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Author: Meredith, George, 1828-1909
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Title: One of Our Conquerors, v5

Author: George Meredith

Edition: 10

Language: English

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ONE OF OUR CONQUERORS

By George Meredith

1897



BOOK 5.

XXXVI.    NESTA AND HER FATHER
XXXVII.   THE MOTHER--THE DAUGHTER
XXXVIII.  NATALY, NESTA, AND DARTREY FENELLAN
XXXIX.    A CHAPTER IN THE SHADOW OF MRS. MARSETT
XL.       AN EXPIATION
XLI.      THE NIGHT OF THE GREAT UNDELIVERED SPEECH
XLII.     THE LAST



CHAPTER XXXVI

NESTA AND HER FATHER

The day of Nesta's return was one of a number of late when Victor was
robbed of his walk Westward by Lady Grace Halley, who seduced his
politeness with her various forms of blandishment to take a seat in her
carriage; and she was a practical speaker upon her quarter of the world
when she had him there.  Perhaps she was right in saying--though she had
no right to say--that he and she together might have the world under
their feet.  It was one of those irritating suggestions which expedite us
up to a bald ceiling, only to make us feel the gas-bladder's tight
extension upon emptiness: It moved him to examine the poor value of his
aim, by tying him to the contemptible means: One estimate involved the
other, whichever came first.  Somewhere he had an idea, that would lift
and cleanse all degradations.  But it did seem as if he were not
enjoying: things pleasant enough in the passage of them were barren, if
not prickly, in the retrospect.

He sprang out at the head of the park, for a tramp round it, in the gloom
of the girdle of lights, to recover his deadened relish of the thin
phantasmal strife to win an intangible prize.  His dulled physical system
asked, as with the sensations of a man at the start from sleep in the
hurrying grip of steam, what on earth he wanted to get, and what was the
substance of his gains: what! if other than a precipitous intimacy, a
deep crumbling over deeper, with a little woman amusing him in remarks of
a whimsical nudity; hardly more.  Nay, not more!  he said; and at the end
of twenty paces, he saw much more; the campaign gathered a circling
suggestive brilliancy, like the lamps about the winter park; the Society,
lured with glitter, hooked by greed, composed a ravishing picture; the
little woman was esteemed as a serviceable lieutenant; and her hand was
a small soft one, agreeable to fondle--and avaunt!  But so it is in war:
we must pay for our allies.  What if it had been, that he and she
together, with their united powers .  .  . ?  He dashed the silly vision
aside, as vainer than one of the bubble-empires blown by boys; and it
broke, showing no heart in it.  His heart was Nataly's.

Let Colney hint his worst; Nataly bore the strain, always did bear any
strain coming in the round of her duties: and if she would but walk,
or if she danced at parties, she would scatter the fits of despondency
besetting the phlegmatic, like this day's breeze the morning fog; or as
he did with two minutes of the stretch of legs.

Full of the grandeur of that black pit of the benighted London, with its
ocean-voice of the heart at beat along the lighted outer ring, Victor
entered at his old door of the two houses he had knocked into one: a
surprise for Fredi!--and heard that his girl had arrived in the morning.

'And could no more endure her absence from her Mammy O!' The songful
satirical line spouted in him, to be flung at his girl, as he ran
upstairs to the boudoir off the drawing-room.

He peeped in.  It was dark.  Sensible of presences, he gradually
discerned a thick blot along the couch to the right of the door, and he
drew near.  Two were lying folded together; mother and daughter.  He bent
over them.  His hand was taken and pressed by Fredi's; she spoke; she
said tenderly: 'Father.'  Neither of the two made a movement.  He heard
the shivering rise of a sob, that fell.  The dry sob going to the waste
breath was Nataly's.  His girl did not speak again.

He left them.  He had no thought until he stood in his dressing-room,
when he said 'Good!' For those two must have been lying folded together
during the greater part of the day: and it meant, that the mother's heart
had opened; the girl knew.  Her tone: 'Father,' sweet, was heavy, too,
with the darkness it came out of.

So she knew.  Good.  He clasped them both in his heart; tempering his
pity of those dear ones with the thought, that they were of the sex
which finds enjoyment in a day of the mutual tear; and envying them;
he strained at a richness appearing in the sobs of their close union.

All of his girl's loving soul flew to her mother; and naturally: She
would not be harsh on her father.  She would say he loved!  And true:
he did love, he does love; loves no woman but the dear mother.

He flicked a short wring of the hand having taken pressure from an alien
woman's before Fredi pressed it, and absolved himself in the act;
thinking, How little does a woman know how true we can be to her when we
smell at a flower here and there!--There they are, stationary; women the
flowers, we the bee; and we are faithful in our seeming volatility;
faithful to the hive!--And if women are to be stationary, the reasoning
is not so bad.  Funny, however, if they here and there imitatively spread
a wing, and treat men in that way?  It is a breach of the convention; we
pay them our homage, that they may serve as flowers, not to be volatile
tempters.  Nataly never had been one of the sort: Lady Grace was.  No
necessity existed for compelling the world to bow to Lady Grace, while on
behalf of his Nataly he had to .  .  .  Victor closed the curtain over a
gulf-revealed by an invocation of Nature, and showing the tremendous
force he partook of so largely, in her motive elements of the devourer.
Horrid to behold, when we need a gracious presentation of the
circumstances.  She is a splendid power for as long as we confine her
between the banks: but she has a passion to discover cracks; and if we
give her headway, she will find one, and drive at it, and be through,
uproarious in her primitive licentiousness, unless we labour body and
soul like Dutchmen at the dam.  Here she was, and not desired, almost
detested!  Nature detested!  It had come about through the battle for
Nataly; chiefly through Mrs. Burman's tenacious hold of the filmy thread
she took for life and was enabled to use as a means for the perversion
besides bar to the happiness of creatures really living.  We may well
marvel at the Fates, and tell them they are not moral agents!

Victor's reflections came across Colney Durance, who tripped and stopped
them.

Dressed with his customary celerity, he waited for Nesta, to show her the
lighted grand double drawing-room: a further proof of how Fortune
favoured him: she was to be told, how he one day expressed a wish for
greater space, and was informed on the next, that the neighbour house was
being vacated, and the day following he was in treaty for the purchase of
it; returning from Tyrol, he found his place habitable.

Nesta came.  Her short look at him was fond, her voice not faltering; she
laid her hand under his arm and walked round the spacious room, praising
the general design, admiring the porcelain, the ferns, friezes, hangings,
and the grand piano, the ebony inlaid music-stands, the firegrates and
plaques, the ottomans, the tone of neutral colour that, as in sound,
muted splendour.  He told her it was a reception night, with music: and
added: 'I miss my .  .  .  seen anybody lately?'

'Mr. Sowerby?' said she.  'He was to have escorted me back.  He may have
overslept himself.'

She spoke it plainly; when speaking of the dear good ladies, she set a
gentle humour at play, and comforted him, as she intended, with a
souvenir of her lively spirit, wanting only in the manner of gaiety.

He allowed, that she could not be quite gay.

More deeply touched the next minute, he felt in her voice, in her look,
in her phrasing of speech, an older, much older daughter than the Fredi
whom he had conducted to Moorsedge.  'Kiss me,' he said.

She turned to him full-front, and kissed his right cheek and left, and
his forehead, saying: 'My love!  my papa!  my own dear dada!' all the
words of her girlhood in her new sedateness; and smiling: like the moral
crepuscular of a sunlighted day down a not totally inanimate Sunday
Londen street.

He strained her to his breast.  'Mama soon be here?'

'Soon.'

That was well.  And possibly at the present moment applying, with her
cunning hand, the cosmetics and powders he could excuse for a concealment
of the traces of grief.

Satisfied in being a superficial observer, he did not spy to see more
than the world would when Nataly entered the dining-room at the quiet
family dinner.  She performed her part for his comfort, though not
prattling; and he missed his Fredi's delicious warble of the prattle
running rill-like over our daily humdrum.  Simeon Fenellan would have
helped.  Then suddenly came enlivenment: a recollection of news in the
morning's paper.  'No harm before Fredi, my dear.  She's a young woman
now.  And no harm, so to speak-at least, not against the Sanfredini.
She has donned her name again, and a villa on Como, leaving her 'duque';
--paragraph from a Milanese musical Journal; no particulars.  Now, mark
me, we shall have her at Lakelands in the Summer.  If only we could have
her now!'

'It would be a pleasure,' said Nataly.  Her heart had a blow in the
thought, that a lady of this kind would create the pleasure by not
bringing criticism.

'The godmother?' he glistened upon Nesta.

She gave him low half-notes of the little blue butterfly's imitation of
the superb contralto; and her hand and head at turn to hint the
theatrical operatic attitude.

'Delicious!' he cried, his eyelids were bedewed at the vision of the
three of them planted in the past; and here again, out of the dark wood,
where something had required to be said, and had been said; and all was
happily over, owing to the goodness and sweetness of the two dear
innocents;--whom heaven bless!  Jealousy of their naturally closer heart-
at-heart, had not a whisper for him; part of their goodness and sweetness
was felt to be in the not excluding him.

Nesta engaged to sing one of the 'old duets with her mother.  She saw her
mother's breast lift in a mechanical effort to try imaginary notes, as if
doubtful of her capacity, more at home in the dumb deep sigh they fell
to.  Her mother's heroism made her a sacred woman to the thoughts of the
girl, overcoming wonderment at the extreme submissiveness.

She put a screw on her mind to perceive the rational object there might
be for causing her mother to go through tortures in receiving and
visiting; and she was arrested by the louder question, whether she could
think such a man as her father irrational.

People with resounding names, waves of a steady stream, were announced by
Arlington, just as in the days, that seemed remote, before she went to
Moorsedge; only they were more numerous, and some of the titles had
ascended a stage.  There were great lords, there were many great ladies;
and Lady Grace Halley shuffling amid them, like a silken shimmer in
voluminous robes.

They crowded about their host where he stood.  'He, is their Law!' Colney
said, speaking unintelligibly, in the absence of the Simeon Fenellan
regretted so loudly by Mr. Beaves Urmsing.  They had an air of
worshipping, and he of swimming.

There were also City magnates, and Lakelands' neighbours: the gentleman
representing Pride of Port, Sir Abraham Quatley; and Colonel Corfe; Sir
Rodwell and Lady Blachington; Mrs. Fanning; Mr. Caddis.  Few young men
and maids were seen.  Dr. John Cormyn came without his wife, not
mentioning her.  Mrs. Peter Yatt touched the notes for voices at the
piano.  Priscilla Graves was a vacancy, and likewise the Rev. Septimus
Barmby.  Peridon and Catkin, and Mr. Pempton took their usual places.
There was no fluting.  A famous Canadian lady was the principal singer.
A Galician violinist, zig-zagging extreme extensions and contractions of
his corporeal frame in execution, and described by Colney as 'Paganini on
wall,' failed to supplant Durandarte in Nesta's memory.  She was asked by
Lady Grace for the latest of Dudley.  Sir Abraham Quatley named him with
handsome emphasis.  Great dames caressed her; openly approved; shadowed
the future place among them.

Victor alluded at night to Mrs. John Cormyn's absence.  He said: 'A
homoeopathic doctor's wife!' nothing more; and by that little, he
prepared Nesta for her mother's explanation.  The great London people,
ignorant or not, were caught by the strong tide he created, and carried
on it.  But there was a bruiting of the secret among their set; and the
one to fall away from her, Nataly marvellingly named Mrs. John Cormyn;
whose marriage was of her making.  She did not disapprove Priscilla's
behaviour.  Priscilla had come to her and, protesting affection, had
openly stated, that she required time and retirement to recover her
proper feelings.  Nataly smiled a melancholy criticism of an inconsequent
or capricious woman, in relating to Nesta certain observations Priscilla
had dropped upon poor faithful Mr. Pempton, because of his concealment
from her of his knowledge of things for this faithful gentleman had been
one of the few not ignorant.  The rumour was traceable to the City.

'Mother, we walk on planks,' Nesta said.

Nataly answered: 'You will grow used to it.'

Her mother's habitual serenity in martyrdom was deceiving.  Nesta had a
transient suspicion, that she had grown, from use, to like the whirl of
company, for oblivion in the excitement; and as her remembrance of her
own station among the crowding people was a hot flush, the difference of
their feelings chilled her.

Nataly said: 'It is to-morrow night again; we do not rest.'  She smiled;
and at once the girl read woman's armour on the dear face, and asked
herself, Could I be so brave?  The question following was a speechless
wave, that surged at her father.  She tried to fathom the scheme he
entertained.  The attempt obscured her conception of the man he was.  She
could not grasp him, being too young for knowing, that young heads cannot
obtain a critical hold upon one whom they see grandly succeeding it is
the sun's brilliance to their eyes.

Mother and daughter slept together that night, and their embrace was
their world.

Nesta delighted her father the next day by walking beside him into the,
City, as far as the end of the Embankment, where the carriage was in
waiting with her maid to bring her back; and at his mere ejaculation of a
wish, the hardy girl drove down in the afternoon for the walk home with
him.  Lady Grace Halley was at the office.  'I'm an incorrigible Stock
Exchange gambler,' she said.

'Only,' Victor bade her beware, 'Mines are undulating in movement, and
their heights are a preparation for their going down.'

She said she 'liked a swing.'

Nesta looked at them in turn.

The day after and the day after, Lady Grace was present.  She made play
with Dudley's name.

This coming into the City daily of a girl, for the sake of walking back
in winter weather with her father, struck her as ambiguous: either a
jealous foolish mother's device, or that of a weak man beating about for
protection.  But the woman of the positive world soon read to the
contrary; helped a little by the man, no doubt.  She read rather too much
to the contrary, and took the pedestrian girl for perfect simplicity in
her tastes, when Nesta had so far grown watchful as to feel relieved by
the lady's departure.  Her mother, without sympathy for the lady, was too
great of soul for jealousy.  Victor had his Nataly before him at a hint
from Lady Grace: and he went somewhat further than the exact degree when
affirming, that Nataly could not scheme, and was incapable of
suspecting.--Nataly could perceive things with a certain accuracy: she
would not stoop to a meanness.  'Plot?  Nataly?' said he, and shrugged.
In fact, the void of plot, drama, shuffle of excitement, reflected upon
Nataly.  He might have seen as tragic as ever dripped on Stage, had he
looked.

But the walk Westward with his girl, together with pride in a daughter
who clove her way through all weathers, won his heart to exultation.
He told her: 'Fredi does her dada so much good'; not telling her in what,
or opening any passage to the mystery of the man he was.  She was trying
to be a student of life, with her eyes down upon hard earth, despite of
her winged young head; she would have compassed him better had he dilated
in sublime fashion; but he baffled her perusal of a man of power by the
simpleness of his enjoyment of small things coming in his way;--the
lighted shops, the crowd, emergence from the crowd, or the meeting near
midwinter of a soft warm wind along the Embankment, and dark Thames
magnificently coroneted over his grimy flow.  There is no grasping of one
who quickens us.

His flattery of his girl, too, restored her broken feeling of personal
value; it permeated her nourishingly from the natural breath of him that
it was.

At times he touched deep in humaneness; and he set her heart leaping on
the flash of a thought to lay it bare, with the secret it held, for his
help.  That was a dream.  She could more easily have uttered the words to
Captain Dartrey, after her remembered abashing holy tremour of the vision
of doing it and casting herself on noblest man's compassionateness; and
her imagined thousand emotions;--a rolling music within her, a wreath of
cloudglory in her sky;--which had, as with virgins it may be, plighted
her body to him for sheer urgency of soul; drawn her by a single
unwitting-to-brain, conscious-in-blood, shy curl outward of the sheathing
leaf to the flowering of woman to him; even to the shore of that strange
sea, where the maid stands choosing this one man for her destiny, as in a
trance.  So are these young ones unfolded, shade by shade; and a shade is
all the difference with them; they can teach the poet to marvel at the
immensity of vitality in 'the shadow of a shade.'

Her father shut the glimpse of a possible speaking to him of Mrs.
Marsett, with a renewal of his eulogistic allusions to Dudley Sowerby:
the 'perfect gentleman, good citizen'; prospective heir to an earldom
besides.  She bowed to Dudley's merits; she read off the honorific
pedimental letters of a handsome statue, for a sign to herself that she
passed it.

She was unjust, as Victor could feel, though he did not know how coldly
unjust.  For among the exorbitant requisitions upon their fellow-
creatures made by the young, is the demand, that they be definite: no
mercy is in them for the transitional.  And Dudley--and it was under her
influence, and painfully, not ignobly--was in process of development:
interesting to philosophers, if not to maidens.

Victor accused her of paying too much heed to Colney Durance's epigrams
upon their friends.  He quite joined with his English world in its
opinion, that epigrams are poor squibs when they do not come out of great
guns.  Epigrams fired at a venerable nation, are surely the poorest of
popgun paper pellets.  The English kick at the insolence, when they are
not in the mood for pelleting themselves, or when the armed Foreigner is
overshadowing and braceing.  Colney's pretentious and laboured Satiric
Prose Epic of 'THE RIVAL TONGUES,' particularly offended him, as being a
clever aim at no hitting; and sustained him, inasmuch as it was an acid
friend's collapse.  How could Colney expect his English to tolerate such
a spiteful diatribe!  The suicide of Dr. Bouthoin at San Francisco was
the finishing stroke to the chances of success of the Serial;--although
we are promised splendid evolutions on the part of Mr. Semhians; who,
after brilliant achievements with bat and ball, abandons those weapons of
Old England's modern renown, for a determined wrestle with our English
pronunciation of words, and rescue of the spelling of them from the
printer.  His headache over the present treatment of the verb 'To bid,'
was a quaint beginning for one who had soon to plead before Japanese, and
who acknowledged now 'in contrition of spirit,' that in formerly opposing
the scheme for an Academy, he helped to the handing of our noble language
to the rapid reporter of news for an apathetic public.  Further, he
discovered in astonishment the subordination of all literary Americans to
the decrees of their literary authorities; marking a Transatlantic point
of departure, and contrasting ominously with the unruly Islanders
'grunting the higgledy-piggledy of their various ways, in all the
porker's gut-gamut at the rush to the trough.'  After a week's privation
of bat and ball, he is, lighted or not, a gas-jet of satire upon his
countrymen.  As for the 'pathetic sublimity of the Funeral of Dr.
Bouthoin,' Victor inveighed against an impious irony in the over dose of
the pathos; and the same might be suspected in Britannia's elegy upon
him, a strain of hot eulogy throughout.  Mr. Semhians, all but
treasonably, calls it, Papboat and Brandy:--'our English literary diet of
the day': stimulating and not nourishing.  Britannia's mournful
anticipation, that 'The shroud enwinding this my son is mine!'--should
the modern generation depart from the track of him who proved himself the
giant in mainly supporting her glory--was, no doubt, a high pitch of the
note of Conservatism.  But considering, that Dr. Bouthoin 'committed
suicide under a depression of mind produced by a surfeit of unaccustomed
dishes, upon a physical system inspired by the traditions of exercise,
and no longer relieved by the practice'--to translate from Dr. Gannius:
we are again at war with the writer's reverential tone, and we know not
what to think: except, that Mr. Durance was a Saturday meat market's
butcher in the Satiric Art.

