He stood on the shore, listening to the grinding, swaying sound of the skates, and watching the growing complexity of the curves they were engraving on the ice. As the girls grew warm and accustomed to the exercise they laughed, jested, screamed recklessly when they came into collision, and sailed before the wind down the whole length of the pond at perilous speed. The more animated they became, the gloomier looked Smilash. "Not two-penn'orth of choice between them and a parcel of puppies," he said; "except that some of them are conscious that there is a man looking at them, although he is only a blackguard laborer. They remind me of Henrietta in a hundred ways. Would I laugh, now, if the whole sheet of ice were to burst into little bits under them?"
Just then the ice cracked with a startling report, and the skaters, except Jane, skimmed away in all directions.
"You are breaking the ice to pieces, Jane," said Agatha, calling from a safe distance. "How can you expect it to bear your weight?"
"Pack of fools!" retorted Jane indignantly. "The noise only shows how strong it is."
The shock which the report had given Smilash answered him his question. "Make a note that wishes for the destruction of the human race, however rational and sincere, are contrary to nature," he said, recovering his spirits. "Besides, what a precious fool I should be if I were working at an international association of creatures only fit for destruction! Hi, lady! One word, Miss!" This was to Miss Ward, who had skated into his neighborhood. "It bein' a cold morning, and me havin' a poor and common circulation, would it be looked on as a liberty if I was to cut a slide here or take a turn in the corner all to myself?"
"You may skate over there if you wish," she said, after a pause for consideration, pointing to a deserted spot at the leeward end of the pond, where the ice was too rough for comfortable skating.
"Nobly spoke!" he cried, with a grin, hurrying to the place indicated, where, skating being out of the question, he made a pair of slides, and gravely exercised himself upon them until his face glowed and his fingers tingled in the frosty air. The time passed quickly; when Miss Ward sent for him to take off her skates there was a general groan and declaration that it could not possibly be half-past eight o'clock yet. Smilash knelt before the camp-stool, and was presently busy unbuckling and unscrewing. When Jane's turn came, the camp-stool creaked beneath her weight. Agatha again remonstrated with her, but immediately reproached herself with flippancy before Smilash, to whom she wished to convey an impression of deep seriousness of character.
"Smallest foot of the lot," he said critically, holding Jane's foot between his finger and thumb as if it were an art treasure which he had been invited to examine. "And belonging to the finest built lady."
Jane snatched away her foot, blushed, and said:
"Indeed! What next, I wonder?"
"T'other 'un next," he said, setting to work on the remaining skate. When it was off, he looked up at her, and she darted a glance at him as she rose which showed that his compliment (her feet were, in fact, small and pretty) was appreciated.
"Allow me, Miss," he said to Gertrude, who was standing on one leg, leaning on Agatha, and taking off her own skates.
"No, thank you," she said coldly. "I don't need your assistance."
"I am well aware that the offer was overbold," he replied, with a self-complacency that made his profession of humility exasperating. "If all the skates is off, I will, by Miss Wilson's order, carry them and the camp-stool back to the college."
Miss Ward handed him her skates and turned away. Gertrude placed hers on the stool and went with Miss Ward. The rest followed, leaving him to stare at the heap of skates and consider how he should carry them. He could think of no better plan than to interlace the straps and hang them in a chain over his shoulder. By the time he had done this the young ladies were out of sight, and his intention of enjoying their society during the return to the college was defeated. They had entered the building long before he came in sight of it.
Somewhat out of conceit with his folly, he went to the servants' entrance and rang the bell there. When the door was opened, he saw Miss Ward standing behind the maid who admitted him.
"Oh," she said, looking at the string of skates as if she had hardly expected to see them again, "so you have brought our things back?"
"Such were my instructions," he said, taken aback by her manner. "You had no instructions. What do you mean by getting our skates into your charge under false pretences? I was about to send the police to take them from you. How dare you tell me that you were sent to wait on me, when you know very well that you were nothing of the sort?"
"I couldn't help it, Miss," he replied submissively. "I am a natural born liar—always was. I know that it must appear dreadful to you that never told a lie, and don't hardly know what a lie is, belonging as you do to a class where none is ever told. But common people like me tells lies just as a duck swims. I ask your pardon, Miss, most humble, and I hope the young ladies'll be able to tell one set of skates from t'other; for I'm blest if I can."
"Put them down. Miss Wilson wishes to speak to you before you go. Susan, show him the way."
"Hope you ain't been and got a poor cove into trouble, Miss?"
"Miss Wilson knows how you have behaved."
He smiled at her benevolently and followed Susan upstairs. On their way they met Jane, who stole a glance at him, and was about to pass by, when he said:
"Won't you say a word to Miss Wilson for a poor common fellow, honored young lady? I have got into dreadful trouble for having made bold to assist you this morning."
"You needn't give yourself the pains to talk like that," replied Jane in an impetuous whisper. "We all know that you're only pretending."
"Well, you can guess my motive," he whispered, looking tenderly at her.
"Such stuff and nonsense! I never heard of such a thing in my life," said Jane, and ran away, plainly understanding that he had disguised himself in order to obtain admission to the college and enjoy the happiness of looking at her.
"Cursed fool that I am!" he said to himself; "I cannot act like a rational creature for five consecutive minutes."
The servant led him to the study and announced, "The man, if you please, ma'am."
"Jeff Smilash," he added in explanation.
"Come in," said Miss Wilson sternly.
He went in, and met the determined frown which she cast on him from her seat behind the writing table, by saying courteously:
"Good-morning, Miss Wilson."
She bent forward involuntarily, as if to receive a gentleman. Then she checked herself and looked implacable.
"I have to apologize," he said, "for making use of your name unwarrantably this morning—telling a lie, in fact. I happened to be skating when the young ladies came down, and as they needed some assistance which they would hardly have accepted from a common man—excuse my borrowing that tiresome expression from our acquaintance Smilash—I set their minds at ease by saying that you had sent for me. Otherwise, as you have given me a bad character—though not worse than I deserve—they would probably have refused to employ me, or at least I should have been compelled to accept payment, which I, of course, do not need."
Miss Wilson affected surprise. "I do not understand you," she said.
"Not altogether," he said smiling. "But you understand that I am what is called a gentleman."
"No. The gentlemen with whom I am conversant do not dress as you dress, nor speak as you speak, nor act as you act."
He looked at her, and her countenance confirmed the hostility of her tone. He instantly relapsed into an aggravated phase of Smilash.
"I will no longer attempt to set myself up as a gentleman," he said. "I am a common man, and your ladyship's hi recognizes me as such and is not to be deceived. But don't go for to say that I am not candid when I am as candid as ever you will let me be. What fault, if any, do you find with my putting the skates on the young ladies, and carryin' the campstool for them?"
"If you are a gentleman," said Miss Wilson, reddening, "your conduct in persisting in these antics in my presence is insulting to me. Extremely so."
"Miss Wilson," he replied, unruffled, "if you insist on Smilash, you shall have Smilash; I take an insane pleasure in personating him. If you want Sidney—my real Christian name—you can command him. But allow me to say that you must have either one or the other. If you become frank with me, I will understand that you are addressing Sidney. If distant and severe, Smilash."
"No matter what your name may be," said Miss Wilson, much annoyed, "I forbid you to come here or to hold any communication whatever with the young ladies in my charge."
"Because I choose."
"There is much force in that reason, Miss Wilson; but it is not moral force in the sense conveyed by your college prospectus, which I have read with great interest."
Miss Wilson, since her quarrel with Agatha, had been sore on the subject of moral force. "No one is admitted here," she said, "without a trustworthy introduction or recommendation. A disguise is not a satisfactory substitute for either."
"Disguises are generally assumed for the purpose of concealing crime," he remarked sententiously.
"Precisely so," she said emphatically.
"Therefore, I bear, to say the least, a doubtful character. Nevertheless, I have formed with some of the students here a slight acquaintance, of which, it seems, you disapprove. You have given me no good reason why I should discontinue that acquaintance, and you cannot control me except by your wish—a sort of influence not usually effective with doubtful characters. Suppose I disregard your wish, and that one or two of your pupils come to you and say: 'Miss Wilson, in our opinion Smilash is an excellent fellow; we find his conversation most improving. As it is your principle to allow us to exercise our own judgment, we intend to cultivate the acquaintance of Smilash.' How will you act in that case?"
"Send them home to their parents at once."
"I see that your principles are those of the Church of England. You allow the students the right of private judgment on condition that they arrive at the same conclusions as you. Excuse my saying that the principles of the Church of England, however excellent, are not those your prospectus led me to hope for. Your plan is coercion, stark and simple."
"I do not admit it," said Miss Wilson, ready to argue, even with Smilash, in defence of her system. "The girls are quite at liberty to act as they please, but I reserve my equal liberty to exclude them from my college if I do not approve of their behavior."
"Just so. In most schools children are perfectly at liberty to learn their lessons or not, just as they please; but the principal reserves an equal liberty to whip them if they cannot repeat their tasks."
"I do not whip my pupils," said Miss Wilson indignantly. "The comparison is an outrage."
