And it was then Sally went upstairs and indited her friend for sitting on that sofa after calling him a shop-boy. And she didn't forget it, either, for after she and her mother were in bed, and presumably better, she called out to her.
"I say, mammy!"
"Isn't that St. John's Church?"
"Isn't which St. John's Church?"
"Where Tishy goes?"
"Yes, Ladbroke Grove Road. Why?"
"Because now Mr. Bradshaw will go there—public worship!"
"Will he, dear? Suppose we go to sleep." But she really meant "you," not "we"; for it was a long time before she went to sleep herself. She had plenty to think of, and wanted to be quiet, conscious of Sally in the neighbourhood.
* * * * *
We hope our reader was not misled, as we ourselves were, when Mrs. Nightingale first saw the name on Fenwick's arm, into supposing that she accepted it as his real name. She knew better. But then, how was she to tell him his name was Palliser? Think it over.
OF A SLEEPLESS NIGHT MRS. NIGHTINGALE HAD, AND HOW SALLY WOKE UP AND TALKED
Was it possible, thought Rosalind in the sleepless night that followed, that the recurrence of the tennis-garden in Fenwick's mind might grow and grow, and be a nucleus round which the whole memory of his life might re-form? Even so she had seen, at a chemical lecture, a supersaturated solution, translucent and spotless, suddenly fill with innumerable ramifications from one tiny crystal dropped into it. Might not this shred of memory chance to be a crystal of the right salt in the solvent of his mind, and set going a swift arborescence to penetrate the whole? Might not one branch of that tree be a terrible branch—one whose leaves and fruit were poisoned and whose stem was clothed with thorns? A hideous metaphor of the moment—call it the worst in her life—when her young husband, driven mad with the knowledge that had just forced its way into his reluctant mind, had almost struck her away from him, and with angry words, of which the least was traitress, had broken through the effort of her hands to hold him, and left her speechless in her despair.
It was such a nightmare idea, this anticipation that next time she met Gerry's eyes she might see again the anger that was in them on that blackest of her few married days, might see him again vanish from her, this time never to return. And it spread an ever growing horror, greater and greater in the silence and the darkness of the night, till it filled all space and became a power that thrilled through every nerve, and denied the right of any other thing in the infinite void to be known or thought of. Which of us has not been left, with no protection but our own weak resolutions, to the mercy of a dominant idea in the still hours when others were near us sleeping whom we might not wake to say one word to save us?
What would his face be like—how would his voice sound—when she saw him next? Or would some short and cruel letter come to say he had remembered all, and now—for all the gratitude he owed her—he could not bear to look upon her face again, hers who had done him such a wrong! If so, what should she—what could she do?
There was only one counter-thought to this that brought with it a momentary balm. She would send Sally to him to beg, beseech, implore him not to repeat his headstrong error of the old years, to swear to him that if only he could know all he would forgive—nay, more, that if he could know quite all—the very whole of the sad story—not only would he forgive, but rather seek forgiveness for himself for the too harsh judgment he so rashly formed.
What should she say to Sally? how should she instruct her to plead for her? Never mind that now. All she wanted in her lonely, nervous delirium was the ease the thought gave her, the mere thought of the force of Sally's fixed, immovable belief—that she was certain of—that whatsoever her mother had done was right. Never mind the exact amount of revelation she would have to make to Sally. She might surely indulge the idea, just to get at peace somehow, till—as pray Heaven it might turn out—she should know that Gerry's mind was still unconscious of its past. The chances were, so she thought mechanically to herself, that all her alarms were groundless.
And at the first—strange as it is to tell—Sally's identity was only that of the daughter she had now, that filled her life, and gave her the heart to live. She was the Sally space was full of for her. What she was, and why she was, merged, as it usually did, in the broad fact of her existence. But there was always the chance that this what and why—two bewildering imps—should flaunt their unsolved conundrum through her mother's baffled mind. There they were, sure enough in the end, enjoying her inability to answer, dragging all she prayed daily to be better able to forget out into the light of the memory they had kindled. There they were, chuckling over her misery, and hiding—so Rosalind feared—a worse question than any, keeping it back for a final stroke to bring her mental fever to its height—how could Sally be the daughter of a devil and her soul be free from the taint of his damnation?
If Rosalind had only been well read in the mediaeval classics, and had known that story of Merlin's birth—the Nativity that was to rewrite the Galilean story in letters of Hell, and give mankind for ever to be the thrall of the fallen angel his father! And now the babe at its birth was snatched away to the waters of baptism, and poor Satan—alas!—obliged to cast about for some new plan of campaign; which, to say truth, he must have found, and practised with some success. But Rosalind had never read this story. Had she done so she might have felt, as we do, that the tears of an absolutely blameless mother might serve to cleanse the inherited sin from a babe unborn as surely as the sacramental fount itself.
And it may be that some such thought had woven itself into the story Fenwick's imagination framed for Rosalind the evening before—that time that she said of Sally, "She is not a devil!" The exact truth, the ever-present record that was in her mind as she said this, must remain unknown to us.
But to return to her as she is now, racked by a twofold mental fever, an apprehension of a return of Fenwick's memory, and a stimulated recrudescence of her own; with the pain of all the scars burnt in twenty years ago revived now by her talk with him of a few hours since. She could bear it no longer, there alone in the darkness of the night. She must get at Sally, if only to look at her. Why, that child never could be got to wake unless shaken when she was wanted. Ten to one she wouldn't this time. And it would make all the difference just to see her there, alive and leagues away in dreamland. If her sleep lasted through the crackle of a match to light her candle, heard through the open door between their rooms, the light of the candle itself wouldn't wake her. Rosalind remembered as she lit the candle and found her dressing-gown—for the night air struck cold—how once, when a ten-year-old, Sally had locked herself in, and no noise or knocking would rouse her; how she herself, alarmed for the child, had thereon summoned help, and the door was broken open, but only to be greeted by the sleeper, after explanation, with, "Why didn't you knock?"
She was right in her forecast, and perhaps it was as well the girl did not wake. She would only have had a needless fright, to see her mother, haggard with self-torment, by her bedside at that hour. So Rosalind got her full look at the rich coils of black hair that framed up the unconscious face, that for all its unconsciousness had on it the contentment of an amused dreamer, at the white ivory skin it set off so well, at the one visible ear that heard nothing, or if it did, translated it into dream, and the faint rhythmic movement that vouched for soundless breath. She looked as long as she dared, then moved away. But she had barely got her head back on her pillow when "Was that you, mother?" came from the next room. Her mother always said of Sally that nothing was certain but the imprevu, and ascribed to her a monstrous perversity. It was this that caused her to sleep profoundly through that most awakening of incidents, a person determined not to disturb you, and then to wake up short into that person's self-congratulations on success.
"Of course it was, darling. Who else could it have been?"
Sally's reply, "I thought it was," seems less reasonable—mere conversation making—and a sequel as of one reviewing new and more comfortable positions in bed follows naturally. A decision on the point does not prohibit conversation, rather facilitates it.
"What did you come for, mammy?"
"Eau-de-Cologne." The voice has a fell intention of instant sleep in it which Sally takes no notice of.
"Have you got it?"
"Got it? Yes. Go to sleep, chatterbox."
It was true about the eau-de-Cologne, for Rosalind, with a self-acting instinct that explanation might be called for, had picked up the bottle on her return journey. You see, she was always practising wicked deceits and falsehoods, all to save that little chit being made miserable on her account. But the chit wasn't going to sleep again. She was going to enjoy her new attitude awake. Who woke her up? Answer that.
"I say, mother!"
"What, kitten? Go to sleep."
"All right—in a minute. Do you remember Mr. Fenwick's bottle of eau-de-Cologne?"
"Of course I do. Go to sleep."
"Just going. But wasn't it funny?"
"What funny?—Oh, the eau-de-Cologne!"
Rosalind isn't really sleepy, and may as well talk. "Yes, that was very funny. I wonder where he got it." She seems roused, and her daughter is repentant.
"Oh dear! What a shame! I've just spoiled your go-off. Poor mother!"
"Never mind, chick! I like to talk a little. It was funny that he should have a big bottle of eau-de-Cologne, of all things, in his pocket."
"Yes, but it was rummer still about Rosalind Nightingale—his Rosalind Nightingale, the one he knew." This is dangerous ground, and Rosalind knows it. But a plea of half-sleep will cover mistakes, and conversation about the pre-electrocution period is the nearest approach to taking Sally into her confidence that she can hope for. She is so weary with her hours of wakefulness that she becomes a little reckless, foreseeing a resource in such uncertainty of speech as may easily be ascribed to a premature dream.
"It's not impossible that it should have been your grandmother, kitten. But we can't find out now. And it wouldn't do us any good that I can see."
"It would be nice to know for curiosity. Couldn't anything be fished out in the granny connexion? No documents?"
"Nothing will ever be fished out by me in that connexion, Sally darling." Sally knows from her mother's tone of voice that they are approaching an impasse. She means to give up the point the moment it comes fully in view. But she will go on until that happens. She has to think out what was the name of the Sub-Dean before she speaks again.
"Didn't the Reverend Decimus Ireson grab all the belongings?"
"They were left to him, child. It was all fair, as far as that goes. I didn't grudge him the things—indeed, I felt rather grateful to him for taking them. It would only have been painful, going over them. Different people feel differently about these things. I didn't want old recollections."
"Hadn't the Reverend Decimus a swarm of brats?"
"Sal—ly darling!... Well, yes, he had. There were two families. One of six daughters, I forget which."
"Couldn't they be got at, to see if they wouldn't recollect something?"
"Of course they could. They've married a lawyer—at least, one of them has. And all the rest, I believe, live with them." At another time Sally would have examined this case in relation to the Deceased Wife's Sister Bill. She was too interested now to stop her mother continuing: "But what a silly chick you are! Why should they know anything about it?"
"Why shouldn't they?"
Her mother's reply is emphasized. "My dear, do consider! I was with your grandmother till within a month of her marriage with the Reverend, as you call him, and I should have been ten times more likely to hear about Mr. Fenwick than ever they would afterwards. Your grandmother had never even seen them when I went away to India to be married."
"What's the lawyer's name?"
