HotFreeBooks.com
The Beth Book - Being a Study of the Life of Elizabeth Caldwell Maclure, a Woman of Genius
by Sarah Grand
Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

But although the spell had been broken in a moment, her right mind was not permanently restored all at once. It was only gradually, as the tide goes out after a tempest, and leaves the storm-beaten coast in peace, that the worry in her head subsided. She had lapse after lapse. She would lie awake at night, a prey to horrible thoughts, or start up in the early morning with her mind all turgid with suspicions which goaded her to rush out and act, act—see for herself—do something. But the great difference now was that, although she was still seized upon by the evil, it no longer had the same power to grieve her. She had valiantly resisted it from the moment she recognised its nature, but now she not only resisted it, she conquered it, and found relief. When her imagination insisted on pursuing Dan to his haunts, she deliberately and successfully turned her attention to other things. She turned her attention to the friends she loved and trusted, she dwelt on the kindness they had shown her, she forced herself to sit down and write to them, and she would rise from this happy task with her reason restored, the mere expression of affection having sufficed to exorcise the devils of rage and hate.

But it was the strange exalted sentiment which her knight had inspired that began, continued, and completed her cure. Day after day he came riding down the road, riding into her life for a moment, then passing on and leaving her, not desolate, but greatly elated. She had known no feeling like this feeling, no hope or faith like the hope and faith inspired by that man's mien. She did not know his name, she had never heard his voice; their greeting—which was hardly a greeting, so restrained was the glance and the brightening of the countenance which was all the recognition that passed between them—was merely momentary, yet, in that moment, Beth was imbued with joy which lasted longer and longer each time, until at last it stayed with her for good, restored the charm of life to her, re-aroused her dormant further faculty, and quickened the vision and the dream anew. She prayed again in those days fervently, and in full faith, as of old; for when we pray with love in our hearts our prayers are granted, and her heart was full of love—a holy, impersonal love, such as we feel for some great genius, adored at a distance, for the grace of goodness he has imparted to us. And her heart being full of love, her brain teemed with ideas; the love she lived on, the ideas she held in reserve, for she had been so weakened by all she had suffered that the slightest exertion in the way of work exhausted her. In any case, however, great ideas must simmer long in the mind before they come to the boil, and the time was not lost.

In those days fewer people than ever came to the house. For weeks together Beth never spoke to a soul except the servants and her husband, and through the long hours when her head troubled her and she could not work, she felt her isolation extremely. Mrs. Kilroy and her other new friends sent her pamphlets and papers and hurried notes to keep her heart up and inform her of their progress, and Beth, knowing what the hurry of their lives was, and not expecting any attention, was grateful for all they paid her. She had no fear of losing touch with such friends after they had once received her into their circle as one of themselves, however seldom she might see them, and it was well for her mental health that she had them to rely on during that time of trial, for without them she would have had no sense of security in any relation in life.

She was gradually growing to be on much more formal terms with Dan than she had been, thanks to her own strength of character. She found she was able to reduce the daily jar, and even to keep his coarseness in check, by extreme politeness. In any difference, his habit had been to try and shout her down; but the contrast of her own quiet dignified demeanour checked him in that. Beth had the magnetic quality which, when steadily directed, acts on people and forces them into any attitude desired; and Dan accommodated his manner and conversation to her taste more now than he had ever done before; but he felt the restraint, and was with her as little as possible, which, as she began to recover, was also a relief—for his blatant self-absorption, the everlasting I, I, I, of his conversation, and his low views of life, rasped her irritable nerves beyond endurance.

One day, coming into the drawing-room about tea-time, with muddy boots and his hat on, he found her lying on the sofa, prostrated with nervous headache. The days closed in early then, and she had had the fire lighted and the curtains drawn, but could not bear the gaslight because of her head.

"Well, this isn't brilliant," he began, at the top of his voice. "A little more light would suit me." He struck a match and turned the gas full on. "That's better," he said; "and some tea would be refreshing after my walk. I've done the whole trudge on foot this afternoon, and I consider that's a credit to me. You won't find many rising young men economising in the matter of horseflesh as I do, or in anything else. I'll undertake to say I spend less on myself than any other man in the diocese." He went to the door instead of ringing the bell, and shouted down the passage to Minna to bring him some tea.

Beth shut her eyes and groaned inwardly.

When the tea came, Dan poured some out for himself, remarking, "I suppose you've had yours." Beth had not, but she was beyond making any effort to help herself at the moment. Dan, who always ate at a greedy rate, left off talking for a little; and during the interval, Beth was startled by something cold touching her hand. She opened her eyes, and found a dainty little black-and-tan terrier standing up, with its forepaws on the couch, looking at her.

"You're a pretty thing," she said. "Where have you come from?"

"Oh, is that the dog?" said Dan, looking round to see to whom she was talking. "He followed me in. I don't know who he belongs to; but as I happen to want a little dog, he's welcome."

"But he's very well-bred, isn't he," said Beth, "and valuable? Look at his pencilled paws, and thin tail, and sharp ears pricked to attention. He's listening to what we are saying with the greatest intelligence. I'm sure he's a pet, and his owners will want him back."

"Let them come and fetch him, then," said Dan.

Then it occurred to Beth that Dan had probably bought him to present to somebody, but chose to lie about it for reasons of his own, so she said no more.

The next night, about ten o'clock, Dan was called out, and did not return. Beth, being very wideawake, sat up late, playing patience first of all, and then reading a shilling shocker of Dan's, which she had taken up casually and become interested in. The story was of an extremely sensational kind, and she found herself being wrought up by it to a high pitch of nervous excitement. At the slightest noise she jumped; and then she became oppressed by the silence, and found herself peering into the dark corners of the room, and hesitating to glance over her shoulder, as if she feared to see something. She supposed the servants had not yet gone to bed, for she heard at intervals what seemed to be a human voice. After a time, however, it struck her that there was something unusual in the regularity of the sound, and, although she continued to read, she found herself waiting involuntarily, with strained attention, for it to be repeated. When it occurred again, she thought it sounded suspiciously like a cry of pain; and the next time it came she was sure of it. Instantly forgetting herself and her nervous tremors, she threw down her book and went to see what was the matter. She stood a moment in the hall, where the gas had been left burning, and listened; but all was still. Then she opened the door of communication into the kitchen regions, and found that that part of the house was all in darkness. The servants had gone to bed. Holding the door open, she stood a little, and listened again; but, as she heard nothing, she began to think her fancy had played her a trick, when, just beside her, as it seemed, some one shrieked. Beth, gasping with terror, ran back into the hall, and struck a match to light one of the bed-candles that stood on a table, her impulse being to go to the rescue in spite of her deadly fright. It seemed an age before she could get the candle lit with her trembling hands, and, in the interval, the horrible cry recurred, and this time she thought it came from the surgery. Could any sick person have been left there locked up? Dan always kept the room locked up, and Beth had hardly ever been in it. She went to the door now, bent on breaking it open, but she found that for once the key had been left in the lock. She turned it and entered boldly; but her candle flickered as she opened the door, so that, at first, she could see nothing distinctly. She held it high above her head, however, and as the flame became steady she looked about her. There was no one to be seen. The room was large and bare. All that it contained was a bookcase, some shelves with books on them, a writing-table and chair, an arm-chair, a couch, and another table of common deal, like a kitchen table, on which was a variety of things—bottles, books, and instruments apparently—all covered up with a calico sheet.

Beth, checked again in her search, was considering what to do next, when the horrid cry was once more repeated. It seemed to come from under the calico sheet. Beth lighted the gas, put down her candle, and going to the table, took the sheet off deliberately, and saw a sight too sickening for description. The little black-and-tan terrier, the bonny wee thing which had been so blithe and greeted her so confidently only the evening before, lay there, fastened into a sort of frame in a position which alone must have been agonising. But that was not all.

Beth had heard of these horrors before, but little suspected that they were carried on under that very roof. She had turned sick at the sight, a low cry escaped her, and her great compassionate heart swelled with rage; but she acted without hesitation.

Snatching up her candle, she went to the shelves where the bottles were, looked along the row of red labels, found what she wanted, went back to the table, and poured some drops down the poor little tortured creature's throat.

In a moment its sufferings ceased.

Then Beth covered the table with the calico sheet mechanically, put the bottle back in its place, turned out the gas, and left the room, locking the door after her. Her eyes were haggard and her teeth were clenched, but she felt the stronger for a brave determination, and more herself than she had done for many months.

Maclure only came in to bathe and breakfast next morning, and she scarcely exchanged a word with him before he went out again; but in the afternoon he came into the drawing-room, where she was writing a letter, and began to talk as if he meant to be sociable. He had his usual air of having lavished much attention on his personal adornment—too much for manliness; and, in spite of the night work, his hair shone as glossy black, his complexion was as bright and clear, and his general appearance as fresh and healthy, as care of himself and complete indifference to other people, except in so far as his own well-being might be affected by them, could make it. Beth watched him surveying himself in the glass from different points of view with a complacent smile, and felt that his physical advantages, and the superabundant vitality which made the business of living such an easy enjoyable farce to him, made his inhuman callousness all the more repulsive.

