A GIRL OF THE COMMUNE
G. A. HENTY AUTHOR OF "IN FREEDOM'S CAUSE," "WITH LEE IN VIRGINIA," ETC.
NEW YORK R. F. FENNO & COMPANY 9 AND 11 EAST 16TH STREET
BY G. A. HENTY
A GIRL OF THE COMMUNE.
Jeremiah Brander was one of the most prominent personages in the Cathedral town of Abchester. He inhabited an old-fashioned, red brick house near the end of the High Street. On either side was a high wall facing the street, and from this a garden, enclosing the house, stretched away to a little stream some two hundred yards in the rear; so that the house combined the advantage of a business residence in front, with those of seclusion, an excellent garden, and an uninterrupted view behind.
Jeremiah Brander enjoyed, in a very large degree, the confidence and respect of his fellow-townsmen. His father and his grandfather had been, like himself, solicitors, and he numbered among his clients most of the county families round. Smaller business he left to the three younger men who divided between them the minor legal business of the place. He in no way regarded them as rivals, and always spoke of them benevolently as worthy men to whom all such business as the collection of debts, criminal prosecutions, and such matters as the buying and selling of houses in the town, could be safely entrusted. As for himself he preferred to attend only to business in his own line, and he seldom accepted fresh clients, never, indeed, until a new-comer had taken his place among the accepted society of the county.
In the public business of the city, however, he played a very important part. He was Town Clerk, treasurer of several societies, solicitor to the Abchester County and City Bank, legal adviser of the Cathedral Authorities, deacon of the principal Church, City Alderman, president of the Musical Society, treasurer of the Hospital, a director of the Gas Company, and was in fact ready at all times to take a prominent part in any movement in the place.
He was a man of some fifty years of age, inclined to be stout, somewhat florid in complexion, and always dressed with scrupulous care. There was nothing about him to indicate that he belonged to the legal profession. His talk as a rule was genial and almost cheery, but his manner varied according to the circumstances. In his capacity as treasurer he was concise and business-like; in matters connected with the Church he was a little given to be dogmatic, which, considering the liberality of his subscriptions to all the Church objects and charities was but natural.
As president of the Musical Society he was full of tact, and acted the part of general conciliator in all the numerous squabbles, jealousies, and heart-burnings incidental to such associations. In every one of the numerous offices he filled he gave unbounded satisfaction, and the only regret among his fellow-townsmen was that he had on three occasions refused to accept the honor of the Mayoralty, alleging, and with a fair show of reason, that although ready at all times to aid to the utmost in any movement set afoot for the advantage of the city, it was impossible for him to spare the time required to perform properly the duties of Mayor.
Jeremiah Brander had married the daughter of a gentleman of an old county family which had fallen somewhat in circumstances. It was rumored at the time that he had lent some assistance to the head of the family, and that the match was scarcely a willing one on the lady's part. However that might be, no whisper had ever been heard that the marriage was an unhappy one. It was regarded as rather a come-down for her, but if so she never showed that she felt it as a fall. The marriage had certainly improved his standing in the county. His wife formed a sort of link between him and his clients, and he occupied a considerably better position among them than his father had done, being generally accepted as a friend as well as a legal adviser.
It is not to be supposed that so successful a man had no detractors. One of his legal brethren had been heard to speak of him contemptuously as a humbug. A medical practitioner who had failed to obtain the post of House Surgeon at the Hospital, owing to the support the President had given to another competitor for the post, had alluded to him bitterly as a blatant ass; and a leading publican who had been fined before the magistrates for diluting his spirits, was in the habit of darkly uttering his opinion that Jerry Brander was a deep card and up to no good.
But as every great man has his enemies, the opinion of a few malcontents went for nothing in the general consensus of admiration for one who was generally regarded as among the pillars of Abchester society, and an honor to the city.
"It is high time you did something, Jerry," his wife said to him one morning after their three daughters had left the breakfast-table.
"In what way, Eliza?" Mr. Brander said, looking up from his newspaper; "it seems to me I do a good deal."
"You know what I mean," she said, sharply. "You know you promised me a hundred times that you would give up all this miserable business and settle down in the county. The girls are growing up, Mary has just left Girton and is of an age to go into society."
"She may be of age," Mr. Brander said, with an irritability unusual to him, "but it strikes me that society is the last thing she is thinking of. We made a mistake altogether in giving way to her and letting her go to that place; she has got her head full of all sorts of absurd ideas about woman's mission and woman's duties, and nonsense of that sort, and has got out of hand altogether. You have not a shadow of influence over her, and I can't say that I have much more. Thank goodness her sisters don't take after her in any way."
"Well, that is all true," Mrs. Brander said, "and you know we have agreed on that subject for a long time, but it is no answer to my question. I have been content to live all these years in this miserable dull place, because I was fool enough to believe your promise that you would in time give up all this work and take a position in the county."
"To some extent I kept my promise," he said. "There is not a week that we don't drive half-a-dozen miles, and sometimes a dozen, to take part in a dull dinner."
"That is all very well so far as it goes, but we simply go to these dinners because you are the family lawyer and I am your wife."
"Well, well, you know, Eliza, that I was in treaty for the Haywood's Estate when that confounded mine that I had invested in went wrong, and fifteen thousand were lost at a blow—a nice kettle of fish we made between us of that."
"We," she repeated, scornfully.
"Yes, we. You know perfectly well that before I went into it I consulted you. The mine was paying well then, and at the rate I bought in would have paid twenty per cent on the investment. I told you that there was a certain risk always with these mines, and that it was either a big addition to our income or a total loss."
"Yes, but you said that coal mines were not like other mines."
"And as a rule they are not," he said, "but there was first that great strike, then a fall in the price of coal, and then just when things began to look better again we came upon that fault that nobody had dreamt of being there, and then the whole thing went to smash. You must not be impatient. I am as anxious as you are, Eliza, to have done with all this, and I hope by the time Clara and Julia are ready to come out, I may be able to carry out the plans we have always had—I as much as you. Tancred takes a great deal of the work off my hands now, and I can see that he has the confidence of most of my people. In another couple of years I shall have no fear of the business falling off if I hand it over to him entirely. You know he has only a fifth share, and I have no doubt he will be glad to arrange to pay me half or perhaps three-fifths when I retire. Now I must be going across to the office."
The office was situated in a smaller house standing opposite the lawyer's residence. In his father's time a portion of the ground floor of the house was devoted to business purposes, but after his marriage Jeremiah Brander had taken the house opposite and made it his place of business.
About twelve o'clock a gig drew up at the door; a moment later a young clerk came in.
"Doctor Edwards wishes to speak to you, Mr. Brander."
"Show him in."
"Well, doctor," he said, as his visitor entered, "it is seldom that I see you here, though we meet often enough elsewhere. Come you to buy or to sell, or do you want a will prepared or a patient sued? If so you know that's altogether out of my line."
"I quite understand that, Brander," the other said, as he took the armchair the lawyer pointed out to him. "No, I have come to tell you something you will be very sorry to hear. I have just come in from Fairclose. I had a note from Hartington last night asking me to go over first thing this morning."
"He does not look like a man who would require professional services, doctor; he is sixty, I suppose, but he could tire out most of the younger men either across country or after the partridges."
"Yes, he looks as hard as iron and sound as a roach, but appearances are deceptive. I should have said as you do yesterday if anyone had asked me. I have come to tell you to-day in confidence that he has not many months, perhaps not many weeks to live."
The lawyer uttered an exclamation of surprise and regret.
"Yes, it is a bad business," the doctor went on, "he told me that when he came back from hunting yesterday he went upstairs to change when suddenly the room seemed to go round. Fortunately he had just sat down on a couch and taken off his top boots, and he fell sideways on to it. He says he was insensible for about half an hour; the first thing he was conscious of was the servant knocking at the door, to say that dinner was ready; he told the man that he did not feel well and should not go down; he got off his things and lay down for an hour and then felt well enough to write the note to me. Of course I made a thorough examination of him, and found that, as I feared, it was a bad case of heart disease, probably latent for a long time, but now I should say making rapid progress. Of course I told him something of the truth.
"'Is it as bad as that?' he said. 'I have felt a lot of palpitation lately after a hard run with the hounds, and fancied something must be wrong. Well, say nothing about it, doctor; when it comes it must come, but I don't want my affairs to be discussed or to know that every man I meet is saying to himself 'poor old buffer, we shan't have him long among us.'
