MISS BROWN A NOVEL

BY VERNON LEE AUTHOR OF ‘EUPHORION,’ ‘BELCARO,’ ETC.

IN THREE VOLUMES

VOL. I.

WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS EDINBURGH AND LONDON

MDCCLXXXIV

All Rights Reserved

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TO HENRY JAMES, I DEDICATE, FOR GOOD LUCK, MY FIRST ATTEMPT AT A NOVEL.

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BOOK I.
MISS BROWN.

[3]

CHAPTER I.

IT was melancholy to admit that Italy also had ceased to interest him, thought Hamlin, as he smoked his cigarette on the hillside above the Villa Arnolfini; melancholy, although, in truth, he had suspected as much throughout the journey, and, indeed, before starting. Pale, milky morning sky, deepening into luminous blue opposite the fast‐rising sun; misty blue‐green valley bounded by unsubstantial Apennine peaks and Carrara crags; yellow shimmer of vines and of maize, green sparkle of pine and fir branches, glitter of vermilion sand crumbling under his feet among the sear grass [4] and the brown cistus tufts,—all these things seemed to have lost for him their emotional colour, their imaginative luminousness. He tried to realise the time when all these things had given him a thrill, had gone to his head, nay, when the mere sense of being in Italy had done so; but now the very words “thrill” and “intoxication” seemed false, disgusting, and vulgar. Formerly, at least, such things had soaked into him, dyed his mind with colour, saturated it with light; instead of remaining, as now, so separate from him, so terribly external, that to perceive them required almost an effort. He and the world had been becoming paler in the last three years; it was melancholy, but that seemed quite natural and in keeping; and besides, a washed‐out world, a man with worn‐out feelings, have quite as much psychologic interest for a poet as the reverse.

Walter Hamlin had never been your splash‐of‐scarlet and dash‐of‐orange‐and‐skyblue, lust‐and‐terror kind of lyrist; but he had begun his poetical career with a quiet concentra‐ [5] tion of colour, physical and moral, which had made his earliest verses affect one like so many old church windows, deep flecks of jewel lustre set in quaint stiff little frames, with a great deal of lead between, and supreme indifference to anatomy and perspective. And as a painter (perhaps just because, despite his own contrary opinion)—he certainly had less original genius as painter than as poet—he had continued in this habit of gemlike harmonies of colour; but in his poetry, and in his reality as a man, it struck him that he had little by little got paler and paler, colours turning gradually to tints, and tints to shadows; pleasure, pain, hope, despair, all reduced gradually to a delicate penumbra, a diaphanous intellectual pallor, of which this utter listlessness, this indifference even to having grown indifferent, was, as it were, the faint key‐note. The world was a pale and prismatic mist, full of vague, formless ghosts, in which it was possible to see only as far as to‐day; and, indeed, why wish to see that paler to‐day called [6] to‐morrow? Perhaps there was a little depression added to Hamlin’s usual listlessness. It had given him a kind of little shock to see Melton Perry again, after those twelve or thirteen years; bringing back to him the time when he had been the most brilliant and eccentric of that little knot of æsthetic undergraduates, at whose strange doings as Greek gods, and Provençal poets, and Norse heroes, Oxford had murmured in those philistine days, and which had welcomed young Hamlin, with his girlish beauty and pre‐Raphaelite verses, as a sort of mixture of Apollo and Eros, sitting at the head of the supper‐table dressed in green silk, with rose garlands on his head, while Perry led a chorus of praise, dressed in indigo velveteen, with peacocks’ feathers in his button‐hole, and silver‐gilt grasshoppers in his hair. Poor old Perry! Absurd days those were, thought Hamlin, as he walked slowly towards the house, through the grass and hemlock bending with dew, pushing aside the fig branches and vine trails along the narrow path between the [7] terraced olives; absurd days those, and at which he could now, having grown grave and listless, only faintly smile. Still the sight of Perry had brought back to him that recurring sense that all those absurd lads of long‐gone days, turned humdrum dons, and parsons, and squires for the most part, had had a something, a spontaneity, an aristocratic fibre, a sort of free‐bornness, which he missed among the clique‐and‐shop shoddy æstheticism with which he now associated, and which sang his praises as those boys had sung them so many years before. Professional poetry! professional art! faugh! thought Hamlin; it was that feeling which had been making London odious to him of late, and sent him abroad, he knew not whither. He was a poet himself, and a painter also, to be sure; but somehow he liked to feel (and yet it oppressed him) that he was not of the same stock as his fellow‐workers—that he had his coats made by less romantic tailors, and cut his hair and beard in less pictorial style. The sense of his difference from all those pen‐ [8] and‐pencil‐driving men of genius, those reviewer‐poets and clerk‐poets, those once‐a‐week‐studio‐receiving painters; the sense of the dust and smoke, as it were, of the æsthetic factory, had been choking him of late: he would rather go and associate only with well‐dressed numskulls, go and flirt with empty‐headed Faubourg St Germain ladies, or emptier‐headed Monte Carlo ladies—he would not touch pen or brush for years. It had been silly to accept Perry’s invitation to spend September at the Villa Arnolfini; he had accepted, thinking of Perry as he had been, a wild, roistering, half‐French creature, brought up at Louis‐le‐Grand, and telling wicked French stories. Good heavens! what a change! When the wretched, thin, wasted, depressed‐looking creature, fit for a medieval picture of mansuetude, had greeted him by night at the nearest station, and had driven him in the gig, he had been quite unable to realise that this was indeed Melton Perry. But he had understood all, all, when, in the bleak drawing‐room, in the glare of an ill‐ [9] trimmed lamp, that lank, limp, lantern‐jawed leering creature with a Sapphic profile had come forward and seized him by both hands, and kissed them, crying—

“Dear Mr Hamlin, I must kiss the hands that have opened the paradise of body and soul to so many of us.”

She, and her speech, and the damp dab on his hands, had passed before him like a nightmare; he felt that he would never be able to disassociate Mrs Melton Perry from that horrible smell of ill‐trimmed, flickering oil‐lamp. It seemed to him dreadful—a sort of hideous, harpy‐like proceeding—that his old friend should have thus been metamorphosed.

“You see,” Perry had said, “I must paint things—well—not the sort of things I exactly admire,—because, you see, there’s Mrs Perry and the children—five girls,—and last year’s baby.”

Perry’s depressed voice had remained in Hamlin’s ears. This was the end of a bright, original fellow—married for love, too! And [10] six children! Hamlin had already made up his mind that he could not possibly hold out long at the Villa Arnolfini. That Mrs Perry, with her leering Sapphic profile, her almost amorous admiration, the limp gown, the five girls, and last year’s baby, the all‐pervading smell of oil‐lamp, were too much for him. In three days, he calculated, he might decently, on some pretext, slip off to Florence. And then—why, from Florence he might go to America. He thought all those big hotels, with the fifteen hundred inmates and thirteen brass bands, all that tremendous strain, telegraph‐telephone vulgarity, might be refreshing.

Hamlin had got to the bottom of the hill, and in front of him, nestled among the olives and the vines, rose the Villa Arnolfini, a time‐ and weather‐stained Tuscan country‐house, with its rose‐hedges gone wild among the beans and artichokes, its grotesque ivy‐draped terra‐cotta statues, its belvedere towers, from whose crannied sides and yellow lichened tiles [11] the pigeons swept down on to the lawn of overgrown grass, thick with dew in the blue morning shadow. It had a sort of half‐romantic, half‐idyllic charm, which Hamlin could not help recognising: it certainly was better than an American hotel, with ten lifts, thirteen brass bands, and fifteen hundred inmates. But, like everything else, it was a snare; for behind those sleepy‐looking green shutters were the pink and blue chromo‐lithograph pot‐boilers of Melton Perry, were the five girls and the last year’s baby, nay, were the Sapphic leer and limp dresses of Mrs Melton Perry herself.

Making these reflections, Hamlin pushed open the green and blistered house‐door and entered the wide hall, with rickety eighteenth‐century chairs and tables marshalled round the walls. There was one good thing about his hosts, he thought, and that was, that they had no common breakfast, but invited their guests to do whatsoever they pleased in the early morning. The hall was very silent, and Ham‐ [12] lin wondered how he should get any breakfast. It struck him that he had better go and ring the bell in his bedroom. But on going upstairs he found there was no sign of a bell either in it or in the vast scantily furnished drawing‐room, where a thick layer of dust reposed on tables and mirrors, and the smell of last night’s oil‐lamp still lingered. He saw the open door of Perry’s studio; it was empty, and so was the adjoining dressing‐room, where boots and canvases littered the floor. But on the mirror was a paper, on which was written in the largest characters: “I am gone to sketch at the Lake of Massaciuccoli; shan’t be back till lunch; please look after Hamlin.”

“Confound it!” thought Hamlin, “am I to be left in tête‐à‐tête with Mrs Perry all the morning?” But since Melton Perry thought nothing of leaving his guest alone all the morning, he too—the guest—might surely be permitted to slip away after breakfast from the effusive æstheticism of his hostess. Having [13] found no sign of life on the first floor, Hamlin went down‐stairs once more, and proceeded to ramble about in search of breakfast, or, at least, of some servant. The ground‐floor seemed to consist entirely of servants’ rooms, offices, and strange garners, where sacks of potatoes, garden‐tools, silkworm‐mats, and various kinds of pods were gathered together. They were all empty; and empty likewise was the kitchen, its brass saucepans and huge spits left invitingly for any one who might care to step through the open garden‐door. But next to the kitchen was a sort of nursery, at least so he judged from the children’s chairs and battered dolls lying about—and here a table was spread with cups and saucers and jugs, and a cut loaf and a plate of figs. “This looks more like it,” thought Hamlin, wondering what had become of the inmates of this mysterious abode of sleep. Suddenly he heard children talking in a room at the end of the passage, and a sort of subdued, deep, melancholy chant, like some church song. He went [14] to the door whence came the sounds, and knocked gently. The childish chattering did not stop, nor the fitful gusts of chant—deep, nasal, but harmonious and weird, with curious, sudden, metallic falsetto notes, less like the voice of a woman than of a youth. Hamlin knocked again, and receiving no notice, boldly opened the door and stood on the threshold. He was struck by the sight which met him. The room was low and vaulted, with walls entirely frescoed with dark‐blue skies sprinkled with birds, mountains like cheeses, rivers, box‐like houses, people fishing, and plentiful ducks and parrots on perches; a faint green shimmer of leaves came through the open windows; three or four little yellow‐headed children were scrambling on the floor, struggling violently over the funeral of a doll in a biscuit‐tin. In the middle of the room was a large deal table, covered with singed flannel, on the corner of which stood a brasier with some flat‐irons, and a heap of crumpled pink pinafores; and behind this table, her tall and [15] powerful figure, in a close‐fitting white vest and white skirt, standing out against the dark‐blue painted wall and the green shimmer from outside, was a young woman bending over a frock which she was ironing, her bare brown arms going up and down along the board; her massive and yet girlish body bending with the movement, and singing that strange chant which Hamlin had heard from outside.

“I beg your pardon,” said Hamlin, in Italian, as he stood in the doorway. The children looked round, tittered, and made remarks in shrill whispers; the girl stopped her work, stood erect, putting her iron on the brasier, and stared full at Hamlin with large wide‐opened eyes of strange dark‐greyish blue, beneath heavy masses of dark lustreless hair, crimped naturally like so much delicate black iron wire, on her narrow white brow.

“I beg your pardon,” said Hamlin again; “but can you tell me how I may get some breakfast?”

[16]

He could not help smiling in proffering this innocent request, so serious and almost tragic was the face of the girl.

“It’s Mr Hamlin,” tittered the children, rolling under the table, and hanging to the table‐cloth.

The young woman eyed Hamlin for a second in no very gracious manner; then answered, with a certain contemptuous listlessness in her slightly hollowed pale cheeks and beautifully curled but somewhat prominent lips—

“I don’t know anything about your breakfast, sir.” She spoke, to his surprise, in perfect English, with only the faintest guttural Italian accent. “Mr Perry went to sketch at Massaciuccoli early this morning, and took the boy with him; Mrs Perry may never be disturbed till nine; and the cook is gone to Lucca for provisions.”

“That’s very sad,” remarked Hamlin, laughing, and looking at this curious and picturesque being.

The girl seemed annoyed at being discovered [17] in that guise, for she pulled down her white sleeves quickly.

“I suppose the cook has orders about your breakfast,” she said, in a tone which seemed to put an end to the conversation; and she took up her iron once more. “Mrs Perry did not think you would want anything so early; the cook will be back about nine.”

But Hamlin would not be shaken off; the fact was, he enjoyed watching this beautiful sullen creature much as he might have enjoyed watching a cat whom he had disturbed in its sleep.

“Nine o’clock!” he said; “that’s a long time to wait. Couldn’t you give me something to eat? I saw a table spread in the next room.”

The girl put down her iron with a sort of subdued irritation of manner.

“It’s the children’s breakfast, sir,” she answered; “we have neither tea nor coffee.”

“We have milk,” said the eldest of the little girls pertly, “and figs.”

[18]

“Milk and figs!” exclaimed Hamlin; “why, that’s a breakfast for the gods! and won’t you,” he went on rather appealingly—“won’t you share a little of it with me?”

“You are Mrs Perry’s guest,” said the girl more sullenly than ever, “and of course you are welcome to anything you choose.”

Hamlin felt rather taken aback.

“Indeed!” he said. “I don’t wish to do anything against the habits of the house, or disagreeable to you.”

“It is not against any rules,” she answered. “If you will excuse me, I will see whether the milk is heated. The children will show you the way.”

[19]

CHAPTER II.

HAMLIN felt rather contrite and humiliated as he sat down at the square table, with the two eldest children, pert little rosy and flaxen things, on either side of him, and the three little ones staring at him, and then suddenly making convulsive dives under the table‐cloth and behind each other’s shoulders opposite. He was the furthest possible removed from the kind of young man who persecutes pretty housemaids. Whatever vagaries he might have had in his life, they were not of that sort; and now, although he had merely intended to ask for some breakfast, he found himself somehow in the position of pushing his presence upon a servant girl. He was vexed with himself, and became very grave, scarcely [20] answering the chatter of the children by his side.

“And you know,” said the eldest child, a pretty little minx of eleven, fully conscious of her charms, “mamma told us you were the great poet, and she read us a poem of yours about Sir Troilus. Mamma always reads poetry to us—and we liked it so much,—and I liked all about where he kisses the lady so much, and her purple dress with the golden roses, and then about Love, where he comes and takes her by the throat, and chokes her, and makes her feel like a furnace. Mamma says it’s just like love. Mr Thaddeus Smith was in love with the gardener’s girl when he came here last year, mamma says.”

“Good heavens!” thought Hamlin, “what a mamma and what children!”

“And mamma told us to get some myrtles and put them in your room,” blurted out a smaller one.

“Hush, Winnie! You know you shouldn’t tell,” said the eldest.

[21]

“And you know,” insisted the younger, in her little, impertinent lisp, “mamma said we should put the myrtles, because you made poems about myrtles; and we were to have had on our best frocks, and met you in the hall, and—”

“Hush, Winnie!”

“And thrown roses on the floor before you; only then papa got a telegram saying you were coming by the late train, and we had to go to bed—”

Miss Winnie’s revelations and her sister’s expostulations were interrupted by the entry of the nurse, or governess, or whatever else she might be, carrying a large jug of milk. She had slipped on a skirt and loose jacket of striped peasant cotton, which at a distance looked like a dull, rich purple. She sat down at the head of the table, and began silently helping the hot milk.

“May I cut the bread for you?” asked Hamlin, feeling quite shy from her silence.

“I don’t think you will know how to do [22] it,” she answered. “We have only yesterday’s bread at this hour, until the cook returns from market.” When the milk was helped and the bread cut, she said, rather sharply—

“Now, children, say your prayer.”

The children immediately set up a shrill chorus; the elder, who wished to show off, slowly—the little ones, who were hungry, quicker; an absurdly pseudo‐poetical thanksgiving, which reminded Hamlin of the sort of poetry presented to rich foreigners by needy Italians on creamy, embossed, and illuminated paper. He was struck by the fact that the girl did not join, but waited passively through this religio‐poetical ceremony; doubtless, he thought, because she was a Catholic.

“That’s mamma’s Tuesday hymn,” said Winnie; “she makes a different one for each day of the week.”

Whereupon the children fell vigorously to their breakfast of bread and milk. Heaven knows when Hamlin had eaten bread and milk last—probably, he thought, not since he [23] had been out of frocks; but it seemed to him pleasant and pastoral. He would have enjoyed this improvised breakfast had the children chattered less incessantly (Hamlin did not care for children), and had he not continued to feel rather as if he had been courting a nursemaid. The young woman had as much as she could do in pouring out more milk, giving out more figs, and cutting more slices of bread and butter for the children; and her conversation was entirely engrossed in admonitions to them not to spill their milk, not to jump on their chairs, not to talk with their mouths full, and so forth. She seemed determined, in her sullen indifferent way, to make Hamlin understand that he might intrude his person at that breakfast‐table, but that he had no chance of intruding his personality upon her notice. But her very indifference afforded Hamlin an opportunity, and, as it were, a right, to examine her appearance: one may surely look at a person who obstinately refuses to notice one. She was very beautiful, and even more than [24] beautiful—strange. She seemed very young, certainly, thought Hamlin—not more than nineteen at most; but her face, though of perfectly smooth complexion, without furrow or faintest wrinkle, was wholly unyouthful; the look was not of age, for you could not imagine her ever growing old, but of a perfect negation of youth. Hamlin tried to think what she might have been as a child, looking round on the childish faces about him, but in vain. The complexion was of a uniform opaque pallor, more like certain old marble than ivory; indeed you might almost imagine, as she sat motionless at the head of the table, that this was no living creature, but some sort of strange statue—cheek and chin and forehead of Parian marble, scarcely stained a dull red in the lips, and hair of dull wrought‐iron, and eyes of some mysterious greyish‐blue, slate‐tinted onyx: a beautiful and sombre idol of the heathen. And the features were stranger and more monumental even than the substance in which they seemed carved by [25] some sharp chisel, delighting in gradual hollowing of cheek and eye, in sudden cutting of bold groove and cavity of nostril and lip. The forehead was high and narrow, the nose massive, heavy, with a slight droop that reminded Hamlin of the head of Antinous; the lips thick, and of curiously bold projection and curl; the faintly hollowed cheek subsided gradually into a neck round and erect like a tower, but set into the massive chest as some strong supple branch into a tree‐trunk. He wondered as he looked at her; and wondered whether this strange type, neither Latin nor Greek, but with something of Jewish and something of Ethiopian subdued into a statuesque but most un‐Hellenic beauty, had met him before. The nearest approach seemed to be certain mournful and sullen heads of Michaelangelo, the type was so monumental, and at the same time so picturesque; and as he looked at the girl, it seemed, despite its strangeness, as if, at some dim distant time, he had seen and known it well before.

[26]

He looked at her with the curiosity of an artist examining a model, or a poet trying to solve a riddle; there was, he felt conscious, nothing insolent or offensive in his stare. Yet he felt he must break the silence; so, with real indifference, he suddenly asked—

“ How is it that you speak English so marvellously well? No one would ever guess that you were not English.”

“I am English,” answered the girl.

English nationality had explained many otherwise unaccountable mixed types to Hamlin; but this took him by surprise, and left him utterly incredulous. This girl certainly was no Englishwoman—a Jewess, perhaps. No, never; no Jewess was ever so pure and statuesque of outline: some Eastern, dashed with Hindoo or Negro; they were much coarser, more common, of far more obvious, less subtle beauty.

“You mean English by adoption,” he suggested, “surely not by blood?”

“My mother was an Italian. I think her [27] family came from Sicily or Sardinia, or somewhere,where there are Spaniards and Moors,” she answered; “but my father was Scotch. He came from Aberdeen.”

“Have you ever been in Scotland?” he asked, just by way of saying something to mitigate the personalness of his previous questions.

“No,” she answered, and her lips closed as with a spring; then she added, as if to close all further conversation, “I was born in Italy; my father was employed at Spezia in the docks.”

The eldest Miss Perry raised her pretty little sentimental head pertly.

“Annina’s father was one of those who make the big men‐of‐war at Spezia.”

“Oh, you know, we once went with papa, and saw a man‐of‐war, and all the boilers and big, big cannons,” interrupted a smaller one.

“And he was a bad, bad man,” went on the eldest, composedly. “He used to drink quantities of acquavite; and one day when he had [28] drunk so much acquavite, do you know what he did? He tried to throw Annina’s mother out of the window, and then shot himself with a revolver.”

Hamlin listened as the cruel words dribbled out, and stared at the childish face. He had never taken any interest in children; but he had never thought that a child could be so deliberately (as it seemed to him) malignant. The words made his ears burn, and he felt indignant, confused, and humiliated, as if he were a party to them. He did not look at the girl; but he somehow saw, or felt, the sullen, suppressed bitterness of shame in her tragic face.

“And is it true,” interrupted Winnie, “that you are going to do our picture? Mamma said you would want to paint us angels or fairies. All the painters paint us, because, mamma says, we are the most beautiful children in Florence. They always give us chocolate and marrons glacés to keep us quiet.”

[29]

CHAPTER III.

WHEN breakfast was over, and she had made the children fold up their napkins, the nurse took what remained of figs, bread, and milk to lock up in the kitchen. Mildred, the eldest of the little Perrys, sidled up to Hamlin, as he stood on the doorstep leading into the vineyard, lighting a cigarette, and asked whether he would not like to see her garden.

Hamlin looked down upon the innocent‐looking little fiend with a sort of disgust and contempt. “Thank you,” he said; “gardens aren’t much in my line.”

The little thing scowled at this rebuff of her fascinations. But a sudden thought struck Hamlin. “Yes, by the way,” he said, “I do take an interest in gardens sometimes. Come and show me yours.”

[30]

Mildred slipped her arm through his—a long‐legged, fair‐haired, pre‐Raphaelite child, in much‐darned stockings and patched pinafore—Winnie, the second, a rounder, more comfortable, cherubic beauty, seized his hand. He let himself be led along, among the prattle of the little one and the assumed shyness of the elder, through the vineyard, where the tall, red‐tipped sorghum brooms stood among the trailing pumpkins and the tufts of fennel, to a small grove behind the house, in whose shade were four little raked‐up spaces, with drooping marigolds and zinnias stuck into the earth, and small box sprigs.

“This is my garden!” cried Winnie, dragging him along, and pointing to the melancholy little patch. “I have marigolds, and sunflowers, and red beans and potatoes.”

“And this is mine,” said Mildred, raising her big blue eyes. “I call it the garden of Acrasia; because mamma told us once about Sir Guyon—”

“Won’t you give us anything to buy seeds [31] with; we want tomato seeds,” clamoured Winnie.

“Hush, Winnie! I wonder you’re not ashamed!” cried Mildred.

“They are very good sort of gardens,” said Hamlin, fishing in his waistcoat for loose silver, while the children looked at him with beaming eyes; “here—I hope your tomatoes may prosper and prove eatable.”

Then he suddenly turned to Mildred. “Come here,” he ordered, “I want to speak to you ;” and he sat down on a stone bench under a plane‐tree, in which the cicala was sawing away with all his might.

Mildred stood in front of him, wondering, half hoping for the usual request that she should sit for an angel or a fairy.

“Look here,” said Hamlin, quietly; “I want to know how you would feel if your papa had been in the habit of drinking too much acquavite, and had shot himself after trying to murder your mamma, and some nasty little girl blurted it all out at breakfast to a perfect stranger?”

[32]

The child flushed with surprise and anger; she looked as if she would have scratched Hamlin’s eyes out. But he looked steadily in her face, and he was a stranger, a gentleman, a man, and not her papa; circumstances which entirely overawed her. She recovered her composure marvellously, and answered after a moment’s reflection, “My papa is a gentleman, and Annina’s papa was a common man —a mascalzone,”—with considerable triumph at her dignified argument.

“Your papa is a gentleman,” replied Hamlin, sternly; “I have known him long before you were born. But remember, if you say cruel things which hurt people’s feelings, whether they be gentle people or servants, however much your papa may be a gentleman, you won’t be a lady.”

And Hamlin left the little Perrys to muse upon this moral truth. He felt quite excited; and when the excitement had subsided, he felt quite astonished at himself. He could scarcely realise that he himself had actually been [33] meddling in other people’s affairs, had been reading a lesson to other people’s children, all about a little girl saying offensive things to her nurse. It was so strange that it quite humiliated him: he had first pushed his company on to a nursemaid, and then, unasked, fought the nursemaid’s battle. This confounded Perry household! Was it going to turn him also into a ridiculous caricature? He went up‐stairs and wrote some business letters, and corrected a lot of proof of his new book. Then he thought it would be pleasanter to correct the remainder in the garden; so he brought down his writing‐case, and established himself on the grass behind the house. The first‐floor balcony and the roof projected a deep shade; and on the high grass flickered shadows of plane‐trees and laurels, as through their branches there flickered the pale‐blue sky. The swifts flew round the eaves with sharp noise, the cicalas sawed in the trees; all was profoundly peaceable. But suddenly, from the first‐floor windows came a vague sound of [34] childish sobbing, a confused murmur as if of consolation. Then a pause, after which a well‐known voice arose shrill in glib Italian.

“Annina, how dare you distress the signorina Mildred? How dare you say cruel things to my poor, poor sensitive child?”

“I have said nothing cruel to the signorina Mildred,” answered a deep, quiet voice; “the signorina Mildred went to show her garden to Mr Hamlin, and then came back crying. I asked her what had happened, but she refused to tell me. I have nothing to do with her tears.”

“How dare you tell such an untruth?” shrieked Mrs Perry. “The signorina Mildred said something about your father at breakfast, and you, like a little viper, turned round upon the poor little darling. She is nearly in hysterics! You little serpent!”

“It is one of Miss Mildred’s usual lies,” answered the other voice calmly—“una delle solite bugíe.”

Hamlin had been admitted too much into [35] confidence. He took up his writing things hastily, and removed to the furthest end of the garden, out of reach of the dispute.

This was the pretty result of his interference! He had merely got this poor devil of a nursemaid into a scrape. It was the fit punishment for his folly in going out of his way to meddle with other folk. He was very much annoyed; he had been dragged into a sordid woman’s squabble; Mrs Perry’s scolding had seemed addressed to him. At the same time, he did feel indignant that the girl should be treated in this fashion: such a splendid, queenly creature slanged by a sentimental, æsthetic fishwife, as he defined his hostess to himself.

The return of Melton Perry interrupted his reflections. Perry was quite astonished to find him up, and extremely distressed at his having had no regular breakfast.

“You see,” he said, “Mrs Perry is very delicate—in short, scarcely fit for any kind of household bother,—so that—”

[36]

“Oh,” answered Hamlin, “I had a capital breakfast with your children.”

Then they fell to talking of old times; and little by little there emerged from out of the overworked, henpecked Melton Perry of the present, the resemblance of the proud and brilliant Melton Perry of the past.

“Of course,” said Perry, as they sat smoking in the sheltered studio—“of course I’m very happy, and that sort of thing. My wife—well, she’s a little impetuous, and I don’t always agree about her way of bringing up the children—but there’s no saying that she isn’t an immensely superior kind of woman. I don’t always agree with her, mind you; but she has the true poetic temperament, and”—here he made an evident effort—“she keeps me up to the mark with my work. I was always a lazy hound, you know, and all that. In short, I know I’m quite a singularly fortunate man. Nevertheless,—well, I tell you my frank opinion about matrimony: never do it; the odds [37] are too great. My own belief is, that, especially for an artist, it’s a fellow’s ruin. Mine, you see, is an exceptional position. But if you take my advice, old man, never marry.”

“I don’t think there is the faintest chance,” answered Hamlin. “Women have got to bore me long ago: all that in my poems is mere recollections of the past—descriptions of a myself which has long come to an end.”

“I’m glad of it,” replied Perry. “It is a foolish thing to get tied to a woman.”

“Foolish indeed!” thought Hamlin, looking from his shabby, depressed old comrade, to the blazing sunsets and green moonlights on the easels about them.

[38]

CHAPTER IV.

DURING luncheon, no mention was made of the nursemaid into whose concerns Hamlin had that morning intruded; but at dinner, Hamlin’s sense of the question being a sore one, and of being himself mixed up in it, gave way before his curiosity to solve the riddle of the strange‐type which had taken him so by surprise.

“That is a very strange‐looking girl you have in your service,” he remarked to his hostess, over their grapes and thin wine.

“The cook?” cried Mrs Perry. “Isn’t she a divine creature? I call her Monna Lisa’s younger sister.”

“I don’t know your cook by sight,” he answered. “I mean the other young woman they call Annina—”

[39]

Mrs Perry’s brow darkened.

“The nurse—or governess,—I don’t know exactly how to describe her,—of your little girls.”

“My children’s maid,” answered Mrs Perry, with considerable emphasis. “Thank heaven, my children have never had and shall never have any other nurse or any other governess than their own mother.”

“Well, now, Julia,” remonstrated her husband, “I think, you know, that’s pushing it a little too far.”

“My children shall never learn anything from a menial,” insisted Mrs Perry, “neither to walk bodily, nor morally, nor intellectually, as long as I am alive.”

“Good heavens!” thought Hamlin, “what a bandy‐legged family they are likely to turn out!”

“I suppose you mean Annie,” said Perry. “Yes, she’s a good girl, and a good‐looking girl.”

“You are mad, Melton,” cried Mrs Perry, “with your idea of goodness and good looks!”

[40]

“I think her extraordinarily good‐looking,” put in Hamlin, enjoying the authority of his own verdict.

“I always told you so,” replied Perry.

“When I say good‐looking,” corrected Hamlin, “I don’t mean it at all in the ordinary sense. There are dozens of Italian girls five times as pretty as that girl, and I daresay most people don’t think her at all attractive.”

“Yes,” burst out Mrs Perry, “vulgar minds and eyes never appreciate the higher beauty. They see only the body.”

“This is exactly a question of the body,” went on Hamlin. “That girl is one of the most singular types I have ever come across. She is like some of Michaelangelo’s women, but even stranger—a superb creature.”

The revelation of her maid’s beauty by so great an authority as Hamlin quite dazzled and delighted Mrs Perry.

“All our servants are handsome,” she said; “the cook’s the finest Leonardo da Vinci type—when you see her you will want to do her [41] picture, Mr Hamlin, as Venus Mystica,” and Mrs Melton Perry set her meagre features and wide‐opening mouth into a mystic smile, intimating that she knew a great deal about Venus Mystica, and her guest doubtless likewise.

“And the footman” . . . she went on.

“Errand‐boy,” corrected Mr Perry, suddenly, emboldened by his friend’s presence.

“The footman is quite a type of manly beauty—a young Hercules,—such a neck and shoulders and arms—and a head like a cameo. I always make it a rule to engage only handsome servants, because it spiritualises the minds of our children to be brought up constantly surrounded by beautiful human forms.”

“I see,” answered Hamlin drily, entirely neglecting his opportunity of making the usual reply to this remark—namely, that the young Perrys were so abundantly provided with beautiful human form in the person of their mother that any other was superfluous.

“That girl you noticed has rather a curious history,” said Perry.

[42]

“Indeed!” answered Hamlin;“she looks as if she ought to have some sort of tragic past—a kind of Brynhilt or Amazon.”

“It’s tragic enough if you like, but it’s unfortunately not at all poetical,” replied Perry.

“There is poetry in all suffering, Melton,” corrected his wife gravely.

“Well, this girl is the daughter of a Scotch mechanic, a very clever fellow, I believe, who fell in love with the Italian maid of some old friends of ours, and followed her to Italy. He got a very good position in the docks at Spezia, but then the other chaps caballed against him, and made him lose his place. They had to live from hand to mouth for a long while, doing odd jobs for the railway company; he squandered his money also on inventions, so, little by little, he and his wife and children got into great distress. Then he took to drinking, poor devil! (I’m sure I should have done so long before;) and one day that he had again been done out of a place by some Italian scoundrel [43], he tried to throw his wife out of the window, and then shot himself. It was a dreadful business.”

“He was a great republican, poor dear,” added Mrs Perry. “I’m a republican too, a socialist—quite a dreadful creature, Mr Hamlin.”

“What became of the wife and children ?” asked Hamlin.

“The children had all died by this time, except Annie; and the poor wife was quite broken in health. There was a nephew of the husband’s, a Scotch lad, quite a boy, who was awfully plucky and worked for them for some time. Then the widow died; and an old friend of ours, old Miss Curzon, the famous singer that had been—perhaps you may have heard of her—took Annie into her house.”

“Darling Miss Curzon!” exclaimed Mrs Perry. “She was the noblest woman that ever lived. How she loved me! I always say that I lost my voice—I had a lovely voice before my marriage—when dear darling Miss Curzon died.”

[44]

“Miss Curzon was an excellent old woman,” went on Perry: “she took Annie when she was eleven, and kept her in her house and educated her till her own death two years ago;” and Perry sighed, as he peeled a hard white peach.

“Then I said to my husband, ‘Perry, this child is a legacy to us from our dearest friend,’” went on Mrs Perry, solemnly; “‘we are not rich, but Heaven will send us enough for our children and this child; and if it don’t, why, we must do without.’”

“So she has been with you ever since?”

“Yes,” answered Perry, sharply; “and I should like her to remain for the children’s sake, only that I feel the girl ought to look out for some better place.” And he turned rather gloomily to his wife.

Mrs Perry answered his look with one of sweet and ineffable astonishment. She naturally viewed all her property, servants, children, husband, etc., as emanations from herself—that is to say, from perfection, and consequently as [45] more perfect than other folk’s property, servants, children, husbands, although occasionally falling short of this ineffable origin; and she accepted, with alacrity and pleasure, the belief in the transcendent beauty of the nursemaid whom she had shrieked at only a few hours before. She was quite reconciled to her, evidently.

“And what is this girl’s name?” asked Hamlin.

“Anne,” answered Perry—“ Anne Brown.”

[46]

CHAPTER V.

THUS it came about that Walter Hamlin, of Wotton Hall, pre‐Raphaelite poet and painter, made acquaintance with Anne Brown, nurse, or as Mrs Perry defined it, children’s maid at the Villa Arnolfini.

The whole of the two following days, Hamlin neither saw nor particularly remembered the strange girl whose champion he had constituted himself against the little Perrys. An old chaise, with an older pony, was produced from the neighbouring farmhouse, and Mr and Mrs Melton Perry took it by turns to drive their guest along the dusty roads to the old town of Lucca, to various villas, and other sights of the neighbourhood. In the evening Perry led his friend out for a stroll among the vineyards and [47] the olives, and across the low hills covered with bright green pines and dark cypresses. At the end of the third day, Hamlin, while smoking after dinner with his host, insinuated to Perry that he really thought he must be pushing on to Florence. A look of blank terror overspread poor Perry’s face.

“Nonsense!” he cried—“don’t say that; don’t leave me in the lurch yet.”

“You see,” said Hamlin, hypocritically, “I intend going to America; and I really think I ought to do a little work before leaving Italy.”

“What sort of work?”

“Why, I suppose—I think—I ought to take this opportunity of working a little at one of my pictures for the next Grosvenor.”

“Which picture?” asked Perry, eagerly.

“I really scarcely know. I suppose I ought to be making some studies for Circe and the child Comus.”

“Child Comus!” exclaimed Perry. “Why, I’ve the very thing you want here at hand. [48] Such a Comus for you! There’s not a model in all Florence will suit you so well; it’s the farmer’s son. Such legs, and such a chest!”

“I don’t intend doing him naked,” answered Hamlin, whose strong point was not anatomy.

“Naked or not, he’s what you want. The head, since you don’t care for legs and chest. You shall have him to‐morrow; and you can work much better here than in that swelter at Florence—”

“In short,” burst out poor Perry, “don’t leave me yet, old fellow. You don’t know what it is for me to have you here—I feel quite another man. It seems to me as if I were ten years younger. The fact is, don’t you know, a man’s never the same when once married; it’s a weight round his neck. Don’t go away yet, dear old Watty, for the sake of auld lang syne.”

Hamlin could not help being touched by the way in which his old friend threw himself on his compassion. Poor old Perry! How [49] dreadfully dreary and broken‐spirited he must be when all alone with that awful wife of his!

“Well, I’m willing enough to stay, if you’ll keep me,” answered Hamlin.

“That’s right!” cried Perry, squeezing his hand. “Keep me from growing into a turnip for a little longer, for goodness’ sake.”

So the next morning the farmer’s boy was sent for, and Hamlin began, in a desultory way, to make some studies for his picture. The fact was, he was so utterly indifferent as to all his own movements, that it was an absolute relief to be pinned down to one place by his old friend. Accordingly he unpacked his things, and prepared to stay at the Villa Arnolfini until the Perrys should themselves return to Florence in October.

Little by little he got to arrange his day so as to avoid as far as possible the dreaded tête‐à‐tête with Mrs Perry; spending the morning lying on the sear grass or the fallen fir‐needles under Melton Perry’s sketching umbrella; and [50] locking himself up during the afternoon with the pretext of his picture. Locking himself up, and sometimes unlocking the door and letting the lank and limp lady come and sit in his improvised studio, entertaining him with her views on life, poetry, art, love; and invariably representing herself as the devoted slave of a kind of fierce and gloomy lover‐husband of the Othello description. During this first week of his stay at the Villa Arnolfini, Hamlin did not lose sight of the Perrys’ strange nursemaid. The girl’s exotic, and, so to speak, tragic style of beauty, had made a great impression upon him, but a sort of impression such as only a temper entirely artistic could receive. He was interested in Anne Brown, but not in the whole of Anne Brown. He wished to see more of her, but to see more only of her superb physical appearance, and of that sullen, silent, almost haughty manner which accompanied it. As to anything there might be, intellectual or moral, behind this beautiful and dramatic creature, he did not [51] care in the least, and would much rather have seen nothing of it. So far, she was striking, admirable, picturesque, consistent; further details might merely spoil the effect. Hence it was that, although he made several sketches of her head from memory, and although he rhymed the first half of a sonnet upon the strange fate which had, to put it in plain prose, given the beauty of an Amazon to a nursemaid, he instinctively abstained from seeking in any way to renew the acquaintance which he had made that first morning. The picturesque and imaginative figure was just in the right light and at the right distance,—a single movement, and all the picturesqueness and strangeness might vanish. Walter Hamlin had had but too many instances of the melancholy results of trying to approach and become familiar with creatures who had caught his æsthetic and poetic fancy. He often saw her hurrying (if she might ever be said to hurry, for there was something wonderfully measured about her) to and fro, filling up, [52] it would seem, the gaps in Mrs Perry’s rather theoretical housekeeping; and sometimes, passing through the ground‐floor passage, he would also see her ironing, like that first time, or laboriously presiding over the little Perrys’ lessons; for it appeared that Mrs Perry’s intellectual guidance of her children consisted in telling them the plots of novels and repeating choice poetry, leaving such mechanical matters as reading and writing to what she called a menial. And even more frequently Hamlin would meet her taking the children for a walk, or sitting in the vineyard sewing or reading, while they built houses of leaves and sticks, and cooked dinners of maize‐grains and unripe figs. Hamlin scarcely ever spoke to her; and if the children forced him to remain and examine their houses or their dinners, he would watch the girl, but without the slightest desire of entering into conversation. He wished to know only as much as he could see of her. But this much which he saw inspired him with a kind of respect,—a respect not for Anne [53] Brown, nursemaid or nursery‐governess of Mrs Melton Perry, but respect for a beautiful and solemn kind of Valkyr or Amazon; for there is no doubt that to certain temperaments not given to respect for social distinctions or religious institutions, or even the kind of moral characteristics held to be worthy of respect by ordinary folk, there is something actually venerable in some kinds of beauty: the man respects the unknown woman as a goddess, and respects himself for having discovered her divinity. So that, habitually and instinctively, Hamlin displayed towards the young woman a degree of courtesy which astonished the little Perrys, who had seen young men flirt with various of their mother’s carefully selected beautiful servants, but never treat them, as Miss Mildred expressed it, as if they were funerals passing. All of which distant respect Anne Brown received coldly, as if it were a matter of course; showing astonishment only on one occasion, when Hamlin answered, being requested to lift little Winnie into the branches [54] of an olive‐tree—“You must first ask permission of Miss Brown.”

The girl looked up from her work, and fixed her great greyish‐blue eyes upon him in wonder. No one had ever called her Miss Brown before.

Thus things might have continued, and Hamlin have left the Villa Arnolfini with only a few lines of a sonnet on the fly‐leaf of his ‘Vita Nuova’—a few scratched‐out sketches of a face with strange, curling full lips, and masses of wiry hair, in his sketchbook—and a daily fainter remembrance of Mrs Perry’s nurse; when one day he took it into his head to construct a kind of medieval costume for his peasant‐boy model, and accordingly went to Mrs Perry for assistance in sewing together the various shreds of old brocade and satin which he had bought at Lucca, the various bits of weather‐stained cotton which he had obtained by barter from the peasants. Mrs Perry, lying languidly on a sofa in her dusty boudoir, littered over with [55] books and reviews, afforded him a variety of valuable pieces of information upon harmonies of colours and the magic of folds; but when it came to practical tailoring, she smiled with reproachful gentleness, and, clapping her hands, called out for Annie. Annie—that is to say, Anne Brown—emerged from an adjacent room, silent and sullen as usual; but when she understood that the job was for Hamlin, she seemed suddenly to develop a certain interest in it. The pieces of stuff were spread out on the drawing‐room table, and Hamlin proceeded to explain what manner of garment he wanted, Mrs Perry joining in from the next room with various bewildering instructions. The girl immediately understood; but the piece of work was complicated and tiresome. The stuff had several times to be sewn together, tried on to the live model, and then taken down‐stairs to be altered.

“Won’t you sit down and do it here, Miss Brown?” Hamlin at length suggested.

The girl hesitated for a moment, and then [56] settled herself to sew at the table of the empty drawing‐room. Hamlin went into the studio next door, and tried to draw a little; but he felt himself attracted to go and watch the girl as she leaned over the table, or sat with her beautiful head bending over her sewing. Every now and then she looked up to ask him some question: a regal, tragic, out‐of‐our‐world, almost weird face, the contrast of which with her prosiac questions about seams and tucks was almost comic.

Hamlin looked at her as he might have looked at a beautiful cathedral front; and he began to feel that kind of anticipated regret at the thought of losing sight of something beautiful and rare, that almost painful desire to keep at least some durable likeness of it, which, in former years, had often tormented him in the midst of the enjoyment of lovely things. He did not see his way to introducing Anne Brown into any picture; nay, he perhaps did not even think of his work; but he determined that he must have a likeness of [57] her to take away with him. Accordingly, that same evening, as he was seated with the Perrys in front of the villa, watching the stars gradually lighting themselves in the bright metallic blue sky, Hamlin suddenly turned to his hostess, and asked her whether she thought it would be possible for him to make a sketch of Anne Brown.

“I may want her for a picture some day,” he added, half hypocritically.

Mrs Perry’s enthusiasm was immediately kindled.

“Oh !” she exclaimed, “paint a picture of her as the Witch of Atlas, with a red cloak and red roses all about her, and a background of cactuses and aloes all twisting and writhing, and looking as if they gibbered. Do paint her like that, dear Mr Hamlin—and Mildred and Winnie will do for attendant spirits. Begin to‐morrow—you shall have her to sit to you all day; and she has such lovely arms and shoulders, you must paint her in some kind of dress that will show them.”

[58]

“I think it’s rather cool of you to promise Annie as a sitter in that way,” put in Melton Perry—“especially with so few clothes on, Julia.”

“Why not?” asked Mrs Perry, in astonishment. “If she is beautiful she must be painted. She shall begin sitting to‐morrow morning.”

“She shan’t do anything of the kind!” exclaimed Perry, suddenly. “I don’t see at all what right we have to dispose of her. We pay her wages as a servant for our children, not as a model for our visitors.”

“I never dreamed of Miss Brown being in any way compelled to sit,” remonstrated Hamlin, rather indignantly. “I only wanted your assistance in asking whether she would.”

“Of course she will,” insisted Mrs Perry. “Why, I wonder what great hardship there is in sitting for one’s likeness? Haven’t I done it hundreds of times? When a woman is beautiful, it’s her duty; that’s what I was always told.”

“It may be the duty of a lady, Julia,” answered [59] Mr Perry, gloomily, “and it may be yours; but it isn’t the duty of a servant girl—the difference lies in that.”

“Well,” retorted Mrs Perry, angrily, “I think you don’t show much appreciation of the honour of having one of the greatest of living painters in our house, Perry. I do, and I shall see to his having the proper model.”

“Please, I entreat you, dear Mrs Perry,” cried Hamlin,“ do let the matter go—it really is of no consequence; and, indeed, it would be in the last degree distasteful to me to have an unwilling sitter.”

“You shall have a willing one, Mr Hamlin;” and Mrs Perry walked off with dignity.

Melton Perry suddenly shook off his languor, and started after his wife.

“Julia,” he cried, “do leave it to me—I’ll speak to Annie—only do leave it to me.”

“I see no reason for this,” she answered.

“Then I shall speak to Annie at once,” replied Perry.

[60]

“There’s been far too much of this turning of servants into models in this house,” he said, turning to Hamlin. “Mrs Perry can’t be got to see that it isn’t at all the right sort of thing. I don’t mind so much with the others, for I suppose they’re a parcel of sluts; but Annie is another matter. I don’t mind it’s being you, you know, old fellow; but I object to the principle. Annie! Annie! I want to speak to you a moment,” and Mr Perry went into the house.

After a moment he returned.

“I’ve spoken to her, Hamlin,” he said. “I told her that she was just what you wanted for the Lady Guenevere or the Lady of the Lake, or some lady or other—all a lie; but you see I didn’t wish her to know it was merely because she’s handsome. I told her she was like a portrait of one of these persons. Please don’t tell her she’s not. I really expected she’d refuse; and I said to her, ‘Annie, mind you don’t let the mistress force you into sitting; don’t do it to please anybody.’ I’m [61] really quite surprised, for she’s such a very reserved girl always; but then she is an obliging creature too, and I think she’ll do more to please me than perhaps my wife, because I always let her understand that this isn’t a good place at all, and that she ought to try for another. Well, she says she’ll sit; but not till after the ironing is done in the morning. I proposed half‐past nine—will that do?”

“Thank you,” answered Hamlin, putting his hand on Perry’s shoulder; “you’re a good old creature, Perry.”

[62]

CHAPTER VI.

HAMLIN did not succeed in doing much that first sitting. He had thought that Anne Brown’s head would be an easy one to sketch; but it proved just the reverse. Those salient and outlandish features, which he had thought he could catch in half an hour, were turned into caricature by the slightest exaggeration, and exaggeration was almost inevitable. He made several beginnings, and scratched them all out; and at the end of a couple of hours he felt that he positively could not go on; he had become quite fidgety over his work.

“I have bungled everything,” he said at last, rising, “and kept you here for nothing, [63] Miss Brown. The fact is, that you are far more difficult to draw than I expected.”

He felt very humiliated at having, as it were, to confess himself a bad artist before such a model.

“Try again,” suggested Perry. “I daresay Annie will sit for you again—won’t you, Annie?”

“If Mr Hamlin wishes me to sit, certainly,” answered the girl simply.

“She is confoundedly difficult to draw,” said Hamlin, when she had turned her back.

“She’s difficult because she’s a kind of mystery,” explained Perry. “I’ve felt it ever since we have had her. One thinks there must be something behind that face, and yet it seems to be a mere blank. My belief is, that people of this condition of life often have very little character—at least none in particular developed. Because, after all, it’s talking and jawing about things which don’t matter a pin that develops our character. The people who have no opportunity for that remain quite [64] without character, until some day they are forced to choose whether they’ll be self‐sacrificing creatures or mean pigs.”

“There’s something in that,” answered Hamlin, tearing up his abortive sketches in a huff; “but it is hard that a man should be unable to copy the shape of a handsome face as he would copy the shape of a handsome vase, without wondering what there may be inside.”

The fact was, that the utter silence of his model, and his own utter silence, except when begging her to turn a little more in this direction or that, made Hamlin nervous. He had, of course, sketched and painted scores of people who had sat as utterly silent as Anne Brown, but then Anne Brown was not a model of that kind. Indifferent as he felt towards the hidden reality of this girl, he was, nevertheless, fully conscious that she was a personality, something much more than a mere form; or rather, the form itself was suggestive of something more. It would be an easy thing to have to sketch Michaelangelo’s Dawn, or [65] his Delphic Sibyl become living flesh, in utter silence with those eyes fixed upon one. If only he could speak to her, or make her speak, he was persuaded it would be much easier; but for some unaccountable reason it seemed impossible to set up a conversation. One morning accident came to Hamlin’s assistance. Strolling about after breakfast, he found in a corner of the vineyard, where the trampled grass revealed the recent presence of the little Perrys, a couple of books carefully buried under a heap of dead leaves just where he chanced to walk. The children had evidently hidden them out of mischief. One was a cheap copy of Dante, with notes—the other an Italian grammar. Turning to the fly‐leaf he found, written in a curious hand, a stiff imitation of English tradesmen’s writing, the name “Anne Brown.” He wiped the books, for they were wet with dew, and deposited them upon the window‐sill of the nursery. At half‐past nine the girl came to the studio. She had been sitting a little while, when Hamlin, [66] bending over his work, suddenly broke the silence—

“I find we have a common friend, Miss Brown,” he said.

The girl, without stirring, opened her large eyes.

“A common friend?” she asked, with a scarcely perceptible agitation in her quiet manner; then added, “I suppose you mean Mr Perry; I haven’t many friends now anywhere.”

“Oh! this is the friend of a great many people—thousands—besides ourselves, so you need not feel jealous; his name is Dante.”

“Indeed!” answered Anne Brown, and relapsed into silence.

But silence did not suit Hamlin. “I found two books belonging to you in the vineyard early this morning,” he continued; “and I put them on the nursery window‐sill.”

“Thank you,” replied Miss Brown, in her taciturn manner; “I missed them last night.”

“I was indiscreet enough to wonder whether [67] you and I cared for the same things in Dante,” pursued Hamlin; “so I ventured to open the book. I found you had marked the passage about Provenzano.”

“Yes,” said Miss Brown.

“How is it that you marked Provenzano, and did not mark Ugolino, I wonder?”

“I don’t care about Ugolino. He was a traitor.”

“Do you consider that traitors ought to be starved to death?” asked Hamlin, with a smile.

“I don’t think any one ought to be starved to death,” she answered very seriously; “it is too dreadful. But I don’t care about Ugolino, because he was a traitor; and the Archbishop was a traitor too. There is no one to be glad or sorry about.”

“And Francesca da Rimini? Do you find there is nothing to care for or be sorry about in her?”

A faint redness welled up under the uniform brown pallor of Anne Brown’s face.

[68]

“The husband was quite right,” she said, after a pause.

“You are very severe,” remarked Hamlin—“much more severe than Dante. He was sorry for them.”

“They were quite happy,” she answered. “They did not mind being killed; they did not mind being driven about in the wind, of course”—then she stopped short suddenly.

“Why of course?” and Hamlin went on scraping at his pencil.

“Because I don’t think one would mind, if people cared for one, being driven about in the wind like that. Lots of people have been driven about in revolutions, and put into dungeons together, and so on. If they had put papa in prison, I should have wanted to go in with him,”—for once she spoke with a certain amount of vehemence.

Hamlin looked up from his pencil‐cutting. The expression which he suddenly met in her face made him feel that at last he had what he wanted. It was a curious mixture, possible [69] only in those strange features, of a kind of passionate effort with dogged determination: the head a little lifted, cheeks and lips firmly set; but in the eyes, and even in the curl of the close‐set lips, a sort of strain, as of a person trying to inhale a larger amount of air, or to take in a larger sight. In a second it was gone.

“That is what I want!” thought Hamlin; “the Amazon or Valkyr—as I thought.”

“Tell me why you care for Provenzano,” he went on, now much more interested in his work again.

“Because he was so proud, and did not like to do humble things,” she answered; “and yet he begged in the streets for a ransom for his friend.”

She showed no desire to say more, and Hamlin was now engrossed in his work. They exchanged but a few trivial remarks during the rest of the sitting. The girl seemed to have contracted a habit of silence, to break through which required a positive effort. When the [70] sitting had come to an end, Hamlin asked whether she could possibly give him another.

She hesitated. “If Mrs Perry wishes it, of course,” she answered.

“Excuse me,” corrected Hamlin. “Mrs Perry’s consent may be necessary for you; but for me, the sitting depends upon your wishes, Miss Brown.”

“I don’t care one way or another,” she answered hurriedly.

Mrs Perry of course gave her consent.

She had carefully collected and pieced the scattered remnants of yesterday’s abortive sketches, and Hamlin found her pasting them on to cardboard.

“Do let me keep them, dear Mr Hamlin,” cried Mrs Perry; “they are the most precious things I possess.”

“They are horrible rubbish;” and Hamlin rudely tore them to shreds. “If you want something of mine, I will make you a sketch of little Winnie—only please don’t keep these fearful things.”

[71]

“Thank you, thank you so much!” she exclaimed—“but oh, mayn’t I keep this? it is such a lovely head!”

“It’s the head of Miss Brown,” he answered angrily. “You don’t care for it much on her shoulders,—why should you care for it on my paper—an abominable caricature? Really, I must be permitted to tear it up”—and he tore it into a heap of little pieces.

The next day but one he had another sitting from Anne Brown; and he was so pleased with his drawing, that he begged for permission to finish it in colours. During these additional sittings there was not much conversation. The Dante topic was perfectly worn to shreds, till at last it seemed as if it could be made to go no further. In despair, Hamlin remembered the Italian grammar which he had picked up together with the Dante.

“What do you want with an Italian grammer?” he asked. “You surely don’t require to study it yourself, Miss Brown?”

“I want to teach some day,” she answered.

[72]

“Do you mean to teach the Perry children?”

“Oh no—to teach, to be a daily governess, what we call a parlatrice here. It is not difficult. The lessons are all conversation. Many English ladies want those sort of lessons. I know a girl, the daughter of Mrs Perry’s dressmaker, who gives ten lessons every day, and and gets two francs a lesson.”

“Ten lessons a‐day! But that’s fearful. What awful slavery! Surely you don’t want to do that?”

“I wish I could. I should be so happy.”

“Then you want to leave the Perrys?”

“I want to give up being a servant.”

Hamlin paused, and looked at this superb and regal creature. He did not know what to say.

“You don’t care for children?” he asked at random.

“I don’t know. I don’t care for these children,” she answered bluntly.

“I thought women always liked children.”

She smiled bitterly.

[73]

“Oh,” she said, “children are worse sometimes than grown people; and then one can’t resent it, or answer bad words, or strike them, just because they are children.”

“Then you think you would prefer being a teacher of Italian?”

“Oh yes, I must become that some day; I study when I have a little time. A teacher talks with ladies, and talks about all sorts of things.”

“How do you mean—about all sorts of things?”

“About things—which are not things to eat, or mend, or clean,—about books, and places, and people.”

Hamlin could not help smiling. “Is that such a rare pleasure?” he asked, thinking not of the girl with whom he was talking, but of those weary æsthetic discussions which he had left behind him in London.

“Miss Curzon used to talk about books to me—and about music, sometimes,” said the girl. “She made me read Shakespeare with her. That is long, long ago.”

[74]

“And since then. Do you never talk about such things?”

“Never.”

“Never?”

Anne Brown raised her eyes quietly. “Never, except with you, sir.”

Hamlin did not answer.

Towards the end of the sitting, he suddenly looked up.

“Have you ever read the ‘Vita Nuova,’ Miss Brown?” he asked.

“What’s the ‘Vita Nuova’?”

“It is a little book by Dante, in prose and verse, telling how he met Beatrice, and then how she died. It is much more beautiful than the ‘Divina Commedia.’”

She looked incredulous.

“Is it more beautiful than Bertran del Bornio, where he carried his head like a lantern? Or Bocca degli Abati, where they all change into snakes? Or Cacciaguida when he prophesies about Dante’s exile?”

“It is quite different—all about beautiful things, and love.”

[75]

“I don’t care for that.”

“You must read it some day, though.”

Miss Brown was silent, and relapsed into her usual sullen appearance.

“I say, Hamlin, old fellow,” said Perry, as they walked up and down in the garden that evening, “do you care to see the festival at Lucca to‐morrow? I’m going to take the children in for a treat, and I shall take Annie too—for she never gets any amusement, poor girl. I’ve hired a waggonette—will you be of the party?”

“Will you let me think about it, Perry? I don’t much go in for festivals.”

“This is a picturesque affair—really worth seeing.”

“By the way,” asked Hamlin, “I have nearly finished my sketch of Miss Brown, and I should like—I suppose I ought—to make her some little present.”

“I wouldn’t,” answered Melton Perry sharply; “she’s an odd girl, and you might just hurt her feelings. You see her father was a republican, and that sort of thing, so she’s got [76] all sorts of notions about equality and so forth. Awful bosh, of course, but still I think it’s as well she should have them as not.”

“I didn’t mean any money,” said Hamlin, feeling himself grow red at the mere thought.

“Then, if you will run the risk, give her some school‐books. You know she wants to set up as a teacher. Grammars—that sort of thing.”

Hamlin made a gesture of disgust.

“Horrible!—to give her grammars!”

“It’s what she wants.”

“Why, it would seem—well—it would be like encouraging her to become a daily governess.”

“That’s just what I wish to do.”

Hamlin did not answer. The idea of Anne Brown giving lessons at two francs the hour jarred upon him.

[77]

CHAPTER VII.

EARLY the following morning Hamlin was awakened by the wheels of the waggonette and the bells of the horses. Then came the excited voices of children; the sound of slammed doors and precipitate steps on the stairs; and finally the rattle and jingle of departure. He had declined being one of the boisterous expedition to Lucca, for he detested children in general, and the little Perrys in particular; and a day in the empty house (for Mrs Perry was going to see some friends at a neighbouring villa) had seemed to him delightful. He opened his shutters and saw, in the crisp pale‐blue morning, the carriage sweeping round the corner of a narrow lane, the children’s hats, Anne Brown’s red shawl, the coachman’s grey coat, brush rapidly along a tall box hedge. [78] If there was a thing Hamlin hated more than another, it was a holiday, a crowd, a lot of people on a jaunt.

After breakfast he went to the studio and sat down before his sketches of Miss Brown. They were unsatisfactory, but they were as good as he could hope to make them. He had fancied that a coloured sketch of her head would be all that he could possibly want; but he now recognised that, after all, the head, beautiful and singular as it was, was yet the least part of the matter. It was the girl’s gait, her way of carrying her head and neck, her movements when at work, her postures when in repose—a number of things of which that head gave no indication, and which, indeed, it was difficult to render in painting, since it was all movement. He had scribbled a few lines—just fragmentary metaphors and scraps of description—suggested to him by Anne Brown, and wondered what use he would make of them; indeed, what use he could make of Anne Brown altogether. Here was a [79] splendid model, a splendid heroine, but he was in the mood neither for painting nor for poetry writing. He put a background of dark bay trees to one of his sketches, and then regretted having put it in at all. He no longer felt inclined to work; and, all of a sudden, an unaccountable fancy struck him to follow the holiday‐makers—to go quietly into town—to see them, without, perhaps, letting himself be seen.

The sun was already high as he walked, or rather waded, along the dusty road, with its garlands of dust‐engrained vines hanging from tree to tree on either side; its dust‐stifled marsh‐flowers in the ditch; its white farmhouses, and white stone heaps, white upon white, brilliant, relentlessly white, under the deep blue autumn sky. Before him the bullock‐carts, with sleepy drivers prostrate on their back, moved in a white cloud; a whirlwind of dust was raised by every cariole, heavily laden with singing and yelling peasants, which dashed past. Within sight of the rampart trees, like a pleasant oasis of leafage in [80] the treeless green desert of the town, the crowd of vehicles of all sorts began. Under the red brick gate, with its statue of Justice and motto “Libertas,” there was a perfect block of carts, gigs, bullocks, horses, and screaming country folk. Hamlin wriggled through, and slipped along in the scant shade of the narrower streets—empty and desolate on that holiday—ribbons of brilliant light cut into, bordered by the black shadows of overhanging roofs and balconies. A great buzz of voices came from the square of the cathedral; peasants and townsfolk elbowing about, people at booths yelling their wares, boys screeching on whistles and trumpets, cathedral bell tolling, and all the neighbouring church bells clattering and jangling. From the windows of the blackened palaces fluttered strips of crimson and yellow brocade; across the street, from balcony to balcony, and from twisted iron torchholder to twisted iron bridle‐ring, were slung garlands of coloured lamps for the evening’s illumination; and in the [81] midst of all rose the cathedral front, its tiers and tiers of twisted and sculptured pillarets, with the massive grey belfry soaring by its side into the high blue sky. Hamlin pushed his way in at one of the side gates; a rolling of organs, and quavering of choir voices, and clash of brass instruments; a hot mouthful of heavy, incense‐laden atmosphere; a compact moving human mass beneath the Gothic arches; beams of light flickering among clouds of dust, and incense and taper smoke high in the arched nave; constellations of lights on altar, and organ‐loft, and chandelier, yellow specks in the mid‐day twilight of the cathedral; something tawdry, hushed, unbreathable, and yet impressive and beautiful.

Hamlin gradually made his way to the side of the altar‐steps. This part of the cathedral was full of women—provincial great ladies, and shopkeepers’ wives and daughters in their Sunday clothes, brilliant caricatures of last year’s Paris fashions—close packed together on reserved seats, enjoying the incense, the [82] lights, the music, the holiness of the ceremony, the clothes of their neighbours, the appealing glances of the young men in elaborate silk and alpaca summer coats, with artistically combed‐up heads of hair, sucking their canes all about the altar. Hamlin’s entry, however quiet, was soon perceived, and the eyes of all this womankind were fixed upon the sight, rare in that country town, of an Englishman; and white silk bonnets, and black lace veils, and big red fans, and fuzzy yellow and smooth black heads, leant towards each other,—while questions went round in a whisper, who was the forestiere—the handsome forestiere—small, slight, meagre, white, with the light hair and moustache, and that melancholy face like a woman’s? Hamlin was quickly bored by all this magnificence; jostled to pieces, stifled by the heat, and incense, and heavy smell of the crowd. He was going out, when, as his eyes wandered from the silver and lights of the altar, and the shining mitres and stoles of the priests, to that sea of heads and bonnets and [83] hats in the nave, they were suddenly and unexpectedly arrested on the side steps of the high altar just opposite to him. There, among a lot of heads, but high above them, was a head half covered with coarse black lace and crisp dark hair half turned away from him; a majestic sweep of cheek and jaw, a solemn bend of neck. A moment later the bell tinkled for the elevation of the Host, the organ burst forth into a rapid jig, and the church was a sea of bent heads, of kneeling and stooping men and women. As the people suddenly sank like a wave about the steps, there remained, stranded as it were, and rising conspicuous, the tall and massive figure of Miss Brown. She was standing on the altar‐steps, whose orange‐red baize cloth threw up faint yellowish tints on to her long dress of some kind of soft white wool, while the crimson brocade on wall and column formed a sort of dull red background. In the mixed light of the yellow tapers and the grey incense‐laden sunbeams, her face acquired a diaphanous pallor, as if of a halo surrounding [84] it, as she stood, her hands hanging loosely clasped, looking calmly upon the bowed‐down crowd below. One minute, and the bell tinkling again, the people rose with a muffled, shuffling noise, and hid her from Hamlin. The organ and bells were pealing, the voices and violins rising shrill, the incense curling up in grey spirals into the sunbeams among the crimson hangings. The sonnet of Guido Cavalcanti, about the Madonna picture, enshrined at Or San Michele behind the blazing tapers, and in which he recognised his lady, came into Hamlin’s mind, with the sound of the music and the fumes of the incense; and together with it, a remembrance, a sort of picture, hopelessly jumbled, of Laura in the church at Avignon that Good Friday, and Beatrice among the blazing lights of the Heavenly Rose. The Mass was over, and people began to stir and leave the cathedral. Why had she remained standing while all the others had knelt? Perhaps from some Scotch puritanism; it was incongruous, thought Hamlin. But at the same time [85] he felt that, while incongruous in one way—for she ought certainly to have knelt like the others—it had in another respect completed an effect; this disbelieving girl had herself become, as it were, the Madonna of the place. He stood aside and let the crowd slowly pass out. Suddenly he saw, among the moving sea of heads, the flaxen curls of the little Perrys—the reddish beard of Melton Perry—the head, half covered with black lace and towering above the others, of Miss Brown. She was leading the two smaller children, and looked anxious in that great crowd. Up went one of the little yellow heads; she had taken the child in her arms. All of a sudden her eyes caught those of Hamlin standing close by, and yet separated from him by an impassable gulf of people. Her own lit up, and with them her whole face, in a smile, which he had never seen before. At last, near the church door, the crowd bore his friends straight towards him.

“What! here after all!” cried Perry. “Up to some mischief, you cunning dog!”

[86]

“Up to the mischief of watching these good people’s devotion,” answered Hamlin.

“Why did you come?” asked the children eagerly.

“I suppose because I thought I should like to amuse myself after all,” answered Hamlin.

They were out on the cathedral steps, in the full glare of the blue sky. Outside a fountain was playing, penny whistles and trumpets shrilled on all sides, and the people at the stalls shrieked and bellowed out their wares to the motley crowd pouring out of the church. The children cast eyes of longing upon the booths, decorated with tricolour flags and sprigs of green, full of gaudy dolls, and squeaking wooden dogs, and tin trumpets, and drums; upon the tables, covered with bottles shaped like pyramids, and china men, and Garibaldi busts, full of red and yellow and green stuff, and with piles of cakes with little pictures of saints stuck in the middle of them.

“Buy us something,” cried the little ones to their father and Hamlin; and they squeezed [87] through the crowd, and began to hesitate before the varied splendours of the fair.

“You look very happy, Miss Brown,” said Hamlin, as they were waiting while the children made their choice. For really the girl looked quite radiant,—an expression of unwonted happiness, of freedom and amusement, shone through her quiet, almost solemn, face, like sunshine through a thin film of mist, all the richer for being half suppressed.

“It is all so beautiful,” she answered, looking round at the square surrounded by high black palaces draped with crimson brocade, and terraces covered with green, and at the cathedral, carved like a precious casket, beneath the blue sky.

“Not more beautiful than at the Villa Arnolfini, surely?”

She paused.

“No, not more beautiful; but more—I don’t know what.”

“More cheerful?”

She shook her head. “Yes; but not so [88] much that; more free—more—I don’t know how to call it.”

The children were laden with lollipops and sixpenny toys.

“Come,” said Perry suddenly, very cheerful, in his unaccustomed freedom from his better half, “you must choose a fairing, Annie. What will you have?—a doll?—a beautiful yellow ’kerchief with purple flowers, warranted the very worst colours in creation? some gingerbread?—a penny whistle? No, I’m sure you’re dying for some literature”—and he turned to a stone bench under a palace, where twopenny books were piled up, and quantities of leaflets of ballads, and lives of saints, and romantic histories, were strung to the wall.

“Oh!” he said, “there’s nothing for Annie here—she hates saints and knights and poetry; we must get her a book on the ‘Rights of Man,’ or a ‘History of the French Revolution,’ at the bookseller’s in Via Fillungo. But this is just what suits Hamlin”—and throwing [89] down a heap of coppers, he filled his hands with printed leaflets. “The tremendous adventures of the Giant Ferracciù,” he read; “the lamentable history of Lucia of Lamermoor; the loves of Irminda and Astolfo; the complaint of the beautiful Fair‐haired One,—these are the things for a poet,” and he stuffed them into Hamlin’s pockets.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Melton,” cried Hamlin.

“Ridiculous!” exclaimed Perry. “Who talks of things being ridiculous? I’m in good earnest”—and as they went along he began declaiming, with appropriate gestures, a ballad composed by some printer’s prentice from the libretto of an old opera.

The children shrieked with laughter at papa’s voice and faces; and Anne Brown burst into a curious subdued laugh, which, although scarcely audible, was extremely childish.

As they walked along the narrow crowded streets towards the inn where they were to [90] have dinner, Perry kept on ahead with the two elder children, and Hamlin hung back with Miss Brown and the two younger.

“Did you like the ceremony in the cathedral, Miss Brown?” he asked, irresistibly drawn on to understand why she had not knelt like the others.

“It was very beautiful,” she said; “and such beautiful vestments! Did you see the white and gold embroidery of the bishop?—and the purple dresses of the canons?—oh, it was lovely! But it makes me angry to see such things.”

“Why so?”

“Because it is dreadful—don’t you think?—to see all those people kneeling down and believing in all that nonsense.”

“How do you know it is nonsense? It seems to me very beautiful and consoling.”

She turned her big grey‐blue eyes upon him. “You don’t mean that you believe in all that mummery?” she asked, searchingly and reproachfully—“you who have studied so much; [91] you don’t believe that they can make God come down with their mutterings and kneelings?”

“I don’t believe it,” answered Hamlin, with some embarrassment; “but I think it is very beautiful, and those who do believe in it are very happy.”

“But you don’t think it is right that people should believe in falsehoods, and be the slaves of wicked priests?”

“How rabid you are!” laughed Hamlin. “No, I don’t believe; but I like to see others believing.”

“I don’t;” and after a minute she added, “Don’t you believe in anything at all?”

“Perhaps I do,” he said, fixing his eyes upon her. “I believe in beauty—I believe that is the one true thing in life.”

“I don’t know what you mean,” she answered; “but it seems to me dreadful that people should believe in priests and kings, and all sorts of lies.”

They relapsed into silence. As they walked along, Hamlin stole glances at his companion, [92] walking stately and serious like a saint or a sibyl by his side. He wondered what this girl would have been had she lived three or four centuries back. All this common modern radicalism distressed him in her—it had no colour and no perfume. Yet, after all, it was but the modern accessory instead of the medieval. This was the way in which beauty and romance were wasted nowadays—wasted, he thought, half consciously, yet not perhaps entirely, since it went to make up a characteristic whole.

Melton Perry took them to the chief inn of the place for dinner. He let each of the children choose whatever she preferred, ordered several bottles of Asti spumante, and gave it them to drink in champagne‐glasses. The one or two furtive English spinsters who were sipping their tea and reading their “Murray” at the other tables of the huge dining‐room, profusely ornamented with casts from the antique, and with cut‐paper fiy‐floppers, looked up with surprise at the festive party headed by Perry. [93] After dinner the two little ones began to hang their heads in the hot room, and gave signs of going to sleep.

“Good gracious!” said Perry, in a consternation, “what are we to do with these wretched infants? They’ll just prevent our taking a stroll in the town before returning home.”

“I think the best thing will be for them to sleep a little, sir,” suggested Anne Brown. “I will tuck them up on the sofa, and stay with them here while you and Mr Hamlin take Miss Mildred and Miss Winnie for a walk.”

“But I can’t think of leaving you behind, Annie,” cried Perry., “I know how much you would like to see the town.”

“I saw part of it this morning,” she swered; “and I really would just as soon stay with the children here.” There was no gainsaying her; so the two men sallied forth with the two elder children on a walk through the crowded and bannered streets; while Anne Brown remained sitting in the stuffy inn dining‐room by the side of the torpid little [94] ones. When they were out an idea suddenly struck Hamlin: this was the opportunity of getting a present for Anne Brown. He left Perry regaling the children on ices at a café opposite the Church of St Michael, which rose like a great marble bride‐cake into the bright blue sky, and made his way to a bookstall which he had noticed in the morning. He asked for the ‘Vita Nuova.’ The old bookseller looked over a number of little schedules in his desk, and produced several copies, new and second‐hand. They did not please Hamlin. At last he displayed a tiny Giunti volume, just delicately yellowed by age, and bound in vellum. Hamlin bought it, and secreted it in his pocket, and then joined Perry.

They went to the stable, where all the carioles from the country put up, and ordered the waggonette to be at the inn door in an hour. But as they were slowly mounting the wide stone staircase, with the eternal plaster dancing nymphs tripping it on each landing, Perry’s eye fell upon a large bill pasted upon the [95] opposite wall,—the playbill of the Teatro del Giglio,—on which, among the names of singers, fiddlers, chorus‐directors, scene‐painters, theatre tailors, and hairdressers, streamed, in scarlet letters, the title “Semiramide.”

!” cried Milton Perry, with the Tuscan expression for a sudden bright thought; “what do you two young minxes say to going to hear an opera for the first time in your lives?”

“Oh, papa!” shrilled Mildred.

“Oh, papa!” echoed Winnie, catching hold of his knees—

“Not so quick!” exclaimed Perry; “I’m by no means so sure of it. What’s to become of the two sleepy little worms?”

“Send them home with Annie,” suggested Mildred, promptly; “and you’ll take us home later.”

“Nothing of the kind, my young woman,” he answered sternly. “If any one goes to the opera it shall be Annie. Make up your mind for that.”

The dining‐room was deserted. On a sofa [96] near the open window lay the two tiny girls, propped up with cushions; Anne Brown, surly, flopping away the flies which buzzed about them, and reading a newspaper. She was resting the paper on her knees, and supporting her head with one hand, while the other moved slowly with the cut‐paper flopper; and in this position the young nursemaid struck Hamlin as a resuscitation, but more beautiful and even stranger, of one of Michaelangelo’s prophetic women.

“I say, Annie,”’ cried Perry, “what do you say to taking these two brats to the opera this evening?”

Anne Brown started up.

“To the opera, sir?” she cried, flushing with pleasure.

“Yes; these creatures have never been. They’re giving ‘Semiramide’ to‐night. I think it’s a good opera for children to begin with; because it will teach them betimes the unhappy complications which are apt to result from murdering one’s husband, and trying [97] to marry one’s son unawares. I’ll take the little ones back to the villa in half an hour, and quiet Mrs Perry’s feelings. Mr Hamlin will be delighted to accompany you and mesdemoiselles my daughters, to the theatre, and then bring you home. It won’t last late.”

“But,” exclaimed Anne Brown,—“ oh, how good of you, sir!—but are you sure you would not like to stay for the opera yourself? I could take the little ones home.”

“No, thank you, Annie. The fact is, I never have approved of Rossini’s music. Ever since my earliest infancy I have been shocked by its want of earnestness; what I like is a symphony in P minor, with plenty of chords of the diminished seventeenth. That’s the right sort of thing, isn’t it, Hamlin?”

A few minutes later Perry went away with the two little girls, leaving Mildred and Winhie with Anne Brown. Hamlin accompanied them down‐stairs to the waggonette.

“I will go to the theatre and secure a box,” he said, “and order a trap to take us back.”

[98]

“All right!” cried Perry, as the waggonette rolled off. “Mind you don’t let those children bore you or worry poor Annie too much; and don’t leave them alone the whole afternoon.”

But, for some unaccountable reason, Hamlin did leave them alone the whole afternoon. After he had secured the box and ordered the carriage, he felt a sort of unwillingness to go back to the inn, perhaps unconsciously, to sit opposite the Perrys’ nursemaid; so he walked about the town till tea‐time, not troubling himself to inquire whether Anne Brown and the children might not prefer a stroll on the ramparts to the monotony of sitting for two mortal hours in the inn dining‐room.

[99]

CHAPTER VIII.

AT dusk they hurriedly drank some of the thin yellow hotel‐tea; and then hastened to the theatre across the twilit street and square, where the garlands of Venetian lanterns were beginning to shine like jewels against the pale‐blue evening sky. Hamlin offered Anne Brown his arm, but she asked him to give it to Winnie Perry.

“Mildred shall take mine,” she said—“that’s the best way in case of a crowd.”

A crowd, alas! there was not; the liveried theatre servants (doubtless the same, in yellow striped waistcoats and drab gaiters, who carried out Semiramis’s throne, when the drop‐scene fell) made profuse bows to the little party, and handed them at least half‐a‐dozen playbills [100], each as large as an ordinary flag. The children had never been in a theatre before, and were in a high state of delight at the lights, the gilding, the red plush, the scraping of fiddles; especially at being in a box, although the box on this occasion cost only about half as much as would a single seat in an English playhouse. Gradually the theatre filled; the boxes with people of quality from surrounding villas, gentlemen displaying an ampleness of shirt‐front, and ladies an ampleness of bosom conceivable only by the provincial mind; the pit with townsfolk and officers: the whole company staring with eyes and opera‐glasses, talking, singing, rapping with sticks and sabres till the overture began to roll out, when the audience immediately set up a kind of confused hum, supposed to be the melody of the piece, and which half drowned the meagre orchestra.

Then the opera began—an opera such as only the misery and genius of Italy could produce. There was a triumphal procession of six [101] ragamuffins in cotton trousers and with brass kettle‐covers on their heads, marching round and round the stage, bearing trophies of paper altar‐flowers and coffee‐biggins; there was a row of loathsome females, bloated or fleshless, in draggled robes too short or too long, shrieking out of tune in the queen’s chamber—and four rapscallions in nightgowns and Tam‐o’Shanters, and beards which would not stick on, standing round the little spirit‐lamp burning in front of Baal’s statue; there was the little black leathern portmanteau containing the Babylonian regalia, which a nigger with a black‐crape face carried after the Prince Arsaces; and there was the “magnificent apartment in the palace of Nineveh, disclosing a delicious view of the famous hanging gardens,” as described by the libretto, and furnished solely with a rush‐bottomed chair and a deal table, the table‐cloth of which was so short that Semiramis was obliged to lean her arm on it to prevent its slipping off, which, however, it finally did. Moreover, an incalculable [102] amount of singing out of tune and pummelling one’s chest in moments of passion. No training, no dresses, no scenery, no orchestra. Still in this miserable performance there was an element of beauty and dignity, a something in harmony with the grand situation and glorious music: a splendidly made Semiramis, quite regal in her tawdry robes, who showered out volleys of roulades as a bird might shower out its trills; another young woman, plain, tall, and slight, playing the prince in corselet and helmet, with quite magnificent attitudes of defiance and command, with bare extended arm and supple wrist. The two girls who played the principal parts were sisters, and although they had certainly never sung much with a teacher, they must have sung a great deal together; and their voices and style melted into each other quite as if it were all a spontaneous effusion on their part. All the realities which money can get, dress, voice, training, accessories, scenery, utterly wanting; but instead, in the midst of pauperism, something which money [103] cannot always get, a certain ideal beauty and charm. Anne Brown was intensely interested in the performance; indeed, quite as much so, though in another way, as the children. During the intervals between the acts, she could speak of nothing but the story of Semiramis, and wonder what would happen next. Hamlin could scarcely help laughing at the concern which she manifested each time that the hero Arsace was bullied by the wicked Assur; but he could not laugh at the tragic way in which she conceived the whole situation. To him all that florid music of Rossini would already have destroyed any seriousness there might have been in the matter; but to Anne Brown it seemed as if all these splendid vocalisations took the place of the visible pomp and magnificence of Assyrian royalty: for her the heroes and heroines, the magi and satraps, were clad, not in the calico and tinsel of the theatre tailor, but in the musical splendours of Rossini. Hamlin, to say the truth, found the performance very wearisome; he had been [104] bored by Semiramide too often with Tietiens and Trebelli, to find it particularly interesting at the Teatro del Giglio of Lucca. He sat looking on listlessly, not so much at the stage as at the girl who was leaning out of the box before him, watching each movement of her hand and neck, as she devoured the performance with eyes and ears. But when at last there came the grand scene between Semiramis and her son, whatsoever was good in the performance suddenly burst forth; the two young women sang with a sort of spontaneous passion, a delight in the music and their own voices and themselves; and when, Semiramis having let down her back hair (as distressed heroines always do) from utter despair, Prince Arsaces, not to be outdone, pulled off his helmet, letting down his or her back hair also, and the two sank into each other’s arms and began the great duet, even Hamlin felt in a kind of way that this was passionate, and tragic, and grand. Anne Brown was seated sidewise in the front of the box, resting her mass [105] of iron‐black hair on her hand, her other hand lying loosely on her knees. Her chest heaved under her lace mantilla, and her parted lips quivered. It seemed to Hamlin as if this were the real Semiramis, the real mysterious king‐woman of antiquity—as if the music belonged in some sort of ideal way to her. When the curtain had fallen amid the yells of applause, she remained silent, letting Hamlin help her on with her shawl without turning her eyes from the stage. The lights were rapidly put out.

“We must go, Miss Brown,” cried Hamlin, “otherwise we shall be left in the dark.”

She turned, took little Winnie by the hand, and followed him, who led the elder Perry child, prattling loudly, to the stairs. There was a great crowd going down, whistling and humming tunes from the opera. From the force of habit Hamlin again offered Anne Brown his arm. But instead of accepting it, she, so to speak, rapidly plucked little Winnie from the ground, and raised her in her arms as if she were a feather.

[106]

“Please let me carry that child,” cried Hamlin.

“Oh no,” she answered quietly. “I don’t mind carrying her at all; but she’s too heavy for you, sir.”

Out in the square the carriage was awaiting them in the bright starlight, where the red and green lamps were already dying out among the plane‐trees. In a minute they were rattling through the narrow streets, and out of the town by the dark tree‐masses of the bastions. The bells of the horses jingled as they went; the melancholy shrilling of insects rose from the fields all round; the vine‐garlands creaked in the wind. The two children were speedily asleep—one with her head on Hamlin’s shoulder, the other wrapped in her nurse’s shawl. Anne Brown bent over the side of the waggonette, a dark outline, the damp night breeze catching her hair. Neither spoke. Hamlin felt a sense of guilt stealing over him; of guilt for nothing very definite; of guilt towards no one else, but towards himself. [107] The drive passed like a dream. Suddenly the wheels grated on the gravel of the villa garden; dogs barked; lights appeared; the children were lifted out of the carriage asleep; and the voice of Perry whispered to Hamlin—

“I caught it nicely when I came home—I don’t know why, upon my soul! I’m sure I wish I had remained and amused myself with you.”

“I wish you had,” said Hamlin quite seriously, always with the sense of vague guilt towards himself; then added,—

“By the way, old man, I fear I really must go on to Florence to‐morrow afternoon.”

[108]

CHAPTER IX.

PERRY could not at first understand his friend’s sudden decision, and violently combated it. But after a little while he said to himself that it must have been fearfully dull for Hamlin at the Villa Arnolfini, and that to have stayed so long was already much more than a miserable being like himself could expect. So that when his wife nearly went into hysterics at the notion of Hamlin—their poet‐painter, as she called him—suddenly departing, he represented to her, with more emphasis than was his wont, that Hamlin had bored himself to death, and must be bored no longer.

“And where are you going?” asked the limp and Sapphic lady, as they sat at lunch.

[109]

“I have no notion,” answered Hamlin. “I know nothing beyond Florence for three days. I may go on to Rome, Naples, Egypt, America, Japan, or return to Hammersmith. I have no notion.”

“Ah, these poets!” cried Mrs Perry; “they never can tell whither their soul may waft their body.”

When they had finished, Hamlin asked whether he might say good‐bye to Anne Brown. “I have a little farewell gift to make her,” he explained.

Anne Brown was summoned into the studio; she evidently had only just heard the news.

“Are you going away, sir, really?” she asked.

“Yes,” answered Hamlin, drily; “I expect the gig must be waiting for me already.”

“And—are you not going to return, Mr Hamlin?”

“Oh no; I think I shall go to America this winter.”

[110]

She was silent, and stood by the table in the attitude of a servant waiting for further orders.

“Before I go away,” said Hamlin, “I want to thank you, Miss Brown, for your kindness and patience, which have enabled me to make a sketch which will be very valuable for one of my next pictures, and,” he added, as she merely nodded her head, “I want to beg you to accept a little gift in remembrance of all the trouble I have given you.”

Anne Brown flushed, and her face suddenly changed, as if a whip‐cord had passed across it.

Hamlin took the little vellum‐bound volume from his pocket.

“You told me you had never read the ‘Vita Nuova,’ Miss Brown,” he said, “so I venture to ask you to accept this copy of it. I don’t know whether you like old books; I think them much prettier to look at. Good‐bye.”

The girl’s face cleared into a kind of radiance.

[111]

“Thank you so much,” she said; “I will read it often.”

“And think of me sometimes and the trouble I gave you?”

“It was my duty, since Mrs Perry wished it, sir. Good‐bye—a good journey to you.”

“Good‐bye, Miss Brown.”

[113]

BOOK II.

[115]

CHAPTER I.

WALTER HAMLIN did not go to America. On leaving the Villa Arnolfini, he met at Florence some artist friends, who, in his condition of utter absence of plans, easily drew him on with them to Siena and Perugia, thence into the smaller Umbrian cities, and finally into a wholly unexplored region between the Abruzzo and the Adriatic. By the time that their sketching and article‐writing expedition was at an end, the winter had come round, and more than three months had elapsed since Hamlin had parted with the Perrys. Would Hamlin return with his friends to England? He had often said that he had had enough of Italy—that he would go home and shut himself [116] up in his studio at Hammersmith, among smoke and river‐fogs, seeing not a living creature, learning Persian and studying Sufi poets until next spring, when he would set off for the East, never more to return to Europe, except for the Grosvenor private view. But when the moment for return north approached, Hamlin began to hesitate; and the very day before his friends’ departure, he informed them that he had come to the conclusion that there was still some work for him to do in Italy.

“I shall be in England at the end of two months at latest,” he said.

And on their remonstrating at his fickleness, he merely answered—

“I have a notion for a new picture, and I think I have found my model for it.”

“‘The Queen of Night’ in your portfolio,” suggested one of his friends.

They had noticed and generally admired that strange head, the like of which none of them had ever seen before, and they had given the drawing, which Hamlin described [117] merely as “a girl near Lucca,” the nickname of “The Queen of Night.”

“Yes,” answered Hamlin, “that’s the one I’m thinking about.”

So the rest of the party set sail from Civita Vecchia; and one drizzly, foggy morning, Hamlin got into the train to carry him northward to Florence.

During those three months, he could scarcely himself have explained when or how, strange notions had come into Hamlin’s head, and a still stranger plan had finally matured in it. He had been haunted by the remembrance of the Perrys’ nursemaid at the Villa Arnolfini, and gradually taken to brooding and day‐dreaming about her. He had made up his mind that Anne Brown was the most beautiful girl, in the strangest style, whom he had ever met. What was to be her future? Of two possibilities one must be realised. Either this magnificent blossom was to be untimely nipped,—this beautiful and strange girl was to fritter away her life, unnoticed, wasted, to [118] little by little lose her beauty, her dignity, her grandeur, her whole imaginative aroma; or the rare plant of beauty was to be cherished, nursed into perfection, till it burst out in maturity of splendour, a thing of delight for the present and of wonder for the future. Either Anne Brown must turn into a sordid nursery‐governess, or into the avowedly most beautiful woman in England—that is to say, in the particular pre‐Raphaelite society which constituted England to him.

Yet not necessarily; there was still a middle course—she might marry some small shopkeeper or teacher of languages at Florence; or, perhaps, some artist might notice her, make her his mistress, perhaps his wife. This last thought of Anne Brown as the possible wife of some other Melton Perry (for they were all Melton Perrys at Florence) filled Hamlin with a vague disgust and irritation. Much better that she should end her life as a nursery‐maid, or a daily governess at a franc the hour. Still, it was dreadful to think that something so [119] unique should be lost, wasted for ever. “Such things must be,” said Hamlin to himself; “it is sad, but it can’t be helped.” And he wrote two sonnets, “Lost Loveliness,” and “Stillborn Joy,” which were extremely beautiful, and quite among the finest he ever wrote. But this did not despatch the subject. The sense of having made the most of the fact that this loveliness was to be wasted, this joy of beauty to be stillborn, did not make up for the consciousness that the waste, the abortion, had not actually taken place, might yet be prevented, and were dreadful in themselves. Was he, Hamlin, to marry Anne Brown? He shrank in terror from so Quixotic, and at the same time so commonplace, so school‐girlish a thought. But if he did not marry her no other man could; at least, no other man who was to prevent the act of wastefulness to be consummated. She might marry a clerk, a shopkeeper, even a servant, or even some miserable little Anglo‐Florentine artist; but if she married a man above that, a man to appreciate and [120] make the most of her, that man must evidently be himself. It is difficult to follow the logic of this notion; but certain it is that Hamlin never doubted for a second that either Anne Brown must bloom for him and by him, must be his most precious possession and his most precious loan to the world—or that Anne Brown must be simply and deliberately buried under a bushel. Such arguments are matters of character, I suppose; be it as it may, the argument was absolutely cogent.