"I should go out if I were you," he said, peering close into the glass at the corner of his eye, where he fancied he had detected the faint criss-cross of coming crows' feet "I'd never stay mugging up in the house, withering. Look at me! I go out in all weathers, and I'll undertake to say I'm a pretty good specimen both of health and spirits."

It was so unusual for Dan to recommend Beth to do anything for her own good that she began to wonder what he wanted; she had observed that he always felt kindly disposed towards people when he was asking a favour of them.

"And, by-the-bye," he pursued, turning his back to the mirror and craning his neck to see the set of his coat-tails, "you might do something for me when you are out. Wilberforce is worrying for his money. It's damned cheek. I sent him a large order for whisky the other day to keep him quiet, but it hasn't answered. I wish you would go and see him—go with a long face, like a good girl, and tell him I'm only waiting till I get my own accounts in. Have a little chat with him, you know, and all that sort of thing—lay yourself out to please him, in fact. He's a gentlemanly fellow for a wine-merchant, and has a weakness for pretty women. If you go, I'll take my dick he'll not trouble us with a bill for the next six months."

"It seems to me," said Beth in her quietest way, "that when a husband asks his wife to make use of her personal appearance or charm of manner to obtain a favour for him from another man, he is requiring something of her which is not at all consistent with her self-respect."

Dan stopped short with his hand up to his moustache to twist it, his bonhomie cast aside in a moment. "Oh, damn your self-respect!" he said brutally. "Your cursed book-talk is enough to drive a man to the devil. Anybody but you, with your 'views' and 'opinions' and fads and fancies generally, would be only too glad to oblige a good husband in such a small matter. And surely to God I know what is consistent with your self-respect! I should be the last person in the world to allow you to compromise it! But your eyes will be opened, and the cursed conceit taken out of you some day, madam, I can tell you! You'll live to regret the way you've treated me, I promise you!"

"My eyes have been pretty well opened as it is," Beth answered. "You left the key in the surgery door last night."

"And you went in there spying on me, did you? That was honourable!" he exclaimed in a voice of scorn.

"I heard the wretched creature you had been vivisecting crying in its agony, and I thought it was a human being, and went to see," Beth answered, speaking in the even, dispassionate way which she had found such an effectual check on Dan's vulgar bluster.

"You killed that dog, then!" he exclaimed, turning on her savagely. "How dare you?"

Beth rose from the writing-table, and went and stretched herself out on the sofa, deliberately facing him.

"How dare you?" she inquired.

"How dare I, indeed, in my own house!" he bawled. "Now, look here, madam, I'm not going to have any of your damned interference, and so I tell you."

"Please, I am not deaf," she remonstrated gently. "And now, look here, sir, I am not going to have any of your damnable cruelties going on under the same roof with me. I have endured your sensuality and your corrupt conversation weakly, partly because I knew no better, and partly because I was the only sufferer, as it seemed to me, in the narrow outlook I had on life until lately; but I know better now. I know that every woman who submits in such matters is not only a party to her own degradation, but connives at the degradation of her whole sex. Our marriage never can be a true marriage, the spiritual, intellectual, physical union of a man and a woman for the purpose of perfect companionship. We have none of the higher aspirations in common, we should be none the happier for tender experiences of parenthood, none the holier for any joy or sorrow, pain or pleasure, that might come to us to strengthen and ennoble us if rightly enjoyed or endured. And this, I think, is not altogether my fault. But however that may be, it is out of my power to remedy it now. All I can do is to prevent unedifying scenes between us by showing you such courtesy and consideration as is possible. On this occasion I will show you courtesy, but the consideration is due to me. A woman does not marry to have her heart wrung, her health destroyed, her life made wretched by anything that is preventable, and I intend to put a stop to this last discovered hellish practice of yours. I will not allow it, and if you dare to attempt it again, I will call in the townsfolk to see you at your brutal work."

She spoke with decision, in the tone of one who has determined on her plan of action and will fearlessly pursue it. A great gravity settled on Daniel Maclure. He stood still a little reflecting, then came to the fire, beside which Beth, who had risen restlessly as she spoke, was now sitting in an arm-chair. He drew up another chair, and sat down also, having resolved, in face of the gravity of the situation, to try some of his old tactics, and some new ones as well. His first pose was to gaze into the fire ruefully for awhile, and then his fine eyes slowly filled with tears.

"It must have been a brutal sight," he said at last, "and I can't tell you how sorry I am you saw it. I don't wonder you're shaken, poor little girl, and it's natural that the shock should have made you unreasonable and uncharitable—unlike yourself, in fact, for I never knew a more reasonable woman when you are in your right mind, or a more charitable. I'm not so bad, however, as you think me. I never intended to inflict suffering on the creature. I didn't know he'd recover. I had given him a dose of curare."

"The drug that paralyses without deadening the sense of pain," Beth interposed. "I have heard of the tender mercies of the vivisector. He saves himself as much as he can in the matter of distracting noises."

Dan had mentioned curare to give a persuasive touch of scientific accuracy to his explanation, not suspecting that she knew the properties of the drug, and he was taken aback for a moment; but he craftily abandoned that point and took up another.

"These experiments must be made, in the interests of suffering humanity, more's the pity," he said, sighing.

"In the interests of cruel and ambitious scientific men, struggling to outstrip each other, and make money, and win fame for themselves regardless of the cost. They were ready enough in old days to vivisect human beings when it was allowed, and they would do it again if they dared."

"Now look here, Beth; don't be rabid," said Dan temperately. "Just think of the sufferings medical men are able to relieve nowadays in consequence of these researches."

"Good authorities say that nothing useful has been discovered by vivisection that could not have been discovered without it," Beth rejoined. "And even if it had been the means of saving human life, that would not justify your employment of it. There never could be a human life worth saving at such an expense of suffering to other creatures. It isn't as if you made an experiment and had done with it either. One generation after another of you repeats the same experiments to verify them, to see for yourselves, for practice; and so countless helpless creatures are being tortured continually by numbers of men who are degraded and brutalised themselves by their experiments. Had I known you were a vivisector, I should not only have refused to marry you, I should have declined to associate with you. To conceal such a thing from the woman you were about to marry was a cruel injustice—a fraud."

"I concealed nothing from you that you were old enough to understand and take a right view of," Dan protested.

"According to custom," said Beth. "Anything that might prevent a woman accepting a man is carefully concealed from her. That kind of cant is wearisome. You did not think me too young to put at the head of a house, or to run the risk of becoming a mother, although I have heard you dilate yourself on the horrors of premature motherhood. But that is the way with men. For anything that suits their own convenience they are ingenious in finding excuses. As a rule, they see but one side of a social question, and that is their own. I cannot understand any but unsexed women associating with vivisectors. Don't pretend you pursue such experiments reluctantly—you delight in them. But, whatever the excuse for them, I am sure that the time is coming when the vivisector will be treated like the people who prepared the dead for embalming in ancient Egypt. You will be called in when there is no help for it; but, your task accomplished, you will be driven out of all decent society, to consort with the hangman—if even he will associate with you."

"Well, well!" Dan ejaculated, gazing into the fire sorrowfully. "But I suppose this is what we should expect. It's the way of the world. A scientific man who devotes all his time and talents to relieving his fellow-creatures must expect to be misunderstood and reviled by way of reward. You send for us when you want us—there's nobody like the doctor then; but you'll grudge every penny you've got to give us, and you'd not pay at all if you could help it. I should know."

"I was not speaking of doctors," Beth rejoined. "I was speaking of vivisectors. But after all, what is the great outcome of your extraordinary science? What do you do with it? Keep multitudes alive and suffering who would be happily dead and at rest but for you! If you practised with the honest intention of doing as much good as you could, you would not be content merely to treat effects as you do for the most part; you would strike at causes also; and we should hear more of prevention and less of wonderful cures. You dazzle the blockhead public with a showy operation, and no one thinks of asking why it is that the necessity for this same operation recurs so often. You know, probably, but you disclaim responsibility in the matter. It is not your place to teach the public, you modestly protest."

"I don't know how you can say that in the face of the effort we have made to stamp out disease. Why, look at zymotic diseases alone!"

