"Yes Diana, I know I am," fell from his lips, and immediately he regretted the words.
"Then come back now and tell her," said Diana, tugging at him as if to make him turn.
"But look at my hands," he said, half in jest, half in earnest. "See how rough and stained they are! I shall always be a workman, and I shall always be very poor."
"Margaret doesn't care anything about that," she protested. "She's not that sort of girl. Do come back, please, Morgan. Mamma's reading downstairs. I'll steal up to Marjy and tell her you're waiting for her. If you stand under the window, I'm sure you'll hear her crying. Come along, Morgan, you can take ever such a nice walk together, and——"
"And,"—he echoed stupidly.
"Oh, I was going to say I'll be glad to get the pair of you off my hands."
"I'm afraid that pleasure will have to be postponed indefinitely," he observed. "And now, Diana," he added, as sternly as he could, "you must be going back home without me—that is, I'll see you safe to where the houses begin."
"Morgan, you're a brute!" she answered with equal sternness. "But I mean to get to the bottom of this mystery all the same. I'll make a bet with you. How long do you give me to find out?"
"Ten years," said Morgan. He had now turned back with her.
"Ten years!" she echoed mockingly. "Why there'll be any number of olive-branches by then. Yours, of course, I mean."
"Diana! You are a very wicked girl."
"Well, I'm fourteen. That's quite old enough to be wicked, isn't it? Good-night, Morgan." And she suddenly sped ahead, and before he could recover from his astonishment she had become a shadow amid the darkness.
He strode after her, though he had not the least anxiety for her, as they were not yet a mile distant from the cottage. From the speed with which she kept ahead of him, it was clear she was determined to elude him; seeing which he contented himself with keeping within range of her.
When, eventually, he turned towards Dover again, it was with a feeling of half-sorrow that he should have happened to take that walk. Strong and firm as he was, he was not strong enough to endure such ordeals. He had winced most whilst Diana had been speaking to him. And then the figure of Cleo came up again. Cleo, to whom he was married!
In the depression that now came upon him, a friendship with Margaret, even years hence, seemed an impossibility to him. She might remain with him as an ideal figure, but the real living Margaret was too dazzling for him to look upon.
Morgan did not venture again to take any walks to the east of the town, though he dwelt with pain on the possibility of the Medhursts hoping to fall in with him again. He could only trust that they would understand, though from their point of view there might perhaps seem no reason why he should avoid them so utterly. Had not the last encounter been a success, they might argue, and had he not been perfectly cheerful and, to all appearance, happy in their company?
Once or twice he thought of writing to Mrs. Medhurst, but he could not get down a word, and the pen dropped from his hand.
He felt the effects for several days, a vision of that lamp-lit room continuing to obtrude between him and his work, and the stream of music still flowing from Margaret's fingers. His proofs were dirty and needed much correction; and he even found himself setting up his thoughts in type, instead of following his copy.
However, he toiled on, almost with desperation, and Mr. Kettering's respect for him and his abilities advanced greatly. He and Mark had never ceased to call him "sir"; and Morgan, on his part, could never cease wondering how such sterling character could exist side by side in the same family with the general instability that characterised the women. As for Alice and Mary, he had been so long now in the house that an occasional quarrel with them signified nothing; in fact, that was part of the routine of the life.
About the end of the year he got his first chance in life. Mr. Kettering had been very proud, indeed, of employing him, especially as he had proved so apt a learner, and the experiment had entirely been crowned with success. The old man had enlarged on Morgan's superior culture to the traveller of a great London paper firm—himself a man of some education—who had for many years been going abroad regularly on the business of his firm, and who as regularly looked in for Kettering's order. This Mr. Brett thus came to make Morgan's acquaintance, discovered he knew Greek and Latin, and divined some mystery was at the back of Morgan's present position.
The direct result of this acquaintance was that, on the first day of the next year, Morgan found himself installed as "reader" in a large firm of printers in Upper Thames street, London, in which a brother of Mr. Brett was the junior partner. He had thoroughly mastered the business of proof-reading under Kettering's tuition, and his Greek and Latin and general culture had done the rest for him, for there was now scope for all of it in his new position. His salary at starting was two pounds fifteen shillings per week, the same as that of his predecessor, who had left the firm voluntarily.
But even before leaving Dover he had had the satisfaction of being able to send Helen a few pounds to pay some of the workmen, and she had been able to make a satisfactory report to him. While she had been in Scotland a couple of letters had passed between them which sufficed for all they had to say to each other; and to his father as well he had reported progress from time to time. Simon and Mark Kettering both exhibited signs of emotion when the moment for parting came, and, though they were sorry to lose him, rejoiced with him at his promotion.
"And I can only hope," were Simon's last words, "that my daughter will never turn up to worry you, and that, even if you forget her, you'll sometimes think of us folk here at Dover. And, be sure, if you ever find yourself in the town again, there's a hearty welcome waiting for you at my house."
In London, Morgan took a large, airy garret in Southwark, to get from which to his work he had only to cross the bridge, and fitted it with a narrow folding-bed and the few things he needed. He made his own breakfast, had his dinner sent into the works at one o'clock from a neighboring coffee-shop, had tea made for him by one of the girl folders, and supped at home on bread and cheese. In this way he managed to live and to dress neatly—patronising a very different sort of tailor from his old London one—on a pound a week. Every penny of the rest he put by rigorously.
About this time he learnt that his father could not come to town yet, as the winter was a severe one, and he had had a touch of rheumatism. As Morgan had come to look forward to seeing him now, this was a disappointment. Moreover, he had grown to take a keener interest now in the affairs of the home. At one time it had occupied little part of his thoughts, but now a finer sensibility to his domestic ties seemed to have arisen in him. He was very much concerned about this illness of his father's, the full extent of which, he had an idea, had been concealed from him. Helen, too, he saw but once during his first month in London, on which occasion he donned his best garments and went to take tea with her. Though their friendship had been so long passive, it was not less intense than heretofore. By some mutual instinct they seemed to avoid discussing his personal concerns now, Helen receiving him just as an old friend and as if there had been nothing in their lives to make a special link between them. She seemed to have grown somewhat graver in expression, and he was not sure that he did not like her face better like that. She amused and cheered him, and, once they had come together again, she insisted there was no reason now why he should not come oftener. And so, on a rare Saturday afternoon, when he was free, he would come in for an hour and listen to her pleasant chatting. Only when he brought her money would she permit herself any reference to his progress in life.
