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Title: A House Divided Against Itself (Complete)
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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                                A HOUSE
                        DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF

                                  BY
                             MRS OLIPHANT

                           IN THREE VOLUMES
                               Complete.

                                Vol. 1

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON
                              MDCCCLXXXVI



                    A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF.



CHAPTER I.


The day was warm, and there was no shade; out of the olive woods which
they had left behind, and where all was soft coolness and freshness,
they had emerged into a piece of road widened and perfected by recent
improvements till it was as shelterless as a broad street. High walls on
one side clothed with the green clinging trails of the mesembryanthemum,
with palm-trees towering above, but throwing no shadow below; on the
other a low house or two, and more garden walls, leading in a broad
curve to the little old walled town, its campanile rising up over the
clustered roofs, in which was their home. They had fifteen minutes or
more of dazzling sunshine before them ere they could reach any point of
shelter.

Ten minutes, or even five, would have been enough for Frances. She could
have run along, had she been alone, as like a bird as any human creature
could be, being so light and swift and young. But it was very different
with her father. He walked but slowly at the best of times; and in the
face of the sun at noon, what was to be expected of him? It was part of
the strange contrariety of fate, which was against him in whatever he
attempted, small or great, that it should be just here, in this broad,
open, unavoidable path, that he encountered one of those parties which
always made him wroth, and which usually he managed to keep clear of
with such dexterity--an English family from one of the hotels.

Tourists from the hotels are always objectionable to residents in a
place. Even when the residents are themselves strangers--perhaps,
indeed, all the more from that fact--the chance visitors who come to
stare and gape at those scenes which the others have appropriated and
taken possession of, are insufferable. Mr Waring had lived in the old
town of Bordighera for a great number of years. He had seen the Marina
and the line of hotels on the beach created, and he had watched the
travellers arriving to take possession of them--the sick people, and the
people who were not sick. He had denounced the invasion unceasingly, and
with vehemence; he had never consented to it. The Italians about might
be complacent, thinking of the enrichment of the neighbourhood, and of
what was good for trade, as these prosaic people do; but the English
colonist on the Punto could not put up with it. And to be met here, on
his return from his walk, by an unblushing band about whom there could
be no mistake, was very hard to bear. He had to walk along exposed to
the fire of all their unabashed and curious glances, to walk slowly, to
miss none, from that of the stout mother to that of the slim governess.
In the rear of the party came the papa, a portly Saxon, of the class
which, if comparisons could be thought of in so broad and general a
sentiment, Mr Waring disliked worst of all--a big man, a rosy man, a
fat man, in large easy morning clothes, with a big white umbrella over
his head. This last member of the family came at some distance behind
the rest. He did not like the sun, though he had been persuaded to leave
England in search of it. He was very warm, moist, and in a state of
general relaxation, his tidy necktie coming loose, his gloves only half
on, his waistcoat partially unbuttoned. It was March, when no doubt a
good genuine east wind was blowing at home. At that moment this
traveller almost regretted the east wind.

The Warings were going up-hill towards their abode: the slope was gentle
enough, yet it added to the slowness of Mr Waring’s pace. All the
English party had stared at him, as is the habit of English parties; and
indeed he and his daughter were not unworthy of a stare. But all these
gazes came with a cumulation of curiosity to widen the stare of the last
comer, who had, besides, twenty or thirty yards of vacancy in which the
indignant resident was fully exposed to his view. Little Frances, who
was English enough to stare too, though in a gentlewomanly way, saw a
change gradually come, as he gazed, over the face of the stranger. His
eyebrows rose up bushy and arched with surprise; his eyelids puckered
with the intentness of his stare; his lips dropped apart. Then he came
suddenly to a stand-still, and gasped forth the word “WARING!” in tones
of surprise to which capital letters can give but faint expression.

Mr Waring, struck by this exclamation as by a bullet, paused too, as
with something of that inclination to turn round which is said to be
produced by a sudden hit. He put up his hand momentarily, as if to pull
down his broad-brimmed hat over his brows. But in the end he did
neither. He stood and faced the stranger with angry energy. “Well?” he
said.

“Dear me! who could have thought of seeing you here? Let me call my
wife. She will be delighted. Mary! Why, I thought you had gone to the
East. I thought you had disappeared altogether. And so did everybody.
And what a long time it is, to be sure! You look as if you had forgotten
me.”

“I have,” said the other, with a supercilious gaze, perusing the large
figure from top to toe.

“Oh come, Waring! Why--Mannering; you can’t have forgotten Mannering, a
fellow that stuck by you all through. Dear, how it brings up everything,
seeing you again! Why, it must be a dozen years ago. And what have you
been doing all this time? Wandering over the face of the earth, I
suppose, in all sorts of out-of-the-way places, since nobody has ever
fallen in with you before.”

“I am something of an invalid,” said Waring. “I fear I cannot stand in
the sun to answer so many questions. And my movements are of no
importance to any one but myself.”

“Don’t be so misanthropical,” said the stranger in his large round
voice. “You always had a turn that way. And I don’t wonder if you are
soured--any fellow would be soured. Won’t you say a word to Mary? She’s
looking back, wondering with all her might what new acquaintance I’ve
found out here, never thinking it’s an old friend. Hillo, Mary! What’s
the matter? Don’t you want to see her? Why, man alive, don’t be so
bitter! She and I have always stuck up for you; through thick and thin,
we’ve stuck up for you. Eh! can’t stand any longer? Well, it is hot,
isn’t it? There’s no variety in this confounded climate. Come to the
hotel, then--the Victoria, down there.”

Waring had passed his interrogator, and was already at some distance,
while the other, breathless, called after him. He ended, affronted, by
another discharge of musketry, which hit the fugitive in the rear. “I
suppose,” the indiscreet inquirer demanded, breathlessly, “that’s the
little girl?”

Frances had followed with great but silent curiosity this strange
conversation. She had not interposed in any way, but she had stood close
by her father’s side, drinking in every word with keen ears and eyes.
She had heard and seen many strange things, but never an encounter like
this; and her eagerness to know what it meant was great; but she dared
not linger a moment after her father’s rapid movement of the hand, and
the longer stride than usual, which was all the increase of speed he was
capable of. As she had stood still by his side without a question, she
now went on, very much as if she had been a delicate little piece of
machinery of which he had touched the spring. That was not at all the
character of Frances Waring; but to judge by her movements while at her
father’s side, an outside observer might have thought so. She had never
offered any resistance to any impulse from him in her whole life; indeed
it would have seemed to her an impossibility to do so. But these
impulses concerned the outside of her life only. She went along by his
side with the movement of a swift creature restrained to the pace of a
very slow one, but making neither protest nor remark. And neither did
she ask any explanation, though she cast many a stolen glance at him as
they pursued their way. And for his part, he said nothing. The heat of
the sun, the annoyance of being thus interrupted, were enough to account
for that.

This broad bit of sunny road which lay between them and the shelter of
their home had been made by one of those too progressive municipalities,
thirsting for English visitors and tourists in general, who fill with
hatred and horror the old residents in Italy; and after it followed a
succession of stony stairs more congenial to the locality, by which,
under old archways and through narrow alleys, you got at last to the
wider centre of the town, a broad stony piazza, under the shadow of the
Bell Tower, the characteristic campanile which was the landmark of the
place. Except on one side of the piazza, all here was in grateful shade.
Waring’s stern face softened a little when he came into these cool and
almost deserted streets: here and there was a woman at a doorway, an old
man in the deep shadow of an open shop or booth unguarded by any window,
two or three girls filling their pitchers at the well, but no intrusive
tourists or passengers of any kind to break the noonday stillness. The
pair went slowly through the little town, and emerged by another old
gateway, on the farther side, where the blue Mediterranean, with all its
wonderful shades of colour, and line after line of headland cutting down
into those ethereal tints, stretched out before them, ending in the haze
of the Ligurian mountains. The scene was enough to take away the breath
of one unaccustomed to that blaze of wonderful light, and all the
delightful accidents of those purple hills. But this pair were too
familiarly acquainted with every line to make any pause. They turned
round the sunny height from the gateway, and entered by a deep small
door sunk in the wall, which stood high like a great rampart rising from
the Punto. This was the outer wall of the palace of the lord of the
town, still called _the_ Palazzo at Bordighera. Every large house is a
palace in Italy; but the pretensions of this were well founded. The
little door by which they entered had been an opening of modern and
peaceful times, the state entrance being through a great doorway and
court on the inner side. The deep outer wall was pierced by windows,
only at the height of the second storey on the sea side, so that the
great marble stair up which Waring toiled slowly was very long and
fatiguing, as if it led to a mountaintop. He reached his rooms
breathless, and going in through antechamber and corridor, threw himself
into the depths of a large but upright chair. There were no signs of
luxury about. It was not one of those hermitages of culture and ease
which English recluses make for themselves in the most unlikely places.
It was more like a real hermitage; or, to speak more simply, it was
like, what it really was, an apartment in an old Italian house, in a
rustic castle, furnished and provided as such a place, in the possession
of its natural inhabitants, would be.

The Palazzo was subdivided into a number of habitations, of which the
apartment of the Englishman was the most important. It was composed of a
suite of rooms facing to the sea, and commanding the entire circuit of
the sun; for the windows on one side were to the east, and at the other
the apartment ended in a large loggia, commanding the west and all the
glorious sunsets accomplished there. We Northerners, who have but a
limited enjoyment of the sun, show often a strange indifference to him
in the sites and situations of our houses; but in Italy it is well known
that where the sun does not go the doctor goes, and much more regard is
shown to the aspect of the house.

The Warings at the worst of that genial climate had little occasion for
fire; they had but to follow the centre of light when he glided out of
one room to fling himself more abundantly into another. The Punto is
always full in the cheerful rays. It commands everything--air and sea,
and the mountains and all their thousand effects of light and shade; and
the Palazzo stands boldly out upon this the most prominent point in the
landscape, with the houses of the little town withdrawing on a dozen
different levels behind. In the warlike days when no point of vantage
which a pirate could seize upon was left undefended or assailable, it is
probable that there was no loggia from which to watch the western
illuminations. But peace has been so long on the Riviera that the loggia
too was antique, the parapet crumbling and grey. It opened from a large
room, very lofty, and with much faded decoration on the upper walls and
roof, which was the salone or drawing-room, beyond which was an
ante-room, then a sort of library, a dining-room, a succession of
bed-chambers; much space, little furniture, sunshine and air unlimited,
and a view from every window which it was worth living to be able to
look out upon night and day. This, however, at the moment of which we
write, was shut out all along the line, the green _persiani_ being
closed, and nothing open but the loggia, which was still cool and in the
shade. The rooms lay in a soft green twilight, cool and fresh; the doors
were open from one to another, affording a long vista of picturesque
glimpses.

From where Waring had thrown himself down to rest, he looked straight
through the apartment, over the faded formality of the ante-room with
its large old chairs, which were never moved from their place, across
his own library, in which there was a glimmer of vellum binding and old
gilding, to the table with its white tablecloth, laid out for breakfast
in the eating-room. The quiet soothed him after a while, and perhaps the
evident preparations for his meal, the large and rotund flask of Chianti
which Domenico was placing on the table, the vision of another figure
behind Domenico with a delicate dish of mayonnaise in her hands. He
could distinguish that it was a mayonnaise, and his angry spirit calmed
down. Noon began to chime from the campanile, and Frances came in
without her hat and with the eagerness subdued in her eyes. “Breakfast
is ready, papa,” she said. She had that look of knowing nothing and
guessing nothing beyond what lies on the surface, which so many women
have.

She was scarcely to be called a woman, not only because of being so
young, but of being so small, so slim, so light, with such a tiny
figure, that a stronger breeze than usual would, one could not help
thinking, blow her away. Her father was very tall, which made her tiny
size the more remarkable. She was not beautiful--few people are to the
positive degree; but she had the prettiness of youth, of round soft
contour, and peach-like skin, and clear eyes. Her hair was light brown,
her eyes dark brown, neither very remarkable; her features small and
clearly cut, as was her figure, no slovenliness or want of finish about
any line. All this pleasing exterior was very simple and easily
comprehended, and had but little to do with her, the real Frances, who
was not so easy to understand. She had two faces, although there was in
her no guile. She had the countenance she now wore, as it were for daily
use--a countenance without expression, like a sunny cheerful morning in
which there is neither care nor fear--the countenance of a girl calling
papa to breakfast, very punctual, determined that nobody should reproach
her as being half of a minute late, or having a hair or a ribbon a
hair’s-breadth out of place. That such a girl should have ever suspected
anything, feared anything--except perhaps gently that the mayonnaise was
not to papa’s taste--was beyond the range of possibilities; or that she
should be acquainted with anything in life beyond the simple routine of
regular hours and habits, the sweet and gentle bond of the ordinary,
which is the best rule of young lives.

Frances Waring had sometimes another face. That profile of hers was not
so clearly cut for nothing; nor were her eyes so lucid only to perceive
the outside of existence. In her room, during the few minutes she spent
there, she had looked at herself in her old-fashioned dim glass, and
seen a different creature. But what that was, or how it was, must show
itself farther on. She led the way into the dining-room, the trimmest
composed little figure, all England embodied--though she scarcely
remembered England--in the self-restrained and modest toilet of a
little girl accustomed to be cared for by women well instructed in the
niceties of feminine costume; and yet she had never had any one to take
counsel with except an Italian maid-of-all-work, who loved the brightest
primitive colours, as became her race. Frances knew so few English
people that she had not even the admiration of surprise at her success.
Those she did know took it for granted that she got her pretty sober
suits, her simple unelaborate dresses, from some very excellent
dressmaker at “home,” not knowing that she did not know what home was.

Her father followed her, as different a figure as imagination could
suggest. He was very tall, very thin, with long legs and stooping
shoulders, his hair in limp locks, his shirt-collar open, a velvet
coat--looking as entirely adapted to the locality, the conventional
right man in the right place, as she was not the conventional woman. A
gloomy look, which was habitual to him, a fretful longitudinal pucker in
his forehead, the hollow lines of ill health in his cheeks, disguised
the fact that he was, or had been, a handsome man; just as his extreme
spareness and thinness made it difficult to believe that he had also
been a very powerful one. Nor was he at all old, save in the very young
eyes of his daughter, to whom forty-five was venerable. He might have
been an artist or a poet of a misanthropical turn of mind; though, when
a man has chronic asthma, misanthropy is unnecessary to explain his look
of pain, and fatigue, and disgust with the outside world. He walked
languidly, his shoulders up to his ears, and followed Frances to the
table, and sat down with that air of dissatisfaction which takes the
comfort out of everything. Frances either was inaccessible to this kind
of discomfort, or so accustomed to it that she did not feel it. She sat
serenely opposite to him, and talked of indifferent things.

“Don’t take the mayonnaise, if you don’t like it, papa; there is
something else coming that will perhaps be better. Mariuccia does not at
all pride herself upon her mayonnaise.”

“Mariuccia knows very little about it; she has not even the sense to
know what she can do best.” He took a little more of the dish, partly
out of contradiction, which was the result which Frances hoped.

“The lettuce is so crisp and young, that makes it a little better,” she
said, with the air of a connoisseur.

“A little better is not the word; it is very good,” he said, fretfully;
then added with a slight sigh, “Everything is better for being young.”

“Except people, I know. Why does young mean good with vegetables and
everything else, and silly only when it is applied to people?--though it
can’t be helped, I know.”

“That is one of your metaphysical questions,” he said, with a slight
softening of his tone. “Perhaps because of human jealousy. We all like
to discredit what we haven’t got, and most people you see are no longer
young.”

“Oh, do you think so, papa? I think there are more young people than old
people.”

“I suppose you are right, Fan; but they don’t count for so much, in the
way of opinion at least. What has called forth these sage remarks?”

“Only the lettuce,” she said, with a laugh. Then, after a pause, “For
instance, there were six or seven children in the party we met to-day,
and only two parents.”

“There are seldom more than two parents, my dear.”

She had not looked up when she made this careless little speech, and yet
there was a purpose in it, and a good deal of keen observation through
her drooped eyelashes. She received his reply with a little laugh. “I
did not mean that, papa; but that six or seven are a great deal more
than two, which of course you will laugh at me for saying. I suppose
they were all English?”

“I suppose so. The father--if he was the father--certainly was English.”

“And you knew him, papa?’

“He knew me, which is a different thing.”

Then there was a little pause. The conversation between the father and
daughter was apt to run in broken periods. He very seldom originated
anything. When she found a subject upon which she could interest him, he
would reply, to a certain limit, and then the talk would drop. He was
himself a very silent man, requiring no outlet of conversation; and
when he refused to be interested, it was a task too hard for Frances to
lead him into speech. She on her side was full of a thousand unsatisfied
curiosities, which for the most part were buried in her own bosom. In
the meantime Domenico made the circle of the table with the new dish,
and his step and a question or two from his master were all the remarks
that accompanied the meal. Mr Waring was something of a _gourmet_, but
at the same time he was very temperate--a conjunction which is
favourable to fine eating. His table was delicately furnished with
dishes almost infinitesimal in quantity, but superlative in quality; and
he ate his dainty light repast with gravity and slowly, as a man
performs what he feels to be one of the most important functions of his
life.

“Tell Mariuccia that a few drops from a fresh lemon would have improved
this _ragoût_--but a very fresh lemon.”

“Yes, Excellency, _freschissimo_,” said Domenico, with solemnity.

In the household generally, nothing was so important as the second
breakfast, except, indeed, the dinner, which was the climax of the day.
The gravity of all concerned, the little solemn movement round the
white-covered table in the still soft shade of the atmosphere, with
those green _persiani_ shutting out all the sunshine, and the brown old
walls, bare of any decoration, throwing up the group, made a curious
picture. The walls were quite bare, the floor brown and polished, with
only a square of carpet round the table; but the roof and cornices were
gilt and painted with tarnished gilding and half-obliterated pictures.
Opposite to Frances was a blurred figure of a cherub with a finger on
his lip. She looked up at this faint image as she had done a hundred
times, and was silent. He seemed to command the group, hovering over it
like a little tutelary god.



CHAPTER II.


The Warings had been settled at Bordighera almost as long as Frances
could remember. She had known no other way of living than that which
could be carried on under the painted roofs in the Palazzo, nor any
other domestic management than that of Domenico and Mariuccia. She
herself had been brought up by the latter, who had taught her to knit
stockings and to make lace of a coarse kind, and also how to spare and
save, and watch every detail of the spese--the weekly or daily
accounts--with an anxious eye. Beyond this, Frances had received very
little education: her father had taught her fitfully to read and write
after a sort; and he had taught her to draw, for which she had a little
faculty--that is to say, she had made little sketches of all the points
of view round about, which, if they were not very great in art, amused
her, and made her feel that there was something she could do. Indeed, so
far as doing went, she had a good deal of knowledge. She could mend very
neatly--so neatly, that her darn or her patch was almost an ornament.
She was indeed neat in everything, by instinct, without being taught.
The consequence was, that her life was very full of occupation, and her
time never hung heavy on her hands. At eighteen, indeed, it may be
doubted whether time ever does hang heavy on a girl’s hands. It is when
ten years or so of additional life have passed over her head, bringing
her no more important occupations than those which are pleasant and
appropriate to early youth, that she begins to feel her disabilities;
but fortunately, that is a period of existence with which at the present
moment we have nothing to do.

Her father, who was not fifty yet, had been a young man when he came to
this strange seclusion. Why he should have chosen Bordighera, no one had
taken the trouble to inquire. He came when it was a little town on the
spur of the hill, without either hotels or tourists, or at least very
few of these articles--like many other little towns which are perched on
little platforms among the olive woods all over that lovely country. The
place had commended itself to him because it was so completely out of
the way. And then it was very cheap, simple, and primitive. He was not,
however, by any means a primitive-minded man; and when he took Domenico
and Mariuccia into his service, it was for a year or two an interest in
his life to train them to everything that was the reverse of their own
natural primitive ways. Mariuccia had a little native instinct for
cookery such as is not unusual among the Latin races, and which her
master trained into all the sophistications of a cordon bleu. And
Domenico had that lively desire to serve his padrone “hand and foot,” as
English servants say, and do everything for him, which comes natural to
an amiable Italian eager to please. Both of them had been encouraged and
trained to carry out these inclinations. Mr Waring was difficult to
please. He wanted attendance continually. He would not tolerate a speck
of dust anywhere, or any carelessness of service; but otherwise he was
not a bad master. He left them many independences, which suited them,
and never objected to that appropriation to themselves of his house as
theirs, and assertion of themselves as an important part of the family,
which is the natural result of a long service. Frances grew up
accordingly in franker intimacy with the honest couple than is usual in
English households. There was nothing they would not have done for the
Signorina--starve for her, scrape and pinch for her, die for her if need
had been; and in the meantime, while there was no need for service more
heroic, correct her, and improve her mind, and set her faults before her
with simplicity. Her faults were small, it is true, but zealous Love did
not omit to find many out.

Mr Waring painted a little, and was disposed to call himself an artist;
and he read a great deal, or was supposed to do so, in the library,
which formed one of the set of rooms, among the old books in vellum,
which took a great deal of reading. A little old public library existing
in another little town farther up among the hills, gave him an excuse,
if it was not anything more, for a great deal of what he called work.
There were some manuscripts and a number of old editions laid up in this
curious little hermitage of learning, from which the few people who knew
him believed he was going some day to compile or collect something of
importance. The people who knew him were very few. An old clergyman, who
had been a colonial chaplain all his life, and now “took the service” in
the bare little room which served as an English church, was the chief of
his acquaintances. This gentleman had an old wife and a middle-aged
daughter, who furnished something like society for Frances. Another
associate was an old Indian officer, much battered by wounds, liver, and
disappointment, who, systematically neglected by the authorities (as he
thought), and finding himself a nobody in the home to which he had
looked forward for so many years, had retired in disgust, and built
himself a little house, surrounded with palms, which reminded him of
India, and full in the rays of the sun, which kept off his neuralgia.
He, too, had a wife, whose constant correspondence with her numerous
children occupied her mind and thoughts, and who liked Frances because
she never tired of hearing stories of those absent sons and daughters.
They saw a good deal of each other, these three resident families, and
reminded each other from time to time that there was such a thing as
society.

In summer they disappeared--sometimes to places higher up among the
hills, sometimes to Switzerland or the Tyrol, sometimes “home.” They all
said home, though neither the Durants nor the Gaunts knew much of
England, and though they could never say enough in disparagement of its
grey skies and cold winds. But the Warings never went “home.” Frances,
who was entirely without knowledge or associations with her native
country, used the word from time to time because she heard Tasie Durant
or Mrs Gaunt do so; but her father never spoke of England, nor of any
possible return, nor of any district in England as that to which he
belonged. It escaped him at times that he had seen something of society
a dozen or fifteen years before this date; but otherwise, nothing was
known about his past life. It was not a thing that was much discussed,
for the intercourse in which he lived with his neighbours was not
intimate, nor was there any particular reason why he should enter upon
his own history; but now and then it would be remarked by one or another
that nobody knew anything of his antecedents. “What’s your county,
Waring?” General Gaunt had once asked; and the other had answered with a
languid smile, “I have no county,” without the least attempt to explain.
The old general, in spite of himself, had apologised, he did not know
why; but still no information was given. And Waring did not look like a
man who had no county. His thin long figure had an aristocratic air. He
knew about horses, and dogs, and country-gentleman sort of subjects. It
was impossible that he should turn out to be a shopkeeper’s son, or a
_bourgeois_ of any kind. However, as has been said, the English
residents did not give themselves much trouble about the matter. There
was not enough of them to get up a little parochial society, like that
which flourishes in so many English colonies, gossiping with the best,
and forging anew for themselves those chains of a small community which
everybody pretends to hate.

In the afternoon of the day on which the encounter recorded in the
previous chapter had taken place, Frances sat in the loggia alone at her
work. She was busy with her drawing--a very elaborate study of
palm-trees, which she was making from a cluster of those trees which
were visible from where she sat. A loggia is something more than a
balcony; it is like a room with the outer wall or walls taken away. This
one was as large as the big _salone_ out of which it opened, and had
therefore room for changes of position as the sun changed. Though it
faced the west, there was always a shady corner at one end or the other.
It was the favourite place in which Frances carried on all her
occupations--where her father came to watch the sunset--where she had
tea, with that instinct of English habit and tradition which she
possessed without knowing how. Mr Waring did not much care for her tea,
except now and then in a fitful way; and Mariuccia thought it medicine.
But it pleased Frances to have the little table set out with two or
three old china cups which did not match, and a small silver teapot,
which was one of the very few articles of value in the house. Very
rarely, not once in a month, had she any occasion for these cups; but
yet, such a chance did occur at long intervals; and in the meantime,
with a pleasure not much less infantine, but much more wistful than that
with which she had played at having a tea-party seven or eight years
before, she set out her little table now.

She was seated with her drawing materials on one table and the tea on
another, in the stillness of the afternoon, looking out upon the
mountains and the sea. No; she was doing nothing of the sort. She was
looking with all her might at the clump of palm-trees within the garden
of the villa, which lay low down at her feet between her and the sunset.
She was not indifferent to the sunset. She had an admiration, which even
the humblest art-training quickens, for the long range of coast, with
its innumerable ridges running down from the sky to the sea, in every
variety of gnarled edge, and gentle slope, and precipice; and for the
amazing blue of the water, with its ribbon-edge of paler colours, and
the deep royal purple of the broad surface, and the white sails thrown
up against it, and the white foam that turned up the edges of every
little wave. But in the meantime she was not thinking of them, nor of
the infinitely varied lines of the mountains, or the specks of towns,
each with its campanile shining in the sun, which gave character to the
scene; but of the palms on which her attention was fixed, and which,
however beautiful they sound, or even look, are apt to get very spiky in
a drawing, and so often will not “come” at all. She was full of fervour
in her work, which had got to such a pitch of impossibility that her
lips were dry and wide apart from the strain of excitement with which
she struggled with her subject, when the bell tinkled where it hung
outside upon the stairs, sending a little jar through all the Palazzo,
where bells were very uncommon; and presently Tasie Durant, pushing open
the door of the _salone_, with a breathless little “Permesso?” came out
upon the loggia in her usual state of haste, and with half-a-dozen small
books tumbling out of her hand.

“Never mind, dear; they are only books for the Sunday-school. Don’t you
know we had twelve last Sunday? Twelve!--think!--when I have thought it
quite large and extensive to have five. I never was more pleased. I am
getting up a little library for them like they have at home. It is so
nice to have everything like they have at home.”

“Like what?” said Frances, though she had no education.

“Like they have--well, if you are so particular, the same as they have
at home. There were three of one family--think! Not little nobodies, but
ladies and gentlemen. It is so nice of people not just poor people,
people of education, to send their children to the Sunday-school.”

“New people?” said Frances.

“Yes; tourists, I suppose. You all scoff at the tourists; but I think it
is very good for the place, and so pleasant for us to see a new face
from time to time. Why should they all go to Mentone? Mentone is so
towny, quite a big place. And papa says that in his time Nice was
everything, and that nobody had ever heard of Mentone.”

“Who are the new people, Tasie?” Frances asked.

“They are a large family--that is all I know; not likely to settle,
more’s the pity. Oh no. Quite _well_ people, not even a delicate child,”
said Miss Durant, regretfully; “and such a nice domestic family, always
walking about together. Father and mother, and governess and six
children. They must be very well off, too, or they could not travel like
that, such a lot of them, and nurses--and I think I heard, a courier
too.” This, Miss Durant said in a tone of some emotion; for the place,
as has been said, was just beginning to be known, and the people who
came as yet were but pioneers.

“I have seen them. I wonder who they are. My father----” said Frances;
and then stopped, and held her head on one side, to contemplate the
effect of the last touches on her drawing; but this was in reality
because it suddenly occurred to her that to publish her father’s
acquaintance with the stranger might be unwise.

“Your father?” said Tasie. “Did he take any notice of them? I thought he
never took any notice of tourists. Haven’t you done those palms yet?
What a long time you are taking over them! Do you think you have got
the colour quite right on those stems? Nothing is so difficult to do as
palms, though they look so easy--except olives: olives are impossible.
But what were you going to say about your father? Papa says he has not
seen Mr Waring for ages. When will you come up to see us?”

“It was only last Saturday, Tasie.”

“----Week,” said Tasie. “Oh yes, I assure you; for I put it down in my
diary: Saturday week. You can’t quite tell how time goes, when you don’t
come to church. Without Sunday, all the days are alike. I wondered that
you were not at church last Sunday, Frances, and so did mamma.”

“Why was it? I forget. I had a headache, I think. I never like to stay
away. But I went to church here in the village instead.”

“O Frances, I wonder your papa lets you do that! It is much better when
you have a headache to stay at home. I am sure I don’t want to be
intolerant, but what good can it do you going there? You can’t
understand a word.”

“Yes, indeed I do--many words. Mariuccia has shown me all the places;
and it is good to see the people all saying their prayers. They are a
great deal more in earnest than the people down at the Marina, where it
would be just as natural to dance as to pray.”

“Ah, dance!” said Tasie, with a little sigh. “You know there is never
anything of that kind here. I suppose you never was at a dance in your
life--unless it is in summer, when you go away?”

“I have never been at a dance in my life. I have seen a ballet, that is
all.”

“O Frances, please don’t talk of anything so wicked! A ballet! that is
very different from nice people dancing--from dancing one’s own self
with a nice partner. However, as we never do dance here, I can’t see why
you should say that about our church. It is a pity, to be sure, that we
have no right church; but it is a lovely room, and quite suitable. If
you would only practise the harmonium a little, so as to take the music
when I am away. I never can afford to have a headache on Sunday,” Miss
Durant added, in an injured tone.

“But, Tasie, how could I take the harmonium, when I don’t even know how
to play?”

“I have offered to teach you, till I am tired, Frances. I wonder what
your papa thinks, if he calls it reasonable to leave you without any
accomplishments? You can draw a little, it is true; but you can’t bring
out your sketches in the drawing-room of an evening, to amuse people;
and you can always play----”

“When you _can_ play.”

“Yes, of course that is what I mean--when you can play. It has quite
vexed me often to think how little trouble is taken about you; for you
can’t always be young, so young as you are now. And suppose some time
you should have to go home--to your friends, you know?”

Frances raised her head from her drawing and looked her companion in the
face. “I don’t think we have any--friends,” she said.

“Oh, my dear, that must be nonsense!” cried Tasie. “I confess I have
never heard your papa talk of any. He never says ‘my brother,’ or ‘my
sister,’ or ‘my brother-in-law,’ as other people do--but then he is such
a very quiet man; and you must have somebody--cousins at least--you must
have cousins; nobody is without somebody,” Miss Durant said.

“Well, I suppose we must have cousins,” said Frances. “I had not thought
of it. But I don’t see that it matters much; for if my cousins are
surprised that I can’t play, it will not hurt them--they can’t be
considered responsible for me, you know.”

Tasie looked at her with the look of one who would say much if she
could--wistfully and kindly, yet with something of the air of mingled
importance and reluctance with which the bearer of ill news hesitates
before opening his budget. She had indeed no actual ill news to tell,
only the burden of that fact of which everybody felt Frances should be
warned--that her father was looking more delicate than ever, and that
his “friends” ought to know. She would have liked to speak, and yet she
had not courage to do so. The girl’s calm consent that probably she must
have cousins was too much for any one’s patience. She never seemed to
think that one day she might have to be dependent on these cousins; she
never seemed to think---- But after all, it was Mr Waring’s fault. It
was not poor Frances that was to blame.

“You know how often I have said to you that you ought to play, you
ought to be able to play. Supposing you have not any gift for it, still
you might be able to do a little. You could so easily get an old piano,
and I should like to teach you. It would not be a task at all. I should
like it. I do so wish you would begin. Drawing and languages depend a
great deal upon your own taste and upon your opportunities; but every
lady ought to play.”

Tasie (or Anastasia, but that name was too long for anybody’s patience)
was a great deal older than Frances--so much older as to justify the
hyperbole that she might be her mother; but of this fact she herself was
not aware. It may seem absurd to say so, but yet it was true. She knew,
of course, how old she was, and how young Frances was; but her faculties
were of the kind which do not perceive differences. Tasie herself was
just as she had been at Frances’ age--the girl at home, the young lady
of the house. She had the same sort of occupations: to arrange the
flowers; to play the harmonium in the little colonial chapel; to look
after the little exotic Sunday-school; to take care of papa’s surplice;
to play a little in the evenings when they “had people with them”; to
do fancy-work, and look out for such amusements as were going. It would
be cruel to say how long this condition of young-ladyhood had lasted,
especially as Tasie was a very good girl, kind, and friendly, and
simple-hearted, and thinking no evil.

Some women chafe at the condition which keeps them still girls when they
are no longer girls; but Miss Durant had never taken it into her
consideration. She had a little more of the housekeeping to do, since
mamma had become so delicate; and she had a great deal to fill up her
time, and no leisure to think or inquire into her own position. It was
her position, and therefore the best position which any girl could have.
She had the satisfaction of being of the greatest use to her parents,
which is the thing of all others which a good child would naturally
desire. She talked to Frances without any notion of an immeasurable
distance between them, from the same level, though with a feeling that
the girl, by reason of having had no mother, poor thing, was lamentably
backward in many ways, and sadly blind, though that was natural, to the
hazard of her own position. What would become of her if Mr Waring died?
Tasie would sometimes grow quite anxious about this, declaring that she
could not sleep for thinking of it. If there were relations--as of
course there must be--she felt that they would think Frances sadly
deficient. To teach her to play was the only practical way in which she
could show her desire to benefit the girl, who, she thought, might
accept the suggestion from a girl like herself, when she might not have
done so from a more authoritative voice.

Frances on her part accepted the suggestion with placidity, and replied
that she would think of it, and ask her father; and perhaps if she had
time---- But she did not really at all intend to learn music of Tasie.
She had no desire to know just as much as Tasie did, whose
accomplishments, as well as her age and her condition altogether, were
quite evident and clear to the young creature, whose eyes possessed the
unbiassed and distinct vision of youth. She appraised Miss Durant
exactly at her real value, as the young so constantly do, even when
they are quite submissive to the little conventional fables of life, and
never think of asserting their superior knowledge; but the conversation
was suggestive, and beguiled her mind into many new channels of thought.
The cousins unknown--should she ever be brought into intercourse with
them, and enter perhaps a kind of other world through their means--would
they think it strange that she knew so little, and could not play the
piano? Who were they? These thoughts circled vaguely in her mind through
all Tasie’s talk, and kept flitting out and in of her brain, even when
she removed to the tea-table and poured out some tea. Tasie always
admired the cups. She cried, “This is a new one, Frances. Oh, how lucky
you are! What pretty bits you have picked up!” with all the ardour of a
collector. And then she began to talk of the old Savona pots, which were
to be had so cheap, quite cheap, but which, she heard at home, were so
much thought of.

Frances did not pay much attention to the discourse about the Savona
pots; she went on with her thoughts about the cousins, and when Miss
Durant went away, gave herself up entirely to those speculations. What
sort of people would they be? Where would they live? And then there
recurred to her mind the meeting of the morning, and what the stranger
said who knew her father. It was almost the first time she had ever seen
him meet any one whom he knew, except the acquaintances of recent times,
with whom she had made acquaintance, as he did. But the stranger of the
morning evidently knew about him in a period unknown to Frances. She had
made a slight and cautious attempt to find out something about him at
breakfast, but it had not been successful. She wondered whether she
would have courage to ask her father now in so many words who he was and
what he meant.



CHAPTER III.


As it turned out, Frances had not the courage. Mr Waring strolled into
the loggia shortly after Miss Durant had left her. He smiled when he
heard of her visit, and asked what news she had brought. Tasie was the
recognised channel for news, and seldom appeared without leaving some
little story behind her.

“I don’t think she had any news to-day, except that there had been a
great many at the Sunday-school last Sunday. Fancy, papa, twelve
children! She is quite excited about it.”

“That is a triumph,” said Mr Waring, with a laugh. He stretched out his
long limbs from the low basket-chair in which he had placed himself. He
had relaxed a little altogether from the tension of the morning, feeling
himself secure and at his ease in his own house, where no one could
intrude upon him or call up ghosts of the past. The air was beyond
expression sweet and tranquillising, the sun going down in a mist of
glory behind the endless peaks and ridges that stretched away towards
the west, the sea lapping the shore with a soft cadence that was more
imagined than heard on the heights of the Punto, but yet added another
harmony to the scene. Near at hand a faint wind rustled the long leaves
of the palm-trees, and the pale olive woods lent a softness to the
landscape, tempering its radiance. Such a scene fills up the weary mind,
and has the blessed quality of arresting thought. It was good for the
breathing too--or at least so this invalid thought--and he was more
amiable than usual, with no harshness in voice or temper to introduce a
discord. “I am glad she was pleased,” he said. “Tasie is a good girl,
though not perhaps so much of a girl as she thinks. Why she goes in for
a Sunday-school where none is wanted, I can’t tell; but anyhow, I am
glad she is pleased. Where did they come from, the twelve children? Poor
little beggars, how sick of it they must have been!”

“A number of them belonged to that English family, papa----”

“I suppose they must all belong to English families,” he said, calmly;
“the natives are not such fools.”

“But, papa, I mean--the people we met--the people you knew.”

He made no reply for a few minutes, and then he said calmly, “What an
ass the man must be, not only to travel with children, but to send them
to poor Tasie’s Sunday-school! You must do me the justice, Fan, to
acknowledge that I never attempted to treat you in that way.”

“No; but, papa--perhaps the gentleman is a very religious man.”

“And you don’t think I am? Well, perhaps I laid myself open to such a
retort.”

“O papa!” Frances cried, with tears starting to her eyes, “you know I
could not mean that.”

“If you take religion as meaning a life by rule, which is its true
meaning, you were right enough, my dear. That is what I never could do.
It might have been better for me if I had been more capable of it. It is
always better to put one’s self in harmony with received notions and
the prejudices of society. Tasie would not have her Sunday-school but
for that. It is the right thing. I think you have a leaning towards the
right thing, my little girl, yourself.”

“I don’t like to be particular, papa, if that is what you mean.”

“Always keep to that,” her father said, with a smile. And then he opened
the book which he had been holding all this time in his hand. Such a
thing had happened, when Frances was in high spirits and very
courageous, as that she had pursued him even into his book; but it was a
very rare exercise of valour, and to-day she shrank from it. If she only
had the courage! But she had not the courage. She had given up her
drawing, for the sun no longer shone on the group of palms. She had no
book, and indeed at any time was not much given to reading, except when
a happy chance threw a novel into her hands. She watched the sun go down
by imperceptible degrees, yet not slowly, behind the mountains. When he
had quite disappeared, the landscape changed too; the air, as the
Italians say, grew brown; a little momentary chill breathed out of the
sky. It is always depressing to a solitary watcher when this change
takes place.

Frances was not apt to be depressed, but for the moment she felt lonely
and dull, and a great sense of monotony took hold upon her. It was like
this every night; it would be like this, so far as she knew, every night
to come, until perhaps she grew old, like Tasie, without becoming aware
that she had ceased to be a girl. It was not a cheering prospect. And
when there is any darkness or mystery surrounding one’s life, these are
just the circumstances to quicken curiosity, and turn it into something
graver, into an anxious desire to know. Frances did not know positively
that there was a mystery. She had no reason to think there was, she said
to herself. Her father preferred to live easily on the Riviera, instead
of living in a way that would trouble him at home. Perhaps the gentleman
they had met was a bore, and that was why Mr Waring avoided all mention
of him. He frequently thought people were bores, with whom Frances was
very well satisfied. Why should she think any more of it? Oh, how she
wished she had the courage to ask plainly and boldly, Who are we? Where
do we come from? Have we any friends? But she had not the courage. She
looked towards him, and trembled, imagining within herself what would be
the consequence if she interrupted his reading, plucked him out of the
quietude of the hour and of his book, and demanded an explanation--when
very likely there was no explanation! when, in all probability,
everything was quite simple, if she only knew.

The evening passed as evenings generally did pass in the Palazzo. Mr
Waring talked a little at dinner quite pleasantly, and smoked a
cigarette in the loggia afterwards in great good-humour, telling Frances
various little stories of people he had known. This was a sign of high
satisfaction on his part, and very agreeable to her, and no doubt he was
entirely unaware of the perplexity in her mind and the questions she was
so desirous of asking. The air was peculiarly soft that evening, and he
sat in the loggia till the young moon set, with an overcoat on his
shoulders and a rug on his knees, sometimes talking, sometimes
silent--in either way a very agreeable companion. Frances had never
been cooped up in streets, or exposed to the chill of an English spring;
so she had not that keen sense of contrast which doubles the enjoyment
of a heavenly evening in such a heavenly locality. It was all quite
natural, common, and everyday to her; but no one could be indifferent to
the sheen of the young moon, to the soft circling of the darkness, and
the reflections on the sea. It was all very lovely, and yet there was
something wanting. What was wanting? She thought it was knowledge,
acquaintance with her own position, and relief from this strange
bewildering sensation of being cut off from the race altogether, which
had risen within her mind so quickly and with so little cause.

But many beside Frances have felt the wistful call for happiness more
complete, which comes in the soft darkening of a summer night; and
probably it was not explanation, but something else, more common to
human nature, that she wanted. The voices of the peaceful people
outside, the old men and women who came out to sit on the benches upon
the Punto, or on the stone seat under the wall of the Palazzo, and
compare their experiences, and enjoy the cool of the evening, sounded
pleasantly from below. There was a softened din of children playing, and
now and then a sudden rush of voices, when the young men who were
strolling about got excited in conversation, and stopped short in their
walk for the delivery of some sentence more emphatic than the rest; and
the mothers chattered over their babies, cooing and laughing. The babies
should have been in bed, Frances said to herself, half laughing, half
crying, in a sort of tender anger with them all for being so familiar
and so much at home. They were entirely at home where they were; they
knew everybody, and were known from father to son, and from mother to
daughter, all about them. They did not call a distant and unknown
country by that sweet name, nor was there one among them who had any
doubt as to where he or she was born. This thought made Frances sigh,
and then made her smile. After all, if that was all! And then she saw
that Domenico had brought the lamp into the _salone_, and that it was
time to go indoors.

Next morning she went out between the early coffee and the mid-day
breakfast to do some little household business, on which, in
consideration that she was English and not bound by the laws that are so
hard and fast with Italian girls, Mariuccia consented to let her go
alone. It was very seldom that Mr Waring went out or indeed was visible
at that hour, the expedition of the former day being very exceptional.
Frances went down to the shops to do her little commissions for
Mariuccia. She even investigated the Savona pots of which Tasie had
spoken. In her circumstances, it was scarcely possible not to be more or
less of a collector. There is nobody in these regions who does not go
about with eyes open to anything there may be to “pick up.” And after
this she walked back through the olive woods, by those distracting
little terraces which lead the stranger so constantly out of his way,
but are quite simple to those who are to the manner born--until she
reached once more the broad piece of unshadowed road which leads up to
the old town. At the spot at which she and her father had met the
English family yesterday, she made a momentary pause, recalling all the
circumstances of the meeting, and what the stranger had said--“A fellow
that stuck by you all through.” All through what? she asked herself. As
she paused to make this little question, to which there was no response,
she heard a sound of voices coming from the upper side of the wood,
where the slopes rose high into more and more olive gardens. “Don’t
hurry along so; I’m coming,” some one said. Frances looked up, and her
heart jumped into her mouth as she perceived that it was once more the
English family whom she was about to meet on the same spot.

The father was in advance this time, and he was hurrying down, she
thought, with the intention of addressing her. What should she do? She
knew very well what her father would have wished her to do; but probably
for that very reason a contradictory impulse arose in her. Without
doubt, she wanted to know what this man knew and could tell her. Not
that she would ask him anything; she was too proud for that. To betray
that she was not acquainted with her father’s affairs, that she had to
go to a stranger for information, was a thing of which she was
incapable. But if he wished to speak to her--to send, perhaps, some
message to her father? Frances quieted her conscience in this way. She
was very anxious, excited by the sense that there was something to find
out; and if it was anything her father would not approve, why, then she
could shut it up in her own breast and never let him know it to trouble
him. And it was right at her age that she should know. All these
sophistries hurried through her mind more rapidly than lightning during
the moment in which she paused hesitating, and gave the large
Englishman, overwhelmed with the heat, and hurrying down the steep path
with his white umbrella over his head, time to make up to her. He was
rather out of breath, for though he had been coming down hill, and not
going up, the way was steep.

“Miss Waring, Miss Waring!” he cried as he approached, “how is your
father? I want to ask for your father,” taking off his straw hat and
exposing his flushed countenance under the shadow of the green-lined
umbrella, which enhanced all its ruddy tints. Then, as he came within
reach of her, he added hastily, “I am so glad I have met you. How is he?
for he did not give me any address.”

“Papa is quite well, thank you,” said Frances, with the habitual
response of a child.

“Quite well? Oh, that is a great deal more than I expected to hear. He
was not quite well yesterday, I am sure. He is dreadfully changed. It
was a sort of guesswork my recognising him at all. He used to be such a
powerful-made man. Is it pulmonary? I suspect it must be something of
the kind, he has so wasted away.”

“Pulmonary? Indeed I don’t know. He has a little asthma sometimes. And
of course he is very thin,” said Frances; “but that does not mean
anything; he is quite well.”

The stranger shook his head. He had taken the opportunity to wipe it
with a large white handkerchief, and had made his bald forehead look
redder than ever. “I shouldn’t like to alarm you,” he said--“I wouldn’t,
for all the world; but I hope you have trustworthy advice? These Italian
doctors, they are not much to be trusted. You should get a real good
English doctor to come and have a look at him.”

“Oh, indeed, it is only asthma; he is well enough, quite well, not
anything the matter with him,” Frances protested. The large stranger
stood and smiled compassionately upon her, still shaking his head.

“Mary,” he said--“here, my dear! This is Miss Waring. She says her
father is quite well, poor thing. I am telling her I am so very glad we
have met her, for Waring did not leave me any address.”

“How do you do, my dear?” said the stout lady--not much less red than
her husband--who had also hurried down the steep path to meet Frances.
“And your father is quite well? I am so glad. We thought him looking
rather--thin; not so strong as he used to look.”

“But then,” added her husband, “it is such a long time since we have
seen him, and he never was very stout. I hope, if you will pardon me for
asking, that things have been smoothed down between him and the rest of
the family? When I say ‘smoothed down,’ I mean set on a better
footing--more friendly, more harmonious. I am very glad I have seen you,
to inquire privately; for one never knows how far to go with a man of
his--well--peculiar temper.”

“Don’t say that, George. You must not think, my dear, that Mr Mannering
means anything that is not quite nice, and friendly, and respectful to
your papa. It is only out of kindness that he asks. Your poor papa has
been much tried. I am sure he has always had my sympathy, and my
husband’s too. Mr Mannering only means that he hopes things are more
comfortable between your father and---- Which is so much to be desired
for everybody’s sake.”

The poor girl stood and stared at them with large, round, widely opening
eyes, with the wondering stare of a child. There had been a little
half-mischievous, half-anxious longing in her mind to find out what
these strangers knew; but now she came to herself suddenly, and felt as
a traveller feels who all at once pulls himself up on the edge of a
precipice. What was this pitfall which she had nearly stumbled into,
this rent from the past which was so great and so complete that she had
never heard of it, never guessed it? Fright seized upon her, and dismay,
and, what probably stood her in more stead for the moment, a stinging
sensation of wounded pride, which brought the colour burning to her
cheeks. Must she let these people find out that she knew nothing, at her
age--that her father had never confided in her at all--that she could
not even form an idea what they were talking about? She had pleased
herself with the possibility of some little easy discovery--of finding
out, perhaps, something about the cousins whom it seemed certain,
according to Tasie, every one must possess, whether they were aware of
it or not--some little revelation of origin and connections such as
could do nobody any harm. But when she woke up suddenly to find herself
as it were upon the edge of a chasm which had split her father’s life in
two, the young creature trembled. She was frightened beyond measure by
this unexpected contingency; she dared not listen to another word.

“Oh,” she said, with a quiver in her voice, “I am afraid I have no time
to stop and talk. Papa will be waiting for his breakfast. I will tell
him you--asked for him.”

“Give him our love,” said the lady. “Indeed, George, she is quite right;
we must hurry too, or we shall be too late for the _table d’hôte_.”

“But I have not got the address,” said the husband. Frances made a
little curtsey, as she had been taught, and waved her hand as she
hurried away. He thought that she had not understood him. “Where do you
live?” he called after her as she hastened along. She pointed towards
the height of the little town, and alarmed for she knew not what, lest
he should follow her, lest he should call something after her which she
ought not to hear, fled along towards the steep ascent. She could hear
the voices behind her slightly elevated talking to each other, and then
the sound of the children rattling down the stony course of the higher
road, and the quick question and answer as they rejoined their parents.
Then gradually everything relapsed into silence as the party
disappeared. When she heard the voices no longer, Frances began to
regret that she had been so hasty. She paused for a moment, and looked
back; but already the family were almost out of sight, the solid figures
which led the procession indistinguishable from the little ones who
straggled behind. Whether it might have been well or ill to take
advantage of the chance, it was now over. She arrived at the Palazzo out
of breath, and found Domenico at the door, looking out anxiously for
her. “The signorina is late,” he said, very gravely; “the padrone has
almost had to wait for his breakfast.” Domenico was quite original, and
did not know that such a terrible possibility had threatened any
illustrious personage before.



CHAPTER IV.


It was natural that this occurrence should take a great hold of the
girl’s mind. It was not the first time that she had speculated
concerning their life. A life which one has always lived, indeed, the
conditions of which have been familiar and inevitable since childhood,
is not a matter which awakens questions in the mind. However
extraordinary its conditions may be, they are natural--they are life to
the young soul which has had no choice in the matter. Still there are
curiosities which will arise. General Gaunt foamed at the mouth when he
talked of the way in which he had been treated by the people “at home”;
but still he went “home” in the summer as a matter of course. And as for
the Durants, it was a subject of the fondest consideration with them
when they could afford themselves that greatest of delights. They all
talked about the cold, the fogs, the pleasure of getting back to the
sunshine when they returned; but this made no difference in the fact
that to go home was their thought all the year, and the most salient
point in their lives. “Why do we never go home?” Frances had often asked
herself. And both these families, and all the people to whom she had
ever talked, the strangers who went and came, and those whom they met in
the rambles which the Warings, too, were forced to take in the hot
weather, when the mistral was blowing--talked continually of their
county, of their parish, of their village, of where they lived, and
where they had been born. But on these points Mr Waring never said a
word. And whereas Mrs Gaunt could talk of nothing but her family, who
were scattered all over the world, and the Durants met people they knew
at every turn, the Warings knew nobody, had no relations, no house at
home, and apparently had been born nowhere in particular, as Frances
sometimes said to herself with more annoyance than humour. Sometimes
she wondered whether she had ever had a mother.

These thoughts, indeed, occurred but fitfully now and then, when some
incident brought more forcibly than usual under her notice the
difference between herself and others. She did not brood over them, her
life being quite pleasant and comfortable to herself, and no necessity
laid upon her to elucidate its dimnesses. But yet they came across her
mind from time to time. She had not been brought face to face with any
old friend of her father’s, that she could remember, until now. She had
never heard any question raised about his past life. And yet no doubt he
had a past life, like every other man, and there was something in
it--something, she could not guess what, which had made him unlike other
men.

Frances had a great deal of self-command. She did not betray her
agitation to her father; she did not ask him any questions; she told him
about the greengrocer and the fisherman, these two important agents in
the life of the Riviera, and of what she had seen in the Marina, even
the Savona pots; but she did not disturb his meal and his digestion by
any reference to the English strangers. She postponed until she had time
to think of it, all reference to this second meeting. She had by
instinct made no reply to the question about where she lived; but she
knew that there would be no difficulty in discovering that, and that her
father might be subject at any moment to invasion by this old
acquaintance, whom he had evidently no desire to see. What should she
do? The whole matter wanted thought. Whether she should ask him what to
do; whether she should take it upon herself; whether she should disclose
to him her newborn curiosity and anxiety, or conceal them in her own
bosom; whether she should tell him frankly what she felt--that she was
worthy to be trusted, and that it was the right of his only child to be
prepared for all emergencies, and to be acquainted with her family and
her antecedents, if not with his,--all these were things to be thought
over. Surely she had a right, if any one had a right. But she would not
stand upon that.

She sat by herself all day and thought, putting forward all the
arguments on either side. If there was, as there might be, something
wrong in that past--something guilty, which might make her look on her
father with different eyes, he had a right to be silent, and she no
right, none whatever, to insist upon such a revelation. And what end
would it serve? If she had relations or a family from whom she had been
separated, would not the revelation fill her with eager desire to know
them, and open a fountain of dissatisfaction and discontent in her life
if she were not permitted to do so? Would she not chafe at the
banishment if she found out that somewhere there was a home, that she
had “belongings” like all the rest of the world? These were little
feeble barriers which she set up against the strong tide of
consciousness in her that she was to be trusted, that she ought to know.
Whatever it was, and however she might bear it, was it not true that she
ought to know? She was not a fool or a child. Frances knew that her
eighteen years had brought more experience, more sense to her, than
Tasie’s forty; that she was capable of understanding, capable of
keeping a secret--and was it not her own secret, the explanation of the
enigma of her life as well as of his?

This course of reflection went on in her mind until the evening, and it
was somewhat quickened by a little conversation which she had in the
afternoon with the servants. Domenico was going out. It was early in the
afternoon, the moment of leisure, when one meal with all its
responsibilities was over, and the second great event of the day, the
dinner, not yet imminent. It was the hour when Mariuccia sat in the
ante-room and did her sewing, her mending, her knitting--whatever was
wanted. This was a large and lofty room--not very light, with a great
window looking out only into the court of the Palazzo--in which stood a
long table and a few tall chairs. The smaller ante-room, from which the
long suite of rooms opened on either side, communicated with this, as
did also the corridor, which ran all the length of the house, and the
kitchen and its appendages on the other side. There is always abundance
of space of this kind in every old Italian house. Here Mariuccia
established herself whenever she was free to leave her cooking and her
kitchen-work. She was a comely middle-aged woman, with a dark gown, a
white apron, a little shawl on her shoulders, large earrings, and a gold
cross at her neck, which was a little more visible than is common with
Englishwomen of her class. Her hair was crisp and curly, and never had
been covered with anything, save, when she went to church, a shawl or
veil; and Mariuccia’s olive complexion and ruddy tint feared no
encounter of the sun. Domenico was tall, and spare, and brown, a grave
man with little jest in him; but his wife was always ready to laugh. He
came out hat in hand while Frances stood by the table inspecting
Mariuccia’s work. “I am going out,” he said; “and this is the hour when
the English gentlefolks pay visits. See that thou remember what the
padrone said.”

“What did the padrone say?” cried Frances, pricking up her ears.

“Signorina, it was to my wife I was speaking,” said Domenico.

“That I understand; but I wish to know as well. Was papa expecting a
visit? What did he say?”

“The padrone himself will tell the signorina,” said Domenico, “all that
is intended for her. Some things are for the servants, some for the
family; Mariuccia knows what I mean.”

“You are an ass, ’Menico,” said his wife, calmly. “Why shouldn’t the
dear child know? It is nothing to be concerned about, my soul--only that
the padrone does not receive, and again that he does not receive, and
that he never receives. I must repeat this till the Ave Maria, if
necessary, till the strangers accept it and go away.”

“Are these special orders?” said Frances, “or has it always been so? I
don’t think that it has always been so.”

Domenico had gone out while his wife was speaking, with a
half-threatening and wholly disapproving look, as if he would not
involve himself in the responsibility which Mariuccia had taken upon
her.

“_Carina_, don’t trouble yourself about it. It has always been so in the
spirit, if not in the letter,” said Mariuccia. “Figure to yourself
Domenico or me letting in any one, any one that chose to come, to
disturb the signor padrone! That would be impossible. It appears,
however, that there is some one down there in the hotels to whom the
padrone has a great objection, greater than to the others. It is no
secret, nothing to trouble you. But ’Menico, though he is a good man, is
not very wise. _Che!_ you know that as well as I.”

“And what will you do if this gentleman will not pay any attention--if
he comes in all the same? The English don’t understand what it means
when you say you do not receive. You must say he is not in; he has gone
out; he is not at home.”

“_Che! che! che!_” cried Mariuccia; “little deceiver! But that would be
a lie.”

Frances shook her head. “Yes; I suppose so,” she said, with a troubled
look; “but if you don’t say it, the Englishman will come in all the
same.”

“He will come in, then, over my body,” cried Mariuccia with a cheerful
laugh, standing square and solid against the door.

This gave the last impulse to Frances’ thoughts. She could not go on
with her study of the palms. She sat with her pencil in her hand, and
the colour growing dry, thinking all the afternoon through. It was very
certain, then, that her father would not expose himself to another
meeting with the strangers who called themselves his friends--innocent
people who would not harm any one, Frances was sure. They were
tourists--that was evident; and they might be vulgar--that was possible.
But she was sure that there was no harm in them. It could only be that
her father was resolute to shut out his past, and let no one know what
had been. This gave her an additional impulse, instead of
discouragement. If it was so serious, and he so determined, then surely
there must be something that she, his only child, ought to know. She
waited till the evening with a gradually growing excitement; but not
until after dinner, after the soothing cigarette, which he puffed so
slowly and luxuriously in the loggia, did she venture to speak. Then the
day was over. It could not put him out, or spoil his appetite, or risk
his digestion. To be sure, it might interfere with his sleep; but after
consideration, Frances did not think that a very serious matter,
probably because she had never known what it was to pass a wakeful
night. She began, however, with the greatest caution and care.

“Papa,” she said, “I want to consult you about something Tasie was
saying.”

“Ah! that must be something very serious, no doubt.”

“Not serious, perhaps; but---- she wants to teach me to play.”

“To play! What? Croquet? or whist, perhaps? I have always heard she was
excellent at both.”

“These are games, papa,” said Frances, with a touch of severity. “She
means the piano, which is very different.”

“Ah!” said Mr Waring, taking the cigarette from his lips and sending a
larger puff of smoke into the dim air; “very different indeed, Frances.
It is anything but a game to hear Miss Tasie play.”

“She says,” continued Frances, with a certain constriction in her
throat, “that every lady is expected to play--to play a little at least,
even if she has not much taste for it. She thinks when we go home--that
all our relations will be so surprised----”

She stopped, having no breath to go further, and watched as well as she
could, through the dimness and through the mist of agitation in her own
eyes, her father’s face. He made no sign; he did not disturb even the
easy balance of his foot, stretched out along the pavement. After
another pause, he said in the same indifferent tone, “As we are not
going home, and as you have no relations in particular, I don’t think
your friend’s argument is very strong. Do you?”

“O papa, I don’t want indeed to be inquisitive or trouble you, but I
should like to know!”

“What?” he said, with the same composure. “If I think that a lady,
whether she has any musical taste or not, ought to play? Well, that is a
very simple question. I don’t, whatever Miss Tasie may say.”

“It is not that,” Frances said, regaining a little control of herself.
“I said I did not know of any relations we had. But Tasie said there
must be cousins; we must have cousins--everybody has cousins. That is
true, is it not?”

“In most cases, certainly,” Mr Waring said; “and a great nuisance too.”

“I don’t think it would be a nuisance to have people about one’s own
age, belonging to one--not strangers--people who were interested in you,
to whom you could say anything. Brothers and sisters, that would be the
best; but cousins--I think, papa, cousins would be very nice.”

“I will tell you, if you like, of one cousin you have,” her father said.

The heart of Frances swelled as if it would leap out of her breast. She
put her hands together, turning full round upon him in an attitude of
supplication and delight. “O papa!” she cried with enthusiasm,
breathless for his next word.

“Certainly, if you wish it, Frances. He is in reality your first-cousin.
He is fifty. He is a great sufferer from gout. He has lived so well in
the early part of his life, that he is condemned to slops now, and
spends most of his time in an easy-chair. He has the temper of a demon,
and swears at everybody that comes near him. He is very red in the
face, very bleared about the eyes, very----”

“O papa!” she cried, in a very different tone. She was so much
disappointed, that the sudden downfall had almost a physical effect upon
her, as if she had fallen from a height. Her father laughed softly while
she gathered all her strength together to regain command of herself, and
the laugh had a jarring effect upon her nerves, of which she had never
been conscious till now.

“I don’t suppose that he would care much whether you played the piano or
not; or that you would care much, my dear, what he thought.”

“For all that, papa,” said Frances, recovering herself, “it is a little
interesting to know there is somebody, even if he is not at all what one
thought. Where does he live, and what is his name? That will give me one
little landmark in England, where there is none now.”

“Not a very reasonable satisfaction,” said her father lazily, but
without any other reply. “In my life, I have always found relations a
nuisance. Happy are they who have none; and next best is to cast them
off and do without them. As a matter of fact, it is every one for
himself in this world.”

Frances was silenced, though not convinced. She looked with some anxiety
at the outline of her father’s spare and lengthy figure laid out in the
basket-chair, one foot moving slightly, which was a habit he had, the
whole extended in perfect rest and calm. He was not angry, he was not
disturbed. The questions which she had put with so much mental
perturbation had not affected him at all. She felt that she might dare
further without fear.

“When I was out to-day,” she said, faltering a little, “I met--that
gentleman again.”

“Ah!” said Mr Waring--no more; but he ceased to shake his foot, and
turned towards her the merest hair’s-breadth, so little that it was
impossible to say he had moved, and yet there was a change.

“And the lady,” said Frances, breathless. “I am sure they wanted to be
kind. They asked me a great many questions.”

He gave a faint laugh, but it was not without a little quiver in it.
“What a good thing that you could not answer them!” he said.

“Do you think so, papa? I was rather unhappy. It looked as if you could
not trust me. I should have been ashamed to say I did not know; which is
the truth--for I know nothing, not so much as where I was born!” cried
the girl. “It is very humiliating, when you are asked about your own
father, to say you don’t know. So I said it was time for breakfast, and
you would be waiting; and ran away.”

“The best thing you could have done, my dear. Discretion in a woman, or
a girl, is always the better part of valour. I think you got out of it
very cleverly,” Mr Waring said.

And that was all. He did not seem to think another word was needed. He
did not even rise and go away, as Frances had known him to do when the
conversation was not to his mind. She could not see his face, but his
attitude was unchanged. He had recovered his calm, if there had ever
been any disturbance of it. But as for Frances, her heart was thumping
against her breast, her pulses beating in her ears, her lips parched and
dry. “I wish,” she cried, “oh, I wish you would tell me something, papa!
Do you think I would talk of things you don’t want talked about? I am
not a child any longer; and I am not silly, as perhaps you think.”

“On the contrary, my dear,” said Mr Waring, “I think you are often very
sensible.”

“Papa! oh, how can you say that, how can you say such things--and then
leave me as if I were a baby, knowing nothing!”

“My dear,” he said (with the sound of a smile in his voice, she thought
to herself), “you are very hard to please. Must not I say that you are
sensible? I think it is the highest compliment I can pay you.”

“O papa!” Disappointment, and mortification, and the keen sense of being
fooled, which is so miserable to the young, took her very breath away.
The exasperation with which we discover that not only is no explanation,
no confidence to be given us, but the very occasion for it ignored, and
our anxiety baffled by a smile--a mortification to which women are so
often subject--flooded her being. She had hard ado not to burst into
angry tears, not to betray the sense of cruelty and injustice which
overwhelmed her; but who could have seen any injustice or cruelty in
the gentleness of his tone, his soft reply? Frances subdued herself as
best she could in her dark corner of the loggia, glad at least that he
could not see the spasm that passed over her, the acute misery and
irritation of her spirit. It would be strange if he did not divine
something of what was going on within her: but he took no notice. He
began in the same tone, as if one theme was quite as important as the
other, to remark upon the unusual heaviness of the clouds which hid the
moon. “If we were in England, I should say there was a storm brewing,”
he said. “Even here, I think we shall have some rain. Don’t you feel
that little creep in the air, something sinister, as if there was a bad
angel about? And Domenico, I see, has brought the lamp. I vote we go
in.”

“Are there any bad angels?” she cried, to give her impatience vent.

He had risen up, and stood swaying indolently from one foot to the
other. “Bad angels? Oh yes,” he said; “abundance; very different from
devils, who are honest--like the fiends in the pictures, unmistakable.
The others, you know, deceive. Don’t you remember?--

    ‘How there looked him in the face
       An angel beautiful and bright;
     And how he knew it was a fiend,
       That miserable knight.’”

He turned and went into the _salone_, repeating these words in an
undertone to himself. But there was in his face none of the bitterness
or horror with which they must have been said by one who had ever in his
own person made that discovery. He was quite calm, meditative, marking
with a slight intonation and movement of his head the cadence of the
poetry.

Frances stayed behind in the darkness. She had not the practice which we
acquire in later life; she could not hide the excitement which was still
coursing through her veins. She went to the corner of the loggia which
was nearest the sea, and caught in her face the rush of the rising
breeze, which flung at her the first drops of the coming rain. A storm
on that soft coast is a welcome break in the monotony of the clear skies
and unchanging calm. After a while her father called to her that the
rain was coming in, that the windows must be shut; and she hurried in,
brushing by Domenico, who had come to close everything up, and who
looked at her reproachfully as she rushed past him. She came behind her
father’s chair and leaned over to kiss him. “I have got a little wet,
and I think I had better go to bed,” she said.

“Yes, surely, if you wish it, my dear,” said Mr Waring. Something moist
had touched his forehead, which was too warm to be rain. He waited
politely till she had gone before he wiped it off. It was the edge of a
tear, hot, miserable, full of anger as well as pain, which had made that
mark upon his high white forehead. It made him pause for a minute or two
in his reading. “Poor little girl!” he said, with a sigh. Perhaps he was
not so insensible as he seemed.



CHAPTER V.


It is a common impression that happiness and unhappiness are permanent
states of mind, and that for long tracts of our lives we are under the
continuous sway of one or other of these conditions. But this is almost
always a mistake, save in the case of grief, which is perhaps the only
emotion which is beyond the reach of the momentary lightenings and
alleviations and perpetual vicissitudes of life. Death, and the pangs of
separation from those we love, are permanent, at least for their time;
but in everything else there is an ebb and flow which keeps the heart
alive. When Frances Waring told the story of this period of her life,
she represented herself unconsciously as having been oppressed by the
mystery that over-shadowed her, and as having lost all the ease of her
young life prematurely in a sudden encounter with shadows unsuspected
before. But as a matter of fact, this was not the case. She had a bad
night--that is, she cried herself asleep; but once over the boundary
which divides our waking thoughts from the visions of the night, she
knew no more till the sun came in and woke her to a very cheerful
morning. It is true that care made several partially successful assaults
upon her that day and for several days after. But as everything went on
quite calmly and peacefully, the impression wore off. The English family
found out, as was inevitable, where Mr Waring lived, without any
difficulty; and first the father came, then the mother, and finally the
pair together, to call. Frances, to whom a breach of decorum or civility
was pain unspeakable, sat trembling and ashamed in the deepest corner of
the loggia, while these kind strangers encountered Mariuccia at the
door. The scene, as a matter of fact, was rather comic than tragic, for
neither the visitors nor the guardian of the house possessed any
language but their own; and Mr and Mrs Mannering had as little
understanding of the statement that Mr Waring did not “receive” as
Frances had expected.

“But he is in--_è in casa_--_è_ IN?” said the worthy Englishman. “Then,
my dear, of course it is only a mistake. When he knows who we are--when
he has our names----”

“_Non riceve oggi_,” said Mariuccia, setting her sturdy breadth in the
doorway; “_oggi non riceve il signore_” (The master does not receive
to-day).

“But he is in?” repeated the bewildered good people. They could have
understood “Not at home,” which to Mariuccia would have been simply a
lie--with which indeed, had need been, or could it have done the padrone
any good, she would have burdened her conscience as lightly as any one.
But why, when it was not in the least necessary?

Thus they played their little game at cross-purposes, while Frances sat,
hot and red with shame, in her corner, sensible to the bottom of her
heart of the discourtesy, the unkindness, of turning them from the door.
They were her father’s friends; they claimed to have “stuck by him
through thick and thin;” they were people who knew about him, and all
that he belonged to, and the conditions of his former life; and yet they
were turned from his door!

She did not venture to go out again for some days, except in the
evening, when she knew that all the strangers were at the inevitable
_table d’hôte_; and it was with a sigh of relief, yet disappointment,
that she heard they had gone away. Yes, at last they did go away, angry,
no doubt, thinking her father a churl, and she herself an ignorant
rustic, who knew nothing about good manners. Of course this was what
they must think. Frances heard those words, “_Non riceve oggi_,” even in
her dreams. She saw in imagination the astonished faces of the visitors.
“But he will receive us, if you will only take in our names;” and then
Mariuccia’s steady voice repeating the well-known phrase. What must they
have thought? That it was an insult--that their old friend scorned and
defied them. What else could they suppose?

They departed, however, and Frances got over it: and everything went on
as before; her father was just as usual--a sphinx indeed, more and more
hopelessly wrapped up in silence and mystery, but so natural and easy
and kind in his uncommunicativeness, with so little appearance of
repression or concealment about him, that it was almost impossible to
retain any feeling of injury or displeasure. Love is cheated every day
in this way by offenders much more serious, who can make their
dependants happy even while they are ruining them, and beguile the
bitterest anxiety into forgetfulness and smiles. It was easy to make
Frances forget the sudden access of wonderment and wounded feeling which
had seized her, even without any special exertion; time alone and the
calm succession of the days were enough for that. She resumed her little
picture of the palms, and was very successful--more than usually so. Mr
Waring, who had hitherto praised her little works as he might have
praised the sampler of a child, was silenced by this, and took it away
with him into his room, and when he brought it back, looked at her with
more attention than he had been used to show. “I think,” he said,
“little Fan, that you must be growing up,” laying his hand upon her
head with a smile.

“I am grown up, papa; I am eighteen,” she said.

At which he laughed softly. “I don’t think much of your eighteen; but
this shows. I should not wonder, with time and work, if--you mightn’t be
good enough to exhibit at Mentone--after a while.”

Frances had been looking at him with an expression of almost rapturous
expectation. The poor little countenance fell at this, and a quick sting
of mortification brought tears to her eyes. The exhibition at Mentone
was an exhibition of amateurs. Tasie was in it, and even Mrs Gaunt, and
all the people about who ever spoilt a piece of harmless paper. “O
papa!” she said. Since the failure of her late appeal to him, this was
the only formula of reproach which she used.

“Well,” he said, “are you more ambitious than that, you little thing?
Perhaps, by-and-by, you may be fit even for better things.”

“It is beautiful,” said Mariuccia. “You see where the light goes, and
where it is in the shade. But, _carina_, if you were to copy the face
of Domenico, or even mine, that would be more interesting. The palms we
can see if we look out of the window; but imagine to yourself that
’Menico might go away, or even might die; and we should not miss him so
much if we had his face hung up upon the wall.”

“It is easier to do the trees than to do Domenico,” said Frances; “they
stand still.”

“And so would ’Menico stand still, if it was to please the signorina--he
is not very well educated, but he knows enough for that; or I myself,
though you will think, perhaps, I am too old to make a pretty picture.
But if I had my veil on, and my best earrings, and the coral my mother
left me----”

“You look very nice, Mariuccia--I like you as you are; but I am not
clever enough to make a portrait.”

Mariuccia cried out with scorn. “You are clever enough to do whatever
you wish to do,” she said. “The padrone thinks so too, though he will
not say it. Not clever enough! _Magari!_ too clever is what you mean.”

Frances set up her palms on a little stand of carved wood, and was very
well pleased with herself; but that sentiment palls perhaps sooner than
any other. It was very agreeable to be praised, and also it was pleasant
to feel that she had finished her work successfully. But after a short
time it began to be a great subject of regret that the work was done.
She did not know what to do next. To make a portrait of Domenico was
above her powers. She idled about for the day, and found it
uncomfortable. That is the moment in which it is most desirable to have
a friend on whom to bestow one’s tediousness. She bethought herself that
she had not seen Tasie for a week. It was now more than a fortnight
since the events detailed in the beginning of this history. Her father,
when asked if he would not like a walk, declined. It was too warm, or
too cold, or perhaps too dusty, which was very true; and accordingly she
set out alone.

Walking down through the Marina, the little tourist town which was
rising upon the shore, she saw some parties of travellers arriving,
which always had been a little pleasure to her. It was mingled now with
a certain excitement. Perhaps some of them, like those who had just
gone away, might know all about her, more than she knew herself--what a
strange thought it was!--some of those unknown people in their
travelling cloaks, which looked so much too warm--people whom she had
never seen before, who had not a notion that she was Frances Waring! One
of the parties was composed of ladies, surrounded and enveloped, so to
speak, by a venerable courier, who swept them and their possessions
before him into the hotel. Another was led by a father and mother, not
at all unlike the pair who had “stuck by” Mr Waring. How strange to
imagine that they might not be strangers at all, but people who knew all
about her!

In the first group was a girl, who hung back a little from the rest, and
looked curiously up at all the houses, as if looking for some one--a
tall, fair-haired girl, with a blue veil tied over her hat. She looked
tired, but eager, with more interest in her face than any of the others
showed. Frances smiled to herself with the half-superiority which a
resident is apt to feel: a girl must be very simple indeed, if she
thought the houses on the Marina worth looking at, Frances thought. But
she did not pause in her quick walk. The Durants lived at the other end
of the Marina, in a little villa built upon a terrace over an olive
garden--a low house with no particular beauty, but possessing also a
loggia turned to the west, the luxury of building on the Riviera. Here
the whole family were seated, the old clergyman with a large English
newspaper, which he was reading deliberately from end to end; his wife
with a work-basket full of articles to mend; and Tasie at the little
tea-table, pouring out the tea. Frances was received with a little
clamour of satisfaction, for she was a favourite.

“Sit here, my dear.” “Come this way, close to me, for you know I am
getting a little hard of hearing.”

They had always been kind to her, but never, she thought, had she been
received with so much cordiality as now.

“Have you come by yourself, Frances? and along the Marina? I think you
should make Domenico or his wife walk with you, when you go through the
Marina, my dear.”

“Why, Mrs Durant? I have always done it. Even Mariuccia says it does
not matter, as I am an English girl.”

“Ah, that may be true; but English girls are not like American girls. I
assure you they are taken a great deal more care of. If you ever go
home----”

“And how is your poor father to-day, Frances?” said Mrs Durant.

“Oh, papa is very well. He is not such a poor father. There is nothing
the matter with him. At least, there is nothing _new_ the matter with
him,” said Frances, with a little impatience.

“No,” said the clergyman, looking up over the top of his spectacles and
shaking his head. “Nothing _new_ the matter with him. I believe that.”

“----If you ever go home,” resumed Mrs Durant; “and of course some time
you will go home----”

“I think very likely I never shall,” said the girl. “Papa never talks of
going home. He says home is here.”

“That is all very well for the present moment, my dear; but I feel sure,
for my part, that one time or other it will happen as I say; and then
you must not let them suppose you have been a little savage, going about
as you liked here.”

“I don’t think any one would care much, Mrs Durant; and I am not going;
so you need not be afraid.”

“Your poor father,” Mr Durant went on in his turn, “has a great deal of
self-command, Frances; he has a great deal of self-control. In some
ways, that is an excellent quality, but it may be carried too far. I
wish very much he would allow me to come and have a talk with him--not
as a clergyman, but just in a friendly way.”

“I am quite sure you may come and talk with him as much as you like,”
said Frances, astonished; “or if you want very much to see him, he will
come to you.”

“Oh, I should not take it upon me to ask that--in the meantime,” Mr
Durant said.

The girl stared a little, but asked no further questions. There was
something among them which she did not understand--a look of curiosity,
an air of meaning more than their words said. The Durants were always a
little apt to be didactic, as became a clergyman’s family; but Tasie
was generally a safe refuge. Frances turned to her with a little sigh of
perplexity, hoping to escape further question. “Was the Sunday-school as
large last Sunday, Tasie?” she said.

“Oh, Frances, no! Such a disappointment! There were only four! Isn’t it
a pity? But you see the little Mannerings have all gone away. Such sweet
children! and the little one of all has such a voice. They are perhaps
coming back for Easter, if they don’t stay at Rome; and if so, I think
we must put little Herbert in a white surplice--he will look like an
angel--and have a real anthem with a soprano solo, for once.”

“I doubt if they will all come back,” said Mr Durant. “Mr Mannering
himself indeed, I don’t doubt, _on business_; but as for the family, you
must not flatter yourself, Tasie.”

“_She_ liked the place,” said his wife; “and very likely she would think
it her duty, if anything is to come of it, you know.”

“Be careful,” said the clergyman, with a glance aside, which Frances
would have been dull indeed not to have perceived was directed at
herself. “Don’t say anything that may be premature.”

Frances was brave in her way. She felt, with a little rising excitement,
that her friends were bursting with some piece of knowledge which they
were longing to communicate. It roused in her an impatience and
reluctance mingled with keen curiosity. She would not hear it, and yet
was breathless with impatience to know what it was.

“Mr Mannering?” she said, deliberately--“that was the gentleman that
knew papa.”

“You saw him, then?” cried Mrs Durant. There was something like a faint
disappointment in her tone.

“He was one of papa’s early friends,” said Frances, with a little
emphasis. “I saw him twice. He and his wife both; they seemed kind
people.”

Mr Durant and his wife looked at each other, and even Tasie stared over
her teacups. “Oh, very kind people, my dear; I don’t think you could do
better than have full confidence in them,” Mrs Durant said.

“And your poor father could not have a truer friend,” said the old
clergyman. “You must tell him I am coming to have a talk with him about
it. It was a great revelation, but I hope that everything will turn out
for the best.”

Frances grew redder and redder as she sat a mark for all their arrows.
What was it that was a “revelation”? But she would not ask. She began to
be angry, and to say to herself that she would put her hands to her
ears, that she would listen to nothing.

“Henry!” said Mrs Durant, “who is it that is premature now?”

“I am afraid I can’t stay,” said Frances, rising quickly from her chair.
“I have something to do for Mariuccia. I only came in because--because I
was passing. Never mind, Tasie; I know my way so well; and Mr Durant
wants some more tea.”

“Oh but, Frances, my dear, you really must let me send some one with
you. You must not move about in that independent way.”

“And we had a great many things to say to you,” said the old clergyman,
keeping her hand in his. “Are you really in such a hurry? It will be
better for yourself to wait a little, and hear something that will be
for your good.”

“It cannot be any worse for me to run about to-day than any other day,”
said Frances, almost sternly; “and whatever there is to hear, won’t
to-morrow do just as well? I think it is a little funny of you all to
speak to me so; but now I must go.”

She was so rapid in her movements that she was gone before Tasie could
extricate herself from the somewhat crazy little table. And then they
all three looked at each other and shook their heads. “Do you think she
can know?” “Can she have known it all the time?” “Has Waring told her,
or was it Mannering?” they said to each other.

Frances could not hear their mutual questions, but something very like
the purport of them got into her agitated brain. She felt sure they were
wondering whether she knew--what? this revelation, this something which
they had found out. Nothing would make her submit to hear it from them,
she said to herself. But the moment was come when she could not be put
off any longer. She would go to her father, and she would not rest
until she was informed what it was.

She hastened along, avoiding the Marina, which had amused her on her
way, hurrying from terrace to terrace of the olive groves. Her heart was
beating fast, and her rapid pace made it faster. But as she thought of
her father’s unperturbed looks, the calm with which he had received her
eager questions, and the very small likelihood that anything she could
say about the hints of the Durants would move him, her pace and her
excitement both decreased. She went more slowly, less hopefully, back to
the Palazzo. It was all very well to say that she must know. But what if
he would not tell her? What if he received her questions as he had
received them before? The circumstances were not changed, nor was he
changed because the Durants knew something, she did not know what. Oh,
what a poor piece of friendship was that, that betrayed a friend’s
secret to his neighbours! She did not know, she could not so much as
form a guess, what the secret was. But little or great, his friend
should have kept it. She said this to herself bitterly, when the chill
probabilities of the case began to make themselves felt. It was harder
to think that the Durants knew, than to be kept in darkness herself.

She went in at last very soberly, with the intention of telling her
father all that had passed, if perhaps that of itself might be an
inducement to him to have confidence in her. It was not a pleasant
mission. Her steps had become very sober as she went up the long marble
stair. Mariuccia met her with a little cry. Had she not met the padrone?
He had gone out down through the olive woods to meet her and fetch her
home. It was a brief reprieve. In the evening after dinner was the time
when he was most accessible. Frances, with a thrill of mingled relief
and disappointment, retired to her room to make her little toilet. She
had an hour or two at least before her ere it would be necessary to
speak.



CHAPTER VI.


When one has made up one’s mind to reopen a painful subject after
dinner, the preliminary meal is not usually a very pleasant one; nor,
with the tremor of preparation in one’s mind, is one likely to make a
satisfactory dinner. Frances could not talk about anything. She could
not eat; her mind was absorbed in what was coming. It seemed to her that
she must speak: and yet how gladly would she have escaped from or
postponed the explanation! Explanation! Possibly he would only smile,
and baffle her as he had done before; or perhaps be angry, which would
be better. Anything would be better than that indifference.

She went out to the loggia when dinner was over, trembling with the
sensation of suspense. It was still not dark, and the night was clear
with the young moon already shining, so that between the retiring day
and the light of the night it was almost as clear as it had been two
hours before. Frances sat down, shivering a little, though not with
cold. Usually her father accompanied or immediately followed her, but by
some perversity he did not do so to-night. She seated herself in her
usual place, and waited, listening for every sound--that is, for sounds
of one kind--his slow step coming along the polished floor, here soft
and muffled over a piece of carpet, there loud upon the _parquet_. But
for some time, during which she rose into a state of feverish
expectation, there was no such sound.

It was nearly half an hour, according to her calculation, probably not
half so much by common computation of time, when one or two doors were
opened and shut quickly and a sound of voices met her ear--not sounds,
however, which had any but a partial interest for her, for they did not
indicate his approach. After a while there followed the sound of a
footstep but it was not Mr Waring’s; it was not Domenico’s subdued
tread, nor the measured march of Mariuccia. It was light, quick, and
somewhat uncertain. Frances was half disappointed, half relieved. Some
one was coming, but not her father. It would be impossible to speak to
him to-night. The relief was uppermost; she felt it through her whole
being. Not to-night; and no one can ever tell what to-morrow may bring
forth. She looked up no longer with anxiety, but curiosity, as the door
opened. It opened quickly; some one looked out, as if to see what was
beyond, then, with a slight exclamation of satisfaction, stepped out
upon the loggia into the partial light.

Frances rose up quickly, with the curious sensation of acting over
something which she had rehearsed before, she did not know where or how.
It was the girl whom she had remarked on the Marina as having just
arrived who now stood looking about her curiously, with her
travelling-cloak fastened only at the throat, her gauze veil thrown up
about her hat. This new-comer came in quickly, not with the timidity of
a stranger. She came out into the centre of the loggia, where the light
fell fully around her, and showed her tall slight figure, the fair hair
clustering in her neck, a certain languid grace of movement, which her
energetic entrance curiously belied. Frances waited for some form of
apology or self-introduction, prepared to be very civil, and feeling in
reality pleased and almost grateful for the interruption.

But the young lady made no explanation. She put her hands up to her
throat and loosed her cloak with a little sigh of relief. She undid the
veil from her hat. “Thank heaven, I have got here at last, free of those
people!” she said, putting herself _sans façon_ into Mr Waring’s chair,
and laying her hat upon the little table. Then she looked up at the
astonished girl, who stood looking on.

“Are you Frances?” she said; but the question was put in an almost
indifferent tone.

“Yes; I am Frances. But I don’t know----” Frances was civil to the
bottom of her soul, polite, incapable of hurting any one’s feelings. She
could not say anything disagreeable; she could not demand brutally, Who
are you? and what do you want here?

“I thought so,” said the stranger; “and, oddly enough, I saw you this
afternoon, and wondered if it could be you. You are a little like
mamma.--I am Constance, of course,” she added, looking up with a
half-smile. “We ought to kiss each other, I suppose, though we can’t
care much about each other, can we?--Where is papa?”

Frances had no breath to speak; she could not say a word. She looked at
the new-comer with a gasp. Who was she? And who was papa? Was it some
strange mistake which had brought her here? But then the question, “Are
you Frances?” showed that it could not be a mistake.

“I beg your pardon,” she said; “I don’t understand. This is--Mr
Waring’s. You are looking for--your father?”

“Yes, yes,” cried the other impatiently; “I know. You can’t imagine I
should have come here and taken possession if I had not made sure first!
You are well enough known in this little place. There was no trouble
about it.--And the house looks nice, and this must be a fine view when
there is light to see it by.--But where is papa? They told me he was
always to be found at this hour.”

Frances felt the blood ebb to her very finger-points, and then rush back
like a great flood upon her heart. She scarcely knew where she was
standing or what she was saying in her great bewilderment. “Do you
mean--_my_ father?” she said.

The other girl answered with a laugh: “You are very particular. I mean
our father, if you prefer it. Your father--my father. What does it
matter?--Where is he? Why isn’t he here? It seems he must introduce us
to each other. I did not think of any such formality. I thought you
would have taken me for granted,” she said.

Frances stood thunderstruck, gazing, listening, as if eyes and ears
alike fooled her. She did not seem to know the meaning of the words.
They could not, she said to herself, mean what they seemed to mean--it
was impossible. There must be some wonderful, altogether unspeakable
blunder. “I don’t understand,” she said again, in a piteous tone. “It
must be some mistake.”

The other girl fixed her eyes upon her in the waning light. She had not
paid so much attention to Frances at first as to the new place and
scene. She looked at her now with the air of weighing her in some unseen
balance and finding her wanting, with impatience and half contempt. “I
thought you would have been glad to see me,” she said; “but the world
seems just the same in one place as another. Because I am in distress at
home you don’t want me here.”

Then Frances felt herself goaded, galled into the matter-of-fact
question, “Who are you?” though she felt that she would not believe the
answer she received.

“Who am I? Don’t you know who I am? Who should I be but Con? Constance
Waring, your sister?--Where,” she cried, springing to her feet and
stamping one of them upon the ground--“where, _where_ is papa?”

The door opened again behind her softly, and Mr Waring with his slow
step came out. “Did I hear some one calling for me?” he said.--“Frances,
it is not you, surely, that are quarrelling with your visitor?--I beg
the lady’s pardon; I cannot see who it is.”

The stranger turned upon him with impatience in her tone. “It was I who
called,” she said. “I thought you were sure to be here. Papa, I have
always heard that you were kind--a kind man, they all said; that was why
I came, thinking---- I am Constance!” she added after a pause, drawing
herself up and facing him with something of his own gesture and
attitude. She was tall, not much less than he was; very unlike little
Frances. Her slight figure seemed to draw out as she raised her head and
looked at him. She was not a suppliant. Her whole air was one of
indignation that she should be subjected to a moment’s doubt.

“Constance!” said Mr Waring. The daylight was gone outside; the moon had
got behind a fleecy white cloud; behind those two figures there was a
gleam of light from within, Domenico having brought in the lamp into the
drawing-room. He stepped backward, opening the glass door. “Come in,” he
said, “to the light.”

Frances came last, with a great commotion in her heart, but very still
externally. She felt herself to have sunk into quite a subordinate
place. The other two, they were the chief figures. She had now no
explanation to ask, no questions to put, though she had a thousand; but
everything else was thrown into the background, everything was inferior
to this. The chief interest was with the others now.

Constance stepped in after him with a proud freedom of step, the air of
one who was mistress of herself and her fate. She went up to the table
on which the tall lamp stood, her face on a level with it, fully lighted
up by it. She held her hat in her hand, and played with it with a
careless yet half-nervous gesture. Her fair hair was short, and
clustered in her neck and about her forehead almost like a child’s,
though she was not like a child. Mr Waring, looking at her, was more
agitated than she. He trembled a little; his eyelids were lifted high
over his eyes. Her air was a little defiant; but there was no suspicion,
only a little uncertainty in his. He put out his hand to her after a
minute’s inspection. “If you are Constance, you are welcome,” he said.

“I don’t suppose that you have any doubt I am Constance,” said the girl,
flinging her hat on the table and herself into a chair. “It is a very
curious way to receive one, though, after such a long journey--such a
tiresome long journey,” she repeated, with a voice into which a
querulous tone of exhaustion had come.

Mr Waring sat down too in the immediate centre of the light. He had not
kissed her nor approached her, save by the momentary touch of their
hands. It was a curious way to receive a stranger, a daughter. She lay
back in her chair as if wearied out, and tears came to her eyes. “I
should not have come, if I had known,” she said, with her lip quivering.
“I am very tired. I put up with everything on the journey, thinking,
when I came here---- And I am more a stranger here than anywhere!” She
paused, choking with the half-hysterical fit of crying which she would
not allow to overcome her. “She--knows nothing about me!” she cried,
with a sharp accent of pain, as if this was the last blow.

Frances, in her bewilderment, did not know what to do or say. She looked
at her father, but his face was dumb, and gave her no suggestion; and
then she looked at the new-comer, who lay back with her head against the
back of the chair, her eyes closed, tears forcing their way through her
eyelashes, her slender white throat convulsively struggling with a sob.
The mind of Frances had been shaken by a sudden storm of feelings
unaccustomed; a throb of something which she did not understand, which
was jealousy, though she neither knew nor intended it, had gone through
her being. She seemed to see herself cast forth from her easy supremacy,
her sway over her father’s house, deposed from her principal place. And
she was only human. Already she was conscious of a downfall. Constance
had drawn the interest towards herself--it was she to whom every eye
would turn. The girl stood apart for a moment, with that inevitable
movement which has been in the bosom of so many since the well-behaved
brother of the Prodigal put it in words, “Now that this thy son has
come.” Constance, so far as Frances knew, was no prodigal; but she was
what was almost worse--a stranger, and yet the honours of the house were
to be hers. She stood thus, looking on, until the sight of the
suppressed sob, of the closed eyes, of the weary, hopeless attitude,
were too much for her. Then it came suddenly into her mind, if she is
Constance! Frances had not known half an hour before that there was any
Constance who had a right to her sympathy in the world. She gave her
father another questioning look, but got no reply from his eyes.
Whatever had to be done must be done by herself. She went up to the
chair in which her sister lay and touched her on the shoulder. “If we
had known you were coming,” she said, “it would have been different. It
is a little your fault not to let us know. I should have gone to meet
you; I should have made your room ready. We have nothing ready, because
we did not know.”

Constance sat suddenly up in her chair and shook her head, as if to
shake off the emotion that had been too much for her. “How sensible you
are!” she said. “Is that your character?--She is quite right, isn’t she?
But I did not think of that. I suppose I am impetuous, as people say. I
was unhappy, and I thought you would--receive me with open arms. It is
evident _I_ am not the sensible one.” She said this with still a quiver
in her lip, but also a smile, pushing back her chair, and resuming the
unconcerned air which she had worn at first.

“Frances is quite right. You ought to have written and warned us,” said
Mr Waring.

“Oh yes; there are so many things that one ought to do.”

“But we will do the best we can for you, now you are here. Mariuccia
will easily make a room ready. Where is your baggage? Domenico can go to
the railway, to the hotel, wherever you have come from.”

“My box is outside the door. I made them bring it. The woman--is that
Mariuccia?--would not take it in. But she let me come in. She was not
suspicious. She did not say, ‘If you are Constance.’” And here she
laughed, with a sound that grated upon Mr Waring’s nerves. He jumped up
suddenly from his chair.

“I had no proof that you were Constance,” he said, “though I believed
it. But only your mother’s daughter could reproduce that laugh.”

“Has Frances got it?” the girl cried, with an instant lighting up of
opposition in her eyes; “for I am like you, but she is the image of
mamma.”

He turned round and looked at Frances, who, feeling that an entire
circle of new emotions, unknown to her, had come into being at a bound,
stood with a passive, frightened look, spectator of everything, not
knowing how to adapt herself to the new turn of affairs.

“By Jove!” her father said, with an air of exasperation she had never
seen in him before, “that is true! But I had never noticed it. Even
Frances. You’ve come to set us all by the ears.”

“Oh no! I’ll tell you, if you like, why I came. Mamma--has been more
aggravating than usual. I said to myself you would be sure to understand
what that meant. And something arose--I will tell you about it after--a
complication, something that mamma insisted I should do, though I had
made up my mind not to do it.”

“You had better,” said her father, with a smile, “take care what ideas
on that subject you put into your sister’s head.”

Constance paused, and looked at Frances with a look which was half
scrutinising, half contemptuous. “Oh, she is not like me,” she said.
“Mamma was very aggravating, as you know she can be. She wanted me----
But I’ll tell you after.” And then she began: “I hope, because you live
in Italy, papa, you don’t think you ought to be a medieval parent; but
that sort of thing in Belgravia, you know, is too ridiculous. It was so
out of the question that it was some time before I understood. It was
not exactly a case of being locked up in my room and kept on bread and
water; but something of the sort. I was so much astonished at first, I
did not know what to do; and then it became intolerable. I had nobody I
could appeal to, for everybody agreed with her. Markham is generally a
safe person; but even Markham took her side. So I immediately thought of
you. I said to myself, One’s father is the right person to protect one.
And I knew, of course, that if anybody in the world could understand how
impossible it is to live with mamma when she has taken a thing into her
head, it would be you.”

Waring kept his eye upon Frances while this was being said, with an
almost comic embarrassment. It was half laughable; but it was painful,
as so many laughable things are; and there was something like alarm, or
rather timidity, in the look. The man looked afraid of the little
girl--whom all her life he had treated as a child--and her clear
sensible eyes.

“One thinks these things, perhaps, but one does not put them into
words,” he said.

“Oh, it is no worse to say them than to think them,” said Constance. “I
always say what I mean. And you must know that things went very far--so
far that I couldn’t put up with it any longer; so I made up my mind all
at once that I would come off to you.”

“And I tell you, you are welcome, my dear. It is so long since I saw you
that I could not have recognised you. That is natural enough. But now
that you are here--I cannot decide upon the wisdom of the step till I
know all the circumstances----”

“Oh, wisdom! I don’t suppose there is any wisdom about it. No one
expects wisdom from me. But what could I do? There was nothing else that
I could do.”

“At all events,” said Waring, with a little inclination of his head and
a smile, as if he were talking to a visitor, Frances said to
herself--“Frances and I will forgive any lack of wisdom which has given
us--this pleasure.” He laughed at himself as he spoke. “You must expect
for a time to feel like a fine lady paying a visit to her poor
relations,” he said.

“Oh, I know you will approve of me when you hear everything. Mamma says
I am a Waring all over, your own child.”

The sensations with which Frances stood and listened, it would be
impossible to describe. Mamma! who was this, of whom the other girl
spoke so lightly, whom she had never heard of before? Was it possible
that a mother as well as a sister existed for her, as for others, in the
unknown world out of which Constance had come? A hundred questions were
on her lips, but she controlled herself, and asked none of them.
Reflection, which comes so often slowly, almost painfully, to her came
now like the flash of lightning. She would not betray to any one, not
even to Constance, that she had never known she had a mother. Papa
might be wrong--oh, how wrong he had been!--but she would not betray
him. She checked the exclamation on her lips; she subdued her soul
altogether, forcing it into silence. This was the secret she had been so
anxious to penetrate, which he had kept so closely from her. Why should
he have kept it from her? It was evident it had not been kept on the
other side. Whatever had happened, had Frances been in trouble, she knew
of no one with whom she could have taken refuge; but her sister had
known. Her brain was made dizzy by these thoughts. It was open to her
now to ask whatever she pleased. The mystery had been made plain; but at
the same time her mouth was stopped. She would not confuse her father,
nor betray him. It was chiefly from this bewildering sensation, and not,
as her father, suddenly grown acute in respect to Frances, thought, from
a mortifying consciousness that Constance would speak with more freedom
if she were not there, that Frances now spoke. “I think,” she said,
“that I had better go and see about the rooms. Mariuccia will not know
what to do till I come; and you will take care of Constance, papa.”

