She turned sullen in a moment. "I have told you a thousand times, Roland, I would rather die of hunger than rob my father."
"Very well, then, why do you complain if I go to my own people? I hope when I return you will be better."
"Roland! Roland! You are surely not going to leave me—in a moment—without anything?"
Her cry so full of anguish brought him back to her side; but his purpose had taken full possession of him; only he left her with those kisses and promises which women somehow manage to live upon. He still loved her in his way of loving, but his way demanded so many pleasant accidentals that it was impossible for Denasia always to provide them. And yet, having once realised, in a great measure, his ideal of her value to his happiness, he did feel that her sudden break-down in health was a failure he ought to show disapproval of.
However, there was method even in Roland's selfish plans. He did not wish to find Mr. Burrell at St. Penfer, so he went to the bank and ascertained his whereabouts. He was told that Mr. Burrell had just left for Berlin, and was likely to be a week or ten days away. This information quite elated Roland. He sold his watch and took the first train to Cornwall. And as he was certain that Elizabeth would have settled his bill at the Black Lion, he went there with all his old swaggering good-humour and thoroughly refreshed himself before going out to Burrell Court.
Elizabeth gave him a hearty welcome; she was indeed particularly glad to see him just then. She was lonely in the absence of her husband; she had just had a slight disagreement with the ladies at a church meeting; she was feeling her isolation and her want of family support; and she had met, for the first time since their interview, the Rev. Mr. Farrar, who had presumed to arrest her coachman and, in the presence of her servants, congratulate her on the marriage of her brother and her friend. Under the circumstances, she had judged it best to make no remarks; but she was very angry, and not sorry to have the culprit in her presence and tell him exactly what she thought of his folly and disgrace.
She kept the lecture, however, until they had dined and were alone; then, as he sat serenely smoking one of Mr. Burrell's finest cigars, she said:
"I hope you are come back to me, Roland. I hope you have left that woman for ever."
"Who do you mean by 'that woman,' Elizabeth?"
"De—You know who I mean."
"Denas! Left Denas! Left my wife! That is absurd, Elizabeth! I wanted to see you. I could not bear to be 'out' with you any longer. You know, dear, that you are my only blood relative. Denas is my relative by marriage. Blood is thicker than—everything."
"Roland, you know how I love you. You are the first person I remember. All my life long you have been first in my heart. How do you think I liked to be put aside for—that fisher-girl? It nearly broke my heart with shame and sorrow."
"I ought to have told you, Elizabeth. I did behave badly to you. I am ashamed of myself. Forgive me, darling sister." And he pulled his chair to her side, and put his arm around her neck, and kissed her with no simulated affection. For he would indeed have been heartless had he been insensible to the true love which softened every tone in Elizabeth's voice and made her handsome face shine with tender interest and unselfish solicitude.
"I ought to have told you, Elizabeth. I believe you are noble enough to have accepted Denas for my sake."
"I am not, Roland. Nothing could have made me accept her. I have taken a personal dislike to her. I am sure that I cannot even do her justice."
"She has been very ill. She is still very weak. I have been unable to get her all the comforts she ought to have had—unable to take her to the sea-side, though the doctor told me it was an imperative necessity. We have been very poor, but not unhappy."
"I understood she was making a great deal of money with her trashy, vulgar little songs."
"She was until she fell ill. And whatever her songs are, they have been very much admired."
"By her own class. And you let her sing for your living! I am amazed at you, Roland!"
"I do not see why. You wanted me to marry Caroline Burrell and let her support me out of the money old Burrell worked for. Denas loves me, and the money she gives me is given with love. Old Burrell never saw me, and if he had I am quite sure he would have hated me and despised me as a fortune-hunter. Denas is a noble little darling. She has never inferred, either by word or look, that she sang for my living. It took you to do that, Elizabeth. Besides, I help Denas to make money. I arrange her business and I play her accompaniments, and, as I said, I love her and she loves me. Why, I have done without cigars to buy medicines for her; and if that isn't a proof of my devotion, I do not know how to give one! I can tell you that Mademoiselle Denasia is a great favourite with everyone."
"Mademoiselle Denasia!" cried Elizabeth with the utmost scorn. "Mademoiselle! and Denasia! However, she might well change her name."
"She did not change her name. She was baptised Denasia."
"Robert went to hear her sing. He says it was in a fourth-rate place, and I can tell you he was burning with indignation to see his brother-in-law playing a piano there."
"Then he ought to let his anger burn to some purpose. Signor Maria says that if Denasia had proper masters and was sent to Italy for two or three years she could sing in grand opera. Mind, Maria says that; not I. Suppose you get Robert to send Denas to Italy."
"I will do nothing at all for Denas. And I think, Roland, that you ought to do something for yourself. I hate to think of my own brother taking his living from that fisherman's daughter. It is a shame! Father brought you up like a gentleman, sent you to college, gave you an opportunity——"
"If father had given me a profession of any kind, if he had put me in the army or the navy, I should be to blame. If he had bought me a kit of carpenters' tools and had me taught how to use them, I should be no man at all if I looked to a woman for a living. But he did not. He sent me to college, gave me expensive tastes, and then got me a desk in a bank, where the only prospect before me was to add figures for the rest of my life for two pounds a week. Naturally I looked around for something more to my liking. I found Denasia. I loved her. She loved me. I could play, she could sing, and we made twenty-five pounds a week. That is the true state of the case."
"And do you intend to spend your life playing accompaniments to fishing-songs?"
"No. I am studying for the stage."
"Roland Tresham! Roland Tresham!"
"I think I have a new conception of the character of Orlando and I flatter myself the Romeo is yet to be played. I shall attempt it next winter. Now, Elizabeth, all the summer is before us. If you will not ask us to Burrell Court, then do in sisterly kindness send us to some quiet sea-side place to study. We could, of course, come to Penelles' cottage——"
"No, you could not. John Penelles would not permit you to enter his door. He says he will never forgive his daughter until she leaves you for ever. I understand him. I cannot fully forgive you while you remain with that woman."
"Who told you John Penelles said such a thing? I do not believe it."
"Priscilla Mohun. He said it to her."
"Ah! He would not say it to Denasia. And it would not be a bad place to study. I should soon be a favourite with the fishers. I know how to get around that class of people, and I am fond of the sea and could spend a month very comfortably there. Cigars make any place comfortable."
"You are talking simple nonsense, Roland. You know it, too. Penelles would not endure your presence five minutes."
"I have done his daughter no harm."
"He believes that you have ruined her immortal soul. You are the devil incarnate to John Penelles. He would not let you put your foot in his cottage. And he is not a man to trifle with. He knocked Jacob Trenager down, and the man goes lame ever since, they say."
"I am not going in his way to be knocked down. It is absolutely necessary, both for Denas and myself, to be near London. If we had the means I would go to Broadstairs or perhaps Hastings."
"Do you want to ask me for money, Roland? If so, be man enough to ask me plainly."
"Yes, I want money, Elizabeth. I want you to give it to me. I have not troubled you for a long time, have I? All my life long I have come to you for money, and you never yet refused me. My dear sister, I remember that you once sold a brooch for me when we were both children." He kissed her and was silent, and Elizabeth's face was wet with tears.
"I could give the last shilling I had to you, Roland," she said, "but it is hard to ask me to rob myself for that woman."
"She is my wife. I want her to get strong and well. She is a comfort and a pleasure to me. You were always glad to give me money for my comforts and pleasures. You never before asked me what they were or said: 'You cannot have money for such or such a purpose.' You gave me money for whatever I wanted. Now I want Denas."
"Well, then, Denasia. I want Denasia as I want my cigars or any other pleasant thing in life. Does it matter to you, if the money makes me happy, how I spend it?"
"If you put the question in that light I do not suppose it does matter." Then after a moment's pause: "Every shilling will be a coal of fire upon Mademoiselle Denasia's head. There is nothing wrong in that consideration—it is perfectly Christian."
"I should say it was perfectly unchristian; but, then, I am only a sinner. However, Elizabeth, if you can help me to get Denasia to the sea-side the action will be a good one, and we need not go about to question the motives for it. I think one hundred pounds will keep us until Denasia is able to sing again or I get an engagement as Romeo. I shall make up splendidly as Romeo. You must come and see me, Elizabeth."
"Not for anything in life! And one hundred pounds is a large sum of money. I cannot afford it."
"But, Elizabeth, I must have one hundred. I need every penny of it. I cannot do with less. Give me one hundred, Elizabeth."
"I tell you it will trouble me very much to spare a hundred pounds. It will indeed, Roland."
But Roland stuck to the idea of one hundred pounds, and finally Elizabeth gave way before his entreaties. She looked at the handsome fellow and sighed hopelessly. She said, "I will give it to you, and do as you wish with it." Why should she now look for consideration from her brother? He had never yet reached higher ground than "I want;" and to expect Roland to look beyond himself was to expect the great miracle that never comes.
He remained with his sister ten days, and thoroughly enjoyed the change of life. And indeed he found himself quite a little hero in St. Penfer. Miss Mohun met him with smiles; she asked sweetly after Mrs. Tresham and never once named the fifty pounds Roland had promised her. The landlady of the Black Lion made a great deal of him. She came herself of fisher-folk, and she was pleased that the young gentleman had treated her caste honourably. The landlord gave him cigars and wine, and all the old companions of his pleasures and necessities showed him that they approved his conduct. The Rev. Mr. Farrar made a point of praising him. As he stood with the landlord of the Black Lion at the open door of the inn, he said to him:
"Mr. Tresham, I respect your strength of character. I know that in certain circles of society it is considered a slight offence for a young man to seduce a girl of the lower orders; but that a mesalliance with her is a social crime almost unpardonable. You have said boldly to the whole community that it is more ungentlemanly to wrong a poor girl's honour than to marry a wife below your own station. Sir, such an example is worth all the sermons that could be preached on the subject."
