HotFreeBooks.com
Cashel Byron's Profession
by George Bernard Shaw
1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse

Cashel Byron's Profession

By

George Bernard Shaw



PROLOGUE

I



Moncrief House, Panley Common. Scholastic establishment for the sons of gentlemen, etc.

Panley Common, viewed from the back windows of Moncrief House, is a tract of grass, furze and rushes, stretching away to the western horizon.

One wet spring afternoon the sky was full of broken clouds, and the common was swept by their shadows, between which patches of green and yellow gorse were bright in the broken sunlight. The hills to the northward were obscured by a heavy shower, traces of which were drying off the slates of the school, a square white building, formerly a gentleman's country-house. In front of it was a well-kept lawn with a few clipped holly-trees. At the rear, a quarter of an acre of land was enclosed for the use of the boys. Strollers on the common could hear, at certain hours, a hubbub of voices and racing footsteps from within the boundary wall. Sometimes, when the strollers were boys themselves, they climbed to the coping, and saw on the other side a piece of common trampled bare and brown, with a few square yards of concrete, so worn into hollows as to be unfit for its original use as a ball-alley. Also a long shed, a pump, a door defaced by innumerable incised inscriptions, the back of the house in much worse repair than the front, and about fifty boys in tailless jackets and broad, turned-down collars. When the fifty boys perceived a stranger on the wall they rushed to the spot with a wild halloo, overwhelmed him with insult and defiance, and dislodged him by a volley of clods, stones, lumps of bread, and such other projectiles as were at hand.

On this rainy spring afternoon a brougham stood at the door of Moncrief House. The coachman, enveloped in a white india-rubber coat, was bestirring himself a little after the recent shower. Within-doors, in the drawing-room, Dr. Moncrief was conversing with a stately lady aged about thirty-five, elegantly dressed, of attractive manner, and only falling short of absolute beauty in her complexion, which was deficient in freshness.

"No progress whatever, I am sorry to say," the doctor was remarking.

"That is very disappointing," said the lady, contracting her brows.

"It is natural that you should feel disappointed," replied the doctor. "I would myself earnestly advise you to try the effect of placing him at some other—" The doctor stopped. The lady's face had lit up with a wonderful smile, and she had raised her hand with a bewitching gesture of protest.

"Oh, no, Dr. Moncrief," she said. "I am not disappointed with YOU; but I am all the more angry with Cashel, because I know that if he makes no progress with you it must be his own fault. As to taking him away, that is out of the question. I should not have a moment's peace if he were out of your care. I will speak to him very seriously about his conduct before I leave to-day. You will give him another trial, will you not?"

"Certainly. With the greatest pleasure," exclaimed the doctor, confusing himself by an inept attempt at gallantry. "He shall stay as long as you please. But"—here the doctor became grave again—"you cannot too strongly urge upon him the importance of hard work at the present time, which may be said to be the turning-point of his career as a student. He is now nearly seventeen; and he has so little inclination for study that I doubt whether he could pass the examination necessary to entering one of the universities. You probably wish him to take a degree before he chooses a profession."

"Yes, of course," said the lady, vaguely, evidently assenting to the doctor's remark rather than expressing a conviction of her own. "What profession would you advise for him? You know so much better than I."

"Hum!" said Dr. Moncrief, puzzled. "That would doubtless depend to some extent on his own taste—"

"Not at all," said the lady, interrupting him with vivacity. "What does he know about the world, poor boy? His own taste is sure to be something ridiculous. Very likely he would want to go on the stage, like me."

"Oh! Then you would not encourage any tendency of that sort?"

"Most decidedly not. I hope he has no such idea."

"Not that I am aware of. He shows so little ambition to excel in any particular branch that I should say his choice of a profession may be best determined by his parents. I am, of course, ignorant whether his relatives possess influence likely to be of use to him. That is often the chief point to be considered, particularly in cases like your son's, where no special aptitude manifests itself."

"I am the only relative he ever had, poor fellow," said the lady, with a pensive smile. Then, seeing an expression of astonishment on the doctor's face, she added, quickly, "They are all dead."

"Dear me!"

"However," she continued, "I have no doubt I can make plenty of interest for him. But it is difficult to get anything nowadays without passing competitive examinations. He really must work. If he is lazy he ought to be punished."

The doctor looked perplexed. "The fact is," he said, "your son can hardly be dealt with as a child any longer. He is still quite a boy in his habits and ideas; but physically he is rapidly springing up into a young man. That reminds me of another point on which I will ask you to speak earnestly to him. I must tell you that he has attained some distinction among his school-fellows here as an athlete. Within due bounds I do not discourage bodily exercises: they are a recognized part of our system. But I am sorry to say that Cashel has not escaped that tendency to violence which sometimes results from the possession of unusual strength and dexterity. He actually fought with one of the village youths in the main street of Panley some months ago. The matter did not come to my ears immediately; and, when it did, I allowed it to pass unnoticed, as he had interfered, it seems, to protect one of the smaller boys. Unfortunately he was guilty of a much more serious fault a little later. He and a companion of his had obtained leave from me to walk to Panley Abbey together. I afterwards found that their real object was to witness a prize-fight that took place—illegally, of course—on the common. Apart from the deception practised, I think the taste they betrayed a dangerous one; and I felt bound to punish them by a severe imposition, and restriction to the grounds for six weeks. I do not hold, however, that everything has been done in these cases when a boy has been punished. I set a high value on a mother's influence for softening the natural roughness of boys."

"I don't think he minds what I say to him in the least," said the lady, with a sympathetic air, as if she pitied the doctor in a matter that chiefly concerned him. "I will speak to him about it, of course. Fighting is an unbearable habit. His father's people were always fighting; and they never did any good in the world."

"If you will be so kind. There are just the three points: the necessity for greater—much greater—application to his studies; a word to him on the subject of rough habits; and to sound him as to his choice of a career. I agree with you in not attaching much importance to his ideas on that subject as yet. Still, even a boyish fancy may be turned to account in rousing the energies of a lad."

"Quite so," assented the lady. "I will certainly give him a lecture."

The doctor looked at her mistrustfully, thinking perhaps that she herself would be the better for a lecture on her duties as a mother. But he did not dare to tell her so; indeed, having a prejudice to the effect that actresses were deficient in natural feeling, he doubted the use of daring. He also feared that the subject of her son was beginning to bore her; and, though a doctor of divinity, he was as reluctant as other men to be found wanting in address by a pretty woman. So he rang the bell, and bade the servant send Master Cashel Byron. Presently a door was heard to open below, and a buzz of distant voices became audible. The doctor fidgeted and tried to think of something to say, but his invention failed him: he sat in silence while the inarticulate buzz rose into a shouting of "By-ron!" "Cash!" the latter cry imitated from the summons usually addressed to cashiers in haberdashers' shops. Finally there was a piercing yell of "Mam-ma-a-a-a-ah!" apparently in explanation of the demand for Byron's attendance in the drawing-room. The doctor reddened. Mrs. Byron smiled. Then the door below closed, shutting out the tumult, and footsteps were heard on the stairs.

"Come in," cried the doctor, encouragingly.

Master Cashel Byron entered blushing; made his way awkwardly to his mother, and kissed the critical expression which was on her upturned face as she examined his appearance. Being only seventeen, he had not yet acquired a taste for kissing. He inexpertly gave Mrs. Byron quite a shock by the collision of their teeth. Conscious of the failure, he drew himself upright, and tried to hide his hands, which were exceedingly dirty, in the scanty folds of his jacket. He was a well-grown youth, with neck and shoulders already strongly formed, and short auburn hair curling in little rings close to his scalp. He had blue eyes, and an expression of boyish good-humor, which, however, did not convey any assurance of good temper.

"How do you do, Cashel?" said Mrs. Byron, in a queenly manner, after a prolonged look at him.

"Very well, thanks," said he, grinning and avoiding her eye.

"Sit down, Byron," said the doctor. Byron suddenly forgot how to sit down, and looked irresolutely from one chair to another. The doctor made a brief excuse, and left the room; much to the relief of his pupil.

"You have grown greatly, Cashel. And I am afraid you are very awkward." Cashel colored and looked gloomy.

"I do not know what to do with you," continued Mrs. Byron. "Dr. Moncrief tells me that you are very idle and rough."

"I am not," said Cashel, sulkily. "It is bec—"

"There is no use in contradicting me in that fashion," said Mrs. Byron, interrupting him sharply. "I am sure that whatever Dr. Moncrief says is perfectly true."

"He is always talking like that," said Cashel, plaintively. "I can't learn Latin and Greek; and I don't see what good they are. I work as hard as any of the rest—except the regular stews, perhaps. As to my being rough, that is all because I was out one day with Gully Molesworth, and we saw a crowd on the common, and when we went to see what was up it was two men fighting. It wasn't our fault that they came there to fight."

"Yes; I have no doubt that you have fifty good excuses, Cashel. But I will not allow any fighting; and you really must work harder. Do you ever think of how hard I have to work to pay Dr. Moncrief one hundred and twenty pounds a year for you?"

