"But not," thought Eden, "before you have finished your second bottle of claret." He only said, "I really never had any taste for politics," and then added, "You have not said, Chance, whether your wife is with you in this new—departure?"
"My wife," said Merton, somewhat loftily, "is always with me." But more than that he did not say about his domestic affairs; nor did he even think to give his address before they separated.
Eden did not fail to write to Fan, telling her that he had seen and talked with Merton, and asking her to meet him at the Marble Arch on the next Sunday morning, when he would be able to tell her all that had passed between his friend and himself. She replied on the following day, promising to meet him, in one of her characteristic letters, which he always read over a great many times and admired very much, and which nevertheless had always had the effect of irritating him a little and making his hope for a time look pale. They were so transparently simple and straightforward, and expressed so openly the friendly feelings she had for him.
"What does she expect, what does she imagine, what does she think in her own heart?" he said, as he sat holding her letter in his hand. "She can't surely think that I am going to make a shop-girl my wife, and if she doesn't hope for that, why has she consented to correspond with me, to receive the books I send her, and to meet me so frequently? Or does she believe that this is purely a platonic feeling between us—a mere friendship such as one man has for another? I don't think so. Platonic love is purely a delusion of the male mind. Women are colder than we are, but instinctively they know the character of our feelings better than we do ourselves. She must know that I love her. And yet she consents to meet me, and she is, I am sure, a very pure-hearted girl. How are these seeming contradictions to be reconciled? A philosopher has said that the mind of a child is a clean sheet of paper on which you may write what you like. I believe that some women have the power of keeping their minds in that clean-sheet-of-paper condition for their own advantage. You may write what you like on the paper, but only after you have paid for the privilege. Of course, this view takes a good deal of the romance out of life; but I have to deal with facts as I find them, and women as a rule are not romantic. At all events, I have come to the conclusion that Miss Affleck is capable of looking at this thing in a calm practical way. She will be my friend as long as I am hers; she loses nothing by it, but gains a little. She will also give me her whole heart if I ask for it, but not until I have given her something better than the passion, which may not last, in return. A poor girl, without friends or relations, and with nothing in prospect but a life of dull drudgery—perhaps I am willing to give her more, far more, than she dreams or hopes."
So ran his dream; and yet when she met him on the Sunday morning with a smile on her lips and a look of gladness in her eyes, and when he listened to her voice again, he was troubled with some fresh doubts about the correctness of his sheet-of-paper theory.
They walked about a little, and then sat for some time in the shade near the Grosvenor Gate, while Eden told her everything that Merton had said, and then made her read Merton's "Last Word" in the socialistic paper. Then he went over the article, explaining the whole subject to her and pointing out the writer's errors, which, he said, could only deceive the very ignorant; but he did not inform her that he had spent two days working up the subject, all for her benefit. She was made to see that Merton was wrong in what he said, and that Mr. Eden had a very powerful intellect; but she confessed ingenuously that she found the subject a difficult and wearisome one. The intellectual errors of Merton were as nothing to her compared with the unkindness of her friend in keeping out of her sight when all the time she was living close by in London. Eden was secretly glad that she took this view of the matter; from the first he had felt that a reunion of the girls was the one thing he had to fear; and now Fan was compelled to believe that her friend had deliberately thrown her off, and did not wish even to hear from her.
"Miss Affleck—Fan—may I call you Fan?" he said, and having won her consent, he continued, "I need not tell you again how much I sympathise with you, but from the first I saw what you only clearly see now, for you were not willing to believe that of your friend before. Do you remember when you first lost her that I begged you to regard me as a friend? You said that no man could take the place of Constance in your heart. I did not say anything, but I felt, Fan, that you did not know what a man's friendship can be. I hoped that you would know it some day; I hope the day will come when you will be able to say from your heart that my friendship has been something to you."
"It has been a great deal to me, Mr. Eden; I should have said so long ago if I had thought it necessary."
"It was not necessary, Fan, but it is very pleasant to hear it from your lips. Will you not call me Arthur?"
She consented to call him Arthur, and then he proposed a trip to Kew Gardens.
"It will be too late if you go home to get your dinner first," he said. "If you don't mind we will just have a snack when we get there to keep up our strength. Or let us have it here at once, and then we can give all our time to the flowers when we get there. They are looking their best just now."
She consented, and they adjourned to an hotel close by, where the "snack" developed into a very elaborate luncheon; and when they slipped out again a brougham, which Eden had meanwhile ordered, was waiting at the door to take them.
The drive down, and rambles about the flower-beds, and visit to the tropical house, gave Fan great pleasure; and then Eden confessed that he always found the beauty of Kew, or at all events the flowery portion of it, a little cloying; he preferred that further part where trees grew, and the grass was longer, with an occasional weed in it, and where Nature didn't quite look as if an army of horticultural Truefitts were everlastingly clipping at her wild tresses with their scissors and rubbing pomatum and brilliantine on her green leaves. To that comparatively incult part they accordingly directed their steps, and found a pleasant resting-place on a green slope with great trees behind them and others but small and scattered before, and through the light foliage of which they could see the gleam of the Thames, while the plash of oars and the hum of talk and laughter from the waterway came distinctly to their ears. But just on that spot they seemed to have the Gardens to themselves, no other visitors being within sight. The day was warm and the turf dry, but for fear of moisture Eden spread his light covert coat for Fan to sit on, and then stretched himself out by her side.
"In this position I can watch your face," he said. "Usually when we are sitting or standing together I only half see your eyes. They hide themselves under those shady lashes like violets under their leaves. Now I can look straight up into them and read all their secrets."
"I shouldn't like you to do that—I mean to look steadily at my eyes."
"Why not, Fan; is it not a pleasant thing to have a friend look into one's eyes?"
"Yes, just for a moment, but not—" and then she came to a stop.
"Perhaps you are right," he said after a while, finding she did not continue. "I wonder if I can guess what was in your mind just then? Was it that our eyes reveal all they are capable of revealing at a glance, in an instant; that at a glance we see all that we wish to see; but that they do not and cannot reveal our inner self, the hidden things of the soul; and that when our eyes are gazed steadily at it looks like an attempt to pierce to that secret part of us?"
"Yes, I think that is so."
"And yet I think that friends that love and trust each other ought not to have that uncomfortable feeling. Why should you have it, for instance, in a case where your friend freely opens his heart to you, and tells you every thought and feeling he has about you? For instance, if I were to open my heart to you now and tell you all that is in it—every thought and every wish?"
She glanced at him and her lips moved, but she did not speak, and after a little he continued:
"Listen, Fan, and you shall hear it all. In the first place there is the desire to see you contented and happy. The desire brings the thought that happiness results from the possession of certain things, which, in your case, fate has put out of your reach. Your future is uncertain, and in the event of a serious illness or an accident, you might at any time be deprived of your only means of subsistence; so that to free you from that anxiety about the future which makes perfect happiness impossible, a fixed income sufficient for anything and settled on you for life would be required. And now, Fan, may I tell you how I should like to act to put these thoughts and feelings about you into practice?"
"How?" said Fan, glancing for a moment with some curiosity at his face.
"This is what I should do—how gladly! I should invest a sum of money for your benefit, and appoint trustees who would pay you the interest every year as long as you lived. I should also buy a pretty little house in some nice neighbourhood, like this one of Kew, for instance, and have it beautifully decorated and furnished, and make you a present of it, so that you would have your own home. If you wished to study music or painting, or any other art or subject, I should employ masters to instruct you. And I should also give you books, and jewels, and dresses, and go with you to plays and concerts, and take you abroad to see other countries more beautiful than ours."
Here he paused as if expecting some reply, but she spoke no word; she only glanced for a moment at his upturned face with a look of wonder and trouble in her eyes.
Then he continued, "And in return for all that, Fan. and for my love—the love I have felt for you since I saw you on that evening at Norland Square—I should only ask you to be my friend still, but with a sweeter, closer, more precious friendship than you have hitherto had for me."
Again she glanced at him, but only for an instant; for a few moments more she continued silent, deeply troubled, then with face still averted, pressed her hand on the ground to assist her in rising; but he caught her by the wrist and detained her.
"Have you nothing to say to me, Fan?" he asked.
"Only that I wish to stand up, Arthur, if you will let me."
She spoke so quietly, in a tone so like her usual one, using his Christian name too, that he looked searchingly at her, not yet knowing how his words had affected her. Her cheeks were flushed, but she was evidently not angry, only a little excited perhaps at his declaration. Her manner only served to raise his hopes.
"Then let me assist you," he said, springing lightly to his feet, and drawing her up. But before she could steady herself his arms were round her waist, and she was drawn and held firmly against his breast while he kissed her two or three times on the cheek.
After freeing herself from his embrace, still silent, she walked hurriedly away; then Eden, snatching up his coat from the grass, ran after her and was quickly at her side.
"Dearest Fan, are you angry with me that you refuse to speak?" he said, seizing her hand.
"I have nothing to say, Mr. Eden. Will you release my hand, as I wish to go home?"
"I must go back to town with you, Fan," he returned. "I will release your hand if you will sit down on this bench and let me speak to you. We must not part in this way."
