europeans.
"Many other cities I wandered through, and I even saw the everlasting snow on the crests of the Himalayas. Thence I came back once more to Europe, passed over into Africa, saw the Nile. In Cairo I lived some weeks. How distinctly I can see its red-and-white minarets, its dark and narrow streets, and hear the eternal shouting of the hucksters and beggars. And the view from Mount Mokattam! There, as you looked eastward, stretched the long line of tombs, where the old caliphs sleep. To the west you saw the Nile, like a streak of silver, and, far away beyond, the distant Pyramids rising dim and ghostly out of the desert. Oh, the walks and rides at evening around this city, through the groves of fig-trees, of tamarisks, and acacias!
"After this the dream seems suddenly to change, and I find myself in Spain, rushing with an enthusiasm, that was almost frenzy, over the scenes I had learned to love years before in 'Don Quixote.' I was now comparatively near home, but I had not as yet been away two years, and not a thought of returning crossed my mind. I wrote occasionally to my mother, but did not expect to hear in return, so uncertain were my movements.
"The Atlantic was now before me, and I crossed it, working my passage in a French vessel from Marseilles. On arriving in the States, impatient of towns and all the evidence of civilisation, I plunged at once into the wilderness. For a long time I lived with an English family which had established itself in a spot nearly two hundred miles distant from any other settlement, and here I worked in the labour of clearing till I got weary of it. Then I visited Niagara, the vision of which still, at the distance of more than forty years, occasionally haunts my sleep; I saw the great lakes, and thence passed into Canada. But already I was growing weary of my mad restlessness.
"Very shortly I made my way back to New York, and arrived there just as my money came to an end. Now the business I had learned, and which I had formerly so much despised, stood me in good stead. For nearly half a year I worked as a printer, saving up till I should have enough money to return to England. That day at last came, and I once more crossed the Atlantic.
"I found myself again in Ipswich, after an absence of almost precisely three years. During my voyage homewards I had reflected much, and already a change was working in my inward nature; already that repentance for my folly was beginning which was to last to the end of my life.
"I reached my native town with a heart full of uneasy apprehensions. Should I find my mother in health? Should I find her well-to-do, or poor? For the first time I reflected seriously upon her position, and asked myself how she had endeavoured to live during these years of my absence. Had it been wise in me to leave her so completely alone? For she had no relative of her own, and my father's relations all lived in other parts of England. A terrible uneasiness, the beginning of a dreadful self-reproach, seized upon me by degrees. Between my disembarkment at Liverpool and my arrival at Ipswich I neither ate nor slept; and in those days, you must remember, travelling was a very different thing from what it is now.
"I went to our old house, and saw at once that it was inhabited by strangers. I went thence to the house of my father's most intimate friend, and I found him dead. In an agony of apprehension I hurried to the house of another acquaintance, and here at length received intelligence. It was nearly a year and a half since my mother had left Ipswich for London, hoping to earn a better living than she was able to at home. I was told her address, and, after only an hour's pause for refreshment, started for London.
"Arthur, may you never suffer in your mind as I suffered during that journey. It is sufficient if I say that my punishment was proportionable to my fault, and that, as you have learned, was almost unpardonable.
"The address I sought was in a poor quarter in the East End, and, when I found it, appeared to be an ordinary lodging-house. A girl who came to the door knew nothing of the name I asked for, but, on my requesting that she would make further inquiry in the house, she called down the landlady. This woman remembered my mother well enough. Mrs. Tollady, she told me, had lived with her about half a year, only occasionally paying her rent, and, to all appearances, making next to nothing out of her sewing. It was now some months since she had suddenly been taken with a serious illness, had been removed to the infirmary -- and there had died."
Mr. Tollady again paused and sat long in silence, struggling with the bitter emotion which his story had awakened in himself.
Arthur knew not how to console him, and, a customer entering the shop, he was glad to withdraw from the room for a few minutes. When he returned, the printer roused himself from his depression, and smiled sadly.
"I did not think it would have cost me so much to tell you all this, Arthur," he said. "I had thought I could speak of it aloud with as much calmness as I have grown accustomed to go over the horrible story in my own mind, for there is not a day passes without its being all acted over afresh before me. Now you know the worst, and I feel relieved. I hope the pain it has given you will be compensated by the lesson my conduct teaches.
"I shall not endeavour to describe to you my state of mind during the months, nay, the years that followed. At first I seriously believe that I was as near suicide as ever man was who did not actually yield to the temptation. I woke night after night from hideous dreams, in which the figures of my father and mother appeared to me in all kinds of situations; now on the precipices overhanging Niagara, now on the top of one of the Pyramids, now in the dreadful silence of a western prairie, always with angry faces, cursing me for my selfish cruelty.
"How often I have dreamt that I fled before these terrible images, and, as the only means of escape, leaped wildly into the chaos of a terrific cataract -- and then awaken only to bitterly regret that the dream was not true, and that I still lived in my agony.
"Well, by degrees my suffering lessened, as all suffering, sooner or later, must, and I began to think of how I should expiate the crime of a mother's murder, for of that I sincerely accounted myself guilty. At length I came to the resolution simply to do all the good in my power for my fellow-creatures, never to let a day go by without having assisted by word or deed someone who was in suffering and want.
"I was then earning my living as a journeyman printer in this very house. I did not earn very much; but out of that I forced myself to save enough to always have a few coppers in my pocket for charity. By degrees, too, I bought myself a few second-hand books, among them most of the historians and the poets that you see now on my shelves, and, in what leisure time I could get, worked hard to improve my very defective education. And very thankful I am that I did so, as it has enabled me to help you a little, Arthur, in your own self-education.
"Well, well, all that happened a long time ago, long before you were born, and probably there is not a person now living who remembers me in those early days. I shall not trouble you with the story of my life from year to year; it was very quiet and uninteresting, for I never again left London, or this house except for a long country walk now and then on Sunday, when I returned to my dear botanising, and by degrees made the collection we have so often looked over together.
"I must hurry on to the matter which just now most concerns me, the trouble which has led to my telling you the story of my life. You must know that for fifteen years I was employed by the same master, an excellent man, whom I truly loved and honoured, at the end of which time he took me into partnership with him. Our business was then a very good one, and seemed to promise constant improvement. Five years after becoming a partner, we were in a position to purchase together the house we worked in. Not two months after the completion of this purchase my dear old friend died -- he was then sixty -- and by will bequeathed his share in the house to me. So that the house became my own.
"For some years I continued to prosper in my business. I used to employ five men and a boy, and I even thought at times of removing to a larger place. But then, almost before I knew it, my profits began to decrease. I don't know whether it was that I was already growing old and losing my energy, or whether several other large printing-offices that had opened round here took away my customers. At all events, within three or four years I had dropped down to one man and a boy, and had scarcely employment for these. I was obliged to let the top part of the house, and, shortly after, to turn my office here into a shop, and become half news vendor, half stationer, still, however, continuing to do whatever printing I could get.
