Dora grew up not unhappily. There were shifts and privations to put up with; there were stormy days when life seemed a hurricane of words and tears. But there were bright spaces in between, when Daddy had good resolutions, or a little more money than usual; and with every year the daughter instinctively knew that her spell over her father strengthened. She was on the whole a serious child, with fair pale hair, much given to straying in long loose ends about her prominent brow and round cheeks. Yet at the Baptist school, whither she was sent, she was certainly popular. She had a passion for the little ones; and her grey-blue eyes, over which in general the fringed lids drooped too much, had a charming trick of sudden smiles, when the soft soul behind looked for an instant clearly and blithely out. At home she was a little round-shouldered drudge in her mother's service. At chapel she sat very patiently and happily under a droning minister, and when the inert and despondent Isabella would have let most of her religious duties drop, in the face of many troubles and a scoffing husband, the child of fourteen gently and persistently held her to them.
At last, however, when Dora was seventeen, Isabella died of cancer, and Daddy, who had been much shaken and terrified by her sufferings in her last illness, fell for a while into an irritable melancholy, from which not even Dora could divert him. It was then that he seemed for the first time to cross the line which had hitherto divided him from ruin. The drinking at the White Horse, where the literary circle met of which Lomax had been so long an ornament, had been of late going from bad to worse. The households of the wits concerned were up in arms; neighbourhood and police began to assert themselves. One night the trembling Dora waited hour after hour for her father. About midnight he staggered in, maddened with drink and fresh from a skirmish with the police. Finding her there waiting for him, pale and silent, he did what he had never done before under any stress of trouble—struck and swore at her. Dora sank down with a groan, and in another minute Lomax was dashing his head against the wall, vowing that he would beat his brains out. In the hours that followed, Dora's young soul was stretched as it were on a rack, from which it rose, not weakened, but with new powers and a loftier stature. All her girlish levities and illusions seemed to drop away from her. She saw her mission, and took her squalid Oedipus in charge.
Next morning she went to some of her father's friends, unknown to Daddy, and came back with a light in her blanched face, bearing the offer of some work on a Radical paper at Leicester. Daddy, now broken and miserable, submitted, and off they went.
At Leicester the change of moral and physical climate produced for a while a wonderful effect. Daddy found himself marvellously at ease among the Secularist and Radical stockingers of the town, and soon became well known to them as a being half butt, half oracle. Dora set herself to learn dressmaking, and did her best to like the new place and the new people. It was at Leicester, a place seething with social experiment in its small provincial way, with secularism, Owenism, anti-vaccination, and much else, that Lomax fell a victim to one 'ism the more—to vegetarianism. It was there that, during an editorial absence, and in the first fervour of conversion, Daddy so belaboured a carnivorous world in the columns of the 'Penny Banner' for which he worked, and so grotesquely and persistently reduced all the problems of the time to terms of nitrogen and albumen, that curt dismissal came upon him, and for a time Dora saw nothing but her precarious earnings between them and starvation. It was then also that, by virtue of that queer charm he could always exercise when he pleased, he laid hold on a young Radical manufacturer and got out of him a loan of 200 pounds for the establishment of a vegetarian restaurant wherein Leicester was to be taught how to feed.
But Leicester, alas! remained unregenerate. In the midst of Daddy's preparations a commercial traveller, well known both to Manchester and Leicester, repeated to him one day a remark of Purcell's, to the effect that since Daddy's migration Manchester had been well rid of a vagabond, and he, Purcell, of a family disgrace. Daddy, bursting with fatuous rage, and possessed besides of the wildest dreams of fortune on the strength of his 200 pounds, straightway made up his mind to return to Manchester, 'pull Purcell's nose,' and plant himself and his prosperity that was to be in the bookseller's eyes. He broke in upon Dora at her work, and poured into her astonished ears a stream of talk, marked by a mad inventiveness, partly in the matter of vegetarian receipts, still more in that of Purcell's future discomforts. When Daddy was once launched into a subject that suited him, he was inexhaustible. His phrases flowed for ever; of words he was always sure. Like a certain French talker, 'his sentences were like cats: he showered them into air and they found their feet without trouble.'
Dora sat through it, bewildered and miserable. Go back to Manchester where they had been so unhappy, where the White Horse and its crew were waiting for her father, simply to get into debt and incur final ruin for the sake of a mad fancy she humoured but could not believe in, and a still madder thirst for personal vengeance on a man who was more than a match for anything Daddy could do! She was in despair.
But Daddy was obdurate, brutal in his determination to have his way; and when she angered him with her remonstrances, he turned upon her with an irritable—
'I know what it is—damn it! It's that Puseyite gang you've taken up with—you think of nothing but them. As if you couldn't find antics and petticoats and priests in Manchester—they're everywhere—like weeds. Wherever there's a dunghill of human credulity they swarm.'
Dora looked proudly at her father, as though disdaining to reply, gentle creature that she was; then she bent again over her work, and a couple of tears fell on the seam she was sewing.
Aye, it was true enough. In leaving Leicester, after these two years, she was leaving what to her had been a spiritual birthplace, —tearing asunder a new and tender growth of the soul.
This was how it had come about.
On her first arrival in Leicester, in a milieu, that is to say, where at the time 'Gavroche,' as M. Renan calls him—the street philosopher who is no less certain and no more rational than the street preacher—reigned supreme, where her Secularist father and his associates, hot-headed and early representatives of a phase of thought which has since then found much abler, though hardly less virulent, expression in such a paper, say, as the 'National Reformer,' were for ever rending and trampling on all the current religious images and ideas, Dora shrank into herself more and more. She had always been a Baptist because her mother was. But in her deep reaction against her father's associates, the chapel which she frequented did not now satisfy her. She hungered for she knew not what, certain fastidious artistic instincts awakening the while in unexpected ways.
Then one Easter Eve, as she came back from an errand into the outskirts of the town, she passed a little iron church standing in a very poor neighbourhood, where, as she knew, a 'Puseyite' curate in charge officiated, and where a good many disturbances which had excited the populace had taken place. She went in. The curate, a long, gaunt figure, of a familiar monkish type, was conducting 'vespers' for the benefit of some twenty hearers, mostly women in black. The little church was half decorated for Easter, though the altar had still its Lenten bareness. Something in the ordering of the place, in its colours, its scents, in the voice of the priest, in the short address he delivered after the service, dwelling in a tone of intimate emotion, the tone of the pastor to the souls he guides and knows, on the preparation needful for the Easter Eucharist, struck home to Dora. Next day she was present at the Easter festival. Never had religion spoken so touchingly to her before as through these hymns, these flowers, this incense, this Eucharistic ceremonial wherein—being the midday celebration—the congregation were merely hushed spectators of the most pathetic and impressive act in the religious symbolism of mankind. In the dark corner where she had hidden herself, Dora felt the throes of some new birth within her. In six weeks from that time she had been admitted, after instruction, to the Anglican communion.
Thenceforward another existence began for this child of English Dissent, in whom, however, some old Celtic leaven seems to have always kept up a vague unrest, till the way of mystery and poetry was found.
Daddy—the infidel Daddy—stormed a good deal, and lamented himself still more, when these facts became known to him. Dora had become a superstitious, priest-ridden dolt, of no good to him or anyone else any more. What, indeed, was to become of him? Natural affection cannot stand against the priest. A daughter cannot love her father and go to confession. Down with the abomination—ecrasez l'infame!
Dora smiled sadly and went her way. Against her sweet silent tenacity Daddy measured himself in vain. She would be a good daughter to him, but she would be a good churchwoman first. He began to perceive in her that germ of detachment from things earthly and human which all ceremonialism produces, and in a sudden terror gave way and opposed her no more. Afterwards, in a curious way, he came even to relish the change in her. The friends it brought her, the dainty ordering of the little flower-decked oratory she made for herself in one corner of her bare attic room, the sweet sobriety and refinement which her new loves and aspirations and self-denials brought with them into the house, touched the poetical instincts which were always dormant in the queer old fellow, and besides flattered some strong and secret ambitions which he cherished for his daughter. It appeared to him to have raised her socially, to have made a lady of her—this joining the Church. Well, the women must have some religious bag or other to run their heads into, and the Church bag perhaps was the most seemly.
On the day of their return to Manchester, Daddy, sitting with crossed arms and legs in a corner of the railway carriage, might have sat for a fairy-book illustration of Rumpelstiltzchen. His old peaked hat, which he had himself brought from the Tyrol, fell forward over his frowning brow, his cloak was caught fiercely about him, and, as the quickly-passing mill-towns began to give notice of Manchester as soon as the Derbyshire vales were left behind, his glittering eyes disclosed an inward fever—a fever of contrivance and of hate. He was determined to succeed, and equally determined to make his success Purcell's annoyance.
Dora sat opposite, with her bird-cage on her knee, looking sad weary. She had left behind, perhaps for ever, the dear friends who had opened to her the way of holiness, and guided her first steps. Her eyes filled with tears of gratitude and emotion as she thought of them.