Of Cleo he heard nothing. She had not made another appearance on the boards, or, if she had, it had been in some obscure way. She intruded into his thoughts often enough, and was still a reality to him when he specially dwelt on her. But he was quite startled one day at suddenly realising the rapidity with which she was becoming a far-off shadow. There were moments now when he could almost believe that the whole episode of his marriage had been the veriest product of his fancy.
Frequently in the evenings and on rest days he would employ his leisure wandering amid the regions in which his lot was now cast. For the first time now he felt the mammoth city as a reality; for the first time he seemed to comprehend it—what it was and what it represented. In the days when he had trodden these same pavements with Helen its aspect had been merely panoramic. Now he himself was of it, a living and breathing unit of the multitude of toilers that peopled these vast industrial quarters. His vision pierced the swarming surface, the great grimy thoroughfares with their tramlines, their miles of sordid shops, their windowed expanse of brick, dingy and far-stretching, their serried lines of narrow houses.
And then he would feel that a great sense of the spirit of human life was passing into his blood. Leaping flashes of light came to him at times, as he sat in his garret with the fused murmur of the world surging in his ears, illumining for him abysses that had appeared to him once dark and bottomless.
It was early in March before Archibald Druce was well enough to come to town. Morgan's working day ended at seven o'clock, and at that hour Archibald called at the printing establishment, and the two went off together.
Morgan was excited, and he could see his father was. Neither had any "news," since, in their exchange of letters, everything had already been told. Still, they talked a little about the home, and then there were further details of Archibald's illness. Both perhaps felt the meeting was a trifle cold, but they knew the constraint would melt away presently.
"I haven't yet thought how we're going to spend the evening," said the old man. "We must dine together somewhere. After that we might perhaps look in at a theatre; it won't matter if we are late."
Morgan, who had no alternative suggestion to offer, readily fell in with this one, remarking that the dinner for him would be a rather magnificent kind of supper.
They eventually settled on a restaurant and ordered their repast. Then, somehow, as they sat facing each other, their tongue-strings seemed to get loosened.
It was a long time since they had last met, and Archibald, who had been full of his book then, now confessed he had put it aside for the present. For several months past his mind had not been in sufficiently fresh condition to enable him to work on it. Morgan remembered now how he had suggested a title for it half in scorn, and even such small remembrance was painful to him. He felt he had had something very like contempt for his father's literary scheme, forgetting, in the self-castigation of the moment, that at the time it had merely struck him humourously, and that his sin had not been quite so heinous as it now appeared to him. If the element of humour now coloured his vision of things but very slightly, that was only natural to his present stage of development.
They lingered over their coffee, not rising till about half-past eight.
"Suppose you just come and sit with me in my room, father," said Morgan. "If we have to decide on a theatre now, I am afraid we shall be quarrelling the rest of the evening. Besides, I do not want to acquire the habits of a young man about town. We can have a quiet talk for the rest of the evening."
"Yes, I should like to see your place," said his father. "It will enable me to judge of your powers of graphic description."
He was beginning to be more cheerful already and to show it. He took Morgan's arm affectionately, and they went back to Upper Thames street and crossed Southwark Bridge.
"I hope the woman hasn't forgotten to lay the fire," said Morgan, as he turned the key.
A moment later he had lighted the cheap lamp and the room stood revealed in all its bareness. A small table, three wooden chairs, the little bed, a trunk in the corner, and a washstand, were insufficient to make it look furnished, garret as it was.
"I recognise the place," said Archibald, depositing his things on the trunk. "It's quite large and airy. You are lucky to have only the front walls sloping. But the window gives you a back view, so perhaps I ought to have said 'back walls.'"
Morgan lighted the fire, and the two sat down before it.
"What have you in that cupboard just by you?" asked Archibald. "I feel inquisitive. I must get up and poke about.... Coals and crockery," he enumerated with slow unction, "a saucepan, a coffee-pot, a tea-pot, a broom, and some exceedingly dirty dusters. My dear Morgan, what a wonderfully compact place you have here; it's a miracle of completeness."
"I've given up coffee at night, but I make excellent cocoa. You shall have some before you go."
"Capital!" said the old fellow. "I'm enjoying myself immensely. This is quite a picnic."
"I am quite comfortable here," said Morgan, half to himself.
"There's only one suggestion I have to make," said his progenitor, "and that is you ought to have just a strip of carpet under your feet, or a small rug would do just as well. Last year at home, now, I had the carpet taken out of the drawing-room, in favour of a polished floor, but, Lord bless you, I found myself doing nothing else but sneezing, in spite of the odd rugs, for in a drawing-room you don't just happen to think where you're standing. But here when you just sit down at your table or by your fire it would be so easy to take care you've got the thing underfoot. I must send you a rug to-morrow—you know I owe you a birthday present."
"Birthday present! I had forgotten there were such things in the world. Thank you for reminding me, father. Such gifts, when they are sincere, add sweetness to life. And it will be nice to have something of yours here."
The fire blazed up cheerfully. They sat a little while in silence.
"When do you calculate you will get those debts paid off?" asked Archibald at length.
"Within three years, if all goes well," said Morgan. "I make a lot extra sometimes, now. I did a little article for a magazine we print and a little work for another journal. I am friendly with both editors. Besides, my salary may improve. In fact, my hopes at starting have been far exceeded."
"And after that?" asked Archibald, looking at him with unconcealed anxiety. It was evident it was a question he had been wanting to ask. Morgan hesitated a moment, though his answer was ready.
"After that I see no reason why I should not follow along the same lines. I shall be on the high road to build up a career for myself, and I have a feeling that I shall eventually branch off into journalism, where all the knowledge and experience I shall have gained will be of use to me."
"Tell me, Morgan," said Archibald. "Have you abandoned your first ambition entirely?"
