It seemed to David that she was describing her lover of the winter; he caught her gesture as she illustrated her performance with Jim Wigson—the boxing of the amorous lout's ears in the lane by the Dye-works. Her beautiful curly black hair was combed to-night into a sort of wild halo round her brow and cheeks, and in this arrangement counteracted the one fault of the face—a slightly excessive length from forehead to chin. But the brilliance of the eyes, the redness of the thin lips over the small and perfect teeth, the flush on the olive cheek, the slender neck, the distinction and delicacy of every sweeping line and curve—for the first time even David realised, as he stood there in the dark, that his sister was an extraordinary beauty. Strange! Her manner and voice had neither natural nor acquired refinement; and yet in the moulding of the head and face there was a dignity and perfection—a touch, as it were, of the grand style—which marked her out in a northern crowd and riveted the northern eye. Was it the trace of another national character, another civilisation, longer descended, less mixed, more deeply graven than ours?
But what was that idiot John doing here?—the young master wanted to know. He coughed loudly and hung up his hat and his stick, to let them hear that he was there. The pair in the kitchen started. Louie sprang up, flung down her work, and ran out to him.
'Well,' said she breathlessly, 'have you got it?'
She gave a little shriek of excitement.
'Show it then.'
'There's nothing to show but a cheque. It's all right. Is there anything for supper?'
'There's some bread and cheese and cold apple-pie in there,' said Louie, annoyed with him already; then, turning her head over her shoulder, 'Mr. Dalby, I'll trouble you to get them out.'
With awkward alacrity John flew to do her bidding. When the lad had ransacked the cupboard and placed all the viands it contained on the table, he looked at David. That young man, with a pucker in his brow, was standing by the fire with his hands in his pockets, making short answers to Louie's sharp and numerous questions.
'That's all I can find,' said John. 'Shall I run for something?'
'Thanks,' said David, still frowning, and sat him down, 'that 'll do.'
Louie made a face at John behind her brother's back. The assistant slowly flushed a deep red. In this young fellow, with his money buttoned on his breast, both he and Louie for the first time realised the master.
'Well, good night,' he said, hesitating, 'I'm going.'
David jumped up and went with him into the passage.
'Look here,' he said abruptly, 'you and I have got some business to talk to-morrow. I'm not going to keep you slaving here for nothing now that I can afford to pay you.'
'Are you going to turn me off?' said the other hastily.
David laughed. The cloud had all cleared from his brow.
'Don't be such a precious fool!' he said. 'Now be off—and seven sharp. I must go at it like ten horses to-morrow.'
John disappeared into the night, and David went back to his sister. He found her looking red and excited, and sewing energetically.
'Look here!' she said, lifting a threatening eye to him as he entered the room. 'I'm not going to be treated like a baby. If you don't tell me all about that money, I'll write to Mr. Gurney myself. It's part of it mine, and I'll know, so there!'
'I'll tell you everything,' he said quietly, putting a hand into his coat pocket before he sat down to his supper again. 'There's the cheque—and there's our father's letter,—what Mr. Gurney gave me. There was no proper will—this was instead.'
He pretended to eat, but in reality he watched her anxiously as she read it. The result was very much what he had expected. She ran breathlessly through it, then, with a look all flame and fury, she broke out—
'Up on my word! So you're going to take it all, and I'm to be beholden to you for every penny. I'd like to see myself!'
'Now look here, Louie,' he said, firmly, pushing back his chair from the table, 'I want to explain things to you. I should like to tell you all about my business, and what I think of doing, and then you can judge for yourself. I'll not rob you or anyone.'
Whereupon with a fierce gesture she caught up her work again, and he fell into long and earnest talk, setting his mind to the task. He explained to her that the arrival of this money—this capital—made just all the difference, that the whole of it would be infinitely more useful to him than the half, and that he proposed to employ it both for her benefit and his own. He had already cleared out the commission agent from the first floor, and moved down the lodgers—a young foreman and his wife—from the attics to the first-floor back. That left the two attics for himself and Louie, and gave him the front first-floor room, the best room in the house, for an extension of stock.
'Why don't you turn those people out altogether?' said Louie, impatiently.' They pay very little, and you'll be wanting that room soon, very like.'
'Well, I shall get it soon,' said David bluntly; 'but I can't get it now. Mrs. Mason's bad; she going to be confined.'
'Well, I dare say she is!' cried Louie. 'That don't matter; she isn't confined yet.'
David looked at her in amazement. Then his face hardened.
'I'm not going to turn her out, I tell you,' he said, and immediately returned to his statement. Well, there were all sorts of ways in which he might employ his money. He might put up a shed in the back yard, and get a printing-press. He knew of a press and a very decent fount of type, to be had extremely cheap. John was a capital workman, and between them they might reprint some of the scarce local books and pamphlets, which were always sure of a sale. As to his stock, there were endless possibilities. He knew of a collection of rare books on early America, which belonged to a gentleman at Cheadle. He had been negotiating about them for some time. Now he would close at once; from his knowledge of the market the speculation was a certain one. He was also inclined to largely increase his stock of foreign books, especially in the technical and scientific direction. There was a considerable opening, he believed, for such books in Manchester; at any rate, he meant to try for it. And as soon as ever he could he should learn German. There was a fellow—a German clerk—who haunted the Parlour, who would teach him in exchange for English lessons.
So, following a happy instinct, he opened to her all his mind, and talked to her as though they were partners in a firm. The event proved that he could have done nothing better. Very early in his exposition she began to put her wits to his, her irritation dropped, and he was presently astonished at the intelligence she showed. Every element almost in the problems discussed was unfamiliar to her, yet after a while a listener coming in might have thought that she too had been Purcell's apprentice, so nimbly had she gathered up the details involved, so quick she was to see David's points and catch his phrases. If there was no moral fellowship between them, judging from to-night, there bade fair to be a comradeship of intelligence.
'There now,' he said, when he had come to the end of his budget, 'you leave your half of the money to me. Mind, I agree it's your half, and I'll do the best I can with it. I'll pay you interest on it for two years, and I'll keep you. Then we'll see. And if you want to improve yourself a bit, instead of going to work at once, I'll pay for teachers. And look here, we'll keep good friends over it.'
His keen eyes softened to a charming, half-melancholy smile. Louie took no notice; she was absorbed in meditation; and at the end of it, she said with a long breath—
'Well, you may have it, and I'll keep an eye on the accounts. But you needn't think I'll sit at home "improving" myself: Not I. I'll do that church-work. That girl gave me a lesson this morning, and I'm going again to-morrow.'
David received the news with satisfaction, remarking heartily that Dora Lomax was a real good sort, and if it weren't for her the Parlour and Daddy would soon be in a fix. He told the story of the Parlour, dwelling on Dora's virtues.
'But she is a crank, though!' said Louie. 'Why, if you make free with her things a bit, or if you call 'em by the wrong names, she'll fly at you! How's anybody to know what they're meant for?'
David laughed, and got up to get some books he was repairing. As he moved away he looked back a moment.
'I say, Louie,' he began, hesitating, 'that fellow John's worked for me like a dozen, and has never taken a farthing from me. Don't you go and make a fool of him.'
A flush passed over Louie's face. She lifted her hand and tucked away some curly ends of long hair that had fallen on her shoulders.
'He's like one of Aunt Hannah's suet rolies,' she said, after a minute, with a gleam of her white teeth. 'Seems as if some one had tied him in a cloth and boiled him that shape.'
Neither of them cared to go to bed. They sat up talking. David was mending, sorting, and pricing a number of old books he had bought for nothing at a country sale. He knew enough of bookbinding to do the repairing with much skill, showing the same neatness of finger in it that he had shown years ago in the carving of toy boats and water-wheels. Louie went on with her work, which proved to be a curtain for her attic. She meant to have that room nice, and she had been out buying a few things, whereby David understood—as indeed Reuben had said—that she had some savings. Moreover, with regard to certain odd jobs of carpentering, she had already pressed John into her service, which explained his lingering after hours, and his eagerness among the nails. As to the furniture David had bought for her, on which, in the intervals of his busy days, he had spent some time and trouble, and of which he was secretly proud, humble and cheap as it was—she took it for granted. He could not remember that she had said any 'thank you's' since she came.
Still, youth and comradeship were pleasant. The den in which they sat was warm with light and fire, and was their own. Louie's exultation, too, in their change of fortune, which flashed out of her at every turn, was infectious, and presently his spirits rose with hers, and the two lost themselves in the excitement of large schemes and new horizons.
After a time he found himself comparing notes with her as to that far-off crisis of his running away.
'I suppose you heard somehow about Jim Wigson and me?' he asked her, his pulse quickening after all these years.
She nodded with a little grin. He had already noticed, by the way, that she, while still living among the moors, had almost shaken herself free of the Kinder dialect, whereas it had taken quite a year of Manchester life to rub off his own Doric.