"But you expel them; and, as they are devoted to you and to the place, expulsion is a dreaded punishment. Yours is the old system of making laws and enforcing them by penalties, and the superiority of Alton College to other colleges is due, not to any difference of system, but to the comparative reasonableness of its laws and the mildness and judgment with which they are enforced."
"My system is radically different from the old one. However, I will not discuss the matter with you. A mind occupied with the prejudices of the old coercive despotism can naturally only see in the new a modification of the old, instead of, as my system is, an entire reversal or abandonment of it."
He shook his head sadly and said: "You seek to impose your ideas on others, ostracizing those who reject them. Believe me, mankind has been doing nothing else ever since it began to pay some attention to ideas. It has been said that a benevolent despotism is the best possible form of government. I do not believe that saying, because I believe another one to the effect that hell is paved with benevolence, which most people, the proverb being too deep for them, misinterpret as unfulfilled intentions. As if a benevolent despot might not by any error of judgment destroy his kingdom, and then say, like Romeo when he got his friend killed, 'I thought all for the best!' Excuse my rambling. I meant to say, in short, that though you are benevolent and judicious you are none the less a despot."
Miss Wilson, at a loss for a reply, regretted that she had not, before letting him gain so far on her, dismissed him summarily instead of tolerating a discussion which she did not know how to end with dignity. He relieved her by adding unexpectedly:
"Your system was the cause of my absurd marriage. My wife acquired a degree of culture and reasonableness from her training here which made her seem a superior being among the chatterers who form the female seasoning in ordinary society. I admired her dark eyes, and was only too glad to seize the excuse her education offered me for believing her a match for me in mind as well as in body."
Miss Wilson, astonished, determined to tell him coldly that her time was valuable. But curiosity took possession of her in the act of utterance, and the words that came were, "Who was she?"
"Henrietta Jansenius. She is Henrietta Trefusis, and I am Sidney Trefusis, at your mercy. I see I have aroused your compassion at last."
"Nonsense!" said Miss Wilson hastily; for her surprise was indeed tinged by a feeling that he was thrown away on Henrietta.
"I ran away from her and adopted this retreat and this disguise in order to avoid her. The usual rebuke to human forethought followed. I ran straight into her arms—or rather she ran into mine. You remember the scene, and were probably puzzled by it."
"You seem to think your marriage contract a very light matter, Mr. Trefusis. May I ask whose fault was the separation? Hers, of course."
"I have nothing to reproach her with. I expected to find her temper hasty, but it was not so—her behavior was unexceptionable. So was mine. Our bliss was perfect, but unfortunately, I was not made for domestic bliss—at all events I could not endure it—so I fled, and when she caught me again I could give no excuse for my flight, though I made it clear to her that I would not resume our connubial relations just yet. We parted on bad terms. I fully intended to write her a sweet letter to make her forgive me in spite of herself, but somehow the weeks have slipped away and I am still fully intending. She has never written, and I have never written. This is a pretty state of things, isn't it, Miss Wilson, after all her advantages under the influence of moral force and the movement for the higher education of women?"
"By your own admission, the fault seems to lie upon your moral training and not upon hers."
"The fault was in the conditions of our association. Why they should have attracted me so strongly at first, and repelled me so horribly afterwards, is one of those devil's riddles which will not be answered until we shall have traced all the yet unsuspected reactions of our inveterate dishonesty. But I am wasting your time, I fear. You sent for Smilash, and I have responded by practically annihilating him. In public, however, you must still bear with his antics. One moment more. I had forgotten to ask you whether you are interested in the shepherd whose wife you sheltered on the night of the storm?"
"He assured me, before he took his wife away, that he was comfortably settled in a lodging in Lyvern."
"Yes. Very comfortably settled indeed. For half-a-crown a week he obtained permission to share a spacious drawing-room with two other families in a ten-roomed house in not much better repair than his blown-down hovel. This house yields to its landlord over two hundred a year, or rather more than the rent of a commodious mansion in South Kensington. It is a troublesome rent to collect, but on the other hand there is no expenditure for repairs or sanitation, which are not considered necessary in tenement houses. Our friend has to walk three miles to his work and three miles back. Exercise is a capital thing for a student or a city clerk, but to a shepherd who has been in the fields all day, a long walk at the end of his work is somewhat too much of a good thing. He begged for an increase of wages to compensate him for the loss of the hut, but Sir John pointed out to him that if he was not satisfied his place could be easily filled by less exorbitant shepherds. Sir John even condescended to explain that the laws of political economy bind employers to buy labor in the cheapest market, and our poor friend, just as ignorant of economics as Sir John, of course did not know that this was untrue. However, as labor is actually so purchased everywhere except in Downing Street and a few other privileged spots, I suggested that our friend should go to some place where his market price would be higher than in merry England. He was willing enough to do so, but unable from want of means. So I lent him a trifle, and now he is on his way to Australia. Workmen are the geese that lay the golden eggs, but they fly away sometimes. I hear a gong sounding, to remind me of the fight of time and the value of your share of it. Good-morning!"
Miss Wilson was suddenly moved not to let him go without an appeal to his better nature. "Mr. Trefusis," she said, "excuse me, but are you not, in your generosity to others a little forgetful of your duty to yourself; and—"
"The first and hardest of all duties!" he exclaimed. "I beg your pardon for interrupting you. It was only to plead guilty."
"I cannot admit that it is the first of all duties, but it is sometimes perhaps the hardest, as you say. Still, you could surely do yourself more justice without any great effort. If you wish to live humbly, you can do so without pretending to be an uneducated man and without taking an irritating and absurd name. Why on earth do you call yourself Smilash?"
"I confess that the name has been a failure. I took great pains, in constructing it, to secure a pleasant impression. It is not a mere invention, but a compound of the words smile and eyelash. A smile suggests good humor; eyelashes soften the expression and are the only features that never blemish a face. Hence Smilash is a sound that should cheer and propitiate. Yet it exasperates. It is really very odd that it should have that effect, unless it is that it raises expectations which I am unable to satisfy."
Miss Wilson looked at him doubtfully. He remained perfectly grave. There was a pause. Then, as if she had made up her mind to be offended, she said, "Good-morning," shortly.
"Good-morning, Miss Wilson. The son of a millionaire, like the son of a king, is seldom free from mental disease. I am just mad enough to be a mountebank. If I were a little madder, I should perhaps really believe myself Smilash instead of merely acting him. Whether you ask me to forget myself for a moment, or to remember myself for a moment, I reply that I am the son of my father, and cannot. With my egotism, my charlatanry, my tongue, and my habit of having my own way, I am fit for no calling but that of saviour of mankind—just of the sort they like." After an impressive pause he turned slowly and left the room.
"I wonder," he said, as he crossed the landing, "whether, by judiciously losing my way, I can catch a glimpse of that girl who is like a golden idol?"
Downstairs, on his way to the door, he saw Agatha coming towards him, occupied with a book which she was tossing up to the ceiling and catching. Her melancholy expression, habitual in her lonely moments, showed that she was not amusing herself, but giving vent to her restlessness. As her gaze travelled upward, following the flight of the volume, it was arrested by Smilash. The book fell to the floor. He picked it up and handed it to her, saying:
"And, in good time, here is the golden idol!"
"What?" said Agatha, confused.
"I call you the golden idol," he said. "When we are apart I always imagine your face as a face of gold, with eyes and teeth of bdellium, or chalcedony, or agate, or any wonderful unknown stones of appropriate colors."
Agatha, witless and dumb, could only look down deprecatingly.
"You think you ought to be angry with me, and you do not know exactly how to make me feel that you are so. Is that it?"
"No. Quite the contrary. At least—I mean that you are wrong. I am the most commonplace person you can imagine—if you only knew. No matter what I may look, I mean."
"How do you know that you are commonplace?"
"Of course I know," said Agatha, her eyes wandering uneasily.
"Of course you do not know; you cannot see yourself as others see you. For instance, you have never thought of yourself as a golden idol."
"But that is absurd. You are quite mistaken about me."
"Perhaps so. I know, however, that your face is not really made of gold and that it has not the same charm for you that it has for others—for me."
"I must go," said Agatha, suddenly in haste.
"When shall we meet again?"
"I don't know," she said, with a growing sense of alarm. "I really must go."
"Believe me, your hurry is only imaginary. Do you fancy that you are behaving in a manner of quite ubdued ardor that affected Agatha strangely.
"But first tell me whether it is new to you or not."
"It is not an emotion at all. I did not say that it was."
"Do not be afraid of it. It is only being alone with a man whom you have bewitched. You would be mistress of the situation if you only knew how to manage a lover. It is far easier than managing a horse, or skating, or playing the piano, or half a dozen other feats of which you think nothing."
Agatha colored and raised her head.
"Forgive me," he said, interrupting the action. "I am trying to offend you in order to save myself from falling in love with you, and I have not the heart to let myself succeed. On your life, do not listen to me or believe me. I have no right to say these things to you. Some fiend enters into me when I am at your side. You should wear a veil, Agatha."
