AUTHOR OF "A MAN OF MARK," "THE PRISONER OF ZENDA."
F. TENNYSON NEELY PUBLISHER CHICAGO NEW YORK 1895
I. Eugene Lane and his Guests
II. New Faces and Old Feuds
III. Father Stafford Changes his Habits, and Mr. Haddington his Views
IV. Sir Roderick Ayre Inspects Mr. Morewood's Masterpiece
V. How Three Gentlemen Acted for the Best
VI. Father Stafford Keeps Vigil
VII. An Early Train and a Morning's Amusement
VIII. Stafford in Retreat, and Sir Roderick in Action
IX. The Battle of Baden
X. Mr. Morewood is Moved to Indignation
XI. Waiting Lady Claudia's Pleasure
XII. Lady Claudia is Vexed with Mankind
XIII. A Lover's Fate and a Friend's Counsel
XIV. Some People are as Fortunate as they Deserve to Be
XV. An End and a Beginning
Eugene Lane and his Guests.
The world considered Eugene Lane a very fortunate young man; and if youth, health, social reputation, a seat in Parliament, a large income, and finally the promised hand of an acknowledged beauty can make a man happy, the world was right. It is true that Sir Roderick Ayre had been heard to pity the poor chap on the ground that his father had begun life in the workhouse; but everybody knew that Sir Roderick was bound to exalt the claims of birth, inasmuch as he had to rely solely upon them for a reputation, and discounted the value of his opinion accordingly. After all, it was not as if the late Mr. Lane had ended life in the undesirable shelter in question. On the contrary, his latter days had been spent in the handsome mansion of Millstead Manor; and, as he lay on his deathbed, listening to the Rector's gentle homily on the vanity of riches, his eyes would wander to the window and survey a wide tract of land that he called his own, and left, together with immense sums of money, to his son, subject only to a jointure for his wife. It is hard to blame the tired old man if he felt, even with the homily ringing in his ears, that he had not played his part in the world badly.
Millstead Manor was indeed the sort of place to raise a doubt as to the utter vanity of riches. It was situated hard by the little village of Millstead, that lies some forty miles or so northwest of London, in the middle of rich country. The neighborhood afforded shooting, fishing, and hunting, if not the best of their kind, yet good enough to satisfy reasonable people. The park was large and well wooded; the house had insisted on remaining picturesque in spite of Mr. Lane's improvements, and by virtue of an indelible stamp of antiquity had carried its point. A house that dates from Elizabeth is not to be entirely put to shame by one or two unblushing French windows and other trifling barbarities of that description, more especially when it is kept in countenance by a little church of still greater age, nestling under its wing in a manner that recalled the good old days when the lord of the manor was lord of the souls and bodies of his tenants. Even old Mr. Lane had been mellowed by the influence of his new home, and before his death had come to play the part of Squire far more respectably than might be imagined. Eugene sustained the role with the graceful indolence and careless efficiency that marked most of his doings.
He stood one Saturday morning in the latter part of July on the steps that led from the terrace to the lawn, holding a letter in his hand and softly whistling. In appearance he was not, it must be admitted, an ideal Squire, for he was but a trifle above middle height, rather slight, and with the little stoop that tells of the man who is town-bred and by nature more given to indoor than outdoor exercises; but he was a good-looking fellow for all that, with a bright humorous face,—though at this moment rather a bored one,—large eyes set well apart, and his proper allowance of brown hair and white teeth. Altogether, it may safely be said that, not even Sir Roderick's nose could have sniffed the workhouse in the young master of Millstead Manor.
Still whistling, Eugene descended the steps and approached a group of people sitting under a large copper-beech tree. A still, hot summer morning does not incline the mind or the body to activity, and all of them had sunk into attitudes of ease. Mrs. Lane's work was reposing in her lap; her sister, Miss Jane Chambers, had ceased the pretense of reading; the Rector was enjoying what he kept assuring himself was only just five minutes' peace before he crossed over to his parsonage and his sermon; Lady Claudia Territon and Miss Katharine Bernard were each in possession of a wicker lounge, while at their feet lay two young men in flannels, with lawn-tennis racquets lying idle by them. A large jug of beer close to the elbow of one of them completed the luxurious picture that was framed in a light cloud of tobacco smoke, traceable to the person who also was obviously responsible for the beer.
As Eugene approached, a sudden thought seemed to strike him. He stopped deliberately, and with great care lit a cigar.
"Why wasn't I smoking, I wonder!" he said. "The sight of Bob Territon reminded me." Then as he reached them, raising his voice, he went on:
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am sorry to interrupt you, and with bad news."
"What is the matter, dear," asked Mrs. Lane, a gentle old lady, who having once had the courage to leave the calm of her father's country vicarage to follow the doubtful fortunes of her husband, was now reaping her reward in a luxury of which she had never dreamed.
"With the arrival of the 4.15 this afternoon," Eugene continued, "our placid life will be interrupted, and one of Mr. Eugene Lane, M.P.'s, celebrated Saturday to Monday parties (I quote from The Universe) will begin."
"Who's coming?" asked Miss Bernard.
Miss Bernard was the acknowledged beauty referred to in the opening lines of this chapter, whose love Eugene had been lucky enough to secure. Had Eugene not been absurdly rich himself, he might have been congratulated further on the prospective enjoyment of a nice little fortune as well as the lady's favor.
"Is Rickmansworth coming?" put in Lady Claudia, before Eugene had time to reply to his fiancee.
"Be at peace," he said, addressing Lady Claudia; "your brother is not coming. I have known Rickmansworth a long while, and I never knew him to be polite. He inquired by telegram (reply not paid) who were to be here. When I wired him, telling him whom I had the privilege of entertaining, and requesting an immediate reply (not paid), he answered that he thought I must have enough Territons already, and he didn't want to make another."
Neither Lady Claudia nor her brother Robert, who was the young man with the beer, seemed put out at this message. Indeed, the latter went so far as to say:
"Good! Have some beer, Eugene?"
"But who is coming?" repeated Miss Kate. "Really, Eugene, you might pay a little attention to me."
"Can't, my dear Kate—not in public. It's not good form, is it, Lady Claudia?"
"Eugene," said Mrs. Lane, in a tone as nearly severe as she ever arrived at, "if you wish your guests to have either dinner or beds, you will at once tell me who and how many they are."
"My dear mother, they are in number five, composed as follows: First, the Bishop of Bellminster."
"A most interesting man," observed Miss Chambers.
"I am glad to hear it, Aunt Jane," responded Eugene. "The Bishop is accompanied by his wife. That makes two; and then old Merton, who was at the Colonial Office you know, and Morewood the painter make four."
"Sir George Merton is a Radical, isn't he?" asked Lady Claudia severely.
"He tries to be," said Eugene. "Shall I order a carriage to take you to the station? I think, you know, you can stand it, with Haddington's help."
Mr. Spencer Haddington, the other young man in flannels, was a very rising member of the Conservative party, of which Lady Claudia conceived herself to be a pillar. Identity of political views, in Mr. Haddington's opinion, might well pave the way to a closer union, and this hope accounted for his having consented to pair with Eugene, who sat on the other side, and spend the last week in idleness at Millstead.
"Well," said Mr. Robert Territon, "it sounds slow, old man."
"Candid family, the Territons," remarked Eugene to the copper-beech.
"Who's the fifth? you've only told us four," said Kate, who always stuck to the point.
"The fifth is—" Eugene paused a moment, as though preparing a sensation; "the fifth is—Father Stafford."
Now it was a remarkable thing that all the ladies looked up quickly and re-echoed the name of the last guest in accents of awe, whereas the men seemed unaffected.
"Why, where did you pick him up?" asked Lady Claudia.
"Pick him up! I've known Charley Stafford since we were both that high. We were at Harrow and at Oxford together. Rickmansworth knows him, Bob. You didn't come till he'd left."
"Why is the gentleman called 'Father'?" said Bob.
"Because he is a priest," Miss Chambers answered. "And really, Mr. Territon, you're very ignorant. Everybody knows Father Stafford. You do, Mr. Haddington?"
"Yes," said Haddington, "I've heard of him. He's an Anglican Father, isn't he? Had a big parish somewhere down the Mile End Road?"
"Yes," said Eugene. "He's an old and a great friend of mine. He's quite knocked up, poor old chap, and had to get leave of absence; and I've made him promise to come and stay here for a good part of the time, to rest."
"Then he's not going off again on Monday?" asked Mrs. Lane.
"Oh, I hope not. He's writing a book or something, that will keep him from being restless."
"How charming!" said Lady Claudia. "Don't you dote on him, Kate? Please, Mr. Lane, may I stay too?"
"By the way," said Eugene, "Stafford has taken a vow of celibacy."
"I knew that," said Lady Claudia imperturbably.
Eugene looked mournful; Bob Territon groaned tragically; but Lady Claudia was quite unmoved, and, turning to the Rector, who sat smiling benevolently on the young people, asked:
"Do you know Father Stafford, Dr. Dennis?"
"No. I should be much interested in meeting him. I've heard so much of his work and his preaching."
"Yes," said Lady Claudia, "and his penances and fasting, and so on."
"Poor old Stafford!" said Eugene. "It's quite enough for him that a thing's pleasant to make it wrong."
"Not your philosophy, Master Eugene!" said the Rector.
"But what's this vow?" asked Kate.
"There's no such thing as a binding vow of celibacy in the Anglican Church," announced Miss Chambers.
"Is that right, Doctor?" said Lady Claudia.
"God bless me, my dear," said the Rector, "I don't know. There wasn't in my time."
"But, Eugene, surely I'm right," persisted Aunt Jane. "His Bishop can dispense him from it, can't he?"
"Don't know," answered Eugene. "He says he can."
"Who says he can?"
"Why, the Bishop!"
"Well, then, of course he can."
"All right," said Eugene; "only Stafford doesn't think so. Not that he wants to be released. He doesn't care a bit about women—very ungrateful, as they're all mad about him."
"That's very rude, Eugene," said Kate, in reproving tones. "Admiration for a saint is not madness. Shall we go in, Claudia, and leave these men to pipes and beer?"
"One for you, Rector!" chuckled Bob Territon, who knew no reverence.
The two girls departed somewhat scornfully, arm in arm, and the Rector too rose with a sigh, and accompanied the elder ladies to the house, whither they were going to meet the pony carriage that stood at the hall door. A daily drive was part of Mrs. Lane's ritual.
"By the way, you fellows," Eugene resumed, throwing himself on the grass, "I may as well mention that Stafford doesn't drink, or eat meat, or smoke, or play cards, or anything else."