"Bearman, I think, or Dearman. But why?—Oh, no, by-the-bye, I think it's Beazley."
"Because I could write and ask, or call. Sure to hear something."
"My dear, you'll hear nothing, and they'll only think you mad." Rosalind was beginning to feel that she had made a mistake. She did not feel so sure Sally would hear nothing. A recollection crossed her mind of how one of the few incidents there was time for in her short married life had been the writing of a letter by her husband to his friend, the real Fenwick, and of much chaff therein about the eldest of these very daughters, and her powerful rivalry to Jessie Nairn. It came back to her now. Sally alarmed her still further.
"Yes, mother. I shall just get Mr. Fenwick to hunt up the address, and go and call on the Beazleys." This sudden assumption of a concrete form by the family was due to a vivid image that filled Sally's active brain immediately of a household of parched women presided over by a dried man who owned a wig on a stand and knew what chaff-wax meant, which she didn't. A shop window near Lincoln's Inn was responsible. But to Rosalind it really seemed that Sally must have had other means of studying this family, and she was frightened.
"You don't know them, kitten?"
"Not the least. Don't want to." This reflection suggests caution. "Perhaps I'd better write...."
"Better do nothing of the sort, child. Better go to sleep...."
"All right." But Sally does not like quitting the subject so abruptly, and enlarges on it a little more. She sketches out a letter to be written to the lady who is at present a buffer-state between the dried man and the parched women. "Dear madam," she recites, "you may perhaps recall—or will perhaps recall—which is right, mother?"
"Either, dear. Go to sleep." But just at this moment Rosalind recollects with satisfaction that the name was neither Beazley nor Dearman, but Tressilian Tredgold. She has been thinking of falling back on affectation of sleep to avoid more alarms, but this makes it needless.
"I'm sure I've got the name wrong," she says, with revived wakefulness in her voice.
But Sally is murmuring to herself—"Perhaps recall my mother, Mrs. Rosalind Nightingale—Rosalind in brackets—by her maiden name of—by the same name—who married the late Mr. Graythorpe in India—I say, mother...."
"Yes, little goose."
"How am I to put all that?"
"Go to sleep! I don't think you'll find that family very—coming. My impression is you had much better leave it alone. What good would it do you to find out who Mr. Fenwick was? And perhaps have him go away to Australia!"
Oh dear, what mistakes Rosalind did make! Why on earth need she name the place she knew Gerry did go to? America would have done just as well.
"Australia—New Zealand—America—anywhere!" But Sally doesn't mind—has fallen back on her letter-sketch.
"Apologizing for troubling you, believe me, dear madam, yours faithfully—or very faithfully, or truly—Rosalind Nightingale.... No; I should not like Mr. Fenwick to go away anywhere. No more would you. I want him here, for us. So do you!"
"I should be very sorry indeed for Mr. Fenwick to go away. We should miss him badly. But fancy what his wife must be feeling, if he has one. I can sympathize with her." It really was a relief to say anything so intensely true.
Did the reality with which she spoke impress Sally more than the mere words, which were no more than "common form" of conversation? Probably, for something in them brought back her conference with the Major on Boxing Day morning when her mother was at church. What was that she had said to him when she was sitting on his knee improving his whiskers?—that if she, later on, saw reason to suppose his suspicions true, she would ask her mother point-blank. Why not? And here she was with the same suspicions, quite, quite independent of the Major. And see how dark it was in both rooms! One could say anything. Besides, if her mother didn't want to answer, she could pretend to be asleep. She wouldn't ask too loud, to give her a chance.
"Mother darling, if Mr. Fenwick was to make you an offer, how should you like it?"
"Oh dear! What's the child saying? What is it, Sallykin? I was just going off."
Now, obviously, you can ask a lady Sally's question in the easy course of flowing chat, but you can't drag her from the golden gates of sleep to ask it. It gets too official. So Sally backed out, and said she had said nothing, which wasn't the case. The excessive readiness with which her mother accepted the statement looks, to us, as if she had really been awake and heard.
HOW MILLAIS' "HUGUENOT" CAME OF A WALK IN THE BACK GARDEN. AND HOW FENWICK VERY NEARLY KISSED SALLY
In spite of Colonel Lund's having been so betimes in his forecastings about Mrs. Nightingale and Fenwick (as we must go on calling him for the present), still, when one day that lady came, about six weeks after the nocturne in our last chapter, and told him she must have his consent to a step she was contemplating before she took it, he felt a little shock in his heart—one of those shocks one so often feels when one hears that a thing he has anticipated without pain, even with pleasure, is to become actual.
But he replied at once, "My dear! Of course!" without hearing any particulars; and added: "You will be happier, I am sure. Why should I refuse my consent to your marrying Fenwick? Because that's it, I suppose?" That was it. The Major had guessed right.
"He asked me to marry him, last night," she said, with simple equanimity and directness. "I told him yes, as far as my own wishes went. But I said I wouldn't, if either you or the kitten forbade the banns."
"I don't think we shall, either of us." It was a daughter's marriage-warrant he was being asked to sign; a document seldom signed without a heartache, more or less, for him who holds the pen. But his coeur navre had to be concealed, for the sake of the applicant; no wet blanket should be cast on her new happiness. He kissed her affectionately. To him, for all her thirty-nine or forty birthdays, she was still the young girl he had helped and shielded in her despair, twenty years ago, he himself being then a widower, near forty years her senior. "No, Rosa dear," continued the Major. "As far as I can see, there can be no objection but one—you know!"
"Yes. It is all a terra incognita. He may have a wife elsewhere, seeking for him. Who can tell?"
"It is a risk to be run. But I am prepared to run it"—she was going to add "for his sake," but remembered that her real meaning for these words would be, "for the sake of the man I wronged," and that the Major knew nothing of Fenwick's identity. She had not been able to persuade herself to make even her old friend her confidant. Danger lay that way. She knew silence would be safe against anything but Fenwick's own memory.
"Yes, it is a risk, no doubt," the Major said. "But I am like him. I cannot conceive a man forgetting that he had a wife. It seems an impossibility. He has talked about you to me, you know."
"In connexion with his intention about me?"
"Almost. Not quite definitely, but almost. He knew I understood what he meant. It seemed to me he was fidgeting more about his having so little to offer in the way of worldly goods than about any possible wife in the clouds."
"Dear fellow! Just fancy! Why, those people in the City would take him into partnership to-morrow if he had a little capital to bring in. They told him so themselves."
"And you would finance him? Is that the idea? Well, I suppose as I'm your trustee, if the money was all lost, I should have to make it up, so it wouldn't matter."
"Oh, Major dear! is that what being a trustee means?"
"Of course, my dear Rosa! What did you think it meant?"
"Do you know, I don't know what I did think; at least, I thought it would be very nice if you were my trustee."
The conversation has gone off on a siding, but the Major shunts the train back. "That was what you and little fiddle-stick's-end were talking about till three in the morning, then?"
"Oh, Major dear, did you hear us? And we kept you awake? What a shame!"
* * * * *
For on the previous evening, Sally being out musicking and expected home late, Fenwick and Mrs. Nightingale had gone out in the back-garden to enjoy the sweet air of that rare phenomenon—a really fine spring night in England—leaving the Major indoors because of his bronchial tubes. The late seventies shrink from night air, even when one means to be a healthy octogenarian. Also, they go away to bed, secretively, when no one is looking—at least, the Major did in this case. Of course, he was staying the night, as usual.
So, in the interim between the Major's good-night and Sally's cab-wheels, this elderly couple of lovers (as they would have worded their own description) had the summer night to themselves. As the Major closed his bedroom window, he saw, before drawing down the blind, that the two were walking slowly up and down the gravel path, talking earnestly. No impression of mature years came to the Major from that gravel path. A well-made, handsome man, with a bush of brown hair and a Raleigh beard, and a graceful woman suggesting her beauty through the clear moonlight—that was the implication of as much as he could see, as he drew the inference a word of soliloquy hinted at, "Not Millais' Huguenot, so far!" But he evidently expected that grouping very soon. Only he was too sleepy to watch for it, and went to bed. Besides, would it have been honourable?
"It's no use, Fenwick," she said to him in the garden, "trying to keep off the forbidden subject, so I won't try."
"It's not forbidden by me. Nothing could be, that you would like to say."
Was that, she thought, only what so many men say every day to so many women, and mean so little by? Or was it more? She could not be sure yet. She glanced at him as they turned at the path-end, and her misgivings all but vanished, so serious and resolved was his quiet face in the moonlight. She was half-minded to say to him, "Do you mean that you love me, Fenwick?" But, then, was it safe to presume on the peculiarity of her position, of which he, remember, knew absolutely nothing.
For with her it was not as with another woman, who expects what is briefly called "an offer." In her case, the man beside her was her husband, to whose exorcism of her love from his life her heart had never assented. While, in his eyes, she differed in no way in her relation to him from any woman, to whom a man, placed as he was, longs to say that she is what he wants most of all mortal things, but stickles in the telling of it, from sheer cowardice; who dares not risk the loss of what share he has in her in the attempt to get the whole. She grasped the whole position, he only part of it.
"I am glad it is so," she decided to say. "Because each time I see you, I want to ask if nothing has come back—no trace of memory?"
"Nothing! It is all gone. Nothing comes back."
"Do you remember that about the tennis-court? Did it go any further, or die out completely?"
He stopped a moment in his walk, and flicked the ash from his cigar; then, after a moment's thought, replied:
"I am not sure. It seemed to get mixed with my name—on my arm. I think it was only because tennis and Fenwick are a little alike." His companion thought how near the edge of a volcano both were, and resolved to try a crucial experiment. Better an eruption, after all, or a plunge in the crater, than a life of incessant doubt.
"You remembered the name Algernon clearly?"
"Not clearly. But it was the only name with an 'A' that felt right. Unless it was Arthur, but I'm sure my name never was Arthur!"
"Sally thought it was hypnotic suggestion—thought I had laid an unfair stress upon it. I easily might have."
"Why? Did you know an Algernon?"