"I work as hard as I can. Old Moncrief seems to think that a fellow ought to do nothing else from morning till night but write Latin verses. Tatham, that the doctor thinks such a genius, does all his constering from cribs. If I had a crib I could conster as well—very likely better."

"You are very idle, Cashel; I am sure of that. It is too provoking to throw away so much money every year for nothing. Besides, you must soon be thinking of a profession."

"I shall go into the army," said Cashel. "It is the only profession for a gentleman."

Mrs. Byron looked at him for a moment as if amazed at his presumption. But she checked herself and only said, "I am afraid you will have to choose some less expensive profession than that. Besides, you would have to pass an examination to enable you to enter the army; and how can you do that unless you study?"

"Oh, I shall do that all right enough when the time comes."

"Dear, dear! You are beginning to speak so coarsely, Cashel. After all the pains I took with you at home!"

"I speak the same as other people," he replied, sullenly. "I don't see the use of being so jolly particular over every syllable. I used to have to stand no end of chaff about my way of speaking. The fellows here know all about you, of course."

"All about me?" repeated Mrs. Byron, looking at him curiously.

"All about your being on the stage, I mean," said Cashel. "You complain of my fighting; but I should have a precious bad time of it if I didn't lick the chaff out of some of them."

Mrs. Byron smiled doubtfully to herself, and remained silent and thoughtful for a moment. Then she rose and said, glancing at the weather, "I must go now, Cashel, before another shower begins. And do, pray, try to learn something, and to polish your manners a little. You will have to go to Cambridge soon, you know."

"Cambridge!" exclaimed Cashel, excited. "When, mamma? When?"

"Oh, I don't know. Not yet. As soon as Dr. Moncrief says you are fit to go."

"That will be long enough," said Cashel, much dejected by this reply. "He will not turn one hundred and twenty pounds a year out of doors in a hurry. He kept big Inglis here until he was past twenty. Look here, mamma; might I go at the end of this half? I feel sure I should do better at Cambridge than here."

"Nonsense," said Mrs. Byron, decidedly. "I do not expect to have to take you away from Dr. Moncrief for the next eighteen months at least, and not then unless you work properly. Now don't grumble, Cashel; you annoy me exceedingly when you do. I am sorry I mentioned Cambridge to you."

"I would rather go to some other school, then," said Cashel, ruefully. "Old Moncrief is so awfully down on me."

"You only want to leave because you are expected to work here; and that is the very reason I wish you to stay."

Cashel made no reply; but his face darkened ominously.

"I have a word to say to the doctor before I go," she added, reseating herself. "You may return to your play now. Good-bye, Cashel." And she again raised her face to be kissed.

"Good-bye," said Cashel, huskily, as he turned toward the door, pretending that he had not noticed her action.

"Cashel!" she said, with emphatic surprise. "Are you sulky?"

"No," he retorted, angrily. "I haven't said anything. I suppose my manners are not good enough, I'm very sorry; but I can't help it."

"Very well," said Mrs. Byron, firmly. "You can go, Cashel. I am not pleased with you."

Cashel walked out of the room and slammed the door. At the foot of the staircase he was stopped by a boy about a year younger than himself, who accosted him eagerly.

"How much did she give you?" he whispered.

"Not a halfpenny," replied Cashel, grinding his teeth.

"Oh, I say!" exclaimed the other, much disappointed. "That was beastly mean."

"She's as mean as she can be," said Cashel. "It's all old Monkey's fault. He has been cramming her with lies about me. But she's just as bad as he is. I tell you, Gully, I hate my mother."

"Oh, come!" said Gully, shocked. "That's a little too strong, old chap. But she certainly ought to have stood something."

"I don't know what you intend to do, Gully; but I mean to bolt. If she thinks I am going to stick here for the next two years she is jolly much mistaken."

"It would be an awful lark to bolt," said Gully, with a chuckle. "But," he added, seriously, "if you really mean it, by George, I'll go too! Wilson has just given me a thousand lines; and I'll be hanged if I do them."

"Gully," said Cashel, his eyes sparkling, "I should like to see one of those chaps we saw on the common pitch into the doctor—get him on the ropes, you know."

Gully's mouth watered. "Yes," he said, breathlessly; "particularly the fellow they called the Fibber. Just one round would be enough for the old beggar. Let's come out into the playground; I shall catch it if I am found here."



II



That night there was just sufficient light struggling through the clouds to make Panley Common visible as a black expanse, against the lightest tone of which a piece of ebony would have appeared pale. Not a human being was stirring within a mile of Moncrief House, the chimneys of which, ghostly white on the side next the moon, threw long shadows on the silver-gray slates. The stillness had just been broken by the stroke of a quarter past twelve from a distant church tower, when, from the obscurity of one of these chimney shadows, a head emerged. It belonged to a boy, whose body presently wriggled through an open skylight. When his shoulders were through he turned himself face upward, seized the miniature gable in which the skylight was set, drew himself completely out, and made his way stealthily down to the parapet. He was immediately followed by another boy.

The door of Moncrief House was at the left-hand corner of the front, and was surmounted by a tall porch, the top of which was flat and could be used as a balcony. A wall, of the same height as the porch, connected the house front with the boundary wall, and formed part of the enclosure of a fruit garden which lay at the side of the house between the lawn and the playground. When the two boys had crept along the parapet to a point directly above the porch they stopped, and each lowered a pair of boots to the balcony by means of fishing-lines. When the boots were safely landed, their owners let the lines drop and reentered the house by another skylight. A minute elapsed. Then they reappeared on the top of the porch, having come out through the window to which it served as a balcony. Here they put on their boots, and stepped on to the wall of the fruit garden. As they crawled along it, the hindmost boy whispered.

"I say, Cashy."

"Shut up, will you," replied the other under his breath. "What's wrong?"

"I should like to have one more go at old mother Moncrief's pear-tree; that's all."

"There are no pears on it this season, you fool."

"I know. This is the last time we shall go this road, Cashy. Usen't it to be a lark? Eh?"

"If you don't shut up, it won't be the last time; for you'll be caught. Now for it."

Cashel had reached the outer wall, and he finished his sentence by dropping from it to the common. Gully held his breath for some moments after the noise made by his companion's striking the ground. Then he demanded in a whisper whether all was right.

"Yes," returned Cashel, impatiently. "Drop as soft as you can."

Gully obeyed; and was so careful lest his descent should shake the earth and awake the doctor, that his feet shrank from the concussion. He alighted in a sitting posture, and remained there, looking up at Cashel with a stunned expression.

"Crikey!" he ejaculated, presently. "That was a buster."

"Get up, I tell you," said Cashel. "I never saw such a jolly ass as you are. Here, up with you! Have you got your wind back?"

"I should think so. Bet you twopence I'll be first at the cross roads. I say, let's pull the bell at the front gate and give an awful yell before we start. They'll never catch us."

"Yes," said Cashel, ironically; "I fancy I see myself doing it, or you either. Now then. One, two, three, and away."

They ran off together, and reached the cross roads about eight minutes later; Gully completely out of breath, and Cashel nearly so. Here, according to their plan, Gully was to take the north road and run to Scotland, where he felt sure that his uncle's gamekeeper would hide him. Cashel was to go to sea; where, he argued, he could, if his affairs became desperate, turn pirate, and achieve eminence in that profession by adding a chivalrous humanity to the ruder virtues for which it is already famous.

Cashel waited until Gully had recovered from his race. Then he said.

"Now, old fellow, we've got to separate."

Gully, thus confronted with the lonely realities of his scheme, did not like the prospect. After a moment's reflection he exclaimed:

"Damme, old chap, but I'll come with you. Scotland may go and be hanged."

But Cashel, being the stronger of the two, was as anxious to get rid of Gully as Gully was to cling to him. "No," he said; "I'm going to rough it; and you wouldn't be able for that. You're not strong enough for a sea life. Why, man, those sailor fellows are as hard as nails; and even they can hardly stand it."

"Well, then, do you come with me," urged Gully. "My uncle's gamekeeper won't mind. He's a jolly good sort; and we shall have no end of shooting."

"That's all very well for you, Gully; but I don't know your uncle; and I'm not going to put myself under a compliment to his gamekeeper. Besides, we should run too much risk of being caught if we went through the country together. Of course I should be only too glad if we could stick to one another, but it wouldn't do; I feel certain we should be nabbed. Good-bye."

"But wait a minute," pleaded Gully. "Suppose they do try to catch us; we shall have a better chance against them if there are two of us."

"Stuff!" said Cashel. "That's all boyish nonsense. There will be at least six policemen sent after us; and even if I did my very best, I could barely lick two if they came on together. And you would hardly be able for one. Yon just keep moving, and don't go near any railway station, and you will get to Scotland all safe enough. Look here, we have wasted five minutes already. I have got my wind now, and I must be off. Good-bye."

Gully disdained to press his company on Cashel any further. "Good-bye," he said, mournfully shaking his hand. "Success, old chap."