He looked at her, hearing in her tone a wounded feeling, a touch of
forlorn pride, which perhaps was there, but not so much as he thought;
but it was Constance who replied: “Oh yes, we will take care of each
other. I have so much to tell him,” with a laugh. Frances was aware that
there was relief in it, in the prospect of her own absence, but she did
not feel it so strongly as her father did. She gave them both a smile,
and went away.

“So that is Frances,” said the new-found sister, looking after her. “I
find her very like mamma. But everybody says I am your child,
disposition and all.” She rose, and came up to Waring, who had never
lessened the distance between himself and her. She put her hand within
his arm and held up her face to him. “I am like you. I shall be much
happier with you. Do you think you will like having me instead of
Frances, father?” She clasped his arm against her in a caressing way,
and leant her cheek upon the sleeve of his velvet coat. “Don’t you
think you would like to have _me_, father, instead of her?” she said.

A whole panorama of the situation, like a landscape, suddenly flashed
before Waring’s mind. The spell of this caress, and the confidence she
showed of being loved, which is so great a charm, and the impulse of
nature, so much as that is worth, drew him towards this handsome
stranger, who took possession of him and his affections without a doubt,
and pushed away the other from his heart and his side with an impulse
which his philosophy said was common to all men--or at least, if that
was too sweeping, to all women. But in the same moment came that sense
of championship and proprietorship, the one inextricably mingled with
the other, which makes us all defend our own whenever assailed. Frances
was his own; she was his creation; he had taught her almost everything.
Poor little Frances! Not like this girl, who could speak for herself,
who could go everywhere, half commanding, half taking with guile every
heart that she encountered. Frances would never do that. But she would
be true, true as the heavens themselves, and never falter. By a sudden
gleam of perception he saw that, though he had never told her anything
of this, though it must have been a revelation of wonder to her, yet
that she had not burst forth into any outcries of astonishment, or asked
any compromising questions, or done anything to betray him.

His heart went forth to Frances with an infinite tenderness. He had not
been a doting father to her; he had even--being himself what the world
calls a clever man, much above her mental level--felt himself to
condescend a little, and almost upbraided Heaven for giving him so
ordinary a little girl. And Constance, it was easy to see, was a
brilliant creature, accustomed to take her place in the world, fit to be
any man’s companion. But the first result of this revelation was to
reveal to him, as he had never seen it before, the modest and true
little soul which had developed by his side without much notice from
him, whom he had treated with such cruel want of confidence, to whom the
shock of this evening’s disclosures must have been so great, but who,
even in the moment of discovery, shielded him. All this went through
his mind with the utmost rapidity. He did not put his new-found child
away from him; but there was less enthusiasm than Constance expected in
the kiss he gave her. “I am very glad to have you here, my dear,” he
said more coldly than pleased her. “But why instead of Frances? You will
be happier both of you for being together.”

Constance did not disengage herself with any appearance of
disappointment. She perceived, perhaps, that she was not to be so
triumphant here as was usually her privilege. She relinquished her
father’s arm after a minute, not too precipitately, and returned to her
chair. “I shall like it, as long as it is possible,” she said. “It will
be very nice for me having a father and sister instead of a mother and
brother. But you will find that mamma will not let you off. She likes to
have a girl in the house. She will have her pound of flesh.” She threw
herself back into her chair with a laugh. “How quaint it all is; and how
beautiful the view must be, and the mountains and the sea! I shall be
very happy here--the world forgetting, by the world forgot--and with
you, papa.”



CHAPTER VII.


“She has come to stay,” Frances said.

“What?” cried Mariuccia, making the small monosyllable sound as if it
were the biggest word in her vocabulary.

“She has come to stay. She is my sister; papa’s daughter as much as I
am. She has come--home.” Frances was a little uncertain about the word,
and it was only “_a casa_” that she said--“to the house,” which means
the same.

Mariuccia threw up her arms in astonishment. “Then there has been
another signorina all the time!” she cried. “Figure to yourself that I
have been with the padrone a dozen years, and I never heard of her
before.”

“Papa does not talk very much about his concerns,” said Frances in her
faithfulness. “And what we have got to do is to make her very
comfortable. She is very pretty, don’t you think? Such beautiful blond
hair--and tall. I never shall be tall, I fear. They say she is like
papa; but, as is natural, she is much more beautiful than papa.”

“Beauty is as you find it,” said Mariuccia. “_Carina_, no one will ever
be so pretty as our own signorina to Domenico and me.--What is the child
doing? She is pulling the things off her own bed.--My angel, you have
lost your good sense. You are fluttered and upset by this new arrival.
The blue room will be very good for the new young lady. Perhaps she will
not stay very long?”

The wish was father to the thought. But Frances took no notice of the
suggestion. She said briskly, going on with what she was doing, “She
must have my room, Mariuccia. The blue room is _quite_ nice; it will do
very well for me; but I should like her to feel at home, not to think
our house was bare and cold. The blue room would be rather naked, if we
were to put her there to-night. It will not be naked for me, for, of
course, I am used to it all, and know everything. But when Constance
wakes to-morrow morning and looks round her, and wonders where she
is--oh, how strange it all seems!--I wish her to open her eyes upon
things that are pretty, and to say to herself, ‘What a delightful house
papa has! What a nice room! I feel as if I had been here all my life.’”

“Constanza--is that her name? It is rather a common name--not
distinguished, like our signorina’s. But it is very good for her, I have
no doubt. And so you will give her your own room, that she may be fond
of the house, and stay and supplant you? That is what will happen. The
good one, the one of gold, gets pushed out of the way. I would not give
her my room to make her love the house.”

“I think you would, Mariuccia.”

“No; I do not think so,” said Mariuccia, squaring herself with one arm
akimbo. “No; I do not deny that I would probably take some new things
into the blue room, and put up curtains. But I am older than you are,
and I have more sense. I would not do it. If she gets your room, she
will get your place; and she will please everybody, and be admired, and
my angel will be put out of the way.”

“I am such a horrid little wretch,” said Frances, “that I thought of
that too. It was mean, oh, so mean of me. She is prettier than I am, and
taller; and--yes, of course, she must be older too, so you see it is her
right.”

“Is she the eldest?” asked Mariuccia.

Frances made a puzzled pause; but she would not let the woman divine
that she did not know. “Oh yes; she must be the eldest.--Come quick,
Mariuccia; take all these things to the blue room; and now for your
clean linen and everything that is nice and sweet.”

Mariuccia did what she was told, but with many objections. She carried
on a running murmur of protest all the time. “When there are changes in
a family; when it is by the visitation of God, that is another matter. A
son or a daughter who is in trouble, who has no other refuge; that is
natural; there is nothing to say. But to remain away during a dozen
years, and then to come back at a moment’s notice--nay, without even a
moment’s notice--in the evening, when all the beds are made up, and
demand everything that is comfortable.--I have always thought that there
was a great deal to be said for the poor young signorino of whom the
priest speaks, he who had always stayed at home when his brother was
amusing himself. _Carina_, you know what I mean.”

“I have thought of that too,” said Frances. “But my sister is not a
prodigal; and papa has never done anything for her. It is all quite
different. When we know each other better, it will be delightful always
to have a companion, Mariuccia--think how pleasant it will be always to
have a companion. I wonder if she will like my pictures?--Now, don’t you
think the room looks very pretty? I always thought it was a pretty room.
Leave the _persiani_ open that she may see the sea; and in the morning
don’t forget to come in and close them before the sun gets hot.--I think
that will do now.”

“Indeed I hope it will do--after all the trouble you have taken. And I
hope the young lady is worthy of it.--But, my angel, what shall I do
when I come in to wake her? Does she expect that I can talk her language
to her? No, no. And she will know nothing; she will not even be able to
say ‘Good morning.’”

“I hope so. But if not, you must call me first, that is all,” said
Frances cheerfully.--“Now, don’t go to bed just yet; perhaps she will
like something--some tea; or perhaps a little supper; or---- I never
asked if she had dined.”

Mariuccia regarded this possibility with equanimity. She was not afraid
of a girl’s appetite. But she made a grimace at the mention of the tea.
“It is good when one has a cold; oh yes,” she said; “but to drink it at
all times, as you do! If she wants anything it will be a great deal
better to give her a sirop, or a little red wine.”

Frances detained Mariuccia as long as she could, and lingered herself
still longer after all was ready in the room. She did not know how to go
back to the drawing-room, where she had left these two together, to say
to each other, no doubt, many things that could be better said in her
absence. There was no jealousy, only delicacy, in this; and she had
given up her pretty room to her sister, and carried her indispensable
belongings to the bare one, with the purest pleasure in making Constance
comfortable. Constance! whom an hour ago she had never heard of, and
who now was one of them, nearer to her than anybody, except her father.
But all this being done, she had the strangest difficulty in going back,
in thrusting herself, as imagination said, between them, and
interrupting their talk. To think that it should be such a tremendous
matter to return to that familiar room in which the greater part of her
life had been passed! It felt like another world into which she was
about to enter, full of unknown elements and conditions which she did
not understand. She had not known what it was to be shy in the very
limited society she had ever known; but she was shy now, feeling as if
she had not courage to put her hand upon the handle of the door. The
familiar creak and jar of it as it opened seemed to her like noisy
instruments announcing her approach, which stopped the conversation, as
she had divined, and made her father and her sister look up with a
little start. Frances could have wished to sink through the floor, to
get rid of her own being altogether, as she saw them both give this
slight start. Constance was leaning upon the table, the light of the
lamp shining full upon her face, with the air of being in the midst of
an animated narrative, which she stopped when Frances entered; and Mr
Waring had been listening with a smile. He turned half round and held
out his hand to the timid girl behind him. “Come, Frances,” he said,
“you have been a long time making your preparations. Have you been
bringing out the fairest robe for your sister?” It was odd how the
parable--which had no signification in their circumstances--haunted them
all.

“Your room is quite ready whenever you please. And would you like tea or
anything? I ought to have asked if you had dined,” Frances said.

“Is she the housekeeper?--How odd!--Do you look after everything?--Dear
me! I am afraid, in that case, I shall make a very poor substitute for
Frances, papa.”

“It is not necessary to think of that,” he said hastily, giving her a
quick glance.

Frances saw it, with another involuntary, quickly suppressed pang. Of
course there would be things that Constance must be warned not to say.
And yet it felt as if papa had deserted her and gone over to the other
side. She had not the remotest conception what the warning referred to,
or what Constance meant.

“I dined at the hotel,” Constance went on, “with those people whom I
travelled with. I suppose you will have to call and be civil. They were
quite delighted to think that they would know somebody at
Bordighera--some of the inhabitants.--Yes, tea, if you please. And then
I think I shall go to bed; for twenty-four hours in the train is very
fatiguing, besides the excitement. Don’t you think Frances is very much
like mamma? There is a little way she has of setting her chin.--Look
there! That is mamma all over. I think they would get on together very
well: indeed I feel sure of it.” And again there was a significant look
exchanged, which once more went like a sting to Frances’ heart.

“Your sister has been telling me,” said Mr Waring, with a little
hesitation, “of a great many people I used to know. You must be very
much surprised, my dear; but I will take an opportunity----” He was
confused before her, as if he had been before a judge. He gave her a
look which was half shame and half gratitude, sentiments both entirely
out of place between him and Frances. She could not bear that he should
look at her so.

“Yes, papa,” she said as easily as she could; “I know you must have a
great deal to talk of. If Constance will give me her keys I will unpack
her things for her.” Both the girls instinctively, oddly, addressed each
other through their father, the only link between them, hesitating a
little at the familiarity which nature made necessary, but which had no
other warrant.

“Oh, isn’t there a maid who can do it?” Constance cried, opening her
eyes.

The evening seemed long to Frances, though it was not long. Constance
trifled over the tea--which Mariuccia made with much reluctance--for
half an hour. But she talked all the time; and as her talk was of people
Frances had never heard of, and was mingled with little allusions to
what had passed before,--“I told you about him;” “You remember, we were
talking of them;” with a constant recurrence of names which to Frances
meant nothing at all,--it seemed long to her.

She sat down at the table, and took her knitting, and listened, and
tried to look as if she took an interest. She did indeed take a great
interest; no one could have been more eager to enter without
_arrière-pensée_ into the new life thus unfolded before her; and
sometimes she was amused and could laugh at the stories Constance was
telling; but her chief feeling was that sense of being entirely “out of
it”--having nothing to do with it--which makes people who do not
understand society feel like so many ghosts standing on the margin,
knowing nothing. The feeling was strange and very forlorn. It is an
unpleasant experience even for those who are strangers, to whom it is a
passing incident; but as the speaker was her sister and the listener her
father, Frances felt this more deeply still. Generally in the evening
conversation flagged between them. He would have his book, and Frances
sometimes had a book too, or a drawing upon which she could work, or at
least her knitting. She had felt that the silence which reigned in the
room on such occasions was not what ought to be. It was not like the
talk which was supposed to go on in all the novels she had ever read
where the people were _nice_. And sometimes she attempted to entertain
her father with little incidents in the life of their poor neighbours,
or things which Mariuccia had told her; but he listened benevolently,
with his finger between the leaves of his book, or even without closing
his book, looking up at her over the leaves--only out of kindness to
her, not because he was interested; and then silence would fall on them,
a silence which was very sweet to Frances, in the midst of which her own
little stream of thoughts flowed on continuously, but which now and then
she was struck to the heart to think must be very dull for papa.

But to-night it was not dull for him. She listened, and said to herself
this was the way to make conversation; and laughed whenever she could,
and followed every little gesture of her sister’s with admiring eyes.
But at the end, Frances, though she would not acknowledge it to herself,
felt that she had not been amused. She thought the people in the village
were just as interesting. But then she was not so clever as Constance,
and could not do them justice in the same way.

“And now I am going to bed,” Constance said. She rose up in an instant
with a rapid movement, as if the thought had only just struck her and
she obeyed the impulse at once. There was a freedom about all her
movements which troubled and captivated Frances. She had been leaning
half over the table, her sleeves, which were a little wide, falling back
from her arms, now leaning her chin in the hollow of one hand, now
supporting it with both, putting her elbows wherever she pleased.
Frances herself had been trained by Mariuccia to very great decorum in
respect to attitudes. If she did furtively now and then lean an elbow
upon the table, she was aware that it was wrong all the time; and as for
legs, she knew it was only men who were permitted to cross them, or to
do anything save sit with two feet equal to each other upon the floor.
But Constance cared for none of these rules. She rose up abruptly
(Mariuccia would have said, as if something had stung her), almost
before she had finished what she was saying. “Show me my room, please,”
she said, and yawned. She yawned quite freely, naturally, without any
attempt to conceal or to apologise for it as if it had been an accident.
Frances could not help being shocked, yet neither could she help
laughing with a sort of pleasure in this breach of all rules. But
Constance only stared, and did not in the least understand why she
should laugh.

“Where have you put your sister?” Mr Waring asked.

“I have put her--in the room next to yours, papa; between your room and
mine, you know: for I am in the blue room now. There she will not feel
strange; she will have people on each side.”

“That is to say, you have given her----”

It was Frances’ turn now to give a warning glance. “The room I thought
she would like best,” she said, with a soft but decisive tone. She too
had a little imperious way of her own. It was so soft, that a stranger
would not have found it out; but in the Palazzo they were all acquainted
with it, and no one--not even Mariuccia--found it possible to say a
word after this small trumpet had sounded. Mr Waring accordingly was
silenced, and made no further remark. He went with his daughters to the
door, and kissed the cheek which Constance held lightly to him. “I shall
see you again, papa,” Frances said, in that same little determined
voice.

Mr Waring did not make any reply, but shrank a little aside, to let her
pass. He looked like a man who was afraid. She had spared him; she had
not betrayed the ignorance in which he had brought her up; but now the
moment of reckoning was near, and he was afraid of Frances. He went back
into the _salone_, and walked up and down with a restlessness which was
natural enough, considering how all the embers of his life had been
raked up by this unexpected event. He had lived in absolute quiet for
fourteen long years: a strange life--a life which might have been
supposed to be impossible for a man still in the heyday of his strength;
but yet, as it appeared, a life which suited him, which he preferred to
others more natural. To settle down in an Italian village with a little
girl of six for his sole companion--when he came to think of it, nothing
could be more unnatural, more extraordinary; and yet he had liked it
well enough, as well as he could have liked anything at that crisis of
his fate. He was the kind of man who, in other circumstances, in another
age, would have made himself a monk, and spent his existence very
placidly in illuminating manuscripts. He had done something as near this
as is possible to an Englishman not a Roman Catholic, of the nineteenth
century. Unfortunately, Waring had no ecclesiastical tendencies, or even
in the nineteenth century he might have found out for himself some
pseudo-monkery in which he could have been happy. As it was, he had
retired with his little girl, and on the whole had been comfortable
enough. But now the little girl had grown up, and required to have
various things accounted for; and the other individuals who had claims
upon him, whom he thought he had shaken off altogether, had turned up
again, and had to be dealt with. The monk had an easy time of it in
comparison. He who has but himself to think of may manage himself, if
he has good luck; but the responsibility of others on your shoulders is
a terrible drawback to tranquillity. A little girl! That seemed the
simplest of all things. It had never occurred to him that she would form
a link by which all his former burdens might be drawn back; or that she,
more wonderful still, should ever arise and demand to know why. But both
of these impossible things had happened.

Waring walked about the _salone_. He opened the glass door and stepped
out into the loggia, into the tranquil shining of the moon, which lit up
all the blues of the sea, and kindled little silver lamps all over the
quivering palms. How quiet it was! and yet that tranquil nature lying
unmoved, taking whatever came of good or evil, did harm in a far more
colossal way than any man could do. The sea, then looking so mild, would
suddenly rise up and bring havoc and destruction worse than an army; yet
next day smile again, and throw its spray into the faces of the
children, and lie like a harmless thing under the light. But a man
could not do this. A man had to give an account of all that he had done,
whether it was good or whether it was evil,--if not to God--which on the
whole was the easiest, for God knew all about it, how little harm had
been intended, how little anything had been intended, how one mistake
involved another,--if not to God--why, to some one harder to face;
perhaps to one’s little girl.

He came back from the loggia and the moonlight and nature, which, all of
them, were so indifferent to what was happening to him, with a feeling
that the imperfect human lamp which so easily got out of gear--as easily
as a man--was a more appropriate light for his disturbed soul; and met
Frances with her brown eyes waiting for him at the door.



CHAPTER VIII.


“It is not because of this only, papa--I wanted before to speak to you.
I was waiting in the loggia for you, when Constance came.”

“What did you want, Frances? Oh, I quite acknowledge that you have a
right to inquire. I hoped, perhaps, I might be spared to-night; I am
rather exhausted--to-night.”

Frances dropped the hand which she had laid upon his arm. “It shall be
exactly as you please, papa. I seem to know a great deal--oh, a great
deal more than I knew at dinner. I don’t think I am the same person; and
I thought it might save us all trouble if you would tell me--as much as
you think I ought to know.”

She had sat down in her usual place, in her careful little modest pose,
a little stiff, a little prim--the training of Mariuccia. After
Constance, there was something in the attitude of Frances which made her
father smile, though he was in no mood for smiling; and it was clear
that he could not, that he ought not to escape. He would not sit down,
however, and meet her eye. He stood by the table for a few minutes, with
his eyes upon the books, turning them over, as if he were looking for
something. At last he said, but without looking up, “There is nothing
very dreadful to tell; no guilty secret, though you may suppose so. Your
mother and I----”

“Then I have really a mother, and she is living?” the girl cried.

He looked at her for a moment. “I forgot that for a girl of your age
that means a great deal--I hadn’t thought of it. Perhaps if you knew----
Yes; you have got a mother, and she is living. I suppose that seems a
very wonderful piece of news?”

Frances did not say anything. The water came into her eyes. Her heart
beat loudly, yet softly, against her young bosom. She had known it, so
that she was not surprised. The surprise had been broken by Constance’s
careless talk, by the wonder, the doubt, the sense of impossibility,
which had gradually yielded to a conviction that it must be so. Her
feeling was that she would like to go now, without delay, without asking
any more questions, to her mother. Her mother! and he hadn’t thought
before how much that meant to a girl--of her age!

Mr Waring was a little disconcerted by having no answer. Of course it
meant a great deal to a girl; but still, not so much as to make her
incapable of reply. He felt a little annoyed, disturbed, perhaps
jealous, as Frances herself had been. It was with difficulty that he
resumed again; but it had to be done.

“Your mother and I,” he said, taking up the books again, opening and
shutting them, looking at the title-page now of one, now of another,
“did not get on very well. I don’t know who was in fault--probably both.
She had been married before. She had a son whom you hear Constance speak
of as Markham. Markham has been at the bottom of all the trouble. He
drove me out of my senses when he was a boy. Now he is a man: so far as
I can make out it is he that has disturbed our peace again--hunted us
up, and sent Constance here. If you ever meet Markham--and of course now
you are sure to meet him--beware of him.” Here he made a pause again,
and looked with great seriousness at the book in his hand, turning the
leaf to finish a sentence which was continued on the next page.

“I beg your pardon, papa,” said Frances; “I am afraid I am very stupid.
What relation is Markham to me?”

He looked at her for a moment, then threw down the book with some
violence on the table, as if it were the offender. “He is your
step-brother,” he said.

“My--brother? Then I have a brother too?” After a little pause she
added, “It is very wonderful, papa, to come into a new world like this
all at once. I want--to draw my breath.”

“It is my fault that it comes upon you all at once. I never thought----
You were a very small child when I brought you away. You forgot them
all, as was natural. I did not at first know how entirely a child
forgets; and then--then it seemed a pity to disturb your mind, and
perhaps set you longing for--what it was impossible for you to obtain.”

It surprised him a little that Frances did not breathe a syllable of
reproach. She said nothing. In her imagination she was looking back over
these years, wondering how it would have been had she known. Would life
ever be the same, now that she did know? The world seemed to open up
round her, so much greater, wider, more full than she had thought. She
had not thought much on the subject. Life in Bordighera was more limited
even than life in an English village. The fact that she did not belong
to the people among whom she had spent all these years, made a
difference; and her father’s recluse habits, the few people he cared to
know, the stagnation of his life, made a greater difference still.
Frances had scarcely felt it until that meeting with the Mannerings,
which put so many vague ideas into her mind. A child does not naturally
inquire into the circumstances which have surrounded it all its life. It
was natural to her to live in this retired place, to see nobody, to
make amusements and occupations for herself--to know no one more like
herself than Tasie Durant. Had she even possessed any girl-friends
living the natural life of youth, that might have inspired a question or
two. But she knew no girls--except Tasie, whose girlhood was a sort of
fossil, and who might almost have been the mother of Frances. She saw
indeed the village girls, but it did not occur to her to compare herself
with them. Familiar as she was with all their ways, she was still a
_forestière_--one of the barbarous people, English, a word which
explains every difference. Frances did not quite know in what the
peculiarity and eccentricity of the English consisted; but she, too,
recognised with all simplicity that, being English, she was different.
Now it came suddenly to her mind that the difference was not anything
generic and general, but that it was her own special circumstances that
had been unlike all the rest. There had been a mother all the time;
another girl, a sister, like herself. It made her brain whirl.

She sat quite silent, thinking it all over, not perceiving her father’s
embarrassment--thinking less of him, indeed, than of all the wonderful
new things that seemed to crowd about her. She did not blame him. She
was not thinking enough of him to blame him; her mind was quite
sufficiently occupied by her discoveries. As she had taken him all her
life without examination, she continued to take him. He was her father;
that was enough. It did not occur to her to ask herself whether what he
had done was right or wrong. Only, it was all very strange. The old
solid earth had gone from under her feet, and the old order of things
had been overthrown. She was looking out upon a world not realised--a
spectator of something like the throes of creation, seeing the new
landscape tremble and roll into place, the heights and hollows all
changing; there was a great deal of excitement in it, both pain and
pleasure. It occupied her so fully, that he fell back into a secondary
place.

But this did not occur to Waring. He had not realised that it could be
possible. He felt himself the centre of the system in which his little
daughter lived, and did not understand how she could ignore him. He
thought her silence--the silence of amazement, and excitement, and of
that curious spectatorship--was the silence of reproach, and that her
mind was full of a sense of wrong, which only duty kept in check. He
felt himself on his trial before her. Having said all that he had to
say, he remained silent, expecting her response. If she had given vent
to an indignant exclamation, he would have been relieved; he would have
allowed that she had a right to be indignant. But her silence was more
than he could bear. He searched through the recesses of his own
thoughts; but for the moment he could not find any further excuse for
himself. He had done it for the best. Probably she would not see that.
Waring was well enough acquainted with the human mind to know that every
individual sees such a question from his or her own point of view: and
he was prepared to find that his daughter would be unable to perceive
what was so plain to him. But still he was aware that he had done it for
the best. After a while the silence became so irksome to him that he
felt compelled to break it and resume his explanations. If she would
not say anything, there were a number of things which he might say.

“It is a pity,” he said, “that it has all broken upon you so suddenly.
If I could have divined that Constance would have taken such a step----
To tell you the truth, I have never realised Constance at all,” he
added, with an impulse towards the daughter he knew. “She was of course
a mere child: to see her so independent, and with so distinct a will of
her own, is very bewildering. I assure you, Frances, if it is wonderful
to you, it is scarcely less wonderful to me.”

There was something in his tone that made her lift her eyes to him; and
to see him stand there so embarrassed, so subdued, so much unlike the
father who, though very kind and tender, had always been perhaps a
little condescending, patronising, towards the girl, whom he scarcely
recognised as an independent entity, went to her heart. She could not
tell him not to be frightened--not to look at her with that guilty,
apologetic look, which altogether reversed their ordinary relationship;
but it added a pang to her bewilderment. She asked hastily, by way of
concealing this uncomfortable change, a question which she thought he
would have no difficulty in answering--“Is Constance much older than I
am, papa?”

He gave a sort of furtive smile, as if he had no right to smile in the
circumstances. “I don’t wonder at your question. She has seen a great
deal more of the world. But if there is a minute or two between you, I
don’t know which has it. There is no elder or younger in the case. You
are twins, though no one would think so.”

This gave Frances a further shock--though why, it would be impossible to
say. The blood rushed to her face. “She must think me--a very poor
little thing,” she said, in a hurried tone. “I never knew--I have no
friend except Tasie--to show me what girls might be.” The thought
mortified her in an extraordinary way; it brought a sudden gush of salt
tears--tears quite different from those which had welled to her eyes
when he told her of her mother. Constance, who was so different, would
despise her--Constance, who knew exactly all about it, and that Frances
was as old, perhaps a few minutes older than she. It is always
difficult to divine what form pride will take. This was the manner in
which it affected Frances. The same age! and yet the one an accomplished
woman, judging for herself--and the other not much more than a child.

“You do yourself injustice,” said Mr Waring, somewhat rehabilitated by
the mortification of Frances. “Nobody could think you a poor little
thing. You have not the same knowledge of the world. Constance has been
very differently brought up. I think my training a great deal better
than what she has had,” he added quickly, with a mingled desire to cheer
and restore self-confidence to Frances, and to reassert himself after
his humiliation. He felt what he said; and yet, as was natural, he said
a little more than he felt. “I must tell you,” he said, in this new
impulse, “that your mother is--a much more important person than I am.
She is a great deal richer. The marriage was supposed to be much to my
advantage.”

There was a smile on his face which Frances, looking up suddenly, warned
by a certain change of tone, did not like to see. She kept her eyes
upon him instinctively, she could not tell why, with a look which had a
certain influence upon him, though he did not well understand it either.
It meant that the unknown woman of whom he spoke was the girl’s
mother--her mother--one of whom no unbefitting word was to be said. It
checked him in a quite curious unexpected way. When he had spoken of
her, which he had done very rarely since they parted, it had been with a
sense that he was free to characterise her as he thought she deserved.
But here he was stopped short. That very evening he had said things to
Constance of her mother which in a moment he felt that he dared not say
to Frances. The sensation was a very strange one. He made a distinct
pause, and then he said hurriedly, “You must not for a moment suppose
that there was anything wrong; there is no story that you need be afraid
of hearing--nothing, neither on her side nor mine--nothing to be ashamed
of.”

All at once Frances grew very pale; her eyes opened wide; she gazed at
him with speechless horror. The idea was altogether new to her artless
mind. It flashed through his that Constance would not have been at all
surprised--that probably she would have thought it “nice of him” to
exonerate his wife from all moral shortcoming. The holy ignorance of the
other brought a sensation of shame to Waring, and at the same time a
sensation of pride. Nothing could more clearly have proved the
superiority of his training. She would have felt no consternation, only
relief at this assurance, if she had been all her life in her mother’s
hands.

“It is a great deal to say, however, though you are too inexperienced to
know. The whole thing was incompatibility--incompatibility of temper,
and of ideas, and of tastes, and of fortune even. I could not, you may
suppose, accept advantages purchased with my predecessor’s money, or
take the good of his rank through my wife; and she would not come down
in the world to my means and to my name. It was an utter mistake
altogether. We should have understood each other beforehand. It was
impossible that we could get on. But that was all. There was probably
more talk about it than if there had been really more to talk about.”

Frances rose up with a little start. “I think, perhaps,” she said, “I
don’t want you to tell me any more.”

“Well--perhaps you are right.” But he was startled by her quick
movement. “I did not mean to say anything that could shock you. If you
are to hear anything at all, the truth is what you must hear. But you
must not blame me over-much, Frances. Your very impatience of what I
have been saying will explain to you why I thought that to say
nothing--as long as I could help it--was the best.”

Her hand trembled a little as she lighted her candle, but she made no
comment. “Good night, papa. To-morrow it will all seem different.
Everything is strange to-night.”

He put his hands upon her shoulders and looked down into the little
serious face, the face that had never been so serious before. “Don’t
think any worse of me, Frances, than you can help.”

Her eyes opened wider with astonishment.

“Think of you, worse---- But, papa, I am not thinking of you at all,”
she said, simply; “I am thinking of _it_.”

Waring had gone through a number of depressing and humbling experiences
during the course of the evening, but this was the unkindest of all--and
it was so natural. Frances was no critic. She was not thinking of his
conduct, which was the first thing in his mind, but of IT, the
revelation which had been made to her. He might have perceived that, or
divined it, if he had not been occupied by this idea, which did not
occupy her at all--the thought of how he personally had come through the
business. He gave a little faltering laugh at himself as he stooped and
kissed her. “That’s all right,” he said. “Good night; but don’t let IT
interfere with your sleep. To-morrow everything will look different, as
you say.”

Frances turned away with her light in her hand; but before she had
reached the door, returned again. “I think I ought to tell you, papa,
that I am sure the Durants know. They said a number of strange things to
me yesterday, which I think I understand now. If you don’t mind, I would
rather let them suppose that I knew all the time; otherwise, it looks
as if you thought you could not trust me.”

“I could trust you,” he said, with a little fervour,--“my dear child, my
dear little girl--I would trust you with my life.”

Was there a faint smile in the little girl’s limpid simple eyes? He
thought so, and it disconcerted him strangely. She made no response to
that protestation, but with a little nod of her head went away. Waring
sat down at the table again, and began to think it all over from the
beginning. He was sore and aching, like a man who has fallen from a
height. He had fallen from the pedestal on which, to Frances, he had
stood all these years. She might not be aware of it even--but he was.
And he had fallen from those Elysian fields of peace in which he had
been dwelling for so long. They had not, perhaps, seemed very Elysian
while he was secure of their possession. They had been monotonous in
their stillness, and wearied his soul. But now that he looked back upon
them, a new cycle having begun, they seemed to him like the very home
of peace. He had not done anything to forfeit this tranquillity; and yet
it was over, and he stood once more on the edge of an agitated and
disturbed life. He was a man who could bear monotony, who liked his own
way, yet liked that bondage of habit which is as hard as iron to some
souls. He liked to do the same things at the same time day after day,
and to be undisturbed in doing them. But now all his quiet was over.
Constance would have a thousand requirements such as Frances had never
dreamed of; and her brother no doubt would soon turn up--that
step-brother whom Waring had never been able to tolerate even when he
was a child. She might even come Herself--who could tell?

When this thought crossed his mind, he got up hastily and left the
_salone_, leaving the lamp burning, as Domenico found it next morning,
to his consternation--a symbol of Chaos come again--burning in the
daylight. Mr Waring almost fled to his room and locked his door in the
horror of that suggestion. And this was not only because the prospect
of such a visit disturbed him beyond measure, but because he had not yet
made a clean breast of it. Frances did not yet know all.

Frances for her part went to the blue room, and opened the _persiani_,
and sat looking out upon the moonlight for some time before she went to
bed. The room was bare; she missed her pictures, which Constance had
taken no notice of--the Madonna that had been above her head for so many
years, and which had vaguely appeared to her as a symbol of the mother
who had never existed in her life. Now there seemed less need for the
Madonna. The bare walls had pictures all over them--pictures of a new
life. In imagination, no one is shy, or nervous, or strange. She let the
new figures move about her freely, and delighted herself with familiar
pictures of them and the changes that must accompany them. She was not
like her father, afraid of changes. She thought of the new people, the
new combinations, the quickened life: and the thought made her smile.
They would come, and she would make the house gay and bright to receive
them. Perhaps some time, surrounded by this new family that belonged to
her, she might even be taken “home.” The thought was delightful
notwithstanding the thrill of excitement in it. But still there was
something which Frances did not know.



CHAPTER IX.


“What is this I hear about Waring?” said General Gaunt, walking out upon
the loggia, where the Durants were sitting, on the same memorable
afternoon on which all that has been above related occurred. The General
was dressed in loosely fitting light-coloured clothes. It was one of the
recommendations of the Riviera to him that he could wear out there all
his old Indian clothes, which would have been useless to him at home. He
was a very tall old man, very yellow, nay, almost greenish in the
complexion, extremely spare, with a fine old white moustache, which had
an immense effect upon his brown face. The well-worn epigram might be
adapted in his case to say that nobody ever was so fierce as the General
looked; and yet he was at bottom rather a mild old man, and had never
hurt anybody, except the sepoys in the Mutiny, all his life. His head
was covered with a broad light felt hat, which, soft as it was, took an
aggressive cock when he put it on. He held his gloves dangling from his
hand with the air of having been in too much haste to put them to their
proper use. And his step, as he stepped off the carpet upon the marble
of the loggia, sounded like that of an alert officer who has just heard
that the enemy has made a reconnaissance in force two miles off, and
that there is no time to lose. “What is this I hear about Waring?” he
said.

“Yes, indeed!” cried Mrs Durant.

“It is a most remarkable story,” said his Reverence, shaking his head.

“But what is it?” asked the General. “I found Mrs Gaunt almost crying
when I went in. What she said was, ‘Charles, we have been nourishing a
viper in our bosoms.’ I am not addicted to metaphor, and I insisted upon
plain English; and then it all came out. She told me Waring was an
impostor, and had been taking us all in; that some old friend of his had
been here, and had told you. Is that true?”

“My dear!” said Mr Durant in a tone of remonstrance.

“Well, Henry! you never said it was to be kept a secret. It could not
possibly be kept a secret--so few of us here, and all so intimate.”

“Then he is an impostor?” said General Gaunt.

“Oh, my dear General, that’s too strong a word. Henry, you had better
tell the General, your own way.”

The old clergyman had been shaking his head all the time. He was dying
to tell all that he knew, yet he could not but improve the occasion.
“Oh, ladies, ladies!” he said, “when there is anything to be told, the
best of women is not to be trusted. But, General, our poor friend is no
impostor. He never said he was a widower.”

“It’s fortunate we’ve none of us girls----” the General began; then with
a start, “I forgot Miss Tasie; but she’s a girl--a girl in ten
thousand,” he added, with a happy inspiration. Tasie, who was still
seated behind the teacups, give him a smile in reply.

“Poor dear Mr Waring,” she said, “whether he is a widower or has a
wife, it does not matter much. Nobody can call Mr Waring a flirt. He
might be any one’s grandfather from his manner. I cannot see that it
matters a bit.”

“Not so far as we are concerned, thank heaven!” said her mother, with
the air of one whose dear child has escaped a danger. “But I don’t think
it is quite respectable for one of our small community to have a wife
alive and never to let any one know.”

“I understand, a most excellent woman; besides being a person of rank,”
said Mr Durant. “It has disturbed me very much--though, happily, as my
wife says, from no private motive.” Here the good man paused, and gave
vent to a sigh of thankfulness, establishing the impression that his
ingenuous Tasie had escaped as by a miracle from Waring’s wiles; and
then he continued, “I think some one should speak to him on the subject.
He ought to understand that now it is known, public opinion requires----
Some one should tell him----”

“There is no one so fit as a clergyman,” the General said.

“That is true, perhaps, in the abstract; but with our poor friend----
There are some men who will not take advice from a clergyman.”

“O Henry! do him justice. He has never shown anything but respect to
you.”

“I should say that a man of the world, like the General----”

“Oh, not I,” cried the General, getting up hurriedly. “No, thank you; I
never interfere with any man’s affairs. That’s your business, Padre.
Besides, I have no daughter: whether he is married or not is nothing to
me.”

“Nor to us, heaven be praised!” said Mrs Durant; and then she added, “It
is not for ourselves; it is for poor little Frances, a girl that has
never known a mother’s care! How much better for her to be with her
mother, and properly introduced into society, than living in that
hugger-mugger way, without education, without companions! If it were not
for Tasie, the child would never see a creature near her own age.”

“And I am much older than Frances,” said Tasie, rather to heighten the
hardship of the situation than from any sense that this was true.

“Decidedly the Padre ought to talk to him,” said the Anglo-Indian. “He
ought to be made to feel that everybody at the station---- Wife all
right, do you know? Bless me! if the wife is all right, what does the
man mean? Why can’t they quarrel peaceably, and keep up appearances, as
we all do?”

“Oh no--not all; _we_ never quarrel.”

“Not for a long time, my love.”

“Henry, you may trust to my memory. Not for about thirty years. We had a
little disagreement then about where we were to go for the summer. Oh, I
remember it well--the agony it cost me! Don’t say ‘as we _all_ do,’
General, for it would not be true.”

“You are a pair of old turtle-doves,” quoth the General. “All the more
reason why you should talk to him, Padre. Tell him he’s come among us on
false pretences, not knowing the damage he might have done. I always
thought he was a queer hand to have the education of a little girl.”

“He taught her Latin; and that woman of theirs, Mariuccia, taught her to
knit. That’s all she knows. And her mother all the time in such a fine
position, able to do anything for her! Oh, it is of Frances I think
most!”

“It is quite evident,” said the General, “that Mr Durant must
interfere.”

“I think it very likely I shall do no good. A man of the world, a man
like that----”

“There is no such great harm about the man.”

“And he is very good to Frances,” said Tasie, almost under her breath.

“I daresay he meant no harm,” said the General, “if that is all. Only,
he should be warned; and if anything can be done for Frances---- It is a
pity she should see nobody, and never have a chance of establishing
herself in life.”

“She ought to be introduced into society,” said Mrs Durant. “As for
establishing herself in life, that is in the hands of Providence,
General. It is not to be supposed that such an idea ever enters into a
girl’s mind--unless it is put there, which is so often the case.”

“The General means,” said Tasie, “that seeing people would make her more
fit to be a companion for her papa. Frances is a dear girl; but it is
quite true--she is wanting in conversation. They often sit a whole
evening together and scarcely speak.”

“She is a nice little thing,” said the General, energetically--“I always
thought so; and never was at a dance, I suppose, or a junketing of any
description, in her life. To be sure, we are all old duffers in this
place. The Padre should interfere.”

“If I could see it was my duty,” said Mr Durant.

“I know what you mean,” said General Gaunt. “I’m not too fond of
interference myself. But when a man has concealed his antecedents, and
they have been found out. And then the little girl----”

“Yes: it is Frances I think of most,” said Mr Durant.

It was at last settled among them that it was clearly the clergyman’s
business to interfere. He had been tolerably certain to begin with, but
he liked the moral support of what he called a consensus of opinion. Mr
Durant was not so reluctant as he professed to be. He had not much scope
for those social duties which, he was of opinion, were not the least
important of a clergyman’s functions; and though there was a little
excitement in the uncertainty from Sunday to Sunday how many people
would be at church, what the collection would be, and other varying
circumstances, yet the life of the clergyman at Bordighera was
monotonous, and a little variety was welcome. In other chaplaincies
which Mr Durant had held, he had come in contact with various romances
of real life. These were still the days of gaming, when every German
bath had its _tapis vert_ and its little troup of tragedies. But the
Riviera was very tranquil, and Bordighera had just been found out by the
invalid and the pleasure-seeker. It was monotonous: there had been few
deaths, even among the visitors, which are always varieties in their way
for the clergyman, and often are the means of making acquaintances both
useful and agreeable to himself and his family. But as yet there had not
even been many deaths. This gave great additional excitement to what is
always exciting, for a small community--the cropping up under their very
noses, in their own immediate circle, of a mystery, of a discovery
which afforded boundless opportunity for talk. The first thing naturally
that had affected Mr and Mrs Durant was the miraculous escape of Tasie,
to whom Mr Waring _might_ have made himself agreeable, and whose peace
of mind might have been affected, for anything that could be said to the
contrary. They said to each other that it was a hair-breadth escape;
although it had not occurred previously to any one that any sort of
mutual attraction between Mr Waring and Tasie was possible.

And then the other aspects of the case became apparent. Mr Durant felt
now that to pass it over, to say nothing about the matter, to allow
Waring to suppose that everything was as it had always been, was
impossible. He and his wife had decided this without the intervention of
General Gaunt; but when the General appeared--the only other permanent
pillar of society in Bordighera--then there arose that consensus which
made further steps inevitable. Mrs Gaunt looked in later, after dinner,
in the darkening; and she, too, was of opinion that something must be
done. She was affected to tears by the thought of that mystery in their
very midst, and of what the poor (unknown) lady must have suffered,
deserted by her husband, and bereft of her child. “He might at least
have left her her child,” she said, with a sob; and she was fully of
opinion that he should be spoken to without delay, and that they should
not rest till Frances had been restored to her mother. She thought it
was “a duty” on the part of Mr Durant to interfere. The consensus was
thus unanimous; there was not a dissentient voice in the entire
community. “We will sleep upon it,” Mr Durant said. But the morning
brought no further light. They were all agreed more strongly than ever
that Waring ought to be spoken to, and that it was undeniably a duty for
the clergyman to interfere.

Mr Durant accordingly set out before it was too late, before the mid-day
breakfast, which is the coolest and calmest moment of the day, the time
for business, before social intercourse is supposed to begin. He was
very carefully brushed from his hat to his shoes, and was indeed a very
agreeable example of a neat old clerical gentleman. Ecclesiastical
costume was much more easy in those days. It was before the era of long
coats and soft hats, when a white tie was the one incontrovertible sign
of the clergyman who did not think of calling himself a priest. He was
indeed, having been for a number of years located in Catholic countries,
very particular not to call himself a priest, or to condescend to any
garb which could recall the _soutane_ and three-cornered hat of the
indigenous clergy. His black clothes were spotless, but of the ordinary
cut, perhaps a trifle old-fashioned. But yet neither _soutane_ nor
_berretta_ could have made it more evident that Mr Durant, setting out
with an ebony stick and black gloves, was an English clergyman going
mildly but firmly to interfere. Had he been met with in the wilds of
Africa, even there mistake would have been impossible. In his serious
eye, in the aspect of the corners of his mouth, in a certain air of
gentle determination diffused over his whole person, this was apparent.
It made a great impression upon Domenico when he opened the door. After
what had happened yesterday, Domenico felt that anything might happen.
“Lo, this man’s brow, like to a title leaf, foretells the nature of the
tragic volume,” he said to Mariuccia--at least if he did not use these
words, his meaning was the same. He ushered the English pastor into the
room which Mr Waring occupied as a library, with bated breath. “Master
is going to catch it,” was what, perhaps, a light-minded Cockney might
have said. But Domenico was a serious man, and did not trifle.

Waring’s library was, like all the rooms of his suite, an oblong room,
with three windows and as many doors, opening into the dining-room on
one hand, and the ante-room on the other. It had the usual
indecipherable fresco on the roof, and the walls on one side were half
clothed with bookcases. Not a very large collection of books, and yet
enough to make a pretty show, with their old gilding, and the dull white
of the vellum in which so many were bound. It was a room in which he
spent the most of his time, and it had been made comfortable according
to the notions of comfort prevailing in these regions. There was a
square of carpet under his writing-table. His chair was a large old
_fauteuil_, covered with faded damask; and curtains, also faded, were
festooned over all the windows and doors. The _persiani_ were shut to
keep out the sun, and the cool atmosphere had a greenish tint. Waring,
however, did not look so peaceful as his room. He sat with his chair
pushed away from the table, reading what seemed to be a novel. He had
the air of a man who had taken refuge there from some embarrassment or
annoyance; not the tranquil look of a man occupied in so-called studies
needing leisure, with his note-books at hand, and pen and ink within
reach. Such a man is usually very glad to be interrupted in the midst of
his self-imposed labours, and Waring’s first movement was one of
satisfaction. He threw down the book, with an apology for having ever
taken it up in the half-ashamed, half-violent way in which he got rid of
it. Don’t suppose I care for such rubbish, his gesture seemed to say.
But the aspect of Mr Durant changed his look of welcome. He rose
hurriedly, and gave his visitor a chair. “You are early out,” he said.

“Yes; the morning, I find, is the best time. Even after the sun is down,
it is never so fresh in the evening. Especially for business, I find it
the best time.”

“That means, I suppose,” said Waring, “that your visit this morning
means business, and not mere friendship, as I had supposed?”

“Friendship always, I hope,” said the tidy old clergyman, smoothing his
hat with his hand; “but I don’t deny it is something more serious:
a--a--question I want to ask you, if you don’t mind----”

Just at this moment, in the next room there rose a little momentary and
pleasant clamour of voices and youthful laughter; two voices
certainly--Frances and another. This made Mr Durant prick up his ears.
“You have--visitors?” he said.

“Yes. I will answer to the best of my ability,” said Waring, with a
smile.

Now was the time when Mr Durant realised the difficult nature of his
mission. At home in his own house, especially in the midst of the
consensus of opinion, with everybody encouraging him and pressing upon
him the fact that it was “a duty,” the matter seemed easy enough. But
when he found himself in Waring’s house, looking a man in the face with
whose concerns he had really no right to interfere, and who had not at
all the air of a man ready to be brought to the confessional, Mr
Durant’s confidence failed him. He faltered a little; he looked at his
very unlikely penitent, and then he looked at the hat which he was
turning round in his hands, but which gave him no courage. Then he
cleared his throat. “The question is--quite a simple one,” he said.
“There can be no doubt of your ability--to answer. I am sure you will
forgive me if I say, to begin with----”

“One moment. Is this question--which seems to trouble you--about my
affairs or yours?”

Mr Durant’s clear complexion betrayed something like a flush. “That is
just what I want to explain. You will acknowledge, my dear Waring, that
you have been received here--well, there is not very much in our
power--but with every friendly feeling, every desire to make you one of
us.”

“All this preface shows me that it is I who have been found wanting.
You are quite right; you have been most hospitable and kind--to myself,
almost too much so; to my daughter, you have given all the society she
has ever known.”

“I am glad, truly glad, that you think we have done our part. My dear
friend, was it right, then, when we opened our arms to you so
unsuspectingly, to come among us in a false character--under false
colours?”

“Stop!” said Waring, growing pale. “This is going a little too far. I
suppose I understand what you mean. Mannering, who calls himself my old
friend, has been here; and as he could not hold his tongue if his life
depended upon it, he has told you---- But why you should accuse me of
holding a false position, of coming under false colours--which was what
you said----”

“Waring!” said the clergyman, in a voice of mild thunder, “did you never
think, when you came here, comparatively a young, and--well, still a
good-looking man--did you never think that there might be some
susceptible heart--some woman’s heart----”

“Good heavens!” cried Waring, starting to his feet, “I never supposed
for a moment----”

“----Some young creature,” Mr Durant continued, solemnly, “whom it
might be my duty and your duty to guard from deception; but who
naturally, taking you for a widower----”

Waring’s countenance of horror was unspeakable. He stood up before his
table like a little boy who was about to be caned. Exclamations of
dismay fell unconsciously from his lips. “Sir! I never thought----”

Mr Durant paused to contemplate with pleasure the panic he had caused.
He put down his hat and rubbed together his little fat white hands. “By
the blessing of Providence,” he said, drawing a long breath, “that
danger has been averted. I say it with thankfulness. We have been
preserved from any such terrible result. But had things been differently
ordered--think, only think! and be grateful to Providence.”

The answer which Waring made to this speech was to burst into a fit of
uncontrollable laughter. He seemed incapable of recovering his gravity.
As soon as he paused, exhausted, to draw breath, he was off again. The
suggestion, when it ceased to be horrible, became ludicrous beyond
description. He quavered forth “I beg your pardon” between the fits,
which Mr Durant did not at all like. He sat looking on at the hilarity
very gravely without a smile.

“I did not expect so much levity,” he said.

“I beg your pardon,” cried the culprit, with tears running down his
cheeks. “Forgive me. If you will recollect that the character of a gay
Lothario is the last one in the world----”

“It is not necessary to be a gay Lothario,” returned the clergyman.
“Really, if this is to continue, it will be better that I should
withdraw. Laughter was the last thing I intended to produce.”

“It is not a bad thing, and it is not an indulgence I am given to. But I
think, considering what a very terrible alternative you set before me,
we may be very glad it has ended in laughter. Mr Durant,” continued
Waring, “you have only anticipated an explanation I intended to make.
Mannering is an ass.”

“I am sure he is a most respectable member of society,” said Mr Durant,
with much gravity.

“So are many asses. I have some one else to present to you, who is very
unlike Mannering, but who betrays me still more distinctly. Constance, I
want you here.”

The old clergyman gazed, not believing his eyes, as there suddenly
appeared in the doorway the tall figure of a girl who had never been
seen as yet in Bordighera--a girl who was very simply dressed, yet who
had an air which the old gentleman, acquainted, as he flattered himself,
with the air of fine people, could not ignore. She stood with a careless
grace, returning slightly, not without a little of that impertinence of
a fine lady which is so impressive to the crowd, his salutation. “Did
you want me, papa?” she quietly asked.



CHAPTER X.


The revelation which thus burst upon Mr Durant was known throughout the
length and breadth of Bordighera, as that good man said, before the day
was out. The expression was not so inappropriate as might be at first
supposed, considering the limited society to which the fact that Mr
Waring had a second daughter was of any particular interest; for the
good chaplain’s own residence was almost at the extremity of the Marina,
and General Gaunt’s on the highest point of elevation among the olive
gardens; while the only other English inhabitants were in the hotels
near the beach, and consisted of a landlady, a housekeeper, and the
highly respectable person who had charge of the stables at the Bellevue.
This little inferior world was respectfully interested but not excited
by the new arrival.

But to Mrs Durant and Tasie it was an event of the first importance; and
Mrs Gaunt was at first disposed to believe that it was a revelation of
further wickedness, and that there was no telling where these
discoveries might end. “We shall be hearing that he has a son next,” she
said. They had a meeting in the afternoon to talk it over; and it really
did appear at first that the new disclosure enhanced the enormity of the
first--for, naturally, the difference between a widower and a married
man is aggravated by the discovery that the deceiver pretending to have
only one child has really “a family.” At the first glance the ladies
were all impressed by this; though afterwards, when they began to think
of it, they were obliged to admit that the conclusion perhaps was not
very well founded. And when it turned out that Frances and the new-comer
were twins, that altogether altered the question, and left them, though
they were by no means satisfied, without anything further to say.

While all this went on outside the Palazzo, there was much going on
within it that was calculated to produce difficulty and embarrassment.
Mr Waring, with a consciousness that he was acting a somewhat cowardly
part, ran away from it altogether, and shut himself up in his library,
and left his daughters to make acquaintance with each other as they best
could. He was, as has been said, by no means sufficiently at his ease to
return to what he called his studies, the ordinary occupations of his
life. He had run away, and he knew it. He went so far as to turn the key
in one door, so that, whatever happened, he could only be invaded from
one side, and sat down uneasily in the full conviction that from moment
to moment he might be called upon to act as interpreter or peacemaker,
or to explain away difficulties. He did not understand women, but only
his wife, from whom he had taken various prejudices on the subject;
neither did he understand girls, but only Frances, whom, indeed, he
ought to have known better than to suppose, either that she was likely
to squabble with her sister, or call him in to mediate or explain.
Frances was not at all likely to do either of these things; and he knew
that, yet lived in a vague dread, and did not even sit comfortably on
his chair, and tried to distract his mind with a novel--which was the
condition in which he was found by Mr Durant. The clergyman’s visit did
him a little good, giving him at once a grievance and an object of
ridicule. During the rest of the day he was so far distracted from his
real difficulties as to fall from time to time into fits of secret
laughter over the idea of having been in all unconsciousness a source of
danger for Tasie. He had never been a gay Lothario, as he said; but to
have run the risk of destroying Tasie’s peace of mind was beyond his
wildest imagination. He longed to confide it to somebody, but there was
no one with whom he could share the fun. Constance perhaps might have
understood; but Frances! He relapsed into gravity when he thought of
Frances. It was not the kind of ludicrous suggestion which would amuse
her.

Meanwhile the girls, who were such strangers to each other, yet so
closely bound by nature, were endeavouring to come to a knowledge of
each other by means which were much more subtle than any explanation
their father could have supplied; so that he might, if he had understood
them better, have been entirely at his ease on this point. As a matter
of fact, though Constance was the cleverer of the two, it was Frances
who advanced most quickly in her investigations, for the excellent
reason that it was Constance who talked, while Frances, for the most
part having nothing at all interesting to say of herself, held her
peace. Frances had been awakened at an unusually late hour in the
morning--for the agitation of the night had abridged her sleep at the
other end--by the sounds of mirth which accompanied the first dialogue
between her new sister and Mariuccia. The Italian which Constance knew
was limited, but it was of a finer quality than any with which Mariuccia
was acquainted; yet still they came to some sort of understanding, and
both repudiated the efforts of Frances to explain. And from that moment
Constance had kept the conversation in her hands. She did not chatter,
nor was there any appearance of loquacity in her; but Frances had lived
much alone, and had been taught not to disturb her father when she was
with him, so that it was more her habit to be talked to than to talk.
She did not even ask many questions--they were scarcely necessary; for
Constance, as was natural, was full of herself and of her motives for
the step she had taken. These revelations gave Frances new lights almost
at every word.

“You always knew, then, about--us?” Frances said. She had intended to
say “about me,” but refrained, with mingled modesty and pride.

“Oh, certainly. Mamma always writes, you know, at Christmas, if not
oftener. We did not know you were here. It was Markham who found out
that. Markham is the most active-minded fellow in the world. Papa does
not much like him. I daresay you have never heard anything very
favourable of him; but that is a mistake. We knew pretty well about you.
Mamma used to ask that you should write, since there was no reason why,
at your age, you should not speak for yourself; but you never did. I
suppose he thought it better not.”

“I suppose so.”

“I should not myself have been restrained by that,” said Constance. “I
think very well on the whole of papa; but obedience of that sort at our
age is too much. I should not have obeyed him. I should have told him
that in such a matter I must judge for myself. However, if one learns
anything as one grows up,” said this young philosopher, “it is that no
two people are alike. I suppose that was not how the subject presented
itself to you?”

Frances made no reply. She wondered what she would have said had she
been told to write to an unknown mother. Ought she to do so now? The
idea was a very strange one to her mind, and yet what could be more
natural? It was with a sense of precipitate avoidance of a subject which
must be contemplated fully at an after-period, that she said hurriedly,
“I have never written letters. It did not come into my head.”

“Ah!” said Constance, looking at her with a sort of impartial scrutiny.
Then she added, with a sequence of thoughts which it was not difficult
to follow, “Don’t you think it is very odd that you and I should be the
same age?”

Frances felt herself grow red, and the water came to her eyes. She
looked wistfully at the other, who was so much more advanced than she
felt herself to be. “I suppose--we ought to have been like each other,”
she said.

“We are not, however, a bit. You are like mamma. I don’t know whether
you are like her in mind--but on the outside. And I am like _him_. It is
very funny. It shows that one has these peculiarities from one’s birth;
it couldn’t be habit or association, as people say, for I have never
been with him--neither have you with mamma. I suppose he is very
independent-minded, and does what he likes without thinking? So do I.
And you consider what other people will say, and how it will look, and a
thousand things.”

It did not seem to Frances that this was the case; but she was not at
all in the habit of studying herself, and made no protest. Did she
consider very much what other people would say? Perhaps it was true. She
had been obliged, she reflected, to consider what Mariuccia would say;
so that probably Constance was right.

“It was Markham that discovered you, after all, as I told you. He is
invaluable; he never forgets; and if you want to find anything out, he
will take any amount of trouble. I may as well tell you why I left home.
If we are going to live together as sisters, we ought to make confidants
of each other; and if you have to go, you can take my part. Well, then!
You must know there is a man in it. They say you should always ask, ‘Who
is She?’ when there is a row between men; and I am sure it is just as
natural to ask, ‘Who is He?’ when a girl gets into a scrape.”

The language, the tone, the meaning, were all new to Frances. She did
not know anything about it. When there is a row between men; when a girl
gets into a scrape: the one and the other were equally far from her
experience. She felt herself blush, though she scarcely knew why. She
shook her head when Constance added, though rather as a remark than as
a question, “Don’t you know? Oh, well; I did not mean, have you any
personal experience, but as a general principle? The man in this case
was well enough. Papa said, when I told him, that it was quite right;
that I had better have made up my mind without making a fuss; that he
would have advised me so, if he had known. But I will never allow that
this is a point upon which any one can judge for you. Mamma pressed me
more than a mother has any right to do--to a person of my age.”

“But, Constance, eighteen is not so very old.”

“Eighteen is the age of reason,” said the girl, somewhat imperiously;
then she paused and added--“in most cases, when one has been much in the
world, like me. Besides, it is like the middle ages when your mother
thinks she can make you do what she pleases and marry as she likes. That
must be one’s own affair. I must say that I thought papa would take my
part more strongly, for they have always been so much opposed. But after
all, though he is not in harmony with her, still the parents’ side is
his side.”

“Did you not like--the gentleman?” said Frances. Nothing could be more
modest than this question, and yet it brought the blood to her face. She
had never heard the ordinary _badinage_ on this subject, or thought of
love with anything but awe and reverence, as a mystery altogether beyond
her and out of discussion. She did not look at her sister as she put the
question. Constance lay back in the long wicker-work chair, well lined
with cushions, which was her father’s favourite seat, with her hands
clasped behind her head, in one of those attitudes of complete _abandon_
which Frances had been trained to think impossible to a girl.

“Did I like--the gentleman? I did not think that question could ever
again be put to me in an original way. I see now what is the good of a
sister. Mamma and Markham and all my people had such a different way of
looking at it. You must know that _that_ is not the first question,
whether you like the man. As for that, I liked him--well enough. There
was nothing to--dislike in him.”

Frances turned her eyes to her sister’s face with something like
reproach. “I may not have used the right word. I have never spoken on
such subjects before.”

“I have always been told that men are dreadful prudes,” said Constance.
“I suppose papa has brought you up to think that such things must never
be spoken of. I’ll tell you what is original about it. I have been asked
if he was not rich enough, if he was not handsome enough, if it was
because he had no title: and I have been asked if I loved him, which was
nonsense. I could answer all that; but you I can’t answer. Don’t I like
him? I was not going to be persecuted about him. It was Markham who put
this into my head. ‘Why don’t you go to your father,’ he said, ‘if you
won’t hear reason? He is just the sort of person to understand you, if
we don’t.’ So, then, I took them at their word. I came off--to papa.”

“Does Markham dislike papa? I mean, doesn’t he think----”

“I know what you mean. They don’t think that papa has good sense. They
think him romantic, and all that. I have always been accustomed to
think so too. But the curious thing is that he isn’t,” said Constance,
with an injured air. “I suppose, however foolish one’s father may be for
himself, he still feels that he must stand on the parents’ side.”

“You speak,” said Frances, with a little indignation, “as if papa was
likely to be against--his children; as if he were an enemy.”

“Taking sides is not exactly being enemies,” said Constance. “We are
each of our own faction, you know. It is like Whigs and Tories. The
fathers and mothers side with each other, even though they may be quite
different and not get on together. There is a kind of reason in it.
Only, I have always heard so much of papa as unreasonable and unlike
other people, that I never thought of him in that light. He would be
just the same, though, except that for the present I am a stranger, and
he feels bound to be civil to me. If it were not for his politeness, he
is capable of being medieval too.”

“I don’t know what medieval means,” said Frances, with much heat,
indignant to hear her father thus spoken of as a subject for criticism.
Perhaps she had criticised him in her time, as children use--but
silently, not putting it into words, which makes a great difference. And
besides, what one does one’s self in this way is quite another matter.
As she looked at this girl, who was a stranger, though in some
extraordinary way not a stranger, a momentary pang and impotent sudden
rage against the web of strange circumstances in which she felt herself
caught and bewildered, flamed up in her mild eyes and mind, unaccustomed
to complications. Constance took no notice of this sudden passion.

“It means bread and water,” she said, with a laugh, “and shutting up in
one’s own room, and cutting off of all communication from without.
Mamma, if she were driven to it, is quite capable of that. They all
are--rather than give in; but as we are not living in the middle ages,
they have to give in at last. Perhaps, if I had thought that what you
may call his official character would be too strong for papa, I should
have fought it out at home. But I thought he at least would be himself,
and not a conventional parent. I am sure he has been a very queer sort
of parent hitherto; but the moment a fight comes, he puts himself on his
own side.”

She gave forth these opinions very calmly, lying back in the long chair,
with her hands clasped behind her head, and her eyes following
abstractedly the lines of the French coast. The voice which uttered
sentiments so strange to Frances was of the most refined and harmonious
tones, low, soft, and clear. And the lines of her slim elastic figure,
and of her perfectly appropriate dress, which combined simplicity and
costliness, carelessness and consummate care, as only high art can,
added to the effect of a beauty which was not beauty in any
demonstrative sense, but rather harmony, ease, grace, fine health, fine
training, and what, for want of a better word, we call blood. Not that
the bluest blood in the world inevitably carries with it this perfection
of tone; but Constance had the effect which a thoroughbred horse has
upon the connoisseur. It would have detracted from the impression she
made had there been any special point upon which the attention
lingered--had her eyes, or her complexion, her hands, or her hair, or
any individual trait, called for particular notice. But hers was not
beauty of that description.

Her sister, who was, so to speak, only a little rustic, sat and gazed at
her in a kind of rapture. Her heart did not, as yet at least, go out
towards this intruder into her life; her affections were as yet
untouched; and her temper was a little excited, disturbed by the
critical tone which her sister assumed, and the calm frankness with
which she spoke. But though all these dissatisfied, almost hostile
sentiments were in Frances’ mind, her eyes and attention were
fascinated. She could not resist the influence which this external
perfection of being produced upon her. It was only perhaps now in the
full morning light, in the _abandon_ of this confidence and candour,
which had none of the usual tenderness of confidential revelations, but
rather a certain half-disdainful self-discovery which necessity
demanded, that Frances fully perceived her sister’s gifts. Her own
impatience, her little impulses of irritation and contradiction, died
away in the wondering admiration with which she gazed. Constance showed
no sign even of remarking the effect she produced. She said
meditatively, dropping the words into the calm air without any apparent
conception of novelty or wonder in them, “I wonder how you will like it
when you have to go.”



CHAPTER XI.


Within the first few days, a great many of these conversations took
place, and Frances gradually formed an idea to herself--not, perhaps,
very like reality, but yet an idea--of the other life from which her
sister had come. The chief figure in it was “mamma,” the mother with
whom Constance was so carelessly familiar, and of whom she herself knew
nothing at all. Frances did not learn from her sister’s revelations to
love her mother. The effect was very different from that which, in such
circumstances, might have been looked for. She came to look upon this
unknown representative of “the parents’ side,” as Constance said, as
upon a sort of natural opponent, one who understood but little and
sympathised not at all with the younger, the other faction, the
generation which was to succeed and replace her. Of this fact the other
girl never concealed her easy conviction. The elders for the moment had
the power in their hands, but by-and-by their day would be over. There
was nothing unkind or cruel in this certainty; it was simply the course
of nature: by-and-by their sway would be upset by the natural progress
of events, and in the meantime it was modified by the other certainty,
that if the young stood firm, the elders had no alternative but to give
in. Altogether, it was evident the parents’ side was not the winning
side; but all the same it had the power of annoying the other to a very
great extent, and exercised this power with a selfishness which was
sometimes brutal. Mamma, it was evident, had not considered Constance at
all. She had taken her about into society for her own ends, not for her
daughter’s pleasure: and, finally, she had formed a plan by which
Constance was to be handed over to another proprietor without any
consultation of her own wishes.

The heart of Frances sank as she slowly identified this maternal image,
so different from that which fancy and nature suggest. She tried to
compare it with the image which she herself might in her turn have
communicated of her father, had it been she who was the expositor. It
frightened her to find, as she tried this experiment in her own mind,
that the representation of papa would not have been much more
satisfactory. She would have shown him as passing his time chiefly in
his library, taking very little notice of her tastes and wishes,
settling what was to be done, where to go, everything that was of any
importance in their life, without at all taking into account what she
wished. This she had always felt to be perfectly natural, and she had no
feeling of a grievance in the matter; but supposing it to be necessary
to tell the story to an ignorant person, what would that ignorant
person’s opinion be? It gave her a great shock to perceive that the
impression produced would also be one of harsh authority, indifferent,
taking no note of the inclinations of those who were subject to it. That
was how Constance would understand papa. It was not the case, and yet it
would look so to one who did not know. Perceiving this, Frances came to
feel that it might be natural to represent the world as consisting of
two factions, parents and children. There was a certain truth in it. If
there should happen to occur any question--which was impossible--between
papa and herself, she felt sure that it would be very difficult for him
to realise that she had a will of her own; and yet Frances was very
conscious of having a will of her own.

In this way she learned a great many things vaguely through the talk of
her sister. She learned that balls and other entertainments, such as, to
her inexperienced fancy, had seemed nothing but pleasure, were not in
reality intended, at least as their first object, for pleasure at all.
Constance spoke of them as things to which one must go. “We looked in
for an hour,” she would say. “Mamma thinks she ought to have
half-a-dozen places to go to every evening,” with a tone in which there
was more sense of injury than pleasure. Then there was the mysterious
question of love, which was at once so simple and so awful a matter, on
which there could be no doubt or question: that, it appeared, was quite
a complicated affair, in which the lover, the hero, was transferred into
“the man,” whose qualities had to be discovered and considered, as if he
were a candidate for a public office. All this bewildered Frances more
than can be imagined or described. Her sister’s arrival, and the
disclosures involved in it, had broken up to her all the known lines of
heaven and earth; and now that everything had settled down again, and
these lines were beginning once more to be apparent, Frances felt that
though they were wider, they were narrower too. She knew a great deal
more; but knowledge only made that appear hard and unyielding which had
been elastic and infinite. The vague and imaginary were a great deal
more lovely than this, which, according to her sister’s revelation, was
the real and true.

Another very curious experience for Frances occurred when Mrs Durant and
Mrs Gaunt, as in duty bound, and moved with lively curiosity, came to
call and make acquaintance with Mr Waring’s new daughter. Constance
regarded these visitors with languid curiosity, only half rising from
her chair to acknowledge her introduction to them, and leaving Frances
to answer the questions which they thought it only civil to put. Did she
like Bordighera?

“Oh yes; well enough,” Constance replied.

“My sister thinks the people not so picturesque as she expected,” said
Frances.

“But of course she felt the delightful difference in the climate?”
People, Mrs Durant understood, were suffering dreadfully from east wind
in London.

“Ah! one doesn’t notice in town,” said Constance.

“My sister is not accustomed to living without comforts and with so
little furniture. You know that makes a great difference,” said her
anxious expositor and apologist.

And then there would ensue a long pause, which the new-comer did nothing
at all to break: and then the conversation fell into the ordinary
discussion of who was at church on Sunday, how many new people from the
hotels, and how disgraceful it was that some who were evidently English
should either poke into the Roman Catholic places or never go to church
at all.

“It comes to the same thing, indeed,” Mrs Durant said, indignantly; “for
when they go to the native place of worship, they don’t understand. Even
I, that have been so long on the Continent, I can’t follow the
service.”

“But papa can,” said Tasie.

“Ah, papa--papa is much more highly educated than I could ever pretend
to be; and besides, he is a theologian, and knows. There were quite
half-a-dozen people, evidently English, whom I saw with my own eyes
coming out of the chapel on the Marina. Oh, don’t say anything, Tasie! I
think, in a foreign place, where the English have a character to keep
up, it is quite a sin.”

“You know, mamma, they think nobody knows them,” Tasie said.

Mrs Gaunt did not care so much who attended church; but when she found
that Constance had, as she told the General, “really nothing to say for
herself,” she too dropped into her habitual mode of talk. She did her
best in the first place to elicit the opinions of Constance about
Bordighera and the climate, about how she thought Mr Waring looking, and
if dear Frances was not far stronger than she used to be. But when these
judicious inquiries failed of a response, Mrs Gaunt almost turned her
back upon Constance. “I have had a letter from Katie, my dear,” she
said.

“Have you indeed? I hope she is quite well--and the babies?”

“Oh, the babies; they are always well. But poor Katie, she has been a
great sufferer. I told you she had a touch of fever, by last mail. Now
it is her liver. You are never safe from your liver in India. She had
been up to the hills, and there she met Douglas, who had gone to settle
his wife and children. His wife is a poor little creature, always
ailing; and their second boy---- But, dear me, I have not told you my
great news! Frances--George is coming home! He is coming by Brindisi and
Venice, and will be here directly. I told him I was sure all my kind
neighbours would be so glad to see him; and it will be so nice for
him--don’t you think?--to see Italy on his way.”

“Oh, very nice,” said Frances. “And you must be very happy, both the
General and you.”

“The General does not say much, but he is just as happy as I am. Fancy!
by next mail! in another week!” The poor lady dried her eyes, and added,
laughing, sobbing, “Only think--in a week--my youngest boy!”

“Do you mean to say,” said Constance, when Mrs Gaunt was gone, “that
you have made them believe you care? Oh, that is exactly like mamma. She
makes people think she is quite happy and quite miserable about their
affairs, when she does not care one little bit! What is this woman’s
youngest son to you?”

“But she is---- I have been here all my life. I am glad that she should
be happy,” cried Frances, suddenly placed upon her defence.

When she thought of it, Mrs Gaunt’s youngest boy was nothing at all to
her; nor did she care very much whether all the English in the hotels on
the Marina went to church. But Mrs Gaunt was interested in the one, and
the Durants in the other. And was it true what Constance said, that she
was a humbug, that she was a deceiver, because she pretended to care?
Frances was much confused by this question. There was something in it:
perhaps it was true. She faltered as she replied, “Do you think it is
wrong to sympathise? It is true that I don’t feel all that for myself.
But still it is not false, for I do feel it for them--in a sort of a
way.”

“And that is all the society you have here? the clergywoman and the old
soldier. And will they expect me, too, to feel for them--in a sort of a
way?”

“Dear Constance,” said Frances, in a pleading tone, “it could never be
quite the same, you know; because you are a stranger, and I have known
them ever since I was quite a little thing. They have all been very kind
to me. They used to have me to tea; and Tasie would play with me; and
Mrs Gaunt brought down all her Indian curiosities to amuse me. Oh, you
don’t know how kind they are! I wonder, sometimes, when I see all the
carved ivory things, and remember how they were taken out from under the
glass shades for me, a little thing, how I didn’t break them, and how
dear Mrs Gaunt could trust me with them! And then Tasie----”

“Tasie! What a ridiculous name! But it suits her well enough. She must
be forty, I should think.”

“Her right name is Anastasia. She is called after the Countess of
Denrara, who is her godmother,” said Frances, with great gravity. She
had heard this explanation a great many times from Mrs Durant, and
unconsciously repeated it in something of the same tone. Constance
received this with a sudden laugh, and clapped her hands.

“I didn’t know you were a mimic. That is capital. Do Tasie now. I am
sure you can; and then we shall have got a laugh out of them at least.”

“What do you mean?” asked Frances, growing pale. “Do you think I would
laugh at them? When you know how really good they are----”

“Oh yes; I suppose I shall soon know,” said Constance, opening her mouth
in a yawn, which Frances thought would have been dreadful in any one
else, but which, somehow, was rather pretty in her. Everything was
rather pretty in her, even her little rudenesses and impertinences. “If
I stay here, of course I shall have to be intimate with them, as you
have been. And must I take a tender interest in the youngest boy? Let us
see! He will be a young soldier probably, as his mother is an old one,
and as he is coming from India. He will never have seen any one. He is
bound to take one of us for a goddess, either you or me.”

“Constance!” cried Frances, in her consternation raising her voice.

“Well,” said her sister, “is there anything wonderful in that? We are
very different types, and till we see the hero, we shall not be able to
tell which he is likely to prefer. I see my way to a little diversion,
if you will not be too puritanical, Fan. That never does a man any harm.
It will rouse him up; it will give him something to think of. A place
like this can’t have much amusement, even for a youngest boy. We shall
make him enjoy himself. His mother will bless us. You know, everybody
says it is part of education for a man.”

Frances looked at her sister with eyes bewildered, somewhat horrified,
full of disapproval; while Constance, roused still more by her sister’s
horror than by the first mischievous suggestion which had awakened her
from her indifference, laughed, and woke up into full animation. “We
will go and return their visits,” she said, “and I will be sympathetic
too. But you shall see, when I take up a part, I make much more of it
than you do. I know who these people were who did not go to church.
They were my people--the people I travelled with; and they shall go next
Sunday, and Tasie’s heart shall rejoice. When we call, I will let them
know that England, even at Bordighera, expects every man--and every
woman, which is more to the purpose--and that their absence was
remarked. They will never be absent again, Fan. And as for the other
interest, I shall inquire all about Katie’s illnesses, and secure the
very last intelligence about the youngest boy. She will show me his
photograph. She will tell me stories of how he cut his first tooth. I
wonder,” said Constance, suddenly pausing and falling back into the old
languid tone, “whether you will take up my old ways, when you are with
mamma.”

“I shall never have it in my power to try,” said Frances. “Mamma will
never want me.” She was a little shy of using that name.

“Don’t you know the condition, then? I think you don’t half know our
story. Papa behaved rather absurdly, but honestly too. When they
separated, he settled that one of us should always be with her, and one
of us with him. He had the right to have taken us both. Men have more
rights than women. We belong to him, but we don’t belong to her. I don’t
see the reason of it, but still that is law. He allowed her to have one
of us always. I daresay he thought two little things like what we were
then would have been a bore to him. At all events, that is how it was
settled. Now it does not need much cleverness to see, that as I have
left her, she will probably claim you. She will not let papa off
anything he has promised. She likes a girl in the house. She will say,
‘Send me Frances.’ I should like to hide behind a door or under a table,
and see how you get on.”

“I am sure you must be mistaken,” said Frances, much disturbed; “there
was never any question about me.”

“No; because I was there. Oh yes; there was often question of you. Mamma
has a little picture of you as you were when you were taken away. It
always hangs in her room; and when I had to be scolded, she used to
apostrophise you. She used to say, ‘That little angel would never have
done so-and-so.’ I did, for I was a little demon; so I rather hated
you. She will send for you now; and I wonder if you will be a little
angel still. I should like to see how you get on. But I shall be fully
occupied here driving people to church, and making things pleasant for
the old soldier’s youngest son.”

“I wish you would not talk so wildly,” said Frances. “You are laughing
at me all the time. You think I am such a simpleton, I will believe all
you say. And indeed I am not clever enough to understand when you are
laughing at me. All this is impossible. That I should take your place,
and that you should take mine--oh, impossible!” cried Frances, with a
sharper certainty than ever, as that last astounding idea made itself
apparent: that Constance should order papa’s dinners and see after the
mayonnaise, and guide Mariuccia--“oh, impossible!” she cried.

“Nothing is impossible. You think I am not good enough to do the
housekeeping for papa. I only hope you will _s’en tirer_ of the
difficulties of my place, as I shall of yours. Be a kind girl, and write
to me, and tell me how things go. I know what will happen. You will
think everything charming at first; and then---- But don’t let Markham
get hold of you. Markham is very nice. He is capital for getting you out
of a scrape; but still, I should not advise you to be guided by him,
especially as you are papa’s child, and he is not fond of papa.”

“Please don’t say any more,” cried Frances. “I am not going--anywhere. I
shall live as I have always done; but only more pleasantly from
having--you.”

“That is very pretty of you,” said Constance, turning round to look at
her; “if you are sure you mean it, and that it is not only true--in a
sort of a way. I am afraid I have been nothing but a bore, breaking in
upon you like this. It would be nice if we could be together,” she
added, very calmly, as if, however, no great amount of philosophy would
be necessary to reconcile her to the absence of her sister. “It would be
nice; but it will not be allowed. You needn’t be afraid, though, for I
can give you a number of hints which will make it much easier. Mamma is
a little--she is just a little--but I should think you would get on
with her. You look so young, for one thing. She will begin your
education over again, and she likes that; and then you are like her,
which will give you a great pull. It is very funny to think of it; it is
like a transformation scene; but I daresay we shall both get on a great
deal better than you think. For my part, I never was the least afraid.”

With this, Constance sank into her chair again, and resumed the book she
had been reading, with that perfect composure and indifference which
filled Frances with admiration and dismay.

It was with difficulty that Frances herself kept her seat or her
self-command at all. She had been drawing, making one of those
innumerable sketches which could be made from the loggia: now of a peak
among the mountains; now of the edge of foam on the blue, blue margin of
the sea; now of an olive, now of a palm. Frances had a consistent
conscientious way of besieging Nature, forcing her day by day to render
up the secret of another tint, another shadow. It was thus she had come
to the insight which had made her father acknowledge that she was
“growing up.” But to-day her hand had no cunning. Her pulses beat so
tumultuously that her pencil shared the agitation, and fluttered too.
She kept still as long as she could, and spoiled a piece of paper, which
to Frances, with very little money to lose, was something to be thought
of. And when she had accomplished this, and added to her excitement the
disagreeable and confusing effect of failure in what she was doing,
Frances got up abruptly and took refuge in the household concerns, in
directions about the dinner, and consultations with Mariuccia, who was
beginning to be a little jealous of the signorina’s absorption in her
new companion. “If the young lady is indeed your sister, it is natural
she should have a great deal of your attention; but not even for that
does one desert one’s old friends,” Mariuccia said, with a little
offended dignity.

Frances felt, with a sinking of the heart, that her sister’s arrival had
been to her perhaps less an unmixed pleasure than to any of the
household. But she did not say so. She made no exhibition of the
trouble in her bosom, which even the consultations over the mayonnaise
did not allay. That familiar duty indeed soothed her for the moment. The
question was whether it should be made with chicken or fish--a very
important matter. But though this did something to relieve her, the
culinary effort did not last. To think of being sent away into that new
world in which Constance had been brought up--to leave everything she
knew--to meet “mamma,” whose name she whispered to herself almost
trembling, feeling as if she took a liberty with a stranger,--all this
was bewildering, wonderful, and made her heart beat and her head ache.
It was not altogether that the anticipation was painful. There was a
flutter of excitement in it which was almost delight; but it was an
alarmed delight, which shook her nerves as much as if it had been
unmixed terror. She could not compose herself into indifference as
Constance did, or sit quietly down to think, or resume her usual
occupation, in the face of this sudden opening out before her of the
unforeseen and unknown.



CHAPTER XII.


The days ran on for about a week with a suppressed and agitating
expectation in them, which seemed to Frances to blur and muddle all the
outlines, so that she could not recollect which was Wednesday or which
was Friday, but felt it all one uncomfortable long feverish sort of day.
She could not take the advantage of any pleasure there might be in
them--and it was a pleasure to watch Constance, to hear her talk, to
catch the many glimpses of so different a life, which came from the
careless, easy monologue which was her style of conversation--for the
exciting sense that she did not know what might happen at any moment, or
what was going to become of her. Even the change from her familiar place
at table, which Constance took without any thought, just as she took
her father’s favourite chair on the loggia, and the difference in her
room, helped to confuse her mind, and add to the feverish sensation of a
life altogether out of joint.

Constance had not observed any of those signs of individual habitation
about the room which Frances had fancied would lead to a discovery of
the transfer she had made. She took it quite calmly, not perceiving
anything beyond the ordinary in the chamber which Frances had adorned
with her sketches, with the little curiosities she had picked up, with
all the little collections of her short life. It was wanting still in
many things which to Constance seemed simple necessities. How was she to
know how many were in it which were luxuries to that primitive locality?
She remained altogether unconscious, accordingly, of the sacrifice her
sister had made for her, and spoke lightly of poor Frances’ pet
decorations, and of the sketches, the authorship of which she did not
take the trouble to suspect. “What funny little pictures!” she had said.
“Where did you get so many odd little things? They look as if the
frames were homemade, as well as the drawings.”

Fortunately she was not in the habit of waiting for an answer to such a
question, and she did not remark the colour that rose to her sister’s
cheeks. But all this added to the disturbing influence, and made these
long days look unlike any other days in Frances’ life. She took the
other side of the table meekly with a half-smile at her father, warning
him not to say anything; and she lived in the blue room without thinking
of adding to its comforts--for what was the use, so long as this
possible banishment hung over her head? Life seemed to be arrested
during these half-dozen days. They had the mingled colours and huddled
outlines of a spoiled drawing; they were not like anything else in her
life, neither the established calm and certainty that went before, nor
the strange novelty that followed after.

There were no confidences between her father and herself during this
period. Since their conversation on the night of Constance’s arrival,
not a word had been said between them on the subject. They mutually
avoided all occasion for further talk. At least Mr Waring avoided it,
not knowing how to meet his child, or to explain to her the hazard to
which her life was exposed. He did not take into consideration the
attraction of the novelty, the charm of the unknown mother and the
unknown life, at which Frances permitted herself to take tremulous and
stealthy glimpses as the days went on. He contemplated her fate from his
own point of view as something like that of the princess who was doomed
to the dragon’s maw but for the never-to-be-forgotten interposition of
St George, that emblem of chivalry. There was no St George visible on
the horizon, and Waring thought the dragon no bad emblem of his wife.
And he was ashamed to think that he was helpless to deliver her; and
that, by his fault, this poor little Una, this hapless Andromeda, was to
be delivered over to the waiting monster.

He avoided Frances, because he did not know how to break to her this
possibility, or how, since Constance probably had made her aware of it,
to console her in the terrible crisis at which she had arrived. It was
a painful crisis for himself as well as for her. The first evening on
which, coming into the loggia to smoke his cigarette after dinner, he
had found Constance extended in his favourite chair, had brought this
fully home to him. He strolled out upon the open-air room with all the
ease of custom, and for the first moment he did not quite understand
what it was that was changed in it, that put him out, and made him feel
as if he had come, not into his own familiar domestic centre, but
somebody else’s place. He hung about for a minute or two, confused,
before he saw what it was; and then, with a half-laugh in his throat,
and a mingled sense that he was annoyed, and that it was ridiculous to
be annoyed, strolled across the loggia, and half seated himself on the
outer wall, leaning against a pillar. He was astonished to think how
much disconcerted he was, and with what a comical sense of injury he saw
his daughter lying back so entirely at her ease in his chair. She was
his daughter, but she was a stranger, and it was impossible to tell her
that her place was not there. Next evening he was almost angry, for he
thought that Frances might have told her though he could not. And indeed
Frances had done what she could to warn her sister of the usurpation.
But Constance had no idea of vested rights of this description, and had
paid no attention. She took very little notice, indeed, of what was said
to her, unless it arrested her attention in some special way; and she
had never been trained to understand that the master of a house has
sacred privileges. She had not so much as known what it is to have a
master to a house.

This and other trifles of the same kind gave to Waring something of the
same confused and feverish feeling which was in the mind of Frances. And
there hung over him a cloud as of something further to come, which was
not so clear as her anticipations, yet was full of discomfort and
apprehension. He thought of many things, not of one thing, as she did.
It seemed to him not impossible that his wife herself might arrive some
day as suddenly as Constance had done, to reclaim her child, or to take
away his, for that was how they were distinguished in his mind. The
idea of seeing again the woman from whom he had been separated so long,
filled him with dread; and that she should come here and see the limited
and recluse life he led, and his bare rooms, and his homely servants,
filled him with a kind of horror. Rather anything than that. He did not
like to contemplate even the idea that it might be necessary to give up
the girl, who had flattered him by taking refuge with him and seeking
his protection; but neither was the thought of being left with her and
having Frances taken from him endurable. In short, his mind was in a
state of mortal confusion and tumult. He was like the commander of a
besieged city, not knowing on what day he might be summoned to
surrender; not able to come to any conclusion whether it would be most
wise to yield, or if the state of his resources afforded any feasible
hopes of holding out.

Constance had been a week at the Palazzo before the trumpets sounded:
The letters were delivered just before the twelve-o’clock breakfast; and
Frances had received so much warning as this, that Mariuccia informed
her there had been a large delivery that morning. The signor padrone had
a great packet; and there were also some letters for the other young
lady, Signorina Constanza. “But never any for thee, _carina_,” Mariuccia
had said. The poor girl thus addressed had a momentary sense that she
was indeed to be pitied on this account, before the excitement of the
certainty that now something definite must be known as to what was to
become of her, swelled her veins to bursting; and she felt herself grow
giddy with the thought that what had been so vague and visionary, might
now be coming near, and that in an hour or less she would know! Waring
was as usual shut up in his bookroom; but she could see Constance on the
loggia with her lap full of letters, lying back in the long chair as
usual, reading them as if they were the most ordinary things in the
world. Frances, for her part, had to wait in silence until she should
learn from others what her fate was to be. It seemed very strange that
one girl should be free to do so much, while another of the same age
could do nothing at all.

Waring came into breakfast with the letters in his hand. “I have heard
from your mother,” he said, looking straight before him, without turning
to the right or the left. Frances tried to appropriate this to herself,
to make some reply, but her voice died in her throat; and Constance,
with the easiest certainty that it was she who was addressed, answered
before she could recover herself.

“Yes--so have I. Mamma is rather fond of writing letters. She says she
has told you what she wishes, and then she tells me to tell you. I don’t
suppose that is of much use?”

“Of no use at all,” said he. “She is pretty explicit. She says----”

Constance leant over the table a little, holding up her finger. “Don’t
you think, papa,” she said, “as it is business, that it would be better
not to enter upon it just now? Wait till we have had our breakfast.”

He looked at her with an air of surprise. “I don’t see----” he said;
then, after a moment’s reflection, “Perhaps you are right, after all. It
may be better not to say anything just now.”

Frances had recovered her voice. She looked from one to another as they
spoke, with a cruel consciousness that it was she, not they, who was
most concerned. At this point she burst forth with feelings not to be
controlled. “If it is on my account, I would rather know at once what it
is,” she cried.

And then she had to bear the looks of both--her father’s astonished
half-remorseful gaze, and the eyes of Constance, which conveyed a
warning. Why should Constance, who had told her of the danger, warn her
now not to betray her knowledge of it? Frances had got beyond her own
control. She was vexed by the looks which were fixed upon her, and by
the supposed consideration for her comfort which lay in their delay. “I
know,” she said quickly, “that it is something about me. If you think I
care for breakfast, you are mistaken; but I think I have a right to know
what it is, if it is about me. O papa, I don’t mean to
be--disagreeable,” she cried suddenly, sinking into her own natural tone
as she caught his eye.

“That is not very much like you, certainly,” he said, in a confused
voice.

“Evil communications,” said Constance, with a laugh. “I have done her
harm already.”

Frances felt that her sister’s voice threw a new irritation into her
mood. “I am not like myself,” she said, “because I know something is
going to happen to me, and I don’t know what it is. Papa, I don’t want
to be selfish, but let me know, please, only let me know what it is.”

“It is only that mamma has sent for you,” said Constance, lightly; “that
is all. It is nothing so very dreadful. Now do let us have our breakfast
in peace.”

“Is that true, papa?” Frances said.

“My dear little girl--I had meant to explain it all--to tell you--and I
have been so silly as to put off. Your sister does not understand how we
have lived together, Frances, you and I.”

“Am I to go, papa?”

He made a gesture of despair. “I don’t know what to do. I have given my
promise. It is as bad for me as for you, Frances. But what am I to do?”

“I suppose,” said Constance, who had helped herself very tranquilly from
the dish which Domenico had been holding unobserved at his master’s
elbow, “that there is no law that could make you part with her, if you
don’t wish to. Promises are all very well with strangers; but they are
never kept--are they?--between husband and wife. The father has all the
right on his side, and you are not obliged to give either of us up. What
a blessing,” she cried suddenly, “to have servants who don’t understand!
That was why I said, don’t talk of it till after breakfast. But it does
not at all matter. It is as good as if he were deaf and dumb. Papa, you
need not give her up unless you like.”

Waring looked at his daughter with mingled attention and anger. The
suggestion was detestable, but yet----

“And then,” she went on, “there is another thing. It might have been all
very well when we were children; but now we are of an age to judge for
ourselves. At eighteen, you can choose which you will stay with. Oh,
younger than that. There have been several trials in the papers--no one
can force Frances to go anywhere she does not like, at her age.”

“I wish,” he said, with a little irritation, restrained by politeness,
for Constance was still a young-lady visitor to her father, “that you
would leave this question to be discussed afterwards. Your sister was
right, Frances--after breakfast--after I have had a little time to think
of it. I cannot come to any decision all at once.”

“That is a great deal better,” said Constance, approvingly. “One can’t
tell all in a moment. Frances is like mamma in that too. She requires
you to know your own mind--to say Yes or No at once. You and I are very
like each other, papa. I shall never hurry your decision, or ask you to
settle a thing in a moment. But these cutlets are getting quite cold. Do
have some before they are spoiled.”

Waring had no mind for the cutlets, to which he helped himself
mechanically. He did not like to look at Frances, who sat silent, with
her hands clasped on the table, pale but with a light in her eyes. The
voice of Constance running on, forming a kind of veil for the trouble
and confusion in his own mind, and doubtless in that of her sister, was
half a relief and half an aggravation; he was grateful for it, yet
irritated by it. He felt himself to play a very poor figure in the
transaction altogether, as he had felt ever since she arrived. Frances,
whom he had regarded as a child, had sprung up into a judge, into all
the dignity of an injured person, whose right to complain of the usage
to which she had been subjected no one could deny. And when he stole a
furtive glance at her pale face, her head held high, the new light that
burned in her eyes, he felt that she was fully aware of the wrong he had
done her, and that it would not be so easy to dictate what she was to
do, as everybody up to this moment had supposed. He saw, or thought he
saw, resistance, indignation, in the gleam that had been awakened in
Frances’ dove’s eyes. And his heart fell--yet rose also; for how could
he constrain her, if she refused to go? He had no right to constrain
her. Her mother might complain, but it would not be his doing. On the
other side, it would be shameful, pitiful on his part to go back from
his word--to acknowledge to his wife that he could not do what he had
pledged himself to do.

In every way it was an uncomfortable breakfast, all the forms of which
he followed, partly for the sake of Constance, partly for that of
Domenico. But Frances ate nothing, he could see. He prolonged the meal,
through a sort of fear of the interview afterwards, of what he must say
to her, and of what she should reply. He felt ashamed of his reluctance
to encounter this young creature, whom a few days ago he had smiled at
as a child; and ashamed to look her in the face, to explain and argue
with, and entreat, where he had been always used to tell her to do this
and that, without the faintest fear that she would disobey him. If even
he had been left to tell her himself of all the circumstances, to make
her aware gradually of all that he had kept from her (for her good), to
show her now how his word was pledged! But even this had been taken out
of his hands.

All this time no one talked but Constance, who went on with an
occasional remark and with her meal, for which she had a good appetite.
“I wish you would eat something, Frances,” she said. “You need not begin
to punish yourself at once. I feel it dreadfully, for it is all my
fault. It is I who ought to lose my breakfast, not you. If you will
take a few hints from me, I don’t think you will find it so bad. Or
perhaps, if we all lay our heads together, we may see some way out of
it. Papa knows the law, and I know the English side, and you know what
you think yourself. Let us talk it all over, and perhaps we may see our
way.”

To this Frances made no reply save a little inclination of her head, and
sat with her eyes shining, with a certain proud air of self-control and
self-support, which was something quite new to her. When the
uncomfortable repast could be prolonged no longer, she was the first to
get up. “If you do not mind,” she said, “I want to speak to papa by
himself.”

Constance had risen too. She looked with an air of surprise at her
little sister. “Oh, if you like,” she said; “but I think you will find
that I can be of use.”

“If you are going to the bookroom, I will come with you, papa,” said
Frances, but she did not wait for any reply; she opened the door and
walked before him into that place of refuge, where he had been
sheltering himself all these days. Constance gave him an inquiring
look, with a slight shrug of her shoulders.

“She is on her high horse, and she is more like mamma than ever; but I
suppose I may come all the same.”

He wavered a moment: he would have been glad of her interposition, even
though it irritated him; but he had a whimsical sense of alarm in his
mind, which he could not get over. He was afraid of Frances--which was
one of the most comical things in the world. He shook his head, and
followed humbly into the bookroom, and himself closed the door upon the
intruder. Frances had seated herself already at his table, in the seat
which she always occupied when she came to consult him about the dinner,
or about something out of the usual round which Mariuccia had asked for.
To see her seated there, and to feel that the door was closed against
all intrusion, made Waring feel as if all this disturbance was a dream.
How good the quiet had been; the calm days, which nothing interfered
with; the little housekeeper, whose childlike prudence and wisdom were
so quaint, whose simple obedience was so ready, who never, save in
respect to the _spese_, set up her own will or way! His heart grew very
soft as he sat down and looked at her. No, he said to himself, he would
not break that old bond; he would not compel his little girl to leave
him, send her out as a sacrifice. He would rather stand against all the
wives in the world.

“Papa,” said Frances, “a great deal of harm has been done by keeping me
ignorant. I want you to show me mamma’s letter. Unless I see it, how can
I know?”

This pulled him up abruptly and checked the softening mood. “Your
mother’s letter,” he said, “goes over a great deal of old ground. I
don’t see that it could do you any good. It appears I promised--what
Constance told you, with her usual coolness--that one of you should be
always left with her. Perhaps that was foolish.”

“Surely, papa, it was just.”

“Well, I thought so at the time. I wanted to do what was right. But
there was no right in the matter. I had a perfect right to take you both
away, to bring you up as I pleased. It would have been better, perhaps,
had I done what the law authorised me to do. However, that need not be
gone into now. What your sister said was quite true. You are at an age
when you are supposed to be able to judge for yourself, and nobody in
the world can force you to go where you don’t want to go.”

“But if you promised, and if--my mother trusted to your promise?” There
was something more solemn in that title than to say “mamma.” It seemed
easier to apply it to the unknown.

“I won’t have you made a sacrifice of on my account,” he said, hastily.

He was surprised by her composure, by that unwonted light in her eyes.
She answered him with great gravity, slowly, as if conscious of the
importance of her conclusion. “It would be no sacrifice,” she said.

Waring, there could be no doubt, was very much startled. He could not
believe his ears. “No sacrifice? Do you mean to say that you want to
leave me?” he cried.

“No, papa: that is, I did not. I knew nothing. But now that I know, if
my mother wants me, I will go to her. It is my duty. And I should like
it,” she added, after a pause.