Morgan leaned forward towards the fire and rested his head on his hands. For a moment he seemed lost in meditation, and then at last spoke slowly.
"There are times," he said, "when poetry still beats in my blood, when melody comes to me hauntingly. Often, as I sit here brooding, there surges up a full flood of I know not what, save that it is exquisitely beautiful. And, as I walk through these long, grey streets, lined with flaring market-stalls and massed thick with people, I seem to feel a great throb, a living heart-beat, that speaks to me of humanity; and what these bustling streets hold of humanness, of the warmth and energy of life, comes to me like a flowing tide. The pain, too, I feel; for there are odd, pathetic episodes. One catches sight of faces pinched, starved, unrebellious, large-eyed children of six a-marketing shrewdly with slender purses; and now and then a figure detaches itself from the crowd and speaks a whole history. If there is much pain and privation, much foulness and wickedness, there is also much of the joy of life, of the ecstacy of overflowing animal spirits. There are plague-spots, there are besotted critical jeerers at the wayside with an aggressive sense of superiority to all unlike themselves; there are half-grown lads and girls boisterously foul-mouthed. But probe beneath the large, vigorous unrestraint, the rollicking vagabondage of the streets, and you will find the far-spread, steady—if colourless—respectability of the industrial family. And at moments something grand, rugged, and passionate, a roaring harmonic discord, seems to sweep though the reeking grime, through the swarming boisterousness, through the magnificent brutality, through the utterance of putrid tongues, through the grey, lamp-lit atmospheres, as though man and his activities were but the swirled symbols of a music played in high Heaven. And as I stand listening, terrified yet thrilled, there seems to come a sudden lull; and then I perceive a goodness showing through the rough-and-readiness, sometimes blurred in the individual lives, sometimes inspired to a full glow. Often its leaps and flickerings are irregular, inconsistent, unpredictable. In the ruffian the spark is scarcely alive, but in some rare moment it will quicken and show through tremblingly.
"And all these perceptions to which I was blind before have wrought their effect on me. They have fused into and strengthened the better part of me. They make poetry in me, not such as I once wrote, but a full-blooded, living poetry. You see, father, I have drawn inspiration from all this reality. I have felt the true spirit of the universe in this dense-packed encampment on the march of civilisation, this living pattern in Time's kaleidoscope; the same spirit that lies behind the green country and the sweet airs, behind a great idea, a noble deed, a gracious woman.
"And so I feel that I am fortified enough to defy all external sordidness. The soiled lime-washed walls, the heavy grind of machinery, and the tinged breath of the printing-house I am insensible to; and with this result I am satisfied. I will not take up my harp wherewith to gather harmonies from amid the discords of things, as I feel it is in me to do. If such dream comes to me at times I know it must remain a dream, for I must continue with my shoulder to the wheel and do my full share of human labour!"
He broke off. An almost sacred stillness followed his half-mused speech, to which Archibald had listened with bent head.
"Will you forgive me, dear Morgan, if I remind you of something?" said the old man, breaking the long silence. "I feel you are the best judge of your own life, and I do not mean to say a word that should make you imagine I am trying to interfere with you. I only want to ask you not to forget that we at home have claims upon you as well. We want to have you near us a little, too. Your mother has been fretting about you of late."
"My mother!" said Morgan. "Is she aware of my existence? She never cared about me."
"But she cares about you now. Won't you come home to us when you are through this—in three years' time, say?" pleaded the old man. "Your end will have been achieved, you will feel sure of yourself by then. And, to tell the truth, Morgan, I've set my heart on—your being a great poet."
Archibald looked down almost guiltily as he spoke.
Morgan had a consciousness of the strange, complete reversion of the position the years had brought about.
"I could never, never consent not to live by my own labour," he said, giving utterance to what, at the moment, he intensely felt to be the one essential condition of existence for him.
"Come now, surely we can get over that difficulty," said Archibald eagerly. "I take it it is immaterial to you what work you do, so long as it is of a kind in which you can employ your faculties. After all, the principal point in your present occupation is the discipline it affords and the habits of mind it is forming in you; all of which could be employed in some other direction. It would simply be a matter of your mastering a different set of facts for the different employment, which you could do very quickly. Why not accept a position in the bank? That would afford you an honorable livelihood, and it would help you to be near us. Then perhaps some day, when you feel you have lived down the old mistakes, you may be inspired to take up your pen again. Mistakes! Why should they kill for ever the first fresh ambition of your life? Mistakes! I made them, too, when I was young. So has every man who is worth his salt. Of course, there's one mistake you can't undo—you don't mind my alluding to it, Morgan. But if you continue to face it as you are doing now—my God, Morgan! you are suffering!"
Archibald groaned heavily, then checked himself and put on as cheerful a face as he could muster.
"I meant to have proved to you," he continued, "that you scarcely take a scientific—I had almost said an intelligent—view of your function in life. The desire to live by your own labour is actuated by the very proper feeling that you ought to be doing your duty in the social organism. Your present work is equal to, say, three respectable pairs of boots a week. That, you will admit, is a fair measure of your utility. Now, if by becoming a great poet, you could give pleasure and delight to thousands of your fellow-men, it seems to me your utility would be fairly represented by quite a considerable number of pairs of boots, and very respectable ones, too."
"How it would have delighted me to hear you argue like that when I was a boy," almost whispered Morgan. "Forgive me, father," he added immediately. "I did not mean any reproach."
"I admit my not arguing in that way at the time was one of my mistakes. But I am sure you will yet be a great man. For the present, however, I shall be content with your assurance that you'll come back to the bank eventually. Gradually, perhaps, you'll fall thence into the vocation you were born for."
"I think I can promise so far as the bank is concerned," said Morgan, slowly.
"Thank you," said his father and bent down to warm his hands in the flames, so that the light shone on his face.
There was a silence. Scarcely a sound came to them here in this lonely, bare garret. Morgan studied his father's face anxiously. How silvery was the hair in places; and there were lines that had not been there a year before. Both these signs seemed to accuse him louder than any words.
"Father," he cried, "let me come closer to you."