'Well, you didn't imagine'—he went on—'I was going to stop after that? I could put a knife between Jim's ribs now when I think of it!'
And, pushing his book away from him, he sat recalling that long past shame, his face, glowing with vindictive memory, framed in his hands.
'I don't see, though, what you sneaked off for like that after all you'd promised me,' she said with energy.
'No, it was hard on you,' he admitted. 'But I couldn't think of any other way out. I was mad with everybody, and just wanted to cut and run. But before I hit on that notion about Tom'(he had just been explaining to her in detail, not at all to her satisfaction, his device for getting regular news of her)'I used to spend half my time wondering what you'd do. I thought, perhaps, you'd run away too, and that would have been a kettle of fish.'
'I did run away,' she said, her wild eyes sparkling—'twice.'
'Jiminy!' said David with a schoolboy delight, 'let's hear!'
Whereupon she took up her tale and told him a great deal that was still quite unknown to him. She told it in her own way with characteristic blindnesses and hardnesses, but the truth of it was this. The very day after David's departure she too had run away, in spite of the fact that Hannah was keeping her in something very like imprisonment. She supposed that David had gone to Manchester, and she meant to follow him there. But she had been caught begging the other side of Glossop by a policeman, who was a native of Clough End and knew all about her.
'He made me come along back, but he must have got the mark on his wrist still where I bit him, I should think,' remarked Miss Louie, with a satisfaction untouched apparently by the lapse of time.
The next attempt had been more serious. It was some months afterwards, and by this time she was in despair about David, and had made up her passionate mind that she would never see him again. But she loathed Hannah more and more, and at last, in the middle of a snowy February, the child determined to find her way over the Peak into the wild valley of the Woodlands, and so to Ashopton and Sheffield, in which last town she meant to go to service. But in the effort to cross the plateau of the Peak she very nearly lost her life. Long before she came in sight of the Snake Inn, on the Woodlands side, she sank exhausted in the snow, and, but for some Frimley shepherds who were out after their sheep, she would have drawn her last breath in that grim solitude. They carried her down to Frimley and dropped her at the nearest shelter, which happened to be Margaret Dawson's cottage.
Margaret was then in the first smart of her widowhood. 'Lias was just dead, and she was withering physically and mentally under the heart-hunger of her loss. The arrival of the pallid, half-conscious child—David's sister, with David's eyes—for a time distracted and appeased her. She nursed the poor waif, and sent word to Needham Farm. Reuben came for the girl, and Margaret, partly out of compassion, partly out of a sense of her own decaying strength, bribed her to go back home by the promise of teaching her the silk-weaving.
Louie learnt the trade with surprising quickness, and as she shot up in stature and her fingers gained in cunning and rapidity, Margaret became more bowed, helpless and 'fond,' until at last Louie did everything, brought home the weft and warp, set it up, worked off the 'cuts,' and took them to the warehouse in Clough End to be paid; while Margaret sat in the chimney corner, pining inwardly for 'Lias and dropping deeper day by day into the gulf of age. By this time of course various money arrangements had been made between them, superintended by Margaret's brother, a weaver in the same village who found it necessary to keep a very sharp eye on this girl-apprentice whom Margaret had picked up. Of late Louie had been paying Margaret rent for the loom, together with a certain percentage on the weekly earnings, practically for 'goodwill.' And on this small sum the widow had managed to live and keep her home, while Louie launched gloriously into new clothes, started a savings-bank book, and snapped her fingers for good and all at Hannah, who put up with her, however, in a sour silence because of Mr. Gurney's cheques.
'And Margaret can't do anything for herself now?' asked David. He had followed the story with eagerness. For years the remembrance had rankled in his mind how during his last months at Kinder, when 'Lias was dying, and the old pair were more in want than ever of the small services he had been accustomed to render them, he had forgotten and neglected his friends because he had been absorbed in the excitements of 'conversion,' so that when Tom Mullins had told him in general terms that his sister Louie was supporting both Margaret and herself, the news had soothed a remorse.
'I should just think not!' said Louie in answer to his question. 'She's gone most silly, and she hasn't got the right use of her legs either.'
'Poor old thing!' said David softly, falling into a dream. He was thinking of Margaret in her active, happy days when she used to bake scones for him, or mend his clothes, or rate him for 'worriting' 'Lias. Then wakening up he drew the book he was binding towards him again. 'She must have been precious glad to have you to do for her, Louie,' he said contentedly.
'Do for her?' Louie opened her eyes. 'As if I could be worrited with her! I had my work to do, thank you. There was a niece used to come in and see to her. She used to get in my way dreadful sometimes. She'd have fits of thinking she could work the loom again, and I'd have to keep her away—regular frighten her.'
'Who'll work the loom now?' he asked; his look and tone altering to match hers.
'I'm sure I don't know,' said Louie, carelessly. 'Very like she'll not get anyone. The work's been slack a long while.'
David suddenly drew back from his bookbinding.
'When did you let her know, Louie—about me?' he asked quickly.
'Let her know? Who was to let her know? Your letter came eight o'clock and our train started half-past ten. I'd just time to pitch my things together and that was about all.'
'And you never sent, and you haven't written?'
'You leave me alone,' said the girl, turning instantly sulky under his tone and look. 'It's nowt to you what I do.'
'Why!' he said, his voice shaking, 'she'd be waiting and waiting—and she's got nothing else to depend on.'
'There's her brother,' said Louie angrily, 'and if he won't take her, there's the workhouse. They'll take her there fast enough, and she won't know anything about it.'
'The workhouse!' cried David, springing up, incensed past bearing by her callous way. 'Margaret that took you in out of the snow!—you said it yourself. And you—you'd not lift a finger—not you—you'd not even give her notice—"chuck her into the workhouse—that's good enough for her!" It's vile,—that's what it is!'
He stood, choked by his own wrath, eyeing her fiercely—a young thunder god of disdain and condemnation.
Louie too got up—gathering up her work round her—and gave him back his look with interest before she flung out of the room.
'Keep a civil tongue in your head, sir, or I'll let you know,' she cried. 'I'll not be called over the coals by you nor nobody. I'll do what I please,—and if you don't like it you can do the other thing—so there—now you know!'
And with a nod of the utmost provocation and defiance she banged the door behind her and went up to bed.
David flung down the pen with which he had been lettering his books on the table, and, drawing a chair up to the fire, he sat moodily staring into the embers. So it was all to begin again—the long wrangle and jar of their childhood. Why had he broken silence and taken this burden once more upon his shoulders? He had a moment of passionate regret. It seemed to him more than he could bear. No gratitude, no kindness; and this fierce tongue!
After a while he fetched pen and paper and began to write on his knee, while his look kindled again. He wrote to Margaret, a letter of boyish effusion and affection, his own conscience quickened to passion by Louie's lack of conscience. He had never forgotten her, he said, and he wished he could see her again. She must write, or get some one to write for her—and tell him what she was going to do now that Louie had left her. He had been angry with Louie for coming away without sending word. But what he wanted to say was this: if Margaret could get no one to work the loom, he, David, would pay her brother four shillings a week, for six months certain, towards her expenses if he would take her in and look after her. She must ask somebody to write at once and say what was to be done. If her brother consented to take her, David would send a post-office order for the first month at once. He was doing well in his business, and there would be no doubt about the payments.
He made his proposal with a haste and impulsiveness very unlike the cool judgment he had so far shown in his business. It never occurred to him to negotiate with the brother who might be quite well able to maintain his sister without help. Besides he remembered him as a hard man of whom both Margaret and 'Lias—soft, sensitive creatures—were both more or less afraid. No, there should be no doubt about it—not a day's doubt, if he could help it! He could help, and he would; and if they asked him more he would give it. Nearly midnight! But if he ran out to the General Post Office it would be in time.
When he had posted it and was walking home, his anger was all gone. But in its stead was the smart of a baffled instinct—the hunger for sympathy, for love, for that common everyday life of the affections which had never been his, while it came so easily to other people.
In his chafing distress he felt the curb of something unknown before; or, rather, what had of late taken the pleasant guise of kinship and natural affection assumed to-night another and a sterner aspect, and in this strait of conduct, that sheer 'imperative' which we carry within us made itself for the first time heard and realised.
'I have done my duty and must abide by it. I must bear with her and look after her.'
'Because my father laid it on me?'—
And because there is a life within our life which urges and presses? —because we are 'not our own'? But this is an answer which implies a whole theology. And at this moment of his life David had not a particle or shred of theology about him. Except, indeed, that, like Voltaire, he was graciously inclined to think a First Cause probable.