Waring was dumb with surprise and dismay. He stared at her, scarcely
able to believe that she could understand what she was saying--he, who
had been afraid to suggest anything of the kind, who had thought of
Andromeda and the virgins who were sacrificed to the dragon. He gazed
aghast at this new aspect of the face with which he was so familiar, the
uplifted head and shining eyes. He could not believe that this was
Frances, his always docile, submissive, unemancipated girl.

“Papa,” she said, “everything seems changed, and I too. I want to know
my mother; I want to see--how other people live.”

“Other people!” He was glad of an outlet for his irritation. “What have
we to do with other people? If it had not been for this unlucky arrival,
you would never have known.”

“I must have known some time,” she said. “And do you think it right that
a girl should not know her mother--when she has a mother? I want to go
to her, papa.”

He flung out of his chair with an angry movement, and took up the keys
which lay on his table and opened a small cabinet which stood in the
corner of the room, Frances watching him all the time with the greatest
attention. Out of this he brought a small packet of letters, and threw
them to her with a movement which, for so gentle a man, was almost
violent. “I kept these back for your good, not to disturb your mind. You
may as well have them, since they belong to you--now,” he said.



CHAPTER XIII.


“Come out for a walk, papa,” said Constance.

“What! in the heat of the day? You think you are in England.”

“No, indeed. I wish I did--at least, that is not what I mean. But I wish
you did not think it necessary to stay in a place like this. Why should
you shut yourself out from the world? You are very clever, papa.”

“Who told you so? You cannot have found that out by your own unassisted
judgment.”

“A great many people have told me. I have always known. You seem to have
made a mystery about us, but we never made any mystery about you: for
one thing, of course we couldn’t, for everybody knew. But if you chose
to go back to England----”

“I shall never go back to England.”

“Oh,” said Constance, with a laugh, “never is a long day.”

“So long a day, that it is a pity you should link your fortunes to mine,
my dear. Frances has been brought up to it; but your case is quite
different: and you see even she catches at the first opportunity of
getting away.”

“You are scarcely just to Frances,” said Constance, with her usual calm.
“You might have said the same thing of me. I took the first opportunity
also. To know that one has a father, whom one never remembers to have
seen, is very exciting to the imagination; and just in so much as one
has been disappointed in the parent one knows, one expects to find
perfection in the parent one has never seen. Anything that you don’t
know is better than everything you do know,” she added, with the air of
a philosopher.

“I am afraid, in that case, acquaintance has been fatal to your ideal.”

“Not exactly,” she said. “Of course you are quite different from what I
supposed. But I think we might get on well enough, if you please. Do
come out. If we keep in the shade, it is not really very hot. It is
often hotter in London, where nobody thinks of staying indoors. If we
are to live together, don’t you think you must begin by giving in to me
a little, papa?”

“Not to the extent of getting a sunstroke.”

“In March!” she cried, with a tone of mild derision. “Let me come into
the bookroom, then. You think if Frances goes that you will never be
able to get on with me.”

“My thoughts have not gone so far as that. I may have believed that a
young lady fresh from all the gaieties of London----”

“But so tired of them, and very glad of a little novelty, however it
presents itself.”

“Yes, so long as it continues novel. But the novelty of making the
_spese_ in a village, and looking sharply after every centesimo that is
asked for an artichoke----”

“The _spese_ means the daily expenses? I should not mind that. And
Mariuccia is far more entertaining than an ordinary English cook. And
the neighbours--well, the neighbours afford some opportunities for fun.
Mrs Gaunt--is it?--expects her youngest boy. And then there is Tasie.”

The name of Tasie brought a certain relaxation to the muscles of
Waring’s face. He gave a glance round him, to see that all the doors
were closed. “I must confide in you, Constance; though, mind, Frances
must not share it. I sitting here, simple as you see me, have been
supposed dangerous to Tasie’s peace of mind. Is not that an excellent
joke?”

“I don’t see that it is a joke at all,” said Constance, without even a
smile. “Why, Tasie is antediluvian. She must be nearly as old as you
are. Any old gentleman might be dangerous to Tasie. Tell me something
more wonderful than that.”

“Oh, that is how it appears to you!” said Waring. His laugh came to a
sudden end, broken off, so to speak, in half, and an air of portentous
gravity came over his face. He turned over the papers on the table
before him, as with a sudden thought. “By the way, I forgot I had
something to do this afternoon,” he said. “Before dinner, perhaps, we
may take a stroll, if the sun is not so hot. But this is my
working-time,” he added, with a stiff smile.

Constance could not disregard so plain a hint. She rose up quickly. She
had taken Frances’ chair, which he had forgiven her at first; but it
made another note against her now.

“What have I done?” she said to herself, raising her eyebrows, angry and
yet half amused by her dismissal. Frances had gone to her room too, and
was not to be disturbed, as her sister had seen by the look of her face.
She felt herself, as she would have said, very much “out of it,” as she
wandered round the deserted _salone_, looking at everything in it with a
care suggested by her solitude rather than any real interest. She looked
at the big high-coloured water-pots, turned into decorations, one could
imagine against their will, which stood in the corners of the room, and
which were Mrs Durant’s present to Frances; and at the blue Savona
vases, with the names of medicines, real or imaginary, betraying their
original intention; and all the other decorative scraps--the little old
pictures, the pieces of needlework and brocade. They were pretty when
she looked at them, though she had not perceived their beauty at the
first glance. There were more decorations of the same description in
the ante-room, which gave her a little additional occupation; and then
she strolled into the loggia and threw herself into the long chair. She
had a book, one of the novels she had bought on the journey. But
Constance was not accustomed to much reading. She got through a chapter
or two; and then she looked round upon the view and mused a little, and
then returned to her novel. The second time she threw it down and went
back to the drawing-room, and had another look at the Savona pots. She
had thought how well they would look on a certain shelf at “home.” And
then she stopped and took herself to task. What did she mean by home?
This was home. She was going to live here; it was to be her place in the
world. What she had to do was to think of the decorations here, and
whether she could add to them, not of vacant corners in another place.
Finally, she returned again to the loggia, and sat down once more rather
drearily.

There had never occurred a day in her experience in which she had been
so long without “something to do.” Something to do meant something that
was amusing, something to pass the time, somebody to entertain, or
perhaps, if nothing else was possible, to quarrel with. To sit alone and
look round her at “the view,” to have not a creature to say a word to,
and nothing to engage herself with but a book--and nothing to look
forward to but this same thing repeated three hundred and sixty-five
days in the year! The prospect, the thought, made Constance shiver. It
could not be. She must do something to break the spell. But what was
there to do? The _spese_ were all made for to-day, the dinner was
ordered; and she knew very little either about the _spese_ or the
dinner. She would have to learn, to think of new dishes, and write them
down in a little book, as Frances did. Her dinners, she said to herself,
must be better than those of Frances. But when was she to begin, and how
was she to do it? In the meantime she went and fetched a shawl, and
while the sun blazed straight on the loggia from the south, to which it
was open in front, and left only one scrap of shade in a corner scarcely
enough to shelter the long chair, fell asleep there, finding that she
had nothing else to do.

Frances had gone to her room with her packet of letters. She had not
thought what they were, nor what had been the meaning of what her father
said when he gave them to her. She took them--no, not to her own room,
but to the blue room, in which there was so little comfort. Her little
easy-chair, her writing-table, all the things with which she was at
home, belonged to Constance now. She sat down, or rather up, in a stiff
upright chair, and opened her little packet upon her bed. To her
astonishment, she found that it contained letters addressed to herself,
unopened. The first of them was printed in large letters, as for the
eyes of a child. They were very simple, not very long, concluding
invariably with one phrase: “Dear, write to me”--“Write to me, my
darling.” Frances read them with her eyes full of tears, with a rising
wave of passion and resentment which seemed to suffocate her. He had
kept them all back. What harm could they have done? Why should she have
been kept in ignorance, and made to appear like a heartless child, like
a creature without sense or feeling? Half for her mother, half for
herself, the girl’s heart swelled with a kind of fury. She had not been
ready to judge her father even after she had been aware of his sin
against her. She had still accepted what he did as part of him, bidding
her own mind be silent, hushing all criticism. But when she read these
little letters, her passion overflowed. How dared he to ignore all her
rights, to allow herself to be misrepresented, to give a false idea of
her? This was the most poignant pang of all. Without being selfish, it
is still impossible to feel a wrong of this kind to another so acutely
as to yourself. He had deprived her of the comfort of knowing that she
had a mother, of communicating with her, of retaining some hold upon
that closest of natural friends. That injury she had condoned and
forgiven; but when Frances saw how her father’s action must have shaped
the idea of herself in the mind of her mother, there was a moment in
which she felt that she could not forgive him. If she had received year
by year these tender letters, yet never had been moved to answer one of
them, what a creature must she have been, devoid of heart or common
feeling, or even good taste, that superficial grace by which the want
of better things is concealed! She was more horrified by this thought
than by any other discovery she could have made. She seemed to see the
Frances whom her mother knew--a little ill-conditioned child; a small,
petty, ungracious, unloving girl. Was this what had been thought of her?
And it was all his fault--all her father’s fault!

At first she could see no excuse for him. She would not allow to herself
that any love for her, or desire to retain her affection, was at the
bottom of the concealment. She got a sheet of paper, and began to write
with passionate vehemence, pouring forth all her heart. “Imagine that I
have never seen your dear letters till to-day--never till to-day! and
what must you think of me?” she wrote. But when she had put her whole
heart into it, working a miracle, and making the dull paper to glow and
weep, there came a change over her thoughts. She had kept his secret
till now. She had not betrayed even to Constance the ignorance in which
she had been kept; and should she change her course, and betray him
now?

As she came to think it over, she felt that she herself blamed her
father bitterly, that he had fallen from the pedestal on which to her he
had stood all her life. Yet the thought that others should be conscious
of this degradation was terrible to her. When Constance spoke lightly of
him, it was intolerable to Frances; and the mother of whom she knew
nothing, of whom she knew only that she was her mother, a woman who had
grievances of her own against him, who would be perhaps pleased, almost
pleased, to have proof that he had done this wrong! Frances paused, with
the fervour of indignation still in her heart, to consider how she
should bear it if this were so. It was all selfish, she said to herself,
growing more miserable as she fought with the conviction that whether in
condemning him or covering what he had done, herself was her first
thought. She had to choose now between vindicating herself at his cost,
or suffering continued misconception to screen him. Which should she do?
Slowly she folded up the letter she had written and put it away, not
destroying but saving it, as leaving it still possible to carry out her
first intention. Then she wrote another shorter, half-fictitious letter,
in which the bitterness in her heart seemed to take the form of
reproach, and her consent to obey her mother’s call was forced and
sullen. But this letter was no sooner written than it was torn to
pieces. What was she to do? She ended, after much thought, by destroying
also her first letter, and writing as follows:--


     “DEAR MOTHER,--To see my sister and to hear that you want me, is
     very bewildering and astonishing to me. I am very ready to come,
     if, indeed, you will forgive me all that you must think so bad in
     me, and let me try as well as I can to please you. Indeed I desire
     to do so with all my heart. I have understood very little, and I
     have been thoughtless, and, you will think, without any natural
     affection; but this is because I was so ignorant, and had nobody to
     tell me. Forgive me, dear mamma. I do not feel as if I dare write
     to you now and call you by that name. As soon as we can consider
     and see how it is best for me to travel, I will come. I am not
     clever and beautiful, like Constance; but indeed I do wish to
     please you with all my heart.
                                                    “FRANCES.”


This was all she could say. She put it up in an envelope, feeling
confused with her long thinking, and with all the elements of change
that were about her, and took it back to the bookroom to ask for the
address. She had felt that she could not approach her father with
composure or speak to him of ordinary matters; but it made a little
formal bridge, as it were, from one kind of intercourse to another, to
ask him for that address.

“Will you please tell me where mamma lives?” she said.

Waring turned round quickly to look at her. “So you have written
already?”

“O papa, can you say ‘already’? What kind of creature must she think I
am, never to have sent a word all these years?”

He paused a moment and then said, “You have told her, I suppose?”

“I have told her nothing except that I am ready to come whenever we can
arrange how I am to travel. Papa,” she said, with one of those sudden
relentings which come in the way of our sternest displeasure with those
we love--“O papa,” laying her hand on his arm, “why did you do it? I am
obliged to let her think that I have been without a heart all my
life--for I cannot bear it when any one blames you.”

“Frances,” he said, with a response equally sudden, putting his arm
round her, “what will my life be without you? I have always trusted in
you, depended on you without knowing it. Let Constance go back to her,
and stay you with me.”

Frances had not been accustomed to many demonstrations of affection, and
this moved her almost beyond her power of self-control. She put down her
head upon her father’s shoulder and cried, “Oh, if we could only go back
a week! but we can’t; no, nor even half a day. Things that might have
been this morning, can’t be now, papa! I was very, very angry--oh, in a
rage--when I read these letters. Why did you keep them from me? Why did
you keep my mother from me? I wrote and told her everything, and then I
tore up my letter and told her nothing. But I can never be the same
again,” said the girl, shaking her head with that conviction of the
unchangeableness of a first trouble which is so strong in youth. “Now I
know what it is to be one thing and appear another, and to bear blame
and suffer for what you have not deserved.”

Waring repented his appeal to his child. He repented even the sudden
impulse which had induced him to make it. He withdrew his arm from her
with a sudden revulsion of feeling, and a recollection that Constance
was not emotional, but a young woman of the world, who would understand
many things which Frances did not understand. He withdrew his arm, and
said somewhat coldly, “Show me what address you have put upon your
mother’s letter. You must not make any mistake in that.”

Frances dried her eyes hastily, and felt the check. She put her letter
before him without a word. It was addressed to Mrs Waring, no more.

“I thought so,” he said, with a laugh which sounded harsh to the
excited girl; “and, to be sure, you had no means of knowing. I told you
your mother was a much more important person than I. You will see the
difference between wealth and poverty, as well as between a father’s
sway and a mother’s, when you go to Eaton Square. This is your mother’s
address.” He wrote it hastily on a piece of paper and pushed it towards
her. Frances had received many shocks and surprises in the course of
these days, but scarcely one which was more startling to her simple mind
than this. The paper which her father gave her did not bear his name. It
was addressed to Lady Markham, Eaton Square, London. Frances turned to
him an astonished gaze. “That is where--mamma is living?” she said.

“That is--your mother’s name and address,” he answered, coldly. “I told
you she was a greater personage than I.”

“But, papa----”

“You are not aware,” he said, “that, according to the beautiful
arrangements of society, a woman who makes a second marriage below her
is allowed to keep her first husband’s name. It is so, however. Lady
Markham chose to avail herself of that privilege. That is all, I
suppose? You can send your letter without any further reference to me.”

Frances went away without a word, treading softly, with a sort of
suspense of life and thought. She could not tell how she felt or what it
meant. She knew nothing about the arrangements of society. Did it mean
something wrong, something that was impossible? Frances could not tell
how that could be--that your father and mother should not only live
apart, but have different names. A vague horror took possession of her
mind. She went back to her room again, and stared at that strange piece
of paper without knowing what to make of it. Lady Markham! It was not to
that personage she had written her poor little simple letter. How could
she say mother to a great lady, one who was not even of the same name?
She was far too ignorant to know how little importance was to be
attached to this. To Frances, a name was so much. She had never been
taught anything but the primitive symbols, the innocently conventional
alphabet of life. This new discovery filled her with a chill horror. She
took her letter out of its envelope with the intention of destroying
that too, and letting silence--that silence which had reigned over her
life so long--fall again and for ever between her and the mother whose
very name was not hers. But as this impulse swept over her, her eye
caught one of the first of the little letters which had revealed this
unknown woman to her. It was written in very large letters, such as a
child might read, and in little words. “My darling, write to me; I long
so for you.--Your loving Mother.” Her simple mind was swept by
contending impulses, like strong winds carrying her now one way, now
another. And unless it should be that unknown mother herself, there was
nobody in the world to whom she could turn for counsel. Her heart
revolted against Constance, and her father had been vexed, she could not
tell how. She was incapable of betraying the secrets of the family to
any one beyond its range. What was she to do?

And all this because the mother, the source of so much disturbance in
her little life, was Lady Markham and not Mrs Waring! But this, to the
ignorance and simplicity of Frances, was the most incomprehensible
mystery of all.



CHAPTER XIV.


Waring went out with Constance when the sun got low in the skies. He
took a much longer walk than was at all usual to him, and pointed out to
her many points of view. The paths that ran among the olive woods, the
little terraces which cut up the sides of the hills, the cool grey
foliage and gnarled trunks, the clumps of flowers--garden flowers in
England, but here as wild, and rather more common than blades of
grass--delighted her; and her talk delighted him. He had not gone so far
for months; nor had he, he thought, for years found the time go so fast.
It was very different from Frances’ mild attempts at conversation. “Do
you think, papa?” “Do you remember, papa?”--so many references to events
so trifling, and her little talk about Tasie’s plans and Mrs Gaunt’s
news. Constance took him boldly into her life and told him what was
going on in _the world_. Ah, the world! That was the only world. He had
said in his bitterness, again and again, that Society was as limited as
any village, and duchesses curiously like washerwomen; but when he found
himself once more on the edge of that great tumult of existence, he was
like the old war-horse that neighs at the sound of the battle. He began
to ask her questions about the people he had known. He had always been a
shy, proud man, and had never thrown himself into the stream; but still
there had been people who had known him and liked him, or whom he had
liked: and gradually he awakened into animation and pleasure.

When they met the old General taking his stroll too, before dinner, that
leathern old Indian was dazzled by the bright creature, who walked along
between them, almost as tall as the two men, with her graceful careless
step and independent ways, not deferring to them as the other ladies
did, but leading the conversation. Even General Gaunt began to think
whether there was any one whom he could speak of, any one he had known,
whom perhaps this young exponent of Society might know. She knew
everybody. Even princes and princesses had no mystery for her. She told
them what everybody said, with an air of knowing better, which in her
meant no conceit or presumption, as in other young persons. Constance
was quite unconscious of the possibility of being thus judged. She was
not self-conscious at all. She was pleased to bring out her news for the
advantage of the seniors. Frances was none the wiser when her sister
told her the change that had come over the Grandmaisons, or how Lord
Sunbury’s marriage had been brought about, and why people now had
altered their hours for the Row. Frances listened; but she had never
heard about Lord Sunbury’s marriage, nor why it should shock the elegant
public. But the gentleman remembered his father, or they knew how young
men commit themselves without intending it. It is not to be supposed
that there was anything at all _risqué_ in Constance’s talk. She
touched, indeed, upon the edge of scandals which had been in the
newspapers, and therefore were known even to people in the Riviera; but
she did it with the most absolute innocence, either not knowing or not
understanding the evil. “I believe there was something wrong, but I
don’t know what--mamma would never tell me,” she said. Her conversation
was like a very light graceful edition of a Society paper--not then
begun to be--with all the nastiness and almost all the malice left out.
But not quite all; there was enough to be piquant. “I am afraid I am a
little ill-natured; but I don’t like that man,” she would say now and
then. When she said, “I don’t like that woman,” the gentlemen laughed.
She was conscious of having a little success, and she was pleased too.
Frances perhaps might be a better housekeeper, but Constance could not
but think that in the equally important work of amusing papa she would
be more successful than Frances. It was not much of a triumph, perhaps,
for a girl who had known so many; but yet it was the only one as yet
possible in the position in which she now was.

“I suppose it is settled that Frances is to go?” she said, as General
Gaunt took the way to his bungalow, and she and her father turned
towards home.

“She seems to have settled it for herself,” he said.

“I am always repeating she is so like mamma--that is exactly what mamma
would have done. They are very positive. You and I, papa, are not
positive at all.”

“I think, my dear, that coming off as you did by yourself, was very
positive indeed--and the first step in the universal turning upside-down
which has ensued.”

“I hope you are not sorry I came?”

“No, Constance; I am very glad to have you;” and this was quite true,
although he had said to Frances something that sounded very different.
Both things were true--both that he wished she had never left her
mother; that he wished she might return to her mother, and leave Frances
with him as of old; and that he was very glad to have her here.

“If I were to go back, would not everything settle down just as it was
before?”

Then he thought of what Frances, taught by the keenness of a personal
experience, had said to him a few hours ago. “No,” he said; “nothing can
ever be as it was before. We never can go back to what has been, whether
the event that has changed it has been happy or sad.”

“Oh, surely sometimes,” said Constance. “That is a dreadful way to talk
of anything so trifling as my visit. It could not make any real
difference, because all the facts are just the same as they were
before.”

To this he made no reply. She had no way, thanks to Frances, of finding
out how different the position was. And she went on, after a
pause--“Have you settled how she is to go?”

“I have not even thought of that.”

“But, papa, you must think of it. She cannot go unless you manage it for
her. Markham heard of those people coming, and that made it quite easy
for me. If Markham were here----”

“Heaven forbid!”

“I have always heard you were prejudiced about Markham. I don’t think he
is very safe myself. I have warned Frances, whatever she does, not to
let herself get into his hands.”

“Frances in Markham’s hands! That is a thing I could not permit for a
moment. Your mother may have a right to Frances’ society, but none to
throw her into the companionship of----”

“Her brother, papa.”

“Her brother! Her step-brother, if you please--which I think scarcely a
relationship at all.”

Waring’s prejudices, when they were roused, were strong. His daughter
looked up in amazement at his sudden passion, the frown on his face, and
the fire in his eye.

“You forget that I have been brought up with Markham,” she said. “He is
_my_ brother; and he is a very good brother. There is nothing he will
not do for me. I only warned Frances because--because she is different;
because----”

“Because--she is a girl who ought not to breathe the same air with a
young reprobate--a young----”

“Papa! you are mistaken. I don’t know what Markham may have been; but he
is not a reprobate. It was because Frances does not understand chaff,
you know. She would think he was in earnest, and he is never in earnest.
She would take him seriously, and nobody takes him seriously. But if you
think he is bad, there is nobody who thinks that. He is not bad; he only
has ways of thinking----”

“Which I hope my daughters will never share,” said Waring, with a little
formality.

Constance raised her head as if to speak, but then stopped, giving him a
look which said more than words, and added no more.

In the meantime, Frances had been left alone. She had directed her
letter, and left it to be posted. That step was taken, and could no more
be thought over. She was glad to have a little of her time to herself,
which once had been all to herself. She did not like as yet to broach
the subject of her departure to Mariuccia; but she thought it all over
very anxiously, trying to find some way which would take the burden of
the household off the shoulders of Constance, who was not used to it.
She thought the best thing to do would be to write out a series of
_menus_, which Mariuccia might suggest to Constance, or carry out upon
her own responsibility, whichever was most practicable; and she resolved
that various little offices, which she had herself fulfilled, might be
transferred to Domenico without interfering with her father’s comfort.
All these arrangements, though she turned them over very soberly in her
mind, had a bewildering, dizzying effect upon her. She thought that it
was as if she were going to die. When she went away out of the narrow
enclosure of this world, which she knew, it would be to something so
entirely strange to her that it would feel like another life. It would
be as if she had died. She would not know anything; the surroundings,
the companions, the habits, all would be strange. She would have to
leave utterly behind her everything she had ever known. The thought was
not melancholy, as is in almost all cases the thought of leaving “the
warm precincts of the cheerful day”; it made her heart swell and rise
with an anticipation which was full of excitement and pleasure, but
which at the same time had the effect of making her brain swim.

She could not make to herself any picture of the world to which she was
going. It would be softer, finer, more luxurious than anything she knew;
but that was all. Of her mother, she did try to form some idea. She was
acquainted only with mothers who were old. Mrs Durant, who wore a cap,
encircling her face, and tied under her chin; and Mrs Gaunt, who had
grandchildren who were as old as Frances. Her own mother could not be
like either of these; but still she would be old, more or less--would
wrap herself up when she went out, would have grey, or even perhaps
white hair (which Frances liked in an old lady: Mrs Durant wore a front,
and Mrs Gaunt was suspected of dyeing her hair), and would not care to
move about more than she could help. She would go out “into Society”
beautifully dressed with lace and jewels; and Frances grew more dizzy
than ever, trying to imagine herself standing behind this magnificent
old figure, like a maid of honour behind a queen. But it was difficult
to imagine the details of a picture so completely vague. There was a
general sense of splendour and novelty, a vague expectation of something
delightful, which it was beyond her power to realise, but no more.

She had roused herself from the vague excitement of these dreams, which
were very absorbing, though there was so little solidity in them, with a
sudden fear that she was losing all the afternoon, and that it was time
to prepare for dinner. She went to the corner of the loggia which
commanded the road, to look out for Constance and her father. The road
swept along below the Punto, leading to the town; and a smaller path
traversing the little height, climbed upward to the platform on which
the Palazzo stood. Frances did not at first remark, as in general every
villager does, an unfamiliar figure making its way up this path. Her
father and sister were not visible, and it was for them she was looking.
Presently, however, her eye was caught by the stranger, no doubt an
English tourist, with a glass in his eye--a little man, with a soft grey
felt hat, which, when he lifted his head to inspect the irregular
structure of the old town, gave him something the air of a moving
mushroom. His movements were somewhat irregular, as his eyes were fixed
upon the walls, and did not serve to guide his feet, which stumbled
continually on the inequalities of the path. His progress began to amuse
her, as he came nearer, his head raised, his eyes fixed upon the
buildings before him, his person executing a series of undulations like
a ship in a storm. He climbed up at last to the height, and coming up to
some women who were seated on the stone bench opposite to Frances on the
loggia, began to ask them for instructions as to how he was to go.

The little scene amused Frances. The women were knitting, with a little
cluster of children about them, scrambling upon the bench or on the
dusty pathway at their feet. The stranger took off his big hat and
addressed them with few words and many gestures. She heard _casa_ and
_Inglese_, but nothing else that was comprehensible. The women did their
best to understand, and replied volubly. But here the little tourist
evidently could not follow. He was like so many tourist visitors,
capable of asking his question, but incapable of understanding the
answer given him. Then there arose a shrill little tempest of laughter,
in which he joined, and of which Frances herself could not resist the
contagion. Perhaps a faint echo from the loggia caught the ear of one of
the women, who knew her well, and who immediately pointed her out to the
stranger. The little man turned round and made a few steps towards the
Palazzo. He took off the mushroom-top of grey felt, and presented to her
an ugly, little, vivacious countenance. “I beg you ten thousand
pardons,” he said; “but if you speak English, as I understand them to
say, will you be so very kind as to direct me to the house of Mr Waring?
Ah, I am sure you are both English and kind! They tell me he lives near
here.”

Frances looked down from her height demurely, suppressing the too ready
laugh, to listen to this queer little man; but his question took her
very much by surprise. Another stranger asking for Mr Waring! But oh, so
very different a one from Constance--an odd, little, ugly man, looking
up at her in a curious one-sided attitude, with his glass in his eye.
“He lives here,” she said.

“What? Where?” He had replaced his mushroom on his head, and he cocked
up towards her one ear, the ear upon the opposite side to the eye which
wore the glass.

“Here!” cried Frances, pointing to the house, with a laugh which she
could not restrain.

The stranger raised his eyebrows so much and so suddenly that his glass
fell. “Oh!” he cried--but the biggest O, round as the O of Giotto, as
the Italians say. He paused there some time, looking at her, his mouth
retaining the shape of that exclamation; and then he cast an
investigating glance along the wall, and asked, “How am I to get in?”

“Nunziata, show the gentleman the door,” cried Frances to one of the
women on the bench. She lingered a moment, to look again down the road
for her father. It was true that nothing could be so wonderful as what
had already happened; but it seemed that surprises were not yet over.
Would this be some one else who had known him, who was arriving full of
the tale that had been told, and was a mystery no longer--some “old
friend” like Mr Mannering, who would not be satisfied without betraying
the harmless hermit, whom some chance had led him to discover? There was
some bitterness in Frances’ thoughts. She had not remembered the
Mannerings before, in the rush of other things to think of. The fat
ruddy couple, so commonplace and so comfortable! Was it all their doing?
Were they to blame for everything? for the conclusion of one existence,
and the beginning of another? She went in to the drawing-room and sat
down there, to be ready to receive the visitor. He could not be so
important--that was impossible; there could be no new mystery to record.

When the door opened and Domenico solemnly ushered in the stranger,
Frances, although her thoughts were not gay, could scarcely help
laughing again. He carried his big grey mushroom-top now in his hand;
and the little round head which had been covered with it seemed
incomplete without that thatch. Frances felt herself looking from the
head to the hat with a ludicrous sense of this incompleteness. He had a
small head, thinly covered with light hair, which seemed to grow in
tufts like grass. His eyes twinkled keen, two very bright grey eyes,
from the puckers of eyelids which looked old, as if he had got them
second-hand. There was a worn and wrinkled look about him altogether,
carried out in his dress, and even in his boots, which suggested the
same idea. An old man who looked young, or a young man who looked old.
She could not make out which he was. He did not bow and hesitate, and
announce himself as a friend of her father’s, as she expected him to do,
but came up to her briskly with a quick step, but a shuffle in his gait.

“I suppose I must introduce myself,” he said; “though it is odd that we
should need an introduction to each other, you and I. After the first
moment, I should have known you anywhere. You are quite like my mother.
Frances, isn’t it? And I’m Markham, of course, you know.”

“Markham!” cried Frances. She had thought she could never be surprised
again, after all that had happened. But she felt herself more
astonished than ever now.

“Yes, Markham. You think I am not much to look at, I can see. I am not
generally admired at the first glance. Shake hands, Frances. You don’t
quite feel like giving me a kiss, I suppose, at the first offset? Never
mind. We shall be very good friends, after a while.”

He sat down, drawing a chair close to her. “I am very glad to find you
by yourself. I like the looks of you. Where is Con? Taken possession of
the governor, and left you alone to keep house, I should suppose?”

“Constance has gone out to walk with papa. I had several things to do.”

“I have not the least doubt of it. That would be the usual distribution
of labour, if you remained together. Fan, my mother has sent me to fetch
you home.”

Frances drew a little farther away. She gave him a look of vague alarm.
The familiarity of the address troubled her. But when she looked at him
again, her gravity gave way. He was such a queer, such a very queer
little man.

“You may laugh if you like, my dear,” he said. “I am used to it.
Providence--always the best judge, no doubt--has not given me an
awe-inspiring countenance. It is hard upon my mother, who is a pretty
woman. But I accept the position, for my part. This is a charming place.
You have got a number of nice things. And those little sketches are very
tolerable. Who did them? You? Waring, so far as I remember, used to draw
very well himself. I am glad you draw; it will give you a little
occupation. I like the looks of you, though I don’t think you admire
me.”

“Indeed,” said Frances, troubled, “it is because I am so much surprised.
Are you really--are you sure you are----”

He gave a little chuckle, which made her start--an odd, comical, single
note of laughter, very cordial and very droll, like the little man
himself.

“I’ve got a servant with me,” he said, “down at the hotel, who knows
that I go by the name of Markham when I’m at home. I don’t know if that
will satisfy you. But Con, to be sure, knows me, which will be better.
You don’t hear any voice of nature saying within your breast, ‘This is
my long-lost brother?’ That’s a pity. But by-and-by, you’ll see, we’ll
be very good friends.”

“Oh, I didn’t mean that I had any doubt. It is so great a surprise--one
thing after another.”

“Now, answer me one question: Did you know anything about your family
before Con came? Ah,” he said, catching her alarmed and wondering
glance, “I thought not. I have always said so:--he never told you. And
it has all burst upon you in a moment, you poor little thing. But you
needn’t be afraid of us. My mother has her faults; but she is a nice
woman. You will like her. And I am very queer to look at, and many
people think I have a screw loose. But I’m not bad to live with. Have
you settled it with the governor? Has he made many objections? He and I
never drew well together. Perhaps you know?”

“He does not speak as if--he liked you. But I don’t know anything. I
have not been told--much. Please don’t ask me things,” Frances cried.

“No, I will not. On the contrary, I’ll tell you everything. Con
probably would put a spoke in my wheel too. My dear little Fan, don’t
mind any of them. Give me your little hand. I am neither bad nor good. I
am very much what people make me. I am nasty with the nasty
sometimes--more shame to me: and disagreeable with the disagreeable. But
I am innocent with the innocent,” he said with some earnestness; “and
that is what you are, unless my eyes deceive me. You need not be afraid
of me.”

“I am not afraid,” said Frances, looking at him. Then she added, after a
pause, “Not of you, nor of any one. I have never met any bad people. I
don’t believe any one would do me harm.”

“Nor I,” he said with a little fervour, patting her hand with his own.
“All the same,” he added, after a moment, “it is perhaps wise not to
give them the chance. So I’ve come to fetch you home.”

Frances, as she became accustomed to this remarkable new member of her
family, began immediately, after her fashion, to think of the material
necessities of the case. She could not start with him at once on the
journey; and in the meantime where should she put him? The most natural
thing seemed to be to withdraw again from the blue room, and take the
little one behind, which looked out on the court. That would do, and no
one need be any the wiser. She said, with a little hesitation, “I must
go now and see about your room.”

“Room!” he cried. “Oh no; there’s no occasion for a room. I wouldn’t
trouble you for the world. I have got rooms at the hotel. I’ll not stay
even, since daddy’s out, to meet him. You can tell him I’m here, and
what I came for. If he wants to see me, he can look me up. I am very
glad I have seen _you_. I’ll write to the mother to-night to say you’re
quite satisfactory, and a credit to all your belongings; and I’ll come
to-morrow to see Con; and in the meantime, Fan, you must settle when you
are to come; for it is an awkward time for a man to be loafing about
here.”

He got up as he spoke, and stooping, gave her a serious brotherly kiss
upon her forehead. “I hope you and I will be very great friends,” he
said.

And then he was gone! Was he a dream only, an imagination? But he was
not the sort of figure that imagination produces. No dream-man could
ever be so comical to behold, could ever wear a coat so curiously
wrinkled, or those boots, in the curves of which the dust lay as in the
inequalities of the dry and much-frequented road.



CHAPTER XV.


The walk with Constance, though he had set out upon it reluctantly, had
done Waring great good. He was comparatively rehabilitated in his own
eyes. Between her and him there was no embarrassment, no uneasy
consciousness. She had paid him the highest compliment by taking refuge
with him, flying to his protection from the tyranny of her mother, and
giving him thus a victory as sweet as unexpected over that nearest yet
furthest of all connections, that inalienable antagonist in life. He had
been painfully put out of _son assiette_, as the French say. Instead of
the easy superiority which he had held not only in his own house, but in
the limited society about, he had been made to stand at the bar, first
by his own child, afterwards by the old clergyman, for whom he
entertained a kindly contempt. Both of these simple wits had called upon
him to account for his conduct. It was the most extraordinary turning of
the tables that ever had occurred to a man like himself. And though he
had spoken the truth when in that moment of melting he had taken his
little girl into his arms and bidden her stay with him, he was yet glad
now to get away from Frances, to feel himself occupying his proper place
with her sister, and to return thus to a more natural state of affairs.
The intercourse between him and his child-companion had been closer than
ever could, he believed, exist between him and any other human being
whatsoever; but it had been rent in twain by all the concealments which
he was conscious of, by all the discoveries which circumstances had
forced upon her. He could no longer be at his ease with her, or she
regard him as of old. The attachment was too deep, the interruption too
hard, to be reconcilable with that calm which is necessary to ordinary
existence. Constance had restored him to herself by her pleasant
indifference, her easy talk, her unconsciousness of everything that was
not usual and natural. He began to think that if Frances were but
away--since she wished to go--a new life might begin--a life in which
there would be nothing below the surface, no mystery, which is a mistake
in ordinary life. It would be difficult, no doubt, for a brilliant
creature like Constance to content herself with the humdrum life which
suited Frances; and whether she would condescend to look after his
comforts, he did not know. But so long as Mariuccia was there, he could
not suffer much materially; and she was a very amusing companion, far
more so than her sister. As he came back to the Palazzo, he was
reconciled to himself.

This comfortable state of mind, however, did not last long. Frances met
them at the door with her face full of excitement. “Did you meet him?”
she said. “You must have met him. He has not been gone ten minutes.”

“Meet whom? We met no one but the General.”

“I think I know,” cried Constance. “I have been expecting him every
day--Markham.”

“He says he has come to fetch me, papa.”

“Markham!” cried Waring. His face clouded over in a moment. It is not
easy to get rid of the past. He had accomplished it for a dozen years;
and after a very bad moment, he thought he was about to shuffle it off
again; but it was evident that in this he was premature. “I will not
allow you to go with Markham,” he said. “Don’t say anything more. Your
mother ought to have known better. He is not an escort I choose for my
daughter.”

“Poor old Markham! he is a very nice escort,” said Constance, in her
easy way. “There is no harm in him, papa. But never mind till after
dinner, and then we can talk it over. You are ready, Fan? Oh, then I
must fly. We have had a delightful walk. I never knew anything about
fathers before; they are the most charming companions,” she said,
kissing her hand to him as she went away. But this did not mollify the
angry man. There rose up before him the recollection of a hundred
contests in which Markham’s voice had come in to make everything worse,
or of which Markham’s escapades had been the cause.

“I will not see him,” he said; “I will not sanction his presence here.
You must give up the idea of going altogether, till he is out of the
way.”

“I think, papa, you must see him.”

“Must--there is no _must_. I have not been in the habit of acknowledging
compulsion, and be assured that I shall not begin now. You seem to
expect that your small affairs are to upset my whole life!”

“I suppose,” said Frances, “my affairs are small; but then they are my
life too.”

She ought to have been subdued into silence by his first objection; but,
on the contrary, she met his angry eyes with a look which was
deprecating, but not abject, holding her little own. It was a long time
since Waring had encountered anything which he could not subdue and put
aside out of his path. But, he said to himself--all that long restrained
and silent temper which had once reigned and raged within him, springing
up again unsubdued--he might have known! The moment long deferred, yet
inevitable, which brought him in contact once more with his wife, could
bring nothing with it but pain. Strife breathed from her wherever she
appeared. He had never been a match for her and her boy, even at his
best; and now that he had forgotten the ways of battle--now that his
strength was broken with long quiet, and the sword had fallen from his
hand--she had a pull over him now which she had not possessed before. He
could have done without both the children a dozen years ago. He was
conscious that it was more from self-assertion than from love that he
had carried off the little one, who was rather an embarrassment than a
pleasure in those days--because he would not let her have everything her
own way. But now, Frances was no longer a creature without identity, not
a thing to be handed from one to another. He could not free himself of
interest in her, of responsibility for her, of feeling his honour and
credit implicated in all that concerned her. Ah! that woman knew. She
had a hold upon him that she never had before; and the first use she
made of it was to insult him--to send her son, whom he hated, for his
daughter, to force him into unwilling intercourse with her family once
more.

Frances took the opportunity to steal away while her father gloomily
pursued these thoughts. What a change from the tranquillity which
nothing disturbed! now one day after another, there was some new thing
that stirred up once more the original pain. There was no end to it. The
mother’s letters at one moment, the brother’s arrival at another, and no
more quiet whatever could be done, no more peace.

Nevertheless, dinner and the compulsory decorum which surrounds that
great daily event, had its usual tranquillising effect. Waring could not
shut out from his mind the consciousness that to refuse to see his
wife’s son, the brother of his own children, was against all the
decencies of life. It is easy to say that you will not acknowledge
social compulsion, but it is not so easy to carry out that
determination. By the time that dinner was over, he had begun to
perceive that it was impossible. He took no part, indeed, in the
conversation, lightly maintained, by Constance, about her brother, made
short replies even when he was directly addressed, and kept up more or
less the lowering aspect with which he had meant to crush Frances. But
Frances was not crushed, and Constance was excited and gay. “Let us send
for him after dinner,” she said. “He is always amusing. There is nothing
Markham does not know. I have seen nobody for a fortnight, and no doubt
a hundred things have happened. Do send for Markham, Frances. Oh, you
must not look at papa. I know papa is not fond of him. Dear! if you
think one can be fond of everybody one meets--especially one’s
connections. Everybody knows that you hate half of them. That makes it
piquant. There is nobody you can say such spiteful things to as people
whom you belong to, whom you call by their Christian names.”

“That is a charming Christian sentiment--entirely suited to the
surroundings you have been used to, Con; but not to your sister’s.”

“Oh, my sister! She has heard plenty of hard things said of that good
little Tasie, who is her chief friend. Frances would not say them
herself. She doesn’t know how. But her surroundings are not so ignorant.
You are not called upon to assume so much virtue, papa.”

“I think you forget a little to whom you are speaking,” said Waring,
with quick anger.

“Papa!” cried Constance, with an astonished look, “I think it is you who
forget. We are not in the middle ages. Mamma failed to remember that. I
hope you have not forgotten too, or I shall be sorry I came here.”

He looked at her with a sudden gleam of rage in his eyes. That temper
which had fallen into disuse was no more overcome than when all this
trouble began; but he remained silent, putting force upon himself,
though he could not quite conceal the struggle. At last he burst into an
angry laugh: “You will train me, perhaps, in time to the subjection
which is required from the nineteenth-century parent,” he said.

“You are charming,” said his daughter, with a bow and smile across the
table. “There is only this lingering trace of medievalism in respect to
Markham. But you know, papa, really a feud can’t exist in these days.
Now, answer me yourself; can it? It would subject us all to ridicule. My
experience is that people as a rule are _not_ fond of each other; but to
show it is quite a different thing. Oh no, papa; no one can do that.”

She was so certain of what she said, so calm in the enunciation of her
dogmas, that he only looked at her and made no other reply. And when
Constance appealed to Frances whether Domenico should not be sent to the
hotel to call Markham, he avoided the inquiring look which Frances cast
at him. “If papa has no objection,” she said with hesitation and alarm.
“Oh, papa can have no objection,” Constance cried; and the message was
sent; and Markham came. Frances, frightened, made many attempts to
excuse herself; but her father would neither see nor hear the efforts
she made. He retired to the bookroom, while the girls entertained their
visitor on the loggia; or rather, while he entertained them. Waring
heard the voices mingled with laughter, as we all hear the happier
intercourse of others when we are ourselves in gloomy opposition,
nursing our wrath. He thought they were all the more lively, all the
more gay, because he was displeased. Even Frances. He forgot that he had
made up his mind that Frances had better go (as she wished to go), and
felt that she was a little monster to take so cordially to the stranger
whom she knew he disliked and disapproved. Nevertheless, in spite of
this irritation and misery, the little lecture of Constance on what was
conventionally necessary had so much effect upon him, that he appeared
on the loggia before Markham went away, and conquered himself
sufficiently to receive, if not to make much response to the salutations
which his wife’s son offered. Markham jumped up from his seat with the
greatest cordiality, when this tall shadow appeared in the soft
darkness. “I can’t tell you how glad I am to see you, sir, after all
these years. I hope I am not such a nuisance as I was when you knew me
before--at the age when all males should be kept out of sight of their
seniors, as the sage says.”

“What sage was that? Ah! his experience was all at second-hand.”

“Not like yours, sir,” said Markham. And then there was a slight pause,
and Constance struck in.

“Markham is a great institution to people who don’t get the ‘Morning
Post.’ He has told me a heap of things. In a fortnight, when one is not
on the spot, it is astonishing what quantities of things happen. In town
one gets used to having one’s gossip hot and hot every day.”

“The advantage of abstinence is that you get up such an appetite for
your next meal. I had only a few items of news. My mother gave me many
messages for you, sir. She hopes you will not object to trust little
Frances to my care.”

“I object--to trust my child to any one’s care,” said Waring, quickly.

“I beg your pardon. You intend, then, to take my sister to England
yourself,” the stranger said.

It was dark, and their faces were invisible to each other; but the girls
looking on saw a momentary swaying of the tall figure towards the
smaller one, which suggested something like a blow. Frances had nearly
sprung from her seat; but Constance put out her hand and restrained
her. She judged rightly. Passion was strong in Waring’s mind. He could,
had inclination prevailed, have seized the little man by the coat, and
pitched him out into the road below. But bonds were upon him more potent
than if they had been made of iron.

“I have no such intention,” he said. “I should not have sent her at all.
But it seems she wishes to go. I will not interfere with her
arrangements. But she must have some time to prepare.”

“As long as she likes, sir,” said Markham, cheerfully. “A few days more
out of the east wind will be delightful to me.”

And no more passed between them. Waring strolled about the loggia with
his cigarette. Though Frances had made haste to provide a new chair as
easy as the other, he had felt himself dislodged, and had not yet
settled into a new place; and when he joined them in the evening, he
walked about or sat upon the wall, instead of lounging in indolent
comfort, as in the old quiet days. On this evening he stood at the
corner, looking down upon the lights of the Marina in the distance, and
the grey twinkle of the olives in the clear air of the night. The poor
neighbours of the little town were still on the Punto, enjoying the
coolness of the evening hours; and the murmur of their talk rose on one
side, a little softened by distance; while the group on the loggia
renewed its conversation close at hand. Waring stood and listened with a
contempt which he partially knew to be unjust. But he was sore and
bitter, and the ease and gaiety seemed a kind of insult to him, one of
many insults which he was of opinion he had received from his wife’s
son. “Confounded little fool,” he said to himself.

But Constance was right in her worldly wisdom. It would make them all
ridiculous if he made objections to Markham, if he showed openly his
distaste to him. The world was but a small world at Bordighera; but yet
it was not without its power. The interrupted conversation went on with
great vigour. He remarked with a certain satisfaction that Frances
talked very little; but Constance and her brother--as he called himself,
the puppy!--never paused. There is no such position for seeing the worst
of ordinary conversation. Waring stood looking out blankly upon the
bewildering lines of the hills towards the west, with the fresh breeze
in his face, and his cigarette only kept alight by a violent puff now
and then, listening to the lively chatter. How vacant it was--about this
one and that one; about So-and-so’s peculiarities; about things not even
made clear, which each understood at half a word, which made them laugh.
Good heavens! at what? Not at the wit of it, for there was no wit--at
some ludicrous image involved, which to the listener was dull, dull as
the village chatter on the other side; but more dull, more vapid in its
artificial ring. How they echoed each other, chiming in; how they
remembered anecdotes to the discredit of their friends; how they ran on
in the same circle endlessly, with jests that were without point even to
Frances, who sat listening in an eager tension of interest, but could
not keep up to the height of the talk, which was all about people she
did not know--and still more without point to Waring, who had known, but
knew no longer, and who was angry and mortified and bitter, feeling his
supremacy taken from him in his own house, and all his habits shattered:
yet knew very well that he could not resist, that to show his dislike
would only make him ridiculous; that he was once more subject to
Society, and dare not show his contempt for its bonds.

After a while, he flung his half-finished cigarette over the wall, and
stalked away, with a brief, “Excuse me, but I must say good-night.”
Markham sprang up from his chair; but his step-father only waved his
hand to the little party sitting in the evening darkness, and went away,
his footsteps sounding upon the marble floor through the _salone_ and
the ante-room, closing the doors behind him. There was a little silence
as he disappeared.

“Well,” said Markham, with a long-drawn breath, “that’s over, Con; and
better than might have been expected.”

“Better! Do you call that better? I should say almost as bad as could
be. Why didn’t you stand up to him and have it out?”

“My dear, he always cows me a little,” said Markham. “I remember times
when I stood up to him, as you say, with that idiotcy of youth in which
you are so strong, Con; but I think I generally came off second-best.
Our respected papa has a great gift of language when he likes.”

“He does not like now, he is too old; he has given up that sort of
thing. Ask Frances. She thinks him the mildest of pious fathers.”

“If you please,” said the little voice of Frances out of the gloom, with
a little quiver in it, “I wish you would not speak about papa so, before
me. It is perhaps quite right of you, who have no feeling for him, or
don’t know him very well; but with me it is quite different. Whether you
are right or wrong, I cannot have it, please.”

“The little thing is quite right, Con,” said Markham. “I beg your
pardon, little Fan. I have a great respect for papa, though he has none
for me. Too old! He is not so old as I am, and a much more estimable
member of society. He is not old enough--that is the worst of it--for
you and me.”

“I am not going to encourage her in her nonsense,” said Constance, “as
if one’s father or mother was something sacred, as if they were not just
human beings like ourselves. But apart from that, as I have told
Frances, I think very well of papa.”



CHAPTER XVI.


There was no more said for a day or two about the journey. But that it
was to take place, that Markham was waiting till his step-sister was
ready, and that Frances was making her preparations to go, nobody any
longer attempted to ignore. Waring himself had gone so far in his
recognition of the inevitable as to give Frances money to provide for
the necessities of the journey. “You will want things,” he said. “I
don’t wish it to be thought that I kept you like a little beggar.”

“I am not like a little beggar, papa,” cried Frances, with an
indignation which scarcely any of the more serious grievances of her
life had called forth. She had always supposed him to be pleased with
the British neatness, the modest, girlish costumes which she had
procured for herself by instinct, and which made this girl, who knew
nothing of England, so characteristically an English girl. This proof of
the man’s ignorance--which Frances ignorantly supposed to mean entire
indifference to her appearance--went to her heart. “And it is impossible
to get things here,” she added, with her usual anxious penitence for her
impatience.

“You can do it in Paris, then,” he said. “I suppose you have enough of
the instincts of your sex to buy clothes in Paris.”

Girls are not fond of hearing of the instincts of their sex. She turned
away with a speechless vexation and distress which it pleased him to
think rudeness.

“But she keeps the money all the same,” he said to himself.

Thus it became very apparent that the departure of Frances was
desirable, and that she could not go too soon. But there were still
inevitable delays. Strange! that when love embittered made her stay
intolerable, the washerwoman should have compelled it. But to Frances,
for the moment, everything in life was strange.

And not the least strange was the way in which Markham, whom she liked,
but did not understand--the odd, little, shabby, unlovely personage, who
looked like anything in the world but an individual of importance--was
received by the little world of Bordighera. At the little church on
Sunday, there was a faint stir when he came in, and one lady pointed him
out to another as the small audience filed out. The English landlady at
the hotel spoke of him continually. Lord Markham was now the authority
whom she quoted on all subjects. Even Domenico said “meelord” with a
relish. And as for the Durants, their enthusiasm was boundless. Tasie,
not yet quite recovered from the excitement of Constance’s arrival, lost
her self-control altogether when Markham appeared. It was so good of him
to come to church, she said; such an example for the people at the
hotels! And so nice to lose so little time in coming to call upon papa.
Of course, papa, as the clergyman, would have called upon him as soon as
it was known where he was staying. But it was so pretty of Lord Markham
to conform to foreign ways and make the first visit. “We knew it must
be your doing, Frances,” she said, with grateful delight.

“But, indeed, it was not my doing. It is Constance who makes him come,”
Frances cried.

Constance, indeed, insisted upon his company everywhere. She took him
not only to the Durants, but to the bungalow up among the olive woods,
which they found in great excitement, and where the appearance of Lord
Markham partially failed of its effect, a greater hero and stranger
being there. George Gaunt, the General’s youngest son, the chief subject
of his mother’s talk, the one of her children about whom she always had
something to say, had arrived the day before, and in his presence even a
living lord sank into a secondary place. Mrs Gaunt had been the first to
see the little party coming along by the terraces of the olive woods.
She had, long, long ago, formed plans in her imagination of what might
ensue when George came home. She ran out to meet them with her hands
extended. “Oh Frances, I am so glad to see you! Only fancy what has
happened. George has come!”

“I am so glad,” said Frances, who was the first. She was more used to
the winding of those terraces, and then she had not so much to talk of
as Constance and Markham. Her face lighted up with pleasure. “How happy
you must be!” she said, kissing the old lady affectionately. “Is he
well?”

“Oh, wonderfully well; so much better than I could have hoped. George,
George, where are you? Oh, my dear, I am so anxious that you should
meet! I want you to like him,” Mrs Gaunt said.

Almost for the first time there came a sting of pain to Frances’ heart.
She had heard a great deal of George Gaunt. She had thought of him more
than of any other stranger. She had wondered what he would be like, and
smiled to herself at his mother’s too evident anxiety to bring them
together, with a slight, not disagreeable flutter of interest in her own
consciousness. And now here he was, and she was going away! It seemed a
sort of spite of fortune, a tantalising of circumstances; though, to be
sure, she did not know whether she should like him, or if Mrs Gaunt’s
hopes might bear any fruit. Still, it was the only outlet her
imagination had ever had, and it had amused and given her a pleasant
fantastic glimpse now and then into something that might be more
exciting than the calm round of every day.

She stood on the little grassy terrace which surrounded the house,
looking towards the open door, but not taking any step towards it,
waiting for the hero to appear. The house was low and broad, with a
veranda round it, planted in the midst of the olive groves, where there
was a little clearing, and looking down upon the sea. Frances paused
there, with her face towards the house, and saw coming out from under
the shadow of the veranda, with a certain awkward celerity, the straight
slim figure of the young Indian officer, his mother’s hero, and, in a
visionary sense, her own. She did not advance--she could not tell
why--but waited till he should come up, while his mother turned round,
beckoning to him. This was how it was that Constance and Markham arrived
upon the scene before the introduction was fully accomplished. Frances
held out her hand, and he took it, coming forward; but already his eyes
had travelled over her head to the other pair arriving, with a look of
inquiry and surprise. He let Frances’ hand drop as soon as he had
touched it, and turned towards the other, who was much more attractive
than Frances. Constance, who missed nothing, gave him a glance, and then
turned to his mother. “We brought our brother to see you,” she said (as
Frances had not had presence of mind to do). “Lord Markham, Mrs Gaunt.
But we have come at an inappropriate moment, when you are occupied.”

“Oh no! It is so kind of you to come. This is my son George, Miss
Waring. He arrived last night. I have so wanted him to meet----” She did
not say Frances; but she looked at the little girl, who was quite
eclipsed and in the background, and then hurriedly added, “your--family:
whose name he knows, as such friends! And how kind of Lord Markham to
come all this way!”

She was not accustomed to lords, and the mother’s mind jumped at once to
the vain, but so usual idea, that this lord, who had himself sought the
acquaintance, might be of use to her son. She brought forward George,
who was a little dazzled too; and it was not till the party had been
swept into the veranda, where the family sat in the evening, that Mrs
Gaunt became aware that Frances had followed, the last of the train, and
had seated herself on the outskirts of the group, no one paying any heed
to her. Even then, she was too much under the influence of the less
known visitors to do anything to put this right.

“I am delighted that you think me kind,” said Markham, in answer to the
assurances which Mrs Gaunt kept repeating, not knowing what to say. “My
step-father is not of that opinion at all. Neither will you be, I fear,
when you know my mission. I have come for Frances.”

“For Frances!” she cried, with a little suppressed scream of dismay.

“Ah, I said you would not be of that opinion long,” Markham said.

“Is Frances going away?” said the old General. “I don’t think we can
stand that. Eh, George? that is not what your mother promised you.
Frances is all we have got to remind us that we were young once. Waring
must hear reason. He must not let her go away.”

“Frances is going; but Constance stays,” interposed that young lady.
“General, I hope you will adopt me in her stead.”

“That I will,” said the old soldier; “that is, I will adopt you in
addition, for we cannot give up Frances. Though, if it is only for a
short visit, if you pledge yourself to bring her back again, I suppose
we will have to give our consent.”

“Not I,” said Mrs Gaunt under her breath. She whispered to her son, “Go
and talk to her. This is not Frances; _that_ is Frances,” leaning over
his shoulder.

George did not mean to shake off her hand; but he made a little
impatient movement, and turned the other way to Constance, to whom he
made some confused remark.

All the conversation was about Frances; but she took no part in it, nor
did any one turn to her to ask her own opinion. She sat on the edge of
the veranda, half hidden by the luxuriant growth of a rose which
covered one of the pillars, and looked out rather wistfully, it must be
allowed, over the grey clouds of olives in the foreground, to the blue
of the sea beyond. It was twilight under the shade of the veranda; but
outside, a subdued daylight, on the turn towards night. The little talk
about her was very flattering, but somehow it did not have the effect it
might have had; for though they all spoke of her as of so much
importance, they left her out with one consent. Not exactly with one
consent. Mrs Gaunt, standing up, looking from one to another,
hurt--though causelessly--beyond expression by the careless movement of
her newly returned boy, would have gone to Frances, had she not been
held by some magnetic attraction which emanated from the others--the
lord who might be of use--the young lady, whose careless ease and
self-confidence were dazzling to simple people.

Neither the General nor his wife could realise that she was merely
Frances’ sister, Waring’s daughter. She was the sister of Lord Markham.
She was on another level altogether from the little girl who had been so
pleasant to them all, and so sweet. They were very sorry that Frances
was going away; but the other one required attention, had to be thought
of, and put in the chief place. As for Frances, who knew them all so
well, she would not mind. And thus even Mrs Gaunt directed her attention
to the new-comer.

Frances thought it was all very natural, and exactly what she wished.
She was glad, very glad that they should take to Constance; that she
should make friends with all the old friends who to herself had been so
tender and kind. But there was one thing in which she could not help but
feel a little disappointed, disconcerted, cast down. She had looked
forward to George. She had thought of this new element in the quiet
village life with a pleasant flutter of her heart. It had been natural
to think of him as falling more or less to her own share, partly because
it would be so in the fitness of things, she being the youngest of all
the society--the girl, as he would be the boy; and partly because of his
mother’s fond talk, which was full of innocent hints of her hopes. That
George should come when she was just going away, was bad enough; but
that they should have met like this, that he should have touched her
hand almost without looking at her, that he should not have had the most
momentary desire to make acquaintance with Frances, whose name he must
have heard so often, that gave her a real pang. To be sure, it was only
a pang of the imagination. She had not fallen in love with his
photograph, which did not represent an Adonis; and it was something,
half a brother, half a comrade, not (consciously) a lover, for which
Frances had looked in him. But yet it gave her a very strange, painful,
deserted sensation when she saw him look over her head at Constance, and
felt her hand dropped as soon as taken. She smiled a little at herself,
when she came to think of it, saying to herself that she knew very well
Constance was far more charming, far more pretty than she, and that it
was only natural she should take the first place. Frances was ever
anxious to yield to her the first place. But she could not help that
quiver of involuntary feeling. She was hurt, though it was all so
natural. It was natural, too, that she should be hurt, and that nobody
should take any notice--all the most everyday things in the world.

George Gaunt came to the Palazzo next day. He came in the afternoon with
his father, to be introduced to Waring; and he came again after
dinner--for these neighbours did not entertain each other at the
working-day meals, so to speak, but only in light ornamental ways, with
cups of tea or black coffee--with both his parents to spend the evening.
He was thin and of a slightly greenish tinge in his brownness, by reason
of India and the illnesses he had gone through; but his slim figure had
a look of power; and he had kind eyes, like his mother’s, under the
hollows of his brows: not a handsome young man, yet not at all common or
ordinary, with a soldier’s neatness and upright bearing. To see Markham
beside him with his insignificant figure, his little round head tufted
with sandy hair, his one-sided look with his glass in his eye, or his
ear tilted up on the opposite side, was as good as a sermon upon race
and its advantages. For Markham was the fifteenth lord; and the Gaunts
were, it was understood, of as good as no family at all. Captain George
from that first evening had neither ear nor eye for any one but
Constance. He followed her about shyly wherever she moved; he stood over
her when she sat down. He said little, for he was shy, poor fellow; yet
he did sometimes hazard a remark, which was always subsidiary or
responsive to something she had said.

Mrs Gaunt’s distress at this subversion of all she had intended was
great. She got Frances into a corner of the loggia while the others
talked, and thrust upon her a pretty sandalwood box inlaid with ivory,
one of those that George had brought from India. “It was always intended
for you, dear,” she said. “Of course he could not venture to offer it
himself.”

“But, dear Mrs Gaunt,” said Frances, with a low laugh, in which all her
little bitterness evaporated, “I don’t think he has so much as seen my
face. I am sure he would not know me if we met in the road.”

“Oh, my dear child,” cried poor Mrs Gaunt, “it has been such a
disappointment to me. I have just cried my eyes out over it. To think
you should not have taken to each other after all my dreams and hopes.”

Frances laughed again; but she did not say that there had been no
failure of interest on her side. She said, “I hope he will soon be quite
strong and well. You will write and tell me about everybody.”

“Indeed I will. Oh Frances, is it possible that you are going so soon?
It does not seem natural that you should be going, and that your sister
should stay.”

“Not very natural,” said Frances, with a composure which was less
natural still. “But since it is to be, I hope you will see as much of
her as you can, dear Mrs Gaunt, and be as kind to her as you have been
to me.”

“Oh, my dear, there is little doubt that I shall see a great deal of
her,” said the mother, with a glance towards the other group, of which
Constance was the central figure. She was lying back in the big
wicker-work chair; with the white hands and arms, which showed out of
sleeves shorter than were usual in Bordighera, very visible in the dusk,
accompanying her talk by lively gestures. The young captain stood like
a sentinel a little behind her. His mother’s glance was half vexation
and half pleasure. She thought it was a great thing for a girl to have
secured the attentions of her boy, and a very sad thing for the girl who
had not secured them. Any doubt that Constance might not be grateful,
had not yet entered her thoughts. Frances, though she was so much less
experienced, saw the matter in another light.

“You must remember,” she said, “that she has been brought up very
differently. She has been used to a great deal of admiration, Markham
says.”

“And now you will come in for that, and she must take what she can get
here.” Mrs Gaunt’s tone when she said this showed that she felt, whoever
was the loser, it would not be Constance. Frances shook her head.

“It will be very different with me. And dear Mrs Gaunt, if Constance
should not--do as you wish----”

“My dear, I will not interfere. It never does any good when a mother
interferes,” Mrs Gaunt said hurriedly. Her mind was incapable of
pursuing the idea which Frances so timidly had endeavoured to suggest.
And what could the girl do more?

Next day she went away. Her father, pale and stern, took leave of her in
the bookroom with an air of offence and displeasure which went to
Frances’ heart. “I will not come to the station. You will have, no
doubt, everybody at the station. I don’t like greetings in the
market-places,” he said.

“Papa,” said Frances, “Mariuccia knows everything. I am sure she will be
careful. She says she will not trouble Constance more than is necessary.
And I hope----”

“Oh, we shall do very well, I don’t doubt.”

“I hope you will forgive me, papa, for all I may have done wrong. I hope
you will not miss me; that is, I hope--oh, I hope you will miss me a
little, for it breaks my heart when you look at me like that.”

“We shall do very well,” said Waring, not looking at her at all, “both
you and I.”

“And you have nothing to say to me, papa?”

“Nothing--except that I hope you will like your new life and find
everything pleasant. Good-bye, my dear; it is time you were going.”

And that was all. Everybody was at the station, it was true, which made
it no place for leave-takings; and Frances did not know that he watched
the train from the loggia till the white plume of steam disappeared with
a roar in the next of those many tunnels that spoil the beautiful
Cornice road. Constance walked back in the midst of the Gaunts and
Durants, looking, as she always did, the mistress of the situation. But
neither did Frances, blotted out in the corner of the carriage, crying
behind her veil and her handkerchief, leaving all she knew behind her,
understand with what a tug at her heart Constance saw the familiar
little ugly face of her brother for the last time at the
carriage-window, and turned back to the deadly monotony of the shelter
she had sought for herself, with a sense that everything was over, and
she herself completely deserted, like a wreck upon a desolate shore.

                       END OF THE FIRST VOLUME.

                PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS.

                   *       *       *       *       *



                                A HOUSE
                        DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF

                                  BY

                             MRS OLIPHANT

                           IN THREE VOLUMES

                               VOL. II.

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS

                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON

                              MDCCCLXXXVI



                    A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF.



CHAPTER XVII.


“Yes, I hope you will come and see me often. Oh yes, I shall miss my
sister; but then I shall have all the more of papa. Good night. Good
night, Captain Gaunt. No; I don’t sketch; that was Frances. I don’t know
the country either. It was my sister who knew it. I am quite ignorant
and useless. Good night.”

Waring, who was on the loggia, heard this in the clear tones of his only
remaining companion. He heard her come in afterwards with a step more
distinct than that of Frances, as her voice carried farther. He said to
himself that everything was more distinct about this girl, and he was
glad that she was coming, glad of some relief from the depression which
overcame him against his will. She came across one room after another,
and out upon the loggia, throwing herself down listlessly in the usurped
chair. It did not occur to him that she was unaware of his presence, and
he was surprised that she said nothing. But after a minute or two, there
could be no doubt why it was that Constance did not speak. There was no
loud outburst of emotion, but a low suppressed sound, which it was
impossible to mistake. She said, after a moment, to herself, “What a
fool I am!” But even this reflection did not stem the tide. A sensation
of utter solitude had seized upon her. She was abandoned, among
strangers; and though she had so much experience of the world, it was
not of this world that Constance had any knowledge. Had she been left
alone among a new tribe of people unknown to her, she would not have
been afraid! Court or camp would have had no alarms for her; but the
solitude, broken only by the occasional appearance of these rustic
companions; the simple young soldier, who was going to bestow his heart
upon her, an entirely undesired gift; the anxious mother, who was about
to mount guard over her at a distance; the polite old beau in the
background. Was it possible that the existence she knew had altogether
receded from Constance, and left her with such companions alone? She was
not thinking of her father, neither of himself nor of his possible
presence, which was of little importance to her. After a while she sat
upright and passed her handkerchief quickly over her face. “It is my own
fault,” she said, still to herself; “I might have known.”

“You don’t see, Constance, that I am here.”

She started, and pulled herself up in a moment. “Oh, are you there,
papa? No, I didn’t see you. I didn’t think of any one being here. Well,
they are gone. Everybody came to see Frances off, as you divined. She
bore up very well; but, of course, it was a little sad for her, leaving
everything she knows.”

“You were crying a minute ago, Constance.”

“Was I? Oh, well, that was nothing. Girls cry, and it doesn’t mean
much. You know women well enough to know that.”

“Yes, I know women--enough to say the ordinary things about them,” said
Waring; “but perhaps I don’t know you, which is of far more consequence
just now.”

“There is not much in me to know,” said the girl in a light voice. “I am
just like other girls. I am apt to cry when I see people crying. Frances
sobbed--like a little foolish thing; for why should she cry? She is
going to see the world. Did you ever feel, when you came here first, a
sort of horror seize upon you, as if--as if--as if you were lost in a
savage wilderness, and would never see a human face again?”

“No; I cannot say I ever felt that.”

“No, to be sure,” cried Constance. “What ridiculous nonsense I am
talking! A savage wilderness! with all these houses about, and the
hotels on the beach. I mean--didn’t you feel as if you would like to run
violently down a steep place into the sea?” Then she stopped, and
laughed. “It was the swine that did that.”

“It has never occurred to me to take that means of settling matters; and
yet I understand you,” he said gravely. “You have made a mistake. You
thought you were philosopher enough to give up the world; and it turns
out that you are not. But you need not cry, for it is not too late. You
can change your mind.”

“I--change my mind! Not for the world, papa! Do you think I would give
them the triumph of supposing that I could not do without them, that I
was obliged to go back? Not for the world.”

“I understand the sentiment,” he said. “Still, between these two
conditions of mind, it is rather unfortunate for you, my dear. I do not
see any middle course.”

“Oh yes, there is a middle course. I can make myself very comfortable
here; and that is what I mean to do. Papa, if you had not found it out,
I should not have told you. I hope you are not offended?”

“Oh no, I am not offended,” he said, with a short laugh. “It is perhaps
a pity that everybody has been put to so much trouble for what gives you
so little satisfaction. That is the worst of it; these mistakes affect
so many others besides one’s self.”

Constance evidently had a struggle with herself to accept this reproof;
but she made no immediate reply. After a while: “Frances will be a
little strange at first; but she will like it by-and-by; and it is only
right she should have her share,” she said softly. “I have been
wondering,” she went on, with a laugh that was somewhat forced, “whether
mamma will respect her individuality at all; or if she will put her
altogether into my place? I wonder if--that man I told you of, papa----”

“Well, what of him?” said Waring, rather sharply.

“I wonder if he will be turned over to Frances too? It would be droll.
Mamma is not a person to give up any of her plans, if she can help it;
and you have brought up Frances so very well, papa; she is so
docile--and so obedient----”

“You think she will accept your old lover, or your old wardrobe, or
anything that offers? I don’t think she is so well brought up as that.”

“I did not mean to insult my sister,” cried Constance, springing to her
feet. “She is so well brought up, that she accepted whatever you chose
to say to her, forgetting that she was a woman, that she was a lady.”

Waring’s face grew scarlet in the darkness. “I hope,” he said, “that I
am incapable of forgetting on any provocation that my daughter is a
lady.”

“You mean me!” she cried, breathless. “Oh, I can----” But here she
stopped. “Papa,” she resumed, “what good will it do us to quarrel? I
don’t want to quarrel. Instead of setting yourself against me because I
am poor Con, and not Frances, whom you love---- Oh, I think you might be
good to me just at this moment; for I am very lonely, and I don’t know
what I am good for, and I think my heart will break.”

She went to him quickly, and flung herself upon his shoulder, and cried.
Waring was perhaps more embarrassed than touched by this appeal; but
after all, she was his child, and he was sorry for her. He put his arm
round her, and said a few soothing words. “You may be good for a great
deal, if you choose,” he said; “and if you will believe me, my dear, you
will find that by far the most amusing way. You have more capabilities
than Frances; you are much better educated than she is--at least I
suppose so, for she was not educated at all.”

“How do you mean that it will be more amusing? I don’t expect to be
amused; all that is over,” said Constance, in a dolorous tone.

He was so much like her, that he paused for a moment to consider whether
he should be angry, but decided against it, and laughed instead. “You
are not complimentary,” he said. “What I mean is, that if you sit still
and think over your deprivations, you will inevitably be miserable;
whereas, if you exert yourself a little, and make the best of the
situation, you will very likely extract something that is amusing out of
it. I have seen it happen so often in my experience.”

“Ah,” said Constance, considering. And then she withdrew from him and
went back to her chair. “I thought, perhaps, you meant something more
positive. There are perhaps possibilities: Frances would have thought it
wrong to look out for amusement--that must have been because you trained
her so.”

“Not altogether. Frances does not require so much amusement as you do.
It is so in everything. One individual wants more sleep, more food, more
delight than others.”

“Yes, yes,” she cried; “that is like me. Some people are more alive than
others; that is what you mean, papa.”

“I am not sure that it is what I mean; but if you like to take it so, I
have no objection. And in that view, I recommend you to live, Constance.
You will find it a great deal more amusing than to mope; and it will be
much pleasanter to me.”

“Yes,” she said, “I was considering. Perhaps what I mean will be not the
same as what you mean. I will not do it in Frances’ way; but still I
will take your advice, papa. I am sure you are right in what you say.”

“I am glad you think so, my dear. If you cannot have everything you
want, take what you can get. It is the only true philosophy.”

“Then I will be a true philosopher,” she said, with a laugh. The laugh
was more than a mere recovery of spirits. It broke out again after a
little, as if with a sense of something irresistibly comic. “But I must
not interfere too much with Mariuccia, it appears. She knows what you
like better than I do. I am only to look wise when she submits her
_menu_, as if I knew all about it. I am very good at looking as if I
knew all about it. By the way, do you know there is no piano? I should
like to have a piano, if I might.”

“That will not be very difficult,” he said. “Can you play?”

At which she laughed once more, with all her easy confidence restored.
“You shall hear, when you get me a piano. Thanks, papa; you have quite
restored me to myself. I can’t knit you socks, like Frances; and I am
not so clever about the mayonnaises; but still I am not altogether
devoid of intellect. And now, we completely understand each other. Good
night.”

“This is sudden,” he said. “Good night, if you think it is time for that
ceremony.”

“It is time for me; I am a little tired; and I have got some alterations
to make in my room, now that--now that--at present when I am quite
settled and see my way.”

He did not understand what she meant, and he did not inquire. It was of
very little consequence. Indeed it was perhaps well that she should go
and leave him to think of everything. It was not a month yet since the
day when he had met that idiot Mannering on the road. To be sure, there
was no proof that the idiot Mannering was the cause of all that had
ensued. But at least it was he who had first disturbed the calm which
Waring hoped was to have been eternal. He sat down to think, almost
grateful to Constance for taking herself away. He thought a little of
Frances hurrying along into the unknown, the first great journey she had
ever taken--and such a journey, away from everything and everybody she
knew. Poor little Fan! he thought a little about her; but he thought a
great deal about himself. Would it ever be possible to return to that
peace which had been so profound, which had ceased to appear capable of
disturbance? The circumstances were all very different now. Frances, who
would think it her duty to write to him often, was henceforth to be her
mother’s companion, reflecting, no doubt, the sentiments of a mind, to
escape from the companionship of which he had given up the world and
(almost) his own species. And Constance, though she had elected to be
his companion, would no doubt all the same write to her mother; and
everything that he did and said, and all the circumstances of his life,
would thus be laid open. He felt an impatience beyond words of that
dutifulness of women, that propriety in which girls are trained, which
makes them write letters. Why should they write letters? But it was
impossible to prevent it. His wife would become a sort of distant
witness of everything he did. She would know what he liked for dinner,
the wine he preferred, how many baths he took. To describe how this
thought annoyed him would be impossible. He had forgotten to warn
Frances that her father was not to be discussed with my lady. But what
was the use of saying anything, when letters would come and go
continually from the one house to the other? And he would be compelled
to put up with it, though nothing could be more unpleasant. If these
girls had been boys, this would not have happened. It was perhaps the
first time Waring had felt himself within reach of such a wish, for boys
were far more objectionable to his fine taste than girls, gave more
trouble, and were less agreeable to have about one. In the present
circumstances, however, he could not but feel they would have been less
embarrassing. Constance might grow tired, indeed, of that unprofitable
exercise of letter-writing. But Frances, he felt sure, would in all
cases be dutiful, and would not grow tired. She would write to him
perhaps (he shivered) every day; at least every week; and she would
think it her duty to tell him everything that happened, and she would
require that he should reply. But this, except once or twice, perhaps,
to let her down easily, he was resolved that nothing should induce him
to do.

Constance was neither tired nor sleepy when she went to her room. She
had never betrayed the consciousness in any way, being high-bred and
courteous when it did not interfere with her comfort to be so; yet she
had divined that Frances had given up her room to her. This would have
touched the heart of many people, but to Constance it was almost an
irritation. She could not think why her sister had done it, except with
that intention of self-martyrdom with which so many good people
exasperate their neighbours. She would have been quite as comfortable in
the blue room, and she would have liked it better. Now that Frances was
safely gone and her feelings could not be hurt any more, Constance had
set her heart upon altering it to her own pleasure, making it bear no
longer the impress of Frances’ mind, but of her own. She took down a
number of the pictures which Frances had thought so much of, and softly
pulled the things about, and changed it more than any one could have
supposed a room could be changed. Then she sat down to think. The
depression which had seized upon her when she had felt that all was
over, that the door was closed upon her, and no place of repentance any
longer possible, did not return at first. Her father’s words, which she
understood in a sense not intended by him, gave her a great deal of
amusement as she thought them over. She did not conceal from herself the
fact that there might ensue circumstances in which she should quote them
to him to justify herself. “Frances does not require so much amusement
as you do. One individual requires more sleep, more food, more delight
than another.” She laid this dangerous saying up in her mind with much
glee, laughing to herself under her breath: “If you cannot get what you
want, you must take what you can get.” How astounded he would be if it
should ever be necessary to put him in mind of these dogmas--which were
so true! Her father’s arguments, indeed, which were so well meant, did
not suit the case of Constance. She had been in a better state of mind
when she had felt herself to awake, as it were, on the edge of this
desert, into which, in her impatience, she had flung herself, and saw
that there was no escape for her, that she had been taken at her word,
that she was to be permitted to work out her own will, and that no one
would forcibly interfere to restore all her delights, to smooth the way
for her to return. She had expected this, if not consciously, yet with a
strong unexpressed conviction. But when she had seen Markham’s face
disappear, and realised that he was gone, actually gone, and had left
her to exist as she could in the wilderness to which she had flown, her
young perverse soul had been swept as by a tempest.

After a while, when she had gone through that little interview with her
father, when she had executed her little revolution, and had seated
herself in the quiet of the early night to think again over the whole
matter, the pang returned, as every pang does. It was not yet ten
o’clock, the hour at which she might have been setting out to a
succession of entertainments under her mother’s wing; but she had
nothing better to amuse her than to alter the arrangement of a few old
chairs, to draw aside a faded curtain, and then to betake herself to
bed, though it was too early to sleep. There were sounds of voices still
audible without--people singing, gossiping, enjoying, on the stone
benches on the Punto, just those same delights of society which happy
people on the verge of a new season were beginning to enjoy. But
Constance did not feel much sympathy with the villagers, who were
foreigners, whom she felt to be annoying and intrusive, making a noise
under her windows, when, as it so happened, she had nothing to do but to
go to sleep. When she looked out from the window and saw the pale sky
spreading clear over the sea, she could think of nothing but Frances
rushing along through the night, with Markham taking such care of her,
hastening to London, to all that was worth living for. No doubt that
little thing was still crying in her corner, in her folly and ignorance
regretting her village. Oh, if they could but have changed places! To
think of sitting opposite to Markham, with the soft night air blowing in
her face, devouring the way, seeing the little towns flash past, the
morning dawn upon France, the long levels of the flat country sweep
along, then Paris, London, at last! She shut the _persiani_ almost
violently with a hand that trembled, and looked round the four walls
which shut her in, with again an impulse almost of despair. She felt
like a wild creature newly caged, shut in there, to be kept within bolts
and bars, to pace up and down, and beat against the walls of her prison,
and never more to go free.

But this fit being more violent, did not go so deep as the unspeakable
sense of loneliness which had overwhelmed her soul at first. She sprang
up from it with the buoyancy of her age, and said to herself what her
father had said: “If you cannot get what you want, you must take what
you can get.” There was yet a little amusement to be had out of this
arid place. She had her father’s sanction for making use of her
opportunities; anything was better than to mope; and for her it was a
necessity to live. She laughed a little under her breath once more, as
she came back to this more reassuring thought, and so lay down in her
sister’s bed with a satisfaction in the thought that it had not taken
her any trouble to supplant Frances, and a mischievous smile about the
corners of her mouth; although, after all, the thought of the travellers
came over her again as she closed her eyes, and she ended by crying
herself to sleep.



CHAPTER XVIII.


Captain Gaunt called next day to bring, he said, a message from his
mother. She sent Mr Waring a newspaper which she thought he might like
to see, an English weekly newspaper, which some of her correspondents
had sent her, in which there was an article---- He did not give a very
clear account of this, nor make it distinctly apparent why Waring should
be specially interested; and as a matter of fact, the newspaper found
its way to the waste-paper basket, and interested nobody. But, no doubt,
Mrs Gaunt’s intentions had been excellent. When the young soldier
arrived, there was a carriage at the door, and Constance had her hat on.
“We are going,” she said, “to San Remo, to see about a piano. Do you
know San Remo? Oh, I forgot you are as much a stranger as I am; you
don’t know anything. What a good thing that there are two ignorant
persons! We will keep each other in countenance, and they will be
compelled to make all kinds of expeditions to show us everything.”

“That will be a wonderful chance for me,” said the young man, “for
nobody would take so much trouble for me alone.”

“How can you tell that? Miss Tasie, I should think, would be an
excellent cicerone,” said Constance. She said it with a light laugh of
suggestion, meaning to imply, though, of course, she had _said_ nothing,
that Tasie would be too happy to put herself at Captain Gaunt’s
disposition; a suggestion which he, too, received with a laugh--for this
is one of the points upon which both boys and girls are always
ungenerous.

“And failing Miss Tasie,” said Constance, “suppose you come with papa
and me? They say it is a pretty drive. They say, of course, that
everything here is lovely, and that the Riviera is paradise. Do you find
it so?”

“I can fancy circumstances in which I should find it so,” said the young
soldier.

“Ah, yes; every one can do that. I can fancy circumstances in which Bond
Street would be paradise--oh, very easily! It is not far from paradise
at any time.”

“That is a heaven of which I know very little, Miss Waring.”

“Ah, then, you must learn. The true Elysian fields are in London in May.
If you don’t know that, you can form no idea of happiness. An exile from
all delights gives you the information, and you may be sure it is true.”

“Why, then, Miss Waring, if you think so----”

“Am I here? Oh, that is easily explained. I have a sister.”

“Yes, I know.”

“Ah, I understand you have heard a great deal about my sister. I suffer
here from being compared with her. I am not nearly so good, so wise, as
Frances. But is that my fault, Captain Gaunt? You are impartial; you are
a new-comer. If I could, I would, be as nice as Frances, don’t you
believe?”

The young man gave Constance a look, which, indeed, she expected, and
said with confusion, “I don’t see--any need for improvement,” and
blushed as near crimson as was possible over the greenish brown of his
Indian colour.

Constance for her part did not blush. She laughed, and made him an
almost imperceptible curtsey. The ways of flirtation are not original,
and all the parallels of the early encounters might be stereotyped, as
everybody knows.

“You are very amiable,” she said; “but then you don’t know Frances, and
your opinion, accordingly, is less valuable. I did not ask you, however,
to believe me to be equal to my sister, but only to believe that I would
be as nice if I could. However, all that is no explanation. We have a
mother, you know, in England. We are, unfortunately, that sad thing, a
household divided against itself.”

Captain Gaunt was not prepared for such confidences. He grew still a
little browner with embarrassment, and muttered something about being
very sorry, not knowing what to say.

“Oh, there is not very much to be sorry about. Papa enjoys himself in
his way here, and mamma is very happy at home. The only thing is that we
must each have our turn, you know--that is only fair. So Frances has
gone to mamma, and here am I in Bordighera. We are each dreadfully out
of our element. Her friends condemn me, to begin with, as if it were my
fault that I am not like her; and my friends, perhaps---- But no; I
don’t think so. Frances is so good, so nice, so everything a girl ought
to be.”

At this she laughed softly again; and young Gaunt’s consciousness that
his mother’s much vaunted Frances was the sort of girl to please old
ladies rather than young men, a prim, little, smooth, correct maiden,
with not the least “go” in her, took additional force and certainty.
Whereas---- But he had no words in which to express his sense of the
advantages on the other side.

“You must find it,” he said, knowing nothing more original to say,
“dreadfully dull living here.”

“I have not found anything as yet; I have only just come. I am no more
than a few days older than you are. We can compare notes as time goes
on. But perhaps you don’t mean to stay very long in these abodes of the
blest?”

“I don’t know that I did intend it. But I shall stay now as long as ever
I can,” said the young man. Then--for he was shy--he added hastily, “It
is a long time since I have seen my people, and they like to have me.”

“Naturally. But you need not have spoiled what looked like a very pretty
compliment by adding that. Perhaps you didn’t mean it for a compliment?
Oh, I don’t mind at all. It is much more original, if you didn’t mean
it. Compliments are such common coin. But I don’t pretend to despise
them, as some girls do; and I don’t like to see them spoiled,” Constance
said seriously.

The young man looked at her with consternation. After a while, his
moustache expanded into a laugh, but it was a confused laugh, and he did
not understand. Still less did he know how to reply. Constance had been
used to sharper wits, who took her at half a word; and she was half
angry to be thus obliged to explain.

“We are going to San Remo, as I told you,” she said. “I am waiting for
my father. We are going to look for a piano. Frances is not musical, so
there is no piano in the house. You must come too, and give your advice.
Oh, are you ready, papa? Captain Gaunt, who does not know San Remo, and
who does know music, is coming with us to give us his advice.”

The young soldier stammered forth that to go to San Remo was the thing
he most desired in the world. “But I don’t think my advice will be good
for much,” he said, conscientiously. “I do a little on the violin; but
as for pretending to be a judge of a piano----”

“Come; we are all ready,” said Constance, leading the way.

Waring had to let the young fellow precede him, to see him get into the
carriage without any articulate murmur. As a matter of fact, a sort of
stupor seized the father, altogether unaccustomed to be the victim of
accidents. Frances might have lived by his side till she was fifty
before she would have thought of inviting a stranger to be of their
party--a stranger, a young man, which was a class of being with which
Waring had little patience, a young soldier, proverbially frivolous, and
occupied with foolish matters. Young Gaunt respectfully left to his
senior the place beside Constance; but he placed himself opposite to
her, and kept his eyes upon her with a devout attention, which Waring
would have thought ridiculous had he not been irritated by it. The young
fellow was a great deal too much absorbed to contribute much to the
amusement of the party; and it irritated Waring beyond measure to see
his eyes gleam from under his eyebrows, opening wider with delight, half
closing with laughter, the ends of his moustache going up to his ears.
Waring, an impartial spectator, was not so much impressed by his
daughter’s wit. He thought he had heard a great deal of the same before,
or even better, surely better, for he could recollect that he had in his
day been charmed by a similar treatment, which must have been much
lighter in touch, much less commonplace in subject, because--he was
charmed. Thus we argue in our generations. In the meantime, young Gaunt,
though he had not been without some experience, looked at Constance
from under his brows, and listened as if to the utterances of the gods.
If only they could have had it all to themselves; if only the old father
had been out of the way!

The sunshine, the sea, the beautiful colour, the unexpected vision round
every corner of another and another picturesque cluster of towns and
roofs; all that charm and variety which give to Italy above every
country on earth the admixture of human interest, the endless chain of
association which adds a grace to natural beauty, made very little
impression upon this young pair. She would have been amused and
delighted by the exercise of her own power, and he would have been
enthralled by her beauty, and what he considered her wit and high
spirits, had their progress been along the dullest streets. It was only
Waring’s eyes, disgusted by the prospect before him of his daughter’s
little artifices, and young Gaunt’s imbecile subjection, which turned
with any special consciousness to the varying blues of the sea, to the
endless developments of the landscape. Flirtation is one of the last
things in the world to brook a spectator. Its little absurdities, which
are so delightful to the actors in the drama, and which at a distance
the severest critic may smile at and forgive, excite the wrath of a too
close looker-on, in a way quite disproportioned to their real
offensiveness. The interchange of chatter which prevents, as that
observer would say, all rational conversation, the attempts to charm,
which are so transparent, the response of silly admiration, which is
only another form of vanity--how profoundly sensible we all are of their
folly! Had Constance taken as much pains to please her father, he would,
in all probability, have yielded altogether to the spell; but he was
angry, ashamed, furious, that she should address those wiles to the
young stranger, and saw through him with a clearsightedness which was
exasperating. It was all the more exasperating that he could not tell
what she meant by it. Was it possible that she had already formed an
inclination towards this tawny young stranger? Had his bilious hues
affected her imagination? Love at first sight is a very respectable
emotion, and commands in many cases both sympathy and admiration. But no
man likes to see the working of this sentiment in a woman who belongs to
him. Had Constance fallen in love? He grew angry at the very suggestion,
though breathed only in the recesses of his own mind. A girl who had
been brought up in the world, who had seen all kinds of people, was it
possible that she should fall a victim in a moment to the attractions of
a young nobody--a young fellow who knew nothing but India? That he
should be subjected, was simple enough; but Constance! Waring’s brow
clouded more and more. He kept silent, taking no part in the talk, and
the young fools did not so much as remark it, but went on with their own
absurdity more and more.

The transformation of a series of little Italian municipalities,
although in their nature more towns than villages, rendered less rustic
by the traditions of an exposed coast, and many a crisis of
self-defence, into little modern towns full of hotels and tourists, is
neither a pleasant nor a lovely process. San Remo in the old days,
before Dr Antonio made it known to the world, lay among its
olive-gardens on the edge of the sea, which grew bluer and bluer as it
crept to the feet of the human master of the soil, a delight to behold,
a little picture which memory cherished. Wide promenades flanked with
big hotels, with conventional gardens full of green bushes, and a kiosk
for the band, make a very different prospect now. But then, in the old
days, there could have been no music-sellers with pianos to let or sell;
no famous English chemist with coloured bottles; no big shops in which
travellers could be tempted. Constance forgot Captain Gaunt when she
found herself in this atmosphere of the world. She began to remember
things she wanted. “Papa, if you don’t despise it too much, you must let
me do a little shopping,” she said. She wanted a hat for the sun. She
wanted some eau-de-Cologne. She wanted just to run into the jeweller’s
to see if the coral was good, to see if there were any peasant-ornaments
which would be characteristic. At all this her father smiled somewhat
grimly, taking it as a part of the campaign into which his daughter had
chosen to enter for the overthrow of the young soldier. But Constance
was perfectly sincere, and had forgotten her campaign in the new and
warmer interest.

“So long as you do not ask me to attend you from shop to shop,” he said.

“Oh no; Captain Gaunt will come,” said Constance.

Captain Gaunt was not a victim who required many wiles. He was less
amusing than she had hoped, in so far that he had given in, in an
incredibly short space of time. He was now in a condition to be trampled
on at her pleasure, and this was unexciting. A longer resistance would
have been much more to Constance’s mind. Captain Gaunt accompanied her
to all the shops. He helped her with his advice about the piano, bending
his head over her as she ran through a little air or two, and struck a
few chords on one after the other of the music-seller’s stock. They were
not very admirable instruments, but one was found that would do.

“You can bring your violin,” Constance said; “we must try to amuse
ourselves a little.” This was before her father left them, and he heard
it with a groan.

Waring took a silent walk round the bay while the purchases went on. He
thought of past experiences, of the attraction which a shop has for
women. Frances, no doubt, after a little of her mother’s training, would
be the same. She would find out the charms of shopping. He had not even
her return to look forward to, for she would not be the same Frances who
had left him, when she came back. _When_ she came back?--if she ever
came back. The same Frances, never; perhaps not even a changed Frances.
Her mother would quickly see what an advantage she had in getting the
daughter whom her husband had brought up. She would not give her back;
she would turn her into a second Constance. There had been a time when
Waring had concluded that Constance was amusing and Frances dull; but it
must be remembered that he was under provocation now. If she had been
amusing, it had not been for him. She had exerted herself to please a
commonplace, undistinguished boy, with an air of being indifferent to
everything else, which was beyond measure irritating to her father. And
now she had got scent of shops, and would never be happy save when she
was rushing from one place to another--to Mentone, to Nice perhaps,
wherever her fancied wants might lead her. Waring discussed all this
with himself as he rambled along, his nerves all set on edge, his taste
revolted. Flirtations and shops--was he to be brought to this? he who
had been free from domestic encumbrance, who had known nothing for so
many years but a little ministrant, who never troubled him, who was
ready when he wanted her, but never put forth herself as a restraint or
an annoyance. He had advised Constance to take what good she could find
in her life; but he had never imagined that this was the line she would
take.

The drive home was scarcely more satisfactory. Young Gaunt had got a
little courage by the episode of the shops. He ventured to tell her of
the trifles he had brought with him from India, and to ask if Miss
Waring would care to see them; and he described to her the progress he
had made with his violin, and what his attainments were in music.
Constance told him that the best thing he could do was to bring the said
violin and all his music, so that they might see what they could do
together. “If you are not too far advanced for me,” she said with a
laugh. “Come in the morning, when we shall not be interrupted.”

Her father listened, but said nothing. His imagination immediately set
before him the tuning and scraping, the clang of the piano, the shriek
of the fiddle, and he himself only two rooms off, endeavouring in vain
to collect his thoughts and do his work! Mr Waring’s work was not of the
first importance, but still it was his work, and momentous to him. He
bore, however, a countenance unmoved, if very grave, and even endured
without a word the young man’s entrance with them, the consultation
about where the piano was to stand, and tea afterwards in the loggia. He
did not himself want any tea; he left the young people to enjoy this
refreshment together while he retired to his bookroom. But with only
two rooms between, and with his senses quickened by displeasure, he
heard their voices, the laughter, the continual flow of talk, even the
little tinkle of the teacups--every sound. He had never been disturbed
by Frances’ tea; but then, except Tasie Durant, there had been nobody to
share it, no son from the bungalow, no privileged messenger sent by his
mother. Mrs Gaunt’s children, of whom she talked continually, had always
been a nuisance, except to the sympathetic soul of Frances. But who
could have imagined the prominence which they had assumed now?

Young Gaunt did not go away until shortly before dinner; and Constance,
after accompanying him to the anteroom, went along the corridor singing,
to her own room, to change her dress. Though her room (Frances’ room
that was) was at the extremity of the suite, her father heard her light
voice running on in a little operatic air all the time she made her
toilet. Had it been described in a book, he thought to himself it would
have had a pretty sound. The girl’s voice, sweet and gay, sounding
through the house, the voice of happy youth brightening the dull life
there, the voice of innocent content betraying its own satisfaction with
existence--satisfaction in having a young fool to flirt with, and some
trumpery shops to buy unnecessary appendages in! At dinner, however, she
made fun of young Gaunt, and the morose father was a little mollified.
“It is rather dreadful for other people when there is an adoring mother
in the background to think everything you do perfection,” Constance
said. “I don’t think we shall make much of the violin.”

“These are subjects on which you can speak with more authority than
I--both the violin and the mother,” said Waring.

“Oh,” she cried, “you don’t think mamma was one of the adoring kind, I
hope! There may be things in her which might be mended; but she is not
like that. She kept one in one’s proper place. And as for the violin, I
suspect he plays it like an old fiddler in the streets.”

“You have changed your mind about it very rapidly,” said Waring; but on
the whole he was pleased. “You seemed much interested both in the hero
and the music, a little while ago.”

“Yes; was I not?” said Constance with perfect candour. “And he took it
all in, as if it were likely. These young men from India, they are very
ingenuous. It seems wicked to take advantage of them, does it not?”

“More people are ingenuous than the young man from India. I intended to
speak to you very seriously as soon as he was gone--to ask you----”

“What were my intentions?” cried Constance, with an outburst of the
gayest laughter. “Oh, what a pity I began! How sorry I am to have missed
that! Do you think his mother will ask me, papa? It is generally the
man, isn’t it, who is questioned? and he says his intentions are
honourable. Mine, I frankly allow, are not honourable.”

“No; very much the reverse, I should think. But it had better be clearly
defined, for my satisfaction, Constance, which of you is true--the girl
who cried over her loneliness last night, or she who made love to
Captain Gaunt this morning----”

“No, papa; only was a little nice to him, because he is lonely too.”

“These delicacies of expression are too fine for me.---- Who made the
poor young fellow believe that she liked his society immensely, was much
interested, counted upon him and his violin as her greatest pleasures.”

“You are going too far,” she said. “I think the fiddle will be fun. When
you play very badly and are a little conceited about it, you are always
amusing. And as for Captain Gaunt--so long as he does not complain----”

“It is I who am complaining, Constance.”

“Well, papa--but why? You told me last night to take what I had, since I
could not have what I want.”

“And you have acted upon my advice? With great promptitude, I must
allow.”

“Yes,” she said with composure. “What is the use of losing time? It is
not my fault if there is somebody here quite ready. It amuses him too.
And what harm am I doing? A girl can’t be asked--except for fun--those
disagreeable questions.”

“And therefore you think a girl can do--what would be dishonourable in a
man.”

“Oh, you are so much too serious,” cried Constance. “Are you always as
serious as this? You laughed when I told you about Fanny Gervoise. Is it
only because it is me that you find fault? And don’t you think it is a
little too soon for parental interference? The Gaunts would be much
surprised. They would think you were afraid for my peace of mind,
papa--as her parents were afraid for Miss Tasie.”

This moved the stern father to a smile. He had thought that Constance
did not appreciate that joke; but the girl had more humour than he
supposed. “I see,” he said, “you will have your own way; but remember,
Constance, I cannot allow it to go too far.”

How could he prevent it going as far as she pleased? she said to herself
with a little scorn, when she was alone. Parents may be medieval if they
will; but the means have never yet been invented of preventing a woman,
when she is so minded and has the power in her hands, from achieving her
little triumph over a young man’s heart.



CHAPTER XIX.


“Where is George? I scarcely ever see him,” said the General, in
querulous tones. “He is always after that girl of Waring’s. Why don’t
you try to keep him at home?”

Mrs Gaunt did not say that she had done her best to keep him at home,
but found her efforts unsuccessful. She said apologetically, “He has so
very little to amuse him here; and the music, you know, is a great
bond.”

“He plays like a beginner; and she, like a--like a--as well as a
professional, I don’t understand what kind of bond that can be.”