"It was very shortly after this that you came to me, and I have no need to tell you how the business went on in succeeding years. One thing, however, happened, that you, of course, know nothing of. Seven years ago exactly I was visited by a man in a wretched state of poverty, who gave as his reason for calling on me the fact that he had had an uncle of my name. A little talk showed me that he was the son of my mother's brother, who had for many years been dead, but whose name I recognised at once when mentioned to me. He told me that he had been a publican, but had fallen on ill-luck, and had now nothing but the workhouse before him unless I could afford him help of some kind. It was impossible for me to give him any employment, but it was no less impossible to refuse assistance to a relative of my poor mother.
"I felt that I must do something for him; I was not in very good health at the time, and conceived a sort of superstition that this man was sent to me as a means of atoning in some poor degree for the sins of my younger years. Giving him all the ready-money I then possessed, which was a very paltry sum, I requested him to see me again on the following day.
"In the meantime I went to the only wealthy acquaintance I possessed. This was Mr. Henry Waghorn, an elder brother of the Mr. Waghorn who has just married Miss Gresham. I had done a good deal of printing for him from time to time, and had found him a pleasant, straightforward, generous gentleman. Summoning all my boldness, I went to Mr. Waghorn, stated to him my need and asked him whether he would lend me a hundred pounds on the security of my house. Before he consented, he went on to question me in a most friendly manner about my own business. I told him frankly my position, and thereupon he offered to lend me three hundred pounds, so that I might have the advantage of a little capital for myself, with the assistance of which he thought I might revive my business. This I refused, but I was at length persuaded to accept of two hundred. This was secured by a mortgage on my house, by the terms of which it was arranged that the principal should be repaid in five years, during which time I was to pay at stated intervals a certain rate of interest.
"With the money I went off rejoicing. I spent half of it in establishing my relative in a coffee-house in Holborn, for he seemed best fitted for this, and he still does an excellent business. For a few weeks after I had so assisted him, he visited me occasionally, then he ceased to come entirely, and for more than six years he has never been near my shop."
"The ungrateful fellow!" exclaimed Arthur, indignantly. "And you say he prospers! I wonder you ever gave away another penny in charity."
"Not so, my dear boy," replied the old man, calmly. "Such cases of ingratitude are, happily, very rare, and a long life among the poor has convinced me that real gratitude is pretty certain to reward the vast majority of one's efforts to do good. But I must hasten to the end of this miserable business. I continued to pay my interest regularly; but the prospect of having to pay the principal lay as a terrible burden night and day upon my mind. Notwithstanding the hundred pounds, my business showed no signs of improvement; I could not imagine how the money was to be paid.
"As the period drew near, I one day visited Mr. Waghorn and told him I feared he must take possession of my house, as I saw now no possibility of paying more than a small portion of the debt. But he behaved to me with noble generosity: 'We will say nothing about the principal when the time comes,' he said. 'You shall just continue to pay the interest, as you have been doing, and also pay a portion of the principal whenever you are able. Don't trouble your mind about it. I am rich, and can very well wait for my money.'
"After this he exerted himself to procure me customers, and with some success. That was just the time when you were beginning to be of great service to me, Arthur, and you remember our business throve better than it had done for a long time. To cut the tale short, I paid off portions of the principal by degrees, and by the beginning of last April owed only one hundred. But just then Mr. Waghorn died.
"His death has been a serious misfortune to me. Nearly all Mr. Henry Waghorn's property, it seems, has gone to his brother John, Miss Gresham's husband, and amongst it this mortgage on my house. Mr. John Waghorn is sadly different from his brother. Though he is now very wealthy, he has taken advantage of the fact that the period for the payment of his principal has gone by without any definite renewal, and yesterday he announced to me that the whole must be paid within three months from the present date, or, if not, he claims the house. There, you have the secret of my misery, Arthur. You know that I am utterly unable to pay this money, and ----"
The old man did not finish the sentence, but sank back again into a state of sad reverie.
Arthur sprang to his feet, his blood boiling with indignation.
"The mean rascal!" he exclaimed. "I felt sure that that was his character, even from the little I knew of him. I knew that his visits here were the cause of your suffering, that that mean face of his could bring nothing else! Will he not wait a year, half a year?"
"Not a moment longer than the three months. And he takes credit to himself for being so generous as to allow that, though I believe the law would compel it."
"A hundred pounds!" cried Arthur. "Why, it is nothing, after all. The miserable fellow shall have his hundred pounds, with interest and what not in the bargain, and then we will hiss him out of the shop. Do you forget that I am a rich man, Mr. Tollady?"
He laughed gaily as he spoke, endeavouring to cheer the old man; but. the latter rose from his chair with a grave expression upon his face, and took Arthur's hands in his.
"I was prepared for this, Arthur," he said, "and prepared to resist it. If it had been possible to hide the affair from you completely I should have done so, but it was not. I could not allow you to try and obtain this money. I could not, indeed, Arthur."
"But why not?" cried the young man. "You know we have agreed that my interest, as Mr. Gresham pays it me quarterly, goes to our common expenses of whatever kind. Where is the harm in forestalling two or three quarters in order to keep a roof over our heads? Surely that is a very necessary expense, Mr. Tollady?"
"No, no. It is not just that you should suffer for my debts. We must not speak of it, Arthur."
"Suffer!" cried the other. "Whether do you think I shall suffer most, of the loss of a little money, or by seeing you driven out of house and home, and having myself to look out for a dwelling in a strange place when I love this old house so well? It is you that are unjust, Mr. Tollady! Will you not allow me to do this little service for you? Is it fair or right that you should keep the power of conferring kindnesses to yourself, and not allow me to exercise it when I can? I insist upon seeing Mr. Gresham before I go to bed to-night; you must allow me!"
Mr. Tollady still resisted, but was at length obliged to yield to Arthur's vehemence. Without a moment's delay the latter started out for Portland Place. Once or twice on the way he thought of what had occurred when he last saw Mr. Gresham, but that was a matter of such little importance compared with what he now had in hand that he dismissed all thought of it from his mind. He had not a doubt with regard to the success of his mission. His heart throbbed with the pleasure of being able to benefit his old friend.
