'I really do think,' Lady Hilda said to herself as she unrolled the pearls from her thick hair in her own room that winter evening, 'I almost like him better than I did Ernest Le Breton. The very first night I saw him at Lady Mary's I fell quite in love with his appearance, before I knew even who he was; and now that I've found out all about him, I never did hear anything so absolutely and delightfully original. His father a common shoemaker! That, to begin with, throws Ernest Le Breton quite into the shade! HIS father was a general in the Indian army—nothing could be more BANAL. Then Mr. Berkeley began life as a clergyman; but now he's taken off his white choker, and wears a suit of grey tweed like any ordinary English gentleman. So delightfully unconventional, isn't it? At last, to crown it all, he not only composes delicious music, but goes and writes a comic opera—such a comic opera! And the best of it is, success hasn't turned his head one atom. He doesn't run with vulgar eagerness after the great people, like your ordinary everyday successful nobody. He took no more notice of me, myself, at first, because I was Lady Hilda Tregellis, than if I'd been a common milkmaid; and he wouldn't come to our garden party because he wanted to go down to Pilbury Regis to visit the Le Bretons at their charity school or something! It was only after I played the war-dance arrangement so well—I never played so brilliantly in my life before—that he began to alter and soften a little. Certainly, these pearls do thoroughly become me. I think he looked after me when I was leaving the room just a tiny bit, as if he was really pleased with me for my own sake, and not merely because I happen to be called Lady Hilda Tregellis.'
OFF WITH THE OLD LOVE.
'It's really very annoying, this letter from Selah,' Herbert Le Breton murmured to himself, as he carefully burnt the compromising document, envelope and all, with a fusee from his oriental silver pocket match-case. 'I had hoped the thing had all been forgotten by this time, after her long silence, and my last two judiciously chilly letters—a sort of slow refrigerating process for poor shivering naked little Cupid. But here, just at the very moment when I fancied the affair had quite blown over, comes this most objectionable letter, telling me that Selah has actually betaken herself to London to meet me; and what makes it more annoying still, I wanted to go up myself this week to dine at home with Ethel Faucit. Mother's plan about Ethel Faucit is exceedingly commendable; a girl with eight hundred a year, cultivated tastes, and no father or other encumbrances dragging after her. I always said I should like to marry a poor orphan. A very desirable young woman to annex in every way! And now, here's Selah Briggs—ugh! how could I ever have gone and entangled myself in my foolish days with a young woman burdened by such a cognomen!—here's Selah Briggs must needs run away from Hastings, and try to hunt me up on her own account in London. If I dared, I wouldn't go up to see her at all, and would let the thing die a natural death of inanition—sine Cerere et Baccho, and so forth—(I'm afraid, poor girl, she'll be more likely to find Bacchus than Ceres if she sticks in London); but the plain fact is, I don't dare—that's the long and the short of it. If I did, Selah'd be tracking me to earth here in Oxford, and a nice mess that'd make of it! She doesn't know my name, to be sure; but as soon as she called at college and found nobody of the name of Walters was known there, she'd lie in wait for me about the gates, as sure as my name's Herbert Le Breton, and sooner or later she'd take it out of me, one way or the other. Selah has as many devils in her as the Gergesene who dwelt among the tombs, I'll be sworn to it; and if she's provoked, she'll let them all loose in a legion to crush me. I'd better see her and have it out quietly, once for all, than try to shirk it here in Oxford and let myself in at the end for the worse condemnation.'
Under this impression, Herbert Le Breton, leaning back in his well-padded oak armchair, ordered his scout to pack his portmanteau, and set off by the very first fast train for Paddington station. He would get over his interview with Selah Briggs in the afternoon, and return to Epsilon Terrace in good time for Lady Le Breton's dinner. Say what you like of it, Ethel Faucit and eight hundred a year, certe redditum, was a thing in no wise to be sneezed at by a judicious and discriminating person.
Herbert left his portmanteau in the cloakroom at Paddington, and drove off in a hansom to the queer address which Selah had given him. It was a fishy lodging of the commoner sort in a back street at Notting Hill, not far from the Portobello Road. At the top of the stairs, Selah stood waiting to meet him, and seemed much astonished when, instead of kissing her, as was his wont, he only shook her hand somewhat coolly. But she thought to herself that probably he didn't wish to be too demonstrative before the eyes of the lodging-house people, and so took no further notice of it.
'Well, Selah,' Herbert said, as soon as he entered the room, and seated himself quietly on one of the straight-backed wooden chairs, 'why on earth have you come to London?'
'Goodness gracious, Herbert,' Selah answered, letting loose the floodgates of her rapid speech after a week's silence, 'don't you go and ask me why I've done it. Ask me rather why I didn't go and do it long ago. Father, he's got more and more aggravating every day for the last twelve-month, till at last I couldn't atand him any longer. Prayer meetings, missionary meetings, convention meetings, all that sort of thing I could put up with somehow; but when it came to private exhortations and prayer over me with three or four of the godliest neighbours, I made up my mind not to put up with it one day longer. So last week I packed up two or three little things hurriedly, and left a note behind to say I felt I was too unregenerate to live in such spiritual company any longer; and came straight up here to London, and took these lodgings. Emily Lucas, she wrote to me from Hastings—she's the daughter of the hairdresser in our street, you know, and I told her to write to me to the Post-office. Emily Lucas wrote to me that there was weeping and gnashing of teeth, and swearing almost, when they found out I'd really left them. And well there might be, indeed, for I did more work for them (mostly just to get away for a while from the privileges) than they'll ever get a hired servant to do for them in this world, Herbert.' Herbert moved uneasily on his chair, as he noticed how glibly she called him now by his Christian name instead of saying 'Mr. Walters.' 'And Emily says,' Selah went on, without stopping to take breath for a second, 'that father put an advertisement at once into the "Christian Mirror"—pah, as if it was likely I should go buying or reading the "Christian Mirror," indeed—to say that if "S. B." would return at once to her affectionate and injured parents, the whole past would be forgotten and forgiven. Forgotten and forgiven! I should think it would, indeed! But he didn't ask me whether their eternal bothering and plaguing of me about my precious soul for twenty years past would also be forgotten and forgiven! He didn't ask me whether all their meetings, and conventions, and prayers, and all the rest of it, would be forgotten and forgiven! My precious soul! In Turkey they say the women have no souls! I often wished it had been my happy lot to be born in Turkey, and then, perhaps, they wouldn't have worried me so much about it. I'm sure I often said to them, "Oh don't bother on account of my poor unfortunate misguided little soul any longer. It's lost altogether, I don't doubt, and it doesn't in the least trouble me. If it was somebody else's, I could understand your being in such a fearful state of mind about it; but as it's only mine, you know, I'm sure it really doesn't matter." And then they'd only go off worse than ever,—mother doing hysterics, and so forth—and say I was a wicked, bad, abominable scoffer, and that it made them horribly frightened even to listen to me. As if I wasn't more likely to know the real value of my own soul than anybody else was!'
Herbert looked at her curiously and anxiously as she delivered this long harangue in a voluble stream, without a single pause or break; and then he said, in his quiet voice, 'How old are you, Selah?'
'Twenty-two,' Selah answered, carelessly. 'Why, Herbert?'
'Oh, nothing,' Herbert replied, turning away his eyes from her keen, searching gaze uncomfortably. He congratulated himself inwardly on the lucky fact that she was fully of age, for then at least he could only get into a row with her, and not with her parents. 'And now, Selah, do you know what I strongly advise you?'
'To get married at once,' Selah put in promptly.
Herbert drew himself up stiffly, and looked at her cautiously out of the corner of his eyes. 'No,' he said slowly, 'not to get married, but to go back again for the present to your people at Hastings. Consider, Selah, you've done a very foolish thing indeed by coming here alone in this way. You've compromised yourself, and you've compromised me. Indeed, if it weren't for the lasting affection I bear you'—he put this in awkwardly, but he felt it necessary to do so, for the flash of Selah's eyes fairly cowed him for the moment—'I wouldn't have come here at all this afternoon to see you. It might get us both into very serious trouble, and—and—and delay the prospect of our marriage. You see, everything depends upon my keeping my fellowship until I can get an appointment to marry on. Anything that risks loss of the fellowship is really a measurable danger for both of us.'
Selah looked at him very steadily with her big eyes, and Herbert felt that he was quailing a little under their piercing, withering inquisition. By Jove, what a splendid woman she was, though, when she was angry! 'Herbert,' she said, rising from her chair and standing her full height imperiously before him, 'Herbert, you're deceiving me. I almost believe you're shilly-shallying with me. I almost believe you don't ever really mean to marry me.'
Herbert moved uneasily upon his wooden seat. What was he to do? Should he make a clean breast of it forthwith, and answer boldly, 'Well, Selah, you have exactly diagnosed my mental attitude'? Or should he try to put her off a little with some meaningless explanatory platitudes? Or should he—by Jove, she was a very splendid woman!—should he take her in his arms that moment, kiss her doubts and fears away like a donkey, and boldly and sincerely promise to marry her? Pooh! not such a fool as all that comes to! not even with Selah before him now; for he was no boy any longer, and not to be caught by the mere vulgar charms of a flashy, self-asserting greengrocer's daughter.