She blushed, and stood burning and tingling, her presence of mind gone, and her chief sensation one of relief to hear—for she did not dare to see—that he was departing. Her consciousness was in a delicious confusion, with the one definite thought in it that she had won her lover at last. The tone of Trefusis's voice, rich with truth and earnestness, his quick insight, and his passionate warning to her not to heed him, convinced her that she had entered into a relation destined to influence her whole life.
"And yet," she said remorsefully, "I cannot love him as he loves me. I am selfish, cold, calculating, worldly, and have doubted until now whether such a thing as love really existed. If I could only love him recklessly and wholly, as he loves me!"
Smilash was also soliloquizing as he went on his way.
"Now I have made the poor child—who was so anxious that I should not mistake her for a supernaturally gifted and lovely woman as happy as an angel; and so is that fine girl whom they call Jane Carpenter. I hope they won't exchange confidences on the subject."
Mrs. Trefusis found her parents so unsympathetic on the subject of her marriage that she left their house shortly after her visit to Lyvern, and went to reside with a hospitable friend. Unable to remain silent upon the matter constantly in her thoughts, she discussed her husband's flight with this friend, and elicited an opinion that the behavior of Trefusis was scandalous and wicked. Henrietta could not bear this, and sought shelter with a relative. The same discussion arising, the relative said:
"Well, Hetty, if I am to speak candidly, I must say that I have known Sidney Trefusis for a long time, and he is the easiest person to get on with I ever met. And you know, dear, that you are very trying sometimes."
"And so," cried Henrietta, bursting into tears, "after the infamous way he has treated me I am to be told that it is all my own fault."
She left the house next day, having obtained another invitation from a discreet lady who would not discuss the subject at all. This proved quite intolerable, and Henrietta went to stay with her uncle Daniel Jansenius, a jolly and indulgent man. He opined that things would come right as soon as both parties grew more sensible; and, as to which of them was, in fault, his verdict was, six of one and half a dozen of the other. Whenever he saw his niece pensive or tearful he laughed at her and called her a grass widow. Henrietta found that she could endure anything rather than this. Declaring that the world was hateful to her, she hired a furnished villa in St. John's Wood, whither she moved in December. But, suffering much there from loneliness, she soon wrote a pathetic letter to Agatha, entreating her to spend the approaching Christmas vacation with her, and promising her every luxury and amusement that boundless affection could suggest and boundless means procure. Agatha's reply contained some unlooked-for information.
"Alton College, Lyvern,
"Dearest Hetty: I don't think I can do exactly what you want, as I must spend Xmas with Mamma at Chiswick; but I need not get there until Xmas Eve, and we break up here on yesterday week, the 20th. So I will go straight to you and bring you with me to Mamma's, where you will spend Xmas much better than moping in a strange house. It is not quite settled yet about my leaving the college after this term. You must promise not to tell anyone; but I have a new friend here—a lover. Not that I am in love with him, though I think very highly of him—you know I am not a romantic fool; but he is very much in love with me; and I wish I could return it as he deserves. The French say that one person turns the cheek and the other kisses it. It has not got quite so far as that with us; indeed, since he declared what he felt he has only been able to snatch a few words with me when I have been skating or walking. But there has always been at least one word or look that meant a great deal.
"And now, who do you think he is? He says he knows you. Can you guess? He says you know all his secrets. He says he knows your husband well; that he treated you very badly, and that you are greatly to be pitied. Can you guess now? He says he has kissed you—for shame, Hetty! Have you guessed yet? He was going to tell me something more when we were interrupted, and I have not seen him since except at a distance. He is the man with whom you eloped that day when you gave us all such a fright—Mr. Sidney. I was the first to penetrate his disguise; and that very morning I had taxed him with it, and he had confessed it. He said then that he was hiding from a woman who was in love with him; and I should not be surprised if it turned out to be true; for he is wonderfully original—in fact what makes me like him is that he is by far the cleverest man I have ever met; and yet he thinks nothing of himself. I cannot imagine what he sees in me to care for, though he is evidently ensnared by my charms. I hope he won't find out how silly I am. He called me his golden idol—"
Henrietta, with a scream of rage, tore the letter across, and stamped upon it. When the paroxysm subsided she picked up the pieces, held them together as accurately as her trembling hands could, and read on.
"—but he is not all honey, and will say the most severe things sometimes if he thinks he ought to. He has made me so ashamed of my ignorance that I am resolved to stay here for another term at least, and study as hard as I can. I have not begun yet, as it is not worth while at the eleventh hour of this term; but when I return in January I will set to work in earnest. So you may see that his influence over me is an entirely good one. I will tell you all about him when we meet; for I have no time to say anything now, as the girls are bothering me to go skating with them. He pretends to be a workman, and puts on our skates for us; and Jane Carpenter believes that he is in love with her. Jane is exceedingly kindhearted; but she has a talent for making herself ridiculous that nothing can suppress. The ice is lovely, and the weather jolly; we do not mind the cold in the least. They are threatening to go without me—good-bye!
"Ever your affectionate
Henrietta looked round for something sharp. She grasped a pair of scissors greedily and stabbed the air with them. Then she became conscious of her murderous impulse, and she shuddered at it; but in a moment more her jealousy swept back upon her. She cried, as if suffocating, "I don't care; I should like to kill her!" But she did not take up the scissors again.
At last she rang the bell violently and asked for a railway guide. On being told that there was not one in the house, she scolded her maid so unreasonably that the girl said pertly that if she were to be spoken to like that she should wish to leave when her month was up. This check brought Henrietta to her senses. She went upstairs and put on the first cloak at hand, which was fortunately a heavy fur one. Then she took her bonnet and purse, left the house, hailed a passing hansom, and bade the cabman drive her to St. Pancras.
When the night came the air at Lyvern was like iron in the intense cold. The trees and the wind seemed ice-bound, as the water was, and silence, stillness, and starlight, frozen hard, brooded over the country. At the chalet, Smilash, indifferent to the price of coals, kept up a roaring fire that glowed through the uncurtained windows, and tantalized the chilled wayfarer who did not happen to know, as the herdsmen of the neighborhood did, that he was welcome to enter and warm himself without risk of rebuff from the tenant. Smilash was in high spirits. He had become a proficient skater, and frosty weather was now a luxury to him. It braced him, and drove away his gloomy fits, whilst his sympathies were kept awake and his indignation maintained at an exhilarating pitch by the sufferings of the poor, who, unable to afford fires or skating, warmed themselves in such sweltering heat as overcrowding produces in all seasons.
It was Smilash's custom to make a hot drink of oatmeal and water for himself at half-past nine o'clock each evening, and to go to bed at ten. He opened the door to throw out some water that remained in the saucepan from its last cleansing. It froze as it fell upon the soil. He looked at the night, and shook himself to throw off an oppressive sensation of being clasped in the icy ribs of the air, for the mercury had descended below the familiar region of crisp and crackly cold and marked a temperature at which the numb atmosphere seemed on the point of congealing into black solidity. Nothing was stirring.
"By George!" he said, "this is one of those nights on which a rich man daren't think!"
He shut the door, hastened back to his fire, and set to work at his caudle, which he watched and stirred with a solicitude that would have amused a professed cook. When it was done he poured it into a large mug, where it steamed invitingly. He took up some in a spoon and blew upon it to cool it. Tap, tap, tap, tap! hurriedly at the door.
"Nice night for a walk," he said, putting down the spoon; then shouting, "Come in."
The latch rose unsteadily, and Henrietta, with frozen tears on her cheeks, and an unintelligible expression of wretchedness and rage, appeared. After an instant of amazement, he sprang to her and clasped her in his arms, and she, against her will, and protesting voicelessly, stumbled into his embrace.
"You are frozen to death," he exclaimed, carrying her to the fire. "This seal jacket is like a sheet of ice. So is your face" (kissing it). "What is the matter? Why do you struggle so?"
"Let me go," she gasped, in a vehement whisper. "I h—hate you."
"My poor love, you are too cold to hate anyone—even your husband. You must let me take off these atrocious French boots. Your feet must be perfectly dead."
By this time her voice and tears were thawing in the warmth of the chalet and of his caresses. "You shall not take them off," she said, crying with cold and sorrow. "Let me alone. Don't touch me. I am going away—straight back. I will not speak to you, nor take off my things here, nor touch anything in the house."
"No, my darling," he said, putting her into a capacious wooden armchair and busily unbuttoning her boots, "you shall do nothing that you don't wish to do. Your feet are like stones. Yes, yes, my dear, I am a wretch unworthy to live. I know it."
"Let me alone," she said piteously. "I don't want your attentions. I have done with you for ever."
"Come, you must drink some of this nasty stuff. You will need strength to tell your husband all the unpleasant things your soul is charged with. Take just a little."
She turned her face away and would not answer. He brought another chair and sat down beside her. "My lost, forlorn, betrayed one—"
"I am," she sobbed. "You don't mean it, but I am."
"You are also my dearest and best of wives. If you ever loved me, Hetty, do, for my once dear sake, drink this before it gets cold."