The next evening Morgan sat pretending to be reading a book, his feet sedulously planted on a new Turkey rug, which struck a startling note of colour and decoration amid the bleakness of the attic. At last he closed the volume and let it fall wearily on his knee. The visit of his father had tried him severely. He had been shaken by a storm of emotion, and it had left him somewhat shattered. And now that Archibald had departed, an aching sense of loneliness had come to him such as only comes to the man who lives thus isolated. He had been able to leave his work for an hour in the middle of the day, so that, including his usual dinner interval, he had passed two hours in his father's company and seen him to his train. The old man had been miserable in town; he couldn't bear to be so near Morgan yet cut off from him all day, and, since he was far from well and needed the comforts of his own home, it was decided between them he should go at once.
At last Morgan threw down the book impatiently. He walked round the room for a time, but could not rid himself of his restlessness. "My soul is sick," he repeated again and again. "I need my friends." He poked the fire and threw more coal on; he looked for awhile through the panes of the window into the vague blackness of the March night. And at last he bethought himself of getting ready his evening meal, merely for the sake of concentrating himself on something. Just as he was on the point of opening the cupboard, into which his father had pried so jocularly, there came a timid tap at the door.
"Come in!" he cried, not quite certain that there was anybody there.
As his invitation seemed to be complied with, he instinctively turned his head to view his visitor, who stood just within the door smiling at him.
"What! Margaret!" he cried, as his head almost swam.
She closed the door softly and advanced into the room.
"I've just come to pay you a visit, Morgan," she said laughingly. "Please say it was nice of me to come. What! Aren't you going to shake hands with one of your oldest friends?"
He was not quite sure that his brain hadn't given way, and that her presence was not a mere manifestation of the fact. He had never been able to trust himself sufficiently to go near the Medhursts. Sedulously keeping to the London south of the river and to the immediate vicinity of his work—save on his rare visits to Belgrave Square—he had run but little risk of encountering any of them or, indeed, any other acquaintances. He was aware the Medhursts knew he was in London and employed by a large firm, but they had never been told the exact details of his whereabouts. However, he found himself shaking hands with Margaret but too bewildered to say anything.
"What a strange expression in your face, Morgan! It seems to ask any number of questions, but I can't make out whether it looks pleased or angry. At least be polite enough to make me welcome. It's nice and warm in here, so I think I'd better take my jacket off."
"You don't give me time to recover my breath, Margaret. Of course, you are more than welcome, but I am not good enough for you to visit. Come, take a chair by the fire."
"You not good enough! It is simply wicked of you to talk like that. But why are you rubbing your eyes? I believe you think I'm a phantom."
She removed her jacket and also her hat, instinctively throwing them, as Archibald had done the evening before, across the trunk. Then she smiled at him again in lovely reassurance that she was real flesh and blood. She had on a soft woollen dress of that favourite silver-blue in which she always looked her best. She wore a bunch of forget-me-nots at her waist, and a little knot of the same flowers at her throat was fastened with a small, lyre-shaped brooch, set with pearls. There was just a touch of creamy lace at her wrists and throat, and what dainty little tendrils of golden hair lay on her forehead!
"Your chair is very hard," she exclaimed, jumping up almost immediately. "I think I'll sit on the bed instead."
"You won't find that much better," he said, drawn into good humour by her briskness, and charmed that so exquisite a presence should grace his attic.
"It's miles better," said Margaret. "But you still look puzzled. Isn't your ingenuity equal to the task of guessing how I found you out?"
"I don't know, unless Diana's old sweetheart paid you a visit yesterday," he answered smiling, as he spread the new rug under her feet. "But he certainly said nothing to me about it this afternoon when I saw him off."
"He was probably afraid to let you know he'd been weak enough to yield to our blandishments. I had an idea you were living in a garret—the garret always seems to put a sort of hall-mark on genius. It's a very nice garret, too. I like mine better, though—it's a lump larger."
If the pure pleasure of being near her began to predominate, it was certainly not unaccompanied by the pain that was always with him because of his vain love for her; so that his entire feeling was a rather mixed and undecided one. He could not quite abandon himself to gladness at her coming, and perhaps the very unexpectedness of it aided this emotional embarrassment.
"Have you been working much of late?" he asked, that being a natural question to follow her reference to her studio. He was, indeed, relieved that the conversation had got on so definite a tack and that she had not alluded to his avoidance of her family or reproached him for it.
"I'm just doing a little group of greyhounds. I'm going to exhibit them at the Academy. It's such a bother and such fun, too! I've got over the worst part now. The big mother and two little ones playing at the side of her make twelve legs and three tails—quite a forest of them. I had no end of trouble to get a good composition. But the chief bother was with the models. The dog would never keep still, and I had to keep on moving my wax figure just as it moved. Sometimes it would turn upside down, and then I had to turn my work upside down as well. Do you know what I should like to do, Morgan?"
"I don't, but I should like to."
"I wonder if you'd let me make a bust of you! I want to very much."
"Why?" he asked, without meaning that exactly, but only by way of surprised exclamation.
"Well," she smiled, "I just want to. I could have an old bench brought up here and a lot of clay. If you sat to me, say, for a couple of hours every Sunday morning, you'd begin to recognise yourself after a time."
He was powerless to refuse. With her speaking to him, he became as passive as the clay she moulded. He knew her power; perhaps that was why his instinct had led him to elude it.
"That is really good of you, dear Morgan," she exclaimed, while her eyes sparkled with honest delight.
Time was, perhaps, when seeing her thus he might have taken her hand.
"But don't look as if you already regretted making the promise," she went on to protest. "I assure you it won't hurt a bit; not any more than having your hair cut. By the way, why do you wear your hair so short? Oughtn't a poet to have long, noble locks? They come out very effectively in clay, those long, noble locks. I hope I'm not making your bed too hard. Come now, Morgan, are you still so heavy-hearted? What can I do to make you merry?"
"Take supper with me," he responded quickly, with an atoning flash of briskness, the while he upbraided himself for oppressing her with his dejection. "It will be a real Bohemian supper."
"How nice! I'm dying with hunger."
"In here, I mean," he explained. "I make my own supper."