At the same time Mr. Gresham was sitting alone in the library, in no very pleasant mood. As it was Tuesday night, Helen had gone to her evening school, a circumstance very distasteful to her guardian, who could now scarcely suffer her to be out of his sight. It irritated him to think that he was of so little account in her daily life, that her principal friends were people entirely strange to him, that her 'aims were of such a nature as altogether to exclude him from any participation in them. Every day, as his own uncontrollable passion continued to grow in vehemence, he clearly perceived that Helen became constantly more distant in her intercourse with him. He half suspected that he had betrayed his secret, and that his ward was adopting this method of discouraging him. The effect upon his temperament of this unceasing agitation -- agitation all the more severe because he had never hitherto experienced anything of the kind -- was to convert his equable cynic's mood by degrees into harshness and irritability. He was intensely angry with himself for nourishing a sentiment which he had hitherto ridiculed with such persistent sarcasm, and, with the injustice of a man whose only philosophy is founded on habitual deception of himself and the world, visited his bad temper on whosoever had the misfortune to be a safe object of insult. Love performs very curious metamorphoses on different characters, but perhaps its operations are almost always for the better. In the present case, however, this was not so. Whereas, Mr. Gresham had previously been only rather cold in temperament and a good deal affected, love had now made him mean and despicable.
When Arthur's visit was announced to him, he first bade the servant say he was from home, but the next moment altered his mind and ordered that he should be admitted. Accordingly Arthur appeared in the library.
"You come at an unusual time, Mr. Golding," said the artist, in a distant tone. "What can I do for you?"
"A great kindness, Mr. Gresham," returned Arthur, somewhat abashed by his reception, but determined to do his utmost. He then went on to relate the chief circumstances connected with Mr. Tollady's loan, and to describe the difficulties in which the printer at present found himself. The artist suddenly cut him short as he approached the end of the story --
"And the object of all this, Mr. Golding?" he said, abruptly. "Excuse me, but your tale is a trifle long and not as interesting as it might be."
"My object, sir," returned Arthur, preserving his calmness with a great effort, "is to endeavour to spare Mr. Tollady the severe suffering which is threatening him. It can be done so easily. If you would so deeply oblige me as to allow me the use of the sum I need, advancing it upon the interest which will fall due to me this year and next, this claim could then be satisfied, and a very deserving man would be freed from the danger of being driven out of house and home. Mr. Tollady is sixty-five years old, and in very feeble health. I dread to think of the result of his having to seek a new home, and perhaps a new occupation, under such circumstances as these."
The young man paused, and, keeping his eyes steadily fixed on Mr. Gresham's face, waited a reply with a throbbing heart.
"I am very sorry, Mr. Golding," returned the artist, with a rather malicious sneer, "but I am altogether unable to comply with this request. I must beg you to remember that your legacy is not, strictly speaking, due to you till you become of age, which you will not do for about a year and a half. Thinking the money might be of use to you I took upon myself the responsibility of paying the interest before you could really claim it. I have no objection to continue doing so, but I should not feel justified in advancing large sums to you. It is quite impossible."
A sudden chill passed over the young man's frame as he heard these words pronounced, but the next moment he flushed hot with righteous anger at the insulting manner in which he had been reminded of his dependent position. Close upon the anger followed intolerable shame. For a moment he turned away, and with difficulty kept back the tears from rushing to his eyes. Then again came the memory of Mr. Tollady, and bitter disappointment took the place of all other feelings.
"I am sorry you cannot d6 this kindness for me, Mr. Gresham," he suddenly exclaimed, "but perhaps I should not have ventured to ask it, it was requesting too much. But you have it in your power to help us in another way, if you will. I cannot think that you will refuse to do so. Mr. Waghorn is now your son-in-law. Will you ask him to put off his claim for another year? I am sure you will do me this kindness, sir? Mr. Waghorn has no need of this money. A hundred pounds are scarcely as much to him as one pound is to Mr. Tollady. Will you ask him to give us a year longer. I am sure we can pay off the debt in that time. Only a year!"
Arthur forgot everything in the eagerness of his pleading. He felt that this was his last resource. Should this fail him, he knew not what evils might ensue. His impassioned tones and the glow which mantled his fine features as he spoke would have vanquished any ordinary obduracy. But Mr. Gresham's jealousy was by no means an ordinary obstacle. It showed no sign of yielding.
"I am really very unfortunate, Mr. Golding," replied the artist, "in my utter inability to serve you. Though Mr. Waghorn, as you remind me, is now my relative, I have absolutely no concern in his private affairs. He is at present on the Continent, too, and I could not apply to him if I wished. I am sure you will see that it is impossible for me to do what you wish."
Arthur was beginning to speak again, but Mr. Gresham interrupted him.
"I regret that I have no time at present for further conversation, Mr. Golding," he said. "Indeed I have already allowed you to detain me too long. I must really say good-night. Bye-the-by, you remember that I am engaged to-morrow?"
Arthur rose to his full height, looked for a moment sternly into the artist's face with a look before which the latter dropped his eyes, then bowed and left the room without a word, with the same stern expression on his countenance. With set lips, clenched fists, and throbbing veins, he walked rapidly along the streets homewards. Already he had made up his mind what to do. The very next morning he would say good-bye to his painting for ever and henceforth would devote himself to his dear benefactor. His exact plan of conduct this was no moment for deciding. Sufficient that he knew his duty and was determined to perform it.
When he reached Charlotte Place he was surprised to find that the shop was not lit up as usual, for by this time it was quite dark. Stepping quickly inside he saw that the parlour at the back was also in darkness. All at once every drop of blood in his body seemed to rush to his heart, he gasped for breath. Manning himself with a desperate effort he stepped to the parlour door and called Mr. Tollady's name. There was no reply. He ran to the foot of the stairs and called repeatedly and loudly, the perspiration breaking out upon his body in the intensity of his nameless dreads. Still no reply came. Hurrying back through the darkness into the shop, he groped for the matches in their usual place and hurriedly struck a light. With this burning in his hand he entered the parlour. He had just time to see that Mr. Tollady was sitting in his arm-chair, when the match went out. He struck another, and with it lit a candle that stood on the mantel-piece; then drew near to the printer, and, thinking him asleep, laid his hand upon his shoulder to shake him. As he did so, the old man fell forward into his arms. Arthur hastily raised him, and held the candle close to his face, calling his name the while in loud and rapid tones. But not a breath stirred the flame; there was no intelligence in the clear eyes which seemed to regard their questioner: Mr. Tollady was dead.
Speechless and horror-stricken, Arthur Golding stood for full a minute, holding with his right hand the dead man upright in the chair, while the candle, still close to the pale features, trembled in his left. Involuntarily he had endeavoured to give utterance to a cry of pain and terror, but, though his lips were widely parted, no sound escaped them. The eyes of the corpse were still open, and seemed to gaze upon him with a resemblance to life which held him fixed as with a horrible charm. At length he forced himself to turn away and put down the light upon the table; then he once more leaned his ear close against the breathless lips, and, suddenly seized with terror at the dreadful silence, fled from the room out into the street. A minute brought him to the shop of John Pether, the umbrella mender, into which he burst with breathless haste.