After a few moments' hesitation she sat down, still keeping her face averted from him. Then he dropped her hand and sat down near her. His hopes were fast vanishing, and he was not only deeply disappointed but angry; and with these feelings there mingled some remorse, he now began to think that he had surprised and pained her. Never had she seemed more sweet and desirable than now, when he had tempted her and she had turned silently away.
"For heaven's sake don't be so angry with me, Fan," he said at length. "It is not just. I could not help loving you; and if you have old- fashioned ideas about such things, and can't agree to my proposals, why can't we agree to differ, and not make matters worse by quarrelling? My only wish, goodness knows, was to make you happy; there is no sacrifice I would not gladly make for your sake, for I do love you, Fan, with all my heart."
She listened quietly, but every sentence he uttered only had the effect of widening the distance between them. Her only answer was, "I wish to go home now—will you let me go by myself?"
But he caught her hand again when she attempted to rise, and forced her to remain on the seat.
"No, Fan, you must not go before you have answered me," he returned, his face darkening with anger. "You have no right to treat me in this way. What have I said to stir up such a tempest?"
"There is no tempest, Mr. Eden. What can I say to you except that we have both been mistaken? I was wrong to meet you, but I did not know—it did not seem wrong. That was my mistake."
Her voice was low and trembled a little, and there was still no note of anger in it. It touched his heart, and yet he could not help being angry with her for destroying his hopes, and it was with some bitterness that he replied:
"You have told me your mistake; now what was mine?"
"That you know already."
"Yes, I know it; but I do not know what you imagine. I may be able to show you yet that you are too harsh with me."
After an interval of silence she answered:
"Mr. Eden, I believe you have heard the story of my origin from Mr. Chance. I suppose that he knows what I came from. No doubt he thought it right to separate his wife from me for the same reason that made you think that you could buy me with money, just as you could buy anything else you might wish to have. You would not have made such a proposal to one in your own class, though she might be an orphan and friendless and obliged to work for her living."
"You are altogether mistaken," he returned warmly. "I know absolutely nothing of your origin, and if I had known all about it that would not have had the slightest effect. Gentle birth or not, I should have made the same proposal; and if you imagine that ladies do not often receive and accept such proposals, you know little of what goes on in the world. But you must not think for a moment that I ever tried to find out your history from Merton. I put one question to him about you, and one only. Let me tell you what it was, and the answer he gave me. I asked him where you came from, or what your people were, and gave him a reason for my question, which was that the surname of Affleck had a peculiar interest for me. There was nothing wrong in that, I think? He said that you were an orphan, that the lady you lived with, not liking your own name, gave you the name of Affleck, solely because it took her fancy, or was uncommon, not because you had any relations of that name."
"He did not know, I suppose, that it was my mother's name," said Fan.
But the moment she had spoken it flashed across her mind that by that incautious speech she had revealed the secret of her birth, and her face crimsoned with shame and confusion.
But the other did not notice it; and without raising his eyes from the ground he returned—"Your mother's name—what was her name?"
"Margaret Affleck," she answered; and thinking that it was not too late to repair the mistake she had made, and preserve her secret, she added, "That was her maiden name, and when the lady I lived with heard it, she preferred to call me by it because she did not like my right name."
"And what was your father's name?"
"I cannot answer any more questions, Mr. Eden," she returned, after an interval of silence. "It cannot matter to you in the least. Perhaps you say truly that it would have made no difference to you if I had come of a good family. That does not make me less unhappy, or alter my opinion of you. My only wish now is to go away, and to be left alone by you."
He continued silently prodding at the turf with his stick, his eyes fixed on the ground. She was nervous and anxious to make her escape, and could not help glancing frequently at his face, so strange in its unaccustomed gloom and look of abstraction. Suddenly he lifted his eyes to hers and said:
"And if I refuse to leave you alone, Fan?"
"Must I, then, go away altogether?" she returned with keen distress. "Will you be so cruel as to hunt me out of the place where I earn my bread? I have no one to protect me, Mr. Eden—surely you will not carry out such a threat, and force me to hide myself in some distant place!"
"Do you think you could hide yourself where I would not find you, Fan?" he answered, looking up with a strange gleam in his eyes and a smile on his lips.
She did not reply, although his words troubled her strangely. After a while he added:
"No, Fan; you need not fear any persecution from me. You are just as safe in your shop in Regent Street, where you earn your bread, as you would be at the Antipodes."
"Thank you," she returned. "Will you let me go home now?"
"We must go back together as we came," he said.
"I am sorry you think we must go back together. Is it only to annoy me?"
"Why should you think that, my girl?" he said, but in an indifferent tone, and still sullenly prodding at the ground with his stick. After a time he continued, "I don't want to lose sight of you just yet, Fan, or to think when we part it will be for ever. If you knew how heavy my heart is you would not be so bitter against me. Perhaps before we get back to town you will have kinder thoughts. When you remember the pleasant hours we have spent together you will perhaps be able to give me your hand and say that you are my friend still."
Up to this moment she had felt only the pain of her wound and the desire to escape and hide herself from his sight; but his last words had the effect of kindling her anger—the anger which took so long to kindle, and which now, as on one or two former occasions, suddenly took complete possession of her and instantly drove out every other feeling. Her face had all at once grown white, and starting to her feet, she stood facing him.
"Mr. Eden," she said, her words coming rapidly, with passion, from her lips, "do you wish me to say more than I have said? Would you like to know what I think of you?"
"Yes; what do you think of me, Fan? I think it would be rather interesting to hear."
"I think you have acted very treacherously all along. I believe that from the first you have had it in your mind to—to make me this offer, but you have never let me suspect such a thing. Your kindness and interest in the Chances—it was all put on. I believe you are incapable of an unselfish feeling. Your love I detest, and every word you have spoken since you told me of it has only made me think worse of you. You thought you could buy me, and if your heart is heavy it is only because you have not succeeded—because I will not sell myself. I dare say you have plenty of money, but if you had ten times as much you couldn't buy a better opinion of you than I have given. My only wish is never to see you again. I wish I could forget you! I detest you! I detest you!"
Not one word did he reply; nor had he listened to her excited words with any show of interest; but his eyes continued cast down, and the expression of his face was still dark and strangely abstracted.
For some moments she remained standing before him, still white and trembling with the strength of her emotions; then turning, she walked away through the trees. He did not follow her this time; and when, still fearing, she cast back one hurried glance at him from a considerable distance, he was sitting motionless in the same attitude, with eyes fixed on the ground before him.
With a mind agitated with a variety of emotions—her still active resentment, grief at her loss, and a burning sense of shame at the thought that her too ready response to Eden's first advances had misled and tempted him—Fan set about destroying and putting from her all reminders of this last vanished friendship.
She burnt the letters, and made up his books into a large package: there were about fifteen volumes by this time, including one that she had been reading with profound interest. She would never know the end of that tale—the pathetic history of a beautiful young girl, friendless like herself in London; nor would she ever again see that book or hear its title spoken without experiencing a pain at her heart. The parcel was addressed in readiness to be sent off next morning, and there being nothing more to occupy her hands, she sat down in her room, overcome with a feeling of utter loneliness. Why was she alone, without one person in all the world to care for her? Was it because of her poverty, her lowly origin, or because she was not clever? She had been called pretty so often—Mary, Constance, all of them had said so much in praise of her beauty; but how poor a thing this was if it could not bind a single soul to her, if all those who loved for a time parted lightly from her—those of her own sex; while the feeling that it inspired in men was one she shrunk fearfully from.
During the next few days she was ill at ease, and in constant fear of some action on Mr. Eden's part, dictated by passion or some other motive. But she saw and heard nothing of him; even the parcel of books was not acknowledged, and by Thursday she had almost convinced herself that he had abandoned the pursuit. On the evening of that day, just after she had gone up to her room at the top of the house, her heavy-footed landlady was heard toiling up after her, and coming into the room, she sank down panting in a chair.
"These stairs do try my heart, miss," she said, "but you didn't hear me call from my room when you came up. There's a gentleman waiting to see you in the parlour. I took him in there because he wouldn't go away until he had seen you."
"Mr. Eden—oh, why has he come here to make me more unhappy?" thought Fan, turning pale with apprehension.
"He's that impatient, miss, you'd better go down soon. He's been ringing the bell every five minutes to see if you'd come, and says you are very late." Then she got up and set out on her journey downstairs, but paused at the door. "Oh, here's the gentleman's card—I quite forgot it." And placing it on the table, she left the room.
For some moments Fan stood hesitating, then without removing her hat, and with a wildly-beating heart, moved to the door. As she did so she glanced at the card, and was astonished to find that it was not Arthur Eden's. The name on it was "Mr. Tytherleigh," and beneath, in the left-hand corner, "Messrs. Travers, Enwright, and Travers, Solicitors, Lincoln's Inn Fields."
Who was Mr. Tytherleigh? And what had she, a poor friendless girl, to do with a firm of lawyers? Then it occurred to her that it was Arthur Eden after all who wished to see her, and that he had sent her up this false card only to inveigle her into an interview. Her ideas about the code of a gentleman were somewhat misty. It is true that Eden had taken advantage of her friendless position, and had lied to her, and worn a mask, and deliberately planned to make her his mistress; but he would no more have taken another man's name in order to see her than he would have picked a pocket or sent a libellous post-card. Being ignorant of these fine distinctions, she went down to the little sitting-room on the ground floor greatly fearing. Her visitor was standing at the window on the opposite side of the room, and turned round as she entered; a natty- looking man, middle-aged, with brown moustache, shrewd blue eyes, and a genial expression.