"Success," echoed Cashel, grasping Gully's hand with a pang of remorse for leaving him. "I'll write to you as soon as I have anything to tell you. It may be some months, you know, before I get regularly settled."

He gave Gully a final squeeze, released him, and darted off along the road leading to Panley Village. Gully looked after him for a moment, and then ran away Scotlandwards.

Panley Village consisted of a High Street, with an old-fashioned inn at one end, a modern railway station and bridge at the other, and a pump and pound midway between. Cashel stood for a while in the shadow under the bridge before venturing along the broad, moonlit street. Seeing no one, he stepped out at a brisk walking pace; for he had by this time reflected that it was not possible to run all the way to the Spanish main. There was, however, another person stirring in the village besides Cashel. This was Mr. Wilson, Dr. Moncrief's professor of mathematics, who was returning from a visit to the theatre. Mr. Wilson had an impression that theatres were wicked places, to be visited by respectable men only on rare occasions and by stealth. The only plays he went openly to witness were those of Shakespeare; and his favorite was "As You Like It"; Rosalind in tights having an attraction for him which he missed in Lady Macbeth in petticoats. On this evening he had seen Rosalind impersonated by a famous actress, who had come to a neighboring town on a starring tour. After the performance he had returned to Panley, supped there with a friend, and was now making his way back to Moncrief House, of which he had been intrusted with the key. He was in a frame of mind favorable for the capture of a runaway boy. An habitual delight in being too clever for his pupils, fostered by frequently overreaching them in mathematics, was just now stimulated by the effect of a liberal supper and the roguish consciousness of having been to the play. He saw and recognized Cashel as he approached the village pound. Understanding the situation at once, he hid behind the pump, waited until the unsuspecting truant was passing within arm's-length, and then stepped out and seized him by the collar of his jacket.

"Well, sir," he said. "What are you doing here at this hour? Eh?"

Cashel, scared and white, looked up at him, and could not answer a word.

"Come along with me," said Wilson, sternly.

Cashel suffered himself to be led for some twenty yards. Then he stopped and burst into tears.

"There is no use in my going back," he said, sobbing. "I have never done any good there. I can't go back."

"Indeed," said Wilson, with magisterial sarcasm. "We shall try to make you do better in future." And he forced the fugitive to resume his march.

Cashel, bitterly humiliated by his own tears, and exasperated by a certain cold triumph which his captor evinced on witnessing them, did not go many steps farther without protest.

"You needn't hold me," he said, angrily; "I can walk without being held." The master tightened his grasp and pushed his captive forward. "I won't run away, sir," said Cashel, more humbly, shedding fresh tears. "Please let me go," he added, in a suffocated voice, trying to turn his face toward his captor. But Wilson twisted him back again, and urged him still onward. Cashel cried out passionately, "Let me go," and struggled to break loose.

"Come, come, Byron," said the master, controlling him with a broad, strong hand; "none of your nonsense, sir."

Then Cashel suddenly slipped out of his jacket, turned on Wilson, and struck up at him savagely with his right fist. The master received the blow just beside the point of his chin; and his eyes seemed to Cashel roll up and fall back into his head with the shock. He drooped forward for a moment, and fell in a heap face downward. Cashel recoiled, wringing his hand to relieve the tingling of his knuckles, and terrified by the thought that he had committed murder. But Wilson presently moved and dispelled that misgiving. Some of Cashel's fury returned as he shook his fist at his prostrate adversary, and, exclaiming, "YOU won't brag much of having seen me cry," wrenched the jacket from him with unnecessary violence, and darted away at full speed.

Mr. Wilson, though he was soon conscious and able to rise, did not feel disposed to stir for a long time. He began to moan with a dazed faith that some one would eventually come to him with sympathy and assistance. Five minutes elapsed, and brought nothing but increased cold and pain. It occurred to him that if the police found him they would suppose him to be drunk; also that it was his duty to go to them and give them the alarm. He rose, and, after a struggle with dizziness and nausea, concluded that his most pressing duty was to get to bed, and leave Dr. Moncrief to recapture his ruffianly pupil as best he could.

Accordingly, at half-past one o'clock, the doctor was roused by a knocking at his chamber-door, outside which he presently found his professor of mathematics, bruised, muddy, and apparently inebriated. Five minutes elapsed before Wilson could get his principal's mind on the right track. Then the boys were awakened and the roll called. Byron and Molesworth were reported absent. No one had seen them go; no one had the least suspicion of how they got out of the house. One little boy mentioned the skylight; but observing a threatening expression on the faces of a few of the bigger boys, who were fond of fruit, he did not press his suggestion, and submitted to be snubbed by the doctor for having made it. It was nearly three o'clock before the alarm reached the village, where the authorities tacitly declined to trouble themselves about it until morning. The doctor, convinced that the lad had gone to his mother, did not believe that any search was necessary, and contented himself with writing a note to Mrs. Byron describing the attack on Mr. Wilson, and expressing regret that no proposal having for its object the readmission of Master Byron to the academy could be entertained.

The pursuit was now directed entirely after Molesworth, an it wan plain, from Mr. Wilson's narrative, that he had separated from Cashel outside Panley. Information was soon forthcoming. Peasants in all parts of the country had seen, they said, "a lad that might be him." The search lasted until five o'clock next afternoon, when it was rendered superfluous by the appearance of Gully in person, footsore and repentant. After parting from Cashel and walking two miles, he had lost heart and turned back. Half way to the cross roads he had reproached himself with cowardice, and resumed his flight. This time he placed eight miles betwixt himself and Moncrief House. Then he left the road to make a short cut through a plantation, and went astray. After wandering until morning, thinking dejectedly of the story of the babes in the wood, he saw a woman working in a field, and asked her the shortest way to Scotland. She had never heard of Scotland; and when he asked the way to Panley she lost patience and threatened to set her dog at him. This discouraged him so much that he was afraid to speak to the other strangers whom he met. Having the sun as a compass, he oscillated between Scotland and Panley according to the fluctuation of his courage. At last he yielded to hunger, fatigue, and loneliness, devoted his remaining energy to the task of getting back to school; struck the common at last, and hastened to surrender himself to the doctor, who menaced him with immediate expulsion. Gully was greatly concerned at having to leave the place he had just run away from, and earnestly begged the doctor to give him another chance. His prayer was granted. After a prolonged lecture, the doctor, in consideration of the facts that Gully had been seduced by the example of a desperate associate, that he had proved the sincerity of his repentance by coming back of his own accord, and had not been accessory to the concussion of the brain from which Mr. Wilson supposed himself to be suffering, accepted his promise of amendment and gave him a free pardon. It should be added that Gully kept his promise, and, being now the oldest pupil, graced his position by becoming a moderately studious, and, on one occasion, even a sensible lad.

Meanwhile Mrs. Byron, not suspecting the importance of the doctor's note, and happening to be in a hurry when it arrived, laid it by unopened, intending to read it at her leisure. She would have forgotten it altogether but for a second note which came two days later, requesting some acknowledgment of the previous communication. On learning the truth she immediately drove to Moncrief House, and there abused the doctor as he had never been abused in his life before; after which she begged his pardon, and implored him to assist her to recover her darling boy. When he suggested that she should offer a reward for information and capture she indignantly refused to spend a farthing on the little ingrate; wept and accused herself of having driven him away by her unkindness; stormed and accused the doctor of having treated him harshly; and, finally, said that she would give one hundred pounds to have him back, but that she would never speak to him again. The doctor promised to undertake the search, and would have promised anything to get rid of his visitor. A reward of fifty pounds wag offered. But whether the fear of falling into the clutches of the law for murderous assault stimulated Cashel to extraordinary precaution, or whether he had contrived to leave the country in the four days which elapsed between his flight and the offer of the reward, the doctor's efforts were unsuccessful; and he had to confess their failure to Mrs. Byron. She agreeably surprised him by writing a pleasant letter to the effect that it was very provoking, and that she could never thank him sufficiently for all the trouble he had taken. And so the matter dropped.

Long after that generation of scholars had passed away from Moncrief House, the name of Cashel Byron was remembered there as that of a hero who, after many fabulous exploits, had licked a master and bolted to the Spanish Main.



III



There was at this time in the city of Melbourne, in Australia, a wooden building, above the door of which was a board inscribed "GYMNASIUM AND SCHOOL OF ARMS." In the long, narrow entry hung a framed manuscript which set forth that Ned Skene, ex-champion of England and the colonies, was to be heard of within daily by gentlemen desirous of becoming proficient in the art of self-defence. Also the terms on which Mrs. Skene, assisted by a competent staff of professors, would give lessons in dancing, deportment, and calisthenics.

One evening a man sat smoking on a common wooden chair outside the door of this establishment. On the ground beside him were some tin tacks and a hammer, with which he had just nailed to the doorpost a card on which was written in a woman's handwriting: "WANTED A MALE ATTENDANT WHO CAN KEEP ACCOUNTS. INQUIRE WITHIN." The smoker was a powerful man, with a thick neck that swelled out beneath his broad, flat ear-lobes. He had small eyes, and large teeth, over which his lips were slightly parted in a good-humored but cunning smile. His hair was black and close-cut; his skin indurated; and the bridge of his nose smashed level with his face. The tip, however, was uninjured. It was squab and glossy, and, by giving the whole feature an air of being on the point of expanding to its original shape, produced a snubbed expression which relieved the otherwise formidable aspect of the man, and recommended him as probably a modest and affable fellow when sober and unprovoked. He seemed about fifty years of age, and was clad in a straw hat and a suit of white linen.