"What a peculiar beggar!" said Bob.
"Yes, and he's peculiar in another way," said Eugene, a little dryly; "he particularly objects to any remark being made on his habits—I mean on what he eats and drinks and so on."
"There I agree," said Bob; "I object to any remarks on what I eat and drink"; and he look a long pull at the beer.
"You must treat him with respect, young man. Haddington, I know, will study him as a phenomenon. I can't protect him against that."
Mr. Haddington smiled and remarked that such revivals of mediaevalism were interesting, if morbid; and having so delivered himself, he too went his way.
"That chap's considered very clever, isn't he?" asked Bob of his host, indicating Haddington's retreating figure.
"Very, I believe," said Eugene. "He's a cuckoo, you see."
"Dashed if I do," said Bob.
"He steals other birds' nests—eggs and all."
"Your natural history is a trifle mixed, old fellow; kindly explain."
"Well, he's a thief of ideas. Never was the father of one himself, and gets his living by kidnapping."
"I never knew such a chap!" ejaculated Bob helplessly. "Why can't you say plainly that you think he's an ass?"
"I don't," said Eugene. "He's by no means an ass. He's a very clever fellow. But he lives on other men's ideas!"
"Oh! come and play billiards."
"I can't," said Eugene gravely. "I'm going to read poetry to Kate."
"By Jove, does she make you do that?"
Eugene nodded sadly, and Bob went off into a fit of obtrusive chuckling. Eugene cast a large cushion dexterously at him and caught him just in the mouth, and, still sadly, rose and went in search of his lady-love.
"Why the dickens does he marry that girl?" exclaimed Bob. "It beats me."
Bob Territon was not the only person in whom Eugene's engagement to Kate Bernard inspired some surprise. But neither he nor any one else succeeded in formulating very definite reasons for the feeling. Kate was a beauty, and a beauty of a type undeniably orthodox and almost aristocratic. She was tall and slight, her nose was the least trifle arched, her fingers tapered, and so, it was believed, did her feet. Her hair was golden, her mouth was small, and her accomplishments considerable. From her childhood she had been considered clever, and had vindicated her reputation by gaining more than one certificate from the various examining bodies which nowadays go up and down seeking whom they may devour. All these varied excellences Eugene had had full opportunities of appreciating, for Kate was a distant cousin of his on the mother's side, and had spent a large part of the last few years at the Manor. It was, in fact, so obviously the duty of the two young people to fall in love with one another, that the surprise exhibited by their friends could only have been based on a somewhat cynical view of humanity. The cynics ought to have considered themselves confuted by the fait accompli, but they refused to do so, and, led by Sir Roderick Ayre, had been known to descend to laying five to four against the permanency of the engagement—an obviously coarse and improper proceeding.
It is possible that the odds might have risen a point or two, had these reprehensible persons been present at the little scene which occurred on the terrace, whither the girls had betaken themselves, and Eugene in his turn repaired when he had armed himself with Tennyson. As he approached Claudia rose to go and leave the lovers to themselves.
"Don't go, Lady Claudia," said Eugene. "I'm not going to read anything you ought not to hear."
Of course it was the right thing for Claudia to go, and she knew it. But she was a mischievous body, and the sight of a cloud on Kate's brow had upon her exactly the opposite effect to what it ought to have had.
"You don't really want me to stay, do you? Wouldn't you two rather be alone?" she asked.
"Much rather have you," Eugene answered.
Kate rose with dignity.
"We need not discuss that," she said. "I have letters to write, and am going indoors."
"Oh, I say, Kate, don't do that! I came out on purpose to read to you."
"Lady Claudia is quite ready to make an audience for you," was the chilling reply, as Kate vanished through the open door.
"There, you've done it now!" said Eugene. "You really ought not to insist on staying."
"I'm so sorry, Mr. Lane. But it's all your fault." And Claudia tried to make her face assume a look of gravity.
A pause ensued, and then they both smiled.
"What were you going to read?" asked Claudia.
"Oh, Tennyson—always read Tennyson. Kate likes it, because she thinks it's simple."
"You flatter yourself that you see the deeper meaning?"
Eugene smiled complacently.
"And you mean Kate doesn't? I'm glad I'm not engaged to you, Mr. Lane, if that's the kind of thing you say."
Eugene opened his mouth, shut it again, and then said blandly:
"So am I."
"Thank you! You need not be afraid."
"If I were engaged to you, I mightn't like you so well."
A slight blush became visible on Claudia's usually pale cheek.
Eugene looked away toward the horizon.
"I like the way quite pale people blush," he said.
"What do you want, Mr. Lane?"
"Ah! I see you appreciate my character. I want many things I can't have—a great many."
"No doubt," said Claudia, still blushing under the mournful gaze which accompanied those words. "Do you want anything you can have?"
"Yes! I want you to stay several more weeks."
"I'm going to stay." said Claudia.
"How kind!" exclaimed Eugene.
"Do you know why?"
"My modesty forbids me to think."
"I want, to see a lot of Father Stafford! Good-by, Mr. Lane. I'll leave you to your private and particular understanding of Tennyson."
"Hold your tongue," she whispered, in tones of exasperation. "It's very wicked and very impertinent—and the library door's open, and Kate's in there!"
Eugene fell back in his chair with a horrified look, and Claudia rushed into the house.
New Faces and Old Feuds.
There was, no doubt, some excuse for the interest that the ladies at Millstead Manor had betrayed on hearing the name of Father Stafford. In these days, when the discussion of theological topics has emerged from the study into the street, there to jostle persons engaged in their lawful business, a man who makes for himself a position as a prominent champion of any view becomes, to a considerable extent, a public character; and Charles Stafford's career had excited much notice. Although still a young man but little past thirty, he was adored by a powerful body of followers, and received the even greater compliment of hearty detestation from all, both within and without the Church, to whom his views seemed dangerous and pernicious. He had administered a large parish with distinction; he had written a treatise of profound patristic learning and uncompromising sacerdotal pretensions. He had defended the institution of a celibate priesthood, and was known to have treated the Reformation with even less respect than it has been of late accustomed to receive. He had done more than all this: he had impressed all who met him with a character of absolute devotion and disinterestedness, and there were many who thought that a successor to the saints might be found in Stafford, if anywhere in this degenerate age. Yet though he was, or was thought to be, all this, his friends were yet loud in declaring—and ever foremost among them Eugene Lane—that a better, simpler, or more modest man did not exist. For the weakness of humanity, it may be added that Stafford's appearance gave him fully the external aspect most suitable to the part his mind urged him to play; for he was tall and spare; his fine-cut face, clean shaven, displayed the penetrating eyes, prominent nose, and large mobile mouth that the memory associates with pictures of Italian prelates who were also statesmen. These personal characteristics, combined with his attitude on Church matters, caused him to be familiarly known among the flippant by the nickname of the Pope.
Eugene Lane stood upon his hearthrug, conversing with the Bishop of Bellminster and covertly regarding his betrothed out of the corner of an apprehensive eye. They had not met alone since the morning, and he was naturally anxious to find out whether that unlucky "Claudia" had been overheard. Claudia herself was listening to the conversation of Mr. Morewood, the well-known artist; and Stafford, who had only arrived just before dinner, was still busy in answering Mrs. Lane's questions about his health. Sir George Merton had failed at the last moment, "like a Radical," said Claudia.
"I am extremely interested in meeting your friend Father Stafford," said the Bishop.
"Well, he's a first-rate fellow," replied Eugene. "I'm sure you'll like him."
"You young fellows call him the Pope, don't you?" asked his lordship, who was a genial man.
"Yes. You don't mind, do you? It's not as if we called him the Archbishop of Canterbury, you know."
"I shouldn't consider even that very personal," said the Bishop, smiling.
Dinner was announced. Eugene gave the Bishop's wife his arm, whispering to Claudia as he passed, "Age before impudence"; and that young lady found that she had fallen to the lot of Stafford, whereat she was well pleased. Kate was paired with Haddington, and Mr. Morewood with Aunt Jane. The Bishop, of course, escorted the hostess.
"And who," said he, almost as soon as he was comfortably settled to his soup, "is the young lady sitting by our friend the Father—the one, I mean, with dark hair, not Miss Bernard? I know her."
"That's Lady Claudia Territon," said Mrs. Lane. "Very pretty, isn't she? and really a very good girl."
"Do you say 'really' because, unless you did, I shouldn't believe it?" he asked, with a smile.
Mrs. Lane had been moved by this idea, but not consciously and, a little distressed at suspecting herself of an unkindness, entertained the Bishop with an entirely fanciful catalogue of Claudia's virtues, which, being overheard by Bob Territon, who had no lady, and was at liberty to listen, occasioned him immense entertainment.
Claudia, meanwhile, was drifting into a state of some annoyance. Stafford was very courteous and attentive, but he drank nothing, and apparently proposed to dine off dry bread. When she began to question him about his former parish, instead of showing the gratitude that might be expected, he smiled a smile that she found pleasure in describing as inscrutable, and said:
"Please don't talk down to me, Lady Claudia."
"I have been taught," responded Claudia, rather stiffly, "to talk about subjects in which my company is presumably interested."
Stafford looked at her with some surprise. It must be admitted that he had become used to more submission than Claudia seemed inclined to give him.
"I beg your pardon. You are quite right. Let us talk about it."
"No, I won't. We will talk about you. You've been very ill, Father Stafford?"
"A little knocked up."
"I don't wonder!" she said, with an irritated glance at his plate, which was now furnished with a potato.
He saw the glance.
"It wasn't that," he said; "that suits me very well."
Claudia knew that a pretty girl may say most things, so she said:
"I don't believe it. You're killing yourself. Why don't you do as the Bishop does?"
The Bishop, good man, was at this moment drinking champagne.
"Men have different ways of living," he answered evasively.
"I think yours is a very bad way. Why do you do it?"
"I'm sure you will forgive me if I decline to discuss the question just now. I notice you take a little wine. You probably would not care to explain why."
"I take it because I like it."
"And I don't take it because I like it."
Claudia had a feeling that she was being snubbed, and her impression was confirmed when Stafford, a moment afterward, turned to Kate Bernard, who sat on his left hand, and was soon deep in reminiscences of old visits to the Manor, with which Kate contrived to intermingle a little flattery that Stafford recognized only to ignore. They had known one another well in earlier days, and Kate was immensely pleased at finding her playfellow both famous and not forgetful.
Eugene looked on from his seat at the foot of the table with silent wonder. Here was a man who might and indeed ought to talk to Claudia, and yet was devoting himself to Kate.