"Then he said more seriously, 'I would rather it should be so than that I should outgrow my strength and become a confirmed invalid. I have enjoyed my life and have done my best to do my duty as a landlord and as a magistrate. I am as prepared to die now as I should be twenty years on. I have been rather a lonely man since I lost my wife. Cuthbert's ways are not my ways, for he likes life in London, cares nothing for field sports. But we can't all be cast in one groove, you know, and I have never tried to persuade him to give up his life for mine, why should I? However, though I wish you to tell no one else, I should be glad if you will call on Brander and ask him to drive over. I made my will years ago, but there are a few matters I should like to talk over with him.'"
"This is sad, indeed," the lawyer said, sympathetically. "The Squire—everyone about here calls him the Squire, you know, though there are men with broader acres than his in the neighborhood—will be terribly missed. Dear, dear, it will make a sad gap indeed: how long do you think he is likely to last?"
"He might go at any moment, Brander; but as he has rallied from this shock it may be some little time before he has another. I should give him perhaps a couple of months. By the way, I think his son ought to be informed of it."
"I will ask him about it," the lawyer said. "Of course Cuthbert ought to know, but may be the Squire will keep it entirely to himself. I should say there is nothing that would upset him more than the thought of being fretted over, and I am not sure that he is not right. Of course I shall drive over there this afternoon."
After Dr. Edwards had left, Jeremiah Brander sat for a long time in deep thought. Once the clerk came in to ask for instructions about a deed that he was drawing up, but he waved him away impatiently. "Put it aside," he said, "I cannot see to it just now, I am busy, and not to be disturbed for the next hour, whoever comes."
It was evidently a difficult problem Jeremiah Brander had to solve. He took out his bank-book and went through his payments for a long while back and then went through some bundles of old checks. One of these he took off the file; it was for the sum of fifteen thousand pounds, made payable to self.
"It is lucky now," he muttered, "that I drew it, as I didn't want it known even in the bank what I was putting the money into," then from a strongbox with the name "J. W. Hartington," he took out a bundle of documents, many of which were receipts for money signed by the Squire, carefully examined the dates and amounts, and put them down on a piece of paper.
"There would be no difficulty about the signature," he said; "none whatever; a child could imitate it."
Laying one of the sheets before him he wrote on a sheet of foolscap "J. W. Hartington" a score of times, imitating the somewhat crabbed handwriting so accurately that even an expert would have had some difficulty in detecting the difference; he then tore the sheet into small pieces, put them into the heart of the fire, and watched them shrivel up to nothing.
"I think it could be done without the slightest risk," he said to himself, "if one managed the details carefully." Then he sat down and remained for half an hour without stirring. "It can be done," he said at last, "it is well worth trying; the property ought to be worth seventy thousand, but at a forced sale it might go for fifty-five or sixty. I reckoned last week that I could sell out my stocks for twenty-six thousand, which, with the fifteen thousand, would bring it over forty, and I could raise the balance on the estate without difficulty; then with the rents and what I shall draw for this business, I shall be in clover." He locked up the papers carefully, put on his hat, and went across the road to lunch.
There was no trace in his face or manner of the grave matters that had occupied his thoughts for the last two hours. He was cheerful and even gay over the meal. He joked Mary about the advancement of women, told the other girls that he intended that they should take lessons in riding, gave them an amusing account of the meeting of the Musical Society he had attended the evening before, and told his wife that she must dress specially well at the dinner they were going to that evening, as he had heard that most of the county big-wigs would be there.
Mr. Brander was always pleasant in the bosom of his family, occasionally sharp words might pass when he and his wife were alone, but when the girls were present he was always the genial father. There is no better advertisement for a man than his children's talk. They are unconsciously his best trumpeters, and when Mr. Brander's name was mentioned and his many services to his townsmen talked over, the fact that he was one of the best and kindest of men in his family circle, and that his girls positively worshipped him, was sure to be adduced as final and clinching evidence of the goodness of his character.
After lunch he went down to the bank and had a private interview with the manager.
"By the bye," he said, after a short talk, "I have a client who wants to buy fifty shares."
The manager glanced sharply at him.
"They stand at a premium," Mr. Brander went on, as if not noticing the glance; "though they have fallen thirty shillings lately. It is not an investment I should myself recommend, but at the same time, for various reasons, I did not care to endeavor to dissuade him; it would scarcely do for it to be reported that I had said anything to the disadvantage of this institution, standing as I do in the position of its solicitor. I think you mentioned the other day that you held rather more shares than you cared for, perhaps you could let me have some?"
The other nodded. "I could part with fifty," he said, dryly.
"Let me think, when was the last board meeting?"
"This day fortnight."
"I have rather neglected the matter in the pressure of business," Mr. Brander said, quietly, "and my client thinks the matter is already concluded, so perhaps it would be as well to date the transfer on the day after the board meeting, and I will date my check accordingly."
"It will be all the same to me," the manager said, "shall I draw out the transfer at once?"
"Do so. The shares stand at six pounds ten, I think, so I will draw you out a check for three hundred and twenty-five pounds. That will be right, I think," and he wrote a check and handed it across to the manager.
"What name shall I put in as the purchaser, Mr. Brander?"
"James William Hartington."
The manager lifted his brows and hesitated for a moment, but then, without a remark, filled in the transfer, dating it as requested.
"I must get two of the clerks to witness my signature," he said.
The lawyer nodded.
Two young clerks were fetched up by the messenger.
"I only want you to witness my signature," the manager said, as he signed his name. "Please to sign here, Mr. Karford; now Mr. Levison, you sign underneath." He held his finger to the spot where they were to sign in such a way that they could not even if they wished read the name inserted in the body of the document.
"I will take it away with me and obtain Hartington's signature," Mr. Brander said, after they had left the room, "I am going over to see him now. I will send it in to you before the next board meeting, and by the way it would be as well when you get it stamped to pass it in with several others. I know how these things are done, and in ninety-nine cases out of a hundred the directors don't even glance at the names on the transfers. Of course they are nothing to them, they have other things to think about, but there might possibly be some remark at your transferring some of your shares just at the present moment. By the way," he said, carelessly, "I don't think if I were you I would make any further advances to Mildrake. Of course, he has a big business, and no doubt he is all right, but I have learned privately that they are not doing as well as they seem to be, and I know the bank is pretty deep there already."
The manager turned somewhat paler, but said, though with manifest effort—
"They are perfectly safe, Mr. Brander, as safe as a bank."
"No doubt, no doubt, Mr. Cumming, but you know all banks are not perfectly safe. Well, I dare say you can manage that for me."
"Certainly, there can be no difficulty whatever about it. I have ten or twelve other transfers, and there will doubtless be some more before next board meeting. The affixing the stamp is a purely mechanical business."
After the lawyer had left Mr. Cumming sat for some time passing his hand nervously over his chin.
"Brander evidently has an idea that all is not right," he thought to himself. "Of course he cannot know how things really stand or he would never have let Hartington take shares. It is a curious transaction altogether, and I cannot make head nor tail of it. However, that is no business of mine. I will cash the check at once and send the money to town with the rest; if Mildrake can hold on we may tide matters over for the present; if not there will be a crash. However, he promised to send me forty-eight hours' notice, and that will be enough for me to arrange matters and get off."
Returning to his office the lawyer found his gig waiting at the door, and at once drove over to Fairclose, Mr. Hartington's place.
"I am grieved, indeed, to hear the news Edwards brought me this morning," he said, as he entered the room where the Squire was sitting.
"Yes, it is rather sudden, Brander, but a little sooner or a little later does not make much difference after all. Edwards told you, of course, that I want nothing said about it."
"That is so."
"Nothing would annoy me more than to have any fuss. I shall just go on as I have before, except that I shall give up hunting; it is just the end of the season, and there will be but two or three more meets. I shall drive to them and have a chat with my friends and see the hounds throw off. I shall give out that I strained myself a bit the last time I was out, and must give up riding for a time. Have you brought my will over with you?"
"Yes, I thought you might want to add something to it."
"That is right, there are two or three small legacies I have thought of; there is a list of them."
Mr. Brander took out the will and added a codicil. The legacies were small ones of ten or twenty pounds to various old people in the village, and the work occupied but a few minutes. The housekeeper and one of the men were called up to witness the signature, and when they had retired Mr. Brander sat chatting for half an hour on general topics, Mr. Hartington avoiding any further allusion to the subject of his illness. Mr. Brander got back in time to dress comfortably for dinner.
"Really, Mary," he said, when he went into the drawing-room where his wife and Mary were waiting ready for him, "I do think you might dress yourself a little more brightly when we are going to such a house as we are to-night. I don't say that that black silk with the lace and those white flowers are not becoming, but I think something lighter and gayer would be more appropriate to a young girl."
"I don't like colors, father, and if it hadn't been for mamma I should never have thought of getting these expensive flowers. I do think women lower themselves by dressing themselves as butterflies. No wonder men consider they think of nothing but dress and have no minds for higher matters."