“So much the greater a compliment is it to George that she likes his
playing,” responded the mother promptly.

“She likes to make a fool of him, I think,” the General said; “and you
help her on. I don’t understand your tactics. Women generally like to
keep their sons free from such entanglements; and after getting him
safely out of India, where every man is bound to fall into mischief----”

“Oh, my dear,” said Mrs Gaunt, “if it ever should come to that--think,
what an excellent connection. I wish it had been Frances; I do wish it
had been Frances. I had always set my heart on that. But the connection
would be the same.”

“You knew nothing about the connection when you set your heart on
Frances. And I can’t help thinking there is something odd about the
connection. Why should that girl have come here, and why should the
other one be spirited away like a transformation scene?”

“Well, my dear, it is in the peerage,” said Mrs Gaunt. “Great families,
we all know, are often very queer in their arrangements. But there can
be no doubt it is all right, for it is in the peerage. If it had been
Frances, I should have been too happy. With such a connection, he could
not fail to get on.”

“He had much better get on by his own merits,” retorted the General with
a grumble. “Frances! Frances was not to be compared with this girl. But
I don’t believe she means anything more than amusing herself,” he added.
“This is not the sort of girl to marry a poor soldier without a
penny--not she. She will take her fun out of him, and then----”

The General kissed the end of his fingers and tossed them into the air.
He was, perhaps, a little annoyed that his son had stepped in and
monopolised the most amusing member of the society. And perhaps he did
not think so badly of George’s chances as he said.

“You may be sure,” said Mrs Gaunt, indignantly, “she will do nothing of
the kind. It is not every day that a girl gets a fine fellow like our
George at her feet. He is just a little too much at her feet, which is
always a mistake, I think. But still, General, you cannot but allow that
Lord Markham’s sister----”

“I have never seen much good come of great connections,” said the
General; but though his tone was that of a sceptic, his mind was softer
than his speech. He, too, felt a certain elation in the thought that
the youngest, who was not the clever one of the family, and who had not
been quite so steady as might have been desired, was thus in the way of
putting himself above the reach of fate. For of course, to be
brother-in-law to a viscount was a good thing. It might not be of the
same use as in the days when patronage ruled supreme; but still it would
be folly to suppose that it was not an advantage. It would admit George
to circles with which otherwise he could have formed no acquaintance,
and make him known to people who could push him in his profession.
George was the one about whom they had been most anxious. All the others
were doing well in their way, though it was not a way which threw them
into contact with viscounts or fine society. George would be over all
their heads in that respect, and he was the one that wanted it most,--he
was the one who was most dependent on outside aid.

“I don’t quite understand,” said Mrs Gaunt, “what Constance’ position
is. She ought to be the Honourable, don’t you think? The Honourable
Constance sounds very pretty. It would come in very nicely with Gaunt,
which is an aristocratic-sounding name. People may say what they like
about titles, but they are very nice, there is such individuality in
them. Mrs George might be anybody; it might be me, as your name is
George too. But the Honourable would distinguish it at once. When she
called here, there was only Miss Constance Waring written on her
father’s card; but then you don’t put Honourable on your card; and as
Lady Markham’s daughter----”

“Women don’t count,” said the General, “as I’ve often told you. She’s
Waring’s daughter.”

“Mr Waring may be a very clever man,” said Mrs Gaunt, indignantly; “but
I should like to know how Constance can be the daughter of a viscountess
in her own right without----”

“Is she a viscountess in her own right?”

This question brought Mrs Gaunt to a sudden pause. She looked at him
with a startled air. “It is not through Mr Waring, that is clear,” she
said.

“But it is not in her own right--at least I don’t think so; it is
through her first husband, the father of that funny little creature”
(meaning Lord Markham).

“General!” said Mrs Gaunt, shocked. Then she added, “I must make some
excuse to look at the Peerage this afternoon. The Durants have always
got their Peerage on the table. We shall have to send for one too,
if----”

“If what? If your boy gets a wife who has titled connections, for that
is all. A wife! and what is he to keep her on, in the name of heaven?”

“Mothers and brothers are tolerably close connections,” said Mrs Gaunt
with dignity. “He has got his pay, General; and you always intended, if
he married to your satisfaction---- Of course,” she added, speaking very
quickly, to forestall an outburst, “Lady Markham will not leave her
daughter dependent upon a captain’s pay. And even Mr Waring--Mr Waring
must have a fortune of his own, or--or a person like that would never
have married him; and he would not be able to live as he does, very
comfortably, even luxuriously----”

“Oh, I suppose he has enough to live on. But as for pinching himself in
order to enable his girl to marry your boy, I don’t believe a word of
it,” exclaimed the General. Fortunately, being carried away by this wave
of criticism, he had forgotten his wife’s allusion to his own intentions
in George’s favour; and this was a subject on which she had no desire to
be premature.

“Well, General,” she said, “perhaps we are going a little too fast. We
don’t know yet whether anything will come of it. George is rather a
lady’s man. It may be only a flirtation; it may end in nothing. We need
not begin to count our chickens----”

“Why, it was you!” cried the astonished General. “I never should have
remarked anything about it, or wasted a moment’s thought on the
subject!”

Mrs Gaunt was not a clever woman, skilled in the art of leaving
conversational responsibilities on the shoulders of her interlocutor;
but if a woman is not inspired on behalf of her youngest boy, when is
she to be inspired? She gave her shoulders the slightest possible shrug
and left him to his newspaper. They had a newspaper from England every
morning--the ‘Standard,’ whose reasonable Conservatism suited the old
General. Except in military matters, such questions as the advance of
Russia towards Afghanistan, or the defences of our own coasts, the
General was not a bigot, and preferred his politics mild, with as little
froth and foam as possible. His newspaper afforded him occupation for
the entire morning, and he enjoyed it in very pleasant wise, seated
under his veranda with a faint suspicion of lemon-blossom in the air
which ruffled the young olive-trees all around, and the blue breadths of
the sea stretching far away at his feet. The garden behind was fenced in
with lemon and orange trees, the fruit in several stages, and just a
little point of blossom here and there, not enough to load the air. Mrs
Gaunt had preserved the wild flowers that were natural to the place, and
accordingly had a scarlet field of anemones which wanted no cultivation,
and innumerable clusters of the sweet white narcissus filling her little
enclosure. These cost no trouble, and left Toni, the man-of-all-work, at
leisure for the more profitable culture of the olives. From where the
General sat, there was nothing visible, however, but the terraces
descending in steps towards the distant glimpse of the road, and the
light-blue margin, edged with spray, of the sea--under a soft and
cheering sun, that warmed to the heart, but did not scorch or blaze, and
with a soft air playing about his old temples, breathing freshness and
that lemon-bloom. Sometimes there would come a faint sound of voices
from some group of workers among the olives. The little clump of
palm-trees at the end of the garden--for nothing here is perfect without
a palm or two--cast a fantastic shadow, that waved over the newspaper
now and then. When a man is old and has done his work, what can he want
more than this sweet retirement and stillness? But naturally, it was not
all that was necessary to young Captain George.

Mrs Gaunt went over to the Durants in the afternoon, as she so often
did, and found that family, as usual, on their loggia. It cost her a
little trouble and diplomacy to get a private inspection of the Peerage,
and even when she did so, it threw but little light upon her question.
Geoffrey Viscount Markham, tenth lord, was a name which she read with a
little flutter of her heart, feeling that he was already almost a
relation; and she read over the names of Markham Priory and Dunmorra,
his lodge in the Highlands, and the town address in Eaton Square, all
with a sense that by-and-by she might herself be directing letters from
one or other of these places. But the Peerage said nothing about the
Dowager Lady Markham subsequent to the conclusion of the first marriage,
except that she had married again, E. Waring, Esq.; and thus Mrs Gaunt’s
studies came to no satisfactory end. She introduced the subject,
however, in the course of tea. She had asked whether any one had heard
from Frances, and had received a satisfactory reply.

“Oh yes; I have had two letters; but she does not say very much. They
had gone down to the Priory for Easter; and she was to be presented at
the first drawing-room. Fancy Frances in a Court train and feathers, at
a drawing-room! It does seem so very strange,” Tasie said. She said it
with a slight sigh, for it was she, in old times, who had expounded
Society to little Frances, and taught her what in an emergency it would
be right to do and say; and now little Frances had taken a stride in
advance. “I asked her to write and tell us all about it, and what she
wore.”

“It would be white, of course.”

“Oh yes, it would be white--a _débutante_. When _I_ went to
drawing-rooms,” said Mrs Durant, who had once, in the character of
chaplainess to an Embassy, made her courtesy to her Majesty, “young
ladies’ toilets were simpler than now. Frances will probably be in white
satin, which, except for a wedding dress, is quite unsuitable, I think,
for a girl.”

“I wonder if we shall see it in the papers? Sometimes my sister-in-law
sends me a ‘Queen,’” said Mrs Gaunt, “when she thinks there is something
in it which will interest me; but she does not know anything about
Frances. Dear little thing, I can’t think of her in white satin. Her
sister, now----”

“Constance would wear velvet, if she could--or cloth-of-gold,” cried
Tasie, with a little irritation. Her mother gave her a reproving glance.

“There is a tone in your voice, Tasie, which is not kind.”

“Oh yes; I know, mamma. But Constance is rather a trial. I know one
ought not to show it. She looks as if one was not good enough to tie her
shoes. And after all, she is no better than Frances; she is not half so
nice as Frances; but I mean there can be no difference of position
between sisters--one is just as good as the other; and Frances was so
fond of coming here.”

“Do you think Constance gives herself airs? Oh no, dear Tasie,” said Mrs
Gaunt, “she is really not at all--when you come to know her. I am most
fond of Frances myself. Frances has grown up among us, and we know all
about her; that is what makes the difference. And Constance--is a little
shy.”

At this there was a cry from the family. “I don’t think she is shy,”
said the old clergyman, whom Constance had insulted by walking out of
church before the sermon.

“Shy!” exclaimed Mrs Durant, “about as shy as----” But no simile
occurred to her which was bold enough to meet the case.

“It is better she should not be shy,” said Tasie. “You remember how she
drove those people from the hotel to church. They have come ever since.
They are quite afraid of her. Oh, there are some good things in her,
some _very_ good things.”

“We are the more hard to please, after knowing Frances,” repeated Mrs
Gaunt. “But when a girl has been like that, used to the best society----
By the way, Mr Durant, you who know everything, are sure to know--Is she
the Honourable? For my part I can’t quite make it out.”

Mr Durant put on his spectacles to look at her, as if such a question
passed the bounds of the permissible. He was very imposing when he
looked at any one through those spectacles with an air of mingled
astonishment and superiority. “Why should she be an Honourable?” he
said.

Mrs Gaunt felt as if she would like to sink into the abysses of the
earth--that is, through the floor of the loggia, whatever might be the
dreadful depths underneath. “Oh, I don’t know,” she said meekly. “I--I
only thought--her mother being a--a titled person, a--a viscountess in
her own right----”

“But my _dear_ lady,” said Mr Durant, with a satisfaction in his
superior knowledge which was almost unspeakable, “Lady Markham is _not_
a viscountess in her own right. Dear, no! She is not a viscountess at
all. She is plain Mrs Waring, and nothing else, if right was right.
Society only winks good-naturedly at her retaining the title, which she
certainly, if there is any meaning in the peerage at all, forfeits by
marrying a commoner.”

Mrs Durant and Tasie both looked with great admiration at their head and
instructor as he thus spoke. “You may be sure Mr Durant says nothing
that he is not quite sure of,” said the wife, crushing any possible
scepticism on the part of the inquirer; and “Papa knows such a lot,”
added Tasie, awed, yet smiling, on her side.

“Oh, is that all?” said Mrs Gaunt, greatly subdued. “But then, Lord
Markham--calls her his sister, you know.”

“The nobility,” said Mr Durant, “are always very scrupulous about
relationships; and she _is_ his step-sister. He couldn’t qualify the
relationship by calling her so. A common person might do so, but not a
man of high breeding, like Lord Markham--that is all.”

“I suppose you must be right,” said Mrs Gaunt. “The General said so too.
But it does seem very strange to me that of the same woman’s children,
and she a lady of title, one should be a lord, and the other have no
sort of distinction at all.” They all smiled upon her blandly, every one
ready with a new piece of information, and much sympathy for her
ignorance, which Mrs Gaunt, seeing that it was she that was likely to be
related to Lord Markham, and not any of the Durants, felt that she could
not bear; so she jumped up hastily and declared that she must be going,
that the General would be waiting for her. “I hope you will come over
some evening, and I will ask the Warings, and Tasie must bring her
music. I am sure you would like to hear George’s violin. He is getting
on so well, with Constance to play his accompaniments;” and before any
one could reply to her, Mrs Gaunt had hurried away.

It is painful not to have time to get out your retort; and these
excellent people turned instinctively upon each other to discharge the
unflown arrows. “It is so very easy, with a little trouble, to
understand the titles, complimentary and otherwise, of our own
nobility,” said Mr Durant, shaking his head.

“And such a sign of want of breeding not to understand them,” said his
wife.

“The Honourable Constance would sound very pretty,” cried Tasie; “it is
such a pity.”

“Especially, our friend thinks, if it was the Honourable Constance
Gaunt.”

“That she could never be, my dear,” said the old clergyman mildly. “She
might be the Honourable Mrs Gaunt; but Constance, no--not in any case.”

“I should like to know why,” Mrs Durant said.

Perhaps here the excellent chaplain’s knowledge failed him; or he had
become weary of the subject; for he rose and said, “I have really no
more time for a matter which does not concern us,” and trotted away.

The mother and daughter left alone together, naturally turned to a point
more interesting than the claims of Constance to rank. “Do you really
think, mamma,” said Tasie--“do you really, really think,--it is silly
to be always discussing these sort of questions--but do you believe that
Constance Waring actually--means anything?”

“You should say does George Gaunt mean anything? The girl never comes
first in such a question,” said Mrs Durant, with that ingrained contempt
for girls which often appears in elderly women. Tasie was so
(traditionally) young, besides having a heart of sixteen in her bosom,
that her sympathies were all with the girl.

“I don’t think in this case, mamma,” she said. “Constance is so much
more a person of the world than any of us. I don’t mean to say she is
worldly. Oh no! but having been in society, and so much _out_.”

“I should like to know in what kind of society she has been,” said Mrs
Durant, who took gloomy views. “I don’t want to say a word against Lady
Markham; but society, Tasie, the kind of society to which your father
and I have been accustomed, looks rather coldly upon a wife living apart
from her husband. Oh, I don’t mean to say Lady Markham was to blame.
Probably she is a most excellent person; but the presumption is that at
least, you know, there were--faults on both sides.”

“I am sure I can’t give an opinion,” cried Tasie, “for, of course, I
don’t know anything about it. But George Gaunt has nothing but his pay;
and Constance couldn’t be in love with him, could she? Oh no! I don’t
know anything about it; but I can’t think a girl like Constance----”

“A girl in a false position,” said the chaplain’s wife, “is often glad
to marry any one, just for a settled place in the world.”

“Oh, but not Constance, mamma! I am sure she is just amusing herself.”

“Tasie! you speak as if she were the man,” exclaimed Mrs Durant, in a
tone of reproof.



CHAPTER XX.


The subjects of these consultations were at the moment in the full
course of a sonata, and oblivious of everything else in the world but
themselves, their music, and their concerns generally. A fortnight had
passed of continual intercourse, of much music, of that propinquity
which is said to originate more matches than any higher influence.
Nothing can be more curious than the pleasure which young persons, and
even persons who are no longer young, find perennially in this condition
of suppressed love-making, this preoccupation of all thoughts and plans
in the series of continually recurring meetings, the confidences, the
divinations, the endless talk which is never exhausted, and in which the
most artificial beings in the world probably reveal more of themselves
than they themselves know--when the edge of emotion is always being
touched, and very often, by one of the pair at least overpassed, in
either a comic or a tragic way. It is not necessary that there should be
any real charm in either party, and what is still more extraordinary, it
is possible enough that one may be a person of genius, and the other not
far removed from a fool; that one may be simple as a rustic, and the
other a man or woman of the world. No rule, in short, holds in those
extraordinary yet most common and everyday conjunctions. There is an
amount of amusement, excitement, variety, to be found in them which is
in no other kind of diversion. This is the great reason, no doubt, why
flirtation never fails. It is dangerous, which helps the effect. For
those sinners who go into it voluntarily for the sake of amusement, it
has all the attractions of romance and the drama combined. If they are
intellectual, it is a study of human character; in all cases, it is an
interest which quickens the colour and the current of life: who can tell
why or how? It is not the disastrous love-makings that end in misery and
sin, of which we speak. It is those which are practised in society
every day, which sometimes end in a heart-break indeed, but often in
nothing at all.

Constance was not unacquainted with the amusement, though she was so
young; and it is to be feared that she resorted to it deliberately for
the amusement of her otherwise dull life at the Palazzo, in the first
shock of her loneliness, when she felt herself abandoned. It was, of
course, the victim himself who had first put the suggestion and the
means of carrying it out into her hands. And she did not take it up in
pure wantonness, but actually gave a thought to him, and the effect it
might produce upon him, even in the very act of entering upon her
diversion. She said to herself that Captain Gaunt, too, was very dull;
that he would want something more than the society of his father and
mother; that it would be a kindness to the old people to make his life
amusing to him, since in that case he would stay, and in the other, not.
And as for himself, if the worst came to the worst, and he fell
seriously in love--as, indeed, seemed rather likely, judging from the
fervour of the beginning--even that, Constance calculated, would do him
no permanent harm. “Men have died,” she said to herself, “but not for
love.” And then there is that famous phrase about a liberal education.
What was it? To love her was a liberal education? Something of that
sort. Then it could only be an advantage to him; for Constance was aware
that she herself was cleverer, more cultivated, and generally far more
“up to” everything than young Gaunt. If he had to pay for it by a
disappointment, really everybody had to pay for their education in one
way or another; and if he were disappointed, it would be his own fault;
for he must know very well, everybody must know, that it was quite out
of the question she should marry him in any circumstances--entirely out
of the question; unless he was an absolute simpleton, or the most
presumptuous young coxcomb in the world, he _must_ see that; and if he
were one or the other, the discovery would do him all the good in the
world. Thus Constance made it out fully, and to her own satisfaction,
that in any case the experience could do him nothing but good.

Things had gone very far during this fortnight--so far, that she
sometimes had a doubt whether they had not gone far enough. For one
thing, it had cost her a great deal in the way of music. She was a very
accomplished musician for her age, and poor George Gaunt was one of the
greatest bunglers that ever began to study the violin. It may be
supposed what an amusement this intercourse was to Constance, when it is
said that she bore with his violin like an angel, laughed and scolded
and encouraged and pulled him along till he believed that he could play
the waltzes of Chopin and many other things which were as far above him
as the empyrean is above earth. When he paused, bewildered, imploring
her to go on, assuring her that he could catch her up, Constance
betrayed no horror, but only laughed till the tears came. She would turn
round upon her music-stool sometimes and rally him with a free use of a
superior kind of slang, which was unutterably solemn, and quite unknown
to the young soldier, who laboured conscientiously with his fiddle in
the evenings and mornings, till General Gaunt’s life became a burden to
him--in a vain effort to elevate himself to a standard with which she
might be satisfied. He went to practise in the morning; he went in the
afternoon to ask if she thought of making any expedition? to suggest
that his mother wished very much to take him to see this or that, and
had sent him to ask would Miss Waring come? Constance was generally
quite willing to come, and not at all afraid to walk to the bungalow
with him, where, perhaps, old Luca’s carriage would be standing to drive
them along the dusty road to the opening of some valley, where Mrs
Gaunt, not a good climber, she allowed, would sit and wait for them till
they had explored the dell, or inspected the little town seated at its
head. Captain Gaunt was more punctilious about his mother’s presence as
_chaperon_ than Constance was, who felt quite at her ease roaming with
him among the terraces of the olive woods. It was altogether so idyllic,
so innocent, that there was no occasion for any conventional safeguards:
and there was nobody to see them or remark upon the prolonged
_tête-à-tête_. Constance came to know the young fellow far better than
his mother did, better than he himself did, in these walks and talks.

“Miss Waring, don’t laugh at a fellow. I know I deserve it.--Oh yes, do,
if you like. I had rather you laughed than closed the piano. I had a
good long grind at it this morning; but somehow these triplets are more
than I can fathom. Let us have that movement again, will you? Oh, not if
you are tired. As long as you’ll let me sit and talk. I love music with
all my heart, but I love----”

“Chatter,” said Constance. “I know you do. It is not a dignified word to
apply to a gentleman; but you know, Captain Gaunt, you do love to
chatter.”

“Anything to please you,” said the young man. “That wasn’t how I
intended to end my sentence. I love to--chatter, if you like, as long as
you will listen--or play, or do anything; as long as----”

“You must allow,” said Constance, “that I listen admirably. I am
thoroughly well up in all your subjects. I know the station as well as
if I lived there.”

“Don’t say that,” he cried; “it makes a man beside himself. Oh, if
there was any chance that you might ever----! I think--I’m almost
sure--you would like the society in India--it’s so easy; everybody’s so
kind. A--a young couple, you know, as long as the lady is--delightful.”

“But I am not a young couple,” said Constance, with a smile. “You
sometimes confuse your plurals in the funniest way. Is that Indian too?
Now come, Captain Gaunt, let us get on. Begin at the andante. One,
two--three! Now, let’s get on.”

And then a few bars would be played, and then she would turn sharp round
upon the music-stool and take the violin out of his astonished hands.

“Oh, what a shriek! It goes through and through one’s head. Don’t you
think an instrument has feelings? That was a cry of the poor ill-used
fiddle, that could bear no more. Give it to me.” She took the bow in her
hands, and leaned the instrument tenderly against her shoulder. “It
should be played like this,” she said.

“Miss Waring, you can play the violin too?”

“A little,” she said, leaning down her soft cheek against it, as if she
loved it, and drawing a charmingly sympathetic harmony from the ill-used
strings.

“I will never play again,” cried the young man. “Yes, I will--to touch
it where you have touched it. Oh, I think you can do everything, and
make everything perfect you look at.”

“No,” said Constance, shaking her head as she ran the bow softly, so
softly over the strings; “for you are not perfect at all, though I have
looked at you a great deal. Look! this is the way to do it. I am not
going to accompany you any more. I am going to give you lessons. Take it
now, and let me see you play that passage. Louder, softer--louder. Come,
that was better. I think I shall make something of you after all.”

“You can make anything of me,” said the poor young soldier, with his
lips on the place her cheek had touched--“whatever you please.”

“A first-rate violin-player, then,” said Constance. “But I don’t think
my power goes so high as that. Poor General, what does he say when you
grind, as you call it, all the morning?”

“Oh, mother smooths him down--that is the use of a mother.”

“Is it?” said Constance, with an air of impartial inquiry. “I didn’t
know. Come, Captain Gaunt, we are losing our time.”

And then _tant bien que mal_, the sonata was got through.

“I am glad Beethoven is dead,” said Constance, as she closed the piano.
“He is safe from that at least: he can never hear us play. When you go
home, Captain Gaunt, I advise you to take lodgings in some quite
out-of-the-way place, about Russell Square, or Islington, or somewhere,
and grind, as you call it, till you are had up as a nuisance; or
else----”

“Or else--what, Miss Waring? Anything to please you.”

“Or else--give it up altogether,” Constance said.

His face grew very long; he was very fond of his violin. “If you think
it is so hopeless as that--if you wish me to give it up altogether----”

“Oh, not I. It amuses me. I like to hear you break down. It would be
quite a pity if you were to give up, you take my scolding so
delightfully. Don’t give it up as long as you are here, Captain Gaunt.
After that, it doesn’t matter what happens--to me.”

“No,” he said, almost with a groan, “it doesn’t matter what happens
after that--to me. It’s the Deluge, you know,” said the poor young
fellow. “I wish the world would come to an end first”--thus
unconsciously echoing the poet. “But, Miss Waring,” he added anxiously,
coming a little closer, “I may come back? Though I must go to London, it
is not necessary I should stay there. I may come back?”

“Oh, I hope so, Captain Gaunt. What would your mother do, if you did not
come back? But I suppose she will be going away for the summer.
Everybody leaves Bordighera in the summer, I hear.”

“I had not thought of that,” cried the young soldier. “And you will be
going too?’

“I suppose so,” said Constance. “Papa, I hope, is not so lost to every
sense of duty as to let me spoil my complexion for ever by staying
here.”

“That would be impossible,” he said, with eyes full of admiration.

“You intend that for a compliment, Captain Gaunt; but it is no
compliment. It means either that I have no complexion to lose, or that I
am one of those thick-skinned people who take no harm--neither of which
is complimentary, nor true. I shall have to teach you how to pay
compliments as well as how to play the violin.”

“Ah, if you only would!” he cried. “Teach me how to make myself what you
like--how to speak, how to look, how----”

“Oh, that is a great deal too much,” she said. “I cannot undertake all
your education. Do you know it is close upon noon? Unless you are going
to stay to breakfast----”

“Oh, thanks, Miss Waring. They will expect me at home. But you will give
me a message to take back to my mother. I may come to fetch you to drive
with her to-day?”

“It must be dreadfully dull work for her sitting waiting while we
explore.”

“Oh, not at all. She is never dull when she knows I am enjoying
myself--that’s the mother’s way.”

“Is it?” said Constance, with once more that air of acquiring
information. “I am not acquainted with that kind of mother. But do you
think, Captain Gaunt, it is right to enjoy yourself, as you call it, at
your mother’s cost?”

He gave her a look of great doubt and trouble. “Oh, Miss Waring, I don’t
think you should put it so. My mother finds her pleasure in that--indeed
she does. Ask herself. Of course I would not impose upon her, not for
the world; but she likes it, I assure you she likes it.”

“It is very extraordinary that any one should like sitting in that
carriage for hours with nothing to do. I will come with pleasure,
Captain Gaunt. I will sit with your mother while you go and take your
walk. That will be more cheerful for all parties,” Constance said.

Young Gaunt’s face grew half a mile long. He began to expostulate and
explain; but Waring’s step was heard stirring in the next room,
approaching the door, and the young man had no desire to see the master
of the house with his watch in his hand, demanding to know why Domenico
was so late. Captain Gaunt knew very well why Domenico was so late. He
knew a way of conciliating the servants, though he had not yet succeeded
with the young mistress. He said hurriedly, “I will come for you at
three,” and rushed away. Waring came in at one door as Gaunt disappeared
at the other. The delay of the breakfast was a practical matter, of
which, without any reproach of medievalism, he had a right to complain.

“If you must have this young fellow every morning, he may at least go
away in proper time,” he said, with his watch in his hand, as young
Gaunt had divined.

“Oh, papa, twelve is striking loud enough. You need not produce your
watch at the same time.”

“Then why have I to wait?” he said. There was something awful in his
tone. But Domenico was equal to the occasion, worthy at once of the
lover’s and of the father’s trust. At that moment, Captain Gaunt having
been got away while the great bell of Bordighera was still sounding,
the faithful Domenico threw open, perhaps with a little more sound than
was necessary, an ostentation of readiness, the dining-room door.

The meal was a somewhat silent one. Perhaps Constance was pondering the
looks which she had not been able to ignore, the words which she had
managed to quench like so many fiery arrows before they could set fire
to anything, of her eager lover, and was pale and a little preoccupied
in spite of herself, feeling that things were going further than she
intended; and perhaps her father, feeling the situation too serious, and
remonstrance inevitable, was silenced by the thought of what he had to
say. It is so difficult in such circumstances for two people, with no
relief from any third party, without even that wholesome regard for the
servant in attendance, which keeps the peace during many a family
crisis--for with Domenico, who knew no English, they were as safe as
when they were alone--it is very difficult to find subjects for
conversation, that will not lead direct to the very heart of the matter
which is being postponed. Constance could not talk of her music, for
Gaunt was associated with it. She could not speak of her walk, for he
was her invariable companion. She could ask no questions about the
neighbourhood, for was it not to make her acquainted with the
neighbourhood that all those expeditions were being made? The great
bouquet of anemones which blazed in the centre of the table came from
Mrs Gaunt’s garden. She began to think that she was buying her amusement
too dearly. As for Waring, his mind was not so full of these references,
but he was occupied by the thought of what he had to say to this
headstrong girl, and by a strong sense that he was an ill-used man, in
having such responsibilities thrust upon him against his will. Frances
would not have led him into such difficulties. To Frances, young Gaunt
would have been no more interesting than his father; or so at least this
man, whose experience had taught him so little, was ready to believe.

“I want to say something to you, Constance,” he began at length, after
Domenico had left the room. “You must not stop my mouth by remarks
about middle-age parents. I am a middle-age parent, so there is an end
of it. Are you going to marry George Gaunt?”

“I--going to marry George Gaunt! Papa!”

“You had better, I think,” said her father. “It will save us all a great
deal of embarrassment. I should not have recommended it, had I been
consulted at the beginning. But you like to be independent and have your
own way; and the best thing you can do is to marry. I don’t know how
your mother will take it; but so far as I am concerned, I think it would
save everybody a great deal of trouble. You will be able to turn him
round your finger; that will suit you, though the want of money may be
in your way.”

“I think you must mean to insult me, papa,” said Constance, who had
grown crimson.

“That is all nonsense, my dear. I am suggesting what seems the best
thing in the circumstances, to set us all at our ease.”

“To get rid of me, you mean,” she cried.

“I have not taken any steps to get rid of you. I did not invite you, in
the first place, you will remember; you came of your own will. But I
was very willing to make the best of it. I let Frances go, who suited
me--whom I had brought up--for your sake. All the rest has been your
doing. Young Gaunt was never invited by me. I have had no hand in those
rambles of yours. But since you find so much pleasure in his
society----”

“Papa, you know I don’t find pleasure in his society; you know----”

“Then why do you seek it?” said Waring, with that logic which is so
cruel.

Constance, on the other side of the table, was as red as the anemones,
and far more brilliant in the glow of passion. “I have not sought it,”
she cried. “I have let him come--that is all. I have gone when Mrs Gaunt
asked me. Must a girl marry every man that chooses to be silly? Can I
help it, if he is so vain? It is only vanity,” she said, springing up
from her chair, “that makes men think a girl is always ready to marry.
What should I marry for? If I had wanted to marry---- Papa, I don’t wish
to be disagreeable, but it is _vulgar_, if you force me to say it--it is
common to talk to me so.”

“I might retort,” said Waring.

“Oh yes, I know you might retort. It is common to amuse one’s self. So
is it common to breathe and move about, and like a little fun when you
are young. I have no fun here. There is nobody to talk to, not a thing
to do. How do you suppose I am to get on? How can I live without
something to fill up my time?”

“Then you must take the consequences,” he said.

In spite of herself, Constance felt a shiver of alarm. She began to
speak, then stopped suddenly, looked at him with a look of mingled
defiance and terror, and--what was so unlike her, so common, so weak, as
she felt--began to cry, notwithstanding all she could do to restrain
herself. To hide this unaccountable weakness, she hastened off and hid
herself in her room, making as if she had gone off in resentment. Better
that, than that he should see her crying like any silly girl. All this
had got on her nerves, she explained to herself afterwards. The
consequences! Constance held her breath as they became dimly apparent to
her in an atmosphere of horror. George Gaunt no longer an eager lover,
whom it was amusing, even exciting to draw on, to see just on the eve of
a self-committal, which it was the greatest fun in the world to stop,
before it went too far--but the master of her destinies, her constant
and inseparable companion, from whom she could never get free, by whom
she must not even say that she was bored to death--gracious powers! and
with so many other attendant horrors. To go to India with him, to fall
into the life of the station, to march with the regiment. Constance’s
lively imagination pictured a baggage-waggon, with herself on the top,
which made her laugh. But the reality was not laughable; it was
horrible. The consequences! No; she would not take the consequences. She
would sit with Mrs Gaunt in the carriage, and let him take his walk by
himself. She would begin to show him the extent of his mistake from that
very day. To take any stronger step, to refuse to go out with him at
all, she thought, on consideration, not necessary. The gentler measures
first, which perhaps he might be wise enough to accept.

But if he did not accept them, what was Constance to do? She had run
away from an impending catastrophe, to take refuge with her father. But
with whom could she take refuge, if he continued to hold his present
strain of argument? And unless he would go away of himself, how was she
to shake off this young soldier? She did not want to shake him off; he
was all the amusement she had. What was she to do?

There glanced across her mind for a moment a sort of desperate gleam of
reflection from her father’s words: “You like to be independent; the
best thing you can do is to marry.” There was a kind of truth in it, a
sort of distorted truth, such as was likely enough to come through the
medium of a mind so wholly at variance with all established forms.
Independent--there was something in that; and India was full of novelty,
amusing, a sort of world she had no experience of. A tremor of
excitement got into her nerves as she heard the bell ring, and knew that
he had come for her. He! the only individual who was at all interesting
for the moment, whom she held in her hands, to do what she pleased with.
She could turn him round her little finger, as her father said: and
independence! Was it a Mephistopheles that was tempting her, or a good
angel leading her the right way?



CHAPTER XXI.


Frances remembered little of the journey after it was over, though she
was keenly conscious of everything at the time, if there can be any keen
consciousness of a thing which is all vague, which conveys no clear
idea. Through the darkness of the night, which came on before she had
left the coast she knew, with all those familiar towns gleaming out as
she passed--Mentone, Monaco on its headland, the sheltering bays which
keep so warm and bright those cities of sickness, of idleness, and
pleasure--the palms, the olives, the oranges, the aloe hedges, the roses
and heliotropes--there was a confused and breathless sweep of distance,
half in the dark, half in the light, the monotonous plains, the lines of
poplars, the straight highroads of France. Paris, where they stayed for
a night, was only like a bigger, noisier, vast railway station, to
Frances. She had no time, in the hurry of her journey, in the still
greater hurry of her thoughts, to realise that here was the scene of
that dread Revolution of which she had read with shuddering
excitement--that she was driven past the spot where the guillotine was
first set up, and through the streets where the tumbrels had rolled,
carrying to that dread death the many tender victims, who were all she
knew of that great convulsion of history. Markham, who was so good to
her, put his head out of the carriage and pointed to a series of great
windows flashing with light. “What a pity there’s no time!” he said. She
asked “For what?” with the most complete want of comprehension. “For
shopping, of course,” he said, with a laugh. For shopping! She seemed to
be unacquainted with the meaning of the words. In the midst of this
strange wave of the unknown which was carrying her away, carrying her to
a world more unknown still, to suppose that she could pause and think of
shopping! The inappropriateness of the suggestion bewildered Frances.
Markham, indeed, altogether bewildered her. He was very good to her,
attending to her comfort, watchful over her needs in a way which she
could not have imagined possible. Her father had never been unkind; but
it did not occur to him to take care of her. It was she who took care of
him. If there was anything forgotten, it was she who got the blame; and
when he wanted a book, or his writing-desk, or a rug to put over his
knees, he called to his little girl to hand it to him, without the
faintest conception that there was anything incongruous in it. And there
was nothing incongruous in it. If there is any one in the world whom it
is natural to send on your errands, to get you what you want, surely
your child is that person. Waring did not think on the subject, but
simply did so by instinct, by nature; and equally by instinct Frances
obeyed, without a doubt that it was her simplest duty. If Markham had
said, “Get me my book, Frances; dear child, just open that bag--hand me
so-and-so,” she would have considered it the most natural thing in the
world. What he did do surprised her much more. He tripped in and out of
his seat at her smallest suggestion. He pulled up and down the window
at her pleasure, never appearing to think that it mattered whether _he_
liked it or not. He took her out carefully on his arm, and made her
dine, not asking what she would have, as her father might perhaps have
done, but bringing her the best that was to be had, choosing what she
should eat, serving her as if she had been the Queen! It contributed to
the dizzying effect of the rapid journey that she should thus have been
placed in a position so different from any that she had ever known.

And then there came the last stage, the strange leaden-grey stormy sea,
which was so unlike those blue ripples that came up just so far--no
farther, on the beach at Bordighera. She began to understand what is
said in the Bible about the waves that mount up like mountains, when she
saw the roll of the Channel. She had always a little wondered what that
meant. To be sure, there were storms now and then along the Riviera,
when the blue edge to the sea-mantle disappeared, and all became a deep
purple, solemn enough for a king’s pall, as it has been the pall of so
many a brave man; but even that was never like the dangerous threatening
lash of the waves along those rocks, and the way in which they raised
their awful heads. And was that England, white with a faint line of
green, so sodden and damp as it looked, rising out of the sea? The heart
of Frances sank: it was not like her anticipations. She had thought
there would be something triumphant, grand, about the aspect of
England--something proud, like a monarch of the sea; and it was only a
damp, greyish-white line, rising not very far out of those sullen waves.
An east wind was blowing with that blighting greyness which here, in the
uttermost parts of the earth, we are so well used to: and it was cold. A
gleam of pale sun indeed shot out of the clouds from time to time; but
there was no real warmth in it, and the effect of everything was
depressing. The green fields and hedgerows cheered her a little; but it
was all damp, and the sky was grey. And then came London, with a roar
and noise as if they had fallen into a den of wild beasts, and throngs,
multitudes of people at every little station which the quick train
flashed past, and on the platform, where at last she arrived dizzy and
faint with fatigue and wonderment. But Markham always was more kind than
words could say. He sympathised with her, seeing her forlorn looks at
everything. He did not ask her how she liked it, what she thought of her
native country. When they arrived at last, he found out miraculously,
among the crowd of carriages, a quiet, little, dark-coloured brougham,
and put her into it. “We’ll trundle off home,” he said, “you and I, Fan,
and let John look after the things; you are so tired you can scarcely
speak.”

“Not so much tired,” said Frances, and tried to smile, but could not say
any more.

“I understand.” He took her hand into his with the kindest caressing
touch. “You mustn’t be frightened, my dear. There’s nothing to be
frightened about. You’ll like my mother. Perhaps it was silly of me to
say that, and make you cry. Don’t cry, Fan, or I shall cry too. I am the
foolishest little beggar, you know, and always do what my companions do.
Don’t make a fool of your old brother, my dear. There, look out and see
what a beastly place old London is, Fan.”

“Don’t call me Fan,” she cried, this slight irritation affording her an
excuse for disburdening herself of some of the nervous excitement in
her. “Call me Frances, Markham.”

“Life’s too short for a name in two syllables. I’ve got two syllables
myself, that’s true; but many fellows call me Mark, and you are welcome
to, if you like. No; I shall call you Fan; you must make up your mind to
it. Did you ever see such murky heavy air? It isn’t air at all--it’s
smoke, and animalculæ, and everything that’s dreadful. It’s not like
that blue stuff on the Riviera, is it?”

“Oh no!” cried Frances, with fervour. “But I suppose London is better
for some things,” she added with a doubtful voice.

“Better! It’s better than any other place on the face of the earth; it’s
the only place to live in,” said Markham. “Why, child, it is
paradise,”--he paused a moment, and then added, “with pandemonium next
door.”

“Markham!” the girl cried.

“I was wrong to mention such a place in your hearing. I know I was.
Never mind, Fan; you shall see the one, and you shall know nothing about
the other. Why, here we are in Eaton Square.”

The door flashed open as soon as the carriage stopped, letting out a
flood of light and warmth. Markham almost lifted the trembling girl out.
She had got her veil entangled about her head, her arms in the cloak
which she had half thrown off. She was not prepared for this abrupt
arrival. She seemed to see nothing but the light, to know nothing until
she found herself suddenly in some one’s arms; then the light seemed to
go out of her eyes. Sight had nothing to do with the sensation, the
warmth, the softness, the faint rustle, the faint perfume, with which
she was suddenly encircled; and for a few moments she knew nothing more.

“Dear, dear, Markham, I hope she is not delicate--I hope she is not
given to fainting,” she heard in a disturbed but pleasant voice, before
she felt able to open her eyes.

“Not a bit,” said Markham’s familiar tones. “She’s overdone, and awfully
anxious about meeting you.”

“My poor dear! Why should she be anxious about meeting me?” said the
other voice, a voice round and soft, with a plaintive tone in it; and
then there came the touch of a pair of lips, soft and caressing like the
voice, upon the girl’s cheek. She did not yet open her eyes, half
because she could not, half because she would not, but whispered in a
faint little tentative utterance, “Mother!” wondering vaguely whether
the atmosphere round her, the kiss, the voice, was all the mother she
was to know.

“My poor little baby, my little girl! open your eyes. Markham, I want to
see the colour of her eyes.”

“As if I could open her eyes for you!” cried Markham with a strange
outburst of sound, which, if he had been a woman, might have meant
crying, but must have been some sort of a laugh, since he was a man. He
seemed to walk away, and then came back again. “Come, Fan, that’s
enough. Open your eyes, and look at us. I told you there was nothing to
be frightened for.”

And then Frances raised herself; for, to her astonishment, she was
lying down upon a sofa, and looked round her, bewildered. Beside her
stood a little lady, about her own height, with smooth brown hair like
hers, with her hands clasped, just as Frances was aware she had herself
a custom of clasping her hands. It began to dawn upon her that Constance
had said she was very like mamma. This new-comer was beautifully dressed
in soft black satin, that did not rustle--that was far, far too harsh a
word--but swept softly about her with the faintest pleasant sound; and
round her breathed that atmosphere which Frances felt would mean mother
to her for ever and ever,--an air that was infinitely soft, with a touch
in it of some sweetness. Oh, not scent! She rejected the word with
disdain--something, nothing, the atmosphere of a mother. In the curious
ecstasy in which she was, made up of fatigue, wonder, and the excitement
of this astounding plunge into the unknown, that was how she felt.

“Let me look at you, my child. I can’t think of her as a grown girl,
Markham. Don’t you know she is my baby. She has never grown up, like
the rest of you, to me. Oh, did you never wish for me, little Frances?
Did you never want your mother, my darling? Often, often, I have lain
awake in the night and cried for you.”

“Oh mamma!” cried Frances, forgetting her shyness, throwing herself into
her mother’s arms. The temptation to tell her that she had never known
anything about her mother, to excuse herself at her father’s expense,
was strong. But she kept back the words that were at her lips. “I have
always wanted this all my life,” she cried, with a sudden impulse, and
laid her head upon her mother’s breast, feeling in all the commotion and
melting of her heart a consciousness of the accessories, the rich
softness of the satin, the delicate perfume, all the details of the new
personality by which her own was surrounded on every side.

“Now I see,” cried the new-found mother, “it was no use parting this
child and me, Markham. It is all the same between us--isn’t it, my
darling?--as if we had always been together--all the same in a moment.
Come up-stairs now, if you feel able, dear one. Do you think, Markham,
she is able to walk up-stairs?”

“Oh, quite able; oh, quite, quite well. It was only for a moment. I
was--frightened, I think.”

“But you will never be frightened any more,” said Lady Markham, drawing
the girl’s arm through her own, leading her away. Frances was giddy
still, and stumbled as she went, though she had pledged herself never to
be frightened again. She went in a dream up the softly carpeted stairs.
She knew what handsome rooms were, the lofty bare grandeur of an Italian
palazzo; but all this carpeting and cushioning, the softness, the
warmth, the clothed and comfortable look, bewildered her. She could
scarcely find her way through the drawing-room, crowded with costly
furniture, to the blazing fire, by the side of which stood the
tea-table, like, and yet how unlike, that anxious copy of English ways
which Frances had set up in the loggia. She was conscious, with a
momentary gleam of complacency, that her cups and saucers were better,
though! not belonging to an ordinary modern set, like these; but, alas,
in everything else how far short! Then she was taken up-stairs,
through--as she thought--the sumptuous arrangements of her mother’s
room, to another smaller, which opened from it, and in which there was
the same wealth of carpets, curtains, easy-chairs, and writing-tables,
in addition to the necessary details of a sleeping-room. Frances looked
round it admiringly. She knew nothing about the modern-artistic, though
something, a very little, about old art. The painted ceilings and old
gilding of the Palazzo--which she began secretly and obstinately to call
_home_ from this moment forth--were intelligible to her; but she was
quite unacquainted with Mr Morris’s papers and the art fabrics from
Liberty’s. She looked at them with admiration, but doubt. She thought
the walls “killed” the pictures that were hung round, which were not
like her own little gallery at home, which she had left with a little
pang to her sister. “Is this Constance’s room?” she asked timidly,
called back to a recollection of Constance, and wondering whether the
transfer was to be complete.

“No, my love; it is Frances’ room,” said Lady Markham. “It has always
been ready for you. I expected you to come some time. I have always
hoped that; but I never thought that Con would desert me.” Her voice
faltered a little, which instantly touched Frances’ heart.

“I asked,” she said, “not just out of curiosity, but because, when she
came to us, I gave her my room. Our rooms are not like these; they have
very few things in them. There are no carpets; it is warmer there, you
know; but I thought she would find the blue room so bare, I gave her
mine.”

Lady Markham smiled upon her, and said, but with a faint, the very
faintest indication of being less interested than Frances was, “You have
not many visitors, I suppose?”

“Oh, none!” cried Frances. “I suppose we are--rather poor. We are
not--like this.”

“My darling, you don’t know how to speak to me, your own mother! What do
you mean, dear, by _we_? You must learn to mean something else by _we_.
Your father, if he had chosen, might have had--all that you see, and
more. And Constance---- But we will say nothing more to-night on that
subject. This is Con’s room, see, on the other side of mine. It was
always my fancy, my hope, some time to have my two girls, one on each
side.”

Frances followed her mother to the room on the other side with great
interest. It was still more luxurious than the one appropriated to
herself--more comfortable, as a room which has been occupied, which
shows traces of its tenant’s tastes and likings, must naturally be; and
it was brighter, occupying the front of the house, while that of
Frances’ looked to the side. She glanced round at all the fittings and
decorations, which, to her unaccustomed eyes, were so splendid. “Poor
Constance!” she said under her breath.

“Why do you say poor Constance?” said Lady Markham, with something sharp
and sudden in her tone. And then she, too, said regretfully, “Poor Con!
You think it will be disappointing to her, this other life which she has
chosen. Was it--dreary for you, my poor child?”

Then there rose up in the tranquil mind of Frances a kind of
tempest-blast of opposition and resentment. “It is the only life I
know--it was--everything I liked best,” she cried. The first part of the
sentence was very firmly, almost aggressively said. In the second, she
wavered, hesitated, changed the tense--it was. She did not quite know
herself what the change meant.

Lady Markham looked at her with a penetrating gaze. “It was--everything
you knew, my little Frances. I understand you, my dear. You will not be
disloyal to the past. But to Constance, who does not know it, who knows
something else---- Poor Con! I understand. But she will have to pay for
her experience, like all the rest.”

Frances had been profoundly agitated, but in the way of happiness. She
did not feel happy now. She felt disposed to cry, not because of the
relief of tears, but because she did not know how else to express the
sense of contrariety, of disturbance that had got into her mind. Was it
that already a wrong note had sounded between herself and this unknown
mother, whom it had been a rapture to see and touch? Or was it only
that she was tired? Lady Markham saw the condition into which her nerves
and temper were strained. She took her back tenderly into her room. “My
dear,” she said, “if you would rather not, don’t change your dress. Do
just as you please to-night. I would stay and help you, or I would send
Josephine, my maid, to help you; but I think you will prefer to be left
alone and quiet.”

“Oh yes,” cried Frances with fervour; then she added hastily, “If you do
not think me disagreeable to say so.”

“I am not prepared to think anything in you disagreeable, my dear,” said
her mother, kissing her--but with a sigh. This sigh Frances echoed in a
burst of tears when the door closed and she found herself alone--alone,
quite alone, more so than she had ever been in her life, she whispered
to herself, in the shock of the unreasonable and altogether fantastic
disappointment which had followed her ecstasy of pleasure. Most likely
it meant nothing at all but the reaction from that too highly raised
level of feeling.

“No; I am not disappointed,” Lady Markham was saying down-stairs. She
was standing before the genial blaze of the fire, looking into it with
her head bent and a serious expression on her face. “Perhaps I was too
much delighted for a moment; but she, poor child, now that she has
looked at me a second time, she is a little, just a little disappointed
in me. That’s rather hard for a mother, you know; or I suppose you don’t
know.”

“I never was a mother,” said Markham. “I should think it’s very natural.
The little thing has been forming the most romantic ideas. If you had
been an angel from heaven----”

“Which I am not,” she said with a smile, still looking into the fire.

“Heaven be praised,” said Markham. “In that case, you would not have
suited me--which you do, mammy, you know, down to the ground.”

She gave a half glance at him, a half smile, but did not disturb the
chain of her reflections. “That’s something, Markham,” she said.

“Yes; it’s something. On my side, it is a great deal. Don’t go too fast
with little Fan. She has a deal in her. Have a little patience, and let
her settle down her own way.”

“I don’t feel sure that she has not got her father’s temper; I saw
something like it in her eyes.”

“That is nonsense, begging your pardon. She has got nothing of her
father in her eyes. Her eyes are like yours, and so is everything about
her. My dear mother, Con’s like Waring, if you like. This one is of our
side of the house.”

“Do you really think so?” Lady Markham looked up now and laid her hand
affectionately upon his shoulder, and laughed. “But, my dear boy, you
are as like the Markhams as you can look. On my side of the house, there
is nobody at all, unless, as you say----”

“Frances,” said the little man. “I told you--the best of the lot. I took
to her in a moment by that very token. Therefore, don’t go too fast with
her, mother. She has her own notions. She is as stanch as a
little--Turk,” said Markham, using the first word that offered. When he
met his mother’s eye, he retired a little, with the air of a man who
does not mean to be questioned; which naturally stimulated curiosity in
her mind.

“How have you found out that she is stanch, Markham?”

“Oh, in half-a-dozen ways,” he answered, carelessly. “And she will stick
to her father through thick and thin, so mind what you say.”

Then Lady Markham began to bemoan herself a little gently, before the
fire, in the most luxurious of easy-chairs.

“Was ever woman in such a position,” she said, “to be making
acquaintance, for the first time, at eighteen, with my own daughter--and
to have to pick my words and to be careful what I say?”

“Well, mammy,” said Markham, “it might have been worse. Let us make the
best of it. He has always kept his word, which is something, and has
never annoyed you. And it is quite a nice thing for Con to have him to
go to, to find out how dull it is, and know her own mind. And now we’ve
got the other one too.”

Lady Markham still rocked herself a little in her chair, and put her
handkerchief to her eyes. “For all that, it is very hard, both on her
and me,” she said.



CHAPTER XXII.


Lady Markham’s story was one which was very well known to Society--to
which everything is known--though it had remained so long a secret, and
was still a mystery to one of her children. Waring had been able to lose
himself in distance, and keep his position concealed from every one; but
it was clear that his wife could not do so, remaining as she did in the
world which was fully acquainted with her, and which required an
explanation of everything that happened. Perhaps it is more essential to
a woman than to a man that her position should be fully explained,
though it is one of the drawbacks of an established place and sphere,
which is seldom spoken of, yet is very real, and one of the greatest
embarrassments of life. So long as existence is without complications,
this matters little; but when these arise, those difficulties which so
often distract the career of a family, the inevitable explanations that
have to be made to the little interested ring of spectators, is often
the worst part of domestic trouble. Waring, whose temperament was what
is called sensitive--that is, impatient, self-willed, and
unenduring--would not submit to such a necessity. But a woman cannot
fly; she must stand in her place, if she has any regard for that place,
and for the reputation which it is common to say is more delicate and
easily injured than is that of a man--and make her excuse to the world.
Perhaps, as, sooner or later, excuses and explanations must be afforded,
it is the wiser plan to get over them publicly and at once; for even
Waring, as has been seen, though he escaped, and had a dozen years of
tranquillity, had at the last to submit himself to the questions of Mr
Durant. All that was over for these dozen years with Lady Markham.
Everybody knew exactly what her position was. Scandal had never
breathed upon her, either at the moment of the separation or afterwards.
It had been a foolish, romantic love-marriage between a woman of Society
and a man who was half rustic, half scholar. They had found after a time
that they could not endure each other--as anybody with a head on his
shoulders could have told them from the beginning, Society said. And
then he had taken the really sensible though wild and romantic step of
banishing himself and leaving her free. There were some who had supposed
this a piece of _bizarre_ generosity, peculiar to the man, and some who
thought it only a natural return to the kind of life that suited him
best.

Lady Markham had, of course, been censured for this, her second
marriage; and equally, of course, was censured for the breach of it--for
the separation, which, indeed, was none of her doing; for retaining her
own place when her husband left her; and, in short, for every step she
had taken in the matter from first to last. But that was twelve years
ago, which is a long time in all circumstances, and which counts for
about a century in Society: and nobody thought of blaming her any
longer, or of remarking at all upon the matter. The present lords and
ladies of fashionable life had always known her as she was, and there
was no further question about her history. When, in the previous season,
Miss Waring had made her _début_ in Society, and achieved the success
which had been so remarkable, there was indeed a little languid question
as to who was her father among those who remembered that Waring was not
the name of the Markham family; but this was not interesting enough to
cause any excitement. And Frances, still thrilling with the discovery of
the other life, of which she had never suspected the existence, and
ignorant even now of everything except the mere fact of it, suddenly
found herself embraced and swallowed up in a perfectly understood and
arranged routine in which there was no mystery at all.

“The first thing you must do is to make acquaintance with your
relations,” said Lady Markham next morning at breakfast. “Fortunately,
we have this quiet time before Easter to get over all these
preliminaries. Your aunt Clarendon will expect to see you at once.”

Frances was greatly disturbed by this new discovery. She gave a covert
glance at Markham, who, though it was not his habit to appear so early,
had actually produced himself at breakfast to see how the little one was
getting on. Markham looked back again, elevating his eyebrows, and not
understanding at first what the question meant.

“And there are all the cousins,” said the mother, with that plaintive
tone in her voice. “My dear, I hope you are not in the way of forming
friendships, for there are so many of them! I think the best thing will
be to get over all these duty introductions at once. I must ask the
Clarendons--don’t you think, Markham?--to dinner, and perhaps the
Peytons,--quite a family party.”

“Certainly, by all means,” said Markham; “but first of all, don’t you
think she wants to be dressed?”

Lady Markham looked at Frances critically from her smooth little head to
her neat little shoes. The girl was standing by the fire, with her head
reclined against the mantelpiece of carved oak, which, as a
“reproduction,” was very much thought of in Eaton Square. Frances felt
that the blush with which she met her mother’s look must be seen, though
she turned her head away, through the criticised clothes.

“Her dress is very simple; but there is nothing in bad taste. Don’t you
think I might take her anywhere as she is? I did not notice her hat,”
said Lady Markham, with gravity; “but if that is right---- Simplicity is
quite the right thing at eighteen----”

“And in Lent,” said Markham.

“It is quite true; in Lent, it is better than the right thing--it is the
best thing. My dear, you must have had a very good maid. Foreign women
have certainly better taste than the class we get our servants from.
What a pity you did not bring her with you! One can always find room for
a clever maid.”

“I don’t believe she had any maid; it is all out of her own little
head,” said Markham. “I told you not to let yourself be taken in. She
has a deal in her, that little thing.”

Lady Markham smiled, and gave Frances a kiss, enfolding her once more in
that soft atmosphere which had been such a revelation to her last
night. “I am sure she is a dear little girl, and is going to be a great
comfort to me. You will want to write your letters this morning, my
love, which you must do before lunch. And after lunch, we will go and
see your aunt. You know that is a matter of--what shall we call it,
Markham?--conscience: with me.”

“Pride,” Markham said, coming and standing by them in front of the fire.

“Perhaps a little,” she answered with a smile; “but conscience too. I
would not have her say that I had kept the child from her for a single
day.”

“That is how conscience speaks, Fan,” said Markham. “You will know next
time you hear it. And after the Clarendons?”

“Well--of course, there must be a hundred things the child wants. We
must look at your evening dresses together, darling. Tell Josephine to
lay them out and let me see them. We are going to have some people at
the Priory for Easter; and when we come back, there will be no time.
Yes, I think on our way home from Portland Place we must just look
into--a shop or two.”

“Now my mind is relieved,” Markham said. “I thought you were going to
change the course of nature, Fan.”

“The child is quite bewildered by your nonsense, Markham,” the mother
said.

And this was quite true. Frances had never been on such terms with her
father as would have entitled her to venture to laugh at him. She was
confused with this new phase, as well as with her many other
discoveries: and it appeared to her that Markham looked just as old as
his mother. Lady Markham was fresh and fair, her complexion as clear as
a girl’s, and her hair still brown and glossy. If art in any way added
to this perfection, Frances had no suspicion of such a possibility. And
when she looked from her mother’s round and soft contour to the wrinkles
of Markham, and his no-colour and indefinite age, and heard him address
her with that half-caressing, half-bantering equality, the girl’s mind
grew more and more hopelessly confused. She withdrew, as was expected of
her, to write her letters, though without knowing how to fulfil that
duty. She could write (of course) to her father. It was of course, and
so was what she told him. “We arrived about six o’clock. I was
dreadfully confused with the noise and the crowds of people. Mamma was
very kind. She bids me send you her love. The house is very fine, and
full of furniture, and fires in all the rooms; but one wants that, for
it is much colder here. We are going out after luncheon to call on my
aunt Clarendon. I wish very much I knew who she was, or who my other
relations are; but I suppose I shall find out in time.” This was the
scope of Frances’ letter. And she did not feel warranted, somehow, in
writing to Constance. She knew so little of Constance: and was she not
in some respects a supplanter, taking Constance’s place? When she had
finished her short letter to her father, which was all fact, with very
few reflections, Frances paused and looked round her, and felt no
further inspiration. Should she write to Mariuccia? But that would
require time--there was so much to be said to Mariuccia. Facts were not
what _she_ would want--at least, the facts would have to be of a
different kind; and Frances felt that daylight and all the arrangements
of the new life, the necessity to be ready for luncheon and to go out
after, were not conditions under which she could begin to pour out her
heart to her old nurse, the attendant of her childhood. She must put off
till the evening, when she should be alone and undisturbed, with time
and leisure to collect all her thoughts and first impressions. She put
down her pen, which was not, indeed, an instrument she was much
accustomed to wield, and began to think instead; but all her thinking
would not tell her who the relatives were to whom she was about to be
presented; and she reflected with horror that her ignorance must betray
the secret which she had so carefully kept, and expose her father to
further and further criticism.

There was only one way of avoiding this danger, and that was through
Markham, who alone could help her, who was the only individual in whom
she could feel a confidence that he would give her what information he
could, and understand why she asked. If she could but find Markham! She
went down-stairs, timidly flitting along the wide staircase through the
great drawing-room, which was vacant, and found no trace of him. She
lingered, peeping out from between the curtains of the windows upon the
leafless gardens outside in the spring sunshine, the passing carriages
which she could see through their bare boughs, the broad pavement close
at hand with so few passengers, the clatter now and then of a hansom,
which amused her even in the midst of her perplexity, or the drawing up
of a brougham at some neighbouring door. After a minute’s distraction
thus, she returned again to make further investigations from the
drawing-room door, and peep over the balusters to watch for her brother.
At last she had the good luck to perceive him coming out of one of the
rooms on the lower floor. She darted down as swift as a bird, and
touched him on the sleeve. He had his hat in his hand, as if preparing
to go out. “Oh,” she said in a breathless whisper, “I want to speak to
you; I want to ask you something,”--holding up her hand with a warning
hush.

“What is it?” returned Markham, chiefly with his eyebrows, with a comic
affectation of silence and secrecy which tempted her to laugh in spite
of herself. Then he nodded his head, took her hand in his, and led her
up-stairs to the drawing-room again. “What is it you want to ask me? Is
it a state secret? The palace is full of spies, and the walls of ears,”
said Markham with mock solemnity, “and I may risk my head by following
you. Fair conspirator, what do you want to ask?”

“Oh, Markham, don’t laugh at me--it is serious. Please, who is my aunt
Clarendon?”

“You little Spartan!” he said; “you are a plucky little girl, Fan. You
won’t betray the daddy, come what may. You are quite right, my dear; but
he ought to have told you. I don’t approve of him, though I approve of
you.”

“Papa has a right to do as he pleases,” said Frances steadily; “that is
not what I asked you, please.”

He stood and smiled at her, patting her on the shoulder. “I wonder if
you will stand by me like that, when you hear me get my due? Who is
your aunt Clarendon? She is your father’s sister, Fan; I think the only
one who is left.”

“Papa’s sister! I thought it must be--on the other side.”

“My mother,” said Markham, “has few relations--which is a misfortune
that I bear with equanimity. Mrs Clarendon married a lawyer a great many
years ago, Fan, when he was poor; and now he is very rich, and they will
make him a judge one of these days.”

“A judge,” said Frances. “Then he must be very good and wise. And my
aunt----”

“My dear, the wife’s qualities are not as yet taken into account. She is
very good, I don’t doubt; but they don’t mean to raise her to the Bench.
You must remember when you go there, Fan, that they are _the other
side_.”

“What do you mean by ‘the other side’?” inquired Frances anxiously,
fixing her eyes upon the kind, queer, insignificant personage, who yet
was so important in this house.

Markham gave forth that little chuckle of a laugh which was his special
note of merriment. “You will soon find it out for yourself,” he
replied; “but the dear old mammy can hold her own. Is that all? for I’m
running off; I have an engagement.”

“Oh, not all--not half. I want you to tell me--I want to know--I--I
don’t know where to begin,” said Frances, with her hand on the sleeve of
his coat.

“Nor I,” he retorted with a laugh. “Let me go now; we’ll find an
opportunity. Keep your eyes, or rather your ears, open; but don’t take
all you hear for gospel. Good-bye till to-night. I’m coming to dinner
to-night.”

“Don’t you live here?” said Frances, accompanying him to the door.

“Not such a fool, thank you,” replied Markham, stopping her gently, and
closing the door of the room with care after him as he went away.

Frances was much discouraged by finding nothing but that closed door in
front of her where she had been gazing into his ugly but expressive
face. It made a sort of dead stop, an emphatic punctuation, marking the
end. Why should he say he was not such a fool as to live at home with
his mother? Why should he be so _nice_ and yet so odd? Why had
Constance warned her not to put herself in Markham’s hands? All this
confused the mind of Frances whenever she began to think. And she did
not know what to do with herself. She stole to the window and watched
through the white curtains, and saw him go away in the hansom which
stood waiting at the door. She felt a vacancy in the house after his
departure, the loss of a support, an additional silence and sense of
solitude; even something like a panic took possession of her soul. Her
impulse was to rush up-stairs again and shut herself up in her room. She
had never yet been alone with her mother except for a moment. She
dreaded the (quite unnecessary, to her thinking) meal which was coming,
at which she must sit down opposite to Lady Markham, with that solemn
old gentleman, dressed like Mr Durant, and that gorgeous theatrical
figure of a footman, serving the two ladies. Ah, how different from
Domenico--poor Domenico, who had called her _carina_ from her childhood,
and who wept over her hand as he kissed it, when she was coming away.
Oh, when should she see these faithful friends again?

“I want you to be quite at your ease with your aunt Clarendon,” said
Lady Markham at luncheon, when the servants had left the room. “She will
naturally want to know all about your father and your way of living. We
have not talked very much on that subject, my dear, because, for one
thing, we have not had much time; and because---- But she will want to
know all the little details. And, my darling, I want just to tell you,
to warn you. Poor Caroline is not very fond of me. Perhaps it is
natural. She may say things to you about your mother----”

“Oh no, mamma,” said Frances, looking up in her mother’s face.

“You don’t know, my dear. Some people have a great deal of prejudice.
Your aunt Caroline, as is quite natural, takes a different view. I
wonder if I can make you understand what I mean without using words
which I don’t want to use?”

“Yes,” said Frances; “you may trust me, mamma; I think I understand.”

Lady Markham rose and came to where her child sat, and kissed her
tenderly. “My dear, I think you will be a great comfort to me,” she
said. “Constance was always hot-headed. She would not make friends, when
I wished her to make friends. The Clarendons are very rich; they have no
children, Frances. Naturally, I wish you to stand well with them.
Besides, I would not allow her to suppose for a moment that I would keep
you from her--that is what I call conscience, and Markham pride.”

Frances did not know what to reply. She did not understand what the
wealth of the Clarendons had to do with it; everything else she could
understand. She was very willing, nay, eager to see her father’s sister,
yet very determined that no one should say a word to her to the
detriment of her mother. So far as that went, in her own mind all was
clear.



CHAPTER XXIII.


Mrs Clarendon lived in one of the great houses in Portland Place which
fashion has abandoned. It was very silent, wrapped in that stillness and
decorum which is one of the chief signs of an entirely well-regulated
house, also of a place in which life is languid and youth does not
exist. Frances followed her mother with a beating heart through the long
wide hall and large staircase, over soft carpets, on which their feet
made no sound. She thought they were stealing in like ghosts to some
silent place in which mystery of one kind or other must attend them; but
the room they were ushered into was only a very large, very still
drawing-room, in painfully good order, inhabited by nothing but a fire,
which made a little sound and flicker that preserved it from utter
death. The blinds were drawn half over the windows; the long curtains
hung down in dark folds. There were none of the quaintnesses, the modern
æstheticisms, the crowds of small picturesque articles of furniture
impeding progress, in which Lady Markham delighted. The furniture was
all solid, durable--what upholsterers call very handsome--huge mirrors
over the mantelpieces, a few large portraits in chalk on the walls,
solemn ornaments on the table; a large and brilliantly painted china
flower-pot enclosing a large plant of the palm kind, dark-green and
solemn, like everything else, holding the place of honour. It was very
warm and comfortable, full of low easy-chairs and sofas, but at the same
time very severe and forbidding, like a place into which the common
occupations of life were never brought.

“She never sits here,” said Lady Markham in a low tone. “She has a
morning-room that is cosy enough. She comes up here after dinner, when
Mr Clarendon takes a nap before he looks over his briefs; and he comes
up at ten o’clock for ten minutes and takes a cup of tea. Then she goes
to bed. That is about all the intercourse they have, and all the time
the drawing-room is occupied, except when people come to call. That is
why it has such a depressing look.”

“Is she not happy, then?” said Frances wistfully, which was a silly
question, as she now saw as soon as she had uttered it.

“Happy! Oh, probably just as happy as other people. That is not a
question that is ever asked in Society, my dear. Why shouldn’t she be
happy? She has everything she has ever wished for--plenty of money--for
they are very rich--her husband quite distinguished in his sphere, and
in the way of advancement. What could she want more? She is a lucky
woman, as women go.”

“Still she must be dull, with no one to speak to,” said Frances, looking
round her with a glance of dismay. What she thought was, that it would
probably be her duty to come here to make a little society for her aunt,
and her heart sank at the sight of this decent, nay, handsome gloom,
with a sensation which Mariuccia’s kitchen at home, which only looked on
the court, or the dimly lighted rooms of the villagers, had never given
her. The silence was terrible, and struck a chill to her heart. Then all
at once the door opened, and Mrs Clarendon came in, taking the young
visitor entirely by surprise; for the soft carpets and thick curtains so
entirely shut out all sound, that she seemed to glide in like a ghost to
the ghosts already there. Frances, unaccustomed to English comfort, was
startled by the absence of sound, and missed the indication of the
footstep on the polished floor, which had so often warned her to lay
aside her innocent youthful visions at the sound of her father’s
approach. Mrs Clarendon coming in so softly seemed to arrest them in the
midst of their talk about her, bringing a flush to Frances’ face. She
was a tall woman, fair and pale, with cold grey eyes, and an air which
was like that of her rooms--the air of being unused, of being put
against the wall like the handsome furniture. She came up stiffly to
Lady Markham, who went to meet her with effusion, holding out both
hands.

“I am so glad to see you, Caroline. I feared you might be out, as it was
such a beautiful day.”

“Is it a beautiful day? It seemed to me cold, looking out. I am not very
energetic, you know--not like you. Have I seen this young lady before?”

“You have not seen her for a long time--not since she was a child; nor I
either, which is more wonderful. This is Frances. Caroline, I told you I
expected----”

“My brother’s child!” Mrs Clarendon said, fixing her eyes upon the girl,
who came forward with shy eagerness. She did not open her arms, as
Frances expected. She inspected her carefully and coldly, and ended by
saying, “But she is like you,” with a certain tone of reproach.

“That is not my fault,” said Lady Markham, almost sharply; and then she
added: “For the matter of that, they are both your brother’s
children--though, unfortunately, mine too.”

“You know my opinion on that matter,” said Mrs Clarendon; and then, and
not till then, she gave Frances her hand, and stooping kissed her on the
cheek. “Your father writes very seldom, and I have never heard a word
from you. All the same, I have always taken an interest in you. It must
be very sad for you, after the life to which you have been accustomed,
to be suddenly sent here without any will of your own.”

“Oh no,” said Frances. “I was very glad to come, to see mamma.”

“That’s the proper thing to say, of course,” the other said with a cold
smile. There was just enough of a family likeness to her father to
arrest Frances in her indignation. She was not allowed time to make an
answer, even had she possessed confidence enough to do so, for her aunt
went on, without looking at her again: “I suppose you have heard from
Constance? It must be difficult for her too, to reconcile herself with
the different kind of life. My brother’s quiet ways are not likely to
suit a young lady about town.”

“Frances will be able to tell you all about it,” said Lady Markham, who
kept her temper with astonishing self-control. “She only arrived last
night. I would not delay a moment in bringing her to you. Of course, you
will like to hear. Markham, who went to fetch his sister, is of opinion
that on the whole the change will do Constance good.”

“I don’t at all doubt it will do her good. To associate with my brother
would do any one good--who is worthy of it; but of course it will be a
great change for her. And this child will be kept just long enough to be
infected with worldly ways, and then sent back to him spoilt for his
life. I suppose, Lady Markham, that is what you intend?”

“You are so determined to think badly of me,” said Lady Markham, “that
it is vain for me to say anything; or else I might remind you that Con’s
going off was a greater surprise to me than to any one. You know what
were my views for her?”

“Yes. I rather wonder why you take the trouble to acquaint me with your
plans,” Mrs Clarendon said.

“It is foolish, perhaps; but I have a feeling that as Edward’s only near
relation----”

“Oh, I am sure I am much obliged to you for your consideration,” the
other cried quickly. “Constance was never influenced by me; though I
don’t wonder that her soul revolted at such a marriage as you had
prepared for her.”

“Why?” cried Lady Markham quickly, with an astonished glance. Then she
added with a smile: “I am afraid you will see nothing but harm in any
plan of mine. Unfortunately, Con did not like the gentleman whom I
approved. I should not have put any force upon her. One can’t nowadays,
if one wished to. It is contrary, as she says herself, to the spirit of
the times. But if you will allow me to say so, Caroline, Con is too like
her father to bear anything, to put up with anything that----”

“Thank heaven!” cried Mrs Clarendon. “She is indeed a little like her
dear father, notwithstanding a training so different. And this one, I
suppose--this one you find like you?”

“I am happy to think she is a little, in externals at least,” said Lady
Markham, taking Frances’ hand in her own. “But Edward has brought her
up, Caroline; that should be a passport to your affections at least.”

Upon this, Mrs Clarendon came down as from a pedestal, and addressed
herself to the girl, over whose astonished head this strange dialogue
had gone. “I am afraid, my dear, you will think me very hard and
disagreeable,” she said. “I will not tell you why, though I think I
could make out a case. How is your dear father? He writes seldomer and
seldomer--sometimes not even at Christmas; and I am afraid you have
little sense of family duties, which is a pity at your age.”

Frances did not know how to reply to this accusation, and she was
confused and indignant, and little disposed to attempt to please.
“Papa,” she said, “is very well. I have heard him say that he could not
write letters--our life was so quiet: there was nothing to say.”

“Ah, my dear, that is all very well for strangers, or for those who care
more about the outside than the heart. But he might have known that
anything, everything would be interesting to me. It is just your quiet
life that I like to hear about. Society has little attraction for me. I
suppose you are half an Italian, are you? and know nothing about English
life.”

“She looks nothing but English,” said Lady Markham in a sort of
parenthesis.

“The only people I know are English,” said Frances. “Papa is not fond of
society. We see the Gaunts and the Durants, but nobody else. I have
always tried to be like my own country-people, as well as I could.”

“And with great success, my dear,” said her mother with a smiling look.

Mrs Clarendon said nothing, but looked at her with silent criticism.
Then she turned to Lady Markham. “Naturally,” she said, “I should like
to make acquaintance with my niece, and hear all the details about my
dear brother; but that can’t be done in a morning call. Will you leave
her with me for the day? Or may I have her to-morrow, or the day after?
Any time will suit me.”

“She only arrived last night, Caroline. I suppose even you will allow
that the mother should come first. Thursday, Frances shall spend with
you, if that suits you?”

“Thursday, the third day,” said Mrs Clarendon, ostentatiously counting
on her fingers--“during which interval you will have full time---- Oh
yes, Thursday will suit me. The mother, of course, conventionally, has,
as you say, the first right.”

“Conventionally and naturally too,” Lady Markham replied; and then
there was a silence, and they sat looking at each other. Frances, who
felt her innocent self to be something like the bone of contention over
which these two ladies were wrangling, sat with downcast eyes confused
and indignant, not knowing what to do or say. The mistress of the house
did nothing to dissipate the embarrassment of the moment: she seemed to
have no wish to set her visitors at their ease, and the pause, during
which the ticking of the clock on the mantelpiece and the occasional
fall of ashes from the fire came in as a sort of chorus or symphony,
loud and distinct, to fill up the interval, was half painful, half
ludicrous. It seemed to the quick ears of the girl thus suddenly
introduced into the arena of domestic conflict, that there was a certain
irony in this inarticulate commentary upon those petty miseries of life.

At last, at the end of what seemed half an hour of silence, Lady Markham
rose and spread her wings--or at least shook out her silken draperies,
which comes to the same thing. “As that is settled, we need not detain
you any longer,” she said.

Mrs Clarendon rose too, slowly. “I cannot expect,” she replied, “that
you can give up your valuable time to me; but mine is not so much
occupied. I will expect you, Frances, before one o’clock on Thursday. I
lunch at one; and then if there is anything you want to see or do, I
shall be glad to take you wherever you like. I suppose I may keep her to
dinner? Mr Clarendon will like to make acquaintance with his niece.”

“Oh, certainly; as long as you and she please,” said Lady Markham with a
smile. “I am not a medieval parent, as poor Con says.”

“Yet it was on that ground that Constance abandoned you and ran away to
her father,” quoth the implacable antagonist.

Lady Markham, calm as she was, grew red to her hair. “I don’t think
Constance has abandoned me,” she cried hastily; “and if she has, the
fault is---- But there is no discussion possible between people so
hopelessly of different opinions as you and I,” she added, recovering
her composure. “Mr Clarendon is well, I hope?”

“Very well. Good morning, since you will go,” said the mistress of the
house. She dropped another cold kiss upon Frances’ cheek. It seemed to
the girl, indeed, who was angry and horrified, that it was her aunt’s
nose, which was a long one and very chilly, which touched her. She made
no response to this nasal salutation. She felt, indeed, that to give a
slap to that other cheek would be much more expressive of her sentiments
than a kiss, and followed her mother down-stairs hot with resentment.
Lady Markham, too, was moved. When she got into the brougham, she leant
back in her corner and put her handkerchief lightly to the corner of
each eye. Then she laughed, and laid her hand upon Frances’ arm.

“You are not to think I am grieving,” she said; “it is only rage. Did
you ever know such a----? But, my dear, we must recollect that it is
natural--that she is on _the other side_.”

“Is it natural to be so unkind, to be so cruel?” cried Frances. “Then,
mamma, I shall hate England, where I once thought everything was good.”

“Everything is not good anywhere, my love; and Society, I fear, above
all, is far from being perfect,--not that your poor dear aunt Caroline
can be said to be in Society,” Lady Markham added, recovering her
spirits. “I don’t think they see anybody but a few lawyers like
themselves.”

“But, mamma, why do you go to see her? Why do you endure it? You
promised for me, or I should never go back, neither on Thursday nor any
other time.”

“Oh, for goodness’ sake, Frances, my dear! I hope you have not got those
headstrong Waring ways. Because she hates me, that is no reason why she
should hate you. Even Con saw as much as that. You are of her own blood,
and her near relation: and I never heard that _he_ took very much to any
of the young people on his side. And they are very rich. A man like
that, at the head of his profession, must be coining money. It would be
wicked of me, for any little tempers of mine, to risk what might be a
fortune for my children. And you know I have very little more than my
jointure, and your father is not rich.”

This exposition of motives was like another language to Frances. She
gazed at her mother’s soft face, so full of sweetness and kindness,
with a sense that Lady Markham was under the sway of motives and
influences which had been left out in her own simple education. Was it
supreme and self-denying generosity, or was it--something else? The girl
was too inexperienced, too ignorant to tell. But the contrast between
Lady Markham’s wonderful temper and forbearance and the harsh and
ungenerous tone of her aunt, moved her heart out of the region of
reason. “If you put up with all that for us, I cannot see any reason why
we should put up with it for you!” she cried indignantly. “She cannot
have any right to speak to my mother so--and before me.”

“Ah, my darling, that is just the sweetness of it to her. If we were
alone, I should not mind; she might say what she liked. It is because of
you that she can make me feel--a little. But you must take no notice;
you must leave me to fight my own battles.”

“Why?” Frances flung up her young head, till she looked about a foot
taller than her mother. “I will never endure it, mamma; you may say what
you like. What is her fortune to me?”

“My love!” she exclaimed; “why, you little savage, her fortune is
everything to you! It may make all the difference.” Then she laughed
rather tremulously, and leaning over, bestowed a kiss upon her
stranger-child’s half-reluctant cheek. “It is very, very sweet of you to
make a stand for your mother,” she said, “and when you know so little of
me. The horrid people in Society would say that was the reason; but I
think you would defend your mother anyhow, my Frances, my child that I
have always missed! But look here, dear: you must not do it. I am old
enough to take care of myself. And your poor aunt Clarendon is not so
bad as you think. She believes she has reason for it. She is very fond
of your father, and she has not seen him for a dozen years; and there is
no telling whether she may ever see him again; and she thinks it is my
fault. So you must not take up arms on my behalf till you know better.
And it would be so much to your advantage if she should take a fancy to
you, my dear. Do you think I could ever reconcile myself, for any
_amour-propre_ of mine, to stand in my child’s way?”

Once more, Frances was unable to make any reply. All the lines of
sentiment and sense to which she had been accustomed seemed to be
getting blurred out. Where she had come from, a family stood together,
shoulder by shoulder. They defended each other, and even revenged each
other; and though the law might disapprove, public opinion stood by
them. A child who looked on careless while its parents were assailed
would have been to Mariuccia an odious monster. Her father’s opinions on
such a subject, Frances had never known: but as for fortune, he would
have smiled that disdainful smile of his at the suggestion that she
should pay court to any one because he was rich. Wealth meant having few
wants, she had heard him say a thousand times. It might even have been
supposed from his conversation that he scorned rich people for being
rich, which of course was an exaggeration. But he could never, never
have wished her to endeavour to please an unkind, disagreeable person
because of her money. That was impossible. So that she made no reply,
and scarcely even, in her confusion, responded to the caress with which
her mother thanked her for the partisanship, which it appeared was so
out of place.



CHAPTER XXIV.


Frances had not succeeded in resolving this question in her mind when
Thursday came. The two intervening days had been very quiet. She had
gone with her mother to several shops, and had stood by almost passive
and much astonished while a multitude of little luxuries which she had
never been sufficiently enlightened even to wish for, were bought for
her. She was so little accustomed to lavish expenditure, that it was
almost with a sense of wrong-doing that she contemplated all these
costly trifles, which were for the use not of some typical fine lady,
but of herself, Frances, who had never thought it possible she could
ever be classed under that title. To Lady Markham these delicacies were
evidently necessaries of life. And then it was for the first time that
Frances learned what an evening dress meant--not only the garment
itself, but the shoes, the stockings, the gloves, the ribbons, the fan,
a hundred little accessories which she had never so much as thought of.
When you have nothing but a set of coral or amber beads to wear with
your white frock, it is astonishing how much that matter is simplified.
Lady Markham opened her jewel-boxes to provide for the same endless roll
of necessities. “This will go with the white dress, and this with the
pink,” she said, thus revealing to Frances another delicacy of accord
unsuspected by her simplicity.

“But, mamma, you are giving me so many things!”

“Not your share yet,” said Lady Markham. And she added: “But don’t say
anything of this to your aunt Clarendon. She will probably give you
something out of her hoards, if she thinks you are not provided.”

This speech checked the pleasure and gratitude of Frances. She stopped
with a little gasp in her eager thanks. She wanted nothing from her aunt
Clarendon, she said to herself with indignation, nor from her mother
either. If they would but let her keep her ignorance, her pleasure in
any simple gift, and not represent her, even to herself, as a little
schemer, trying how much she could get! Frances cried rather than smiled
over her turquoises and the set of old gold ornaments, which but for
that little speech would have made her happy. The suggestion put gall
into everything, and made the timid question in her mind as to Lady
Markham’s generous forbearance with her sister-in-law more difficult
than ever. Why did she bear it? She ought not to have borne it--not for
a day.

On the Wednesday evening before the visit to Portland Place, to which
she looked with so much alarm, two gentlemen came to dinner at the
invitation of Markham. The idea of two gentlemen to dinner produced no
exciting effect upon Frances so as to withdraw her mind from the trial
that was coming. Gentlemen were the only portion of the creation with
which she was more or less acquainted. Even in the old Palazzo, a guest
of this description had been occasionally received, and had sat
discussing some point of antiquarian lore, or something about the old
books at Colla, with her father without taking any notice, beyond what
civility demanded, of the little girl who sat at the head of the table.
She did not doubt it would be the same thing to-night; and though
Markham was always _nice_, never leaving her out, never letting the
conversation drop altogether into that stream of personality or allusion
which makes Society so intolerable to a stranger, she yet prepared for
the evening with the feeling that dulness awaited her, and not pleasure.
One of the guests, however, was of a kind which Frances did not expect.
He was young, very young in appearance, rather small and delicate, but
at the same time refined, with a look of gentle melancholy upon a
countenance which was almost beautiful, with child-like limpid eyes, and
features of extreme delicacy and purity. This was something quite unlike
the elderly antiquarians who talked so glibly to her father about Roman
remains or Etruscan art. He sat between Lady Markham and herself, and
spoke in gentle tones, with a soft affectionate manner, to her mother,
who replied with the kindness and easy affectionateness which were
habitual to her. To see the sweet looks which this young gentleman
received, and to hear the tender questions about his health and his
occupations which Lady Markham put to him, awoke in the mind of Frances
another doubt of the same character as those others from which she had
not been able to get free. Was this sympathetic tone, this air of tender
interest, put on at will for the benefit of everybody with whom Lady
Markham spoke? Frances hated herself for the instinctive question which
rose in her, and for the suspicions which crept into her mind on every
side and undermined all her pleasure. The other stranger opposite to her
was old--to her youthful eyes--and called forth no interest at all. But
the gentleness and melancholy, the low voice, the delicate features,
something plaintive and appealing about the youth by her side, attracted
her interest in spite of herself. He said little to her, but from time
to time she caught him looking at her with a sort of questioning glance.
When the ladies left the table, and Frances and her mother were alone
in the drawing-room, Lady Markham, who had said nothing for some
minutes, suddenly turned and asked: “What did you think of him,
Frances?” as if it were the most natural question in the world.

“Of whom?” said Frances in her astonishment.

“Of Claude, my dear. Whom else? Sir Thomas could be of no particular
interest either to you or me.”

“I did not know their names, mamma; I scarcely heard them. Claude is the
young gentleman who sat next to you?”

“And to you also, Frances. But not only that. He is the man of whom, I
suppose, Constance has told you--to avoid whom she left home, and ran
away from me. Oh, the words come quite appropriate, though I could not
bear them from the mouth of Caroline Clarendon. She abandoned me, and
threw herself upon your father’s protection, because of----”

Frances had listened with a sort of consternation. When her mother
paused for breath, she filled up the interval: “That little, gentle,
small, young man!”

Lady Markham looked for a moment as if she would be angry; then she took
the better way, and laughed. “He is little and young,” she said; “but
neither so young nor even so small as you think. He is most wonderfully,
portentously rich, my dear; and he is very nice and good and intelligent
and generous. You must not take up a prejudice against him because he is
not an athlete or a giant. There are plenty of athletes in Society, my
love, but very, very few with a hundred thousand a-year.”

“It is so strange to me to hear about money,” said Frances. “I hope you
will pardon me, mamma. I don’t understand. I thought he was perhaps some
one who was delicate, whose mother, perhaps, you knew, whom you wanted
to be kind to.”

“Quite true,” said Lady Markham, patting her daughter’s cheek with a
soft finger; “and well judged: but something more besides. I thought, I
allow, that it would be an excellent match for Constance; not only
because he was rich, but _also_ because he was rich. Do you see the
difference?”

“I--suppose so,” Frances said; but there was not any warmth in the
admission. “I thought the right way,” she added after a moment, with a
blush that stole over her from head to foot, “was that people fell in
love with each other.”

“So it is,” said her mother, smiling upon her. “But it often happens,
you know, that they fall in love respectively with the wrong people.”

“It is dreadful to me to talk to you, who know so much better,” cried
Frances. “All that _I_ know is from stories. But I thought that even a
wrong person, whom you chose yourself, was better than----”

“The right person chosen by your mother? These are awful doctrines,
Frances. You are a little revolutionary. Who taught you such terrible
things?” Lady Markham laughed as she spoke, and patted the girl’s cheek
more affectionately than ever, and looked at her with unclouded smiles,
so that Frances took courage. “But,” the mother went on, “there was no
question of choice on my part. Constance has known Claude Ramsay all her
life. She liked him, so far as I knew. I supposed she had accepted him.
It was not formally announced, I am happy to say; but I made sure of it,
and so did everybody else--including himself, poor fellow--when,
suddenly, without any warning, your sister disappeared. It was unkind to
me, Frances,--oh, it was unkind to me!”

And suddenly, while she was speaking, two tears appeared all at once in
Lady Markham’s eyes.

Frances was deeply touched by this sight. She ventured upon a caress,
which as yet, except in timid return, to those bestowed upon her, she
had not been bold enough to do. “I do not think Constance can have meant
to be unkind,” she said.

“Few people mean to be unkind,” said this social philosopher, who knew
so much more than Frances. “Your aunt Clarendon does, and that makes her
harmless, because one understands. Most of those who wound one, do it
because it pleases themselves, without meaning anything--or caring
anything--don’t you see?--whether it hurts or not.”

This was too profound a saying to be understood at the first moment, and
Frances had no reply to make to it. She said only by way of apology,
“But Markham approved?”

“My love,” said her mother, “Markham is an excellent son to me. He
rarely wounds me himself--which is perhaps because he rarely does
anything particular himself--but he is not always a safe guide. It makes
me very happy to see that you take to him, though you must have heard
many things against him; but he is not a safe guide. Hush! here are the
men coming up-stairs. If Claude talks to you, be as gentle with him as
you can--and sympathetic, if you can,” she said quickly, rising from her
chair, and moving in her noiseless easy way to the other side. Frances
felt as if there was a meaning even in this movement, which left herself
alone with a vacant seat beside her; but she was confused as usual by
all the novelty, and did not understand what the meaning was.

It was balked, however, if it had anything to do with Mr Ramsay, for it
was the other gentleman--the old gentleman, as Frances called him in
her thoughts--who came up and took the vacant place. The old gentleman
was a man about forty-five, with a few grey hairs among the brown, and a
well-knit manly figure, which showed very well between the delicate
youth on the one hand and Markham’s insignificance on the other. He was
Sir Thomas, whom Lady Markham had declared to be of no particular
interest to any one; but he evidently had sense enough to see the charm
of simplicity and youth. The attention of Frances was sadly distracted
by the movements of Claude, who fidgeted about from one table to
another, looking at the books and the nick-nacks upon them, and staring
at the pictures on the walls, then finally came and stood by Markham’s
side in front of the fire. He did well to contrast himself with Markham.
He was taller, and the beauty of his countenance showed still more
strikingly in contrast with Markham’s odd little wrinkled face. Frances
was distracted by the look which he kept fixed upon herself, and which
diverted her attention in spite of herself away from the talk of Sir
Thomas, who was, however, very _nice_, and, she felt sure, most
interesting and instructive, as became his advanced age, if only she
could attend to what he was saying. But what with the lively talk which
her mother carried on with Markham, and to which she could not help
listening all through the conversation of Sir Thomas, and the movements
and glances of the melancholy young lover, she could not fix her mind
upon the remarks that were addressed to her own ear. When Claude began
to join languidly in the other talk, it was more difficult still. “You
have got a new picture, Lady Markham,” she heard him say; and a sudden
quickening of her attention and another wave of colour and heat passing
over her, arrested even Sir Thomas in the much more interesting
observation which presumably he was about to make. He paused, as if he,
too, waited to hear Lady Markham’s reply.

“Shall we call it a picture? It is my little girl’s sketch from her
window where she has been living--her present to her mother; and I think
it is delightful, though in the circumstances I don’t pretend to be a
judge.”

Where she has been living! Frances grew redder and hotter in the flush
of indignation that went over her. But she could not stand up and
proclaim that it was from her home, her dear loggia, the place she loved
best in the world, that the sketch was made. Already the bonds of
another life were upon her, and she dared not do that. And then there
was a little chorus of praise, which silenced her still more
effectually. It was the group of palms which she had been so simply
proud of, which--as she had never forgotten--had made her father say
that she had grown up. Lady Markham had placed it on a small easel on
her table; but Frances could not help feeling that this was less for any
pleasure it gave her mother, than in order to make a little exhibition
of her own powers. It was, to be sure, in her own honour that this was
done--and what so natural as that the mother should seek to do her
daughter honour? but Frances was deeply sensitive, and painfully
conscious of the strange tangled web of motives, which she had never in
her life known anything about before. Had the little picture been hung
in her mother’s bedroom, and seen by no eyes but her own, the girl would
have found the most perfect pleasure in it; but here, exhibited as in a
public gallery, examined by admiring eyes, calling forth all the incense
of praise, it was with a mixture of shame and resentment that Frances
found it out. It produced this result, however, that Sir Thomas rose, as
in duty bound, to examine the performance of the daughter of the house;
and presently young Ramsay, who had been watching his opportunity, took
the place by her side.

“I have been waiting for this,” he said, with his air of pathos. “I have
so many things to ask you, if you will let me, Miss Waring.”

“Surely,” Frances said.

“Your sketch is very sweet--it is full of feeling--there is no colour
like that of the Riviera. It is the Riviera, is it not?”

“Oh yes,” cried Frances, eager to seize the opportunity of making it
apparent that it was not only where she had been living, as her mother
said. “It is from Bordighera, from our loggia, where I have lived all my
life.”

“You will find no colour and no vegetation like that near London,” the
young man said.

To this Frances replied politely that London was full of much more
wonderful things, as she had always heard; but felt somewhat
disappointed, supposing that his communications to her were to be more
interesting than this.

“And the climate is so very different,” he continued. “I am very often
sent out of England for the winter, though this year they have let me
stay. I have been at Nice two seasons. I suppose you know Nice? It is a
very pretty place; but the wind is just as cold sometimes as at home.
You have to keep in the sun; and if you always keep in the sun, it is
warm even here.”

“But there is not always sun here,” said Frances.

“That is very true; that is a very clever remark. There is not always
sun here. San Remo was beginning to be known when I was there; but I
never heard of Bordighera as a place where people went to stay. Some
Italian wrote a book about it, I have heard--to push it, no doubt.
Could you recommend it as a winter-place, Miss Waring? I suppose it is
very dull, nothing going on?”

“Oh, nothing at all,” cried Frances eagerly. “All the tourists complain
that there is nothing to do.”

“I thought so,” he said; “a regular little Italian dead-alive place.”
Then he added after a moment’s pause: “But of course there are
inducements which might make one put up with that, if the air happened
to suit one. Are there villas to be had, can you tell me? They say, as a
matter of fact, that you get more advantage of the air when you are in a
dull place.”

“There are hotels,” said Frances more and more disappointed, though the
beginning of this speech had given her a little hope.

“Good hotels?” he said with interest. “Sometimes they are really better
than a place of one’s own, where the drainage is often bad, and the
exposure not all that could be desired. And then you get any amusement
that may be going. Perhaps you will tell me the names of one or two? for
if this east wind continues, my doctors may send me off even now.”

Frances looked into his limpid eyes and expressive countenance with
dismay. He must look, she felt sure, as if he were making the most
touching confidences to her. His soft pathetic voice gave a _faux air_
of something sentimental to those questions, which even she could not
persuade herself meant nothing. Was it to show that he was bent upon
following Constance wherever she might go? That must be the true
meaning, she supposed. He must be endeavouring by this mock-anxiety to
find out how much she knew of his real motives, and whether he might
trust to her or not. But Frances resented a little the unnecessary
precaution.

“I don’t know anything about the hotels,” she said. “I have never
thought of the air. It is my home--that is all.”

“You look so well, that I am the more convinced it would be a good place
for me,” said the young man. “You look in such thorough good health, if
you will allow me to say so. Some ladies don’t like to be told that; but
I think it the most delightful thing in existence. Tell me, had you any
trouble with drainage, when you went to settle there? And is the water
good? and how long does the season last? I am afraid I am teasing you
with my questions; but all these details are so important--and one is so
pleased to hear of a new place.”

“We live up in the old town,” said Frances with a sudden flash of
malice. “I don’t know what drainage is, and neither does any one else
there. We have our fountain in the court--our own well. And I don’t
think there is any season. We go up among the mountains, when it gets
too hot.”

“Your well in the court!” said the sentimental Claude, with the look of
a poet who has just been told that his dearest friend is killed by an
accident,--“with everything percolating into it! That is terrible
indeed. But,” he said, after a pause, an ethereal sense of consolation
stealing over his fine features--“there are exceptions, they say, to
every rule; and sometimes, with fine health such as you have, bad
sanitary conditions do not seem to tell--_when there has been no
stirring-up_. I believe that is at the root of the whole question.
People can go on, on the old system, so long as there is no stirring-up;
but when once a beginning has been made, it must be complete, or it is
fatal.”

He said this with animation much greater than he had shown as yet; then
dropping into his habitual pathos: “If I come in for tea to-morrow--Lady
Markham allows me to do it, when I can, when the weather is fit for
going out--will you be so very kind as to give me half an hour, Miss
Waring, for a few particulars? I will take them down from your lips--it
is so much the most satisfactory way; and perhaps you would add to your
kindness by just thinking it over beforehand--if there is anything I
ought to know.”

“But I am going out to-morrow, Mr Ramsay.”

“Then after to-morrow,” he said; and rising with a bow full of tender
deference, went up to Lady Markham to bid her good-night. “I have been
having a most interesting conversation with Miss Waring. She has given
me so many _renseignements_,” he said. “She permits me to come after
to-morrow for further particulars. Dear Lady Markham, good-night and _à
revoir_.”

“What was Claude saying to you, Frances?” Lady Markham asked with a
little anxiety, when everybody save Markham was gone, and they were
alone.

“He asked me about Bordighera, mamma.”

“Poor dear boy! About Con, and what she had said of him? He has a
faithful heart, though people think him a little too much taken up with
himself.”

“He did not say anything about Constance. He asked about the climate and
the drains--what are drains?--and if the water was good, and what hotel
I could recommend.”

Lady Markham laughed and coloured slightly, and tapped Frances on the
cheek. “You are a little satirical----! Dear Claude! he is very anxious
about his health. But don’t you see,” she added, “that was all a covert
way of finding out about Con? He wants to go after her; but he does not
want to let everybody in the world see that he has gone after a girl who
would not have him. I have a great deal of sympathy with him, for my
part.”