"I know. We heard all about the inside of that cupboard."
"You won't mind sitting on the hard chair?"
"No. What's the menu?"
"Bread and cheese and——"
"Not beer, I hope," she interrupted hastily.
"And cocoa," he finished. "Do you mind keeping house here for two minutes whilst I run down to get the milk. We have a dairy two doors away."
He returned in a moment and she helped him to set out the table, for which there was no cloth.
"This chair is hard," she said again later, when she had been seated on it some little time. "I must send you a soft chair, Morgan. I haven't given you a birthday present this year."
"Indeed, you must not. Such luxuries are out of place here, and you ought not to try to spoil me."
"But, dear Morgan, you've a lovely rug, and I'm sure you ought to have a nice chair to keep it company. You've your guests to think of now. I must have something to sit on when I come and so must your papa. I'm willing to admit my suggestion was not quite a disinterested one; in fact, I'm prepared to be perfectly unscrupulous so long as I carry my point."
"I'd better yield before you get so far as that. Only, of course, the chair shall be used exclusively for my visitors."
"Oh, you must sit on it sometimes, as well."
"Well, let us not quarrel about it."
"Of course we're not going to quarrel about it. We're going to be the best of friends now, aren't we?"
"I never dared dream——" he began.
"Dreaming hasn't anything to do with it. It really isn't at all necessary, so the omission need not count. All along I've had the feeling as if you were thrusting me back away from your life, and I have always wanted to count for something in it, if ever so little. Won't you let me now be of some help to you? It is wicked of you to continue in this terrible solitude. I feel that you've promised to let me come here and model you really against your will; don't deny it, Morgan—your face spoke only too plainly. I should be standing here and talking to you, but you would be as solitary as if I had never come. I want to break down that stupid barrier between us; I want you to believe in me, to trust me and to show me you trust me."
"It is myself I dare not trust. Such a friendship needs strength, and I am not strong enough, Margaret."
"Then you must find the strength, Morgan. Weakness is an unmanly excuse, and you are a man."
"You talk like that because you still do not realise what it means for me to—to——"
"Go on," she said. "I am strong enough to listen."
There was a silence, but she knew he was collecting his scattered forces.
"To be friends with you," he went on determinedly. "You say that I kept you at arm's length. That is true. But then you don't know what my life has been—you never did really know even when we were close together."
"Tell me then, Morgan. Make me understand why you kept me at arm's length. I do not know how you came to marry so suddenly, what woman you married, or why she left you. I want to know all about her. Tell me, if it doesn't hurt you too much. Perhaps it will hurt you less after you have told me."
"I have kept you at arm's length, Margaret, because I loved you. I am struggling now to keep you at arm's length because I still love you. Dare you stay here and listen to me after that?"
She looked him straight in the face.
"I dare, Morgan. I want you to know me as well as to love me. If you had understood me, you would neither have thrust me back nor would you be struggling to do so now. You no doubt always considered me just a pretty girl, who thought and acted always as becomes what it called a young lady; a colourless, conventional creature, without any judgment or emotions of her own; just a white sheet of paper with a name written across in beautiful lettering; a simpering thing in petticoats who must smile and blush just at the right moments and be perfectly proper at all times; who must never act unless she has a fixed rule to guide her; who is supposed to understand nothing at all of real life; for whom human beings are reduced to a strange uniformity, the men in their evening dress so simple, so nice, so attentive, so easy to understand, the women—but then such a young person is not supposed to concern herself with the women. That, I'm sure, is the sort of girl I appeared to you, Morgan. I am sorry that, so far, I cannot take your love for me as a compliment. You saw me as a painter might see a model, and perhaps you enshrined my image as a sort of poetic fancy. You loved me as an unreal spirit. But I am not what you thought me; I am a real person. I can think and judge for myself, and I can be myself. That is why I have had the courage to come here to you, and had I known earlier where you were I should have forced this interview on you long ago. And this despite the fact that you are married, that you love me and that I—love you. I have the courage to face the occasion, to outrage convention where convention makes no provision for the needs of the particular occasion. I know that, despite all, we can be very dear friends. Only trust me a little, Morgan, learn to know me better, and I am sure you will trust me altogether. Make an effort to be strong and perhaps I may help you."
And so Morgan poured himself out to her, told her all; and, if at times he faltered, she bade him go on, she would not blush.
The recital was a long one. Interruptions and discussions were frequent; they were also making pretence to sup. Neither remembered the flight of time.
"Of course, I have known the bare facts for a long time," said Margaret, "but only in a very vague way and in a very puzzling one. There was so much left to my imagination, and it bothered me so much to fill up the blanks. And so you are working to pay off her debts. I know it feels awfully nice to earn money for one's self. Do you know that I'm quite rich. Guess how much I made last year by my modelling?"
"How much?" he asked.
"Eighty-seven pounds, after paying all my expenses," she exclaimed. "I wanted to pay for my own frocks, but papa wouldn't let me. And so I've got it all and I don't know what to do with it; at least I know what I should like to do with it."
"But surely papa wouldn't disapprove of your doing what you liked with it?"
"Oh, papa wouldn't disapprove," she said, colouring a little, "but I'm afraid you would."
"I? You're not intending to buy me a silver chair with jewels set in it, are you?"
"I thought you might pay some of those debts with the money and let me be your creditor instead," she said hesitatingly. "Of course, you would pay me back as you saved enough, just as you are doing now with the others. And it would be a sort of symbol of the new footing on which we start from to-day."
"Dear Margaret," he said, "please don't try and press that on me. It won't help me in the least, as you see yourself. Besides, what need have we of a symbol? I want you to believe in the new footing just as much without it. And then," he added, in a gayer note, "there is another reason why I can't allow you to have such ideas. Heroines always do that sort of thing, and it's quite too conventional for you."
She laughed and did not persist, though she had coloured still more. And just then she bethought herself of the hour and drew forth her tiny watch.
"This is being wicked with a vengeance!" she exclaimed. "I really must be going back."
"You must let me come with you, else I shall be nervous all night and my hair may be grey by the morning."