"Pooh, pooh, my dear, the first duty of a young woman is to look as pretty as she can. According to my experience men don't trouble themselves much about the mind, and a butterfly after all is a good deal more admired than a bee, though the bee is much more useful in the long run."
"If a woman is contented to look like a butterfly, father, she must be content to be taken for one, but I must say I think it is degrading that men should look upon it in that light. They don't dress themselves up in all sorts of colors, why should we."
"I am sure I can't tell you why, Mary, but I suppose it is a sort of instinct, and instincts are seldom wrong. If it had been intended that women should dress themselves as plainly and monotonously as we do, they would not have had the love of decorating themselves implanted almost universally among them. You are on the wrong track, child, on the wrong track altogether, and if you and those who think like you imagine that you are going to upset the laws of nature and to make women rivals of men in mind if not in manner, instead of being what they were meant to be, wives and mothers, you are althogether mistaken."
"That is only another way of putting it, father, that because woman have for ages been treated as inferiors they ought always to remain so."
"Well, well, my dear, we won't argue over it. I think you are altogether wrong, but I have no objection to your going your own way and finding it out at last for yourself, but that does not alter my opinion that on an occasion of a set dinner-party in the county where everybody will be in their fullest fig, that dress, which is pretty and becoming enough in its way, I admit, can hardly be considered as appropriate."
Mary did not answer, but gave an almost imperceptible shrug of her shoulders, expressing clearly her absolute indifference to other people's tastes so long as she satisfied her own. Mary was indeed decided in most of her opinions. Although essentially feminine in most respects, she and the set to which she had belonged at Girton, had established it as a principle to their own satisfaction, that feminine weaknesses were to be sternly discouraged as the main cause of the position held relatively to men. Thus they cultivated a certain brusqueness of speech, expressed their opinion uncompromisingly, and were distinguished by a certain plainness in the fashion of their gowns, and by the absence of trimmings, frillings, and similar adornments.
At heart she was as fond of pretty things as other girls of her age, and had, when she attired herself, been conscious that she felt a greater satisfaction at her appearance than she ought to have done, and doubted whether she had not made an undue concession to the vanities of society in the matter of her laces and flowers. She had, however, soothed her conscience by the consideration that she was at home but for a short time, and while there she might well fall in with her parents' views, as she would be soon starting for Germany to enter upon earnest work. Her father's remarks then were in a sense satisfactory to her, as they showed that, although she had made concessions, she had at least gone but half-way.
The dinner passed off well. Mary was fortunate in being taken down by a gentleman who had advanced views on the necessity of British agriculturists adopting scientific farming if they were to hold their own against foreign producers, and she surprised him by the interest she exhibited in his theories. So much so, that he always spoke of her afterwards as one of the most intelligent young women he had ever met.
Mr. Brander was in remarkably good spirits. On such occasions he entirely dropped his profession, and showed a keen interest in all matters connected with the land. No one would that evening have supposed that his mind was in the smallest degree preoccupied by grave matters of any kind.
As his father had said, Cuthbert Harrington's tastes differed widely from his own. Cuthbert was essentially a Londoner, and his friends would have had difficulty in picturing him as engaged in country pursuits. Indeed, Cuthbert Hartington, in a scarlet coat, or toiling through a turnip field in heavy boots with a gun on his shoulder, would have been to them an absurd anomaly.
It was not that he lacked strength; on the contrary, he was tall and well, if loosely, built. Grace is not a common manly attribute, but he possessed it to an eminent degree. There was a careless ease in his manner, an unconscious picturesqueness in his poses, a turn, that would have smacked of haughtiness had there been the slightest element of pride in his disposition, in the curve of the neck, and well-poised head.
His life was chiefly passed among artists, and like them as a class, he affected loose and easy attire. He wore turn-down collars with a carelessly-knotted necktie, and a velvet jacket. He was one of those men whom his intimates declared to be capable of doing anything he chose, and who chose to do nothing. He had never distinguished himself in any way at Harrow. He had maintained a fair place in his forms as he moved up in the school, but had done so rather from natural ability than from study. He had never been in the eleven, although it was the general opinion he would have certainly had a place in it had he chosen to play regularly. As he sauntered through Harrow so he sauntered through Cambridge; keeping just enough chapels and lectures to avoid getting into trouble, passing the examinations without actual discredit, rowing a little, playing cricket when the fit seized him, but preferring to take life easily and to avoid toil, either mental or bodily. Nevertheless he read a great deal, and on general subjects was one of the best informed men of his college.
He spent a good deal of his time in sketching and painting, art being his one passion. His sketches were the admiration of his friends, but although he had had the best lessons he could obtain at the University he lacked the application and industry to convert the sketches into finished paintings. His vacations were spent chiefly on the Continent, for his life at home bored him immensely, and to him a week among the Swiss lakes, or in the galleries of Munich or Dresden, was worth more than all the pleasures that country life could give him.
He went home for a short time after leaving the University, but his stay there was productive of pleasure to neither his father nor himself. They had not a single taste in common, and though Cuthbert made an effort to take an interest in field sports and farming, it was not long before his father himself told him that as it was evident the life was altogether distasteful to him, and his tastes lay in another direction, he was perfectly ready to make him an allowance that would enable him either to travel or to live in chambers in London.
"I am sorry, of course, lad," he said, "that you could not make yourself happy with me here, but I don't blame you, for it is after all a matter of natural disposition. Of course you will come down here sometimes, and at any rate I shall be happier in knowing that you are living your own life and enjoying yourself in your own way, than I should be in seeing you trying in vain to take to pursuits from which you would derive no pleasure whatever."
"I am awfully sorry, father," Cuthbert had said. "I heartily wish it had been otherwise, but I own that I would rather live in London on an almost starvation income than settle down here. I have really tried hard to get to like things that you do. I feel it would have been better if I had always stayed here and had a tutor; then, no doubt, I should have taken to field sports and so on. However, it is no use regretting that now, and I am very thankful for your offer."
Accordingly he had gone up to London, taken chambers in Gray's Inn, where two or three of his college friends were established, and joined a Bohemian Club, where he made the acquaintance of several artists, and soon became a member of their set. He had talked vaguely of taking up art as a profession, but nothing ever came of it. There was an easel or two in his rooms and any number of unfinished paintings; but he was fastidious over his own work and unable from want of knowledge of technique to carry out his ideas, and the canvases were one after another thrown aside in disgust. His friends upbraided him bitterly with his want of application, not altogether without effect; he took their remonstrances in perfect good temper, but without making the slightest effort to improve. He generally accompanied some of them on their sketching expeditions to Normandy, Brittany, Spain, or Algiers, and his portfolios were the subject of mingled admiration and anger among his artist friends in St. John's Wood; admiration at the vigor and talent that his sketches displayed, anger that he should be content to do nothing greater.
His days were largely spent in their studios where, seated in the most comfortable chair he could find, he would smoke lazily and watch them at work and criticise freely. Men grumbled and laughed at his presumption, but were ready to acknowledge the justice of his criticism. He had an excellent eye for color and effect and for the contrast of light and shade, and those whose pictures were hung, were often ready enough to admit that the canvas owed much of its charm to some happy suggestion on Cuthbert's often ready part.
Every two or three months he went home for a fortnight. He was greatly attached to his father, and it was the one drawback to the contentment of his life that he had been unable to carry out the Squire's wishes, and to settle down with him at Fairclose. He would occasionally bemoan himself over this to his friends.
"I am as bad as the prodigal son," he would say, "except that I don't get what I deserve, and have neither to feed on husks nor to tend swine; but though the fatted calf would be ready for me if I were to return I can't bring myself to do so."
"I don't know about being a prodigal," Wilson, one of the oldest of his set would grumble in reply, "but I do know you are a lazy young beggar, and are wasting your time and opportunities; it is a thousand pities you were born with a silver spoon in your mouth. Your father ought to have turned you adrift with an allowance just sufficient to have kept you on bread and butter, and have left you to provide everything else for yourself; then you would have been an artist, sir, and would have made a big name for yourself. You would have had no occasion to waste your time in painting pot-boilers, but could have devoted yourself to good, honest, serious work, which is more than most of us can do. We are obliged to consider what will sell and to please the public by turning out what they call pretty pictures—children playing with dogs, and trumpery things of that sort. Bah, it is sickening to see a young fellow wasting his life so."
But Cuthbert only laughed good-temperedly, he was accustomed to such tirades, and was indeed of a singularly sweet and easy temper.
It was the end of the first week in May, the great artistic event of the year was over, the Academy was opened, the pictures had been seen and criticised, there was the usual indignation at pictures being hung generally voted to be daubs, while others that had been considered among the studios as certain of acceptance, had been rejected. Two or three of Cuthbert's friends were starting at once for Cornwall to enjoy a rest after three months' steady work and to lay in a stock of fresh sketches for pictures for the following year.
