In the Year of Jubilee
Part III: Into Bondage
During his daughter's absence, Stephen Lord led a miserable life. The wasting disease had firm hold upon him; day by day it consumed his flesh, darkened his mind. The more need he had of nursing and restraint, the less could he tolerate interference with his habits, invasion of his gloomy solitude. The doctor's visits availed nothing; he listened to advice, or seemed to listen, but with a smile of obstinate suspicion on his furrowed face which conveyed too plain a meaning to the adviser.
On one point Mary had prevailed with him. After some days' resistance, he allowed her to transform the cabin-like arrangements of his room, and give it the appearance of a comfortable bed-chamber. But he would not take to his bed, and the suggestion of professional nursing excited his wrath.
'Do you write to Nancy?' he asked one morning of his faithful attendant, with scowling suspicion.
'You are telling me the truth?'
'I never write to any one.'
'Understand plainly that I won't have a word said to her about me.'
This was when Horace had gone away to Scarborough, believing, on his father's assurance, that there was no ground whatever for anxiety. Sometimes Mr Lord sat hour after hour in an unchanging position, his dull eyes scarcely moving from one point. At others he paced his room, or wandered about the house, or made an attempt at gardening -- which soon ended in pain and exhaustion. Towards night he became feverish, his hollow cheeks glowing with an ominous tint. In the morning he occasionally prepared himself as if to start for his place of business; he left the house, and walked for perhaps a couple of hundred yards, then slackened his pace, stopped, looked about him in an agony of indecision, and at length returned. After this futile endeavour, he had recourse to the bottles in his cupboard, and presently fell into a troubled sleep.
At the end of the second week, early one evening, three persons came to him by appointment: his partner Samuel Barmby, Mr Barmby, senior, and a well-dressed gentleman whom Mary -- she opened the door to them -- had never seen before. They sat together in the drawing-room for more than an hour; then the well-dressed gentleman took his leave, the others remaining for some time longer.
The promoted servant, at Mr Lord's bidding, had made a change in her dress; during the latter part of the day she presented the appearance of a gentlewoman, and sat, generally with needlework, sometimes with a book, alone in the dining-room. On a Sunday, whilst Nancy and her brother were away, the Barmby family -- father, son, and two daughters -- came to take tea and spend the evening, Mary doing the honours of the house; she bore herself without awkwardness, talked simply, and altogether justified Mr Lord's opinion of her. When the guests were gone, Stephen made no remark, but, in saying good-night to her, smiled for an instant -- the first smile seen upon his face for many days.
Mary remained ignorant of the disease from which he was suffering; in the matter of his diet, she consulted and obeyed him, though often enough it seemed to her that his choice suited little with the state of an invalid. He ate at irregular times, and frequently like a starving man. Mary suspected that, on the occasions when he went out for half-an-hour after dark, he brought back food with him: she had seen him enter with something concealed beneath his coat. All his doings were to her a subject of ceaseless anxiety, of a profound distress which, in his presence, she was obliged to conceal. If she regarded him sadly, the sufferer grew petulant or irate. He would not endure a question concerning his health.
On the day which was understood to be Nancy's last at Teignmouth, he brightened a little, and talked with pleasure, as it seemed, of her return on the morrow. Horace had written that he would be home this evening, but Mr Lord spoke only of his daughter. At about six o'clock he was sitting in the garden, and Mary brought him a letter just delivered; he looked at the envelope with a smile.
'To tell us the train she's coming by, no doubt.'
Mary waited. When Mr Lord had read the brief note, his face darkened, first with disappointment, then with anger.
'Here, look at it,' he said harshly. 'What else was to be expected?'
'Dearest Father,' wrote Nancy, 'I am sorry that our return must be put off; we hope to get back on Friday evening. Of course this will make no difference to you. -- With best love, dear father, and hoping I shall find you much better ----'
'What does she mean by behaving in this way?' resumed the angry voice, before Mary had read to the end. 'What does she mean by it? Who gave her leave to stay longer? Not a word of explanation. How does she know it will make no difference to me? What does she mean by it?'
'The fine weather has tempted them,' replied Mary. 'I daresay they want to go somewhere.'
'What right has she to make the change at a moment's notice?' vociferated the father, his voice suddenly recovering its old power, his cheeks and neck suffused with red wrath. 'And hopes she will find me better. What does she care whether she finds me alive or dead?'
'Oh, don't say that! You wouldn't let her know that you were worse.'
'What does it mean? I hate this deceitful behaviour! She knew before, of course she knew; and she left it to the last moment, so that I couldn't write and prevent her from staying. As if I should have wished to! As if I cared a brass farthing how long she stays, or, for that matter, whether I ever see her again!'
He checked the course of his furious speech, and stood staring at the letter.
'What did you say?' He spoke now in a hoarse undertone. 'You thought they were going somewhere?'
'Last year there used to be steamers that went to places on certain days ----'
'Nonsense! She wouldn't alter all their plans for that. It's something I am not to know -- of course it is. She's deceitful -- like all women.'
He met Mary's eye, suddenly turned upon him. His own fell before it, and without speaking again he went into the house.
In half-an-hour's time his bell rang, and not Mary, but the young servant responded. According to her directions, she knocked at the door, and, without opening it, asked her master's pleasure. Mr Lord said that he was going out, and would not require a meal till late in the evening.
It was nearly ten o'clock when he returned. Mary, sitting in the front room, rose at his entrance.
'I want nothing,' he said. 'I've been to the Barmbys'.' Voice and movements proved how the effort had taxed him. In sitting down, he trembled; fever was in his eyes, and pain in every line of his countenance.
Mary handed him a letter; it came from Horace, and was an intimation that the young gentleman would not return to-night, but to-morrow. When Mr Lord had read it, he jerked a contemptuous laugh, and threw the sheet of note-paper across the table.
'There you are. Not much to choose between daughter and son. He's due at business in the morning; but what does that matter? It doesn't suit his lordship to keep time.'
He laughed again, his emphasis on 'lordship' showing that he consciously played with the family name.
'But I was a fool to be angry. Let them come when they will.'
For a few minutes he lay back in the chair, gazing at vacancy.
'Has the girl gone to bed?'
'I'll tell her she can go.'
Mary soon returned, and took up the book with which she had been engaged. In a low voice, and as if speaking without much thought, Stephen asked her what she was reading. It was a volume of an old magazine, bought by Mr Lord many years ago.
'Yes, yes. Nancy laughs at it -- calls it old rubbish. These young people are so clever.'
His companion made no remark. Unobserved, he scrutinised her face for a long time, and said at length:
'Don't let us fall out, Mary. You're not pleased with me, and I know why. I said all women were deceitful, and you took it too seriously. You ought to know me better. There's something comes on me every now and then, and makes me say the worst I can no matter who it hurts. Could I be such a fool as to think ill of you?'
'It did hurt me,' replied the other, still bent over her book. 'But it was only the sound of it. I knew you said more than you meant.'
'I'm a fool, and I've been a fool all my life. Is it likely I should have wise children? When I went off to the Barmbys', I thought of sending Samuel down to Teignmouth, to find out what they were at. But I altered my mind before I got there. What good would it have done? All I can do I've done already. I made my will the other day; it's signed and witnessed. I've made it as I told you I should. I'm not much longer for this world, but I've saved the girl from foolishness till she's six-and-twenty. After that she must take care of herself.'
They sat silent whilst the clock on the mantelpiece ticked away a few more minutes. Mr Lord's features betrayed the working of turbid thought, a stern resentment their prevailing expression. When reverie released him, he again looked at his companion.
'Mary, did you ever ask yourself what sort of woman Nancy's mother may have been?'
The listener started, like one in whom a secret has been surprised. She tried to answer, but after all did not speak.
'I'll tell you,' Stephen pursued. 'Yes, I'll tell you. You must know it. Not a year after the boy's birth, she left me. And I made myself free of her -- I divorced her.'
Their eyes just met.
'You needn't think that it cost me any suffering. Not on her account; not because I had lost my wife. I never felt so glad, before or since, as on the day when it was all over, and I found myself a free man again. I suffered only in thinking how I had fooled away some of the best years of my life for a woman who despised me from the first, and was as heartless as the stones of the street. I found her in beggary, or close upon it. I made myself her slave -- it's only the worthless women who accept from a man, who expect from him, such slavish worship as she had from me. I gave her clothing; she scarcely thanked me, but I thought myself happy. I gave her a comfortable home, such as she hadn't known for years; for a reward she mocked at my plain tastes and quiet ways -- but I thought no ill of it -- could see nothing in it but a girlish, lighthearted sort of way that seemed one of her merits. As long as we lived together, she pretended to be an affectionate wife; I should think no one ever matched her in hypocrisy. But the first chance she had -- husband, children, home, all flung aside in a moment. Then I saw her in the true light, and understood all at once what a blind fool I had been.'
He breathed quickly and painfully. Mary sat without a movement.
'I thought I had done a great thing in marrying a wife that was born above me. Her father had been a country gentleman; horse-racing and such things had brought him down, and from her twelfth year his daughter lived -- I never quite knew how, but on charity of some kind. She grew up without trying to earn her own living; she thought herself too good for that, thought she had a claim to be supported, because as a child she was waited upon by servants. When I asked her once if she couldn't have done something, she stared at me and laughed in my face. For all that she was glad enough to marry a man of my sort -- rough and uneducated as I was. She always reminded me of it, though -- that I had no education; I believe she thought that she had a perfect right to throw over such a husband, whenever she chose. Afterwards, I saw very well that her education didn't amount to much. How could it, when she learnt nothing after she was twelve? She was living with very poor people who came from my part of the country -- that's how I met her. The father led some sort of blackguard life in London, but had no money for her, nor yet for his other girl, who went into service, I was told, and perhaps made herself a useful, honest woman. He died in a hospital, and he was buried at my expense -- not three months before his daughter went off and left me.'
'You will never tell your children,' said Mary, when there had been a long pause.
'I've often thought it would only be right if I told them. I've often thought, the last year or two, that Nancy ought to know. It might make her think, and do her good.'
'No, no,' returned the other hurriedly. 'Never let her know of it -- never. It might do her much harm.'
'You know now, Mary, why I look at the girl so anxiously. She's not like her mother; not much like her in face, and I can't think she's like her in heart. But you know what her faults are as well as I do. Whether I've been right or wrong in giving her a good education, I shall never know. Wrong, I fear -- but I've told you all about that.'
'You don't know whether she's alive or not?' asked Mary, when once more it was left to her to break silence.
'What do I care? How should I know?'
'Don't be tempted to tell them -- either of them!' said the other earnestly.
'My friend Barmby knows. Whether he's told his son, I can't say; it's twenty years since we spoke about it. If he did ever mention it to Samuel, then it might somehow get known to Horace or the girl, when I'm gone. -- I won't give up the hope that young Barmby may be her husband. She'll have time to think about it. But if ever she should come to you and ask questions -- I mean, if she's been told what happened -- you'll set me right in her eyes? You'll tell her what I've told you?'
'I hope it may never ----'
'So do I,' Stephen interrupted, his voice husky with fatigue. 'But I count on you to make my girl think rightly of me, if ever there's occasion. I count on you. When I'm dead, I won't have her think that I was to blame for her mother's ill-doing. That's why I've told you. You believe me, don't you?'
And Mary, lifting her eyes, met his look of appeal with more than a friend's confidence.
From chambers in Staple Inn, Lionel Tarrant looked forth upon the laborious world with a dainty enjoyment of his own limitless leisure. The old gables fronting upon Holborn pleased his fancy; he liked to pass under the time-worn archway, and so, at a step, estrange himself from commercial tumult, -- to be in the midst of modern life, yet breathe an atmosphere of ancient repose.
He belonged to an informal club of young men who called themselves, facetiously, the Hodiernals. Vixi hodie! The motto, suggested by some one or other after a fifth tumbler of whisky punch, might bear more than a single interpretation. Harvey Munden, the one member of this genial brotherhood who lived by the sweat of his brow, proposed as a more suitable title, Les Fainéants; that, however, was judged pedantic, not to say offensive. For these sons of the Day would not confess to indolence; each deemed himself, after his own fashion, a pioneer in art, letters, civilisation. They had money of their own, or were supported by some one who could afford that privilege; most of them had, ostensibly, some profession in view; for the present, they contented themselves with living, and the weaker brethren read in their hodiernity an obligation to be 'up to date.'
Tarrant professed himself critical of To-day, apprehensive of To-morrow; he cast a backward eye. None the less, his avowed principle was to savour the passing hour. When night grew mellow, and the god of whisky inspired his soul, he shone in a lyrical egoism which had but slight correspondence with the sincerities of his solitude. His view of woman -- the Hodiernals talked much of woman -- differed considerably from his thoughts of the individual women with whom he associated; protesting oriental sympathies, he nourished in truth the chivalry appropriate to his years and to his education, and imaged an ideal of female excellence whereof the prime features were moral and intellectual.