Next day this storm blew over, as storms do. Louie came down early and made the porridge for breakfast. When David appeared she carried things off with a high hand, and behaved as if nothing had happened; but anyone accustomed to watch her would have seen a certain quick nervousness in her black, wild bird's eyes. As for David, after a period of gruffness and silence, he passed by degrees into his usual manner. Louie spent the day with Dora, and he went off to Cheadle to conclude the purchase of that collection of American books he had described to Louie. But first, on his way, he walked proudly into Heywood's bank and opened an account there, receiving the congratulations of an old and talkative cashier, who already knew the lad and was interested in his prospects, with the coolness of one who takes good fortune as his right.
In the afternoon he was busy in the shop—not too busy, however, to notice John. What ailed the lad? While he was inside, as soon as the door did but creak in the wind he sprang to open it, but for the most part he preferred to stand outside watching the stall and the street. When Louie appeared about five o'clock—for her hours with Dora were not yet regular—he forthwith became her slave. She set him to draw up the fire while she got the tea, and then, without taking any notice of David, she marched John upstairs to help her hang her curtains, lay her carpet, and nail up the coloured fashion plates and newspaper prints of royalties or beauties with which she was adorning the bare walls of the attic.
When all her additions had been made to David's original stock; when the little deal dressing-table and glass had been draped in the cheapest of muslins over the pinkest of calicoes; when the flowery curtains had been tied back with blue ribbons; when the china vases on the mantelpiece had been filled with nodding plumes of dyed grasses, mostly of a rosy red; and a long glass in a somewhat damaged condition, but still presenting enough surface to enable Miss Louie to study herself therein from top to toe, had been propped against the wall; there was and could be nothing in the neighbourhood of Potter Street, so John reflected, as he furtively looked about him, to vie with the splendours of Miss Grieve's apartment. There was about it a sensuousness, a deliberate quest of luxury and gaiety, which a raw son of poverty could feel though he could not put it into words. No Manchester girl he had ever seen would have cared to spend her money in just this way.
'Now that's real nice, Mr. Dalby, and I'm just obliged to you,' said Louie, with patronising emphasis, as she looked round upon his labours. 'I do like to get a man to do things for you—he's got some strength in him—not like a gell!'
And she looked down at herself and at the long, thin-fingered hand against her dress, with affected contempt. John looked at her too, but turned his head away again quickly.
'And yet you're pretty strong too, Miss,' he ventured.
'Well, perhaps I am,' she admitted; 'and a good thing too, when you come to think of the rough time I had over there'—and she jerked her head behind her—'ever since Davy ran away from me.'
'Ran away from you, Miss?'
She nodded, pressing her lips together with the look of one who keeps a secret from the highest motives. But she brought two beautiful plaintive eyes to bear on John, and he at once felt sure that David's conduct had been totally inexcusable.
Then suddenly she broke into a laugh. She was sitting on the edge of the bed, swinging her feet lightly backwards and forwards.
'Look here!' she said, dropping her voice, and looking round at the door. 'Do you know a lot about Davy's affairs?—you 're a great friend of his, aren't you?'
'I s'pose so,' said the lad, awkwardly.
'Well, has he been making up to anybody that you know of?'
John's invisible eyebrows stretched considerably. He was so astonished that he did not readily find an answer.
'Why, of course, I mean,' said Louie, impatiently, 'is he in love with anybody?'
'Not that I know of, Miss.'
'Well, then, there's somebody in love with him,' said Louie, maliciously; 'and some day, Mr. Dalby, if we get a chance, perhaps I'll tell you all about it.'
The charming confidential smile she threw him so bewildered the lad that he hardly knew where he was.
But an exasperated shout of 'John' from the stairs recalled him, and he rushed downstairs to help David deal with a cargo of books just arrived.
That evening David ran up to the Parlour for half an hour, to have a talk with Daddy and find out what Dora thought of Louie. He had sent a message by Louie about Reuben's revelations, and it occurred to him that since Daddy had not been to look him up since, that incalculable person might be offended that he had not brought his great news in person. Besides, he had a very strong curiosity to know what had happened after all to Lucy Purcell, and whether anything had been commonly observed of Purcell's demeanour under the checkmate administered to him. For the past few days he had been wholly absorbed in his own affairs, and during the previous week he had seen nothing of either Daddy or Dora, except that at a casual meeting in the street with Daddy that worthy had described his attack on Purcell with a gusto worthy of his Irish extraction.
He found the restaurant just shutting, and Daddy apparently on the wing for the 'White Horse' parlour, to judge from the relief which showed in Dora's worn look as she saw her father lay down his hat and stick again and fall 'chaffing' with David.
For, with regard to David's change of position, the landlord of the Parlour was in a very testy frame of mind.
'Six hundred pounds!' he growled, when the young fellow sitting cross-legged by the fire had made an end of describing to them both his journey to London. 'H'm, your fun's over: any fool can do on six hundred pounds!'
'Thank you, Daddy,' said the lad, with a sarcastic lip. 'As for you, I wonder you have the face to talk! Who's coining money here, I should like to know?'
Dora looked up with a start. Her father met her look with a certain hostility and an obstinate shake of his thin shoulders.
'Davy, me boy, you're that consated by now, you'll not be for taking advice. But I'll give it you, bedad, to take or to leave! Never pitch your tent, sir, where you can't strike it when you want to! But there's where your beastly money comes in. Nobody need look to you now for any comprehension of the finer sentiments of man.'
'What do you mean, Daddy?'
'Never you mind,' said the old vagrant, staring sombrely at the floor—the spleen in person. 'Only I want my freedom, I tell you—and a bit of air, sometimes—and by gad I'll have 'em!'
And throwing back his grey head with a jerk he fixed an angry eye on Dora. Dora had grown paler, but she said nothing; her fingers went steadily on with her work; from early morning now till late night neither they nor she were ever at rest. After a minute's silence Lomax walked to the door, flung a good-night behind him and disappeared.
Dora hastily drew her hand across her eyes, then threaded her needle as though nothing had happened. But David was perplexed and sorry. How white and thin she looked, to be sure! That old lunatic must be worrying her somehow.
He moved his chair nearer to Dora.
'Is there anything wrong, Miss Dora?' he asked her, dropping his voice.
She looked up with a quick gratitude, his voice and expression putting a new life into her.
'Oh! I don't know,' she said, gently and sadly. 'Father's been very restless these last few weeks. I can't keep him at home. And I'm not always dull like this. I've done my best to cheer him up. And I don't think there's much amiss with the Parlour—yet—only the outgoings are so large every day. I'm always feeart—'
She paused, and a visible tremor ran through her. David's quick eye understood the signs of strain and fatigue, and he felt a brotherly pity for her—a softer, more normal feeling than Louie had ever called out in him.
'I say,' he said heartily, 'if there's anything I can do, you'll let me know, wont you?'
She smiled at him, and then turned to her work again in a hurry, afraid of her own eyes and lips, and what they might be saying.
'Oh! I dare say I fret myself too much,' she said, with the tone of one determined to be cheered. And, by way of protecting her own quivering heart, she fell upon the subject of Louie. She showed the brother some of Louie's first attempts—some of the stitches she had been learning.
'She's that quick!' she said, wondering. 'In a few days I'm going to trust her with that,' and she pointed to a fine old piece of Venetian embroidery, which had to be largely repaired before it could be made up into an altar-cloth and presented to St. Damian's by a rich and devoted member of the congregation.
'Does she get in your way?' the brother inquired.
'N-o,' she said in a low voice, paying particular attention to a complicated stitch. 'She'll get used to me and the work soon. She'll make a first-rate hand if she's patient a bit. They'll be glad to take her on at the shop.'
'But you'll not turn her out? You'll let her work here, alongside of you?' said the young man eagerly. He had just met Louie, in the dark, walking up Market Street with a seedy kind of gentleman, who he had reason to know was a bad lot. John was off his head about her, and no longer of much use to anybody, and in these few days other men, as it seemed to him, had begun to hang about. The difficulties of his guardianship were thickening upon him, and he clung to Dora's help.
'No; I'll not turn her out. She may work here if she wants to,' said Dora, with the same slowness.
And all the time she was saying to herself passionately that, if Louie Grieve had not been his sister, she should never have set foot in that room again! In the two days they had been together Louie had outraged almost every feeling the other possessed. And there was a burning dread in Dora's mind that even the secret of her heart of hearts had been somehow discovered by the girl's hawk-like sense. But she had promised to help him, and she would.
'You must let me know what I owe you for teaching her and introducing her,' said David firmly. 'Yes, you must, Miss Dora. It's business, and you mustn't make any bones about it. A girl doesn't learn a trade and get an opening found her for nothing.'
'Oh no, nonsense!' she said quickly, but with decision equal to his own. 'I won't take anything. She don't want much teaching; she's so clever; she sees a thing almost before the words are out of your mouth. Look here, Mr. Grieve, I want to tell you about Lucy.'
She looked up at him, flushing. He, too, coloured.
'Well,' he said; 'that's what I wanted to ask you.'
