He went back to the subject of Louie, and told her as much as a girl of Dora's kind could be told of what he himself knew of Louie's husband. In the course of his two days' search for them, which had included an interview with Madame Cervin, he had become tolerably well acquainted with Montjoie's public character and career. Incidentally parts of the story of Louie's behaviour came in, and for one who knew her as Dora did, her madness and wilfulness emerged, could be guessed at, little as the brother intended to excuse himself thereby. How, indeed, should he excuse himself? Louie's character was a fixed quantity to be reckoned on by all who had dealings with her. One might as well excuse oneself for letting a lunatic escape by the pretext of his lunacy. Dora perfectly understood his tone. Yet in her heart of hearts she forgave him—for she knew not what!—became his champion. There was a dry sharpness of self-judgment, a settled conviction of coming ill in all he said which wrung her heart. And how blanched he was by that unknown misery! How should she not pity, not forgive? It was the impotence of her own feeling to express itself that swelled her throat. And poor Lucy, too—ah! poor Lucy.
Suddenly, as he was speaking, he noticed his companion more closely, the shabbiness of the little black hat and jacket, the new lines round the eyes and mouth.
'You have not been well,' he said abruptly.' How has your father been going on?'
She started and tried to answer quietly. But her nerves had been shaken by their talk, and by that inward play of emotion which had gone on out of his sight. Quite unexpectedly she broke down, and covering her eyes with one hand, began to sob gently.
'I can't do anything with him now, poor father,' she said, when she could control herself. 'He won't listen to me at all. The debts are beginning to be dreadful, and the business is going down fast. I don't know what we shall do. And it all makes him worse—drives him to drink.'
David thought a minute, lifted out of himself for the first time.
'Shall I come to-night to see him?'
'Oh do!' she said eagerly; 'come about nine o'clock. I will tell him—perhaps that will keep him in.'
Then she went into more details than she had yet done; named the creditors who were pressing; told how her church-work, though she worked herself blind night and day, could do but little for them; how both the restaurant and the reading-room were emptying, and she could now get no servants to stay, but Sarah, because of her father's temper.
It seemed to him as he listened that the story, with its sickened hope and on-coming fate, was all in some strange way familiar; it or something like it was to have been expected; for him the strange and jarring thing now would have been to find a happy person. He was in that young morbid state when the mind hangs its own cloud over the universe.
But Dora got up to go, tying on her veil with shaking hands. She was so humbly grateful to him that he was sorry for her—that he could spare a thought from his own griefs for her.
As they went down the dark stairs together, he asked after Lucy. She was now staying with some relations at Wakely, a cotton town in the valley of the Irwell, Dora said; but she would probably go back to Hastings for the winter. It was now settled that she and her father could not get on; and the stepmother that was to be—Purcell, however, was taking his time—as determined not to be bothered with her.
David listened with a certain discomfort. 'It was what she did for me,' he thought, 'that set him against her for good and all. Old brute!'
Aloud he said: 'I wrote to her, you know, and sent her that book. She did write me a queer letter back—it was all dashes and splashes—about the street-preachings on the beach, and a blind man who sang hymns. I can't remember why she hated him so particularly!'
She answered his faint smile. Lucy was a child for both of them. Then he took her to the door of the Parlour, noticing, as he parted from her, how dingy and neglected the place looked.
Afterwards—directly he had left her—the weight of his pain which had been lightened for an hour descended upon him again, shutting the doors of the senses, leaving him alone within, face to face with the little figure which haunted him day and night. During the days since his return from Paris the faculty of projective imagination, which had endowed his childhood with a second world, and peopled it with the incidents and creatures of his books, had grown to an abnormal strength. Behind the stage on which he was now painfully gathering together the fragments of his old life, it created for him another, where, amid scenes richly set and lit with perpetual summer, he lived with Elise, walked with her, watched her, lay at her feet, quarrelled with her, forgave her. His drama did not depend on memory alone, or rather it was memory passing into creation. Within its bounds he was himself and not himself; his part was loftier than any he had ever played in reality; his eloquence was no longer tongue-tied—it flowed and penetrated. His love might be cruel, but he was on her level, nay, her master; he could reproach, wrestle with, command her; and at the end evoke the pardoning flight into each other's arms—confession—rapture.
Till suddenly, poor fool! a little bolt shot from the bow of memory—the image of a diligence rattling along a white road—or of black rain-beaten quays, with their lines of wavering lamps—or of a hideous upper room with blue rep furniture where one could neither move nor breathe—would strike his dream to fragments, and as it fell to ruins within him, his whole being would become one tumult of inarticulate cries—delirium—anguish—with which the self at the heart of all seemed to be wrestling for life.
It was so to-day after he left Dora. First the vision, the enchantment—then the agony, the sob of desolation which could hardly be kept down. He saw nothing in the streets. He walked on past the Exchange, where an unusual crowd was gathered, elbowing his way through it mechanically, but not in truth knowing that it was there.
When he reached the shop he ran past John, who was reading a newspaper, up to his room and locked the door.
About an hour afterwards Mr. Ancrum came in, all excitement, a batch of papers under his arm.
'It is going to be war, John! War—I tell you! and such a war. They'll be beaten, those braggarts, if there's justice in heaven. The streets are all full; I could hardly get here; everybody talking of how it will affect Manchester. Time enough to think about that! What a set of selfish beasts we all are! Where's David?'
'Come in an hour ago!' said John sullenly; 'he went upstairs.'
'Ah, he will have heard—the placards are all over the place.'
The minister went upstairs and knocked at David's door.
'All right,' said a voice from inside.
'David, what do you think of the news?'
'What news?' after a pause.
'Why, the war, man! Haven't you seen the evening paper?'
No answer. The minister stood listening at the door. Then a tender look dawned in his odd grey face.
'David, look here, I'll push you the paper under the door. You're tired, I suppose—done yourself up with your walk?'
'I'll be down to supper,' said the voice from inside, shortly. 'Will you push in the paper?'
The minister descended, and sat by himself in the kitchen thinking. He was a wiser man now than when he had gone out, and not only as to that reply of the King of Prussia to the French ultimatum on the subject of the Hohenzollern candidature.
For he had met Barbier in the street. How to keep the voluble Frenchman from bombarding David in his shattered state had been one of Mr. Ancrum's most anxious occupations since his return. It had been done, but it had been difficult. For to whom did David owe his first reports of Paris if not to the old comrade who had sent him there, found him a lodging, and taught him to speak French so as not to disgrace himself and his country? However, Ancrum had found means to intercept Barbier's first visit, and had checkmated his attempts ever since. As a natural result, Barbier was extremely irritable. Illness—stuff! The lad had been getting into scrapes—that he would swear.
On this occasion, when Ancrum stumbled across him, he found Barbier, at first bubbling over with the war news; torn different ways; now abusing the Emperor for a cochon and a fou, prophesying unlimited disaster for France, and sneering at the ranting crowds on the boulevards; the next moment spouting the same anti-Prussian madness with which his whole unfortunate country was at the moment infected. In the midst of his gallop of talk, however, the old man suddenly stopped, took off his hat, and running one excited hand through his bristling tufts of grey hair pointed to Ancrum with the other.
'Halte la!' he said, 'I know what your young rascal has been after. I know, and I'll be bound you don't. Trust a lover for hoodwinking a priest. Come along here.'
And putting his arm through Ancrum's, he swept him away, repeating, as they walked, the substance of a letter from his precious nephew, in which the Barbizon episode as it appeared to the inhabitants of No. 7 Rue Chantal and to the students of Taranne's atelier de femmes was related, with every embellishment of witticism and blague that the imagination of a French rapin could suggest. Mademoiselle Delaunay was not yet restored, according to the writer, to the atelier which she adorned. 'On criait au scandale,' mainly because she was such a clever little animal, and the others envied and hated her. She had removed to a studio near the Luxembourg, and Taranne was said to be teaching her privately. Meanwhile Dubois requested his dear uncle to supply him with information as to l'autre; it would be gratefully received by an appreciative circle. As for la soeur de l'autre, the dear uncle no doubt knew that she had migrated to the studio of Monsieur Montjoie, an artist whose little affairs in the genre had already, before her advent, attained a high degree of interest and variety. On a review of all the circumstances, the dear uncle would perhaps pardon the writer if he were less disposed than before to accept those estimable views of the superiority of the English morale to the French, which had been so ably impressed upon him during his visit to Manchester.
For after a very short stay at Brussels the nephew had boldly and suddenly pushed over to England, and had spent a fortnight in Barbier's lodgings reconnoitering his uncle. As to the uncle, Xavier had struck him, on closer inspection, as one of the most dissolute young reprobates he had ever beheld. He had preached to him like a father, holding up to him the image of his own absent favourite, David Grieve, as a brilliant illustration of what could be achieved even in this wicked world by morals and capacity. And in the intervals he had supplied the creature with money and amused himself with his gaminerie from morning till night. On their parting the uncle had with great frankness confessed to the nephew the general opinion he had formed of his character; all the same they were now embarked on a tolerably frequent correspondence; and Dubois' ultimate chance of obtaining his uncle's savings, on the chasse of which he had come to England, would have seemed to the cool observer by no means small.
'But now, look here,' said Barbier, taking off his spectacles to wipe away the 'merry tear' which dimmed them, after the recapitulation of Xavier's last letter, 'no more nonsense! I come and have it out with that young man. I sent him to Paris, and I'll know what he did there. He's not made of burnt sugar. Of course he's broken his heart—we all do. Serve him right.'
