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Title: A House Divided Against Itself; vol. 2 of 3
Author: Oliphant, Mrs. (Margaret)
Language: English
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                                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





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