BY GEORGE MOORE
When Henry Vizetelly, that admirable scholar, historian, and journalist, was sent to prison for publishing Zola's novels mine were taken over by Walter Scott, and all were reprinted except "Spring Days." This book was omitted from the list of my acknowledged works, for public and private criticism had shown it no mercy; and I had lost faith in it. All the welcome it had gotten were a few contemptuous paragraphs scattered through the Press, and an insolent article in The Academy, which I did not see, but of which I was notified by a friend in the Strand at the corner of Wellington Street.
"Was the article a long one?"
"No, I don't think they thought your book worth slashing. All I can tell you is that if any book of mine had been spoken of in that way I should never write another."
I left my friend, hoping that the number of The Academy would not fall into the hands of the editor of the great London review, to whom I had dedicated the book after a night spent listening to him quoting from the classics, Greek, English, and Latin. "A very poor testimony, one which he won't thank me for," I muttered, and stopped before St. Clement Danes to think what kind of letter he would write to me. But he did not even acknowledge through his secretary the copy I sent to him, and I accepted the rebuff without resentment, arguing that the fault was mine. "The proofs should have been submitted to him, but the printers were calling for them! There's no going back; the mischief is done," and I waited, putting my trust in time, which blots out all unfortunate things, "even dedications," I said.
Three months later, on opening my door one day, I found him standing with a common friend on the landing. I remember wondering what his reason was for bringing the friend, whether he had come as a sort of chaperon or witness. He left us after a few minutes, and I sat watching the great man of my imagination, asking myself if he were going to speak of "Spring Days," hoping that he would avoid the painful subject. The plot and the characters of my new book might please him. If he would only allow me to speak about it he might be persuaded to accept a second dedication as some atonement for the first.
"You were kind enough to dedicate your novel—-"
"Yes, 'Spring Days.' I know that you wished to pay me a compliment, and if I didn't write before it was because——"
"Was it so very bad?"
A butty little man raised Oriental eyes and square hands in protest.
"You have written other books," he said, and proposed that we should go out together and walk in the Strand.
"Yes, 'The Confessions of a Young Man' was much liked here and in France. Will you let me give it to you?" We stopped at a book shop. "It will please you and help you to forget 'Spring Days.'" He smiled. "Never mention that book again," I added. "I wonder how I could have written it."
We were in a hansom; he turned his head and looked at me without attempting to answer my question; and from that day till six months ago my impulse was to destroy every copy that came my way. A copy of "Spring Days" excited in me an uncontrollable desire of theft, and whenever I caught sight of one in a friend's house I put it in my pocket without giving a thought to the inconvenience that the larceny might cause; the Thames received it, and I returned home congratulating myself that there was one copy less in the world of "Spring Days."
When the Boer War drove me out of London I said: "Dublin doesn't contain a copy of that book;" and for nearly eight years I was left in peace, only Edward Martyn teasing me, saying that one of these days he must read the book.
"R—— always says, 'I like "Spring Days".'"
"Insolent little ass," I answered, "I'll cut him dead when we meet again."
But Edward was not joking as I thought he was, and some time afterwards he told me that after a good deal of advertising he had succeeded in obtaining a copy of "Spring Days." The moment he left the room I searched the table and bookcase for it, but he kept it at Tillyra, else it would have gone into the Liffey, which receives all things.
"My dear George, I like the book better than any of your novels," he said one day on his return from Galway. "It is the most original, it is like no other novel, and that is why people didn't understand it."
Of course it was impossible to quarrel with dear Edward, but I wondered if I ever should find pleasure in speaking to him again; and when A. E. told me a few weeks later that he had come upon a novel of mine which he had never read before—"Spring Days," I said.
"Edward gave it to you?"
"No," he answered, "I haven't seen him for many months."
"The worst book I ever wrote." A. E. did not answer. "What do you think of it?" To my surprise I found him of the same opinion as Edward.
"My dear A. E., you know how I rely on your judgment. For twenty-five years I have refused to allow this book to be reprinted. Shall I relent?"
A. E. did not seem to think the book unworthy of me, and pressed me to read it.
"I'll lend you my copy."
I received it next day, but returned it to him unread, my courage having failed me at the last moment.
A few months later I met Richard Best, one of the librarians at the National Library. He had just returned from his holidays; he had been spending them in Wales for the sake of the language.
"By the way," he said, "I came across an old novel of yours—'Spring Days.'"
"You didn't like it?"
"On the contrary, I liked it as well, if not better, than any novel you have written. It is so entirely original. My wife... I think you value her opinion—"
"She liked it?"
"Come home with me, and she'll tell you how it struck her."
"I will, on one condition, that you don't mention that you spoke to me about the book."
Best promised, and we had not been many minutes in the house before Mrs. Best interrupted my remarks about the weather to tell me what she thought of "Spring Days."
"The matter is important. Sooner or later I shall have to think about a collected edition. Is it to be included?"
Mrs. Best, like A. E., offered to lend me her copy, but I could not bring myself to accept it, and escaped from the book till I came to live in London. Then Fate thrust it into my hands, the means employed being a woman to whom I had written for "Impressions and Opinions." She had lost her copy; there was, however, an old book of mine which she had never heard me speak of—"Spring Days"—and which, etc., she was sending me the book.
"Omens are omens," I muttered, "and there's no use kicking against the pricks eternally;" and cutting the string of the parcel I sat down to read a novel which I had kept so resolutely out of my mind for twenty- five years, that all I remembered of its story and characters was an old gentleman who lived in a suburb, and whose daughters were a great source of trouble to him. I met the style of the narrative as I might that of an original writer whose works I was unacquainted with. There was a zest in it, and I read on and on; I must have read for nearly two hours, which is a long read for me, laying the book aside from time to time, so that I might reflect at my ease on the tenacity with which it had clung to existence. Every effort had been made to drown it; again and again it had been flung into the river, literally and metaphorically, but it had managed to swim ashore like a cat. It would seem that some books have nine hundred and ninety and nine lives, and God knows how long my meditation might have lasted if the front door bell had not rung.
"Are you at home, sir, to Mr.—?"
There is time for one word more, dear reader, and whilst my visitor lays his hat and coat on the table in the passage I will beseech you not to look forward to a sentimental story; "Spring Days" is as free from sentiment or morals as Daphnis and Chloe.
"Miss, I'll have his blood; I will, miss, I will."
"For goodness' sake, cook, go back to your kitchen; put that dreadful pair of boots under your apron."
"No, miss; I'll be revenged. He has insulted me."
"You can't be revenged now, cook; you see he has shut himself in; you had better go back to your kitchen."
The groom, who was washing the carriage, stood, mop in hand, grinning, appreciating the discomfiture of the coachman, who was paying the penalty of his joke.
"Cook, if you don't go back to your kitchen instantly, I'll give you notice. It is shameful—think what a scandal you are making in the stable-yard. Go back to your kitchen—I order you. It is half-past six, go and attend to your master's dinner."
"He has insulted me, he has insulted me. I'll have your blood!" she cried, battering at the door. The rattling of chains was heard as the horses turned their heads.
"Put those boots under your apron, cook; go back to your kitchen, do as I tell you."
The woman retreated, Maggie following. At intervals there were stoppages, and cook re-stated her desire to have the coachman's blood. Maggie did not attempt to argue with her, but sternly repeated her order to go back to her kitchen, and to conceal the old boots under her apron.
"What business had he to rummage in my box, interfering with my things; he put them all along the kitchen table; he did it because I told you, miss, that he was carrying on with the kitchenmaid. He goes with her every evening into the wood shed, and a married man, too! I wouldn't be his poor wife."
"Go back to your kitchen, cook; do as I tell you."
With muttered threats cook entered the house, and commanded the kitchenmaid to interfere no more with the oven, but to attend to her saucepans.
"What a violent woman," thought Maggie, "horrid woman. I am sure she's Irish. I'll get rid of her as soon as I can. The place is filthy, but I daren't speak to her now. She's stirring the saucepan with her finger."
At that moment quick steps were heard coming down the corridor, and Sally entered.
"Cook, cook, I want you to put back the dinner half an hour. I have to go down the town."
"O Sally, I beg of you, what will father say?"
"Father isn't everybody. I daresay the train will be a little late; it often is. He won't know anything about it, that is if you don't tell him."
"What do you want to go down the town for?"
"Never you mind. I don't ask you what you do."
"You want to go down the slonk," whispered Maggie.
The cook stopped stirring the saucepan, and the kitchenmaid stood listening greedily.