"I suppose it's on the same principle that he takes water instead of champagne," he thought; but the situation amused him, and he darted at Claudia a look that conveyed to that young lady the urgent idea that she was, as boys say, "dared" to make Father Stafford talk to her. This was quite enough. Helped by the unconscious alliance of Haddington, who thought Miss Bernard had let him alone quite long enough, she seized her opportunity, and said in the softest voice:
Stafford turned his head, and found fixed upon him a pair of large, dark eyes, brimming over with mingled contrition and admiration.
"I am so sorry—but—but I thought you looked so ill."
Stafford was unpleasantly conscious of being human. The triumph of wickedness is a spectacle from which we may well avert our eyes. Suffice it to say that a quarter of an hour later Claudia returned Eugene's glance with a look of triumph and scorn.
Meanwhile, trouble had arisen between the Bishop and Mr. Morewood. Morewood was an artist of great ability, originality, and skill; and if he had not attained the honors of the Academy, it was perhaps more of his own fault than that of the exalted body in question, as he always treated it with an ostentatious contumely. After all, the Academy must be allowed its feelings. Moreover, his opinions on many subjects were known to be extreme, and he was not chary of displaying them. He was sitting on Mrs. Lane's left, opposite the Bishop, and the latter had started with his hostess a discussion of the relation between religion and art. All went harmoniously for a time; they agreed that religion had ceased to inspire art, and that it was a very regrettable thing; and there, one would have thought the subject—not being a new one—might well have been left. Suddenly, however, Mr. Morewood broke in:
"Religion has ceased to inspire art because it has lost its own inspiration, and having so ceased, it has lost its only use."
The Bishop was annoyed. A well-bred man himself, he disliked what seemed to him ill-bred attacks on opinions which his position proclaimed him to hold.
"You cannot expect me to assent to either of your propositions, Mr. Morewood," he said. "If I believed them, you know, I should not be in the place I am."
"They're true, for all that," retorted Morewood. "And what is it to be traced to?"
"I'm sure I don't know," said poor Mrs. Lane.
"Why, to Established Churches, of course. As long as fancies and imaginary beings are left free to each man to construct or destroy as he will,—or again, I may say, as long as they are fluid,—they subserve the pleasurableness of life. But when you take in hand and make a Church out of them, and all that, what can you expect?"
"I think you must be confusing the Church with the Royal Academy," observed the Bishop, with some acidity.
"There would be plenty of excuse for me, if I did," replied Morewood. "There's no truth and no zeal in either of them."
"If you please, we will not discuss the truth. But as to the zeal, what do you say to the example of it among us now?" And the Bishop, lowering his voice, indicated Stafford.
Morewood directed a glance at him.
"He's mad!" he said briefly.
"I wish there were a few more with the same mania about."
"You don't believe all he does?"
"Perhaps I can't see all he does," said the Bishop, with a touch of sadness.
"How do you mean?"
"I have been longer in the cave, and perhaps I have peered too much through cave-spectacles."
Morewood looked at him for a moment.
"I'm sorry if I've been rude, Bishop," he said more quietly, "but a man must say what he thinks."
"Not at all times," said the Bishop; and he turned pointedly to Mrs. Lane and began to discuss indifferent matters.
Morewood looked round with a discontented air. Miss Chambers was mortally angry with him and had turned to Bob Territon, whom she was trying to persuade to come to a bazaar at Bellminster on the Monday. Bob was recalcitrant, and here too the atmosphere became a little disturbed. The only people apparently content were Kate and Haddington and Lady Claudia and Stafford. To the rest it was a relief when Mrs. Lane gave the signal to rise.
Matters improved, however, in the drawing-room. The Bishop and Stafford were soon deep in conversation; and Claudia, thus deprived of her former companion, condescended to be very gracious to Mr. Morewood, in the secret hope that that eccentric genius would make her the talk of the studios next summer by painting her portrait. Haddington and Bob had vanished with cigars; and Eugene looking round and seeing that all was peace, said to himself in an access of dutifulness. "Now for it!" and crossed over to where Kate sat, and invited her to accompany him into the garden.
Kate acquiesced, but showed little other sign of relaxing her attitude of lofty displeasure. She left Eugene to begin.
"I'm awfully sorry, Kate, if you were vexed this morning."
"But, you see, as host here, I couldn't very well turn out Lady Claudia."
"Why don't you say Claudia?" asked Kate, in sarcastic tones.
Eugene felt inclined to fly, but he recognized that his only chance lay in pretending innocence when he had it not.
"Are we to quarrel about a trifle of that sort?" he asked; "a girl I've known like a sister for the last ten years!"
Kate smiled bitterly.
"Do you really suppose that deceives me? Of course I am not afraid of your falling in love with Claudia; but it's very bad taste to have anything at all like flirtation with her."
"Quite right; it is. It shall not occur again. Isn't that enough?"
Kate, in spite of her confidence, was not anxious to drive Eugene with too tight a rein, so, with a nearer approach to graciousness she allowed it to appear that it was enough.
"Then come along," he said, passing his arm around her waist, and running her briskly along the terrace to a seat at the end, where he deposited her.
"Really, Eugene, one would think you were a schoolboy. Suppose any one had seen us!"
"Some one did," said Eugene composedly, lighting his cigar.
"Haddington. He was sitting on the step of the sun-dial, smoking."
"How annoying! What's he doing there?"
"If you ask me, I expect he's waiting on the chance of Lady Claudia coming out."
"I should think it very unlikely," said Kate, with an impatient tap of her foot; "and I wish you wouldn't do such things."
Eugene smiled; and having thus, as he conceived, partly avenged himself, devoted the next ten minutes to orthodox love-making, with the warmth of which Kate had no reason to be discontent. On the expiration of that time he pleaded his obligations as a host, and they returned to the house, Kate much mollified, Eugene with the peaceful but fatigued air that tells of duty done.
Before going to bed, Stafford and Eugene managed to get a few words together. Leaving the other men, except the Bishop, who was already at rest, in the billiard-room, they strolled out together on to the terrace.
"Well, old man, how are you getting on?" asked Eugene.
"Capitally! stronger every day in body and happier in mind. I grumbled a great deal when I first broke down, but now I'm not sure a rest isn't good for me. You can stop and have a look where you are going to."
"And you think you can stand it?"
"Stand what, my dear fellow?"
"Why, the life you lead—a life studiously emptied of everything that makes life pleasant."
"Ah! you are like Lady Claudia!" said Stafford, smiling. "I can tell you, though, what I can hardly tell her. There are some men who can make no terms with the body. Does that sound very mediaeval? I mean men who, unless they are to yield utterly to pleasure, must have no dealings with it."
"You boycott pleasure for fear of being too fond of it?"
"Yes; I don't lay down that rule for everybody. For me it is the right and only one."
"You think it right for a good many people, though?"
"Well, you know, the many-headed beast is strong."
"Wait till I get at you from the pulpit."
"No; tell me now."
"Of course! I take that for granted."
"Well, then, old fellow," said he, laying a hand on Eugene's arm, with a slight gesture of caress not unusual with him, "in candor and without unkindness, yes!"
"I could never do it," said Eugene.
"Perhaps not—or, at least, not yet."
"Too late or too early, is it?"
"It may be so, but I will not say so."
"You know I think you're all wrong?"
"You will fail."
"God forbid! but if he pleases—"
"After all, what are meat, wine, and—and so on for?"
"That argument is beneath you, Eugene."
"So it is. I beg your pardon. I might as well ask what the hangman is for if nobody is to be hanged. However, I'm determined that you shall enjoy yourself for a week here, whether you like it or not."
Stafford smiled gently and bade him good-night. A moment later Bob Territon emerged from the open windows of the billiard-room.
"Of all dull dogs, Haddington's the worst; however, I've won five pound of him! Hist! Is the Father here?"
"I am glad to say he is not."
"Oh! Have you squared it with Miss Kate? I saw something was up."
"Miss Bernard's heart, Bob, and mine again beat as one."
"What was it particularly about?"
"An immaterial matter."
"I say, did you see the Father and Claudia?"
"No. What do you mean?"
"Gammon! I tell you what, Eugene, if Claudia really puts her back into it, I wouldn't give much for that vow of celibacy."
"Bob," said Eugene, "you don't know Stafford; and your expression about your sister is—well, shall I say lacking in refinement?"
"Haddington didn't like it."
"Damn Haddington, and you too!" said Eugene impatiently, walking away.
Bob looked after him with a chuckle, and exclaimed enigmatically to the silent air, "Six to four, t. and o."
Father Stafford changes his Habits, and Mr. Haddington his Views.
For sheer placid enjoyment and pleasantness of living, there is nothing like a sojourn in a well-appointed country house, peopled by well-assorted guests. The guests at Millstead Manor were not perhaps particularly well-assorted; but nevertheless the hours passed by in a round of quiet delights, and the long summer days seemed in no wise tedious. The Bishop and Mrs. Bartlett had reluctantly gone to open the bazaar, and Miss Chambers went with them, but otherwise the party was unchanged; for Morewood, who had come originally only for two days, had begged leave to stay, received it on condition of showing due respect to everybody's prejudices, telegraphed for his materials, and was fitfully busy making sketches, not of Lady Claudia, to her undisguised annoyance, but of Stafford, with whose face he had been wonderfully struck. Stafford himself was the only one of the party, besides his artistic tormentor, who had not abandoned himself to the charms of idleness. His great work was understood to make rapid progress between six in the morning, when he always rose, and half-past nine, when the party assembled at breakfast; and he was also busy in writing a reply to a daring person who had recently asserted in print that on the whole the less said about the Council of Chalcedon the better.
"The Pope's wild about it!" reported Bob Territon to the usual after-breakfast group on the lawn: "says the beggar's impudence licks him."
"He shall not work any more," exclaimed Claudia, darting into the house, whence she presently emerged, followed by Stafford, who resignedly sat himself down with them.
Such forcible interruptions of his studies were by no means uncommon. Eugene, however, who was of an observant turn, noticed—and wondered if others did—that the raids on his seclusion were much more apt to be successful when Claudia headed them than under other auspices. The fact troubled him, not only from certain unworthy feelings which he did his best to suppress, but also because he saw nothing but harm to be possible from any close rapprochement between Claudia and Stafford. Kate, on the contrary, seemed to him to have set herself the task of throwing them together; with what motive he could not understand, unless it were the recollection of his ill-fated "Claudia." He did not think this explanation very convincing, for he was well aware that Kate's scorn of Claudia's attractions, as compared with her own, was perfectly genuine, and such a state of mind would not produce the certainly active efforts she put forth. In truth, Eugene, though naturally observant, was, like all men, a little blind where he himself was concerned; and perhaps a shrewd spectator would have connected Haddington in some way with Miss Kate's maneuvers. Such, at any rate, was the view of Bob Territon, and no doubt he would have expressed it with his usual frankness if he had not had his own reasons for keeping silence.