Two things only were pleasant to remember. One was that the Church embroidery she had begun in her young zeal at Leicester, using her odds and ends of time, to supplement the needs of a struggling church depending entirely on voluntary contributions, was now probably to become her trade. For she had shown remarkable aptitude for it; and she carried introductions to a large church-furniture shop in Manchester which would almost certainly employ her.
The other was the fact that somewhere in Manchester she had a girl-cousin—Lucy Purcell—who must be about sixteen. Purcell had married after his migration to Half Street; his wife proved to be delicate and died in a few years; this little girl was all that was left to him. Dora had only seen her once or twice in her life. The enmity between Lomax and Purcell of course kept the families apart, and, after her mother's early death, Purcell sent his daughter to a boarding-school and so washed his hands of the trouble of her bringing up. But in spite of these barriers Dora well remembered a slim, long-armed schoolgirl, much dressed and becurled, who once in a by-street of Salford had run after her and, looking round carefully to see that no one was near, had thrust an eager face into hers and kissed her suddenly. 'Dora,—is your mother better? I wish I could come and see you. Oh, it's horrid of people to quarrel! But I mustn't stay,—some one'll see, and I should just catch it! Good-bye, Dora!' and so another kiss, very hasty and frightened, but very welcome to the cheek it touched.
As they neared Manchester, Dora, in her loneliness of soul, thought very tenderly of Lucy—wondered how she had grown up, whether she was pretty and many other things. She had certainly been a pretty child. Of course they must know each other and be friends. Dora could not let her father's feud come between her and her only relation. Purcell might keep them apart; but she would show him she meant no harm; and she would bring her father round—she would and must.
Two years had gone by. Of Daddy's two objects in leaving Leicester, one had so far succeeded better than any rational being would have foreseen.
On the first morning after their arrival he went out, giving Dora the slip lest she might cramp him inconveniently in his decision; and came back radiant, having taken a deserted seed-shop in Market Place, which had a long, irregular addition at the back, formerly a warehouse, providentially suited, so Daddy declared, to the purposes of a restaurant. The rent he had promised to give seemed to Dora a crime, considering their resources. The thought of it, the terror of the servants he was engaging, the knowledge of the ridicule and blame with which their old friends regarded her father's proceedings, these things kept the girl awake night after night.
But he would hear no remonstrances, putting all she had to say aside with an arrogant boastfulness, which never failed.
In they went. Dora set her teeth and did her best, keeping as jealous a watch on the purse-strings as she could, and furnishing their three rooms above the shop for as few shillings as might be, while Daddy was painting and decorating, composing menus, and ransacking recipes with the fever of an artist, now writing letters to the Manchester papers, or lecturing to audiences in the Mechanics' Institute and the different working men's clubs, and now plastering the shop-front with grotesque labels, or posing at his own doorway and buttonholing the passers-by in the Tyrolese brigand's costume which was his favourite garb.
The thing took. There is a certain mixture of prophet and mountebank which can be generally counted upon to hit the popular fancy, and Daddy attained to it. Moreover, the moment was favourable. After the terrible strain of the cotton-famine and the horrors of the cholera, Manchester was prosperous again. Trade was brisk, and the passage of the new Reform Bill had given a fresh outlet and impulse to the artisan mind which did but answer to the social and intellectual advance made by the working classes since '32. The huge town was growing fast, was seething with life, with ambitions, with all the passions and ingenuities that belong to gain and money-making and the race for success. It was pre-eminently a city of young men of all nationalities, three-fourths constantly engaged in the chasse for money, according to their degrees—here for shillings, there for sovereigns, there for thousands. In such a milieu any man has a chance who offers to deal afresh on new terms with those daily needs which both goad and fetter the struggling multitude at every step. Vegetarianism had, in fact, been spreading in Manchester; one or two prominent workmen's papers were preaching it; and just before Daddy's advent there had been a great dinner in a public hall, where the speedy advent of a regenerate and frugivorous mankind, with length of days in its right hand, and a captivating abundance of small moneys in its waistcoat pocket, had been freely and ardently prophesied.
So Daddy for once seized the moment, and succeeded like the veriest Philistine. On the opening day the restaurant was crowded from morning till night. Dora, with her two cooks in the suffocating kitchen behind, had to send out the pair of panting, perspiring kitchen-boys again and again for fresh supplies; while Daddy, at his wits' end for waiters, after haranguing a group of customers on the philosophy of living, amid a tumult of mock cheers and laughter, would rush in exasperated to Dora, to say that never again would he trust her niggardly ways—she would be the ruin of him with her economies.
When at night the doors were shut at last on the noise and the crowd, and Daddy sat, with his full cash-box open on his knee, while the solitary gaslight that remained threw a fantastic and colossal shadow of him over the rough floor of the restaurant, Dora came up to him dropping with fatigue. He looked at her, his gaunt face working, and burst into tears.
'Dora, we never had any money before, not when—when—your mother was alive.'
And she knew that by a strange reaction there had come suddenly upon him the memory of those ghastly months when she and he through the long hours of every day had been forced—baffled and helpless—to watch her mother's torture, and when the sordid struggle for daily bread was at its worst, robbing death of all its dignity, and pity of all its power to help.
Do what she would, she could hardly get him to give up the money and go to bed. He was utterly unstrung, and his triumph for the moment lay bitter in the mouth.
It was now two years since that opening day. During that time the Parlour had become a centre after its sort—a scandal to some and a delight to others. The native youth got his porridge, and apple pie, and baked potato there; but the place was also largely haunted by the foreign clerks of Manchester. There was, for instance, a company of young Frenchmen who lunched there habitually, and in whose society the delighted Daddy caught echoes from that unprejudiced life of Paris or Lyons, which had amazed and enlightened his youth. The place assumed a stamp and character. To Daddy the development of his own popularity, which was like the emergence of a new gift, soon became a passion. He deliberately 'ran' his own eccentricities as part of the business. Hence his dress, his menus, his advertisements, and all the various antics which half regaled, half scandalised the neighbourhood. Dora marvelled and winced, and by dint of an habitual tolerance retained the power of stopping some occasional enormity.
As to finances, they were not making their fortune; far from it; but to Dora's amazement, considering her own inexperience and her father's flightiness, they had paid their way and something more. She was no born woman of business, as any professional accountant examining her books might have discovered. But she had a passionate determination to defraud no one, and somehow, through much toil her conscience did the work. Meanwhile every month it astonished her freshly that they two should be succeeding! Success was so little in the tradition of their tattered and variegated lives. Could it last? At the bottom of her mind lay a constant presentiment of new change, founded no doubt on her knowledge of her father.
But outwardly there was little to justify it. The craving for drink seemed to have left him altogether—a not uncommon effect of this particular change of diet. And his hatred of Purcell, though in itself it had proved quite unmanageable by all her arts, had done nobody much harm. In a society dependent on law and police there are difficulties in the way of a man's dealing primitively with his enemy. There had been one or two awkward meetings between the two in the open street; and at the Parlour, among his special intimates, Daddy had elaborated a Purcell myth of a Pecksniffian character which his invention perpetually enriched. On the whole, however, it was in his liking for young Grieve, originally a casual customer at the restaurant, that Dora saw the chief effects of the feud. He had taken the lad up eagerly as soon as he had discovered both his connection with Purcell and his daring rebellious temper; had backed him up in all his quarrels with his master; had taken him to the Hall of Science, and introduced him to the speakers there; and had generally paraded him as a secularist convert, snatched from the very jaws of the Baptist.
And now!—now that David was in open opposition, attracting Purcell's customers, taking Purcell's water, Daddy was in a tumult of delight: wheeling off old books of his own, such as 'The Journal of Theology' and the 'British Controversialist,' to fill up David's stall, running down whenever business was slack to see how the lad was getting on; and meanwhile advertising him with his usual extravagance among the frequenters of the Parlour.
All through, however, or rather since Miss Purcell had returned from school, Dora and her little cousin Lucy had been allowed to meet. Lomax saw his daughter depart on her visits to Half Street, in silence; Purcell, when he first recognised her, hardly spoke to her. Dora believed, what was in fact the truth, that each regarded her as a means of keeping an eye on the other. She conveyed information from the hostile camp—therefore she was let alone.
Dora was still bending over her work when a well-known tap at the door startled her meditations.
Lucy put her head in, and, finding Dora alone, came in with a look of relief. Settling herself in a chair opposite Dora, she took off her hat, smoothed the coils of hair to which it had been pinned, unbuttoned the smart little jacket of pilot cloth, and threw back the silk handkerchief inside; and all with a feverish haste and irritation as though everything she touched vexed her.
'What's the matter, Lucy?' said Dora, after a little pause. At the moment of Lucy's entrance she had been absorbed in a measurement.
'Nothing!' said Lucy quickly. 'Dora, you've got your hair loose!'
Dora put up her hand patiently. She was accustomed to be put to rights. It was characteristic at once of her dreaminess and her powers of self-discipline that she was fairly orderly, though she had great difficulty in being so. Without a constant struggle, she would have had loose plaits and hanging strings about her always. Lucy's trimness was a perpetual marvel to her. It was like the contrast between the soft indeterminate lines of her charming face and Lucy's small, sharply cut features.
Lucy, still restless, began tormenting the feather in her hat.
