Somehow Good
by William de Morgan
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

It is perhaps hardly necessary for us to dwell on the unsuccessful attempts that were made to recover touch with other actors on the stage of Fenwick's vanished past. Advertisement—variously worded—in the second column of the "Times," three times a week for a month, produced no effect. Miss Sally frequently referred with satisfaction to the case of John Williams, reported among the Psychical Researches of the past years, in which a man who vanished in England was found years after carrying on a goods-store in Chicago under another name, with a new wife and family, having utterly forgotten the first half of his life and all his belongings. Her mother seemed only languidly interested in this illustration, and left the active discussion of the subject chiefly to Sally, who speculated endlessly on the whole of the story; without, however, throwing any fresh light on it—unless indeed, the Chicago man could be considered one. And the question naturally arose, as long as his case continued to hold out hopes of a sudden return of memory, and until we were certain his condition was chronic, why go to expense and court publicity? By the time he was safely installed in his situation at the wine-merchant's, the idea of a police-inquiry, application to the magistrates, and so forth, had become distasteful to all concerned, and to none more so than Fenwick himself.

When Dr. Vereker, acting on his own account, and unknown to Mrs. Nightingale and Fenwick, made confidential reference to Scotland Yard, that Yard smiled cynically over the Chicago storekeeper, and expressed the opinion that probably Fenwick's game was a similar game, and that things of this sort were usually some game. The doctor observed that he knew without being told that nine such cases out of ten had human rascality at the bottom of them, but that he had consulted that Yard in the belief that this might be a tenth case. The Yard said very proper, and it would do its best, and no doubt did, but nothing was elucidated.

It is just possible that had Mr. Fenwick communicated every clue he found, down to the smallest trifle, Dr. Vereker might have been able to get at something through the Criminal Investigation Department. But it wasn't fair to Sherlock Holmes to keep anything back. Fenwick, knowing nothing of Vereker's inquiry, did so; for he had decided to say nothing about a certain pawn-ticket that was in the pocket of an otherwise empty purse or pocket-book, evidently just bought. He would, however, investigate it himself, and did so.

It was quite three weeks, though, before he felt safe to go about alone to any place distant from the house, more especially when he did not know what the expedition would lead to. When at last he got to the pawnbroker's, he found that that gentleman at the counter did not recognise him, or said he did not. Fenwick, of course, could not ask the question: "Did I pawn this watch?" It would have seemed lunacy. But he framed a question that answered as well, to his thinking.

"Would you very kindly tell me," he asked, dropping his voice, "whether the person that pawned this watch was at all like me—like a brother of mine, for instance?" Perhaps he was not a good hand at pretences, and the pawnbroker outclassed him easily.

"No, sir," replied he, without looking to see; "that I most certainly can not tell you." Fenwick was not convinced that this was true, but had to admit to himself that it might be. This man's life was one long record of an infinity of short loans, and its problem was the advancing of the smallest conceivable sums on the largest obtainable security. Why should he recollect one drop in the ocean of needy applicants? The only answer Fenwick could give to this was based on his belief that he looked quite unlike the other customers. More knowledge would have shown him that there was not one of those customers, scarcely, but had a like belief. It is the common form of human thought among those who seek to have pawns broked. They are a class made up entirely of exceptions.

Fenwick came away from the shop with the watch that must have been his. That was how he thought of it. As soon as he wore it again, it became his watch, naturally. But he could remember nothing about it. And its recovery from the pawnbroker's he could not remember leaving it at became an absurd dream. Perhaps in Sherlock Holmes's hands it would have provided a valuable clue. Fenwick said nothing further about it; put it in a drawer until all inquiries about him had died into the past.

Another little thing that might have helped was the cabman's number written on his wristband. But here Fate threw investigation off her guard. The ciphers were, as it chanced, 3,600; and an unfortunate shrewdness of Scotland Yard, when Dr. Vereker communicated this clue, spotted the date in it—the third day of the sixth month of 1900. So no one dreamed of the cabby, who could at least have shown where the hat was lost that might have had a name or address inside it, and where he left its owner in the end. And there was absolutely no clue to anything elsewhere among his clothes. The Panama hat might have been bought anywhere; the suit of blue serge was ticketless inside the collar, and the shirt unmarked—probably bought for the voyage only. Fenwick had succeeded in forgetting himself just at a moment when he was absolutely without a reminder. And it seemed there was nothing for it but to wait for the revival of memory.

This, then, is how it came about that, within three months of his extraordinary accident, Mr. Fenwick was comfortably settled in an apartment within a few minutes' walk of Krakatoa Villa; and all the incidents of his original appearance were getting merged in the insoluble, and would soon, no doubt, under the influence of a steady ever-present new routine of life, be completely absorbed in the actual past.



When one is called away in the middle of a street-fight, and misses seeing the end of it, how embittered one's existence is, and continues for some time after! Think what our friend the cabman would have felt had he missed the denouement! And when one finds oneself again on its site—if that is the correct expression—how one wishes one was not ashamed to inquire about its result from the permanent officials on the spot—the waterman attached to the cab-rank, the crossing-sweeper at the corner, the neolithographic artist who didn't really draw that half-mackerel himself, but is there all day long, for all that; or even the apothecary's shop over the way, on the chance that the casualties went or were taken there for treatment after the battle. One never does ask, because one is so proud; but if one did ask, one would probably find that oblivion had drawn a veil over the event, and that none of one's catechumens had heard speak of any such an occurrence, and that it must have been another street. Because, if it had 'a been there, they would have seen to a certainty. And the monotonous traffic rolls on, on, on; and the two counter-streams of creatures, each with a story, divide and subdivide over the spot where the underneath man's head sounded on the kerbstone, which took no notice at the time, and now seems to know less than ever about it.

Are we, in thus moralising, merely taking the mean advantage the author is apt to imagine he has established over his reader when he ends off a chapter with a snap, and hopes the said reader will not dare to skip? No, we are not. We really mean something, and shall get to it in time. Let us only be clear what it is ourselves.

It refers, at any rate, to the way in which the contents of Chapters I. and II. had become records of the past six months later, when the snow was on the ground four inches thick on Christmas morning—two inches, at least, having been last night's contribution—and made it all sweet and smooth all over so that there need be no unpleasantness. As Sally looked out of her mother's bedroom window towards the front through the Venetian blind, she saw the footprints of cats alone on the snow in the road, and of the milk alone along the pavement. For the milk had preferred to come by hand, rather than plough its tricycle through the unknown depths and drifts of Glenmoira Road, W., to which it had found its way over tracks already palliated by the courage of the early 'bus—not plying for hire at that hour, but only seeking its equivalent of the carceres of the Roman Coliseum, to inaugurate the carriage of twelve inside and fourteen out to many kinds of Divine Service early in the day, and one kind only of dinner-service late—the one folk eat too much pudding and mince-pie at, and have to take a dose after. During this early introductory movement of the 'bus its conductor sits inside like a lord, and classifies documents. But he has nothing to do with our story. Let us thank him for facilitating the milk, and dismiss him.

"My gracious goodness me!" said Sally, when she saw the snow. She did not say it quite from the bottom of her heart, and as her own form of expression; but in inverted commas, as it were, the primary responsibility being cook's or Jane's. "You mustn't think of getting up, mother."

"Oh, nonsense! I shall get up the minute the hot water comes."

"You won't do any good by getting up. You had much better lie in bed. I shouldn't get up, if I was you," etc., etc.

"Oh, stuff! My rheumatism's better. Do you know, I really think the ring has done it good. Dr. Vereker may laugh as much as he likes——"

"Well, the proof of the pudding's in the eating. But wait till you see how thick the snow is. Come—in!" This is very staccato. Jane was knocking at the door with cans of really hot water this time. "I said come in before. Merry Christmas and happy New Year, Jane!... Oh, I say! What a dear little robin! He's such a little duck, I hope that cat won't get him!" And Sally, who is huddled up in a thick dressing-gown and is shivering, is so excited that she goes on looking through the blind, and the peep-hole she has had to make to see clear through the frosted pane, in spite of the deadly cold on the finger-tip she rubbed it with. Her mother felt interested, too, in the fate of the robin, but not to the extent of impairing her last two minutes in bed by admitting the slightest breath of cold air inside a well-considered fortress. She was really going to get up, though, that was flat! The fire would blaze directly, although at this moment it was blowing wood-smoke down Jane's throat, and making her choke.

Directly was five or six minutes, but the fire did blaze up royally in the end. You see, it wasn't a slow-combustion-grate, and it burned too much fuel, and flared away the coal, and did all sorts of comfortable, uneconomical things. So did Jane, who had put in a whole bundle of wood.

But now that the wood was past praying for, and Jane had departed, after thawing the hearts of two sponges, it was just as well to take advantage of the blaze while it lasted. And Mrs. Nightingale and her daughter, in the thickest available dressing-gowns, and pretending they were not taking baths only because the bath-room was thrown out of gear by the frost, took advantage of the said blaze to their heart's content and harked back—a good way back—on the conversation.

"You never said 'Come in,' chick."

"I did, mother! Well, if I didn't, at any rate, I always tell her not to knock. She is the stupidest girl. She will knock!" Her mother doesn't press the point. There is no bad blood anywhere. Did not Sally wish the handmaiden a merry Christmas?

"The cat didn't get the robin, Sally?"

"Not he! The robin was too sharp by half. Such a little darling! But I was sorry for the cat."

"Poor pussy! Not our pussy, was it?"