When Hamlin had got thus far he stopped for a long time, revolving the matter in his mind in a purely abstract way, without attempting to realise how things might be settled. He was not a man of action or of resolves, and would usually let things slip on and look at them slipping; and during this ruminating condition, he did not once seriously ask himself whether he intended marrying the Perrys’ nursemaid. But suddenly, the very day before his friends were to carry him back to England, a new notion came into his head. His life seemed [121] suddenly filled with romance. The matter was settled in a minute. Anne Brown was to be filched triumphantly from oblivion: he telegraphed Perry to hire him rooms in Florence. As the meeting of certain chemical substances will sometimes produce a new and undreamt‐of something of wholly unprecedented properties, so ideas had come in collision in Hamlin’s mind, and out of a mere perplexity had arisen a stranger scheme—out of the question what should be the fate of Anne Brown, had originated the decision what was to be the future of Walter Hamlin. The situations seemed changed: instead of his being a mere possible, but by no means probable, instrument of a change in her life, she was the predestined instrument for the consummation of his life. Anne Brown should live for the world and for fame; and Walter Hamlin’s life should be crowned by gradually endowing with vitality, and then wooing, awakening the love of this beautiful Galatea whose soul he had moulded, even as Pygmalion had moulded the limbs of [122] the image which he had made to live and to love. The idea, once present to Hamlin’s mind, had been accepted at once; and in another hour he had worked out all the details of the real romance in which he was embarking; he had determined exactly where he would send Anne Brown to school, where he would go during her stay there, what settlements he would make to ensure her complete freedom of choice when she should choose him, in what part of London he would buy a house for her, which of his female relations should have charge of her, by whom she should be introduced into artistic society;—he began to imagine all the details of his long courtship. Beyond the courtship, into their actual married life, his fancy did not carry him; it was that year, or two or three years of gradually growing devotion, upon which he cared to dwell. Whether such a scheme was wise or right it never occurred to him to question. He had determined on educating, wooing, and marrying a woman like what Anne Brown seemed to be, [123] as a man might determine to buy a house in a particular fishing or hunting district—the only thing is to make sure whether the particular house is the suitable house. The only further concern of Hamlin was to make sure that Anne Brown was really all that she seemed to him to be; and Hamlin looked forward as to a kind of preliminary romance to the strange inspection, this minute examination of a creature who should never guess the extraordinary metamorphosis which might, or might not, be in store for her.

[124]

CHAPTER II.

A WEEK later Hamlin was painting Anne Brown in a studio which he had hired for three months. She had manifested some pleasure when, unexpectedly, Mrs Perry had told her of his return, and of his desire to have her once more for a model; but the manifestation thereof was so calm, or rather so mingled with her usual haughty indifference, that her romantic and passionate mistress had forthwith made up her mind that Anne Brown was a mere soulless body, and communicated that fact to her husband.

“I don’t see why Annie should be particularly delighted at the prospect of sitting for two hours, twice a‐week, with her head raised and her throat outstretched, in a beastly cold [125] studio,” answered Perry, affecting, as he frequently did, from a curious kind of coyness, not to understand his wife’s underlying meaning.

“She is a mere soulless body,” repeated Mrs Perry—“as indifferent to Hamlin as a handsome cow would be.”

“Do you expect her to throw herself into Hamlin’s arms?” cried Perry, angrily.

“I expect her,” answered Mrs Perry, with a kind of haughty mystery and sadness, “to be a woman.”

“And I expect you to attend to her remaining what she is—an honest girl,” retorted Perry.

“Melton!” said his wife solemnly; and immediately poor Perry’s principles drooped like a furled sail.

Melton Perry had always an uncomfortable feeling of responsibility regarding Anne Brown; a sort of sense that, as poor old Miss Curzon had been grievously mistaken in intrusting a girl like Anne Brown to a lady so mystical [126] and romantic as his wife, he, on his part, hardened sinner, social wreck as he doubtless was, was in duty bound to make up for the good old woman’s want of discernment. If it had been any one except Hamlin, he repeated to himself, he would never have permitted a single sitting; but Hamlin was a Sir Galahad—at least with regard to servant girls and suchlike—who had always struck Perry dumb with wonder; and in this instance in particular, Hamlin seemed really to consider Anne Brown much in the light of a picture by an old master. Yet even thus, it had taken him by surprise, and relieved his mind of a heavy weight, when, the day before the first sitting in the studio, Ham]in had asked Mrs Perry to tell him of some elderly woman—some former housekeeper or nurse in an English family—who could come to his studio and keep it in order two or three times a‐week.

“I can recommend you a most delightful young laundress,” exclaimed Mrs Perry with fervour—“quite a Palma Vecchio.”

[127]

“Thank you,” answered Hamlin, drily; “I particularly want an elderly woman who can take charge of my things, and who can be there when—I mean, who can take Miss Brown’s bonnet and shawl when she comes to sit to me.”

Mrs Perry confessed to no knowledge of such a person, but sat down to write to the German deaconesses,—“such real saints,”—in quest of the desired piece of elderly respectability. But when she had gone to her writing‐table, Melton Perry kicked Hamlin’s foot under the table, and said in an undertone—

“You are a damned moral dog, certainly, Wat. Thank you so much, old fellow.”

So the old housekeeper was hired to go three times a‐week to Hamlin’s studio, and twice a‐week she opened the studio door to Anne Brown, and took the girl’s poke‐bonnet and grey shawl in the little anteroom, crammed full of dwarf orange‐trees, which opened into the pillared balcony circling round the topmost floor of the old palace, and from which [128] you looked into the lichened court, and saw the steel‐like sheen of the water in the well. Hamlin had determined to embody one of his usual mystical fancies in his new picture. His pictures came to him first as poems, and he had written a sonnet descriptive of his intended work before he had painted a stroke of it. It was called Venus Victrix; and the strangeness, the mysteriousness which gave a charm to his beautiful church‐window‐like pictures, and made one forget for a minute the uncertainty of drawing and the weakness of flesh‐painting—this essential quality of the pictorial riddle depended very much upon the fact that his Venus Victrix was entirely unlike any other Venus Victrix which the mind of man could conceive. Instead of the naked goddess triumphing over the apple of Paris, whom such a name would lead you to expect, Hamlin made a sketch of a lady in a dress of sad‐coloured green and gold brocade, seated in a melancholy landscape of distant barren peaks, suffused with the grey and yellow tints [129] of a late sunset; behind her was a bower of sear‐coloured palms, knotting their boughs into a kind of canopy for her head, and in her hand she held, dragged despondingly on the ground, a broken palm‐branch. The expression of the goddess of Love, since such she was, was one of intense melancholy. It was one of those pictures which go to the head with a perfectly unintelligible mystery, and which absolutely preclude all possibility of inquiring into their exact meaning. A picture which might have been one of Hamlin’s best, only that it was never finished.

For, it must be remembered, the picture, or rather the painting of it, was merely an excuse invented by Hamlin for an opportunity of seeing, of examining, the creature whose future was in his hands. He wished to assure himself that Anne Brown was really the Anne Brown of his fancy; and as he stared at that strange and beautiful face, it was not in reality with the object of transferring it on to his canvas, but to make sure whether it was [130] really as strange as it seemed to him. It was also to gauge whatever mystery there might be hidden in that singular nature. Whether he ever did gauge it, it is impossible to tell. There was, he felt, something strange there—something which corresponded with the magnificent and mysterious outside,—a possibility of thought and emotion enclosed like the bud in its case of young leaves—a potential passion, good or bad, of some sort. At Anne Brown’s actual character it was difficult to get; or rather, perhaps, there was as yet but little actual character to get at. He became more and more persuaded, as he sat opposite to her, painting and talking—or, interrupting the sitting, playing to her strange songs which he had picked up in his travels, and fragments of forgotten operas which it was his mania to collect—that Anne Brown was in reality much younger than her years; that beneath those solemn features there was a still immature soul wrapped up in mere conventional ideas of right and wrong, [131] a few inherited republican formulæ, and a natural pride which had grown, as does any protecting skin, physical or moral, where surroundings are for ever chafing and wearing. A soul, above all, which had never yet sought for an ideal—had never loved; and this knowledge was to Hamlin a source of infinite satisfaction.

It was a satisfaction, also, to notice how, little by little, whatever ideals seemed to bud in Anne Brown’s mind, were connected with him, or at least with the things which he presented to her imagination. Nay, with himself, as a person not at all, but yet with the books, the music, the pictures about which he talked to her. This studio, so unlike the bleak and tobacco‐reeking workshop of Melton Perry, with its curious carved furniture, its Japanese screens, its bits of brocade and tapestry (rubbish which Hamlin would have blushed at in London), its shelves of books and chipped majolica and glass, its quantity of flowers, was evidently a sort of earthly paradise to the [132] girl. And the handsome, pale, serious young man, with womanishly regular feature and world‐worn look, who treated her with a sort of protecting deference, who instructed her in what she ought to like and dislike, and at the same time asked with real earnestness for her opinion, was evidently its affable archangel. This Hamlin perceived to his pleasure; but, nevertheless, he perceived also that all feeling, all ideas, were in Anne Brown vague, immature, or merely potential—unless, indeed, this tragic‐looking creature repressed and drowned in the darkness of her consciousness anything more definite and developed.

They did not talk very much, for they were both of them rather taciturn; but what they said acquired therefrom more than doubled importance. And of this talking Hamlin did by far the greater share. Anne Brown had indeed little to say—a nursery‐maid of nineteen has not much to tell a fashionable poet‐painter of thirty‐one: slight descriptions of places she had been to, villas, or bathing‐places, and one or two [133] excursions from them; vague reminiscences of old Miss Curzon, of the books which she had made the girl read, the music she had heard, the anecdotes of Landor and Rossini and Malibran which the old lady had narrated; a few allusions, short and passionate, to her father; a few more, sullen and dreary, to her own future life;—that was all that poor Anne Brown could say.

For when he told her the plots of novels, and repeated scraps of poems to her, she scarcely ventured to give him her opinion. She was so earnest that she felt that only something worth saying should be said; and what things worth saying could she say to him?

“By the way,” said Hamlin one day, as she stood, tying her bonnet, and looking out over the sea of shingly roofs, the sudden gaps showing shady gardens far below, open loggias, between whose columns fluttered linen, and irregular rows of windows with herbs in broken ewers on their sills—“by the way, you have never [134] told me how you liked the ‘Vita Nuova,’ Miss Brown.” He had talked of so many books, making her wonder and sometimes laugh at his account of them, but never about that, nor about his own.

“It is very beautiful,” she said, still looking out of the window—“but do you think it is true?”

“Why not?” he said.

“I don’t know—I don’t think there are men like that;” then she suddenly added, with a sort of melancholy humorous laugh, which was frequent with her, “I will make my pupils read it when I am a parlatrice. Those ladies will tell me their opinion.”

Hamlin was looking at her, as she still turned her massive head, with its waves of iron‐black hair, away from him, towards the light.

“Good‐bye,” she said, with her hand on the door‐latch.

“Stop a minute,” said Hamlin; and going [135] to a book‐shelf, he got down a little green‐bound volume.

“I don’t know why,” he said, “but I should like you to read these. It is idiotic trash after the ‘Vita Nuova’—but it is mine.”

“Thank you,” she said. “I will bring it you back next sitting. I will cover the binding.”

“I want you to keep it. Won’t you do me that favour?”

She reddened all over her pale face.

“Thank you,” she said. “’It is very good of you.”

[136]

CHAPTER III.

IT so happened that as Anne Brown was walking quickly home she was overtaken by Melton Perry.

“What’s that book, Annie?” he inquired, as they walked side by side.

“Mr Hamlin gave it me—it’s his poems.”

“Let me see.” Perry was more peremptory than usual.

He turned over the leaves as they went along, and then returned it to her.

“You may read that,” he said—“it’s sad trash, but you may read it. All poetry isn’t fit for women to read,” he added, by way of explanation.

The gift of this book somehow disturbed Perry’s equanimity.

[137]

“What made him give you that book?” he asked.

“I don’t know, sir. We were talking about the ‘Vita Nuova.’”

“A lot of confounded medieval twaddle,” cried Perry. “Why don’t you read ‘Lady Audley’s Secret’ or ‘The Heir of Redclyffe’? that’s the right sort of thing.”

She seemed hurt, and they were silent. Suddenly Perry said, with some roughness—

“I’m sorry to inconvenience Hamlin, but this will be the last of the sittings. I am going to send you to the sea‐side with the children in a day or two. Little May needs change of air. When you return, Mr Hamlin will be leaving Florence.”

“Yes, sir,” answered Anne Brown; and a kind of suppressed spasm passed across her face.

Perry saw it.

“It’s high time,” he said to himself.

Melton Perry could not screw up his courage [138] till he and his wife and Hamlin had already finished dinner that evening.

“I say, Hamlin,” he began, lighting his pipe, while Mrs Perry artistically twisted a cigarette in her long brown fingers—“d’you think you could finish off that picture with only one more sitting? I’m sure Mrs Perry thinks it is time for the children to go down to the sea‐side—only, of course, she doesn’t like disturbing you in your work.”

“Go down to the sea‐side!” exclaimed Mrs Perry, not at all mollified by her husband’s deference; “who talks of going to the seaside? and what has that to do with his work?”

“You forget, my dear, that you said this morning that May requires change of air—and, of course, Annie will be required to take the children down to Viareggio. I am extremely sorry for you, old fellow, but I fear you must finish that picture—at least so far as Annie is concerned—by the beginning of next week.”

“I see,” answered Hamlin, briefly. For the first time in his life almost, he felt angry with [139] his old friend; an unspeakable resentment at this interference with what he considered already as his.

I see nothing of the sort,” burst out Mrs Perry; “I will never, never permit dear Hamlin’s masterpiece to be spoilt. I would rather take the children to the sea‐side myself—oh yes. I would rather they did not go at all. My children are the dearest things I possess, but I have no right selfishly to prefer their welfare to the completion of such a picture. I should never forgive myself. That unfinished picture, that strange, terrible Venus, would haunt me in my dreams, and I should hear the whole world asking me, ‘What have you done with a thing meant for our joy?’”

“Bosh!” cried Perry, stretching out his legs and puffing at his pipe—“rubbish! A fine thing if May gets low fever again: much you’ll think of Hamlin’s masterpiece then.”

“May shall not have fever,” answered Mrs Perry, haughtily; “and Hamlin’s masterpiece, which you choose to sneer at—”

[140]

“Oh, please, don’t bother about my masterpieces!” interposed Hamlin.

“—Shall not be sacrificed. You shall take the children to the sea‐side, Melton; and Annie shall continue to give him as many sittings as he may wish.” And then, passing over her husband’s nauseous existence, she began a mellifluous and irrelevant conversation with Hamlin across him.

But after two or three minutes Perry could stand it no longer.

“Damn your sea‐side!” he suddenly burst out.

“Melton!” shrieked Mrs Perry, falling back on her chair.

“Damn your sea‐side!” repeated Perry. “Haven’t you eyes in your head to understand that the sea‐side has nothing to do with the matter? The children no more require to go to Viareggio than I require to be made Khan of Tartary. What is required is that an honest girl, who was intrusted to us by an old friend, should not get to be talked of as a—”

[141]

“This loathsome coarseness is too much for me. Adieu, Mr Hamlin!” and Mrs Perry flounced out of the room.

“Lord deliver us from womankind!” exclaimed Perry, as the door shut upon his wife, and he fell back in his chair. “What a nice breakfast I shall have to‐morrow!”

Hamlin did not answer, but merely lit another cigarette, and looked into the smouldering fire.

“Hamlin, old boy,” resumed Perry, “don’t be down upon me. I really am confoundedly sorry to bother you—indeed I am; but—you see—about this girl—”

“I understand,” answered Hamlin, shortly; “don’t let’s talk about it.”

“But—please don’t be in a rage with me, Watty,” cried Perry, appealingly; “really I don’t know what to do. You see, it’s not as if she were an ordinary girl or an ordinary servant; then I should say—hang it, please yourself!”

“Sweet morals!” sneered Hamlin.

[142]

“But with her it’s different; I’m sure you must recognise that yourself. Now I don’t mean to say you are in the least to blame, or that the girl cares the least scrap about you; but still, this sort of thing won’t do. I know you’re the last man to do a dirty thing—indeed you’re the only man whom I would have permitted to go on so long. But then, quite without meaning anything, all that sitting, and talking, and discussing poetry and ‘Vita Nuova’ together—without knowing it, it puts ideas into a girl’s head, makes her dissatisfied, that sort of thing, and the result is that she goes to the bad. And then, here in Florence especially, a girl’s none the better looked at for having sat, if even only to one man. People begin to talk (at the villa it was another matter), stories go round, and it becomes difficult for her to get a respectable situation.”

“You needn’t say any more,” cried Hamlin, with almost feminine impatience. All this gave him a sense of moral nausea.

“You understand, old fellow, I don’t mean [143] it about you in particular,” persisted Perry; “indeed you’ve behaved like Sir Bors, Sir Percival, and Sir Galahad all rolled into one. But it’s the fatality of the circumstances, the beastly world about us. You’re not angry, are you, with me?”

“Not a bit,” answered Hamlin, quietly, minutely examining one of the pictures on the wall, which was not worth looking at, and had been thoroughly looked at by him already; “not a bit, my dear Perry. I suppose you have no objection to Miss Brown giving me one more morning?”

“Not the least—two, or even three, for the matter of that. I was only anxious not to spin out things indefinitely.”

“One more sitting will be more than enough,” answered Hamlin. “By the way, before I go, I want to do a drawing of little Mildred.”

[144]

CHAPTER IV.

IT was a cold and drizzling February morning that last sitting which Anne Brown was to give to Walter Hamlin. As the girl slowly mounted the well‐like stairs of the old tower palace, and saw the distant snow‐covered hills through the dim windows on the landings, she thought with sadness that this was the last time she should toil up to Hamlin’s studio. A lethargy weighed upon her, making her feel that everything was dreary and unreal, such as she had experienced only once or twice before, when one of the few holidays of her childhood had drawn to a close. The cheerless, colourless, eventless, joyless routine of ordinary life was about to close over, to engulf, her little island of brightness. She was longer [145] than usual taking off her bonnet and cloak in the anteroom filled with orange‐trees, for she felt as if she must look at everything well one last time—at the bits of brocade and the photographs on the wall, the plaster‐casts on the shelf, the scarlet and purple anemones in the cracked china bow], the brass synagogue lamp hanging in the window.

“It is bad weather,” said Hamlin’s old housekeeper.

“Horrible,” answered Anne, looking vacantly through the window at the grey sky and wet roofs.

The old woman opened the studio door and drew the curtains. Hamlin, who was at a table writing, rose and came to meet his model.

“It is very good of you to come in such horrible weather, Miss Brown,” he said.

“It is the last sitting—I thought I ought not to miss it,” and she sat down at once in the arm‐chair of faded green velvet opposite Hamlin’s easel.

[146]

“Won’t you warm yourself a little?” he asked.

“No, thank you; I am not cold.”

Hamlin began to prepare his paints.

“You are going to Viareggio, Miss Brown,” he remarked.

“Yes; I believe I am.”

“You will enjoy the change of air. The sea—you told me you liked the sea one day,”—and he went on squeezing the paints on to his palette.

“I suppose so.” She said no more.

Hamlin was seated before his easel, looking now at his work and now at her, and making minute alterations with a small brush. They did not talk much. He seemed bent upon his work. He had told her that she need not keep her head in position, as he was merely finishing some unimportant details. Her eyes wandered round the room—at the books, the sketches on the wall, the rugs under foot. On the chimney‐piece was stuck a photograph of Melton Perry. If only she might have a photograph [147] of Hamlin! . . . For less than a second she thought she might beg for one; then it seemed to her impossible, and the wish beat itself painfully against that cold, dead impossibility, like a bird against its cage‐bars.

Hamlin called the old woman—

“Take that letter to the post‐office at the Uffizi,” he said, pointing to his writing‐table, “and mind you get it registered.”

It was the first time that Hamlin had sent the old woman on an errand during one of Anne Brown’s sittings, when she was wont to go in and out of the studio noiselessly, like a watchful duenna.

The heavy stairs door banged behind her. Anne listened to it dully, vacantly, as one listens to things when deeply preoccupied. For a few minutes Hamlin worked on in silence, then suddenly, without looking up, he said—

“Do you remember my finding your ‘Dante’ in the vineyard at the Villa Arnolfini, Miss Brown?”

“Yes,” she answered.

[148]

“And you told me that you wished to fit yourself to be a teacher?”

“Yes, I remember.”

“Well,” went on Hamlin, “I have been thinking about that; and I think it would be a pity—I mean—I hope you won’t think it horribly rude of me to say so—I think it would be better if you went to school for a little while yourself.”

Anne stared at this speech, and at the close of it her surprise turned to resentment.

“Of course it would be better,” she said, bitterly; “of course I shall always be very ignorant; but I have no wish to set up for what I am not. I am not going to teach people anything—only to correct their pronunciation and a few mistakes. One does not require to study much for that, and I shall be competent to do it.”

In her quiet, subdued way she looked very angry.

Hamlin rose from his easel.

“You misunderstand me,” he said; “and [149] indeed what I have to say is so strange and perhaps so unjustifiable, that you have every right to do so. Listen,” and he drew a chair near hers.

“Please do not think me very bold, and forgive the horrid way in which I am forced to put things, when I tell you, dear Miss Brown, that I am very much interested in you, and, indeed—will you forgive a comparative stranger saying so?—that I have never felt so much attracted by any one as I do by you.”

Anne Brown did not answer; she seemed literally petrified by sheer astonishment.

“The time has come when our acquaintance must come to an end,” went on Hamlin, rapidly; “but I cannot let this happen without making an effort to prolong it. I have no brothers or sisters—no one, at least, living with me, except distant relations. I have never taken much interest in anybody. But now I want to know—would you, instead of our parting company altogether—would you let me become [150] your guardian for the next few years, and as such, would you let me take charge of your education and send you to school? It seems a very ridiculous thing to suggest. But still you must not be angry with me for doing so.”

Anne’s big onyx eyes had opened wider and wider. She flushed purple in the middle of his speech, then turned ashy‐white, while she picked convulsively at the fringe of the armchair. Then suddenly a sort of convulsion came across her face, and, as if from sheer unbearable tension of feeling, she burst into tears.

She gave way only one second, immediately trying to stop herself, but in vain. Hamlin felt that he was making a horrible mess of it. He came close up to the chair where the poor girl was thrown back, shaken with sobs.

“Miss Brown,” he cried, taking her hand—“Anne—oh, don’t be unhappy! I did not mean to offend you. Don’t you understand my meaning? I wish you to be what you have a right to be. I wish you to be in [151] such a position that of all the men in the world you may choose the one who deserves you most. Anne, I love you—and I hope that perhaps some day you may love me; but I want you to be able to love whoever may best deserve you, and merely to do my best that you should care for me. I want you to have a future independent of me—to possess the education and the fortune which shall enable you to marry whomsoever you will, or not to marry at all. Will you let me, for the time being, be your guardian, your father, your brother; let me provide for you, take care of your money, see to your education? I do not ask you to love me, but merely to give me a chance of trying to make you prefer me.”

Anne did not cease sobbing; and every convulsive heaving of her body made Hamlin feel a sort of sickening terror. He slid down on his knees and kissed her hand.

This action seemed suddenly to awaken her. She started up, and making a tremendous effort, stopped her crying.

[152]

He stood aside while she went to the mirror and looked at her swollen eyes and convulsed face.

“May I have a glass of water?” she asked; then, stopping Hamlin, “never mind,” she said—“never mind—I must go;” and she pulled her blue veil hurriedly over her eyes and huddled on her cloak.

“Miss Brown,” cried Hamlin, “why don’t you answer me?” and he laid hold of her arm as she was about to open the door.

“Because you do not deserve it,” she answered, trying to loosen his grasp. “Let me go, please.”

“I cannot let you go,” answered Hamlin calmly, standing before the door, “until you have listened to me. Will you let me provide for your future, send you to school, and then place you in the care of my aunt? Will you let me act as if I were your guardian for the next three years, and at the end of them you shall have enough to live and marry as befits a lady, and be as free as air, or become my [153] wife—whichever you shall choose? Answer me, for I am serious.”

Anne Brown paused.

“Don’t ask me for an answer now,” she said; “I am not sure that you are in earnest.”

“I am—indeed I am!” cried Hamlin; “I have intended asking you this ever since my return to Florence. I returned merely in order to ask you. I am in earnest; cannot you give me a serious answer?”

“Not now—I can’t think about anything; I must ask; I don’t know what is right to do.”

He opened the door, and Anne Brown walked out rapidly, through the anteroom and downstairs.

[154]

CHAPTER V.

FOR a long time Anne Brown remained as it were dazed, as if she had received a blow on the head. When she got back to the Perrys’ house, she felt broken in all her limbs, and slipped up‐stairs and threw herself on her bed. But it was no use: all that day, while attending on the children and doing her usual work, she felt as if some one else were doing it all; while she remained conscious only of something very sudden and strange, of a confused buzzing in her brain, through which she heard the voice of Hamlin repeating his words in the studio; words which somehow made her indignant, angry, and at the same time filled her with a sense of having done something which she should not. This feeling increased [155] at night, and she lay awake while the clocks struck hour after hour, hot, red, half deafened by her own blood, fevered and vaguely indignant. It was as if Hamlin had struck her; she felt insulted, outraged, by this strange interference with her fate, this wonderful intrusion of excitement into her dull and sombre life. It was dawn when she awoke: a chill greyness in the sky, reddened by the pale winter sun. She knew that something had happened, that something was changed. She was almost surprised to find herself in her usual room, with the children’s tea‐sets on the chest of drawers, the coloured pictures from the ‘Illustrated’ and the ‘Graphic’ pinned on the walls, the dolls’ houses in the corner, and little May asleep by her side in her crib. Then she remembered it all, and sat up in her bed thinking about it. Things appeared to her in quite a new light. She had been an ungrateful beast to feel as she had towards Hamlin; and a great wave of gratitude and awe, and love and joy, welled up in her heart. It was as if she were sitting [156] in the sunshine: an indefinable kind of happiness. How noble and generous and good he had been; and how doubly so, being so great, and she being a mere nothing in the world! Whether he loved her or she him, she did not ask herself; it seemed a thing to die of for sheer happiness, that any one should care for her and her future. And just in proportion to her usual pride, and sullenness, and joylessness, she felt happy in the idea of deserving nothing and receiving everything, from his kindness: and Hamlin, with whom she had spoken not twenty‐four hours earlier, whom she would see again that day, appeared to her as a distant, dim, ineffable creature, lighting and warming her like the sun, but equally unapproachable. But on thinking it over, things came round to commonplace actuality. What was she to do? Would he ask her again? or even, had he asked her at all? It all seemed a dream, and she did not venture to examine into its reality. She determined to tell it all to Perry, and ask his advice; but she felt as [157] if she never could. She met Perry several times in the course of the morning, but she could not succeed in screwing up her courage. What if it should all prove to be an illusion? She took the children out for their accustomed walk, during which she was even more silent than usual. On returning home she saw Hamlin in the street, close to the door. The blood all rushed up to her head. Hamlin saluted her as if nothing had happened, and accompanied her up‐stairs. When they were at the landing he suddenly turned to her—

“Have you thought over our conversation in the studio yesterday, Miss Brown?” he asked.

“Yes,” answered Anne, inaudibly, as he stood with his hand on the bell; “I have.”

“Well, then,” went on Hamlin, “with regard to the plan which I submitted to you, what is your answer? Do you consent or not?”

Anne Brown raised her head.

“I consent,” she answered quietly, looking [158] full at him, as if to make sure that she was not talking in a dream. He had never seen her so beautiful and majestic before; and she had a look—with dilated eyes, and rapid, oppressed breath—like the one which he had noticed once when she talked of her father, and of which he had felt at once, “this is what I want.”

“Thank you,” he answered gravely, and rang the bell. For a moment they stood in silence, till the door was opened.

[159]

CHAPTER VI.

HAMLIN sat for some time in the dusty attic called a studio, while Perry cut acrobats and devils out of black paper, and stuck them on the dirty window‐panes.

“That’s my vocation,” said Perry, “and not painting damned landscape spinach and soapsud seas. Look! aren’t they jolly old fiends?” and he held up a group of black clowns, standing on each other’s hands and shoulders.

“Capital!” answered Hamlin. “But look here; I came to tell you something. I want the address of Miss Brown’s guardian,—you told me there was one,—because I am going to have Miss Brown educated, with a view, if she do not change her mind, to her becoming my wife.”

Perry let his scissors fall on the floor.

[160]

“Damnation!” he cried.

Hamlin picked up the scissors and put them quietly on the table.

“So that’s it!” burst out Perry. “While I was bothering my brains with trying to take care of Anne, you were being inveigled by that cursed hypocritical slut.”

“I shall be obliged to you to speak in rather different language, Perry,” said Hamlin, in a tone of voice and with a manner which his friend was not accustomed to.[]

“Oh, beast! brute! seven‐times‐distilled and most‐kickable jackass that I have been,” moaned Perry, “that I should have let this happen to you!—that I should have let you be entrapped under my very nose! But it mustn’t be, old fellow; I won’t stand it.”

“You will have to,” answered Hamlin, contemptuously; “and so, let’s say no more about it. Only one word: Miss Brown has not inveigled me.”

Perry gave a sort of moan of disgust. “No woman ever does inveigle a man!”

[161]

“Miss Brown has not inveigled me. I conceived the desire of educating her, and giving myself a chance of marrying her if she would have me, long ago, before I returned to Florence. And, as a favour, I beg you will respect Miss Brown so long as she remains in your house, as you would respect the woman who is at present my ward, and may possibly become my wife.”

“Ward! wife! fiddlesticks!” cried Perry. “For God’s sake, my dearest old Watty, don’t go and do such a damnable thing! don’t be such an idiot as to suppose you must do it. That was my confounded folly: let myself be led on, and then thought it was my own choice, my resolution, all sorts of fine things. No man ever really wants to tie himself up; it’s the woman who does it, and makes him believe it’s himself. All this is bosh, mere bosh; you’ll think better of it.”

“I tell you again, Perry, that there is no inveigling about the matter. I made up my mind to this step while I was away from [162] Florence. Besides, I am not going to marry Miss Brown straight off; I am going to give her the education which such a woman deserves, to enable her to marry me should she care to do so.”

“Education, forsooth!” groaned Perry; “you will get yourself married before you have time to say Jack Robinson: and to think that I have brought it all upon you! to think that I have driven you to do it!”

Hamlin could not help smiling at his friend’s distress.

“Really, you need not feel under any responsibility. I alone am responsible in the business—I and good fortune, which has brought me into the presence of the most marvelIous woman that ever was—”

“But what do you do it for? You’re not in love with Annie, I do believe,” cried poor Perry.

“I do it because she is the most beautiful woman I have ever seen,” answered Hamlin, deliberately; “and the woman who, properly [163] educated, is of all others the one whom I should most wish to love—because, in short, I cannot see her wasted.”

Perry flung his arms over his head with a gesture of grotesque despair. At that moment the door opened, and Mrs Perry entered the studio.

“What is the matter? what has happened?” she asked with a dramatic gesture, and a not less dramatic accent; and she remained standing on the threshold, raising the door‐curtain with much dignity.

“Hamlin wants to bring up and marry Anne Brown,” yelled Perry.

Mrs Perry tottered, let the curtain go, held her hand to her head for a moment.

“Anne Brown—do you hear that? He wants to marry her! to educate her! He has already proposed!” repeated Perry.

Mrs Perry came forward solemnly, and stretched out her hand to Hamlin.

“Dear friend,” she said softly, “my heart told me that this would be.”

[164]

“Fudge!” exclaimed Perry; “if it did, why the deuce didn’t you interfere?”

“My heart told me this would be. I congratulate you, dearest friend, that you have at last found the embodiment of your mysterious dreams of beauty. And I thank you, on my part, for giving me the happiness of seeing that glorious dethroned goddess reinstated in her rights, and also,”—and Mrs Perry’s long mouth smiled—formidable like an alligator’s,—“for giving me the happiness of witnessing a union of mystic perfection;” whereupon, to Hamlin’s horror, the tall and bony lady deposited a damp kiss on his forehead.

“Oh—but—thank you so much!” exclaimed Hamlin—“I have not asked Miss Brown to marry me; I have only asked her to let me educate her. I wish her to choose whatever husband may deserve her.”

“And that will be yourself—your noble, darling self,” beamed Mrs Perry.

“I am happy that you approve of my decision,” said Hamlin, quickly; “and since you [165] do, will you kindly tell me the address of Miss Brown’s—Miss Brown’s guardian?”

“Julia, I forbid you,” moaned Perry feebly.

“His address”—answered Mrs Perry blandly, and taking no notice of her husband—“is Richard Brown, care of Gillespie Brothers, New Cross. He is foreman at a cannon‐foundry, or a place where they make torpedoes. I know it’s something murderous and dreadful.”

“Richard Brown, Gillespie Brothers, New Cross,” wrote Hamlin in his note‐book. “Thank you so much; I shall write to him at once.”

“Oh, idiotic beast that I was!” groaned Perry, “to think that it should all be my fault.”

“Come into my boudoir,” said Mrs Perry; “you shall write to him without a moment’s delay. Denrest Mr Hamlin, it is so noble, so lovely on your part; and dear Anne—how beautiful she will become!”

Perry paced up and down the room in violent despair, kicking at all the chairs and easels on his way, and hurling a tin of black [166] paint against the ceiling, whence, having deposited its oozy contents, it slowly descended. After this, feeling that his despair was not yet vented, he stalked off to the German beer‐cellar, in the Via Lambertesca, and gloomily consumed a bock—a proceeding to which he invariably resorted whenever his wife had inspired him with a more than usually strong wish to drown himself.

Suddenly an idea struck him, and he rushed to the nearest telegraph‐office. There he spent upwards of an hour, and consumed many pieces of paper in concocting a missive which should, within the compass of twenty words, convey to Mr Richard Brown, care of Gillespie Brothers, New Cross, that the proposal being made to Anne Brown by a certain person must be immediately rejected, as its acceptance would bring ruin, dishonour, and misery on all parties. “Proposal disastrous snare,” wound up Perry at last in triumph; and then discovered that, in his zeal for Hamlin’s good, [167] he had expressed disapprobation to the extent of exactly twenty francs of Italian money.

“Nothing but pipes—loathsome, smelly, filthy pipes; never a cigar—for the next two months,” meditated Perry, as he paid his money and received the clerk’s receipt; “but a fellow must save his friend after all.”

[168]

CHAPTER VII.

NO arrangements could be come to until Hamlin should hear from Anne Brown’s guardian, and this, even by return of post, was impossible under a week. And during that week, Hamlin determined to keep away from the Perrys’ house: the objurgations of Melton Perry, the congratulations of his wife, the very tittering of the children, all this vulgar prose had best be kept aloof from his romance; besides, he was in the ridiculous position that Anne was, and was not his; that she could no longer be considered the Perrys’ servant, and could not yet be considered as his ward. Accordingly, he betook himself for three days to Siena, deeming it impossible that any answer could come so soon.

[169]

But when Hamlin returned to his lodging in Florence, on the fourth day after his proposal to Anne Brown—it seemed to him as if he had proposed to her months ago, nay, as if he had never existed at all before that proposal—he was told that a gentleman had called that morning, and had left word that he would return again later on in the day.

“Some confounded painter or poetaster of my acquaintance,” thought Hamlin, annoyed that any one should call upon him at this point of his adventure.

A little later a card was brought in to him. The name upon it made him start—a large shopman’s card, on which was printed, “Richard Brown, New Cross.”

“Ask him to come in,” cried Hamlin.

The visitor stalked in: a tall, burly man, with bushy black hair and beard.

“An insolent cad,” said Hamlin to himself.

“Mr Walter Hamlin?” asked the newcomer, bowing very slightly, and looking down upon Hamlin from his big, bent shoulders.

[170]

“Precisely—and you, I believe, are Miss Anne Brown’s cousin?” answered Hamlin, stiffening at the other’s free‐and‐easy manner. The very look of this man rubbed him the wrong way. “Pray, sit down,” he added, doing his best to be courteous. But the other had already sat down.

“I have come here,” said Richard Brown, in a deep, Scotch voice, which made a certain abruptness of manner even more offensive to his host, “in consequence of a telegram which I received from your friend Mr Melton Perry.”

Hamlin turned pale with anger.

“Perry telegraphed behind my back,” he exclaimed—“however, I had written to you the same day. I presume you know the contents of my letter?”

“I have received no letter from you—I suppose I started before it arrived,” answered Richard Brown. “Mr Perry mentioned no letter from you in his telegram, and as I understood from it that there were plans afoot which concerned my cousin and ward, I [171] thought I had best come at once and inquire into them.”

He stopped a moment, and looked Hamlin in the face, as if to find out what sort of man he might be. He himself might be any age between thirty and forty, of the darkest possible Scotch type, sun‐burnt like a bargee, snub of feature, with a huge, overhanging forehead; he was a man such as Hamlin had never dealt with—a type which he recognised as having seen among workmen and Dissenting preachers: ugly, intellectual, contemptuous—the incarnation of what, to the descendants of Cavaliers and Jamaica planters, seemed the aggressive lower classes.

“I see,” said Hamlin, coldly. “I am greatly obliged to you for the trouble you have taken. Your presence here will make it much easier for us to settle all necessary matters.”

“Mr Perry,” went on the visitor, “has given me rather a confused account of the proposal which I understand you to have made to my cousin; and I thought it wiser to see [172] you before speaking to her. I must therefore beg you to tell me whether Mr Perry’s account of your proposal is correct, and also whether you are in earnest in making it.”

“Had you waited for my letter, I think you could have had no further doubts,” answered Hamlin, with some irritation. “To recapitulate, then. I proposed to Miss Brown that she should permit me to take charge of her education for the next two years, and, on her becoming of age and deeming her studies complete, to place at her disposal the capital of an income which should enable her to live in a manner corresponding with the education she had received, and to make a suitable marriage.”

While Hamlin was speaking a sneer came over his listener’s face.

“I am to understand, therefore,” he said, “that I was misinformed as to this being a proposal of marriage.”

“Pardon me,” corrected Hamlin, gently. “I told your cousin that I hoped that perhaps, at the end of those two years, or more, she might [173] feel inclined to accept me as her husband; but that my particular object was that Miss Brown should, on coming of age, find herself in possession of a fortune corresponding to her education, and which should leave her free to contract whatever marriage she pleased, or to continue single.”

Richard Brown flushed.

“In short,” he said, with a strange irony in his voice, “you offer to provide my cousin with a competence whereon to live, or get married, after she shall have remained for two years in your charge. I fully appreciate the intention of your proposal; and I therefore beg to refuse it.”

The blood rushed to Hamlin’s head. That such an interpretation should be put upon his words had never entered his mind. It was as if a whip had whizzed about his ears and cut into his face. His first impulse was to knock the other down. But the sense of his misunderstood superiority, superiority unintelligible to his visitor, restrained him.

[174]

“I quite understand your refusal, Mr Brown,” he answered, “as a result of your interpretation of the case; and I suppose I have no right to ask you to see my proposal, except as you would mean it were you to make it yourself.”

Richard Brown turned pale; but he too mastered his feelings.

“If your intention is to marry my cousin, why not marry her at once?” he asked, with something in his look which expressed that he felt himself not to be outwitted by a vicious fool.

Hamlin hesitated. He felt that he could never make this man understand his dreams, his plans of turning Anne Brown into a realised ideal, of wooing and winning the creature of his own making.

“Because—because,” he hesitated.

“Because,” interrupted Richard Brown, “a man in your position of life cannot marry a girl like my cousin before she has been turned into a lady; and because, even if this be granted, he cannot bind himself to marry her [175] until he see whether schooling has succeeded in making a lady of her. I perfectly follow your reasons; but you also can follow mine when I say that my cousin cannot be subjected to the ups and downs of your appreciation.”

In this man there was a hatred of Hamlin, not merely as a fine gentleman, an idler, but as an æsthete; a hatred not merely of class, but of temperament.

“You misunderstand my motives,” answered Hamlin, losing patience. “My reason for not marrying your cousin at once is, that I would not marry a woman who cannot possibly love me as yet; and my reason against a formal engagement between us is, that I cannot consent to bind Miss Brown to marry me when she has no opportunity as yet of choosing a man more to her taste. It seems to me,” added Hamlin, feeling the advantage on his side, “that to take your cousin in marriage now, or to bind her to marry me in the future, would be buying her in exchange for the education and the money which she will receive [176] from me. That education and that money are intended to secure her freedom, to secure her choice of a man whom she may love, not to make her into the chattel of a man whom she could only despise.”

Hamlin’s tone and these sentiments, which seemed to belong to a world west of the sun and east of the moon, evidently impressed Anne’s guardian. He remained silent for a moment, unable to realise Hamlin’s state of mind, while no longer able to disbelieve in it. But the temptation to disbelieve in the sincerity of this handsome, effeminate, æsthetic aristocrat was too strong.

“All this is very noble and chivalric,” he said, “and I doubt not quite natural in a poet like you, Mr Hamlin; but for us practical people, I fear it won’t do. I am fully persuaded of the desirability of giving my cousin some further schooling, and fully persuaded also of the undesirability of leaving her any longer in the care of Mr Perry. So I shall take her back to England with me.”

[177]

Hamlin turned pale with anger. It sickened him to see his plans dragged in the mire of this fellow’s suspicions, and at the same time he felt unable ever to make him understand, utterly helpless in defending himself. Suddenly an idea struck him.

“I see,” said Hamlin, rising and leaning against the fireplace, while his guest remained coolly seated—“I see that, in plain words, you suppose that I project settling some money upon your cousin, with a view of making her my mistress for two years—that is it, is it not, Mr Brown?”

The brutal frankness staggered Brown; it was impossible to make any more insinuations now. And he began to feel ashamed of those which he had already made. His own imagination, then, was less clean than the intentions of this womanish fine gentleman?

Perhaps for this very reason he answered calmly, but turning very red—

“Yes, sir; that is exactly the state of the case.”

[178]

Hamlin felt a sort of triumph at this humiliation of his visitor.

“In that case,” he said, “I think I can devise a plan which shall satisfy you—which will relieve your apprehensiveness. I offer not merely to settle upon Miss Brown the capital of five hundred a‐year, to be administered by you until her majority; but also to give you my word of honour to marry Miss Brown at any time that she may summon me to do so.”

Richard Brown was taken aback; all this romance, which he had believed to be but a vicious snare, was then real.

“I don’t understand you,” he said. “I don’t understand what you want to do with my cousin.”

“It seems difficult to explain it to you, Mr Brown,” said Hamlin; “still, I may repeat it. I wish Miss Brown to receive all the advantages of education and money which a woman gifted like her has a right to, and which will enable her to freely marry a man worthy of her— [179] myself, or any other in the world. I will not hear of binding Miss Brown to me at present, either by marriage or by promise of marriage; she is to remain absolutely independent. But I offer once more to pledge myself to marry her whenever she may wish it.”

Brown did not answer for a moment.

“Are you ready to sign a document to that effect?” he asked.

“I will give Miss Brown my word,” answered Hamlin, contemptuously; “and I will give you, Mr Brown, as many signed documents as may be equivalent thereto in your eyes.”

Brown felt the insult, but he knew he had drawn it upon himself. For a moment he hesitated; his aversion to Hamlin and Hamlin’s plan fighting painfully with his sense of the worldly interests of his ward. At last he said—

“On these conditions I can no longer make any opposition; and it rests with my cousin to accept or refuse your offer. I can only warn her and you—and to do so is my [180] duty, I think—that, in my opinion, such an arrangement is utterly undesirable for both parties, and that my strong advice is not to enter upon it.”

“I take your warning to heart,” answered Hamlin, contemptuously; “but I cannot agree with it. May I beg you to meet me at the English Consulate to‐morrow morning, to witness the document which you proposed I should draw out; the matter of her money settlement I shall leave in the hands of my lawyers. What hour will suit you? and may I have the pleasure of receiving you to breakfast with me and Mr Perry, who will doubtless be my witness?”

Richard Brown bowed.

“Thank you,” he said briefly; “I think I should prefer breakfasting at my inn. With regard to the document, I shall be happy to meet you at the Consulate any time convenient to yourself. But,” and his face became as threatening as his voice was studiously courteous, “we must first hear whether, on [181] second thoughts, my cousin accepts your proposal. Good afternoon, Mr Hamlin.”

“Good afternoon,” answered Hamlin.

Richard Brown’s visit had left a nauseous taste in his soul.

[182]

CHAPTER VIII.

LATER in the afternoon Richard Brown called at the Perrys’ and asked to see his cousin. He was received with effusiveness by Mrs Perry.

“So you have seen our noble, darling Hamlin,” she cried; “and you have felt your heart go out to meet him as we have felt ours.”

“I have seen Mr Hamlin,” answered Brown roughly, not at all appreciating the lady’s winning manners; “and I should like to speak to my cousin, please.”

“Anne—my beautiful Anne”—cried Mrs Perry, opening the door of the next room.

“Poor child!” she added, “how she has been trembling in her heart all day!”

Anne entered. She was paler even than [183] usual, and was more than usually self‐possessed. She had seen her guardian for a minute early that morning, and she knew that this visit would seal her fate.

“Good afternoon, Richard,” she said briefly.

Brown looked round at Mrs Perry, waiting for her to withdraw. But such was by no means her intention.

“Don’t be unhappy, darling,” she said to Anne; “I know how one woman always longs for another woman in these moments. I will stay with you while your cousin tells you the result of his visit.[”]

“It is very kind of you, madam,” said Brown gruffly, “but I think this matter had better be settled solely between my cousin and myself. Would you permit her to take me into some other room?”

“Oh, I don’t wish to intrude,” sighed Mrs Perry, “I only wished to support this poor child with my presence. But after all, a woman who loves requires support from no one.” Saying which she swept out of the room.

[184]

There was a moment’s silence.

“I have been to Mr Hamlin’s, Anne,” said Brown briefly, seating himself by the fire.

“Well?”

The tone of voice was so resolute and even triumphant that he raised his head and looked up at her where she was standing by the table, a piece of needlework still in her hands.

“Well,” answered Brown quietly, and watching the effect of each of his words on the pale, melancholy, but dispassionate face of the girl, “I have spoken to Mr Hamlin; and I find that you were correct in your judgment, and that I was mistaken in mine. He is in earnest in his proposal, and honest in it.”

“I knew that;” and Anne Brown wondered whether this could be the same cousin Dick who was a big boy, almost a man, when she was a tiny mite at Spezia; who took care of her when her mother was ill and her father was drunk; who used to shoulder his uncle and drag him off to bed when, in a fit of [185] intoxication, he would come in and threaten to throw the babies out of the window. She recognised the small features, the dark skin and hair, the heavy intellectual brow; but he seemed to have changed in expression, to have grown hard, and arrogant, and coarse.

“I knew that,” she repeated, “though you would not believe it. So,” she added, with a certain hardness in her manner, “I suppose I am left free to decide, and that you are ready to let Mr Hamlin do what he chooses.”

“You are free to decide,” he answered. “Mr Hamlin, as I have said, is serious and honest, and willing to make every provision which can bind him and leave you free, legally. I cannot, as your guardian, say no. But,” and his voice assumed a threatening tone, “as your kinsman, and as the representative of your father, I most earnestly dissuade you from accepting this proposal.”

Anne reddened. “But you can no longer oppose it,” she said quickly.

“I have told you before that you are free, [186] Anne. And because you are free,” continued Brown, a sort of despair coming over him at the sight of the girl’s indifference—“because you are free, I want you to listen to me. This proposal is one which, in the eyes of the world, will change your life for the better: you will be educated, get the manners of a lady, be rich yourself, and marry a rich man. But will you stand higher in your own opinion? Would you stand as high as you should in that of your father, if he were alive? You, having bartered your freedom, having accepted all from this one man?”

Anne did not answer.

“Of course,” went on Richard Brown eagerly, “you will have every worldly advantage. But will you be happy taken out of your own sphere of life, knowing yourself to be bound in gratitude to this man, who will always continue to feel your superior, to look down upon you as a beggar whom he has fed, or a chattel which he has bought? This man is, for his class and ideas, honourable: he wishes to leave you free [187] to marry him only if you please; he wishes to marry you really and truly. But in reality he is making you his slave; for how can you refuse him the only thing which you, my poor Nan, can give him in return for his money? And in reality he is making you his mistress; for what sort of marriage is it which is a marriage merely before the world—where the one buys and the other is bought?”

Anne flushed still deeper, and trembled from head to foot as she leaned against the table. A dull pain clawed her at the heart, a lump rose up to her throat. But she did not speak.

Richard Brown misunderstood her silence. He rose and approached the table, and tried to put his arm paternally on her shoulder. She shrank back, but let his heavy hand rest on her shoulder. What did his touch matter when there were his words?

“Annie, dear,” said Brown more gently, “you know I am a rough man, and don’t know how to mince matters and say things to women; but you know that I am fond of [188] you. Don’t you recollect when you were a wee lassie, and I used to carry you about on my back, and go into the water to get you the sea‐weeds and the little nautiluses. I suppose you don’t any longer. But still, you know I would not for the world hurt my poor little Nan.”

Anne held on to the table, and as she recognised that familiar intonation, hot tears rolled down her cheeks. Her whole childhood seemed to return to her.

“Don’t cry—don’t cry!” exclaimed Brown, taking her hand. “Poor child! I know it must be very hard for you who are so young; I know what it must be to be tempted with a lady’s education, and money, and a fine gentleman, who’s in love with one, for a husband. But remember what your poor dad used to tell us, that we common folk must make our own way—make the others feel that we’re as good as they, and not accept anything from them. D’you remember how he used to say to me, ‘Work and be proud’? Well, and I [189] have worked and have been proud, and it’s that that has enabled me to rest a little. And you, too, must be proud, and work, my little Annie.”

“Look here,” he went on, “you must not think you are never to be anything but a servant. I feel I’ve been to blame, and neglected you too long. You see, I’ve had to work hard for my life, out in England; but now I am quite safely off—indeed much better off than I ever anticipated: my employer is going to take me into partnership next year. Well, since you wish to go to school, I will send you there. You shall come back with me to England, and I will send you to the very best school to be found: you shall be as good as any lady, and you shall owe nothing to any one. Annie, do say yes.”

He spoke, this rough man, almost as one might to a sick child; and as he spoke, he tried to pass his arm round the girl’s waist. But Anne shuddered, and freed herself from his grasp. There was something in this big dark [190] man, with his bushy hair and beard, which made her shrink physically, although she felt no suspicion of him morally. The thought of Hamlin passed across her mind—Hamlin, who was everything which Richard Brown was not.

“You are very good, Dick,” she said, feeling ashamed of her ingratitude; “but—but—oh no, no, I can’t, I can’t!” and she hid her tears with her hands.

“Can’t what?” exclaimed Brown, and his voice and face changed; “can’t what? Can’t accept my offer; can’t owe anything to me, to your cousin, to the man to whom your father confided you? No! you won’t be under such an obligation, eh? Nay, don’t humbug me. You can’t give up the money, the land, the house, the fine name—all the things which he can give you and I can’t; for I can only give you an education, and I was such a fool as to think that you wanted that!” and Brown laughed a loud, bitter laugh.

“You want to marry that man,” he went [191] on brutally; “well, do so. But remember what marriage means. You are a girl of the people, who has had to take care of herself—not a fine young lady, as yet, thank God, with all the fine names which fine folk have for nasty things. You know what marriage means. It means being a man’s chattel, more than his beast of burden, his plaything, the toy of his caprice and sensuality. It means, also, that you must smother all love for a worthier man, or degrade yourself in your own eyes. Will you be this, sell yourself thus—?”

“Mr Hamlin does not wish me to degrade myself,” cried the girl. “He respects me,—yes, he does; and you—you don’t!”

“He respects you!” sneered Brown. “And he does not want to degrade you. Of course, he’s a respectable, highly moral man. But, upon my soul, I would rather you had been seduced by a man you loved, than that you should have sold yourself coldly in this way.”

Anne felt herself choking. For a moment she could not utter a word. Then suddenly, [192] with a strange look in her eyes, she cried, in a tone which smote her cousin on the mouth—

“I love him!”

Brown turned and looked her in the face. She was very flushed, and her slate‐grey eyes gleamed feverishly. But her face was calm, and she returned his taunting gaze, which sought for the proof that she lied, with a look of irrepressible contempt.

“I love him!” she repeated.

Brown took his hat.

“Good‐bye,” he said, stretching out his hand; “I left the choice in your hands, and you have chosen. To‐morrow morning I shall settle everything with Mr Hamlin—the papers, I mean—which shall make him henceforth your sole protector. Then I shall go. Goodbye. I wish you joy of your choice”—he paused—“you mercenary thing!”

Anne did not move.

Richard Brown had already turned the handle of the door when he stopped. “One thing more,” he said, “which I desire you [193] to know. You have taken care of yourself hitherto, and you are prudent enough in all conscience, and world‐wise enough, and heartless enough, to do so in future; so this piece of information may be of use to you. To‐morrow he will sign a paper, which I shall keep till you come of age, declaring that, although he leaves you complete freedom in the choice of a husband, he binds himself to marry you whenever you may call upon him to do so. You will doubtless know how to turn this to profit. Good‐bye.”

Anne sank into a chair, excited, exhausted, all her blood in movement, she scarcely knew why—insulted, maligned, and yet with a great sense of joyfulness in her heart.

[195]

BOOK III.

[197]

CHAPTER I.

A MONTH later, the little Perrys were being taken for their walk in the Boboli Gardens by a Swiss bonne in a quilted cap; and Anne Brown was unpacking her things in a room overlooking the yellowish‐green Rhine, with its oscillating bridge of boats, and facing the rocks and bastions of Ehrenbreitstein.

When Richard Brown had returned to England with the signed documents in his pocket, Hamlin had immediately written two letters,—one to his lawyers, instructing them to settle the capital of five hundred a‐year, that is to say, one quarter of his property, on Anne Brown; the other, narrating the history of his engagement (if engagement it might be called), to the widow of his former tutor, and asking [198] her to admit the young lady in whom he was interested into her school at Coblenz. It was the Easter holidays, and Mrs Simson had taken advantage of the fact to come to Florence in order to take back her pupil herself.

There was still a fortnight before the school would reopen, so Hamlin suggested that they should slowly travel north, and it was settled that he should accompany the schoolmistress and his ward. The greater part of that fortnight was spent at Venice, where Anne Brown had never been, and Hamlin parted company from them to return to England, only at Munich.

Mrs Simson was of that particular type of Englishwoman which, however much it may marry, always seems to remain an old maid; but an old maid whose old‐maidishness is an incapacity of feeling any difference of age between herself and her youngers, of maintaining any stateliness of superior age and experience: a hopeful, believing, shrewd, happy‐go‐lucky, enthusiastic creature, invariably making [199] one think of a remarkably good‐natured old grey mare. Youth was the greatest attraction in the world to her, and she identified herself completely with the young women that came under her influence. Hamlin had known her in his boyish days, and lately, passing along the Rhine, had stayed with her for a day or two in her old‐fashioned house by the confluence of the Rhine and the Mosel. The impression that this school was so utterly unlike any of the girls’ schools he had read of in novels; the impression that a young woman might develop there into whatever pleasant thing nature intended,—had been so strong, that from the moment of his first contemplating a possible marriage with the Perrys’ servant, Mrs Simson and her school at Coblenz had formed an essential part of his plans. The lady, on the other hand, was exactly the kind of woman to whom a situation like this would appeal: Hamlin, whom she had entertained on buns and ginger‐beer, and then, in later years, raved over after the first sonnet which he sent to [200] the ‘Athenæum,’ had always been her especial object of adoration; and his adoption of a beautiful and strange young woman, his preparation of a bride for himself, was for her the finishing touch to his perfection. She would indeed have preferred had Anne Brown been small and fair, and garrulous and impish, and shown a love for mathematics and flirtation; but, nevertheless, Anne Brown, inasmuch as she was the elect of Walter Hamlin, and inasmuch as she was a beautiful young creature, immediately won the facile but not fickle heart of Mrs Simson. The whole business seemed to her as natural as possible; and it was she who proposed that Hamlin should accompany her and his ward part of their way northwards.

What was Anne’s own condition? During those hours in the train, when Hamlin was for ever jumping out and overwhelming them with coffee and stale cakes and newspapers at every station; during those days at Venice, when they stayed at the same hotel (the headwaiter quite spontaneously wrote “Mrs Simson [201] and niece” in the strangers’ book), and spent their days in picture‐galleries and churches and gondolas, and their evenings at theatres,—during all that journey Anne was as cold, and silent, and melancholy as she had been when first they had met at the Villa Arnolfini; indeed any man but Hamlin, and any woman except Mrs Simson, would probably have been disheartened and disgusted by this apparent stolidity of behaviour. But Mrs Simson had already made up her character of Anne Brown, and fallen in love with it quite independent of realities; and Hamlin was rather pleased that the creature whom he was going to teach how to think and how to feel, did not manifest any particular mode of thinking and feeling of her own. So they were both extremely assiduous to Anne Brown, and in reality thought much more about what she was going to be than about what she actually was.

The fact was that the poor girl was in a dazed condition—that all this journey seemed [202] to her unreal, and all the things around her unsubstantial. Her head felt hollow, she seemed to be informed about her feelings rather than to experience them, her own words sounded as if through a whispering‐gallery. A couple of weeks ago she had had so strong a consciousness of identity and existence, of her own desires and hopes; now she could not well understand how she came to be where she was. Sometimes, while mechanically talking with her companions or walking in their company, she used to ask herself how it had all come about, and then she could see no reason for it all; it seemed accidental, inexplicable, causeless, and almost incredible. Whenever, on the other hand, she awakened to the reality of things, she was depressed by a sense of transition; she was afraid of speaking, and almost of feeling. As long as she had been the Perrys’ servant, she had experienced no shyness with Hamlin; as far as her taciturn nature would allow, she had spoken out whatever she had thought or [203] felt, without considering whether or not it might surprise, annoy, or amuse him. Now, on the contrary, she gradually became conscious of a fear lest Hamlin should have cheated himself in choosing her. Unable to tell any one of this feeling, she let it overshadow her. One evening at Munich, two or three days before they parted company with Hamlin, Mrs Simson, coming into Anne’s room, found the girl seated with her head in the pillows of her bed, sobbing.

The excellent and somewhat romantic heart of the schoolmistress immediately melted at this sight.

“My dear child,” she cried, looking more than ever like a friendly grey old mare, “what is the matter with you?”

But Anne merely buried her head deeper in the pillows, and sobbed harder than before.

“What is the matter?” repeated Mrs Sireson, laying her hand on Anne’s shoulder.

“Oh, leave me, leave me!” moaned the girl.

Mrs Simpson gently passed her arm under [204] the prostrate girl’s breast, and lifted her up from the bed.

“What is the matter with you, my dear?” she asked.

“Nothing—nothing,” sobbed Anne, trying to hide her cried‐out eyes with her hands.

“Nonsense; nothing!” said Mrs Simson, briskly. “You are unhappy about something, you poor little thing.”

Girls, and especially girls in distress, invariably appeared little to Mrs Simson, even when, like Anne Brown, they overtopped her by a good head.

“Something is the matter with you,” she insisted. “Now just let us see together what it may be;” and she made the reluctant girl sit down by her side on the sofa. “Are you homesick?—do you feel very strange, poor dearie, with strange people?— are you frightened a little by the sudden change in your life?—it’s very natural, my dear little girl, but you’ll get over it soon.”

Anne shook her head. But the impossibility [205] of making Mrs Simson understand what depressed her, sent the sobs once more into her voice.

“No, no,” she said; “oh no, no—you can’t understand. I don’t feel lonely—I don’t feel unhappy—but it’s only because Mr Hamlin—”

“Because Mr Hamlin is going away, my dear?” Mrs Simson smiled as she kissed Anne on the crisp iron‐black hair, for the girl would not loosen her hands from her face—“Because he is going away? That’s very natural too; but it won’t be for long, dearest.”

Anne broke loose from her embrace. “It’s not that! it’s not that!” she sobbed; “please go away—you can’t understand—it’s not that! Oh no, I shall be glad when he be gone away!”

Mrs Simson rose. At first she felt pained, disgusted; but her frigidness melted with the speedy reflection that girls don’t know what the matter is with them in such cases.

“Good‐bye, dear,” she said; “I shall send you up some tea in a few minutes; that will set you all right. But don’t fret because [206] Mr Hamlin is going. You will see him soon again.”

“I shall be glad when he is gone!” repeated Anne, in a paroxysm of grief.

It was not a mere foolish, hysterical falsehood. It was a real relief when, one morning at Frankfurt, Hamlin was standing on the platform of the station, speaking to them at the door of their carriage. The guard came to slam the door.

“Good‐bye, Mrs Simson,” said Hamlin. “Good‐bye, Miss Brown.”

“Good‐bye, sir,” she answered, extending her hand.

He kissed it hurriedly. The door was slammed. The train moved on slowly, and Hamlin walked along its side. Gradually it went quicker and quicker, and Anne Brown saw Hamlin for a minute on the platform; he was pale, but radiant. He waved his hand.

A rivederci !” he cried, waving his hat.

A pillar of the station hid him. Anne turned away from the window and opened a [207] book which he had given her. She read so assiduously all that day, that poor Mrs Simson, who was a sociable woman, resorted, in sheer despair, to talking with the other travellers, who stared in puzzled surprise at the tall girl with the melancholy pale face and masses of crimp black hair who sat opposite her.

When they had got out of the train, rattled over the round stones of Coblenz, and were finally following the obstreperously welcoming cook and housemaid up the stairs of Mrs Simson’s house, Anne felt relieved. And when she had been left alone in her room, she felt a weight off her. When she had taken some things out of her box, she went to the window. The last flare of sunset was on the marblelike brownish‐green swirls of the Rhine; and filaments of reddish gold streaked the sky above Ehrenbreitstein, whose windows gleamed crimson. A steamer was puffing and whistling by the wharf; the trumpets of the rappel shrieked through the streets and were reechoed from the opposite shore. From inside [208] the house rose the sound of a piano; some one was playing Bach’s “Mein gläubiges Herz.”

It was the beginning of a new life. Anne Brown left the window, hung her clothes in the wardrobe, folded her linen in the drawers. Then she took from her trunk a framed photograph of Hamlin, and stuck it on her dressing‐table; he was very handsome, with his straight, keen‐featured, almost beardless Norman face and waves of light hair: she looked at it long. Then she dived to the bottom of her trunk and brought out two little books; the “Petrarch” he had given her at Lucca, and the volume of his own poems. She sat down by the open window and began reading them, and glancing at the redness dying away from river and sky. She felt very solemn and happy.

“I must become worthy of him,” she thought.

[209]

CHAPTER II.

LIFE was monotonous enough at Mrs Simson’s at Coblenz; but it was a kind of monotony which to Anne Brown was positively exciting. It was for her a process of absorption into another class of life; and as such, represented a daily influx of new ideas and habits, a daily surprise, effort, and adjustment. By virtue of her half‐Italian nature, Anne required but little to make her, in education and manners, a lady. With her wide‐open but rather empty mind, her seriousness and dignity of person, extreme simpleness, as the reverse of complexity of character, it was wholly unnecessary that she should unlearn anything, or even that she should absorb anything absolutely new; the only thing was to fill up the magnificent design [210] which already existed in her. No one ever required to say to Anne, “You must not do, or think, or say such or such a thing.” She surprised people only by her timidity, her silence, her passiveness, and by a sort of haughtiness which accompanied them strangely enough; a certain solemn, and, at the same time, abrupt way of judging of things and treating people, and which was the mental counterpart of her look, gait, nay, even of the folds which her dresses took on her. Ignorant though she was, she seemed at her ease with the new culture with which she was presented, just as, for all her habits of waiting on instead of being served, she seemed at ease in her behaviour. But it was difficult for Anne to tune herself or get herself tuned to the pitch of the everyday feelings and life of her companions; she could not understand these young ladies. The girls at Mrs Simson’s did not exceed half‐a‐dozen, and they were none of them schoolgirls in the ordinary sense. They were, like Anne, eccentrically placed young women; orphans, or girls [211] whose parents were in the colonies, or girls who could not get on at home,—girls, all of them, with a certain pretension to superiority, and a great habit of independence, which was fostered by the schoolmistress, whose theory was that women could not possibly be left too much to their own devices.

Mrs Simson was very fond of preaching this gospel of higher education, to the great scandal of the respectable German matrons whom she visited. “Narrow‐minded, vicious creatures,” she used to say, who shook their heads at the young ladies attending public lectures, walking about by themselves, and flirting in the most stalwart and open manner (quite unsentimental and unwomanly, said the Germans) with the Prussian officers. Of these girls two were orphans, and had been sent to Coblenz as a convenient riddance by their guardians; one had been deposited in Europe by her parents, to be called for when educated, and shipped off to New Zealand; one, a huge damsel approaching thirty, was studying eye‐ [212] surgery with a famous Rhenish oculist; the fifth was going to Girton and was studying German; the sixth had found her home too much for her, and was perpetually complaining of the hardness of her fate and the viciousness of her own character, aspiring to impossible ideals of knowledge and usefulness and self‐sacrifice, and spending her leisure making up frocks in which to disport herself at the garrison balls.

Each of them studied whatsoever she thought fit: Greek and Latin professors, piano and singing masters, German governesses, were perpetually going in and out of the house; the girls were continually running to lectures on botany or physiology or comparative philology, where the youth of the town eyed the Schöne Engländerinnen with rapture, sending them anonymous bouquets and verses, and bringing them serenades, and even, to poor Mrs Simson’s horror, slipping love‐letters of the most burning description into the door‐hinges. Among these girls poor Anne would have felt utterly lost, had she not been accustomed for years to be [213] her own sole company, letting her life brush by that of other folk, without ever mixing. It seemed to her quite natural to exchange one kind of isolation for another: to drudge on at improving her own mind as she had formerly drudged on at mending the clothes and making the beds of the little Perrys, interesting herself as little in, and awakening as little interest among, her companions as she had done among her fellow‐servants in Italy. Mrs Simson had received full instructions from Hamlin as to all the things which she was and was not to teach or have taught to his ward; and Anne would have been perfectly satisfied with working for her French and German masters, preparing her lessons of geography and history, and reading such books as Hamlin would send her, but the other girls were not at all so minded.

Anne Brown’s arrival created a tremendous sensation in Mrs Simson’s establishment. Her strange kind of beauty, which did not strike the conventional spectator as being beauty [214] at all, excluding, as it did, fairness, rosiness, youthfulness, daintiness, liveliness, voluptuousness, sentimentalness, or any of the orthodox ingredients of female charm,—her wholly unlike‐everyone‐else appearance, her silence, sullenness, haughtiness, all took the girls by surprise. Her shyness, ignorance, newness in her position, was obvious from the very first day. The knowledge of what she had been and what she was going to be, all this romance was quickly wheedled out of Mrs Simson by the misunderstood little girl who wished to turn sister of mercy, and carried on a simultaneous flirtation with a lieutenant, a Bonn student, a painter, and a piano‐master; and bullied out of her by the bouncing amazon who talked about nothing but retinal impressions and optic nerves. From that moment Anne became a subject of intense interest at the school: most of the girls had heard of Hamlin in England, and all of them had heard of him from the enthusiastic schoolmistress. To possess in their midst his chosen one was a great privilege, [215] although they sometimes made fun of Anne and him behind her back, drawing pictures of the solemn and tragic girl dressed in the most draggled æsthetic manner, surrounded by a circle of young æsthetes copied out of ‘Punch’ (Bunthome did not exist at that time) holding lilies and swinging censers as she went. They all thought Anne a strange, awe‐inspiring, and, at the same time, somewhat ridiculous person; but they all got to like her, although the misunderstood High Church flirt could never be got to see why Anne should despise officers and garrison balls; and the scientific girl of twenty‐eight thought æstheticism and æsthetic poets idiotic and immoral; and each of the others found some reservation to make about the Italian, as they called her. Yet, as I said, they did grow to like her; and Anne, who was unaccustomed to friendliness, was so touched by the familiarity and good‐nature of her companions, that she gradually began to take a great and serious interest in their concerns. She became quite enthusiastic about ocular [216] surgery, listening with scarcely any shudders to the narration of the most complicated operations; she let herself be overwhelmed with discourses about Middle High German and Gothic, and the connection with Sanskrit; she firmly believed in the mystical fervours, the desire of self‐sacrifice, the wasted passion of the little fair‐haired flirt, reasoning seriously about them, and trying to check what she believed to be a suicidal tendency; she was greatly touched by the home‐sickness and family squabbles of the other girls. Not that Anne was a fool, or made to be a dupe; on the contrary, she saw well enough the funniness of the contrasts between her friends’ words and their life; but Anne was so earnest, so simple, so homogeneous of nature, she was so fervent in all her feelings, that she always imagined that the serious things which people said or affected must be the reality; and, as in her own case, the levity, the frivolousness, the fickleness, must be the mere exterior clothing of social fictions. Thus she gave her sympathy wherever it was asked [217] for, while asking for no sympathy herself. The girls used often to remark upon this, and complain that for all they did, Anne Brown remained surrounded by a sort of moral moat, alone, isolated, impregnable in a kind of moral fortress.

[218]

CHAPTER III.

AS Hamlin had fancied, while painting Anne’s portrait, so the girls at Mrs Simson’s used to fancy that there could not be much going on inside this taciturn and undemonstrative creature. But it was not so. While Anne looked so quiet, said so little (and least of all about herself) during those two years of school, a drama—nay, a whole life‐poem—was incessantly going on within her. She worked indefatigably at her lessons, read every book she could lay hold of, was taken to concerts, lectures, burgher tea‐parties and garrison balls, and on excursions up and down the Rhine and into the neighbouring hills; but all this was but as an exterior life surrounding an interior one, as the movement of the ship to the movement of the passengers on its deck.

[219]

The real life was not with these girls and these teachers, but with Hamlin; not in this Rhineland town, but in the distant places where he travelled. He wrote to her very often, from London, from Italy, from Greece and Egypt, and wherever he roamed about. At first she was surprised by the frequency of his letters; then she became accustomed to it as to a necessity of her existence, but a necessity to which she had no right. It seemed to her wonderful that he should write so often, and yet that the time which elapsed between his letters should be intolerable. In her great desire for them she used to have recourse to all manner of unconscious sophistications. She tried to train herself to disappointment, to chastise her own impatience and greediness, saying to herself, on the days when she thought that a letter might come, “It is impossible that there should be one to‐day,” although her heart fell when the prophecy sometimes came true; and she stayed up‐stairs, her eyes pinned to her book, [220] when she heard the postman’s ring at the door, although that ring put her all into a tremble, and made her feel faint when she heard it. Thus with the letters from him. It was almost worse about her own answers. Often she could stand it no longer, and would begin a letter to Hamlin—only a few lines, which might be finished when his next letter should be received. The few lines turned to pages; yet the next day no letter would come, and she was unable to resist the temptation of writing even more; then, when the long‐wished letter at last came, there came with it such a number of new things to say, that her previous epistle must needs be torn up. Also, on re‐reading what she had written in answer to Hamlin, she was often filled with shame and fear. She had entertained him with such trifles, or been so pedantic, or put things in such a horrid way, she must needs tear it up and write once more. Then the length, the frequency of her letters frightened her: he would grow weary and impatient; she tried [221] to write briefly, but failed; she tried to write rarely, making solemn resolutions to let two, three, or four days pass without answering him; but it was not of much use. She was dreadfully afraid lest Hamlin should think her a drag upon him, lest he should write one single letter more than he would naturally have done, from goodness to her. She never told him with what tremulous expectancy she waited for the post; with what heartburn she saw it come empty‐handed; with what avidity she read his letters, re‐read them furtively by snatches, carried them about in her pocket, made them last over days, till she knew them by heart, and, even then, how she was for ever doing up and undoing again the packet in which she kept them: if he knew that, he might feel obliged, being so kind, to write oftener; and that must not be.

Any one who had seen these letters which were her soul’s food, would have been surprised how they could awaken such a longing, how they could produce such emotion and [222] keep alive such passion. In accordance with his whole plan of proceedings, Hamlin never once wrote to Anne as if there were any question of her ever becoming his wife. “My dear Miss Brown,” they all ceremoniously began, and ended off “Yours sincerely,” or “Your sincere friend, Walter Hamlin.” Affectionate they were, and even adoring, in the sense of looking up, or affecting to look up, at her as a sort of superhuman and wonderful creature, not quite conscious of its wonderfulness, perhaps, and certainly not responsible for it; the mental attitude of an artist before a beautiful model, of some Italian medieval poet before a Platonic mistress. There was not much perception of the reality of Anne Brown’s personality, nor indeed of her having any personality at all, being a thing with feelings, thoughts, hopes, interests of her own. Sometimes even poor Anne felt, on reading his letters, as if a lump of ice had been laid on her heart, when she came upon certain sentences; she could scarcely tell you why, but [223] those sentences made her feel numb and alone, like a wrecked sailor at the north pole, for days. Then a reaction came; a burning indignation with herself, a burning adoration of Hamlin. She felt as if she had done him some injury; and once or twice, amid tears of shame, she wrote that she had become unworthy of his friendship—why, she could not well explain. But she tore it all up, or left only dim hints which Hamlin misunderstood, and became more respectful and adoring than ever, imagining that he must have said something to slight her. He really was adoring; it was such a lovely Madonna this, that it seemed to him that all the most beautiful and precious things of his mind, and other men’s minds, must be heaped up before her, like offerings of flowers, and rich ointments, and jewels, and music. He copied out pages of poetry and prose in his letters, and wrote to her the most lovely descriptions of things he saw or things he felt. Whenever he recollected a fine poem, or saw a beautiful scene, [224] or was struck by a beautiful thought or a happy expression, he hastened to offer it to Anne, as the kings of the East offered gold and frankincense and embroidered raiment to the little Christ. That this was the result of his love, she never thought; for she never ventured to think that he condescended, or even would ever condescend, to love her; but it was in her eyes the result of his greatness, his generosity, the largesse, as it were, of his sublimity. About himself Hamlin would also write a great, great deal. Of singularly delicate mental fibre, and somewhat weak will, he was for ever tormented (or pretending to himself to be tormented, for to be so was pretty well a matter of choice) by unattainable ideals, by conflicts in his own nature: mysterious temptations of unspeakable things, beckoning his nobler nature into the mud, which he never at all specified, but which moved Anne to agonies of grief and admiration. The poor girl, not understanding how such things will shoot up in the poetic mind as a result of mere [225] reading, and be nurtured there for a day for the sake of their strange colour, would screw up all her might to help him, writing to him to be patient, to be strong and bold, to remember the nobility of his nature,—strange passionately earnest entreaties written in tears, or in moods like those which send people to the stake; and which, in their ludicrous disproportionateness to their cause, would bring the tears to almost any one’s eyes who should read them.

A strange correspondence; and of which Hamlin’s half, although beautiful with all manner of artistic prettinesses, would have struck one as the less beautiful and interesting part: the suppressed passionateness, unconscious of itself, of the girl’s letters, her mixture of prim literary daintiness, absorbed from her reading, and of homely, tragically‐hurled‐about imagery (Hamlin used, without revealing the author, to read out some of these metaphors of Anne’s to his friends, pointing out their Elizabethan, Webster‐like character), were much [226] more really striking. But Anne thought that what she wrote was unworthy to be seen by Hamlin; his condescension was mere goodness.

Hamlin, indeed, was very good to her—very gentle, courteous, generous, and assiduous. There was scarcely a book read by Anne Brown which was not of his selecting; and even in the midst of his journeys he used to elaborately select things for her reading, cutting out all but a very few pieces out of books of poetry, and copying and pasting into them all manner of extracts. “I should be grieved to think that anything save the very best should ever be read by you,” he often wrote. Thus, in the most singular way, Anne, only a nursemaid a few months before, became more deeply versed in poetry and poetical and picturesque history than most girls; Greek lyrism, Oriental mysticism, French æstheticism, but above all, things medieval and pseudo‐medieval; imbued with the imagery and sentiment of that strange eclectic school of our days which we still call pre‐Raphaelite. And [227] such an education, while putting her in complete harmony with Hamlin’s aspirations and habits, also brought home to her the merit of Hamlin’s own work. Of his pictures, she had, indeed, only vague recollections, besides the little sketches, wonderful jewel‐coloured things, full of poetic suggestion, which he would send her at Christmas and on her birthday, to the amazement of the whole school. But he sent her a good deal of his poetry, and that only of the best. She did not always understand exactly the things to which he alluded, seeing only the beauty, the vague passionate wistfulness, the delicate sadness of what he wrote. His greatness perfectly confounded her. She found allusions to it in everything: in reading of dead poets, of Shelley, Keats, Goethe, a kind of passionate interest thrilled through her, for she seemed to be reading about Hamlin. And the same held good as to artists; they were all his kinsmen, of his blood—nay, they all, in a mystic manner, foreshadowed him.

[228]

Of these matters she never spoke to any of the girls. But often, while walking with them, her pride would swell with the thought that she belonged to him—that he had chosen her. And when the New Zealander, who was musical and had a fine voice, used sometimes to sing Schumann’s song, “Er der herrlichste von allen,” the words and the music sent a flood of love and pride to her heart; it was he, “he the most glorious of all,” who was thus gracious and good to her.

[229]

CHAPTER IV.

THUS one year went by; and then, slowly, another, while Anne Brown was being transformed from a nursemaid into a lady. Hamlin saw her twice during that time. Once, while Mrs Simson and Anne were staying in Paris—for he had begged that her holidays might be spent either in Switzerland, or in some place where she might see pictures and statues—when he suddenly turned up for a day on his way from England to Greece; and once at Coblenz. Mrs Simson was giving a party: suddenly into the parlour, filled with German matrons and damsels, with a sprinkling of professors and soldiers, was introduced a slight, fair man, who looked very young till you saw him closely, and at whose sight that [230] sombre, quiet, strange, half‐Italian girl had suddenly turned crimson, and clutched a chair, as if afraid to fall, while the company stared and whispered. Hamlin left that same evening; and as the day in Paris had been spent in seeing and talking about pictures, so this afternoon passed in trifling conversation at Mrs Simson’s table. Alone, Anne scarcely saw him for an instant. Only, when he left Coblenz, he seized her hand as he stood at the door, and kissed it fervently. It seemed to her, during the long months of absence, that she would give all her life to see him again, to be able to tell him how grateful she was to him. Yet, in reality, his presence passed like the picture of a magic‐lantern on a wall; and she felt as if her lips were glued together: it was a vision, and no more. But on that second visit Hamlin had been dazzled. He had recognised from the first the exotic beauty and strangeness of the Perrys’ servant; he had seen in Paris that his judgment had been correct; but when, after eighteen months of schooling, he [231] suddenly saw Anne again, it was as if he had never seen her before, a fresh revelation. A year and a half of a lady’s life, without bodily fatigue or mental weariness, had developed to the full the girl’s marvellous beauty: strange, mysterious, amazonian it was as ever; but it was as the regalness of a triumphant queen by the side of the queenliness of a deposed Amazon chief. The haughtiness which had struck him in the nursemaid of the little Perrys, was not diminished, but softened, by a kind of quiet graciousness and goodness. Hamlin remarked that she seemed, now that she was no longer humbled and cramped, to have a much kindlier spirit and a sense of humour which had at first seemed scarcely to exist, or to exist only in bitterness. But what struck him most of all was an indefinable change in Anne’s expression: the soul, which had lain as a tiny germ at the bottom of her nature, had expanded and come to the surface. She was as beautiful and singular as ever, but more manifold and subtle: her mind had increased threefold. Hamlin [232] went away, intending that Anne should remain at Coblenz another year. But he found that his patience, hitherto inexhaustible, had suddenly departed. He found the time intolerably heavy on his hands. He travelled about in out‐of‐the‐way countries, having fragmentary love‐affairs, in a dreamy, irresponsible way, with other women; and sending Anne more letters than usual, and presents of all manner of outlandish stuffs—silver ornaments and so forth—which used to create great excitement at the school; but he fretted with impatience. Impatience, be it well understood, not to marry Anne, for he always thought of marriage as the return from, the end of, a sort of spiritual honeymoon; but impatience to commence that long courtship which had, from the beginning, been the object of his desires. He grew tired of their correspondence, found that he had exhausted all the delights of unconsciously revealed love, love budding and developing with the girl’s mind. It began to be mere repetition; and he scarcely knew [233] what to write about now: the prologue had lasted long enough; the piece must begin.

One day, some two years or so after her arrival at Coblenz, Anne Brown received a letter in which Hamlin reminded her that she was twenty‐one, and that his guardianship had consequently come to an end already some months before; and suggested that, as he heard that her education was now completed, at least in so far as Coblenz went, he thought that it might be wiser if she came to England, where she would have better opportunities of continuing any special studies. Moreover, that his aunt, Mrs Macgregor, a widow without any children, was coming to settle in London, and that he thought it might be a good arrangement that she and Anne should live together, as Anne could scarcely take a house by herself. What did Miss Brown think of this arrangement? And would she authorise him to settle everything for Mrs Macgregor and her? Faintly and vaguely Anne thanked him for his forethought, and acquiesced in [234] everything which he might be kind enough to decide upon. She had never realised her situation, she was not the sort of mind which has clear conceptions of the future, and she had been far too much absorbed, these two years, in the unreal present. Besides, Anne felt a confused pain, a disappointment, which prevented her attending to anything else. Hamlin had said nothing about himself, not a word as to whether he also would settle in London, or whether he intended continuing his wandering life. And she had not the courage to ask him. She was conscious of a coldness and emptiness in her heart, of the disappointment of some vague, unspoken hope. But why feel disappointed? or did she really feel disappointed at all? She believed that she cared for Hamlin only as for a benefactor, a divinity, a creature who might bestow affection but could not be asked for it; and this being the case, and knowing herself to have been perfectly satisfied and happy hitherto, [235] she persuaded herself that she really did not feel disappointed about anything, when Hamlin thus wrote about her education and her plans and nothing else.

But as the winter drew to a close, there came another letter from Hamlin (all the intermediate ones had been only the usual talk about himself, and about books and scenery) telling her that, with a view to her living with his aunt, he had, as her ex‐guardian (he always spoke of himself as her guardian, completely ignoring Richard Brown) deemed it wise to employ part of her capital, which had been accumulating in his hands, in the purchase of the lease of a house at Hammersmith, which he was having prepared and furnished against her coming in May. “It is in a pretty neighbourhood, with the river in front and old houses and gardens all round,” he wrote. “What determined my choice, as I am sure it would have determined yours also, is that the house is itself more than a century and a [236] half old, and has some fine trees in the garden. Flowers seem to grow well, as it is pretty well beyond reach of smoke. There are also some fine elms and poplars in front, all along the river‐side, which is old‐fashioned, and .not yet made into a modern embankment. It is rather far from the world; but the world is hideous, and the farther away from it the better, don’t you think? My aunt is busy about the practical household properties; I am getting in some of the more useless furniture. If you should dislike the arrangement, it can all be easily undone. I hope you will not disapprove of this step; the house is pretty well unique, and I had to decide on taking it, unless some one else was to snap it up; otherwise I should certainly have consulted you first. I trust you will forgive me.”

Anne put the letter down, and wondered whether she was dreaming. What was all this about buying and consulting her, employing her capital? What capital had she [237] got? What right to be consulted? For a moment she felt quite bewildered; and then the full consciousness of Hamlin’s goodness rushed out and overwhelmed her, and she let her head fall on her desk and cried for sheer happiness. Then she thought it must all be a dream, and snatched the letter where it lay all crumpled, and smoothed it out trembling. Yes, there it all was. And then, as postscript, came this sentence, which made her heart leap:—

“There are two rooms additional on the garden, having a separate entrance from the embankment, and which I think you will not at present require for yourself. Would you perhaps let me rent them for a studio? My own lodgings are a long way from St John’s House (that is its name, for it was a priory once); but if I had my workshop there, I might hope to see you almost every day, if you would let me.”

The first dinner‐bell rang, and Anne, having hastily washed her eyes and smoothed her [238] hair, ran down‐stairs, not knowing very well why the bell rang, or what it was all about. In the sitting‐room she found the girl from New Zealand, a little nervous creature, whom she had nursed through a bad fever, in her cold, absent way, and who had conceived a shy, intense passion for this beautiful strange creature, who seemed to her an unapproachable being from another world.

“I am going away,” cried Anne—she felt she must say it—“going away from school—to London, next month.”

The thin, nervous, anæmic little girl turned ashy‐white.

“Oh, are you really going?” she exclaimed faintly, for with Anne disappeared all the poor child’s sunshine and ideal from this dreary, worse than orphaned life, among girls who had too many occupations and interests to care for her.

“Are you really going, Annie? . . . Oh, I am so sorry!”

“Sorry?” cried Anne; “it is very nasty [239] of you to be sorry—I am glad; oh, so glad! so glad!”

The little New Zealander had gone to the window, and was looking through its panes at the rainy street; she gave a little suppressed sob.

Anne felt as if she had committed a murder. She ran to the window, and seized the struggling small creature in her powerful arms, and knelt down before her, clasping her round the waist.

“Oh, forgive me! forgive me!” cried Anne, as the consciousness of the girl’s love, which she had never before perceived, came upon her, together with the shame and remorse at her heartlessness; “forgive me, forgive—I am a brute—a beast —oh dear, oh dear, that happiness should make me so wicked!”

The New Zealander smiled and buried her thin yellow face in the masses of Anne’s dark crisp hair.

“Will you remember me sometimes?” she asked; “I love you so much.”

[240]

Anne kissed the poor, pale, tear‐stained cheeks.

“Oh yes, I will always remember you,” she said.

But she was already thinking of Hamlin.

[241]

CHAPTER V.

DURING that last month at school Anne was indefatigable: in the face of the vague future which was so rapidly approaching, she felt bound to clutch hold of the present, thinking that time which was employed in some way went less quickly. The fact was that she was in a state of great excitement—half impatience and half terror; she wished the days to go by quicker, and she wished them to go by slower; she was at once dragged wearisomely, and hurried along. At length it became a question no longer of weeks but of days. And then came another letter from Hamlin. He remembered the desire she had once expressed to go down the Rhine, to be on the sea: he proposed that she should come through Belgium and cross from Antwerp to [242] London. “I am sure you will enjoy it much more than the vile, vulgar, usual route,” he wrote. But he did not tell her that he was unwilling she should get any impressions of England before meeting him, however slight they might be; that he preferred to meet her, in the evening, on the Thames wharf, to receiving his Amazon Queen, his mysterious and tragic Madonna, rather than in the shed at Victoria or Charing Cross. Anne did not care how she was to go: she was to go, to embark on a new life, to see him, to be seen by him. This thought, which had never struck her before, began to haunt her now: if he should be disgusted with her? if he should recognise that he had been mistaken in his choice?

The morning before her departure, Mrs Sireson handed Anne a letter at breakfast.

“Mr Hamlin has sent a girl to fetch you, dear,” she said.

“To fetch me?” cried Anne, in astonishment.

[243]

Mrs Simson opened the door—“Pray, come in,” she said.

A young woman entered, whose immaculate smartness and cheerful alertness never would have let one guess that she had just been travelling twenty‐four hours.

“This is Miss Brown,” said Mrs Simson. The girl curtsied, and waited for Miss Brown to speak. But Anne could not utter a word.

“Mrs Macgregor, Mr Hamlin’s aunt, engaged me as your travelling‐maid, miss,” said the young woman, handing a note to Anne.

It was from Hamlin, and ran briefly—

“MY DEAR MISS BROWN,—My aunt is unfortunately too delicate to admit of my asking her to fetch you from Coblenz; but she has engaged the bearer to be your maid, unless you have some previous. choice at Coblenz, in which case, please forgive our interference. She is highly recommended, and seems a good girl, and accustomed to travel. She will telegraph me how you are from Cologne and Antwerp [244]. I shall await you Thursday evening on the wharf. Till then, farewell.—Your sincere and impatient friend,

“WALTER HAMLIN.”

For some unaccountable reason Anne felt quite angry. She did not require any one to travel with her; she did not want a maid. The very word maid seemed to bring up her whole past.

“You had better go and rest yourself,” she said to the girl coldly.

“How sweet and considerate!” said Mrs Simson, reading Hamlin’s note.

“I don’t want a maid!” cried Anne, angrily.

“A young lady of your age cannot travel alone, my dear,” answered Mrs Simson, blandly. But Anne felt miserable, she knew not why, and hated the maid.

Presently she went up to her room to pack her trunk. On opening the door she discovered the maid—her maid—on her knees, emptying [245] the chest of drawers, and folding thing after thing.

“Please don’t do that!” cried Anne, turning purple. “I will do it myself, please.”

The girl stared politely, and answered in a subdued, respectfully chiding tone—

“I was only packing your trunk, miss.”

“I will do it myself!” cried Anne, excitedly.

“As you wish, madam,” was the maid’s icy answer; and she rose.

“Can I do nothing for you?” she said, standing by the door, with a reproachful, prim little face.

Anne was ashamed.

“You can help me if you like,” she answered, rather humbled; and she began folding her things. But the girl was much quicker than she, and Anne soon remained with nothing to do, looking on vacantly. She felt as if she would give worlds to get the girl away; she felt as if she ought to say to her, “Don’t do that for me; I am not a real lady; I am no better than you; I am a servant, a maid, myself [246],”—and as if every moment of silence were a kind of deceit. At last she could bear it no longer—

“Please,” she cried, “let me pack my things myself; I have always packed them myself; I should be so glad if you would let me.”

The girl rose and retired.

“As you like, miss,” she replied, fixing her eyes on Anne’s strange excited face.

“She knows I am only a servant like herself, and she thinks me proud and ungrateful,” thought Anne.