"Miss Affleck?" he said, bowing and coming a few steps forward.
"Yes, that is my name," she returned, greatly relieved at finding a stranger.
"You look pale—not quite well, I fear. Will you sit down?" he said. Then he added with a smile, "I hope my visit has not alarmed you, Miss Affleck? It is a very simple and harmless matter I have come to you about. We—the firm of Travers and Co.—have been for a long time trying to trace a person named Affleck, and hearing accidentally that a young lady of that name lodged here, I called to make a few inquiries." While speaking he had taken a newspaper—the Standard—from his pocket, and pointing out an advertisement in the second column of the first page, asked her to read it.
She read as follows:
Margaret Affleck (maiden name). Messrs. Travers, Enwright, and Travers, Solicitors, Lincoln's Inn Fields, wish to communicate with this person, who was in service in London about sixteen years ago, and is supposed to have married about that time. A reward will be given for any information relating to her.
"That was my mother's name," said Fan.
"Then may I ask you, why did you not reply to this advertisement, which, you see, is upwards of three years old, and was inserted repeatedly in several papers?"
"I never saw it—I did not read the newspapers. But my mother has been dead a long time. I should not have answered this if I had seen it."
"No? That sounds strange. Will you kindly tell me why you call yourself by your mother's maiden name?"
She coloured and hesitated for some moments, and then returned, "I cannot tell you that. If my mother was the Margaret Affleck you advertised for, and something has been left to her, or some relation wishes to trace her, it is too late now. She is dead, and it is nothing to me."
This she said with some bitterness and a look of pain; he, meanwhile, closely studying her face.
"Nothing to you, Miss Affleck? If money had been left to your mother, it would, I imagine, be something to you, she being dead. As it happens— there is no legacy—no money—nothing left; but I think I know what you mean by saying that it would be of no advantage to you."
"What do I mean?" she said, still led on to speak after resolving to say no more.
"You mean that your mother was never married."
Her face flushed hotly, and she rose from her chair. Mr. Tytherleigh also rose quickly from his seat, fearing that she was about to leave the room without saying more.
"Miss Affleck," he said, "will you allow me to make a little explanation before asking you any more questions? I have said that there is no money left to Margaret Affleck, but I can safely say that if you are the daughter of that Margaret advertised for so long ago, you can lose nothing by giving us any information you may possess. Certainly you can lose nothing by assisting us, but you might gain a great deal. Please look again at this advertisement—'supposed to have married'—but was your mother ever married?"
"Yes, she was," answered Fan, a little reluctantly. "Her husband's name was Joseph Harrod; but I do not know where he is. I left him years ago."
"Nor do we want him. But tell me this, Miss Affleck, and please do not be offended with me for asking so painful a question; but everything hinges on it. Are you the child of this Joseph Harrod—your mother's husband?"
She cast down her eyes. It was a hard question to answer; but the kind tone in which he had spoken had won her heart, for kindness was very precious to her just now, and quickly had its effect, in spite of her recent sad experience. She could not help trusting him. "No, he was not my father," she answered.
"And who was your father, Miss Affleck?"
"I do not know."
"But do you know absolutely nothing about him—did your mother never mention him to you? How do you come to know that Joseph Harrod was not your father?"
"My mother told me. She said that my father was a gentleman, and—that I looked like him. She would not tell me his name, because she had taken an oath never to reveal it to anyone."
He was watching her face as she spoke, her—eyes cast down. "One question more, Miss Affleck: do you happen to know where your mother was born?"
"She came from Norfolk."
Mr. Tytherleigh rested an elbow on the table, and thrusting his fingers through his hair, stared down at the note-book in which he had been writing down her answers. "How strange—how very strange!" he remarked. Presently he added, "We must find out where you were baptised, Miss Affleck; you do not know, I suppose?"
She could not tell him, and after some further conversation, and hearing a brief sketch of her life, her visitor rose to go. "Mr. Tytherleigh," said Fan, "I remember something now I wish to tell you. One day, when I was about twelve years old, I went with mother to a street near Manchester Square, where she had some work, and on the way back to Edgware Road we passed a small curious old-looking church with a churchyard crowded thick with grave-stones. It was a very narrow street, and the grave-stones were close to the pavement, and I stopped to read the words on one. Then mother said, 'That is the church I was married in, Fan, and where you were christened.' But I do not know the name of the church, nor of the street it is in."
Mr. Tytherleigh took down this information. "I shall soon find it," he said; and promising to write or see her again in two or three days' time, he left her.
She had not so long to wait. On the next day, after returning from Regent Street, she was called down to see Mr. Tytherleigh once more.
"Miss Affleck," he said, advancing with a smile to meet her, "I am very glad to be able to tell you that our inquiries have satisfied us that you are the daughter of the Margaret Affleck we advertised for. And I can now add that when we were seeking for your mother, or information of her, our real object was to find you."
"To find me!" exclaimed Fan, starting up from her seat, a new hope in her heart. "Do you know then who my father is?"
"Was—yes. You have no father living. I did not wish to say too much yesterday, but from the moment I saw you and heard your voice, I was satisfied that I had found the right person."
"Is it then true that I resemble my father?"
"When I said that I was thinking less of your father than of your father's son."
"Then I have a brother living!" she exclaimed excitedly, an expression on her face in which anxiety and a new glad hope were strangely blended. "Have I sisters too? Oh, how I have wished to have a sister! Can you tell me?" Then suddenly her face clouded, and dropping her voice, she said, "But they will not know me—they will be ashamed to own me. I shall never see them—I shall be nothing to them!"
"No, Miss Affleck, you have no sisters. Your father, Colonel Eden, had only one son, Mr. Arthur Eden, whom you know."
"Colonel Eden! Mr. Arthur Eden!" she repeated, with a strange bewildered look. "Is he my brother—Arthur—Arthur!" And while the words came like a cry of anguish from her lips, she turned away, and with hands clasped before her, took a few uncertain steps across the room, then sinking on to the sofa, burst into a great passion of tears and sobs.
Mr. Tytherleigh went to the window and stared at the limited view at the back; after a while he came to her side. "Miss Affleck," he said, "I fully believed when I came to see you that I had welcome news to tell. I am sorry to see you so much distressed."
Restraining her sobs she listened, and his words and tone of surprise served to rouse and alarm her, since such a display of emotion on her part might make him suspect her secret—that hateful secret of Arthur Eden's passion, which must be buried for ever. In the brief space of time which had passed since he had made his announcement, and that cry of pain had risen from her lips, a change had already taken place in her feelings. All the bitter sense of injury and insult, and the anger mixed with apprehension, had vanished; her mind had reverted to the condition in which it had been before the experience at Kew Gardens; only the feeling of affection had increased a hundred-fold. She remembered now only all that had seemed good in him, his sweet courteous manner, his innumerable acts and words of kindness, and the goodness was no longer a mask and a sham, but a reality. For he was her brother, and the blood of one father ran in their veins; and now that dark cloud, that evil dream, which had come between them, had passed away, and she could cast herself on her knees before him to beg him to forgive and forget the cruel false words she had spoken to him in her anger, and take her to his heart. But in the midst of all the tumult of thoughts and feelings stirring in her, there was the fear that he would now be ashamed of his base-born sister and avoid her.
"I am afraid that I have no cause to feel happy," she returned at last. "Arthur Eden knows me so well, and if he had not felt ashamed of finding a sister in me, he would have come to me himself instead of sending a stranger. But perhaps," she added with fresh hope, "he does not know what you have told me?"
"Yes, he knows certainly, since it was he who discovered that you were the daughter of a Margaret Affleck. I have been acting on his instructions, and told him to-day when I saw him that there was no doubt that you were Colonel Eden's child. It was better, he thought, and I agreed with him, that you should hear this from me. He is anxious to see you himself, and until you see him you must not allow such fancies to disturb you. He had no sooner made the discovery I have mentioned the day before yesterday—Wednesday—than he hastened to us to instruct us what to do in the case."
Wednesday! But he had heard about Margaret Affleck on Sunday—why had he kept silence all that time? She could not guess, but it seemed there had been some delay, some hesitation, on his part. The thought sorely troubled her, but she kept it to herself. "Do you think he will come to see me this evening?" she asked, with some trouble in her voice.
"He said to-morrow. And, by-the-bye, Miss Affleck, he asked me to say that he hopes you will be in when he calls to see you."
"But I must go to my place for the day."
"About that, Mr. Eden thinks you had better not go yourself. I shall see or write to your employer this evening to let him know that you will be unable to attend to-morrow."
"But I might lose my place then," said Fan, surprised at the cool way in which Mr. Tytherleigh invited her to take a holiday, and thinking of what the grim and terrible manager would say.
"I cannot say more," he returned. "I have only stated Mr. Eden's wishes, and certainly think it would be better not to risk missing him by going out tomorrow. In any case I shall see or communicate with your employer."
