Tommy and Aaron left together! Tommy described those scenes with much good humour. "I was amazed at first," he said to Grizel, "to find Aaron determinedly enduring me, but now I understand. He wants what we want. He says not a word about it, but he is watching those two courting like a born match-maker. Aaron has several reasons for hoping that Elspeth will get our friend (as he would express it): one, that this would keep her in Thrums; another, that to be the wife of a doctor is second only in worldly grandeur to marrying the manse; and thirdly and lastly, because he is convinced that it would be such a staggerer to me. For he thinks I have not a notion of what is going on, and that, if I had, I would whisk her away to London."
He gave Grizel the most graphic, solemn pictures of those evenings in the cottage. "Conceive the four of us gathered round the kitchen fire—three men and a maid; the three men yearning to know what is in the maid's mind, and each concealing his anxiety from the others. Elspeth gives the doctor a look which may mean much or nothing, and he glares at me as if I were in the way, and I glance at Aaron, and he is on tenterhooks lest I have noticed anything. Next minute, perhaps, David gives utterance to a plaintive sigh, and Aaron and I pounce upon Elspeth (with our eyes) to observe its effect on her, and Elspeth wonders why Aaron is staring, and he looks apprehensively at me, and I am gazing absent-mindedly at the fender.
"You may smile, Grizel," Tommy would say, "and now that I think of it, I can smile myself, but we are an eerie quartet at the time. When the strain becomes unendurable, one of us rises and mends the fire with his foot, and then I think the rest of us could say 'Thank you.' We talk desperately for a little after that, but soon again the awful pall creeps down."
"If I were there," cried Grizel, "I would not have the parlour standing empty all this time."
"We are coming to the parlour," Tommy replies impressively. "The parlour, Grizel, now begins to stir. Elspeth has disappeared from the kitchen, we three men know not whither. We did not notice her go; we don't even observe that she has gone—we are too busy looking at the fire. By and by the tremulous tinkling of an aged piano reaches us from an adjoining chamber, and Aaron looks at me through his fingers, and I take a lightning glance at Mr. David, and he uncrosses his legs and rises, and sits down again. Aaron, in the most unconcerned way, proceeds to cut tobacco and rub it between his fingers, and I stretch out my legs and contemplate them with passionate approval. While we are thus occupied David has risen, and he is so thoroughly at his ease that he has begun to hum. He strolls round the kitchen, looking with sudden interest at the mantelpiece ornaments; he reads, for the hundredth time, the sampler on the wall. Next the clock engages his attention; it is ticking, and that seems to impress him as novel and curious. By this time he has reached the door; it opens to his touch, and in a fit of abstraction he leaves the room."
"You don't follow him into the parlour?" asks Grizel, anxiously.
"Follow whom?" Tommy replies severely. "I don't even know that he has gone to the parlour; now that I think of it, I have not even noticed that he has left the kitchen; nor has Aaron noticed it. Aaron and I are not in a condition to notice such things; we are conscious only that at last we have the opportunity for the quiet social chat we so much enjoy in each other's company. That, at least, is Aaron's way of looking at it, and he keeps me there with talk of the most varied and absorbing character; one topic down, another up; when very hard put to it, he even questions me about my next book, as if he would like to read the proof-sheets, and when I seem to be listening, a little restively, for sounds from the parlour (the piano has stopped), he has the face of one who would bar the door rather than lose my society. Aaron appreciates me at my true value at last, Grizel. I had begun to despair almost of ever bringing him under my charm."
"I should be very angry with you," Grizel said warningly, "if I thought you teased the poor old man."
"Tease him! The consideration I show that poor old man, Grizel, while I know all the time that he is plotting to diddle me! You should see me when it is he who is fidgeting to know why the piano has stopped. He stretches his head to listen, and does something to his ear that sends it another inch nearer the door; he chuckles and groans on the sly; and I—I notice nothing. Oh, he is becoming quite fond of me; he thinks me an idiot."
"Why not tell him that you want it as much as he?"
"He would not believe me. Aaron is firmly convinced that I am too jealous of Elspeth's affection to give away a thimbleful of it. He blames me for preventing her caring much even for him."
"At any rate," said Grizel, "he is on our side, and it is because he sees it would be so much the best thing for her."
"And, at the same time, such a shock to me. That poor old man, Grizel! I have seen him rubbing his hands together with glee and looking quite leery as he thought of what was coming to me."
But Grizel could not laugh now. When Tommy saw so well through Aaron and David, through everyone he came in contact with, indeed, what hope could there be that he was deceived in Elspeth?
"And yet she knows what takes him there; she must know it!" she cried.
"A woman," Tommy said, "is never sure that a man is in love with her until he proposes. She may fancy—but it is never safe to fancy, as so many have discovered."
"She has no right," declared Grizel, "to wait until she is sure, if she does not care for him. If she fears that he is falling in love with her, she knows how to discourage him; there are surely a hundred easy, kind ways of doing that."
"Fears he is falling in love with her!" Tommy repeated. "Is any woman ever afraid of that?"
He really bewildered her. "No woman would like it," Grizel answered promptly for them all, because she would not have liked it. "She must see that it would result only in pain to him."
"Still——" said Tommy.
"Oh, but how dense you are!" she said, in surprise. "Don't you understand that she would stop him, though it were for no better reasons than selfish ones? Consider her shame if, in thinking it over afterwards, she saw that she might have stopped him sooner! Why," she cried, with a sudden smile, "it is in your book! You say: 'Every maiden carries secretly in her heart an idea of love so pure and sacred that, if by any act she is once false to that conception, her punishment is that she never dares to look at it again.' And this is one of the acts you mean."
"I had not thought of it, though," he said humbly. He was never prouder of Grizel than at that moment. "If Elspeth's outlook," he went on, "is different——"
"It can't be different."
"If it is, the fault is mine; yes, though I wrote the passage that you interpret so nobly, Grizel. Shall I tell you," he said gently, "what I believe is Elspeth's outlook exactly, just now? She knows that the doctor is attracted by her, and it gives her little thrills of exultation; but that it can be love—she puts that question in such a low voice, as if to prevent herself hearing it. And yet she listens, Grizel, like one who would like to know! Elspeth is pitifully distrustful of anyone's really loving her, and she will never admit to herself that he does until he tells her."
Tommy had to droop his head.
"I see you have still no hope!" she said.
"It would be so easy to pretend I have," he replied, with longing, "in order to cheer you for the moment. Oh, it would even be easy to me to deceive myself; but should I do it?"
"No, no," she said; "anything but that; I can bear anything but that," and she shuddered. "But we seem to be treating David cruelly."
"I don't think so," he assured her. "Men like to have these things to look back to. But, if you want it, Grizel, I have to say only a word to Elspeth to bring it to an end. She is as tender as she is innocent, and—but it would be a hard task to me," he admitted, his heart suddenly going out to Elspeth; he had never deprived her of any gratification before. "Still, I am willing to do it."
"No!" Grizel cried, restraining him with her hand. "I am a coward, I suppose, but I can't help wanting to hope for a little longer, and David won't grudge it to me."
It was but a very little longer that they had to wait. Tommy, returning home one day from a walk with his old school-friend, Gav Dishart (now M.A.), found Aaron suspiciously near the parlour keyhole.
"There's a better fire in the other end," Aaron said, luring him into the kitchen. So desirous was he of keeping Tommy there, fixed down on a stool, that "I'll play you at the dambrod," he said briskly.
"Anyone with Elspeth?"
"Some women-folk you dinna like," replied Aaron.
Tommy rose. Aaron, with a subdued snarl, got between him and the door.
"I was wondering, merely," Tommy said, pointing pleasantly to something on the dresser, "why one of them wore the doctor's hat."
"I forgot; he's there, too," Aaron said promptly; but he looked at Tommy with misgivings. They sat down to their game.
"You begin," said Tommy; "you're black." And Aaron opened with the Double Corner; but so preoccupied was he that it became a variation of the Ayrshire lassie, without his knowing. His suspicions had to find vent in words: "You dinna speir wha the women-folk are?"
"Do you think I'm just pretending they're there?" Aaron asked apprehensively.
"Not at all," said Tommy, with much politeness, "but I thought you might be mistaken." He could have "blown" Aaron immediately thereafter, but, with great consideration, forbore. The old man was so troubled that he could not lift a king without its falling in two. His sleeve got in the way of his fingers. At last he sat back in his chair. "Do you ken what is going on, man?" he demanded, "or do you no ken? I can stand this doubt no longer."
A less soft-hearted person might have affected not to understand, but that was not Tommy's way. "I know, Aaron," he admitted. "I have known all the time." It was said in the kindliest manner, but its effect on Aaron was not soothing.
"Curse you!" he cried, with extraordinary vehemence, "you have been playing wi' me a' the time, ay, and wi' him and wi' her!"
What had Aaron been doing with Tommy? But Tommy did not ask that.
"I am sorry you think so badly of me," he said quietly. "I have known all the time, Aaron, but have I interfered?"
"Because you ken she winna take him. I see it plain enough now. You ken your power over her; the honest man that thinks he could take her frae you is to you but a divert."
He took a step nearer Tommy. "Listen," he said. "When you came back he was on the point o' speiring her; I saw it in his face as she was playing the piano, and she saw it, too, for her hands began to trem'le and the tune wouldna play. I daursay you think I was keeking, but if I was I stoppit it when the piano stoppit; it was a hard thing to me to do, and it would hae been an easy thing no to do, but I wouldna spy upon Elspeth in her great hour."
"I like you for that, Aaron," Tommy said; but Aaron waved his likes aside.
"The reason I stood at the door," he continued, "was to keep you out o' that room. I offered to play you at the dambrod to keep you out. Ay, you ken that without my telling you, but do you ken what makes me tell you now? It's to see whether you'll go in and stop him; let's see you do that, and I'll hae some hope yet." He waited eagerly.
"You do puzzle me now," Tommy said.