'It's easy to laugh,' said Ancrum dryly, 'only these young fellows have sometimes an uncomfortable way of vindicating their dignity by shooting themselves.'
Barbier started and looked interrogative.
'Now suppose you listen to me,' said the minister.
And the two men resumed their patrol of Albert Square while Ancrum described his rescue of David. The story was simply told but impressive. Barbier whistled, stared, and surrendered. Nay, he went to the other extreme. He loved the absurd, but he loved the romantic more. An hour before, David's adventures had been to him a subject of comic opera. As Ancrum talked, they took on 'the grand style,' and at the end he could no more have taken liberties with his old pupil than with the hero of the Nuit de Mai. He became excited, sympathetic, declamatory, tore open old sores, and Mr. Ancrum had great difficulty in getting rid of him.
So now the minister was sitting at home meditating. Through the atmosphere of mockery with which Dubois had invested the story he saw the outlines of it with some clearness.
In the midst of his meditations, however, the minister did not forget to send John out for David's supper, and when David appeared, white, haggard, and exhausted, it was to find himself thought for with a care like a woman's. The lad, being sick and irritable, showed more resentment than gratitude; pushed away his food, looking sombrely the while at the dry bread and tea which formed the minister's invariable evening meal as though to ask when he was to be allowed his rational freedom again to eat or fast as he pleased. He scarcely answered Ancrum's remarks about the war, and finally he got up heavily, saying he was going out.
'You ought to be in your bed,' said Ancrum, protesting almost for the first time, 'and it's there you will be—tied by the leg—if you don't take a decent care of yourself.'
David took no notice and went. He dragged himself to the German Athenaeum, of which he had become a member in the first flush of his inheritance. There were the telegrams from Paris, and an eager crowd reading and discussing them. As he pushed his way in at last and read, the whole scene rose before him as though he were there—the summer boulevards with their trees and kiosks, the moving crowds, the shouts, the 'Marseillaise'—the blind infectious madness of it all. And one short fortnight ago, what man in Europe could have guessed that such a day was already on the knees of the gods?
Afterwards, on the way to the Parlour, he talked to Elise about it, —placing her on the boulevards with the rest, and himself beside her to guard her from the throng. Hour by hour, this morbid gift of his, though it tortured him, provided an outlet for passion, saved him from numbness and despair.
When he got to Dora's sitting-room he found Daddy sitting there, smoking sombrely over the empty grate. He had expected a flood of questions, and had steeled himself to meet them. Nothing of the sort. The old man took very little notice of him and his travels. Considering the petulant advice with which Daddy had sent him off, David was astonished and, in the end, piqued. He recovered the tongue which he had lost for Ancrum, and was presently discussing the war like anybody else. Reminiscences of the talk amid which he had lived during those Paris weeks came back to them; and he repeated some of them which bore on the present action of Napoleon III and his ministry, with a touch of returning fluency. He was, in fact, playing for Daddy's attention.
Daddy watched him silently with a wild and furtive eye. At last, looking round to see whether Dora was there, and finding that she had gone out, he laid a lean long hand on David's knee.
'That'll do, Davy. Davy, why were you all that time away?'
The young man drew himself up suddenly, brought back to realities from this first brief moment of something like forgetfulness. He tried for his common excuse of illness; but it stuck in his throat.
'I can't tell you, Daddy,' he said at last, slowly. 'I might tell you lies, but I won't. It concerns myself alone.'
Daddy still bent forward, his peaked wizard's face peering at his companion.
'You've been in trouble, Davy?'
'Yes, Daddy. But if you ask me questions I shall go.'
He spoke with a sudden fierce resolution.
Daddy paid no attention. He threw himself back in his chair with a long breath.
'Bedad, and I knew it, Davy! But sorrow a bit o' pity will you get out o' me, my boy—sorrow a bit!'
He lay staring at his companion with a glittering hostile look.
'By the powers!' he said presently, 'to be a gossoon of twenty again and throubled about a woman!'
David sprang up.
'Well, Daddy, I'll bid you good night! I wanted to hear something about your own affairs, which don't seem to be flourishing. But I'll wait till Miss Dora's at home.'
'Sit down, sit down again!' cried Lomax angrily, catching him by the arm. 'I'll not meddle with you. Yes, we're in a bad way, a deuced bad way, if you listen to Dora. If it weren't for her I'd have walked myself off long ago and let the devil take the creditors.'
David sat down and tried to get at the truth. But Daddy turned restive, and now invited the traveller's talk he had before repelled. He fell into his own recollections of the Paris streets in '48, and his vanity enjoyed showing this slip of a fellow that old Lomax was well acquainted with France and French politics before he was born.
Presently Dora came in, saw that her father had been beguiled into foregoing his usual nocturnal amusements, and looked soft gratitude at David. But as for him, he had never realised so vividly the queer aloofness and slipperiness of Daddy's nature, nor the miserable insecurity of Dora's life. Such men were not meant to have women depending on them.
He went downstairs pondering what could be done for the old vagabond. Drink had indeed made ravages since he had seen him last. For Dora's sake the young man recalled with eagerness some statements and suggestions in a French treatise on 'L'Alcoolisme' he chanced to have been turning over among his foreign scientific stock. Dora, no doubt, had invoked the parson; he would endeavour to bring in the doctor. And there was a young one, a frequenter of the stall in Birmingham Street, not as yet overburdened with practice, who occurred to him as clever and likely to help.
Nor did he forget his purpose. The very next morning he got hold of the young man in question. Out came the French book, which contained the record of a famous Frenchman's experiments, and the two hung over it together in David's little back room, till the doctor's views of booksellers and their probable minds were somewhat enlarged, and David felt something of the old intellectual glow which these scientific problems of mind and matter had awakened in him during the winter. Then he walked his physician off to Daddy during the dinner hour and boldly introduced him as a friend. The young doctor, having been forewarned, treated the situation admirably, took up a jaunty and jesting tone, and, finally, putting morals entirely aside, invited Daddy to consider himself as a scientific case, and deal with himself as such for the benefit of knowledge.
Daddy was feeling ill and depressed; David struck him as an 'impudent varmint,' and the doctor as little better; but the lad's solicitude nevertheless flattered the old featherbrain, and in the end he fell into a burst of grandiloquent and self-excusing confidence. The doctor played him; prescribed; and when he and David left together it really seemed as though the old man from sheer curiosity about and interest in his own symptoms would probably make an attempt to follow the advice given him.
Dora came in while the three were still joking and discussing. Her face clouded as she listened, and when David and the doctor left she gave them a cool and shrinking good bye which puzzled David.
Daddy, however, after a little while, mended considerably, developed an enthusiasm for his self-appointed doctor, and, what was still better, a strong excitement about his own affairs. When it came to the stage of a loan for the meeting of the more pressing liabilities, of fresh and ingenious efforts to attract customers, and of a certain gleam of returning prosperity, David's concern for his old friend very much dropped again. His former vivid interest in the human scene and the actors in it, as such, was not yet recovered; in these weeks weariness and lassitude overtook each reviving impulse and faculty in turn.
He was becoming more and more absorbed, too, by the news from France. Its first effect upon him was one of irritable repulsion. Barbier and Hugo had taught him to loathe the Empire; and had not he and she read Les Chatiments together, and mocked the Emperor's carriage as it passed them in the streets? The French telegrams in the English papers, with their accounts of the vapouring populace, the wild rhetoric in the Chamber, and the general outburst of fanfaronnade, seemed to make the French nation one with the Empire in its worst aspects, and, as we can all remember, set English teeth on edge. David devoured the papers day by day, and his antagonism grew, partly because, in spite of that strong gravitation of his mind towards things expansive, emotional, and rhetorical, the essential paste of him was not French but English—but mostly because of other and stronger reasons of which he was hardly conscious. During that fortnight of his agony in Paris all that sympathetic bond between the great city and himself which had been the source of so much pleasure and excitement to him during his early days with Elise had broken down. The glamour of happiness torn away, he had seen, beneath the Paris of his dream, a greedy brutal Paris from which his sick senses shrank in fear and loathing. The grace, the spell, was gone—he was alone and miserable!—and amid the gaiety, the materialism, the selfish vice of the place he had moved for days, an alien and an enemy, the love within him turning to hate.
So now his mortal pain revenged itself. They would be beaten—this depraved and enervated people!—and his feverish heart rejoiced. But Elise? His lips quivered. What did the war matter to her except so far as its inconveniences were concerned? What had la patrie any more than l'amour to do with art? He put the question to her in his wild evening walks. It angered him that as the weeks swept on, and the great thunderbolts began to fall—Wissembourg, Forbach, Worth—his imagination would sometimes show her to him agitated and in tears. No pity for him! why this sorrow for France? Absurd! let her go paint while the world loved and fought. In '48, while monarchy and republic were wrestling it out in the streets of Paris, was not the landscape painter Chintreuil quietly sketching all the time just outside one of the gates of the city? There was the artist for you.
Meanwhile the growing excitement of the war, heightened and poisoned by this reaction of his personality, combined with his painful efforts to recover his business to make him for a time more pale and gaunt than ever. Ancrum remonstrated in vain. He would go his way.
One evening—it was the day after Worth—he was striding blindly up the Oxford Road when he ran against a man at the corner of a side street. It was Barbier, coming out for the last news.
Barbier started, swore, caught him by the arm, then fell back in amazement.