'Selah,' he said at last, after a long pause, 'I strongly advise you once more to return to Hastings for the present. You'll find it better for you in the end. If your people are quite unendurable—as I don't doubt they are from what you tell me—you could look about meanwhile for a temporary appointment, say as'—he checked himself from uttering the word 'shop girl,' and substituted for it, 'draper's assistant.'
Selah looked at him angrily. 'What fools you men are about such things!' she said in a voice of utter scorn. 'When do you suppose I ever learnt the drapery? Or who do you suppose would ever give me a place in a shop of that sort without having learnt the drapery? I dare say you think it takes ten years to make one of you fine gentlemen at college, with your Greek and your Latin, but that the drapery, or the millinery, or the confectionery, comes by nature! However, that's not the question now. The question's simply this—Herbert Walters, do you or don't you mean to marry me?'
'I must temporise,' Herbert thought to himself, placidly. 'This girl's quite too unreservedly categorical! She eliminates modality with a vengeance!' 'Well, Selah,' he said in his calmest and most deliberate manner, 'we must take a great many points into consideration before deciding on that matter.' And then he went on to tell her what seemed to him the pros and cons of an immediate marriage. Couldn't she get a place meanwhile of some sort? Couldn't she let him have time to look about him? Couldn't she go back just for a few days to Hastings, until he could hear of something feasible for either of them? Selah interrupted him more than once with forcible interjectional observations such as 'bosh!' and 'rubbish!' and when he had finished she burst out once more into a long and voluble statement.
For more than an hour Herbert Le Breton and Selah Briggs fenced with one another, each after their own fashion, in the little fishy lodgings; and at every fresh thrust, Herbert parried so much the worse that at last Selah lost patience utterly, and rose in the end to the dignity of the situation. 'Herbert Walters,' she said, looking at him with unspeakable contempt, 'I see through your flimsy excuses now, and I feel certain you don't mean to marry me! You never did mean to marry me! You wanted to amuse yourself by making love to a poor girl in a country town, and now you'd like to throw her overboard and leave her alone to her own devices. I knew you meant that when you didn't write to me; but I wouldn't condemn you unheard; I gave you a chance to clear yourself. I see now you were trying to drop the acquaintance quietly, and make it seem as if I had backed out of it as well as you.'
Herbert felt the moment for breaking through all reserve had finally arrived. 'You admirably interpret my motives in the matter, Selah,' he said coldly. 'I don't think it would be just of me to interfere with your prospects in life any longer. I can't say how long it may be before I am able to afford marriage; and, meanwhile, I'm preventing you from forming a natural alliance with some respectable and estimable young man in your own station. I should be sorry to stand in your way any further; but if I could offer you any small pecuniary assistance at any time, either now or hereafter, you know I'd be very happy indeed to do so, Selah.'
The angry girl turned upon him fiercely. 'Selah!' she cried in a tone of crushing contempt. 'What do you mean by calling me Selah, sir? How dare you speak to me by my Christian name in the same breath you tell me you don't mean to marry me? How dare you have the insolence and impertinence to offer me money! Never say another word to me as long as you live, Herbert Walters; and leave me now, for I don't want to have anything more to say to you or your money for ever.'
Herbert took up his hat doubtfully. 'Selah!—Selah!—Miss Briggs, I mean,' he said, falteringly, for at that moment Selah's face was terrible to look at. 'I'm very sorry, I can assure you, that this interview—and our pleasant acquaintance—should unfortunately have had such a disagreeable termination. For my own part'—Herbert was always politic—'I should have wished to part with you in no unfriendly spirit. I should have wished to learn your plans for the future, and to aid you in forming a suitable settlement in life hereafter. May I venture to ask, before I go, whether you mean to remain in London or to return to Hastings? As one who has been your sincere friend, I should at least like to know what are your movements for the immediate present. How long do you mean to stop here, and when you leave these rooms where do you think you will next go to?'—'Confoundedly awkward,' he thought to himself, 'to have her prowling about and dogging one's footsteps here in London.'
Selah read through his miserable transparent little pretences at once with a woman's quick instinctive insight. 'Ugh!' she cried, pushing him away from her, figuratively, with a gesture of disgust, 'do you think, you poor suspicious creature, I want to go spying you or following you all over London? Are you afraid, in your sordid little respectable way, that I'll come up to Oxford to pry and peep into that snug comfortable fellowship of yours? Do you suppose I'm so much in love with you, Herbert Walters, that I can't let you go without wanting to fawn upon you and run after you ever afterwards! Pah! you miserable, pitiable, contemptible cur and coward, are you afraid even of a woman! Go away, and don't be frightened. I never want to see you or speak to you again as long as I live, you wretched, lying, shuffling hypocrite. I'd rather go back to my own people at Hastings a thousand times over than have anything more to do with you. They may be narrow-minded, and bigoted, and ignorant, and stupid, but at least they're honest—they're not liars and hypocrites. Go this minute, Herbert Walters, go away this minute, and don't stand there fiddling and quivering with your hat like a whipped schoolboy, but go at once, and take my eternal loathing and contempt for a parting present with you!'
Herbert held the door gingerly ajar for half a second, trying to think of a neat and appropriate epigram, but at that particular moment, for the life of him, he couldn't hit on one. So he closed the door after him quietly, and walking out alone into the street, immediately nailed a passing hansom. 'I didn't come out of that dilemma very creditably to myself, I must admit,' he thought with a burning face, as he rolled along quickly in the hansom; 'but anyhow, now I'm well out of it. The coast's all clear at last for Ethel Faucit. It's well to be off with the old love before you're on with the new, as that horrid vulgar practical proverb justly though somewhat coarsely puts it. Still, she's a perfectly magnificent creature, is Selah; and by Jove, when she got into that towering rage (and no wonder, for I won't be unjust to her in that respect), her tone and attitude would have done credit to any theatre. I should think Mrs. Siddons must have looked like that, say as Constance. Poor girl, I'm really sorry for her; from the very bottom of my heart, I'm really sorry for her. If it rested with me alone, hang me if I don't think I would positively have married her. But after all, the environment, you know, the environment is always too strong for us!'
Meanwhile, in the shabby lodgings near the Portobello Road, poor Selah, the excitement once over, was lying with her proud face buried in the pillows, and crying her very life out in great sobs of utter misery. The daydream of her whole existence was gone for ever: the bubble was burst; and nothing stood before her but a future of utter drudgery. 'The brute, the cur, the mean wretch,' she said aloud between her sobs; 'and yet I loved him. How beautifully he talked, and how he made me love him. If it had only been a common everyday Methodist sweetheart, now! but Herbert Walters! Oh, God, how I hate him, and how I did love him!'
When Herbert reached his mother's house in Epsilon Terrace, Lady Le Breton met him anxiously at the door. 'Herbert,' she said, almost weeping, 'my dear boy, what on earth should I do if it were not for you! You're the one comfort I have in all my children. Would you believe it—no, you won't believe it—as I was walking back here this afternoon with Mrs. Faucit (Ethel's aunt, of all people in the world), what do you think I saw, in our own main street, too, but a young man, decently dressed, in his shirt sleeves. No coat, I assure you, but only his shirt sleeves. Imagine my horror when he came up to us—Mrs. Faucit, too, you know—and said to me out loud, in the most unconcerned voice, "Well, mother!" I couldn't believe my eyes. Herbert, but I solemnly declare to you it was positively Ronald! You really could have knocked me down with a feather. Disgraceful, wasn't it, perfectly disgraceful!'
'How on earth did he come so?' asked Herbert, almost smiling in spite of himself.
'Why, do you know, Herbert,' Lady Le Breton answered somewhat obliquely, 'a few days since, I met him wheeling along a barrow full of coals for a dirty, grimy, ragged little girl from some alley or gutter somewhere. I believe they call the place the Mews—at the back of the terrace, you remember. He pretended the child wasn't big enough to wheel the coals, which was absurd, of course, or else her parents wouldn't have sent her; but I'm sure he really did it on purpose to annoy me. He never does these things when I'm not by to see; or if he does, I never see him. Now, that was bad enough in all conscience, wasn't it? but to-day what he did was still more outrageous. He met a poor man, as he calls him, in Westbourne Grove, who was one of his Christian brethren (is that the right expression?) and who declared he was next door to starving. So what must Ronald do, but run into a pawnbroker's—I shouldn't have thought he could ever have heard of such a place—and sell his coat, or something of the sort, and give the man (who was doubtless an impostor) all the money. Then he positively walked home in his shirt sleeves. I call it a most unchristian thing to do—and to walk straight into my very arms, too, as I was coming along with Mrs. Faucit.'
Herbert offered at once such condolences as were in his power. 'And are the Faucits coming to night?' he asked eagerly.
Lady Le Breton kissed him again gently on the forehead. 'Oh, Herbert,' she said warmly, 'I can't tell you what a comfort you always are to me. Oh yes, the Faucits are coming; and do you know, Herbert, my dear boy, I'm quite sure that old Mr. Faucit, the uncle, wouldn't at all object to the match, and that Ethel's really very much disposed indeed to like you immensely. You've only to follow up the advantage, my dear boy, and I don't for a moment think she'd ever refuse you. And I've been talking to Sir Sydney Weatherhead about your future, too, and he tells me (quite privately, of course) that, with your position and honours at Oxford, he fully believes he can easily push you into the first good vacant post at the Education Office; only you must be careful to say nothing about it beforehand, or the others will say it's a job, as they call it. Oh, Herbert, I really and truly can't tell you what a joy and a comfort you always are to me!'