He left her with an excited mind which kept her awake a greater part of the night, and next morning she resolved to do as she had been told and remain in all day, even at the risk of losing her situation. Then as the hours wore on and Arthur came not, her excitement increased until it was like a fever in her veins, and made her lips dry, and burnt in her cheeks like fire. She could not read, nor work, nor sit still; nor could she take any refreshment, with that gnawing hunger in her heart; but hour after hour she moved about her narrow room until her knees trembled under her, and she was ready to sink down, overcome with despair that the brother she had found and loved was ashamed to own her for a sister. Finally she set the door of her room open, and at every sound in the house she flew to the landing to listen; and at last, about five o'clock, on going for the hundredth time to the landing, she heard a visitor come into the hall and ask for "Miss Affleck." She hurried down to the ground floor, passing the servant girl who had admitted her brother and was going up to call her. When she entered the sitting-room Eden was standing on the further side staring fixedly at a picture on the wall. It was a picture of a fashionable young lady of bygone days, taken out of one of L.E.L.'s or Lady Blessington's Beauty Books; she was represented wearing a shawl and flounced dress, and with a row of symmetrical curls on each side of her head—a thing to make one laugh and weep at the same time, to think of the imbecility of the human mind of sixty years ago that found anything to admire in a face so utterly inane and lackadaisical. So absorbed was Eden in this work of art that he did not seem to hear the door open and his sister's steps on the worn carpet.
"Arthur—at last!" she cried, advancing to him, all her sisterly affections and anxiety thrilling in her voice.
He half turned towards her with a careless "How d'ye do, Fan?" and then once more became absorbed in contemplating the picture.
Her first impulse on entering the room had been to throw her arms about his neck, but the momentary glimpse of his face she had caught when he turned to greet her arrested her steps. His face was deathly pale, and there was an excited look in his eye which seemed strangely to contrast with his light, indifferent tone.
"A very fine picture that; I shouldn't mind having it if the owner cares to part with it," he said at length, and then half turning again, regarded her out of the corners of his eyes. "Well, Fan, what do you think of all this curious business?" he added, with a slight laugh.
For how many hours she had been trying to picture this meeting in her mind, now imagining him tender and affectionate as she wished him to be, now cold or contemptuous or resentful; and in every case her heated brain had suggested the very words he would use to her; but for this careless tone, and the inexplicable look on his face, according so ill with his tone, she was quite unprepared, and for some time she could make no reply to his words.
"Arthur," she spoke at last, "if you could have known how anxiously I have been waiting for you since yesterday, I think you would in mercy have come a little sooner."
"Well, no, Fan, I think not," he returned, still careless.
She advanced two or three steps nearer.
"Have you then come at last only to confirm my worst fears? Tell me, Arthur—my brother! Are you sorry to have me for a sister?"
Again he laughed.
"What a simple maiden you must be to ask such a question!" he said. "Sorry? Good God, I should think so! Sorry is no word for it. If Fate thought it necessary to thrust a sister on me I wish it had rather been some yellow-skinned, sour old spinster, but not you."
"Do you hate me then?" she exclaimed, misinterpreting his meaning in her agitation. "Oh what have I done to deserve such unhappiness? Have I brought it on myself by those cruel words I spoke to you when we last met?"
He had turned again towards her and was watching her face, but when she looked at him his eyes dropped.
"Yes, I remember your words, Fan," he said. "You abused me at Kew Gardens, and you think I am having my revenge. You would remember me, you said, only to detest me. Am I less a monster now because I am your relation?"
"Arthur, forgive me—can you not say that you forgive me?" coming still nearer, and putting out her hands pleadingly to him.
His lips moved but made no sound; and she, urged on by that great craving in her heart, at length stood by his side, but he averted his face from her.
"Arthur," she spoke again in pleading tones, "will you not look at me?" Then, with sudden anguish, she added, "Have I lost everything you once saw in me to make you love me?" But he still made no sign; and growing bolder she put her arm round his neck. "Arthur, speak to me," she pleaded. "It will break my heart if you cannot love me."
All at once he looked her full in the face, and their eyes met in a long gaze, hers tender and pleading, his wild and excited. His lips had grown dry and almost of the colour of his cheeks, and his breath seemed like a flame to her skin. "Arthur, will you refuse to love me, your sister?" she murmured tenderly, drawing her arm more tightly about his neck until his face was brought down to hers, then pressing her soft lips to his dry mouth.
He did not resist her caress, only a slight shiver passed through his frame, and closing his eyes, he dropped his forehead on her shoulder.
"Do you know what you are doing, Fan?" he murmured. "I have had such a hard fight, and now—my victory is turned to defeat! You ask me to love you; poor girl, it would be better if I scorned you and broke your heart! Darling, I love you—you cannot conceive how much. If you could—if one spark of this fire that burns my blood could drop into yours, then it would be sweeter than heaven to live and die with you!"
He lifted his face again, and his lips sought hers, to cling long and passionately to them, while he gathered her in his arms and drew her against his breast, closer and closer, until she could scarcely refrain from crying out with pain. Then suddenly he released her, almost flinging her from him, and walking to the sofa on the other side of the room, he sat down and buried his face in his hands.
Fan remained standing where he had left her, too stunned and confused by this violent outburst of passion to speak or move. At length he rose, and without a word, without even casting a look at her, left the room. Then, recovering possession of her faculties, she hurried out after him, but on gaining the hall found that he had already left the house.
Not knowing what to think or fear, she went to her room and sat down. The meeting to which she had looked forward so impatiently had come and was over, and now she did not know whether to rejoice or to lament. For an hour she sat in her close hot room, unable to think clearly on the subject, oppressed with a weak drowsy feeling she could not account for. At last she remembered that she had spent an anxious sleepless night, and had taken no refreshment during the day, and rousing herself she went downstairs to ask the landlady to give her some tea. It refreshed her, and lying down without undressing on her bed, she fell into a deep sleep, from which she did not awake until about ten o'clock. Lying there, still drowsy, and again mentally going through that interview with Arthur, her eye was attracted by the white gleam of an envelope lying on the dusky floor—a letter which the servant had thrust in under the door for her. It was from Arthur.
MY DEAR SISTER [he wrote], I fear I have offended you more deeply than ever; I was scarcely sane when I saw you to-day. Try, for God's sake, to forget it. I am leaving London to-morrow for a few weeks, and trust that when I return you will let me see you again; for until you assure me with your own lips, Fan, that I am forgiven, the thought of my behaviour to- day will be a constant misery. And will you in the meantime let yourself be guided by Mr. Travers, who was our father's solicitor and friend, and who can tell you what his last wishes about you were? Whatever you may receive from Mr. Travers will come to you, not from me, but from your father. If Mr. Travers asks you to his house please go, and look on him as your best friend. I believe that Mr. Tytherleigh intends calling on you to-morrow at one o'clock, and I think that he has already informed your employer that it will not be convenient for you to attend again at Regent Street.
Good-bye for a time, dear sister, and try, try to think as kindly as you can of Your affectionate brother,
This letter had the effect of dissipating every sad and anxious thought, and Fan undressed and went to bed, only to lie awake thinking of her happiness. Her heart was overflowing with love for her brother; for how great a comfort, a joy, it was to know that after all that had happened he was good and not bad! He was indeed more than good in the ordinary sense of the word, for what kindness and generosity and delicacy he had displayed towards her in his letter. So far did her leniency go that she even repeated his mad words, "Darling, I love you, you cannot conceive how much," again and again with a secret satisfaction; for how hard it would have been if that passionate love he had felt for her, which only the discovery of their close relationship had made sinful, or inconvenient, had changed to aversion or cold indifference; and this would certainly have happened if Arthur Eden had not been so noble-minded a person.
When morning came she could not endure the thought that he was going away without that assurance from her own lips of which he had spoken. Mr. Tytherleigh would call to see her at one o'clock, but there were three or four long hours to get rid of before then, and in the end she dressed herself and went boldly to his apartments in Albemarle Street, where she arrived about eleven o'clock.
The servant who answered her knock did not know whether she could see Mr. Eden, and summoned her mistress.
"Mr. Eden has only been home about an hour," said this lady, a little stiffly. "He said he was going to sleep, and that he was not to be disturbed on any account."
"But he is going to leave town to-day, and I must see him," returned Fan. Then, with a blush brightening her cheeks, she added, "I am his sister."
"Why, miss, so you are!" exclaimed the woman astonished, and breaking out in smiles. "I never knew that Mr. Eden had a sister, but I might have guessed it when I saw you, for you are his very image. I'll just go up and ask him if he can see you."
Fan, in her impatience, followed her up into Eden's sitting-room on the first floor. At the further end of the room the woman rapped at the door.
"What the devil do you want now? I told you not to disturb me," was shouted in no amiable voice from inside.
Fan hurried to the door and called through the keyhole, "Arthur, I must see you before you leave town."
"Oh, Fan, is that you? I really beg your pardon," he replied. "All right; make yourself comfortable, and I'll be with you in five minutes."