"My husband's name was Algernon." She herself wondered how any voice that spoke so near a heart that beat as hers did at this moment could keep its secret. Yet it betrayed nothing, and so supreme was her self-control that she could say to herself, even while she knew she would pay for this effort later, that the pallor of her face would betray nothing either; he would put that down to the moonlight. She was a strong woman. For she went steadily on, to convince herself of her own self-command: "I knew him very little by that name, though. I always called him Gerry."
He merely repeated the name thrice, but it gave her a moment of keen apprehension. Any stirring of memory over it might be the thin end of a very big wedge. But if there was any, it was an end so thin that it broke off. Fenwick looked round at her.
"Do you know," he said, "I rather favour the hypnotic suggestion theory. For the moment you said the name Gerry, I fancied I too knew it as the short for Algernon. Now, that's absurd! No two people ever made Gerry out of Algernon. It's always Algy."
"Always. Certainly, it would be odd."
"I am rather inclined to think," said Fenwick, after a short silence, "that I can understand how it happened. Only then, perhaps, my name may not be Algernon at all. And here I have been using it, signing with it, and so on."
"What do you understand?"
"Well, I suspect this. I suspect that you did lay some kind of stress, naturally, on your husband's name, and also on its abbreviation. It affected me somehow with a sense of familiarity."
"Is it so very improbable that you were familiar with the name Gerry too? It might be——"
"Anything might be. But surely we almost know that two accidental adoptions of Gerry as a short for Algernon would not come across each other by chance, as yours and mine have done."
"What is 'almost knowing'? But tell me this. When I call you Gerry—Gerry ... there!—does the association or impression repeat itself?" She repeated the name once and again, to try. There was a good deal of nettle-grasping in all this. Also a wish to clinch matters, to drive the sword to the hilt; to put an end, once and for all, to the state of tension she lived in. For surely, if anything could prove his memory was really gone, it would be this. That she should call him by his name of twenty years ago—should utter it to him, as she could not help doing, in the tone in which she spoke to him then, and that her doing so should arouse no memory of the past—surely this would show, if anything could show it, that that past had been finally erased from the scroll of his life. She had a moment only of suspense after speaking, and then, as his voice came in answer, she breathed again freely. Nothing could have shown a more complete unconsciousness than his reply, after another moment of reflection:
"Do you know, Mrs. Nightingale, that convinces me that the name Algernon was produced by your way of saying it. It was hypnotic suggestion! I assure you that, however strange you may think it, every time you repeat the name Gerry, it seems more familiar to me. If you said it often enough, I have no doubt I should soon be believing in the diminutive as devoutly as I believe in the name itself. Because I am quite convinced of Algernon Fenwick. Continually signing per-pro's has driven it home." He didn't seem quite in earnest over his conviction, though—seemed to laugh a little about it.
But a sadder tone came into his voice after an interval in which his companion, frightened at her own temerity, resolved that she would not call him Gerry again. It was sailing too near the wind. She was glad he went back from this side-channel of their talk to the main subject.
"No, I have no hope of getting to the past through my own mind. I feel it is silence. And that being so, I should be sorry that any illumination should come to me out of the past, throwing light on records my mind could not read—I mean, any proof positive of what my crippled memory could not confirm. I would rather remain quite in the dark—unless, indeed——"
"Unless the well-being of some others, forgotten with my forgotten world, is involved in—dependent on—my return to it. That would be shocking—the hungry nestlings in the deserted nest. But I am so convinced that I have only forgotten a restless life of rapid change—that I could not forget love and home, if I ever had them—that my misgivings about this are misgivings of the reason only, not of the heart. Do you understand me?"
"Perfectly. At least, I think so. Go on."
"I cannot help thinking, too, that a sense of a strong link with a forgotten yesterday would survive the complete effacement of all its details in the form of a wish to return to it. I have none. My to-day is too happy for me to wish to go back to that yesterday, even if I could, without a wrench. I feel a sort of shame in saying I should be sorry to return to it. It seems a sort of ... a sort of disloyalty to the unknown."
"You might long to be back, if you could know. Think if you could see before you now, and recognise the woman who was once your wife." There was nettle-grasping in this.
"It is a mere abstract idea," he replied, "unaccompanied by any image of an individual. I perceive that it is dutiful to recognise the fact that I should welcome her if she appeared as a reality. But it is a large if. I am content to go on without an hypothesis—that is really all she is now. And my belief that, if she had ever existed, I should not be able to disbelieve in her, underlies my acceptance of her in that character."
Mrs. Nightingale laughed. "We are mighty metaphysical," said she. "Wouldn't it depend entirely on what she was like, when all's said and done? I believe I'm right. We women are more practical than men, after all."
"You make game of my metaphysics, as you call them. Well, I'll drop the metaphysics and speak the honest truth." He stopped and faced round towards her, standing on the garden path. "Only, you must make me one promise."
She stopped also, and stood looking full at him.
"If I tell you all I think in my heart, you will not allow it to come between me and you, to undermine the only strong friendship I have in the world, the only one I know of."
"It shall make no difference between us. You may trust me."
They turned and walked again slowly, once up and down. Then Fenwick's voice, when he next spoke, had an added earnestness, a growing tension, with an echo in it, for her, of the years gone by—a ring of his young enthusiasm, of his passionate outburst in the lawn-tennis garden twenty years ago. He made no more ado of what he had to say.
"I can form no image in my mind, try how I may, of any woman for whose sake I would give up one hour of the precious privilege I now enjoy. I have no right to—to assess it, to make a definition of it. But I have it now. I could not resume my place as the husband of a now unknown wife—you know what I mean—and not lose the privilege of being near you. It may be—it is conceivable, I mean; no more—that a revelation to me of myself, a light thrown on what I am, would bring me what would palliate the wrench of losing what I have of you. It may be so—it may be! All I know is—all I can say is—that I can now imagine nothing, no treasure of love of wife or daughter, that would be a make-weight for what I should lose if I had to part from you." He paused a moment, as though he thought he was going beyond his rights of speech, then added more quietly: "No; I can imagine no hypothetical wife. And as for my hypothetical daughter, I find I am always utilising Sally for her."
Mrs. Nightingale murmured in an undertone the word "Sallykin," as she so often did when her daughter was mentioned, with that sort of caress in her voice. This time it was caught by a sort of gasp, and she remained silent. What Sally was had crossed her mind—the strange relation in which she stood to Fenwick, born in his wedlock, but no daughter of his. And there he was, as fond of the child as he could be.
Fenwick may have half misunderstood something in her manner, for when he spoke again his words had a certain aspect of recoil from what he had said, at least of consideration of it in some new light.
"When I speak to you as freely as this, remember the nature of the claim I have to do so—the only apology I can make for taking an exceptional licence."
"How do you mean?"
"I mean I do not count myself as a man—only a sort of inexplicable waif, a kind of cancelled man. A man without a past is like a child, or an idiot from birth, suddenly endowed with faculties."
"What nonsense, Fenwick! You have brooded and speculated over your condition until you have become morbid. Do now, as Sally would say, chuck the metaphysics."
"Perhaps I was getting too sententious over it. I'm sorry, and please I won't do so any more."
"Don't then. And now you'll see what will happen. You will remember everything quite suddenly. It will all come back in a flash, and oh, how glad you will be! And think of the joy of your wife and children!"
"Yes, and suppose all the while I am hating them for dragging me away from you——"
"From me and Sally?"
"I wasn't going to say Sally, but I don't want to keep her out. You and Sally, if you like. All I know is, if their reappearance were to bring with it a pleasure I cannot imagine—because I cannot imagine them—it would cut across my life, as it is now, in a way that would drive me mad. Indeed it would. How could I say to myself—as I say now, as I dare to say to you, knowing what I am—that to be here with you now is the greatest happiness of which I am capable."
"All that would change if you recovered them."
"Yes—yes—maybe! But I shrink from it; I shrink from them! They are strangers—nonentities. You are—you are—oh, it's no use——" He stopped suddenly.
"What am I?"
"It's no use beating about the bush. You are the centre of my life as it is, you are what I—all that is left of me—love best in the world! I cannot now conceive the possibility of anything but hatred for what might come between us, for what might sever the existing link, whatever it may be—I care little what it is called, so long as I may keep it unbroken...."
"And I care nothing!" It was her eyes meeting his that stopped him. He could read the meaning of her words in them before they were spoken. Then he replied in a voice less firm than before:
"Dare we—knowing what I am, knowing what may come suddenly, any hour of the day, out of the unknown—dare we call it love?" Perhaps in Fenwick's mind at this moment the predominant feeling was terror of the consequences to her that marriage with him might betray her into. It was much stronger than any misgiving (although a little remained) of her feelings toward himself.
"What else can we call it? It is a good old word." She said this quite calmly, with a very happy face one could see the flush of pleasure and success on even in the moonlight, and there was no reluctance, no shrinking in her, from her share of the outcome the Major had not waited to see. "Millais' Huguenot" was complete. Rosalind Graythorpe, or Palliser, stood there again with her husband's arm round her—her husband of twenty years ago! And in that fact was the keynote of what there was of unusual—of unconventional, one might almost phrase it—in her way of receiving and requiting his declaration. It hardly need be said that he was unconscious of any such thing. A man whose soul is reeling with the intoxication of a new-found happiness is not overcritical about the exact movement of the hand that has put the cup to his lips.
The Huguenot arrangement might have gone on in the undisturbed moonlight till the chill of the morning came to break it up if a cab-wheel crescendo and a strepitoso peal at the bell had not announced Sally, who burst into the house and rushed into the drawing-room tumultuously, to be corrected back by a serious word from Ann, the door-opener, that Missis and Mr. Fenwick had stepped out in the garden. Ann's parade of her conviction that this was en regle, when no one said it wasn't, was suggestive in the highest degree. Professional perjury in a law-court could not have been more self-conscious. Probably Ann knew all about it, as well as cook. Sally saw nothing. She was too full of great events at Ladbroke Grove Road—the sort of events that are announced with a preliminary, What do you think, N or M? And then develop the engagement of O to P, or the jilting of Q by R.
There was just time for a dozen words between the components of the Millais group in the moonlight.
"Shall we tell Sally?" It was the Huguenot that asked the question.
"Not just this minute. Wait till I can think. Perhaps I'll tell her upstairs. Now say good-bye before the chick comes, and go." And the chick came on the scene just too late to criticise the pose.