"Exactly!" Beth answered. "Zymotic diseases alone! But why draw the line there? And what are you doing to improve the race, to strengthen its power to resist disease? You talk about Nature when it suits you; but it is the cant of the subject you employ, for you are at variance with Nature. Your whole endeavour is to thwart her. Nature decrees the survival of the fittest; you exercise your skill to preserve the unfittest, and stop there—at the beginning of your responsibilities, as it seems to me. Let the unfit who are with us live, and save them from suffering when you can, by all means; but take pains to prevent the appearance of any more of them. By the reproduction of the unfit, the strength, the beauty, the morality of the race is undermined, and with them its best chances of happiness. Yes, you certainly do your best to stamp out measles, smallpox, scarlet fever, and all that group—diseases that do not necessarily leave any permanent mark on the constitution; but at the same time you connive at the spread of the worst disease to which we are liable. About that you preserve the strictest professional secrecy. Only to-day, in the Times, there is the report of a discussion on the subject at a meeting of the International Congress of Legal Medicine—where is it?" She took up the paper and read:—"'There was an important debate on the spread of an infamous disease by wet nurses. This question is all the more urgent because, though the greatest dangers and complications are involved, it is very generally neglected.... When a doctor knows that the parents of a child are tainted, should he so far disregard the professional secrecy to which he is bound as to warn the nurse of her danger in suckling the child?' Apparently not! The poor woman must take her chance, as the child's unfortunate mother had to do when she married."

"Ah, now you see for yourself, and will become reasonable, it is to be hoped," he interrupted, rubbing his hands complacently; "for it is precisely in order to check that particular disease that appointments like mine are made."

"It is precisely in order to make vice safe for men that such appointments are made," she answered. "Medical etiquette would not stop where it does, at the degradation of those unfortunate women, if you were honestly attempting to put a stop to that disease. You would have it reported, irrespective of the sex of the sufferer, like any other disease that is dangerous to the health of the community. It is not contrary to etiquette to break your peculiar professional secrecy in the case of a woman, but it would be in the case of a man; so you punish the women, and let the men go free to spread the evil from one generation to another as they like. O justice! O consistency! I don't wonder we have been shunned since we came to Slane. A man in your position is a mere pander, and right glad am I of what I have suffered from the scorn and contempt of the people who would not associate with us. It shows that the right spirit is abroad in the community."

"Pander!" Dan ejaculated. "I am sorry to hear you use such a word, Beth."

"It is the right word, unfortunately," she answered.

"You oughtn't to know anything about these things," the chaste Daniel observed, with an air of offended delicacy. "Women can't know enough to see the matter from the right point of view, and so they make mischief."

"Ah, you don't appreciate that women have grown out of their intellectual infancy," Beth said, "and have opinions and a point of view of their own in social matters, especially where their own sex is concerned. You are still in the days of old Chavasse, who expatiates in his 'Advice to a Wife' on the dangers of men marrying unhealthy women, but says not a word of warning to women on the risk of marrying unhealthy men. You would keep us blindfolded as we were in his day, and abandon us to our fate in like manner; but it can't be done any more, my friend. You can hide nothing from sensible women now that concerns the good of the community. We know there is no protection for women against this infamous disease, and no punishment for the men who spread it; and we consider the fact a disgrace to every medical man alive."

"You have a nice opinion of the men of your husband's profession!" Dan observed sarcastically.

"I have the highest opinion of medical men—such medical men as Sir George Galbraith," she replied. "I have seen something of their high-mindedness, their courage, their devotion, and their genuine disinterestedness; and I feel sure that in time their efforts will leaven the whole mass of callousness and cruelty against which they have to contend in their profession. The hope of humanity is in the doctors, and they will not fail us. Like Christ, they will teach as well as heal."

"Rubbish!" said Dan. "As I've told you before, it isn't our business to mind the morals of the people. It's for the parsons to fight the devil."

"But," said Beth, "as I answered you before, you cannot attend to the health of the community properly without also minding its morals. The real old devil is disease."

Dan left his seat and walked to the window, where he stood with his hands in his pockets, looking out for awhile.

"Well, this is enough jawbation for one day, I hope," he said at last, turning round. "Marrying a woman like you is enough to drive a man to the devil. I've a jolly good mind to go and get drunk. I declare to God if I could get drunk overnight and feel all right again in the morning, I'd be drunk every night. But it can't be done," he added regretfully. "There are drawbacks to everything."

Beth looked at him imperturbably while he was speaking, then turned her attention to the fire.

"You know my views now on the subject of vivisection," she said at last. "If there is any more of it here, I shall leave the house, and publish the reason. And you also know what I consider I owe myself in the way of self-respect. You must beguile your creditors by other means than my personal appearance."

She had spoken all through in the most temperate tone, and now, when she had finished, she leaned back in her chair and folded her hands with a sigh, as of one who had finished a hard task and would rest.

Dan looked at her with evident distaste, and considered a little, searching for something more to say that might move her, some argument that should persuade or convince; but, as nothing occurred to him, he left the room, banging the door after him in his ill-conditioned way, because he knew that the noise would be a racking offence to her overwrought nerves.

But from that time forward everything he did was an offence to Beth, a source of irritation. In spite of herself, she detected all the insincerity of his professions, the mean motives of his acts. Up to this time she had been more kindly disposed towards him than she herself knew. All she had wanted was to be able to care for him, to find some consistency in him, something to respect, and to which she could pin her faith; but now she knew him for what he was exactly—shallow, pretentious, plausible, vulgar-minded, without principle; a man of false pretensions and vain professions; utterly untrustworthy; saying what would suit himself at the moment, or just what occurred to him, not what he thought, but what he imagined he was expected to say. Beth had never heard him condemn a vice or habit which she did not afterwards find him practising himself. She used to wonder if he deceived himself, or was only intent on deceiving her; but from close observation of him at this period, she became convinced that, for the time being, he entered into whatever part he was playing, and hence his extreme plausibility. Beth found herself studying him continually with a curious sort of impersonal interest; he was a subject that repelled her, but from which, nevertheless, she could not tear herself away. His hands in particular, his handsome white hands, had a horrid sort of fascination for her. She had admired them while she thought of them as the healing hands of the physician, bringing hope and health; but now she knew them to be the cruel hands of the vivisector, associated with torture, from which humanity instinctively shrinks; and when he touched her, her delicate skin crisped with a shudder. She used to wonder how he could eat with hands so polluted, and once, at dessert, when he handed her a piece of orange in his fingers, she was obliged to leave it on her plate, she could not swallow it.

After that last scene the days dragged more intolerably than ever; but happily for Beth there were not many more of them without a break, for just as it seemed that endurance must end in some desperate act, Mrs. Kilroy sent her a pressing invitation to go and pay her a long visit in London; and Beth accepted it, and went with such a sense of relief as an invalid feels who, after long suffering, finds herself well, and out in the free fresh air once more.



CHAPTER XLVII

When Beth went to stay with the Kilroys in London, it was a question whether she might not end by joining the valiant army of those who are in opposition to everything; but before she had been there a week, she had practically recovered her balance, and began to look out upon life once more with dispassionate attention. Her depression when she first arrived was evident, and the Kilroys were concerned to see her looking so thin and ill; but, by degrees, she expanded in that genial atmosphere, and although she said little as a rule, she had begun to listen and to observe again with her usual vivid interest. She could not have been better situated for the purpose, for people of all kinds came to the Kilroys; and in moving among them merely as an onlooker, she was bound to see and hear enough to take her out of herself. Her own personality was too distinct, however, for her to remain for long an onlooker merely. That mesmeric quality in her which, whether it fascinates or displeases, attracts or repels, marks a distinct personality which is not to be overlooked, made people ask at once who she was, in the hope that her acquaintance might be worth cultivating. For there was a certain air of distinction about her which made her look like a person with some sort of prestige, whom it might be useful to know—don't you know.