'C'est toi? bon Dieu!'
David, who had hitherto avoided his old companion with the utmost ingenuity, began hurriedly to inquire whether he was going to look at the evening's telegram.
'Yes—no—what matter? You can tell me. David, my lad, Ancrum told me you had been ill, but—'
The old man slipped his arm through that of the youth and looked at him fixedly. His own face was all furrowed and drawn, the eyes red.
'Oui; tu es change,' he said at last with a sudden quivering breath, almost a sob, 'like everything,—like the world!'
And hanging down his head he drew the lad on, down the little street, towards his lodging.
'Come in! I'll ask no questions. Oh, come in! I have the French papers; for three hours I have been reading them alone. Come in or I shall go mad!'
And they discussed the war, the political prospect, and Barbier's French letters till nearly midnight. All the exile's nationality had revived, and so lost was he in weeping over France he had scarcely breath left wherewith to curse the Empire. In the presence of a grief so true, so poignant, wherein all the man's little tricks and absurdities had for the moment melted out of sight, David's own seared and bitter feeling could find no voice. He said not a word that could jar on his old friend. And Barbier, like a child, took his sympathy for granted and abused the 'heartless hypocritical' English press to him with a will.
The days rushed on. David read the English papers in town, then walked up late to Barbier's lodgings to read a French batch and talk. Gravelotte was over, the siege was approaching. In that strange inner life of his, David with Elise beside him looked on at the crashing trees in the Bois de Boulogne, at the long lines of carts laden with household stuff and fugitives from the zone militaire flocking into Paris, at the soldiers and horses camping in the Tuileries Gardens, at the distant smoke-clouds amid the woods of Issy and Meudon, as village after village flamed to ruins.
One night—it was a day or two after Sedan—in a corner of the Constitutionnel, he found a little paragraph:—
'M. Henri Regnault and M. Clairin, leaving their studio at Tangiers to the care of the French Consul, have returned to Paris to offer themselves for military service, from which, as holder of the prix de Rome, M. Regnault is legally exempt. To praise such an act would be to insult its authors. France—our bleeding France! —does but take stern note that her sons are faithful.'
David threw the paper down, made an excuse to Barbier, and went out. He could not talk to Barbier, to whom everything must be explained from the beginning, and his heart was full. He wandered out towards Fallowfield under a moon which gave beauty and magic even to these low, begrimed streets, these jarring, incongruous buildings, thinking of Regnault and that unforgotten night beside the Seine. The young artist's passage through the Louvre, the towering of his great head above the crowd in the 'Trois Rats,' and that outburst under the moonlight—everything, every tone, every detail, returned upon him.
'The great France—the undying France—'
And now for France—ah!—David divined the eagerness, the passion, with which it had been done. He was nearer to the artist than he had been two months before—nearer to all great and tragic things. His recognition of the fact had in it the start of a strange joy.
So moved was he, and in such complex ways, that as he thought of Regnault with that realising imagination which was his gift, the whole set of his feeling towards France and the war wavered and changed. The animosity, the drop of personal gall in his heart, disappeared, conjured by Regnault's look, by Regnault's act. The one heroic figure he had seen in France began now to stand to him for the nation. He walked home doing penance in his heart, passionately renewing the old love, the old homage, in this awful presence of a stricken people at bay.
And Elise came to him, in the moonlight, leaning upon him, with soft, approving eyes—
Ah! where was she—where—in this whirlwind of the national fate? where was her frail life hidden? was she still in this Paris, so soon to be 'begirt with armies'?
* * * * *
Four days later Barbier sent a note to Ancrum: 'Come and see me this afternoon at six o'clock. Say nothing to Grieve.'
A couple of hours afterwards Ancrum came slowly home to Birmingham Street, where he was still lodging. David had just put up the shop-shutters, John had departed, and his employer was about to retire to supper and his books in the back kitchen.
Ancrum went in and stood with his back to the fire which John had just made for the kettle and the minister's tea, when David came in with an armful of books and shut the door behind him. Ancrum let him put down his cargo, and then walked up to him.
'David,' he said, laying his hand with a timid gesture on the other's shoulder, 'Barbier has had some letters from Paris to-day—the last he will get probably—and among them a letter from his nephew.'
David started, turned sharp round, shaking off the hand.
'It contains some news which Barbier thinks you ought to know. Mademoiselle Elise Delaunay has married suddenly—married her cousin, Mr. Pimodan, a young doctor.'
The shock blanched every atom of colour from David's face. He tried wildly to control himself, to brave it out with a desperate 'Why not?' But speech failed him. He walked over to the mantelpiece and leant against it. The room swam with him, and the only impression of which for a moment or two he was conscious was that of the cheerful singing of the kettle.
'She would not leave Paris,' said Ancrum in a low voice, standing beside him. 'People tried to persuade her—nothing would induce her. Then this young man, who is said to have been in love with her for years, urged her to marry him—to accept his protection really, in view of all that might come. Dubois thinks she refused several times, but anyway two days ago they were married, civilly, with only the legal witnesses.'
David moved about the various things on the mantelpiece with restless fingers. Then he straightened himself.
'Is that all?' he asked, looking at the minister.
'All,' said Ancrum, who had, of course, no intention of repeating any of Dubois' playful embroideries on the facts. 'You will be glad, won't you, that she should have some one to protect her in such a strait?'—he added, after a minute's pause, his eyes on the fire.
'Yes,' said the other after a moment. 'Thank you. Won't you have your tea?'
Mr. Ancrum swallowed his emotion, and they sat down to table in silence. David played with some food, took one thing up after another, laid it down, and at last sprang up and seized his hat.
'Going out again?' asked the minister, trembling, he knew not why.
The lad muttered something. Instinctively the little lame fellow, who was closest to the door, rushed to it and threw himself against it.
'David, don't—don't go out alone—let me go with you!'
'I want to go out alone,' said David, his lips shaking. 'Why do you interfere with me?'
'Because—' and the short figure drew itself up, the minister's voice took a stern deep note, 'because when a man has once contemplated the sin of self-murder, those about him have no right to behave as though he were still like other innocent and happy people!'
David stood silent a moment, every limb trembling. Then his mouth set, and he made a step forward, one arm raised.
'Oh, yes!' cried Ancrum, 'you may fling me out of the way. My weakness and deformity are no match for you. Do, if you have the heart! Do you think I don't know that I rescued you from despair—that I drew you out of the very jaws of death? Do you think I don't guess that the news I have just given you wither the heart in your breast? You imagine, I suppose, that because I am deformed and a Sunday-school teacher, because I think something of religion, and can't read your French books, I cannot enter into what a man is and feels. Try me! When you were a little boy in my class, my life was already crushed in me—my tragedy was over. I have come close to passion and to sin; I'm not afraid of yours! You are alive here tonight, David Grieve, because I went to look for you on the mountains—lost sheep that you were—and found you, by God's mercy. You never thanked me—I knew you couldn't. Instead of your thanks I demand your confidence, here—now. Break down this silence between us. Tell me what you have done to bring your life to this pass. You have no father—I speak in his place and I deserve that you should trust and listen to me!'
David looked at him with amazement—at the worn misshapen head thrown haughtily back—at the arms folded across the chest. Then his pride gave way, and that intolerable smart within could no longer hide itself. His soul melted within him; tears began to rain over his cheeks. He tottered to the fire and sat down, instinctively spreading his hands to the blaze, that word 'father' echoing in his ears; and by midnight Mr. Ancrum knew all the story, or as much of it as man could to tell to man.
From this night of confession and of storm there emerged at least one result—the beginnings of a true and profitable bond between David and Ancrum. Hitherto there had been expenditure of interest and affection on the minister's side, and a certain responsiveness and friendly susceptibility on David's; but no true understanding and contact, mind with mind. But in these agitated hours of such talk as belongs only to the rare crises of life, not only did Ancrum gain an insight into David's inmost nature, with all its rich, unripe store of feelings and powers, deeper than any he had possessed before, but David, breaking through the crusts of association, getting beyond and beneath the Sunday-school teacher and minister, came for the first time upon the real man in his friend, apart from trappings—cast off the old sense of pupilage, and found a brother instead of a monitor.
There came a moment when Ancrum, laying his hand on David's knee, told his own story in a few bare sentences, each of them, as it were, lightning on a dark background, revealing some few things with a ghastly plainness, only to let silence and mystery close again upon the whole. And there came another moment when the little minister, carried out of himself, fell into incoherent sentences, full of obscurity, yet often full of beauty, in which for the first time David came near to the living voice of religion speaking in its purest, intensest note. Christ was the burden of it all; the religion of pain, sacrifice, immortality; the religion of chastity and self-repression.
'Life goes from test to test, David; it's like any other business—the more you know the more's put on you. And this test of the man with the woman—there's no other cuts so deep. Aye, it parts the sheep from the goats. A man's failed in it—lost his footing—rolled into hell, before he knows where he is. "On this stone if a man fall"—I often put those words to it—there's all meanings in Scripture. Yes, you've stumbled, David—stumbled badly, but not more. There's mercy in it! You must rise again—you can. Accept yourself; accept the sin even; bear with yourself and go forward. That's what the Church says. Nothing can be undone, but break your pride, do penance, and all can be forgiven.
'But you don't admit the sin? A man has a right to the satisfaction of his own instincts. You asked a free consent and got it. What is law but a convention for miserable people who don't know how to love? Who was injured?