John Pether was sitting in the little room which formed his shop, upon a low stool, closely engaged in divesting an old umbrella of its last strips of tattered silk. A small oil lamp stood upon a very ricketty table, and its light fell strongly upon his features, showing all their grim and sallow meagreness with hideous effect against the dark background of the rest of the shop. The wine-coloured stain upon his left cheek seemed more than usually distinct to-night, and as he sat working he bit his lips with a species of ferocity. His face was strongly smeared with grime, and his long, skeleton-like hands, which rent the silk as if they took a pleasure in destruction, were black and hairy like those of a gorilla. The effect of his eyes, as he turned them upon Arthur's sudden entrance, was that of two very small black spots in the centre of two spheres of gleaming white. On hearing the young man's stammered words of explanation, he rose from his stool, interlacing his long fingers, and stood leaning forward with an expression upon his face as if he not yet understood what had happened.
"Mr. Tollady ill, you say?" he asked, in the slow, hollow tones of one who is not accustomed to speak much.
"He is dead!" cried Arthur. "I can see no trace of life! Come with me and look!"
John Pether followed him immediately, and they entered the dark shop together. There in the back parlour they found the corpse sitting upright in the chair, the candle faintly illumining the room. The umbrella-mender took the light, and, as Arthur had done, approached it to Mr. Tollady's face. In a moment he set it down again and faced his companion.
"Dead," he remarked, with hollow emphasis. "How did it happen?"
Arthur recounted the events of the evening as far as Mr. Tollady was concerned, whilst John Pether still kept his eyes fixed upon the corpse.
"Heart-disease, no doubt," added the latter, when the young man had finished. "I have expected it for years. Help me to lay him upon the bed."
Together they lifted up the old man's body and laid it down again upon the bed, which they previously opened out.
"He had an easy death," said John Pether, gloomily, regarding the calm and noble countenance. "May we die as easily."
Again he bent over the prostrate body, and Arthur, half awed at his gloomy impassibility, stood regarding him. As he watched he saw a change come over the seared features, passion seemed to convulse them and to pass over the man's entire body, making him tremble in every limb. Then the hollow voice once more broke the silence, but speaking with a terrible concentration of energy which almost froze the hearer's blood.
"Another gone," it said. "Another trodden down into the grave in the struggle against the tyranny of kings and princes, of idle lords, and all the pestilent army of the rich, whose rank breath poisons the bitter crust they throw to us! How many more, how many more of us shall perish before we learn the courage of the dog which leaps at its tormentor's throat? Year after year I have watched you, Samuel Tollady, starving yourself that half a dozen of us feeble wretches should creep on a few paces longer before we dropped into the gutter and died; year after year I have known you a friend to those of us whom hunger and despair had made worse than savage beasts, always bidding us remember we were men and hope that we should some day have our rights; year after year you have toiled without ceasing for others, and at last despair of helping all you could has killed you. How many more, how many more? You fought it out well to the end, Samuel Tollady, but you have lost. You were too kind, too good, too tender for a fight like this. Your voice was as little able to call back freedom or justice to the earth as this candle that lights up your dead face would be to take the place of the sun and light up the whole world! Your struggle against our tyrants was like a pebble thrown into the sea, it could make no more impression! Year after year I have told you the truth, but you refused to believe me. It is not gentleness and kindness and forgiving words that will end our miseries, but swords and cannon-balls and every river of the earth red with blood. It is good you are gone; the fight that is coming would have been too stern for you; your heart would have been moved to pity by the shrieks of dying wretches when the hour came for killing, and killing without mercy, man, woman and child. We will make the earth fat with their thick blood, and it will grow us better bread! We will pull down their palaces which shut out the air of heaven, and build houses out of the ruins, for we are tired of creeping into dens for our rest!"
Here he turned suddenly and seized Arthur by the hand.
"Come," he cried hoarsely, working himself with each utterance into fiercer excitement, "come and swear over the body of this good man! Swear that when the hour comes -- and it may be nearer than you think -- you will take a sword with the rest of us and kill without mercy! Swear that never till you lie stiff and cold, like this man, will you make peace with the tyrants of the earth! Swear that you will never be the friend of a rich man, that you will never enter the house of one but to destroy it! Swear all this, in the presence of Death, who shall be our only king!"
Despite himself, Arthur became imbued with a portion of the speaker's enthusiasm as he listened to his fierce words; the touch of the man's hands seemed to send a current of hot passion along all his veins. With face deadly pale and voice almost as hollow and ghostlike as that of John Pether himself, he solemnly pronounced the words: "I swear." At the same moment he thought of Mr. Gresham, and felt capable of fulfilling his oath to the letter. His companion then pressed his hand with a force which seemed intended to crush every joint in it, and strode in silence out of the house.
Thus, left alone, Arthur first of all closed the shop in the usual manner, then returned to the parlour and lit the lamp. This illumined the room more completely and deprived it, in some degree, of its ghostly horrors. By this time he had shaken off the nervousness which hitherto possessed him, and he could now bend over the face of his dead benefactor with no feelings save of affection and sorrow. As he stood carefully perusing every lineament, as if he wished to impress the countenance firmly upon his mind for ever, a natural emotion at length got the better of his firmness, and, sinking on his knees by the side of the bed, he burst into a flood of tears. All the dead man's unspeakable goodness to him passed through his mind, heightened by that intense light of sudden conviction which so frequently breaks upon us in similar situations. He saw himself coming into the printer's shop eight years ago, a struggling, hard-worked child, trembling in doubt whether his services would be accepted; he saw again with perfect distinctness Mr. Tollady's friendly smile of encouragement, that smile which for sweetness he had never seen equalled on the face of any other man, and heard his voice speaking in tones so different from those of harsh vulgarity with which alone he had been familiar. Then the many, many hours spent in delightful study by the old man's side passed before his mind's eye, each illumined with bright sunshine. He could not believe that any one of those hours had been otherwise than hours of sunshine. Then, still later, came the first serious awakening of the artist's genius within him, and he remembered, with tearful gratitude, how Mr. Tollady had noticed its first manifestations and had fostered it by all the means in his power. Surely it was impossible for any man to excel this one in all perfection of tender virtues. In this moment of supreme grief Arthur felt the full grandeur of the dead man's character, and experienced an ardent desire to emulate his goodness. Still kneeling by the bedside, he took a solemn, though a silent vow, henceforth to devote his whole energy, even as his friend had done, to rendering more happy the lives of others. Henceforth he would be dead to art, for it seemed to him useless labour, devoid of benefit to the struggling masses of mankind. He would work for his living, but only in his trade of printer; thus, he conceived, he would be benefiting the world even by the toil which brought him his daily bread. All his leisure hours he would devote to works of charity and goodwill, to the utmost that lay within his power. How much even a very poor man can do, if only actuated by a sincere spirit, Mr. Tollady's memory would never fail to remind him.