The next evening, among the lamentations of Mrs Simson’s establishment, Anne Brown set off for Cologne. This first short scrap of journey moved her very much: when the train puffed out of the station, and the familiar faces were hidden by outhouses and locomotives, the sense of embarking on unknown waters rushed upon Anne; and when, that evening, her maid bade her good night at the hotel at Cologne, offering to brush her hair and help her to undress, she was seized with intolerable homesickness [247] for the school,—the little room she had just left,—and she would have implored any one to take her back. But the next days she felt quite different: the excitement of novelty kept her up, and almost made it seem as if all these new things were quite habitual; for there is nothing stranger than the way in which excitement settles one in novel positions, and familiarises one with the unfamiliar. Seeing a lot of sights on the way, and knowing that a lot more remained to be seen, it was as if there were nothing beyond these three or four days—as if the journey would have no end; that an end there must be, and what that end meant seemed a thing impossible to realise. She scarcely began to realise it when the ship began slowly to move from the wharf at Antwerp; when she walked up and down the deserted and darkened deck watching the widening river under the clear blue spring night, lit only by a ripple of moonlight, widening mysteriously out of sight, bounded only by the shore‐lights, with here or there the [248] white or blue or red light of some ship, and its long curl of smoke, making you suddenly conscious that close by was another huge moving thing, more human creatures in this solitude,—till at last all was mere moonlight‐permeated mist of sky and sea. And only as the next day—as the boat cut slowly through the hazy, calm sea—was drawing to its close, did Anne begin to feel at all excited. At first, as she sat on deck, the water, the smoke, the thrill of the boat, the people walking np and down, the children wandering about among the piles of rope, and leaning over the ship’s sides—all these things seemed the only reality. But later, as they got higher up in the Thames, and the unwonted English sunshine became dimmer, a strange excitement arose in Anne—an excitement more physical than mental, which, with every movement of the boat, made her heart beat faster and faster, till it seemed as if it must burst, and a lot of smaller hearts to start up and throb all over her body, tighter and tighter, till she had to press her [249] hand to her chest, and sit down gasping on a bench.

The afternoon was drawing to a close, and the river had narrowed; all around were rows of wharves and groups of ships; the men began to tug at the ropes. They were in the great city. The light grew fainter, and the starlight mingled with the dull smoke‐grey of London; all about were the sad grey outlines of the old houses on the wharves, the water grey and the sky also, with only a faint storm‐red where the sun had set. The rigging, interwoven against the sky, was grey also; the brownish sail of some nearer boat, the dull red sides of some steamer hard by, the only colour. The ship began to slacken speed and to turn, great puffs and pants of the engine running through its fibres; the sailors began to halloo, the people around to collect their luggage: they were getting alongside of the wharf. Anne felt the maid throw a shawl round her; heard her voice, as if from a great distance, saying, “There’s Mr Hamlin, miss;” felt herself walking [250] along as if in a dream; and as if in a dream a figure come up and take her hand, and slip her arm through his, and she knew herself to be standing on the wharf, in the twilight, the breeze blowing in her face, all the people jostling and shouting around her. Then a voice said—“I fear you must be very tired, Miss Brown.” It was at once so familiar and so strange that it made her start; the dream seemed dispelled. She was in reality, and Hamlin was really by her side.

[251]

BOOK IV.

[253]

CHAPTER I.

IT is sad to think how little even the most fervently loving among us are able to reproduce, to keep within recollection, the reality of the absent beloved; certain as we seem to be, living as appears the phantom which we have cherished, we yet always find, on the day of meeting, that the loved person is different from the simulacrum which we have carried in our hearts. As Anne Brown sat in the carriage which was carrying her to her new home, the feeling which was strongest in her was, not joy to see Hamlin again, nor fear at entering on this new phase of existence, but a recurring shock of surprise at the voice which was speaking to her, the voice which she now recognised as that of the real Hamlin, but [254] which was so undefinably different from the voice which had haunted her throughout those months of absence. Hamlin was seated by her side, the maid opposite. The carriage drove quickly through a network of dark streets, and then, on, on, along miles of embankment. It was a beautiful spring night, and the mists and fogs which hung over river and town were soaked with moonlight, turned into a pale‐blue luminous haze, starred with the yellow specks of gas, broken into, here and there, by the yellow sheen from some open hall‐door or lit windows of a party‐giving house: out of the faint blueness emerged the unsubstantial outlines of things—bushes, and overhanging tree‐branches, and distant spectral towers and belfries.

“You must be very tired,” said Hamlin.

“Oh no,” answered Anne, that repeated revelation of the real voice still startling her—“ not at all.”

He asked her how she had left those at Coblenz, and about her journey; she had to [255] tell him about every picture and church she had seen at Cologne, Brussels, Bruges, and Antwerp. It is strange how people whose hearts have seemed full to bursting with things they have so long been waiting to say, will talk, when they meet again, like persons introduced for the first time at a dinner‐party. On they rolled, and on, through the pale moonlight mist by the river.

“I hope,” said Hamlin, when they had done discussing Van Eyck, and Rubens, and Memling—“I hope you will like the house and the way I have had it arranged; and,” he added, “I hope you will like my aunt. She is rather misanthropic, but it is only on the surface.”

His aunt! Anne had forgotten all about her; and her heart sank within her as the carriage at last drew up in front of some garden railings. The house door was thrown open, and a stream of yellow light flooded the strip of garden and the railings. Hamlin gave Anne his arm; the maid followed. A [256] woman‐servant was holding the door open, and raising a lamp above her. Anne bent her head, feeling that she was being scrutinised. She walked speechless, leaning on Hamlin’s arm, and those steps seemed to her endless. It was all very strange and wonderful. Her step was muffled in thick, dark carpets; all about, the walls of the narrow passage were covered with tapestries, and here and there came a gleam of brass or a sheen of dim mirror under the subdued light of some sort of Eastern lamp, which hung, with yellow sheen of metal discs and tassels, from the ceiling. Thus up the narrow carpeted and tapestried stairs, and into a large dim room, with strange‐looking things all about. Some red embers sent a crimson flicker over the carpet; by the tall fireplace was a table with a shaded lamp, and at it was seated a tall, slender woman, with the figure of a young girl, but whose face, when Anne saw it, was parched and hollowed out, and surrounded by grey hair.

[257]

“This is Miss Brown, Aunt Claudia,” said Hamlin.

The old lady rose, advanced, and kissed Anne frigidly on both cheeks.

“I am glad to see you, my dear,” she said, in a tone which was neither cold nor insincere, but simply and utterly indifferent.

Anne sat down. There was a moment’s silence, and she felt the old lady’s eyes upon her, and felt that Hamlin was looking at his aunt, as much as to say, “Well, what do you think of her?” and she shrank into herself.

“You have had a bad passage, doubtless,” said Mrs Macgregor after a moment, vaguely and dreamily.

“Oh no,” answered Anne, faintly, “not at all bad, thank you.”

“So much the better,” went on the old lady, absently. “Ring for some tea, Walter.”

Hamlin rang. In a moment tea‐things were brought. Hamlin handed a cup to Anne, and offered her some cake.

“It is a long drive,” said Mrs Macgregor— [258] “a long drive—all the way from Charing Cross.”

“Miss Brown came by the Antwerp boat—St Catherine’s Wharf—in the City, aunt,” corrected Hamlin.

“Ah, yes, to be sure—perhaps she would like some more milk in her tea. There is always such a delay at Charing Cross, isn’t there, Walter?”

But while Mrs Macgregor’s mind and words seemed to ramble vaguely about, her eyes were fixed upon Anne—large, melancholy dark eyes.

“You are glad to be back in London, aren’t you?” she asked.

“This is the first time I am in England,” answered Anne, shyly; all this dim room, with its vague sense of beautiful things all round, this absent‐minded lady, all seemed to harmonise with her own dreamlike sensations.

“Miss Brown was born in Italy,” explained Hamlin, probably for the hundredth time.

“Oh yes, of course; how stupid I am! And, [259] Walter, there are some letters for you on the hall table, and Mr Chough came while you were out, and a man from—what’s his name—the upholsterer who writes poetry.”

“All right,” interrupted Hamlin.

“Won’t you have another cup, Margaret?” asked Mrs Macgregor.

“Her name is Anne, auntie—”

“Of course—I don’t know whether you take sugar in your tea or not, Rachel.”

Thus they went on for another half‐hour; Mrs Macgregor calling Anne by one wrong name after another, alluding to things which she could not possibly know anything about, and Hamlin trying to set matters right and induce Anne to talk.

“It is getting late,” he said, “and I fear Miss Brown must be tired after her long journey. I think you had better not keep her up any longer, aunt.”

“I am not tired,” protested Anne.

“You will be tired to‐morrow,” said the old lady.

[260]

“Yes,” added Hamlin, “and I must go. Good‐bye, aunt. Good night, Miss Brown; I hope you will have good dreams to welcome you home to England. I shall come in for lunch to‐morrow, Aunt Claudia. Good night. Good night, Miss Brown,” and he kissed her hand. “Good night, buon riposo e sogni felici.

The few words of Italian almost brought the tears to Anne’s eyes; she felt so strange here, so far from everything—and yet what had she left behind? nothing, and no one who loved her, except that little girl from New Zealand. She felt terribly alone in the world.

Hamlin had evidently not trusted to his aunt to send Anne to bed, for the maid came in uncalled, and asked whether Miss Brown would not like to go up to her room.

“Of course,” said Mrs Macgregor; and taking a heavy old‐fashioned silver candlestick, she led Anne to her room. The poor girl was too weary and dazed to see what it was like. She sank on to a chair, and [261] passively let the maid take off her hat and cloak.

“Shall I undress you, ma’am?” she asked.

Anne shook her head. “No, thanks.”

The girl retired, but Mrs Macgregor remained standing by Anne’s side, looking at the reflection in the glass of her pale, sad, tired face. “Undo your hair, Eliza dear,” said Mrs Macgregor.

Anne mechanically pulled out the hair‐pins, and the masses of iron‐black crisp hair fell over her shoulders.

The old lady looked at her for a moment.

“You are a beautiful girl, Anne,” she said, at last hitting the right name, “and,” she added, with a curious compassionate look, as she kissed the girl’s forehead, “are you really in love with Watty?”

Anne did not answer; but she felt herself redden.

“Marriage without love is a terrible thing,” said the old lady, “and in so far love is a mitigation of evil; but at the best it is only [262] delusion. People must marry, but it is the misfortune of their lives. Good night, my dear.”

The words went on in Anne’s head, but she was too worn out to understand them. She soon fell asleep, and dreamed that Melton Perry had painted a picture, and that in a storm the ship’s crew said it must be used as a raft; and somehow it all took place at Florence, in the large pond in the Boboli Gardens.

[263]

CHAPTER II.

ANNE BROWN awoke with a vague sense of gladness, but no very clear notion of where she was. Then it came upon her that this was Hamlin’s house, that she would actually see him again in a few hours; for it was as if she had not seen him at all the previous evening. The sun was streaming through the blinds, filling the room with a yellowish light; from without came a sound of leaves, of twittering birds, and the plash of the steamer‐paddles in the river. Anne looked round her and wondered. She had never seen such a room as this in her life: the wails were all panelled white, except where the panelling was interrupted by expanses of pale‐yellow chintz; the furniture also was of old‐fashioned chintz; the [264] mirror was like what she had seen in the illustrations to an old copy of ‘Sir Charles Grandison’ which had belonged to Miss Curzon; the tapered chairs and tables to match. There were blue‐and‐white jars and pots all about, and old‐fashioned china things on the dressing‐table: except for the fac‐similes of drawings by Mantegna and Botticelli, and the coloured copies of famous Italian pictures which dotted the walls, the room might have been untouched since the days of the first Georges. She remembered that Hamlin had told her that the house was an old one; but she could not understand how everything came to look so very spick and span and new. She got up and went to the window. Below, in the little garden, was a lilac‐tree bursting into flower, and a yellow laburnum. A milkman’s cart was drawn up before the door. In front were the trees, in tender leaf, and the wooden parapet of the river‐walk; then the Thames, still wide, but so different from what she had seen it the previous evening: a clear grey stream [265] reflecting green banks and cloudy blue sky, with here and there a barge or boat moored by the shore. The sky was blue, but covered with moist clouds, and it seemed to Anne that she could almost see where it arose on the horizon, so low did it seem. There was a scent of recent rain in the air, a shimmer of moisture on the leaves and grass. Was this London, which she had always fancied so noisy, and grimy, and vulgarly new?

Anne was already half dressed; but she spent some time wondering which of her frocks she should put on: they had been made expressly for London, and greatly admired by the girls at Coblenz, but now one looked more absurd and frumpish than the other. At last she put on a sort of greyish‐blue tweed, such as were then worn on the Continent, and having looked at herself rather anxiously in the glass, she opened her door and hesitatingly went out into the passage. All was perfectly quiet as she went down the carpeted stairs, wondering at the tapestry and brazen wrought shields and [266] plaster casts and curious weapons which covered its walls; she could hear only the ticking of the old clock, which stood in its tall inlaid case in the hall. After the bustle of girls and servants at the Coblenz school, and the hundred and one noises of screeching well‐pulleys, whirring buckets, whistling starlings, singing and chattering servants, clattering crockery, which greet the early riser in an Italian house,—this silence seemed to her almost eerie, and she wandered about over the noiseless floors like the knight in the palace of the sleeping beauty. She found her way into the drawing‐room, where she had been received the previous evening; there was another next to it, and a kind of little library beyond. It was, indeed, an enchanted palace; the walls were all hung with pictures and drawings, and pieces of precious embroidery, and burnished oriental plates, and the floors spread with oriental carpets and matting, which gave out a faint, drowsy, sweet scent. The curious furniture was covered with old brocade and embroidery, [267] and in all corners, on brackets and tables and in cabinets, were all manner of wonderful glass and china, and strange ivory and inlaid Japanese toys. There were flowers, also, about everywhere, and palms in the windows. In the library were more books than Anne had almost ever seen; and in the chief drawing‐room a beautiful grand piano, not made like those of our days, but with slight straight legs and a yellow case painted with faded‐looking flowers. Anne looked at everything with astonishment and awe: it was like the rooms in Walter Crane’s fairy books, with their inlaid chests and brocade couches, and majolica vases full of peacocks’ feathers.

It took her a long time to take it all in. She stole to the piano, opened it gently, and played the accompaniment of a song of Carissimi’s, which Hamlin was fond of, but inaudibly, without letting her fingers press down the keys. Then she looked at everything once more. She was beginning to get familiarised with the pictures on the wall; the pale, delicate [268] bits of landscape; the deep‐coloured pictures of ladies in wonderful jewel‐like robes, with mysterious landscapes behind them; the drawings of strange, beautiful, emaciated, cruel‐looking creatures, men or women, with wicked lips and combed‐out locks,—all these things, which were like so many points of interrogation—when the door opened and the maid appeared.

“I have been looking for you everywhere, miss,” she said. “I thought, as you didn’t answer when I knocked, that you must still be asleep, so I carried your tea down again. Mrs Macgregor is going to have breakfast now, and says, would you mind having it in her room with her, miss, as she never goes down till lunch?”

Anne followed the servant to Mrs Macgregor’s room, where she found the old lady in her dressing‐gown, before a table spread with eighteenth‐century china, or what to Anne seemed such.

“What an hour you do get up at, Charlotte!”[] said Mrs Macgregor, kissing Anne on both cheeks. “We never think of getting up [269] here before half‐past nine. Walter never comes in till luncheon‐time, because he has so far to come, and is up so late every night. Turn round; let me see what you look like this morning.”

And Mrs Macgregor made Anne turn round slowly. She looked at her approvingly.

“You’re a handsome girl, certainly,” she said; “not the style that used to be admired in my time,”—and she smiled with the faint smile of an old belle,—“girls had to be slight, and fair, and with little features then. But you’re just what they like now. I’m thankful at least that Walter has not brought home a bag of bones like the other beauties of his set. Loveliness in decay, that’s what I call their style; but you look a good flesh‐and‐blood girl.”

Anne did not know what to answer; she poured herself out a cup of tea in silence, and vaguely ate some bread and butter. The old lady was good‐natured, garrulous, flighty; but yet, beneath the shiftiness of her exterior, there seemed to be something real, something [270] sad and bitter, when you looked at her thin drawn mouth and melancholy eyes.

“That’s a pretty frock you have on, my dear,” she pursued, “and I think it very becoming. But you’ll see that Watty won’t like it. He’s quite the—what do you call it?—medieval sort of thing,—no stays, and no petticoats, and slashings, and tags and boot‐laces in the sleeves, and a yard of draggled train—that sort of thing. Oh, you’ll find it a queer world, the world of Watty’s friends. Do you ever see ‘Punch’? That’s the sort of thing. They’re all great beauties and great painters and great poets, every man and woman of them. Wait till you see little Chough and young Posthlethwaite (I forget his real name). Ah, well, it’s perhaps better, after all, this kind of fooling, and masquerading, and writing verses about things people would horsewhip a man for saying in prose; it’s perhaps better, after all, for Watty, than the sort of life which we led when he was young”—and Mrs Macgregor became suddenly very silent.

[271]

After breakfast Anne was free until luncheon‐time, as Mrs Macgregor proceeded to lie down on her sofa and read Leigh Hunt’s ‘Religion of the Heart,’ or Fox’s ‘Religious Ideas,’ which Anne saw lying on her table. Hamlin’s aunt had evidently been an esprit fort in her youth, and possessed in her bedroom a whole library of what were once deemed literary firebrands, but might nowadays be described as mild, old‐fashioned free‐thinking literature. Anne roamed about the drawing‐room once more, looking again and again at the pictures, and opening the books, as people do in a strange house, before they can settle down. She timidly also opened the piano, but shut it again after a minute. Then she took a volume of Jean Paul out of a shelf, and carried it up into her room. Finding it too dull to read, and with an irritating sense that she ought to be doing something definite, she wrote a letter to Mrs Simson, and one to the little New Zealander. She felt so much like a fish out of water that Coblenz seemed more than her [272] birthplace, and the people there more than mother and sisters. At last she heard one o’clock strike, and soon after there came a knock at the house‐door, and running to the window she saw Hamlin standing on the doorstep. She withdrew her head quickly, and went down to meet him.

He was more respectful than ever,—asked her how she had slept, and what she thought of the house.

“It’s lovely,” said Anne, “and it is so nice having everything old about one.”

“Everything old?” asked Hamlin.

“Yes; all the hangings, and chairs, and tables, and mirrors, are of the time of the building of the house, aren’t they?”

“Oh goodness, no,” answered Hamlin, sadly; “I only wish they were. They’re bran‐new, every stick of them. Everybody has them now; nobody makes anything except imitation old‐world things.”

“Why don’t they try and make something good and new—something out of their own [273] heads, as the old workmen did?” asked Anne, looking with wonder upon these new things which seemed so old.

“There is nothing to nourish art nowadays,” said Hamlin, seating himself opposite her and looking her full in the face as he used to do long ago at the studio in Florence. “Art can’t live where life is trivial and aimless and hideous. We can only pick up the broken fragments of the past and blunderingly set them together.”

“But why should the life of to‐day be trivial and aimless and hideous?” asked Anne, a vague remembrance of things which she had heard her father say years ago about progress and modern achievements returning to her mind as it had never done when, in the letters which he used to write to her at Coblenz, Hamlin had said before what he was saying now.

“I don’t know why it should be,” replied Hamlin, “but so it is.”

“Can’t we prevent it?” asked Anne, scarcely thinking of what she was saying; conscious [274] only that she was really once more in his presence.

Hamlin shook his head sadly.

“Why cannot we revive those?” he said, pointing to a bunch of delicate pale‐pink roses, which drooped withered in a Venetian glass. “What is dead is dead. The only thing that remains for us late comers to do is to pick up the faded petals and keep them, discoloured as they are, to scent our lives. The world is getting uglier and uglier outside us; we must, out of the materials bequeathed to us by former generations, and with the help of our own fancy, build for ourselves a little world within the world, a world of beauty, where we may live with our friends and keep alive whatever small sense of beauty and nobility still remains to us, that it may not get utterly lost, and those who come after us may not be in a wilderness of sordid sights and sordid feelings. Ours is not the mission of the poets and artists of former days; it is humbler, sadder, but equally necessary.”

“Oh, but you must not say that!” cried [275] Anne. “What you do will last, don’t you know, like the things which people were able to do formerly.”

Hamlin shook his head, and remained for some time with his beautiful greenish‐blue eyes fixed on Anne, as she sat twisting and untwisting the fringe on the arm of her chair.

“There is one consolation, Miss Brown,” said Hamlin, rising from his chair and leaning against the chimney‐piece, all covered with Japanese cups and curious nick‐nacks, and not taking his eyes off her, “and that is, that even now, Nature, which is so barren of painters and poets, can produce creatures as wonderful as those who inspired the painters and poets of former times—a consolation, and at the same time a source of despair.”

Hamlin spoke these lover‐like words in a tone so cold, so sad, that Anne did not at first understand to whom he was alluding, and looked up rather in interrogation than in embarrassment.

A bell rang. “There’s lunch,” said Hamlin. “We must finish our discussion afterwards.”

[276]

CHAPTER III.

WON’T you take her out for a drive, Walter?” asked Mrs Macgregor, after lunch. “She must be curious to see something of London.”

Hamlin looked at Anne, as much as to say, “Do you really wish to go?”

“I am sure Miss Brown is too tired from her journey, aunt,” he said; “and what is there to take her to see in this beastly city?”

“I thought we might have a brougham and take her to see a few of your friends, Walter,” suggested Mrs Macgregor.

Poor Anne felt a sort of horror go all down her.

“Oh, please don’t!” she cried—“not to‐day; don’t take me to see any one, please.”

“It’s much wiser to let her rest,” said Hamlin, in a tone of annoyance.

[277]

“Won’t you just take the poor girl to Mrs Argiropoulo’s, Watty?” insisted his aunt. “It’s a sin to keep her mewed up at Hammersmith all day; and you know Mrs Argiropoulo was so anxious to see her at once.”

“Confound Mrs Argiropoulo!” exclaimed Hamlin. “I beg your pardon, Miss Brown, but do you feel inclined, after your long journey, to go and see a fat, fashionable lion‐huntress, with a snob of a husband who sells currants?”

“Not at all,” answered Anne, laughing. “I would much rather stay at home, really.”

“Very well; then I will show you the garden and my studio, if you don’t mind; and a great friend of mine, Cosmo Chough,—I think I sent you some of his poems about music. . . .”

“Oh yes,” cried Anne; “they are lovely—”

“I think little Chough’s poems perfectly indecent,” interrupted Mrs Macgregor. “I would much sooner let a girl read ‘Don Juan,’ or even ‘Candide,’ any day.”

[278]

Hamlin reddened, but laughed.

“Opinions differ; at any rate, Miss Brown knows only Chough’s best things; and when he is at his best, Chough is really very good and pure and elevated.”

“Ah, well,” merely remarked Mrs Macgregor.

“Cosmo Chough said he would look in about four,” went on Hamlin. “He is a strange creature, and sometimes says odd things.”

“Very odd things,” put in his aunt.

“But he is as pure‐minded a man as I know, and a real poet,” went on Hamlin—“indeed quite one of the best; and he is a great musician, and a most entertaining fellow—his only weakness is that he is a great republican and democrat, but would like to be thought the son of a duke.”

“The son of a duke? ” asked Anne, in surprise.

“Oh, the natural son, of course—forgive me, my dear,” said Mrs Macgregor. “People nowadays like anything illegitimate—it’s a [279] distinction. It wasn’t in my day, but things have changed; and Mr Cosmo Chough would dearly like to be thought a bastard, especially a duke’s.”

Hamlin smiled.

“Poor Chough! Some one told him he was like Richard Savage one day, and that’s his pose. Would you like to come into the garden, Miss Brown?”

They went together into the strip of garden which lay behind the house. There were not many flowers out as yet, only a few peonies and lilacs, and a belated tulip or hyacinth, but there was green, daisied grass, and big grey‐mossed apple‐trees still in blossom; and across the low walls, covered with creepers, you saw big waving tree‐branches, and old brick houses covered with ivy: the birds were singing, and some hens clucking next door. It was very quiet and old‐world. Hamlin showed her all the rose‐buds which might soon come out, and the place where the lilies would be, and the espaliers for the sweet‐peas. Then [280] they went into the two ground‐floor rooms which he was arranging for his studio: there were quantities of beautiful rare books and volumes of prints, and Persian and Japanese and old Italian metal‐work,and pottery all about, and easels with unfinished pictures evcrywhere—a great and beautiful confusion.

When he had showed her his properties, and she had reverently handled the things which had once belonged to Shelley and Keats, and the bundles of unpublished manuscripts, entrusted to Hamlin by living poets, they sat down in the studio and began to discuss various matters: Anne’s school life, her readings and lessons, Hamlin’s work, art, poetry, life, all sorts of things,—a long and drowsy afternoon’s talk, such as is possible only after a long correspondence between people become familiar without much personal intercourse, who, knowing each other’s mind, are now beginning to know each other’s face and ways and heart; and which has a charm quite peculiar to itself, like that of hearing [281] for the first time, with full symphony of voices and instruments, some piece of music which we have learned to know and love merely from the dry score.

Anne had never felt so happy in all her life, and Hamlin not often happier in his, as they sat in the studio, talking over abstract questions, which seemed to acquire such a quite personal interest from those who were discussing them.

They were thus engaged when the servant announced Mr Cosmo Chough.

Anne’s heart sank at the thought of confronting one of Hamlin’s most intimate friends, and one of the poets who constituted the stars of his solar system. To Anne’s surprise Mr Chough did not at all resemble either Shelley or Keats, as she imagined; he was a little wiry man, with fiercely brushed coal‐black hair and whiskers, dressed within an inch of his life, but in a style of fashionableness, booted and cravated, which was quite peculiar to himself.

[282]

“Miss Brown,” said Hamlin, “let me introduce my old friend, Cosmo Chough.”

Mr Chough made a most fascinating bow, and swooped gracefully to the other end of the studio to fetch himself a chair near Anne’s. He was quite touchingly concerned in Anne’s journey and her sensations after it; and asked her whether she liked London, with a sort of expansive chivalry of manner, as of Sir Walter Raleigh spreading embroidered cloaks across puddles for Queen Elizabeth, which struck her as rather ridiculous, but very agreeable, as she had rather anticipated being scorned by Hamlin’s poetical friends. Anne thought Mr. Chough decidedly nice, with his oriental style of politeness, and magnificent volubility, constantly quoting poetry in various languages in a shrill and chirpy voice; moreover, he seemed to adore Hamlin, and this was enough to put him in her good graces. Mr Chough rapidly informed her what the principal poets in London and Paris (for he spoke of French things with an affectation [283] of throaty accent and allusions to his “real country” which greatly puzzled Anne) were writing; and Anne felt so completely taken into confidence that she ventured to ask him whether he was himself writing anything at present, as she had greatly admired some short pieces of his which Hamlin had sent her.

Mr Chough was as modest as he was polite. His eyes shone, and he clasped his small hands in ecstasy at the idea of anything of his having pleased Miss Brown. He then proceeded to tell her that he had an idea for a long poem—a sort of masque or mystery‐play—to be called the Triumph of Womanhood.

“We were trying over some of Jomelli’s music a night or two ago, at Isaac the great composer’s,” he explained; “magnificent music, which no one can sing nowadays, and we feebly crowed, when in the midst of the great burst of the “Gloria” I seemed to have revealed to me a vision of a mystic procession of women going in triumph; I understood, [284] in a sort of flash, the mysterious and real regalness of Womanhood.”

“It must have been very beautiful,” said Anne, naively.

Mr Chough had opened the piano, and began playing, in a masterly way, a fragment of very intricate fugue.

“Do you notice that?” he asked: “that sudden modulation there—ta ta ti, la la la—from A minor to E major,—that somehow mysteriously brought home to me one of the figures of that triumphal procession, and her I have tried to describe. If you like, I can repeat you the first few lines; it is called ‘Imperia of Rome.’”

“How good of you,” cried Anne.

“I think we had better put off hearing it till you have composed rather more of the poem,” interrupted Hamlin.

Cosmo Chough looked mortified, and Anne wondered why Hamlin should silence his old friend.

“Tell me all about Imperia of Rome,” she [285] asked. “Who was she?—had she anything to do with the Scipios, or Cato, or Tarquin?”

“Imperia was not an ancient Roman,” explained Chough; “she lived at the beginning of the sixteenth century, and it is said that all the cardinals and poets and artists of Rome, nay, the Pope himself, accompanied her coffin when she died.”

“Why, what had she done?—was she a saint?”

“The inscription on her tomb is, I think, the most truly noble and Roman ever composed on any woman,” proceeded Chough; “Imperia . . .”

“Miss Brown doesn’t understand Latin, Cosmo,” interrupted Hamlin, roughly, “and I am sure she would take no interest in Imperia or her epitaph. Supposing you let Miss Brown hear some of that beautiful Jomelli Mass you were speaking about. Chough is one of the finest musicians I know,” he explained to Anne, “and he is quite famous [286] for singing all sorts of forgotten old Italian masters.”

Chough sat down and began to sing, in a warbling falsetto, but with the most marvellous old‐world grace and finish.

Anne did not attend. She was wondering about Imperia of Rome. Why had Hamlin cut short Chough? What had Imperia done? The remarks of Mrs Macgregor came to her mind; and she felt indignant, and her indignation was all the greater, perhaps, because Chough’s offence was vague and unknown—how nobly and simply Hamlin had silenced him! She wondered whether he was very angry with Chough, and whether Chough’s feelings had been much hurt. She felt rather sorry for the sharp way in which he had been treated, and terrified lest she should be a source of misunderstanding between Hamlin and his friends. She greatly praised Chough’s singing.

“Will you sing?” cried the little poet, supplicatingly; “you must have a beautiful [287] voice. I know it from your way of speaking.”

Anne refused in terror.

“Do sing, Miss Brown,” urged Hamlin. So she took her courage with both hands, as she expressed it, and sang an air by Scarlatti, Chough accompanying. She made several false starts, and sang the wrong words almost throughout, for she felt a lump in her chest. Anne had a deep, powerful, rather guttural voice, not improved by singing modern German songs at Coblenz; but the voice was fine, and she had caught something of the manner of her former protectress, Miss Curzon, who had been a great singer in her day.

Chough burst out into applause.

“A splendid voice!” he cried; “you must sing, Miss Brown—you must study—I will come and practise your accompaniments for you, if you will permit me.”

Anne looked at Hamlin; such an offer, on so slight an acquaintance, surprised her.

“You will let Chough teach you, won’t you, [288] Miss Brown?” asked Hamlin, approvingly. He afterwards told her that Chough spent whatever leisure remained from an inferior Government offce, in which, together with a whole band of other poets, he was employed, in playing accompaniments for various young ladies whom he considered, each singly, the most divine types of womanhood whom he had ever met.

Chough was in high spirits, and proceeded to display to Anne two or three relics which he carried on his person. A fervent though not very orthodox Catholic, he was prone to religious mysticism: on his watch‐chain hung a gold cross, containing a bit of wood from St Theresa’s house, which a friend had brought him from Spain; by its side dangled a large locket, enclosing a wisp of yellow hair.

“It is a lock of Lucretia Borgia’s,” he said, displaying it with as much unction as he had manifested for St Theresa—“a bit of the one which Byron possessed,—the most precious thing I have in all the world.”

[289]

“She was rather an insignificant character though, on the whole, wasn’t she?” remarked Anne, not knowing what to say,—“a sort of characterless villain, the Germans say.”

Cosmo Chough was indignant.

“Insignificant!” he cried—“ a Borgia insignificant! Why, her blood ran with evil as the Pactolus does with gold. All women that have ever been, except Sappho and Vittoria Accoramboni, and perhaps Faustina, were lifeless shadows by her side . . .”

“I don’t believe in those sort of women having been very remarkable,” said Anne, in her frank, stolid way, “except for disreputableness.”

“But that is just it,—that which you call disreputableness, my dear Miss Brown,” cried Chough, “therein is their greatness, in that fiery . . .”

Anne shook her head contemptuously.

“I daresay great women have often committed great crimes,” she said; “but then they have had great plans and ambitions; they [290] have not been mere wretched slaves of passion;” and she relapsed into silence.

She had had what Hamlin used to call her Amazon or Valkyr expression as she spoke; and he felt, as he had felt in Florence, the persuasion that this proud and sombre woman must have in her future some great decision, some great sacrifice of others or of herself.

While they were talking, the servant entered to tell Miss Brown that Mrs Argiropoulo was in the drawing‐room with Mrs Macgregor.

“Confound Mrs Argiropoulo!” exclaimed Hamlin between his teeth, “to come intruding so soon.”

“Is that the lion‐hunting lady?” asked Anne.

“Yes; I suppose you must receive her, as she has called on you.”

“Called on me?” repeated Anne in amazement; “you mean on Mrs Macgregor. Why, how should she have heard of me?”

“All London has heard of you, Miss Brown,” exclaimed Chough enthusiastically, as he opened the door for her; “at least all that deserves [291] to be called London. And Mrs Argiropoulo said last night at Wendell the R.A.’s, that she was determined to see you before any other creature in town. You see I have gained a march upon her.”

Anne did not answer, but she grew purple. So every one was curious to see this nursery‐maid whom the great Hamlin had cast his eyes on, and whom he had generously educated; for the first time her heart burst with indignation and ruffled pride. But after a moment, as she sat in the drawing‐room, after frigidly returning the fat and fashionable lion‐huntress’s affectionate greeting, her conscience smote her: who was she, that she should feel thus? if she did depend entirely on Hamlin’s generosity, ought she not to be grateful merely, and proud? and if his friends felt curious to see her, was it not natural, he being what he was; and had she a right to feel annoyed at their curiosity, at their knowing all about her? It had been mean and unworthy. Yet she could not help feeling a sort of vague anger [292] at she knew not what, as the lady chattered away, in glib Greek‐English, about poets, and studios, and dinner‐parties; and she answered Mrs Argiropoulo only in monosyllables.

“You must let me take your ward into society a little, dear Mrs Macgregor,” lisped the Greek lady, “for I know you hate going out of an evening. Miss Brown must meet some of the principal persons of our set.”

She was very fat, very good‐natured, and extremely vulgar‐looking, her huge body encased in a medieval dress of flaming gold brocade. “What in the world can she have to do among artists and poets?” thought Anne.

“Her husband is in the currant‐trade,” whispered Chough—“an awful old noodle, but he buys more pictures of our school than any one else. Their house is a perfect wonder.”

“My aunt is going to ask a few friends to meet Miss Brown first here,” answered Hamlin; “perhaps you will join them, Mrs Argiropoulo. There’s plenty of time to think of party‐going.”

[293]

“Very good, very good,” answered Mrs Argiropoulo; “meanwhile perhaps I may have the pleasure of taking Miss Brown out for a drive once or twice.”

“I am sure she will be delighted,” said Hamlin.

“I hate that woman!” exclaimed Hamlin, as he returned from escorting the wife of the currant‐dealer to the door; “an odious, inquisitive, vulgar brute.”

“She looks good‐natured, I think,” insinuated Anne.

“Oh, every one’s good‐natured!”

“In your set, Watty?” asked Mrs Macgregor, bitterly.

“Every one’s good‐natured!” continued Hamlin, throwing himself back in his chair; “and so’s Mrs Argiropoulo. But a kind of grain that sets my nerves off. That’s the misfortune of London, that a lot of vulgar creatures, merely because they buy our pictures and give dinners, have come and invaded our set, showing us, like so many wild beasts, to [294] the fashionable world. Positively, I shall have to give up London. But you will find,” he added, turning to Anne, “one or two houses still remaining where one meets only superior people—the houses where artistic life really goes on.”

“Upon whipped cream and Swiss champagne,” said Mrs Macgregor—“what one might call the real, genuine, four hundred a‐year intellectual world. Ah, well, Walter! you needn’t look reproachful; but it is droll what sort of people you have come to associate with—clerks and penny‐a‐liners, each of them a great poet.”

Hamlin merely smiled. “One must make a world for one’s self,” he said, and looked at Anne.

When Mr Cosmo Chough had taken his seat next to Mrs Argiropoulo, the portly lady deluged him with questions and replies as her landau rolled away.

“On the whole, I’m quite as well pleased not to take her out at once,” she said. “I’m [295] not at all so sure about her. She seems to me too big and lumpish and healthy‐looking. I should like to have one or two opinions first—one or two artists’, and young Posthlethwaite’s, and little O’Reilly’s—of course, they’ll see her at old Smith’s, or Mrs Saunders’s, or some such house—and all depends on their verdict.”

“I know what mine is,” cried little Chough, enthusiastically—“that she is the divinest woman, in the cold, imperial style, with a latent and strange smouldering passion, that I ever set eyes on. And as to that flabby elephant Posthlethwaite, and that little hop, skip, and jump of an impudent jackanapes O’Reilly, I wonder how you can think their opinion worth having, or, indeed, their presence supportable.”

At this grand winding up Mrs Argiropoulo laughed loudly.

“I know you don’t like those young men,” she said. “Posthlethwaite’s your rival, they say; he writes even more improper things [296] than you do; and you can’t forgive Thaddy O’Reilly calling your poems the loves of the cannibals. Oh, I know you poets! Now, shall I drive you home? What’s your address?”

This was an old joke, for Mr Cosmo Chough always surrounded his dwelling‐place with mystery, and had his letters addressed to his office.

“Pray don’t inconvenience yourself,” he said in a stately way; “set me down at the corner of Park Lane. I shall walk home in less than a minute from there.”

“To the corner of Park Lane,” ordered Mrs Argiropoulo of her footman, who knew, as well as his mistress and every other creature in what they called London, that Mr Cosmo Chough lived in a secluded terrace in Canonbury.

[297]

CHAPTER IV.

ANNE BROWN found that Hamlin, or, as he studiously put it, Mrs Macgregor, had made several engagements for her before her arrival; and before she could thoroughly realise that the school, the journey from Coblenz, were things of the past, she found herself being led about, passively, half unconsciously, through the mazes of æsthetic London. It was all very hazy: Anne was informed that this and that person was coming to dinner or lunch at Hammersmith; that this or that person hoped she would come and dine or take tea somewhere or other; that such or such a lady was going to take her to see some one or other’s studio, or to introduce her at some other person’s house. She knew that they were all [298] either distinguished poets, or critics, or painters, or musicians, or distinguished relations and friends of the above; that they all received her as if they had heard of her from their earliest infancy; that they pressed her to have tea, and strawberries, and claret‐cup, and cakes, and asked her what she thought of this picture or that poem; that they lived in grim, smut‐engrained houses in Bloomsbury, or rose‐grown cottages at Hampstead, with just the same sort of weird furniture, partly Japanese, partly Queen Anne, partly medieval; with blue‐and‐white china and embroidered chasubles stuck upon the walls if they were rich, and twopenny screens and ninepenny pots if they were poor, but with no further differences; and, finally, that they were all intimately acquainted, and spoke of each other as being, or just having missed being, the most brilliant or promising specimens of whatever they happened to be.

At first Anne felt very shy and puzzled; but after a few days the very vagueness which [299] she felt about all these men and women, these artists, critics, poets, and relatives, who were perpetually reappearing as on a merry‐go‐round,—nay, the very cloudiness as to the identity of these familiar faces—the very confusion as to whether they were one, two, or three different individuals,—produced in Miss Brown an indifference, an ease, almost a familiarity, like that which we may experience towards the vague, unindividual company met on a steamer or at a hotel.

And little by little, out of this crowd of people who seemed to look, and to dress, and to talk very much alike,—venerable bearded men, who were the heads of great schools of painting, or poetry, or criticism, or were the papas of great offspring; elderly, quaintly dressed ladies, who were somebody’s wife, or mother, or sister; youngish men, with manners at once exotically courteous, and curiously free and easy, in velveteen coats and mustard‐coloured shooting‐jackets or elegiac‐looking dress‐coats, all rising in poetry, or art, or [300] criticism; young ladies, varying from sixteen to six‐and‐thirty, with hair cut like medieval pages, or tousled like mœnads, or tucked away under caps like eighteenth‐century housekeepers, habited in limp and stayless garments, picturesque and economical, with Japanese chintzes for brocade, and flannel instead of stamped velvets—most of which young ladies appeared at one period, past, present, or future, to own a connection with the Slade school, and all of whom, when not poets or painters themselves, were the belongings of some such, or madly in love with the great sonneteer such a one, or the great colourist such another;—out of all this confusion there began gradually to detach themselves and assume consistency in Anne’s mind one or two personalities, some of whom attracted, and some of whom repelled her, as we shall see further on; but to all these people, vague or distinct, attractive or repulsive, Miss Brown felt a kind of gratitude—something, in an infinitesimal degree, of the thankfulness for undeserved kindness and courtesy which [301] constituted a large part of her love for Hamlin.

It was a curious state of things, thus to be introduced by a man whom she knew at once so much and so little, to this exclusive and esoteric sort of people; and whenever the thought would come upon her how completely and utterly she, the daughter of the dockyard workman of Spezia, the former servant of the little Perrys, was foreign to all this, it made her feel alone and giddy, like one standing on a rock and watching the waters below.

Such was the condition of things when one morning, about three weeks after Anne’s arrival, Hamlin put upon the luncheon‐table a note addressed to Miss Brown.

“It’s an invitation to Mrs Argiropoulo’s big party on the twenty‐seventh,” he said; “you must go, Miss Brown. She’s an awful being herself; but you’ll see all the most interesting people in London at her house. Edith Spencer or Miss Pringle can take you, if Aunt Claudia feel too tired.”

[302]

“Aunt Claudia always feels too tired,” answered Mrs Macgregor, in a bitter little tone. Anne could not quite understand this amiable and cynical old lady, who was at once devotedly attached to her nephew, and perpetually railing at his friends. A fear seized her lest, in her vague, almost somnambulic introduction into æsthetic society, she might have unconsciously neglected the woman who, proud of her birth as she was, requested this workman’s daughter to address and consider her as her aunt.

“Oh, won’t you go?” cried Anne; “won’t you go, Mrs Macgregor?”

“The fact is,” hesitated Hamlin, “that—you see—Mrs Argiropoulo invites comparatively few people, and—”

“That she wants only celebrities, or great folk, or pretty girls,” interrupted Aunt Claudia, with her friendly cynicism, “or, as she expresses it, that she wants no padding. So you must go with Mrs Spencer or Miss Pringle, my dear.”

[303]

“But it is abominable; it is most rude of Mrs Argiropoulo; and I certainly won’t go anywhere where Aunt Claudia has not been invited.”

“Nonsense, Nan,” silenced the old lady; “you’re not up to this lion‐hunting world yet. Where there are so many geniuses on the loose, and so many professed beauties, there are no chairs for old women, except countesses or school board managers.”

“But since you think Mrs Argiropoulo hateful,” persisted Anne, addressing Hamlin, “why should you wish me to go? You know I would much rather not; and I think, considering her rudeness to your aunt, you ought not to wish me to go.”

“As you choose, Miss Brown,” cried Hamlin, peevishly.

“Don’t be absurd, Anne—you must go,” insisted Mrs Macgregor. “Listen: Watty has actually been addling his brains doing dressmaking; he has invented a dress for you to go to the party, so you will break his heart if you refuse.”

[304]

Anne looked in amazement; and Hamlin reddened.

“I hope you will not deem it a liberty on my part, Miss Brown,” he said; “but as I knew that this invitation was coming, I ventured to make a sketch of the sort of dress which I think would become you, and to give it to a woman who has made dresses from artists’ directions; of course, if you don’t think it pretty, you won’t dream of putting it on. But I could not resist the temptation.”

Miss Brown scarcely knew what to say or feel: there was in her a moment’s humiliation at being so completely Hamlin’s property as to warrant this; then she felt grateful and ashamed of her ingratitude.

“If you had shown me the sketch, I daresay I could have made up the dress myself,” she said.

“I fear my sketch might not have been very intelligible to any one who had not experience of making such things.”

“Perhaps not,” answered Anne, thinking of [305] all the dresses for Miss Curzon and the little Perrys which she had made in her day. “It was very good of you, Mr Hamlin.”

“What an idiot I was to let the cat out of the bag!” exclaimed Mrs Macgregor when her nephew was out of hearing. “I’ve spoilt your pleasure in the frock; and there’s Walter sulking because he thinks you won’t like it.”

“I am very ungrateful,” said Anne, sighing as she stooped over her book, and feeling all the same that she wished Hamlin would let her make up her dresses herself.

A few days later the dressmaker came to try on the dress, or rather (perhaps because Hamlin did not wish Anne to see it before it was finished) its linings and a small amount of the Greek stuff of which it was made; but it was not till the very afternoon of Mrs Argiropoulo’s party that the costume was brought home finished. Miss Brown was by this time tolerably accustomed to the eccentric garb of æsthetic circles, and she firmly believed that it was the only one which a self‐respecting [306] woman might wear; but when she saw the dress which Hamlin had designed for her, she could not help shrinking back in dismay. It was of that Cretan silk, not much thicker than muslin, which is woven in minute wrinkles of palest yellowy white; it was made, it seemed to her, more like a night‐gown than anything else, shapeless and yet clinging with large and small folds, and creases like those of damp sculptor’s drapery, or the garments of Mantegna’s women.

“I must get out a long petticoat,” said Anne, appalled.

“Oh please, ma’am, no,” cried the dressmaker. “On no account an additional petticoat—it would ruin the whole effect. On the contrary, you ought to remove one of those you have on, because like this the dress can’t cling properly.”

“I won’t have it cling,” cried Miss Brown, resolutely. “I will let alone the extra petticoat, but that’s as much as I will do.”

“As you please, ma’am,” answered the [307] woman, and continued adjusting the limp garment with the maid’s assistance.

Anne walked to the mirror. She was almost terrified at the figure which met her. That colossal woman, with wrinkled drapery clinging to her in half‐antique, half‐medieval guise,—that great solemn, theatrical creature, could that be herself?

“I think,” she said in despair, “that there’s something very odd about it, Mrs Perkins. It looks somehow all wrong. Are you sure that something hasn’t got unstitched?”

“No indeed, madam,” answered the dressmaker, ruffled in her dignity. “I have exactly followed the design; and,” she added, with crushing effect, “as it’s I who execute the most difficult designs for the Lyceum, I think I may say that it could not be made differently.”

The Lyceum! Anne felt half petrified. What! Hamlin was having her rigged out by a stage dressmaker!

“Mr Hamlin is down‐stairs, Miss Brown,” [308] hesitated the maid, as Anne bade her help her out of this mass of limp stuff. “He said he would wait to see you after the dressmaker had left, if you had no objection.”

“Watty wants to see you in your new frock, my dear,” said Mrs Macgregor, putting her head in at the door. “Come along.”

Anne followed down‐stairs, gathering all that uncanny white crape about her. For the first time she felt a dull anger against Hamlin.

He met her in the dim drawing‐room.

“My hair isn’t done yet,” was all Miss Brown could say, tousling it with her hands.

“Leave it like that—oh, do leave it like that!” exclaimed Hamlin; “you can’t think how”—and he paused and looked at her, where she stood before him, stooping her massive head sullenly—“you can’t think how beautiful you look, Anne!”

It was the first time he had called her by her Christian name since that scene, long ago, in the studio at Florence.

“Forgive me, dear Miss Brown,” he apologised [309]. “I knew how such a dress must suit you, and yet it has given me quite a shock to see you in it.”

“It was very kind of you to have it made for me,” said Anne, “and the stuff is very pretty also; and—and I am so glad you like me in it.”

Hamlin kissed her hand. He was more than usually handsome, and looked very happy.

“Thank you,” he said; “I must now go home and dress for that stupid dinner‐party. I will meet you at Mrs Argiropoulo’s at half‐past ten or eleven. I suppose Edith Spencer will call for you soon after dinner. Good‐bye.”

He looked at her with a kind of fervour, and left the room.

Anne sat down. Why did that dress make such a difference to him? Why did he care so much more for her because she had it on? Did he care for her only as a sort of live picture? she thought bitterly. But, after all, it was quite natural on his part to be pleased, since he had invented the dress. And it was [310] very good of him to have thought of her at all. And thus, in a state of enjoyable repentance, she awaited the hour to go to Mrs Argiropoulo.

Mrs Spencer, a very lovable and laughable little woman, whose soul was divided between her babies and fierce rancours against all enemies of pre‐Raphaelitism, hereditary, in virtue of her father, Andrew Saunders, in her family, came punctually, marvellously attired in grey cashmere medieval garments, a garland of parsley and gilt oak‐leaves in her handsome red hair. On seeing Anne, who stood awaiting her by the fireplace, she could not repress an exclamation of admiration.

“Yes,” answered Anne, unaccustomed to have her looks admired at Florence and at Coblenz; “it is a very wonderful costume, isn’t it? Mr Hamlin designed it for me. I think it was so kind of him; don’t you?”

“Kind? I see nothing kind about it. Walter” (she always spoke of him thus familiarly, because he had worked as a youth in [311] her father’s studio) “is simply head over ears in love with you, my dear.”

Anne shook her head.

“Oh no,” she answered, with a sort of reasoned conviction, “he is merely very good to me, that’s all—and perhaps he likes me also, of course. But that’s all.”

“You know nothing of the world, Annie; and still less of Walter. He has never in his life been fond of any one except when in love. I’ve not known him these fifteen years for nothing.”

“I think you are mistaken,” said Anne, quietly.

“I think you are not aware, my dear girl, that you are the most beautiful woman Walter has ever seen.”

BOOK IV.
(Continued)
MISS BROWN.

[1]

CHAPTER V.

MISS BROWN felt very excited as the brougham drew up at Mrs Argiropoulo’s, and they entered her large house, blazing with lights and crammed with flowers. She followed Mrs Spencer timidly up‐stairs; but the men who crowded the landing never guessed that this majestic and imperturbable creature could possibly be nervous. At the top of the stairs, receiving her guests, an occupation (called seeing a few friends) which excluded her from her own drawing‐room the best part of the evening, was Mrs Argiropoulo, gorgeous in old lace and diamonds, and withal excessively vulgar.

[2]

“I am so glad to see you, dear Miss Brown,” she exclaimed to Anne’s astonishment, despatching the other comers with a mere frigid handshake. “I do think it is so good of you to come.”

“I wanted to come.”

“You are such a darling,” went on the fat Greek lady. “Come along—I have kept seats for you and Mrs Spencer for the recitation. Dear old Gosselin is going to recite for us—he is staying with us. I beg your pardon”—this last remark was addressed to a compact crowd of ladies and gentlemen on the threshold of the largest reception‐room, into which the lady of the house summarily elbowed her way.

“Follow me,” she whispered, as Anne, bewildered among the lights and noise, tried to pick her way over the trailing skirts, and every one turned to stare as she passed—“Here, Euphrosyne”—perceiving one of her big bouncing daughters in the crowd—“I want to introduce you to Miss Brown. Do [3] keep that chair to the left for the Duchess of Orkney—mind.”

The spacious drawing‐room was filled, as for a theatrical performance, with rows of chairs, wellnigh occupied already. Into the very first of these Mrs Argiropoulo led Anne and Mrs Spencer.

“Sit down,” she whispered. “I do hope you’ll enjoy yourself, Miss Brown. You’ll hear Gosselin beautifully here. Oh dear, there’s the dear Marchioness of Epsom; goodbye”—and she whirled off her portly person.

“Goodness!” whispered Mrs Spencer, “old Argey has actually put us into the best places!”

Anne looked round. In front was a vacant space, with an open piano, and some chairs in a corner facing the company. All round and behind were chairs, and only a little gangway remained leading to the piano, next to where Mrs Argiropoulo had placed Anne. She had never seen such a crowd of magnificently and oddly dressed people in her life. Old ladies in velvet and diamonds, [4] young ones in Worth toilets, or weirdly attired in lank robes and draperies, with garlands of lilies or turbans, or strings of sequins in their disorderly locks.

“I scarcely know any one here,” said Mrs Spencer, looking round like a rapid little bird, “except one or two artists—there are three or four R.A.’s—horrible creatures, to think the public is so wickedly infatuate as to buy their pictures! Will Englishmen ever have any poetic feeling in art? Papa would rather die than be an Academician. There’s little Thaddy O’Reilly—horrid little jackanapes—in the door. That old flat‐faced man is Lord Durrant, the critic. All the frumpy people with the diamonds must be peeresses, I’m sure. There’s Cosmo Chough just come in,—they’re all looking about for somebody or other. There’s Browning talking to old Argiropoulo. Oh, here’s little Thaddy! How do you do, Mr O’Reilly?”

Mr O’Reilly, a callow critic who united æstheticism with frivolity, bowed, and cast [5] curious glances at Anne. For a moment she felt horribly ungrateful about the dress. She was sure that little O’Reilly was thinking that it was a night‐gown.

“Who’s the lion to‐night?” asked Mrs Spencer.

Mr O’Reilly fixed his eyes on Anne, and answered languidly, with a faint smile—

“Why, how can you ask, Mrs Spencer? Have we not all been invited expressly to meet Monsieur Gosselin and his charming friends, the ladies from the French comedy? No one comes to see lions or lionesses here, it is much too intellectual for that.”

“Do tell me who is the lion of to‐night,” asked Mrs Spencer, laughing.

“Haven’t I told you that there never are lions here? only an occasional man of genius, shipped over fresh, between petroleum tins and sewing‐machines, from America, may stray in in top‐boots and a red flannel shirt—or it so happens that a beautiful woman is first noticed here—or Victor Hugo walks in [6] quite casually to tea—or the ghost of Byron mistakes this for Westminster Abbey. Oh, no lions, never. Besides, here is Monsieur Gosselin, and here is Mademoiselle Meringue and Madame Gauffre just come in. You see, Miss Brown, how perfectly true it is that we are to meet them. They are taking their place behind the piano. Yes, that is Madame Gauffre with the diamond butterfly. You perceive how we are to have the pleasure of making their acquaintance. Do you remark the vacant space round the piano? Miss Euphrosyne Argiropoulo and her sister are alone privileged to enter it, and the waiters also, to talk to Monsieur Gosselin and his fair comrades, and offer them refreshments. It is what I call a moral cordon sanitaire, separating these artistes from the highly respectable company all round.”

“How horrible!” said Anne; “and do they pay them to be insulted like that?”

“Pay them? oh, never. The Argiropoulos are far too delicate for that. Monsieur [7] Gosselin and mesdames of the comedy are intimate friends of the house: they have been dining here, and they are so kind as to recite a piece or two to Mrs Argiropoulo’s guests. Let me see—what’s he going to recite—ah—‘Un Beignet.’ That will be delicious.”

Gosselin had come forward, his opera‐hat in his hand, and begun to recite. It was a very delightful performance, and Anne enjoyed it greatly. Besides, it was a great relief to find that this entertainment was a performance, and not as she had dreaded, a series of introductions and conversations with celebrities. There was a dead silence during Gosselin’s recitation, except near the door, where people kept pressing in and out. When he had ceased, Anne looked round. She was surprised at the aspect of many of the company. They had evidently not been listening at all, but looking about, straining to see some one in the front rows. In a minute the little gangway leading to the piano was crowded.

[8]

Posthlethwaite, whom she had met several times before, was elbowing his unwieldy person—a Japanese lily bobbing out of the button‐hole of his ancestral dress‐coat—towards her. He had scarcely begun a description of a picture which he had just seen, representing “Aphrodite tripping with pink little feet across the dimpled sea sands,” when Mrs Argiropoulo came up with several gentlemen about her, whom she began rapidly to introduce to Anne: two of them were famous painters; one a well‐known sculptor; another was an aristocratic drawing‐room novelist; the fifth a man of fashion. They all stood in the gangway around Anne’s chair, while Posthlethwaite, who was not the person to be ousted, propped his elephantine person against the end of the piano, and leaning down his flabby flat‐cheeked face and mop of tow, continued conversing with Miss Brown, regardless of the new‐comers, who exchanged smiles as they listened to him with much more amused attention than they had listened to [9] Gosselin. Anne was very bewildered; and as she answered the remarks of the party surrounding her, she became aware that the people behind were all looking in her direction—looking, doubtless, at Gosselin and his ladies behind the piano, or at Posthlethwaite. For a moment Anne turned round, wondering whether she should see Hamlin. But instead of Hamlin, her eyes met a face as familiar as his—a dark, rather snub face, with bushy black beard and hair, which emerged high above the heads of a knot of literary and political celebrities. She started imperceptibly, but turned away, and looked towards the piano, where Madame Gauffre had begun to recite, her plump little black figure standing out against the moonlight flooding through the window, in strange contrast to the yellow light of the room, in which dimly loomed the tops of trees and the towers of Westminster. Could it be her cousin Dick? Anne rarely mistook people’s faces, and least of all was it possible for her to mistake [10] Richard Brown’s, though she had not seen him since that morning in Florence. But what should Richard be doing here, in this fashionable party? It was evidently a mere accidental resemblance, but it brought up a painful train of thought. Anne had once or twice written to her cousin and guardian from school, in a formal cold way, and he had let her know that he had become a partner in the military foundry, and had changed his address. She had got a vague idea that he was now rich. But she had not yet let him know of her arrival in England, and she felt ungrateful and rather ashamed, for, after all, he had always wished her well, and had been her playfellow. If he should have thought that she was ashamed of him? Heaven knows that was not her feeling, but she felt against Richard Brown a vague, instinctive aversion, as to something insulting and degrading to herself. She determined, however, to write to him the very next day.

With a shrill exclamation and a pert curtsy, [11] Madame Gauffre, who was reciting the part of a schoolgirl of fifteen, suddenly came to an end.

“How do you do, Annie?” said a voice behind her.

She turned round. It was Richard Brown.

“I saw you as soon as I came in,” he said, calmly pushing aside the astonished Posthlethwaite, “but I have only now been able to make my way here. How do you like Madame Gauffre? don’t you think she’s delightful? or rather, I ought to ask, how do you like London?”

The voice was always that same deep one, which, when lowered to a whisper, had something curiously hot and passionate about it; but the accent and the easy worldly manner seemed as if they could not belong to Richard Brown.

“Who the deuce is that fellow?” asked Posthlethwaite angrily of Mrs Spencer.

I don’t know—I’ve never seen him. Do you know, Mr O’Reilly, who that big black man is, that has just come up to Miss Brown. Not one of our set, that’s certain.”

[12]

“Oh Lord, no!” answered the little journalist. “You don’t read newspapers in your set, do you?”

“We always read the ‘Athenæum,’” answered Mrs Spencer, seriously.

“Newspapers are Cimmerian inventions,” said Posthlethwaite. “I’m a republican, red, incarnadine, a démocrate for Robespierre; but I never take up a paper, except to see which of my friends have left town.”

Thaddy O’Reilly laughed. “Oh, well, you won’t find Education Brown in the ‘Athenæum,’ Mrs Spencer—a mere barbarian, Goth, Philistine, but well known in Philistia. He’s a tremendous Radical, goes in for disestablishment, secular teaching; an awful fellow for obligatory education and paupers; he’ll be in Parliament some day soon, for he’s backed by all the black trade.”

“Surely it is very easy to feed paupers, as people used to, don’t you know, in Chaucer?” said Mrs Spencer, simply and seriously.

[13]

Young O’Reilly went into an inaudible but convulsive giggle.

“Anyhow, that’s Brown—‘Peace by Expensive Warfare Brown’ we call him. Look at him; he’s a force in his world, as your father is in yours.”

“I wish he’d keep in his own coal‐cinders,” retorted Posthlethwaite. “What business has he to talk to—”

“By Jove!” exclaimed O’Reilly, “it never struck me,—Anne Brown—Richard Brown,—perhaps they’re relations!”

“What do you think of her?” whispered Mrs Argiropoulo to the little knot of artists whom she had assembled.

Posthlethwaite, as usual, answered for the company.

“’Tis the body of a goddess; we must give it the soul of a woman.”

“That’s Hamlin’s look‐out,” answered Paints, the R.A.

“Why, what’s become of him?” they all asked. “Surely he was to be here.”

[14]

“Oh, be sure he’s lurking around here,” answered O’Reilly; “of course he keeps in the background—enjoys his triumph from afar. You don’t sit in front of your own picture on the first Academy day, do you, Paints?”

“Mr Posthlethwaite, will you take Miss Brown in to supper?” cried Mrs Argiropoulo, who was working up and down the crowd.

Richard Brown had already given Anne his arm.

“That can’t be,” cried Mrs Argiropoulo. “Mr Posthlethwaite must take you in, dear. Dear Mr Brown, will you take in my daughter?”

“Good‐bye, Annie,” whispered Richard Brown. “I will come and see you to‐morrow.” And he let his cousin be borne away in triumph by Posthlethwaite.

“Of course, Mr Posthlethwaite must take in Miss Brown,” explained Mrs Argiropoulo to Mrs Spencer; “he’s the most conspicuous man, after all; and, as it were, it stamps her at once. By the way, two R.A.’s, Paints and [15] Smeers, have already said that they would like to paint her.”

“Walter Hamlin will never let her be painted by an R.A.,” answered Mrs Spencer, fiercely; “and Annie has far too much artistic feeling to endure such a thing. Why, Mr Bones has been drawing her for the last week, and papa made a crayon of her.”

As Anne passed through the crowd on Posthlethwaite’s arm every one turned to look at her. And then it suddenly flashed upon her that she was the person people had been staring at, she was the lion of the evening—she, the servant whom the great poet‐painter had adopted. Every one was looking at her; she felt horribly alone, numb, unreal.

At that moment Hamlin came up.

“Have you amused yourself?” he asked. “Why, what’s the matter? do you feel ill?”

“Only very tired. Oh, why didn’t you turn up before?” Anne’s voice was so wretched and supplicating that Hamlin felt quite terrified.

[16]

“Where’s Mrs Spencer?” he asked. “It must be that hot room. Edith, do take Miss Brown home, she looks so awfully tired.”

“Permit me to take you down‐stairs,” said the mellifluous fat voice of Posthlethwaite.

“I will take Miss Brown down myself, if you please, Posthlethwaite;” and Hamlin pushed the prince of æsthetes roughly aside.

“Why did you not show yourself the whole evening?” asked Anne feebly, while he was helping her on with her cloak.

“Why—because—I thought I had no right to monopolise you always,” answered Hamlin in a whisper.

When the two women were alone in the brougham, Anne could stand it no longer; and leaning her head in the corner, she began to cry.

“Why, what’s the matter, Annie?” cried Mrs Spencer, drawing her close to her. “What’s the matter, my dear girl?”

“Nothing—nothing,” answered Anne, wiping her eyes. “I suppose it is because I am so worn‐out—so—”

[17]

“It’s that vile, ostentatious party,” replied the little woman, half in consolation, half in pride—“mere stupid crushes—no real society, as we have it. And I do think it is so disgusting of Mrs Argiropoulo to make all the people stare at you as if you were a burlesque actress. Oh, I know that set of lion‐hunting, purse‐proud, would‐be artistic people. They would have your photograph in all the shop‐windows at once, and Royal Highnesses to meet you. Papa and I always wonder that Walter hasn’t cut all those horrid sycophants before. You know that it’s only artists and poets of our school who will ever appreciate you really, although the others would hawk you about as a sort of professional beauty.”

[18]

CHAPTER VI.

THE sudden discovery that she was the standard beauty of the most prominent artistic set, and accepted as such by the rest of society, would have greatly disturbed almost any woman. But Anne Brown’s nature was too completely homogeneous—too completely without the innumerable strata, and abysses, and peaks, and winding ways of modern women’s characters—for her to experience any of the mixed feelings of pride, and disgust, and humiliation, and general uncomfortablehess which would have been the lot of a more complex nature. The atoms of her character were not easily shaken into new patterns: it was coherent, and, like most coherent things, difficult to upset, slow to move, and quick to settle down.

[19]

After the first shock of surprise, she resigned herself, without doubts, or diffidence, or elation, to her new place. That she was more beautiful than other women had indeed never occurred to her before; but once that it had been proved to her she accepted it as a fact, as she had accepted as a fact the still stranger news that Hamlin had singled her out to change her life and love her. She did not take it at all as a merit or any other exciting thing in herself: the only effect which it had upon her was to strengthen a curious feeling, constitutional in her, and resulting probably from the very coherence and weightiness of her character, that she was fated to be or do something different from other women—a sort of sense of tragic passiveness, which always formed the background of her happiness. Moreover, the discovery which she had made at Mrs Argiropoulo’s somehow made Anne’s position more intelligible and simple to herself. She had heard of other men who had educated and married girls of the lower orders on account [20] of their beauty. Hamlin’s behaviour was now no longer a mystery to her; and the absence of mystery served merely, to Anne’s quite unromantic, practically passionate, half‐southern temper, to make Hamlin’s nobleness and goodness more obvious to her. She had the curious Italian capacity for feeling an ideal passion—a passion which was merely a sublimated form of friendship and admiration—for a real personality; and her instinctive desire was merely to get nearer that real personality. But much as she tried, the reality of Hamlin seemed to escape and baffle her: he was a complex man, and she a homogeneous woman; and as she could not see Hamlin well in detail, she loved him in the very simple and broad outlines which she was able to comprehend.

Now that she had settled down in æsthetic society, and found her place, and got to understand the main points of things, she was quite ideally happy. Her life was very full, and was surrounded by a flood of love,—on her side or on Hamlin’s? She scarcely knew; but she [21] knew that she was happy. By this time the round of sight‐seeing, play‐going, excursions, and introductions, was over; her life had subsided into the normal. Its object, she felt, as one feels a wholesome and agreeable desire for food or sleep, was to make herself as worthy as possible of Hamlin, or rather to let him find in her the best possible bargain. She worked very hard at all the things which the school had left incomplete,—at what, living in that æsthetic society, seemed to her the solid requisites of life. She read history and biography and poetry, with the determination with which other girls, anticipating marriage, might study manuals of domestic economy; and she worked at developing her taste in art and music as others might have practised cooking or dressmaking; for these were the things which would be requisite in Hamlin’s spiritual household. The people around her, the men and women of Hamlin’s set, seemed to her as necessary, as inevitable, as normal as the trees and houses all round. Some of them [22] she liked, and some she disliked; but their ideas, though sometimes absurd caricatures, and their tempers, though often intolerable, seemed to Anne quite natural and proper in the main, though rendered ridiculous or disagreeable in individuals. Indeed she got rather to believe in imperfect individuals,—being thus constantly either made cross by the touchiness, the morbidness, the disgusting fleshliness, the intolerance of the æsthetes around her, or made to laugh by their affectations, their vanity, their inconsistency, their grotesque manias of wickedness and mysticism—while unable to judge or condemn the general, intellectual, and moral condition of which these individual excrescences were the result.

Some of the people were distinctly repulsive, or distinctly boring, or distinctly annoying to her; others, like Mrs Spencer and her father and mother and sisters, decidedly lovable; others, like little Chough, decidedly amusing and amiable: and she took them as they came, but with the indifference of concentrated [23] feeling; for what did it matter whether she cared for them, or they cared for her, as long as she was doing her best to deserve Hamlin?

Meanwhile Anne Brown read quantities of medieval and Elizabethan literature; went with Hamlin to see pictures and hear music; studied Dante and Shakespeare—the algebra and arithmetic, so to speak, of the æsthetic set—and even began, secretly, to work at a Greek grammar. Twice a‐week Cosmo Chough came to practise her accompaniments with her; and twice a‐week also, of an evening, friends dropped in at the house at Hammersmith, when Mrs Macgregor would leave her nephew and niece, as she called her, to entertain the guests. On other evenings Anne would usually go to the house of one of the set, where literature and art, and the faults of friends, and the wrong‐headedness of the public, were largely discussed; music was made, young long‐haired Germans on the loose performing; and poets, especially the [24] inexhaustible Chough, would recite their compositions, perched on the arms of sofas, or stretched on the hearth‐rug; while the ladies went to sleep, or pretended to do so, over the descriptions of the kisses of cruel, blossom‐mouthed women, who sucked out their lovers’ hearts, bit their lips, and strewed their apartments with coral‐like drops of blood. Most of these poets, as Anne speedily discovered, were young men of harmless lives, and altogether unacquainted with the beautiful, baleful ladies they represented as sucking at their vitals; and none was more utterly harmless than Cosmo Chough. Instead of the terrible Faustinas, Messalinas, and Lucretia Borgias to whom his poems were addressed, the poor little man had in his miserable home in the north of London a wife older than himself, often bedridden and always half crazy, who turned the house in a sort of disorderly litter, neglected her children, and vented on her husband the most jealous and perverse temper; but the victim of Venus, as he styled himself, [25] nursed her with absolute devotion, denied himself every gratification to allow her a servant and send his children to school, and made all new‐comers believe that Mrs Cosmo Chough was the most angelic invalid that the world had ever seen. People in the set had got accustomed to this fact, and treated Chough merely as an amusing little caricature of genius; but when Anne understood the real state of the case, she was deeply touched, and possessed with a violent desire to help the little man. He could not, indeed, restrain his habit of alluding in pompous language to Phryne, Pasiphaë, La Belle Heaulmière, Madame du Barry, and all the most celebrated improprieties of all times and nations; nor from discussing the most striking literary obscenities, from Petronius to Walt Whitman. But although at first surprised (as every one was surprised and indeed shocked) by Anne’s unblushing and quietly resolute—“I think you had better leave that subject alone, Mr Chough”—he became quite devoted to Anne. [26] When he gave a set of lectures, in Mrs Spencer’s house, on what was nominally Elizabethan drama, but virtually the unmentionable play of Ford, and the ladies dropped off one by one and merely laughed at poor Cosmo’s eccentricities, Anne had the courage to sit out the performance, and to tell Chough openly that he ought to be ashamed of himself for holding forth on such subjects—a proceeding which made Hamlin’s friends blame Miss Brown for want of womanly feeling and prudishness alike; and which put Hamlin just a little out of temper, until she answered his unspoken censure by remarking, with a sort of Italian bluntness and seriousness, that a woman of her age had no business not to understand the real meaning of such things, and understanding them, not to let the poets know that she would not tolerate them.

“You see, it enters into their artistic effects,” explained Mrs Spencer. “I don’t like such things personally, but of course everything is legitimate in art.”

[27]

“They may be legitimate in art,” answered Anne, sceptically, “but they shan’t be legitimate in my presence.”

To return to Chough. Anne gradually became the confidant of the domestic difficulties, though not of the domestic shame, of the little poet; and to every one’s great astonishment, she obtained Hamlin’s permission to have one of Chough’s little girls at Hammersmith every Saturday till Monday, and tried to instil into the miserable puny imps some notion of how to behave and how to amuse themselves.

“You are not going to take that child out in the carriage with you, surely?” asked Hamlin, the first Sunday that Maggy Chough spent at Hammersmith.

“Of course I am,” answered Anne. “She’s the daughter of your most intimate friend; surely you can’t grudge the poor little thing some amusement. And I want you to go with us to the Zoo, Mr Hamlin. I’m sure it’s much more fascinating than the Grosvenor or the Elgin rooms.”

[28]

Hamlin smiled; and next day made a crayon drawing of Anne, one of the dozens in his studio, with Chough’s child; but he managed to make Anne look mournfully mysterious, and the child haggard and wild, so that people thought it represented Medea and one of the children of Jason.

So far Anne’s acquaintance were entirely limited to the æsthetic set; but there were two exceptions. One was a couple of sisters, Mary and Marjory Leigh, who existed as it were on the borderland—Mary Leigh being a sort of amateur painter with strong literary proclivities; the other was Richard Brown, who, after the meeting at Mrs Argiropoulo’s, called at Hammersmith, was politely received by Hamlin, with whom he appeared quite reconciled, and talked on a variety of indifferent subjects, as if Anne Brown had never been his ward. Hamlin had apparently never appeared to him in the light of a slave‐buyer and seducer, and all parties had apparently never been in any save their present position. Anne [29] asked her cousin to one or two of their evenings: he came, seemed to know one or two people slightly, and although professing profound ignorance of art, managed to interest one or two of the æsthetic brotherhood by developing his views on the necessity of extending artistic training to the lower classes.

“He isn’t at all a stupid man, that cousin of yours,” remarked little Mrs Spencer; “and I do think he is so right in wishing to give poor people a taste of beauty.”

“I’m sure we are most of us poor people, and don’t always get a taste of anything else, Edith,” cried her father, the veteran painter in tempera, who was a fearful punster.

“Oh papa, you know what I mean; and I’m sure art will gain ever so much. It’s only what Mr Ruskin has said over and over again, and Mr Morris is always talking about.”

“Any one is free to give the lower classes that taste of beauty, as long as I am not required to see or speak to the noble workmen,” said Hamlin. “I hate all that democratic bosh.”

[30]

“Oh, I know, Watty; your ancestors kept negroes, and you would like to have negroes yourself,” said Mrs Spencer, hotly.

“Heaven forbid! I only ask to be left alone, my dear Edith, especially by reformers.”

At any rate, Richard Brown was permitted to show himself sometimes in æsthetic company. But Richard Brown did not avail himself much of the condescending permission to improve his mind; and neither at her own house (for people always spoke of Miss Brown’s house now) nor at the houses of any of her friends would Anne have had much opportunity of seeing her cousin, had he not, by a curious chance, been a frequent visitor at the house of the Leigh girls.

Mary Leigh was, as already said, a demi‐semi‐æsthete; she had studied art in an irregular, Irish sort of way, and she had a literary, romantic kind of imagination, which fitted her rather for an illustrator than a painter. She felt the incompleteness of her own endowment, in a gentle, half‐humorous, [31] half‐sad way; and the incompleteness of her own life—for her ideal of happiness was to travel about, to live in Italy, and this she had cheerfully sacrificed to please her sister, whose only interests in life were school boards, and depauperisation, and (it must be admitted) a mild amount of flirtation with young men of scientific and humanitarian tendencies. Between the sisters there was perfect love, but not perfect understanding; and Mary Leigh, who felt a little lonely, a little shut into herself by her younger sister, who was at once a philosopher and a baby in her eyes, vented her imaginative and artistic cravings in a passionate admiration for Hamlin’s strange and beautiful ward or fiancée, a kind of intellectual fervour which Anne was as remarkable for inspiring as she seemed unable to inspire either ordinary liking or ordinary love: and as Mary Leigh likewise adored Hamlin, and Hamlin in return thought Mary Leigh a nice sort of girl, Anne Brown did what visiting and sight‐seeing and shopping was left to her [32] almost always in Mary Leigh’s company. Now, if Anne was the idol of the æsthetic Mary, the humanitarian and practical younger sister, who, with the cut‐and‐dry decision of a philosopher of twenty‐two, looked upon æsthetics and æsthetes as somewhat pestilent in nature, had her idol also in a very different person, and this was no other than Richard Brown, to be whose lieutenant in some of his philanthropical and educational schemes was Marjory’s highest ambition. Richard Brown had, ever since meeting his cousin at Mrs Argiropoulo’s in the character of an artistic beauty, made up his mind that Anne was no concern of his, and was luckily disposed of in the æsthetic set; and for some time he almost took a pleasure in making her understand, whenever he met her at the Leighs’ house in Chelsea, that he did not in the least expect her to take an interest, or pretend to take an interest, in the plans which he discussed with Marjory Leigh. Anne on the other hand, imbued with Hamlin’s and [33] Chough’s theory that all attempts at improving the world result merely in failure, and that the only wise occupation of a noble mind is to make for itself a paradise of beautiful thoughts and forms and emotions, was extremely sceptical of her cousin’s and Marjory’s schemes, and once or twice declared her disbelief with perfect openness.

Richard Brown was at first annoyed, then amused, then indignant; and then, seeing how completely Anne’s ideas were borrowed from her set, and also how completely unsuitable they were to her downright, serious, and practical nature, he determined, not without vanity playing a part as well as conviction, to “let a little light,” as he expressed it, into her mind.

There had been recently founded, by some friends of his, a kind of club where girls of the dressmaker’s apprentice and shopwomen class might spend their leisure moments in reading and meeting each other; which club, besides a library and reading‐room, offered [34] to its members a certain number of classes or sets of lectures on various subjects, delivered at a nominal price, after work hours.

The lecturers or teachers were nearly all young ladies: Marjory Leigh had for some time lectured on sanitary arrangements (this being her especial hobby), and Mary Leigh was going to set up a drawing‐class.

Anne Brown, practical by nature and æsthetically sceptical by training, had no very great belief in the famous club; she had been told so often that mankind is too stupid and degraded to be helped, that she had almost got to believe it. But she let herself be taken one evening to a lecture, at what she called Marjory’s college. The lecture was just beginning as they entered the little, white‐washed, bare room up innumerable stairs. Four or five young women, decently dressed, were seated at desks, copy‐books and ink‐stands before them; and a beautiful little girl, who had been pointed out to Anne in æsthetic circles as a rising poetess, was seated opposite [35] them at the end of a table. The Leighs and Anne sat down silently near the door, and the lecture began. It was on modern history. The pupils listened with the greatest attention, their pens flying on their copy‐books. The lecturer, a small, graceful, extremely frail little creature, began in a somewhat tremulous voice; then gradually, as she got more excited, became more voluble, excited, and absolutely eloquent.

“She is too delicate for such work,” whispered Marjory, “but she will do it.”

Anne listened. But she did not follow the lecturer’s argument very closely. She thought what these girls were, what the drudgery of their work, the temptations of their leisure, the hopeless narrowness of their horizon; and she thought also, the thought throbbing on almost like dull pain, what it would have been for her, when she also was alone in the world—when she had drudgery on the one hand and temptation on the other—when her whole nature had been parched and withered for want of a few words that should speak of [36] higher and nobler things,—had she been permitted, once a‐week, to come to such a place, to hear about such subjects, to be spoken to by such an earnest and enthusiastic and exquisite creature as this. At the end of the lecture the girls crowded shyly round the lecturer, some to beg her to explain a point, others to ask for books on the subject, all of them to thank with pathetic earnestness. Then they went away, and the Leigh girls came forward to the lecturer. From where she sat she could not see the new‐comers; and she was astonished, and in a way awe‐stricken, on seeing Anne Brown, the exotic beauty of whom she had heard so much, whose portrait she had seen in so many studios, and to whom she had been introduced almost in fear and trembling, for Anne had a kind of awe‐inspiring fascination for imaginative people. Anne, on the other hand, was silent and depressed, and the little poetess must have made up her mind that this magnificent and sombre creature was as sullen and lethargic and haughty as one of [37] Michelangelo’s goddesses. But in reality Miss Brown could have laid her head on one of the desks and cried like a child.

When, the following day, Mary Leigh came to take her out for a walk, Anne looked as if she had received bad news, or as if she had bad news to communicate. She answered only in monosyllables; until, as they were looking in at a shop window, she suddenly turned to her companion.

“Do you think,” she said hesitatingly, “that I might perhaps—teach something at Marjory’s college?”

“Teach!” exclaimed Mary Leigh in astonishment; “you teach! Why, what would you teach, Anne dear?”

Anne was silent. She sighed. “That’s just what I have been thinking all the morning—I fear—but you see I do so want to teach something. You see, that little poet‐girl gives up her time to it, and she was born a lady, and doesn’t know—can’t know—all the good she is doing. While I—”

[38]

Mary Leigh squeezed her hand.

“We will ask your cousin,” she said.

“Oh no, not Dick—don’t mention it to Dick,” answered Anne; “he is sure to make difficulties and laugh at me—he thinks me a useless thing.”

You a useless thing!” replied the enthusiastic Irish girl looking at her companion. “Why, then—then all the Titians in the gallery, and the Elgin marbles, and all Keats, and all Shelley, and Beethoven, and Mozart, must be useless also.”

Anne sighed. “All those things didn’t make themselves,” she answered. “It’s the artists who were useful and whom we have to thank.”

The other Miss Leigh was immensely astonished, and, with her youthful intolerance, rather indignant at Anne’s suggestion.

“I think,” said Anne, hesitatingly, “that I could, with a little work, manage medieval literature—at least medieval lyrics.”

Marjory shook her head. “There’s too much of that sort of thing already,” she [39] said. “Every one wants to teach literature. Where’s the use of telling them about a parcel of Provençal and old French and German and Italian people, when they don’t yet know the difference between Voltaire and Molière, and Goethe and Frau von Hillern?”

“That’s true,” Anne said sadly.

Marjory was rather sorry for her rough practicalness, but at the same time she had a blind impulse to harass an æsthete.

“Political economy is what we want most,” she said; and, as the door opened and Richard Brown entered, she went on—

“Isn’t it true that political economy is what we want most at the college, Mr Brown?”

“Yes,” answered Richard. “How are you, Miss Leigh?—how are you, Annie? What about it?”

“Oh, only that your cousin wants to teach at the college, and I tell her that literature is no use, and that political economy is what we want.”

“You want to teach, Annie?” cried Brown, [40] and his face assumed that look of somewhat brutal contempt hidden under suavity of manner, which Anne hated so much. “You want to teach? How dull æsthetic society must be getting, to be sure!”

“I am not dull, Dick,” answered Anne, sternly; “but it struck me that, having been a poor girl without education myself—until” (and she looked her cousin reproachfully in the face) “Mr Hamlin had me taught—I have an obligation to help other girls like what I was, greater than the obligation of people who have always been educated. I daresay there may be nothing that I can teach; but there is no reason to laugh at me.”

“Laugh at you!” cried Brown. “Oh, not in the least! I was only smiling at the cool way in which you absolve those who are born in fortunate circumstances from the obligation which you yourself feel.”

“I don’t think that’s quite true, Dick,” answered Anne, simply. “You think it’s absurd on my part, and I knew you would, [41] because you think me frivolous and artistic.”

“Well,” said Brown, evidently surprised at her manner, and looking searchingly in her pale, strange‐featured face, “what do you think you might teach?”—his voice was much gentler.

“At present”—Anne’s voice sank, for she felt the uselessness of her offer—“I can think only of medieval literature” (Brown smiled); “but perhaps, if there were something else, I might get it up.”

“I’m sure there won’t be a vacancy for anything except political economy,” interrupted Marjory Leigh, impatiently. “I’m quite positive, from what the secretary told me, all the rest is glutted.”

“I fear it is the case,” mused Brown. “There has been a talk of teaching singing,—in which case, perhaps—”

“I don’t sing well enough,” said Anne, haughtily. Why was she always having her æstheticism thrust in her face?

[42]

“Besides,” added her cousin, “it’s extremely improbable.”

They fell to talking of other things. As Brown was leaving, Anne stopped him.

“Tell me,” she said, “what are the best books to begin learning political economy?”

Brown smiled. “Why? Do you want to teach it?”

“Since it is such an important thing,” answered Anne, gravely, “I think I should like to learn it.”

“It’s not amusing, Annie.”

“It can’t be duller than Minnesingers—and nothing is dull when one is learning it. Can’t you tell me of some books?”

Brown looked at her with a puzzled expression. “I have written a primer of it myself,” he said—“I will send it you; and if you get through that, you will find at the end a list of text‐books, some of which I can lend you to take into—”

“Thank you, Dick. I shall be much obliged to you.”

[43]

“You shall have it this evening. Goodbye, Annie, and felici studj, as you Italians say.” He laughed, and went away.

“You’ll find it tough work,” remarked Marjory, shaking her short mane of hair out before the glass; “but, of course, a primer is never very difficult.”

[45]

BOOK V.

[47]

CHAPTER I.

WHEN Mrs Macgregor had gone up‐stairs to rest before dinner on their arrival at Wotton Hall, Hamlin took Miss Brown round the huge, deserted‐looking house, which his grandfather had built on returning from Jamaica. It was like an Italian villa, with vaulted rooms, gilded and stuccoed, marble floors, and terraced windows; the furniture was all of the Napoleonic period; nothing could be more dignified or sadder.

When Hamlin had shown her the large drawing‐rooms, the library, the room which had been the play‐room when he was a child, he took Anne into the large Palladian hall, and showed her the innumerable portraits of ladies and gentlemen in armour, and ruffs, [48] and bobwigs, and powder, hanging all round—his ancestors ever since his family had left England in the civil wars.

Anne looked at them shyly. They were mostly indifferently painted and vapid—affected, like all old portraits by mediocre painters; but it seemed to her that in most of these gentlemen, with peaked beards on their Vandyck lace, or horse‐hair wigs, or carefully powdered hair tied back in silk bags, she could recognise a resemblance to the man by her side—the same delicate, handsome features, the same fair, almost beardless complexion, the same gentle, melancholy, slightly ironical expression: and never did the real meaning of Hamlin’s marriage with her come clearer before her mind than when, in that silent hall, surrounded by all those portraits of his ancestors, she suddenly saw herself and him reflected in one of the long dim mirrors; she, so tall and strong, so powerful of bone and muscle, with her strange, half‐southern, half‐Jewish, and [49] almost half‐Ethiopian beauty, by the side of that slight, fair, pale, aristocratic man, with features sharp like those of a high‐bred race‐horse, nervous and wistful and dreamy, as if he were tired of his family having lasted so long.

“They all married and intermarried for nearly a century,” said Hamlin, “that’s why they’re all so like each other. I often wonder why it didn’t end in insanity—you see it has ended in a poet at last. My mother was the first woman married by a Hamlin for eighty years who was not at least a second cousin,—in those islands there were very few decent people, you see. Don’t they all look dapper and respectable? It appears they were not. That man in the corselet was killed in a duel about another man’s wife. That one in the middle, the boy in the grey dress with the powdered hair, Sir Thomas Hamlin, they used to call the bad Sir Thomas, because he amused himself practising pistol‐shooting on black people, whom he had put all round his yard; [50] he was a very fine gentleman, they say, and would go out only in the evening on account of his complexion. The one who looks like a woman, with the open shirt‐collar and the long hair, was my great‐uncle, Mordaunt Hamlin, who supposed himself to be a poet, somewhere in the first years of this century; he was an opium‐eater, and did some horribly disgraceful things, I don’t exactly know what, and was poisoned, they say, by some low woman, because she was tired of him. My father had his portrait removed; but I used to see it in the lumber‐room when I was a child, and thought him very handsome and eery; and when I came of age, I had it brought down, because I think he’s far better‐looking and more interesting than any of the respectable ones. Then he was a poet also, you see, and Cosmo Chough pretends I’m like him. Do you think so, Miss Brown?”

“No,” said Anne, laughing, as she looked at Hamlin, at that noble and delicate face, which seemed to her the noblest and most beautiful [51] in the world; and yet, when she looked at Mordaunt Hamlin again, with his morbid woman’s face and his effeminate bare throat, she could not help feeling a certain disgust at the thought that perhaps—perhaps— Hamlin was just a little like him.

“That’s my mother,” said Hamlin, pointing to a faded crayon of a beautiful, gentle, pathetic‐looking woman.

That is like you,” cried Anne, delighted. “That is very like you—like your expression. I was wondering where you got your expression from among all your Jamaica ancestors.”

“I’m glad you think so. She was a very beautiful woman, and very brave and noble, and not very happy, poor mamma.”

“Did you know her?”

“Only till I was about twelve; she died young. That is grandpapa; and that is my uncle Arnold,—he died young too—in fact, drank himself to death. Don’t you think he is like Mordaunt Hamlin? That’s papa;[”] [52] and Hamlin stopped before the full‐length of a handsome effeminate man.

“You wouldn’t think that he was a very violent man, would you?” he said.

“No,” answered Anne, looking at that weak, worn, rather blear face, and thinking how her father, too, had been a drunkard; but how different had been the drunkenness of the poor overworked mechanic, so industrious and gentle and high‐spirited when he was sober, from the sort of emasculating vice of Mordaunt and Arnold Hamlin, of Walter Hamlin’s bad‐faced father!

“It’s very curious,” pursued Hamlin, with a sort of psychological interest in his own family, “how that Mordaunt, who, after all, was no ancestor of mine, tries everywhere to perpetuate himself. There’s unfortunately no portrait of my great‐grandfather, or perhaps we might understand it; but perhaps it came from the mother. It’s curious I have never felt any inclination to drink—I mean, however moderately; but I can’t take [53] any wine at all—it makes me drunk at once.”

“I never have seen you take any wine, by the way,” said Anne.

“I tried opium once; but Chough made me give it up. It’s sad to be denied any sort of unreal pleasures, don’t you think? That’s my brother and I when we were boys.”

Anne stopped to look at the picture.

It was very well painted, though a trifle old‐fashioned. The two boys were represented in shooting‐jackets, with guns and dogs. The shorter, slighter, and paler boy was evidently Walter Hamlin; the other was more robust, boyish, and ordinary‐looking.

“Your brother died when he was a child, did he not?”

“Oh no,” answered Hamlin, quickly. “Poor Arnold—was very fond of shooting—I hated it; but papa had the picture painted on his account; he was the favourite at first, being younger.”

It seemed to Anne that Hamlin was going [54] to say something different from what he had said. What had become of Arnold Hamlin? Mrs Macgregor’s allusions to him, who had evidently been her favourite nephew, always seemed to point to a melancholy end.

“It’s curious,” said Hamlin, after a moment. “Arnold looked so jolly and strong when he was a child; and yet, later, he got such a look of our grand‐uncle Mordaunt.”

“I think you have your grand‐uncle on the brain,” said Anne, trying to break through Hamlin’s strange mood.

They left the hall, and went to the window of the large drawing‐room, and looked out on the reddening beeches and the grass, permitted to grow high and thick, in the yellow sunlight.

“I shall sell this place most likely soon,” said Hamlin; “I’ve already had some offers for it. It’s too large, and pompous, and characterless for me. I should like a real old country‐house, two or three centuries old, with flower‐gardens and panelled rooms,—not this plaster and stucco and romantic gardening. [55] Besides, I hate this place—have hated it ever since I was a child.”