Nesta found it pleasanter to see him than to hear of his work: which, to
her present feeling, was inhuman.  As little as our native public, had
she then any sympathy for the working in the idea: she wanted throbs,
visible aims, the Christian incarnate; she would have preferred the tale
of slaughter--periodically invading all English classes as a flush from
the undrained lower, Vikings all--to frigid sterile Satire.  And truly it
is not a fruit-bearing rod.  Colney had to stand on the defence of it
against the damsel's charges.  He thought the use of the rod, while
expressing profound regret at a difference of opinion between him and
those noble heathens, beneficial for boys; but in relation to their
seniors, and particularly for old gentlemen, he thought that the sharpest
rod to cut the skin was the sole saving of them.  Insensibility to
Satire, he likened to the hard-mouthed horse; which is doomed to the
worser thing in consequence.  And consequently upon the lack of it, and
of training to appreciate it, he described his country's male venerables
as being distinguishable from annuitant spinsters only in presenting
themselves forked.

'He is unsuccessful and embittered, Victor said to Nesta.  'Colney will
find in the end, that he has lost his game and soured himself by never
making concessions.  Here's this absurd Serial--it fails, of course; and
then he has to say, it's because he won't tickle his English, won't enter
into a "frowzy complicity" with their tastes.'

'But--I think of Skepsey honest creatures respect Mr. Durance, and he is
always ready to help them,' said Nesta.

'If he can patronize.'

'Does he patronize me, dada?'

'You are one of his exceptions.  Marry a title and live in state--and
then hear him!  I am successful, and the result of it is, that he won't
acknowledge wisdom in anything I say or do; he will hardly acknowledge
the success.  It is "a dirty road to success," he says.  So that, if
successful, I must have rolled myself in mire.  I compelled him to admit
he was wrong about your being received at Moorsedge: a bit of a triumph!'

Nesta's walks with her father were no loss of her to Nataly; the girl
came back to her bearing so fresh and so full a heart; and her father was
ever prouder of her: he presented new features of her in his quotations
of her sayings, thoughtful sayings.  'I declare she helps one to think,'
he said.  'It 's not precocity; it 's healthy inquiry.  She brings me
nearer ideas of my own, not yet examined, than any one else does.  I say,
what a wife for a man!'

'She takes my place beside you, dear, now I am not quite strong,' said
Nataly.  'You have not seen .  .  .?'

'Dudley Sowerby?  He's at Cronidge, I believe.  His elder brother's in a
bad way.  Bad business, this looking to a death.'

Nataly eyes revealed a similar gulf.

Let it be cast on Society, then!  A Society opposing Nature forces us to
these murderous looks upon impediments.  But what of a Society in the
dance with Nature?  Victor did not approve of that.  He began, under the
influence of Nesta's companionship, to see the Goddess Nature there is in
a chastened nature.  And this view shook the curtain covering his lost
Idea.  He felt sure he should grasp it soon and enter into its daylight:
a muffled voice within him said, that he was kept waiting to do so by the
inexplicable tardiness of a certain one to rise ascending to her
spiritual roost.  She was now harmless to strike: Themison, Carling,
Jarniman, even the Rev. Groseman Buttermore, had been won to the cause of
humanity.  Her ascent, considering her inability to do further harm
below, was most mysteriously delayed.  Owing to it, in a manner almost as
mysterious, he was kept crossing a bridge having a slippery bit on it.
Thanks to his gallant Fredi, he had found his feet again.  But there was
a bruise where, to his honour, he felt tenderest.  And Fredi away, he
might be down again--for no love of a slippery bit, proved slippery, one
might guess, by a predecessor or two.  Ta-ta-ta-to and mum!  Still, in
justice to the little woman, she had been serviceable.

She would be still more so, if a member of Parliament now on his back
here we are with the murder-eye again!

Nesta's never speaking of Lakelands clouded him a little, as an
intimation of her bent of mind.

'And does my girl come to her dada to-day?' he said, on the fifth morning
since her return; prepared with a villanous resignation to hear, that
this day she abstained, though he had the wish for her coming.

'Why, don't you know,' said she, 'we all meet to have tea in Mr.
Durance's chambers; and I walk back with you, and there we are joined
by mama; and we are to have a feast of literary celebrities.'

'Colney's selection of them!  And Simeon Fenellan, I hope.  Perhaps
Dartrey.  Perhaps .  .  .  eh?'

She reddened.  So Dudley Sowerby's unspoken name could bring the blush to
her cheeks.  Dudley had his excuses in his brother's condition.  His
father's health, too, was--but this was Dudley calculating.  Where there
are coronets, calculations of this sort must needs occur; just as where
there are complications.  Odd, one fancies it, that we walking along the
pavement of civilized life, should be perpetually summoning Orcus to our
aid, for the sake of getting a clear course.

'And supposing a fog, my dearie?' he said.

'The daughter in search of her father carries a lamp to light her to him
through densest fogs as well as over deserts,' etc.  She declaimed a long
sentence, to set the ripple running in his features; and when he left the
room for a last word with Armandine, she flung arms round her mother's
neck, murmuring: 'Mother!  mother!' a cry equal to 'I am sure I do
right,' and understood so by Nataly approving it; she too on the line of
her instinct, without an object in sight.




CHAPTER XXXVII

THE MOTHER-THE DAUGHTER

Taking Nesta's hand, on her entry into his chambers with her father,
Colney Durance bowed over it and kissed it.  The unusual performance had
a meaning; she felt she was praised.  It might be because she made
herself her father's companion.  'I can't persuade him to put on a great-
coat,' she said.  'You would defeat his aim at the particular waistcoat
of his ambition,' said Colney, goaded to speak, not anxious to be heard.

He kept her beside him, leading her about for introductions to multiform
celebrities of both sexes; among them the gentleman editing the Magazine
which gave out serially THE RIVAL TONGUES: and there was talk of a
dragon-throated public's queer appetite in Letters.  The pained Editor
deferentially smiled at her cheerful mention of Delphica.  'In, book
form, perhaps!' he remarked, with plaintive' resignation; adding: 'You
read it?'  And a lady exclaimed: 'We all read it!'

But we are the elect, who see signification and catch flavour; and we are
reminded of an insatiable monster how sometimes capricious is his gorge.
'He may happen to be in the humour for a shaking!'  Colney's poor
consolation it was to say of the prospects of his published book: for the
funny monster has been known to like a shaking.

'He takes it kinder tickled,' said Fenellan, joining the group and
grasping Nesta's hand with a warmth that thrilled her and set her
guessing.  'A taste of his favourite Cayenne lollypop, Colney; it fetches
the tear he loves to shed, or it gives him digestive heat in the bag of
his literary receptacle-fearfully relaxed and enormous!  And no wonder;
his is to lie him down on notion of the attitude for reading, his back;
and he has in a jiffy the funnel of the Libraries inserted into his
mouth, and he feels the publishers pouring their gallons through it
unlimitedly; never crying out, which he can't; only swelling, which he's
obliged to do, with a non-nutritious inflation; and that's his
intellectual enjoyment; bearing a likeness to the horrible old torture of
the baillir d'eau; and he's doomed to perish in the worst book-form of
dropsy.  You, my dear Colney, have offended his police or excise, who
stand by the funnel, in touch with his palate, to make sure that nothing
above proof is poured in; and there's your misfortune.  He's not half a
bad fellow, you find when you haven't got to serve him.'

'Superior to his official parasites, one supposes!' Colney murmured.

The celebrities were unaffectedly interested in a literary failure having
certain merits; they discussed it, to compliment the crownless author;
and the fervider they, the more was he endowed to read the meanness
prompting the generosity.  Publication of a book, is the philosopher's
lantern upon one's fellows.

Colney was caught away from his private manufactory of acids by hearing
Simeon Fenellan relate to Victor some of the recent occurrences at
Brighton.  Simeon's tone was unsatisfying; Colney would have the word;
he was like steel on the grindstone for such a theme of our national
grotesque-sublime.

'That Demerara Supple-jack, Victor!  Don't listen to Simeon; he's a man
of lean narrative, fit to chronicle political party wrangles and such
like crop of carcase prose: this is epical.  In DRINK we have Old
England's organic Epic; Greeks and Trojans; Parliamentary Olympus,
ennobled brewers, nasal fanatics, all the machinery to hand.  Keep a
straight eye on the primary motives of man, you'll own the English
produce the material for proud verse; they're alive there!  Dartrey's
Demerara makes a pretty episode of the battle.  I haven't seen it--if
it's possible to look on it: but I hear it is flexible, of a vulgar
appearance in repose, Jove's lightning at one time, the thong of AEacus
at another.  Observe Dartrey marching off to the Station, for the purpose
of laying his miraculous weapon across the shoulders of a son of Mars,
who had offended.  But we have his name, my dear Victor!  His name,
Simeon?--Worrell; a Major Worrell: his offence being probably, that he
obtained military instruction in the Service, and left it at his
convenience, for our poor patch and tatter British Army to take in his
place another young student, who'll grow up to do similarly.  And
Dartrey, we assume, is off to stop that system.  You behold Sir Dartrey
twirling the weapon in preparatory fashion; because he is determined we
shall have an army of trained officers instead of infant amateurs heading
heroic louts.  Not a thought of Beer in Dartrey!--always unpatriotic, you
'll say.  Plato entreats his absent mistress to fix eyes on a star: eyes
on Beer for the uniting of you English!  I tell you no poetic fiction.
Seeing him on his way, thus terribly armed, and knowing his intent,
Venus, to shield a former favourite servant of Mars, conjured the most
diverting of interventions, in the shape of a young woman in a poke-
bonnet, and Skepsey, her squire, marching with a dozen or so, informing
bedevilled mankind of the hideousness of our hymnification when it is not
under secluding sanction of the Edifice, and challengeing criticism; and
that was hard by, and real English, in the form of bludgeons, wielded by
a battalion of the national idol Bungay Beervat's boys; and they fell
upon the hymners.  Here you fill in with pastoral similes.  They struck
the maid adored by Skepsey.  And that was the blow which slew them!
Our little man drove into the press with a pair of fists able to do their
work.  A valiant skiff upon a sea of enemies, he was having it on the
nob, and suddenly the Demerara lightened.  It flailed to thresh.  Enough.
to say, brains would have come.  The Bungays made a show of fight.  No
lack of blood in them, to stock a raw shilling's worth or gush before
Achilles rageing.  You perceive the picture, you can almost sing the
ballad.  We want only a few names of the fallen.  It was the carving of a
maitre chef, according to Skepsey: right-left-and point, with supreme
precision: they fell, accurately sliced from the joint.  Having done with
them, Dartrey tossed the Demerara to Skepsey, and washed his hands of
battle; and he let his major go unscathed.  Phlebotomy sufficient for the
day!'

Nesta's ears hummed with the name of Major Worrell.

'Skepsey did come back to London with a rather damaged frontispiece,'
Victor said.  'He can't have joined those people?'

'They may suit one of your militant peacemakers,' interposed Fenellan.
'The most placable creatures alive, and the surest for getting-up a
shindy.'

'Suit him!  They're the scandal of our streets.'  Victor was pricked with
a jealousy of them for beguiling him of his trusty servant.

'Look at your country, see where it shows its vitality,' said Colney.
'You don't see elsewhere any vein in movement-movement,' he harped on the
word Victor constantly employed to express the thing he wanted to see.
'Think of that, when the procession sets your teeth on edge.  They're
honest foes of vice, and they move:--in England!  Pulpit-preaching has no
effect.  For gross maladies, gross remedies.  You may judge of what you
are by the quality of the cure.  Puritanism, I won't attempt to paint--
it would barely be decent; but compare it with the spectacle of English
frivolity, and you'll admit it to be the best show you make.  It may
still be the saving of you--on the level of the orderly ox: I 've not
observed that it aims at higher.  And talking of the pulpit, Barmby is
off to the East, has accepted a Shoreditch curacy, Skepsey tells me.'

'So there's the reason for our not seeing him!' Victor turned to Nesta.

'Papa, you won't be angry with Skepsey if he has joined those people,'
said Nesta.  'I'm sure he thinks of serving his country, Mr. Durance.'

Colney smiled on her.  'And you too?'

'If women knew how!'

'They're hitting on more ways at present than the men--in England.'

'But, Mr. Durance, it speaks well for England when they're allowed the
chance here.'

'Good!' Fenellan exclaimed.  'And that upsets his placement of the modern
national genders: Germany masculine, France feminine, Old England what
remains.'

Victor ruffled and reddened on his shout of 'Neuter?'

Their circle widened.  Nesta knew she was on promotion, by her being led
about and introduced to ladies.  They were encouraging with her.  One of
them, a Mrs. Marina Floyer, had recently raised a standard of feminine
insurrection.  She said: 'I hear your praises from Mr. Durance.  He
rarely praises.  You have shown capacity to meditate on the condition of
women, he says.'

Nesta drew a shorter breath, with a hope at heart.  She speculated in the
dark, as to whether her aim to serve and help was not so friendless.  And
did Mr. Durance approve?  But surely she stood in a glorious England if
there were men and women to welcome a girl to their councils.  Oh!  that
is the broad free England where gentlemen and gentlewomen accept of the
meanest aid to cleanse the land of its iniquities, and do not suffer
shame to smite a young face for touching upon horrors with a pure design.

She cried in her bosom: I feel!  She had no other expression for that
which is as near as great natures may come to the conceiving of the
celestial spirit from an emissary angel; and she trembled, the fire ran
through her.  It seemed to her, that she would be called to help or that
certainly they were nearing to an effacement of the woefullest of evils;
and if not helping, it would still be a blessedness for her to kneel
thanking heaven.

Society was being attacked and defended.  She could but studiously
listen.  Her father was listening.  The assailant was a lady; and she had
a hearing, although she treated Society as a discrowned monarch on trial
for an offence against a more precious: viz., the individual cramped by
brutish laws: the individual with the ideas of our time, righteously
claiming expansion out of the clutches of a narrow old-world
disciplinarian-that giant hypocrite!  She flung the gauntlet at
externally venerable Institutions; and she had a hearing, where
horrification, execration, the foul Furies of Conservatism would in a
shortly antecedent day have been hissing and snakily lashing, hounding
her to expulsion.  Mrs. Marina Floyer gravely seconded her.  Colney did
the same.  Victor turned sharp on him.  'Yes,' Colney said; 'we unfold
the standard of extremes in this country, to get a single step taken:
that's how we move: we threaten death to get footway.  Now, mark:
Society's errors will be admitted.'

A gentleman spoke.  He began by admitting Society's errors.
Nevertheless, it so distinctly exists for the common good, that we may
say of Society in relation to the individual, it is the body to the soul.
We may wash, trim, purify, but we must not maim it.  The assertion of our
individuality in opposition to the Government of Society--this existing
Society--is a toss of the cap for the erasure of our civilization, et
caetera.

Platitudes can be of intense interest if they approach our case.--But, if
you please, we ask permission to wash, trim, purify, and we do not get
it.--But you have it!  Because we take it at our peril; and you, who are
too cowardly to grant or withhold, call-up the revolutionary from the
pits by your slackness:--etc.  There was a pretty hot debate.  Both
assailant and defendant, to Victor's thinking, spoke well, and each the
right thing and he could have made use of both, but he could answer
neither.  He beat about for the cause of this deficiency, and discovered
it in his position.  Mentally, he was on the side of Society.  Yet he was
annoyed to find the attack was so easily answerable when the defence
unfolded.  But it was absurd to expect it would not be.  And in fact, a
position secretly rebellious is equal to water on the brain for
stultifying us.

Before the controversy was over, a note in Nataly's handwriting called
him home.  She wrote: 'Make my excuses.  C. D.  will give Nesta and some
lady dinner.  A visitor here.  Come alone, and without delay.  Quite
well, robust.  Impatient to consult with you, nothing else.'

Nesta was happy to stay; and Victor set forth.

The visitor?  plainly Dudley.  Nataly's trusting the girl to the chance
of some lady being present, was unlike her.  Dudley might be tugging at
the cord; and the recent conversation upon Society, rendered one of its
gilt pillars particularly estimable.--A person in the debate had declared
this modern protest on behalf of individualism to represent Society's
Criminal Trial.  And it is likely to be a long one.  And good for the
world, that we see such a Trial!--Well said or not, undoubtedly Society
is an old criminal: not much more advanced than the state of spiritual
worship where bloody sacrifice was offered to a hungry Lord.  But it has
a case for pleading.  We may liken it, as we have it now, to the bumping
lumberer's raft; suitable along torrent waters until we come to smoother.
Are we not on waters of a certain smoothness at the reflecting level?--
enough to justify demands for a vessel of finer design.  If Society is to
subsist, it must have the human with the logical argument against the cry
of the free-flags, instead of presenting a block's obtuseness.  That, you
need not hesitate to believe, will be rolled downward and disintegrated,
sooner than later.  A Society based on the logical concrete of humane
considerateness:--a Society prohibiting to Mrs. Burman her wielding of a
life-long rod .  .  .  .

The personal element again to confuse inquiry!--And Skepsey and Barmby
both of them bent on doing work without inquiry of any sort!  They were
enviable: they were good fellows.  Victor clung to the theme because it
hinted of next door to his lost Idea.  He rubbed the back of his head,
fancying a throb there.  Are civilized creatures incapable of abstract
thought when their social position is dubious?  For if so, we never can
be quit of those we forsake.--Apparently Mrs. Burman's unfathomed power
lay in her compelling him to summon the devilish in himself and play upon
the impish in Society, that he might overcome her.