"Oh no; it was that piebald Tom that lives in at the empty house next door."

"I know. Horrible beast!"

"Well, but just think of being out in the cold in this weather, with nothing to eat! Oo—oo—oogh!" Sally illustrates, with an intentional shudder. "I wonder who that is!"

"I didn't hear any one."

"You'll see, he'll ring directly. I know who it is; it's Mr. Fenwick come to say he can't come to-night. I heard the click of his skates. They've a sort of twinkly click, skates have, when they're swung by a strap. He'll go out and skate all day. He'll go to Wimbledon."

The girl's hearing was quite correct. A ring came at the bell—Krakatoa had no knocker—and a short colloquy followed between Jane and the ringer. Then he departed, with his twinkly click and noiseless footstep on the snow, slamming the front gate. Jane was able to include a card he had left in a recrudescence or reinforcement of hot water. Sally takes the card and looks at it, and her mother says, "Well, Sally?" with a slight remonstrance against the unfairness of keeping back information after you have satisfied your own curiosity—a thing people are odious about, as we all know.

"He's coming all right," says Sally, looking at both sides of the card, and passing it on when she has quite done with it. Sally, we may mention, as it occurs to us at this moment,—though why we have no idea,—means to have a double chin when she is five years older than her mother is now. At present it—the chin—is merely so much youthful roundness and softness, very white underneath. Her mother is quite of a different type. Her daughter's father must have had black hair, for Sally can make huge shining coils, or close plaits, very wide, out of her inheritance. Or it will assume the form of a bush, if indulged, till Sally is almost hidden under it, as the Bosjesman under his version of Birnam Wood, that he shoots his assegai from. But the mother's is brown, with a tinge of chestnut; going well with her eyes, which have a claret tone, or what is so called; but we believe people really mean pale old port when they say so. She has had—still has, we might say—a remarkably fine figure, and we don't feel the same faith in Miss Sally's. That young lassie will get described as plump some day, if she doesn't take care.

But really it is a breach of confidence to get behind the scenes and describe two ladies in this way, when they are so very much in deshabille—have not even washed! We will look at them again when they have got their things on. However, they may go on talking now. The blaze has lost its splendour, and dressing cannot be indefinitely delayed. But they can and do talk from room to room, confident that cook and Jane are in the basement out of hearing.

"We shall do nicely, kitten! Six at table. I'm glad Mr. Fenwick can come. Aren't you?"

"Rather! Fancy having Dr. and Mrs. Vereker and the dear old fossil and nobody to help out!"

"My dear! You say 'Dr. and Mrs. Vereker' as if he was a married man!"

"Well—him and his mammy, then! He's good—but he's professional. Oh dear—his professional manner! You have to be forming square to receive cavalry every five minutes to prevent his writing you a prescription."

"Ungrateful little monkey! You know the last he wrote you did you no end of good."

"Yes, but I didn't ask him for it. He wrote it by force. I hate being hectored over and bullied. I say, mother!"

"What, kitten?"

"I hope, as Mr. Fenwick's coming, you'll wear your wedding-ring."

"Wear what?"

"Wear your wedding-ring. His ring, you know! You know what I mean—the rheumatic one."

"Of course I know perfectly well what you mean," says her mother, with a shade of impatience in her voice. "But why?"

"Why? Because it gives him pleasure always to see it on your finger—he fancies it's doing good to the neuritis."

"Perhaps it is."

"Very well, then; why not wear it?"

"Because it's so big, and comes off in the soup, and is a nuisance. And, then, he didn't give it to me, either. He was to have had a shilling for it."

"But he never did have it. And it wasn't a shilling. It was sixpence. And he says it's the only little return he's ever been able to make for what he calls our kindness."

"I couldn't shovel him out into the street."

"Put his wedding-ring on, mammy, to oblige me!"

"Very well, chick—I don't mind." And so that point is settled. But something makes the daughter repeat, as she comes into her mother's room dry-towelling herself, "You're sure you don't mind, mammy?" to which the reply is, "No, no! Why should I mind? It's all quite right," with a forced decision, equivalent to wavering, about it. Sally looks at her a moment in a pause of dry-towelling, and goes back to her room not quite convinced. Persons of the same blood, living constantly together, are sometimes quite embarrassed by their own brain-waves, and very often misled.

Exigencies of teeth and hair cut the talk short about Mr. Fenwick. But he gets renewed at breakfast, and, in fact, goes on more or less until brought up short by the early service at St. Satisfax, when he is extinguished by a preliminary hymn. But not before his whole story, so far as is known, has been passed in review. So that an attentive listener might have gathered from their disjointed chat most of the particulars of his strange appearance on the scene, and of the incidents of the next few weeks, and their result in the foundation of what seemed likely to be a permanent friendship between himself and Krakatoa Villa, and what certainly was (all things considered) that most lucrative and lucky post in a good wine-merchant's house in the City. For Mr. Fenwick had nothing to recommend him but his address and capacity, brought into notice by an accidental concurrence of circumstances.

It had been difficult to talk much about him to himself without seeming to wish to probe into his past life; and as Mrs. Nightingale impressed on Sally for the twentieth time, just as they arrived at St. Satisfax, they really knew nothing of it. How could they even know that this oblivion was altogether genuine? It might easily have been so at first, but who could say how much of his past had come back to him during the last six months? An unwelcome past, perhaps, and one he was glad to help Oblivion in extinguishing.

As this was on the semi-circular path in front of the Saint's shrine, between two ramparts of swept-up snow, and on a corrective of cinder-grit, Sally ascribed this speculation to a disposition on her mother's part to preach, she having come, as it were, within the scope and atmosphere of a pending decalogue. Also, she thought the ostentatious way in which Mr. Fenwick had gone away to skate had something to do with it.

But she was at all times conscious of a certain access of severity in her mother as she approached altars—rather beyond the common attitude of mind one ascribes to the bearer of a prayer-book when one doesn't mean to go to church oneself. (We are indebted for this piece of information to an intermittent church-goer; it is on a subject on which our own impressions have little value.) In the present case Sally was going to church, so she had to account to herself for a nuance in her mother's manner—after dwelling on the needlessness and inadvisability of pressing Mr. Fenwick as to his recollections—by ascribing it to the consciousness of some secularism elsewhere; and he was the nearest case of ungodliness to hand.

"I wonder whether he believes anything at all!" said Sally, assuming the consecutiveness of her remark.

"I don't see why he shouldn't.... Why should he disbelieve more than...? All I mean is, I don't know." The speaker ended abruptly; but then that may have been because they were at the church door. Possibly as a protest against having carried chat almost into the precinct, Mrs. Nightingale's preliminary burial of her face in her hands lasted a long time—in fact, Sally almost thought she had gone to sleep, and told her so afterwards. "Perhaps, though," she added, "it was me came up from under the bedclothes too soon." Then she thought her levity displeased her mother, and kissed her. But it wasn't that. She was thoughtful over something else.

This time, in the church, it may be Sally noticed her mother's abstraction (or was it, perhaps, devotional tension?) less than she had done when her attention had been caught once or twice lately by a similar strained look. For Miss Sally had her eyes on a little gratifying incident of her own—a trifle that would already have appeared as an incident in her diary, had she kept one, somewhat thus:—"Saw that young idiot from Cattley's Stores again in church to-day, in a new scarlet necktie. I wonder whether it's me, or Miss Peplow that gollops, or the large Miss Baker." Which would have shown that she was not always a nun breathless with adoration during religious exercises. The fact is, Sally would have made a very poor St. Teresa indeed.

The young idiot was the same young man who had brought the difficult French idiom to Krakatoa, while Mr. Fenwick was still without an anchorage of his own. Martha the cook, who admitted him, not feeling equal to the negotiation, had merely said—would he mind steppin' in the parlour, and she would send Miss Sally up? and had departed bearing Mrs. Nightingale's credential-card in a hand as free from grease as an apron so deeply committed could make it, and brought Miss Nightingale in from the garden, where she was gardening—possibly effectually, but what do we know? When you are gardening on a summer afternoon, you may look very fetching, if you are nineteen, and the right sex for the adjective. Miss Sally did, being both, and for our own part we think it was inconsiderate and thoughtless of cook. Sally was sprung upon that young man like a torpedo on a ship with no guards out, saying with fascinating geniality through a smile (as one interests oneself in a civility that means nothing) that Mr. Fenwick had just gone out, and she didn't know when he would be back. But why not ask Mrs. Prince at the school, opposite St. Satisfax, where we went to church; she was French, and would be sure to know what it meant. She wouldn't mind! "Say I sent you." And the youth, whom the torpedo had struck amidships, was just departing, conscious of reluctance, when Mr. Fenwick appeared, having come back for his umbrella.

Sally played quite fair. She didn't hang about as she might have done, to rub her pearly teeth and merry eyebrows into her victim. She went back and gardened honourably, while Mr. Fenwick solved the riddle and supplied the letter. But for all that, the young man appeared next Sunday at St. Satisfax's, with an extremely new prayer-book that looked as if his religious convictions were recent, and never took his eyes off Sally all through the service—that is, if he did as she supposed, and peeped all the while that his head ought to have been, as she metaphorically expressed it, "under the clothes."