'When are you going to finish that, Dora?' she asked, nodding towards the frame.
'Oh it won't be very long now,' said Dora, putting her head on one side that she might take a general survey, at once loving and critical, of her work.
'You oughtn't to sit so close at it,' said Lucy decidedly; 'you'll spoil your complexion.'
'I've none to spoil.'
'Oh, yes, you have, Dora—that's so silly of you. You aren't sallow a bit. It's pretty to be pale like that. Lots of people say so—not quite so pale as you are sometimes, perhaps—but I know why that is,' said Lucy, with a half-malicious emphasis.
A slight pink rose in Dora's cheeks, but she bent over her frame and said nothing.
'Does your clergyman tell you to fast in Lent, Dora—who tells you?'
'The Church!' replied Dora, scandalised and looking up with bright eyes. 'I wish you understood things a little more, Lucy.'
'I can't,' said Lucy, with a pettish sigh, 'and I don't care twopence!'
She threw herself back in her rickety chair. Her arm dropped over the side, and she lay staring at the ceiling. Dora went on with her work in silence for a minute, and then looked up to see a tear dropping from Lucy's cheek on to the horsehair covering of the chair.
'Lucy, what is the matter?—I knew there was something wrong!'
Lucy sat up and groped energetically for her handkerchief.
'You wouldn't care,' she said, her lips quivering—'nobody cares!'
And, sinking down again, she hid her face and fairly burst out sobbing. Dora, in alarm, pushed aside her frame and tried to caress and console her. But Lucy held her off, and in a second or two was angrily drying her eyes.
'Oh, you can't do any good, Dora—not the least good. It's father—you know well enough what it is—I shall never get on with father if I live to be a hundred!'
'Well, you haven't had long to try in,' said Dora, smiling.
'Quite long enough to know,' replied Lucy, drearily. 'I know I shall have a horrid life—I must. Nobody can help it. Do you know we've got another shopman, Dora?'
The tone of childish scorn she threw into the question was inimitable. Dora with difficulty kept from laughing.
'Well, what's he like?' 'Like? He's like—like nothing,' said Lucy, whose vocabulary was not extensive. 'He's fat and ugly—wears spectacles. Father says he's a treasure—to me—and then when they're in the shop I hear him going on at him like anything for being a stupid. And I have to give the creature tea when father's away, to clear up after him as though he were a school-child. And father gets in a regular passion if I ask him about the dance and there's a missionary tea next week, and he's made me take a table—and he wants me to teach in Sunday School—and the minister's wife has been talking to him about my dress—and—and—No, I can't stand it, Dora—I can't and I won't!'
And Lucy, gulping down fresh tears, sat intensely upright, and looked frowningly at Dora as though defying her to take the matter lightly.
Dora was perplexed. Deep in her dove-like soul lay the fiercest views about Dissent—that rent in the seamless vesture of Christ, as she had learnt to consider it. Her mother had been a Baptist till her death, she herself till she was grown up. But now she had all the zeal—nay, even the rancour—of the convert. It was one of her inmost griefs that her own change had not come earlier—before her mother's death. Then perhaps her mother, her poor—poor—mother, might have changed with her. It went against her to urge Lucy to make herself a good Baptist.
'It's no wonder Uncle Tom wants you to do what he likes,' she said slowly. 'But if you don't take the chapel, Lucy—if you want something different, perhaps—'
'Oh, I don't want any church, thank you.' cried Lucy, up in arms. 'I don't want anybody ordering me about. Why can't I go my own way a bit, and amuse myself as I please? It is too, too bad!'
Dora did not know what more to say. She went on with her work, thinking about it all. Suddenly Lucy astonished her by a question in another voice.
'Have you seen Mr. Grieve's shop, Dora?'
Dora looked up.
'No. Father's been there a good many times. He says it's capital for a beginning and he's sure to get on fast. There's one or two very good sort of customers been coming lately. There's the Earl of Driffield, I think it is—don't you remember, Lucy, it was he gave that lecture with the magic lantern at the Institute you and I went to last summer. He's a queer sort of gentleman. Well, he's been coming several times and giving orders. And there's some of the college gentlemen; oh, and a lot of others. They all seem to think he's so clever, father says—'
'I know the Earl of Driffield quite well,' said Lucy loftily, 'He used to be always coming to our place, and I've tied up his books for him sometimes. I don't see what's good of being an earl—not to go about like that. And father says he's got a grand place near Stalybridge too. Well, if he's gone to Mr. Grieve, father'll be just mad.' Lucy pursed up her small mouth with energy. Dora evaded the subject.
'He says when he's quite settled,' she resumed presently, 'we're to go and have supper with him for a house-warming.'
Lucy looked ready to cry again.
'He couldn't ask me—of course he couldn't,' she said, indistinctly. 'Dora—Dora!'
'Well? Oh, don't mix up my silks, Lucy; I shall never get them right again.'
Lucy reluctantly put them down.
'Do you think, Dora, Mr. Grieve cares anything at all about me?' she said at last, hurrying out the words, and looking Dora in the face, very red and bold.
Dora laughed outright.
'I knew you were going to ask that!' she said. 'Perhaps I've been asking myself!'
Lucy said nothing, but the tears dropped again down her cheeks and on to her small quivering hands—all the woman awake in her.
Dora pushed her frame away, and put her arm round her cousin, quite at a loss what to say for the best.
Another woman would have told Lucy plumply that she was a little fool; that in the first place young Grieve had never shown any signs of making love to her at all; and that, in the second, if he had, her father would never let her marry him without a struggle which nobody could suppose Lucy capable of waging with a man like Purcell. It was all a silly fancy, the whim of a green girl, which would make her miserable for nothing. Mrs. Alderman Head, for instance, Dora's chaperon for the Institute dance, the sensible, sharp-tongued wife of a wholesale stationer in Market Street, would certainly have taken this view of the matter, and communicated it to Lucy with no more demur than if you had asked her, say, for her opinion on the proper season for bottling gooseberries. But Dora, whose inmost being was one tremulous surge of feeling and emotion, could not approach any matter of love and marriage without a thrill, without a sense of tragedy almost. Besides, like Lucy, she was very young still—just twenty—and youth answers to youth.
'You know Uncle Tom wouldn't like it a bit, Lucy,' she began in her perplexity.
'I don't care!' cried Lucy, passionately. 'Girls can't marry to please their fathers. I should have to wait, I suppose. I would get my own way somehow. But what's the good of talking about it, Dora? I'm sick of thinking about it—sick of everything. He'll marry somebody else—I know he will—and I shall break my heart, or—'
'Marry somebody else, too,' suggested Dora slyly.
Lucy drew herself angrily away, and had to be soothed into forgiving her cousin. The child had, in fact, thought and worried herself by now into such a sincere belief in her own passion, that there was nothing for it but to take it seriously. Dora yielded herself to Lucy's tears and her own tenderness. She sat pondering.
Then, suddenly, she said something very different from what Lucy expected her to say.
'Oh! if I could get him to go and talk to Father Russell! He's so wonderful with young men.'
Her hand dropped on to her knee; she looked away from Lucy out of the window, her sweet face one longing.
Lucy was startled, and somewhat annoyed. In her disgust with her father and her anxiety to attract David's notice, she had so entirely forgotten his religious delinquencies, that it seemed fussy and intrusive on Dora's part to make so much of them. She instinctively resented, too, what sounded to her like a tone of proprietary interest. It was not Dora that was his friend—it was she!
'I don't see what you have to do with his opinions, Dora,' she said stiffly; 'he isn't rude to you now as he used to be. Young men are always wild a bit at first.'
And she tossed her head with all the worldly wisdom of seventeen.
Dora sighed and was silent. She fell to her work again, while Lucy wandered restlessly about the room. Presently the child stopped short.
'Oh! look here, Dora—'
'Do come round with me and look at some spring patterns I've got. You might just as well. I know you've been slaving your eyes out, and it's a nice day.'
Dora hesitated, but finally consented. She had been at work for many hours in hot rooms, and meant to work a good many more yet before night. A break would revive her, and there was ample time before the three o'clock dinner which she and her father took together after the midday rush of the restaurant was over. So she put on her things.
On their way Dora looked into the kitchen. Everything was in full work. A stout, red-faced woman was distributing and superintending. On the long charcoal stove which Daddy under old Barbier's advice had just put up, on the hot plates near, and the glowing range in the background, innumerable pans were simmering and steaming. Here was a table covered with stewed fruits; there another laden with round vegetable pies just out of the oven—while a heap of tomatoes on a third lent their scarlet to the busy picture. Some rays of wintry sun had slipped in through the high windows, and were contending with the steam of the pies and the smoke from the cooking. And in front of all on an upturned box sat a pair of Lancashire lasses, peeling apples at lightning speed, yet not so fast but they could laugh and chat the while, their bright eyes wandering perpetually through the open serving hatches which ran along one side of the room, to the restaurant stretching beyond, with its rows of well-filled tables and its passing waitresses in their white caps and aprons.
Dora slipped in among them in her soft deprecating way, smiling at this one and that till she came to the stout cook. There she stopped and asked something. Lucy, standing at the door, saw the huge woman draw a corner of her apron across her eyes.
