The lark continued an unalloyed, unqualified lark quite to the end of the second cup of tea, when it seemed to undergo a slight clouding over—a something we should rather indicate by saying that it slowed down passing through a station, than that it was modulated into a minor key. Of course, we are handicapped in our metaphors by an imperfect understanding of the exact force of the word "lark" used in this connexion.
The day before does not come back to us during our first cup at breakfast, whether it be tea or coffee. A happy disposition lets what we have slept on sleep, till at least it has glanced at the weather, and knows that it is going to be cooler, some rain. Then memory revives, and all the chill inheritance of overnight. We pick up the thread of our existence, and draw our finger over the last knots, and then go on where we left off. We remember that we have to see about this, and we mustn't be late at that, and that there's an order got to be made out for the stores. There wasn't in Sally's case, certainly, because it was Sunday; but there was tribulation awaiting her as soon as she could recollect her overdue analysis of the Major's concealed facts. She had put it off till leisure should come; and now that she was only looking at a microcosm of the garden seen through the window, and reflected upside down in the tea-urn, she had surely met with leisure. Her mind went back tentatively on the points of the old man's reminiscences, as she looked at her own thoughtful face in the convex of the urn opposite, nursed in two miniature hands whose elbows were already becoming unreasonably magnified, though really they were next to nothing nearer.
Just to think! The Major had actually been in love when he was young. More than once he must have been, because Sally knew he was a widower. She touched the shiny urn with her finger, to see how hideously it swelled in the mirror. You know what fun that is! But she took her finger back, because it was too hot, though off the boil.
There was a bluebottle between the blind and the window-pane, as usual; if he was the same bluebottle that was there when Fenwick was first brought into this room, he had learned nothing and forgotten nothing, like the old regime in France. He only knew how to butt and blunder resonantly at the glass; but he could do it as well as ever, and he seemed to have made up his mind to persevere. Sally listened to his monotone, and watched her image in the urn.
"I wish I hadn't promised not to ask more," she thought to herself. "Anyhow, Tishy's wrong. Nobody ever was named Palliser—that's flat! And if there was a divorce-suit ever so, I don't care!..." She had to stop thinking for a moment, to make terms with the cat, who otherwise would have got her claws in the beautiful white damask, and ripped.
"Besides, if my precious father behaved so badly to mamma, how could it be her fault? I don't believe in mother being the least wrong in anything, so it's no use!" This last filled out a response to an imaginary indictment of an officious Crown-Prosecutor. "I know what I should like! I should like to get at that old Scroope, or whatever his name is, and get it all out of him. I'd give him a piece of my mind, gossipy old humbug!" It then occurred to Sally that she was being unfair. No, she wouldn't castigate old Major Roper for tattling, and at the same time cross-examine him for her own purposes. It would be underhand. But it would be very easy, if she could get at him, to make him talk about it. She rehearsed ways and means that might be employed to that end. For instance, nothing more natural than to recur to the legend of how she bit General Pellew's finger; that would set him off! She recited the form of speech to be employed. "Do you know, Major Roper, I'm told I once bit a staff-officer's finger off," etc. Or would it be better not to approach the matter with circumspection, but go straight to the point—"You must have met my father, Major Roper, etc.," and then follow on with explanations? Oh dear, how difficult it was to settle! If only there were any one she could trust to talk to about it! Really, Tishy was quite out of the question, even if she could take her mind off her Bradshaw for five minutes, which she couldn't.
"Of course, there's Prosy, if you come to that," was the conclusion reached at the end of a long avenue of consideration, on each side of which referees who might have been accepted, but had been rejected, were supposed to be left to their disappointment. "Only, fancy making a confidant of old Prosy! Why, he'd feel your pulse and look at your tongue, just as likely as not."
But Dr. Vereker, thus dismissed to the rejected referees, seemed not to care for their companionship, and to be able to come back. At any rate, Miss Sally ended up a long cogitation with, "I've a great mind to go and talk to Prosy about it, after all! Perhaps he would be at church."
Now, if this had been conversation instead of soliloquy, Sally's constitutional frankness would have entered some protest against the assumption that she intended to go to church as a matter of course. As she was her only audience, and one that knew all about the speaker already, she slurred a little over the fact that her decision to attend church was influenced by a belief that probably Dr. Vereker would be there. If she chose, she should deceive herself, and consult nobody else. She looked at her watch, as the open-work clock with the punctual ratchet-movement had stopped, and was surprised to find how late she was. "Comes of weddings!" was her comment. However, she had time to wind the clock up and set it going when she came downstairs again ready for church.
St. Satisfax's Revd. Vicar prided himself on the appropriateness of his sermons; so, this time, as he had yesterday united a distinguished and beautiful widow to her second husband, he selected for his text the parable of the widow's son. True, Mrs. Nightingale had no son, and her daughter wasn't dead, and there is not a hint in the text that the widow of Nain married again, or had any intention of doing so. On the other hand, the latter had no daughter, presumably, and her son was alive. And as to marrying again, why, there was the very gist and essence of the comparison, if you chose to accept the cryptic suggestions of the Revd. Vicar, and make it for yourself. The lesson we had to learn from this parable was obviously that nowadays widows, however good and solvent, were mundane, and married again; while in the City of Nain, nineteen hundred years ago, they (being in Holy Writ) were, as it were, Sundane, and didn't. The delicacy of the reverend suggestion to this effect, without formal indictment of any offender, passes our powers of description. So subtle was it that Sally felt she had nothing to lay hold of.
Nevertheless, when the last of the group that included herself and the doctor, and walked from St. Satisfax towards its atomic elements' respective homes, had vanished down her turning—it was the large Miss Baker, as a matter of fact—then Sally referred to the sermon and its text, jumping straight to her own indictment of the preacher.
"Why shouldn't my mother marry again if she likes, Dr. Vereker—especially Mr. Fenwick?"
"Don't you think it possible, Miss Sally, that the parson didn't mean anything about your mother—didn't connect her in his mind with——"
"With the real widow in the parable? Oh yes, he did, though! As if mother was a real widow!"
Now, the doctor had heard from his own widowed mother the heads of the gossip about the supposed divorce. He had pooh-poohed this as mere tattle—asked for evidence, and so on. But, having heard it, it was not to be wondered at that he put a false interpretation on Sally's last words. They seemed to acknowledge the divorce story. He felt very unsafe, and could only repeat them half interrogatively, "As if Mrs. Nightingale was a real widow?" But with the effect that Sally immediately saw clean through him, and knew what was passing in his mind.
"Oh no, Dr. Vereker! I wasn't thinking of that." She faced round to disclaim it, turning her eyes full on the embarrassed doctor. Then she suddenly remembered it was the very thing she had come out to talk about, and felt ashamed. The slightest possible flush, that framed up her smile and her eyes, made her at this moment a bad companion for a man who was under an obligation not to fall in love with her—for that was how the doctor thought of himself. Sally continued: "But I wish I had been, because it would have done instead."
The young man was really, at the moment, conscious of very little beyond the girl's fascination, and his reply, "Instead of what?" was a little mechanical.
"I mean instead of explaining what I wanted you to talk about special. But when I spoke, you know, just now about a real widow, I meant a real widow that—that wids—you know what I mean. Don't laugh!"
"All right, Miss Sally. I'm serious." The doctor composes a professional face. "I know perfectly what you mean." He waits for the next symptom.
"Now, mother never did wid, and never will wid, I hope. She hasn't got it in her bones." And then Miss Sally stopped short, and a little extra flush got time to assert itself. But a moment after she rushed the position without a single casualty. "I want to know what people say, when I'm not there, about who my father was, and why he and mother parted. And I'm sure you can tell me, and will. It's no use asking Tishy Wilson any more about it." Observe the transparency of this young lady. She wasn't going to conceal that she had talked of it to Tishy Wilson—not she!
Dr. Vereker, usually reserved, but candid withal, becomes, under the infection of Sally's frankness, candid and unreserved.
"People haven't talked any nonsense to me; I never let them. But my mother has repeated to me things that have been said to her.... She doesn't like gossip, you know!" And the young man really believes what he says. Because his mother has been his religion—just consider!
"I know she doesn't." Sally analyses the position, and decides on the fib in the twinkling of an eye. She is going to make a son break a promise to his mother, and she knows it. So she gives him this as a set-off. "But people will talk to her, of course! Shall I get her to tell me?"
The doctor considers, then answers:
"I think, Miss Sally—unless you particularly wish the contrary—I would almost rather not. Mother believed the story all nonsense, and was very much concerned that people should repeat such silly tattle. She would be very unhappy if she thought it had come to your ears through her repeating it in confidence to me."
"Perhaps you would really rather not tell it, doctor." Disappointment is on Sally's face.
"No. As you have asked me, I prefer to tell it. Only you won't speak to her at all, will you?"
"I really won't. You may trust me."
"Well, then, it's really very little when all's said and done. Somebody told her—I won't say who it was—you don't mind?" Sally didn't—"told her that your father behaved very badly to your mother, and that he tried to get a divorce from her and failed, and that after that they parted by mutual consent, and he went away to New Zealand when you were quite a small baby."
"Was that quite all?"
"That was all mother told me. I'm afraid I rather cut her short by saying I thought it was most likely all unfounded gossip. Was any of it true? But I've no right to ask questions...."
"Oh, Dr. Vereker—no! That wouldn't be fair. Of course, when you are asked to tell, you are allowed to ask. Every one always is. Besides, I don't mind a bit telling you all I know. Only you'll be surprised at my knowing so very little."