Anne did not answer.

“I hate this place,” went on Hamlin, leaning on the window‐sill by Anne’s side, “and that is the reason why I have brought you here. Before saying farewell to it for good and all, I wish to save it from being a mere hateful recollection in my life. I wish to be able to think of it in connection with you;” and he looked up at Anne, who was leaning against the tall French window.

“I don’t know,” went on Hamlin, again looking out at the vaporous yellow sunset horizon— “I don’t know what are destined to be the relations between our lives. You have seen too little of the world as yet to be able to know yourself and me; and I am more and more decided to abide by my original plan of giving ourselves time to understand each other, and to understand whether we are made for one another. . . .”

He looked at Anne; she had turned an ashy‐white as she listened; she had thought [56] that Hamlin loved her, and now . . . He noticed it, and understood, but pretended not to understand; he enjoyed playing upon a living soul, all the more upon a soul like this one, slow to respond to his touch, with low and long‐sustained vibrations, like those of some deep‐toned instrument.

“Don’t take what I say in bad part,” he went on, conscious to himself that he was speaking the truth, and at the same time that he was acting, telling it at a moment and in a manner which made it untruthful; “and don’t think that I mean anything horrid against you or against myself, when I say that you don’t yet know me, and will not know me, perhaps, for some time. You see me through your own nature, your own enthusiasms, your own aspirations; you think I am strong where I am weak, and pure where I am impure.”

Anne shook her head.

“I don’t think so.”

Hamlin smiled sadly.

“But I do. It’s very sad to think that one [57] must lose so much that is worth most in life, all one’s illusions, before one can approach the reality of even one’s best friends,—that even one’s best friends can be seen as they really are only when we have got disillusioned and disappointed, is it not?”

Hamlin had often said things like these in the letters which he used to write to her, and had hinted, much more clearly, at weaknesses and basenesses which she would some day recognise in him.

It could not occur to Anne, whose character was so completely of a piece, that there was any untruthfulness in this mode of speaking, any more than she could believe that Hamlin could be correct in thus speaking of himself. The sort of shimmer, as of the two tints in a shot stuff, of reality and unreality, of genuine and affected feeling, of moods which came spontaneously and of other moods, noticed, treasured up, reproduced in himself,—which existed in Hamlin, would be perfectly unintelligible to Anne.

[58]

“I daresay,” she answered gravely, “that you have faults, in which, at present, I cannot believe; but those faults are not the ones which you imagine. When a man knows himself to have a fault, he ceases to have it—he cures it.”

A sensation of a new experience passed through Hamlin’s mind as Anne said this: it seemed so strange, pathetic, grand, to him—who knew himself to be for ever mixing up the unrealities of his art with the realities of his life, to be continually experimenting upon himself the moods of his poetry—that any one should seriously think thus, should not know that when a man recognises in himself a fault, he may, so far from eradicating, cherish it stealthily.

“You have asked me not to be angry with you for telling me that I am inexperienced and cannot yet know my own mind,” said Anne; “don’t be angry and don’t laugh at me if I tell you that I think you don’t always know yours. I have often observed how imaginative [59] you are about yourself, how apt to fancy morbid things; I suppose it is because poets are always turned inwards, and because you have not perhaps been very happy sometimes, and because”—and she looked at him half laughing, half with the tears in her eyes—“you are very good. I daresay I don’t know you thoroughly yet, but I know you—I know I know you—better sometimes than you do; because you fancy all sorts of horrid mysterious flaws in your character wherever there is a little inequality; and I know how good and noble you are, and how you are always thinking that you must be wicked.”

Hamlin did not answer. He was deeply touched, touched all the more because he knew how little she guessed at the self‐conscious unreality of so much of him.

“You are very comforting,” he said sadly, then went on more cheerfully: “well, what I wanted to say, when we began to discuss which of us knew the other better, is this,—that whatever we may be destined to be to [60] one another in future—and this I dare not decide even in surmise—you will always have been to me, in these years that I have known you, in the past and present, an infinite source of happiness and good; a something which to have possessed, as I possess your friendship, will always remain, even should all the reality come to an end and only the recollection remain, the most precious thing in my life.” He had taken her hand, and playing with her strong shapely fingers, so much stronger and less delicate, though not less shapely than his own, looked with a kind of solemnity into her face. Anne could not answer, for if she did, she knew she must cry; she felt the tears, as it were, all through her nature; she seemed to see, she knew not why, but as a solemn certainty, that things could never go any further, that Hamlin was prophesying the inevitable future: and yet, in the midst of this quite inexplicable, unreasonable sense of loss and resignation, there was a deep happiness which she had never [61] before felt, the happiness of the present; a something new to Anne, though all other lovers have felt the happiness of possession of one another, even at the moment of loss.

“It is getting chilly,” said Hamlin, and shut the window. “You look very pale, Miss Brown; had you not better put on some warmer dress this evening?”

His voice seemed like the curtain dropping after a scene, or the chord at the end of a duet. It was a return to reality and prose.

“Perhaps I had better, and I ought to go and see after your aunt; good‐bye for the present.”

Hamlin strolled out into the terrace, and lit a cigarette; the past and present, his real and unreal self, Anne, his brother and father, his great‐uncle Mordaunt—all went cloudily through his brain. He was very happy. Love to him was not what it was to other men, not what he had tried it himself in former years. It was romance, but romance not of ladders and hairbreadth escapes, but [62] of psychical conditions, of spiritual sensations. He had written fleshly poetry and passionate poetry, but no one could be less fleshly or less passionate than Hamlin: the ‘Vita Nuova’—if it could be made modern, and the parts altered and reversed—unreal reality of love, had been his ideal, and he had got it.

They had many conversations like this one. Hamlin never so much as kissed Anne’s hand, never told her that he loved her, spoke merely of himself, of her, of the future and the past, of what she would one day know, of what he would one day feel; and Anne listened seriously, trying to cure him of his despondency and morbidness, trying to persuade him of his own worth and of her clear‐sightedness, while never a suspicion crossed her simple stern mind that all this earnest talk, which was so tragic and still so delightful, was the thing which she scornfully connected with whispers and kisses and nonsense,—in one word, love‐making.

[63]

CHAPTER II.

THEY remained about a fortnight completely solitary in the large house. Hamlin was finishing a poem and correcting the proofs of his next volume. Anne was continuing her usual literary studies, but now with the addition of some books and pamphlets on political economy, which had been incredulously lent her by Richard Brown. The two young people had never seen so much of one another, and they were, Hamlin in his dreamy manner, Anne in her serious, practical way, very happy. Mrs Macgregor went on reading her old‐fashioned freethinking books, and giving out cynical remarks, which her amiable and utterly gullible character deprived of all weight. She was the elder and considerably [64] older sister of Hamlin’s mother, and had lived in the house for many years as a widow. She had been twice married, each time for love, and each time to men who, if one might trust her nephew, had been immediately reduced by her into the most devoted and timid slaves; yet she always spoke of marriage as if every misfortune of her existence was due to it. Imbued with the pseudo‐scientific and somewhat anti‐social philosophy of early deism (though herself a rigid stickler for decorum), Mrs Macgregor had a way of talking of love and marriage which for some time had made poor Anne profoundly miserable: men and women, averred the old lady, were, whatever they might pretend to the contrary, entirely at the mercy of their animal passions,—to suppose that any one successfully resisted them was sheer folly; marry people must, but marriage was the most unfortunate of all necessities, the beginning of all unhappiness, the end of all independence, self‐respect, and pleasure in life; it was the long waking up from a disgraceful [65] delusion; yet this disgraceful delusion, this drunken condition called love, was (always according to Mrs Macgregor) the one beautiful and poetical thing in the world.

“I don’t believe that all people are like that, Aunt Claudia,” Anne would often exclaim indignantly. “I don’t believe that all people marry from unworthy passion, just to wake up and find its unworthiness. I am sure that if love were such a vile thing, and marriage such a mistake, every man or woman with any self‐respect and self‐restraint would refuse both.”

“Oh, my dear child,” Mrs Macgregor would answer with a smile, “wait till you are a little older and see what a disgusting thing life is.”

“If it is,” answered Anne, feeling quite nauseated and terrified, and at the same time resolute in herself—“if it is, Aunt Claudia, it is because men and women are mostly such wretched, weak, silly, base, puling creatures.”

Then, when she saw Hamlin, and thought of [66] the noble way in which he had acted towards her, of the calm and clear love and gratitude which she felt towards him,—when she thought of the things which they talked about together, of the desire to become worthier with which his love had inspired her, of the greater trust in his own worthiness which she hoped her love was instilling into him,—nay, when she looked at that thoughtful, delicate, almost diaphanous face of his, Anne’s anger towards the old lady would turn into mere pity; she would merely, in her own certainty of worthiness, smile at what she now considered as the mere empty talk of a disgusting school of thought, or, at best, as the lamentable generalisations from a horribly exceptional family, such as she understood, vaguely, that of Hamlin’s father to have been. And, for the rest, Anne believed that though people were very ridiculous, and affected, and mean in little matters (she was thinking of the Spencers, and the Saunders, and so many other of her æsthetic friends), and although they might also, like [67] Cosmo Chough, make the mistake of thinking indecent things interesting and dramatic, the vast majority of mankind and womankind was really very pure, and generous, and loving at bottom. So, after a time, she listened to Mrs Macgregor’s remarks with only a little habitual and instinctive annoyance, but without any kind of serious belief in them. And when Aunt Claudia would sometimes allude to the bad lives which had been led in this particular house—to the vices (taking them quite as ordinary matters) of Hamlin’s grandfather and father and uncles, of the neglect and violence which her sister, Hamlin’s mother, had suffered from, hinting that, if one only knew, the self‐same things were happening in every other family on earth,—whenever there came any such allusions, Anne would carefully, as it were, close up these loopholes into a past, in which she scarcely believed and from which she shrank: the world seemed to her as good, and healthy, and strong, and easy to understand as herself. But while she did thus, [68] Anne was so gentle and sympathising to Mrs Macgregor, that the old lady was never hurt by her contradictions; indeed she would sometimes say that, were she not persuaded that no law of nature can have any real exceptions, she would almost believe that Anne was quite different from any other woman that ever was.

It seemed somehow, here all alone in this ancestral home of Hamlin’s, as if the fate which Hamlin had refused to forestall was working itself happily out; and as if, tacitly, the poet‐painter and the girl whom he had educated were becoming affianced to each other. None of the outward ceremony was broken through; he was always Mr Hamlin, and she Miss Brown, and there was never an allusion permitted to any more intimate relations. But it seemed perfectly natural that he and she should go walks together; that Aunt Claudia should leave them alone at breakfast and luncheon; and that, when the old lady had retired to her room, they should remain, [69] with brotherly and sisterly ease, though not brotherly and sisterly free‐and‐easiness, talking together of an evening. And as they talked, their plans seemed constantly to merge; that they should be separated never occurred to either (except when Hamlin was in one of his tragic moods), although not a word passed to settle their future together. The long courtship, the long enjoyment of a ceremonious and unfettered love, was what Hamlin had wished for, and what he had; to a fixed future, a family and family affections, he was not the man to look forward; it would have to come, and he did not feel any dislike for it, but he gave it no thought. As to Anne, she had never made up her mind that she had a right to be Hamlin’s wife; to have thought so for one moment would have seemed to her grasping ingratitude; and she was too happy in the present to think about the future. The thing to be thought of was to become worthy of him, that was all.

[70]

CHAPTER III.

BY the middle of the summer a perfect colony from æsthetic London had settled itself, to the amazed terror of the vicar and his parishioners, in Wotton Hall and the inn of the adjacent village. The Spencers came, with a perfect shipload of babies, and accompanied by Mrs Spencer’s father and mother; Cosmo Chough came, bringing scarcely any luggage except MS. poems and old music; Thaddy O’Reilly came, and half‐a‐dozen young poets and painters, to name whom would be perfectly superfluous, and who were all the humble worshippers of Walter Hamlin. All these people had pictures to paint, poems to compose, articles to write; but the exciting question for the whole household was the approaching publication of Hamlin’s new book.

[71]

Hamlin’s acquaintance with Anne Brown had not been without a decided influence on his art. He had written a number of sonnets about her ever since the moment of their first meeting, recording various moods, real and fictitious, in connection with her, and of which he had sent or read her the greater number. Perhaps he would have written much the same sort of thing about any other woman; but Anne had influenced him at once more directly and more indirectly. The æsthetic school of poetry, of which Hamlin and Chough were the most brilliant exponents of the younger generation, was evidently running to seed. It was beginning to be obvious, to every one who was not an æsthete, that the reign of the mysterious evil passions, of the half‐antique, half‐medieval ladies of saturnine beauty and bloodthirsty voluptuousness of the demigods and heroes treated like the figures in a piece of tapestry, must be coming to a close; and that a return to nature must be preparing. Anne had felt it, and had vaguely determined [72] that the man who was to revolutionise poetry was Hamlin. Indeed, who else could it be? The elder poets were safe in their ruts; the majority of the younger ones who had already come forward were mere imitators and caricaturists, not excepting the great Chough himself. Hamlin alone was a man of genius; he alone was capable of turning over a new leaf; and one or two new departures, attempts at a new way of describing things, if not actually an attempt at describing new things, persuaded Anne that the change was beginning. She did not like telling him that she perceived it coming; for she thought that Hamlin might, did he perceive it, consider it as an apostasy from his original school, and draw back. But she encouraged him by showing a marked preference for the pieces which savoured of this new style; and she even suggested to him to write a tale, in which he should substitute, for the conventional background copied by æsthetic poetry from the borders of missals, the pictures of old masters and of their French gods, Gautier [73] and Baudelaire, the scenery of his own home, the wide commons, the beech‐woods on the downs, the solemn horizons of the fenny country which spread from Wotton to the sea. He had written it, and read it to her during that fortnight of solitude; and Anne’s heart had beat at the thought of the change which was to be wrought by Hamlin’s new book—of the unknown youths hitherto fumbling vainly for a new style, who were to recognise in Hamlin the leader of a new school, the prophet of a new art. When the colony of London æsthetes arrived at Wotton, the new poem was solemnly read to them. They were all seated in the old‐fashioned library, the rows and rows of old novels and books of standard literature, the busts of ancient philosophers looking down upon them,—a quaint little assembly of ladies in peacock‐blue and dull sage and Japanese dragoned and medieval brocaded gowns, with slashed sleeves and limp tails—of men got up to look like Frenchmen or Germans, or Renaissance creatures, in wondrous velveteens [74], colonred almost like the bindings of their own books. They listened with considerable attention, and obvious impatience to interrupt. The first who did so was Mrs Spencer.

“Why, Walter!” she exclaimed indignantly, “what possesses you? are you crazy? Why, you are going in for realism; do you know that?”

“I don’t see any particular realism, Edith,” answered Hamlin, testily.

“Come, now, it isn’t Zola, my dear,” said her father, a good‐natured man, who never carried his belief in himself to the length which it was carried to by his family.

“No, it isn’t Zola,” cried Miss Spencer; “but it’s worse than Zola. . . .”

(“It’s just the decentest thing I’ve heard for many a long year,” murmured the old painter.)

“It’s worse than Zola, because it’s poetry and not prose, because it’s English poetry, because it’s poetry by Walter Hamlin, who has hitherto been an apostle of beauty, and is now basely turning apostate and going over to ugliness.”

There was a slight laugh at Mrs Spencer’s [75] vehemence, in which Hamlin alone did not join.

“I don’t think there’s anything actually ugly in it,” put in Chough, blandly. “Hamlin could never write anything ugly. But it is certain that there’s a want of idealism in it, a want of that exotic perfume which constitutes the essence of poetry. I think it’s an unfortunately chosen subject. . . .”

“I think it’ s perfectly disgusting,” gobbled out Dennistoun, the little rickety poet, who had to be carried up and down stairs, and who wrote, while slowly sinking inch by inch into the grave, about carrying off lovely girls, and throttling them in the fierceness of his love. “Did you notice about the heroine washing the children? I call that beastly, beastly. And then, I don’t know how any man can write a poem about people who are in love and get married.”

This seemed an unanswerable piece of criticism. Anne alone leaned across the table; she was very indignant. “I think,” she [76] said, “that there is much more poetry in people who love each other respectably, and respectably get married, than in all the nasty situations which modern poets write about.”

Cosmo Chough looked at Dennistoun, and Dennistoun looked at Mrs Spencer’s father.

“My dear young lady,” cried the old painter in his broad Scotch, “d’ye ever know any of these gentlemen write a poem about people who did any single respectable thing?”

“I wonder you can talk like that, papa,” silenced his daughter, whose zeal for him and his school included timely snubbings for himself.

“Well, my dear, I privately think with Miss Brown that there’s nothing more poetic than a gude, bonnie lass of a wife, and I don’t wonder a bit at Walter being of that opinion. But then, of course, I’m not a poet.”

“It’s that washing of the children which troubles me,” reflected Chough, “and their being married. Don’t you think, now, Hamlin, that you might just alter a little, and make it appear that they weren’t married?”

[77]

“Only put a husband of the lady in the distance,” suggested O’Reilly, laughing.

“Thank you,” said Hamlin, affecting to laugh, “your suggestion is most happy, and most characteristic. You are always full of original ideas—all of you,” and he looked bitterly round. Chough felt the rebuke and was silent. But Dennistoun, who was gasping, propped up in his chair, was furious.

“It’s not a question of an alteration here or there,” he gobbled out; “it’s the whole tone of the poem which is pestilent. It’s Wordsworth pure and simple, that’s what it is.”

Hamlin rolled up his MS. He was very white. The others he did not mind, but this little rickety Dennistoun, whose poems were the most limited and the most hopelessly morbid of the whole set, annoyed him; for in Dennistoun, for all his limitations and repetitions, Hamlin recognised the most genuine poet of his circle, his most real rival. Those words, “It’s Wordsworth, that’s what it is,” were like [78] a blow. He could have knocked down Dennistoun, had he not been a cripple.

The conversation was changed; and soon the first dinner‐bell dispersed the company. When Anne came down she heard some one stirring in the study next door. She went in. Hamlin was seated before the table, his head on his hands; the MS., all crumpled up, lay in front of him.

Anne came silently to his side. Her heart was bursting with indignation.

“What’s the matter?” asked Hamlin, crossly.

“Nothing. I only came—because I wanted to see you—because I wanted to tell you how I despise those people and their disgusting, unmanly school of poetry—how I hate their stupid criticism,—how completely I believe in you and in your poem.”

Anne had spoken with vehemence and almost anger. She took one of his hands, which was dog’s‐earing the MS.

“Oh, why,” she asked, “why do you read [79] them what you write? Don’t you know them sufficiently to know what they will say?”

“I never thought—” and Hamlin stopped. “I never thought that that fellow Dennistoun would ever dare to speak like that about a poem of mine.” His tone was angry and tearful, like that of a punished child.

“Nor did I. I never thought any one would dare to speak like that. But what does it matter—what can the words of such a man matter to you?”

He did not answer.

“Surely,” went on Anne, “you can’t mind what they say? You believe in your poem, as I believe in it?”

It seemed so impossible to her how any one could not believe in that poem, which seemed to her so strong, and noble, and beautiful.

“I know you believe in it,” answered Hamlin, brusquely; “you made me write it—so of course you must—”

“And—and—are you sorry to have written it?”

[80]

“I don’t know; I can’t judge. There’s O’Reilly outside.”

“The disconsolate poet being consoled by his beautiful fiancée for having written about people who were united in legitimate wedlock,” whispered O’Reilly to Mrs Spencer as they entered the room.

“Well, Hamlin, old fellow, do you repent you of that sinful marriage between your hero and heroine?” asked O’Reilly.

“I repent me of nothing at all, except of having read my poem to a parcel of damned meretricious rhymesters,” answered Hamlin, angrily.

“Walter!” cried Mrs Spencer, “how can you talk like that!”

But, despite this bravado, Anne felt, and her spirit sank within her, that Hamlin had been disgusted with his poem. He was rather cantankerous throughout dinner; and Anne, watching him, felt a strange mixture of indignation—towards his critics for their criticism, and towards Hamlin for minding it.

[81]

CHAPTER IV.

THE time has come for him to break with the old school, thought Anne; consoling herself for a certain childish petulance, perhaps not quite new to her, in Hamlin’s manner.

But Anne proved mistaken. Whether the critics became less rabid on the following day, or whether Hamlin was suddenly smitten with the truth of their criticism, she could not say. He was very snappish at first towards Chough, and absolutely refused to speak to Dennistoun for nearly twenty‐four hours. Chough, who loved Hamlin like the apple of his eye, would not, however, be spurned; he followed Hamlin about, he soothed him, he flattered him, he assured him that he was much the greatest poet of his generation; but he repeated, almost [82] with tears in his eyes, Dennistoun’s criticism.

“Such a poem will never, never do,” he cried; “it is impossible, intolerable, and it will just put some fellow like Dennistoun into your place.”

“Thank you for your advice, Chough,” answered Hamlin, angrily; “I think I told you before that I didn’t want it.”

Anne did not revive the subject of the unlucky poem. It was useless provoking quarrels between Hamlin and his friends; quarrels in which she was forced to own to herself that he showed himself too easily mortified and put out of temper. If he had been taught to mistrust their judgment, if he had been alienated from their school by their absurd criticism, why, so much the better. This business drew Anne’s attention to the poetry of the school; she re‐read a number of poems by Chough, Dennistoun, and several gods, demigods, and heroes of the movement. Whether it was that she had read [83] them fragmentarily before, or that she had not understood their full meaning, or whether her attention was now called to their bad points rather than to their good ones, she scarcely knew; but it seemed to her that she had never before comprehended this style of poetry: its beauty had ceased to please her, it seemed to her false, emasculate, diseased. Hamlin alone had not gone to its worst lengths; he had sinned, but comparatively little. He was evidently intended for something better. And Anne thought with pride of that “Ballad of the Fens” which they had all fallen upon, and which was to be the signal for a new era in poetry. Soon it would be out; and she the only person to have appreciated it. It seemed to Anne that at last, in her humble way, she might be beginning to repay the debt of gratitude which she owed Hamlin (not that she wished that the debt should ever be less, God knows, or dreamed that it could be); but at last Hamlin might reap some advantage from his generosity. He [84] had stooped to make her, to turn the Perrys’ servant into a lady; in her turn, perhaps she, the woman of the lower classes, might encourage the delicately nurtured poet to attempt things bolder, simpler, and more healthy than he had done before.

The proof‐sheets of the new volume began to come in. Anne had read nearly all its contents at one time or other, yet Hamlin, in his grave, ceremoniously adoring way, handed on the proofs to her. One day a fresh bundle came by post. After breakfast, Hamlin took Anne aside.

“I want you to read these sonnets,” he said. “I don’t think you have read them all. There are rather more than I care to print in this volume, so I should like you to select those which you think the best or the least bad: divide them into two packets, and tell me which you prefer.”

Anne was quite taken aback for joy, and at the same time for fear.

“Don’t say that,” she said; “I could never, [85] never take the responsibility of deciding about your poems. Let me read them, and let me tell you what I like best, but don’t ask me to choose. What am I, that I should decide in such matters?”

“You are the person whom I trust and respect, and—will you let me say so?—whom I love most in all the world,” said Hamlin, solemnly. “For whom should my poetry be written except for you? Whom else should I care to please? Are you not the best and worthiest thing in my life, and is it not my highest ambition to do anything worthy of you?”

Hamlin had never spoken so passionately and earnestly before.

Anne did not answer, but she squeezed his hand, and the gesture, and the look accompanying it, meant “I love you.”

“Listen,” said Hamlin, detaining her as she was leaving—“I want to say one word more. These sonnets are not merely my verses; they are myself—and many of them, you will see, are about you. Perhaps you [86] would rather that some of these were not published; perhaps your permitting them to be published might mean more than you should wish. Tell me your opinion frankly, and put aside everything that you don’t like.”

“I will,” answered Anne. “What you wish me to do, I must do.”

She went up into her room, shut the door, and seating herself at the table, unrolled the little bundle of proof‐sheets. But at first she could not read, or could read only the titles—her heart beat so, and the blood boomed so in her temples. That he should love her so much, believe in her so much—that it should really be he, just he and she, and not some one else; it seemed too strange to be true. She slowly began to read the sonnets. Some of them she knew already; others were expansions in verse of things which Hamlin had said or written to her; many were about herself, passionate, with a sort of delicate, subdued, respectful passion, played, like some exquisite instrument, in various keys and rhythms of subdued pain or [87] gladness. She felt so proud and glad, and at the same time so moved and saddened, that she almost cried over them. There were a lot of other sonnets, descriptive of places and of moods. Some of these she did not at all relish. They were not fleshly nor exactly improper; but they contained allusions which Anne could not help following, allusions which she did not quite understand, but which she did not like. She felt half ashamed of herself, wondering whether all the impure poetry which she had lately been reading, whether her prejudice against the school to which these decidedly belonged, might not be making her imagine things which were not meant; and Anne blushed at the thought—blushed at her knowing so many things, having learned so many things, in her half education as an Italian servant, in her culture as an æsthetic personage, which perhaps other girls of her age would not dream of. It was probably only her own morbid fancy. But then she came upon a set of sonnets— [88] no fewer than twelve connected together by similarity of title—which put an end to her doubts. She felt giddy and sick as she read them; mysterious and mystical hankerings, mysterious half‐longing repentance, and half‐repentant longings after untold shameful things. Anne pushed aside the proof‐sheets, and leaned her head on her hands. She seemed to be smothering for want of air; she went to the window, and leaned against its rails. It was raining—a steady, clear fine rain. She looked at it mechanically as it filled the air like a thin veil, and crevassed the sand outside with yellow trickles of water. She did not for one instant believe that Hamlin had ever felt the things about which he was writing; but he had written about them. She knew, from an unerring instinct, as well as from her own deep love, that Hamlin was as pure a man as could be found; had he not been towards her—was he not, at that very moment—the very personification of chivalrous and spiritual lovingness? Then she [89] remembered the allusions which, without understanding them, used to frighten her in his letters—the allusions to vague evil which beckoned to him, which surrounded him; and she remembered also his constant references in conversation to his being unlike what she imagined, to his baseness and unworthiness. Two years earlier she would have been seized with an agonising terror; a week before she might have been overcome with pitying admiration at his self‐tormenting moral purity, taking umbrage at every thought of evil which passed across and seemed to soil his mind. But somehow, now, she did neither. She did not for one second believe that Hamlin was in any way a bad man. She repeated to herself that he was morbidly introspective, self‐scrutinising, morbidly imaginative; but she could not realise that these hateful sonnets had been written in any great agony of imagined self‐debasement; they were so artistic, so evidently written with enjoyment, so self‐conscious; they were so clearly not the [90] doubts of a troubled mind, but the work of a poet—and, what was much worse, so clearly the work of a poet of a definite school, of the school of Chough and Dennistoun and all the others, whom she was beginning to loathe. Anne looked at them over and over again. There was no reality in them; mere revolting pose. Gradually her mind settled about them. They were doubtless things written long ago, when, without knowing what it all meant, he had been carried away by the wave of imitation of one or two shameless or foolish writers. He had alluded to sonnets which he had expected her to dislike, he had insisted so on a certain number being put aside; if he had made her think that it was the sonnets about herself which provoked his doubts, that came from a sort of shame, an unwillingness to point out to her what she might perhaps overlook: it was not quite straightforward, but everybody, Anne had learned by this time, did not do right in a quite straightforward way. The only thing which perplexed her was, why he [91] had submitted these poems to her at all? Why had he not torn them up? why shown them to her? A little she could not help, as a woman, resenting his having done so at all. But perhaps he had done so to show her the difference between what he had been and what he was going to be,—perhaps—perhaps he had got a little callous, living among poets of this school. Anyhow, they were things of the past, and Anne did not distress herself any longer about them, so foreign did they seem to Hamlin, so impossible was it to bring them into connection with the thought of him. She put the proofs into her pocket, and waited for an opportunity of giving them back. Before dinner, when the guests were safe out of the way, she called Hamlin into the library.

“Here are the proofs,” she said, laying them on the table.

“Have you read them already?” cried Hamlin; “how sweet of you! Now tell me what you think about them.”

He looked so cheerful, so utterly unconscious [92] of the possibility of Anne’s having anything to say disagreeable to himself and herself, that she began to feel nervous.

“I think they are most of them very beautiful,” she answered slowly—“indeed, quite some of the best things you have ever done—and especially those about me; I am very grateful to you for them. But”—she resumed, after a moment’s silence—“there are some which I dislike extremely, and which are utterly unworthy of you. I have put them into the smaller roll by themselves.” She spoke rapidly, decidedly, but when she had done she felt that she was crimson.

Hamlin seemed quite speechless for astonishment. He quickly unrolled the smaller parcel, and glanced at its contents. A look of surprised ill‐humour crossed his face.

“I am quite astonished at your choice,” he said with affected coolness; “for these are the very sonnets which Chough and Dennistoun and all my other friends picked out as among my best.”

[93]

So he had already provided himself with a stock of criticisms.

“I am no judge of their technical merits,” answered Anne, trying to feel as if she had expected this news. “It seemed to me that they were very excellent in workmanship, and there is beautiful imagery in them. But I think the subject and tone of them horrible.” she spoke resolutely and unflinchingly, because she saw Hamlin’s eyes fixed incredulously on her. “You asked me to give you my frank opinion; and even had you not asked me, I should have felt bound to tell you that I think those sonnets ought not to be published. Perhaps you think it strange of me to speak so openly; but, of course, I understand what those sonnets allude to, and, of course, so will every grown‐up reader.”

Hamlin bit his moustache.

“There is not a single word to which any one can take objection in these sonnets,” and he turned over the proofs.

“What do the words matter? It is the [94] meaning. I think,” and Anne vainly tried to soften down her expressions,—“I think that those sonnets are things you should be ashamed of.”

Hamlin’s eyes flashed, but he kept his temper.

“Everything is legitimate for the sake of an artistic effect,” he said, echoing the worn‐out aphorism of his school.

“Even to do a disgraceful thing?”

“I can see nothing disgraceful in a man attempting to describe what has passed through his mind.”

Hamlin spoke sullenly and doggedly.

“You have shifted your position,” cried Anne. “You intimated just now that a man may pretend to anything for the sake of an artistic effect. And now you are trying to make me believe that you really have felt and thought those horrible things. It is of no use. You have not—”

“How do you know?” exclaimed Hamlin, angrily. “Do you think I tell you everything that I have ever done, or thought, or felt?”

[95]

Anne was silent for a moment: that he should prefer to make her believe in his own baseness! It was horrible, loathsome, and, at the same time, pitiable and childish.

“I know you have not,” she repeated, “because I know you to be a gentleman. And I know that all that is affectation—school affectation—learned from creatures like Dennistoun and Chough; they have all done it, or something of the sort, and you have learned what comes naturally to their dirty minds. Oh, Mr Hamlin, do not commit this abomination—this baseness of pretending to shameful things which you have not felt or thought; do not be so mean, so base, so lying, as to slander yourself for the sake of an artistic effect.” Anne had seized his arm; he was shaken by her unexpected vehemence and passion; he had never thought that Anne could become so passionate about anything; he looked on, taken by surprise, not knowing what to think.

“Do not slander yourself,” repeated Anne—“do not blacken your real self, which does not [96] belong to yourself alone, which belongs also to your friends, to your honour, which belongs in part to me. Do not lie to me about yourself!”

“As you choose,” answered Hamlin; “perhaps you are right; though, heaven knows, I thought myself, when writing those sonnets, but too bitterly in earnest.”

Anne’s look—a look of incredulous contempt—smote him like a rod.

“I suppose I am apt to be morbid,” he said, sadly; “that is the wretchedness of my life, that I never know where the truth about myself really lies—it seems to me that I ought to speak out, and yet . . .”

“And yet it is mere nonsense.”

Hamlin smiled a forced smile.

“Perhaps it is. Since you are determined, I suppose it must be.”

“You won’t publish those sonnets?” asked Anne, anxiously.

“I will not, since they offend you so much. But it is curious, that of all the people to [97] whom I have shown them, you are the only one who has taken the slightest exception to them.”

For a moment Hamlin had been overcome, had been delighted by this sudden burst of impetuosity, by this passionate belief in him and vindication of himself. But now, as he again glanced at the sonnets, he was once more annoyed and resentful.

“Such things must be judged from a purely artistic standpoint,” he said with some irritation.

“I am willing to judge art from an artistic standpoint; but I cannot judge from an artistic standpoint an honourable man trying to defame himself.”

Hamlin sighed.

“Well, after all, I bade you select, and the principal thing is that you should be satisfied. But it is a pity, because those were just the best sonnets in the book; and the book will be very small without the ‘Ballad of the Fens.’”

“The ‘Ballad of the Fens’?—aren’t you going to print that? What do you mean?”

[98]

Could Hamlin be merely worrying her, to vent his annoyance at the loss of the sonnets?

“The ‘Ballad of the Fens’ has been torn up,” answered Hamlin, with a kind of dogged satisfaction.

“Oh, Mr Hamlin! How could you—the finest thing you have ever written.”

The ballad torn up!

“I know you thought it good, and so did I myself. But, on reflection, I saw that my friends were right, and that such a thing would not do.”

He spoke sharply, brutally, as if to bring home to Anne the unreliableness of her judgment: she had induced him to write it; she had praised it; and she wanted him to tear up those sonnets.

“It is a bad plan to keep things about which one is doubtful,” he went on; “so I tore it up. I think it was wiser; don’t you?”

“No,” said Anne, in a husky voice which burst out in a way that almost frightened him; “no, no—it was . . .” but she said no more.

[99]

CHAPTER V.

ONE morning Hamlin received two unexpected letters at breakfast. From his looks, which he was at all times quite unable to control, it was clear that one of them brought good news, while the other must be about some disagreeable matter.

“Edmund Lewis is coming the day after to‐morrow,” announced Hamlin to his aunt, to Anne, and to his guests.

There was a chorus of exclamations of surprise, sprinkled with pleasure.

“Who is Edmund Lewis?” asked Anne. “He is an old friend of mine, a charming fellow whom I have not seen for some years. Some of the drawings in the drawing‐room at Hammersmith are by him.”

[100]

Anne remembered the name, and the strange, beautiful, cruel, mysterious, out‐of‐drawing heads in crayon, which had curiously impressed her the first morning after her arrival in England, rose before her eyes; since then she had seen so many similar things, had got to understand so completely that mysterious, beautiful faces, with combed‐out hair, big weird eyes, and cruel lips, were so much school property, that she had become quite indifferent to them.

“I thought you told me that something strange had happened to him—that he had left England for good,” remarked Anne.

“Oh, it was nothing particularly strange,” interrupted little O’Reilly—“only a German lady whom he met one day, blond, fat, thirty‐five, who was nothing but a soul—you know the sort of thing—with a husband who was a great deal besides a soul (a charming man, for the rest, and quite wildly in love with the [Gnädige] Frau). The excess of soul having induced acute neuralgia in the lady, [101] poor Teddy Lewis, who is a tremendous magnetiser, was called in to soothe her agonies, during which process the lady discovered that the soul‐sorrow and consequent neuralgia from which she suffered was due to the soullessness of her husband, and that only the brotherly affection of Ted could cure her. The difficulty was the husband, who loved the lady fervently, and she him, but not in a way which should satisfy her soul. Hence struggles, agonies, etc.—you’ve read it all in the ‘Wahlverwandschaften’—finally ended by the husband being implored to sacrifice himself to the spiritual exigencies of his adored wife, which absolutely required that he should divorce her and let her marry Lewis. That’s all.”

“How can you talk in such a flippant way, Mr O’Reilly?” cried Mrs Spencer. “You have a way of making the most serious things seem ridiculous. Poor Mrs Lewis! she’s dead now; you needn’t make fun of her.”

“Poor Mrs Lewis!” laughed O’Reilly; [102] “well, you know you wouldn’t receive her, Mrs Spencer, when she first came to England.”

“I thought her a designing woman then; I didn’t know all the circumstances.”

“Come now, Edith,” interrupted her father, in his broad Scotch; “I think the less ye knew those circumstances the better it was for all concerned.”

“I don’t see that at all, papa. I don’t see why a woman’s happiness should be sacrificed,” and Mrs Spencer, who was the most devoted of wives and mothers, tossed her head rebelliously. “I don’t see why the world should insist that a woman is to be satisfied with a husband who is good to her and her children. After all, she has a soul, and that requires response.”

“Would you behave as Mrs Lewis did?” asked O’Reilly, “If—well—let me see—Mr Spencer were suddenly to develop an overpowering belief in the Royal Academy and in Zola?”

[103]

“Papa would never have let me marry a man who could ever develop such beliefs.”

At this perfectly solemn answer there was a general laugh; even poor Mr Spencer, who was the most timid of æsthetical persons, joining.

“I think it was rather hard on poor Ted Lewis,” remarked Hamlin, “to become necessary to the soul of a lady whether he liked it or no.”

“Oh, Lewis liked it well enough, be sure of that,” answered Chough, bitterly.

“Don’t you think it was rather hard upon the husband,” suggested Anne, “since he really cared for his wife? Fancy being abandoned like that, and his children left without a mother!”

“He was at liberty to marry again,” replied Mrs Spencer sharply, still thinking of what she would do if by any chance Mr Spencer were to suddenly disbelieve in her father and his school.

“What would you have had Lewis, or rather [104] the poor Baroness, do, Miss Brown?” asked O’Reilly.

“Why, I would have them never dream of each other; but if they had been so foolish, be ashamed as soon as possible, and each go his and her way, and attend to his and her proper concerns.”

Dennistoun, who had sat silent at the other end of the table, propped up on his chair, suddenly stretched out his long neck, and gobbled out—

“Love permits no man or woman to resist: it is imperious, irresistible, dragging us along to happiness, or misery, or shame, whether we will or not. Love is the extinction of the reason, the extinction of the will, or rather the merging of the whole individuality in one mysterious desire. Those who can talk of resistance have never experienced love. Woe to them! their hour is coming!”—and he tried to fix his weak eyes on Anne.

“Well,” she answered quickly, “I hope I may never make such a disgusting fool of myself [105] as you describe, Mr Dennistoun; but as I think that not everybody is liable to go mad, so also I think that not everybody is liable to falling in love in your sense of the word.”

O’Reilly leaned over the back of her chair.

“It happens only to those who want to write about it, Miss Brown,” he whispered.

“Anyhow,” remarked Hamlin, “Lewis is a charming fellow, and I am sure you will appreciate him, Miss Brown. He is, moreover, the most backbitten man in creation,” and Hamlin glanced round the table; “but you must never believe any harm of him.”

Perhaps, thought Anne, Edmund Lewis was disliked by this set for the same reasons which, she could not help understanding, were beginning to make her vaguely unpopular. Still, she did not like the story of his marriage, she did not like the recollection of his morbidly beautiful drawings.

“It’s good news about Lewis,” said Hamlin to her after breakfast; “but unfortunately [106] there’s been rather a bothering letter also. Did I ever mention a cousin of mine, the daughter of papa’s sister and of a horrible Russian creature called Polozoff? She was brought up with us as a child, and is connected with a great many painful circumstances. I have completely lost sight of her since she was about fifteen, and now I suddenly get a letter from her telling me that her husband is dead, and that she is coming to England. I rather loathe the idea of her, and if you knew the part she played in this house fifteen years ago, you could understand it. But the worst is that Aunt Claudia perfectly abhorred her—I will tell you the horrible, prosaic, tragic story some day—and that I perfectly dread having to break the news to her. I do hate a scene so! There she is; I suppose I’d better tell her.”

Mrs Macgregor was walking slowly up and down the gravel walk before the house.

“Do come and keep me in countenance. [107] It really is no fault of mine, but I know my aunt will be furious.”

“What’s the matter?” cried Mrs Macgregor suspiciously, as if expecting to be told something disagreeable.

“I wanted to tell you, Aunt Claudia,” said Hamlin, “that I had a letter this morning.”

“Yes, I know, from your dear Lewis,” interrupted Mrs Macgregor. “What’s that to me?”

“I don’t mean that one. I had a letter from—guess from whom?” and Hamlin tried to smile—“from Cousin Sacha.”

Mrs Macgregor recoiled as if she had trodden on a toad.

“From whom?”

“From Cousin Sacha. Sacha Polozoff—Madame Elaguine, I suppose I ought to call her.”

For a moment there was a dead silence. The old lady’s face, usually so vacant, was lit up into a terrific energy of anger.

“ What business has she to write to you?”

“Well, really, aunt, I don’t see why she shouldn’t,” answered Hamlin. “After all, [108] we are cousins, and we have never openly quarrelled.

”My aunt,“ he explained, turning to Anne, ”has got a tremendous aversion—a prejudice—towards this one and only cousin of mine. She disliked her father, very reasonably, and I think she has let her dislike descend to the second generation rather unreasonably.“

”Unreasonably!“ exclaimed Mrs Macgregor; ”you know it was not unreasonable, Walter—you know what that Cousin Sacha of yours was in this house.“

”I know nothing of the sort,“ cried Hamlin, angrily. ”I know that Sacha lived in this house as a child; I know she left it as a child; I know we all hated her and hers, and that perhaps they deserved it; but I know that we have no right to hate a woman of whom we know nothing, because she happened to have been a badly brought up child, years ago.

“At all events,” went on Hamlin, “I insist upon her being properly treated as a lady, and a relation.”

[109]

“Properly treated!” almost foamed out his aunt. “Do you mean to say that she is coming here?”

“Not here; but to London. Her husband is dead; and she writes to me that she thinks she had better send her boy to an English school; and as the only person in England upon whom she has a claim—”

“A pretty claim!” interrupted Mrs Macgregor.

“As her first cousin, she has written to me for information and assistance.”

“And you are going to give it her, Walter?”

“Of course I am. And I hope, Aunt Claudia, that you will remember that I won’t be disgraced towards a lady who has done us no harm. She will be in London, most likely, when we return at the beginning of winter.”

Anne had heard many allusions to this Cousin Sacha, and they belonged to that class of cynical hints which always made her indignant with Mrs Macgregor. She instinctively took part with this unknown woman, [110] and she admired Hamlin’s decision and generosity. Why did he not always act like this?

“That child—that Sacha,” said Mrs Macgregor, when Hamlin had left them, “was the evil genius of his house. She was sent as if to embody all the bad tendencies of the family. It was a miserable house at best, my brother‐in‐law’s, for he was a weak, vicious, violent man. But just when this wretched child was brought to us my sister had died, Mr Hamlin was very much shaken and repentant for the life he had led her, and I really believe that he had made up his mind to live decently for the sake of his children. The two boys were growing up, and there seemed some chance of things going quietly and happily. Then Mr Hamlin thought fit to invite home his sister, who was a widow; she had married a horrible Russian, a sort of indecent madman, with every possible vice under the sun. She was an odious woman herself, the regular slave‐driving type of the Hamlins. Oh, you can’t judge of them from [111] Walter; he’s like my sister, not like them. Well, she was violent, and overbearing, and tyrannical, and lazy, and hysterical, like a regular Jamaica woman. She was enough in the house; but then she had this child of hers, this Sacha, with her—a wretched, neglected creature, brought up by French servants, who were her father’s mistresses, and literally with no more idea of right and wrong than any of the little heathens whom they pick out of gutters in the East End and send to reformatories.”

“Poor child!” said Anne. She shuddered at this glimpse into Hamlin’s early life; it had a horrible attraction for her, and yet she felt that she would far rather know nothing about it. All this filth seemed to cling to her mind and soil it. “How horrible for her!”

“She was about twelve when she came to us,” went on Mrs Macgregor meditatively, “and you couldn’t believe that such a child could exist in Christendom. She could no more spell the simplest word than I can speak [112] Arabic; she spoke an awful jargon of English and French and Russian and German, and she used to talk about things, and repeat stories which she had heard from her nurses, or her father, or her father’s friends—I don’t know whom—that were enough to make your hair stand on end. Mr Hamlin was in perfect despair; because, although he was a vicious sort of man himself, and quite did my poor sister to death with his bad conduct, he was awfully strict about all his kith and kin, and kept the boys as tight as if he had been a Puritan. What we all had to go through, you have no idea. At first I was quite ashamed to let any governess see such a little heathen as that child was, and we had to pay the governesses double wages to keep them on. Then, every time that they tried to break Sacha off some one of her disgusting ways, her mother, who was always moaning and groaning with imaginary maladies on her sofa, and no more thought of her daughter than of the man in the moon, would go into hysterics [113] and throw things in their face, and have them turned away, and keep Sacha for a day in her room, kissing her and giving her sweets. Well, we thought we were little by little getting the better of her; and then, thank goodness, Madame Polozoff, that was Mr Hamlin’s sister, died. Sacha learned a few things, and began to behave a little more like a Christian child; but it was only on the surface. She was utterly and thoroughly corrupt. When the boys returned from school (Arnold was sixteen, and Walter seventeen), the mischief began. That wretched Sacha fell madly in love with Walter, and began running after him; but Walter perfectly loathed the sight of her: he was always the cold, moral, irreproachable sort of creature that he is. Then she went after Arnold. Arnold was much the livelier of the two: he was a dear, warm‐ hearted, simple sort of boy, a perfect scapegrace, always in pickles, but we only liked him the better. But that wretched Sacha (he didn’t care a rap about her either, [114] for she was a horrid, lying, sickly, stunted little thing), in order to curry favour with him, put him up to all sorts of mischief, which I suppose she had learned from her precious father and his servants. What was poor Arnold to know? The nasty little fiend used to get out of bed and unlock the house‐door for him, so that he might go in and out at night and get into scrapes with the village girls, and drink at the pot‐house; and she used to steal the wine and the brandy out of the cupboards for him, and teach him all sorts of ungentlemanly, knavish, lying ways; I believe she used even to give him money out of her savings, just for him to go to the pot‐house. If ever a boy was ruined by a woman, poor Arnold was ruined by that miserable Sacha. Then, in return for her assistance and her lies and her money, he had to pretend to like her, to kiss her, and call her his darling little cousin, and promise to marry her, whom he abominated. Meanwhile Walter went dreaming on as he always [115] has, avoiding Sacha like the plague, and not perceiving any of the pretty doings of his brother; and Mr Hamlin, who thought that his house, just because it was his house, must be the palace of virtue, and his son, because he was his son, must be the most obedient and austere boy in the world, took to liking Sacha and her pretty, foreign little ways, and to think her quite a nice little girl, just the wife for one of his sons. Then one day (I suppose Sacha thought that poor Arnold did not kiss her and darling little Sacha her enough, or got jealous or something) they had a great row, and Arnold called her a liar, and said that if she were not a girl he would thrash her well. So Sacha rushed off sobbing to Mr Hamlin, and told him that Arnold had called her a liar, and had threatened to beat her; and Mr Hamlin called Arnold, and struck him in the face till his nose bled, and called him a coward and a brute, and swore he would cut him off with a shilling. Then it all came out about Arnold’s escapades, [116] his nights at the pot‐house, and so forth; and of course his father said that all he said about Sacha’s putting him up to it was a pack of lies, and finally it ended with Mr Hamlin behaving in such a way that poor Arnold ran away to America. Then we had no news of him for about six months, and Mr Hamlin wanted to take Walter into his good graces, although he had never cared for him, and Sacha tried to make up to Walter. But Walter also ran away to his uncle, because he said he would not stay unless Arnold was recalled, or at least money were sent to him. So Mr Hamlin had to give in and send for Arnold; but meanwhile he had quarrelled with Sacha, and packed her off to her Russian relatives, who sent her to some German deaconesses on the Rhine—a nice child to bring up! Walter returned, and began to prepare for the university; then Arnold was got back from America; but he had only got into worse and worse ways—he was always drunk, and finally his mind began to give [117] way. Poor Arnold! he was much, much nicer than Walter—such a bright, good‐humoured, manly fellow—and now . . .”

“Now?” repeated Anne in astonishment; she had listened without saying a word to this horrible page of family history. “Now? Do you mean that Mr Hamlin’s brother is alive?”

Mrs Macgregor looked at her with strange wide eyes. “Of course he is. We say he is dead; or if not dead, mad. Well, he might as soon be either, poor boy. He wanders about with a servant. Walter allows him some money. We never talk of him. Ah!” cried Mrs Macgregor, and it was a kind of suppressed cry of pain—“and that it is all, all owing to Sacha Polozoff; and she has the insolence to write to Walter!”

Anne did not know what to say.

“But,” she could not help saying after a minute, for it seemed to her as if the whole story were so unjust, so one‐sided, as if there were so much too much laid at the door of [118] the unhappy, neglected, corrupt child—so much too little pity or indignation shown at her having been thus neglected and corrupted,—“but, Aunt Claudia—is it fair to put it all down to Sacha? After all, Arnold was sixteen, he was a man, he had been decently brought up—and she, she was an ignorant child, brought up as you say without idea of right or wrong. Don’t you think—oh, don’t you think, auntie dear, that it was mainly the fault of old Mr Hamlin, and his bad example, and his closing his eyes to his boy’s behaviour?” It seemed to her so frightful that a girl, a child, a victim, just because she was a victim, should have such a weight of guilt thrown upon her.

“She was a woman, and he was a man,” said Mrs Macgregor fiercely, her love for her lost nephew, and her strange theories of sexual influences mixing grotesquely and tragically—“and a woman can always do what she will with a man; a woman can always, unless she be as weak as my poor [119] sister, ruin or save a Hamlin, ever since Walter’s great‐uncle Mordaunt went to the bad, even worse than poor Arnold.”

“Some of them,” she said after a moment, “are good, and some are bad: my brother‐in‐law was bad—Arnold was good, and Walter is good; but they are all as weak as water, these Hamlins—weak in goodness or badness, every one of them.”

Anne sighed. And as she walked through the big, stately rooms of Wotton House, she thought of the horrible scenes which had happened in there; of the waste of life by violence and vice and neglect which they had witnessed; especially of that wretched, vicious child, held so terribly responsible for the folly and wickedness of others. And the sense of the terrible power of circumstances, of the degradation into which others may lead one, or out of which others may raise one, which had been silently growing in her as she watched the world in her tragic way, came over her with a terrifying rush; [120] and she felt, half in anxiety at scarcely escaped danger, half in joy at safety, a tumult of gratitude when she remembered how Walter Hamlin had raised her up, led her out of the way of all temptation and evil contact, and left her safe and strong as she knew herself to be.

[121]

CHAPTER VI.

As the summer changed into autumn, the guests at Wotton Hall were gradually renewed. Chough remained, and at Anne’s particular desire sent for his two little girls, sad, strange, Cockney creatures, to whom the large house, the garden, the country walks and country sights, were as things of another world. But the Spencers, Dennistoun, and O’Reilly departed; and in their place arrived the two Leigh girls and Edmund Lewis. The last‐named gentleman did not by any means strike Anne as a fascinating being. He was a stumpy, high‐shouldered, thick‐set little man, always very slackly dressed, with small, rather handsome features, and a profusion of curly reddish hair and beard, which made his face [122] look even more like unbaked dough than it might otherwise have done. Some people considered him very handsome, and it was obvious that he himself felt as if he were tall; for he stumped and slouched in and out of rooms with his hands in his pockets, and dropped on to chairs and sofas with the heavy importance of gait of a Hercules. Nothing could be more comic than the contrast between this lumbering and solemn redhaired dwarf and Cosmo Chough, black, fierce, alert, courteous, and grandiloquent. Lewis was silent; but when he spoke he fixed his handsome eyes searchingly upon one, and either trailed his voice along with slow emphasis, or answered in monosyllables, which left in you an uncomfortable feeling of having made some inappropriate or impertinent remark. He had, moreover, lips of the colour of the very best sealing‐wax; a peculiarity which, while decidedly adding to the pictorial value of a red‐haired man, has a something quite particularly repulsive to certain people, among [123] whom Anne Brown must be counted. However, she tried to like Mr Lewis. In some respects he was a more genuine personality than Chough, or Dennistoun, or almost any other of Hamlin’s æsthetic friends. He did not make himself up—manner, appearance, ideas, or words—to look like anything which he was not, or at all events which he did not thoroughly believe himself to be; and he was, moreover, much more in the way of will and definite tendencies, and felt himself (however mistakenly) to be much more in the way of power, character, and importance, than any other man whom Anne had ever come across, except her cousin Richard, between whom and Edmund Lewis there existed, despite a thousand differences, a certain resemblance. And perhaps it was exactly this resemblance to Richard Brown,—a man whom Anne did not exactly like, nay, who even occasionally repelled her a little, but of whose power and truthfulness and generosity Anne could not doubt,—perhaps it was this resemblance, however [124] vague it might be, which made Anne for some time believe that Edmund Lewis, little as he pleased her, might be a remarkable sort of man, and treat Chough’s insinuations against him as merely another instance of that childish unreasonableness of likings and dislikings, which, together with vanity and weakness of will, she had got to associate with a poetic endowment. Over Hamlin, at all events, Edmund Lewis had an undeniable influence; an influence which he himself avowedly attributed to his magnetic powers, which he would exert, or imagine that he exerted, sitting lazily opposite his friends or victims, staring vaguely at them and speaking in his slow, important voice. He was a painter, in an irregular sort of way, himself, and took much more interest in Hamlin’s art than in his poetry; so that Hamlin, who was sick of versifying for the moment, had a fit of painting once more, and spent hours locked up in his studio with Lewis, while poor Cosmo Chough was more and more thrown upon Anne and her friends. [125] But the girls had got to understand Chough, and the fund of kindness and self‐sacrificing gentleness which was hidden beneath the little man’s poetical thin‐skinnedness and the queer poetical veneer of mystic wickedness which he himself did not understand. He could not by any possibility be broken of his tendency to talk overmuch about Messalina, Lucretia Borgia, and La Belle Heaulmière; but by this time it was quite obvious that he had not the smallest experience of ladies of any such character, still less the faintest thought of giving offence by his allusions to them. To Anne he was utterly devoted: he was fascinated by her beauty, afraid of its tragic earnestness, afraid of her downright, quiet manner, afraid of her silent contemptuousness, of her uncompromising censoriousness; but if ever a person appreciated Anne’s kindness, her energy, her imperious desire of helping others, it was Chough. Anne had often spoken to him about the neglected education of his little girls; not reproachfully, for she knew but too well on [126] what it depended, but trying to stir him up to resist the sort of fatality which seemed to hang over his family concerns. And now she insisted on taking the children’s education into her own hands, until Chough should be able to afford sending them to a proper school. Perhaps the thought of that neglected, unconsciously corrupted, terribly responsible little heathen girl, who had done so much mischief in Wotton Hall fifteen years before, had something to do with Anne’s energetic behaviour towards the little Choughs—to whom, every morning regularly, she gave a two hours’ lesson in grammar and writing and history, as complete as if she had been a schoolmistress and they her pupils; until their father, astonished at their unexpected development of human faculties, took it in his head to turn them into first‐rate musicians, and actually got up at six in the morning to teach them the piano, while Hamlin and Lewis were still asleep.

Marjory Leigh, who had considered Anne [127] in the light of an irresponsible but decidedly objectionable æsthetic villain on her departure from London, looked on in puzzled amazement. She could not understand how any one so beautiful, so versed in useless literature and useless art, any one whom her foolish elder sister foolishly adored, could be anxious and able to make herself of use in the world. And even Mary Leigh, in her gentle, ironical way, was astonished at Anne’s new vocation, and adored her all the more enthusiastically for it. Mrs Macgregor hinted, in her affectionate cynical manner, that Anne was mistaking for a desire to be useful to Chough’s children the mere imperious necessity of caring for some one, which was the vicarious form of love; and prophesied archly that, once married, Anne would soon be satisfied with uselessness. Anne smiled contemptuously at Mrs Macgregor’s theories. Yet she was as unaware as was Mrs Macgregor herself, that there was indeed an imperious necessity in her nature—a necessity more personal, more selfish, and more [128] terrible than her mere desire to be of use. In these four months Anne had gradually, and hitherto unconsciously, ceased to love Hamlin as she had formerly loved him. Like many of the most powerful and passionate natures, Anne had a fatal tendency to love ideally and love the ideal; not so much to invest with unreal qualities the object of her passion, but to conceive a passion for an impersonal creation of her own, an amalgamation of her own ardent and confused aspirations after an unknown excellence; and then to identify the object of this strange intellectual and moral passion with the first real person who struck her as excellent and noble and beautiful, or who appealed strongly to her sympathies and her gratitude. Of love in the ordinary sense, such a nature is wellnigh incapable; and the devotion due to real imperfect creatures, pity and sympathy with weakness, the devotion due to a sense of duty, although it may be intense and tender in such people, comes only on later, when the first [129] splendid idol has been shattered, and whatever passion there is must be given, in humbleness or sorrow, to the unsatisfying realities of this world. With such a nature and such tendencies, Anne had been met, when young, ignorant, and friendless, by an indistinct yet real personality—by Hamlin, who had done for her more than any other man had ever done for a woman; and in this vaguely seen Hamlin, known at first only as a servant knows the brilliant guest of the house, a model the painter to whom she is sitting—and then known at a distance, in letters which were the unreal efflorescence of a poet’s mind,—in this vaguely seen Hamlin, to whom she owed her new life, and who was surrounded by all the beautiful things and ideas which that new life represented, Anne Brown had incarnated the ideal of good and beauty towards which her simple, self‐unconscious, energetic soul so strenuously aspired. Such a love as this must be transformed into something less exalted, or must die out unsatisfied, whatever the person who [130] feels it or the person with whom it is connected: the real, however excellent, can never satisfy the craving after the ideal; a living individual can never quiet desires which have no individual object, which are mere dumb and violent activities of a too powerful soul. But Anne was not the kind of woman in whom simpler and less exacting instincts, in whom ordinary love, can gradually supplant such an ideal passion; and what was worse, Hamlin was not the man who could substitute for an impossible and unapproachable creature of the imagination, a less perfect, but more appealing, more attaching, more lovable creature of reality.

No man that ever breathed could have satisfied cravings which were in reality not after a man, but after a higher life, a more complete activity, a nobler aim; but Hamlin fell short not merely of Anne’s ideal, but also, in many things, even of the reality of Anne herself, and of all she could understand and sympathise with. The ecstatic devotion [131] had speedily given way in her to a more sober kind of admiration and affection; but now, little by little, that also was being invaded, transformed piecemeal here and there, by doubt, contempt, and disgust. Anne’s eyes had gradually opened to the fact that Hamlin was vain, thin‐skinned, professionally jealous, and afraid of the judgment, as he was avid of the praise, of his own inferiors; and that, in the negative line, he was without strong likings, enthusiasms, or aspirations; and the negative qualities affected her more than the positive ones: to her the coldness of Hamlin’s sympathies was more painful than the weakness of his nature. Vaguely and gradually these things had dawned upon Anne; and she could no more deny their existence than she could persuade herself that a grey English autumn day was brilliant as an Italian summer morning. But of late things had happened, like that incident of the suppressed “Ballad of the Fens,” and of the self‐slandering sonnets which Hamlin looked upon with such [132] complacency, which had given her glimpses into something worse than she could well believe in, worse than she had the heart to look into. These she cast behind her, thinking of them as little as possible, trying to consider them as hallucinations, or at all events, gross exaggerations of her own: she must have misunderstood; such things could not be. She tried to settle her love of Hamlin on a real and more solid basis. She fully admitted to herself that Hamlin had weaknesses,—the weaknesses which she remarked in so many of the men around him,—weaknesses going together with the fine qualities of the poet’s nature,—weaknesses which, Anne was beginning to suspect, every one had (forgetting that she had not), or at least something equivalent thereunto. She admitted to herself that Hamlin was weak; nay, to do so was a sort of relief. That Hamlin should come of a family infirm of will and often vicious, that he should have been brought up surrounded by vice and violence engendered by weakness; this notion, [133] due partly to her own observations, and confirmed by Mrs Macgregor’s confidences, explained so much away, and left room for so much: it explained all the wretched part of his nature, it left room for all the good, for the gentleness, the generosity, the chivalric spirit which had made Anne what she was; and it let her hope, every now and then, that better might be in store. For since the evil was merely negative and the good so thorough and so positive, surely the good would vanquish the evil. And, looking at the people who surrounded Hamlin,—at these vain, weak, unreal poets and artists, at this whole school of people who, whatever their private life, affected to live only for selfish enjoyment of beauty and selfish interest in sin,—Anne used often to think that Hamlin was in the position of a sort of Rinaldo, the noblest of all heroes, degraded into mean sloth by the Armida of æstheticism, but requiring only the shrill of the trumpet and the clash of arms from the real living world to be redeemed and to show [134] himself in his real nobility. She would even exaggerate her aversion or contempt for Hamlin’s companions and for his school; the worse they were, the more excuse for him; and she would often sit dreaming of the way in which he might be gradually got from under their influence, and brought in contact with those stronger, more healthy, or more terrible realities, which Anne’s nature, by a kind of occult sympathy, felt in the world all round, as the birds and insects will feel the storm which is still invisible beyond the hills, but which is coming to purify, and shake, and revive.

And so Anne went on loving and hoping, and believing herself to be happy. But there began to be a strange restlessness about her; a desire to be useful, to be perpetually active in something, to be always trying to understand, and sympathise, and help—an imperious necessity not to be left to her own thoughts (those thoughts which had once been like a [135] paradise, in which solitude was the highest bliss). For, alone with her own thoughts, Anne was beginning to experience an intolerable sense of isolation, and intolerable sense of impotence.

[136]

CHAPTER VII.

IN this condition of mind Anne was violently impelled towards the two Leigh girls; and strongly induced to take an aversion to Edmund Lewis. For the Leighs represented every day more and more the influence which was strengthening her, the influence which might revive Hamlin; and Edmund Lewis seemed sent as an incarnation of those tendencies which, in her belief, had marred the nobility of Hamlin’s nature.

Anne’s unmistakable desire to know what was going on in the striving and suffering world outside the strongholds of æstheticism, to help in it to her utmost; to be, what the people believing only in beauty and passion could not conceive, responsible,—all this intense [137] striving got the better of Marjory Leigh’s prejudices. She began to understand that she had found in Anne a zealous lieutenant; nay, after some time, the conscientious though somewhat pig‐headed and conceited young philanthropist admitted to herself that Anne was a force for work and good which dragged even her along, making her, by the influence of her complete unselfishness, self‐unconsciousness, and energy, more ready to examine into her own mode of doing things, to sift her vanity from her humanitarianism.

“Anne does make one less conceited,” Marjory one day remarked to her sister, waking up from a long reverie—“less conceited and less narrow, I do believe. It’s such a revelation; and somehow it makes one feel just a little bit ashamed, to find such honesty and determination in an æsthete. After that, people don’t seem to be so hopelessly lost—do they? I fear I must have been a rather bigoted sort of brute formerly,” and Marjory pushed her fingers through her short, lank [138] yellow hair, and looked up at her sister with her childish, resolute, defiant face, not yet puzzled by the sad experience of the difficulty of doing good, and of the dangerousness of even the wisest theories. Mary Leigh smiled. She was proud of her little sister; and she was, in a sort of a way, in love with Anne Brown. Marjory thought her rather æsthetic and spiritless, she knew; and Anne was absorbed in her own thoughts; but Mary Leigh was one of those girls who can resign themselves cheerfully to being second best, as long as they are the best in their power—to be happy in her devotion, even if it be unreciprocated; and she was happy, in a subdued way—proud of Marjory and adoring Anne, and seeing that the two somewhat unresponsive objects of her love could now appreciate one another.

So much for the Leighs. But if their presence at Wotton was a support and a consolation to Anne, the presence of Edmund Lewis very soon grew to be a positive source of disgust [139]. At first, in his egotistic, silently brow‐beating way, he was an interesting visitor. He had travelled and read a good deal, and, in point of fact, knew much more about literature than about his own art. His imagination turned easily to the terrible; he considered Webster as greater than Shakespeare, and Ford as greater than Webster; he had personal experiences of more or less criminal persons, whose acquaintance, for the sake of morbid psychology, he had sought, and whose characteristics he had lovingly studied; while in reality mild and even milk‐soppish in his habits, he seemed to experience a fascination from violence and bloodshed. For a week or so he was decidedly interesting, if not, to Anne and her two girl‐friends, attractive. But hostility soon arose. He was a fervid spiritualist, and a great adept in mesmerising; his vanity made him see mediums, victims of his will‐power, everywhere. He immediately discovered one in Anne, and begged to be permitted to try his tricks, as Marjory Leigh called them.

[140]

Now, if there was one thing which was more abhorrent to Anne than any other, it was spiritualism: averse to mysticism like every Italian; prosaic and common‐sense, perhaps just in proportion to the idealism of passion and aspiration, she was impatient of the vulgar mysteriousness of modern magic; while at the same time her powerful personality, her austere will (which she always recognised as the most precious part of her nature), which took umbrage at Mrs Macgregor’s theories of obedience to mere physical passions, was positively insulted by the notion of surrender to the perfectly unintellectual will of another. However, she let Lewis try. During his performance, as he fixed his green eyes upon her, and made passes with his flabby white fingers, Anne felt a loathing as if a slug were trailing over her, but she sat unaffected by Mr Lewis’s will‐power, and at last wearied out his patience.

“You resisted!—I felt you resist!” cried Lewis angrily, at the end of the séance.

[141]

“There was nothing to resist against,” answered Anne, bluntly; “but had there been, of course I should have resisted.”

“Hamlin does not resist,” replied Lewis, with a certain malignant pride. “I can do just whatever I choose with Hamlin.”

“I enjoy it,” explained Hamlin; “it’s like the first effects of opium or haschisch. One feels one’s self giving way, one’s soul sinking deliciously.”

“Going to sleep, in fact,” corrected Anne.

From that moment Anne felt that Lewis hated her. Yet he was, in a way, fascinated by her exotic beauty; he could not make up his mind that so strange and splendid a woman could resist him. He never tried to magnetise her again; and he made many drawings of her, curiously distorting her expression, sullen, but frank and resolute, into a kind of sombre, morbid wistfulness.

“I hate those sketches he does of you,” cried Marjory one day; “nasty things, which make you look—I don’t know to express it— [142] as if you were neither a man nor a woman, and were in love with him.”

Mary Leigh laughed. “The school is running to seed,” she said: “the great men have done all that could be done in the way of beautiful suggestiveness—the little ones can only do suggestiveness of all sorts of vague nastiness which they don’t even understand. But there’s a change coming on in painting; people are beginning to be satisfied with interpreting real nature; and—don’t you think—Anne—a similar change . . .”

Mary Leigh, who was the most absent‐minded of Irish enthusiasts, suddenly stopped short. She had only just remembered that Hamlin was a poet and a painter of the school which she had just described. And a pained, darkened look had come over Anne. Mary Leigh could not understand that that look meant that Anne had often thought just the same thing, and that now there returned to her, with sickening bitterness, the double [143] recollection of the “Ballad of the Fens,” and of those twelve sonnets called “Desire.”

Meanwhile Anne gradually got substantial reasons for her instinctive aversion to Edmund Lewis. The family of the vicar of Wotton sometimes visited at the Hall. There were two very young girls, scarcely more than children, for whom Anne and the Leighs had taken a fancy. One afternoon they came to tea, delicate pink‐and‐white creatures of fourteen or fifteen, impressionable, nervous, utterly ignorant of the world. Hamlin seemed to appreciate the charm of obvious purity and guilelessness which went with their ignorance of the world.

“I should like to make a picture of those two creatures,” he whispered to Anne, as they sat at tea in the library, “or to write a poem about them—they seem to do one good; for it is good, is it not, to see so much life which is so perfectly fresh, and unsullied, and untormented—such a desire to know the world before [144] the evil in it is even guessed at—don’t you think?”

Even Chough could not make a single unintelligible allusion to the wife of Claudius or the daughter of Alexander VI., but sat with one of his children on his knee, looking at the young girls and gently humming a scrap of old minuet, fresh and simple like themselves. Anne could not help thinking that she had never been what these girls were. She had been shown the ugly things of life, taught to struggle with them since her childhood, and now believing equally in good, but believing sadly and bitterly. It was better to be a woman as she was, a woman who knew of good and evil, and was prepared to fight her way out of darkness; but still it was sad never, never to have been as these girls. Edmund Lewis was leaning forward on the table, his reddish‐auburn head with its glittering eyes rising like that of a snake, as if silently trying to mesmerise the visitors.

“Suppose we show these young ladies some of our works of art?” he proposed, in a half‐ [145] jocular way which he occasionally had. The girls had never seen any pictures scarcely, and having heard of Hamlin and Lewis as famous painters from London, were delighted. The whole party went up to Hamlin’s studio. He showed the girls not the things for which he cared most, but what he thought would give them most pleasure—magnificent tinted sketches of poetical legends, of the Sleeping Beauty, Cupid and Psyche, and so forth. Anne thought she had scarcely ever seen Hamlin so nice before as when he got the sketches out of the portfolio, and told the girls what they represented. When he had done, Edmund Lewis, with his slow, shuffling movements, placed his large sketch‐book on an easel, and turned a page. It was covered with outline drawings of men and women, stark naked, in various listless attitudes.

Anne had seen these drawings time after time, and had thought them, accustomed as she was to studios and painters, merely clever nude studies, with the usual expression of [146] bored depravity of all Lewis’s work. She had criticised the drawing and anatomy, and had never before thought that any impropriety was connected with them. But now she could not help blushing and feeling vaguely indignant.

“That’s not the sort of thing to show those children,” whispered Mary Leigh, who, heaven knows, had seen nude studies enough in her life. Both she and Anne had caught the surprised, vacant expression of the two girls, had seen the flush in their face, and understood the silence, never asking what it all meant, as they stared at all this emaciated, flabby nakedness. And Anne caught also Edmund Lewis’s expression, as he held the corner of the page, ready to turn over, with one hand, stroking his reddish‐brown beard with the other, and looking, with slightly raised eyebrows and curious green eyes, towards Hamlin, as if to call his attention. Lewis turned another page, and another; always the same stark‐naked people. Anne was very black. Heaven knows from what instinct, perhaps from a paternal recollection [147] of his own little girls, Cosmo Chough understood Anne’s look; and edging himself awkwardly into the corner, he banged against the easel, and made it and the sketch‐hook come down with a crash.

“Confound your awkwardness!” cried Lewis, stooping to pick up his drawings, and slowly replacing the sketch‐book.

“I don’t think they care to see any more,” said Anne; “you see, these young ladies haven’t studied anatomy. Supposing you show them your Eastern sketches, Mr Lewis.”

Lewis gave Anne a rapid, angry glance. “The Eastern sketches are up‐stairs,” he said snappishly; adding, in his drawling, mock courteous way, “I think these young ladies have seen the best I could show them.”

“Then we had better go down‐stairs, and Mr Chough will play an accompaniment, for I know they sing very nicely,” said Anne, taking no notice of him.

Perhaps, thought Anne, she might have been prejudiced against Edmund Lewis. He [148] did draw morbid‐looking nudities; but so many other men did just the same, that it was quite possible he might have displayed that sketch‐book from mere thoughtlessness. Yet she could not believe it; she had seen Lewis’s look as he turned over the pages, and that look had disgusted her.

The next day but one the question was settled in her mind. It was a fine autumn morning, and Anne was seated on the terrace, waiting for the others to come down to breakfast. The air, just touched by the first cold, was exquisitely pure; and the sear bracken of the hillside opposite sparkled golden with the heavy dew. All round the swallows were whirring about, collecting for departure. The thought of the Villa Arnolfini—of the place in the vineyard, among the yellowing vines, where she used to sit on the dry warm mint and fennel with the little Perrys, where, under the big mulberry‐tree, they had buried her Dante in a heap of yellow leaves—came home to Anne. How good Hamlin had been to [149] her! the idea almost pained her. But this lovely morning seemed to have swept all evil away. If only, Anne said to herself, Hamlin’s sympathies could be violently roused—if only he could be awakened suddenly, by some unexpected contact with the tragic realities of the world, by a sudden appeal to his generosity and indignation, out of this æsthetic day‐dream with its enervating visions of impure beauty and forbidden things. If only this could be done, the horrid spell which kept him at a moral distance from her would be broken through. . . . And soon it must come, this awakening.

As she was thinking in this way, Edmund Lewis strolled up, his hands behind his back, to the table at which she was seated. He gave her a little unceremonious nod, and then, interrupting the tune which he was faintly whistling, pushed a paper‐bound book across the table to her.

“Have you ever read this, Miss Brown?” he asked; “do you know that passage? I [150] think it one of the loveliest things which have ever been written.”

Anne’s eye glanced at the page, pencil‐marked all round, and then at the title on the margin. It was Gautier’s ‘Mademoiselle de Maupin.’ She understood.

“I have never read it,” she answered, “but I have often heard that it is a book which a man does not offer a woman except as an insult,” and she quietly handed the volume back, looking up, her beautiful severe face flushed, her slate‐grey eyes flashing, at Lewis.

The painter started.

“Upon my word,” he answered quickly, with his usual self‐possession, “I never thought that. I never thought that any book could possibly offend a pure woman nowadays. I regard this book merely as a noble hymn to beauty; others may regard it otherwise. I really had no thought of offending you, my dear Miss Brown”—there was a tone of patronising insolence in his voice.

“So much the better,” answered Anne, rising.

[151]

Oh how, how could Hamlin, with his chivalrous nature, endure the daily contact of such a man as this!

“Lewis ought not to have selected those particular drawings to show the vicar’s girls,” said Anne, later on. She could not allude to that scene of the book; but she felt she must say something. “A man ought not to show such things as those to mere children, brought up in the country, who don’t know what they mean, and are merely shocked by such things—don’t you think so, Mary?”

“Certainly,” answered Mary Leigh boldly, quite astonished at Anne’s venturing to mention such a subject.

“It wasn’t good taste, certainly,” answered Hamlin. “Lewis is fearfully absent‐minded. They are lovely designs. But still, it wasn’t good taste, I quite agree.”

“Good taste!” thought Anne, with a shudder. “Is there nothing higher than taste in the world?”

[152]

CHAPTER VIII.

THREE days later, Chough and Lewis returned to town, and Hamlin went with them. The weather had broken up, and it was time to settle for the winter. Aunt Claudia and Anne were to stay on another fortnight, in order to give Hamlin time to make some alterations in the house at Hammersmith. Such at least was the pretext; but Anne knew that Madame Elaguine had arrived in London, and she guessed that Hamlin would wish to transact whatever business there might be, before exposing to Mrs Macgregor’s wrath the Cousin Sacha of former days—before, perhaps, refusing to let Anne Brown meet a woman whose past spoke little in her favour, and of whose present he knew absolutely nothing.

[153]

“How I dread seeing that woman!” he exclaimed the evening before his departure, as he walked up and down the hall with Anne, while the rest of the company was listening to Cosmo Chough, shrilly piping eighteenth century music in the drawing‐room.

“Has Aunt Claudia ever told you anything of our life when Cousin Sacha was here with us, years ago?” he asked.

Anne nodded.

“Aunt Claudia told me the whole story.”

“Then you can understand,” cried Hamlin, almost convulsively, “how the mere thought of Sacha is loathsome to me; and yet, I must behave decently towards her—don’t you think?”

“Of course you must; and I can’t help thinking that perhaps—well, that your aunt and you may be a little unjust towards her—I don’t think that a child really could be so bad.”

“Oh, a child may be as bad as a woman if she have evil blood in her! and just think, if [154] Sacha was like that as a child, what must she not be as a woman?”

There was something odd in his tone; something not of indignation, but of a kind of clinging curiosity.

“I daresay,” said Anne, “that as a woman she may be much better than as a child. Her eyes may have been opened to her own unworthiness, and she may have struggled out of the influence of bad examples. I am sure many, many people are much better as men and women than as children. To know, to feel responsible, means so much.”

“That may be.” There was some disappointment in Hamlin’s tone.

Anne laughed.

“You want to find a fiend, a lamia, a vampire,” she said—“something hateful and picturesque. Fancy if your cousin should turn out a most prosaic and ultra‐respectable woman, given up to her children, and coffee‐taverns, and women’s suffrage!”

Hamlin could not help laughing.

[155]

“I fear there’s not much chance of that. Anyhow, I must see whether she is fit for you to receive, and whether Aunt Claudia can be mollified towards her, supposing she is the exemplary piece of prose which you imagine.”

Anne had induced Cosmo Chough to leave his little girls in her charge; and the Leighs were to return to London with her and Aunt Claudia. The big house seemed very empty without Hamlin and his friends; but the quiet was pleasant. Somehow, when he was away, when she could no longer see him perpetually sitting and walking with Edmund Lewis, Anne’s love for Hamlin became much stronger. In her recollection he existed only with reference to herself; she felt his goodness, she believed in his nobility, she felt sure that some day he would become more manly, healthy, and resolute. If only she could enter into his confidence, instead of men like Lewis and Dennistoun; if only she could make him see all that there was in the world besides mere art and poetry. Perhaps she was unworthy to [156] do it. This thought spurred her on, redoubled Anne’s restless desire to know, to sympathise, and to help.

Marjory Leigh had, soon after her arrival at Wotton, made acquaintance with the wife of the vicar, a simple, energetic, rather narrow‐minded but boundlessly unselfish woman, all whose thoughts were given to improving the condition of the neighbouring poor. To tell the whole truth, the vicar had a son, a young man entirely belying the usual saying about clergymen’s sons, who had renounced a good living in the neighbourhood in order to become a curate in the East End of London.

Harry Collett had been at Oxford at the same time as Hamlin; he had even, for some time, belonged to the æsthetic set of which Hamlin and Melton Perry had been the heads: but he had soon become a religious enthusiast; and, his religious enthusiasm cooling down, he had remained an ardent philanthropist. Hamlin had a liking for Harry Collett. He was handsome, tall, and emaciated, like a St John [157] the Baptist by Donatello; he was in his own style poetical; he was a dreamer and an enthusiast. Hamlin used to call him Francis of Assisi. He did several sketches of him, and asked him several times to Wotton Hall. Anne also liked and admired him; but there was something exaggerated, narrow‐minded, in him, which shocked her Italian temperament. What she wanted was secular energy, not priestly devotion.

“He is a monk,” she used to say; “he ought to have lived in the middle ages. What we want nowadays are disagreeable, rough‐and‐ready men like Cousin Dick—men who don’t merely feel sorry for vice, but who try to understand its scientific reason.”

Marjory Leigh, who declared herself to belong to the most advanced of all advanced parties, and to whom Richard Brown was little less than a god, perfectly agreed in Anne’s verdict. But being of a proselytising temper, and having a special love for proselytising among the young men of her acquaintance, she immediately [158] set about enlightening the rather High Church benevolence of Harry Collett, as soon as he came to spend at Wotton his summer holidays. Anne and Mary Leigh used often to laugh over the intensely serious flirtations which were carried on between Marjory and the East End curate—flirtations of which both parties were perfectly unaware—earnestly discussing charity reorganisation, ventilation, primary instruction, and so forth; but which was nevertheless destined to result, soon after the general return to town, in a long engagement between Marjory and Harry Collett. Harry was already back at his post in the East End; but Marjory, being unable to discuss philanthropy with him, went daily to help his mother in her work. Thus it was that Anne gradually became acquainted with the petty miseries of village life, its dull indifference, mistaken by poets for innocence, and beneath which lies so much possibility of stupid misery and stupid crime. “All that must be improved some day,” Anne used to say; and [159] she determined to ask Cousin Dick’s advice, for she believed in radical measures rather than in the small palliations of the vicar’s wife.

One afternoon—they were within three or four days of return to London—Marjory Leigh returned more than usually excited from a visit to the vicarage.

“What’s the matter?” asked Anne, as the three girls sat alone in Hamlin’s empty studio.

Marjory threw her hat on the floor. “Give me some tea,” she said, “I feel quite sick; I never thought I should come across such horrors. Of course,” she added quickly, before Anne or her sister had time to exclaim, and as if to reclaim her reputation for omniscience—“of course I knew that such things existed—oh dear, yes—in big towns and so forth; but still,”—and poor Marjory fairly burst into tears,—“I never, never thought that—I should come so near them.”

Finally, when she had had some tea, Marjory, all blushing and stammering, and in a [160] hesitating, roundabout way, which curiously belied her usual affectation of cynical omniscience, proceeded to explain what had just happened. A girl with an illegitimate baby—a very common occurrence in those parts—had turned up for assistance at the vicarage, and, while deprecating the wretched creature’s fault, the vicar’s wife had revealed to Marjory Leigh a jealously hidden stain in her parish; namely, that in the hamlet to which the girl belonged, a mishap, as she termed it, like hers was a trifle, and indeed could scarcely be considered a fault at all, compared with the condition of brutish sin in which rolled, cynically huddled together in cabins no better than sties, the whole small population of that foul little fen village.

“It appears it’s been going on for generations,” cried Marjory, “and that there’s no hope of remedying things unless the miserable creatures be removed into more decent dwellings. It’s useless trying to teach them to live decently as long as they live there, in [161] those hovels in the fen, where half of them are ill of fever every autumn, and they herd together like cattle. Oh, it’s sickening to think of Christian people being so sinful close by one!” and Marjory burst into hysterical sobs.

Mary Leigh had exclaimed in horror as soon as Marjory’s meaning had become plain to her.

“Oh, don’t cry, don’t cry, Marjory darling!” she exclaimed, throwing herself on her knees and clasping her sister’s waist. “You can’t do anything, my love—and you’ll only make yourself ill if you let yourself brood on such things.”

Anne had not exclaimed. She sat perfectly still, and said nothing. Most persons would have deemed her very callous, she looked so calm.

“Are you quite sure, Marjory,” she asked, after a minute—“are you quite sure you did not misunderstand, or that Mrs Collett did not exaggerate?”

[162]

“I couldn’t misunderstand; and Mrs Collett gave me ever so many details—such dreadful details;” and interrupted by her sobs, Marjory repeated scraps of what she had heard.

“Where is the place?” asked Anne, after another pause.

“It’s that cluster of houses half‐way to Eggleston, in the middle of the fen, by the river—they call it Cold Fremley. Don’t you remember our going down there once in the break, with the Spencers and Chough, and your saying you wished Hamlin would paint that sort of fiat green country, and Mrs Spencer saying it was unpoetical?”

Anne remembered. The recollection of that moment came like a vision; she saw the wide river, between its low sedgy banks of boggy green; the reddish storm sunset reflected in clotted flame‐coloured masses in its thick grey waters; the moon rising, a spectral crescent on the blue evening sky; she heard the quail of the frogs, the cries of the water‐fowl: the Spencers and Chough on ahead with the two [163] Leighs and Harry Collett; and she and Hamlin lingering behind, watching the reddened stream—and the cattle, dark outlines on the flat green banks opposite; Hamlin scrambling down the bank to get a tuft of willow herb growing half in the water. She was feeling so happy; Hamlin was so good and gentle and handsome, and she loved him so; and they two had stood by the river alone, until the little Spencer children had run back and taken her hand, and begun asking a hundred questions in their shrill baby lisp. It was so lovely and peaceful and good, this green country, this quiet evening, with Hamlin by her side and the children holding her hand. She had felt a painful longing to impress the place and the moment on her mind, to keep this happy present. “What is this called?” she had asked; and Hamlin had answered “Cold Fremley.” Cold Fremley! Anne went on repeating to herself all that afternoon: the recollection of that beautiful scene, become hideous like a nightmare, [164] haunted her. The huddled roofs dark in the distance, the curl of smoke—that was the place. Anne felt dizzy. She had read enough about shame and sin, heaven knows; the poems of the poets of the set were full of allusions to such things. But she had never realised that they could be realities; they had been so many artistic dabs of horror, imaginary, or belonging vaguely to some distant, dim world, as unreal as the beautiful haunted woods and mysterious castles, the pale unsubstantial gods and heroes, and men and women of the pictures of Rossetti and Burne Jones, of the poems of Swinburne and Morris, and Hamlin and Chough. But that abominations like these should be here, close at hand, in sordid, filthy reality, reality under this same sun, swept by this same wind, reality through which she had unconsciously walked; this seemed impossible. A strange thing happened: the thought of what she had heard haunted her so persistently, loomed before her in such ever‐changing horror, that Anne at [165] last felt like one drunk or half asleep, and began to doubt whether it was not all a horrible nightmare. Had Marjory really told her these things? Before a court of justice Anne would have been unable to say whether she had or not. It was so unreal to her that she could not accept it as a reality; the more she brooded, the more did it seem a hallucination.

“Marjory,” said Anne the next day, suddenly, “is it true that you told me some dreadful things which you had heard from Mrs Collett about the people at Cold Fremley?”

Marjory looked up in astonishment.

“Of course it is,”—she had half forgotten it herself.

“I cannot get it out of my mind,” said Anne, passing her hand over her eyes, as if to disperse some black mist; “it is too horrible. Everything in the world seems tarnished, don’t you know, and a sort of horrible clamminess all round.”

Marjory looked at Anne. She was very pale, and her big, greyish‐blue, onyx‐coloured [166] eyes were wide with a fixed stare. She looked as if she did indeed see the tarnish on the world, and felt the clamminess; as if, like a person taken with some fever, she tasted copper on her tongue.

Marjory was a sensible girl. She had studied medicine, and knew an appalling amount about direction of the will, expectant attention, and other psychological and physiological matters. “Anne,” she said, “you are making yourself ill about this matter. Of course you couldn’t help being shocked; but you take it too much to heart. You are going to let these horrible things haunt you; it is a great temptation to do so. Take care; it won’t do any good, and you will merely get quite unstrung. I warn you against it. You mustn’t let such things get the better of your will: it’s morbid, and dangerous, and unworthy,”—and Marjory completely forgot how she herself had entered the room in hysterics the previous day.

Anne took no notice of her speech. “You say nothing can be done until these people be [167] given better dwellings?” she asked, after a pause.

Marjory nodded. “So Mrs Collett says, and I’ve read that repeatedly in books also—for, of course, such things have happened elsewhere. At all events, the children might be brought up to live more decently, if they were not all huddled up together like that.”

A thought seemed to flash across Anne’s darkened mind. Her maid had just brought in the tea‐things.

“Laura,” she asked, “do you know to whom Cold Fremley—those cottages by the river, half‐way to Eggleston—belongs?”

“I can ask Mr Hamlin’s steward, miss—he’s just in the housekeeper’s room,” answered Laura.

“Run and ask,” ordered Anne.

“Good heavens, Anne!” cried Mary Leigh, “what are you going to do! You surely aren’t going to talk about such things and try to interfere! What can you do, when Mrs Collett has failed?”

[168]

“The houses must be rebuilt,” answered Anne, quietly and firmly; “to whomsoever they belong, they must—they shall be rebuilt.”

“Nonsense!” cried practical Marjory; “how can you talk like that? Are you going to apply to the neighbouring squires and tell them about such matters?”

“They must rebuild the houses if once they understand,” repeated Anne. “I don’t care to whom they belong—they shall be rebuilt. I will write and speak to every one and any one on the subject, until the thing has been done.”

“It’s all very well, but when it comes to the point, you wouldn’t venture to mention such a thing to a man,” cried Marjory, contemptuously—“I—wouldn’t.”

At this moment the maid entered.

“The steward says that Cold Fremley—those houses by the river, leastways—belong to Mr Hamlin, and as it’s he that lets them out.”

[169]

Marjory and her sister looked at each other and then at Anne, as much as to say, “Well, you see now what it would be.” Anne flushed scarlet, but her face brightened.

“I will speak to Mr Hamlin,” she said, as soon as the maid’s back was turned. Her voice faltered a little; but it was from sudden surprise, not from hesitation.

“Oh, Annie, dear, you’ll find that you can’t!” exclaimed Mary Leigh; “you’ll find it impossible.”

“At all events, you’ll have to put it through your aunt,” suggested Marjory.

“Through Aunt Claudia?” cried Anne. “Do you think she will make him feel it? Why, she will answer that such things are going on all round us, and worse ones. No; I shall speak to Mr Hamlin himself: he is the proprietor of Fremley; and he is responsible.”

“You’ll never be able to do so,” insisted Mary; “you think you will, but you can’t. Fancy saying all that to a man—and to a man who is in love with you!”

[170]

“What must be done, must be done,” answered Anne. “It’s not a question of liking or disliking. Mr Hamlin’s a man, and I am a woman, and I daresay men and women don’t talk about such things. But Mr Hamlin is the proprietor of Cold Fremley, and that’s all I have to do with.”

The Leighs looked at her with incredulous astonishment. It seemed so simple to her.

[171]

BOOK VI.

[173]

CHAPTER I.

IT was raining when they arrived in London—a warmish, brown, clammy autumn day. The streets were a porridge of liquid mud, whose trail dragged along the wet asphalt; the houses were staring forth, a livid dirt‐grey, in the thin rain; and the sky, the very rain, was befouled with grime. Only drays splashed through the mud, and carriages carrying hurried‐looking people; children, still in their tattered summer cottons and battered straw hats, stared in at the shops, the broad sheen from whose brilliant windows was caught up by the wet pavement, and lingered out, in broken reflections, in the brown ooze of the thoroughfare. Along the deserted suburban streets every second house seemed to be a [174] gin‐palace, with shining coloured globes, and stucco pinnacles soaked with rain, and ground‐glass windows shining out like a leprosy of white. Mrs Macgregor closed her eyes in disgust. Even the maid looked depressed. But Anne stared out of the window of the carriage at all the hideous soppy sordidness, which seemed to soil and soak black into one’s mind; and she felt glad. All this was reality: it was the world in which lay her redemption, and the redemption of Hamlin.