"Ay," replied the old man, bitterly, "you're dull in the uptak' when you like! I dinna ken, I suppose, and you dinna ken, that if you had the least dread o' her taking him you would be into that room full bend to stop it; but you're so sure o' her, you're so michty sure, that you can sit here and lauch instead."
"Am I laughing, Aaron? If you but knew, Elspeth's marriage would be a far more joyful thing to me than it could ever be to you."
The old warper laughed unpleasantly at that. "And I'se uphaud," he said, "you're none sure but what shell tak' him! You're no as sure she'll refuse him as that there's a sun in the heavens, and I'm a broken man."
For a moment sympathy nigh compelled Tommy to say a hopeful thing, but he mastered himself. "It would be weakness," was what he did say, "to pretend that there is any hope."
Aaron gave him an ugly look, and was about to leave the house; but Tommy would not have it. "If one of us must go, Aaron," he said, with much gentleness, "let it be me"; and he went out, passing the parlour door softly, so that he might not disturb poor David. The warper sat on by the fire, his head sunk miserably in his shoulders. The vehemence had passed out of him; you would have hesitated to believe that such a listless, shrunken man could have been vehement that same year. It is a hardy proof of his faith in Tommy that he did not even think it worth while to look up when, by and by, the parlour door opened and the doctor came in for his hat. Elspeth was with him.
They told Aaron something.
It lifted him off his feet and bore him out at the door. When he made up on himself he knew he was searching everywhere for Tommy. A terror seized him, lest he should not be the first to convey the news.
Had he been left a fortune? neighbours asked, amazed at this unwonted sight; and he replied, as he ran, "I have, and I want to share it wi' him!"
It was his only joke. People came to their doors to see Aaron Latta laughing.
GRIZEL'S GLORIOUS HOUR
Elspeth was to be his wife! David had carried the wondrous promise straight to Grizel, and now he was gone and she was alone again.
Oh, foolish Grizel, are you crying, and I thought it was so hard to you to cry!
"Me crying! Oh, no!"
Put your hand to your cheeks, Grizel. Are they not wet?
"They are wet, and I did not know it! It is hard to me to cry in sorrow, but I can cry for joy. I am crying because it has all come right, and I was so much afraid that it never would."
Ah, Grizel, I think you said you wanted nothing else so long as you had his love!
"But God has let it all come right, just the same, and I am thanking Him. That is why I did not know that I was crying."
She was by the fireplace, on the stool that had always been her favourite seat, and of course she sat very straight. When Grizel walked or stood her strong, round figure took a hundred beautiful poses, but when she sat it had but one. The old doctor, in experimenting moods, had sometimes compelled her to recline, and then watched to see her body spring erect the moment he released his hold. "What a dreadful patient I should make!" she said contritely. "I would chloroform you, miss," said he.
She sat thus for a long time; she had so much for which to thank God, though not with her lips, for how could they keep pace with her heart? Her heart was very full; chiefly, I think, with the tears that rolled down unknown to her.
She thanked God, in the name of the little hunted girl who had not been taught how to pray, and so did it standing. "I do so want to be good; oh, how sweet it would be to be good!" she had said in that long ago. She had said it out loud when she was alone on the chance of His hearing, but she had not addressed Him by name because she was not sure that he was really called God. She had not even known that you should end by saying "Amen," which Tommy afterwards told her is the most solemn part of it.
How sweet it would be to be good, but how much sweeter it is to be good! The woman that girl had grown into knew that she was good, and she thanked God for that. She thanked Him for letting her help. If He had said that she had not helped, she would have rocked her arms and replied almost hotly: "You know I have." And He did know: He had seen her many times in the grip of inherited passions, and watched her fighting with them and subduing them; He had seen ugly thoughts stealing upon her, as they crawl towards every child of man; ah, He had seen them leap into the heart of the Painted Lady's daughter, as if a nest already made for them must be there, and still she had driven them away. Grizel had helped. The tears came more quickly now.
She thanked God that she had never worn the ring. But why had she never worn it, when she wanted so much to do so, and it was hers? Why had she watched herself more carefully than ever of late, and forced happiness to her face when it was not in her heart, and denied herself, at fierce moments, the luxuries of grief and despair, and even of rebellion? For she had carried about with her the capacity to rebel, but she had hidden it, and the reason was that she thought God was testing her. If she fell He would not give her the thing she coveted. Unworthy reason for being good, as she knew, but God overlooked it, and she thanked Him for that.
Her hands pressed each other impulsively, as if at the shock of a sudden beautiful thought, and then perhaps she was thanking God for making her the one woman who could be the right wife for Tommy. She was so certain that no other woman could help him as she could; none knew his virtues as she knew them. Had it not been for her, his showy parts only would have been loved; the dear, quiet ones would never have heard how dear they were: the showy ones were open to all the world, but the quiet ones were her private garden. His faults as well as his virtues passed before her, and it is strange to know that it was about this time that Grizel ceased to cry and began to smile instead. I know why she smiled; it was because sentimentality was one of the little monsters that came skipping into her view, and Tommy was so confident that he had got rid at last of it! Grizel knew better! But she could look at it and smile. Perhaps she was not sorry that it was still there with the others, it had so long led the procession. I daresay she saw herself taking the leering, distorted thing in hand and making something gallant of it. She thought that she was too practical, too much given to seeing but one side to a question, too lacking in consideration for others, too impatient, too relentlessly just, and she humbly thanked God for all these faults, because Tommy's excesses were in the opposite direction, and she could thus restore the balance. She was full of humility while she saw how useful she could be to him, but her face did not show this; she had forgotten her face, and elation had spread over it without her knowing. Perhaps God accepted the elation as part of the thanks.
She thanked God for giving Tommy what he wanted so much—herself. Ah, she had thanked Him for that before, but she did it again. And then she went on her knees by her dear doctor's chair, and prayed that she might be a good wife to Tommy.
When she rose the blood was not surging through her veins. Instead of a passion of joy it was a beautiful calm that possessed her, and on noticing this she regarded herself with sudden suspicion, as we put our ear to a watch to see if it has stopped. She found that she was still going, but no longer either fast or slow, and she saw what had happened: her old serene self had come back to her. I think she thanked God for that most of all.
And then she caught sight of her face—oh, oh! Her first practical act as an engaged woman was to wash her face.
Engaged! But was she? Grizel laughed. It is not usually a laughing matter, but she could not help that. Consider her predicament. She could be engaged at once, if she liked, even before she wiped the water from her face, or she might postpone it, to let Tommy share. The careful reader will have noticed that this problem presented itself to her at an awkward moment. She laughed, in short, while her face was still in the basin, with the very proper result that she had to grope for the towel with her eyes shut.
It was still a cold, damp face (Grizel was always in such a hurry) when she opened her most precious drawer and took from it a certain glove which was wrapped in silk paper, but was not perhaps quite so conceited as it had been, for, alas and alack! it was now used as a wrapper itself. The ring was inside it. If Grizel wanted to be engaged, absolutely and at once, all she had to do was to slip that ring upon her finger.
It had been hers for a week or more. Tommy had bought it in a certain Scottish town whose merchant princes are so many, and have risen splendidly from such small beginnings, that after you have been there a short time you beg to be introduced to someone who has not got on. When you look at them they slap their trouser pockets. When they look at you they are wondering if you know how much they are worth. Tommy, one day, roaming their streets (in which he was worth incredibly little), and thinking sadly of what could never be, saw the modest little garnet ring in a jeweller's window, and attached to it was a pathetic story. No other person could have seen the story, but it was as plain to him as though it had been beautifully written on the tag of paper which really contained the price. With his hand on the door he paused, overcome by that horror of entering shops without a lady to do the talking, which all men of genius feel (it is the one sure test), hurried away, came back, went to and fro shyly, until he saw that he was yielding once more to the indecision he thought he had so completely mastered, whereupon he entered bravely (though it was one of those detestable doors that ring a bell as they open), and sternly ordered the jeweller, who could have bought and sold our Tommy with one slap on the trouser leg, to hand the ring over to him.
He had no intention of giving it to Grizel. That, indeed, was part of its great tragedy, for this is the story Tommy read into the ring: There was once a sorrowful man of twenty-three, and forty, and sixty. Ah, how gray the beard has grown as we speak! How thin the locks! But still we know him for the same by that garnet ring. Since it became his no other eye has seen it, and yet it is her engagement ring. Never can he give it to her, but must always carry it about with him as the piteous memory of what had never been. How innocent it looked in his hand, and with an innocence that never wore off, not even when he had reached his threescore years. As it aged it took on another kind of innocence only. It looked pitiable now, for there is but a dishonoured age for a lonely little ring which can never see the finger it was made to span.
A hair-shirt! Such it was to him, and he put it on willingly, knowing it could be nothing else. Every smart it gave him pleased, even while it pained. If ever his mind roamed again to the world of make-believe, that ring would jerk him back to facts.
Grizel remembered well her finding of it. She had been in his pockets. She loved to rifle them; to pull out his watch herself, instead of asking him for the time; to exclaim "Oh!" at the many things she found there, when they should have been neatly docketed or in the fire, and from his waistcoat pocket she drew the ring. She seemed to understand all about it at once. She was far ahead while he was explaining. It seemed quite strange to her that there had ever been a time when she did not know of her garnet ring.
How her arms rocked! It was delicious to her to remember now with what agony her arms had rocked. She kissed it; she had not been the first to kiss it.
It was "Oh, how I wish I could have saved you this pain!"
"But I love it," she cried, "and I love the pain."
It was "Am I not to see it on your finger once?"
"No, no; we must not."
"Let me, Grizel!"
"Is it right, oh, is it right?"
"Only this once!"
"I dare not, Grizel, I can't! What are we to do with it now?"
"Give it to me. It is mine. I will keep it, beside my glove."
"Let me keep it, Grizel."
"No; it is mine."
"Shall I fling it away?"
"How can you be so cruel? It is mine."
"Let me bury it."
"It is mine."
