It pulled up a little the eulogist of Mr. Drake. "Well, my dear, I love you—"
"But you don't trust me?" the girl unmercifully asked.
Again Mrs. Jordan paused—still she looked queer. "Yes," she replied with a certain austerity; "that's exactly what I'm about to give you rather a remarkable proof of." The sense of its being remarkable was already so strong that, while she bridled a little, this held her auditor in a momentary muteness of submission. "Mr. Drake has rendered his lordship for several years services that his lordship has highly appreciated and that make it all the more—a—unexpected that they should, perhaps a little suddenly, separate."
"Separate?" Our young lady was mystified, but she tried to be interested; and she already saw that she had put the saddle on the wrong horse. She had heard something of Mr. Drake, who was a member of his lordship's circle—the member with whom, apparently, Mrs. Jordan's avocations had most happened to throw her. She was only a little puzzled at the "separation." "Well, at any rate," she smiled, "if they separate as friends—!"
"Oh his lordship takes the greatest interest in Mr. Drake's future. He'll do anything for him; he has in fact just done a great deal. There must, you know, be changes—!"
"No one knows it better than I," the girl said. She wished to draw her interlocutress out. "There will be changes enough for me."
"You're leaving Cocker's?"
The ornament of that establishment waited a moment to answer, and then it was indirect. "Tell me what you're doing."
"Well, what will you think of it?"
"Why that you've found the opening you were always so sure of."
Mrs. Jordan, on this, appeared to muse with embarrassed intensity. "I was always sure, yes—and yet I often wasn't!"
"Well, I hope you're sure now. Sure, I mean, of Mr. Drake."
"Yes, my dear, I think I may say I am. I kept him going till I was."
"Then he's yours?"
"My very own."
"How nice! And awfully rich?" our young woman went on.
Mrs. Jordan showed promptly enough that she loved for higher things. "Awfully handsome—six foot two. And he has put by."
"Quite like Mr. Mudge, then!" that gentleman's friend rather desperately exclaimed.
"Oh not quite!" Mr. Drake's was ambiguous about it, but the name of Mr. Mudge had evidently given her some sort of stimulus. "He'll have more opportunity now, at any rate. He's going to Lady Bradeen."
"To Lady Bradeen?" This was bewilderment. "'Going—'?"
The girl had seen, from the way Mrs. Jordan looked at her, that the effect of the name had been to make her let something out. "Do you know her?"
She floundered, but she found her feet. "Well, you'll remember I've often told you that if you've grand clients I have them too."
"Yes," said Mrs. Jordan; "but the great difference is that you hate yours, whereas I really love mine. Do you know Lady Bradeen?" she pursued.
"Down to the ground! She's always in and out."
Mrs. Jordan's foolish eyes confessed, in fixing themselves on this sketch, to a degree of wonder and even of envy. But she bore up and, with a certain gaiety, "Do you hate her?" she demanded.
Her visitor's reply was prompt. "Dear no!—not nearly so much as some of them. She's too outrageously beautiful."
Mrs. Jordan continued to gaze. "Outrageously?"
"Well, yes; deliciously." What was really delicious was Mrs. Jordan's vagueness. "You don't know her—you've not seen her?" her guest lightly continued.
"No, but I've heard a great deal about her."
"So have I!" our young lady exclaimed.
Jordan looked an instant as if she suspected her good faith, or at least her seriousness. "You know some friend—?"
"Of Lady Bradeen's? Oh yes—I know one."
The girl laughed out. "Only one—but he's so intimate."
Mrs. Jordan just hesitated. "He's a gentleman?"
"Yes, he's not a lady."
Her interlocutress appeared to muse. "She's immensely surrounded."
"She will be—with Mr. Drake!"
Mrs. Jordan's gaze became strangely fixed. "Is she very good-looking?"
"The handsomest person I know."
Mrs. Jordan continued to brood. "Well, I know some beauties." Then with her odd jerkiness: "Do you think she looks good?"
"Because that's not always the case with the good-looking?"—the other took it up. "No, indeed, it isn't: that's one thing Cocker's has taught me. Still, there are some people who have everything. Lady Bradeen, at any rate, has enough: eyes and a nose and a mouth, a complexion, a figure—"
"A figure?" Mrs. Jordan almost broke in.
"A figure, a head of hair!" The girl made a little conscious motion that seemed to let the hair all down, and her companion watched the wonderful show. "But Mr. Drake is another—?"
"Another?"—Mrs. Jordan's thoughts had to come back from a distance.