'David, that's the question of a fool. Were you and she the first man and woman in the world that ever loved? That's always the way; each man imagines the matter is still for his deciding, and he can no more decide it than he can tamper with the fact that fire burns or water drowns. All these centuries the human animal has fought with the human soul. And step by step the soul has registered her victories. She has won them only by feeling for the law and finding it—uncovering, bringing into light, the firm rocks beneath her feet. And on these rocks she rears her landmarks—marriage, the family, the State, the Church, Neglect them, and you sink into the quagmire from which the soul of the race has been for generations struggling to save you. Dispute them! overthrow them—yes, if you can! You have about as much chance with them as you have with the other facts and laws amid which you live—physical or chemical or biological.
'I speak after the manner of men. If I were to speak after the manner of a Christian, I should say other things. I should ask how a man dare pluck from the Lord's hand, for his own wild and reckless use, a soul and body for which He died; how he, the Lord's bondsman, dare steal his joy, carrying it off by himself into the wilderness, like an animal his prey, instead of asking it at the hands, and under the blessing, of his Master; how he dare—a man under orders, and member of the Lord's body—forget the whole in his greed for the one—eternity in his thirst for the present.'
'But no matter. Christ is nothing to you, nor Scripture, nor the Church—'
The minister broke off abruptly, his lined face working with emotion and prayer. David said nothing. In this stage of the conversation—the stage, as it were, of judgment and estimate—he could take no part. The time for it with him had not yet come. He had exhausted all his force in the attempt to explain himself—an attempt which began in fragmentary question and answer, and ended on his part in the rush of a confidence, an 'Apologia,' representing, in truth, that first reflex action of the mind upon experience, whence healing and spiritual growth were ultimately to issue. But for the moment he could carry the process no farther. He sat crouched over the flickering fire, saying nothing, letting Ancrum soliloquise as he pleased. His mind surged to and fro, indeed, as Ancrum talked between the poles of repulsion and response. His nature was not as Ancrum's, and every now and then the quick critical intellect flashed through his misery, detecting an assumption, probing an hypothesis. But in general his feeling gave way more and more. That moral sensitiveness in him which in its special nature was a special inheritance, the outcome of a long individualist development under the conditions of English Protestantism, made him from the first the natural prey of Ancrum's spiritual passion. As soon as a true contact between them was set up, David began to feel the religious temper and life in Ancrum draw him like a magnet. Not the forms of the thing, but the thing itself. In it, or something like it, as he listened, his heart suspected, for the first time, the only possible refuge from the agony of passion, the only possible escape from this fever of desire, jealousy, and love, in which he was consumed.
At the end he let Ancrum lead him up to bed and give him the bromide the Paris doctor had prescribed. When Ancrum softly put his head in, half an hour later, he was heavily asleep. Ancrum's face gleamed; he stole into the room carrying a rug and a pillow; and when David woke in the morning it was to see the twisted form of the little minister stretched still and soldierlike beside him on the floor.
From that waking David rose and went about his work another man. As he moved about in the shop or in the streets, he was conscious of a gulf between his present self and his self of yesterday, which he could hardly explain. Simply the whole atmosphere and temperature of the soul was other, was different. He could have almost supposed that some process had gone on within him during the unconsciousness of sleep, of which he was now feeling the results; which had carried him on, without his knowing it, to a point in the highroad of life, far removed from that point where he had stood when his talk with Ancrum began. That world of enervating illusion, that 'kind of ghastly dreaminess, 'as John Sterling called it, in which since his return he had lived with Elise, was gone, he knew not how—swept away like a cloud from the brain, a mist from the eyes. The sense of catastrophe, of things irrevocable and irreparable, the premature ageing of the whole man, remained-only the fever and the restlessness were past. Memory, indeed, was not affected. In some sort the scenes of his French experience would be throughout his life a permanent element in consciousness; but the persons concerned in them were dead-creatures of the past. He himself had been painfully re-born, and Pimodan's wife had no present personal existence for him. He turned himself deliberately to his old life, and took up the interests of it again one by one, but, as he soon discovered, with an insight, a power, a comprehension which had never yet been his. A moral and spiritual life destined to a rich development practically began for him with this winter—this awful winter of the agony of France.
His thoughts were often occupied now with Louie, but in a saner way. He could no longer, without morbidness, take on himself the whole responsibility of her miserable marriage. Human beings after all are what they make themselves. But the sense of his own share in it, and the perception of what her future life was likely to be, made him steadily accept beforehand the claims upon him which she was sure to press.
He had written to her early in September, when the siege was imminent, offering her money to bring her to England, and the protection of his roof during the rest of the war. And by a still later post than that which brought the news of Elise's marriage arrived a scrawl from Louie, written from a country town near Toulouse, whither she and Montjoie had retreated—apparently the sculptor's native place.
The letter was full of complaints—complaints of the war, which was being mismanaged by a set of rogues and fools who deserved stringing to the nearest tree; complaints of her husband, who was a good-for-nothing brute; and complaints of her own health. She was expecting her confinement in the spring; if she got through it—which was not likely, considering the way in which she was treated—she should please herself about staying with such a man. He should not keep her for a day if she wanted to go. Meanwhile David might send her any money he could spare. There was not much of the six hundred left—that she could tell him; and she could not even screw enough for baby-clothes out of her husband. Very likely there would not be enough to pay for a nurse when her time came. Well, then she would be out of it—and a good job too.
She wished to be remembered to Dora; and Dora was especially to be told again that she needn't suppose St. Damian's was a patch on the real Catholic churches, because it wasn't. She—Louie—had been at the Midnight Mass in Toulouse Cathedral on Christmas Eve. That was something like. And down in the crypt they had a 'Bethlehem'—the sweetest thing you ever saw. There were the shepherds, and the wise men, and the angels—dolls, of course, but their dresses were splendid, and the little Jesus was dressed in white satin, embroidered with gold—old embroidery, tell Dora.
To this David had replied at once, sending money he could ill spare, and telling her to keep him informed of her whereabouts.
But the months passed on, and no more news arrived. He wrote again via Bordeaux, but with no result, and could only wait patiently till that eagle's grip, in which all French life was stifled, should be loosened.
Meanwhile his relation to another human being, whose life had been affected by the French episode, passed into a fresh phase. Two days after the news of Elise's marriage had reached him, he and John had just shut up the shop, and the young master was hanging over the counter under the gas, heavily conning a not very satisfactory business account.
John came in, took his hat and stick from a corner, and threw David a gruff 'good night.'
Something in the tone struck David's sore nerves like a blow. He turned abruptly—
'Look here, John! I can't stand this kind of thing much longer. Hadn't we better part? You've learnt a lot here, and I'll see you get a good place. You—you rub it in too long!'
John stood still, his big rough hands beginning to shake, his pink cheeks turning a painful crimson.
'You—you never said a word to me!' he flung out at last, incoherently, resentfully.
'Said a word to you? What do you mean? I told you the truth, and I would have told you more, if you hadn't turned against me as though I had been the devil himself. Do you suppose you are the only person who came to grief because of that French time? Good God! '
The last words came out with a low exasperation. The young man leant against the counter, looking at his assistant with bitter, indignant eyes.
John first shrank from them, then his own were drawn to meet them. Even his slow perceptions, thus challenged, realised something of the truth. He gave way—as David might have made him give way long before, if his own misery had not made him painfully avoid any fresh shock of speech.
'Well!' said John, slowly, with a mighty effort; 'I'll not lay it agen you any more. I'll say that. But if you want to get rid of me, you can. Only you'll be put to 't wi' t' printing.'
The two young fellows surveyed each other. Then suddenly David said, pushing him to the door:
'You're a great ass, John—get out, and good night to you.'
But next day the atmosphere was cleared, and, with inexpressible relief on both sides, the two fell back into the old brotherly relation. Poor John! He kept an old photograph of Louie in a drawer at his lodging, and, when he came home to bed, would alternately weep over and denounce it. But, all the same, his interest in David's printing ventures was growing keener and keener, and whenever business had been particularly exciting during the day, the performance with the photograph was curtailed or omitted at night. Let no scorn, however, be thought, on that account, of the true passion!—which had thriven on unkindness, and did but yield to the slow mastery of time.
The war thundered on. To Manchester, and to the cotton and silk industries of Lancashire generally, the tragedy of France meant on the whole a vast boom in trade. So many French rivals crippled—so much ground set free for English enterprise to capture—and, meanwhile, high profits for a certain number at least of Manchester and Macclesfield merchants, and brisk wages for the Lancashire operatives, especially for the silk-weavers. This, with of course certain drawbacks and exceptions, was the aspect under which the war mainly presented itself to Lancashire. Meanwhile, amid these teeming Manchester streets with their clattering lurries and overflowing warehouses, there was at least one Englishman who took the war hardly, in whom the spectacle of its wreck and struggle roused a feeling which was all moral, human, disinterested.
What was Regnault doing? David kept a watch on the newspapers, of which the Free Library offered him an ample store; but there was no mention of him in the English press that he could discover, and Barbier, of course, got nothing now from Paris.
Christmas was over. The last month of the siege, that hideous January of frost and fire, rushed past, with its alternations of famine within and futile battle without—Europe looking on appalled at this starved and shivering Paris, into which the shells were raining. At last—the 27th!—the capitulation! All was over; the German was master in Europe, and France lay at the feet of her conqueror.