THE PHILISTINES TRIUMPH.
'My dear,' said Dr. Greatrex, looking up in alarm from the lunch table one morning, in the third term of Ernest Le Breton's stay at Pilbury, 'what an awful apparition! Do you know, I positively see Mr. Blenkinsopp, father of that odious boy Blenkinsopp major, distinctly visible to the naked eye, walking across the front lawn—on the grass too—to our doorway. The pupil's parent is really the very greatest bane of all the banes that beset a poor harassed overdriven schoolmaster's unfortunate existence!'
'Blenkinsopp?' Mrs. Greatrex said reflectively. 'Blenkinsopp? Who is he? Oh, I remember, a tobacco-pipe manufacturer somewhere in the midland counties, isn't he? Mr. Blenkinsopp, of Staffordshire, I always say to other parents—not Brosely—Brosely sounds decidedly commercial and unpresentable. No nice people would naturally like their sons to mix with miscellaneous boys from a place called Brosely. Now, what on earth can he be coming here for, I wonder, Joseph?'
'Oh, I know,' the doctor answered with a deep-drawn sigh. 'I know, Maria, only too well. It's the way of all parents. He's come to inquire after Blenkinsopp major's health and progress. They all do it. They seem to think the sole object of a head-master's existence is to look after the comfort and morals of their own particular Tommy, or Bobby, or Dicky, or Harry. For heaven's sake, what form is Blenkinsopp major in? For heaven's sake, what's his Christian name, and age last birthday, and place in French and mathematics, and general state of health for past quarter? Where's the prompt-book, with house-master's and form-master's report, Maria? Oh, here it is, thank goodness! Let me see; let me see—he's ringing at the door this very instant. "Blenkinsopp... major... Charles Warrington... fifteen... fifth form... average, twelfth boy of twelve... idle, inattentive, naturally stupid; bad disposition... health invariably excellent... second eleven... bats well." That'll do. Run my eye down once again, and I shall remember all about him. How about the other? "Blenkinsopp... minor... Cyril Anastasius Guy Waterbury Macfarlane"—heavens, what a name!... "thirteen... fourth form... average, seventh boy of eighteen... industrious and well-meaning, but heavy and ineffective... health good... fourth eleven... fields badly." Ah, that's the most important one. Now I'm primed. Blenkinsopp major I remember something about, for he's one of the worst and most hopelessly stupid boys in the whole school—I've caned him frequently this term, and that keeps a boy green in one's memory; but Blenkinsopp minor, Cyril Anastasius Guy Thingumbob Whatyoumaycallit,—I don't remember HIM a bit. I suppose he's one of those inoffensive, mildly mediocre sort of boys who fail to impress their individuality upon one in any way. My experience is that you can always bear in mind the three cleverest boys at the top of each form, and the three stupidest or most mischievous boys at the bottom; but the nine or a dozen meritorious nobodies in the middle of the class are all so like one another in every way that you might as well try to discriminate between every individual sheep of a flock in a pasture. And yet, such is the natural contradictiousness and vexatious disposition of the British parent, that you'll always find him coming to inquire after just one of those very particular Tommies or Bobbies. Charles Warrington:—Cyril Anastasius Guy Whatyoumay—call it: that'll do: I shall remember now all about them.' And the doctor arranged his hair before the looking glass into the most professional stiffness, as a preparatory step to facing Mr. Blenkinsopp's parental inquiries in the head-master's study.
'What! Mr. Blenkinsopp! Yes, it is really. My dear sir, how DO you do? This is a most unexpected pleasure. We hadn't the least idea you were in Pilbury. When did you come here?'
'I came last night, Dr. Greatrex,' answered the dreaded parent respectfully: 'we've come down from Staffordshire for a week at the seaside, and we thought we might as well be within hail of Guy and Charlie.'
'Quite right, quite right, my dear sir,' said the doctor, mentally noting that Blenkinsopp minor was familiarly known as Guy, not Cyril; 'we're delighted to see you. And now you want to know all about our two young friends, don't you?'
'Well, yes, Dr. Greatrex; I SHOULD like to know how they are getting on.'
'Ah, of course, of course. Very right. It's such a pleasure to us when parents give us their active and hearty co-operation! You'd hardly believe, Mr. Blenkinsopp, how little interest some parents seem to feel in their boys' progress. To us, you know, who devote our whole time and energy assiduously to their ultimate welfare, it's sometimes quite discouraging to see how very little the parents themselves seem to care about it. But your boys are both doing capitally. The eldest—Blenkinsopp major, we call him; Charles Warrington, isn't it? (His home name's Charlie, if I recollect right. Ah, quite so.) Well, Charlie's the very picture of perfect health, as usual.' ('Health is his only strong point, it seems to me,' the doctor thought to himself instinctively. 'We must put that first and foremost.') 'In excellent health and very good spirits. He's in the second eleven now, and a capital batter: I've no doubt he'll go into the first eleven next term, if we lose Biddlecomb Tertius to the university. In work, as you know, he's not very great; doesn't do his abilities full justice, Mr. Blenkinsopp, through his dreadful inattention. He's generally near the bottom of the form, I'm sorry to say; generally near the bottom of the form.'
'Well, I dare say there's no harm in that, sir,' said Mr. Blenkinsopp, senior, warmly. 'I was always at the bottom of the form at school myself, Doctor, but I've picked it up in after life; I've picked it up, sir, as you see, and I'm fully equal with most other people nowadays, as you'll find if you inquire of any town councilman or man of position down our way, at Brosely.'
'Ah, I dare say you were, Mr. Blenkinsopp,' the doctor answered blandly, with just the faintest tinge of unconscious satire, peering at his square unintelligent features as a fancier peers at the face of a bull-dog; 'I dare say you were now. After all, however clever a set of boys may be, one of them MUST be at the bottom of the form, in the nature of things, mustn't he? And your Charlie, I think, is only fifteen. Ah, yes; well, well; he'll do better, no doubt, if we keep him here a year or two longer. So then there's the second: Guy, you call him, if I remember right—Cyril Anastasius Guy—our Blenkinsopp minor. Guy's a good boy; an excellent boy: to tell you the plain truth, Mr. Blenkinsopp, I don't know much of him personally myself, which is a fact that tells greatly in his favour. Charlie I must admit I have to call up some times for reproof: Guy, never. Charlie's in the fifth form: Guy's seventh in the fourth. A capital place for a boy of his age! He's very industrious, you know—what we call a plodder. They call it a plodder, you see, at thirteen, Mr. Blenkinsopp, but a man of ability at forty.' Dr. Greatrex delivered that last effective shot point-blank at the eyes of the inquiring parent, and felt in a moment that its delicate generalised flattery had gone home straight to the parent's susceptible heart.
'But there's one thing, Doctor,' Mr. Blenkinsopp began, after a few minutes' further conversation on the merits and failings of Guy and Charlie, 'there's one other thing I feel I should like to speak to you about, and that's the teaching of your fifth form master, Mr. Le Breton. From what Charlie tells me, I don't quite like that young man's political ideas and opinions. It's said things to his form sometimes that are quite horrifying, I assure you; things about Property, and about our duty to the poor, and so on, that are positively enough to appal you. Now, for example, he told them—I don't quite like to repeat it, for it's sheer blasphemy I call it—but he told them in a Greek Testament lesson that the Apostles themselves were a sort of Republicans—Socialists, I think Charlie said, or else Chartists, or dynamiters. I'm not sure he didn't say St. Peter himself was a regular communist!'
Dr. Greatrex drew a long breath. 'I should think, Mr. Blenkinsopp,' he suggested blandly, 'Charlie must really have misunderstood Mr. Le Breton. You see, they've been reading the Acts of the Apostles in their Greek Testament this term. Now, of course, you remember that, during the first days of the infant Church, while its necessities were yet so great, as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, and laid them down at the apostles' feet; and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need. You see, here's the passage, Mr. Blenkinsopp, in the authorised version. I won't trouble you with the original. You've forgotten most of your Greek, I dare say: ah, I thought go. It doesn't stick to us like the Latin, does it? Now, perhaps, in expounding that passage, Mr. Le Breton may have referred in passing—as an illustration merely—to the unhappily prevalent modern doctrines of socialism and communism. He may have warned his boys, for example, against confounding a Christian communism like this, if I may so style it, with the rapacious, aggressive, immoral forms of communism now proposed to us, which are based upon the forcible disregard of all Property and all vested interests of every sort. I don't say he did, you know, for I haven't conferred with him upon the subject: but he may have done so; and he may even have used, as I have used, the phrase "Christian communism," to define the temporary attitude of the apostles and the early Church in this matter. That, perhaps, my dear sir, may be the origin of the misapprehension.'
Mr. Blenkinsopp looked hard at the three verses in the big Bible the doctor had handed him, with a somewhat suspicious glare. He was a self-made man, with land and houses of his own in plenty, and he didn't quite like this suggestive talk about selling them and laying the prices at the apostles' feet. It savoured to him both of communism and priestcraft. 'That's an awkward text, you know,' he said, looking up curiously from the Bible in his hand into the doctor's face, 'a very awkward text; and I should say it was rather a dangerous one to set too fully before young people. It seems to me to make too little altogether of Property. You know, Dr. Greatrex, at first sight it DOES look just a little like communism.'