And then Sally, with a clearness that did her credit, repeated all the information she had had—all that her mother had told her—what she had extracted from Colonel Lund with difficulty—and lastly, but as the merest untrustworthy hearsay, the story that had reached her through her friend Laetitia. In fact, she went the length of discrediting it altogether, as "Only Goody Wilson, when all was said and done." The fact that her mother had told her so little never seemed to strike her as strange or to call for comment. It was right that it should be so, because it was in her mother's jurisdiction, and what she did or said was right. Cannot most of us recall things unquestioned in our youth that we have marvelled at our passive acceptance of since? Sally's mother's silence about her father was ingrained in the nature of things, and she had never speculated about him so much as she had done since Professor Wilson's remark across the table had led to Laetitia's tale about Major Roper and the tiger-shooting.
Sally's version of her mother's history was comforting to her hearer on one point: it contained no hint that the fugitive to Australia was not her father. Now, the fact is that the doctor, in repeating what his mother had said to him, had passed over some speculations of hers about Sally's paternity. No wonder the two records confirmed each other, seeing that the point suppressed by the doctor had been studiously kept from Sally by all her informants. He, for his part, felt that the bargain did not include speculations of his mother's.
"Well, doctor?" Thus Sally, at the end of a very short pause for consideration. Vereker does not seem to need a longer one. "You mean, Miss Sally, do I think people talk spitefully of Mrs. Nightingale—I suppose I must say Mrs. Fenwick now—behind her back? Isn't that the sort of question?" Sally, for response, looks a little short nod at the doctor, instead of words. He goes on: "Well, then, I don't think they do. And I don't think you need fret about it. People will talk about the story of the quarrel and separation, of course, but it doesn't follow that anything will be said against either your father or mother. Things of this sort happen every day, with fault on neither side."
"You think it was just a row?"
"Most likely. The only thing that seems to me to tell against your father is what you said your mother said just now—something about having forgiven him for your sake." Sally repeats her nod. "Well, even that might be accounted for by supposing that he had been very hot-tempered and unjust and violent. He was quite a young chap, you see...."
"You mean like—like supposing Jeremiah were to go into a tantrum now and flare up—he does sometimes—and then they were both to miff off?"
"Something of that sort. Very likely they would have understood each other better if they had been a little older and wiser...."
"Like us?" says Sally, with perfect unconsciousness of one aspect of the remark. "And then they might have gone on till now." Regret that they did not do so is on her face, till she suddenly sees a new contingency. "But then we shouldn't have had Jeremiah. I shouldn't have fancied that at all." She doesn't really see why the doctor smiled at this, but adds a grave explanation: "I mean, if I'd tried both, I might have preferred my step." But there they were at Glenmoira Road, and must say good-bye till Brahms on Thursday.
Only, the doctor did (as a matter of history) walk down that road with Sally as far as the gate with Krakatoa Villa on it, and got home late for his mid-day Sunday dinner, and was told by his mother that he might have considered the servants. She herself was, meekly, out of it.
OF A SWIMMING-BATH, "ET PRAETEREA EXIGUUM"
This was the best of the swimming-bath season, and Sally rarely passed a day without a turn at her favourite exercise. If her swimming-bath had been open on Sunday, she wouldn't have gone to church yesterday, not even to meet Dr. Vereker and talk about her father to him. As it was, she very nearly came away from Krakatoa Villa next morning without waiting to see the letter from Rheims, the post being late. Why is everything late on Monday?
However, she was intercepted by the postman and the foreign postmark—a dozen words on a card, but she read them several times, and put the card in her pocket to show to Laetitia Wilson. She was pretty sure to be there. And so she was, and by ten o'clock had seen the card and exhausted its contents. And by five-minutes-past Sally was impending over the sparkling water of Paddington swimming-bath. She was dry so far, and her blue bathing-dress could stick out. But it was not to be for long, for her two hands went together after a preliminary stretch to make a cutwater, and down went Sally with a mighty splash into the deep—into the moderately deep, suppose we say—at any rate into ten thousand gallons of properly filtered Thames water, which had been (no doubt) sterilised and disinfected and examined under powerful microscopes until it hadn't got a microbe to bless itself with. When she came up at the other end, to taunt Laetitia Wilson with her cowardice for not doing likewise, she was a smooth and shiny Sally, like a deep blue seal above water, but with modifications towards floating fins below.
"Now tell me about the row last night," said she, after reproaches met by Laetitia with, "It's no use, dear. I wasn't born a herring like you."
Sally must have heard there had been some family dissension at Ladbroke Grove Road as she came into the bath with Laetitia, whom she met at the towel-yielding guichet. However, the latter wasn't disposed to discuss family matters in an open swimming-bath in the hearing of the custodian, to say nothing of possible concealed dressers in horse-boxes alongside.
"My dear child, is this the place to talk about things in? Do be a little discreet sometimes," is her reply to Sally's request.
"There's nobody here but us. Cut away, Tishy!" But Miss Wilson will not talk about the row, whatever it was, with the chance of goodness-knows-who coming in any minute. For one thing, she wants to enjoy the telling, and not to be interrupted. So it is deferred to a more fitting season and place.
Goodness-knows-who (presumably) came in in the shape of Henriette Prince, who was, after Sally, the next best swimmer in the Ladies' Club. After a short race or two, won by Sally in spite of heavy odds against her, the two girls turned their attention to the art of rescuing drowning persons. A very amusing game was played, each alternately committing suicide off the edge of the bath while the other took a header to her rescue from the elevation which we just now saw Sally on ready to plunge. The rules were clear. The suicide was to do her best to drag the rescuer under water and to avoid being dragged into the shallow end of the bath.
"I know you'll both get drowned if you play those tricks," says Laetitia nervously.
"No—we shan't," vociferates Sally from the brink. "Now, are you ready, Miss Prince? Very well. Tishy, count ten!"
"Oh, I wish you wouldn't! One—two—three...." And Laetitia, all whose dignity and force of character go when she is bathing, does as she is bidden, and, at the "ten," the suicide, with a cry of despair, hurls herself madly into the water, and the rescuer flies to her succour. What she has to do is to grasp the struggling quarry by the elbows from behind and keep out of the reach of her hands. But the tussle that ensues in the water is a short one, for the rescuer is no match for the supposed involuntary resistance of the convulsed suicide, who eludes the coming grasp of her hand with eel-like dexterity, and has her round the waist and drags her under water in a couple of seconds.
"There now!" says Sally triumphantly, as they stand spluttering and choking in the shallow water to recover breath. "Didn't I do that beautifully?"
"Well, but anybody could like that. When real people are drowning they don't do it like that." Miss Prince is rather rueful about it. But Sally is exultant.
"Oh, don't they!" she says. "They're worse when it's real drowning—heaps worse!" Whereon both the other girls affirm in chorus that then nobody can be saved without the Humane Society's drags—unless, indeed, you wait till they are insensible.
"Can't they?" says Sally, with supreme contempt. "We were both of us drowned that time fair. But now you go and drown yourself, and see if I don't fish you out. Fire away!"
They fire away, and the determined suicide plays her part with spirit. But she is no match for the submarine tactics of her rescuer, who seems just as happy under water as on land, and rising under her at the end of a resolute deep plunge, makes a successful grasp at the head of her prey, who is ignominiously towed into safety, doing her best to drown herself to the last.
This little incident is so amusing and exciting that the three young ladies, who walk home together westward, can talk of nothing but rescues all the way to Notting Hill. Then Miss Henriette Prince goes on alone, and as Laetitia and Sally turn off the main road towards the home of the former, the latter says: "Now tell me about the row."
It wasn't exactly a row, it seemed; but it came to the same thing. Mamma had made up her mind to be detestable about Julius Bradshaw—that was the long and short of it. And Sally knew, said Laetitia, how detestable mamma could be when she tried. If it wasn't for papa, Julius Bradshaw would simply be said not-at-home to, and have to leave a card and go. But she was going to go her own way and not be dictated to, maternal authority or no. Perhaps the speaker felt that Sally was mentally taking exception to universal revolt, for a flavour of excuse or justification crept in.
"Well!—I can't help it. I am twenty-four, after all. I shouldn't say so if there was anything against him. But no man can be blamed for a cruel conjunction of circumstances, and mamma may say what she likes, but being in the office really makes all the difference. And look how he's supporting his mother and sister, who were left badly off. I call it noble."
"But you know, Tishy, you did say the negro couldn't change his spots, and that I must admit there were such things as social distinctions—and you talked about sweeps and dustmen, you know you did. Come, Tishy, did you, or didn't you?"
"If I said anything it was leopard, not negro. And as for sweeps and dustmen, they were merely parallel cases used as illustrations; and I don't think I deserve to have them raked up...." Miss Wilson is rather injured over this grievance, and Sally appeases her. "She shan't have them raked up, she shan't! But what was this row really about, that's the point? It was yesterday morning, wasn't it?"
"How often am I to tell you, Sally dear, that there was really no row, property speaking. If you were to say there had been comments at breakfast yesterday, then recrimination overnight, and a stiffness at breakfast again this morning, you would be doing more than justice to it. You'll see now if mamma isn't cold and firm and disinherity and generally detestable about it."
"But what was it? That's what I want to know."
"My dear—it was—absolutely nothing! Why should it be stranger for Mr. Bradshaw to drive me home to save two hansoms than for you and Dr. Vereker and the Voyseys to go all in one growler?"
"Because the Voyseys live just round the corner, quite close. It came to three shillings because it's outside the radius." The irrelevancy of this detail gives Laetitia an excuse for waiving the cab-question, on which her position is untenable. She dilutes it with extraneous matter, and it is lost sight of.