"Nothing of the kind," Sally answered defiantly. "You're always trying to get up something against me. Cook, will you keep back the dinner twenty minutes?"
"Cook, I forbid you. I'm mistress here."
"How dare you insult me before the servants! Grace is mistress here, if it comes to that."
"Grace has given me over the housekeeping. I am mistress when she is too unwell to attend to it."
"Nothing of the sort. Grace is the eldest, I would give way to her, but I'm not going to give way to you. Cook, the dinner won't be ready for another half hour, will it?"
"I don't know when the dinner will be ready, and I don't care."
"It is a quarter to seven now, dinner won't be ready before seven, will it, cook? Keep it back a bit. Now I must be off."
And, as Maggie expected, Sally ran past the glass houses and the pear and apple trees, for there was at the end of the vegetable garden a door in the brick wall that enclosed the manor house. It was used by the gardeners, and it communicated with a path leading through some corn and grass land to the high road. There were five acres of land attached to the manor house, tennis lawn, shady walks, flower garden, kitchen garden, stables, and coach house at the back, and all this spoke in somewhat glaring fashion the wealth and ease of a rich city merchant.
"There she goes," thought Maggie, flaunting her head. "What a fool she is to bully father instead of humouring him. We shall never hear the end of this. His dinner put back so that she may continue her flirtation with Meason! I shall have to tell the truth. Why should I tell a lie?"
"Please, miss," said the butler as Maggie passed through the baize door, "I think it right to tell you about cook. We find it very hard to put up with her in the servants' hall. She is a very violent- tempered woman; nor can I say much for her in other respects. Last week she sold twenty pounds of dripping, and it wasn't all dripping, miss, it was for the most part butter."
"John, I really can't listen to any more stories about cook. Has the quarter-to-seven come in yet?"
"I haven't seen it pass, miss, but I saw Mr. Willy coming up the drive a minute ago."
Willy entered, and she turned to him and said: "Where have you been to, Willy?"
"Brighton. Has father come in yet?"
"No. You came by the tramcar?"
With shoulders set well back and toes turned out, Willy came along the passage. His manner was full of deliberation, and he carried a small brown paper parcel under his arm as if it were a sword of state. Maggie followed him up the steep and vulgarly carpeted staircase that branched into the various passages forming the upper part of the house. Willy's room was precise and grave, and there everything was held under lock and key. He put the brown paper parcel on the table; he took off his coat and laid it on the bed, heaving, at the same time, a sigh.
"Did you notice if the quarter-to-seven has been signalled?"
"Yes, but don't keep on worrying; the train is coming along the embankment."
"Then there will be a row to-night."
"Sally told cook to keep the dinner back; she has gone down the slonk to speak to Meason."
"Why didn't you tell cook that she must take her orders from you and no one else?"
"So I did, but Sally said I was no more mistress here than she was. I said Grace had given me charge of the house, when she could not attend to it; but Sally will listen to no one, she'll drive father out of his mind. There's no one he hates like the Measons."
"What is the matter with Grace? Where is she?"
"She's in her room, lying on the bed crying. She says she wants to die; she says that she doesn't care what becomes of her. She'll never care for another man, and father will not give his consent. What's- his-name has nothing—only a small allowance; he'll never have any more, he isn't a working man. I know father, he'll never hear of any one who is not a working man. I wish you'd speak to her."
"I've quite enough to do with my own affairs; I've had bad luck enough as it is, without running into new difficulties of my own accord."
"If she refuses Berkins, father'll never get over it. I wish you would speak to her."
"No, don't ask me. I never meddle in other people's affairs. I've had trouble enough. Now I want to dress."
When Maggie went downstairs, she found her father in the drawing-room.
"The train was a little late to-night. Has Willy come back from Brighton?"
"I've been looking over his accounts and I find he has lost nearly two thousand pounds in Bond Street, and I don't think he is doing any good with that agency in Brighton. I never approved of one or the other. I approve of nothing but legitimate city business. Shops in the West End! mere gambling. Where is Grace?"
"She's in her room."
"In her room? I suppose she hasn't left it all day? This is very terrible. I don't know what to do with you. Since your poor mother died my life has been nothing but trouble and vexation. I can't manage you, you are too strong for me. So she hasn't left her room; crying her eyes out, because I won't consent to her marrying a penniless young officer! But I will not squander my money. I made it all myself, by my own industry, and I refuse to keep young fellows in idleness."
"I don't give you any trouble, father."
"You are the best, Maggie, but you encourage your sister Sally. I hear that you, too, were seen walking with young Meason."
"It is not true, I assure you, father. I met him as I was going to the post-office. I said, 'How do you do?' and I passed on."
"Where is Sally?"
"She went out a few minutes ago."
"Didn't she know the time? She ought to be dressing for dinner. Do you know where she's gone?"
"I think she went down the slonk."
His children had inherited his straight, sharp features and his small, black, vivid eyes. Their hair was of various hues of black. Maggie's was raven black and glossy; Sally's was coarse and of a hue like black-lead; Grace's was abundant and relieved with sooty shades; Willy's hair was brown. He was the fair one of the family, and his hair was always closely cut in military fashion, and he wore a long flowing military moustache with a tinge of red in it. His father and he were built on the same lines—long, spare bodies, short necks and legs, and short, spare arms, and if the father's white hair were dyed the years that separated him from his son would disappear, for although the son had only just turned thirty, he was middle-aged in face and feeling.
Sally and Grace were both thickly built, the latter a little inclined to fat. Maggie was thin and elegantly angular, and often stood in picturesque attitudes; she stood in one now, with her hands linked behind her back, and she watched her father, and her look was subtle and insinuating.
"When I came here," he said, speaking rapidly, and as if he were speaking to himself, "the place was well enough; there was nothing but those wretched cottages facing the sea, the green, and a few cottages about it; but since those villas have been put up, Southwick has become unbearable. All my troubles," he murmured, "originated in the Southdown Road."
Maggie turned aside, smiled, and bit her lip; she did not speak, however, for she knew her father did not care to be interrupted in his musings.
"A hateful place—glass porticoes, and oleographs on the walls." Here Mr. Brookes stopped in his walk to admire one of his favourite Friths. "Those ridiculous haberdashers, with a bas-relief of the founder of their house over the doorway. The proprietors of the baths, the Measons, poor as church mice, the son a mate of a merchant vessel— these are not proper associates for my daughters. I will not know them; I will not have them in my house."
"The Measons are quite as good as we are, father. They may be poor, but as far as family goes—"
"You are just the same as the others, Maggie; once there is a young man to flirt with, you don't care what he is or where he comes from. When there are no young men, you will snub the old ladies fast enough; and as for Sally, she is downright rude. I didn't want to see the haberdashers, but while they were in my house I was polite to them."
"It was the Horlocks who told them to call."
"I know it was. If Mrs. Horlock likes to know these people, let her know them; but what does she want to force them upon us for? That's what I want to know. We might never have known any one in the Southdown Road; I mean we never should, we never could have known any one in the Southdown Road if Mrs. Horlock hadn't come to live there. We had to call upon her."
"Every Viceroy in India called upon her. She was the only woman whom every Viceroy did call upon."
"I know she was. Of course we had to call upon her. Most interesting woman; the General is very nice, too. I like them exceedingly. I often go to see them, although the smell of that mastiff is more than I can bear in the hot weather, especially if lilies or strong smelling flowers are in the room."
"She feeds the mice, she won't let them be destroyed, she lets the traps down at night."
"Don't let us go into the animal question. The constant smell of dogs is unpleasant, but I could put up with it—what I can't stand are her acquaintances in the Southdown Road, and when I think that we should not have known any of them if it hadn't been for her! Indirectly—I do not say directly—she is the cause of all my difficulties. It was at her house Sally met young Meason; it was at her house Grace met that young officer for whom she is crying her eyes out; and it was at her house—yes, I hadn't thought of it before—it was at her house that Willy met that swindler who induced him to put two thousand pounds into the Bond Street shop. The Southdown Road might have remained here for the next five hundred years, and we should have known nothing of it had it not been for Mrs. Horlock; if she likes to know these people let her know them, but why force them upon us? It was only the other day she was talking to me about calling on some new friends of hers who have come to live there. I dare say it is the custom to call on every one at Calcutta, but I say that Calcutta etiquette is not Southwick etiquette, and I don't care how many Viceroys called upon her, I will not know the Southdown Road."