Now, this was naturally a little unaccountable to Sally, after such a very short interview; and on the part, too, of a young gentleman who passed all the working hours of the day among working houris, as it were soaked and saturated in their fascinations, and not at liberty to squeeze their hands or ask them for one little lock of hair all through shop-time. Sally did not realise the force of sameness, nor the amount of contempt familiarity will breed. Perhaps the houris got tired and snappish, poor things! and used up their artificial smiles on the customers. Perhaps it had leaked out that the trying-on hands contributed only length, personally, to the loveliness of the trying-on figures. All sorts of things might have happened to influence this young man towards St. Satisfax; and how did Sally know how often he had seen the other young lady communicants she had speculated about? Her mind had certainly thrown in the large Miss Baker with something of derision. But that Sylvia Peplow was just the sort of girl men run after, like a big pale gloire-de-Dijon rose all on one side, with pale golden wavy hair, and great big goggly blue eyes, looking as if she couldn't help it! Now that we have given you details, from Sally's inner consciousness, of Miss Peplow's appearance, we hope you will perceive why she said she "golloped." We don't, exactly.

However, on this Christmas morning it was made clear whom this young donkey was hankering after—this is Sally's way of putting it—as Miss Peplow failed to get her usual place through being late, and had to sit in a side-aisle, instead of the opposite of her to the idiot—we are again borrowing from Sally—and now the Idiot would have to glare round over his shoulder at her or go without! It was soon evident that he was quite content to go without, and that Sally herself had been his lode-star. The certainty of this was what prevented her taking so much notice of her mother as she might otherwise have done.

Had she done so closely, she would hardly have put down her preoccupation, or tension, or whatever it was, to displeasure at Mr. Fenwick's going to skate on Christmas morning instead of going to church. What concern was it of theirs what Mr. Fenwick did?



The "dear old fossil" referred to by Miss Sally was one of those occurrences—auxiliaries or encumbrances, as may be—whom one is liable to meet with in almost any family, who are so forcibly taken for granted by all its members that the infection of their acceptance catches on, and no new-comer ever asks that they should be explained. If they were relatives, they would be easy of explanation; but the only direct information you ever get about them is that they are not. This seems to block all avenues of investigation, and presently you find yourself taking them as a matter of course, like the Lion and Unicorn, or the image on a stamp.

Fenwick accepted "the Major," as the old fossil was called, so frankly and completely under that name that he was still uncertain about his real designation at the current moment of the story. Nobody ever called him anything but "the Major," and he would as soon have asked "Major what?" as called in question the title of the King of Hearts instead of playing him on the Queen, and taking the trick. So far as he could conjecture, the Major had accepted him in the same way. When the railway adventure was detailed to him, the fossil said many times, "How perfectly extraordinary!" "God bless my soul!" "You don't mean that!" and so on; but his astonishment always knocked his double eyeglass off, and, when he couldn't find it, it had to be recovered before he could say, "Eh—eh—what was that?" and get in line again; so he made a disjointed listener.

But these fossils see more than they hear sometimes; and this old Major, for all he was so silent, must have noticed many little things that Christmas evening to cause him to say what he did next day to Sally. For, of course, the Major couldn't go back to his lodgings in Ball Street in weather like this; so he stayed the night in the spare room, where Mr. Fenwick had been put up tempory, cook said—a room which was, in fact, usually spoken of as "the Major's room."

Of course, Sally was the sort of girl who would never see anything of that sort—you'll see what sort directly—though she was as sharp as a razor in a general way. What made her blind in this case was that, in certain things, aspects, relations of life, she had ruled mother out of court as an intrinsically grown-up person—one to whom some speculations would not apply. So she saw nothing in the fact that when Mr. Fenwick's knock came at the door, her mother said, "There he is," and went out to meet him; nor even in her stopping with him outside on the landing, chatting confidentially and laughing. Why shouldn't she?

She saw nothing—nothing whatever—in Mr. Fenwick's bringing her mother a beautiful sealskin jacket as a Christmas present. Why shouldn't he? The only thing that puzzled Sally was, where on earth did he get the money to buy it? But then, of course, he was "in the City," and the City is a sort of Tom Tiddler's ground. Sally found that enough, on reflection.

She saw nothing, either, in her mother's carrying her present away upstairs, and saying nothing about it till afterwards. Nor did she notice any abnormal satisfaction on Mr. Fenwick's countenance as he came into the drawing-room by himself, such as one might discern in a hen—if hens had countenances—after a special egg. Nor did she attach any particular meaning to an expression on the elderly face of the doctor's mother that any student of Lavater would at once have seen to mean that we saw what was going on, but were going to be maternally discreet about it, and only mention it to every one we met in the very strictest confidence. This lady, who had rather reluctantly joined the party—for she was a martyr to ailments—was somewhat grudgingly admitted by Sally to be a comfortable sort of old thing enough, if only she didn't "goozle" over you so. She had no locus standi for goozling, whatever it was; for had not Sally as good as told her son that she didn't want to marry him or anybody else? If you ask us what would be the connecting link between Sally's attitude towards the doctor and the goozlings of a third party, we have no answer ready.

No; Sally went to bed as wise as ever—so she afterwards told the fossil Major—at the end of the evening. She had enjoyed herself immensely, though the simple material for rapture was only foursquare Halma played by the four acuter intelligences of the six, and draughts for the goozler and the fossil. But then Sally had a rare faculty for enjoying herself, and she was perfectly contented with only one admirer to torment, though he was only old Prosy, as she called him, but not to his face. She was jolly glad mother had put on her maroon-coloured watered silk with velvet facings, because you couldn't deny that she looked lovely in it. And as for Mr. Fenwick, he looked just like Hercules and Sir Walter Raleigh, after being out skating all day long in the cold. And Sally's wisdom had not been in the least increased by what was, after all, only a scientific experiment on poor Mr. Fenwick's mental torpor when her mother, the goozler and old Prosy having departed, got out her music to sing that very old song of hers to him that he had thought the other day seemed to bring back a sort of memory of something. Was it not possible that if he heard it often enough his past might revive slowly? You never could tell!

So when, on Boxing Day morning, Sally's mother, who had got down early and hurried her breakfast to make a dash for early prayer at St. Satisfax, looked in at her backward daughter and reproached her, and said there was the Major coming down, and no one to get him his chocolate, she spoke to a young lady who was serenely unprepared for any revelations of a startling nature, or, indeed, any revelations at all. Nor did getting the Major his chocolate excite any suspicions.

So Sally was truly taken aback when the old gentleman, having drunk his chocolate, broke a silence which had lasted since a brief and fossil-like good-morning, with, "Well, missy, and what do you say to the idea of a stepfather?" But not immediately, for at first she didn't understand him, and answered placidly: "It depends on who."

"Mr. Fenwick, for instance!"

"Yes, but who for? And stepfather to step-what? Stepdaughter or stepson?"

"Yourself, little goose! You would be the stepdaughter."

Sally was then so taken aback that she could make nothing of it, but stood in a cloud of mystification. The major had to help her. "How would you like your mother to marry Mr. Fenwick?" He was one of those useful people who never finesse, who let you know point-blank where you are, and to whom you feel so grateful for being unfeeling. While others there be who keep you dancing about in suspense, while they break things gently, and all the while are scoring up a little account against you for considerateness.

Sally's bewilderment, however, recognised one thing distinctly—that the Major's inquiry was not to get, but to give, information. He didn't the least want to know what she thought; he was only working to give her a useful tip. So she would take her time about answering. She took it, looking as grave as a little downy owl-tot. Meanwhile, to show there was no bad feeling, she went and sat candidly on the fossil's knee, and attended to his old whiskers and moustache.

"Major dear!" said she presently.

"What, my child?"

"Wouldn't they make an awfully handsome couple?" The Major replied, "Handsome is as handsome does," and seemed to suggest that questions of this sort belonged to a pre-fossilised condition of existence.

"Now, Major dear, why not admit it when you know it's true? You know quite well they would make a lovely couple. Just fancy them going up the aisle at St. Satisfax! It would be like mediaeval Kings and Queens." For Sally was still in that happy phase of girlhood in which a marriage is a wedding, et praeterea aliquid, but not much. "But," she continued, "I couldn't give up any of mamma—no, not so much as that—if she was to marry twenty Mr. Fenwicks." As the quantity indicated was the smallest little finger-end that could be checked off with a thumb-nail, the twenty husbands would have come in for a very poor allowance of matrimony. The Major didn't seem to think the method of estimation supplied a safe ground for discussion, and allowed it to lapse.

"I may be quite wrong, you know, my dear," said he. "I dare say I'm only an old fool. So we won't say anything to mamma, will us, little woman?"

"I don't know, Major dear. I'll promise not to say anything to her because of what you've said to me. But if I suspect it myself on my account later on, of course I shall."

"What shall you say to her?"

"Ask her if it's true! Why not? But what was it made you think so?" Whereon the Major gave in detail his impressions of the little incidents recorded above, which Sally had seen nothing in. He laid a good deal of stress on the fact that her mother had suppressed the Christmas present until after Dr. Vereker and his mother had departed. She wouldn't have minded the doctor, he said, but she would naturally want to keep the old bird out of the swim. Besides, there was Fenwick himself—one could see what he thought of it! She could perfectly well stop him if she chose, and she didn't choose.

"Stop his whatting?" asked Sally perplexingly. But she admitted the possibility of an answer by not pressing the question home. Then she went on to say that all these things had happened exactly under her nose, and she had never seen anything in them. The only concession she was inclined to make was in respect of the impression her mother evidently made on Mr. Fenwick. But that was nothing wonderful. Anything else would have been very surprising. Only it didn't follow from that that mother wanted to marry Mr. Fenwick, or Mr. Anybody. As far as he himself went, she liked him awfully—but then he couldn't recollect who he was, poor fellow! It was most pathetic sometimes to see him trying. If only he could have remembered that he hadn't been a pirate, or a forger, or a wicked Marquis! But to know absolutely nothing at all about himself! Why, the only thing that was known now about his past life was that he once knew a Rosalind Nightingale—what he said to her in the railway-carriage. And now he had forgotten that, too, like everything else.