Out to all parts streamed the letters which had been so long delayed. Barbier and David, walking together one bitter evening towards Barbier's lodgings, silent, with hanging heads, met the postman on Barbier's steps, who held out a packet. The Frenchman took it with a cry; the two rushed upstairs and fell upon the letters and papers it contained.
There—while Barbier sat beside him, groaning over the conditions of peace, over the enthronement of the Emperor-King at Versailles, within sight of the statue of Louis Quatorze, now cursing 'ces imbeciles du gouvernement!' and now wiping the tears from his old cheeks with a trembling hand—David read the news of the fight of Buzenval, and the death of Regnault.
It seemed to him that he had always foreseen it—that from the very beginning Regnault's image in his thought had been haloed with a light of tragedy and storm—a light of death. His eyes devoured the long memorial article in which a friend of Regnault's had given the details of his last months of life. Barbier, absorbed in his own grief, heard not a sound from the corner where his companion sat crouched beneath the gas.
Everything—the death and the manner of it—was to him, as it were, in the natural order—fitting, right, such as might have been expected. His heart swelled to bursting as he read, but his eyes were dry.
This, briefly, was the story which he read.
Henri Regnault re-entered Paris at the beginning of September. By the beginning of October he was on active service, stationed now at Asnieres, now at Colombes. In October or November he became engaged to a young girl, with whom he had been for long devotedly in love—ah! David thought of that sudden smile—the 'open door'! Their passion, cherished under the wings of war, did but give courage and heroism to both. Yet he loved most humanly! One night, in an interval of duty, on leaving the house where his fiancee lived, he found the shells of the bombardment falling fast in the street outside. He could not make up his mind to go—might not ruin befall the dear house with its inmates at any moment? So he wandered up and down outside for hours in the bitter night, watching, amid the rattle of the shells and the terrified cries of women and children from the houses on either side. At last, worn out and frozen with cold, but still unable to leave the spot, he knocked softly at the door he had left. The concierge came. 'Let me lie down awhile on your floor. Tell no one.' Then, appeased by this regained nearness to her, and by the sense that no danger could strike the one without warning the other, he wrapped himself in his soldier's cloak and fell asleep.
In November he painted his last three water-colours—visions of the East, painted for her, and as flower-bright as possible, 'because flowers were scarce' in the doomed city.
December came. Regnault spent Christmas night at the advanced post of Colombes. His captain wished to make him an officer. 'Thanks, my captain,' said the young fellow of twenty-three; 'but if you have a good soldier in me, why exchange him for an indifferent officer? My example will be of more use to you than my commission.' Meanwhile the days and nights were passed in Arctic cold. Men were frozen to death round about him; his painter's hand was frostbitten. 'Oh! I can speak with authority on cold!' he wrote to his fiancee; 'this morning at least I know what it is to spend the night on the hard earth exposed to a glacial wind. Enough! Je me rechaufferai a votre foyer. I love you—I love my country—that sustains. Adieu!'
On the 17th, after a few days in Paris spent with her and some old friends, he was again ordered to the front. On Thursday the fight at Buzenval began with a brilliant success; in the middle of the day his fiancee still had news of him, brought by a servant. Night fell. The battle was hottest in a wood adjoining the park of Buzenval. Regnault and his painter-comrade Clairin were side by side. Suddenly the retreat was sounded, and the same instant Clairin missed his friend. He sought him with frenzy amid the trees in the darkening wood, called to him, peered into the faces of the dying—no answer! Ah! he must have been swept backwards by the rush of the retreat—Clairin will find him again.
Three days later the lost was found—one among two hundred corpses of National Guards carted into Pere Lachaise. Clairin, mad with grief, held his friend in his arms—held, kissed the beautiful head, now bruised and stained past even her knowing, with its bullet-wound in the temple.
On his breast was found a medal with a silver tear hanging from it. She who had long worn it as a symbol of bereavement, in memory of dear ones lost to her, had given it to him in her first joy. 'I will reclaim it,' she had said, smiling, 'the first time you make me weep!' It was all that was brought back to her—all except a scrawled paper found in his pocket, containing some hurried and almost illegible words, written perhaps beside his outpost fire.
'We have lost many men—we must remake them—better—stronger. The lesson should profit us. No more lingering amid facile pleasures! Who dare now live for himself alone? It has been for too long the custom with us to believe in nothing but enjoyment and all bad passions. We have prided ourselves on despising everything good and worthy. No more of such contempt!'
Then—so the story ended—four days later, on the very day of the capitulation of Paris, Regnault was carried to his last rest. A figure in widow's dress walked behind. And to many standing by, amid the muffled roll of the drums and the wailing of the music, it was as though France herself went down to burial with her son.
David got up gently and went across to Barbier, who was sitting with his letters and papers before him, staring and stupefied, the lower jaw falling, in a trance of grief.
The young man put down the newspaper he had been reading in front of the old man.
'Read that some time; it will give you something to be proud of. I told you I knew him—he was kind to me.'
Barbier nodded, not understanding, and sought for his spectacles with shaking fingers. David quietly went out.
He walked home in a state of exaltation like a man still environed with the emotion of great poetry or great music. He said very little about Regnault in the days that followed to Ancrum or Barbier, even to Dora, with whom every week his friendship was deepening. But the memory of the dead man, as it slowly shaped itself in his brooding mind, became with him a permanent and fruitful element of thought. Very likely the Regnault whom he revered, whose name was henceforth a sacred thing to him, was only part as it were of the real Regnault. He saw the French artist with an Englishman's eyes—interpreted him in English ways—the ways, moreover, of a consciousness self-taught and provincial, however gifted and flexible. Only one or two aspects, no doubt, of that rich, self-tormented nature, reared amid the most complex movements of European intelligence, were really plain to him. And those aspects were specially brought home to him by his own mental condition. No matter. Broadly, essentially, he understood.
But thenceforward, just as Elise Delaunay had stood to him in the beginning for French art and life, and that ferment in himself which answered to them, so now in her place stood Regnault with those stern words upon his young and dying lips—'We have lost many men—we must remake them—better! Henceforward let no one dare live unto himself.' The Englishman took them into his heart, that ethical fibre in him, which was at last roused and dominant, vibrating, responding. And as the poignant images of death and battle faded he saw his hero always as he had seen him last—young, radiant, vigorous, pointing to the dawn behind Notre-Dame.
All life looked differently to David this winter. He saw the Manchester streets and those who lived in them with other perceptions. His old political debating interests, indeed, were comparatively slack; but persons—men and women, and their stories—for these he was instinctively on the watch. His eye noticed the faces he passed as it had never yet done—divined in them suffering, or vice, or sickness. All that he saw at this moment he saw tragically. The doors set open about him were still, as Keats, himself hurried to his end by an experience of passion, once expressed it, 'all dark,' and leading to darkness. There were times when Dora's faith and Ancrum's mysticism drew him irresistibly; other times when they were almost as repulsive to him as they had ever been, because they sounded to him like the formula of people setting out to explain the world 'with a light heart,' as Ollivier had gone to war.
But whether or no it could be explained, this world, he could not now help putting out his hand to meddle with and mend it; his mind fed on its incidents and conditions. The mill-girls standing on the Ancoats pavements; the drunken lurryman tottering out from the public-house to his lurry under the biting sleet of February; the ragged barefoot boys and girls swarming and festering in the slums; the young men struggling all about him for subsistence and success—these for the first time became realities to him, entered into that pondering of 'whence and whither' to which he had been always destined, and whereon he was now consciously started.
And as the months went on, his attention was once more painfully caught and held by Dora's troubles and Daddy's infirmities. For Daddy's improvement was short-lived. A bad relapse came in November; things again went downhill fast; the loan contracted in the summer had to be met, and under the pressure of it Daddy only became more helpless and disreputable week by week. And now, when Doctor Mildmay went to see him, Daddy, crouching over the fire, pretended to be deaf, and 'soft' besides. Nothing could be got out of him except certain grim hints that his house was his own till he was turned out of it. 'Looks pretty bad this time,' said the doctor to David once as he came out discomfited. 'After all, there's not much hope when the craving returns on a man of his age, especially after some years' interval.'
Daddy would sometimes talk frankly enough to David. At such times his language took an exasperating Shakespearean turn. He was abominably fond of posing as Lear or Jaques—as a man much buffeted, and acquainted with all the ugly secrets of life. Purcell stood generally for 'the enemy;' and to Purcell his half-mad fancy attributed most of his misfortunes. It was Purcell who had undermined his business, taken away his character, and driven him back to drink. David did not believe much of it, and told him so. Then, roused to wrath, the young man would speak his mind plainly as to Dora's sufferings and Dora's future. But to very little purpose.
'Aye, you're right—you're right enough,' said the old man to him on one of these occasions, with a wild, sinister look. 'Cordelia'll hang for 't. If you want to do her any good, you must turn old Lear out—send him packing, back to the desert where he was before. There's elbow-room there!'
David looked up startled. The thin bronzed face had a restless flutter in it. Before he could reply Daddy had laid a hand on his shoulder.
'Davy, why don't you drink?'
'What do you mean?' said the young man, flushing.
'Davy, you've been as close as wax; but Daddy can see a thing or two when he chooses. Ah, you should drink, my lad. Let people prate—why shouldn't a man please himself? It's not the beastly liquor—that's the worst part of it—it's the dreams, my lad, "the dreams that come." They say ether does the business cheapest. A teaspoonful—and you can be alternately in Paradise and the gutter four times a day. But the fools here don't know how to mix it.'