Anne found Hamlin full of his cousin Sacha, upon whom he had already called three times, and in whom, to his surprise, he had found not a trace of the child whom he had hated; but a respectable, unworldly young mother, devoted to her children, timid, and only deserving a little sympathy.

“She is a very curious woman,” he said, “evidently excellent at bottom; but I don’t know whether I quite like her. She has something very strange about her,—handsome; and at the same time—I don’t know exactly [175] what it is—charming, but not quite reassuring. I am so anxious for you to see her.”

“I am so awfully glad she’s nice,” exclaimed Anne. “Do you know, she weighed upon me like a nightmare after all Aunt Claudia had said. It seemed too horrible that such a creature should exist; and I felt sure it was all prejudice against the poor little thing.”

“Don’t be in such a hurry,” laughed Hamlin; “perhaps you won’t like her after all. There is something uncanny about her, decidedly.”

“I’m sure that’s all your imagination. You’re always thinking that things are uncanny: it comes of writing too much about proud, pale, evil women, and that sort of nonsense.”

Anne felt really glad. That the terrible Cousin Sacha, the fiend‐child of Wotton Hall, should turn out a respectable, unworldly young woman, devoted to her children, seemed to her like the first breaking of the spell which hung over Hamlin. She felt no jealousy of Cousin Sacha; for, as Hamlin spoke of Madame Elaguine, it was obvious that if he was anxious to [176] show her to Anne, he was equally impatient to display his beautiful ward to her, who had evidently been told a great deal about her already.

The next day Madame Elaguine was to call on Anne. Mrs Macgregor took the announcement in a spirit of sombre defiance. “She may come,” she said, “but I will not see her. What o’clock is the creature coming?”

“Four,” answered Hamlin.

“Very well; then I’ll order the brougham for half‐past three, and go and make some calls. Anne may stay behind if she likes.”

Accordingly, at half‐past three, Mrs Macgregor rolled off in the brougham to Mrs Argiropoulo’s, and to various other people whom she declared she hated. At four o’clock Hamlin came up‐stairs from his studio, and Anne gave him some tea. “She will be here in a minute,” he said.

There was a noise of wheels; Anne felt her hand tremble as she poured out a second cup for Hamlin.

“There! I’ve gone and spilt it on your cuff! [177] Isn’t it idiotic of me to feel flurried about seeing your cousin?”

But the wheels passed on. More wheels, which also passed; rings and knocks; but no Madame Elaguine. Hamlin, at every false alarm, got up and looked at Anne—a long, admiring look at her stately figure and her strange pale face, with the overhanging masses of crimp black hair; at the splendid postures, of which only Michelangelo seemed to have ever understood the magnificent weary weightiness into which she naturally fell.

“She is evidently not coming,” he said with some irritation, as the clock struck five; “it’s too bad, keeping one in for nothing, like this!”

“I didn’t want to go out with Aunt Claudia; and I don’t see how you could have gone on painting after dark.”

“Still it is too annoying.”

“I daresay it’s not so easy to go paying visits at Hammersmith when one has children to attend to.”

[178]

“Bother the children! she might leave them to a nurse.”

At that moment a cab stopped, and there came a knock.

“That’s she!” cried Hamlin, and he ran down‐stairs.

Madame Elaguine entered; in the dusk Anne could scarcely see her face: she was rather below the average height, but so slender that she looked tall; there was something very shy about her, and Anne could understand her shyness.

“I am so glad you have come,” she said; “we had almost given you up.”

“I fear I am very late—perhaps in your way,” said Madame Elaguine; “the fact is, I had to take my little girl to choose a doll, and she took nearly an hour about it,” and she laughed a little shy laugh. She had a beautiful voice, high and silvery, and yet warm and caressing, like a child’s, which inevitably made you think of delicate green leaves, and fields whitened with budding clover, and all sorts of young and tender things. She [179] was very thin, almost emaciated, and with a slight droop of the head: it was too dark for Anne to see her features distinctly, but she seemed pretty, and frail, and wasted. There was something in that childish voice which touched Anne; her strong, rebellious disbelief in the horrible Sacha of Mrs Macgregor came indignantly to her.

“It is very good of you to let me come and see you,” said Madame Elaguine, after some trifling conversation, “and very good of my cousin to propose it; because,” and her voice, in a sudden outburst of frankness, became just a little tremulous, “Walter must have a very painful recollection of me. It was a very unhappy time when we were last together, and I often think with shame of what I was then—what a wretched, badly brought up, bad‐hearted child I was.”

“If you had been a bad‐hearted child,” cried Anne, “you could not be what you are now, you could not speak as you do now. I don’t believe it.”

[180]

Madame Elaguine sighed.

“At all events,” she said, “the question now is no longer what I was or what I am, but what my children are to be. I am played out; I only hope I may live to see them on the road to being happier and more useful creatures than I have been.”

There was something in that clear soft voice, with its just perceptible daintiness of Russian pronunciation, making the English words not less English, but more distinct and liquid, which made what from any one else might have seemed strange, quite natural and simple.

“You have come to settle in England?” asked Anne.

“Yes; at least if it is possible for me ever to settle anywhere. I have been a rolling stone so long, or rather such a feather carried hither and thither by the wind, that I can scarcely believe in settling anywhere; and then, perhaps, I may not be permitted to stay where I should be happy. But I want my boy to become an Englishman, and at the [181] same time I haven’t the heart to let him go away from me.”

“Why should you not settle?” asked Anne; “surely you will be much happier near your child.”

“Why may I never do what I wish?” exclaimed Madame Elaguine, with a curious wildness; “why may I not be left to live in peace like any other insignificant woman, whose life has been a failure? I am not my own mistress.”

“Bring lights,” ordered Hamlin, who had summoned the servants. He was impatient that the two women should see each other, impatient to display to his cousin the magnificent creature which belonged to him.

They had begun discussing various school‐plans for Madame Elaguine’s children when the lamps were brought in. Anne was surprised when she saw Hamlin’s cousin distinctly; she had imagined her pretty and delicate in an ordinary way, but there was nothing commonplace about this woman. She was pale, and of almost ghastly thinness, and [182] her features, despite her small size, were large, and perhaps a little gaunt. It struck Anne that she had seen a face like that before, and later she discovered that what Madame Elaguine made her think of was Sarah Bernhardt in one of her girlish parts, or as her face looked under the little cap of Coppée’s page‐boy. It was a charming, frank, worn, yet childish face, full of movement,—a face which seemed to vibrate like a delicate instrument—not exactly beautiful nor exactly lovable, but interesting and fascinating. It seemed to Anne that she could perfectly understand the past of this woman: a highly nervous, delicate nature, not earnest but passionate, easily turned into the very best or the very worst; and she felt more than ever indignant at the thought of the corruption in contact with which this mobile impressionable creature had come as a child,—at the thought of all the unintentional shame which this woman must look back upon in her childhood.

While they were talking, Sacha Elaguine [183] was equally busy looking at Anne; and Anne puzzled her.

“Either a volcano or an iceberg, or both,” said the little Russian to herself, as she looked at Anne’s solemn, unruffled, and yet tragic beauty.

At that moment a carriage stopped at the door. Hamlin went to the window. He looked rather pale and puzzled as he came back.

“Let me show you my studio, Sacha,” he said hurriedly; “we can get there quickest by a little back‐stair out of the library. Will you come?”

Anne understood. Mrs Macgregor, who had gone out expecting Madame Elaguine to come an hour earlier, had returned, and Hamlin dreaded a scene. But Madame Elaguine understood also.

“Your aunt has returned,” she said; “yes, I’m sure she has—that’s why you want to hide me away; you are afraid of a scene . . .”

Hamlin hesitated; but Madame Elaguine [184] seemed to pin him down with her rapid glance.

“Well, yes,” he said; “what’s the use of mincing matters? You know how unreasonable Aunt Claudia always was, and what a prejudice she had against you.”

“And has still; I can believe it. But look here,” and the little emaciated creature rapidly stopped Hamlin as he was raising the curtain into the next room—“I am not going to be hid away. Your aunt has every reason to hate me, and to be angry at finding me here. But I am not coming into her house on the sly—I won’t be hidden away. Your aunt may say what she likes to me, but she shall see me here.”

“I think Madame Elaguine is quite right,” said Anne, though she knew full well what sort of reception Mrs Macgregor was likely to give to the detested Sacha. “I quite understand her feeling.”

“But you are not coming into Aunt Claudia’s house on the sly,” insisted Hamlin. “In the [185] first place, this house is not Aunt Claudia’s house, but Miss Brown’s house. Aunt Claudia, like you and me, is merely Miss Brown’s guest, and you have come to see Miss Brown. In the second place, my aunt knew you were coming, and went out expressly to avoid meeting you.”

Madame Elaguine listened with a slight look of contempt.

“So much the better if I am not intruding behind her back. And it is very considerate of Mrs Macgregor to save me what she knows must be a painful scene. But besides Mrs Macgregor, I have myself to think of. I wish to see your aunt. I wish to have the satisfaction of telling her, that however much she may hate the remembrance of me, she cannot hate it more than I do.”

There was something theatrical in this which took Hamlin by surprise; but it was the theatricalness of a quixotic and passionate temper, and Anne liked Madame Elaguine for it.

“I want to see Mrs Macgregor,” repeated [186] the Russian; “but I don’t want to inflict it upon you, Miss Brown. Indeed I fear it is very ill‐bred and very selfish of me to come to your house merely to make a disagreeable scene: still I can’t resist the desire,” and she shook her little head with its close pale‐yellow curls and deep brown eyes, “only—don’t stay —just tell your aunt that I am here, and that I want to see her.”

“I will go and tell Aunt Claudia,” said Anne.

But as she spoke, Mrs Macgregor entered. The old lady was short‐sighted; and in that room, where the light, concentrated on a few spots, left all the more shadow all round, she did not at first notice the presence of a stranger.

“Well, is she gone?” she asked savagely.

“Madame Elaguine is here, Aunt Claudia,” answered Anne, quietly.

“Here!” exclaimed Mrs Macgregor—“ still in this house!”

“And she has remained,” went on Anne, with a weighty coldness which often put [187] down the old lady’s ebullitions, “because she wants to see you again.”

Hamlin was standing by the piano. How he wished his cousin at the devil for inflicting such a scene upon him!

“The insolence!” muttered Mrs Macgregor.

But Madame Elaguine had come forward and stretched out her hand.

“I could not come here without seeing you, Aunt Claudia,” she said, in her clear voice. “I want to tell you that, badly, as I behaved as a child, and cruelly unjust though you were towards me, I bear you no ill‐will, and only wish to ask for your forgiveness.”

She had sat down opposite to Mrs Macgregor. Hamlin’s aunt scanned her from head to foot; she was taken by surprise, shaken throughout her nature, and at a loss how to answer.

“So you are Sacha Polozoff,” said Mrs Macgregor at length, slowly. “I know all the fine trash which Anne talks about the woman not being the same as the child— [188] maybe; I hope so, for your sake. As to forgiveness, you have mine: but forgiveness is only an empty word; it does not cancel what has been done, neither from the memory of God nor of man. Here; I forgive you, and take it for what it is worth.”

And she stretched out her hand with a bitter smile.

Madame Elaguine stooped down and kissed that shaking old hand.

“Whatever your forgiveness is worth, I take it joyfully; it cannot undo the past, and it cannot put an end to injustice and hatred,—so far it is worthless. But to me it gives a new life, because I have been able at last to ask forgiveness, to admit all the mischief I have ever done, and to cast away the faults of my childhood from my own clean self,”—she spoke very low, and with tears in her voice, but with passion and pride.

“I am happy that you feel so comfortable,” replied Mrs Macgregor, “and that I have been conducive thereto. I am happy also to make [189] your acquaintance, Madame Elaguine, and I hope you will not deprive my nephew and niece of your society on my account.”

Sacha bowed; the insult seemed to trickle off her. Anne half wondered, half admired. She could not in the least understand the kind of character which prompted such a useless and hollow ceremony as this; but as to Madame Elaguine, this solemn act of self‐humiliation seemed necessary and just; she admired her for having the courage to carry out her intention.

“Good‐bye,” said Madame Elaguine, as Anne accompanied her into the anteroom. “I must beg your forgiveness a thousand, thousand times for having made a scene in your house. You see, I am a badly brought‐up woman: I was never taught to do anything except what I liked; and I am what I am, and must say what I feel.”

Her tone was very appealing.

“Will you forgive me, Madame Elaguine,” said Anne, in her earnest, solemn way, “if I [190] tell you, what it is perhaps a liberty to tell you, that I have always thought my aunt very unjust towards you?”

The little thin woman looked up in Anne’s face.

“You are good,” she said. “Will you give me a kiss?”

Anne stooped down and kissed her shyly on her wan cheek. But a sort of shudder passed through her as her own lips touched that hot face, and grazed the light hair, which seemed to give out some faint Eastern perfume. This woman was so unlike anything she had ever seen—so unlike her own simple self.

“You will come and see me—and see my children—won’t you?” asked Madame Elaguine. “I think it will do me good to know you.” She was very excited, and she gasped as if her heart were beating like bursting.

“I will come with Mr Hamlin,” said Anne.

“She is a strange creature,” said Hamlin, as he followed Anne up‐stairs from the door. “Didn’t I tell you she was uncanny?”

[191]

“I don’t see anything uncanny about her. She is very nervous and excitable—very Russian, I should say—and accustomed always to follow her impulses; but I think she is a brave little woman.”

“I can’t make her out. Did you notice her mouth? it looks as if it would bite: and she has strange eyes; one looks into them, and finds she has merely drawn out one’s soul without showing her own.”

Anne laughed. “Poor little woman! Fancy what her feelings would be if she ever knew all that! I wonder, by the way, whether you ever thought me strange, and told people that I had. a mouth which would bite, and eyes in which you get drowned?”

“I always thought,” answered Hamlin, looking at Anne, and seeing her again in that close‐fitting white bodice, with rolled‐up sleeves, bending her magnificent head over the iron‐board in the little nursery, with frescoes of blue skies, and blue seas, and ducks, and people in boats, at the Villa Arnolfini—“I always [192] thought that you had something strange in you, Miss Brown; some terrible thing to do or to suffer in the future; some great passion or action—I don’t know clearly what, but something heroic; and I think so now—”

Anne smiled; but she took his words to heart, for somehow that same impression which he said he had received from her face she had had vaguely in her heart.

“I hope the strangeness may consist in being a tolerably well‐behaved and useful young woman,” she said, “and—a tolerably grateful one.”

[193]

CHAPTER II.

I WONDER whether Anne Brown has really spoken about that Cold Fremley business to Mr Hamlin,” remarked Marjory Leigh to her sister one day, soon after their return to town. “I think she’ll never do it, after all.”

“I don’t see how she can,” answered Mary; “at least I can’t conceive doing such a thing. But I don’t think we must judge Anne by ourselves: when once she thinks something ought to be done, she is quite capable of forcing herself to do it. Anne is quite unlike any one else.”

“Fiddlestick!” cried Marjory; “you don’t know anything about women, Mary.”

But despite her sister’s superior knowledge of womankind and of everything else, Mary [194] Leigh was in the right; perhaps in some cases enthusiastic admiration gives a better clue to action than mere common‐sense. Anne really was made in such a way that when once she was persuaded that any course was the right one, no dislike which she might have to it, no thought of being considered queer, or improper, or quixotic, could restrain her from it. The thing became none the pleasanter to do; but it was done unflinchingly: indeed there was in Anne an almost destructive quality of will, a power of ruthlessly cutting through all obstacles, the passing consciousness of which, joined with the consciousness of the many disagreeable things which it might at any moment force her to go through, produced in her a curious kind of pessimism, which, while it recognised the evil of the world, made that very recognition an incitement to struggle for good. Anne had made up her mind that Hamlin must have the horrible condition of his Cold Fremley tenants explained to him. She fully appreciated the unseemliness, the painfulness [195], of such a revelation coming from her; but as there appeared to be no one else who could satisfactorily make it to him, it must be made by her. “It is very simple,” she said to herself: and this was the most characteristic remark that Anne could ever make; for it is curious how very much simpler life does become to people who are in the habit of acting without regard for their own feelings.

But it was, though simple, difficult, not on her own account, but on Hamlin’s. In the first few days after her return from Wotton, she had several times been on the point of broaching the subject, but she had desisted on noticing the absolute want of seriousness in Hamlin’s manner, the æsthetic vagueness and fickleness of his thoughts. “He will do nothing practical in this mood,” she said to herself; and as, time after time, she watched for a propitious moment without finding it, Anne became painfully aware, as one becomes aware of some deficiency in a valued piece of property only when it is pointed out, of Hamlin’s [196] want of seriousness, of his utter want of any habit of asking himself about his responsibilities, or indeed of thinking about anything except himself and the beautiful and weird things which delighted him.

“Perhaps it is cowardice on my part,” Anne suddenly thought; “perhaps I find that he is not fit to attend to the subject because I dislike mentioning it.” So it must be done at once. Hamlin, she knew, was alone in his studio; he must have finished his afternoon’s work, or very nearly, and there was no Chough, or Lewis, or Dennistoun on the horizon. So Anne closed the piano at which she had been practising some of Chough’s favourite old music, and went down‐stairs. She had made up her mind; but, as she went slowly to the studio, she felt her heart begin to flutter and to beat, and a cold perspiration to start out in her forehead. For all her familiarity with the æsthetic world, in whose apprehension, as Thaddy O’Reilly’s Yankee friend had quietly remarked, “right or wrong don’t exist,”—for [197] all her habit of reading poems in which every unmentionable shamefulness was used as so much vermilion or pale‐green or mysterious grey in a picturesque and suggestive composition,—Anne had retained a constitutional loathing for touching some subjects, which was like the blind instinctive horror of certain animals for brackish water or mud. When Marjory Leigh had first taken her into her confidence, and told her of the pools of sin which stagnated among the starving, unwashed, and unlettered million, Anne had recoiled, and felt a sort of momentary horror for Marjory, a sort of resentment at this foulness thus obtruded on to her; and this feeling, which would sometimes still recur while talking with her philanthropic friend, was perhaps the thing in all her life of which Anne was the most profoundly ashamed. The æsthetes all round her would let all the world rot away in physical hideousness rather than have that physical hideousness put before their eyes; and she, was she not even worse, in her cowardly horror of seeing moral wounds [198] and leprosies? So Anne argued with herself; and she would now face anything; but the feeling of moral sickness was there, however bravely she might look at evil, and try and help to remedy it.

“I am a base creature,” Anne thought as she felt her heart fluttering as if it would break loose, as she stood and knocked at the studio door.

“Come in,” cried Hamlin.

He thought it was the servant, for at first he did not turn round, but continued writing at a beautiful, fantastically inlaid desk in a corner.

“It’s I,” said Anne.

He started up to meet her.

“How sweet of you to come, Madonna Anna!” he said, beaming; “I was just wanting so much to see you—I don’t know why—a sort of silly, nostalgic wish. It’s ridiculous to be nostalgic about a person who is on the first floor, when I am on the ground floor, isn’t it? and yet it is so. I was feeling quite an over‐ [199] powering desire to see you. And you seem to have felt it, through the ceiling, carpets and all, don’t you?”

Anne smiled faintly, but her heart sank.

“I also wanted you to see how I have been getting on with my Beatrice,” he said, and rolled an easel into the middle of the room. Anne stood for a moment before the almost Giorgionesquely magnificent picture, looking vaguely at the well‐known lady—with those strange, half‐classic, half‐Semitic, and yet a little Ethiopian, features, those wide grey eyes, that pent‐roof of crisp, lustreless, black hair, those hollowed cheeks and tragic lips which had by this time become so familiar to the artistic world of London. It never seemed to her that this could have anything to do with her, this sombre, mystic, wistful woman of unreality. But she was not thinking of that; she stood at the picture, but almost without seeing it.

Hamlin was standing a little aside, looking from her to the picture, and from the picture [200] to her, and humming the lines from Dante’s sonnet, which Chough had set to music—

“Ch’ogni lingua divien tremando muta,
Egli occhi non ardiscon di guardare.”

“Certainly,” he said to himself, “Dante had not a better Beatrice than this.”

“I want to speak to you, Mr Hamlin,” said Anne, suddenly turning round.

Something in her voice took him by surprise.

“So much the better,” he said, pulling forward a heavy arm‐chair, covered with old‐fashioned green brocade.

Anne sat down. How was she to begin? She had intended to prelude with some sort of apology for entering on such a subject; but, somehow, now she could not apologise.

“Do you remember a hamlet near Wotton, close by the river, called Cold Fremley?” asked Anne, slowly.

Hamlin had just caught a look which he wanted for his picture, and he had taken up his painting things.

“Yes,” and he looked up from his palette in [201] Anne’s pale face, with the almost monochrome faint‐red lips and the delicately hollowed cheeks. “What about it? I remember it quite well. Oh yes, a lovely spot; and we went there one evening together.”

“Just so; well, it appears that this hamlet, or rather group of six or seven cabins, belongs to you—is part of the Wotton property.”

“Is it? I didn’t know that. Fancy my being the unsuspecting proprietor of such a lovely place! I am so glad; I want to write a poem about it one day.”

“And it appears,” went on Anne, carefully steadying her voice, but keeping her eyes on the little cypress‐trees and conventional anemones of the Persian rug under her feet—“it appears that the condition of the people who live in those houses is very, very horrible; the cabins have barely more than one room, into which the whole family is piled.”

“Loathsome!” cried Hamlin, with a shudder, “and in such a lovely spot. Do you remember the thick clotted masses of the river dragging [202] between the meadow‐sweet and willow‐herb?”

“It is very loathsome,” went on Anne, a coldness coming all over her. “’The people are very wretched, poor, always ill of fever, with no more sense of right and wrong than cattle.”

“Very dreadful indeed,” said Hamlin, mixing his paints. “Of course nothing can be done—nothing ever can, you know—”

“Something can and must be done!” cried Anne. “It appears that in consequence of this utter wretchedness and ignorance, and especially on account of the degrading effect of being all huddled together, men and women, boys and girls, all of them, in one room which is bedroom, kitchen, sitting‐room, everything at the same time,—it appears that these miserable creatures have gradually come to live worse than animals; they grow, and let their children in turn grow up in horrible, shameful sin.” The difficulty of saying it had vanished; Anne felt that, whether she would [203] or would not, it must come out. Her voice had kept steady, but died out in terrible hoarseness; and her wide‐opened eyes fixed themselves upon Hamlin.

Hamlin let his hand with the palette drop on his knee, and listened with deep attention. “How very strange!” he said; “how very strange—how tragic!”

“It is tragic,” cried Anne. “Oh, I think nothing in the wide world can be more tragic! What is the murder of the body to this? or what is any crime which one man can commit towards another, compared with men and women being pushed into wickedness by mere external circumstances, being condemned without knowing it, mere blind, indifferent creatures, to befoul their souls in this way?”

Anne had not the slightest thought of being eloquent, but she was, not only in her words, but in her face and look. Hamlin appreciated it; he was struck. Such a view of evil and of fate had never presented itself to him; he recognised how much newer and grander it [204] was than the usual platitude about fatal passion in which he and his school had indulged.

“Are you quite sure of this?” he asked, with some interest.

“Mrs Collett gave one of the Leighs all the details of it. If you would go to her, she would tell you all about it; she has been afraid, ashamed of mentioning it to you, so I have done it. But if only you would speak to Mrs Collett now, she would explain to you exactly that ought to be done.”

Hamlin did not seem to attend.

“It is awfully grand,” he mused—“all the grander for the utter unconsciousness, involuntariness. It would make a splendid subject for a poem. I always felt there must be something in that county which should correspond to the tragic look of everything. So much Dennistoun’s notion that there isn’t anything poetical or terrible in reality.”

A sickening fear came over Anne. But she drove it from her: she tried to say to herself [205] that she had expected this; that Hamlin, being unaccustomed to any serious thought of the evil of others, and being a poet, would at first take things in this way.

“Mrs Collett says that there is hope of saving these miserable creatures by building better dwellings for them; trying to turn Cold Fremley into a village, and setting up a school. I have been thinking over it a great deal myself. Of course I’m very ignorant. But I’ve heard that the river ought to be valuable for water‐power, because there is no other one near; so I thought the simplest would be to try and induce some one—or do it yourself—to set up a factory there. That would give the people work, and give them ideas of decent living, and then a school would have to be opened.”

The word factory seemed to sear into Hamlin’s nerves.

“A factory on that river? on my property? to befoul all that pure and exquisite country with smoke and machine refuse!” he cried indignantly.

[206]

“One single factory need not befoul anything,” said Anne, sternly. “And all the smoke and machine refuse in the wide world could not make that neighbourhood one‐hundredth part as foul as it is made by the sin of Cold Fremley. No, not one‐thousandth part as foul as our own hearts, if we let such an evil exist under our eyes.”

Hamlin seemed moved and puzzled.

“It is very dreadful,” he mused. “I really had no notion that such things go on nowadays. One is apt to think the world much more commonplace than it is. I will go to Cold Fremley some day soon. I’ll take Lewis with me, he’ll be very much interested in it. I daresay,” he added, “that there’s a great deal of exaggeration about it. But as to the factory, I consider it would be against my conscience to permit such a thing: there is no greater pollution in England than factories; thank Heaven, there are as yet few in our county; and I would rather die than spoil that beautiful peaceful bit of ground.”

[207]

Against this Anne felt it useless to struggle.

“Since you will not hear of the only plan which would easily improve the condition of those people,” she went on, “let us leave the factory alone; it is not necessary: a few hundred pounds will amply pay for improving, enlarging the six or seven houses of which Cold Fremley consists. As to draining, every one says that were that county drained, it would amply repay the expense by the superior quality of the crops. All that is wanted for the present,” invocated Anne in despair, “is that the people should have more room—that they should not herd like cattle—that the growing children, at least, should not be forced into contact with all that vice. And all that can be gained by merely enlarging the cottages.”

“Such a thing as you suggest would—besides being, in my opinion, perfectly useless—involve a very heavy expense,” answered Hamlin, coldly.

“Not more,” cried Anne, blazing up—“not [208] more than you have been at in educating me, Mr Hamlin!”

The words were scarcely out of her mouth when she repented of them.

“Perhaps,” she added sullenly, “that also has been a waste.”

Hamlin did not answer; he was taken by surprise, embarrassed.

“The cases are wholly dissimilar. The left hand may not ask the right hand what it has or has not been able to do.”

“What do you mean, Mr Hamlin? If you have been spending more than you can afford on me—oh, don’t think I’m not grateful—but please, please, spend no more. This house might be sold. You don’t live in it after all, and Aunt Claudia would be just as happy at Wotton. The house and furniture must be worth a good deal, and then there is the expense of housekeeping in London. Do think of it. I am sure you could raise money enough in that way.”

“This house is not mine, Miss Brown,” [209] answered Hamlin, quietly; “it was bought out of your capital; and the expenses you mention are paid out of your income, not mine.”

He had wasted all this on her, and the people on his estate lived in foul, sinful hovels! A strange gratitude, mixed with horror, overcame Anne; all the beautiful things about her,—her beautiful fantastic dress, which Hamlin always designed for her, her knowledge and good‐breeding,—all that had been paid for with that money, became loathsome to her.

“It is not mine—not mine; I am a mere beggar living off your charity,” she exclaimed—“living off what I have no right to, what ought to go to them—to those poor sinful creatures at Cold Fremley. Oh, Mr Hamlin, sell this house, sell the furniture, all, all. Enough has been done for me; I don’t want all these beautiful things in order to be happy; I could be happy anywhere, doing anything, if I knew that there was one evil the less in the world. If there did not remain enough to live upon, I could go out as a governess, or a [210] schoolmistress. I have learned quite enough to do that—indeed I am in earnest—I should be perfectly happy gaining my bread as I used to. Only let something be done for those people—don’t let me feel that every lovely thing I look at, every beautiful thing I hear, every word you say, every pleasure I feel, is as sinful as those sinful lives!”

Hamlin smiled; he admired and disbelieved; but what a magnificent woman she was! what passion, what fervour under that cold exterior!

“There is no need for that,” he said gently, looking at Anne with admiring and loving eyes. “I am not so poor as that, and I would starve rather than see you deprived of any single thing to which you have a right.”

“Then you will go to Cold Fremley? You will see about it?” He was good and generous at bottom—she knew it; and she could have fallen on her knees and cried like a child with her head upon his arm.

“I will go to Cold Fremley,” he answered [211] with alacrity. “I want to go there. I want to study the whole matter—”

“What do you want to study it for?” asked Anne, suddenly and terribly; “to improve matters, or—to write a poem?”

“I do wish to write a poem,” answered Hamlin, who felt no shame for doing so, and resented being thus reproved. “Certainly I wish to write a poem. You made such a fuss about my tearing up that ‘Ballad of the Fens’—well, I now see my way to making use of all the best parts of it, and with a real tragic and passionate motive. As to improving matters, I will look about me. But I totally disbelieve in the utility of giving these people better dwellings. Of course,” he went on gently, but with that tone of knowledge of the evil of the world which Anne so much hated—“of course you, who are pure and upright, who cannot conceive the reality of lust and the fascination of evil—you can never understand the hold which evil has in this world; you cannot understand that the passion for sin may [212] exist as there exists in you the passion for good; that most men receive in their father’s blood, in their mother’s milk, the haschisch of sinful desire,—that the more they grow, the more it grows in them—that it is their very life, and is perpetually seeking for aliment. Evil is; it cannot be stamped out.”

Hamlin’s eyes sparkled, and he spoke with a flush; but there was no excitement, no horror in his tone. Anne felt that he was reciting in prose what he would soon write in verse.

“In short,” she said, “you think the sinfulness of the people of Cold Fremley fits very well into the landscape? You think it, as you said, very picturesque and grand?”

Hamlin was a man who could not easily keep at high moral tension.

“Well, yes,” he answered; “of course it is very shocking, and if anything could be done, why, I should be glad. But I know nothing can be done; and although it is very much to be regretted, yet I don’t think you can deny [213] that there is something very grand and tragic in this sin flowering like evil grasses in that marsh.”

“I see,” said Anne, faintly—everything seemed to be turning all round her; “good‐bye.”

“You mustn’t be angry with me,” said Hamlin, following her to the studio door. “You see I, unfortunately, have much more experience of life and evil than you will ever have. I know that fatality of sin; and that makes me take things in a different way from how you take them.”

Hamlin’s voice sounded faint and distant to Anne, hollow like an echo in a whispering chamber. She went mechanically up‐stairs; she did not know how she felt, but everything seemed surrounded by thick, clammy horror; the world was going to pieces. When she had shut the door of her room behind her, she threw herself with her face on her bed, and burst into an agony of half‐audible sobs. But when at length hours passed, and the maid [214] came to ask whether she would come to tea, Anne felt no better; a black despair weighed upon her. On her dressing‐table stood a Japanese jar, filled with delicate autumnal roses; they had the pallor, the diaphanous purity which the frost gives to flowers, as approaching death gives it sometimes to human creatures. Anne looked at them; and then, without passion or excitement, she took them out of the vase, and threw them into the fire. She watched the petals shrivel and fall to black dust on the flame, and the leaves and stalks turn slowly, with a hissing noise, into glowing embers. Then she felt ashamed. The poor flowers were pure—they at least were clean—and she had destroyed them. And Anne buried her head in her hands, and began to sob once more.

[215]

CHAPTER III.

THE Leigh girls never discovered which of them was in the right; and as Anne never made any further allusion to Cold Fremley, they concluded that she had not spoken to Hamlin about it. Hamlin noticed no change in her, but then he never expected to see one: Anne became gradually more silent, more indifferent, more abrupt in her answers. Some people said, “She is getting spoilt by being made too much of;” and others, like Thaddy O’Reilly, hinted that the vagaries and splendours of æsthetic society, the poems and music and improprieties of Chough and Dennistoun, the nudities and Elizabethan dramatists of Lewis, were beginning to pall upon Miss Brown. “I’ll bet anything,” said Thaddy [216] O’Reilly, “that as soon as they are married, the new Mrs Hamlin will abandon Mantegnesque costumes, will open a bill with Worth, and insist upon hiring a house in Belgravia for at least one season.” So said Thaddy O’Reilly; but it must be added that he said it to Mrs Spencer, to alarm and anger whose hereditary high‐art passions was the little journalist’s great delight. Anne still went out into æsthetic society, she still listened to new poems and to literary discussions, she still sat to Hamlin and to half‐a‐dozen other painters; but when people at concerts or the play used to point out Miss Brown as the queen of æstheticism, they little guessed how far removed were the thoughts of this queen from her realm and her subjects. Ever since that memorable conversation about Cold Fremley, beautiful things,—all the things—poetry, painting, music, romance—which had originally surrounded Hamlin with a sort of luminous emanation in Anne’s eyes,—had grown loathsome to her. She knew that it was unfair [217] and absurd, but she could not resist the feeling that all the fair forms and sound patterns and imaginary passions of poetry—nay, that the very beauty of nature, where any existed—were foul; and her soul shrank from them as from contamination. She began to take a grim pleasure in that sordid ugliness which had, on her arrival in London, given her such a shock, and to which Hamlin and his friends were always shutting their eyes. The fog, the black ooze, the melancholy monotony of griminess, the hideousness of the men and women in the streets, jarred upon her much less than the beautiful pictures of Italian scenery which Hamlin hung up at Hammersmith,—than the lovely, mysterious creatures in jewel‐coloured robes, wandering in distant countries of bliss and romance, which Hamlin painted. The poetry of pure beauty sickened her; and she could not take up even the purest poems of that school, not even the mere charming pieces of decoration of Morris, without putting them down with disgust. She began to feel a vague [218] nostalgic longing after her own past: faint recollections of her father’s grimy, workshop at Spezia, of the poor little room where her mother had sat doing cheap dressmaking, returned to her. The life at Florence, the sordid life with the Perrys, the tattered furniture and ill‐swept rooms, the dirty and noisy kitchen with the haunting smell of sink; the dull routine of washing and ironing and mending, of dressing and undressing the refractory children, of teaching them their letters and trying to keep them tidy; the ill‐will, the muttered anger, the jeering scraps of song of the other servants, who resented Anne’s superiority,—all these recollections which had almost been effaced during her happy new life at Coblenz and in London, returned to her, vivid as reality, and filled her with unaccountable yearning. And yet, when she asked herself what this meant, she could not but confess that she was different from what she had then been; that she had absorbed too much of the new life ever to be happy in the [219] old one—nay, that that very indignation with the mere selfish worship of beauty which made all things seem black in her eyes, would never have been possible had she remained a mere servant. Hamlin had redeemed her soul; he had made her a thinking and feeling being—but what for? She dared not admit to herself that it was merely in order that she should despise him.

But Anne pushed aside these thoughts. She felt that she had no right to indulge in them—that she must give her mind to other things, her heart and her energy. Without exactly knowing what she could do, or even whether she could do anything at all, she felt that she must work—work with all her might; for it seemed as if all the thoughts which the people about her refused to think, all the sympathy which they refused to feel, all the work which they refused to do, and all the sacrifices which they refused to make, must all be taken upon herself—as if she alone must bear this terrible weight of rejected responsibilities. So Anne [220] worked. Her cousin Dick had said that no one could do any good in ignorance; and she felt herself shamefully ignorant of all but useless things. She got together a whole heap of books and pamphlets on every possible kind of grievance and evil in the world; she made Marjory Leigh tell her all the dreadful things which she knew, show her all the dreadful things which she had seen. Of such things Marjory and her young man, the East End curate, could tell her but too many; yet Anne was not satisfied. She sought the acquaintance of Marjory’s colleagues in the work of helping the poor, and of Harry Collett’s fellow‐workers—older men and women, whose account of the evil of the world, less exaggerated and poetical than Marjory’s and Harry’s, was still more grimly tragic. They were hopeful nevertheless; but Anne, returning home from her attendance on lectures, her ghastly rounds in the slums,—home to the lovely house, with the Persian carpets, the 18th‐century hangings and furniture, the old majolica and Japanese [221] ware, the flowers and the books of music,—returning home to the discussions on art and literature in Hamlin’s studio and at her own dinner‐table,—Anne felt mere despair. For, it must be remembered, Anne had none of those consoling thoughts to fall back upon which religion, however conventional, affords. Her father, a Radical workman of the French school, had brought her up with a few elementary ideas of right and wrong, and the faith that all priests, like all kings, were the curse of the world. Miss Curzon, the kind‐hearted old prima donna who had taken charge of her in her earliest girlhood, had given her examples of only the most frivolous Voltairianism; from the servants and the Italians who surrounded her at the Perrys, she had learned only a contempt for the conscienceless mummeries of the lowest Catholicism; from Mrs Perry only a contempt, as great in its way, for the heartless conventionalism of mere social Protestantism; and from Hamlin himself, and Hamlin’s friends (for at Coblenz he had stipulated [222] that Miss Brown was not to be bored with religion), she had heard only of the religion of beauty. Of the men and women who used to come to Hammersmith and to Wotton, some, like Chough, professed Catholicism, and wrote mystical rhapsodies to the Virgin Mary; others, like Dennistoun, called the Virgin a prostitute, and God a highway murderer: some went in for imitating the näiveté of medieval Christianity; yet others filled their books with hymns to the gods, clean and foul, of paganism. There was a deal of vociferating on the subject; a deal of abusive language both of the religious and the irreligious; a deal of exhortation on the part of men like Hamlin not to have the bad taste to muddle religion with poetry; and on the whole, there was an atmosphere of absolute insincerity, in which, as in abstract politics (for certain æsthetes were extreme retrogrades, and loathed civilisation; while others would pour out by the hour revolutionary tirades of the most blood‐thirsty description), it appeared that religion [223] was a mere personal hobby or poetical fiction: the usual conclusion being simply that the world was too disgusting a place for a well‐constituted soul; that the century was empty, and heartless, and emasculate; and that, as the people in the ‘Decameron’ fled from the plague, and told stories and sang songs in a pleasant villa all by themselves, so also must superior men and women fly from the sordidness, the uninterestingness, the mediocrity, and incapacity for passion of reality, and entertain one another with tales of romance and wonder in a fairy land, where the sole divinity was beauty, and where alone, among the lovely and noble things left by the past, noble natures could develop uncramped, according to the ideal of the Greeks, of medieval men, or of that most elevated genius, the late Théophile Gautier.

To meet the terrible realities which were now being revealed to her, to answer her own painful craving after usefulness, Anne had therefore only a vain negative belief—the pessimism which [224] is at the bottom of all æstheticism, the belief in the fatal supremacy of evil and ugliness. But in Anne this purely negative creed speedily became positive; pessimism produced not a desire to abandon the odious reality and take refuge in mere imaginary happiness, but a frightful moral tension, a constant battle of her aspirations with her belief, of her conscience with her reason, a strain of rebellion against the inevitable. So, to the weight of the knowledge of evil, to the weight of the consciousness of the deadness of soul which surrounded her, was added in Anne the terrible sense of the injustice and callousness of nature and of fate, of the groundlessness of those instincts of good which left her no peace.

But all this no one ever guessed. She despised indulging her own wretchedness. She went on, behaving as usual, goading herself to practical concerns silently, letting no one know of her misery, letting no thought of it waste a moment of her time. Her longing was to break the hateful solidarity between [225] herself and the school of æsthetic indifferentism; her instinct was, since she (dependent as she felt herself on a man’s charity) could not practically help others, at least to understand and feel about all these subjects which Hamlin and his friends tabooed. And with this haunting desire, she turned not merely to Marjory Lee and Harry Collett, but instinctively also to her cousin Dick.

“I have read the books you lent me to take into the country,” she said, giving him back the various primers and pamphlets on economical subjects. “Thank you so much for them, Dick.”

They were sitting alone in the drawing‐room at Hammersmith. Richard Brown had called only once before, ceremoniously and briefly, and he would not have come this time either, if Anne had not written expressly to beg him to fetch back the books. He looked at her in his incredulous, contemptuous way.

“Really,” he said, “my shabby old books are very much flattered by having been permitted [226] to sojourn so long among such an assemblage of lovely things;” and he looked round the room at the pieces of embroidery and the Eastern carpets, the pictures and drawings, the quantities of Japanese porcelain and lacquer all round. “How much out of place they do look, and how queer they must have felt among their companions! Let me see: two volumes on artistic furniture—‘Ballads of Old France’—‘Rossetti’—‘Contes de Gautier.’ I see—”

“Those are Mr Hamlin’s books,” said Anne, quickly; “he must have taken them out of the library, or brought them up from the studio. I am not reading any of them.”

“You are reading nothing but sociology and political economy; I understand,” went on Brown, with his placid sneer, which seemed, in this frightfully masculine man, to condemn in Anne her mind, her person, her manner, her character, and even her sex. “Ah, well, I can understand that; it must be refreshing. Who is it—Mr Pater, or some such great gun of yours—who says that the object of the wise [227] man is to make his life consist in as many moments of thrilling impressions as possible; that the very wise people get them out of art and song, and the less wise out of vice or out of philanthropy? You must know the passage better than I. Well, I suppose you have got as many impressions out of art and song as possible, and (being far too delicate in taste to try vice) you are seeing what can be got out of philanthropy. Is that it?”

Anne frowned.

“Of course,” she said, “you think it very clever to snub me, Dick, and very manly; just to treat me as if I could not possibly have either heart or brains. Maybe; but it is a very cheap sort of sarcasm, and to make which a man like you is not at all required.”

Richard Brown bit his black beard, and looked at Anne from beneath his beetle brows; he threw himself a little back on his chair, and with his head on one side, he said, with affected indifference—

“You don’t mean to tell me that you [228] have read those books except as you would read—what shall I say?—the ‘History of Furniture,’ or the ‘Contes de Gautier,’ Anne?”

“Were you ever ignorant about important vital subjects, Richard—ever conscious that it was your duty as a rational creature to know something about them, and then snubbed by a man who knew all about them, and to whom you had applied to help you?”

Brown was silent for a moment.

“I was a poor lad, working in a factory, and refusing myself food and coals in order to buy books and papers”—he said crushingly—“and I never had an opportunity of asking any one’s assistance.”

“I don’t see why there should be salvation only for people who have gone through hardships, nor why only you and those who have acted like you should be treated sincerely and seriously. Do you think that because I am a woman who has been brought up among Persian rugs and Japanese pots and Burne Jones’s pictures,—because I have gone to dinner‐parties [229] three times a‐week, and read Pater and Rossetti and Gautier,—that I may not therefore be as honestly anxious to know about the serious things of the world as you were when you worked in a factory, and went without dinner and without coals?” and she fixed her eyes on her cousin’s ugly and powerful face, in which, for all its ugliness, one might have fancied one saw something not wholly unlike that magnificent sibyl‐like face which pre‐Raphaelite artists had immortalised and caricatured. “Seriously, and in your heart,” she went on, as Brown made no reply, “are you unable to understand that perhaps it may require more real determination to try and learn such things when one is brought up in luxury in an æsthetic house, than when one has to buy books at the price of food and fire?”

Richard Brown did not answer. He was a frank man, and he frankly faced Anne’s look, and in return looked long and searchingly at her; and as the habitual look of bantering contempt had given way to a serious scrutiny, [230] so now he gradually grew more gentle and earnest.

“Forgive me, Anne,” he said, after a moment; “I think I may have been doing you injustice, and that I may, to some degree, have been disgracing myself. But, you see, I am a plain self‐made man, and it is difficult for me to understand how . . .”

Brown rarely hesitated for the end of his sentence, but this time he did.

“To understand how there can be any conscience or seriousness in a woman who has been willing to owe everything to the generosity of an æsthete like Mr Hamlin”—Anne finished his sentence bitterly. She went on—“Well, I know you could not believe that an æsthete could be generous and noble and chivalrous; and now you cannot understand how a woman who has accepted his generosity can be anything better than—than a piece artistic embroidery, or a Japanese cup, or a green tree,” and Anne pulled the long pliable leaves of a palm passionately through her fingers.

[231]

Brown’s suspiciousness had tried to return; but it was routed by Anne’s firm look, by Anne’s frank words.

“It is terrible to think how prejudiced, how inaccessible to truth, one allows one’s self to become,” answered Brown, “even though, Heaven knows, one tries to be fair. What you say is true. I couldn’t understand your not being a mere frivolous girl, Anne; and I can’t well understand it yet. But what you tell me I will believe.”

“Thank you, Dick,” said Anne, stretching out her hand. “I don’t think we are made to like each other much: you are too prejudiced, and haughty, and contemptuous; and I am too proud and too stiff‐necked. But we are both honest, so we might as well deal honestly and openly with each other, and try and understand each other’s good points.”

“I am not accustomed to deal with semi‐professional beauties, to do the Petrarch to æsthetic Madonna mias,” said Brown—that sneer of conscious masculinity and conscious [232] self‐madeness coming over him again; “you must excuse my manner, Anne.” But he met Anne’s glance, and his tone changed once more.

“I will bring you some more books when I return,” he said. “By the way, have you ever read any psychology?”

“What is psychology? Is it metaphysics? I have read Hegel—” Anne stopped short, and then boldly added—

“ But it was only Hegel’s æsthetics, you know.”

Brown smiled. “Hegel’s æsthetics are not—well—not Posthlethwaite’s æsthetics,” he said; “this is not much more difficult. It is Spencer’s sociology. I will bring it you. Good‐bye.”

After that visit, Anne began to see more of her cousin. He came sometimes to Hammersmith, and he met her frequently at the Leighs. Anne did not feel that she completely liked him. He was pure‐minded, certainly, and generous, a man devoted to progress even in [233] its humblest forms; he had a powerful intellect and a more powerful will. But, somehow, there was in him an indefinable coarseness of fibre, a want of appreciation, of sympathy with other people’s ideals, a tendency to despise all those around him, and to see meanness in all those who were not in the same position, or who had not the same views and aims as himself; above all, an unconscious desire to domineer—a brutal, almost animal wish for supremacy, which his knowledge of his own purity and rectitude and self‐sacrificing power made him accept and cherish as if it were a kind of holy spirit dwelling within himself, and not merely the product of a brutal temperament, which a noble intellect and a generous heart had severed from all brutish interests, but which remained brutal none the less. Anne’s pride, her consciousness of finer fibre than her cousin’s, made her shrink from seeking in Richard Brown for assistance in her arduous task of freeing her spirit from the slough of æsthetic selfishness; his suspiciousness of her motives, his sarcasms, [234] his blindness to her purity of impulse, all this galled her; but she submitted to be galled. She wished her soul at least to be free, though her body might remain, as it were, in bondage, and Richard stood at the door of that world of nobler endeavour which she longed to enter; moreover, her stern spirit made her take a sort of pleasure in the very bitterness which she had to taste. If Richard had been sympathising, if he had met her half‐way and tried to help her on, she would have felt that she was bound to him, that she was battering her liberty once more; and vaguely Anne knew that she must never be bound to any one save Hamlin—that little as he could understand her, she was obliged, for ever, to try and understand him. And sometimes even, though the sense of Hamlin’s baseness, of his selfish æstheticism and his untruthful morbidness, weighed more upon her day by day, Anne would elaborately go over all that he had been to her—nay, all that, to the best of his power, he still was: she would sit for hours reading [235] and re‐reading those treasured‐up letters whose arrival had made her so strangely happy at Coblenz; (how long, long ago it seemed, and how little that schoolgirl seemed to share of her identity!) and Anne, reading over those letters, carefully collecting together all the stances of Hamlin’s generosity and delicacy and gentleness which she could remember—nay, mere looks and tones which had brought home formerly her love for him—made up out of them a simulacrum of Hamlin, and persuaded herself that she loved it, and that it was Hamlin’s real reality, the reality which had become spoilt by the horrible moral atmosphere, distorted, warped, but a reality nevertheless. Nay, sometimes the sense of Hamlin’s weakness would come home to her, and with a pang make her feel how much she was bound to suffer, how much she was bound to do for him.

[236]

CHAPTER IV.

HAMLIN had forgotten all about the business of Cold Fremley, except that he had stopped the printing of his book, and set to work remodelling the “Ballad of the Fens,” to the immense admiration of Chough and Dennistoun, who were quite reconciled to realism now that it was allied with horrid sin. But that Anne was at all alienated from him, never once entered his mind. He noticed, indeed, that Anne had grown much more serious of late, that she seemed less happy than some months before; but for that he had his explanation. He believed that her character was suddenly maturing (for he never guessed that Anne’s nature was one of those which mature rapidly, and whose maturity means [237] responsibility), and that there was brewing beneath that sombre exterior a storm of passion of which he was the object. That such a storm would come had been his persuasion from the very beginning of his acquaintance with Anne; he had guessed in her some strange latent force, and to see it develop had been his wish. That long courtship, that purely Platonic familiarity, giving scope to so much poetic devotion, poetic gratitude, was always to end, in Hamlin’s expectation, with a sudden burst of passion, which should envelop him, give his cold nature the exquisite sensation of being fired, carried off by a more powerful temperament than his own. Hamlin had had many love‐affairs in his day, more or less pure or base; he had, once or twice, been mastered by the stronger nature of a woman, but that had been mere brute passion, and what he desired was to rouse a passion terrifically overwhelming, but pure, intellectual, and with all the fearful violence of merely intellectual passions: a passion like [238] that, which he always admired more than any other in literature, of Heathcliff for Catharine in ‘Wuthering Heights,’—a passion such as some men have felt for a dead woman. This he had always hoped from Anne, and in the expectation of this he had been confirmed by every new revelation of her character. Sometimes, when Anne sat listless in the midst of their guests, her mind for away, her tragic face more sombre for the blackness that was in the world around her and in her own soul, Hamlin would watch her, and feel, with a pang of satisfaction, that he had not been mistaken in her.

“She is not a woman, she is a mere splendid statue!” Lewis had once exclaimed angrily, as he felt how utterly all that kind of occult sensual fascination, which his pale mysterious face, his vermilion lips, his cat‐like green eyes, his low droning voice, his sultan‐like freedom of manner, his sense of omniscience and omnipotence, his own nature, strangely compounded of the beast and of [239] the dreamer, indubitably exercised over many women, how utterly it trickled off Anne—

“She is not a woman, Hamlin,—she has an intellect and a will, but she has no soul; and one day you will discover it.”

“She is not a woman in the sense in which you conceive a woman,” answered Hamlin, contemptuously; “and she is as incapable of what you and most of us call passion, as is a statue. She has not one fibre of what you could call womanhood in her—not one shred of the beast which lies at the bottom of all our natures has entered into hers; she is a woman of mere stone and ice and snow for men like you. But just for that reason has she got a capacity for passion—for a passion which you can never understand—such as no other woman ever had. What are all those precious women—Cleopatras and Mary Stuarts—call them whatever you like, whom we think so poetical? Mere common harlots, decked out in poetical gewgaws, at bottom nothing better than a Madame Bovary, not so much as a Manon Lescaut [240]. Mere filthy clay shaped into something comely. What is it to be loved by one of them? You might as well be loved by a barmaid.”

Edmund Lewis’s lip curled.

“Certainly Miss Brown suits you in your present mood, Walter; I don’t say not. But you will find out later what it is to be in love with a woman who is stone and ice and snow for men like me. Madonna Laura and Beatrice are all very fine; but your ideal lady, I repeat it, is no woman at all, but a mere sexless creature, something like Victor Hugo’s handsome Enjolras in petticoats. Passion for humanity, for fame, for abstract excellence‐oh, as much of that as you like; but passion for so humble a thing as a living man! Never!”

“Please leave the subject alone, Lewis,” said Hamlin. “I don’t care to have slugs creeping, even only in imagination, over my lilies. Talk about your women, other men’s women, as much as you choose, but spare me your remarks about Miss Brown.”

Chough had been listening. The excitable [241] little poet of womanhood detested Lewis, whose arrogance grated upon him, and whose impurity of nature unconsciously offended the real innocence which underlay all his grandiloquently improper verses. And Chough adored Anne; she was, he often said, a quite new revelation of womanhood; and he believed that, as passion was the one noble thing in the world, and as Miss Brown was the noblest woman that had ever lived, that there must be a deal of passion in Anne.

“There is passion of all sorts,” said Chough, pulling his long black whiskers; “the passion of the pure animal, the passion of the mere human creature, and the passion of divine essences: the first is like a lush tropical country; the second is like the manifold sea; the third is like the high Alps, the highest strata of air, the purest light. The passion of divine essences is more terrible than any other, exactly because of its external nature: it is tragic. Miss Brown has that sort of passion—”

[242]

“Idiot,” muttered Hamlin ; and yet he felt pleased at Chough’s mystical corroboration of his ideas.

Meanwhile there was one subject upon which Anne sympathised warmly with Hamlin, and that was his cousin Sacha. For all her evident theatricalness, Anne warmed towards Madame Elaguine. She saw in her something frank and fearless which appealed to her, and a pathetic helpless desire, as of a child which has been naughty but wants to learn how to be good, to retrieve her own wasted life, to save her children from what she had undergone herself; above all, a wish to be in earnest without well knowing how to, a strain to be a serious woman in the midst of the habits of a spoilt child and of a flirt. For a spoilt child, unaccustomed to self‐control, impatient of small sacrifices, avid of excitement and novelty, avid of constant attention and admiration, Madame Elaguine certainly was; and a flirt as certainly also. She flirted with every one, with Hamlin, with as many of his [243] friends—Chough, Lewis, and Dennistoun—as he took to her; with Anne, with the Leigh girls, with the solemn schoolmasters and schoolmistresses, whom she interviewed for the benefit of her children; she flirted—you saw it by her smile and her little childish laugh of recognition—with the very housemaid who opened the door; she flirted with every man, woman, and child, with every dog or cat that she came across.

“What a flirt that woman is, to be sure!” cried Hamlin, as he saw every one of his and Anne’s friends subjugated in an hour’s visit by Madame Elaguine. And to be a flirt was no recommendation to Hamlin; he wanted to absorb all admiration, he wanted to inspire love; flirts were his particular aversion.

“What harm does her flirting do?” answered Anne; “it merely makes her and those about her a little happier.”

“I thought you cared only for serious, for intense people, Miss Brown—you who are so serious and intense yourself.”

[244]

“Perhaps I am too serious”—and poor Anne felt at the moment that she certainly was too serious to be very happy; “but, however that may be, that is no reason why your cousin should not be a flirt. As long as a person can feel strongly and seriously on serious subjects, why quarrel with him or her for being childish about childish matters?”

For experience had taught Anne the bitter truth that people could be serious—heaven knows how serious!—like the odious Lewis and like Hamlin himself, and yet have no fibre of sympathy or indignation; and her experience of flippant little Chough, with his tenderly cared for wife—of flirtatious Marjory Leigh and her humanitarian labours—had made her hope most from the very people whose light nature she, so earnest and tragic, could understand least. And to this category she added Madame Elaguine.

“Your cousin has strong sides to her nature, I am quite persuaded,” she said.

Hamlin shrugged his shoulders; but nevertheless [245], though he highly resented Madame Elaguine’s all‐round flirtatiousness, he was forced to admit to himself that the little woman had, when you were in her presence, a sort of magnetic fascination.

What moved Anne was Madame Elaguine’s vehement passion for her children, the long schemes which, to Hamlin’s ennui, she would enthusiastically dilate upon for their future; and somehow, from words which she used to drop, it would seem that she had been in danger of losing those children—that she was still exposed to having them taken from her, or to being in some way separated from them. Anne did not absolutely formulate to herself a hope of helping Madame Elaguine; but she felt vaguely that perhaps she, with her seriousness and determination, might help the excitable and decidedly vague‐minded little woman to persist in and carry out her ideas; that here she had at last a chance of being useful. The first thing, Anne felt, was to bridge over the gulf of past animosity which still separated [246] Hamlin from his cousin—to take away from Sacha Elaguine the demoralising sense of being an only half‐forgiven intruder. The great difficulty was Mrs Macgregor. The old lady could not abate one tittle of her hatred for the Sacha of former days.

“I tell you she is a bad woman, and you will find it out some day to your cost,” she would answer Anne. “The woman is contained in the child: or rather the woman is only the child altered and trimmed up to pass muster—dressirt, as my friend Schopenhauer says.”

“But, Auntie Claudia,” persisted Anne, “if a person can alter sufficiently to pass muster, why should that person not alter also in obedience to her awakened reason and conscience? Why should one not be able to shed the bad qualities of one’s childhood, for quite new and good ones?”

“Because one cannot, Anne; because the fox remains a fox, and the cat remains a cat, and the swine remains a swine.” And Mrs Macgregor looked with cynical compassion at Anne.

[247]

“I might have remained a mere soulless servant, had every one gone on your theory,” answered Anne. “No, I cannot agree with you, Aunt Claudia. I think it is terrible to condemn a woman because she was a good‐for‐nothing child; I think it is terrible to shut her out from sympathy which might be a comfort and an encouragement to her if she be still in need of any.”

“Ah, well, that is how you young people of to‐day always talk. You would object to sending criminals to the docks, because it is shutting them out of improving society.”

“I don’t see that the cases are parallel. I merely ask that a person be not condemned where she could not be responsible. If I thought that any one were really and hopelessly vicious, a mere source of evil, I think I should do my best to crush them out, to trample upon them.”

“That is how you are, Anne, willing to be a moral sick‐nurse or a moral executioner. In a world where every one has some horrid [248] moral disease or is some horrid moral nuisance, you will soon find that such a line as that leaves no time to live. However, as to Sacha Polozoff—Madame Elaguine, I suppose I ought to call her—do whatever you please. You are your own mistress, and free to choose your own friends. See as much of the woman as you please, as long as you don’t expect me to sympathise with you in your admiration, love, and awe of her.”

“I don’t feel any admiration or love or awe for Madame Elaguine. But I think that she is a comparatively young woman, very impulsive and rather injudicious, all alone here in London; and I think she ought not to be shut out from the only house which she has, as Mr Hamlin’s cousin, a sort of right to enter.”

“As you choose, Anne. Invite her, give up the house to her; do what you please. But remember, when you have burnt your fingers, that I told you you were playing with fire.”

[249]

So Anne had her way. And Madame Elaguine came often to Hammersmith. Hamlin and Anne did their best to prevent her meeting Mrs Macgregor; Madame Elaguine was received mainly in the studio, where, little by little, and at first seemingly casually, Hamlin’s friends would drop in to meet her. She was a curiously fascinating little woman. Education, in any regular sense, she seemed never to have had; she was grotesquely ignorant about a great many things, and laughed at it herself.

“I am teaching myself arithmetic in order to teach my boy a little before he goes to school,” she would say—or spelling, or grammar, or something similar. On the other hand, she had a lot of superficial accomplishments, like most Russians: she spoke four or five languages with tolerable correctness and extraordinary fluency; she had, in some mysterious manner, acquired Greek. She read little, and that little mainly novels and poetry; but, with her Russian rapidity to adapt herself to a new position, [250] she had scarcely realised that she had been accidentally drafted into æsthetical society, before she had got æsthetic literature, æsthetic gossip, and æsthetic modes of feeling at her finger‐ends. She immediately understood the relative positions of Hamlin, of Chough, of Dennistoun, of Lewis, and of all the others; and was able to talk to each as he best liked to be talked to. She began with a passion for Alfred de Musset, for Gautier, for Catulle Mendès, and she rapidly became an enthusiast for Swinburne, for Rossetti, for Chough, and, above all, “for that genius, Monsieur mon cousin.” She let herself be talked to about æsthetic dresses, gravely listening (with only a little side‐look of amusement at Hamlin or Anne) to Mrs Spencer’s strictures on modern costumes, on stays, and heels, and tight waists and full skirts; and she immediately set to work untrimming her frocks and making them up into wondrous garments, not at all like what any æsthetic woman had ever worn in her life, but queer, fantastic, delightful, neither [251] Greek nor medieval, but individual and quaint and fascinating.

“Dressmaking, as long as only pins are required, is my one talent, my one accomplishment,” she would say, when any one admired the capricious garments, in which she looked sometimes like a schoolgirl, and sometimes like a page in woman’s clothes, and sometimes almost like a little nun. But this was not the case. Without ever having learned, she sang with wonderful charm: a small, childish, high voice, which trilled out Russian and Spanish and French folk‐songs, and which had a strange, hot, passionate power of singing those German songs which poor Anne, for all her fine voice (which Chough used distressingly to compare with that of various equivocal singers of former days) and her conscientious learning, could never succeed in rendering. But the fact was that Madame Elaguine’s personality was surrounded by a vague halo and shimmer of talents: she had never learned to do anything, yet she could somehow do everything; she [252] could write fearfully misspelt but fascinating letters and bits of verse and prose; she could mimic and act.

“She is a first‐rate actress,” was one of the first things which Edmund Lewis, who seemed at once singularly attracted and puzzled by her, found to say about Madame Elaguine.

“You think that because she sometimes looks a little like Sarah Bernhardt,” answered Hamlin, who never cared much to hear his cousin praised, since everything which was praised in her seemed to point to a deficiency in Anne.

“I think she is an actress because I see it,” answered Lewis, in his positive way. “For my part, I don’t think any of you half appreciate all that there is in Madame Elaguine.”

“A nice little kittenish, intelligent flirt; just the same as a hundred Russian women one has known,” said Hamlin.

Lewis shook his head.

“That woman is not a mere ordinary flirt. She has an almost unique temperament: she is a first‐rate medium; I feel it.”

[253]

“You have felt so many people to be first‐rate mediums, Mr Lewis,” said Anne, scornfully. “Do you remember, you thought once that I was one.”

“So I did. But this time I’m not mistaken;” and he gave Anne one of those looks of fierce aversion which, loathing him as she did, she rather liked from the little painter.

However, Lewis proved right this time. Madame Elaguine had scarcely ever heard about spiritualism, but she threw herself into it with all her Russian ardour, and in a very short time, under Lewis’s guidance, became a great adept. Lewis declared that he had never met so gifted a medium in his life; and, indeed, Madame Elaguine showed a perfectly marvellous power of going off into trances, reading thoughts, and otherwise communicating with spirit‐land.

A young doctor, one of Marjory Leigh’s hygienic demigods, whom she brought to call on Anne, once met Madame Elaguine at Hammersmith. Anne noticed the way in which he [254] watched her face and manner; she seemed somehow to interest him as a problem.

“Why were you staring so at Mr Hamlin’s cousin?” asked Marjory Leigh when the Russian had left.

“Staring at her?” answered the Professor, vaguely.

“She is a very pretty woman, and very charming,” said Anne; “I think that is sufficient explanation.”

“Well,” said the young doctor, a rough, brusque creature, “that wasn’t exactly the reason. I was thinking how very—well, to put it plainly—how very hysterical a subject that lady looks.”

“What do you mean by hysterical?” said Anne, quickly. “She is very nervous, but she doesn’t seem to me to be at all subject to any kind of fits.”

“That’s not what we mean by hysteria,” exclaimed the doctor. “Hysteria isn’t a fit of hysterics; it is a condition of morbid nervous excitability, usually accompanied by a certain [255] loss of will‐power. Hysterical subjects are a kind of milder mad men and women; their characters undergo curious modifications; they haven’t the same responsibilities as others. I wonder whether that lady is not a spiritualist,—she looks like it.”

“She has let Mr Lewis, who has gone in a good deal for that sort of thing, mesmerise her once or twice,” answered Anne. “I don’t believe in that rubbish myself.”

“Nor do I. But there is this much of truth in it, that some sorts of temperaments are naturally inclined to it, and that it reacts upon them. And I should think it would be the case with that lady.”

“But surely,” hesitated Anne, “people who are in good health—who have never had any kind of nervous illness or shock—don’t get into that state.”

“Oh yes, they do. It is often hereditary; one or two, or even sometimes only one, depraved ancestor will do it for you.”

The recollection of all she had heard of [256] Sacha’s horrible profligate old Russian father, of her violent and weak and constantly ailing mother, flashed across Anne. And then came also the remembrance of those portraits at Wotton Hall—of those generations of weak and depraved planters, who had been the grandfathers and granduncles of Sacha as well as of Hamlin.

And any remaining ill‐will which Mrs Macgregor’s stories had left was swept away. Anne did not like Madame Elaguine, in the same way that she liked the Leighs or even Mrs Spencer; but she felt a sudden strong compassion for her. Perhaps, she thought, there is more goodness in the world than I guessed. And it seemed to her that this giddy little woman, with her passionate desire for the welfare of her children, this woman who had struggled through the disadvantages of hereditary weakness and corrupt training, was a sort of a hero.

[257]

CHAPTER V.

AUTUMN turned to winter, and at last Hamlin’s long‐expected, much‐talked‐of book of new poems made its appearance. In her gradual estrangement from Hamlin, in the gradual replacing of the ideal creature whom she had so fervently loved by a reality by which she was beginning to be repelled, Anne had hung some of her last hopes to Hamlin’s poetry. She would often say to herself that, after all, Hamlin made no pretence to being anything more than an artistic nature; that he was a great artist, born to give the world a certain amount of pleasure, and that she had no right to ask of him to be anything else. What could she, willing as she was to sympathise and to work,—what could a [258] man like Richard Brown, with all his self‐sacrificing energy and ability, do for mankind that might compare with what had been done by Leonardo, by Mozart, by Keats—men as solely artistic as Hamlin? and Hamlin was a great poet, and would become a greater one—of that Anne felt persuaded, for his work was steadily improving, and there were things in this book which she recognised as having the highest merit. So she clung to Hamlin’s poetry as to an anchor for his nobility and for her affection. At length the volume was published. Hamlin arrived at Hammersmith one morning and placed a copy of it by the side of Anne’s plate at breakfast.

“It is the first copy,” he said, “and as such, belongs to you.”

“Thank you,” said Anne, flushing with pleasure; for, opening the book, she found on the fly‐leaf a little poem, imitated from the love‐songs of the Tuscan peasants, in which Hamlin dedicated the volume to her; it was beautiful and simple and almost solemn—the [259] very flower of that distant and poetic love which he professed towards her.

“You have put in the ‘Ballad of the Fens’ after all! Oh, thank you so much, Mr Hamlin! You know I always thought it the best thing you have ever done,” she exclaimed.

Hamlin did not answer; perhaps because he was aware that this “Ballad of the Fens,” rewritten under the influence of Dennistoun, was not the same as the one which he had torn up three months before. Anne soon discovered it: reading through the still uncut sheets, she found that instead of the story of married love, which had called down the wrath of the whole school, Hamlin had set in his beautiful descriptions a ghastly tale which she scarcely required more than to glance at. So this was all that had come of her having mentioned Cold Fremley to him!

“I think I have made the story more tragic and more in harmony with the surrounding nature. I always felt that I needed some more powerful and terrible situation. Like this, [260] I think the effect is sufficiently worked out, don’t you think?”

“Yes,” said Anne, icily. There was the description of the sunset on the fens, of the broad slow river flowing between low green banks, its clotted masses reflecting the red sunset embers; the description of the whole scene as they had witnessed it; and then a description of the people of Cold Fremley, of their lives and sins, in which she could almost recognise her own words in which she had vainly pleaded for them that memorable afternoon in his studio. A cold terror prevented Anne from turning at once to the sonnets. But after all, had he not, as it were, promised to abide by her choice? had he not submitted, however reluctantly, to the condemnation of those twelve sonnets? Anne felt ashamed of her own suspicions and fears; she boldly turned to the end of the book, peeped between the leaves—

“Desire—XII. Sonnets.”

Anne did not know what was the feeling [261] which filled her. She had never felt it before. It was too cold to be indignation, too self‐possessed to be horror: she seemed surrounded by an icy atmosphere, through which she saw Hamlin as through a mist. He had broken his word, and for what? To attribute to himself vicious thoughts and feelings which he had never had. Anne said not a word; the man who was capable of acting thus could not understand if he were chidden for it.

Breakfast passed gloomily, talking little, or of indifferent things. Hamlin was evidently ruffled by this reception of his book.

“Are you going to sit to me this morning, Miss Brown?” he asked with some irritation, as he rose from table.

“I will, if you wish me to.”

Anne’s voice smote him as if he had opened the window to a snowstorm.

“Have you anything else to do?”

“I always have plenty to do, you know. If you don’t want me, I shall go out with Marjory Leigh.”

[262]

“So much the better. I don’t feel as if I could work successfully this morning, and I should be sorry to detain you for nothing at all. I will go and ask my cousin whether she would care to see Lewis’s studio. This weather is very depressing.”

“Very,” answered Anne.

Anne went out with Marjory Leigh, who was on a round of visiting poor people at Lainbeth. They were joined by Harry Collett. He stood in great awe of his future bride’s superior wisdom and dogmatic manner; but it was touching to see how completely these two creatures—the shy and mystical curate, and the masterful and rationalistic young woman, who was wont to tell him that some day he should be persuaded that only secular work was really useful, and the Church ought to be disestablished—understood each other, and sympathised in their best endeavours.

“Hamlin has brought out a new book,” said Collett to Anne. “How proud you must be, Miss Brown! he has been quite another man, [263] twice as cheerful and devoted to his art, since he has known you. For a poet like him, so sensitive and easily depressed, it must be a great thing to have a noble woman to encourage him.”

Anne did not answer. She felt alone—alone as in a desert, without an ear to hear her, or a hand to touch hers.

Often did that sensation recur to her now; a sensation as of dragging wearily and alone along an ice‐bound road, under a grey wintry sky, weary and solitary, but with the knowledge that the more solitary and weary she felt, the more was she bound to plod on. Things that happened seemed spectral. Here in London she saw less of Hamlin than in the country; he was going about with his friends, he was at his cousin’s. She did not know or care where. People talked a great deal about the new book; and only Anne was silent.

“You don’t like Hamlin’s new book,” said Richard Brown to her one evening, fixing his eyes upon her in his ruthless way. He came often now; he had apparently got to believe in [264] her, and he even held out a possibility to her, if she continued to work steadily, reading and attending lectures, that she might by the summer‐time be able to offer herself to teach the elements of political economy at the Working Women’s Club.

“You don’t like Hamlin’s new book.”

[It] was not a question, but an assertion, and Anne felt it as a taunt.

“I like some things in it extremely,” she answered boldly; “but I dislike and disapprove of some others.”

Brown made a characteristic upward movement with one of his big black eyebrows.

“I thought that you æsthetic folk never disapproved of anything—that it was against the canons of art to disapprove.”

“I am not an æsthete, Richard. If I were, I should not be trying to learn the things in which you take interest.”

“True. And does Hamlin know that you dislike and disapprove of some of his poems?”

For a moment Anne did not answer. [265] Brown’s question was like an insolent attempt to see into her heart. Yet what right had she to hide anything?

“He knows exactly what I think about all his poems; but he does not, naturally, agree with me in all my views.”

She was determined to keep her cousin at a distance. He had hated her ever becoming connected with æsthetic society, and he tried to force her to admit that she regretted it.

But Brown had an inveterate hatred which he could not put aside.

“Have you seen the review in the ‘Saturday Gazette’?” he asked.

The review was one of the few bad ones which Hamlin’s book had had, among a chorus of good ones. But it was written by a rabid enemy of pre‐Raphaelite poetry; and who had taken the occasion of this book to show up what he considered the pestilent moral condition of the whole school.

“Yes; I have. It is a very unjust and violent attack, and quite indiscriminating.”

[266]

“So I thought. Still, what it quoted from the sonnets called Desire seemed, so far, to bear out its statements. What do you think?”

“I think,” answered Anne slowly, and choking her pride and emotion, “that all he says about those sonnets is quite correct. I think it is most regrettable that they should have been published. But I think that in writing them Mr Hamlin was merely following the vicious traditions of his school; and I know that he is, in reality, a perfectly pure‐minded man. And,” she added, as if to put an end to the conversation, “he is the man to whom I owe more gratitude than any woman ever owed to any man.”

Brown did not press the conversation. He understood. He had of late been getting to comprehend Anne’s character; he recognised her serious unselfishness, her indomitable desire for good; he saw in her a strange straining dissatisfaction—a something which was as the beating of a bird’s wings against its cage. And now he understood whence it came.

[267]

“She has made her choice and must abide by it,” he said sternly to himself, remembering that scene when he had tried vainly to dissuade her from accepting Hamlin’s offer, and she had answered, “I love him!” “She has sold her soul into bondage, and must accept the isolation and silence and uselessness of a slave.” But then, as he said good night and looked at that noble face, whose tragic intensity of rectitude was now revealed to him, Richard Brown could not help feeling a pang. “Poor child!” he said to himself; and wished he had proved less of a prophet than he believed himself to have done.

He began, in consequence, to feel a little ashamed of himself, and came oftener to see Anne. He was a brilliant man when you got him on his own subjects, warm‐hearted, self‐sacrificing, ambitious, eloquent; and he had always a number of practical schemes at heart. Originally a hand at a foundry, he had for some time, like Anne’s father, been smitten with communistic theories; but instead of [268] being tempted into becoming a socialistic demagogue, he had, when he was about twenty‐five, given up the little workman’s newspaper, of which he was editor and chief author, and deliberately set to work studying economical and social questions in the intervals of his work, carefully suspending his judgment during the while. To a man as impetuous and ambitious as Brown, to whom the easy and tempting path of party leader lay open, such a course must have meant a terrible and long‐sustained effort of self‐control. But his indomitable conscience and will had carried him through it; and now he was reaping the unexpected reward of his forbearance. While slowly working his way in business and studying the subjects which were dearest to him, he had managed also to cultivate a mechanical genius, which seemed in some way hereditary in the family of Anne’s father, who, in happier circumstances, might perhaps have been a brilliant inventor instead of a starving expatriated workman. He had made valuable improvements [269] in the foundry of which he had become the foreman, and had now, for the last two years, been the chief partner and virtual director of the business, with a fair livelihood in the present, and a large fortune and great influence in the immediate future. But money and influence were nothing to Richard Brown; or rather, influence to him meant merely the triumph of his own philanthropical schemes. Selfish he undoubtedly was, but his selfishness, his vanity, his pride, his ambition, were drafted off into the service of others. Anne listened with enthusiasm, but not unmixed with sadness, to her cousin’s projects for educating the lower classes, for bringing home to the upper classes their own responsibilities; they had the charm of dreams, but of the dreams of a man who seemed able to make what he desired into reality. Even in this æsthetic society, which had looked upon him with suspicion and loathing, Richard Brown got a certain importance. He would spend hours with old Saunders the painter, and [270] his daughter, the enthusiastic Mrs Spencer, discussing the way of introducing more beautiful patterns into trade, and of getting up schools of design and loan exhibitions for the poorer classes.

“He is a man of the middle ages!” Mrs Spencer would enthusiastically exclaim; “if only we had a few more like him, we should soon build cathedrals and town‐halls like those of the fourteenth century.”

“He is a canny Radical,” answered her father, “but a gude sort of man. For my part, I don’t much believe in educating the lower classes up to art, but there’s no harm in trying, and, at least, we shall get better‐made chairs and tables for our money.”

Chough was equally enthusiastic. Richard Brown was anxious to get up some concerts at a kind of workman’s union at which he presided; and Chough—yes, the great Chough himself, who hinted mysteriously that his father (who was an apothecary at Limerick) was a duke, but that he would rather die [271] than succeed to the title—was prevailed upon to take the musical direction upon himself. While these schemes were going on, Madame Elaguine met Richard Brown.

There was something in this big, burly, rather brutal man, which immediately fascinated the nervous little Russian woman: she sat at Brown’s feet, she listened with rapture to his theories, she threw herself headlong into the plan of the concerts; she offered to perform, to teach, to do whatever Brown might wish.

Hamlin was thoroughly disgusted with his cousin Sacha, who had hitherto known no divinity save him and pure beauty, when he saw her devoting herself to humanitarianism, personified in what he called “that shoddy philanthropical black brute.” He became vehemently devoted to Anne. He seemed to repent of his book. He declared himself sick of London and of æsthetic society.

“I must turn over a new leaf,” he said. “I feel I must, or sink into being no better than Chough or Dennistoun. But I am too weak [272] to turn it over alone. Will you help me, Miss Brown?”—and he looked at her with his slow, beautiful glance of Platonic love.

Anne smiled sadly. “No one can help any one, I am beginning to fear; and I least of all.” She had got so accustomed to these sudden returns of Hamlin’s, to these false starts, these longings after a healthier moral and intellectual atmosphere, which came to nothing. She saw so plainly the hopeless weakness and thinness of his nature; and yet in such moments she could not help feeling some of that old love for this beautiful, delicate, idealistic, chivalrous creature whom she knew to be mere selfishness and vanity. If only he would remain thus at least.

“Perhaps you are right,” answered Hamlin, leaning over the piano at which she was seated; “but I feel myself sick of this life, this poetry. All is false, false, hollow, and empty. My verses are untrue, my pictures are mere Christmas cards; even with you as a model, I feel I am always repeating the same [273] wearisome insipid trick of eyes, and mouth, and neck. Oh, I don’t know what to do!”

It was but too true. That school of mere beautiful suggestion, which scorned reality and mechanical skill as a bird scorns the ground, was fast sinking into nullity. Anne had often remarked it in comparing the works of various masters; she had noticed the stray sentences, not meant for her, dropped by painters of other schools.

“Go to Paris and study for a year or so under Bastien‐Lepage, or Henner, or Duran,” she said, with a smile at the vanity of her own words.

Hamlin could not even conceive that she was in earnest, that any one could dream of seeing anything in modern French painting, that any one could be so mad as to think of his studying.

“Yes,” he cried, “that is the only art that can live in our day! Ours is a mere phantom; our poetry is a phantom; they come round us imploring us to give them life, like [274] the ghosts round Odysseus’s trench. But who shall give them life? Where shall we get the life‐blood of passion whereon to feed and revivify them?”

And he suddenly turned round and looked at her with great yearning eyes. Hamlin was genuinely unhappy, though he did not guess that his unhappiness was due to vacuity, to slighted vanity, to the sudden infatuation of Madame Elaguine for a shoddy philanthropist. He longed for passion as, in hot climates, after months of faint sultriness, one longs for rain and wind; and he looked at Anne as one might watch the dark clouds hanging on the hills, the dark clouds which hold the storm for which one is thirsting. Oh for a strong passion!—it would revive him, revive his art. Hamlin did not say it to himself in so many words, but he felt it.

He talked long and vehemently about the necessity of going outside one’s self, of transmuting one’s consciousness into that of another, of having something beyond one’s self to [275] live for. He told Anne, always with those yearning eyes fixed upon her, that what was wanted to revive the world and art (and by the world he meant himself) was passion; but not the mere sultry passion which his school had sung about, which merely enervated and sent to sleep, but the clear cold air, the whirlwinds and thunderstorms of ideal love—of love such as Dante had felt for Beatrice, and Heathcliff for Cathey. It was very eloquent and beautiful what he said about this love, which was something vague and quite unselfish and outside one’s self,—a sort of act of adoration and purification and renunciation,—a meeting of two souls which vibrated in unison in their desire for the good and the noble. While he spoke, Anne almost believed that he was sincere; sincere, indeed, he was, but according to his nature, not hers. She felt the tears coming into her eyes, and a vague wish to throw herself into his arms and implore him to cast aside his selfish habits, to live for the life of other men and [276] for her love, came to her heart. But when, suddenly, their conversation was interrupted by the entry of Edmund Lewis and Madame Elaguine, it all ebbed back, till her whole nature seemed to burst. She felt that he did not know what he was saying, what he did not comprehend what he was wanting; she felt the uselessness of saying to this man that the world and herself were waiting for him to love them, that her whole nature was sickening for want of one with which to vibrate in harmony of desire for the good and the noble. Cold Fremley, the sonnets, a hundred little words and looks which had made the chasm between them, returned to her. She felt once more alone, terribly and hopelessly alone.

And still, when she met her cousin Dick, and realised how different he was, how genuine and strong and passionate for good, she could not help experiencing a sort of repulsion from him, and a melancholy, hopeless throwing of herself back on to the unreal Hamlin. [277] She felt that Richard Brown, with all his nobility and energy of nature, would never have done for her what Hamlin had done, would never have been for her what Hamlin had been; that he would never have singled her out, her a mere servant, and guessed that in her there was a soul which could love and could aspire. But after all, why had Hamlin singled her out? and what had he guessed in her, what had he hoped from her? That line of Rossetti’s, which Hamlin admired more than any other, which he so often quoted—

“Beauty like hers is genius,”—

returned to her with a chill; and she felt that Hamlin wanted, expected from her that sort of passion which he had spoken of to revive him and his art. It seemed to her as if she had been sold in the slave‐market, and were being told “now love.”

[278]

CHAPTER VI.

RICHARD BROWN did not let Madame Elaguine sit at his feet very long. After about a fortnight of extremely assiduous visits at the Russian lady’s house at Kensington, during which he poured out to the enthusiastic little woman all his philanthropical schemes, Richard suddenly gave up calling, and even avoided meeting Madame Elaguine at other houses.

“Why have you deserted Madame Elaguine so suddenly?” asked Anne of her cousin. To confess the truth, Anne was rather malicious in her question. She had speedily recognised the vanity, or rather the self‐sufficiency, the belief in his own irresistible uniqueness, which was the leaven of Cousin Dick’s virtues, and she had been amused from the first at seeing [279] how this earnest philanthropist had let himself be caught by Madame Elaguine’s conscious or unconscious instinct of flirtation; and now, she thought, Dick has suddenly awaked from his dream of having fascinated and converted her. Anne smiled as she asked the question, but there was sadness as well as amusement in her smile. In his way—his blind, self‐satisfied, unselfish way—Dick was as vain as Hamlin: wherever she looked vanity and hollowness met her, and she herself could not even conceive what vanity was.

“Why have you deserted Madame Elaguine?” repeated Anne.

Brown suddenly raised his big, rough, black head from the review which he had been mechanically looking at, and answered, looking straight in front of him—

“Don’t speak to me about Madame Elaguine; she is an odious woman.”

There was something brief and silencing in his tone which surprised Anne and precluded further questions.

[280]

“In fact,” added Richard Brown, “if it were not that a woman like you will never even understand what Madame Elaguine is made of, I should peremptorily say that she is not a person for you to know.”

Anne was indignant, and yet, at the same time, a little shocked.

“Why, what has Madame Elaguine done?”

“Done!” answered Brown, half waiving the subject, and half insisting upon it, as self‐important men frequently do. “Why, she has done nothing. But that makes no difference; she’s an odious woman.”

Anne laughed bitterly. The whole world seemed so awry, every one seeing everything through the crooked spectacles of his own vanity. Now here was Dick insinuating evil against a woman because he had been such a big baby as to fancy her in love with him.

“Men are very unjust!” cried Anne; “they always trump up some mysterious sin to justify their unreasonable aversions.”

Brown reddened, and was on the point of [281] saying something. But he checked himself, and merely remarked—

“Oh, of course women always fancy that they understand each other better than a man can.”

“So they can! A woman can always understand another woman better than a man can, who attributes all sorts of nasty masculine faults to women, or suspects imaginary feminine ones, when he doesn’t see clear. Oh yes, I know: every woman is weak, vain, a creature of impulse and passion, something half‐way only between the man and the child, as I read in a French paper, with a kind of sham character, like the backbones of cartilage or jelly of some lower creatures!”

Brown shook his head.

“Most women are like that, but not all; not you, Anne, for instance.”

“Thank you,” answered Anne, scornfully.

“But all women, at least all noble women, are unable to judge of other women. How should they judge? It is only a man, or a [282] base woman, who knows of the mud out of which many women, like many men, are moulded.”

“One does not need to be base to know that,” said Anne, half to herself; and she thought of the mud which she had discovered in her own silver idol.

“I don’t think we are alluding to the same thing,” said Cousin Dick, turning off the conversation.

“Mere vanity, and the injustice of vanity,” said Anne to herself, and her pessimism became more confirmed. But later, although she continued to believe quite equally in Richard Brown’s vanity, she began to suspect that there had been in this coarse‐looking man a movement of modesty, an unwillingness to let her eyes rest upon some nasty thing which he had seen. But of this, at present, she had no idea, and Madame Elaguine, although she did not find much in common with her, became for Anne another victim of the vanity and injustice of the world.

[283]

They saw a good deal of the little woman now. Anne thought she understood her thoroughly, and owned to herself that she had not understood her at first. She recognised that the little woman had much more character than she had at first imagined; and the impression of frailness, childishness, and helplessness which something in Madame Elaguine’s appearance, manner, and voice had at first given her, wore away so completely that she could scarcely believe it had ever existed. Eccentric and irresponsible she still seemed, always rushing from one enthusiasm to another, always thirsting for excitement; but Anne found that instead of a childish girl who could lean upon her, she had to deal with a woman, undisciplined and capricious indeed, but still, in many respects, more of a woman than herself. She was flighty and giddy like her own little girl in many respects, and fully as ignorant of many things; but she had a knowledge of sides of life which Anne instinctively guessed, and from which she recoiled [284]. With an extraordinary love of the beautiful, the fantastic, and the ideal, which, as it made her dress herself in queer ingénue little costumes, also made her mould her conduct, ideas, and words rather theatrically in obedience to a conception of something striking and pretty,—Madame Elaguine had, at the same time, a vein—no, Anne thought it must be a mere exterior dab, not due to her inner nature, but to her Russian and Continental education—of coarseness, which surprised and pained Miss Brown. Once or twice, in Anne’s presence, she alluded to things in a manner which gave Anne a shock; and Anne, who, half Italian as she was, and wholly fearless and unprudish, would ask herself what right she had had to feel like that; she would analyse Madame Elaguine’s words, and find them, when measured by a Continental standard, very harmless; yet somehow, though she told herself that she was stupid and unjust, something of the painful impression would remain. Also, she could not conceive [285] how a woman could like to sit for hours, as Madame Elaguine did, on the score of spiritual séances, with a man like Edmund Lewis. She never heard him talk on anything objectionable to the Russian; and yet there was something to her inconceivable in the endurance of this man by a young woman. Anne came to the conclusion that she must be growing horribly prejudiced and unjust; and the less she could sympathise with some of Madame Elaguine’s tastes (though there was nothing really objectionable in them) the more did she force herself to try and understand, and make allowance for, and help the little woman. And one day Anne’s sympathies were really enlisted for her.

It was about Christmas, and Anne had prevailed upon Hamlin to accompany her and Madame Elaguine to a pantomime, to which the Russian was taking her little girl, and Anne the two Chough children. Anne amused herself heartily, as she always did, at every sort of theatrical performance, with the love [286] of shows and acting in her Italian blood; she was so happy laughing with the children, while Hamlin talked with his cousin and Chough in the back of the box, that that evening long remained a sort of oasis in the dreariness of her inner life. There was a tremendous crush in the lobbies and on the stairs;. and while Chough shoved on his two children, and Hamlin tried to make way through the crowd for his frail little cousin, who looked as if she would be knocked over and trampled like a feather, Anne, towering through the throng (and people turned to look at that magnificent pale face, set in crisp black hair, and said to each other, “Look there; that’s Miss Brown, the famous pre‐Raphaelite beauty”), held Sacha Elaguine’s little girl close in front of her, calmly making the crowd divide as a ship divides the water. They were fairly out of the theatre, on the steps looking out into the street, with the gas burning dim in the fog, and the long splashes of yellow light on pavement and wet cab‐tops, [287] waiting in the damp cold, while Chough called their carriage, and Madame Elaguine, leaning on Hamlin’s arm, the two little Choughs by her side, had heaved a sigh of relief, and exclaimed—

“Oh, how delicious it is to be in the cold, and fog, and dark, after that theatre!—”

When little Hélène Elaguine, who was holding Anne’s hand, and see‐sawing from one leg to another—while staring at the men in opera hats and comforters, and the ladies and children huddled in furs, and the policemen and cabmen who passed in front—suddenly gave a piercing shriek, and threw herself into Anne’s arms, clinging to her and burying her head in her pelisse.

“Good heavens! what’s the matter, child?” cried Anne, mechanically clasping the little girl round the waist.

“What’s the matter?” cried Hamlin, who had not seen this action.

But Madame Elaguine had let go his arm and darted forward, white as ashes, and seized [288] her child from Anne, and cried—“Let us go! let us go!” in an agonised voice.

The carriage came up, and she jumped into it, scarcely giving Hamlin and Anne time to follow, and leaving Chough and his children amazed before the theatre door.

The carriage stopped at her door in Kensington.

“I cannot pass this night alone with only Helen and the servants! I cannot, I cannot!”

And Madame Elaguine burst into tears, strangely intermingled with hysterical laughs.

“They want to take my child away; they are trying it again!”

“What is to be done?” asked Hamlin.

“I will stay to‐night with Madame Elaguine,” said Anne, with decision; “if you will go to Hammersmith and tell Aunt Claudia’s maid that your cousin was feeling ill, and I am staying with her till to‐morrow. Help Madame Elaguine out, will you?”

Hamlin lifted his cousin out of the carriage, while Anne took charge of the child, [289] whom its nurse carried up in a condition of lethargic sleep.

When they were in Madame Elaguine’s drawing‐room, the Russian took the child in her arms, and flinging herself on a sofa, burst out crying, her sobs interrupted by moaning complaints that some one wanted to take her child away.

“I will go to Hammersmith now, and leave you with her,” whispered Hamlin to Anne, who had knelt down by the side of the sofa.

“I will come to‐morrow morning for news; good night.”