She pouted, sobbed, and yielded to some gentle force which he used, as a child allows herself to be half persuaded, half compelled, to take physic.
"Do you feel better and more comfortable now?" he said.
"No," she replied, angry with herself for feeling both.
"Then," he said cheerfully, as if she had uttered a hearty affirmative, "I will put some more coals on the fire, and we shall be as snug as possible. It makes me wildly happy to see you at my fireside, and to know that you are my own wife."
"I wonder how you can look me in the face and say so," she cried.
"I should wonder at myself if I could look at your face and say anything else. Oatmeal is a capital restorative; all your energy is coming back. There, that will make a magnificent blaze presently."
"I never thought you deceitful, Sidney, whatever other faults you might have had."
"Precisely, my love. I understand your feelings. Murder, burglary, intemperance, or the minor vices you could have borne; but deceit you cannot abide."
"I will go away," she said despairingly, with a fresh burst of tears. "I will not be laughed at and betrayed. I will go barefooted." She rose and attempted to reach the door; but he intercepted her and said:
"My love, there is something serious the matter. What is it? Don't be angry with me."
He brought her back to the chair. She took Agatha's letter from the pocket of her fur cloak, and handed it to him with a faint attempt to be tragic.
"Read that," she said. "And never speak to me again. All is over between us."
He took it curiously, and turned it to look at the signature. "Aha!" he said, "my golden idol has been making mischief, has she?"
"There!" exclaimed Henrietta. "You have said it to my face! You have convicted yourself out of your own mouth!"
"Wait a moment, my dear. I have not read the letter yet."
He rose and walked to and fro through the room, reading. She watched him, angrily confident that she should presently see him change countenance. Suddenly he drooped as if his spine had partly given way; and in this ungraceful attitude he read the remainder of the letter. When he had finished he threw it on the table, thrust his hands deep into his pockets, and roared with laughter, huddling himself together as if he could concentrate the joke by collecting himself into the smallest possible compass. Henrietta, speechless with indignation, could only look her feelings. At last he came and sat down beside her.
"And so," he said, "on receiving this you rushed out in the cold and came all the way to Lyvern. Now, it seems to me that you must either love me very much—"
"I don't. I hate you."
"Or else love yourself very much."
"Oh!" And she wept afresh. "You are a selfish brute, and you do just as you like without considering anyone else. No one ever thinks of me. And now you won't even take the trouble to deny that shameful letter."
"Why should I deny it? It is true. Do you not see the irony of all this? I amuse myself by paying a few compliments to a schoolgirl for whom I do not care two straws more than for any agreeable and passably clever woman I meet. Nevertheless, I occasionally feel a pang of remorse because I think that she may love me seriously, although I am only playing with her. I pity the poor heart I have wantonly ensnared. And, all the time, she is pitying me for exactly the same reason! She is conscience-stricken because she is only indulging in the luxury of being adored 'by far the cleverest man she has ever met,' and is as heart-whole as I am! Ha, ha! That is the basis of the religion of love of which poets are the high-priests. Each worshipper knows that his own love is either a transient passion or a sham copied from his favorite poem; but he believes honestly in the love of others for him. Ho, ho! Is it not a silly world, my dear?"
"You had no right to make love to Agatha. You have no right to make love to anyone but me; and I won't bear it."
"You are angry because Agatha has infringed your monopoly. Always monopoly! Why, you silly girl, do you suppose that I belong to you, body and soul?—that I may not be moved except by your affection, or think except of your beauty?"
"You may call me as many names as you please, but you have no right to make love to Agatha."
"My dearest, I do not recollect calling you any names. I think you said something about a selfish brute."
"I did not. You called me a silly girl."
"But, my love, you are."
"And so YOU are. You are thoroughly selfish."
"I don't deny it. But let us return to our subject. What did we begin to quarrel about?"
"I am not quarrelling, Sidney. It is you."
"Well, what did I begin to quarrel about?"
"About Agatha Wylie."
"Oh, pardon me, Hetty; I certainly did not begin to quarrel about her. I am very fond of her—more so, it appears, than she is of me. One moment, Hetty, before you recommence your reproaches. Why do you dislike my saying pretty things to Agatha?"
Henrietta hesitated, and said: "Because you have no right to. It shows how little you care for me."
"It has nothing to do with you. It only shows how much I care for her."
"I will not stay here to be insulted," said Hetty, her distress returning. "I will go home."
"Not to-night; there is no train."
"I will walk."
"It is too far."
"I don't care. I will not stay here, though I die of cold by the roadside."
"My cherished one, I have been annoying you purposely because you show by your anger that you have not ceased to care for me. I am in the wrong, as I usually am, and it is all my fault. Agatha knows nothing about our marriage."
"I do not blame you so much," said Henrietta, suffering him to place her head on his shoulder; "but I will never speak to Agatha again. She has behaved shamefully to me, and I will tell her so."
"No doubt she will opine that it is all your fault, dearest, and that I have behaved admirably. Between you I shall stand exonerated. And now, since it is too cold for walking, since it is late, since it is far to Lyvern and farther to London, I must improvise some accommodation for you here."
"But there is no help for it. You must stay."
Next day Smilash obtained from his wife a promise that she would behave towards Agatha as if the letter had given no offence. Henrietta pleaded as movingly as she could for an immediate return to their domestic state, but he put her off with endearing speeches, promised nothing but eternal affection, and sent her back to London by the twelve o'clock express. Then his countenance changed; he walked back to Lyvern, and thence to the chalet, like a man pursued by disgust and remorse. Later in the afternoon, to raise his spirits, he took his skates and went to Wickens's pond, where, it being Saturday, he found the ice crowded with the Alton students and their half-holiday visitors. Fairholme, describing circles with his habitual air of compressed hardihood, stopped and stared with indignant surprise as Smilash lurched past him.
"Is that man here by your permission?" he said to Farmer Wickens, who was walking about as if superintending a harvest.
"He is here because he likes, I take it," said Wickens stubbornly. "He is a neighbor of mine and a friend of mine. Is there any objections to my having a friend on my own pond, seein' that there is nigh on two or three ton of other people's friends on it 108 without as much as a with-your-leave or a by-your-leave."
"Oh, no," said Fairholme, somewhat dashed. "If you are satisfied there can be no objection."
"I'm glad on it. I thought there mout be."
"Let me tell you," said Fairholme, nettled, "that your landlord would not be pleased to see him here. He sent one of Sir John's best shepherds out of the country, after filling his head with ideas above his station. I heard Sir John speak very warmly about it last Sunday."
"Mayhap you did, Muster Fairholme. I have a lease of this land—and gravelly, poor stuff it is—and I am no ways beholden to Sir John's likings and dislikings. A very good thing too for Sir John that I have a lease, for there ain't a man in the country 'ud tak' a present o' the farm if it was free to-morrow. And what's a' more, though that young man do talk foolish things about the rights of farm laborers and such-like nonsense, if Sir John was to hear him layin' it down concernin' rent and improvements, and the way we tenant farmers is put upon, p'raps he'd speak warmer than ever next Sunday."
And Wickens, with a smile expressive of his sense of having retorted effectively upon the parson, nodded and walked away.
Just then Agatha, skating hand in hand with Jane Carpenter, heard these words in her ear: "I have something very funny to tell you. Don't look round."
She recognized the voice of Smilash and obeyed.
"I am not quite sure that you will enjoy it as it deserves," he added, and darted off again, after casting an eloquent glance at Miss Carpenter.
Agatha disengaged herself from her companion, made a circuit, and passed near Smilash, saying: "What is it?"
Smilash flitted away like a swallow, traced several circles around Fairholme, and then returned to Agatha and proceeded side by side with her.
"I have read the letter you wrote to Hetty," he said.
Agatha's face began to glow. She forgot to maintain her balance, and almost fell.
"Take care. And so you are not fond of me—in the romantic sense?"
No answer. Agatha dumb and afraid to lift her eyelids.
"That is fortunate," he continued, "because—good evening, Miss Ward; I have done nothing but admire your skating for the last hour—because men were deceivers ever; and I am no exception, as you will presently admit."
Agatha murmured something, but it was unintelligible amid the din of skating.
"You think not? Well, perhaps you are right; I have said nothing to you that is not in a measure true. You have always had a peculiar charm for me. But I did not mean you to tell Hetty. Can you guess why?"
Agatha shook her head.
"Because she is my wife."
Agatha's ankles became limp. With an effort she kept upright until she reached Jane, to whom she clung for support.
"Don't," screamed Jane. "You'll upset me."
"I must sit down," said Agatha. "I am tired. Let me lean on you until we get to the chairs."
"Bosh! I can skate for an hour without sitting down," said Jane. However, she helped Agatha to a chair and left her. Then Smilash, as if desiring a rest also, sat down close by on the margin of the pond.
"Well," he said, without troubling himself as to whether their conversation attracted attention or not, "what do you think of me now?"
"Why did you not tell me before, Mr. Trefusis?"