"I say, mother!" this with the greatest empressement of which humanity and youth are capable. "I've got something I must tell you!"
"What is it, kitten?"
"Tishy's head-over-ears in love with the shop-boy!"
"Sh-sh-sh-shish! You noisy little monkey, do consider! The neighbours will hear every word you say." So they will, probably, as Miss Sally's voice is very penetrating, and rings musically clear in the summer night. Her attitude is that she doesn't care if they do.
"Besides they're only cats! And nobody knows who Tishy is, or the shop-boy. I'll come down and tell you all about it."
"We're coming up, darling!" You see, Sally had manifestoed down into the garden from the landing of the stair, which was made of iron openwork you knocked flower-pots down and broke, and you have had to have a new one—that, at least, is how Ann put it. On the stair-top Mrs. Nightingale stems the torrent of her daughter's revelation because it's so late and Mr. Fenwick must get away.
"You must tell him all about it another time."
"I don't know whether it's any concern of his."
"Taken scrupulous, are we, all of a sudden?" says Fenwick, laughing. "That cock won't fight, Miss Pussy! You'll have to tell me all about it when I come to-morrow. Good-night, Mrs. Nightingale." A sort of humorous formality in his voice makes Sally look from one to the other, but it leads to nothing. Sally goes to see Fenwick depart, and her mother goes upstairs with a candle. In a minute or so Sally pelts up the stairs, leaving Ann and the cook to thumbscrew on the shutter-panels of the street door, and make sure that housebreaker-baffling bells are susceptible.
"Do you know, mamma, I really did think—what do you think I thought?"
"I thought Mr. Fenwick was going to kiss me!" In fact, Fenwick had only just remembered in time that family privileges must stand over till after the revelation.
"Should you have minded if he had?"
"Not a bit! Why should anybody mind Mr. Fenwick kissing them? You wouldn't yourself—you know you wouldn't! Come now, mother!"
"I shouldn't distress myself, poppet!" But words are mere wind; the manner of them is everything, and the foreground of her mother's manner suggests a background to Sally. She has smelt a rat, and suddenly fixes her eyes on a tell-tale countenance fraught with mysterious reserves.
"Mother, you are going to marry Mr. Fenwick!" No change of type could do justice to the emphasis with which Sally goes straight to the point. Italics throughout would be weak. Her mother smiles as she fondles her daughter's excited face.
"I am, darling. So you may kiss him yourself when he comes to-morrow evening."
And Tishy's passion for the shop-boy had to stand over. But, as the Major had said, the mother and daughter talked till three in the morning—well, past two, anyhow!
CONCERNING DR. VEREKER AND HIS MAMMA, WHO HAD KNOWN IT ALL ALONG. HOW SALLY LUNCHED WITH THE SALES WILSONS, AND GOT SPECULATING ABOUT HER FATHER. HOW TISHY LET OUT ABOUT MAJOR ROPER. HOW THERE WAS A WEDDING
The segment of a circle of Society that did duty for a sphere, in the case of Mrs. Nightingale and Sally, was collectively surprised when it heard of the intended marriage of the former, having settled in its own mind that the latter was the magnet to Mr. Fenwick's lodestone. But each several individual that composed it had, it seemed, foreseen exactly what was going to happen, and had predicted it in language that could only have been wilfully mistaken by persons interested in proving that the speaker was not a prophet. Exceptional insight had been epidemic. The only wonder was (to the individual speaker) that Mrs. Nightingale had remained single so long, and the only other wonder was that none of the other cases had seen it. They had evidently only taken seership mildly.
Dr. Vereker had a good opportunity of studying omniscience of a malignant type in the very well marked case of his own mother. You may remember Sally's denunciation of her as an old hen that came wobbling down on you. When her son (in the simplicity of his heart) announced to her as a great and curious piece of news that Mr. Fenwick was going to marry Mrs. Nightingale, she did not even look up from her knitting to reply: "What did I say to you, Conny?" For his name was Conrad, as Sally had reported. His discretion was not on the alert on this occasion, for he incautiously asked, "When?"
The good lady laid down her knitting on her knees, and folded her hands, interlacing her fingers, which were fat, as far as they would go, and leaning back with closed eyes—eyes intended to remain closed during anticipated patience.
"Fancy asking me that!" said she.
"Well, but—hang it!—when?"
"Do not use profane language, Conrad, in your mother's presence. Can you really ask me, 'When?' Try and recollect!"
Conrad appeared to consider; but as he had to contend with the problem of finding out when a thing had been said, the only clue to the nature of which was the date of its utterance, it was no great wonder that his cogitations ended in a shake of the head subdivided into its elements—shakes taken a brace at a time—and an expression of face as of one who whistles sotto voce. His questioner must have been looking between her eyelids, which wasn't playing fair; for she indicted him on the spot, and pushed him, as it were, into the dock.
"That, I suppose, means that I speak untruth. Very well, my dear!" Resignation set in.
"Come, mother, I say, now! Be a reasonable maternal parent. When did I say anybody spoke untruth?"
"My dear, you said nothing. But if your father could have heard what you did not say, you know perfectly well, my dear Conrad, what he would have thought. Was he likely to sit by and hear me insulted? Did he ever do so?"
The doctor was writing letters at a desk-table that he used for miscellaneous correspondence as much as possible, in order that this very same mother of his should be left alone as little as possible. He ended a responsible letter, and directed it, and made it a thing of the past with a stamp on it in a little basket on the hall-table outside. Then he came back to his mother, and bestowed on her the kiss, or peck, of peace. It always made him uncomfortable when he had to go away to the hospital under the shadow of dissension at home.
"Well, mother dear, what was it you really did say about the Fenwick engagement?"
"It would be more proper, my dear, to speak of it as the Nightingale engagement. You will say it is a matter of form, but...."
"All right. The Nightingale engagement...."
"My dear! So abrupt! To your mother!"
"Well, dear mammy, what was it, really now?" This cajolery took effect, and the Widow Vereker's soul softened. She resumed her knitting.
"If you don't remember what it was, dear, it doesn't matter." The doctor saw that nothing short of complete concession would procure a tranquil sea.
"Of course, I remember perfectly well," he said mendaciously. He knew that, left alone, his mother would supply a summary of what he remembered. She did so, with a bound.
"I said, my dear (and I am glad you recollect it, Conrad)—I said from the very first, when Mr. Fenwick was living at Krakatoa—(it was all quite right, my dear. Do you think I don't know? A grown-up daughter and two servants!)—I said that any one with eyes in their head could see. And has it turned out exactly as I expected, or has it not?"
"Very well, dear. I'm glad you say so. Now, don't contradict me another time."
The close observer of the actual (whom we lay claim to be) has occasionally to report the apparently impossible. We do not suppose we shall be believed when we say that Mrs. Vereker added: "Besides, there was the Major."
* * * * *
Professor Sales Wilson, Laetitia's father, was the Professor Sales Wilson. Only, if you had seen that eminent scholar when he got outside his library by accident and wanted to get back, you wouldn't have thought he was the anybody, and would probably have likened him to a disestablished hermit-crab—in respect, that is, of such a one's desire to disappear into his shell, and that respect only. For no hermit-crab would ever cause an acquaintance to wonder why he should shave at all if he could do it no better than that; nor what he was talking to himself about so frequently; nor whether he polished his spectacles so long at a time to give the deep groove they were making across his nose a chance of filling up; nor whether he would be less bald if he rubbed his head less; nor what he had really got inside that overpowering phrenology of brow, and behind that aspect of chronic concentration. But about the retiring habits of both there could be no doubt.
He lived in his library, attired by nature in a dressing-gown and skull-cap. But from its secret recesses he issued manifestoes which shook classical Europe. He corrected versions, excerpted passages, disallowed authenticities, ascribed works to their true authors, and exposed the pretensions of sciolists with a vigour which ought to have finally dispersed that unhallowed class. Only it didn't, because they are a class incapable of shame, and will go on madly, even when they have been proved to be mere, beyond the shadow of a doubt. Perhaps they had secret information about the domestic circumstances of their destroyer, and didn't care. If Yamen had had private means of knowing that Vishnu was on uncomfortable terms with his wife, a corrected version of the whole Hindu mythology might have been necessary.
However, so far as can be conjectured, the image the world formed of the Professor was a sort of aggregate of Dr. Johnson, Bentley, Grotius, Mezzofanti, and a slight touch of, say Conington, to bring him well up to date. But so much of the first that whenever the raconteur repeated one of the Professor's moderately bon-mots, he always put "sir" in—as, for instance, "A punster, sir, is a man who demoralises two meanings in one word;" or, "Should you call that fast life, sir? I should call it slow death." The raconteur was rather given to making use of him, and assigning to him mots which were not at all bons, because they only had the "sir" in them, and were otherwise meaningless. He was distressed, not without reason, when he heard that he had said to Max Mueller, or some one of that calibre, "There is no such thing, sir, as the English language!" But he very seldom heard anything about himself, or any one else; as he passed his life, as aforesaid, in his library, buried in the Phoenician Dictionary he hoped he might live to bring out. He had begun the fourth letter; but we don't know the Phoenician alphabet. Perhaps it has only four letters in it.
He came out of the library for meals, of course. But he took very little notice of anything that passed at the family board, and read nearly the whole time, occasionally saying something forcible to himself. Indeed, he never conversed with his family unless deprived of his book. This occurred on the occasion when Sally carried the momentous news of her mother's intended marriage to Ladbroke Grove Road, the second day after they had talked till two in the morning. Matrimony was canvassed and discussed in all its aspects, and the particular case riddled and sifted, and elucidated from every point of the compass, without the Professor being the least aware that anything unusual was afoot, until Grotefend got in the mayonnaise sauce.
"Take your master's book away, Jenkins," said the lady of the house. And Jenkins, the tender-hearted parlourmaid, allowed master to keep hold just to the end of the sentence. "Take it away, as I told you, and wipe that sauce off!"
Sally did so want to box that woman's ears—at least, she said so after. She was a great horny, overbearing woman, was Mrs. Sales Wilson, and Sally was frightened lest Laetitia should grow like her. Only, Tishy's teeth never could get as big as that! Nor wiggle.