As he spoke the door opened, and there stood Dora on the threshold. She had just come back from a Lenten service; her little worn prayer-book was in her hand. She stood trembling, looking at them both—at David's tight, indignant lips—at her father's excitement.
Daddy's eye fell on her prayer-book, and David, looking up, saw a quick cloud of distaste, aversion, pass over his weird face.
She put out some supper, and pressed David to stay. He did so in the vain hope of keeping Daddy at home. But the old vagrant was too clever for both of them. When David at last got up to go, Daddy accompanied him downstairs, and stood in the doorway looking up Market Place till David had disappeared in the darkness. Then with a soft and cunning hand he drew the door to behind him, and stood a moment lifting his face to the rack of moonlit cloud scudding across the top of the houses opposite. As he did so, he drew a long breath, with the gesture of one to whom the wild airs of that upper sky, the rush of its driving wind, were stimulus and delight. Then he put down his head and stole off to the right, towards the old White Inn in Hanging Ditch, while Dora was still listening in misery for his return step upon the stairs.
A week later Dora, not knowing how the restaurant could be kept going any longer, and foreseeing utter bankruptcy and ruin as soon as the shutters should be up, took her courage in both hands, swallowed all pride, and walked up to Half Street to beg help of Purcell. After all he was her mother's brother. In spite of that long feud between him and Daddy, he would surely, for his own credit's sake, help them to escape a public scandal. For all his rodomontade, Daddy had never done him any real harm that she could remember.
So she opened the shop door in Half Street, quaking at the sound of the bell she set in motion, and went in.
Twenty minutes afterwards she came out again, looking from side to side like a hunted creature, her veil drawn close over her face. She fled on through Market Place, across Market Street and St. Ann's Square, and through the tall dark warehouse streets beyond—drawn blindly towards Potter Street and her only friend.
David was putting out some books on the stall when he looked up and saw her. Perceiving that she was weeping and breathless, he asked her into the back room, while John kept guard in the shop.
There she leant against the mantelpiece, shaking from head to foot, and wiping away her tears. He soon gathered that she had been to Purcell, and that Purcell had dismissed her appeal with every circumstance of cold and brutal insult. The sooner her father was in the workhouse or the lunatic asylum, and she in some nunnery or other, the sooner each would be in their right place. He was a vagabond, and she a Papist—let them go where they belonged. He was not going to spend a farthing of his hard-earned money to help either of them to impose any further on the world. And then he let fall a word or two which showed her that he had probably been at the bottom of some merciless pressure lately applied to them by one or two of their chief creditors. The bookseller's hour was come, and he was looking on at the hewing of his Agag with the joy of the righteous. So might the Lord avenge him of all his enemies.
Dora could hardly give an account of it. The naked revelation of Purcell's hate, of so hard and vindictive a soul, had worked upon her like some physical horror. She had often suspected the truth, but now that it was past doubting, the moral shock was terrible to this tender mystical creature, whose heart by day and night lived a hidden life with the Crucified and with His saints. Oh, how could he, how could anyone, be so cruel? her father getting an old man! and she, who had never quarrelled with him—who had nursed Lucy! So she wailed, gradually recovering her poor shaken soul—calming it, indeed, all the while out of sight, with quick piteous words of prayer and submission.
David stood by, pale with rage and sympathy. But what could he do? He was himself in the midst of a hard struggle, and had neither money nor credit available. They parted at last, with the understanding that he was to go and consult Ancrum, and that she was to go to her friends at St. Damian's.
Till now poor Dora had carefully refrained from bringing her private woes into relation with her life in and through St. Damian's. Within that enchanted circle, she was another being with another existence. There she had never asked anything for herself, except the pardon and help of God, before His altar, and through His priests. Rather she had given—given all that she had—her time, such as she could spare from Daddy and her work, to the Sunday-school and the sick; her hard-won savings on her clothes, and on the extra work, for which she would often sit up night after night when Daddy believed her asleep, to the poor and to the services of the Church. There she had a position, almost an authority of her own—the authority which comes of self-spending. But now this innocent pride must be humbled. For the sake of her father, and of those to whom they owed money they could not pay, she must go and ask—beg instead of giving. All she wanted was time. Her embroidery work was now better paid than ever. If the restaurant were closed she could do more of it. In the end she believed she could pay everybody. But she must have time. Yes, she would go to Father Vernon that night! He would understand, even if he could not help her.
Alas! Next morning David was just going out to dinner, when a message was brought him from Market Place. He started off thither at a run, and found a white and gasping Dora wandering restlessly up and down the upper room; while Sarah, the old Lancashire cook, very red and very tearful, followed her about trying to administer consolation. Daddy had disappeared. After coming in about eleven the night before and going noisily to his room—no doubt for the purpose of deluding Dora—he must have stolen down again and made off without being either seen or heard by anybody. Even the policeman on duty in Market Place had noticed nothing. He had taken what was practically the only money left them in the world—about twenty pounds—from Dora's cashbox, and some clothes, packing these last in a knapsack which still remained to him from the foreign tramps of years before.
The efforts made by Dora, David, and Ancrum, whom David called in to help, to track the fugitive, were quite useless. Daddy had probably disguised himself, for he had all the tricks of the adventurer, and could 'make up' in former days so as to deceive even his own wife.
Strange outbreak of a secret ineradicable instinct! He had been Dora's for twenty years. But life with her at Leicester, and during their first years at Manchester, had thriven too evenly, and in the end the old wanderer had felt his blood prick within him, and the mania of his youth revive. His business had grown hateful to him; it was probably the comparative monotony of success which had first reawakened the travel-hunger—then restlessness, conflict, leading to drink, and, finally, escape.
'He will come back, you know,' said Dora one night, sharply, to David. 'He served my mother so many times. But he always came back.'
They were sitting together in the shuttered and dismantled restaurant. There was to be a sale on the premises on the morrow, and the lower room had that day been filled with all the 'plant' of the restaurant, and all or almost all the poor household stuff from upstairs. It was an odd, ramshackle collection; and poor Dora, who had been walking round looking at the auction tickets, was realising with a sinking heart how much debt the sale would still leave unprovided for. But she had found friends. Father Vernon had met the creditors for her. There had been a composition, and she had insisted upon working off to the best of her power whatever sum might remain after the possession and goodwill had been sold. She could live on a crust, and she was sure of continuous work both for the great church-furniture shop in Manchester which had hitherto employed her and also for the newly established School of Art Needlework at Kensington. As an embroideress there were few more delicately trained eyes and defter hands than hers in England.
When she spoke of her father's coming back, David was seized with pity. She could not sit down in these days when her work was out of her hands. Perpetual movement seemed her only relief. The face, that seemed so featureless but was so expressive, had lost its sweet, shining look; the mouth had the pucker of pain; and she had piteous startled ways quite unlike her usual soft serenity.
'Oh, yes, he will come back—some time,' he said, to comfort her.
'I don't doubt that—never. But I wonder how he could go like that—how he had the heart! I did think he cared for me. I wasn't ever nasty to him—at least, I don't remember. Perhaps he thought I was. But only we two—and always together—since mother died!'
She began to tidy some of the lots, to tie some of the bundles of odds and ends together more securely—talking all the while in a broken way. She was evidently bewildered and at sea. If she could have remembered any misconduct of her own, it seemed to David, it would have been a relief to her. Her faith taught her that love was all-powerful—but it had availed her nothing!
The sale came; and the goodwill of the Parlour was sold to a man who was to make a solid success of what with Daddy had been a half-crazy experiment.
Dora went to live in Ancoats, that teeming, squalid quarter which lies but a stone's-throw from the principal thoroughfares and buildings of Manchester, and in its varieties of manufacturing life and population presents types which are all its own. Here are the cotton operatives who work the small proportion of mills still remaining within the bounds of Manchester—the spinners, minders, reelers, reed-makers, and the rest; here are the calico-printers and dyers, the warehousemen and lurrymen; and here too are the sellers of 'fents,' and all the other thousand and one small trades and occupations which live on and by the poor. The quarter has one broad thoroughfare or lung, which on a sunny day is gay, sightly, and alive; then to north and south diverge the innumerable low red-brick streets where the poor live and work; which have none, however, of the trim uniformity which belongs to the workers' quarters of the factory towns pure and simple. Manchester in its worst streets is more squalid, more haphazard, more nakedly poor even than London. Yet, for all that, Manchester is a city with a common life, which London is not. The native Lancashire element, lost as it is beneath many supervening strata, is still there and powerful; and there are strong well-defined characteristic interests and occupations which bind the whole together.
Here Dora settled with a St. Damian's girl friend, a shirt-maker. They lived over a sweetshop, in two tiny rooms, in a street even more miscellaneous and half-baked than its neighbours. Outside was ugliness; inside, unremitting labour. But Dora soon made herself almost happy. By various tender shifts she had saved out of the wreck in Market Place Daddy's bits of engravings and foreign curiosities, his Swiss carvings and shells, his skins and stuffed birds; very moth-eaten and melancholy these last, but still safe. There, too, was his chair; it stood beside the fire; he had but to come back to it. Many a time in the week did she suddenly rise that she might go to the door and listen; or crane her head out of window, agitated by a figure, a sound, as her mother had done before her.