Stafford's state of mind was somewhat peculiar. A student from his youth, to whom invisible things had always seemed more real than visible, and hours of solitude better filled than busy days, he had had but little experience of that sort of humanity among which he found himself. A man may administer a cure of souls with marked efficiency in the Mile End Road, and yet find himself much at a loss when confronted with the latest products of the West End. The renunciation of the world, except so far as he could aid in mending it, had seemed an easy and cheap price to pay for the guerdon he strove for, to one who had never seen how pleasant this wicked world can look in certain of its aspects. Hitherto, at school, at college, and afterward, he had resolutely turned away from all opportunities of enlarging his experience in this direction. He had shunned society, and had taken great pains to restrict his acquaintance with the many devout ladies who had sought him out to the barest essentials of what ought to have been, if it was not always, their purpose in seeking him. The prince of this world was now preparing a more subtle attack; and under the seeming compulsion of common prudence no less than of old friendship, he found himself flung into the very center of the sort of life he had with such pains avoided. It may be doubted whether he was not, like an unskillful swimmer, ignorant of his danger; but it is certain that, had he been able to search out his own heart with his former acuteness of self-judgment, he would have found the first germs of inclinations and feelings to which he had been up till now a stranger. He would have discovered the birth of a new longing for pleasure, a growing delight in the sensuous side of things; or rather, he would have become convinced that temptations of this sort, which had previously been in the main creatures of his own brain, postulated in obedience to the doctrines and literature in which he had been bred, had become self-assertive realities; and that what had been set up only to be triumphantly knocked down had now taken a strong root of its own, and refused to be displaced by spiritual exercises or physical mortifications. Had he been able to pursue the analysis yet further, it may be that, even in these days, he would have found that the forces of this world were already beginning to personify themselves for him in the attractive figure of Claudia Territon. As it was, however, this discovery was yet far from him.
The function of passing a moral judgment on Claudia's conduct at this juncture is one that the historian respectfully declines. It is easy to blame fair damsels for recklessness in the use of their dangerous weapons; and if they take the censure to heart—which is not usually the case—easy again to charge them with self-consciousness or self-conceit. We do not know their temptations and may not presume to judge them. And it may well be thought that Claudia would have been guilty of an excessive appreciation of herself had her conduct been influenced by the thought that such a man as Stafford was likely to fall in love with her. Of the conscious design of attracting him she must be acquitted, for she acted under the force of a strong attraction exercised by him. Her mind was not entirely engrossed in the pleasures, and what she imagined to be the duties, of her station. She had a considerable, if untrained and erratic, instinct toward religion, and exhibited that leaning toward the mysterious and visionary which is the common mark of an acute mind that has not been presented with any methodical course of training worthy of its abilities. Such a temperament could not fail to be powerfully influenced by Stafford; and when an obvious and creditable explanation lies on the surface, it is an ungracious task to probe deeper in the hope of coming to something less praiseworthy. Claudia herself certainly undertook no such research. It was not her habit to analyze her motives; and, if asked the reasons of her conduct, she would no doubt have replied that she sought Stafford because she liked him. Perhaps, if further pressed, she would have admitted that she found him occasionally a useful refuge against attentions from two other quarters which she found it necessary to avoid; in the one case because she would have liked them, in the other for exactly the opposite reason.
It cannot, however, be supposed that this latter line of diplomacy could be permanently successful. When you only meet your suitor at dances or operas, it may be no hard task to be always surrounded by a chevaux-de-frise of other admirers. We have all seen that maneuver brilliantly and patiently executed. But when you are staying at a country house with any man of average pertinacity, I make bold to say that nothing short of taking to bed can be permanently relied upon. If this is the case with the ordinary man, how much more does it hold good when the assailant is one like Haddington—a man of considerable address, unbounded persistence, and limitless complacency? There came a time when Claudia's forced marches failed her, and she had to turn and give battle. When the moment came she was prepared with an audacious plan of campaign.
She had walked down to the village one morning, attended by Haddington and protected by Bob, to buy for Mrs. Lane a fresh supply of worsted wool, a commodity apparently necessary to sustain that lady's life, and was returning at peace, when Bob suddenly exclaimed:
"By Jove! Tobacco! Wait for me!" and, turning, fled back whence he came, at full speed.
Claudia made an attempt at following him, but the weather was hot and the road dusty, and, confronted with the alternative of a tete-a-tete and a damaged personal appearance, she reluctantly chose the former.
Haddington did not let the grass grow under his feet. "Well," he said, "it won't be unpleasant to rest a little while, will it? Here's a dry bank."
Claudia never wasted time in dodging the inevitable. She sat down.
"I am very glad of this opportunity," Haddington began, in such a tone as a man might use if he had just succeeded in moving the adjournment. "It's curious how little I have managed to see of you lately, Lady Claudia."
"We meet at least five times a day, Mr. Haddington—breakfast, lunch, tea—"
"I mean when you are alone."
"And yet you must know my great—my only object in being here is to see you."
"The less I say the sooner it will be over," thought Claudia, whose experience was considerable.
"You must have noticed my—my attachment. I hope it was without displeasure?"
This clearly called for an answer, but Claudia gave none. She sighed slightly and put up her parasol.
"Claudia, is there any hope for me? I love you more—"
"Mr. Haddington," said Claudia, "this is a painful scene. I trust nothing in my conduct has misled you. [This was known—how, I do not know—to her brothers as "Claudia's formula," but it is believed not to be uncommon.] But what you propose is utterly impossible."
"Why do you say that? Perhaps you do not know me well enough yet—but in time, surely?"
"Mr. Haddington," said Claudia, "let me speak plainly. Even if I loved you—which I don't and never shall, for immense admiration for a man's abilities is a different thing from love [Haddington looked somewhat soothed], I could never consent to accept the position of a pis-aller. That is not the Territon way." And Lady Claudia looked very proud.
"A pis-aller! What in the world do you mean?"
"Girls are not supposed to see anything. But do you think I imagine you would ever have honored me in this way unless a greater prize had been—had appeared to be out of reach?"
This was not fair; but it was near enough to the mark to make Haddington a little uneasy. Had Kate been free, he would certainly have been in doubt.
"I bear no malice about that," she continued, smiling, "only you mustn't pretend to be broken-hearted, you know."
"It is a great blow to me—a great blow."
Claudia looked as if she would like to say "Fudge!" but restrained herself and, with the daring characteristic of her, placed her hand on his arm.
"I am so sorry, Mr. Haddington. How it must gall you to see their happiness! I can understand you turning to me as if in self-protection. But you should not ask a lady to marry you because you're piqued with another lady. It isn't kind; it isn't, indeed."
Haddington was a little at loss.
"Indeed, you're wholly wrong. Lady Claudia. Indeed, if you come to that, I don't see that they are particularly rapturous."
"You don't mean you think they're unhappy? Mr. Haddington, I am so grieved!"
"Do you mean to say you don't agree with me?"
"You mustn't ask me. But, oh! I'm so sorry you think so too. Isn't it strange? So suited to one another—she so beautiful, he so clever, and both rich!"
"Miss Bernard is hardly rich, is she?"
"Not as Mr. Lane is, of course. She seems rich to me—forty thousand pounds, I think. Ah, Mr. Haddington, if only you had met her sooner!"
"I shouldn't have had much chance against Lane."
"Why do you say that? If you only knew—"
"I mustn't tell you. How sad that it's too late!"
"Of course. They're engaged!"
"An engagement isn't a marriage. If I thought—"
"But I can't think of that now. Good-by, Claudia. We may not meet again."
"Oh, you won't go away? You mustn't let me drive you away. Oh, please, Mr. Haddington! Think, if you go, it must all come out! I should be so very, very distressed."
"If you ask me, I will try to stay."
"Yes, yes, stay—but forget all this. And never think again of the other—about them, I mean. You will stay?"
"Yes, I will stay," said Haddington.
"Unless it makes you too unhappy to see Eugene's triumph in Kate's love?"
"I don't believe much in that. If that's the only thing—but I must go. I see your brother coming up the hill."
"Yes, go; and I'll never tell that you tried me as—as a second string!"
"That's very unjust!" he protested, but more weakly.
"No, it isn't. I know your heart, and I do pity you."
"Perhaps I shall not ask for pity, Lady Claudia!"
"Oh, you mustn't think of that!"
"It was you who put it in my head."
"Oh, what have I done!"
Haddington smiled, and with a last squeeze of her hand turned and walked away.
Claudia put her handkerchief into her pocket and went to meet her brother.
Haddington returned alone to the house. Although suffering under a natural feeling of annoyance at discovering that he was not foremost in Claudia's heart, as he had led himself to suppose, he was yet keenly alive to the fact that the interview had its consolatory aspect. In the first place, there is a fiction that a lady who respects herself does not fall in love with a man whom she suspects to be in love with somebody else; and Haddington's mind, though of no mean order in some ways, was not of a sort to rise above fictions. He comforted his vanity with the thought that Claudia had, by a conscious effort, checked a nascent affection for him, which, if allowed unimpeded growth, would have developed into a passion. Again, that astute young lady had very accurately conjectured his state of mind, while her pledge of secrecy disposed of the difficulty in the way of a too rapid transfer of his attentions. If Claudia did not complain, nay, counseled such action, who had a right to object? It was true she had eagerly disclaimed any intention of inciting him to try to break the ties that now bound Miss Bernard. But, he reflected, the important point was not the view she took of the morality of such an attempt, on which her authority was nought, but her opinion of its chances of success, which was obviously not wholly unfavorable. He did not trouble himself to inquire closely into any personal motive she may have had. It was enough for him that she, a person likely to be well informed, had allowed him to see that, to her thinking, the relations between the engaged pair were of a character to inspire in the mind of another aspirant hope rather than despair.
Having reached this conclusion, Haddington recognized that his first step must be to put Miss Bernard in touch with the position of affairs. It may seem a delicate matter to hint to your host's fiancee that if she, on mature reflection, likes you better than him, there is still time; but Haddington was not afflicted with delicacy. After all, in such a case a great deal depends upon the lady, and Haddington, though doubtful how Kate would regard a direct proposal to break off her engagement, was yet tolerably confident that she would not betray him to Eugene.
He found her seated on the terrace that was the usual haunt of the ladies in the forenoon and the scene of Eugene's dutiful labors as reader-aloud. Kate was not looking amiable; and scarce six feet from her there lay open on the ground a copy of the Laureate's works.