"Of her ladyship's admirers. He's 'going,' you say, to her?"
At this Mrs. Jordan really faltered. "She has engaged him."
"Engaged him?"—our young woman was quite at sea.
"In the same capacity as Lord Rye."
"And was Lord Rye engaged?"
Mrs. Jordan looked away from her now—looked, she thought, rather injured and, as if trifled with, even a little angry. The mention of Lady Bradeen had frustrated for a while the convergence of our heroine's thoughts; but with this impression of her old friend's combined impatience and diffidence they began again to whirl round her, and continued it till one of them appeared to dart at her, out of the dance, as if with a sharp peck. It came to her with a lively shock, with a positive sting, that Mr. Drake was—could it be possible? With the idea she found herself afresh on the edge of laughter, of a sudden and strange perversity of mirth. Mr. Drake loomed, in a swift image, before her; such a figure as she had seen in open doorways of houses in Cocker's quarter—majestic, middle-aged, erect, flanked on either side by a footman and taking the name of a visitor. Mr. Drake then verily was a person who opened the door! Before she had time, however, to recover from the effect of her evocation, she was offered a vision which quite engulfed it. It was communicated to her somehow that the face with which she had seen it rise prompted Mrs. Jordan to dash, a bit wildly, at something, at anything, that might attenuate criticism. "Lady Bradeen's re-arranging—she's going to be married."
"Married?" The girl echoed it ever so softly, but there it was at last.
"Didn't you know it?"
She summoned all her sturdiness. "No, she hasn't told me."
"And her friends—haven't they?"
"I haven't seen any of them lately. I'm not so fortunate as you."
Mrs. Jordan gathered herself. "Then you haven't even heard of Lord Bradeen's death?"
Her comrade, unable for a moment to speak, gave a slow headshake. "You know it from Mr. Drake?" It was better surely not to learn things at all than to learn them by the butler.
"She tells him everything."
"And he tells you—I see." Our young lady got up; recovering her muff and her gloves she smiled. "Well, I haven't unfortunately any Mr. Drake. I congratulate you with all my heart. Even without your sort of assistance, however, there's a trifle here and there that I do pick up. I gather that if she's to marry any one it must quite necessarily be my friend."
Mrs. Jordan was now also on her feet. "Is Captain Everard your friend?"
The girl considered, drawing on a glove. "I saw, at one time, an immense deal of him."
Mrs. Jordan looked hard at the glove, but she hadn't after all waited for that to be sorry it wasn't cleaner. "What time was that?"
"It must have been the time you were seeing so much of Mr. Drake." She had now fairly taken it in: the distinguished person Mrs. Jordan was to marry would answer bells and put on coals and superintend, at least, the cleaning of boots for the other distinguished person whom she might—well, whom she might have had, if she had wished, so much more to say to. "Good- bye," she added; "good-bye."
Mrs. Jordan, however, again taking her muff from her, turned it over, brushed it off and thoughtfully peeped into it. "Tell me this before you go. You spoke just now of your own changes. Do you mean that Mr. Mudge—?"
"Mr. Mudge has had great patience with me—he has brought me at last to the point. We're to be married next month and have a nice little home. But he's only a grocer, you know"—the girl met her friend's intent eyes—"so that I'm afraid that, with the set you've got into, you won't see your way to keep up our friendship."
Mrs. Jordan for a moment made no answer to this; she only held the muff up to her face, after which she gave it back. "You don't like it. I see, I see."
To her guest's astonishment there were tears now in her eyes. "I don't like what?" the girl asked.
"Why my engagement. Only, with your great cleverness," the poor lady quavered out, "you put it in your own way. I mean that you'll cool off. You already have—!" And on this, the next instant, her tears began to flow. She succumbed to them and collapsed; she sank down again, burying her face and trying to smother her sobs.
Her young friend stood there, still in some rigour, but taken much by surprise even if not yet fully moved to pity. "I don't put anything in any 'way,' and I'm very glad you're suited. Only, you know, you did put to me so splendidly what, even for me, if I had listened to you, it might lead to."
Mrs. Jordan kept up a mild thin weak wail; then, drying her eyes, as feebly considered this reminder. "It has led to my not starving!" she faintly gasped.