'Precisely what Mr. Le Breton probably said,' the doctor answered, following up his advantage quickly. 'At first sight, no doubt, but at first sight only, I assure you, Mr. Blenkinsopp. If you look on to the fourth verse of the next chapter, you'll see that St. Peter, at least, was no communist,—which is perhaps what Mr. Le Breton really said. St. Peter there argues in favour of purely voluntary beneficence, you observe; as when you, Mr. Blenkinsopp, contribute a guinea to our chapel window:—you see, we're grateful to our kind benefactors: we don't forget them. And if you'll look at the Thirty-eighth Article of the Church of England, my dear sir, you'll find that the riches and goods of Christians are not common, as touching the right, title, and possession of the same as certain Anabaptists—(Gracious heavens, is he a Baptist, I wonder?—if so, I've put my foot in it)—certain Anabaptists do falsely boast—referring, of course, to sundry German fanatics of the time—followers of one Kniperdoling, a crazy enthusiast, not to the respectable English Baptist denomination; but that nevertheless every man ought, of such things as he possesseth, liberally to give alms to the poor. That, you see, is the doctrine of the Church of England, and that, I've no doubt, is the doctrine that Mr. Le Breton pointed out to your boys as the true Christian communism of St. Peter and the apostles.'
'Well, I hope so, Dr. Greatrex,' Mr. Blenkinsopp answered resignedly. 'I'm sure I hope so, for his own sake, as well as for his pupils'. Still, in these days, you know, when infidelity and Radicalism are so rife, one ought to be on one's guard against atheism and revolution, and attacks on Property in every form; oughtn't one, Doctor? These opinions are getting so rampant all around us, Property itself isn't safe. One really hardly knows what people are coming to nowadays. Why, last night I came down here and stopped at the Royal Marine, on the Parade, and having nothing else to do, while my wife was looking after the little ones, I turned into a hall down in Combe Street, where I saw a lot of placards up about a Grand National Social Democratic meeting. Well, I turned in, Dr. Greatrex, and there I heard a German refugee fellow from London—a white-haired man of the name of Schurts, or something of the sort'—Mr. Blenkinsopp pronounced it to rhyme with 'hurts'—'who was declaiming away in a fashion to make your hair stand on end, and frighten you half out of your wits with his dreadful communistic notions. I assure you, he positively took my breath away. I ran out of the hall at last, while he was still speaking, for fear the roof should fall in upon our heads and crush us to pieces. I declare to you, sir, I quite expected a visible judgment!'
'Did you really now?' said Dr. Greatrex, languidly. 'Well, I dare say, for I know there's a sad prevalence of revolutionary feeling among our workmen here, Mr, Blenkinsopp. Now, what was this man Schurz talking about?'
'Why, sheer communism, sir,' said Mr. Blenkinsopp, severely: 'sheer communism, I can tell you. Co-operation of workmen to rob their employers of profits; gross denunciation of capital and capitalists; and regular inciting of them against the Property of the landlords, by quoting Scripture, too, Doctor, by quoting the very words of Scripture. They say the devil can quote Scripture to his own destruction, don't they, Doctor? Well, he quoted something out of the Bible about woe unto them that join field to field, or words to that effect, to make themselves a solitude in the midst of the earth. Do you know, it strikes me that it's a very dangerous book, the Bible—in the hands of these socialistic demagogues, I mean. Look now, at that passage, and at what Mr. Le Breton said about Christian communism!'
'But, my dear Mr. Blenkinsopp,' the doctor cried, in a tone of gentle deprecation, 'I hope you don't confound a person like this man Schurz, a German refugee of the worst type, with our Mr. Le Breton, an Oxford graduate and an English gentleman of excellent family. I know Schurz by name through the papers: he's the author of a dreadful book called "Gold and the Proletariate," or something of that sort—a revolutionary work like Tom Paine's "Age of Reason," I believe—and he goes about the country now and then, lecturing and agitating, to make money, no doubt, out of the poor, misguided, credulous workmen. You quite pain me when you mention him in the same breath with a hard-working, conscientious, able teacher like our Mr. Le Breton.'
'Oh,' Mr. Blenkinsopp went on, a little mollified, 'then Mr. Le Breton's of a good family, is he? That's a great safeguard, at any rate, for you don't find people of good family running recklessly after these bloodthirsty doctrines, and disregarding the claims of Property.'
'My dear sir,' the doctor continued, 'we know his mother, Lady Le Breton, personally. His father, Sir Owen, was a distinguished officer-general in the Indian army in fact; and all his people are extremely well connected with some of our best county families. Nothing wrong about him in any way, I can answer for it. He came here direct from Lord Exmoor's, where he'd been acting as tutor to Viscount Lynmouth, the eldest son of the Tregellis family: and you may be sure THEY wouldn't have anybody about them in any capacity who wasn't thoroughly and perfectly responsible, and free from any prejudice against the just rights of property.'
At each successive step of this collective guarantee to Ernest Le Breton's perfect respectability, Mr. Blenkinsopp's square face beamed brighter and brighter, till at last when the name of Lord Exmour was finally reached, his mouth relaxed slowly into a broad smile, and he felt that he might implicitly trust the education of his boys to a person so intimately bound up with the best and highest interests of religion and Property in this kingdom. 'Of course,' he said placidly, 'that puts quite a different complexion upon the matter, Dr. Greatrex. I'm very glad to hear young Mr. Le Breton's such an excellent and trustworthy person. But the fact is, that Schurts man gave me quite a turn for the moment, with his sanguinary notions. I wish you could see the man, sir; a long white-haired, savage-bearded, fierce-eyed old revolutionist if ever there was one. It made me shudder to look at him, not raving and ranting like a madman—I shouldn't have minded so much if he'd a done that; but talking as cool and calm and collected, Doctor, about "eliminating the capitalist"—cutting off my head, in fact—as we two are talking here together at this moment. His very words were, sir, "we must eliminate the capitalist." Why, bless my soul,'—and here Mr. Blenkinsopp rushed to the window excitedly—'who on earth's this coming across your lawn, here, arm in arm with Mr. Le Breton, into the school-house? Man alive, Dr. Greatrex, whatever you choose to say, hanged if it isn't realty that German cut-throat fellow himself, and no mistake at all about it!'
Dr. Greatrex rose from his magisterial chair and glanced with dignified composure out of the window. Yes, there was positively no denying it! Ernest Le Breton, in cap and gown, with Edie by his side, was walking arm in arm up to the school-house with a long-bearded, large-headed German-looking man, whose placid powerful face the Doctor immediately recognised as the one he had seen in the illustrated papers above the name of Max Schurz, the defendant in the coming state trial for unlawfully uttering a seditious libel! He could hardly believe his eyes. Though he knew Ernest's opinions were dreadfully advanced, he could not have suspected him of thus consorting with positive murderous political criminals. In spite of his natural and kindly desire to screen his own junior master, he felt that this public exhibition of irreconcilable views was quite unpardonable and irretrievable. 'Mr. Blenkinsopp,' he said gravely, turning to the awe-struck tobacco-pipe manufacturer with an expression of sympathetic dismay upon his practised face, 'I must retract all I have just been saying to you about our junior master. I was not aware of this. Mr. Le Breton must no longer retain his post as an assistant at Pilbury Regis Grammar School.'
Mr. Blenkinsopp sank amazed into an easy-chair, and sat in dumb astonishment to see the end of this extraordinary and unprecedented adventure. The Doctor walked out severely to the school porch, and stood there in solemn state to await the approach of the unsuspecting offender.
'It's so delightful, dear Herr Max,' Ernest was saying at that exact moment, 'to have you down here with us even for a single night. You can't imagine what an oasis your coming has been to us both. I'm sure Edie has enjoyed it just as much as I have, and is just as anxious you should stop a little time here with us as I myself could possibly be.
'Oh, yes, Herr Schurz,' Edie put in persuasively with her sweet little pleading manner; 'do stay a little longer. I don't know when dear Ernest has enjoyed anything in the world so much as he has enjoyed seeing you. You've no idea how dull it is down here for him, and for me too, for that matter; everybody here is so borne, and narrow-minded and self-centred; nothing expansive or sympathetic about them, as there used to be about Ernest's set in dear, quiet, peaceable old Oxford. It's been such a pleasure to us to hear some conversation again that wasn't about the school, and the rector, and the Haigh Park people, and the flower show, and old Mrs. Jenkins's quarrel with the vicar of St. Barnabas. Except when Mr. Berkeley runs down sometimes for a Saturday to Monday trip to see us, and takes Ernest out for a good blow with him on the top of the breezy downs over yonder, we really never hear anything at all except the gossip and the small-talk of Pilbury Regis.'
'And what makes it worse, Herr Max,' said Ernest, looking up in the old man's calm strong face with the same reverent almost filial love and respect as ever, 'is the fact that I can't feel any real interest and enthusiasm in the work that's set before me. I try to do it as well as I can, and I believe Dr. Greatrex, who's a kind-hearted good sort of man in his way, is perfectly satisfied with it; but my heart isn't in it, you see, and can't be in it. What sort of good is one doing the world by dinning the same foolish round of Horace and Livy and Latin elegiacs into the heads of all these useless, eat-all, do-nothing young fellows, who'll only be fit to fight or preach or idle as soon as we've finished cramming them with our indigestible unserviceable nostrums!'