The enunciation of this last sentence was deliberate and impassioned. Mr. Brookes walked twice across the room; then he stood, his hands crossed behind his back, looking at his admired Goodall. His anger melted, and he mused on the price he had paid, and the price he thought it was now worth. Fearing he would return to the Southdown Road trouble, Maggie said: "I am afraid we shall be obliged to get rid of the new cook. She is Irish. Just before you came in I found her in the stable-yard threatening to break Holt's head with a pair of dreadful old boots."
"I don't want to hear about the cook. The money you spend in housekeeping is enormous. Since your poor mother died I haven't had a day's peace. If it isn't one thing it is another. You are fit for nothing but pleasure and flirtation; there isn't a young man in the place or within ten miles you haven't flirted with. I am often ashamed to look them in the face at the station. It is past seven; why isn't dinner ready?"
"Sally told the cook to put the dinner back half an hour."
"Sally told the cook to put my dinner back half an hour!"
Mr. Brookes's face grew livid. The end of all things was at hand; his dinner had been put back half an hour! This was a climax in the affairs of his life, which for the moment he failed to grasp or estimate. Was a father ever cursed with such daughters as his? He had been in the City all day working for them; he did not marry because he wished to leave them his money, and this was the return they made to him. His dinner had been put back half an hour! Passion sustained him for a while; but he gave way, and, pulling out a silk handkerchief, he sank into a chair.
"Don't cry, father, don't cry. Sally is thoughtless; she didn't mean it."
Mr. Brookes wept for a few minutes; Maggie strove to soothe him; he waved her away, he wiped his eyes and in a voice broken with anguish, "Ah, well," he said, "I suppose it will be all the same a hundred years hence." In moments of extreme trouble he sought refuge in such philosophy, but now it seemed inadequate and superficial, and Maggie had begun to fear the violence of the storm she had brewed. She did not mind stimulating ill-feeling, but she did not wish Sally to provoke her father recklessly.
The possibility of his marrying again and having a second family was the one restraining influence Mr. Brookes still retained over his daughters, so Maggie, who was always keenly alive to the remotest consequences of her actions, took care that his home never became quite unbearable to him; and when Sally entered the room, dark and brilliant in red velvet, and in no way disposed to admit she had been guilty of heinous wrong in countermanding the dinner, Maggie attempted a gentle pouring of oil on the waters. But waving aside her sister's gentle interposition, she said: "You mustn't think of yourself only, father. I admit I told the cook to put back the dinner a few minutes. What then?"
"You did it that you might finish your conversation with young Meason," said Mr. Brookes, but his words were weak, it being doubtful if even Meason could add to the original offence, so culminating and final did it seem to him.
"Maggie didn't tell you that last week she met him on the sea road, and walked with him into Portslade."
"Father, father, I beg of you, now, don't cry; think of the servants."
And it was in such unity of mind and feeling that this family sat down to dinner in the great dining-room, rich with all comforts and adorned with pictures by Frith and Goodall. Sally, who unfortunately knew no fear, talked defiantly; she addressed herself principally to her brother, and she questioned him persistently, although the replies she received were generally monosyllabic. As he chewed his meat with reflection and precaution, broke his bread with deliberate and well- defined movements, and filled his mouth with carefully chosen pieces, he gradually ventured to decide that he would not speak to his father that evening of the scheme he had been hatching for some months. It was one of his strictest rules not to think while eating, so it may be said that it was against his will that he arrived at this conclusion. Willy suffered from indigestion, and he knew that any exercise of the brain was most prejudicial at meal times.
After dinner Mr. Brookes and his son retired to the billiard-room to smoke.
"Your sisters are a great trouble to me—a very great anxiety. Since your poor mother died I've had no peace, none whatever. Poor Julia, she's gone; I shall never see her again."
Willy made no answer. He was debating; he was still uncertain whether the present time could be considered a favourable one to introduce his scheme to his father's notice, and he had made up his mind that it was, when he was interrupted by Mr. Brookes, who had again lapsed into one of his semi-soliloquies.
"Your sisters give me a great deal of trouble, a very great deal of anxiety. I am all alone. I have no one to help me since the death of your poor mother."
"My sisters are fitted for nothing but pleasure," Willy replied severely.
Mr. Brookes went to London every day by the five minutes to ten; Willy walked into Brighton. There he had been for some time striving to found an agency for artificial manures, and in the twilight of a small office he brooded over the different means of making money that were open to him. The young ladies worked or played as it struck their fancy. Sally admitted that she infinitely preferred walking round the garden with a young man to doing wool-work in the drawing-room. Maggie shared this taste, although she did not make bold profession of it. Grace was the gentlest of the sisters, and had passed unnoticed until she had fallen in love with a penniless officer, and tortured her father with tears and haggard cheeks because he refused to supply her with money to keep a husband. The doctor had ordered her iron; she had been sent to London for a change, but neither remedy was of much avail, and when she returned home pale and melancholy she had not taken the keys from Maggie, but had allowed her to usurp her place inthe house. Sally was supposed to look after the conservatories, but beyond her own special flowers she left everything to the gardeners.
On Sundays Mr. Brookes walked through the long drawing-rooms aimlessly. Sometimes he would stop before one of his pictures. "There, that's a good picture, I paid a lot of money for it, I paid too much, mustn't do so again." Passing his daughters, sometimes without speaking, he then stopped before one of the big chimney-pieces, and, pulling out his large silk pocket handkerchief, dusted the massive clocks and candlesticks.
In the billiard-room, at a table drawn up close to the coke fire, Willy slowly and with much care made pencil notes, which he slowly and with great solemnity copied into his diary.
"Your sisters are a great source of trouble to me, a source of deep anxiety," said Mr. Brookes, and he flicked the rearing legs of a bronze horse with his handkerchief.
"My sisters are only fit for pleasure," said Willy and he finished the tail of the y, passed the blotting paper over, and prepared to begin a fresh paragraph.
"I am afraid Grace is scarcely any better; she will not leave her room. I hear she is crying. It is too ridiculous, too ridiculous. What she can see in that man I can't think; he is only a man of pleasure. I've told her so, but somehow she can't get to see why I will not settle money upon her—money that I made myself, by hard work, judicious investments."
"That's a smack at the shop," thought Willy, as he placed his full stop.
"I'll not settle my money upon her," said Mr. Brookes, as he resumed his dusting; "and for what? to keep an idle fellow in idleness. No, I'll not do it. She'll get over it—ah, it will be all the same a hundred years hence. But tell me, have you noticed—no, you notice nothing—"
"Yes, I do; what do you want me to say, that she is looking very ill? I can't help it if she is. I've quite enough troubles of my own without thinking of other people's. I'm sure I am very sorry. I wish she'd never met the fellow."
"That's what I say, I wish she'd never met the fellow, and she never would had it not been for that horrible Southdown Road. Southwick has never been the same since those villas were put up."
"I know nothing about them; I won't know them. I don't go to the Horlocks because I may meet people there I don't want to know. If you hadn't allowed the girls to go there, she never would have met him."
"But we had to call on the Horlocks. Every Viceroy that ever came to India called upon her, and they're excellent people—titled people come down from London to see them: but I daresay their banking accounts wouldn't bear looking into. She walks about the green with the chemist's wife, and has the people of the baths to dinner. Mostextraordinary woman. I like her, I enjoy her society; but I can't follow her in her opinions. She says that only men are bad; that all animals are good; that it is only men who make them bad. Her views on hydrophobia are most astonishing. She says it is a mild and easy death, and sees no reason why the authorities should attempt to stamp it out. She quite frightened me with the story she told me of a mad dog that died in her arms. But that by the way. The point is not now whether she is right to feed mice in her bedroom instead of getting rid of them, but whether we should call on people we don't want to know because she asks us to do so. I say we should not. When she spoke to me the other day about the lady whose mother was a housemaid, I said, 'My dear Mrs. Horlock, it is very well for you to call on those people. I approve of, I admire magnanimity; but what you can do I cannot do. You have no daughters to bring out; every Viceroy that ever came to India called on you, your position in the world is assured, your friends will not think the less of you no matter how intimately you know the chemist's wife, but you could not do these things if you had daughters to bring out.'"
"What did she say to that?"