'What did you want, Dora?' she inquired as her cousin rejoined her.
'It's her poor boy. He's in the Infirmary and very bad. I'm sure they think he's dying. I wanted to send her there this morning and do her work, but she wouldn't go. There's no more news—but we mustn't be long.'
She walked on, evidently thinking with a tender absorption of the mother and son, while Lucy was conscious of her usual impatience with all this endless concern for unknown people, which stood so much in the way of Dora's giving her full mind to her cousin's affairs.
Yet, as she knew well, Sarah, the stout cook, had been the chief prop of the Parlour ever since it opened. No other servant had stayed long with Daddy. He was too fantastic and exacting a master. She had stayed—for Dora's sake—and, from bearing with him, had learnt to manage him. When she came she brought with her a sickly, overgrown lad, the only son of her widowhood, to act as kitchen-boy. He did his poor best for a while, his mother in truth getting through most of his work as well as her own, while Dora, who had the weakness for doctoring inherent in all good, women, stuffed him with cod-liver oil and 'strengthening mixtures.' Then symptoms of acute hip-disease showed themselves, and the lad was admitted to the big Infirmary in Piccadilly. There he had lain for some six or eight weeks now, toiling no more, fretting no more, living on his mother's and Dora's visits, and quietly loosening one life-tendril after another. During all this time Dora had thought of him, prayed for him, taught him—the wasted, piteous creature.
When they arrived at Half Street, they let themselves in by the side-door, and Lucy hurried her cousin into the parlour that there might be no meeting with her father, with whom she was on decidedly uncomfortable terms.
The table in the parlour was strewn with patterns from several London shops. To send for them, examine them, and imagine what they would look like when made up was now Lucy's chief occupation. To which might be added a little strumming on the piano, a little visiting—not much, for she hated most of her father's friends, and was at present too closely taken up with self-pity and speculations as to what David Grieve might be doing to make new ones—and a great deal of ordering about of Mary Ann.
Dora sat down, and Lucy pounced on one pattern after another, folding them between her fingers and explaining eagerly how this or that would look if it were cut so, or trimmed so. 'Oh, Dora, look—this pink gingham with white spots! Don't you think it's a love? And, you know, pink always suits me, except when it's a blue-pink. But you don't call that a blue-pink, do you? And yet it isn't salmon, certainly—it's something between. It ought to suit me, but I declare—' and suddenly, to Dora's dismay, the child flung down the patterns she held with a passionate vehemence—'I declare nothing seems to suit me now! Dora!'—in a tone of despair—'Dora! don't you think I'm going off? My complexion's all dull, and—and—why I might be thirty!' and running over to the glass, draped in green cut-paper, which adorned the mantelpiece, Lucy stood before it examining herself in an agony. And, indeed, there was a change. A touch of some withering blight seemed to have swept across the whole dainty face, and taken the dewy freshness from the eyes. There was fever in it—the fever of fret and mutiny and of a starved self-love.
Dora looked at her cousin with less patience than usual—perhaps because of the inevitable contrast between Lucy's posings and the true heartaches of the world.
'Lucy, what nonsense! You're just a bit worried, and you make such a lot of it. Why can't you be patient?'
'Because I can't!' said Lucy, sombrely, dropping into a chair, and letting her arm fall over the back. 'It's all very well, Dora. You aren't in love with a man whom you never see, and whom your father has a spite on! And you won't do anything to help me—you won't move a finger. And, of course, you might!'
'What could I do, Lucy?' cried Dora, exasperated. 'I can't go and ask young Grieve to marry you. I do wish you'd try and put him out of your head, that I do. You're too young, and he's got his business to think about. And while Uncle Tom's like this, I can't be always putting myself forward to help you meet him. It would be just the way to make him think something bad—to make him suspect—'
'Well, and why shouldn't he suspect?' said Lucy, obstinately, her little mouth set and hard; 'it's all rubbish about girls leaving it all to the men. If a girl doesn't show she cares about a man, how's he to know—and when she don't meet him—and when her father keeps her shut up—shameful!'
She flung the word out through her small, shut teeth, the brows meeting over her flashing eyes.
'Oh! it's shameful, is it—eh, Miss Purcell?' said a harsh, mimicking voice coming from the dark passage leading into the shop.
Lucy sprang up in terror. There on the steps stood her father, bigger, blacker, more formidable than he had ever been in the eyes of the two startled girls. All unknown to them, the two doors which parted them from the shop had been slightly ajar, and Purcell, catching their voices as they came in, and already on the watch for his daughter, had maintained a treacherous quiet behind them. Now he was entirely in his element. He surveyed them both with a dark, contemptuous triumph. What fools women were to be sure!
As he descended the two steps into the parlour the floor shook under his heavy tread. Dora had instinctively thrown her arm round Lucy, who had begun to cry hysterically. She herself was very pale, but after the first start she looked her uncle in the face.
'Is it you that's been teaching Lucy these beautiful sentiments?' said Purcell, with ironical emphasis, stopping a yard from them and pointing at Dora, 'and do you get 'em from St. Damian's?'
Dora threw up her head, and flushed. 'I get nothing from St. Damian's that I'm ashamed of,' she said in a proud voice, 'and I've done nothing with Lucy that I'm ashamed of.'
'No, I suppose not,' said Purcell dryly; 'the devil don't deal much in shame. It's a losing article.'
Then he looked at Lucy, and his expression suddenly changed. The flame beneath leapt to sight. He caught her arm, dragged her out of Dora's hold, and shook her as one might shake a kitten.
'Who were you talking of just now?' he said to her, holding her by both shoulders, his eyes blazing down upon her.
Lucy was much too frightened to speak. She stood staring back at him, her breast heaving violently.
Dora came forward in indignation.
'You'll get nothing out of her if you treat her like that,' she said, with spirit, 'nor out of me either.'
Purcell recovered himself with difficulty. He let Lucy go, and walking up to the mantelpiece stood there, leaning his arm upon it, and looking at the girls from under his hand.
'What do I want to get out of you?' he said, with scorn. 'As if I didn't know already everything that's in your silly minds! I guessed already, and now that you have been so obliging as to let your secrets out under my very nose—I know! That chit there'—he pointed to Lucy—all his gestures had a certain theatrical force and exaggeration, springing, perhaps, from his habit of lay preaching—'imagines she going to marry the young infidel I gave the sack to a while ago. Now don't she? Are you going to say no to that?'
His loud challenge pushed Dora to extremities, and it was all left to her. Lucy was sobbing on the sofa.
'I don't know what she imagines,' said Dora, slowly, seeking in vain for words; the whole situation was so ridiculous. 'Are you going to prevent her falling in love with the man she chooses?'
'Certainly!' said Purcell, with mocking emphasis. 'Certainly—since she chooses wrong. The only concern of the godly in these matters is to see that their children are not yoked with unbelievers. Whenever I see that young reprobate in the street now, I smell the pit. And it'll not be long before the Lord tumbles him into it; there's an end comes to such devil's fry as that. Oh, they may prosper and thrive, they may revile the children of the Lord, they may lift up the hoof against the poor Christian, but the time comes—the time comes.'
His solemnity, at once unctuous and full of vicious meaning, only irritated Dora. But Lucy raised herself from the sofa, and looked suddenly round at her father. Her eyes were streaming, her hair in disorder, but there was a suspicion and intelligence in her look which seemed to give her back self-control. She watched eagerly for what her father might say or do next.
As soon as he saw her sitting up he walked over to her and took her again by the shoulder.
'Now look here,' he said to her, holding her tight, 'let's finish with this. That young man's the Lord's enemy—he's my enemy—and I'll teach him a lesson before I've done. But that's neither here nor there. You understand this. If you ever walk out of this door with him, you'll not walk back into it, with him or without him. I'd have done with you, and my money'ld have done with you. But there'—and Purcell gave a little scornful laugh, and let her go with a push—'he don't care twopence about you—I'll say that for him.'
Lucy flushed fiercely, and getting up began mechanically to smooth her hair before the glass, with wild tremulous movements, will and defiance settling on her lip, as she looked at herself and at the reflection of her father.
'And as for you, Miss Lomax,' said Purcell deliberately, standing opposite Dora, 'you've been aiding and abetting somehow—I don't care how. I don't complain. There was nothing better to be expected of a girl with your parentage and bringing up, and a Puseyite into the bargain. But I warn you you'll go meddling here once too often before you've done. If you'll take my advice you'll let other people's business alone, and mind your own. Them that have got Adrian Lomax on their hands needn't go poaching on their neighbours for something to do.'
He spoke with a slow, vindictive emphasis, and Dora shrank and quivered as though he had struck her. Then by a great effort—the effort of one who had not gone through a close and tender training of the soul for nothing—she put from her both her anger and her fear.
'You're cruel to father,' she said, her voice fluttering; 'you might be thinking sometimes how straight he's kept since he took the Parlour. And I don't believe young Grieve means any harm to you or anybody—and I'm sure I don't.'
A sob rose in her throat. Anybody less crassly armoured in self-love than Purcell must have been touched. As for him, he turned on his heel.