She told him the whole story of Lucy's flight from her father, of her illness and departure, of the probable stepmother.
'Old brute!' said David between his teeth. 'I say, Miss Dora, can nothing be done to make him treat her decently?'
His countenance glowed with indignation and disgust. Dora shook her head sadly.
'I don't see what anyone can do; and the worst of it is she'll be such a long while getting over it. I've had a letter from her this morning, and she says the Hastings doctor declares she must stay there a year in the warm and not come home at all, or she'll be going off in a decline. I know Lucy gets nervous about herself, but it do seem bad.'
David sat silent, lost in a medley of feelings, most of them unpleasant. Now that Lucy Purcell was at the other end of England, both her service to him and his own curmudgeon behaviour to her loomed doubly large.
'I say, will you give me her address?' he said at last. 'I've got a smart book I've had bound for her. I'd like to send it her.'
Dora went to the table and wrote it for him. Then he got up to go.
'Upon my word, you do look tired,' he broke out. 'Can't you go to bed? It is hard lines.'
Which last words applied to that whole situation of hers with her father which he was beginning dimly to discern. In his boyish admiration and compassion he took both her hands in his. Dora withdrew them quickly.
'Oh, I'll pull through!' she said, simply, and he went.
When she had closed the door after him she stood looking at the clock with her hands clasped in front of her.
'How much longer will father be?' she said, sighing. 'Oh, I think I told him all Lucy wanted me to say; I think I did.'
Three or four months passed away. During that period David had built up a shed in his back yard and had established a printing-press there, with a respectable, though not extensive, fount of type—bought, all of it, secondhand, and a bargain. John and he spent every available moment there, and during their first experiments would often sit up half the night working off the sheets of their earliest productions, in an excitement which took no count of fatigue. They began with reprinting some scarce local tracts, with which they did well. Then David diverged into a Radical pamphlet or two on the subject of the coming Education Bill, finding authors for them among the leading ministers of the town; and these timely wares, being freely pushed on the stall, on the whole paid their expenses, with a little profit to spare—the labour being reckoned at nothing. And now David was beginning to cherish the dream of a new history of Manchester, for which among his own collections he already possessed a great deal of fresh material. But that would take time and money. He must push his business a bit further first.
That business, however, was developing quite as rapidly as the two pairs of arms could keep pace with it. Almost everything the young fellow touched succeeded. He had instinct, knowledge, a growing tact, and an indomitable energy, and these are the qualities which make, which are in themselves, success. The purchase of the collection at Cheadle, bearing on the early history of American states and towns, not only turned out well in itself, but brought him to the notice of a big man in London, who set the clever and daring beginner on several large quests both in Lancashire and Yorkshire by which both profited considerably. In another direction he was extending his stock of foreign scientific and technical books, especially such as bore upon the industries of Northern England. Old Barbier, who took a warmer and warmer interest in his pupil's progress, kept him constantly advised as to French books through old friends of his own in Paris, who were glad to do the exile a kindness.
'But why not run over to Paris for yourself, form some connections, and look about you?' suggested Barbier.
Why not, indeed? The young man's blood, quick with curiosity and adventure, under all his tradesman's exterior, leapt at the thought. But prudence restrained him for the present.
As for German books, he was struggling with the language, and feeling his way besides through innumerable catalogues. How he found time for all the miscellaneous acquisitions of these months it would be difficult to say. But whether in his free times or in trade-hours he was hardly ever without a book or a catalogue beside him, save when he was working the printing press; and, although his youth would every now and then break out against the confinement he imposed upon it, and drive him either to long tramps over the moors on days when the spring stirred in the air, or to a spell of theatre-going, in which Louie greedily shared, yet, on the whole, his force of purpose was amazing, and the success which it brought with it could only be regarded as natural and inevitable. He was beginning to be well known to the old-established men in his own business, who could not but show at times some natural jealousy of so quick a rise. The story of his relations to Purcell spread, and the two were watched with malicious interest at many a book-sale, when the nonchalant self-reliance and prosperous look of the younger drove the elder man again and again into futile attempts to injure and circumvent him. It was noticed that never till now had Purcell lost his head with a rival.
Nevertheless, the lad had far fewer enemies than might have been expected. His manner had always been radiantly self-confident; but there was about him a conspicuous element of quick feeling, of warm humanity, which grew rather than diminished with his success. He was frank, too, and did not try to gloss over a mistake or a failure. Perhaps in his lordly way he felt he could afford himself a few now and then, he was so much cleverer than his neighbours.
Upon no one did David's development produce more effect than upon Mr. Ancrum. The lame, solitary minister, who only got through his week's self-appointed tasks at a constant expense of bodily torment, was dazzled and bewildered by the spectacle of so much vitality spent with such ease and impunity.
'How many years of Manchester must one give him?' said Ancrum to himself one night, when he was making his way home from a reading of the 'Electra' with David. 'That six hundred pounds has quickened the pace amazingly! Ten years, perhaps. Then London, and anything you like. Bookselling slips into publishing, and publishing takes a man into another class, and within reach of a hundred new possibilities. Some day I shall be bragging of having taught him! Taught him! He'll be turning the tables on me precious soon. Caught me out twice to-night, and got through the tough bit of the chorus much better than I did. How does he do it?—and with that mountain of other things on his shoulders! There's one speck in the fruit, however, as far as I can see-Miss Louie!'
From the first moment of his introduction to her, Ancrum had taken particular notice of David's handsome sister, who, on her side, had treated her old minister and teacher with a most thoroughgoing indifference. He saw that now, after some three months of life together, the brother and sister had developed separate existences, which touched in two points only—a common liking for Dora Lomax, and a common keenness for business.
Here, in this matter of business, they were really at one. David kept nothing from her, and consulted her a good deal. She had the same shrewd head that he had, and as it was her money as well as his that was in question she was determined to know and to understand what he was after. Anybody who had come upon the pair on the nights when they made up their accounts, their dark heads touching under the lamp, might have gone away moralising on the charms of fraternal affection.
And all the while David had once more tacitly given up the attempt either to love her or to control her. How indeed could he control her? He was barely two years older, and she had a will of iron. She made disreputable friends whom he loathed the sight of. But all he could do was to keep them out of the house. She led John by this time a dog's life. From the temptress she had become the tease and tyrant, and the clumsy fellow, consumed with feverish passion, slaved for her whenever she was near him with hardly the reward of a kind look or a civil word in a fortnight. David set his teeth and tried to recover possession of his friend. And as long as they two were at the press or in the shop together alone, John was often his old self, and would laugh out in the old way. But no sooner did Louie appear than he followed her about like an animal, and David could make no more of him. Whenever any dispute, too, arose between the brother and sister, he took her part, whatever it might be, with an acrimony which pushed David's temper hard.
Yet, on the whole, so Ancrum thought, the brother showed a wonderful patience. He was evidently haunted by a sense of responsibility towards his sister, and, at the same time, both tormented and humiliated by his incompetence to manage or influence her. It was curious, too, to watch how by antagonism and by the constant friction of their life together, certain qualities in her developed certain others in him. Her callousness, for instance, did but nurture a sensitive humanity in him. She treated the lodgers in the first pair back with persistent indifference and even brutality, seeing that Mrs. Mason was a young, helpless creature approaching every day nearer to a confinement she regarded with terror, and that a little common kindness from the only other woman in the house could have softened her lot considerably. But David's books were stacked about in awkward and inconvenient places waiting for the Masons' departure, and Louie had no patience with them—with the wife at any rate. It once or twice occurred to David that if the husband, a good-looking fellow and a very hard-worked shopman, had had more hours at home, Louie would have tried her blandishments upon him.
He on his side was goaded by Louie's behaviour into an unusual complaisance and liberality towards his tenants. Louie once contemptuously told him he would make a capital 'general help.' He was Mrs. Mason's coal-carrier and errand-boy already.
In the same way Louie beat and ill-treated a half-starved collie—one of the short-haired black sort familiar to the shepherd of the north, and to David himself in his farm days—which would haunt the shop and kitchen. Whereupon David felt all his heart melt towards the squalid, unhandsome creature. He fed and cherished it; it slept on his bed by night and followed him by day, he all the while protecting it from Louie with a strong hand. And the more evil was the eye she cast upon the dog, who, according to her, possessed all the canine vices, the more David loved it, and the more Tim was fattened and caressed.
In another direction, too, the same antagonism appeared. The sister's license of speech and behaviour towards the men who became her acquaintances provoked in the brother what often seemed to Ancrum—who, of course, remembered Reuben, and had heard many tales of old James Grieve, the lad's grandfather—a sort of Puritan reaction, the reaction of his race and stock against 'lewdness.' Louie's complete independence, however, and the distance she preserved between his amusements and hers, left David no other weapon than sarcasm, which he employed freely. His fine sensitive mouth took during these weeks a curve half mocking, half bitter, which changed the whole expression of the face.