And Roland listened to all the spoken and unspoken praise given him with a smiling appropriation. It really never struck him, or apparently anyone else, that Denas might have been the person who took care of her own honour; or that Roland had done right because he could not induce his companion to do wrong. And there was another popular view of this marriage which was singularly false—the general assumption that Denas had been greatly honoured by it, and that John and Joan Penelles ought to be pleased and satisfied. Why not? Such a decision was the evident one, and how many people have the time or the interest in any subject to go below or beyond the evident?
One morning when Roland had been put into a very good humour by the public approval of his conduct, he saw John Penelles and Tris Penrose and two other fishers go into the Ship Inn together. They had Lawyer Tremaine with them, and were doubtless met to complete the sale or purchase of some fishing-craft. Roland knew that it would be an affair to occupy two or three hours, and he suddenly resolved to go down the cliff and interview his mother-in-law. It would please Denasia, and he was himself in that reckless mood of self-complacency which delights in testing its influence.
Without further consideration he lit a fresh cigar and went down the familiar path. It was full of memories of his wooing of Denas, and he smiled with a soft triumph to them. And the exquisite morning, the thrushes singing to the sun, the fluting of the blackbirds, the south wind swinging the blue-bells, the mystical murmur of the sea—all these things set themselves unconsciously to his overweening self-satisfaction.
The door of the Penelles cottage was wide open, and he stood a moment looking into it. The place had an Homeric simplicity and beauty which touched his sense of fitness. On the snow-white hearth there was a handful of red fire, and the bright black hob held the shining kettle. A rug of knitted bits of many-coloured cloths was before it, and on this rug stood John's big cushioned chair. The floor was white as pipeclay could make it; the walls covered with racks of showy crockery; the spotless windows quite shaded with blossoming flowers; and the deal furniture had been scrubbed with oatmeal until it had the colour and the beauty of ivory.
Joan sat with her back to the door. She was perfectly still. At her feet there was a pile of nets, and she was mending the broken meshes. When Roland tapped she let them fall and stood upright. She knew him at once. Her fine rosy face turned grey as ashes. She folded her arms across her breast and stood looking at the intruder. For a moment they remained thus—the gay, handsome, fashionably-dressed young man smiling at the tall grave woman in her neat print gown and white linen cap. Roland broke the silence.
"I am Roland Tresham," he said pleasantly.
"I do know you. What be you come for? Is Denas—where be my child? Oh, man, why don't you say the words, whatever they be?"
"I am sorry if I frightened you. I thought you might like to know that Denas was well and happy."
Then Joan went back to her nets and sat down without a word.
"I was in St. Penfer on business, and I thought you would like to know—might like to know—you see, I was here on business—"
He was growing every moment more uncomfortable and embarrassed, for Joan bent busily over her work and her back was to him.
"You see, I was here on business. I wanted to see my sister. I thought you would like to know about Denas."
She turned suddenly on him and asked: "Where be my child?"
"I left Denas in London."
"You be a coward. You be a tenfold coward. Why didn' you bring your wife home with you? Did Denas send me no letter—no word for myself—for my heart only? Speak then; I want my letter."
"I left in a hurry. She had no time to write."
"Aw, then, why did you come here without a word of comfort? You be cruel as well as cowardly. No word! No letter! No time! There then! take yourself away from my door. 'Twas a wisht cruel thought brought you here. Aw, then, a thought out of your own heart. You be a bad man! dreadful! dreadful!"
"Come, my good woman, I wish to be kind."
"Good woman! Sure enough! but I have my husband's name, thank God, and there then! when you speak to me I be called by it—Joan Penelles. And Joan Penelles do wish you would turn your back on this house; she do that, for you do have a sight of ghastly mean old ways—more than either big or little devil means a young man to have. There then! Go afore John Penelles do find you here. For 'twill be a bad hour for you if he do—and so it will!"
"I did not expect such a reception, Mrs. Penelles. I have dealt honourably with your daughter."
"You have made my daughter to sin. Aw, then, I will not talk about my daughter with you. No indeed!"
"Have you no message to send to Denas?"
"Denas do know her mother's heart and her father's heart, and when she do find it in her own heart to leave that sinful place—the the-a-tre—and dress herself like a decent wife and a good woman, and sing for God and not for the devil, and sing for love and not for money, aw, then, who will love her as quick and as warm as I will? But if you do want a message, tell her she have broken her good father's life in two; and that I do blame myself I ever gave her suck!"
Roland listened to these words with a scoffing air of great amusement; he looked steadily at Joan with a smile that was intolerable to her, then he raised his hat with an elaborate flourish and said:
"Good-morning, Mrs. Penelles."
No notice was taken of this salute, and he added with an offensive mirthfulness:
"Perhaps I ought to say, 'Good-morning, mother.'"
Then Joan leaped to her feet as if she had been struck in the face. She kicked the nets from her and strode to the open door in a flaming passion.
"Aw, then!" she cried, "not your mother, thank God! Not your mother, or you'd be in the boats making your awn living. You! you cruel, cowardly, lazy, lounging, bad lot! Living on my poor little girl, you be! You vampire! Living on her body and soul."
"Madam, where is Mr. Penelles?"
"Aw, to be sure. Well you knew he wasn' here, or you would never have put foot this road. And no madam I be, but honest Joan Penelles. Go! The Pender men are near by. Go!—and the Trefy men, and Jack Penhelick, and Reuben Trewillow. Go!—they are close by, I tell you. Go!—if I call they'll come. Go!—or they will know the reason why!"
Then, still smiling and knocking the end of his cigar against the end of his cane, Roland leisurely took the road to the cliff. But Joan, in her passionate sense of intolerable wrong, flung up her arms toward heaven, and with tears and sobs her cry went up:
"O my God! Look down and see what sin this Roland Tresham be doing!"
FATHERLY AND MOTHERLY.
"In youth change appears to be certain gain; Age knows that it is generally certain loss."
"The worst wounds are those our own hands inflict."
"Like as a father pitieth his children."
"A mother is a mother still, The holiest thing alive." —COLERIDGE.
Ten days of the methodical serenity of Burrell Court wearied Roland, and with money in his pocket the thought of London was again a temptation. He was quickly satisfied with green gardens and sea-breezes; the pavements of Piccadilly and Regent Street were more attractive. And for Roland, the last wish or the last plan held the quality of fascination. When he turned his back upon Burrell Court, Elizabeth faded from his thoughts and affections; it was Denasia who then drew him through every side of his vivid imagination and reckless desires.
He had written to her as soon as Elizabeth promised him the money he needed; for he believed when Denasia was free from care she would speedily recover her health and strength. He pleased himself all the way home with the anticipation of his wife's smiles and welcome, and he was a little frightened not to see her face at the window the moment his cab arrived. He expected her to be watching; he was sure, if she were able, she would not have disappointed him. He had a latch-key in his pocket, and he opened the door and went rapidly to the room they occupied. It was empty; it was cleaned and renovated and evidently waiting for a new tenant.
Full of trouble and amazement, he was going to seek his landlady, when she appeared. She was as severely polite as people who have got the last penny they hope to get out of one can be. Mrs. Tresham had gone to the sea-side. She had left five days ago—gone to Broadstairs. The address was in the letter which she gave him. Greatly to Roland's relief she said nothing about money, and he certainly had no wish to introduce the subject.
But he was amazed beyond measure. Where had Denasia got money? How had she got it? Why had she said nothing to him? He had had a letter two days before, and he took it out of his pocket and re-read it. There was no allusion to the change, but he saw that the postmark showed it to have been mailed on the way to the Chatham and Dover Railway. However, he was not anxious enough to pursue his journey that night. He went to a hotel, had a good dinner, slept off his fatigue, and started for Broadstairs at a comfortable hour in the morning.
Nothing like jealousy troubled him. He had no more fear of Denasia's honour and loyalty than he had of the sun rising; and with a hundred pounds in his pocket curiosity was a feeble feeling. "Some way all is right, and when a thing is right there is no need to worry about it." This was his ultimate reflection, and he slept comfortably upon it.
Broadstairs was a new place, and to Roland novelty of any kind had a charm. A fine morning, a good cigar, a change of scene, and Denasia at the end, what more was necessary to a pleasant trip? His first disillusion was the house to which he was directed. It was but a cottage, and in some peculiar way Roland had persuaded himself that Denasia had not only got money, but also a large sum. The cottage in which he found her did not confirm his anticipations. And in the small parlour Denasia was taking a dancing-lesson. An elderly lady was playing the violin and directing her steps. Of course the lesson ceased at Roland's entrance; there was so much else to be talked over.
"Why did you come to this out-of-the-way place?" asked Roland with a slight tone of disapprobation.
"Because both my singing and dancing teachers were here for the summer months, and I longed for the salt air. I felt that it was the only medicine that would restore me. You see I am nearly well already."
"But the money, Denasia? And do you know that old harpy in London never named money. Is she paid?"
"Why do you say harpy? She only wanted what we really owed her. And she was good and patient when I was ill. Yes, I paid her nine pounds."
"I have one hundred pounds, Denasia."
"You wrote and told me so."