'I'll protect myself, thank you,' he said dryly;' and I'll judge for myself. You can do as you like, and Lucy too, so long as she takes the consequences. Do you understand, Lucy?'
'Yes,' said Lucy, facing round upon him, all tremulous passion and rebellion, but she could not meet his fixed, tyrannical eye. Her own wavered and sank. Purcell enjoyed the spectacle of her for a second or two, smiled, and went.
As soon as he was gone, Lucy dragged her cousin to the stairs, and never let her go till Dora was safe in her room and the door bolted.
Dora implored to be released. How could she stay in her uncle's house after such a scene? and she must get home quickly anyway, as Lucy knew.
Lucy took no notice at all of what she was saying.
'Look here.' she said, breaking into the middle of Dora's appeal, and speaking in an excited whisper—'he's going to do him a mischief. I'm certain he is. That's how he looks when he's going to pay some one out. Now, what's he going to do? I'll know somehow—trust me!'
She was sitting on the edge of the bed, her arms behind her, supporting her, her little feet beating each other restlessly—a hot, vindictive anger speaking from every feature, every movement. The pretty chit of seventeen seemed to have disappeared. Here was every promise of a wilful and obstinate woman, with more of her father's stuff in her than anyone could have yet surmised.
A pang rose in Dora. She rose impulsively, and throwing herself down by Lucy, drew the ruffled, palpitating creature into her arms.
'Oh, Lucy, isn't it only because you're angry and vexed, and because you want to fight Uncle Purcell? Oh, don't go on just for that! When we're—we're Christians, we mustn't want our own way—we must give it up—we must give it up.' Her voice sank in a burst of tears, and she drooped her head on Lucy's, kissing her cousin's brown hair.
Lucy extricated herself with a movement of impatience.
'When one loves anybody,' she said, sitting very upright and twisting her fingers together, 'one must stick to him!'
Dora started at the word 'love.' It seemed to her a profanation. She dried her eyes, and got up to go without another word.
'Well, Dora,' said Lucy, frowning, 'and so you'll do nothing for me—nothing?'
Dora stood a moment in a troubled silence. Then she turned, and took gentle hold of her cousin.
'If I get a chance, Lucy, I'll try and find out whether he's thinking of marrying at all. And if he isn't—and I'm sure he isn't—will you give it all up, and try and live comfortable with Uncle Purcell, and think of something else?'
Her eyes had a tender, nay a passionate entreaty in them.
'No!' said Lucy with energy; 'but I'll very likely drown myself in the river some fine night.'
Dora still held her, standing above her, and looking down at her, trying hard to read her true mind. Lucy bore it defiantly for a minute; then suddenly two large tears rose. A quiver passed over Dora's face; she kissed her cousin quickly, and went towards the door.
'And I'll find out what father's going to do, or my name isn't what it is!' said the girl behind her, in a shrill, shaking voice, as she closed the door.
* * * * *
Dora ran back to Market Place, filled with a presentiment that she was late, though the hand of the Cathedral clock was still far from three.
At the side door stood a woman with a shawl over her head, looking distractedly up the street.
'Oh, Miss Dora! Miss Dora! they've sent. He's gooin—gooin quick. An' he keeps wearyin' for "mither an' Miss Dora."'
The powerful scarred face had the tremulous helplessness of grief. Dora took her by the arm.
'Let us run, Sarah—at once. Oh, never mind the work!'
The two women hurried through the crowded Saturday streets. But halfway up Market Street Sarah stopped short, looking round her in an agony.
'Theer's his feyther, Miss Dora. Oh, he wor a bad 'un to me, but he had allus a soft spot for t' lad. I'd be reet glad to send worrud. He wor theer in the ward, they tell't me, last week.'
Three years before she had separated from her husband, a sawyer, by mutual consent. He was younger than she, and he had been grossly unfaithful to her; she came of a good country stock and her daleswoman's self-respect could put up with him no longer. But she had once been passionately in love with him, and, as she said, he had been on the whole kind to the boy.
'Where is he?' said Dora.
'At Mr. Whitelaw's yard, Edgell Street, Great Ancoats.'
They had just entered the broad Infirmary Square. Dora, looking round her in perplexity, suddenly saw coming towards them the tall figure of David Grieve. The leap of the heart of which she was conscious through all her preoccupation startled her. But she went up to him without a moment's hesitation. David, swinging along as though Manchester belonged to him, found himself arrested and, looking down, saw Dora's pale and agitated face.
'Mr. Grieve, will you help me?'
She drew him to the side and explained as quickly as she could. Sarah stood by, and threw in directions.
'He'll be to be found at Mr. Whitelaw's yard—Edgell Street—an' whoever goos mun just say to him, "Sarah says to tha—Wilt tha coom, or wilt tha not coom?—t' lad's deein."'
She threw out the words with a sombre simplicity and force, then, her whole frame quivering with impatience, she crossed the road to the Infirmary without waiting for Dora.
'Can you send some one?' said Dora.
'I will go myself at once. I'll find the man if he's there, and bring him. You leave it to me.'
He turned without more ado, broke into a run, and disappeared round the corner of Oldham Street.
Dora crossed to the Infirmary, her mind strangely divided for a moment between the solemn image of what was coming, and the vibrating memory of something just past.
But, once in the great ward, pity and death possessed her wholly. He knew them, the poor lad—made, as it seemed, two tremulous movements,—once, when his mother's uncontrollable crying passed into his failing ear—once when Dora's kiss was laid upon his hollow temple. Then again he lay unconscious, drawing gently to the end.
Dora knelt beside him praying, his mother on the other side, and the time passed. Then there were sounds about the bed, and looking up, Dora saw two figures approaching. In front was a middle-aged man, with a stupid, drink-stained face. He came awkwardly and unsteadily up to the bedside, almost stumbling over his wife, and laying his hand on the back of a chair to support himself. He brought with him an overpowering smell of beer, and Dora thought as she looked at him that he had only a very vague idea of what was going on. His wife took no notice of him whatever.
Behind at some little distance, his hat in his hand, stood David Grieve. Why did he stay? Dora could not get him out of her mind. Even in her praying she still saw the dark, handsome head and lithe figure thrown out against the whiteness of the hospital walls.
There was a slight movement in the bed, and the nurse, standing beside the boy, looked up and made a quick sign to the mother. What she and Dora saw was only a gesture as of one settling for sleep. Without struggle and without fear, the little lad who had never lived enough to know the cost of dying, went the way of all flesh.
'They die so easily, this sort,' said the nurse to Dora, as she tenderly closed the patient eyes; 'it's like a plant that's never rooted.'
* * * * *
A few minutes later Dora was blindly descending the long stairs. The mother was still beside her dead, making arrangements for the burial. The father, sobered and conscious, had already slouched away. But at the foot of the stairs Dora, looking round, saw that David was just behind her.
He came out with her.
'He was drunk when I found him,' he explained, 'he had been drinking in the dinner hour. I had him by the arm all the way, and thought I had best bring him straight in. And then—I had never seen anyone die,' he said simply, a curious light in his black eyes.
Dora, still choked with tears, could not speak. With shaking hands she searched for a bit of veil she had with her to hide her eyes and cheeks. But she could not find it.
'Don't go down Market Street,' he said, after a shy look at her. 'Come this way, there isn't such a crowd.'
And turning down Mosley Street, all the way he guided her through some side streets where there were fewer people to stare. Such forethought, such gentleness in him were quite new to her. She gradually recovered herself, feeling all the while this young sympathetic presence at her side—dreading lest it should desert her.
He meanwhile was still under the tremor and awe of the new experience. So this was dying! He remembered 'Lias holding Margaret's hand. 'Deein's long—but it's varra, varra peaceful. ' Not always, surely! There must be vigorous, tenacious souls that went out with tempests and agonies; and he was conscious of a pang of fear, feeling himself so young and strong.
Presently he led her into St. Ann's Square, and then they shook hands. He hurried off to his business, and she remained standing a moment on the pavement outside the church which makes one side of the square. An impulse seized her—she turned and went into the church instead of going home.
There, in one of the old oak pews where the little tarnished plates still set forth the names of their eighteenth-century owners, she fell on her knees and wrestled with herself and God.
She was very simple, very ignorant, but religion, as religion can, had dignified and refined all the elements of character. She said to herself in an agony—that he must love her—that she had loved him in truth all along. And then a great remorse came upon her—the spiritual glory she had just passed through closed round her again. What! she could see the heaven opened—the Good Shepherd stoop to take his own—and then come away to feel nothing but this selfish, passionate craving? Oh, she was ashamed, she loathed herself!
Lucy!—Lucy had no claim! should have no claim! He did not care for her.
Then again the pale dead face would flash upon her with its submissive look,—so much gratitude for so little, and such a tender ease in dying! And she possessed by all these bad and jealous feelings, these angry desires, fresh from such a presence!
'Oh! Lamb of God—Lamb of God—that takest away the sins of the world!'