He had just finished his pipe when a youth stopped to read the card on the doorpost. This youth was attired in a coarse sailor's jersey and a pair of gray tweed trousers, which he had considerably outgrown.

"Looking for a job?" inquired the ex-champion of England and the colonies.

The youth blushed and replied, "Yes. I should like to get something to do."

Mr. Skene stared at him with stern curiosity. His piofessional pursuits had familiarized him with the manners and speech of English gentlemen, and he immediately recognized the shabby sailor lad as one of that class.

"Perhaps you're a scholar," said the prize-fighter, after a moment's reflection.

"I have been at school; but I didn't learn much there," replied the youth. "I think I could bookkeep by double entry," he added, glancing at the card.

"Double entry! What's that?"

"It's the way merchants' books are kept. It is called so because everything is entered twice over."

"Ah!" said Skene, unfavorably impressed by the system; "once is enough for me. What's your weight?"

"I don't know," said the lad, with a grin.

"Not know your own weight!" exclaimed Skene. "That ain't the way to get on in life."

"I haven't been weighed since I was in England," said the other, beginning to get the better of his shyness. "I was eight stone four then; so you see I am only a light-weight."

"And what do you know about light-weights? Perhaps, being so well educated, you know how to fight. Eh?"

"I don't think I could fight you," said the youth, with another grin.

Skene chuckled; and the stranger, with boyish communicativeness, gave him an account of a real fight (meaning, apparently, one between professional pugilists) which he had seen in England. He went on to describe how he had himself knocked down a master with one blow when running away from school. Skene received this sceptically, and cross-examined the narrator as to the manner and effect of the blow, with the result of convincing himself that the story was true. At the end of a quarter of an hour the lad had commended himself so favorably by his conversation that the champion took him into the gymnasium, weighed him, measured him, and finally handed him a pair of boxing gloves and invited him to show what he was made of. The youth, though impressed by the prize-fighter's attitude with a hopeless sense of the impossibility of reaching him, rushed boldly at him several times, knocking his face on each occasion against Skene's left fist, which seemed to be ubiquitous, and to have the property of imparting the consistency of iron to padded leather. At last the novice directed a frantic assault at the champion's nose, rising on his toes in his excitement as he did so. Skene struck up the blow with his right arm, and the impetuous youth spun and stumbled away until he fell supine in a corner, rapping his head smartly on the floor at the same time. He rose with unabated cheerfulness and offered to continue the combat; but Skene declined any further exercise just then, and, much pleased with his novice's game, promised to give him a scientific education and make a man of him.

The champion now sent for his wife, whom he revered as a preeminently sensible and well-mannered woman. The newcomer could see in her only a ridiculous dancing-mistress; but he treated her with great deference, and thereby improved the favorable opinion which Skene had already formed of him. He related to her how, after running away from school, he had made his way to Liverpool, gone to the docks, and contrived to hide himself on board a ship bound for Australia. Also how he had suffered severely from hunger and thirst before he discovered himself; and how, notwithstanding his unpopular position as stowaway, he had been fairly treated as soon as he had shown that he was willing to work. And in proof that he was still willing, and had profited by his maritime experience, he offered to sweep the floor of the gymnasium then and there. This proposal convinced the Skenes, who had listened to his story like children listening to a fairy tale, that he was not too much of a gentleman to do rough work, and it was presently arranged that he should thenceforth board and lodge with them, have five shillings a week for pocket-money, and be man-of-all-work, servant, gymnasium- attendant, clerk, and apprentice to the ex-champion of England and the colonies.

He soon found his bargain no easy one. The gymnasium was open from nine in the morning until eleven at night, and the athletic gentlemen who came there not only ordered him about without ceremony, but varied the monotony of being set at naught by the invincible Skene by practising what he taught them on the person of his apprentice, whom they pounded with great relish, and threw backwards, forwards, and over their shoulders as though he had been but a senseless effigy, provided for that purpose. Meanwhile the champion looked on and laughed, being too lazy to redeem his promise of teaching the novice to defend himself. The latter, however, watched the lessons which he saw daily given to others, and, before the end of a month, he so completely turned the tables on the amateur pugilists of Melbourne that Skene one day took occasion to remark that he was growing uncommon clever, but that gentlemen liked to be played easy with, and that he should be careful not to knock them about too much. Besides these bodily exertions, he had to keep account of gloves and foils sold and bought, and of the fees due both to Mr. and Mrs. Skene. This was the most irksome part of his duty; for he wrote a large, schoolboy hand, and was not quick at figures. When he at last began to assist his master in giving lessons the accounts had fallen into arrear, and Mrs. Skene had to resume her former care of them; a circumstance which gratified her husband, who regarded it as a fresh triumph of her superior intelligence. Then a Chinaman was engaged to do the more menial work of the establishment. "Skene's novice," as he was now generally called, was elevated to the rank of assistant professor to the champion, and became a person of some consequence in the gymnasium.

He had been there more than nine months, and had developed from an active youth into an athletic young man of eighteen, when an important conversation took place between him and his principal. It was evening, and the only persons in the gymnasium were Ned Skene, who sat smoking at his ease with his coat off, and the novice, who had just come down-stairs from his bedroom, where he had been preparing for a visit to the theatre.

"Well, my gentleman," said Skene, mockingly; "you're a fancy man, you are. Gloves too! They're too small for you. Don't you get hittin' nobody with them on, or you'll mebbe sprain your wrist."

"Not much fear of that," said the novice, looking at his watch, and, finding that he had some minutes to spare, sitting down opposite Skene.

"No," assented the champion. "When you rise to be a regular professional you won't care to spar with nobody without you're well paid for it."

"I may say I am in the profession already. You don't call me an amateur, do you?"

"Oh, no," said Skene, soothingly; "not so bad as that. But mind you, my boy, I don't call no man a fighting-man what ain't been in the ring. You're a sparrer, and a clever, pretty sparrer; but sparring ain't the real thing. Some day, please God, we'll make up a little match for you, and show what you can do without the gloves."

"I would just as soon have the gloves off as on," said the novice, a little sulkily.

"That's because you have a heart as big as a lion," said Skene, patting him on the shoulder. But the novice, who was accustomed to hear his master pay the same compliment to his patrons whenever they were seized with fits of boasting (which usually happened when they got beaten), looked obdurate and said nothing.

"Sam Ducket, of Milltown, was here to-day while you was out giving Captain Noble his lesson," continued Skene, watching his apprentice's face cunningly. "Now Sam is a real fighting-man, if you like."

"I don't think much of him. He's a liar, for one thing."

"That's a failing of the profession. I don't mind telling YOU so," said Skene, mournfully. Now the novice had found out this for himself, already. He never, for instance, believed the accounts which his master gave of the accidents and conspiracies which had led to his being defeated three times in the ring. However, as Skene had won fifteen battles, his next remark was undeniable. "Men fight none the worse for being liars. Sam Ducket bet Ebony Muley in twenty minutes."

"Yes," said the novice, scornfully; "and what is Ebony Muley? A wretched old nigger nearly sixty years old, who is drunk seven days in the week, and would sell a fight for a glass of brandy! Ducket ought to have knocked him out of time in seventy seconds. Ducket has no science."

"Not a bit," said Ned. "But he has lots of game."

"Pshaw! Come, now, Ned; you know as well as I do that that is one of the stalest commonplaces going. If a fellow knows how to box, they always say he has science but no pluck. If he doesn't know his right hand from his left, they say that he isn't clever but that he is full of game."

Skene looked with secret wonder at his pupil, whose powers of observation and expression sometimes seemed to him almost to rival those of Mrs. Skene. "Sam was saying something like that to-day," he remarked. "He says you're only a sparrer, and that you'd fall down with fright if you was put into a twenty-four-foot ring."

The novice flushed. "I wish I had been here when Sum Ducket said that."

"Why, what could you ha' done to him?" said Skene, his small eyes twinkling.

"I'd have punched his head; that's what I could and would have done to him."

"Why, man, he'd eat you."

"He might. And he might eat you too, Ned, if he had salt enough with you. He talks big because he knows I have no money; and he pretends he won't strip for less than fifty pounds a side."

"No money!" cried Skene. "I know them as'll make up fifty pound before twelve to-morrow for any man as I will answer for. There'd be a start for a young man! Why, my fust fight was for five shillings in Tott'nam Fields; and proud I was when I won it. I don't want to set you on to fight a crack like Sam Ducket anyway against your inclinations; but don't go for to say that money isn't to be had. Let Ned Skene pint to a young man and say, 'That's the young man as Ned backs,' and others will come for'ard—ay, crowds of 'em."