The Professor, being deprived of his volume, seemed to awake compulsorily, and come out into a cold, unlearned world. But he smiled amiably, and rubbed his hands round themselves rhythmically.
"Well, then!" said he. "Say it all again."
"Say what, papa?"
"All the chatter, of course."
"What for, papa?"
"For me to hear. Off we go! Who's going to be married?"
"You see, he was listening all the time. I shouldn't tell him, if I were you. Your father is really unendurable. And he gets worse." Thus the lady of the house.
"What does your mother say?" There is a shade of asperity in the Professor's voice.
"Says you were listening all the time, papa. So you were!" This is from Laetitia's younger sister, Theeny. Her name was Athene. Her brother Egerton called her "Gallows Athene"—an offensive perversion of the name of the lady she was called after. Her mother had carefully taught all her children contempt for their father from earliest childhood. But toleration of his weaknesses—etymology, and so on—had taken root in spite of her motherly care, and the Professor was on very good terms with his offspring. He negatived Theeny amiably.
"No, my dear, I was like Mrs. Cluppins. The voices were loud, and forced themselves upon my ear. But as you all spoke at once, I have no idea what anybody said. My question was conjectural—purely conjectural. Is anybody going to marry anybody? I don't know."
"What is your father talking about over there? Is he going to help that tongue or not? Ask him." For a peculiarity in this family was that the two heads of it always spoke to one another through an agent. So clearly was this understood that direct speech between them, on its rare occasions, was always ascribed by distant hearers to an outbreak of hostilities. If either speaker had addressed the other by name, the advent of the Sergeant-at-Arms would have been the next thing looked for. On this occasion Laetitia's literal transmission of "Are you going to help the tongue or not, papa?" recalled his wandering mind to his responsibilities. Sally's liver-wing—she was the visitor—was pleading at his elbow for its complement of tongue.
But soon a four-inch space intervened between the lonely tongue-tip on the dish and what had once been, in military language, its base of operations. Everybody that took tongue had got tongue.
"Well, then, how about who's married whom?" Thus the Professor, resuming his hand-rubbing, and neglecting the leg of a fowl.
"Make your father eat his lunch, Laetitia. We cannot be late again this afternoon." Whereon every one ate too fast; and Sally felt very glad the Professor had given her such a big slice of tongue, as she knew she wouldn't have the courage to have a second supply, if offered, much less ask for it.
"Do you hear, papa? I'm to make you eat your lunch," says Laetitia; and her mother murmurs "That's right; make him," as though he were an anaconda in the snake-house, and her daughter a keeper who could go inside the cage. Laetitia then adds briefly that Mrs. Nightingale is going to marry Fenwick.
"Ha! Mercy on us!" says the Professor quite vaguely, and, even more so, adds: "Chicken—chicken—chicken—chicken—chicken!" Though what he says next is more intelligible, it is unfortunate and ill-chosen: "And who is Mrs. Nightingale?"
The sphinx is mobility itself compared with Mrs. Wilson's intense preservation of her status quo. The import of which is that the Professor's blunders are things of everyday occurrence—every minute, rather. She merely says to Europe, "You see," and leaves that continent to deal with the position. Sally, who always gets impatient with the Wilson family, except the Professor himself and Laetitia—though she is trying sometimes—now ignores Europe, and gets the offender into order on her own account.
"Why, Professor dear, don't you know Mrs. Nightingale's my mother? I'm Sally Nightingale, you know!"
"I'm not at all sure that I did, my dear. I think I thought you were Sally Something-else. My mind is very absent sometimes. You must forgive me. Sally Nightingale! To be sure!"
"Never mind, Professor dear!" But the Professor still looks vexed at his blunder. So Sally says in confirmation, "I've forgiven you. Shake hands!" And doesn't make matters much better, for her action seems unaccountable to the absent-minded one, who says, "Why?" first, and then, "Oh, ah, yes—I see. Shake hands, certainly!" On which the Sphinx, at the far end of the table, wondered whether the ancient Phoenicians were rude, under her breath.
"I'm so absent, Sally Nightingale, that I didn't even know your father wasn't living." Laetitia looks uncomfortable, and when Sally merely says, "I never saw my father," thinks to herself what a very discreet girl Sally is. Naturally she supposes Sally to be a wise enough child to know something about her own father. But the Wilson family were not completely in the dark about an unsatisfactory "something queer" in Sally's extraction; so that she credits that unconscious young person with having steered herself skilfully out of shoal-waters; but she is not sure whether to class her achievement as intrepidity or cheek. She is wanted in the intelligence department before she can decide this point.
"Perhaps, if you try, Laetitia, you'll be able to make out whether your father is or is not going to eat his lunch."
But as this appeal of necessity causes the Professor to run the risk of choking himself before Laetitia has time to formulate an inquiry, she can fairly allow the matter to lapse, as far as she is concerned. The dragon, her mother—for that was how Sally spoke of the horny one—kept an eye firmly fixed on the unhappy honorary member of most learned societies, and gave the word of command, "Take away!" with such promptitude that Jenkins nearly carried off the plate from under his knife and fork as he placed them on it.
A citation from the Odyssey was received in stony silence by the Dragon, who, however, remarked to her younger daughter that it was no use talking about Phineus and the Harpies, because they had to be at St. Pancras at 3.10, or lose the train. And perhaps, if the servants were to be called Harpies, your father would engage the next one himself. They were trouble enough now, without that.
Owing to all which, the reference to Sally's father got lost sight of; and she wasn't sorry, because Theeny, at any rate, wasn't wanted to know anything about him, whatever Laetitia and her mother knew or suspected.
But, as a matter of fact, Sally's declaration that she "never saw" him was neither discretion, nor intrepidity, nor cheek. It was simple Nature. She had always regarded her father as having been accessory to herself before the fact; also as having been, for some mysterious reason, unpopular—perhaps a mauvais sujet. But he was Ancient History now—had joined the Phoenicians. Why should she want to know? Her attitude of uninquiring acquiescence had been cultivated by her mother, and it is wonderful what a dominant influence from early babyhood can do. Sally seldom spoke of this mysterious father of hers in any other terms than those she had just used. She had never had an opportunity of making his acquaintance—that was all. In some way, undefined, he had not behaved well to her mother; and naturally she sided with the latter. Once, and once only, her mother had said to her, "Sally darling, I don't wish to talk about your father, but to forget him. I have forgiven him, because of you. Because—how could I have done without you, kitten?" And thereafter, as Sally's curiosity was a feeble force when set against the possibility that its gratification might cause pain to her mother, she suppressed it easily.
But now and again little things would be said in her presence that would set her a-thinking—little things such as what the Professor has just said. She may easily have been abnormally sensitive on the point—made more prone to reflection than usual—by last night's momentous announcement. Anyhow, she resolved to talk to Tishy about her parentage as soon as they should get back to the drawing-room, where they were practising. All the two hours they ought to have played in the morning Tishy would talk about nothing but Julius Bradshaw. And look how ridiculous it all was! Because she did call him "shop-boy"—you know she did—only six weeks ago. Sally didn't see why her affairs shouldn't have a turn now; and although she was quite aware that her friend wanted her to begin again where they had left off before lunch, she held out no helping hand, but gave the preference to her own thoughts.
"I suppose my father drank," said Sally to Tishy.
"If you don't know, dear, how should I?" said Tishy to Sally. And that did seem plausible, and made Sally the more reflective.
The holly-leaves were gone now that had been conducive to thought at Christmas in this same room when we heard the two girls count four so often, but Sally could pull an azalea flower to pieces over her cogitations, and did so, instead of tuning up forthwith. Laetitia was preoccupied—couldn't take an interest in other people's fathers, nor her own for that matter. She tuned up, though, and told Sally to look alive. But while Sally looks alive she backs into a conversation of the forenoon, and out of the pending discussion of Sally's paternity. Their two preoccupations pull in opposite directions.
"You will remember not to say anything, won't you, Sally dear? Do promise."
"Say anything? Oh no; I shan't say anything. I never do say things. What about?"
"You know as well as I do, dear—about Julius Bradshaw."
"Of course I shan't, Tishy. Except mother; she doesn't count. I say, Tishy!"
"Well, dear. Do look alive. I'm all ready."
"All right. Don't be in a hurry. I want to know whether you really think my father drank."
"Why should I, dear? I never heard anything about him—at least, I never heard anything myself. Mamma heard something. Only I wasn't to repeat it. Besides, it was nothing whatever to do with drink." The moment Laetitia said this, she knew that she had lost her hold on her only resource against cross-examination. When the difficulty of concealing anything is thrown into the same scale with the pleasure of telling it, the featherweights of duty and previous resolutions kick the beam. Then you are sorry when it's too late. Laetitia was, and could see her way to nothing but obeying the direction on her music, which was attacca. To her satisfaction, Sally came in promptly in the right place, and a first movement in B sharp went steadily through without a back-lash. There seemed a chance that Sally hadn't caught the last remark, but, alas! it vanished.
"What was it, then, if it wasn't drink?" said she, exactly as if there had been no music at all. Laetitia once said of Sally that she was a horribly direct little Turk. She was very often—in this instance certainly.
"I suppose it was the usual thing." Twenty-four, of course, knew more than nineteen, and could speak to the point of what was and wasn't usual in matters of this kind. But if Laetitia hoped that vagueness would shake hands with delicacy and that details could be lubricated away, she was reckoning without her Turk.
"What is the usual thing?"
"Hadn't we better go on to the fugue? I don't care for the next movement, and it's easy——"
"Not till you say what you mean by 'the usual thing.'"
"Well, dear, I suppose you know what half the divorce-cases are about?"
"There was no divorce!"
"How do you know, dear?"
"I should have known of it."
"How do you know that?"
"You might go on for ever that way. Now, Tishy dear, do be kind and tell me what you heard and who said it. I should tell you. You know I should." This appeal produces concession.
"It was old Major Roper told mamma—with blue pockets under his eyes and red all over, creeks and wheezes when he speaks—do you know him?"
"No, I don't, and I don't want to. At least, I've just seen him at a distance. I could see he was purple. Our Major—Colonel Lund, you know—says he's a horrible old gossip, and you can't rely on a word he says. But what did he say?"