"Part of the excitement of the adventure was to come alone and to go alone. But as I can't have your hair turning grey——"
"Do they know at home where you were going?" he asked, as he helped her on with her jacket.
"I didn't tell them, but I dare say they'll guess, and I mean to let them know anyway. I'm going to leave you these," and she unfastened the bunch of forget-me-nots and put them on the table.
He saw her to her own door; it was long since he had set foot in Wimpole street. She gave him a long comrade's hand-clasp, saying: "We had a charming Bohemian supper. You have made me happier to-night than I have been for years."
He turned away as she rang the bell and he walked all the way back to Southwark. Now that he had taken her into his life at last, he seemed to have unburdened himself of some overwhelming weight. Margaret knew everything at last, understood everything, and loved him through all. His self-distrust had made him keep himself hidden from the Medhursts, but she had helped him to find and know his own strength. She was right. He was strong enough to accept her friendship.
Though he would have to be at his desk at the usual hour in the morning, he could not go to bed at once. The flowers she had left seemed to fill the room with sweetness. And something of lightness and fragrance seemed to remain with him, to be flitting here and there with the silence of a phantom, to be hovering in the air, to be bending over him, to be nestling close to him. Then, as he closed his eyes dreamily, Margaret seemed to float before him. He was aware of her eyes, her hair, her voice; he saw her just as she had sat there with her face and hands showing exquisite against the silver-blue of her dress, and the forget-me-nots at her throat and waist.
In the autumn of the third year of Morgan's engagement with the Upper Thames street firm of printers he found himself with enough money to pay off the balance due to his one remaining creditor. There had been a good deal of method displayed in the order in which he had enjoined Helen to settle the debts, and this particular firm had been left to the last because it had received a goodly sum in the first days when Cleo was using up their ready money.
It was Saturday, and he had just got away from the works. He had been intending to take this last instalment to Helen that very afternoon; but the idea came to him that he would rather enjoy the sensation of making this last payment in person, and he proceeded immediately to act on it.
Arrived at the business place of the firm, he explained to a clerk that he wished to clear off an old matter, and recalled the occasion to him. The man looked surprised, and went to consult his principal. An old ledger had to be looked up, and then Morgan was informed the account had been settled very shortly after the closing of the theatre. The principal now remembered the circumstances perfectly. A cheque had come from a certain firm of solicitors in the West End, much to his surprise. After some further searching the clerk was able to tell Morgan who these solicitors were.
This last piece of information simply corroborated what he had at once suspected. Helen had carried out, without consulting him, the very same suggestion that Margaret had once made to him, and was keeping the sums he had been sending her from time to time. He understood, though, that she must have done it mainly for the sake of the actors and workpeople.
He said nothing to her of his discovery when he called at Belgrave Square a couple of hours later, but just handed her the money, which she quietly placed in a drawer of her escritoire.
"And now I have to congratulate you, Morgan," she said. "You have shown the stuff you are made of. Tell me, how does it feel?"
"I feel extraordinarily light-hearted," he admitted.
"I'm sorry," she said, and looked it.
He stared at her.
"There is a story of a hungry peasant gorging himself on bread and cheese, and, when he couldn't eat any more, they brought in the stuffed geese and other delicacies."
"Stupid! the stuffed geese and other delicacies have yet to come in. If the coarser part of the feast has made you so joyful, the rest will be wasted on you to-day."
"I feel more stupid than ever. Still, my capacities for storing away joy are unlimited, and, what is more, I shall appreciate every crumb."
"Very well." She took up a journal from the table near her. "Let me read you this paragraph: 'In the course of the coming session an extraordinary case will be reached in the Divorce Courts. The petitioner is a lady of title belonging to one of the noblest and oldest families in the kingdom, and the respondent is a well-known novelist and dramatist. The parties were married barely three years back and the wedding was much discussed at the time. It is rumoured that facts of a strange and sensational character are likely to come to light at the trial, and the occasion will not be the first one on which the petitioner has figured in the same Court.'"
She passed him the paper—it was a gossippy society weekly—and he read the paragraph again. For a moment quick vague flashes seemed to rise in his brain as from a vain attempt to strike a flint; then light came to him.
"Ingram and Cleo," he cried. "She went back to him!"
"Precisely," smiled Helen. "You will remember my lamenting I could not be the good fairy of your life, because things were already destined to work themselves out for your happiness. You see now I was a true prophet."
But a sort of dizziness came to him on account of his stumbling efforts to think, to trace the significance of things.
"Don't faint, please. I'm only a helpless woman, and I'm sure I couldn't rise to the occasion. Perhaps I've been too precipitate. I've made you swallow the whole stuffed goose at once."
"I'm not so sure that my personal life is going to be affected by it," he began.
"Stuff and nonsense!" she cried. "Your proceedings will be reduced to the utmost simplicity. There will be no defence at all. I have been, watching affairs patiently for three years now, and what has happened was bound to come. Do you know who sent your Cleo those bank-notes she had at Dover? Do you know where she went directly after leaving you? There is a certain house in Hampstead you know quite well. It has a room in it with a fountain, and really pretty hanging lamps, and peacocks on the windows. Well, she immediately took repossession of it. And very glad her rightful lord and master was to have her back again! The distraction of his affections by the engrossing interest of ambitious matrimonial schemes had been only temporary. As for his wife—well, about the living one should be silent unless one has something nice to say. Therefore I'll say nothing about her. Before long, Morgan, you'll be a free man, and a certain chapter of your life will be erased. Fox & Kraft are an excellent firm of solicitors—almost a pity to employ such steam-hammers to crack such a very simple nut."
"You are going along much too fast, Helen. You know I am leaving Upper Thames street next week; it is an old promise made to my father. I must consult him first. Of course, I shall be glad to have this meaningless tie that binds me to Cleo cut right through, and for ever. But I do not care to let my happiness rest on such a basis. Margaret and I shall remain friends and nothing more."
"Stuff and nonsense!" she cried again. "Your father is too wise a man not to agree with me. And so I am quite content you shall abide by his counsel. Otherwise I'd have to force you into happiness even if I had to do it by threatening suicide, and you know my threats are not idle ones."