"She was just going out to walk with her pugs. Angel began to—you know, and for the moment she could think of nothing else; when the little beast had finished I had forgotten the thread of my argument. However, I spoke to her about Grace; and she promised that she shouldn't meet the fellow again. I can't think of his name, I get lost in the different names, and they are all so alike I scarcely know one from the other. I have had nothing but trouble since your poor mother died. Your sisters give me a great deal of trouble, and you have given me a great deal of trouble. We couldn't get on in business together on account of your infernal slowness. No man is more for keeping his accounts and letters straight than I, but your exactitude drives me mad; it drives me mad; there you are at it again. I should like to know what you are copying into that diary. One would think you were writing an article for the Times, from the care with which you're drawing out every letter; 'pon my word it isn't writing at all, it's painting. You can't write for a pair of boots without taking a copy of the letter, entering it into this book, and entering it into that book; 'pon my word it is maddening."
Willy laughed. "Each person has his own way of doing business; I don't see how it interferes with you, or what difference it makes to you, if I spend three minutes or three days writing a letter."
"Perhaps not, perhaps not; but I am terribly upset about Grace," said Mr. Brookes, and he walked slowly across the room and stood looking at his Bouguereau; "she'll get over it, but in any case she'll miss her chance of marrying Berkins; that is what distresses me. The man stinks of money. I hear that he has been appointed manager of a colliery, that alone will bring him another thousand a year. His business is going up, he must be worth now between seven and eight thousand a year. And he began as an office boy, he hadn't a penny piece, made it all himself."
"So I should think; a purse-proud ass!"
"Never mind, his eight thousand is as good an eight thousand as any in the land, better than a great many. I wouldn't give a snap of my fingers for your broken-down landowners; Berkins has always made excellent investments, and I hear he is now getting as much as fifteen per cent. for money invested."
Willy had been to Oxford, and the arrogance and pomposity of this purse-proud man shocked his sense of decorum. Berkins's vulgarity was more offensive than that of Mr. Brookes. Mr. Brookes was a simple, middle-class man, who had made money straightforwardly and honestly, and he had cultivated his natural taste for pictures to the limit of his capacities and opportunities. Berkins, however, had been born a gentleman, but had had to shift for himself, even when a lad, and he had caught at all chances; he was more sophisticated, he was a gentleman in a state of retrograde, and was in all points inferior to him whom he crossed in his descent. Berkins had bought a small place, a villa with some hundred acres attached to it, on the other side of Preston Park. There he had erected glass houses, and bred a few pheasants in the corner of a field, and it surprised him to find that the county families took no notice of him. Mr. Brookes had sympathised, but the young people laughed at him and Willy had told a story how he had been to shoot at ——, and when a partridge got up right in front of his gun, Berkins turned round and shot it, exclaiming: "That's the way to bring them down!"
And now whenever his name was mentioned, Willy thought of this incident, so very typical did it seem to him of the man, and he liked to twit his father with it. But Mr. Brookes could not be brought to see the joke, and he fell back on the plausible and insidious argument that, notwithstanding his manners, Berkins was worth eight thousand a year.
"And very few girls get the chance of catching eight thousand a year; and she'll miss it, she'll miss it if she doesn't take care."
"You talk of it as if it were an absolute certainty; you don't know that Berkins wants to marry Grace; he hasn't been here for the last month."
"Mr. Berkins is not like the young good-for-nothings your sisters waste their time with, he is a man of means, of eight thousand a year; you don't expect him to come round here every evening to tea, and to play tennis, and to walk in the moonlight and talk nonsense. Berkins is a man of means, he is a man who can make a settlement."
"Has he spoken to you on the subject, then?"
"No, Mr. Berkins is a man of tact, however you may laugh at him for having shot your partridge. He spoke to your Aunt Mary, or rather she spoke to him. Ah, clever woman, your Aunt Mary, wonderful manner, wonderful will, when she wants a thing done it must be done. Your poor mother—I mean no disparagement—but I must say she couldn't compare with her for determination; Sally reminds me of her, but Sally's determination is misdirected, deplorably misdirected; it is directed against me, entirely against me. She must be made submissive; when I spoke to Aunt Mary about her, she said her spirit must be broken; and if she were here she'd break it. If she were here things would be very different, your sisters wouldn't be flirting with all the little clerks in the Southdown Road; but I am alone. I have no one to turn to."
"You were telling me that Berkins had spoken to Aunt Mary about Grace."
"Your Aunt Mary spoke to Berkins about Grace; she told him he ought to be thinking of marrying; that he wanted a wife. Then the conversation turned on my daughters, and Mary no doubt mentioned that at my death they would all have large fortunes."
"Ah, so it is the money that Berkins is after."
"Money comes first. If a man can make a settlement he will naturally demand a—that is to say he will naturally look forward, he will consider what her prospects are; not her immediate prospects, that would be mercenary, but her future prospects."
Willy smiled. "And what did Berkins say?"
"He said he wanted to marry, and he spoke of Grace; he said he admired her. I shouldn't be surprised if we saw him at church to-day."
"Are you going to ask him to lunch?"
"Certainly, if he's there." Then, after a long silence, Mr. Brookes said: "He'll come in here to smoke. Of course you'll leave us alone. Do you mind leaving out your cigars?"
"I have only half a box left; I think really you might keep some in the house to supply your own guests with. You always object if I interfere with your things."
"I am out of my best cigars—it is so hard to remember. He won't smoke more than one."
"I'll put one in the cigar case then."
"You had better fill it; it will look so bad if there is only one; he won't take it."
"He'll take all he can get; he took my bird, I know that!"
"This is a matter of great importance."
"To you and to Grace, not to me," said Willy, and with very bad grace he unlocked a drawer, and placed a box of cigars on the table.
"Thank you. Now what time is it? Half-past ten. By Jove! we must be thinking of starting; I suppose you aren't coming?"
"I am afraid I've too much to do this morning."
The young ladies appeared in new dresses, and with prayer-books in their hands. Mr. Brookes took his hat and umbrella, and Willy watched them depart with undisguised satisfaction. "Now I shall be able to get through some work," he said, untying a large bundle of letters. He wrote a page in his diary, tied up the letters, diary, and notebook in brown paper, and, with a sigh, admitting that he did not feel up to much work to-day, he took up the envelopes that had contained his letters and began tearing off the stamps, and he did this very attentively as if he did not trust his dry thick fingers. Somebody had told him that ten thousand old stamps were worth—he had forgotten the price of old stamps, and wondering he dozed off. When he awoke he cried: "Half-past twelve, they must be on their way back; I wonder if Berkins is with them!" And he strolled out on the gravel.
A few spring flowers marked the brown earth about the trees, and a beautiful magnolia, white as a bride, shed its shell-like petals in an angle beneath a window; the gold of the berberis glowed at the end of the path; and the greenery was blithe as a girl in clear muslin and ribbons. The blackbirds chattered and ran, and in turn flew to the pan of water placed for them, and drank, lifting their heads with exquisite motion. The trees rustled in the cold wind; the sky was white along the embankment, where an engine moved slowly up and down the line.
Willy was sensible that the scene was pleasant and pretty, and remembering he was fond of birds, he thrust his hands deeper in his pockets and walked slowly down the drive, his toes well turned out. "I wonder if they met Berkins at church?" was the question he put to himself gravely. "What a cad he is! No wonder the county people fight shy of us; a fellow like that is enough to close their doors against us for ever. My father pooh-poohs everything but riches; he positively flies in their faces, so what can I do? I don't care to ask my Oxford friends down here; one never knows how he will receive them. He can talk of nothing but his business. Had I a free hand, had I not been so hampered, we might have known all the best county families, even theduke."
The latch of the gate clicked, and Mr. Brookes and his family appeared. Maggie and Sally walked on the right and left of their father; Grace came on behind with Berkins, and it seemed to Willy that the city magnate bore himself with something even more than his usual dignity. At first sight he suggested that anomalous creature—a footman with a beard; and the slow, deliberate enunciation marked him as one accustomed to speak in public. His manner of sitting at a table suggested letters and dictation of letters, his manner of moving his glasses on his nose accounts, and at no moment would it have been surprising to see him place his strong finger at the bottom of a line of figures, and begin "Gentlemen," etc.
During lunch, Sally and Maggie spoke in undertones; they glanced occasionally at Grace, who sat by and received Berkins's bald remarks with deference. The girls trembled with excitement; they had pressed and extorted from Grace a hurried statement of what had happened. Berkins had proposed to her, he had told her he had never seen any one except her whom he would care to make his wife. What had she said? She didn't know. She couldn't really remember. She had been taken so suddenly, she was so upset, that she hadn't known what to say. She thought she had said something about the honour—but she really had not had time to say much, for at that moment they were at the gate. Did she intend to accept him? She didn't know; she could not make up her mind. It was a terrible thing to throw over poor Jack; she didn't think she could do it—no matter what father might say. However, she knew he would never give his consent, so it was no use thinking,
"I hope she won't begin to cry," whispered Sally, who had followed Maggie to the sideboard.