And of course she had got her way. Could he resist her in anything? They had never spoken of it since, it was such a sad little ring. Sad! It was not in the least little bit sad. Grizel wondered as she looked at it now how she could ever have thought it sad.
The object with which she put on her hat was to go to Aaron's cottage, to congratulate Elspeth. So she said to herself. Oh, Grizel!
But first she opened two drawers. They were in a great press and full of beautiful linen woven in Thrums, that had come to Dr. McQueen as a "bad debt." "Your marriage portion, young lady," he had said to Grizel, then but a slip of a girl, whereupon, without waiting to lengthen her frock, she rushed rapturously at her work-basket. "Not at all, miss," he cried ferociously; "you are here to look after this house, not to be preparing for another, and until you are respectably bespoken by some rash crittur of a man, into the drawers with your linen and down with those murderous shears." And she had obeyed; no scissors, the most relentless things in nature when in Grizel's hand, had ever cleaved their way through that snowy expanse; never a stitch had she put into her linen except with her eyes, which became horribly like needles as she looked at it.
And now at last she could begin! Oh, but she was anxious to begin; it is almost a fact that, as she looked at those drawers, she grudged the time that must be given to-day to Tommy and his ring.
Do you see her now, ready to start? She was wearing her brown jacket with the fur collar, over which she used to look so searchingly at Tommy. To think there was a time when that serene face had to look searchingly at him! It nearly made her sad again. She paused to bring out the ring and take another exultant look at it. It was attached now to a ribbon round her neck. Sweet ring! She put it to her eyes. That was her way of letting her eyes kiss it Then she rubbed them and it, in case the one had left a tear upon the other.
And then she went out, joy surging in her heart For this was Grizel's glorious hour, the end of it.
TOMMY LOSES GRIZEL
It was not Aaron's good fortune to find Tommy. He should have looked for him in the Den.
In that haunt of happier lovers than he, Tommy walked slowly, pondering. He scarce noticed that he had the Den to himself, or that, since he was last here, autumn had slipped away, leaving all her garments on the ground. By this time, undoubtedly, Elspeth had said her gentle No; but he was not railing against Fate, not even for striking the final blow at him through that innocent medium. He had still too much to do for that—to help others. There were three of them at present, and by some sort of sympathetic jugglery he had an arm for each.
"Lean on me, Grizel—dear sister Elspeth, you little know the harm you have done—David, old friend, your hand."
Thus loaded, he bravely returned at the fitting time to the cottage. His head was not even bent.
Had you asked Tommy what Elspeth would probably do when she dismissed David, he might have replied that she would go up to his room and lock herself into it, so that no one should disturb her for a time. And this he discovered, on returning home, was actually what had happened. How well he knew her! How distinctly he heard every beat of her tender heart, and how easy to him to tell why it was beating! He did not go up; he waited for little Elspeth to come to him, all in her own good time. And when she came, looking just as he knew she would look, he had a brave, bright face for her.
She was shaking after her excitement, or perhaps she had ceased to shake and begun again as she came down to him. He pretended not to notice it; he would notice it the moment he was sure she wanted him to, but perhaps that would not be until she was in bed and he had come to say good-night and put out her light, for, as we know, she often kept her great confidences till then, when she discovered that he already knew them.
"The doctor has been in."
She began almost at once, and in a quaking voice and from a distance, as if in hope that the bullet might be spent before it reached her brother.
"I am sorry I missed him," he replied cautiously. "What a fine fellow he is!"
"You always liked him," said Elspeth, clinging eagerly to that.
"No one could help liking him, Elspeth, he has such winning ways," said Tommy, perhaps a little in the voice with which at funerals we refer to the departed. She loved his words, but she knew she had a surprise for him this time, and she tried to blurt it out.
"He said something to me. He—oh, what a high opinion he has of you!" (She really thought he had.)
"Was that the something?" Tommy asked, with a smile that helped her, as it was meant to do.
"You understand, don't you?" she said, almost in a whisper.
"Of course I do, Elspeth," he answered reassuringly; but somehow she still thought he didn't.
"No one could have been more manly and gentle and humble," she said beseechingly.
"I am sure of it," said Tommy.
"He thinks nothing of himself," she said.
"We shall always think a great deal of him," replied Tommy.
"Yes, but——" Elspeth found the strangest difficulty in continuing, for, though it would have surprised him to be told so, Tommy was not helping her nearly as much as he imagined.
"I told him," she said, shaking, "that no one could be to me what you were. I told him——" and then timid Elspeth altogether broke down. Tommy drew her to him, as he had so often done since she was the smallest child, and pressed her head against his breast, and waited. So often he had waited thus upon Elspeth.
"There is nothing to cry about, dear," he said tenderly, when the time to speak came. "You have, instead, the right to be proud that so good a man loves you. I am very proud of it, Elspeth."
"If I could be sure of that!" she gasped.
"Don't you believe me, dear?"
"Yes, but—that is not what makes me cry. Tommy, don't you see?"
"Yes," he assured her, "I see. You are crying because you feel so sorry for him. But I don't feel sorry for him, Elspeth. If I know anything at all, it is this: that no man needs pity who sincerely loves; whether that love be returned or not, he walks in a new and more beautiful world for evermore."
She clutched his hand. "I don't understand how you know those things," she whispered.
Please God, was Tommy's reflection, she should never know. He saw most vividly the pathos of his case, but he did not break down under it; it helped him, rather, to proceed.
"It will be the test of Gemmell," he said, "how he bears this. No man, I am very sure, was ever told that his dream could not come true more kindly and tenderly than you told it to him." He was in the middle of the next sentence (a fine one) before her distress stopped him.
"Tommy," she cried, "you don't understand. That is not what I told him at all!"
It was one of the few occasions on which the expression on the face of T. Sandys perceptibly changed.
"What did you tell him?" he asked, almost sharply.
"I accepted him," she said guiltily, backing away from this alarming face.
"If you only knew how manly and gentle and humble he was," she cried quickly, as if something dire might happen if Tommy were not assured of this at once.
"You—said you would marry him, Elspeth?"
"And leave me?"
"Oh, oh!" She flung her arms around his neck.
"Yes, but that is what you are prepared to do!" said he, and he held her away from him and stared at her, as if he had never seen Elspeth before. "Were you not afraid?" he exclaimed, in amazement.
"I am not the least bit afraid," she answered. "Oh Tommy, if you knew how manly——" And then she remembered that she had said that already.
"You did not even say that you would—consult me?"
"Why didn't you, Elspeth?"
"I—I forgot!" she moaned. "Tommy, you are angry!" She hugged him, and he let her do it, but all the time he was looking over her head fixedly, with his mouth open.
"And I was always so sure of you!" were the words that came to him at last, with a hard little laugh at the end of them.
"Can you think it makes me love you less," she sobbed, "because I love him, too? Oh, Tommy, I thought you would be so glad!"
He kissed her; he put his hand fondly upon her head.
"I am glad," he said, with emotion. "When that which you want has come to you, Elspeth, how can I but be glad? But it takes me aback, and if for a moment I felt forlorn, if, when I should have been rejoicing only in your happiness, the selfish thought passed through my mind, 'What is to become of me?' I hope—I hope—" Then he sat down and buried his face in the table.
And he might have been telling her about Grizel! Has the shock stunned you, Tommy? Elspeth thinks it has been a shock of pain. May we lift your head to show her your joyous face?
"I am so proud," she was saying, "that at last, after you have done so much for me, I can do a little thing for you. For it is something to free you, Tommy. You have always pretended, for my sake, that we could not do without each other, but we both knew all the time that it was only I who was unable to do without you. You can't deny it."
He might deny it, but it was true. Ah, Tommy, you bore with her with infinite patience, but did it never strike you that she kept you to the earth? If Elspeth could be happy without you! You were sure she could not, but if she could!—had that thought never made you flap your wings?
"I often had a pain at my heart," she told him, "which I kept from you. It was a feeling that your solicitude for me, perhaps, prevented your caring for any other woman. It seemed terrible and unnatural that I should be a bar to that. I felt that I was starving you, and not you only, but an unknown woman as well."
"So long as I had you, Elspeth," he said reproachfully, "was not that enough?"
"It seemed to be enough," she answered gravely, "but even while I comforted myself with that, I knew that it should not be enough, and still I feared that if it was, the blame was mine. Now I am no longer in the way, and I hope, so ardently, that you will fall in love, like other people. If you never do, I shall always have the fear that I am the cause, that you lost the capacity in the days when I let you devote yourself too much to me."
Oh, blind Elspeth! Now is the time to tell her, Tommy, and fill her cup of happiness to the brim.
But it is she who is speaking still, almost gaily now, yet with a full heart. "What a time you have had with me, Tommy! I told David all about it, and what he has to look forward to, but he says he is not afraid. And when you find someone you can love," she continued sweetly, though she had a sigh to stifle, "I hope she will be someone quite unlike me, for oh, my dear, good brother, I know you need a change."
Not a word said Tommy.
She said, timidly, that she had begun to hope of late that Grizel might be the woman, and still he did not speak. He drew Elspeth closer to him, that she might not see his face and the horror of himself that surely sat on it. To the very marrow of him he was in such cold misery that I wonder his arms did not chill her.
This poor devil of a Sentimental Tommy! He had wakened up in the world of facts, where he thought he had been dwelling of late, to discover that he had not been here for weeks, except at meal-times. During those weeks he had most honestly thought that he was in a passion to be married. What do you say to pitying instead of cursing him? It is a sudden idea of mine, and we must be quick, for joyous Grizel is drawing near, and this, you know, is the chapter in which her heart breaks.
* * * * *
It was Elspeth who opened the door to Grizel. "Does she know?" said Elspeth to herself, before either of them spoke.
"Does she know?" It was what Grizel was saying also.
"Oh, Elspeth, I am so glad! David has told me."
"She does know," Elspeth told herself, and she thought it was kind of Grizel to come so quickly. She said so.
"She doesn't know!" thought Grizel, and then these two kissed for the first time. It was a kiss of thanks from each.