"I will go with you," Cuthbert said when they informed him of their intention, "it is early yet, but it is warm enough even for loafing on the rocks, and I hate London when it's full. I will go for a fortnight anyhow," and so with Wilson and two younger men, he started for Newquay, on the north of Cornwall. Once established there the party met only at meals.
"We don't want to be doing the same bits," Wilson said, "and we shall see plenty of each other of an evening." Cuthbert was delighted with the place, and with his usual enthusiasm speedily fixed upon a subject, and setting up his easel and camp-stool began work on the morning after his arrival. He had been engaged but a few hours when two young ladies came along. They stopped close to him, and Cuthbert, who hated being overlooked when at work, was on the point of growling an anathema under his fair drooping mustache, when one of the girls came close and said quietly—
"How are you, Mr. Hartington? Who would have thought of meeting you here?"
He did not recognize her for a moment and then exclaimed—
"Why, it is Mary Brander. I beg your pardon," he went on, taking off his soft, broad-brimmed hat, "I ought to have said Miss Brander, but having known you so long as Mary Brander, the name slipped out. It must have been three years since we met, and you have shot up from a girl into a full-grown young lady. Are your father and mother here?"
"No, I came down last week to stay with my friend, Miss Treadwyn, who was at Girton with me. Anna, this is Mr. Cuthbert Hartington. Mr. Hartington's place is near Abchester, and he is one of my father's clients."
Miss Treadwyn bowed and Cuthbert took off his hat.
"We have known each other ever since we were children," Mary went on, "that is to say ever since I was a child, for he was a big boy then; he often used to come into our house, while Mr. Hartington was going into business matters with my father, and generally amused himself by teasing me. He used to treat me as if I was a small sort of monkey, and generally ended by putting me in a passion; of course that was in the early days."
"Before you came to years of discretion, Miss Brander. You were growing a very discreet damsel when I last saw you, and I felt rather afraid of you. I know that you were good enough to express much disapproval of me and my ways."
"Very likely I did, though I don't remember it. I think I was very outspoken in those days."
"I do not think you have changed much in that respect, Mary," Miss Treadwyn said.
"Why should one say what one does not think," Mary said, sturdily, "it would be much better if we all did so. Do you not agree with me, Mr. Hartington?"
"It depends upon what 'better' means; it would be awful to think of the consequences if we all did so. Society would dissolve itself into its component parts and every man's hand would be against his neighbor. I do not say that people should say what they do not think, but I am sure that the world would not be so pleasant as it is by a long way if every one was to say exactly what he did think. Just imagine what the sensation of authors or artists would be if critics were to state their opinions with absolute candor!"
"I think it were better if they did so, Mr. Hartington; in that case there would be fewer idiotic books written and fewer men wasting their lives in trying vainly to produce good paintings."
"That is true enough," Cuthbert laughed, "but you must remember that critics do not buy either books or paintings, and that there are plenty of people who buy the idiotic books and are perfectly content with pictures without a particle of artistic merit."
"I suppose so," she admitted, reluctantly, "but so much the worse, for it causes mediocrity!"
"But we are most of us mediocre—authors like Dickens, Thackeray, and George Eliot are the exception—and so are artists like Millais and Landseer, but when books and paintings give pleasure they fulfil their purpose, don't they?"
"If their purpose is to afford a livelihood to those that make them, I suppose they do, Mr. Hartington; but they do not fulfil what ought to be their purpose—which should, of course, be to elevate the mind or to improve the taste."
He shook his head.
"That is too lofty an ideal altogether for me," he said. "I doubt whether men are much happier for their minds being improved or their tastes elevated, unless they are fortunate enough to have sufficient means to gratify those tastes. If a man is happy and contented with the street he lives in, the house he inhabits, the pictures on his walls, and the books he gets from a library, is he better off when you teach him that the street is mean and ugly, the house an outrage on architectural taste, the wall-papers revolting, the pictures daubs, and the books trash? Upon my word I don't think so. I am afraid I am a Philistine."
"But you are an artist, are you not, Mr. Hartington," Miss Treadwyn said, looking at the sketch which had already made considerable progress.
"Unfortunately, no; I have a taste for art, but that is all. I should be better off if I had not, for then I should be contented with doing things like this; as it is I am in a perpetual state of grumble because I can do no better."
"You know the Latin proverb meliora video, and so on, Mr. Hartington, does it apply?"
"That is the first time I have had Latin quoted against me by a young lady," Cuthbert said, smilingly, but with a slight flush that showed the shaft had gone home. "I will not deny that the quotation exactly hits my case. I can only plead that nature, which gave me the love for art, did not give me the amount of energy and the capacity for hard work that are requisite to its successful cultivation, and has not even given me the stimulus of necessity, which is, I fancy, the greatest human motor."
"I should be quite content to paint as well as you do, Mr. Hartington," Anna Treadwyn said. "It must add immensely to the pleasure of travelling to be able to carry home such remembrances of places one has seen."
"Yes, it does so, Miss Treadwyn. I have done a good deal of wandering about in a small way, and have quite a pile of portfolios by whose aid I can travel over the ground again and recall not only the scenery but almost every incident, however slight, that occurred in connection therewith."
"Well, Anna, I think we had better be continuing our walk."
"I suppose we had. May I ask, Mr. Hartington, where you are staying? I am sure my mother will be very pleased if you will call upon us at Porthalloc. There is a glorious view from the garden. I suppose you will be at work all day, but you are sure to find us in of an evening."
"Yes, I fancy I shall live in the open air as long as there is light enough to sketch by, Miss Treadwyn, but if your mother will be good enough to allow me to waive ceremony, I will come up some evening after dinner; in the meantime may I say that I shall always be found somewhere along the shore, and will be glad to receive with due humility any chidings that my old playmate, if she will allow me to call her so, may choose to bestow upon me."
Anna Treadwyn nodded. "I expect we shall be here every day; the sea is new to Mary, and at present she is wild about it."
"How could you go on so, Mary," she went on, as they continued their walk.
"How could I?" the girl replied. "Have we not agreed that one of the chief objects of women's lives should not only be to raise their own sex to the level of man, but generally to urge men to higher aims, and yet because I have very mildly shown my disapproval of Cuthbert Hartington's laziness and waste of his talents, you ask me how I can do it!"
"Well, you see, Mary, it is one thing for us to form all sorts of resolutions when we were sitting eight or ten of us together in your rooms at Girton; but when it comes to putting them into execution one sees things in rather a different light. I quite agree with our theories and I hope to live up to them, as far as I can, but it seems to me much easier to put the theories into practice in a general way than in individual cases. A clergyman can denounce faults from the pulpit without giving offence to anyone, but if he were to take one of his congregation aside and rebuke him, I don't think the experiment would be successful."
"Nathan said unto David, thou art the man."
"Yes, my dear, but you will excuse my saying that at present you have scarcely attained the position of Nathan."
Mary Brander laughed.
"Well, no, but you see Cuthbert Hartington is not a stranger. I have known him ever since I can remember, and used to like him very much, though he did delight in teasing me; but I have been angry with him for a long time, and though I had forgotten it, I remember I did tell him my mind last time I saw him. You see his father is a dear old man, quite the beau-ideal of a country squire, and there he is all alone in his big house while his son chooses to live up in London. I have heard my father and mother say over and over again that he ought to be at home taking his place in the county instead of going on his own way, and I have heard other ladies say the same."
"Perhaps mothers with marriageable daughters, Mary," Anna Treadwyn said with a smile, "but I don't really see why you should be so severe on him for going his own way. You are yourself doing so without, I fancy, much deference to your parents' opinions, and besides I have heard you many a time rail against the soullessness of the conversation and the gossip and tittle-tattle of society in country towns, meaning in your case in Abchester, and should, therefore, be the last to blame him for revolting against it."
"You forget, Anna," Mary said, calmly, "that the cases are altogether different. He goes his way with the mere selfish desire to amuse himself. I have set, what I believe to be a great and necessary aim before me. I don't pretend that there is any sacrifice in it, on the contrary it is a source of pleasure and satisfaction to devote myself to the mission of helping my sex to regain its independence, and to take up the position which it has a right to."
"Of course we are both agreed on that, my dear, we only differ in the best way of setting about it."
"I don't suppose Mr. Hartington will take what I said to heart," Mary replied serenely, "and if he does it is a matter of entire indifference to me."
The subject of their conversation certainly showed no signs of taking the matter to heart. He smiled as he resumed his work.