"I say, Major dear"—Sally has an influx of a new idea—"it ought to be possible to find out something about that Rosalind Nightingale he knew. Mamma says it's nonsense her being any relation, because she'd know."

"And suppose we did find out who she was?"

"Well, then, if we could get at her, we might get her to tell us who he was. And then we could tell him."

Perhaps it is only his fossil-like way of treating the subject, but certainly the Major shows a very slack interest, Sally thinks, in the identity of this namesake of hers. He does, however, ask absently, what sort of way did he speak of her in the train?

"Why—he said so little——"

"But he gave you some impression?"

"Oh, of course. He spoke as if she was a person—not a female you know—a person!"

"A person isn't a female—when? Eh, missy?" This requires a little consideration, and gets it. The result, when it comes, seems good in its author's eyes.

"When they sit down. When you ask them to, you know. In the parlour, I mean—not the hall. They might be a female then."

"Did he mean a lady?"

"And take milk and no sugar? And pull her gloves on to go? And leave cards turned up at the corner? Oh no—not a lady, certainly!"

As she makes these instructive distinctions, Miss Sally is kneeling on a hassock before a mature fire, which will tumble down and spoil presently. When it does it will be time to resort to that hearth-broom, and restrict combustion with collected caput-mortuum of Derby-Brights, selected, twenty-seven shillings. Till then, Sally, who deserted the Major's knee just as she asked what Mr. Fenwick was to stop in, is at liberty to roast, and does so with undisturbed gravity. The Major is becoming conscious of a smell like Joan of Arc at the beginning of the entertainment, when her mother comes in on a high moral platform, and taxes her with singeing, and dissolves the parliament, and rings to take away breakfast, and forecasts an open window the minute the Major has gone.

Sally doesn't wait for the open window, but as one recalled to the active duties of life from liquefaction in a Turkish bath, takes a cold plunge as far as the front gate without so much as a hat on—to see if the post is coming, which is absurd—and comes back braced. But though she only wonders what can have put such an idea as her mother marrying Mr. Fenwick in the Major's dear silly old head, she keeps on a steady current of speculation about who that Rosalind Nightingale he knew could possibly have been; and whether she couldn't be got at even now. It was such a pity he couldn't have a tip given about him who he was. If he were once started, he would soon run; she was sure of that. But did he want to run?—that was a point to consider. Did he really forget as much as he said he did? How came he not to have forgotten his languages he was so fluent with? And how about his book-keeping? And that curious way he had of knowing about places, and then looking puzzled when asked when he had been there. When they talked about Klondyke the other day, for instance, and he seemed to know so much about it.... But, then, see how he grasped his head, and ruffled his hair, and shut his eyes, and clenched his teeth over his efforts to recollect whether he had really been there himself, or only read it all in the "Century" or "Atlantic Monthly"! Surely he was in earnest then.

Sally's speculations lasted her all the way to No. 260, Ladbroke Grove Road, where she was going to a music-lesson, or rather music-practice, with a friend who played the violin; for Sally was learning the viola—to be useful.



You who read this may have met with some cross-chance such as we are going to try to describe to you; possibly with the same effect upon yourself as the one we have to confess to in our own case—namely, that you have been left face to face with a problem to which you have never been able to supply a solution. You have given up a conundrum in despair, and no one has told you the answer.

Here are the particulars of an imaginary case of the sort. You have made acquaintance—made friends—years ago with some man or woman without any special introduction, and without feeling any particular curiosity about his or her antecedents. No inquiry seemed to be called for; all concomitants were so very usual. You may have felt a misgiving as to whether the easy-going ways of your old papa, or the innocent Bohemianisms of his sons and daughters will be welcome to your new friend, whom you credit with being a little old-fashioned and strait-laced, if anything. But it never occurs to you to doubt or investigate; why should you, when no question is raised of any great intimacy between you and the So-and-sos, which may stand for the name of his or her family. They ask no certificate from you, of whom they know just as little. Why should you demand credentials of a passer-by because he is so obliging as to offer to lend you a Chinese vocabulary or Whitaker? Why should your wife try to go behind the cheque-book and the prayer-book of a married couple when all she has had to do with the lady was, suppose, to borrow a square bottle of her, marked off in half-inch lengths, to be shaken before taken? Why not accept her unimpeachable Sunday morning as sufficient warranty for talking to her on the beach next day, and finding what a very nice person she is? Because it would very likely be at the seaside. But suppose any sort of introduction of this sort—you know what we mean!

Well, the So-and-sos have slipped gradually into your life; let this be granted. We need not imagine, for our purpose, any extreme approaches of family intimacy, any love affairs or deadly quarrels. A tranquil intercourse of some twenty years is all we need, every year of which has added to your conviction of the thorough trustworthiness and respectability of the So-and-sos, of their readiness to help you in any little difficulty, and of the high opinion which the rest of the world has of Mr. and Mrs. So-and-so—the world which knew them when it was a boy, and all their connexions and antecedents, which, you admit, you didn't....

And then, after all these years, it is suddenly burst upon you that there was a shady story about So-and-so that never was cleared up—something about money, perhaps; or, worse still, one of those stories your informant really doesn't like to be responsible for the particulars of; you must ask Smith yourself. Or your wife comes to you in fury and indignation that such a scandalous falsehood should have got about as that Clara So-and-so was never married to So-and-so at all till ever so long after Fluffy or Toppy or Croppy or Poppy was born! We take any names at random of this sort, merely to dwell on your good lady's familiarity with the So-and-so family.

Well, then—there you are! And what can you make of it? There you are face to face with the fact that a man who was a black sheep twenty or thirty years ago has been all this time making believe to be a white sheep so successfully as never was. Or, stranger still, that a woman who has brought up a family of model daughters—daughters whom it would be no exaggeration to speak of as on all fours with your own, and who is quite one of the nicest and most sympathetic people your wife has to go to in trouble—this woman actually—actually—if this tale is true, was guilty in her youth ... there—that will do! Suppose we say she was no better than she should be. She hadn't even the decency to be a married woman before she did it, which always makes it so much easier to talk to strange ladies and girls about it. You can say all the way down a full dinner-table that Lady Polly Andrews got into the Divorce Court without doing violence to any propriety at all. But the story of Mrs. So-and-so's indiscretion while still Miss Such-and-such must be talked of more guardedly.

And all the while behold the subjects of these stories, in whom, but for this sudden revelation of a shady past, you can detect no moral difference from your amiable and respectable self! They puzzle you, as they puzzle us, with a doubt whether they really are the same people; whether they have not changed their identity since the days of their delinquency. If they really are the same, it almost throws a doubt on how far the permanent unforgiveness of sins is expedient. We of course refer to Human Expediency only—the construction of a working hypothesis of Life, that would favour peace on earth and good-will towards men; that would establish a modus vivendi, and enable us to be jolly with these reprobates—at any rate, as soon as they had served their time and picked their oakum. We are not intruding on the province of the Theologian—merely discussing the problem of how we can make ourselves pleasant to one another all round, until that final separation of the sheep from the goats, when, however carefully they may have patched up their own little quarrels, they will have to bid each other farewell reluctantly, and make up their minds to the permanent endurance of Heaven and Hell respectively.

We confess that we ourselves think there ought to be a Statute of Limitations, and that after a certain lapse of time any offence, however bad, against morality might be held not to have been committed. If we feel this about culprits who tempted us, at the time of their enormity, to put in every honest hand a whip to lash the rascal naked the length of a couple of lamp-posts, how much more when the offence has been one which our own sense of moral law (a perverted one, we admit) scarcely recognises as any offence at all. And how much more yet, when we find it hard to believe that they—actually they themselves, that we know now—can have done the things imputed to them. If the stories are really true, were they not possessed by evil spirits? Or have they since come to be possessed by better ones than their normal stock-in-trade?

What is all this prosy speculation about? Well, it's about our friend in the last chapter, Sally's mother. At least, it is suggested by her. She is one of those perplexing cases we have hinted at, and we acknowledge ourselves unable to account for her at the date of the story, knowing what we do of her twenty years previously. It's little enough, mind, and much of it inferential. Suppose, instead of giving you our inferences, we content ourselves with passing on to you the data on which we found them. Maybe you will see your way to some different life-history for Sally's mother.

The first insight we had into her past was supplied by a friend of Sally's "old fossil," who was himself a Major, but with a difference. For he was really a Major, whereas the fossil was only called so by Krakatoa Villa, being in truth a Colonel. This one was Major Roper, of the Hurkaru Club, an old schoolfellow of ours, who was giving us a cup of coffee and a cigar at the said Club, and talking himself hoarse about Society. When the Major gets hoarse his voice rises to a squeak, and his eyes start out of his head, and he appears to swell. I forget how Mrs. Nightingale came into the conversation, but she did, somehow.

"She's a very charming woman, that," squeaked the Major—"a very charming woman! I don't mind tellin' you, you know, that I knew her at Madras—ah! before the divorce. I wouldn't tell Horrocks, nor that dam young fool Silcox, but I don't mind tellin' you! Only, look here, my dear boy, don't you go puttin' it about that I told you anythin'. You know I make it a rule—a guidin' rule—never to say anythin'. You follow that rule through life, my boy! Take the word of an old chap that's seen a deal of service, and just you hold your tongue! You make a point—you'll find it pay——" An asthmatic cough came in here.