"But why does she not know?" Grizel wondered a little as they entered the parlour, where Tommy was; he had been standing with his teeth knit since he heard the knock. As if in answer to the question, Elspeth said: "I have just broken it to Tommy. He has been in a few minutes only, and he is so surprised he can scarcely speak."
Grizel laughed happily, for that explained it. Tommy had not had time to tell her yet. She laughed again at Elspeth, who had thought she had so much to tell and did not know half the story.
Elspeth begged Tommy to listen to the beautiful things Grizel was saying about David, but, truth to tell, Grizel scarcely heard them herself. She had given Tommy a shy, rapturous glance. She was wondering when he would begin. What a delicious opening when he shook hands! Suppose he had kissed her instead! Or, suppose he casually addressed her as darling! He might do it at any moment now! Just for once she would not mind though he did it in public. Perhaps as soon as this new remark of Elspeth's was finished, he meant to say: "You are not the only engaged person in the room, Miss Elspeth; I think I see another two!" Grizel laughed as if she had heard him say it. And then she ceased laughing suddenly, for some little duty had called Elspeth into the other room, and as she went out she stopped the movement of the earth.
These two were alone with their great joy.
Elspeth had said that she would be back in two minutes. Was Grizel wasting a moment when she looked only at him, her eyes filmy with love, the crooked smile upon her face so happy that it could not stand still? Her arms made a slight gesture towards him; her hands were open; she was giving herself to him. She could not see. For a fraction of time the space between them seemed to be annihilated. His arms were closing round her. Then she knew that neither of them had moved.
He tried to be true to her by deceiving her. It was the only way. "At last, Grizel," he cried, "at last!" and he put joyousness into his voice. "It has all come right, dear one!" he cried like an ecstatic lover. Never in his life had he tried so hard to deceive at the sacrifice of himself. But he was fighting something as strong as the instinct of self-preservation, and his usually expressionless face gave the lie to his joyous words. Loud above his voice his ashen face was speaking to her, and she cried in terror, "What is wrong?" Even then he attempted to deceive her, but suddenly she knew the truth.
"You don't want to be married!"
I think the room swam round with her. When it was steady again, "You did not say that, did you?" she asked. She was sure he had not said it. She was smiling again tremulously to show him that he had not said it.
"I want to be married above all else on earth," he said imploringly; but his face betrayed him still, and she demanded the truth, and he was forced to tell it.
A little shiver passed through her, that was all.
"Do you mean that you don't love me?" she said. "You must tell me what you mean."
"That is how others would put it, I suppose," he replied. "I believe they would be wrong. I think I love you in my own way; but I thought I loved you in their way, and it is the only way that counts in this world of theirs. It does not seem to be my world. I was given wings, I think, but I am never to know that I have left the earth until I come flop upon it with an arrow through them. I crawl and wriggle here, and yet"—he laughed harshly—"I believe I am rather a fine fellow when I am flying!"
She nodded. "You mean you want me to let you off?" she asked. "You must tell me what you mean." And as he did not answer instantly, "Because I think I have some little claim upon you," she said, with a pleasant smile.
"I am as pitiful a puzzle to myself as I can be to you," he replied. "All I know is that I don't want to marry anyone. And yet I am sure I could die for you, Grizel."
It was quite true. A burning house and Grizel among the flames, and he would have been the first on the ladder. But there is no such luck for you, Tommy.
"You are free," was what she said. "Don't look so tragic," she added, again with the pleasant smile. "It must be very distressing to you, but—you will soon fly again." Her lips twitched tremulously. "I can't fly," she said.
She took the ring from her neck. She took it off its ribbon.
"I brought it," she said, "to let you put it on my finger. I thought you would want to do that," she said.
"Grizel," he cried, "can we not be as we have been?"
"No," she answered.
"It would all come right, Grizel. I am sure it would. I don't know why I am as I am; but I shall try to change myself. You have borne with me since we were children. Won't you bear with me for a little longer?"
She shook her head, but did not trust herself to speak.
"I have lost you," he said, and she nodded.
"Then I am lost indeed!" said he, and he knew it, too; but with a gesture of the hand she begged him not to say that.
"Without your love to help me——" he began.
"You shall always have that," she told him with shining eyes, "always, always." And what could he do but look at her with the wonder and the awe that come to every man who, for one moment in his life, knows a woman well?
"You can love me still, Grizel!" His voice was shaky.
"Just the same," she answered, and I suppose he looked uplifted. "But you should be sorry," she said gravely, and it was then that Elspeth came back. She had not much exceeded her two minutes.
It was always terrible to Tommy not to have the feelings of a hero. At that moment he could not endure it. In a splendid burst of self-sacrifice he suddenly startled both Grizel and himself by crying, "Elspeth, I love Grizel, and I have just asked her to be my wife."
Yes, the nobility of it amazed himself, but bewitched him, too, and he turned gloriously to Grizel, never doubting but that she would have him still.
He need not have spoken so impulsively, nor looked so grand. She swayed for an instant and then was erect again. "You must forgive me, Elspeth," she said, "but I have refused him"; and that was the biggest surprise Tommy ever got in his life.
"You don't care for him!" Elspeth blurted out.
"Not in the way he cares for me," Grizel replied quietly, and when Elspeth would have said more she begged her to desist. "The only thing for me to do now, Elspeth," she said, smiling, "is to run away, but I want you first to accept a little wedding-gift from me. I wish you and David so much happiness; you won't refuse it, will you?"
Elspeth, still astounded, took the gift. It was a little garnet ring.
"It will have to be cut," Grizel said. "It was meant, I think, for a larger finger. I have had it some time, but I never wore it."
Elspeth said she would always treasure her ring, and that it was beautiful.
"I used to think it—rather sweet," Grizel admitted, and then she said good-bye to them both and went away.
Tommy's new character was that of a monster. He always liked the big parts.
Concealed, as usual, in the garments that clung so oddly to him, modesty, generosity, indifference to applause and all the nobler impulses, he could not strip himself of them, try as he would, and so he found, to his scornful amusement, that he still escaped the public fury. In the two months that preceded Elspeth's marriage there was positively scarce a soul in Thrums who did not think rather well of him. "If they knew what I really am," he cried with splendid bitterness, "how they would run from me!"
Even David could no longer withhold the hand of fellowship, for Grizel would tell him nothing, except that, after all, and for reasons sufficient to herself, she had declined to become Mrs. Sandys. He sought in vain to discover how Tommy could be to blame. "And now," Tommy said grimly to Grizel, "our doctor thinks you have used me badly, and that I am a fine fellow to bear no resentment! Elspeth told me that he admires the gentle and manly dignity with which I submit to the blow, and I have no doubt that, as soon as I heard that, I made it more gentle and manly than ever!
"I have forbidden Elspeth," he told her, "to upbraid you for not accepting me, with the result that she thinks me too good to live! Ha, ha! what do you think, Grizel?"
It became known in the town that she had refused him. Everybody was on Tommy's side. They said she had treated him badly. Even Aaron was staggered at the sight of Tommy accepting his double defeat in such good part. "And all the time I am the greatest cur unhung," says Tommy. "Why don't you laugh, Grizel?"
Never, they said, had there been such a generous brother. The town was astir about this poor man's gifts to the lucky bride. There were rumours that among the articles was a silver coal-scuttle, but it proved to be a sugar-bowl in that pattern. Three bandboxes came for her to select from; somebody discovered who was on the watch, but may I be struck dead if more than one went back. Yesterday it was bonnets; to-day she is at Tilliedrum again, trying on her going-away dress. And she really was to go away in it, a noticeable thing, for in Thrums society, though they usually get a going-away dress, they are too canny to go away in it The local shops were not ignored, but the best of the trousseau came from London. "That makes the second box this week, as I'm a living sinner," cries the lady on the watch again. When boxes arrived at the station Corp wheeled them up to Elspeth without so much as looking at the label.
Ah, what a brother! They said it openly to their own brothers, and to Tommy in the way they looked at him.
"There has been nothing like it," he assured Grizel, "since Red Riding-hood and the wolf. Why can't I fling off my disguise and cry, 'The better to eat you with!'"
He always spoke to her now in this vein of magnificent bitterness, but Grizel seldom rewarded him by crying, "Oh, oh!" She might, however, give him a patient, reproachful glance instead, and it had the irritating effect of making him feel that perhaps he was under life-size, instead of over it.
"I daresay you are right," says Tommy, savagely.
"I said nothing."
"You don't need to say it. What a grand capacity you have for knocking me off my horse, Grizel!"
"Are you angry with me for that?"
"No; it is delicious to pick one's self out of the mud, especially when you find it is a baby you are picking up, instead of a brute. Am I a baby only, Grizel?"
"I think it is childish of you," she replied, "to say you are a brute."
"There is not to be even that satisfaction left to me! You are hard on me, Grizel."
"I am trying to help you. How can you be angry with me?"
"The instinct of self-preservation, I suppose. I see myself dwindling so rapidly under your treatment that soon there will be nothing of me left."
It was said cruelly, for he knew that the one thing Grizel could not bear now was the implication that she saw his faults only. She always went down under that blow with pitiful surrender, showing the woman suddenly, as if under a physical knouting.
He apologized contritely. "But, after all, it proves my case," he said, "for I could not hurt you in this way, Grizel, if I were not a pretty well-grown specimen of a monster."
"Don't," she said; but she did not seek to help him by drawing him away to other subjects, which would have been his way. "What is there monstrous," she asked, "in your being so good to Elspeth? It is very kind of you to give her all these things."
"Especially when by rights they are yours, Grizel!"
"No, not when you did not want to give them to me."
He dared say nothing to that; there were some matters on which he must not contradict Grizel now.
"It is nice of you," she said, "not to complain, though Elspeth is deserting you. It must have been a blow."
"You and I only know why," he answered. "But for her, Grizel, I might be whining sentiment to you at this moment."
"That," she said, "would be the monstrous thing."
"And it is not monstrous, I suppose, that I should let Gemmell press my hand under the conviction that, after all, I am a trump."