"Father looks as if he were going to cry," replied Maggie, moving the decanters and pretending to look for a glass.
Seven thousand a year, ten thousand a year! Would Grace have him? What would father settle on her? The sum he settled on her he must settle on them when they married. As Berkins's wife Grace would have servants, jewels, rich dresses, and a house in London, and they thought of the advantage this marriage would be to them.
The knives clattered; cheese and celery were being eaten. Mr. Brookes had drunk several glasses of port, and was on the verge of tears. Berkins's high shoulders and large voice dominated the dining-table; he was decidedly more than usually impressed by his own worth, and the worth of the money of which he was the representative. Willy chewed his cheese; there were many wrinkles about his eyes—deep lines turning towards the ears; and when he lifted his tumbler one noticed the little nails, almost worn away, of his lean hands.
At last Mr. Brookes said: "I daresay you would like a cigar, Berkins— will you come into the billiard-room?"
Berkins inclined to this suggestion. Willy, who had not quite finished, remained at table. The girls watched each other, and as soon as the elderly men turned their backs they fled upstairs to their rooms.
"Will you try one of these?" said Mr. Brookes, offering a box of choice havannas.
"Thank you. My tobacconist—I must ask you to visit his shop—receives just a few cases of a very special cigar; I have at least two-thirds of them, sometimes more; when you dine with me I'll give you one. This is Chartreuse, I think. My wine merchant knows a man whose cousin is one of the monks. Now the monks set aside the very cream of the liqueur, if I may so speak, for themselves. This liqueur cannot be bought in the open market. You may go up to London prepared to write a cheque for any figure you may like to name, and I will defy you to buy a bottle. I never have any other. It is really quite delicious. I daresay I could get you some."
Mr. Brookes expressed thanks for the amiable offer, and both men smoked on in silence.
"Do you play billiards?"
"No. Do you?"
Inwardly they congratulated themselves. Presently Mr. Brookes said: "I hear you have been staying with my sister, Mrs. Haltom. You were shooting there, were you not?"
"Yes, they were kind enough to ask me. Very nice shooting they have, too."
"I hear that you have gone in for rearing pheasants."
"Yes; we shot a hundred brace last year."
The conversation dropped, and in an impressive silence both men wondered what they had better say to lead honourably up to the subject they had come to speak on.
"Is your house your own design? Did you build it entirely yourself? Iforget. I ought to know; you told me all about it when I dined with you."
"There was a house there, but I altered it considerably after my own idea, and not a bad idea, I flatter myself. I spent a good deal of money in laying out the grounds, putting up conservatories, and so forth."
"You are a single man?"
"For a single man the house is, of course, too large; but I do not intend to remain always single, and—and now, Mr. Brookes, as we are on the subject, I had better tell you that I have asked Miss Brookes to be my wife."
Mr. Brookes grasped at the first words. "I am sure I am very pleased to hear it, Mr. Berkins, and I hope the answer was a favourable one."
"Miss Brookes is a modest girl. She has been well brought up, as a girl who is, I hope, to be my wife should be, and she was naturally a little overcome. I did not exactly catch what she said, and I didn't like to press her for an immediate answer. But suppose we assume for the moment that Miss Brookes's reply will be a favourable one—I have, I confess, much faith in her good sense—we might consider the business side."
Notwithstanding his admiration of a man who had made three thousand a year more than he had succeeded in doing, Mr. Brookes could not but feel irritated at Berkins, who, with increasing gravity, continued to assume all things to his own advantage. It had not occurred to him to consider that Grace might refuse him. Why should she refuse him? She could not hope to do better. She appeared to him as a very nice girl indeed, one entirely fitted for the position for which he intended her. He understood that all girls, at least those in society, were innocent and virtuous; he understood that when they married they made faithful and dutiful wives; and he had chosen her not because he had fallen in love, nor yet because he had noticed she was likely to make a better wife than her sisters, but because she was the eldest. Even so he would be twenty years his wife's senior, and he had chosen to marry one of the Brookes girls because he knew them and saw them constantly; because he knew that at their father's death his fortune would be divided between them. Grace was, therefore, an heiress in perspective. The prospect was agreeable, but he foresaw that it would be put forward as an excuse for fixing the sum of marriage settlements as low as possible. It would, however, be difficult for Brookes to settle less on his daughter than he, Berkins, was willing to settle on his wife; so partly in the hopes of forcing Mr. Brookes, and partly because of the pleasure it gave him to speak of himself, he continued talking of his position and possessions.
"In dealing with me," he said, "you are dealing, as you know, Mr. Brookes, with a man of means, a man who can afford to do the thing properly; you will not misunderstand me—you remember you told me that you had great difficulty in keeping the little folk who live here out of your house."
"The neighbourhood has never been the same since they put up that row of villas. A lot of indigent fortune-hunters, they know my girls will have large fortunes at my death, so they come sneaking round the place like so many wolves."
"I can readily sympathise with you; one doesn't make money to keep idle young fellows in the luxuries of life."
"That is what I say."
"But you aren't sufficiently firm, Mr. Brookes; had you been brought up in the hard school that I was you would be more firm; firmness is everything. You married early, I couldn't afford to do that. At sixteen I had to shift for myself. I was three years a clerk at two pounds a week, and not many chances to rise come in the way of a clerk at two pounds a week; he must be pretty sharp, and if he doesn't seize the little chance when it comes, he will remain a little clerk all his life. It is the first steps that are difficult, the rest are nothing. You don't know what the first steps are; I do. Once you've made a thousand pounds you can swim along a bit, but the first hundred, I shall never forget it! Afterwards it is just the same; the proportions are changed, that is all. The first twenty thousand is very uphill work, the second is on the flat, the third is going downhill—it brings itself along."
"A very good simile indeed. There's no doubt that it is money that makes money. When you have none you cannot make it. It is like corn; give a man a handful, and he must be a fool if he can't fill his barn. The beginnings are hard; none knows that better than I. But for the last ten years I've been doing fairly well."
"I had never intended to get married, but when money really begins to accumulate it pushes you along. It is curious how money takes you along. It is like a tide. You first begin thinking of a little place in the country where you can stay from Saturday till Monday. The little place grows; it is extraordinary how it grows. You find you want flowers, and you put up a glass house; then you begin to get interested in orchids or roses, and you put up two, maybe half a dozen glass houses. Suddenly you find the rabbits are breeding in the hedgerows, and you go out yonder ferretting, but the coachman does not know how to manage the ferrets, and you start a keeper. The keeper says one morning, 'It wouldn't require much to get up a stock of pheasants in that little wood.' You say, 'Very well;' and there you are before you know it, with glass houses, rabbit-shooting, and a pheasant preserve. You have friends to stay with you for the shooting, you get talked about in the clubs, people ask why you aren't married— the place where the wife ought to be stares you in the face: a man of money, of real money, must get married. The friends who come and stay with you suggest a little dance, you think it would be very pleasant; but you know no one in the neighbourhood, the county people won't visit you, so the thing comes about, and you are head over heels in settlements before you know where you are."
"Do you find the county people very standoffish over Preston Park way?"
"I am not in a position to judge; they could not very well call on me situated as I am, a young—well, I will say, a marriageable—man, known to be wealthy; but I have no doubt when I am married they will call on us."
"Twirl them round my little finger, stuck-up lot; I should like to know what they have to be proud of, half of them are broken—their land is worthless. Give me good sound investments, five or six per cent. For some money I am getting seven; the waterworks pays fourteen."
The conversation suddenly dropped, they looked at each other blankly; they felt they had talked a good deal, but without approaching any nearer the subject they had met to speak on.
"Our intention was," said Berkins, in his most solemn and professional manner, "assuming that Miss Brookes is not averse from my suit, to discuss the business side, for there is a business side to all questions, as you, Mr. Brookes, will be the first to see."
Mr. Brookes had begun to anger; he would have liked to have answered that such a discussion was altogether premature, but he yielded before Berkins's authoritative manner, and he replied instead that he would be glad indeed to hear whatever proposal Mr. Berkins had to make.
"I should like to say, then—I will assume that we stand as man to man, equal; you have probably more money invested than I; I am making possibly a larger income—you will forgive me if I am mistaken, but you told me the other day as we went up in the train that you had had a very bad year."