"That is the cream of the joke," he replied, poising his heels on the ice so that his skates stood vertically at legs' length from him, and looking at them with a cynical air. "I thought you were in love with me, and that the truth would be too severe a blow to you. Ha! ha! And, for the same reason, you generously forbore to tell me that you were no more in love with me than with the man in the moon. Each played a farce, and palmed it off on the other as a tragedy."
"There are some things so unmanly, so unkind, and so cruel," said Agatha, "that I cannot understand any gentleman saying them to a girl. Please do not speak to me again. Miss Ward! Come to me for a moment. I—I am not well."
Ward hurried to her side. Smilash, after staring at her for a moment in astonishment, and in some concern, skimmed away into the crowd. When he reached the opposite bank he took off his skates and asked Jane, who strayed intentionally in his direction, to tell Miss Wylie that he was gone, and would skate no more there. Without adding a word of explanation he left her and made for his dwelling. As he went down into the hollow where the road passed through the plantation on the college side of the chalet he descried a boy, in the uniform of the post office, sliding along the frozen ditch. A presentiment of evil tidings came upon him like a darkening of the sky. He quickened his pace.
"Anything for me?" he said.
The boy, who knew him, fumbled in a letter case and produced a buff envelope. It contained a telegram.
From Jansenius, London.
TO J. Smilash, Chamoounix Villa, Lyvern.
Henrietta dangerously ill after journey wants to see you doctors say must come at once.
There was a pause. Then he folded the paper methodically and put it in his pocket, as if quite done with it.
"And so," he said, "perhaps the tragedy is to follow the farce after all."
He looked at the boy, who retreated, not liking his expression.
"Did you slide all the way from Lyvern?"
"Only to come quicker," said the messenger, faltering. "I came as quick as I could."
"You carried news heavy enough to break the thickest ice ever frozen. I have a mind to throw you over the top of that tree instead of giving you this half-crown."
"You let me alone," whimpered the boy, retreating another pace.
"Get back to Lyvern as fast as you can run or slide, and tell Mr. Marsh to send me the fastest trap he has, to drive me to the railway station. Here is your half-crown. Off with you; and if I do not find the trap ready when I want it, woe betide you."
The boy came for the money mistrustfully, and ran off with it as fast as he could. Smilash went into the chalet and never reappeared. Instead, Trefusis, a gentleman in an ulster, carrying a rug, came out, locked the door, and hurried along the road to Lyvern, where he was picked up by the trap, and carried swiftly to the railway station, just in time to catch the London train.
"Evening paper, sir?" said a voice at the window, as he settled himself in the corner of a first-class carriage.
"No, thank you."
"Footwarmer, sir?" said a porter, appearing in the news-vender's place.
"Ah, that's a good idea. Yes, let me have a footwarmer."
The footwarmer was brought, and Trefusis composed himself comfortably for his journey. It seemed very short to him; he could hardly believe, when the train arrived in London, that he had been nearly three hours on the way.
There was a sense of Christmas about the travellers and the people who were at the terminus to meet them. The porter who came to the carriage door reminded Trefusis by his manner and voice that the season was one at which it becomes a gentleman to be festive and liberal.
"Wot luggage, sir? Hansom or fourweoll, sir?"
For a moment Trefusis felt a vagabond impulse to resume the language of Smilash and fable to the man of hampers of turkey and plum-pudding in the van. But he repressed it, got into a hansom, and was driven to his father-in-law's house in Belsize Avenue, studying in a gloomily critical mood the anxiety that surged upon him and made his heart beat like a boy's as he drew near his destination. There were two carriages at the door when he alighted. The reticent expression of the coachmen sent a tremor through him.
The door opened before he rang. "If you please, sir," said the maid in a low voice, "will you step into the library; and the doctor will see you immediately."
On the first landing of the staircase two gentlemen were speaking to Mr. Jansenius, who hastily moved out of sight, not before a glimpse of his air of grief 174 and discomfiture had given Trefusis a strange twinge, succeeded by a sensation of having been twenty years a widower. He smiled unconcernedly as he followed the girl into the library, and asked her how she did. She murmured some reply and hurried away, thinking that the poor young man would alter his tone presently.
He was joined at once by a gray whiskered gentleman, scrupulously dressed and mannered. Trefusis introduced himself, and the physician looked at him with some interest. Then he said:
"You have arrived too late, Mr. Trefusis. All is over, I am sorry to say."
"Was the long railway journey she took in this cold weather the cause of her death?"
Some bitter words that the physician had heard upstairs made him aware that this was a delicate question. But he said quietly: "The proximate cause, doubtless. The proximate cause."
"She received some unwelcome and quite unlooked-for intelligence before she started. Had that anything to do with her death, do you think?"
"It may have produced an unfavorable effect," said the physician, growing restive and taking up his gloves. "The habit of referring such events to such causes is carried too far, as a rule."
"No doubt. I am curious because the event is novel in my experience. I suppose it is a commonplace in yours. Pardon me. The loss of a lady so young and so favorably circumstanced is not a commonplace either in my experience or in my opinion." The physician held up his head as he spoke, in protest against any assumption that his sympathies had been blunted by his profession.
"Did she suffer?"
"For some hours, yes. We were able to do a little to alleviate her pain—poor thing!" He almost forgot Trefusis as he added the apostrophe.
"Hours of pain! Can you conceive any good purpose that those hours may have served?"
The physician shook his head, leaving it doubtful whether he meant to reply in the negative or to deplore considerations of that nature. He also made a movement to depart, being uneasy in conversation with Trefusis, who would, he felt sure, presently ask questions or make remarks with which he could hardly deal without committing himself in some direction. His conscience was not quite at rest. Henrietta's pain had not, he thought, served any good purpose; but he did not want to say so, lest he should acquire a reputation for impiety and lose his practice. He believed that the general practitioner who attended the family, and had called him in when the case grew serious, had treated Henrietta unskilfully, but professional etiquette bound him so strongly that, sooner than betray his colleague's inefficiency, he would have allowed him to decimate London.
"One word more," said Trefusis. "Did she know that she was dying?"
"No. I considered it best that she should not be informed of her danger. She passed away without any apprehension."
"Then one can think of it with equanimity. She dreaded death, poor child. The wonder is that there was not enough folly in the household to prevail against your good sense."
The physician bowed and took his leave, esteeming himself somewhat fortunate in escaping without being reproached for his humanity in having allowed Henrietta to die unawares.
A moment later the general practitioner entered. Trefusis, having accompanied the consulting physician to the door, detected the family doctor in the act of pulling a long face just outside it. Restraining a desire to seize him by the throat, he seated himself on the edge of the table and said cheerfully:
"Well, doctor, how has the world used you since we last met?"
The doctor was taken aback, but the solemn disposition of his features did not relax as he almost intoned: "Has Sir Francis told you the sad news, Mr. Trefusis?"
"Yes. Frightful, isn't it? Lord bless me, we're here to-day and gone to-morrow."
"True, very true!"
"Sir Francis has a high opinion of you."
The doctor looked a little foolish. "Everything was done that could be done, Mr. Trefusis; but Mrs. Jansenius was very anxious that no stone should be left unturned. She was good enough to say that her sole reason for wishing me to call in Sir Francis was that you should have no cause to complain."
"An excellent mother! A sad event for her! Ah, yes, yes! Dear me! A very sad event!"
"Most disagreeable. Such a cold day too. Pleasanter to be in heaven than here in such weather, possibly."
"Ah!" said the doctor, as if much sound comfort lay in that. "I hope so; I hope so; I do not doubt it. Sir Francis did not permit us to tell her, and I, of course, deferred to him. Perhaps it was for the best."
"You would have told her, then, if Sir Francis had not objected?"
"Well, there are, you see, considerations which we must not ignore in our profession. Death is a serious thing, as I am sure I need not remind you, Mr. Trefusis. We have sometimes higher duties than indulgence to the natural feelings of our patients."
"Quite so. The possibility of eternal bliss and the probability of eternal torment are consolations not to be lightly withheld from a dying girl, eh? However, what's past cannot be mended. I have much to be thankful for, after all. I am a young man, and shall not cut a bad figure as a widower. And now tell me, doctor, am I not in very bad repute upstairs?"
"Mr. Trefusis! Sir! I cannot meddle in family matters. I understand my duties and never over step them." The doctor, shocked at last, spoke as loftily as he could.
"Then I will go and see Mr. Jansenius," said Trefusis, getting off the table.
"Stay, sir! One moment. I have not finished. Mrs. Jansenius has asked me to ask—I was about to say that I am not speaking now as the medical adviser of this family; but although an old friend—and—ahem! Mrs. Jansenius has asked me to ask—to request you to excuse Mr. Jansenius, as he is prostrated by grief, and is, as I can—as a medical man—assure you, unable to see anyone. She will speak to you herself as soon as she feels able to do so—at some time this evening. Meanwhile, of course, any orders you may give—you must be fatigued by your journey, and I always recommend people not to fast too long; it produces an acute form of indigestion—any orders you may wish to give will, of course, be attended to at once."
"I think," said Trefusis, after a moment's reflection, "I will order a hansom."