"You don't pose as one."
"That makes them think the more highly of me! Nothing monstrous, Grizel, in my standing quietly by while you are showing Elspeth how to furnish her house—I, who know why you have the subject at your finger-tips!"
For Grizel had given all her sweet ideas to Elspeth. Heigh-ho! how she had guarded them once, confiding them half reluctantly even to Tommy; half reluctantly, that is, at the start, because they were her very own, but once she was embarked on the subject talking with such rapture that every minute or two he had to beg her to be calm. She was the first person in that part of the world to think that old furniture need not be kept in the dark corners, and she knew where there was an oak bedstead that was looked upon as a disgrace, and where to obtain the dearest cupboards, one of them in use as the retiring-chamber of a rabbit-hutch, and stately clocks made in the town a hundred years ago, and quaint old-farrant lamps and cogeys and sand-glasses that apologized if you looked at them, and yet were as willing to be loved again as any old lady in a mutch. You will not buy them easily now, the people will not chuckle at you when you bid for them now. We have become so cute in Thrums that when the fender breaks we think it may have increased in value, and we preserve any old board lest the worms have made it artistic. Grizel, however, was in advance of her time. She could lay her hands on all she wanted, and she did, but it was for Elspeth's house.
"And the table-cloths and the towels and the sheets," said Tommy. "Nothing monstrous in my letting you give Elspeth them?"
The linen, you see, was no longer in Grizel's press.
"I could not help making them," she answered, "they were so longing to be made. I did not mean to give them to her. I think I meant to put them back in the press, but when they were made it was natural that they should want to have something to do. So I gave them to Elspeth."
"With how many tears on them?"
"Not many. But with some kisses."
"All which," says Tommy, "goes to prove that I have nothing with which to reproach myself!"
"No, I never said that," she told him. "You have to reproach yourself with wanting me to love you."
She paused a moment to let him say, if he dared, that he had not done that, when she would have replied instantly, "You know you did." He could have disabused her, but it would have been cruel, and so on this subject, as ever, he remained silent.
"But that is not what I have been trying to prove," she continued. "You know as well as I that the cause of this unhappiness has been—what you call your wings."
He was about to thank her for her delicacy in avoiding its real name, when she added, "I mean your sentiment," and he laughed instead.
"I flatter myself that I no longer fly, at all events," he said. "I know what I am at last, Grizel"
"It is flattery only," she replied with her old directness. "This thing you are regarding with a morbid satisfaction is not you at all."
He groaned. "Which of them all is me, Grizel?" he asked gloomily.
"We shall see," she said, "when we have got the wings off."
"They will have to come off a feather at a time."
"That," she declared, "is what I have been trying to prove."
"It will be a weary task, Grizel."
"I won't weary at it," she said, smiling.
Her cheerfulness was a continual surprise to him. "You bear up wonderfully well yourself," he sometimes said to her, almost reproachfully, and she never replied that, perhaps, that was one of her ways of trying to help him.
She is not so heartbroken, after all, you may be saying, and I had promised to break her heart. But, honestly, I don't know how to do it more thoroughly, and you must remember that we have not seen her alone yet.
She tried to be very little alone. She helped David in his work more than ever; not a person, for instance, managed to escape the bath because Grizel's heart was broken. You could never say that she was alone when her needle was going, and the linen became sheets and the like, in what was probably record time. Yet they could have been sewn more quickly; for at times the needle stopped and she did not know it. Once a bedridden old woman, with whom she had been sitting up, lay watching her instead of sleeping, and finally said: "What makes you sit staring at a cauld fire, and speaking to yourself?" And there was a strange day when she had been too long in the Den. When she started for home she went in the direction of Double Dykes, her old home, instead.
She could bear everything except doubt. She had told him so, when he wondered at her calmness; she often said it to herself. She could tread any path, however drearily it stretched before her, so long as she knew whither it led, but there could be no more doubt. Oh, he must never again disturb her mind with hope! How clearly she showed him that, and yet they had perhaps no more than parted when it seemed impossible to bear for the next hour the desolation she was sentenced to for life. She lay quivering and tossing on the hearth-rug of the parlour, beating it with her fists, rocking her arms, and calling to him to give her doubt again, that she might get through the days.
"Let me doubt again!" Here was Grizel starting to beg it of him. More than once she got half-way to Aaron's house before she could turn; but she always did turn, with the words unspoken; never did Tommy hear her say them, but always that she was tranquil now. Was it pride that supported her in the trying hour? Oh, no, it was not pride. That is an old garment, which once became Grizel well, but she does not wear it now; she takes it out of the closet, perhaps, at times to look at it. What gave her strength when he was by was her promise to help him. It was not by asking for leave to dream herself that she could make him dream the less. All done for you, Tommy! It might have helped you to loosen a few of the feathers.
Sometimes she thought it might not be Tommy, but herself, who was so unlike other people; that it was not he who was unable to love, but she who could not be loved. This idea did not agitate her as a terrible thing; she could almost welcome it. But she did not go to him with it. While it might be but a fancy, that was no way to help a man who was overfull of them. It was the bare truth only that she wanted him to see, and so she made elaborate inquiries into herself, to discover whether she was quite unlovable. I suppose it would have been quaint, had she not been quite so much in earnest. She examined herself in the long mirror most conscientiously, and with a determinedly open mind, to see whether she was too ugly for any man to love. Our beautiful Grizel really did.
She had always thought that she was a nice girl, but was she? No one had ever loved her, except the old doctor, and he began when she was so young that perhaps he had been inveigled into it, like a father. Even David had not loved her. Was it because he knew her so well? What was it in women that made men love them? She asked it of David in such a way that he never knew she was putting him to the question. He merely thought that he and she were having a pleasant chat about Elspeth, and, as a result, she decided that he loved Elspeth because she was so helpless. His head sat with uncommon pride on his shoulders while he talked of Elspeth's timidity. There was a ring of boastfulness in his voice as he paraded the large number of useful things that Elspeth could not do. And yet David was a sensible and careful man.
Was it helplessness that man loved in woman, then? It seemed to be Elspeth's helplessness that had made Tommy such a brother, and how it had always appealed to Aaron! No woman could be less helpless than herself, Grizel knew. She thought back and back, and she could not come to a time when she was not managing somebody. Women, she reflected, fall more or less deeply in love with every baby they see, while men, even the best of them, can look calmly at other people's babies. But when the helplessness of the child is in the woman, then other women are unmoved; but the great heart of man is stirred—woman is his baby. She remembered that the language of love is in two sexes—for the woman superlatives, for the man diminutives. The more she loves the bigger he grows, but in an ecstasy he could put her in his pocket. Had not Tommy taught her this? His little one, his child! Perhaps he really had loved her in the days when they both made believe that she was infantile; but soon she had shown with fatal clearness that she was not. Instead of needing to be taken care of, she had obviously wanted to take care of him: their positions were reversed. Perhaps, said Grizel to herself, I should have been a man.
If this was the true explanation, then, though Tommy, who had tried so hard, could not love her, he might be able to love—what is the phrase?—a more womanly woman, or, more popular phrase still, a very woman. Some other woman might be the right wife for him. She did not shrink from considering this theory, and she considered so long that I, for one, cannot smile at her for deciding ultimately, as she did, that there was nothing in it.
The strong like to be leaned upon and the weak to lean, and this irrespective of sex. This was the solution she woke up with one morning, and it seemed to explain not only David's and Elspeth's love, but her own, so clearly that in her desire to help she put it before Tommy. It implied that she cared for him because he was weak, and he drew a very long face.
"You don't know how the feathers hurt as they come out," he explained.
"But so long as we do get them out!" she said.
"Every other person who knows me thinks that strength is my great characteristic," he maintained, rather querulously.
"But when you know it is not," said Grizel. "You do know, don't you?" she asked anxiously. "To know the truth about one's self, that is the beginning of being strong."
"You seem determined," he retorted, "to prevent my loving you."
"Why?" she asked.
"You are to make me strong in spite of myself, I understand. But, according to your theory, the strong love the weak only. Are you to grow weak, Grizel, as I grow strong?"
She had not thought of that, and she would have liked to rock her arms. But she was able to reply: "I am not trying to help you in order to make you love me; you know, quite well, that all that is over and done with. I am trying only to help you to be what a man should be."
She could say that to him, but to herself? Was she prepared to make a man of him at the cost of his possible love? This faced her when she was alone with her passionate nature, and she fought it, and with her fists clenched she cried: "Yes, yes, yes!"
Do we know all that Grizel had to fight? There were times when Tommy's mind wandered to excuses for himself; he knew what men were, and he shuddered to think of the might have been, had a girl who could love as Grizel did loved such a man as her father. He thanked his Maker, did Tommy, that he, who was made as those other men, had avoided raising passions in her. I wonder how he was so sure. Do we know all that Grizel had to fight?
* * * * *
They spoke much during those days of the coming parting, and she always said that she could bear it if she saw him go away more of a man than he had come.
"Then anything I have suffered or may suffer," she told him, "will have been done to help you, and perhaps in time that will make me proud of my poor little love-story. It would be rather pitiful, would it not, if I have gone through so much for no end at all?"
She spoke, he said, almost reproachfully, as if she thought he might go away on his wings, after all.
"We can't be sure," she murmured, she was so eager to make him watchful.
"Yes," he said, humbly but firmly, "I may be a scoundrel, Grizel, I am a scoundrel, but one thing you may be sure of, I am done with sentiment." But even as he said it, even as he felt that he could tear himself asunder for being untrue to Grizel, a bird was singing at his heart because he was free again, free to go out into the world and play as if it were but a larger den. Ah, if only Tommy could always have remained a boy!