Frances had no sympathy with him. She felt, on the other hand, more
sympathy for Constance than had moved her yet. To escape from such a
lover, Frances thought a girl might be justified in flying to the end of
the world. But it never entered into her mind that any like danger to
herself was to be thought of. She dismissed Claude Ramsay from her
thoughts with half resentment, half amusement, wondering that Constance
had not told her more; but feeling, as no such image had ever risen on
her horizon before, that she would not have believed Constance. However,
her sister had happily escaped, and to herself, Claude Ramsay was
nothing. Far more important was it to think of the ordeal of to-morrow.
She shivered a little even in her warm room as she anticipated it.
England seemed to be colder, greyer, more devoid of brightness in
Portland Place than in Eaton Square.



CHAPTER XXV.


Frances went to Portland Place next day. She went with great reluctance,
feeling that to be thus plunged into the atmosphere of the other side
was intolerable. Had she been able to feel that there was absolute right
on either side, it would not have been so difficult for her. But she
knew so little of the facts of the case, and her natural prepossessions
were so curiously double and variable, that every encounter was painful.
To be swept into the faction of the other side, when the first
impassioned sentiment with which she had felt her mother’s arms around
her had begun to sink inevitably into that silent judgment of another
individual’s ways and utterances which is the hindrance of reason to
every enthusiasm--was doubly hard. She was resolute indeed that not a
word or insinuation against her mother should be permitted in her
presence. But she herself had a hundred little doubts and questions in
her mind, traitors whose very existence no one must suspect but herself.
Her natural revulsion from the thought of being forced into partisanship
gave her a feeling of strong opposition and resistance against
everything that might be said to her, when she stepped into the solemn
house in Portland Place, where everything was so large, empty, and
still, so different from her mother’s warm and cheerful abode. The
manner in which her aunt met her strengthened this feeling. On their
previous meeting, in Lady Markham’s presence, the greeting given her by
Mrs Clarendon had chilled her through and through. She was ushered in
now to the same still room, with its unused look, with all the chairs in
their right places, and no litter of habitation about; but her aunt came
to her with a different aspect from that which she had borne before. She
came quickly, almost with a rush, and took the shrinking girl into her
arms. “My dear little Frances, my dear child, my brother’s own little
girl!” she cried, kissing her again and again. Her ascetic countenance
was transfigured, her grey eyes warmed and shone.

Frances could not make any eager response to this warmth. She did her
best to look the gratification which she knew she ought to have felt,
and to return her aunt’s caresses with due fervour; but in her heart
there was a chill of which she felt ashamed, and a sense of insincerity
which was very foreign to her nature. All through these strange
experiences, Frances felt herself insincere. She had not known how to
respond even to her mother, and a cold sense that she was among
strangers had crept in even in the midst of the bewildering certainty
that she was with her nearest relations and in her mother’s house. In
present circumstances, “How do you do, aunt Caroline?” was the only
commonplace phrase she could find to say, in answer to the effusion of
affection with which she was received.

“Now we can talk,” said Mrs Clarendon, leading her with both hands in
hers to a sofa near the fire. “While my lady was here it was impossible.
You must have thought me cold, when my heart was just running over to
my dear brother’s favourite child. But I could not open my heart before
her,--I never could do it. And there is so much to ask you. For though I
would not let her know I had never heard, you know very well, my dear, I
can’t deceive you. O Frances, why doesn’t he write? Surely, surely, he
must have known I would never betray him--to _her_, or any of her race.”

“Aunt Caroline, please remember you are speaking of----”

“Oh, I can’t stand on ceremony with you! I can’t do it. Constance, that
had been always with her, that was another thing. But you, my dear, dear
child! And you must not stand on ceremony with me. I can understand you,
if no one else can. And as for expecting you to love her and honour her
and so forth, a woman whom you have never seen before, who has spoiled
your dear father’s life----”

Frances had put up her hand to stay this flood, but in vain. With eyes
that flashed with excitement, the quiet still grey woman was strangely
transformed. A vivacious and animated person, when moved by passion, is
not so alarming as a reserved and silent one. There was a force of fury
and hatred in her tone and looks which appalled the girl. She
interrupted almost rudely, insisting upon being heard, as soon as Mrs
Clarendon paused for breath.

“You must not speak to me so; you must not--you shall not! I will not
hear it.”

Frances was quiet too, and there was in her also the vehemence of a
tranquil nature transported beyond all ordinary bounds.

Mrs Clarendon stopped and looked at her fixedly, then suddenly changed
her tone. “Your father might have written to me,” she said--“he might
have written to _me_. He is my only brother, and I am all that remains
of the family, now that Minnie, poor Minnie, who was so much mixed up
with it all, is gone. It was natural enough that he should go away. I
always understood him, if nobody else did; but he might have trusted his
own family, who would never, never have betrayed him. And to think that
I should owe my knowledge of him now to that ill-grown,
ill-conditioned---- O Frances, it was a bitter pill! To owe my knowledge
of my brother and of you and everything about you to Markham--I shall
never be able to forget how bitter it was.”

“You forget that Markham is my brother, aunt Caroline.”

“He is nothing of the sort. He is your half-brother, if you care to keep
up the connection at all. But some people don’t think much of it. It is
the father’s side that counts. But don’t let us argue about that. Tell
me how is your father? Tell me all about him. I love you dearly, for his
sake; but above everything, I want to hear about him. I never had any
other brother. How is he, Frances? To think that I should never have
seen or heard of him for twelve long years!”

“My father is--very well,” said Frances, with a sort of strangulation
both in heart and voice, not knowing what to say.

“‘Very well!’ Oh, that is not much to satisfy me with, after so long!
Where is he--and how is he living--and have you been a very good child
to him, Frances? He deserves a good child, for he was a good son. Oh,
tell me a little about him. Did he tell you everything about us? Did he
say how fond and how proud we were of him? and how happy we used to be
at home all together? He must have told you. If you knew how I go back
to those old days! We were such a happy united family. Life is always
disappointing. It does not bring you what you think, and it is not
everybody that has the comfort we have in looking back upon their youth.
He must have told you of our happy life at home.”

Frances had kept the secret of her father’s silence from every one who
had a right to blame him for it. But here she felt herself to be bound
by no such precaution. His sister was on his side. It was in his defence
and in passionate partisanship for him that she had assailed the mother
to the child. Frances had even a momentary angry pleasure in telling the
truth without mitigation or softening. “I don’t know whether you will
believe me,” she said, “but my father told me nothing. He never said a
word to me about his past life or any one connected with him; neither
you nor--any one.” Though she had the kindest heart in the world, and
never had harmed a living creature, it gave Frances almost a little pang
of pleasure to deliver this blow.

Mrs Clarendon received it, so to speak, full in the face, as she leaned
forward, eagerly waiting for what Frances had to say. She looked at the
girl aghast, the colour changing in her face, a sudden exclamation dying
away in her throat. But after the first keen sensation, she drew herself
together and regained her self-control. “Yes, yes,” she cried; “I
understand. He could not enter into anything about us without telling
you of--others. He was always full of good feeling--and so just! No
doubt, he thought if you heard our side, you should hear the other. But
when you were coming away--when he knew you must hear everything, what
message did he give you for me?”

In sight of the anxiety which shone in her aunt’s eyes, and the eager
bend towards her of the rigid straight figure not used to any yielding,
Frances began to feel as if she were the culprit. “Indeed,” she said,
hesitating, “he never said anything. I came here in ignorance. I never
knew I had a mother till Constance came--nor any relations. I heard of
my aunt for the first time from--mamma; and then to conceal my
ignorance, I asked Markham; I wanted no one to know.”

It was some minutes before Mrs Clarendon spoke. Her eyes slowly filled
with tears, as she kept them fixed upon Frances. The blow went very
deep; it struck at illusions which were perhaps more dear than anything
in her actual existence. “You heard of me for the first time from----
Oh, that was cruel, that was cruel of Edward,” she cried, clasping her
hands together--“of me for the first time--and you had to ask Markham!
And I, that was his favourite sister, and that never forgot him, never
for a day!”

Frances put her own soft young hands upon those which her aunt wrung
convulsively together in the face of this sudden pang. “I think he had
tried to forget his old life altogether,” she said; “or perhaps it was
because he thought so much of it that he could not tell me--I was so
ignorant! He would have been obliged to tell me so much, if he had told
me anything. Aunt Caroline, I don’t think he meant to be unkind.”

Mrs Clarendon shook her head; then she turned upon her comforter with a
sort of indignation. “And you,” she said, “did you never want to know?
Did you never wonder how it was that he was there, vegetating in a
little foreign place, a man of his gifts? Did you never ask whom you
belonged to, what friends you had at home? I am afraid,” she cried
suddenly, rising to her feet, throwing off the girl’s hand, which had
still held hers, “that you are like your mother in your heart as well as
your face--a self-contained, self-satisfying creature. You cannot have
been such a child to him as he had a right to, or you would have known
all--all there was to know.”

She went to the fire as she spoke and took up the poker and struck the
smouldering coals into a blaze with agitated vehemence, shivering
nervously, with excitement rather than cold. “Of course that is how it
is,” she said. “You must have been thinking of your own little affairs,
and not of his. He must have thought he would have his child to confide
in and rely upon--and then have found out that she was not of his nature
at all, nor thinking of him; and then he would shut his heart close--oh,
I know him so well! that is so like Edward--and say nothing, nothing!
That was always easier to him than saying a little. It was everything or
nothing with him always. And when he found you took no interest, he
would shut himself up. But there’s Constance,” she cried after a
pause--“Constance is like our side. He will be able to pour out his
heart, poor Edward, to her; and she will understand him. There is some
comfort in that, at least.”

If Frances had felt a momentary pleasure in giving pain, it was now
repaid to her doubly. She sat where her aunt had left her, following
with a quiver of consciousness everything she said. Ah, yes; she had
been full of her own little affairs. She had thought of the mayonnaises,
but not of any spiritual needs to which she could minister. She had not
felt any wonder that a man of his gifts should live at Bordighera, or
any vehemence of curiosity as to the family she belonged to, or what
his antecedents were. She had taken it all quite calmly, accepting as
the course of nature the absence of relations and references to home.
She had known nothing else, and she had not thought of anything else.
Was it her fault all through? Had she been a disappointment to her
father, not worthy of him or his confidence? The tears gathered slowly
in her eyes. And when Mrs Clarendon suddenly introduced the name of
Constance, Frances, too, sprang to her feet with a sense of the
intolerable, which she could not master. To be told that she had failed,
might be bearable; but that Constance--Constance!--should turn out to
possess all that she wanted, to gain the confidence she had not been
able to gain, that was more than flesh and blood could bear. She sprang
up hastily, and began with trembling hands to button up to her throat
the close-fitting outdoor jacket which she had undone. Mrs Clarendon
stood, her face lit up with the ruddy blaze of the fire, shooting out
sharp arrows of words, with her back turned to her young victim; while
Frances behind her, in as great agitation, prepared to bring the
conference and controversy to a close.

“If that is what you think,” she said, her voice tremulous with
agitation and pain, pulling on her gloves with feverish haste, “perhaps
it will be better for me to go away.”

Mrs Clarendon turned round upon her with a start of astonishment.
Through the semi-darkness of that London day, which was not much more
than twilight through the white curtains, the elder woman looked round
upon the girl, quivering with indignation and resentment, to whom she
had supposed herself entitled to say what she pleased without fear of
calling forth any response of indignation. When she saw the tremor in
the little figure standing against the light, the agitated movement of
the hands, she was suddenly brought back to herself. It flashed across
her at once that the sudden withdrawal of Frances, whom she had welcomed
so warmly as her brother’s favourite child, would be a triumph for Lady
Markham, already no doubt very triumphant in the unveiling of her
husband’s hiding-place and the recovery of the child, and in the fact
that Frances resembled herself, and not the father. To let that enemy
understand that she, Waring’s sister, could not secure the affection of
Waring’s child, was something which Mrs Clarendon could not face.

“Go--where?” she said. “You forget that you have come to spend the day
with me. My lady will not expect you till the evening; and I do not
suppose you can wish to expose your father’s sister to her remarks.”

“My mother,” said Frances with an almost sob of emotion, “must be more
to me than my father’s sister. Oh, aunt Caroline,” she cried, “you have
been very, very hard upon me. I lived as a child lives at home till
Constance came, I had never known anything else. Why should I have asked
questions? I did not know I had a mother. I thought it was cruel, when I
first heard; and now you say it was my fault.”

“It must have been more or less your fault. A girl has no right to be so
simple. You ought to have inquired; you ought to have given him no rest;
you ought----”

“I will tell you,” said Frances, “what I was brought up to do: not to
trouble papa; that was all I knew from the time I was a baby. I don’t
know who taught me--perhaps Mariuccia, perhaps, only--everything. I was
not to trouble him, whatever I did. I was never to cry, nor even to
laugh too loud, nor to make a noise, nor to ask questions. Mariuccia and
Domenico and every one had only this thought--not to disturb papa. He
was always very kind,” she went on, softening, her eyes filling again.
“Sometimes he would be displeased about the dinner, or if his papers
were disturbed. I dusted them myself, and was very careful; but
sometimes that put him out. But he was very kind. He always came to the
loggia in the evening, except when he was busy. He used to tell me when
my perspective was wrong, and laugh at me, but not to hurt. I think you
are mistaken, aunt Caroline, about papa.”

Mrs Clarendon had come a little nearer, and turned her face towards the
girl, who stood thus pleading her own cause. Neither of them was quick
enough in intelligence to see distinctly the difference of the two
pictures which they set before each other--the sister displaying her
ideal of a delicate soul wounded and shrinking from the world, finding
refuge in the tenderness of his child; the daughter making her simple
representation of the father she knew, a man not at all dependent on her
tenderness, concerned about the material circumstances of life, about
his dinner, and that his papers should not be disturbed--kind, indeed,
but in the easy, indifferent way of a father who is scarcely aware that
his little girl is blooming into a woman. They were not clever enough to
perceive this; and yet they felt the difference with a vague sense that
both views, yet neither, were quite true, and that there might be more
to say on either side. Frances got choked with tears as she went on,
which perhaps was the thing above all others which melted her aunt’s
heart. Mrs Clarendon gave the girl credit for a passionate regret and
longing for the father she loved; whereas Frances in reality was
thinking, not so much of her father, as of the serene childish life
which was over for ever, which never could come back again, with all its
sacred ignorances, its simple unities, the absence of all complication
or perplexity. Already she was so much older, and had acquired so much
confusing painful knowledge--that knowledge of good and evil, and sense
of another meaning lurking behind the simplest seeming fact and
utterance, which, when once it has entered into the mind, is so hard to
drive out again.

“Perhaps it was not your fault,” said Mrs Clarendon at last. “Perhaps he
had been so used to you as a child, that he did not remember you were
grown up. We will say no more about it, Frances. We may be sure he had
his reasons. And you say he was busy sometimes. Was he writing? What was
he doing? You don’t know what hopes we used to have, and the great
things we thought he was going to do. He was so clever; at school and at
college, there was nobody like him. We were so proud of him! He might
have been Lord Chancellor. Charles even says so, and he is not partial,
like me; he might have been anything, if he had but tried. But all the
spirit was taken out of him when he married. Oh, many a man has been the
same. Women have a great deal to answer for. I am not saying anything
about your mother. You are quite right when you say that is not a
subject to be discussed with you. Come down-stairs; luncheon is ready;
and after that we will go out. We must not quarrel, Frances. We are each
other’s nearest relations, when all is said.”

“I don’t want to quarrel, aunt Caroline. Oh no; I never quarrelled with
any one. And then you remind me of papa.”

“That is the nicest thing you have said. You can come to me, my dear,
whenever you want to talk about him, to ease your heart. You can’t do
that with your mother; but you will never tire me. You may tell me about
him from morning to night, and I shall never be tired. Mariuccia and
Domenico are the servants, I suppose? and they adore him? He was always
adored by the servants. He never gave any trouble, never spoke crossly.
Oh, how thankful I am to be able to speak of him quite freely! I was his
favourite sister. He was just the same in outward manner to us both,--he
would not let Minnie see he had any preference; but he liked me the
best, all the same.”

It was very grateful to Frances that this monologue should go on: it
spared her the necessity of answering many questions which would have
been very difficult to her; for she was not prepared to say that the
servants, though faithful, adored her father, or that he never gave any
trouble. Her recollection of him was that he gave a great deal of
trouble, and was “very particular.” But Mrs Clarendon had a happy way of
giving herself the information she wanted, and evidently preferred to
tell Frances a thousand things, instead of being told by her. And in
other ways she was very kind, insisting that Frances should eat at
lunch, that she should be wrapped up well when they went out in the
victoria, that she should say whether there was any shopping she wanted
to do. “I know my lady will look after your finery,” she said,--“that
will be for her own credit, and help to get you off the sooner; but I
hope you have plenty of nice underclothing and wraps. She is not so sure
to think of these.”

Frances, to save herself from this questioning, described the numberless
unnecessaries which had been already bestowed upon her, not forgetting
the turquoises and other ornaments, which, she remembered with a quick
sensation of shame, her mother had told her not to speak of, lest her
aunt’s liberalities should be checked. The result, however, was quite
different. Mrs Clarendon grew red as she heard of all these
acquisitions, and when they returned to Portland Place, led Frances to
her own room, and opened to her admiring gaze the safe, securely fixed
into the wall, where her jewels were kept. “There are not many that can
be called family jewels,” she said; “but I’ve no daughter of my own, and
I should not like it to be said that you had got nothing from your
father’s side.”

Thus it was a conflict of liberality, not a withholding of presents
because she was already supplied, which Frances had to fear. She was
compelled to accept with burning cheeks, and eyes weighed down with
shame and reluctance, ornaments which a few weeks ago would have seemed
to her good enough for a queen. Oh, what a flutter of pleasure there had
been in her heart when her father gave her the little necklace of
Genoese filigree, which appeared to her the most beautiful thing in the
world. She slipped into her pocket the cluster of emeralds her aunt
gave her, as if she had been a thief, and hid the pretty ring which was
forced upon her finger, under her glove. “Oh, they are much too fine for
me. They are too good for any girl to wear. I do not want them, indeed,
aunt Caroline!”

“That may be,” Mrs Clarendon replied; “but I want to give them to you.
It shall never be said that all the good things came from her, and
nothing but trumpery from me.”

Frances took home her spoils with a sense of humiliation which weighed
her to the ground. Before this, however, she had made the acquaintance
of Mr Charles Clarendon, the great Q.C., who came into the cold
drawing-room two minutes before dinner in irreproachable evening
costume--a well-mannered, well-looking man of middle age, or a little
more, who shook hands cordially with Frances, and told her he was very
glad to see her. “But dinner is a little late, isn’t it?” he said to his
wife. The drawing-room looked less cold by lamplight; and Mrs Clarendon
herself, in her soft velvet evening-gown with a good deal of lace--or
perhaps it was after the awakening and excitement of her quarrel with
Frances--had less the air of being like the furniture, out of use. The
dinner was very luxurious and dainty. Frances, as she sat between
husband and wife, observing both very closely without being aware of it,
decided within herself that in this particular her aunt Caroline again
reminded her of papa. Mr Clarendon was very agreeable at dinner. He gave
his wife several pieces of information indeed which Frances did not
understand, but in general talked about the things that were going on,
the great events of the time, the news, so much of it as was
interesting, with all the ease of a man of the world. And he asked
Frances a few civil and indeed kindly questions about herself. “You must
take care of our east winds,” he said; “you will find them very sharp
after the Riviera.”

“I am not delicate,” she said; “I don’t think they will hurt me.”

“No, you are not delicate,” he replied, with what Frances felt to be a
look of approval; “one has only to look at you to see that. But fine
elastic health like yours is a great possession, and you must take care
of it.” He added with a smile, a moment after: “We never think that when
we are young; and when we are old, thinking does little good.”

“You have not much to complain of, Charles, in that respect,” said his
wife, who was always rather solemn.

“Oh, nothing at all,” was his reply. And shortly after, dinner by this
time being over, he gave her a significant look, to which she responded
by rising from the table.

“It is time for us to go up-stairs, my dear,” she said to Frances.

And when the ladies reached the drawing-room, it had relapsed into its
morning aspect, and looked as chilly and as unused as before.

“Your uncle is one of the busiest men in London,” said Mrs Clarendon
with a scarcely perceptible sigh. “He talked of your health; but if he
had not the finest health in the world, he could not do it; he never
takes any rest.”

“Is he going to work now?” Frances asked with a certain awe.

“He will take a doze for half an hour; then he will have his coffee. At
ten he will come up-stairs to bid me good-night; and then--I dare not
say how long he will sit up after that. He can do with less sleep than
any other man, I think.” She spoke in a tone that was full of pride, yet
with pathos in it too.

“In that way, you cannot see very much of him,” Frances said.

“I am more pleased that my husband should be the first lawyer in
England, than that he should sit in the drawing-room with me,” she
answered proudly. Then, with a faint sigh: “One has to pay for it,” she
added.

The girl looked round upon the dim room with a shiver, which she did her
best to conceal. Was it worth the price, she wondered? the cold dim
house, the silence in it which weighed down the soul, the half-hour’s
talk (no more) round the table, followed by a long lonely evening. She
wondered if they had been in love with each other when they were young,
and perhaps moved heaven and earth for a chance hour together, and all
to come to this. And there was her own father and mother, who probably
had loved each other too. As she drove along to Eaton Square, warmly
wrapped in the rich fur cloak which aunt Caroline had insisted on adding
to her other gifts, these examples of married life gave her a curious
thrill of thought, as involuntarily she turned them over in her mind. If
the case of a man were so with his wife, it would be well not to marry,
she said to herself, as the inquirers did so many years ago.

And then she blushed crimson, with a sensation of heat which made her
throw her cloak aside, to think that she was going back to her mother,
as if she had been sent out upon a raid, laden with spoils.



CHAPTER XXVI.


There were voices in the drawing-room as Frances ran up-stairs, which
warned her that her own appearance in her morning dress would be
undesirable there. She went on with a sense of relief to her own room,
where she threw aside the heavy cloak, lined with fur, which her aunt
had insisted on wrapping her in. It was too grave, too ample for
Frances, just as the other presents she had received were too rich and
valuable for her wearing. She took the emerald brooch out of her pocket
in its little case, and thrust it away into her drawer, glad to be rid
of it, wondering whether it would be her duty to show it, to exhibit her
presents. She divined that Lady Markham would be pleased, that she would
congratulate her upon having made herself agreeable to her aunt, and
perhaps repeat that horrible encouragement to her to make what progress
she could in the affections of the Clarendons, because they were rich
and had no heirs. If, instead of saying this, Lady Markham had but said
that Mrs Clarendon was lonely, having no children, and little good of
her husband’s society, how different it might have been. How anxious
then would Frances have been to visit and cheer her father’s sister! The
girl, though she was very simple, had a great deal of inalienable good
sense; and she could not but wonder within herself how her mother could
make so strange a mistake.

It was late before Lady Markham came up-stairs. She came in shading her
candle with her hand, gliding noiselessly to her child’s bedside. “Are
you not asleep, Frances? I thought you would be too tired to keep
awake.”

“Oh no. I have done nothing to tire me. I thought you would not want me
down-stairs, as I was not dressed.”

“I always want you,” said Lady Markham, stooping to kiss her. “But I
quite understand why you did not come. There was nobody that could have
interested you. Some old friends of mine, and a man or two whom Markham
brought to dine; but nothing young or pleasant. And did you have a
tolerable day? Was poor Caroline a little less grey and cold? But
Constance used to tell me she was only cold when I was there.”

“I don’t think she was cold. She was--very kind; at least that is what
she meant, I am sure,” said Frances, anxious to do her aunt justice.

Lady Markham laughed softly, with a sort of suppressed satisfaction. She
was anxious that Frances should please. She had herself, at a
considerable sacrifice of pride, kept up friendly relations, or at least
a show of friendly relations, with her husband’s sister. But
notwithstanding all this, the tone in which Frances spoke was balm to
her. The cloak was an evidence that the girl had succeeded; and yet she
had not joined herself to the other side. This unexpected triumph gave a
softness to Lady Markham’s voice.

“We must remember,” she said, “that poor Caroline is very much alone.
When one is much alone, one’s very voice gets rusty, so to speak. It
sounds hoarse in one’s throat. You may think, perhaps, that I have not
much experience of that. Still, I can understand; and it takes some time
to get it toned into ordinary smoothness. It is either too expressive,
or else it sounds cold. A great deal of allowance is to be made for a
woman who spends so much of her life alone.”

“Oh yes,” cried Frances, with a burst of tender compunction, taking her
mother’s soft white dimpled hand in her own, and kissing it with a
fervour which meant penitence as well as enthusiasm. “It is so good of
you to remind me of that.”

“Because she has not much good to say of me? My dear, there are a great
many things that you don’t know, that it would be hard to explain to
you: we must forgive her for that.”

And for a moment Lady Markham looked very grave, turning her face away
towards the vacancy of the dark room with something that sounded like a
sigh. Her daughter had never loved her so much as at this moment. She
laid her cheek upon her mother’s hand, and felt the full sweetness of
that contact enter into her heart.

“But I am disturbing your beauty-sleep, my love,” she said; “and I want
you to look your best to-morrow; there are several people coming
to-morrow. Did she give you that great cloak, Frances? How like poor
Caroline! I know the cloak quite well. It is far too _old_ for you. But
that is beautiful sable it is trimmed with; it will make you something.
She is fond of giving presents.” Lady Markham was very quick--full of
the intelligence in which Mrs Clarendon failed. She felt the instinctive
loosening of her child’s hands from her own, and that the girl’s cheek
was lifted from that tender pillow. “But,” she said, “we’ll say no more
of that to-night,” and stooped and kissed her, and drew her covering
about her with all the sweetness of that care which Frances had never
received before. Nevertheless, the involuntary and horrible feeling that
it was clever of her mother to stop when she did and say no more, struck
chill to the girl’s very soul.

Next day Mr Ramsay came in the afternoon, and immediately addressed
himself to Frances. “I hope you have not forgotten your promise, Miss
Waring, to give me all the _renseignements_. I should not like to lose
such a good chance.”

“I don’t think I have any information to give you--if it is about
Bordighera, you mean. I am fond of it; but then I have lived there all
my life. Constance thought it dull.”

“Ah yes, to be sure--your sister went there. But her health was perfect.
I have seen her go out in the wildest weather, in days that made me
shiver. She said that to see the sun always shining bored her. She liked
a great deal of excitement and variety--don’t you think?” he added after
a moment, in a tentative way.

“The sun does not shine always,” said Frances, piqued for the reputation
of her home, as if this were an accusation. “We have grey days
sometimes, and sometimes storms, beautiful storms, when the sea is all
in foam.”

He shivered a little at the idea. “I have never yet found the perfect
place in which there is nothing of all that,” he said. “Wherever I have
been, there are cold days--even in Algiers, you know. No climate is
perfect. I don’t go in much for society when I am at a health-place. It
disturbs one’s thoughts and one’s temper, and keeps you from fixing your
mind upon your cure, which you should always do. But I suppose you know
everybody there?”

“There is--scarcely any one there,” she said, faltering, remembering at
once that her father was not a person to whom to offer introductions.

“So much the better,” he said more cheerfully. “It is a thing I have
often heard doctors say, that society was quite undesirable. It disturbs
one’s mind. One can’t be so exact about hours. In short, it places
health in a secondary place, which is fatal. I am always extremely rigid
on that point. Health--must go before all. Now, dear Miss Waring, to
details, if you please.” He took out a little note-book, bound in
russia, and drew forth a jewelled pencil-case. “The hotels first, I beg;
and then the other particulars can be filled in. We can put them under
different heads: (1) Shelter; (2) Exposure; (3) Size and convenience of
apartments; (4) Nearness to church, beach, &c. I hope you don’t think I
am asking too much?”

“I am so glad to see that you have not given him up because of Con,”
said one of Lady Markham’s visitors, talking very earnestly over the
tea-table, with a little nod and gesture to indicate of whom she was
speaking. “He must be very fond of you, to keep coming; or he must have
some hope.”

“I think he is rather fond of me, poor Claude!” Lady Markham replied
without looking round. “I am one of the oldest friends he has.”

“But Constance, you know, gave him a terrible snub. I should not have
wondered if he had never entered the house again.”

“He enters the house almost every day, and will continue to do so, I
hope. Poor boy, he cannot afford to throw away his friends.”

“Then that is almost the only luxury he can’t afford.”

Lady Markham smiled upon this remark. “Claude,” she said, turning round,
“don’t you want some tea? Come and get it while it is hot.”

“I am getting some _renseignements_ from Miss Waring. It is very good of
her. She is telling me all about Bordighera, which, so far as I can see,
will be a very nice place for the winter,” said Ramsay, coming up to the
tea-table with his little note-book in his hand. “Thanks, dear Lady
Markham. A little sugar, please. Sugar is extremely nourishing, and it
is a great pity to leave it out in diet--except, you know, when you are
inclining to fat. Banting is at the bottom of all this fashion of doing
without sugar. It is not good for little thin fellows like me.”

“I gave it up long before I ever heard of Banting,” said the stout lady:
for it need scarcely be said that there was a stout lady; no tea-party
in England ever assembled without one. The individual in the present
case was young, and rebellious against the fate which had overtaken
her--not of the soft, smiling, and contented kind.

“It does us real good,” said Claude, with his softly pathetic voice. “I
have seen one or two very sad instances where the fat did not go away,
you know, but got limp and flaccid, and the last state of that man was
worse than the first. Dear lady, I think you should be very cautious. To
make experiments with one’s health is really criminal. We are getting on
very nicely with the _renseignements_. Miss Waring has remembered a
great deal. She thought she could not tell me anything; but she has
remembered a great deal.”

“Bordighera? Is that where Constance is?” the ladies said to each other
round the low tea-table where Lady Markham was so busy. She smiled upon
them all, and answered “Yes,” without any tinge of the embarrassment
which perhaps they hoped to see.

“But of course as a resident she is not living among the people at the
hotels. You know how the people who live in a place hold themselves
apart; and the season is almost over. I don’t think that either tourists
or invalids passing that way are likely to see very much of Con.”

In the meantime, Frances, as young Ramsay had said, had been honestly
straining her mind to “remember” what she could about the Marina and
the circumstances there. She did not know anything about the east wind,
and had no recollection of how it affected the place. She remembered
that the sun shone in at the windows all day; which of course meant, as
he informed her, a southern exposure; and that in all the hotel gardens,
as well as elsewhere, there were palms growing, and hedges of lemons and
orange trees; and that at the Angleterre--or was it the Victoria?--the
housekeeper was English; along with other details of a similar kind.
There were no balls; very few concerts or entertainments of any kind; no
afternoon tea-parties. “How could there be?” said Frances, “when there
were only ourselves, the Gaunts, and the Durants.”

“Only themselves, the Gaunts, and the Durants,” Ramsay wrote down in his
little book. “How delightful that must be! Thank you so much, Miss
Waring. Usually one has to pay for one’s experience; but thanks to you,
I feel that I know all about it. It seems a place in which one could do
one’s self every justice. I shall speak to Dr Lull about it at once. I
have no doubt he will think it the very place for me.”

“You will find it dull,” said Frances, looking at him curiously,
wondering was it possible that he could be sincere, or whether this was
his way of justifying to himself his intention of following Constance.
But nothing could be more steadily matter-of-fact than the young man’s
aspect.

“Yes, no doubt I shall find it dull. I don’t so very much object to
that. At Cannes and those places there is a continual racket going on.
One might almost as well be in London. One is seduced into going out in
the evening, doing all sorts of things. I think your place is an ideal
place--plenty of sunshine and no amusements. How can I thank you enough,
Miss Waring, for your _renseignements_? I shall speak to Dr Lull without
delay.”

“But you must recollect that it will soon be getting very hot; and even
the people who live there will be going away. Mr Durant sometimes takes
the duty at Homburg or one of those places; and the Gaunts come home to
England; and even we----”

Here Frances paused for a moment to watch him, and she thought that the
pencil with which he was still writing down all these precious details,
paused too. He looked up at her, as if waiting for further information.
“Yes?” he said interrogatively.

“Even we--go up among the mountains where it is cooler,” she said.

He looked a little thoughtful at this; but presently threw her back into
perplexity by saying calmly: “That would not matter to me so much, since
I am quite sincere in thinking that when one goes to a health-place, one
should give one’s self up to one’s health. But unfortunately, or perhaps
I should say fortunately, Miss Waring, England is just as good as
anywhere else in the summer; and Dr Lull has not thought it necessary
this year to send me away. But I feel quite set up with your
_renseignements_,” he added, putting back his book into his pocket, “and
I certainly shall think of it for another year.”

Frances had been so singled out for the purpose of giving the young
invalid information, that she found herself a little apart from the
party when he went away. They were all ladies, and all intimates, and
the unaccustomed girl was not prepared for the onslaught of this curious
and eager, though so pretty and fashionable mob. “What are those
_renseignements_ you have been giving him? Is he going off after Con?
Has he been questioning you about Con? We are all dying to know. And
what do you think she will say to him if he goes out after her?” cried
all, speaking together, those soft eager voices, to which Frances did
not know how to reply.



CHAPTER XXVII.


Frances became accustomed to the presence of young Ramsay after this. He
appeared almost every day, very often in the afternoon, eager for tea,
and always disposed to inquire for further _renseignements_, though he
was quite certain that he was not to leave England till autumn at the
earliest. She began to regard him as a younger brother, or cousin at the
least--a perfectly harmless individual, with whom she could talk when he
wanted her with a gentle complacence, without any reference to her own
pleasure. As a matter of fact, it did not give her any pleasure to talk
to Claude. She was kind to him for his sake; but she had no desire for
his presence on her own account. It surprised her that he ever could
have been thought of as a possible mate for Constance. Constance was so
much cleverer, so much more advanced in every way than herself, that to
suppose she could put up with what Frances found so little attractive,
was a constant amazement to the girl. She could not but express this on
one of the occasions, not so very frequent as she had expected, on which
her mother and she were alone together.

“Is it really true,” she said at the end of a long silence, “that there
was a question of a--marriage between Constance and Mr Ramsay?”

“It is really quite true,” said her mother with a smile. “And why not?
Do you disapprove?”

“It is not that I disapprove--I have no right to disapprove; it is only
that it seems so impossible.”

“Why? I see nothing impossible in it. He is of suitable age; he is
handsome. You cannot deny that he is handsome, however much you may
dislike him, my dear.”

“But I don’t dislike him at all; I like him very much--in a kind of
way.”

“You have every appearance of doing so,” said Lady Markham with
meaning. “You talk to him more, I think, than to any one else.”

“That is because----”

“Oh, I don’t ask any reason, Frances. If you like his society that is
reason enough--the best of reasons. And evidently he likes you. He
would, no doubt, be more suitable to you than to Constance.”

“Mamma! I don’t know what you mean.” Frances woke up suddenly from her
musing state, and looked at her mother with wide open startled eyes.

“I don’t mean anything. I only ask you to point out wherein his
unsuitability lies. Young, handsome, _nice_, and very rich. What could a
girl desire more? You think, perhaps, as you have been so simply brought
up, that a heroine like Con should have had a Duke or an Earl at the
least. But people think less of the importance of titles as they know
Society better. Claude is of an excellent old family--better than many
peers. She would have been a very fortunate young woman with such an
establishment; but she has taken her own way. I hope you will never be
so hot-headed as your sister, Frances. You look much more practical and
reasonable. You will not, I think, dart off at a tangent without warning
or thought.”

Frances looked her mother doubtfully in the face. Her feelings
fluctuated strangely in respect to this central figure in the new world
round her. To make acquaintance with your parents for the first time
when you have reached the critical age, and are no longer able to accept
everything with the matter-of-fact serenity of a child, is a curious
experience. Children, indeed, are tremendous critics, at the tribunal of
whose judgment we all stand unawares, and have our just place allotted
to us, with an equity which happily leads to no practical conclusions,
but which no tribunal on earth can equal for clear sight and remorseless
decision. Eighteen is not quite so abstract as eight; yet the absence of
familiarity, and that love which is instinctive, and happily quite above
all decisions of the judgment, makes, in such an extraordinary case as
that of Frances, the sudden call upon the critical faculties, the
consciousness that accompanies their exercise, and the underlying sense,
never absent, that all this is unnatural and wrong, into a complication
full of distress and uncertainty. A vague question whether it were
possible that such a conflict as that which had ended in Constance’s
flight, should ever arise between Lady Markham and herself, passed
through the mind of Frances. If it should do so, the expedient which had
been open to Constance would be to herself impossible. All pride and
delicacy of feeling, all sense of natural justice, would prevent her
from adopting that course. The question would have to be worked out
between her mother and herself, should it ever occur. Was it possible
that it could ever occur? She looked at Lady Markham, who had returned
to her usual morning occupation of writing letters, with a questioning
gaze. There had been a pause, and Lady Markham had waited for a moment
for a reply. Then she had taken up her pen again, and with a smiling nod
had returned to her correspondence.

Frances sat and pondered with her face turned towards the writing-table,
at which her mother spent so much of her time. The number of letters
that were written there every morning filled her with amazement. Waring
had written no letters, and received only one now and then, which
Frances understood to be about business. She had looked very
respectfully at first on the sheaves which were every day taken away,
duly stamped, from that well-worn but much decorated writing-table. When
it had been suggested to her that she too must have letters to write,
she had dutifully compiled her little bulletin for her father, putting
aside as quite a different matter the full chronicle of her proceedings,
written at a great many _reprises_, to Mariuccia, which somehow did not
seem at all to come under the same description. It had, however, begun
to become apparent to Frances, unwillingly, as she made acquaintance
with everything about her, that Lady Markham’s correspondence was really
by no means of the importance which appeared at the first glance. It
seemed to consist generally in the conveyance of little bits of news, of
little engagements, of the echoes of what people said and did; and it
was replied to by endless shoals of little notes on every variety of
tinted, gilt, and perfumed paper, with every kind of monogram, crest,
and device, and every new idea in shape and form which the genius of the
fashionable stationer could work out. “I have just heard from Lady
So-and-so the funniest story,” Lady Markham would say to her son,
repeating the anecdote--which on many occasions Frances, listening, did
not see the point of. But then both mother and son were cleverer people
than she was. “I must write and let Mary St Serle and Louisa Avenel
know--it will amuse them so;” and there was at once an addition of two
letters to the budget. Frances did not think--all under her breath, as
it were, in involuntary unexpressed comment--that the tale was worth a
pretty sheet of paper, a pretty envelope--both decorated with Lady
Markham’s cipher and coronet--and a penny stamp. But so it was; and this
was one of the principal occupations evidently of a great lady’s life.
Lady Markham considered it very grave, and “a duty.” She allowed nothing
to interfere with her correspondence. “I have my letters to write,” she
said, as who should say, “I have my day’s work to do.” By degrees
Frances lost her respect for this day’s work, and would watch the
manufactory of one note after another with eyes that were unwillingly
cynical, wondering within herself whether it would make any difference
to the world if pen and ink were forbidden in that house. Markham, too,
spoke of writing his letters as a valid reason for much consumption of
time. But then, no doubt, Markham had land agents to write to, and
lawyers, and other necessary people. In this, Frances did not do justice
to her mother, who also had business letters to write, and did a great
deal in stocks, and kept her eyes on the money market. The girl sat and
watched her with a sort of fascination as her pen ran lightly over sheet
after sheet. Sometimes Lady Markham was full of tenderness and
generosity, and had the look of understanding everybody’s feelings. She
was never unkind. She never took a bad view of any one, or suggested
evil or interested motives, as even Frances perceived, in her limited
experience, so many people to do. But, on the other hand, there would
come into her face sometimes a look--which seemed to say that she might
be inexorable, if once she had made up her mind: a look before which it
seemed to Frances that flight like that of Constance would be the
easiest way. Frances was not sufficiently instructed in human nature to
know that anomalies of this kind are common enough; and that nobody is
always and in all matters good, any more than anybody is in all things
ill. It troubled her to perceive the junction of these different
qualities in her mother; and still more it troubled her to think what,
in case of coming to some point of conflict, she should do? How would
she get out of it? Would it be only by succumbing wholly, or had she the
courage in her to fight it out?

“Little un,” said Markham, coming up to her suddenly, “why do you look
at the mother so? Are you measuring yourself against her, to see how
things would stand if it came to a fight?”

“Markham!” Frances started with a great blush of guilt. “I did not know
you were here. I--never heard you come in.”

“You were so lost in thought. I have been here these five minutes,
waiting for an opportunity to put in a word. Don’t you know I’m a
thought-reader, like those fellows that find pins? Take my advice, Fan,
and never let it come to a fight.”

“I don’t know how to fight,” she said, crimsoning more and more; “and
besides, I was not thinking--there is nothing to fight about.”

“Fibs, these last,” he said. “Come out and take a little walk with
me,--you are looking pale; and I will tell you a thing or two. Mother, I
am going to take her out for a walk; she wants air.”

“Do, dear,” said Lady Markham, turning half round with a smile. “After
luncheon, she is going out with me; but in the meantime, you could not
do better--get a little of the morning into her face, while I finish my
letters.” She turned again with a soft smile on her face to send off
that piece of information to Louisa Avenel and Mary St Serle, closing an
envelope as she spoke, writing the address with such a preoccupied yet
amiable air--a woman who, but for having so much to do, would have had
no thought or ambition beyond her home. Markham waited till Frances
appeared in the trim little walking-dress which the mother had paid her
the high compliment of making no change in. They turned their faces as
usual towards the Park, where already, though Easter was very near,
there was a flutter of fine company in preparation for the more serious
glories of the Row, after the season had fairly set in.

“Little Fan, you mustn’t fight,” were the first words that Markham said.

She felt her heart begin to beat loud. “Markham! there is nothing to
fight about--oh, nothing. What put fighting in your head?”

“Never mind. It is my duty to instruct your youth; and I think I see
troubles brewing. Don’t be so kind to that little beggar Claude. He is a
selfish little beggar, though he looks so smooth; and since Constance
won’t have him, he will soon begin to think he may as well have you.”

“Markham!” Frances felt herself choking with horror and shame.

“You have got my name quite pat, my dear; but that is neither here nor
there. Markham has nothing to do with it, except to put you on your
guard. Don’t you know, you little innocent, what is the first duty of a
mother? Then I can tell you: to marry her daughters well; brilliantly,
if possible, but at all events _well_--or anyhow to marry them; or else
she is a failure, and all the birds of her set come round her and peck
her to death.”

“I often don’t understand your jokes,” said Frances, with a little
dignity, “and I suppose this is a joke.”

“And you think it is a joke in doubtful taste? So should I, if I meant
it that way, but I don’t. Listen, Fan; I am much of that opinion
myself.”

“That a mother--that a lady----? You are always saying horrible things.”

“It is true, though--if it is best that a girl should marry--mind you, I
only say if--then it _is_ her mother’s duty. You can’t look out for
yourself--at least I am very glad you are not of the kind that do, my
little Fan.”

“Markham,” said Frances, with a dignity which seemed to raise her small
person a foot at least, “I have never heard such things talked about;
and I don’t wish to hear anything more, please. In books,” she added,
after a moment’s interval, “it is the gentlemen----”

“Who look out? But that is all changed, my dear. Fellows fall in
love--which is quite different--and generally fall in love with the
wrong person; but you see I was not supposing that you were likely to do
anything so wild as that.”

“I hope not,” cried Frances hurriedly. “However,” she added, after
another pause, colouring deeply, but yet looking at him with a certain
courageous air, “if there was any question about being--married, which
of course there is not--I never heard that there was any other way.”

“Brava, Fan! Come, now, here is the little thing’s own opinion, which is
worth a great deal. It would not matter, then, who the man was, so long
as _that_ happened, eh? Let us know the premises on either side.”

“You are a great deal older than I am, Markham,” said Frances.

“Granted, my dear--a great deal. And what then? I should be wiser, you
mean to say? But so I am, Fan.”

“It was not _that_ I meant. I mean, it is you who ought--to marry. You
are a man. You are the eldest, the chief one of your family. I have
always read in books----”

Markham put up his hand as a shield. He stopped to laugh, repeating over
and over again that one note of mirth with which it was his wont to
express his feelings. “Brava, Fan!” he repeated when he could speak.
“You are a little Trojan. This is something like carrying the war into
the enemy’s country.” He was so much tickled by the assault, that the
water stood in his eyes. “What a good thing we are not in the Row, where
I should have been delivered over to the talk of the town. Frances, my
little dear, you are the funniest of little philosophers.”

“Where is the fun?” said Frances gravely. “And I am not a philosopher,
Markham; I am only--your sister.”

At this the little man became serious all at once, and took her hand and
drew it within his arm. They were walking up Constitution Hill, where
there are not many spectators. “Yes, my dear,” he said, “and as nice a
little sister as a man could desire;” and walked on, holding her arm
close to him with an expressive clasp which spoke more than words. The
touch of nature and the little suggestive proffer of affection and
kindred which was in the girl’s words, touched his heart. He said
nothing till they were about emerging upon the noise and clamour of the
world at the great thoroughfare which they had to cross. Then “After
all,” he said, “yours is a very natural proposition, Fan. It is I who
ought to marry. Many people would say it is my duty; and perhaps I might
have been of that opinion once. But I’ve a great deal on my conscience,
dear. You think I’m rather a good little man, don’t you? fond of ladies’
society, and of my mother and little sister, which is such a good
feature, everybody says? Well, but that’s a mistake, my dear. I don’t
know that I am at all a fit person to be walking about London streets
and into the Park with an innocent little creature, such as you are,
under my arm.”

“Markham!” she cried, with a tone which was half astonished, half
indignant, and her arm thrilled within his--not, perhaps, with any
intention of withdrawing itself; but that was what he thought.

“Wait,” he said, “till I have got you safely across the Corner--there is
always a crowd--and then, if you are frightened, and prefer another
chaperon, we’ll find one, you may be sure, before we have gone a dozen
steps. Come now; there is a little lull. Be plucky, and keep your head,
Fan.”

“I want no other chaperon, Markham; I like you.”

“Do you, my dear? Well, you can’t think what a pleasure that is to me,
Fan. You wouldn’t, probably, if you knew me better. However, you must
stick to that opinion as long as you can. Who, do you think, would marry
me if I were to try? An ugly little fellow, not very well off, with
several very bad tendencies, and--a mother.”

“A mother, Markham!”

“Yes, my dear; to whom he is devoted--who must always be the first to
him. That’s a beautiful sentiment, don’t you think? But wives have a way
of not liking it. I could not force her to call herself the Dowager,
could I, Fan? She is a pretty woman yet. She is really younger than I
am. She would not like it.”

“I think you are only making fun of me, Markham. I don’t know what you
mean. What could mamma have to do with it? If she so much wanted
Constance to marry, surely she must want you still more, for you are so
much older; and then----”

“There is no want of arguments,” he said with a laugh, shaking his head.
“Conviction is what is wanted. There might have been times when I should
have much relished your advice; but nobody would have had me,
fortunately. No; I must not give up the mother, my dear. Don’t you know
I was the cause of all the mischief--at least of a great part of the
mischief--when your father went away? And now, I must make a mess of it
again, and put folly into Con’s head. The mother is an angel, Fan, or
she would not trust you with me.”

It flashed across Frances’ memory that Constance had warned her not to
let herself fall into Markham’s hands; but this only bewildered the girl
in the softening of her heart to him, and in the general bewilderment
into which she was thus thrown back. “I do not believe you can be bad,”
she said earnestly; “you must be doing yourself injustice.”

By this time they were in the Row in all the brightness of the crowd,
which, if less great than at a later period, was more friendly. Markham
had begun to pull off his hat to every third lady he met, to put out his
hand right and left, to distribute nods and greetings. “We’ll resume the
subject some time or other,” he said with a smile aside to Frances,
disengaging her arm from his. The girl felt as if she had suddenly lost
her anchorage, and was thrown adrift upon this sea of strange faces; and
thrown at the same time back into a moral chaos, full of new
difficulties and wonders, out of which she could not see her way.



CHAPTER XXVIII.


A day or two after, they all went to the Priory for Easter.

The Priory was in the Isle of Wight, and it was Markham’s house. It was
not a very great house, nor was it medieval and mysterious, as an
unsophisticated imagination naturally expected. Its name came, it was
said (or hoped), from an old ecclesiastical establishment once planted
there; but the house itself was a sort of Strawberry-Hill Gothic, with a
good deal of plaster and imitated ornament of the perpendicular
kind,--that is to say, the worst of its kind, which is, unfortunately,
that which most attracts the imitator. It stood on a slope above the
beach, where the vegetation was soft and abundant, recalling more or
less to the mind of Frances the aspect of the country with which she
was best acquainted--the great bosquets of glistering green laurel and
laurestine simulating the daphnes and orange-trees, and the grey downs
above recalling in some degree the scattered hill-tops above the level
of the olives; though the great rollers of the Atlantic which thundered
in upon the beach were not like that rippling blue which edged the
Riviera in so many rims of delicate colour. The differences, however,
struck Frances less than the resemblance, for which she had scarcely
been prepared, and which gave her a great deal of surprised pleasure at
the first glance. This put temporarily out of her mind all the new and
troublesome thoughts which her conversation with Markham had called
forth, and which had renewed her curiosity about her step-brother, whom
she had begun to receive into the landscape around her with the calm of
habit and without asking any questions. Was he really bad, or rather,
not good?--which was as far as Frances could go. Had he really been the
cause, or partly the cause, of the separation between her father and
mother? She was bewildered by these little breaks in the curtain which
concealed the past from her so completely--that past which was so well
known to the others around, which an invincible delicacy prevented her
from speaking of or asking questions about. All went on so calmly around
her, as if nothing out of the ordinary routine had ever been; and yet
she was aware not only that much had been, but that it remained so
distinctly in the minds of those smiling people as to influence their
conduct and form their motives still. Though it was Markham’s house, it
was his mother who was the uncontested sovereign, not less, probably
more, than if the real owner had been her husband instead of her son.
And even Frances, little as she was acquainted with the world, was aware
that this was seldom the case. And why should not Markham at his age,
which to her seemed at least ten years more than it was, be married,
when it was already thought important that Constance should marry? These
were very bewildering questions, and the moment to resume the subject
never seemed to come.

There was a party in the house, which included Claude Ramsay, and Sir
Thomas, the elder person in whom Lady Markham had thought there could
be nothing particularly interesting. He was a very frequent member of
the family party, all the same; and now that they were living under the
same roof, Frances did not find him without interest. There was also a
lady with two daughters, whose appearance was very interesting to the
girl. They reminded her a little of Constance, and of the difficulty she
had found in finding subjects on which to converse with her sister. The
Miss Montagues knew a great many people, and talked of them continually;
but Frances knew nobody. She listened with interest, but she could add
nothing either to their speculations or recollections. She did not know
anything about the contrivances which brought about the marriage between
Cecil Gray and Emma White. She was utterly incompetent even to hazard an
opinion as to what Lady Milbrook would do _now_; and she did not even
understand about the hospitals which they visited and “took an interest”
in. She tried very hard to get some little current with which she could
make herself acquainted in the river of their talk; but nothing could
be more difficult. Even when she brought out her sketch-book and opened
ground upon that subject--about which the poor little girl modestly
believed she knew by experience a very little--she was silenced in five
minutes by their scientific acquaintance with washes, and glazing, and
body colour, and the laws of composition. Frances did not know how to
compose a picture. She said: “Oh no; I do not make it up in my head at
all; I only do what I see.”

“You mean you don’t formulate rules,” said Maud. “Of course you don’t
mean that you merely imitate, for that is tea-board style; and your
drawings are quite pretty. I like that little bit of the coast.”

“How well one knows the Riviera,” said Ethel; “everybody who goes there
has something to show. But I am rather surprised you don’t keep to one
style. You seem to do a little of everything. Don’t you feel that
flower-painting rather spoils your hand for the larger effects?”

“It wants such a very different distribution of light and shade,” said
the other sister. “You have to calculate your tones on such a different
scale. If you were working at South Kensington or any other of the good
schools----”

“I should not advise her to do that--should you, Maud?--there is such a
long elementary course. But I suppose you did your freehand, and all
that, in the schoolroom?”

Frances did not know how to reply. She put away her little sketch with a
sense of extreme humiliation. “Oh, I am afraid I am not fit to talk
about it at all,” she said. “I don’t even know what words to use. It has
been all imitation, as you say.”

The two young ladies smiled upon her, and reassured her. “You must not
be discouraged. I am sure you have talent. It only wants a little hard
work to master the principles; and then you go on so much easier
afterwards,” they said. It puzzled Frances much that they did not
produce their own sketches, which she thought would have been as good as
a lesson to her; and it was not till long after that it dawned upon her
that in this particular Maud and Ethel were defective. They knew how to
do it, but could not do it; whereas she could do it without knowing how.

“How is it, I wonder,” said one of them, changing the subject after a
little polite pause, which suggested fatigue, “that Mrs Winterbourn is
not here this year?”

They looked at her for this information, to the consternation of
Frances, who did not know how to reply. “You know I have not been
long--here,” she said: she had intended to say at home, but the effort
was beyond her--“and I don’t even know who Mrs Winterbourn is.”

“Oh!” they both cried; and then for a minute there was nothing more.
“You may think it strange of us to speak of it,” said Maud at length;
“only, it always seemed so well understood; and we have always met her
here.”

“Oh, she goes everywhere,” cried Ethel. “There never was a word breathed
against---- Please don’t think _that_, from anything we have said.”

“On the contrary, mamma always says it is so wise of Lady Markham,” said
Maud; “so much better that he should always meet her here.”

Frances retired into herself with a confusion which she did not know how
to account for. She did not in the least know what they meant, and yet
she felt the colour rise in her cheek. She blushed for she knew not
what; so that Maud and Ethel said to each other, afterwards: “She is a
little hypocrite. She knew just as well as either you or I.”

Frances, however, did not know; and here was another subject about which
she could not ask information. She carried away her sketch-book to her
room with a curious feeling of ignorance and foolishness. She did not
know anything at all--neither about her own surroundings, nor about the
little art which she was so fond of, in which she had taken just a
little pride, as well as so much pleasure. She put the sketches away
with a few hasty tears, feeling troubled and provoked, and as if she
could never look at them with any satisfaction, or attempt to touch a
pencil again. She had never thought they were anything great; but to be
made to feel so foolish in her own little way was hard. Nor was this
the only trial to which she was exposed. After dinner, retiring, which
she did with a sense of irritation which her conscience condemned, from
the neighbourhood of Ethel and Maud, she fell into the hands of Sir
Thomas, who also had a way of keeping very clear of these young ladies.
He came to where Frances was standing in a corner, almost out of sight.
She had drawn aside one edge of the curtain, and was looking out upon
the shrubbery and the lawn, which stood out against the clear background
of the sea--with a great deal of wistfulness, and perhaps a secret tear
or two in her eyes. Here she was startled by a sudden voice in her ear.
“You are looking out on the moonlight,” Sir Thomas said. It took her a
moment before she could swallow the sob in her throat.

“It is very bright; it is a little like--home.” This word escaped her in
the confusion of her thoughts.

“You mean the Riviera. Did you like it so much? I should have
thought---- But no doubt, whatever the country is which we call home, it
seems desirable to us.”

“Oh, but you can’t know how beautiful it is,” cried Frances, roused from
her fit of despondency. “Perhaps you have never been there?”

“Oh yes, often. Does your father like it as well as you do, Miss Waring?
I should have supposed, for a man----”

“Yes,” said Frances, “I know what you mean. They say there is nothing to
do. But my father is not a man to want to do anything. He is fond of
books; he reads all day long, and then comes out into the loggia with
his cigarette--and talks to me.”

“That sounds very pleasant,” said Sir Thomas with a smile, taking no
notice of the involuntary quaver that had got into the girl’s voice.
“But I wonder if perhaps he does not want a little variety, a little
excitement? Excuse me for saying so. Men, you know, are not always so
easily contented as the better half of creation; and then they are
accustomed to larger duties, to more action, to public affairs.”

“I don’t think papa takes much interest in all that,” said Frances with
an air of authority. “He has never cared for what was going on. The
newspapers he sometimes will not open.”

“That is a great change. He used to be a hot politician in the old
days.”

“Did you know my father?” she cried, turning upon him with a glow of
sudden interest.

“I knew him very well--better than most people. I was one of those who
felt the deepest regret----”

She stood gazing at him with her face lifted to him with so profound an
interest and desire to know, that he stopped short, startled by the
intensity of her look. “Miss Waring,” he said, “it is a very delicate
subject to talk to their child upon.”

“Oh, I know it is. I don’t like to ask--and yet it seems as if I ought
to know.” Frances was seized with one of those sudden impulses of
confidence which sometimes make the young so indiscreet. If she had
known Sir Thomas intimately, it would not have occurred to her; but as a
stranger, he seemed safe. “No one has ever told me,” she added in the
heat of this sudden overflow, “neither how it was or why it was--except
Markham, who says it was his fault.”

“There were faults on all sides, I think,” said Sir Thomas. “There
always are in such cases. No one person is able to carry out such a
prodigious mistake. You must pardon me if I speak plainly. You are the
only person whom I can ask about my old friend.”

“Oh, I like you to speak plainly,” cried Frances. “Talk to me about him;
ask me anything you please.” The tears came into her voice, and she put
her hands together instinctively. She had been feeling very lonely and
home-sick, and out of accord with all her surroundings. To return even
in thought to the old life and its associations brought a flood of
bitter sweetness to her heart.

“I can see at least,” said Sir Thomas, “that he has secured a most
loving champion in his child.”

This arrested her enthusiasm in a moment. She was too sincere to accept
such a solution of her own complicated feelings. Was she the loving
champion which she was so suddenly assumed to be? She became vaguely
aware that the things which had rushed back upon her mind and filled
her with longing were not the excellences of her father, but rather the
old peace and ease and ignorance of her youthful life, which nothing
could now restore. She could not respond to the confidence of her
father’s friend. He had kept her in ignorance; he had deceived her; he
had not made any attempt to clear the perplexities of her difficult
path, but left her to find out everything, more perhaps than she yet
knew. Sir Thomas was a little surprised that she made him no reply; but
he set it down to emotion and agitation, which might well take from so
young and innocent a girl the possibility of reply.

“I don’t know whether I am justified in the hope I have been
entertaining ever since you came,” he said. “It is very hard that your
father should be banished from his own country and all his duties
by--what was, after all, never a very important cause. There has been no
unpardonable wrong on either side. He is terribly sensitive, you know.
And Lady Markham--she is a dear friend of mine; I have a great affection
for her----”

“If you please,” said Frances quickly, “it is not possible for me to
listen to any discussion of mamma.”

“My dear Miss Waring,” he cried, “this is better and better. You are
then a partisan on both sides?”

Poor little Frances felt as if she were at least hemmed in on both
sides, and without any way of escape. She looked up in his face with an
appeal which he did not understand, for how was it possible to suppose
that she did not know all about a matter which had affected her whole
life?

“Don’t you think,” said Sir Thomas, drawing very close to her, stooping
over her, “that if we two were to lay our heads together, we might bring
things to a better understanding? Constance, to whom I have often spoken
on the subject, knew only one side--and that not the difficult side.
Markham was mixed up in it all, and could never be impartial. But you
know both, and your father best. I am sure you are full of sense, as
Waring’s daughter ought to be. Don’t you think----”

He had taken both Frances’ hands in his enthusiasm, and pressed so
closely upon her that she had to retreat a step, almost with alarm. And
he had his back to the light, shutting her out from all succour, as she
thought. It was all the girl could do to keep from crying out that she
knew nothing,--that she was more ignorant than any one; and when there
suddenly came from behind Sir Thomas the sound of many voices, without
agitation or special meaning, her heart gave a bound of relief, as if
she had escaped. He gave her hands a vehement pressure and let them
drop; and then Claude Ramsay’s voice of gentle pathos came in. “Are you
not afraid, Miss Waring, of the draught? There must be some door or
window open. It is enough to blow one away.”

“You look like a couple of conspirators,” said Markham. “Fan, your
little eyes are blinking like an owl’s. Come back, my dear, into the
light.”

“No,” said Claude; “the light here is perfect. I never can understand
why people should want so much light only to talk by. Will you sit here,
Miss Waring? Here is a corner out of the draught. I want to say
something more about Bordighera--one other little _renseignement_, and
then I shall not require to trouble you any more.”

Frances looked at Markham for help, but he did not interfere. He looked
a little grave, she thought; but he took Sir Thomas by the arm, and
presently led him away. She was too shy to refuse on her own account
Claude’s demand, and sat down reluctantly on the sofa, where he placed
himself at her side.

“Your sister,” he said, “never had much sympathy with me about draughts.
She used to think it ridiculous to take so much care. But my doctrine
always is, take care beforehand, and then you don’t need to trouble
yourself after. Don’t you think I am right?”

She understood very well how Constance would receive his little
speeches. In the agitation in which she was, gleams of perception coming
through the chaos, sudden visions of Constance, who had been swept out
of her mind by the progress of events, and of her father, whom her late
companion had been talking about--as if it would be so easy to induce
him to change all his ways, and do what other people wished!--came back
to her mind. They seemed to stand before her there, both appearing out
of the mists, both so completely aware of what they wanted to do--so
little likely to be persuaded into some one else’s mode of thought.

“I think Constance and you were not at all likely to think the same,”
she said.

Ramsay looked at her with a glance which for him was hasty and almost
excited. “No?” he said in an interrogative tone. “What makes you think
so? Perhaps when one comes to consider, you are right. She was always so
well and strong. You and I, perhaps, do you think, are more alike?”

“No,” said Frances, very decidedly. “I am much stronger than Constance.
She might have some patience with--with--what was fanciful; but I should
have none.”

“With what was fanciful? Then you think I am fanciful?” said Claude,
raising himself up from his feeble attitude. He laughed a little, quite
undisturbed in temper by this reproach. “I wish other people thought
so; I wish they would let me stay comfortably at home, and do what
everybody does. But, Miss Waring, you are not so sympathetic as I
thought.”

“I am afraid I am not sympathetic,” said Frances, feeling much ashamed
of herself. “Oh, Mr Ramsay, forgive me; I did not mean to say anything
so disagreeable.”

“Never mind,” said Claude. “When people don’t know me, they often think
so. I am sorry, because I thought perhaps you and I might agree better.
But very likely it was a mistake. Are you feeling the draught again? It
is astonishing how a draught will creep round, when you think you are
quite out of the way of it. If you feel it, you must not run the risk of
a cold, out of consideration for me.”



CHAPTER XXIX.


“She thinks I am fanciful,” he said.

He was sitting with Lady Markham in the room which was her special
sanctuary. She did not call it her boudoir--she was not at all inclined
to _bouder_; but it answered to that retirement in common parlance.
Those who wanted to see her alone, to confide in her, as many people
did, knocked at the door of this room. It opened with a large window
upon the lawn, and looked down through a carefully kept opening upon the
sea. Amid all the little luxuries appropriate to my lady’s chamber, you
could see the biggest ships in the world pass across the gleaming
foreground, shut in between two _massifs_ of laurel, making a delightful
confusion of the great and the small, which was specially pleasant to
her. She sat, however, with her back to this pleasant prospect, holding
up a screen, to shade her delicate cheek from the bright little fire,
which, though April was far advanced, was still thought necessary so
near the sea. Claude had thrown himself into another chair in front of
the fireplace. No warmth was ever too much for him. There was the usual
pathos in his tone, but a faint consciousness of something amusing was
in his face.

“Did she?” said Lady Markham with a laugh. “The little impertinent! But
you know, my dear boy, that is what I have always said.”

“Yes--it is quite true. You healthy people, you are always of opinion
that one can get over it if one makes the effort; and there is no way of
proving the contrary but by dying, which is a strong step.”

“A very strong step--one, I hope, that you will not think of taking.
They are both very sincere, my girls, though in a different way. They
mean what they say; and yet they do not mean it, Claude. That is, it is
quite true; but does not affect their regard for you, which, I am sure,
without implying any deeper feeling, is strong.”

He shook his head a little. “Dear Lady Markham,” he said, “you know if I
am to marry, I want, above all things, to marry a daughter of yours.”

“Dear boy!” she said, with a look full of tender meaning.

“You have always been so good to me, since ever I can remember. But what
am I to do if they--object? Constance--has run away from me, people say:
run away--to escape _me_!” His voice took so tragically complaining a
tone, that Lady Markham bit her lip and held her screen higher to
conceal her smile. Next moment, however, she turned upon him with a
perfectly grave and troubled face.

“Dear Claude!” she cried, “what an injustice to poor Con. I thought I
had explained all that to you. You have known all along the painful
position I am in with their father, and you know how impulsive she is.
And then, Markham---- Alas!” she continued with a sigh, “my position is
very complicated, Claude. Markham is the best son that ever was; but
you know I have to pay a great deal for it.”

“Ah!” said Claude; “Nelly Winterbourn and all that,” with a good many
sage nods of his head.

“Not only Nelly Winterbourn--there is no harm in her, that I know--but
he has a great influence with the girls. It was he who put it into
Constance’s head to go to her father. I am quite sure it was. He put it
before her that it was her duty.”

“O--oh!” Claude made this very English comment with the doubtful tone
which it expresses; and added, “Her duty!” with a very unconvinced air.

“He did so, I know. And she was so fond of adventure and change. I
agreed with him partly afterwards that it was the best thing that could
happen to her. She is finding out by experience what banishment from
Society, and from all that makes life pleasant, is. I have no doubt she
will come back--in a very different frame of mind.”

Claude did not respond, as perhaps Lady Markham expected him to do. He
sat and dandled his leg before the fire, not looking at her. After some
time, he said in a reflective way, “Whoever I marry, she will have to
resign herself to banishment, as you call it--that has been always
understood. A warm climate in winter--and to be ready to start at any
moment.”

“That is always understood--till you get stronger,” said Lady Markham in
the gentlest tone. “But you know I have always expected that you would
get stronger. Remember, you have been kept at home all this year--and
you are better; at all events you have not suffered.”

“Had I been sent away, Constance would have remained at home,” he said.
“I am not speaking out of irritation, but only to understand it fully.
It is not as if I were finding fault with Constance; but you see for
yourself she could not stand me all the year round. A fellow who has
always to be thinking about the thermometer is trying.”

“My dear boy,” said Lady Markham, “everything is trying. The thermometer
is much less offensive than most things that men care for. Girls are
brought up in that fastidious way: you all like them to be so, and to
think they have refined tastes, and so forth; and then you are surprised
when you find they have a little difficulty---- Constance was only
fanciful, that was all--impatient.”

“Fanciful,” he repeated. “That was what the little one said. I wish she
were fanciful, and not so horribly well and strong.”

“My dear Claude,” said Lady Markham quickly, “you would not like that at
all! A delicate wife is the most dreadful thing--one that you would
always have to be considering; who could not perhaps go to the places
that suited you; who would not be able to go out with you when you
wanted her. I don’t insist upon a daughter of mine: but not that, not
that, for your own sake, my dear boy!”

“I believe you are right,” he said, with a look of conviction. “Then I
suppose the only thing to be done is to wait for a little and see how
things turn out. There is no hurry about it, you know.”

“Oh, no hurry!” she said, with uneasy assent. “That is, if you are not
in a hurry,” she added after a pause.

“No, I don’t think so. I am rather enjoying myself, I think. It always
does one good,” he said, getting up slowly, “to come and have it out
with you.”

Lady Markham said “Dear boy!” once more, and gave him her hand, which he
kissed; and then his audience was over. He went away; and she turned
round to her writing-table to the inevitable correspondence. There was a
little cloud upon her forehead so long as she was alone; but when
another knock came at the door, it cleared by magic as she said “Come
in.” This time it was Sir Thomas who appeared. He was a tall man, with
grey hair, and had the air of being very carefully brushed and dressed.
He came in, and seated himself where Claude had been, but pushed back
the chair from the fire.

“Don’t you think,” he said, “that you keep your room a little too warm?”

“Claude complained that it was cold. It is difficult to please
everybody.”

“Oh, Claude. I have come to speak to you, dear Lady Markham, on a very
different subject. I was talking to Frances last night.”

“So I perceived. And what do you think of my little girl?”

“You know,” he said, with some solemnity, “the hopes I have always
entertained that some time or other our dear Waring might be brought
among us once more.”

“I have always told you,” said Lady Markham, “that no difficulties
should be raised by me.”

“You were always everything that is good and kind,” said Sir Thomas. “I
was talking to his dear little daughter last night. She reminds me very
much of Waring, Lady Markham.”

“That is odd; for everybody tells me--and indeed I can see it
myself--that she is like me.”

“She is very like you; still, she reminds me of her father more than I
can say. I do think we have in her the instrument--the very instrument
that is wanted. If he is ever to be brought back again----”

“Which I doubt,” she said, shaking her head.

“Don’t let us doubt. With perseverance, everything is to be hoped; and
here we have in our very hands what I have always looked for--some one
devoted to him and very fond of you.”

“Is she very fond of me?” said Lady Markham. Her face softened--a little
moisture crept into her eyes. “Ah, Sir Thomas, I wonder if that is true.
She was very much moved by the idea of her mother--a relation she had
never known. She expected I don’t know what, but more, I am sure, than
she has found in me. Oh, don’t say anything. I am scarcely surprised; I
am not at all displeased. To come with your heart full of an ideal, and
to find an ordinary woman--a woman in Society!” The moisture enlarged in
Lady Markham’s eyes--not tears, but yet a liquid mist that gave them
pathos. She shook her head, looking at him with a smile.

“We need not argue the question,” said Sir Thomas, “for I know she is
very fond of you. You should have heard her stop me when she thought I
was going to criticise you. Of course, had she known me better she would
have known how impossible that was.”

Lady Markham did not say “Dear Sir Thomas!” as she had said “Dear boy!”
but her look was the same as that which she had turned upon Claude. She
was in no doubt as to what his account of her would be.

“She can persuade him, if anybody can,” he said. “I think I shall go and
see him as soon as I can get away--if you do not object. To bring our
dear Waring back, to see you two together again, who have always been
the objects of my warmest admiration----”

“You are too kind. You have always had a higher opinion of me than I
deserve,” she said. “One can only be grateful. One cannot try to
persuade you that you are mistaken. As for my--husband”--there was the
slightest momentary pause before she said the name--“I fear you will
never get him to think so well of me as you do. It is a great
misfortune; but still it sometimes happens that other people think more
of a woman than--her very own.”

“You must not say that. Waring adored you.”

She shook her head again. “He had a great admiration,” she said, “for a
woman to whom he gave my name. But he discovered that it was a mistake;
and for me in my own person he had no particular feeling. Think a
little whether you are doing wisely. If you should succeed in bringing
us two together again----”

“What then?”

She did not say any more: her face grew pale, as by a sudden touch or
breath. When such a tie as marriage is severed, if by death or by any
other separation, it is not a light thing to renew it again. The thought
of that possibility--which yet was not a possibility--suddenly realised,
sent the blood back to Lady Markham’s heart. It was not that she was
unforgiving, or even that she had not a certain remainder of love for
her husband. But to resume those habits of close companionship after so
many years--to give up her own individuality, in part at least, and live
a dual life--this thought startled her. She had said that she would put
no difficulties in the way. But then she had not thought of all that was
involved.

The next visitor who interrupted her retirement came in without the
preliminary of knocking. It was Markham who thus made his appearance,
presenting himself to the full daylight in his light clothes and
colourless aspect; not very well dressed, a complete contrast to the
beautiful if sickly youth of her first visitor, and to the size and
vigour of the other. Markham had neither beauty nor vigour. Even the
usual keenness and humorous look had gone out of his face. He held a
letter in his hand. He did not, like the others, put himself into the
chair where Lady Markham, herself turned from the light, could mark
every change of countenance in her interlocutor. He went up to the fire
with the ease of the master of the house, and stood in front of it as an
Englishman loves to do. But he was not quite at his ease on this
occasion. He said nothing until he had assumed his place, and even stood
for a whole minute or more silent before he found his voice. Lady
Markham had turned her chair towards him at once, and sat with her head
raised and expectant, watching him. For with Markham, never very
reticent of his words, this prolonged pause seemed to mean that there
was something important to say. But it did not appear when he spoke. He
put the forefinger of one hand on the letter he held in the other. “I
have heard from the Winterbourns,” he said. “They are coming to-morrow.”

Lady Markham made the usual little exclamation “Oh!”--faintly breathed
with the slightest catch, as if it might have meant more. Then, after a
moment--“Very well, Markham: they can have their usual rooms,” she said.

Again there was a little pause. Then--“He is not very well,” said
Markham.

“Oh, that is a pity,” she replied with very little concern.

“That’s not strong enough. I believe he is rather ill. They are leaving
the Crosslands sooner than they intended because there’s no doctor
there.”

“Then it is a good thing,” said Lady Markham, “that there is such a good
doctor here. We are so healthy a party, he is quite thrown away on us.”

Markham did not find that his mother divined what he wanted to say with
her usual promptitude. “I am afraid Winterbourn is in a bad way,” he
said at length, moving uneasily from one foot to the other, and avoiding
her eye.

“Do you mean that there is anything serious--dangerous? Good heavens!”
cried Lady Markham, now fully roused, “I hope she is not going to bring
that man to die here.”

“That’s just what I have been thinking. It would be decidedly awkward.”

“Oh, awkward is not the word,” cried Lady Markham, with a sudden vision
of all the inconveniences: her pretty house turned upside down--though
it was not hers, but his--a stop put to everything--the flight of her
guests in every direction--herself detained and separated from all her
social duties. “You take it very coolly,” she said. “You must write and
say it is impossible in the circumstances.”

“Can’t,” said Markham. “They must have started by this time. They are to
travel slowly--to husband his strength.”

“To husband----! Telegraph, then! Good heavens! Markham, don’t you see
what a dreadful nuisance--how impossible in every point of view.”

“Come,” he said, with a return of his more familiar tone. “There’s no
evidence that he means to die here. I daresay he won’t, if he can help
it, poor beggar! The telegraph is as impossible as the post. We are in
for it, mammy. Let’s hope he’ll pull through.”

“And if he doesn’t, Markham!”

“That will be--more awkward still,” he said. Markham was not himself: he
shuffled from one foot to another, and looked straight before him, never
glancing aside with those keen looks of understanding which made his
insignificant countenance interesting. His mother was, what mothers too
seldom are, his most intimate friend; but he did not meet her eye. His
hands were thrust into his pockets, his shoulders up to his ears. At
last a faint and doubtful gleam broke over his face. He burst into a
sudden chuckle--one of those hoarse brief notes of laughter which were
peculiar to him. “By Jove! it would be poetic justice,” he said.

Lady Markham showed no inclination to laughter. “Is there nothing we can
do?” she cried.

“Think of something else,” said Markham, with a sudden recovery. “I
always find that the best thing to do--for the moment. What was Claude
saying to you--and t’other man?”

“Claude! I don’t know what he was saying. News like this is enough to
drive everything else out of one’s head. He is wavering between Con and
Frances.”

“Mother, I told you. Frances will have nothing to say to him.”

“Frances--will obey the leading of events, I hope.”

“Poor little Fan! I don’t think she will, though. That child has a great
deal in her. She shows her parentage.”

“Sir Thomas says she reminds him much of her--father,” Lady Markham
said, with a faint smile.

“There is something of Waring too,” said her son, nodding his head.

This seemed to jar upon the mother. She changed colour a little; and
then added, her smile growing more constrained: “He thinks she may be a
powerful instrument in--changing his mind--bringing him, after all these
years, back”--here she paused a little, as if seeking for a phrase; then
added, her smile growing less and less pleasant--“to his duty.”

Then Markham for the first time looked at her. He had been paying but
partial attention up to this moment, his mind being engrossed with
difficulties of his own; but he awoke at this suggestion, and looked at
her with something of his usual keenness, but with a gravity not at all
usual. And she met his eye with an awakening in hers which was still
more remarkable. For a moment they thus contemplated each other, not
like mother and son, nor like the dear and close friends they were, but
like two antagonists suddenly perceiving, on either side, the coming
conflict. For almost the first time there woke in Lady Markham’s mind a
consciousness that it was possible her son, who had been always her
champion, her defender, her companion, might wish her out of his way.
She looked at him with a rising colour, with all her nerves thrilling,
and her whole soul on the alert for his next words. These were words
which he would have preferred not to speak; but they seemed to be forced
from his lips against his will, though even as he said them he explained
to himself that they had been in his mind to say before he knew--before
the dilemma that might occur had seemed possible.

“Yes?” he said. “I understand what he means. I--even I--had been
thinking that something of the sort--might be a good thing.”

She clasped her hands with a quick passionate movement. “Has it come to
this--in a moment--without warning?” she cried.



CHAPTER XXX.


The Winterbourns came next day: he to the best room in the house, a
temperature carefully kept up to sixty-five degrees, and the daily
attentions of the excellent doctor, who, Lady Markham declared, was
thrown away upon her healthy household. Mr Winterbourn was a man of
fifty, a confirmed invalid, who travelled with a whole paraphernalia of
medicaments, and a servant who was a trained nurse, and very skilful in
all the lower branches of the medical craft. Mrs Winterbourn, however,
was not like this. She was young, pretty, lively, fond of what she
called “fun,” and by no means bound to her husband’s sick-room.
Everybody said she was very kind to him. She never refused to go to him
when he wanted her. Of her own accord, as part of her usual routine, she
would go into his room three or even four times a-day to see if she
could do anything. She sat with him always while Roberts the man-nurse
had his dinner. What more could a woman do? She had indeed, it was
understood, married him against her will; but that is an accident not to
be avoided, and she had always been a model of propriety. They were
asked everywhere, which, considering how little adapted he was for
society, was nothing less than the highest proof of how much she was
thought of; and the most irreproachable matrons did not hesitate to
invite Lord Markham to meet the Winterbourns. It was a wonderful, quite
an ideal friendship, everybody said. And it was such a comfort to both
of them! For Markham, considering the devotion he had always shown to
his mother, would probably find it very inconvenient to marry, which is
the only thing which makes friendship between a man and a woman
difficult. A woman does not like her devoted friend to marry: that is
the worst of those delicate relationships, and it is the point upon
which they generally come to shipwreck in the end. As a matter of
course, any other harm of a grosser kind was not so much as thought of
by any one who knew them. There were people, however, who asked
themselves and each other, as a fine problem, one of those cases of
complication which it pleases the human intellect to resolve, what would
happen if Winterbourn died?--a thing which he was continually
threatening to do. It had been at one time quite a favourite subject of
speculation in society. Some said that it would not suit Markham at
all,--that he would get out of it somehow; some, that there would be no
escape for him; some, that with such a fine jointure as Nelly would
have, it would set the little man up, if he could give up his “ways.”
Markham had not a very good reputation, though everybody knew that he
was the best son in the world. He played, it was said, more and
otherwise than a man of his position ought to play. He was often
amusing, and always nice to women, so that society never in the least
broke with him, and he had champions everywhere. But the mere fact that
he required champions was a proof that all was not exactly as it ought
to be. He was a man with a great many “ways,” which of course it is
natural to suppose would be bad ways, though, except in the matter of
play, no one knew very well what they were.

Winterbourn, however, had never been so bad as he was on this occasion,
when he was almost lifted out of the carriage and carried to his room,
his very host being allowed no speech of him till next morning, after he
was supposed to have got over the fatigue of the journey. The doctor,
when he was summoned, shook his head and looked very grave; and it may
be imagined what talks went on among the guests when no one of the
family was present to hear. These talks were sometimes carried on before
Frances, who was scarcely realised as the daughter of the house. Even
Claude Ramsay forgot his own pressing concerns in consideration of the
urgent question of the moment, and Sir Thomas ceased to think of Waring.
Frances gleaned from what she heard that they were all preparing for
flight. “Of course, in case anything dreadful happens, dear Lady
Markham,” they said, “will no doubt go too.”

“What a funny thing,” said one of the Miss Montagues, “if it should
happen in this house.”

“Funny, Laura! You mean dreadful,” cried her mother. “Do choose your
words a little better.”

“Oh, you know what I mean, mamma!” cried the young lady.

“You must think it dreadful indeed,” said Mrs Montague, addressing
Frances, “that we should discuss such a sad thing in this way. Of
course, we are all very sorry for poor Mr Winterbourn; and if he had
been ill and dying in his own house---- But one’s mind is occupied at
present by the great inconvenience--oh, more than that--the horror
and--and embarrassment to your dear mother.”

“All that,” said Sir Thomas with a certain solemnity. Perhaps it was the
air of unusual gravity with which he uttered these two words which
raised the smallest momentary titter,--no, not so much as a titter--a
faintly audible smile, if such an expression may be used,--chiefly among
the young ladies, who had perhaps a clearer realisation of the kind of
embarrassment that was meant than was expected of them. But Frances had
no clue whatever to it. She replied warmly--

“My mother will not think of the inconvenience. It is surely those who
are in such trouble themselves who are the only people to think about.
Poor Mrs Winterbourn----”

“Who is it that is speaking of me in such a kind voice?” said the sick
man’s wife.

She had just come into the room; and she was very well aware that she
was being discussed by everybody about--herself and her circumstances,
and all those contingencies which were, in spite of herself, beginning
to stir her own mind, as they had already done the minds of all around.
That is one thing which in any crisis people in society may be always
sure of, that their circumstances are being fully talked over by their
friends.

“I hope we have all kind voices when we speak of you, my dear Nelly.
This one was Frances Waring, our new little friend here.”

“Ah, that explains,” said Mrs Winterbourn; and she went on, without
saying more, to the conservatory, which opened from the drawing-room in
which the party was seated. They were silenced, though they had not
been saying anything very bad of her. The sudden appearance of the
person discussed always does make a certain impression. The gentlemen of
the group dispersed, the ladies began to talk of something else.
Frances, very shy, yet burdened with a great desire to say or do
something towards the consolation of those who were, as she had said, in
such trouble, went after Mrs Winterbourn. She had seated herself where
the big palms and other exotic foliage were thickest, out of sight of
the drawing-room, close to the open doorway that led to the lawn and the
sea. Frances was a little surprised that the wife of a man who was
thought to be dying should leave his bedside at all; but she reflected
that to prevent breaking down, and thus being no longer of any use to
the patient, it was the duty of every nurse to take a certain amount of
rest and fresh air. She felt, however, more and more timid as she
approached. Mrs Winterbourn had not the air of a nurse. She was dressed
in her usual way, with her usual ornaments--not too much, but yet enough
to make a tinkle, had she been at the side of a sick person, and
possibly to have disturbed him. Two or three bracelets on a pretty arm
are very pretty things; but they are not very suitable for a sick-nurse.
She was sitting with a book in one hand, leaning her head upon the
other, evidently not reading, evidently very serious. Frances was
encouraged by the downcast face.

“I hope you will not think me very bold,” she said, the other starting
and turning round at the sound of her voice. “I wanted to ask if I could
help you in any way. I am very good for keeping awake, and I could get
you what you wanted. Oh, I don’t mean that I am good enough to be
trusted as nurse; but if I might sit up with you--in the next room--to
get you what you want.”

“What do you mean, child?” the young woman said in a quick, startled,
half-offended voice. She was not very much older than Frances, but her
experiences had been very different. She thought offence was meant. Lady
Markham had always been kind to her, which was, she felt, somewhat to
Lady Markham’s own advantage, for Nelly knew that Markham would never
marry so long as her influence lasted, and this was for his mother’s
good. But now it was very possible that Lady Markham was trembling, and
had put her little daughter forward to give a sly stroke. Her tone
softened, however, as she looked up in Frances’ face. It was perhaps
only that the girl was a little simpleton, and meant what she said. “You
think I sit up at night?” she said. “Oh no. I should be of no use. Mr
Winterbourn has his own servant, who knows exactly what to do; and the
doctor is to send a nurse to let Roberts get a little rest. It is very
good of you. Nursing is quite the sort of thing people go in for now,
isn’t it? But, unfortunately, poor Mr Winterbourn can’t bear amateurs,
and I should do no good.”

She gave Frances a bright smile as she said this, and turned again
towards the scene outside, opening her book at the same time, which was
like a dismissal. But at that moment, to the great surprise of Frances,
Markham appeared without, strolling towards the open door. He came in
when he saw his little sister, nodding to her with a look which stopped
her as she was about to turn away.

“I am glad you are making friends with Frances,” he said. “How is
Winterbourn now?”

“I wish everybody would not ask me every two minutes how he is now,”
cried the young wife. “He doesn’t change from one half-hour to another.
Oh, impatient; yes, I am impatient. I am half out of my senses, what
with one thing and another; and here is your sister--your sister--asking
to help me to nurse him! That was all that was wanting, I think, to
drive me quite mad!”

“I am sure little Fan never thought she would produce such a terrible
result. Be reasonable, Nelly.”

“Don’t call me Nelly, sir; and don’t tell me to be reasonable. Don’t you
know how they are all talking, these horrible people? Oh, why, why did I
bring him here?”

“Whatever was the reason, it can’t be undone now,” said Markham. “Come,
Nelly! This is nothing but nerves, you know. You can be yourself when
you please.”

“Do you know why he talks to me like that before you?” said Mrs
Winterbourn, suddenly turning upon Frances. “It is because he thinks
things are coming to a crisis, and that I shall be compelled----” Here
the hasty creature came to a pause and stared suddenly round her. “Oh, I
don’t know what I am saying, Geoff! They are all talking, talking in
every corner about you and me.”

“Run away, Fan,” said her brother. “Mrs Winterbourn, you see, is not
well. The best thing for her is to be left in quiet. Run away.”

“It is you who ought to go away, Markham, and leave her to me.”

“Oh!” said Markham, with a gleam of amusement, “you set up for that too,
Fan! But I know better how to take care of Nelly than you do. Run away.”

The consternation with which Frances obeyed this request it would be
difficult to describe. She had not understood the talk in the
drawing-room, and she did not understand this. But it gave her ideas a
strange shock. A woman whose husband was dying, and who was away from
him--who called Markham by his Christian name, and apparently preferred
his ministrations to her own! She would not go back as she came, to
afford the ladies in the drawing-room a new subject for their comments,
but went out instead by the open door, not thinking that the only path
by which she could return indoors led past the window of her mother’s
room, which opened on the lawn round the angle of the house. Lady
Markham was standing there looking out as Frances came in sight. She
knocked upon the window to call her daughter’s attention, and opening it
hurriedly, called her in. “Have you seen Markham?” she said, almost
before Frances could hear.

“I have left him, this moment.”

“_You_ have left him. Is he alone, then? Who is with him? Is Nelly
Winterbourn there?”

Frances could not tell why it was that she disliked to answer. She made
a little assenting movement of her head.

“It ought not to be,” cried Lady Markham--“not at this moment--at any
other time, if they like, but not now. Don’t you see the difference?
Before, nothing was possible. Now--when at any moment she may be a free
woman, and Markham---- Don’t you see the difference? They should not,
they should not, be together now!”

Frances stood before her mother, feeling that a claim was made upon her
which she did not even understand, and feeling also a helplessness which
was altogether foreign to her ordinary sensations. She did not
understand, nor wish to understand--it was odious to her to think even
what it could mean. And what could she do? Lady Markham was agitated and
excited--not able to control herself.

“For I have just seen the doctor,” she cried, “and he says that it is a
question not even of days, but of hours. Good heavens, child! only think
of it,--that such a thing should happen here; and that
Markham--_Markham!_--should have to manage everything. Oh, it is
indecent--there is no other word for it. Go and call him to me. We must
get him to go away.”

“Mamma,” said Frances, “how can I go back? He told me to go and leave
them.”

“He is a fool,” cried Lady Markham, stamping her foot. “He does not see
how he is committing himself; he does not mind. Oh, what does it matter
what he said to you! Run at once and bring him to me. Say I have
something urgent to tell him. Say--oh, say anything! If Constance had
been here, she would have known.”

Frances was very sensible to the arrow thus flung at her in haste,
without thought. She was so stung by it, that she turned hastily to do
her mother’s commission at all costs. But before she had taken
half-a-dozen steps, Markham himself appeared, coming leisurely, easily,
with his usual composure, round the corner. “What’s wrong with you,
little un?” he asked. “You are not vexed at what I said to you, Fan? I
couldn’t help it, my dear.”

“It isn’t that, Markham. It is--mamma.”

And then Lady Markham, too much excited to wait, came out to join them.
“Do you know the state of affairs, Markham? Does she know? I want you to
go off instantly, without losing a moment, to Southampton, to fetch Dr
Howard. Quick! There is just time to get the boat.”

“Dr Howard? What is wrong with the man here?”

“He is afraid of the responsibility--at least I am, Markham. Think--in
your house! Oh yes, my dear, go without delay.”

Markham paused, and looked at her with his keen little eyes. “Mother,
why don’t you say at once you want to get me out of the way?”

“I do. I don’t deny it, Markham. But this too. We ought to have another
opinion. Do, for any favour, what I ask you, dear; oh, do it! Oh yes, I
would rather you sent him here, and did not come back with him. But come
back, if you must; only, go, go now.”

“You think he will be--dead before I could get back? I will telegraph
for Dr Howard, mother; but I will not go away.”

“You can do no good, Markham--except to make people talk. Oh, for
mercy’s sake, whatever you may do afterwards, go now.”

“I will go and telegraph--with pleasure,” he said.

Lady Markham turned and took Frances’ arm, as he left them. “I think I
must give in now altogether,” she cried. “All is going wrong with me.
First Con, and then my boy. For now I see what will happen. And you
don’t know, you can’t think what Markham has been to me. Oh, he has been
everything to me! And now--I know what will happen now.”

“Mamma,” said Frances, trembling. She wanted to say that little as she
herself was, she was one who would never forsake her mother. But she was
so conscious that Lady Markham’s thoughts went over her head and took no
note of her, that the words were stifled on her lips. “He said to me
once that he could never--leave you,” she said, faltering, though it was
not what she meant to say.

“He said to you once----? Then he has been thinking of it; he has been
discussing the question?” Lady Markham said with bitterness. She leant
heavily upon Frances’ arm, but not with any tender appreciation of the
girl’s wistful desire to comfort her. “That means,” she said, “that I
can never desert him. I must go now and get rid of all this excitement,
and put on a composed face, and tell the people that they may go away if
they like. It will be the right thing for them to go away. But I can’t
stay here with death in the house, and take a motherly care of--of that
girl, whom I never trusted--whom Markham---- And she will marry him
within the year. I know it.”

Frances made a little outcry of horror, being greatly disturbed--“Oh no,
no!” without any meaning, for she indeed knew nothing.

“No! How can you say No?--when you are quite in ignorance. I can’t tell
you what Markham would wish--to be let alone, most likely, if they would
let him alone. But she will do it. She always was headstrong; and now
she will be rich. Oh, what a thing it is altogether--like a thunderbolt
out of a clear sky. Who could have imagined, when we came down here so
tranquilly, with nothing unusual---- If I thought of any change at all,
it was perhaps that Claude--whom, by the way, you must not be rude to,
Frances--that Claude might perhaps---- And now, here is everything
unsettled, and my life turned upside down.”

What did she hope that Claude would have done? Frances’ brain was all
perplexed. She had plunged into a sudden sea of troubles, without
knowing even what the wild elements were that lashed the placid waters
into fury and made the sky dark all around.



CHAPTER XXXI.


The crisis, however, was averted--“mercifully,” as Lady Markham said. Dr
Howard from Southampton--whom she had thought of only by chance, on the
spur of the moment, as a way of getting rid of Markham--produced some
new lights; and in reality was so successful with the invalid, that he
rallied, and it became possible to remove him by slow stages to his own
house, to die there, which he did in due course, but some time after,
and decorously, in the right way and place. Frances felt herself like a
spectator at a play during all this strange interval, looking on at the
third act of a tragedy, which somehow had got involved in a drawing-room
comedy, with scenes alternating, and throwing a kind of wretched
reflection of their poor humour upon the tableaux of the darker drama.
She thought that she never should forget the countenance of Nelly
Winterbourn as she took her seat beside her husband in the invalid
carriage in which he was conveyed away, and turned to wave a farewell to
the little group which had assembled to watch the departure. Her face
was quivering with a sort of despairing impatience, wretchedness,
self-pity, the miserable anticipations of a living creature tied to one
who was dead--nerves and temper and every part of her being wrought to a
feverish excitement, made half delirious by the prospect, the
possibility, of escape. A wretched sort of spasmodic smile was upon her
lips as she waved her hand to the spectators--those spectators all on
the watch to read her countenance, who, she knew, were as well aware of
the position as herself. Frances was learning the lesson thus set
practically before her with applications of her own. She knew now to a
great extent what it all meant, and why Markham disappeared as soon as
the carriage drove away; while her mother, with an aspect of intense
relief, returned to her guests. “I feel as if I could breathe again,”
Lady Markham said. “Not that I should have grudged anything I could do
for poor dear Nelly; but there is something so terrible in a death in
one’s house.”

“I quite enter into your feelings, dear--oh, quite!” said Mrs Montague;
“most painful, and most embarrassing besides.”

“Oh, as for that!” said Lady Markham. “It would have been indeed a great
annoyance and vexation to break up our pleasant party, and put out all
your plans. But one has to submit in such cases. However, I am most
thankful it has not come to that. Poor Mr Winterbourn may last yet--for
months, Dr Howard says.”

“Dear me; do you think that is to be desired?” said the other, “for poor
Nelly’s sake.”

“Poor Nelly!” said the young ladies. “Only fancy months! What a terrible
fate!”

“And yet it was supposed to be a great match for her, a penniless girl!”

“It was a great match,” said Lady Markham composedly. “And dear Nelly
has always behaved so well. She is an example to many women that have
much less to put up with than she has. Frances, will you see about the
lawn-tennis? I am sure you want to shake off the impression, you poor
girls, who have been _so_ good.”

“Oh, dear Lady Markham, you don’t suppose we could have gone on laughing
and making a noise while there was such anxiety in the house. But we
shall like a game, now that there is no impropriety----”

“And we are all so glad,” said the mother, “that there was no occasion
for turning out; for our visits are so dovetailed, I don’t know where we
should have gone--and our house in the hands of the workmen. I, for one,
am very thankful that poor Mr Winterbourn has a little longer to live.”

Thus, after this singular episode, the ordinary life of the household
was resumed; and though the name of poor Nelly recurred at intervals for
a day or two, there were many things that were of more importance--a
great garden-party, for instance, for which, fortunately, Lady Markham
had not cancelled the invitations; a yachting expedition, and various
other pleasant things. The comments of the company were diverted to
Claude, who, finding Frances more easily convinced than the others that
draughts were to be carefully avoided, sought her out on most occasions,
notwithstanding her plain-speaking about his fancifulness.

“Perhaps you were right,” he said, “that I think too much about my
health. I shouldn’t wonder if you were quite right. But I have always
been warned that I was very delicate; and perhaps that makes one rather
a bore to one’s friends.”

“Oh, I hope you will forgive me, Mr Ramsay! I never meant----”

“There is poor Winterbourn, you see,” said Claude, accepting the broken
apology with a benevolent nod of his head and the mild pathos of a
smile. “He was one of your rash people, never paying any attention to
what was the matter with him. He was quite a well-preserved sort of man
when he married Nelly St John; and now you see what a wreck! By Jove,
though, I shouldn’t like my wife, if I married, to treat me like Nelly.
But I promise you there should be no Markham in my case.”

“I don’t know what Markham has to do with it,” said Frances with sudden
spirit.

“Oh, you don’t know! Well,” he continued, looking at her, “perhaps you
don’t know; and so much the better. Never mind about Markham. I should
expect my wife to be with me when I am ill; not to leave me to servants,
to give me my--everything I had to take; and to cheer me up, you know.
Do you think there is anything unreasonable in that?”

“Oh no, indeed. Of course, if--if--she was fond of you--which of course
she would be, or you would not want to marry her.”

“Yes,” said Claude. “Go on, please; I like to hear you talk.”

“I mean,” said Frances, stumbling a little, feeling a significance in
this encouragement which disturbed her, “that, _of course_--there would
be no question of reasonableness. She would just do it by nature. One
never asks if it is reasonable or not.”