"I hope I'm not disturbing you, Miss Bernard?"
"Oh, no. You see, I am alone. Mr. Lane was here just now, but he's gone."
"How's that?" asked Haddington, seating himself.
"He got a telegram, read it, flung his book away, and rushed off."
"Did he say what it was about?"
"No; I didn't ask him."
A pause ensued. It was a little difficult to make a start.
"And so you are alone?"
"Yes, as you see."
"I am alone too. Shall we console one another?"
"I don't want consolation, thanks," said Kate, a little ungraciously. "But," she added more kindly, "you know I'm always glad of your company."
"I wish I could think so."
"Why don't you think so?"
"Well, Miss Bernard, engaged people are generally rather indifferent to the rest of the world.
"Even to telegrams?"
"Ah! poor Lane!"
"I don't think Mr. Lane is in much need of pity."
"No—rather of envy."
Kate did not look displeased.
"Still, a man is to be pitied if he does not appreciate—"
"I beg your pardon. I ought not to have said that. But it is hard—there, I am offending you again!"
"Yes, you must not talk like that. It's wrong; it would be wrong even if you meant it."
"Do you think I don't mean it?"
"That would be very discreditable—but not so bad."
"You know I mean it," he said, in a low voice. "God knows I would have said nothing if—"
"I shall offend you more than ever. But how can I stand by and see that?" and Haddington pointed with fine scorn to the neglected book.
Kate was not agitated. She seldom was. In a tone of grave rebuke, she said:
"You must never speak like this again. I thought I saw something of it. ["Good!" thought Haddington.] But whatever may be my lot, I am now bound to it. Pledges are not to be broken."
"Are they not being virtually broken?" he asked, growing bolder as he saw she listened to him.
"You are not angry?"
"I cannot be angry if it is as you say. But please understand I cannot listen. It is not honorable. No—don't say anything else. But you must go away."
Haddington made no further effort to step her. He was well content. When a lady hears you hint that her betrothed is less devoted than you would be in his place, and merely says the giving of such a hint is wrong, it may be taken that her sole objection to it is on the score of morality; and it is to be feared that objections based on this ground are not the most efficacious in checking forward lovers. Perhaps Miss Bernard thought they were. Haddington didn't believe she did.
"Go away?" he said to himself. "Hardly! The play is just beginning. Little Lady Claudia wasn't far out."
It is very possible she was not far out in her estimation of Mr. Haddington's character, as well as in her forecast of his prospects. But the fruits of her shrewdness on this point were happily hid from the gentleman concerned.
Sir Roderick Ayre Inspects Mr. Morewood's Masterpiece.
About a fortnight later than the last recorded incident two men were smoking on the lawn at Millstead Manor. One was Morewood; the other had arrived only the day before and was the Sir Roderick Ayre to whom reference has been made.
"Upon my word, Morewood," said Sir Roderick, as the painter sat down by him, "one can't go anywhere without meeting you!"
"That's since you took to intellectual company," said Morewood, grinning.
"I haven't taken to intellectual company," said Sir Roderick, with languid indignation.
"In the general upheaval, intellectual company has risen in the scale."
"And so has at last come up to your pinnacle?"
"And so has reached me, where I have been for centuries."
"A sort of perpetual dove on Ararat?"
"My dear Morewood, I am told you know everything except the Bible. Why choose your allusions from the one unfamiliar source?"
"And how do you like your new neighbor?"
"What new neighbor?"
"Oh! well, as personified in you it's a not unwholesome astringent. But we may take an overdose."
"Depends on the capacity of the constitution, of course," said Morewood.
"One objectionable quality it has," pursued Sir Roderick, apparently unheedful.
"A disposition toward what boys call 'scoring.' That will, no doubt, be eradicated as it rises more in society. Apropos, what are you doing down here?"
"As an artist, I study your insolence professionally, Ayre, and it doesn't annoy me. I came down here to do nothing. I have stayed to paint Stafford."
"Ah! is Stafford then a professional saint?"
"He's an uncommon fine fellow. You're not fit to black his boots."
"I am not fit to black anybody's boots," responded Sir Roderick. "It's the other way. What's he doing down here?"
"I don't know. Says he's writing a book. Do you know Lady Claudia well?"
"Yes. Known her since she was a child."
"She seems uncommonly appreciative."
"Oh, well! it's her way. It always has been the way of the Territons. They only began, you know, about three hundred years ago, and ever since—"
"Oh, I don't want their history—a lot of scoundrels, no doubt, like all your old families. Only—I say, Ayre, I should like to show you a head of Stafford I've done."
"I won't buy it!" said Sir Roderick, with affected trepidation.
"You be damned!" said Morewood. "But I should like to hear what you think of it."
"What do he and the rest of them think?"
"I haven't shown it to any one."
"Wait till you've seen it."
"I should think Stafford would make rather a good head. He's got just that—"
"Hush! Here he comes!"
As he spoke, Stafford and Claudia came up the drive and emerged on to the lawn. They did not see the others and appeared to be deep in conversation. Stafford was talking vehemently and Claudia listening with a look of amused mutiny on her face.
"He's sworn off, hasn't he?" asked Ayre.
"She doesn't care for him?"
"I don't think so; but a man can't tell."
"Nonsense!" said Ayre. "What's Eugene up to?"
"Oh, you know he's booked."
"Tell you what, Morewood, I'll lay you—"
"No, you won't. Come and see the picture. It's the finest thing—in its way—I ever did."
"Going to exhibit it?"
"I'm going to work up and exhibit another I've done of him, not this one; at least, I'm afraid he won't stand this one."
"Gad! Have you painted him with horns and a tail?"
Whereto Morewood answered only:
"Come and see."
As they went in, they met Eugene, hands in pockets and pipe in mouth, looking immensely bored.
"Dr. Livingstone, I presume?" said he. "Excuse the mode of address, but I've not seen a soul all the morning, and thought I must have dropped down somewhere in Africa. It's monstrous! I ask about ten people to my house, and I never have a soul to speak to!"
"Where's Miss Bernard?" asked Ayre.
"Kate is learning constitutional principles from Haddington in the shrubbery. Lady Claudia is learning sacerdotal principles from Stafford in the shrubbery. My mother is learning equine principles from Bob Territon in the stables. You are learning immoral principles from Morewood on the lawn. I don't complain, but is there anything a man can do?"
"Yes, there's a picture to be seen—Morewood's latest."
"I don't know that I shall show it to Lane."
"Oh, get out!" said Eugene. "I shall summon the servants to my aid. Who's it of?"
"Stafford," said Ayre.
"The Pope in full canonicals?"
"All right, Lane. But you're a friend of his, and you mayn't like it."
They entered the billiard-room, a long building that ran out from the west wing of the house. In the extreme end of it Morewood had extemporized a studio, attracted by the good light.
"Give me a good top-light," he had said, "and I wouldn't change places with an arch-angel!"
"Your lights, top or otherwise, are not such," Eugene remarked, "as to make it likely the berth will be offered you."
"This picture is, I understand, Eugene, a stunner. Give us chairs and some brandy and soda and trot it out," said Ayre.
Morewood was unmoved by their frivolity. He tugged at his ragged red beard for a moment or two while they were settling themselves.
"I'll show you this first," he said, taking up one of the canvases that leant against the wall.
It was a beautiful sketch of a half-length figure, and represented Stafford in the garb of a monk, gazing up with eager eyes, full of the vision of the Eternal City beyond the skies. It was the face of a devotee and a visionary, and yet it was full of strength and resolution; and there was in it the look of a man who had put aside all except the service and the contemplation of the Divine.
Ayre forgot to sneer, and Eugene murmured:
"Glorious! What a subject! And, old fellow, what an artist!"
"That is good," said Morewood quietly. "It's fine, but as a matter of painting the other is still better. I caught him looking like that one morning. He came out before breakfast, very early, into the garden. I was out there, but he didn't see me, and he stood looking up like that for ever so long, his lips just parted and his eyes straining through the veil, as you see that. It may be all nonsense, but—fine, isn't it?"
The two men nodded.
"Now for the other," said Ayre. "By Jove! I feel as if I'd been in church."
"The other I got only three or four days ago. Again I was a Paul Pry,—we have to be, you know, if we're to do anything worth doing,—and I took him while he sat. But I dare say you'd better see it first."
He took another and smaller picture and placed it on the easel, standing for a moment between it and the onlookers and studying it closely. Then he stepped aside in silence.
It was merely a head—nothing more—standing out boldly from a dark background. The face was again Stafford's, but the presentment differed strangely. It was still beautiful; it had even a beauty the other had not, the beauty of youth and passion. The devotee was gone; in his place was a face that, in spite of the ascetic cast of feature, was so lighted up with the fire of love and longing that it might have stood for a Leander or a Romeo. It expressed an eager yearning, that made it seem to be craning out of the picture in the effort to reach that unknown object on which the eyes were fixed with such devouring passion.
The men sat looking at it in amazement. Eugene was half angry, half alarmed. Ayre was closely studying the picture, his old look of cynical amusement struggling with a surprise which it was against his profession to admit. They forgot to praise the picture; but Morewood was well content with their tacit homage.
"The finest thing I ever did—on my life; one of the finest things any one ever did," he murmured; "and I can't show it!"
"No," said Eugene.
Ayre rose and took his stand before the picture. Then he got a chair, choosing the lowest he could find, and sat down, sitting well back. This attitude brought him exactly under the gaze of the eyes.
"Is it your diabolic fancy," he said, "or did you honestly copy it?"
"I never struck closer to what I saw," the painter replied. "It's not my doing; he looked like that."
"Then who was sitting, as it were, where I am now?"
"Yes," said Morewood. "I thought you couldn't miss it."
"Who was it?" asked Eugene, in an excited way.
The others looked keenly at him for a moment.
"You know," said Morewood. "Claudia Territon. She was sitting there reading. He had a book, too, but had laid it down on his knee. She sat reading, and he looking. In a moment I caught the look. Then she put down the book; and as she turned to him to speak, in a second it was gone, and he was not this picture nor the other, but as we know him every day."
"She didn't see?" asked Eugene.
"Thank God!" he cried. Then in a moment, recollecting himself, he looked at the two men, and saw what he had done. They tried to look as if they noticed nothing.
"You must destroy that thing, Morewood," said he.
Morewood's face was a study.
"I would as soon," he said deliberately, "cut off my right hand."
"I'll give you a thousand pounds for it," said Eugene.
"What would you do with it?"
"Then you shouldn't have it for ten thousand."