"There was a divorce, then?" we said. Terms had to be made with the cough, but speech came in the end.

"Oh yes, of course—of course! Don't mind repeatin' that—thing was in the papers at the time. What I was suggestin' holdin' your tongue about was that story about Penderfield and her.... Well, as I said just now, I don't mind repeatin' it to you; you ain't Horrocks nor little Silcox—you can keep your tongue in your head. Remember, I know nothing; I'm only tellin' what was said at the time.... Now, whatever was her name? Was it Rayner, or was it Verschoyle? Pelloo!... Pelloo!..." The Major tried to call the attention of a man who was deep in an Oriental newspaper at the far end of the next room. But when the Major overstrains his voice, it misses fire like a costermonger's, and only a falsetto note comes on a high register. When this happens he is wroth.

"It's that dam noise they're all makin'," he says, as soon as he has become articulate. "That's the man I want, behind the 'Daily Sunderbund.' If it wasn't for this dam toe, I'd go across and ask him. No, don't you go. Send one of these dam jumpin' frogs—idlin' about!" He requisitions a passing waiter, gripping him by the arm to give him instructions. "Just—you—touch the General's arm, and ketch his attention. Say Major Roper." And he liquidates his obligations to a great deal of asthmatic cough, while the jumping frog does his bidding.

The General (who is now Lord Pellew of Cutch, by-the-bye) came with an amiable smile from behind the journal, and ended a succession of good-evening nods to newcomers by casting an anchor opposite the Major. The latter, having by now taken the surest steps towards bringing the whole room into his confidence, stated the case he sought confirmation for.

Oh yes, certainly; the General was in Umballa in '80; remembered the young lady quite well, and the row between Penderfield and his wife about her. As for Penderfield, everybody remembered him! De mortuis nil, etc.—of course, of course. For all that, he was one of the damnedest scoundrels that ever deserved to be turned out of the service. Ought to have been cashiered long ago. Good job he's gone to the devil! Yes, he was quite sure he was remembering the right girl. No, no, he wasn't thinking of Daisy Neversedge—no, nor of little Miss Wrennick: same sort of story, but he wasn't thinking of them at all. Only the name wasn't either Rayner or Verschoyle. General Pellew stood thoughtfully feeling about in a memory at fault, and looking at an unlighted cigar he rolled in his fingers, as though it might help if caressed. Then he had a flash of illumination. "Rosalind Graythorpe," he said.

There we had it, sure enough! The Major see-sawed in the air with a finger of sudden corroboration. "Rosalind Graythorpe," he repeated triumphantly, and then again, "Ros-a-lind Graythorpe," dwelling on the syllables, and driving the name home, as it were, to the apprehension of all within hearing. It was so necessary to a complete confidence that every one should know whom he was holding his tongue about. Where would be the merit of discretion else? But the enjoyment of details should be sotto voce. The General dropped his voice to a good sample, suggesting a like course to the more demonstrative secrecy of the Major.

"I remember the whole story quite well," said he. "The girl was going out by herself to marry a young fellow up the country at Umballa, I think. They were fiances, and on the way the news came of the outbreak of cholera. So she got hung up for a while at Penderfield's—sort of cousin, I believe, him or his wife—till the district was sanitary again. Bad job for her, as it turned out! Nobody there to warn her what sort of fellow Penderfield was—and if there had been she wouldn't have believed 'em. She was a madcap sort of a girl, and regularly in the hands of about as bad a couple as you'll meet with in a long spell—India or anywhere! They used to say out there that the she Penderfield winked at all her husband's affairs as long as he didn't cut across her little arrangements—did more than wink, in fact—lent a helping hand; but only as long as she could rely on his remaining detached, as you might say. The moment she suspected an entichement on her husband's part she was up in arms. And he was just the same about her. I remember Lady Sharp saying that if Penderfield had suspected his wife of caring about any of her co-respondents he would have divorced her at once. They were a rum couple, but their attitude to one another was the only good thing about them." The General lighted his cigar, and seemed to consider this was chapter one. The Major appended a foot-note, for our benefit.

"Leave be was the word—the word for Penderfield. You'll understand that, sir. No meddlin'! A good-lookin' Colonel's wife in garrison has her choice, good Lard! Why, she's only got to hold her finger up!" We entirely appreciated the position, and that a siren has a much easier task in the entanglement of a confiding dragoon than falls to the lot of Don Giovanni in the reverse case. But we were more interested in the particular story of Mrs. Nightingale than in the general ethics of profligacy.

"I suppose," we suggested, "that the young woman threatened to be a formidable rival, as there was a row?" Each of the officers nodded at the other, and said that was about it. The Major then started on a little private curriculum of nods on his own account, backed by a half-closed eye of superhuman subtlety, and added once or twice that that was about it. We inferred from this that the row had been volcanic in character. The Major then added, repeating the air-sawing action of his forefinger admonitorily, "But mind you, I say nothin'. And my recommendation to you is to say nothin' neither."

"The rest of the story's soon told," said the General, answering our look of inquiry. "Miss Graythorpe went away to Umballa to be married. It was all gossip, mind you, about herself and Penderfield. But gossip always went one way about any girl he was seen with. I have my own belief; so has Jack Roper." The Major underwent a perfect convulsion of nods, winks, and acquiescence. "Well, she went away, and was married to this young shaver, who was very little over twenty. He wasn't in the service—civil appointment, I think. How long was it, Major, before they parted? Do you recollect?"

"Week—ten days—month—six weeks! Couldn't say. They didn't part at the church door; that's all I could say for certain. Tell him the rest."

"They certainly parted very soon, and people told all sorts of stories. The stories got fewer and clearer when it came out that the young woman was in the family way. No one had any right then to ascribe the child that was on its road to any father except the young man she had fallen out with. But they did—it was laid at Colonel Penderfield's door, before there was any sufficient warrant. However, it was all clear enough when the child was born."

"When was the divorce?"

"He applied for a divorce a twelvemonth after the marriage. The child was then spoken of as being four months old. My impression is he did not succeed in getting a divorce."

"Not he," said the Major, overtopping the General's quiet, restrained voice with his falsetto. "I recollect that, bless you! The Court commiserated him, but couldn't give him any relief. So he made a bolt of it. And he's never been heard of since, as far as I know."

"What did the mother do? Where did she go?" we asked.

"Well, she might have been hard put to it to know what to do. But she met with old Lund—Carrington Lund, you know, not Beauchamp; he'd a civil appointment at Umritsur—comes here sometimes. You know him? She's his Rosey he talks about. He was an old friend of her father, and took her in and protected her—saw her through it. She came with him to England. I was with them on the boat, part of the way. Then she took the name of Macnaghten, I believe. The young husband's name I can't remember the least. But it wasn't Macnaghten."

The Major squeaked in again:

"No—nor hers neither! Nightingale, General—that's the name she goes by. Friend of this gentleman. Very charmin' person indeed! Introdooce you? And a very charmin' little daughter, goin' nineteen." The two officers interchanged glances over our young friend Sally. "She was a nice baby on the boat," said the General; and the Major chuckled wheezily, and hoped she didn't take after her father.

We left him to the tender mercies of gout and asthma, and the enjoyment of a sherry-cobbler through a straw, looking rather too fat for his snuff-coloured trousers with a cord outside, and his flowered silk waistcoat; but very much too fat for the straw, the slenderness of which was almost painful by contrast.

* * * * *

Perhaps you will see from this why we hinted at the outset of this chapter why Mrs. Nightingale was a conundrum we had given up in despair, of which no one had told us the answer. We wanted your sympathy, you see, and to get it have given you an insight into the way our information was gleaned. Having given you this sample, we will now return to simple narrative of what we know of the true story, and trouble you with no further details of how we came by it.



Sally Graythorpe (our Mrs. Nightingale) was the daughter of a widowed mother, also called Sally, the name in both cases being (as in that of her daughter whom we know) Rosalind, not Sarah. This mother married en secondes noces a former sweetheart; it had been a case of a match opposed by parents on the ground of the apparent hopelessness of the young man's prospects. Mr. Paul Nightingale, however, falsified the doleful predictions about his future by becoming a successful leader-writer and war correspondent. It was after the close of the American Civil War, in which he had gained a good deal of distinction, that he met at Saratoga his old flame, Mrs. Graythorpe, then a widow with a little daughter five or six years old. Having then no wishes to consult but their own, and no reason to the contrary appearing, they were married.

They did not find the States a pleasant domicile in the early days following the great war, and came to England. The little daughter soon became like his own child to Mr. Paul Nightingale, and had his wish been complied with she would have taken his name during his life. But her mother saw no reason, apparently, for extinguishing Mr. Graythorpe in toto, and she remained Sally Graythorpe.

Miss Graythorpe was, at a guess, about fifteen when her stepfather died. Her mother, now for the second time a widow, must have been very comfortably off, as she had an income of her own as well as a life-interest in her late husband's invested savings, which was unfettered by any conditions as to her marrying again, or otherwise. She was not long in availing herself of this liberty; for about the time when her daughter was of an age to be engaged on her own account, she accepted a third offer of marriage—this time from a clergyman, who, like herself, had already stood by the death-beds of two former mates, and was qualified to sympathize with her in every way, including comfortable inheritances.