He had no money of his own. What could be saved for him from his father's squandered estate -- the will established him sole inheritor -- went in the costs of a liberal education, his grandmother giving him assurance that he should not go forth into the world penniless. This promise Mrs Tarrant had kept, though not exactly in the manner her grandson desired. Instead of making him a fixed allowance, the old lady supplied him with funds at uncertain intervals; with the unpleasant result that it was sometimes necessary for him to call to her mind his dependent condition. The cheques he received varied greatly in amount, -- from handsome remittances of a hundred pounds or so, down to minim gifts which made the young man feel uncomfortable when he received them. Still, he was provided for, and it could not be long before this dependency came to an end.
He believed in his own abilities. Should it ever be needful, he could turn to journalism, for which, undoubtedly, he had some aptitude. But why do anything at all, in the sense of working for money? Every year he felt less disposed for that kind of exertion, and had a greater relish of his leisurely life. Mrs Tarrant never rebuked him; indeed she had long since ceased to make inquiry about his professional views. Perhaps she felt it something of a dignity to have a grandson who lived as gentleman at large.
But now, in the latter days of August, the gentleman found himself, in one most important particular, at large no longer. On returning from Teignmouth to Staple Inn he entered his rooms with a confused, disagreeable sense that things were not as they had been, that his freedom had suffered a violation, that he could not sit down among his books with the old self-centred ease, that his prospects were completely, indescribably changed, perchance much for the worse. In brief, Tarrant had gone forth a bachelor, and came back a married man.
Could it be sober fact? Had he in very deed committed so gross an absurdity?
He had purposed no such thing. Miss Nancy Lord was not by any means the kind of person that entered his thoughts when they turned to marriage. He regarded her as in every respect his inferior. She belonged to the social rank only just above that of wage-earners; her father had a small business in Camberwell; she dressed and talked rather above her station, but so, now-a-days, did every daughter of petty tradesfolk. From the first he had amused himself with her affectation of intellectual superiority. Miss Lord represented a type; to study her as a sample of the pretentious half-educated class was interesting; this sort of girl was turned out in thousands every year, from so-called High Schools; if they managed to pass some examination or other, their conceit grew boundless. Craftily, he had tested her knowledge; it seemed all sham. She would marry some hapless clerk, and bring him to bankruptcy by the exigencies of her 'refinement.'
So had he thought of Nancy till a few months ago. But in the spring-time, when his emotions blossomed with the blossoming year, he met the girl after a long interval, and saw her with changed eyes. She had something more than prettiness; her looks undeniably improved. It seemed, too, that she bore herself more gracefully, and even talked with, at times, an approximation to the speech of a lady. These admissions signified much in a man of Tarrant's social prejudice -- so strong that it exercised an appreciable effect upon his every-day morals. He began to muse about Miss Lord, and the upshot of his musing was that, having learnt of her departure for Teignmouth, he idly betook himself in the same direction.
But as for marriage, he would as soon have contemplated taking to wife a barmaid. Between Miss Lord and the young lady who dispenses refreshment there were distinctions, doubtless, but none of the first importance. Then arose the question, in what spirit, with what purpose, did he seek her intimacy? The answer he simply postponed.
And postponed it very late indeed. Until the choice was no longer between making love in idleness, and conscientiously holding aloof; but between acting like a frank blackguard, and making the amends of an honest man.
The girl's fault, to be sure. He had not credited himself with this power of fascination, and certainly not with the violence of passion which recklessly pursues indulgence. Still, the girl's fault; she had behaved -- well, as a half-educated girl of her class might be expected to behave. Ignorance she could not plead; that were preposterous. Utter subjugation by first love; that, perhaps; she affirmed it, and possibly with truth; a flattering assumption, at all events. But, all said and done, the issue had been of her own seeking. Why, then, accuse himself of blackguardly conduct, if he had turned a deaf ear to her pleading? Not one word of marriage had previously escaped his lips, nor anything that could imply a promise.
Well, there was the awkward and unaccountable fact that he felt himself obliged to marry her; that, when he seemed to be preparing resistance, downright shame rendered it impossible. Her face -- her face when she looked at him and spoke! The truth was, that he had not hesitated at all; there was but one course open to him. He gave glances in the other direction; he wished to escape; he reviled himself for his folly; he saw the difficulties and discontents that lay before him; but choice he had none.
Love, in that sense of the word which Tarrant respected, could not be said to influence him. He had uttered the word; yes, of course he had uttered it; as a man will who is goaded by his raging blood. But he was as far as ever from loving Nancy Lord. Her beauty, and a certain growing charm in her companionship, had lured him on; his habitual idleness, and the vagueness of his principles, made him guilty at last of what a moralist would call very deliberate rascality. He himself was inclined to see his behaviour in that light; yet why had Nancy so smoothed the path of temptation?
That her love was love indeed, he might take for granted. To a certain point, it excused her. But she seemed so thoroughly able to protect herself; the time of her green girlhood had so long gone by. For explanation, he must fall back again on the circumstances of her origin and training. Perhaps she illustrated a social peril, the outcome of modern follies. Yes, that was how he would look at it. A result of charlatan 'education' operating upon crude character.
Who could say what the girl had been reading, what cheap philosophies had unsettled her mind? Is not a little knowledge a dangerous thing?
Thus far had he progressed in the four and twenty hours which followed his -- or Nancy's -- conquest. Meanwhile he had visited the office of the registrar, had made his application for a marriage licence, a proceeding which did not tend to soothe him. Later, when he saw Nancy again, he experienced a revival of that humaner mood which accompanied his pledge to marry her, the mood of regret, but also of tenderness, of compassion. A tenderness that did not go very deep, a half-slighting compassion. His character, and the features of the case, at present allowed no more; but he preferred the kindlier attitude.
Of course he preferred it. Was he not essentially good-natured? Would he not, at any ordinary season, go out of his way to do a kindness? Did not his soul revolt against every form of injustice? Whom had he ever injured? For his humanity, no less than for his urbanity, he claimed a noteworthy distinction among young men of the time.
And there lay the pity of it. But for Nancy's self-abandonment, he might have come to love her in good earnest. As it was, the growth of their intimacy had been marked with singular, unanticipated impulses on his side, impulses quite inconsistent with heartless scheming. In the compunctious visitings which interrupted his love-making at least twice, there was more than a revolt of mere honesty, as he recognised during his brief flight to London. Had she exercised but the common prudence of womanhood!
Why, that she did not, might tell both for and against her. Granting that she lacked true dignity, native refinement, might it not have been expected that artfulness would supply their place? Artful fencing would have stamped her of coarse nature. But coarseness she had never betrayed; he had never judged her worse than intellectually shallow. Her self-surrender might, then, indicate a trait worthy of admiration. Her subsequent behaviour undeniably pleaded for respect. She acquainted him with the circumstances of her home life, very modestly, perhaps pathetically. He learnt that her father was not ill to do, heard of her domestic and social troubles, that her mother had been long dead, things weighing in her favour, to be sure.
If only she had loved him less!
It was all over; he was married. In acting honourably, it seemed probable that he had spoilt his life. He must be prepared for anything. Nancy said that she should not, could not, tell her father, yet awhile; but that resolution was of doubtful stability. For his own part, he thought it clearly advisable that the fact should not become known at Champion Hill; but could he believe Nancy's assurance that Miss Morgan remained in the dark? Upon one catastrophe, others might naturally follow.
Here, Saturday at noon, came a letter of Nancy's writing. A long letter, and by no means a bad one; superior, in fact, to anything he thought she could have written. It moved him somewhat, but would have moved him more, had he not been legally bound to the writer. On Sunday she could not come to see him; but on Monday, early in the afternoon ----
Well, there were consolations. A wise man makes the best of the inevitable.
Since his return he had seen no one, and none of his friends knew where he had been. A call from some stray Hodiernal would be very unseasonable this Monday afternoon; but probably they were all enjoying their elegant leisure in regions remote from town. As the hour of Nancy's arrival drew near, he sat trying to compose himself -- with indifferent success. At one moment his thoughts found utterance, and he murmured in a strange, bewildered tone -- 'My wife.' Astonishing words! He laughed at their effect upon him, but unmirthfully. And his next murmur was -- 'The devil!' A mere ejaculation, betokening his state of mind.
He reached several times for his pipe, and remembered when he had touched it that the lips with which he greeted Nancy ought not to be redolent of tobacco. In outward respect, at all events, he would not fall short.
Just when his nervousness was becoming intolerable, there sounded a knock. The knock he had anticipated -- timid, brief. He stepped hastily from the room, and opened. Nancy hardly looked at him, and neither of them spoke till the closing of two doors had assured their privacy.
'Well, you had no difficulty in finding the place?'
'No -- none at all.'
They stood apart, and spoke with constraint. Nancy's bosom heaved, as though she had been hastening overmuch; her face was deeply coloured; her eyes had an unwonted appearance, resembling those of a night-watcher at weary dawn. She cast quick glances about the room, but with the diffidence of an intruder. Her attitude was marked by the same characteristic; she seemed to shrink, to be ashamed.
'Come and sit down,' said Tarrant cheerfully, as he wheeled a chair.
She obeyed him, and he, stooping beside her, offered his lips. Nancy kissed him, closing her eyes for the moment, then dropping them again.
'It seems a long time, Nancy -- doesn't it?'
'Yes -- a very long time.'
'You couldn't come on Sunday?'
'I found my father very ill. I didn't like to leave home till to-day.'
'Your father ill? -- You said nothing of it in your letter.'
'No -- I didn't like to -- with the other things.'
A singular delicacy this; Tarrant understood it, and looked at her thoughtfully. Again she was examining the room with hurried glance; upon him her eyes did not turn. He asked questions about Mr Lord. Nancy could not explain the nature of his illness; he had spoken of gout, but she feared it must be something worse; the change in him since she went away was incredible and most alarming. This she said in short, quick sentences, her voice low. Tarrant thought to himself that in her too, a very short time had made a very notable change; he tried to read its significance, but could reach no certainty.
'I'm sorry to hear all this -- very sorry. You must tell me more about your father. Take off your hat, dear, and your gloves.'
Her gloves she removed first, and laid them on her lap; Tarrant took them away. Then her hat; this too he placed on the table. Having done so, he softly touched the plaits of her hair. And, for the first time, Nancy looked up at him.
'Are you glad to see me?' she asked, in a voice that seemed subdued by doubt of the answer.
'I am -- very glad.'
His hand fell to her shoulder. With a quick movement, a stifled exclamation, the girl rose and flung her arms about him.
'Are you really glad? -- Do you really love me?'
'Never doubt it, dear girl.'
'Ah, but I can't help. I have hardly slept at night, in trying to get rid of the doubt. When you opened the door, I felt you didn't welcome me. Don't you think of me as a burden? I can't help wondering why I am here.'
He took hold of her left hand, and looked at it, then said playfully:
'Of course you wonder. What business has a wife to come and see her husband without the ring on her finger?'
Nancy turned from him, opened the front of her dress, unknotted a string of silk, and showed her finger bright with the golden circlet.
'That's how I must wear it, except when I am with you. I keep touching -- to make sure it's there.'
Tarrant kissed her fingers.
'Dear,' -- she had her face against him -- 'make me certain that you love me. Speak to me like you did before. Oh, I never knew in my life what it was to feel ashamed!'
'Ashamed? Because you are married, Nancy?'
'Am I really married? That seems impossible. It's like having dreamt that I was married to you. I can hardly remember a thing that happened.'
'The registry at Teignmouth remembers,' he answered with a laugh. 'Those books have a long memory.'
She raised her eyes.
'But wouldn't you undo it if you could? -- No, no, I don't mean that. Only that if it had never happened -- if we had said good-bye before those last days -- wouldn't you have been glad now?'
'Why, that's a difficult question to answer,' he returned gently. 'It all depends on your own feeling.'
For whatever reason, these words so overcame Nancy that she burst into tears. Tarrant, at once more lover-like, soothed and fondled her, and drew her to sit on his knee.
'You're not like your old self, dear girl. Of course, I can understand it. And your father's illness. But you mustn't think of it in this way. I do love you, Nancy. I couldn't unsay a word I said to you -- I don't wish anything undone.'
'Make me believe that. I think I should be quite happy then. It's the hateful thought that perhaps you never wanted me for your wife; it will come, again and again, and it makes me feel as if I would rather have died.'
'Send such thoughts packing. Tell them your husband wants all your heart and mind for himself.'
'But will you never think ill of me?'
She whispered the words, close-clinging.
'I should be a contemptible sort of brute.'
'No. I ought to have ----. If we had spoken of our love to each other, and waited.'
'A very proper twelvemonth's engagement, -- meetings at five o'clock tea, -- fifty thousand love-letters, -- and all that kind of thing. Oh, we chose a better way. Our wedding was among the leaves and flowers. You remember the glow of evening sunlight between the red pine and the silver birch? I hope that place may remain as it is all our lives; we will go there ----'
'Never! Never ask me to go there. I want to forget -- I hope some day I may forget.'