"Elizabeth gave it to me; and I must say she gave it very kindly and pleasantly."
"Of course Elizabeth gave you it. Why not? Is there any merit in her doing a kindness to her own brother pleasantly? How else should she do it?"
"It was given as much for you as for me."
"Decidedly not. If Elizabeth has the most ordinary amount of sense, she knows well I would not touch a farthing of her money; no, I would not if I was dying of hunger."
"That is absurd, Denasia."
"Call it what you will. I hate Elizabeth and Elizabeth hates me, and I will not touch her money or anything that is bought with it. For you it is different. Elizabeth loves you. She is rich, and if she desires to give you money I see no reason why you should refuse it—that is, if you see none."
"And pray what are you going to do?"
"Have I suffered in your absence? You left me sick, nervous, without a shilling. I have made for myself a good engagement and received fifty pounds in advance."
"A good engagement! Where? With whom?"
"I am learning to sing a part in 'Pinafore.' I am engaged at the Olympic."
She flushed proudly at his amazement, and when he took her in his arms and kissed her, she permitted him to see that her eyes were full of happy tears.
"Yes," she resumed in softer tones, "I went to see Colonel Moss, and he was delighted with my voice. Mr. Harrison says I learn with extraordinary rapidity and have quite wonderful dramatic talent, and madame has almost as much praise for my dancing. I had to pay some bills out of the fifty pounds; but I am sure I can live upon the balance and pay for my lessons until September. As soon as I am strong enough to look after my costumes, my manager will advance money for them."
"Do you mean that you are to have fifty pounds a week?"
"I am to have thirty pounds a week. That is very good pay, indeed, for a novice."
"For six nights and a matinee? You ought to have had far more; it is not five pounds a performance. You ought to have ten pounds. I must see about this arrangement. Moss has taken advantage of you."
"I have given my promise, Roland, and I intend to keep it. You must not interfere in this matter."
"Oh, but I must!"
"It will be useless. I shall stand to my own arrangement."
"It is a very poor one."
"It is better than any you ever made for me."
"Of course! I had all the preparatory work to do, getting you known—getting a hearing for you, in fact. Now the harvest is ripe, it is easy enough to get offers. You had better let me have a talk with Moss."
"I have signed all the necessary papers. I have accepted fifty pounds in advance. I will not—no—I will not break a letter of my promise for anyone."
"Then I shall have nothing to do with the affair. It is a swindle on Moss' part."
"No, it is not. He made me a fair offer; I, of my own free will and judgment, accepted it."
"Thirty pounds a week! What is that for a first-class part?"
"It is a good salary. I can pay my expenses and buy my wardrobe out of it. You have Elizabeth's money. When it is done she will probably give you more. She ought to, as you preferred trusting to her." But though the words were laughingly said, they sprang from a root of bitterness.
In fact, Roland quickly discovered that those ten days he had so idly passed at Burrell Court with his sister had been ten days of amazing growth in every direction to Denasia. She had wept when Roland so suddenly left her; wept at his want of faith in her, at his want of care for her, at his indifference to her weakness and poverty. But to sit still and cry was not the way of her class. She had been accustomed to reflect, when trouble came, whether it could be helped or could not be helped. If the former, then it was "up and about it;" if the latter, tears were useless, and to make the best of the irrevocable was the way of wisdom.
In an hour she had conquered the physical weakness which spoke by weeping. A suspicion of cruelty gave her the salutary stimulus of a lash; she sat upright and began to plan. The next day she went out, sold a bracelet, hired a cab, and went from one manager to another until she succeeded. Brought face to face with the question of work and wage, all the shrewd calculating instincts of a race of women accustomed to chaffer and bargain awoke within her. She sold her wares to good advantage, and she knew she had done so. Then a long-nascent distrust of Roland's business tact and ability sprang suddenly to vigorous life. She realised in a moment all the financial mistakes of the past winter. She resolved not to have them repeated.
The sea air soon restored all her vigour and her beauty. She gave herself to study and to practice with an industry often irritating to Roland. It reproached his own idleness and it deprived him of her company. He did indeed rehearse his characters, and in a stealthy way he endeavoured to find a better engagement for Denasia. He was sure that if he were successful there would be no difficulty in inducing, or if necessary compelling, his wife to accept it. He could as easily have made Queen Victoria accept it. For with the inherited shrewdness of her class she had also their integrity. She would have kept any engagement she made even if it had ruined her.
The winter was a profitable one, though not as happy as Denasia had hoped it would be. They had no debts and were able to indulge in many luxuries, and yet Roland was irritable, gloomy, and full of unpleasant reminiscences and comparisons. He thought it outrageous for Moss to refuse the payment of his wife's salary to him. And Denasia had a disagreeable habit of leaving a large portion of her income with the treasurer of the company, and then sending her costumer and other creditors to the theatre for payment. Indeed, she was developing an independence in money matters that was extremely annoying to Roland. He felt that his applications to Elizabeth were perpetual offences to Denasia, and if he had been a thoughtful man he would have understood that this separation of their interests in financial matters was the precursor of a much wider and more dangerous one.
Roland had other unpleasant experiences to encounter. It seemed incredible that the handsome, witty, fascinating Mr. Tresham could possibly be a bore, and yet the authorities in various green-rooms either said so in plain English or made him aware of the fact through every other sense but hearing. He felt himself to be politely or sarcastically quizzed. Stars ignored him; meaner lights gave him a bare tolerance. A few inquired if his grand relatives had yet forgiven him. One or two affected to have heard he had an offer from Henry Irving, or some other histrionic luminary; in fact, he gradually was made to understand that Roland Tresham was by no means a name to conjure with.
He did not tell Denasia of these humiliations, and she believed that his chagrin and ill-temper arose from his continual disappointments. He could get no chance worthy of his efforts for a trial of his new Shakespearian interpretations. He felt sure there was a coalition against him. "Let a man have a little more beauty or talent than the crowd, and the crowd are determined to ruin him, naturally," he said, and he believed his own dictum thoroughly. Toward the end of the season, however, he did obtain a hearing under what were undoubtedly favourable circumstances; and then the press was his enemy. And he knew positively that the adverse criticisms were the results of venality, or ignorance, or want of taste, or of that brutal conservatism which makes Englishmen suspicious of everything not endorsed by centuries of use and wont.
It may be easily seen how these personal irritations made an unhappy atmosphere in which to dwell. And Roland had another disappointment also which he hardly liked to admit to himself—Denasia was changing so rapidly. The society into which he himself had brought her forced the simple, trustful, ignorant girl into observations and calculations which lifted her unconsciously to a level, perhaps in some respects to a plane above her husband. She was naturally clever, and she learned how to dress herself, how to take care of herself, how to look out for her own interests. Roland had intended to dictate to her, and she began to smile at his dictations and to take her own way, which she charmingly declared was the only reasonable way for her to take.
During this interval Roland wrote often to Elizabeth. He wanted some one to complain to, and Elizabeth was the only person he knew who was willing to listen to his complaints. She perceived very early the little rift between husband and wife which might be bridged by love or might become an abyss in which love would be for ever lost. It must, however, be noted to her credit that she avoided any word likely to widen it. She did not like Denasia, but she had a controlling sense of honour. She had also a lofty ideal of the sacredness of the marriage tie. To have made trouble between a man and his wife would, in Elizabeth's opinion, have been as wicked a thing as to break into a church vestry and steal the sacramental silver. But she did sympathize with her brother, and advise him, and send him money. And naturally Denasia, who thought badly of Elizabeth, resented her interference in her life at all; so that there was usually a coolness between Roland and Denasia after the arrival of a letter from Burrell Court.
In truth, any letter from St. Penfer at this period of Denasia's life hurt her. She longed for her own people. She felt heart-sick for a word from them. In some moment of confidence or ill-temper, Roland had given his wife his own version of the visit to his mother-in-law. And whatever else he remembered or forgot, he was clear and positive about Joan's message to her daughter. She had broken her good father's life in two and her mother was sorry she had ever given her suck. Denasia knew her mother's passionate nature, and she could understand that some powerful aggravation had made her speak so strongly, but the words, after all allowances, were terrible words. They haunted her in the midst of her professional excitements, and still more in the solitude of her frequently restless nights.
And if Joan had felt this a year ago, Denasia knew that she now felt much more bitterly; for in one of her letters to Roland Elizabeth had written freely of the passionate anger of John Penelles when he learned that his daughter had become a public dancer. Indeed, Elizabeth affected to think it very cruel of Denasia to send to her old ignorant parents the illustrated paper which contained her picture in the dance act. She thought Denasia's vanity had overstepped all bounds and become positive cruelty, etc., etc. And Denasia, in a passion which matched any outbreak of her father's, vowed not only that she had never sent such a paper to St. Penfer, but that Elizabeth herself must have been the perpetrator of the cruelty, unless—and she then gave Roland a glance which made him wonder where his willing and obedient Denasia of former days had gone.
In all essential points this story was a false one. It was indeed true that some person had sent to the Penelles cottage a London paper, in which there was a large picture of Denasia and the admiral dancing the famous hornpipe. But the manner of its reception was matter of speculation only, and the speculative had founded their tale upon the known hastiness of John and Joan's tempers, without taking into consideration the presence of unknown influences.