Victor's house-door stopped this current.

Nataly took his embrace.

'Nothing wrong?' he said, and saw the something.  It was a favourable
moment to tell her what she might not at another time regard as a small
affair.  'News in the City to-day of that South London borough being
vacated.  Quatley urges me.  A death again!  I saw Pempton, too.  Will
you credit me when I tell you he carries his infatuation so far, that he
has been investing in Japanese and Chinese Loans, because they are less
meat-eaters than others, and vegetarians are more stable, and outlast us
all!--Dudley the visitor?'  'Mr. Sowerby has been here,' she said, in a
shaking low voice.

Victor held her hand and felt a squeeze more nervous than affectionate.

'To consult with me,' she added.  'My maid will go at ten to bring Nesta;
Mr. Durance I can count on, to see her safe home.  Ah!' she wailed.

Victor nodded, saying: 'I guess.  And, my love, you will receive Mrs.
John Cormyn to-morrow morning.  I can't endure gaps.  Gaps in our circle
must never be.  Do I guess?--I spoke to Colney about bringing her home.'

Nataly sighed: 'Ah!  make what provision we will!  Evil--Mr. Sowerby has
had a great deal to bear.'

'A worldling may think so.'

Her breast heaved, and the wave burst: but her restraining of tears froze
her speech.

'Victor!  Our Nesta!  Mr. Sowerby is unable to explain.  And how the Miss
Duvidneys!  .  .  .  At that Brighton!'--The voice he heard was not his
darling's deep rich note, it had dropped to toneless hoarseness: 'She has
been permitted to make acquaintance--she has been seen riding with--she
has called upon--Oh! it is one of those abandoned women.  In her house!
Our girl!  Our Nesta!  She was insulted by a man in the woman's house.
She is talked of over Brighton.  The mother!--the daughter!  And grant me
this--that never was girl more carefully .  .  .  never till she was
taken from me.  Oh!  do not forget.  You will defend me?  You will say,
that her mother did with all her soul strive .  .  .  It is not a rumour.
Mr. Sowerby has had it confirmed.'  A sob caught her voice.

Victor's hands caressed to console: 'Dudley does not propose to .  .  ?'

'Nesta must promise .  .  .  But how it happened?  How!  An acquaintance
with--contact with!--Oh!  cruel!'  Each time she ceased speaking, the
wrinkles of a shiver went over her, and the tone was of tears coming, but
she locked them in.

'An accident!' said Victor; 'some misunderstanding--there can't be harm.
Of course, she promises--hasn't to promise.  How could a girl
distinguish!  He does not cast blame on her?'

'Dear, if you would go down to Dartrey to-morrow.  He knows:--it is over
the Clubs there; he will tell you, before a word to Nesta.  Innocent,
yes!  Mr. Sowerby has not to be assured of that.  Ignorant of the
character of the dreadful woman?  Ah, if I could ever in anything think
her ignorant!  She frightens me.  Mr. Sowerby is indulgent.  He does me
justice.  My duty to her--I must defend myself--has been my first
thought.  I said in my prayers--she at least!  .  .  .  We have to see
the more than common reasons why she, of all girls, should--he did not
hint it, he was delicate: her name must not be public.'

'Yes, yes, Dudley is without parallel as a gentleman,' said Victor.  'It
does not suit me to hear the word "indulgent."  My dear, if you were down
there, you would discover that the talk was the talk of two or three men
seeing our girl ride by--and she did ride with a troop: why, we've
watched them along the parade, often.  Clear as day how it happened!
I'll go down early to-morrow.'

He fancied Nataly was appeased.  And even out of this annoyance, there
was the gain of her being won to favour Dudley's hitherto but tolerated
suit.

Nataly also had the fancy, that the calm following on her anguish, was a
moderation of it.  She was kept strung to confide in her girl by the
recent indebtedness to her for words heavenly in the strengthening
comfort they gave.  But no sooner was she alone than her torturing
perplexities and her abasement of the hours previous to Victor's
coming returned.

For a girl of Nesta's head could not be deceived; she had come home with
a woman's intelligence of the world, hard knowledge of it--a knowledge
drawn from foul wells, the unhappy mother imagined: she dreaded to probe
to the depth of it.  She had in her wounded breast the world's idea, that
corruption must come of the contact with impurity.

Nataly renewed her cry of despair: 'The mother!--the daughter!'--her sole
revelation of the heart's hollows in her stammered speaking to Victor.

She thanked heaven for the loneliness of her bed, where she could repeat:
'The mother!--the daughter!' hearing the world's words:--the daughter
excused, by reason of her having such a mother; the mother unpitied for
the bruiting of her brazen daughter's name: but both alike consigned to
the corners of the world's dust-heaps.  She cried out, that her pride was
broken.  Her pride, her last support of life, had gone to pieces.  The
tears she restrained in Victor's presence, were called on to come now,
and she had none.  It might be, that she had not strength for weeping.
She was very weak.  Rising from bed to lock her door against Nesta's
entry to the room on her return at night, she could hardly stand: a chill
and a clouding overcame her.  The quitted bed seemed the haven of a
drifted wreck to reach.

Victor tried the handle of a locked door in the dark of the early winter
morning.  'The mother!--the daughter!' had swung a pendulum for some time
during the night in him, too.  He would rather have been subjected to the
spectacle of tears than have heard that toneless voice, as it were the
dry torrent-bed rolling blocks instead of melodious, if afflicting,
waters.

He told Nesta not to disturb her mother, and murmured of a headache:
'Though, upon my word, the best cure for mama would be a look into
Fredi's eyes!' he said, embracing his girl, quite believing in her, just
a little afraid of her.




CHAPTER XXXVIII

NATALY, NESTA, AND DARTREY FENELLAN

Pleasant things, that come to us too late for our savour of the sweetness
in them, toll ominously of life on the last walk to its end.  Yesterday,
before Dudley Sowerby's visit, Nataly would have been stirred where the
tears we shed for happiness or repress at a flattery dwell when seeing
her friend Mrs. John Cormyn enter her boudoir and hearing her speak
repentantly, most tenderly.  Mrs. John said: 'You will believe I have
suffered, dear; I am half my weight, I do think': and she did not set the
smile of responsive humour moving; although these two ladies had a key of
laughter between them.  Nataly took her kiss; held her hand, and at the
parting kissed her.  She would rather have seen her friend than not: so
far she differed from a corpse; but she was near the likeness to the dead
in the insensibility to any change of light shining on one who best loved
darkness and silence.  She cried to herself wilfully, that her pride was
broken: as women do when they spurn at the wounding of a dignity they
cannot protect and die to see bleeding; for in it they live.

The cry came of her pride unbroken, sore bruised, and after a certain
space for recovery combative.  She said:

Any expiation I could offer where I did injury, I would not refuse; I
would humble myself and bless heaven for being able to pay my debt--what
I can of it.  All I contend against is, injustice.  And she sank into
sensational protests of her anxious care of her daughter, too proud to
phrase them.

Her one great affliction, the scourging affliction of her utter
loneliness;--an outcast from her family; daily, and she knew not how,
more shut away from the man she loved; now shut away from her girl;--
seemed under the hand of the angel of God.  The abandonment of her by
friends, was merely the light to show it.

Midday's post brought her a letter from Priscilla Graves, entreating to
be allowed to call on her next day.--We are not so easily cast off!
Nataly said, bitterly, in relation to the lady whose offending had not
been so great.  She wrote: 'Come, if sure that you sincerely wish to.'

Having fasted, she ate at lunch in her dressing-room, with some taste of
the food, haunted by an accusation of gluttony because of her eating at
all, and a vile confession, that she was enabled to eat, owing to the
receipt of Priscilla's empty letter: for her soul's desire was to be
doing a deed of expiation, and the macerated flesh seemed her assurance
to herself of the courage to make amends.--I must have some strength, she
said wearifully, in apology for the morsel consumed.

Nesta's being in the house with her, became an excessive irritation.
Doubts of the girl's possible honesty to speak a reptile truth under
question; amazement at her boldness to speak it; hatred of, the mouth
that could: and loathing of the words, the theme; and abomination of
herself for conjuring fictitious images to rouse real emotions; all ran
counterthreads, that produced a mad pattern in the mind, affrighting to
reason: and then, for its preservation, reason took a superrational leap,
and ascribed the terrible injustice of this last cruel stroke to the
divine scourge, recognized divine by the selection of the mortal spot for
chastisement.  She clasped her breast, and said: It is mortal.  And that
calmed her.

She said, smiling: I never felt my sin until this blow came!  Therefore
the blow was proved divine.  Ought it not to be welcomed?--and she
appearing no better than one of those, the leprous of the sex!  And
brought to acknowledgement of the likeness by her daughter!

Nataly drank the poison distilled from her exclamations and was ice.  She
had denied herself to Nesta's redoubled petition.  Nesta knocking at the
door a third time and calling, tore the mother two ways: to have her girl
on her breast or snap their union in a word with an edge.  She heard the
voice of Dartrey Fenellan.

He was admitted.  'No, dear,' she said to Nesta; and Nesta's, 'My own
mother,' consentingly said, in tender resignation, as she retired, sprang
a stinging tear to the mother's eyelids.

Dartrey looked at the door closing on the girl.

'Is it a very low woman?' Nataly asked him in a Church whisper, with a
face abashed.

'It is not,' said he, quick to meet any abruptness.

'She must be cunning.'

'In the ordinary way.  We say it of Puss before the hounds.'

'To deceive a girl like Nesta!'

'She has done no harm.'

'Dartrey, you speak to a mother.  You have seen the woman?  She is?
--ah!'

'She is womanly, womanly.'

'Quite one of those .  .  . ?'

'My dear soul!  You can't shake them off in that way.  She is one of us.
If we have the class, we can't escape from it.  They are not to bear all
the burden because they exist.  We are the bigger debtors.  I tell you
she is womanly.'

'It sounds like horrid cynicism.'

'Friends of mine would abuse it for the reverse.'

'Do not make me hate your chivalry.  This woman is a rod on my back.
Provided only she has not dropped venom into Nesta's mind!'

'Don't fear!'

'Can you tell me you think she has done no harm to my girl?'

'To Nesta herself?--not any: not to a girl like your girl.'

'To my girl's name?  Speak at once.  But I know she has.  She induced
Nesta to go to her house.  My girl was insulted in this woman's house.'

Dartrey's forehead ridged with his old fury and a gust of present
contempt.  'I can tell you this, that the fellow who would think harm of
it, knowing the facts 's not worthy of touching the tips of the fingers
of your girl.'

'She is talked of!'

'A good-looking girl out riding with a handsome woman on a parade of
idlers!'

'The woman is notorious.'  Nataly said it shivering.

He shook his head.  'Not true.'

'She has an air of a lady?'

'She sits a horse well.'

'Would she to any extent deceive me--impose on me here?'

'No.'

'Ah!' Nataly moaned. . . .

'But what?' said Dartrey.  'There was no pretence.  Her style is not
worse than that of some we have seen.  There was no effort to deceive.
The woman's plain for you and me to read, she has few of the arts; one or
two tricks, if you like: and these were not needed for use.  There are
women who have them, and have not been driven or let slip into the
wilderness.'

'Yes; I know!--those ideas of yours!' Nataly had once admired him for his
knightliness toward the weakest women and the women underfoot.  'You have
spoken to this woman?  She boasted of acquaintance with Nesta?'

'She thanked God for having met her.'

'Is it one of the hysterical creatures?'

Mrs. Marsett appeared fronting Dartrey.

He laughed to himself.  'A clever question.  There is a leaning to
excitement of manner at times.  It 's not hysteria.  Allow for her
position.'

Nataly took the unintended blow, and bowed to it; and still more harshly
said: 'What rank of life does the woman come from?'

'The class educated for a skittish career by your popular Stage and your
Book-stalls.  I am not precise?'

'Leave Mr. Durance.  Is she in any degree commonly well bred?  .  .  .
behaviour, talk-her English.'

'I trench on Mr. Durance in replying.  Her English is passable.  You may
hear .  .  .'

'Everywhere, of course!  And this woman of slipshod English and excited
manners imposed upon Nesta!'

'It would not be my opinion.'

'Did not impose on her!'

'Not many would impose on Nesta Radnor for long.'

'Think what that says, Dartrey!'

'You have had a detestable version of the story.'

'Because an excited creature thanks God to you for having met her!'

'She may.  She's a better woman for having met her.  Don't suppose we're
for supernatural conversions.  The woman makes no show of that.  But she
has found a good soul among her sex--her better self in youth, as one
guesses; and she is grateful--feels farther from exile in consequence.
She has found a lady to take her by the hand!--not a common case.  She
can never go to the utterly bad after knowing Nesta.  I forget if she
says it; I say it.  You have heard the story from one of your
conventional gentlemen.'

'A true gentleman.  I have reason to thank him.  He has not your ideas on
these matters, Dartrey.  He is very sensitive .  .  .  on Nesta's
behalf.'

'With reference to marriage.  I'll own I prefer another kind of
gentleman.  I 've had my experience of that kind of gentleman.  Many
of the kind have added their spot to the outcasts abominated for
uncleanness--in holy unction.  Many?--I won't say all; but men who
consent to hear black words pitched at them, and help to set good women
facing away from them, are pious dolts or rascal dogs of hypocrites.
They, if you'll let me quote Colney Durance to you to-day--and how is it
he is not in favour?--they are tempting the Lord to turn the pillars of
Society into pillars of salt.  Down comes the house.  And priests can
rest in sight of it!--They ought to be dead against the sanctimony that
believes it excommunicates when it curses.  The relationship is not
dissolved so cheaply, though our Society affects to think it is.
Barmby's off to the East End of this London, Victor informs me:--good
fellow!  And there he'll be groaning over our vicious nature.  Nature is
not more responsible for vice than she is for inhumanity.  Both bad, but
the latter's the worse of the two.'

Nataly interposed: 'I see the contrast, and see whom it's to strike.'

Dartrey sent a thought after his meaning.  'Hardly that.  Let it stand.
He 's only one with the world: but he shares the criminal infamy for
crushing hope out of its frailest victims.  They're that--no sentiment.
What a world, too, look behind it!--brutal because brutish.  The world
may go hang: we expect more of your gentleman.  To hear of Nesta down
there, and doubt that she was about good work; and come complaining!  He
had the privilege of speaking to her, remonstrating, if he wished.  There
are men who think--men!--the plucking of sinners out of the mire a dirty
business.  They depute it to certain officials.  And your women--it's the
taste of the world to have them educated so, that they can as little take
the humane as the enlightened view.  Except, by the way, sometimes, in
secret;--they have a sisterly breast.  In secret, they do occasionally
think as they feel.  In public, the brass mask of the Idol they call
Propriety commands or supplies their feelings and thoughts.  I won't
repeat my reasons for educating them differently.  At present we have but
half the woman to go through life with--and thank you.'

Dartrey stopped.  'Don't be disturbed,' he added.  'There's no ground for
alarm.  Not of any sort.'

Nataly said: 'What name?'

'Her name is Mrs. Marsett.'

'The name is .  .  . ?'

'Captain Marsett: will be Sir Edward.  He came back from the Continent
yesterday.'

A fit of shuddering seized Nataly.  It grew in violence, and speaking out
of it, with a pause of sickly empty chatter of the jaws, she said:
'Always that name?'

'Before the maiden name?  May have been or not.'

'Not, you say?'

'I don't accurately know.'

Dartrey sprang to his legs.  'My dear soul!  dear friend--one of the
best! if we go on fencing in the dark, there'll be wounds.  Your way of
taking this affair disappointed me.  Now I understand.  It's the disease
of a trouble, to fly at comparisons.  No real one exists.  I wished to
protect the woman from a happier sister's judgement, to save you from
alarm concerning Nesta:--quite groundless, if you'll believe me.  Come,
there's plenty of benevolent writing abroad on these topics now: facts
are more looked at, and a good woman may join us in taking them without
the horrors and loathings of angels rather too much given to claim
distinction from the luckless.  A girl who's unprotected may go through
adventures before she fixes, and be a creature of honest intentions.
Better if protected, we all agree.  Better also if the world did not
favour the girl's multitude of enemies.  Your system of not dealing with
facts openly is everyway favourable to them.  I am glad to say, Victor
recognizes what corruption that spread of wealth is accountable for.
And now I must go and have a talk with the--what a change from the blue
butterfly!  Eaglet, I ought to have said.  I dine with you, for Victor
may bring news.'

'Would anything down there be news to you, Dartrey?'

'He makes it wherever he steps.'

'He would reproach me for not detaining you.  Tell Nesta I have to lie
down after talking.  She has a child's confidence in you.'

A man of middle age!  he said to himself.  It is the particular
ejaculation which tames the senior whose heart is for a dash of holiday.
He resolved, that the mother might trust to the discretion of a man of
his age; and he went down to Nesta, grave with the weight his count of
years should give him.  Seeing her, the light of what he now knew of her
was an ennobling equal to celestial.  For this fair girl was one of the
active souls of the world--his dream to discover in woman's form.  She,
the little Nesta, the tall pure-eyed girl before him, was, young though
she was, already in the fight with evil: a volunteer of the army of the
simply Christian.  The worse for it?  Sowerby would think so.  She was
not of the order of young women who, in sheer ignorance or in voluntary,
consent to the peace with evil, and are kept externally safe from the
smirch of evil, and are the ornaments of their country, glory of a
country prizing ornaments higher than qualities.

Dartrey could have been momentarily incredulous of things revealed by
Mrs. Marsett--not incredulous of the girl's heroism: that capacity he
caught and gauged in her shape of head, cut of mouth, and the
measurements he was accustomed to make at a glance:--but her beauty, or
the form of beauty which was hers, argued against her having set foot of
thought in our fens.  Here and far there we meet a young saint vowed to
service along by those dismal swamps: and saintly she looks; not of this
earth.  Nesta was of the blooming earth.  Where do we meet girl or woman
comparable to garden-flowers, who can dare to touch to lift the spotted
of her sex?  He was puzzled by Nesta's unlikeness in deeds and in aspect.
He remembered her eyes, on the day when he and Colonel Sudley beheld her;
presently he was at quiet grapple with her mind.  His doubts cleared off.
Then the question came, How could a girl of heroical character be
attached to the man Sowerby?  That entirely passed belief.