But before he threw aside his pencil for ever it must perform for him one more service, secure to him one more everlasting pleasure. Once more lighting the candle, he went upstairs to his room and fetched a sheet of drawing-paper. With this he descended again to the parlour, and, having tenderly raised the dead man's head into a suitable position, he commenced to draw the outlines of the high and noble forehead, the closed eyes, the lips even now wearing the half-smile which gave so much attractiveness to the face during life. Slowly and carefully he continued the portrait, lingering with affectionate hand over every trail, not omitting a wrinkle or the slightest gradation of shade. For three hours he bent over the drawing, never satisfied that he could not add yet another touch to render it more complete. When at length it was finished, Arthur wrote the date and his own initials in one corner, and laid the drawing aside. It was one o'clock. Turning the lamp out, he took the lighted candle in hand, and, bending over the corpse, tenderly kissed its forehead. Then he drew the counterpane of the bed carefully over the body, and went to his rest.
He slept soundly till six o'clock, for the violent emotions of the evening, so various and succeeding each other in such quick succession, had resulted in deadly fatigue. Though still longing to sleep, he resolutely rose from his bed and dressed. At eight o'clock the man whom Mr. Tollady had employed in the printing-office would come, and it would be necessary to apprise him of what had happened, to pay and dismiss him. There was moreover one task which must be performed before Arthur could have peace of mind. As soon as he had risen he took a sheet of paper and an envelope and addressed himself to its fulfilment. After some reflection he succeeded in penning the following letter, directed to Mr. Gresham: --
"I grieve to have to inform you that Mr. Tollady died suddenly last night. I found him lifeless in his chair on returning home from my interview with you.
"This event confirms a resolution I had all but determined upon when I left your house last night -- never to enter it again. I have no doubt whatever that Mr. Tollady's death was hastened by trouble consequent upon the circumstances you learned from me; and though we now see that even your assent to my request would have been powerless to save him, yet it would be impossible for me to continue to feel myself indebted for the slightest favour to one who would not open his lips in behalf of a man he knew so worthy.
"I am altogether unaware what can have caused the strong signs of disfavour which you have shown to me during the last few days; but as I have already once begged an explanation and been refused, it is needless to express any regret at having offended you. It only remains for me to say that I shall, of course, cease from this day to receive the money which you last night told me I could not really claim. I sincerely regret even having accepted a penny of it. If I live to my twenty-first birthday it is possible I may then address you again on the subject, but till then I trust I may never be compelled to intrude upon your leisure.
This letter was despatched at once, after which Arthur breathed freely once more. He could not conceal from himself that he had a double object in writing it, however. Whilst his main wish was doubtless to express to Mr. Gresham that righteous indignation which took irresistible possession of him whenever he thought of the latter's manner during their last interview, and also to free himself from what he now regarded as merely an encumbrance in entering upon his life of labour and self-denial, viz., the money he was to receive quarterly; there was a second impulse, likewise very powerful, the desire that Helen Norman should become acquainted with his loss. For he felt sure that as soon as she heard of it, her first thought would be to visit the shop. It would be hard to say how much of the sincerest love is pure egotism, and Arthur, though he would never have acknowledged it to himself, had even some degree of pleasure in thinking that his sad position would be sure to create the strongest sympathy in Helen's heart. To be regarded by her with tenderness of any kind was, however much he might endeavour to suppress the feeling, still one of the strongest desires in the young man's breast.
Having completed this task, and having concluded his business with the man when he arrived, Arthur secured all the doors and went once more to John Pether's to consult with him on the necessary steps to be taken with regard to Mr. Tollady's burial and the settlement of his business affairs. Finding that Pether was altogether unacquainted with the story of the mortgage, Arthur related it to him, whilst the former sat and listened with an ever-dispersing gloom upon his forbidding features.
"Has he left a will?" he asked, when at length the story was finished.
"I have no idea," replied Arthur.
"Then I think you should look. There is pretty sure to be one."
"Come with me, Mr. Pether," said Arthur. "Can you spare the time?"
The umbrella-mender shrugged his shoulders, and, rising without a word, left the shop, locking the door behind him. Arrived once more in the parlour where the corpse lay, they went at once to the desk where it was known that Mr. Tollady kept all his important papers. Among the first they turned over was a sheet of foolscap, at the head of which was written, "My Will." It was dated April 3rd, 1870, and was signed and witnessed quite formally. The document ran thus: --
"As I have been warned repeatedly of late by signs which I cannot mistake that I am suffering from an affection of the heart, which I fully believe may result in my death any moment, I esteem it prudent, now that I am in possession of unimpaired faculties, to make known my last will with regard to the disposal of such property as I may own at my death.
"All property that I die possessed of I bequeath, without exception, to Arthur Golding, who has grown up from childhood in my house, and for whom I cherish the affection of a father. Should he be in a position to afford it, I trust that he will continue to bestow small gifts, from time to time, on such poor people as he knows I should like to have assisted. I beg, moreover, that he will never fail to confer any benefit in his power upon my friends John Pether and Mark Challenger. Had I been rich, both of these should have received bequests from me, but as I know that I shall die poor they will forgive my inability to do all that I gladly would. I should like them, however, to choose some book or other slight article out of what I leave behind me, and preserve it as a memento of my friendship.
"To Arthur Golding I leave, moreover, my most fervent good wishes for his future happiness, and my gratitude for the pleasure his true affection has ever afforded me. I trust that he will never forget what was the main object of my life, and that he will do his best to continue that work as long as he lives."
Arthur read this with difficulty, on account of tears which filled his eyes, and even John Pether's hard countenance betrayed signs of emotion. After a short pause they continued the work of examining the papers in the desk. There was very little of importance, the chief articles being several bundles of letters neatly tied up and docketed, and one or two old manuscript volumes, which appeared to be a diary kept abroad many years ago. Having fastened up the desk again, the two went out together and spent the rest of the day in the transaction of necessary business.
On the third day after his death Mr. Tollady was buried. A very favourite walk of the old man's, on Sunday evenings, had been by Highgate Cemetery, and here Arthur resolved that he should have his last resting-place. Arthur still possessed sufficient money to cover the expenses of the funeral. In consultation between John Pether, Mark Challenger and himself, it was determined that the ceremony should be of the simplest nature, or rather that there should be no ceremony at all. The deceased had never made any secret of his religious opinions, though no man could have been less fond of making a display of them, and the three friends knew well that a simple burial, devoid of the affectation of a service which could have had no significance for him, would be the best way of testifying their deep respect for his memory.