The novice hesitated. "Do you think I ought to, Ned?" he said.

"That ain't for me to say," said Skene, doggedly. "I know what I would ha' said at your age. But perhaps you're right to be cautious. I tell you the truth, I wouldn't care to see you whipped by the like of Sam Ducket."

"Will you train me if I challenge him?"

"Will I train you!" echoed Skene, rising with enthusiasm. "Ay will I train you, and put my money on you, too; and you shall knock fireworks out of him, my boy, as sure as my name's Ned Skene."

"Then," cried the novice, reddening with excitement, "I'll fight him. And if I lick him you will have to hand over your belt as champion of the colonies to me."

"So I will," said Skene, affectionately. "Don't out late; and don't for your life touch a drop of liquor. You must go into training to-morrow."

This was Cashel Byron's first professional engagement.



CHAPTER I



Wiltstoken Castle was a square building with circular bastions at the corners, each bastion terminating skyward in a Turkish minaret. The southwest face was the front, and was pierced by a Moorish arch fitted with glass doors, which could be secured on occasion by gates of fantastically hammered iron. The arch was enshrined by a Palladian portico, which rose to the roof, and was surmounted by an open pediment, in the cleft of which stood a black-marble figure of an Egyptian, erect, and gazing steadfastly at the midday sun. On the ground beneath was an Italian terrace with two great stone elephants at the ends of the balustrade. The windows on the upper story were, like the entrance, Moorish; but the principal ones below were square bays, mullioned. The castle was considered grand by the illiterate; but architects and readers of books on architecture condemned it as a nondescript mixture of styles in the worst possible taste. It stood on an eminence surrounded by hilly woodland, thirty acres of which were enclosed as Wiltstoken Park. Half a mile south was the little town of Wiltstoken, accessible by rail from London in about two hours.

Most of the inhabitants of Wiltstoken were Conservatives. They stood in awe of the castle; and some of them would at any time have cut half a dozen of their oldest friends to obtain an invitation to dinner, or oven a bow in public, from Miss Lydia Carew, its orphan mistress. This Miss Carew was a remarkable person. She had inherited the castle and park from her aunt, who had considered her niece's large fortune in railways and mines incomplete without land. So many other legacies had Lydia received from kinsfolk who hated poor relations, that she was now, in her twenty-fifth year, the independent possessor of an annual income equal to the year's earnings of five hundred workmen, and under no external compulsion to do anything in return for it. In addition to the advantage of being a single woman in unusually easy circumstances, she enjoyed a reputation for vast learning and exquisite culture. It was said in Wiltstoken that she knew forty-eight living languages and all dead ones; could play on every known musical instrument; was an accomplished painter, and had written poetry. All this might as well have been true as far as the Wiltstokeners were concerned, since she knew more than they. She had spent her life travelling with her father, a man of active mind and bad digestion, with a taste for sociology, science in general, and the fine arts. On these subjects he had written books, by which he had earned a considerable reputation as a critic and philosopher. They were the outcome of much reading, observation of men and cities, sight-seeing, and theatre-going, of which his daughter had done her share, and indeed, as she grew more competent and he weaker and older, more than her share. He had had to combine health-hunting with pleasure-seeking; and, being very irritable and fastidious, had schooled her in self-control and endurance by harder lessons than those which had made her acquainted with the works of Greek and German philosophers long before she understood the English into which she translated them.

When Lydia was in her twenty-first year her father's health failed seriously. He became more dependent on her; and she anticipated that he would also become more exacting in his demands on her time. The contrary occurred. One day, at Naples, she had arranged to go riding with an English party that was staying there. Shortly before the appointed hour he asked her to make a translation of a long extract from Lessing. Lydia, in whom self-questionings as to the justice of her father's yoke had been for some time stirring, paused thoughtfully for perhaps two seconds before she consented. Carew said nothing, but he presently intercepted a servant who was bearing an apology to the English party, read the note, and went back to his daughter, who was already busy at Lessing.

"Lydia," he said, with a certain hesitation, which she would have ascribed to shyness had that been at all credible of her father when addressing her, "I wish you never to postpone your business to literary trifling."

She looked at him with the vague fear that accompanies a new and doubtful experience; and he, dissatisfied with his way of putting the case, added, "It is of greater importance that you should enjoy yourself for an hour than that my book should be advanced. Far greater!"

Lydia, after some consideration, put down her pen and said, "I shall not enjoy riding if there is anything else left undone."

"I shall not enjoy your writing if your excursion is given up for it," he said. "I prefer your going."

Lydia obeyed silently. An odd thought struck her that she might end the matter gracefully by kissing him. But as they were unaccustomed to make demonstrations of this kind, nothing came of the impulse. She spent the day on horseback, reconsidered her late rebellious thoughts, and made the translation in the evening.

Thenceforth Lydia had a growing sense of the power she had unwittingly been acquiring during her long subordination. Timidly at first, and more boldly as she became used to dispense with the parental leading-strings, she began to follow her own bent in selecting subjects for study, and even to defend certain recent developments of art against her father's conservatism. He approved of this independent mental activity on her part, and repeatedly warned her not to pin her faith more on him than on any other critic. She once told him that one of her incentives to disagree with him was the pleasure it gave her to find out ultimately that he was right. He replied gravely:

"That pleases me, Lydia, because I believe you. But such things are better left unsaid. They seem to belong to the art of pleasing, which you will perhaps soon be tempted to practise, because it seems to ail young people easy, well paid, amiable, and a mark of good breeding. In truth it is vulgar, cowardly, egotistical, and insincere: a virtue in a shopman; a vice in a free woman. It is better to leave genuine praise unspoken than to expose yourself to the suspicion of flattery."

Shortly after this, at his desire, she spent a season in London, and went into English polite society, which she found to be in the main a temple for the worship of wealth and a market for the sale of virgins. Having become familiar with both the cult and the trade elsewhere, she found nothing to interest her except the English manner of conducting them; and the novelty of this soon wore off. She was also incommoded by her involuntary power of inspiring affection in her own sex. Impulsive girls she could keep in awe; but old women, notably two aunts who had never paid her any attention during her childhood, now persecuted her with slavish fondness, and tempted her by mingled entreaties and bribes to desert her father and live with them for the remainder of their lives. Her reserve fanned their longing to have her for a pet; and, to escape them, she returned to the Continent with her father, and ceased to hold any correspondence with London. Her aunts declared themselves deeply hurt, and Lydia was held to have treated them very injudiciously; but when they died, and their wills became public, it was found that they had vied with one another in enriching her.

When she was twenty-five years old the first startling event of her life took place. This was the death of her father at Avignon. No endearments passed between them even on that occasion. She was sitting opposite to him at the fireside one evening, reading aloud, when he suddenly said, "My heart has stopped, Lydia. Good-bye!" and immediately died. She had some difficulty in quelling the tumult that arose when the bell was answered. The whole household felt bound to be overwhelmed, and took it rather ill that she seemed neither grateful to them nor disposed to imitate their behavior.

Carew's relatives agreed that he had made a most unbecoming will. It was a brief document, dated five years before his death, and was to the effect that he bequeathed to his dear daughter Lydia all he possessed. He had, however, left her certain private instructions. One of these, which excited great indignation in his family, was that his body should be conveyed to Milan, and there cremated. Having disposed of her father's remains as he had directed, she came to set her affairs in order in England, where she inspired much hopeless passion in the toilers in Lincoln's Inn Fields and Chancery Lane, and agreeably surprised her solicitors by evincing a capacity for business, and a patience with the law's delay, that seemed incompatible with her age and sex. When all was arranged, and she was once more able to enjoy perfect tranquillity, she returned to Avignon, and there discharged her last duty to her father. This was to open a letter she had found in his desk, inscribed by his hand: "For Lydia. To be read by her at leisure when I and my affairs shall be finally disposed of." The letter ran thus:

"MY DEAR LYDIA,—I belong to the great company of disappointed men. But for you, I should now write myself down a failure like the rest. It is only a few years since it first struck me that although I had failed in many ambitions with which (having failed) I need not trouble you now, I had achieved some success as a father. I had no sooner made this discovery than it began to stick in my thoughts that you could draw no other conclusion from the course of our life together than that I have, with entire selfishness, used you throughout as my mere amanuensis and clerk, and that you are under no more obligation to me for your attainments than a slave is to his master for the strength which enforced labor has given to his muscles. Lest I should leave you suffering from so mischievous and oppressive an influence as a sense of injustice, I now justify myself to you.

"I have never asked you whether you remember your mother. Had you at any time broached the subject, I should have spoken quite freely to you on it; but as some wise instinct led you to avoid it, I was content to let it rest until circumstances such as the present should render further reserve unnecessary. If any regret at having known so little of the woman who gave you birth troubles you, shake it off without remorse. She was the most disagreeable person I ever knew. I speak dispassionately. All my bitter personal feeling against her is as dead while I write as it will be when you read. I have even come to cherish tenderly certain of her characteristics which you have inherited, so that I confidently say that I never, since the perishing of the infatuation in which I married, felt more kindly toward her than I do now. I made the best, and she the worst, of our union for six years; and then we parted. I permitted her to give what account of the separation she pleased, and allowed her about five times as much money as she had any right to expect. By these means I induced her to leave me in undisturbed possession of you, whom I had already, as a measure of precaution, carried off to Belgium. The reason why we never visited England during her lifetime was that she could, and probably would, have made my previous conduct and my hostility to popular religion an excuse for wresting you from me. I need say no more of her, and am sorry it was necessary to mention her at all.