And was it possible his wishes beguiled his hearing?  Her tones were
singularly vibrating.

They talked for a while before, drawing a deep breath, she said: 'I fancy
I am in disgrace with my mother.'

'You have a suspicion why?' said he.

'I have.'

She would have told him why: the words were at her lips.  Previous to her
emotion on the journey home, the words would have come out.  They were
arrested by the thunder of the knowledge, that the nobleness in him
drawing her to be able to speak of scarlet matter, was personally
worshipped.

He attributed the full rose upon her cheeks to the forbidding subject.

To spare pain, he said: 'No misunderstanding with the dear mother will
last the day through.  Can I help?'

'Oh, Captain Dartrey!'

'Drop the captain.  Dartrey will do.'

'How could I!'

'You're not wanting in courage, Nesta.'

'Hardly for that!'

'By-and-by, then.'

'Though I could not say Mr. Fenellan.'

'You see; Dartrey, it must be.'

'If I could!'

'But the fellow is not a captain: and he is a friend, an old friend, very
old friend: he'll be tipped with grey in a year or two.'

'I might be bolder then.'

'Imagine it now.  There is no disloyalty in your calling your friends by
their names.'

Her nature rang to the implication.  'I am not bound.'  Dartrey hung
fast, speculating on her visibly: 'I heard you were?'

'No.  I must be free.'

'It is not an engagement?'

'Will you laugh?--I have never quite known.  My father desired it:
and my desire is to please him.  I think I am vain enough to think I read
through blinds and shutters.  The engagement--what there was--has been,
to my reading, broken more than once.  I have not considered it, to
settle my thoughts on it, until lately: and now I may suspect it to be
broken.  I have given cause--if it is known.  There is no blame
elsewhere.  I am not unhappy, Captain Dartrey.'

'Captain by courtesy.  Very well.  Tell me how Nesta judges the
engagement to be broken?'

She was mentally phrasing before she said: 'Absence.'

'He was here yesterday.'

All that the visit embraced was in her expressive look, as of sight
drawing inward, like our breath in a spell of wonderment.  'Then I
understand; it enlightens me.

My own mother!--my poor mother!  he should have come to me.  I was the
guilty person, not she; and she is the sufferer.  That, if in life were
direct retribution! but the very meaning of having a heart, is to suffer
through others or for them.'

'You have soon seen that, dear girl,' said Dartrey.

'So, my own mother, and loving me as she does, blames me!' Nesta sighed;
she took a sharp breath.  'You? do you blame me too?'

He pressed her hand, enamoured of her instantaneous divination and
heavenly candour.

But he was admonished, that to speak high approval would not be
honourable advantage taken of the rival condemning; and he said: 'Blame?
Some think it is not always the right thing to do the right thing.  I've
made mistakes, with no bad design.  A good mother's view is not often
wrong.'

'You pressed my hand,' she murmured.

That certainly had said more.

'Glad to again,' he responded.  It was uttered airily and was meant to be
as lightly done.

Nesta did not draw back her hand.  'I feel strong when you press it.'
Her voice wavered, and as when we hear a flask sing thin at the filling,
ceased upon evidence of a heart surcharged.  How was he to relax the
pressure!--he had to give her the strength she craved: and he vowed it
should be but for half a minute, half a minute longer.

Her tears fell; she eyed him steadily; she had the look of sunlight in
shower.

'Oldish men are the best friends for you, I suppose,' he said; and her
gaze turned elusive phrases to vapour.

He was compelled to see the fiery core of the raincloud lighting it for a
revealment, that allowed as little as it retained of a shadow of
obscurity.

The sight was keener than touch and the run of blood with blood to
quicken slumbering seeds of passion.

But here is the place of broken ground and tangle, which calls to
honourable men, not bent on sport, to be wary to guard the gunlock.  He
stopped the word at his mouth.  It was not in him to stop or moderate the
force of his eyes.  She met them with the slender unbendingness that was
her own; a feminine of inspirited manhood.  There was no soft expression,
only the direct shot of light, on both sides; conveying as much as is
borne from sun to earth, from earth to sun.  And when such an exchange
has come between the two, they are past plighting, they are the wedded
one.

Nesta felt it, without asking whether she was loved.  She was his.  She
had not a thought of the word of love or the being beloved.  Showers of
painful blissfulness went through her, as the tremours of a shocked
frame, while she sat quietly, showing scarce a sign; and after he had let
her hand go, she had the pressure on it.  The quivering intense of the
moment of his eyes and grasp was lord of her, lord of the day and of all
days coming.  That is how Love slays Death.  Never did girl so give her
soul.

She would have been the last to yield it unreservedly to a man untrusted
for the character she worshipped.  But she could have given it to
Dartrey, despite his love of another, because it was her soul, without
any of the cravings, except to bestow.

He perceived, that he had been carried on for the number of steps which
are countless miles and do not permit the retreat across the desert
behind; and he was in some amazement at himself, remindful of the
different nature of our restraining power when we have a couple playing
on it.  Yet here was this girl, who called him up to the heights of young
life again: and a brave girl; and she bled for the weak, had no shrinking
from the women underfoot: for the reason, that she was a girl sovereignly
pure, angelically tender.  Was there a point of honour to hold him back?

Nataly entered the room.  She kissed Nesta, and sat silent.

'Mother, will you speak of me to him, if I go out?' Nesta said.

'We have spoken,' her mother replied, vexed by the unmaidenly allusion to
that theme.

She would have asked, How did you guess I knew of it?--but that the, Why
should I speak of you to him? struck the louder note in her bosom: and
then, What is there that this girl cannot guess!--filled the mother's
heart with apprehensive dread: and an inward cry, What things will she
not set going, to have them discussed.  And the appalling theme, sitting
offensive though draped in their midst, was taken for a proof of the
girl's unblushingness.  After standing as one woman against the world so
long, Nataly was relieved to be on the side of a world now convictedly
unjust to her in the confounding of her with the shameless.  Her mind had
taken the brand of that thought:--And Nesta had brought her to it:--
And Dudley Sowerby, a generous representative of the world, had kindly,
having the deputed power to do so, sustained her, only partially blaming
Nesta, not casting them off; as the world, with which Nataly felt, under
a sense of the protection calling up all her gratitude to young Dudley,
would have approved his doing.

She was passing through a fit of the cowardice peculiar to the tediously
strained, who are being more than commonly tried--persecuted, as they say
when they are not supplicating their tyrannical Authority for aid.  The
world will continue to be indifferent to their view of it and behaviour
toward it until it ceases to encourage the growth of hypocrites.

These are moments when the faces we are observing drop their charm,
showing us our perversion internal, if we could but reflect, to see it.
Very many thousand times above Dudley Sowerby, Nataly ranked Dartrey
Fenellan; and still she looked at him, where he sat beside Nesta,
ungenially, critical of the very features, jealously in the interests of
Dudley; and recollecting, too, that she had once prayed for one exactly
resembling Dartrey Fenellan to be her Nesta's husband.  But, as she would
have said, that was before the indiscretion of her girl had shown her to
require for her husband a man whose character and station guaranteed
protection instead of inciting to rebellion.  And Dartrey, the loved and
prized, was often in the rebel ranks; he was dissatisfied with matters as
they are; was restless for action, angry with a country denying it to
him; he made enemies, he would surely bring down inquiries about Nesta's
head, and cause the forgotten or quiescent to be stirred; he would
scarcely be the needed hand for such a quiver of the lightnings as Nesta
was.

Dartrey read Nataly's brows.  This unwonted uncomeliness of hers was an
indication to one or other of our dusky pits, not a revealing.




CHAPTER XXXIX

A CHAPTER IN THE SHADOW OF MRS. MARSETT

He read her more closely when Arlington brought in the brown paper
envelope of the wires--to which the mate of Victor ought to have become
accustomed.  She took it; her eyelids closed, and her features were
driven to whiteness.  'Only these telegrams,' she said, in apology.

'Lakelands on fire?' Dartrey murmured to Nesta; and she answered: 'I
should not be sorry.'

Nataly coldly asked her why she would not be sorry.

Dartrey interposed: 'I'm sure she thinks Lakelands worries her mother.'

'That ranks low among the worries,' Nataly sighed, opening the envelope.

Nesta touched her arm: 'Mother! even before Captain Dartrey, if you will
let me!'--she turned to him: 'before .  .  .'  at the end of her breath
she said: 'Dartrey Fenellan.  You shall see my whole heart, mother.'

Her mother looked from her at him.

'Victor returns by the last train.   He telegraphs, that he dines with--'
She handed the paper to Dartrey.

'Marsett,' he read aloud; and she flushed; she was angry with him for not
knowing, that the name was a term of opprobrium flung at her.

'It's to tell you he has done what he thought good,' said Dartrey.
'In other words, as I interpret, he has completed his daughter's work.
So we won't talk about it till he comes.  You have no company this
evening?'

'Oh!  there is a pause to-night!  It's nearly as unceasing as your
brother Simeon's old French lady in the ronde with her young bridegroom,
till they danced her to pieces.  I do get now and then an hour's repose,'
Nataly added, with a vision springing up of the person to whom the story
had applied.

'My dear, you are a good girl to call me Dartrey,' the owner of the name
said to Nesta.

Nataly saw them both alert, in the terrible manner peculiar to both, for
the directest of the bare statements.  She could have protested, that her
love of truth was on an equality with theirs; and certainly, that her
regard for decency was livelier.  Pass the deficiency in a man.  But a
girl who could speak, by allusion, of Mrs. Marsett--of the existence of a
Mrs. Marsett--in the presence of a man: and he excusing, encouraging: and
this girl her own girl;--it seemed to her, that the world reeled; she
could hardly acknowledge the girl; save under the penitential admission
of her sin's having found her out.

She sent Nesta to her room when they went upstairs to dress, unable to
endure her presence after seeing her show a placid satisfaction at
Dartrey's nod to the request for him to sleep in the house that night.
It was not at all a gleam of pleasure, hardly an expression; it was a
manner of saying, One drop more in my cup of good fortune! an absurd and
an offensive exhibition of silly optimism of the young, blind that they
are!

For were it known, and surely the happening of it would be known,
that Dudley Sowerby had shaken off the Nesta of no name, who was the
abominable Mrs. Marsett's friend, a whirlwind with a trumpet would sweep
them into the wilderness on a blast frightfuller than any ever heard.

Nataly had a fit of weeping for want of the girl's embrace, against whom
her door was jealously locked.  She hoped those two would talk much,
madly if they liked, during dinner, that she might not be sensible,
through any short silence, of the ardour animating them: especially
glowing in Nesta, ready behind her quiet mask to come brazenly forth.
But both of them were mercilessly ardent; and a sickness of the fear,
that they might fall on her to capture her and hurry her along with them
perforce of the allayed, once fatal, inflammable element in herself,
shook the warmth from her limbs: causing her to say to herself aloud in a
ragged hoarseness, very strangely: Every thought of mine now has a
physical effect on me!

They had not been two minutes together when she descended to them.  Yet
she saw the girl's heart brimming, either with some word spoken to her or
for joy of an unmaidenly confession.  During dinner they talked, without
distressful pauses.  Whatever said, whatever done, was manifestly another
drop in Nesta's foolish happy cup.  Could it be all because Dartrey
Fenellan countenanced her acquaintance with that woman?  The mother had
lost hold of her.  The tortured mother had lost hold of herself.

Dartrey in the course of the evening, begged to hear the contralto; and
Nataly, refusing, was astounded by the admission in her blank mind of the
truth of man's list of charges against her sex, starting from their
capriciousness for she could have sung in a crowded room, and she had now
a desire for company, for stolid company or giddy, an ocean of it.  This
led to her thinking, that the world of serious money-getters, and feasts,
and the dance, the luxurious displays, and the reverential Sunday
service, will always ultimately prove itself right in opposition to
critics and rebels, and to any one vainly trying to stand alone: and the
thought annihilated her; for she was past the age of the beginning again,
and no footing was left for an outsider not self-justified in being where
she stood.  She heard Dartrey's praise of Nesta's voice for tearing her
mother's bosom with notes of intolerable sweetness; and it was haphazard
irony, no doubt; we do not the less bleed for the accident of a shot.

At last, after midnight Victor arrived.

Nesta most impudently expected to be allowed to remain.  'Pray, go,
dear,' her mother said.  Victor kissed his Fredi.  'Some time to-morrow,'
said he; and she forbore to beseech him.

He stared, though mildly, at sight of her taking Dartrey's hand for the
good-night and deliberately putting her lips to it.

Was she a girl whose notion of rectifying one wrong thing done, was to do
another?  Nataly could merely observe.  A voice pertaining to no one
present, said in her ear:--Mothers have publicly slapped their daughter's
faces for less than that!--It was the voice of her incapacity to cope
with the girl.  She watched Nesta's passage from the room, somewhat
affected by the simple bearing for which she was reproaching her.

'And our poor darling has not seen a mountain this year!' Victor
exclaimed, to have mentionable grounds for pitying his girl.  'I promised
Fredi she should never count a year without Highlands or Alps.  You
remember, mama?--down in the West Highlands.  Fancy the dear bit of
bundle, Dartrey!--we had laid her in her bed; she was about seven or
eight; and there she lay wide awake.  "What 's Fredi thinking of?"--
"I'm thinking of the tops of the mountains at night, dada."--She could
climb them now; she has the legs.'

Nataly said: 'You have some report to make.  You dined with those
people?'

'The Marsetts: yes:--well-suited couple enough.  It's to happen before
Winter ends--at once; before Christmas; positively before next Spring.
Fredi's doing!  He has to manage, arrange.--She's a good-looking woman,
good height, well-rounded; well-behaved, too: she won't make a bad Lady
Marsett.  Every time that woman spoke of our girl, the tears jumped to
her eyelids.'

'Come to me before you go to bed,' Nataly said, rising, her voice
foundering; 'Good-night, Dartrey.'

She turned to the door; she could not trust herself to shake hands with
composure.  Not only was it a nauseous mixture she was forced to gulp
from Victor, it burned like a poison.

'Really Fredi's doing--chiefly,' said Victor, as soon as Dartrey and he
were alone, comfortably settled in the smoking-room.  'I played the man
of pomp with Marsett--good heavy kind of creature: attached to the woman.
She's the better horse, as far as brains go.  Good enough Lady Marsett.
I harped on Major Worrell: my daughter insulted.  He knew of it--spoke
of you properly.  The man offered all apologies; he has told the Major
he is no gentleman, not a fit associate for gentlemen:--quite so--and has
cut him dead.  Will marry her, as I said, make her as worthy as he can of
the honour of my daughter's acquaintance.  Rather comical grimace, when
he vowed he'd fasten the tie.  He doesn't like marriage.  But, he can't
give her up.  And she's for patronizing the institution.  But she is
ready to say good-bye to him "rather than see the truest lady in the
world insulted"--her words.  And so he swallows his dose for health,
and looks a trifle sourish.  Antecedents, I suppose: has to stomach them.
But if a man's fond of a woman--if he knows he saves her from slipping
lower--and it's an awful world, for us to let a woman be under its
wheels:--I say, a woman who has a man to lean on, unless she's as
downright corrupt as two or three of the men we've known:--upon my word,
Dartrey, I come round to some of your ideas on these matters.  It's this
girl of mine, this wee bit of girl in her little nightshirt with the
frill, astonishes me most:--"thinking of the tops of the mountains at
night!"  She has positively done the whole of this work-main part.
I smiled when I left the house, to have to own our little Fredi starting
us all on the road.  It seems, Marsett had sworn he would; amorous vow,
you know; he never came nearer to doing it.  I hope it's his better mind
now; I do hope the man won't have cause to regret it.  He speaks of
Nesta--sort of rustic tone of awe.  Mrs. Marsett has impressed him.  He
expects the title soon, will leave the army--the poor plucked British
army, as you call it!--and lead the life of a country squire: hunting!
Well, it's not only the army, it's over Great Britain, with this infernal
wealth of ours!--and all for pleasure--eh?--or Paradise lost for a sugar
plum!  Eh, Dartrey?  Upon my word, it appears to me, Esau's the
Englishman, Jacob the German, of these times.  I wonder old Colney hasn't
said it.  If we're not plucked, as your regiments are of the officers who
have learnt their work, we're emasculated:--the nation's half made-up of
the idle and the servants of the idle.'

'Ay, and your country squires and your manufacturers contrive to give the
army a body of consumptive louts fit for nothing else than to take the
shilling--and not worth it,' said Dartrey.

'Sounds like old Colney,' Victor remarked to himself.  'But, believe me,
I'm ashamed of the number of servants who wait on me.  It wouldn't so
much matter, as Skepsey says, if they were trained to arms and self-
respect.  That little fellow Skepsey's closer to the right notion,
and the right practice, too, than any of us.  With his Matilda Pridden!
He has jumped out of himself to the proper idea of women, too.  And
there's a man who has been up three times before the magistrates, and is
considered a disorderly subject--one among the best of English citizens,
I declare!  I never think of Skepsey without the most extraordinary,
witless kind of envy--as if he were putting in action an idea I once had
and never quite got hold of again.  The match for him is Fredi.  She
threatens to be just as devoted, just as simple, as he.  I positively
doubt whether any of us could stop her, if she had set herself to do a
thing she thought right.'

'I should not like to think our trying it possible,' said Dartrey.

'All very well, but it's a rock ahead.  We shall have to alter our
course, my friend.  You know, I dined with that couple, after the private
twenty minutes with Marsett: he formally propounded the invitation, as we
were close on his hour, rather late: and I wanted to make the woman
happy, besides putting a seal of cordiality on his good intentions--
politic!  And subsequently I heard from her, that--you'll think nothing
of it!--Fredi promised to stand by her at the altar.'

Dartrey said, shrugging: 'She needn't do that.'

'So we may say.  You're dealing with Nesta Victoria.  Spare me a contest
with that girl, I undertake to manage any man or woman living.'

'When the thing to be done is thought right by her.'

'But can we always trust her judgement, my dear Dartrey?'

'In this case, she would argue, that her resolution to keep her promise
would bind or help to bind Marsett to fulfil his engagement.'

'Odd, her mother has turned dead round in favour of that fellow Dudley
Sowerby!  I don't complain; it suits; but one thinks--eh?--women!'