Fan, left alone, began an inspection of her brother's "den," about which she had often heard him speak, and the first object which took her attention was a brown-paper parcel lying on a chair against the wall. It was the parcel of novels she had returned to him a few days before, not yet opened. But when she looked round for that large collection of books, about which he had spoken to her, she found it not, nor anything in the way of literature except half a dozen volumes lying on the table, bearing Mudie's yellow labels on their covers. Near the chair on which the parcel was lying a large picture rested on the carpet, leaning against the wall. A sheet of tissue paper covered it, which her curiosity prompted her to remove, and then how great was her surprise at being confronted with her own portrait, exquisitely done in water-colours, half the size of life, and in a very beautiful silver frame. How it got there was a mystery, but not for one moment did she doubt that it was her own portrait; only it looked, she thought, so much more beautiful than the reality. She had never worn her hair in that picturesque way, nor had she ever possessed an evening dress; yet she appeared in a lovely pale-blue dress, her neck and arms bare, a delicate cream-coloured lace shawl on one arm resting on her shoulder.
She was still standing before it, smiling with secret pleasure, and blushing a little, when Eden, coming in, surprised her.
"I see you have made a discovery, Fan," he said.
She turned quickly round, the bright colour suffusing her cheeks, and held out her hand to him. He was pale and haggard, but the strange excited look had left his face, and he smiled pleasantly as he took her hand and touched her finger-tips to his lips.
"Why did you come to me here?" he asked, beginning to move restlessly about the room.
"To give you that assurance with my own lips you asked for—I could not let you go away without it. Will you not kiss me, Arthur?"
"No, not now. Do sit down, Fan. I thought that you would only feel the greatest aversion to me, yet here you are in my own den trying to—You imagine, I suppose, that a man is a kind of moral barrel-organ, and that when the tune he has been grinding out for a long time gets out of date, all he has got to do is to change the old cylinder for a new one and grind out a fresh tune. Do you understand me, Fan?"
She considered his words for a little while and then answered, "Arthur, I think it will be better—if you will not avoid me—if you will believe that all my thoughts of you are pleasant thoughts. I do not think you can be blamed for feeling towards me as you do." She reddened and cast down her eyes, dimmed with tears, then continued, "It was only that chance discovery that makes you think so badly of yourself."
"You are strangely tolerant," he said, sitting down near her. "Strangely and sweetly rational—so lenient, that if I did not know you as well as I do, I might imagine that your moral sense is rather misty. Your words, dear girl, make me sick of deceit and hypocrisy, and I shall not try to see myself as you see me. I am worse than you imagine; if you knew all you would not be so ready to invent excuses for me—you would not forgive me." Then he got up, and added, "But I am glad you came to see me, Fan; your visit has done me ever so much good."
"Don't send me away so soon, Arthur," she returned. "What is it that I could not forgive? You should not say that before you put me to the test."
"Good heavens, Fan, do you wish me to do that? Well, perhaps that would be best. I said that I was sick of deceit, and I ought to have the courage of my opinions. Do you know that when Mr. Tytherleigh called to see you, my lawyers had only just learnt the secret I had discovered several days before?"
"Yes, I knew that."
"But you don't know—you couldn't imagine why I kept back the information."
"I thought that the delay was because I had offended you—I didn't think much about it."
"Of course that was not the reason."
"Then you must tell me, Arthur."
"Must I tell you, dear sister? When you left me alone at Kew I asked myself whether it would not be better to conceal what I had heard and marry you. I don't know what madness possessed me. The instant you spoke the words that Margaret Affleck was your mother's name, I was convinced that you were my half-sister—the mystery of something in you, which had always puzzled and baffled me, was made plain. Your voice at times was like my father's voice, and perhaps like my own; and in your face and your expression you are like my father's mother in a miniature of her taken when she was a girl, and which I often used to see. And yet"—he paused and turned his face from her,—"this very conviction that you were so closely related to me made my feeling only stronger. Every scornful word you uttered only made it stronger; it seemed to me that unless I possessed you my life would not be worth having.... Even my father's dying wishes were nothing to me.... And for three days and nights.... How can you forgive me, Fan, when I had it in my heart to do such a thing?"
"But I should not have consented to marry you," said Fan simply.
"Consider, Fan; you, a poor friendless girl in London, with nothing to look forward to. In a little while you would have recovered from your anger, and in the end, when you knew how great my love was, you would have consented. For I knew that you liked me very much; and perhaps you loved me a little."
"I did love you, Arthur, from the very first, but it was not that kind of love. I know that I should never have felt it for you. I did not know that you were my brother, but I think that my heart must have known it."
"Perhaps so, Fan; perhaps in hearts of such crystal purity as yours there is some divine instinct which grosser natures are without. But you ignore the point altogether. My crime was in the intention, and if it had proved as you think, my guilt would have been just as great. That is my sin, Fan; the thought was in my heart for days and nights, and though the days and nights were horrible, I refused to part with my secret."
"But, Arthur, you did part with it in the end. No one compelled you to give it up."
"No, no one. I was afraid, I think, that some horrible thing would happen to me—that I would perhaps go mad if I carried out my intention; and I was driven at last, not by conscience, but by servile fear to make a clean breast of it."
"But, Arthur," she persisted, in a voice of keen pain, "is there any difference between conscience and what you call fear? I know that I would sometimes do wrong, and that fear prevents me. We have all good and bad in us, and—the good overcame the bad in you."
There was silence for some time between them, then Eden said, "Fan, what a strange girl you are! The whiteness of your soul is such that it has even pained me to think of it; and now that I have shown you all the blackness of my own, and am sick of it myself, you look very calmly at it, and even try to persuade me that it is not black at all. The one thing you have said which sounds artificial, and like a copy-book lesson, is that we all have good and bad in us. What is the bad in you, Fan—what evil does it tempt you to do?"
This question seemed to disturb her greatly.
"For one thing," she said hesitatingly, and casting her eyes down, "I always hate those who injure me—and—and I am very unforgiving." Then, raising her eyes, which looked as if the tears were near them, she added, "But, Arthur, please don't be offended with me if I say that I don't think you are right to put such a question to me—just now."
"No, dear, it isn't right. From me to you it is a brutal question, and I shall not offend again. But to hear you talk of your unforgiving temper gives me a strange sensation—a desire to laugh and cry all at the same time." He looked at his watch. "I don't wish to drive you away, Fan, but poor Mr. Tytherleigh will be at his wits' end if he misses you."
"What is he going to see me about, Arthur?"
"I don't know at all. You are in Mr. Travers' hands."
He was about to rise; but Fan, coming quickly to his side, stopped him.
"Good-bye, Arthur—my darling brother," she said, stooping and kissing him quickly on his cheek, then on his lips. "May I take one thing away with me?"
"Your picture? Yes; you may take it if you like: that is to say, you may keep it for a time. I shall not give it to you."
"But it is mine—my own portrait," said Fan, with a happy laugh. "Though I do not know by what magic you got it."
"That's easily explained. When I heard where you had had your photo taken, I went and ordered a copy for myself. The negative had been preserved. Then I had it enlarged, and the water-colour taken from it. And there are your books, Fan—take them too."
"I will take one, Arthur; I was just reading it when—" She did not finish the sentence, but began hastily untying the parcel to get the book, while her brother rang the bell, and ordered a cab "for Miss Eden."
How strange—how sweet it sounded to her!
"Is that my name, Arthur?" she asked, turning to him with a look of glad surprise.
"Yes, until you change it; and, by the way, you had better order yourself some cards."
A few minutes later and she was speeding northwards in a hansom, feeling that the motion, so unlike that of the familiar lumbering omnibus, had a wonderfully exhilarating effect on her. It was a pleasure she had not tasted since the time when she lived in London with Mary, and that now seemed to her a whole decade ago. But never in those past days had she faced the fresh elastic breeze in so daintily-built a cab, behind so fiery, swift-stepping a horse. Never had she felt so light-hearted. For now she was not alone in life, but had a brother to love; and he loved her, and had shown her his heart—all the good and the evil that was in it; and all the evil she could forgive, and was ready to forget, and it was nothing to her. She was even glad to think that when he had first seen her in that little shabby sitting-room in Norland Square it had been to love her.
Mr. Tytherleigh was already at her lodgings, and seeing her arrive, he hurried out to ask her not to alight. Mr. Travers, he said, wished her to move into better apartments; he had a short list in his pocket, and offered to go with her to choose a place. Fan readily consented, and when he had taken the picture into the house for her, he got into the cab, and they drove off to the neighbourhood of Portman Square. In Quebec Street they found what they wanted—two spacious and prettily—furnished rooms on a first floor in a house owned by a Mrs. Fay. A respectable woman, very attentive to her lodgers, Mr. Tytherleigh said, and known to Mr. Travers through a country client of his having used the house for several years. He also pronounced the terms very moderate, which rather surprised Fan, whose ideas about moderation were not the same as his.
From Quebec Street they went to the London and Westminster Bank in Stratford Place, where Fan was made to sign her name in a book; and as she took the pen into her hand, not knowing what meaning to attach to all these ceremonies, Mr. Tytherleigh, standing at her elbow, whispered warningly—"Frances Eden." She smiled, and a little colour flushed her cheeks. Did he imagine that she had forgotten? that the name of Affleck was anything more to her than a bit of floating thistledown, which had rested on her for a moment only to float away again, to be carried by some light wind into illimitable space, to be henceforth and for ever less than nothing to her? After signing her new name a cheque- book was handed to her; then Mr. Tytherleigh instructed her in the mysterious art of drawing a cheque, and as a beginning he showed her how to write one payable to self for twenty-five pounds; then after handing it over the counter and receiving five bank-notes for it, they left the bank and proceeded to a stationer's in Oxford Street, where Fan ordered her cards.