'Ah, Ernest, Ernest,' said Herr Max, nodding his heavy head gravely, 'you always WILL look too seriously altogether at your social duties. I can't get other people to do it enough; and I can't get you not to do it too much entirely. Remember, my dear boy, my pet old saying about a little leaven. You're doing more good by just unobtrusively holding your own opinions here at Pilbury, and getting in the thin end of the wedge by slowly influencing the minds of a few middle-class boys in your form, than you could possibly be doing by making shoes or weaving clothes for the fractional benefit of general humanity. Don't be so abstract, Ernest; concrete yourself a little; isn't it enough that you're earning a livelihood for your dear little wife here, whom I'm glad to know at last and to receive as a worthy daughter? I may call you, Edie, mayn't I, my daughter? So this is your school, is it? A pleasant building! And that stern-looking old gentleman yonder, I suppose, is your head master?'
'Dr. Greatrex,' said Edie innocently, stepping up to him in her bright elastic fashion, 'let me introduce you to our friend Herr Schurz, whose name I dare say you know—the German political economist. He's come down to Pilbury to deliver a lecture here, and we've been fortunate enough to put him up at our little lodging.'
The doctor bowed very stiffly. 'I have heard of Herr Schurz's reputation already,' he said with as much diplomatic politeness as he could command, fortunately bethinking himself at the right moment of the exact phrase that would cover the situation without committing him to any further courtesy towards the terrible stranger. 'Will you excuse my saying, Mrs. Le Breton, that we're very busy this afternoon, and I want to have a few words with your husband in private immediately? Perhaps you'd better take Herr Schurz on to the downs' ('safer there than on the Parade, at any rate,' he thought to himself quickly), 'and Le Breton will join you in the combe a little later in the afternoon. I'll take the fifth form myself, and let him have a holiday with his friend here if he'd like one. Le Breton, will you step this way please?' And lifting his square cap with stern solemnity to Edie, the doctor disappeared under the porch into the corridor, closely followed by poor frightened and wondering Ernest.
Edie looked at Herr Max in dismay, for she saw clearly there was something serious the matter with the doctor. The old man shook his head sadly. 'It was very wrong of me,' he said bitterly: 'very wrong and very thoughtless. I ought to have remembered it and stopped away. I'm a caput lupinum, it seems, in Pilbury Regis, a sort of moral scarecrow or political leper, to be carefully avoided like some horrid contagion by a respectable, prosperous head-master. I might have known it, I might have known it, Edie; and now I'm afraid by my stupidity I've got dear Ernest unintentionally into a pack of troubles. Come on, my child, my poor dear child, come on to the downs, as he told us; I won't compromise you any longer by being seen with you in the streets, in the decent decorous whited sepulchres of Pilbury Regis.' And the grey old apostle, with two tears trickling unreproved down his wrinkled cheek, took Edie's arm tenderly in his, and led her like a father up to the green grassy slope that overlooks the little seaward combe by the nestling village of Nether Pilbury.
Meanwhile, Dr. Greatrex had taken Ernest into the breakfast-room—the study was already monopolised by Mr. Blenkinsopp—and had seated himself nervously, with his hands folded before him, on a straight-backed chair There was a long and awkward pause, for the doctor didn't care to begin the interview; but at last he sighed deeply and said in a tone of genuine disappointment and difficulty, 'My dear Le Breton, this is really very unpleasant.'
Ernest looked at him, and said nothing.
'Do you know,' the doctor went on kindly after a minute, 'I really do like you and sympathise with you. But what am I to do after this? I can't keep you at the school any longer, can I now? I put it to your own common-sense. I'm afraid, Le Breton—it gives me sincere pain to say so—but I'm afraid we must part at the end of the quarter.'
Ernest only muttered that he was very sorry.
'But what are we to do about it, Le Breton?' the doctor continued more kindly than ever. 'What are we ever to do about it? For my own sake, and for the boys' sake, and for respectability's pake, it's quite impossible to let you remain here any longer. The first thing you must do is to send away this Schurz creature'—Ernest started a little—'and then we must try to let it blow over as best we can. Everybody'll be talking about it; you know the man's become quite notorious lately; and it'll be quite necessary to say distinctly, Le Breton, before the whole of Pilbury, that we've been obliged to dismiss you summarily. So much we positively MUST do for our own protection. But what on earth are we to do for you, my poor fellow? I'm afraid you've cut your own throat, and I don't see any way on earth out of it.'
'How so?' asked Ernest, half stunned by the suddenness of this unexpected dismissal.
'Why, just look the thing in the face yourself, Le Breton. I can't very well give you a recommendation to any other head master without mentioning to him why I had to ask you for your resignation. And I'm afraid if I told them, nobody else would ever take you.'
'Indeed?' said Ernest, very softly. 'Is it such a heinous offence to know so good a man as Herr Schurz—the best follower of the apostles I ever knew?'
'My dear fellow,' said the doctor, confidentially, with an unusual burst of outspoken frankness, 'so far as my own private feelings are concerned, I don't in the least object to your knowing Herr Schurz or any other socialist whatsoever. To tell you the truth, I dare say he really is an excellent and most well-meaning person at bottom. Between ourselves, I've always thought that there was nothing very heterodox in socialism; in fact, I often think, Le Breton, the Bible's the most thoroughly democratic book that ever was written. But we haven't got to deal in practice with first principles; we have to deal with Society—with men and women as we find them. Now, Society doesn't like your Herr Schurz, objects to him, anathematises him, wants to imprison him. If you walk about with him in public, Society won't send its sons to your school. Therefore, you should disguise your affection, and if you want to visit him, you should visit him, like Nicodemus, by night only.'
'I'm afraid,' said Ernest very fixedly, 'I shall never be able so far to accommodate myself to the wishes of Society.'
'I'm afraid not, myself, Le Breton,' the doctor went on with imperturbable good temper. 'I'm afraid not, and I'm sorry for it. The fact is, you've chosen the wrong profession. You haven't pliability enough for a schoolmaster; you're too isolated, too much out of the common run; your ideas are too peculiar. Now, you've got me to-day into a dreadful pickle, and I might very easily be angry with you about it, and part with you in bad blood; but I really like you, Le Breton, and I don't want to do that; so I only tell you plainly, you've mistaken your natural calling. What it can be I don't know; but we must put our two heads together, and see what we can do for you before the end of the quarter. Now, go up to the combe to your wife, and try to get that terrible bugbear of a German out of Pilbury as quickly and as quietly as possible. Good-bye for to-day, Le Breton; no coolness between us, for this, I hope, my dear fellow.'
Ernest grasped his hand warmly. 'You're very kind, Dr. Greatrex,' he said with genuine feeling. 'I see you mean well by me, and I'm very, very sorry if I've unintentionally caused you any embarrassment.'
'Not at all, not at all, my dear fellow. Don't mention it. We'll tide it over somehow, and I'll see whether I can get you anything else to do that you're better fitted for.'
As the door closed on Ernest, the doctor just gently wiped a certain unusual dew off his gold spectacles with a corner of his spotless handkerchief. 'He's a good fellow,' he murmured to himself, 'an excellent fellow; but he doesn't manage to combine with the innocence of the dove the wisdom of the serpent. Poor boy, poor boy, I'm afraid he'll sink, but we must do what we can to keep his chin floating above the water. And now I must go back to the study to have out my explanation with that detestable thick-headed old pig of a Blenkinsopp! "Your views about young Le Breton," I must say to him, "are unfortunately only too well founded; and I have been compelled to dismiss him this very hour from Pilbury Grammar School." Ugh—how humiliating! the profession's really enough to give one a perfect sickening of life altogether!'
THE STREETS OF ASKELON.
Before the end of the quarter, two things occurred which made almost as serious a difference to Ernest's and Edie's lives as the dismissal from Pilbury Regis Grammar School. It was about a week or ten days after Herr Max's unfortunate visit that Ernest awoke one morning with a very curious and unpleasant taste in his mouth, accompanied by a violent fit of coughing. He knew what the taste was well enough; and he mentioned the matter casually to Edie a little later in the morning. Edie was naturally frightened at the symptoms, and made him go to see the school doctor. The doctor felt his pulse attentively, listened with his stethoscope at the chest, punched and pummelled the patient all over in the most orthodox fashion, and asked the usual inquisitorial personal questions about all the other members of his family. When he heard about Ronald's predisposition, he shook his head seriously, and feared there was really something in it. Increased vocal resonance at the top of the left lung, he must admit. Some tendency to tubercular deposit there, and perhaps even a slight deep-seated cavity. Ernest must take care of himself for the present, and keep himself as free as possible from all kind of worry or anxiety.
'Is it consumption, do you think, Dr. Sanders?' Edie asked breathlessly.
'Well, consumption, Mrs. Le Breton, is a very vague and indefinite expression,' said the doctor, tapping his white shirtcuff with his nail in his slowest and most deliberate manner. 'It may mean a great deal, or it may mean very little. I don't want in any way to alarm you, or to alarm your husband; but there's certainly a marked incipient tendency towards tubercular deposit. Yes, tubercular deposit... Well, if you ask me the question point-blank, I should say so... certainly... I should say it was phthisis, very little doubt of it... In short, what some people would call consumption.'