And David, meanwhile, was thinking of nothing in the world but the fortunes of a little shop, about twelve feet square, and of the stall outside that shop. The situation—for a hero—is certainly one of the flattest conceivable. Nevertheless it has to be faced. If, however, one were to say that he had marked none of Lucy Purcell's advances, that would be to deny him eyes as well as susceptibilities. He had, indeed, said to himself in a lordly way that Lucy Purcell was a regular little flirt, and was beginning those ways early. But a certain rough young modesty, joined with a sense of humour at his own expense, prevented him from making any more of it, and he was no sooner in his own den watching for customers than Lucy vanished from his mind altogether. He thought much more of Purcell himself, with much vengeful chuckling and speculation.
As for Dora, he had certainly begun to regard her as a friend. She had sense and experience, in spite of her Ritualism, whereas Lucy in his eyes had neither. So that to run into the Parlour, after each new day was over, and discuss with Daddy and her the ups and downs, the fresh chances and prospects of his infant business, was pleasant enough. Daddy and he met on the common ground of wishing to make the world uncomfortable for Purcell; while Dora supplied the admiring uncritical wonder, in which, like a warm environment, an eager temperament expands, and feels itself under the stimulus more inventive and more capable than before.
But marrying! The lad's careless good-humoured laugh under Ancrum's probings was evidence enough of how the land lay. Probably at the bottom of him, if he had examined, there lay the instinctive assumption that Dora was one of the girls who are not likely to marry. Men want them for sisters, daughters, friends—and then go and fall in love with some minx that has a way with her.
Besides, who could be bothered with 'gells,' when there was a stall to be set out and a career to be made? With that stall, indeed, David was truly in love. How he fingered and meddled with it! —setting out the cheap reprints it contained so as to show their frontispieces, and strewing among them, in an artful disorder, a few rare local pamphlets, on which he kept a careful watch, either from the door or from inside. Behind these, again, within the glass, was a precious shelf, containing in the middle of it about a dozen volumes of a kind dear to a collector's eye—thin volumes in shabby boards, then just beginning to be sought after—the first editions of nineteenth-century poets. For months past David had been hoarding up a few in a corner of his little lodging, and on his opening day they decoyed him in at least five inquiring souls, all of whom stayed to talk a bit. There was a 'Queen Mab;' and a 'Lyrical Ballads;' an 'Endymion;' a few Landors thrown in, and a 'Bride of Abydos'—this last not of much account, for its author had the indiscretion, from the collector's point of view, to be famous from the beginning, and so to flood the world with large editions.
Round and about these dainty morsels were built in with solid rubbish, with Daddy's 'Journals of Theology,' 'British Controversialist,' and the rest. In one top corner lurked a few battered and cut-down Elzevirs, of no value save to the sentiment of the window, while a good many spaces were filled up with some new and attractive editions of standard books just out of copyright, contributed, these last, by the enterprising traveller of a popular firm, from whom David had them on commission.
Inside, the shop was of the roughest: a plank or two on a couple of trestles served for a counter, and two deal shelves, put up by David, ran along the wall behind. The counter held a few French scientific books, very fresh, and 'in the movement,' the result of certain inquiries put by old Barbier to a school friend of his, now professor at the Sorbonne—meant to catch the 'college people;' while on the other side lay some local histories of neighbouring towns and districts, a sort of commodity always in demand in a great expanding city, where new men have risen rapidly and families are in the making. For these local books the lad had developed an astonishing flair. He had the geographical and also the social instincts which the pursuit of them demands.
On his first day David netted in all a profit of seventeen shillings and twopence, and at night he curled himself up on a mattress in the little back kitchen, with an old rug for covering and a bit of fire, and slept the sleep of liberty.
In a few days more several of the old-established book-buyers of the town, a more numerous body, perhaps, in Manchester than in other northern centres, had found him out; a certain portly and wealthy lady, connected with one of the old calico-printing families, a person of character, who made a hobby of Lancashire Nonconformity, had walked into the shop, and given the boyish owner of it much good advice and a few orders; the Earl of Driffield had looked in, and, caught by the lures of the stall, customers had come from the most unlikely quarters, desiring the most heterogeneous wares. The handsome, intelligent young fellow, with his out-of-the-way strains of knowledge, with his frank self-conceit and his equally frank ignorance, caught the fancy of those who stayed to talk with him. A certain number of persons had been already taken with him in Purcell's shop, and were now vastly amused by the lad's daring and the ambitious range of his first stock.
As for Lord Driffield, on the first occasion when he had dropped in he had sat for an hour at least, talking and smoking cigarettes across David's primitive counter.
This remarkable person, of whom Lucy thought so little, was well known, and had been well known, for a good many years, to the booksellers of Manchester and Liverpool. As soon as the autumn shooting season began, Purcell, for instance, remembered Lord Driffield, and began to put certain books aside for him. He possessed one of the famous libraries of England, and he not only owned but read. Scholars all over Europe took toll both of his books and his brains. He lived to collect and to be consulted. There was almost nothing he did not know, except how to make a book for himself. He was so learned that he had, so to speak, worked through to an extreme modesty. His friends, however, found nothing in life so misleading as Lord Driffield's diffidence.
At the same time Providence had laid upon him a vast family estate, and an aristocratic wife, married in his extreme youth to please his father. Lady Driffield had the ideas of her caste, and when they came to their great house near Stalybridge, in the autumn, she insisted on a succession of proper guests, who would shoot the grouse in a proper manner, and amuse her in the evenings. For, as she had no children, life was often monotonous, and when she was bored she had a stately way of making herself disagreeable to Lord Driffield. He therefore did his best to content her. He received her guests, dined with them in the evenings, and despatched them to the moors in the morning. But between those two functions he was his own master; and on the sloppy November afternoons he might as often as not be seen trailing about Manchester or Liverpool, carrying his slouching shoulders and fair spectacled face into every bookseller's shop, good, bad, and indifferent, or giving lectures, mostly of a geographical kind, at popular institutions—an occupation in which he was not particularly effective.
David had served him, once or twice, in Half Street, and had sent a special notice of his start and his intentions to Benet's Park, the Driffields' 'place.' Lord Driffield's first visit left him quivering with excitement, for the earl had a way of behaving as though everybody else were not only his social, but his intellectual equal—even a lad of twenty, with his business to learn. He would sit pleasantly smoking and asking questions—a benevolent, shabby person, eager to be informed. Then, when David had fallen into the trap, and was holding forth—proud, it might be, of certain bits of knowledge which no one else in Manchester possessed—Lord Driffield would throw in a gentle comment, and then another and another, till the trickle became a stream, and the young man would fall blankly listening, his mouth opening wider and wider. When it was over, and the earl, with his draggled umbrella, his disappeared, David sat, crouched on his wooden stool, consumed with hot ambition and wonder. How could a man know so much—and an earl, who didn't want it? For a few hours, at any rate, his self-conceit was dashed. He realised dimly what it might be to know as the scholar knows. And that night, when he had shut the shutters, he vowed to himself, as he gathered his books about him, that five hours was enough sleep for a strong man; that learn he must and should, and that some day or other he would hold his own, even with Lord Driffield.
How he loved his evenings—the paraffin lamp glaring beside him, the crackling of the coal in his own fire, the book on his knee! Ancrum had kept his promise, and was helping him with his Greek; but his teaching hardly kept pace with the boy's enthusiasm and capacity. The voracity with which he worked at his Thucydides and Homer left the lame minister staring and sighing. The sound of the lines, the roll of the oi's and ou's was in David's ear all day, and to learn a dozen irregular verbs in the interval between two customers was like the gulping of a dainty.
Meanwhile, as he collected his English poets he read them. And here was a whole new world. For in his occupation with the Encyclopaedists he had cared little for poetry. The reaction against his Methodist fit had lasted long, had developed a certain contempt for sentiment, a certain love for all sharp, dry, calculable things, and for the tone of irony in particular. But in such a nature such a phase was sure to pass, and it was passing. Burns, Byron, Shelley, Keats, Tennyson—now he was making acquaintance piecemeal with them all, as the precious volumes turned up, which he was soon able to place with a precision which tore them too soon out of his hands. The Voltairean temper in him was melting, was passing into something warmer, subtler, and more restless.
But he was not conscious of it. He was as secular, as cocksure, as irritating as ever, when Ancrum probed him on the subject of the Hall of Science or the various Secularist publications which he supported.
'Do you call yourself an atheist now, David?' said Ancrum one day, in that cheerful, half-ironic tone which the young bookseller resented.
'I don't call myself anything,' said David, stoutly. 'I'm all for this world; we can't know anything about another. At least, that's my opinion, sir—no offence to you.'
'Oh, dear me, no offence! There have been a few philosophers, you know, Davy, since Voltaire. There's a person called Kant; I don't know anything about him, but they tell me he made out a very pretty case, on the practical side anyway, for a God and immortality. And in England, too, there have been two or three persons of consequence, you remember, like Coleridge and John Henry Newman, who have thought it worth while to believe a little. But you don't care about that?'
The lad stood silent a moment, his colour rising, his fine lip curling. Then he burst out:
'What's the good of thinking about things by the wrong end? There's such a lot to read!'
And with a great stretch of all his young frame he fell back on the catalogue he was looking through, while Ancrum went on turning over a copy of 'The Reasoner,' a vigorous Secularist paper of the day, which he had found on the counter, and which had suggested his question.