"I will now tell you what induced me to secure you for myself. It was not natural affection; I did not love you then, and I knew that you would be a serious encumbrance to me. But, having brought you into the world, and then broken through my engagements with your mother, I felt bound to see that you should not suffer for my mistake. Gladly would I have persuaded myself that she was (as the gossips said) the fittest person to have charge of you; but I knew better, and made up my mind to discharge my responsibility as well as I could. In course of time you became useful to me; and, as you know, I made use of you without scruple, but never without regard to your own advantage. I always kept a secretary to do whatever I considered mere copyist's work. Much as you did for me, I think I may say with truth that I never imposed a task of absolutely no educational value on you. I fear you found the hours you spent over my money affairs very irksome; but I need not apologize for that now: you must already know by experience how necessary a knowledge of business is to the possessor of a large fortune.

"I did not think, when I undertook your education, that I was laying the foundation of any comfort for myself. For a long time you were only a good girl, and what ignorant people called a prodigy of learning. In your circumstances a commonplace child might have been both. I subsequently came to contemplate your existence with a pleasure which I never derived from the contemplation of my own. I have not succeeded, and shall not succeed in expressing the affection I feel for you, or the triumph with which I find that what I undertook as a distasteful and thankless duty has rescued my life and labor from waste. My literary travail, seriously as it has occupied us both, I now value only for the share it has had in educating you; and you will be guilty of no disloyalty to me when you come to see that though I sifted as much sand as most men, I found no gold. I ask you to remember, then, that I did my duty to you long before it became pleasurable or even hopeful. And, when you are older and have learned from your mother's friends how I failed in my duty to her, you will perhaps give me some credit for having conciliated the world for your sake by abandoning habits and acquaintances which, whatever others may have thought of them, did much while they lasted to make life endurable to me.

"Although your future will not concern me, I often find myself thinking of it. I fear you will soon find that the world has not yet provided a place and a sphere of action for wise and well-instructed women. In my younger days, when the companionship of my fellows was a necessity to me, I voluntarily set aside my culture, relaxed my principles, and acquired common tastes, in order to fit myself for the society of the only men within my reach; for, if I had to live among bears, I had rather be a bear than a man. Let me warn you against this. Never attempt to accommodate yourself to the world by self-degradation. Be patient; and you will enjoy frivolity all the more because you are not frivolous: much as the world will respect your knowledge all the more because of its own ignorance.

"Some day, I expect and hope, you will marry. You will then have an opportunity of making an irremediable mistake, against the possibility of which no advice of mine or subtlety of yours can guard you. I think you will not easily find a man able to satisfy in you that desire to be relieved of the responsibility of thinking out and ordering our course of life that makes us each long for a guide whom we can thoroughly trust. If you fail, remember that your father, after suffering a bitter and complete disappointment in his wife, yet came to regard his marriage as the happiest event in his career. Let me remind you also, since you are so rich, that it would he a great folly for you to be jealous of your own income, and to limit your choice of a husband to those already too rich to marry for money. No vulgar adventurer will be able to recommend himself to you; and better men will be at least as much frightened as attracted by your wealth. The only class against which I need warn you is that to which I myself am supposed to belong. Never think that a man must prove a suitable and satisfying friend for you merely because he has read much criticism; that he must feel the influences of art as you do because he knows and adopts the classification of names and schools with which you are familiar; or that because he agrees with your favorite authors he must necessarily interpret their words to himself as you understand them. Beware of men who have read more than they have worked, or who love to read better than to work. Beware of painters, poets, musicians, and artists of all sorts, except very great artists: beware even of them as husbands and fathers. Self-satisfied workmen who have learned their business well, whether they be chancellors of the exchequer or farmers, I recommend to you as, on the whole, the most tolerable class of men I have met.

"I shall make no further attempt to advise you. As fast as my counsels rise to my mind follow reflections that convince me of their futility.

"You may perhaps wonder why I never said to you what I have written down here. I have tried to do so and failed. If I understand myself aright, I have written these lines mainly to relieve a craving to express my affection for you. The awkwardness which an over-civilized man experiences in admitting that he is something more than an educated stone prevented me from confusing you by demonstrations of a kind I had never accustomed you to. Besides, I wish this assurance of my love—my last word—to reach you when no further commonplaces to blur the impressiveness of its simple truth are possible.

"I know I have said too much; and I feel that I have not said enough. But the writing of this letter has been a difficult task. Practised as I am with my pen, I have never, even in my earliest efforts, composed with such labor and sense of inadequacy——"

Here the manuscript broke off. The letter had never been finished.



CHAPTER II



In the month of May, seven years after the flight of the two boys from Moncrief House, a lady sat in an island of shadow which was made by a cedar-tree in the midst of a glittering green lawn. She did well to avoid the sun, for her complexion was as delicately tinted as mother-of-pearl. She was a small, graceful woman, with sensitive lips and nostrils, green eyes, with quiet, unarched brows, and ruddy gold hair, now shaded by a large, untrimmed straw hat. Her dress of Indian muslin, with half-sleeves terminating at the elbows in wide ruffles, hardly covered her shoulders, where it was supplemented by a scarf through which a glimpse of her throat was visible in a nest of soft Tourkaris lace. She was reading a little ivory-bound volume—a miniature edition of the second part of Goethe's "Faust."

As the afternoon wore on and the light mellowed, the lady dropped her book and began to think and dream, unconscious of a prosaic black object crossing the lawn towards her. This was a young gentleman in a frock coat. He was dark, and had a long, grave face, with a reserved expression, but not ill-looking.

"Going so soon, Lucian?" said the lady, looking up as he came into the shadow.

Lucian looked at her wistfully. His name, as she uttered it, always stirred him vaguely. He was fond of finding out the reasons of things, and had long ago decided that this inward stir was due to her fine pronunciation. His other intimates called him Looshn.

"Yes," he said. "I have arranged everything, and have come to give an account of my stewardship, and to say good-bye."

He placed a garden-chair near her and sat down. She laid her hands one on the other in her lap, and composed herself to listen.

"First," he said, "as to the Warren Lodge. It is let for a month only; so you can allow Mrs. Goff to have it rent free in July if you still wish to. I hope you will not act so unwisely."

She smiled, and said, "Who are the present tenants? I hear that they object to the dairymaids and men crossing the elm vista."

"We must not complain of that. It was expressly stipulated when they took the lodge that the vista should be kept private for them. I had no idea at that time that you were coming to the castle, or I should of course have declined such a condition."

"But we do keep it private for them; strangers are not admitted. Our people pass and repass once a day on their way to and from the dairy; that is all."

"It seems churlish, Lydia; but this, it appears, is a special case—a young gentleman, who has come to recruit his health. He needs daily exercise in the open air; but he cannot bear observation, and he has only a single attendant with him. Under these circumstances I agreed that they should have the sole use of the elm vista. In fact, they are paying more rent than would be reasonable without this privilege."

"I hope the young gentleman is not mad."

"I satisfied myself before I let the lodge to him that he would be a proper tenant," said Lucian, with reproachful gravity. "He was strongly recommended to me by Lord Worthington, whom I believe to be a man of honor, notwithstanding his inveterate love of sport. As it happens, I expressed to him the suspicion you have just suggested. Worthington vouched for the tenant's sanity, and offered to take the lodge in his own name and be personally responsible for the good behavior of this young invalid, who has, I fancy, upset his nerves by hard reading. Probably some college friend of Worthington's."

"Perhaps so. But I should rather expect a college friend of Lord Worthington's to be a hard rider or drinker than a hard reader."

"You may be quite at ease, Lydia. I took Lord Worthington at his word so far as to make the letting to him. I have never seen the real tenant. But, though I do not even recollect his name, I will venture to answer for him at second-hand."

"I am quite satisfied, Lucian; and I am greatly obliged to you. I will give orders that no one shall go to the dairy by way of the warren. It is natural that he should wish to be out of the world."

"The next point," resumed Lucian, "is more important, as it concerns you personally. Miss Goff is willing to accept your offer. And a most unsuitable companion she will be for you!"

"Why, Lucian?"

"On all accounts. She is younger than you, and therefore cannot chaperone yon. She has received only an ordinary education, and her experience of society is derived from local subscription balls. And, as she is not unattractive, and is considered a beauty in Wiltstoken, she is self-willed, and will probably take your patronage in bad part."

"Is she more self-willed than I?"

"You are not self-willed, Lydia; except that you are deaf to advice."

"You mean that I seldom follow it. And so you think I had better employ a professional companion—a decayed gentlewoman—than save this young girl from going out as a governess and beginning to decay at twenty-three?"