'If you hope so, then I will hope the same.'
'And you love me -- with real, husband's love -- love that will last?'
'Why should I answer all the questions?' He took her face between his hands. What if the wife's love should fail first?'
'You can say that lightly, because you know ----'
'What do I know?'
'You know that I am all love of you. As long as I am myself, I must love you. It was because I had no will of my own left, because I lived only in the thought of you day and night ----'
Their lips met in a long silence.
'I mustn't stay past four o'clock,' were Nancy's next words. 'I don't like to be away long from the house. Father won't ask me anything, but he knows I'm away somewhere, and I'm afraid it makes him angry with me.' She examined the room. 'How comfortable you are here! what a delightful old place to live in!'
'Will you look at the other rooms?'
'Not to-day -- when I come again. I must say good-bye very soon -- oh, see how the time goes! What a large library you have! You must let me look at all the books, when I have time.'
'Let you? They are yours as much as mine.'
Her face brightened.
'I should like to live here; howl should enjoy it after that hateful Grove Lane! Shall I live here with you some day?'
'There wouldn't be room for two. Why, your dresses would fill the whole place.'
She went and stood before the shelves.
'But how dusty you are! Who cleans for you?'
'No one. A very rickety old woman draws a certain number of shillings each week, on pretence of cleaning.'
'What a shame! She neglects you disgracefully. You shall go away some afternoon, and leave me here with a great pile of dusters.'
'You can do that kind of thing? It never occurred to me to ask you: are you a domestic person?'
She answered with something of the old confident air.
'That was an oversight, wasn't it? After all, how little you know about me!'
'Do you know much more of me?'
Her countenance fell.
'You are going to tell me -- everything. How long have you lived here?'
'Two years and a half.'
'And your friends come to see you here? Of course they do. I meant, have you many friends?'
'Friends, no. A good many acquaintances.'
'Men, like yourself?'
'Mostly men, fellows who talk about art and literature.'
'And women?' Nancy faltered, half turning away.
'Oh, magnificent creatures -- Greek scholars -- mathematicians -- all that is most advanced!'
'That's the right answer to a silly question,' said Nancy humbly.
Whereat, Tarrant fixed his gaze upon her.
'I begin to think that ----'
He checked himself awkwardly. Nancy insisted on the completion of his thought.
'That of all the women I know, you have the most sense.'
'I had rather hear you say that than have a great fortune.' She blushed with joy. 'Perhaps you will love me some day, as I wish to be loved.'
'I'll tell you another time. If it weren't for my father's illness, I think I could go home feeling almost happy. But how am I to know what you are doing?'
'What do you wish me to do?'
'Just tell me how you live. What shall you do now, when I'm gone?'
'Sit disconsolate,' -- he came nearer -- 'thinking you were just a little unkind.'
'No, don't say that.' Nancy was flurried. 'I have told you the real reason. Our housekeeper says that father was disappointed and angry because I put off my return from Teignmouth. He spoke to me very coldly, and I have hardly seen him since. He won't let me wait upon him; and I have thought, since I know how ill he really is, that I must seem heartless. I will come for longer next time.'
To make amends for the reproach he had uttered in spite of himself, Tarrant began to relate in full the events of his ordinary day.
'I get my own breakfast -- the only meal I have at home. Look, here's the kitchen, queer old place. And here's the dining-room. Cupboards everywhere, you see; we boast of our cupboards. The green paint is de rigueur; duck's egg colour; I've got to like it. That door leads into the bedroom. Well, after breakfast, about eleven o'clock that's to say, I light up -- look at my pipe-rack -- and read newspapers. Then, if it's fine, I walk about the streets, and see what new follies men are perpetrating. And then ----'
He told of his favourite restaurants, of his unfashionable club, of a few houses where, at long intervals, he called or dined, of the Hodiernals, of a dozen other small matters.
'What a life,' sighed the listener, 'compared with mine!'
'We'll remedy that, some day.'
'When?' she asked absently.
'Wait just a little. -- You don't wish to tell your father?'
'I daren't tell him. I doubt whether I shall ever dare to tell him face to face.'
'Don't think about it. Leave it to me.'
'I must have letters from you -- but how? Perhaps, if you could promise always to send them for the first post -- I generally go to the letter-box, and I could do so always -- whilst father is ill.'
This was agreed upon. Nancy, whilst they were talking, took her hat from the table; at the same moment, Tarrant's hand moved towards it. Their eyes met, and the hand that would have checked her was drawn back. Quickly, secretly, she drew the ring from her finger, hid it somewhere, and took her gloves.
'Did you come by the back way?' Tarrant asked, when he had bitten his lips for a sulky minute.
'Yes, as you told me.'
He said he would walk with her into Chancery Lane; there could be no risk in it.
'You shall go out first. Any one passing will suppose you had business with the solicitor underneath. I'll overtake you at Southampton Buildings.'
Impatient to be gone, she lingered minute after minute, and broke hurriedly from his restraining arms at last. The second outer door, which Tarrant had closed on her entrance, surprised her by its prison-like massiveness. In the wooden staircase she stopped timidly, but at the exit her eyes turned to an inscription above, which she had just glanced at when arriving: Surrexit e flammis, and a date. Nancy had no Latin, but guessed an interpretation from the last word. Through the little court, with its leafy plane-trees and white-worn cobble-stones, she walked with bent head, hearing the roar of Holborn through the front archway, and breathing more freely when she gained the quiet garden at the back of the Inn.
Tarrant's step sounded behind her. Looking up she asked the meaning of the inscription she had seen.
'You don't know Latin? Well, why should you? Surrexit e flammis, "It rose again from the flames."
'I thought it might be something like that. You will be patient with my ignorance?'
A strange word upon Nancy's lips. No mortal ere this had heard her confess to ignorance.
'But you know the modern languages?' said Tarrant, smiling.
'Yes. That is, a little French and German -- a very little German.'
Tarrant mused, seemingly with no dissatisfaction.
In her brother's looks and speech Nancy detected something mysterious. Undoubtedly he was keeping a secret from her, and there could be just as little doubt that he would not keep it long. Whenever she questioned him about the holiday at Scarborough, he put on a smile unlike any she had ever seen on his face, so profoundly thoughtful was it, so loftily reserved. On the subject of Mrs Damerel he did not choose to be very communicative; Nancy gathered little more than she had learnt from his letter. But very plainly the young man held himself in higher esteem than hitherto; very plainly he had learnt to think of 'the office' as a burden or degradation, from which he would soon escape. Prompted by her own tormenting conscience, his sister wondered whether Fanny French had anything to do with the mystery; but this seemed improbable. She mentioned Fanny's name one evening.
'Do you see much of her?'
'Not much,' was the dreamy reply. 'When are you going to call?'
'Oh, not at present,' said Nancy.
'You've altered again, then?'
She vouchsafed no answer.
'There's something I think I ought to tell you,' said Horace, speaking as though he were the elder and felt a responsibility. 'People have been talking about you and Mr Crewe.'
'What!' She flashed into excessive anger. 'Who has been talking?'
'The people over there. Of course I know it's all nonsense. At least' -- he raised his eyebrows -- 'I suppose it is.'
'I should suppose so,' said Nancy, with vehement scorn.
Their father's illness imposed a restraint upon trifling conversation. Mary Woodruff, now attending upon Mr Lord under the doctor's directions, had held grave talk with Nancy. The Barmbys, father and son, called frequently, and went away with gloomy faces. Nancy and her brother were summoned, separately, to the invalid's room at uncertain times, but neither was allowed to perform any service for him; their sympathy, more often than not, excited irritation; the sufferer always seemed desirous of saying more than the few and insignificant words which actually passed his lips, and generally, after a long silence, he gave the young people an abrupt dismissal. With his daughter he spoke at length, in language which awed her by its solemnity; Nancy could only understand him as meaning that his end drew near. He had been reviewing, he said, the course of her life, and trying to forecast her future.
'I give you no more advice; it would only be repeating what I have said hundreds of times. All I can do for your good, I have done. You will understand me better if you live a few more years, and I think, in the end, you will be grateful to me.'
Nancy, sitting by the bedside, laid a hand upon her father's and sobbed. She entreated him to believe that even now she understood how wisely he had guided her.
'Tried to, Nancy; tried to, my dear. Guidance isn't for young people now-a-days. Don't let us shirk the truth. I have never been satisfied with you, but I have loved you ----'
'And I you, dear father -- I have! I have! -- I know better now how good your advice was. I wish -- far, far more sincerely than you think -- that I had kept more control upon myself -- thought less of myself in every way ----'
Whilst she spoke through her tears, the yellow, wrinkled face upon the pillow, with its sunken eyes and wasted lips, kept sternly motionless.
'If you won't mock at me,' Stephen pursued, 'I will show you an example you would do well to imitate. It is our old servant, now my kindest, truest friend. If I could hope that you will let her be your friend, it would help to put my mind at rest. Don't look down upon her, -- that's such a poor way of thinking. Of all the women I have known, she is the best. Don't be too proud to learn from her, Nancy. In all these twenty years that she has been in my house, whatever she undertook to do, she did well; -- nothing too hard or too humble for her, if she thought it her duty. I know what that means; I myself have been a poor, weak creature, compared with her. Don't be offended because I ask you to take pattern by her. I know her value now better than I ever knew it before. I owe her a debt I can't pay.'
Nancy left the room burdened with strange and distressful thoughts. When she saw Mary she looked at her with new feelings, and spoke to her less familiarly than of wont. Mary was very silent in these days; her face had the dignity of a profound unspoken grief.
To his son, Mr Lord talked only of practical things, urging sound advice, and refraining, now, from any mention of their differences. Horace, absorbed in preoccupations, had never dreamt that this illness might prove fatal; on finding Nancy in tears, he was astonished.
'Do you think it's dangerous?' he asked.
'I'm afraid he will never get well.'
It was Sunday morning. The young man went apart and pondered. After the mid-day meal, having heard from Mary that his father was no worse, he left home without remark to any one, and from Camberwell Green took a cab to Trafalgar Square. At the Hotel Métropole he inquired for Mrs Damerel; her rooms were high up, and he ascended by the lift. Sunk in a deep chair, her feet extended upon a hassock, Mrs Damerel was amusing herself with a comic paper; she rose briskly, though with the effort of a person who is no longer slim.
'Here I am, you see! -- up in the clouds. Now, did you get my letter?'
'No letter, but a telegram.'
'There, I thought so. Isn't that just like me? As soon as I had sent out the letter to post, I said to myself that I had written the wrong address. What address it was, I couldn't tell you, to save my life, but I shall see when it comes back from the post-office. I rather suspect it's gone to Gunnersbury; just then I was thinking about somebody at Gunnersbury -- or somebody at Hampstead, I can't be sure which. What a good thing I wired! -- Oh, now, Horace, I don't like that, I don't really!'
The young man looked at her in bewilderment.
'What don't you like?'
'Why, that tie. It won't do at all. Your taste is generally very good, but that tie! I'll choose one for you to-morrow, and let you have it the next time you come. Do you know, I've been thinking that it might be well if you parted your hair in the middle. I don't care for it as a rule; but in your case, with your soft, beautiful hair, I think it would look well. Shall we try? Wait a minute; I'll run for a comb.'
'But suppose some one came ----'
'Nobody will come, my dear boy. Hardly any one knows I'm here. I like to get away from people now and then; that's why I've taken refuge in this cock-loft.'
She disappeared, and came back with a comb of tortoise-shell.
'Sit down there. Oh, what hair it is, to be sure! Almost as fine as my own. I think you'll have a delicious moustache.'
Her personal appearance was quite in keeping with this vivacity. Rather short, and inclining -- but as yet only inclining -- to rotundity of figure, with a peculiarly soft and clear complexion, Mrs Damerel made a gallant battle against the hostile years. Her bright eye, her moist lips, the admirable smoothness of brow and cheek and throat, bore witness to sound health; as did the rows of teeth, incontestably her own, which she exhibited in her frequent mirth. A handsome woman still, though not of the type that commands a reverent admiration. Her frivolity did not exclude a suggestion of shrewdness, nor yet of capacity for emotion, but it was difficult to imagine wise or elevated thought behind that narrow brow. She was elaborately dressed, with only the most fashionable symbols of widowhood; rings adorned her podgy little hand, and a bracelet her white wrist. Refinement she possessed only in the society-journal sense, but her intonation was that of the idle class, and her grammar did not limp.
'There -- let me look. Oh, I think that's an improvement -- more distingué. And now tell me the news. How is your father?'
'Very bad, I'm afraid,' said Horace, when he had regarded himself in a mirror with something of doubtfulness. 'Nancy says that she's afraid he won't get well.'
'Oh, you don't say that! Oh, how very sad! But let us hope. I can't think it's so bad as that.'