“Ah, you mean you wouldn’t. But other girls are different. There is Con,
for instance.”

“Mr Ramsay, I don’t think you ought to speak to me so about my sister.
Constance, if she were in such a position, would do--what was right.”

“For that matter, I suppose Nelly Winterbourn does what is right--at
least, every one says she behaves so well. If that is what you mean by
right, I shouldn’t relish it at all in my wife.”

Frances said nothing for a minute, and then she asked, “Are you going to
be married, Mr Ramsay?” in a tone which was half indignant, half amused.

At this he started a little, and gave her an inquiring look. “That is a
question that wants thinking of,” he said. “Yes, I suppose I am, if I
can find any one as nice as that. You are always giving me
_renseignements_, Miss Waring. If I can find some one who will, as you
say, never ask whether it is reasonable----”

“Then,” said Frances, recovering something of the sprightliness which
had distinguished her in old days, “you don’t want to marry any one in
particular, but just a wife?”

“What else could I marry?” he asked in a peevish tone. Then, with a
change of his voice,--“I don’t want to conceal anything from you; and
there is no doubt you must have heard: I was engaged to your sister Con;
but she ran away from me,” he added with pathos. “You must have heard
that.”

“I do not wonder that you were very fond of her,” cried Frances. “I see
no one so delightful as--she would be if she were here.”

She had meant to make a simple statement, and say, “No one so delightful
as she;” but paused, remembering that the circumstances had not been to
Constance’s advantage, and that here she would have been in her proper
sphere.

As for Claude, he was somewhat embarrassed. He said, “Fond is perhaps
not exactly the word. I thought she would have suited me--better than
any one I knew.”

“If that was all,” said Frances, “you would not mind very much; and I do
not wonder that she came away, for it would be rather dreadful to be
married because a gentleman thought one suited him.”

“Oh, I don’t mean that would be so--in every case,” cried Claude, with
sudden earnestness.

“In any case, I think you should never tell the girl’s sister, Mr
Ramsay; it is not a very nice thing to do.”

“Miss Waring--Frances!--I was not thinking of you as any girl’s sister;
I was thinking of you----”

“I hope not at all; for it would be a great pity to waste any more
thoughts on our family,” said Frances. “I have sometimes been a little
vexed that Constance came, for it changed all my life, and took me away
from every one I knew. But I am glad you have told me this, for now I
understand it quite.” She did not rise from where she was seated and
leave him, as he almost hoped she would, making a little quarrel of it,
but sat still, with a composure which Claude felt was much less
complimentary. “Now that I know all about it,” she said, after a little
interval, with a laugh, “I think what you want would be very
unreasonable--and what no woman could do.”

“You said the very reverse five minutes ago,” he said sulkily.

“Yes--but I didn’t know what the--what the wages were,” she said with
another laugh. “It is you who are giving me _renseignements_ now.”

Claude took his complaint next morning to Lady Markham’s room. “She
actually chaffed me--chaffed me, I assure you; though she looks as if
butter would not melt in her mouth.”

“That is a little vulgar, Claude. If you talk like that to a girl, what
can you expect? Some, indeed, may be rather grateful to you, as showing
how little you look for; but you know I have always told you what you
ought to try to do is to inspire a _grande passion_.”

“That is what I should like above all things to do,” said the young man;
“but----”

“But--it would cost too much trouble?”

“Perhaps; and I am not an impassioned sort of man. Lady Markham, was it
really from me that Constance ran away?”

“I have told you before, Claude, that was not how it should be spoken
of. She did not run away. She took into her head a romantic idea of
making acquaintance with her father, in which Markham encouraged her. Or
perhaps it was Markham that put it into her head. It is possible--I
can’t tell you--that Markham had already something else in his own head,
and that he had begun to think it would be a good thing to try if other
changes could be made.”

“What could Markham have in his head? and what changes----”

“Oh,” she cried, “how can you ask me? I know how you have all been
talking. You speculate, just as I do.”

“I don’t think so, Lady Markham,” said Claude. “I am sure Markham would
find all that sort of thing a great bore. Of course I know what you
mean. But I don’t think so. I have always told them my opinion. Whatever
may happen, Markham will stick to you.”

“Poor Markham!” she said, with a quick revulsion of feeling. “After all,
it is a little hard, is it not, that he should have nothing brighter
than that to look to in his life?”

“Than you?” said Claude. “If you ask my opinion, I don’t think so. I
think he’s a lucky fellow. An old mother, I don’t deny, might be a
bore. An old lady, half blind, never hearing what you say, sitting by
the fire--like the mothers in books, or the Mrs Nickleby kind. But you
are as young and handsome and bright as any of them--keeping everything
right for him, asking nothing. Upon my word, I think he is very well
off. I wish I were in his place.”

Lady Markham was pleased. Affectionate flattery of this kind is always
sweet to a woman. She laughed, and said he was a gay deceiver. “But, my
dear boy, you will make me think a great deal more of myself than I have
any right to think.”

“You ought to think more of yourself. And so you really do not think
that Con----? In many ways, dear Lady Markham, I feel that
Con--understood me better than any one else--except you.”

“I think you are right, Claude,” she said, with a grave face.

“I am beginning to feel quite sure I am right. When she writes, does she
never say anything about me?”

“Of course, she always--asks for you.”

“Is that all? Asking does not mean much.”

“What more could she say? Of course she knows that she has lost her
place in your affection by her own rashness.”

“Not lost, Lady Markham. It is not so easy to do that.”

“It is true. Perhaps I should have said, fears that she has
forfeited--your respect.”

“After all, she has done nothing wrong,” he said.

“Nothing wrong; but rash, headstrong, foolish. Oh yes, she has been all
that. It is in the Waring blood!”

“I think you are a little hard upon her, Lady Markham. By the way, don’t
you think yourself, that with two daughters to marry, and--and all that:
it would be a good thing if Mr Waring--for you must have got over all
your little tiffs long ago--don’t you think that it would be a good
thing if he could be persuaded to--come back?”

She had watched him with eyes that gleamed from below her dropped
eyelids. She said now, as she had done to Sir Thomas, “I should put no
difficulties in the way, you may be sure.”

“It would be more respectable,” said Claude. “If getting old is good for
anything, you know, it should make up quarrels; don’t you think so? It
would be a great deal better in every way. And then Markham----”

“Markham,” she said, “you think, would then be free?”

“Well--then it wouldn’t matter particularly about Markham, what he did,”
the young man said.

Lady Markham had borne a great many such assaults in her life as if she
felt nothing: but as a matter of fact she did feel them deeply; and when
a probable new combination was thus calmly set before her, her usual
composure was put to a severe test. She smiled upon Claude, indeed, as
long as he remained with her, and allowed him no glimpse of her real
feelings; but when he was gone, felt for a moment her heart fail her.
She had, even in the misfortunes which had crossed her life, secured
always a great share of her own way. Many people do this even when they
suffer most. Whether they get it cheerfully or painfully, they yet get
it, which is always something. Waring, when, in his fastidious
impatience and irritation, because he did not get his, he had flung
forth into the unknown, and abandoned her and her life altogether, did
still, though at the cost of pain and scandal, help his wife to this
triumph, that she departed from none of her requirements, and remained
mistress of the battlefield. She had her own way, though he would not
yield to it. But as a woman grows older, and becomes less capable of
that pertinacity which is the best means of securing her own way, and
when the conflicting wills against hers are many instead of being only
one, the state of the matter changes. Constance had turned against her,
when she was on the eve of an arrangement which would have been so very
much for Con’s good. And Frances, though so submissive in some points,
would not be so, she felt instinctively, on others. And Markham--that
was the most fundamental shock of all--Markham might possibly in the
future have prospects and hopes independent altogether of his mother’s,
in antagonism with all her arrangements. This, which she had not
anticipated, went to her heart. And when she thought of what had been
suggested to her with so much composure--the alteration of her whole
life, the substitution of her husband, from whom she had been so long
parted, who did not think as she did nor live as she did for her son,
who, with all his faults, which she knew so well, was yet in sympathy
with her in all she thought and wished and knew--this suggestion made
her sick and faint. It had come, though not with any force, even from
Markham himself. It had come from Sir Thomas, who was one of the oldest
of her friends; and now Claude set it before her in all the forcible
simplicity of commonplace: it would be more respectable! She laughed
almost violently when he left her, but it was a laugh which was not far
from tears.

“Claude has been complaining of you,” she said to Frances, recovering
herself with an instantaneous effort when her daughter came into the
room; “but I don’t object, my dear. Unless you had found that you could
like him yourself, which would have been the best thing, perhaps--you
were quite right in what you said. So far as Constance is concerned, it
is all that I could wish.”

“Mamma,” said Frances, “you don’t want Constance--you would not let
her--accept _that_?”

“Accept what? My love, you must not be so emphatic. Accept a life full
of luxury, splendour even, if she likes--and every care forestalled. My
dear little girl, you don’t know anything about the world.”

Frances pondered for some time before she replied. “Mamma,” she said
again, “if such a case arose--you said that the best thing for me would
have been to have liked--Mr Ramsay. There is no question of that. But if
such a case arose----”

“Yes, my dear”--Lady Markham took her daughter’s hand in her own, and
looked at her with a smile of pleasure--“I hope it will some day. And
what then?”

“Would you--think the same about me? Would you consider the life full of
luxury, as you said--would you desire for me the same thing as for
Constance?”

Lady Markham held the girl’s hand clasped in both of hers; the soft
caressing atmosphere about her enveloped Frances. “My dear,” she said,
“this is a very serious question. You are not asking me for curiosity
alone?”

“It is a very serious question,” Frances said.

And the mother and daughter looked at each other closely, with more
meaning, perhaps, than had as yet been in the eyes of either,
notwithstanding all the excitement of interest in their first meeting.
It was some time before another word was said. Frances saw in her mother
a woman full of determination, very clear as to what she wanted, very
unlikely to be turned from it by softer impulses, although outside she
was so tender and soft; and Lady Markham saw in Frances a girl who was
entirely submissive, yet immovable, whose dove’s eyes had a steady soft
gaze, against which the kindred light of her own had no power. It was a
mutual revelation. There was no conflict, nor appearance of conflict,
between these two, so like each other--two gentle and soft-voiced women,
both full of natural courtesy and disinclination to wound or offend;
both seeing everything around them very clearly from her own, perhaps
limited, point of view; and both feeling that between them nothing but
the absolute truth would do.

“You trouble me, Frances,” said Lady Markham at length. “When such a
case arises, it will be time enough. In the abstract, I should of course
feel for one as I feel for the other. Nay, stop a little. I should wish
to provide for you, as for Constance, a life of assured comfort,--well,
if you drive me to it--of wealth and all that wealth brings. Assuredly
that is what I should wish.” She gave Frances’ hand a pressure which was
almost painful, and then dropped it. “I hope you have no fancy for
poverty theoretically, like your patron saint,” she added lightly,
trying to escape from the gravity of the question by a laugh.

“Mother,” said Frances, in a voice which was tremulous and yet steady,
“I want to tell you--I think neither of poverty nor of money. I am more
used, perhaps, to the one than the other. I will do what you wish in
everything--everything else; but----”

“Not in the one thing which would probably be the only thing I asked of
you,” said Lady Markham, with a smile. She put her hands on Frances’
shoulders and gave her a kiss upon her cheek. “My dear child, you
probably think this is quite original,” she said; “but I assure you it
is what almost every daughter one time or other says to her parents:
Anything _else_--anything, but---- Happily there is no question between
you and me. Let us wait till the occasion arises. It is always time
enough to fall out.”



CHAPTER XXXII.


Nothing happened of any importance before their return to Eaton Square.
Markham, hopping about with a queer sidelong motion he had, his little
eyes screwed up with humorous meaning, seemed to Frances to recover his
spirits after the Winterbourn episode was over, which was the
subject--though that, of course, she did not know--of half the
voluminous correspondence of all the ladies and gentlemen in the house,
whose letters were so important a part of their existence. Before a week
was over, all Society was aware of the fact that Ralph Winterbourn had
been nearly dying at Markham Priory; that Lady Markham was in “a state”
which baffled description, and Markham himself so changed as to be
scarcely recognisable; but that, fortunately, the crisis had been tided
over, and everything was still problematical. But the problem was so
interesting, that one perfumed epistle after another carried it to
curious wits all over the country, and a new light upon the subject was
warmly welcomed in a hundred Easter meetings. What would Markham do?
What would Nelly do? Would their friendship end in the vulgar way, in a
marriage? Would they venture, in face of all prognostications, to keep
it up as a friendship, when there was no longer any reason why it should
not ripen into love? Or would they, frightened by all the inevitable
comments which they would have to encounter, stop short altogether, and
fly from each other?

Such a “case” is a delightful thing to speculate upon. At the Priory, it
could only be discussed in secret conclave; and though no doubt the
experienced persons chiefly concerned were quite conscious of the
subject which occupied their friends’ thoughts, there was no further
reference made to it between them, and everything went on as it had
always done. The night before their return to town, Markham, in the
solitude of the house, from which all the guests had just departed,
called Frances outside to bear him company while he smoked his
cigarette. He was walking up and down on the lawn in the grey stillness
of a cloudy warm evening, when there was no light to speak of anywhere,
and yet a good deal to be seen through the wavering greyness of sky and
sea. A few stars, very mild and indistinct, looked out at the edges of
the clouds here and there; the great water-line widened and cleared
towards the horizon; and in the far distance, where a deeper greyness
showed the mainland, the gleam of a lighthouse surprised the dark by
slow continual revolutions. There was no moon: something softer, more
seductive than even the moon, was in this absence of light.

“Well--now they’re gone, what do you think of them, Fan? They’re very
good specimens of the English country-house party--all kinds: the
respectable family, the sturdy old fogy, the rich young man without
health, and the muscular young man without money.” There had been, it is
needless to say, various other members of the party, who, being quite
unimportant to this history, need not be mentioned here. “What do you
think of them, little un? You have your own way of seeing things.”

“I--like them all well enough, Markham,” without enthusiasm Frances
replied.

“That is comprehensive at least. So do I, my dear. It would not have
occurred to me to say it; but it is just the right thing to say. They
pull you to pieces almost before your face; but they are not
ill-natured. They tell all sorts of stories about each other----”

“No, Markham; I don’t think that is just.”

“----Without meaning any harm,” he went on. “Fan, in countries where
conversation is cultivated, perhaps people don’t talk scandal--I only
say perhaps--but here we are forced to take to it for want of anything
else to say. What did your Giovannis and Giacomos talk of in your
village out yonder?” Markham pointed towards the clear blue-grey line of
the horizon, beyond which lay America, if anything; but he meant
distance, and that was enough.

“They talked--about the olives, how they were looking, and if it was
going to be a bad or an indifferent year.”

“And then?”

“About the _forestieri_, if many were coming, and whether it would be a
good season for the hotels; and about tying up the palms, to make them
ready for Easter,” said Frances, resuming, with a smile about her lips.
“And about how old Pietro’s son had got such a good appointment in the
post-office, and had bought little Nina a pair of earrings as long as
your finger; for he was to marry Nina, you know.”

“Oh, was he? Go on. I am very much interested. Didn’t they say Mr
Whatever-his-name-is wanted to get out of it, and that there never would
have been any engagement, had not Miss Nina’s mother----?”

“Oh Markham,” cried Frances in surprise, “how could you possibly know?”

“I was reasoning from analogy, Fan. Yes, I suppose they do it all the
world over. And it is odd--isn’t it?--that, knowing what they are sure
to say, we ask them to our houses, and put the keys of all our skeleton
cupboards into their hands.”

“Do you think that is true, that dreadful idea about the skeleton? I am
sure----”

“What are you sure of, my little dear?”

“I was going to say, oh Markham, that I was sure, _at home_, we had no
skeleton; and then I remembered----”

“I understand,” he said kindly. “It was not a skeleton to speak of, Fan.
There is nothing particularly bad about it. If you had met it out
walking, you would not have known it for a skeleton. Let us say a
mystery, which is not such a mouth-filling word.”

“Sir Thomas told me,” said Frances, with some timidity; “but I am not
sure that I understood. Markham! what was it really about?”

Her voice was low and diffident, and at first he only shook his head.
“About nothing,” he said; “about--me. Yes, more than anything else,
about me. That is how---- No, it isn’t,” he added, correcting himself.
“I always must have cared for my mother more than for any woman. She has
always been my greatest friend, ever since I can remember anything. We
seem to have been children together, and to have grown up together. I
was everything to her for a dozen years, and then--your father came
between us. He hated me--and I tormented him.”

“He could not hate you, Markham. Oh no, no!”

“My little Fan, how can a child like you understand? Neither did I
understand, when I was doing all the mischief. Between twelve and
eighteen I was an imp of mischief, a little demon. It was fun to me to
bait that thin-skinned man, that jumped at everything. The explosion was
fun to me too. I was a little beast. And then I got the mother to myself
again. Don’t kill me, my dear. I am scarcely sorry now. We have had very
good times since, I with my parent, you with yours--till that day,” he
added, flinging away the end of his cigarette, “when mischief again
prompted me to let Con know where he was, which started us all again.”

“Did you always know where we were?” she asked. Strangely enough, this
story did not give her any angry feeling towards Markham. It was so far
off, and the previous relations of her long-separated father and mother
were as a fairy tale to her, confusing and almost incredible, which she
did not take into account as matter of fact at all. Markham had
delivered these confessions slowly, as they turned and re-turned up and
down the lawn. There was not light enough for either to see the
expression in the other’s face, and the veil of the darkness added to
the softening effect. The words came out in short sentences, interrupted
by that little business of puffing at the cigarette, letting it go out,
stopping to strike a fusee and relight it, which so often forms the
byplay of an important conversation, and sometimes breaks the force of
painful revelations. Frances followed everything with an absorbed but
yet half-dreamy attention, as if the red glow of the light, the
exclamation of impatience when the cigarette was found to have gone out,
the very perfume of the fusee in the air, were part and parcel of it.
And the question she asked was almost mechanical, a part of the business
too, striking naturally from the last thing he had said as sparks flew
from the perfumed light.

“Not where,” he said. “But I might have known, had I made any attempt to
know. The mother sent her letters through the lawyer, and of course we
could have found out. It was thrust upon me at last by one of those
meddling fools that go everywhere. And then my old demon got possession
of me, and I told Con.” Here he gave a low chuckle, which seemed to
escape him in spite of himself. “I am laughing,” he said--“pay
attention, Fan--at myself. Of course I have learned to be sorry
for--some things--the imp has put me up to; but I can’t get the better
of that little demon--or of this little beggar, if you like it better.
It’s queer phraseology, I suppose; but I prefer the other form.”

“And what,” said Frances in the same dreamy way, drawn on, she was not
conscious how, by something in the air, by some current of thought which
she was not aware of--“what do you mean to do now?”

He started from her side as if she had given him a blow. “Do now?” he
cried, with something in his voice that shook off the spell of the
situation, and aroused the girl at once to the reality of things. She
had no guidance of his looks, for, as has been said, she could not see
them; but there was a curious thrill in his voice of present alarm and
consciousness, as if her innocent question struck sharply against some
fact of very different solidity and force from those far-off shadowy
facts which he had been telling her. “Do now? What makes you think I am
going to do anything at all?”

His voice fell away in a sort of quaver at the end of these words.

“I do not think it; I--I--don’t think anything, Markham; I--don’t--know
anything.”

“You ask very pat questions all the same, my little Fan. And you have
got a pair of very good eyes of your own in that little head. And if you
have got any light to throw upon the subject, my dear, produce it; for
I’ll be bothered if I know.”

Just then, a window opened in the gloom. “Children,” said Lady Markham’s
voice, “are you there? I think I see something like you, though it is so
dark. Bring your little sister in, Markham. She must not catch cold on
the eve of going back to town.”

“Here is the little thing, mammy. Shall I hand her in to you by the
window? It makes me feel very frisky to hear myself addressed as
children,” he cried, with his chuckle of easy laughter. “Here, Fan; run
in, my little dear, and be put to bed.”

But he did not go in with her. He kept outside in the quiet cool and
freshness of the night, illuminating the dim atmosphere now and then
with the momentary glow of another fusee. Frances from her room, to
which she had shortly retired, heard the sound, and saw from her windows
the sudden ruddy light a great many times before she went to sleep.
Markham let his cigar go out oftener than she could reckon. He was too
full of thought to remember his cigar.

They arrived in town when everybody was arriving, when even to Frances,
in her inexperience, the rising tide was visible in the streets, and the
air of a new world beginning, which always marks the commencement of the
season. No doubt it is a new world to many virgin souls, though so stale
and weary to most of those who tread its endless round. To Frances
everything was new; and a sense of the many wonderful things that
awaited her got into the girl’s head like ethereal wine, in spite of
all the grave matters of which she was conscious, which lay under the
surface, and were, if not skeletons in the closet, at least very serious
drawbacks to anything bright that life could bring. Her knowledge of
these drawbacks had been acquired so suddenly, and was so little dulled
by habit, that it dwelt upon her mind much more than family mysteries
usually dwell upon a mind of eighteen. But yet in the rush and
exhilaration of new thoughts and anticipations, always so much more
delicately bright than any reality, she forgot that all was not as
natural, as pleasant, as happy as it seemed. If Lady Markham had any
consuming cares, she kept them shut away under that smiling countenance,
which was as bright and peaceful as the morning. If Markham, on his
side, was perplexed and doubtful, he came out and in with the same
little chuckle of fun, the same humorous twinkle in his eyes. When these
signs of tranquillity are so apparent, the young and ignorant can easily
make up their minds that all is well. And Frances was to be
“presented”--a thought which made her heart beat. She was to be put into
a court-train and feathers,--she who as yet had never worn anything but
the simple frock which she had so pleased herself to think was purely
English in its unobtrusiveness and modesty. She was not quite sure that
she liked the prospect; but it excited her all the same.

It was early in May, and the train and the court plumes were ready,
when, going out one morning upon some small errand of her own, Frances
met some one whom she recognised, walking slowly along the long line of
Eaton Square. She started at the sight of him, though he did not see
her. He was going along with a strange air of reluctance, yet anxiety,
glancing up at the houses, no doubt looking for Lady Markham’s house, so
absorbed that he neither saw Frances nor was disturbed by the startled
movement she made, which must have caught a less preoccupied eye. She
smiled to herself, after the first start, to see how entirely bent he
was upon finding the house, and how little attention he had to spare for
anything else. He was even more worn and pale, or rather grey, than he
had been when he returned from India, she thought; and there was in him
a slackness, a letting-go of himself, a weary look in his step and
carriage, which proved, Frances thought, that the Riviera had done
George Gaunt little good.

For it was certainly George Gaunt, still in his loose grey Indian
clothes, looking like a man dropped from another hemisphere,
investigating the numbers on the doors as if he but vaguely comprehended
the meaning of them. But that there was in him that unmistakable air of
soldier which no mufti can quite disguise, he might have been the
Ancient Mariner in person, looking for the man whose fate it is to leave
all the wedding-feasts of the world in order to hear that tale. What
tale could young Gaunt have to tell? For a moment it flashed across the
mind of Frances that he might be bringing bad news, that “something
might have happened,”--that rapid conclusion to which the imagination is
so ready to jump. An accident to her father or Constance? so bad, so
terrible, that it could not be trusted to a letter, that he had been
sent to break the news to them?

She had passed him by this time, being shy, in her surprise, of
addressing the stranger all at once; but now she paused, and turned with
a momentary intention of running after him and entreating him to tell
her the worst. But then Frances recollected that this was impossible;
that with the telegraph in active operation, no one would employ such a
lingering way of conveying news; and went on again, with her heart
beating quicker, with a heightened colour, and a restrained impatience
and eagerness of which she was half ashamed. No, she would not turn back
before she had done her little business. She did not want either the
stranger himself or any one else to divine the flutter of pleasant
emotion, the desire she had to see and speak with the son of her old
friends. Yes, she said to herself, the son of her old friends--he who
was the youngest, whom Mrs Gaunt used to talk of for hours, whose
praises she was never weary of singing.

Frances smiled and blushed to herself as she hurried--perceptibly
hurried--about her little affairs. Kind Mrs Gaunt had always had a
secret longing to bring these two together. Frances would not turn
back; but she quickened her pace, almost running--as near running as was
decorous in London--to the lace-shop, to give the instructions which she
had been charged with. No doubt, she said to herself, she would find him
there when she got back. She had forgotten, perhaps, the fact that
George Gaunt had given very little of his regard to her when he met her,
though she was his mother’s favourite, and had no eyes but for
Constance. This was not a thing to dwell in the mind of a girl who had
no jealousy in her, and who never supposed herself to be half as worthy
of anybody’s attention as Constance was. But, anyhow, she forgot it
altogether, forgot to ask herself what in this respect might have
happened in the meantime; and with her heart beating full of innocent
eagerness, pleasure, and excitement, full of the hope of hearing about
everybody, of seeing again through his eyes the dear little well-known
world, which seemed to lie so far behind her, hastened through her
errands, and turned quickly home.

To her great surprise, as she came back, turning round the corner into
the long line of pavement, she saw young Gaunt once more approaching
her. He looked even more listless and languid now, like a man who had
tried to do some duty and failed, and was escaping, glad to be out of
the way of it. This was a great deal to read in a man’s face; but
Frances was highly sympathetic, and divined it, knowing in herself many
of those devices of shy people, which shy persons divine. Fortunately
she saw him some way off, and had time to overcome her own shyness and
take the initiative. She went up to him fresh as the May morning,
blushing and smiling, and put out her hand. “Captain Gaunt?” she said.
“I knew I could not be mistaken. Oh, have you just come from Bordighera?
I am so glad to see any one from home!”

“Do you call it home, Miss Waring? Yes, I have just come. I--I--have a
number of messages, and some parcels, and---- But I thought you might
perhaps be out of town, or busy, and that it would be best to send
them.”

“Is that why you are turning your back on my mother’s house? or did you
not know the number? I saw you before, looking--but I did not like to
speak.”

“I--thought you might be out of town,” he repeated, taking no notice of
her question; “and that perhaps the post----”

“Oh no,” cried Frances, whose shyness was of the cordial kind. “Now you
must come back and see mamma. She will want to hear all about Constance.
Are they all well, Captain Gaunt? Of course you must have seen them
constantly--and Constance. Mamma will want to hear everything.”

“Miss Waring is very well,” he said with a blank countenance, from which
he had done his best to dismiss all expression.

“And papa? and dear Mrs Gaunt, and the colonel, and everybody? Oh, there
is so much that letters can’t tell. Come back now with me. My mother
will be so glad to see you, and Markham; you know Markham already.”

Young Gaunt made a feeble momentary resistance. He murmured something
about an engagement, about his time being very short; but as he did so,
turned round languidly and went with her, obeying, as it seemed, the
eager impulse of Frances rather than any will of his own.

                       END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.

                 PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS

                   *       *       *       *       *



                                A HOUSE
                        DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF

                                  BY
                             MRS OLIPHANT

                           IN THREE VOLUMES
                               VOL. III.

                      WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS
                         EDINBURGH AND LONDON
                              MDCCCLXXXVI



                    A HOUSE DIVIDED AGAINST ITSELF.



CHAPTER XXXIII.


Lady Markham received young Gaunt with the most gracious kindness: had
his mother seen him seated in the drawing-room at Eaton Square, with
Frances hovering about him full of pleasure and questions, and her
mother insisting that he should stay to luncheon, and Markham’s hansom
just drawing up at the door, she would have thought her boy on the
highway to fortune. The sweetness of the two ladies--the happy eagerness
of Frances, and Lady Markham’s grace and graciousness--had a soothing
effect upon the young man. He had been unwilling to come, as he was
unwilling to go anywhere at this crisis of his life; but it soothed him,
and filled him with a sort of painful and bitter pleasure to be thus
surrounded by all that was most familiar to Constance,--by her mother
and sister, and all their questions about her. These questions, indeed,
it was hard upon him to be obliged to answer; but yet that pain was the
best thing that now remained to him, he said to himself. To hear her
name, and all those allusions to her, to be in the rooms where she had
spent her life--all this gave food to his longing fancy, and wrung, yet
soothed, his heart.

“My dear, you will worry Captain Gaunt with your questions; and I don’t
know those good people, Tasie and the rest: you must let me have my turn
now. Tell me about my daughter, Captain Gaunt. She is not a very good
correspondent. She gives few details of her life; and it must be so very
different from life here. Does she seem to enjoy herself? Is she happy
and bright? I have longed so much to see some one, impartial, whom I
could ask.”

Impartial! If they only knew! “She is always bright,” he said with a
suppressed passion, the meaning of which Frances divined suddenly,
almost with a cry, with a start and thrill of sudden certainty, which
took away her breath. “But for happy, I cannot tell. It is not good
enough for her, out there.”

“No? Thank you, Captain Gaunt, for appreciating my child. I was afraid
it was not much of a sphere for her. What company has she? Is there
anything going on----?”

“Mamma,” said Frances, “I told you--there is never anything going on.”

The young soldier shook his head. “There is no society--except the
Durants--and ourselves--who are not interesting,” he said, with a
somewhat ghastly smile.

“The Durants are the clergyman’s family?--and yourselves. I think she
might have been worse off. I am sure Mrs Gaunt has been kind to my
wayward girl,” she said, looking him in the face with that charming
smile.

“Kind!” he cried, as if the word were a profanation. “My mother is too
happy to do--anything. But Miss Waring,” he added with a feeble smile,
“has little need of--any one. She has so many resources--she is so far
above----”

He got inarticulate here, and stumbled in his speech, growing very red.
Frances watched him under her eyelids with a curious sensation of pain.
He was very much in earnest, very sad, yet transported out of his
langour and misery by Constance’s name. Now Frances had heard of George
Gaunt for years, and had unconsciously allowed her thoughts to dwell
upon him, as has been mentioned in another part of this history. His
arrival, had it not happened in the midst of other excitements which
preoccupied her, would have been one of the greatest excitements she had
ever known. She remembered now that when it did happen, there had been a
faint, almost imperceptible, touch of disappointment in it, in the fact
that his whole attention was given to Constance, and that for herself,
Frances, he had no eyes. But in the moment of seeing him again she had
forgotten all that, and had gone back to her previous prepossession in
his favour, and his mother’s certainty that Frances and her George
would be “great friends.” Now she understood with instant divination the
whole course of affairs. He had given his heart to Constance, and she
had not prized the gift. The discovery gave her an acute, yet vague (if
that could be), impression of pain. It was she, not Constance, that had
been prepossessed in his favour. Had Constance not been there, no doubt
she would have been thrown much into the society of George
Gaunt--and--who could tell what might have happened? All this came
before her like the sudden opening of a landscape hid by fog and mists.
Her eyes swept over it, and then it was gone. And this was what never
had been, and never would be.

“Poor Con,” said Lady Markham. “She never was thrown on her own
resources before. Has she so many of them? It must be a curiously
altered life for her, when she has to fall back upon what you call her
resources. But you think she is happy?” she asked with a sigh.

How could he answer? The mere fact that she was Constance, seemed to
Gaunt a sort of paradise. If she could make him happy by a look or a
word, by permitting him to be near her, how was it possible that, being
herself, she could be otherwise than blessed? He was well enough aware
that there was a flaw in his logic somewhere, but his mind was not
strong enough to perceive where that flaw was.

Markham came in in time to save him from the difficulty of an answer.
Markham did not recollect the young man, whom he had only seen once; but
he hailed him with great friendliness, and began to inquire into his
occupations and engagements. “If you have nothing better to do, you must
come and dine with me at my club,” he said in the kindest way, for which
Frances was very grateful to her brother. And young Gaunt, for his part,
began to gather himself together a little. The presence of a man roused
him. There is something, no doubt, seductive and relaxing in the fact of
being surrounded by sympathetic women, ready to divine and to console.
He had not braced himself to bear the pain of their questions; but
somehow had felt a certain luxury in letting his despondency, his
languor, and displeasure with life appear. “I have to be here,” he had
said to them, “to see people, I believe. My father thinks it necessary:
and I could not stay; that is, my people are leaving Bordighera. It
becomes too hot to hold one--they say.”

“But you would not feel that, coming from India?”

“I came to get braced up,” he said with a smile, as of self-ridicule,
and made a little pause. “I have not succeeded very well in that,” he
added presently. “They think England will do me more good. I go back to
India in a year; so that, if I can be braced up, I should not lose any
time.”

“You should go to Scotland, Captain Gaunt. I don’t mean at once, but as
soon as you are tired of the season--that is the place to brace you
up--or to Switzerland, if you like that better.”

“I do not much care,” he had said with another melancholy smile, “where
I go.”

The ladies tried every way they could think of to console him, to give
him a warmer interest in his life. They told him that when he was
feeling stronger, his spirits would come back. “I know how one runs down
when one feels out of sorts,” Lady Markham said. “You must let us try to
amuse you a little, Captain Gaunt.”

But when Markham appeared, this softness came to an end. George Gaunt
picked himself up, and tried to look like a man of the world. He had to
see some one at the Horse Guards, and he had some relations to call
upon; but he would be very glad, he said, to dine with Lord Markham. It
surprised Frances that her mother did not appear to look with any
pleasure on this engagement. She even interposed in a way which was
marked. “Don’t you think, Markham, it would be better if Captain Gaunt
and you dined with _me_? Frances is not half satisfied. She has not
asked half her questions. She has the first right to an old friend.”

“Gaunt is not going away to-morrow,” said Markham. “Besides, if he’s out
of sorts, he wants amusing, don’t you see?”

“And we are not capable of doing that! Frances, do you hear?”

“Very capable, in your way. But for a man, when he’s low, ladies are
dangerous--that’s my opinion, and I’ve a good deal of experience.”

“Of low spirits, Markham!”

“No, but of ladies,” he said with a chuckle. “I shall take him somewhere
afterwards; to the play perhaps, or--somewhere amusing: whereas you
would talk to him all night, and Fan would ask him questions, and keep
him on the same level.”

Lady Markham made a reply which to Frances sounded very strange. She
said, “To the play--perhaps?” in a doubtful tone, looking at her son.
Gaunt had been sitting looking on in the embarrassed and helpless way in
which a man naturally regards a discussion over his own body as it were,
particularly if it is a conflict of kindness, and, glad to be delivered
from this friendly duel, turned to Frances with some observation, taking
no heed of Lady Markham’s remark. But Frances heard it with a confused
premonition which she could not understand. She could not understand,
and yet---- She saw Markham shrug his shoulders in reply; there was a
slight colour upon his face, which ordinarily knew none. What did they
both mean?

But how elated would Mrs Gaunt have been, how pleased the General, had
they seen their son at Lady Markham’s luncheon-table, in the midst, so
to speak, of the first society! Sir Thomas came in to lunch, as he had a
way of doing; and so did a gay young Guardsman, who was indeed naturally
a little contemptuous of a man in the line, yet civil to Markham’s
friend. These simple old people would have thought their George on the
way to every advancement, and believed even the heart-break which had
procured him that honour well compensated. These were far from his own
sentiments; yet, to feel himself thus warmly received by “_her_ people,”
the object of so much kindness, which his deluded heart whispered must
surely, surely, whatever she might intend, have been suggested at least
by something she had said of him, was balm and healing to his wounds. He
looked at her mother--and indeed Lady Markham was noted for her
graciousness, and for looking as if she meant to be the motherly friend
of all who approached her--with a sort of adoration. To be the mother of
Constance, and yet to speak to ordinary mortals with that smile, as if
she had no more to be proud of than they! And what could it be that made
her so kind? not anything in him--a poor soldier, a poor soldier’s son,
knowing nothing but the exotic society of India and its curious
ways--surely something which, out of some relenting of the heart, some
pity or regret, Constance had said. Frances sat next to him at table,
and there was a more subtle satisfaction still in speaking low, aside to
Frances, when he got a little confused with the general conversation,
that bewildering talk which was all made up of allusions. He told her
that he had brought a parcel from the Palazzo, and a box of flowers from
the bungalow,--that his mother was very anxious to hear from her, that
they were going to Switzerland--no, not coming home this year. “They
have found a cheap place in which my mother delights,” he said, with a
faint smile. He did not tell her that his coming home a little
circumscribed their resources, and that the month in town which they
were so anxious he should have, which in other circumstances he would
have enjoyed so much, but which now he cared nothing for, nor for
anything, was the reason why they had stopped half-way on their usual
summer journey to England. Dear old people, they had done it for
him--this was what he thought to himself, though he did not say it--for
him, for whom nobody could now do anything! He did not say much, but as
he looked in Frances’ sympathetic eyes, he felt that, without saying a
word to her, she must understand it all.

Lady Markham made no remark about their visitor until after they had
done their usual afternoon’s “work,” as it was her habit to call
it--their round of calls, to which she went in an exact succession,
saying lightly, as she cut short each visit, that she could stay no
longer, as she had so much to do. There was always a shop or two to go
to, in addition to the calls, and almost always some benevolent
errand--some Home to visit, some hospital to call at, something about
the work of poor ladies, or the salvation of poor girls,--all these were
included along with the calls in the afternoon’s work. And it was not
till they had returned home and were seated together at tea, refreshing
themselves after their labours, that she mentioned young Gaunt. She
then said, after a minute’s silence, suddenly, as if the subject had
been long in her mind, “I wish Markham had let that young man alone; I
wish he had left him to you and me.”

Frances started a little, and felt, with great self-indignation and
distress, that she blushed--though why, she could not tell. She looked
up, wondering, and said, “Markham! I thought it was so very kind.”

“Yes, my dear; I believe he means to be kind.”

“Oh, I am sure he does; for he could have no interest in George
Gaunt--not for himself. I thought it was perhaps for my sake, because he
was--because he was the son of--such a friend.”

“Were they so good to you, Frances? And no doubt to Con too.”

“I am sure of it, mamma.”

“Poor people,” said Lady Markham; “and this is the reward they get. Con
has been experimenting on that poor boy. What do I mean by
experimenting? You know well enough what I mean, Frances. I suppose he
was the only man at hand, and she has been amusing herself. He has been
dangling about her constantly, I have no doubt, and she has made him
believe that she liked it as well as he did. And then he has made a
declaration, and there has been a scene. I am sorry to say I need no
evidence in this case: I know all about it. And now, Markham! Poor
people, I say: it would have been well for them if they had never seen
one of our race.”

“Mamma!” cried Frances, with a little indignation, “I feel sure you are
misjudging Constance. Why should she do anything so cruel? Papa used to
say that one must have a motive.”

“_He_ said so! I wonder if he could tell what motives were his
when---- Forgive me, my dear. We will not discuss your father. As for
Con, her motives are clear enough--amusement. Now, my dear, don’t! I
know you were going to ask me, with your innocent face, what amusement
it could possibly be to break that young man’s heart. The greatest in
the world, my love! We need not mince matters between ourselves. There
is nothing that diverts Con so much, and many another woman. You think
it is terrible; but it is true.”

“I think--you must be mistaken,” said Frances, pale and troubled, with a
little gasp as for breath. “But,” she went on, “supposing even that you
were right about Con, what could Markham do?”

Lady Markham looked at her very gravely. “He has asked this poor young
fellow--to dinner,” she said.

Frances could scarcely restrain a laugh, which was half hysterical.
“That does not seem very tragic,” she said.

“Oh no, it does not seem very tragic--poor people, poor people!” said
Lady Markham, shaking her head.

And there was no more; for a visitor appeared--one of a little circle of
ladies who came in and out every day, intimates, who rushed up-stairs
and into the room without being announced, always with something to say
about the Home, or the Hospital, or the Reformatory, or the Poor Ladies,
or the endangered girls. There was always a great deal to talk over
about these institutions, which formed an important part of the “work”
which all these ladies had to do. Frances withdrew to a little distance,
so as not to embarrass her mother and her friend, who were discussing
“cases” for one of those refuges of suffering humanity, and were more
comfortable when she was out of hearing. Frances knitted and thought of
home--not this bewildering version of it, but the quiet of the idle
village life where there was no “work,” but where all were neighbours,
lending a kindly hand to each other in trouble, and where the tranquil
days flew by she knew not how. She thought of this with a momentary,
oft-recurring secret protest against this other life, of which, as was
natural, she saw the evil more clearly than the good; and then, with a
bound, her thoughts returned to the extraordinary question to which her
mother had made so extraordinary a reply. What could Markham do? “He has
asked the poor young fellow to dinner.” Even now, in the midst of the
painful confusion of her mind, she almost laughed. Asked him to dinner!
How would that harm him? At Markham’s club there would be no poisoned
dishes--nothing that would slay. What harm could it do to George Gaunt
to dine with Markham? She asked herself the question again and again,
but could find no reply. When she turned to the other side and thought
of Constance, the blood rushed to her head with a feverish angry pang.
Was that also true? But in this case, Frances, like her mother, felt
that no doubt was possible. In this respect she had been able to
understand what her mother said to her. Her heart bled for the poor
people, whom Lady Markham compassionated without knowing them, and
wondered how Mrs Gaunt would bear the sight of the girl who had been
cruel to her son. All that, with agitation and trouble she could
believe: but Markham! What could Markham do?

She was going to the play with her mother that evening, which was to
Frances, fresh to every real enjoyment, one of the greatest of
pleasures. But she did not enjoy it that night. Lady Markham paid little
attention to the play: she studied the people as they went and came,
which was a usual weakness of hers, much wondered at and deplored by
Frances, to whom the stage was the centre of attraction. But on this
occasion Lady Markham was more _distraite_ than ever, levelling her
glass at every new group that appeared in the recesses between the
acts,--the restless crowd, which is always in motion. Her face, when she
removed the glass from it, was anxious, and almost unhappy. “Frances,”
she said, in one of these pauses, “your eyes must be sharper than mine;
try if you can see Markham anywhere.”

“Here is Markham,” said her son, opening the door of the box. “What does
the mother want with me, Fan?”

“Oh, you are here!” Lady Markham cried, leaning back in her chair with a
sigh of relief. “And Captain Gaunt too.”

“Quite safe, and out of the way of mischief,” said Markham with a
chuckle, which brought the colour to his mother’s cheek.



CHAPTER XXXIV.


After this, for about a fortnight, Captain Gaunt was very often visible
in Eaton Square. He dined next evening with Lady Markham and
Frances--Sir Thomas, who scarcely counted, he was so often there, being
the only other guest. Sir Thomas was a man who had a great devotion for
Lady Markham, and a very distant link of cousinship, which, or something
in themselves which made that impossible, had silenced any remark of
gossip, much less scandal, upon their friendship. He came in to luncheon
whenever it pleased him; he dined there--when he was not dining anywhere
else. But as both he and Lady Markham had many engagements, this was not
too often the case, though there was rarely an evening, if the ladies
were at home, when Sir Thomas did not “look in.” His intimacy was like
that of a brother in the cheerful easy house. This cheerful company, the
friendliness, the soothing atmosphere of feminine sympathy around him,
and underneath all the foolish hope, more sweet than anything else, that
a certain relenting on the part of Constance must be underneath, took
away the gloom and dejection, in great part at least, from the young
soldier’s looks. He exerted himself to please the people who were so
kind to him, and his melancholy smile had begun to brighten into
something more natural. Frances, for her part, thought him a very
delightful addition to the party. She looked at him across the table
almost with the pride which a sister might have felt when he made a good
appearance and did himself credit. He seemed to belong to her more or
less,--to reflect upon her the credit which he gained. It showed that
her friends after all were worth thinking of, that they were not
unworthy of the admiration she had for them, that they were able to hold
their own in what the people here called Society and the world. She
raised her little animated face to young Gaunt, was the first to see
what he meant, unconsciously interpreted or explained for him when he
was hazy--and beamed with delight when Lady Markham was interested and
amused. Poor Frances was not always quite clever enough to see when it
happened that the two elders were amused by the man himself, rather than
by what he said--and her gratification was great in his success. She
herself had never aspired to success in her own person; but it was a
great pleasure to her that the little community at Bordighera should be
vindicated and put in the best light. “They will never be able to say to
me _now_ that we had no Society, that we saw nobody,” Frances said to
herself--attributing, however, a far greater brilliancy to poor George
than he ever possessed. He fell back into melancholy, however, when the
ladies left, and Sir Thomas found him dull. He had very little to say
about Waring, on whose behalf the benevolent baronet was so much
interested.

“Do you think he shows any inclination towards home?” Sir Thomas asked.

“I am sure,” young Gaunt answered, with a solemn face, “that there is
nothing there that can satisfy such a creature as that.”

“He has no society, then?” asked Sir Thomas.

“Oh, society! it is like the poem,” said the young man, with a sigh. “I
should think it would be so everywhere. ‘Ye common people of the sky,
what are ye when your queen is nigh?’”

Sir Thomas had been much puzzled by the application to Waring, as he
supposed, of the phrase, “such a creature as that;” but now he
perceived, with a compassionate shake of his head, what the poor young
fellow meant. Con had been at her tricks again! He said, with the
pitying look which such a question warranted, “I suppose you are very
fond of poetry?”

“No,” said the young soldier, astonished, looking at him suddenly. “Oh
no. I am afraid I am very ignorant; but sometimes it expresses what
nothing else can express. Don’t you think so?”

“I think perhaps it is time to join the ladies,” Sir Thomas said. He was
sorry for the boy, though a little contemptuous too; but then he
himself had known Con and her tricks from her cradle, and those of many
another, and he was hardened. He thought their mothers had been far more
attractive women.

Was it the same art which made Frances look up with that bright look of
welcome, and almost affectionate interest, when they returned to the
drawing-room? Sir Thomas liked her so much, that he hoped it was not
merely one of their tricks; then paused, and said to himself that it
would be better if it were so, and not that the girl had really taken a
fancy to this young fellow, whose heart and head were both full of
another, and who, even without that, would evidently be a very poor
thing for Lady Markham’s daughter. Sir Thomas was so far unjust to
Frances, that he concluded it must be one of her tricks, when he
recollected how complacent she had been to Claude Ramsay, finding places
for him where he could sit out of the draught. They were all like that,
he said to himself; but concluded that, as one nail drives out another,
a second “affair,” if he could be drawn into it, might cure the victim.
This rapid _résumé_ of all the circumstances, present and future, is a
thing which may well take place in an experienced mind in the moment of
entering a room in which there are materials for the development of a
new chapter in the social drama. The conclusion he came to led him to
the side of Lady Markham, who was writing the address upon one of her
many notes. “It is to Nelly Winterbourn,” she explained, “to inquire----
You know they have dragged that poor sufferer up to town, to be near the
best advice; and he is lying more dead than alive.”

“Perhaps it is not very benevolent, so far as he is concerned; but I
hope he’ll linger a long time,” said Sir Thomas.

“Oh, so do I! These imbroglios may go on for a long time and do nobody
any harm. But when a horrible crisis comes, and one feels that they must
be cleared up!” It was evident that in this Lady Markham was not
specially considering the sufferings of poor Mr Winterbourn.

“What does Markham say?” Sir Thomas asked.

“Say! He does not say anything. He shuffles--you know the way he has. He
never could stand still upon both of his feet.”

“And you can’t guess what he means to do?”

“I think---- But who can tell? even with one whom I know so intimately
as Markham. I don’t say even in my son, for that does not tell for very
much.”

“Nothing at all,” said the social philosopher.

“Oh, a little, sometimes. I believe to a certain extent in a kind of
magnetic sympathy. You don’t, I know. I think, then, so far as I can
make out, that Markham would rather do nothing at all. He likes the
_status quo_ well enough. But then he is only one; and the other--one
cannot tell how she might feel.”

“Nelly is the unknown quantity,” said Sir Thomas; and then Lady Markham
sent away, by the hands of the footman, her anxious affectionate little
billet “to inquire.”

Meanwhile young Gaunt sat down by Frances. On the table near them there
was a glorious show of crimson--the great dazzling red anemones, the
last of the season, which Mrs Gaunt had sent. It had been very difficult
to find them so late on, he told her; they had hunted into the coolest
corners where the spring flowers lingered the longest, his mother quite
anxious about it, climbing into the little valleys among the hills. “For
you know what you are to my mother,” he said, with a smile, and then a
sigh. Mrs Gaunt had often made disparaging comparisons--comparisons how
utterly out of the question! He allowed to himself that this candid
countenance, so open and simple, and so full of sympathy, had a
charm--more than he could have believed; but yet to make a comparison
between this sister and the other! Nevertheless it was very consolatory,
after the effort he had made at dinner, to lay himself back in the soft
low chair, with his long limbs stretched out, and talk or be talked to,
no longer with any effort, with a softening tenderness towards the
mother who loved Frances, but with whom he had had many scenes before he
left her, in frantic defence of the woman who had broken his heart.

“Mrs Gaunt was always so kind to me,” Frances said, gratefully, a little
moisture starting into her eyes. “At the Durants’ there seemed always a
little comparison with Tasie; but with your mother there was no
comparison.”

“A comparison with Tasie!” He laughed in spite of himself. “Nothing can
be so foolish as these comparisons,” he added, not thinking of Tasie.

“Yes, she was older,” said Frances. “She had a right to be more clever.
But it was always delightful at the bungalow. Does my father go there
often now?”

“Did he ever go often?”

“N-no,” said Frances, hesitating; “but sometimes in the evening. I hope
Constance makes him go out. I used to have to worry him, and often get
scolded. No, not scolded--that was not his way; but sent off with a
sharp word. And then he would relent, and come out.”

“I have not seen very much of Mr Waring,” Gaunt said.

“Then what does Constance do? Oh, it must be such a change for her! I
could not have imagined such a change. I can’t help thinking sometimes
it is a great pity that I, who was not used to it, nor adapted for it,
should have all this--and Constance, who likes it, who suits it, should
be--banished; for it must be a sort of banishment for her, don’t you
think?”

“I--suppose so. Yes, there could be no surroundings too bright for her,”
he said, dreamily. He seemed to see her, notwithstanding, walking with
him up into the glades of the olive-gardens, with her face so bright.
Surely she had not felt her banishment then! Or was it only that the
amusement of breaking his heart made up for it, for the moment, as his
mother said?

“Fancy,” said Frances; “I am going to court on Monday--I--in a train and
feathers. What would they all say? But all the time I am feeling like
the daw in the peacock’s plumes. They seem to belong to Constance. She
would wear them as if she were a queen herself. She would not perhaps
object to be stared at; and she would be admired.”

“Oh yes!”

“She was, they say, when she was presented, so much admired. She might
have been a maid of honour; but mamma would not. And I, a poor little
brown sparrow, in all the fine feathers--I feel inclined to call out, ‘I
am only Frances.’ But that is not needed, is it, when any one looks at
me?” she said, with a laugh. She had met with nobody with whom she could
be confidential among all her new acquaintances. And George Gaunt was a
new acquaintance too, if she had but remembered; but there was in him
something which she had been used to, something with which she was
familiar, a breath of her former life--and that acquaintance with his
name and all about him which makes one feel like an old friend. She had
expected for so many years to see him, that it appeared to her
imagination as if she had known him all these years--as if there was
scarcely any one with whom she was so familiar in the world.

He looked at her attentively as she spoke, a little touched, a little
charmed by this instinctive delicate familiarity, in which he at last,
having so lately come out of the hands of a true operator, saw, whatever
Sir Thomas might think, that it was not one of their tricks. She did not
want any compliment from him, even had he been capable of giving it. She
was as sincere as the day, as little troubled about her inferiority as
she was convinced of it; the laugh with which she spoke had in it a
genuine tone of innocent youthful mirth, such as had not been heard in
that house for long. The exhilarating ring of it, so spontaneous, so
gay, reached Lady Markham and Sir Thomas in their colloquy, and roused
them. Frances herself had never laughed like that before. Her mother
gave a glance towards her, smiling. “The little thing has found her own
character in the sight of her old friend,” she said; and then rounded
her little epigram with a sigh.

“The young fellow ought to think much of himself to have two of them
taking that trouble.”

“Don’t talk nonsense,” said Lady Markham. “Do you think she is taking
trouble? She does not understand what it means.”

“Do any of them not understand what it means?” asked Sir Thomas. He had
a large experience in Society, and thought he knew; but he had little
experience out of Society, and so, perhaps, did not. There are some
points in which a woman’s understanding is the best.

The evening had not been unpleasant to any one, not even, perhaps, to
the lovelorn, when Markham appeared, coming back from his dinner-party,
a signal to the other gentlemen that it was time for them to disappear
from theirs. He gave his mother the last news of Winterbourn; and he
told Sir Thomas that a division was expected, and that he ought to be in
the House. “The poor sufferer” was sinking slowly, Markham said. It was
quite impossible now to think of the operation which might perhaps have
saved him three months since. His sister was with Nelly, who had neither
mother nor sister of her own; and the long-expected event was thus to
come off decorously, with all the proper accessories. It was a very
important matter for two at least of the speakers; but this was how they
talked of it, hiding, perhaps, the anxiety within. Then Markham turned
to the other group.

“Have you got all the feathers and the furbelows ready?” he said. “Do
you think there will be any of you visible through them, little Fan?”

“Don’t frighten the child, Markham. She will do very well. She can be as
steady as a little rock: and in that case it doesn’t matter that she is
not tall.”

“Oh, tall--as if that were necessary! You are not tall yourself, our
mother; but you are a very majestic person when you are in your
war-paint.”

“There’s the Queen herself, for that matter,” said Sir Thomas. “See her
in a procession, and she might be six feet. I feel a mouse before her.”
He had held once some post about the court, and had a right to speak.

“Let us hope Fan will look majestic too. You should, to carry off the
effect I shall produce. In ordinary life,” said Markham, “I don’t
flatter myself that I am an Adonis; but you should see me screwed up
into a uniform. No, I’m not in the army, Fan. What is my uniform,
mother, to please her? A Deputy Lieutenant, or something of that sort.
I hope you are a great deal the wiser, Fan.”

“People always look well in uniform,” said Frances, looking at him
somewhat doubtfully, on which Markham broke forth into his chuckle.
“Wait till you see me, my little dear. Wait till the little boys see me
on the line of route. They are the true tests of personal attraction.
Are you coming, Gaunt? Do you feel inclined to give those fellows their
revenge?”

Markham had spoken rather low, and at some distance from his mother; but
the word caught her quick ear.

“Revenge? What do you mean by revenge? Who is going to be revenged?” she
cried.

“Nobody is going to fight a duel, if that is what you mean,” said
Markham, quietly turning round. “Gaunt has, for as simple as he stands
there, beaten me at billiards, and I can’t stand under the affront.
Didn’t you lick me, Gaunt?”

“It was an accident,” said Gaunt. “If that is all, you are very welcome
to your revenge.”

“Listen to his modesty, which, by-the-by, shows a little want of tact;
for am I the man to be beaten by an accident?” said Markham, with his
chuckle of self-ridicule. “Come along, Gaunt.”

Lady Markham detained Sir Thomas with a look as he rose to accompany
them. She gave Captain Gaunt her hand, and a gracious, almost anxious
smile. “Markham is noted for bad hours,” she said. “You are not very
strong, and you must not let him beguile you into his evil ways.” She
rose too, and took Sir Thomas by the arm as the young man went away.
“Did you hear what he said? Do you think it was only billiards he meant?
My heart quakes for that poor boy and the poor people he belongs to.
Don’t you think you could go after them and see what they are about?”

“I will do anything you please. But what good could I do?” said Sir
Thomas. “Markham would not put up with any interference from me--nor the
other young fellow either, for that matter.”

“But if you were there, if they saw you about, it would restrain them:
oh, you have always been such a true friend. If you were but there.”

“There: where?” There came before the practical mind of Sir Thomas a
vision of himself, at his sober age, dragged into he knew not what
nocturnal haunts, like an elderly spectre, jeered at by the
pleasure-makers. “I will do anything to please you,” he said,
helplessly. “But what can I do? It would be of no use. You know yourself
that interference never does any good.”

Frances stood by aghast, listening to this conversation. What did it
mean? Of what was her mother afraid? Presently Lady Markham took her
seat again, with a return to her usual smiling calm. “You are right, and
I am wrong,” she said. “Of course we can do nothing. Perhaps, as you
say, there is no real reason for anxiety.” (Frances observed, however,
that Sir Thomas had not said this.) “It is because the boy is not well
off, and his people are not well off--old soldiers, with their pensions
and their savings. That is what makes me fear.”

“Oh, if that is the case, you need have the less alarm. Where there’s
not much to lose, the risks are lessened,” Sir Thomas said, calmly.

When he too was gone, Frances crept close to her mother. She knelt down
beside the chair on which Lady Markham sat, grave and pale, with
agitation in her face. “Mother,” she whispered, taking her hand and
pressing her cheek against it, “Markham is so kind--he never would do
poor George any harm.”

“Oh, my dear,” cried Lady Markham, “how can you tell? Markham is not a
man to be read off like a book. He is very kind--which does not hinder
him from being cruel too. He means no harm, perhaps; but when the harm
is done, what does it matter whether he meant it or not? And as for the
risks being lessened because your friend is poor, that only means that
he is despatched all the sooner. Markham is like a man with a fever: he
has his fits of play, and one of them is on him now.”

“Do you mean--gambling?” said Frances, growing pale too. She did not
know very well what gambling was, but it was ruin, she had always
heard.

“Don’t let us talk of it,” said Lady Markham. “We can do no good; and to
distress ourselves for what we cannot prevent is the worst policy in the
world, everybody says. You had better go to bed, dear child; I have some
letters to write.”



CHAPTER XXXV.


Gaunt did not appear again at Eaton Square for two or three days,--not,
indeed, till after the great event of Frances’ history had taken
place--the going to court, which had filled her with so many alarms.
After all, when she got there, she was not frightened at all, the sense
of humour which was latent in her nature getting the mastery at the last
moment, and the spectacle, such as it was, taking all her attention from
herself. Lady Markham’s good taste had selected for Frances as simple a
dress as was possible, and her ornaments were the pearls which her aunt
had given her, which she had never been able to look at, save uneasily,
as spoil. Mrs Clarendon, however, condescended, which was a wonderful
stretch of good-nature, to come to Eaton Square to see her dressed,
which, as everybody knows, is one of the most agreeable parts of the
ceremony. Frances had not a number of young friends to fill the house
with a chorus of admiration and criticism; but the Miss Montagues
thought it “almost a duty” to come, and a number of her mother’s
friends. These ladies filled the drawing-room, and were much more
formidable than even the eyes of Majesty, preoccupied with the sight of
many toilets, and probably very tired of them, which would have no more
than a passing glance for Frances. The spectators at Eaton Square took
her to pieces conscientiously, though they agreed, after each had made
her little observation, that the _ensemble_ was perfect, and that the
power of millinery could no further go. The intelligent reader needs not
to be informed that Frances was all white, from her feathers to her
shoes. Her pretty glow of youthfulness and expectation made the toilet
supportable, nay, pretty, even in the glare of day. Markham, who was not
afraid to confront all these fair and critical faces, in his uniform,
which misbecame, and did not even fit him, and which made his
insignificance still more apparent, walked round and round his little
sister with the most perfect satisfaction. “Are you sure you know how to
manage that train, little Fan? Do you feel quite up to your curtsey?” he
said in a whisper with his chuckle of mirth; but there was a very tender
look in the little man’s eyes. He might wrong others; but to Frances,
nobody could be more kind or considerate. Mrs Clarendon, when she saw
him, turned upon her heel and walked off into the back drawing-room,
where she stood for some minutes sternly contemplating a picture, and
ignoring everybody. Markham did not resent this insult. “She can’t abide
me, Fan,” he went on. “Poor lady, I don’t wonder. I was a little brat
when she knew me first. As soon as I go away, she will come back; and I
am going presently, my dear. I am going to snatch a morsel in the
dining-room, to sustain nature. I hope you had your sandwiches, Fan? It
will take a great deal of nourishment to keep you up to that curtsey.”
He patted her softly on her white shoulder, with kindness beaming out of
his ugly face. “I call you a most satisfactory production, my dear. Not
a beauty, but better--a real nice innocent girl. I should like any
fellow to show me a nicer,” he went on, with his short laugh. Though it
took the form of a chuckle, there was something in it that showed
Markham’s heart was touched. And this was the man whom even his own
mother was afraid to trust a young man with! It seemed to Frances that
it was impossible such a thing could be true.

Mrs Clarendon, as Markham had predicted, came back as he retired. Her
contemplation of the dress of the _débutante_ was very critical. “Satin
is too heavy for you,” she said. “I wonder your mother did not see that
silk would have been far more in keeping; but she always liked to
overdo. As for my Lord Markham, I am glad he will have to look after
your mother, and not you, Frances; for the very look of a man like that
contaminates a young girl. Don’t say to me that he is your brother, for
he is not your brother. Considering my age and yours, I surely ought to
know best. Turn round a little. There is a perceptible crease across the
middle of your shoulder, and I don’t quite like the hang of this skirt.
But one thing looks very well, and that is your pearls. They have been
in the family I can’t tell you how long. My grandmother gave them to
me.”

“Mamma insisted I should wear them, and nothing else, aunt Caroline.”

“Yes, I daresay. You have nothing else good enough to go with them, most
likely. And Lady Markham knows a good thing very well, when she sees it.
Have you been put through all that you have to do, Frances? Remember to
keep your right hand quite free; and take care your train doesn’t get in
your way. Oh, why is it that your poor father is not here to see you, to
go with you! It would be a very different thing then.”

“Nothing would make papa go, aunt Caroline. Do you think he would dress
himself up like Markham, to be laughed at?”

“I promise you nobody would laugh at my brother,” said Mrs Clarendon.
“As for Lord Markham----” But she bit her lip, and forbore. She spoke to
none of the other ladies, who swarmed like numerous bees in the room,
keeping up a hum in the air; but she made very formal acknowledgments to
Lady Markham as she went away. “I am much obliged to you for letting me
come to see Frances dressed. She looks very well on the whole, though,
perhaps, I should have adopted a different style had it been in my
hands.”

“My dear Caroline,” cried Lady Markham, ignoring this ungracious
conclusion, “how can you speak of letting you come? You know we are only
too glad to see you whenever you will come. And I hope you liked the
effect of your beautiful pearls. What a charming present to give the
child; I thought it so kind of you.”

“So long as Frances understands that they are family ornaments,” said
Mrs Clarendon, stiffly, rejecting all acknowledgments.

There was a little murmur and titter when she went away. “Is it Medusa
in person?” “It is Mrs Clarendon, the wife of the great Q.C.” “It is
Frances’ aunt, and she does not like any remark.” “It is my dear
sister-in-law,” said Lady Markham. “She does not love me; but she is
kind to Frances, which covers a multitude of sins.” “And very rich,”
said another lady, “which covers a multitude more.” This put a little
bitterness into the conversation to Frances, standing there in her fine
clothes, and not knowing how to interfere; and it was a relief to her
when Markham, though she could not blame the whispering girls who called
him a guy, came in shuffling and smiling, with a glance and nod of
encouragement to his little sister to take the mother down-stairs to her
carriage. After that, all was a moving phantasmagoria of colour and
novel life, and nothing clear.

And it was not until after this great day that Captain Gaunt appeared
again. The ladies received him with reproaches for his absence. “I
expected to see you yesterday at least,” said Lady Markham. “You don’t
care for fine clothes, as we women do; but five o’clock tea, after a
Drawing-room, is a fine sight. You have no idea how grand we were, and
how much you have lost.”

Captain Gaunt responded with a very grave, indeed melancholy smile. He
was even more dejected than when he made his first appearance. Then his
melancholy had been unalloyed, and not without something of that tragic
satisfaction in his own sufferings which the victims of the heart so
often enjoy. But now there were complications of some kind, not so
easily to be understood. He smiled a very serious evanescent smile. “I
shall have to lose still more,” he said, “for I think I must leave
London--sooner than I thought.”

“Oh,” cried Frances, whom this concerned the most; “leave London! You
were to stay a month.”

“Yes; but my month seems to have run away before it has begun,” he said,
confusedly. Then, finding Lady Markham’s eye upon him, he added, “I
mean, things are very different from what I expected. My father thought
I might do myself good by seeing people who--might push me, he supposed.
I am not good at pushing myself,” he said, with an abrupt and harsh
laugh.

“I understand that. You are too modest. It is a defect, as well as the
reverse one of being too bold. And you have not met--the people you
hoped?”

“It is not exactly that either. My father’s old friends have been kind
enough; but London perhaps is not the place for a poor soldier.” He
stopped, with again a little quiver of a smile.

“That is quite true,” said Lady Markham, gravely. “I enter into your
feelings. You don’t think that the game is worth the candle? I have
heard so many people say so--even among those who were very well able to
push themselves, Captain Gaunt. I have heard them say that any little
thing they might have gained was not worth the expenditure and trouble
of a season in London--besides all the risks.”

Captain Gaunt listened to this with his discouraged look. He made no
reply to Lady Markham, but turned to Frances with a sort of smile. “Do
you remember,” he said, “I told you my mother had found a cheap place in
Switzerland, such as she delights in? I think I shall go and join them
there.”

“Oh, I am very sorry,” said Frances, with a countenance of unfeigned
regret. “No doubt Mrs Gaunt will be glad to have you; but she will be
sorry too. Don’t you think she would rather you stayed your full time
in London, and enjoyed yourself a little? I feel sure she would like
that best.”

“But I don’t think I am enjoying myself,” he said, with the air of a man
who would like to be persuaded. He had perhaps been a little piqued by
Lady Markham’s way of taking him at his word.

“There must be a great deal to enjoy,” said Frances; “every one says so.
They think there is no place like London. You cannot have exhausted
everything in a week, Captain Gaunt. You have not given it a fair trial.
Your mother and the General, they would not like you to run away.”

“Run away! no,” he said, with a little start; “that is what I should not
do.”

“But it would be running away,” said Frances, with all the zeal of a
partisan. “You think you are not doing any good, and you forget that
they wished you to have a little pleasure too. They think a great deal
of London. The General used to talk to me, when I thought I should never
see it. He used to tell me to wait till I had seen London; everything
was there. And it is not often you have the chance, Captain Gaunt. It
may be a long time before you come from India again; and think if you
told any one out there you had only been a week in town!”

He listened to her very devoutly, with an air of giving great weight to
those simple arguments. They were more soothing to his pride, at least,
than the way in which her mother took him at his word.

“Frances speaks,” said Lady Markham--and while she spoke, the sound of
Markham’s hansom was heard dashing up to the door--“Frances speaks as if
she were in the interest of all the people who prey upon visitors in
London. I think, on the whole, Captain Gaunt, though I regret your
going, that my reason is with you rather than with her. And, my dear, if
Captain Gaunt thinks this is right, it is not for his friends to
persuade him against his better judgment.”

“What is Gaunt’s better judgment going to do?” said Markham. “It’s
always alarming to hear of a man’s better judgment. What is it all
about?”

Lady Markham looked up in her son’s face with great seriousness and
meaning. “Captain Gaunt,” she said, “is talking of leaving London,
which--if he finds his stay unprofitable and of little advantage to
him--though I should regret it very much, I should think him wise to
do.”

“Gaunt leaving London? Oh no! He is taking you in. A man who is a
ladies’ man likes to say that to ladies in order to be coaxed to stay.
That is at the bottom of it, I’ll be bound. And where was our hero
going, if he had his way?”

Frances thought that there were signs in Gaunt of failing temper, so she
hastened to explain. “He was going to Switzerland, Markham, to a place
Mrs Gaunt knows of, where she is to be.”

“To Switzerland!” Markham cried--“the dullest place on the face of the
earth. What would you do there, my gallant Captain? Climb?--or listen
all day long to those who recount their climbings, or those who plan
them--all full of insane self-complacency, as if there was the highest
morality in climbing mountains. Were you going in for the mountains,
Fan?”

“Frances was pleading for London--a very unusual fancy for her,” said
Lady Markham. “The very young are not afraid of responsibility; but I
am, at my age. I could not venture to recommend Captain Gaunt to stay.”

“I only meant--I only thought----” Frances stammered and hung her head a
little. Had she been indiscreet? Her abashed look caught young Gaunt’s
eye. Why should she be abashed?--and on his account? It made his heart
stir a little, that heart which had been so crushed and broken, and, he
thought, pitched away into a corner; but at that moment he found it
again stirring quite warm and vigorous in his breast.

“I always said she was full of sense,” said Markham. “A little sister is
an admirable institution; and her wisdom is all the more delightful that
she doesn’t know what sense it is.” He patted Frances on the shoulder as
he spoke. “It wouldn’t do, would it, Fan, to have him run away?”

“If there was any question of that,” Gaunt said, with something of a
defiant air.

“And to Switzerland,” said Markham, with a chuckle. “Shall I tell you my
experiences, Gaunt? I was there for my sins once, with the mother here.
Among all her admirable qualities, my mamma has that of demanding few
sacrifices in this way--so that a man is bound in honour to make one now
and then.”

“Markham, when you are going to say what you know I will disapprove, you
always put in a little flattery--which silences me.”

He kissed his hand to her with a short laugh. “The place,” he said, “was
in possession of an athletic band, in roaring spirits and tremendous
training, men and women all the same. You could scarcely tell the
creatures one from another--all burned red in the faces of them, worn
out of all shape and colour in the clothes of them. They clamped along
the passages in their big boots from two o’clock till five every
morning. They came back, perspiring, in the afternoon--a procession of
old clothes, all complacent, as if they had done the finest action in
the world. And the rest of us surrounded them with a circle of
worshippers, till they clamped up-stairs again, fortunately very early,
to bed. Then a faint sort of life began for _nous autres_. We came out
and admired the stars and drank our coffee in peace--short-lived peace,
for, as everybody had been up at two in the morning, the poor beggars
naturally wanted to get to bed. You are an athletic chap, so you might
like it, and perhaps attain canonisation by going up Mont Blanc.”

“My mother--is not in one of those mountain centres,” said Gaunt, with a
faint smile.

“Worse and worse,” said Markham. “We went through that experience too.
In the non-climbing places the old ladies have it all their own way. You
will dine at two, my poor martyr; you will have tea at six, with cold
meat. The table-cloths and napkins will last a week. There will be honey
with flies in it on every table. All about the neighbourhood, mild
constitutionals will meet you at every hour in the day. There will be
gentle raptures over a new view. ‘Have you seen it, Captain Gaunt? Do
come with us to-morrow and let us show it you; _quite_ the finest
view’--of Pilatus, or Monte Rosa, or the Jungfrau, or whatever it may
happen to be. And meanwhile we shall all be playing our little game
comfortably at home. We will give you a thought now and then. Frances
will run to the window and say, ‘I thought that was Captain Gaunt’s
step;’ and the mother will explain to Sir Thomas, ‘Such a pity our poor
young friend found that London did not suit him.’”

“Well, Markham,” said his mother, with firmness, “if Captain Gaunt found
that London did not suit him, I should think all the more highly of him
that he withdrew in time.”

Perhaps the note was too forcibly struck. Gaunt drew himself slightly
up. “There is nothing so very serious in the matter, after all. London
may not suit me; but still I do not suppose it will do me any harm.”

Frances looked on at this triangular duel with eyes that acquired
gradually consciousness and knowledge. She saw ere long that there was
much more in it than met the eye. At first, her appeal to young Gaunt to
remain had been made on the impulse of the moment, and without thought.
Now she remained silent, only with a faint gesture of protest when
Markham brought in her name.

“Let us go to luncheon,” said her mother. “I am glad to hear you are not
really in earnest, Captain Gaunt; for of course we should all be very
sorry if you went away. London is a siren to whose wiles we all give in.
I am as bad myself as any one can be. I never make any secret of my
affection for town; but there are some with whose constitutions it never
agrees, who either take it too seriously or with too much passion. We
old stagers get very moderate and methodical in our dissipations, and
make a little go a long way.”

But there was a chill at table; and Lady Markham was “not in her usual
force.” Sir Thomas, who came in as usual as they were going down-stairs,
said, “Anything the matter? Oh, Captain Gaunt going away. Dear me, so
soon! I am surprised. It takes a great deal of self-control to make a
young fellow leave town at this time of the year.”

“It was only a project,” said poor young Gaunt. He was pleased to be
persuaded that it was more than could be expected of him. Lady Markham
gave Sir Thomas a look which made that devoted friend uncomfortable; but
he did not know what he had done to deserve it. And so Captain Gaunt
made up his mind to stay.



CHAPTER XXXVI.


“Yes, I wish you had not said anything, Frances: not that it matters
very much. I don’t suppose he was in earnest, or, at all events, he
would have changed his mind before evening. But, my dear, this poor
young fellow is not able to follow the same course as Markham’s friends
do. They are at it all the year round, now in town, now somewhere else.
They bet and play, and throw their money about, and at the end of the
year they are not very much the worse--or at least that is what he
always tells me. One time they lose, but another time they gain. And
then they are men who have time, and money more or less. But when a
young man with a little money comes among them, he may ruin himself
before he knows.”

“I am very sorry,” said Frances. “It is difficult to believe that
Markham could hurt any one.”

Her mother gave her a grateful look. “Dear Markham!” she said. “To think
that he should be so good--and yet---- It gives me great pleasure,
Frances, that you should appreciate your brother. Your father never did
so--and all of them, all the Warings---- But it is understood between
us, is it not, that we are not to touch upon that subject?”

“Perhaps it would be painful, mamma. But how am I to understand unless I
am told?”

“You have never been told, then--your father----? But I might have known
he would say very little; he always hated explanations. My dear,” said
Lady Markham, with evident agitation, “if I were to enter into that
story, it would inevitably take the character of a self-defence, and I
can’t do that to my own child. It is the worst of such unfortunate
circumstances as ours that you must judge your parents, and find one or
other in the wrong. Oh yes; I do not deceive myself on that subject.
And you are a partisan in your nature. Con was more or less of a cynic,
as people become who are bred up in Society, as she was. She could
believe we were both wrong, calmly, without any particular feeling. But
you,--of your nature, Frances, you would be a partisan.”

“I hope not, mamma. I should be the partisan of both sides,” said
Frances, almost under her breath.

Lady Markham rose and gave her a kiss. “Remain so,” she said, “my dear
child. I will say no harm of him to you, as I am sure he has said no
harm of me. Now let us think no more of Markham’s faults, nor of poor
young Gaunt’s danger, nor of----”

“Danger?” said Frances, with an anxious look.

“If it were less than danger, would I have said so much, do you think?”

“But, mamma, pardon me,--if it is real danger, ought you not to say
more?”

“What! for the sake of another woman’s son, betray and forsake my own?
How can I say to him in so many words, ‘Take care of Markham; avoid
Markham and his friends.’ I have said it in hints as much as I dare.
Yes, Frances, I would do a great deal for another woman’s son. It would
be the strongest plea. But in this case how can I do more? Never mind;
fate will work itself out quite independent of you and me. And here are
people coming--Claude, probably, to see if you have changed your mind
about him, or whether I have heard from Constance. Poor boy! he must
have one of you two.”

“I hope not,” said Frances, seriously.

“But I am sure of it,” cried her mother, with a smile. “We shall see
which of us is the better prophet. But this is not Claude. I hear the
sweep of a woman’s train. Hush!” she said, holding up a finger. She rose
as the door opened, and then hastened forward with an astonished
exclamation, “Nelly!” and held out both her hands.

“You did not look for me?” said Mrs Winterbourn, with a defiant air.

“No, indeed; I did not look for you. And so fine, and looking so well.
He must have taken an unexpected turn for the better, and you have come
to tell me.”

“Yes, am I not smart?” said Nelly, looking down upon her beautiful dress
with a curious air, half pleasure, half scorn. “It is almost new; I have
never worn it before.”

“Sit down here beside me, my dear, and tell me all about it. When did
this happy change occur?”

“Happy? For whom?” she asked, with a harsh little laugh. “No, Lady
Markham, there is no change for the better: the other way--they say
there is no hope. It will not be very long, they say, before----”

“And Nelly, Nelly! you here, in your fine new dress.”

“Yes; it seems ridiculous, does it not?” she said, laughing again. “I
away--going out to pay visits in my best gown, and my husband--dying.
Well! I know that if I had stayed any longer in that dreary house
without any air, and with Sarah Winterbourn, I should have died. Oh, you
don’t know what it is. To be shut up there, and never hear a step except
the doctor’s, or Robert’s carrying up the beef-tea. So I burst out of
prison, to save my life. You may blame me if you like, but it was to
save my life, neither less nor more.”

“Nelly, my dear,” said Lady Markham, taking her hand, “there is nothing
wonderful in your coming to see so old a friend as I am. It is quite
natural. To whom should you go in your trouble, if not to your old
friends?”

Upon which Nelly laughed again in an excited hysterical way. “I have
been on quite a round,” she said. “You always did scold me, Lady
Markham; and I know you will do so again. I was determined to show
myself once more before--the waters went over my head. I can come out
now in my pretty gown. But _afterwards_, if I did such a thing everybody
would think me mad. Now you know why I have come, and you can scold me
as much as you please. But I have done it, and it can’t be undone. It is
a kind of farewell visit, you know,” she added, in her excited tone.
“After this I shall disappear into--crape and affliction. A widow! What
a horrible word. Think of me, Nelly St John; me, a widow! Isn’t it
horrible, horrible? That is what they will call me, Markham and the
other men--the widow. I know how they will speak, as well as if I heard
them. Lady Markham, they will call me _that_, and you know what they
will mean.”

“Nelly, Nelly, my poor child!” Lady Markham held her hand and patted it
softly with her own. “Oh Nelly, you are very imprudent, very silly. You
will shock everybody, and make them talk. You ought not to have come out
now. If you had sent for me, I would have gone to you in a moment.”

“It was not _that_ I wanted. I wanted just to be like others for
once--before--- I don’t seem to care what will happen to me--afterwards.
What do they do to a woman, Lady Markham, when her husband dies? They
would not let her bury herself with him, or burn herself, or any of
those sensible things. What do they do, Lady Markham? Brand her
somewhere in her flesh with a red-hot iron--with ‘Widow’ written upon
her flesh?”

“My dear, you must care for poor Mr Winterbourn a great deal more than
you were aware, or you would not feel this so bitterly. Nelly----”

“Hush!” she said, with a sort of solemnity. “Don’t say that, Lady
Markham. Don’t talk about what I feel. It is all so miserable, I don’t
know what I am doing. To think that he should be my husband, and I just
boiling with life, and longing to get free, to get free: I that was born
to be a good woman, if I could, if you would all have let me, if I had
not been made to---- Look here! I am going to speak to that little girl.
You can say the other thing afterwards. I know you will. You can make it
look so right--so right. Frances, if you are persuaded to marry Claude
Ramsay, or any other man that you don’t care for, remember you’ll just
be like me. Look at me, dressed out, paying visits, and my husband
dying. Perhaps he may be dead when I get home.” She paused a moment with
a nervous shivering, and drew her summer cloak closely around her. “He
is going to die, and I am running about the streets. It is horrible,
isn’t it? He doesn’t want me, and I don’t want him; and next week I
shall be all in crape, and branded on my shoulder or somewhere--where,
Lady Markham?--all for a man who--all for a man that----”

“Nelly, Nelly! for heaven’s sake, at least respect the child.”

“It is because I respect her that I say anything. Oh, it is all
horrible! And already the men and everybody are discussing, What will
Nelly do? The widow, what will she do?”

Then the excited creature suddenly, without warning, broke out into
sobbing and tears. “Oh, don’t think it is for grief,” she said, as
Frances instinctively came towards her; “it’s only the excitement, the
horror of it, the feeling that it is coming so near. I never was in the
house with Death, never, that I can remember. And I shall be the chief
mourner, don’t you know? They will want me to do all sorts of things.
What do you do when you are a widow, Lady Markham? Have you to give
orders for the funeral, and say what sort of a--coffin there is to be,
and--all that?”

“Nelly, Nelly! Oh, for God’s sake, don’t say those dreadful things. You
know you will not be troubled about anything, least of all---- And, my
dear, my dear, recollect your husband is still alive. It is dreadful to
talk of details such as those for a living man.”

“Most likely,” she said, looking up with a shiver, “he will be dead when
I get home. Oh, I wish it might all be over, everything, before I go
home. Couldn’t you hide me somewhere, Lady Markham? Save me from seeing
him and all those--details, as you call them. I cannot bear it; and I
have no mother nor any one to come to me--nobody, nobody but Sarah
Winterbourn.”

“I will go home with you, Nelly; I will take you back, my dear. Frances,
take care of her till I get my bonnet. My poor child, compose yourself.
Try and be calm. You must be calm, and bear it,” Lady Markham said.

Frances, with alarm, found herself left alone with this strange
being--not much older than herself, and yet thrown amid such tragic
elements. She stood by her, not knowing how to approach the subject of
her thoughts, or indeed any subject--for to talk to her of common things
was impossible. Mrs Winterbourn, however, did not turn towards Frances.
Her sobbing ended suddenly, as it had begun. She sat with her head upon
her hands, gazing at the light. After a while she said, though without
looking round, “You once offered to sit up with me, thinking, or
pretending, I don’t know which, that I was sitting up with him all
night: would you have done so if you had been in my place?”

“I think--I don’t know,” said Frances, checking herself.

“You would--you are not straightforward enough to say it--I know you
would; and in your heart you think I am a bad creature, a woman without
a heart.”

“I don’t think so,” said Frances. “You must have a heart, or you would
not be so unhappy.”

“Do you know what I am unhappy about? About myself. I am not thinking of
him; he married me to please himself, not me,--and I am thinking of
myself, not him. It is all fair. You would do the same if you married
like me.”

Frances made no reply. She looked with awe and pity at this miserable
excitement and wretchedness, which was so unlike anything her innocent
soul knew.

“You don’t answer,” said Nelly. “You think you never would have married
like me. But how can you tell? If you had an offer as good as Mr
Winterbourn, your mother would make you marry him. I made a great match,
don’t you know? And if you ever have that in your power, Lady Markham
will make short work of your objections. You will just do as other
people have done. Claude Ramsay is not so rich as Mr Winterbourn; but I
suppose he will be your fate, unless Con comes back and takes him,
which, very likely, is what she will do. Oh, are you ready, Lady
Markham? It is a pity you should give yourself so much trouble; for, you
see, I am quite composed now, and ready to go home.”

“Come, then, my dear Nelly. It is better you should lose no time.” Lady
Markham paused to say, “I shall probably be back quite soon; but if I
don’t come, don’t be alarmed,” in Frances’ ear.

The girl went to the window and watched Nelly sweep out to her carriage
as if nothing could ever happen to her. The sight of the servants and of
the few passers-by had restored her in a moment to herself. Frances
stood and pondered for some time at the window. Nelly’s was an
agitating figure to burst into her quiet life. She did not need the
lesson it taught; but yet it filled her with trouble and awe. This
brilliant surface of Society, what tragedies lay underneath! She
scarcely dared to follow the young wife in imagination to her home; but
she felt with her the horror of the approaching death, the dread
interval when the event was coming, the still more dread moment after,
when, all shrinking and trembling in her youth and loneliness, she would
have to live side by side with the dead, whom she had never loved, to
whom no faithful bond had united her---- It was not till another
carriage drew up and some one got out of it that Frances retreated, with
a very different sort of alarm, from the window. It was some one coming
to call, she did not see whom, one of those wonderful people who came to
talk over with her mother other people whom Frances did not know. How
was she to find any subject on which to talk to them? Her anxiety was
partially relieved by seeing that it was Claude who came in. He
explained that Lady Someone had dropped him at the door, having picked
him up at some other place where they had both been calling. “There is a
little east in the wind,” he said, pulling up the collar of his coat:

“Was that Nelly Winterbourn I saw driving away from the door? I thought
it was Nelly. And when he is dying, with not many hours to live----!”

“And why should not she come to mamma?” said Frances. “She has no mother
of her own.”

“Ah,” said Ramsay, looking at her keenly, “I see what you mean. She has
no mother of her own; and therefore she comes to Markham’s, which is
next best.”

“I said, to my mother,” said Frances, indignantly. “I don’t see what
Markham has to do with it.”

“All the same, I shouldn’t like my wife to be about the streets, going
to--any one’s mother, when I was dying.”

“It would be right enough,” cried Frances, hot and indignant, “if you
had married a woman who did not care for you.” She forgot, in the heat
of her partisanship, that she was admitting too much. But Claude did
not remember, any more than she.

“Oh, come,” he said, “Miss Waring, Frances. (May I call you Frances? It
seems unnatural to call you Miss Waring, for, though I only saw you for
the first time a little while ago, I have known you all your life.) Do
you think it’s quite fair to compare me to Winterbourn? He was fifty
when he married Nelly, a fellow quite used up. At all events, I am
young, and never was fast; and I don’t see,” he added, pathetically,
“why a woman shouldn’t be able to care for me.”

“Oh, I did not mean that,” cried Frances, with penitence; “I only
meant----”

“And you shouldn’t,” said Claude, shaking his head, “pay so much
attention to what Nelly says. She makes herself out a martyr now; but
she was quite willing to marry Winterbourn. She was quite pleased. It
was a great match; and now she is going to get the good of it.”

“If being very unhappy is getting the good of it----!”

“Oh, unhappy!” said Claude. It was evident he held Mrs Winterbourn’s
unhappiness lightly enough. “I’ll tell you what,” he said, “talking of
unhappiness, I saw another friend of yours the other day who was
unhappy, if you like--that young soldier-fellow, the Indian man. What do
you call him?--Grant? No; that’s a Nile man. Gaunt. Now, if Lady Markham
had taken him in hand----”

“Captain Gaunt!” said Frances, in alarm; “what has happened to him, Mr
Ramsay? Is he ill? Is he----” Her face flushed with anxiety, and then
grew pale.

“I can’t say exactly,” said Claude, “for I am not in his confidence; but
I should say he had lost his money, or something of that sort. I don’t
frequent those sort of places in a general way; but sometimes, if I’ve
been out in the evening, if there’s no east in the wind, and no rain or
fog, I just look in for a moment. I rather think some of those fellows
had been punishing that poor innocent Indian man. When a stranger comes
among them, that’s a way they have. One feels dreadfully sorry for the
man; but what can you do?”

“What can you do? Oh, anything, rather than stand by,” cried Frances,
excited by sudden fears, “and see--and see---- I don’t know what you
mean, Mr Ramsay! Is it _gambling_? Is that what you mean?”

“You should speak to Markham,” he replied. “Markham’s deep in all that
sort of thing. If anybody could interfere, it would be Markham. But I
don’t see how even he could interfere. He is not the fellow’s keeper;
and what could he say? The other fellows are gentlemen; they don’t
cheat, or that sort of thing. Only, when a man has not much money, or
has not the heart to lose it like a man----”

“Mr Ramsay, you don’t know anything about Captain Gaunt,” cried Frances,
with hot indignation and excitement. “I don’t understand what you mean.
He has the heart for--whatever he may have to do. He is not like you
people, who talk about everybody, who know everybody. But he has been in
action; he has distinguished himself; he is not a nobody like----”

“You mean me,” said Claude. “So far as being in action goes, I am a
nobody of course. But I hope, if I went in for play and that sort of
thing, I would bear my losses without looking as ghastly as a skeleton.
That is where a man of the world, however little you may think of us,
has the better of people out of Society. But I have nothing to do with
his losses. I only tell you, so that, if you can do anything to get hold
of him, to keep him from going to the bad----”

“To the--bad!” she cried. Her face grew pale; and something appalling,
an indistinct vision of horrors, dimly appeared before Frances’ eyes.
She seemed to see not only George Gaunt, but his mother weeping, his
father looking on with a startled miserable face. “Oh,” she cried,
trying to throw off the impression, “you don’t know what you are saying.
George Gaunt would never do anything that is bad. You are making some
dreadful mistake, or---- Oh, Mr Ramsay, couldn’t you tell him, if you
know it is so bad, before----?”

“What!” cried Claude, horror-struck. “I tell--a fellow I scarcely know!
He would have a right to--kick me, or something--or at least to tell me
to mind my own business. No; but you might speak to Markham. Markham is
the only man who perhaps might interfere.”

“Oh, Markham! always Markham! Oh, I wish any one would tell me what
Markham has to do with it,” cried Frances, with a moan.

“That’s just one of his occupations,” said Ramsay, calmly. “They say it
doesn’t tell much on him one way or other, but Markham can’t live
without play. Don’t you think, as Lady Markham does not come in, that
you might give me a cup of tea?”



CHAPTER XXXVII.


Constance Waring had not been enjoying herself in Bordighera. Her
amusement indeed came to an end with the highly exciting yet
disagreeable scene which took place between herself and young Gaunt the
day before he went away. It is late to recur to this, so much having
passed in the meantime; but it really was the only thing of note that
happened to her. The blank negative with which she had met his suit, the
air of surprise, almost indignation, with which his impassioned appeal
was received, confounded poor young Gaunt. He asked her, with a
simplicity that sprang out of despair, “Did you not know then? Were you
not aware? Is it possible that you were not--prepared?”

“For what, Captain Gaunt?” Constance asked, fixing him with a haughty
look.

He returned that look with one that would have cowed a weaker woman.
“Did you not know that I--loved you?” he said.

Even she quailed a little. “Oh, as for that, Captain Gaunt!--a man must
be responsible for his own follies of that kind. I did not ask you
to--care for me, as you say. I thought, indeed, that you would have the
discretion to see that anything of the kind between us was out of the
question.”

“Why?” he asked, almost sternly; and Constance hesitated a little,
finding it perhaps not so easy to reply.

“Because,” she said after a pause, with a faint flush, which showed that
the effort cost her something--“because--we belong to two different
worlds--because all our habits and modes of living are different.” By
this time she began to grow a little indignant that he should give her
so much trouble. “Because you are Captain Gaunt, of the Indian service,
and I am Constance Waring,” she said, with angry levity.

He grew deadly red with fierce pride and shame.

“Because you are of the higher class, and I of the lower,” he said. “Is
that what you mean? Yet I am a gentleman, and one cannot well be more.”

To this she made no reply, but moved away from where she had been
standing to listen to him, and returned to her chair. They were on the
loggia, and this sudden movement left him at one end, while she returned
to the other. He stood for a time following her with his eyes; then,
having watched the angry _abandon_ with which she threw herself into her
seat, turning her head away, he came a little closer with a certain
sternness in his aspect.

“Miss Waring,” he said, “notwithstanding the distance between us, you
have allowed me to be your--companion for some time past.”

“Yes,” she said. “What then? There was no one else, either for me or for
you.”

“That, then, was the sole reason?”

“Captain Gaunt,” she cried, “what is the use of all this? We were thrown
in each other’s way. I meant nothing more; if you did, it was your own
fault. You could not surely expect that I should marry you and go to
India with you? It is absurd--it is ridiculous,” she cried, with a hot
blush, throwing back her head. He saw with suddenly quickened
perceptions that the suggestion filled her with contempt and shame. And
the young man’s veins tingled as if fire was in them; the rage of love
despised shook his very soul.

“And why?” he cried--“and why?” his voice tremulous with passion. “What
is ridiculous in that? It may be ridiculous that I should have believed
in a girl like you. I may have been a vain weak fool to do it, not to
know that I was only a plaything for your amusement; but it never could
be ridiculous to think that a woman might love and marry an honourable
man.”

He paused several times to command his voice, and she listened
impatient, not looking at him, clasping and unclasping her hands.

“It would be ridiculous in me,” she cried. “You don’t know me, or you
never would have dreamt---- Captain Gaunt, this had better end. It is of
no use lashing yourself to fury, or me either. Think the worst of me you
can; it will be all the better for you--it will make you hate me. Yes,
I have been amusing myself; and so, I supposed, were you too.”

“No,” he said, “you could not think that.”

She turned round and gave him one look, then averted her eyes again, and
said no more.

“You did not think that,” he cried, vehemently. “You knew it was death
to me, and you did not mind. You listened and smiled, and led me on. You
never checked me by a word, or gave me to understand---- Oh,” he cried,
with a sudden change of tone, “Constance, if it is India, if it is only
India, you have but to hold up a finger, and I will give up India
without a word.”

He had suddenly come close to her again. A wild hope had blazed up in
him. He made as though he would throw himself at her feet. She lifted
her hand hurriedly to forbid this action.

“Don’t!” she cried, sharply. “Men are not theatrical nowadays. It is
nothing to me whether you go to India or stay at home. I have told you
already I never thought of anything beyond friendship. Why should not we
have amused each other, and no harm? If I have done you any harm, I am
sorry; but it will only be for a very short time.”

He had turned away, stung once more into bitterness, and had tried to
say something in reply; but his strength had not been equal to his
intention, and in the strong revulsion of feeling, the young man leant
against the wall of the loggia, hiding his face in his hands.

There was a little pause. Then Constance turned round half stealthily to
see why there was no reply. Her heart perhaps smote her a little when
she saw that attitude of despair. She rose, and, after a moment’s
hesitation, laid her hand lightly on his shoulder. “Captain Gaunt, don’t
vex yourself like that. I am not worth it. I never thought that any one
could be so much in earnest about me.”

“Constance,” he cried, turning round quickly upon her, “I am all in
earnest. I care for nothing in the world but you. Oh, say that you were
hasty--say that you will give me a little hope!”

She shook her head. “I think,” she said, “that all the time you must
have mistaken me for Frances. If I had not come, you would have fallen
in love with her, and she with you.”

“Don’t insult me, at least!” he cried.

“Insult you--by saying that _my_ sister----! You forget yourself,
Captain Gaunt. If my sister is not good enough for you, I wonder who you
think good enough. She is better than I am; far better--in that way.”

“There is only one woman in the world for me; I don’t care if there was
no other,” he said.

“That is benevolent towards the rest of the world,” said Constance,
recovering her composure. “Do you know,” she said, gravely, “I think it
will be much better for you to go away. I hope we may eventually be good
friends; but not just at present. Please go. I should like to part
friends; and I should like you to take a parcel for Frances, as you are
going to London; and to see my mother. But, for heaven’s sake, go away
now. A walk will do you good, and the fresh air. You will see things in
their proper aspect. Don’t look at me as if you could kill me. What I am
saying is quite true.”

“A walk,” he repeated with unutterable scorn, “will do me good!”

“Yes,” she said, calmly. “It will do you a great deal of good. And
change of air and scene will soon set you all right. Oh, I know very
well what I am saying. But pray, go now. Papa will make his appearance
in about ten minutes; and you don’t want to make a confidant of papa.”

“It matters nothing to me who knows,” he said; but all the same he
gathered himself up and made an effort to recover his calm.

“It does to me, then,” said Constance. “I am not at all inclined for
papa’s remarks. Captain Gaunt, good-bye. I wish you a pleasant journey;
and I hope that some time or other we may meet again, and be very good
friends.”

She had the audacity to hold out her hand to him calmly, looking into
his eyes as she spoke. But this was more than young Gaunt could bear. He
gave her a fierce look of passion and despair, waved his hand without
touching hers, and hurried headlong away.

Constance stood listening till she heard the door close behind him; and
then she seated herself tranquilly again in her chair. It was evening,
and she was waiting for her father for dinner. She had taken her last
ramble with the Gaunts that afternoon; and it was after their return
from this walk that the young soldier had rushed back to inform her of
the letters which called him at once to London, and had burst forth into
the love-tale which had been trembling on his lips for days past. She
had known very well that she could not escape--that the reckoning for
these innocent pleasures would have to come. But she had not expected it
at that moment, and had been temporarily taken by surprise. She seated
herself now with a sigh of relief, yet regret. “Thank goodness, that’s
over,” she said to herself; but she was not quite comfortable on the
subject. In the first place, it _was_ over, and there was an end of all
her simple fun. No more walks, no more talks skirting the edge of the
sentimental and dangerous, no more diplomatic exertions to keep the
victim within due limits--fine exercises of power, such as always carry
with them a real pleasure. And then, being no more than human, she had
a little compunction as to the sufferer. “He will get over it,” she said
to herself; change of air and scene would no doubt do everything for
him. Men have died, and worms have eaten them, &c. Still, she could not
but be sorry. He had looked very wretched, poor fellow, which was
complimentary; but she had felt something of the self-contempt of a man
who has got a cheap victory over an antagonist much less powerful than
himself. A practised swordsman (or woman) of Society should not measure
arms with a merely natural person, knowing nothing of the noble art of
self-defence. It was perhaps a little--mean, she said to herself. Had it
been one of her own species, the duel would have been as amusing
throughout, and no harm done. This vexed her a little, and made her
uneasy. She remembered, though she did not in general care much about
books or the opinion of the class of nobodies who write them, of some
very sharp things that had been said upon this subject. Lady Clara Vere
de Vere had not escaped handling; and she thought that after it Lady
Clara must have felt small, as Constance Waring did now.