But the young Sally Graythorpe kicked furiously against this new arrangement. It was an insult to papa (she referred to Mr. Nightingale; her real papa was a negligible factor), and she wouldn't live in the same house with that canting old hypocrite. She would go away straight to India, and marry Gerry—he would be glad enough to have her—see how constant the dear good boy had been! Not a week passed but she got a letter. She asked her mother flatly what could she want to marry again for at her time of life? And such a withered old sow-thistle as that! Sub-dean, indeed! She would sub-dean him! In fact, there were words, and the words almost went the length of taking the form known as "language" par excellence. The fact is, this Sally and her mother never did get on together well; it wasn't the least like her subsequent relation with our special Sally—Sally number three—who trod on Mr. Fenwick in the Twopenny Tube.

The end of the "words" was a letter to Gerry, a liberal trousseau, and a first-class passage out by P. and O. The young lady's luggage for the baggage-room was beautifully stencilled "Care of Sir Oughtred Penderfield, The Residency, Khopal." Perfectly safe in his keeping no doubt it would have been. But, then, that might have been true also of luggage if consigned to the Devil. If the tale hinted at in our last chapter was true, its poor little headstrong, inexperienced heroine would have been about as safe with the latter.

Anyhow, this club gossip supplies all the broad outline of the story; and it is a story we need not dwell on. It gives us no means of reconciling the like of the Mrs. Nightingale we know now with the amount of dissimulation, if not treachery, she must have practised on an unsuspicious boy, assuming that she did, as a matter of course, conceal her relation with Penderfield. One timid conjecture we have is, that the girl, having to deal with a subject every accepted phrase relating to which is an equivocation or an hypocrisy, really found it impossible to make her position understood by a lover who simply idolized the ground she trod on. Under such circumstances, she may either have given up the attempt in despair, or jumped too quickly to the conclusion that she had succeeded in communicating the facts, and had been met half-way by forgiveness. Put yourself in her position, and resolve in your mind exactly how you would have gone about it—how you would have got a story of that sort forced into the mind of a welcoming lover; wedged into the heart of his unsuspicious rapture. Or, if you fancied he understood you, and no storm of despairing indignation came, think how easy it would be to persuade yourself you had done your duty by the facts, and might let the matter lapse! Why should not one woman once take advantage of the obscurities of decorum so many a man has found comforting to his soul during confession of sin, when pouring his revelations into an ear whose owner's experience of life has not qualified her to understand them. Think of the difficulty you yourself have encountered in getting at the absolute facts in some delicate concurrence of circumstances in this connexion, because of the fundamental impossibility of getting any one, man or woman, to speak direct truth!

Let us find out, or construct, all the excuses we can for poor Miss Graythorpe. Let us imagine the last counsel she had from the only one of her own sex who would be likely to know anything of the matter—the nefarious partner (if the Major's surmise was true) in the crime of her betrayer. "You are making a fuss about nothing. Men are not so immaculate themselves; your Gerry is no Joseph! If he rides the high horse with you, just you ask him what he had to say to Potiphar's wife! Oh, we're not so strait-laced out here—bless us alive!—as we are in England, or pretend to be." We can fancy the elegant brute saying it.

All our surmises bring us very little light, though. It is not that we are at such a loss to forgive poor Sally Graythorpe as a mere human creature we know nothing about. The difficulty is to reconcile what she seems to have been then with what she is now. We give it up.

Only, we wish to remark that it is her offence against her fiance alone that we find it hard to stomach. As to her relations with Colonel Penderfield, we can say nothing without full particulars. And even if we had them, and they bore hard upon Miss Graythorpe, our mind would go back to the Temple in Jerusalem, and a morning nearly two thousand years ago. The voice that said who was to cast the first stone is heard no more, or has merged in ritual. But the Scribes and Pharisees are with us still, and quite ready to do the pelting. We should be harder on the Colonel, no doubt, with our prejudices; only, observe! he isn't brought up for judgment. He never is, any more than the other party was that day in Jerusalem. But, then, the Scribes and Pharisees were male! And they had the courage of their convictions—their previous convictions!—and acted on them in their selection of the culprit.

Without further apology for retailing conjecture as certainty, the following may be taken as substantially the story of this lady—we do not know whether to call her a divorced or a deserted wife—and her little encumbrance.

She found a resource in her trouble in the person of this old friend of her stepfather Paul Nightingale, Colonel (at that time Major) Lund. This officer had remained on in harness to the unusual age of fifty-eight, but it was a civil appointment he held; he had retired from active service in the ordinary course of things. It was probably not only because of his old friendship for her stepfather, but because the poor girl told him her unvarnished tale in full and he believed it, that he helped and protected her through the critical period that followed her parting from her husband; found her a domicile and seclusion, and enlisted on her behalf the sympathies of more than one officer's wife at our Sally's birth-place—Umritsur, if Major Roper was right. He corresponded with her mother as intercessor and mediator, but that good lady was in no mood for mercy: had her daughter not told her that she was too old to think of marriage? Too old! And had she not called her venerable sub-dean a withered old sow-thistle? She could forgive, under guarantees of the sinner's repentance; for had not her Lord enjoined forgiveness where the bail tendered was sufficient? Only, so many reservations and qualifications occurred in her interpretations of the Gospel narrative that forgiveness, diluted out of all knowledge, left its perpetrator free to refuse ever to see its victim again. But she would pray for her. A subdiaconal application would receive attention; that was the suggestion between the lines.

The kind-hearted old soldier pooh-poohed her first letters. She would come round in time. Her natural good-feeling would get the better of her when she had had her religious fling. He didn't put it so—a strict old Puritan of the old school—but that was Miss Graythorpe's gloss in her own mind on what he did say. However, her mother never did come round. She cherished her condemnation of her daughter to the end, forgiving her again more suo, if anything with increased asperity, on her death-bed.

This Colonel Lund is (have we mentioned this before?) the "old fossil" whom we have seen at Krakatoa Villa. He was usually called "the Major" there, from early association. He continued to foster and shelter his protegee during the year following the arrival of our own particular young Sally on the scene, saw her safely through her divorce proceedings, and then, when he finally retired from his post as deputy commissioner for the Umritsur district, arranged that she herself, with her encumbrance and an ayah, should accompany him to England. His companion travelled as Mrs. Graythorpe, and Sally junior as Mrs. Graythorpe's baby. She was excessively popular on the voyage; Sally was not suffering from sea-sickness, or feeling apparently the least embarrassed by the recent bar-sinister in her family. She courted Society, seizing it by its whiskers or its curls, and holding on like grim death. She endeavoured successively to get into the Indian Ocean, the Persian Gulf, the Red Sea, the Mediterranean, and the Atlantic, but failed in every attempt, and was finally landed at Southampton in safety, after a resolute effort to drag the captain, who was six feet three high and weighed twenty stone, ashore by his beard. She was greatly missed on the remainder of the voyage (to Bremen—the boat was a German boat) by a family of Vons, who fortunately never guessed at the flaw in Sally's extraction, or there's no knowing what might not have happened.

But the arrival was too late for her poor mother to utilise her services towards a reconciliation with her own offended parent. A sudden attack of influenza, followed by low diet on high principles, and uncombated by timely port wine and tonics, had been followed by heart-failure, and the sub-dean was left free to marry again, again. Whether he did so or not doesn't matter to us. The scheme Mrs. Graythorpe had been dwelling on with pleasure through the voyage of simply dropping her offspring on its grandmother, and leaving it to drive a coach and six through the latter's Christian forgiveness, was not to come to pass. She found herself after a year and a half of Oriental life back in her native land, an orphan with a small—but it must be admitted a very charming—illegitimate family. It was hard upon her, for she had been building on the success of this manoeuvre, in which she had, perhaps, an unreasonable confidence. If she could only rely on Sally not being inopportunely sick over mamma just at the critical moment—that was the only misgiving that crossed her mind. Otherwise, such creases and such a hilarious laugh would be too much for starch itself. Poor lady! she had thought to herself more than once, since Sally had begun to mature and consolidate, that if Gerry had only waited a little—just long enough to see what a little duck was going to come of it all—and not lost his temper, all might have been made comfortable, and Sally might have had a little legitimate half-brother by now. What had become—what would become of Gerry? That she did not know, might never know.

One little pleasant surprise awaited her. It came to her knowledge for the first time that she was sole heir to the estate of her late stepfather, Paul Nightingale. The singular practice that we believe to exist in many families of keeping back all information about testamentary dispositions as long as possible from the persons they concern, especially minors, had been observed in her case; and her mother, perhaps resenting the idea that her daughter—a young chit!—should presume to outlive her, had kept her in ignorance of the contents of her stepfather's will. It did not really matter much. Had the sum been large, and a certainty, it might have procured for her a safer position when a temporary guest at the Residency at Khopal, or even caused her indignant young bridegroom to think twice before he took steps to rid himself of her. But, after all, it was only some three hundred and fifty pounds a year, and depended on the life of a lady of forty-odd, who might live to be a hundred. A girl with no more than that is nearly as defenceless as she is without it.