"The business of getting a suitable companion, and the pleasure or duty of relieving poor people, are two different things, Lydia."

"True, Lucian. When will Miss Goff call?"

"This evening. Mind; nothing is settled as yet. If you think better of it on seeing her you have only to treat her as an ordinary visitor and the subject will drop. For my own part, I prefer her sister; but she will not leave Mrs. Goff, who has not yet recovered from the shock of her husband's death."

Lydia looked reflectively at the little volume in her hand, and seemed to think out the question of Miss Goff. Presently, with an air of having made up her mind, she said, "Can you guess which of Goethe's characters you remind me of when you try to be worldly-wise for my sake?"

"When I try—What an extraordinary irrelevance! I have not read Goethe lately. Mephistopheles, I suppose. But I did not mean to be cynical."

"No; not Mephistopheles, but Wagner—with a difference. Wagner taking Mephistopheles instead of Faust for his model." Seeing by his face that he did not relish the comparison, she added, "I am paying you a compliment. Wagner represents a very clever man."

"The saving clause is unnecessary," he said, somewhat sarcastically. "I know your opinion of me quite well, Lydia."

She looked quickly at him. Detecting the concern in her glance, he shook his head sadly, saying, "I must go now, Lydia. I leave you in charge of the housekeeper until Miss Goff arrives."

She gave him her hand, and a dull glow came into his gray jaws as he took it. Then he buttoned his coat and walked gravely away. As he went, she watched the sun mirrored in his glossy hat, and drowned in his respectable coat. She sighed, and took up Goethe again.

But after a little while she began to be tired of sitting still, and she rose and wandered through the park for nearly an hour, trying to find the places in which she had played in her childhood during a visit to her late aunt. She recognized a great toppling Druid's altar that had formerly reminded her of Mount Sinai threatening to fall on the head of Christian in "The Pilgrim's Progress." Farther on she saw and avoided a swamp in which she had once earned a scolding from her nurse by filling her stockings with mud. Then she found herself in a long avenue of green turf, running east and west, and apparently endless. This seemed the most delightful of all her possessions, and she had begun to plan a pavilion to build near it, when she suddenly recollected that this must be the elm vista of which the privacy was so stringently insisted upon, by her invalid tenant at the Warren Lodge. She fled into the wood at once, and, when she was safe there, laughed at the oddity of being a trespasser in her own domain. She made a wide detour in order to avoid intruding a second time; consequently, after walking for a quarter of an hour, she lost herself. The trees seemed never ending; she began to think she must possess a forest as well as a park. At last she saw an opening. Hastening toward it, she came again into the sunlight, and stopped, dazzled by an apparition which she at first took to be a beautiful statue, but presently recognized, with a strange glow of delight, as a living man.

To so mistake a gentleman exercising himself in the open air on a nineteenth-century afternoon would, under ordinary circumstances, imply incredible ignorance either of men or statues. But the circumstances in Miss Carew's case were not ordinary; for the man was clad in a jersey and knee-breeches of white material, and his bare arms shone like those of a gladiator. His broad pectoral muscles, in their white covering, were like slabs of marble. Even his hair, short, crisp, and curly, seemed like burnished bronze in the evening light. It came into Lydia's mind that she had disturbed an antique god in his sylvan haunt. The fancy was only momentary; for she perceived that there was a third person present; a man impossible to associate with classic divinity. He looked like a well to do groom, and was contemplating his companion much as a groom might contemplate an exceptionally fine horse. He was the first to see Lydia; and his expression as he did so plainly showed that he regarded her as a most unwelcome intruder. The statue-man, following his sinister look, saw her too, but with different feelings; for his lips parted, his color rose, and he stared at her with undisguised admiration and wonder. Lydia's first impulse was to turn and fly; her next, to apologize for her presence. Finally she went away quietly through the trees.

The moment she was out of their sight she increased her pace almost to a run. The day was too warm for rapid movement, and she soon stopped and listened. There were the usual woodland sounds; leaves rustling, grasshoppers chirping, and birds singing; but not a human voice or footstep. She began to think that the god-like figure was only the Hermes of Praxiteles, suggested to her by Goethe's classical Sabbat, and changed by a day-dream into the semblance of a living reality. The groom must have been one of those incongruities characteristic of dreams—probably a reminiscence of Lucian's statement that the tenant of the Warren Lodge had a single male attendant. It was impossible that this glorious vision of manly strength and beauty could be substantially a student broken down by excessive study. That irrational glow of delight, too, was one of the absurdities of dreamland; otherwise she should have been ashamed of it.

Lydia made her way back to the castle in some alarm as to the state of her nerves, but dwelling on her vision with a pleasure that she would not have ventured to indulge had it concerned a creature of flesh and blood. Once or twice it recurred to her so vividly that she asked herself whether it could have been real. But a little reasoning convinced her that it must have been an hallucination.

"If you please, madam," said one of her staff of domestics, a native of Wiltstoken, who stood in deep awe of the lady of the castle, "Miss Goff is waiting for you in the drawing-room."

The drawing-room of the castle was a circular apartment, with a dome-shaped ceiling broken into gilt ornaments resembling thick bamboos, which projected vertically downward like stalagmites. The heavy chandeliers were loaded with flattened brass balls, magnified fac-similes of which crowned the uprights of the low, broad, massively-framed chairs, which were covered in leather stamped with Japanese dragon designs in copper-colored metal. Near the fireplace was a great bronze bell of Chinese shape, mounted like a mortar on a black wooden carriage for use as a coal-scuttle. The wall was decorated with large gold crescents on a ground of light blue.

In this barbaric rotunda Miss Carew found awaiting her a young lady of twenty-three, with a well-developed, resilient figure, and a clear complexion, porcelain surfaced, and with a fine red in the cheeks. The lofty pose of her head expressed an habitual sense of her own consequence given her by the admiration of the youth of the neighborhood, which was also, perhaps, the cause of the neatness of her inexpensive black dress, and of her irreproachable gloves, boots, and hat. She had been waiting to introduce herself to the lady of the castle for ten minutes in a state of nervousness that culminated as Lydia entered.

"How do you do, Miss Goff, Have I kept you waiting? I was out."

"Not at all," said Miss Goff, with a confused impression that red hair was aristocratic, and dark brown (the color of her own) vulgar. She had risen to shake hands, and now, after hesitating a moment to consider what etiquette required her to do next, resumed her seat. Miss Carew sat down too, and gazed thoughtfully at her visitor, who held herself rigidly erect, and, striving to mask her nervousness, unintentionally looked disdainful.

"Miss Goff," said Lydia, after a silence that made her speech impressive, "will you come to me on a long visit? In this lonely place I am greatly in want of a friend and companion of my own age and position. I think you must be equally so."

Alice Goff was very young, and very determined to accept no credit that she did not deserve. With the unconscious vanity and conscious honesty of youth, she proceeded to set Miss Carew right as to her social position, not considering that the lady of the castle probably understood it better than she did herself, and indeed thinking it quite natural that she should be mistaken.

"You are very kind," she replied, stiffly; "but our positions are quite different, Miss Carew. The fact is that I cannot afford to live an idle life. We are very poor, and my mother is partly dependent on my exertions."

"I think you will be able to exert yourself to good purpose if you come to me," said Lydia, unimpressed. "It is true that I shall give you very expensive habits; but I will of course enable you to support them."

"I do not wish to contract expensive habits," said Alice, reproachfully. "I shall have to content myself with frugal ones throughout my life."

"Not necessarily. Tell me, frankly: how had you proposed to exert yourself? As a teacher, was it not?"

Alice flushed, but assented.

"You are not at all fitted for it; and you will end by marrying. As a teacher you could not marry well. As an idle lady, with expensive habits, you will marry very well indeed. It is quite an art to know how to be rich—an indispensable art, if you mean to marry a rich man."

"I have no intention of marrying," said Alice, loftily. She thought it time to check this cool aristocrat. "If I come at all I shall come without any ulterior object."

"That is just what I had hoped. Come without condition, or second thought of any kind."

"But—" began Alice, and stopped, bewildered by the pace at which the negotiation was proceeding. She murmured a few words, and waited for Lydia to proceed. But Lydia had said her say, and evidently expected a reply, though she seemed assured of having her own way, whatever Alice's views might be.

"I do not quite understand, Miss Carew. What duties?—what would you expect of me?"

"A great deal," said Lydia, gravely. "Much more than I should from a mere professional companion."

"But I am a professional companion," protested Alice.

"Whose?"

Alice flushed again, angrily this time. "I did not mean to say—"

"You do not mean to say that you will have nothing to do with me," said Lydia, stopping her quietly. "Why are you so scrupulous, Miss Goff? You will be close to your home, and can return to it at any moment if you become dissatisfied with your position here."

Fearful that she had disgraced herself by ill manners; loath to be taken possession of as if her wishes were of no consequence when a rich lady's whim was to be gratified; suspicious—since she had often heard gossiping tales of the dishonesty of people in high positions—lest she should be cheated out of the salary she had come resolved to demand; and withal unable to defend herself against Miss Carew, Alice caught at the first excuse that occurred to her.