Horace sat in thought. Mrs Damerel, her bright eyes subduing their gaiety to a keen reflectiveness, put several questions regarding the invalid, then for a moment meditated.
'Well, we must hope for the best. Let me know to-morrow how he gets on -- be sure you let me know. And if anything should happen -- oh, but that's too sad; we won't talk about it.'
Again she meditated, tapping the floor, and, as it seemed, trying not to smile.
'Don't be downcast, my dear boy. Never meet sorrow half-way -- if you knew how useful I have found it to remember that maxim. I have gone through sad, sad things -- ah! But now tell me of your own affairs. Have you seen la petite?'
'I just saw her the other evening,' he answered uneasily.
'Just? What does that mean, I wonder? Now you don't look anything like so well as when you were at Scarborough. You're worrying; yes, I know you are. It's your nervous constitution, my poor boy. So you just saw her? No more imprudences?'
She examined his face attentively, her lips set with tolerable firmness.
'It's a very difficult position, you know,' said Horace, wriggling in his chair. 'I can't get out of it all at once. And the truth is, I'm not sure that I wish to.'
Mrs Damerel drew her eyebrows together, and gave a loud tap on the floor.
'Oh, that's weak -- that's very weak! After promising me! Now listen; listen seriously.' She raised a finger. 'If it goes on, I have nothing -- more -- whatever to do with you. It would distress me very, very much; but I can't interest myself in a young man who makes love to a girl so very far beneath him. Be led by me, Horace, and your future will be brilliant. Prefer this young lady of Camberwell, and lose everything.'
Horace leaned forward and drooped his head.
'I don't think you form anything like a right idea of her,' he said.
The other moved impatiently.
'My dear boy, I know her as well as if I'd lived with her for years. Oh, how silly you are! But then you are so young, so very young.'
With the vexation on her face there blended, as she looked at him, a tenderness unmistakably genuine.
'Now, I'll tell you what. I have really no objection to make Fanny's acquaintance. Suppose, after all, you bring her to see me one of these days. Not just yet. You must wait till I am in the mood for it. But before very long.'
Horace looked up with pleasure and gratitude.
'Now, that's really kind of you!'
'Really? And all the rest is only pretended kindness? Silly boy! Some day you will know better. Now, think, Horace; suppose you were so unhappy as to lose your father. Could you, as soon as he was gone, do something that you know would have pained him deeply?'
The pathetic note was a little strained; putting her head aside, Mrs Damerel looked rather like a sentimental picture in an advertisement. Horace did not reply.
'You surely wouldn't,' pursued the lady, with emphasis, watching him closely; 'you surely wouldn't and couldn't marry this girl as soon as your poor father was in his grave?'
'Oh, of course not.'
Mrs Damerel seemed relieved, but pursued her questioning.
'You couldn't think of marrying for at least half a year?'
'Fanny wouldn't wish it.'
'No, of course not, -- well now, I think I must make her acquaintance. But how weak you are, Horace! Oh, those nerves! All finely, delicately organised people, like you, make such blunders in life. Your sense of honour is such a tyrant over you. Now, mind, I don't say for a moment that Fanny isn't fond of you, -- how could she help being, my dear boy? But I do insist that she will be very much happier if you let her marry some one of her own class. You, Horace, belong to a social sphere so far, far above her. If I could only impress that upon your modesty. You are made to associate with people of the highest refinement. How deplorable to think that a place in society is waiting for you, and you keep longing for Camberwell!'
The listener's face wavered between pleasure in such flattery and the impulse of resistance.
'Remember, Horace, if anything should happen at home, you are your own master. I could introduce you freely to people of wealth and fashion. Of course you could give up the office at once. I shall be taking a house in the West-end, or a flat, at all events. I shall entertain a good deal -- and think of your opportunities! My dear boy, I assure you that, with personal advantages such as yours, you might end by marrying an heiress. Nothing more probable! And you can talk of such a girl as Fanny French -- for shame!
'I mustn't propose any gaieties just now,' she said, when they had been together for an hour. 'And I shall wait so anxiously for news of your father. If anything did happen, what would your sister do, I wonder?'
'I'm sure I don't know -- except that she'd get away from Camberwell. Nancy hates it.'
'Who knows? I may be able to be of use to her. But, you say she is such a grave and learned young lady? I am afraid we should bore each other.'
To this, Horace could venture only an uncertain reply. He had not much hope of mutual understanding between his sister and Mrs Damerel.
At half-past five he was home again, and there followed a cheerless evening. Nancy was in her own room until nine o'clock. She came down for supper, but had no appetite; her eyes showed redness from weeping; Horace could say nothing for her comfort. After the meal, they went up together to the drawing-room, and sat unoccupied.
'If we lose father,' said Nancy, in a dull voice very unlike her ordinary tones, 'we shall have not a single relative left, that is anything to us.'
Her brother kept silence.
'Has Mrs Damerel,' she continued, 'ever said anything to you about mother's family?'
After hesitation, Horace answered, 'Yes,' and his countenance showed that the affirmative had special meaning. Nancy waited with an inquiring look.
'I haven't told you,' he added, 'because -- we have had other things to think about. But Mrs Damerel is mother's sister, our aunt.'
'How long have you known that?'
'She told me at Scarborough.'
'But why didn't she tell you so at first?'
'That's what I can't understand. She says she was afraid I might mention it; but I don't believe that's the real reason.'
Nancy's questioning elicited all that was to be learnt from her brother, little more than she had heard already; the same story of a disagreement between Mrs Damerel and their father, of long absences from England, and a revival of interest in her relatives, following upon Mrs Damerel's widowhood.
'She would be glad to see you, if you liked. But I doubt whether you would get on very well.'
'She doesn't care about the same things that you do. She's a woman of society, you know.'
'But if she's mother's sister. Yes, I should like to know her.' Nancy spoke with increasing earnestness. 'It makes everything quite different. I must see her.'
'Well, as I said, she's quite willing. But you remember that I'm supposed not to have spoken about her at all. I should have to get her to send you a message, or something of that kind. Of course, we have often talked about you.'
'I can't form an idea of her,' said Nancy impatiently. 'Is she good? Is she really kind? Couldn't you get her portrait to show me?'
'I should be afraid to ask, unless she had given me leave to speak to you.'
'She really lives in good society?'
'Haven't I told you the sort of people she knows? She must be very well off; there can't be a doubt of it.'
I don't care so much about that,' said Nancy in a brooding voice. 'It's herself, -- whether she's kind and good and wishes well to us.
The next day there was no change in Mr Lord's condition; a deep silence possessed the house. In the afternoon Nancy went to pass an hour with Jessica Morgan; on her return she met Samuel Barmby, who was just leaving after a visit to the sick man. Samuel bore himself with portentous gravity, but spoke only a few commonplaces, affecting hope; he bestowed upon Nancy's hand a fervent pressure, and strode away with the air of an undertaker who had called on business.
Two more days of deepening gloom, then a night through which Nancy sat with Mary Woodruff by her father's bed. Mr Lord was unconscious, but from time to time a syllable or a phrase fell from his lips, meaningless to the watchers. At dawn, Nancy went to her chamber, pallid, exhausted. Mary, whose strength seemed proof against fatigue, moved about the room, preparing for a new day; every few minutes she stood with eyes fixed on the dying face, and the tears she had restrained in Nancy's presence flowed silently.
When the sun made a golden glimmer upon the wall, Mary withdrew, and was absent for a quarter of an hour. On returning, she bent at once over the bed; her eyes were met by a grave, wondering look.
'Do you know me?' she whispered.
The lips moved; she bent lower, but could distinguish no word. He was speaking; the murmur continued; but she gathered no sense.
'You can trust me, I will do all I can.'
He seemed to understand her, and smiled. As the smile faded away, passing into an austere calm, Mary pressed her lips upon his forehead.
After breakfast, and before Arthur Peachey's departure for business, there had been a scene of violent quarrel between him and his wife. It took place in the bed-room, where, as usual save on Sunday morning, Ada consumed her strong tea and heavily buttered toast; the state of her health -- she had frequent ailments, more or less genuine, such as afflict the indolent and brainless type of woman -- made it necessary for her to repose till a late hour. Peachey did not often lose self-control, though sorely tried; the one occasion that unchained his wrath was when Ada's heedlessness or ill-temper affected the well-being of his child. This morning it had been announced to him that the nurse-girl, Emma, could no longer be tolerated; she was making herself offensive to her mistress, had spoken insolently, disobeyed orders, and worst of all, defended herself by alleging orders from Mr Peachey. Hence the outbreak of strife, signalled by furious shrill voices, audible to Beatrice and Fanny as they sat in the room beneath.
Ada came down at half-past ten, and found Beatrice writing letters. She announced what any who did not know her would have taken for a final resolve.
'I'm going -- I won't put up with that beast any longer. I shall go and live at Brighton.'
Her sister paid not the slightest heed; she was intent upon a business letter of much moment.
'Do you hear what I say? I'm going by the first train this afternoon.'
'All right,' remarked Beatrice placidly. 'Don't interrupt me just now.
The result of this was fury directed against Beatrice, who found herself accused of every domestic vice compatible with her position. She was a sordid creature, living at other people's expense, -- a selfish, scheming, envious wretch ----
'If I were your husband,' remarked the other without looking up, 'I should long since have turned you into the street -- if I hadn't broken your neck first.'
Exercise in quarrel only made Ada's voice the clearer and more shrill. It rose now to the highest points of a not inconsiderable compass. But Beatrice continued to write, and by resolute silence put a limit to her sister's railing. A pause had just come about, when the door was thrown open, and in rushed Fanny, hatted and gloved from a walk.
'He's dead!' she said excitedly. 'He's dead!'
Beatrice turned with a look of interest. 'Who? Mr Lord?'
'Yes. The blinds are all down. He must have died in the night.'
Her cheeks glowed and her eyes sparkled, as though she had brought the most exhilarating news.
'What do I care?' said Mrs Peachey, to whom her sister had addressed the last remark.
'Just as much as I care about your affairs, no doubt,' returned Fanny, with genial frankness.
'Don't be in too great a hurry,' remarked Beatrice, who showed the calculating wrinkle at the corner of her eye. 'Because he's dead, that doesn't say that your masher comes in for money.'
'Who'll get it, then?'
'There may be nothing worth speaking of to get, for all we know.'
Beatrice had not as yet gained Fanny's co-operation in the commercial scheme now being elaborated; though of far more amiable nature than Mrs Peachey, she heartily hoped that the girl might be disappointed in her expectations from Mr Lord's will. An hour later, she walked along Grove Lane, and saw for herself that Fanny's announcement was accurate; the close-drawn blinds could mean but one thing.
To-day there was little likelihood of learning particulars, but on the morrow Fanny might perchance hear something from Horace Lord. However, the evening brought a note, hand-delivered by some stranger. Horace wrote only a line or two, informing Fanny that his father had died about eight o'clock that morning, and adding: 'Please be at home to-morrow at twelve.'
At twelve next day Fanny received her lover alone in the drawing-room. He entered with the exaggerated solemnity of a very young man who knows for the first time a grave bereavement, and feels the momentary importance it confers upon him. Fanny, trying to regard him without a smile, grimaced; decorous behaviour was at all times impossible to her, for she neither understood its nature nor felt its obligation. In a few minutes she smiled unrestrainedly, and spoke the things that rose to her lips.
'I've been keeping a secret from you,' said Horace, in the low voice which had to express his sorrow, -- for he could not preserve a gloomy countenance with Fanny before him. 'But I can tell you now.'
'A secret? And what business had you to keep secrets from me?'
'It's about Mrs Damerel. When I was at the seaside she told me who she really is. She's my aunt -- my mother's sister. Queer, isn't it? Of course that makes everything different. And she's going to ask you to come and see her. It'll have to be put off a little -- now; but not very long, I dare say, as she's a relative. You'll have to do your best to please her.'
'I'm sure I shan't put myself out of the way. People must take me as they find me.'
'Now don't talk like that, Fanny. It isn't very kind -- just now. I thought you'd be different to-day.'
'All right. -- Have you anything else to tell me?'
Horace understood her significant glance, and shook his head.
'I'll let you know everything as soon as I know myself.'
Having learnt the day and hour of Mr Lord's funeral, Ada and Fanny made a point of walking out to get a glimpse of it. The procession of vehicles in Grove Lane excited their contempt, so far was it from the splendour they had anticipated.
'There you are!' said Ada; 'I shouldn't wonder if it's going to be a jolly good take in for you, after all. If he'd died worth much, they wouldn't have buried him like that.'
Fanny's heart sank. She could conceive no other explanation of a simple burial save lack of means, or resentment in the survivors at the disposition made of his property by the deceased. When, on the morrow, Horace told her that his father had strictly charged Mr Barmby to have him buried in the simplest mode compatible with decency, she put it down to the old man's excessive meanness.
On this occasion she learnt the contents of Mr Lord's will, and having learnt them, got rid of Horace as soon as possible that she might astonish her sisters with the report.