"Three thousand dead loss. It does not matter so much to me, my money is invested, but it would have gone hard with many a man who was relying on his business. Three thousand pounds dead loss!"
"How was that? I suppose the temperance societies affect you; they must have had a great effect on the sale of liquor."
"No one who was not in the trade would believe in the falling off in the quantity of whisky drunk. But it was not that."
"Trade generally, trade depression affects every one; the failure of one makes bad debts for the other. It was bad debts that did it. It was very stupid of me, but I was worried at home: those fortune- hunters from the villas—my daughters are very young, and since their poor mother died they have had no one to look after them. Willy, too, is a great trial to me. Poor boy, he is most anxious to do something, but things don't go right with him; he thought he was going to do a good thing in a Bond Street shop that was converted into a company, but he lost two thousand pounds."
"I thought he was in the distillery with you."
"He was for a while, but he irritated me; he is so confoundedly methodical, everything must go into his diary, he spends half the day filling it up. Besides after you have conducted a business so many years you don't want a partner; you have your own way of doing things, and don't want to be interfered with. He draws a certain income, but he has nothing now to do with the business. We were talking of settlements."
"You do not act as I should regarding the villa residences. I would put them down. I would not have it; but, as you say, we were talking of settlements. I think I said we stood as man to man. In round numbers your fortune equals mine, mine equals yours—very well, let us act equally. I will settle five hundred a year on Miss Brookes, do you likewise; what do you say to that?"
"Pooh, pooh! I couldn't think of such a thing. Five hundred a year!" said Mr. Brookes, and throwing his cigar into the fireplace, he walked up the room indignantly. "I was wrong to consent to discuss the matter; to say the least, it is premature; I never heard of such a thing. Five hundred a year! This is worse than the Southdown Road, many degrees worse."
"Sir, such insinuations are most uncalled for; I must beg of you to withdraw them. I must ask you to remember you are talking to one at least in the same position as yourself, to a man of seven thousand a year!"
"Pooh, pooh! seven thousand a year—you are making that to-day, to- morrow you mayn't be making three. Yours isn't invested money."
Berkins had risen from the great leather armchair, and he stood expressionless as a piece of office furniture, his grave face divided by the green shade of the billiard lamp; Mr. Brookes remained with his back—his straight fat back bound in a new frock coat that defined the senile fatness of the haunches—turned to his guest. He stooped as if to examine his favourite Linnell, but, in his passion, he did not see it. The table, covered with a grey cloth, lay like an account spread out between the moneyed men.
"Taking your words into due consideration, I think I had better wish you good-morning, Mr. Brookes."
"Mr. Berkins, I would not wish you to misunderstand me," said Mr. Brookes, whom the prospect of losing seven thousand a year had suddenly cooled. "My daughter will have—my children, I should say— will have my fortune divided amongst them at my death, and when we come to go into figures you will find—"
"But in the meantime, what do you propose to settle on her?"
Mr. Brookes hesitated. He was angry at being pressed. Berkins's domineering tone irritated him; he would have liked to bundle him from the house.
Presently he said: "I think, considering the very large sums of money my daughters will come into at my death, that a settlement of two hundred a year is ample."
"Very well, in that case I shall settle the same."
"I could not, I will not, consent to any such arrangement. The man my daughter marries must settle on her a sum of money equivalent—"
"To what you settle on her."
"To her position, to her expectations," replied Mr. Brookes, growing more and more angry.
"But I don't know what her expectations are; you may marry again." "I do not intend to marry again."
"Very possibly, but I know nothing of that; business is business, and I should be a fool if I settle five hundred to your two hundred."
Mr. Brookes stopped in his walk, and he looked at Berkins, who stood, his hand laid upon the billiard table as upon a huge balance sheet. The word business had carried the men back to their offices in London, and, quite forgetful of the subject of their bargaining, each strove to obtain an advantage over the other.
"Well, let us say two hundred and fifty, that is my last word."
"Then, Mr. Brookes, I will not take your daughter."
"Willy, make haste, I beg of you; I shall miss my train. It is now exactly half-past nine."
"You had better go without me; I cannot start now. I haven't nearly got my things together."
"Very well, very well."
Willy walked from room to room tying and untying brown paper parcels in his most methodical and most dilatory manner. His sisters stood watching him from the drawing-room door.
"Did father tell you nothing when Berkins left? They had a row, hadn't they? It isn't off, is it?"
"I wish you would not speak so loud, Sally; you can be heard all over the house."
"Do tell us."
"But I don't know. Father was very much upset. I couldn't speak to him about my own business, I know that."
"Well, I suppose we shall hear about it to-night. You are going to meet Frank in Brighton, aren't you?"
"Yes; he is coming to lunch with me."
"Don't keep him all day; send him on here, we might have a game of tennis."
Willy did not answer; and he thought as he went upstairs, what a trouble young girls were in a house. "They think of nothing but pleasure, nothing but pleasure."
One, two, or three more delays, and he was ready, and with his brown paper parcel tucked under his arm he set forth. Upon the young blue of the sky, the fresh green of the buds melted. There were a few elms, but hardly enough to constitute an avenue. The house looked as if it had been repeatedly altered. It ran into unexpected corners and angles; but it was far enough from the road to justify a gate lodge. The swards were interspersed with shrubs in the most modern fashion, and the sumptuous glass-houses could be seen gleaming in the sun. It was a hot day, and the brick wall was dappled with hanging foliage, and further out, opposite the windows of the "Stag and Hounds," where Steyning's ales could be obtained, the over-reaching sprays of a great chestnut tree fell in delicate tracery on the white dust. The road led under the railway embankment, and looking through the arched opening, one could see the dirty town, straggling along the canal or harbour, which runs parallel with the sea. A black stain was the hull of a great steamer lying on her side in the mud, but the tapering masts of yachts were beautiful on the sky, and at the end of a row of slatternly houses there were sometimes spars and rigging so strange and bygone that they suggested Drake and the Spanish main.
Southwick is half a suburb, half a village. In the summer months the green seems a living thing. It is there the children talk and tumble when school is over. They are told to go to the green, they are forbidden to go to the green, and it is from the green the eldest girl leads the naughty boy howling. When they are a little older they avoid the green, it is too public then. It is to the green that elevens come from far and near to play their matches. All the summer through the green is a fete of cricket. It is to the green the brass bands come on Saturday. On the green, bat and trap is played till the ball disappears in shadow. The green is common; horses and cows are turned out there. All profit by the green. It is on the edge of the green the housewives come to talk in the limpid moonlight. It is on the green the fathers smoke when the little cottage rooms are unbearable with summer heat. It is on the green that Mrs. Horlock walks with her pugs and the chemist's wife, to the enormous scandal of the neighbourhood.
To the right, facing the embankment, and overlooking some fields, is the famous Southdown road, and parallel with the green is Mr. Brookes's property—a solid five acres, with all modern improvements and embellishments, and surrounded by a brick wall over six feet high.
Willy hated Southwick. He thought it ugly and vulgar; he regretted deeply that his father would make no advances, and that they were as far from county society to-day as when they came to live in the place thirty years ago. "I knew the best people when I was at Oxford, why can I not know them now? Here we are doing the same thing from year's end to year's end; why, with our money we ought to be hob-nobbing with the duke." In moments of dejection this was one of Willy's commonest thoughts. "I did my best, but I was opposed. Father doesn't care, and as for the girls, they'll take up with any man so long as he is young. Still, in spite of them I should have got on if I hadn't lost my nerve and had to give up hunting; and without hunting there is no way of making acquaintances."
Willy had relied on a hunter as Berkins had on pheasants and glass- houses. But he hated hunting, and finding he got no further than a few breakfasts, he had told a story of a heavy fall and sold his horses. He had then insisted on dinner-parties, and some few people more or less "county" had been collected; the pretext was politics, but Willy and politics were but a doleful mixture, and the scheme collapsed. The family was not endowed with any social qualifications, Willy least of all, and having failed to advance himself individually, and his family collectively, he threw up the game.
We rarely cultivate for long things in which we may not succeed in— the lady with a small waist pinches it, the man with pretty feet wears pretty shoes, and in no circumstances could Willy have shone in society. He failed to interest the ladies he met on the King's Road, he knew this; and to sum up his deficiencies, let us say he was lacking in "go." He was too timid to succeed with the more facile loves whom he met in the evenings on the pier. All the same he had had his love affair.