The news of Mr. Tollady's death had spread rapidly throughout the neighbourhood. So very little was he known by the more well-to-do of his neighbours, that the majority of them had long thought him mad. There was a very general opinion, too, among these worthy people, that he was immensely rich, in short an absolute miser, and some little conversation now arose with regard to the manner in which his money would be disposed of, if anyone should be so lucky as to find it. Most of them, however, heard of his death with a shrug of the shoulders, and some such exclamation as, "Poor old bloke! I wonder he lived so long. Never left his 'ouse for ten years, have he?" But there were great numbers of the miserably poor round about to whom the news of the printer's death was a veritable affliction. It meant to them the sudden loss of frequent kindly assistance, of help and advice in sickness, of consolation in trouble, of a friend in the best sense of the word. Many was the boy and girl, the children of drunken or criminal parents, who had to thank Mr. Tollady for getting them a situation, when they could find no one else who would "speak for them" to employers. Many an ill-used wife remembered him gratefully for services performed on her behalf with a brutal husband, words spoken in scorn which went with forcible directness to the wretch's heart and made him either ashamed of his cowardice, or at least afraid to repeat it. Many an honest workingman had found in him an earnest friend whose advice was invaluable in restoring something like domestic quietness to a home which was threatened with destruction. How often had he paid a trifling fine for some pennyless victim of drunken folly, and so saved him from the imprisonment which would, in all probability, have proved his ruin. Not a few families there were with whom it had become quite a custom to seek out Mr. Tollady if a boy or girl had shown signs of going the wrong way, trusting implicitly to his influence to check them while yet there was time, and seldom disappointed in their hopes. With such poor people as these, victims of the world's vices much more than of their own, the good old man had stood on terms of the most intimate familiarity. He, a man who had been at great pains to provide himself with a good education, had the completest sympathy with the most brutal forms of ignorance; he who was to the day of his death absolutely pure and chaste, did not feel himself repelled from the vilest of the vile if he felt that he could do them good. And all this good work had been performed so quietly, so unpretentiously, with such an extreme regard for the feelings of those who were its objects, that now when their benefactor's death became the subject of common talk, the people were surprised at the revelations in which the talk resulted. "Why, and did you know him, Mary?" one woman would ask of a neighbour, as they stood gossipping on their respective door-steps. "Know him! Sure I did," would be the reply. "Why, when my Billy were down wi' fever six weeks after Chris'mas who else paid the doctor as come and give him medicine?" Many such little sentences were exchanged during the day when Mr. Tollady lay in his coffin in the back parlour. And when at length the day of the funeral arrived a very large crowd of women and children had assembled round the shop door to see the coffin brought out. Many were there who wept unrestrainedly, perhaps even then they lacked their dead friend's assistance or advice, and when at length the simple coffin was borne out and deposited in the plain hearse, it was in the midst of an absolute silence, only broken by a sob here and there.
The three friends were the only mourners who followed the coffin to the grave. They rode together in a cab behind the hearse, all along the noisy thoroughfare of Tottenham Court Road, and its continuation, Hampstead Road, and so out to the Cemetery. Here in a retired corner, which they had previously visited together, they stood around the open grave whilst the body of their friend was lowered into it. Not a word broke the solemn silence. Only when the hollow sound of the first sods falling in made itself heard did Arthur's tears refuse any longer to be withheld, whilst Mark Challenger, who stood close by his side, broke into unrestrained weeping. He was a good and tender-hearted fellow, who had suffered much from wrong of many kinds, and it was his wont, as we have seen, to rail on all occasions with unsparing bitterness against the injustice of his oppressors, but had the occasion presented itself he could not have found it in his heart to hurt one of them. As he walked away with his companions from the grave, he recited to them in inarticulate tones the long story of Mr. Tollady's many kindnesses to himself personally, charging himself with all sorts of ingratitude, of which he had never been guilty, and protesting that he had lost in the printer his best and only friend. Arthur and John Pether maintained silence, the former so sad that he was unable to utter a word, the latter seeming to brood with a savage intensity, which had already become in him a species of madness, over the wrongs and sufferings which afflict the world.
Very shortly they parted, Challenger and Pether going back to their day's work, whilst Arthur, seeming to derive consolation from the bright, warm sunshine, continued to linger about the walks of the Cemetery, pausing here and there to read an inscription half-mechanically, and ever returning in the direction of the grave, which the men were still at work filling up. At last he saw their labour completed, and with a deep sigh he walked up the hill-side to the highest point of the graveyard. It was a perfect day, just at that period of the year when summer is gently fading into autumn. One or two white clouds alone flecked the deep blue above, and the intense clearness of the atmosphere rendered the colours of the trees, the grass, the flowers, and the whiteness of the marble monuments almost painfully brilliant. Reaching the top of the hill, he turned and beheld the view over distant London. At this moment it seemed to him that the dim, smoke-capped city was a veritable abode of misery, and that only here, in the midst of those who had left it for ever, was true peace to be found. A weight of melancholy, a suffering distinct from that of sorrow, pressed upon his heart, filling him with a sense of dreary and hopeless misery which he had never hitherto experienced. The future seemed dull and hopeless, the past bright with a gladness which could never return. In vain he endeavoured to shake off the intolerable load, to breathe in fresh hope from the breeze and the sunlight, to look forward to the life of energy and usefulness which he had promised himself, and in which action would be its own reward; he could not succeed in freeing himself from a gloomy presentiment that his period of gladness had gone by for ever. His thoughts, wandering at will over the whole field of his past existence, frequently rested upon the image of Helen Norman. She had never called at the shop, though she must know that Mr. Tollady was dead; and this omission on her part added to his misery. Then he burst into an exclamation of self-scorn, asking himself what reason he had to expect that Helen would take any interest in his loss. There was a whole world between them. It had only been as a promising artist that Helen had ever taken any interest in him, and now that he had done with art for ever he had at the same time done with her and all recollection of her. What business had he -- the foundling of a London slum, henceforth to work hard for his living as a common journeyman -- what business had he to be thinking of a wealthy and beautiful young lady who might one day not improbably become a striking ornament of the fashionable world? And, at this last thought, his blood worked itself into a very whirl of democratic ferocity. The world, forsooth! And he, and such as he, were of no account in this "world," formed no fraction of it! He thought of the insults he had received from Mr. Gresham; and all the lessons which life had taught him concerning the relations between rich and poor, seemed all at once to bear fruit within his heart and to make him another man. He looked back with scorn at the calm life he had hitherto led with double scorn upon the art which had absorbed his energies and kept his mind from troubling itself with all-important questions. But he assured himself that that period of his life was at an end. The hours of grief following upon his old friend's death had wrought a development in his moral being. When at length he turned from the Cemetery the west was already beginning to glow with the hues of evening, he walked with a firmer step, saying to himself that he was no longer a boy.