As it happened, the pictured girl was received in the St. Penfer post-office during a storm. John had been called in the grey dawn to the life-boat, and Joan, in spite of wind and rain, went down to the beach with him. With a prayer in her heart, she saw him buckle on his buoyant armour and set his pale blue oar like lance athwart his rest, and then make straight out into the breakers that dashed and surged around. Joan saw the boat's swift forward leaping, its downward plunge into the trough of the sea, its perilous uplifting, its perpendicular rearing, its dread descent. And John felt its human reel and shudder, its desperate striving and leaping and plunging, and its sad submission when the waters half filled it and the quivering men clung for very life under the deluge pouring over them.
So for three hours John was face to face with awful death, and Joan on her knees praying for his safety, and John had but just got back to his home, and the cry of thanksgiving for her old dear's return was yet on Joan's lips, when the postman brought the fateful newspaper. Fortunately they did not open it at once. Joan laid it carefully aside and brought on their belated breakfast. And as they ate it they talked of the lives that were lost and saved. Then John smoked his pipe, and Joan tidied up her house and sat down beside him with her knitting in her hands. Both their hearts were solemn and tender. John felt as if his life was a new gift to him; Joan, as if her husband's love had some miraculous sweetness never known before. They spoke seldom and softly, finding in their responsive silence a language beyond words.
It was, then, in this gentle mood that John reached to the shelf above his head and took down the paper. He opened it, and Denas in her pretty dancing dress, with her bare arms lifted above her head, looked her father full in the face. She was laughing; she was the incarnation of merriment and of consciously graceful, captivating vivacity. The miserable father was, however, fascinated; he gazed and gazed until his eyes overflowed, and his hands trembled, and the paper fell with a rustle to the floor.
Joan lifted it and looked at her husband. His eyes were shut, he was sobbing inwardly as punished children sob in sleep. She spoke to him, and he opened his eyes and pointed to the paper. Then Joan met the same well-beloved face. The mother's cheeks burned red and redder, her eyes flashed, she straightened out every crease, as if the pictured satin and lace had been real; and then turning to the printed page, she read aloud every word of adulation.
They had talked together of the men and women drowned within sight of land that morning, but here was their only child dancing in sight of eternal death, and they could not say a word to each other about her. For it must be remembered that these simple, God-fearing fisher-folk had been strictly and straitly reared in a creed which regarded dancing as one of the deadly sins. They honestly believed that there was but a step between their darling and eternal death, and if she should take that step while dancing! To have known that she was on the ship which had just gone to pieces on the rocks would not have made them so heart-sick. Their very souls shivered as they thought of her. As for John, he could find only those two words that spring instinctively to every soul in trouble, "O God!"
But he motioned Joan to take the paper away, and Joan took it into the room which was still called "Denas' room." She kissed the pictured face, the hair and eyes and mouth, the lifted arms, the slender throat. She could not bear to crush the paper together; she opened a drawer and laid it as gently within as if she had been putting her baby in its coffin. At this hour there was no anger in her heart; there was even a little motherly pride in her child's beauty and grace and cleverness. At this extremity of ill-doing she did not altogether blame Denas. She was certain that before Denas danced, some one had somehow persuaded the girl that it was not wicked to dance. "Denas do have principles," she said stiffly, "and the man do not live who can make her do wickedly if she do think it be wicked."
She looked with a sad affection around the little room. How lonely it was! Yes, it is the living who desert us that make lonely rooms, and not the dead. We know the dead will never come back, but oh, how long it seems to wait for the living! Month after month to keep the room ready for the one who does not come for our longing! Month after month to dress the bed and the table, and lay out the books they loved, and the little treasures that may tell they were unforgotten. Joan looked at the small dressing-table holding the shell box, and the satin pincushion, and the alabaster vase which Denas had once thought beautiful beyond price. The snowy quilt and pillows, the carefully kept floor and chairs, the clothing washed and laid with sprigs of lavender in the tidy drawers—oh, what poetry and eloquence of untiring, undespairing mother-love were in these things!
But this patient, loving pity for their erring child was an attitude not easily supposable, and Denasia did not suppose it. She knew from Roland's report that her appearance as a public singer had caused her parents great sorrow and anger, and she could only imagine a still deeper anger when she added the sin of dancing to other causes of offence. But this alienation from her own people was the bitter drop in all her success and in all her pleasure. For now that the illusions and selfishness of her bride-days were past, the faithful home affection that never wounded and never deceived resumed its importance, and she longed for her father's kiss and her mother's breast.
But every day the day's work is to face, and Denasia's days were fully occupied by their obvious duties. So week after week and month after month wore on in alternations of hope and despair, happiness and vexation, loving and quarrelling. Roland certainly, with his discontent and abiding sense of wrong, threw a perpetual shadow over life. She did not even dare to take, with any show of pleasure, such poor satisfaction as her passing fame awarded. A man may be jealous of the praise given to his own wife, and there were times when Roland could not understand Denasia's success and his own failure—bitter hours in which the poor girl felt that whether she pleased her audience or did not please them, her husband was sure to be offended and angry.
She was almost glad when, at the close of the season, the company disbanded and she was at liberty to retire. She had saved money and was resolved to resume her studies. There was at least nothing in that to irritate her husband, and she had a strong desire to improve her talent in every direction. One evening Roland entered their sitting-room in that hurry of hope and satisfaction once common enough to him, but of which he had shown little during the past winter. Denasia looked up from her writing with a smile, to meet his smile.
"Denasia," he cried impulsively, "what do you think? We are going to America! The United States is the place for me. How soon can you be ready?"
"But, Roland? What?"
"It is true, dear. Whom are you writing to?"
"I was writing to Mr. Harrison and to madame. I want to know if they are going to Broadstairs this summer, for where they go I wish to go also; that is, if they can give me lessons."
"A waste of money, Denasia. I have had a long talk with some of the men who are here with the American company. Splendid fellows! They tell me that my Shakespearian ideas will set New York agog. New Yorkers give every one a fair hearing; at least 'there's nothing beats a trial!' That is a New York motto, and these people are sure I would have a fair trial there. And the country is so big! So big, Denasia, that the parts you know will last you for years. There is not a bit of need for you to study new songs and dances. Sing the old ones in new places. Why, you may travel thousands of miles in all directions—big cities everywhere, little ones scattered thick as blackberries on all the railroad routes, and railroad routes are spread like spider-webs all over the United States! That is the country for us! New York first of all, then Chicago, St. Louis, Salt Lake, San Francisco, New Orleans—oh, hundreds of cities! And money, my dear! Money for the picking up—that is, for the singing for."
"I do not believe a word of it, Roland. It is all talk. I am going to Broadstairs to spend the summer in study."
Roland looked a moment at the handsome, resolute woman who had resumed her writing, and he wondered how this Denasia had sprung from the sweetly obedient little maid he had once manipulated to his will with a look or a word. However, he could not spare her. It was not only her earnings he required; her beauty and talent gave him a kind of reflected importance, and he expected great things from their united efforts in the wonderful new world of which he had just begun to think.
So he set himself to win what it was evident he could not command, and, Denasia's womanly instincts being stronger than her artistic instincts, the husband conquered. The sweet words and kisses, the frank acknowledgment of his faults, the declaration that his whole future hung now on her support and interest in his American scheme, moved Denasia to concede where she felt sure she ought to have refused. But when a man finds all other arguments fail with a woman, he has only to throw himself upon her unselfishness. To prove it, she will ruin her own life. Denasia was sure she was going a wrong road, but then Roland asked her to take it for his sake, and to show her love for him she offered up her own hopes and desires, and offered them with smiles and kind words and an affected belief that the change might be as good for her reputation as for her husband's. She did indeed—as good women do a kindness—surrender herself entirely, and pretended that the surrender was her own desire and her husband's complaisance a thing he deserved praise for.
However, Roland's enthusiasms were undoubtedly partly contagious. Even Denasia, who had so often been deceived, was partly under their influence. His words had caught something of the vastness of the land of his hopes, and he talked so ambitiously and with so much certainty that the untravelled woman caught his fever once more. Then she also suffered the idea of America to fascinate her, and she permitted Roland to bring his new friends to see her, for she desired to be entirely possessed by the idea which was now to be the ruling motive of their lives. It was decided that they should sail about the middle of June. "We shall then have time to become familiar with the country, and we need not be in a hurry to decide about engagements. Hurry is such a mistake," said Roland with oracular wisdom. And Denasia hoped and smiled, and then turned away to hide the sudden frown and sigh. For the heart is difficult to deceive, and Denasia's heart warned her morning, noon, and night. But to what purpose? Who heeds the warning from their higher selves? Though one rose from the dead to point out a fatal mistake, how many would heed the messenger? For when love says, "This is the way," wisdom, fate, death itself may speak in vain.
About a week before the voyage, Roland said one night: "I think now, Denasia, that we have everything packed, I shall run down to St. Penfer and see my sister. I may never come back from America. Indeed, I do not think I shall ever want to come back, and I really ought to bid Elizabeth good-bye. She will doubtless also remember me in money matters, and in a strange country money is always a good friend. Is it not, dear? What do you think, Denasia?"
"I have been thinking a great deal of St. Penfer. My heart is like to break when I think of it. I do want to see my father and mother so much."
"You would only get a heart-break, my love. They would have no end of reproaches for you. I shall never forget your mother. Her temper was awful!"
"You must have said something awful to aggravate her, Roland. Mother has a quick temper, but it is also noble and generous. I do want to see her. I must see her once more. Let us go together."
"To St. Penfer? What a foolish idea! You would only give yourself a wretched memory to carry through your whole life."
"Never mind! I want to go to St. Penfer."
"How can you? I cannot take you to Burrell Court, Denasia."