"It doesn't matter whether it's cabs or what it is. Mamma's just the same about everything. Even walking up Holland Park Lane after the concert at Kensington Town Hall. I am sure if ever anything was reasonable, that was." She pauses for confirmation—is, in fact, wavering about the correctness of her own position, and weakly seeking reassurance. She is made happier by a nod of assent from Miss Sally. "Awfully reasonable!" is the verdict of the latter. Whatever there is lacking seriousness in the judge's face is too slight to call for notice—a mere twinkle to be ignored. Very little self-deception is necessary, and in this department success is invariable.
"I knew you would say so, dear," Tishy continues. "And I'm sure you would about the other things too ... well, I was thinking about tea in Kensington Gardens on Sunday. We have both of us a perfect right to have tea independently, and the only question is about separate tables."
"Suppose I come—to make it square."
"Suppose you do, dear." And the proposal is a relief evidently.
A very slight insight into the little drama that is going on at Ladbroke Grove Road is all that is wanted for the purposes of this story. The foregoing dialogue, ending at the point at which the two young women disappear into the door of No. 287, will be sufficient to give a fairly clear idea of the plot of the performance, and to point to its denouement. The exact details may unfold themselves as the story proceeds. The usual thing is a stand-up fight over the love-affair, both parties to which have made up their minds—becoming more and more obdurate as they encounter opposition from without—followed by reconciliations more or less real. Let us hope for the former in the present case, and that Miss Wilson and Mr. Bradshaw's lot may not be crossed by one of those developments of strange inexplicable fury which so often break out in families over the schemes of two young people to do precisely what their parents did before them; and most ungovernably, sometimes, on the part of members who have absolutely no suggestion to make of any alternative scheme for the happiness of either.
HOW FENWICK KNEW ALL ABOUT THE MASS. AND HOW BARON KREUTZKAMMER RECOGNISED MR. HARRISSON. LONDON AGAIN!
"Why do they call it the messe des paresseux?" The question must have been asked just as Sally looked at her watch because she saw the clock had stopped. But the nave of the Cathedral of Rheims was very unlike that of St. Satisfax as the bride and bridegroom lingered in out of the sunshine, and the former took the unwarrantable liberty, for a heretic, of crossing herself from the Holy Water at the foot of the column near the door. But she made up for it by the amount of sous she gave to the old blind woman, who must have been knitting there since the days of Napoleon at least, if she began in her teens.
"You haven't done it right, dearest. I knew you wouldn't. Look here." And Fenwick crosses himself secundum artem, dipping his finger first to make it valid.
"But how came you to know?" His wife does not say this; she only thinks it. And how came he to know about the messe des paresseux? She repeats her question aloud.
"Because the lazy people don't come to Mass till ten," he replies. They are talking under their breath, as English folk do in foreign churches, heedless of the loud gabble and resonant results of too much snuff on the part of ecclesiastics off duty. Their own salvation has been cultivated under a list slipper, cocoanut matting, secretive pew-opener policy; and if they are new to it all, they are shocked to see the snuff taken over the heads and wooden sabots of the devout country-folk, whose ancestors knelt on the same hard stone centuries ago, and prayed for great harvests that never came, and to avert lean years that very often did. The Anglican cannot understand the real aboriginal Papist. Sally's mother was puzzled when she saw an old, old kneeling figure, toothless and parchment-skinned, on whose rosary a pinch of snuff ut supra descended, shake it off the bead in evidence, and get on to the next Ave, even as one who has business before her—so many pounds of oakum to pick, so many bushels of peas to shell. It was a reality to her; and there was the Blessed Virgin herself, a visible certainty, who would see to the recognition of it at headquarters.
Fenwick passed up the aisle, dreamily happy in the smell of the incense, beside his bride of yesterday's making—she intensely happy too, but in another way, for was not her bridegroom of yesterday her husband of twenty years ago—cruelly wrenched away, but her husband for all that. Still, there was always that little rift within the lute that made the music—pray Heaven not to widen! Always that thought!—that he might recollect. How could he remember the messe des paresseux, and keep his mind a blank about how he came to know of it? It was the first discomfort that had crossed her married mind—put it away!
It was easy to put it all away and forget it in the hush and gloom of the great church, filled with the strange intonation from Heaven-knows-where—some side-chapel unseen—of a Psalm it would have puzzled David to be told was his, and a scented vapour Solomon would have known at once; for neither myrrh nor frankincense have changed one whit since his day. It was easy enough so long as both sat listening to Gloria in excelsis Deo, et in terra pax. Carried nem. con. by all sorts and conditions of Creeds. But when the little bobs and tokens and skirt-adjustments of the fat priest and his handsome abettor (a young fellow some girl might have been the wife of, with advantage to both) came to a pause, and the congregation were to be taken into confidence, how came Gerry to know beforehand what the fat one was going to say, with that stupendous voice of his?
"Hoc est corpus meum, et hic est calix sanguinis mei. We all kneel, I think." Thus the bridegroom under his breath. And his companion heard, almost with a shudder, the selfsame words from the priest, as the kneeling of the congregation subsided.
"Oh, Gerry—darling fellow! How can you know that, and not know...."
"How I came by it? It's very funny, but I can't, and that's the truth. I don't feel as if I ever could know, what's more. But it all seems a matter of course."
"Perhaps you're a Catholic all the while, without knowing it?"
"Perhaps I am. But I should like to know, because of going to the other place with you. I shouldn't care about purgatory without you, Rosey dearest. No—not even with a reversionary interest in heaven."
And then the plot thickened at the altar, and the odour of myrrh and frankincense, and little bells rang to a climax, and the handsome young priest, let us hope, felt he had got value for the loss of that hypothetical girl.
* * * * *
That little incident in the great church at Rheims was the first anxiety of Rosalind Fenwick's married life—the first resumption of the conditions she had been so often unnerved by during the period of their betrothal. She was destined to be crossed by many such. But she was, as we have said, a strong woman, and had made up her mind to take these anxieties as part of the day's work—a charge upon her happiness that had to be paid. It was a great consolation to her that she could speak to her husband about the tension caused by her misgivings without assigning any special reasons for anxiety that would not be his as much as hers. She had to show uneasiness in order to get the relief his sympathy gave her; but there were unknown possibilities in the Bush enough to warrant it without going outside what was known to both. No need at all that he should know of her separate unseen burden, for that!
But some of the jolts on the road, as we might call them, were to be sore trials to Rosalind. One came in the fourth week of their honeymoon, and quite spoiled for her the last three days of her holiday. However, Fenwick himself laughed about it—that was one comfort.
It was at Sonnenberg. You know the Great Hotel, or Pension, near the Seelisberg, that looks down on Lucerne Lake, straight over to where Tell shot the arrow? If you do not, it does not matter. Mr. and Mrs. Fenwick had never been there before, and have never been there since. And what happened might just as easily have happened anywhere else. But it was there, as a matter of fact; and if you know the place, you will be able to imagine the two of them leaning on the parapet of the terrace that overlooks the lake, watching the steamer from Lucerne creeping slowly to the landing-place at the head of a white comet it has churned the indescribable blue of the lake to, and discussing whether it is nearest to Oriental sapphire or to green jasper at its bluest.
Rosalind had got used to continual wonderment as to when and where Fenwick had come to know so well this thing and that thing he spoke of so familiarly; so she passed by the strange positiveness of his speech about the shades of jasper, the scarcity of really blue examples, and his verdict that the bluest possible one would be just the colour of that water below them. She was not going to ask him how he came to be so mighty wise about chalcedony and chrysoprase and sardonyx, about which she herself either never knew or had forgotten. She took it all as a matter of course, and asked if the Baron's cigar was a good one.
"Magnificent!" Fenwick replied, puffing at it. "How shall we return his civility?"
"Give him a cigar next time you get a chance."
Fenwick laughs, in derision of his own cigars.
"God bless me, my dearest love! Why, one of the Baron's is worth my whole box. We must discover something better than that." Both ponder over possible reciprocities in silence, but discover nothing, and seem to give up the quest by mutual consent. Then he says: "I wonder why he cosseted up to us last night in the garden so!" And she repeats: "I wonder why!"
"I don't believe he even knows our name," she continues; and then he repeats: "I don't believe he knows our name. I'm sure he doesn't."
"And it was so dark, he couldn't have seen much of us. But his cigar's quite beautiful. Blow the smoke in my face, Gerry!" She shuts her eyes to receive it. How handsome Sally would think mamma was looking if she could see her now in the light of the sunset! Her husband thinks much to that effect, as he turns to blow the smoke on order into the face that is so close to his, as they lean arm-in-arm on the parapet the sun has left his warmth on, and means to take his eyes off in half an hour. They really look quite a young couple, and the frivolity of their conduct adds to the effect. Nobody would believe in her grown-up daughter, to see that young Mrs. Algernon Fenwick.
"I am ferry root, Mrs. Harrisson. If I introot, you shall say I introot." It is the Baron, manifestly. His form—or rather his bulk, for he cannot be said to have a form; he is amorphous—is baronial in the highest degree. His stupendous chest seems to be a huge cavern for the secretion of gutturals, which are discharged as heavy artillery at a hint from some unseen percussion-cap within.
Mrs. Fenwick starts, a little taken aback at the Baron's thunderclap; for he had approached unawares, and her closed eyes helped on the effect. When they opened, they looked round, as for a third person. But the Baron was alone.
"Where is Mrs. Harrisson?" She asks the question with the most absolute unconsciousness that she was herself the person addressed. The Baron, still believing, presumably, that Fenwick is Mr. Harrisson, is not a person to be trusted with the position created. He develops an offensive waggery, shakes the forefinger that has detected an escapade, and makes of his lips the round O of shocked propriety, at heart in sympathy with the transgressor. His little grey eyes glare through his gold-rimmed spectacles, and his huge chest shakes with a substratum of laughter, only just loud enough to put in the text.