It is not improbable that the constant companionship of John Pether during the last few days had been not a little effectual in bringing about this mood of mind. That gloomy fanatic never allowed the sense of his wrongs to sink to rest for a moment; all his waking hours were spent in exciting himself to fresh passion; and during many years of such perpetual brooding he had at length fanned the fire of wrath within his breast to such an intense glow that it only lacked some special accession of fuel to make it burst forth in all the violence of raging insanity. John had always shown a marked inclination for Arthur, and, but for Mr. Tollady's careful and judicious interference, would have long ago made the youth a confidant of his gloomy imaginations. During the past year his visits to the printer's shop had not been as frequent as before. He had contracted increased habits of solitude, and continual privation at once added to his sense of unmerited suffering and the brooding passions aroused by it. His trade had fallen off by degrees till he had scarcely the means of livelihood, for in the neighbourhood his terrible aspect had confirmed the impression that he was a lunatic, and most people had some fear in approaching his shop. Amidst the congenial occupations of happy days Arthur had had but little leisure or inclination to busy his thoughts much with this strange man and his eccentricities, but now that grief and mortification had rendered his mind susceptible to gloomy impressions he found a decided pleasure in the umbrella-mender's society. Each evening since Mr. Tollady's death they had spent in company, Arthur sitting a silent listener whilst John Pether, with unwonted fluency, had recounted circumstances in his life, at times working himself into paroxysms of passion terrible to witness.
To-night they met again in the back-parlour, and sat there till it was very late. Pether was not much disposed for conversation this evening, but Arthur was unusually talkative. He related to his companion many events of past years which he had hitherto told to no one but Mr. Tollady, and passed on to an account of his relations with Mr. Gresham, of which his hearer as yet knew nothing beyond that he had been receiving instruction from the artist. Arthur spoke of Helen Norman, too. John Pether was a somewhat strange confidant for such topics, but the young man had no other acquaintance with whom he could speak, and at present the abnormal activity of his mind rendered it absolutely necessary that he should give utterance to what he thought. He spoke of her as any stranger might have done, making mention of her kindness to the poor, and the reciprocal friendliness which had at once grown up between her and Mr. Tollady.
"Tollady was always too ready to trust to appearance," put in John Pether, gloomily.
Arthur bit his lip and paused. Even now he could not bear to hear Helen spoken of slightingly.
"She has not been here since his death," he said, after a moment's silence, as if speaking to himself. "And yet she knows of it."
"How could you expect it from a woman?" returned the other, sitting with his elbows resting upon his knees, and his face between his long, hairy hands.
There was a long silence, and then John Pether suddenly raised his face, and asked --
"Did you ever know your mother?"
"She died before I was old enough to really know her," replied Arthur.
"So did mine," said Pether, speaking in slow, deep tones, and as if he had a grim pleasure in the recollection to which his thoughts were turning. "Did I ever tell you of my mother?"
Arthur looked into the speaker's eyes, which were blood-shot to-night, and almost shuddered at their expression. He shook his head.
"She murdered a man she had lived with -- perhaps my father -- and she was sentenced to be hung for it. But at that time she was on the point of giving birth to me, so that her execution was put off for a month. Then they hung her, and I was brought up in the workhouse."
Even before he had ceased speaking, he had relapsed into abstractedness, and was apparently forgetful of what he had said But his words had thrilled Arthur with horror. During the hour that followed neither spoke a word, and at the end of that time Pether rose in his usual manner and left the house in silence.
The next day but one was Sunday. During the morning Arthur went out to keep an appointment with a man to whom he had offered his services as compositor, and in his absence John Pether sat before the counter in the shop. The door was slightly ajar, admitting a long streak of sunlight, which also made its way through two round holes in the shutters. The umbrella-mender was meditating as usual, his eyes watching the moats which were making merry in the sloping shafts of light. He was in a quiet mood this morning, influenced doubtless by the cheerful weather, and beyond an occasional twitching of the fingers, as they rested upon his knees, he exhibited no sign of internal agitation. All at once the shop door was pushed open, and the veiled figure of a lady entered. Raising her veil, she stood for a moment unable to discern objects in the gloom. When at length she became aware of John Pether sitting close in front of her, she started slightly and gazed at him with surprise.
"Is Mr. Tollady at home?" she asked.
Pether regarded her countenance closely before replying, and for a moment something like a grim smile rested on his lips.
"He is," was his answer.
"Is he at liberty? Can I see him?"
"How am I to understand your answer?" repeated the visitor, shrinking a little before Pether's ill-omened eye.
"He is at home," said the man, sternly, "but neither you nor anyone else can see him -- unless you take a spade and a mattock to Highgate Cemetery and disturb the dead," he added, with a slight shrug of the shoulders.
"Do you -- do you mean he is dead?" stammered the lady, with the utmost astonishment depicted on her face.
"I do. Are not the dead at home? What better home can a man have than the grave? There no tax-gatherer comes to trouble you, no hunger, no oppression. You look surprised. Your home is not so poor and comfortless as to make you look forward with pleasure to the grave."
"I look surprised because I had no idea that Mr. Tollady was dead, that he had even been ill. When did it happen?"
"Last Tuesday night. What is your interest in him? Are you Miss Norman?"
"I am. How is it you know me?"
"I have been warned of you."
"Warned? By whom?"
"It is no matter. You have asked for Mr. Tollady, and I tell you he is dead. What more do you want?"
"Is Mr. Golding still living here?" asked Helen, after a slight pause, and with some hesitation.
"Is he at present in the house?"
"It is unnecessary to say whether he is or not. He warned me of your coming. You cannot see him."
"Do I understand you to say that he has determined not to see me in case I call?"
"You may do so. He has taken an oath never again to speak to you. Are you satisfied?"
Helen stood for almost a minute regarding the speaker's face. Not a muscle on his seared countenance moved, but his eyes spoke a struggle with inward emotion. Helen was turning to leave the shop when he suddenly rose and caught her by the arm. Her nerves were firm, and she looked into his face undismayed.
"I have been told," he said, speaking in hollow tones and more calmly than usual, "that you try to do good to the poor, to satisfy their hunger, and to clothe their nakedness. Stop, if you are wise, and don't trouble yourself with what does not concern you. What are the miseries of the poor to you? You have your great house to live in, and your fine clothes to wear; what do you know of suffering? Do you lack amusements? Haven't you your theatres and your balls, your carriages and horses to show yourself with in the park; can't you eat and drink of the best from morning to night? Isn't this enough, but you must look for new excitement in gaols and hospitals and the holes which such as we call homes? You help the poor! Do you know that every penny you give in charity, as you call it, is poison to the poor, killing their independence and that sense of liberty which is the only possession they can hope to boast of? Do you know that you accustom them to think of you rich as the lawful holders of all the fruits of the earth, from whom they must be glad to receive what scanty crumbs it pleases you to throw to them, when they ought rather to rise as one man and demand as an eternal right what you pride yourself in giving them as a boon? Go home, go home!" he added, in a softer voice, "you have a pretty face, and perhaps a good heart, but you are only a woman. The work that you make your play, the amusement of your leisure hours, is not for women's hands. Men will set to it before long, and you will see then how it ought to be done. I should be sorry to see you, or such as you, suffer for the faults of your fathers, but it is the curse of wealth that you are born under, and it will prove your destruction. Don't you know some far-off country where there are fewer people and happier, where you can play with your toys all day long and wrong no one? If you do, go there, go there quickly. Who can tell what morning you may wake and see these streets of London running with the blood of your friends and relatives. There are knives sharpening now that will before long set right the injustice of centuries, set it right far more quickly than all your gold, if you scattered it all day long about the slums and alleys. Have you studied history? Did you ever read of the French Revolution? Take warning by it, and see to your safety while you have time."