'Well, yes, one thinks or should think, that if you insist on having
women rooted to the bed of the river, they'll veer with the tides, like
water-weeds, and no wonder.'

'Your heterodoxy on that subject is a mania, Dartrey.  We can't have
women independent.'

'Then don't be exclaiming about their vagaries.'

Victor mused: 'It's wonderful: that little girl of mine!--good height
now: but what a head she has!  Oh, she'll listen to reason: only mark
what I say:--with that quiet air of hers, the husband, if a young fellow,
will imagine she's the most docile of wives in the world.  And as to
wife, I'm not of the contrary opinion.  But qua individual female,
supposing her to have laid fast hold of an idea of duty, it's he who'll
have to turn the corner second, if they're to trot in the yoke together.
Or it may be an idea of service to a friend--or to her sex!  That Mrs.
Marsett says she feels for--"bleeds" for her sex.  The poor woman didn't
show to advantage with me, because she was in a fever to please:--talks
in jerks, hot phrases.  She holds herself well.  At the end of the dinner
she behaved better.  Odd, you can teach women with hints and a lead.  But
Marsett 's Marsett to the end.  Rather touching!--the poor fellow said:
Deuce of a bad look-out for me if Judith doesn't have a child!  First-
rate sportsman, I hear.  He should have thought of his family earlier.
You know, Dartrey, the case is to be argued for the family as well.  You
won't listen.  And for Society too!  Off you go.'

A battery was opened on that wall of composite.

'Ah, well,' said Victor.  'But I may have to beg your help, as to the
so-called promise to stand at the altar.  I don't mention it upstairs.'

He went to Nataly's room.

She was considerately treated, and was aware of being dandled, that she
might have sleep.

She consented to it, in a loathing of the topic.--Those women invade us
--we cannot keep them out!  was her inward cry: with a reverberation of
the unfailing accompaniment: The world holds you for one of them!

Victor tasked her too much when his perpetual readiness to doat upon his
girl for whatever she did, set him exalting Nesta's conduct.  She
thought: Was Nesta so sympathetic with her mother of late by reason of a
moral insensibility to the offence?

This was her torture through the night of a labouring heart, that
travelled to one dull shock, again and again repeated:--the apprehended
sound, in fact, of Dudley Sowerby's knock at the street door.  Or
sometimes a footman handed her his letter, courteously phrased to
withdraw from the alliance.  Or else he came to a scene with Nesta, and
her mother was dragged into it, and the intolerable subject steamed about
her.  The girl was visioned as deadly.  She might be indifferent to the
protection of Dudley's name.  Robust, sanguine, Victor's child, she
might--her mother listened to a devil's whisper--but no; Nesta's aim was
at the heights; she was pure in mind as in body.  No, but the world would
bring the accusation; and the world would trace the cause: Heredity, it
would say.  Would it say falsely?  Nataly harped on the interrogation
until she felt her existence dissolving to a dark stain of the earth, and
she found herself wondering at the breath she drew, doubting that another
would follow, speculating on the cruel force which keeps us to the act of
breathing.--Though I could draw wild blissful breath if I were galloping
across the moors!  her worn heart said to her youth: and out of ken of
the world, I could regain a portion of my self-esteem.  Nature thereat
renewed her old sustainment with gentle murmurs, that were supported by
Dr. Themison's account of the virtuous married lady who chafed at the
yoke on behalf of her sex, and deemed the independent union the ideal.
Nataly's brain had a short gallop over moorland.  It brought her face to
face with Victor's girl, and she dropped once more to her remorse in
herself and her reproaches of Nesta.  The girl had inherited from her
father something of the cataract's force which won its way by catching or
by mastering, uprooting, ruining!

In the morning she was heavily asleep.  Victor left word with Nesta,
that the dear mother was not to be disturbed.  Consequently, when Dudley
called to see Mrs. Victor Radnor, he was informed that Miss Radnor would
receive him.

Their interview lasted an hour.

Dudley came to Victor in the City about luncheon time.

His perplexity of countenance was eloquent.  He had, before seeing the
young lady, digested an immense deal more, as it seemed to him, than any
English gentleman should be asked to consume.  She now referred him to
her father, who had spent a day in Brighton, and would, she said, explain
whatever there was to be explained.  But she added, that if she was
expected to abandon a friend, she could not.  Dudley had argued with her
upon the nature of friendship, the measurement of its various dues; he
had lectured on the choice of friends, the impossibility for young
ladies, necessarily inexperienced, to distinguish the right class of
friends, the dangers they ran in selecting friends unwarranted by the
stamp of honourable families.

'And what did Fredi say to that?' Victor inquired.

'Miss Radnor said--I may be dense, I cannot comprehend--that the precepts
were suitable for seminaries of Pharisees.  When it is a question of a
young lady associating with a notorious woman!'

'Not notorious.  You spoil your case if you "speak extremely," as a
friend says.  I saw her yesterday.  She worships "Miss Radnor."'

Nesta will know when she is older; she will thank me,' said Dudley
hurriedly.  'As it is at present, I may reckon, I hope, that the
association ceases.  Her name: I have to consider my family.'

'Good anchorage!  You must fight it out with the girl.  And depend upon
this--you're not the poorer for being the husband of a girl of character;
unless you try to bridle her.  She belongs to her time.  I don't mind
owning to you, she has given me a lead.--Fredi 'll be merry to-night.
Here's a letter I have from the Sanfredini, dated Milan, fresh this
morning; invitation to bring the god-child to her villa on Como in May;
desirous to embrace her.  She wrote to the office.  Not a word of her
duque.  She has pitched him to the winds.  You may like to carry it off
to Fredi and please her.'

'I have business,' Dudley replied.

'Away to it, then!' said Victor.  'You stand by me?--we expect our South
London borough to be open in January; early next year, at least; may be
February.  You have family interest there.'

'Personally, I will do my best,' Dudley said; and he escaped, feeling,
with the universal censor's angry spite, that the revolutions of the
world had made one of the wealthiest of City men the head of a set of
Bohemians.  And there are eulogists of the modern time!  And the man's
daughter was declared to belong to it!  A visit in May to the Italian
cantatrice separated from her husband, would render the maiden an
accomplished flinger of caps over the windmills.

At home Victor discovered, that there was not much more than a truce
between Nesta and Nataly.  He had a medical hint from Dr. Themison,
and he counselled his girl to humour her mother as far as could be:
particularly in relation to Dudley, whom Nataly now, womanlike, after
opposing, strongly favoured.  How are we ever to get a clue to the
labyrinthine convolutions and changeful motives of the sex!  Dartrey's
theories were absurd.  Did Nataly think them dangerous for a young woman?
The guess hinted at a clue of some sort to the secret of her veering.

'Mr. Sowerby left me with an adieu,' said Nesta.

'Mr. Sowerby!  My dear, he is bound, bound in honour, bound at heart.
You did not dismiss him?'

'I repeated the word he used.  I thought of mother.  The blood leaves her
cheeks at a disappointment now.  She has taken to like him.'

'Why, you like him!'

'I could not vow.'

'Tush.'

'Ah, don't press me, dada.  But you will see, he has disengaged himself.'

He had done it, though not in formal speech.  Slow digestion of his
native antagonism to these Bohemians, to say nothing of his judicial
condemnation of them, brought him painfully round to the writing of a
letter to Nataly; cunningly addressed to the person on whom his instinct
told him he had the strongest hold.

She schooled herself to discuss the detested matter forming Dudley's
grievance and her own with Nesta; and it was a woeful half-hour for them.
But Nataly was not the weeper.

Another interview ensued between Nesta and her suitor.  Dudley bore no
resemblance to Mr. Barmby, who refused to take the word no from her, and
had taken it, and had gone to do holy work, for which she revered him.
Dudley took the word, leaving her to imagine freedom, until once more her
mother or her father, inspired by him, came interceding, her mother
actually supplicating.  So that the reality of Dudley's love rose to
conception like a London dawn over Nesta; and how, honourably, decently,
positively, to sever herself from it, grew to be an ill-visaged problem.
She glanced in soul at Dartrey Fenellan for help; she had her wild
thoughts.  Having once called him Dartrey, the virginal barrier to
thoughts was broken; and but for love of her father, for love and pity of
her mother, she would have ventured the step to make the man who had her
whole being in charge accept or reject her.  Nothing else appeared in
prospect.  Her father and mother were urgently one to favour Dudley; and
the sensitive gentleman presented himself to receive his wound and to
depart with it.  But always he returned.  At last, as if under tuition,
he refrained from provoking a wound; he stood there to win her upon any
terms; and he was a handsome figure, acknowledged by the damsel to be
increasing in good looks as more and more his pretensions became
distasteful to her.  The slight cast of sourness on his lower features
had almost vanished, his nature seemed to have enlarged.  He complimented
her for her 'generous benevolence,' vaguely, yet with evident
sincereness; he admitted, that the modern world is 'attempting
difficulties with at least commendable intentions'; and that the position
of women demands improvement, consideration for them also.  He said
feelingly: 'They have to bear extraordinary burdens!' There he stopped.

The sharp intelligence fronting him understood, that this compassionate
ejaculation was the point where she, too, must cry halt.  He had,
however--still under tuition, perhaps--withdrawn his voice from the
pursuit of her; and so she in gratitude silenced her critical mind
beneath a smooth conceit of her having led him two steps to a broader
tolerance.  Susceptible as she was, she did not influence him without
being affected herself in other things than her vanity: his prudishness
affected her.  Only when her heart flamed did she disdain that real haven
of refuge, with its visionary mount of superiority, offered by Society to
its effect, in the habit of ignoring the sins it fosters under cloak;--
not less than did the naked barbaric time, and far more to the vitiation
of the soul.  He fancied he was moulding her; therefore winning her.
It followed, that he had the lover's desire for assurance of exclusive
possession; and reflecting, that he had greatly pardoned, he grew
exacting.  He mentioned his objections to some of Mr. Dartrey Fenellan's
ideas.

Nesta replied: 'I have this morning had two letters to make me happy.'

A provoking evasion.  He would rather have seen antagonism bridle and
stiffen her figure.  'Is one of them from that gentleman?'

'One is from my dear friend Louise de Seilles.  She comes to me early
next month.'

'The other?'

'The other is also from a friend.'

'A dear friend?'

'Not so dear.  Her letter gives me happiness.'

'She writes--not from France: from .  .  .?  you tempt me to guess.'

'She writes to tell me, that Mr. Dartrey Fenellan has helped her in a way
to make her eternally thankful.'

'The place she writes from is .  .  . ?'

The drag of his lips betrayed his enlightenment insisted on doubting.
He demanded assurance.

'It matters in no degree,' she said.

Dudley 'thought himself excusable for inquiring.'

She bowed gently.

The stings and scorpions and degrading itches of this nest of wealthy
Bohemians enraged him.

'Are you--I beg to ask--are you still:--I can hardly think it--Nesta!--
I surely have a claim to advise:--it cannot be with your mother's
consent:--in communication, in correspondence with .  .  . ?'

Again she bowed her head; saying: 'It is true.'

'With that person?'

He could not but look the withering disgust of the modern world in a
conservative gentleman who has been lured to go with it a little way,
only to be bitten.  'I decline to believe it,' he said with forcible
sound.

'She is married,' was the rather shameless, exasperating answer.

'Married or not!' he cried, and murmured: 'I have borne--.  These may be
Mr. Dartrey Fenellan's ideas; they are not mine.  I have--Something at
least is due to me: Ask any lady:--there are clergymen, I know, clergymen
who are for uplifting--quite right, but not associating:--to call one of
them a friend!  Ask any lady, any!  Your mother .  .  .'

'I beg you will not distress my mother,' said Nesta.

'I beg to know whether this correspondence is to continue?' said Dudley.

'All my life, if I do not feel dishonoured by it.'

'You are.'  He added hastily: 'Counsels of prudence--there is not a lady
living who would tell you otherwise.  At all events, in public opinion,
if it were known--and it would certainly be known,--a lady, wife or
spinster, would suffer--would not escape the--at least shadow of
defilement from relationship, any degree of intimacy with .  .  .  hard
words are wholesome in such a case: "touch pitch," yes!  My sense is
coherent.'

'Quite,' said Nesta.

'And you do not agree with me?'

'I do not.'

'Do you pretend to be as able to judge as I?'

'In this instance, better.'

'Then I retire.  I cannot retain my place here.  You may depend upon it,
the world is not wrong when it forbids young ladies to have cognizance of
women leading disorderly lives.'

'Only the women, Mr. Sowerby?'

'Men, too, of course.'

'You do not exclude the men from Society.'

'Oh! one reads that kind of argument in books.'

'Oh! the worthy books, then.  I would read them, if I could find them.'

'They are banned by self-respecting readers.'

'It grieves me to think differently.'

Dudley looked on this fair girl, as yet innocent girl; and contrasting
her with the foulness of the subject she dared discuss, it seemed to him,
that a world which did not puff at her and silence, if not extinguish,
was in a state of liquefaction.

Remembering his renewed repentances his absence, he said: 'I do hope you
may come to see, that the views shared by your mother and me are not
erroneous.'

'But do not distress her,' Nesta implored him.  'She is not well.  When
she has grown stronger, her kind heart will move her to receive the lady,
so that she may not be deprived of the society of good women.  I shall
hope she will not disapprove of me.  I cannot forsake a friend.'

'I beg to say good-bye,' said Dudley.

She had seen a rigidity smite him as she spoke; and so little startling
was it, that she might have fancied it expected, save for her knowing
herself too serious to have played at wiles to gain her ends.

He 'wished her prudent advisers.'

She thanked him.  'In a few days, Louise de Seilles will be here.'

A Frenchwoman and Papist! was the interjection of his twist of brows.

Surely I must now be free? she thought when he had covered his farewell
under a salutation regretful in frostiness.

A week later, she had the embrace of her Louise, and Armandine was made
happy with a piece of Parisian riband.

Winter was rapidly in passage: changes were visible everywhere; Earth and
House of Commons and the South London borough exhibited them; Mrs. Burman
was the sole exception.  To the stupefaction of physicians, in a manner
to make a sane man ask whether she was not being retained as an
instrument for one of the darker purposes of Providence--and where are we
standing if we ask such things?--she held on to her thread of life.

February went by.  And not a word from Themison; nor from Carling, nor
from the Rev. Groseman Buttermore, nor from Jarniman.  That is to say,
the two former accepted invitations to grand dinners; the two latter
acknowledged contributions to funds in which they were interested; but
they had apparently grown to consider Mrs. Burman as an establishment,
one of our fixtures.  On the other hand, there was nothing to be feared
from her.  Lakelands feared nothing: the entry into Lakelands was decreed
for the middle of April.  Those good creatures enclosed the poor woman
and nourished her on comfortable fiction.  So the death of the member for
the South London borough (fifteen years younger than the veteran in
maladies) was not to be called premature, and could by no possibility
lead to an exposure of the private history of the candidate for his
vacant seat.




CHAPTER XL

AN EXPIATION

Nataly had fallen to be one of the solitary who have no companionship
save with the wound they nurse, to chafe it rather than try at healing.
So rational a mind as she had was not long in outliving mistaken
impressions; she could distinguish her girl's feeling, and her aim; she
could speak on the subject with Dartrey; and still her wound bled on.
Louise de Seilles comforted her partly, through an exaltation of Nesta.
Mademoiselle, however, by means of a change of tone and look when Dudley
Sowerby and Dartrey Fenellan were the themes, showed a too pronounced
preference of the more unstable one:--or rather, the man adventurous out
of the world's highways, whose image, as husband of such a daughter as
hers, smote the wounded mother with a chillness.  Mademoiselle's
occasional thrill of fervency in an allusion to Dartrey, might have
tempted a suspicious woman to indulge suppositions, accounting for the
young Frenchwoman's novel tenderness to England, of which Nesta proudly,
very happily boasted.  The suspicion proposed itself, and was rejected:
for not even the fever of an insane body could influence Nataly's
generous character, to let her moods divert and command her thoughts of
persons.

Her thoughts were at this time singularly lucid upon everything about
her; with the one exception of the reason why she had come to favour
Dudley, and how it was she had been smitten by that woman at Brighton to
see herself in her position altogether with the world's relentless,
unexamining hard eyes.  Bitterness added, of Mrs. Marsett: She is made an
honest woman!--And there was a strain of the lower in Nataly, to reproach
the girl for causing the reflection to be cast on the unwedded.
Otherwise her mind was open; she was of aid to Victor in his confusion
over some lost Idea he had often touched on latterly.  And she was the
one who sent him ahead at a trot under a light, by saying: 'You would
found a new and more stable aristocracy of the contempt of luxury' when
he talked of combatting the Jews with a superior weapon.  That being, in
fact, as Colney Durance had pointed out to him, the weapon of self-
conquest used by them 'before they fell away to flesh-pottery.'  Was it
his Idea?  He fancied an aching at the back of his head when he
speculated.  But his Idea had been surpassingly luminous, alive, a
creation; and this came before him with the yellow skin of a Theory,
bred, born of books.  Though Nataly's mention of the aristocracy of
self-denying discipline struck a Lucifer in his darkness.

Nesta likewise helped: but more in what she did than in what she said:
she spoke intelligently enough to make him feel a certain increase of
alarm, amounting to a cursory secret acknowledgement of it, both at her
dealings with Dudley and with himself.  She so quietly displaced the lady
visiting him at the City offices.  His girl's disregard of hostile
weather, and her company, her talk, delighted him: still he remonstrated,
at her coming daily.  She came: nor was there an instigation on the part
of her mother, clearly none: her mother asked him once whether he thought
she met the dreadful Brighton woman.  His Fredi drove constantly to walk
back beside him Westward, as he loved to do whenever it was practicable;
and exceeding the flattery of his possession of the gallant daughter, her
conversation charmed him to forget a disappointment caused by the defeat
and entire exclusion of the lady visiting him so complimentarily for his
advice on stocks, shares, mines, et caetera.  The lady resisted; she was
vanquished, as the shades are displaced by simple apparition of daylight.