Oh! men of inferior aspect and speech, often in you a true heart abides; you, and you only, are faithful to the end.
To this unromantic person a shred of pure romance was attached. None knew the whole story, and none spoke of it now; but his sisters remembered that Willy had fallen in love with a girl whom he had seen play "Sweet Anne Page." They remembered long letters, tears and wild looks. He had sent her diamonds; and one night he had attempted suicide. All was now forgotten; at least it was the past, and nothing remained but one little melody which he had heard her sing, and which he sometimes whistled out of tune.
But sooner or later a man's talents, and if not his talents, his tastes, appear through the mists of youth, and henceforth they lead him. Willy's efforts in society had resulted in abortive dinner- parties, his efforts in sport had been cut short by nerves, his efforts in dissipation had left him with a tolerably well-filled wardrobe, his efforts in love had brought him tears and a commonplace mistress, whom he kept in the necessaries of life in various lodging- houses. So his youth had passed; but in all this mediocrity a certain spirit of resistance endured. His taste for figures grew more pronounced; he surrounded himself with account books, letter books, and diaries; he took note of every penny that passed through his hands. Money-making, profitable investments—that was to be his aim in life; and as each year closed his thoughts fixed themselves more definitely and entirely on it; and it was natural that it should be so, since all other outlets for the passion of life were barred to him. His forced retirement from the distillery did not worry him. No one could please his father in business; his uncle had once threatened to throw his brother out of the window. Besides, the business was a declining one, and twelve thousand pounds for a junior partnership was not bad. Nor did his failure to make a success of the manure agency discourage him; the shop was a different matter, that was his own idea, he had thought of a fortune, and had lost two thousand pounds. It had crippled him for life. True enough, there were other things to do. Some stockbrokers make twenty per cent. on their money, not in wild speculation, but in straightforward genuine business. He might go up to London and learn the business—he had heard that it would not take more than six months or a year to pick it up—and start on his own account. A thousand pounds would be sufficient to begin with; or he might buy a partnership—he could do that for three or four thousand. Either of these courses would suit him, the latter for preference, but a certain amount of capital would be necessary before he could take either, and that he hadn't got, and to all appearances it would be very difficult to persuade his father to consent to drawany more money out of the distillery.
So Willy's thoughts ran as he ascended the flight of wooden steps that led to the platform of the little country station. "The folk down here think there is nothing in me, that I am good for nothing but walking up and down the King's Road, but they little know what I have in my head. I'll make them open their eyes one of these days." The sting of vanity is in us all. Our heads may be greed, our bellies lust, our limbs charity, faithfulness, truth, and goodwill, but in some cranny of our tails vanity always lies, only it may be marvellously well hidden, as in Willy. The keenest observer would not have detected it in him, and when he came out of his habitual reserve and lamented that bad luck had always followed him and spoke of his projects, one might have suspected him of greed, but hardly of vanity. Now he stood leaning on the wooden paling, and his movements showed the back and loins in strong outline, marking the thick calves. Without taking any heed, his eyes followed the cricket ball, which was in turn slogged into the horse-pond and cottage gardens. Through long familiarity, the green had faded from his notice, nor did the burnt-up crops on the Downs attract his thoughts, nor yet the sinuous lines of the hills. From the platform one saw the whole of Southwick. The green with its cricket match, Mrs. Horlock and her dogs, the forge, the stile, the various cottages, the long fields full of green wheat, and, far away, the carriages passing like insects along the road under the Downs; then on the right were the back gardens of the cottages, a large inscription announcing the different branches of the grocery business, a few fields with cows leaning their muzzles over the rough palings, some more cottages, a barn, and then the magnificent five acres of the Manor House, rich with glass-houses, and beautiful in a cloud of trees. From the platform of the station one could see the sea, not much of it, but one could see the sea; the slates of the street that went along the water's edge did not quite bar the view. The very small presence of Southwick contrived to hide the sea; even when one walked to the water's side the great mass of shingle which forms the outer bank of the canal allowed only one narrow rim of blue to appear. The inhabitants forget they live by the sea, and when the breeze fills their gardens with a smell of boats and nets they think of the sea with surprise.
Tired of the monotonous running to and fro of the cricket players, Willy walked up the platform. Arrow-like, the line lay in front of him, and in the tinted distance, in faint lines and flashes of light and shade, Brighton stretched from hill to hill. Morning was still in the sky, and the sea was deep blue between the yellow chimney-pots. A puff of steam showed up upon a distant field, and the train came along from Portslade, one of the links of the great chain of towns that binds the south coast. "I hope Frank won't arrive in Brighton before me," thought Willy.
They had been big boy and little boy at school. The vivacity of the Celt amused the good-natured south Saxon, and when Lord Mount Rorke called to see his nephew, he found him talking with Brookes. Once Willy had been invited to spend part of his holidays at Mount Rorke. Afterwards they visited each other's rooms, and so their friendship had been decided, and, in spite of—or, perhaps, on account of—a very marked difference in their characters and temperaments, gathered strength as it matured. Another link between the men was that Escott had accompanied Willy to the theatre when he went to see the actress whom he had loved so madly. Frank had heard her sing the song which Willy whistled when his thoughts went wandering. Willy confided in no one—great sorrows cannot be and never are confided; but Frank had seen her, and he played her songs on the piano, and that was enough for Willy.
The young men had not seen each other for two years. Frank had shown some taste for painting, and his uncle, whose heir he was, had sent him, if not to study, at least to think about art in Italy. From Italy he had gone to Greece and Russia, he had returned home through Germany, he had visited Holland and France.
"Is the London train come in?" Willy asked when he arrived in Brighton.
"Yes, sir, just come in, about five minutes," said the man as he opened the door. Willy waited until the train had stopped dead, he got out carefully, and, looking through the confusion of luggage and bookstall trade, he saw Escott questioning a porter and hailing a carriage. "By Jove! I shall miss him," cried Willy, and he hastened his steps and broke into a sharp trot. "Frank! Frank!" he cried.
"Oh, there you are!" cried Frank, and he lifted his stick, and called sharply to a large black and white bull-dog that paddled about on its bow legs, saliva dripping from its huge jaws, looking in its hideousness like something rare and exquisite from Japan. He dismissed the porter and the carriage, which he had hailed with an arrogant wave of his stick. He was tall and he was thin. His trousers were extremely elegant, a light cloth, black and white check, hung on his legs in graceful lines, and he wore tiny boots with light brown cloth tops. The jacket and waistcoat were in dark brown cloth, and the odour of the gardenia in his buttonhole contrasted with that of the sachet- scented silk pocket-handkerchief which lay in his side pocket. His throat showed white and healthy in the high collar tied with a white silk cravat in a sailor's knot, fastened with a small diamond. His hands were coarse and brown; he wore two rings, and a bracelet fell out of his cuff when he dropped his arm. His chest was broad and full, but the shoulders were too square; the coat was padded. There was little that could be called Celtic in his face or voice, the admixture of race was manifested in that dim blue stare, at once vague and wild, which the eyes of the Celt so often exhibit. The nose was long, low, and straight, the nostrils were cleanly marked, the mouth was uncertain, the chin was uncertain, the face was long, deadly pale, rather large, the forehead was high, receding at the temples. The hair (now he removes his hat, for the air is heavy and hot, and the sun falls fiercely on the pavement) is pale brown, and it waves thinly over the high forehead, so expressive of a vague and ill-considered idealism. Frank Escott was of Saxon origin on his father's side, but the family had been in Ireland for the last two hundred years, and had married into many Irish families that had at different times received direct contributions of Celtic blood. Long residence in England had removed all Irish accent and modes of speech; but in hook, and book, and cook he lengthened the vowel sound. Occasionally a something strange grated on the ear, and declared him not of the south of England, suggested the north, and insinuated Cumberland; an actor could not reproduce these trifling differences with caricaturing them. He was absolutely good-looking, and he was too well dressed. He laughed a good deal, and his conversation was sprinkled with cynical remarks and cutting observations.
"You don't seem to go in for dress now as you used to."
"I haven't the money to spend on it; but tell me, don't you like this suit?"
"Well, pretty well; whose is it? Did Walpole make it? Do you deal with him still?"
"Yes, it is one of Walpole's, but I have had it turned."
"Had it turned? I have heard of turning an overcoat, but a morning coat! I did not know it could be done; that's what makes it look so shaky."