"I thought you'd say that. But he mustn't see it."
"Why, Lane, you're as bad as a child. It's a man in love, that's all."
"If he saw it," said Eugene, "he'd hang himself."
"Oh, gently!" said Ayre. "If you ask me, I expect Stafford will pretty soon get beyond any surprise at the revelation. He must walk his path, like all of us. It can't matter to you, you know," he added, with a sharp glance.
"No, it can't matter to me," said Eugene steadily.
"Put it away, Morewood, and come out of doors. Perhaps you'd better not leave it about, at present at any rate."
Morewood took down the picture and placed it in a large portfolio, which he locked, and accompanied Ayre. Eugene made no motion to come with them, and they left him sitting there.
"The atmosphere," said Sir Roderick, looking up into the clear summer sky, "is getting thundery and complicated. I hate complications! They're a bore! I think I shall go."
"I shan't. It will be interesting."
"Perhaps you're right. I'll stay a little while."
"Ah! here you are. I've been looking for somebody to amuse me."
The speaker was Claudia, looking very fresh and cool in her soft white dress.
"What have you done with the Pope?" asked Ayre.
"He gave me to understand he had wasted enough time on me, and went in to write."
"I should think he was right," said Sir Roderick.
"I dare say," said Claudia carelessly.
Her conscience was evidently quite at ease; but they did not know whether this meant that her actions had deserved no blame. However, they were neither of them men to judge such a case as hers harshly.
"If I were fifteen years younger," said Ayre, "I would waste all my time on you."
"Why, you're only about forty," said Claudia. "That's not too old."
"Good!" said he, smiling. "Life in the old dog yet, eh? But go in and see Lane. He's in the billiard-room, thinking over his sins and getting low-spirited."
"And I shall be a change?"
"I don't know about that. Perhaps he's a homoeopathist."
"I hate you!" said Claudia, with a very kind glance, as she pursued her way in the direction indicated.
"She means no harm," said Morewood.
"But she may do the devil of a lot. We can't help it, can we?"
"No—not our business if we could," said Morewood.
Claudia paused for a moment at the door. Eugene was still sitting with his head on his hand.
"It's very odd," thought she. "What's he looking at the easel for? There's nothing on it!"
Then she began to sing. Eugene looked up.
"Is it you, Lady Claudia?"
"Yes. Why are you moping here?"
"Everybody," said Claudia impatiently, throwing her hat, and herself after it, on a lounge, "asks me where Father Stafford is. I don't know, Mr. Lane; and what's more, at this moment I don't care. Have you nothing better than that to say to me when I come to look for you?"
Eugene pulled himself together. Tragedy airs would be insufferable.
"True, most beauteous damsel!" he said. "I am remiss. For the purposes of the moment, hang Stafford! What shall we do?"
She got up and came close to him.
"Mr. Lane," she whispered, "what do you think there is in the stable?"
"I know what there isn't: that's a horse fit to ride."
"A libel! a libel! But there is [in a still lower whisper] a sociable."
"Do you mean a tricycle?"
"Oho!" said Eugene, gently chuckling.
"Wouldn't it be fun?"
"On the road?"
"N—no, perhaps not; round the park."
"Hush! S'death! if Kate saw us! Where is she?"
"I saw her last with Mr. Haddington."
"In the scheme of creation everything has its use," replied Eugene tranquilly. "Haddington supplies a felt want."
"Be quiet. But will you?"
"Yes; come along. Be swift and silent."
"I must go and put on an old frock."
"All right; be quick."
"What is the use?" Eugene pondered; "I can't have her, and Stafford may as well—if he will. Will he, I wonder? And would she? Oh, Lord! what a nuisance they are! By Jove! I should like to see Kate's face if she spots us."
A few minutes later the strange and unedifying sight of Lady Claudia Territon and Mr. Lane, mounted on a very rickety old "sociable," presented itself to the gaping gaze of several laborers in the park. Claudia was in her most boisterous spirits; Eugene, by one of the quick transitions of his nature, was hardly less elate. Up-hill they toiled and down-hill they raced, getting, as the manner of "cyclists" is, very warm and rather oily. But retribution lagged not. Down a steep hill they came, round a sharp turn they went, and, alas, over into a ditch they fell. This was bad enough, but in the calm seclusion of a garden seat, perched on a knoll just above them, the sinners, as they rose, dirty but unhurt, beheld Miss Bernard! For a moment all was consternation. What would she say?
It was a curious thing, but Kate seemed as embarrassed as themselves, and she said nothing except:
"Oh, I hope you're not hurt!" and said this in a hasty way and with ostentatious amiability.
Eugene was surprised. But as his eyes wandered, they fell on Haddington, and that rising politician held awkwardly in his hand, and was trying to convey behind his back, what looked very like a lady's glove. Now Miss Bernard had only one glove on.
"The battery is spiked," he whispered triumphantly. "Come along, Lady Claudia."
Claudia hadn't seen what Eugene had, but she obeyed, and off they went again, airily waving their hands.
"What's the matter with her?" she asked.
Eugene was struggling with laughter.
"Didn't you see? Haddington had her glove! Splendid!"
Claudia, regardless of safety, turned for an instant, a flushed, smiling face to him. He was about to speak, but she turned away again, exclaiming:
"Quick! I've promised to meet Father Stafford at twelve, and I mustn't keep him waiting. I wouldn't miss it for the world!"
Eugene was checked; Claudia saw it. What she thought is not revealed, but they returned home in somewhat gloomy silence. And it is a comfort to the narrator, and it is to be hoped to the reader, to think that Mr. Eugene Lane got something besides pleasure out of his discreditable performance and his lamentable want of proper feeling.
How Three Gentlemen Acted for the Best.
The schemers schemed and the waiters upon events waited with considerable patience, but although the days wore on, the situation showed little signs of speedy development. Matters were in fact in a rather puzzling position. The friendship and intimacy between Claudia and Stafford continued to increase. Eugene, whether in penitence or in pique, had turned with renewed zeal to his proper duties, and was no longer content to allow Kate to be monopolized by Haddington. The latter's attentions had indeed been in danger of becoming too marked, and it is, perhaps, not uncharitable to attribute Kate's apparent avoidance of them as much to considerations of expediency as of principle. At the same time, there was no coolness between Eugene and Haddington, and when his guest presented a valid excuse and proposed departure, Eugene met the suggestion with an obviously sincere opposition. Sir Roderick really could not make out what was going on. Now Sir Roderick disliked being puzzled; it conveyed a reflection on his acuteness, and he therefore was a sharer in the perturbation of mind that evidently afflicted some of his companions, in spite of their decorous behavior. But contentment was not wanting in some hearts. Morewood was happy in the pursuit of his art and in arguments with Stafford; and Bob Territon had found refuge in an energetic attempt to organize and train a Manor team to do battle with the village cricket club, headed as it had been for thirty years past by the Rector. Moreover, Stafford himself still seemed tranquil. It would have been difficult for most men to fail to understand their true position in such a case more fully than he, in spite of his usual penetration of vision, had succeeded in doing. But he was now in a strange country, and the landmarks of feeling whereby the experienced traveler on such paths can learn and note, even if he cannot check, his descent, were to Stafford unmeaning and empty of warning. Of course, he knew he liked Claudia's society; he found her talk at once a change, a rest, and a stimulus; he had even become aware that of all the people at the Manor, except his old friend and host, she had for him the most interest and attraction; perhaps he had even suffered at times that sense of vacancy of all the chairs when her chair was vacant that should have told him of his state if anything would. But he did not see; he was blind in this matter, even as, say, Ayre or Morewood would have proved blind if called upon to study and describe the mental process of a religious conversation. He was yet far from realizing that an influence had entered his life in force strong enough to contend with that which had so long ruled him with undivided sway. It was the part of a friend to hope and try that he might go with his own heart yet a secret to him. So hoped Eugene. But Eugene, unnerved by self-suspicion, would not lift a finger to hasten his friend's departure, lest he should seem to himself, or be without perceiving it even himself, alert to save his friend, only because his friend's salvation would be to his own comfort.
Sir Roderick Ayre, however, was not restrained by Eugene's scruples nor inspired by Eugene's devotion to Stafford. Stafford interested him, but he was not his friend, and Ayre did not understand, or, if truth be told, appreciate the almost reverential attitude which Eugene, usually so very devoid of reverence, adopted toward him. Ayre thought Stafford's vow nonsense, and that if he was in love with Claudia Territon there was no harm done.
"Many people have been," he said, "and many will be, before the little witch grows old and—no, by Jove! she'll never grow ugly!"
Trivial as the matter seemed, looked at in this light, it had yet enough of human interest about it to decide him to leave the grouse alone, and wait patiently for the partridges at Millstead. After all, he had shot grouse and most other things for thirty years; and, as he said, "The parson was a change, and the house deuced comfortable, and old Eugene a good fellow."
Now it came to pass one day that the devil, having a spare hour on his hands, and remembering that he had often met with a hospitable reception from Sir Roderick, to say nothing of having a bowing acquaintance with Morewood, looked in at the Manor, and finding his old quarters at Sir Roderick's swept and garnished, incontinently took up his abode there, and proceeded to look round for some suitable occupation. When this momentous but invisible event accomplished itself, Sir Roderick was outwardly engaged in the innocent and aimless pursuit of knocking the billiard balls about and listening absently to a discourse from Morewood on the essential truths which he (Morewood) had grasped and presented alone of modern artists. The theme was not exhilarating, and Sir Roderick's tenant soon grew very tired of it; the presentment of truth, indeed, essential or otherwise, not being a matter that concerned him. But in the course of an inspection of Sir Roderick's consciousness, he had come across something that appeared worth following up, and toward it he proceeded to direct his entertainer's conversation.
"I say, Morewood," said Ayre, breaking in on the discourse, "do you think it's fair to keep that fellow Stafford in the dark?"
"Is he in the dark?"
"It's a queer thing, but he is. I never knew a man who was in love before without knowing it,—they say women are that way,—but then I never met a 'Father' before."
"What do you propose, since you insist on gossiping?"
"It isn't gossip; it's Christian feeling. Some one ought to tell the poor beggar."
"Perhaps you'd like to."
"I should, but it would seem like a liberty, and I never take liberties. You do constantly, so you might as well take this one."
"I like that! Why, the man's a stranger! If he ought to be told at all, Lane's the man to do it."
"Yes, but you see, Lane—"
"That's quite true; I forgot. But isn't he better left alone to get over it?"
Sir Roderick, unprejudiced, might have conceded the point. But the prompter intervened.