Ernest went home with Edie, comforting her all the way as well as he was able, and trying to make light of it, but feeling in his own heart that the look-out was decidedly beginning to gather blacker and darker than ever before them. Through the rest of that term he worked as well as he could; but Edie noticed every morning that the cough was getting worse and worse; and long before the time came for them to leave Pilbury he had begun to look distinctly delicate. Care for Edie and for the future was telling on him: his frame had never been very robust, and the anxieties of the last year had brought out the same latent hereditary tendency which had shown itself earlier and more markedly in the case of his brother Ronald.
Meanwhile, Dr. Greatrex was assiduous in looking about for something or other that Ernest could turn his hand to, and writing letters with indefatigable kindness to all his colleagues and correspondents: for though he was, as Ernest said, a most unmitigated humbug, that was really his only fault; and when his sympathies were once really aroused, as the Le Bretons had aroused them, there was no stone he would leave unturned if only his energy could be of any service to those whom he wished to benefit. But unfortunately in this case it couldn't. 'I'm at my wit's end what to do with you, Le Breton,' he said kindly one morning to Ernest: 'but how on earth I'm to manage anything, I can't imagine. For my own part, you know, though your conduct about that poor man Schurz (a well-meaning harmless fanatic, I dare say) was really a public scandal—from the point of view of parents I mean, my dear fellow, from the point of view of parents—I should almost be inclined to keep you on here in spite of it, and brave the public opinion of Pilbury Regis, if it depended entirely upon my own judgment. But in the management of a school, my dear boy, as you yourself must be aware, a head master isn't the sole and only authority; there are the governors, for example, Le Breton, and—and—and, ur, there's Mrs. Greatrex. Now, in all matters of social discipline and attitude, Mrs. Greatrex is justly of equal authority with me; and Mrs. Greatrex thinks it would never do to keep you at Pilbury. So, of course, that practically settles the question. I'm awfully sorry, Le Breton, dreadfully sorry, but I don't see my way out of it. The mischief's done already, to some extent, for all Pilbury knows now that Schurz came down here to stop with you at your lodgings: but if I were to keep you on they'd say I didn't disapprove of Schurz's opinions, and that would naturally be simple ruination for the school—simple ruination.'
Ernest thanked him sincerely for the trouble he had taken, but wondered desperately in his own heart what sort of future could ever be in store for them.
The second event was less unexpected, though quite equally embarrassing under existing circumstances. Hardly more than a month before the end of the quarter, a little black-eyed baby daughter came to add to the prospective burdens of the Le Breton family. She was a wee, fat, round-faced, dimpled Devonshire lass to look at, as far surpassing every previous baby in personal appearance as each of those previous babies, by universal admission, had surpassed all their earlier predecessors—a fact which, as Mr. Sanders remarked, ought to be of most gratifying import both to evolutionists and to philanthropists in general, as proving the continuous and progressive amelioration of the human race: and Edie was very proud of her indeed, as she lay placidly in her very plain little white robes on the pillow of her simple wickerwork cradle. But Ernest, though he learned to love the tiny intruder dearly afterwards, had no heart just then to bear the conventional congratulations of his friends and fellow-masters. Another mouth to feed, another life dependent upon him, and little enough, as it seemed, for him to feed it with. When Edie asked him what they should name the baby—he had just received an adverse answer to his application for a vacant secretaryship—he crumpled up the envelope bitterly in his hand, and cried out in his misery, 'Call her Pandora, Edie, call her Pandora; for we've got to the very bottom of the casket, and there is nothing at all left for us now but hope—and even of that very little!'
So they duly registered her name as Pandora; but her mother shortened it familiarly into Dot; and as little Dot she was practically known ever after.
Almost as soon as poor Edie was able to get about again, the time came when they would have to leave Pilbury Regis. The doctor's search had been quite ineffectual, and he had heard of absolutely nothing that was at all likely to suit Ernest Le Breton. He had tried Government offices, Members of Parliament, colonial friends, every body he knew in any way who miyht possibly know of vacant posts or appointments, but each answer was only a fresh disappointment for him and for Ernest. In the end, he was fain to advise his peccant under-master, since nothing else remained for it, that he had better go up to London for the present, take lodgings, and engage in the precarious occupation known as 'looking about for something to turn up.' On the morning when Edie and he were to leave the town, Dr. Greatrex saw Ernest privately in his own study.
'I wish very much I could have gone to the station to see you off, Le Breton,' he said, pressing his hand warmly; 'but it wouldn't do, you know, it wouldn't do, and Mrs. Greatrex wouldn't like it. People would say I sympathised secretly with your political opinions, which might offend Sir Matthew Ogle and others of our governors. But I'm sorry to get rid of you, really and sincerely sorry, my dear fellow; and apart from personal feeling, I'm sure you'd have made a good master in most ways, if it weren't for your most unfortunate socialistic notions. Get rid of them, Le Breton, I beg of you: do get rid of them. Well, the only thing I can advise you now is to try your hand, for the present only—till something turns up, you know—at literature and journalism. I shall be on the look-out for you still, and shall tell you at once of anything I may happen to hear of. But meanwhile, you must try to be earning something. And if at any time, my dear friend, you should be temporarily in want of money,'—the doctor said this in a shame-faced, hesitating sort of way, with not a little humming and hawing—'in want of money for immediate necessities merely, if you'll only be so kind as to write and tell me, I should consider it a pleasure and a privilege to lend you a ten pound note, you know—just for a short time, till you saw your way clear before you. Don't hesitate to ask me now, be sure; and I may as well say, write to me at the school, Le Breton, not at the school-house, so that even Mrs. Greatrex need never know anything about it. In fact, if you'll excuse me, I've put a small sum into this envelope—only twenty pounds—which may be of service to you, as a loan, as a loan merely; if you'll take it—only till something turns up, you know—you'll really be conferring a great favour upon me. There, there, my dear boy; now don't be offended: I've borrowed money myself at times, when I was a young man like you, and I hadn't a wife and family then as an excuse for it either. Put it in your pocket, there's a good fellow; you'll need it for Mrs. Le Breton and the baby, you see; now do please put it in your pocket.'
The tears rode fast and hot in Ernest's eyes, and he grasped the doctor's other hand with grateful fervour. 'Dear Dr. Greatrex,' he said as well as he was able, 'it's too kind of you, too kind of you altogether. But I really can't take the money. Even after the expenses of Edie's illness and of baby Dot's wardrobe, we have a little sum, a very little sum laid by, that'll help us to tide over the immediate present. It's too good of you, too good of you altogether. I shall remember your kindness for ever with the most sincere and heartfelt gratitude.'
As Ernest looked into the doctor's half-averted eyes, swimming and glistening just a little with sympathetic moisture, his heart smote him when he thought that he had ever described that good, kindly, generous man as an unmitigated humbug. 'It shows how little one can trust the mere outside shell of human beings,' he said to Edie, self-reproachfully, as they sat together in their hare third-class carriage an hour later. 'The humbug's just the conventional mask of his profession—necessary enough, I suppose, for people who are really going to live successfully in the world as we find it: the heart within him's a thousand times warmer and truer and more unspoiled than one could ever have imagined from the outer covering. He offered me his twenty pounds so delicately and considerately that but for my father's blood in me, Edie, for your sake, I believe I could almost have taken it.'
When they got to London, Ernest wished to leave Edie and Dot at Arthur Berkeley's rooms (he knew nowhere else to leave them), while he went out by himself to look about for cheap lodgings. Edie was still too weak, he said, to carry her baby about the streets of London in search of apartments. But Edie wouldn't hear of this arrangement; she didn't quite like going to Arthur's, and she felt sure she could bargain with the London landladies a great deal more effectually than a man like Ernest—which was an important matter in the present very reduced condition of the family finances. In the end it was agreed that they should both go out on the hunt together, but that Ernest should be permitted to relieve Edie by turns in taking care of the precious baby.
'They're dreadful people, I believe, London landladies,' said Edie, in her most housewifely manner; 'regular cheats and skinflints, I've always heard, who try to take you in on every conceivable point and item. We must be very careful not to let them get the better of us, Ernest, and to make full inquiries about all extras, and so forth, beforehand.'
They turned towards Holloway and the northern district, to look for cheap rooms, and they saw a great many, more or less dear, and more or less dirty and unsuitable, until their poor hearts really began to sink within them. At last, in despair, Edie turned up a small side street in Holloway, and stopped at a tiny house with a clean white curtain in its wee front bay window. 'This is awfully small, Ernest,' she said, despondently, 'but perhaps, after all, it might really suit us.'
The door was opened for them by a tall, raw-boned, hard-faced woman, the very embodiment and personification of Edie's ideal skinflint London landlady. Might they see the lodgings, Edie asked dubiously. Yes, they might, indeed, mum, answered the hard-faced woman. Edie glanced at Ernest significantly, as who should say that these would really never do.
The lodgings were very small, but they were as clean as a new pin. Edie began to relent, and thought, perhaps in spite of the landlady, they might somehow manage to put up with them. 'What was the rent?'
The hard-faced landlady looked at Edie steadily, and then answered 'Fifteen shillings, mum.'
'Oh, that's too much for us, I'm afraid,' said Edie ruefully. 'We don't want to go as high as that. We're very poor and quiet people.'
'Well, mum,' the landlady assented quickly, 'it is 'igh for the rooms, perhaps, mum, though I've 'ad more; but it IS 'igh, mum. I won't deny it. Still, for you, mum, and the baby, I wouldn't mind making it twelve and sixpence.'