He saw, indeed, with great clearness after a month or so that Louie's wildness was by no means the wildness of an ignorant innocent, likely to slip unawares into perdition, and that, while she had a passionate greed for amusement and pleasure, and a blank absence of principle, she was still perfectly alive to the risks of life, and meant somehow both to enjoy herself and to steer herself through. But this gradual perception—that, in spite of her mode of killing spare time, she was not immediately likely to take any fatal false step, as he had imagined in his first dread—did but increase his inward repulsion.
A state of feeling which was the more remarkable because he himself, in Ancrum's eyes, was at the moment in a temper of moral relaxation and bewilderment! His absorption in George Sand, and through her in all the other French Romantics whose books he could either find for himself or borrow from Barbier, was carrying a ferment of passion and imagination through all his blood. Most social arrangements, including marriage, seemed to have become open questions to him. Why, then, this tone towards Louie and her friends? Was it that, apart from the influence of heredity, the young fellow's moral perception at this time was not ethical at all, but aesthetic—a matter of taste, of the presence or absence of certain ideal and poetic elements in conduct?
At any rate his friendship for old Barbier drew closer and closer, and Ancrum, who had begun to feel a lively affection for him, could see but little of him.
As to Barbier, it was a significant chance which had thrown him across David's path. In former days this lively Frenchman had been a small Paris journalist, whom the coup d'etat had struck down with his betters, and who had escaped to England with one suit of clothes and eight francs in his pocket. He reminded himself on landing of a cousin of his mother's settled as a clerk in Manchester, found his way northwards, and had now, for some seventeen years, been maintaining himself in the cotton capital, mainly by teaching, but partly by a number of small arts—ornamental calligraphy, menu-writing, and the like—too odd and various for description. He was a fanatic, a Red, much possessed by political hatreds which gave savour to an existence otherwise dull and peaceable enough. Religious beliefs were very scarce with him, but he had a certain literary creed, the creed of 1830, when he had been a scribbler in the train of Victor Hugo, which he did his best to put into David.
He was a formidable-looking person, six feet in height, and broad in proportion, with bushy white eyebrows, and a mouth made hideous by two projecting teeth. In speech he hated England and all her ways, and was for ever yearning towards the misguided and yet unequalled country which had cast him out. In heart he was perfectly aware that England is free as not even Republican France is free; and he was also sufficiently alive to the fact that he had made himself a very tolerable niche in Manchester, and was pleasantly regarded there—at least, in certain circles—as an oracle of French opinion, a commodity which, in a great commercial centre, may at any time have a cash value. He could, in truth, have long ago revisited la patrie had he had a mind, for governments are seldom vindictive in the case of people who can clearly do them no harm. This, however, was not at all his own honest view of the matter. In the mirror of the mind he saw himself perpetually draped in the pathos of exile and the dignity of persecution, and the phrases by which he was wont to impress this inward vision on the brutal English sense had become, in the course of years, an effective and touching habit with him.
David had been Barbier's pupil in the first instance at one of the classes of the Mechanics' Institute. Never in Barbier's memory had any Manchester lad so applied himself to learn French before. And when the boy's knowledge of the Encyclopaedists came out, and he one day put the master right in class on some points connected with Diderot's relations to Rousseau, the ex-journalist gaped with astonishment, and then went home and read up his facts, half enraged and half enraptured. David's zeal piqued him, made him a better Frenchman and a better teacher than he had been for years. He was a vain man, and David's capacities put him on his mettle.
Very soon he and the lad had become intimate. He had described to David the first night of Hernani, when he had been one of the long-haired band of rapins, who came down in their scores to the Theatre Francais to defend their chief, Hugo, against the hisses of the Philistine. The two were making coffee in Barbier's attic, at the top of a side street off the Oxford Road, when these memories seized upon the old Romantic. He took up the empty coffee-pot, and brandished it from side to side as though it had been the sword of Hernani; the miserable Academy hugging its Moliere and Racine fled before him; the world was once more regenerate, and Hugo its high priest. Passages from the different parts welled to his old lips; he gave the play over again—the scene between the lover and the husband, where the husband lays down the strange and sinister penalty to which the lover submits—the exquisite love-scene in the fifth act—and the cry of agonised passion with which Dona Sol defends her love against his executioner. All these things he declaimed, stumping up and down, till the terrified landlady rose out of her bed to remonstrate, and got the door locked in her face for her pains, and till the bourgeois baby in the next room woke up and roared, and so put an abrupt end to the performance. Old Barbier sat down swearing, poked the fire furiously, and then, taking out a huge red handkerchief, wiped his brow with a trembling hand. His stiff white hair, parted on either temple, bristled like a high loupie over his round, black eyes, which glowed behind his spectacles. And meanwhile the handsome boy sat opposite, glad to laugh by way of reaction, but at bottom stirred by the same emotion, and ready to share in the same adorations.
Gradually David learnt his way about this bygone world of Barbier's recollection. A vivid picture sprang up in him of these strange leaders of a strange band, these cadaverous poets and artists of Louis Philippe's early days, beings in love with Lord Byron and suicide, having Art for God, and Hugo for prophet, talking of were-wolves, vampires, cathedrals, sunrises, forests, passion and despair, hatted like brigands, cloaked after Vandyke, curled like Absalom, making new laws unto themselves in verse as in morals, and leaving all petty talk of duty or common sense to the Academy and the nursery.
George Sand walking the Paris quays in male dress—George Sand at Fontainebleau roaming the midnight forest with Alfred de Musset, or wintering with her dying musician among the mountains of Palma; Gerard de Nerval, wanderer, poet, and suicide; Alfred de Musset flaming into verse at dead of night amid an answering and spendthrift blaze of wax candles; Baudelaire's blasphemies and eccentricities—these characters and incidents Barbier wove into endless highly coloured tales, to which David listened with perpetual relish.
'Mon Dieu! Mon Dieu! What times! What memories!' the old Frenchman would cry at last, fairly re-transported to the world of his youth, and, springing up, he would run to the little cupboard by his bed head, where he kept a score or so of little paper volumes—volumes which the tradesman David soon discovered, from a curious study of French catalogues, to have a fast-rising money value—and out would come Alfred de Musset's 'Nuit de Mai,' or an outrageous verse from Baudelaire, or an harmonious nothing from Gautier. David gradually learnt to follow, to understand, to range all that he heard in a mental setting of his own. The France of his imagination indeed was a strange land! Everybody in it was either girding at priests like Voltaire, or dying for love like George Sand's Stenio.
But whether the picture was true to life or no, it had a very strongly marked effect on the person conceiving it. Just as the speculative complexion of his first youth had been decided by the chance which brought him into daily contact with the French eighteenth century—for no self-taught solitary boy of quick and covetous mind can read Voltaire continuously without bearing the marks of him henceforward—so in the same way, when he passed, as France had done before him, from the philosophers to the Romantics, this constant preoccupation with the French literature of passion in its romantic and idealist period left deep and lasting results.
The strongest of these results lay in the realm of moral and social sense. What struck the lad's raw mind with more and more force as he gathered his French books about him was the profound gulf which seemed to divide the average French conception of the relation between the sexes from the average English one. In the French novels he read every young man had his mistress; every married woman her lover. Tragedy frequently arose out of these relations, but that the relations must and did obtain, as a matter of course, was assumed. For the delightful heroes and heroines of a whole range of fiction, from 'Manon Lescaut' down to Murger's 'Vie de Boheme,' marriage did not apparently exist, even as a matter of argument. And as to the duties of the married woman, when she passed on to the canvas, the code was equally simple. The husband might kill his wife's lover—that was in the game; but the young man's right to be was as good as his own. 'No human being can control love, and no one is to blame either for feeling it or for losing it. What alone degrades a woman is falsehood.' So says the husband in George Sand's 'Jacques' when he is just about to fling himself down an Alpine precipice that his wife and Octave may have their way undisturbed. And all the time, what poetry and passion in the presentation of these things! Beside them the mere remembrance of English ignorance, prudishness, and conventionality would set the lad swelling, as he read, with a sense of superior scorn, and of wild sympathy for a world in which love and not law, truth and not legal fiction, were masters of human relations.
Some little time after Reuben's visit to him he one day told Barbier the fact of his French descent. Barbier declared that he had always known it, had always realised something in David distinct from the sluggish huckstering English temper. Why, David's mother was from the south of France; his own family came from Carcassonne. No doubt the rich Gascon blood ran in both their veins. Salut au compatriole!
Thenceforward there was a greater solidarity between the two than ever. Barbier fell into an incessant gossip of Paris—the Paris of Louis Philippe—reviving memories and ways of speech which had been long dead in him, and leaving on David's mind the impression of a place where life was from morning till night amusement, exhilaration, and seduction; where, under the bright smokeless sky, and amid the stateliest streets and public buildings in Europe, men were always witty and women always attractive.