"What I'm thinking about is this: is it fair to her? I don't say she's in love with him, but she admires him immensely. They're always together, and—well, it's plain what's likely enough to happen. If it does, what will be said? Who'll believe he did it unconsciously? And if he breaks her heart, how is it better because he did it unconsciously?"
"You are unusually benevolent," said Morewood dryly.
"Hang it! a man has some feelings."
"You're a humbug, Ayre!"
"Never mind what I am. You won't tell him?"
"It would be a very interesting problem."
"That vow of his is all nonsense, ain't it?"
"Why shouldn't he have his chance of being happy in a reasonable way? I shouldn't wonder if she took him."
"No more should I."
"Upon my soul, I believe it's a duty! I say, Morewood, do you think he'd see it for himself from the picture?"
"Of course he would. No one could help it."
"Will you let him see it?"
Morewood took a turn or two up and down, tugging his beard. The issue was doubtful. A certain auditor of the conversation, perceiving this, hastily transferred himself from one interlocutor to the other.
"I'll tell you what I'll do: I'll let him see it if Lane agrees. I'll leave it to Lane."
"Rather rough on Lane, isn't it?"
"A little strong emotion of any kind won't do Lane any harm."
"Perhaps not. We will train our young friend's mind to cope with moral problems. He'll never get on in the world nowadays unless he can do that. It's now part of a gentleman's—still more of a lady's—education."
Eugene was clearly wanted. By some agency, into which it is needless to inquire, though we may have suspicions, at that moment Eugene strolled into the billiard-room.
"We have a little question to submit to you, my dear fellow," said Ayre blandly.
Eugene looked at him suspiciously. He had been a good deal worried the last few days, and had a dim idea that he deserved it, which deprived him of the sense of unmerited suffering—a most valuable consolation in time of trouble.
"It's about Stafford. You remember the head of him Morewood did, and the conclusion we drew from it—or, rather, it forced upon us?"
Eugene nodded, instinctively assuming his most nonchalant air.
"We think he's a bad case. What think you?"
"I agree—at least, I suppose I do. I haven't thought much about it."
Ayre thought the indifference overdone, but he took no notice of it.
"We are inclined to think he ought to be shown that picture. I am clear about it; Morewood doubts. And we are going to refer it to you."
"You'd better leave me out."
"Not at all. You're a friend of his, known him all your life, and you'll know best what will be for his good."
"If you insist on asking me, I think you had better let it alone."
"Wait a minute. Why do you say that?"
"Because it will be a shock to him."
"No doubt, at first. He's got some silly notion in his head about not marrying, and about its being sinful to fall in love, and all, that."
"It won't make him happier to be refused."
Ayre leant forward in his chair, and said: "How do you know she'll refuse him?"
"I don't know. How should I know?"
"Do you think it likely?"
"Is that a fair question?" asked Morewood.
"Perfectly," said Eugene, with an expressionless face. "But it's one I have no means of answering."
"He's plucky," thought Ayre. "Would you give the same answer you gave just now if you thought she'd take him?"
It was certainly hard on Eugene. Was he bound, against even a tolerably strong feeling of his own, to give Stafford every chance? It is not fair to a man to make him a judge where he is in truth a party. Ayre had no mercy for him.
"For the sake of a trumpery pledge is he to throw away his own happiness—and mark you, Lane, perhaps hers?"
Eugene did not wince.
"If there's a chance of success, he ought to be given the opportunity of exercising his own judgment," he said quietly. "It would distress him immensely, but we should have no right to keep it from him. And I suppose there's always a chance of success."
"Go and get the picture, Morewood," said Sir Roderick. Then, when the painter was looking in the portfolio, he said abruptly to Eugene:
"You could say nothing else."
"No. That's why you asked me, I suppose. I hope I'm an interesting subject. You dig pretty deep."
"Serves you right!" said Ayre composedly. "Why were you ever such an ass?"
"God knows!" groaned Eugene.
"He's due here in ten minutes to sit to me. Are you going to stay?"
"No. You be doing something else, and let that thing stand on the easel."
"Pleasant for me, isn't it?" asked Morewood.
"Are you ashamed of yourself for snatching it?"
"Not a bit."
"All right, then; what's the matter? Come along, Eugene. After all, you know you'll like showing it. For an outsider, like yourself, it's really a deuced clever little bit. Perhaps they will make you an Associate if Stafford will let you show it."
Morewood ignored the taunt, and sat down by the window on pretense of touching up a sketch. He had not been there long when he heard Stafford come in, and became conscious that he had caught sight of the picture. He did not look up, and heard no sound. A long pause followed. Then he felt a strong grip on his shoulder, and Stafford whispered:
"It is my face?"
"You see it is."
"You did it?"
"Yes. I ought to beg your pardon," and he looked up. Stafford was pale as death, and trembling.
"A few days ago."
"On your oath—no, you don't believe that—on your honor, is it truth?"
"Yes, it is."
"You saw it—just as it is there?"
"Yes, it is exact. I had no right to take it or to show it you."
"What does that matter, man? Do you think I care about that? But—yes, it is true. God help me!"
"We have seen it, you know. It was time you saw it."
"Where's the harm?" asked Morewood, in a rough effort at comfort.
"The harm? But you don't understand. It is the face of a beast!"
"My dear fellow, that's stuff! It's only the face of a lover."
Stafford looked at him in a dazed way.
"I wish you'd let me go back to my room, Morewood, and give me that picture. No—I won't hurt it."
"Take it, then, and pull yourself together. What's the harm, again I say? And if she loves you—"
"What?" he cried eagerly. Then, checking himself, "Hold your peace, in Heaven's name, and let me go!"
He went his way, and Morewood leaped from the window to find the other two. He found them, but not alone. Ayre was discoursing to Claudia and appeared entirely oblivious of the occurrence which he had precipitated. Eugene was walking up and down with Kate Bernard. It is necessary to listen to what the latter couple were saying.
"This is sad news, Kate," Eugene said. "Why are you going to leave us?"
"My aunt wants me to go with her to Buxton in September, and we're going to have a few days on the river before that."
"Then we shall not meet again for some time?"
"No. Of course I shall write to you."
"Thank you—I hope you will. You've had a pleasant time, I hope? Who are to be your river party?"
"Oh, just ourselves and one or two girls and men. Lord Rickmansworth is to be there a day or two, if he can. And—oh, yes, Mr. Haddington, I think."
"Isn't Haddington staying here?"
"I don't know. I understood not. So your party will break up," Kate went on. "Of course, Claudia can't stay when I go."
"Really, Eugene, it would be hardly the thing."
"I believe my mother is not thinking of going."
"Do you mean you will ask Claudia?"
"I certainly cannot ask her to curtail her visit."
"Anyhow, Father Stafford goes soon, and she won't stay then."
This last shaft accomplished Miss Bernard's presumable object. Eugene lost his temper.
"Forgive me for saying so, Kate," he said, "but really at times your mind seems to me positively vulgar."
"I am not going to quarrel. I am quite aware of what you want."
"An opportunity for quarreling."
"If that's all, I might have found several. But come, Kate, it's no use, and not very dignified, to squabble. We haven't got on so well as we might. But I dare say it's my fault."
"Do you want to throw me over?" asked Kate scornfully.
"For Heaven's sake, don't talk like a breach-of-promise plaintiff! I am and always have been perfectly ready to fulfill my engagement. But you don't make it easy for me. Unless you 'throw me over,' as you are pleased to phrase it, things will remain as they are."
"I have been taught to consider an engagement as binding as a marriage."
"No warrant for such a view in Holy Scripture."
"And whatever my feelings may be—and you can hardly wonder if, after your conduct, they are not what they were—I shall consider myself bound."
"I have never proposed anything else."
"Your conduct with Claudia—"
"I must ask you to leave Lady Claudia alone. If you come to that—but there, I was just going to scratch back like a school-girl. Let us remember our manners, if nothing else."
"And our principles," added Kate haughtily.
"By all means, and forget our deviations from them. And now this conversation may as well end, may it not?"
Kate's only answer was to walk straight away to the house.
Eugene joined Claudia; Ayre, in his absence, had been reinforced by the accession of Bob Territon.
"Kate's going to-morrow," Eugene announced.
"So I heard," said Claudia. "We must go, too—we have been here a terrible time."
"It's all nonsense!" interposed Bob decisively; "we can't go for a week. The match is fixed for next Wednesday."
"But," said Claudia, "I'm not going to play."
"I am," said Bob. "And where do you propose to go to?"
"No, Lady Claudia," said Eugene, "you must see us through the great day. I really wish you would. The whole county's coming, and it will be too much for my mother alone. After the cricket-match, if you still insist, the deluge!"
"I'll ask Mrs. Lane. She'll tell me what to do."
"Good child!" said Sir Roderick. "I am going to stay right away till the birds. And as Lane says I ain't to have any birds unless I field at long-leg, I am going to field at long-leg."
"Splendid!" cried Claudia, clapping her hands; "Sir Roderick Ayre at a rustic cricket-match! Mr. Morewood shall sketch you."
"I've had enough of sketching just now," said Morewood. Ayre and Eugene looked up. Morewood nodded slightly.
"Where's Stafford?" asked Ayre.
"In his room—at work, I suppose. He put off my sitting."
"Never mind Father Stafford," said Claudia decisively. "Who is going to play tennis? I shall play with Sir Roderick."
"I'd much rather sit still in the shade," pleaded Sir Roderick.
"You're a very rude old gentleman! But you must play, all the same—against Bob and Mr. Morewood."
"Where do I come in?" asked Eugene. "Mayn't I do anything, Lady Claudia?"
The others were looking after the net and the racquets, and Claudia was left with him for a moment.
"Yes," she said; "you may go and sit on Kate's trunks till they lock."
"Wait a little while; I will be revenged on you. I want, though, to ask you a question."
"Oh! Is it a question that no one else—say Kate, for instance—could help you with?"
"It's not about myself."
"Is it about me?"
"What's the matter, Mr. Lane? Is it anything serious?"
"Nonsense!" said Claudia. "You really mustn't do it, Mr. Lane, or I can't stay for the cricket-match."
"We shall be desolate. Stafford's going in a few days."
But Claudia's face was entirely guileless as she replied:
"Is he? I'm so sorry! But he's looking much stronger, isn't he?"
With which she departed to join Sir Roderick, who had been spending the interval in extracting from Morewood an account of Stafford's behavior.
"Hard hit, was he?" he concluded.
"He looked it."
"Wonder what he'll do! I'll give you five to four he asks her."
"Done!" said Morewood; "in fives."
Father Stafford Keeps Vigil.