"I would not put my foot inside Burrell Court."
"Then if I went there and you went to your father's house, that would look very bad. People would say all kinds of wicked things."
"We could stop together at the Black Lion. From there you could call upon Elizabeth. From there I could go to my father and mother. Even if they should be cruel to me, I want to see them. I want to see them. If father should strike me—well, I deserve it. I will kiss his hand for the blow! That is how I feel, Roland."
"I shall not permit my wife to go to any place where she expects to be struck. That is how I feel, Denasia."
"You are ashamed to take me to St. Penfer as your wife. And yet you owe me this reparation."
"There is no use discussing such a foolish statement. I do not think I owe you anything, Denasia. I have given you my name; at this very moment I am considering your welfare. You know that money is necessary, and as much of it as we can get; but Elizabeth will give me nothing if you are tagging after me."
"If you are going begging, Roland, that alters the question. I have no desire to 'tag' after you on that errand. As for Elizabeth, I hate her."
"Why should you hate her? She was always good to you."
"Good! Do not name the woman. If you want to go to her, go. I hope you will carry her nothing but sorrow and ill-luck. I do! I do! I hate her as the sailor hates the sunken reef. I have not asked myself why. I only know that I have plenty of reason."
"Do not be so excessive, Denasia. I shall leave for the West to-night. Would you like me to see your father? Your mother I decline to see."
"Leave my father alone. You would not dare to go near him. If you do I will never speak to you again—never!"
Roland laughed lightly at her passion and answered with a provoking pleasantry: "You feel too, too, too furiously, Denasia. It is not ladylike. Your emotions will wear away your beauty."
So Roland went by the night train to St. Penfer, and Denasia took the train after his for the same place. She was determined to see her parents once more, and all their habits were so familiar to her that she had no fear of accomplishing her desire unknown to them. She timed her movements so well that she arrived at a small wayside station near St. Penfer about dusk. No one noticed her, and she sped swiftly across the cliff-path, until it touched the path leading downward to her own home.
The little village was quite still. The children had gone to bed. The men were at sea. The women were doing their last daily duties. Denasia kept well in the shadow of the trees till she was opposite her home. A few steps across the shingle would bring her to the door. She tried to remember what her mother might be doing just at that hour, and while thus employed Joan came to the door, stood a moment on the threshold, and then went slowly to the next cottage. She had her knitting in her hand, and she was likely going to sit an hour with Ann Trewillow. When Joan's footsteps no longer crunched the shingle there was no sound but the ocean beating on the shore and the wind stirring the tree-tops, and when Joan and Ann Trewillow went inside Ann's cottage there was not another human creature visible.
Swiftly, then, Denasia crossed the shingle. She was at the door of her home. It stood wide open. She entered and looked around. Nothing was changed; the same glow of red fire on the white hearth, the same order and spotless cleanliness, the same atmosphere of love and peace and of life holy and simple. She was not hungry, but she was very thirsty and exceedingly weary. The bucket was full of freshly drawn water; she drank and then turned her face to her own room. A strong, sweet curiosity tempted her to enter it, and its air of visible welcome made her smile and weep. It was then impossible to resist the desire that filled her heart; she shut the door, she unclothed herself, and once more lay down in her home to sleep.
"It is hardly likely mother comes into this room more than once a week; she will not, at any rate, come into it to-night. I shall hear her return and go to bed. When she is asleep I will look once more—once more on her dear face. Father will be home in the dawning. I will watch for his coming. If he goes to bed at once I may get away before any person sees me. If he sits and talks to mother, I may hear something that will give me courage to say, 'I am here! Forgive me!' I must trust to luck—no, no, to God's pity for me!"
Thinking thus, she lay in weary abandon on her childhood's bed. The monotonous tick of the old clock, the simmering of the kettle on the hob, and the deep undertone of the ocean soothed her like a familiar, unforgotten lullaby. In a few minutes she had fallen into a deep, dreamless sleep.
She was asleep when Joan returned. Joan had gone to her neighbour's to ask a question about the boats, and she remained there for more than an hour. For Ann Trewillow had heard of Roland's arrival in the village, and she and Joan had some opinions to express on the subject. So that when Joan returned to her own cottage, it was with her heart beating to memories of her daughter.
She put a little more coal on her fire and then went for a drink of water. The tin cup was not in its usual place, for Denas had left it on the table. Joan looked at the cup with a face full of questions. Had she left it there? She never before had done such a thing. Who then had been in her house? Who had been drinking from her water-bucket? She asked the questions idly, without fear, but with a certain curiosity as to her unknown visitor. Then she put more water into the kettle and set a cup and saucer for her husband in case he wanted a drink of hot tea when he came in from the fishing. All the time she was thinking of Denas, and the girl seemed to grow into the air beside her; she felt that if she whispered "Denas" she might hear the beloved voice answer "Mother."
Unknown to any mortal, Joan had made a kind of idol of the pictured Denasia. She was sorry for her weakness in this matter, but she was not able to resist the temptation of very frequently opening the drawer in which it lay, of looking at it, and of kissing it. Her conversation, her thoughts, her fancies made her child-sick. She longed for a sight of her darling's face, and she lifted a candle and went to the door of the room in which it lay hidden.
There was always an unacknowledged sense of self-indulgence in this act, and the sense made her go a little softly about it, as if it had to be done secretly. She opened the door slowly, and the rush candle showed her clothing scattered about the room. Her heart stood still; she was breathless; she put down her light and on tiptoes went to the bedside. Denas was fast asleep. Her long hair lay loose upon the pillow, her face was pale and faintly smiling, her hands open and at rest upon the coverlet. Her deep, slow breathing showed her to be far below conscious being, and Joan knelt down at her child's side and filled her empty eyes with the fair picture and her empty heart with the hopes it inspired.
Still Denas slept. Then Joan went into the outer room and sat down to wait for John. As the dawn came up the East she pushed aside the foliage of her flowering plants and watched the beach for John's approach. He came on with his mates, but they scattered to their cottages, and at last he was alone. Then Joan went to the door and he smiled when he saw her waiting. She made an imperative motion of silence; she took his string of fish and his water-bottle out of his hands and laid them very softly down, and while John was yet lost in amazement at her actions, she put her hand in his and led him to their girl's bedside. Without a word both stood looking at her. The dawn showed every change in her young face, and the pathos of hidden suffering was revealed unconsciously as she slept.
There is some wonderful magnet in the human eye; no sleeper can long resist its influence. As John and Joan gazed steadily on their sleeping daughter she, became restless, a faint flush flew to her cheeks, she moved her hands. Joan slipped down on her knees; when the girl opened her eyes she was ready to fold her in her arms. John stood upright, and it was his wide-open, longing gaze which brought Denasia's soul back to her. She gazed back silently into her father's face for a moment and then murmured:
"Father! forgive me! Oh, mother! mother!"
They forgave her with tears of joy. They put her fault out of words and out of memory. Confession and forgiveness was an inarticulate service of sorrow; but joy and welcome were eloquent and full of tender words. For once John locked his door and did not call his neighbours to share his gladness. He speedily understood the shortness and secrecy of her visit. After all, it was but a farewell. The joy was dashed with tears. The hope quickly faded away.
They did not try to turn her from the way she had promised to go. John said only, "The Lord go with you, Denas," and Joan wept at the thought of the land so far, far off. But they divined that their child had her own sorrows, that the lot of woman had found her out, that she had come to places where their love could not help her. Yet the visit, short and unsatisfactory as it was, made a great difference in Penelles' cottage. It lifted much anxiety. It gave the father and mother hopes which they took to God to perfect, excuses which they pleaded with Him to accept. Their confidence in their child was strengthened; they could pray for her now with a more sure hope, with a more perfect faith.
When the gloaming came on thick with Cornish fog Joan kissed her darling good-bye with passionate love and grief, and John walked with his "little dear" through the dripping woods to the wayside station, and lifted her into the carriage with a great sob. None of the three could have borne such another day, but oh, how glad was each one that they had dared, and enjoyed, and suffered through this one! It left a mark on each soul that eternity would not efface.
A COWARDLY LOVE.
"Howso'er I stray or range, Whate'er I do, thou dost not change; I steadier step when I recall That if I slip thou dost not fall." —CLOUGH.
"Have you buried your happiness? Well, live bravely on. The plant does not die though all its flowers be broken off. It remembers that spring will surely come again."
Roland and Denasia were in Liverpool. They were full of hopes and of prudent plans. Roland had again turned over a new leaf; he had renounced his past self—the faults he could no longer commit; he had renounced also his future faults. If he was a little extravagant in every way for a day or two before making so eventful a voyage, he felt that Denasia ought not to complain. Alas! it is not the renunciation of our past and future selves that is difficult; it is the steady denial of our present self which makes the disciple.
They spent two pleasant days in Liverpool, and on the eve of the second went to the wonderful piers and saw the vast companies of steamers smudging the blue sky with their lowering clouds of black smoke. Denasia clung closely to Roland; she felt that she was going into a new world, and she looked with a questioning love into his eyes, as if she could read her fortune in them. Roland was unusually gay and hopeful. He reminded his wife that the mind and the heart could not be changed by place or time. He said that they had each other to begin the new life with, and he was very sure they would soon possess their share of every other good thing. And Denasia fell asleep to his hopeful predictions.