"O-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho-ho! No, do not be afraight. She is not here. We unterzdant. It is all unterzdoot. We shall be ferry tizgreet...." And then the Baron pats space with his fingers only, not moving his hand, as a general indication of secrecy to the universe.
Probably the slight flush that mantles the face he speaks to is less due to any offence at his fat, good-humoured German raillery than to some vague apprehension of the real nature of the position about to develop. But Fenwick imputes it to the former. If Rosey was inclined to treat the thing as a harmless joke, he would follow suit; but she looks hurt, and her husband, sensitive about every word that is said to her, blazes out:
"What on earth do you mean? What the devil do you mean? How dare you speak to my wife like that?" He makes a half-step towards the burly mass of flesh, still shaking with laughter. But his wife stops him.
"Do be patient, Gerry darling! Don't flare up like that. I'll have a divorce. I'll tell Sally...." a threat which seems to have a softening effect. "Can't you see, dear, that there is some misunderstanding?" Fenwick looks from her to the Baron, puzzled. The latter drops his jocular rallying.
"I saw last night you did not know me, Mr. Harrisson. That is straintch! Have you forgotten Diedrich Kreutzkammer?" He says his name with a sort of quiet confidence of immediate recognition. But Fenwick only looks blankly at him.
"He does not know me!" cries the German, with an astonished voice. "'Frisco—the Klondyke—Chicago—the bridge at Brooklyn—why, it is not two years ago...." He pauses between the names of the places, enforcing each as a reminder with an active forefinger.
Fenwick seems suddenly to breathe the fresh air of a solution of the problem. He breaks into a sunny smile, to his wife's great relief.
"Indeed, Baron Kreutzkammer, my name is not Harrisson. My name is Fenwick, and this lady is my wife—Mrs. Fenwick. I have never been in any of the places you mention." For the moment he forgot his own state of oblivion: a thing he was getting more and more in the habit of doing. The Baron looked intently at him, and looked again. He slapped his forehead, not lightly at all, but as if good hard slaps would really correct his misapprehensions and put him right with the world.
"I am all wronck" he said, borrowing extra force from an indurated g. "But it is ferry bustling—I am bustled!" By this he meant puzzled. Fenwick felt apologetic.
"I don't know how to thank you for the cigar Mr. Harrisson ought to have had," said he. He felt really ashamed of having smoked it under false pretences.
"You shall throw it away, and I giff you one for yourself. That is eacey! But I am bustled."
He continued puzzled. Mrs. Fenwick felt that he was only keeping further comment and inquiry in check because it would have been a doubt thrown on her husband's word to make any. Her uneasiness would have been visible if her power of concealing it had not been fortified by her belief that his happiness as well as hers depended (for the present, at any rate) on his ignorance of his own past. Perhaps she was wrong; with that we have nothing to do; we are telling of things as they happened. Only we wish to record our conviction that Rosalind Fenwick was acting for her husband's sake as well as her own—not from a vulgar instinct of self-preservation.
The Baron made conversation, and polished his little powerful spectacle-lenses. He blew his nose like a salute of one gun in the course of his polishing. When we blow our nose, we hush our pocket-handkerchief back into its home, and ignore it a little. The Baron didn't. He continued polishing on an unalloyed corner through the whole of a very perceptible amount of chat about the tricks memory plays us, and the probable depth of the blue water below. Rosalind's uneasiness continued. It grew worse, when the Baron, suddenly replacing his spectacles and fixing his eyes firmly on her husband, said sternly, "Yes, it is a bustle!" but was relieved when equally suddenly, he shouted in a stentorian voice, "We shall meed lader," and took his leave.
"He's a jolly fellow, the Baron, anyhow!" said Fenwick. "I wonder whether they heard him at Altdorf?"
"Every word, I should think. But how I should like to see the Mr. Harrisson he took you for!"
This was really part of a policy of nettle-grasping, which continued. She always felt happier after defying a difficulty than after flinching. After all, if Gerry's happiness and her own were not motive enough, consider Sally's. If she should really come to know her mother's story, Sally might die of it.
Fenwick went on to the ending of the cigar, dreamily wondering, evidently "bustled" like the Baron. As he blew the last smoke away, and threw the smoking end down the slope, he repeated her words spoken a minute before, "I should like to see the Mr. Harrisson he took me for."
"It would be funny to see oneself as ithers see one. Some power might gie you the giftie, Gerry. If only we could meet that Mr. Harrisson!"
"Do you remember how we saw our profiles in a glass, and you said, 'I'm sure those are somebody else'? Illogical female!"
"Why was I illogical? I knew they were going to turn out us in the end. But I was sure I shouldn't be convinced at once." And the talk wandered away into a sort of paradoxical metaphysics.
But when, later in the evening, this lady was described by confidential chat at the far end of the salon as that handsome young Mrs. Algernon Fenwick who was only just married, and whose husband was playing chess in the smoking-room, and what a pity it was they were not going to stop over Monday, she thus described, accurately enough, was rather rejoicing that that handsome Mr. Fenwick, who looked like a Holbein portrait, was being kept quiet for half an hour, because she wanted to get a chance for a little chat with that dreadful noisy Prussian Von, who made all the glasses ring at table when he shouted so. Rosalind had her own share of feminine curiosity, don't you see? and she was not by any means satisfied about Mr. Harrisson. She did not acknowledge the nature of her suspicions to herself, but she would very much like to know, for all that! She got her opportunity.
"I shouldn't the least mind myself if smoking were allowed in the salon, Baron. You saw to-day that I really liked the smoke?"
"Ja! when I make that chogue. It was a root chogue. But I am forgiffen?"
"It was Gerry who had to be forgiven, breaking out like that. I hope he has promised not to do so any more?"
"He has bromiss to be goot. I have bromiss to be goot. We shall be sages enfants, as the French say. But I will tell you, Madame Fenwick, about my vrent Harrisson your Cherry is so ligue...."
"Let's go out on the terrace, then you can light a cigar and be comfortable.... Yes, I'll have my wrap ... no, that's wrong-side-out ... that's right now.... Well, perhaps it will be a little cool for sitting down. We can walk about."
"Now I can tell you about my vrent in America that your hussband is so ligue. He could speague French—ferry well indeed." Rosalind looked up. "It was when I heard your hussband speaguing French to that grosse Grafin Pobzodonoff that I think to myself that was Alchernon Harrisson that I knew in California."
"Suppose we sit down. I don't think it's too cold.... Yes, this place will do nicely. It's sheltered from the wind." If she does look a little pale—and she feels she does—it will be quite invisible in this dark corner, for the night is dark under a canopy of blazing stars. "What were you saying about French?"
"Alchernon Harrisson—that was his name—he could speague it well. He spogue id ligue a nadiff. Better than I speague English. I speague English so well because I have a knees at Ganderbury." This meant a niece at Canterbury. Baron Kreutzkammer speaks English so well that it is almost a shame to lay stress on his pronunciation of consonants. The spelling is difficult too, so we will give the substance of what he told Rosalind without his articulation. By this time she, for her part, was feeling thoroughly uneasy. It seemed to her—but it may be she exaggerated—that nothing stood between her husband and the establishment of his identity with this Harrisson except the difference of name. And how could she know that he had not changed his name? Had she not changed hers?
The Baron's account of Harrisson was that he made his acquaintance about three years since at San Francisco, where he had come to choose gold-mining plant to work a property he had purchased at Klondyke. Rosalind found it a little difficult to understand the account of how the acquaintance began, from want of knowledge of mining machinery. But the gist of it was that the Baron, at that time a partner in a firm that constructed stamping-mills, was explaining the mechanism of one to Harrisson, who was standing close to a small vertical pugmill, or mixer of some sort, just at the moment the driving-engine had stopped and the fly-wheel had nearly slowed down. He went carelessly too near the still revolving machinery, and his coat-flap was caught and wound into the helix of the pugmill. "It would have crowned me badly," said the Baron. But he remained unground, for Harrisson, who was standing close to the moribund fly-wheel, suddenly flung himself on it, and with incredible strength actually cut short the rotation before the Baron could be entangled in a remorseless residuum of crushing power, which, for all it looked so gentle, would have made short work of a horse's thigh-bone. The Baron's coat was spoiled, though he was intact. But Harrisson's right arm had done more than a human arm's fair share of work, and had to rest and be nursed. They had become intimate friends, and the Baron had gone constantly to inquire after the swelled arm. It took time to become quite strong again, he said. It was a fine strong arm, and burned all over with gunpowder, "what you call daddooed in English."
"Did it get quite well?"
"Ferry nearly. There was a little blaze in the choint here"—the Baron touched his thumb—"where the bane remained—a roomadic bane. He burgessed a gopper ring for it. It did him no goot." Luckily Rosalind had discarded the magic ring long since, or it might have come into court awkwardly.
If she still entertained any doubts about the identity of her husband and Harrisson, the Baron's next words removed them. They came in answer to an expression of wonder of hers that he should so readily accept her husband's word for his identity in the face of the evidence of his own senses. "I really think," she had said, "that if I were in your place I should think he was telling fibs." This was nettle-grasping.
"Ach, ach! No—no—no!" shouted the Baron, so loud that she was afraid it would reach the chess-players in the smoking-room, "I arrife at it by logic, by reasson. Giff me your attention." He held up one finger firmly, as an act of hypnotism, to procure it. "Either I am ride or I am wronck. I cannot be neither."
"You might be mistaken."
The Baron's finger waved this remark aside impatiently. "I will fairy the syllogism," he shouted. "Either your husband is Mr. Harrisson, or he is not. He cannot be neither." This was granted. "Ferry well, then. If he is Mr. Harrisson, Mr. Harrisson has doled fips. But I know Mr. Harrisson would not dell fips. Imbossible!"