But then, on the other hand, what could be more absurd than for a man to
suppose, because a girl was glad enough to amuse herself with him for a
week or two, in absolute default of all other society, that she was
ready to marry him, and go to India with him! To India! What an idea!
And it had been quite as much for his amusement as for hers. Neither of
them had any one else: it was in self-defence--it was the only resource
against absolute dulness. It had made the time pass for him as well as
for her. He ought to have known all along that she meant nothing more.
Indeed Constance wondered how he could be so silly as to want to have a
wife and double his expenses, and bind himself for life. A man, she
reflected, must be so much better off when he has only himself to think
of. Fancy him taking _her_ bills on his shoulders as well as his own!
She wondered, with a contemptuous laugh, how he would like that, or if
he had the least idea what these bills would be. On the whole, it was
evident, in every point of view, that he was much better out of it.
Perhaps even by this time he would have been tearing his hair, had she
taken him at his word. But no. Constance could not persuade herself that
this was likely. Yet he would have torn his hair, she was certain,
before the end of the first year. Thus she worked herself round to
something like self-forgiveness; but all the same there rankled at her
heart a sense of meanness, the consciousness of having gone out in
battle-array and vanquished with beat of drum and sound of trumpet an
unprepared and undefended adversary, an antagonist with whom the
struggle was not fair. Her sense of honour was touched, and all her
arguments could not content her with herself.

“I suppose you have been out with the Gaunts again?” Waring said, as
they sat at table, in a dissatisfied tone.

“Yes; but you need never put the question to me again in that
uncomfortable way, for George Gaunt is going off to-morrow, papa.”

“Oh, he is going off to-morrow? Then I suppose you have been honest, and
given him his _congé_ at last?”

“I honest? I did not know I had ever been accused of picking and
stealing. If he had asked me for his _congé_, he should have had it
long ago. He has been sent for, it seems.”

“Then has the _congé_ not yet been asked for? In that case we shall have
him back again, I suppose?” said her father, in a tone of resignation,
and with a shrug of his shoulders.

“No; for his people will be away. They are going to Switzerland, and the
Durants are going to Homburg. Where do you mean to go, when it is too
hot to stay here?”

He looked at her half angrily for a moment. “It is never too hot to stay
here,” he said; then, after a pause, “We can move higher up among the
hills.”

“Where one will never see a soul--worse even than here!”

“Oh, you will see plenty of country-folk,” he said--“a fine race of
people, mountaineers, yet husbandmen, which is a rare combination.”

Constance looked up at him with a little _moue_ of mingled despair and
disdain.

“With perhaps some romantic young Italian count for you to practise
upon,” he said.

Though the humour on his part was grim and derisive rather than
sympathetic, her countenance cleared a little. “You know, papa,” she
said, with a faintly complaining note, “that my Italian is very limited,
and your counts and countesses speak no language but their own.”

“Oh, who can tell? There may be some poor soldier on furlough who has
French enough to---- By the way,” he added, sharply, “you must remember
that they don’t understand flirtation with girls. If you were a married
woman, or a young widow----”

“You might pass me off as a young widow, papa. It would be amusing--or
at least it _might_ be amusing. That is not a quality of the life here
in general. What an odd thing it is that in England we always believe
life to be so much more amusing abroad than at home.”

“It is amusing--at Monte Carlo, perhaps.”

Constance made another _moue_ at the name of Monte Carlo, from the sight
of which she had not derived much pleasure. “I suppose,” she said,
impartially, “what really amuses one is the kind of diversion one has
been accustomed to, and to know everybody: chiefly to know everybody,”
she added, after a pause.

“With these views, to know nobody must be bad luck indeed!”

“It is,” she said, with great candour; “that is why I have been so much
with the Gaunts. One can’t live absolutely alone, you know, papa.”

“I can--with considerable success,” he replied.

“Ah, you! There are various things to account for it with you,” she
said.

He waited for a moment, as if to know what these various things were;
then smiled to himself a little angrily at his daughter’s calm way of
taking his disabilities for granted. It was not till some time after,
when the dinner had advanced a stage, that he spoke again. Then he said,
without any introduction, “I often wonder, Constance, when you find this
life so dull as you do----”

“Yes, very dull,” she said frankly,--“especially now, when all the
people are going away.”

“I wonder often,” he repeated, “my dear, why you stay; for there is
nothing to recompense you for such a sacrifice. If it is for my sake,
it is a pity, for I could really get on very well alone. We don’t see
very much of each other; and till now, if you will pardon me for saying
so, your mind has been taken up with a pursuit which--you could have
carried on much better at home.”

“You mean what you are pleased to call flirtation, papa? No, I could not
have carried on that sort of thing at home. The conditions are
altogether different. It _is_ difficult to account for my staying, when,
clearly, you don’t consider me of any use, and don’t want me.”

“I have never said that. Of course I am very glad to have you. It is in
the bond, and therefore my right. I was regarding the question solely
from your point of view.”

Constance did not answer immediately. She paused to think. When she had
turned the subject over in her mind, she replied, “I need not tell you
how complicated one’s motives get. It takes a long time to make sure
which is really the fundamental one, and how it works.”

“You are a philosopher, my dear.”

“Not more than one must be with Society pressing upon one as it does,
papa. Nothing is straightforward nowadays. You have to dig quite deep
down before you come at the real meaning of anything you do; and very
often, when you get hold of it, you don’t quite like to acknowledge it,
even to yourself.”

“That is rather an alarming preface, but very just too. If you don’t
like to acknowledge it to yourself, you will like still less to
acknowledge it to me?”

“I don’t quite see that: perhaps I am harder upon myself than you would
be. No; but I prefer to think of it a little more before I tell you. I
have a kind of feeling now that it is because--but you will think that a
shabby sort of pride--it is because I am too proud to own myself beaten,
which I should do if I were to go back.”

“It is a very natural sort of pride,” he said.

“But it is not all that. I must go a little deeper still. Not to-night.
I have done as much thinking as I am quite able for to-night.”

And thus the question was left for another day.



CHAPTER XXXVIII.


Next morning, Constance, seated as usual in the loggia, which was now,
as the weather grew hot, veiled with an awning, heard--her ears being
very quick, and on the alert for every sound--a tinkle of the bell, a
sound of admittance, the step of Domenico leading some visitor to the
place in which she sat. Was it _he_, coming yet again to implore her
pardon, an extension of privileges, a hope for the future? She made out
instantaneously, however, that the footstep which followed Domenico was
not that of young Gaunt. It was softer, less decided--an indefinite
female step. She sat up in her chair and listened, letting her book
fall, and next moment saw Mrs Gaunt, old-fashioned, unassured, with a
troubled look upon her face, in her shawl and big hat, come out almost
timidly upon the loggia. Constance sprang to her feet--then in a moment
collapsed and shrank away into herself. Before the young lover she was a
queen, and to her father she preserved her dignity very well; but when
_his_ mother appeared, the girl had no longer any power to hold up her
head. Mrs Gaunt was old, very badly dressed, not very clever or wise;
but Constance felt those mild, somewhat dull eyes penetrating to the
depths of her own guilty heart.

“How do you do, Miss Waring?” said Mrs Gaunt, stiffly. (She had called
her “my dear” yesterday, and had been so anxious to please her, doing
everything she could to ingratiate herself.) “I hope I do not disturb
you so early; but my son, Captain Gaunt, is going away----”

“Oh yes--I heard. I am very sorry,” the guilty Constance murmured,
hanging her head.

“I do not know that there is any cause to be sorry; we were going anyhow
in a few days. And in London my son will find many friends.”

“I mean,” said Constance, drawing a long breath, beginning to recover a
little courage, feeling, even in her discomfiture, a faint amusement
still--“I mean, for his friends here, who will miss him so much.”

Mrs Gaunt darted a glance at her, half wrathful, half wavering; it had
seemed so unnatural to her that any girl could play with or resist her
son. Perhaps, after all, he had misunderstood Constance. She said,
proudly, “His friends always miss George; he is so friendly. Nobody ever
asks anything from him, to take any trouble or make any sacrifice, in
vain.”

“I am sure he is very good,” said Constance, tremulous, yet waking to
the sense of humour underneath.

“That is why I am here to-day,” said Mrs Gaunt. “My
son--remembers--though perhaps you will allow he has not much call to do
so, Miss Waring--that you said something about a parcel for Frances.
Dear Frances; he will see her--that will always be something.”

“Then he is not coming to say good-bye?” she said, opening her eyes with
a semblance of innocent and regretful surprise.

“Oh, Miss Waring! oh, Constance!” cried the poor mother. “But perhaps
my boy has made a mistake. He is very wretched. I am sure he never
closed his eyes all last night. If you saw him this morning, it would go
to your heart. Ah, my dear, he thinks you will have nothing to say to
him, and his heart is broken. If you will only let me tell him that he
has made a mistake!”

“Is it about me, Mrs Gaunt?”

“Oh, Constance! who should it be about but you? He has never looked at
any one else since he saw you first. All that has been in his mind has
been how to see you, how to talk to you, to make himself agreeable if he
could--to try and get your favour. I will not conceal anything from you.
I never was satisfied from the first. I thought you were too grand, too
much used to fine people and their ways, ever to look at one of us. But
then, when I saw my George, the flower of my flock, with nothing in his
mind but how to please you, his eyes following you wherever you went, as
if there was not another in the world----”

“There was not another in Bordighera, at least,” said Constance, under
her breath.

“There was not----? What did you say--what did you say? Oh, there was
nobody that he ever wasted a thought on but you. I had my doubts all the
time. I used to say, ‘George, dear, don’t go too far; don’t throw
everything at her feet till you know how she feels.’ But I might as well
have talked to the sea. If he had been the king of all the world, he
would have poured everything into your lap. Oh, my dear, a man’s true
love is a great thing; it is more than crowns or queen’s jewels. You
might have all the world contains, and beside that it would be as
nothing--and this is what he has given you. Surely you did not
understand him when he spoke, or he did not understand you. Perhaps you
were taken by surprise--fluttered, as girls will be, and said the wrong
words. Or you were shy. Or you did not know your own mind. Oh,
Constance, say it was a mistake, and give me a word of comfort to take
to my boy!”

The tears were running down the poor mother’s cheeks as she pleaded thus
for her son. When she had left home that morning, after surprising,
divining the secret, which he had done his best to hide from her
overnight, there had been a double purpose in Mrs Gaunt’s mind. She had
intended to pour out such vials of wrath upon the girl who had scorned
her son, such floods of righteous indignation, that never, never should
she raise her head again; and she had intended to watch her opportunity,
to plead on her knees, if need were, if there was any hope of getting
him what he wanted. It did not disturb her that these two intentions
were totally opposed to each other. And she had easily been beguiled
into thinking that there was good hope still.

While she spoke, Constance on her side had been going through a series
of observations, running comments upon this address, which did not move
her very much. “If he had been king of all the world--ah, that would
have made a difference,” she said to herself; and it was all she could
do to refrain from bursting forth in derisive laughter at the suggestion
that she herself had perhaps been shy, or had not known her own mind. To
think that any woman could be such a simpleton, so easily deceived! The
question was, whether to be gentle with the delusion, and spare Mrs
Gaunt’s feelings; or whether to strike her down at once with indignation
and sharp scorn. There passed through the mind of Constance a rapid
calculation that in so small a community it was better not to make an
enemy, and also perhaps some softening reflections from the remorse
which really had touched her last night. So that when Mrs Gaunt ended by
that fervent prayer, her knees trembling with the half intention of
falling upon them, her voice faltering, her tears flowing, Constance
allowed herself to be touched with responsive emotion. She put out both
her hands and cried, “Oh, don’t speak like that to me; oh, don’t look at
me so! Dear, dear Mrs Gaunt, teach me what to do to make up for it! for
I never thought it would come to this. I never imagined that he, who
deserves so much better, would trouble himself about me. Oh, what a
wretched creature I am to bring trouble everywhere! for I am not free.
Don’t you know I am--engaged to some one else? Oh, I thought everybody
knew of it! I am not free.”

“Not free!” said Mrs Gaunt, with a cry of dismay.

“Oh, didn’t you know of it?” said Constance. “I thought everybody knew.
It has been settled for a long time--since I was quite a child.”

“My dear,” said Mrs Gaunt, solemnly, “if your heart is not in it, you
ought not to go on with it. I did hear something of--a gentleman, whom
your mamma wished you to marry; who was very rich, and all that.”

Constance nodded her head slowly, in a somewhat melancholy assent.

“But I was told that you did not wish it yourself--that you had broken
it off--that you had come here to avoid---- Oh, my dear girl, don’t take
up a false sense of duty, or--or honour--or self-sacrifice! Constance,
you may have a right to sacrifice yourself, but not another--not
another, dear. And all his happiness is wrapped up in you. And if it is
a thing your heart does not go with!” cried the poor lady, losing
herself in the complication of phrases. Constance only shook her head.

“Dear Mrs Gaunt! I _must_ think of honour and duty. What would become of
us all if we put an engagement aside, because--because----? And it would
be cruel to the other; he is not strong. I could not, oh, I could not
break off--oh no, not for worlds--it would kill him. But will you try
and persuade Captain Gaunt not to think hardly of me? I thought I might
enjoy his friendship without any harm. If I have done wrong, oh forgive
me!” Constance cried.

Mrs Gaunt dried her eyes. She was a simple-minded woman, who knew what
she wanted, and whose instinct taught her to refuse a stone when it was
offered to her instead of bread. She said, “He will forgive you, Miss
Waring; he will not think hardly of you, you may be sure. They are too
infatuated to do that, when a girl like you takes the trouble to---- But
I think you might have thought twice before you did it, knowing what you
tell me now. A young man fresh from India, where he has been working
hard for years--coming home to get up his strength, to enjoy himself a
little, to make up for all his long time away---- And because you are a
little lonely, and want to enjoy his--friendship, as you say, you go and
spoil his holiday for him, make it all wretched, and make even his poor
mother wish that he had never come home at all. And you think it will
all be made up if you say you are sorry at the end! To him, perhaps,
poor foolish boy; but oh, not to me.”

Constance made no reply to this. She had done her best, and for a moment
she thought she had succeeded; but she had always been aware, by
instinct, that the mother was less easy to beguile than the son; and she
was silent, attempting no further self-defence.

“Young men are a mystery to me,” said Mrs Gaunt, standing with agitated
firmness in the middle of the loggia, taking no notice of the chair
which had been offered her. She did not even look at Constance, but
directed her remarks to the swaying palms in the foreground and the
hills behind--“they are a mystery! There may be one under their very
eyes that is as good as gold and as true as steel, and they will never
so much as look at her. And there will be another that thinks of
nothing but amusing herself, and that is the one they will adore. Oh, it
is not for the first time now that I have found it out! I had my
misgivings from the very first; but he was like all the rest--he would
not hear a word from his mother; and now I am sure I wish his furlough
was at an end; I wish he had never come home. His father and I would
rather have waited on and pined for him, or even made up our minds to
die without seeing him, rather than he should have come here to break
his heart.”

She paused a moment and then resumed again, turning from the palms and
distant peaks to concentrate a look of fire upon Constance, who sat sunk
in her wicker chair, turning her head away.

“And if a man were to go astray after being used like that, whose fault
would it be? If he were to go wrong--if he were to lose heart, to say
What’s the good? whose fault would it be? Oh, don’t tell me that you
didn’t know what you were doing--that you didn’t mean to break his
heart! Did you think he had no heart at all? But then, why should you
have taken the trouble? It wouldn’t have amused you, it would have been
no fun, had he had no heart.”

“You seem,” said Constance, without turning her head, launching a stray
arrow in self-defence, “to know all about it, Mrs Gaunt.”

“Perhaps I do know all about it,--I am a woman myself. I wasn’t always
old and faded. I know there are some things a girl may do in innocence,
and some--that no one but a wicked woman of the world---- Oh, you are
young to be called such a name. I oughtn’t, at your age, however I may
suffer by you, to call you such a name.”

“You may call me what name you like. Fortunately I have not to look to
you as my judge. Look here,” cried Constance, springing to her feet.
“You say you are a woman yourself. I am not like Frances, a girl that
knew nothing. If your son is at my feet, I have had better men at my
feet, richer men, far better matches than Captain Gaunt. Would any one
in their senses expect me to marry a poor soldier, to go out to India,
to follow the regiment? You forget I’m Lady Markham’s daughter as well
as Mr Waring’s. Put yourself in her place for a moment, and think what
you would say if your daughter told you that was what she was going to
do. To marry a poor man, not even at home--an officer in India! What
would you say? You would lock me up in my room, and keep me on bread and
water. You would say, the girl is mad. At least that is what my mother,
if she could, would do.”

Mrs Gaunt caught upon the point which was most salient and attackable.
“An Indian officer!” she cried. “That shows how little you know. He is
not an Indian officer--he is a Queen’s officer: not that it matters.
There were men in the Company’s service that---- The Company’s service
was---- How dare you speak so to me? General Gaunt was in the Company’s
service!” she cried, with an outburst of injured feeling and excited
pride.

To this Constance made reply with a mocking laugh, which nearly drove
her adversary frantic, and resumed her seat, having said what she had to
say.

Poor Mrs Gaunt sat down, too, in sheer inability to support herself. Her
limbs trembled under her. She wanted to cry, but would not, had she
died in that act of self-restraint. And as she could not have said
another word without crying, force was upon her to keep silence, though
her heart burned. After an interval, she said, tremulously, “If this is
one of our punishments for Eve’s fault, it’s far, far harder to bear
than the other; and every woman has to bear it more or less. To see a
man that ought to make one woman’s happiness turned into a jest by
another woman, and made a laughing-stock of, and all his innocent
pleasure turned into bitterness. Why did you do it? Were there not
plenty of men in the world that you should take my boy for your
plaything? Wasn’t there room for you in London, that you should come
here? Oh, what possessed you to come here, where no one wanted you, and
spoil all?”

Constance turned round and stared at her accuser with troubled eyes. It
was a question to which it was difficult to give any answer; and she
could not deny that it was a very pertinent question. No one had wanted
her. There had been room for her in London, and a recognised place, and
everything a girl could desire. Oh, how she desired now those things
which belonged to her, which she had left so lightly, which there was
nothing here to replace! Why had she left them? If a wish could have
taken her back, out of this foreign, alien, unloved scene, away from Mrs
Gaunt, scolding her in the big hat and shawl, which would be only fit
for a charade at home, to Lady Markham’s soft and lovely presence--to
Claude, even poor Claude, with his beautiful eyes and his fear of
draughts--how swiftly would she have travelled through the air! But a
wish would not do it; and she could only stare at her assailant blankly,
and in her heart echo the question, Why, oh why?

Notwithstanding this stormy interview, Constance had so far recovered by
the afternoon, and was so utterly destitute of anything else by way of
amusement, that she walked down to the railway station at the hour when
the train started for Marseilles and England, with a perfectly composed
and smiling countenance, and the little parcel for Frances under her
arm. Mrs Gaunt was like a woman turned to stone when she suddenly saw
this apparition, standing upon the platform, talking to her old general,
amusing and occupying him so that he almost forgot that he was here on
no joyful but a melancholy occasion. And to see George hurry forward,
his dark face lit up with a sudden glow, his hat in his hand, as if he
were about to address the Queen! These are things which are very hard
upon women, to whom it is generally given to preserve their senses even
when the most seductive siren smiles.

“You would not come to say good-bye to me, so I had to take it into my
own hands,” Constance said, in her clear young voice, which was to be
heard quite distinctly through all the jabber of the Riviera
functionaries. “And here is the little parcel for Frances, if you will
be so very good. _Do_ go and see them, Captain Gaunt.”

“Of course he will go and see them,” said the General--“too glad. He has
not so many people to see in town that he should forget our old friend
Waring’s near connections, and Frances, whom we were all so fond of. And
you may be sure he will be honoured by any commissions you will give
him.”

“Oh, I have no commissions. Markham does my commissions when I have any.
He is the best of brothers in that respect. Give my love to mamma,
Captain Gaunt. She will like to see some one who has seen me. Tell her I
get on--pretty well. Tell them all to come out here.”

“He must not do that, Miss Waring; for it will soon be too hot, and we
are all going away.”

“Oh, I was not in earnest,” said Constance; “it was only a little jest.
I must look too sincere for anything, for people are always taking my
little jokes as if I meant them, every word.” She raised her eyes to
Captain Gaunt as she spoke, and with one steady look made an end in a
moment of all the hasty hopes that had sprung up again in less time than
Jonah’s gourd. She put the parcel in his charge, and shook hands with
him, taking no notice of his sudden change of countenance,--and not only
this, but waited a little way off till the poor young fellow had got
into the train, and had been taken farewell of by his parents. Then she
waved her hand and a little film of a pocket-handkerchief, and waited
till the old pair came out, Mrs Gaunt with very red eyes, and even the
General blowing his nose unnecessarily.

“It seems only the other day that we came down to meet him--after not
seeing him for so many years.”

“Oh, my poor boy! But I should not mind if I thought he had got any good
out of his holiday,” said Mrs Gaunt, launching a burning look among her
tears at the siren.

“Oh, I think he has enjoyed himself, Mrs Gaunt. I am sure you need not
have any burden on your mind on that account,” the young deceiver said
smoothly.

Yes, he had enjoyed himself, and now had to pay the price of it in
disappointment and ineffectual misery. This was all it had brought him,
this brief intoxicating dream, this fool’s paradise. Constance walked
with them as far as their way lay together, and “talked very nicely,” as
he said afterwards, to the General; but Mrs Gaunt, if she could have
done it with a wish, would have willingly pitched this siren, where
other sirens belong to--into the sea.



CHAPTER XXXIX.


And Constance, too, had found it amusing--she did not hesitate to
acknowledge that to herself. She had got a great deal of diversion out
of these six weeks. There had been nothing, really, when you came to
think of it, to amuse anybody: a few dull walks; a drive along the dusty
roads, which were more dusty than anything she had ever experienced in
her life; and then a ramble among the hills, a climb from terrace to
terrace of the olive-gardens, or through the stony streets of a little
mountain town. It was the contrast, the harmony, the antagonism, the
duel and the companionship continually going on, which had given
everything its zest. The scientific man with an exciting object under
the microscope, the astronomer with his new star pulsing out of the
depths of the sky, could scarcely have been more absorbed than
Constance. Not so much; for not the most cherished of star-fishes, not
the most glorious of stars, is so exciting as it is to watch the risings
and flowings of emotion under your own hand, to feel that you can cause
ecstasy or despair, and raise up another human creature to the heights
of delight, or drop him to depths beneath purgatory, at your will. When
the young and cruel possess this power--and the very young are often
cruel by ignorance, by inability to understand suffering--they are
seldom clever enough to use it to the full extent. But Constance was
clever, and had tasted blood before. It had made the time pass as
nothing else could have done. It had carried on a thread of keen
interest through all these commonplace pursuits. It had been as amusing,
nay, much more so than if she had loved him; for she got the advantage
of his follies without sharing them, and felt herself to stand high in
cool ethereal light, while the unfortunate young man turned himself
outside in for her enlightenment. She had enjoyed herself--she did not
deny it; but now there was the penalty to pay.

He was gone, clean gone, escaped from her power; and nothing was left
but the beggarly elements of this small bare life, in which there was
nothing to amuse or interest. The roads were more intolerable than ever,
lying white in heat and dust, which rose in clouds round every
carriage--carriage! that was an euphemism--cab which passed. The sun
blazed everywhere, so that one thought regretfully of the dull skies of
England, and charitably of the fogs and rains. There was nothing to do
but to go up among the olives and sit down upon some ledge and look at
the sea. Constance did not draw, neither did she read. She did nothing
that could be of any use to her here. She regretted now that she had
allowed herself at the very beginning to fall into the snare of that
amusement, too ready to her hand, which consisted of Captain Gaunt. It
had been a mistake--if for no other reason, at least because it left the
dulness more dull than ever, now it was over. He it was who had been her
resource, his looks and ways her study, the gradual growth of his love
the romance which had kept her going. She asked herself sometimes
whether she could possibly have done as much harm to him as to herself
by this indulgence, and answered earnestly, No. How could it do him any
harm? He was vexed, of course, for the moment, because he could not have
her; but very soon he would come to. He would be a fool, more of a fool
than she thought him, if he did not soon see that it was much better for
him that she had thought only of a little amusement. Why should he
marry, a young man with very little money? There could be no doubt it
would have been a great mistake. Constance did not know what society in
India is like, but she supposed it must be something like society at
home, and in that case there was no doubt he would have found it
altogether more difficult had he gone back a married man.

She could not think, looking at the subject dispassionately, how he
could ever have wished it. An unmarried young man (she reflected) gets
asked to a great many places, where the people could not be troubled
with a pair. And whereas some girls may be promoted by marriage, it is
_almost always_ to the disadvantage of a young man. So, why should he
make a fuss about it, this young woman of the world asked herself. He
ought to have been very glad that he had got his amusement and no
penalty to pay. But for herself, she was sorry. Now he was gone, there
was nobody to talk to, nobody to walk with, no means of amusement at
all. She did not know what to do with herself, while he was speeding to
dear London. What was she to do with herself? Filial piety and the
enjoyment of her own thoughts--without anything to do even for her
father, or any subject to employ her thoughts upon--these were all that
seemed to be left to her in her life. The tourists and invalids were all
gone, so that there was not even the chance of somebody turning up at
the hotels; and even the Gaunts--between whom and herself there was now
a gulf fixed--and the Durants, who were bores unspeakable, were going
away. What was she to do?

Alas, that exhilarating game which had ended so sadly for George Gaunt
was not ending very cheerfully for Constance. It had made life too
tolerable--it had kept her in a pleasant self-deception as to the
reality of the lot she had chosen. Now that reality flashed upon
her,--nay, the word is far too animated--it did not flash, nothing any
longer flashed, except that invariable, intolerable sun,--it opened upon
her dully, with its long, long, endless vistas. The still rooms in the
Palazzo with the green _persiani_ closed, all blazing sunshine without,
all dead stillness and darkness within--and nothing to do, nobody to
see, nothing to give a fresh turn to her thoughts. Not a novel even!
Papa’s old books upon out-of-the-way subjects, dreary as the dusty road,
endless as the uneventful days--and papa himself, the centre of all.
When she turned this over and over in her mind, it seemed to her that
if, when she first came, instead of being seduced into flowery paths of
flirtation, she had paid a little attention to her father, it might have
been better for her now. But that chance was over, and George Gaunt was
gone, and only dulness remained behind.

And oh, how different it must be in town, where the season was just
beginning, and Frances, that little country thing, who would care
nothing about it, was going to be presented! Constance, it is scarcely
necessary to say, had been told what her sister was to wear; indeed,
having gone through the ceremony herself, and knowing exactly what was
right, could have guessed without being told. How would Frances look
with her little demure face and her neat little figure? Constance had no
unkindly feeling towards her sister. She fully recognised the advantages
of the girl, who was like mamma; and whose youthful freshness would be
enhanced by the good looks of the little stately figure beside her,
showing the worst that Frances was likely to come to, even when she got
old. Constance knew very well that this was a great advantage to a girl,
having heard the frank remarks of Society upon those beldams who lead
their young daughters into the world, presenting in their own persons a
horrible caricature of what those girls may grow to be. But Frances
would look very well, the poor exile decided, sitting on the low wall of
one of the terraces, gazing through the grey olives over the blue sea.
She would look very well. She would be frightened, yet amused, by the
show. She would be admired--by people who liked that quiet kind. Markham
would be with them; and Claude, perhaps Claude, if it was a fine day,
and there was no east in the wind! She stopped to laugh to herself at
this suggestion, but her colour rose at the same time, and an angry
question woke in her mind. Claude! She had told Mrs Gaunt she was
engaged to him still. Was she engaged to him? Or had he thrown her off,
as she threw him off, and perhaps found consolation in Frances? At this
thought the olive-gardens in their coolness grew intolerable, and the
sea the dreariest of prospects. She jumped up, and notwithstanding the
sun and the dust, went down the broad road, the old Roman way, where
there was no shade nor shelter. It was not safe, she said to herself, to
be left there with her thoughts. She must break the spell or die.

She went, of all places in the world, poor Constance! to the Durants’ in
search of a little variety. Their loggia also was covered with an
awning; but they did not venture into it till the sun was going down.
They had their tea-table in the drawing-room, which, till the eyes grew
accustomed to it, was quite dark, with one ray of subdued light stealing
in from the open door of the loggia, but the blinds all closed and the
windows. Here Constance was directed, by the glimmer of reflection in
the teapot and china, to the spot where the family were sitting, Mrs
Durant and Tasie languidly waving their fans. The _dolce far niente_ was
not appreciated in that clerical house. Tasie thought it her duty to be
always doing something--knitting at least for a bazaar, if it was not
light enough for other work. But the heat had overcome even Tasie;
though it could not, if it had been tropical, do away with the little
furnace of the hot tea. They all received Constance with the languid
delight of people in an atmosphere of ninety degrees, to whom no visitor
has appeared, nor any incident happened, all day.

“Oh, Miss Waring,” said Tasie, “we have just had a great disappointment.
Some one sent us the ‘Queen’ from home, and we looked directly for the
drawing-room, to see Frances’ name and how she was dressed; but it is
not there.”

“No,” said Constance; “the 29th is her day.”

“Oh, that is what I said, mamma. I said we must have mistaken the date.
It couldn’t be that there was any mistake about going, when she wrote
and told us. I knew the date must be wrong.”

“Many things may occur at the last moment to stop one, Tasie. I have
known a lady with her dress all ready laid out on the bed; and
circumstances happened so that she could not go.”

“That is by no means a singular experience, my dear,” said Mr Durant,
who in his black coat was almost invisible. “I have known many such
cases; and in matters more important than drawing-rooms.”

“There was the Sangazures,” said the clergyman’s wife--“don’t you
recollect? Lady Alice was just putting on her bonnet to go to her
daughter’s marriage, when----”

“It is really unnecessary to recall so many examples,” said Constance.
“No doubt they are all quite true; but as a matter of fact, in this case
the date was the 29th.”

“Oh, I hope,” said Tasie, “that somebody will send us another ‘Queen’;
for I should be so sorry to miss seeing about Frances. Have you heard,
Miss Waring, how she is to be dressed?”

“It will be the usual white business,” said Constance, calmly.

“You mean--all white? Yes, I suppose so; and the material, silk or
satin, with tulle? Oh yes, I have no doubt; but to see it all written
down, with the drapings and _bouillonnés_ and all that, makes it so much
more real. Don’t you think so? Dear Frances, she always looked so nice
in white--which is trying to many people. I really cannot wear white,
for my part.”

Constance looked at her with a scarcely concealed smile. She was not
tolerant of the old-young lady, as Frances was. Her eyes meant mischief
as they made out the sandy complexion, the uncertain hair, which were so
unlike Frances’ clear little face and glossy brown satin locks. But,
fortunately, the eloquence of looks did not tell for much in that
closely shuttered dark room. And Constance’s nerves, already so jarred
and strained, responded with another keen vibration when Mrs Durant’s
voice suddenly came out of the gloom with a bland question: “And when
are you moving? Of course, like all the rest, you must be on the wing.”

“Where should we be going? I don’t think we are going anywhere,” she
said.

“My dear Miss Waring, that shows, if you will let me say so, how little
you know of our climate here. You must go: in the summer it is
intolerable. We have stayed a little longer than usual this year. My
husband takes the duty at Homburg every summer, as perhaps you are
aware.”

“Oh, it is so much nicer there for the Sunday work,” said Tasie; “though
I love dear little Bordighera too. But the Sunday-school is a trial. To
give up one’s afternoons and take a great deal of trouble for perhaps
three children! Of course, papa, I know it is my duty.”

“And quite as much your duty, if there were but one; for, think, if you
saved but one soul,--is that not worth living for, Tasie?” Mr Durant
said.

“Oh yes, yes, papa. I only say it is a little hard. Of course that is
the test of duty. Tell Frances, please, when you write, Miss Waring,
there is to be a bazaar for the new church; and I daresay she could send
or do me something--two or three of her nice little sketches. People
like that sort of thing. Generally things at bazaars are so useless.
Knitted things, everybody has got such shoals of them; but a
water-colour--you know that always sells.”

“I will tell Fan,” said Constance, “when I write--but that is not often.
We are neither of us very good correspondents.”

“You should tell your papa,” went on Mrs Durant, “of that little place
which I always say I discovered, Miss Waring. Such a nice little place,
and quite cool and cheap. Nobody goes; there is not a tourist passing by
once in a fortnight. Mr Waring would like it, I know. Don’t you think Mr
Waring would like it, papa?”

“That depends, my dear, upon so many circumstances over which he has no
control--such as, which way the wind is blowing, and if he has the books
he wants, and----”

“Papa, you must not laugh at Mr Waring. He is a dear. I will not hear a
word that is not nice of Mr Waring,” cried Tasie.

This championship of her father was more than Constance could bear. She
rose from her seat quickly, and declared that she must go.

“So soon?” said Mrs Durant, holding the hand which Constance had held
out to her, and looking up with keen eyes and spectacles. “And we have
not said a word yet of the event, and all about it, and why it was. But
I think we can give a guess at why it was.”

“What event?” Constance said, with chill surprise: as if she cared what
was going on in their little world!

“Ah, how can you ask me, my dear? The last event, that took us all so
much by surprise. I am afraid, I am sadly afraid, you are not without
blame.”

“Oh mamma! Miss Waring will think we do nothing but gossip. But you
must remember there is so little going on, that we can’t help
remarking---- And perhaps it was quite true what they said, that poor
Captain Gaunt----”

“Oh, if it is anything about Captain Gaunt,” said Constance, hastily
withdrawing her hand; “I know so little about the people here----”

Tasie followed her to the door. “You must not mind,” she said, “what
mamma says. She does not mean anything--it is only her way. She always
thinks there must be reasons for things. Now I,” said Tasie, “know that
very often there are no reasons for anything.” Having uttered this
oracle, she allowed the visitor to go down-stairs. “And you will not
forget to tell Frances,” she said, looking over the balustrade. In a
little house like that of the Durants the stairs in England would have
been wood, and shabby ones; but here they were marble, and of imposing
appearance. “Any little thing I should be thankful for,” said Tasie; “or
she might pick up a few trifles from one of the Japanese shops; but
water-colours are what I should prefer. Good-bye, dear Miss Waring. Oh,
it is not good-bye for good; I shall certainly come to see you before we
go away!”

Constance had not gone half-way along the Marina when she met General
Gaunt, who looked grave, but yet greeted her kindly. “We are going
to-morrow,” he said. “My wife is so very busy, I do not know if she will
be able to find time to call to say good-bye.”

“I hope you don’t think so badly of me as she does, General Gaunt?”

“Badly, my dear young lady! You must know that is impossible,” said the
old soldier, shuffling a little from one foot to the other. And then he
added, “Ladies are a little unreasonable. And if they think you have
interfered with the little finger of a child of theirs---- But I hope
you will let me have the pleasure of paying my farewell visit in the
morning.”

“Good-bye, General,” Constance said. She held her head high, and walked
proudly away past all the empty hotels and shops, not heeding the sun,
which still played down upon her, though from a lower level. She cared
nothing for these people, she said to herself vehemently: and yet the
mere feeling of the farewells in the air added a forlorn aspect to the
stagnation of the place. Everybody was going away except her father and
herself. She felt as if the preparations and partings, and all the
pleasure of Tasie in the “work” elsewhere, and her little fussiness
about the bazaar, were all offences to herself, Constance, who was not
thought good enough even to ask a contribution from. No one thought
Constance good for anything, except to blame her for ridiculous
impossibilities, such as not marrying Captain Gaunt. It seemed that this
was the only thing which she was supposed capable of doing. And while
all the other people went away, she was to stay here to be burned brown,
and perhaps to get fever, unused as she was to a blazing summer like
this. She had to stay here--she, who was so young and could enjoy
everything--while all the old people, to whom it could not matter very
much, went away. She felt angry, offended, miserable, as she went in and
got herself ready mechanically for dinner. She knew her father would
take no notice,--would probably receive the news of the departure of the
others without remark. He cared nothing, not nearly so much as about a
new book. And she, throbbing with pain, discomfiture, loneliness, and
anger, was alone to bear the burden of this stillness, and of the
uninhabited world.



CHAPTER XL.


Waring was not so indifferent to the looks or feelings of his daughter
as appeared. After all, he was not entirely buried in his books. To
Frances, who had grown up by his side without particularly attracting
his attention, he had been kindly indifferent, not feeling any occasion
to concern himself about the child, who always had managed to amuse
herself, and never had made any call upon him. But Constance had come
upon him as a stranger, as an individual with a character and faculties
of her own, and it had not been without curiosity that he had watched
her to see how she would reconcile herself with the new circumstances.
Her absorption in the amusement provided for her by young Gaunt had
somewhat revolted her father, who set it down as one of the usual
exhibitions of love in idleness, which every one sees by times as he
makes his way through the world. He had not interfered, being thoroughly
convinced that interference is useless, in addition to that reluctance
to do anything which had grown upon him in his recluse life. But since
Gaunt had disappeared without a sign--save that of a little
irritability, a little unusual gravity on the part of Constance--her
father had been roused somewhat to ask what it meant. Had the young
fellow “behaved badly,” as people say? Had he danced attendance upon her
all this time only to leave her at the end? It did not seem possible,
when he looked at Constance with her easy air of mastery, and thought of
the shy, eager devotion of the young soldier and his impassioned looks.
But yet he was aware that in such cases all prognostics failed, that the
conqueror was sometimes conquered, and the intended victim remained
master of the field. Waring observed his daughter more closely than ever
on this evening. She was _distraite_, self-absorbed, a little impatient,
sometimes not noting what he said to her, sometimes answering in an
irritable tone. The replies she made to him when she did reply showed
that her mind was running on other matters. She said abruptly, in the
middle of a little account he was giving her, with the idea of amusing
her, of one of the neighbouring mountain castles, “Do you know, papa,
that everybody is going away?”

Waring felt, with a certain discomfiture, which was comic, yet annoying,
like one who has been suddenly pulled up with a good deal of “way” on
him, and stops himself with difficulty--“a branch of the old Dorias,” he
went on, having these words in his very mouth; and then, after a
precipitate pause, “Eh? Oh, everybody is----? Yes, I know. They always
do at this time of the year.”

“It will be rather miserable, don’t you think, when every one is gone?”

“My dear Constance, ‘every one’ means the Gaunts and Durants. I could
not have supposed you cared.”

“For the Gaunts and Durants--oh no,” said Constance. “But to think there
is not a soul--no one to speak to--not even the clergyman, not even
Tasie.” She laughed, but there was a certain look of alarm in her face,
as if the emergency was one which was unprecedented. “That frightens
one, in spite of one’s self. And what are we going to do?”

It was Waring now who hesitated, and did not know how to reply. “We!” he
said. “To tell the truth, I had not thought of it. Frances was always
quite willing to stay at home.”

“But I am not Frances, papa.”

“I beg your pardon, my dear; that is quite true. Of course I never
supposed so. You understand that for myself I prefer always not to be
disturbed--to go on as I am. But you, a young lady fresh from
society---- Had I supposed that you cared for the Durants, for instance,
I should have thought of some way of making up for their absence; but I
thought, on the whole, you would prefer their absence.”

“That has nothing to do with it,” said Constance. “I don’t care for the
individuals--they are all rather bores. Captain Gaunt,” she added,
resolutely, introducing the name with determination, “became very much
of a bore before he went away. But the thing is to have nobody--nobody!
One has to put up with bores very often; but to have nobody, actually
not a soul! The circumstances are quite unprecedented.”

There was something in her air as she said this which amused her father.
It was the air of a social philosopher brought to a pause in the face of
an unimagined dilemma, rather than of a young lady stranded upon a
desert shore where no society was to be found.

“No doubt,” he said, “you never knew anything of the kind before.”

“Never,” said Constance, with warmth. “People who are a nuisance, often
enough; but _nobody_, never before.”

“I prefer nobody,” said her father.

She raised her eyes to him, as if he were one of the problems to which,
for the first time, her attention was seriously called. “Perhaps,” she
said; “but then you are not in a natural condition, papa--no more than a
hermit in the desert, who has forsworn society altogether.”

“Allowing that I am abnormal, Constance, for the argument’s sake----”

“And so was Frances, more or less--that is, she could content herself
with the peasants and fishermen, who, of course, are just as good as
anybody else, if you make up your mind to it, and understand their ways.
But I am not abnormal,” Constance said, her colour rising a little. “I
want the society of my own kind. It seems unnatural to you, probably,
just as your way of thinking seems unnatural to me.”

“I have seen both ways,” said Waring, in his turn becoming animated;
“and so far as my opinion goes, the peasants and fishermen are a
thousand times better than what you call Society; and solitude, with
one’s own thoughts and pursuits, the best of all.”

There was a momentary pause, and then Constance said, “That may be,
papa. What is best in the abstract is not the question. In that way,
mere nothing would be the best of all, for there could be no harm in
it.”

“Nor any good.”

“That is what I mean on my side--nor any good. It might be better to be
alone--then (I suppose) you would never be bored, never feel the need of
anything, the mere sound of a voice, some one going by. That may be
your way of thinking, but it is not mine. If one has no society, one had
better die at once and save trouble. That is what I should like to do.”

A certain feminine confusion in her argument, produced by haste and the
stealing in of personal feeling, stopped Constance, who was too
clear-headed not to see when she had got involved. Her confusion had the
usual effect of touching her temper and causing a little crise of
sentiment. The tears came to her eyes. She could be heroic, and veil her
personal grievances like a social martyr so long as this was necessary
in presence of the world; but in the present case it was not necessary:
it was better, in fact, to let nature have its way.

“That will not be necessary, I hope,” said Waring, somewhat coldly. He
thought of Frances with a sigh, who never bothered him, who was
contented with everything! and carried on her own little thoughts,
whatever they might be, her little drawings, her little life, so
tranquilly, knowing nothing better. What was he to do, with the
responsibility upon his hands of this other creature? whom all the same
he could not shake off, nor even--as a gentleman, if not as a
father--allow to perceive what an embarrassment she was. “Without going
so far,” he said, “we must consult what is best to be done, since you
feel it so keenly. My ordinary habits even of _villeggiatura_ would not
please you any better than staying at home, I fear. We used to go up to
Dolceacqua, Frances and I; or to Eza; or to Porto Fino, on the opposite
coast,--at no one of which places was there a soul--as you reckon
souls--to be seen.”

“That is a great pity,” said Constance; “for even Frances, though she
may have been a Stoic born, must have wanted to see a human creature who
spoke English now and then.”

“A Stoic! It never occurred to me that she was a Stoic,” said Waring,
with astonishment, and a sudden sense of offence. The idea that his
little Frances was not perfectly happy, that she had anything to put up
with, anything to forgive, was intolerable to him; and it was a new
idea. He reflected that she had consented to go away with an ease which
surprised him at the time. Was it possible? This suggestion disturbed
him much in his certainty that his was absolutely the right way.

“If all these expedients are unsatisfactory,” he said, sharply, “perhaps
you will come to my assistance, and tell me where you would be satisfied
to go.”

“Papa,” said Constance, “I am going to make a suggestion which is a very
bold one; perhaps you will be angry--but I don’t do it to make you
angry; and, please, don’t answer me till you have thought a moment. It
is just this--Why shouldn’t we go home?”

“Go home!” The words flew from him in the shock and wonder. He grew pale
as he stared at her, too much thunderstruck to be angry, as she said.

Constance put up her hand to stop him. “I said, please don’t answer till
you have thought.”

And then they sat for a minute or more looking at each other from
opposite sides of the table--in that pause which comes when a new and
strange thought has been thrown into the midst of a turmoil which it has
power to excite or to allay. Waring went through a great many phases of
feeling while he looked at his young daughter sitting undaunted opposite
to him, not afraid of him, treating him as no one else had done for
years--as an equal, as a reasonable being, whose wishes were not to be
deferred to superstitiously, but whose reasons for what he did and said
were to be put to the test, as in the case of other men. And he knew
that he could not beat down this cool and self-possessed girl, as
fathers can usually crush the young creatures whom they have had it in
their power to reprove and correct from their cradles. Constance was an
independent intelligence. She was a gentlewoman, to whom he could not be
rude any more than to the Queen. This hushed at once the indignant
outcry on his lips. He said at last, calmly enough, with only a little
sneer piercing through his forced smile, “We must take care, like other
debaters, to define what we mean exactly by the phrases we use. Home,
for example. What do you mean by home? My home, in the ordinary sense of
the word, is here.”

“My dear father,” said Constance, with the air, somewhat exasperated by
his folly, of a philosopher with a neophyte, “I wish you would put the
right names to things. Yes, it is quite necessary to define, as you say.
How can an Englishman, with all his duties in his own country, deriving
his income from it, with houses belonging to him, and relations, and
everything that makes up life--how can he, I ask you, say that home, in
the ordinary sense of the word, is here? What is the ordinary sense of
the word?” she said, after a pause--looking at him with the indignant
frown of good sense, and that little air of repressed exasperation, as
of the wiser towards the foolisher, which made Waring, in the midst of
his own just anger and equally just discomfiture, feel a certain
amusement too. He kept his temper with the greatest pains and care.
Domenico had left the room when the discussion began, and the lamp which
hung over the table lighted impartially the girl’s animated countenance,
pressing forward in the strength of a position which she felt to be
invulnerable, and the father’s clouded and withdrawing face,--for he
had taken his eyes from her, with unconscious cowardice, when she fixed
him with that unwavering gaze.

“I will allow that you put the position very strongly--as well as a
little undutifully,” he said.

“Undutifully? Is it one’s duty to one’s father to be silly--to give up
one’s power of judging what is wrong and what is right? I am sure, papa,
you are much too candid a thinker to suggest that.”

What could he say? He was very angry; but this candid thinker took him
quite at unawares. It tickled while it defied him. And he was a very
candid thinker, as she said. Perhaps he had been treated illogically in
the great crisis of his life; for, as a matter of fact, when an argument
was set before him, when it was a good argument, even if it told against
him, he would never refuse to acknowledge it. And conscience, perhaps,
had said to him on various occasions what his daughter now said. He
could bring forward nothing against it. He could only say, I choose it
to be so; and this would bear no weight with Constance. “You are not a
bad dialectician,” he said. “Where did you learn your logic? Women are
not usually strong in that point.”

“Women are said to be just what it pleases men to represent them,” said
Constance. “Listen, papa. Frances would not have said that to you that I
have just said. But don’t you know that she would have thought it all
the same? Because it is quite evident and certain, you know. What did
you say the other day of that Italian, that Count something or other,
who has the castle there on the hill, and never comes near it from one
year’s end to another?”

“That is quite a different matter. There is no reason why he should not
spend a part of every year there.”

“And what reason is there with you? Only what ought to be an additional
reason for going--that you have----” Here Constance paused a little, and
grew pale. And her father looked up at her, growing pale too,
anticipating a crisis. Another word, and he would be able to crush this
young rebel, this meddler with things which concerned her not. But
Constance was better advised; she said, hurriedly--“relations and
dependants, and ever so many things to look to--things that cannot be
settled without you.”

“And what may these be?” He had been so fully prepared for the
introduction at this point of the mother, from whom Constance, too, had
fled--the wife, who was, as he said to himself, the cause of all that
was inharmonious in his own life--that the withdrawal of her name left
him breathless, with the force of an impulse which was not needed. “What
are the things that cannot be settled without me?”

“Well--for one thing, papa, your daughter’s marriage,” said Constance,
still looking at him steadily, but with a sudden glow of colour covering
her face.

“My daughter’s marriage?” he repeated, vaguely, once more taken by
surprise. “What! has Frances already, in the course of a few weeks----?”

“It is very probable,” said Constance, calmly. “But I was not thinking
of Frances. Perhaps you forget that I am your daughter too, and that
your sanction is needed for me as well as for her.”

Here Waring leant towards her over the table. “Is this how it has
ended?” he said. “Have you really so little perception of what is
possible for a girl of your breeding, as to think that a life in India
with young Gaunt----?”

Constance grew crimson from her hair to the edge of her white dress.
“Captain Gaunt?” she said, for the first time avoiding her father’s eye.
Then she burst into a laugh, which she felt was weak and half hysterical
in its self-consciousness. “Oh no,” she said; “that was only
amusement--that was nothing. I hope, indeed, I have a little
more--perception, as you say. What I meant was----” Her eyes took a
softened look, almost of entreaty, as if she wanted him to help her out.

“I did not know you had any second string to your bow,” he said. Now was
his time to avenge himself, and he took advantage of it.

“Papa,” said Constance, drawing herself up majestically, “I have no
second string to my bow. I have made a mistake. It is a thing which may
happen to any one. But when one does so, and sees it, the thing to do is
to acknowledge and remedy it, I think. Some people, I am aware, are not
of the same opinion. But I, for one, am not going to keep it up.”

“You refer to--a mistake which has not been acknowledged?”

“Papa, don’t let us quarrel, you and me. I am very lonely--oh,
dreadfully lonely! I want you to stand by me. What I refer to is my
affair, not any one’s else. I find out now that Claude--of course I told
you his name--Claude--would suit me very well--better than any one else.
There are drawbacks, perhaps; but I understand him, and he understands
me. That is the great thing, isn’t it?”

“It is a great thing--if it lasts.”

“Oh, it would last. I know him as well as I know myself.”

“I see,” said Waring, slowly. “You have made up your mind to return to
England, and accomplish the destiny laid out for you. A very wise
resolution, no doubt. It is only a pity that you did not think better of
it at first, instead of turning my life upside down and causing
everybody so much trouble. Never mind. It is to be hoped that your
resolution will hold now; and there need be no more trouble in that
case about finding a place in which to pass the summer. _You_ are going,
I presume--home?”

This time the tears came very visibly to Constance’s eyes. There was
impatience and vexation in them, as well as feeling. “Where is home?”
she said. “I will have to ask you. The home I have been used to is my
sister’s now. Oh, it is hard, I see, very hard, when you have made a
mistake once, to mend it! The only home that I know of is an old house
where the master has not been for a long time--which is all overgrown
with trees, and tumbling into ruins for anything I know. But I suppose,
unless you forbid me, that I have a right to go there--and perhaps aunt
Caroline----”

“Of what are you speaking?” he said, making an effort to keep his voice
steady.

“I am speaking of Hilborough, papa.”

At this he sprang up from his chair, as if touched by some intolerable
recollection; then composing himself, sat down again, putting force upon
himself, restraining the sudden impulse of excitement. After a time, he
said, “Hilborough. I had almost forgotten the name.”

“Yes,--so I thought. You forget that you have a home, which is cooler
and quieter, as quiet as any of your villages here--where you could be
as solitary as you liked, or see people if you liked--where you are the
natural master. Oh, I thought you must have forgotten it! In summer it
is delightful. You are in the middle of a wood, and yet you are in a
nice English house. Oh, an _English_ house is very different from those
Palazzos. Papa, there is your _villeggiatura_, as you call it, just what
you want, far, far better than Mrs Durant’s cheap little place, that she
asked me to tell you of, or Mrs Gaunt’s _pension_ in Switzerland, or
Homburg. They think you are poor; but you know quite well you are not
poor. Take me to Hilborough, papa; oh, take me home! It is there I want
to go.”

“Hilborough,” he repeated to himself--“Hilborough. I never thought of
that. I suppose she _has_ a right to it. Poor old place! Yes, I suppose,
if the girl chooses to call it home----”

He rose up quite slowly this time, and went, as was his usual custom,
towards the door which led through the other rooms to the loggia, but
without paying any attention to the movements of Constance, which he
generally followed instead of directing. She rose too, and went to him,
and stole her hand through his arm. The awning had been put aside, and
the soft night-air blew in their faces as they stepped out upon that
terrace in which so much of their lives was spent. The sea shone beyond
the roofs of the houses on the Marina, and swept outwards in a pale
clearness towards the sky, which was soft in summer blue, with the stars
sprinkled faintly over the vast vault, too much light still remaining in
heaven and earth to show them at their best. Constance walked with her
father, close to his side, holding his arm, almost as tall as he was,
and keeping step and pace with him. She said nothing more, but stood by
him as he walked to the ledge of the loggia and looked out towards the
west, where there was still a lingering touch of gold. He was not at all
in the habit of expressing admiration of the landscape, but to-night, as
if he were making a remark called forth by the previous argument, “It is
all very lovely,” he said.

“Yes; but not more lovely than home,” said the girl. “I have been at
Hilborough in a summer night, and everything was so sweet--the stars all
looking through the trees as if they were watching the house--and the
scent of the flowers. Don’t you remember the white rose at
Hilborough--what they call Mother’s tree?”

He started a little, and a thrill ran through him. She could feel it in
his arm--a thrill of recollection, of things beyond the warfare and
turmoil of his life, on the other, the boyish side--recollections of
quiet and of peace.

“I think I will go to my own room a little, Constance, and smoke my
cigarette there. You have brought a great many things to my mind.”

She gave his arm a close pressure before she let it go. “Oh, take me to
Hilborough! Let us go to our own home, papa.”

“I will think of it,” he replied.



CHAPTER XLI.


Frances ate a mournful little dinner alone, after the agitations to
which she had been subject. Her mother did not return; and Markham, who
had been expected up to the last moment, did not appear. It was unusual
to her now to spend so many hours alone, and her mind was oppressed not
only by the strange scene with Nelly Winterbourn, but more deeply still
by Claude’s news. George Gaunt had always been a figure of great
interest to Frances; and his appearance here in the world which was as
yet so strange, with his grave, indeed melancholy face, had awakened her
to a sense of sympathy and friendliness which no one had called forth in
her before. He was as strange as she was to that dazzling puzzle of
society, sat silent as she did, roused himself into interest like her
about matters which did not much interest anybody else. She had felt
amid so many strangers that here was one whom she could always
understand, whose thoughts she could follow, who said what she had been
about to say. It made no difference to Frances that he had not signalled
her out for special notice. She took that quietly, as a matter of
course. Her mother, Markham, the other people who appeared and
disappeared in the house, were all more interesting, she felt, than she;
but sometimes her eyes had met those of Captain Gaunt in sympathy, and
she had perceived that he could understand her, whether he wished to do
so or not. And then he was Mrs Gaunt’s youngest, of whom she had heard
so much. It seemed to Frances that his childhood and her own had got all
entangled, so that she could not be quite sure whether this and that
incident of the nursery had been told of him or of herself. She was more
familiar with him than he could be with her. And to hear that he was
unhappy, that he was in danger, a stranger among people who preyed upon
him, and yet not to be able to help him, was almost more than she could
bear.

She went up to the empty drawing-room, with the soft illumination of
many lights, which was habitual there, which lay all decorated and
bright, sweet with spring flowers, full of pictures and ornaments, like
a deserted palace, and she felt the silence and beauty of it to be
dreary and terrible. It was like a desert to her, or rather like a
prison, in which she must stay and wait and listen, and, whatever might
come, do nothing to hinder it. What could she do? A girl could not go
out into those haunts, where Claude Ramsay, though he was so delicate,
could go; she could not put herself forward, and warn a man, who would
think he knew much better than she could do. She sat down and tried to
read, and then got up, and glided about from one table to another, from
one picture to another, looking vaguely at a score of things without
seeing them. Then she stole within the shadow of the curtain, and looked
out at the carriages which went and came, now and then drawing up at
adjacent doors. It made her heart beat to see them approaching, to think
that perhaps they were coming here--her mother perhaps; perhaps Sir
Thomas; perhaps Markham. Was it possible that this night, of all
others--this night, when her heart seemed to appeal to earth and heaven
for some one to help her--nobody would come? It was Frances’ first
experience of these vigils, which to some women fill up so much of life.
There had never been any anxiety at Bordighera, any disturbing
influence. She had always known where to find her father, who could
solve every problem and chase away every difficulty. Would he, she
wondered, be able to do so now? Would he, if he were here, go out for
her, and find George Gaunt, and deliver him from his pursuers? But
Frances could not say to herself that he would have done so. He was not
fond of disturbing himself. He would have said, “It is not my business;”
he would have refused to interfere, as Claude did. And what could she
do, a girl, by herself? Lady Markham had been very anxious to keep him
out of harm’s way; but she had said plainly that she would not forsake
her own son in order to save the son of another woman. Frances was
wandering painfully through labyrinths of such thoughts, racking her
brain with vain questions as to what it was possible to do, when
Markham’s hansom, stopping with a sudden clang at the door, drove her
thoughts away, or at least made a break in them, and replaced, by a
nervous tremor of excitement and alarm, the pangs of anxious expectation
and suspense. She would rather not have seen Markham at that moment. She
was fond of her brother. It grieved her to hear even Lady Markham speak
of him in questionable terms: all the natural prejudices of affectionate
youth were enlisted on his side; but, for the first time, she felt that
she had no confidence in Markham, and wished that it had been any one
but he.

He came in with a light overcoat over his evening clothes,--he had been
dining out; but he did not meet Frances with the unembarrassed
countenance which she had thought would have made it so difficult to
speak to him about what she had heard. He came in hurriedly, looking
round the drawing-room with a rapid investigating glance before he took
any notice of her. “Where is the mother?” he asked, hurriedly.

“She has not come back,” said Frances, divining from his look that it
was unnecessary to say more.

Markham sat down abruptly on a sofa near. He did not make any reply to
her, but put up the handle of his cane to his mouth with a curious
mixture of the comic and the tragic, which struck her in spite of
herself. He did not require to put any question; he knew very well where
his mother was, and all that was happening. The sense of the great
crisis which had arrived took from him all power of speech, paralysing
him with mingled awe and dismay. But yet the odd little figure on the
sofa sucking his cane, his hat in his other hand, his features all
fallen into bewilderment and helplessness, was absurd. Out of the depths
of Frances’ trouble came a hysterical titter against her will. This
roused him also. He looked at her with a faint evanescent smile.

“Laughing at me, Fan? Well, I don’t wonder. I am a nice fellow to have
to do with a tragedy. Screaming farce is more like my style.”

“I did not laugh, Markham; I have not any heart for laughing,” she
said.

“Oh, didn’t you? But it sounded like it. Fan, tell me, has the mother
been long away, and did any one see that unfortunate girl when she was
here?”

“No, Markham--unless it were Mr Ramsay; he saw her drive away with
mamma.”

“The worst of old gossips,” he said, desperately sucking his cane, with
a gloomy brow. “I don’t know an old woman so bad. No quarter there--that
is the word. Fan, the mother is a trump. Nothing is so bad when she is
mixed up in it. Was Nelly much cut up, or was she in one of her wild
fits? Poor girl! You must not think badly of Nelly. She has had hard
lines. She never had a chance: an old brute, used up, that no woman
could take to. But she has done her duty by him, Fan.”

“She does not think so, Markham.”

“Oh, by Jove, she was giving you that, was she? Fan, I sometimes think
poor Nelly’s off her head a little. Poor Nelly, poor girl! I don’t want
to set her up for an example; but she has done her duty by him. Remember
this, whatever you may hear. I--am rather a good one to know.”

He gave a curious little chuckle as he said this--a sort of strangled
laugh, of which he was ashamed, and stifled it in its birth.

“Markham, I want to speak to you--about something very serious.”

He gave a keen look at her sideways from the corner of one eye. Then he
said, in a sort of whisper to himself, “Preaching;” but added in his own
voice, “Fire away, Fan,” with a look of resignation.

“Markham--it is about Captain Gaunt.”

“Oh!” he cried. He gave a little laugh. “You frightened me, my dear. I
thought at this time of the day you were going to give me a sermon from
the depths of your moral experience, Fan. So long as it isn’t about poor
Nelly, say what you please about Gaunt. What about Gaunt?”

“Oh, Markham, Mr Ramsay told me--and mamma has been frightened ever
since he came. What have you done with him, Markham? Don’t you remember
the old General at Bordighera--and his mother? And he had just come from
India, for his holiday, after years and years. And they are poor--that
is to say, they are well enough off for them; but they are not like
mamma and you. They have not got horses and carriages; they don’t
live--as you do.”

“As I do! I am the poorest little beggar living, and that is the truth,
Fan.”

“The poorest! Markham, you may think you can laugh at me. I am not
clever; I am quite ignorant--that I know. But how can you say you are
poor? You don’t know what it is to be poor. When they go away in the
summer, they choose little quiet places; they spare everything they can.
That is one thing I know better than you do. To say you are poor!”

He rose up and came towards her, and taking her hands in his, gave them
a squeeze which was painful, though he was unconscious of it. “Fan,” he
said, “all that is very pretty, and true for you; but if I hadn’t been
poor, do you think all this would have happened as it has done? Do you
think I’d have stood by and let Nelly marry that fellow? Do you
think----? Hush! there’s the mother, with news; no doubt she’s got news.
Fan, what d’ye think it’ll be?”

He held her hands tight, and pressed them till she had almost cried out,
looking in her face with a sort of nervous smile which twitched at the
corners of his mouth, looking in her eyes as if into a mirror where he
could see the reflection of something, and so be spared the pain of
looking directly at it. She saw that the subject which was of so much
interest to her had passed clean out of his head. His own affairs were
uppermost in Markham’s mind, as is generally the case whenever a man can
be supposed to have any affairs at all of his own.

And Frances, kept in this position, as a sort of mirror in which he
could see the reflection of his mother’s face, saw Lady Markham come in,
looking very pale and fatigued, with that air of having worn her outdoor
dress for hours which gives a sort of haggard aspect to weariness. She
gave a glance round, evidently without perceiving very clearly who was
there, then sank wearily upon the sofa, loosening her cloak. “It is all
over,” she said in a low tone, as if speaking to herself--“it is all
over. Of course I could not come away before----”

Markham let go Frances’ hands without a word. He walked away to the
further window, and drew the curtain aside and looked out. Why, he could
not have told, nor with what purpose--with a vague intention of making
sure that the hansom which stood there so constantly was at the door.

“What is Markham doing?” said his mother, in a faint querulous tone.
“Tell him not to fidget with these curtains. It worries me. I am tired,
and my nerves are all wrong. Yes, you can take my cloak, Frances. Don’t
call anybody. No one will come here to-night. Markham, did you hear what
I said? It is all over. I waited till----”

He came towards her from the end of the room with a sort of smile upon
his grey sandy-coloured face, his mouth and eyebrows twitching, his eyes
screwed up so that nothing but two keen little glimmers of reflection
were visible. “You are not the sort,” he said, with a little tremor in
his voice, “to forsake a man when he is down.” He had his hands in his
pockets, his shoulders pushed up; nowhere could there have been seen a
less tragic figure. Yet every line of his odd face was touched and
moving with feeling, totally beyond any power of expression in words.

“It was not a happy scene,” she said. “He sent for her at the last.
Sarah Winterbourn was there at the bedside. She was fond of him, I
believe. A woman cannot help being fond of her brother, however little
he may deserve it. Nelly----”

Here Markham broke in with a sound that was like, yet not like, his
usual laugh. “How’s Nelly?” he said abruptly, without sequence or
reason. Lady Markham paused to look at him, and then went on--

“Nelly trembled so, I could scarcely keep her up. She wanted not to go;
she said, What was the good? But I got her persuaded at last. A man
dying like that is a--is a---- It is not a pleasant sight. He signed to
her to go and kiss him.” Lady Markham shuddered slightly. “He was past
speaking--I mean, he was past understanding---- I--I wish I had not seen
it. One can’t get such a scene out of one’s mind.”

She put up her hand and pressed her fingers upon her eyes, as if the
picture was there, and she was trying to get rid of it. Markham had
turned away again, and was examining, or seeming to examine, the flowers
in a jardinière. Now and then he made a movement, as if he would have
stopped the narrative. Frances, trembling and crying with natural horror
and distress, had loosened her mother’s cloak and taken off her bonnet
while she went on speaking. Lady Markham’s hair, though always covered
with a cap, was as brown and smooth as her daughter’s. Frances put her
hand upon it timidly, and smoothed the satin braid. It was all she could
do to show the emotion, the sympathy in her heart; and she was as much
startled in mind as physically, when Lady Markham suddenly threw one arm
round her and rested her head upon her shoulder. “Thank God,” the mother
cried, “that here is one, whatever may happen, that will never,
never----! Frances, my love, don’t mind what I say. I am worn out, and
good for nothing. Go and get me a little wine, for I have no strength
left in me.”

Markham turned to her with his chuckle more marked than ever, as Frances
left the room. “I am glad to see that you have strength to remember what
you’re about, mammy, in spite of that little break-down. It wouldn’t
do, would it?--to let Frances believe that a match like Winterbourn was
a thing she would never--never----! though it wasn’t amiss for poor
Nelly, in _her_ day.”

“Markham, you are very hard upon me. The child did not understand either
one thing or the other. And I was not to blame about Nelly; you cannot
say I was to blame. If I had been, I think to-night might make up: that
ghastly face, and Nelly’s close to it, with her eyes staring in horror,
the poor little mouth----”

Markham’s exclamation was short and sharp like a pistol-shot. It was a
monosyllable, but not one to be put into print. “Stop that!” he said.
“It can do no good going over it. Who’s with her now?”

“I could not stay, Markham; besides, it would have been out of place.
She has her maid, who is very kind to her; and I made them give her a
sleeping-draught--to make her forget her trouble. Sarah Winterbourn
laughed out when I asked for it. The doctor was shocked. It was so
natural that poor little Nelly, who never saw anything so ghastly,
never was in the house with death; never saw, much less touched----”

“I can understand Sarah,” he said, with a grim smile.

Frances came back with the wine, and her mother paused to kiss her as
she took it from her hand. “I am sure you have had a wearing, miserable
evening. You look quite pale, my dear. I ought not to speak of such
horrid things before you at your age. But you see, Markham, she saw
Nelly, and heard her wild talk. It was all excitement and misery and
overstrain; for in reality she had nothing to reproach herself
with--nothing, Frances. He proved that by sending for her, as I tell
you. He knew, and everybody knows, that poor Nelly had done her duty by
him.”

Frances paid little attention to this strange defence. She was, as her
mother knew, yet could scarcely believe, totally incapable of
comprehending the grounds on which Nelly was so strongly asserted to
have done her duty, or of understanding that not to have wronged her
husband in one unpardonable way, gave her a claim upon the applause of
her fellows. Fortunately, indeed, Frances was defended against all
questions on this subject by the possession of that unsuspected trouble
of her own, of which she felt that for the night at least it was futile
to say anything. Nelly was the only subject upon which her mother could
speak, or for which Markham had any ears. They did not say anything,
either after Frances left them or in her presence, of the future, of
which, no doubt, their minds were full--of which Nelly’s mind had been
so full when she burst into Lady Markham’s room in her finery, on that
very day; of what was to happen after, what “the widow”--that name
against which she so rebelled, but which was already fixed upon her in
all the clubs and drawing-rooms--was to do? that was a question which
was not openly put to each other by the two persons chiefly concerned.

When Markham appeared in his usual haunts that night, he was aware of
being regarded with many significant looks; but these he was of course
prepared for, and met with a countenance in which it would have puzzled
the wisest to find any special expression.

Lady Markham went to bed as soon as her son left her. She had said she
could receive no one, being much fatigued. “My lady have been with Mrs
Winterbourn,” was the answer made to Sir Thomas when he came to the door
late, after a tedious debate in the House of Commons. Sir Thomas, like
everybody, was full of speculations on this point, though he regarded it
from a point of view different from the popular one. The world was
occupied with the question whether Nelly would marry Markham, now that
she was rich and free. But what occupied Sir Thomas, who had no doubt on
this subject, was the--afterwards? What would Lady Markham do? Was it
not now at last the moment for Waring to come home?

In Lady Markham’s mind, some similar thoughts were afloat. She had said
that she was fatigued; but fatigue does not mean sleep, at least not at
Lady Markham’s age. It means retirement, silence, and leisure for the
far more fatiguing exertion of thought. When her maid had been
dismissed, and the faint night-lamp was all that was left in her
curtained, cushioned, luxurious room, the questions that arose in her
mind were manifold. Markham’s marriage would make a wonderful difference
in his mother’s life. Her house in Eaton Square she would no doubt
retain; but the lovely little house in the Isle of Wight, which had been
always hers--and the solemn establishment in the country, would be hers
no more. These two things of themselves would make a great difference.
But what was of still more consequence was, that Markham himself would
be hers no more. He would belong to his wife. It was impossible to
believe of him that he could ever be otherwise than affectionate and
kind; but what a difference when Markham was no longer one of the
household! And then the husband, so long cut off, so far separated, much
by distance, more by the severance of all the habits and mutual claims
which bind people together--with him what would follow? What would be
the effect of the change? Questions like these, diversified by perpetual
efforts of imagination to bring before her again the tragical scene of
which she had been a witness,--the dying man, with his hoarse attempts
to be intelligible; the young, haggard, horrified countenance of Nelly,
compelled to approach the awful figure, for which she had a child’s
dread,--kept her awake long into the night. It is seldom that a woman of
her age sees herself on the eve of such changes without any will of
hers. It seemed to have overwhelmed her in a moment, although, indeed,
she had foreseen the catastrophe. What would Nelly do? was the question
all the world was asking. But Lady Markham had another which occupied
her as much on her own side. Waring, what would he do?



CHAPTER XLII.


The question which disturbed Frances, which nobody knew or cared for,
was just as little likely to gain attention next day as it had been on
the evening of Mr Winterbourn’s death. Lady Markham returned to Nelly
before breakfast; she was with her most of the day; and Markham, though
he lent an apparent attention to what Frances said to him, was still far
too much absorbed in his own subject to be easily moved by hers. “Gaunt?
Oh, he is all right,” he said.

“Will you speak to him, Markham? Will you warn him? Mr Ramsay says he is
losing all his money; and I know, oh Markham, I _know_ that he has not
much to lose.”

“Claude is a little meddler. I assure you, Fan, Gaunt knows his own
affairs best.”

“No,” cried Frances: “when I tell you, Markham, when I tell you! that
they are quite poor, _really_ poor--not like you.”

“I have told you, my little dear, that I am the poorest beggar in
London.”

“Oh Markham! and you drive about in hansoms, and smoke cigars, all day.”

“Well, my dear, what would you have me do? Keep on trudging through the
mud, which would waste all my time; or get on the knife-board of an
omnibus? Well, these are the only alternatives. The omnibuses have their
recommendation--they are fun; but after a while, society in that
development palls upon the intelligent observer. What do you want me to
do, Fan? Come, I have a deal on my mind; but to please you, and to make
you hold your tongue, if there is anything I can do, I will try.”

“You can do everything, Markham. Warn him that he is wasting his
money--that he is spending what belongs to the old people--that he is
making himself wretched. Oh, don’t laugh, Markham! Oh, if I were in your
place! I know what I should do--I would get him to go home, instead of
going to--those places.”

“Which places, Fan?”

“Oh,” cried the girl, exasperated to tears, “how can I tell?--the places
you know--the places you have taken him to, Markham--places where, if
the poor General knew it, or Mrs Gaunt----”

“There you are making a mistake, little Fan. The good people would think
their son was in very fine company. If he tells them the names of the
persons he meets, they will think----”

“Then you know they will think wrong, Markham!” she cried, almost with
violence, keeping herself with a most strenuous effort from an outburst
of indignant weeping. He did not reply at once; and she thought he was
about to consider the question on its merits, and endeavour to find out
what he could do. But she was undeceived when he spoke.

“What day did you say, Fan, the funeral was to be?” he asked, with the
air of a man who has escaped from an unwelcome intrusion to the real
subject of his thoughts.

Sir Thomas found her alone, flushed and miserable, drying her tears
with a feverish little angry hand. She was very much alone during these
days, when Lady Markham was so often with Nelly Winterbourn. Sir Thomas
was pleased to find her, having also an object of his own. He soothed
her, when he saw that she had been crying. “Never mind me,” he said;
“but you must not let other people see that you are feeling it so much:
for you cannot be supposed to take any particular interest in
Winterbourn: and people will immediately suppose that you and your
mother are troubled about the changes that must take place in the
house.”

“I was not thinking at all of Mrs Winterbourn,” cried Frances, with
indignation.

“No, my dear; I knew you could not be. Don’t let any one but me see you
crying. Lady Markham will feel the marriage dreadfully, I know. But now
is our time for our grand _coup_.”

“What grand _coup_?” the girl said, with an astonished look.

“Have you forgotten what I said to you at the Priory? One of the chief
objects of my life is to bring Waring back. It is intolerable to think
that a man of his abilities should be banished for ever, and lost not
only to his country but his kind. Even if he were working for the good
of the race out there---- But he is doing nothing but antiquities, so
far as I can hear, and there are plenty of antiquarians good for nothing
else. Frances, we must have him home.”

“Home!” she said. Her heart went back with a bound to the rooms in the
Palazzo with all the green _persiani_ shut, and everything dark and
cool: it was getting warm in London, but there were no such precautions
taken. And the loggia at night, with the palm-trees waving majestically
their long drooping fans, and the soft sound of the sea coming over the
houses of the Marina--ah, and the happy want of thought, the pleasant
vacancy, in which nothing ever happened! She drew a long breath. “I
ought not to say so, perhaps; but when you say home----”

“You think of the place where you were brought up? That is quite
natural. But it would not be the same to him. He was not brought up
there; he can have nothing to interest him there. Depend upon it, he
must very often wish that he could pocket his pride and come back. We
must try to get him back, Frances. Don’t you think, my dear, that we
could manage it, you and I?”

Frances shook her head, and said she did not know. “But I should be very
glad--oh, very glad: if I am to stay here,” she said.

“Of course you would be glad; and of course you are to stay here. You
could not leave your poor mother by herself. And now that Markham--now
that probably everything will be changed for Markham---- If Markham were
out of the way, it would be so much easier; for, you know, he always was
the stumbling-block. She would not let Waring manage him, and she could
not manage him herself.”

Frances was so far instructed in what was going on around her, that she
knew how important in Markham’s history the death of Mr Winterbourn had
been; but it was not a subject on which she could speak. She said: “I am
very sorry papa did not like Markham. It does not seem possible not to
like Markham. But I suppose gentlemen---- Oh, Sir Thomas, if he were
here, I would ask papa to do something for me; but now I don’t know who
to ask to help me--if anything can be done.”

“Is it something I can do?”

“I think,” she said, “any one that was kind could do it; but only not a
girl. Girls are good for so little. Do you remember Captain Gaunt, who
came to town a few weeks ago? Sir Thomas, I have heard that something
has happened to Captain Gaunt. I don’t know how to tell you. Perhaps you
will think that it is not my business; but don’t you think it is your
friend’s business, when you get into trouble? Don’t you think that--that
people who know you--who care a little for you--should always be ready
to help?”

“That is a hard question to put to me. In the abstract, yes; but in
particular cases---- Is it Captain Gaunt for whom you care a little?”

Frances hesitated a moment, and then she answered boldly: “Yes--at least
I care for his people a great deal. And he has come home from India,
not very strong; and he knew nothing about--about what you call Society;
no more than I did. And now I hear that he is--I don’t know how to tell
you, Sir Thomas--losing all his money (and he has not any money) in the
places where Markham goes--in the places that Markham took him to. Oh,
wait till I have told you everything, Sir Thomas! they are not rich
people,--not like any of you here. Markham says he is poor----”

“So he is, Frances.”

“Ah,” she cried, with hasty contempt, “but you don’t understand! He may
not have much money; but they--they live in a little house with two
maids and Toni. They have no luxuries or grandeur. When they take a
drive in old Luca’s carriage, it is something to think about. All that
is quite, quite different from you people here. Don’t you see, Sir
Thomas, don’t you see? And Captain Gaunt has been--oh, I don’t know how
it is--losing his money; and he has not got any--and he is
miserable--and I cannot get any one to take an interest, to tell him--to
warn him, to get him to give up----”

“Did he tell you all this himself?” said Sir Thomas, gravely.

“Oh no, not a word. It was Mr Ramsay who told me; and when I begged him
to say something, to warn him----”

“He could not do that. There he was quite right; and you were quite
wrong, if you will let me say so. It is too common a case, alas! I don’t
know what any one can do.”

“Oh, Sir Thomas! if you will think of the old General and his mother,
who love him more than all the rest--for he is the youngest. Oh, won’t
you do something, try something, to save him?” Frances clasped her
hands, as if in prayer. She raised her eyes to his face with such an
eloquence of entreaty, that his heart was touched. Not only was her
whole soul in the petition for the sake of him who was in peril, but it
was full of boundless confidence and trust in the man to whom she
appealed. The other plea might have failed; but this last can scarcely
fail to affect the mind of any individual to whom it is addressed.

Sir Thomas put his hand on her shoulder with fatherly tenderness. “My
dear little girl,” he said, “what do you think I can do? I don’t know
what I can do. I am afraid I should only make things worse, were I to
interfere.”

“No, no. He is not like that. He would know you were a friend. He would
be thankful. And oh, how thankful, how thankful I should be!”

“Frances, do you take, then, so great an interest in this young man? Do
you want me to look after him for your sake?”

She looked at him hastily with an eager “Yes”--then paused a little, and
looked again with a dawning understanding which brought the colour to
her cheek. “You mean something more than I mean,” she said, a little
troubled. “But yet, if you will be kind to George Gaunt, and try to help
him, for my sake---- Yes, oh, yes! Why should I refuse? I would not have
asked you if I had not thought that perhaps you would do it--for me.”

“I would do a great deal for you; for your mother’s daughter, much; and
for poor Waring’s child; and again, for yourself. But, Frances, a young
man who is so weak, who falls into temptation in this way--my dear, you
must let me say it--he is not a mate for such as you.”

“For me? Oh no. No one thought--no one ever thought----” cried Frances
hastily. “Sir Thomas, I hear mamma coming, and I do not want to trouble
her, for she has so much to think of? Will you? Oh, promise me. Look for
him to-night; oh, look for him to-night!”

“You are so sure that I can be of use?” The trust in her eyes was so
genuine, so enthusiastic, that he could not resist that flattery. “Yes,
I will try. I will see what it is possible to do. And you, Frances,
remember you are pledged, too; you are to do everything you can for me.”

He was patting her on the shoulder, looking down upon her with very
friendly tender eyes, when Lady Markham came in. She was a little
startled by the group; but though she was tired and discomposed and out
of heart, she was not so preoccupied but what her quick mind caught a
new suggestion from it. Sir Thomas was very rich. He had been devoted to
herself, in all honour and kindness, for many years. What if
Frances----? A whole train of new ideas burst into her mind on the
moment, although she had thought, as she came in, that in the present
chaos and hurry of her spirits she had room for nothing more.

“You look,” she said with a smile, “as if you were settling something.
What is it? An alliance, a league?”

“Offensive and defensive,” said Sir Thomas. “We have given each other
mutual commissions, and we are great friends, as you see. But these are
our little secrets, which we don’t mean to tell. How is Nelly, Lady
Markham? And is it all right about the will?”

“The will is the least of my cares. I could not inquire into that, as
you may suppose; nor is there any need, so far as I know. Nelly is quite
enough to have on one’s hands, without thinking of the will. She is very
nervous and very headstrong. She would have rushed away out of the
house, if I had not used--almost force. She cannot bear to be under the
same roof with death.”

“It was the old way. I scarcely wonder, for my part: for it was never
pretended, I suppose, that there was any love in the matter.”

“Oh no” (Lady Markham looked at her own elderly knight and at her young
daughter, and said to herself, What if Frances----?); “there was no
love. But she has always been very good, and done her duty by him--that,
everybody will say.”

“Poor Nelly!--that is quite true. But still I should not like, if I were
such a fool as to marry a young wife, to have her do her duty to me in
that way.”

“You would be very different,” said Lady Markham with a smile. “I should
not think you a fool at all; and I should think her a lucky woman.” She
said this with Nelly Winterbourn’s voice still ringing in her ears.

“Happily, I am not going to put it to the test. Now, I must go--to look
after your affairs, Miss Frances; and remember that you are pledged to
look after mine in return.”

Lady Markham looked after him very curiously as he went away. She
thought, as women so often think, that men were very strange,
inscrutable--“mostly fools,” at least in one way. To think that perhaps
little Frances---- It would be a great match, greater than Claude
Ramsay--as good in one point of view, and in other respects far better
than Nelly St John’s great marriage with the rich Mr Winterbourn. “I am
glad you like him so much, Frances,” she said. “He is not young--but he
has every other quality; as good as ever man was, and so considerate and
kind. You may take him into your confidence fully.” She waited a moment
to see if the child had anything to say; then, too wise to force or
precipitate matters, went on: “Poor Nelly gives me great anxiety,
Frances. I wish the funeral were over, and all well. Her nerves are in
such an excited state, one can’t feel sure what she may do or say. The
servants and people happily think it grief; but to see Sarah Winterbourn
looking at her fills me with fright, I can’t tell why. _She_ doesn’t
think it is grief. And how should it be? A dreadful, cold, always ill,
repulsive man. But I hope she may be kept quiet, not to make a scandal
until after the funeral at least. I don’t know what she said to you, my
love, that day; but you must not pay any attention to what a woman says
in such an excited state. Her marriage has been unfortunate (which is a
thing that may happen in any circumstances), not because Mr Winterbourn
was such a good match, but because he was such a disagreeable man.”

Frances, who had no clue to her mother’s thoughts, or to any
appropriateness in this short speech, had little interest in it. She
said, somewhat stiffly, that she was sorry for poor Mrs Winterbourn--but
much more sorry for her own mother, who was having so much trouble and
anxiety. Lady Markham smiled upon her, and kissed her tenderly. It was a
relief to her mind, in the midst of all those anxious questions, to have
a new channel for her thoughts; and upon this new path she threw herself
forth in the fulness of a lively imagination, leaving fact far behind,
and even probability. She was indeed quite conscious of this, and
voluntarily permitted herself the pleasant exercise of building a new
castle in the air. Little Frances! And she said to herself there would
be no drawback in such a case. It would be the finest match of the
season; and no mother need fear to trust her daughter in Sir Thomas’s
hands.

Sir Thomas came back next morning when Lady Markham was again absent. He
informed Frances that he had gone to several places where he was told
Captain Gaunt was likely to be found, and had seen Markham as usual
“frittering himself away;” but Gaunt had nowhere been visible. “Some one
said he had fallen ill. If that is so, it is the best thing that could
happen. One has some hope of getting hold of him so.” But where did he
live? That was the question. Markham did not know, nor any one about.
That was the first thing to be discovered, Sir Thomas said. For the
first time, Frances appreciated her mother’s business-like arrangements
for her great correspondence, which made an address-book so necessary.
She found Gaunt’s address there; and passed the rest of the day in
anxiety, which she could confide to no one, learning for the first time
those tortures of suspense which to so many women form a great part of
existence. Frances thought the day would never end. It was so much the
more dreadful to her that she had to shut it all up in her own bosom,
and endeavour to enter into other anxieties, and sympathise with her
mother’s continual panic as to what Nelly Winterbourn might do. The
house altogether was in a state of suppressed excitement; even the
servants--or perhaps the servants most keenly of any, with their quick
curiosity and curious divination of any change in the atmosphere of a
family--feeling the thrill of approaching revolution. Frances with her
private preoccupation was blunted to this; but when Sir Thomas arrived
in the evening, it was all she could do to curb herself and keep within
the limits of ordinary rule. She sprang up, indeed, when she heard his
step on the stair, and went off to the further corner of the room, where
she could read his face out of the dimness before he spoke; and where,
perhaps, he might seek her, and tell her, under some pretence. These
movements were keenly noted by her mother, as was also the alert air of
Sir Thomas, and his interest and activity, though he looked very grave.
But Frances did not require to wait for the news she looked for so
anxiously.

“Yes, I am very serious,” Sir Thomas said, in answer to Lady Markham’s
question. “I have news to tell you which will shock you. Your poor young
friend Gaunt--Captain Gaunt--wasn’t he a friend of yours?--is lying
dangerously ill of fever in a poor little set of lodgings he has got. He
is far too ill to know me or say anything to me; but so far as I can
make out, it has something to do with losses at play.”

Lady Markham turned pale with alarm and horror. “Oh, I have always been
afraid of this! I had a presentiment,” she cried. Then rallying a
little: “But, Sir Thomas, no one thinks now that fever is brought on by
mental causes. It must be bad water or defective drainage.”

“It may be--anything; I can’t tell; I am no doctor. But the fact is, the
young fellow is lying delirious, raving. I heard him myself--about
stakes and chances and losses, and how he will make it up to-morrow.
There are other things too. He seems to have had hard lines, poor
fellow, if all is true.”

Frances had rushed forward, unable to restrain herself. “Oh, his mother,
his mother--we must send for his mother,” she cried.

“I will go and see him to-morrow,” said Lady Markham. “I had a
presentiment. He has been on my mind ever since I saw him first. I
blame myself for losing sight of him. But to-morrow----”

“To-morrow--to-morrow; that is what the poor fellow says.”



CHAPTER XLIII.


Lady Markham did not forget her promise. Whatever else a great lady may
forget in these days, her sick people, her hospitals, she is sure never
to forget. She went early to the lodgings, which were not far off,
hidden in one of the quaint corners of little old lanes behind
Piccadilly, where poor Gaunt was. She did not object to the desire of
Frances to go with her, nor to the anxiety she showed. The man was ill;
he had become a “case;” it was natural and right that he should be an
object of interest. For herself, so far as Lady Markham’s thoughts were
free at all, George Gaunt was much more than a case to her. A little
while ago, she would have given him a large share in her thoughts, with
a remorseful consciousness almost of a personal part in the injury
which had been done him. But now there were so many other matters in the
foreground of her mind, that this, though it gave her one sharp twinge,
and an additional desire to do all that could be done for him, had yet
fallen into the background. Besides, things had arrived at a climax:
there was no longer any means of delivering him, no further anxiety
about his daily movements; there he lay, incapable of further action. It
was miserable, yet it was a relief. Markham and Markham’s associates had
no more power over a sick man.

Lady Markham managed her affairs always in a business-like way. She sent
to inquire what was the usual hour of the doctor’s visit, and timed her
arrival so as to meet him, and receive all the information he could
give. Even the medical details of the case were not beyond Lady
Markham’s comprehension. She had a brief but very full consultation with
the medical man in the little parlour down-stairs, and promptly issued
her orders for nurses and all that could possibly be wanted for the
patient. Two nurses at once--one for the day, and the other for the
night; ice by the cart-load; the street to be covered with hay; any
traffic that it was possible to stop, arrested. These directions Frances
heard while she sat anxious and trembling in the brougham, and watched
the doctor--a humble and undistinguished practitioner of the
neighbourhood, stirred into excited interest by the sudden appearance of
the great lady, with her liberal ideas, upon the scene--hurrying away.
Lady Markham then disappeared again into the house,--the small, trim,
shallow, London lodging-house, with a few scrubby plants in its little
balconies on the first floor, where the windows were open, but veiled by
sun-blinds. Something that sounded like incessant talking came from
these windows--a sound to which Frances paid no attention at first,
thinking it nothing but a conversation, though curiously carried on
without break or pause. But after a while the monotony of the sound gave
her a painful sensation. The street was very quiet, even without the
hay. Now and then a cart or carriage would come round the corner, taking
a short-cut from one known locality to another. Sometimes a street cry
would echo through the sunshine. A cart full of flowering-plants, with a
hoarse-voiced proprietor, went along in stages, stopping here and there;
but through all ran the strain of talk, monologue or conversation, never
interrupted. The sound affected the girl’s nerves, she could not tell
why. She opened the door of the brougham at last, and went into the
narrow little doorway of the house, where it became more distinct,--a
persistent dull strain of speech. All was deserted on the lower floor,
the door of the sitting-room standing open, the narrow staircase leading
to the sick man’s rooms above. Frances felt her interest, her eager
curiosity, grow at every moment. She ran lightly, quickly up-stairs. The
door of the front room, the room with the balconies, was ajar; and now
it became evident that the sound was that of a single voice, hoarse, not
always articulate, talking. Oh, the weary strain of talk, monotonous,
unending--sometimes rising faintly, sometimes falling lower, never done,
without a pause. That could not be raving, Frances said to herself. Oh,
not raving! Cries of excitement and passion would have been
comprehensible. But there was something more awful in the persistency of
the dull choked voice. She said to herself it was not George Gaunt’s
voice: she did not know what it was. But as she put forth all these
arguments to herself, trembling, she drew ever nearer and nearer to the
door.

“Red--red--and red. Stick to my colour: my colour--my coat, Markham, and
the ribbon, her ribbon. I say red. Play, play--all play--always:
amusement: her ribbon, red. No, no; not red, black, colour death--no
colour: means nothing, all nothing. Markham, play. Gain or
lose--all--all: nothing kept back. Red, I say; and red--blood--blood
colour. Mother, mother! no, it’s black, black. No blood--no blood--no
reproach. Death--makes up all--death. Black--red--black--all death
colours, all death, death.” Then there was a little change in the voice.
“Constance?--India; no, no; not India. Anywhere--give up everything.
Amusement, did you say amusement? Don’t say so, don’t say so. Sport to
you--but death, death:--colour of death, black: or red--blood: all
death colours, death. Mother! don’t put on black--red ribbons like
hers--red, heart’s blood. No bullet, no--her little hand, little white
hand--and then blood-red. Constance! Play--play--nothing left--play.”

Frances stood outside and shuddered. Was this, then, what they called
raving? She shrank within herself; her heart failed her; a sickness
which took the light from her eyes, made her limbs tremble and her head
swim. Oh, what sport had he been to the two--the two who were nearest to
her in the world! What had they done with him, Mrs Gaunt’s boy--the
youngest, the favourite? There swept through the girl’s mind like a
bitter wind a cry against--Fate was it, or Providence? Had they but let
alone, had each stayed in her own place, it would have been Frances who
should have met, with a fresh heart, the young man’s early fancy. They
would have met sincere and faithful, and loved each other, and all would
have been well. But there was no Frances; there was only Constance,
to throw his heart away. She seemed to see it all as in a
picture--Constance with the red ribbons on her grey dress, with the
smile that said it was only amusement; with the little hand, the little
white hand, that gave the blow. And then all play, all play, red or
black, what did it matter? and the bullet; and the mother in mourning,
and Markham. Constance and Markham! murderers. This was the cry that
came from the bottom of the girl’s heart. Murderers!--of two; of him and
of herself; of the happiness that was justly hers, which at this moment
she claimed, and wildly asserted her right to have, in the clamour of
her angry heart. She seemed to see it all in a moment: how he was hers;
how she had given her heart to him before she ever saw him; how she
could have made him happy. She would not have shrunk from India or
anywhere. She would have made him happy. And Constance, for a jest, had
come between; for amusement, had broken his heart. And Markham, for
amusement--for amusement!--had destroyed his life; and hers as well.
There are moments when the gentle and simple mind becomes more terrible
than any fury. She saw it all as in a picture--with one clear sudden
revelation. And her heart rose against it with a sensation of wrong,
which was intolerable--of misery, which she could not, would not bear.

She pushed open the door, scarcely knowing what she did. The bed was
pulled out from the wall, almost into the centre of the room; and
behind, while this strange husky monologue of confused passion was going
on unnoted, Lady Markham and the landlady stood together talking in calm
undertones of the treatment to be employed. Frances’ senses, all
stimulated to the highest point, took in, without meaning to do so,
every particular of the scene and every word that was said.

“I can do no good by staying now,” Lady Markham was saying. “There is so
little to be done at this stage. The ice to his head, that is all till
the nurse comes. She will be here before one o’clock. And in the
meantime, you must watch him carefully, and if anything occurs, let me
know. Be very careful to tell me everything; for the slightest symptom
is important.”

“Yes, my lady; I’ll take great care, my lady.” The woman was overawed,
yet excited, by this unexpected visitor, who had turned the dull drama
of the lodger’s illness into a great, important, and exciting conflict,
conducted by the highest officials, against disease and death.

“As I go home, I shall call at Dr----’s”--naming the great doctor of
the moment--“who will meet the other gentleman here; and after that, if
they decide on ice-baths or any other active treatment---- But there
will be time to think of that. In the meantime, if anything important
occurs, communicate with me at once, at Eaton Square.”

“Yes, my lady; I’ll not forget nothing. My ’usband will run in a moment
to let your ladyship know.”

“That will be quite right. Keep him in the house, so that he may get
anything that is wanted.” Lady Markham gave her orders with the
liberality of a woman who had never known any limit to the possibilities
of command in this way. She went up to the bed and looked at the
patient, who lay all unconscious of inspection, continuing the hoarse
talk, to which she had ceased to attend, through which she had carried
on her conversation in complete calm. She touched his forehead for a
moment with the back of her ungloved hand, and shook her head. “The
temperature is very high,” she said. There was a semi-professional calm
in all she did. Now that he was under treatment, he could be considered
dispassionately as a “case.” When she turned round and saw Frances
within the door, she held up her finger. “Look at him, if you wish, for
a moment, poor fellow; but not a word,” she said. Frances, from the
passion of anguish and wrong which had seized upon her, sank altogether
into a confused hush of semi-remorseful feeling. Her mother at least was
occupied with nothing that was not for his good.

“I told you that I mistrusted Markham,” she said, as they drove away.
“He did not mean any harm. But that is his life. And I think I told you
that I was afraid Constance---- Oh, my dear, a mother has a great many
hard offices to undertake in her life--to make up for things which her
children may have done--_en gaieté du cœur_, without thought.”

“_Gaieté du cœur_--is that what you call it,” cried Frances, “when you
murder a man?” Her voice was choked with the passion that filled her.

“Frances! Murder! You are the last one in the world from whom I should
have expected anything violent.”

“Oh,” cried the girl, flushed and wild, her eyes gleaming through an
angry dew of pain, “what word is there that is violent enough? He was
happy and good, and there were--there might have been--people who could
have loved him, and--and made him happy. When one comes in, one who had
no business there, one who--and takes him from--the others, and makes a
sport of him and a toy to amuse herself, and flings him broken away. It
is worse than murder--if there is anything worse than murder,” she
cried.

Lady Markham could not have been more astonished if some passer-by had
presented a pistol at her head. “Frances!” she cried, and took the
girl’s hot hands into her own, endeavouring to soothe her; “you speak as
if she meant to do it--as if she had some interest in doing it. Frances,
you must be just!”

“If I were just--if I had the power to be just--is there any punishment
which could be great enough? His life? But it is more than his life. It
is misery and torture and wretchedness, to him first, and then to--to
his mother--to----” She ended as a woman, as a poor little girl,
scarcely yet woman grown, must--in an agony of tears.