In the morning all was changed. The sun was hidden behind banks of black clouds, the streets were plashy and muddy, the fierce showers smote the windows like hail, and the view outside was narrowed to a procession of dripping umbrellas. It was chilly, too, and the hotel was inexpressibly dreary and uncomfortable. Greatly to Denasia's astonishment, Roland was already dressed. All his hopes were fled. He was despondent and strangely woe-begone and indifferent. He said he had had a miserable dream. He did not think now it was right to go to America; they would do nothing there. He wished they were at Broadstairs; he had been a fool to mind the chatter of men who were probably guying him; he wished Denas had not urged the plan; if she had only stood firm, etc., etc., etc.
Denasia looked at him with amazement and with some anger. She reminded him that the American idea was entirely his own. She wondered what stuff he was made of, to be so dashed and quailed by a dream. She said that she also had had a bad dream. They had both eaten late; and as for dreams, everyone knew they went by contraries. And as limp spirits like to lean, Roland was soon glad to lean upon Denasia's bravery.
The few last weary hours in England went slowly by. Roland and Denasia became at last impatient to be off; any place must certainly be better than that dreary hotel and that storm-beaten town; the cab that took them to the wharf was a relief, and the great steamer a palace of comfort. They were not sick, and the storm was soon over. After they lost sight of land the huge waves were flatted upon the main; the weather was charming; the company made a fair show of being intensely happy, and day after day went past in the monotonous pretension. Nothing varied the life until the last night on board, when there was to be a concert. Denasia had been asked to take a part in it, and she had promised to sing a song.
No one expected much from her. She had not been either officious or effusive during the voyage, and "song by Mrs. Tresham" did not raise any great expectations. As it was nearly the last item on the programme, many had gone away before Roland took his place at the piano and struck a few startling chords. Then Mrs. Tresham stepped forward and became suddenly Mademoiselle Denasia.
"Here beginneth the sea, That ends not till the world ends,"
thrilled the great ship's cabins from end to end. The captain was within the door before the first verse was finished. There was a crowd at the doors; all the servants in the lower saloon had ceased work to listen. Song after song was called for. Perhaps, indeed, Denasia had a sweeter taste of her power that night than she had ever felt in halls crowded with strangers who had paid a shilling to be amused by her.
The listener most interested in this performance said the least at the time; but he never took his eyes off the singer, and his private decision was, "That young woman is a public singer. Her voice has not been trained for parlours; she has been used to fling its volume through the larger space of halls or theatres. I must look after her." He approached Roland the next day and spoke in guarded terms about Mrs. Tresham's voice. Roland was easily induced to talk, and the result was an offer which was really—if they had known it—the open door to fortune. But it is the fatality of the unlucky to have the spirit of recklessness in their veins and the weakness of prudence in their hearts. Instead of letting events guide them, they have the presumption to think they can guide events. Roland received the offer coolly, and said he would consult Mrs. Tresham on the matter. But, instead of consulting with his wife, he dictated to her after the fashion of the suspicious:
"This man is the manager of a company, I think. He is very anxious for you to sign an agreement. His offer appears to be good, but we know nothing of affairs in New York; it may be a very poor offer. If you have made such an impression on him, you may make a much more pronounced one on others. We will not think of this proposal at all, except as the straw which shows us what a great wind is going to blow."
Denasia was extremely opposed to this view. She quoted the old proverb of "A bird in the hand is worth two in the bush." She said it would be a sure living during the time they were learning the new country and its opportunities. She begged Roland to let her accept the offer. When he refused, she said that they would live to regret the folly.
The manager thought so also. "For you must understand," he said to Roland, "that I was desirous to engage Mrs. Tresham, not for what she is—which is ordinary—but for the possible extraordinary I see in her if she could have the proper advantages and influences." With the words he bowed a little sarcastically to Mrs. Tresham's husband, and afterward spoke no more to him. And then there came to the foolish young man that sudden chill and foreboding which a despised opportunity leaves behind it.
But whether we do wisely or foolishly, the business of life must be carried on. They were at the point of landing, and for some days the strange experiences of their new life occupied every moment and every feeling. Then came a long spell of hot weather, such heat as Denasia had never dreamed of. Roland, who had been in Southern Europe, could endure it better; as for Denasia, she lay prostrate with but one idea in her heart—the cool coverts of the Cornish undercliff and the trinkling springs where the blue-bells and the forget-me-nots grew so thickly.
Yet it was necessary that something should be done, and through the blazing heat, day after day, the poor girl was dragged to agencies and managers. But she found no one to make her such an offer as the one so foolishly declined. And the time wore on, and the money in their purse grew less and less, and a kind of desperation made both silent and irritable. Finally an engagement to go "on the road" was secured, and Roland affected to be delighted with it. "We shall see the whole country," he said, "and we can keep our eyes open for something better."
Denasia sighed. Disappointment and a sense of wrong and grievous mistake filled her heart and sat upon her face. She submitted as to an irreparable injury, and left New York without the least enthusiasm. "Good fortune knocked at our door," she said, "and we had not intelligence enough to let him in." This was all the reproach she gave her husband, and as she said "we" he accepted her generous self-accusation, and finally convinced himself that it was entirely Denasia's fault that the offer was refused. "But then I do not blame you, Denasia," he remarked magnanimously; "you had every right to consider yourself worthy of a larger salary."
They left New York in September and went slowly West. Denasia had a fine physique, but it was not a physique trained to the special labour it had to endure: long days in hot railway cars; hurry and worry at every performance; no seclusion, no time for study; no time to acknowledge headache or weariness; a score of little humiliations and wrongs; a constant irritability at Roland's apparent indifference to her wretchedness and apparent satisfaction with the company and life into which he was thrown. The men, indeed, all seemed satisfied. They had cigars to smoke, and they told stories and played cards, and so beguiled the weary hours of travel. The women were headachy and tired; they soon threw aside their paper novels and confidential talks. Some of the very young ones—pretty, wilful, inexperienced girls, not yet disillusioned, not yet weary—added flirtation to their amusements. It pained Denasia to see Roland a willing aid to their foolish pastime. She had no fear that her husband would wrong her, but the pretence pained and humbled her.
It was a wearisome seven months, a nightmare kind of life, unrelieved by even a phantom show of success. Men in the Sierras, out on the great Western plains, knew not the sea. They could not be roused to enthusiasm. Fisher-folk and fisher-life were outside their sympathies. They preferred a comic song—a song that hit a famous person, or a political principle, or a Western foible. Miners liked to hear about "Leadville Jim." It touched their sensibilities when the "Three Fishers who Went Sailing out into the West" made no picture in their minds. Without being a failure, Denasia could not be said to be a success. She was out of her place, and consequently out of sympathy with all that touched her life.
Coming back eastward, while they were at Denver Denasia was stricken with typhoid fever. It was the result of months of unsatisfactory, unhappy labour, of worry and fret and disappointment. Nostalgia also of the worst kind had attacked her. She shut her eyes against the great mountains and endless plains. She wanted the sea. She wanted her home. Above all, she wanted to hide herself in her mother's breast. Roland had been frequently unkind to her lately. She had been utterly unable to respond to his moods, so different from her own, and she had been more and more pained by the silly attentions he bestowed on others.
At last she could endure it no longer. She had come to a point of indifference. "Leave me and let me die." This was all she said when Roland was at length forced to believe that her sickness was not temper, or disappointment, or jealousy. The company were compelled to leave her; Roland saw his favourites on the train and then he returned to nurse his sick wife. He found her insensible, and she remained so for many days. Doctors were called, and Roland conscientiously remained by her side; but yet it was all alone that she fought her battle with death. No one went with her into the dark valley of his shadow. She was deaf to all human voices; far beyond all human help or comfort. Through the long nights Roland heard her moaning and muttering, but it was the voice of one at an inconceivable distance—of one at the very shoal of being.
She came back from the strife weak as a baby. Her clear, shrill voice was a whisper. She could not lift a finger. It was an exhausting effort to open her eyes. A new-born child was in every respect more alive and more self-helpful, for Denasia could not by look or whisper make a complaint or a request. She was only not dead. The convalescence from such a sickness was necessarily long and tiresome. The fondest heart, the most unselfish nature must at times have felt the strain too great to be borne. Roland changed completely under it. His love for Denasia had always been dependent upon accessories pleasant and profitable to himself, as, indeed, his love for any human being would have been. While Denasia's beauty and talent gave him eclat and brought him money, he admired Denasia; and while her personality made sweet his private and enviable his public hours, he loved her.
But a wife smitten by deathly sickness into breathing clay—a wife who could give him no delight and make him no money—a wife who compelled him to waste his days in darkness and solitude and unpleasant duties and his money in medicines and doctor's fees—was not the kind of wife he had given his heart and name to. It was evident to him that Denasia had failed. "She has failed in everything I hoped from her," he said to himself bitterly one day, as he sat beside the still, death-like figure; "and there must be an end of this some way, Roland Tresham."
Financial difficulties were quickly upon him, and though he had written to Elizabeth a most pitiful description of his position, a whole month had passed and there was no letter to answer his appeal. He had momentary impulses to run away from a situation so painful and so nearly beyond his control. But it was fortunately much easier for Roland to be a scoundrel in intent than in reality. His selfish instincts had some nobler ones to combat, and as yet the nobler ones had kept the man within the pale of human affections. There had been one hour when the temptation was very nearly too much for him; and that very hour there came to him two hundred dollars from Elizabeth. It turned him back. Ah, how many a time two hundred dollars would prevent a tragedy! How many a time financial salvation means also moral salvation!
It was midsummer before Denasia was strong enough to return to New York, though she was passionately anxious to do so. "We are so far out of the right way," she pleaded. "So far! In New York we are nearer home. In New York I shall get well."