Mr. Tytherleigh, as if reluctant to part from her, returned to Charlotte Street in the cab at her side. During their ride back she began to experience a curious sensation of dependence and helplessness. It would have been very agreeable to her if this freer, sweeter life which she had tasted formerly, and which was now hers once more, had come to her as a gift from her brother; but he had distinctly told her that she had nothing to thank him for, and only some very vague words about her father's dying wishes had been spoken. Who then was she dependent on? She had not been consulted in any way; her employer had simply been told that it would not be convenient for her to attend again at the place of business, and now she was sent to live alone in grand apartments, where she would have a cheque-book and some five-pound notes to amuse herself with. For upwards of a year she had been proud of her independence, of her usefulness in the world, of the room she rented, and had made pretty with bits of embroidery and such art as she possessed, and now she could not help experiencing a little pang of regret at seeing all this taken from her—especially as she did not know who was taking it, or changing it for something else.
These thoughts were occupying her mind when she was led into her landlady's little sitting-room, and hoped that the lawyer or lawyer's clerk had only come to explain it all to her.
"I don't know when I shall see you again, Miss Eden," he said; she noticed that he and her brother had begun calling her Miss Eden on the same day; "but if there is anything more I can do for you now I shall be glad. If I can assist you in moving to Quebec Street, for instance——"
"Oh no, thank you; all my luggage will go easily on a cab. Are you in a hurry to leave, Mr. Tytherleigh?"
"Oh no, Miss Eden, my time is at your disposal"; and he sat down again to await her commands.
"I should so like to ask you something," she said. "For the last few hours I have scarcely known what was happening to me, and I feel—a little bewildered at being left alone with this cheque-book and money. And then, whose money is it, Mr. Tytherleigh—you can tell me that, I suppose?"
"Why, I should say your own, Miss Eden, else—you could hardly have it to spend."
"But how is it mine? I forgot to ask my brother today to explain some things in a letter I had from him last night. He wishes me to be guided by Mr. Travers, and says that what I receive does not come from him, but from my father."
"Quite right," said the other with confidence.
"But, Mr. Tytherleigh, you told me some days ago that no money was left to my mother or to anyone belonging to her."
"Ah, yes, it does seem a little contradictory, Miss Eden. I was quite correct in what I told you, and—for the rest, you must of course take your brother's word."
"Yes; but what am I to understand—can you not explain it all to me?"
"Scarcely," he returned, with the regulation solicitor smile. "I think I have heard that Mr. Travers will see you himself before long. Perhaps he will make it clear to you, for I confess that it must seem a little puzzling to you just now."
"When shall I see Mr. Travers?"
"I cannot say. He is an elderly man, not very strong, and does not often go out of his way. In the meantime, I hope you will take my word for it that it is all right, and that when you require money you will freely use your cheque-book."
And that was all the explanation she got from Mr. Tytherleigh.
Fan, alone in her fine apartments, her occupation gone, found the time hang heavily on her hands. To read a little, embroider a little, walk a little in Hyde Park each day, was all she could do until Mr. Travers should come to her and explain everything and be her guide and friend. But the slow hours, the long hot days passed, and Mr. Travers still delayed his coming, until to her restless heart the leisure she enjoyed seemed a weariness and the freedom a delusion. Every day she spent more and more time out of doors. At home the profound silence and seeming emptiness of the house served but to intensify her craving for companionship. Her landlady, who was her own cook, never entered into conversation with her, and only came to her once or twice a day to ask her what she would have to eat. But to Fan it was no pleasure to sit down to eat by herself, and for her midday meal she was satisfied to have a mutton chop with a potato—that hideously monotonous mutton chop and potato which so many millions of unimaginative Anglo-Saxons are content to swallow on each recurring day. And Mrs. Fay, her landlady, had a soul; and her skill in cooking was her pride and glory. Cookery was to her what poetry and the worship of Humanity, and Esoteric Buddhism are to others; and from the time when she began life as a kitchen-maid in a small hotel, she had followed her art with singleness of purpose and unflagging zeal. She felt it as a kind of degradation to have a lodger in her house who was satisfied to order a mutton chop and a potato day after day. It was no wonder then that she grew more reticent and dark-browed and sullen every day, and that she went about the house like a person perpetually brooding over some dark secret. Some awful midnight crime, perhaps—some beautiful and unhappy young heiress, left in her charge, and smothered with a pillow for yellow gold, still haunting her in Quebec Street. So might one have imagined; but it would have been a mistake, for the poor woman was haunted by nothing more ghastly than the image of her lodger's mutton chop and potato. And at last she could endure it no longer, and spoke out.
"I beg your pardon for saying it, Miss," she said in an aggrieved tone, "but I think it very strange you can't order anything better for your dinner."
"It does very well for me," said Fan innocently. "I never feel very hungry when I'm alone."
"No, miss; and no person would with nothing but a chop to sit down to. I was told by the gentleman from Mr. Travers' office that brought you here that I was to do my best for you. But how can I do my best for you when you order me to do my worst?" Here she appeared almost at the point of crying. "It is not for me to say anything, but I consider, miss, that you're not doing yourself justice. I mean only with respect to eating and drinking——" with a glance full of meaning at Fan's face, then at her dress. "About other things I haven't anything to say, because I don't interfere with what doesn't concern me."
"But what can I do, Mrs. Fay?" said Fan distressed. "I have not been accustomed to order my meals, but to sit down without knowing what there was to eat. And I like that way best." Then, in a burst of despair, she added, "Can't you give me just whatever you like, without asking me?"
Mrs. Fay's brow cleared, and she smiled as Fan had not seen her smile before.
"That I will, miss; and I don't think you'll have any reason to complain that you left it to me."
From that time Fan was compelled to fare delicately, and each day in place of the simple quickly-eaten and soon-forgotten chop, there came to her table a soup with some new flavour, a bit of fish—salmon cutlets, or a couple of smelts, or dainty whitebait with lemon and brown bread-and- butter, or a red mullet in its white wrapper—and exquisitely-tasting little made dishes, and various sweets of unknown names. Nor was there wanting bright colour to relieve the monotony of white napery and please the eye—wine, white and red, in small cut-glass decanters, and rose and amber-coloured wineglasses, and rich-hued fruits and flowers. Of all the delicacies provided for her she tasted, yet never altogether free from the painful thought that while she was thus faring sumptuously, many of her fellow-creatures were going about the streets hungry, even as she had once gone about wishing for a penny to buy a roll. Still, Mrs. Fay was happy now, and that was one advantage gained, although her lodger was paying dearly for it with somebody's money.
But here she drew the line, being quite determined not to spend any money on dress until Mr. Travers should come to her to relieve her doubts, and yet she knew very well that to be leading this easy idle life she was very poorly dressed. Many an hour she spent sitting in the shade in Hyde Park, watching the perpetual stream of fashionable people, on foot and in carriages—she the only unfashionable one there, the only one who exchanged greetings and pleasant words with no friend or acquaintance. What then did it matter how meanly she dressed? she said to herself every day, determined not to spend that mysterious money. Then one day a great temptation—a new thought—assailed her, and she fell. She was passing Marshall and Snelgrove's, about twelve o'clock in the morning, when the broad pavement is most thronged with shopping ladies and idlers of both sexes, when out of the door there came a majestic-looking elderly lady, followed by two young ladies, her daughters, all very richly dressed. Seeing Fan, the first put out her hand and advanced smilingly to her.
"My dear Miss Featherstonehaugh," she exclaimed, "how strange that we should meet here!"
"Oh, mamma, it is not Miss Featherstonehaugh!" broke in one of the young ladies; and after surveying Fan from top to toe with a slightly supercilious smile, she added, "How could you make such a mistake!"
"I beg your pardon," said the old lady loftily, as if Fan had done her some injury, and also surveying the girl, apparently surprised at herself for mistaking this badly-dressed young woman for one of her own friends.
Fan, arrested in her walk, had been standing motionless before them, and her eyes, instinctively following the direction of the lady's glance, travelled down her dress to her feet, where one of her walking-boots, old and cracked, was projecting from her skirt. She reddened with shame and confusion, and walked hurriedly on. What would her brother's feeling have been, she asked herself, if he had met her accidentally there and had noticed those shabby boots? and with all that money, which she had been told to use freely, in her purse! A fashionable shoe-shop caught her eye at that moment, and without a moment's hesitation she went in and purchased a pair of the most expensive walking-shoes she could get, and a second light pretty pair to wear in the house. That was only the first of a series of purchases made that day. At one establishment she ordered a walking-dress to be made, a soft blue-grey, with cream-coloured satin vest; and at yet another a hat to match. And many other things were added, included a sunshade of a kind she admired very much, covered with cream-coloured lace. With a recklessness which was in strange contrast to her previous mood, she got rid of every shilling of her money in a few hours, and then went boldly to the bank. Then her courage forsook her, and her face burned hotly, and her hand shook while she wrote out a second cheque for twenty-five pounds. Not without fear and trembling did she present it at the cashier's desk; but the clerk said not a word, nor did he look at her with a stern, shocked expression as if reproaching her for such awful extravagance. On the contrary he smiled pleasantly, remarking that it was a warm day (which Fan knew), and then bowed, and said "Good-day" politely.