Elspeth's marriage day came round, and I should like to linger in it, and show you Elspeth in her wedding-gown, and Tommy standing behind to catch her if she fainted, and Ailie weeping, and Aaron Latta rubbing his gleeful hands, and a smiling bridesmaid who had once thought she might be a bride. But that was a day in Elspeth's story, not in Tommy's and Grizel's. Only one incident in their story crept into that happy day. There were speeches at the feast, and the Rev. Mr. Dishart referred to Tommy in the kindliest way, called him "my young friend," quoted (inaccurately) from his book, and expressed an opinion, formed, he might say, when Mr. Sandys was a lad at school (cheers), that he had a career before him. Tommy bore it well, all except the quotation, which he was burning to correct, but sighed to find that it had set the dominies on his left talking about precocity. "To produce such a graybeard of a book at two and twenty, Mr. Sandys," said Cathro, "is amazing. It partakes, sir, of the nature of the miraculous; it's onchancey, by which we mean a deviation from the normal." And so on. To escape this kind of flattery (he had so often heard it said by ladies, who could say it so much better), Tommy turned to his neighbours on the right.
Oddly enough, they also were discussing deviations from the normal. On the table was a plant in full flower, and Ailie, who had lent it, was expressing surprise that it should bloom so late in the season.
"So early in its life, I should rather say," the doctor remarked after examining it. "It is a young plant, and in the ordinary course would not have come to flower before next year. But it is afraid that it will never see next year. It is one of those poor little plants that bloom prematurely because they are diseased."
Tommy was a little startled. He had often marvelled over his own precocity, but never guessed that this might be the explanation why he was in flower at twenty-two. "Is that a scientific fact?" he asked.
"It is a law of nature," the doctor replied gravely, and if anything more was said on the subject our Tommy did not hear it. What did he hear? He was a child again, in miserable lodgings, and it was sometime in the long middle of the night, and what he heard from his bed was his mother coughing away her life in hers. There was an angry knock, knock, knock, from somewhere near, and he crept out of bed to tell his mother that the people through the wall were complaining because she would not die more quietly; but when he reached her bed it was not his mother he saw lying there, but himself, aged twenty-four or thereabouts. For Tommy had inherited his mother's cough; he had known it every winter, but he remembered it as if for the first time now.
Did he hear anything else? I think he heard his wings slipping to the floor.
He asked Ailie to give him the plant, and he kept it in his room very lovingly, though he forgot to water it. He sat for long periods looking at it, and his thoughts were very deep, but all he actually said aloud was, "There are two of us." Aaron sometimes saw them together, and thought they were an odd pair, and perhaps they were.
Tommy did not tell Grizel of the tragedy that was hanging over him. He was determined to save her that pain. He knew that most men in his position would have told her, and was glad to find that he could keep it so gallantly to himself. She was brave; perhaps some day she would discover that he had been brave also. When she talked of wings now, what he seemed to see was a green grave. His eyes were moist, but he held his head high. All this helped him.
Ah, well, but the world must jog along though you and I be damned. Elspeth was happily married, and there came the day when Tommy and Grizel must say good-bye. He was returning to London. His luggage was already in Corp's barrow, all but the insignificant part of it, which yet made a bulky package in its author's pocket, for it was his new manuscript, for which he would have fought a regiment, yes, and beaten them. Little cared Tommy what became of the rest of his luggage so long as that palpitating package was safe.
"And little you care," Grizel said, in a moment of sudden bitterness, "whom you leave behind, so long as you take it with you."
He forgave her with a sad smile. She did not know, you see, that this manuscript might be his last.
And it was the only bitter thing she said. Even when he looked very sorry for her, she took advantage of his emotion to help him only. "Don't be too sorry for me," she said calmly; "remember, rather, that there is one episode in a woman's life to which she must always cling in memory, whether it was a pride to her or a shame, and that it rests with you to make mine proud or shameful."
In other words, he was to get rid of his wings. How she harped on that!
He wanted to kiss her on the brow, but she would not have it. He was about to do it, not to gratify any selfish desire, but of a beautiful impulse that if anything happened she would have this to remember as the last of him. But she drew back almost angrily. Positively, she was putting it down to sentiment, and he forgave her even that.
But she kissed the manuscript. "Wish it luck," he had begged of her; "you were always so fond of babies, and this is my baby." So Grizel kissed Tommy's baby, and then she turned away her face.
MR. T. SANDYS HAS RETURNED TO TOWN
It is disquieting to reflect that we have devoted so much paper (this is the third shilling's worth) to telling what a real biographer would almost certainly have summed up in a few pages. "Caring nothing for glory, engrossed in his work alone, Mr. Sandys, soon after the publication of the 'Letters,' sought the peace of his mother's native village, and there, alike undisturbing and undisturbed, he gave his life, as ever, to laborious days and quiet contemplation. The one vital fact in these six months of lofty endeavour is that he was making progress with the new book. Fishing and other distractions were occasionally indulged in, but merely that he might rise fresher next morning to a book which absorbed," etc.
One can see exactly how it should be done, it has been done so often before. And there is a deal to be said for this method. His book was what he had been at during nearly the whole of that time; comparatively speaking, the fishing and "other distractions" (a neat phrase) had got an occasional hour only. But while we admire, we can't do it in that way. We seem fated to go on taking it for granted that you know the "vital facts" about Tommy, and devoting our attention to the things that the real biographer leaves out.
Tommy arrived in London with little more than ten pounds in his pockets. All the rest he had spent on Elspeth.
He looked for furnished chambers in a fashionable quarter, and they were much too expensive. But the young lady who showed them to him asked if it was the Mr. Sandys, and he at once took the rooms. Her mother subsequently said that she understood he wrote books, and would he deposit five pounds?
Such are the ups and downs of the literary calling.
The book, of course, was "Unrequited Love," and the true story of how it was not given to the world by his first publishers has never been told. They had the chance, but they weighed the manuscript in their hands as if it were butter, and said it was very small.
"If you knew how much time I have spent in making it smaller," replied Tommy, haughtily.
The madmen asked if he could not add a few chapters, whereupon, with a shudder, he tucked baby under his wing and flew away. That is how Goldie & Goldie got the book.
For one who had left London a glittering star, it was wonderful how little he brightened it by returning. At the club they did not know that he had been away. In society they seemed to have forgotten to expect him back.
He had an eye for them—with a touch of red in it; but he bided his time. It was one of the terrible things about Tommy that he could bide his time. Pym was the only person he called upon. He took Pym out to dinner and conducted him home again. His kindness to Pym, the delicacy with which he pretended not to see that poor old Pym was degraded and done for—they would have been pretty even in a woman, and we treat Tommy unfairly in passing them by with a bow.
Pym had the manuscript to read, and you may be as sure he kept sober that night as that Tommy lay awake. For when literature had to be judged, who could be so grim a critic as this usually lenient toper? He could forgive much, could Pym. You had run away without paying your rent, was it? Well, well, come in and have a drink. Broken your wife's heart, have you? Poor chap, but you will soon get over it. But if it was a split infinitive, "Go to the devil, sir."
"Into a cocked hat," was the verdict of Pym, meaning thereby that thus did Tommy's second work beat his first. Tommy broke down and wept.
Presently Pym waxed sentimental and confided to Tommy that he, too, had once loved in vain. The sad case of those who love in vain, you remember, is the subject of the book. The saddest of autobiographies, it has been called.
An odd thing, this, I think. Tearing home (for the more he was engrossed in mind the quicker he walked), Tommy was not revelling in Pym's praise; he was neither blanching nor smiling at the thought that he of all people had written as one who was unloved; he was not wondering what Grizel would say to it; he had even forgotten to sigh over his own coming dissolution (indeed, about this time the flower-pot began to fade from his memory). What made him cut his way so excitedly through the streets was this: Pym had questioned his use of the word "untimely" in chapter eight. And Tommy had always been uneasy about that word.
He glared at every person he passed, and ran into perambulators. He rushed past his chambers like one who no longer had a home. He was in the park now, and did not even notice that the Row was empty, that mighty round a deserted circus; management, riders, clowns, all the performers gone on their provincial tour, or nearly all, for a lady on horseback sees him, remembers to some extent who he is, and gives chase. It is our dear Mrs. Jerry.
"You wretch," she said, "to compel me to pursue you! Nothing could have induced me to do anything so unwomanly except that you are the only man in town."
She shook her whip so prettily at him that it was as seductive as a smile. It was also a way of gaining time while she tried to remember what it was he was famous for.
"I believe you don't know me!" she said, with a little shriek, for Tommy had looked bewildered. "That would be too mortifying. Please pretend you do!"
Her look of appeal, the way in which she put her plump little hands together, as if about to say her prayers, brought it all back to Tommy. The one thing he was not certain of was whether he had proposed to her.
It was the one thing of which she was certain.
"You think I can forget so soon," he replied reproachfully, but carefully.
"Then tell me my name," said she; she thought it might lead to his mentioning his own.
"I don't know what it is now. It was Mrs. Jerry once."
"It is Mrs. Jerry still."
"Then you did not marry him, after all?"
No wild joy had surged to his face, but when she answered yes, he nodded his head with gentle melancholy three times. He had not the smallest desire to deceive the lady; he was simply an actor who had got his cue and liked his part.
"But my friends still call me Mrs. Jerry," she said softly. "I suppose it suits me somehow."
"You will always be Mrs. Jerry to me," he replied huskily. Ah, those meetings with old loves!
"If you minded so much," Mrs. Jerry said, a little tremulously (she had the softest heart, though her memory was a trifle defective), "you might have discovered whether I had married him or not."
"Was there no reason why I should not seek to discover it?" Tommy asked with tremendous irony, but not knowing in the least what he meant.
It confused Mrs. Jerry. They always confused her when they were fierce, and yet she liked them to be fierce when she re-met them, so few of them were.
But she said the proper thing. "I am glad you have got over it."
Tommy maintained a masterly silence. No wonder he was a power with women.
"I say I am glad you have got over it," murmured Mrs. Jerry again. Has it ever been noticed that the proper remark does not always gain in propriety with repetition?
It is splendid to know that right feeling still kept Tommy silent.
Yet she went on briskly as if he had told her something: "Am I detaining you? You were walking so quickly that I thought you were in pursuit of someone."