One afternoon soon after Beth's arrival, Mrs. Kilroy being at home to visitors, and the rooms already pretty full, Beth noticed among the callers an old-looking young man whose face seemed familiar to her. He wore a pointed beard upon his chin, and a small moustache cut away from his upper lip, and waxed and turned up at the ends. His face was thin and narrow, his forehead high and bald; what hair he had grew in a fringe at the back of his head, and was curly, and of a nondescript brown colour. Had he worn the dress of the Elizabethan period, he might have passed for a bad attempt to look like Shakespeare; and Beth thought that that perhaps might be the resemblance which puzzled her. While she was looking at him a lady was announced, a most demure-looking little person in a grey costume, and a small, close-fitting princess bonnet, tied under her chin, and trimmed with a big Alsatian bow in front. She entered smiling slightly, and she continued to smile, as if she had set the smile on her lips as she put the bonnet on her head, to complete her costume. After she had shaken hands with Angelica, she looked round as if in search of some one else, and seemed satisfied when she discovered the old-looking young man of Shakesperian aspect. He was watching her, and their eyes met with a momentary significance, but they took no further notice of each other. Most people would have perceived no more in the glance than showed on the surface:—a lady and gentleman who looked at each other and then looked away, like indifferent acquaintances or casual strangers; but Beth's infallible intuition revealed to her an elaborate precaution in this seeming unconcern. It was clear to her that the two had expected to meet each other there, and their apparent insensibility to each other's presence was a pose, which, however, betrayed to her the intimacy it was affected to conceal. She hated herself for seeing so much, and burned with blame of Dan for opening her eyes to behold the inward wickedness beneath the conventional propriety of the outward demeanour; but therein she was unjust to Dan. He had opened her eyes sooner than they should have been opened, but in any case she must have seen for herself eventually. Nothing in life can be concealed from such a mind. What books could not teach her, she discovered from people by sympathy, by insight, by intuition; but she did not come into full possession of her faculties all at once. The conditions of her life had tended rather to retard than to develop the best that was in her, and the wonder was that her vision had not been permanently distorted, so that she could see nothing but evil in all things—see it, too, till her eyes were accustomed and her soul corrupted, so that she not only ceased to resent it, but finally accepted it as the inevitable order to which it is best to accommodate oneself if one is to get any good out of life. This is the fate of most young wives situated as Beth had been, the fate she had only narrowly escaped by help of the strength that came of the brave self-contained habits she had cultivated in her life of seclusion and thought. It was the result of this training, and her constancy in pursuing it, that her further faculty, hitherto so fitful, at last shot up a bright and steady light which made manifest to her the thoughts of others that they were not all evil, and helped her by the grace in her own heart to perceive hidden processes of love at work in other hearts, all tending to purification, and by the goodness of her own soul to search out the goodness in other souls as the elements find their constituent parts in the atmosphere.

Beth was looking her best that afternoon, although she had taken no pains with herself. She seemed well dressed by dint of looking well in her clothes; but she had not chosen to make herself look well. In the exasperated phase of revolt through which she was passing, she could not have been persuaded to dress so as to heighten the effect of her appearance, and so make of herself a trap to catch admiring glances. To be neat and fresh was all her care; but that was enough. The young man with the pointed beard, who had been looking about the room uneasily, seemed to have found what he wanted when he noticed her. He asked an elderly man standing near him who the young lady of distinguished appearance might be. "A friend of Mrs. Kilroy's, I believe," the gentleman answered, and moved off as if he resented the question.

But Pointed Beard was persistent. He asked two or three other people, strangers, who did not know either, and then he made his way to Mrs. Kilroy, but she was so surrounded he could not get near her. At last he bethought him of the servants who were handing tea about, and learnt Beth's name from one of them.

When Beth next noticed him, he was making his way towards her with a cup of tea in one hand and a plate of cakes in the other.

"I have ventured to bring you some tea," he said, "but I do not know if it is as you like it. I can easily get you some more, however, if it is not."

"Thank you; I do not want any," Beth answered somewhat coldly.

"I'll put it here, then, on this console," he rejoined. "If I move away I shall not be able to get near you again in this crowd. I wonder why Mrs. Kilroy has so many people. Now, I like just a few, eight or ten for a dinner, you know, and twenty or so on these sort of occasions. And they must all be interesting people, worth talking to. I am exceedingly fastidious about the kind of people I know. Even as a boy I was fastidious."

As he uttered that last sentence, Beth was again aware of something familiar in his appearance, and she felt sure she had heard him make that same remark more than once before—but when? but where?

"That is Lord Fitzkillingham," he continued, "that tall man who has just come in—see, there!—shaking hands with Mrs. Kilroy. He looks like a duke, don't you know. I admire people of distinguished appearance much more than good-looking people—people who are merely good-looking, I mean, of course. I saw you directly I came into the room, and was determined to find out who you were; and I asked I can't tell you how many people, whether I knew them or not. What do you think of that for perseverance?"

"You certainly seem to be persistent," Beth answered with a smile.

"Oh, I'm nothing if not persistent," he rejoined complacently. "I'll undertake to find out anything I want to know. Do you see that lady there in black? I wanted to know her age, so I went to Somerset House and looked it up."

"What did you do that for?" Beth asked.

"I wanted to know."

"But did she want you to know?"

"Well, naturally not, or she would have told me. But it is no use trying to conceal things from me. I am not to be deceived."

"You must be quite a loss to Scotland Yard," Beth ventured. "You would have been admirably fitted for that—er—delicate kind of work."

"Well, I think I should," he rejoined. "You see I found you out, and it was not so easy, for—er—no one seemed to know you. However, that does not matter. We'll soon introduce you."

Beth smiled. "Thank you," she said drily, "that will be very nice."

"I'll bring Fitzkillingham presently; he'll do anything for me. He was one of our set at the 'Varsity. That's the best of going to the 'Varsity. You meet the right kind of people there, people who can help you, you know, if you can get in with them as I did. You'll like Fitzkillingham. He's a very good fellow."

"Indeed!" said Beth. "What has he done?"

"Done!" he echoed. "Oh, nothing that I know of. Consider his position! The Earl of Fitzkillingham, with a rent-roll of fifty thousand a year, has no need to do; he has only to be. There, he's caught my eye. I'll go and fetch him."

"Pray do nothing of the kind," said Beth emphatically. "I have no wish to know him."

The young man, disconcerted, turned and looked her full in the face. "Why not?" he gasped.

"First of all, because you were going to present him without asking my permission," Beth said, "which is a liberty I should have had to resent in any case by refusing to know him; and secondly, because a man worth fifty thousand a year who has done no good in the world is not worth knowing. I don't think he should be allowed to be unless he can be made to do. Pray excuse me if I shock your prejudices," she added, smiling. "You do not know, perhaps, that in our set, knowing people for position rather than for character is quite out of date?"

The young man smiled superciliously. "That is rather a bourgeois sentiment, is it not?" he said.

"On the contrary," said Beth, "it is the other that is the huckster spirit. What is called knowing the right people is only the commercial principle of seeking some advantage. Certain people make a man's acquaintance, and pay him flattering attentions, not because their hearts are good and they wish to give him pleasure, but because there is some percentage of advantage to be gained by knowing him. That is to be bourgeois in the vulgar sense, if you like! And that is the trade-mark stamped upon most of us—selfishness! snobbishness! One sees it in the conventional society manners, which are superficially veneered, fundamentally bad; the outcome of self-interest, not of good feeling; one knows exactly how, where, and when they will break down."

"What are you holding forth about, Beth?" said Mrs. Kilroy, coming up behind her.

"The best people," Beth answered, smiling.

"You mean the people who call themselves the best people—Society, that is to say," said Mrs. Kilroy cheerfully. "Society is the scum that comes to the surface because of its lightness, and does not count, except in sets where ladies' papers circulate."

"I am surprised to hear you talk so, Mrs. Kilroy," said Pointed Beard in an offended tone, as if society had been insulted in his person.

"I am sorry if I disappoint you," said Mrs. Kilroy. "And I confess I like my own set and their pretty manners; but I know their weaknesses. There is no snob so snobbish as a snob of good birth. The upper classes will be the last to learn that it is sterling qualities which are wanted to rule the world,—head and heart."

"This gentleman will tell you that all that is bourgeois," said Beth.

"I believe that at heart the bourgeois are sound," said Angelica. "Bourgeois signifies good, sound, self-respecting qualities to me, and steady principles."

"But scarcely 'pretty manners,' I should suppose," said Pointed Beard superciliously.

"Why not?" said Angelica. "Sincerity and refinement make good manners, and principle is the parent of both."

"Don't you think that for the most part Englishwomen are singularly lacking in charms of manner?" he asked precisely.

"Just as Englishmen are, and for the same reason," said Angelica; "because they only try to be agreeable when it suits themselves. A good manner is a decoration that must be kept on always if it is to be worn with ease. Good manners are rare because good feeling is rare, for good manners are the outcome of good feeling. Manners are not the mere society show of politeness, but the inward kindly sympathy of which politeness is the natural outward manifestation; given these, grace and charm of manner come of themselves."

She moved off as she spoke to attend to other guests.

"Mrs. Kilroy is obvious," said Pointed Beard, in a tone that suggested sympathy with Beth for being bored. "I wonder she did not give us 'For manners are not idle,' et cetera, or something equally banal—the kind of thing we are taught in our infancy——"

"And fail to apply ever after," said Beth.

"I see you are ready," he observed fatuously, striking the personal note again, which she resented.

"I dislike that cant of the obvious which there is so much of here in town," she rejoined. "It savours of preciosity. All that is finest in thought is obvious. A great truth, well put, when heard for the first time, is so crystal clear to the mind, one seems to have known it always. No one fears to be obvious who has anything good to say."

He stroked his beard in silence for some seconds. "I suppose you go in for politics, and all that sort of thing," he said at last.

"Why?" Beth asked in her disconcerting way.

"Oh, judging by your friends."

"Not a safe guide," she assured him. "My friends have the most varied interests; and even if they had not, it would be somewhat monotonous for them to associate exclusively with people of the same pursuits."

"Then you do not take an interest in politics?" he jerked out, almost irritably, as if he had a right to know.