His Fredi was like the daylight to him; she was the very daylight to his
mind, whatsoever their theme of converse for by stimulating that ready
but vagrant mind to quit the leash of the powerful senses and be a
ethereally excursive, she gave him a new enjoyment; which led to
reflections--a sounding of Nature, almost a question to her, on the verge
of a doubt.  Are we, in fact, harmonious with the Great Mother when we
yield to the pressure of our natures for indulgence?  Is she, when
translated into us, solely the imperious appetite?  Here was Fredi, his
little Fredi--stately girl that she had grown, and grave, too, for all
her fun and her sail on wings--lifting him to pleasures not followed by
clamorous, and perfectly satisfactory, yet discomposingly violent,
appeals to Nature.  They could be vindicated.  Or could they, when they
would not bear a statement of the case?  He could not imagine himself
stating it namelessly to his closest friend--not to Simeon Fenellan.  As
for speaking to Dartrey, the notion took him with shivers:--Young Dudley
would have seemed a more possible confidant:--and he represented the
Puritan world.--And young Dudley was getting over Fredi's infatuation for
the woman she had rescued: he was beginning to fancy he saw a right
enthusiasm in it;--in the abstract; if only the fair maid would drop an
unseemly acquaintance.  He had called at the office to say so.  Victor
stammered the plea for him.

'Never, dear father,' came the smooth answer: a shocking answer in
contrast with the tones.  Her English was as lucid as her eyes when she
continued up to the shock she dealt: 'Do not encourage a good man to
waste his thoughts upon me.  I have chosen my mate, and I may never marry
him.  I do not know whether he would marry me.  He has my soul.  I have
no shame in saying I love him.  It is to love goodness, greatness of
heart.  He is a respecter of women--of all women; not only the fortunate.
He is the friend of the weaker everywhere.  He has been proved in fire.
He does not sentimentalize over poor women, as we know who scorns people
for doing:--and that is better than hardness, meaning kindly.  He is not
one of the unwise advocates.  He measures the forces against them.  He
reads their breasts.  He likes me.  He is with me in my plans.  He has
not said, has not shown, he loves me.  It is too high a thought for me
until I hear it.'

'Has your soul!' was all that Victor could reply, while the whole
conception of Lakelands quaked under the crumbling structure.

Remonstrance, argument, a word for Dudley, swelled to his lips and sank
in dumbness.  Her seeming intuition--if it was not a perception--of the
point where submission to the moods of his nature had weakened his
character, and required her defence of him, struck Victor with a serious
fear of his girl: and it was the more illuminatingly damnatory for being
recognized as the sentiment which no father should feel.  He tried to
think she ought not to be so wise of the things of the world.  An effort
to imagine a reproof, showed him her spirit through her eyes: in her
deeds too: she had already done work on the road:--Colney Durance,
Dartrey Fenellan, anything but sentimentalists either of them, strongly
backing her, upholding her.  Victor could no longer so naturally name her
Fredi.

He spoke it hastily, under plea of some humorous tenderness, when he
ventured.  When Dudley, calling on him in the City to discuss the
candidature for the South London borough, named her Fredi, that he might
regain a vantage of familiarity by imitating her father, it struck Victor
as audacious.  It jarred in his recollection, though the heir of the
earldom spoke in the tone of a lover, was really at high pitch.  He
appeared to be appreciating her, to have suffered stings of pain; he
offered himself; he made but one stipulation.  Victor regretfully assured
him, he feared he could do nothing.  The thought of his entry into
Lakelands, with Nesta Victoria refusing the foundation stone of the
place, grew dim.

But he was now canvassing for the Borough, hearty at the new business as
the braced swimmer on seas, which instantly he became, with an end in
view to be gained.

Late one April night, expecting Nataly to have gone to bed, and Nesta to
be waiting for him, he reached home, and found Nataly in her sitting-room
alone.  'Nesta was tired,' she said: 'we have had a scene; she refuses
Mr. Sowerby; I am sick of pressing it; he is very much in earnest,
painfully; she blames him for disturbing me; she will not see the right
course:--a mother reads her daughter!  If my girl has not guidance!--
she means rightly, she is rash.'

Nataly could not utter all that her insaneness of feeling made her think
with regard to Victor's daughter--daughter also of the woman whom her
hard conscience accused of inflammability.  'Here is a note from Dr.
Themison, dear.'

Victor seized it, perused, and drew the big breath.

'From Themison,' he said; he coughed.

'Don't think to deceive me,' said she.  'I have not read the contents,
I know them.'

'The invitation at last, for to-morrow, Sunday, four P.M.  Odd, that next
day at eight of the evening I shall be addressing our meeting in the
Theatre.  Simeon speaks.  Beaves Urmsing insists on coming, Tory though
he is.  Those Tories are jollier fellows than--well, no wonder!  There
will be no surgical .  .  .  the poor woman is very low.  A couple of
days at the outside.  Of course, I go.'

'Hand me the note, dear.'

It had to be given up, out of the pocket.

'But,' said Victor, 'the mention of you is merely formal.'

She needed sleep: she bowed her head.

Nataly was the first at the breakfast-table in the morning, a fair Sunday
morning.  She was going to Mrs. John Cormyn's Church, and she asked Nesta
to come with her.

She returned five minutes before the hour of lunch, having left Nesta
with Mrs. John.  Louise de Seilles undertook to bring Nesta home at the
time she might choose.  Fenellan, Mr. Pempton, Peridon and Catkin,
lunched and chatted.  Nataly chatted.  At a quarter to three o'clock
Victor's carriage was at the door.  He rose: he had to keep an
appointment.  Nataly said to him publicly: 'I come too.'  He stared and
nodded.  In the carriage, he said: 'I'm driving to the Gardens, for a
stroll, to have a look at the beasts.  Sort of relief.  Poor crazy woman!
However, it 's a comfort to her: so .  .  .  !'

'I like to see them,' said Nataly.  'I shall see her.  I have to do it.'

Up to the gate of the Gardens Victor was arguing to dissuade his dear
soul from this very foolish, totally unnecessary, step.  Alighting, he
put the matter aside, for good angels to support his counsel at the final
moment.

Bears, lions, tigers, eagles, monkeys: they suggested no more than he
would have had from prints; they sprang no reflection, except, that the
coming hour was a matter of indifference to them.  They were about him,
and exercised so far a distraction.  He took very kindly to an old mother
monkey, relinquishing her society at sight of Nataly's heave of the
bosom.  Southward, across the park, the dread house rose.  He began
quoting Colney Durance with relish while sarcastically confuting the
cynic, who found much pasture in these Gardens.  Over Southward, too, he
would be addressing a popular assembly to-morrow evening.  Between now
and then there was a ditch to jump.  He put on the sympathetic face of
grief.  'After all, a caged wild beast hasn't so bad a life,' he said.
--To be well fed while they live, and welcome death as a release from the
maladies they develop in idleness, is the condition of wealthy people:--
creatures of prey? horrible thought! yet allied to his Idea, it seemed.
Yes, but these good caged beasts here set them an example, in not
troubling relatives and friends when they come to the gasp!  Mrs.
Burman's invitation loomed as monstrous--a final act of her cruelty.
His skin pricked with dews.  He thought of Nataly beside him, jumping
the ditch with him, as a relief--if she insisted on doing it.  He hoped
she would not, for the sake of her composure.

It was a ditch void of bottom.  But it was a mere matter of an hour,
less.  The state of health of the invalid could bear only a few minutes.
In any case, we are sure that the hour will pass.  Our own arrive?
Certainly.

'Capital place for children,' he exclaimed.  And here startlingly before
him in the clusters of boys and girls, was the difference between young
ones and their elders feeling quite as young: the careless youngsters
have not to go and sit in the room with a virulent old woman, and express
penitence and what not, and hear words of pardon, after their holiday
scamper and stare at the caged beasts.

Attention to the children precipitated him upon acquaintances, hitherto
cleverly shunned.  He nodded them off, after the brightest of greetings.

Such anodyne as he could squeeze from the incarcerated wild creatures,
was exhausted.  He fell to work at Nataly's 'aristocracy of the contempt
of luxury'; signifying, that we the wealthy will not exist to pamper
flesh, but we live for the promotion of brotherhood:--ay, and that our
England must make some great moral stand, if she is not to fall to the
rear and down.  Unuttered, it caught the skirts of the Idea: it
evaporated when spoken.  Still, this theme was almost an exorcism
of Mrs. Burman.  He consulted his watch.  'Thirteen minutes to four.
I must be punctual,' he said.  Nataly stepped faster.

Seated in the carriage, he told her he had never felt the horror of that
place before.  'Put me down at the corner of the terrace, dear: I won't
drive to the door.'

'I come with you, Victor,' she replied.

After entreaties and reasons intermixed, to melt her resolve, he saw she
was firm: and he asked himself, whether he might not be constitutionally
better adapted to persuade than to dissuade.  The question thumped.
Having that house of drugs in view, he breathed more freely for the
prospect of feeling his Nataly near him beneath the roof.

'You really insist, dear love?' he appealed to her: and her answer: 'It
must be,' left no doubt: though he chose to say: 'Not because of standing
by me?' And she said: 'For my peace, Victor.'  They stepped to the
pavement.  The carriage was dismissed.

Seventeen houses of the terrace fronting the park led to the funereal
one: and the bell was tolled in the breast of each of the couple
advancing with an air of calmness to the inevitable black door.

Jarniman opened it.  'His mistress was prepared to see them.'--Not like
one near death.--They were met in the hall by the Rev. Groseman
Buttermore.  'You will find a welcome,' was his reassurance to them:
gently delivered, on the stoop of a large person.  His whispered tones
were more agreeably deadening than his words.

Mr. Buttermore ushered them upstairs.

'Can she bear it?' Victor said, and heard: 'Her wish ten minutes.'

'Soon over,' he murmured to Nataly, with a compassionate exclamation for
the invalid.

They rounded the open door.  They were in the drawing-room.  It was
furnished as in the old time, gold and white, looking new; all the same
as of old, save for a division of silken hangings; and these were pale
blue: the colour preferred by Victor for a bedroom.  He glanced at the
ceiling, to bathe in a blank space out of memory.  Here she lived,--
here she slept, behind the hangings.  There was refreshingly that little
difference in the arrangement of the room.  The corner Northward was
occupied by the grand piano; and Victor had an inquiry in him:--tuned?
He sighed, expecting a sight to come through the hangings.  Sensible that
Nataly trembled, he perceived the Rev. Groseman Buttermore half across a
heap of shawl-swathe on the sofa.

Mrs. Burman was present; seated.  People may die seated; she had always
disliked the extended posture; except for the night's rest, she used to
say; imagining herself to be not inviting the bolt of sudden death, in
her attitude when seated by day:--and often at night the poor woman had
to sit up for the qualms of her dyspepsia!--But I 'm bound to think
humanely, be Christian, be kind, benignant, he thought, and he fetched
the spirit required, to behold her face emerge from a pale blue silk
veiling; as it were, the inanimate wasted led up from the mould by
morning.

Mr. Buttermore signalled to them to draw near.

Wasted though it was, the face of the wide orbits for sunken eyes was
distinguishable as the one once known.  If the world could see it and
hear, that it called itself a man's wife!  She looked burnt out.

Two chairs had been sent to front the sofa.  Execution there!  Victor
thought, and he garrotted the unruly mind of a man really feeling
devoutness in the presence of the shadow thrown by the dread Shade.

'Ten minutes,' Mr. Buttermore said low, after obligingly placing them on
the chairs.

He went.  They were alone with Mrs. Burman.

No voice came.  They were unsure of being seen by the floating grey of
eyes patient to gaze from their vast distance.  Big drops fell from
Nataly's.  Victor heard the French timepiece on the mantel-shelf, where a
familiar gilt Cupid swung for the seconds: his own purchase.  The time of
day on the clock was wrong; the Cupid swung.

Nataly's mouth was taking breath of anguish at moments.  More than a
minute of the terrible length of the period of torture must have gone:
two, if not three.

A quaver sounded.  'You have come.'  The voice was articulate, thinner
than the telephonic, trans-Atlantic by deep-sea cable.

Victor answered: 'We have.'

Another minute must have gone in the silence.  And when we get to five
minutes we are on the descent, rapidly counting our way out of the house,
into the fresh air, where we were half an hour back, among those happy
beasts in the pleasant Gardens!

Mrs. Burman's eyelids shut.  'I said you would come.'

Victor started to the fire-screen.  'Your sight requires protection.'

She dozed.  'And Natalia Dreighton !' she next said.

They were certainly now on the five minutes.  Now for the slide downward
and outward!  Nataly should never have been allowed to come.

'The white waistcoat!' struck his ears.

'Old customs with me, always!' he responded.  'The first of April,
always.  White is a favourite.  Pale blue, too.  But I fear--I hope you
have not distressing nights?  In my family we lay great stress on the
nights we pass.  My cousins, the Miss Duvidneys, go so far as to judge of
the condition of health by the nightly record.'

'Your daughter was in their house.'

She knew everything!

'Very fond of my daughter--the ladies,' he remarked.

'I wish her well.'

'You are very kind.'

Mrs. Burman communed within or slept.  'Victor, Natalia, we will pray,'
she said.

Her trembling hands crossed their fingers.  Nataly slipped to her knees.

The two women mutely praying, pulled Victor into the devotional hush.  It
acted on him like the silent spell of service in a Church.  He forgot his
estimate of the minutes, he formed a prayer, he refused to hear the Cupid
swinging, he droned a sound of sentences to deaden his ears.  Ideas of
eternity rolled in semblance of enormous clouds.  Death was a black bird
among them.  The piano rang to Nataly's young voice and his.  The gold
and white of the chairs welcomed a youth suddenly enrolled among the
wealthy by an enamoured old lady on his arm.  Cupid tick-ticked.--Poor
soul! poor woman!  How little we mean to do harm when we do an injury!
An incomprehensible world indeed at the bottom and at the top.  We get
on fairly at the centre.  Yet it is there that we do the mischief making
such a riddle of the bottom and the top.  What is to be said!  Prayer
quiets one.  Victor peered at Nataly fervently on her knees and Mrs.
Burman bowed over her knotted fingers.  The earnestness of both enforced
an effort at a phrased prayer in him.  Plungeing through a wave of the
scent of Marechale, that was a tremendous memory to haul him backward and
forward, he beheld his prayer dancing across the furniture; a diminutive
thin black figure, elvish, irreverent, appallingly unlike his proper
emotion; and he brought his hands just to touch, and got to the edge of
his chair, with split knees.  At once the figure vanished.  By merely
looking at Nataly, he passed into her prayer.  A look at Mrs. Burman made
it personal, his own.  He heard the cluck of a horrible sob coming from
him.  After a repetition of his short form of prayer deeply stressed, he
thanked himself with the word 'sincere,' and a queer side-thought on our
human susceptibility to the influence of posture.  We are such creatures.

Nataly resumed her seat.  Mrs. Burman had raised her head.  She said: 'We
are at peace.'  She presently said, with effort: 'It cannot last with me.
I die in nature's way.  I would bear forgiveness with me, that I may have
it above.  I give it here, to you, to all.  My soul is cleansed, I trust.
Much was to say.  My strength will not.  Unto God, you both!'

The Rev. Groseman Buttermore was moving on slippered step to the back of
the sofa.  Nataly dropped before the unseeing, scarce breathing, lady for
an instant.  Victor murmured an adieu, grateful for being spared the
ceremonial shake of hands.  He turned away, then turned back, praying for
power to speak, to say that he had found his heart, was grateful, would
hold her in memory.  He fell on a knee before her, and forgot he had done
so when he had risen.  They were conducted by the Rev. gentleman to the
hall-door: he was not speechless.  Jarniman uttered something.

That black door closed behind them.




CHAPTER XLI

THE NIGHT OF THE GREAT UNDELIVERED SPEECH

To a man issuing from a mortuary where a skull had voice, London may be
restorative as air of Summer Alps.  It is by contrast blooming life.
Observe the fellowship of the houses shoulder to shoulder; and that
straight ascending smoke of the preparation for dinner; and the good
policeman yonder, blessedly idle on an orderly Sabbath evening; and the
families of the minor people trotting homeward from the park to tea; here
and again an amiable carriage of the superimposed people driving to pay
visits; they are so social, friendly, inviting to him; they strip him of
the shroud, sing of the sweet old world.  He cannot but be moved to the
extremity of the charitableness neighbouring on tears.

A stupefaction at the shock of the positive reminder, echo of the fact
still shouting in his breast, that he had seen Mrs. Burman, and that the
interview was over--the leaf turned and the book shut held Victor in a
silence until his gratefulness to London City was borne down by the more
human burst of gratitude to the dying woman, who had spared him, as much
as she could, a scene of the convulsive pathetic, and had not called on
him for any utterance of penitence.  That worm-like thread of voice came
up to him still from sexton-depths: it sounded a larger forgiveness
without the word.  He felt the sorrow of it all, as he told Nataly; at
the same time bidding her smell 'the marvellous oxygen of the park.'  He
declared it to be quite equal to Lakelands.

She slightly pressed his arm for answer.  Perhaps she did not feel so
deeply?  She was free of the horrid associations with the scent of
Marechale.  At any rate, she had comported herself admirably!

Victor fancied he must have shuddered when he passed by Jarniman at the
door, who was almost now seeing his mistress's ghost--would have the
privilege to-morrow.  He called a cab and drove to Mrs. John Cormyn's,
at Nataly's request, for Nesta and mademoiselle: enjoying the Londonized
odour of the cab.  Nataly did not respond to his warm and continued
eulogies of Mrs. Burman; she rather disappointed him.  He talked of the
gold and white furniture, he just alluded to the Cupid: reserving his
mental comment, that the time-piece was all astray, the Cupid regular on
the swing:--strange, touching, terrible, if really the silly gilt figure
symbolized!  .  .  .  And we are a silly figure to be sitting in a cab
imagining such things!--When Nesta and mademoiselle were opposite, he had
the pleasure to see Nataly take Nesta's hand and hold it until they
reached home.  Those two talking together in the brief words of their
deep feeling, had tones that were singularly alike: the mezzo-soprano
filial to the divine maternal contralto.  Those two dear ones mounted to
Nataly's room.

The two dear ones showed themselves heart in heart together once more;
each looked the happier for it.  Dartrey was among their dinner-guests,
and Nataly took him to her little blue-room before she went to bed.  He
did not speak of their conversation to Victor, but counselled him to keep
her from excitement.  'My dear fellow, if you had seen her with Mrs.
Burman!'  Victor said, and loudly praised her coolness.  She was never
below a situation, he affirmed.