"There is no ill-feeling," said the doctor, who, as a slow man, was usually alarmed by prompt decisions, even when they seemed wise to him, as this one did. "I hope you have not gathered from anything I have said—"
"Not at all; you have displayed the utmost tact. But I think I had better go. Jansenius can bear death and misery with perfect fortitude when it is on a large scale and hidden in a back slum. But when it breaks into his own house, and attacks his property—his daughter was his property until very recently—he is just the man to lose his head and quarrel with me for keeping mine."
The doctor was unable to cope with this speech, which conveyed vaguely monstrous ideas to him. Seeing Trefusis about to leave, he said in a low voice: "Will you go upstairs?"
"I—I thought you might wish to see—" He did not finish the sentence, but Trefusis flinched; the blank had expressed what was meant.
"To see something that was Henrietta, and that is a thing we must cast out and hide, with a little superstitious mumming to save appearances. Why did you remind me of it?"
"But, sir, whatever your views may be, will you not, as a matter of form, in deference to the feelings of the family—"
"Let them spare their feelings for the living, on whose behalf I have often appealed to them in vain," cried Trefusis, losing patience. "Damn their feelings!" And, turning to the door, he found it open, and Mrs. Jansenius there listening.
Trefusis was confounded. He knew what the effect of his speech must be, and felt that it would be folly to attempt excuse or explanation. He put his hands into his pockets, leaned against the table, and looked at her, mutely wondering what would follow on her part.
The doctor broke the silence by saying tremulously, "I have communicated the melancholy intelligence to Mr. Trefusis."
"I hope you told him also," she said sternly, "that, however deficient we may be in feeling, we did everything that lay in our power for our child."
"I am quite satisfied," said Trefusis.
"No doubt you are—with the result," said Mrs. Jansenius, hardly. "I wish to know whether you have anything to complain of."
"Please do not imply that anything has happened through our neglect."
"What have I to complain of? She had a warm room and a luxurious bed to die in, with the best medical advice in the world. Plenty of people are starving and freezing to-day that we may have the means to die fashionably; ask THEM if they have any cause for complaint. Do you think I will wrangle over her body about the amount of money spent on her illness? What measure is that of the cause she had for complaint? I never grudged money to her—how could I, seeing that more than I can waste is given to me for nothing? Or how could you? Yet she had great reason to complain of me. You will allow that to be so."
"It is perfectly true."
"Well, when I am in the humor for it, I will reproach myself and not you." He paused, and then turned forcibly on her, saying, "Why do you select this time, of all others, to speak so bitterly to me?"
"I am not aware that I have said anything to call for such a remark. Did YOU," (appealing to the doctor) "hear me say anything?"
"Mr. Trefusis does not mean to say that you did, I am sure. Oh, no. Mr. Trefusis's feelings are naturally—are harrowed. That is all."
"My feelings!" cried Trefusis impatiently. "Do you suppose my feelings are a trumpery set of social observances, to be harrowed to order and exhibited at funerals? She has gone as we three shall go soon enough. If we were immortal, we might reasonably pity the dead. As we are not, we had better save our energies to minimize the harm we are likely to do before we follow her."
The doctor was deeply offended by this speech, for the statement that he should one day die seemed to him a reflection upon his professional mastery over death. Mrs. Jansenius was glad to see Trefusis confirming her bad opinion and report of him by his conduct and language in the doctor's presence. There was a brief pause, and then Trefusis, too far out of sympathy with them to be able to lead the conversation into a kinder vein, left the room. In the act of putting on his overcoat in the hall, he hesitated, and hung it up again irresolutely. Suddenly he ran upstairs. At the sound of his steps a woman came from one of the rooms and looked inquiringly at him.
"Is it here?" he said.
"Yes, sir," she whispered.
A painful sense of constriction came in his chest, and he turned pale and stopped with his hand on the lock.
"Don't be afraid, sir," said the woman, with an encouraging smile. "She looks beautiful."
He looked at her with a strange grin, as if she had uttered a ghastly but irresistible joke. Then he went in, and, when he reached the bed, wished he had stayed without. He was not one of those who, seeing little in the faces of the living miss little in the faces of the dead. The arrangement of the black hair on the pillow, the soft drapery, and the flowers placed there by the nurse to complete the artistic effect to which she had so confidently referred, were lost on him; he saw only a lifeless mask that had been his wife's face, and at sight of it his knees failed, and he had to lean for support on the rail at the foot of the bed.
When he looked again the face seemed to have changed. It was no longer a waxlike mask, but Henrietta, girlish and pathetically at rest. Death seemed to have cancelled her marriage and womanhood; he had never seen her look so young. A minute passed, and then a tear dropped on the coverlet. He started; shook another tear on his hand, and stared at it incredulously.
"This is a fraud of which I have never even dreamed," he said. "Tears and no sorrow! Here am I crying! growing maudlin! whilst I am glad that she is gone and I free. I have the mechanism of grief in me somewhere; it begins to turn at sight of her though I have no sorrow; just as she used to start the mechanism of passion when I had no love. And that made no difference to her; whilst the wheels went round she was satisfied. I hope the mechanism of grief will flag and stop in its spinning as soon as the other used to. It is stopping already, I think. What a mockery! Whilst it lasts I suppose I am really sorry. And yet, would I restore her to life if I could? Perhaps so; I am therefore thankful that I cannot." He folded his arms on the rail and gravely addressed the dead figure, which still affected him so strongly that he had to exert his will to face it with composure. "If you really loved me, it is well for you that you are dead—idiot that I was to believe that the passion you could inspire, you poor child, would last. We are both lucky; I have escaped from you, and you have escaped from yourself."
Presently he breathed more freely and looked round the room to help himself into a matter-of-fact vein by a little unembarrassed action, and the commonplace aspect of the bedroom furniture. He went to the pillow, and bent over it, examining the face closely.
"Poor child!" he said again, tenderly. Then, with sudden reaction, apostrophizing himself instead of his wife, "Poor ass! Poor idiot! Poor jackanapes! Here is the body of a woman who was nearly as old as myself, and perhaps wiser, and here am I moralizing over it as if I were God Almighty and she a baby! The more you remind a man of what he is, the more conceited he becomes. Monstrous! I shall feel immortal presently."
He touched the cheek with a faint attempt at roughness, to feel how cold it was. Then he touched his own, and remarked:
"This is what I am hastening toward at the express speed of sixty minutes an hour!" He stood looking down at the face and tasting this sombre reflection for a long time. When it palled on him, he roused himself, and exclaimed more cheerfully:
"After all, she is not dead. Every word she uttered—every idea she formed and expressed, was an inexhaustible and indestructible impulse." He paused, considered a little further, and relapsed into gloom, adding, "and the dozen others whose names will be with hers in the 'Times' to-morrow? Their words too are still in the air, to endure there to all eternity. Hm! How the air must be crammed with nonsense! Two sounds sometimes produce a silence; perhaps ideas neutralize one another in some analogous way. No, my dear; you are dead and gone and done with, and I shall be dead and gone and done with too soon to leave me leisure to fool myself with hopes of immortality. Poor Hetty! Well, good-by, my darling. Let us pretend for a moment that you can hear that; I know it will please you."
All this was in a half-articulate whisper. When he ceased he still bent over the body, gazing intently at it. Even when he had exhausted the subject, and turned to go, he changed his mind, and looked again for a while. Then he stood erect, apparently nerved and refreshed, and left the room with a firm step. The woman was waiting outside. Seeing that he was less distressed than when he entered, she said:
"I hope you are satisfied, sir!"
"Delighted! Charmed! The arrangements are extremely pretty and tasteful. Most consolatory." And he gave her half a sovereign.
"I thank you, sir," she said, dropping a curtsey. "The poor young lady! She was anxious to see you, sir. To hear her say that you were the only one that cared for her! And so fretful with her mother, too. 'Let him be told that I am dangerously ill,' says she, 'and he'll come.' She didn't know how true her word was, poor thing; and she went off without being aware of it."
"Flattering herself and flattering me. Happy girl!"
"Bless you, I know what her feelings were, sir; I have had experience." Here she approached him confidentially, and whispered: "The family were again' you, sir, and she knew it. But she wouldn't listen to them. She thought of nothing, when she was easy enough to think at all, but of your coming. And—hush! Here's the old gentleman."
Trefusis looked round and saw Mr. Jansenius, whose handsome face was white and seamed with grief and annoyance. He drew back from the proffered hand of his son-in-law, like an overworried child from an ill-timed attempt to pet it. Trefusis pitied him. The nurse coughed and retired.
"Have you been speaking to Mrs. Jansenius?" said Trefusis.
"Yes," said Jansenius offensively.
"So have I, unfortunately. Pray make my apologies to her. I was rude. The circumstances upset me."
"You are not upset, sir," said Jansenius loudly. "You do not care a damn."
"You damned my feelings, and I will damn yours," continued Jansenius in the same tone. Trefusis involuntarily looked at the door through which he had lately passed. Then, recovering himself, he said quietly:
"It does not matter. She can't hear us."