The feeling of guilt as of having robbed the bank with which she left Stratford Place happily wore off in time; and when the grey dress was finished, and she found herself arrayed becomingly, the result made her happy for a season. She surveyed her reflection in the tall pier-glass in her bedroom with strange interest—or not strange, perhaps—and thought with a little feeling of triumph that the grand lady and her daughters would not feel disgusted at their dimness of vision if they once more mistook her for their friend "Miss Featherstonehaugh."
"Even Constance would perhaps think me good enough for a friend now," she said, a little bitterly; and then remembering that she had no friend to show herself to, she felt strongly inclined to sit down and cry.
"Oh, how foolish I have been to spend so much on myself, when it doesn't matter in the least what I wear—until Arthur comes back!"
And Arthur was not coming back just now, for only after all her finery had been bought, on that very day she had received a letter from him dated from Southampton, telling her that he had joined a friend who was about to start for Norway in his yacht, and that he would be absent not less than two months. This was a sore disappointment, but a note from Mr. Travers accompanied Eden's letter, sent in the first place to Lincoln's Inn, which gave her something to expect and think about. The lawyer wrote to say that he would call to see her at twelve o'clock on the following morning.
Fan, in her new dress, and with a slight flush caused by excitement, was waiting for him when he arrived. He was a tall spare man, over seventy years old, with a slight stoop in his shoulders, and hair and whiskers almost white. He had an aquiline nose and a firm mouth and chin, and yet the expression was far from severe, and under his broad, much-lined forehead the deep-set clear blue eyes looked kindly to the girl. When in repose there was an expression of weariness on his grey face, and a far- off look in the eyes, like that of one who gazes on a distant prospect shrouded in mist or low-trailing clouds. He had thought and wrought much, and perhaps, unlike that stern-browed and dauntless old chair-mender that Fan remembered so well, he was growing tired of his long life-journey, and not unwilling to see the end when there would be rest. But when talking or listening his face still showed animation, and was pleasant to look upon. Fan remembered certain words of her brother's, and felt that even if they had never been uttered, here was a man in whom she could trust implicitly.
At first he did not say much, and after explaining the cause of his delay in visiting her, contented himself with listening and observing her quietly. At length, catching sight of the water-colour portrait of Fan, which was hanging on the wall, he got up from his seat and placed himself before it.
"It is a very beautiful picture, Miss Eden," he said with a smile, as Fan came to his side.
"Yes, I think it is," she returned naively. "But that is the artist's work. I never had a dress like that—I never had a dinner dress in my life. It was taken from a photograph, and the painter has made a fancy picture of it."
"It is very like you, Miss Eden—an excellent portrait, I think. Do you not know that you are beautiful?"
"No, I did not know—at least, I was not sure. But I am glad you think so. I should like very much to be beautiful."
"Why?" he asked with a smile.
"Because I am not clever, and perhaps it would not matter so much if people thought me pretty. They might like me for that."
He smiled again. "I do not know you very well yet, Miss Eden, but judging from the little I have seen of you and what I have heard, I think you have a great deal to make people like you."
"Thank you," she returned a little sadly, remembering how her dearest friends had quickly grown tired of her.
"How strange it is—how very strange!" he remarked after a while, repeating Mr. Tytherleigh's very words. "I can scarcely realise that I am here talking to Colonel Eden's daughter."
"Yes, it is very strange. That I should have got acquainted in that chance way with my brother, and—" "That he should have fallen in love with his sister," added Mr. Travers, as if speaking to himself rather than to her.
She looked up with a startled expression, then suddenly became crimson to the forehead and cast down her eyes. "Oh, I am so sorry—so sorry that you know," she spoke in a low sad voice. "Why, why did Arthur tell you that? No person knew except ourselves; and it would have been forgotten and buried, and now—now others know, and it will not be forgotten!"
"My dear Miss Eden, you must not think such a thing," he returned. "Your secret is safe with me, but perhaps you did not know that. Do you know that your father and I were close friends? There was little that he kept from me, and I am glad that Arthur Eden has inherited his father's trust in me; and perhaps, Miss Eden, when you know me better, and have heard all I intend telling you about your father, you will have the same feeling. But when I spoke of its being so strange, I was not thinking about you and Arthur becoming acquainted. That was strange, certainly, but it was no more than one of those coincidences which frequently occur, and which make people remark so often that truth is stranger than fiction."
"What were you thinking of then, Mr. Travers?" she asked, a little timidly.
"Are you not aware, Miss Eden, that your father never knew of your existence at all? That is the strangest part of the story. But I must not go into that now. You shall hear it all before long. Would you not like to see your father's portrait?"
"Oh yes, very much; but Arthur never told me that he had one."
"I am not sure that he has one; but I possess a very fine portrait of him, in oils, by a good artist, which, I hope, will belong to your brother some day, for I do not wish to live for ever, Miss Eden. I should like to show it you very much. And that leads me to one object of my visit to-day. Mrs. Travers and I wish you to pay us a visit if you will. We live at Kingston, and should like you to stay with us a fortnight."
Fan thanked him and accepted the invitation, and it was agreed that she should go to Kingston that day week.
"I have found out one thing since I came to see you, Miss Eden," he said, "and it is that you are singularly frank. One effect of that is to make me wish to be frank with you. Now I am going to confess that I came today with some misgivings. I remembered, my dear child, the circumstances of your birth and bringing up, and could not help fearing that your brother had been a little blinded by his feelings, and had seen a little more in you than you possessed. But I do not wonder now at what he said of you. If your father had lived till now I think that he would have been proud of his child, and yet he was a fastidious man."
"Thank you, Mr. Travers; but you, perhaps, think all that because I am— because you think I am pretty."
Mr. Travers smiled. "Well, your prettiness is a part of you—an appropriate part, I think, but only a part after all. You see I am not afraid of spoiling you. You are strangely like your father; in the shape of your face, the colour of your eyes, and in your voice you are like him."
She was looking up at him, drinking in his words with eager pleasure.
"I see that you like to hear about him," he said, taking her hand. "But all I have to tell you must be put off until we meet at Kingston. I am only sorry that you will find no young people there. My sons and daughters are all married and away. I have some grandchildren as old as you are, and they are often with us, but at present Mrs. Travers is alone."
After a few more words, he bade her good-bye and left her, and only after he had gone Fan remembered that she had intended to confess to him, among other things, that she had been extravagant with somebody's money.
The lawyer's visit had given her something to think of and to do; forthwith she began to prepare for her fortnight's stay at Kingston with much zeal and energy. It was a great deal to her to be able to look forward to the companionship for a short time of even an elderly, perhaps very dignified, lady, her loneliness did so weigh upon her. It had not so weighed before; she had had her daily occupations, the companionship of her fellow-assistants, and had always felt tired and glad to rest in the evening. Now that this strange new life had come to her, that the days were empty yet her heart full, to be so completely cut off from her fellows and thrown back on herself, to have not one sympathetic friend among all these multitudes around her, appeared unnatural, and made all the good things she possessed seem almost a vanity and a delusion.
Sitting in the shade in Hyde Park, she had begun to find a vague pleasure in recognising individuals she had seen and noticed on previous occasions in the moving well-dressed crowd—the same tall spare military-looking gentleman with the grey moustache; the same three slim pretty girls with golden hair and dressed alike in grey and terra-cotta; the same two young gentlemen together, both wearing tight morning coats, silk hats, and tan gloves, but in their faces so different! one colourless, thoughtful, with eyes bent down; the other burnt brown by tropical heats and looking so glad to be in London once more. Were they brothers, or dear friends, reunited after a long separation, with many strange experiences to tell? To see them again day after day was like seeing people she knew; it was pleasant and painful at the same time. But as the slow heavy days went on, and after all her preparations were complete, and still other days remained to be got through before she could leave London, the dissatisfied feeling grew in her until she thought that it would be a joy even to meet that poor laundry-woman who had given her shelter at Dudley Grove, only to look once more into familiar friendly eyes. During these days the memory of Constance and Mary was persistently with her; for these two had become associated together in her mind, as if the two distinct periods of her life at Dawson Place and Eyethorne had been the same, and she could not think of one without the other. She had loved and still loved them both so much; they were both so beautiful and strong and proud in their different ways; and in their strength perhaps both had alike despised her weak clinging nature, had grown tired of her affection. And at last this perpetual want in her heart, this disquieting "passion of the past," reached its culminating point, when, one day after dinner, she went out for a short stroll in the park.