And by this time Roland had fully realised how unfit he was for the vivid, rapid life of the West. The cultivated, gentlemanly drawl of his speech was of itself an offence; his slow, unruffled movements and attitudes, his "ancient" ways of thinking, his conservatism and gentility and ultra-superficial refinement were the very qualities not valued and not needed in a community full of new life, ardent, impulsive, rapid, looking forward, and determined not to look backward.
So with hopes much dashed and hearts much dismayed they re-entered New York. The question of the future was a serious one. They were nearly dollarless again, and even Roland felt that Elizabeth could not be appealed to for some months at least. Denasia was facing the sorrowful hopes of motherhood. For three or four months she could not sing. They restricted themselves to a small back room in a Second Avenue boarding-house, and Roland searched the agencies and the papers daily for something suitable to his peculiar characteristics and capabilities, and found nothing. There was a great city full of people, but not one of them wanting the services of a young gentleman like Roland.
As for Denasia, she was still very weak. July and August tried her severely. Some few little garments had to be made, and this pitiful sewing was all she could manage. She did not lose her courage, however, and if anything touched Roland's best feelings at this time, it was her unfailing hope, her smiling welcome no matter how frequently he brought disappointment, her brave assurances that she would be quite well before the winter season, and then all would be put right.
In the last days of August the baby was born. Denasia recovered rapidly, but the little lad was a sickly, puny child. He had been wasted by fever, and fretted by anxious cares and by many fears, even before they were his birthright. All the more he appealed to his mother's love, and Denasia began now to comprehend something of the sin against mother-love which she herself had committed.
Perhaps she permitted her joy in her child to dominate her life too visibly; at any rate it soon began to annoy her husband. He had been so accustomed to all of Denasia's time and attention that he could not endure to be put off until baby was asleep, or until some trifling want of baby's had been attended to. He fancied that her attention was divided; that even when she appeared to be listening to his complaints or his intentions, her heart was with the child and her ears listening for its crying. The transient pleasure he had experienced in the little one's birth soon passed away, and an abiding sense of petty jealousy and wrong took its place.
"You are for ever nursing that crying little creature, Denasia," he said one day when he returned to their small, warm room in a fever of annoyance at some unappreciative manager. "No one can get your attention for five minutes. You hear nothing I say. You take no interest in anything I do. And the little torment is for ever and for ever crying."
"Baby is sick, Roland. And who is there to care for him but me?"
"We ought to be doing something. Winter is coming on. Companies are already on the road; you will find it hard to get a position of any kind, soon."
"I will go out to-morrow. I am strong enough now, I think."
"I can find nothing suitable. People seem to take an instant dislike to me."
"That is nonsense! You were always a favourite."
"I have had to sell most of my jewelry in order to provide for your sickness, Denasia. Of course I was glad to do it, you know that, but——"
"But it is my duty now, Roland. I will begin to-morrow."
So the next day Denasia went to the agencies, and Roland promised to take care of baby. A two weeks of exhausting waiting and seeking, of delayed hope and destroyed hope, followed; and Denasia was forced to admit that she had made no impression on the managerial mind. No one had heard of her singing and dancing, and those who condescended to listen were not enthusiastic.
"You see," said one of the kindest of these caterers for the public's pleasure—"you see, New Yorkers have no ideas about fisher men and women. If their fish is fresh, that is all that troubles them. If they think about the men who catch it, they very likely think of them as living comfortably in flats with all the modern improvements. A good topical song, a spirited dance—they are the things that fetch."
In different forms this was the general verdict, and every day she found it harder and harder to return home and meet Roland's eager face as she opened the door. Pretty soon the anxiety became tinctured with complaint and unreasonable ill-temper, and with all the domestic miseries which accompany resentful poverty.
The poor little baby in Roland's opinion was to blame for every disappointment. Its arrival had belated Denasia's application, or if he wanted to be particularly irritating, he accused Denasia of being in such a hurry to return to her child that she did not attend to her most necessary duties. So instead of being a loving tie between them, the poor wailing little morsel of humanity separated very love, while Roland's complaints of it soon really produced in his heart the impatient dislike which at first he only pretended.
He grumbled when left in charge of the cradle. As soon as Denasia was out of sight he frequently deserted his duty, and the disputes that followed hardened his heart continually against the cause of them. And when it came to naming the child, he averred that it was a matter of no importance to him, only he would not have it called Roland. "There had been," he said, "one too many of the Treshams called Roland. The name was unlucky; and besides, the child did not resemble his family. It looked just like the St. Penfer fisher children."
Denasia coloured furiously, but she answered with the moderation of accepted punishment, "Very well, then! I will call him 'John' after my father. I hope he may be as good a man."
Matters went on in this unhappy fashion until the end of October—nay, they continually grew worse, for poverty deepened and hope lessened. Denasia had lost the freshness of her beauty, and she was too simple and ignorant to make art replace nature. Indeed, it is doubtful whether any persuasion could have made her imitate the "painted Jezebel" who had always been one of the most pointed examples of her religious education. In her first experience of public life her radiant health and colouring shamed all meaner aids and had been amply sufficient for the brightest lights and the longest hours. But that fierce ordeal of acclimating under conditions of constant travel and hard work had drained even the magnificent vitality that had been her heritage from generations of seamen, and typhoid and unhappy maternity had robbed her of much of her almost defiant youth, with its indomitable spirit and invincible hope.
She had become by the close of October pale, fragile-looking, and woefully depressed. Roland no longer found her always smiling and hoping, and he called the change bad temper when he ought to have called it hunger. Not indeed hunger in its baldest form for mere bread, but hunger just as killing—hunger for the nourishing delicate food and proper tonics that were just as necessary as bread; hunger for hope, for work, and, above all, hunger for affection.
For Roland had begun privately—yea, and sometimes openly—to call himself a fool. And the devil, who never chooses a wrong hour, sent him at this time an important letter from Elizabeth. In it she told him that Mr. Burrell had died suddenly from apoplexy, and that she had resolved to sell Burrell Court and make her residence in London and Lucerne. She deplored his absence, and said how much she had needed some one of her own family in the removal from Cornwall and in the settlement of her husband's estate; and she sent her brother a much smaller sum of money than she had ever sent before.
When Roland had finished reading this epistle he looked at Denasia. She was walking about the room trying to soothe and quiet the child. It was very ill, and she had not dared to speak about a doctor. Therefore she was feeling hurt and sorrowful, and when Roland said, "Elizabeth's husband is dead," she did not answer him.
"I said that Elizabeth's husband is dead," he angrily reiterated.
"Very well. I am not sorry. I should think the poor man would be glad to escape from her."
"You are speaking of my sister, Denasia—of my sister, who is a lady."
"I care nothing about her. She could always take good care of herself. I am heart-broken for my child, who is ill and suffering, and I can do nothing for his relief—no, not even get a doctor."
Words still more bitter followed. Roland dressed himself and went out. He was not in a mood to do business or to look for business; indeed, there was no need that he should trouble himself for one day when he had Elizabeth's order in his pocket. He turned it into cash, bought the daily newspapers, and, the morning being exquisite, he took the cars to Central Park. But it was not until he was comfortably seated in the most retired arbour that he permitted himself to think.
Then he frankly said over and over: "What a fool I have been! Here am I at thirty-three years of age tied to a plain-looking fisher-girl and her cross, sickly baby. All I hoped for in her has proved a deception. Her beauty has not stood the test of climate. Motherhood, that improves and perfects most women, has personally wrecked her. Her voice is now commonplace. Her songs are become tiresome. She has grown fretful, and all her brightness and hopefulness have vanished. I do not know how to make a living. I may as well admit that my dramatic views are a failure—that is, they are in advance of the times. I can do nothing for myself. But if I had not been married, what a jolly time I might now be having with Elizabeth! London, Paris, Switzerland, and no care or trouble of any kind. Oh, what a fool I have been! How terribly I have been deceived!"
He did not take into consideration Denasia's disappointment. He had no doubt Denasia was telling all her own sorrows to herself and weeping over them and her miserable little baby. After a while he lit a fresh cigar and opened the newspapers. For an hour or two he let his thoughts drift as they led him, and then, as he was folding up one, the following notice met his vision:
"Wanted, a private secretary. A young man who has had a classical education preferred. Call upon Mr. Edward Lanhearne, 9 Fifth Avenue."
The name struck Roland. He had heard it before. It had a happy memory, an air of prosperity about it. Lanhearne! It was a Cornish name! That circumstance gave him the clew. When he was a boy at Eton, he remembered a Mr. Lanhearne who stayed with his father. "By Jove!" he cried, starting to his feet, "he was an American. What a piece of luck it would be if it should be the same man!" He fixed the address in his mind and went to it immediately.
The house pleased him. It was a large dwelling fronting on the avenue. A handsome carriage was just leaving the door, and in the carriage was a very lovely young woman. The entrance, the reception parlour, the servant who admitted him, all the apparent accessories of the house and household indicated wealth and refinement. What a heaven in comparison with that back room on Second Avenue! For the first time in many a month Roland had a sense of success in what he was going to do, and the feeling gave him a portion of the elements necessary to success.
Mr. Lanhearne received him at once. He was a kindly looking old gentleman, with fine manners and an intelligent face.
"Mr. Tresham," he said, "I was attracted by your name. I once had a friend—a very pleasant friend indeed, called Tresham."
"Did he live in London, sir?"