"And if he is not?" The Baron points out that in this case his statement is true by hypothesis, to say nothing of the intrinsic probability of truthfulness on the part of any one so like Mr. Harrisson. He is careful to dwell on the fact that this consideration of the matter is purely analysis of a metaphysical crux, indulged in for scientific illumination. He then goes on to apologize for having been so very positive. But no doubt one or two minor circumstances had so affected his imagination that he saw a very strong likeness where only a very slight one existed. "I shall look again. I shall be wicer next time." But what were the minor circumstances, Rosalind asked.
"There was the French—the lankwitch—that was one. But there was another—his noce! I will tell you. When my frent Harrisson gribe holt of that wheel, his head go down etchwice." The Baron tried to hint at this with his own head, but his neck, which was like a prize-bull's, would not lend itself to the illustration. "That wheel was ferry smooth—with a sharp gorner. His noce touch that corner." The Baron said no more in words, but pantomimic action and a whistle showed plainly how the wheel-rim had glided on the bridge of Mr. Harrisson's nose. "It took off the gewdiggle, and made a sgar. Your hussband's noce has that ferry sgar. That affected my imatchination. It is easy to unterzdant."
But the subject was frightening Rosalind. She would have liked to hear much more about Mr. Harrisson; might ever have ended by taking the fat Baron, whom she thoroughly liked, into her confidence. The difficulty, however, was about decision in immediate action, which would be irrevocable. Silence was safer—or, sleep on it at least. For now, she must change the conversation.
"How sweet the singing sounds under the starlight!" But the Baron will not tolerate any such loose inaccuracy.
"It would sount the same in the taydime. The fibrations are the same." But he more than makes up for his harsh prosaism by singing, in unison with the singers unseen:
"Ich weiss nicht was soll es bedeuten Dass ich so traurig bin...."
No one could ever have imagined that such heavenly sounds could come from anything so fat and noisy. Mrs. Fenwick shuts her eyes to listen.
When she opens them again, jerked back from a temporary dream-paradise by the Baron remarking with the voice of Stentor or Boanerges that it is a "ferry broody lied," her husband is standing there. He has been listening to the music. The Baron adds that his friend Mr. Harrisson was "ferry vond of that lied."
But when the two of them have said a cordial good-night to the unwieldy nightingale, who goes away to bed, as he has to leave early in the morning, Fenwick is very silent, and once and again brushes his hair about, and shakes his head in his old way. His wife sees what it is. The music has gone as near touching the torpid memory as the wild autumn night and the cloud-race round the moon had done in the little front garden at home a year ago.
"A recurrence, Gerry?" she asks.
"Something of the sort, Rosey love," he says. "Something quite mad this time. There was a steam-engine in it, of all things in the world!" But it has been painful, evidently—a discomfort at least—as these things always are.
Rosalind's apprehension of untimely revelations dictated a feeling of satisfaction that the Baron was going away next day; her regret at losing the choice of further investigation admitted one of dissatisfaction that he had gone. The net result was unsettlement and discomfort, which lasted through the remainder of Sonnenberg, and did not lift altogether until the normallest of normal life came back in a typical London four-wheeler, which dutifully obeyed the injunction to "go slowly," not only through the arch that injunction brooded over, but even to the end of the furlong outside the radius which commanded an extra sixpence and got more. But what did that matter when Sally was found watching at the gate for its advent, and received her stepfather with an undisguised hug as soon as she found it in her heart to relinquish her mother?
MERE DAILY LIFE AT KRAKATOA. BUT SALLY IS QUITE FENWICK'S DAUGHTER BY NOW. OF HER VIEWS ABOUT DR. VEREKER, AND OF TISHY'S AUNT FRANCES
When you come back from a holiday to a sodden and monstrous London, it is best to be welcomed by something young—by a creature that is convinced that it has been enjoying itself, and that convinces you as well, although you can't for the life of you understand the details. Why should anything enjoy itself or anything else in this Cimmerian gloom, while away over there the great Alpine peaks are white against the blue, and otherwhere the music of a hundred seas mixes with their thunder on a thousand shores? Why come home?
But when we do and find that nothing particular has happened, and that there's a card for us on the mantelpiece, how stuffy are our welcomers, and how well they tone into the surrounding grey when they are elderly and respectable? It is different when we find that, from their point of view, it is we that have been the losers by our absence from all the great and glorious fun the days have been made of while we were away on a mistaken and deluded continent, far from this delectable human ant-hill—this centre and climax of Life with a capital letter. But then, when this is so, they have to be young, as Sally was.
The ex-honeymooners came back to jubilant records of that young lady's experience during the five weeks of separation. She listened with impatience to counter records of adventures abroad, much preferring to tell of her own at home. Mr. and Mrs. Fenwick acquiesced in the role of listeners, and left the rostrum to Sally after they had been revived with soup, and declined cutlets, because they really had had plenty to eat on the way. The rostrum happened to be a hassock on the hearthrug, before the little bit of fire that wasn't at all unwelcome, because September had set in quite cold already, and there was certain to be a warm Christmas if it went on like this, and it would be very unhealthy.
"And oh, do you know"—thus Sally, after many other matters had been disposed of—"there has been such an awful row between Tishy and her mother about Julius Bradshaw?" Sally is serious and impressed; doesn't see the comic side, if there is one. Her mother felt that if there was to be a volley of indignation discharged at Mrs. Wilson for her share in the row, she herself, as belonging to the class mother, might feel called on to support her, and was reserved accordingly.
"I suppose Laetitia wants to marry Mr. Bradshaw. Is that it?"
"Of course that's it! He hasn't proposed, because he's promised not to; but he will any time Tishy gives a hint. Meanwhile Goody Wilson has refused to sanction his visits at the house, and Laetitia has said she will go into lodgings."
"Sally darling, I do wish you wouldn't call all the married ladies of your acquaintance Goody. You'll do it some day to their faces."
"It's only the middle-aged bouncers."
"Well, dear chick, do try and not call them Goody. What did Goo—there! I was going to do it myself. What did Mrs. Wilson say to that?"
"Said Tishy's allowance wouldn't cover lodgings, and she had nothing else to fall back on. So we go into the Park instead."
Even Mrs. Fenwick's habituation to her daughter's incisive method is no proof against this. She breaks into an affectionate laugh, and kisses its provoker, who protests.
"We-e-ell! There's nothing in that. We have tea in the shilling places under the trees in Kensington Gardens. That's all right."
"Of course that's all right—with a chaperon like you! Who could say anything? But do tell me, Sally darling, does Mrs. Wilson dislike this young man on his own account, or is it only the shop?"
"Only the shop, I do believe. And Tishy's twenty-four! What is my stepfather sitting smiling at there in that contented way? Is that a Mossoo cigar? It smells very nice."
"I was smiling at you, Sarah. No, it's not a Mossoo that I know of. A German Baron gave it me.... No, dearest! It really was all right.... No—I really can't exactly say how; but it was all right for all that...." This was in answer to a comment of his wife.
"Never mind the German Baron," Sally interrupts. "What business have you to smile at me, Jeremiah?" They had christened each other Jeremiah and Sarah for working purposes.
"Because I chose—because you're such a funny little article." He comes a little nearer to her, and putting his arm round her neck, pinches her off-cheek. She gives him a very short kiss—hardly a real one—just an acknowledgment. He remains with her little white hand in his great hairy one, and she leans against him and accepts the position. But that cigar is on her mother's mind.
"How many did he give you, Gerry? Now tell the truth."
"He gave me a lot. I smuggled them. I can't tell you why it seemed all right I should accept them. But it did."
"I suppose you know best, dear. Men are men, and I'm a female. But he was such a perfect stranger." She, of course, knew quite well that he was not, but there was nettle-grasping in it on her part.
"Yes, he was. But somehow he didn't seem so. Perhaps it was because I flew into such a rage with him about what he called his 'crade chogue.' But it wasn't only that. Something about the chap himself—I can't tell what." And Fenwick becomes distrait, with a sort of restless searching on his face. He sits on, silent, patting Sally's little white hand in his, and letting the prized cigar take care of itself, and remains silent until, after a few more interesting details about the "great row" at Ladbroke Grove Road, all three agree that sleep is overdue, and depart to receive payment.
Rosalind knows the meaning of it all perfectly. Some tiny trace of memory of the fat Kreutzkammer lingered in her husband's crippled mind—something as confused as the revolving engine's connexion with the German volkslied. But enough to prevent his feeling the ten francs' worth of cigars an oppressive benevolence. It was very strange to her that it should so happen, but, having happened, it did not seem unnatural. What was stranger still was that Gerry should be there, loving Sally like a father—just as her own stepfather Paul Nightingale had come to love her—caressing her, and never dreaming for a moment how that funny little article came about. Yes, come what might, she would do her best to protect these two from that knowledge, however many lies she had to tell. She was far too good and honourable a woman to care a particle about truthfulness as a means to an easy conscience; she did not mind the least how much hers suffered if it was necessary to the happiness of others that it should do so. And in her judgment—though we admit she may have been wrong—a revelation of the past would have taken all the warmth and light out of the happy and contented little world of Krakatoa Villa. So long as she had the cloud to herself, and saw the others out in the sunshine, she felt safe, and that all was well.
She would have liked companionship inside the cloud, for all that. It was a cruel disappointment to find, when she came to reflect on it, that she could not carry out a first intention of taking Colonel Lund into her confidence about the Baron, and the undoubted insight he had given into some portion of Fenwick's previous life. Obviously it would have involved telling her husband's whole story. Her belief that he was Harrisson involved her knowledge that he was not Fenwick. The Major would have said at once: "Why not tell him all this Baron told you, and see if it wouldn't bring all his life back to him?" And then she would have to tell the Major who he really was, to show him the need of keeping silence about the story. No, no! Danger lay that way. Too much finessing would be wanted; too many reserves.