"She is just what she used to be," he said to himself. "She was always terribly in earnest. My father was saying last time I was down that he had learned from Brander that she had taken up all sorts of Utopian notions about women's rights and so on, and was going to spend two years abroad, to get up her case, I suppose. She has grown very pretty. She was very pretty as a child, though of course last time I saw her she was at the gawky age. She is certainly turning the tables on me, and she hit me hard with that stale old Latin quotation. I must admit it was wonderfully apt. She has a good eye for dress; it is not many girls that can stand those severely plain lines, but they suit her figure and face admirably. I must get her and her friend to sit on a rock and let me put them into the foreground of one of my sketches; funny meeting her here, however, it will be an amusement."
After that it became a regular custom for the two girls to stop as they came along the shore for a chat with Cuthbert, sometimes sitting down on the rocks for an hour; their stay, however, being not unfrequently cut short by Mary getting up with heightened color and going off abruptly. It was Cuthbert's chief amusement to draw her out on her favorite subject, and although over and over again she told herself angrily that she would not discuss it with him, she never could resist falling into the snares Cuthbert laid for her. She would not have minded had he argued seriously with her, but this was just what he did not do, either laughing at her theory, or replying to her arguments with a mock seriousness that irritated her far more than his open laughter.
Anna Treadwyn took little part in the discussions, but sat an amused listener. Mary had been the recognized leader of her set at Girton; her real earnestness and the fact that she intended to go abroad to fit herself the better to carry out her theories, but making her a power among the others. Much as Anna liked and admired her, it amused her greatly to see her entangled in the dilemma, into which Cuthbert led her, occasionally completely posing her by his laughing objections. Of an evening Cuthbert often went up to Porthalloc, where he was warmly welcomed by Anna's mother, whose heart he won by the gentle and deferential manner that rendered him universally popular among the ladies of the families of his artist friends. She would sit smilingly by when the conflicts of the morning were sometimes renewed, for she saw with satisfaction that Anna at least was certainly impressed with Cuthbert's arguments and banter, and afforded very feeble aid to Mary Brander in her defence of their opinions.
"I feel really obliged to you, Mr. Hartington," she said one evening, when the two girls happened to be both out of the room when he arrived, "for laughing Anna out of some of the ideas she brought back from Girton. At one time these gave me a great deal of concern, for my ideas are old-fashioned, and I consider a woman's mission is to cheer and brighten her husband's home, to be a good wife and a good mother, and to be content with the position God has assigned to her as being her right and proper one. However, I have always hoped and believed that she would grow out of her new-fangled ideas, which I am bound to say she never carried to the extreme that her friend does. The fact that I am somewhat of an invalid and that it is altogether impossible for her to carry out such a plan as Miss Brander has sketched for herself, and that there is no opportunity whatever for her to get up a propaganda in this quiet little Cornish town, has encouraged that hope; she herself has said but little on the subject since she came home, and I think your fights with Miss Brander will go far to complete her cure."
"It is ridiculous from beginning to end," Cuthbert said, "but it is natural enough. It is in just the same way that some young fellows start in life with all sorts of wild radical notions, and settle down in middle age into moderate Liberals, if not into contented Conservatives. The world is good enough in its way and at any rate if it is to get better it will be by gradual progress and not by individual effort. There is much that is very true in Miss Brander's views that things might be better than they are, it is only with her idea that she has a mission to set them right that I quarrel. Earnestness is no doubt a good thing, but too much of it is a misfortune rather than an advantage. No doubt I am prejudiced," he laughed, "because I am afraid that I have no particle of it in my composition. Circumstances have been against its growth, and there is no saying what I might be if they were to change. At present, at any rate, I have never felt the want of it, but I can admire it among others even though I laugh at it."
A month passed, and Wilson and his two companions moved further along the coast in search of fresh subjects, but Cuthbert declined to accompany them, declaring that he found himself perfectly comfortable where he was, at which his companions all laughed, but made no attempt to persuade him further.
"Do you know, Mary," Anna said, a few days later, "you and Mr. Hartington remind me strongly of Beatrice and Benedict."
"What do you mean, Anna?" Mary asked, indignantly.
"Nothing, my dear," Anna replied, demurely, "except that you are perpetually quarrelling."
"We may be that," Mary said, shortly, "but we certainly shall not arrive at the same kind of conclusion to our quarrel."
"You might do worse, Mary; Mr. Hartington is charming. My mother, who is not given to general admiration, says he is one of the most delightful men that she ever met. He is heir to a good estate, and unless I am greatly mistaken, the idea has occurred to him if not to you. I thought so before, but have been convinced of it since he determined to remain here while those men he was with have all gone away."
"You will make me downright angry with you, Anna, if you talk such nonsense," Mary said, severely. "You know very well that I have always made up mind that nothing shall induce me to marry and give up my freedom, at any rate for a great many years, and then only to a man who will see life as I do, become my co-worker and allow me my independence. Mr. Hartington is the last man I should choose; he has no aim or purpose whatever, and he would ruin my life as well as his own. No, thank you. However, I am convinced that you are altogether mistaken, and Cuthbert Hartington would no more dream of asking me to be his wife than I should of taking him for a husband—the idea is altogether preposterous."
However, a week later, Cuthbert, on going up to Porthalloc one morning, and catching sight of Mary Brander in the garden by herself, joined her there and astonished her by showing that Anna was not mistaken in her view. He commenced abruptly—
"Do you know, Miss Brander, I have been thinking over your arguments, and I have come to the conclusion that woman has really a mission in life. Its object is not precisely that which you have set yourself, but it is closely allied to it, my view being that her mission is to contribute to the sum of human happiness by making one individual man happy!"
"Do you mean, is it possible that you can mean, that you think woman's mission is to marry?" she asked, with scorn, "are you going back to that?"
"That is entirely what I meant, but it is a particular case I was thinking of, rather than a general one. I was thinking of your case and mine. I do not say that you might not do something towards adding to the happiness of mankind, but mankind are not yearning for it. On the other hand I am sure that you could make me happy, and I am yearning for that kind of happiness."
"Are you really in earnest, Mr. Hartington?"
"Quite in earnest, very much so; in the six weeks that I have been here I have learnt to love you, and to desire, more earnestly certainly than I have ever desired anything before, that you should be my wife. I know that you do not credit me with any great earnestness of purpose, but I am quite earnest in this. I do love you, Mary."
"I am sorry to hear it, and am surprised, really and truly surprised. I thought you disapproved of me altogether, but I did think you gave me credit for being sincere. It is clear you did not, or you could not suppose that I would give up all my plans before even commencing them. I like you very much, Cuthbert, though I disapprove of you as much as I thought you disapproved of me; but if ever I do marry, and I hope I shall never be weak enough to do so, it must be to someone who has the same views of life that I have; but I feel sure that I shall never love anyone if love is really what one reads of in books, where woman is always ready to sacrifice her whole life and her whole plans to a man who graciously accepts the sacrifice as a matter of course."
"I was afraid that that would be your answer," he said gravely. "And yet I was not disposed to let the chance of happiness go without at least knowing that it was so. I can quite understand that you do not even feel that I am really in earnest. So small did I feel my chances were, that I should have waited for a time before I risked almost certain refusal, had it not been that you are on the point of going abroad for two years. And two years is a long time to wait when one feels that one's chance is very small at the end of that time. Well, it is of no use saying anything more about it. I may as well say good-bye at once, for I shall pack up and go. Good-bye, dear; I hope that you are wrong, and that some day you will make some man worthy of you happy, but when the time comes remember that I prophesy that he will not in the slightest degree resemble the man you picture to yourself now. I think that the saying that extremes meet is truer than those that assert that like meets like; but whoever he is I hope that he will be someone who will make you as happy as I should have tried to do."
"Good-bye, Cuthbert," she said, frankly, "I think this has all been very silly, and I hope that by the time we meet again you will have forgotten all about it."
There was something in his face, as she looked up into it, that told her what she had before doubted somewhat, that he had been really in earnest for once in his life, and she added, "I do hope we shall be quite good friends when we meet again, and that you will then see I am quite right about this."
He smiled, gave her a little nod, and then dropping her hand sauntered into the house.
"It is the most foolish thing I have ever heard of," she said to herself, pettishly, as she looked after him. "I can't think how such an idea ever occurred to him. He must have known that even if I had not determined as I have done to devote myself to our cause, he was the last sort of man I should ever have thought of marrying. Of course he is nice and I always thought so, but what is niceness when he has no aims, no ambitions in life, and he is content to waste it as he is doing."
Five minutes later Anna Treadwyn joined her in the garden.
"So I was right after all, Mary?"
"How do you know, do you mean to say that he has told you?"