Then her religious life was free to expand as it had never been yet. Very soon, in Passion Week, she and her friend had gathered a prayer-meeting of girls, hands from the mill at the end of the street. They came for twenty minutes in the dinner-hour, delicate-faced comely creatures many of them, with their shawls over their heads: Dora prayed and sang with them, a soft tremulous passion in every word and gesture. They thought her a saint—began to tell her their woes and their sins. In the evenings and on Sunday she lived in the coloured and scented church, with its plaintive music, its luminous altar, its suggestions both of a great encompassing church order of undefined antiquity and infinite future, and of a practical system full of support for individual weakness and guidance for the individual will. The beauty of the ceremonial appealed to those instincts in her which found other expression in her glowing embroideries; and towards the church order, with its symbols, observances, mysteries, the now solitary girl felt a more passionate adoration, a more profound humility, than ever before. Nothing too much could be asked of her. During Lent, but for the counsels of Father Russell himself, a shrewd man, well aware that St. Damian's represented the one Anglican oasis in an incorrigibly moderate Manchester, even her serviceable and elastic strength would have given way, so hard she was to that poor 'sister the body,' which so many patient ages have gone to perfect and adjust.
Half of the romance, the poetry of her life, lay here; the other half in her constant expectation of her father, and in the visits of David Grieve. Once a week at least David mounted to the little room where the two girls sat working; sometimes now, oh joy! he went to church with her; sometimes he made her come out to Eccles, or Cheadle, or the Irwell valley for a walk. She used various maidenly arts and self-restraints to prevent scandal. At home she never saw him alone, and she now never went to Potter Street. Still, out of doors they were often alone. There was no concealment, and the persons who took notice assumed that they were keeping company and going to be married. When such things were said to Dora she met them with a sweet and quiet denial, at first blushing, then with no change at all of look or manner.
Yet the girl who lived with her knew that the first sound of David's rap on the door below sent a tremor through the figure beside her, that the slight hand would go up instinctively to the coiled hair, straightening and pinning, and that the smiling, listening, sometimes disputing Dora who talked with David Grieve was quite different from the dreamy and ascetic Dora who sat beside her all day.
Why did David go? As a matter of fact, with every month of this winter and spring, Dora's friendship became more necessary to him. All the brotherly feeling he would once so willingly have spent on Louie, he now spent on Dora. She became in truth a sister to him. He talked to her as he would have done to Louie had she been like Dora. No other relationship ever entered his mind; and he believed that he was perfectly understood and met in the same way.
Both often spoke of Lucy, towards whom David in this new and graver temper felt both kindly and gratefully. She, poor child, wrote to Dora from time to time letters full of complaints of her father and of his tyranny in keeping her away from Manchester. He indeed seemed to have taken a morbid dislike to his daughter, and what company he wanted he got from the widow, whom yet he had never made up his mind to marry. Lucy chafed and rebelled against the perpetual obstacles he placed in the way of her returning home, but he threatened to make her earn her own living if she disobeyed him, and in the end she always submitted. She poured herself out bitterly, however, to Dora, and Dora was helplessly sorry for her, feeling that her idle wandering life with the various aunts and cousins she boarded with was excessively bad for her—seeing that Lucy was not of the stuff to fashion new duties or charities for herself out of new relations—and that the small, vain, and yet affectionate nature ran an evil chance of ultimate barrenness and sourness.
But what could she do? In every letter there was some mention of David Grieve or request for news about him. About the visit to Paris Dora had written discreetly, telling only what she knew, and nothing of what she guessed. In reality, as the winter passed on, Dora watched him more and more closely, waiting for the time when that French mystery, whatever it was, should have ceased to overshadow him, and she might once more scheme for Lucy. He must marry—that she knew!—whatever he might think. Anyone could see that, with the returning spring, in spite of her friendship and Ancrum's, he felt his loneliness almost intolerable. It was clear, too, as his manhood advanced, that he was naturally drawn to women, naturally dependent on them. In spite of his great intelligence, to her so formidable and mysterious, Dora had soon recognised, as Elise had done, the eager, clinging, confiding temper of his youth. And beneath the transformation of passion and grief it was still there—to be felt moving often like a wounded thing.
It was a showery April evening. But as it was also a Saturday, Manchester took no heed at all of the weather. The streets were thronged. All the markets were ablaze with light, and full of buyers. In Market Place, Dora's old home, the covered glass booths beside the pavement brought the magic of the spring into the very heart of the black and swarming town, for they were a fragrant show of daffodils, hyacinths, primroses, and palms. Their lights shone out into the rainy mist of the air, on the glistening pavements, and on the faces of the cheerful chattering crowd, to which the shawled heads so common among the women gave the characteristic Lancashire touch. Above rose the dark tower of the Exchange; on one side was the Parlour, still dedicated to the kindly diet of corn—and fruit-eating men, but repainted, and launched on a fresh career of success by Daddy's successor; on the other, the gabled and bulging mass of the old Fishing-tackle House, with a lively fish and oyster traffic surging in the little alleys on either side of it.
Market Street, too, was thronged. In the great cheap shop at the head of it, aflame with lights from top to base, you could see the buyers story after story, swarming like bees in a glass hive. Farther on in the wide space of the Infirmary square, the omnibuses gathered, and a detachment of redcoats just returned from rifle-practice on the moors crowded the pavement outside the hospital, amid an admiring escort of the youth of Manchester, while their band played lustily.
But especially in Peter Street, the street of the great public halls and principal theatres, was Manchester alive and busy. Nilsson was singing at the 'Royal,' and the rich folk were setting down there in their broughams and landaus. But in the great Free Trade Hall there was a performance of 'Judas Maccabeus' given by the Manchester Philharmonic Society, and the vast place, filled from end to end with shilling and two-shilling seats, was crowded with the 'people.' It was a purely local scene, unlike anything of the same kind in London, or any other capital. The performers on the platform were well known to Manchester, unknown elsewhere; Manchester took them at once critically and affectionately, remembering their past, looking forward to their future; the Society was one of which the town was proud; the conductor was a character, and popular; and half the audience at least was composed of the relations and friends of the chorus. Most people had a 'Susan,' an 'Alice,' or a 'William' making signs to them at intervals from the orchestra; and when anything went particularly well, and the applause was loud, the friends of Susan or Alice beamed with a proprietary pride.
Looking down upon this friendly cheerful throng sat David Grieve, high up in the balcony. It had been his wont of late to frequent these cheap concerts, where as a rule, owing to the greater musical sensitiveness of the English North as compared with the South, the music is singularly good. During the past winter, indeed, music might almost be said to have become part of his life. He had no true musical gift, but in the paralysis of many of his natural modes of expression which had overtaken him music supplied a need. In it he at least, and at this moment, found a voice and an emotion not too personal or poignant. He lost himself in it, and was soothed.
Towards the beginning of the last part he suddenly with a start recognised Lucy Purcell in the body of the hall. She was sitting with friends whom he did not know, staring straight before her. He bent forward and looked at her carefully. In a minute or two he decided that she was looking tired, cross, and unhappy, and that she was not attending to the music at all.
So at last her father had let her come home. As to her looks, to be daughter to Purcell was to be sure of disagreeable living; and perhaps her future stepmother had been helping Purcell to annoy her.
Poor little thing! David felt a strong wish to speak to her after the performance. Meanwhile he tried to attract her attention, but in vain. It seemed to him that she looked right along the bench on which he sat; but there was no flash in her face; it remained as tired and frowning as before.
He ran downstairs before the end of the last chorus, and placed himself near the door by which he felt sure she would come out. He was just in time. She and her party also came out early before the rush. There was a sudden crowd of people in the doorway, and then he heard a little cry. Lucy stood before him, flushed, pulling at her glove, and saying something incoherent. But before he could understand she had turned back to the two women who accompanied her and spoken to them quickly; the elder replied, with a sour look at David; the younger laughed behind her muff. Lucy turned away wilfully, and at that instant the crowd from within, surging outwards, swept them away from her, and she and David found themselves together.
'Come down those steps there to the right,' she said peremptorily. 'They are going the other way.'
By this time David himself was red. She hurried him into the street, however, and then he saw that she was breathing hard, and that her hands were clasped together as though she were trying to restrain herself.
'Oh, I am so unhappy!' she burst out, 'so unhappy! And it was all, you know, to begin with, because of you, Mr. Grieve! But oh! I forgot you'd been ill—you look so different!'
She paused suddenly, while over her face there passed an expression half startled, half shrinking, as of one who speaks familiarly, as he supposes, to an old friend and finds a stranger. She could not take her eyes off him. What was this new dignity, this indefinable change of manner?
'I am not different,' he said hastily, 'not in the least. So your father has never forgiven you the kindness you did me? I don't know what to say, Miss Lucy. I'm both sorry and ashamed.'
'Forgiven it!—no, nor ever will,' she said shortly, walking on, and forgetting everything but her woes. 'Oh, do listen! Come up Oxford Street. I must tell some one, or I shall die! I must see Dora. Father's forbidden me to go, and I haven't had a moment to myself yet. She hasn't written to me since she left the Parlour, and no one'll tell me where she is. And that odious woman! Oh, she is an abominable wretch! She wants to claim all my things—all the bits of things that were mother's, and I have always counted mine. She won't let me take any of them away. And she's stolen a necklace of mine—yes, Mr. Grieve, stolen it. I don't care that about it—not in itself; but to have your things taken out of your drawers without "With your leave" or "By your leave"!—She's made father worse than ever. I thought he had found her out, but he is actually going to marry her in July, and they won't let me live at home unless I make a solemn promise to "perform my religious duties" and behave properly to the chapel people. And I never will, not if I starve for it—nasty, canting, crawling, backbiting things! Then father says I can live away, and he'll make me an allowance. And what do you think he'll allow me?'