A condition was attached to the bequest—not an unwelcome one. She was to take her stepfather's name, Nightingale. She was really very glad to do this. There was a faux air of a real married name about Mrs. Nightingale that was lacking in Mrs. Graythorpe. Besides, all troublesome questions about who Sally's father was would get lost sight of in the fact that her mother had changed her name in connexion with that sacred and glorious thing, an inheritance. A trust-fund would always be a splendid red-herring to draw across the path of Mrs. Grundy's sleuth-hounds—a quarry more savoury to their nostrils even than a reputation. And nothing soothes the sceptical more than being asked now and again to witness a transfer of stock, especially if it is money held in trust. It has all the force of a pleasant alterative pill on the circulation of Respectability—removes obstructions and promotes appetite—is a certain remedy for sleeplessness, and so forth. So though there wasn't a particle of reason why Mrs. Nightingale's money should be held by any one but herself, as she had no intention whatever of marrying, Colonel Lund consented to become her trustee; and both felt that something truly respectable had been done—something that if it didn't establish a birthright and a correct extraction for Miss Sally, at any rate went a long way towards it.

By the time Mrs. Nightingale had got settled in the little house at Shepherd's Bush, that she took on a twenty-one years' lease five or six years after her return to England, and had christened it Saratoga, after her early recollection of the place where she first saw her stepfather, whose name she took when she came into the money he left her—by this time she, with the assistance of Colonel Lund, had quite assumed the appearance of a rather comfortably off young widow-lady, who did not make a great parade of her widowhood, but whose circumstances seemed reasonable enough, and challenged no inquiry. Inquisitiveness would have seemed needless impertinence—just as much so as yours would have been in the case of the hypothetical So-and-sos at the beginning of our last chapter. A vague impression got in the air that Sally's father had not been altogether satisfactory—well, wasn't it true? It may have leaked out from something in "the Major's" manner. But it never produced any effect on friends, except that they saw in it a reason why Mrs. Nightingale never mentioned her husband. He had been a black sheep. Silence about him showed good feeling on her part. De mortuis, etc....

Of one thing we feel quite certain—that if, at the time we made this lady's acquaintance, any chance friend of hers or her daughter's—say, for instance, Laetitia Wilson, Sally's old school-friend and present music-colleague—had been told that Mrs. Nightingale, of Krakatoa Villa, No. 7, Glenmoira Road, Shepherd's Bush, W., had been the heroine of divorce proceedings under queer circumstances, that her husband wasn't dead at all, and that that dear little puss Sally was Goodness-knows-who's child, we feel certain that the information would have been cross-countered with a blank stare of incredulity. Why, the mere fact that Mrs. Nightingale had refused so many offers of marriage was surely sufficient to refute such a nonsensical idea! Who ever heard of a lady with a soiled record refusing a good offer of marriage?

But while we are showing our respect for what the man in the street says or thinks, and the woman in the street thinks and says, are we not losing sight of a leading phrase of the symphony, sonata, cantata—whatever you like to call it—of Mrs. Nightingale's life? A phrase that steals in, just audibly—no more, in the most strepitoso passage of the stormy second movement—a movement, however, in which the proceedings of the Divorce Court are scarcely more audible, pianissimo legato, a chorus with closed lips, all the stringed instruments sordini. But it grows and grows, and in allegro con fuoco on the voyage home, and only leaves a bar or two blank, when the thing it metaphorically represents is asleep and isn't suffering from the wind. It breaks out again vivacissimo accelerando when Miss Sally (whom we allude to) wakes up, and doesn't appreciate Nestle's milk. But it always grows, and in due course may be said to become the music itself.

More intelligibly, Mrs. Nightingale became so wrapped up in her baby, that had seemed to her at first a cruel embarrassment—a thing to be concealed and ignored—that very soon she really had no time to think about where she broke her molasses-jug, as Uncle Remus says. The new life that it had become hers to guard took her out of herself, made her quite another being from the reckless and thoughtless girl of two years ago.

As time went on she felt more and more the value of the newcomer's indifference to her extraction and the tragedy that had attended it. A living creature, with a stupendous capacity for ignoring the past, and, indeed, everything except a monotonous diet, naturally gave her mind a bias towards the future, and hope grew in her heart unconsciously, without reminding her that it might have been despair. A bad alarm, when the creature was six months old, that an enteric attack might end fatally, had revealed to its mother how completely it had taken possession of her own life, and what a power for compensation there was even in its most imperious and tyrannical habits. As it gradually became articulate—however unreasonable it continued—her interest in its future extinguished her memories of her own past, and she found herself devising games for baby before the little character was old enough to play them, and costumes before she was big enough to wear them. By the time Saratoga Villa had become Krakatoa, Miss Sally had had time to benefit by a reasonable allowance of the many schemes her mother had developed for her during her infancy. Had all the projects which were mooted for her further education at this date been successfully carried out, she would have been an admirable female Crichton, if her reason had survived the curriculum. Luckily for her, she had a happy faculty for being plucked at examinations, and her education was consequently kept within reasonable bounds.

There was, however, one department of culture in which Sally outshot all competitors. This was swimming. She would give a bath's length at the Paddington Baths to the next strongest swimmer in the Ladies' Club, and come in triumphant in a race of ten lengths. It was a grand sight to see Sally rushing stem on, cleaving the water with her head almost as if breath were an affectation, and doubling back at the end while the other starters were scarcely half-way. Or shooting through the air in her little blue costume straight for the deepest water, and then making believe to be a fish on the shiny tiles at the bottom.

Her mother always said she was certain that if that little monkey had managed to wriggle through some hole into the sea, on her voyage home, she would have swum after the ship and climbed up the rudder chains. Possibly, but she was only twelve months old! If, however, she had met with an early death, her mother's lot would have lacked its redemption. The joint life of the two supplies a possible answer to the conundrum that has puzzled us. For in a certain sense the absorption of her own existence in that of another than herself had made of Rosalind the woman, at the date of our introduction to her, quite another person from Rosalind the hot-headed and thoughtless girl that had quarrelled with her natural guardian for doing what she had a perfect right to do, and had steered alone into unknown seas, a ship without a rudder or a compass, and very little knowledge of the stars of heaven for her guide. We can see what she is now much better than we can judge what she was then.

It need not be supposed that this poor lady never felt any interest, never made any inquiry, about the sequel of the life she had so completely bouleverse; for, whatever blame we feel bound to express, or whatever exculpation we contrive to concoct for her, there can be no doubt what the result was to the young man who has come into the story, so far, only under the name of Gerry. We simply record his designation as it has reached us in the data we are now making use of. It is all hearsay about a past. We add what we have been able to gather, merely noting that what it seems to point to recommends itself to us as probable.

"Nobody knoo, nobody cared," was our friend Major Roper's brief reply to an inquiry what became of this young man. "Why, good Lard, sir!" he went on, "if one was to begin fussin' about all the Johnnies that shy off when there's a row of that sort, one would never get a dam night's rest! Not but what if I could recollect his name. Now, what was his confounded name? Thought I'd got it—but no—it wasn't Messiter. Fancy his Christian name was Jeremiah.... I recollect Messiter I'm thinkin' of—character that looked as if he had a pain in his stomach—came into forty thousand pounds. Stop a bit—was it Indermaur? No, it wasn't Indermaur. No use guessin'—give it up."

Besides, the Major was getting purple with suppressed coughing. When he had given it up, he surrendered unconditionally to the cough, but was presently anxious to transmit, through its subsidence, an idea that he found it impossible to shake across the table between us out of an inarticulate forefinger end. It assumed form in time. Why not ask the lady herself? We demurred, and the old soldier explained.

"Not rushin' at her, you know, and sayin', 'Who the dooce was it married you, ma'am?' I'm not a dam fool. Showin' tact, you know—puttin' it easy and accidental. 'Who was that young beggar now?—inspector—surveyor—something of the sort—up at Umballa in seventy-nine? Burrumpooter Irrigation—that's what he was on.' And, Lard bless you, my dear sir, you don't suppose she'll up and say, 'I suppose you mean that dam husband of mine.' Not she! Sensible woman that, sir—seen the world—knows a thing or two. You'll see she'll only say, 'That was Foodle or Parker or Stebbins or Jephson,' as may be, accordin' to the name."

We did not see our way to this enterprise, and said so. We drew a line; said there were things you could do, and things you couldn't do. The Major chuckled, and admitted this might be so; his old governor used to say, "Est modus in rebus, sunt certi denique fines." The last two words remained behind in the cough, unless, indeed, they were shaken out off the Major's forefinger into a squeezed lemon that was awaiting its Seltzer.

"But I can tell you thing, Mr.," said he, forgetting our name, as soon as he felt soothed by the lemon-squash. "He didn't keep his name, that young man didn't. You may bet he didn't safely! Only, it's no use askin' me why, nor what he changed it to. If it was him that was lost in the Bush in New South Wales, when I was at Sydney, why, of course that chap's name was the same. I remember that much. Can't get hold of the name, though." He appeared to consult the pattern on his silk pocket-handkerchief as an oracle, and to await its answer with a thoughtful eye. Presently he blew his nose on the oracle, and returned it to his pocket, adding: "But it's a speculation—little speculation of my own. Don't ask me!" We saw, however, that more would come, without asking. And it came.

"It made a talk out there at the time. But that didn't bring him to life. You may talk till you're hoarse, but you won't bring a dead man to—not when he's twenty miles off in a forest of gum-trees, as like as tallow-candles.... Oh yes, they had the natives put on the scent—black trackers, they call 'em—but, Lard! it was all no use. They only followed the scent of his horse, and the horse came back a fortnight after with them on his heels, an hour or so behind.... He'd only just left his party a moment, and meant to come back into the open. I suppose he thought he was sure to cross a cutting, and got trapped in the solid woodland."

"But what was the speculation? You said just now...."

"Not much to go by," said the Major, shaking a discouraging head. "Another joker with another name, who turned up a hundred miles off! Harrisson, I fancy—yes, Harrisson. It was only my idea they were the same. I came away, and don't know how they settled it."