"Not exactly, but one can use one's eyes, I suppose. He said nothing last night about going away, and now he is leaving by this afternoon's coach; besides, although he laughed and talked as usual one could see with half an eye that it was forced. So you have actually refused him?"
"Of course I have, how can you ask such a question? It was the most perfectly absurd idea I ever heard of."
"Well, I hope that you will never be sorry for it, Mary."
"There is not much fear of that," Mary said, with a toss of her head, "and let me say that it is not very polite, either of you or him, to think that I should be ready to give up all my plans in life, the first time I am asked, and that by a gentleman who has not the slightest sympathy with them. It is a very silly and tiresome affair altogether, and I do hope I shall never hear anything of it again."
Cuthbert Hartington had been back in town but two days when he received a letter from Mr. Brander apprising him of the sudden death of his father. It was a terrible shock, for he had no idea whatever that Mr. Hartington was in any way out of health. Cuthbert had written only the day before to say that he should be down at the end of the week, for indeed he felt unable to settle down to his ordinary course of life in London. He at once sent off a telegram ordering the carriage to meet him by the evening train, and also one to Mr. Brander begging him to be at the house if possible when he arrived.
Upon hearing from the lawyer that his father had been aware that he might be carried off at any moment by heart disease, but that he had strictly forbidden the doctor and himself writing to him, or informing anyone of the circumstances, he said—
"It is just like my father, but I do wish it had not been so. I might have been down with him for the last three months of his life."
"The Squire went on just in his usual way, Cuthbert. I am sure that he preferred it so. He shrunk, as he said, from knowing that people he met were aware that his days were numbered, and even with me after our first conversation on the subject, he made no allusion whatever to it. He was as cheery and bright as ever, and when I last met him a week ago, even I who knew the circumstances, could see no difference whatever in his manner. I thought he was wrong, at first, but I came to the conclusion afterwards that his decision was not an unwise one. He spared you three months of unavailing pain; he had no fear of death, and was able to go about as before to meet his friends without his health being a subject of discussion, and in all ways to go on as usual until the call came. His death was evidently painless; he sat down in his easy arm-chair after lunch for his usual half-hour's nap, and evidently expired in his sleep. The servant found him, as he believed, still asleep when he came in to tell him that the carriage was at the door, and it was only on touching him he discovered what had happened. They sent the carriage off at once to fetch Dr. Edwards. He looked in at my office and took me over with him, and I got back in time to write to you."
The shock that the Squire's sudden death caused in Abchester, was, a fortnight later, obliterated by the still greater sensation caused by the news that the bank had put up its shutters. The dismay excited thereby was heightened when it became known that the manager had disappeared, and reports got about that the losses of the bank had been enormous. The first investigation into its affairs more than confirmed the worst rumors. For years it had been engaged in propping up the firm not only of Mildrake and Co., which had failed to meet its engagements on the day preceding the announcement of the bank's failure, but of three others which had broken down immediately afterwards. In all of these firms Mr. Cumming was found to have had a large interest.
On the day after the announcement of the failure of the bank, Mr. Brander drove up to Fairclose. He looked excited and anxious when he went into the room where Cuthbert was sitting, listlessly, with a book before him.
"I have a piece of very bad news to tell you, Mr. Hartington," he said.
"Indeed?" Cuthbert said, without any very great interest in his voice.
"Yes; I daresay you heard yesterday of the failure of the bank?"
"Dr. Edwards looked in here as he was driving past to tell me of it. Had we any money in it?"
"I wish that was all, it is much worse than that, sir. Your father was a shareholder in the bank."
"He never mentioned it to me," Cuthbert said, his air of indifference still unchanged.
"He only bought shares a comparatively short time ago, I think it was after you were here the last time. There were some vague rumors afloat as to the credit of the bank, and your father, who did not believe them, took a few shares as a proof of his confidence in it, thinking, he said, that the fact that he did so might allay any feeling of uneasiness."
"I wonder that you allowed him to invest in bank shares, Mr. Brander."
"Of course I should not have done so if I had had the slightest idea that the bank was in difficulties, but I was in no way behind the scenes. I transacted their legal business for them in the way of drawing up mortgages, investigating titles, and seeing to the purchase and sales of property here in the county; beyond that I knew nothing of their affairs. I was not consulted at all in the matter. Your father simply said to me, 'I see that the shares in the bank have dropped a little, and I hear there are some foolish reports as to its credit; I think as a county gentleman I ought to support the County Bank, and I wish you to buy say fifty shares for me.'"
"That was just like my father," Cuthbert said, admiringly, "he always thought a great deal of his county, and I can quite understand his acting as he did. Well, they were ten pound shares, I think, so it is only five hundred gone at the worst."
"I am afraid you don't understand the case," Mr. Brander said, gravely; "each and every shareholder is responsible for the debts of the bank to the full extent of his property, and although I earnestly hope that only the bank's capital has been lost, I can't disguise from you that in the event of there being a heavy deficiency it will mean ruin to several of the shareholders."
"That is bad, indeed," Cuthbert said, thoroughly interested now. "Of course you have no idea at present of what the state of the bank is."
"None whatever, but I hope for the best. I am sorry to say I heard a report this morning that Mr. Hislop, who was, as you know, the chairman of the bank, had shot himself, which, if true, will, of course, intensify the feeling of alarm among the shareholders."
Cuthbert sat silent for some time.
"Well," he said, at last, "this is sudden news, but if things are as bad as possible, and Fairclose and all the estate go, I shall be better off than many people. I shall have that five thousand pounds that came to me by my mother's settlement, I suppose?"
"Yes, no doubt. The shares have not been transferred to my name as your father's executor. I had intended when I came up next week to go through the accounts with you, to recommend you to instruct me to dispose of them at once, which I should have done in my capacity of executor without transferring them in the first place to you. Therefore, any claim there may be will lie against the estate and not against you personally."
"That is satisfactory anyhow," Cuthbert said, calmly. "I don't know how I should get on without it. Of course I shall be sorry to lose this place, but in some respects the loss will be almost a relief to me. A country life is not my vocation, and I have been wondering for the last fortnight what on earth I should do with myself. As it is, I shall, if it comes to the worst, be obliged to work. I never have worked because I never have been forced to do so, but really I don't know that the prospects are altogether unpleasant, and at any rate I am sure that I would rather be obliged to paint for my living than to pass my life in trying to kill time."
The lawyer looked keenly at his client, but he saw that he was really speaking in earnest, and that his indifference at the risk of the loss of his estates was unaffected.
"Well," he said, after a pause, "I am glad indeed that you take it so easily; of course, I hope most sincerely that things may not be anything like so bad as that, and that, at worst, a call of only a few pounds a share will be sufficient to meet any deficiency that may exist, still I am heartily glad to see that you are prepared to meet the event in such a spirit, for to most men the chance of such a calamity would be crushing."
"Possibly I might have felt it more if it had come upon me two or three years later, just as I had got to be reconciled to the change of life, but you see I have so recently and unexpectedly come into the estate that I have not even begun to appreciate the pleasures of possession or to feel that they weigh in the slightest against the necessity of my being obliged to give up the life I have been leading for years. By the bye," he went on, changing the subject carelessly, "how is your daughter getting on in Germany? I happened to meet her at Newquay three weeks ago, and she told me she was going out there in the course of a week or so. I suppose she has gone."
"Yes, she has gone," Mr. Brander said, irritably. "She is just as bent as you were, if you will permit me to say so, on the carrying out of her own scheme of life. It is a great annoyance to her mother and me, but argument has been thrown away upon her, and as unfortunately the girls have each a couple of thousand, left under their own control by their mother's sister, she was in a position to do as she liked. However, I hope that a year or two will wean her from the ridiculous ideas he has taken up."
"I should doubt whether her cure will be as prompt as you think, it seemed to me that her ideas were somewhat fixed, and it will need a good deal of failure to disillusionize her."
"She is as obstinate as a little mule," Mr. Brander said shortly. "However, I must be going," he went on, rising from his chair. "I drove over directly I had finished my breakfast and must hurry back again to the office. Well, I hope with all my heart, Mr. Hartington, that this most unfortunate affair will not turn out so badly after all."
Cuthbert did not echo the sentiment, but accompanied his visitor silently to the door, and after seeing him off returned to the room, where he reseated himself in his chair, filled and lighted his pipe, put his legs on to another chair, and proceeded to think the matter out.
It was certainly a wholly unexpected change; but at present he did not feel it to be an unpleasant one, but rather a relief. He had for the last ten days been bemoaning himself. While but an heir apparent he could live his own life and take his pleasure as he liked. As owner of Fairclose he had duties to perform—he had his tenants' welfare to look after, there would be the bailiff to interview every morning and to go into all sorts of petty details as to hedges and ditches, fences and repairs, and things he cared not a jot for, interesting as they were to his dear old father. He supposed he should have to go on the Bench and to sit for hours listening to petty cases of theft and drunkenness, varied only by a poaching affray at long intervals.