"Well, of course, I oughtn't to tell you this, because I promised not. What he said was that your mother went out to be married to your father in India, and the year after he got a divorce because he was jealous of some man your mother had met on the way out."
"How old was I?"
"Gracious me, child! how should I know. He only said you were a baby in arms. Of course, you must have been, if you think of it." Laetitia here feels that possible calculations may be embarrassing, and tries to avert them. "Do let's get on to the third movement. We shall spend all the afternoon talking."
"Very well, Tishy, fire away! Oh, no; it's me." And the third movement is got under way, till we reach a pizzicato passage which Sally begins playing with the bow by mistake.
"That's pits!" says the first violin, and we have to begin again at the top of the page, and the Professor in his library wonders why on earth those girls can't play straight on. The Ancient Phoenicians are fidgeted by the jerks in the music.
But it comes to an end in time, and then Sally begins again:
"I know that story's all nonsense now, Tishy."
"Because mother told me once that my father never saw me, so come now! Because the new-bornest baby that ever was couldn't be too small for its father to see." Sally pauses reflectively, then adds: "Unless he was blind. And mother would have said if he'd been blind."
"He couldn't have been blind, because——"
"Now, Tishy, you see! You're keeping back lots of things that old wheezy squeaker said. And you ought to tell me—you know you ought. Why couldn't he?"
"You're in such a hurry, dear. I was going to tell you. Major Roper said he never saw him but once, and it was out shooting tigers, and he was the best shot for a civilian he'd ever seen. There was a tiger was just going to lay hold of a man and carry him off when your father shot him from two hundred yards off——"
"The man or the tiger? I'm on the tiger's side. I always am."
"The tiger, stupid! You wouldn't want your own father to aim at a tiger and hit a man?"
Sally reflects. "I don't think I should. But, I say, Tishy, do you mean to say that Major Roper meant to say that he was out shooting with my father and didn't know what his name was?"
"Oh, no. He said his name, of course. It was Palliser ... that was right, wasn't it?"
"Oh dear, no; it was Graythorpe. Palliser indeed!"
"It was true about the tiger though, because Major Roper says he's got the skin himself now."
"Only it wasn't my father that shot it. That's quite clear." Sally was feeling greatly relieved, and showed it in the way she added: "Now, doesn't that just show what a parcel of nonsense the whole story is?"
Sally had never told her friend about her mother's name before she took that of Nightingale. Very slight hints had sufficed to make her reticent about Graythorpe. Colonel Lund had once said to her: "Of course, your mother was Mrs. Graythorpe when she came to England; that was before she changed her name to Nightingale, you know?" She knew that her mother's money had come to her from a "grandfather Nightingale," whose name had somehow accompanied it, and had been (very properly, as it seemed to her) bestowed on herself as well as her mother. They were part and parcel of each other obviously. In fact, she had never more than just known of the existence of the name Graythorpe in her family at all, and it had been imputed by her to this unpopular father of hers, and put aside, as it were, on a shelf with him. Even if her mother had not suggested a desire that the name should lapse, she herself would have accepted its extinction on her own account.
But now this name came out of the past as a consolation. Palliser indeed! How could mamma have been Mrs. Graythorpe if her husband's name had been Palliser? Sally was not wise enough in worldly matters to know that divorced ladies commonly fall back on their maiden names. And she had been kept, or left, so much in the dark that she had taken for granted that her mother's had been Nightingale—that, in fact, she had retaken her maiden name at her father's wish, possibly as a censure on the misbehaviour of a husband who drank or gambled or was otherwise reprobate. Her young mind had been manipulated all one way—had been in contact only with its manipulators. Had she had a sister or brother, they would have canvassed the subject, speculated, run conclusions to earth, and demanded enlightenment. She had none but her mother to go to, unless it were Colonel Lund; and the painful but inevitable task of both was to keep her in the dark about her parentage at all hazards. "If ever," said the former to the latter, "my darling girl has a child of her own, I may be able to tell her her mother's story." Till then, it would be impossible.
Sally had had a narrow escape of knowing more about this story when the veteran Sub-Dean qualified himself for an obituary in the "Times," which she chanced upon and read before her mother had time to detect and suppress it. Luckily, a reasonable economy of type had restricted the names and designations of all the wives he had driven tandem, and no more was said of his third than that she was Rosalind, the widow of Paul Nightingale. So, as soon as Sally's mother had read the text herself, she was able to say to the Major, quite undisturbedly, that the old Sub-Dean had gone at last, leaving thirteen children. The name Graythorpe had not crept in.
But we left Sally with a question unanswered. Didn't that show what nonsense old Major Roper's story was? Laetitia was rather glad to assent, and get the story quashed, or at least prorogued sine die.
"It did seem rather nonsense, Sally dear. Major Roper was a stupid old man, and evidently took more than was good for him." Intoxicants are often of great service in conversation.
In this case they contributed to the reinstatement of Mr. Bradshaw. Dear me, it did seem so funny to Sally! Only the other day this young man had been known to her on no other lines than as an established fool, who came to stare at her out of the corners of his dark eyes all through the morning service at St. Satisfax. And now it was St. John's, Ladbroke Grove Road, and, what was more, he was being tolerated as a semi-visitor at the Wilsons'—a visitor with explanations in an undertone. This was the burden of Laetitia, as soon as she had contrived to get Sally's troublesome parent shelved.
"Why mamma needs always to be in such a furious fuss to drag in his violin, I do not know. As if he needed to be accounted for! Of course, if you ask a Hottentot to evenings, you have to explain him. But the office-staff at Cattley's (which is really one of the largest firms in the country) are none of them Hottentots, but the contrary.... Now I know, dear, you're going to say what's the contrary of a Hottentot, and all the while you know perfectly well what I mean."
"Cut away, Tishy! What next?"
"Well—next, don't you think it very dignified of Mr. Bradshaw to be able to be condescended to and explained in corners under people's breaths and not to show it?"
"He's got to lump it, if he doesn't like it." Sally, you see, has given up her admirer readily enough, but, as she herself afterwards said, it's quite another pair of shoes when you're called on to give three cheers for what's really no merit at all! What does the young man expect?
"Now, that's unkind, Sally dear. You wouldn't like me to. Anyhow, that's what mamma does. Takes ladies of a certain position or with expectations into corners, and says she hates the expression gentleman and lady, but they know what she means...."
"I know. And they goozle comfortably at her, like Goody Vereker."
"Doesn't it make one's flesh creep to have a mother like that? I do get to hate the very sight of shot silk and binoculars on a leg when she goes on so. But I suppose we never shall get on together—mamma and I."
"What does the Professor think about him?"
"Oh—papa? Of course, papa's perfectly hopeless! It's the only true thing mamma ever says—that he's perfectly hopeless. What do you suppose he did that Sunday afternoon when Julius Bradshaw came and had tea and brought the Strad—the first time, I mean?... Why, he actually fancied he had come from the shop with a parcel, and never found out he couldn't have when he had tea in the drawing-room, and only suspected something when he played Rode's 'Air with Variations for Violin and Piano.' Just fancy! He wanted to know why he shouldn't have tea when every one else did, and offered him cake! And Sunday afternoon and a Stradivarius! Do say you think my parents trying, Sally dear!"
Sally assented to everything in an absent way; but that didn't matter as long as she did it. Laetitia only wanted to talk. She seemed, thought Sally, improved by the existing combination of events. She had had to climb down off the high stilts about Bradshaw, and had only worked in one or two slight Grundulations (a word of Dr. Vereker's) into her talk this morning. Tishy wasn't a bad fellow at all (Sally's expression), only, if she hadn't been taught to strut, she wouldn't have been any the worse. It was all that overpowering mother of hers!
Before she parted with her friend that afternoon Sally had a sudden access of Turkish directness:
"Tishy dear, are you going to accept Julius Bradshaw if he asks you, or not?"
"Well, dear, you know we must look at it from the point of view of what he would have been if it hadn't been for that unfortunate nervous system of his. The poor fellow couldn't help it."
"But are you, or not? That's what I want an answer to."
"Sally dear! Really—you're just like so much dynamite. What would you do yourself if you were me? I ask you."
"I should do exactly whatever you settle to do if I were you. It stands to reason. But what's it going to be? That's the point."
"He hasn't proposed yet."
"That has nothing whatever to do with it. What you've got to do is to make—up—your—mind." These last four words are very staccato indeed. Tishy recovers a dignity she has rather been allowing to lapse.
"By the time you're my age, Sally dear, you'll see there are ways and ways of looking at things. Everything can't be wrapped up in a nutshell. We're not Ancient Phoenicians nowadays, whatever papa may say. But you're a dear, impulsive little puss."
The protest was feeble in form and substance, and quite unworthy of Miss Sales Wilson, the daughter of the Professor Sales Wilson. No wonder Sally briefly responded, "Stuff and nonsense!" and presently went home.
Of course, the outer circle of Mrs. Nightingale's society (for in this matter we are all like Regents Park) had their say about her proposed marriage. But they don't come into our story; and besides, they had too few data for their opinions to be of any value. What a difference it would have made if old Major Roper had met Fenwick and recalled the face of the dead shot who, it seemed, had somehow ceded his tiger-skin to him. But no such thing happened, nor did anything else come about either to revive the story of the divorce or to throw a light on the identity of Palliser and Fenwick. Eight weeks after the latter (or the former?) had for the second time disclosed his passion to the same woman, the couple were married at the church of St. Satisfax, and, having started for the Continent the same afternoon, found themselves, quite unreasonably happy, wandering about in France with hardly a thought beyond the day at most, so long as a letter came from Sally at the postes-restantes when expected. And he had remembered nothing!