In the afternoon of that day, Beatrice had an appointment with Luckworth Crewe. She was to meet him at the office he had just taken in Farringdon Street, whence they would repair to a solicitor's in the same neighbourhood, for the discussion of legal business connected with Miss French's enterprise. She climbed the staircase of a big building, and was directed to the right door by the sound of Crewe's voice, loudly and jocularly discoursing. He stood with two men in the open doorway, and at the sight of Beatrice waved a hand to her.
'Take your hook, you fellows; I have an engagement.' The men, glancing at Miss French facetiously, went their way. 'How do, old chum? It's all in a mess yet; hold your skirts together. Come along this way.'
Through glue-pots and shavings and an overpowering smell of paint, Beatrice followed to inspect the premises, which consisted of three rooms; one, very much the smallest, about ten feet square. Three workmen were busy, and one, fitting up shelves, whistled a melody with ear-piercing shrillness.
'Stop that damned noise!' shouted Crewe. 'I've told you once already. Try it on again, my lad, and I'll drop you down the well of the staircase -- you've too much breath, you have.'
The other workmen laughed. It was evident that Crewe had made friends with them all.
'Won't be bad, when we get the decks cleared,' he remarked to Beatrice. 'Plenty of room to make twenty thousand a year or so.'
He checked himself, and asked in a subdued voice, 'Seen anything of the Lords?'
Beatrice nodded with a smile. 'And heard about the will. Have you?'
'No, I haven't. Come into this little room.'
He closed the door behind them, and looked at his companion with curiosity, but without show of eagerness.
'Well, it's a joke,' said Miss French.
'Is it? How?'
'Fanny's that mad about it! She'd got it into her silly noddle that Horace Lord would drop in for a fortune at once. As it is, he gets nothing at all for two years, except what the Barmbys choose to give him. And if he marries before he's four-and-twenty, he loses everything -- every cent!'
Crewe whistled a bar of a street-melody, then burst into laughter.
'That's how the old joker has done them, is it? Quite right too. The lad doesn't know his own mind yet. Let Fanny wait if she really wants him -- and if she can keep hold of him. But what are the figures?'
'Nothing startling. Of course I don't know all the ins and outs of it, but Horace Lord will get seven thousand pounds, and a sixth share in the piano business. Old Barmby and his son are trustees. They may let Horace have just what they think fit during the next two years. If he wants money to go into business with, they may advance what they like. But for two years he's simply in their hands, to be looked after. And if he marries -- pop goes the weasel!'
'And Miss Lord?' asked Crewe carelessly.
Beatrice pointed a finger at him.
'You want to know badly, don't you? Well, it's pretty much the same as the other. To begin with, if she marries before the age of six-and-twenty, she gets nothing whatever. If she doesn't marry, there's two hundred a year to live on and to keep up the house. -- Oh, I was forgetting; she must not only keep single to twenty-six, but continue to live where she does now, with that old servant of theirs for companion. At six-and-twenty she takes the same as her brother, about seven thousand, and a sixth share in Lord and Barmby.'
Again Crewe whistled.
'That's about three years still to live in Grove Lane,' he said thoughtfully. 'Well, the old joker has pinned them, and no mistake. I thought he had more to leave.'
'Of course you did,' remarked Beatrice significantly.
'Look here, old fellow, don't talk to me like that,' he replied good-humouredly, but with a reproof not to be mistaken. 'I thought nothing about it in the way that you mean. But it isn't much, after living as he has done. I suppose you don't know how the money lies?'
'I have it all from Fanny, and it's a wonder she remembered as much as she did.'
'Oh, Fanny's pretty smart in £. s. d. But did she say what becomes of the money if either of them break the terms?'
'Goes to a girl's orphanage, somewhere in the old man's country. But there's more than I've accounted for yet. Young Barmby's sisters get legacies -- a hundred and fifty apiece. And, last of all, the old servant has an annuity of two hundred. He made her a sort of housekeeper not long ago, H. L. says; thought no end of her.'
'Don't know anything about her,' said Crewe absently. 'I should like to know the business details. What arrangement was made, I wonder, when he took Barmby into partnership?'
'I shouldn't be surprised if he simply gave him a share. Old Barmby and Lord were great chums. Then, you see, Samuel Barmby has a third of his profits to pay over, eventually.'
Beatrice went on to speak of the mysterious Mrs Damerel, concerning whom she had heard from Fanny. The man of business gave particular ear to this story, and asked many questions. Of a sudden, as if dismissing matters which hardly concerned him, he said mirthfully:
'You've heard about the row at Lillie Bridge yesterday?'
'I saw something about it in the paper.'
'Well, I was there. Pure chance; haven't been at that kind of place for a year and more. It was a match for the Sprint Championship and a hundred pounds. Timed for six o'clock, but at a quarter past the chaps hadn't come forward. I heard men talking, and guessed there was something wrong; they thought it a put-up job. When it got round that there'd be no race, the excitement broke out, and then -- I'd have given something for you to see it! First of all there was a rush for the gate-money; a shilling a piece, you know, we'd all paid. There were a whole lot of North-of-England chaps, fellow countrymen of mine, and I heard some of them begin to send up a roar that sounded dangerous. I was tumbling along with the crowd, quite ready for a scrimmage -- I rather enjoy a fight now and then, -- and all at once some chap sang out just in front, 'Let's burst up the blooming show!' -- only he used a stronger word. And a lot of us yelled hooray, and to it we went. I don't mean I had a hand in the pillaging and smashing, -- it wouldn't have done for a man just starting in business to be up at the police-court, -- but I looked on and laughed -- laughed till I could hardly stand! They set to work on the refreshment place. It was a scene if you like! Fellows knocking off the heads of bottles, and drinking all they could, then pouring the rest on the ground. Glasses and decanters flying right and left, -- sandwiches and buns, and I don't know what, pelting about. They splintered all the small wood they could lay their hands on, and set fire to it, and before you could say Jack Robinson the whole place was blazing. The bobbies got it pretty warm -- bottles and stones and logs of wood; I saw one poor chap with the side of his face cut clean open. It does one good, a real stirring-up like that; I feel better to-day than for the last month. And the swearing that went on! It's a long time since I heard such downright, hearty, solid swearing. There was one chap I kept near, and he swore for a full hour without stopping, except when he had a bottle at his mouth; he only stopped when he was speechless with liquor.'
'I wish I'd been there,' said Miss French gaily. 'It must have been no end of fun.'
'A right down good spree. And it wasn't over till about eight o'clock. I stayed till the police had cleared the grounds, and then came home, laughing all the way. It did me good, I tell you!'
'Well, shall we go and see the lawyer?' suggested Beatrice.
'Right you are. -- Have a drink first? Nice quiet place round in Fleet Street-glass of wine. No? As you please, old chum. -- Think this shop 'll do, don't you? You must come round when it's finished. But I daresay you'll be here many a time -- on biz.'
'Oh, I daresay.'
And as they went down the stairs, Crewe laughed again at his recollections of yesterday's sport.
Gusts of an October evening swept about the square of the old Inn, and made rushes at the windows; all the more cosy seemed it here in Tarrant's room, where a big fire, fed into smokeless placidity, purred and crackled. Pipe in mouth, Tarrant lay back in his big chair, gracefully indolent as ever. Opposite him, lamp-light illuminating her face on one side, and fire-gloom on the other, Nancy turned over an illustrated volume, her husband's gift today. Many were the presents he had bestowed upon her, costly some of them, all flattering the recipient by a presumption of taste and intelligence.
She had been here since early in the afternoon, it was now near seven o'clock.
Nancy looked at the pictures, but inattentively, her brows slightly knitted, and her lips often on the point of speech that concerned some other matter. Since the summer holiday she had grown a trifle thinner in face; her beauty was no longer allied with perfect health; a heaviness appeared on her eyelids. Of course she wore the garb of mourning, and its effect was to emphasise the maturing change manifest in her features.
For several minutes there had passed no word; but Tarrant's face, no less than his companion's, signalled discussion in suspense. No unfriendly discussion, yet one that excited emotional activity in both of them. The young man, his pipe-hand falling to his knee, first broke silence.
'I look at it in this way. We ought to regard ourselves as married people living under exceptionally favourable circumstances. One has to bear in mind the brutal fact that man and wife, as a rule, see a great deal too much of each other -- thence most of the ills of married life: squabblings, discontents, small or great disgusts, leading often enough to altri guaï People get to think themselves victims of incompatibility, when they are merely suffering from a foolish custom -- the habit of being perpetually together. In fact, it's an immoral custom. What does immorality mean but anything that tends to kill love, to harden hearts? The common practice of man and wife occupying the same room is monstrous, gross; it's astounding that women of any sensitiveness endure it. In fact, their sensitiveness is destroyed. Even an ordinary honeymoon generally ends in quarrel -- as it certainly ought to. You and I escape all that. Each of us lives a separate life, with the result that we like each other better as time goes on; I speak for myself, at all events. I look forward to our meetings. I open the door to you with as fresh a feeling of pleasure as when you came first. If we had been ceaselessly together day and night -- well, you know the result as well as I do.'
He spoke with indulgent gravity, in the tone of kindness to which his voice was naturally attuned. And Nancy's reply, though it expressed a stronger feeling, struck the same harmonious note.
'I can agree with all that. But it applies to people married in the ordinary way. I was speaking of ourselves, placed as we are.'
'I don't pretend to like the concealment,' said Tarrant. 'For one thing, there's a suggestion of dishonour about it. We've gone over all that ----'
'Oh, I don't mean that for a moment. It isn't really dishonourable. My father could never have objected to you for my husband. He only wanted to guard me -- Mary says so, and he told her everything. He thought me a silly, flighty girl, and was afraid I should be trapped for the sake of my money. I wish -- oh how I wish I had had the courage to tell him! He would have seen you, and liked and trusted you -- how could he help?'
'It might have been better -- but who knows whether he would have seen me with your eyes, Nancy?'
'Yes, yes. But I was going to say ----'
'There are so many difficulties before us, dear.'
'Not if we continue to think of each other as we do now. Do you mean it might be discovered?'
'Yes, through no fault of ours.'
She hesitated again.
'Quite sure you haven't told anybody?'
Tarrant had a doubt on this point. He strongly suspected that Jessica Morgan knew the truth, but he shrank from pressing Nancy to an avowal of repeated falsehood.
'Then it's very unlikely we should be found out. Who would dream of tracking you here, for instance? And suppose we were seen together in the street or in the country, who would suspect anything more than love-making? and that is not forbidden you.'
'No. But ----'
'But suppose I ----'
She rose, crossed to him, seated herself on his knee and put an arm about his neck. Before she had spoken another word, Tarrant understood; the smile on his face lost its spontaneity; a bitter taste seemed to distort his lips.
'You think -- you are afraid ----'
He heard a monosyllable, and sat silent. This indeed had not entered into his calculations; but why not? He could hardly say; he had ignored the not unimportant detail, as it lurked among possibilities. Perhaps had willingly ignored it, as introducing a complication oppressive to his indolence, to his hodiernal philosophy. And now he arraigned mother-nature, the very divinity whom hitherto he had called upon to justify him. All at once he grew cold to Nancy. The lulled objections to matrimony awoke in him again; again he felt that he had made a fool of himself. Nancy was better than he had thought; he either loved her, or felt something towards her, not easily distinguishable from love. His inferior she remained, but not in the sense he had formerly attributed to the word. Her mind and heart excelled the idle conception he had formed of them. But Nancy was not his wife, as the world understands that relation; merely his mistress, and as a mistress he found her charming, lovable. What she now hinted at, would shatter the situation. Tarrant thought not of the peril to her material prospects; on that score he was indifferent, save in so far as Mr Lord's will helped to maintain their mutual independence. But he feared for his liberty, in the first place, and in the second, abhorred the change that must come over Nancy herself. Nancy a mother -- he repelled the image, as though it degraded her.
Delicacy, however, constrained him to a disguise of these emotions. He recognised the human sentiments that should have weighed with him; like a man of cultivated intelligence, he admitted their force, their beauty. None the less, a syllable on Nancy's lips had arrested the current of his feelings, and made him wish again that he had been either more or less a man of honour down at Teignmouth.
'And yet,' he said to himself, 'could I have resisted an appeal for marriage now? That comes of being so confoundedly humane. It's a marvel that I didn't find myself married to some sheer demirep long ago.'
Nancy was speaking.
'Will it make you love me less?'
'I have always refused to prophesy about love,' he answered, with forced playfulness.
'But you wouldn't -- you wouldn't?'
'We should find ourselves in a very awkward position.'
'I know,' said Nancy hurriedly. 'I can't see what would be done. But you seem colder to me all at once, Lionel. Surely it oughtn't to -- to turn you away from me. Perhaps I am mistaken.'
This referred to the alarming possibility, and Tarrant caught at hope. Yes, she might be mistaken; they wouldn't talk about it; he shook it away.