He followed his own counsel to humour his Nataly.  She began panting at a
word about Mr. Barmby's ready services.  When, however, she related the
state of affairs between Dartrey and Nesta, by the avowal of each of them
to her, he said, embracing her: 'Your wisdom shall guide us, my love,'
and almost extinguished a vexation by concealing it.

She sighed: 'If one could think, that a girl with Nesta's revolutionary
ideas of the duties of women, and their powers, would be safe--or at all
rightly guided by a man who is both one of the noblest and the wildest in
the ideas he entertains!'

Victor sighed too.  He saw the earldom, which was to dazzle the gossips,
crack on the sky in a futile rocket-bouquet.

She was distressed; she moaned: 'My girl!  my girl: I should wish to
leave her with one who is more fixed--the old-fashioned husband.  New
ideas must come in politics, but in Society!--and for women!  And the
young having heads, are the most endangered.  Nesta vows her life to it!
Dartrey supports her!'

'See Colney,' said Victor.  'Odd, Colney does you good; some queer way he
has.  Though you don't care for his RIVAL TONGUES,--and the last number
was funny, with Semhians on the Pacific, impressively addressing a
farewell to his cricket-bat, before he whirls it away to Neptune--and the
blue hand of his nation's protecting God observed to seize it!--Dead
failure with the public, of course!  However, he seems to seem wise with
you.  The poor old fellow gets his trouncing from the critics monthly.
See Colney to-morrow, my love.  Now go to sleep.  We have got over the
worst.  I speak at my Meeting to-morrow and am a champagne-bottle of
notes and points for them.'

His lost Idea drew close to him in sleep: or he thought so, when awaking
to the conception of a people solidified, rich and poor, by the common
pride of simple manhood.  But it was not coloured, not a luminous globe:
and the people were in drab, not a shining army on the march to meet the
Future.  It looked like a paragraph in a newspaper, upon which a Leading
Article sits, dutifully arousing the fat worm of sarcastic humour under
the ribs of cradled citizens, with an exposure of its excellent folly.
He would not have it laughed at; still he could not admit it as more than
a skirt of the robe of his Idea.  For let none think him a mere City
merchant, millionnaire, boon-fellow, or music-loving man of the world.
He had ideas to shoot across future Ages;--provide against the shrinkage
of our Coal-beds; against, and for, if you like, the thickening,
jumbling, threatening excess of population in these Islands, in Europe,
America, all over our habitable sphere.  Now that Mrs. Burman, on her way
to bliss, was no longer the dungeon-cell for the man he would show
himself to be, this name for successes, corporate nucleus of the
enjoyments, this Victor Montgomery Radnor, intended impressing himself
upon the world as a factory of ideas.  Colney's insolent charge, that
the English have no imagination--a doomed race, if it be true!--would be
confuted.  For our English require but the lighted leadership to come
into cohesion, and step ranked, and chant harmoniously the song of their
benevolent aim.  And that astral head giving, as a commencement, example
of the right use of riches, the nation is one, part of the riddle of the
future solved.

Surely he had here the Idea?  He had it so warmly, that his bath-water
heated.  Only the vision was wanted.

On London Bridge he had seen it--a great thing done to the flash of
brilliant results.  That was after a fall.

There had been a fall also of the scheme of Lakelands.

Come to us with no superstitious whispers of indications and
significations in the fall!--But there had certainly been a moral fall,
fully to the level of the physical, in the maintaining of that scheme of
Lakelands, now ruined by his incomprehensible Nesta--who had saved him
from falling further.  His bath-water chilled.  He jumped out and rubbed
furiously with his towels and flesh-brushes, chasing the Idea for simple
warmth, to have Something inside him, to feel just that sustainment; with
the cry: But no one can say I do not love my Nataly!  And he tested it to
prove it by his readiness to die for her: which is heroically easier than
the devotedly living, and has a weight of evidence in our internal Courts
for surpassing the latter tedious performance.

His Nesta had knocked Lakelands to pieces.  Except for the making of
money, the whole year of an erected Lakelands, notwithstanding
uninterrupted successes, was a blank.  Or rather we have to wish it were
a blank.  The scheme departs: payment for the enlisted servants of it is
in prospect.  A black agent, not willingly enlisted, yet pointing to
proofs of service, refuses payment in ordinary coin; and we tell him we
owe him nothing, that he is not a man of the world, has no understanding
of Nature: and still the fellow thumps and alarums at a midnight door we
are astonished to find we have in our daylight house.  How is it?  Would
other men be so sensitive to him?  Victor was appeased by the assurance
of his possession of an exceptionally scrupulous conscience; and he
settled the debate by thinking: 'After all, for a man like me, battling
incessantly, a kind of Vesuvius, I must have--can't be starved, must be
fed--though, pah!  But I'm not to be questioned like other men.--But how
about an aristocracy of the contempt of distinctions?--But there is no
escaping distinctions!  my aristocracy despises indulgence.--And
indulges?--Say, an exceptional nature!  Supposing a certain beloved woman
to pronounce on the case?--She cannot: no woman can be a just judge of
it.'---He cried: My love of her is testified by my having Barmby handy to
right her to-day, tomorrow, the very instant the clock strikes the hour
of my release!

Mention of the clock swung that silly gilt figure.  Victor entered into
it, condemned to swing, and be a thrall.  His intensity of sensation
launched him on an eternity of the swinging in ridiculous nakedness to
the measure of time gone crazy.  He had to correct a reproof of Mrs.
Burman, as the cause of the nonsense.  He ran down to breakfast, hopeing
he might hear of that clock stopped, and that sickening motion with it.

Another letter from the Sanfredini in Milan, warmly inviting to her villa
over Como, acted on him at breakfast like the waving of a banner.  'We
go,' Victor said to Nataly, and flattered-up a smile about her lips--too
much a resurrection smile.  There was talk of the Meeting at the theatre:
Simeon Fenellan had spoken there in the cause of the deceased Member, was
known, and was likely to have a good reception.  Fun and enthusiasm might
be expected.

'And my darling will hear her husband speak to-night,' he whispered as he
was departing; and did a mischief, he had to fear, for a shadowy knot
crossed Nataly's forehead, she seemed paler.  He sent back Nesta and
mademoiselle, in consequence, at the end of the Green Park.

Their dinner-hour was early; Simeon Fenellan, Colney Durance, and Mr.
Peridon--pleasing to Nataly for his faithful siege of the French
fortress--were the only guests.  When they rose, Nataly drew Victor
aside.  He came dismayed to Nesta.  She ran to her mother.  'Not hear
papa speak?  Oh, mother, mother!  Then I stay with her.  But can't she
come?  He is going to unfold ideas to us.  There!'

'My naughty girl is not to poke her fun at orators,' Nataly said.
'No, dearest; it would agitate me to go.  I'm better here.  I shall be at
peace when the night is over.'

'But you will be all alone here, dear mother.'

Nataly's eyes wandered to fall on Colney.  He proposed to give her his
company.  She declined it.  Nesta ventured another entreaty, either that
she might be allowed to stay or have her mother with her at the Meeting.

'My love,' Nataly said, 'the thought of the Meeting--' She clasped at her
breast; and she murmured: 'I shall be comforted by your being with him.
There is no danger there.  But I shall be happy, I shall be at peace when
this night is over.'

Colney persuaded her to have him for companion.  Mr. Peridon, who was to
have driven with Nesta and mademoiselle, won admiration by proposing to
stay for an hour and play some of Mrs. Radnor's favourite pieces.  Nesta
and Victor overbore Nataly's objections to the lover's generosity.  So
Mr. Peridon was left.  Nesta came hurrying back from the step of the
carriage to kiss her mother again, saying: 'Just one last kiss, my own!
And she's not to look troubled.  I shall remember everything to tell my
own mother.  It will soon be over.'

Her mother nodded; but the embrace was passionate.

Nesta called her father into the passage, bidding him prohibit any
delivery to her mother of news at the door.  'She is easily startled now
by trifles--you have noticed?'

Victor summoned his recollections and assured her he had noticed, as he
believed he had 'The dear heart of her is fretting for the night to be
over!  And think! seven days, and she is in Lakelands.  A fortnight, and
we have our first Concert.  Durandarte!  Oh, the dear heart 'll be at
peace when I tell her of a triumphant Meeting.  Not a doubt of that, even
though Colney turns the shadow of his back on us.'

'One critic the less for you!' said Nesta.  Skepsey was to meet her
carriage at the theatre.

Ten minutes later, Victor and Simeon Fenellan were proceeding thitherward
on foot.

'I have my speech,' said Victor.  'You prepare the way for me, following
our influential friend Dubbleson; Colewort winds up; any one else they
shout for.  We shall have a great evening.  I suspect I shall find
Themison or Jarniman when I get home.  You don't believe in intimations?
I've had crapy processions all day before my eyes.  No wonder, after
yesterday!'

'Dubbleson mustn't drawl it out too long,' said Fenellan.

'We 'll drop a hint.  Where's Dartrey?'

'He'll come.  He's in one of his black moods: not temper.  He's got a
notion he killed his wife by dragging her to Africa with him.  She was
not only ready to go, she was glad to go.  She had a bit of the heroine
in her and a certainty of tripping to the deuce if she was left to
herself.'

'Tell Nataly that,' said Victor.  'And tell her about Dartrey.  Harp on
it.  Once she was all for him and our girl.  But it's a woman--though the
dearest!  I defy any one to hit on the cause of their changes.  We must
make the best of things, if we're for swimming.  The task for me to-night
will be, to keep from rolling out all I've got in my head.  And I'm not
revolutionary, I'm for stability.  Only I do see, that the firm stepping-
place asks for a long stride to be taken.  One can't get the English to
take a stride--unless it's for a foot behind them: bother old Colney!
Too timid, or too scrupulous, down we go into the mire.  There!--But I
want to say it!  I want to save the existing order.  I want,
Christianity, instead of the Mammonism we 're threatened with.
Great fortunes now are becoming the giants of old to stalk the land: or
mediaeval Barons.  Dispersion of wealth, is the secret.  Nataly's of that
mind with me.  A decent poverty!  She's rather wearying, wants a change.
I've a steam-yacht in my eye, for next month on the Mediterranean.  All
our set.  She likes quiet.  I believe in my political recipe for it.'

He thumped on a method he had for preserving aristocracy--true
aristocracy, amid a positively democratic flood of riches.

'It appears to me, you're on the road of Priscilla Graves and Pempton,'
observed Simeon.  'Strike off Priscilla's viands and friend Pempton's
couple of glasses, and there's your aristocracy established; but with
rather a dispersed recognition of itself.'

'Upon my word, you talk like old Colney, except for a twang of your own,'
said Victor.  'Colney sours at every fresh number of that Serial.  The
last, with Delphica detecting the plot of Falarique, is really not so
bad.  The four disguised members of the Comedie Francaise on board the
vessel from San Francisco, to declaim and prove the superior merits of
the Gallic tongue, jumped me to bravo the cleverness.  And Bobinikine
turning to the complexion of the remainder of cupboard dumplings
discovered in an emigrant's house-to-let!  And Semhians--I forget what
and Mytharete's forefinger over the bridge of his nose, like a pensive
vulture on the skull of a desert camel!  But, I complain, there's nothing
to make the English love the author; and it's wasted, he's basted, and
the book 'll have no sale.  I hate satire.'

'Rough soap for a thin skin, Victor.  Does it hurt our people much?'

'Not a bit; doesn't touch them.  But I want my friends to succeed!'

Their coming upon Westminster Bridge changed the theme.  Victor wished
the Houses of Parliament to catch the beams of sunset.  He deferred to
the suggestion, that the Hospital's doing so seemed appropriate.

'I'm always pleased to find a decent reason for what is,' he said.  Then
he queried: 'But what is, if we look at it, and while we look, Simeon?
She may be going--or she's gone already, poor woman!  I shall have that
scene of yesterday everlastingly before my eyes, like a drop-curtain.
Only, you know, Simeon, they don't feel the end, as we in health imagine.
Colney would say, we have the spasms and they the peace.  I 've a mind to
send up to Regent's Park with inquiries.  It would look respectful.  God
forgive me!--the poor woman perverts me at every turn.  Though I will
say, a certain horror of death I had--she whisked me out of it yesterday.
I don't feel it any longer.  What are you jerking at?'

'Only to remark, that if the thing's done for us, we haven't it so much
on our sensations.'

'More, if we're sympathetic.  But that compels us to be philosophic--or
who could live!  Poor woman!'

'Waft her gently, Victor!'

'Tush!  Now for the South side of the Bridges; and I tell you, Simeon,
what I can't mention to-night: I mean to enliven these poor dear people
on their forsaken South of the City.  I 've my scheme.  Elected or not,
I shall hardly be accused of bribery when I put down my first
instalment.'

Fenellan went to work with that remark in his brain for the speech he was
to deliver.  He could not but reflect on the genial man's willingness and
capacity to do deeds of benevolence, constantly thwarted by the position
into which he had plunged himself.

They were received at the verge of the crowd outside the theatre-doors by
Skepsey, who wriggled, tore and clove a way for them, where all were
obedient, but the numbers lumped and clogged.  When finally they reached
the stage, they spied at Nesta's box, during the thunder of the rounds of
applause, after shaking hands with Mr. Dubbleson, Sir Abraham Quatley,
Dudley Sowerby, and others; and with Beaves Urmsing--a politician 'never
of the opposite party to a deuce of a funny fellow!--go anywhere to hear
hhm,' he vowed.

'Miss Radnor and Mademoiselle de Seilles arrived quite safely,' said
Dudley, feasting on the box which contained them and no Dartrey Fenellan
in it.

Nesta was wondering at Dartrey's absence.  Not before Mr. Dubbleson, the
chairman, the 'gentleman of local influence,' had animated the drowsed
wits and respiratory organs of a packed audience by yielding place to
Simeon, did Dartrey appear.  Simeon's name was shouted, in proof of the
happy explosion of his first anecdote, as Dartrey took seat behind Nesta.
'Half an hour with the dear mother,' he said.

Nesta's eyes thanked him.  She pressed the hand of a demure young woman
sitting close behind.  Louise de Seilles.  'You know Matilda Pridden.'

Dartrey held his hand out.  'Has she forgiven me?'

Matilda bowed gravely, enfolding her affirmative in an outline of the no
need for it, with perfect good breeding.  Dartrey was moved to think
Skepsey's choice of a woman to worship did him honour.  He glanced at
Louise.  Her manner toward Matilda Pridden showed her sisterly with
Nesta.  He said: 'I left Mr. Peridon playing.--A little anxiety to hear
that the great speech of the evening is done; it's nothing else.  I'll
run to her as soon as it's over.'

'Oh, good of you!  And kind of Mr. Peridon!'  She turned to Louise, who
smiled at the simple art of the exclamation, assenting.

Victor below, on the stage platform, indicated the waving of a hand
to them, and his delight at Simeon's ringing points: which were, to
Dartrey's mind, vacuously clever and crafty.  Dartrey despised effects
of oratory, save when soldiers had to be hurled on a mark--or citizens
nerved to stand for their country.

Nesta dived into her father's brilliancy of appreciation, a trifle pained
by Dartrey's aristocratic air when he surveyed the herd of heads agape
and another cheer rang round.  He smiled with her, to be with her, at a
hit here and there; he would not pretend an approval of this manner of
winning electors to consider the country's interests and their own.  One
fellow in the crowded pit, affecting a familiarity with Simeon, that
permitted the taking of liberties with the orator's Christian name,
mildly amused him.  He had no objection to hear 'Simmy' shouted, as
Louise de Seilles observed.  She was of his mind, in regard to the rough
machinery of Freedom.

Skepsey entered the box.

'We shall soon be serious, Miss Nesta,' he said, after a look at Matilda
Pridden.

There was a prolonged roaring--on the cheerful side.

'And another word about security that your candidate will keep his
promises,' continued Simeon: 'You have his word, my friends!'  And he
told the story of the old Governor of Goa, who wanted money and summoned
the usurers, and they wanted security; whereupon he laid his Hidalgo hand
on a cataract of Kronos-beard across his breast, and pulled forth three
white hairs, and presented them: 'And as honourably to the usurious Jews
as to the noble gentleman himself, that security was accepted!'

Emerging from hearty clamours, the illustrative orator fell upon the
question of political specifics:--Mr. Victor Radnor trusted to English
good sense too profoundly to be offering them positive cures, as they
would hear the enemy say he did.  Yet a bit of a cure may be offered,
if we 're not for pushing it too far, in pursuit of the science of
specifics, in the style of the foreign physician, probably Spanish,
who had no practice, and wished for leisure to let him prosecute his
anatomical and other investigations to discover his grand medical
nostrum.  So to get him fees meanwhile he advertised a cure for
dyspepsia--the resource of starving doctors.  And sure enough his patient
came, showing the grand fat fellow we may be when we carry more of the
deciduously mortal than of the scraggy vital upon our persons.  Any one
at a glance would have prescribed water-cresses to him: water-cresses
exclusively to eat for a fortnight.  And that the good physician did.
Away went his patient, returning at the end of the fortnight, lean, and
with the appetite of a Toledo blade for succulent slices.  He vowed he
was the man.  Our estimable doctor eyed him, tapped at him, pinched his
tender parts; and making him swear he was really the man, and had eaten
nothing whatever but unadulterated water-cresses in the interval, seized
on him in an ecstasy by the collar of his coat, pushed him into the
surgery, knocked him over, killed him, cut him up, and enjoyed the
felicity of exposing to view the very healthiest patient ever seen under
dissecting hand, by favour of the fortunate discovery of the specific for
him.  All to further science!--to which, in spite of the petitions of all
the scientific bodies of the civilized world, he fell a martyr on the
scaffold, poor gentleman!  But we know politics to be no such empirical
science.

Simeon ingeniously interwove his analogy.  He brought it home to Beaves
Urmsing, whose laugh drove any tone of apology out of it.  Yet the orator
was asked: 'Do you take politics for a joke, Simmy?'