For a moment Beth had a mind to baffle him for his tasteless persistency, but her natural directness saved her from such small-mindedness. "If I must answer your catechism," she said, smiling, "social subjects interest me more. I find generalisations bald and misleading, and politics are a generalisation of events. I rarely read a political speech through, and remember very little of what it is all about when I do. Details, individuals, and actions fascinate me, but the circumstances of a people as a state rarely interest me much."

"Ah, I fear that is—er—a feminine point of view, rather—is it not?" he rejoined patronisingly.

"Yes," she said, "and a scientific method. We go from the particular to the general, and only draw broad conclusions when we have collected our facts in detail. But excuse me, I see a friend," she broke off hastily, seizing the chance to escape.

A little later Beth saw that the demure-looking little person in the princess bonnet was taking her leave. She passed down the room with her set little smile on her lips, looking about her, but apparently without seeing any one in particular till she got to the door, when her eye lighted on the young man of Shakesperian mien, and her smile flickered a moment, and went out. The young man turned and looked at a picture with an elaborately casual air, then sauntered across the room to Mrs. Kilroy, shook hands with her, spoke to one or two other people, and finally reached the door and opened it with the same solemn affectation of not being in a hurry, and disappeared. Beth wondered if he kept his caution up before the footmen in the hall, or if he made an undignified bolt of it the moment he was out of sight of society.

At dinner that evening she asked Mrs. Kilroy who and what that thin-nosed man, that sort of reminiscence of Shakespeare, was.

"He is by way of being a literary man, I believe," Angelica answered. "He is not a friend of ours, and I cannot think why he comes here. I never ask him. He got himself introduced to me somehow, and then came and called, which I thought an impertinence. Did you notice that woman with an Alsatian bow in her bonnet, that made her look like a horse with its ears laid back? Her pose is to improve young men. She improves them away from their wives, and I object to the method; and I do not ask her here either. Yet she comes. His wife I have much sympathy with; but he keeps her in the country, out of the way, so I see very little of her."

"What is his name?" Beth asked.

"Alfred Cayley Pounce."

"Why!" Beth exclaimed. "He must be a youth I knew long ago, when I was a child. I was sure I had seen him before. But what a falling off! I wondered if he were an old young man, or a young old man when I first saw him. He was refined as a boy and had artistic leanings; I should have thought he might have developed something less banal in the time than a bald forehead."

"That kind of man spends most of his time in cultivating acquaintances," said Mr. Kilroy. "When he hasn't birth, his pose is usually brains. But Pounce took a fair degree at the University. And he's not such a bad fellow, really. He's precious, of course, and by way of being literary—that is to say, he is literary to the extent of having written some little things of no consequence, upon which he assumes the right to give his opinion, with appalling assurance, of the works of other people, which are of consequence. There is a perfect epidemic of that kind of assurance among the clever young men of the day, and it's wrecking half of them. A man who begins by having no doubt of the worth of his own opinion gets no further for want of room to move in."

Next day Beth was alone in a sunny sitting-room at the back of the house, looking out into grounds common to the whole square. It was about tea-time. The windows were wide open, the sunblinds were drawn down outside, and the warm air, fragrant with mignonette, streamed in over the window boxes. Angelica had given this room up to Beth, and here she worked or rested; read, wrote, or reflected, as she felt inclined; soothed rather than disturbed by the far-off sounds of the city, and eased in mind by the grace and beauty of her surroundings. For the room was a work of art in itself, an Adams room, with carved white panels, framing spaces of rich brocade, delicately tinted, on the walls; with furniture chosen for comfort as well as elegance, and no more of it than was absolutely necessary, no crowding of chairs and tables, no congestion of useless ornaments, no plethora of pictures, putting each other out—only two, in fact, one a summer seascape, with tiny waves bursting on shining sands; the other a corner of a beautiful old garden, shady with trees, glowing with flowers, whence two young lovers, sitting on an old stone seat, looked out with dreamy eyes on a bright glimpse, framed in foliage, of the peaceful country beyond. Angelica had thought that room out carefully for Beth, every detail being considered, so that the whole should make for rest and refreshment, and she had succeeded perfectly. Nothing could have eased Beth's mind of the effect of her late experiences, or strengthened it again more certainly, than the harmony, the quiet, and the convenience of everything about her—books on the shelves, needlework on the work-table, writing materials in abundance on the bureau, exquisite forms of flowers, and prevailing tints of apple-blossom, white, and pink, and green; music when she chose to play; comfort of couch and chairs when she wished to repose; and, above all, freedom from intrusion, the right to do as she liked gladly conceded, the respect which adds to the dignity of self-respect, and altogether the kind of independence that makes most for pleasure and peace. Before she had been there three weeks she was happily released from herself by the recovery of her power to work. She began to revise the book she had thought so little of when it was first written. She had brought it to town because it was not very bulky, rather than because she had any hope of it; but when she took it out and read it here alone in peace, it seized upon her with power, and, in her surprise, like Galileo, she exclaimed: "But it does turn round!" The book was already "radiant with inborn genius," but it still lacked the "acquired art," and feeling this, she sat down to it regularly, and rewrote it from beginning to end, greatly enriching it. She had no amateur impatience to appear in print and become known; the thought of production induced her to delay and do her utmost rather than to make indiscreet haste; her delight was in the doing essentially; she was not one to glory in public successes, however great, or find anything but a tepid satisfaction therein compared to the warm delight that came when her thoughts flowed, and the material world melted out of mind.

She had been busy with her book that afternoon, and very happy, until tea came. Then, being somewhat tired, she got up from the bureau at which she worked, and went to the tea-table, leaving her papers all scattered about; and she was in the act of pouring herself out a cup of tea, when the door opened, and the footman announced, "Mr. Alfred Cayley Pounce."

Very much surprised, she put the teapot down deliberately and looked at him. He held his hat to his breast, and bowed with exaggerated deference, in an affected, foreign way.

"I insisted on seeing you," he began, as if that were something to boast of. "Perhaps I ought to apologise."

Beth, not knowing what to say, asked him to sit down. Then there was a little pause. He looked at the tea-table.

"I see that you do take tea," he observed. "Why did you refuse it when I offered you some yesterday?"

"I am afraid I am not prepared to give you a reason," Beth answered stiffly.

"Would it be out of place if I were to ask for some tea?" he said.

Beth silently poured him out a cup, and he got up, took what he wanted in the way of sugar and cream and cake, and sat down again, making himself very much at home.

"Do take some yourself," he pleaded. "You are making me feel such an outsider."

"I beg your pardon," said Beth, helping herself.

She did not know whether to be annoyed or amused by his assurance. Had she not known who he was she would certainly have been annoyed; but the recollection of their days together, when the world was young and life was all pure poetry, came upon her suddenly as she found something of the boy in the face and voice of the man before her, making it impossible for her to treat him as a stranger, and melting her into a smile.

"Confess that you were surprised to see me," he said.

"I was," she answered.

"And not glad, perhaps," he pursued.

"Surprised means neither glad nor sorry," she observed.

"D'you know, the moment I saw you——" he began sentimentally; "but never mind that now," he broke off. "Let me give you my reason for coming, which is also my excuse. I hope you will accept it."

Beth waited quietly.

"I told you I could always find out anything I wanted to know about anybody," he pursued, "and last night I happened to sit next a lady at a dinner-party who turned out to be a great friend of yours. I always talk to strange ladies about what I've been doing; that kind of thing interests them, you know; and I described the party here yesterday afternoon, and said I only met one lady in the whole assembly worth looking at and worth speaking to, and that was Mrs. Maclure, who was staying in the house. 'Oh, I know her quite well,' the lady said. 'She's a neighbour of mine at Slane. Her husband is a doctor, but I hear she is connected with some of the best county people in the north. She's very clever, I believe, and by way of being literary and all that sort of thing, don't you know. But I don't think she has any one to advise her.'"

"Oh," said Beth, enlightened, "I know who my great friend is then—Mrs. Carne!"

"Yes," said Mr. Pounce, "and when I heard you were literary, I felt a further affinity, for, as I daresay you have heard, I am a literary man myself."

"Yes; I heard you were 'by way of being literary,' too," Beth rejoined.

"Who told you so?" he demanded quickly, his whole thought instantly concentrated on the interesting subject when it concerned himself.

"I do not feel at liberty to tell you," she replied.

"Was it Mrs. Kilroy?"

Beth made no sign.

"Was it Mr. Kilroy?" he persisted.

"I have already said that I shall not tell you, Mr. Pounce," she answered frigidly.

He sat in silence for a little, looking extremely annoyed. Beth, to relieve the tension, offered him some more tea, which he refused curtly; but as she only smiled at the discourtesy and helped herself, he saw fit to change his mind, and then resumed the conversation.

"When Mrs. Carne heard that I was a literary man," he said with importance, "she begged me to do what I could to help you. She said it would be a great kindness; so I promised I would, and here I am."