So she bore her secret knowledge alone, for their sakes feeling all the while like the scapegoat in the wilderness. But it was a happy wilderness for her, as time proved. Her husband's temper and disposition were well described by Sally, when she told Dr. Vereker in confidence one day that when he boiled he blew the lid off, but that he was a practical lamb, and was wax in her mother's hands. A good fizz did good, whatever people said. And the doctor agreed cordially. For he had a mother whose temper was notoriously sweetness itself, but was manipulated by its owner with a dexterity that secured all the effects of discomfort to its beneficiaries, without compromising her own claims to canonization.
Fenwick's temper—this expression always means want of temper, or absence of temper—was of the opposite sort. It occasioned no inconvenience to any one, and every one detected and classed it after knowing him for twenty-four hours. The married couple had not existed for three months in that form before this trivial individuality was defined by Ann and Cook as "only master." Sally became so callous after a slight passing alarm at one or two explosions that she would, for instance, address her stepfather, after hearing his volleys at some offender in the distance, with, "Who did I hear you calling a confounded idiot, Jeremiah?" To which he would reply, softening into a genial smile: "Lost my temper, I did, Sarah dear. Lost my temper with the Wash. The Wash sticks in pins and the heads are too small to get hold of"; or, "People shouldn't lick their envelopes up to the hilt, and spoil one's ripping-corner, unless they want a fellow to swear"; or something similar belonging to the familiar trials of daily life.
But really safety-valve tempers are so common that Fenwick's would scarcely have called for notice if it had not been that, on one occasion, a remark of Sally's about a rather more vigorous emeute than usual led her mother, accidentally thrown off her guard, to reply: "Yes! But you have no idea how much better he is——" and then to stop suddenly, seeing the mistake she was making. She had no time to see a way out of the difficulty before Sally, puzzled, looked at her with: "Better than when? I've known him longer than you have, mother." For Sally always boasted of her earlier acquaintance.
"No when at all, kitten! How much better he is when we are alone! He never flares up then—that's what I meant." But she knew quite well that her sentence, if finished, would have stood, "how much better he is than he used to be!" She was too candid a witness in the court of her own conscience to make any pretence that this wasn't a lie. Of course it was; but if she never had to tell a worse one than that for Sally's sake, she would be fortunate indeed.
She was much more happy in the court of her conscience than she was in that of St. Satisfax—if we may ascribe a judicial status to him, to help us through with our analysis of her frame of mind. His was a court which, if not identical at all points with the analogous exponents of things Divine in her youth, was fraught with the same jurisdiction; was vocal with resonances that proclaimed the same consequences to the unredeemed that the mumblings of a pastor of her early days, remembered with little gratitude, had been inarticulate with. Her babyhood had received the idea that liars would be sent unequivocally to hell, and her maturity could not get rid of it. Outside the precinct of the saint, the brief working morality that considers other folk first was enough for her; within it, the theologism of an offended deity still held a traditional sway. Outside, her whole soul recoiled from the idea of her child knowing a story that would eat into her heart like a cancer; within, a reserve-corner of that soul, inoculated when it was new and susceptible, shuddered at her unselfish adhesion to the only means by which that child could be kept in ignorance.
However, she was clear about one thing. She would apologize in prayer; but she would go to hell rather than have Sally made miserable. Thus it came about that Mrs. Fenwick continued a very devout church-goer, and, as her husband never left her side when he had a choice, he, too, became a frequent guest of St. Satisfax, whom he seemed to regard as a harmless though fantastic person who lived in some century or other, only you always forgot which.
His familiarity with the usages of the reformed St. Satisfax, and his power of discriminating the lapses of that saint towards the vices of his early unregenerate days—he being all the while perfectly unconscious how he came to know anything of either—continued to perplex his wife, and was a source of lasting bewilderment to Sally. A particular incident growing out of this was always associated in Rosalind's mind with an epithet he then applied to Sally for the first time, but which afterwards grew to be habitual with him.
"Of course, it's the Communion-table," he said in connexion with some discussion of church furniture. "We have no altars in our church nowadays. You're a Papist, Sarah!"
"I thought Communion-tables were an Evangelical start," said Sally irreverently. "A Low Church turn-out. Our Mr. Prince is a Tractarian, and a Ritualist, and a Puseyite, and an Anglican. That's his game! The Bishop of London won't let him perform High Mass, and I think it a shame! Don't you?... But I say, Jeremiah!" And Jeremiah refrained from expressing whatever indignation he felt with the Bishop of London, to find what Sally said. It was to the effect that it was incredible that he should know absolutely nothing about the original source of his information.
"I can only tell you, Sarah dear," he said, with the ring of sadness in his voice that always came on this topic, "that I do remember nothing of the people who taught me, or the place I learned in. Yet I know about Tract No. 90, and Pusey and Newman, for all that. How I remember things that were information, and forget things that were things, is more than I can tell you. But can't you think of bits of history you know quite well, without ever recalling where you got them from?"
"Of course I can. At least, I could if I knew some history. Only I don't. Oh yes, I do. Perkin Warbeck and Anne of Cleves. I've forgotten about them now, only I know I knew them both. I've answered about them in examinations. They're history all right enough. As to who taught me about them, couldn't say!"
"Very well, Sarah. Now put a good deal of side into your stroke, and you'll arrive at me."
But the revival of the old question had dug up discomfort his mind had done its best to inter; and he went silent and sat with a half-made cigarette in his fingers thinking gravely. Rosalind, at a writing-table behind him, moved her lips at Sally to convey an injunction. Sally, quickly apprehensive, understood it as "Let him alone! Don't rake up the electrocution!" But Sally's native directness betrayed her, and before she had time to think, she had said, "All right; I won't." The consequence of which was that Fenwick—being, as Sally afterwards phrased it, "too sharp by half"—looked up suddenly from his reverie, and said, as he finished rolling his cigarette, "What won't our daughter?"
The pleasure that struck through his wife's heart was audible in her voice as she caught it up. "Our daughter won't be a silly inquisitive little puss-cat, darling. It only worries you, and does no good." And he replied to her, as she came behind him and stood with an appreciative side-face against his, with a semi-apology for the phrase "daughter," and allowed the rest of what they were speaking of to lapse.
"I called her it for the pleasure of saying it," said he. "It sounded so nice!" And then he knew that her kiss was approval, but of course had no conception of its thoroughness. For her part, she hardly dared to think of the strangeness of the position; she could only rejoice at its outcome.
After that it became so natural to him to speak of Sally as "our daughter" that often enough new acquaintances misconceived her relation to him, and had a shrewd insight that Mr. and Mrs. Fenwick must have been married very young. Once some visitors—a lady with one married daughter and two single ones—were so powerfully impressed with Sally's resemblance to her supposed parent that three-fourths of them went unconvinced away, in spite of the efforts of the whole household to remove the error. The odd fourth was supposed to have carried away corrective information. "I got the flat one, with the elbows, in a quiet corner," said Sally, "and told her Jeremiah was only step. Because they all shouted at once, so it was impossible to make them hear in a lump."
Mistakes of this sort, occurring frequently, reacted on Mr. and Mrs. Fenwick, who found in them a constant support and justification for the theory that Sally was really the daughter of both, while admitting intellectual rejection of it to be plausible to commonplace minds. They themselves got on a higher level, where ex-post-facto parentages were possible. Causes might have miscarried, but results having turned out all right, it would never do to be too critical about antecedents. Anyhow, Sally was going to be our daughter, whether she was or not.
Rosalind always found a curious consolation in the reflection that, however bewildering the position might be, she had it all to herself. This was entirely apart from her desire to keep Fenwick in ignorance of his past; that was merely a necessity for his own sake and Sally's, while this related to the painfulness of standing face to face with an incredible conjunction of surroundings. She, if alone, could take refuge in wonder-struck silence. If her knowledge were shared with another, how could examination and analysis be avoided? And these would involve the resurrection of what she could keep underground as long as she was by herself; backed by a thought, if needed, of the merry eyebrows and pearly teeth, and sweet, soft youth, of its unconscious result. But to be obliged to review and speculate over what she desired to forget, and was helped to forget by gratitude for its consequences, would have been a needless addition to the burden she had already to bear.
The only person she could get any consolation from talking with was the Major, who already knew, or nearly knew, the particulars of the nightmare of twenty years ago. But, then—we feel that we are repeating this ad nauseam—he was quite in the dark about Fenwick's identity, and was to be kept there. Rosalind had decided it so, and she may have been right.
Would she have done better by forcing on her husband the knowledge of his own identity, and risking the shock to her daughter of hearing the story of her outsider father's sin against her mother? Her decision against this course was always emphasized by—may even have been unconsciously due to—her prevision of the difficulty of the communication to Sally. How should she set about it? She pictured various forms of the attempt to herself, and found none she did not shudder at.
The knowledge that such things could be would spoil the whole world for the girl. She had to confess to herself that the customary paltering with the meaning of words that enables modern novels to be written about the damnedest things in the universe would either leave her mind uninformed, or call for a commentary—a rubric in the reddest of red letters. Even a resort to the brutal force of Oriental speech done into Jacobean English would be of little avail. For hypocrisy is at work all through juvenile reception of Holy Writ, and brings out as a result the idea that that writ is holy because it uses coarse language about things that hardly call for it. It Bowdlerises Potiphar's wife, and favours the impression that in Sodom and Gomorrah the inhabitants were dissipated and sat up late. This sort of thing wouldn't work with Sally. If the story were to be told at all, her thunderbolt directness would have it all out, down to the ground. Her mother went through the pros and cons again and again, and always came to the same conclusion—silence.