"I shall be guided by my father," he conceded. "But don't overwhelm me so much, please. My emotions at this moment are much too complex for my understanding."
"Then let me give you some tea. It will put all your notions—and your emotions—in order."
The tea certainly did soothe him. He had never known that the beverage could be so delicious.
"How did you find out about Ingram and Cleo?" he asked suddenly.
"Oh, that was very easy. The moment I heard she had bank-notes I had a very strong suspicion of the truth. As I was eager to learn whether I could be your good fairy, I had that house watched. When my suspicions were corroborated I waltzed round my room sixteen times, and, you may be sure, I was determined never to lose sight of your Cleo for a moment. But my task was not a difficult one. That delightful room seems to have been as fatal to her imagination as she was to yours. She made some desperate attempts to leave it; twice she crossed to America and made obscure appearances on the boards, and once she sojourned in Paris for several months. But all in vain—she had to go back and sit on her gilded couch. Do you know, I rather like her; after all, she has never tried to turn to account her connection with you, Morgan. She's no mere vulgar adventuress. There's something really taking about her. But I'd like to slap her sisters. When do you leave for the country?"
"A fortnight hence, I hope," said Morgan. "But I am rather vague about what immediately is going to follow. In a general way it is understood that I am to work in the bank, which is precisely what I refused to do thirteen years ago."
"Thirteen years! That is a good stretch out of a life," said Helen, with a half sigh, "Time flies. I scarcely realise that I am thirty-six already. And the years seem to bring nothing but perplexity and embarrassment at the increase of my fortune. It is perfectly meaningless and absurd to me, this monstrous fortune. I feel I haven't any right to it; though, as I derive no happiness from it, that feeling ought not to give me very much concern. Happiness depends on one's personal relations with others—a few others, that is—and though I shake hands with a vast crowd, I have no close personal relations; not, at least, in the sense in which I understand the phrase. A sort of subtle fusion must accompany. I should have preferred to leave my fortune to you, Morgan, but I knew you wouldn't like to benefit by my death, so I have disposed of it otherwise."
He looked hard at her.
"Why this sudden lugubriousness?" he asked.
"Well," she said enigmatically, and the enigma was repeated in the accompanying shrug of her shoulders.
He seemed, however, to pierce beyond the smiling placidity of her expression, and to be aware of something that chilled him, of something that seemed to say: "There are such things as broken hearts."
"You've never had the life you deserved to have, Helen," he cried.
"There have been those who have envied me. My biography would read like a record of every earthly happiness. I am the daughter of a rich country gentleman with whom I have always been on the best of terms, only agriculture bores me rather. I was presented to my sovereign at seventeen. I danced and rode and flirted and was supposed to be having a good time, and a Baronet thought he fell in love with me, and did really marry me. I have always had a big house, a big income, a position in society. What more can a woman want? Well, all these things do not constitute the personal life. The remembrance of the whole course of my personal life is a vivid one to me, and it seems to have run through all these things like a thin thread of silver through a mass of stuff. Looking back, this swirl of the social world, its functions, its movements, the acquaintanceships it brought me, seem to me all strangely unreal. I seem to be aware of a large, swarming vision, amid which I have lived. But nothing of it has ever in-mingled with my real sense of happiness or misery. Fortune, society—these are not the essentials. The essentials are the same for all ranks, and it is on those that personal happiness depends. Up to the age of twenty-five even a clever girl may delude herself into thinking that the hearty fun and enjoyment she may be extracting from her circumstances and her position in the world are really what make happiness, but if she have real brains, a clear vision and quick sympathies, she will inevitably stifle in her atmosphere of mere pleasure. She will not continue to set store on her material advantages, on the stage accessories by which she may be surrounded. She will long for something else—and most often not get it. If I had only been penniless and had loved and married a man who had all his fighting to do yet! I should have lived beside him, conscious of being helpful, of being valued for what my companionship meant to him, with a sense of my dignity and worth as a human being. Instead, I was born rich, I married a man who had no fighting to do, and so I was a mere mate to him. I was but a child and there was no one to warn me. Everybody about me was stupid, enslaved to ideas that are rotten at the core! We dangle baubles before our children and poison the fresh, pure fount of humanity. Thus it is I have been a waste and useless force in the world. If it had only been decreed to me to have children of my own, I feel sure I should have been a better woman than I am."
Her voice died away in a strange sweet murmur. In her face there came a look as of holy meditation; her eyes shone with a light of yearning.
"I am tired of England," she resumed in a moment. "I shall be going away before long. I want to find some secluded spot near a lovely Italian lake, where I may stay and rest indefinitely. Perhaps for years, for I am very tired. I shall wait till I see your happiness completed, Morgan, even though this may be our last meeting. Till then I dare not go; you are not to be trusted to take the happiness that is within your grasp. You know I claim to be a connoisseur of women, and I am perfectly satisfied that you shall marry your Margaret. That is the highest compliment I could pay her. There is that indefinable, unseizable something in her face which reveals the whole personality, and it won me immediately. We have met three or four times now, but, of course, I do not figure sufficiently in her consciousness that she should mention me specially to you. One thing I am grateful to you for, that you are respecting my wish that she should not know we have ever been friends. After all, I am only a sort of imaginary figure to whom you come and talk, and I haven't really counted in your life. You know I have a weakness for mysticism, and I like to think of myself as a sort of phantom that just accompanied you on your way a little and perhaps helped you a little at a critical moment and then disappeared. So promise me Margaret shall never, never know."
"She knows everything but that," he replied. "It hurts me to make the promise, but I understand why you wish me to. Besides, I must look on this one reservation from her as the penalty—the lingering symbol of the past. But there is now one thing I should like to mention, Helen, and that is, I want to recur to that money, the five hundred pounds I borrowed of you. You see I have tasted blood."
"When you feel you can spare the money, dear Morgan, I should wish you to do some good work with it. Seek out those who may need it—a struggling student, a starving poet, a brave orphaned boy or girl toiling to support the younger children. Save some human being from despair, and restore his faith and hope. That is the best repayment you could make me. And now there is one thing I should like to ask you. Do you think——"
She hesitated. His look bade her continue.