"So it seems," said Beth.

He stared at her. "I mean it," he said.

"I don't doubt it," Beth answered. "You and Mrs. Carne are extremely kind."

"Oh, not at all!" he assured her blandly. "To me, at all events, it will be a great pleasure to help and advise you."

"How do you propose to do it?" Beth asked, relaxing. Such obtuseness was not to be taken seriously.

He glanced over his shoulder at the bureau where her papers were spread. "I shall get you to let me see some of your work," he said, "and then I can judge of its worth."

"What have you done yourself?" she asked.

"I—well, I write regularly for the Patriarch," he said, with the complacency of one who thinks that he need say no more. "The editor himself came to stay with us last week, and that means something. Just now, however, I am contemplating a work of fiction, an important work, if I may venture to say so myself. It has been on my mind for years."

"Indeed," said Beth. "What is its purpose?"

"Purpose!" he ejaculated. "Had you said pur-port instead of pur-pose, it would have been a sensible question. It is hardly likely I shall write a novel with a purpose. I leave that to the ladies."

"I have read somewhere that Milton said the poet's mission was 'to allay the perturbation of the mind and set the affections in right tune,'—is not that a purpose?" Beth asked. "And one in our own day has talked of 'that great social duty to impart what we believe and what we think we have learned. Among the few things of which we can pronounce ourselves certain is the obligation of inquirers after truth to communicate what they obtain.'"

"But not in the form of fiction," Alfred Cayley Pounce put in dogmatically.

"Yet there is always purpose in the best work of the great writers of fiction," Beth maintained.

Not being able to deny this, he supposed sarcastically that she had read all the works to which she alluded.

"I see you suspect that I have not," she answered, smiling.

"I suspect you did not find that passage you quoted just now from Milton in his works," he rejoined.

"I said as much," she reminded him.

"Well, but you ought to know better than to quote an author you have not read," he informed her.

"Do you mean that I should read all a man's works before I presume to quote a single passage?"

"I do," he replied. "Women never understand thoroughness," he observed, largely.

"Some of us see a difference between thoroughness and niggling," Beth answered. "I should say, beware of endless preparation! We have heard of Mr. Casaubon and The Key to all Mythologies."

"I understand now what your friend Mrs. Carne meant about the manner in which you take advice," Mr. Alfred Cayley Pounce informed her, in a slightly offended tone.

Beth, wondering inwardly why so many people assume they are competent to advise, prayed that she herself might always be modest enough to wait at least until her advice was asked.

"I hope I have not discussed your opinion impolitely," she said. "Pray excuse me if you think I have."

Mollified, he turned his attention once more to the littered bureau.

"You have a goodly pile of manuscript there," he remarked; "may I ask what it is?"

"It is a little book into which I am putting all my ignorance," she said.

"I hope you are not going to be diffident about letting me see it?" he answered encouragingly. "I could certainly give you some useful hints."

"You are too kind," she said; and he accepted the assertion without a suspicion of sarcasm. She rose when she had spoken, drew the lid of the bureau down over her papers, and locked it deliberately; but the precaution rather flattered him than otherwise.

"You need not be afraid," he said. "I promise to be lenient. And if we are as fast friends when the book appears as I trust we shall be, the Patriarch itself shall proclaim its merits; if not——"

"I suppose it will discover my faults," Beth put in demurely. "I wonder, by the way," she added, "who told you you are so much cleverer than I am?"

But fortunately Mrs. Kilroy came in and interrupted them before he had had time to grasp the remark, for which Beth, from whom it had slipped unawares, was devoutly thankful.

When he had gone, she sat and wondered if she had really understood him aright with regard to the Patriarch. Certainly he had seemed to threaten her, but it was hard to believe that he had sunk so low as to be capable of criticising her work, not on its own merits, but with regard to the terms he should be on with its author. She was too upright herself, however, to think such dishonest meanness possible, so she put the suspicion far from her, and tried to find some charitable explanation of the several signs of paltriness she had already detected, and to think of him as he had seemed to her in the old days, when she had endowed him with all the qualities she herself had brought into their acquaintance to make it pleasant and of good effect.

Beth had taken to rambling about alone in the quiet streets and squares for exercise; and as she returned a few days later from one of these rambles, she encountered Mr. Alfred Cayley Pounce coming out of a florist's with a large bouquet of orchids in his hand.

"You see I do not forget you," he said, holding the bouquet out to her. "Every lady has her flower. These delicate orchids are for you."

But Beth ignored the offering. "You are still fond of flowers then?" slipped from her.

"We do not leave a taste for flowers behind us with our toys," he rejoined. "If we like flowers as children, we love them as men. The taste develops like a talent when we cultivate it. To love flowers with true appreciation of their affinities in regard to certain persons, is an endowment, a grace of nature which bespeaks the most absolute refinement of mind. And what would life be without refinement of mind!"

Beth had walked on, and he was walking beside her.

"And how does the book progress?" he inquired.

"It is finished," she answered.

"What! already?" he exclaimed. "Why, it takes me a week to write five hundred words. But then, of course, my work is highly concentrated. I have sent home for some of it to show you. You see I am pertinacious. I said I would help you, and I will. I hope you will live to be glad that we have met. But you must not write at such a rate. You can only produce poor thin stuff in that way."

Beth shrugged her shoulders, and let him assume what he liked on the subject.

They walked on a little way in silence, then he began again about the flowers. "Flowers," he informed her, "were the great solace of my boyhood—the sole solace, I may say, for I had no friends, no companions, except a poor little chap, a cripple, on whom I took pity. My people did not think me strong enough for a public school, so they sent me to a private tutor, a man of excellent family, Rector of a large seaside parish in the north. He only took me as a favour; he had no other pupils. But it was very lonely in that great empty house. And the seashore, although it filled my mind with poetry, was desolate, desolate!"

Beth, as she listened to these meanderings of his fancy, and recalled old Vicar Richardson and the house full of children, thought of Mr. Pounce's remarks about feminine accuracy.

"But had you no girl-friend?" she asked.

"Only the lady of my dreams," he answered. "There was no other lady I should have looked at in the place. I was always refined. I met the lady of my dreams eventually. It was among the mountains of the Tyrol. Imagine a lordly castle, with drawbridge and moat, portcullis and pleasaunce, and sauntering in the pleasaunce, among the flowers, a lady—dressed in white——"

"Samite?" Beth ventured, controlling her countenance.

"I cannot recall the texture," he said seriously. "How could one think of textures at such a moment! That would have been too commercial! All I noted was the lily whiteness—and her eyes, dark eyes! All the poetry and passion of her race shone in them. And on the spot I vowed to win her. I went back to the 'Varsity, and worked myself into the best set. Lord Fitzkillingham became, as you know, my most intimate friend. He was my best man at the wedding."

"Then you married your ideal," said Beth. "You should be very happy."

He sighed. "I would not say a word against her for the world," he asserted. "When I compare her with other women, I see what a lucky man I must be thought. But," he sighed again, "I was very young, and youth has its illusions. As we grow older, mere beauty does not satisfy, mere cleverness and accomplishments do not satisfy, nor wealth, nor rank. A man may have all that, and yet may yearn for a certain something which is not there—and that something is the one thing needful."

They were opposite to the house by this time, and he looked up at the windows sentimentally. "Which is yours?" he asked. "I pass by daily and look up."

They had stopped at the door. "I cannot ask you in," Beth said hastily. "Please excuse me. This is my time for work."

"Ah, the time and the mood!" he ejaculated. "I know it all so well! Inspiration! Inspiration comes of congenial conversation, as I hope you will find. You will take my flowers. I cannot claim to have culled them for you, but at least I chose them."

As the door had been opened, and the footman in the hall stood looking on, Beth thought it better to take the flowers in a casual way as if they belonged to her. A card tied to the bouquet by a purple ribbon fell out from among the flowers as she took them. On it was written: "Mrs. Merton Merivale." Beth held the flowers out to Mr. Pounce, with the card dangling, and raised her eyebrows interrogatively.

"Ah, yes," he began slowly, detaching the card as he spoke to gain time, and changing countenance somewhat. "I confess some one else had had the good taste to choose these orchids before I saw them; but I always insist on having just what I want, so I took them, and suggested that another bouquet might be made for the lady. I overlooked the card."

Beth bowed and left him without further ceremony.

She tossed the flowers under the table in the hall on her way upstairs, and never knew what became of them. Later in the day she described her morning's adventure to Angelica, and asked her if she knew who Mrs. Merton Merivale was.

"Oh, that woman in the princess bonnet with the big Alsatian bow, you know," Angelica said. "Mr. Alfred Cayley Pounce's sometime intellectual affinity."

"Poor Alfred! he is too crude!" Beth ejaculated. "How I have outgrown him!"