Our young lady, at this, dropped into the place beside her, and now, in a rush, the small silly misery was clear. She took her hand as a sign of pitying it, then, after another instant, confirmed this expression with a consoling kiss. They sat there together; they looked out, hand in hand, into the damp dusky shabby little room and into the future, of no such very different suggestion, at last accepted by each. There was no definite utterance, on either side, of Mr. Drake's position in the great world, but the temporary collapse of his prospective bride threw all further necessary light; and what our heroine saw and felt for in the whole business was the vivid reflexion of her own dreams and delusions and her own return to reality. Reality, for the poor things they both were, could only be ugliness and obscurity, could never be the escape, the rise. She pressed her friend—she had tact enough for that—with no other personal question, brought on no need of further revelations, only just continued to hold and comfort her and to acknowledge by stiff little forbearances the common element in their fate. She felt indeed magnanimous in such matters; since if it was very well, for condolence or reassurance, to suppress just then invidious shrinkings, she yet by no means saw herself sitting down, as she might say, to the same table with Mr. Drake. There would luckily, to all appearance, be little question of tables; and the circumstance that, on their peculiar lines, her friend's interests would still attach themselves to Mayfair flung over Chalk Farm the first radiance it had shown. Where was one's pride and one's passion when the real way to judge of one's luck was by making not the wrong but the right comparison? Before she had again gathered herself to go she felt very small and cautious and thankful. "We shall have our own house," she said, "and you must come very soon and let me show it you."
"We shall have our own too," Mrs. Jordan replied; "for, don't you know? he makes it a condition that he sleeps out?"
"A condition?"—the girl felt out of it.
"For any new position. It was on that he parted with Lord Rye. His lordship can't meet it. So Mr. Drake has given him up."
"And all for you?"—our young woman put it as cheerfully as possible.
"For me and Lady Bradeen. Her ladyship's too glad to get him at any price. Lord Rye, out of interest in us, has in fact quite made her take him. So, as I tell you, he will have his own establishment."
Mrs. Jordan, in the elation of it, had begun to revive; but there was nevertheless between them rather a conscious pause—a pause in which neither visitor nor hostess brought out a hope or an invitation. It expressed in the last resort that, in spite of submission and sympathy, they could now after all only look at each other across the social gulf. They remained together as if it would be indeed their last chance, still sitting, though awkwardly, quite close, and feeling also—and this most unmistakeably—that there was one thing more to go into. By the time it came to the surface, moreover, our young friend had recognised the whole of the main truth, from which she even drew again a slight irritation. It was not the main truth perhaps that most signified; but after her momentary effort, her embarrassment and her tears Mrs. Jordan had begun to sound afresh—and even without speaking—the note of a social connexion. She hadn't really let go of it that she was marrying into society. Well, it was a harmless compensation, and it was all the prospective bride of Mr. Mudge had to leave with her.
This young lady at last rose again, but she lingered before going. "And has Captain Everard nothing to say to it?"
"To what, dear?"
"Why, to such questions—the domestic arrangements, things in the house."
"How can he, with any authority, when nothing in the house is his?"
"Not his?" The girl wondered, perfectly conscious of the appearance she thus conferred on Mrs. Jordan of knowing, in comparison with herself, so tremendously much about it. Well, there were things she wanted so to get at that she was willing at last, though it hurt her, to pay for them with humiliation. "Why are they not his?"
"Don't you know, dear, that he has nothing?"
"Nothing?" It was hard to see him in such a light, but Mrs. Jordan's power to answer for it had a superiority that began, on the spot, to grow. "Isn't he rich?"
Mrs. Jordan looked immensely, looked both generally and particularly, informed. "It depends upon what you call—! Not at any rate in the least as she is. What does he bring? Think what she has. And then, love, his debts."
"His debts?" His young friend was fairly betrayed into helpless innocence. She could struggle a little, but she had to let herself go; and if she had spoken frankly she would have said: "Do tell me, for I don't know so much about him as that!" As she didn't speak frankly she only said: "His debts are nothing—when she so adores him."
Mrs. Jordan began to fix her again, and now she saw that she must only take it all. That was what it had come to: his having sat with her there on the bench and under the trees in the summer darkness and put his hand on her, making her know what he would have said if permitted; his having returned to her afterwards, repeatedly, with supplicating eyes and a fever in his blood; and her having, on her side, hard and pedantic, helped by some miracle and with her impossible condition, only answered him, yet supplicating back, through the bars of the cage,—all simply that she might hear of him, now for ever lost, only through Mrs. Jordan, who touched him through Mr. Drake, who reached him through Lady Bradeen. "She adores him—but of course that wasn't all there was about it."
The girl met her eyes a minute, then quite surrendered. "What was there else about it?"