“Good night,” answered Anne, under her breath.

But Madame Elaguine heard. She started up, and looking wildly about—

“Oh, don’t leave me alone yet!” she cried.

“Miss Brown will remain, Sacha,” said Hamlin.

“Oh, don’t leave me yet, Walter!” repeated [290] Madame Elaguine. “I am afraid—I am afraid of Miss Brown.”

“I think you had better remain, Mr Hamlin,” whispered Anne; “she will probably be quiet in a minute or two.”

Hamlin took a chair near the table, and looked on in surprise. Madame Elaguine was stretched on the sofa, her sleeping child pressed close to her; her little head, with its short pale curls, thrown back; her eyes half closed, moaning and gasping and sobbing; and Anne, kneeling by her side, looking anxiously into that curious, convulsed face.

“Do you think she is going to faint?” asked Hamlin of his cousin’s Swiss maid, who stood by, the picture of self‐satisfied composure.

“Oh no—Monsieur need be under no apprehension. Madame often had de ces crises; Madame was often frightened like that. It was the first time since Madame was in England, but it was quite common. Madame,” added the servant quietly, “has probably seen her black man—”

[291]

“What black man?” asked Hamlin.

Sacha Elaguine had suddenly raised herself on her elbow,—as if she had heard the maid’s words.

“Take Mademoiselle Hélène to bed, Sophie,” she said quietly.

“Shan’t I take her?” asked Anne.

“Sophie knows how to manage her,” answered Madame Elaguine; and sitting up, she drew the half‐wakened child close to her and kissed her with convulsive passion. Yet she let the maid carry off the little one, and merely let herself slip down on the couch with a moan, putting aside her heavy fur and passing her hands through her pale blond hair, and moaning.

“Don’t you think you had better go?” said Anne to Hamlin. “I will look after your cousin.” She would loathe to have Hamlin sitting there, looking at her, if she were in Madame Elaguine’s condition.

Hamlin rose.

“Stop a minute,” said his cousin faintly, [292] turning round and fixing her vague northern blue eyes on him; “stop a minute, Walter.”

Hamlin remained standing, his eyes involuntarily fixed upon the curious spectacle of this prostrate little figure, panting and gasping as if going to die, and half unconscious of any one’s presence—her cloak thrown back on the sofa, her hair tangled, her bare arms and neck (for it was one of her caprices always to go the play, even to the pantomime, full dress) half covered by the fur of her pelisse and the lace of her dress.

“Stay a minute; I want to explain,” repeated the Russian, in a faint voice. “Anne—dear Anne—where are you?”

“Here I am,” answered Anne, in her cheerful strong voice; “do you want anything, dear Madame Elaguine?”

“I want you,” and Sacha flung her arms round Anne’s neck, and drew her dark head close to her own little pale yellow one. Anne felt her arms tighten passionately round her, her little hand tighten convulsively round her [293] neck, as if the half‐fainting woman would throttle her,—but she felt no fear, only a vague, undefinable repulsion. Madame Elaguine sighed a long sigh of relief, and loosened her hold; but she kept Anne’s face near hers, and kissed her with hot lips on the forehead.

“Dear Anne,” she said, “forgive me.”

“There is nothing to forgive,” said Anne, trying to get loose and to rise to her feet. But Madame Elaguine kept her down in her kneeling posture, her arm always round Anne’s shoulder.

“I must explain it all to you,” she said, in a slow, vague tone, fixing her eyes upon Hamlin. “Don’t think me very foolish or mad; but I thought they were again trying to carry off my little Helen,—they have tried before,—and they keep writing to me, telling me that they will carry off Helen or kill me. I don’t care about that,—but Helen!” and Madame Elaguine hid her face in Anne’s iron‐black hair.

Hamlin looked on as in a dream. It was a [294] curious sight, these two women, so different, and yet both so young and beautiful, the one clinging so to the other; and of the two, Madame Elaguine, whom he had never thought regularly handsome, with her thin, strange face, and red lips, and wild eyes, seemed to him at this moment the stranger and more beautiful of the two.

“I want to explain it all,” said Madame Elaguine. “Walter, give me that box—the little Indian inlaid one on the writing‐table—there, next to the palm‐tree.”

Hamlin brought the box; and Madame Elaguine, without letting go her hold of Anne, pressed a spring and opened it. It was full to the brim of letters—some large and folded in their envelopes, others mere scraps of paper. She took some out, and spread them on her knees.

“Look,” she said, letting Anne go, so that she could, while still kneeling, see the papers.

Anne raised herself, and Hamlin approached.

“Look at these,” said the Russian, carefully [295] handling the soiled and crumpled pieces of paper; “these are to me what love‐letters are to other women,—they are my life—my past, and my future.” And she fixed her eyes wildly on Hamlin. “As other women have lived on knowing that they were loved and would always be loved, so I have lived, ever since I was twenty, knowing that I was surrounded by invisible enemies, who would either put a sudden end to my life or protract it with their tortures. Ah! I know you think me giddy, and fickle, and childish; but you don’t know that I try to lose my wits in order that I may gain some peace!” her voice burst out hot and passionate.

Anne and Hamlin were shyly fingering the papers; they were all in the same hand—a curious, crabbed, left‐handed character—some in French, some in English, some in Russian, but all brief and to the same purpose: initials of which neither Anne nor Hamlin understood the meaning at the head, and below a threat of something terrible, sometimes left vague, [296] sometimes outspoken, as death, to what was styled the traitress. Many of them said that what could not be visited on the mother should be visited on the children, and all concluded with saying that wherever the traitress went she would be followed by invisible eyes and footsteps.

“It was all my fault in the beginning,” began Madame Elaguine, covering her eyes with her hands; “but I was very young, ignorant, and lonely; and after all, what harm did I do? I had been married when I was only seventeen to a man whom I thought of as a father; and little by little, when I found what sort of man he was—how base, and coarse, and cunning—I began to feel very lonely and empty‐hearted. I was too young to care for my children, who were babies, and I was a baby myself. But it was all so lonely, and the world so mean about me. I longed to be of some use, and able to sacrifice myself for something. And a man was sent across my path, twice as old as myself, whom I looked [297] upon as a father, and who treated me as a child; and this man used to talk to me, when my husband left me all alone to run after low women, and tell me all about the miserable condition of Russia, and how all the good was being stamped out, and only selfishness, and injustice, and corruption triumphed. He was a Nihilist himself, and one of their chief men—a wonderful man, who seemed so cold, and just, and honest. So, little by little, he converted me to his ideas, and I got to know other Nihilists, men and women, and heard a great deal about all sorts of terrible doings. I felt so happy and heroic—I was a fool, you see. Then I suddenly discovered that my hero was quite different from what I thought—that he had gained all this power over me only in hopes of making shameful use of it, and had cornpromised me with his party merely to make me his mistress. When I understood it, I drove him away, and threatened to tell all to my husband; and then he swore to get the better of me, and to use all the power of his society to [298] bring me, as he called it, to reason. For two years, while my husband was alive, I struggled with him, and he kept on threatening and hoping to frighten me. But when my husband died, I sold all the Russian property, and was preparing to leave the country, and then that man who hated me, just because in his way he had loved me, denounced me to his society as a traitor to the Nihilist cause, and as a person to be hunted down. And so, ever since, I have been persecuted with all the might of the Nihilists wielded by this man; and although I have been hundreds of times on the point of denouncing him and his associates to the Government, I have never done so, because I am still a Nihilist at heart, and hate the Russian Government as much as I hate him; and he, who knows it, knows I cannot defend myself, and employs his power in tormenting me.”

A convulsion passed across Madame Elaguine’s face; it dropped, like that of a dying person. But she started up suddenly, and went on with her story. For ten years nearly she had been [299] persecuted in this mysterious way; threatening letters had come to her by all manner of conveyances,—brought by the post, found on her table, dropped by invisible hands at her feet. Attempts had been made to poison her, stopped just in time to let her know of them—for the object seemed rather to make her life unbearable than to take it away; burning spirits of wine had been poured under her door; twice she had been shot at. But the most terrible part of the persecution had come when they had discovered her passionate love for her little girl (the boy, now at school, they had somehow let alone). Several times, in various places (for she was always on the move, flying her enemies), attempts had been made to carry off the child; once, at Cannes, she had gone to the window just in time to see a man snatch up the child, who was playing in the garden, and to fire off a revolver at him.

“If I had killed my child,” said Madame Elaguine, savagely, “it would have been better than to see her carried away from me.”

[300]

The individual who had made these attempts she described as being very dark, as if his complexion had been altered by overdoses of nitrate of silver. And this man would every now and then, at unexpected moments, reappear, and his reappearance meant some fresh outrage. Poor little Helen had suddenly seen him, or thought she had seen him, among the crowd coming out of the theatre; and this had produced the child’s sudden fit.

“Ever since I have come to London,” said Madame Elaguine, “I have been comparatively quiet. I was almost forgetting all about my misfortunes, or thinking I was forgotten—and here it begins afresh;” and she burst into tears.

“Oh why, why cannot I be permitted to be happy for a little while—only a little while?” she cried.

Anne had listened awe‐stricken. She had always thought there was something mysterious about this giddy little woman. This frightful undeserved calamity struck down her [301] imagination; what right had she ever to feel unhappy in the presence of such misery as this?

“Perhaps,” she suggested timidly—“perhaps it may have been Helen’s fancy. As she is used to the idea of this black man, she may have imagined, being tired and overexcited from the play, that she saw him among the crowd.”

“Oh no, no, it was he, really he,” moaned Madame Elaguine, turning over on the sofa and burying her face in its cushions.

“You must go now,” whispered Anne to Hamlin; “there is no earthly use in your staying. I will sit up with her till she be quiet. Good night.”

“Good night;” and Hamlin, as he noiselessly opened the door, cast a last glance at that singular group in the rose‐coloured light of his cousin’s lamp,—Sacha, with her fur and lace all in disarray, gasping on the couch, her bare throat heaving, and one of her thin white arms hanging loosely by her side; and Anne [302] Brown, in her long plain white dress of high art simplicity of cut, stooping over her. For some time Anne sat by Sacha’s side, holding the Russian’s hot hand.

“Is Walter gone?” suddenly asked Madame Elaguine, turning her head.

“Mr Hamlin went some minutes ago.”

Madame Elaguine raised herself and sat up on the sofa, and passed her little hands through her disorderly yellow hair.

“Give me a kiss, Annie,” she said.

Anne stooped down and kissed her.

“Perhaps I had better go to bed now,” said Madame Elaguine.

“Shall I help you to undress?” asked Anne, who feared that Hamlin’s cousin might have another fit of hysterics.

“Oh no; call Sophie—she will undress me.”

On Anne’s call, the Swiss maid emerged from the next room.

“Put me to bed,” ordered Sacha, rising and leaning on the arm of the sofa.

[303]

“May I really not help you?” asked Anne, for the maid looked so indifferent, nay, so sulky, and she seemed to handle her mistress so roughly, that Miss Brown wondered how Madame Elaguine, in her state of nerves, could endure to be helped by her.

Anne waited till Madame Elaguine was in bed.

“I have made up the bed for Mademoiselle in the spare room,” said the maid, looking at Anne with a curious insolence; and she led her up‐stairs. Anne did not put out the lamp, and she did not undress. She could not sleep; and she felt miserable at the notion of Madame Elaguine being left all alone on the first floor. What if the little woman should wake up with a panic, if she were to fancy that some of her mysterious persecutors were hiding in her room? Anne took the lamp, and silently descended into the drawing‐room. All was quiet. She sat down in an arm‐chair, and made up the dying fire. She felt very restless and unable to sleep. The whole scene [304] of this night and Sacha’s revelations had shaken her nerves and gone to her imagination. In her half‐drowsy, dreamy condition, everything seemed to her strange and eerie in this room, which was so unlike her own at Hammersmith. It was full of pretty things, but in great confusion; Sacha’s piano was still open, with a book of Rubinstein’s songs on it. There was a heap of dog’s‐eared French novels and recent volumes of poetry on the table, and the whole room was heavy with the scent of some Eastern drug and of Madame Elaguine’s Turkish cigarettes. On the table by Anne’s side were some books: she took up one, and opened it at random; it was Hamlin’s new volume. At the head of the page was the title, “Desire—XII. Sonnets,” and all along the margin was a faint line in pencil, and the words, in a childish hand, “How beautiful! and how TRUE!”

[305]

BOOK VII.

[307]

CHAPTER I.

THE notion that a man was waiting, thirsting for her love, would have been enough for many a woman in Anne’s position—many a woman more gifted than Anne, and more conscious of her gifts, especially if the man who thus tacitly implored her to love and kindle love in him, were, like Hamlin, the former object of passionate worship. But with Anne Brown it was different. Some few women seem to be born to have been men, or at least not to have been women. To them love, if it come, will be an absorbing passion, but a passion only of brief duration, the mere momentary diversion into a personal and individual channel of a force which constitutes the whole moral and intellectual existence, whose object is an unattainable [308] ideal of excellence, and whose field is the whole of the world in which there is injustice, and callousness, and evil. Such women may be very happy if they love a man with their eyes open—love him as a mere secondary concern, as a mere trusty companion in the struggle after the ideal; but if they love in a man what momentarily seems to be that ideal, if they love with all the force of their nature, a terrible reaction of vacuity and despair must soon come. As with their lovers and husbands, so also with their children: they cannot blissfully concentrate all their passion upon them; such love will soon become narrow and bitter for them. They are indeed sent into the world (if any of us is ever sent for any purpose) to be its Joans of Arc—to kindle from their pure passion a fire of enthusiasm as passionate, but purer than it is given to men to kindle: they are not intended to be, except as a utilisation of what is fatally wasted, either wives or mothers. Masculine women, mere men in disguise, they are not: the very [309] strength and purity of their nature, its intensity as of some undiluted spirit, is dependent upon their cleaner and narrower woman’s nature, upon their narrowness and obstinacy of woman’s mind; they are, and can only be, true women; but women without woman’s instincts and wants, sexless—women made not for man but for humankind. Anne Brown was one of these. She had no idea that she was of this strange, rare stuff of heroines; she had no notion that she was at all superior to the ordinary run of her sex; indeed it was her perfect ignorance of her own exceptional nature which caused most of her wretchedness, making her at once more impatient with the weakness of others, and more impatient with her own difficulty of being satisfied. Love, therefore, was not for her a happiness, nor an ideal, nor even a compensation. In an intensely earnest nature like hers, a few years are worth a lifetime: everything is understood, endured much sooner; all that can be felt, for pleasure or pain, is rapidly exhausted, and the character remains [310] early, with all its human lusts and vanities burnt out like the gases in green wood, ready to become the fuel for unindividual ideal passion. So at twenty‐three, Anne had, so to speak, loved out her love, her passionate adoring love, as she had dreamed out the dreams of her life; anything that might still come would be but a faint momentary flicker of sentiment, a detail in her life, and no more.

So when Hamlin had, in his veiled way, made her to understand what he hoped, what he desired, what he expected, what (she could not help saying to herself) he had bargained for, of her,—the thought of this love, which she could no longer feel, and which she was expected to give—of this love which was to be merely the highest selfish pleasure, the most precious (because the most refined), æsthetic lust of a selfish æsthetic voluptuary, Anne experienced a sense of horror and self‐debasement. So this was what Hamlin was waiting for—this which made him play that comedy of respectful distant adoration, of freedom of [311] choice in her, of absence of all rights in himself—this that her solid mass of soul should slowly take fire, and smoulder, and, leaping up in inextinguishable flame, set him also ablaze.

Hitherto Anne had been unhappy from her isolation, from her gradual discovery that the man whom she had loved as an ideal of nobility must be scorned as a mere weak‐spirited and morbid‐minded artistic automaton,—a mind creating beautiful things from sheer blind necessity, as a violin gives out beautiful sounds, but soulless, like the mere instrument of wood and string. She had been unhappy because she was alone, terribly alone; but now she was unhappy because she had discovered that she was in bondage, surrounded by walls, a slave. And now that she yearned for the icy sense of isolation with which she had lived a few weeks back, as a prisoner in a fortress might yearn for the desert, she found also that she could no longer drift on indifferent, enduring the present, and hoping for the future. She could no longer vaguely say to [312] herself, as she had so often said before, that Hamlin might be redeemed, that he might yet become once more an object of her love: for it had become plain to her that her future was settled; that whatever Hamlin was, he was her master, her proprietor; and that, lovable or not lovable to her nature, he expected, counted upon her love.

This new feeling made Anne’s life—that life which was so completely a life of the world within, not of the world without—insupportable in a new way. Isolated she could live, but not caged. Her whole soul sickened; she no longer thought of trying to influence Hamlin, of trying to help others; all her energies were concentrated upon helping, upon freeing herself.

“There is something the matter with Anne Brown,” said Sacha one day to her cousin. “What is it?”

“Miss Brown always looks very serious,” answered Hamlin, affecting indifference. “She has a tragic sort of face even when she is quite [313] happy. It is one of her great peculiarities, and to me her charms; but for some time I could not realise that she was really happy.”

“That’s not it,” cried Madame Elaguine, impatiently. “I know Anne when she’s happy and Anne when she’s unhappy. She doesn’t look merely grave and tragic as she used to—she looks perplexed, and pained, and worried; she’s not happy in her life.”

“Miss Brown,” said Edmund Lewis, in his drawling, clammy voice, fixing his conquering eyes on Madame Elaguine with a quiet, insolent smile—“Miss Brown is a woman, although she looks like a goddess; and even goddesses, you know, could not help being women too.”

The Russian laughed. “Always the fatuity of these men!” she cried, and turned contemptuously on her heel.

Hamlin did not answer, but a feeling of satisfaction came over him. Anne was unhappy; and in a nature like hers, he said to himself, love must be unhappiness. But when he saw Lewis and his cousin alone he felt [314] annoyed; and he fell upon their spiritualistic practices with a perfect rabidness of scorn.

Anne little knew that she was watched; she did not care what might or might not be thought of her by Sacha Elaguine, by Chough, by Edmund Lewis, by any of these people whom she despised; and as to Hamlin, an instinct told her that he would never guess what it was that troubled her. So Anne kept her pain to herself; but sometimes the despair of being thus enslaved became too strong for endurance, and she longed for some one to whom to confide it. Every word, every look, every piece of attention, every show of indifference on Hamlin’s part, seemed to mean the same thing: that he expected her to love him—everything seemed to allude and point to that. The only women with whom she was at all really intimate were the Leighs; but Anne could not say a word to them, could not ask their advice. She could never, she thought, make either of these girls enter into her situation, comprehend her feelings, make [315] her understand that she was not ungrateful, and that Hamlin was not ungenerous. Yet she felt the terrible need of some one to counsel her—to take some of the frightful responsibility either of ingratitude or of degradation from off her—to show her either how to get out of the situation, or how to submit to it. Such a person there was—a person who might help her, who might even understand her; but something told Anne that she must not have recourse to him, to her cousin Dick. Perhaps it was vanity, perhaps a knowledge that Richard Brown would triumph over this miserable ending to what he had always opposed; a fear lest he might misunderstand Hamlin, and bespatter what was the one beautiful thing in his life—his raising up of Anne. For it was a curious point that, contemptible as Hamlin had become to Anne, and unworthy in her own eyes of her love, she could not endure the idea of any one else understanding this, of any one else attacking Hamlin. None of them, she felt, could understand what [316] Hamlin had done for her; what he had been—nay, what, as a beloved piece of the past, he still was—to her; only she could measure what she owed to him, and only she, therefore, might weigh the bad in him against the good. For even when she was most overcome with the sense of the moral prison which was closing round her, to cripple her life and break her spirit, Anne could not wish that the past had been otherwise—that she had never met Hamlin, never contracted a debt towards him, never loved him. Bleak and dark as might be the present, she would not ever have given up that past,—that sudden flaming up of her life, that one spell of hope and trustfulness, and admiration and love, which must serve her for all her existence: to have had that was always sweet, to have been given it was always a reason for gratitude. Moreover, Anne could not now contemplate what she would have been had she never met Hamlin. To her stern and idealising nature, to have remained without knowledge, without [317] responsibility, without sympathy, without sense of right or wrong, morally only half developed, only half alive, as she had been during her earlier girlhood, was unendurable. She would not, for all the pain and humiliation which it might cost her, have forfeited the finer fibre, the clearer vision which had shown her that she was indebted therefor to a man whom she despised. No; she could not, even in thought, relinquish the past. But what of the future? The question laid hold of Anne’s mind, and for some weeks rode it like an incubus. How many of us have thus let a hopeless problem get hold of our whole nature, and make it move, day after day, week after week, in the frightful treadmill of its vicious circle?

Every night Anne lay down to sleep with her doubts half solved, her mind half made up, only to wake up the next day with all her doubts reinforced and all her resolutions scattered. Such a condition is not due to weakness or indecision of character; nay, it is [318] probably only the earnest minds, the most capable of serious decisions, who can thus go on living in suspense, resisting the temptation of a decision, enduring the monotonous recurrence of a struggle of motives and of thought; it is the effort, this frightful mental instability, at retaining moral life where life would easily be extinguished; it is the weary tramp up and down with cold cramped limbs of the prisoner who knows that were he to stop, were he to lie down, he would have rest, but also death. Almost unintentionally Anne kept asking herself what steps she could take to be free. She used, in moments of weakness and weariness of heart, to go over schemes of independence, to indulge in day‐dreams of self‐supporting liberty. She who, a few months ago, had dreamed of raising the lower classes, of spreading higher knowledge and ideals among them, of awakening the more fortunate parts of society to their sense of responsibility,—she whose whole energy had been taken up in silent projects for bettering, no matter how [319] little, the world, bettering the poor by making them think and enjoy, bettering the rich by making them feel; giving the shop‐girls of the Women’s Club a glimpse into the world of imagination, and giving Hamlin a glimpse into the world of reality,—she was now thinking of how she might earn her bread, how she might live as a teacher or a governess. Talking with the Leighs and her cousin, she used shyly, and with a desire to deceive very foreign to her, to put questions, seemingly purely abstract, as to what a poor girl with a certain amount of education could best do—as to what was required of a schoolmistress or a governess. And, while telling herself that it was all useless—that she was bound by the past, however much she might try and cut herself loose from the present—Anne mechanically gave her time to studying, no longer to be more worthy of Hamlin, or more useful in the world, but to enable herself to gain a livelihood if . . . Ah! well, when she asked herself plainly what that “if” meant, [320] she had to answer that she scarcely knew: if the slave‐owner should say to his slave,“ Go—I am tired of you;” if the man who had bought the precious statue or picture should weary of it and wish to exchange it. And Anne had to admit to herself that Hamlin was not the man to feel or act like this. Nay sometimes, when she had indulged in a day‐dream of freedom—when she had let herself go to the vain belief that Hamlin would one day awaken to the sense that this woman was not his ideal, as she had awakened to the sense that he was not hers—when she had worked out the details of her half‐starving life of independence, her return to her old drudgery (but with a freer spirit), her hard struggle as a teacher of little children, or a shop‐girl, or at best a schoolmistress,—the recollection of the past would suddenly overpower her—the recollection of what she had been, what she had hoped—the recollection of her love of that debt which she was now devising a means of paying off,—and poor Anne would burst into tears. But that debt, she [321] felt, could not be paid off. She might support herself in the future, but how could she get rid of the past? If she lived on dry bread for the rest of her life, Hamlin would still have done for her what she believed that no other man had ever done for a woman; if she could save up every penny of earnings and place before him all that he had ever spent for her education, would it not be the basest, vilest mockery and cheat, and could she repay the love which he had felt, the trustfulness which he had shown? Repay it she never could; for love and trustfulness she could not give in return; and she must ever remain in his debt, remain his to do his bidding. And yet at times the question arose in her, What right had she to pay a debt at the price of her honour? To become Hamlin’s wife when she did not love him, to pretend love which she did not feel, this was in Anne’s eyes, measured by her stern measure of right and wrong, a prostitution; and could it be honourable to let herself be dishonoured? But Anne cast [322] this thought behind her; Hamlin, by binding only himself and leaving her free, had by his chivalrous generosity really bound her; if to possess her, and as much of her life and love as she could give, would make Hamlin happy, he had a right to it.

The strain, Anne felt, was becoming too much for her; this question of her own future, of her own dignity and undignity, was swallowing up her whole nature, neither more nor less than the nature of Hamlin and his friend was swallowed up by their æsthetical feelings. Anne recognised, with terror, that she was deteriorating; that she was beginning to care nothing for others in this preoccupation about herself; and that such a thing should happen—that she too should lose her more generous feelings—was a greater degradation than any other which could come over her. This shame and this misfortune alone it was in her power to prevent, and she determined to prevent it. She did her best to put aside all questions of her own future, to accustom herself to wait for [323] what might happen, what she might be summoned to do, and she threw herself with more ardour than ever (trying to escape from the contamination, not merely, as before, of the selfishness of others, but of her own) into such studies and questions as concerned wider interests than her own.

Anne’s earnest nature, lacking the happy faculty of being absorbed by present feelings, had always been very subject to a dull moral pain at the evil in the world, storms from the great Sahara of misery which would lower over her own oasis of happiness, clogging its atmosphere and blighting its greenness. But now her efforts not to brood over her own unhappiness, resulted merely in her brooding almost unceasingly over the unhappiness of others. And gradually, to the sense of the misery of the world, became superadded the terrible sense of the injustice of that world’s arrangements: from being indignant with the callousness of men, Anne became indignant, with the same cold and sombre indignation, [324] at the callousness of God. She felt herself alone, isolated, separated not only from the men and women surrounding her, but separated in spirit from the whole scheme of things. And to her, the greater part of whose life was in her aspirations, this gradual removal of anything to which to aspire, this gradual destruction of every ideal with which to sympathise, such a condition of moral loneliness was, as Anne once said to her cousin, worse than death.

Richard Brown had somehow, that day, been more sympathising with Anne than usual. Had she not been too much engrossed, she might have noticed that he watched her face, listened to her words, not merely now with gentleness and friendliness, but with a kind of suppressed admiration and wonder.

“Nothing is so bad as death,” answered Richard; “because, once dead, we can no longer feel, we can no longer judge, or sympathise, or strive.”

Anne looked up from the frock which she [325] was making for one of the little Choughs, whose wardrobe was getting into a lamentable condition.

“I don’t mean that we are so useful when we are dead, but we are less unhappy. You talk of feeling, and sympathising, and judging, and striving: what can we feel, and sympathise with, and judge, except the miserableness of men, and their weakness and badness, and the horrible arrangement of the world which makes them such? and after what can we strive, except vainly to release ourselves from that abominable order of the world?”

Richard Brown looked at Anne for a moment in silence. He was a singularly unæsthetic man, and confusing beauty with mere utility, he had never well understood the beauty which artistic people chose to see in this strange, uncommon, sombre face, so unlike that of any one else, and which seemed to have no prototype either in man or woman. But now he felt that Anne was beautiful, and very beautiful.

[326]

“All mankind is gradually releasing itself from what you call this evil arrangement of the world,” he answered; “or rather, the very perception that such an arrangement is evil is teaching mankind,—I mean all that much of mankind which makes the rest move on, to rearrange the world, and out of the bad to make the good.”

Anne shrugged her shoulders contemptuously.

“Why was the arrangement made if it was evil?” she asked.

“Because,” said her cousin, watching her face as he let his words drop—“because there was no sense of good and evil at the beginning; because it is only man who has conceived that the pleasure of others is good, and the pain of others is evil; and because, therefore, only man can be expected to reorganise the world so that the good of others be sought and the evil of others avoided. It is only man living with men, and feeling their miseries in his own, and their happiness in his own, who can be [327] anxious for justice and impatient of injustice. How can you expect it of nature?”

Anne did not answer, but remained for a moment with her hands folded over her work, looking out of the window. Outside there was only yellow fog, and leafless spectral branches; yet her onyx‐grey eyes opened slowly, as if she were taking in some faint but glorious vision.

“What right have you to expect such feelings except from men and women?” went on Brown; “the gods, you know, have other things to do. I suppose,” he added bitterly, “that they had a godlike life like their representatives, the poets and artists, on earth, creating only for their amusement, and keeping every disagreeable sight, or sound, or feeling, or suspicion away from them.”

Anne was accustomed to such hits at Hamlin; they were too true to be refuted, and too spiteful to be accepted; and now she was too much absorbed to notice any of them.

“I don’t know exactly what you are driving [328] at, Dick,” she said. “I don’t understand your theory about man and God, and right and wrong; it is misty to me. But still it seems—I don’t know how—as if, could I only understand it, it would make a great difference to me.”

“It must make a great difference to every honest person. You have no religion, Anne.”

“No. I thought religion was all bosh; merely a sort of silly pretty delusion, like love and all that;” and Anne thought bitterly how her own only religion, her love for Hamlin, her desire to become worthy of his goodness, had lamentably betrayed her.

“Without religion life is death,” said Brown, with his positivistic solemnity.

Anne looked at him contemptuously; she had so often heard people talk solemnly like that. Did not Hamlin talk in that way about the religion of beauty, and Dennistoun about the religion of love, by which he meant lust?

“It is all very fine; but I don’t much believe [329] in religions. There is nothing worth worshipping; all is fetish, at best half silver and half clay.”

“You don’t believe in any religion, Anne, because you have never tried to find one.”

“I have looked in the Gospel, and in the ‘Imitation of Christ,’ and in my own heart, Dick; and what I have found there is ignored in the scheme on which the world is made; because I have read there of love and justice and mercy, and I have not found the love and justice and mercy which presided over creation.”

“I told you that the world was not made by man, and that it is man who has conceived good and evil. I always told you, Anne, that it was a great pity that you should read only books upon details of science, like political economy and so forth, and refuse to get general ideas of what is and what is not the belief of our age.”

“Detail knowledge—I mean knowledge of political economy and physiology and so forth—is useful; it can be applied, it can serve to [330] make people a little less wretched. What is the use of your general ideas? Oh, I know; the religion of truth, the worship of ideas, etc., etc. I don’t see that it is a bit nobler to worship truth than to worship beauty; your religion of science is only another form of selfish æstheticism: your friends hanker after knowledge, as my friends hanker after beautiful pictures, and music, and poetry, and women; and as my people dignify their appetites with the name of religion of beauty, so do yours sanctify theirs as the worship of truth. All that merely makes the world more cold and black in my eyes.”

“These general ideas,” answered Brown, “are what prevent me from being as wretched as you are. Do you call that useless?”

“That is just what Mr Hamlin says about beauty, and Chough about the Eternal Feminine. But I don’t see that the world gains by this devotion.”

“I know nothing of Hamlin’s or Chough’s [331] opinions,” interrupted Brown, impatiently; “but I know that if you permit yourself to continue in this kind of pessimism you will enervate your soul, Anne. It seems very noble and austere, and all that sort of bosh; but there is just the same fascination in it as there is in any morbid excitement, and just the same debasement of the individual in indulging therein.”

His words seemed to go through Anne. Was she becoming selfish, weak, self‐indulgent? The terror of it sickened her. And was everything, however noble it seemed—love, beauty, nay, even her indignation at the world’s evil—only a snare?

“Will you teach me, Dick?” she said, after a moment. “I don’t much believe in your religion—positivism, I suppose it is—for all religions seem to me to turn out, oh, so empty, after promising so much. But if you will tell me, or give me books to read, you know I will do my best to understand.”

“You are a noble girl, Anne,” said Brown [332] half audibly, fixing his eyes on Anne’s. “I did not think there was a woman so strong, and truthful, and fair‐minded as you—well—in the whole world.”

“You always think people base, Dick,” she answered sadly. “It is a wretched mistake, but not so bad a one for yourself as always to think them noble.”

Richard Brown lent Anne a number of books, and he often came of an evening when Hamlin was gone to Madame Elaguine’s spiritual séances (for despite his scepticism he found himself attracted by the mysticism with which Edmund Lewis had easily infected his cousin), and talked them over with her. He took her also to hear the lectures of a friend of his, a red‐haired young man of genius, dying of consumption, who had for truth and righteousness a passion such as other men may have for sport, and who was the chief preacher of the secular and scientific religion with which Brown was imbued, and with which he was seeking to imbue Anne. Anne [333] was not so quick in being converted as her cousin had expected; she was slow of thought, and her earnestness, her honesty, perhaps also a painful remembrance of so many other deluded hopes, made her sceptical. But, little by little, Anne was converted; and, as her cousin had foretold, she was happier. The world and its contradictions became simpler in her eyes, and she became once more confident of good. Moreover, what Brown never guessed, her new faith in the triumph of right, her new belief in the necessity of doing one’s duty for the sake of mankind and of progress, had at once given her a more serene determination to accomplish her duty towards Hamlin; and, what was more important, it had taken away her thoughts a little from her own position of impotence and isolation and probable degradation. And perhaps, unconsciously also to Anne, she felt less isolated now: she felt as if in this rough, brutal, vain philanthropist, who was so honest, for all his petty vanity, and who was so desirous [334] of her good, despite all his former contemptuousness, she had gained what she had never had, and had yet always vaguely wanted,—some one for her to understand and to understand her, to help and be helped by—not an ideal being to adore as she had adored Hamlin, but a good, wholesome, strong reality whom she could love as a brother.

“I owe a great deal to you, dear old Dick,” she said one day, taking his hand; “I am so glad I would not let you continue to despise me.”

Brown flushed, and his cynical smile failed him. “Despise you? Oh Anne, how could I—” he exclaimed. But suddenly he checked himself.

END OF THE SECOND VOLUME.

PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS.

BOOK VII.
(Continued)
MISS BROWN.

[3]

CHAPTER II.

WHILE Anne was being indoctrinated with her cousin’s philosophical theories, Hamlin had little by little let himself be drawn into the little clique of more mystical and Bohemian pre‐Raphaelites whom Edmund Lewis had collected round Madame Elaguine. The old‐fashioned, long‐established æsthetes, who believed that artistic salvation resided solely in themselves and their kith and kin, and who strangely muddled together the theories of an esoteric school and the prejudice of the untravelled Briton, decidedly set their face against Madame Elaguine. They had not liked Anne Brown [4] because she was not sufficiently engaging; but they thoroughly hated Sacha Elaguine because she was too fascinating.

“A nasty, ignorant, frivolous little woman,” said Mrs Spencer, who was the spokeswoman of the party; “a woman with no sense of responsibility whatever. Did you hear the way in which she spoke of those horrible French painters? That she actually dared to talk to papa about that Monsieur Page, vulgar, base creature that he is!”

And the older people, and the women of the æsthetic world—the spinsters with dishevelled locks and overflowing hearts, who kept little garlanded lamps before the photographs of puny English painters and booted and red‐shirted American poets, all agreed with her. But the younger men merely laughed, and neglected the solemn, smut‐engrained parlours of Bloomsbury, the chilly, ascetic studios of Hampstead, for Madame Elaguine’s curious, disorderly, charming house in Kensington—the house patched up with old lodging‐house [5] furniture and all manner of Eastern stuffs and brocades, crowded with a woman’s nick‐nacks, strewn with French novels and poems, and redolent of cigarettes and Russian perfumes. For there was in this delicate, nervous little creature, eaten up with love of excitement, something which acted as a spell upon most men; and it was curious to see how she managed to make them all in love with her, and at the same time excite no jealousy.

“Do you think Circe’s pigs were jealous of each other?” asked Mrs Spencer, when this peculiarity was pointed out to her by Chough. “Reduce people to a certain level, and they will be satisfied with equality.”

Lewis explained it as being due to Madame Elaguine’s magnetic power. Whether the Russian had been fully converted to his spiritualistic theories, or, indeed, whether it was possible to make her believe seriously in anything, it is impossible to say. But she had caught the spiritualistic infection from Lewis as a tinder catches fire. Nothing in the world [6] could suit her better: spiritualism appealed to her love of excitement and mystery, to an idealistic and mystical strain which made her hanker after strange supersensuous contacts and occult affinities; moreover, if ever there was a woman of whom one might believe that she could vibrate with disembodied passion, and come in contact with an uncorporeal world, it was this emaciated, nervous, hysterical creature, who lived off coffee and cigarettes, and lived, as it seemed, only with her restless mind, and not at all with her frail, incapable body.

“I feel sometimes,” she would say to her friends, “as if I mixed with the living as smoke mingles with air—seeing them move before me, but unable to clutch them or be clutched by them, coming in contact only with their passions. I feel as if I could more easily live with the dead—mix more easily with them. It is terrible. I sometimes fancy that I shall fall in love with some dead creature, and my life be sucked away by him,”—and she gave a little shudder.

[7]

Cosmo Chough listened spell‐bound with admiration, twisting and untwisting his long black whiskers. What a woman was this! And he ruminated over a new chapter of his Triumph of Womanhood, of which Sacha Elaguine—“Sacha quite short,” as she bade her friends call her—should be the heroine.

Edmund Lewis smiled his sensual lazy smile, which one knew that he imagined to be the prototype of the cruel and lustful mysterious smile of the men and women, and creatures neither one nor the other or both, who came from beneath his fantastic pencil.

“Has it never occurred to you,” he said, in his luscious voice, stooping over Madame Elaguine’s chair, “that you may rather be a dead creature yourself—a vampire come to suck out some one’s life‐blood?”

“Confound that Lewis!” thought Chough. “Why must such ideas occur to him, a mere damned painter, and not to me, who am a poet?” and he made a note of the vampire.

Hamlin was standing by, smoking his cigarette [8] sullenly. He did not like these sort of liberties which Lewis took with his cousin; he had even of late warned her that, although his friend was an excellent fellow, too great intimacy with him might prove disagreeable to her.

“What a carrion‐feeding fancy you have, Lewis!” he exclaimed, frowning. “One would think you lived on corpses, in order to be more in harmony with those beasts of spirits of yours.”

Lewis laughed triumphantly; but Madame Elaguine, to his amazement, cut him short by saying—

“Your idea may be very amusing, Mr Lewis; but I don’t think it is exactly the style of thing for a man to say to a woman.”

Lewis, who was never abashed, merely raised his eyebrows.

“I thought you were superior to your sex,” he answered.

“If Lewis dare to talk to you like that,” whispered Hamlin to Sacha, “I shall horsewhip him one of these days.”

[9]

Madame Elaguine pressed his fingers in her little hot hand.

“You are good,” she answered, in what was like the buzz of a gnat, but infinitely caressing; “but poor Lewis means no harm: he is very bon enfant. You are too pure and proud to understand other men. Ah, Anne is a happy woman!”

The last words were scarcely more than a little sigh to herself; but Hamlin caught them, and reddened.

“Anne is very cold,” he said briefly; then added, as if to justify himself in his own eyes—“I suppose all very passionate natures are.”

Sacha shook her little thin childish head.

“Oh no—not all.”

Miss Brown went but rarely to the house of Hamlin’s cousin. She was extremely sorry for the poor little woman’s misfortunes; and asking herself what she would have been had she had Madame Elaguine’s past, she often admired how the Russian had kept her independence and self‐respect, and serenity and cheerfulness. [10] Yet, while she believed herself fully to appreciate Sacha, and invariably defended her against the jealous prudery of Mrs Spencer and her clique, Anne somehow felt no desire to see much of her. She set it down to her own narrowness and coldness of temper. “I am too one‐sided to have friends,” she used to say to Mary Leigh; “I feel that I don’t do justice enough to people, however much I try, and that my heart does not go out to meet them enough. I think I would do my best for them; but I can’t love them or be loved.”

Poor Mary Leigh was silent. Anne—this beautiful noble, distant, somewhat inscrutable Anne—was the idol of the enthusiastic Irish girl. She had often longed to tell her so; she longed, at this moment, to put her arms round Anne’s neck, and say quite quietly—“I love you, Anne;” but she had not the courage. How much may this sort of cowardice, called reticence, cheat people of? The knowledge that there is a loving heart near one, that there is a creature whom one can trust, that the world [11] is not a desert,—all this might be given, but is not. And the other regrets, perhaps throughout life, that word which remained unspoken, that kiss which remained ungiven, and would have been as the draught of water to the wearied traveller.

Anyhow Anne, while thinking that she liked Madame Elaguine, somehow did not care to see much of her. What she could do for her she did willingly. Madame Elaguine wanted the child to learn English, but made a fuss about letting her have a governess.

“My child’s mind must be my own mind,” she said. But as she went on grieving at little Helen’s ignorance, and her own incapacity, from want of schooling and want of strength, to teach her, Anne offered to teach the child together with the little Chough girls, who were still her pupils. Madame Elaguine was rapturously grateful; but Helen was so completely spoilt, that she could be brought to Anne only when she fancied it herself, and Anne found her so demoralised that she really [12] did not like to bring her in contact with the Choughs. “When poor little Helen is ten, then you must moralise her,” Madame Elaguine would say; and Helen was within week of being ten, and Anne, much as she disliked asking Madame Elaguine anything, urged that she should begin to be taught. Moreover, Anne’s time was too much taken up reading under Richard Brown’s directions, and her thoughts were too much preoccupied to make her feel at all sociable, even had she not felt an instinctive repugnance to the sort of company, headed by Edmund Lewis, which she knew she would meet at Madame Elaguine’s.

However, one evening she could not refuse Sacha’s invitation, more especially as the latter, evidently to please Anne, had invited her friends the two Leighs. It was a grand spiritualistic séance. Madame Elaguine was in great excitement, and Edmund Lewis was radiant. But Hamlin looked bored and pressed.

“I hate all this vulgar twaddle of spiritualism [13],” he said impatiently to Anne. Anne loathed it: the triviality disgusted her, the giving up of one’s will to another revolted her, and she could not understand how a woman could endure to be handled and breathed upon by a man like Lewis. Mary Leigh was half excited and half amused; Marjory, the strong‐minded scoffer, had determined to unmask some sort of trickery. The séance, to which Edmund Lewis had brought a famous professional medium, was very much like any other séance: a darkened room, a company of people partly excited, partly bored; expectation, disappointment, faith, incredulity; moving of tables and rapping, faint music, half visible hands.

“The whole boxful, machinery complete, all the newest tricks, eighteenpence,” as little Thaddy O’Reilly fiippantly remarked to Anne. How could Madame Elaguine have patience with such rubbish? wondered Miss Brown. What excitement could that excitement‐loving little woman, with a real mystery in her own life, find in all this stale shibboleth?

[14]

“You can’t think what a strange, delightful sensation I have at these moments,” said Sacha to Hamlin, as her little soft hand touched his. “I seem to feel the whole current of your life streaming through me, and mingling with mine. It is like an additional sense. Do you understand that, Anne?”

“No,” answered Anne, briefly. “I feel Mr Hamlin’s fingers touching mine, and that’s all.”

Hamlin somehow admired Anne’s answer; he was glad it was so,—had she felt like his cousin, something would have spoilt in an ideal of his; and yet Anne’s coldness annoyed him.

“The spirits are reluctant; there are too many sceptics in the room,” said Edmund Lewis, angrily. “Great as is the power of some of us—as, for instance, of Madame Elaguine—I feel that there is something acting as a non‐conductor,—some very chilly nature here.”

But nevertheless, when the company was giving up the séance as spoilt, mysterious sounds were heard, and something luminous, which was immediately identified as a pair [15] of spirit‐hands, was seen to float over the table.

“Spirit‐hands!” whispered Edmund Lewis.

“Wash‐leather gloves painted over with luminous paint,” whispered Thaddy O’Reilly.

“A wreath!” whispered Madame Elaguine.

Something round, like a wreath, did seem to float, supported by the spirit‐hands. Some said it was oak, others cypress, others myrtle; but it soon became apparent that it was bay.

“For Hamlin!” whispered the guests to each other.

The wreath floated unsteadily over the heads of the party; but, as it passed Marjory Leigh, that evil‐minded young materialist quickly snatched at it, but it was whisked away by the indignant spirits. There was a murmur of indignation; but indignation turned into triumph when suddenly the wreath reappeared, and hovered for two good minutes over Hamlin’s head. There was a cry of admiration, and Madame Elaguine clapped her hands.

[16]

But Marjory Leigh struck a light, and lit the candle by her side. She could see faintly the excited faces all round, and among them the pale face of Anne Brown, scornful and angry, fixed upon that of Hamlin, who was flushed, hesitating, surprised.

“I am glad the spirits have such good taste in poetry,” said Marjory Leigh, quietly; “but it is a pity that they should not have crowned Mr Hamlin, like Petrarch and Corinne, with real laurels.” And she stretched out something in the palm of her hand. Every one crowded round, and took it up by turns.

It was a leaf, torn and broken, of green laurel which she had pulled off when the crown had passed over her; but the green laurels were masses of stamped paper, and left a green stain in the hand.

“It does smack a little of a French pensionnat de demoiselles distribution of prizes; you will get the little book dorésur tranches, ‘Avec l’approbation de Monseigneur l’Archevêque de Tours,’ and ‘Prix décerné à M. Walter Hamlin [17],’ written inside, at the next séance,” cried Thaddy O’Reilly. “Well, it is consoling to see how our beloved dead keep up the simple habits of the living.”

There was a titter. Madame Elaguine burst out laughing. Hamlin laughed, but he looked black as thunder.

“You brought that piece of green paper with you!” cried Lewis furiously at Marjory Leigh. “You brought it to insult and delude us! It is disgraceful.”

“My dear Lewis,” said Thaddy O’Reilly, gently, “remember that you are still a gentleman, and not yet a spirit.”

“Had I known that there was to be any crowning, I should certainly have brought something better than paper laurels,” said Marjory, fiercely. “I never thought spirits were reduced to such expedients as these.”

The séance came to an end. The lamps were lit. The medium dismissed with considerable contumely. Edmund Lewis went away in a huff; and Madame Elaguine, who [18] cared in spiritualism only for those strange thrills which she had before described, laughed a great deal about the matter, and settled down to make music with Cosmo Chough.

Hamlin looked as if he wished himself a thousand miles away. He would speak with no one; he was angry with his cousin for having let him in for such a ridiculous scene, and angry with the rest of the company for having witnessed it; he had no command over his looks; and while Madame Elaguine’s curious, warm, childish voice throbbed passionately through Schumann’s songs, or while people took their tea and talked, he sat aside, in the doorway of the next room, like a whipped child.

“What a baby Walter is!” whispered Madame Elaguine, laughing, to Chough.

But Anne did not laugh. She felt the humiliation not of the paper laurels, but of that radiant look which she had seen in Hamlin when the lights had first been lit. And she was indignant with Hamlin for taking [19] this ridiculous business so tragically, and at the same time sorry for his poor, wounded, unsympathised‐with vanity. She left the piano, where she had been sitting near Sacha, and went to him where he sat disconsolately looking over a heap of newspapers in the next room.

She did not allude to the scene. What use was it chiding him? He could never understand. She talked to him about the picture which he was painting, about the people, anything to make him feel that she was sorry for him. Hamlin was bitter against his friends; he began once more his tirades against modern art and poetry, its lifelessness and weakness; he again declared himself longing for a different life; he again, passionately and delicately, called upon Anne, in his veiled way, to redeem him. Anne listened sadly. She knew it all so well by heart, this vain talk which was to be the daily bread of her soul.

Suddenly Hamlin’s eye fell upon Marjory [20] Leigh, who was seated talking with Thaddy O’Reilly in the recess of a window.

“I wonder you can endure that girl, Miss Brown!” he cried, “much less make her your friend.”

“Marjory may sometimes be rude, and it was perhaps not very good manners to interrupt the séance as she did, although I quite sympathise with her; but she is a capital girl, and just one of the most trustworthy persons I know.”

“She is a humbug!” exclaimed Hamlin, crossly and violently. “Doesn’t she set up for philanthropy, and self‐sacrifice, and all that? and then she goes to parties dressed in that way—a fit beginning for the wife of an East End curate, for a man like Harry Collett!”

“Marjory’s dress does not cost more than Harry Collett’s coats,” answered Anne, quietly. “You men never understand such things, and think because a girl’s dress is showy that it is expensive. Of course Marjory doesn’t wear æsthetic things, and it would be absurd if she [21] did; but I happen to know that she made that particular dress entirely with her own hands.”

“I know nothing about the dress, except that a wife of Harry Collett’s should not go about like a peacock. But I do know,” cried Hamlin, fiercely, “that it is disgraceful for a girl engaged to marry, and to marry a man like Harry, to sit the whole evening in a corner, letting a jackanapes like O’Reilly make love to her.”

“Marjory has been sitting with Mr O’Reilly only about ten minutes,” answered Anne, indignantly, “and she has known him ever since they were babies. I think it is too ridiculous if a girl can’t talk to a young man at a party without being treated as if she were committing an infidelity.”

“I don’t say that any other girl talking to any other young man is to blame,” said Hamlin, still hotly; “but I say that a woman who can let O’Reilly flirt with her throughout the evening is no wife for Collett; and I have [22] a good mind to write and tell him so,” and Hamlin looked dignified.

Anne did not answer at first. She was filled with contempt for this vain childish ill‐humour, which was taking the proportions of rabid hatred.

“Marjory is my friend,” she at last said, “and I think that the less you talk such nonsense as about writing to Mr Collett, the better.”

“I will, upon my word!” exclaimed Hamlin. “Marjory Leigh is a friend of yours, but she is an infamous flirt all the same!”

“Why does Mr Hamlin glare at me like that?” asked Marjory of Anne a little later. “One would think it was my fault that the spirits crowned him with paper laurels and not with bay‐leaves.”

[23]

CHAPTER III.

ANNE had forgotten all about the séance, when, about a week later, Mary Leigh arrived at Hammersmith in a state of extreme excitement.

“What is the matter, Mary?” asked Anne, wondering at her flushed face, which was usually so quiet.

“Nothing—nothing,” said Mary Leigh, looking impatiently at some visitors who were present. “I spoilt two copper plates this morning, and shall have no etchings worth exhibiting. I suppose that has put me out of sorts.”

But the visitors had scarcely turned their backs, when Mary Leigh turned suddenly towards Miss Brown.

[24]

“Oh Anne dear, a dreadful, shameful thing has happened! and I have come to you to know what it means, because I can’t help thinking that Mr Hamlin has had something to do with it, and poor Marjory is so miserable.”

“What is it?” asked Anne, a vague terror coming over her.

“Why, Marjory got this letter to‐day from Harry Collett; he has been staying with his mother at Wotton for the last week. Read it, and you will understand.”

Miss Brown took the letter, evidently much pulled about and read and re‐read, from Mary Leigh, and smoothed it out and read it slowly; while her friend sat by, looking anxiously at her face.

The letter was from Marjory’s intended. Harry Collett told her, with a dignity and gentleness, a desire not to hurt the one who had hurt him, and an incapacity of hiding his great pain, which nearly made Anne cry, that his eyes had at length been opened to the undesirableness of a marriage [25] which, however much wished for by him, could not satisfy all the claims of a nature llke Marjory’s.

“Much as I have looked forward to our marriage,” wrote poor Harry, “I could not possibly be happy if I suspected that it did not give you everything which you have a right to require from life. I thank God for having sent me a warning in time, for having let me understand what your generosity and my infatuation would have hidden to me—namely, that your thoughts have, despite your will, turned elsewhere; that your nature requires a life of greater cheerfulness and variety than I could hope to give it. And, indeed, I am beginning also to understand that I was trying to reconcile the irreconcilable—that a man who has elected a life among the poor, has no right to share its privations with any one, much less with any one dear to him; and I see that I was on the verge of committing the sin of sacrificing your happiness to my vocation, or rather to my unmanly desire to [26] have the hardness of my vocation sweetened at your expense. Please do not fancy that I think at all badly of you; I think badly only of my own blindness.”

But the poor curate’s angelic nature could not resist the temptation of a fling at his supposed rival.

“I am only surprised—but my surprise may be due to my ignorance,” he added, “at the person who engrosses your thoughts. I should never have thought you could seriously care for a shallow creature like O’Reilly. I wish you to be happy, but I fear you will not be solidly happy with him.”

“Do you understand?” cried Mary Leigh, impatiently; “some one has written to Harry some horrid lies about Marjory and Thaddy O’Reilly. Oh, I think it is too shameful! Marjory, who has not seen Thaddy O’Reilly more than twice in the last six months; and,” added Mary Leigh, with an agony in her voice, “I fear—oh, I fear—Anne, that it must have been Mr Hamlin who did it.”

[27]

Anne did not look up from the letter. She was very white, and her face full of shame.

“I fear it must,” she answered, half audibly.

“But what is the meaning of it?” cried Mary. “What can Mr Hamlin know about the matter? Why, he scarcely ever sees Marjory. I don’t believe he had seen her for nearly six weeks before that party at Madame Elaguine’s. Oh, Anne, do you think it is Madame Elaguine, that horrid little Russian, who did it?”

“Oh no,” answered Anne, quickly, “I know Sacha Elaguine has not done it; I don’t believe she is capable of doing it.”

“Then you think? . . .”

“I fear—I fear Mr Hamlin did it.”

There was a dead silence. Poor Mary Leigh was torn by her indignation for her sister, and her pain at the shame cast upon her admired Hamlin, and through him upon her adored Anne.

“What can I do? If only I knew the grounds of the accusation,” she said desperately [28], “I know I could explain them away to Harry. I know that Marjory could, but she won’t.”

“Has Marjory not answered Mr Collett?”

Mary Leigh shook her head.

“Marjory is too proud and self‐willed. She is disgusted with Harry. She won’t hear his name mentioned; it is useless. Oh, it is dreadful to see people who care for each other so much separated in this way, by a mere vile groundless calumny, which one cannot even refute.”

Anne passed her hand across her forehead.

“Mr Hamlin has done it,” she said slowly, and with an effort, “and he must undo it.”

How can one make him undo such a thing?” cried Mary, hopelessly.

“I will tell him that he was wrong, and make him write to Harry Collett.”

“Oh Annie dear, you are good”—and Mary Leigh threw herself on Anne’s neck—“for I know how dreadful, how terrible it must be for you to tell him that he has acted badly.”

[29]

“It is not the first time,” answered Anne, mournfully. “Leave me the letter, will you, Mary dear?”

Mary Leigh left the letter with Miss Brown; and that evening, as Anne was sitting with Hamlin after dinner, she suddenly dashed into the subject.

“Do you remember saying, the other night, at your cousin’s, that you would write to Harry Collett about the flirtation which you took it upon yourself to imagine between Marjory Leigh and Mr O’Reilly?” asked Anne.

Hamlin looked puzzled.

“I remember something or other,” he said evasively.

“Did you write to Harry Collett?”

“I had occasion to write to Collett about some books I had left at Wotton, and which I wanted him to bring up to town on his return.”

“But did you mention about Marjory and Mr O’Reilly?”

[30]

“I may have”—Hamlin spoke absently—“yes, I suppose I did. What of it?”

“What of it?” cried Anne, indignantly; “why, this much, that you have made two people perfectly miserable, and that Marjory’s marriage with Mr Collett is broken off,” and she handed him the letter.

Hamlin looked at it with an air of puzzled indifference.

“I don’t understand what it’s all about,” he said, coolly and serenely, returning the letter to Anne.

“Then you did not say anything about Marjory to Mr Collett?”

“Yes—I did—I certainly think I did. I can’t exactly remember what it was. You know how one writes letters; one forgets the next day.”

Anne looked at him with wonder. So after having, momentarily at least, made two people as unhappy as was well possible, this was how he took the revelation of the results of his doings.

[31]

“Mr Hamlin,” said Anne, sternly, “you know that you never believed that Marjory Leigh was really flirting with O’Reilly; and you know that you wrote to Harry Collett, and made him believe that she cared for another man.”

“I don’t know anything about Miss Leigh’s doings. I remember noticing her talking very assiduously that evening with Thaddy. Perhaps it was all fancy of mine; I have no doubt it was. I just mentioned it to Collett as I might mention anything else. I never dreamed that it would annoy him.”

“You thought it would merely annoy her?” asked Anne, reproachfully.

“I really know nothing about the matter. I’m not responsible for what I may have thought or written a week ago, much less for all these complications, which I never dreamed of.”

“Did you suppose, then, that Harry Collett would be utterly indifferent to being given to understand that Marjory cared for another [32] man, and was not the fit wife for an East End curate, as you expressed it?”

“I don’t know. I wrote, and thought no more about it. If they have gone and quarrelled about it, I’m very sorry—and that’s all I can say.”

Hamlin’s tone was bored and slightly impatient. He had evidently not the smallest shame or regret for what he had done.

“Since you are sorry—since you did write that to Collett,” said Anne, trying to speak as gently as possible—“you will, I trust, do what you can to repair this mischief. Marjory Leigh is too indignant with Harry to answer him at all. Will you write to him and tell him that it was all a mistake—all owing to your having been annoyed with Marjory on account of that laurel crown business—and that there was no foundation for all you said? You will make amends, won’t you? Do write at once.”

Hamlin had risen from his seat, and his face had taken a curious obstinate look.

[33]

“I’m very sorry I can’t obey you, Miss Brown,” he said, “but it appears to me that you wish me to write myself down a liar. If these people choose to fall out because of a word of mine, I see no reason to apologise. It is their concern, not mine.”

“Was it your concern to write to Collett, then? Was it your concern to take such a responsibility?”

“Every one may write whatever passes through his head. I thought Miss Leigh a flirt last week; I don’t now. As to responsibilities, I repudiate such things.”

“No one can repudiate such things,” cried Anne. “You have done mischief, and with a few strokes of the pen you can repair it. Oh, you must write, Mr Hamlin—you must.”

“If I write,” answered Hamlin, hotly, “I shall just tell Collett that I do think Miss Leigh a flirt. I cannot refuse to write, but I refuse to eat my words. Have you paper and a pen?”

[34]

He had gone to Anne’s writing‐table. Anne put her arm over it.

“You have told a falsehood once, you shall not tell it twice,” she said.

“I said that merely to show you how impossible your request was. After all, my dear Miss Brown, a man does owe something to himself and to his name, and there is such a thing as proper pride.”

“Is there?” answered Anne, and the words were like drops of freezing water. “I thought,” she added, the remembrance of what he had answered when she had entreated him not to slander himself in those sonnets “Desire,” “that your school considered it legitimate for a man to say that he had committed no matter what baseness, even those which he had not. But I see,” and Anne’s indignation blazed up, “that you want sometimes to be considered wicked, but that you succeed only in being mean.”

“I think that is a little hard upon me,” he answered mournfully and bitterly, and left the [35] room. He was thinking of all he had done for Anne—all that he had done and left undone.

Anne remained seated, looking into the fire, for some moments. Then she went to her desk and took paper and an envelope.

“DEAR MR COLLETT,” she wrote slowly, “Mary Leigh has just shown me your letter to Marjory, which has greatly shocked and grieved me. As I know that the person who misled you about Marjory and Mr O’Reilly, between whom there has never been a shadow of a flirtation, is Mr Hamlin, I feel bound to tell you, not only that to my knowledge Marjory has not seen Mr O’Reilly except once since your departure; but also, as having been present on the occasion of the supposed flirtation, that Mr Hamlin imagined the flirtation, and wrote to you about it merely because he was in an ill temper, and because Marjory had annoyed him that evening by detecting a fraud in the spiritualistic séance in which we were engaged. Mr Hamlin has himself just told me that he [36] does not any longer believe in the flirtation, and had no notion of creating any mischief. So, as he is not writing to you himself, I feel bound to tell you the real state of affairs, and I trust you will immediately let Marjory know that your suspicions were groundless, as she is very unhappy, and indignant with your letter.—Believe me, dear Mr Collett, yours sincerely, ANNE BROWN.”

Anne stopped several times in course of writing, and read and re‐read her letter. Hamlin had refused to make amends; well, she must make them for him: the matter was simple, and it was Anne’s character, whenever she saw the right course, to take it without hesitation, however painful to her. Like many very honest and firm people, she had something destructive in her temper; she could, as Sacha Elaguine had said, sacrifice herself and others with a sort of sullen savage satisfaction. It was a humiliation for Hamlin, but he had deserved it; it was a bitter humiliation for herself, but her [37] debt of gratitude towards Hamlin forced her to take the consequences of the bad that was in him as well as the good. To admit that Hamlin had, from mere womanish ill‐temper, calumniated a friend, wantonly and thoughtlessly made two loving natures mistrust each other, and that he had then refused to repair the mischief of his own making,—this was intolerably bitter to Anne; still it had to be done. She put the letter on the hall table, and bade the servant post it without delay. Then she felt the full ignominy of the matter; and her whole nature recoiled from Hamlin’s. Nay, it did not recoil; there was no reality to shrink from. Anne no longer felt horror as she had done when he had given her that poem about Cold Fremley; she rccognised that his fault was negative, that his moral evil was moral nullity—the utter incapacity in this man, who had acted so chivalrously towards her, of perceiving when he was doing a mean thing. And the thought that she would be chained for ever to the side of a man whose whole [38] nature was merely æsthetic, who was wholly without moral nerves or moral muscles, filled her with despair.

The next day, Hamlin sent word that he had to go and see some pictures at Oxford, and would be away for two days. Anne felt a vague hope that he was ashamed of himself. Madame Elaguine called, and with her came Cosmo Chough. The conversation, to Miss Brown’s annoyance, turned upon the spiritualistic séance of the previous week.

“What a fool Walter is!” exclaimed Sacha. “Fancy his moping in a corner because the spirits crowned him with paper laurels! I can’t understand a man not having more brass, not putting a better face on things. But Walter is a curious creature: in many respects he is not a man but a child. He has seen a great deal of life, and yet in many things he is like a girl of fifteen.”

“Mr Hamlin,” said Anne, evasively, “has an essentially artistic nature; the realities of the world don’t appeal much to him.”

[39]

“Unless an artist feel the realities of the world,” said Madame Elaguine, eating some of the petals of the roses that were at her elbow, “his art will be very thin. Life must stain the artist with its colours, or his art will be tintless.”

Anne had often said those same words to herself; yet somehow she knew that in Sacha Elaguine’s mouth they had a different meaning; and she felt it, when, with her curious, half‐childlike, and yet infinitely conscious smile, she turned to Chough.

“Don’t you think so, Signor Cosmo?”

Cosmo Chough pretended that he understood, as he always did, whenever he thought that passion and the Eternal Feminine were in question; he tightened his black moustachioed lips into a long grimace, and bowed in deferential agreement.

“Of course,” said the little man, sticking his single eye‐glass in his eye, “we all know that our friend Hamlin will never get out of life all that perfume, that narcotic and bitter‐sweet [40] fiavour, which some other men taste, to be poisoned for ever, with their first mouthful of honey. Hamlin is, in some respects, a little more and a little less than a man.”

“A goose, in short,” laughed Sacha.

“He is, purely and simply, an artist. Passions, senses, all the things which belong to other men’s personality, belong to him only as factors of his art. And this is perhaps not to be regretted, but to be rejoiced in. There is terrible danger of the artist being swallowed up by the man. Of the poets whom God sends on earth, two‐thirds are lost to mankind: their passions, which should be merely so many means of communication between their soul and the universe, eat them up; or rather they feed themselves on what should become the world’s honey. And even of those who are not lost entirely, how many are there not whose lives are engulfed by passions; to whom, alas! what they sing is but the wretched shadow of what they feel!” And Chough sighed, and fixed his eyes on his [41] lacquered boot‐tips, as much as to intimate that he, who lived on mutton‐chops and spent his life nursing an epileptic wife, was of that Caliph Vathek kind.

Madame Elaguine laughed; but Chough thought it was at Hamlin, and frowned.

“Herein lies Hamlin’s advantage; he is the pure artist. And, mark me,” he said, looking fiercely around him, “he is none the worse for that. No, rather the better. I know no man to compare with Hamlin as a mere person; to compare with him not merely in genius, but in kindliness of temper, in purity of soul, in delicacy of thoughts. He is not merely a great artist, but a work of art; he is like a picture of Sir Galahad vivified, or like a sonnet of Dante turned into flesh—and I think Miss Brown will agree with me.”

“Mr Hamlin,” said Anne, slowly, “is a very generous man and a very chivalric man, and,” she added, feeling as if Madame Elaguine were looking into her soul, and as if she must read ingratitude written in it, “I feel that I am [42] indebted to him not merely for all he has done for me, but for the way in which he has done it—”

“Oh no, no!” exclaimed the polite little poet, to whom Anne was quite the goddess, “don’t say that, Miss Brown; you can never owe anything to any one. Whatever a man can do, is a tribute which his nature forces him to lay down at your shrine.”

“Yes,” mused Madame Elaguine, following out the pattern of the carpet with her parasol “indebted—that is how one must feel towards Walter—indebted for the pleasure, etc., etc., of so charming an acquaintance; but love—one can’t love where there is only artistic instinct to meet one—”

“I know nothing about such matters,” said Anne, quietly.

“But, perhaps—Hamlin may be a sort of child of genius, and the man, the man who feels may come later,” finished the Russian.

“When people don’t feel, they don’t feel,” said Anne, sternly; “I mean—morally.”

[43]

“By the way,” exclaimed Chough, “I am reading such a delightful book—have you ever read it, Madame Elaguine?—The Letters of Mademoiselle Aïssé—”

“Who was Mademoiselle Aïssé?” asked Anne absently, forgetting that experience had taught her that it was safer not to inquire too curiously into Mr Chough’s heroines.

“I suppose she was some improper lady or other—all your poetic ladies were, weren’t they?” asked Madame Elaguine. “Something like your Belle Heaulmière, whom you insisted on talking about at poor Lady Brady’s party, although I kept making signs to you the whole time.”

“Improper?” exclaimed Chough. “Mademoiselle Aïssé was the soul of virtue—the purest woman—of the eighteenth century.”

“Tell us about this purest woman of—the eighteenth century,” laughed Sacha.

“She was the daughter of kings; her name was originally Ayesha, like the wife of the Prophet—but she became a slave, and was sold as [44] a child to M. de Ferréol—I think that was his name—who was ambassador at Constantinople. M. de Ferréol sent her to his sister‐in‐law in Paris to educate. Aïssé grew up the most refined and accomplished woman,—you should read her letters—perfect gems!—and marvellously beautiful. Life was just opening to her, and love also, when M. de Ferréol returned from Constantinople, and said to this exquisite, proud, and pure‐minded creature: ‘You are my slave; I bought you, I educated you; now love me.’”

Chough paused and looked round him to watch the effect of his eloquence. But his eyes fell upon Anne. She was very white.

“Well—and what did Aïssé answer?” asked Madame Elaguine.

“Aïssé answered—let me see, what did Aïssé answer?—oh, I should spoil your pleasure were I to tell it you. I will bring you the book, dear Madame Elaguine, and you shall tell me what you think of it.”

[45]

Anne felt that she had betrayed herself. To Sacha, she hoped, she believed not—but to Chough. The little poet, in his trumpery way, was really attached to Anne, whom he considered as his guardian angel; and perhaps his affection had made him understand.

“What became of Mademoiselle Aïssé?” asked Anne, some time later, as she stood by the piano where Chough was playing.

Chough looked up. “Oh—why—she—in short—afterwards—she died.”

“Would you like to see the book?” asked Madame Elaguine; “I have some others on hand at present. Mr Chough shall send it to you—”

“Oh no, thank you,” answered Anne, “I have a heap of books to get through; and—I don’t care what happened to Mademoiselle Aïssé.”

“You are very hard‐hearted, Anne.”

“She would not have objected to M. de Ferréol if she had remained a mere little Turkish slave‐girl; she would have thought [46] him a sort of God. She had no business to let her education make her squeamish.”

“A nasty old ambassador!” said Madame Elaguine. “I think it was awfully hard upon her, poor thing! And was she in love with some one else, Mr Chough?”

[47]

CHAPTER IV.

WHEN Chough first told her the story of Mademoiselle Aïssé, it was as if Anne had been suddenly confronted by her own wraith, surrounded by strange and tragic lights; and the shock was very violent. But Miss Brown was too honest not to see after a minute that between her and Aïssé there was an unfathomable difference. M. de Ferréol was a mere experimentalising old roué, who had had a mistress prepared as he might have had a goose fattened; and what he claimed of Aïssé was her infamy. Anne’s conscience smote her; she was very ungrateful. And she thought over all those scenes at the Villa Arnolfini, at Florence, nay, here in England not so long ago; she thought of Hamlin’s [48] generosity and delicacy of mind—of the quixotic way in which he had bound himself while leaving her free—of the chivalrous way in which he had dowered her, making her feel almost as if all this money, which placed her on his own level, was her own inheritance, and not his charity. She remembered all the respect, which was more of a brother than of a lover, with which he treated her—the constant manner in which he hid all her obligations to him, never letting any taunt or harsh word of hers get the better of his resolution that Anne should feel that she owed nothing to him, and that he craved for her love as he might have done for that of a queen. And it came home to her how pure, nay, how poetically and romantically noble was the love which he asked for; and she felt almost wicked when she reflected that what he wanted was to make her into the very highest thing which a man can make a woman—a sort of Beatrice, a creature to love whom will be spiritual redemption. All these things did Anne say to herself; but [49] it cost her an effort, and the strain could not be kept up. The fact was that she had, in her terror of being unjust, refused to listen to her own plea. But it came back to her like an overwhelming flood. She could not love Hamlin; her soul recoiled from contact with his as her body might have recoiled from the forced embrace of a corpse: such a union, it seemed, would mean the death of her own nature. To be Hamlin’s wife, to spend all her life by his side, hopelessly watching his growing callousness to everything for which she felt born,—to feel one generous impulse after another gradually waxing feebler, one energy after another for good becoming paralysed by the deathly moral chill of his utter heartlessness,—was this not much worse than any mere dishonour of the body, this prostitution of the spirit? Aïssé’s soul at least was free; her Ferréol could not deprive her of her moral freedom, her aspirations, her powers of self‐sacrifice; but with her, Anne Brown, it was different. And she repeated to herself with bitterness the [50] warning words which Richard Brown had spoken in vain so long, long ago: “You will be his to do what he chooses; worse than his slave, his mere chattel and plaything.” How little Dick had guessed the much more terrible meaning which these words would come to have for her!

Unconsciously Anne’s mind reverted to the business of Marjory and Harry Collett; and her mind’s eye rested for a moment upon those two lovers, to each of whom, through whatsoever of discrepancy there might be, the other represented his or her highest ideal, that other’s opinion his or her highest conscience; not passionately in love, like Othello and Desdemona, or Romeo and Juliet, but persuaded to their inmost soul that in living by each other’s side, and sympathising with and helping in the other’s work, each would be fulfilling his or her best destiny in the world. Another woman situated like Anne might have let herself be tempted into cynicism by unconscious envy; but this was not [51] within Miss Brown’s honest, and open‐eyed, and stern nature. She never once said to herself—“Marjory and Harry will awake one day from their dream.” She had dreamed, alas! and had awakened; but she recognised that these two were broad awake, and that their happiness was a reality. Anne looked at these two lovers for a moment, but without any envy or bitterness. It never even entered her mind to covet their happiness, to imagine that she might have a right to anything similar. Anne, though leaning towards socialism in her theories, was not in the least a communistic mind; she did not ask, “Why should I not get the same advantages as my neighbours?” She envied no one the prize in the lottery; she begged only for a chance. To be the wife of a man whom she loved, and who loved her—to be the companion and helpmate of some one who was striving after her own ideals; such hankerings had never passed through her mind—or, if they had, they had long since been banished. What [52] Anne longed for, what her soul hungered after, was merely negative freedom. Freedom to sympathise and to aspire—to do whatever little she still might to carve herself out a spiritual life of her own, no matter how mean and insignificant; freedom to live in that portion of her which was most worthy of life. To gain her bread, no matter how harshly; to be of some use, to teach at a school or nurse at a hospital; nay, to be able merely to encourage others to do what she might not,—this was all that Anne asked; and this, in her future as the wife of Hamlin, as the queen of this æsthetic world, which seemed to poison and paralyse her soul, was what she knew she could not have, what she knew she must do without.

“I am a selfish brute,” she suddenly said to herself, “wasting the time which is still mine,”—and she took down her books of political economy, and tried to fix her attention upon them, and think out a scheme of the lessons and exercises which she would give to the shop‐girls at the Working Women’s Club. [53] But what was the use of doing this? Hamlin, she knew, loathed the notion of her teaching at the Club; he would never let her teach there; and, once his wife, she understood him sufficiently to be fully aware that he would consider himself completely empowered to make her do or leave alone whatever he chose.

Still Anne tried to work on courageously. In the afternoon she went to hear one of Professor Richmond’s lectures. This was the fervent young positivist whom Cousin Dick so much admired, and whose intense moral convictions had done a good deal to keep Anne out of the slough of desponding pessimism round which she had been some time hovering. Andrew Richmond was a man who had many slanderers, many of whom he has now left behind him—their misrepresentations having been more long‐lived than he; for he had passed through many phases of thought, and, being perfectly honest, he had never been able to become unjust to any, and thus had made enemies not merely among the men whose [54] beliefs he had abandoned, but among those also whose beliefs he had accepted without accepting their follies. He stood very alone; and it was perhaps this isolation—this obvious indifference of the man to all save his own reason and conscience—which added to the solemnity of his convictions; and made him appear, more than any one else, in the light of a priest of morality, of a prophet of the advent of justice. Anne had never spoken to Richmond; but she felt that, of all human souls, this one did the most to keep up the courage of her own. This was one of the last discourses which the poor dying positivist ever delivered; and it was the more earnest for the sense of his approaching end. He spoke this time, or, as his ridiculers called it, he preached upon the relation of duty to progress; upon the value of each good impulse carried out, and each evil one resisted, in making morality more natural and spontaneous in the world; and he insisted especially upon the danger, to people whose ideas of right and wrong rested [55] no longer upon any priestly authority, of the individual sophisticating himself into the belief that in yielding to the preferences of his own nature he was following the highest law, and that any special usefulness ought legitimately to be bought at the expense of departing from the moral rules of the world.

“The danger of our epoch of moral transition,” he said, “lies in the temptation of the individual to say to himself—‘If I am willing to sacrifice myself, have I not a right also to sacrifice the established opinions of others?’”

“I detest that man Richmond,” Madame Elaguine had once said; “he puts an end to all self‐sacrifice.”

“If you mean the sacrifice of one’s peace of mind and social dignity to the passion of another person and to one’s own, he certainly does,” Richard Brown had answered sternly.

At the door of the lecture‐room Anne met her cousin.

“Are you driving to Hammersmith?” he asked.

[56]

“No; I am going to walk.”

Anne had made it a rule for the last two or three months to deprive herself of all luxuries. She did not wish to enjoy everything that she had a right to; she had also a stern pleasure in doing the things most repugnant to her; and a walk through the London streets, in murky spring weather, was to Anne’s Italian temper, nurtured with æsthetic delicacy, one of the most disagreeable of expeditions.

“But it is drizzling and horribly muddy,” said Richard Brown, looking at her as he buttoned her ulster over her massive figure. “Surely Hamlin will be very much shocked if you come into the house with mud on your shoes? But if you are really going to walk I will accompany you, if you don’t mind, because I’m going in that direction.”

“Where are you going?”

“To Hammersmith; I have some business there.” And Brown looked once more at his cousin as he opened his umbrella over her.

“Will you take my arm, Anne?” Richard [57] Brown was not a lady’s man, and there was something awkward and unaccustomed in his request.

“I am big enough to take care of myself, I think, Dick. And I know you hate having women to drag along; I have watched you going into dinner‐parties often enough.”

“It is out of my line, you’re right.”

For some time they walked along in silence through the black oozy streets, crammed with barrows of fruit, round which gathered the draggled dripping women, their babies huddled up in their torn shawls, their hair untidy and dank beneath their once lilac or pale‐pink smut‐engrained bonnets; the cabs, shining blue‐black, ploughed through the mud; the heavy drays splashed from gutter to gutter; the houses were black and oozy; the very raindrops on the railings looked black; the sky was a dirty dull‐grey waste; only the scarlet letter‐boxes stood out coloured in the general smutty, foggy, neutral tint.

“Do you remark that public‐houses are the [58] only places which make an attempt at architecture and ornament?” said Dick grimly, as they passed the ground‐glass windows and colonnade and coloured glass globes of one of these establishments. “Did it not strike you, Italian as you are, that in this country, which has invented high art, the only things called palaces, except those inhabited by royalty, are pot‐houses? Why do your æsthetic friends keep all their æstheticism for indoors? Why don’t they build themselves houses which will be some pleasure to the poor people who pass?”

Always that indirect attack upon Hamlin and his friends: it was just and reasonable; yet, coming from Brown, it somehow grated upon Anne.

“That will come later,” she said. “The first thing is that the upper classes become accustomed to beautiful things. You can’t expect them to mind hideous outsides to their houses if they are indifferent to hideous insides. I don’t think,” she added boldly, “that [59] æstheticism has had much generosity of aspiration in it so far, except in isolated men like Ruskin and Morris; but I am sure it will eventually improve some matters even for the lower classes.”

“Nero rebuilt Rome, didn’t he,” sneered Brown, “after he had amused himself burning it down?”

They fell to talking about the lecture, and then about Richard Brown’s plans.

“I hope to get into Parliament next elections,” he said, “and then I shall retire from Mr Gillespie’s firm.”

“Why? They say you can make a big fortune if you keep on.”

“I have quite money enough; I am a rich man. You wouldn’t have thought that possible, would you, Nan, two or three years ago? Almost as rich as Hamlin, do you know, young woman?” and he turned and looked at her. There was a curious expression, what she could not understand, except that it was defiant, in Dick’s face.

[60]

“I am glad to hear it. It is a fine thing to have money; it enables one to do generous things—like what Mr Hamlin did for me, for instance.” Anne could not have explained why she felt bound, at this particular moment, to throw Hamlin’s generosity in her cousin’s face.

“Ah, well,” answered Brown, suppressing something he had been about to retort, “of course I could not formerly have done what he did for you; but I would have gladly spent every shilling I had, Anne, to educate you, so that your father might have been proud of you.”

“I know you would, Dick—you are very kind.” And yet, thought Anne, until he had been piqued by Hamlin’s offer, he had forgotten all about her. “But why do you intend to leave your business?”

“Because I want to give myself up entirely to studying social questions, and my business would suffer if I gave it only partial attention.”

And he proceeded to explain the various questions which he intended studying, the [61] various evils into whose reason he wished to look.

“Reform has been too much the leisure‐time amusement of men,” he said. “People have thought that it requires less training to touch, nay, to sound, social wounds, than to set a broken arm or dress a wound. We must find the scientific basis for our art. And it is a very, very long art, and life is very, very short. For my part, I feel that my knowledge is to what it should be what the knowledge you may get out of a school primer of physiology is to the knowledge required by a great surgeon. I don’t suppose I or any of my generation will succeed in doing much practical good; but we shall have made the public ready for certain views on our subjects, and rendered it easier for our practical followers to get their education. There is nothing very glorious to be done at present: no giving out of brilliant new ideas or making of successful revolutions; only patient grubbing at facts and patient working on the public mind.”

[62]

“Is that enough for an ambitious man?”

“One must pocket one’s ambition. What we want is knowledge, not conspicuous personalities.”

Anne was silent. Dick’s words were like military music to her. Oh to be able to join him, to march by his side, to carry his arms!

“Go on Dick, please. It does one good to hear of these things.”

Dick went on.

“You must not overwork yourself,” said Anne, anxiously. “Just think if you were to break down, as so many men have done—as poor Richmond is doing.”

“Oh, I am strong. The only thing which concerns me is my sight. I find I am already unable to read of an evening. There’s no danger of blindness, but the doctor says I must not work by candle‐light. Oh, there’s no mischief. I shall engage a secretary. I know plenty of young men who would come, even for a small salary. There is the son of one of our head workmen, a very intelligent [63] lad, of whom I am thinking; but perhaps he is not sufficiently educated yet. I must have some one who knows German and French, and so forth.”

Anne felt a lump in her throat. Oh that she had been a man, instead of being this useless, base creature of mere comely looks, a woman, set apart for the contemplation of æsthetes! If she had been a man, and could have helped a man like Richard Brown!

“But I am not certain of my plans just yet,” added Brown, and he dropped the subject. They walked on for some moments in silence; then he began questioning her about Lewis, and Chough, and Dennistoun.

“Chough is a dear good little man,” said Anne; “he is very absurd and vain, and fond of talking and writing about wicked things, which I am sure he doesn’t understand any more than I. But he is so self‐sacrificing, and warm‐hearted, and true. Dennistoun, poor creature, is very morbid and faddy, and, I think, hates me; but I am very sorry for him. [64] As to Lewis, he may be a very good man, but I don’t like him—”

“I suppose you have heard what people say,—that Mr Lewis had rather a bad influence upon Hamlin some years ago—in short, made him take to eating opium, or haschisch, or something similar?”

“No—I had never heard that,” and Anne seemed suddenly to understand her instinctive horror of Lewis.

“Does Hamlin see much of him now?”

“A great deal—more than I can at all sympathise with. Lewis is rather a sore subject between us; he knows I don’t like him, and yet he is very fond of him.”

“I suppose Lewis flatters him very much.”

“I suppose so.”

Anne resented being thus cross‐questioned about Hamlin, but she was quite unable to prevaricate in her answers—her nature was too frank, and Richard’s questions were too direct.

“You are not very happy with Mr Hamlin,” he suddenly asked, or rather affirmed.

[65]

Anne flushed, but did not answer at once. “I have an unlucky temper,” she said, after a moment. “I am too exacting with people. I can’t get out of my own individuality sufficiently, I fear.”

Richard looked at her with pity, and at the same time with that implacable scrutiny of his.

“You feel your nature narrowed by all this æsthetic world around you,” he said. “You find these men selfish, mean, weak, shallow—”

“Chough is not selfish. As to Dennistoun and Lewis, I told you I disliked them.”

“You are equivocating, Anne. You know I am not speaking of Dennistoun, or Lewis, or Chough. You find that Hamlin drags you down, freezes all your best aspirations.”

Anne turned very white and trembled.

“Mr Hamlin is a poet, an artist; he is not a philanthropist or a thinker. But he has done for me more than I believe any man has ever done for any woman.”

[66]

“But—you don’t love him?”

Richard had stopped as they walked along the Hammersmith embankment. It was a very quiet spot, and not a soul was out in the thin, grey, drizzly fog.

Anne hesitated for a moment.

“I feel very much attached to Mr Hamlin on account of his generosity towards me—and I feel I can never repay it.” She did not look in Brown’s face as she answered, but stared vaguely at the river, at the dripping trees, the grey willow branches pulled backwards and forwards by the grey current; at the houses opposite, and the boats dim in the fog.

“You don’t love him?” repeated Richard in a whisper. “Anne, answer me.”

“I don’t see what right you have to ask me such a question, Richard.”

“No? Well, I do—and you shall see why. You are not his wife; why should you try and tell lies? Do you or do you not love Hamlin, Anne?”

[67]

Anne looked for a moment at the swirling waters, at the willow twigs whirled hither and thither.

“I suppose I do not.”

There was a pause.

“You do not love him, and you still contemplate marrying him?”

“I contemplate nothing at all. Mr Hamlin has not yet asked me to marry him, and perhaps he never may.”

“Nonsense, Anne. And when he does ask you, what will you answer?”

“I shall answer Yes. I am bound to do it. Mr Hamlin has done all, all for me. If he wish to marry me, I cannot refuse him the only thing which I can give in return for his generosity.”

Richard Brown burst into a strange shrill laugh.

“The only thing which you can give in return for his generosity!” he exclaimed, but always in the same undertone. “Who first made use of those words, Nan? The only [68] thing which you can give in return for his generosity! Did not some one use those very words to you, long, long ago in Florence, when Mr Hamlin first proposed to educate you, and your cousin said that you were running the risk of selling yourself? But, by God! you shall not sell yourself, Anne. Do you know what you are giving him in return for what you call his generosity?—that is to say, in return for the whim which made him educate a beautiful woman, that he might show her off and have a beautiful wife, if he chose. Do you know what it is? Your love, eh? You have none to give; you have said so yourself. Your body? your honour? Nay, every prostitute, every kitchen slut can give him that. And I suppose such things do not exist for a delicately nurtured lady, a ward of Mr Walter Hamlin’s. No; you are giving him your soul, selling it to him, prostituting it as any common woman would prostitute her body.”

“Richard,” said Anne, hotly, “you are my [69] cousin, and have been very good to me, but that gives you no right to insult me.”

“My words are ugly; and what are the things which you would do? Anne, you shall listen to me,” and he laid his hand heavily on her arm.

“You can make me stand here,” she answered icily, “but you cannot make me listen.”

“I can make you listen. Oh, Anne,” and his voice became suddenly supplicating, “do not be womanish, and refuse to listen because I speak disagreeable things. Answer me, on your honour: have I a right to let you sacrifice your happiness, your honour, your usefulness in the world, to let you defile and ruin all these, by becoming what is equivalent to a mere legalised mistress—the wife of a man whom you despise? You have a debt towards Hamlin: I grant it, though you must be well aware how little real generosity there was in his choice of you; but you have a debt also towards yourself. You have no right to pay for Hamlin’s kindness by the falsehood, the [70] degradation, of marrying a man whom you do not love, by the sacrifice of all the nobler part of your nature which that man will crush out in you.”

“If there is anything noble in me, Dick, no one can ever crush it out; and I do not see what real degradation there will be in honestly carrying out my part of a bargain which has been honestly carried out towards me.”

Richard paused for a minute.

“But,” he cried, “you mistake, Anne; you forget what that bargain was.”

“No, I do not. Mr Hamlin promised to marry me whenever I should ask him to do so, and—”

“And he left you free, perfectly free to marry him or not as you pleased!”

He left me free; and it is just that generosity of his, in binding himself, and not me, which obliges me, if he wants me, to say Yes.”

“That is an absurd quibble, Anne. If Hamlin’s leaving you free bound you all the more, why, then, he did not leave you free, and you [71] need not be bound by a piece of magnanimity which never existed.”

“On the contrary, you are quibbling, Dick. You know very well that Mr Hamlin meant to leave me free; and it is for this intention that I am, more than for anything else, grateful.”

Richard turned round.

“Fool that I am!” he cried, “to believe in you and not see through your woman’s tergiversation! You say you do not love Hamlin, but you do; you may despise him, feel his emptiness—I grant it all—be dissatisfied with him. Oh, I know it! But you love him all the same, and you would not for the world give him up, even if he asked you to.”

Anne laughed bitterly. “The usual generalisations about women. Because I will not do a dishonourable thing, I must needs be a self‐deluding fool. No; I do not love Hamlin. I love him no more than this!” And Anne broke a twig off a bush and threw it into the stream.

[72]

“You do not? Then, if Hamlin were to release you,—if he were to say, ‘I want to marry some one else,’—would you—would you not regret him, his poetry, his good looks, his fame, his fortune?”

“It would be the happiest day of my life!” cried poor Anne, despairingly.

“Then that day must come. Anne, I cannot see you sacrificed. I cannot see you lost to yourself and to the world. You must not marry Hamlin. I will provide for you; I will take care of you. You shall help me in my work!”

“Poor Dick!” said Anne gently, touched by this enthusiasm, “you are very good; but I fear—I fear I shall never have any need of your help; and I would never burden another man—never have a debt again—if I were remitted this one.”

“You would have no debt,” cried Brown. “Anne, I am not a woman’s man. I don’t know how to say such things. But ever since I have got really to know you, I have felt if [73] only I could have such a woman as that always by my side—to tell her all my plans, and be helped in all my work . . .”

Richard looked straight before him: Anne could see his face quiver. A coldness came all over her: a coldness and a heat. She felt as if she must cry out. It was too sudden, too wonderful. The vision of being Richard Brown’s wife overcame her like some celestial vision a fasting saint. But she made an effort over herself. “I am bound, bound,” she said; “but if ever I be released . . . ”

She hesitated: the longing for what she knew herself to be renouncing was too great.

“Anne,” cried Richard, seizing her hand, “I love you—I love you—I want you—I must have you!”

It was like the outburst of another nature, a strange, unsuspected ego, bursting out from beneath the philanthropist’s cool and self‐sacrificing surface.

That sudden contact gave Anne a shock which woke her, restored her to herself; it [74] horrified her almost. She made him let go her hand.

“If ever I be released,” she said, “I will remain free. I do not love you, Dick.”

She was sorry the moment after she had said it.

“I have gone too far,” cried Richard.

“Good‐bye,” said Anne. “We have been talking too long—and—you won’t resume the subject, will you?”

There was a command, a threat implied in her voice. Brown somehow felt ashamed of himself.

“Not since you wish it,” he said flatly.

“Good‐bye,” said Anne. And she walked away and entered the house—Hamlin’s house.

[75]

CHAPTER V.