It brought Tommy back to earth, and he could accept her now as an old friend he was glad to meet again. "You could not guess what I was in pursuit of, Mrs. Jerry," he assured her, and with confidence, for words are not usually chased down the Row.
But, though he made the sound of laughter, that terrible face which Mrs. Jerry remembered so well, but could not give a name to, took no part in the revelry; he was as puzzling to her as those irritating authors who print their jokes without a note of exclamation at the end of them. Poor Mrs. Jerry thought it must be a laugh of horrid bitterness, and that he was referring to his dead self or something dreadful of that sort, for which she was responsible.
"Please don't tell me," she said, in such obvious alarm that again he laughed that awful laugh. He promised, with a profound sigh, to carry his secret unspoken to the grave, also to come to her "At Home" if she sent him a card.
He told her his address, but not his name, and she could not send the card to "Occupier."
"Now tell me about yourself," said Mrs. Jerry, with charming cunning. "Did you go away?"
"I came back a few days ago only."
"Had you any shooting?" (They nearly always threatened to make for a distant land where there was big game.)
Tommy smiled. He had never "had any shooting" except once in his boyhood, when he and Corp acted as beaters, and he had wept passionately over the first bird killed, and harangued the murderer.
"No," he replied; "I was at work all the time."
This, at least, told her that his work was of a kind which could be done out of London. An inventor?
"When are we to see the result?" asked artful Mrs. Jerry.
"Very soon. Everything comes out about this time. It is our season, you know."
Mrs. Jerry pondered while she said: "How too entrancing!" What did come out this month? Oh, plays! And whose season was it? The actor's, of course! He could not be an actor with that beard, but—ah, she remembered now!
"Are they really clever this time?" she asked roguishly—"for you must admit that they are usually sticks."
Tommy blinked at this. "I really believe, Mrs. Jerry," he said slowly, "it is you who don't know who I am!"
"You prepare the aristocracy for the stage, don't you?" she said plaintively.
"I!" he thundered.
"He had a beard," she said, in self-defence.
"Oh, I don't know! Please forgive me! I do remember, of course, who you are—I remember too well!" said Mrs. Jerry, generously.
"What is my name?" Tommy demanded.
She put her hands together again, beseechingly. "Please, please!" she said. "I have such a dreadful memory for names, but—oh, please!"
"What am I?" he insisted.
"You are the—the man who invents those delightful thingumbobs," she cried with an inspiration.
"I never invented anything, except two books," said Tommy, looking at her reproachfully.
"I know them by heart," she cried.
"One of them is not published yet," he informed her.
"I am looking forward to it so excitedly," she said at once.
"And my name is Sandys," said he.
"Thomas Sandys," she said, correcting him triumphantly. "How is that dear, darling little Agnes—Elspeth?"
"You have me at last," he admitted.
"'Sandys on Woman!'" exclaimed Mrs. Jerry, all rippling smiles once more. "Can I ever forget it!"
"I shall never pretend to know anything about women again," Tommy answered dolefully, but with a creditable absence of vindictiveness.
"Please, please!" said the little hands again.
"It is a nasty jar, Mrs. Jerry."
"Oh that I could forget so quickly!"
"I forgive you, if that is what you want."
She waved her whip. "And you will come and see me?"
"When I have got over this. It needs—a little time." He really said this to please her.
"You shall talk to me of the new book," she said, confident that this would fetch him, for he was not her first author. "By the way, what is it about?"
"Can you ask, Mrs. Jerry?" replied Tommy, passionately. "Oh, woman, woman, can you ask?"
This puzzled her at the time, but she understood what he had meant when the book came out, dedicated to Pym. "Goodness gracious!" she said to herself as she went from chapter to chapter, and she was very self-conscious when she heard the book discussed in society, which was not quite as soon as it came out, for at first the ladies seemed to have forgotten their Tommy.
But the journals made ample amends. He had invented, they said, something new in literature, a story that was yet not a story, told in the form of essays which were no mere essays. There was no character mentioned by name, there was not a line of dialogue, essays only, they might say, were the net result, yet a human heart was laid bare, and surely that was fiction in its highest form. Fiction founded on fact, no doubt (for it would be ostrich-like to deny that such a work must be the outcome of a painful personal experience), but in those wise and penetrating pages Mr. Sandys called no one's attention to himself; his subject was an experience common to humanity, to be borne this way or that; and without vainglory he showed how it should be borne, so that those looking into the deep waters of the book (made clear by his pellucid style) might see, not the author, but themselves.
A few of the critics said that if the book added nothing to his reputation, it detracted nothing from it, but probably their pen added this mechanically when they were away. What annoyed him more was the two or three who stated that, much as they liked "Unrequited Love," they liked the "Letters" still better. He could not endure hearing a good word said for the "Letters" now.
The great public, I believe, always preferred the "Letters," but among important sections of it the new book was a delight, and for various reasons. For instance, it was no mere story. That got the thoughtful public. Its style, again, got the public which knows it is the only public that counts.
Society still held aloof (there was an African traveller on view that year), but otherwise everything was going on well, when the bolt came, as ever, from the quarter whence it was least expected. It came in a letter from Grizel, so direct as to be almost as direct as this: "I think it is a horrid book. The more beautifully it is written the more horrid it seems. No one was ever loved more truly than you. You can know nothing about unrequited love. Then why do you pretend to know? I see why you always avoided telling me anything about the book, even its title. It was because you knew what I should say. It is nothing but sentiment. You were on your wings all the time you were writing it. That is why you could treat me as you did. Even to the last moment you deceived me. I suppose you deceived yourself also. Had I known what was in the manuscript I would not have kissed it, I would have asked you to burn it. Had you not had the strength, and you would not, I should have burned it for you. It would have been a proof of my love. I have ceased to care whether you are a famous man or not. I want you to be a real man. But you will not let me help you. I have cried all day. GRIZEL."
Fury. Dejection. The heroic. They came in that order.
"This is too much!" he cried at first, "I can stand a good deal, Grizel, but there was once a worm that turned at last, you know. Take care, madam, take care. Oh, but you are a charming lady; you can decide everything for everybody, can't you! What delicious letters you write, something unexpected in everyone of them! There are poor dogs of men, Grizel, who open their letters from their loves knowing exactly what will be inside—words of cheer, words of love, of confidence, of admiration, which help them as they sit into the night at their work, fighting for fame that they may lay it at their loved one's feet. Discouragement, obloquy, scorn, they get in plenty from others, but they are always sure of her,—do you hear, my original Grizel?—those other dogs are always sure of her. Hurrah! Grizel, I was happy, I was actually honoured, it was helping me to do better and better, when you quickly put an end to all that. Hurrah, hurrah!"
I feel rather sorry for him. If he had not told her about his book it was because she did not and never could understand what compels a man to write one book instead of another. "I had no say in the matter; the thing demanded of me that I should do it, and I had to do it. Some must write from their own experience, they can make nothing of anything else; but it is to me like a chariot that won't budge; I have to assume a character, Grizel, and then away we go. I don't attempt to explain how I write, I hate to discuss it; all I know is that those who know how it should be done can never do it. London is overrun with such, and everyone of them is as cock-sure as you. You have taken everything else, Grizel; surely you might leave me my books."
Yes, everything else, or nearly so. He put upon the table all the feathers he had extracted since his return to London, and they did make some little show, if less than it seemed to him. That little adventure in the park; well, if it started wrongly, it but helped to show the change in him, for he had determinedly kept away from Mrs. Jerry's house. He had met her once since the book came out, and she had blushed exquisitely when referring to it, and said: "How you have suffered! I blame myself dreadfully." Yes, and there was an unoccupied sofa near by, and he had not sat down on it with her and continued the conversation. Was not that a feather? And there were other ladies, and, without going into particulars, they were several feathers between them. How doggedly, to punish himself, he had stuck to the company of men, a sex that never interested him!
"But all that is nothing. I am beyond the pale, I did so monstrous a thing that I must die for it. What was this dreadful thing? When I saw you with that glove I knew you loved me, and that you thought I loved you, and I had not the heart to dash your joy. You don't know it, but that was the crime for which I must be exterminated, fiend that I am!"
Gusts of fury came at intervals all the morning. He wrote her appalling letters and destroyed them. He shook his fist and snapped his fingers at her, and went out for drink (having none in the house), and called a hansom to take him to Mrs. Jerry's, and tore round the park again and glared at everybody. He rushed on and on. "But the one thing you shall never do, Grizel, is to interfere with my work; I swear it, do you hear? In all else I am yours to mangle at your will, but touch it, and I am a beast at bay."
And still saying such things, he drew near the publishing offices of Goldie & Goldie, and circled round them, less like a beast at bay than a bird that is taking a long way to its nest. And about four of the afternoon what does this odd beast or bird or fish do but stalk into Goldie & Goldie's and order "Unrequited Love" to be withdrawn from circulation.
"Madam, I have carried out your wishes, and the man is hanged."
Not thus, but in words to that effect, did Tommy announce his deed to Grizel.
"I think you have done the right thing," she wrote back, "and I admire you for it." But he thought she did not admire him sufficiently for it, and he did not answer her letter, so it was the last that passed between them.
Such is the true explanation (now first published) of an affair that at the time created no small stir. "Why withdraw the book?" Goldie & Goldie asked of Tommy, but he would give no reason. "Why?" the public asked of Goldie & Goldie, and they had to invent several. The public invented the others. The silliest were those you could know only by belonging to a club.
I swear that Tommy had not foreseen the result. Quite unwittingly the favoured of the gods had found a way again. The talk about his incomprehensible action was the turning-point in the fortunes of the book. There were already a few thousand copies in circulation, and now many thousand people wanted them. Sandys, Sandys, Sandys! where had the ladies heard that name before? Society woke up, Sandys was again its hero; the traveller had to go lecturing in the provinces.
The ladies! Yes, and their friends, the men. There was a Tommy society in Mayfair that winter, nearly all of the members eminent or beautiful, and they held each other's hands. Both sexes were eligible, married or single, and the one rule was something about sympathy. It afterwards became the Souls, but those in the know still call them the Tommies.