There would be county gatherings to attend, and he would naturally be expected to hunt and to shoot. It had all seemed to him inexpressedly dreary. Now all that was, if Brander's fears were realized, at an end, even if it should not turn out to be as bad as that, the sum he would be called upon to pay might be sufficient to cripple the estate and to afford him a good and legitimate excuse for shutting up or letting the house, and going away to retrench until the liabilities were all cleared off. Of course he would have to work in earnest now, but even the thought of that was not altogether unpleasant.
"I believe it is going to be the best thing that ever happened to me," he said to himself. "I know that I should never have done anything if it hadn't been for this, and though I am not fool enough to suppose I am ever going to turn out anything great, I am sure that after a couple of years' hard work I ought to paint decently, and anyhow to turn out as good things as some of those men. It is just what I have always been wanting, though I did not know it. I am afraid I shall have to cut all those dear old fellows, for I should never be able to give myself up to work among them. I should say it would be best for me to go over to Paris; I can start on a fresh groove there. At my age I should not like to go through any of the schools here. I might have three months with Terrier; that would be just the thing to give me a good start; he is a good fellow but one who never earns more than bread and cheese.
"There isn't a man in our set who really knows as much about it as he does. He has gone through our own schools, was a year at Paris, and another at Rome. He has got the whole thing at his fingers' ends, and would make a splendid master if he would but go in for pupils, but with all that he can't paint a picture. He has not a spark of imagination, nor an idea of art; he has no eye for color, or effect. He can paint admirably what he sees, but then he sees nothing but bare facts. He is always hard up, poor fellow, and it would be a real boon to him to take me for three months and stick at it hard with me, and by the end of that time I ought to be able to take my place in some artist's school in Paris without feeling myself to be an absolute duffer among a lot of fellows younger than myself. By Jove, this news is like a breeze on the east coast in summer—a little sharp, perhaps, but splendidly bracing and healthy, just the thing to set a fellow up and make a man of him. I will go out for a walk and take the dogs with me."
He got up, went to the stables, and unchained the dogs, who leapt round him in wild delight, for the time of late had been as dull for them as for him; told one of the stable boys to go to the house and say that he would not be back to lunch, and then went for a twenty mile walk over the hills, and returned somewhat tired with the unaccustomed exertion, but with a feeling of buoyancy and light-heartedness such as he had not experienced for a long time past. For the next week he remained at home, and then feeling too restless to do so any longer, went to town, telling Mr. Brander to let him know as soon as the committee, that had already commenced its investigations into the real state of the bank's affairs, made their first report.
The lawyer was much puzzled over Cuthbert's manner. It seemed to him utterly impossible that anyone should really be indifferent to losing a fine estate, and yet he could see no reason for Cuthbert's assuming indifference on so vital a subject unless he felt it. He even discussed the matter with his wife.
"I cannot understand that young Hartington," he said; "most men would have been completely crumpled up at the news I gave him, but he took it as quietly as if it had been a mere bagatelle. The only possible explanation of his indifference that I can think of is that he must have made some low marriage in London, and does not care about introducing his wife to the county; it is just the sort of thing that a man with his irregular Bohemian habits might do—a pretty model, perhaps, or some peasant girl he has come across when out sketching."
"He never did care particularly about anything," Mrs. Brander said, "and it may be he is really glad to get away from the country."
"That would be possible enough if he had a good income in addition to Fairclose, but all that he will have is that five thousand that came to him from his mother, and I should say he is likely enough to run through that in a couple of years at the outside, and then where will he be?"
"I can't think, Jeremiah, how you ever permitted his father to do such a mad thing as to take those shares."
"I know what I am doing, my dear, don't you worry yourself about that. You have been wanting me for a very long time to give up business and go into the country. How would Fairclose suit you?"
"You are not in earnest," she exclaimed, with an excitement very unusual to her. "You can't mean that?"
"I don't often say what I don't mean, my dear, and if Fairclose comes into the market, more unlikely things than that may come to pass; but mind, not a word of this is to be breathed."
"And do you really think it will come into the market?" she asked.
"As certain as the sun will rise to-morrow morning. We only held our first meeting to-day, but that was enough to show us that the directors ought all to be shut up in a lunatic asylum. The affairs of the bank are in a frightful state, simply frightful; it means ruin to every one concerned."
"It is fortunate, indeed, that you did not hold any shares, Jeremiah."
"I was not such a fool," he said, shortly, "as to trust my money in the hands of a body of men who were all no doubt excellent fellows and admirable county gentlemen, but who knew no more of business than babies, and who would be mere tools in the hands of their manager; and I had the excellent excuse that I considered the legal adviser of a bank should have no pecuniary stake whatever in its affairs, but be able to act altogether without bias."
There was an ironical smile on his lips, and his wife said, admiringly—
"How clever you are, Jeremiah."
"It did not require much cleverness for that," he said, with some complacency. "You can reserve your compliments, my dear, until we are established at Fairclose. All I ask is that you won't ask any questions or allude to the matter until it is settled, but leave it entirely in my hands. So far things are working in the right direction."
"Perhaps it will be a good thing for Cuthbert Hartington after all," she said, after sitting for some minutes in silence.
"No doubt it will," he said. "At any rate as he does not take it to heart in the slightest degree, we need not worry ourselves over him."
"It is funny," she said, "but sometimes the idea has occurred to me that Cuthbert might some day take a fancy to one of our girls, and I might see one of them mistress at Fairclose; but I never dreamt I might be mistress there myself, and I can't guess, even now, how you can think of managing it."
"Don't you trouble to guess, at all, my dear; be content with the plum when it falls into your mouth, and don't worry yourself as to how I manage to shake the tree to bring the fruit down."
Three weeks later it became known definitely that after calling up the remainder of the bank's capital there would be a deficiency of nearly a million, and that every shareholder would be called upon to contribute to the full extent of his ability, to cover the losses. One or two letters from Mr. Brander had already prepared Cuthbert for the final result of the investigation, and he had already begun to carry out the plan he had marked out for himself. He had, as soon as he had returned, astonished his friends by informing them that he found that instead of coming into his father's estates, as he had expected, it was not likely he would ever touch a penny from them, as his father had been a shareholder in the Abchester Bank, and so he believed everything would be swept away.
"Fortunately," he went on, "I have got enough of my own to keep my head above water, and, I dare say you fellows won't believe me, but I mean to go to work in earnest."
The announcement was made to a dozen men who were smoking in Wilson's studio, he having returned the day before from Cornwall.
"Well, youngster, I won't commiserate with you," he growled. "I have been wondering since I heard from King last night what had kept you away, what on earth you would do with yourself now you have come into your money. I often thought it was the worst thing in the world for you that you had not got to work, and if you are really going to set to now, I believe the time will come when you will think that this misfortune is the best thing that ever happened to you."
"I am not quite sure that I do not think so already," Cuthbert replied. "I am not at all disposed to fancy myself a martyr, I can assure you. I mean to go over to Paris and enter an Art School there. I know what you fellows are. You would never let me work."
There was a general chorus of indignation.
"Well, how much do you work yourselves? You potter about for nine months in the year, and work for four or five hours a day for the other three."
"Saul among the prophets!" Wilson exclaimed. "The idea of Cuthbert Hartington rebuking us for laziness is rich indeed," and a roar of laughter showed the general appreciation of the absurdity.
"Never mind," Cuthbert said, loftily. "You will see; 'from morn till dewy eve,' will be my idea of work. It is the way you men loaf, and call it working, that has so far kept me from setting to. Now I am going to burst the bonds of the Castle of Indolence, and when I come back from Paris I shall try to stir you all up to something like activity."
There was another laugh, and then Wilson said, "Well, it is the best thing you can do to go abroad. I don't believe you would ever make a fresh start here."
"I have made fresh a start, Wilson; our respected brother Terrier here, has undertaken to teach me the rudiments, and for the next three months his studio doors will be closed to all visitors from ten to five."
"Is that so? I congratulate you, Cuthbert; that really looks like business, and if Terrier can't teach you how to use the brush and put on color no one can. Gentlemen, we will drink the health of the new boy. Here is to Cuthbert Hartington, and success to him." Glasses were raised and the sentiment heartily echoed.
For three months Cuthbert worked steadily; to his own surprise, not less than to that of his instructor, he found the hours none too long for him. During that time he had received a letter from Mr. Brander that surprised him.