But for all that, Rosalind had a background belief that a time would come when a complete revelation would be possible. Her mind stipulated for a wider experience for Sally before then. It would be so infinitely easier to tell her tale to one who had herself arrived at the goal of motherhood, utterly unlike as (so she took for granted) was to be the way of her arrival, sunlit and soft to tread, from the black precipice and thorny wastes that had brought her to her own.
Any possible marriage of Sally's, however, was a vague abstraction of an indistinct future. Perhaps we should say had been, and admit that since her own marriage Mrs. Fenwick had begun to be more distinctly aware that her little daughter was now within a negligible period of the age when her own tree of happiness in life had been so curtly broken off short, and no new leafage suffered to sprout upon the broken stem. This identity of age could not but cause comparison of lots. "Suppose it had been Sally!" was the thought that would sometimes spring on her mother's mind; and then the girl would wonder what mamma was thinking of that she should make her arm that was round her tighten as though she feared to lose her, or bring her an irrelevant, unanticipated kiss.
This landmark-period bristled with suggested questions of what was to follow it. Sally would marry—that seemed inevitable; and her mother, now that she was herself married again, did not shrink from the idea as she had done, in spite of her protests against her own selfishness.
Miss Sally's attitude toward the tender passion did not at present give any grounds for supposing that she was secretly its victim, or ever would be. Intense amusement at the perturbation she occasioned to sensitive young gentlemen seemed to be the nearest approach to reciprocating their sentiments that she held out any hopes of. She admitted as a pure abstraction that it was possible to be in love, but regarded applicants as obstacles that stood in their own way.
"I'm sure his adoration does him great credit," she said to Laetitia one day about a new devotee—for there was no lack of them. "But it's his eyes, and his nose, and his mouth, and his chin, and his ears, and his hair, and his hands and his feet, and his altogether that——"
"That what?" asked her friend.
"That you can't expect a girl to then, if you insist upon it."
"Some girl will, you'll see, one of these days."
"What!—even that man with teeth!" This was some chance acquaintance, useful for illustration, but not in the story. Laetitia knew enough of him to give a testimonial.
"He's a very good fellow, whatever you may say!" said she.
"My dear Tishy! Goodness is the distinguishing feature of the opposite sex. I speak as a person of my own. Men's moral qualities are always high. If it wasn't for their appearance, and their manners, and their defective intelligences, they would make the most charming husbands."
"How very young you are!" Miss Wilson said, superior experience oozing out at every pore. Sally might have passed this by, but when it came to patting you on the cheek, she drew a line.
"Tishy dear, do you mean to go on like that, when I'm a hundred and you are a hundred and five?"
"Yes, dear. At least, I can't say. Anything may have happened by then."
"What sort of thing? Come, Tishy, don't be enigmatical. For instance?"
"You'll change your mind and be wiser—you'll see." Which might have been consecutive in another conversation. But it was insufferably patronizing in Laetitia to evade the centenarian forecast that should have come in naturally, and retreat into a vague abstraction, managing to make it appear (Sally couldn't say how or why) that her own general remarks about man, which meant nothing, were a formal proclamation of celibacy on her part. It is odd how little the mere wording of a conversation may convey, especially girl's conversation. What is there in the above to warrant what came next from Sally?
"If you mean Dr. Vereker, that's ridiculous."
"I never mentioned his name, dear."
"Of course you didn't; you couldn't have, and wouldn't have. But anybody could tell what you meant, just the same, by leaving your mouth open when you'd done speaking." We confess freely that we should not have known, but what are we? Why should Laetitia's having left her lips slightly ajar, instead of closing them, have "meant Dr. Vereker"?
But the fact is—to quote an expression of Sally's own—brain-waves were the rule and not the exception with her. And hypnotic suggestion raged as between her and Miss Laetitia Wilson, interrupting practice, and involving the performers in wide-ranging, irrelevant discussion. It was on a musical occasion at Ladbroke Grove Road that this conversation took place.
Laetitia wasn't going to deny Dr. Vereker, evidently, or else there really was something very engrossing about her G string. Sally went on, while she dog's-eared her music, which was new, to get good turning-over advantages when it came to playing.
"My medical adviser's not bad, taken as an aunt. I don't quite know what I should do without poor Prosy. But as for anything, of course that's absurd. Why, half the fun is that there isn't anything!"
Laetitia knew as well as possible that her young friend, once started, would develop the subject on her own lines without further help from her. She furnished her face with a faint expression of amused waiting, not strong enough to be indictable, but operative, and said never a word.
"Foolery would spoil it all," pursued Sally; "in fact, I put my foot down at the first go-off. I pointed out that I stipulated to be considered a chap. Prosy showed tact—I must say that for Prosy—distinctly tact. You see, if I had had to say a single word to him on the subject, it would have been all up." Then possibly, in response to a threat of an inflexion in her friend's waiting countenance, "I should say, when I make use of the expression 'pointed out,' perhaps I ought to say 'conveyed to him.'" Sally gets the viola in place for a start, and asks is her friend ready? Waiting, it seems; so she merely adds, "Yes, I should say conveyed it to him." And off they go with the new piece of music in B flat, and are soon involved in terrifying complications which have to be done all over again. At the end, they are ungrateful to B flat, and say they don't care much for it; it will be better when they can play it, however. Then Laetitia schemes to wind Sally up a little.
"Doesn't the Goody goozle at you about him, though? You said she did."
"The Goody—oh yes! (By-the-bye, mother says I mustn't call your ma Goody Wilson, or I shall do it to her face, and there'll be a pretty how-do-you-do.) Prosy's parent broods over one, and gloats as if one was crumpets; but Prosy himself is very good about her—aware of her shortcomings."
"I don't care what you call my mother. Call her any name you like. But what does Dr. Vereker say?"
"About his'n? Says she's a dear good mother, and I mustn't mind her. I say, Tishy!"
"What is the present position of the row? You said your mother. You know you did—coming from the bath—after Henriette went away."
"I did say my mother, dear. But I wish it were otherwise. I've told Mr. Bradshaw so."
"You'd be much nicer if you said Julius. Told him what?"
"Told him a girl can't run counter to the wishes of her family in practice. Of course, M—well, then, Julius, if you will have it—is ready to wait. But it's really ridiculous to talk in this way, when, after all, nothing's been said."
"Not to anybody. Only him and me."
"Why, yes, what I told you. We needn't go over it again."
"In the avenue. And moonrise and things. What o'clock was it, please, ma'am?"
"About ten-fifteen, dear. We were in by eleven." This was a faint attempt to help dignity by a parade of accuracy in figures, and an affectation of effrontery. "But really we needn't go over it again. You know what a nice letter he wrote Aunt Frances?" And instead of waiting for an answer, Tishy, perhaps to avoid catechism about the moonrise and things, ploughs straight on into a recitation of her lover's letter to her aunt: "Dear Lady Sales—Of course it will (quite literally) give me the greatest possible pleasure to come. I will bring the Strad"; and then afterwards he said: "I hope your niece will give a full account of me, and not draw any veils over my social position. However, this being written at my desk here on the shop-paper will prevent any misunderstanding."
"Your Aunt Frances has been hatching you—you two!" says Sally, ignoring the letter.
"She is a dear good woman, if ever there was one. I wish mamma was my aunt-by-marriage, and she her!" And then Laetitia went on to tell many things about the present position of the "row" between herself and her mother, concerning which it can only be said that nothing transpired that justified its existence. Seeing that no recognition was asked for of any formal engagement either by the "young haberdasher" himself—for that was the epithet applied to him (behind his back, of course) by the older lady—or by the object of his ambitious aspirations, it might have been more politic, as well as more graceful, on her part, to leave the affair to die down, as love-affairs unopposed are so very apt to do. Instead of which she needs must begin endeavouring to frustrate what at the time of her first interference was the merest flirtation between a Romeo who was tied to a desk all day, and a Juliet who was constantly coming into contact with other potential Romeos—plenty of them. Our own private opinion is that if the Montagus and Capulets had tried to bury the hatchet at a public betrothal of the two young people, the latter would have quarrelled on the spot. Setting their family circles by the ears again would almost have been as much fun as a secret wedding by a friar. You doubt it? Well, we may be wrong. But we are quite certain that the events which followed shortly after the chat between the two girls recorded above either would never have come to pass, or would have taken an entirely different form, if it had not been for the uncompromising character of Mrs. Sales Wilson's attitude towards her daughter's Romeo.
We will give this collateral incident in our history a chapter to itself, for your convenience more than our own. You can skip it, you see, if you want to get back to Krakatoa Villa.
OF JULIUS BRADSHAW'S INNER SOUL. AND OF THE HABERDASHER'S BATTLE AT LADBROKE GROVE ROAD. ON CARPET STRETCHING, AND VACCINATION FROM THE CALF. AN AFTER-DINNER INTERVIEW, AND GOOD RESOLUTIONS. EVASIVE TRAPPISTS
You can remember, if you are male and middle-aged, or worse, some little incident in your own early life more or less like that effervescence of unreal passion which made us first acquainted with Mr. Julius Bradshaw and his violin. Do you shake your head, and deny it? Are you prepared to look us in the face, and swear you never, when a young man, had a sleepless night because of some girl whom you had scarcely spoken to, and who would not have known who you were if you had been able to master your trepidation and claim acquaintance; and who, in the sequel, changed her identity, and became what the greatest word-coiner of our time called a "speech-friend" of yours, without a scrap of romance or tenderness in the friendship?
Sally's sudden change of identity from the bewitching little gardener who had fascinated this susceptible youth, to a merely uncommonly nice girl, was no doubt assisted by his introduction just at that moment to the present Mrs. Julius Bradshaw. For it would be the merest affectation to conceal the ultimate outcome of their acquaintance.