They blackballed Mrs. Jerry (she was rather plump), but her married stepdaughter, Lady Pippinworth (who had been a Miss Ridge-Fulton), was one of them. Indeed, the Ridge-Fultons are among the thinnest families in the country.
T. Sandys was invited to join the society, but declined, and thus never quite knew what they did, nor can any outsider know, there being a regulation among the Tommies against telling. I believe, however, that they were a brotherhood, with sisters. You had to pass an examination in unrequited love, showing how you had suffered, and after that either the men or the women (I forget which) dressed in white to the throat, and then each got some other's old love's hand to hold, and you all sat on the floor and thought hard. There may have been even more in it than this, for one got to know Tommies at sight by a sort of careworn halo round the brow, and it is said that the House of Commons was several times nearly counted out because so many of its middle-aged members were holding the floor in another place.
Of course there were also the Anti-Tommies, who called themselves (rather vulgarly) the Tummies. Many of them were that shape. They held that, though you had loved in vain, it was no such mighty matter to boast of; but they were poor in argument, and their only really strong card was that Mr. Sandys was stoutish himself.
Their organs in the press said that he was a man of true genius, and slightly inclined to embonpoint.
This maddened him, but on the whole his return was a triumph, and despite thoughts of Grizel he was very, very happy, for he was at play again. He was a boy, and all the ladies were girls. Perhaps the lady he saw most frequently was Mrs. Jerry's stepdaughter. Lady Pippinworth was a friend of Lady Rintoul, and had several times visited her at the Spittal, but that was not the sole reason why Tommy so frequently drank tea with her. They had met first at a country house, where, one night after the ladies had retired to rest, Lady Pippinworth came stealing into the smoking-room with the tidings that there were burglars in the house. As she approached her room she had heard whispers, and then, her door being ajar, she had peeped upon the miscreants. She had also seen a pile of her jewellery on the table, and a pistol keeping guard on top of it. There were several men in the house, but that pistol cowed all of them save Tommy. "If we could lock them in!" someone suggested, but the key was on the wrong side of the door. "I shall put it on the right side," Tommy said pluckily, "if you others will prevent their escaping by the window"; and with characteristic courage he set off for her Ladyship's room. His intention was to insert his hand, whip out the key, and lock the door on the outside, a sufficiently hazardous enterprise; but what does he do instead? Locks the door on the inside, and goes for the burglars with his fists! A happy recollection of Corp's famous one from the shoulder disposed at once of the man who had seized the pistol; with the other gentleman Tommy had a stand-up fight in which both of them took and gave, but when support arrived, one burglar was senseless on the floor and T. Sandys was sitting on the other. Courageous of Tommy, was it not? But observe the end. He was left in the dining-room to take charge of his captives until morning, and by and by he was exhorting them in such noble language to mend their ways that they took the measure of him, and so touching were their family histories that Tommy wept and untied their cords and showed them out at the front door and gave them ten shillings each, and the one who begged for the honour of shaking hands with him also took his watch. Thus did Tommy and Lady Pippinworth become friends, but it was not this that sent him so often to her house to tea. She was a beautiful woman, with a reputation for having broken many hearts without damaging her own. He thought it an interesting case.
GRIZEL ALL ALONE
It was Tommy who was the favoured of the gods, you remember, not Grizel.
Elspeth wondered to see her, after the publication of that book, looking much as usual. "You know how he loved you now," she said, perhaps a little reproachfully.
"Yes," Grizel answered, "I know; I knew before the book came out."
"You must be sorry for him?"
"But proud of him also," Elspeth said. "You have a right to be proud."
"I am as proud," Grizel replied, "as I have a right to be."
Something in her voice touched Elspeth, who was so happy that she wanted everyone to be happy. "I want you to know, Grizel," she said warmly, "that I don't blame you for not being able to love him; we can't help those things. Nor need you blame yourself too much, for I have often heard him say that artists must suffer in order to produce beautiful things."
"But I cannot remember," Elspeth had to admit, with a sigh, to David, "that she made any answer to that, except 'Thank you.'"
Grizel was nearly as reticent to David himself. Once only did she break down for a moment in his presence. It was when he was telling her that the issue of the book had been stopped.
"But I see you know already," he said. "Perhaps you even know why—though he has not given any sufficient reason to Elspeth."
David had given his promise, she reminded him, not to ask her any questions about Tommy.
"But I don't see why I should keep it," he said bluntly.
"Because you dislike him," she replied.
"Grizel," he declared, "I have tried hard to like him. I have thought and thought about it, and I can't see that he has given me any just cause to dislike him."
"And that," said Grizel, "makes you dislike him more than ever."
"I know that you cared for him once," David persisted, "and I know that he wanted to marry you—"
But she would not let him go on. "David," she said, "I want to give up my house, and I want you to take it. It is the real doctor's house of Thrums, and people in need of you still keep ringing me up of nights. The only door to your surgery is through my passage; it is I who should be in lodgings now."
"Do you really think I would, Grizel!" he cried indignantly.
"Rather than see the dear house go into another's hands," she answered steadily; "for I am determined to leave it. Dr. McQueen won't feel strange when he looks down, David, if it is only you he sees moving about the old rooms, instead of me."
"You are doing this for me, Grizel, and I won't have it."
"I give you my word," she told him, "that I am doing it for myself alone. I am tired of keeping a house, and of all its worries. Men don't know what they are."
She was smiling, but his brows wrinkled in pain. "Oh, Grizel!" he said, and stopped. And then he cried, "Since when has Grizel ceased to care for housekeeping?"
She did not say since when. I don't know whether she knew; but it was since she and Tommy had ceased to correspond. David's words showed her too suddenly how she had changed, and it was then that she broke down before him—because she had ceased to care for housekeeping.
But she had her way, and early in the new year David and his wife were established in their new home, with all Grizel's furniture, except such as was needed for the two rooms rented by her from Gavinia. She would have liked to take away the old doctor's chair, because it was the bit of him left behind when he died, and then for that very reason she did not. She no longer wanted him to see her always. "I am not so nice as I used to be, and I want to keep it from you," she said to the chair when she kissed it good-bye.
Was Grizel not as nice as she used to be? How can I answer, who love her the more only? There is one at least, Grizel, who will never desert you.
Ah, but was she?
I seem again to hear the warning voice of Grizel, and this time she is crying: "You know I was not."
She knew it so well that she could say it to herself quite calmly. She knew that, with whatever repugnance she drove those passions away, they would come back—yes, and for a space be welcomed back. Why does she leave Gavinia's blue hearth this evening, and seek the solitary Den? She has gone to summon them, and she knows it. They come thick in the Den, for they know the place. It was there that her mother was wont to walk with them. Have they been waiting for you in the Den, Grizel, all this time? Have you found your mother's legacy at last?
Don't think that she sought them often. It was never when she seemed to have anything to live for. Tommy would not write to her, and so did not want her to write to him; but if that bowed her head, it never made her rebel. She still had her many duties. Whatever she suffered, so long as she could say, "I am helping him," she was in heart and soul the Grizel of old. In his fits of remorse, which were many, he tried to produce work that would please her. Thus, in a heroic attempt to be practical, he wrote a political article in one of the reviews, quite in the ordinary style, but so much worse than the average of such things that they would never have printed it without his name. He also contributed to a magazine a short tale,—he who could never write tales,—and he struck all the beautiful reflections out of it, and never referred to himself once, and the result was so imbecile that kindly people said there must be another writer of the same name. "Show them to Grizel," Tommy wrote to Elspeth, inclosing also some of the animadversions of the press, and he meant Grizel to see that he could write in his own way only. But she read those two efforts with delight, and said to Elspeth, "Tell him I am so proud of them."
Elspeth thought it very nice of Grizel to defend the despised in this way (even Elspeth had fallen asleep over the political paper). She did not understand that Grizel loved them because they showed Tommy trying to do without his wings.
Then another trifle by him appeared, shorter even than the others; but no man in England could have written it except T. Sandys. It has not been reprinted, and I forget everything about it except that its subject was love. "Will not the friends of the man who can produce such a little masterpiece as this," the journals said, "save him from wasting his time on lumber for the reviews, and drivelling tales?" And Tommy suggested to Elspeth that she might show Grizel this exhortation also.
Grizel saw she was not helping him at all. If he would not fight, why should she? Oh, let her fall and fall, it would not take her farther from him! These were the thoughts that sent her into solitude, to meet with worse ones. She could not face the morrow. "What shall I do to-morrow?" She never shrank from to-day—it had its duties; it could be got through: but to-morrow was a never-ending road. Oh, how could she get through to-morrow?
Her great friend at this time was Corp; because he still retained his faith in Tommy. She could always talk of Tommy to Corp.
How loyal Corp was! He still referred to Tommy as "him." Gavinia, much distressed, read aloud to Corp a newspaper attack on the political article, and all he said was, "He'll find a wy."
"He's found it," he went upstairs to announce to Grizel, when the praises of the "little masterpiece" arrived.
"Yes, I know, Corp," she answered quietly. She was sitting by the window where the plant was. Tommy had asked her to take care of it, without telling her why.
Something in her appearance troubled the hulking, blundering man. He could not have told what it was. I think it was simply this—that Grizel no longer sat erect in her chair.
"I'm nain easy in my mind about Grizel," he said that evening to Gavinia. "There's something queery about her, though I canna bottom 't."
"Yea?" said Gavinia, with mild contempt.
He continued pulling at his pipe, grunting as if in pleasant pain, which was the way Corp smoked.
"I could see she's no pleased, though he has found a wy," he said.
"What pleasure should she be able to sook out o' his keeping ding-ding-danging on about that woman?" retorted Gavinia.
"The London besom that gae him the go-by."
"Was there sic a woman!" Corp cried.
"Of course there was, and it's her that he's aye writing about."
"Havers, Gavinia! It's Grizel he's aye writing about, and it was Grizel that gae him the go-by. It's town talk."