Dinner that evening at the Manor was not a very brilliant affair. Stafford did not appear, pleading that it was a Friday, and a strict fast for him. Kate was distinctly out of temper, and treated the company in general, and Eugene in particular, with frigidity. Everybody felt that the situation was somewhat strained, and in consequence the pleasant flow of personal talk that marks parties of friends was dried up at its source. The discussion of general topics was found to be a relief.
"The utter uselessness of such a class as Ayre represents," said Morewood emphatically, taking up a conversation that had started no one quite knew how, "must strike every sensible man."
"At least they buy pictures," said Eugene.
"On the contrary, they now sell old masters, and empty the pockets of would-be buyers."
"They are very ornamental," remarked Claudia.
"In some cases, undoubtedly," said Morewood.
"If you mean a titled class," said Ayre, "I quite agree. I object to titles. They only confuse ranks. A sweep is made a lord, and outsiders think he's a gentlemen."
"Come, you're a baronet yourself, you know," said Eugene.
"It's true," admitted Ayre, with a sigh; "but it happened a long while ago, and we've nearly lived it down."
"Take care they don't make you a peer!"
"I have passed a busy life in avoiding it. After all, there's a chance. I'm not a brewer or a lawyer, or anything of that kind. But still, the fear of it has paralyzed my energies and compelled me to squander my fortune. They don't make poor men peers."
"That ought to have been allowed to weigh in the balance in favor of Dives," suggested Eugene.
"Not a bit," said Ayre. "Depend upon it, they kept it for him down below."
"I hate cynicism!" said Claudia, suddenly and aggressively.
Ayre put up his eyeglass.
"It's all affectation."
"Really, Lady Claudia, you might be quite old, from the way you talk. That is one of the illusions of age, which, by the way, have not received enough attention."
"That's very true," said Eugene. "Old people think the world better than it is because their faculties don't enable them to make such demands upon it."
"My dear Eugene," said Mrs. Lane pertinently, "what can you know about it? As we grow old we grow charitable."
"And why is that?" asked Morewood; "not because you think better of other people, but because you know more of yourself."
"That is so," said Ayre. "Standing midway between youth and age, I am an arbiter. You judge others by yourself. In youth you have an unduly good opinion of yourself, that unduly depresses your opinion of others. In age it's the opposite way. But who knows which is more wrong?"
"At least let us hope age is right, Sir Roderick," said Mrs. Lane.
"By all means," said he.
"All this doesn't touch my point," said Claudia. "You are accounting for it as if it existed. My point was that it didn't exist. I said it was all affectation."
"And not the only sort of affectation of the same kind!" said Kate Bernard, with remarkable emphasis.
Sir Roderick enjoyed a troubled sea. Turning to Kate, with a rapid side glance at Claudia on the way, he said:
"That's interesting. How do you mean, Miss Bernard?"
"All attempts to put one's self forward, to be peculiar, and so on, are the same kind of affectation, and are odious—especially in women."
There was nothing very much in the words, and Kate was careful to look straight in front of her as she uttered them. Still they told.
"You mean," said Ayre, "there may be an affectation of freshness and enthusiasm—gush, in fact—as bad, or worse, than cynicism, and really springing from the same root?"
Kate had not arrived at any such definite meaning, but she nodded her head.
"An assumed sprightliness," continued Ayre cheerfully, "perhaps coquettishness?"
"Exactly," Kate assented, "and a way of pushing into conversations which my mother used to say girls had better let alone."
This was tolerably direct, but it did not satisfy Ayre's malicious humor, and he was on the point of a new question when Haddington, who had taken no part in the previous conversation, but had his reasons for interfering now, put in suavely:
"If Miss Bernard and you, Ayre, will forgive me, are we not wandering from the point?"
"Was there any point to wander from?" suggested Eugene.
So they drifted through the evening, skirting the coast of quarrels and talking of everything except that of which they were thinking. Verily, love affairs do not always conduce to social enjoyment—more especially other people's love affairs. Still, Sir Roderick Ayre was entertained.
Meanwhile, Stafford sat in his room alone, save for the company of his own picture. He was like a man who has been groping his way through difficult paths in the dark—uneasy, it may be, and nervous, but with no serious alarm. On a sudden, a storm-flash may reveal to him that he is on the very edge of a precipice or already ankle-deep in some bottomless morass. The sight of his own face, interpreted with all Morewood's penetrating insight and mastery of hand, had been a revelation to him. No more mercilessly candid messenger could have been found. Arguments he would have resisted or confuted; appeals to his own consciousness would have failed for want of experience; he could not affect to disbelieve the verdict of his own countenance. He had in all his life been a man who dealt plainly with himself; it was only in this last matter that the power, more than the will, to understand his own heart had failed him. His intellect now reasserted itself. He did not attempt to blink facts; he did not deny the truth of the revelation or seek to extenuate its force. He did not tell himself that the matter was a trifle, or that its effect would be transient. He recognized that he had fallen from the state of a priest vowed to Heaven, to that of a man whose whole heart and mind had gone out in love for a woman and were filled with her image. His judgment of himself was utterly reversed, his pre-suppositions confounded, his scheme of life wrecked; all this he knew for truth, unless indeed it might be that victory could still be his—victory after a struggle even to death; a struggle that had found no type or forecast in the mimic contests that had marked, almost without disturbing, his earlier progress on the road of his choice.
In the long hours that he sat gazing at the picture his mind was the scene of changing moods. At first the sense of horror and shame was paramount. He was aghast at himself and too full of self-abhorrence to do more than fight blindly away from what he could not but see. He would fain have lost his senses if only to buy the boon of ignorance. Then this mood passed. The long habit of his heart asserted itself, and he fell on his knees, no longer in horror, but in abasement and penitence. Now all his thought was for the sin he had done to Heaven and to his vow; but had he not learnt and taught, and re-learnt in teaching, that there was no sin without pardon, if pardon were sought? And for a moment, not peace, but the far-off possible hope and prospect of peace regained comforted his spirit. It might be yet that he would come through the dark valley, and gaze with his old eyes on the light of his life set in the sky.
But was his sin only against Heaven and his vow and himself? Is sin so confined? If Morewood had seen, had not others? Had not she seen? Would not the discovery he had made come to her also? Nay, had it not come? He had been blind; but had she? Was it not far more likely that she had not deceived herself as to the tendency of their friendship, nor dreamt that he meant anything except what his acts, words, and looks had so plainly—yes, to his own eyes now, so plainly declared? He looked back on her graciousness, her delight in his society, her unconcealed admiration for him. What meaning had these but one? What did she know of his vow? Why should she dream of anything save the happy ending of the story that flits before the half-averted eyes of a girl when she is with her lover? Even if she had heard of his vow, would they not all tell her it was a conceit of youth, a spiritual affectation, a thing that a wise counselor would tell him and her quietly to set aside? Did it not all point to this? He was not only a perjurer toward Heaven, but his sin had brought woe and pain to her he loved.
So he groaned in renewed self-condemnation. But what did that mean? And then an irresistible tide of triumph swept over him, obliterating shame and horror and remorse. She loved him. He had won. Be it good or evil, she was his! Who forbade his joy? Though all the world, aye, and all Heaven, were against him, nothing should stop him. Should he sin for naught? Should he not have the price of his soul? Should he not enjoy what he had bought so dearly? Enough of talking, and enough of reasoning! Passion filled him, and he knew no good nor evil save its satiety or hunger.
The mad mood passed, and there came a worthier mind. He sat and looked along the avenue of his life. He saw himself walking hand in hand with her. Now she was not the instrument of his pleasure, but the helper in his good deeds. By her sweet influence he was stronger to do well; his broader sympathies and fuller life made a servant more valuable to his Master; he would serve Heaven as well and man better, and, knowing the common joys of man, he would better minister to common pains. Who was he that he should claim to lead a life apart, or arrogate to himself an immunity and an independence other men had not? Man and woman created He them, and did it not make for good? And he sank back in his chair, with the picture of a life before him, blessed and giving blessings, and ending at last in an old age, when she would still be with him, when he should be the head and inspiration of a house wherein God's service was done, when he should see his son's sons following in his steps, and so, having borne his part, fall asleep, to wake again to an union wherein were no stain of earth and no shadow of parting.
From these musings he awoke with a shudder, as there came back to him many a memory of lofty pitying words, with which he had gently drawn aside the cloak of seemliness wherein some sinner had sought to wrap his sin. His dream of the perfect joint-life, what was it but a sham tribute to decency, a threadbare garment for the hideousness of naked passion? Had he taught himself to contemplate such a life, and shaped himself for it, it might be a worthy life—not the highest, but good for men who were not made for saints. But as it was, it seemed to him but a glazing over of his crime. Sternly there stood between him and it his profession and his pledge. If he would forsake the one and violate the other, by Heaven, he would do it boldly, and not seek to slink out by such self-cozening. At least he would not deceive himself again. If he sinned, he would sin openly to his own heart. There should be no compact: nothing but defeat or victory! And yet, was he right? It would be pitiful if for pride's sake, if for fear of the sneers of men, he were to kill her joy and defile his own soul with her heart's blood. People would laugh at the converted celibate—was it that he feared? Had he fallen so low as that? or was the shrinking he felt not rather the dread that his fall would be a stone of stumbling to others? for in his infatuation he had assumed to be an example. Was there no distinguishing good and evil? Could every motive and every act change form and color as you looked at it, and be now the counsel of Heaven, and now the prompting of Satan? How, then, could a man choose his path? In his bewilderment the darkness closed round him, and he groaned aloud.
It was late now, nearly midnight, and the house was quiet. Stafford walked to the open window and leant out, bending his tired head upon his hand. As he looked out he saw through the darkness Eugene and Ayre still sitting on the terrace. Ayre was talking.
"Yes," he was saying, "we are taught to think ourselves of a mighty deal of importance. How we fare and what we do is set before us as a thing about which angels rejoice or mourn. The state of our little minds, or souls, or whatever it is, is a matter of deep care to the Creator—the Life of the universe. How can it be? How are we more than minutest points in that picture in his mind, which is the world? I speak in human metaphor, as one must speak. In truth, we are at once a fraction, a tiny fraction—oh! what a tiny fraction—of the picture, and the like little jot of what it exists for. And does what comes to us matter very much—whether we walk a little more or a little less cleanly—aim a little higher or lower, if there is a higher and lower? What matter? Ah, Eugene, our parents and our pastors teach us vanity! To me it seems pitiful. Let us take our little sunshine, doing as little harm and giving as little pain as we may, living as long as we can, and doing our little bit of useful work for the ground when we are dead, if we did none for the world when we were living. If you cremate, you will deprive many people of their only utility."