'Couldn't you say half-a-sovereign?' Edie asked timidly, emboldened by success.
'Arf a suvveran, mum? Well, I 'ardly rightly know,' said the hard-faced landlady deliberately. 'I can't say without askin' of my 'usband whether he'll let me. Excuse me a minnit, mum; I'll just run down and ask 'im.'
Edie glanced at Ernest, and whispered doubtfully, 'They'll do, but I'm afraid she's a dreadful person.'
Meanwhile, the hard-faced landlady had run downstairs quickly, and called out in a pleasant voice of childish excitement to her husband. 'John, John,' she cried—'drat that man, where's he gone to. Oh, a smokin' of course, in the back kitching. Oh, John, there's the sweetest little lady you ever set eyes on, all in black, with a dear baby, a dear little speechless infant, and a invalid 'usband, I should say by the look of 'im, 'as come to ask the price of the ground floor lodgin's. And seein' she was so nice and kindlike, I told her fifteen shillings, instead of a suvveran; and she says, can't you let 'em for less? says she; and she was that pretty and engagin' that I says, well, for you I'll make it twelve and sixpence, mum, says I: and says she, you couldn't say 'arf a suvveran, could you? and says I, I'll ask my 'usband: and oh, John, I DO wish you'd let me take 'em at that, for a kinder, sweeter-lookin' dearer family I never did, an' that I tell you.'
John drew his pipe slowly out of his mouth—he was a big, heavy, coachman-built sort of person, in waistcoat and shirt-sleeves—and answered with a kindly smile, 'Why, Martha, if you want to take 'em for 'arf a suvveran, in course you'd ought to do it. Got a baby, pore thing, 'ave she now? Well, there, there, you just go this very minnit, and tell 'em as you'll take 'em.'
The hard-faced landlady went up the stairs again, only stopping a moment to observe parenthetically that a sweeter little lady she never did, and what was 'arf-a-crown a week to you and me, John? and then, holding the corner of her apron in her hand, she informed Edie that her 'usband was prepared to accept the ten shillings weekly.
'I'll try to make you and the gentleman comfortable, mum,' she said, eagerly; 'the gentleman don't look strong, now do he? We must try to feed 'im up and keep 'im cheerful. And we've got plenty of flowers to make the room bright, you see: I'm very fond of flowers myself, mum: seems to me as if they was sort of company to one, like, and when you water 'em and tend 'em always, I feel as if they was alive, and got to know one again, I do, and that makes one love 'em, now don't it, mum? To see 'em brighten up after you've watered 'em, like that there maiden-'air fern there, why it's enough to make one love 'em the same as if they was Christians, mum.' There was a melting tenderness in her voice when she talked about the flowers that half won over Edie's heart, even in spite of her hard features.
'I'm glad you're so fond of flowers, Mrs.——. Oh, you haven't told us your name yet,' Edie said, beginning vaguely to suspect that perhaps the hard-faced landlady wasn't quite as bad as she looked to a casual observer.
'Alliss, mum,' the landlady answered, filling up Edie's interrogatory blank. 'My name is 'Alliss.'
'Alice what?' Edie asked again.
'Oh, no, mum, you don't rightly understand me,' the landlady replied, getting very red, and muddling up her aspirates more decidedly than ever, as people with her failing always do when they want to be specially deliberate and emphatic: 'not Halice, but 'Alliss; haitch, hay, hell, hell, hi, double hess—'Alliss: my full name's Martha 'Alliss, mum; my 'usband's John 'Alliss. When would you like to come in?'
'At once,' Edie answered. 'We've left our luggage at the cloak-room at Waterloo, and my husband will go back and fetch it, while I stop here with the baby.'
'Not that, he shan't, indeed, mum,' cried the hard-faced landlady, hastily; 'beggin' your pardon for sayin' so. Our John shall go—that's my 'usband, mum; and you shall give 'im the ticket. I wouldn't let your good gentleman there go, and 'im so tired, too, not for the world, I wouldn't. Just you give me the ticket, mum, and John shall go this very minnit and fetch it.'
'But perhaps your husband's busy,' said Ernest, reflecting upon the probable cost of cab hire; 'and he'll want a cab to fetch it in.'
'Bless your 'eart, sir,' said the landlady, busily arranging things all round the room meanwhile for the better accommodation of the baby, ''e ain't noways busy 'e ain't. 'E's a lazy man, nowadays, John is: retired from business, 'e says, sir, and ain't got nothink to do but clean the knives, and lay the fires, and split the firewood, and such like. John were a coachman, sir, in a gentleman's family for most of 'is life, man and boy, these forty year, come Christmas; and we've saved a bit o' money between us, so as we don't need for nothink: and 'e don't want the cab, puttin' you to expense, sir, onnecessary, to bring the luggage round in. 'E'll just borrer the hand-barrer from the livery in the mews, sir, and wheel it round 'isself, in 'arf an hour, and make nothink of it. Just you give me the ticket, and set you right down there, and I'll make you and the lady a cup of tea at once, and John'll bring round the luggage by the time you've got your things off.'
Ernest looked at Edie, and Edie looked at Ernest. Could they have judged too hastily once more, after their determination to be lenient in first judgments for the future? So Ernest gave Mrs. Halliss the cloak-room ticket, and Mrs. Halliss ran downstairs with it immediately. 'John,' the cried again, '—drat that man, where's 'e gone to? Oh, there you are, dearie! Just you put on your coat an' 'at as fast as ever you can, and borrer Tom Wood's barrer, and run down to Waterloo, and fetch up them two portmanteaus, will you? And you drop in on the way at the Waterfield. dairy—not Jenkins's: Jenkins's milk ain't good enough for them—and tell 'em to send round two penn'orth of fresh this very minnit, do y'ear, John, this very minnit, as it's extremely pertickler. And a good thing I didn't give you them two eggs for your dinner, as is fresh-laid by our own 'ens this mornin', and no others like 'em to be 'ad in London for love or money; and they shall 'ave 'em boiled light for their tea this very evenin'. And you look sharp, John,—drat the man, 'ow long 'e is—for I tell yon, these is reel gentlefolk, and them pore too, which makes it all the 'arder; and they've got to be treated the same in every respect as if they was paying a 'ole suvverin, bless their 'earts, the pore creechurs.'
'Pore,' said John, vainly endeavouring to tear on his coat with becoming rapidity under the influence of Mrs. Halliss's voluble exhortations. 'Pore are they, pore things? and so they may be. I've knowed the sons of country gentlemen, and that baronights too, Martha, as 'ad kep' their 'ounds, redooced to be that pore as they couldn't have afforded to a took our lodgings, even 'umble as they may be. Pore ain't nothink to do with it noways, as respecks gentility. I've lived forty years in gentlemen's families, up an' down, Martha, and I think I'd ought to know somethink about the 'abits and manners of the aristocracy. Pore ain't in the question at all, it ain't, as far as breedin' goes: and if they're pore, and got to be gentlefolks too all the same'—John spoke of this last serious disability in a tone of unfeigned pity—'why, Martha, wot I says is, we'd ought to do the very best we can for 'em any 'ow, now, oughtn't we?'
'Drat the man!' cried Mrs. Halliss again, impatiently; 'don't stand talkin' and sermonin' about it there no longer like a poll parrot, but just you run along and send in the milk, like a dear, will you? or that dear little lady'll have to be waitin' for her tea—and her with a month-old baby, too, the pretty thing, just to think of it!'
And indeed, long before John Halliss had got back again with the two wee portmanteaus—'I could 'a carried that lot on my 'ead,' he soliloquised when he saw them, 'without 'avin' troubled to wheel round a onnecessary encumbrance in the way of a barrer'—Mrs. Halliss had put the room tidy, and laid the baby carefully in a borrowed cradle in the corner, and brought up Edie and Ernest a big square tray covered by a snow-white napkin—'My own washin', mum'—and conveying a good cup of tea, a couple of crisp rolls, and two such delicious milky eggs as were never before known in the whole previous history of the county of Middlesex. And while they drank their tea, Mrs. Halliss insisted upon taking the baby down into the kitchen, so that they mightn't be bothered, pore things; for the pore lady must be tired with nursin' of it herself the livelong day, that she must: and when she got it into the kitchen, she was compelled to call over the back yard wall to Mrs. Bollond, the greengrocer's wife next door, with the ultimate view to getting a hare's brain for the dear baby to suck at through a handkerchief. And Mrs. Bollond, being specially so invited, came in by the area door, and inspected the dear baby; and both together arrived at the unanimous conclusion that little Dot was the very prettiest and sweetest child that ever sucked its fat little fingers, Lord bless her!
And in the neat wee parlour upstairs, Edie, pouring out tea from the glittering tin teapot into one of the scrupulously clean small whitey-gold teacups, was saying meanwhile to Ernest, 'Well, after all, Ernest dear, perhaps London landladies aren't all quite as black as they're usually painted.' A conclusion which neither Edie nor Ernest had ever after any occasion for altering in any way.
THE CLOUDS BEGIN TO BREAK.