OF A WEDDING PARTY AND AN OLD MAN'S RETROSPECT. A HOPE OF RETRIBUTIVE JUSTICE HEREAFTER. CHARLEY'S AUNT, AND PYRAMUS AND THISBE. HOW SALLY TRIED TO PUMP THE COLONEL AND GOT HALF A BUCKETFUL
And thus it came about that Rosalind Palliser (nee Graythorpe) stood for the second time at the altar of matrimony with the same bridegroom under another name. The absence of bridesmaids pronounced and accented the fact that the bride was a widow, though, as there were very few of the congregation of St. Satisfax who did not know her as such, the announcement was hardly necessary. Discussion of who her late husband was, or was not, had long since given way to a belief that he was a bad lot, and that the less that was said about him the better. If any one who was present at the wedding was still constructing theories about his identity—whether he had divorced his wife, was divorced himself, or was dead—certainly none of those theories connected themselves with the present bridegroom. As for Sally, her only feeling, over and above her ordinary curiosity about her father, was a sort of paradoxical indignation that his intrusion into her mother's life should have prevented her daughter figuring as a bridesmaid. It would have been so jolly! But Sally was perfectly well aware that widows, strong-nerved from experience, stand in no need of official help in getting their "things" on, and acquiesced perforce in her position of a mere unqualified daughter.
The Major—that is to say, Colonel Lund—stayed on after the wedding, under a sort of imputation of guardianship necessary for Sally—an imputation accepted by her in order that the old boy should not feel lonesome, far more than for any advantage to herself. She wasn't sure it did him any good though, after all, for the wedding-party (if it could be called one, it was so small), having decided that its afternoon had been completely broken into, gave itself up to dissipation, and went to see "Charley's Aunt." The old gentleman did not feel equal to this, but said if Sally told him all about it afterwards it would be just as good, and insisted on her going. He said he would be all right, and she kissed him and left him reading "Harry Lorrequer," or pretending to.
The wedding-party seemed to have grown, thought the Major, in contact with the theatrical world when, on its return, it filled the summer night with sound, and made the one-eyed piebald cat who lived at The Retreat foreclose an interview with a peevish friend acrimoniously. Perhaps it was only because the laughter and the jests, the good-nights mixed with echoes of "Charley's Aunt," and reminders of appointments for the morrow, broke in so suddenly on a long seclusion that the Major seemed to hear so many voices beyond his expectation.
The time had not hung heavy on his hands though—at least, no heavier than time always hangs on hands that wore gloves with no fingers near upon eighty years ago. The specific gravity of the hours varies less and less with loneliness and companionship as we draw nearer to the last one of all—the heaviest or lightest, which will it be? The old boy had been canvassing this point with another old boy, a real Major, our friend Roper, at the Hurkaru Club not long before, and, after he had read a few pages of "Harry Lorrequer" he put his spectacles in to keep the place, and fell back into a maze of recurrence and reflection.
Was he honest, or was it affectation, when he said to that pursy and purple old warrior that if the doctor were to tell him he had but an hour to live he should feel greatly relieved and happy? Was his heart only pretending to laugh at the panic his old friend was stricken with at the mere mention of the word "death"—he who had in his time faced death a hundred times without a qualm? But then that was military death, and was his business. Death the civilian, with paragraphs in the newspapers to say "the worst" was feared, and the fever being kept down, and the system being kept up, and smells of carbolic acid and hourly bulletins—that was the thing he shrank from. Why, the Major could remember old Jack Roper at Delhi, in the Mutiny, going out in the darkness to capture those Sepoy guns—what was that place called—Ludlow Castle?—and now!...
"Oh dammy, Colonel! Why, good Lard! who's dyin' or goin' to die? Time enough to talk about dyin' when the cap fits. You take my advice, and try a couple of Cockle's anti-bilious. My word for it, it's liver!..." And then old Jack followed this with an earthquake-attack of coughing that looked very much as if the cap was going to fit. But came out of it incorrigible, and as soon as he could speak endorsed his advice with an admonitory forefinger: "You do as I tell you, and try 'em."
But the fossil, who was ten years his senior, answered his own question to himself in the affirmative as he sat there listening to the distant murmur of wheels on the Uxbridge Road and the music of the cats without. Yes, he was quite honest about it. He had no complaint to make of life, for the last twenty years at any rate. His dear little protegee—that was how he thought of Sally's mother—had taken good care of that. But he had some harsh indictments against earlier years—or rather had had. For he had dismissed the culprits with a caution, and put the records on a back-shelf.
He could take them down now and look at them without flinching. After all, he was so near the end! What did it matter?
There they all were, the neglected chronicles, each in its corner of his mind. Of his school-days, a record with all the blots and errors worked into the text and made to do duty for ornaments. Not a blemish unforgiven. It is even so with us, with you; we all forgive our schools. Of his first uniform and his first love, two records with a soil on each. For a chemical brother spilt sulphuric acid over the first, and the second married a custom-house officer. Of his first great cloud—for, if he did not quite forget his first love, he soon got a second and even a third—a cloud that came out of a letter that reached him in camp at Rawal Pindi, and told him that his father, a solicitor of unblemished character till then, had been indicted for fraudulent practices, and would have to stand his trial for misdemeanour. Of a later letter, even worse, that told of his acquittal on the score of insanity, and of how, when he went back two years after on his first leave, he went to see his father in an asylum; who did not know him and called him "my lord," and asked him to "bring his case before the house." Then of a marriage, like a dream now, with a wife who left him and a child that died; and then of many colourless years of mere official routine, which might have gone on till he fell down in harness, but for the chance that threw in his way the daughter of an old friend in sore trouble and alone. Not until her loneliness and want of a protector on her voyage home suggested it did the harness come off the old horse. And then, as we have seen, followed the happiest fourth part of his life, as he accounted it, throughout which he had never felt so willing to die as he had done before. Rosalind Graythorpe grew into it as a kind of adopted daughter, and brought with her the morsel of new humanity that had become Sally—that would be back in an hour from "Charley's Aunt."
And now Rosey had found a guardian, and was provided for. It would be no way amiss now for the Major to take advantage of death. There is so much to be said for it when the world has left one aching!
His confidence that his protegee had really found a haven was no small compliment to Fenwick. For the latter, with his strange unknown past, had nothing but his personality to rely on; and the verdict of the Major, after knowing him twelve months, was as decisive on this point as if he had known him twelve years. "He may be a bit hot-tempered and impulsive," said he to Sally. "But I really couldn't say, if I were asked, why I think so. It's a mere idea. Otherwise, it's simply impossible to help liking him." To which Sally replied, borrowing an expression from Ann the housemaid, that Fenwick was a cup of tea. It was metaphorical and descriptive of invigoration.
But the Major's feeling that he was now at liberty to try Death after Life, to make for port after stormy seas, had scarcely a trace in it of dethronement or exclusion from privileges once possessed. It was not his smallest tribute to Fenwick that he should admit the idea to his mind at all—that he might have gained a son rather than lost a daughter. At least, he need not reject that view of the case, but it would not do to build on it. Unberufen! The Major tapped three times on the little table where the lamp stood and "Harry Lorrequer" lay neglected. He pulled out his watch, and decided that they would not be very long now. He would not go to bed till he had seen the kitten—he usually spoke of her so to her mother. He had to disturb the kitten's cat, who was asleep on him, to get at the watch; who, being selfish, made a grievance of it, and went away piqued after stretching. Well, he was sorry of course, but it would have had to come, some time. And he hadn't moved for ever so long!
"I wonder," half said, half thought he to himself, "I wonder who or what he really is?... If only we could have known!... Was I right not to urge delay?... Only Rosey was so confident.... Could a woman of her age feel so sure and be misled?"
It was her certainty that had dragged his judgment along a path it might otherwise have shrunk from. He could not know her reasons, but he felt their force in her presence. Now she was gone, he doubted. Had he been a fool after all?
"Well—well; it can't be altered now. And she would have done it just the same whatever I said.... I suppose she was like that when she was a girl.... I wish I had even seen that husband of hers.... So odd they should both be Algernon! Does he know, I wonder, that the other was Algernon?" For the Major had religiously adhered to his promise not to say anything to Fenwick about the old story. He knew she had told it, or would tell it in her own time.
Then his thoughts turned to revival of how and where he found her first, and, as it all came back to him, you could have guessed, had you seen his face, that they had lighted on the man who was the evil cause of all, and the woman who had abetted him. The old hand on the table that had little more strength in it than when it wore a hedger's glove near eighty years ago, closed with the grip of all the force it had, and the lamp-globe rang as the tremor of his arm shook the table.
"Oh, I pray God there is a hell," came audibly from as kind a heart as ever beat. "How I pray God there is a hell!" Then the stress of his anger seemed to have exhausted him, for he lay back in his armchair with his eyes closed. In a few moments he drew a long breath, and as he wiped the drops from his brow, said aloud to himself: "I wish the kitten would come." He seemed happier only from speaking of her. And then sat on and waited—waited as for a rescue—for Sally to come and fill up the house with her voice and her indispensable self.
Something of an inconsistency in the attitude of his mind may have struck across the current of his reflections—something connected with what this indispensable thing actually was and whence—for his thoughts relented as the image of her came back to him. Where would those eyes be, conspirators with the lids above them and the merry fluctuations of the brows; where would those lips be, from which the laughter never quite vanished, even as the ripple of the ocean's edge tries how small it can get but never dies outright; where the great coils of black hair that would not go inside any ordinary oilskin swimming-cap; where the incorrigible impertinence and flippancy be we never liked to miss a word of; where, in short, would Sally be if she had never emerged from that black shadow in the past?
Easy enough to say that, had she not done so, something else quite as good might have been. Very likely. How can we limit the possible to the conditional-praeter-pluperfect tense? But then, you see, it wouldn't have been Sally! That's the point.
Sally's mother had followed such thoughts to the length of almost forgiving the author of her troubles. But she could not forgive him considered also as the author of her husband's. The Major could not find any forgiveness at all, though the thought of Sally just sufficed to modify the severity of his condemnation. Leniency dawned.
"Yes—yes; I was wrong to say that. But I couldn't help it." So said the old man to himself, but quite as though he spoke to some one else. He paused a little, then said again: "Yes; I was wrong. But oh, what a damned scoundrel! And what a woman!" Then, as though he feared a return of his old line of thought, "I wish Sally would come." And a dreadful half-thought came to him, "Suppose there were a fire at the theatre, and I had to wire ... why—that would be worst of all!"
So, almost without a pause between, he had prayed for a hell to punish a crime, and for the safety of the treasured thing that was its surviving record—a creature that but for that crime would never have drawn breath.