When Julius came to Krakatoa Villa, he came already half disillusioned about Sally. What sort of an accolade he expected on arriving to keep his passion on its legs, Heaven only knows! He certainly had been chilled by her easy-going invitation to her mother's. A definite declaration of callous indifference would not have been half so effective. Sally had the most extraordinary power of pointing out that she stipulated to be considered as a chap; or conveying it, which came to the same thing. On the other hand, Laetitia, who had been freely spoken of by Sally as "making a great ass of herself about social tommy-rot and people's positions," and who was aware of the justice of the accusation, had been completely jerked out of the region of Grundy by Julius's splendid rendering of Tartini, and had felt disconcerted and ashamed; for Tishy was a thorough musician at heart. The consequence was an amende honorable to the young man, on whom—he having no idea whatever of its provoking cause—it produced the effect that might have been anticipated. Any young lady who wishes to enslave a young man will really do better work by showing an interest in himself than by any amount of fascination and allurement, on the lines of Greuze. We are by no means sure that it is safe to reveal this secret, so do not let it go any farther. Young women are formidable enough, as it is, without getting tips from the camp of the enemy.
Anyhow, Sally became a totally different identity to Mr. Julius Bradshaw. He, for his part, underwent a complete transformation in hers—so much so that the vulgar child was on one occasion quite taken aback at a sudden recollection of his debut, and said to her stepfather: "Only think, Jeremiah! Tishy's Julius is really that young idiot that came philandering after me Sundays, and I had quite forgotten it!"
The young idiot had settled down to a reasonable personality; if not to a manifestation of his actual self, at any rate as near as he was likely to go to it for some time to come; for none of us ever succeeds in really showing himself to his fellow-creatures outright. That's impossible.
Sally had never said very much to her friend of this pre-introduction phase of Julius—had, in fact, thought little enough about it. Perhaps her taking care to say nothing at all of it in his later phase was her most definite acknowledgment of its existence at any time. It was only a laughable incident. She saw at once, when she took note of that sofa seance, which way the cat was going to jump; and we are bound to say it was a cat that soon made up its mind, and jumped with decision.
Mrs. Sales Wilson's endeavour to intercept that cat had been prompt and injudicious. She destroyed whatever chance there was of a sudden volte-face on its part—and oh, the glorious uncertainty of this class of cat!—first by taking no notice of it aggressively, next by catching hold of its tail, too late. In the art of ignoring bystanders, she was no match for the cat. And detention seemed only to communicate impetus.
Julius Bradshaw's first receptions at the Ladbroke Grove House had been based mainly on his Stradivarius. The Dragon may be said to have admitted the instrument, but only to have tolerated its owner, as one might tolerate an organman who owned a distinguished monkey. Still, the position was an ambiguous one. The Dragon felt she had made a mistake in not shutting the door against this lion at first. She had "let him in, to see if she could turn him out again," and the crisis of the campaign had come over the question whether Mr. Bradshaw might, or should, or could be received into the inner bosom of the household—that is to say, the dinner-bosom. The Dragon said no—she drew the line at that. Tea, yes—dinner, no!
After many small engagements over the question in the abstract, the plot thickened with reference to the arrangements of a particular Thursday evening. The Dragon felt that a decisive battle must be fought; the more so that her son Egerton, whom she had relied on to back her against a haberdasher, though he might have been useless against a jockey or a professional cricketer, had gone over to the enemy, and announced (for the Professor had failed to communicate the virus of scholarship to this young man) that he was unanimous that Mr. Bradshaw should be forthwith invited to dinner.
His mother resorted to the head of the household as to a Court of Appeal, but not, as we think, in a manner likely to be effective. Her natural desire to avenge herself on that magazine of learning for marrying her produced an unconciliatory tone, even in her preamble.
"I suppose," she said, abruptly entering his library in the vital centre of a delectable refutation of an ignoramus—"I suppose it's no use looking to you for sympathy in a matter of this sort, but——"
"I'm busy," said the Professor; "wouldn't some other time do as well?"
"I knew what I had to expect!" said the lady, at once allowing her desire to embitter her relations with her husband to get the better of her interest in the measure she desired to pass through Parliament. She left the room, closing the door after her with venomous quietness.
The refutation would have to stand over; it was spoiled now, and the delicious sarcasm that was on his pen's tip was lost irrevocably. He blotted a sentence in the middle, put his pen in a wet sponge, and opened his door. He jerked it savagely open to express his attitude of mind towards interruption. His "What is it?" as he did so was in keeping with the door-jerk.
"I can speak of nothing to you if you are so tetchy"—a word said spitefully, with a jerk explanatory of its meaning. "Another time will do better, now. I prefer to wait."
When these two played at the domestic game of exasperate-my-neighbour, the temper lost by the one was picked up by the other, and added to his or her pack. It was so often her pack that there must have been an unfair allotment of knaves in it when dealt—you know what that means in beggar-my-neighbour? On this occasion Mrs. Wilson won heavily. It was not every day that she had a chance of showing her great forbearance and self-restraint, on the stairs to an audience of a man in leather kneecaps who was laying a new drugget in the passage, and a model of discretion with a dustpan, whose self-subordination was beyond praise; her daughter Athene in the passage below inditing her son Egerton for a misappropriation of three-and-fivepence; and a faint suspicion of Laetitia's bedroom door on the jar, for her to listen through, above.
It wasn't fair on the Professor, though; for even before he exploded, his lady-wife had had ample opportunity of reconnoitring the battle-field, and, as it were, negotiating with auxiliaries, by a show of gentle sweetness which had the force of announcement that she was being misunderstood elsewhere. But she would bear it, conscious of rectitude. Now, the Professor didn't know there was any one within hearing; so he snapped, and she bit him sotto voce, but raised a meek voice to follow:
"Another time will be better. I prefer to wait." This was all the public heard of her speech. But she went into the library.
"What do you want to speak to me about?" Thus the Professor, remaining standing to enjoin the temporary character of the interview; to countercheck which the lady sank in an armchair with her back to the light. Both she and Laetitia conveyed majesty in swoops—filled up fauteuils—could motion humbler people to take a seat beside them. "Tishy's Goody runs into skirts—so does she if you come to that!" was Sally's marginal note on this point. The countercheck was effectual, and from her position of vantage the lady fired her first shot.
"You know perfectly well what I want to speak about." The awkward part of this was that the Professor did know.
"Suppose I do; go on!" This only improved his position very slightly, but it compelled the bill to be read a first time.
"Do you wish your daughter to marry a haberdasher?"
"I do not. If I did, I should take her round to some of the shops."
But his wife is in no humour to be jested with. "If you cannot be serious, Mr. Wilson, about a serious matter, which concerns the lifelong well-being of your eldest daughter, I am only wasting my time in talking to you." She threatens an adjournment with a slight move. Her husband selects another attitude, and comes to business.
"You may just as well say what you have come to say, Roberta. It's about Laetitia and this young musician fellow, I suppose. Why can't you leave them alone?" Now, you see, here was a little triumph for Roberta—she had actually succeeded in getting the subject into the realm of discussion without committing herself to any definite statement, or, in fact, really saying what it was. She could prosecute it now indirectly, on the lines of congenial contradiction of her husband.
"I fully expected to be accused of interfering with what does not concern me. I am not surprised. My daughter's welfare is, it appears, to be of as little interest to me as it is to her father. Very well."
"What do you wish me to do? Will you oblige me by telling me what it is you understand we are talking about?" A gathering storm of determination must be met, the Dragon decides, by a corresponding access of asperity on her part. She rises to the occasion.
"I will tell you about what I do not understand. But I do not expect to be listened to. I do not understand how any father can remain in his library, engaged in work which cannot possibly be remunerative, while his eldest daughter contracts a disgraceful marriage with a social inferior." The irrelevance about remuneration was ill-judged.
"I can postpone the Dictionary—if that will satisfy you—and go on with some articles for the Encyclopaedia, which pay very well, until after the ceremony. Is the date fixed?"
"It is easy for you to affect stupidity, and to answer me with would-be witty evasions. But if you think to deter me from my duty—a mother's duty—by such pitiful expedients you are making a great mistake. You make my task harder to me, Septimus, but you do not discourage me. You know as well as I do—although you choose to affect the contrary—that what I am saying does not relate to any existing circumstances, but only to what may come about if you persist in neglecting your duty to your family. I came into this room to ask you to exercise your authority with your daughter Laetitia, or if not your authority—for she is over twenty-one—your influence. But I see that I shall get no help. It is, however, what I expected—no more and no less." And the skirts rustle with an intention of getting up and going away injured.
Mrs. Wilson had a case against her husband, if not a strong one. His ideas of the duties of a male parent were that he might incur paternity of an indefinite number of sons and daughters, and discharge all his obligations to them by providing their food and education. Having paid quittance, he was at liberty to be absorbed in his books. Had his payments been large enough to make his wife's administration of the household easy, he might have been justified, especially as she, for her part, was not disposed to allow him any voice in any matter. Nevertheless, she castigated him frightfully at intervals for not exercising an authority she was not prepared to permit. He was nothing but a ninepin, set up to be knocked down, an Aunt Sally who was never allowed to keep her pipe in her mouth for ten consecutive seconds. The natural consequence of which was that his children despised him, but to a certain extent loved him; while, on the other hand, they somewhat disliked their mother, but (to a certain extent) respected her. It is very hard on the historian and the dramatist that every one is not quite good or quite bad. It would make their work so much easier. But it would not be nearly so interesting, especially in the case of the last-named.
The Professor may have had some feeling on these lines when he stopped the skirts from rustling out of the apartment by a change in his manner.