THE sudden revelation of her cousin’s feeling was more than a shock, it was a blow to Anne. In her loneliness, in her dreary waiting for the hour of sacrifice, Richard Brown’s friendship had, almost without her knowing it, been her great consolation and support. It had given her a sense of safety and repose to think that, in the midst of all the morbid passion and fantastic vanity which seemed to surround her, there was a possibility of honest companionship, of affection which meant merely reciprocal esteem and sympathy in the objects of life; wholesome prose in the middle of unhealthy poetry. This was now gone: Richard Brown loved her, wanted her; it was the old nauseous story over again; the sympathy, the [76] comradeship, the quiet brotherly and sisterly affection had all been a sham, a sham for her and for himself. Was Mrs Macgregor right, and was there, of really genuine and vital in the world, only the desire of the man for the woman and of the woman for the man, with all its brood of vanity and baseness, and all its trappings of poetry and sympathy and self‐sacrifice? Anne looked round her, and she saw men like Chough and Dennistoun and Lewis, base or doing their best to become it; Hamlin, her girlish ideal of poetical love, had gone the same way; and now the one man who had remained to her as an object of friendship and respect, her cousin Dick, had preached against selfish æstheticism, had talked her into his positivistic philanthropy—had conjured her to respect her nobler nature, her soul, her generous instincts—had supplicated her not to degrade herself,—nay, had quibbled with right and wrong, had urged her to break her trust,—what for? that he might satisfy his whim of possessing her. The solitude and the [77] chilliness around Anne had increased; she wished for good, but she disbelieved in its existence. Add to this that she felt she was now no longer at liberty to see so much of Dick as she had formerly done; instead of a consolation and a support, his presence seemed to her now more of a danger and an insult. So she waited, hopeless and solitary, for the hour of the sacrifice to strike; for Hamlin to claim her. To fulfil that debt, to suffer that moral death‐blow, seemed to her now the one certainty, the one aim of her life.

Such was the bulk of Miss Brown’s condition; but there were streakings of another colour which made it, on the whole, only more gloomy. The possibility, the vision which had for a moment been projected on to her mind, of becoming Richard Brown’s wife, of sharing in all those thoughts and endeavours which were her highest ideal, would return to her every now and then in strange sudden gleams. And this possibility, or rather this which was an impossibility, made the [78] real necessity of her life only the gloomier for the contrast. Anne had vaguely aspired after a life of nobler sympathies and stronger aims, but she had never gone so far as to dream of sharing the life of her cousin; and she thought that, had matters been different, had she been free, had Hamlin not claimed her, had Richard not loved her (for his love, his selfish tempting her away from her duty, seemed to her a sort of dishonour to him and her), she would have had the fulfilment of her most far‐fetched desires within her grasp,—merely increased moral numbness, the sullen pain of resignation, towards a fate which was too slow in coming.

Anne did not pay much heed to Hamlin and his doings: it seemed to her, whose life in the last months had appeared like years, that it was always the same monotony; Hamlin was waiting for her to fall in love with him, watching whether she was not in love already; offering her, in those vague, Platonic, elegiac speeches of his about the necessity of [79] a higher life of which he no longer had much hope, of a pure passion which he feared he was unworthy to experience, an opportunity for saying “I will teach you how to love.” Veiled in Dantesque mysticism, muffled in Shakespearian obscurity, such was, to her who understood and was expected to understand, the gist of all the poems which he wrote. The day would come, Anne saw it clearly, when some trifling quarrel, some trifling jealousy, some rebuff to his vanity, or some sense of more than usual vacuity, would get the better of Hamlin’s patience, and when he would say to Anne that he loved her and that her love was his life. She had gone over it all so often in fancy, with the bitter sarcasm of understanding that whole, to her so tragic, little comedy. But had she been a person more observant and penetrating than she was (for her long delusion about her cousin Richard plainly shows that she was neither), or had she been less engrossed in her own conception of events, Miss Brown might have noticed, [80] as spring turned into summer, that certain slight changes were taking place in Hamlin. He had, without any intentional rupture, taken to seeing much less of Chough and Dennistoun; he scarcely ever visited his old master, Mrs Spencer, or any others of the school; he refused invitations to parties, or if he had accepted, found them too great a bore at the last moment; the only house, except that at Hammersmith, which he frequented, was Madame Elaguine’s. He used to attend all her spiritualistic séances, and alternate between finding spiritualism a vulgar fraud and a mystic possibility; he used to quarrel with Edmund Lewis, and at the same time to seek his company more than any other man’s. He would vacillate also between the most extreme opinions about his cousin Sacha. One day he would entertain Anne by the hour about her virtues, her talents, her persecution; the next he would be captiously fault‐finding, accusing Madame Elaguine of being a brainless little flirt, a mere ordinary Russian, who [81] cared only for excitement and being perpetually en scène.

“What is the use of asking people to be intense when it is not their nature?” Anne would ask, not without bitterness in her own heart. “If you find a pleasant friend, be satisfied and thankful for your good luck.”

Be it as it may, Hamlin was restless, subject to strange ups and downs of humour, sometimes in a state of vague unaccountable cheerfulness, sometimes horribly depressed. To any one but Anne it would have occurred that there must be some novelty in his life. But Anne did not see; indeed, from a sort of instinct, she observed Hamlin as little as possible: she had loved him when she had not known him; the less she saw, except his gentle, chivalric, poetic, idealising surface, the better.

But one day—it might be a fortnight after the memorable walk home from Richmond’s lecture—Anne found among her letters one, evidently delivered by hand or dropped into the letterbox [82], the address upon which. puzzled her considerably. It was not merely that the handwriting was unknown to her, but that it was so utterly unlike any human handwriting that could be conceived; it was like a child’s elaborate copy of print, but executed with a precision, and at the same time a certain artistic chic, of which a child is incapable. Had she been in Italy, Anne would have expected to find within that envelope one of those marvellously written out and illuminated sonnets which certain needy individuals, counts and marquises fallen into bad circumstances and anxious to redeem their only bed from the pawnbroker’s, serve up at regular intervals to English and Americans, “the many illustrious qualities of whose mind and heart, as well known as their noble family,” are supposed to include munificence to beggars. To Anne’s astonishment the letter which she found actually was in Italian. But it was Italian of Stratford‐atte‐Bow, and her first impulse was to burst out laughing. But the [83] next moment she reddened with surprise and indignation.

MADONNA MIA,” began this epistle, which had evidently been concocted with a ‘Decameron’ and a Baedeker’s travelling phrase‐book, and which sounded like English written by a German waiter who should have taken to Spenser after the first dozen lessons,—“Inasmuch as it always is the duty of the honest to warn the unsuspecting, and the most honourable are always those who suspect least, your true friend and well‐wisher desires you may keep an eye upon the machinations of a base woman; and be on your guard against the friendship [underlined] of cousins.”

Anne turned the note round and round, and read and re‐read it, her heart beating as if she had received a slap in the face. “The friendship of cousins.” Her first thought was that this was an allusion to herself and Richard Brown; some one had understood what she had not, and was suspecting what was not true. But then her mind picked up that other [84] mysterious phrase, “the machinations of a base woman.” The cousins were not herself and Dick, but Hamlin and Sacha Elaguine, and that was the base woman alluded to. It was as if a great light had shone in Anne’s face; she was dazzled, dazed. The friendship of two cousins! Was there, then, more than friendship between them? Did Hamlin love Sacha, or Sacha Hamlin? Anne gave a great sigh; but it was a sigh of relief,—the sigh of the drowning wretch who is dragged on shore—the sigh of the hunted fugitive who sees his pursuers turn back. The friendship of cousins? Why, then, she was saved, she was free! But her excitement lasted only a minute. Was she to believe an anonymous letter, evidently malicious, evidently intended to slander an innocent woman, to sow discord or to ruin her own happiness? It was evidently from an enemy of Madame Elaguine’s; it could not be from a friend of her own; for a friend would have spoken to her clearly and openly, or would have spared her what, in the eyes of the world, [85] which regarded her as Hamlin’s affianced bride, must have been a horrible revelation. It was an infamous or ridiculous calumny. From whom did it come? Anne thought for a long time; she counted up her own enemies and Madame Elaguine’s. At one moment she suspected Edmund Lewis, at another Mrs Spencer; but she was too honest to credit any one of them with such a piece of treachery. Madame Elaguine’s mysterious enemies—yes, it must be they! thought Anne; it must be a new trick of theirs, a device for alienating her from her new friends. Anne’s heart sank. Why must such terrible temptations be put upon her?

Miss Brown meditated for some time upon what she ought to do. She felt indignant with the mysterious author of the letter; and she felt that, as it contained a slander, it was her duty to let those whom it accused know the whole matter. Should she show that paper to Hamlin? Once in her life, Anne gave way to a movement of cowardice. That letter, [86] shown by her to Hamlin, would, she knew, bring the catastrophe. Hamlin would be furious and delighted; he would think she was jealous and unhappy; he would on the spot declare that he loved her, and ask her to be his wife. This consummation of her sacrifice, which, in the dull apathy of the last fortnight, she had almost prayed for, now terrified her. When it came, she was ready; but to hasten it—to bring it down untimely on herself—to do that, Anne had not the heart. After all, it concerned Madame Elaguine most, and she would doubtless have some clue to the writer of the letter, and consequently take the matter less to heart. Anne determined to show the letter to her. She thought she would go to her at once, or write; but a faint, faint, almost unconscious instinct of self‐preservation bade her wait awhile; wait till she should have an opportunity of seeing Madame Elaguine in the natural course of events.

Miss Brown had made up her mind that the mysterious letter had no sort of truth in it; yet despite this decision, which lay, cut and [87] dry, on the surface of her consciousness, a hidden imperceptible movement was going on within her. She seemed suddenly to remember things which she had not at the time noticed, to see things which had not before existed, and must still have been there yesterday as well as to‐day. Things which had been meaningless acquired a meaning; things which had seemed without connection began to group themselves. A change had taken place of late in Hamlin; he had become solitary and morose, and more than usually up and down in spirits—he had seen only Sacha and her. How much had he seen of Sacha? Anne did not know, but she imagined a great deal. Then she remembered how he had taken to finding fault with the little woman, to running her down systematically to himself and to Anne. Could it be that he felt himself tempted to break his engagement? Anne knew Hamlin too well by this time to credit him with that. If such a thing should happen,—if, finding insensibly that [88] Anne was not what he had imagined, disappointed with her coldness, hurt by her censoriousness, and attracted by a woman who was everything that she was not—Hamlin should ever come to feel for Sacha more than mere friendship, it was not in his nature to perceive his danger and to struggle; he would let himself go to sleep in the pleasantness of a new sensation, he would drift on vaguely, and start up in surprise.

A new love was for him the most poignant of temptations,—a new love in its still half‐unconscious, Platonic, vague condition; and he was not a man to resist such a temptation; indeed he had gone through life with the philosophy that a poet may dally with any emotion, however questionable, as long as he does not actually commit a dishonourable action. Oh no, Hamlin’s ups and downs could not be struggles or remorse; so Anne decided that it was all fancy, all calumny. And she determined to give the letter to Sacha on the first opportunity.

[89]

Madame Elaguine at last made up her mind that her little Helen ought to learn something; and with the impulsiveness of her nature, she determined that she, whom she had always kept under her own eyes, should go to school. Why there should be such a swing of the pendulum, and why Madame Elaguine should not rather hire a governess to teach the child in her own house, Miss Brown could not explain, except by the capriciousness, the tendency always to be in extremes, of Hamlin’s cousin. Anyhow, Sacha had determined that Helen must soon go to school, and she had written to Anne begging her, before the child went, to permit her to share for a week or two the lessons which Miss Brown was giving the little Choughs. “I know,” she wrote, “that my poor little child is not fit to be turned loose among other children yet; I know she is too ignorant, too sensitive, too much accustomed to life with her elders. To learn with Mr Chough’s children, to play with them, will take the keen edge off; and also, I know, my [90] dearest Anne, that if anything can make this (I fear, alas! alas! to my shame) over‐sensitive and self‐willed little savage more human, more desirous of being good, and of raising herself, it will be your influence. I have often felt what it would have been for me to have had a friend like you, and I feel what it will be for my child.”

Anne was touched by this letter. Poor Madame Elaguine, although she did care too much for Baudelaire and Gautier, and did tell too many anecdotes about married women’s lovers and married men’s cocottes for Anne’s taste, was yet a good and brave little woman; and she must be helped, if one could help her. And Anne was doubly indignant about that anonymous letter she put in her pocket, and went to call on Hamlin’s cousin.

Madame Elaguine was in one of her unstrung moments. Anne found her lying on a sofa, a heap of books about her, reading none, fidgety and vacant. She brightened up for a moment on Miss Brown’s entry, and [91] received her with a kind of rapturous gratitude, quite out of all proportion; but she speedily relapsed into her depressed condition. Anne thought it better not to introduce the business at once.

“I want to know,” she said, “why you are suddenly so anxious to send your little Helen to school, when you said, only a few days ago, that you could not bear even that a stranger should have any influence upon her.”

Madame Elaguine hesitated. “Oh, dear Anne,” she suddenly exclaimed, “I am a poor, weak, vacillating creature, always in excesses. You must have pity on me. I suppose it is just because I was so horribly selfish about my child that I have been crushed suddenly with the necessity of sacrificing my feelings completely. It comes home to me—and oh, you cannot think what it means to me!—that I am ruining my child, that she will turn out merely another myself—another wretched, weak, unhappy creature, with just morality enough to make her utterly [92] miserable, and just common‐sense enough to make her feel her own silliness. It is a terrible thing for a mother to say; but it is true, and I must say it: I am not fit to bring up my own child—I am not worthy to do it.”

Anne looked at the Russian, who had raised herself on her sofa convulsively, and thatched and torn to pieces a flower which was lying on her, with a great look of pity.

“I am not bad!” cried Sacha—“I am not bad! I want to be good; but I can’t. Oh, and I can’t teach my child anything, not even the multiplication table,” and she suddenly burst out laughing.

Anne did not know whether to cry or to laugh.

“I quite understand your wishing that Helen should get the habit of work, and should learn something,” she said, in her business‐like way; “but I cannot see the advantage of sending her to school. She is far too nervous and delicate, and far too much accustomed to indulgence, to get anything but harm from a [93] school. Were she a mere strong, sturdy, spoilt child, it would do her an immense deal of good; but a child, you admit it yourself, so morbidly and almost physically sensitive, would only be miserable at school, and probably be terrified by unaccustomed discipline and want of sympathy. Don’t you think it would be wiser to get Helen a thoroughly good governess, so that she could learn something, and yet be in your house?”

“I won’t have a governess; they are all good‐for‐nothings. I won’t have spies in the house!” exclaimed Madame Elaguine, vehemently.

“Nonsense!” said Anne; “how can you talk like that? You know that governesses are just as good as schoolmistresses; and for you and Helen such a plan would be in every way preferable.”

“I won’t have any one in the house to pry into my affairs!” repeated Sacha, hotly. “Helen must go to school.”

Anne felt angry with the little woman.

[94]

“Of course it is for you to choose,” she said; “but I confess I can’t see why you should not have a governess any more than other people.” She felt as if there were something wrong here.

“And do you forget what my life is?” cried Sacha; “do you forget that I am the daily, hourly victim of unseen enemies? Would you have me admit some one to my house, that she might play into their hands, or, at all events, pry into my misfortune?”

Anne had forgotten that. How unjust she was!

“True,” she said; “I think we might find a governess who, even under your circumstances, might be safely admitted into the house. But I can understand your unconquerable aversion to the idea, so we had better look out for a school, and, till one is found, I shall be delighted if you will send Helen to me. I fear I can’t do much for her, but at all events she will meet the Choughs, who are very good little girls.”

Madame Elaguine rose, and, to Anne’s immeasurable [95] surprise, she flung herself on her neck, and began to sob.

“Oh Anne, dearest Anne,” she said, “you are so good to me—so good, so very good—and I don’t deserve it at all—indeed I know I don’t.”

“Nonsense; you are unwell and unstrung about Helen, and you are just making yourself miserable. Do try and be quiet, and reflect that there is nothing whatever to be miserable about.”

Somehow or other Miss Brown, for all her good‐nature, always had a harsh instinct whenever she saw Sacha in such a condition as this—an instinct that the Russian could prevent it—that such fits of tears and abjectness were mere self‐indulgence, and self‐indulgence which was utterly incompatible with Anne’s idea of self‐respect.

But Madame Elaguine could not be reined in. She fell back in an arm‐chair in an agony of hysterical sobbing, mixed with ghastly laughing.

[96]

“It is not nonsense; it is true—it is true; I don’t deserve it. I deserve that you should hate me. Oh Anne, you must hate me; but it is not my fault. I hate him! I have always hated him! I have told him so; but he won’t believe. Oh, indeed it is not my fault. But of course you hate me, you . . .” and she suddenly burst out laughing.

Anne was very white. She had heard and she had understood; but she had no right to have heard or to have understood.

Suddenly Sacha started up and looked strangely about her.

“What! you are here?” she asked, with a start as if of terror. “Oh, what have I been talking about? Oh, I am sure I have been talking nonsense!”

“Poor little woman!” said Anne; “yes, you have been talking nonsense; you are afraid of having a governess for Helen, lest—”

“Ah!” cried Madame Elaguine, with a sigh of relief. “Oh, you don’t know what it is to have such a fit. One feels one is talking lies, [97] and yet that one must go on. I never had any such things before they began to persecute me. It is almost the worst part of my misfortune. Fancy seeing, feeling one’s self becoming day by day more abject, and being unable to stop it. Oh, I still feel so frightened! something dreadful must have happened while I had that fit just now. Do call for some tea, Anne, darling; I feel so shaken, as if something had happened.”

“You will feel all right when you have had some tea,” said Anne. “Tell me, have they, have those people been frightening you of late?”

Madame Elaguine nodded. “Only last night; you don’t know what happened. I didn’t intend telling you—look here—but it is that that has put me into such a state,” and opening the door of her bedroom, Sachs pointed to the wall opposite.

Over Madame Elaguine’s bed hung a painted portrait of little Helen; but where the face should have been was a dark spot.

[98]

“Good heavens! what have they done?” cried Anne.

“Oh, they have only cut out Mademoiselle Hélène’s face,” said the Swiss maid, who was sitting in the room, with a shrug. “For my part, I am accustomed to such tricks, and so, I should think, must be Madame also.”

Something cynical and insolent in the woman struck Anne very much.

“How horrible!” she said, leading Sacha back to the drawing‐room. “I can quite understand your being excited to‐day, and feeling anxious about Helen.”

“It is because of that,” said Sacha, with clenched teeth, “that I want to send Helen to school. She will be safer there than here. If things go on as now, I shall have to send Helen to a convent; I am no protection to her.”

“You must marry, and have a husband to take care of you,” said Anne, quietly.

Madame Elaguine turned scarlet. Was she [99] afraid of having let out her secret? But to Anne’s surprise, instead of looking anxious, a sudden look of triumphant amusement passed over her face, a strange brazen look, and she burst out laughing—

“Ah yes, marry!—that would be a fine idea!—and whom, pray? Perhaps Lewis or Chough. True—I forgot—he has a wife! Ah no, a rolling stone like me must always be solitary.”

“You need not always be a rolling stone,” said Anne, gently. “But I must go—good‐bye, dear Madame Elaguine.”

At the door she met Hamlin. It seemed to her that he looked guilty, and coloured.

“I have been to see your cousin; she has had another horrid trick played to her. Go up to her, it will do her good to see you; she is very lonely, poor little woman.”

Hamlin was unnerved by the allusion to the persecution. He stood silent for a moment, with a long lingering look on Anne, like a man making a mental comparison.

[100]

“You are very good, Miss Brown,” he said, slowly; “there is no other woman in the world like you.”

“Sacha has been more tried than I,” answered Anne. And Hamlin went up and Miss Brown went out.

[101]

CHAPTER VI.

MISS BROWN did not hand over the anonymous letter either to Madame Elaguine or to Hamlin. She felt that she had now no longer a right to do so. Sacha had, in the vague pouring out of words of that fit which Anne had witnessed, let out her secret; but Anne had no right to use it or to act upon it. She could only watch and wait.

Wait!—but in what a different spirit! Wait, not for the hour of death, but for the moment of freedom, of complete freedom.

“What has happened to you?” asked Mrs Spencer, meeting her on her way back from Madame Elaguine’s. “Why, you look quite another being, Anne—as if some one had left you a fortune!”

[102]

“No one has left me anything,” said Anne. “I feel very happy, that’s all.”

“But where in all this wretched London have you been that you should feel happy?”

Anne laughed.

“I have been to see Madame Elaguine.”

Mrs Spencer frowned.

“Well, that wouldn’t be enough to make me feel happy, I confess. Was Walter Hamlin there? I believe it’s his safest address now, isn’t it?”

“Mr Hamlin was there,” answered Anne, sternly.

“Mark my words!” said Mrs Spencer that evening to her father and husband, and to one or two of those well‐thinking æsthetes de la vieille roche, whom Hamlin had basely deserted. “Mark my words! Anne Brown has got impatient with all this philandering of Walter’s about that precious Russian of his. There has been a grand scene, and Hamlin has come round to reason. I met her returning from that Elaguine woman’s to‐day, and [103] she never looked so happy in her life. She said Hamlin had been there, and I know that she gave them both a bit of her mind. She’s a proud woman, Anne Brown, and could squash that little Russian vixen like that!”

“But, my dear Edith,” objected her father, seated among an admiring crowd in his dusty studio at Hampstead, among his ghastly Saviours on gilded grounds, and Nativities, in despite of perspective—“how de ye know that there’s ever been any philandering between ’em?”

“Oh papa, really now you are too provoking!”

“Oh, Mr Saunders, how do we know anything?” chorussed the two or three elderly poetesses and untidy Giottesque painters of the circle.

“P’raps ye don’t know anything, any of ye!”

Mrs Spencer sighed, as much as to say, “See what it is to be the long‐suffering daughter of the greatest genius in the world, and pity me!”

[104]

Cosmo Chough had been reading some of his ‘Triumph of Womanhood,’ lying on the hearth‐rug in the studio.

“Do you think he has proposed?” he asked, darting up, with beaming eyes.

“Proposed! I should think so, and been told not to play such tricks again.”

“Ah!” cried Chough, “thank heaven. I—I—” but he stopped.

“You shall send Anne your Ginevra in the Tomb, papa, as a wedding present.”

“Don’t be in too great a hurry,” said old Saunders; whereupon he was jeered at with all the respect due to so great an artist.

For the first time after so long, Anne felt happy. A load was off her mind. That Hamlin should love Sacha, and Sacha Hamlin, was the miracle which alone could release her, and releasing her, put an end at the same time to the horrible false position into which Hamlin’s self‐engagement to a woman so different from himself created for him also in the future. And now only did it strike Anne that perhaps [105] she had no right towards Hamlin to pay off her debt of gratitude at the expense of what might be his future misery as well as hers. Had Hamlin been sufficiently infatuated to wish to marry a woman whom he did not really and solidly love, would it have been right on her part to let him have his way? All these doubts, which she had previously put behind her, as mere selfish sophistry to tempt her from her duty, now rushed home to her. But they came no longer to torment, but to add to the relief, the cessation of bondage. Hamlin would never, she said to herself, have been really happy with her as a wife; and now it happened that he had met the woman who, whatever her shortcomings, seemed to suit him. That Sacha Elaguine was an undisciplined, thoughtless, rather sensuous woman, loving excitement and art, and indifferent to abstract good and evil, Anne fully admitted; but were not these the very qualities which would make her appreciate what in Hamlin was original and charming, and blind [106] her, for her happiness (and added Anne, convinced by sad failure of the futility of trying to change people’s nature) and for his, to his weak sides? And Sacha had just that exuberant passionateness, more of the temperament and the fancy than of the heart, which Hamlin required, and which she, Anne, so lamentably lacked. For Sacha also it would mean a new life: it would mean, for the poor, excitable little woman, always defrauded of affection and of an object of adoration, a reality in her life, something to love, to worship, to pet, to flatter—something to make her forget her miserable bedraggled childhood, her wretched married life, her persecution and her maladies. This it would mean to them; and to Anne it would mean . . . Ah! Anne did not dare to think what it would mean for her; she was not yet sure. She might be mistaken, she was still bound to doubt. And still, that great bliss, at which Anne was afraid to look, meant only what to other women would have been a poor gift: liberty [107] to gain her bread, to feel and think for herself—a life’s solitude.

Days passed on; and Anne, instead of being, as she expected, disappointed, was confirmed by every little thing in her belief. On one pretext or other, Hamlin was perpetually at Madame Elaguine’s. The latest excuse for seeing her was to paint her portrait; so, for a number of days, Sacha came every morning to the house at Hammersmith, and spent a couple of hours at least closeted with Hamlin in the studio. Anne usually received her, and she frequently stayed to lunch; and Miss Brown could not help feeling indignant at the coolness with which Hamlin amused himself playing with two women: he was perpetually trailing after Sacha, he was perpetually, she felt persuaded, talking about life and love and himself in a way which was equivalent to making love to the little woman; and yet, he would still come and sit at Anne’s feet, and represent himself as the dejected and heartbroken creature whom only a strong and pure [108] woman could help. Once, Miss Brown had considerable difficulty in restraining herself when, after a day spent with his cousin, he came in the evening to her, and began the usual talk about his soul being shrivelled up.

“I feel I am not worthy to live!” he exclaimed. “I have become too weak and selfish to enjoy the world; I feel that I am sinking into a bog of meanness and sensuality; and yet I cannot even become the mere beast that I ought—the mere beast that would be satisfied with the mud. I keep looking up, and longing for higher things which I cannot attain.”

“How very sad!” said Anne, icily; “what a pity you can’t make up your mind! it would save you much valuable time. But then, I suppose, it always comes in usefully for sonnets. That is the great advantage of being a poet.”

Hamlin was silent. He had—she felt sure, and she was indignant as if at an affront—imagined that he might tempt her into saying—“I will raise you,” while his poor, giddy, [109] irresponsible cousin was being dragged further and further into a passion which she would never recover from—for she, at least, had a heart and he had none.

“You despise me!” cried Hamlin, after a minute.

“I thought your indecision between the bog and the stars rather contemptible, certainly, just now. But I now see that such conditions are as necessary to you as a poet as are your lay figures and studio properties to you as a painter. It was my ignorance.”

Hamlin fixed his eyes on the ground. He looked very weak and miserable, and like a man who feels that he has dishonoured himself in some way. But to Anne it was all merely a piece of acting—the climax of that long and nauseous comedy of self‐reproach and self‐sympathising, of pretending to hanker after evil and good, that was equally indifferent to him,—that comedy which had begun long ago in his letters to her at Coblenz, which she had watched with admiration, and love, and agony [110] at first, and with contempt and disgust at last. And she was hardened towards him. She could have said to him—“Go and marry Sacha!” only that at this moment such a notion seemed an insult to his cousin, and that a horrible fear possessed her that he would seize upon that, and try and work her and her anger into this very patchwork of artificial and morbid sentiment over which he was for ever gloating. Once or twice, indeed, it did occur to Anne that perhaps this whole flirtation with Madame Elaguine had been got up by Hamlin for her, benefit; that he was playing with the heart of the foolish little woman (who did not realise that he was making her love him) merely to provoke Anne’s jealousy—to move her by this means, since he had failed by every other. But even if it had been thus begun, and Miss Brown shrank from believing that Hamlin would have been so deliberately base, it was clear that the comedy had become reality—that he cared for his cousin and she for him. Perhaps—perhaps—all this remorse was real [111] after all. But Anne’s heart had got hardened against him: she could no longer, do what he liked, believe that there was anything genuine in him.

Meanwhile Hamlin’s perpetual attendance on Madame Elaguine had become apparent to every one; and even Mrs Spencer admitted to her father that Hamlin could not have proposed that day she had met Anne.

“That is to say—mind you, I daresay he actually did propose; but that wretched woman somehow contrived to talk him over again. I believe she’s capable of everything!”

“Well, my dear,” said her father, “it goes a little against your theory that Miss Brown looks just as happy as possible.”

“Because she’s too honourable to believe!” exclaimed Mrs Spencer; and forgetting the many acrimonious remarks in which she had indulged against Miss Brown, and the many times she had sighed at Walter Hamlin taking up with a “mere soulless Italian” instead of with this or the other Sappho or Properzia dei Rossi [112] of her circle, she added—“I always knew that Anne was one of the noblest women in the world; and the nobler women are, the less will they believe in the baseness of men. For my part, I think love and marriage are the greatest curses of a woman’s life.”

In which sentiment poor Mr Spencer modestly acquiesced.

“I shall have to warn her some day, if no one else has the courage to do so,” she said. Of course no one else did have the courage. Edmund Lewis became every day more and more offensive in manner to Miss Brown; he hated her, and he enjoyed seeing her what he considered ousted.

Mrs Macgregor, although she went on abusing Madame Elaguine for being the Sacha of other days, lived too much in her bedroom, saw too little of what was going on even in the house, to guess at anything. Mary and Marjory Leigh looked on in wonder and indignation; but Anne’s calm and cheerful manner forbade their saying anything. Did [113] not Anne know better than any one how Hamlin felt towards her? and if Anne was satisfied, must it not all be a delusion?

“Besides, Hamlin is too honourable,” said Mary, forgetting about the letter to Harry Collett; “and how could a poet, an artist, prefer an odious, rowdy, hysterical creature like Madame Elaguine to such a being as Anne Brown?” The mere thought seemed a profanation.

“I don’t think Hamlin is a bit noble,” said Marjory, sternly; “and such a little wretch is just likely to pamper his vanity—and Anne is too honest to do that.”

“Every man has a nobler and a baser side,” said Harry Collett, mercifully. “Madame Elaguine (though I think it very uncharitable to hate her because she is a little rowdy, and I’m sure she’s quite innocent) may flatter Hamlin’s worse part. But the nobler will always have its way, and with it Miss Brown. Walter is weak, but he can see the difference between an inferior woman and a superior one. Besides, after all, she is his cousin, and I see [114] no reason to go tittle‐tattling because two cousins are friends.”

“That’s the way Harry pays off Hamlin for writing that beastly letter about me!” said Marjory to her sister, when Mr Collett was gone. “How I do hate evangelical charity! how I do wish Harry had just a little of the bad in him!”

Mary laughed, and catching hold of Marjory, kissed her.

“What do you mean?” cried Marjory, indignantly breaking loose.

“I mean, Marjory dear, that though you imagine the contrary, you are very, very glad that Harry is just what he is.”

“Well, perhaps I am. But still, oh, I do hate . . .”

And thus the Leighs, being very happy themselves, forgot Anne Brown’s supposed grievances, even as the best of us, being happy, will forget the wrongs of others.

But there was one person who could not forget what seemed to him the most frightful [115] sacrilege in the world; and that person was Mr Cosmo Chough. He considered himself as the assistant high priest of the divinity called Anne Brown, and he believed that it was his duty to bring back the high priest in person, namely Hamlin, to the worship from which the powers of evil had momentarily seduced him. But he thought it more simple to apply to the offended goddess than to her recalcitrant priest, who, to tell the truth, had treated his vague remarks with considerable scorn. Accordingly, one day (June had come round now) Miss Brown was informed that Mr Cosmo Chough desired to see her.

“How ao you do, Mr Chough?” said Anne, stretching out her hand to the little man, who came in with even more than usually brushed coat and hat, and more than usually blacked boots, his lips squeezed into a long, cat‐like grimace of solemnity, his brows knit gloomily, and walking on the tips of his toes like an operatic conspirator. Mr Chough sat down and sighed.

[116]

“Will you have some tea?” asked Miss Brown, with her hand on the bell.

The poet of womanhood darted up, laid one hand lightly on Anne’s arm, and opening and straightening out the other with an eloquent gesture, said—

“Excuse me. I would rather have no tea. I want your attention—your best attention—seriously and at once.”

Anne could not help smiling.

“You can have both some tea and my best, my very best attention,” she said.

Mr Chough sighed, and waited gloomily until tea had been brought, absolutely refusing to open his lips.

“Have you brought something to read to me?” asked Anne, thinking it might be some new bit of the ‘Triumph of Womanhood,’ which Cosmo Chough most innocently read to all the ladies of his acquaintance, only Anne having the courage to say every now and then, “I think that had better be omitted, Mr Chough. I think people will give it [117] a bad meaning which perhaps you don’t intend.”

“I have nothing to read,” answered Chough, solemnly. “I have come to ask your advice about a matter more important than any literary one.”

“You shall have it if I can give any. Go on, Mr Chough.”

“Well, then,” began Cosmo, stooping forward on his chair and frowning, “let me premise that I have two friends whom I greatly value. I am not at liberty to mention their names; but I will call one the Duke, and the other la Marquise.”

“Oh!” cried Anne, laughing, “I fear I can’t give you any advice about such exalted people as that. I am a woman of the people, and have never known a duke in my life.”

“One moment’s patience, dear Miss Brown. This Duke—who lives—well, let us say he has a magnificent hôtel entre cour et jardin in Paris, has been affianced ever since his childhood to the Marquise, who is the most beautiful [118] and divine woman in the world, as he, indeed, is the most accomplished gentleman, besides being my dearest friend; and they have been looking forward to a union which will make their happiness, and that of their friends, perfect. Do you follow that? But now—” and Cosmo Chough, stretching out one long thin leg, so as to display his small foot and the martial wrinkles of his boot, and propping his elbow on his other knee—“now, mark. There comes into our perfect duet a discordant voice. A certain lady, whom I will designate as the Queen of Night”—and he made his cat’s grimace, and pausing, looked mournfully at Miss Brown, who sat quietly by, bending over a piece of embroidery which she was doing from a design by Hamlin.

“Well!”

“Well, this lady, by some occult power of which I cannot judge, gains possession of the fancy of the Duke—not of his heart,—he still continuing to love the Marquise coralment, as the trouvères say,—and in short leads him, [119] without however, as I said, in the least diminishing his passionate love for the Marquise, into acts, or at least appearances, which, to the mind of the vulgar are incompatible with such love. What do you say to that?”

Little by little Miss Brown had guessed what Chough was hiding beneath this grotesque piece of romancing.

“I say that the vulgar are probably right; and that the Marquise, for all the coral love of the Duke, had better throw him over, if she has a grain of self‐respect. Will you have another cup, Mr Chough?”

Anne spoke coldly and indifferently; and Chough, who, despite his vaunted knowledge of the human heart, was the most obtuse of good‐hearted little people, actually prided himself upon having put his case so delicately, that Miss Brown could not even guess as yet that she was alluded to.

“But the Duke would die were he to lose her! The Queen of Night, who is a wicked fairy—une méchante féeune fernme serpent [120]une mélusine, enfin tout ce qu’il vous plaira” (Chough always liked to show off his French)—“has fascinated only his fancy, not his heart. It would be most unfair if he were to lose the Marquise. Well, to proceed; the remedy would easily be found. La Marquise, like all passionately loving women, is a little cold and proud—tant soit peu hautaine et glaciale—need only thaw towards the Duke. She need only say or make a friend tell him, that she adores him and that he is her sole happiness—and see! the Queen of Night’s spells are forthwith broken by the power of true love—the Eternal Womanhood reasserts its right, and all is happy again. But the mischief is, that there is no means of bringing this home to the lady. Lately, indeed, a trusty and respectful friend, an Italian—a poet of some small distinction, I may add—ventured so far as to acquaint her of the public rumour concerning—I mean concerning the Duke and the Queen of Night—in an anonymous letter . . .”

[121]

Miss Brown suddenly sat bolt‐upright, and fixing her eyes on Chough, said—

“You don’t mean to say that you—you actually concocted that ridiculous missive?”

“Ridiculous missive! What ridiculous missive?” asked Cosmo Chough, striking an attitude.

“Well, I ought rather to say that most ungentlemanly anonymous letter, written in Italian which would make a cat laugh.”

“Ungentlemanly! ungentlemanly!” howled Chough; but in reality what he was thinking of was Miss Brown’s stricture upon the Italian.

“Oh, Miss Brown!” he cried, after a minute, “and it is possible that you should so far have misunderstood the friend who respects you most in the whole world, as to have supposed that that letter had any evil intention? Is it possible that you, who have of all people in the world been kindest to me, who have been as a mother to my children—that you should have such an opinion of me?”

Poor Cosmo had let go all his affectation; [122] he wrung his hands in real distress, and he actually seemed to be crying.

“Oh fool, fool that I was, trying to do good, and merely making myself seem an odious ungrateful wretch!”

His sorrow was so genuine that Miss Brown felt quite sorry for him.

“Come, come, dear Mr Chough,” she said, “don’t distress yourself. I think you did a rather improper thing, but I am quite persuaded that you merely wished to do good.”

And she stretched out her hand.

Chough struck his head with his fist.

“Ah, you are good—you are too good—dear, dear Miss Brown! but I shall never [recover] from it—never. To think I only wished to do good—and you think me a slanderer!”

“Oh no,” said Anne, quietly, “I don’t think it for a moment. I know that all that letter contained was true, except that you were unjust to one of the parties; for I am sure Madame Elaguine is not at all base, and has no conception of what she is drifting into.”

[123]

Chough gaped in astonishment.

“You believe it to be true, and yet . . .”

“How can I help believing by this time what every creature can see, and what every creature, except themselves perhaps, must and does see as clear as the sun at noon?”

Anne spoke very composedly.

“But if that is the case—if you know—why then, how is it that you don’t—well, that you don’t put a stop to it?”

“One can’t put a stop to what has already taken place.”

“Oh, but you can—you can—and it was in hopes of your doing it that I wrote that letter. It is to entreat you to do it that I have come now, dear, dear Miss Brown, to supplicate, to implore you . . .”

“To do what?” There was a freezing indifference in her voice.

“To do what? Why, to do everything and anything! Dearest Miss Brown, I know, I understand fully, that Hamlin has acted unworthily towards you. I know, I admit, that [124] to a woman like you—all passion, all nobility—Hamlin’s behaviour must be odious. But would it not be worthy of you to reflect that Hamlin is a poet, and acting merely as a poet must act? A poet is a double‐natured creature, a baser and a nobler nature, and his whole life consists merely in receiving as many and various impressions as both his natures can receive. A poet must know the stars, and know the mud beneath his feet; he must drink the milk and the absinthe of life,—he must love purely and impurely, with his heart, with his fancy, and with his senses—ah, you frown!—well, but such the poet is, such is Hamlin. His soul loves and adores you; what if, at the same time, his baser nature, the satyr in the god, be caught elsewhere? He loves you none the less; yes, he loves you even at the moment . . .”

“I think this all rather disgusting, don’t you, Mr Chough?” said Anne, sternly.

“Nay, have patience—for the sake of Hamlin, for the sake of your own noble goodness [125]! He loves you: and it requires but a look, a word, a message, to make him forget that other love, to make it evaporate like opium‐fumes. Oh say this word—say it—and blow that ugly cloud of impure love from off the fair resplendent face of his devotion to you! Write to him—speak to him. Empower me, oh dearest lady, to tell him that you love him, and that this wretched fancy of his is making you miserable!”

“It is not,” answered Anne, harshly; “it is not doing anything of the sort, and it is no more a fancy than his love for me. As to Madame Elaguine, she is in every way fit to be his wife.”

“His wife!” screamed Chough, and looked as if he would faint; “and you would let your resentment go thus far—you would let the nettles choke the roses, the impure passion choke the pure one, you would sacrifice him and yourself—you would let him . . .”

“I would let him marry his cousin. There is no impurity about it, so please don’t revert to that, Mr Chough. She is just the woman [126] who might make him happy; the inclination is perfectly natural and proper.”

Chough started up. “Oh, you saint! you noble heroic woman!” he cried, kissing Anne’s dress enthusiastically.

“What are you doing, Mr Chough?” she asked angrily.

“I am kissing the holiest thing I shall ever touch,” answered the little man solemnly. “Yes! you are a saint, an Alkertis, an Iphigenia! But we will not let the monstrous self‐sacrifice take place! No, by heaven! never, never! You shall not give up your happiness; I will speak to Hamlin. I will tell him all, all—that you love him . . .”

“I do not love Hamlin,” said Anne sternly, pronouncing every word clearly and slowly.

“You do not love Hamlin!—you do not want—”

Poor little Chough was so utterly dumfounded that he had not the breath to finish his sentence.

“You have obliged me to say what I never [127] intended to say to any one,” said Anne. “No; I do not love Hamlin; and if he marry his cousin, I shall be happier than I thought I ever could be.”

“You love another!” whispered Chough, his eyebrows and whiskers standing on end.

“Neither him nor any one else.”

“Then why—why have you not told him so? Why make the sacrifice of your inclinations—because, marrying him, you would be—why?”

“Mr Hamlin has done everything for me. I was a penniless, ignorant servant. He had me taught, he gave me his money, he gave me more kindness and trustfulness and generosity than any man ever gave any woman I think, and I must pay my debt. If he wants me, he shall have me. If not, so much the better for me.”

There was a silence. Anne took up her piece of work; Chough sat rapping gently on the table with his finger‐tips, looking wonderingly at her.

[128]

At last Miss Brown spoke.

“You have got my secret out of me, Mr Chough. I don’t believe much in you poets; and I think you are a giddy, often a foolish man. But I think you are a gentleman at heart, and a good man; and as such, I trust you never to let out, either by speech or hint or look, positively or negatively, a word of what I have told you. If Mr Hamlin marry his cousin, so much the better; if he marry me, so much the worse. But what must be, must be. And come what may, I depend upon you, as the only friend upon whom I can rely, to forget all that I have told you to‐day. Will you promise?”

Miss Brown looked very solemn; and Chough was overcome by an almost religious awe.

“I promise never to reveal,” he said quietly, “but you must not ask me to forget; I have neither the power nor the right to forget the best thing I have known in my life. Goodbye, Miss Brown, and God bless you!”

[129]

And Anne, who believed only in right and wrong, felt really the better and stronger for the blessing of the preposterous little poet of Messalina and Lucrezia Borgia, who declared himself to be an atheist when he did not declare himself to be a Catholic mystic.

[130]

CHAPTER VII.

SOME time after this conversation with Cosmo Chough, a circumstance took place which caused great momentary excitement, and considerably unsettled Miss Brown’s mind. The summer had come with a sudden rush; and Hamlin had had the notion of taking his aunt and Miss Brown, and two or three friends, to spend a week at Wotton. Among these friends was Madame Elaguine. That Hamlin should care to take his cousin to the house where she had played so lamentable a part in her childhood; that Sacha should endure to confront those invisible ghosts of her uncle, her cousins, her own former self, of all the shameful past, which haunted that house, was quite incomprehensible [131] to Anne. But day by day she was forced to recognise that she was surrounded by incomprehensible ways of feeling and thinking, that she was, in a way, like a person solitary among mankind from deafness or blindness, from incapacity to put herself in their place; and recognising this, she recognised also, with her unflinching justice, that she had no right to hastily condemn the things which she could not understand. So when Madame Elaguine, on the evening of her arrival at Wotton, insisted on wandering all over the once familiar house, and openly said that she felt a pleasure, the bitter pleasure of self‐inflicted penance, in confronting the past, in humiliating her present self by the company of her former self, Anne merely said to herself that she could not conceive a woman feeling like that—but that, nevertheless, this theatrical and hysterical excitement might, after all, lead to as good a result as her own silent and painful solitary self‐absorption.

[132]

“She is a brazen creature!” Aunt Claudia had cried, when she heard that Sacha was going to Wotton; “corrupt like her father, and fantastic like her mother. She must get Mrs Spencer or some one else to chaperon her in that house, if indeed she wants any one. I shall stay behind. As to you, Annie, you are at liberty to go or not go, of course.”

“I shall go, Aunt Claudia,” Anne had answered resolutely, “because I don’t see that I have a right to imply by my absence that I disapprove of Madame Elaguine’s going to Wotton. I neither approve nor disapprove; and I think that, however little we may sympathise with her notions of self‐humiliation, we must give her the benefit of supposing that she is honest in them.”

So Anne had gone.

The self‐humiliation of Madame Elaguine, and the hours she had spent in her room—she had asked for the room which had been hers as a child—crying over the past, did not prevent her being in excessively high spirits the [133] evening following their arrival and the successive one. It would seem as if the painful associations in which she had steeped herself had produced a reaction in her whole nature. She was childishly, almost uproariously gay, played with little Helen the greater part of the afternoon, and after dinner treated the company—that is to say, Anne, Mrs Spencer, Lewis, and Hamlin—to a perfect concert of all manner of wild gipsy songs, Spanish and Russian, sung with a fury which amounted almost to genius; and followed these up with little French songs, old and new, picked up heaven knows where—from operettes, from peasants, from books—the words of which and the astonishing gaminerie with which they were delivered, amused Lewis to fits of laughing, threw Chough into enthusiasm, annoyed Hamlin a little, puzzled poor Mrs Spencer, and made Anne reflect, as charitably as she could, upon the different standards of propriety which seemed to exist for Englishwomen and for Russians.

[134]

Madame Elaguine’s songs made Anne feel quite uncomfortable and angry; but she said nothing, seeing Mrs Spencer, who could tolerate any amount of impropriety as long as it was medieval and poetic, was evidently putting down this French levity as a mark of the Russian woman’s depravity; and she felt somehow, that though she was annoyed herself, and annoyed with good cause, she must not back up Mrs Spencer’s prejudiced indignation.

Cousin Sacha seemed to take a pleasure in vexing Hamlin, in shocking Anne, in making Mrs Spencer think her a wicked creature; she sang on, in her devil‐may‐care, street‐boy way, with a malicious, childish impudence in her face; then suddenly, when she saw Hamlin get positively black at what he considered her bad taste—suddenly dropped from her leste French couplets into a strange, wild, Spanish gipsy song, sad and despairing beyond saying.

She looked very fascinating, as she sat near the window, resting her guitar on her knee, [135] her tiny feet and embroidered stockings very visible beneath the lace flounces and frills of her thistle‐down dress; her deep, Russian blue eyes looking, as it seemed, rather into the past than the present, her whole slight, even emaciated, body and face tense with a sort of hysterical emotion.

Suddenly she threw the guitar on the sofa.

“Bah!” she cried, “what is the use of singing sad things when one is sad? and what is the use of pretending to be merry, and shocking people with polissoneries when one feels as old and dismal as at ninety? I hate music.”

And she walked through the French window on to the wide terrace which surrounded one side of the house and overlooked the lawn.

“The only good thing,” she said, “in this world is tobacco‐smoke. If,” turning with affected deference and timidity to Mrs Spencer, who considered a woman who smoked as little short of an adventuress, “you have no objection, these gentlemen and I will have a smoke.”

[136]

“Oh, pray don’t mind me,” snorted Mrs Spencer, stalking back into the drawing‐room, and sitting down near the window.

The three men immediately produced cigars and cigarettes and matches.

“No, thank you, Walter,” said Madame Elaguine; “your cigarettes are too weak for me—too ladylike, like their owner, for a badly brought up woman. I must make mine myself.” And she went into her bedroom, the last room opening out to the terrace, to fetch her box of tobacco and her cigarette‐papers.

In a minute she returned, whistling, in a curious bird‐like whistle, below her breath, and rolling a cigarette in her fingers. Some of the party were seated, some standing. Madame Elaguine came to where Miss Brown was seated, looking into the twilight park.

“Dear Annie,” she murmured, putting her arm round Miss Brown’s neck, in her childish way, and which yet always affected Anne as might the caress of a lamia’s clammy scales.

[137]

“I fear,” she said, putting her face close to Anne, and lowering her voice to a whisper, “that you must have thought me horribly vulgar and undignified and indecent just now. I don’t know why I sang all those nasty songs; I suppose it was to vex Walter. I don’t like them myself. But sometimes a sort of horrible desire, a kind of demon inside me, makes me wish to do something which I know is disgusting; I feel as if I could be the lowest of women, just from perversity. Ah, it is sickening.”

Anne did not answer.

“Where did you learn those wonderful little Burgundian couplets, Sacha?” asked Lewis, in his sultan‐like familiar way. He had a trick of calling her Sacha every now and then, as he had tried, but failed, to call Miss Brown Annie.

“I don’t know. I ought not to have learned them at all; and I ought not to have sung them before a man like you, who notices all the nastiness there is in anything, and a great [138] deal more besides,” answered Madame Elaguine, coldly.

“What a Southern evening!” exclaimed Cosmo Chough, looking up at the blue evening sky, singularly pure and blue and high, twinkling with stars, and against which the distant trees stood out clear like the sidescenes of a theatre. “It is sad that our cigars should have to do for fireflies,—to be the only thing imitating that,” and he pointed at the sky.

“A lit cigar is the only imitation of the stars which people like ourselves can attempt,” said the Russian. “It’s so in everything—our poetry, our passions—nothing but cigar‐lights for stars; don’t you think so, Annie?”

“What’s that?” asked Chough, suddenly.

They looked up at his startled voice.

“What’s what?” asked Madame Elaguine, quietly. “Have you seen the ghost of Imperia of Rome, Mr Chough?”

“What the deuce is that?” exclaimed Lewis. In the midst of the general blue [139] dusk, one of the cedars on the lawn, and a screen of trees beyond, had suddenly burst into sight, enveloped in a bright light, which made the grass all round burn out a vivid yellowish‐green against the darkness.

Anne turned round quickly and looked behind her.

“The house is on fire!” she cried. “Madame Elaguine’s room!” And before the others could understand, she had rushed towards the other end of the terrace.

The light, which had suddenly illumined the piece of lawn, the trees opposite, did issue, a brilliant broad sheet like that of large chandelier, from out of the open window of Sacha’s room.

“Good heavens!” cried Hamlin, “you must have set the curtains on fire with the match of your cigarette!”

“No, no,” cried Madame Elaguine, “I lit my cigarette here outside; it must be . . .” and she rushed wildly after Anne into her bedroom.

[140]

An extraordinary spectacle met Miss Brown first, and the rest of the party an instant or two later.

The large old‐fashioned bed of Cousin Sacha, which stood in the centre of the room, was burning, blazing like a Christmas pudding, its whole top, coverlet and pillows, turned into a roaring mass of bluish flame, whence arose an acrid stifling smell.

“They have done it! they have done it!” shrieked Madame Elaguine, throwing herself into Hamlin’s arms. “They want to kill me! they have always said so!”

But before he had had time to answer, she had rushed off into a neighbouring room, and, with a presence of mind most unexpected in her, returned with a heap of woollen blankets which she had dragged off a bed.

“Pour the water on this!” she cried to Anne, who, with her strong arms, had immediately dashed the contents of a bath on to the flames. “Soak this! it is useless throwing water on the flames;” and taking the soaking [141] blankets, the little woman threw them dexterously on to the blazing bed, among the hissing of the smoke and fire.

In a minute every one had brought blankets, cushions, water; the servants had run up; and in about five minutes the flames were extinguished.

The damages were very trifling compared with the appearance of danger. The fire had not spread beyond the surface of the bed, and consumed only the upper layer of bedding. But the sight of that expanse of waving blue flame had been frightful, and it seemed impossible to realise that no harm had been done.

“How has it happened?”—“How have they done it?”—“Send to the police station.”—“Scour the park!”—every one was talking at the same time.

“I’ll go down into the park and have a good hunt,” said Hamlin, taking down one of the guns which hung in the hall; “they can’t have got far yet.”

[142]

“I don’t think you’ll catch them,” answered Lewis, in his drawling ironical way.

“We’re not in Russia, Mr Lewis,” rejoined Mrs Spencer, bridling up; “here any one can be caught; it’s not an incompetent police as abroad.”

“Some things can’t be caught,” said Lewis, with an odd wise smile.

While they were standing discussing in the hall, they were startled by a sudden thump on the floor. Madame Elaguine, who had hitherto been singularly calm and energetic, had fallen in a half‐fainting condition, like a column on to the ground. She was carried in to a couch in the drawing‐room, and Anne called the Swiss maid, who came, with that sort of insolent indifference to the condition of her mistress, which had struck Miss Brown on more than one similar occasion. Madame Elaguine was in a state of hysterical panic—she wept, and laughed, and talked, and moaned; but she absolutely refused to be put to bed, and insisted with great violence that [143] some of the company should remain about her. She kept Hamlin seated by the side of the sofa, his hand in hers, until the arrival of the police, and of neighbours who had heard of the burning bed, obliged him and the men to leave her. As soon as only Mrs Spencer and Anne Brown remained, she became more calm, and merely lamented over her fate, and over the probability that some day her enemies would really succeed in killing either her or her child.

A curious coincidence occurred, which remained impressed in Anne’s mind. While the rest of the party, including Mrs Spencer, were examining the house in company with the policemen, Miss Brown, who was seated near Madame Elaguine’s sofa—a sense of unreality, as of being at the play, filling her whole nature after that terrible sight of the blazing bed—mechanically opened a book which was lying on the table at her elbow. It was a child’s story which she had bought on a railway bookstall and given to little Helen Elaguine [144] to keep her quiet during the journey to Wotton. Mechanically her eye ran along the page; but suddenly it stopped, as she read the following sentence, printed in rather larger type than the rest—

“And they never forgot, as long as they lived, that terrible burning bed.”

For a moment the words echoed through Anne’s mind as merely so much sound; but, as is the case when we hear a name which awakens associations which we cannot at first define to ourselves, she was conscious at the same time of an effort to adjust her faculties, to seize a meaning which was there, but which she could not at once grasp.

“And they never forgot, as long as they lived, that terrible burning bed.”

Anne kept on repeating those words to herself. They made her restless. She went to the window, and looked out into the night. The vision of that broad sheet of white light on the terrace and bushes, of that expanse of waving blue flamelets, rose up in her mind.

[145]

“That terrible burning bed.” She saw the printed page again. Then, as to a central bubble, other ideas which bubbled up slowly began to gravitate. Madame Elaguine’s perfect, and, in a woman so excitable, unaccountable presence of mind until all chance of further mischief had been over; the blankets which she had immediately dragged out of the next room, as a fireman might have dragged them; the rapid instruction, as of a person accustomed to such things, to wet the blankets instead of pouring water on the flames, as all the others had done; the insolent, indifferent look of the maid; the going into her room to fetch the cigarette‐papers only a minute or two before the conflagration, and when it would seem that whoever had set the bed aflame must have been making the necessary preparations. Then also, the fire had been so carefully limited to the bed, as if no real damage had been meant. No; that was merely consistent with the usual policy of Madame Elaguine’s mysterious enemies, who wished to [146] frighten, but not to kill her. But another thought arose. Madame Elaguine possessed a good deal of valuable old lace, indeed more than her fortune at all warranted. Old lace was her hobby and her pride; she had always a lot on her dress, on her night‐gown, on everything. Some of the very finest that she possessed existed in large quantity as the trimming of a white satin dressing‐gown, which, towards the evening, was always put on her bed. Anne had noticed it this very evening, when Madame Elaguine had called her into her bedroom to ask her advice, as, with a spoilt child’s coquetry, she often did, about some flowers which she was putting in her hair for dinner. For some reason the maid had already arranged the room for the night, and, as usual, the white satin dressing‐gown trimmed with lace had been lying on the bed. Anne had made a note of the fact, because she had thought at the moment how absurd it was of the Russian to put such valuable lace upon a garment which was perpetually knocking [147] about, and in which, as it seemed to Miss Brown, she would scarcely be seen except by her own servant. Now, while extinguishing the flames, one of Anne’s first thoughts had somehow been the white satin dressing‐gown. What a pity that all that lace should have been consumed! What an annoyance to Cousin Sacha! But, to her surprise and relief, she had seen the dressing‐gown, a mass of satin and lace, hanging in perfect safety on a peg at the furthest end of the room—the dressing‐gown which, an hour before, had already lain in readiness on the bed.

All these ideas moved confusedly through Miss Brown’s brain. Was it a mere ordinary mental delusion, one of those impressions which physiologists explain by the imperfect momentary double action of the two brain‐lobes; or was it a recollection of a suspicion which had long existed in her mind, but unconsciously, not daring to come to the surface? Anyhow, it seemed to Anne, as she stood by the open window looking into the night, and listening [148] to Sacha’s faint moanings, as if she had gone through that or something similar before—as if it were not the first time that she was invaded by the thought that all this persecution by invisible and uncatchable enemies was a deception practised by Madame Elaguine herself, a kind of artificial excitement and interest got up for the benefit of her friends, for the benefit of her own morbid and theatrical temper? It was difficult for a woman, simple, sincere, completely all of a piece, like Anne Brown, to conceive such a possibility, and still more difficult for her not to revolt from its contemplation as from an act of disloyalty. But, on the other hand, Anne, just in proportion to her slowness of mental perception, had not the power, which so many of us possess, of denying the evidence of her reason for the sake of her feelings. So the words in the book, which seemed as if they contained the suggestion of the whole performance (if performance it was); the fact of the dressing‐gown having been out of reach of all danger; the manner of Madame [149] Elaguine and of her maid on this and previous occasions,—haunted Anne, and united with the sudden recollection of what she had read in one of Marjory Leigh’s scientific books about the connection between hysteria and monomania, about the strange passion for deceit, for hoax, for theatricality, sometimes observable in hysterical women. And then she remembered the face and voice of Edmund Lewis, his ironical remark about the impossibility of finding the culprits, his indifference and amused superiority. Could he too have guessed?—and, it suddenly struck her, could Hamlin have had the same thought? No, she felt sure Hamlin had not.

[151]

BOOK VIII.

[153]

CHAPTER I.

THE incident of the burning bed left the inmates of Wotton Hall in a state of excitement which outlasted their stay in the country. All attempts to find the culprits had been useless; and Madame Elaguine had begged Hamlin not to permit any regular judicial inquiry, lest the story of her persecution, about which she affected to be excessively jealous, should become public property. Hamlin, who hated vulgar publicity, easily consented. But the mysterious story was now known to all the guests at Wotton, and soon became known to the whole pre‐Raphaelite set which centred round the house at Hammersmith, with the result of turning Madame Elaguine, in the eyes of Mrs Spencer and her friends, from [154] something not much better than an adventuress, into something uncommonly like a heroine and a martyr; for it seemed as if these good folk, whose life was the most humdrum prose and whose ideal was the most far‐fetched poetry, felt absolute gratitude towards the remarkable individual who supplied them with a real mystery, a real persecution by unknown enemies, a real romance. So when Sacha, on her return to town, began to suffer or to think that she suffered from nervous prostration due to this terrible shock, and to lie even more than usual on sofas in even more than usually picturesque dressing‐gowns, she found herself surrounded by a crowd of sympathising and admiring artists, writers, and critics, to whom she confided, one by one, and in slightly different versions, the details of her strange history.

The only person who seemed displeased was Hamlin; and the only person who seemed cold was Miss Brown. Hamlin always required to absorb the whole attention of any person to whom he took a liking; to see his cousin fenced [155] round with idiots, as he described it, was almost a physical annoyance to him; he was cross, captious, bitter, and gruff; and the more he showed his temper the more pleasure Madame Elaguine took in provoking him. As usual, when out of sorts with the world, and especially when he felt himself neglected, Hamlin began once more to pay attentions to Miss Brown, to bemoan his own baseness and weakness, to throw himself on her compassion, to insinuate that in her lay his only hope.

This sort of talk, with his beautiful dreamy eyes fixed adoringly upon her, his slow quiet voice sounding like that of a votary before an altar, had long become for Anne a mere additional bitterness; a bitterness of comprehension proportionate to the long delusion which had made her see in this sort of behaviour the dissatisfaction of a noble nature, the yearnings of real love. She was accustomed to it; and would have merely smiled the bitter smile which had become part of her nature. But now, every lover‐like look or word from Hamlin [156] inspired Anne with positive terror; it seemed as if he had let her fancy that he loved his cousin—that he had let her dream of release, of freedom from the life captivity which threatened her soul, only to creep back, as a cat creeps back to the mouse with which it is playing, and slowly stretch forth his hand to seize her. This feeling became so strong in Anne that little by little there developed in her a nervous dread of Hamlin: every time that he approached her alone, that he fixed his eyes on her face or addressed her by her name, she was aware of a chill throughout her body, of a sudden pallor in her face; a chill, a pallor which, if noticed, must mean to Hamlin that she loved him.

Into this vague and painful suspense were vaguely mingled the suspicions which she had formed regarding Madame Elaguine. Confusedly Anne was conscious that the worthiness or unworthiness of Sacha was not a matter of indifference to her; if Sacha was a mere hysterical liar, she could not sincerely love [157] Hamlin, Hamlin could not love her; and if this man and this woman did not love one another, Anne Brown was once more, what she had for a brief time imagined that she was no longer, the slave of her protector, as Mademoiselle Aïssé had been the slave of M. de Ferréol.

Suddenly, one day, there came a change, and with it the end of the terrible doubt and fear which were corroding Miss Brown’s soul. What had happened Anne never clearly understood; she only perceived a change, and guessed that it was connected in some manner with the sudden disappearance of Edmund Lewis, and with some tremendous quarrel between him and Hamlin which seemed to have preceded it. Mr Lewis, who had spent all his mornings in Hamlin’s studio, and all his evenings in Madame Elaguine’s boudoir, appeared to have sunk into the ground; his very name was scarcely mentioned; and Anne Brown, who hated the very sight of the little man with the sealing‐wax lips and green cat‐like eyes, who instinctively felt that he personified [158] all the peculiarities which degraded Hamlin in her eyes, had a vague superstitious notion that now that he was gone everything would settle happily.

What had Lewis done? Had he insulted Madame Elaguine; and had this insulting, by a man who was his friend, of a woman whom he loved, made Hamlin suddenly conscious of his love for Sacha, and of his duty to protect an irresponsible little woman whom his indecision was putting into a false position? The more Miss Brown pored over the subject, the more did it seem as if there could be no other explanation.

But whatever the explanation, the result was unmistakable. On the score of ill‐health, Madame Elaguine had more or less dismissed all those admiring and sympathising friends who had given Hamlin so much umbrage, and Hamlin had become almost her sole and constant visitor. He appeared to have almost taken up his abode at the Russian’s. He came to Hammersmith for lunch as usual, but always [159] found some excuse or other for leaving immediately after: he was painting a portrait of his cousin, and his cousin was too delicate to give him sittings except in her drawing‐room. He not merely neglected Anne, but obviously avoided her. He seemed to dread being left alone with her, as much as she, for such very different reasons, had dreaded to be left alone with him: when he did not succeed in getting away, he was moody and depressed; yet he seemed moody and depressed also whenever, as was frequently the case, he was sent for by his cousin, and whenever Anne met them together.

It seemed to Miss Brown as if she could understand it all so well: she, who was slow in understanding others, felt as if she knew Hamlin’s character as her own father must have known the construction and working of the machines which she remembered seeing him continually taking to pieces and setting up again. Hamlin had been, so Anne thought, obliged to admit to himself that he loved his [160] cousin, and that he had made her love him; and he was depressed and irritated at his own inability to take any decided course, at his humiliation in finding that this was the end of all his romance with Anne, at his dread of being obliged, sooner or later, to tell Anne the truth; nay, Miss Brown thought she knew Hamlin sufficiently well to be persuaded that there entered into his feelings a certain annoyance at having to forfeit the exotic and unhealthy pleasure of being partially in love with two women at a time, and at the impetuosity of Sacha precipitating matters from a position of hesitation and self‐reproach, which was in some ways pleasant to his peculiar temper, into a situation requiring a definite and prompt solution.

Oh, Anne had not suffered silently these two years, without getting to understand the strange character to which her suffering was due. Yes, she knew Hamlin and what was passing in his mind; and the sense of power implied in this knowledge, the power of following all [161] that he felt and thought, gave her a sort of pleasure, proportionate to that very sense of her difficulty in understanding any character save her own; a curious rare pleasure, in which mingled the consciousness of the price at which it had been bought, and the almost ineffable consciousness that this that she was studying concerned her no more; the pleasure, so often talked about, of the man who has escaped the shipwreck and looks down upon the dangerous waters in safety. Yes; she was safe; she was free.

It gave her a morbid pleasure also to watch Madame Elaguine, who, in the last month or so, ever since the quarrel with Edmund Lewis and the consequent intimacy with her cousin, had suddenly changed in her manner towards Anne—had shown a half‐savage, half‐childish desire to parade her conquest before her rival, to let her see how completely she had taken Hamlin away from her, to humiliate and insult her: the flaunting perversity of a new sultana towards an old one. Anne had hitherto insisted [162] on thinking that Madame Elaguine was really a very noble little woman, and this revelation of a base wish to wound and humiliate, hurt her at first like some nauseous smell arising suddenly beneath her nostrils. But disgust was soon replaced by that new and secret pleasure in the consciousness of understanding this woman better than she understood herself; by the pleasure in feeling how wasted were all Madame Elaguine’s insults—how startled would not the little woman be, could she but know that every proof of her supremacy over Hamlin was to Miss Brown as each successively sawed‐through window‐bar is to the prisoner pining for the day of deliverance.

Anne felt herself getting into so singular a condition of excitement, losing so completely, under the pressure of these conflicting doubts and hopes in the past, of the great joy in the present, all her usual self‐composure and self‐control, that she took fiercely to working, to hurrying in every way through those studies [163] which she had long since begun in the sickening often‐deferred hope that they might become her livelihood if she should ever be released from Hamlin. Miss Brown had often and often, even when the sense of hopelessness had been bitterest, consoled herself with what she believed to be unrealisable dreams for the future; and after going through many possible plans, she had decided that if—if—she should ever become her own mistress, she would employ, resolutely determined to return it to him some day, part of the money which Hamlin had settled upon her, in entering Girton or Newnham, where she would train herself to become a teacher in a public school. Almost mechanically, her studies (and restlessness, and the desire for something that should not be the harassing reality, had developed in her a perfect passion for study) fell into this programme. She had gone in for political economy, history, and what people are pleased to call moral sciences.

Now that liberty seemed on the point of [164] being realised, and that she felt the want of something to steady her shaken nature, she applied herself to this work with redoubled ardour.

“If you go on like that you will get seedy, Annie,” warned the practical Marjory Leigh, now on the eve of becoming Mrs Harry Collett.

And Marjory Leigh proved right. The secret excitement of the last months, joined to the recent overwork, was too much for Anne. One day she was suddenly taken ill, and a little time later she was delirious.

“Nervous prostration from overwork,” said the doctors.

A great remorse, which was at the same time a great triumph, rose up in Hamlin’s heart.

“Sacha,” he cried, one day as Madame Elaguine came into the studio at Hammersmith, after visiting the sick woman, “it is I who am killing Anne; and it is you—you—who are forcing me to do it,”—and he tore the [165] portrait of Madame Elaguine off the board of his easel, and pulled the paper, in long ribbons, through his fingers.

“It’s no great harm,” said the Russian, quietly; “I’m not quite such a guy as you represented me, Watty, and I’m the better pleased not to go down to posterity like that. As to Anne, don’t flatter yourself you are breaking her heart, for the excellent reason that there is none to break. Too much study! the doctor says, and he knows. A woman like that works only with her brain. Too much Euclid, Kant, Hegel, Fichte, etc. You needn’t flatter yourself that you are of the company. Seriously, can you be such a baby as to imagine that if that woman loved you she wouldn’t have turned me out of doors ages ago? Besides, she talked only of Girton College and of her cousin Richard when she was delirious, the nurse tells me.”

Madame Elaguine watched Hamlin as she let these words drop, then she burst out laughing.

[166]

“Poor Walter! what a misfortune it is to be a poet and to be vain! I am really grieved for you. But sooner or later you would understand that when a woman has no heart, but only ‘a muscle for pumping the blood to the extremities,’ as one of her professors calls it, she can’t love; and that, moreover, no woman will ever understand or love you, you silly person, except your cousin Sacha.”

Cosmo Chough, who had come to the studio door, and, not being troubled with scruples when base creatures like Madame Elaguine were concerned, and having, moreover, a violent curiosity about everything concerning the Eternal Feminine, had listened at the keyhole, affirmed to Miss Brown some time after that Madame Elaguine had then and there put her arms round Hamlin’s neck, and called him a poor, vain little baby.

[167]

CHAPTER II.

ON recovering from that long delirium, during which she had raved only about the past and the future, about Miss Curzon, the Perrys, the Villa Arnolfini, Cousin Dick, Girton College, and political economy, but never—by some singular obliviousness of the present—about Hamlin and Sacha,—the first persons that Anne Brown recognised about her were the Leigh girls. Marjory had postponed her marriage in order to help her sister in nursing Miss Brown; and Mrs Macgregor had gladly accepted their proposal to settle for the time being in the house at Hammersmith, she herself being far too unpractical to be of any use. Anne’s impressions were vague, diffuse; the ideas aud sensations, the slight amount of life [168] of one day of early convalescence being, so to speak, diluted into what were really days and weeks, day and night succeeding each other confusedly to the girl, but feebly awake and for ever falling asleep. It was a dream, but a pleasant one, consisting of veiled misty impressions, separated by tracts of lethargy: impressions of the kind faces and voices of Mary and Marjory, of the gleams of sunshine on the carpet, of the waving of treetops outside the window, of the whistle of the steamboat on the Thames; the song of the canary in the housekeeper’s room—the cry of the milkman; of the bunches of big red and yellow roses put down upon the sheet before her; of the broth and jelly and tea feebly refused, and yet greedily swallowed,—trifles, nothings, but transformed by the haze of mixed weakness and relief into things possessing a charm, and never to be forgotten.

The mere sense of rest and renovation constituted a sort of happiness, with which mingled the consciousness of the kindness of those [169] round her,—of the Leigh girls and Mrs Macgregor, who were in her room nearly all day; of Mrs Spencer, who came from the other end of London every afternoon; of Chough and Cousin Dick, who came to make inquiries; even of Hamlin, whose magnificent bundles and baskets of flowers and fruit arrived regularly, together with the bunch of sweet‐peas and pinks which Chough had bought at the greengrocer’s, or the sprigs of laburnum which he had stolen in the park. Everything in the world seemed so good and simple; all worries and doubts had gone with the dreadful visions of the delirious nights. Anne had never in her life felt so simply, completely happy; perhaps because, with her tense and tragic character, perfect happiness was possible only in weakness and vagueness.

Little by little the past became concrete once more; but it became concrete as the past, all her doubts and difficulties remaining far distant behind her, like the Alps which the traveller has arduously crossed, and looks back [170] upon from the warm Lombard plain. She took up her position and feelings where she had left them: she felt herself free. At first she could scarcely tell why, as we sometimes can scarcely account to ourselves for something which has happened the previous day, and which, though forgotten, fills us with vague pleasure or pain on awakening. Then she began to understand once more, and to add to her recollections what she could make out of the present. She noticed that the Leighs scarcely ever spoke of Hamlin; that they brought in his flowers, books, and messages with a certain constraint, even, she thought, with an occasional look of disgust and indignation. And they never, never once mentioned Madame EIaguine.

“What has become of Sacha Elaguine?” she asked one day, rolling her head, with face even paler than before, and black crisp hair just beginning to cluster after cropping short, on the pillows. “Has she gone out of town? You have never spoken about her, Mary.”

[171]

Mary Leigh, who was seated, holding Anne’s thin white hand, did not raise her head; and Marjory, who was pouring out the tea hard by, flushed scarlet.

“Haven’t I? Oh yes, I must,” answered Mary Leigh, still keeping her eyes on the pattern of the carpet. “Madame Elaguine? Oh, she’s just as usual.”

“Odious little brute,” scowled Marjory.

Mary raised her head sharply, and gave her sister a look of reproof.

Anne asked no more. She had understood: during her illness Sacha had tightened her hold on Hamlin; the Leighs had seen it, or been told, and Mary was afraid lest her sister should let out to the invalid what she imagined to be a heart‐breaking secret.

“I am free!” thought Anne; and repeated these words to herself every time that one of the Leighs spoke coldly of Hamlin, or looked savage when he was mentioned. And sometimes she fancied that she could distinguish in the face and manner of the true‐hearted Mary, [172] of the indignant Marjory, the pain and perplexity of foreseeing that they possessed a terrible secret, that they must make a terrible revelation. Once, she felt sure, Mary’s heart had almost burst for her silence. Miss Leigh had brought in Hamlin’s usual gift of flowers, a bunch of beautiful white roses and jasmine; she was going to hand it to Anne, when her face suddenly contracted, and she stuffed the flowers roughly into a jar.

“Won’t you let me smell Mr Hamlin’s flowers, Mary?” asked Anne from her bed.

Mary Leigh gave her a long strange look.

“They aren’t fit for you, Anne,” said Mary, in a hoarse voice; “they’re horrible, morbid sort of things—they’ll just make your head ache.”

“My head is much stronger than you think,” said Anne; “let me have them—they are lovely. The jasmine doesn’t smell like ordinary jasmine. What is it?—it smells like the incense that Sacha Elaguine burns in her boudoir; it’s nice, but too strong. I [173] wonder whether they have been in her boudoir to catch it. It’s very kind of Mr Hamlin to bring them to me, especially as”—Anne looked up with a smile which frightened Mary Leigh out of her wits—“he doesn’t care a bit about me any longer, you know.”

Mary Leigh threw herself on her knees before Anne’s bed, and drawing her head to her, kissed her.

“Oh, Annie, Annie, my darling!” she cried.

“You are good,” answered Anne—“you are good to love me so. But Mr Hamlin is also very good, although he doesn’t love me. I am very happy—so happy, Mary dear.”

“She is mad,” thought Mary, in terror, as Anne threw her head back, smiling, her onyx‐grey eyes beaming, on the pillow. And she resolved that, as long as she could help, Anne Brown should not know what she knew, and what, every time that Hamlin’s name was mentioned, sickened her heart.

Some days later Miss Brown was sufficiently well to exchange her bed for a couch in the [174] drawing‐room down‐stairs; and then Hamlin asked whether he might be admitted to see her for a few minutes. He seemed painfully impressed at the sight of Anne, whom he was accustomed to see looking the embodiment of physical strength, a sort of primeval warrior‐woman, stretched out on the sofa, so thin and hollow‐checked, so pale, with a pallor quite different from the natural opaque ivory pallor of her complexion; so weak of voice and gesture, so wholly despoiled, it seemed to him, of her usual sombre haughtiness: resigned, and with the gentleness of a sick child. He was silent and depressed, as a man might be who knew her to be more seriously ill than she thought; and yet, as Anne was well aware, it was most obvious to him and to every one that she was entirely out of danger, and rapidly recovering. Miss Brown understood: he was weighed down, but with a worse conscience than Mary Leigh,—by the thought that this woman was unaware of the sort of treachery which was being committed behind her back. [175] Anne, on the other hand, felt more really pleased to see him than she had done this long time past; it seemed as if, now that the bond which tied her to him was loosened, she could see once more all that was amiable and noble in him,—that she could like him again, feel towards him simply, naturally, as towards a friend and benefactor. And she felt sorry for his depression, for what she imagined to be his self‐reproach; desirous of telling him almost, then and there, that he need not make himself unhappy, that he was free to love his cousin.

Miss Brown was still unfit for much conversation; and Hamlin seemed glad to cut short the interview. She asked him to raise one of the blinds; and when the light streamed upon his face, she thought she saw in it something unusual, something beyond his mere usual melancholy, a lassitude and look of being worried; again she felt sorry for him.

“How is your cousin Sacha?” she asked.

“She is well,” he answered briefly, “and [176] —sends you many messages. I don’t let her come, because she would excite you. Goodbye.”

Every afternoon Hamlin returned for a short time. Anne’s first impression was merely strengthened; Hamlin was extraordinarily depressed, worried‐looking, taciturn. Anne felt really sorry for him; he was evidently, she thought, eating his heart out in doubts and self‐reproach; he had gone too far with Sacha to retreat, and yet his engagement to Miss Brown forbade his taking a decisive step. After all, he was truer and nobler than she had thought, more of her real Hamlin of former days; she reflected that this hostility of temperament and aims between them, this long and sickening endurance of a bond which suited neither, had made her unjust and bitter towards him, prone to seek for only his worse sides, neglectful of his good ones. She felt that it was not the least benefit of her release that she could now be perfectly grateful once more; that she could give to this man the [177] affection which he really deserved, and which she really felt, now that the terrible debt of love was cancelled. She was sorry, very sorry for him, and determined that, since he had not the heart, it was for her to speak. But invariably, and as if warned by a secret intuition, he had interrupted the conversation, and gone away whenever she had been on the point of speaking. The bare name of Madame Elaguine seemed enough to send him away; and yet, whenever Anne succeeded in making him speak of his cousin, he had spoken of her with a strange bitterness, and almost disgust.

“He is mean, after all,” thought Anne; “he is angry with poor Sacha for being the cause of his finding himself in a false position.” And she determined that she would speak, not to him but to Madame Elaguine; she felt that she could not endure the way in which he would assuredly seek to whitewash himself at his cousin’s expense. Mean, very mean; nay, something more than mean. What irritation or hypocrisy could induce him to speak [178] of the woman whom he loved with a sort of constant innuendo, a constant sort of undercurrent of disgust?

And again she began to despise and dislike him. Another thing soon struck her. There was something unusual about Hamlin’s appearance. Somewhat effeminate he had always been in his aristocratic refinement; but now it seemed to her as if there were in his face a something, half physical, half spiritual, a vague, helpless, half‐stupefied look, which made her think of that hysterical tippling little poet Dennistoun, whom she disliked so much. Her mind reverted to what she had heard about Edmund Lewis having, at one period, induced Hamlin to take opium.

“Is Mr Lewis back?” she asked.

Hamlin flushed all over.

“Lewis is not likely to return,” he answered briefly.

What was the meaning of it all? Hamlin was also, she noticed, no longer as careful in his dress as he had formerly been; there was [179] something vaguely rowdy about him. And once, as he stooped over her to rearrange the cushions under her head, it seemed to her—was it true or not?—that she felt a sickening whiff, like those which she well remembered since her childhood, when her father had come in from drinking and taken her on his knees.

Was it possible that Hamlin, weak as he was, and feeling himself cornered in a false position, had taken to drinking—to drinking, which had been the fatal vice of his family, of his brother, father, and of his uncles, in order to rid himself of his worries?

She must speak to Madame Elaguine. She must let them know that they were free.

[180]

CHAPTER III.

WHILE she was in this perplexity about Hamlin, Miss Brown received a visit from her cousin Dick. She had scarcely seen him, and never alone, since that memorable walk home from Professor Richmond’s lecture. Whether from the sense that he had gone too far, that his violence had offended and frightened her; or whether, more probably, from his having rushed to the conclusion that she was unattainable and perhaps unworthy of his seeking, Richard Brown had kept studiously out of her way.

For the first time in his life he came in with hesitation and almost shyness. He sat down by the side of her arm‐chair, and spoke with a gentleness, a courtesy, that were quite unusual [181] in him, and had a charm just from their contrast with his downright and gruff personality. The conversation rolled upon various indifferent subjects; he seemed to be feeling his way to something, trying to decide whether she was strong enough to admit of his saying something which weighed on his mind.

“You are nearly recovered now?” he asked. “Do you feel as if you were getting your strength back, Anne?”

“Oh yes,” she answered; “I feel wonderfully well. I have been for a drive these last few days, and I am sure I could walk, if only they would let me. I only feel very tired and lazy every now and then.”

There was a pause.

“Do you remember what you told me that afternoon when we walked home from Richmond’s lecture—a rainy day at the end of March?” he asked suddenly.

“Yes, I do.”

“You said, if you remember, that you did not care for Mr Hamlin, and that you felt [182] yourself bound to him only by gratitude and the sense that he wanted you—do you remember, Nan?”

“I remember perfectly. Well?”

Richard Brown had spoken slowly and watching her face; and he seemed surprised at the perfect calm which he read in it.

“Well, I think it is right that you should know what is by this time known by all your acquaintances. Walter Hamlin no longer wants you; he has entirely thrown you over for another woman. He is—I don’t know exactly what to call it, and don’t mean any innuendo—well—the accepted lover of Madame Elaguine.”

Anne nodded.

“I know it,” she answered coolly. “I have known it, or at least guessed it, since a long while.”

Richard was surprised, and, unconsciously perhaps to himself, mortified. He had always resented his cousin’s fidelity to Hamlin, had always, with his tendency to seek for base [183] motives wherever he could not sympathise, suspected that this fidelity was a mere cover for an unworthy love of the fine æsthetic gentleman or for his fortune and position; and he had anticipated a certain pleasure in seeing Anne wince beneath his revelation.

“It is no business of mine to pass a judgment over Mr Hamlin,” he proceeded slowly, and wondering, suspicious as he always was with women, of the genuineness of Anne’s imperturbability; “the whole business seems to me quite consonant with all my notions of his character.”

“I do not think Mr Hamlin has acted dishonourably towards me,” put in Anne, quietly; “on the contrary, I feel sure that he reproaches himself much more than he need.”

“Very likely. What I was going to say is merely that this new turn which matters have taken necessarily implies an entire change in your position towards Mr Hamlin. He no longer wants you; you are therefore free. Am I correct in my view of the case?”

[184]

He was speaking with a deference to her opinion quite new in him.

“As far as I can judge,” answered Anne, playing with a big lapis‐lazuli rosary which she had taken off her neck, “I think you are quite correct, Dick. I believe I am free.”

She hesitated and spoke the last words almost inaudibly, as if superstitiously afraid that they should be heard.

“In that case I presume you will have to remodel your life. Have you thought of any plans?”

“I have thought over the matter a good deal. My intention, as soon as Mr Hamlin and I have come to an explanation, which will be shortly, is to go to Ireland for a few months with Mary Leigh, to finish getting well and to finish some preparatory work, and then to go up to Girton. I should be able to pass the entrance examination in another three months. You see,” she added, “Mr Hamlin, in spending the money that he has in turning me into [185] a lady, has made it difficult for me to take to any such livelihood as would have naturally been mine under other circumstances; and I think, therefore, that I have a right to invest a portion of the money which he has settled upon me, and which he fully intended me to keep in any ease, in qualifying myself for the only sort of business for which I am now fit. He has settled upon me the equivalent of five hundred a‐year, apart from the expenses of this house, of which I know nothing. Much less than that would more than cover the expenses of keeping me at Girton and of starting me as a teacher or journalist; and once fairly started, I hope I should be able to support myself and gradually to refund this money. Do you think that would be fair, Dick? You see, it is quite useless for me to think of ever repaying, even if money could repay in such matters, what Mr Hamlin has spent upon me during all these years.”

She seemed to hesitate, to be afraid of being [186] mean, of appearing to take advantage of Hamlin’s generosity.

“Do you really contemplate renouncing the fortune which Mr Hamlin settled on you? giving up all the luxury to which he has accustomed you, Annie?”

Richard Brown, disinterested though he was, was too deeply impressed with the mercenary temper of mankind, to believe very easily in such sentiments.

“Why, of course,” answered Anne. “When Mr Hamlin marries his cousin, he will find, that he has not too much with all his money. And I would certainly not keep any of it as soon as I could do without; though heaven knows I am not ungrateful, nor so silly as to fancy that I should be in the very least lightening my obligation towards him.”

Richard did not answer for a moment. “Listen,” he said, not without hesitation “I am nearer to you than Walter Hamlin and whatever I am, I owe it to your father. I find I have just made a very considerable [187] and quite unexpected profit off some mining shares which Mr Gillespie left me. Let me advance you out of this money whatever may be wanted to defray your expenses at college; you will repay me when you find it convenient. In this way, you will be entirely independent of Mr Hamlin at once: you can let him have all his money.”

Richard Brown hesitated, in a way very singular in his cut‐and‐dry nature; he seemed prepared for a rebuff.

“You are very kind, Dick; but I can’t accept your offer. I owe it to Mr Hamlin, in return for all the generosity he has shown towards me and would still show, that I should never accept anything from any man but him, even if I were not resolved never to put myself under such an obligation again. I have no right to prefer your generosity to his.”

Richard Brown was silent. Then, after a moment, they fell to talking about the plans and theories which occupied Cousin Dick’s mind. He was unusually gentle and modest; [188] he really seemed to be losing some of that narrowness which had been the ugly side of his powerful and upright nature.

“You are becoming quite tolerant, Dick,” remarked Anne. “Six months ago you could never have conceived that any one unlike yourself or differing from your views could have anything good in him. I am very glad; it will make you more hopeful of the world, and show you a lot of energy and good faith which deserves to be united to your own, and which you would formerly have thrown upon the dust‐heap.”

“You are right,” answered Brown. “I feel that I have diminished my own usefulness by not admitting any other kind of usefulness than my own. I often catch myself thinking, now, that my great danger lies in my tendency to underrate people; sometimes it seems as if, unless I can struggle against it, it will invade and sterilise my whole nature.”

“I am so glad you feel like that, Dick.”

“And do you know,” he continued, “I [189] think this change is due to you; knowing you has shown me how horribly unreasonable and unjust I am apt to be in my preconceived notions. I really did think you an æsthete once, Annie; nay, at one time, I was so base as to think that you were base, that you cared for Hamlin’s position and money and good looks, while not caring for him. Will you forgive me, Annie?”

He bent over her, and took her hand. She let him hold it for a minute. She felt so strangely free, so safe, so happy somehow with this man, whose presence had so often been a threat and an insult.

“I wonder whether you will ever learn to be just to Mr Hamlin,” she mused.

“I will do my best.”

She had withdrawn her hand from his.

“I wonder whether I have ever been just to Mr Hamlin,” said Anne.

Richard reddened.

“What makes you say that, Nan?”

“I don’t know. I feel how difficult it is [190] for a nature like mine to be just towards, to understand, any one outside it.”

“Can you be just towards me?” he suddenly asked.

“I am, I think.”

“Do you think, then,” went on Richard Brown, “that during the time you spend at Girton you could try a little and understand me,—you could try and like me a little, Annie?”

“I do like you, Richard,” she answered coldly; but a quiet happiness, like that of a windless, half‐covered morning in the fields, stole over her.

“I don’t mean this,” he said, rising. “I want you to like me, Nan, as much—as much as you thought you liked Walter Hamlin.”

Anne shook her head sadly.

“That is quite impossible,” she said: “one doesn’t feel like that twice, I fancy, Richard, any more than one believes twice in angels or such things.”

[191]

Richard Brown frowned. She could never pluck Hamlin, Hamlin in some shape, real or false, out of her heart.

“Good‐bye,” he said; “I fear I have tired you. Annie,” he added, “it is idiotic, isn’t it? but all the time you were ill, even until I came into this room, I kept hoping that you might have lost your looks—that Hamlin might be quite unable ever to care for you again—that you might have ceased to be, in this sort of way, above me. And yet, when I saw you, I was glad it was not so. Oh, Nan, promise me you will try and like me a little.”

“Please don’t say that, Dick. I have been a slave, a prisoner. Can’t you understand that my great joy is the sense of my freedom, my sense of belonging to no one, caring about no one? Can’t you understand that it seems horrible to me to even think that I could ever care for any one again? Can’t you let me enjoy my liberty, at least until I have realised that it isn’t a dream?”

[192]

She spoke with impetuosity, but gently; and her cousin did not feel rebuked.

“By the way,” he said, “I suppose you have heard who is expected here soon—your old friend, Melton Perry.”

“Melton Perry!” cried Anne. It seemed such centuries since she had heard that name last. “Oh, I shall be so glad to see him, he is such a good man!”

She walked up and down after Dick had left.

Melton Perry! the name brought up the far, far distant past—a vision of the untidy house at Florence; of Mrs Perry’s lean and Sapphic profile; of the tall grass and crushed herbs in the vineyard of the Villa Arnolfini; of Hamlin as she had first known him—a mysterious, unattainable ideal high above her; of the studio at the top of the tower; of herself, as she recollected herself to have been, a sombre, unhappy creature, with whose identity she seemed to have no connection, and into [193] whose dark and confused mind she felt unable to see. There was something very painful in this sudden return of the past in company with her old friend, and Anne thought bitterly of the difference between the dreams of happiness, so positive, so perfect, of those days, and the reality of happiness, so negative, so poor—consisting in what? in being left to herself—which belonged to her now. And yet, after all, as she looked into her girlhood before Hamlin’s coming, she recognised the same negativeness; she had wished to be free, to be a daily governess, to depend upon no one for her livelihood, to be able to know something of a wider life. She had never hoped, scarcely even wished, for happiness; the semblance of it had passed before her eyes, had, for a brief time, made her life more acutely sensitive; but she returned to the negative: it was the law of her life.

And, as she cleared her mind of all vain regrets, she became aware that, in a manner, [194] this return upon her scene of Melton Perry was like the ringing of the bell, the orchestral flourish, which ends a piece as it has begun it. The comedy of her love for Hamlin, and of Hamlin’s love for her, was over; and she felt impatient for Melton Perry’s arrival.

[195]

CHAPTER IV.

THE day after this visit from Cousin Dick, came the first visit from Madame Elaguine. It seemed to Anne that, from the very moment of her entering the room, she could perceive something strange in Sacha’s manner—something brazen, flaunting, cruel. The little woman somehow no longer looked so small and that childish appealingness had entirely left her manner; she was self‐possessed, cynical, triumphant. Her very dress was different from anything in which Miss Brown had hitherto seen her; exotic indeed and fantastic, like everything that she wore, but certainly not turned out by Madame Elaguine’s maid. She kissed Anne familiarly on both cheeks, enveloping her in an atmosphere of heady Eastern perfumes.

[196]

“Poor Annie,” she said, “you have been very ill, and must have thought me a great brute for not coming to see you before. But Walter absolutely forbade my coming—stood in front of your door, so to speak, and shut it in my face. He pretended that I should have excited you too much. Perhaps I should; I am a wretched, excitable creature. Perhaps he was right; what do you think?” Madame Elaguine fixed her eyes on those of Anne; a long look of scrutiny and triumph, as if she had expected to see her wince.

“I think Mr Hamlin was quite mistaken,” answered Miss Brown quietly, understanding the meaning of that look. “I am much less subject to excitement than he supposes; and your presence would not have excited me more than any one else’s.”