'Let me fill my pipe again. Yes, you can do it for me. That reminds me of a story Harvey Munden tells. A man he knew, a doctor, got married, and there was nothing his wife wouldn't do for him. As he sat with her one evening, smoking, a patient called him into the consulting-room. He had only just lighted a fresh pipe, and laid it down regretfully. 'I'll keep it in for you,' said his wife. And she did so, with dainty and fearful puffs, at long intervals. But the doctor was detained, and when he came back -- well, the poor wife had succumbed to her devotion. She never kept in his pipe again.
Nancy tried to laugh. She was in her own chair again, and sat resting her cheek upon her hand, gazing at the fire.
'How is it, Lionel, that no one ever knocks at your door when I'm here.'
'Oh, very simple. I sport the oak -- as you know.'
'But don't you think some friend of yours might see a light in your window, and come up?'
'If so, il respecte la consigne.'
'No, no; I don't like you when you begin to use French words. I think it reminds me of once when you did it a long time ago, -- and I thought you -- never mind.'
'Weren't they strange -- those meetings of ours at Champion Hill? What did you think me? Arrogant? Insolent? That is my tendency with strangers, I admit.'
'But I was asking you a question,' said Nancy. 'You mean that no one would knock, if he saw your outer door closed. But what would they think?'
'No doubt -- that I was working. I am supposed to be secretly engaged on some immortal composition.'
'I do hope no one that knows you will ever see me coming or going.'
'What could it matter? They wouldn't know who you were.'
'But to have such things thought. I should feel it just as if they knew me. I believe I could never come again.'
'Why, what's the matter with you?' Tarrant asked. 'You have tears in your eyes. You're not well to-day.' He checked himself on an unwelcome thought, and proceeded more carelessly. 'Do you suppose for a moment that any friend of mine is ass enough to think with condemnation of a girl who should come to my rooms -- whatever the circumstances? You must get rid of that provincialism -- let us call it Camberwellism.'
'They wouldn't think it any harm -- even if ----?'
'My dear girl, we have outgrown those ancestral prejudices.' Tarrant's humour never quite deserted him, least of all when he echoed the talk of his world; but his listener kept a grave face. 'We have nothing to do with Mrs Grundy's morals.'
'But you believe in a morality of some kind?' she pursued with diffidence. 'You used the word "immoral" just now.'
Nancy felt no consciousness of the gulf that yawned between herself as she spoke now and the old self which had claimed 'superiority.' Her mind was so completely unsettled that she never tried to connect its present state with its earlier phases. For the most part, her sensations and her reflections were concerned with the crude elements of life; the exceptional moments she spent in a world of vague joys and fears, wherein thought, properly speaking, had no share. Before she could outlive the shock of passion which seemed at once to destroy and to re-create her, she was confronted with the second supreme crisis of woman's existence, -- its natural effects complicated with the trials of her peculiar position. Tarrant's reception of her disclosure came as a new disturbance -- she felt bewildered and helpless.
He, preoccupied with the anxiety he affected to dismiss, had no inclination to debate ethical problems. For a while he talked jestingly, and at length fell into a mood of silence. Nancy did not stay much longer; they parted without mention of the subject uppermost in their thoughts.
They had no stated times of meeting. Tarrant sent an invitation whenever it pleased him. When the next arrived, in about a week, Nancy made reply that she did not feel well enough to leave home. It was the briefest letter Tarrant had yet received from her, and the least affectionate. He kept silence for a few days, and wrote again. This time Nancy responded as usual, and came.
To the involuntary question in his eyes, hers answered unmistakably. For the first few minutes they said very little to each other. Tarrant was struggling with repulsions and solicitudes of which he felt more than half ashamed; Nancy, reticent for many reasons, not the least of them a resentful pride, which for the moment overcame her fondness, endeavoured to speak of trivial things. They kept apart, and at length the embarrassment of the situation held them both mute.
With a nervous movement, the young man pushed forward the chair on which Nancy usually sat.
'I see that you don't look well.'
Nancy turned to the window. She had unbuttoned her jacket, and taken off her gloves, but went no further in the process of preparing herself for the ordinary stay of some hours.
'Did something in my letter displease you?' inquired her husband.
'You mean -- because I didn't come? No; I really didn't feel well enough.'
Tarrant hesitated, but the softer feeling prevailed with him. He helped to remove her jacket, seated her by the fire, and led her to talk.
'So there's no doubt of it?'
Her silence made answer.
'Then of course there's just as little doubt as to what we must do.'
His voice had not a convincing sincerity; he waited for the reply.
'You mean that we can't keep the secret?'
'How is it possible?'
'But you are vexed about it. You don't speak to me as you used to. I don't think you ever will again.'
'It will make no change in me,' said Tarrant, with resolute good humour. 'All I want to be sure of is that you are quite prepared for the change in your prospects.'
'Are you, dear?'
Her tone and look deprived the inquiry of unpleasant implication. He answered her with a laugh.
'You know exactly how I regard it. In one way I should feel relief. Of course I don't like the thought that I shall have caused you to suffer such a loss.'
'I should never have that thought. But are you quite sure about the result to yourself? You remember saying that you couldn't be certain how ----'
'How it will be taken at Champion Hill? I was going to tell you the latest report from there. It is very doubtful whether I should ever have to break the news.'
They did not look at each other.
'Everything, in that quarter, must be long since settled. Pray remember that I have no vast expectations. Quite certainly, it won't be a large fortune; very likely not more than your own. But enough to live on, no doubt. I know the value of money -- no man better. It would be pleasant enough to play with thousands a year. But I don't grumble so long as I have a competency.'
Nancy meditated, and sighed.
'Oh, it's a pity. Father never meant me to be penniless if I married wisely.'
'I suppose not.'
'Of course not!'
They both meditated.
'It wouldn't be possible -- would it?'
'Why,' he answered with a laugh, 'last time you were here you spoke in quite the other way. You were utterly miserable at the thought of living through it alone.'
'Yes -- I don't know whether I could -- even if ----'
'What are you thinking of?'
'I've been talking with Mary,' she replied, after an uneasy pause. 'She has lived with us so long; and since father's death it seems quite natural to make a friend of her. No one could be more devoted to me than she is. I believe there's nothing she wouldn't do. I believe I might trust her with any secret.'
The obvious suggestion demanded thought.
'By-the-bye,' said Tarrant, looking up, 'have you seen your aunt again?'
Nancy's face changed to a cold expression.
'No. And I don't think I shall.'
'Probably you were as little sympathetic to her as she to you.'
'I don't like her,' was the brief reply.
'I've had curious thoughts about that lady,' said Tarrant, smiling. 'The mystery, it seems to me, is by no means solved. You think she really is your aunt?'
'Impossible to doubt it. Any one could see her likeness to Horace at once.'
'Ah, you didn't mention that. I had a fear that she might be simply an adventuress, with an eye to your brother's money.'
'She is what she says, I'm sure. But I shall never ask her to come and see me again, and I don't think she'll want to. That would be fortunate if -- if we wished ----'
Tarrant nodded. At the same moment they heard a sound that startled them.
'That's a knock at the door,' said Nancy, rising as if to escape.
'So it is. Banging with a stick. Let him bang. It must be a stranger, or he'd respect the oak.'
They sat listening. The knock sounded again, loud and prolonged. Tarrant joked about it; but a third time came the summons.
'I may as well go and see who it is.'
'Oh -- you won't let any one ----'
'Of course not. Sit quietly.'
He went out, closing the room-door behind him, and opened the heavy door which should have ensured his privacy. For five minutes he was absent, then returned with a face portending news.
'It was Vawdrey. He knew my habit of sporting the oak, and wouldn't go away till he had made sure. My grandmother is dying. They telegraphed to Vawdrey in the City, and he came here at once to tell me. I must go. Perhaps I shall be too late.'
'What did he think of your keeping him outside?'
'I made some sort of excuse. He's a good-natured fellow; it didn't matter. Stay a little after I'm gone; stay as long as you like, In fact. You can pull to the inner door when you go.'
'What did the telegram say?'
'Mrs Tarrant sinking. Come immediately.' Of course we expected it. It's raining hard: wait and see if it stops; you must take care of yourself.'
For this, Nancy was not slow in exhibiting her gratitude, which served as mask of the pleasure she could not decently betray. When her husband had hastened off, she sat for a few minutes in thought; then, alone here for the first time, she began to walk about the rooms, and to make herself more intimately acquainted with their contents.
Whilst she was thus occupied, darkness came on. She did not care to light the lamp, so made herself ready, and stole forth.
The rain had ceased. Walking alone at night was a pleasure in which she now indulged herself pretty frequently; at such times Mary Woodruff believed her in the company of Miss Morgan. The marked sobriety of her demeanour since Mr Lord's death, and the friendliness, even the affection, she evinced in their common life at home, had set Mary's mind at ease concerning her. No murmur at her father's will had escaped Nancy, in this respect very unlike her brother, who, when grief was forgotten, declared himself ill-used; she seemed perfectly content with the conditions laid upon her, and the sincerity of her mourning could not be doubted. Anxious to conciliate the girl in every honest way, Mary behaved to her with the same external respect as ever, and without a hint of express guardianship. The two were on excellent terms. It seemed likely that before long they would have the house to themselves; already Horace had spoken of taking lodgings in a part of London more congruous with the social aspirations encouraged by his aunt, Mrs Damerel.
From Chancery Lane she passed into Fleet Street, and sauntered along with observation of shop-windows. She was unspeakably relieved by the events of the afternoon; it would now depend upon her own choice whether she preserved her secret, or declared herself a married woman. Her husband had proved himself generous as well as loving; yes, she repeated to herself, generous and loving; her fears and suspicions had been baseless. Mrs Tarrant's death freed them from all sordid considerations. A short time, perhaps a day or two, might put an end to irregularities, and enable her to hold up her head once more.
Feeling hungry, she entered a restaurant, and dined. Not carelessly, but with fastidious choice of viands. This was enjoyable; she began to look more like herself of a few months ago.
She would return to Camberwell by train from Ludgate Hill. At the circus, crowding traffic held her back for a minute or two; just as she ran forward, a familiar voice caused her to stop again. She became flurried, lost her head, stood still amid a tumult of omnibuses, cabs and carts; but a hand grasped her by the arm, and led her safely to the opposite pavement.
'What do you mean by shouting at me in the street?' were her first words.
The person addressed was Luckworth Crewe; he had by no means anticipated such wrathful greeting, and stood in confusion.
'I beg your pardon, Miss Lord. I didn't think I shouted. I only meant to call your attention.'
'Why should you call my attention?' Her cheeks were flushed with anger; she regarded him as though he were a stranger guilty of mere insolence. 'I don't wish to speak to you.'
With astonishment, Crewe found himself alone. But a rebuff such as this, so irrational as he thought it, so entirely out of keeping with Miss Lord's behaviour, he could by no means accept. Nancy was walking towards the railway-station; he followed. He watched her as she took a ticket, then put himself in her way, with all the humility of countenance he could command.
'I'm so sorry I offended you. It wasn't the right thing to do; I ought to have waited till you were across. I'm a blundering sort of fellow in those things. Do let me beg your pardon, and forgive me.'
She was calmer now, though still tremulous. But for the attack of nervousness, she would have met Crewe with nothing worse than a slight reserve, to mark a change in their relations. Very soon after her father's death he had written a becoming letter, though it smacked of commercial phraseology. To the hope expressed in it, that he might be allowed to call upon her in a few weeks' time, Nancy made no reply. A fortnight later he wrote again, this time reminding her, with modest propriety, of what had occurred between them before she left town in August. Nancy responded, and in grave, friendly language, begged him to think of her no more; he must not base the slightest hope upon anything she might have said. To her surprise, Crewe held his peace, and she saw him now for the first time since their ascent of the Monument.
'I'm ashamed that I lost my temper, Mr Crewe. I am in a hurry to get home.'
In the booking-office at Ludgate Hill it is not easy to detain, by chivalrous discourse, a lady bent on escaping; but Crewe attempted it. He subdued his voice, spoke rapidly and with emotion, implored that he might be heard for a moment. Would she not permit him to call upon her? He had waited, respecting her seclusion. He asked for nothing whatever but permission to call, as any acquaintance might.
'Have you heard I have opened an office in Farringdon Street? I should so like to tell you all about it -- what I'm doing ----'
'No one calls to see me,' said Nancy, with firmness. 'I wish to live quite alone. I'm very sorry to seem unfriendly.'
'Is it anything I've done?'
'No -- nothing whatever. I assure you, nothing. Let us say good-bye; I can't stop another moment.'
They shook hands and so parted.
'You're back early,' said Mary, when Nancy entered the drawing-room.
'Yes. I left Jessica to her books sooner than usual. The examination draws near.'