He countered his questioner: 'Just to liberate you from your moribund
state, my friend.'  And he told the story of the wrecked sailor, found
lying on the sands, flung up from the foundered ship of a Salvation
captain, and how, that nothing could waken him, and there he lay fit for
interment; until presently a something of a voice grew down into his
ears; and it was his old chum Polly, whom he had tied to a board to give
her a last chance in the surges; and Polly shaking the wet from her
feathers, and shouting: 'Polly tho dram dry!'--which struck on the nob of
Jack's memory, to revive all the liquorly tricks of the cabin under
Salvationism, and he began heaving, and at last he shook in a lazy way,
and then from sputter to sputter got his laugh loose; and he sat up, and
cried; 'That did it!  Now to business!' for he was hungry.  'And when I
catch the ring of this world's laugh from you, my friend .  .  .  !'
Simeon's application of the story was drowned.

After the outburst, they heard his friend again interruptingly: 'You keep
that tongue of yours from wagging, as it did when you got round the old
widow woman for her money, Simmy !'

Victor leaned forward.  Simeon towered.  He bellowed

'And you keep that tongue of yours from committing incest on a lie!'

It was like a lightning-flash in the theatre.  The man went under.
Simeon flowed.  Conscience reproached him with the little he had done for
Victor, and he had now his congenial opportunity.

Up in the box, the powers of the orator were not so cordially esteemed.
To Matilda Pridden, his tales were barely decently the flesh and the
devil smothering a holy occasion to penetrate and exhort.  Dartrey sat
rigid, as with the checked impatience for a leap.  Nesta looked at Louise
when some one was perceived on the stage bending to her father: It was
Mr. Peridon; he never once raised his face.  Apparently he was not
intelligible or audible but the next moment Victor sprang erect.  Dartrey
quitted the box.  Nesta beheld her father uttering hurried words to right
and left.  He passed from sight, Mr. Peridon with him; and Dartrey did
not return.

Nesta felt her father's absence as light gone: his eyes rayed light.
Besides she had the anticipation of a speech from him, that would win
Matilda Pridden.  She fancied Simeon Fenellan to be rather under the
spell of the hilarity he roused.  A gentleman behind him spoke in his
ear; and Simeon, instead of ceasing, resumed his flow.  Matilda Pridden's
gaze on him and the people was painful to behold: Nesta saw her mind.
She set herself to study a popular assembly.  It could be serious to the
call of better leadership, she believed.  Her father had been telling her
of late of a faith he had in the English, that they (or so her
intelligence translated his remarks) had power to rise to spiritual
ascendancy, and be once more the Islanders heading the world of a new
epoch abjuring materialism--some such idea; very quickening to her, as it
would be to this earnest young woman worshipped by Skepsey.  Her father's
absence and the continued shouts of laughter, the insatiable thirst for
fun, darkened her in her desire to have the soul of the good working
sister refreshed.  They had talked together; not much: enough for each to
see at either's breast the wells from the founts of life.

The box-door opened, Dartrey came in.  He took her hand.  She stood-up to
his look.  He said to Matilda Pridden: 'Come with us; she will need you.'

'Speak it,' said Nesta.

He said to the other: 'She has courage.'

'I could trust to her,' Matilda Pridden replied.

Nesta read his eyes.  'Mother?'

His answer was in the pressure.

'Ill?'

'No longer.'

'Oh!  Dartrey.'  Matilda Pridden caught her fast.

'I can walk, dear,' Nesta said.

Dartrey mentioned her father.

She understood: 'I am thinking of him.'

The words of her mother: 'At peace when the night is over,' rang.  Along
the gassy passages of the back of tie theatre, the sound coming from an
applausive audience was as much a thunder as rage would have been.  It
was as void of human meaning as a sea.




CHAPTER XLII

THE LAST

In the still dark hour of that April morning, the Rev. Septimus Barmby
was roused by Mr. Peridon, with a scribbled message from Victor, which he
deciphered by candlelight held close to the sheet of paper, between short
inquiries and communications, losing more and more the sense of it as his
intelligence became aware of what dread blow had befallen the stricken
man.  He was bidden come to fulfil his promise instantly.  He remembered
the bearing of the promise.  Mr. Peridon's hurried explanatory narrative
made the request terrific, out of tragically lamentable.  A semblance of
obedience had to be put on, and the act of dressing aided it.  Mr. Barmby
prayed at heart for guidance further.

The two gentlemen drove Westward, speaking little; they had the dry sob
in the throat.

'Miss Radnor?'  Mr. Barmby asked.

'She is shattered; she holds up; she would not break down.'

'I can conceive her to possess high courage.'

'She has her friend Mademoiselle de Seilles.'

Mr. Barmby remained humbly silent.  Affectionate deep regrets moved him
to say: 'A loss irreparable.  We have but one voice of sorrow.  And how
sudden!  The dear lady had no suffering, I trust.'

'She fell into the arms of Mr. Durance.  She died in his arms.  She was
unconscious, he says.  I left her straining for breath.  She said
"Victor"; she tried to smile:--I understood I was not to alarm him.'

'And he too late!'

'He was too late, by some minutes.'

'At least I may comfort.  Miss Radnor must be a blessing to him.'

'They cannot meet.  Her presence excites him.'

That radiant home of all hospitality seemed opening on from darker
chambers to the deadly dark.  The immorality in the moral situation could
not be forgotten by one who was professionally a moralist.  But an
incorruptible beauty in the woman's character claimed to plead for her
memory.  Even the rigorous in defence of righteous laws are softened by a
sinner's death to hear excuses, and may own a relationship, haply
perceive the faint nimbus of the saint.  Death among us proves us to be
still not so far from the Nature saying at every avenue to the mind:
'Earth makes all sweet.'

Mr. Durance had prophesied a wailful end ever to the carol of Optimists!
Yet it is not the black view which is the right view.  There is one
between: the path adopted by Septimus Barmby:--if he could but induce his
brethren to enter on it!  The dreadful teaching of circumstances might
help to the persuading of a fair young woman, under his direction .  .  .
having her hand disengaged.  Mr. Barmby started himself in the dream of
his uninterred passion for the maiden: he chased it, seized it, hurled it
hence, as a present sacrilege:--constantly, and at the pitch of our
highest devotion to serve, are we assailed by the tempter!  Is it, that
the love of woman is our weakness?  For if so, then would a celibate
clergy have grant of immunity.  But, alas, it is not so with them!  We
have to deplore the hearing of reports too credible.  Again we are pushed
to contemplate woman as the mysterious obstruction to the perfect purity
of soul.  Nor is there a refuge in asceticism.  No more devilish
nourisher of pride do we find than in pain voluntarily embraced.  And
strangely, at the time when our hearts are pledged to thoughts upon
others, they are led by woman to glance revolving upon ourself, our vile
self!  Mr. Barmby clutched it by the neck.

Light now, as of a strong memory of day along the street, assisted him to
forget himself at the sight of the inanimate houses of this London, all
revealed in a quietness not less immobile than tombstones of an unending
cemetery, with its last ghost laid.  Did men but know it!--The habitual
necessity to amass matter for the weekly sermon, set him noting his
meditative exclamations, the noble army of platitudes under haloes, of
good use to men: justifiably turned over in his mind for their good.  He
had to think, that this act of the justifying of the act reproached him
with a lack of due emotion, in sympathy with agonized friends truly dear.
Drawing near the hospitable house, his official and a cordial emotion
united, as we see sorrowful crape-wreathed countenances.  His heart
struck heavily when the house was visible.

Could it be the very house?  The look of it belied the tale inside.  But
that threw a ghostliness on the look.

Some one was pacing up and down.  They greeted Dudley Sowerby.  His
ability to speak was tasked.  They gathered, that mademoiselle and 'a
Miss Pridden' were sitting with Nesta, and that their services in a
crisis had been precious.  At such times, one of them reflected, woman
has indeed her place: when life's battle waxes red.  Her soul must be
capable of mounting to the level of the man's, then?  It is a lesson!

Dudley said he was waiting for Dr. Themison to come forth.  He could not
tear himself from sight of the house.

The door opened to Dr. Themison departing, Colney Durance and Simeon
Fenellan bare-headed.  Colney showed a face with stains of the lashing of
tears.

Dr. Themison gave his final counsels.  'Her father must not see her.  For
him, it may have to be a specialist.  We will hope the best.  Mr. Dartrey
Fenellan stays beside him:--good.  As to the ceremony he calls for, a
form of it might soothe:--any soothing possible!  No music.  I will
return in a few hours.'

He went on foot.

Mr. Barmby begged advice from Colney and Simeon concerning the message he
had received--the ceremony requiring his official presidency.  Neither of
them replied.  They breathed the morning air, they gave out long-drawn
sighs of relief, looking on the trees of the park.

A man came along the pavement, working slow legs hurriedly.  Simeon ran
down to him.

'Humour, as much as you can,' Colney said to Mr. Barmby.  'Let him
imagine.'

'Miss Radnor?'

'Not to speak of her.'

'The daughter he so loves?'

Mr. Barmby's tender inquisitiveness was unanswered.  Were they inducing
him to mollify a madman?  But was it possible to associate the idea of
madness with Mr. Radnor?

Simeon ran back.  'Jarniman,' he remarked.  'It's over!'

'Now!' Colney's shoulders expressed the comment.  'Well, now, Mr. Barmby,
you can do the part desired.  Come in.  It's morning!' He stared at the
sky.

All except Dudley passed in.

Mr. Barmby wanted more advice, his dilemma being acute.  It was
moderated, though not more than moderated, when he was informed of the
death of Mrs. Burman Radnor; an event that occurred, according to
Jarniman's report, forty-five minutes after Skepsey had a second time
called for information of it at the house in Regent's Park--five hours
and a half, as Colney made his calculation, after the death of Nataly.
He was urged by some spur of senseless irony to verify the calculation
and correct it in the minutes.

Dudley crossed the road.  No sign of the awful interior was on any of the
windows of the house either to deepen awe or relieve.  They were blank as
eyeballs of the mindless.  He shivered.  Death is our common cloak; but
Calamity individualizes, to set the unwounded speculating whether indeed
a stricken man, who has become the cause of woeful trouble, may not be
pointing a moral.  Pacing on the Park side of the house, he saw Skepsey
drive up and leap out with a gentleman, Mr. Radnor's lawyer.  Could it
be, that there was no Will written?  Could a Will be executed now?  The
moral was more forcibly suggested.  Dudley beheld this Mr. Victor Radnor
successful up all the main steps, persuasive, popular, brightest of the
elect of Fortune, felled to the ground within an hour, he and all his
house!  And if at once to pass beneath the ground, the blow would have
seemed merciful for him.  Or if, instead of chattering a mixture of the
rational and the monstrous, he had been heard to rave like the utterly
distraught.  Recollection of some of the things he shouted, was an
anguish: A notion came into the poor man, that he was the dead one of the
two, and he cried out: 'Cremation?  No, Colney's right, it robs us of our
last laugh.  I lie as I fall.'  He 'had a confession for his Nataly, for
her only, for no one else.'  He had 'an Idea.'  His begging of Dudley to
listen without any punctilio (putting a vulgar oath before it), was the
sole piece of unreasonableness in the explanation of the idea: and that
was not much wilder than the stuff Dudley had read from reports of
Radical speeches.  He told Dudley he thought him too young to be 'best
man to a widower about to be married,' and that Barmby was 'coming all
haste to do the business, because of no time to spare.'

Dudley knew but the half, and he did not envy Dartrey Fenellan his task
of watching over the wreck of a splendid intelligence, humouring and
restraining.  According to the rumours, Mr. Radnor had not shown the
symptoms before the appearance of his daughter.  For awhile he hung, and
then fell, like an icicle.  Nesta came with a cry for her father.  He
rose: Dartrey was by.  Hugged fast in iron muscles, the unhappy creature
raved of his being a caged lion.  These things Dudley had heard in the
house.

There are scenes of life proper to the grave-cloth.

Nataly's dead body was her advocate with her family, with friends, with
the world.  Victor had more need of a covering shroud to keep calamity
respected.  Earth makes all sweet: and we, when the privilege is granted
us, do well to treat the terribly stricken as if they had entered to the
bosom of earth.

That night's infinite sadness was concentrated upon Nesta.  She had need
of her strength of mind and body.

The night went past as a year.  The year followed it as a refreshing
night.  Slowly lifting her from our abysses, it was a good angel to the
girl.  Permission could not be given for her to see her father.  She had
a home in the modest home of Louise de Seilles on the borders of
Dauphins; and with French hearts at their best in winningness around her,
she learned again, as an art, the natural act of breathing calmly; she
had by degrees a longing for the snow-heights.  When her imagination
could perch on them with love and pride, she began to recover the throb
for a part in human action.  It set her nature flowing to the mate she
had chosen, who was her counsellor, her supporter, and her sword.  She
had awakened to new life, not to sink back upon a breast of love, though
thoughts of the lover were as blows upon strung musical chords of her
bosom.  Her union with Dartrey was for the having an ally and the being
an ally, in resolute vision of strife ahead, through the veiled dreams
that bear the blush.  This was behind a maidenly demureness.  Are not
young women hypocrites?  Who shall fathom their guile!  A girl with a
pretty smile, a gentle manner, a liking for wild flowers up on the rocks;
and graceful with resemblances to the swelling proportions of garden-
fruits approved in young women by the connoisseur eye of man; distinctly
designed to embrace the state of marriage, that she might (a girl of
singularly lucid and receptive eyes) the better give battle to men
touching matters which they howl at an eccentric matron for naming.
So it was.  And the yielding of her hand to Dartrey, would have appeared
at that period of her revival, as among the baser compliances of the
fleshly, if she had not seen in him, whom she owned for leader, her
fellow soldier, warrior friend, hero, of her own heart's mould, but a
greater.

She was on Como, at the villa of the Signora Giulia Sanfredini, when
Dudley's letter reached her, with the supplicating offer of the share of
his earldom.  An English home meanwhile was proposed to her at the house
of his mother the Countess.  He knew that he did not write to a brilliant
heiress.  The generosity she had always felt that he possessed, he thus
proved in figures.  They are convincing and not melting.  But she was
moved to tears by his goodness in visiting her father, as well as by the
hopeful news he sent.  He wrote delicately, withholding the title of her
father's place of abode.  There were expectations of her father's perfect
recovery; the signs were auspicious; he appeared to be restored to the
'likeness to himself' in the instances Dudley furnished:--his appointment
with him for the flute-duet next day; and particularly his enthusiastic
satisfaction with the largeness and easy excellent service of the
residence 'in which he so happily found himself established.'  He held it
to be, 'on the whole, superior to Lakelands.'  The smile and the tear
rolled together in Nesta reading these words.  And her father spoke
repeatedly of longing to embrace his Fredi, of the joy her last letter
had given him, of his intention to send an immediate answer: and he
showed Dudley a pile of manuscript ready for the post.  He talked of
public affairs, was humorous over any extravagance or eccentricity in the
views he took; notably when he alluded to his envy of little Skepsey.  He
said he really did envy; and his daughter believed it and saw fair
prospects in it.

Her grateful reply to the young earl conveyed all that was perforce
ungentle, in the signature of the name of Nesta Victoria Fenellan:--
a name he was to hear cited among the cushioned conservatives, and plead
for as he best could under a pressure of disapprobation, and compelled
esteem, and regrets.

The day following the report of her father's wish to see her, she and her
husband started for England.  On that day, Victor breathed his last.
Dudley had seen the not hopeful but an ominous illumination of the
stricken man; for whom came the peace his Nataly had in earth.  Often did
Nesta conjure up to vision the palpitating form of the beloved mother
with her hand at her mortal wound in secret through long years of the
wearing of the mask to keep her mate inspirited.  Her gathered knowledge
of things and her ruthless penetrativeness made it sometimes hard for her
to be tolerant of a world, whose tolerance of the infinitely evil stamped
blotches on its face and shrieked in stains across the skin beneath its
gallant garb.  That was only when she thought of it as the world
condemning her mother.  She had a husband able and ready, in return for
corrections of his demon temper, to trim an ardent young woman's
fanatical overflow of the sisterly sentiments; scholarly friends, too,
for such restrainings from excess as the mind obtains in a lamp of
History exhibiting man's original sprouts to growth and fitful
continuation of them.  Her first experience of the grief that is in
pleasure, for those who have passed a season, was when the old Concert-
set assembled round her.  When she heard from the mouth of a living
woman, that she had saved her from going under the world's waggon-wheels,
and taught her to know what is actually meant by the good living of a
shapely life, Nesta had the taste of a harvest happiness richer than her
recollection of the bride's, though never was bride in fuller flower to
her lord than she who brought the dower of an equal valiancy to Dartrey
Fenellan.  You are aware of the reasons, the many, why a courageous young
woman requires of high heaven, far more than the commendably timid, a
doughty husband.  She had him; otherwise would that puzzled old world,
which beheld her step out of the ranks to challenge it, and could not
blast her personal reputation, have commissioned a paw to maul her
character, perhaps instructing the gossips to murmur of her parentage.
Nesta Victoria Fenellan had the husband who would have the world
respectful to any brave woman.  This one was his wife.

Daniel Skepsey rejoices in service to his new master, owing to the
scientific opinion he can at any moment of the day apply for, as to the
military defences of the country; instead of our attempting to arrest the
enemy by vociferations of persistent prayer:--the sole point of
difference between him and his Matilda; and it might have been fatal but
that Nesta's intervention was persuasive.  The two members of the Army
first in the field to enrol and give rank according to the merits of
either, to both sexes, were made one.  Colney Durance (practically
cynical when not fancifully, men said) stood by Skepsey at the altar.
His published exercises in Satire produce a flush of the article in the
Reviews of his books.  Meat and wine in turn fence the Hymen beckoning
Priscilla and Mr. Pempton.  The forms of Religion more than the Channel's
division of races keep Louise de Seilles and Mr. Peridon asunder: and in
the uniting of them Colney is interested, because it would have so
pleased the woman of the loyal heart no longer beating.  He let Victor's
end be his expiation and did not phrase blame of him.  He considered the
shallowness of the abstract Optimist exposed enough in Victor's history.
He was reconciled to it when, looking on their child, he discerned, that
for a cancelling of the errors chargeable to them, the father and mother
had kept faith with Nature.




ETEXT EDITOR'S BOOKMARKS:

An incomprehensible world indeed at the bottom and at the top
Arrest the enemy by vociferations of persistent prayer
Country prizing ornaments higher than qualities
Death is our common cloak; but Calamity individualizes
How little we mean to do harm when we do an injury
Nation's half made-up of the idle and the servants of the idle
No companionship save with the wound they nurse
Not always the right thing to do the right thing
The night went past as a year
Universal censor's angry spite


[The End]




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