Meanwhile the course of business during the spring months and the rise of his trade in foreign books rapidly brought the scheme of a visit to France, which had been at first a mere dream and fancy, within the region of practical possibility, and even advantage, for the young bookseller. Two things he was set on. If he went he was determined to go under such conditions as would enable him to see French life—especially French artistic and student life—from the inside. And he saw with some clearness that he would have to take his sister with him.
Against the latter notion Barbier protested vehemently.
'What do you want to tie yourself to a petticoat for? If you take the girl you will have to look after her. Paris, my boy, let me inform you, is not the best place in the world for la jeune personne; and the Paris rapin may be an amusing scoundrel, but don't trust him with young women if you can help it. Leave Mademoiselle Louie at home, and let her mind the shop. Get Mademoiselle Dora or some one to stay with her, or send her to Mademoiselle Dora.'
So said the Frenchman with sharp dictatorial emphasis. What a preposterous suggestion!
'I can't stop her coming,' said David, quietly—'if she wants to come—and she'll be sure to want. Besides, I'll not leave her alone at home, and she'll not let me send her anywhere—you may be sure of that.'
The Frenchman stared and stormed. David fell silent. Louie was what she was, and it was no use discussing her. At last Barbier, being after all tolerably well acquainted with the lad's relations to his sister, came to a sudden end of his rhetoric, and began to think out something practicable.
That evening he wrote to a nephew of his living as an artist in the Quartier Montmartre. Some months before Barbier's vanity had been flattered by an adroit letter from this young gentleman, written, if the truth were known, at a moment when a pecuniary situation, pinched almost beyond endurance, had made it seem worth while to get his uncle's address out of his widowed mother. Barbier, a bachelor, and a man of some small savings, perfectly understood why he had been approached, and had been none the less extraordinarily glad to hear from the youth. He was a rapin? well and good; all the great men had been rapins before him. Very likely he had the rapin's characteristic vices and distractions. All the world knew what the life meant for nine men out of ten. What was the use of preaching? Youth was youth. Clearly the old man—himself irreproachable—would have been disappointed not to find his nephew a sad dog on personal acquaintance.
'Tell me, Xavier,' his letter ran, 'how to put a young friend of mine in the way of seeing something of Paris and Paris life, more than your fool of a tourist generally sees. He is a bookseller, and will, of course, mind his trade; but he is a young man of taste and intelligence besides, and moreover half French. It would be a pity that he should visit Paris as any sacre British Philistine does. Advise me where to place him. He would like to see something of your artist's life. But mind this, young man, he brings a sister with him as handsome as the devil, and not much easier to manage: so if you do advise—no tricks—tell me of something convenable.'
A few days later Barbier appeared in Potter Street just after David had put up the shutters, announcing that he had a proposal to make.
David unlocked the shop-door and let him in. Barbier looked round with some amazement on the small stuffy place, piled to bursting by now with books of every kind, which only John's herculean efforts could keep in passable order.
'Why don't you house yourself better—hein?' said the Frenchman. 'A business growing like this, and nothing but a den to handle it in!'
'I shall be all right when I get my other room,' said David composedly. 'Couldn't turn out the lodger before. The woman was only confined last week.'
And as he spoke the wailing of an infant and a skurrying of feet were heard upstairs.
'So it seems,' said Barbier, adjusting his spectacles in bewilderment. 'Jesus! What an affair! What did you permit it for? Why didn't you turn her out in time?'
'I would have turned myself out first,' said David. He was lounging, with his hands in his pockets, against the books; but though his attitude was nonchalant, his tone had a vibrating energy.
'What do women suffer for like that?'
The young man's eyes glowed, and his lips twitched a little, as though some poignant remembrance were at his heart.
Barbier looked at him with some curiosity.
'Ask le bon Dieu and Mother Eve, my friend. It lies between them,' said the old scoffer, with a shrug.
David looked away in silence. On his quick mind, greedy of all human experience, the night of Mrs. Mason's confinement, with its sounds of anguish penetrating through all the upper rooms of the thin, ill-built house, had left an ineffaceable impression of awe and terror. In the morning, when all was safely over, he came down to the kitchen to find the husband—a man some two or three years older than himself, and the smart foreman of an ironmongery shop in Deansgate—crouching over a bit of fire. The man was too much excited to apologise for his presence in the Grieves' room. David shyly asked him a question about his wife.
'Oh, it's all right, the doctor says. There's the nurse with her, and your sister's got the baby. She'll do; but, oh, my God! it's awful—it's awful! My poor Liz! Give me a corner here, will you! I'm all upset like.'
David had got some food out of the cupboard, made him eat it, and chatted to him till the man was more himself again. But the crying of the new-born child overhead, together with the shaken condition of this clever, self-reliant young fellow, so near his own age, seemed for the moment to introduce the lad to new and unknown regions of human feeling.
While these images were pursuing each other through David's mind, Barbier was poking among his foreign books, which lay, backs upwards, on the floor to one side of the counter.
'Do you sell them—hein?' he said, looking up and pointing to them with his stick.
'Yes. Especially the scientific books. These are an order. So is that batch. Napoleon III. 's "Caesar," isn't it? And those over there are "on spec." Oh, I could do something if I knew more! There's a man over at Oldham. One of the biggest weaving-sheds—cotton velvets—that kind of thing. He's awfully rich, and he's got a French library; a big one, I believe. He came in here yesterday. I think I could make something out of him; but he wants all sorts of rum things—last-century memoirs, out-of-the-way ones—everything about Montaigne—first editions—Lord knows what! I say, Barbier, I dare say he'd buy your books. What'll you let me have them for?'
'Diantre! Not for your heart's blood, my young man. It's like your impudence to ask. You could sell more if you knew more, you think? Well now listen to me.'
The Frenchman sat down, adjusted his spectacles, and, taking a letter from his pocket, read it with deliberation.
It was from the nephew, Xavier Dubois, in answer to his uncle's inquiries. Nothing, the writer declared, could have been more opportune. He himself was just off to Belgium, where a friend had procured him a piece of work on a new Government building. Why should not his uncle's friends inhabit his rooms during his absence? He must keep them on, and would find it very convenient, that being so, that some one should pay the rent. There was his studio, which was bare, no doubt, but quite habitable, and a little cabinet de toilette, adjoining, and shut off, containing a bed and all necessaries. Why should not the sister take the bedroom, and let the brother camp somehow in the studio? He could no doubt borrow a bed from some friend before they came, and with a large screen, which was one of the 'studio properties,' a very tolerable sleeping room could be improvised, and still leave a good deal of the studio free. He understood that his uncle's friends were not looking for luxury. But le stricte necessaire he could provide.
Meanwhile the Englishman and his sister would find themselves at once in the artists' circle, and might see as much or as little as they liked of artistic life. He (Dubois) could of course give them introductions. There was a sculptor, for instance, on the ground floor, a man of phenomenal genius, joli garcon besides, who would certainly show himself aimable for anybody introduced by Dubois; and on the floor above there was a landscape painter, ancien prix de Rome, and his wife, who would also, no doubt, make themselves agreeable, and to whom the brother and sister might go for all necessary information—Dubois would see to that. Sixty francs a month paid the appartement; a trifle for service if you desired it—there was, however, no compulsion—to the concierge would make you comfortable; and as for your food, the Quartier Montmartre abounded in cheap restaurants, and you might live as you pleased for one franc a day or twenty. He suggested that on the whole no better opening was likely to be found by two young persons of spirit, anxious to see Paris from the inside.
'Now then,' said Barbier, taking off his spectacles with an authoritative click, as he shut up the letter, 'decide-toi. Go!—and look about you for a fortnight. Improve your French; get to know some of the Paris bookmen; take some commissions out with you—buy there to the best advantage, and come back twenty per cent. better informed than when you set out.'
He smote his hands upon his knees with energy. He had a love of management and contrivance; and the payment of Eugene's rent for him during his absence weighed with his frugal mind.
David stood twisting his mouth in silence a moment, his head thrown back against the books.
'Well, I don't see why not,' he said at last, his eyes sparkling.
'And take notice, my friend,' said Barbier, tapping the open letter, 'the ancien prix de Rome has a wife. Where wives are young women can go. Xavier can prepare the way, and, if you play your cards well, you can get Mademoiselle Louie taken off your hands while you go about.'
David nodded. He was sitting astride on the counter, his face shining with the excitement he was now too much of a man to show with the old freedom.
Suddenly there was a sound of wild voices from the inside room.
'Miss Grieve! Miss Grieve! don't you take that child away. Bring it back, I say; I'll go to your brother, I will!'
'That's Mrs. Mason's nurse,' said David, springing off the counter. 'What's up now?'