Quiet, sad, diligent ever, Mary kept unchanged the old domestic routine. There was the same perfect order, the same wholesome economy, as when she worked under the master's eyes. Nancy had nothing to do but enjoy the admirable care with which she was surrounded; she took it all as a matter of course, never having considered the difference between her own home and those of her acquaintances.
Horace had dined, and was gone out again. They talked of him; Mary said that he had spoken of moving into lodgings very soon.
'Of course he doesn't tell us everything,' said Nancy. 'I feel pretty sure that he's going to leave the office, but how he means to live I don't understand. Perhaps Mrs Damerel will give him money, or lend it him. I only hope she may break it off between him and Fanny.'
'Hasn't he told you that Fanny is often with Mrs Damerel?'
'With her?' Nancy exclaimed. 'He never said a word of it to me.'
'He said so to me this evening, and laughed when I looked surprised.'
'Well then, I don't pretend to understand what's going on. We can't do anything.'
About nine o'clock the servant entered the room, bringing Miss Lord a note, which had just been left by a cab-driver. Nancy, seeing that the address was in Tarrant's hand, opened it with a flutter of joy; such a proceeding as this, openly sending a note by a messenger, could only mean that her husband no longer cared to preserve secrecy. To her astonishment, the envelope contained but a hurried line.
'Not a word yet to any one. Without fail, come to-morrow afternoon, at four.'
With what show of calmness she could command, she looked up at her companion.
'The idea of his sending in this way! It's that Mr Crewe I've told you of. I met him as I was coming home, and had to speak to him rather sharply to get rid of him. Here comes his apology, foolish man!'
Living in perpetual falsehood, Nancy felt no shame at a fiction such as this. Mere truth-telling had never seemed to her a weighty matter of the law. And she was now grown expert in lies. But Tarrant's message disturbed her gravely. Something unforeseen must have happened -- something, perhaps, calamitous. She passed a miserable night.
When she ascended the stairs at Staple Inn, next afternoon, it wanted ten minutes to four. As usual at her coming, the outer door stood open, exposing the door with the knocker. She had just raised her hand, when, with a sound of voices from inside, the door opened, and Tarrant appeared in company with a stranger. Terror-stricken, she stepped back. Tarrant, after a glance, paid no attention to her.
'All right,' he was saying to his friend, 'I shall see you in a day or two. Good-bye, old man.'
The stranger had observed Nancy, but withheld his eyes from her, and quickly vanished down the stairs.
'Who was that?' she whispered.
'I told you four o'clock.'
'It is four.'
'No -- ten minutes to at least. It doesn't matter, but if you had been punctual you wouldn't have had a fright.'
Nancy had dropped into a chair, white and shaking. Tarrant's voice, abruptly reproachful, affected her scarcely less than the preceding shock. In the struggle to recover herself she sobbed and choked, and at length burst into tears. Tarrant spoke impatiently.
'What's the matter? Surely you are not so childish' ----
She stood up, and went into the bedroom, where she remained for several minutes, returning at length without her jacket, but with her hat still on.
'I couldn't help it; and you shouldn't speak to me in that way. I have felt ill all the morning.'
Looking at her, the young man said to himself, that love was one thing, wedded life another. He could make allowance for Nancy's weakness -- but it was beyond his power to summon the old warmth and tenderness. If henceforth he loved her, it must be with husband's love -- a phrase which signified to him something as distinct as possible from the ardour he had known; a moral attachment instead of a passionate desire.
And there was another reason for his intolerant mood.
'You hadn't spoken to any one before you got my note?'
'No. -- Why are you treating me like this? Are you ashamed that your friend saw me?'
'Ashamed? not at all.'
'Who did he think I was?'
'I don't know. He doesn't know anything about you, at all events. As you may guess, I have something not very pleasant to tell. I didn't mean to be unkind; it was only the surprise at seeing you when I opened the door. I had calculated the exact time. But never mind. You look cold; warm yourself at the fire. You shall drink a glass of wine; it will put your nerves right again.'
'No, I want nothing. Tell me at once what it is.'
But Tarrant quietly brought a bottle and glass from his cupboard. Nancy again refused, pettishly.
'Until you have drunk,' he said, with a smile of self-will, 'I shall tell you nothing.'
'I don't know what I've done to make you like this.'
Her sobs and tears returned. After a moment of impatience, Tarrant went up to her with the glass, laid a hand upon her shoulder, and kissed her.
'Now, come, be reasonable. We have uncommonly serious things to talk about.'
'What did your friend think of me?'
'That you were one of the prettiest girls he had ever been privileged to see, and that I was an enviable fellow to have such a visitor. There now, another sip, and let us have some colour back into your cheeks. There's bad news, Nancy; confoundedly bad news, dear girl. My grandmother was dead when I got there. Well, the foolish old woman has been muddling her affairs for a long time, speculating here and there without taking any one's advice, and so on; and the result is that she leaves nothing at all.'
Nancy was mute.
'Less than nothing, indeed. She owed a few hundreds that she had no means of paying. The joke of the thing is, that she has left an elaborate will, with legacies to half-a-dozen people, myself first of all. If she had been so good as to die two years ago, I should have come in for a thousand a year or so. No one suspected what was going on; she never allowed Vawdrey, the one man who could have been useful to her, to have an inkling of the affair. An advertising broker got her in his clutches. Vawdrey's lawyer has been going through her papers, and finds everything quite intelligible. The money has gone in lumps, good after bad. Swindling, of course, but perfectly legal swindling, nothing to be done about it. A minute or two before her death she gasped out some words of revelation to the nurse, enough to set Vawdrey on the track, when he was told.'
Still the listener said nothing.
'Well, I had a talk with Vawdrey. He's a blackguard, but not a bad fellow. Wished he could help me, but didn't quite see how, unless I would go into business. However, he had a suggestion to make.'
For Nancy, the pause was charged with apprehensions. She seemed to discover in her husband's face a purpose which he knew would excite her resistance.
'He and I have often talked about my friend Sutherland, in the Bahamas, and Vawdrey has an idea that there'll be a profitable opening in that quarter, before long. Sutherland has written to me lately that he thinks of bestirring himself in the projects I've told you about; he has got the old man's consent to borrow money on the property. Now Vawdrey, naturally enough, would like Sutherland to join him in starting a company; the thoughts of such men run only on companies. So he offers, if I will go out to the Bahamas for a month or two, and look about me, and put myself in a position to make some kind of report -- he offers to pay my expenses. Of course if the idea came to anything, and a company got floated, I should have shares.'
Again he paused. The listener had wide, miserable eyes.
'Well, I told him at once that I would accept the proposal. I have no right to refuse. All I possess in the world, at this moment, is about sixty pounds. If I sold all my books and furniture, they might bring another sixty or so. What, then, is to become of me? I must set to work at something, and here's the first work that comes to hand. But,' his voice softened, 'this puts us face to face with a very grave question; doesn't it? Are we to relinquish your money, and be both of us penniless? Or is there any possibility of saving it?'
'How can we? How could the secret be kept?'
Voice and countenance joined in utter dismay.
'It doesn't seem to me,' said Tarrant slowly, 'a downright impossibility. It might be managed, with the help of your friend Mary, and granting that you yourself have the courage. But' -- he made a large gesture -- 'of course I can't exact any such thing of you. It must seem practicable to you yourself.'
'What are we to do if my money is lost?'
'Don't say we.' He smiled generously, perhaps too generously. 'A man must support his wife. I shall arrange it somehow, of course, so that you have no anxiety. But ----'
His voice dropped.
'Lionel!' She sprang up and approached him as he stood by the fireplace. 'You won't leave me, dear? How can you think of going so far away -- for months -- and leaving me as I am now? Oh, you won't leave me!'
He arched his eyebrows, and smiled gently.
'If that's how you look at it -- well, I must stay.'
'You can do something here,' Nancy continued, with rapid pleading. 'You can write for the papers. You always said you could -- yes, you did say so. We don't need very much to live upon -- at first. I shall be content ----'
'A moment. You mean that the money must be abandoned.'
She had meant it, but under his look her confused thoughts took a new direction.
'No. We needn't lose it. Only stay near me, and I will keep the secret, through everything. You will only need, then, just to support yourself, and that is so easy. I will tell Mary how it is. She can be trusted, I am sure she can. She would do anything for me. She knows that father was not thinking of a man such as you. It would be cruelly wrong if I lost everything. I will tell her, and she will help me. Scarcely any one comes to the house, as it is; and I will pretend to have bad health, and shut myself up. And then, when the time comes, Mary will go away with me, and -- and the child shall be taken care of by some people we can trust to be kind to it. Horace is going to live in lodgings; and Mrs Damerel, I am sure, won't come to see me again; and I can get rid of other people. The Barmbys shall think I am sulking about the will; I'm sure they think already that I dislike them because of it. Let them think it; I will refuse, presently, to see them at all. It's only a few months. If I tell people I'm not well, nobody will feel surprised if I go away for a month or two -- now -- soon. Mary would go with me, of course. I might go for December and January. Father didn't mean I was never to have change of air. Then there would be February and March at home. And then I might go away again till near the end of May. I'm sure we can manage it.'
She stopped, breathless. Tarrant, who had listened with averted face, turned and spoke judicially.
'There's one thing you're forgetting, Nancy. Do you propose that we shall never acknowledge the child? Remember that even if you were bold enough, after our second marriage, to acknowledge it in the face of scandal -- that wouldn't be safe. Any one, if suspicion is aroused, can find out when we were actually married.'
'We can't think of that. The child may not live.'
Tarrant moved, and the movement startled Nancy. It meant that she had pained him, perhaps made him think of her with repugnance.
'I hardly know what I am saying. You know I don't wish that. But all I can think of now is to keep you near me. I can't bear to be separated from you. I love you so much more than you love me.'
'Let me just tell you what I had in mind, Nancy. Supposing the secret can be kept, we must eventually live abroad, that is to say, if our child is not to grow up a stranger to us, which neither you nor I could wish. Now, at Nassau, the capital of the Bahamas, a lot of Americans always spend the winter. If I made acquaintances among them, it might be a very useful step, it would be preparing for the future.'
To Nancy this sounded far from convincing. She argued against it in a perfectly natural way, and as any one else would have done who knew Tarrant. More than once he had declared to her that he would rather die than drag out his life in one of the new countries, that he could not breathe in an atmosphere of commercialism unrelieved by historic associations. Nancy urged that it would be better to make a home on the continent, whither they could go, at any moment, without a sense of exile.
'So it comes to this,' he interrupted, with an air of resignation. 'I must refuse Vawdrey's offer, and, in doing so, refuse an excellent chance of providing for our future, if -- what is by no means improbable -- the secret should be discovered. I must turn to journalism, or be a clerk. Well and good. My wife decrees it.'
And he began to hum an air, as if the matter were dismissed. There was a long silence.
'How long would you be away?' murmured Nancy, at length.
'I suppose two months at most.'
'November -- December.'
'The second of those months you might be spending, as you said, away from London. Down in Devon, perhaps. I can't blame your thoughts about it; but it seems -- doesn't it? -- a trifle inconsiderate, when you think what may result from my journey.'
'Would you promise me to be back by the end of the year?'
'Not promise, Nancy. But do my best. Letters take fourteen days, that's all. You should hear by every mail.'
'Why not promise?'
'Because I can't foresee how much I may have to do there, and how long it will take me. But you may be very sure that Vawdrey won't pay expenses for longer than he can help. It has occurred to me that I might get materials for some magazine articles. That would help to float me with the editors, you know, if it's necessary.'
'If I consented -- if I did my best not to stand in your way -- would you love me better when you came back?'
The answer was a pleased laugh.
'Why, there,' he cried, 'you've given in a nutshell the whole duty of a wife who wishes to be loved!'
Nancy tried to laugh with him.
He must be a strong man whom the sudden stare of Penury does not daunt and, in some measure, debase. Tarrant, whatever the possibilities of his nature, had fallen under a spell of indolent security, which declared its power only when he came face to face with the demand for vigorous action. The moment found him a sheer poltroon. 'What! Is it possible that I -- I -- am henceforth penniless? I, to whom the gods were so gracious? I, without warning, flung from sheltered comfort on to the bare road side, where I must either toil or beg?' The thing seemed unintelligible. He had never imagined such ruin of his hopes.
For the first time, he turned anxious thoughts upon the money to which his wife was -- would be -- might be -- entitled. He computed the chances of success in the deception he and she were practising, and knew with shame that he must henceforth be party to a vulgar fraud. Could Nancy be trusted to carry through this elaborate imposition -- difficult for the strongest-minded woman? Was it not a certainty that some negligence, or some accident, must disclose her secret? Then had he a wife and child upon his hands, to support even as common men support wife and child, by incessant labour. The prospect chilled him.
If he went to the West Indies, his absence would heighten the probability of Nancy's detection. Yet he desired to escape from her. Not to abandon her; of that thought he was incapable; but to escape the duty -- repulsive to his imagination -- of encouraging her through the various stages of their fraud. From the other side of the Atlantic he would write affectionate, consolatory letters; face to face with her, could he support the show of tenderness, go through an endless series of emotional interviews, always reminding himself that the end in view was hard cash? Not for love's sake; he loved her less than before she proved herself his wife in earnest. Veritable love -- no man knew better -- would have impelled him to save himself and her from a degrading position.