"He was Lord Mayor in the year 18—?"
"He was. Did you know him?"
"I am his son. I remember you very well. You went with me and my father to buy my first pony."
"I did indeed. Mr. Tresham, sit down, sir. You are very welcome. I am grateful for your visit. And how is my old acquaintance? I have not heard of him for many years. We are both Cornishmen, and you know the Cornish motto is 'One and all.'"
"My father is dead. He had great financial misfortunes. He did not survive them long. I came to America hoping to find a better opening, but nothing has gone well with me. This morning I saw your advertisement. I think I can do all you require, and I shall be very glad indeed of the position."
"How long have you been in America, Mr. Tresham?"
"More than a year. I went West at once, spent my money, and failed in every effort."
"To be sure. The West is for physical and financial energies. I think if a young man is to rely on his mental qualities he had better remain East. I am glad you have called upon me. The duties I wish attended to are very simple. You will have to read my mail every morning and answer it as I verbally direct. With the help of printed plates you will arrange my coins and seals and such matters. I wish you also to read the newspapers to me. In a day or two you will find out which articles to read and which to omit. I want a companion for my drives. I want some one to chat with me on my various hobbies—a young man, because young men have such positive opinions, and therefore we shall be likely to come to pleasant disputing. You will have a handsome room, a seat at my table, a place among my guests, and one hundred dollars a month."
"I am very grateful to you, sir."
"And I am very grateful to the kind fate which sent you to me. I owe your father for many a delightful day. I am glad to pay my debt to his son. When can you come here?"
"This afternoon, sir."
"I like that. We dine at seven. I will expect you to dinner. Do you—ahem!—excuse me, Mr. Tresham, perhaps you may require a little money in advance. I shall be pleased to accommodate you."
"You offer is gracious and considerate, sir. I am glad you made it, although I do not fortunately need to accept it."
They clasped hands and parted with smiles. Mr. Lanhearne was quite excited over the adventure. He longed for his daughter to come home, that he might tell her what a romantic answer had come to his prosaic advertisement. And Roland was still more excited. The air of the house, its peace, refinement, and luxury appealed irresistibly to him. It was his native air. He wondered how he had endured the vulgarity and penury of his surroundings for so long; how indeed he had borne with Denasia's shortcomings at all. That refined old gentleman, that quiet, elegant woman whom he had had a glimpse of—these people were like himself, of his own order—he would never weary of them. The class he had voluntarily chosen, the people with whom poverty had compelled him to consort, they affected him now as the memory of a debauch affects a man when it is over.
"I had no business out of my proper sphere," he said sadly. "Elizabeth was right—right even about Denasia."
He sat down in Union Square to consider his position, and he came to a very rapid and positive conclusion. He declared to himself: "I will no longer waste my life. Denasia and I have made a great mistake. Together, we shall be poor and miserable. Apart, we shall be happy. I no longer love her. I do not believe she loves me. All the love she can spare from her blustering father and mother she wastes on that miserable sickly babe, who would be a thousand times better dead than alive. If I leave her she will go back to St. Penfer. I have a hundred dollars; I will give her fifty of them. She can pay a steerage passage out of it or go in a sailing-vessel, or if she does not like that way she has things she can sell. If I give her half of what I have I do very well indeed."
He went rapidly to his home, or room. He knew that Denasia had an engagement to keep, and he hoped that he might be fortunate enough to find her out. It was as he wished: Denasia had gone out and the landlady was sitting beside the baby's cradle. Roland dismissed her with that manner all women declared to be charming, and then he sat down and wrote a letter to his wife. It did not occupy him ten minutes. Some of his clothing was yet very good and fashionable; he packed it in the leather trap which had gone with him to college, and then he sent a little girl for a cab. Without word and without observation he drove away from the scene of so much vexation and disappointment.
The whole life and vicinity had suddenly become horrible to him—Denasia, his child, the shabby landlady, the shabby house, the dirty little grocery at the corner where he had bought his cigars and their small household supplies, the meals cooked there and eaten there, Denasia's attempts at housekeeping—the whole series of memories made him wince and shiver with shame and annoyance. "Thank God it is over!" he said fervently. And he never once thought what an insult he was offering to eternal mercy and justice, in supposing God had anything whatever to do with his flagrant desertion of duty, his shameful abrogation of all the consequences of his own wilful selfishness, and his cruel farewell to the wife and son he was bound to nourish and cherish and defend.
He thought of none of these things. He thought only of the comfort and elegance; the peace, the delicate living, the delicate clothing, the congenial companionship he was going to. He was determined to have a luxurious bath, to be shaved and perfumed, to leave behind him the very dust of his past life. He resolved not to allow himself to remember Denasia. She was to be as if she never had been. He would blot out of his memory all the years she had brightened and darkened. And if any excuse can be found for him, it must be in his supposition that Denasia felt just as he did. She would be grateful to him for taking the initiative—glad to get back to her home and her people, glad to escape a life for which she must have discovered she had neither strength nor vocation.
So he thought, in spite of his resolve not to think. But a man must be even more selfish and reckless than Roland was to take years of his past life and plunge them into oblivion as he would plunge a stone into mid-ocean. In spite of the novelty of his situation, of his delight with his quiet, handsome room, the thought of Denasia would enter where it was forbidden to enter, and he could not help wondering how she would receive his letter, and what steps she would take in consequence of it.
Denasia came home weary and disappointed. She had had a long, silent wait for the person she expected to see, and finally been compelled to accept the fact that he was not coming into town. She was heart-sick, and the paltry loss of the car fare was an addition to her anxiety. That the room was empty and the baby crying did not in any way astonish her. She understood from it that Roland had come home and dismissed the landlady, and then wearied of his watch and gone out again, leaving the child to sleep or to weep as it felt inclined to do. Her first action was to lift it from its bed, nurse and comfort it, and rock it to sleep on her breast.
Then her eyes wandered from her child to a letter lying on the table. The circumstance roused no interest in her mind. She knew from its general appearance that it had been put there by Roland, and it was by no means the first time he had left the child with a letter containing some excuse which he thought valid enough to satisfy Denasia. She looked at it with a little contempt. She expected to find it assert that some one had called for him or had sent him a message involving a possible engagement, and she knew the whole affair would resolve itself into some plausible story, which she would either have to accept or else deny, with the certain addition of a coolness or a quarrel.
So the letter lay until she had put off and away her street costume. Then she took it in her hand and sat down by the open window to read the contents. They were short and very much to the point:
"DENASIA, MY DEAR:—You have ceased to love me and I have ceased to love you. You are miserable and I am miserable. We have made a great mistake, and we must do all we can to correct it. When you read this I shall be on my way to England. I advise you to go back to your parents for a year. You may in that time recover your beauty and your voice. It may be well then to go to Italy and give yourself an opportunity to obtain the education I see now you ought to have had at the first. But until that is practicable we are better apart. You will find fifty dollars in the white gloves lying on the dressing-case. I advise you to take a sailing-vessel; a long voyage will do you good and will be much cheaper. It is what I have done. Farewell.
She read every word and then glanced at the cradle. The child moved. With the letter in her hand she soothed it and then sat down again. She was overwhelmed with the shameful wrong. But to cry out and wring her hands and call in the neighbours to see and hear what things she suffered was not her way. Often she had seen her mother sitting speechless and motionless for hours while her father hung between life and death; it was natural for Denasia to take unavoidable sorrow with the same dumb patience.
Then she began to analyse the specious sentences and to deny the things asserted. "I have not ceased to love. Every hour of the day my life has been a witness to my love. I never said I was miserable. Nothing had power to make me quite miserable if Roland was kind to me. He is on his way to England. Of course he has gone to his sister. What did her sweet complaints and regrets at not having his help and company mean but 'Come to me, Roland'? She has lost her own husband and now she must have mine. She has always been my evil angel. When she was kindest to me it was only a different way of serving herself. My soul warned me; my father warned me. She is one of those human vampires who suck love, luck, life itself from all near them, and who slay, and rob, and smile, and caress while they do it. And I am to go home for a year and get back my beauty and my voice. I am sorry I ever was beautiful. If I can help it I will never sing another song. Go home and shame my good father and mother for his sake? Go home and be lectured and advised and reproved by every woman in the village? Go home a deserted wife, a failure in everything? No; I will not go home. Nor will I go to Italy. I have had more than enough of singing for my living and his living, too. I will sew, I will wash, I will go to service, I will do anything with my hands I can do; but I will not sing. And I will bring up my boy to work at real work, if it is but to make a horseshoe out of a lump of iron! God! what a foolish woman I have been! What a silly, vain, loving woman! My heart will break! My heart will break! Alone, alone! Sick, helpless, ignorant, alone!"
She closed her eyes and hid her face, and in that darkness gathered together her soul-strength. But she shed no tears. Pale as death, weak and trembling with suppressed emotion, she went softly about the little room putting things in order—doing she scarcely knew what, yet feeling the necessity to be doing something. Thus she came across the white gloves, and she feared to look in them. Her knowledge of Roland led her to think he would not leave fifty dollars behind him. He would take the credit of the gift and leave her to suppose herself robbed by some intruder or visitor.
So she looked suspiciously at the bit of white kid and undid it without hope. The money was there. After all, Roland had some pity for her. The sight of the bills subdued her proud restraint. One great pressure was lifted. No one could now interfere if she sent for a doctor for her sick baby. She could at least buy it the medicine that would ease its sufferings. And so far out was the tide of her happiness that from this reflection alone she drew a kind of consolation.