The Row at that hot hour being forsaken, instead of crossing the park to seek her favourite resting-place, she turned into the fresh shade of the elms growing near its northern unfashionable side. She walked on until the fountains were passed and she was in the deeper shade of Kensington Gardens. She was standing on the very spot where she had watched three ragged little children playing together, heaping up the old dead brown leaves. The image of the little girl struggling up from the heap in which her rude playfellows had thrown her, with tearful dusty face, and dead leaves clinging to her clothes and disordered hair, made Fan laugh, and then in a moment she could scarcely keep back the tears. For now a hundred sweet memories rushed into her heart—her walks in the Gardens, all the little incidents, the early blissful days when she lived with Mary; and so vividly was the past seen and realised, yet so immeasurably far did it seem to her and so irrecoverably lost, that the sweetness was overmastered by the pain, and the pain was like anguish. And yet with that feeling in her heart, so strong that it made her cheeks pallid and her steps languid, she went on to visit every spot associated in her mind with some memory of that lost time. Under that very tree, one chill October day, she had given charity unasked to a pale-faced man, shivering in thin clothes; and there too she had comforted a poor wild-haired little boy whose stronger companions had robbed him of all the chestnut- burs and acorns he had gathered; and on this sacred spot a small angelic child walking with its mamma had put up its arms and demanded a kiss. Even the Albert Memorial was not overlooked, but she went not there to admire the splendour of colour and gold, and the procession of marble men of all ages and all lands, led by old Homer playing on his lyre. She looked only on the colossal woman seated on her elephant, ever gazing straight before her, shading her eyes from the hot Asiatic sun with her hand, for that majestic face of marble, and the proud beautiful mouth that reminded her of Mary, had also memories for her. And at last her rambles brought her to the extreme end of the Gardens, to the once secluded grove between Kensington Palace and Bayswater Hill; for even that bitter spot among the yew and pine-trees must be visited now. She found the very seat where she had rested on that unhappy day in early spring, shortly after her adventure at Twickenham, when, as she then imagined, her beloved friend and protector had so cruelly betrayed and abandoned her. How desolate and heart-broken she had felt, seated there alone on that morning in early spring, in that green dress which Mary had given her—how she had sobbed there by herself, abandoned, unloved, alone in the world! And after all Mary had done her no wrong, and Mary herself had found her in that lonely place! The whole scene of their meeting rose with a painful distinctness before her mind. In memory she heard again the slight rustle of a dress, the tread of a light foot on a dead leaf that had startled her; she listened again to all the scornful cutting words that had the effect at last of waking such a strange frenzy of rage in her, a rage that was like insanity. And now how gladly would she have dismissed the rest, but the tyrant Memory would not let her be, she must re-live it all again, and not one feeling, thought, or word be left out. Oh, why, why did she remember it all now—when, starting from her seat as if some demon had possessed her, she turned on her mocker with words such as had never defiled her lips before, which she now shuddered to recall? Unable to shake these hateful memories off, and with face crimsoned with shame, she rose from the seat and hurriedly walked away towards Bayswater Hill. Issuing from the Gardens she stood hesitating for some time, and finally, as if unable to resist the strange impulse that was drawing her, she turned into St. Petersburg Place, looking long at each familiar building—the fantastic, mosque-like red-brick synagogue; and just beyond it St. Sophia, the ugly Greek cathedral, yellow, squat, and ponderous; and midway between these two—a thing of beauty—St. Matthew's Church, grey and Gothic, with its slender soaring spire. In Pembridge Square she paused to ask herself if it was not time to turn back. No, not yet, a few steps more would bring her to the old turning—that broad familiar way only as long as the width of two houses with their gardens, from which she might look for a few moments into that old beloved place where she had lived with Mary. And having reached the opening, and even ventured a few paces into it, she thought, "No, not there, I must not go one step further, for to see the dear old house would be too painful now." But against her will, and in spite of pain and the fear of greater pain, her feet carried her on, slowly, step by step, and in another minute she was walking on the broad clean pavement of Dawson Place.
How familiar it looked, lovely and peaceful under the hot July sun; the detached houses set well back from the road, still radiant as of old with flowers in the windows and gardens! It was strangely quiet, and only two persons beside herself were walking there—a lady with a girl of ten or twelve carrying a bunch of water-lilies in her hand, which she had probably just bought at Westbourne Grove. They passed her, talking and laughing, and went into one of the houses; and after that it seemed stiller than ever. Only a sparrow burst out into blithe chirruping notes, which had a strangely joyous ring in them. And here where she had expected greater pain her pain was healed. Something from far, something mysterious, seemed to rest on that spot, to make it unlike all other places within the great city. What was it—this calm which stilled her throbbing heart; this touch of glory and subtle fragrance entering her soul and turning all bitterness there to sweetness? Perhaps the shy spirit of life and loveliness, mother of men and of wild-flowers and grasses, had come to it, bringing a whiter sunshine and the mystic silence of her forests, and touching every flowery petal with her invisible finger to make it burn like fire, and giving a ringing woodland music to the sparrow's voice.
In that brightness and silence she could walk there, thinking calmly of the vanished days. How real it all seemed—Mary, and her life with Mary: all the rest of her life seemed pale and dream-like in comparison, and the images of all other men and women looked dim in her mind when she thought of the woman, sweet, strong, and passion-rocked, who had taken her to her heart. Slowly she walked along the pavement, looking at each well-known house as she passed, and when she reached the house where she had lived, walking slower still, while her eyes rested lovingly, lingeringly on it. And as she passed it, both to leave it so soon, it occurred to her that she could easily invent some innocent pretext for calling. She would see the lady of the house to ask for Miss Starbrow's present address. Not that she would ever write to Mary again, even if the address were known, but it would be an excuse to go to the door with, to see the interior once more—the shady tessellated hall, perhaps the drawing-room. Turning in at the gate, she ascended the broad white steps, and their whiteness made her smile a little sadly, reminding her of the old dark days before Mary had been her friend.
Her knock was answered by a neat-looking parlourmaid.
"I called to see the lady of the house," said Fan. "Is she in?"
"Yes, miss; will you please walk in," and she led the way to the drawing- room. "What name shall I say, miss?" said the girl.
Fan gave her a card, and then, left alone, sat down and began eagerly studying the well-remembered room. There were ferns and blossoming plants in large blue pots about the room, and some pictures, and a few chairs and knick-knacks she had never seen, and a new Persian carpet on the floor; but everything else was unchanged. The grand piano was in the old place, open, with loose sheets of music lying on it, just as if Mary herself had been there practising an hour before.
She was sitting with her back to the door, and did not hear it open. The slight rustling sound of a dress caught her ear, and turning quickly, she beheld Mary herself standing before her. It might have been only yesterday that Mary had spoken those cruel-kind words and left her in tears at Eyethorne. For there was no change in her—in that strong beautiful face, the raven hair and full dark eyes, the proud, sweet mouth—which Foley might have had for a model when he chiselled his "Asia"—and that red colour on her cheeks, richer and softer than ever burned on sea-shell or flower.
The instant that Fan turned she recognised her visitor, and remained standing motionless, holding the girl's card in her hand, her face showing the most utter astonishment. If a visitor from the other world had appeared to her she could not have looked more astonished. Meanwhile Fan, forgetting everything else in the joy of seeing Mary again, had started to her feet, and with a glad cry and outstretched arms moved towards her. Then the other regained possession of her faculties; she dropped her hand to her side, the colour forsook her face, and it grew cold and hard as stone, while the old black look came to her brows.
"Pray resume your seat, Miss Paradise—I beg your pardon, Miss——" here she consulted the card—"Miss Eden," she finished, her lips curling.
"Oh, I forgot about the card," exclaimed Fan deeply distressed. "You are vexed with me because—because it looks as if I wished to take you by surprise. Will you let me explain about my change of name?"
"You need not take that trouble, Miss—Eden. I have not the slightest interest in the subject. I only desire to know the object of this visit."
"My object was only to—to see the inside of the house again. I did not know that you were living here now. I had invented an excuse for calling. But if I had know you were here—oh, if you knew how I have wished to see you!"
"I do not wish to know anything about it, Miss Eden. Have you so completely forgotten the circumstances which led to our parting, and the words I wrote to you on that occasion?"
"No, I have not forgotten," said Fan despairingly; "but when I saw you I thought—I hoped that the past would not be remembered—that you would be glad to see me again."
"Then you made a great mistake, Miss Eden; and I hope this interview will serve to convince you, if you did not know it before, that I am not one to change, that I never repent of what I do, or fail to be as good as my word."
"Then I must go," said Fan, scarcely able to keep back the tears that were gathering thick in her eyes. "But I am so sorry—so sorry! I wish—I wish you could think differently about it and forgive me if I have offended you."
"There is nothing to be gained by prolonging this conversation, which is not pleasant to me," returned the other haughtily, advancing to the bell to summon the servant.
"Wait one moment—please don't ring yet," cried Fan, hurrying forward, the tears now starting from her eyes. "Oh, Mary, will you not shake hands with me before I go?"
Miss Starbrow moved back a step or two and stared deliberately at her face, as if amazed and angered beyond measure at her persistence. And for some moments they stood thus, not three feet apart, gazing into each other's eyes, Fan's tearful, full of eloquent pleading, her hands still held out; and still the other delayed to speak the cutting words that trembled on her lips. A change came over her scornful countenance; the corners of her mouth twitched nervously, as if some sharp pang had touched her heart; the dark eyes grew misty, and in another moment Fan was clasped to her breast.