"Dear Mr. Hartington,—In accordance with your instructions I at once informed the Receiver of the bank that you were prepared to hand over the Fairclose estates for the benefit of the creditors, instead of waiting for the calls to be made, and that you wished the matter to be arranged as speedily as possible as you were shortly going abroad. The necessary deeds will in a few days be prepared. You will doubtless be surprised to hear that I have arranged with the Receiver for the purchase of the estates by private treaty. I have long been intending to retire from business, and have been on the lookout for an estate in the county. I hope this arrangement will not be displeasing to you."
As Mr. Brander had the reputation of being a wealthy man, and his wife's wishes that he should retire from business and purchase an estate in the county were public property, Cuthbert was not surprised, but at the same time he was not altogether pleased. He had never liked the lawyer. He had no particular grounds for not doing so, but he had as a boy an instinctive notion that he was a humbug.
"I wonder," he said to himself, "whether he has all along had an eye to Fairclose, and whether he really did his best to dissuade my father from making that disastrous investment. At any rate, it does not make any difference to me who is there. It might have been some stranger, some manufacturing fellow; I would rather think of Mary being at the old place than a man of that sort. He would have been more likely than Brander to be hard on the tenants, and to have sold off all the things and have turned the place inside out. I don't say that under ordinary circumstances I should choose Brander as a landlord, but he will know well enough that there would be nothing that would do him more harm in the county than a report that he was treating the Squire's tenants harshly. Well, I suppose I had better write him a line saying that I am glad to hear that he has bought the place, as I would naturally prefer that it should be in his hands than those of a stranger."
A fortnight later, Cuthbert, in looking over the "Abchester Guardian," which was sent to him weekly, as the subscription was not yet run out, read the following paragraph: "We understand that our greatly respected townsman, Mr. J. Brander, has purchased the house and estate of Fairclose, which has come into the market owing to the failure of the Abchester Bank, in which the late Mr. Hartington was most unfortunately a shareholder, and which has involved hundreds of families in ruin. The greatest sympathy is everywhere expressed for Mr. Cuthbert Hartington. We understand that the price given by Mr. Brander was L55,000. We believe that we are correct in stating that Mr. Brander was the holder of a mortgage of L15,000 on the estate."
"Mortgage for L15,000," Cuthbert repeated, "impossible. Why should my father have mortgaged the place? He could have no occasion to raise the money. His tastes were most simple, and I am sure that he never lived beyond his income. He paid me a handsome allowance, but, thank God, I never exceeded it. What in the world can this mean! I will write to Brander at once. No, I won't, I will write to the liquidator. If there was such a thing he is certain to have looked into it closely, for it was so much off the sum available for assets."
By return of post Cuthbert received the following letter:
"Dear Mr. Hartington—In reply to your question I beg to confirm the statement in the newspaper cutting you send to me. Mr. Brander was the holder of a mortgage for L15,000 on your father's estate. I looked into the matter very closely, as it came as a surprise upon us. Everything was in proper order. Mr. Brander's bank-book showed that he drew out L15,000 on the date of the mortgage, and the books of the bank confirm his book. Notice had been given to them a week previously that he would require that sum in notes and gold, and it was so paid over to him. His books also show payment of the interest, and his receipts for the same were found among Mr. Hartington's papers. There was, therefore, no shadow of a doubt possible as to the genuine nature of the mortgage.—Yours truly, W. H. Cox."
Although satisfied that for some reason or other his father had borrowed this sum on mortgage from his lawyer, Cuthbert was no less puzzled than before as to the purpose for which it had been raised, or what his father could possibly have done with the money. He, therefore, wrote to Mr. Brander, saying that though it was a matter in which he had himself no pecuniary interest, he should be glad if he would inform him of the circumstance which led his father to borrow such a sum.
"I thought," he said, "that I knew everything about my father's money affairs, for he always spoke most openly about them to me, and he never let drop a word as to the mortgage or as to any difficulty in which he had involved himself, or any investment he had thought of making; and I am, therefore, entirely at a loss to understand how he could have required such a sum of money."
The lawyer's answer came in due course.
"My dear Mr. Hartingon,—I was in no way surprised at the receipt of your letter, and indeed have been expecting an inquiry from you as to the mortgage. It happened in this way: Some three years ago your father said to me, 'I want to raise L15,000 on the estate, Brander.' I was naturally greatly surprised, for acting for him as I did, I was, of course, aware that he lived well within his income. He went on, 'Of course you are surprised, Brander, but as you must know well most men have a skeleton in a cupboard somewhere. I have one, and as I am getting on in life I want to bury it for good. It makes no difference to you what it is, and I have no intention of going into the matter. It suffices that I want L15,000.' 'Of course there is no difficulty about that, sir,' I said, 'the estate is unencumbered, and as there is no entail you are free to do with it as you like. 'But I want it done quietly,' he said, 'I don't want it talked about that I have mortgaged Fairclose. The best plan by far would be for you to do it yourself, which I have no doubt you can do easily enough if you like.' I said that I would much rather have nothing to do with it, as I have always considered it a mistake for lawyers to become principals in money transactions with their clients, and had always refused to do anything of the sort. However, he put the matter so strongly that he at last induced me, against my better judgment, to consent to advance the money, and at his earnest request I handed him the money in notes, so that no one, even at the bank, should be aware that such a sum had passed between us. Of course the mortgage was drawn up in the usual form and duly executed and witnessed, and I have no doubt that the liquidator of the bank will be happy to show you your father's receipt for the money and the receipts given by me to him for the interest. As you say the matter does not pecuniarily affect you now, but at the same time I am naturally anxious you should satisfy yourself thoroughly that the transaction was in every respect a bona fide one."
Cuthbert sat for some time with the letter before him.
"I suppose the dear old dad must have got into some scrape or other years ago," he said to himself. "What it was it is no use wondering, still less inquiring about. I am surprised he never told me, but I suppose he could not wind himself up to the point, and I have no doubt he intended to tell me some day, and would have done so if he hadn't been carried off so suddenly. Anyhow, he knew me well enough to be sure that when I heard of this mortgage, and learned how it had been done that my love and respect for him would be sufficient to prevent my trying to search into his past. He little thought that the mortgage would not affect me to the extent of a penny. Well, there is an end of it, and I won't think any more about the matter the secret is dead and buried; let it rest there. And now it is time to be off to my work."
A year later Cuthbert Hartington was sitting in a room, somewhat better furnished than the majority of the students' lodgings, on the second floor of a house in Quartier Latin. The occupant of the room below, Arnold Dampierre, was with him. He was a man three or four years Cuthbert's junior, handsome, grave-eyed, and slightly built; he was a native of Louisiana, and his dark complexion showed a taint of Mulatto blood in his veins.
"So you have made up your mind to stay," he said.
"Certainly, I intend to see it through; in the first place I don't want to break off my work, and as you know am ambitious enough to intend to get a couple of pictures finished in time for the Salon, although whether they will hang there, is another matter altogether."
"Don't pretend to be modest, Cuthbert. You know well enough they will be hung, and more than that, they will be a success. I would wager a hundred dollars to a cent on it, though you haven't as yet settled on the subjects. You know that you are Goude's favorite pupil and that he predicts great things for you, and there is not one of us who does not agree with him. You know what Goude said of the last thing you did. 'Gentlemen, I should be proud to be able to sign my name in the corner of this picture, it is admirable.'"
"It was but a little thing," Cuthbert said, carelessly, but nevertheless coloring slightly, "I hope to do much better work in the course of another year." Then he went back to the former subject of conversation.
"Yes, I shall see it through. We have had a good many excitements already—the march away of the troops, and the wild enthusiasm and the shouts of 'A Berlin!' I don't think there was a soul in the crowd who was not convinced that the Germans were going to be crumpled up like a sheet of paper. It was disgusting to hear the bragging in the studio, and they were almost furious with me when I ventured to hint mildly that the Prussians were not fools, and would not have chosen this time to force France into a war if they had not felt that they were much better prepared for it than Napoleon was. Since then it has been just as exciting the other way—the stupor of astonishment, the disappointment and rage as news of each disaster came in; then that awful business at Sedan, the uprising of the scum here, the flight of the Empress, the proclamation of the Republic, and the idiotic idea that seized the Parisians that the Republic was a sort of fetish, and that the mere fact of its establishment would arrest the march of the Germans. Well, now we are going to have a siege, I suppose, and as I have never seen one, it will be interesting. Of course I have no shadow of faith in the chattering newspaper men and lawyers, who have undertaken the government of France; but they say Trochu is a good soldier, and Paris ought to be able to hold out for some time. The mobiles are pouring in, and I think they will fight well, especially the Bretons. Their officers are gentlemen, and though I am sure they would not draw a sword for the Republic, they will fight sturdily for France. I would not miss it for anything. I am not sure that I shan't join one of the volunteer battalions myself."