His reading-lamp had burned out its young enthusiasm, and was making up its mind to go out, only not in any hurry. It would expire with dignity and leave a rich inheritance of stench. Meanwhile, its decadence was marked enough to frank the Major in neglecting "Harry Lorrequer" for the rest of the time, and also served to persuade him that he had really been reading. Abstention from a book under compulsion has something of the character of perusal. Gibbon could not have collected his materials on those lines, certainly. But the Major felt his conscience clearer from believing that he meant to go on where he had been obliged to stop. He cancelled "Harry Lorrequer," put him back in the bookcase to make an incident, then began actively waiting for the return of the playgoers. Reference to his watch at short intervals intensified their duration, added gall to their tediousness. But so convinced was he that they "would be here directly" that it was at least half-an-hour before he reconsidered this insane policy and resumed his chair with a view to keeping awake in it. He was convinced he was succeeding, had not noticed he was dozing, when he was suddenly wrenched out of the jaws of sleep by the merry voices of the home-comers and the loss of the piebald cat's temper as aforesaid.
"Oh, Major dear, you haven't gone to bed! You will be so tired! Why didn't you go?"
"I've been very happy, chick. I've been reading 'Harry Lorrequer.' I like Charles Lever, because I read him when I was a boy. What's o'clock?" He pulled out his watch with a pretence, easy of detection, that he had not just done so ten minutes before. It was a lie about "Harry Lorrequer," you see, so a little extra didn't matter.
"It's awfully late!" Sally testified. "Very nearly as late as it's possible to be. But now we're in for it, we may as well make it a nocturnal dissipation. Ann!—don't go to bed; at least, not before you've brought some more fresh water. This will take years to hot up. Oh, Major, Major, why didn't you make yourself some toddy? I never go out for five minutes but you don't make yourself any toddy!"
"I don't want it, dear child. I've been drinking all day—however, of course, it was a wedding...."
"But you must have some now, anyhow. Stop a minute, there's some one coming up the doorsteps and Ann's fastened up.... No, it's not the policeman. I know who it is. Stop a minute." And then presently the Major hears Sally's half of an interview, apparently through a keyhole. "I shan't open the door ... two bolts and a key and a chain—the idea! What is it?... My pocky-anky?... Keep it, it won't bite you ... send it to the wash!... No, really, do keep it if you don't mind—keep it till Brahms on Thursday. Remember! Good-night." But it isn't quite good-night, for Sally arrests departure. "Stop! What a couple of idiots we are!... What for?—why—because you might have stuffed it in the letter-box all along." And the incident closes on the line indicated.
"It was only my medical adviser," Sally says, returning with explanations. "Found my wipe in the cab."
"Yes. Dr. Him. Exactly! We bawled at each other through the keyhole like Pyramus and Trilby——" She becomes so absorbed in the details of the toddy that she has to stand a mere emendation over until it is ready. Then she completes: "I mean Thisbe. I wonder where they've got to?"
"Pyramus and Thisbe?"
"No, mother and her young man.... No, I won't sit on you. I'll sit here; down alongside—so! Then I shan't shake the toddy overboard."
Her white soft hand is so comforting as it lies on the Major's on the chair-arm that he is fain to enjoy it a little, however reproachful the clock-face may be looking. You can pretend your toddy is too hot, almost any length of time, as long as no one else touches the tumbler; also you can drink as slow as you like. No need to hurry. Weddings don't come every day.
"Was it very funny, chick?"
"Oh, wasn't it! But didn't mamma look lovely?... I've seen it twice before, you know." This last is by way of apology for giving the conversation a wrench. But the Major didn't want to talk over the wedding—seemed to prefer "Charley's Aunt."
"He dresses up like his aunt, doesn't he?"
"Oh yes—it's glorious fun! But do say you thought mamma looked lovely."
"Of course she did. She always does. But had the others seen 'Charley's Aunt' before?"
"Tishy and her Bradshaw? Oh yes—at least, I suppose so."
"And Dr. Vereker?"
"Oh, of course he had—twice at least. The times we saw it, mother and I. He went too.... We-e-e-ell, there's nothing in that!" (We can only hope again our spelling conveys the way the word well was prolonged.)
"Nothing at all. Why should there be? What a nice fellow Vereker is!"
"My medical adviser? Oh, he's all right. Never mind him; talk about mother."
"They must be very nearly at Rheims by now." This is mere obedience to orders on the Major's part. He feels no real interest in what he is saying.
"How rum it must be!" says Sally, with grave consideration. And the Major's "What?" evolves that "it" means marrying a second husband.
"Going through it all over again when you've done it once before," continues this young philosopher. The Major thinks of asking why it should be rummer the second time than the first, but decides not to, and sips his toddy, and pats the hand that is under his. In a hazy, fossil-like way he perceives that to a young girl's mind the "rumness" of a second husband is exactly proportionate to the readiness of its acceptance of the first. Unity is just as intrinsic a quality of a first husband as the colour of his eyes or hair. Moreover, he is expected to outlive you. Above all, he is perfectly natural and a matter of course. We discern in all this a sneaking tribute to an idea of a hereafter; but the Major didn't go so far as that.
"She looked very jolly over it," said he, retreating on generalities. "So did he."
"Gaffer Fenwick? I should think so indeed! Well he might!" Then, after a moment's consideration: "He looked like my idea of Sir Richard Grenville. It's only an idea. I forget what he did. Elizabethan johnny."
"What do you call him? Gaffer Fenwick? You're a nice, respectable young monkey! Well, he's not half a bad-looking fellow; well set up." But none of this, though good in itself, is what Sally sat down to talk about. A sudden change in her manner, a new earnestness, makes the Major stop an incipient yawn he is utilising as an exordium to a hint that we ought to go to bed, and become quite wakeful to say: "I will tell you all I can, my child." For Sally has thrust aside talk of the day's events, making no more of the wedding ceremony than of "Charley's Aunt," with: "Why did my father and mother part? You will tell me now, won't you, Major dear?"
Lying was necessary—inevitable. But he would minimise it. There was always the resource of the legal fiction; all babes born in matrimony are legally the children of their mother's husband, quand-meme. He must make that his sheet-anchor.
"You know, Sallykin, your father and mother fell out before you were born. And the first time I saw your mother—why, bless my soul, my dear! you were quite a growing girl—yes, able to get a staff-officer's thumb in your mouth, and bite it. Indeed, you did! It was General Pellew; they say he's going to be made a peer." The Major thinks he sees his way out of the fire by sinking catechism in reminiscences. "I can recollect it all as if it were yesterday. I said to him, 'Who's the poor pretty little mother, General?' Because he knew your mother, and I didn't. 'Don't you know?' said he. 'She's Mrs. Graythorpe.' I asked about her husband, but Pellew had known nothing except that there was a row, and they had parted." The Major's only fiction here was that he substituted the name Graythorpe for Palliser. "Next time I saw her we picked up some acquaintance, and she asked if I was a Lincolnshire Lund, because her father always used to talk of how he went to Lund's father's, near Crowland, when he was a boy. 'Stop a bit,' said I; 'what was your father's name?' 'Paul Nightingale,' says she." Observe that nothing was untrue in this, because Rosey always spoke and thought of Paul Nightingale as her father.
"That was my grandfather?" Sally was intent on accumulating facts—would save up analysis till after. The Major took advantage of a slight choke over his whiskey to mix a brief nod into it; it was a lie—but, then, he himself couldn't have said which was nod and which was choke; so it hardly counted. He continued, availing himself at times of the remains of the choke to help him to slur over difficult passages.
"He was the young brother of a sort of sweetheart of mine—a silly boyish business—a sort of calf-love. She married and died. But he was her great pet, a favourite younger brother. One keeps a recollection of this sort of thing."—The Major makes a parade of his powers of oblivion, and his failure to carry it out sits well upon him.—"Of course, my romantic memories"—the Major smiles derision of Love's young dream—"had something to do with my interest in your mother, but I hope I should have done the same if there had been no such thing. Well, the mere fact of your father's behaviour to your mother...." He stopped short, with misgivings that his policy of talking himself out of his difficulties was not such a very safe one, after all. Here he was, getting into a fresh mess, gratuitously!
"Mamma won't talk about that," says Sally, "so I suppose I'm not to ask you." The Major must make a stand upon this, or the enemy will swarm over his entrenchments. Merely looking at his watch and saying it's time for us to be in bed will only bring a moment's respite. There is nothing for it but decision.
"Sally dear, your mother does not tell you because she wishes the whole thing buried and forgotten. Her wishes must be my wishes...."
He would like to stop here—to cut it short at that, at once and for good. But the pathetic anxiety of the face from which all memories of "Charley's Aunt" have utterly vanished is too much for his fortitude; and, at the risk of more semi-fibs, he extenuates the sentence.
"One day your mother may tell you all about it. She is the proper person to tell it—not me. Neither do I think I know it all to tell."
"You know if there was or wasn't a divorce?" The Major feels very sorry he didn't let it alone.
"I'll tell you that, you inquisitive chick, if you'll promise on honour not to ask any more questions."
"That's right. Now I'll tell you. There was no divorce, but there was a suit for a divorce, instituted by him. He failed to make out a case." Note that the expression "your father" was carefully excluded. "She was absolutely blameless—to my thinking, at least. Now that's plenty for a little girl to know. And it's high time we were both in bed and asleep."
He kisses the grave, sad young face that is yearning to hear more, but is too honourable to break its compact. "They'll be at Rheims by now," says he, to lighten off the conversation.
SALLY'S LARK. AND HOW SHE TOOK HER MEDICAL ADVISER INTO HER CONFIDENCE AFTER DIVINE SERVICE
Though Sally cried herself to sleep after her interview with her beloved but reticent old fossil, nevertheless, when she awoke next morning and found herself mistress of the house and the situation, she became suddenly alive to the advantages of complete independence. She was an optimist constitutionally; for it is optimism to decide that it is "rather a lark" to breakfast by yourself when you have just dried the tears you have been shedding over the loss of your morning companion. Sally came to this conclusion as she poured out her tea, after despatching his toast and coffee to the Major in his own room. He sometimes came down to breakfast, but such a dissipation as yesterday put it out of the question on this particular morning.