"I should like a little time to consider," she said.

"Time to accustom yourself to me, is it not? You can have as long as you plea-"

"Oh, I can let you know tomorrow," interrupted Alice, officiously.

"Thank you. I will send a note to Mrs. Goff to say that she need not expect you back until tomorrow."

"But I did not mean—I am not prepared to stay," remonstrated Alice, feeling that she was being entangled in a snare.

"We shall take a walk after dinner, then, and call at your house, where you can make your preparations. But I think I can supply you with all you will require."

Alice dared make no further objection. "I am afraid," she stammered, "you will think me horribly rude; but I am so useless, and you are so sure to be disappointed, that—that—"

"You are not rude, Miss Goff; but I find you very shy. You want to run away and hide from new faces and new surroundings." Alice, who was self-possessed and even overbearing in Wiltstoken society, felt that she was misunderstood, but did not know how to vindicate herself. Lydia resumed, "I have formed my habits in the course of my travels, and so live without ceremony. We dine early—at six."

Alice had dined at two, but did not feel bound to confess it.

"Let me show you your room," said Lydia, rising. "This is a curious drawingroom," she added, glancing around. "I only use it occasionally to receive visitors." She looked about her again with some interest, as if the apartment belonged to some one else, and led the way to a room on the first floor, furnished as a lady's bed-chamber. "If you dislike this," she said, "or cannot arrange it to suit you, there are others, of which you can have your choice. Come to my boudoir when you are ready."

"Where is that?" said Alice, anxiously.

"It is—You had better ring for some one to show you. I will send you my maid."

Alice, even more afraid of the maid than of the mistress, declined hastily. "I am accustomed to attend to myself, Miss Carew," with proud humility.

"You will find it more convenient to call me Lydia," said Miss Carew. "Otherwise you will be supposed to refer to my grandaunt, a very old lady." She then left the room.

Alice was fond of thinking that she had a womanly taste and touch in making a room pretty. She was accustomed to survey with pride her mother's drawing-room, which she had garnished with cheap cretonnes, Japanese paper fans, and knick-knacks in ornamental pottery. She felt now that if she slept once in the bed before her, she could never be content in her mother's house again. All that she had read and believed of the beauty of cheap and simple ornament, and the vulgarity of costliness, recurred to her as a hypocritical paraphrase of the "sour grapes" of the fox in the fable. She pictured to herself with a shudder the effect of a sixpenny Chinese umbrella in that fireplace, a cretonne valance to that bed, or chintz curtains to those windows. There was in the room a series of mirrors consisting of a great glass in which she could see herself at full length, another framed in the carved oaken dressing-table, and smaller ones of various shapes fixed to jointed arms that turned every way. To use them for the first time was like having eyes in the back of the head. She had never seen herself from all points of view before. As she gazed, she strove not to be ashamed of her dress; but even her face and figure, which usually afforded her unqualified delight, seemed robust and middle-class in Miss Carew's mirrors.

"After all," she said, seating herself on a chair that was even more luxurious to rest in than to look at; "putting the lace out of the question—and my old lace that belongs to mamma is quite as valuable—her whole dress cannot have cost much more than mine. At any rate, it is not worth much more, whatever she may have chosen to pay for it."

But Alice was clever enough to envy Miss Carew her manners more than her dress. She would not admit to herself that she was not thoroughly a lady; but she felt that Lydia, in the eye of a stranger, would answer that description better than she. Still, as far as she had observed, Miss Carew was exceedingly cool in her proceedings, and did not take any pains to please those with whom she conversed. Alice had often made compacts of friendship with young ladies, and had invited them to call her by her Christian name; but on such occasions she had always called themn "dear" or "darling," and, while the friendship lasted (which was often longer than a month, for Alice was a steadfast girl), had never met them without exchanging an embrace and a hearty kiss.

"And nothing," she said, springing from the chair as she thought of this, and speaking very resolutely, "shall tempt me to believe that there is anything vulgar in sincere affection. I shall be on my guard against this woman."

Having settled that matter for the present, she resumed her examination of the apartment, and was more and more attracted by it as she proceeded. For, thanks to her eminence as a local beauty, she had not that fear of beautiful and rich things which renders abject people incapable of associating costliness with comfort. Had the counterpane of the bed been her own, she would have unhesitatingly converted it into a ball-dress. There were toilet appliances of which she had never felt the need, and could only guess the use. She looked with despair into the two large closets, thinking how poor a show her three dresses, her ulster, and her few old jackets would make there. There was also a dressing-room with a marble bath that made cleanliness a luxury instead of one of the sternest of the virtues, as it seemed at home. Yet she remarked that though every object was more or less ornamental, nothing had been placed in the rooms for the sake of ornament alone. Miss Carew, judged by her domestic arrangements, was a utilitarian before everything. There was a very handsome chimney piece; but as there was nothing on the mantel board, Alice made a faint effort to believe that it was inferior in point of taste to that in her own bedroom, which was covered with blue cloth, surrounded by fringe and brass headed nails, and laden with photographs in plush frames.

The striking of the hour reminded her that she had forgotten to prepare for dinner. Khe hastily took off her hat, washed her hands, spent another minute among the mirrors, and was summoning courage to ring the bell, when a doubt occurred to her. Ought she to put on her gloves before going down or not? This kept her in perplexity for many seconds. At last she resolved to put her gloves in her pocket, and be guided as to their further disposal by the example of her hostess. Then, not daring to hesitate any longer, she rang the bell, and was presently joined by a French lady of polished manners—Miss Carew's maid who conducted her to the boudoir, a hexagonal apartment that, Alice thought, a sultana might have envied. Lydia was there, reading. Alice noted with relief that she had not changed her dress, and that she was ungloved.

Miss Goff did not enjoy the dinner. There was a butler who seemed to have nothing to do but stand at a buffet and watch her. There was also a swift, noiseless footman who presented himself at her elbow at intervals and compelled her to choose on the instant between unfamiliar things to eat and drink. She envied these men their knowledge of society, and shrank from their criticism. Once, after taking a piece of asparagus in her hand, she was deeply mortified at seeing her hostess consume the vegetable with the aid of a knife and fork; but the footman's back was turned to her just then, and the butler, oppressed by the heat of the weather, was in a state of abstraction bordering on slumber. On the whole, by dint of imitating Miss Oarew, who did not plague her with any hostess-like vigilance, she came off without discredit to her breeding.

Lydia, on her part, acknowledged no obligation to entertain her guest by chatting, and enjoyed her thoughts and her dinner in silence. Alice began to be fascinated by her, and to wonder what she was thinking about. She fancied that the footman was not quite free from the same influence. Even the butler might have been meditating himself to sleep on the subject. Alice felt tempted to offer her a penny for her thoughts. But she dared not be so familiar as yet. And, had the offer been made and accepted, butler, footman, and guest would have been plunged into equal confusion by the explanation, which would have run thus:

"I saw a vision of the Hermes of Praxiteles in a sylvan haunt to-day; and I am thinking of that."



CHAPTER III.



Next day Alice accepted Miss Carew's invitation. Lydia, who seemed to regard all conclusions as foregone when she had once signified her approval of them, took the acceptance as a matter of course. Alice thereupon thought fit to remind her that there were other persons to be considered. So she said, "I should not have hesitated yesterday but for my mother. It seems so heartless to leave her."

"You have a sister at home, have you not?"

"Yes. But she is not very strong, and my mother requires a great deal of attention." Alice paused, and added in a lower voice, "She has never recovered from the shock of my father's death."

"Your father is then not long dead?" said Lydia in her usual tone.

"Only two years," said Alice, coldly. "I hardly know how to tell my mother that I am going to desert her."

"Go and tell her today, Alice. You need not be afraid of hurting her. Grief of two years' standing is only a bad habit."

Alice started, outraged. Her mother's grief was sacred to her; and yet it was by her experience of her mother that she recognized the truth of Lydia's remark, and felt that it was unanswerable. She frowned; but the frown was lost: Miss Carew was not looking at her. Then she rose and went to the door, where she stopped to say,

"You do not know our family circumstances. I will go now and try to prevail on my mother to let me stay with you."

"Please come back in good time for dinner," said Lydia, unmoved. "I will introduce you to my cousin Lucian Webber. I have just received a telegram from him. He is coming down with Lord Worthington. I do not know whether Lord Worthington will come to dinner or not. He has an invalid friend at the Warren, and Lucian does not make it clear whether he is coming to visit him or me. However, it is of no consequence; Lord Worthington is only a young sportsman. Lucian is a clever man, and will be an eminent one some day. He is secretary to a Cabinet Minister, and is very busy; but we shall probably see him often while the Whitsuntide holidays last. Excuse my keeping you waiting at the door to hear that long history. Adieu!" She waved her hand; Alice suddenly felt that it was possible to be very fond of Miss Carew.

1  2  3  4  5  6     Next Part
Home - Random Browse