"Now don't you get laughing at my coat, it looks very well indeed. I suppose you think I am not fit to walk with you. I daresay it doesn't look as smart as yours, which has just come out of Walpole's shop."
The young men had so much to say, and were so genuinely glad to see each other, that their thoughts hesitated and they were embarrassed.
"I suppose you enjoyed your trip abroad very much," Willy said drily and punctiliously; "you were more than a year away—nearly eighteen months, I think."
"About that. I enjoyed myself. I think I liked Italy best; it has been more painted and described than any country, and yet it is quite different from what one imagines; it is grey and dim and green and dusty. It looks—how shall I put it?—it looks worn out and faded."
"The women aren't worn out and faded if all one hears is true," said Willy, with a short laugh.
"The women are right enough. I must tell you about them one of these days, lots of stories. There was a little Italian girl I met at Milan. It was a job to get away from her; she followed me, 'pon my word, she did; she declared she would commit suicide. I was awfully frightened. Naples is really too shocking. I'm not a prude, but Naples is really— "
"I suppose it is the same all over the Continent. One of these days I must go abroad and have a look round. You were a long time in Rome?"
"No, only a few weeks, but I was too taken up with the pictures to think of anything else. The Michael Angelos are beyond anything any one can imagine. He is the only one who can compare with the Greeks, and I don't see why one shouldn't say he is as great. Of course there are things, the daughters of—I forget the name—the group of two women leaning back in each other's arms in the British Museum. But I don't know, Michael Angelo is quite different, and I can't see that anything can be said to be finer than the figures of Day and Night— how often I have drawn them—the figure of Night, the heavy breasts to show that she has suckled the Day."
"But which way are we going? I must go to Truefitt's to have my hair cut."
"You haven't forgotten the old place, I see. Do you still keep up your subscription?"
"I suppose mine has run out, I have been abroad so long. Nothing like a good shampoo; for a guinea a year you can have it done as often as you like."
"I haven't subscribed lately. There used to be such a pretty girl at the counter. Do you remember?"
"You dog, always thinking of them," and laughing loudly they passed through the shop, and it was Frank that stared most at the young lady. They read Punch aloud to each other; they cracked jokes with the hairdressers; they snorted and laughed through the soap and jets of hot and cold water. Frank allowed scent and ivories to be pressed upon him by the young lady at the counter; Willy declined to be led into such extravagances.
As he stepped out into the shine of the street, and took step from his friend, he said: "By George! it makes me feel young again. It is just like old times."
"Yes, it does make one feel jollier, doesn't it?"
"How jolly it is here; not too warm, just nice. What shall we do? Sit down on that bench in front of the pier?"
"I'm agreeable. How jolly it is. Just look at those boats! One could make a picture of that."
Over the sea hung a white veil of mist, but the sun glowed through and melted into it, and harmonised it with the water green and translucent. The sea sucked about the shingle with little sudden sighs; the sails of the pleasure boat waved in the fairy-like depths, and all the little brown fishing-boats lay becalmed, heaving tremulously like tired butterflies upon the breast of a blue flower. The nursemaids lay together on the shingle, and their novels slipped down the stones to their feet. The children played with the tide and the sand. There were crowds of women—Jewesses with loud dresses: and the strange world of bath chairs! Ladies so old that they seem certain to fall to pieces when they are taken out; ladies with chestnut curls soft and fresh—why were they in bath chairs? General officers, mounted on white Arabs; acrobats and songs.
The young men sat facing the sea. Frank called, "Triss, Triss. Splendid dog that is. If I were to let him he would guzzle the other dog in about two minutes."
"He looks a ferocious brute."
"You don't like dogs? You couldn't see a handsomer dog than that; unfortunately, he's the wrong colour; if he were brindle or white, he'd take a first prize. Come here, you brute."
Amid some little excitement and anxious looks, Triss came up, growling and showing his teeth. Frank explained that it was only his manner. Frank took the paw that was extended to him, but Triss's friendliness seemed somewhat dubious, for he still further uncovered his formidable fangs.
"I really don't care to sit here with that ferocious brute."
"I assure you he won't bite, it is only his manner. Isn't it, Triss? Kiss me, kiss me at once," and amid many growls of almost subterranean awfulness, the dog licked his master's face.
"I wish you would tie him up—to oblige me."
Highly pleased at the fear and wonder his dog had struck in the gaudy Jewesses and the shaky generals, Frank threatened and finally forced the dog to lie down. He continued to expatiate on the dog's points— the number of wrinkles, the bandiness of the legs, etc. The conversation dropped in heat and glare, and the picturesqueness of the sea.
"How horribly out of tune you do whistle—you go into a different key; this is more like it."
"Yes, how sweetly she used to sing it. Do you remember the night we went to see her, the last time the piece was played? I threw her a bouquet, a splendid one it was, too, cost me three guineas in Covent Garden. We went afterwards and had supper at Scott's in the Haymarket. How jolly those days were. I don't seem to be able to enjoy myself now as I used to then."
"What has become of her? One never hears of her."
"She died soon after."
"I am sorry I spoke of her; I didn't know."
"Oh, it doesn't matter." Then after a long silence, Willy said: "I hear your engagement is broken off."
"Yes." Frank drew a long and expressive breath, and, with melodramatic movements of the shoulders, he sighed. "I have not seen you since. Oh, I had terrible scenes with the father. They had a house up the river. I followed them, and put up at the Angler's Hotel. She told her father that I must be allowed to come to the house, and he had to give way. You don't know the river? Well, it is wonderful to awake at Maidenhead in the morning and hear the sparrows twittering in a piece of tangled vine; to see that great piece of water flowing so mildly in all the pretty summer weather. We used to live in flannels, and spent long afternoons together in the boat—we had such a spiffing boat, as light and as clean in the water as a fish—and we used to linger in the bulrushes, and come back when the moon was rising with our hands full of flowers."
"But why was it broken off?"
"My uncle, old Mount Rorke, wants me to marry an heiress, and I have nothing except what he allows me, or scarcely anything. She used to wear a broad-brimmed straw hat, and the shadow fell over her face. I made a lot of sketches. I must show them to you one of these days when you come up to town, and I filled an album with verses. I used to write them at night. My window was right in front of the river, and the moon used to sail past, and in the morning I used to read her the poems I made overnight beneath the branches of the cedar, where we used to run the boat. But the father was a brute. I got the best of him once though. It was a private view day at the Academy, and he had forbidden Nellie to speak to me—even to notice me. I went straight up to her, and took her away under his very nose before he could stop us. We walked about all day. Oh! he was mad."
"If she was willing to brave her father in that way, why was your engagement broken off?"
"My uncle was so very difficult to deal with. I didn't see her for some time." Frank did not say—perhaps, he did not know—that his engagement had been broken off through his own instability and weakness of character. The young lady, whom he called Nellie, had told him she would wait if he would elect a profession and work for a place in it. But Frank had not been able to forego late hours and restaurants, and Nellie had married some one who could. "You know I converted her. Doesn't her father hate me for that! We used to go to high mass at the oratory. I explained to her the whole of the Catholic religion."
"But I thought you didn't believe in it yourself?"
"I am talking of some time ago; besides, a woman, it isn't quite the same thing; and if I have saved her soul! I don't know if I told you that I was writing a novel; I don't think I did. The idea of it is this: A young man has loved three women. The first charmed him by her exceeding beauty; he lives with her for a time. The second captivates him, or rather holds him through his senses; his love for her is merely a sensuality; then he falls in love with a fair young girl as pure as falling snow of any stain in deed or in thought; he is engaged to marry her—or, I don't know, I haven't made up my mind on that point, perhaps it would be better if he did marry her. Well, the woman whom he has loved with a merely sensual passion comes back, and to revenge herself she tries to tempt the good girl to go wrong; she talks to her of men and pleasures; this is a good idea, I think, for I feel sure it is women far more than men who lead women astray. Then the first woman whom he has loved for her beauty merely, comes along and continues the diabolical work of the first, by suggesting—I don't know, anything—that the young girl should go in for dress; the young man finds out the scheme, and to save the girl he murders her, he is thrown into prison, he is tried, and in the crowded Court he makes a great speech—he tells how he murdered her to save her from sin, he tells the judge that on the Judgment Day a pure white soul will plead for him. What an opportunity for a piece of splendid writing! The Court would be filled with fashionable women, that weep and sob, they cannot contain themselves, the judge would wish to stop the young man, but he cannot. What a splendid scene to describe! And the young man goes to execution confident, and assured that he has done well. What do you think of it?"