Helen stood for a few moments uncertain whether to speak in reply, but seeing that the man had resumed his seat and was apparently lost in gloomy meditation, she again drew her veil over her face and left the shop in silence. Grieving and wondering much at what she had just seen and heard, she took her way homewards. As she entered the house and was going upstairs to her own room Mr. Gresham called her into the library.
"Are you busy this afternoon, Helen?" he asked.
"Not at all," she replied.
"Then you can give me a sitting?"
"Yes," said Helen, absently. Then she suddenly asked, "Have you heard that Mr. Tollady is dead, Mr. Gresham?"
The artist looked up at her for a moment, then replied in the negative.
"He died last Tuesday," she resumed. "That will account for Mr. Golding's continued absence."
"In part, possibly," said her guardian, looking at her askance.
"Do you know any other reason?"
"Oh dear, yes," he replied, with a slight shrug, "but I did not imagine the matter of sufficient interest to you to be worth talking about. I think I told you that he had shown signs of a spirit of independence which was not very promising for his progress. Eventually he became impertinent, and one morning wrote me an indignant letter which opened with the statement that he had resolved never to enter my house again, and went on to say that he had no present need of the money I offered him, but could well afford to wait till it became legally his!"
Helen looked at him in astonishment.
"But did you not reason with him, Mr. Gresham?" she asked. "Did you not try to show him the folly of acting so?"
"You know, Helen, that I am but a poor hand at moral dissertation."
"But in so sad a case! Mr. Golding cannot have known what he was writing. Perhaps it was immediately after Mr. Tollady's death, and he was distressed with grief. You certainly answered his letter?"
"A quoi bon?"
"Surely it is worth an effort to keep a young man of such talent from throwing away his best chances, perhaps before he knows the value of them? Have you no intention of trying to bring him back?"
"Do you think my efforts would be successful? What is the result of your own visit this morning, Helen?"
He spoke with a slight bitterness of tone, though still with a smile on his face.
"My visit was not originally meant for Mr. Golding, but on hearing of Mr. Tollady's death from a strange man in the shop, I naturally asked for him. I was told that he refused to see me."
"Indeed," exclaimed the artist, with a short laugh of pleasure. "Then you have experienced his mettle. And what is your opinion of his politeness?"
"I am wholly at a loss to understand why he has taken this course. I sincerely hope he may yet see his true interests and continue to be as before. It is altogether so extraordinary, this sudden change of character."
"You are very much interested in him," said Mr. Gresham, with an unpleasant look from beneath his eyebrows.
"It is natural I should feel interested in his welfare," replied Helen. "When he was a child my father brought him home with the intention of educating him as his own son, only to be disappointed. Now that he has been so strangely discovered again, and has given promise of such a bright future, I think it would be unkindness in those more experienced than himself if they did not do their best to show him his errors."
"My studio is open to him if he chooses to return," said the artist, half averting his face.
"But will you not write and tell him so, Mr. Gresham? Write a note and let me take it to him."
"Helen," said her guardian, with some sternness, "you occasionally go too far in your disregard of conventionalities. It would be entirely improper for you to do any such thing."
"I am at a loss to see why," replied the girl, surprised at the most unusual tone and sentiment of Mr. Gresham's speech.
"If you don't see why, I can hardly explain it to you. I beg, however, Helen, that you will on no account visit that place again, or hold any kind of conversation with this Mr. Golding if you should meet him. His behaviour has not been at all such as I can approve."
An observer of manners would have been amused to hear Mr. Gresham speak these words. To hear the habitual polite mocker at everything, which others esteem serious in this life of ours, adopting the emphatic tones and language of a martinet of the first water, was indeed singular. Mr. Gresham himself, moreover, was painfully conscious of the unreality of his utterances. The very sound of his own voice made him angry.
"Do you intend to pay attention to this request of mine, Helen?" he asked, after a brief silence.
"What other request have I neglected, Mr. Gresham?" asked his ward, justly hurt at the tone in which she was addressed.
"I do not at all approve of the manner in which you spend your days, and I have frequently intimated as much."
This unkindness following upon the previous agitation of the morning, proved too much for Helen. As she stood facing her guardian, he saw great tears well to her eyes and fall upon her cheeks. These, and the expression of sorrowful astonishment which her countenance had assumed, touched him profoundly. In his heart he cursed his precipitance.
"Why, Helen, do you think I meant what I said?" he exclaimed, taking one of her hands in his own. "Pooh, pooh! I must have acted uncommonly well. That would get me a fellowship in 'a cry of players,' as Hamlet says. I would give a fortune if your face could remain just as it is now till I had conveyed it to canvas. Such a picture would make an artist's reputation. But you do not bear malice for the joke?"
"There are some subjects, in my opinion, too serious for joking on," replied the girl, hastily passing a handkerchief over her eyes. "Must I understand your injunctions with regard to Mr. Golding as also a jest, sir?"
"No, not that part of our scene," replied the artist. "There I was in earnest. You forget that I am responsible for you, Helen. If you err, I am blamed. Do you think I would lay any injunction upon you that was not for your good?"
"I am sure you would not bid me do anything that you did not think for my good."
"Which is as much as to say that I am an old fool and had better mind my own business?"
"I am sorry you should attribute such a thought to me. You are unusually severe to-day, Mr. Gresham."
"Only because I mean to be unusually kind."
"May I go?"
The artist still held her hand in his, though he did not venture to exert the least pressure on it. He found it an impossible task to retain it, however, and made no reply.
"Have you further business with me?" Helen asked, looking into his face with perfect ingenuousness.
"You will give me the sitting this afternoon?"
"I have promised."
"You have forgiven my ill-timed jest?"
"Entirely, though it grieves me that you should insist upon the other prohibition."
With a muttered exclamation the artist loosed her hand, and Helen left the room.
"Damnation!" exclaimed Mr. Gresham, as she closed the door behind her; and for the next hour he paced the library in the worst possible temper.
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