Before Jansenius could reply his wife hurried upstairs, caught him by the arm, and said, "Don't speak to him, John. And you," she added, to Trefusis, "WILL you begone?"
"What!" he said, looking cynically at her. "Without my dead! Without my property! Well, be it so."
"What do you know of the feelings of a respectable man?" persisted Jansenius, breaking out again in spite of his wife. "Nothing is sacred to you. This shows what Socialists are!"
"And what fathers are, and what mothers are," retorted Trefusis, giving way to his temper. "I thought you loved Hetty, but I see that you only love your feelings and your respectability. The devil take both! She was right; my love for her, incomplete as it was, was greater than yours." And he left the house in dudgeon.
But he stood awhile in the avenue to laugh at himself and his father-in-law. Then he took a hansom and was driven to the house of his solicitor, whom he wished to consult on the settlement of his late wife's affairs.
The remains of Henrietta Trefusis were interred in Highgate Cemetery the day before Christmas Eve. Three noblemen sent their carriages to the funeral, and the friends and clients of Mr. Jansenius, to a large number, attended in person. The bier was covered with a profusion of costly Bowers. The undertaker, instructed to spare no expense, provided long-tailed black horses, with black palls on their backs and black plumes upon their foreheads; coachmen decorated with scarves and jack-boots, black hammercloths, cloaks, and gloves, with many hired mourners, who, however, would have been instantly discharged had they presumed to betray emotion, or in any way overstep their function of walking beside the hearse with brass-tipped batons in their hands.
Among the genuine mourners were Mr. Jansenius, who burst into tears at the ceremony of casting earth on the coffin; the boy Arthur, who, preoccupied by the novelty of appearing in a long cloak at the head of a public procession, felt that he was not so sorry as he ought to be when he saw his papa cry; and a cousin who had once asked Henrietta to marry him, and who now, full of tragic reflections, was enjoying his despair intensely.
The rest whispered, whenever they could decently do so, about a strange omission in the arrangements. The husband of the deceased was absent. Members of the family and intimate friends were told by Daniel Jansenius that the widower had acted in a blackguard way, and that the Janseniuses did not care two-pence whether he came or stayed at home; that, but for the indecency of the thing, they were just as glad that he was keeping away. Others, who had no claim to be privately informed, made inquiries of the undertaker's foreman, who said he understood the gentleman objected to large funerals. Asked why, he said he supposed it was on the ground of expense. This being met by a remark that Mr. Trefusis was very wealthy, he added that he had been told so, but believed the money had not come from the lady; that people seldom cared to go to a great expense for a funeral unless they came into something good by the death; and that some parties the more they had the more they grudged. Before the funeral guests dispersed, the report spread by Mr. Jansenius's brother had got mixed with the views of the foreman, and had given rise to a story of Trefusis expressing joy at his wife's death with frightful oaths in her father's house whilst she lay dead there, and refusing to pay a farthing of her debts or funeral expenses.
Some days later, when gossip on the subject was subsiding, a fresh scandal revived it. A literary friend of Mr. Jansenius's helped him to compose an epitaph, and added to it a couple of pretty and touching stanzas, setting forth that Henrietta's character had been one of rare sweetness and virtue, and that her friends would never cease to sorrow for her loss. A tradesman who described himself as a "monumental mason" furnished a book of tomb designs, and Mr. Jansenius selected a highly ornamental one, and proposed to defray half the cost of its erection. Trefusis objected that the epitaph was untrue, and said that he did not see why tombstones should be privileged to publish false statements. It was reported that he had followed up his former misconduct by calling his father-in-law a liar, and that he had ordered a common tombstone from some cheap-jack at the East-end. He had, in fact, spoken contemptuously of the monumental tradesman as an "exploiter" of labor, and had asked a young working mason, a member of the International Association, to design a monument for the gratification of Jansenius.
The mason, with much pains and misgiving, produced an original design. Trefusis approved of it, and resolved to have it executed by the hands of the designer. He hired a sculptor's studio, purchased blocks of marble of the dimensions and quality described to him by the mason, and invited him to set to work forthwith.
Trefusis now encountered a difficulty. He wished to pay the mason the just value of his work, no more and no less. But this he could not ascertain. The only available standard was the market price, and this he rejected as being fixed by competition among capitalists who could only secure profit by obtaining from their workmen more products than they paid them for, and could only tempt customers by offering a share of the unpaid-for part of the products as a reduction in price. Thus he found that the system of withholding the indispensable materials for production and subsistence from the laborers, except on condition of their supporting an idle class whilst accepting a lower standard of comfort for themselves than for that idle class, rendered the determination of just ratios of exchange, and consequently the practice of honest dealing, impossible. He had at last to ask the mason what he would consider fair payment for the execution of the design, though he knew that the man could no more solve the problem than he, and that, though he would certainly ask as much as he thought he could get, his demand must be limited by his poverty and by the competition of the monumental tradesman. Trefusis settled the matter by giving double what was asked, only imposing such conditions as were necessary to compel the mason to execute the work himself, and not make a profit by hiring other men at the market rate of wages to do it.
But the design was, to its author's astonishment, to be paid for separately. The mason, after hesitating a long time between two-pounds-ten and five pounds, was emboldened by a fellow-workman, who treated him to some hot whiskey and water, to name the larger sum. Trefusis paid the money at once, and then set himself to find out how much a similar design would have cost from the hands of an eminent Royal Academician. Happening to know a gentleman in this position, he consulted him, and was informed that the probable cost would be from five hundred to one thousand pounds. Trefusis expressed his opinion that the mason's charge was the more reasonable, somewhat to the indignation of his artist friend, who reminded him of the years which a Royal Academician has to spend in acquiring his skill. Trefusis mentioned that the apprenticeship of a mason was quite as long, twice as laborious, and not half so pleasant. The artist now began to find Trefusis's Socialistic views, with which he had previously fancied himself in sympathy, both odious and dangerous. He demanded whether nothing was to be allowed for genius. Trefusis warmly replied that genius cost its possessor nothing; that it was the inheritance of the whole race incidentally vested in a single individual, and that if that individual employed his monopoly of it to extort money from others, he deserved nothing better than hanging. The artist lost his temper, and suggested that if Trefusis could not feel that the prerogative of art was divine, perhaps he could understand that a painter was not such a fool as to design a tomb for five pounds when he might be painting a portrait for a thousand. Trefusis retorted that the fact of a man paying a thousand pounds for a portrait proved that he had not earned the money, and was therefore either a thief or a beggar. The common workman who sacrificed sixpence from his week's wages for a cheap photograph to present to his sweetheart, or a shilling for a pair of chromolithographic pictures or delft figures to place on his mantelboard, suffered greater privation for the sake of possessing a work of art than the great landlord or shareholder who paid a thousand pounds, which he was too rich to miss, for a portrait that, like Hogarth's Jack Sheppard, was only interesting to students of criminal physiognomy. A lively quarrel ensued, Trefusis denouncing the folly of artists in fancying themselves a priestly caste when they were obviously only the parasites and favored slaves of the moneyed classes, and his friend (temporarily his enemy) sneering bitterly at levellers who were for levelling down instead of levelling up. Finally, tired of disputing, and remorseful for their acrimony, they dined amicably together.
The monument was placed in Highgate Cemetery by a small band of workmen whom Trefusis found out of employment. It bore the following inscription:
THIS IS THE MONUMENT OF HENRIETTA JANSENIUS WHO WAS BORN ON THE 26TH JULY, 1856, MARRIED TO SIDNEY TREFUSIS ON THE 23RD AUGUST, 1875, AND WHO DIED ON THE 21ST DECEMBER IN THE SAME YEAR.
Mr. Jansenius took this as an insult to his daughter's memory, and, as the tomb was much smaller than many which had been erected in the cemetery by families to whom the Janseniuses claimed superiority, cited it as an example of the widower's meanness. But by other persons it was so much admired that Trefusis hoped it would ensure the prosperity of its designer. The contrary happened. When the mason attempted to return to his ordinary work he was informed that he had contravened trade usage, and that his former employers would have nothing more to say to him. On applying for advice and assistance to the trades-union of which he was a member he received the same reply, and was further reproached for treachery to his fellow-workmen. He returned to Trefusis to say that the tombstone job had ruined him. Trefusis, enraged, wrote an argumentative letter to the "Times," which was not inserted, a sarcastic one to the trades-union, which did no good, and a fierce one to the employers, who threatened to take an action for libel. He had to content himself with setting the man to work again on mantelpieces and other decorative stone-work for use in house property on the Trefusis estate. In a year or two his liberal payments enabled the mason to save sufficient to start as an employer, in which capacity he soon began to grow rich, as he knew by experience exactly how much his workmen could be forced to do, and how little they could be forced to take. Shortly after this change in his circumstances he became an advocate of thrift, temperance, and steady industry, and quitted the International Association, of which he had been an enthusiastic supporter when dependent on his own skill and taste as a working mason.