* * * * *

Ideala called next day, and found Angelica alone. "I hear that Beth is with you?" she said. "What is she doing?"

"Writing a book."

"What kind of a book?"

"Not a book for babes, I should say," said Angelica. "She does not pretend to consider the young person in the least. It is for parents and guardians, she says, not for authors, to see to it that the books the young person reads are suitable to her age. She thinks it very desirable for her only to read such as are; but personally she does not see the sense of writing down to her, or of being at all cramped on her account. She means to address mature men and women."

"That is brave and good," said Ideala. "What is the subject?"

"I don't know," said Angelica; "but she is certain to put some of herself into it."

"If by that you mean some of her personal experiences, I should think you are wrong," said Ideala. "Genius experiences too acutely to make use of its own past in that way; it would suffer too much in the reproduction. And besides, it can make better use and more telling of what it intuitively knows than of what it has actually seen."

"I do not think you believe that Beth will succeed," said Angelica.

"On the contrary," Ideala rejoined, "I expect her success will be unique; only I don't know if it will be a literary success. Genius is versatile. But we shall see."

Having finished her book, Beth collected her friends and read it aloud to them. "I don't know what to think of it," she said. "Advise me. Is it worth publishing, or had I better put it aside and try again?"

"Publish it, by all means," was the unanimous verdict; and Mr. Kilroy took the manuscript himself to a publisher of his acquaintance, who read it and accepted it.

"Oh," Beth exclaimed, when she heard the reader's report, "I do know now what is meant by all in good time! If I had been able to publish the first things I wrote, how I should have regretted it now! And I did think so much of myself at that time, too! You should have heard how I dogmatised to Sir George Galbraith; and he was so good and kind—he never snubbed me. But I believe I am out of the amateur stage now, and far advanced enough to begin all over again humbly and learn my profession. But I find my point of view unchanged. Manner has always been less to me than matter. When I think of all the preventable sin and misery there is in the world, I pray God give us books of good intention—never mind the style! Polished periods put neither heart nor hope in us; theirs is the polish of steel which we admire for the labour bestowed upon it, but by which we do not benefit. The inevitable ills of life strengthen and refine when they are heroically borne; it is the preventable ones that act on our evil passions, and fill us with rage and bitterness; and what we want from the written word that reaches all of us is help and advice, comfort and encouragement. If art interferes with that, then art had better go. It would not be missed by the wretched—the happy we need not consider. I am speaking of art for art's sake, of course."

"We need not trouble about that," said Ideala. "The works of art for art's sake, and style for style's sake, end on the shelf much respected, while their authors end in the asylum, the prison, and the premature grave. I had a lesson on that subject long ago, which enlarged my mind. I got among the people who talk of style incessantly, as if style were everything, till at last I verily believed it was. I began to lose all I had to express for worry of the way to express it! Then one day a wise old friend of mine took me into a public library; and we spent a long time among the books, looking especially at the ones that had been greatly read, and at the queer marks in them, the emphatic strokes of approval, the notes of admiration, the ohs! of enthusiasm, the ahs! of agreement. At the end of one volume some one had written: 'This book has done me good.' It was all very touching to me, very human, very instructive. I never quite realised before what books might be to people, how they might help them, comfort them, brighten the time for them, and fill them with brave and happy thoughts. But we came at last in our wanderings to one neat shelf of beautiful books, and I began to look at them. There were no marks in them, no signs of wear and tear. The shelf was evidently not popular, yet it contained the books that had been specially recommended to me as best worth reading by my stylist friends. 'There is style for you!' said my friend. 'Style lasts, you see. Style is engraved upon stone. All the other books about us wear out and perish, but here are your stylists still, as fresh as the day they were bought.' 'Because nobody reads them!' I exclaimed. 'Precisely,' he said. 'There is no comfort in life in them. They are the mere mechanics of literature, and nobody cares about them except the mechanicians.' After that I prayed for notable matter to indite, and tried only for the most appropriate words in which to express it; and then I arrived. If you have the matter, the manner will come, as handwriting comes to each of us; and it will be as good, too, as you are conscientious, and as beautiful as you are good."



CHAPTER XLVIII

Mr. Alfred Cayley Pounce called on Beth continually. He was announced one day when she was sitting at lunch with the Kilroys.

"Really I do not think I ought to let you be bored by that man," Mr. Kilroy exclaimed. "I once had ten minutes of the academic platitudes of Mr. Alfred Cayley Pounce, and that was enough to last me my life. You are too good-natured to see him so often. It is a weakness of yours, I believe, to suffer yourself rather than hurt other people's feelings, however much they may deserve it. But really you must snub him. There is nothing else for it. Send out and say you are engaged."

"If I do, he will wait until I am disengaged, or call again, or write in an offended tone to ask when I can be so good as to make it convenient to see him!" Beth answered in comical despair.

"I don't believe he bores her a bit at present," Angelica observed. "He is merely an intellectual exercise for Beth. She watches the workings of his mind quite dispassionately, draws him out with little airs and graces, and then adjusts him under the microscope. It interests her to dissect the creature. When she has studied him thoroughly, she will cast him out, as a worthless specimen."

"Oh, I hope that isn't true," said Beth, with a twinge of conscience. "I own it has interested me to see what he has developed into; but surely that isn't unfair?" She looked at Mr. Kilroy deprecatingly.

"It is vivisection," said Angelica.

"But under such agreeable anaesthetics that I should think he enjoys it," said Mr. Kilroy. "I should have no objection myself."

"Daddy, be careful!" Angelica cried. "A rare specimen like you is never safe when unscrupulous naturalists are about."

"But no microscope is needed to demonstrate Mr. Kilroy's position in the scale of being," Beth put in. "It is writ large all over him."

"Good and true, Beth!" said Angelica, smiling. "You can go and gloat over your worthless specimen as a reward, if you like. But the scientific mind is a mystery to me, and I shall never understand how you have the patience to do it."

Beth found Mr. Alfred Cayley Pounce pacing about her sitting-room, biting his nails in an irritable manner.

"You were at lunch, I think," he said. "I wonder why I was not asked in?"

Beth said nothing.

"I consider it a slight on Mr. and Mrs. Kilroy's part," he pursued huffily. "Why should I be singled out for this kind of thing?"

"Aren't you just a little touchy?" Beth suggested.

"I confess I am sensitive, if that is what you mean," he replied.

"Well, yes, if you like," she said, "hyper-sensitive. But I thought you asked for me."

"It is true I came to see you; but that is no reason why I should be slighted by your friends—especially when I came because I think I have something to show you that will interest you." He took a little packet from the breast-pocket of his coat as he spoke, and began to undo it. "I took the trouble to go all the way home to get them to show you. My mother was the only person who had them. They are photographs of myself when I was a boy."

"I wonder your mother parted with them," Beth said.

"I persuaded her with difficulty," he rejoined complacently. "I have often tried before, but nothing would induce her to part with them, until this time, when a bright idea occurred to me. I told her they were to be published among portraits of celebrated people when my new book comes out, and naturally she liked the idea. Her only son, you know!"

"And are they to be published?" Beth asked.

"Oh—well—of course I hope so—some day," he answered, smiling and hesitating. "But the truth is I got them for you."

Beth did not thank him, but he was too engrossed with his own portraits to notice the omission. She was interested in them, too, when at last he let her look at them.

"What do you think of that?" he asked, showing her a good likeness of himself as she remembered him. "I was a pretty boy then, I think, with my curls! Burning the midnight oil had not bared my forehead in those days, and my beard had not grown. Life was all poetry then!" he sighed affectedly. What had once been spontaneous feeling in him had become a mere recollection, only to be called up by an effort.

"Later it became all excesses, I suppose," said Beth.

"Ah!" he ejaculated in a tone of pleased regret. "I had to live like other men of my standing, you know, and I had to pay for it. The boy was lost, but the man developed. You may think the change a falling off——"

He waited for Beth to express an opinion; but as it was impossible for her to say what she thought of the difference between the conceited, dissipated-looking, hysterical man of many meannesses, and the diffident unspoilt promising boy, she held her peace.

When she had seen the photographs, and he had looked at them himself to his heart's content, he did them up again, and then formally presented her with the packet. "Will you keep them?" he said solemnly.

"Oh no!" she answered with decision. "I am not the proper person to keep them. If they did not belong to your mother, they would be for your wife and children."

"Ah, my wife!" he ejaculated bitterly. "I haven't a word to say against my wife, remember that! Only—you are the one to whom I would confide them."

"I decline the responsibility," Beth said, keeping her countenance with difficulty.

He returned the packet to the breast-pocket of his coat. "I shall carry them here, then," he said, tapping his chest with the points of his fingers, "until you ask for them."