"Why, don't you know?"—Mrs. Jordan was almost compassionate.
Her interlocutress had, in the cage, sounded depths, but there was a suggestion here somehow of an abyss quite measureless. "Of course I know she would never let him alone."
"How could she—fancy!—when he had so compromised her?"
The most artless cry they had ever uttered broke, at this, from the younger pair of lips. "Had he so—?"
"Why, don't you know the scandal?"
Our heroine thought, recollected there was something, whatever it was, that she knew after all much more of than Mrs. Jordan. She saw him again as she had seen him come that morning to recover the telegram—she saw him as she had seen him leave the shop. She perched herself a moment on this. "Oh there was nothing public."
"Not exactly public—no. But there was an awful scare and an awful row. It was all on the very point of coming out. Something was lost—something was found."
"Ah yes," the girl replied, smiling as if with the revival of a blurred memory; "something was found."
"It all got about—and there was a point at which Lord Bradeen had to act."
"Had to—yes. But he didn't."
Mrs. Jordan was obliged to admit it. "No, he didn't. And then, luckily for them, he died."
"I didn't know about his death," her companion said.
"It was nine weeks ago, and most sudden. It has given them a prompt chance."
"To get married?"—this was a wonder—"within nine weeks?"
"Oh not immediately, but—in all the circumstances—very quietly and, I assure you, very soon. Every preparation's made. Above all she holds him."
"Oh yes, she holds him!" our young friend threw off. She had this before her again a minute; then she continued: "You mean through his having made her talked about?"
"Yes, but not only that. She has still another pull."
Mrs. Jordan hesitated. "Why, he was in something."
Her comrade wondered. "In what?"
"I don't know. Something bad. As I tell you, something was found."
The girl stared. "Well?"
"It would have been very bad for him. But, she helped him some way—she recovered it, got hold of it. It's even said she stole it!"
Our young woman considered afresh. "Why it was what was found that precisely saved him."
Mrs. Jordan, however, was positive. "I beg your pardon. I happen to know."
Her disciple faltered but an instant. "Do you mean through Mr. Drake? Do they tell him these things?"
"A good servant," said Mrs. Jordan, now thoroughly superior and proportionately sententious, "doesn't need to be told! Her ladyship saved—as a woman so often saves!—the man she loves."
This time our heroine took longer to recover herself, but she found a voice at last. "Ah well—of course I don't know! The great thing was that he got off. They seem then, in a manner," she added, "to have done a great deal for each other."
"Well, it's she that has done most. She has him tight."
"I see, I see. Good-bye." The women had already embraced, and this was not repeated; but Mrs. Jordan went down with her guest to the door of the house. Here again the younger lingered, reverting, though three or four other remarks had on the way passed between them, to Captain Everard and Lady Bradeen. "Did you mean just now that if she hadn't saved him, as you call it, she wouldn't hold him so tight?"
"Well, I dare say." Mrs. Jordan, on the doorstep, smiled with a reflexion that had come to her; she took one of her big bites of the brown gloom. "Men always dislike one when they've done one an injury."
"But what injury had he done her?"
"The one I've mentioned. He must marry her, you know."
"And didn't he want to?"
"Not before she recovered the telegram?"
Mrs. Jordan was pulled up a little. "Was it a telegram?"
The girl hesitated. "I thought you said so. I mean whatever it was."
"Yes, whatever it was, I don't think she saw that."
"So she just nailed him?"
"She just nailed him." The departing friend was now at the bottom of the little flight of steps; the other was at the top, with a certain thickness of fog. "And when am I to think of you in your little home?—next month?" asked the voice from the top.
"At the very latest. And when am I to think of you in yours?"
"Oh even sooner. I feel, after so much talk with you about it, as if I were already there!" Then "Good-bye!" came out of the fog.
"Good-bye!" went into it. Our young lady went into it also, in the opposed quarter, and presently, after a few sightless turns, came out on the Paddington canal. Distinguishing vaguely what the low parapet enclosed she stopped close to it and stood a while very intently, but perhaps still sightlessly, looking down on it. A policeman; while she remained, strolled past her; then, going his way a little further and half lost in the atmosphere, paused and watched her. But she was quite unaware—she was full of her thoughts. They were too numerous to find a place just here, but two of the number may at least be mentioned. One of these was that, decidedly, her little home must be not for next month, but for next week; the other, which came indeed as she resumed her walk and went her way, was that it was strange such a matter should be at last settled for her by Mr. Drake