"Well," she continued, smiling a little. "I was going to ask you to kiss me—a real kiss—if you thought your Margaret could spare me one. You have never given me a real kiss, Morgan, and it would be for the last time."
She looked down almost demurely. For sole reply he took her in his arms and their lips came together. Gently she disengaged herself at length; and, as the hot tears fell from his eyes, he felt impelled to fall on his knees and cover his face with his hands.
When he looked up again he was alone in the room. His sobs broke forth afresh as he divined why she had left him.
A moment later he stole from the house.
The bell rang again and the passengers' gangway was hauled up on to the pier. Morgan leaned against the deck-rail and looked westwards towards a point where the Dover cliff rose highest and then swept round. It was at that spot had begun the new ordering of his life which had at last culminated in the great happiness of to-day.
On a deck-chair close by his elbow sat Margaret. As he shifted his position a little his eye caught sight of a dainty ear and a soft cheek, gleaming exquisite through her veil against the golden brown of her large velvet hat and of the stretch of velvet mantle.
"Morgan, dear," she said, pulling him playfully by the sleeve, "brides are supposed to be too excited to eat on their wedding day. So I was when I woke up, and I didn't eat any breakfast. And now the fresh air makes me as hungry as a hunter. Do get me something nice, please."
When he came back, the mails and luggage had been got on board. The water began to seethe and foam away from the paddle-wheels, and, with a pleasant hoot, the boat steamed away. And then, as Morgan leaned against the side, he fell a-musing on many things, all woven in a web of wonder at his happiness. Different parts of his life flashed at him, all out of order and irrelevantly. How near, too, had he just passed to the Ketterings! Cleo's father rose before him again with his greying hair and his good face, bent, aproned, and in corduroys, just as he was wont to stand in the Dover workshop. He remembered the kindly invitation the old man had given him when they parted, and he felt touched as he now called to mind the letter he had received from him on his ceasing to be his son-in-law. "I am glad to know you are free from her, and hope you won't think me an unnatural father; but she never tried to win my affections, whereas you won them without trying. I do hope that at no distant day you will marry a true lady, who will make up to you for the past. I know what you must have suffered."
He had been concerned about Cleo, and had so overflowed with pity for her that he had scarce had the strength to take the step that had made his happiness possible. But he knew that she was quite well and happy, living at the same house where he had first seen her, and that it had been perfectly indifferent to her whether she were tied to him or not.
And now his old fancy came to him again that he could trace a distinct unity in his life, as though it had been moulded by a guiding Power. As Helen had said, the inner spring of his life had been its own good fairy.
And as he looked at Margaret again, the dream that had sometimes come to him did not now seem so unrealisable as it had in the old days when he had been cut off from her. The burning of his old manuscripts had marked his sense that his ambition was utterly dead. But he had never regretted the burning. And now he even rejoiced at it. For, by toil and discipline and facing the fulness of the living world, he had attained to a clear sanity, to a just sense of values; the romantic blur of his early poetic vision clarifying into the strong definiteness of the Real. Assuredly he could now no longer write those nebulous, elusive word-harmonies. Nor for him the mere aesthetic toying, the dainty piece of colour-work; but poetry that should throb with vitality and humanness. From dream poetry he had passed to dream life. Now that he had won his way to true life, was he not, too, to win his way to true song?
To be a voice whose enchantment should echo down the ages, whose never-dying melody should accompany the generations on their toilsome way, ever fresh, ever sweet for human hearts!
So did he dare to aspire again, and in his fancy it was Margaret's spirit that floated on and on for ever, her fragrance immanent in the songs he should sing!
The sea was radiant with sunlight. A soft wind breathed in his face. The dwindling town nestled lazily in its valley, and the line of white cliffs stretched on either hand. And as Margaret's voice spoke to him again, something of her sweetness seemed to rise and rest on the spring world.
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Allan Pinkerton's Works.
"The mental characteristics of Allan Pinkerton were judgment as to facts, knowledge of men, the ability to concentrate his faculties on one subject, and the persistent power of will. A mysterious problem of crime, against which his life was devoted, presented to his thought, was solved almost in an instant, and seemingly by his intuitions. With half-closed eyes he saw the scene in which the wrong was done, read every movement of the criminals, and reached invariably the correct conclusion as to their conduct and guilt."
Expressmen and Detectives $1 50 Mollie Maguires, The 1 50 Somnambulist, The 1 50 Claude Melnotte 1 50 Criminal Reminiscenses 1 50 Railroad Forger, The 1 50 Bank Robbers 1 50 A Double Life 1 50 Gypsies and Detectives 1 50 Spiritualists and Detectives 1 50 Model Town and Detectives 1 50 Strikers, Communists, etc. 1 50 Mississippi Outlaws, etc. 1 50 Buchholz and Detectives 1 50 Burglar's Fate 1 50 Professional Thieves, etc. 1 50 Spy of the Rebellion (8vo) 3 50 Thirty Years a Detective 1 50
Mansfield Tracy Walworth's Novels.
"Mr. Walworth's novels are brilliant, scholarly and absorbing and reveal great power in the portraiture of character."
Warwick $1 50 Hotspur 1 50 Lulu 1 50 Stormcliff 1 50 Delaplaine 1 50 Beverly 1 50 Zahara 1 50
Ernest Renan's and other Theological Works.
"There is through all the works of Renan a pathos that stirs the mind to its inmost depths, his power of diction is wondrous sweet and strong, his ardent adoration of something indefinite, dreamy, ideal, takes our hearts and our senses captive."
The Life of Jesus $1 75 Lives of the Apostles 1 75 The Life of St. Paul 1 75 Bible in India—Jacolliot 2 00 The Unknown Life of Christ—By Notovitch 1 50 Inside the Church of Rome—By the Nun of Kenmare 1 75
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Text in italics is enclosed by underscores (italics).
Additional line spacing after poetic and block quotes is intentional to indicate both the end of a quotation and the beginning of a new paragraph as is presented in the original text.
Obvious printing errors corrected: "phophetess" to "prophetess" (pg. 211) "thoat" to "throat" (pg. 291)