And now, what were Ernest and Edie to do for a living! That was the practical difficulty that stared them at last plainly in the face—no mere abstract question of right and justice, of socialistic ideals or of political economy, but the stern, uncompromising, pressing domestic question of daily bread. They had come from Pilbury Regis with a very small reserve indeed in their poor lean little purses; and though Mrs. Halliss's lodgings might be cheap enough as London lodgings go, their means wouldn't allow them to stop there for many weeks together unless that hypothetical something of which they were in search should happen to turn up with most extraordinary and unprecedented rapidity. As soon as they were settled in at their tiny rooms, therefore, Ernest began a series of weary journeys into town, in search of work of some sort or another; and he hunted up all his old Oxford acquaintances in the Temple or elsewhere, to see if they could give him any suggestions towards a possible means of earning a livelihood. Most of them, he found to his surprise, though they had been great chums of his at college, seemed a little shy of him nowadays: one old Oxford friend, in particular, an impeccable man in close-cut frock coat and hat of shiny perfection, he overheard saying to another, he followed him accidentally up a long staircase in King's Bench Walk, 'Ah, yes, I met Le Breton in the Strand yesterday, when I was walking with a Q.C., too; he's married badly, got no employment, and looks awfully seedy. So very embarrassing, you know, now wasn't it?' And the other answered lightly, in the same unconcerned tone, 'Oh, of course, dreadfully embarrassing, really.' Ernest slank down the staircase again with a sinking heart, and tried to get no further hints from the respectabilities of King's Bench Walk, at least in this his utmost extremity.
Night after night, as the dusk was beginning to throw its pall over the great lonely desert of London—one vast frigid expanse of living souls that knew and cared nothing about him—Ernest turned back, foot-sore and heart-sick, to the cheery little lodgings in the short side-street at Holloway. There good Mrs. Halliss, whose hard face seemed to grow softer the longer you looked at it, had a warm clip of tea always ready against his coming: and Edie, with wee Dot sleeping placidly on her arm, stood at the door to welcome him back again in wife-like fashion. The flowers in the window bloomed bright and gay in the tiny parlour: and Edie, with her motherly cares for little Dot, seemed more like herself than ever she had done before since poor Harry's death had clouded the morning of her happy lifetime. But to Ernest, even that pretty picture of the young mother and her sleeping baby looked only like one more reminder of the terrible burden he had unavoidably yet too lightly taken upon him. Those two dear lives depended wholly upon him for their daily bread, and where that daily bread was ever to come from he had absolutely not the slightest notion.
There is no place in which it is more utterly dreary to be quite friendless than in teeming London. Still, they were not absolutely friendless even in that great lurid throng of jarring humanity, all eagerly intent on its own business, and none of it troubling its collective head about two such nonentities as Ernest and Edie. Ronald used to come round daily to see them and cheer them up with his quiet confidence in the Disposer of all things: and Arthur Berkeley, neglecting his West End invitations and his lady admirers, used to drop in often of an evening for a friendly chat and a rational suggestion or two.
'Why don't you try journalism, Le Breton?' he said to Ernest one night, as they sat discussing possibilities for the future in the little parlour together. 'Literature in some form or other's clearly the best thing for a man like you to turn his hand to. It demands less compliance with conventional rules than any other profession. No editor or publisher would ever dream of dismissing you, for example, because you invited your firebrand friend Max Schurz to dinner. On the contrary, if it comes to that, he'd ask you what Herr Max thought about the future of trades unions and the socialist movement in Germany, and he'd advise you to turn it into a column and a half of copy, with a large type sensational heading, "A Communistic Leader Interviewed. From our Special Correspondent."'
'But it's such a very useless, unsocialistic trade,' Ernest answered doubtfully. 'Do you think it would be quite right, Arthur, for a man to try and earn money by it? Of course it isn't much worse than school-mastering, I dare say; nobody can say he's performing a very useful function for the world by hammering a few lines of Ovid into the skull of poor stupid Blenkinsopp major, who after all will only use what he calls his education, if he uses it in any way at all, to enable him to make rather more money than any other tobacco-pipe manufacturer in the entire trade. Still, one does feel for all that, that mere writing of books and papers is a very unsatisfactory kind of work for an ethical being to perform for humanity. How much better, now, if one could only be a farm-labourer or a shoemaker!'
Arthur Berkeley looked across at him half angrily. 'My dear Ernest,' he said, in a severer voice than he often used, 'the time has gone by now for this economical puritanism of yours. It won't do any longer. You have to think of your child and of Mrs. Le Breton. Your first duty is to earn a livelihood for them and yourself; when you've done that satisfactorily, you may begin to think of the claims of humanity. Don't be vexed with me, my dear fellow, if I speak to you very plainly. You've lost your place at Pilbury because you wouldn't be practical. You might have known they wouldn't let you go hobnobbing publicly before the very eyes of boys and parents with a firebrand German Socialist. Mind, I don't say anything against Herr Schurz myself—what little I know about him is all in his favour—that he's a thorn in the side of those odious prigs, the political economists. I've often noticed that when a man wants to dogmatise to his heart's content without fear of contradiction, he invariably calls himself a political economist. Then if people differ from him, he smiles at them the benign smile of superior wisdom, and says superciliously, "Ah, I see you don't understand political economy!" Now, your Herr Schurz is a dissenter among economists, I believe—a sort of embryo Luther come to tilt with a German toy lance against their economical infallibilities; and I'm told he knows more about the subject than all the rest of them put together. Of course, if you like him and respect him—and I know you have one superstition left, my dear fellow—there's no reason on earth why you shouldn't do so; but you mustn't parade him too openly before the scandalised faces of respectable Pilbury. In future, you must be practical. Turn your hand to whatever you can get to do, and leave humanity at large to settle the debtor and creditor account with you hereafter.'
'I'll do my best, Berkeley,' Ernest answered submissively; 'and if you like, I'll strangle my conscience and try my hand at journalism.'
'Do, there's a good man,' Arthur Berkeley said, delighted at his late conversion. 'I know two or three editor fellows pretty well, and if you'll only turn off something, I'll ask them to have a look at it.'
Next morning, at breakfast, Ernest discussed the possibilities of this new venture very seriously with sympathising Edie. 'It's a great risk,' he said, turning it over dubiously in his mind; 'a great risk, and a great expense too, for nothing certain. Let me see, there'll be a quire of white foolscap to start with; that'll be a shilling—a lot of money as things go at present, Edie, isn't it?'
'Why not begin with half a quire, Ernest?' said his little wife, cautiously. 'That'd be only sixpence, you see.'
'Do they halve quires at the stationer's, I wonder?' Ernest went on still mentally reckoning. 'Well, suppose we put it at sixpence. Then we've got pens already by us, but not any ink—that's a penny—and there's postage, say about twopence; total ninepence. That's a lot of money, isn't it, now, for a pure uncertainty?'
'I'd try it, Ernest dear, if I were you,' Edie answered. 'We must do something, mustn't we, dear, to earn our living.'
'We must,' Ernest said, sighing. 'I wish it were anything but that; but I suppose what must be must be. Well, I'll go out a walk by myself in the quietest streets I can find, and try if I can think of anything on earth a man can write about. Arthur Berkeley says I ought to begin with a social article for a paper; he knows the "Morning Intelligence" people, and he'll try to get them to take something if I can manage to write it. I wonder what on earth would do as a social article for the "Morning Intelligence"! If only they'd let me write about socialism now! but Arthur says they won't take that; the times aren't yet ripe for it. I wish they were, Edie, I wish they were; and then perhaps you and I would find some way to earn ourselves a decent living.'
So Ernest went out, and ruminated quietly by himself, as well as he was able, in the least frequented streets of Holloway and Highgate. After about half an hour's excogitation, a brilliant idea at last flashed across him; he had found in a tobacconist's window something to write about! Your practised journalist doesn't need to think at all; he writes whatever comes uppermost without the unnecessarily troublesome preliminary of deliberate thinking. But Ernest Le Breton was only making his first experiment in the queer craft, and he looked upon himself as a veritable Watt or Columbus when he had actually discovered that hitherto unknown object, a thing to write about. He went straight back to good Mrs. Halliss's with his discovery whirling in his head, stopping only by the way at the stationer's, to invest in half a quire of white foolscap. 'The best's a shilling a quire, mister,' said the shopman; 'second best, tenpence.' Communist as he was, Ernest couldn't help noticing the unusual mode of address; but he took the cheaper quality quietly, and congratulated himself on his good luck in saving a penny upon the original estimate.
When he got home, he sat down at the plain wooden table by the window, and began with nervous haste to write away rapidly at his first literary venture. Edie sat by in her little low chair and watched him closely with breathless interest. Would it be a success or a failure? That was the question they were both every moment intently asking themselves. It was not a very important piece of literary workmanship, to be sure; only a social leader for a newspaper, to be carelessly skimmed to-day and used to light the fire to-morrow, if even that; and yet had it been the greatest masterpiece ever produced by the human intellect Ernest could not have worked at it with more conscientious care, or Edie watched him with profounder admiration. When Shakespeare sat down to write 'Hamlet,' it may be confidently asserted that neither Mistress Anne Shakespeare nor anybody else awaited the result of his literary labours with such unbounded and feverish anxiety. By the time Ernest had finished his second sheet of white foolscap—much erased and interlined with interminable additions and corrections—Edie ventured for a moment briefly to interrupt his creative efforts. 'Don't you think you've written as much as makes an ordinary leader now, Ernest?' she asked, apologetically. 'I'm afraid you're making it a good deal longer than it ought to be by rights.'