Knowledge—success: it was for these that David burned, and he laid rapid hands upon them. He had a splendid physique, and at this moment of his youth he strained it to the utmost. He grudged the time for sleep and meals, and on Saturday afternoons, the early-closing day of Manchester, he would go out to country sales, or lay plans for seeing the few considerable libraries—Lord Driffield's among them—which the neighbouring districts possessed. On Sunday he read from morning till night, and once or twice his assistant John, hammering outside for admittance in the winter dark, wakened the master of the shop from the rickety chair where he had fallen asleep over his books in the small hours of the morning.
His assistant! It may well be asked what a youth of twenty, setting up on thirty pounds capital in a small shop, wanted with an assistant before he had any business to speak of. The story is a curious one.
Some time in the previous summer Daddy had opened a smoking and debating room at the Parlour, by way of keeping his clientele together and giving a special character to the place. He had merely boarded off a bit of the original seed warehouse, put in some rough tables and chairs, and a few newspapers. But by a conjunction of circumstances the place had taken a Secularist character, and the weekly debates which Daddy inaugurated were, for a time at least, well attended. Secularism, like all other forms of mental energy, had lately been active in Manchester; there had been public discussions between Mr. Holyoake and Mr. Bradlaugh as to whether Secularism were necessarily atheistic or no. Some of the old newspapers of the movement, dating from Chartist days, had recently taken a new lease of life; and combined with the protest against theology was a good deal of co-operative and republican enthusiasm. Lomax, who had been a Secularist and an Owenite for twenty years, and who was a republican to boot, threw himself into the melee, and the Parlour debates during the whole of the autumn and winter of '69-70 were full of life, and brought out a good many young speakers, David Grieve among them. Indeed, David was for a time the leader of the place, so ready was his gift, so confident and effective his personality.
On one occasion in October he was holding forth on 'Science—the true Providence of Life.' The place was crowded. A well-known Independent had been got hold of to answer the young Voltairean, and David was already excited, for his audience was plying him with interruptions, and taxing to the utmost a natural debating power.
In the midst of it a printer's devil from the restaurant outside, a stout, stupid-looking lad, found his way in, and stood at the door listening. The fine classical head of the speaker, the beautiful voice, the gestures so free and flowing, the fire and fervour of the whole performance—these things left him gaping.
'Who's that?' he ventured to inquire of a man near him, a calico salesman, well known in the Salford Conservative Association, who had come to support the Independent speaker.
The man laughed.
'That's young Grieve, assistant to old Purcell, Half Street. He talks a d—d lot of stuff—blasphemous stuff, too; but if somebody'd take and teach him and send him into Parliament, some day he'd make 'em skip, I warrant yo. I never heard onybody frame better for public speaking, and I've heard a lot.'
The printer's devil stayed and stared through the debate. Then, afterwards, he began to haunt the paths of this young Satan, crept up to him in the news-room, skulked about him in the restaurant. At last David took notice of him, and they made friends.
'Have you got anybody belonging to you?' he asked him shortly.
'No,' said the boy. 'Father died last spring; mother was took with pleurisy in November—'
But the words stuck in his throat, and he coughed over them.
'All right,' said David; 'come for a walk Sunday afternoon?'
So a pretty constant companionship sprang up between them. John Dalby came of a decent stock, and was still, as it were, under the painful and stupefying surprise of those bereavements which had left him an orphan. His blue eyes looked bewilderment at the world; he was bullied by the compositors he worked under. Sometimes he had violent fits of animal spirits, but in general he was dull and silent, and no one could have guessed that he often read poetry and cried himself to sleep in the garret where he lodged. Physically he was a great, overgrown creature, not, in truth, much younger than David. But while David was already the man, John was altogether in the tadpole-stage—a being of large, ungainly frame, at war with his own hands and feet, his small eyes lost in his pink, spreading cheeks, his speech shy and scanty. Yet, such as he was, David found a use for him. Temperaments of the fermenting, expansive sort want a listener at the moment of early maturity, and almost any two-legged thing with the listener's gift will do. David worked off much steam on the Saturday or Sunday afternoons, when the two would push out into the country, walking some twenty miles or so for the sheer joy of movement. While the one talked and declaimed, ploughing his violent way through the soil of his young thought, the other, fat and silent, puffed alongside, and each in his own way was happy.
Just about the time David was dismissed by Purcell, John's apprenticeship came to an end. When he heard of the renting of the shop in Potter Street, he promptly demanded to come as assistant.
'Don't be a fool!' said David, turning upon him; 'what should I want with an assistant in that bit of a place? And I couldn't pay you, besides, man.'
'Don't mind that,' said John, stoutly. 'I'd like to learn the trade. Perhaps you'll set up a printing business by-and-by. Lots of booksellers do. Then I'll be handy.'
'And how the deuce are you going to live?' cried David, somewhat exasperated by these unpractical proposals. 'You're not exactly a grasshopper;' and his eye, half angry, half laughing, ran over John's plump person.
To which John replied, undisturbed, that he had got four pounds still of the little hoard his mother had left him, and, judging by what David had told him of his first months in Manchester, he could make that last for living a good while. When he had learnt something of the business with David, he would move on—trust him.
Whereupon David told him flatly that he wasn't going to help him waste his money, and sent him about his business.
On the very day, however, that David opened, he was busy in the shop, when he saw John outside at the stall, groaning under a bundle.
'It's Mr. Lomax ha sent you this,' said the lad, calmly, 'and I'm to put it up, and tell him how your stock looks.'
The bundle contained Daddy's contributions to young Grieve's window, which at the moment were very welcome; and David in his gratitude instructed the messenger to take back a cordial message. The only notice John took was to lift up two deal shelves that were leaning against the wall of the shop, and to ask where they were to go.
And, say what David would, he stuck, and would not be got rid of. With the Lancashire accent he had also the Lancashire persistence, and David after a while gave in, consented that he should stay for some weeks, at any rate, and then set to work to teach him, in a very impatient and intermittent way. For watching and bargaining at the stall, at any rate, for fetching and carrying, and for all that appertains to the carrying and packing of parcels, John presently developed a surprising energy. David's wits were thereby freed for the higher matters of his trade, while John was beast of burden. The young master could work up his catalogues, study his famous collections, make his own bibliographical notes, or run off here and there by 'bus or train in quest of books for a customer; he could swallow down his Greek verbs or puzzle out his French for Barbier in the intervals of business; the humbler matters of the shop prospered none the less.
Meanwhile both lads were vegetarians and teetotalers; both lived as near as might be on sixpence a day; and an increasing portion of the Manchester world—of that world, at any rate, which buys books—began, as the weeks rolled on, to take interest in the pair and their venture.
Christmas came, and David made up his accounts. He had turned over the whole of his capital in six weeks, had lived and paid his rent, and was very nearly ten pounds to the good. On the evening when he made this out he sat jubilantly over the fire, thinking of Louie. Certainly it would be soon time for him to send for Louie at this rate. Yet there were pros and cons. He would have to look after her when she did come, and there would be an end of his first freedom. And what would she find to do?
Silk-weaving had been decaying year by year in Manchester, and for hand-loom weaving, at any rate, there was no opening at all.
No matter! With his prosperity there came a quickening of the sense of kinship, which would not let him rest. For the first time for many years he thought often of his father. Who and what had his mother been? Why had Uncle Reuben never spoken of his parents, save that one tormented word in the dark? Why, his father could not have been thirty when he died! Some day he would make Uncle Reuben tell all the story—he would know, too, where his father was buried.
And meanwhile, in a few more weeks, he would write to Kinder. He would be good to Louie—he decidedly meant that she should have a good time. Perhaps she had grown out of her tricks by now. Tom said she was thought to be uncommon handsome. David made a little face as he remembered that. She would be all the more difficult to manage.
Yet all the time David Grieve's prosperity was the most insecure growth imaginable.
One evening Lucy rushed in late to see Dora.
'Oh, Dora! Dora! Put down your work at once and listen to me.' Dora looked up in amazement, to see Lucy's little face all crimson with excitement and resolution.
'Dora, I've found it all out: he's going to buy the house over Mr. Grieve's head, and turn him into the street, just as he's got nicely settled. Oh! he's done it before, I can tell you. There was a man higher up Half Street he served just the same. He's got the money, and he's got the spite. Well now, Dora, it's no good staring. Has Mr. Grieve been up here lately?'
'No; not lately,' said Dora, with an involuntary sigh. 'Father's been to see him. He says he's that busy he can't come out. But, Lucy, how do you know all this?'
Whereupon, at first, Lucy wouldn't tell; but being at bottom intensely proud of her own cleverness at last confessed. She had been for long convinced that her father meant mischief to young Grieve, and had been on the watch. A little listening at doors here, and a little prying into papers there, had presently given her the clue. In a private drawer, unlocked by chance, she had found a solicitor's letter containing the full description of No. 15 Potter Street, and of some other old houses in the same street, soon to be sold and rebuilt. The description contained notes of price and date in her father's hand. That very evening the solicitor in question had come to see her father. She had been sent upstairs, but had managed to listen all the same. The purchase—whatever it was—was to be concluded 'shortly.' There had been much legal talk, and her father had seemed in a particularly good temper when Mr. Vance went away.