He threw open the door into the kitchen, just as Louie swept into the room from the other side. She had a white bundle in her arms, and her face was flushed with a sly triumph. After her ran the stout woman who was looking after Mrs. Mason, purple with indignation.
'Now look yo here, Mr. Grieve,' she cried at sight of David, 'I can't stand it, and I won't. Am I in charge of Mrs. Mason or am I not? Here's Miss Grieve, as soon as my back's turned, as soon as I've laid that blessed baby in its cot as quiet as a lamb—and it's been howling since three o'clock this morning, as yo know—in she whips, claws it out of its cradle, and is off wi' it, Lord knows where. Thank the Lord, Mrs. Mason's asleep! If she weren't, she'd have a fit. She's feart to death o' Miss Grieve. We noather on us know what to make on her. She's like a wild thing soomtimes—not a human creetur at aw—Gie me that chilt, I tell tha!'
Louie vouchsafed no answer. She sat down composedly before the fire, and, cradling the still sleeping child on her knee, she bent over it examining its waxen hands and tiny feet with an eager curiosity. The nurse, who stood over her trembling with anger, and only deterred from snatching the child away by the fear of wakening it, might have been talking to the wall.
'Now, look here, Louie, what d' you do that for?' said David, remonstrating; 'why can't you leave the child alone? You'll be putting Mrs. Mason in a taking, and that'll do her harm.'
'Nowt o' t' sort,' said Louie composedly,' it 's that woman there'll wake her with screeching. She's asleep, and the baby's asleep, and I'm taking care of it. Why can't Mrs. Bury go and look after Mrs. Mason? She hasn't swept her room this two days, and it's a sight to see.'
Pricked in a tender point, Mrs. Bury broke out again into a stream of protest and invective, only modified by her fear of waking her patient upstairs, and interrupted by appeals to David. But whenever she came near to take the baby Louie put her hands over it, and her wide black eyes shot out intimidating flames before which the aggressor invariably fell back.
Attracted by the fight, Barbier had come up to look, and now stood by the shop-door, riveted by Louie's strange beauty. She wore the same black and scarlet dress in which she had made her first appearance in Manchester. She now never wore it out of doors, her quick eye having at once convinced her that it was not in the fashion. But the instinct which had originally led her to contrive it was abundantly justified whenever she still condescended to put it on, so startling a relief it lent to the curves of her slim figure, developed during the last two years of growth to all womanly roundness and softness, and to the dazzling colour of her dark head and thin face. As she sat by the fire, the white bundle on her knee, one pointed foot swinging in front of her, now hanging over the baby, and now turning her bright dangerous look and compressed lips on Mrs. Bury, she made a peculiar witch-like impression on Barbier which thrilled his old nerves agreeably. It was clear, he thought, that the girl wanted a husband and a family of her own. Otherwise why should she run off with other people's children? But he would be a bold man who ventured on her!
David, at last seeing that Louie was in the mood to tear the babe asunder rather than give it up, with difficulty induced Mrs. Bury to leave her in possession for half an hour, promising that, as soon as the mother woke, the child should be given back.
'If I've had enough of it,' Louie put in, as a saving clause, luckily just too late to be heard by the nurse, who had sulkily closed the door behind her, declaring that 'sich an owdacious chit she never saw in her born days, and niver heerd on one oather.'
David and Barbier went back into the shop to talk, leaving Louie to her nursing. As soon as she was alone she laid back the flannel which lay round the child's head, and examined every inch of its downy poll and puckered face, her warm breath making the tiny lips twitch in sleep as it travelled across them. Then she lifted the little nightgown and looked at the pink feet nestling in their flannel wrapping. A glow sprang into her cheek; her great eyes devoured the sleeping creature. Its weakness and helplessness, its plasticity to anything she might choose to do with it, seemed to intoxicate her. She looked round her furtively, then bent and laid a hot covetous kiss on the small clenched hand. The child moved; had it been a little older it would have wakened; but Louie, hastily covering it up, began to rock it and sing to it.
The door into the shop was ajar. As David and Barbier were hanging together over a map of Paris which David had hunted out of his stores, Barbier suddenly threw up his head with a queer look.
'What's that she's singing?' he said quickly.
He got up hastily, overturning his stool as he did so, and went to the door to listen.
'I haven't heard that,' he said, with some agitation, 'since my father's sister used to sing it me when I was a small lad, up at Augoumat in the mountains near Puy!'
Sur le pont d'Avignon Tout le monde y danse en rond; Les beaux messieurs font comme ca, Les beaux messieurs font comme ca.
The words were but just distinguishable as Louie sang. They were clipped and mutilated as by one who no longer understood what they meant. But the intonation was extraordinarily French, French of the South, and Barbier could hardly stand still under it.
'Where did you learn that?' he called to her from the door.
The girl stopped and looked at him with her bright bird-like glance. But she made no reply.
'Did your mother teach it you?' he asked, coming in.
'I suppose so,' she said indifferently.
'Can you talk any French—do you remember it?'
'But you'd soon learn. You haven't got the English mouth, that's plain. Do you know your brother thinks of taking you to Paris?'
'He don't,' she said laconically.
'Oh, don't he. Just ask him then?'
Ten minutes later Louie had been put in possession of the situation. As David had fully expected, she took no notice whatever of his suggestion that after all she might not care to come. They might be rough quarters, he said, and queer people about; and it would cost a terrible deal more for two than one. Should he not ask Dora Lomax to take her in for a fortnight? John, of course, would look after the shop. He spoke under the pressure of a sudden qualm, knowing it would be no use; but his voice had almost a note of entreaty in it.
'When do you want to be starting?' she asked him sharply. 'I'll not go to Dora's—so you needn't talk o' that. You can take the money out of what you'll be owing me next month.'
Her nostrils dilated as the quick breath passed through them. Barbier was fascinated by the extraordinary animation of the face, and could not take his eyes off her.
'Not for a fortnight,' said David reluctantly, answering her question. 'Barbier's letter says about the tenth of May. There's two country sales I must go to, and some other things to settle.'
'Well, then, I can get some things ready,' she said half to herself, staring across the baby into the fire.
When David and Barbier were gone together 'up street,' still talking over their plans, Louie leapt to her feet and laid the baby down—carelessly, as though she no longer cared anything at all about it—in the old-fashioned arm-chair wherein David spent so many midnight vigils. Then locking her hands behind her, she paced up and down the narrow room with the springing gait, the impetuous feverish grace, of some prisoned animal. Paris! Her education was small, and her ignorance enormous. But in the columns of a 'lady's paper' she had often bought from the station bookstall at Clough End she had devoured nothing more eagerly than the Paris letter, with its luscious descriptions of 'Paris fashions,' whereby even Lancashire women, even Clough End mill-hands in their Sunday best, were darkly governed from afar. All sorts of bygone dreams recurred to her—rich and subtle combinations of silks, satins, laces, furs, imaginary glories clothing an imaginary Louie Grieve. The remembrance of them filled her with a greed past description, and she forthwith conceived Paris as a place all shops, each of them superior to the best in St. Ann's Square—where one might gloat before the windows all day.
She made a spring to the door, and ran upstairs to her own room. There she began to pull out her dresses and scatter them about the floor, looking at them with a critical discontented eye.
Time passed. She was standing absorbed before an old gown, planning out its renovation, when a howl arose from downstairs. She fled like a roe deer, and pounced upon the baby just in time to checkmate Mrs. Bury, who was at her heels.
Quite regardless of the nurse's exasperation with her, first for leaving the child alone, half uncovered, in a chilly room, and now for again withholding it, Louie put the little creature against her neck, rocking and crooning to it. The sudden warm contact stilled the baby; it rubbed its head into the soft hollow thus presented to it, and its hungry lips sought eagerly for their natural food. The touch of them sent a delicious thrill through Louie; she turned her head round and kissed the tiny, helpless cheek with a curious violence; then, tired of Mrs. Bury, and anxious to get back to her plans, she almost threw the child to her.
'There—take it! I'll soon get it again when I want to.'
And she was as good as her word. The period of convalescence was to poor Mrs. Mason—a sickly, plaintive creature at the best of times—one long struggle and misery. Louie represented to her a sort of bird of prey, who was for ever descending on her child and carrying it off to unknown lairs. For neither mother nor nurse had Louie the smallest consideration; she despised and tyrannised over them both. But her hungry fondness for the baby grew with gratification, and there was no mastering her in the matter. Warm weather came, and when she reached home after her work, she managed by one ruse or another to get hold of the child, and on one occasion she disappeared with it into the street for hours. David was amazed by the whim, but neither he nor anyone else could control it. At last, Mrs. Mason was more or less hysterical all day long, and hardly sane when Louie was within reach. As for the husband, who managed to be more at home during the days of his wife's weakness than he had yet been since David's tenancy began, he complained to David and spoke his mind to Louie once or twice, and then, suddenly, he ceased to pay any attention to his wife's wails. With preternatural quickness the wife guessed the reason. A fresh terror seized her—terror of the girl's hateful beauty. She dragged herself from her bed, found a room, while Louie was at her work, and carried off baby and husband, leaving no address. Luckily for her, the impression of Louie's black eyes proved to have been a passing intoxication, and the poor mother breathed and lived again.