All that a tender mother and that a kind woman could do--with due regard
to the important business in her hands, and a glance aside to see that
the coachman did not mistake Sir Joseph’s much frequented door--Lady
Markham did to quench this extraordinary passion, and bring back calm to
Frances. She succeeded so far, that the girl, hurriedly drying her
tears, retiring with shame and confusion into herself, recovered
sufficient self-command to refrain from further betrayal of her
feelings. In the midst of it all, though she was not unmoved by her
mother’s tenderness, she had a kind of fierce perception of Lady
Markham’s anxiety about Sir Joseph’s door, and her eagerness not to lose
any time in conveying her message to him, which she did rapidly in her
own person, putting the footman aside, corrupting somehow by sweet words
and looks the incorruptible functionary who guarded the great doctor’s
door. It was all for poor Gaunt’s sake, and done with care for him, as
anxious and urgent as if he had been her own son; and yet it was
business too, which, had Frances been in a mood to see the humour of it,
might have lighted the tension of her feelings. But she was in no mind
for humour--a thing which passion has never any eyes for or cognisance
of. “That is all quite right. He will meet the other doctor this
afternoon; and we may be now comfortable that he is in the best hands,”
Lady Markham said, with a sigh of satisfaction. She added: “I suppose,
of course, his parents will not hesitate about the expense?” in a
faintly inquiring tone; but did not insist on any reply. Nor could
Frances have given any reply. But amid the chaos of her mind, there came
a consciousness of poor Mrs Gaunt’s dismay, could she have known. She
would have watched her son night and day; and there was not one of the
little community at Bordighera--Mrs Durant, with all her little
pretences; Tasie, with her airs of young-ladyhood--who would not have
shared the vigil. But the two expensive nurses, with every accessory
that new-fangled science could think of--this would have frightened out
of their senses the two poor parents, who would not “hesitate about the
expense,” or any expense that involved their son’s life. In this point,
too, the different classes could not understand each other. The idea
flew through the girl’s mind with a half-despairing consciousness that
this, too, had something to do with the overwhelming revolution in her
own circumstances. A man of her own species would have understood
Constance; he would have known Markham’s reputation and ways. The pot of
iron and the pot of clay could not travel together without damage to the
weakest. This went vaguely through Frances’ mind in the middle of her
excitement, and perhaps helped to calm her. It also stilled, if it did
not calm her, to see that her mother was a little afraid of her in her
new development.

Lady Markham, when she returned to the brougham after her visit to Sir
Joseph, manifestly avoided the subject. She was careful not to say
anything of Markham or of Constance. Her manner was anxious,
deprecatory, full of conciliation. She advised Frances, with much
tenderness, to go and rest a little when they got home. “I fear you have
been doing too much, my darling,” she cried, and followed her to her
room with some potion in a glass.

“I am quite well,” Frances said; “there is nothing the matter with me.”

“But I am sure, my dearest, that you are overdone.” Her anxious and
conciliatory looks were of themselves a tonic to Frances, and brought
her back to herself.

Markham, when he appeared in the evening, showed unusual feeling too. He
was at the crisis, it seemed, of his own life, and perhaps other
sentiments had therefore an easier hold upon him. He came in looking
very downcast, with none of his usual banter in him. “Yes, I know. I
have heard all about it, bless you. What else, do you think, are those
fellows talking about? Poor beggar. Who ever thought he’d have gone down
like that in so short a time? Now, mother, the only thing wanting is
that you should say ‘I told you so.’ And Fan,--no, Fan can do worse; she
can tell me that she thought he was safe in my hands.”

“It is not my way to say I told you so, Markham; but yet----”

“You could do it, mammy, if you tried--that is well known. I’m rather
glad he is ill, poor beggar; it stops the business. But there are things
to pay, that is the worst.”

“Surely, if it is to a gentleman, he will forgive him,” cried Frances,
“when he knows----”

“Forgive him! Poor Gaunt would rather die. It would be as much as a
man’s life was worth to offer to--forgive another man. But how should
the child know? That’s the beauty of Society and the rules of honour,
Fan. You can forgive a man many things, but not a shilling you’ve won
from him. And how is he to mend, good life! with the thought of having
to pay up in the end?” Markham repeated this despondent speech several
times before he went gloomily away. “I had rather die straight off, and
make no fuss. But even then, he’d have to pay up, or somebody for him.
If I had known what I know now, I’d have eaten him sooner than have
taken him among those fellows, who have no mercy.”

“Markham, if you would listen to me, you would give them up--you too.”

“Oh, I----” he said, with his short laugh. “They can’t do much harm to
me.”

“But you must change--in that as well as other things, if----”

“Ah, if,” he said, with a curious grimace; and took up his hat and went
away.

Thus, Frances said to herself, his momentary penitence and her mother’s
pity melted away in consideration of themselves. They could not say a
dozen words on any other subject, even such an urgent one as this,
before their attention dropped, and they relapsed into the former
question about themselves. And such a question!--Markham’s marriage,
which depended upon Nelly Winterbourn’s widowhood and the portion her
rich husband left her. Markham was an English peer, the head of a family
which had been known for centuries, which even had touched the history
of England here and there; yet this was the ignoble way in which he was
to take the most individual step of a man’s life. Her heart was full
almost to bursting of these questions, which had been gradually
awakening in her mind. Lady Markham, when left alone, turned always to
the consolation of her correspondence--of those letters to write which
filled up all the interstices of her other occupations. Perhaps she was
specially glad to take refuge in this assumed duty, having no desire to
enter again with her daughter into any discussion of the events of the
day. Frances withdrew into a distant corner. She took a book with her,
and did her best to read it, feeling that anything was better than to
allow herself to think, to summon up again the sound of that hoarse
broken voice running on in the feverish current of disturbed thought.
Was he still talking, talking, God help him! of death and blood and the
two colours, and her ribbon, and the misery which was all play? Oh, the
misery, causeless, unnecessary, to no good purpose, that had come merely
from this--that Constance had put herself in Frances’ place,--that the
pot of iron had thrust itself in the road of the pot of clay. But she
must not think--she must not think, the girl said to herself with
feverish earnestness, and tried the book again. Finding it of no avail,
however, she put it down, and left her corner and came, in a moment of
leisure between two letters, behind her mother’s chair. “May I ask you a
question, mamma?”

“As many as you please, my dear;” but Lady Markham’s face bore a
harassed look. “You know, Frances, there are some to which there is no
answer--which I can only ask with an aching heart, like yourself,” she
said.

“This is a very simple one. It is, Have I any money--of my own?”

Lady Markham turned round on her chair and looked at her daughter.
“Money!” she said. “Are you in need of anything? Do you want money,
Frances? I shall never forgive myself, if you have felt yourself
neglected.”

“It is not that. I mean--have I anything of my own?”

After a little pause. “There is a--small provision made for you by my
marriage settlement,” Lady Markham said.

“And--once more--could, oh, could I have it, mamma?”

“My dear child! you must be out of your senses. How could you have it at
your age--unless you were going to marry?”

This suggestion Frances rejected with the contempt it merited. “I shall
never marry,” she said; “and there never could be a time when it would
be of so much importance to me to have it as now. Oh, tell me, is there
no way by which I could have it now?”

“Sir Thomas is one of our trustees. Ask him. I do not think he will let
you have it, Frances. But perhaps you could tell him what you want, if
you will not have confidence in me. Money is just the thing that is
least easy for me. I could give you almost anything else; but money I
have not. What can you want money for, a girl like you?”

Frances hesitated before she replied. “I would rather not tell you,” she
said; “for very likely you would not approve; but it is
nothing--wrong.”

“You are very honest, my dear. I do not suppose for a moment it is
anything wrong. Ask Sir Thomas,” Lady Markham said, with a smile. The
smile had meaning in it, which to Frances was incomprehensible. “Sir
Thomas--will refuse nothing he can in reason give--of that I am sure.”

Sir Thomas, when he came in shortly afterwards, said that he would not
disturb Lady Markham. “For I see you are busy, and I have something to
say to Frances.”

“Who has also something to say to you,” Lady Markham said, with a
benignant smile. Her heart gave a throb of satisfaction. It was all she
could do to restrain herself, not to tell the dear friend to whom she
was writing that there was every prospect of a _most happy_
establishment for dear Frances. And her joy was quite genuine and almost
innocent, notwithstanding all she knew.

“You have written to your father?” Sir Thomas said. “My dear Frances, I
have got the most hopeful letter from him, the first I have had for
years. He asks me if I know what state Hilborough is in--if it is
habitable? That looks like coming home, don’t you think? And it is
years since he has written to me before.”

Frances did not know what Hilborough was; but she disliked showing her
ignorance. And this idea was not so comforting to her as Sir Thomas
expected. She said: “I do not think he will come,” with downcast eyes.

But Sir Thomas was strong in his own way of thinking. He was excited and
pleased by the letter. He told her again and again how he had desired
this--how happy it made him to think he was about to be successful at
last. “And just at the moment when all is likely to be arranged--when
Markham---- You have brought me luck, Frances. Now, tell me what it was
you wanted from me?”

Frances’ spirits had fallen lower and lower while his rose. Her mind
ranged over the new possibilities with something like despair. It would
be Constance, not she, who would have done it, if he came
back--Constance, who had taken her place from her--the love that ought
to have been hers--her father--and who now, on her return, would resume
her place with her mother too. Ah, what would Constance do? Would she
do anything for him who lay yonder in the fever, for his father and his
mother, poor old people!--anything to make up for the harm she had done?
Her heart burned in her agitated, troubled bosom. “It is nothing,” she
said--“nothing that you would do for me. I had a great wish--but I know
you would not let me do it, neither you nor my mother.”

“Tell me what it is, and we shall see.”

Frances felt her voice die away in her throat. “We went this morning to
see--to see----”

“You mean poor Gaunt. It is a sad sight, and a sad story--too sad for a
young creature like you to be mixed up in. Is it anything for him, that
you want me to do?”

She looked at him through those hot gathering tears which interrupt the
vision of women, and blind them when they most desire to see clearly. A
sense of the folly of her hope, of the impossibility of making any one
understand what was in her mind, overwhelmed her. “I cannot, I cannot,”
she cried. “Oh, I know you are very kind. I wanted my own money, if I
have any. But I know you will not give it me, nor think it right, nor
understand what I want to do with it.”

“Have you so little trust in me?” said Sir Thomas. “I hope, if you told
me, I could understand. I cannot give you your own money, Frances; but
if it were for a good--no, I will not say that--for a sensible, for a
practicable purpose, you should have some of mine.”

“Yours!” she cried, almost with indignation. “Oh no; that is not what I
mean. They are nothing--nothing to you.” She paused when she had said
this, and grew very pale. “I did not mean---- Sir Thomas, please do not
say anything to mamma.”

He took her hand affectionately between his own. “I do not half
understand,” he said; “but I will keep your secret, so far as I know it,
my poor little girl.”

Lady Markham at her writing-table, with her back turned, went on with
her correspondence all the time in high satisfaction and pleasure,
saying to herself that it would be far better than Nelly
Winterbourn’s--that it would be the finest match of the year.



CHAPTER XLIV.


It had seemed to Frances, as it appears naturally to all who have little
experience, that a man who was so ill as Captain Gaunt must get better
or get worse without any of the lingering suspense which accompanies a
less violent complaint; but, naturally, Lady Markham was wiser, and
entertained no such delusions. When it had gone on for a week, it
already seemed to Frances as if he had been ill for a year,--as if there
never had been any subject of interest in the world but the lingering
course of the malady, which waxed from less to more, from days of quiet
to hours of active delirium. The business-like nurses, always so cool
and calm, with their professional reports, gave the foolish girl a chill
to her heart, thinking, as she did, of the anxiety that would have
filled, not the house alone in which he lay, but all the little
community, had he been ill at home. Perhaps it was better for him that
he was not ill at home,--that the changes in his state were watched by
clear eyes, not made dim by tears or oversharp by anxiety, but which
took him very calmly, as a case interesting, no doubt, but only in a
scientific sense.

After a few days, Lady Markham herself wrote to his mother a very kind
letter, full of detail, describing everything which she had done, and
how she had taken Captain Gaunt entirely into her own hands. “I thought
it better not to lose any time,” she said; “and you may assure yourself
that everything has been done for him that could have been done, had you
yourself been here. I have acted exactly as I should have done for my
own son in the circumstances;” and she proceeded to explain the
treatment, in a manner which was far too full of knowledge for poor Mrs
Gaunt’s understanding, who could scarcely read the letter for tears. The
best nurses, the best doctor, the most anxious care, Lady Markham’s own
personal supervision, so that nothing should be neglected. The two old
parents held their little counsel over this letter with full hearts. It
had been Mrs Gaunt’s first intention to start at once, to get to her boy
as fast as express trains could carry her; but then they began to look
at each other, to falter forth broken words about expense. Two nurses,
the best doctor in London--and then the mother’s rapid journey, the old
General left alone. How was she to do it, so anxious, so unaccustomed as
she was? They decided, with many doubts and terrors, with great
self-denial, and many a sick flutter of questionings as to which was
best, to remain. Lady Markham had promised them news every day of their
boy, and a telegram at once if there was “any change”--those awful
words, that slay the very soul. Even the poor mother decided that in
these circumstances it would be “self-indulgence” to go; and from
henceforward, the old people lived upon the post-hours,--lived in awful
anticipation of a telegram announcing a “change.” Frances was their
daily correspondent. She had gone to look at him, she always said,
though the nurses would not permit her to stay. He was no worse. But
till another week, there could be no change. Then she would write that
the critical day had passed--that there was still no change, and would
not be again for a week; but that he was no worse. No worse!--this was
the poor fare upon which General Gaunt and his wife lived in their
little Swiss _pension_, where it was so cheap. They gave up even their
additional candle, and economised that poor little bit of expenditure;
they gave up their wine; they made none of the little excursions which
had been their delight. Even with all these economies, how were they to
provide the expenses which were running on--the dear London lodgings,
the nurses, the boundless outgoings, which it was understood they would
not grudge? Grudge! No; not all the money in the world, if it could save
their George. But where--where were they to get this money? Whence was
it to come?

This Frances knew, but no one else. And she, too, knew that the lodgings
and the nurses and the doctors were so far from being all. The poor girl
spent the days much as they did, in agonised questions and
considerations. If she could but get her money, her own money, whatever
it was. Later, for her own use, what would it matter? She could work,
she could take care of children, it did not matter what she did: but to
save him, to save them. She had learned so much, however, about life and
the world in which she lived, as to know that, were her object known, it
would be treated as the supremest folly. Wild ideas of Jews, of finding
somebody who would lend her what she wanted, as young men do in novels,
rose in her mind, and were dismissed, and returned again. But she was
not a young man; she was only a girl, and knew not what to do, nor where
to go. Not even the very alphabet of such knowledge was hers.

While this was going on, she was taken, all abstracted as she was, into
Society--to the solemn heavinesses of dinner-parties; to dances even, in
which her gravity and self-absorption were construed to mean very
different things. Lady Markham had never said a word to any one of the
idea which had sprung into her own mind full grown at sight of Sir
Thomas holding in fatherly kindness her little girl’s hands. She had
never said a word, oh, not a word. How such a wild and extraordinary
rumour had got about, she could not imagine. But the ways of Society and
its modes of information are inscrutable: a glance, a smile, are enough.
And what so natural as this to bring a veil of gravity over even a
_débutante_ in her first season? Lucky little girl, some people said;
poor little thing, some others. No wonder she was so serious; and her
mother, that successful general--her mother, that triumphant
match-maker, radiant, in spite, people said, of the very uncomfortable
state of affairs about Markham, and the fact that, in the absence of the
executor, Nelly Winterbourn knew nothing as yet as to how she was
“left.”

Thus the weeks went past in great suspense for all. Markham had
recovered, it need scarcely be said, from his fit of remorse; and he,
perhaps, was the one to whom these uncertainties were a relief rather
than an oppression. Mrs Winterbourn had retired into the country, to
wait the arrival of the all--important functionary who had possession
of her husband’s will, and to pass decorously the first profundity of
her mourning. Naturally, Society knew everything about Nelly: how, under
the infliction of Sarah Winterbourn’s society, she was quite as well as
could be expected; how she was behaving herself beautifully in her
retirement, seeing nobody, doing just what it was right to do. Nelly had
always managed to retain the approval of Society, whatever she did. In
the best circles, it was now a subject of indignant remark that Sarah
Winterbourn should take it upon herself to keep watch like a dragon over
the widow. For Nelly’s prevision was right, and the widow was what the
men now called her, though women are not addicted to that form of
nomenclature. But Sarah Winterbourn was universally condemned. Now that
the poor girl had completed her time of bondage, and conducted herself
so perfectly, why could not that dragon leave her alone? Markham made no
remark upon the subject; but his mother, who understood him so well,
believed he was glad that Sarah Winterbourn should be there, making all
visits unseemly. Lady Markham thought he was glad of the pause
altogether, of the impossibility of doing anything; and to be allowed to
go on without any disturbance in his usual way. She had herself made one
visit to Nelly, and reported, when she came home, that notwithstanding
the presence of Sarah, Nelly’s natural brightness was beginning to
appear, and that soon she would be as _espiègle_ as ever. That was Lady
Markham’s view of the subject; and there was no doubt that she spoke
with perfect knowledge.

It was very surprising, accordingly, to the ladies, when, some days
after this, Lady Markham’s butler came up-stairs to say that Mrs
Winterbourn was at the door, and had sent to inquire whether his
mistress was at home and alone before coming up-stairs. “Of course I am
at home,” said Lady Markham; “I am always at home to Mrs Winterbourn.
But to no one else, remember, while she is here.” When the man went away
with his message, Lady Markham had a moment of hesitation. “You may
stay,” she said to Frances, “as you were present before and saw her in
her trouble. But I wonder what has brought her to town? She did not
intend to come to town till the end of the season. She must have
something to tell me. O Nelly, how are you, dear?” she cried, going
forward and taking the young widow into her arms. Nelly was in crape
from top to toe. As she had always done what was right, what people
expected from her, she continued to do so till the end. A little rim of
white was under the edge of her close black bonnet with its long veil.
Her cuffs were white and hem-stitched in the old-fashioned _deep_ way.
Nothing, in short, could be more _deep_ than Nelly’s costume altogether.
She was a very pattern for widows; and it was very becoming, as that
dress seldom fails to be. It would have been natural to expect in
Nelly’s countenance some consciousness of this, as well as perhaps a
something at the corners of her mouth which should show that, as Lady
Markham said, she would soon be as _espiègle_ as ever. But there was
nothing of this in her face. She seemed to have stiffened with her
crape. She suffered Lady Markham’s embrace rather than returned it. She
did not take any notice of Frances. She walked across the room,
sweeping with her long dress, with her long veil like an ensign of woe,
and sat down with her back to the light. But for a minute or more she
said nothing, and listened to Lady Markham’s questions without even a
movement in reply.

“What is the matter, my dear? Is it something you have to tell me, or
have you only got tired of the country?” Lady Markham said, with a look
of alarm beginning to appear in her face.

“I am tired of the country,” said Mrs Winterbourn; “but I am also tired
of everything else, so that does not matter much. Lady Markham, I have
come to tell you a great piece of news. My trustee and Mr Winterbourn’s
executor, who has been at the other end of the world, has come home.”

“Yes, Nelly?” Lady Markham’s look of alarm grew more and more marked.
“You make me very anxious,” she cried. “I am sure something has happened
that you did not foresee.”

“Oh, nothing has happened--that I ought not to have foreseen. I always
wondered why Sarah Winterbourn stuck to me so. The will has been opened
and read, and I know how it all is now. I rushed to tell you, as you
have been so kind.”

“Dear Nelly!” Lady Markham said, not knowing, in the growing
perturbation of her mind, what else to say.

“Mr Winterbourn has been very liberal to me. He has left me everything
he can leave away from his heir-at-law. Nothing that is entailed, of
course; but there is not very much under the entail. They tell me I will
be one of the richest women--a wealthy widow.”

“My dear Nelly, I am so very glad; but I am not surprised. Mr
Winterbourn had a great sense of justice. He could not do less for you
than that.”

“But Lady Markham, you have not heard all.” It was not like Nelly
Winterbourn to speak in such measured tones. There was not the faintest
sign of the _espiègle_ in her voice. Frances, roused by the astonished,
alarmed look in her mother’s face, drew a little nearer almost
involuntarily, notwithstanding her abstraction in anxieties of her own.

“Nelly, do you mind Frances being here?”

“Oh, I wish her to be here! It will do her good. If she is going to
do--the same as I did, she ought to know.” She made a pause again--Lady
Markham meanwhile growing pale with fright and panic, though she did not
know what there could be to fear.

“There are some people who had begun to think that I was not so well
‘left’ as was expected,” she said; “but they were mistaken. I am very
well ‘left.’ I am to have the house in Grosvenor Square, and the Knoll,
and all the plate and carriages, and three parts or so of Mr
Winterbourn’s fortune--so long as I remain Mr Winterbourn’s widow. He
was, as you say, a just man.”

There was a pause. But for something in the air which tingled after
Nelly’s voice had ceased, the listeners would scarcely have been
conscious that anything more than ordinary had been said. Lady Markham
said “Nelly?” in a breathless interrogative tone--alarmed by that thrill
in the air, rather than by the words, which were so simple in their
sound.

“Oh yes; he had a great sense of justice. So long as I remain Mrs
Winterbourn, I am to have all that. It was his, and I was his, and the
property is to be kept together. Don’t you see, Lady Markham?--Sarah
knew it, and I might have known, had I thought. He had a great respect
for the name of Winterbourn--not much, perhaps, for anything else.” She
paused a little, then added: “That’s all. I wished you to know.”

“Oh my dear,” cried Lady Markham, “is it possible--is it possible?
You--debarred from marrying, debarred from everything--at your age!”

“Oh, I can do anything I please,” cried Nelly. “I can go to the bad if I
please. He does not say so long as I behave myself--only so long as I
remain the widow Winterbourn. I told you they would all call me so.
Well, they can do it! That’s what I am to be all my life--the widow
Winterbourn.”

“Nelly--O Nelly,” cried Lady Markham, throwing her arms round her
visitor. “Oh, my poor child! And how can I tell--how am I to tell----?”

“You can tell everybody, if you please,” said Mrs Winterbourn, freeing
herself from the clasping arms and rising up in her stiff crape. “He had
a great sense of justice. He doesn’t say I’m to wear weeds all my life.
I think I mean to come back to Grosvenor Square on Monday, and perhaps
give a ball or two, and some dinners, to celebrate--for I have come into
my fortune, don’t you see?” she said, with an unmoved face.

“Hush, dear--hush! You must not talk like that,” Lady Markham said,
holding her arm.

“Why not! Justice is justice, whether for him or me. I was such a fool
as to be wretched when he was dying, because---- But it appears that
there was no love lost--no love and no faith lost. He did not believe in
me, any more than I believed in him. I outwitted him when he was living,
and he outwits me when he is dead. Do you hear, Frances?--that is how
things go. If you do as I did, as I hear you are going to do---- Oh, do
it if you please; I will never interfere. But make up your mind to
this--he will have his revenge on you--or justice; it is all the same
thing. Good-bye, Lady Markham. I hope you will countenance me at my
first ball--for now I have come into my fortune, I mean to enjoy myself.
Don’t you think these things are rather becoming? I mean to wear them
out. They will make a sensation at my parties,” she said, and for the
first time laughed aloud.

“This is just the first wounded feeling,” said Lady Markham. “O Nelly,
you must not fly in the face of Society. You have always been so good.
No, no; let us think it over. Perhaps we can find a way out of it. There
is bound to be a flaw somewhere.”

“Good-bye,” said Nelly. “I have not fixed on the day for my first At
Home; but the invitations will be out directly. Good-bye, Frances. You
must come--and Sir Thomas. It will be a fine lesson for Sir Thomas.” She
walked across the room to the door, and there stood for a moment,
looking back. She looked taller, almost grand in still fury and despair
with her immovable face. But as she stood there, a faint softening came
to the marble. “Tell Geoff--gently,” she said, and went away. They could
hear the soft sweep of her black robes retiring down the stair, and
then the door opening, the clang of the carriage.

Lady Markham had dropped into a chair in her dismay, and sat with her
hands clasped and her eyes wide open, listening to these sounds, as if
they might throw some light on the situation. The consequences which
might follow from Nelly’s freedom had been heavy on her heart; and it
was possible that by-and-by this strange news might bring the usual
comfort; but in the meantime, consternation overwhelmed her. “As long as
she remains his widow!” she said to herself in a tone of horror, as the
tension of her nerves yielded and the carriage drove away. “And how am I
to tell him--gently; how am I to tell him gently?” she cried. It was as
if a great catastrophe had overwhelmed the house.

In an hour or so, however, Lady Markham recovered her energy, and began
to think whether there might be any way out of it. “I’ll tell you,” she
cried suddenly; “there is your uncle Clarendon, Frances. He is a great
lawyer. If any man can find a flaw in the will, he will do it.” She rang
the bell at once, and ordered the carriage. “But, oh dear,” she said,
“I forgot. Lady Meliora is coming about Trotter’s Buildings, the place
in Whitechapel. I cannot go. Whatever may happen, I cannot go to-day.
But, my dear, you have never taken any part as yet; you need not stay
for this meeting: and besides, you are a favourite in Portland Place;
you are the best person to go. You can tell your uncle Clarendon----
Stop; I will write a note,” Lady Markham cried. That was always the most
satisfactory plan in every case. She sent her daughter to get ready to
go out; and she herself dashed off in two minutes four sheets of the
clearest statement, a _précis_ of the whole case. Mr Clarendon, like
most people, liked Lady Markham,--he did not share his wife’s
prejudices; and Frances was a favourite. Surely, moved by these two
influences combined, he would bestir himself and find a flaw in the
will!

In less than half an hour from the time of Mrs Winterbourn’s departure,
Frances found herself alone in the brougham, going towards Portland
Place. Her mind was not absorbed in Nelly Winterbourn. She was not old
enough, or sufficiently used to the ways of Society, to appreciate the
tragedy in this case. Nelly’s horror at the moment of her husband’s
death she had understood; but Nelly’s tragic solemnity now struck her as
with a jarring note. Indeed, Frances had never learned to think of money
as she ought. And yet, how anxious she was about money! How her thoughts
returned, as soon as she felt herself alone and free to pursue them, to
the question which devoured her heart. It was a relief to her to be thus
free, thus alone and silent, that she might think of it. If she could
but have driven on and on for a hundred miles or so, to think of it, to
find a solution for her problem! But even a single mile was something;
for before she had got through the long line of Piccadilly, a sudden
inspiration came to her mind. The one person in the world whom she could
ask for help was the person whom she was on her way to see--her aunt
Clarendon, who was rich, with whom she was a favourite; who was on the
other side, ready to sympathise with all that belonged to the life of
Bordighera, in opposition to Eaton Square. Nelly Winterbourn and her
troubles fled like shadows from Frances’ mind. To be truly
disinterested, to be always mindful of other people’s interests, it is
well to have as few as possible of one’s own.

Mrs Clarendon received her, as always, with a sort of combative
tenderness, as if in competition for her favour with some powerful
adversary unseen. There was in her a constant readiness to outbid that
adversary, to offer more than she did, of which Frances was usually
uncomfortably conscious, but which to-day stimulated her like a cordial.
“I suppose you are being taken to all sorts of places?” she said. “I
wish I had not given up Society so much; but when the season is over,
and the fine people are all in the country, then you will see that we
have not forgotten you. Has Sir Thomas come with you, Frances? I
supposed, perhaps, you had come to tell me----”

“Sir Thomas?” Frances said, with much surprise; but she was too much
occupied with concerns more interesting to ask what her aunt could mean.
“Oh, aunt Caroline,” she said, “I have come to speak to you of something
I am very, very much interested about.” In all sincerity, she had
forgotten the original scope of her mission, and only remembered her own
anxiety. And then she told her story--how Captain Gaunt, the son of her
old friend, the youngest, the one that was best beloved, had come to
town--how he had made friends who were not--nice--who made him play and
lose money--though he had no money.

“Of course, my dear, I know--Lord Markham and his set.”

At this Frances coloured high. “It was not Markham. Markham has found
out for me. It was some--fellows who had no mercy, he said.”

“Oh yes; they are all the same set. I am very sorry that an innocent
girl like you should be in any way mixed up with such people. Whether
Lord Markham plucks the pigeon himself, or gets some of his friends to
do it----”

“Aunt Caroline, now you take away my last hope; for Markham is my
brother; and I will never, never ask any one to help me who speaks so of
my brother--he is always so kind, so kind to me.”

“I don’t see what opportunity he has ever had to be kind to you,” said
Mrs Clarendon.

But Frances in her disappointment would not listen. She turned away her
head, to get rid, so far as was possible, of the blinding tears--those
tears which would come in spite of her, notwithstanding all the efforts
she could make. “I had a little hope in you,” Frances said; “but now I
have none, none. My mother sees him every day; if he lives, she will
have saved his life. But I cannot ask her for what I want. I cannot ask
her for more--she has done so much. And now, you make it impossible for
me to ask you!”

If Frances had studied how to move her aunt best, she could not have hit
upon a more effectual way. “My dear child,” cried Mrs Clarendon,
hurrying to her, drawing her into her arms, “what is it, what is it that
moves you so much? Of whom are you speaking? His life? Whose life is in
danger? And what is it you want? If you think I, your father’s only
sister, will do less for you than Lady Markham does----! Tell me, my
dear, tell me what is it you want?”

Then Frances continued her story. How young Gaunt was ill of a
brain-fever, and raved about his losses, and the black and red, and of
his mother in mourning (with an additional ache in her heart, Frances
suppressed all mention of Constance), and how _she_ understood, though
nobody else did, that the Gaunts were not rich, that even the illness
itself would tax all their resources, and that the money, the debts to
pay, would ruin them, and break their hearts. “I don’t say he has not
been wrong, aunt Caroline--oh, I suppose he has been very wrong!--but
there he is lying: and oh, how pitiful it is to hear him! and the old
General, who was so proud of him; and Mrs Gaunt, dear Mrs Gaunt, who
always was so good to me!”

“Frances, my child, I am not a hard-hearted woman, though you seem to
think so,--I can understand all that. I am very, very sorry for the poor
mother; and for the young man even, who has been led astray: but I don’t
see what you can do.”

“What!” cried Frances, her eyes flashing through her tears--“for their
son, who is the same as a brother--for them, whom I have always known,
who have helped to bring me up? Oh, you don’t know how people live where
there are only a few of them,--where there is no society, if you say
that. If he had been ill there, at home, we should all have nursed him,
every one. We should have thought of nothing else. We would have cooked
for him, or gone errands, or done anything. Perhaps those ladies are
better who go to the hospitals. But to tell me that you don’t know what
I could do! Oh,” cried the girl, springing to her feet, throwing up her
hands, “if I had the money, if I had only the money, I know what I would
do!”

Mrs Clarendon was a woman who did not spend money, who had everything
she wanted, who thought little of what wealth could procure; but she was
a Quixote in her heart, as so many women are where great things are in
question, though not in small. “Money?” she said, with a faint quiver of
alarm in her voice. “My dear, if it was anything that was feasible,
anything that was right, and you wanted it very much--the money might be
found,” she said. The position, however, was too strange to be mastered
in a moment, and difficulties rose as she spoke. “A young man. People
might suppose---- And then Sir Thomas--what would Sir Thomas think?”

“That is why I came to you; for he will not give me my own money--if I
have any money. Aunt Caroline, if you will give it me now, I will pay
you back as soon as I am of age. Oh, I don’t want to take it from you--I
want---- If everything could be paid before he is better, before he
knows--if we could hide it, so that the General and his mother should
never find out. That would be worst of all, if they were to find out--it
would break their hearts. Oh, aunt Caroline, she thinks there is no one
like him. She loves him so; more than--more than any one here loves
anybody: and to find out all that would break her heart.”

Mrs Clarendon rose at this moment, and stood up with her face turned
towards the door. “I can’t tell what is the matter with me,” she said;
“I can scarcely hear what you are saying. I wonder if I am going to be
ill, or what it is. I thought just then I heard a voice. Surely there is
some one at the door. I am sure I heard a voice---- Oh, a voice you
ought to know, if it was true. Frances--I will think of all that
after--just now---- He must be dead, or else he is here!”

Frances, who thought of no possibility of death save to one, caught her
aunt’s arm with a cry. The great house was very still--soft carpets
everywhere--the distant sound of a closing door scarcely penetrating
from below. Yet there was something, that faint human stir which is more
subtle than sound. They stood and waited, the elder woman penetrated by
sudden excitement and alarm, she could not tell why; the girl
indifferent, yet ready for any wonder in the susceptibility of her
anxious state. As they stood, not knowing what they expected, the door
opened slowly, and there suddenly stood in the opening, like two people
in a dream--Constance, smiling, drawing after her a taller figure.
Frances, with a start of amazement, threw from her her aunt’s arm, which
she held, and calling “Father!” flung herself into Waring’s arms.



CHAPTER XLV.


“I found him in the mood; so I thought it best to strike while the iron
was hot,” Constance said. She had settled down languidly in a favourite
corner, as if she had never been away. She had looked for the footstool
where she knew it was to be found, and arranged the cushion as she liked
it. Frances had never made herself so much at home as Constance did at
once. She looked on with calm amusement while her aunt poured out her
delight, her wonder, her satisfaction, in Waring’s ears. She did not
budge herself from her comfortable place; but she said to Frances in an
undertone: “Don’t let her go on too long. She will bore him, you know;
and then he will repent. And I don’t want him to repent.”

As for Frances, she saw the ground cut away entirely from under her
feet, and stood sick and giddy after the first pleasure of seeing her
father was over, feeling her hopes all tumble about her. Mrs Clarendon,
who had been so near yielding, so much disposed to give her the help she
wanted, had forgotten her petition and her altogether in the unexpected
delight of seeing her brother. And here was Constance, the sight of whom
perhaps might call the sick man out of his fever, who might restore life
and everything, even happiness to him, if she would. But would she?
Frances asked herself. Most likely, she would do nothing, and there
would be no longer any room left for Frances, who was ready to do all.
She would have been more than mortal if she had not looked with a
certain bitterness at this new and wonderful aspect of affairs.

“I saw mamma’s brougham at the door,” Constance said; “you must take me
home. Of course, this was the place for papa to come; but I must go
home. It would never do to let mamma think me devoid of feeling. How is
she, and Markham--and everybody? I have scarcely had any news for three
months. We met Algy Muncastle on the boat, and he told us some
things--a great deal about Nelly Winterbourn--the widow, as they call
her--and about you.”

“There could be nothing to say of me.”

“Oh, but there was, though. What a sly little thing you are, never to
say a word! Sir Thomas.--Ah, you see I know. And I congratulate you with
all my heart, Fan. He is rolling in money, and such a good kind old man.
Why, he was a lover of mamma’s _dans les temps_. It is delightful to
think of you consoling him. And you will be as rich as a little
princess, with mamma to see that all the settlements are right.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” Frances said abruptly. She was so
preoccupied and so impatient, that she would not even allow herself to
inquire. She went to where her father sat talking to his sister, and
stood behind his chair, putting her hand upon his arm. He did not
perhaps care for her very much. He had aunt Caroline to think of, from
whom he had been separated so long; and Constance, no doubt, had made
him her own too, as she had made everybody else her own; but still he
was all that Frances had, the nearest, the one that belonged to her
most. To touch him like this gave her a little consolation. And he
turned round and smiled at her, and put his hand upon hers. That was a
little comfort too; but it did not last long. It was time she should
return to her mother; and Constance was anxious to go, notwithstanding
her fear that her father might be bored. “I must go and see my mother,
you know, papa. It would be very disrespectful not to go. And you won’t
want me, now you have got aunt Caroline. Frances is going to drive me
home.” She said this as if it was her sister’s desire to go; but as a
matter of fact, she had taken the command at once. Frances, reluctant
beyond measure to return to the house, in which she felt she would no
longer be wanted--which was a perverse imagination, born of her
unhappiness--wretched to lose the prospect of help, which she had been
beginning to let herself believe in, was yet too shy and too miserable
to make any resistance. She remembered her mother’s note for Mr
Clarendon before she went away, and she made one last appeal to her
aunt. “You will not forget what we were talking about, aunt Caroline?”

“Dear me,” said Mrs Clarendon, putting up her hand to her head. “What
was it, Frances? I have such a poor memory; and your father’s coming,
and all this unexpected happiness, have driven everything else away.”

Frances went down-stairs with a heart so heavy that it seemed to lie
dead in her breast. Was there no help for her, then? no help for him,
the victim of Constance and of Markham? no way of softening calamity to
the old people? Her temper rose as her hopes fell. All so rich, so
abounding, but no one who would spare anything out of his superfluity,
to help the ruined and heartbroken. Oh yes, she said to herself in not
unnatural bitterness, the hospitals, yes; and Trotter’s Buildings in
Whitechapel. But for the people to whom they were bound so much more
closely, the man who had sat at their tables, whom they had received and
made miserable, nothing! oh, nothing! not a finger held out to save him.
The little countenance that had been like a summer day, so innocent and
fresh and candid, was clouded over. Pride prevented--pride, more
effectual than any other defence--the outburst which in other
circumstances would have relieved her heart. She sat in her corner,
withdrawn as far as possible from Constance, listening dully, making
little response. After several questions, her sister turned upon her
with a surprise which was natural too.

“What is the matter?” she said. “You don’t talk as you used to do. Is it
town that has spoiled you? Do you think I will interfere with you? Oh,
you need not be at all afraid. I have enough of my own without meddling
with you.”

“I don’t know what I have that you could interfere with,” said Frances.
“Nothing here.”

“Do you want to quarrel with me?” Constance said.

“It is of no use to quarrel; there is nothing to quarrel about. I might
have thought you would interfere when you came first to Bordighera. I
had people then who seemed to belong to me. But here--you have the first
place. Why should I quarrel? You are only coming back to your own.”

“Fan, for goodness’ sake, don’t speak in that dreadful tone. What have I
done? If you think papa likes me best, you are mistaken. And as for the
mother, don’t you know her yet? Don’t you know that she is nice to
everybody, and cares neither for you nor me?”

“No,” cried Frances, raising herself bolt upright; “I don’t know that!
How dare you say it, you who are her child? Perhaps you think no one
cares--not one, though you have made an end of my home. Did you hear
about George Gaunt, what you have done to him? He is lying in a
brain-fever, raving, raving, talking for ever, day and night; and if he
dies, Markham and you will have killed him--you and Markham; but you
have been the worst. It will be murder, and you should be killed for
it!” the girl cried. Her eyes blazed upon her sister in the close
inclosure of the little brougham. “You thought he did not care, either,
perhaps.”

“Fan! Good heavens! I think you must be going out of your senses,”
Constance cried.

Frances was not able to say any more. She was stifled by the commotion
of her feelings, her heart beating so wildly in her breast, her emotion
reaching the intolerable. The brougham stopped, and she sprang out and
ran into the house, hurrying up-stairs to her own room. Constance, more
surprised and disconcerted than she could have believed possible,
nevertheless came in with an air of great composure, saying a word in
passing to the astonished servant at the door. She was quite amiable
always to the people about her. She walked up-stairs, remarking, as she
passed, a pair of new vases with palms in them, which decorated the
staircase, and which she approved. She opened the drawing-room door in
her pretty, languid-stately, always leisurely way.

“How are you, mamma? Frances has run up-stairs; but here am I, just come
back,” she said.

Lady Markham rose from her seat with a little scream of astonishment.
“CONSTANCE! It is not possible. Who would have dreamed of seeing you!”
she cried.

“Oh yes, it is quite possible,” said Constance, when they had kissed,
with a prolonged encounter of lips and cheeks. “Surely, you did not
think I could keep very long away?”

“My darling, did you get home-sick, or mammy-sick as Markham says, after
all your philosophy?”

“I am so glad to see you, mamma, and looking so well. No, not home-sick,
precisely, dear mother, but penetrated with the folly of staying
_there_, where nothing was ever doing, when I might have been in the
centre of everything: which is saying much the same thing, though in
different words.”

“In very different words,” said Lady Markham, resuming her seat with a
smile. “I see you have not changed at all, Con. Will you have any tea?
And did you leave--your home there--with as little ceremony as you left
me!”

“May I help myself, mamma? don’t you trouble. It is very nice to see
your pretty china, instead of Frances’ old bizarre cups, which were much
too good for me. Oh, I did not leave my--home. I--brought it back with
me.”

“You brought----?”

“My father with me, mamma.”

“Oh!” Lady Markham said. She was too much astonished to say more.

“Perhaps it was because he got very tired of me, and thought there was
no other way of getting rid of me; perhaps because he was tired of it
himself. He came at last like a lamb. I did not really believe it till
we were on the boat, and Algy Muncastle turned up, and I introduced him
to my father. You should have seen how he stared.”

“Oh!” said Lady Markham again; and then she added faintly: “Is--is he
here?”

“You mean papa? I left him at aunt Caroline’s. In the circumstances,
that seemed the best thing to do.”

Lady Markham leaned back in her chair; she had become very pale. One
shock after another had reduced her strength. She closed her eyes while
Constance very comfortably sipped her tea. It was not possible that she
could have dreamed it or imagined it, when, on opening her eyes again,
she saw Constance sitting by the tea-table with a plate of bread and
butter before her. “I have really,” she explained seriously, “eaten
nothing to-day.”

Frances came down some time after, having bathed her eyes and smoothed
her hair. It was always smooth like satin, shining in the light. She
came in, in her unobtrusive way, ashamed of herself for her outburst of
temper, and determined to be “good,” whatever might happen. She was
surprised that there was no conversation going on. Constance sat in a
chair which Frances at once recognised as having been hers from the
beginning of time, wondering at her own audacity in having sat in it,
when she did not know. Lady Markham was still leaning back in her chair.
“Oh, it’s nothing--only a little giddiness. So many strange things are
happening. Did you give your uncle Clarendon my note? I suppose Frances
told you, Con, how we have been upset to-day?”

“Upset?” said Constance over her bread and butter. “I should have
thought you would have been immensely pleased. It is about Sir Thomas, I
suppose?”

“About Sir Thomas! Is there any news about Sir Thomas?” said Lady
Markham, with an elaborately innocent look. “If so, it has not yet been
confided to me.” And then she proceeded to tell to her daughter the
story of Nelly Winterbourn.

“I should have thought that would all have been set right in the
settlements,” Constance said.

“So it ought. But she had no one to see to the settlements--no one with
a real interest in her; and it was such a magnificent match.”

“No better than Sir Thomas, mamma.”

“Ah, Sir Thomas. Is there really a story about Sir Thomas? I can only
say, if it is so, that he has never confided it to me.”

“I hope no mistake will be made about the settlements in that case. And
what do you suppose Markham will do?”

“What can he do? He will do nothing, Con. You know, after all, that is
the _rôle_ that suits him best. Even if all had been well, unless Nelly
had asked him herself----”

“Do you think she would have minded, after all this time? But I suppose
there’s an end of Nelly now,” Constance said, regretfully.

“I am afraid so,” Lady Markham replied. And then recovering, she began
to tell her daughter the news--all the news of this one and the other,
which Frances had never been able to understand, which Constance
entered into as one to the manner born. They left the subject of Nelly
Winterbourn, and not a word was said of young Gaunt and his fever; but
apart from these subjects, everything that had happened since Constance
left England was discussed between them. They talked and smiled and
rippled over into laughter, and passed in review the thousand friends
whose little follies and freaks both knew, and skimmed across the
surface of tragedies with a consciousness, that gave piquancy to the
amusement, of the terrible depths beneath. Frances, keeping behind, not
willing to show her troubled countenance, from which the traces of tears
were not easily effaced, listened to this light talk with a wonder which
almost reached the height of awe. Her mother at least must have many
grave matters in her mind; and even on Constance, the consciousness of
having stirred up all the quiescent evils in the family history, of her
father in England, of the meeting which must take place between the
husband and wife so long parted, all by her influence, must have a
certain weight. But there they sat and talked and laughed, and shot
their little shafts of wit. Frances, at last feeling her heart ache too
much for further repression, and that the pleasant interchange between
her mother and sister exasperated instead of lightened her burdened
soul, left them, and sought refuge in her room, where presently she
heard their voices again as they came up-stairs to dress. Constance’s
boxes had in the meantime arrived from the railway, and the conversation
was very animated upon fashions and new adaptations and what to wear.
Then the door of Constance’s room was closed, and Lady Markham came
tapping at that of Frances. She took the girl into her arms. “Now,” she
said, “my dream is going to be realised, and I shall have my two girls,
one on each side of me. My little Frances, are you not glad?”

“Mother----” the girl said, faltering, and stopped, not able to say any
more.

Lady Markham kissed her tenderly, and smiled, as if she were content.
Was she content? Was the happiness, now she had it, as great as she
said? Was she able to be light-hearted with all these complications
round her? But to these questions who could give any answer? Presently
she went to dress, shutting the door; and, between her two girls,
retired so many hundred, so many thousand miles away--who could
tell?--into herself.

In the evening there was considerable stir and commotion in the house.
Markham, warned by one of his mother’s notes, came to dinner full of
affectionate pleasure in Con’s return, and cheerful inquiries for her.
“As yet, you have lost nothing, Con. As yet, nobody has got well into
the swim. As to how the mammy will feel with two daughters to take
about, that is a mystery. If we had known, we’d have shut up little Fan
in the nursery for a year more.”

“It is I that should be sent to the nursery,” said Constance. “Three
months is a long time. Algy Muncastle thought I was dead and buried. He
looked at me as if he were seeing a ghost.”

“A girl might just as well be dead and buried as let half the season
slip over and never appear.”

“Unless she were a widow,” said Con.

“Ah! unless she were a widow, as you say. That changes the face of
affairs.” Markham made a slight involuntary retreat when he received
that blow, but no one mentioned the name of Nelly Winterbourn. It was
much too serious to be taken any notice of now. In the brightness of
Lady Markham’s drawing-room, with all its softened lights, grave
subjects were only discussed _tête-à-tête_. When the company was more
than two, everything took a sportive turn. Of the two visitors, however,
who came in later, one was not at all disposed to follow this rule. Sir
Thomas said but little to Constance, though her arrival was part of the
news which had brought him here; but he held Lady Markham’s hand with an
anxious look into her eyes, and as soon as he could, drew Frances aside
to the distant corner in which she was fond of placing herself. “Do you
know he has come?” he cried.

“I have seen papa, Sir Thomas, if that is what you mean.”

“What else could I mean?” said Sir Thomas. “You know how I have tried
for this. What did he say? I want to know what disposition he is in. And
what disposition is _she_ in? Frances, you and I have a great deal to
do. We have the ball at our feet. There is nobody acting in both their
interests but you and I.”

There was something in Frances’ eyes and in her look of mute endurance
which startled him, even in the midst of his enthusiasm. “What is the
matter?” he said. “I have not forgotten our bargain. I will do much for
you, if you will work for me. And you want something. Come, tell me what
it is?”

She gave him a look of reproach. Had he, too, forgotten the sick and
miserable, the sufferer, of whom no one thought? “Sir Thomas,” she said,
“Constance has money; she has stopped at Paris to buy dresses. Oh, give
me what is my share.”

“I remember now,” he said.

“Then you know the only thing that any one can do for me. Oh, Sir
Thomas, if you could but give it me now.”

“Shall I speak to your father?” he asked.

These words Markham heard by chance, as he passed them to fetch
something his mother wanted. He returned to where she sat with a curious
look in his little twinkling eyes. “What is Sir Thomas after? Do you
know the silly story that is about? They say that old fellow is after
Lady Markham’s daughter. It had better be put a stop to, mother. I won’t
have anything go amiss with little Fan.”

“Go amiss! with Sir Thomas. There is nobody he might not marry,
Markham--not that anything has ever been said.”

“Let him have anybody he pleases except little Fan. I won’t have
anything happen to Fan. She is not one that would stand it, like the
rest of us. We are old stagers; we are trained for the stake; we know
how to grin and bear it. But that little thing, she has never been
brought up to it, and it would kill her. I won’t have anything go wrong
with little Fan.”

“There is nothing going wrong with Frances. You are not talking with
your usual sense, Markham. If that was coming, Frances would be a lucky
girl.”

Markham looked at her with his eyes all pursed up, nearly disappearing
in the puckers round them. “Mother,” he said, “we know a girl who was a
very lucky girl, you and I. Remember Nelly Winterbourn.”

It gave Lady Markham a shock to hear Nelly’s name. “O Markham, the less
we say of her the better,” she cried.

There was another arrival while they talked--Claude Ramsay, with the
flower in his coat a little rubbed by the greatcoat which he had taken
off in the hall, though it was now June. “I heard you had come back,” he
said, dropping languidly into a chair by Constance. “I thought I would
come and see if it was true.”

“You see it is quite true.”

“Yes; and you are looking as well as possible. Everything seems to agree
with you. Do you know I was very nearly going out to that little place
in the Riviera? I got all the _renseignements_; but then I heard that it
got hot and the people went away.”

“You ought to have come. Don’t you know it is at the back of the east
wind, and there are no draughts there?”

“What an ideal place!” said Claude. “I shall certainly go next winter,
if you are going to be there.”



CHAPTER XLVI.


Frances slept very little all night; her mind was jarred and sore almost
at every point. The day with all its strange experiences, and still more
strange suggestions, had left her in a giddy round of the unreal, in
which there seemed no ground to stand upon. Nelly Winterbourn was the
first prodigy in that round of wonders. Why, with that immovable tragic
face, had she intimated to Lady Markham the tenure upon which she held
her fortune? Why had it been received as something conclusive on all
sides? “There is an end of Nelly.” But why? And then came her mission to
her aunt, the impression that had been made on her mind--the hope that
had dawned on Frances; and then the event which swept both hope and
impression away, and the bitter end that seemed to come to everything
in the reappearance of Constance. Was it that she was jealous of
Constance? Frances asked herself in the silence of the night, with
noiseless bitter tears. The throbbing of her heart was all pain;
life had become pain, and nothing more. Was it that she was
jealous--_jealous_ of her sister? It seemed to Frances that her heart
was being wrung, pressed till the life came out of it in great drops
under some giant’s hands. She said to herself, No, no. It was only that
Constance came in her careless grace, and the place was hers, wherever
she came; and all Frances had done, or was trying to do, came to nought.
Was that jealousy? She lay awake through the long hours of the summer
night, seeing the early dawn grow blue, and then warm and lighten into
the light of day. And then all the elements of chaos round her, which
whirled and whirled and left no honest footing, came to a pause and
disappeared, and one thing real, one fact remained--George Gaunt in his
fever, lying rapt from all common life, taking no note of night or day.
Perhaps the tide might be turning for death or life, for this was once
more the day that might be the crisis. The other matters blended into a
phantasmagoria, of which Frances could not tell which part was false and
which true, or if anything was true; but here was reality beyond
dispute. She thought of the pale light stealing into his room, blinding
the ineffectual candles; of his weary head on the pillow growing
visible; of the long endless watch; and far away among the mountains, of
the old people waiting and praying, and wondering what news the morning
would bring them. This thought stung Frances into a keen life and
energy, and took from her all reflection upon matters so abstract as
that question whether or not she was jealous of Constance. What did it
matter? so long as he could be brought back from the gates of death and
the edge of the grave, so long as the father and mother could be saved
from that awful and murderous blow. She got up hastily long before any
one was stirring. There are moments when all our ineffectual thinkings,
and even futile efforts, end in a sudden determination that the thing
must be done, and revelation of how to do it. She got up with a little
tremor upon her, such as a great inventor might have when he saw at last
his way clearly, or a poet when he had caught the spark of celestial
fire. Is there any machine that was ever invented, or even any power so
divine as the right way to save a life and deliver a soul? Frances’
little frame was all tingling, but it made her mind clear and firm. She
asked herself how she could have thought of any other but this way.

It was very early in the morning when she set out. If it had not been
London, in which no dew falls, the paths would have been wet with dew;
even in London, there was a magical something in the air which breathed
of the morning, and which not all the housemaids’ brooms and tradesmen’s
carts in the world could dispel. Frances walked on in the stillness,
along the long silent line of the Park, where there was nobody save a
little early schoolmistress, or perhaps a belated man about town,
surprised by the morning, with red eyes and furtive looks, in the
overcoat which hid his evening clothes, hurrying home--to break the
breadth of the sunshine, the soft morning light, which was neither too
warm nor dazzling, but warmed gently, sweetly to the heart. Her trouble
had departed from her in the resolution she had taken. She was very
grave, not knowing whether death or life, sorrow or hope, might be in
the air, but composed, because, whatever it was, it must now come, all
being done that man could do. She did not hasten, but walked slowly,
knowing how early she was, how astonished her aunt’s servants would be
to see her, unattended, walking up to the door. “I will arise and go to
my father.” Wherever these words can be said, there is peace in them, a
sense of safety at least. There are, alas! many cases in which, with
human fathers, they cannot be said; but Waring, whatever his faults
might be, had not forfeited his child’s confidence, and he would
understand. To all human aches and miseries, to be understood is the one
comfort above all others. Those to whom she had appealed before, had
been sorry; they had been astonished; they had gazed at her with
troubled eyes. But her father would understand. This was the chief thing
and the best. She went along under the trees, which were still fresh and
green, through the scenes which, a little while later, would be astir
with all the movements, the comedies, the tragedies, the confusions and
complications of life. But now they lay like a part of the fair silent
country, like the paths in a wood, like the glades in a park, all silent
and mute, birds in the branches, dew upon the grass--a place where Town
had abdicated, where Nature reigned.

Waring awoke betimes, being accustomed to the early hours of a primitive
people. It was a curious experience to him to come down through a
closed-up and silent house, where the sunshine came in between the
chinks of the shutters, and all was as it had been in the confusion of
the night. A frightened maid-servant came before him to open the study,
which his brother-in-law Clarendon had occupied till a late hour. Traces
of the lawyer’s vigil were still apparent enough--his waste-paper basket
full of fragments; the little tray standing in the corner, which, even
when holding nothing more than soda-water and claret, suggests
dissipation in the morning. Waring was jarred by all this
unpreparedness. He thought with a sigh of the bookroom in the Palazzo
all open to the sweet morning air, before the sun had come round that
way; and when he stepped out upon the little iron balcony attached to
the window and looked out upon other backs of houses, all crowding
round, the recollection of the blue seas, the waving palms, the great
peaks, all carved against the brilliant sky, made him turn back in
disgust. The mean London walls of yellow brick, the narrow houses, the
little windows, all blinded with white blinds and curtains, so near that
he could almost touch them--“However, it will not be like this at
Hilborough,” he said to himself. He was no longer in the mood in which
he had left Bordighera; but yet, having left it, he was ready to
acknowledge that Bordighera was now impossible. His life there had
continued from year to year--it might have continued for ever, with
Frances ignorant of all that had gone before; but the thread of life
once broken, could be knitted again no more. He acknowledged this to
himself; and then he found that, in acknowledging it, he had brought
himself face to face with all the gravest problems of his life. He had
held them at arm’s-length for years; but now they had to be decided, and
there was no alternative. He must meet them; he must look them in the
face. And _her_, too, he must look in the face. Life once more had come
to a point at which neither habit nor the past could help him. All over
again, as if he were a boy coming of age, it would have to be decided
what it should be.

Waring was not at all surprised by the appearance of Frances fresh with
the morning air about her. It seemed quite natural to him. He had
forgotten all about the London streets, and how far it was from one
point to another. He thought she had gained much in her short absence
from him,--perhaps in learning how to act for herself, to think for
herself, which she had acquired since she left him; for he was entirely
unaware, and even quite incapable of being instructed, that Frances had
lived her little life as far apart from him, and been as independent of
him while sitting by his side at Bordighera, as she could have been at
the other end of the world. But he was impressed by the steady light of
resolution, the cause of which was as yet unknown to him, which was
shining in her eyes. She told him her story at once, without the little
explanations that had been necessary to the others. When she said George
Gaunt, he knew all that there was to say. The only thing that it was
expedient to conceal was Markham’s part in the catastrophe, which was,
after all, not at all clear to Frances; and as Waring was not acquainted
with Markham’s reputation, there was no suggestion in his mind of the
name that was wanting to explain how the young officer, knowing nobody,
had found entrance into the society which had ruined him. Frances told
her tale in few words. She was magnanimous, and said nothing of
Constance on the one hand, any more than of Markham on the other. She
told her father of the condition in which the young man lay--of his
constant mutterings, so painful to hear, the Red and Black that came up,
over and over again, in his confused thoughts, the distracting burden
that awaited him if he ever got free of that circle of confusion and
pain--of the old people in Switzerland waiting for the daily news, not
coming to him as they wished, because of that one dread yet vulgar
difficulty which only she understood. “Mamma says, of course they would
not hesitate at the expense. Oh no, no! they would not hesitate. But how
can I make her understand? yet we know.”

“How could she understand?” he said with a pale smile, which Frances
knew. “_She_ has never hesitated.” It was all that jarred even upon her
excited nerves and mind. The situation was so much more clear to him
than to the others, to whom young Gaunt was a stranger. And Waring, too,
was in his nature something of a Quixote to those who took him on the
generous side. He listened--he understood; he remembered all that had
been enacted under his eyes. The young fellow had gone to London in
desperation, unsettled, and wounded by the woman to whom he had given
his love--and he had fallen into the first snare that presented itself.
It was weak, it was miserable; but it was not more than a man could
understand. When Frances found that at last her object was attained, the
unlikeliness that it ever should have been attained, overwhelmed her
even in the moment of victory. She clasped her arms round her father’s
arm, and laid down her head upon it, and, to his great surprise, burst
into a passion of tears. “What is the matter? What has happened? Have I
said anything to hurt you?” he cried, half touched, half vexed, not
knowing what it was, smoothing her glossy hair half tenderly, half
reluctantly, with his disengaged hand.

“Oh, it is nothing, nothing! It is my folly; it is--happiness. I have
tried to tell them all, and no one would understand. But one’s
father--one’s father is like no one else,” cried Frances, with her cheek
upon his sleeve.

Waring was altogether penetrated by these simple words, and by the
childish action, which reminded him of the time when the little forlorn
child he had carried away with him had no one but him in the world. “My
dear,” he said, “it makes me happy that you think so. I have been rather
a failure, I fear, in most things; but if you think so, I can’t have
been a failure all round.” His heart grew very soft over his little
girl. He was in a new world, though it was the old one. His sister, whom
he had not seen for so long, had half disgusted him with her violent
partisanship, though his was the party she upheld so strongly. And
Constance, who had no hold of habitual union upon him, had exhibited all
her faults to his eyes. But his little girl was still his little girl,
and believed in her father. It brought a softening of all the ice and
snow about his heart.

They walked together through the many streets to inquire for poor Gaunt,
and were admitted with shakings of the head and downcast looks. He had
passed a very disturbed night, though at present he seemed to sleep. The
nurse who had been up all night, and was much depressed, was afraid that
there were symptoms of a “change.” “I think the parents should be sent
for, sir,” she said, addressing herself at once to Waring. These
attendants did not mind what they said over the uneasy bed. “He don’t
know what we are saying, any more than the bed he lies on. Look at him,
miss, and tell me if you don’t think there is a change?” Frances held
fast by her father’s arm. She was more diffident in his presence than
she had been before. The sufferer’s gaunt face was flushed, his lips
moved, though, in his weakness, his words were not audible. The other
nurse, who had come to relieve her colleague, and who was fresh and
unwearied, was far more hopeful. But she, too, thought that “a change”
might be approaching, and that it would be well to summon the friends.
She went down-stairs with them to talk it over a little more. “It seems
to me that he takes more notice than we are aware of,” she said. “The
ways of sick folks are that wonderful, we don’t understand, not the half
of them; seems to me that you have a kind of an influence, miss. Last
night he changed after you were here, and took me for his mamma, and
asked me what I meant, and said something about a Miss Una that was
true, and a false Jessie or something. I wonder if your name is Miss
Una, miss?” This inquiry was made while Waring was writing a telegram to
the parents. Frances, who was not very quick, could only wonder for a
long time who Una was and Jessie. It was not till evening, nearly twelve
hours after, that there suddenly came into her mind the false Duessa of
the poet. And then the question remained, who was Una, and who Duessa? a
question to which she could find no reply.

Frances remained with her father the greater part of the day. When she
found that what she desired was to be done, there fell a strange kind of
lull into her being, which unaccountably took away her strength, so that
she scarcely felt herself able to hold up her head. She began to be
aware that she had neither slept by night nor had any peace by day, and
that a fever of the mind had been stealing upon her, a sort of
reflection of the other fever, in which her patient was enveloped as in
a living shroud. She was scarcely able to stand, and yet she could not
rest. Had she not put force upon herself, she would have been sending to
and fro all day, creeping thither on limbs that would scarcely support
her, to know how he was, or if the change had yet appeared. She had not
feared for his life before, having no tradition of death in her mind;
but now an alarm grew upon her that any moment might see the blow fall,
and that the parents might come in vain. It was while she stood at one
of the windows of Mrs Clarendon’s gloomy drawing-room, watching for the
return of one of her messengers, that she saw her mother’s well-known
brougham drive up to the door. She turned round with a little cry of
“Mamma” to where her father was sitting, in one of the seldom used
chairs. Mrs Clarendon, who would not leave him for many minutes, was
hovering by, wearying his fastidious mind with unnecessary solicitude,
and a succession of questions which he neither could nor wished to
answer. She flung up her arms when she heard Frances’ cry. “Your mother!
Oh, has she dared! Edward, go away, and let me meet her. She will not
get much out of me.”

“Do you think I am going to fly from my wife?” Waring said. He rose up
very tremulous, yet with a certain dignity. “In that case, I should not
have come here.”

“But, Edward, you are not prepared. O Edward, be guided by me. If you
once get into that woman’s hands----”

“Hush!” he said; “her daughter is here.” Then, with a smile: “When a
lady comes to see me, I hope I can receive her still as a gentleman
should, whoever she may be.”

The door opened, and Lady Markham came in. She was very pale, yet
flushed from moment to moment. She, who had usually such perfect
self-command, betrayed her agitation by little movements, by the
clasping and unclasping of her hands, by a hurried, slightly audible
breathing. She stood for a moment without advancing, the door closing
behind her, facing the agitated group. Frances, following an instinctive
impulse, went hastily towards her mother as a maid of honour in an
emergency might hurry to take her place behind the Queen. Mrs Clarendon
on her side, with a similar impulse, drew nearer to her brother--the way
was cleared between the two, once lovers, now antagonists. The pause was
but for a moment. Lady Markham, after that hesitation, came forward.
She said: “Edward, I should be wanting in my duty if I did not come to
welcome you home.”

“Home!” he said, with a curious smile. Then he, too, came forward a
little. “I accept your advances in the same spirit, Frances.” She was
holding out her hands to him with a little appeal, looking at him with
eyes that sank and rose again--an emotion that was restrained by her
age, by her matronly person, by the dignity of the woman, which could
not be quenched by any flood of feeling. He took her hands in his with a
strange timidity, hesitating, as if there might be something more, then
let them drop, and they stood once again apart.

“I have to thank you, too,” she said, “for bringing Constance back to me
safe and well; and what is more, Edward, for this child.” She put out
her hand to Frances, and drew her close, so that the girl could feel the
agitation in her mother’s whole person, and knew that, weak as she was,
she was a support to the other, who was so much stronger. “I owe you
more thanks still for her--that she never had been taught to think any
harm of her mother, that she came back to me as innocent and true as she
went away.”

“If you found her so, Frances, it was to her own praise, rather than
mine.”

“Nay,” she said with a tremulous smile, “I have not to learn now that
the father of my children was fit to be trusted with a girl’s
mind--more, perhaps, than their mother--and the world together.” She
shook off this subject, which was too germane to the whole matter, with
a little tremulous movement of her head and hands. “We must not enter on
that,” she said. “Though I am only a woman of the world, it might be too
much for me. Discussion must be for another time. But we may be
friends.”

“So far as I am concerned.”

“And I too, Edward. There are things even we might consult
about--without prejudice, as the lawyers say--for the children’s good.”

“Whatever you wish my advice upon----”

“Yes, that is perhaps the way to put it,” Lady Markham said, after a
pause which looked like disappointment, and with an agitated smile.
“Will you be so friendly, then,” she added, “as to dine at my house with
the girls and me? No one you dislike will be there. Sir Thomas, who is
in great excitement about your arrival; and perhaps Claude Ramsay, whom
Constance has come back to marry.”

“Then she has settled that?”

“I think so; yet no doubt she would like him to be seen by you. I hope
you will come,” she said, looking up at him with a smile.

“It will be very strange,” he said, “to dine as a guest at your table.”

“Yes, Edward; but everything is strange. We are so much older now than
we were. We can afford, perhaps, to disagree, and yet be friends.”

“I will come if it will give you any pleasure,” he said.

“Certainly, it will give me pleasure.” She had been standing all the
time, not having even been offered a seat--an omission which neither he
nor she had discovered. He did it now, placing with great politeness a
chair for her; but she did not sit down.

“For the first time, perhaps it is enough,” she said. “And Caroline
thinks it more than enough. Good-bye, Edward. If you will believe me, I
am--truly glad to see you: and I hope we may be friends.”

She half raised her clasped hands again. This time he took them in both
his, and leaning towards her, kissed her on the forehead. Frances felt
the tremor that ran through her mother’s frame. “Good-bye,” she said,
“till this evening.” Only the girl knew why Lady Markham hurried from
the room. She stopped in the hall below to regain her self-command and
arrange her bonnet. “It is so long since we have met,” she said, “it
upsets me. Can you wonder, Frances? The woman in the end always feels it
most. And then there are so many things to upset me just now. Constance
and Markham--say nothing of Markham; do not mention his name--and even
you----”

“There is nothing about me to annoy you, mamma.”

Lady Markham smiled with a face that was near crying. She gave a little
tap with her finger upon Frances’ cheek, and then she hurried away.



CHAPTER XLVII.


The dinner, it need scarcely be said, was a strange one. Except in
Constance, who was perfectly cool, and Claude, who was more concerned
about a possible draught from a window than anything else, there was
much agitation in the rest of the party. Lady Markham was nervously
cordial, anxious to talk and to make everything “go”--which, indeed, she
would have done far more effectually had she been able to retain her
usual cheerful and benign composure. But there are some things which are
scarcely possible even to the most accomplished woman of the world. How
to place the guests, even, had been a trouble to her, almost too great
to be faced. To place her husband by her side was more than she could
bear, and where else could it be appropriate to place him, unless
opposite to her, where the master of the house should sit? The
difficulty was solved loosely by placing Constance there, and her father
beside her. He sat between his daughters; while Ramsay and Sir Thomas
were on either side of his wife. Under such circumstances, it was
impossible that the conversation could be other than formal, with
outbursts of somewhat conventional vivacity from Sir Thomas, supported
by anxious responses from Lady Markham. Frances took refuge in saying
nothing at all. And Waring sat like a ghost, with a smile on his face,
in which there was a sort of pathetic humour, dashed with something that
was half derision. To be sitting there at all was wonderful indeed, and
to be listening to the smalltalk of a London dinner-table, with all its
little discussions, its talk of plays and pictures and people, its
scraps of political life behind the scenes, its esoteric revelations on
all subjects, was more wonderful still. He had half forgotten it; and to
come thus at a single step into the midst of it all, and hear this
babble floating on the air which was charged with so many tragic
elements, was more wonderful still. To think that they should all be
looking at each other across the flowers and the crystal, and knowing
what questions were to be solved between them, yet talking and expecting
others to talk of the new tenor and the last scandal! It seemed to the
stranger out of the wilds, who had been banished from society so long,
that it was a thing incredible, when he was thus thrown into it again.
There were allusions to many things which he did not understand. There
was something, for instance, about Nelly Winterbourn which called forth
a startling response from Lady Markham. “You must not,” she said, “say
anything about poor Nelly in this house. From my heart, I am sorry and
grieved for her; but in the circumstances, what can any one do? The
least said, the better, especially here.” The pause after this was
minute but marked, and Waring asked Constance, “Who is Nelly
Winterbourn?”

“She is a young widow, papa. It was thought her husband had left her a
large fortune; but he has left it to her on the condition that she
should not marry again.”

“Is that why she is not to be spoken of in this house?” said Waring,
growing red. This explanation had been asked and given in an undertone.
He thought it referred to the circumstances in which his own marriage
had taken place--Lady Markham being a young widow with a large jointure;
and that this was the reason why the other was not to be mentioned; and
it gave him a hot sense of offence, restrained by the politeness which
is exercised in society, but not always when the offenders are one’s
wife and children. It turned the tide of softened thoughts back upon his
heart, and increased to fierceness the derision with which he listened
to all the trifles that floated uppermost. When the ladies left the
room, he did not meet the questioning, almost timid, look that Lady
Markham threw upon him. He saw it, indeed, but he would not respond to
it. That allusion had spoiled all the rest.

In the little interval after dinner, Claude Ramsay did his best to make
himself agreeable. “I am very glad to see you back, sir,” he said. “I
told Lady Markham it was the right thing. When a girl has a father,
it’s always odd that he shouldn’t appear.”

“Oh, you told Lady Markham that it was--the right thing?”

“A coincidence, wasn’t it? when you were on your way,” said Claude,
perceiving the mistake he had made. “You know, sir,” he added with a
little hesitation, “that it has all been made up for a long time between
Constance and me.”

“Yes? What has all been made up? I understand that my daughter came out
to me to----”

“Oh!” said Claude, interrupting hurriedly, “it is _that_ that has all
been made up. Constance has been very nice about it,” he continued. “She
has been making a study of the Riviera, and collecting all sorts of
_renseignements_; for in most cases, it is necessary for me to winter
abroad.”

“That was what she was doing then--her object, I suppose?” said Waring
with a grim smile.

“Besides the pleasure of visiting you, sir,” said Claude, with what he
felt to be great tact. “She seems to have done a great deal of
exploring, and she tells me she has found just the right site for the
villa--and all the _renseignements_,” he added. “To have been on the
spot, and studied the aspect, and how the winds blow, is such a great
thing; and to be near your place too,” he said politely, by an
after-thought.

“Which I hope is to be your place no more, Waring,” said Sir Thomas.
“Your own place is very empty, and craving for you all the time.”

“It is too fine a question to say what is my own place,” he said, with
that pale indignant smile. “Things are seldom made any clearer by an
absence of a dozen years.”

“A great deal clearer--the mists blow away, and the hot fumes. Come,
Waring, say you are glad you have come home.”

“I suppose,” said Claude, “you find it really too hot for summer on that
coast. What would you say was the end of the season? May? Just when
London begins to be possible, and most people have come to town.”

“Is not that one of the _renseignements_ Constance has given you?”
Waring asked with a short laugh; but he made no reply to the other
questions. And then there was a little of the inevitable politics before
the gentlemen went up-stairs. Lady Markham had been threatened with what
in France is called an _attaque des nerfs_, when she reached the shelter
of the drawing-room. She was a little hysterical, hardly able to get the
better of the sobbing which assailed her. Constance stood apart, and
looked on with a little surprise. “You know, mamma,” she said
reflectively, “an effort is the only thing. With an effort, you can stop
it.”

Frances was differently affected by this emotion. She, who had never
learned to be familiar, stole behind her mother’s chair and made her
breast a pillow for Lady Markham’s head,--a breast in which the heart
was beating now high, now low, with excitement and despondency. She did
not say anything; but there is sometimes comfort in a touch. It helped
Lady Markham to subdue the unwonted spasm. She held close for a moment
the arms which were over her shoulders, and she replied to Constance,
“Yes, that is true. I am ashamed of myself. I ought to know better--at
my age.”

“It has gone off on the whole very well,” Constance said. And then she
retired to a sofa and took up a book.

Lady Markham held Frances’ hand in hers for a moment or two longer, then
drew her towards her and kissed her, still without a word. They had
approached nearer to each other in that silent encounter than in all
that had passed before. Lady Markham’s heart was full of many
commotions; the past was rising up around her with all its agitating
recollections. She looked back, and saw, oh, so clearly in that pale
light which can never alter, the scenes that ought never to have been,
the words that ought never to have been said, the faults, the
mistakes--those things which were fixed there for ever, not to be
forgotten. Could they ever be forgotten? Could any postscript be put to
the finished story? Or was this strange meeting--unsought, scarcely
desired on either side, into which the separated Two, who ought to have
been One, seemed to have been driven without any will of their own--was
it to be mere useless additional pain, and no more?

The ladies were all very peacefully employed when the gentlemen came
up-stairs. Lady Markham turned round as usual from her writing-table to
receive them with a smile. Constance laid down her book. Frances, from
her accustomed dim corner, lifted up her eyes to watch them as they came
in. They stood in the middle of the room for a minute, and talked to
each other according to the embarrassed usage of Englishmen, and then
they distributed themselves. Sir Thomas fell to Frances’ share. He
turned to her eagerly, and took her hand and pressed it warmly. “We have
done it,” he said, in an excited whisper. “So far, all is victorious;
but still there is a great deal more to do.”

“I think it is Constance that has done it,” Frances said.

“She has worked for us--without meaning it--no doubt. But I am not going
to give up the credit to Constance; and there is still a great deal to
do. You must not lay down your arms, my dear. You and I, we have the
ball at our feet: but there is a great deal still to do.”

Frances made no reply. The corner which she had chosen for herself was
almost concealed behind a screen which parted the room in two. The other
group made a picture far enough withdrawn to gain perspective. Waring
stood near his wife, who from time to time gave him a look, half
watchful, half wistful, and sometimes made a remark, to which he gave a
brief reply. His attitude and hers told a story; but it was a confused
and uncertain one, of which the end was all darkness. They were
together, but fortuitously, without any will of their own; and between
them was a gulf fixed. Which would cross it, or was it possible that it
ever could be crossed at all? The room was very silent, for the
conversation was not lively between Constance and Claude on the sofa;
and Sir Thomas was silent, watching too. All was so quiet, indeed, that
every sound was audible without; but there was no expectation of any
interruption, nobody looked for anything, there was a perfect
indifference to outside sounds. So much so, that for a moment the
ladies were scarcely startled by the familiar noise, so constantly
heard, of Markham’s hansom drawing up at the door. It could not be
Markham; he was out of the way, disposed of till next morning. But Lady
Markham, with that presentiment which springs up most strongly when
every avenue by which harm can come seems stopped, started, then rose to
her feet with alarm. “It can’t surely be---- Oh, what has brought him
here!” she cried, and looked at Claude, to bid him, with her eyes, rush
to meet him, stop him, keep him from coming in. But Claude did not
understand her eyes.

As for Waring, seeing that something had gone wrong in the programme,
but not guessing what it was, he accepted her movement as a dismissal,
and quietly joined his daughter and his friend behind the screen. The
two men got behind it altogether, showing only where their heads passed
its line; but the light was not bright in that corner, and the new-comer
was full of his own affairs. For it was Markham, who came in rapidly,
stopped by no wise agent, or suggestion of expediency. He came into the
room dressed in light morning-clothes, greenish, grayish, yellowish,
like the colour of his sandy hair and complexion. He came in with his
face puckered up and twitching, as it did when he was excited. His
mother, Constance, Claude, sunk in the corner of the sofa, were all he
saw; and he took no notice of Claude. He crossed that little opening
amid the fashionably crowded furniture, and went and placed himself in
front of the fireplace, which was full at this season of flowers, not of
fire. From that point of vantage he greeted them with his usual laugh,
but broken and embarrassed. “Well, mother--well, Con; you thought you
were clear of me for to-night.”

“I did not expect you, Markham. Is anything--has anything----?

“Gone wrong?” he said. “No--I don’t know that anything has gone wrong.
That depends on how you look at it. I’ve been in the country all day.”

“Yes, Markham; so I know.”

“But not where I was going,” he said. His laugh broke out again, quite
irrelevant and inappropriate. “I’ve seen Nelly,” he said.

“Markham!” his mother cried, with a tone of wonder, disapproval,
indignation, such as had never been heard in her voice before, through
all that had been said and understood concerning Markham and Nelly
Winterbourn. She had sunk into her chair, but now rose again in distress
and anxiety. “Oh,” she cried, “how could you? how could you? I thought
you had some true feeling. O Markham, how unworthy of you _now_ to vex
and compromise that poor girl!”

He made no answer for a moment, but moistened his lips, with a sound
that seemed like a ghost of the habitual chuckle. “Yes,” he said, “I
know you made it all up that the chapter was closed _now_; but I never
said so, mother. Nelly’s where she was before, when we hadn’t the
courage to do anything. Only worse: shamed and put in bondage by that
miserable beggar’s will. And you all took it for granted that there was
an end between her and me. I was waiting to marry her when she was free
and rich, you all thought; but I wasn’t bound, to be sure, nor the sort
of man to think of it twice when I knew she would be poor.”

“Markham! no one ever said, nobody thought----”

“Oh, I know very well what people thought--and said too, for that
matter,” said Markham. “I hope a fellow like me knows Society well
enough for that. A pair of old stagers like Nelly and me, of course we
knew what everybody said. Well, mammy, you’re mistaken this time, that’s
all. There’s nothing to be taken for granted in this world. Nelly’s
game, and so am I. As soon as it’s what you call decent, and the crape
business done with--for she has always done her duty by him, the
wretched fellow, as everybody knows----”

“Markham!” his mother cried, almost with a shriek--“why, it is ruin,
destruction. I must speak to Nelly--ruin both to her and you.”

He laughed. “Or else the t’other thing--salvation, you know. Anyhow,
Nelly’s game for it, and so am I.”

There suddenly glided into the light at this moment a little figure,
white, rapid, noiseless, and caught Markham’s arm in both hers. “O
Markham! O Markham!” cried Frances, “I am so glad! I never believed it;
I always knew it. I am so glad!” and began to cry, clinging to his arm.

Markham’s puckered countenance twitched and puckered more and more. His
chuckle sounded over her half like a sob. “Look here,” he said. “Here’s
the little one approves. She’s the one to judge, the sort of still small
voice--eh, mother? Come; I’ve got far better than I deserve: I’ve got
little Fan on my side.”

Lady Markham wrung her hands with an impatience which partly arose from
her own better instincts. The words which she wanted would not come to
her lips. “The child, what can she know!” she cried, and could say no
more.

“Stand by me, little Fan,” said Markham, holding his sister close to
him. “Mother, it’s not a small thing that could part you and me; that is
what I feel, nothing else. For the rest, we’ll take the Priory, Nelly
and I, and be very jolly upon nothing. Mother, you didn’t think in your
heart that YOUR son was a base little beggar, no better than
Winterbourn?”

Lady Markham made no reply. She sank down in her chair and covered her
face with her hands. In the climax of so many emotions, she was
overwhelmed. She could not stand up against Markham: in her husband’s
presence, with everything hanging in the balance, she could say nothing.
The worldly wisdom she had learned melted away from her. Her heart was
stirred to its depths, and the conventional bonds restrained it no more.
A kind of sweet bitterness--a sense of desertion, yet hope; of secret
approval, yet opposition--disabled her altogether. One or two convulsive
sobs shook her frame. She was able to say nothing, nothing, and was
silent, covering her face with her hands.

Waring had seen Markham come in with angry displeasure. He had listened
with that keen curiosity of antagonism which is almost as warm as the
interest of love, to hear what he had to say. Sir Thomas, standing by
his side, threw in a word or two to explain, seeing an opportunity in
this new development of affairs. But nothing was really altered until
Frances rose. Her father watched her with a poignant anxiety, wonder,
excitement. When she threw herself upon her brother’s arm, and, all
alone in her youth, gave him her approval, the effect upon the mind of
her father was very strange. He frowned and turned away, then came back
and looked again. His daughter, his little white spotless child, thrown
upon the shoulder of the young man whom he had believed he hated, his
wife’s son, who had been always in his way. It was intolerable. He must
spring forward, he thought, and pluck her away. But Markham’s stifled
cry of emotion and happiness somehow arrested Waring. He looked again,
and there was something tender, pathetic, in the group. He began to
perceive dimly how it was. Markham was making a resolution which, for a
man of his kind, was heroic; and the little sister, the child, his own
child, of his training, not of the world, had gone in her innocence and
consecrated it with her approval. The approval of little Frances! And
Markham had the heart to feel that in that approval there was something
beyond and above everything else that could be said to him. Waring, too,
like his wife, was in a condition of mind which offered no defence
against the first touch of nature which was strong enough to reach him.
He was open not to everyday reasoning, but to the sudden prick of a keen
unhabitual feeling. A sudden impulse came upon him in this softened,
excited mood. Had he paused to think, he would have turned his back upon
that scene and hurried away, to be out of the contagion. But,
fortunately, he did not pause to think. He went forward quickly, laying
his hand upon the back of the chair in which Lady Markham sat,
struggling for calm--and confronted his old antagonist, his boy-enemy of
former times, who recognised him suddenly, with a gasp of astonishment.
“Markham,” he said, “if I understand rightly, you are acting like a true
and honourable man. Perhaps I have not done you justice, hitherto. Your
mother does not seem able to say anything. I believe in my little girl’s
instinct. If it will do you any good, you have my approval too.”

Markham’s slackened arm dropped to his side, though Frances
embraced it still. His very jaw dropped in the amazement,
almost consternation, of this sudden appearance. “Sir,” he stammered,
“your--your--support--your--friendship would be all I could----” And
here his voice failed him, and he said no more.

Then Waring went a step further by an unaccountable impulse, which
afterwards he could not understand. He held out one hand, still holding
with the other the back of Lady Markham’s chair. “I know what the loss
will be to your mother,” he said; “but perhaps--perhaps, if she pleases:
that may be made up too.”

She removed her hands suddenly and looked up at him. There was not a
particle of colour in her cheek. The hurrying of her heart parched her
open lips. The two men clasped hands over her, and she saw them through
a mist, for a moment side by side.

At this moment of extreme agitation and excitement, Lady Markham’s
butler suddenly opened the drawing-room door. He came in with that
solemnity of countenance with which, in his class, it is thought proper
to name all that is preliminary to death. “If you please, my lady,” he
said, “there’s a man below has come to say that the fever’s come to a
crisis, and that there’s a change.”

“You mean Captain Gaunt,” cried Lady Markham, rising with a
half-stupefied look. She was so much worn by these divers emotions, that
she did not see where she went.

“Captain Gaunt!” said Constance with a low cry.



CHAPTER XLVIII.


Lady Markham was a woman, everybody knew, who never hesitated when she
realised a thing to be her duty, especially in all that concerned
hospitals and the sick. She appeared by George Gaunt’s bedside in the
middle of what seemed to him a terrible, long, endless night. It was not
yet midnight, indeed; but they do not reckon by hours in the darkness
through which he was drifting, through which there flashed upon his eyes
confused gleams of scenes that were like scenes upon a stage all
surrounded by darkness. The change had come. One of the nurses, the
depressed one, thought it was for death; the other, possessed by the
excitement of that great struggle, in which sometimes it appears that
one human creature can visibly help another to hold the last span of
soil on which human foot can stand, stood by the bed, almost carried
away by what to her was like the frenzy of battle to a soldier, watching
to see where she could strike a blow at the adversary, or drag the
champion a hair’s-breadth further on the side of victory. There appeared
to him at that moment two forms floating in the air--both white, bright,
with the light upon them, radiant as with some glory of their own to the
gaze of fever. He remembered them afterwards as if they had floated out
of the chamber, disembodied, two faces, nothing more; and then all again
was night. “He’s talked a deal about his mother, poor gentleman. He’ll
never live to see his mother,” said the melancholy attendant, shaking
her head. “Hush,” said the other under her breath. “Don’t you know we
can’t tell what he hears and what he don’t hear?” Lady Markham was of
this opinion too. She called the doleful woman with her outside the
door, and left the last battle to be fought out. Frances stood on the
other side of the bed. How she came there, why she was allowed to come,
neither she nor any one knew. She stood looking at him with an awe in
her young soul which silenced every other feeling. Nelly Winterbourn
had been afraid of death, of seeing or coming near it. But Frances was
not afraid. She stood, forgetting everything, with her head thrown back,
her eyes expanded, her heart dilating and swelling in her bosom. She
seemed to herself to be struggling too, gasping with his efforts for
breath, helping him--oh, if she could help him!--saying her simple
prayers involuntarily, sometimes aloud. Over and over again, in the
confusion and darkness and hurrying of the last battle, there would come
to him a glimpse of that face. It floated over him, the light all
concentrated in it--then rolling clouds and gloom.

It was nearly morning when the doctor came. “Still living?”--“Alive; but
that is all,” was the brief interchange outside the door. He would have
been surprised, had he had any time for extraneous emotions, to see on
the other side of the patient’s bed, softly winnowing the air with a
large fan, a girl in evening dress, pearls gleaming upon her white neck,
standing rapt and half-unconscious in the midst of the unwonted scene.
But the doctor had no time to be surprised. He went through his
examination in that silence which sickens the very heart of the
lookers-on. Then he said, briefly, “It all depends now on the strength
whether we can pull him through. The fever is gone; but he is as weak as
water. Keep him in life twelve hours longer, and he’ll do.”

Twelve hours!--one whole long lingering endless summer day. Lady
Markham, with her own affairs at such a crisis, had not hesitated. She
came in now, having got a change of dress, and sent the weary nurse, who
had stood over him all night, away. Blessed be fashion, when its fads
are for angels’ work! Noiselessly into the room came with her, clean,
fresh, and cool, everything that could restore. The morning light came
softly in, the air from the open windows. Freshness and hope were in her
face. She gave her daughter a look, a smile. “He may be weak, but he has
never given in,” she said. Reinforcements upon the field of battle. In a
few hours, which were as a year, the hopeful nurse was back again
refreshed. And thus the endless day went on. Noon, and still he lived.
Markham walked about the little street with his pockets full of small
moneys, buying off every costermonger or wandering street vendor of
small-wares, boldly interfering with the liberty of the subject,
stopping indignant cabs, and carts half paralysed with slow
astonishment. It was scarcely necessary, for the patient’s brain was not
yet sufficiently clear to be sensitive to noises; but it was something
to do for him. A whole cycle of wonder had gone round, but there was no
time to think of it in the absorbing interest of this. Waring had
employed his wife’s son to clear off those debts, which, if the old
General ever knew of them, would add stings to sorrow--which, if the
young man mended, would be a crushing weight round his neck. Waring had
done this without a word or look that inferred that Markham was to
blame. The age of miracles had come back; but, as would happen, perhaps,
if that age did come back, no one had time or thought to give to the
prodigies, for the profounder interest which no wonder could equal, the
fight between death and life--the sudden revelation, in common life, of
all the mysteries that make humanity what it is--the love which made a
little worldling triumphant over every base suggestion--the pity that
carried a woman out of herself and her own complicated affairs, to stand
by another woman’s son in the last mortal crisis--the nature which
suspended life in every one of all these differing human creatures, and
half obliterated, in thought of another, the interests that were their
own.

Through the dreadful night and through the endless sunshine of that day,
a June day, lavish of light and pleasure, reluctant to relinquish a
moment of its joy and triumph, the height of summer days, the old
people, the old General and his wife, the father and mother, travelled
without pause, with few words, with little hope, daring to say nothing
to each other except faint questions and calculations as to when they
could be there. When they could be there! They did not put the other
question to each other, but within themselves, repeated it without
ceasing: Would they be there before----? Would they be there in
time?--to see him once again. They scarcely breathed when the cab,
blundering along, got to the entrance of a little street, where it was
stopped by a wild figure in a grey overcoat, which rushed at the horse
and held him back. Then the old General rose in his wrath: “Drive on,
man! drive on. Ride him down, whoever the fool is.” And then, somewhat
as those faces had appeared at the sick man’s bedside, there came at the
cab window an ugly little face, all puckers and light, half recognised
as a bringer of good tidings, half hated as an obstruction, saying: “All
right--all right. I’m here to stop noises. He’s going to pull through.”

“Mamma,” said Constance next evening, when all their excitement and
emotions were softened down, “I hope you told Mrs Gaunt that I had been
there?”

“My dear, Mrs Gaunt was not thinking of either you or me. Perhaps she
might be conscious of Frances; I don’t know even that. When one’s child
is dying, it does not matter to one who shows feeling. By-and-by, no
doubt, she will be grateful to us all.”

“Not to me--never to me.”

“Perhaps she has no reason, Con,” her mother said.

“I am sure I cannot tell you, mamma. If he had died, of course--though
even that would not have been my fault. I amused him very much for six
weeks, and then he thought I behaved very badly to him. But all the time
I felt sure that it would really do him no harm. I think it was cheap to
buy at that price all your interest and everything that has been done
for him--not to speak of the experience in life.”

Lady Markham shook her head. “Our experiences in life are sometimes not
worth the price we pay for them; and to make another pay----”

“Oh!” said Constance with a toss of her head, shaking off self-reproach
and this mild answer together. “It appears that there is some post his
father wants for him to keep him at home; and Claude will move heaven
and earth--that’s to say the Horse Guards and all the other
authorities--to get it. Mamma,” she added after a pause, “Frances will
marry him, if you don’t mind.”

“Marry him!” cried Lady Markham with a shriek of alarm; “that is what
can never be.”

Meanwhile, Frances was walking back from Mrs Gaunt’s lodging, where the
poor lady, all tremulous and shaken with joy and weariness, had been
pouring into her sympathetic ears all the anguish of the waiting, now so
happily over, and weeping over the kindness of everybody--everybody was
so kind. What would have happened had not everybody been so kind?
Frances had soothed her into calm, and coming down-stairs, had met Sir
Thomas at the door with his inquiries. He looked a little grave, she
thought, somewhat preoccupied. “I am very glad,” he said, “to have the
chance of a talk with you, Frances. Are you going to walk? Then I will
see you home.”

Frances looked up in his face with simple pleasure. She tripped along by
his side like a little girl, as she was. They might have been father and
daughter smiling to each other, a pretty sight as they went upon their
way. But Sir Thomas’s smile was grave. “I want to speak to you on some
serious subjects,” he said.

“About mamma? Oh, don’t you think, Sir Thomas, it is coming all right?”

“Not about your mother. It is coming all right, thank God, better than I
ever hoped. This is about myself. Frances, give me your advice. You have
seen a great deal since you came to town. What with Nelly Winterbourn
and poor young Gaunt, and all that has happened in your own family, you
have acquired what Con calls experience in life.”

Frances’ small countenance grew grave too. “I don’t think it can be true
life,” she said.

He gave a little laugh, in which there was a tinge of embarrassment.
“From your experience,” he said, “tell me: would you ever advise,
Frances, a marriage between a girl like you--mind you, a good girl, that
would do her duty, not in Nelly Winterbourn’s way--and an elderly,
rather worldly man?”

“Oh no, no, Sir Thomas,” cried the girl; and then she paused a little,
and said to herself that perhaps she might have hurt Sir Thomas’s
feelings by so distinct an expression. She faltered a little, and added:
“It would depend, wouldn’t it, upon who they were?”

“A little, perhaps,” he said. “But I am glad I have had your first
unbiassed judgment. Now for particulars. The man is not a bad old
fellow, and would take care of her. He is rich, and would provide for
her--not like that hound Winterbourn. Oh, you need not make that
gesture, my dear, as if money meant nothing; for it means a great deal.
And the girl is as good a little thing as ever was born. Society has got
talking about it; it has been spread abroad everywhere; and perhaps if
it comes to nothing, it may do her harm. Now, with those further lights,
let me have your deliverance. And remember, it is very serious--not play
at all.”

“I have not enough lights, Sir Thomas. Does she,” said Frances, with a
slight hesitation--“love him? And does he love her?”

“He is very fond of her; I’ll say that for him,” said Sir Thomas
hurriedly. “Not perhaps in the boy-and-girl way. And she--well, if you
put me to it, I think she likes him, Frances. They are as friendly as
possible together. She would go to him, I believe, with any of her
little difficulties. And he has as much faith in her--as much faith as
in---- I can’t put a limit to his faith in her,” he said.

Frances looked up at him with the grave judicial look into which she had
been forming her soft face. “All you say, Sir Thomas, looks like a
father and child. I would do that to papa--or to you.”

Here he burst, to her astonishment, into a great fit of laughter, not
without a little tremor, as of some other feeling in it. “You are a
little Daniel,” he said. “That’s quite conclusive, my dear. Oh, wise
young judge, how I do honour thee!”

“But----” Frances cried, a little bewildered. Then she added: “Well, you
may laugh at me if you like. Of course, I am no judge; but if the
gentleman is so like her father, cannot she be quite happy in being fond
of him, instead of----? Oh no! Marrying is quite different--quite,
_quite_ different. I feel sure she would think so, if you were to ask
her, herself,” she said.

“And what about the poor old man?”

“You did not say he was a poor old man; you said he was elderly, which
means----”

“About my age.”

“That is not an old man. And worldly--which is not like you. I think,
if he is what you say, that he would like better to keep his friend;
because people can be friends, Sir Thomas, don’t you think, though one
is young and one is old?”

“Certainly, Frances--witness you and me.”

She took his arm affectionately of her own accord and gave it a little
kind pressure. “That is just what I was thinking,” she said, with the
pleasantest smile in the world.

Sir Thomas took Lady Markham aside in the evening and repeated this
conversation. “I don’t know who can have put such an absurd rumour
about,” he said.

“Nor I,” said Lady Markham; “but there are rumours about every one. It
is not worth while taking any notice of them.”

“But if I had thought Frances would have liked it, I should never have
hesitated a moment.”

“She might not what you call like it,” said Lady Markham, dubiously;
“and yet she might----”

“Be talked into it, for her good? I wonder,” said Sir Thomas, with
spirit, “whether my old friend, who has always been a model woman in my
eyes, thinks that would be very creditable to me?”

Lady Markham gave a little conscious guilty laugh, and then, oddly
enough, which was so unlike her--twenty-four hours in a sickroom is
trying to any one--began to cry. “You flatter me with reproaches,” she
said. “Markham asks me if I expect _my_ son to be base; and you ask me
how I can be so base myself, being your model woman. I am not a model
woman; I am only a woman of the world, that has been trying to do my
best for my own. And look there,” she said, drying her eyes; “I have
succeeded very well with Con. She will be quite happy in her way.”

“And now,” said Sir Thomas after a pause, “dear friend, who are still my
model woman, how about your own affairs?”

She blushed celestial rosy red, as if she had been a girl. “Oh,” she
said, “I am going down with Edward to Hilborough to see what it wants to
make it habitable. If it is not too damp, and we can get it put in
order--I am quite up in the sanitary part of it, you know--he means to
send the Gaunts there with their son to recruit, when he is well enough.
I am so glad to be able to do something for his old neighbours. And then
we shall have time ourselves, before the season is over, to settle what
we shall do.”

The reader is far too knowing in such matters not to be able to divine
how the marriages followed each other in the Waring family within the
course of that year. Young Gaunt, when he got better, confused with his
illness, soothed by the weakness of his convalescence and all the tender
cares about him, came at last to believe that the debts which had driven
him out of his senses had been nothing but a bad dream. He consulted
Markham about them, detailing his broken recollections. Markham replied
with a perfectly opaque countenance: “You must have been dreaming, old
man. Nightmares take that form the same as another. Never heard half a
word from any side about it; and you know those fellows, if you owed
them sixpence and didn’t pay, would publish it in every club in London.
It has been a bad dream. But look here,” he added; “don’t you ever go in
for that sort of thing again. Your head won’t stand it. I’m going to
set you the example,” he said, with his laugh. “Never--if I should live
to be a hundred,” Gaunt cried with fervour. The sensation of this
extraordinary escape, which he could not understand, the relief of
having nothing to confess to the General, nothing to bring tears from
his mother’s eyes, affected him like a miraculous interposition of God,
which no doubt it was, though he never knew how. There was another
vision which belonged to the time of his illness, but which was less
apocryphal, as it turned out--the vision of those two forms through the
mist--of one, all white, with pearls on the milky throat, which had been
somehow accompanied in his mind with a private comment that at last,
false Duessa being gone for ever, the true Una had come to him. After a
while, in the greenness of Hilborough, amid the cool shade, he learned
to fathom how that was.

But were we to enter into all the processes by which Lady Markham
changed from the “That can never be!” of her first light on the subject,
to giving a reluctant consent to Frances’ marriage, we should require
another volume. It may be enough to say that in after-days, Captain
Gaunt--but he was then Colonel--thought Constance a very handsome woman,
yet could not understand how any one in his senses could consider the
wife of Claude Ramsay worthy of a moment’s comparison with his own.
“Handsome, yes, no doubt,” he would say; “and so is Nelly Markham, for
that matter,--but of the earth, earthy, or of the world, worldly;
whereas Frances----”

Words failed to express the difference, which was one with which words
had nothing to do.

                               THE END.

                PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS.





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