'Well now, look here,' said Lucy, frowning and biting her lips; 'I shall just go right on and see him. I thought I might have found him here. But there's no time to lose.'
Dora had bent over her frame again, and her face was hidden.
'Why, it's quite late,' she said, slowly; 'the shop will be shut up long ago.'
'I don't care—I don't care a bit,' cried Lucy. 'One can't think about what's proper. I'm just going straight away.'
And she got up feverishly, and put on her hat again.
'Why can't you tell father and send him? He's downstairs in the reading-room,' said Dora.
'I'll go myself, Dora, thank you,' said Lucy, with an obstinate toss of her head, as she stood before the old mirror over the mantelpiece. 'I dare say you think I'm a very bold girl. It don't matter.'
Then for a minute she became absorbed in putting one side of her hair straight. Dora, from behind, sat looking at her, needle in hand. The gaslight fell on her pale, disturbed face, showed for an instant a sort of convulsion pass across it which Lucy did not see. Then she drew her hand along her eyes, with a low, quivering breath, and went back to her work.
As Lucy opened the door, however, a movement of anxiety, of conscience, rose in Dora.
'Lucy, shall I go with you?'
'Oh, no,' said Lucy, impatiently. 'I know what's what, thank you, Dora. I'll take care of myself. Perhaps I'll come back and tell you what he says.'
And she closed the door behind her. Dora did not move from her work; but her hand trembled so that she made several false stitches and had to undo them.
Meanwhile Lucy sped along across Market Street and through St. Ann's Square. Her blood was up, and she could have done anything, braved anybody, to defeat her father and win a smile from David Grieve. Yet, as she entered Potter Street, she began to quake a little. The street was narrow and dark. On one side the older houses had been long ago pulled down and replaced by tall warehouses, which at night were a black and towering mass, without a light anywhere. The few shops opposite closed early, for in the office quarter of Manchester there is very little doing after office hours, when the tide of life ebbs outwards.
Lucy looked for No. 15, her heart beating fast. There was a light in the first floor, but the shop-front was altogether dark. She crossed the street, and, lifting a shaking hand, rang the bell of the very narrow side door.
Instantly there were sounds inside—a step—and David stood on the threshold.
He stared in amazement at his unwonted visitor.
'Oh, Mr. Grieve—please—I've got something to tell you. Oh, no, I won't come in—we can stand here, please, out of the wind. But father's going to buy this place over your head, and I thought I'd better come and tell you. He'll be pretty mad if he thinks I've let out; but I don't care.'
She was leaning against the wall of the passage, and David could just see the defiance and agitation on her face by the light of the gas-lamp outside.
He himself gave a low whistle.
'Well, that's rather strong, isn't it, Miss Purcell?'
'It's mean—it's abominable,' she cried. 'I vowed I'd stop it. But I don't know what he'll do to me—kill me, most likely.'
'Nobody shall do anything to you,' said David, decidedly. 'You're a brick. But look here—can you tell me anything more?'
She commanded herself with great difficulty, and told all she knew. David leant against the wall beside her, twisting a meditative lip. The situation was ominous, certainly. He had always known that his tenure was precarious, but from various indications he had supposed that it would be some years yet before his side of the street was much meddled with. That old fox! He must go and see Mr. Ancrum.
A passion of hate and energy rose within him. Somehow or other he would pull through.
When Lucy had finished the tale of her eavesdroppings, the young fellow shook himself and stood erect.
'Well, I am obliged to you, Miss Purcell. And now I'll just go straight off and talk to somebody that I think'll help me. But I'll see you to Market Street first.'
'Oh!—somebody will see us!' she cried in a fever, 'and tell father.'
'Not they; I'll keep a look out.'
Then suddenly, as they walked along together, a great shyness fell upon them both. Why had she done this thing, and run the risk of her father's wrath? As David walked beside her, he felt for an instant, through all his gratitude, as though some one had thrown a lasso round him, and the cord were tightening. He could not have explained the feeling, but it made him curt and restive, absorbed, apparently, in his own thoughts. Meanwhile Lucy's heart swelled and swelled. She did think he would have taken her news differently—have made more of it and her. She wished she had never come—she wished she had brought Dora. The familiar consciousness of failure, of insignificance, returned, and the hot tears rose in her eyes.
At Market Street she stopped him hurriedly.
'Don't come any farther. I can get home.'
David, meanwhile, was saying to himself that he was a churlish brute; but for the life of him he could not get out any pretty speeches worthy of the occasion.
'I'm sure I take it most kind of you, Miss Purcell. There's nothing could have saved me if you hadn't told. And I don't know whether I can get out of it now. But if ever I can do anything for you, you know—'
'Oh, never mind!—never mind!' she said, incoherently, stabbed by his constraint. 'Good night.'
And she ran away into the darkness, choked by the sorest tears she had ever shed.
David, meanwhile, went on his way to Ancrum, scourging himself. If ever there was an ungrateful cur, it was he! Why could he find nothing nice to say to that girl in return for all her pluck? Of course she would get into trouble. Coming to see him at that time of night, too! Why, it was splendid!
Yet, all the same, he knew perfectly well that if she had been there beside him again, he would have been just as tongue-tied as before.
On the following night David walked into the Parlour about eight o'clock, hung up his hat with the air of an emperor, and looked round for Daddy.
'Look here, Daddy! I've got something to say to you, but not down here: you'll be letting out my private affairs, and I can't stand that.'
'Well, come upstairs then, you varmint! You're a poor sort of fellow, always suspecting your friends. Come up—come up with you! I'll humour you!'
And Daddy, bursting with curiosity, led the way upstairs to Dora's sitting-room. Dora was moving about amid a mass of silks, which lay carefully spread out on the table, shade melting into shade, awaiting their transference to a new silk case she had been busy upon.
As the door opened she look up, and when she saw David her face flushed all over.
Daddy pushed the lad in.
'Dora, he's got some news. Out with it, sir!'
And he stood opposite the young fellow, on tiptoe, quivering with impatience.
David put both hands in his pockets, and looked out upon them, radiant.
'I think,' he said slowly, 'I've scotched old Purcell this time. But perhaps you don't know what he's been after?'
'Lucy was in here last night,' said Dora, hesitating; 'she told me about it.'
'Lucy!' cried Daddy, exasperated. 'What have you been making secrets about? I'll have no secrets from me in this house, Dora. Why, when Lucy tells you something important, is it all hidden up from me? Nasty close ways!'
And he looked at her threateningly.
Nothing piqued the old Bohemian so much as the constant assumption of the people about him that he was a grown-up baby, of no discretion at all. That the assumption was true made no difference whatever to the irritating quality of it.
Dora dropped her head a little, but said nothing. David interposed:
'Well, now I'll tell you all about it.'
His tone was triumph itself, and he plunged into his story. He described what Purcell had meant to do, and how nearly he had done it. In a month, if the bookseller had had his way, his young rival would have been in the street, with all his connection to make over again. At the moment there was not another corner to be had, within David's means, anywhere near the centre of the town. It would have meant a completely fresh beginning, and temporary ruin.
But he had gone to Ancrum. And Ancrum and he had bethought them of the rich Unitarian gentleman who had been David's sponsor when he signed his agreement.
There and then, at nine o'clock at night, Ancrum had gone off to Higher Broughton, where the good man lived, and laid the case before him. Mr. Doyle had taken the night to think it over, and the following morning he had paid a visit to his lawyer.
'He and his wife thought it a burning shame, he told Mr. Ancrum; and, besides, he's been buying up house property in Manchester for some time past, only we couldn't know that—that was just luck. He looked upon it as a good chance both for him and for me. He told his lawyer it must be all settled in three hours, and he didn't mind the price. The lawyer found out that Purcell was haggling, went in to win, put the cash down, and here in my pocket I've got the fresh agreement between me and Mr. Doyle—three months' notice on either side, and no likelihood of my being turned out, if I want to stay, for the next three or four years. Hurrah!'
And the lad, quite beside himself with jubilation, raised the blue cap he held in his hand, and flung it round his head. Dora stood and looked at him, leaning lightly against the table, her arms behind her. His triumph carried her away; her lips parted in a joyous smile; her whole soft, rounded figure trembled with animation and sympathy.
As for Daddy, he could not contain himself. He ran to the top of the stairs, and sent a kitchen-boy flying for a bottle of champagne.
'Drink, you varmint, drink!' he said, when the liquor came, 'or I'll be the death of you! Hold your tongue, Dora! Do you think a man can put up with temperance drinks when his enemy's smitten hip and thigh? Oh, you jewel, David, but you'll bring him low, lad—you'll bring him low before you've done—promise me that. I shall see him a beggar yet, lad, shan't I? Oh, nectar!'
And Daddy poured down his champagne, apostrophising it and David's vengeance together.
Dora looked distressed.
'Father—Lucy! How can you say such things?'
'Lucy—eh?—Lucy? She won't be a beggar. She'll marry; she's got a bit of good looks of her own. But, David, my lad, what was it you were saying? How was it you got wind of this precious business?'