She faced round upon him with curving lip and eyes aflame. David averred truly that he could not guess.
'Thirty—pounds—a—year!' she said with vicious emphasis. 'There—would you believe it? If you put a dirty little chit of a nurse-girl on board wages, it would come to more than that. And he just bought three houses in Millgate, and as rich as anything! Oh, it's shameful, I call it, shameful!'
She put her handkerchief to her eyes. Then she quickly withdrew it again and turned to him, remembering how his first aspect had surprised her. In the glare of some shops they were passing David could see her perfectly, and she him. Certainly, in the year which had elapsed since they had met she had ripened, or rather softened, into a prettier girl. Whether it was the milder Southern climate in which she had been living, or the result of physical weakness left by her attack of illness in the preceding spring, at any rate her bloom was more delicate, the lines of her small, pronounced face more finished and melting. As for her, now that she had paused a moment in her flow of complaint, she was busy puzzling out the change in him. David became vaguely conscious of it, and tried to set her off again.
'But you'd rather live away,' he said, 'when they treat you like that? You'd rather be independent, I should think? I would!'
'Oh, catch me living with that woman!' she cried passionately.' She's no better than a thief, a common thief. I don't care who hears me. And made up! Oh, its shocking! It seems to me there's nothing I can talk about at home now—whether it's getting old—or teeth—or hair—I'm always supposed to be "passing remarks." And I wouldn't mind if it was my Hastings cousins I had to live with. But they can't have me any more, and now I'm at Wakely with the Astons.'
'The Aston's?' David echoed. Like most people of small training and intelligence, Lucy instinctively supposed that whatever was familiar to her was familiar to other people.
'Oh, don't you know? It's father's sister who married a mill-overseer at Wakely. And they're very kind to me. Only they're dreadfully pious too—not like father—I don't mean that. And, you see—it's Robert!'
'Who's Robert?' asked David amused by her blush, and admiring the trim lightness of her figure and walk.
'Robert's the eldest son. He's a reedmaker. He's got enough to marry on—at least he thinks so.'
'And he wants to marry you?'
She nodded. Then she looked at him, laughing, her naturally bright eyes sparkling through the tears still wet in them.
'Father's a Baptist, you know—that's bad enough—but Robert's a Particular Baptist. I asked him what it meant once when he was pestering me to marry him. "Well, you see," he said, "a man must show that his heart's changed—we don't take in everybody like—we want to be sure they're real converted." I don't believe it does mean that—father says it doesn't. Anyway I asked him whether if I married him he'd want me to be a Particular Baptist too. And he said, very slow and solemn, that of course he should look for religious fellowship in his wife, but that he didn't want to hurry me. I laughed till I cried at the thought of me going to that hideous chapel of his, dressed like his married sister. But sometimes, I declare, I think he'll make me do what he wants—he's got a way with him. He sticks to a thing as tight as wax, and I don't care what becomes of me sometimes.'
She pouted despondently, but her quick eye stole to her companion's face.
'Oh, no, you won't marry Robert, Miss Lucy,' said David cheerfully. 'You've had a will of your own ever since I've known you. But what are you at home for now?'
'Why, I told you—to pack up my things. But I can't find half of them; she—she's walked off with them. Oh, I'm going off again as soon as possible—I can't stand it. But I must see Dora. Father says I shan't visit Papists. But I'll watch my chance. I'll get there to-morrow—see if I don't! Tell me what she's doing, Mr. Grieve.'
David told her all he knew. Lucy's comments were very characteristic. She was equally hard on Daddy's ill-behaviour and Dora's religion, with a little self-satisfied hardness that would have provoked David but for its childish naivete. Many of the things that she said of Dora, however, showed real feeling, real affection.
'She is good,' she wound up at last with a long sigh.
'Yes, she's the best woman I ever saw,' said David slowly; 'she's beautiful, she's a saint.'
Lucy looked up quickly—her dismayed eyes fastened on him—then they fell again, and her expression became suddenly piteous and humble.
'You're still getting on well, aren't you?' she said timidly. 'You were glad not to be turned out, weren't you?'
Somehow, for the life of her, she could not at that moment help reminding him of her claim upon him. He admitted it very readily, told her broadly how he was doing and what new connections he was making. It was pleasant to tell her, pleasant to speak to this changing rose-leaf face with its eager curiosity and attention.
'And you were ill when you were abroad?—so Dora said. Father, of course, made unkind remarks—you may be sure of that!—He'll set stories about when he doesn't like anybody. I didn't believe a word.'
'It don't matter,' said David hotly, but he flushed. His desire to wring Purcell's neck was getting inconveniently strong.
'No, not a bit,' she declared. Then she suddenly broke into laughter. 'Oh, Mr. Grieve, how many assistants do you think father's had since you left?'
And she chatted on about these individuals, describing a series of dolts, their achievements and personalities, with a great deal of girlish fun. Her companion enjoyed her little humours and egotisms, enjoyed the walk and her companionship. After the strain of the day, a day spent either in the toil of a developing business or under a difficult pressure of thought, this light girl's voice brought a gay, relaxed note into life. The spring was in the air, and his youth stirred again in that cavern where grief had buried it.
'Oh, dear, I must go home,' she said at last regretfully, startled by a striking clock. 'Father'll be just mad. Of course, he'll hear all about my meeting you—I don't care. I'm not going to be parted from all my friends to please him, particularly now he's turned me out for good—from Dora and—'
'From you,' she would have said, but she became suddenly conscious and her voice failed.
'No, indeed! And your friends won't forget you, Miss Lucy. You'll go and see Dora to-morrow?'
'Yes, if I can give them the slip at home.'
There was a pause, and then he said—
'And will you allow me to visit you at Wakely some Sunday? I know those moors well.'
She reddened all over with delight. There was something in the little stiffness of the request which gave it importance.
'I wish you would; it's not far,' she stammered. 'Aunt Miriam would be glad to see you.'
They walked back rapidly along Mosley Street and into Market Place. There she stopped and shyly asked him to leave her. Almost all the Saturday-night crowd had disappeared from the streets. It was really late, and she became suddenly conscious that this walk of hers might reasonably be regarded at home as a somewhat bold proceeding.
'I wish you'd let me see you right home,' he said, detaining her hand in his.
'Oh, no, no—I shall catch it enough as it is. Oh, they'll let me in! Will it be next Sunday, Mr. Grieve?'
'No, the Sunday after. Can I do anything for you?'
He came closer to her, seeming to envelope her in his tall, protecting presence. It was impossible for him to ignore her girlish flutter, her evident joy in having seen and talked to him again, in spite of her dread of her father. Nor did he wish to ignore them. They were unexpectedly sweet to him, and he surprised himself.
'Oh no, nothing,—but it's very good of you to say so,' she said impulsively; 'very. Good night again.'
And instinctively she put out another small hand, which also he took, so holding her prisoner a moment.
'Look here,' he said, 'I'll just slip down that side of the Close and wait till I see you get safe in. Good night; I am glad I saw you!'
She ran away in a blind whirl of happiness up the steps into the passage of Half Street. He slipped down to the left and waited, looking through the railings across the corner of the Close, his eyes fixed on that upper window, where he had so often sat, parleying alternately with the cathedral and Voltaire.
Lucy rang, the door opened, there were loud sounds within, but she was admitted; it closed behind her.
David was soon in his back room, kindling a lamp and a bit of fire to read by. But when it was done he sat bent forward over the blaze, till the cathedral clock chimed the small hours, thinking.
She was so unformed and childish, that poor little thing!—surely a man could make what he would of her. She would give him affection and duty; the core of the nature was sound, and her little humours would bring life into a house.
He had but to put out his hand—that was plain enough. And why not? Was any humbler draught to be for ever put aside, because the best wine had been poured to waste?
Then the rebellions of an unquenched romance, an untamed heart, beset him. Surging waves of bitterness and pain, the after-swell of that tempest in which his youth had so nearly foundered, seemed to bear him away to seas of desolation.
After all that had happened, the greed for personal joy he every now and then detected in himself surprised and angered him by its strength. The truth was that in whole tracts of his nature he was still a boy, still young beyond his years, and it was the conflict in him between youth's hot immaturity and a man's baffling experience which made the pain of his life.
He meant to go to Wakely on the next Sunday but one—that he was certain of—but as to what he was to do and say when he got there he was perhaps culpably uncertain. But in his weakness and sehnsucht he dwelt upon the thought of Lucy more and more.
Then Dora—foolish saint!—came upon the scene.
Lucy found her way to the street in Ancoats where Dora lived, the morning after her talk with David, and the two cousins spent an agitated hour together. Lucy could hardly find time to ask Dora about her sorrows, so occupied was she in recounting all her own adventures. She was to go back to Wakely that very afternoon. Purcell had been absolutely unapproachable since the cousin who had escorted Lucy to the Free Trade Hall the night before had in her own defence revealed the secret of that young lady's behaviour. Pack and go she should! He wouldn't have such a hussy another night under his roof. Let them do with her as could.
'I thought he would have beaten me this morning,' Lucy candidly confessed. There was a red spot on each cheek, and she was evidently glorying in martyrdom. 'He looked like a devil—a real devil. Why can't he be fond of me, and let me alone, like other girls' fathers? I believe he is fond of me somehow, but he wants to break my spirit—'