"But something, Major Roper, must have made you think this man the same—the same as Jeremiah Indermaur, or whatever his name was—Mrs. Nightingale's man?"

"Somethin' must! What it was is another pair of shoes." He cogitated and reflected, but seemed to get no nearer. "You ask Pelloo," he said. "He might give you a tip." Then he called for a small glass of cognac, because the Seltzer was such dam chilly stuff, and the dry sherry was no use at all. We left him arranging the oracle over his face, with a view to a serious nap.

We got a few words shortly after with General Pellew, who seemed a little surprised at the Major's having referred to him for information.

"I don't know," said he, "why our friend Roper shouldn't recollect as much about it as I do. However, I do certainly remember that when this young gentleman, whatever his name was, left the station, he did go to Sydney or Melbourne, and I have some hazy recollection of some one saying that he was lost in the Bush. But why old Jack fancies he was found again or changed his name to Harrisson I haven't the slightest idea."

So that all we ourselves succeeded in getting at about Gerry may be said to have been the trap-door he vanished through. Whether Mrs. Nightingale got at other sources of information we cannot say. Whatever she learned she would be sure to keep her own counsel about. She may have concluded that the bones of the husband who had in a fit of anger deserted her had been picked by white ants, twenty years ago, in an Australian forest; or she may have come to know, by some means, of his resuscitation from the Bush, and his successes or failures in a later life elsewhere. We have had our own reasons for doubting that she ever knew that he took the name of Harrisson—if he really did—a point which seemed to us very uncertain, so far as the Major's narrative went. If she did get a scrap of tidings, a flying word, about him now and again, it was most likely all she got. And when she got it she would feel the danger of further inquiry—the difficulty of laying the reasons for her curiosity before her informant. You can't easily say to a stranger: "Oh, do tell us about Mrs. Jones or Mr. Smith. She or he is our divorced or separated wife or husband." A German might, but Mrs. Nightingale was not a German.

However, she may have heard something about that Gerry, we grant you, in all those twenty long years. But if you ask us our opinion—our private opinion—it is that she scarcely heard of him, if she heard at all, and certainly never set eyes on him, until one day her madcap little daughter brought him home, half-killed by an electric shock, in a cab we were at some pains to describe accurately a few pages ago. And even then, had it not been for the individualities of that cab, she might have missed seeing him, and let him go away to the infirmary or the police-station, and probably never been near him again.

As it was, the face she saw when a freak of chance led to her following that cab, and looking in out of mere curiosity at its occupant, was the face of her old lover—of her husband. Eighteen—twenty—years had made a man of one who was then little more than a boy. The mark of the world he had lived in was on him; and it was the mark of a rough, strong world where one fights, and, if one is a man of this sort, maybe wins. But she never doubted his identity for a moment. And the way in which she grasped the situation—above all, the fact that he had not recognised her and would not recognise her—quite justified, to our thinking, Major Roper's opinion of her powers of self-command.

Nevertheless, these were not so absolute that her demeanour escaped comment from the cabby, the only witness of her first sight of the "electrocuted" man. He spoke of her afterwards as that squealing party down that sanguinary little turning off Shepherd's Bush Road he took that sanguinary galvanic shock to.



Two parts in a sestet, played alone, may be a maddening torture to a person whose musical imagination is not equal to supplying the other four. Perhaps you have heard Haydn, Op. 1704, and rejoiced in the logical consecutiveness of its fugues, the indisputableness of its well-classified statements, the swift pertinence of the repartees of the first violin to the second, the apt resume and orderly reorganization of their epigrammatic interchanges by the 'cello and the double-bass, the steady typewritten report and summary of the whole by the pianoforte, and the regretful exception to so many points taken by the clarionet. If so, you have no doubt felt, as we have, a sense of perfect satisfaction at faultless musical structure, without having to surrender your soul unconditionally to the passionate appeal of a Beethoven, or to split your musical brains in conjectures about what Volkanikoffsky is driving at. You will find at the end that you have passed an hour or so of tranquil enjoyment, and are mighty content with yourself, the performers, and every one else.

But if you only hear the two parts, played alone, and your mental image of all the other parts is not strong enough to prevent your hearing the two performers count the bars while the non-performers don't do anything at all, you will probably go away and come back presently, or go mad.

Nobody else was there when Sally and Laetitia Wilson were counting four, and beginning too soon, and having to go back and begin all over again, and missing a bar, and knocking down their music-stands when they had to turn over quick. So nobody went mad. Mamma had gone to an anti-vaccination meeting, and Athene had gone to stay over Bank Holiday at Leighton Buzzard, and the boys had gone to skate, and papa was in his study and didn't matter, and they had the drawing-room to themselves. Oh dear, how very often they did count four, to be sure!

Sally was distraite, and wasn't paying proper attention to the music. Whenever a string had to be tightened by either, Sally introduced foreign matter. Laetitia was firm and stern (she was twenty-four, if you please!), and wouldn't respond. As thus, in a tightening-up pause:

"I like him awfully, you know, Tishy. In fact, I love him. It's a pleasure to hear him come into the house. Only—one's mother, you know! It's the oddity of it!"

"Yes, dear. Now, are you ready?... It only clickets down because you will not screw in; it's no use turning and leaving the key sloppy...."

"I know, Tishy dear—teach your granny! There, I think that's right now. But it is funny when it's one's mother, isn't it?"

"One—two—three—four! There—you didn't begin! Remember, you've got to begin on the demisemiquaver at the end of the bar—only not too staccato, remember—and allow for the pause. Now—one, two, three, four, and you begin—in the middle of four—not the end. Oh dear! Now once more...." etc.

You will at once see from this that Sally had lost no time in finding a confidante for the fossil's communication.

An hour and a half of resolute practising makes you not at all sorry for an oasis in the counting, which you inaugurate (or whatever you do when it's an oasis) by smashing the top coal and making a great blaze. And then you go ever so close, and can talk.

"Are you sure it isn't Colonel Lund's mistake? Old gentlemen get very fanciful." Thus Miss Wilson. But it seems Sally hasn't much doubt. Rather the other way round, if anything!

"I thought it might be, all the way to Norland Square. Then I changed my mind coming up the hill. Of course, I don't know about mamma till I ask her. But I expect the Major's right about Mr. Fenwick."

"But how does he know? How do you know?"

"I don't know." Sally tastes the points of a holly-leaf with her tongue-tip, discreetly, to see how sharp they are, and cogitates. "At least," she continues, "I do know. He never takes his eyes off mamma from the minute he comes into the house."


"Besides—lots of things! Oh no; as far as that goes, I should say he was spooney."

"I see. You're a vulgar child, all the same! But about your mother—that's the point."

The vulgar child cogitates still more gravely.

"I should say now," she says, after thinking it over, "that—only I never noticed it at the time, you know——"

"That what?"

"That mamma knows Mr. Fenwick is spooney, and looks up at times to see that he's going on."

Laetitia seems to receive this idea with some hesitation or reserve. "Looks up at times to see if he's going on?" she repeats inquiringly.

"Yes, of course—like we should. Only I didn't say 'see if.' I said 'see that.' It makes all the difference."

Miss Wilson breaks into a laugh. "And there you are all the time looking as if butter wouldn't melt in your mouth, and as grave as a judge."

Sally has to acquiesce in being kissed by her friend at this point; but she curls up a little as one who protests against being patronised. "We-e-e-ell!" she says, lengthening out the word, "why not? I don't see anything in that!"

"Oh no, dear—that's all right! Why shouldn't it be?"

But this isn't candid of Laetitia, whose speech and kiss had certainly appeared to impute suppressed insight, or penetration, or sly-pussness, or something of that sort to her young friend. But with an implied claim to rights of insight, on her own account, from seniority. Sally is froissee at this, but not beyond jerking the topic into a new light.

"Of course, it's their being grown up that makes one stare so. If it wasn't for that...." But this gives away her case, surrenders all claim to her equality with Laetitia's twenty-four years. The advantage is caught at meanly.

"That's only because you're a baby, dear. Wait till you're ten years older, and thirty-eight won't seem so old. I suppose your mother's about that?"

"Mother? Why, she's nearly thirty-nine!"

"And Mr. Fenwick?"

"Oh, he's forty-one. Quite! Because we talked it all over, and made out they were over eighty between them."

"Who talked it over?"

"Why, him and her and me, of course. Last night."

"Who did you have, Sally dear?"

"Only ourselves, and Dr. Prosy and his Goody mother."

"I thought Mr. Fenwick——"

"I counted him in with us—mother and me and the Major."

"Oh, you counted him in?"

"Why shouldn't I count him in, if I like?"

"Why not? And you do like?" There is an appearance of irritating sagacity about Sally's friend. "What did Dr. Vereker say, Sally dear?"

"Doc-tor Vereker! Dr. Prosy. Prosy's not a referee—it was no concern of his! Besides—they'd gone."

"Who'd gone?"

"Dr. Prosy and his old hen of a mother. Well, Tishy dear, she is like that. Comes wobbling down on you as if you were a chicken! I hope you don't think mother and I and Mr. Fenwick would talk about how old we were added together, with old Goody Prosy in it!"

"Of course not, dear!"

"Oh, Tishy dear, how aggravating you are! Now do please don't be penetrating. You know you're trying to get at something; and there's nothing to get at. It was perfectly natural. Only, of course, we should never dream of talking about how old before people and their gossipy old mothers."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14     Next Part
Home - Random Browse