As usual, he stayed a preposterous time that day, and when at last he went, even Beth's kindly forbearance was exhausted, and she determined to see no more of him. He was not the man to take a hint, however, and it was no easy matter to get rid of him. He sent her flowers, for which she did not thank him, books which she did not read; wrote her long letters of the clever kind, discussing topics of the day or remarks she herself had made, which she left unanswered; called, but never found her at home, yet still persisted, until she was fain to exclaim: "Will no one rid me of this troublesome priest?"

"It is your own fault," said Angelica. "I warned you that good-nature is wasted on that sort of man."

"But surely he must see that I wish to avoid him," Beth exclaimed.

"Of course he sees it," Angelica rejoined, "but you may be sure that he interprets your reluctance in some way very flattering to himself."

"I shall really be rude to him," Beth said desperately. "He is a most exasperating person, the kind of man to drive a woman mad, and then blame her for it. I pity his wife!"

* * * * *

Beth stayed with the Kilroys until the end of June, when the season was all but over and everybody was leaving town; and it was the busiest and happiest time she had ever known. She had enjoyed the work, the play, the society, the solitude, and had blossomed forth in that congenial atmosphere both mentally and physically, and become a braver and a better woman.

The Kilroys were to go abroad the day that Beth returned to Slane. The evening before, she went with Angelica to a theatre. But Angelica, being much occupied at the moment with arrangements that had to be made for the carrying on of her special work during her absence, was not able to stay for the whole performance, so she left Beth alone at the theatre, and sent the carriage back to take her home.

Beth, sitting in the corner of a box, had eyes for nothing the whole time but the play, which, being one of those that stimulate the mind, had appealed to her so powerfully that even after it was over she remained where she was a little, deep in thought. On leaving the theatre, she found the footman on the steps looking out for her, and he remained, standing a little behind her, till the carriage came up. While she waited, she was annoyed to see Mr. Alfred Cayley Pounce making his way towards her officiously. "You are alone!" he exclaimed, with a note of critical disapproval in his voice, as if the circumstance reflected on somebody.

"Hardly!" Beth said, glancing up at her escort. "But even if I were, Mr. Pounce, I am in London, not in the dark ages, and as sure of respect here, at the doors of a theatre, as I am in my own drawing-room. I believe, by the way," she added lightly, not liking to hurt him by too blunt a snub, "I believe this is the only big city in Europe of which so much can be said; and English women may thank themselves for it. We demand not protection, but respect. Here is the carriage. Good night!" She stepped in as she spoke, and took her seat.

"Oh pray, you really must allow me to see you safe home," he exclaimed, following her into the carriage and taking the seat beside her before she could remonstrate. The servant shut the door, and they drove away. Beth boiled with indignation, but she thought it more dignified not to show it, and she dreaded to have a scene before the servants. Her demeanour was somewhat frigid, and she left him to open the conversation; but when he spoke she answered him in her usual tone. He, on the contrary, was extremely formal. He stroked his pointed beard, looked out of the window, and made remarks about the weather and the people in the streets, not avoiding the obvious, which was a relief.

The hall-door was opened as soon as the carriage stopped, and they got out.

"Thank you for your escort, and good night," Beth said, holding out her hand to him, but he ignored it.

"I feel faint," he said, and he looked it. "Will you let me come in and sit down a minute, and give me a glass of water?"

"Why, of course," Beth said. "But have something stronger than water. Come this way, into the library. Roberts, bring Mr. Pounce something to revive him."

"What will you have, sir?" the butler asked.

"A glass of water, nothing but a glass of water," Mr. Pounce said, most preciously, sinking into an easy-chair as he spoke.

The butler brought the water, and told Beth that Mr. and Mrs. Kilroy had not come in. She ordered some tea for herself.

Mr. Pounce sipped the water and appeared to revive.

"I have suffered terribly during the last three weeks," he said at last.

"Have you really?" Beth rejoined with concern. "What was the matter?"

"Need you ask!" he ejaculated. "Why, why have you treated me so?"

"Really, Mr. Pounce, I do not see that you have any claim on my special consideration," Beth answered coldly.

"I have the claim of one who is entirely devoted to you," he said.

"I have never accepted your devotion, and I will not have it forced upon me," Beth answered decidedly. "I should like you better, to tell the truth, if you were a little more devoted to your duty."

"You allude to my wife," he said. "Oh, how can I make you understand! But you have said it yourself—duty! What is duty? The conscientious performance of uncongenial tasks. But if a man does his duty, then he deserves his reward. I do my duty with what heart I have for it. No fault can be found with me either as a husband or a citizen. Therefore, as a man, I consider myself entitled to claim my reward."

"I am afraid you are not well," Beth said. "Don't you think you had better go home and rest?"

"Not until we come to an understanding," he answered tragically.

Beth shrugged her shoulders resignedly, folded her hands, and waited, more interested in him as a human specimen in spite of herself than disturbed by anything his attitude foreboded.

There was a bright wood fire burning on the hearth. Mrs. Kilroy liked to have one to welcome her when they had been out late, not for warmth so much as for cheerfulness. The summer midnight was chilly enough, however, for the gentle heat to be grateful; and Beth turned to the blaze and gazed into it tranquilly. The clock on the mantelpiece struck one. Roberts brought in a tray with refreshments on it, and set it down on a small table beside Beth. Before she helped herself she asked Mr. Pounce what he would have, but he curtly declined to take anything. She shrugged her shoulders, and fell-to herself with a healthy appetite.

"How can you—how can you?" he ejaculated several times.

"I'm hungry," she said, laughing, "and I really don't see why I shouldn't eat."

"You have no feeling for me," he complained.

"I have a sort of feeling that you are posing," she answered bluntly; "and I wish you wouldn't. You'd better have some sandwiches."

"How terribly complex life is!" he muttered.

"Life is pretty much what we make of it by the way we live it," she rejoined, taking another sandwich. "We are what we allow ourselves to be. The complexities come of wrong thinking and wrong doing. Right and wrong are quite distinct; there is no mistaking one for the other. In any dilemma we have only to think what is right to be done, and to do it, and there is an end of all perplexities and complexities. Principle simplifies everything."

"I see you have never loved," he declared, "or you would not think the application of principle such a simple thing."

"It is principle that makes love last," Beth answered, "and introduces something permanent into this weary world of change. There is nothing in life so well worth living for as principle; the most exquisite form of pleasure is to be found in the pain of sacrificing one's inclinations in order to live up to one's principles—so much so that in time, when principle and inclination become identical, and we cease to feel tempted, something of joy is lost, some gladness that was wont to mingle with the trouble."

"But principles themselves are mutable," he maintained. "They get out of date. And there are, besides, exceptional characters that do not come under the common law of humanity; exceptional temperaments, and exceptional circumstances to which common principles are inapplicable, or for which they are inadequate."

"That is the hypocrisy of the vicious," Beth said, with her eyes fixed meditatively on the fire, "the people who lay down excellent principles, and publicly profess them for the sake of standing well with society, but privately make exceptions for themselves in any arrangement that may suit their own convenience. Your people of 'exceptional temperament' settle moral difficulties by not allowing any moral consideration to clash with their inclinations, and misery comes of it. The plea of exceptional character, exceptional circumstances, exceptional temperament, and what not, is merely another way of expressing exceptional selfishness and excusing exceptional self-indulgence."

"Surely you are not content to be a mere slave to social convention!" he exclaimed.

"I am talking of fundamental principles, not of social conventions," she replied; "please to discriminate. Self-control is not slavery, but emancipation; to control our passions makes us lords of ourselves and free of our most galling bonds—the bonds of the flesh."

"What a drawback the want of—er—a proper philosophic training is," he observed. "Culture does a great deal. It makes us more modest, for one thing. I don't suppose you know, for instance, that you are setting up an opinion of your own in opposition to such men as Schopenhauer. Schopenhauer maintained that as the man of genius gave his whole life for the profit of humanity, he had a license of conduct which was not accorded to the rest of mankind."

"If culture leaves us liable to be taken in by a false postulate of any man's, however well turned the postulate or able the man, then I have no respect for culture. The fact that Schopenhauer said such a thing does not prove it true. An assertion like that is a mere matter of opinion. Half the worry in the world is caused by differences of opinion. Let us have the facts and form our own opinions. Have the men of genius who allowed themselves license of conduct been any the better for it? the happier? the greater? Schopenhauer himself, for instance!" She smiled at him with honest eyes when she had spoken, and took another sandwich. "But don't let us talk sophistry and silliness," she proceeded, "nor the kind of abstract that serves as a cover for unrighteousness. Those tricks don't carry conviction to my uncultivated mind. I know how they're done."

"You are lowering yourself in my estimation," he said severely.

"And what comes after that?" she asked.

He shook his head and gazed at her reproachfully. "How can you be so trivial," he said, "in a moment like this?—you who are situated even as I am. If we were to die now, in six months it would be as though we had never been. No one would remember us."

Previous Part     1  2  3  4  5  6  7  8  9  10  11  12  13  14  15     Next Part
Home - Random Browse