During these occurrences Agatha's school-life ended. Her resolution to study hard during another term at the college had been formed, not for the sake of becoming learned, but that she might become more worthy of Smilash; and when she learned the truth about him from his own lips, the idea of returning to the scene of that humiliation became intolerable to her. She left under the impression that her heart was broken, for her smarting vanity, by the law of its own existence, would not perceive that it was the seat of the injury. So she bade Miss Wilson adieu; and the bee on the window pane was heard no more at Alton College.
The intelligence of Henrietta's death shocked her the more because she could not help being glad that the only other person who knew of her folly with regard to Smilash (himself excepted) was now silenced forever. This seemed to her a terrible discovery of her own depravity. Under its influence she became almost religious, and caused some anxiety about her health to her mother, who was puzzled by her unwonted seriousness, and, in particular, by her determination not to speak of the misconduct of Trefusis, which was now the prevailing topic of conversation in the family. She listened in silence to gossiping discussions of his desertion of his wife, his heartless indifference to her decease, his violence and bad language by her deathbed, his parsimony, his malicious opposition to the wishes of the Janseniuses, his cheap tombstone with the insulting epitaph, his association with common workmen and low demagogues, his suspected connection with a secret society for the assassination of the royal family and blowing up of the army, his atheistic denial, in a pamphlet addressed to the clergy, of a statement by the Archbishop of Canterbury that spiritual aid alone could improve the condition of the poor in the East-end of London, and the crowning disgrace of his trial for seditious libel at the Old Bailey, where he was condemned to six months' imprisonment; a penalty from which he was rescued by the ingenuity of his counsel, who discovered a flaw in the indictment, and succeeded, at great cost to Trefusis, in getting the sentence quashed. Agatha at last got tired of hearing of his misdeeds. She believed him to be heartless, selfish, and misguided, but she knew that he was not the loud, coarse, sensual, and ignorant brawler most of her mother's gossips supposed him to be. She even felt, in spite of herself, an emotion of gratitude to the few who ventured to defend him.
Preparation for her first season helped her to forget her misadventure. She "came out" in due time, and an extremely dull season she found it. So much so, that she sometimes asked herself whether she should ever be happy again. At the college there had been good fellowship, fun, rules, and duties which were a source of strength when observed and a source of delicious excitement when violated, freedom from ceremony, toffee making, flights on the banisters, and appreciative audiences for the soldier in the chimney.
In society there were silly conversations lasting half a minute, cool acquaintanceships founded on such half-minutes, general reciprocity of suspicion, overcrowding, insufficient ventilation, bad music badly executed, late hours, unwholesome food, intoxicating liquors, jealous competition in useless expenditure, husband-hunting, flirting, dancing, theatres, and concerts. The last three, which Agatha liked, helped to make the contrast between Alton and London tolerable to her, but they had their drawbacks, for good partners at the dances, and good performances at the spiritless opera and concerts, were disappointingly scarce. Flirting she could not endure; she drove men away when they became tender, seeing in them the falsehood of Smilash without his wit. She was considered rude by the younger gentlemen of her circle. They discussed her bad manners among themselves, and agreed to punish her by not asking her to dance. She thus got rid, without knowing why, of the attentions she cared for least (she retained a schoolgirl's cruel contempt for "boys"), and enjoyed herself as best she could with such of the older or more sensible men as were not intolerant of girls.
At best the year was the least happy she had ever spent. She repeatedly alarmed her mother by broaching projects of becoming a hospital nurse, a public singer, or an actress. These projects led to some desultory studies. In order to qualify herself as a nurse she read a handbook of physiology, which Mrs. Wylie thought so improper a subject for a young lady that she went in tears to beg Mrs. Jansenius to remonstrate with her unruly girl. Mrs. Jansenius, better advised, was of opinion that the more a woman knew the more wisely she was likely to act, and that Agatha would soon drop the physiology of her own accord. This proved true. Agatha, having finished her book by dint of extensive skipping, proceeded to study pathology from a volume of clinical lectures. Finding her own sensations exactly like those described in the book as symptoms of the direst diseases, she put it by in alarm, and took up a novel, which was free from the fault she had found in the lectures, inasmuch as none of the emotions it described in the least resembled any she had ever experienced.
After a brief interval, she consulted a fashionable teacher of singing as to whether her voice was strong enough for the operatic stage. He recommended her to study with him for six years, assuring her that at the end of that period—if she followed his directions—she should be the greatest singer in the world. To this there was, in her mind, the conclusive objection that in six years she should be an old woman. So she resolved to try privately whether she could not get on more quickly by herself. Meanwhile, with a view to the drama in case her operatic scheme should fail, she took lessons in elocution and gymnastics. Practice in these improved her health and spirits so much that her previous aspirations seemed too limited. She tried her hand at all the arts in succession, but was too discouraged by the weakness of her first attempts to persevere. She knew that as a general rule there are feeble and ridiculous beginnings to all excellence, but she never applied general rules to her own case, still thinking of herself as an exception to them, just as she had done when she romanced about Smilash. The illusions of adolescence were thick upon her.
Meanwhile her progress was creating anxieties in which she had no share. Her paroxysms of exhilaration, followed by a gnawing sense of failure and uselessness, were known to her mother only as "wildness" and "low spirits," to be combated by needlework as a sedative, or beef tea as a stimulant. Mrs. Wylie had learnt by rote that the whole duty of a lady is to be graceful, charitable, helpful, modest, and disinterested whilst awaiting passively whatever lot these virtues may induce. But she had learnt by experience that a lady's business in society is to get married, and that virtues and accomplishments alike are important only as attractions to eligible bachelors. As this truth is shameful, young ladies are left for a year or two to find it out for themselves; it is seldom explicitly conveyed to them at their entry into society. Hence they often throw away capital bargains in their first season, and are compelled to offer themselves at greatly reduced prices subsequently, when their attractions begin to stale. This was the fate which Mrs. Wylie, warned by Mrs. Jansenius, feared for Agatha, who, time after time when a callow gentleman of wealth and position was introduced to her, drove him brusquely away as soon as he ventured to hint that his affections were concerned in their acquaintanceship. The anxious mother had to console herself with the fact that her daughter drove away the ineligible as ruthlessly as the eligible, formed no unworldly attachments, was still very young, and would grow less coy as she advanced in years and in what Mrs. Jansenius called sense.
But as the seasons went by it remained questionable whether Agatha was the more to be congratulated on having begun life after leaving school or Henrietta on having finished it.
Brandon Beeches, in the Thames valley, was the seat of Sir Charles Brandon, seventh baronet of that name. He had lost his father before attaining his majority, and had married shortly afterwards; so that in his twenty-fifth year he was father to three children. He was a little worn, in spite of his youth, but he was tall and agreeable, had a winning way of taking a kind and soothing view of the misfortunes of others, could tell a story well, liked music and could play and sing a little, loved the arts of design and could sketch a little in water colors, read every magazine from London to Paris that criticised pictures, had travelled a little, fished a little, shot a little, botanized a little, wandered restlessly in the footsteps of women, and dissipated his energies through all the small channels that his wealth opened and his talents made easy to him. He had no large knowledge of any subject, though he had looked into many just far enough to replace absolute unconsciousness of them with measurable ignorance. Never having enjoyed the sense of achievement, he was troubled with unsatisfied aspirations that filled him with melancholy and convinced him that he was a born artist. His wife found him selfish, peevish, hankering after change, and prone to believe that he was attacked by dangerous disease when he was only catching cold.
Lady Brandon, who believed that he understood all the subjects he talked about because she did not understand them herself, was one of his disappointments. In person she resembled none of the types of beauty striven after by the painters of her time, but she had charms to which few men are insensible. She was tall, soft, and stout, with ample and shapely arms, shoulders, and hips. With her small head, little ears, pretty lips, and roguish eye, she, being a very large creature, presented an immensity of half womanly, half infantile loveliness which smote even grave men with a desire to clasp her in their arms and kiss her. This desire had scattered the desultory intellectual culture of Sir Charles at first sight. His imagination invested her with the taste for the fine arts which he required from a wife, and he married her in her first season, only to discover that the amativeness in her temperament was so little and languid that she made all his attempts at fondness ridiculous, and robbed the caresses for which he had longed of all their anticipated ecstasy. Intellectually she fell still further short of his hopes. She looked upon his favorite art of painting as a pastime for amateur and a branch of the house-furnishing trade for professional artists. When he was discussing it among his friends, she would offer her opinion with a presumption which was the more trying as she frequently blundered upon a sound conclusion whilst he was reasoning his way to a hollow one with his utmost subtlety and seriousness. On such occasions his disgust did not trouble her in the least; she triumphed in it. She had concluded that marriage was a greater folly, and men greater fools, than she had supposed; but such beliefs rather lightened her sense of responsibility than disappointed her, and, as she had plenty of money, plenty of servants, plenty of visitors, and plenty of exercise on horseback, of which she was immoderately fond, her time passed pleasantly enough. Comfort seemed to her the natural order of life; trouble always surprised her. Her husband's friends, who mistrusted every future hour, and found matter for bitter reflection in many past ones, were to her only examples of the power of sedentary habits and excessive reading to make men tripped and dull.