Was he committing himself to a criminality which the law would visit? Hardly that -- until he entered into possession of money fraudulently obtained.
In miserable night-watchings, he fell to the most sordid calculations. Supposing their plot revealed, would Nancy in fact be left without resources? Surely not, -- with her brother, her aunt, her lifelong friends the Barmbys, to take thought for her. She could not suffer extremities. And upon this he blushed relief.
Better to make up his mind that the secret must inevitably out. For the moment, Nancy believed she had resigned herself to his departure, and that she had strength to go through with the long ordeal. But a woman in her situation cannot be depended upon to pursue a consistent course. It is Nature's ordinance that motherhood shall be attained through phases of mental disturbance, which leave the sufferer scarce a pretence of responsibility. Nancy would play strange pranks, by which, assuredly, he would be driven to exasperation if they passed under his eyes. He had no mind to be called father; perhaps even his humanity might fail under the test to which, as a lover, he had given scarce a casual thought. By removing himself, and awaiting the issue afar off, he gained time and opportunity for reflection. Of course his wife could not come to want; that, after all, was the one clearly comforting thought. Her old servant would take good care of her, happen what might.
He must taste of liberty again before sinking into the humdrum of married life. The thought of an ocean voyage, of the new life amid tropic splendours, excited his imagination all the more because it blended with the thought of recovered freedom. Marriage had come upon him with unfair abruptness; for such a change as that, even the ordinary bachelor demands a season preparative; much more, then, the young man who revelled in a philosophic sense of detachment, who wrote his motto 'Vixi hodie!' For marriage he was simply unfit; forced together, he and his wife would soon be mutually detestable. A temporary parting might mature in the hearts of both that affection of which the seed was undeniably planted. With passion they had done; the enduring tenderness of a reasonable love must now unite them, were they to be united at all. And to give such love a chance of growing in him, Tarrant felt that he must lose sight of Nancy until her child was born.
Yes, it had begun already, the trial he dreaded. A letter from Nancy, written and posted only an hour or two after her return home -- a long, distracted letter. Would he forgive her for seeming to be an obstacle in the way of what he had proposed? Would he promise her to be faithful? Would he ----
He had hardly patience to read it through.
The next evening, on returning home about ten o'clock, he was startled by the sight of Nancy's figure at the foot of his staircase.
'What has happened?'
'Nothing -- don't be frightened. But I wanted to see you tonight.'
She gripped his hand.
'How long have you waited? What! Hours? But this is downright madness -- such a night as this! Couldn't you put a note for me in the letter-box?'
'Don't -- don't speak so! I wanted to see you.' She hurried her words, as if afraid he would refuse to listen. 'I have told Mary -- I wanted you to know ----'
'Come in. But there's no fire, and you're chilled through. Do you want to be ill? What outrageous silliness!'
Her vitality was indeed at a low ebb, and reproaches made her weep. Tarrant half carried her up to his room, made a light, and fell to his knees at fire-building.
'Let me do it,' Nancy exclaimed. 'Let me wait upon you ----'
'If you don't sit still and keep quiet, you'll make me angry in earnest.'
'Then you're not really angry with me? I couldn't help it.'
'No, I'm afraid you couldn't,' Tarrant muttered cheerlessly.
'I wanted to tell you that Mary will be our friend. She was speechless with astonishment; at first I didn't know what she would say; she looked at me as she had never looked before -- as if she were the mistress, and I the servant. But see what I have come to; all I felt was a dread lest she should think it her duty to cast me off. I haven't a bit of pride left. I could have fallen on my knees before her; I almost did. But she was very good and kind and gentle at last. She'll do everything she can for me.'
The fire in a blaze, Tarrant stood up and regarded it gloomily.
'Well, did she think it possible?' he asked at length.
'Yes, she did. She said it would be very difficult, but the secret might be kept -- if I were strong enough. And I am strong enough -- I will be ----'
'It doesn't look like it,' said Tarrant, taking the edge off his words with a smile.
'I won't come again in this way. Where have you been tonight?'
'Oh, with friends.'
'Which friends? where?'
He moved impatiently.
'People you don't know, Nancy, and wouldn't care about if you did. Do you know what time it is?'
'Do tell me where you have been. It isn't prying into your affairs. Your friends ought to be mine; at least, I mean, I ought to know their names, and something about them. Suppose I were to tell you I had been spending the evening with friends ----'
'My dear girl, I shouldn't ask a question, unless you invited it. However, it's better to tell you that I have been making arrangements to sublet these chambers. I can't afford to keep them, even if there were any use in it. Harvey Munden has introduced me to a man who is likely to relieve me of the burden. I shall warehouse my books and furniture ----'
'Then you are going? Really going to leave England?'
He affected astonishment; in truth, nothing now could surprise him.
'But wasn't it all decided between us? Didn't you repeat it in your letter?'
'Yes -- I know -- but I didn't think it would come so soon.'
'We won't talk about it to-night,' said Tarrant firmly. 'For one thing, there's no time. Come closer to the fire, and get warm through; then I must see you home.'
Nancy hung her head. When, in a few moments, she looked up again, it was to say drily:
'There's no need for you to see me home.'
'I'm going to, at all events.'
'Why? You don't care much about me. I might as well be run over -- or anything ----'
To this remark no sort of answer was vouchsafed. Nancy sat with her feet on the fender, and Tarrant kept up a great blaze with chips, which sputtered out their moisture before they began to crackle. He and she both seemed intent on this process of combustion.
'Now you're quite warm,' said the young man, as if speaking to a child, 'and it's time to go.'
Nancy rose obediently, gazed at him with dreaming eyes, and suffered herself to be led away by the arm. In Chancery Lane, Tarrant hailed a crawling hansom. When they were driving rapidly southward, Nancy began to question him about the date of his departure; she learnt that he might be gone in less than a week.
'If you could behave quietly and sensibly, we would have an evening to make final arrangements.'
'I can,' she answered, with a calm that surprised him. 'If you go without letting me see you again, I don't know what I might do. But I can be as sensible as you are, if I'm treated fairly.'
He grasped her hand.
'Remember, dear girl, that I have a good deal to worry me just now. Do you suppose I leave you with a light heart?'
'If you can persuade me that you care ----'
'I care a good deal more than I can easily say. Your position is a very hard one, -- harder than mine. But I'm going away to work for your future. I see clearly that it's the best thing I could do. Whether Vawdrey's ideas come to anything or not, I shall make profit out of the journey; I mean to write, -- I think it's all I can do to any purpose, -- and the material I shall get together over there will give me a start. Don't think I am cold-hearted because I talk in this way; if I broke down, so much the worse for both of us. The time has come for serious work.'
'But we shan't lose my money. I've made up my mind we shan't.'
'It's impossible for you to guard against every danger. We must be prepared for the worst, and that responsibility rests on me. Try and keep your mind at ease; whatever happens, to protect you is my duty, and I shall not fail in it.'
Speaking thus, Tarrant felt the glow of virtue. His words were perfectly sincere, but had reference to a future which his thoughts left comfortably vague.
They were to meet again, probably for the definite parting, three days hence. Tarrant, whose desire for escape had now become incontrollable, used the intervening time in a rush of preparations. He did not debate with himself as to the length of his sojourn in the West Indies; that must be determined by circumstances. Explicitly he had avoided a promise on the subject. What money he possessed he would take with him; it might be to his interest, for Nancy's likewise, to exceed the term of absence provided for in his stipulations with Mr Vawdrey. But all he deliberately thought of was the getting away. Impatient with Nancy, because of the vagaries resultant from her mental and physical state, he himself exhibited a flagrant triumph of instinct over reason. Once in enjoyment of liberty, he would reflect, like a practical man, on the details of his position, review and recognise his obligations, pay his debt to honour; but liberty first of all. Not his the nature to accept bondage; it demoralised him, made him do and say things of which he was ashamed. Only let him taste the breezes of ocean, and the healthful spirit which is one with rectitude would again inspire him.
Much to his surprise, he neither saw nor heard from Nancy until the hour appointed. She came very punctually. On opening the door to her, with an air of resolute cheerfulness, he saw something in her face that removed the necessity for playing a part. It was the look which had so charmed him in their love-days, the indescribable look, characteristic of Nancy, and of her alone; a gleam between smile and laughter, a glance mingling pride with submission, a silent note of personality which thrilled the senses and touched the heart.
'What now?' he asked, holding her hand and gazing at her. 'Some good news?'
'None that I know of. How hot your room is! Why, you look glad to see me!'
'Was I ever anything else?'
She answered him with a smile.
'It's a very pleasant surprise,' he continued, watching her as she threw off her out-door things. 'I expected a doleful visage, eyes red with weeping.'
'Did you? See how much a man thinks of himself! If you choose to go away, I choose to think as little of you as possible. That's common sense -- isn't it?'
'I don't want you to cry about it.'
'Oh yes, you do. It flatters you, and you like flattery. But I've been too obliging. I feel myself again, and there's no more flattery for you -- till you come back. I don't ask you when that will be. I ask you nothing at all. I am independent of you.'
Tarrant grew uneasy. He feared that this mood of jest would change only too suddenly, and her collapse into feminine feebleness be the more complete.
'Be as independent as you like,' he said; 'only keep your love for me.'
'Oh, indeed! It's your experience, is it, that the two things can go together? That's the difference between man and woman, I suppose. I shall love you just as little as possible -- and how little that will be, perhaps I had better not tell you.'
Still he stood gazing at her.
'You look very beautiful to-day.'
'I know. I saw it for myself before I left home. But we won't talk about that. When do you go?'
'My goods will be warehoused to-morrow, and the next day I go to Liverpool.'
'I'm glad it's so soon. We shan't need to see each other again. Smoke your pipe. I'm going to make a cup of tea.'
'Kiss me first. You forgot when you came in.'
'You get no kiss by ordering it. Beg for it prettily, and we'll see.'
'What does it all mean, Nancy? How can you have altered like this?'
'You prefer me as I was last time?'
'Not I, indeed. You make me feel that it will be very hard to leave you. I shall carry away a picture of you quite different from the dreary face that I had got to be afraid of.'
Nancy laughed, and of a sudden held out her hands to him.
'Haven't I thought of that? These were the very words I hoped to hear from you. Now beg for a kiss, and you shall have one.'
Never, perhaps, had they spent together so harmonious an evening. Nancy's tenderness took at length a graver turn, but she remained herself, face and speech untroubled by morbid influence.
'I won't see you again,' she said, 'because I mightn't be able to behave as I can to-day. To-day I am myself; for a long time I have been living I don't know how.'
Tarrant murmured something about her state of health.
'Yes, I know all about that. A strange thought came to me last night. When my father was alive I fretted because I couldn't be independent; I wanted to be quite free, to live as I chose; I looked forward to it as the one thing desirable. Now, I look back on that as a time of liberty. I am in bondage, now -- threefold bondage.'
'To you, because I love you, and couldn't cease loving you, however I tried. Then, to my father's will, which makes me live in hiding, as if I were a criminal. And then ----'
'What other tyranny?'
'You mustn't expect all my love. Before long some one else will rule over me. -- What an exchange I have made! And I was going to be so independent.'
To the listener, her speech seemed to come from a maturer mind than she had hitherto revealed. But he suffered from the thought that this might be merely a pathological phase. In reminding him of her motherhood, she checked the flow of his emotion.
'You'll remember,' Nancy went on, 'that I'm not enjoying myself whilst you are away. I don't want you to be unhappy -- only to think of me, and keep in mind what I'm going through. If you do that, you won't be away from me longer than you can help.'
It was said with unforced pathos, and Tarrant's better part made generous reply.
'If you find it too hard, dear, write to me, and tell me, and there shall be an end of it.'
'Never. You think me wretchedly weak, but you shall see ----'
'It's of your own free will you undertake it?'
'Yes, of my own free will,' she answered firmly. 'I won't come to you penniless. It isn't right I should do so. My father didn't mean that. If I had had the sense and the courage to tell him, all this misery would have been spared. That money is mine by every right, and I won't lose it. Not only for your sake and my own -- there is some one else to think of.'
Tarrant gave her a kind look.
'Don't count upon it. Trust to me.'
'I like to hear you say that, but I don't wish you to be put to proof. You are not the kind of man to make money.'
'How do you mean it?'
'As you like to take it. Silly boy, don't I love you just because you are not one of the money-making men? If you hadn't a penny in the world, I should love you just the same; and I couldn't love you more if you had millions.'
The change which Tarrant expected did not come. To the end, she was brave and bright, her own best self. She said good-bye without a tear, refused to let him accompany her, and so, even as she had resolved, left in her husband's mind an image beckoning his return.
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