Meanwhile Louie's excitement and restlessness over the Paris plan made her more than usually trying to Dora. During this fortnight she could never be counted on for work, not even when it was a question of finishing an important commission. She was too full of her various preparations. Barbier offered her for instance, a daily French lesson. She grasped in an instant the facilities which even the merest smattering of French would give her in Paris; every night she sat up over her phrase book, and every afternoon she cut her work short to go to Barbier. Her whole life seemed to be one flame of passionate expectation, though what exactly she expected it would have been hard to say.
Poor Dora! She had suffered many things in much patience all these weeks. Louie's clear, hard mind, her sensuous temperament, her apparent lack of all maidenly reserve, all girlish softness, made her incomprehensible to one for whom life was an iridescent web of ideal aims and obligations. The child of grace was dragged out of her own austere or delicate thoughts, and made to touch, taste, and handle what the 'world,' as the Christian understands it, might be like. Like every other daughter of the people, Dora was familiar enough with sin and weakness—Daddy alone had made her amply acquainted with both at one portion or another of his career. But just this particular temper of Louie's, with its apparent lack both of passion and of moral sense, was totally new to her, and produced at times a stifling impression upon her, without her being able to explain to herself with any clearness what was the matter.
Yet, in truth, it often seemed as if the lawless creature had been in some sort touched by Dora, as if daily contact with a being so gentle and so magnanimous had won even upon her. That confidence, for instance, which Louie had promised John, at Dora's expense, had never been made. When it came to the point, some touch of remorse, of shame, had sealed the girl's mocking lips.
One little fact in particular had amazed Dora. Louie insisted, for a caprice, on going with her one night, in Easter week, to St. Damian's, and thenceforward went often. What attracted her, Dora puzzled herself to discover. When, however, Louie had been a diligent spectator, even at early services, for some weeks, Dora timidly urged that she might be confirmed, and that Father Russell would take her into his class. Louie laughed immoderately at the idea, but continued to go to St. Damian's all the same. Dora could not bear to be near her in church, but however far away she might place herself, she was more conscious than she liked to be of Louie's conspicuous figure and hat thrown out against a particular pillar which the girl affected. The sharp uplifted profile with its disdainful expression drew her eyes against their will. She was also constantly aware of the impression Louie made upon the crowd, of the way in which she was stared at and remarked upon. Whenever she passed in or out of the church, people turned, and the girl, expecting it, and totally unabashed, flashed her proud look from side to side.
But once in her place, she was not inattentive. The dark chancel with its flowers and incense, the rich dresses and slow movements of the priests, the excitement of the processional hymns—these things caught her and held her. Her look was fixed and eager all the time. As to the clergy, Dora spoke to Father's Russell's sister, and some efforts were made to get hold of the new-comer. But none of them were at all successful. The girl slipped through everybody's hands. Only in the case of one of the curates, a man with a powerful, ugly head, and a penetrating personality, did she show any wavering. Dora fancied that she put herself once or twice in his way, that something about him attracted her, and that he might have influenced her. But as soon as the Paris project rose on the horizon, Louie thought of nothing else. Father Impey and St. Damian's, like everything else, were forgotten. She never went near the church from the evening David told her his news to the day they left Manchester.
David ran in to say good-bye to Daddy and Dora on the night before they were to start. Since the Paris journey had been in the air, Daddy's friendliness for the young fellow had revived. He was not, after all, content to sit at home upon his six hundred pounds 'like a hatching hen,' and so far Daddy, whose interest in him had been for the time largely dashed by his sudden accession to fortune, was appeased.
When David appeared Lomax was standing on the rug, with a book under his arm.
'Well, good-bye to you, young man, good-bye to you. And here's a book to take with you that you may read in the train. It will stir you up a bit, give you an idea or two. Don't you come back too soon.'
'Father,' remonstrated Dora, who was standing by, 'who's to look after his business?'
'Be quiet, Dora! That book'll show him what can be made even of a beastly bookseller.'
David took it from him, looked at the title, and laughed. He knew it well. It was the 'Life and Errors of John Dunton, Citizen of London,' the eccentric record of a seventeenth-century dealer in books, who, like Daddy, had been a character and a vagrant.
'Och! Don't I know it by heart?' said Daddy, with enthusiasm. 'Many a time it's sent me off tramping, when my poor Isabella thought she'd got me tied safe by the heels in the chimney corner. Though love is strong as death, and every good man loves his wife as himself, yet—many's the score of times I've said it off pat to Isabella—yet I cannot think of being confined in a narrower study than the whole world. "There's a man for you! He gets rid of one wife and saddles himself with another—sorrow a bit will he stop at home for either of them!" Finding I am for travelling, Valeria, to show the height of her love, is as willing I should see Europe as Eliza was I should see America. 'Och! give me the book, you divil,' cried Daddy, growing more and more Hibernian as his passion rose, 'and, bedad, but I'll drive it into you.'
And, reaching over, Daddy seized it, and turned over the pages with a trembling hand. Dora flushed, and the tears rose into her eyes. She realised perfectly that this performance was levelled at her at least as much as at David. Daddy's mad irritability had grown of late with every week.
'Listen to this, Davy!' cried Daddy, putting up his hand for silence.' "When I have crossed the Hellespont, where poor Leander was drowned, Greece, China, and the Holy Land are the other three countries I'm bound to. And perhaps when my hand is in—"'
'My hand is in!' repeated Daddy, in an ecstasy. 'What a jewel of a man!'
'I may step thence to the Indies, for I am a true lover of travels, and, when I am once mounted, care not whether I meet the sun at his rising or going down, provided only I may but ramble.... He is truly a scholar who is versed in the volume of the Universe, who doth not so much read of Nature as study Nature herself.'
'Well said—well said indeed!' cried Daddy, flinging the book down with a wild gesture which startled them both. 'Was that the man, Adrian Lomax, to spend the only hours of the only life he was ever likely to see—his first thought in the morning, and his last thought at night—in tickling the stomachs of Manchester clerks?'
His peaked chin and straggling locks fell forward on his breast. He stared sombrely at the young people before him, in an attitude which, as usual, was the attitude of an actor.
David's natural instinct was to jeer. But a glance at Dora perplexed him. There was some tragedy he did not understand under this poor comedy.
'Don't speak back,' said Dora, hurriedly, under her breath, as she passed him to get her frame. 'It only makes him worse.'
After a few minutes' broken chat, which Daddy's mood made it difficult to keep up, David took his departure. Dora followed him downstairs.
'You're going to be away a fortnight,' she said, timidly.
As she spoke, she moved her head backwards and forwards against the wall, as though it ached, and she could not find a restful spot.
'Oh, we shall be back by then, never fear!' said David, cheerfully. He was growing more and more sorry for her.
'I should like to see foreign parts,' she said wistfully. 'Is there a beautiful church, a cathedral, in Paris? Oh, there are a great many in France, I know! I've heard the people at St. Damian's speak of them. I would like to see the services. But they can't be nicer than ours.'
'I'm afraid I can't tell you much about them, Miss Dora; they aren't in my line. Good-bye, and keep your heart up.'
He was going, but he turned back to say quickly—
'Why don't you let him go off for a bit of a tramp? It might quiet him.'
'I would; I would,' she said eagerly; 'but I don't know what would come of it. We're dreadfully behindhand this month, and if he were to go away, people would be down on us; they'd think he wanted to get out of paying.'
He stayed talking a bit, trying to advise her, and, in the first place, trying to find out how wrong things were. But she had not yet come to the point of disclosing her father's secrets. She parried his questions, showing him all the while, by look and voice, that she was grateful to him for asking—for caring.
He went at last, and she locked the door behind him. But when that was done, she stood still in the dark, wringing her hands in a silent passion of longing—longing to be with him, outside, in the night, to hear his voice, to see his handsome looks again. Oh! the fortnight would be long. So long as he was there, within a stone's throw, though he did not love her, and she was sad and anxious, yet Manchester held her treasure, and Manchester streets had glamour, had charm.
He walked to Piccadilly, and took a 'bus to Mortimer Street. He must say good-bye also to Mr. Ancrum, who had been low and ill of late.
'So you are off, David?' said Ancrum, rousing himself from what seemed a melancholy brooding over books that he was in truth not reading. As David shook hands with him, the small fusty room, the pale face and crippled form awoke in the lad a sense of indescribable dreariness. In a flash of recoil and desire his thought sprang to the journey of the next day—to the May seas—the foreign land.