“Really!” and Madame Elaguine’s mouth took a peculiar little sneering turn; “I should have thought that I was exciting, now. Not more exciting, for instance, than the Miss Leighs? or than your cousin, Mr Richard [197] Brown?” and she again looked scrutinisingly at Anne, who merely shook her head. “By the way, your cousin has quite cut me of late, Annie—ask him why. I suspect that he thinks me a dangerous woman, quite without moral ballast,—what my German teacher used to call Sittlicher Ernst. He was such a funny creature that German teacher of mine; did I ever tell you about him? He taught at the school where I was in Petersburg: a thin lank creature, with long red wrists projecting a yard from his sleeves, and a waistcoat which would ride up whenever he was excited; he used to lean against the wall, any part of his body at random, and bend and sway the rest of him about, like a caterpillar. He taught us German literature, and was very shocked because I said the ‘Bride of Corinth’ was the only amusing thing Goethe had ever written. He believed in Schopenhauer—and hated women, and me in particular, because I had no Sittlicher Ernst; and one day, what do you think he did? he fell on his knees and tried [198] to catch me round the waist. Poor devil! he was turned out of doors, and drowned himself later. I wonder whether it was out of despair at my want of Sittlicher Ernst? He was such a queer creature. I sometimes think, after all, he was the only man I could really have loved, if only his waistcoat had not ridden up, and his wrists projected so much from his cuffs.”

Sacha laughed, and bit her lower lip a little, so that it suddenly became scarlet, like the lips of Edmund Lewis. She threw herself back in her chair, one foot crossed over the other, her eyes fixed on the Venetian chandelier, which caught opalescent lights in the sunshine; she was smiling, perhaps in recollection of the professor with his wrists and his waistcoat.

Anne did not know what to say; the presence of this woman seemed to freeze her, like the contact of some clammy thing: it was as if the soul of Edmund Lewis had entered her body and had become more active, more [199] subtle in its new habitation. Mechanically her eyes rested upon Madame Elaguine’s dress, a marvellous vague thing, made in some confused resemblance of the men’s dress of Moliére’s time,—a crimson plush coat and a big man’s cravat of Flanders lace, but all bursting out, by every conceivable slashing and gap, into a mass of lace, which hung about her like a cloud of thistle‐down, beneath which her thin and nervous little body seemed to twist and writhe with every word.

“It’s a pretty frock, isn’t it?” she remarked, looking down upon it with satisfaction. “Oh no, I didn’t make this; I am bored with always making my own frocks. It’s from Worth. I swore I would bring round Watty from belief in pre‐Adamitic skirts and purfled sleeves and eighteen‐penny medievalism to a belief in Worth; you know he used always to rant at Paris clothes. Well, I’ve been as good as my word; this is from Worth, and what’s more, Walter has paid my bill. Humiliating, rather, isn’t it? but then, you see, I’m a pauper, [200] and can’t buy Worth frocks on a thousand a‐year, including subscription for a copy of Chough’s new translation of ‘Villon,’ with all the improprieties annotated, Dutch paper, morocco, rough edges, price three guineas, can I?”

Anne flushed. Hamlin had paid for Sacha’s dress! And yet, had Hamlin not paid for not merely one, but all Anne’s dresses these years—nay, for everything that Anne saw about her—nay, for everything almost that Anne knew and was? And still, how was it, there was a difference? and as she looked at Sacha in her fantastic Molière coat of crimson plush and watered white silk and lace, which Hamlin had paid for, she could not get out of her mind the image of certain French kept women whom she had seen, in their elaborate dresses and well‐appointed victorias, driving in the Park. It was very unjust and horrible, yet she could not get it out of her mind.

“Walter is a queer creature,” went on Madame Elaguine; “somewhat like my German [201] caterpillar professor: I don’t mean in the matter of wrists and waistcoats, but in the matter of women. I don’t know how to say it; my ideas aren’t ever very clear: I suppose it’s want of Sittlicher Ernst, and also because I’m hysterical—at least the doctors say so; because I insist on having my own way. I mean that Walter, for instance, hates me in a certain sense just as that professor did. I’m sure he sometimes feels as if he could throttle me, because I have no Sittlicher Ernst, and because I made love to him, and offered him barley‐sugar and tops when I was ten. And yet! Ah, well, I suppose I am a wretch! Oh, Annie dear, I fear, I fear I am a wretch!” and Madame Elaguine suddenly jumped up from her chair and flung her arms round Miss Brown’s neck and kissed her, with such violence that Anne felt her lips almost like leeches and her teeth pressing into her cheeks.

“Oh Annie, I am an unworthy wretch! I am a beast towards you!” she cried.

Anne felt a horror, a kind of fear of death; [202] and yet she felt sorry for this woman; was she not a wretch in not clearing up the position—in letting this woman continue to love in shame, when she might love openly and honourably? She loosened herself from Sacha’s embrace.

“Madame Elaguine” she began, feeling her face still burning from this strangling embrace, and mechanically smoothing her ruffled hair, “I have long wanted to tell you something with regard to Mr Hamlin—indeed I feel I ought to have told it you before, but . . .” At this moment the door opened and Hamlin entered.

Anne had missed her opportunity; it was impossible to speak before Hamlin, although she had once or twice contemplated clearing up matters to him and his cousin at the same time. But it was impossible now. Sacha had something strange, brazen, about her, which froze Anne’s soul. Hamlin was listless, depressed, with that hang‐dog, stupefied air that Miss Brown had noticed in him of late. He [203] spoke little, barely answered any of Sacha’s remarks: every time that he raised his eyes upon his cousin, it was with an expression that amounted almost to disgust; and she seemed nowise hurt, but rather amused and pleased at this look, and took a pleasure in provoking it by a hundred absurdities, and by a sort of bullying way, as if expressly to show her power over this sullen creature.

They did not stay long. Madame Elaguine rose, and Hamlin mechanically followed her example: was it that he could not see her go away by herself, or that he was afraid of being left alone with Miss Brown?

“This is my first visit to you since your illness, and it will be my last for a little time,” said Madame Elaguine, letting Hamlin help her on with her cloak, and spinning out the operation, as if to show that this depressed and sullen creature, for all his sulkiness, was her slave.

“Are you going away?” cried Anne, a sudden fear entering her heart. Sacha noticed [204] her involuntary flush, and mistook its meaning.

“Only for a fortnight,” she answered, with an odd smile. “Oh no; I can’t do without London and my friends—hideous London and disagreeable friends, at least so far as Walter is concerned. I suppose it’s my perversity and want of Sittlicher Ernst, again. I am going to Paris this evening. I have a notion of taking Boris out of his English school and sending him to the Lycée. I feel I have had a surfeit of respectability and æstheticism, and that I’d rather my son were a Frenchman and a Bohemian. It’s a whim. Perhaps it will make me return a frantic Anglomaniac. Fancy if Boris were to grow up a thing like this!” pointing to Hamlin,—“a horrible pseudo Sir Galahad, as Watty was at sixteen. Faugh! I couldn’t bear it. Good‐bye, Annie dear; I fear you must think me an immoral woman, and that my German professor wasn’t so far wrong. Good‐bye, my beautiful Madonna of the Glaciers,” and again Miss Brown was half [205] stifled in the cloud of oriental perfumes, as Madame Elaguine kissed her cavalierly on both cheeks.

“Come along, Watty!” cried Sacha; “can’t you learn to open the door for a woman?”

“Good‐bye, Miss Brown,” and Hamlin gave a little sigh of weariness as he pressed Anne’s hand.

Miss Brown remained in a state of vague fear all that day. Was that love—at least on Hamlin’s part—that look of bored disgust with which he had responded to Madame Elaguine’s provocation? Anne grew pale at the notion of that fortnight of Sacha’s absence. Would Hamlin, fickle, easily wounded in his vanity, sated with Madame Elaguine’s Russian ways, remain faithful to the absent woman? Would he not rather return and begin afresh that old, old story of Platonic adoration, of self‐reproach, with what his cousin called Madonna of the Glaciers? And as Hamlin was leaving, he had said to her half audibly, “If you will allow me, I will come to‐morrow afternoon [206] and see what can be done to my Vision of Beatrice, if you will give me a sitting.”

A sitting! Anne’s heart had sunk at the mere word.

But the next morning she found on the tray on which her breakfast was brought up a twisted note. It was from Hamlin, written late the previous night.

“DEAR MISS BROWN,” it said,—“I fear you will think me very uncourteous to break through our engagement for to‐morrow morning. But I am feeling rather anxious lest Madame Elaguine should get imposed on about the school for her boy; so I shall join her for a few days in Paris. Pray forgive my apparent rudeness.—Yours sincerely, W. H.”

“What’s your news, Annie?” asked Mary Leigh, who had come in to see after her invalid. “You look as if you had come in for a fortune!”

Anne made an effort and laughed.

“It was only Mr Hamlin postponing a sitting which I was to give him. I really [207] don’t feel much like sitting yet. Mr Hamlin’s gone to Paris to look after a school for Boris Elaguine.”

“And Madame Elaguine?”

“Madame Elaguine—went yesterday.”

“Oh, indeed!” answered Mary Leigh; and as she said that, a wave of red came into Miss Brown’s pale face—why, Anne could not herself have explained.

[208]

CHAPTER V.

THE day after Hamlin’s departure to join Madame Elaguine, Richard Brown paid another visit at Hammersmith; and he dropped in frequently in the next few days. He never spoke of his hopes, he never inquired about Anne’s plans; he scarcely so much as alluded to Hamlin’s departure. He seemed satisfied to see his cousin, to explain to her all the things that he hoped some day to do. This forbearance, this delicate discretion, on the part of one of the most tactless and exacting of men; this something which implied that Cousin Dick had learned to consult her wishes, touched Miss Brown very much. Love, or by whatever other name (since the name of love was discredited to Anne) she might [209] choose to call Richard’s strong and steady feeling, seemed to have purified this powerful and generous temper of that alloy of coarse and contemptuous suspicion that had occasionally repelled her so much.

Richard Brown had become comparatively quite charitable in his judgments, sincerely anxious to be just. He tried to see things a little from her point of view—nay, even to understand whatever good there was or had been in Hamlin. This big and self‐reliant man, who had already thought and done so much for himself and for others, began to appear to his cousin as less mature than she had fancied, and even less self‐reliant; new instincts and perceptions, new sides of his nature—making it fuller, richer, purer—developing under her influence. Anne did not love her cousin; she did not even anticipate loving him anything as she had once loved Hamlin. She recognised that, in her nature, love could exist only for an ideal, and in an ideal she could never again believe; but she became aware of [210] a relation of frank comradeship, of mutual respect and attachment and usefulness, which warmed her nature, and made hopes and projects bud and blossom up. She was nervously anxious for that fortnight to have come to an end, to have Hamlin back, to speak to him; and yet, at the same time, it seemed to her dreadful that these few days of freedom from care, freedom from the shadow which had so long hung over her, should so soon come to an end.

The fortnight was drawing to a close; Hamlin would soon be back. Anne began to be filled with unendurable impatience; she even, once or twice, began a letter telling him everything, and tore it up only from the fear that it might seem harsh, ungrateful, that it might (and the idea was terrible to her) make him suppose that she was jealous, that she loved him. It was a great relief to her when there suddenly came a telegram, sent on from Hamlin’s lodgings, and opened by his servant, which announced for next evening the arrival [211] of Melton Perry, who knew nothing of Hamlin’s momentary absence from town.

“Oh, Aunt Claudia,” cried Anne, “Mr Perry is coming to‐morrow evening! Do you think—oh, do you think you could have him to stay here till Mr Hamlin return?”

“Who is Mr Perry?” asked Chough, who was dining with them, suddenly pricking up his ears at Anne’s excited tone. Could he be the explanation of Anne’s indifference to Hamlin? thought the poet of the Eternal Feminine.

“Mr Perry,” answered Anne, “is the gentleman in whose house I was a servant until I met Mr Hamlin—the father of the little girls whose maid I was. He was very kind to me, and I am very fond of him.”

Cosmo Chough stared at her in amazement. He had quite forgotten, indeed he had never properly realised, that this queenly woman, this more than Dante’s Beatrice or Petrarch’s Laura, had actually been a nursemaid—a servant! She a servant! he repeated to himself, [212] looking at Miss Brown as she sat opposite him; at this goddess, it seemed to him, with the wonderful face as of one of Michelangelo’s Titanesses; the solemn, mysterious, onyx‐grey eyes; the something superhumanly grand in person and movement. To have been a servant, and to remind people of it, was his next thought; and this Cosmo Chough, conscious of his supposed father the duke, and of his real father the apothecary at Limerick, was absolutely unable to comprehend.

“Mr Perry, except Miss Curzon, was the only friend I ever had, until—until I met Mr Hamlin,” went on Miss Brown. “You will give him the spare room, Aunt Claudia, for my sake, won’t you? And you will let me arrange it for him, and make it look a little untidy, and put match‐boxes and pipe‐lights about, so that he may feel a little comfortable.”

Mrs Macgregor laughed.

“Put as many pipe‐lights about as you please, my dear; but if he fill Watty’s studio with pipe‐smoke, you will be responsible, not I.”

[213]

The next afternoon Anne Brown was just in the midst of what she called making the spare room look untidy, taking out the superfluous æsthetic furniture which would, she knew, fidget her former master to death, dragging in leather arm‐chairs instead of imitation Queen Anne things, and piling newspapers and novels on the table, when a visitor was announced. She went down into the drawing‐room, and, to her surprise, found Edmund Lewis. An inexpressible sense of disgust came over her, This man personified all that she hated most of that past with which she was about to break for ever. The little man with the auburn beard and sealing‐wax lips was considerably less free‐and‐easy and sultan‐like than usual; his humiliation, whatever it was, had evidently done him good. Indeed, Miss Brown was almost beginning to ask herself whether she might not have been a little unjust towards him also, so respectful and amiable had he made himself, when it began to dawn upon her that there was an explanation [214] for his visit much more in keeping with the character she had hitherto attributed to him.

“I hear that Walter Hamlin is in Paris with his cousin,” he had remarked, after a few minutes’ conversation. He had tried to say it in an off‐hand manner; but Anne had felt his green eyes fixed curiously upon her.

“Yes; they have gone to settle about sending Boris to the Lycée.”

Lewis hereupon made some remarks about English and French schools, and upon the education of Boris Elaguine; but slowly and dexterously he made the conversation return to Sacha and Hamlin; he made the conspicuous matter no longer the object of Madame Elaguine’s and Hamlin’s journey to Paris, but the journey itself.

“I don’t think Madame Elaguine’s Russian relations—her aunt who lives in Paris and Boris’s grandfather—will be particularly pleased at her going about like that with a young man,” he said. “Russians are such corrupt people, they see mischief in everything.”

[215]

Anne understood. Edmund Lewis, who always hated her, had been unable to resist the temptation, now that both Hamlin and Sacha were safe out of the way, of seeing the proud Miss Brown wince beneath his compassion. He was artistically playing upon the feelings of humiliation and anger with which he imagined her to be filled.

“Madame Elaguine is Mr Hamlin’s cousin, you must remember,” answered Anne, quietly bending over her embroidery.

“True; but the people who meet them in Paris won’t know that, or won’t believe it. Besides, it’s not as if they had always lived together and been as brother and sister, as some cousins have. I think Madame Elaguine is very rash to run the risk of unnecessary gossip; and I must say I can’t understand Hamlin being so dense as not to see that he was compromising his cousin, especially as people were beginning to notice his assiduity to his cousin even here. Of course, however,” added Lewis, fixing his eyes on Miss Brown, [216] “being engaged, to you makes a difference to Hamlin. A man who is engaged to be married may, I suppose, go about with any woman—it is as if he were married. I am very sorry I shall be far away, somewhere in Central Asia or South America—I don’t know where—when your marriage will come off, Miss Brown. I must make my congratulations betimes.”

“There is nothing to congratulate about,” answered Anne, quietly; “there has been no question of my marrying Mr Hamlin. I am sorry such an idea should have got abroad. I was, you know, Mr Hamlin’s ward till lately, and I am now taking advantage of his aunt’s kindness to stay here till—till I settle what I am going to do; I may be going to Girton—I don’t know.”

“Oh, indeed!” exclaimed Lewis; “pray forgive my unintentional impertinence then. Girton? Ah—How long do you intend remaining there?”

“I don’t know. Nothing is settled yet.” [217] Anne was determined not to let this man enjoy his impertinence and spitefulness: he should go away baffled.

“I may stay there altogether. I should rather like to be a teacher.”

“And I,” said Lewis, with one of his would‐be fascinating smiles, “would, in that case, like to be a pupil, Miss Brown.”

Anne did not answer. He must be disappointed, she thought. But he was determined to get some satisfaction out of her.

“I can’t get over Hamlin’s thoughtlessness in accompanying Madame Elaguine to Paris,” he said. “It would have been so simple to ask some lady to be of the party. I suppose you did not like leaving Mrs Macgregor? I was sorry to hear that she was ailing.”

“There was no question of my going,” answered Anne; “and I do think it is such silly nonsense about any one being required. If people choose to think that Mr Hamlin is going to marry his cousin—well, why not? It would be a very natural thing if he did.”

[218]

She looked Lewis boldly in the face. It was the first time that she had said the thing which she believed, hoped for, prayed for.

Edmund Lewis was evidently staggered; and Anne enjoyed watching his discomfiture. But a thought soon came into his subtle head.

“I suppose you see a good deal of Mr Richard Brown?” he asked; “he’s an extraordinarily clever man.”

“Yes; he is very able. I see him often enough. At present his electioneering business doesn’t leave him much time.”

“Ah, to be sure. It costs a lot of money, doesn’t it, to get into Parliament? But I suppose Mr Brown is rich now, is he not?”

“He is well off.”

“And he is sure to succeed. He has a fine career before him,” mused Lewis. He had, as he thought, grasped the situation: there had been an amicable exchange—Anne was to marry Richard Brown, and Sacha was to have Hamlin. All his enemies—for Sacha and Hamlin had evidently sent him to the right-about [219]—were going to be happily settled. His paste‐coloured face grew pastier than ever; he bit his scarlet lips and auburn moustache; he looked horribly angry and malignant; wickeder than even Anne, who had always hated him, would have believed it possible.

But he kept his temper—nay, he was quite unusually deferential and sweet. He led the conversation to other topics; and Anne thought that his only object was now to talk no more about the affairs which he had so misjudged, when, she scarcely knew how, he began to talk about Wotton Hall—first about the scenery, then about the grounds, then the house, then their stay there, and finally about the incident of the burning bed.

He went over all the circumstances of it; he summed up all that he and Anne knew of Madame Elaguine’s persecution; and then, as if discussing a curious psychological problem, he asked her whether it had ever occurred to her that there was any possibility that the persecution should be a fraud, and that the bed [220] had been set fire to by Madame Elaguine herself. “I don’t know whether you remarked at the time, that the flames burst out just two minutes after Madame Elaguine had fetched the cigarette‐papers out of her room, and that she had given orders to her maid not to come until she should be rung for,” said Lewis; “also, that Madame Elaguine seemed extremely unwilling that any inquiry should be made into the matter afterwards.”

Anne said nothing; the recollection of the precious lace‐trimmed dressing‐gown, placed carefully out of the way of the flames, and of that sentence, “And they never forgot, so long as they lived, that terrible burning bed,” which had caught her eye in little Hélène Elaguine’s story‐book, came into her mind. She had put that matter of the persecution behind her of late, and yet in her heart she felt that she believed it to be a fraud.

“I have had my doubts about it,” bending over her work lest Lewis should see her face. “Indeed,” she added boldly, indignant at her [221] own want of frankness, “I am inclined to believe that Madame Elaguine did set that bed on fire. Several things have made me think so.”

Lewis smiled. “I am glad to find that you take my view of the case, Miss Brown. The chemist at Appledore—where, if you remember, Madame Elaguine went for some shopping the day before the fire—showed me himself the bottle of acid from which he had helped Madame Elaguine—I forget the name of the stuff—she said she wanted some to take spots out of a dress.”

“Indeed,” went on Lewis, “I think that we have in Madame Elaguine a very curious instance of a sort of monomania which has, I believe, its scientific name,”—and Lewis began to retail a variety of instances, culled out of some volume of ‘Causes célèbres,’ of persons who had elaborately made up persecutions of which themselves were victims. He had always been fond of talking as if he knew a great deal about morbid conditions of the brain, and, indeed, morbid things of all sorts; and he [222] talked for some time as if he took a purely abstract interest in the case.

“One is apt to meet very singular types among Russian women, especially such as have led a wandering life like Madame Elaguine,” went on Lewis. “They are devoured by a passion for the forbidden, or at least for the unreal and theatrical; there is something strangely crooked in their moral vision, something discordant in their nature. They are extraordinary, charming, intelligent, depraved creatures. Only a Russian woman could be at once so childish and so theatrical and insincere, so full of idealism and of cynicism, as Madame Elaguine. Ah, she is a wonderful being! That matter of the burning bed finishes her off perfectly.”

Edmund Lewis fixed his green magnetic eyes on Anne. He still believed that she must hate Sacha, as it was clear that, for some reason or other, he hated the Russian; and he wished, by giving Miss Brown these notions about Madame Elaguine, to induce [223] her to revenge herself and him. But Anne had become quite dense to his intentions. She did not connect these ideas with Lewis; his words seemed to her now the mere expression of all the things which her own instinct had revealed, and which she had put behind her in her desire that Sacha should relieve her of the intolerable debt to Hamlin. The creature described by this odious man was the real Sacha; she was Madame Elaguine as she now clearly appeared to Miss Brown. And yet how unjust! Lewis had wanted to torment her by making her jealous of Madame Elaguine; he now wished to pay off Madame Elaguine for having, in some manner, slighted his own vanity.

“I think you take a dreadful view of the matter,” she said; “you explain Madame Elaguine, who is only half a Russian, by all the horrible Russians you have ever met or imagined. I think there is a much simpler explanation. Madame Elaguine has been very strangely brought up; she has lived with very bad people; her husband was a [224] horrible wretch, we all know. She is excessively hysterical—her mother, Mr Hamlin’s aunt, was so also—and we all know that the desire to be prominent, to deceive, is a common form of hysteria. And as she has never been brought up to restrain herself, she imagines herself to be persecuted, and makes up the persecution. She is much more to be pitied than to be blamed.”

Anne spoke rapidly. She seemed to be speaking fairly; and yet she knew she was wilfully misrepresenting, that Madame Elaguine was something more than a hysterical monomaniac: she remembered Mrs Macgregor’s stories of Sacha’s degraded childhood, all the accusations of her precocious lying and unchasteness, of her having led one of her cousins into mischief, and set the house by the ears. She was indignant with herself for defending this woman—out of charity? out of conviction? No. But merely because she required that this woman be sufficiently innocent to become Hamlin’s wife.

[225]

Edmund Lewis stroked his auburn beard meditatively.

“I don’t believe in praise and blame,” he answered; “I believe merely in fate. Some people are born noble, truthful, chaste—others just the reverse. It is the fault of neither; and each, in its way, is equally interesting and valuable to the artist or the psychologist. The curious thing about Madame Elaguine is, that she apparently stands half‐way; she is, according to the ideas of the world, half responsible and half irresponsible. We see in her a hysterical woman, troubled by a morbid love of deceit; and at the same time a woman to whom such deceit is or has been practically necessary. Madame Elaguine continues for her amusement, and develops to the utmost, an imaginary persecution, whose origin must be sought in some intrigue which it was her interest to veil by a mystification,” Lewis drawled on in his omniscient, half‐pedantic way, as if the intrigues of married women were the most usual subject of [226] conversation between a man and a young lady, and as if to suggest that Madame Elaguine had led a loose life were the most obvious and inoffensive of proceedings.

Miss Brown blushed crimson; but she felt something more than insulted, something more than indignant. What right had this man to focus all her own suspicions concerning a woman whom she fervently wished not to suspect?

“Mr Lewis,” she said, “I don’t think those things should be listened to by me or said by you. I believe that Madame Elaguine is not sound in her mind, and that her persecution is a hoax; but I believe that she is an honest woman in other respects. She is a friend of mine, and I will not hear her slandered.”

“Heaven forbid that I should wish to slander her! I think she is a fascinating woman; and she is—at least she was—quite as great a friend of mine as of yours. I was only telling you how I explain her character.”

Lewis had always appeared a reptile in [227] Anne’s eyes; but never so much as just now.

“I hate scandal,” he said, taking his hat, “and I am most grieved to have appeared to be talking scandal. People always misunderstand the sort of passionate interest I take in every kind of curious character. I suppose you would call it morbid, Miss Brown; but I really was considering Madame Elaguine merely as an interesting study.”

All this kind of talk, of which Hamlin was so fond, perfectly sickened Anne; and the sudden stirring up of all her old suspicions was exasperating.

“That is all very fine,” she said angrily; “but do you, or do you not, believe Madame Elaguine to be a dishonourable woman, apart from this monomania?”

“It is very hard to say. You know I disbelieve in what you call moral responsibilities. I imagine Madame Elaguine to have found her mania for persecution very convenient at one period of her life—yes, certainly [228]. I think it is the only rational way to account for the beginning of it—don’t you?”

Miss Brown took no notice of Lewis’s insolent inquisitiveness of manner.

“If you think that, Mr Lewis,” she said, “may I ask how you reconciled with your notions of gentlemanly behaviour the calm way in which you let Mr Hamlin introduce such a woman as you describe to me, and let me continue to know her? No; you are perfectly aware that all this is merely trumped up at the moment.” And she put her hand on the bell‐handle, for the door to be opened to Lewis.

Edmund Lewis smiled.

“Walter Hamlin’s eyes are quite as good as mine. As regards my behaviour towards you, I cannot go into details, but you may understand, dear Miss Brown, that two or three months ago I may not, as a man of honour, have been at liberty to discuss Madame Elaguine’s character in the way that I [229] have done now that Madame Elaguine’s relations with me have entirely changed their nature. Good‐bye, dear Miss Brown. I am most truly grieved if I have offended you in any way.”

Anne merely made an impatient gesture, a gesture almost of disgust, as Edmund Lewis left the room.

So this was the explanation of Edmund Lewis’s apparent disgrace! Sacha Elaguine had repelled his odious advances, she had closed her door to him, she had complained to Hamlin; and now, as soon as their backs were turned, Lewis had come to slander them without fear of a horsewhipping. Anne seemed to breathe once more—thank heaven that the wretch had overreached himself in his malice!

[230]

CHAPTER VI.

THE door had scarcely closed upon Edmund Lewis, when it opened again suddenly.

“Mr Perry!” cried Anne, rising and running forward as a child might run to meet a former kind and encouraging teacher; “Mr Perry! oh I am so glad to see you!”

It really seemed to her that this dear, good, open familiar face, with the untidy yellow hair and beard,—that this well‐known, boyish, slouching figure drove away like some cabalistic sign the loathsome creature who had been there a few minutes before,—that Melton Perry dispelled all the horrid vision left behind by Edmund Lewis.

“Didn’t expect me yet, eh, Annie—I mean Miss Brown?” said Melton Perry, as she [231] seized his hand in both hers. “I suppose you expected me by the Dover train. But I came by Dieppe, six hours’ agony, but a saving of twelve‐and‐sixpence. I was always an economical creature, wasn’t I? Why, what’s that you have round your neck? That beastly little pewter and horn rosary that I got you at the Fair of the Impruneta, by George! Fancy your having kept such a thing!”

“It’s one of the best things I have,” said Anne, the tears coming into her eyes as this well‐known voice brought back the far‐distant past—“it’s the present of a friend.”

“And all this, isn’t this also the present of a friend?” said Perry, throwing himself into an arm‐chair, and looking round the room with much the same wonder with which Anne had looked at its strange furniture, its brocades and embroideries, and Japanese vases and lustre plates, when she first came; “but I forgot, Walter Hamlin isn’t a particular friend of yours.”

To this jest Miss Brown made no answer: [232] if only Melton Perry could guess at the literal truth of his words!

“Lord, what a damned gorgeous place this is!” cried Perry, still looking round; and then, suddenly turning towards Anne, where she sat, in a wonderful trailing dress of deep crimson stamped velvet, a big bunch of blackish crimson roses marking off, throwing into relief, the strange opaque ivory of her face, “what a beautiful woman you are, Annie! Do you know, I usen’t to believe it, when Watty raved about you at the Villa Arnolfini. What a crusty old jackass I must have been! But tell, why in the wide world aren’t you married yet? What have you been doing all this time?”

“Mr Hamlin has not asked me to marry him yet,” answered Anne, laconically.

Melton Perry thrust his hands upon the arms of his chair, and his whole body forward. “Not asked you to marry him yet!” he repeated; “do you mean to say you aren’t engaged to him . . .?”

Anne shook her head.

[233]

“That he’s been going loafing, and spooning, and doing Vita Nuova all this time? I thought that he must have lost two dozen grandfathers and grandmothers in rapid succession, so that one mourning postponed your marriage after the other, or something similar.” Then a thought suddenly struck him. “Hamlin’s not ill?” he cried. “Consumption, madness, doctors’ consultations,—anything of that sort?”

Miss Brown could not help smiling.

“Oh no, Mr Hamlin has been quite well. He is in Paris at present; he didn’t expect you quite so soon, but he will be back in a day or two.”

Melton Perry rose and looked Anne very earnestly in the face—

“Miss Brown—no, I can’t call you Miss Brown—Annie, tell me the truth. Has Hamlin not kept his word—has he played you any dirty trick? No, no, I don’t mean anything,—but, has Hamlin played fast and loose with you?”

[234]

“Mr Hamlin never intended asking me to marry him at once,” answered Anne, evasively. She felt in Melton Perry’s suspicions that again, as with her cousin, Hamlin would be attacked, maligned, that she would have to defend him. “Don’t you remember, Mr Perry? We were to wait, to see whether we really . . . I will tell you all about it later—to‐morrow. It is a long story; I want to hear about you now, about Italy—about your work, the children, Mrs Perry.”

“Mr Hamlin,” she added, fearing lest her evasive answers, her haste to get rid of the subject, should prejudice Perry against his friend, “has been most generous and noble towards me; indeed much more than I can ever say.”

“I’m damned if I understand any of it,” said Perry to himself, as he proceeded to answer Anne’s rapid strings of questions about his wife, his little girls, his pictures, his etchings,—those etchings, never thought of before, which had revealed in this sixth‐rate painter [235] a great artist, and had brought him, in good case to make money, to England. Miss Brown insisted upon showing him up to his room herself. As she was leaving him, he looked at her long and seriously.

“Annie,” he said, “if it’s not rude to ask, for I’ve forgotten—how old are you?”

“I was twenty‐four last month. Why do you ask? Do you think I look more?”—she added, with a smile whose bitterness he did not catch. She could scarcely realise it herself; she seemed to have lived so long, such years and years since she had seen him last—nay, since she had first entered this room.

“Twenty‐four,” repeated Perry, stupidly. “Well now, don’t be offended—of course you couldn’t be more, for you weren’t of age when you left us; but somehow—it isn’t that you don’t look young, you know, but all the same I should have thought . . . I’m a rude brute.”

“That I was much older,” laughed Miss Brown. “Well, I often think so myself.”

[236]

“It’s something, I don’t know what. You are far handsomer than in Italy, and you never did look much like a girl—you know what I mean; but now, upon my word, I don’t know how to say it, I never saw an unmarried woman look like you. You look as if you had seen and understood such a heap of things. I feel quite a fool before you. Forgive me,” he said, “I’m always a blundering tomfool. I had somehow thought of you as something like my own girls. Winnie’s sixteen, you know, and such a strapping girl. But I feel as if you might be my grandmother.”

Anne laughed. “I have always felt as if I were your grandmother. I was born old. Good‐bye, Mr Perry. Remember that dinner is at seven; and put on a dress‐coat if you want to win the heart of my aunt—I mean Mr Hamlin’s aunt.”

Melton Perry whistled as he stooped to unbuckle his portmanteau.

“I’m damned if I understand anything of it all, and Annie least of any of them,” he mused.

[237]

CHAPTER VII.

AFTER all,” said Melton Perry to himself next morning, as he sat under the big apple‐trees in the garden, smoking his pipe and looking at Miss Brown stitching at a piece of embroidery and overwhelming him with questions about Winnie, Mildred, Leila, the baby, Mrs Perry—nay, even about all her former fellow‐servants in Italy, and the grocer round the corner, and the milkman, and the man who came from the country every Monday to fetch the linen,—“after all, it was a very bright idea of old Watty’s to fall in love with our nursemaid and turn her into a wonderful æsthetic being in a wonderful æsthetic house: it was very sensible of Mrs Perry to encourage him in the idea; and it was just like [238] a confounded, fumbling, purblind old pig and ass like me to try and prevent it.”

After lunch Anne took Melton Perry up into the drawing‐room, cool, and almost Italian, with drawn blinds and a faint smell of flowers in the dusk, on one of the most stifling London afternoons. Perry mechanically took out a cigarette; but he hastily put it in again. It seemed to him profanation to smoke in such a wonderful room, in the presence of such a wonderful woman.

“Please smoke; you used always to smoke after lunch with Mrs Perry,” said Anne.

“But—this isn’t Florence; and you—you aren’t Mrs Perry.”

Anne made an impatient gesture that he should take out his cigarettes again. She had determined that she must speak to him before Hamlin came; that she must try and get him to understand, to explain things to Hamlin. But how get this good‐natured, kindly, childish, yet in a way chivalrous, harum‐scarum creature to understand her story? She [239] had a great dread of the impossibility of making him understand that Hamlin had never acted meanly towards her—that their estrangement was due to nothing voluntary on Hamlin’s part, to nothing but the disappointing of her own perhaps unwarranted ideals; of making him understand that Hamlin’s connection with Madame Elaguine, instead of being a grievance in her eyes, was the greatest happiness she could conceive. Perry was sure to burst out against Hamlin, to refuse to listen to her explanations, to insist upon fighting the battle of an injured woman.

Anne groaned at the thought, as she might have groaned at some immense stone to roll uphill. It was always so difficult for her to understand others, so intolerably more difficult to make herself understood. But she had resolved.

“I must tell you all my history since last we saw each other,” she said; “you will want to hear it, won’t you, Mr Perry?”

Perry, to whose brain all the unwonted [240] splendour of this house, all the fantasticalness of finding his former nursemaid changed into a magnificently dressed goddess, had gone with a sort of narcotic effect, answered in a stupefied way, “Oh dear, yes—of course—I’m dying to hear it. I can’t at all realise that it is really you, Annie, or really anybody and anything. Do you remember when we went into Lucca that day for the feast of the Holy Face, and I left you with Winnie and Mildred to go to the opera with Hamlin? D’you remember the plaster bust of Castruccio at the top of the hotel stairs, with the old woman’s night‐cap on? I don’t know why that bust haunted me so. What tiny trots Winnie and Mildred were, with sashes down at their knees! and such confounded young flirts, five feet seven, as they are now! I see you have Winnie’s photograph. How comic those brats must have looked! . . . But won’t you tell me all your marvellous and incredible circumstances?”

“I scarcely know where to begin; perhaps [241] I had better begin at the end. You wanted to know,” said Anne, making a great effort to arrest Perry’s attention, “why Mr Hamlin and I weren’t married yet, nor even engaged . . .”

“Oh yes; what the deuce is the meaning of it, Annie? You are certainly the queerest people, you æsthetic folk. By Jove! you actually have a photograph of yourself with the children. I had clean forgotten its existence; and now I remember as if it were yesterday taking you to Alinari’s, and how beastly naughty Winnie was! Oh, what a sulky blackamoor you do look, Annie! Good gracious! you don’t mean to say you know her?” and Melton Perry suddenly turned the album, at which he was looking, towards Anne. “Where in the world did you pick up a photograph of Mrs Constantine Bulzo?”

“Mrs Constantine Bulzo ?” asked Anne, in amazement. “Whom do you mean? I never heard of such a person. That photograph?—why, that’s a half‐Russian cousin of Mr Hamlin's [242], Sacha Elaguine, who was a Miss Polozoff.”

“Hamlin’s cousin!” whistled Melton Perry,—“well, upon my word . . . yes, of course, I had forgotten—of course, her name isn’t Mrs Constantine Bulzo any longer. But may I ask, how under heaven do you come to know Madame Elaguine?”

“I don’t understand a word. This lady is Madame Elaguine; she is Mr Hamlin’s first cousin, and that’s of course how I come to know her.”

“Hamlin’s cousin or not Hamlin’s cousin, how in the wide world could a woman like you ever know, ever meet such a—such a—excuse the word, but it’s the least bad I can find—such an abominable baggage as this woman, Elaguine, or Bulzo, or Polozoff—as this abominable Sacha?”

Miss Brown turned white and almost green; the embroidery slipped out of her hands—she gasped.

“Good Lord, what’s the matter with you, [243] Annie?” cried Perry, jumping up; “you surely didn’t imagine that—you surely can’t be a great friend of such a creature as that. What’s the matter?—are you ill?”

“It’s nothing—the heat, I suppose,” said Anne, stooping to pick up her embroidery; “and then, also, I suppose I’m not very strong yet; I’ve had brain fever, and you took me by surprise. But I oughtn’t to have been surprised, because I know Sacha Elaguine has a great many enemies, and that her circumstances, her history, and in some measure, unfortunately, her ways and character, rather lend themselves to all manner of horrible stories. She’s a frightfully tried and slandered little woman, poor thing. But I don’t—I don’t believe any of it.”

Anne was conscious of a horrible effort as she spoke these words; lying was difficult to her; and she remembered Edmund Lewis’s words.

“Are you really fond of Madame Bulzo—I mean Madame Elaguine?” asked Perry, grown [244] very serious suddenly, and looking Anne in the face with an expression of surprise and pain. “Are you intimate with her?”

“I am intimate in the sense of having been with her a good deal, and knowing more than other people about her,” answered Anne; “but I can’t say I am a great friend of hers. She is Mr Hamlin’s cousin; she has settled in England recently; he—we, I mean—see a good deal of her. I am awfully sorry for her, poor little woman; but there isn’t very much in common between us.”

“Thank goodness!” cried Perry. “Do you know, the sight of that photograph made me feel quite sick—the thought that you, Annie, should be the friend of such a creature. But I knew you couldn’t be.”

“But I am Madame Elaguine’s friend; I don’t believe a word of the infamous stories that are told about her; and you wouldn’t believe them either, if you knew all that I do.”

“What do you know ?” asked Perry, slowly [245] and pityingly; “about the iniquities of Monsieur Elaguine, about the terrible persecution, the bits of letters, the pistol‐shots, the poisoned chocolate, the lit spirits of wine poured under the door,—all that crazy imposture, I suppose? Well, I hope that Hamlin knows no more than you; otherwise, by God! he’s no better than a blackguard to let you associate with this woman, be she his cousin a hundred times over; and you must never see that woman again, Annie. I forbid you to—I, as the oldest friend you have in the world—I forbid you to defile yourself by knowing that infamous creature.” And Perry walked fiercely up and down, while Miss Brown, her whole body, it seemed to her, melting away from her soul, sat speechless looking at him.

“Listen to me, Anne,” he said, “and judge whether I am unfair. God knows I’m not a Puritan, neither towards myself nor towards others. I’ve been a very rowdy man; I’ve knowu a great many rowdy women—what you call regular bad women—Russians, who are the [246] worst of all—by the dozen. I’m not a red‐tapist; I can quite understand women misbehaving,—having lovers—that sort of thing,—or even, if they are very wretched, selling themselves. It’s beastly immoral to say so before a woman, but still, there it is, it’s the truth. Well, such as you see me, I wouldn’t touch that woman with the longest pair of tongs in all the devil’s kitchen. That woman is really wicked—not merely immoral, but abominable, atrocious; she is the sort of woman who absolutely degrades a man, takes a pleasure in turning him into a beast and a madman—whose greatest pleasure would be to degrade and make a beast of an honest woman. Just listen to me. Some five years ago I knew a Greek couple—a young man and his sister, called Constantine and Marie Bulzo. They were orphans, very young, very handsome, especially the boy, who was only eighteen or nineteen. They were a sort of half‐English Greeks, and went in for being æsthetical and artistic, all that sort of thing. I knew them in Florence, where Miss Bulzo, [247] who was four or five years older than her brother, was studying painting. I gave them both lessons. I never met two such beautiful creatures, body and soul, as those young Bulzos. They were like young saints, and yet perfectly childish and merry, and they were quite devoted to each other: Marie really lived only for the boy. Well, six months later I met the two at Venice. They were staying at the same hotel as your Madame Elaguine, who immediately proceeded to make herself awfully fascinating and pathetic to them. Of course the poor children swallowed all about the persecutions by the Nihilists as so much Gospel. They introduced me, and Madame Elaguine rather amused me; but I saw very soon that she wasn’t a woman for them to know. There was a man staying in the same hotel, an old friend of hers, and, in fact, her lover, who was one of the vilest scoundrels the world ever bred—a horrible loathsome old Russian. I used to wonder how Madame Elaguine could endure him, but then I found out that he paid [248] her bills for her. I tried to warn the Bulzos, especially Constantine, as, being a man, he might be expected to understand such things rather better. But, figurati! (and Perry made an expressive gesture of Italian exaggeration,) they wouldn’t hear a word against their beloved, deeply injured, martyrised Madame Elaguine. Well, we half quarrelled; I scarcely saw anything of them. At the end of four months what do I hear, but that Miss Bulzo was married to Madame Elaguine’s loathsome Russian; and then, a week later, I see Constantine and Madame Elaguine go off in the train together. Do you understand? Madame Elaguine, who was in love with young Bulzo, wanted to go off with him, and not knowing what to do with Marie, and wishing to dismiss and settle accounts with her quondam lover, had, in some fiendish way, induced this innocent girl of twenty‐four to marry this frightful old Russian sinner—had sold her to the loathsome beast as a settlement to their debts; and Marie, after a few months, simply pined [249] away and died of shame and disgust at the slavery she had been sold into. Do you understand that?”

“I understand; but I don’t see why I should believe—it’s too horrible to be true.”

“It is true, though, for Constantine Bulzo told it me all himself later; how the Elaguine had talked him over to consent, and had regularly bullied his sister into the marriage, by pretending that it was the only way of paying a lot of imaginary debts of her brother’s, and had forced Constantine, who was raving in love with her, to hold his tongue. That was the end of Marie Bulzo. Now as to Constantine. His sister once safely married to her old beast, he went off with the Elaguine, or rather, the Elaguine went off with him. Next summer I met them at Perugia; they were travelling about in remote places as Mr and Mrs Bulzo; and English people were so kind as to believe that this Russian woman of thirty and this Greek boy of twenty were married. Constantine perfectly adored her; but I never [250] saw a man more changed: he looked thirty, a miserable, hang‐dog, effeminate sort of creature, quite unable to do anything except drag after his so‐called wife. That woman had regularly ruined the poor boy, broken his spirit, turned him into a kind of male odalisque of hers. Two years later the Bulzos were at Venice again; and I came just in time for the catastrophe. One fine morning Mrs Constantine Bulzo, become Madame Elaguine once more, packed her trunks and went off with a French painter, leaving her supposed husband to pay the hotel bill.”

“I saw Constantine shortly after; the woman had spent nearly all his money, and he was living, or starving, in a room in a beastly court, slinking out only early in the morning and late at night, spending the day lying in his bed, eating opium and drinking. I never saw such a wreck in my life. As he was starving, I got him a place as clerk at a picture‐shop, and tried to get him to work; but he didn’t seem to care about living, and went on drinking and [251] stupefying himself, till one day he drowned himself in the lagoon—they say accidentally, but I shall never believe it. That is the story of your Madame Elaguine; and I swear to you I have not exaggerated one word of it. Do you still think she is a woman fit to be known by you? By heaven! when I think what that miserable boy was when I saw him last, and what he had been when first I knew him, I feel as if it would be the greatest possible pleasure to throttle your Madame Elaguine with my own hands! Upon my soul, I do!”

Perry was walking up and down rapidly. Anne had never seen him so excited in his life.

“But,” remarked Miss Brown, coldly, “even admitting your story to be true, which I suppose, as it comes from you, that I must, was it all the woman’s fault? You men always throw the blame on the woman. But your Constantine Bulzo must have been a wretched weak creature.”

Perry stopped short.

[252]

“No one has a right to expect every man or every woman to be very strong,” he answered, sadly. “This poor boy was kind and trusting, and, when left to his own devices, honest. He was not weaker than most men, especially than most artistic natures—not weaker, for instance, than Walter Hamlin.”

Anne Brown did not answer. But next morning she greatly surprised Melton Perry by asking him, in a voice that affected him as being very strange—

“Did you tell me something—a dreadful story—about Madame Elaguine and a young Greek friend of yours, yesterday afternoon?”

Perry looked at her with surprise. There was something in her wide‐opened, strained eyes, in her rigidity of features, that made him think of a sleep‐walker.

“Of course I did. Why?”

“Oh, nothing. I had only a very bad night—all manner of horrible dreams, and I was not sure whether this might not be one of them.”

[253]

CHAPTER VIII.

DO you know, Annie,” said Melton Perry, two or three days later, “I find Watty very much altered. He seems so fearfully depressed and broken‐spirited. He used always to be bored, but not like this; he has got to look so old, with those great rings under his eyes.”

Miss Brown did not answer. Hamlin had returned the previous evening from Paris, and she also had noticed that he was changed—not so much, indeed, as Melton Perry seemed to think, for Melton Perry had not seen him for four or five years; and she—she had watched a change coming over him during the last months. Yet even she must own to herself that this change had made rapid progress during his fortnight or three weeks in Paris, or at least that this absence [254] enabled her to notice the change much more. He was even more than usually apathetic and silent, and his pleasure at seeing his old friend once more was so slight, or rather so tempered by a kind of indifference and even annoyance, that Miss Brown felt perfectly nervous lest poor warm‐hearted Melton Perry should feel mortally wounded. The next day Hamlin made an effort over himself: he seemed anxious to be as kind as possible to Perry; but somehow it did not succeed. Melton Perry would have liked, as he said, to have Walter all to himself, to sit with him by the hour together, or walk out alone with him, talking of old times; but Hamlin seemed possessed by a nervous dread of a tête‐à‐tête. He could not sit in the studio with Perry for more than half an hour without, on some excuse or other, calling his aunt or Miss Brown. He seemed to have invited a lot of people to drop in at all hours, as if to protect him from his old friend.

“It’s awfully good of old Hamlin to wish me to know all these grand swell painters and [255] newspaper writers,” said Perry to Anne, in the tone of a disappointed child; “and I suppose it is very useful to me. But still, I wish I could get him to understand that what I want at present is to see just him and you; that all these confounded influential people will keep; and that I’d rather have a good talk over a pipe with him alone, as in old days.”

Anne did not answer. It seemed to her that she understood so well why Hamlin dreaded a tête‐à‐tête with Melton Perry; a tête‐à‐t;ête which would be, largely, a talk about the past and the future, about her, Anne Brown. But Anne could not think about poor Perry and his disappointed friendliness; her whole nature seemed to be staggering and reeling, and the concerns of other folk were as distant, as unattainable, as they might be to a person tossed for hours on a stormy sea, paralysed, removed as it were from the world by an unspeakable sense of nausea. The days seemed to reel past, and yet not a week was gone since the arrival of Melton Perry.

One afternoon, they were seated—Hamlin, [256] Perry, and she—with Mrs Macgregor at tea in the dim, shuttered drawing‐room, with the heavy scent of flowers, when Richard Brown was announced. If a ghost had appeared on the threshold, Anne could not have turned paler, and trembled harder in all her limbs—this man, whom she had seen but a week ago, seemed indeed a spectre out of the past, the long dead past, with which all connection was severed. It was an immense relief to her not to be alone; she had an instinct that Richard had come to ask her whether, at last, she had settled matters with Hamlin; she thought she could see his eyes going from Hamlin’s face to her own inquiringly. The conversation was languid and indifferent. Richard Brown wished for an explanation from her; Melton Perry hoped for an explanation from Richard Brown; Hamlin looked on passively, with that half‐stupefied look which she had noticed in him lately.

Hamlin was more than merely depressed, he was very sad; his face, so handsome and still so young, so perfectly unmarked in feature, [257] contrasted strikingly with the pleased, happy‐go‐lucky, kindly face of Perry; with the strong, eager, contemptuous face of Brown. For a moment Anne wondered what this sadness meant; whether there was in him any recollection of what he was, of what he might be; whether the poet, the dreamer, the chivalrous Hamlin of former days, still existed and suffered within this weak and degraded Hamlin of the present; and then, suddenly, this thought came in violent contact with the remembrance of Perry’s story of Constantine Bulzo. Had Constantine Bulzo looked like that?

Richard Brown, obviously disappointed in his visit, rose.

“Why are you going so soon, Brown ?” asked Hamlin, rising and making an effort over himself; “you never give me a chance of seeing you. Won’t you stay to dinner? It is very impertinent of me to invite people in a house that isn’t mine; but I feel sure Miss Brown is disappointed in not having had any talk with you. Chough is coming to see Perry [258] this evening, so you and your cousin might have a chat after dinner.”

He spoke simply, in his quiet, subdued, melancholy voice. Richard Brown looked at him rapidly from head to foot; what was the meaning of this? And Anne felt herself growing very red. Had Hamlin guessed what she scarcely herself knew?

“Thank you,” answered Richard; “I am dining with some of my would‐be constituents to‐night. You know,” he said to Anne, “I am going into Parliament, I believe. I will return soon; many thanks, Mr Hamlin.”

“I have a good many things to tell you, Nan,” he said, as Miss Brown accompanied him to the room‐door. “I have heard of a scholarship which I am sure you could take if you would cram for six months; and I want to ask you a lot of things also. I will come back in two or three days. Good‐bye.”

He squeezed her hand; and Anne felt her heart thump at that hand‐squeeze, so frank and affectionate.

[259]

“Good‐bye, Cousin Dick,” she said. Her voice and eyes and hand lingered in that farewell, in a way quite unusual to her reserved and decided nature. She was saying goodbye she knew not exactly to what, but she felt that the farewell was the last, and that it meant farewell to her happiness.

Chough came to dinner and stayed during the evening.

When he and Hamlin had taken their departure, Perry remained for a few moments standing by the open window, looking vacantly at the trees, the outlines of the craft moored opposite, the long trails of moonlight on the water. Then he came back into the room, and began fiddling with some roses in a glass.

“Beautiful roses,” he said, in an awkward drawl; “we have none like them in Italy. Why don’t Italians cultivate flowers? What do you call this? Is it a La France? I never knew a turnip from a jasmine.”

“I think it is a La France; I don’t know,” answered Anne, taking a candlestick off the [260] dining‐room mantelpiece. “I think I must leave you now. You will find a box of cigarettes on the sideboard. Forgive me, I feel so tired and stupid.”

“One moment!” cried Perry. “It’s a very disagreeable thing I have to say, Annie; but I think I ought to say it. I guessed it the second time I saw him already; but now I am quite sure of it—Hamlin drinks.”

Anne did not answer.

“I don’t mean to say that he gets drunk. But he drinks—spirits; I’ve seen him to‐night after dinner, and I’m sure he’s going to take more at home. There’s no mistaking the look. It isn’t that he takes much, not more than I or most men might take; but it is that he oughtn’t to take any. He used, you know, never even to take wine, except with gallons of water. He can’t take anything of the sort. I remember already when we were at college together, Watty was a teetotaller. It appears some people are like that; I’ve heard doctors say that it’s not unusual in families where [261] there has been much drinking: it’s a sort of diseased sensitiveness to alcohol—it becomes a kind of poison. You know that Hamlin’s father drank, and one of his uncles died of drink, and his brother is either dead or dying, somewhere in a maison de santé, of a sort of mixed delirium tremens and craziness. It’s a thing,” went on Perry, keeping his eyes fixed on the pattern of the Persian rug under his feet, “which grieves and alarms me horribly; and in which I feel that you are probably the only person who could have any influence with him. It’s useless my speaking. He must have got in among a bad lot. That little Chough seems harmless enough;but I hear that he was very close with a nasty fellow called Lewis—a spiritualist, opium‐eater, haschisch‐eater, and heaven knows what. Does he see much of him now?”

“He has quarrelled with Edmund Lewis, I fancy.”

“Ah—so much the better. Then this would evidently be the moment to act. Of course [262] I know it will be awfully difficult and horrible for you; because he’ll feel so miserably ashamed before you, and, of course, you will feel it almost as badly as he. But still, you are the only person that can influence him. You see he loves you, worships you, all that sort of thing. And I am sure you will have the courage to get over your repugnance to a disagreeable half‐hour, won’t you, Annie, for your own sake as well as his?”

“I will do my best,” said Miss Brown.

[263]

CHAPTER IX.

MISS BROWN went up to her room slowly, and slowly proceeded to undress.

“You look very tired, miss,” said her maid; “haven’t you perhaps been overtiring yourself so soon after your illness? and don’t you think you had better let me brush your hair for you?”

Anne shook her head; she had never consented to let any one wait upon her except when ill, with that odd feeling that she, a servant, had no right to have a servant; and the maid whom Hamlin considered as a sort of necessary institution for a woman in Miss Brown’s position, had been virtually put at the disposal of Mrs Macgregor, whose constant fidgeting over her clothes, and tea, and coffee, [264] and food, according to hygienic theories of thirty years back, might have afforded occupation not to two but to twenty maids. Anne really did look very worn out; more so than she had seemed these several weeks, thought the maid.

“No, thank you, Laura,” said Miss Brown. She really did not feel at all as if she could sleep; she felt the blood rushing through every artery of her body, and a hot faintness overtake her.

“It won’t do to make myself ill again,” she said to herself. The doctor had said that for the present she must try and get as much sleep as possible; and she was a practical, methodical person. She brushed her hair, still in short wavy masses since it was cut during the fever, carefully, slowly. It seemed to her as if, in the half light, it looked more grey than black. She pulled out a few white hairs: they come early in hair as dark and wiry as hers. She folded her clothes methodically, as she used to fold the clothes of [265] the little Perrys, put out her light and lay down.

“It won’t do to make myself ill again,” she said; and, closing her eyes, determined to sleep.

She remained stretched out rigidly, like a dead woman, her head straight on her pillows, and trying to keep her mind as rigid as her body. But it was of no use. She could not sleep; her blood and her thoughts seemed to throb furiously within her.

Anne’s mind had been made up, quietly, methodically, much in the same way as her hair had been brushed and her clothes folded, already a good hour ago, when talking to Melton Perry; she had seen the necessity of a decision coming, had waited for the moment when the decision should be made, ever since she had heard that story of Madame Elaguine and Constantine Bulzo. There had been, it seemed to her, no alternative; and there seemed to her that there was no alternative now, either. But as she lay motionless in [266] her bed, and stared into the darkness with wide‐opened eyes, she began, once more, to go over slowly and repeatedly the steps of the argument, which had, three or four days ago, become manifest to her as might the mechanism of a broken watch to a watchmaker, of any very inevitable and obvious thing.

Hamlin had done everything for her; he had turned what she looked back upon with horror, as a kind of intellectual and moral death, into life. He had bought her soul free, had nourished and nurtured it, as a man might have redeemed, nourished, and nurtured the body of some slave child, doomed to be a cripple in a crippling occupation; he had done, she felt assured, what no other man had ever done for a woman, since no other woman, she thought, could have escaped from such a state of utter soul stagnation as had already begun, those five years ago, in her slow, sullen nature. It was more than had ever been done for another woman, and Anne felt its value [267] more than any other; for despite the modesty and frankness which often took others aback, the very stuff of her soul, like the very mould of her features, was pride. She knew herself to be nobler than the majority of men and women; not more intelligent, nor more honest, nor more kindly, nor any one particular quality, but more homogeneous of nature; not alloyed in any portion, whatever she might be; upright, sincere, practical, harsh even, through and through: a reality, where they seemed but half reality and half make‐up. And that she should be this she owed to Hamlin; without him she would have been equally homogeneous of soul, but it would have been with the uniformity, the rigidity of spiritual death.

What Hamlin had done, he had done from no base motives, and without the smallest taint of baseness in the doing: he had not actually wanted her, he had wanted merely to perfect a thing that seemed to him good of its sort, to make her a soul that should suit [268] her body; he had done it deliberately, consistently, unwearyingly, with a gentleness, a generous tact, which had themselves been a benefit.

That Hamlin had acted from an imaginative whim, that he had carried out an exotic artistic caprice, played a sublimated game of artistic skill, Anne could not at this moment take into account. She knew, and only too well, that Hamlin was selfish, whimsical, fantastic, vain, a seeker after new poses and new sensations; but she knew all this analytically, piecemeal as the result of thought; and she was in a sense too dull, too unable to comprehend others, and, above all, too utterly devoid of all vanity, whimsicalness, and theatricality, too completely of a piece, a mass of granite, as she often felt, to conceive these analytically recognised peculiarities as absolutely organic and active forces. She had conceived Hamlin to be that which to her was the easiest conception—generous; and nothing could make her conceive his behaviour towards her in any [269] any other light. Moreover, there remained in this frank and fearless nature, shrinking from no disillusions, one delusion which was the safer for her very consciousness of uncompromising hatred of all delusions. She clung, without knowing it, to the belief that in one thing at least Hamlin had been perfectly noble, that no subsequently discovered weakness and baseness could ever alter that; she treasured up a shred of her old ideal, the belief that whatever Hamlin might be towards others and towards himself, towards her he had been the real Hamlin whom she had loved and worshipped.

And now this Hamlin, this man to whom she owed all, and whose past she still loved, was gradually being alienated from all the nobler things for which he was fit—gradually being separated from his nobler self, and dragged, stripped of all his better qualities, into a moral quagmire, a charnel, a cloaca, to stick and rot inchwise. And this, Anne said to herself, to some degree by her own [270] fault; for had she not let her antipathy for the tendencies which she had gradually discovered in him, and her loathing for the tendencies of the men who surrounded him, smother her gratitude, her sympathy, turn her away in sullen scorn and isolation, from the man whom she was bound to help, and the men whom she was bound to combat? She forgot for the moment the many abortive attempts she had made to awaken the better qualities of Hamlin; or rather, she could no longer conceive that those attempts had been sufficiently strenuous and determined; it seemed to her, forgetful of the dead‐weight of opposition, that she must have been very feeble and half‐hearted. Instead of thinking of him, she had thought only of herself, of preserving her own soul from infection, of keeping her own soul strong and active; she had selfishly thought of the world’s miseries, which she could not prevent, instead of thinking of Hamlin, whom she might have saved; and finally, she had let herself indulge in dreams of liberty, that is to say, of desertion [271] of her duty. Those monks and nuns of former days, for whom she felt such unutterable contempt, had they acted differently from her when they left their fellow‐men to perish in sin, in order that they might enjoy the luxury of virtue in a convent or a desert? She loathed æsthetes like Hamlin; and yet, what had she herself been, save an æsthete of another sort, selfishly preoccupied with spiritual comfort, and worse than any of them for the very moral consciousness which lay at the root of this immorality?

Why had she not driven away Edmund Lewis, opposing herself to him with all her might? Why had she not driven away Sacha Elaguine? Now that she had learned from Melton Perry what this woman really was, every single circumstance of their former intercourse, every single fact and suggestion that had come to her, from Mrs Macgregor’s warnings to Edmund Lewis’s cowardly accusation,—all the hundred little impressions which she herself had received, grouped themselves [272] together, and made it obvious that Sacha must be, could only have been, the horrible walking depravity which she had been revealed. Essentially unanalytic of mind, Miss Brown could now no longer conceive how it was that she had not understood Madame Elaguine at once; in that massive horror with which the Russian woman had filled her, it was impossible to remember all the deluding little circumstances which had closed her heart to suspicion—nay, all the purity of her own nature, the charity, the desire to be equitable, which had made this now so overpowering mass of abomination not merely impossible to realise, but impossible to conceive. It seemed to her as if Sacha must always have shown herself what she was; and that she, Anne Brown, must have wilfully closed her eyes. She had never asked herself whether it was not her duty towards Hamlin to come to some conclusion about his cousin; she had let their connection drift on; she had seen in the ruin of the man to whom she owed all, only a means to her [273] own deliverance from a life which she hated, from a duty which she shirked. Anne remembered how she had watched with terror that look of weariness and shame on Hamlin’s face, which ought to have told her that this poor, weak, sick soul might still be saved; she remembered the joy with which she had heard of Hamlin’s departure for Paris—that is to say, of the crowning act of weakness and folly which had made him the chattel of his cousin. Anne loathed herself as a woman might loathe herself, who recognised that she had let some living creature die of hunger and want of nursing. Shame she did not feel, nor yet remorse; she cared too little for herself to care for her own ideals; she did not once think that she had been mistaken, that she had been base, ungrateful, that she was dishonoured in her own eyes; she merely thought that Hamlin was on the brink of ruin, ruin of all his nobler self and of his happiness—that she had done it, and that she was there, alone, to save him. In those long hours, lying motionless in the [274] dark, the face of Hamlin, as she had recently seen it, that weak, profoundly depressed, half‐degraded face, was constantly before her eyes; and surrounding it, vague and threatening, the faces—so strangely like it and transfigured in a kind of tragic degradation, of the portraits at Wotton Hall—of Hamlin’s half‐crazy, disgraced brother; of his odious, passion‐stained father; of his drunken uncles; above all, that beautiful woman’s face, with the curled hair and loose collar—that face so curiously compounded of effeminacy, whimsicalness, and cynical self‐abandonment; of his great‐uncle Mordaunt, whose portrait had been exiled to the lumber‐room, whose name banished from the memory of his relatives; and along with them, and resembling them like a brother, the confused, imaginary image of that miserable Greek lad whom Sacha Elaguine had ruined.

Was it still time? Could Hamlin still be saved? was he already hopelessly bound for life to Madame Elaguine? Had Anne waked [275] up too late? She did not know. She only knew that there was not an hour, not a moment to lose; and that there was but one thing to be done. Hamlin must not, should not, marry Sacha. And the only way to prevent it was that he should marry Anne Brown. He might, as Lewis said, and as she believed, already be the lover of Madame Elaguine; but he was not yet the husband, and most probably not yet the betrothed. And was he not bound, by that paper which the ignoble suspiciousness of Richard Brown had required of him in that distant past in Florence, to marry Anne Brown at whatever time she rnight call upon him to do so?

“I must become his wife,” said Anne to herself; and she said it as she might have said “the sun must rise in so many hours.” There was no room for hesitation on her part; the choice, the act of volition, was so decided, that there ceased to be either choice or volition; to become Hamlin’s wife seemed to Anne as an inevitable necessity coming from [276] without. But little by little: as she lay there broad awake, yet with somewhat of that tendency, as of an opium‐dreamer, to see things exaggerated which comes to us in darkness, she began to realise the meaning of this formula—to become Hamlin’s wife. The whole past rushed into her mind, and became, as it were, the mirage of the future, and that mirage was horrible. To be Hamlin’s wife meant to relinquish the liberty which had, for the last two or three months, been safe within her grasp, the liberty of being herself. Anne was one of those natures which, though able, by moments, to enjoy themselves like children, do not believe much in happiness; to whom, singled out, as it were, to achieve self‐sacrifice or endure martyrdom, happiness is a mere name, a negative thing—but to whom unhappiness is a positive reality, the thing which they expect, with which their soul seems, in some pre‐natal condition, to have become familiar as the one great certainty. The happiness, therefore, which she was losing—the [277] independence, the activity, the serenity, the possibility of a life of noble companionship with Richard Brown—all this was only a distant and unsubstantial thing; she had never experienced it, and it could not well be realised. But she knew by experience, familiar with its every detail, the unhappiness which lay in the future as Hamlin’s wife, for this future would be but a return to the past; and she felt as might a person lost in a catacomb, and who, having got to a chink, having seen the light and breathed the air, should be condemned to wander again, to rethread for ever the black and choking corridors leading nowhere. That Hamlin was lost if he married Sacha, she knew as she knew that two and two make four; but she did not in the least flatter herself that her own influence would be as potent for good, as Madame Elaguine’s must be potent for evil. She knew Hamlin too well for that, and herself also. If Hamlin had remained weak, cold, vain, and mean under her influence hitherto, he must remain [278] so for ever; he was born all these things. She could prevent his growing worse, she could not make him grow better; her position would be as that of a woman who devoted herself to nurse a person sick of an incurable disease: there would be none of the excitement of a possible cure, only the routine, the anxiety peculiar to a case where the patient is for ever on the brink of getting worse.

To be understood, to be sympathised with, to be loved really and really to love—none of these things would be for her. But, after all, what right had she to any of them? Anne was, in all matters concerning herself, a born fatalist and pessimist; the words of Goethe, “Entbehren sollst du, sollst entbehren,” were to her not an admonition, but a mere statement of fact. She had, for a time, fancied that she clutched happiness; if it had turned out, like the goddess clutched by Ixion, a mere mist, why, that was quite natural; there was nothing to complain of in that.

But suddenly there came a sense not any [279] longer of the loss of happiness, but of a sickened revolt from all the things which this sacrifice of happiness implied. Not to love, not to be loved. Well, that was natural; but to submit to becoming the property of a man whom she did not love, and who could not, in her eyes, ever love her, that was another thing. Edmund Lewis and Madame Elaguine, learned in such matters, had been perfectly correct when they declared that Anne was, in their sense of the word, passionless, cold. To this woman, consumed by intellectual and moral passion, her womanhood meant merely the instincts of superior chastity, of superior soul cleanness, which seem the birthright of women, as the instincts of superior generosity, of superior soul energy, seem the birthright of men; and this, to her the only result of womanhood, merely added a positive element of repulsion to the disdain for what the world is pleased to call love already existing in her. Anne Brown, born of the people, grown up as a servant, left to take care of herself when [280] scarcely more than a child, and then thrust into the midst of a demoralised school of literature which gloried in moral indifference,—Anne Brown had none of those misty notions of marriage so easily transfigured into poetry, and which make (and perhaps fortunately) many clean‐souled and disdainful girls enter unconsciously and unabashed upon a life frequently neither very noble nor very clean. Without formulating it to herself—for she never formulated anything—Miss Brown had a very strong sense that marriage without love was a mere legalised form of prostitution. To become, therefore, the wife of Hamlin, was an intolerable self‐degradation—nay, a pollution; for it seemed to her, and the idea sickened her whole soul, that the moral pollution of Sacha Elaguine would be communicated to her. To become the wife of Sacha’s lover! Her limbs seemed to give way, to dissolve; a horrible warm clamminess overtook her; she could not breathe, or breathed only horror.

Anne rose from her bed, and wrapping herself [281] in her dressing‐gown, sat down by the window, partly ajar. She threw it wide open, pulled up the blinds, and, gasping, looked out into the darkness. The sky was covered, not a ray of light; it was raining—she heard the drops fall heavily on the leaves under the window; a warm damp gust of air blew in her face. Anne did not know what it was to faint, and her limbs did not give way beneath her; but she felt as if her mind, her soul, were fainting, growing clammy—slipping, slipping away, dissolving into nothingness. To be the wife of Sacha’s lover! With the scornful aversion which a woman of actively chaste nature (for the virtue exists in most women only in a negative, passive condition) experiences for the more abstract idea of weakness and unchastity, was mingled—perhaps not very clearly to herself—somewhat already of the wrath of the outraged wife. Under her very eyes, before all the world, Hamlin had deceived her—had been another woman’s lover—and had let her associate with his [282] mistress! the kind of resentment which the world sometimes mistakes for jealousy, but into which there enters no love,—the sense not of being neglected as an individual, but being insulted as a woman. To be the wife of Sacha’s lover! Anne’s imagination—slow in all things, and slowest where any ignoble or impure thing was concerned—was trailed as by an inexplicable force along a dim tract of foulness.

No; she could not marry this man. She had no right to forego her just resentment, to stifle her just disgust, no right to degrade her soul in order to save his. If he was weak, vain, foredoomed to baseness, let him run his career—fulfil his destiny. Some sacrifices are sins. Without identifying the case, Anne’s thoughts reverted to the story, to the words of Isabella in ‘Measure for Measure’; and the pride that lay at the bottom of her soul—the pride of purity and strength—rose like a great wind within her. No; she would not pollute her cleanness, prostitute her nobility, for this [283] man. Anne folded her dressing‐gown close about her, and extended her strong fingers tight over the arms of her chair—a movement like that of a judge about to pronounce a sentence. Any one who could have seen her sitting thus by the window—who could have seen that pale stern face, those wide‐opened onyx‐grey eyes looking steadfastly into the darkness—would have said that this magnificent young woman with the tragic features was capable of cold cruelty.

But though in some measure right, since there is a destructive element in all strong souls, the person who should have thought like this would yet have been mistaken. Anne’s ruthlessness, her cruelty, could exist only against herself; the sacrifice, which seemed to her no very great matter, was the sacrifice of herself.

Anne remained seated for a few minutes by the window, that storm of pride and contempt rushing in great gusts through her whole nature. But then suddenly the storm dropped.

[284]

Here was Hamlin, to whom she owed everything, owed this very soul which seemed too good to be wasted upon him, in danger of being degraded for ever by this loathsome woman, this incarnation of all his own vices, this moral disease become a human creature. This fate must be averted, Hamlin must be saved, for his own sake and for the sake of the world—of all those nobler things that he might still do; he must be saved, and only one thing could save him—hence that one thing must be done. Anne rose from the window. This darkness unnerved her. She struck a light and lit the candles on the mantelpiece; they were in clustered candlesticks, and the room was brilliantly illuminated. Anne looked round her. There was a heap of books and papers on her table,—she had been interrupted in tidying them the previous day. She began to put them to rights. Some of the books were the manuals of political economy and works on philosophy which she was studying with a view to Girton. [285] The sight of them made a knot rise in her throat and the tears come into her eyes. She felt that she would never read them again. She took them in her arms, and opening the lowest drawer of her writing‐table, locked them up. “I will give them to Marjory’s women’s club,” she thought. Then she opened another drawer, and got out all her note‐books and copy‐books,—her many months’ work, ever since Richard Brown had first lent her his primer. She turned over a few pages slowly. The sentences seemed to have no meaning; her brain refused to act. She took the papers one by one and tore them into small shreds, and threw them into the waste‐paper basket. “There is an end of that,” she said to herself quietly. Anne looked round the room once more,—at the spruce Queen Anne furniture which had surprised her so much, at the blue and white vases, the shimmering plates, the pieces of embroidery on the wall—all the things which Hamlin had put there to please her. Was there anything more—anything more to [286] be done? On the mantelpiece stood a photograph of Richard Brown, unframed, which he had recently given her: she had asked him for a photograph during Hamlin’s absence with Sacha. She took the photograph and held it over one of the candles; it curled up, charred, only the rim which she held remaining to show what it had been; she turned it round and round over the flame, and then threw the crumpled piece of charred pasteboard into the grate.

The first pale light of dawn was beginning to mingle with the light of the candles, making them burn yellow, and surrounded by a sort of halo, like the tapers round a catafalque. Outside she saw the chilly grey streaks of light, the faint cold rose veinings of sunrise. But the sunrise itself did not come; the sky gradually appeared, clotted with red and purplish reflections; then the colour died away, and there remained instead a pale, suffused, grey heaven. It began to drizzle. Anne left the window. The room was light now with [287] daylight—the candle‐flames mere yellow specks. Anne put them out; she pulled down the blinds and got into bed, and again stretched herself out in that stiff way, her head propped up on the pillows, trying not to think. In a few minutes she was asleep.

When the maid came in, she did not wake up as usual, and the girl was half‐frightened and very much awed by seeing Miss Brown lying straight and motionless; her face, surrounded by a sort of wreath of short, curling, iron‐black locks, stiff on the pillow, looking, in the grey morning light which came through the pale‐blue blinds, like a dead woman.

Anne opened her eyes and looked round slowly, as if trying to collect her thoughts. “Ah,” she said, half audibly, “I remember.”

[288]

CHAPTER X.

BY an effort of manœuvring which was not very natural to her, Miss Brown induced Melton Perry to take himself off after breakfast and go and see some studios, an expedition which would keep him out of the way till lunch. She would have Hamlin all to herself. When Perry was gone, Anne sat down to write to Mary Leigh, who was in the country. There was absolutely no reason why she should write to Mary, nor had she anything whatever to tell her; but she was devoured by a restlessness—by a vague desire to talk to some one who cared for her. She told Mary Leigh nothing of what was passing through her mind, nor of the event which was pending: there was not, in her letter, a word to suggest [289] anything of the sort; but there was in it the expression, vague and without motives, of the great emotion which occupied her soul. “I want to tell you, dear Mary,” wrote Anne, “how grateful I am for the affection which you and Marjory have shown towards me lately. If I had died of that illness, it would have been a great consolation to know that you cared for me so much.” She did not know why, the tone of the whole letter, with all these expressions of gratitude, had the solemnity of a farewell, as if written by a woman who expected to die soon. And Anne really felt as if her life were coming to an end.

When she had finished writing, she went down to Hamlin’s studio. He would come soon, and she would wait for him here.

It was still drizzling, and the room opening on to the garden, with its silk blinds drawn down, was full of a kind of twilight. Anne walked up and down for a minute or two, looking vaguely round her. A drowsy scent of faded flowers, of cigarette‐smoke, of she [290] knew not what scent, made her feel weak and dreamy, and reminded her, with a movement of disgust, of Sacha Elaguine’s rooms. She had not been in the studio of late, except for a few minutes at a time. Everything seemed to her untidy and dusty—easels and boards thrown about in a way which was not usual with Hamlin. She looked vaguely at the various things,—at the drawings by Rossetti and Burne Jones on the walls, the books in cases, the terra cottas and bits of carving on brackets, the piano with the brocade cover thrown back, and the score of Wagner’s Tristram still on the desk. She looked at the score and played a few notes, but stopped. She loathed that music which Hamlin and Sacha so admired—that music, with its strange, insidious faintings and sobbings, its hot, enervating gusts of passion. On the mantelpiece, among the Japanese jars, the bronze lamps, and other similar properties, her eye caught a small bottle of blue glass. She took it up: it was not labelled, or the label was removed, but it [291] left a sort of sickly‐smelling stickiness on her fingers. So Perry was right; Hamlin had returned to his old practice of taking opium. She put the bottle back, and walked up and down once more. Then her eye fell upon an unfinished portrait of herself, or what was intended to be herself, which stood in the shadow. A solemn sombre woman in green, with very blue peaks and glaciers in the distance, twisting the faded green leaves of a palm‐branch. It was the picture which Hamlin had begun long, long ago in Florence; and her mind went back to that other rainy day, as gloomy as this one, seemingly centuries ago, when she had stood in the tower studio, about to take leave of Hamlin, as she thought, for the last time. Was she really as sombre as that picture? thought Anne. On a table, gritty with dust, lay an open sketch‐book; Anne took it up listlessly. The sheet was scrawled with several versions of an allegorical design, feebly drawn, scarcely more than outlined, and, as it seemed, in a moment of weariness. [292] A beautiful naked youth was clutched by a huge, haggard woman, her torn dress licking his body like flames, her lips greedily advancing to his delicate face, which shrank back, like a flower withering in the heat of a furnace. There were several versions, crossing and recrossing each other oddly, but always the same flower‐like winged boy writhing in the terrible breath of this embrace, always that fainting beautiful face, and those burning lips with the suction of flame. Beneath one of the versions was scrawled, “Amor a Libidine interfectus,” and a few lines, half scratched out, of a sonnet. Anne did not read them; she put down the sketch‐book. She knew the sense of that allegory, even before her eye caught the words, “and thus my soul,” which formed one of the lines of the rough‐scrawled sonnet. Anne shuddered. Steps came along the corridor—Hamlin’s steps. She sat down near the window, for she expected her heart would have begun beating even to bursting. But it was not so; Miss Brown felt wonderfully calm.

[293]

“I want to talk to you about something, Mr Hamlin,” she said, when he had recovered from the surprise of finding her in the studio. “You have nothing very pressing to do just now, I hope?”

“Nothing,” answered Hamlin; “I am at your disposal.” He sat down opposite to her, and began to fidget with the pencils and pen‐knives lying on the table. He was very pale, haggard, and looked tired and worried.

“You don’t seem well,” said Anne, mechanically.

“I am horribly nervous, that’s all,” he answered, passing his hand through his hair. “I suppose it’s this damp heat. Will it annoy you if I smoke a cigarette? I feel my brain spinning.”

Anne nodded, and waited in silence till he had taken two or three puffs.

“Mr Hamlin,” she suddenly began, in a low, steady voice, rather like a person reciting a lesson, “it is going on three years since I left Coblenz and came into this house. I am over [294] twenty‐four, and I don’t think it is possible to continue much longer on the theory that I am your ward. It is time that something should be decided about my future.”

Hamlin listened quietly, with a certain listless and helpless look that was very painful.

“I quite agree with you,” he answered, “and I fully see how greatly I am to blame in not having forestalled you. You must not suppose that I have not thought more than once about this matter. I have done so, I assure you. But somehow, things have always come in the way; and then, you know, I—I did not wish to put any pressure upon you. In short, I am unable to say how it is that I have placed myself in what may appear to be the wrong in this matter.”

Again he passed his hand across his head.

“Forgive me,” he said, “for being so feeble this morning. I really have a wretched headache.”

“I am very sorry for you,” answered Anne, but adding with the same deliberate resolution [295], “but all the same, I feel that I can no longer delay, and that I must avail myself of this opportunity to ask you a question. Have you any intention of marrying me?”

Hamlin, who had been sitting with his head resting on his hand, vacantly watching the wreathing smoke of his cigarette, suddenly looked up at Anne. She was seated very erect in a high‐backed chair opposite, looking taller, calmer than ever, less girlish than ever also, although he had never thought of her, even years ago, as a girl. He looked at her for a moment in silence; a long, lingering, and very melancholy look.

“Miss Brown,” he answered, and his voice became tremulous towards the end of his speech, “you have, if you remember the terms of our reciprocal engagement, always been free; and you are free. It is rather sad for me to reflect—and perhaps a little sad for you also—how very differently things have turned out from what I believe both of us anticipated. And it is, as you may understand, not a little [296] sad to part with what has been the best thing in my life—to end my best episode. But you must remember that I never wished you to be otherwise than perfectly independent; it has been a great matter in a useless life like mine to have contributed to reinstate you, as it were, in your birthright; it will be something to think of later, that I have been conducive in making you what you are; and”—Hamlin had risen from his chair and stretched out his hand—“will you believe me also when I say that I am very, very happy that you have found a man whom you can love and respect, and who can make you happy?”

Hamlin’s mouth, that delicate mouth with the uncertain lines, began to quiver. Anne turned very red, and then, suddenly, very white. She did not take his hand; she did not look at him as he stood before her; her eyes seemed fixed in space, as she answered in a voice which became steadier and louder as she went on—

“You don’t understand me. I was not [297] alluding to any notion of marrying my cousin. I don’t want to marry Richard. What I want to ask you is this: Will you marry me, Mr Hamlin?”

Anne, spoke very slowly, gravely, and calmly; but as she spoke, she felt her heart tighten. There remained still one chance, one shred of hope, and in another moment that might be gone.

A sudden convulsion passed over Hamlin’s face; he caught at the back of a chair, for he seemed trembling and reeling, his eyes closed for a moment as if he were choking, and he made a vague helpless movement with one hand, as a man who cannot speak. Then, suddenly, he flung himself down before Miss Brown’s chair, seized both her hands, and covered his face with them.

“Anne—Anne!” he cried.

They remained thus for a moment; she seated upright in the chair, he on his knees, her hands pressed to his face.

“Anne—you love me,” he murmured.

[298]

Miss Brown did not answer. She looked straight before her into space, fixedly, vaguely, taking in nothing, with her solemn, tearless, grey eyes. She felt as if she were waiting she knew not for what, counting the tickings of an unheard clock.

“You love me, Anne; you love me!” cried Hamlin, louder; and pressing closer to her, he put out his arms, and drew down her face to his, and kissed her, twice, thrice, a long kiss on the mouth.

It seemed to Anne as if she felt again the throttling arms of Sacha Elaguine about her neck, her convulsive kiss on her face, the cloud of her drowsily scented hair stifling her. She drew back, and loosened his grasp with her strong hands.

Hamlin sprang up. His face was changed: he was radiant. He took her hand in both his, and looked long into her eyes.

“Forgive me,” he whispered; “forgive me—oh, forgive me, Anne. That all this time I should have been so blind—thought [299] you indifferent and contemptuous. Oh, forgive me for all my wickedness, my folly; forgive me, my darling, for not having understood that I belonged to you, that you loved me.”

Anne nodded without speaking. She could not tell a lie, even now; and she knew she must not tell the truth. Yet never perhaps had she loathed Hamlin as she loathed him—vain, fatuously happy—at this moment that he believed she had confessed that she loved him.

“Well, then,” she said quickly, “perhaps you can understand that—after what has passed, you understand—I am anxious that we should get married at once. Perry was asking me, only the other day, why things had dragged on so long; and then also there is . . .”

“I understand,” interrupted Hamlin. “Oh, forgive me, dearest. I never, never really loved that woman: I could not have loved her. I have never loved but you. Will you believe it?”

[300]

“You will never see her again?—I mean, never except in my presence? ” went on Anne. “Will you promise that? And will you promise to leave London in a day or two—to go to Italy, anywhere where she is not—and wait till I can join you with Aunt Claudia?”

“I promise; I will do anything. Oh, Anne, if only you will forget all that; if you will believe me when I tell you that I never loved that woman—that I felt the whole time that she was debasing, humiliating me, making me forfeit all my honour and my happiness . . .”

Anne paid no attention to these assurances. So he was shifting all the shame of his weakness and baseness and sensuality on to another,—washing his hands of the woman who had given herself to him. How like him! How well, how terribly well, Anne knew him!

“You have promised, remember,” she repeated,—“you will leave to‐morrow, the day after—as soon as you can. You won’t tell her where you are going—do you understand? You will write to‐day, and tell her of our [301] marriage, and that you have promised never to see her again.”

Hamlin kissed her hand with passion.

“And listen,” went on Miss Brown; “this evening there is a big party at the Argiropoulos. I did not intend going; but I wish to go now. Write to Mrs Argiropoulo to tell her we are coming together; explain that we are going to be married; ask her to tell all her guests. I want every one to know. Do you understand, Mr Hamlin—Walter, I mean? You won’t lose time, will you?”

“No, no!” cried Hamlin; “I understand. Only forgive me; and tell me that you love me, my darling;” and he seized Anne, and kissed her again with a sort of fury. “Tell me that you forgive me for all that I have made you suffer, Anne. Speak,—only one word, Anne—one word.”

Anne covered her eyes with her hand.

“I forgive you, Walter,” she answered, and burst into tears. But she wiped them away, and, rising suddenly, left the room.

[302]

“Walter is leaving for Italy to‐morrow,” she said, as she met Melton Perry in the corridor. “I want you to accompany me and Aunt Claudia there in a few days. Mr Hamlin and I are going to be married.”

“God bless my soul!” cried Perry. “When—where—why didn’t you tell me before?” But Anne was out of sight.

[303]

CHAPTER XI.

IN the blazing drawing‐room, where a crowd of black coats and shining bare shoulders and fashionable dresses contrasted drolly with the melancholy thin Cupids of Burne Jones, the mournful mysterious ladies of Rossetti, which adorned the walls, one of Mrs Argiropoulo’s many musical celebrities was wailing Austrian popular songs at the piano. Miss Brown, who had undergone the universal staring and received the general congratulations with a monosyllabic composure much criticised on all hands, had slipped away, when the Austrian tenor approached the piano, to the furthest end of the room, where she was half protected from sight by the plants of an adjacent conservatory. All this triumph, people said to themselves [304], as they looked round at her seated alone in the corner, dressed in a wonderful garment of cloth‐of‐silver, resting her dark head on her hand, was too much even for her. Yet in reality Miss Brown did not feel any emotion; she was too tired for that. She felt as if she had just finished a long journey, or as she used sometimes to do years ago after a hard morning’s ironing in summer—weary, broken, too numb for thought or for pain. The guttural voice of the Austrian tenor, wailing out the simple little mountain songs, which would at any other time have brought the tears into her eyes and a thought of death into her heart, seemed to her vague and distant like a voice in a dream; and like a crowd seen through a mist seemed all these very concrete men and women all about her. As the last notes of the song died away, she felt the touch of a fan, the downy stroke of a bunch of feathers, on her neck. It was Madame Elaguine behind her; but the sight of Madame Elaguine caused Anne no emotion, and she [305] followed the Russian woman, who beckoned her into the neighbouring conservatory, in the same absent way as she had answered the congratulations of her acquaintances.

“You are very tired, Annie dear,” said Madame Elaguine, in one of her caressing half‐whispers, but fixing her eyes on Miss Brown with a look which was anything but a caress. “All this emotion—this general ovation and triumph, this great joy of satisfied love—has been too much for you, poor child!”

Anne shook her head, thrown back on the Persian embroidery of an ottoman, among the large tropical leaves and the delicate stems of bamboos and fern plants. She knew that this woman wished to insult her; but she was too weary and absent‐minded to care.

“I am merely rather tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night,” she answered, as she might have answered the maid who pulled up her blinds in the morning. Madame Elaguine seemed a hundred miles away from her: she [306] shrank neither from a woman whom she loathed, nor from a woman who, she felt, was bent upon insulting her.

She did not feel Madame Elaguine’s glance, although the glance was concentrated hatred and outrage.

“Poor child!” repeated Sacha, taking one of her hands and pressing it between her own burning ones. “Poor child! Ah, well, I won’t bore you with congratulations. I know Walter sufficiently well to know how happy he will make you; and I know how deeply you have loved him all the while, and how faithfully he has always loved you. But I want to give you a little wedding‐present. I have brought it here, because Walter has written to me that you don’t want to have your bliss disturbed, and are going off at once. Quite right. When people are very happy, there’s something immodest in letting the world see it and be jealous; that’s the classic view, isn’t it?” As she spoke she drew from out of her cloud of lace and feather trimmings a little leathern case.

[307]

“Oh dear no,” went on Madame Elaguine, “you mustn’t think I’ve been ruining myself. I’m far too much of a pauper and far too selfish to go making handsome presents. It doesn’t cost me anything, you see, for Walter gave me them last month; and as I really don’t care a jackstraw about pearls, and I accepted them merely to please him, I think it’s much better you should have them to make the set complete, since you have the necklace.”

The case contained two large pearl ear‐rings, which Anne immediately recognised as part of the set once belonging to Hamlin’s mother which he had shown her long ago at Wotton. Round her own neck was the former Mrs Hamlin’s pearl necklace; he had given it to her that evening, not a fortnight, perhaps, since giving Sacha the ear‐rings.

Anne looked at the ear‐rings for a moment, feeling the triumphant eyes of Sacha upon her; she felt also her face grow crimson, and her soul waking out of its state of lethargic indifference, with a fierce desire to tear the pearls [308] off her own throat, and crush them into the carpet with her foot.

“Thank you,” she merely said, closing the box and handing it back to Sacha; “I don’t think I could wear them, Madame Elaguine. And I don’t think my husband would wish me to wear them,” she added, but the words half stuck in her throat.

“Won’t you, really?” said the Russian. “I assure you Walter will be most mortified if he hear that you have refused them. It would be a hundred pities that the set should be spoilt. I wouldn’t have taken these, if he hadn’t told me that I should have the rest. You see, I was the nearest of kin last month. And I’m sure it would make poor Aunt Philippa turn in her grave to know that all her things did not go to Miss Anne Brown. Ah, well—as you like. I can always get them exchanged at the jeweller’s for something else—or I’ll tell Walter, and he can buy them back for you. That’s more like a pauper’s proceeding.”

“Thank you, Madame Elaguine,” said Anne, [309] preparing to rise, “I think I ought to go and talk to some of the people in the next room.”

But Madame Elaguine laid hold of her wrist. “Don’t go yet, my dear Madonna of the Glaciers—I shan’t see you again, perhaps, for a long while, and I want you to tell me some things. I’m a horrible ill‐bred little creature, I know, but I can’t help it. I’ve always had a lot of morbid curiosities. One of them is how love‐marriages are made up—how it all comes about. You see I wasn’t married for love—I was married for money by my Russian relations. But I always think I should like to know about love‐marriages. Tell me what Walter said to you—how he did it. I wish I’d seen it.”

Anne’s face was burning. Each of Madame Elaguine’s words was a piece of insolence.

“Did you always love him—ever since the beginning—ever since he sent you to school; and have you always gone on caring for him in the same way?” went on Madame Elaguine. “Fancy, I thought you didn’t care much for [310] Walter, almost disliked him; I almost thought you were in love with your big black cousin. It was like my obtuseness! Do tell me all about it . . .”

“There is nothing to tell you, Madame Elaguine,” said Anne. “Mr Hamlin and I are going to be married, that’s all.”

“In short,” answered Madame Elaguine, bursting into an angry laugh, “you thought better of it; you learned to appreciate the satisfaction of getting a handsome husband, with a good name and a good fortune. I think you are quite right. Mrs Hamlin of Wotton sounds better than Mrs Richard Brown. Or else are you still sufficiently human to enjoy making a man give the cold shoulder to another woman? I fear I must spoil your satisfaction in this. I have never cared a button for Walter. I would not have married Walter for anything you could offer me; I only cared to bring down his pride a little, in remembrance of the days when his great virtue of seventeen had me turned out of my uncle’s house, like a [311] housemaid who has made love with the butler. As to Walter himself, you are welcome to him, though I don’t promise that some day the whim may not return to me to amuse myself a little more at his expense.” Miss Brown looked at Madame Elaguine with disgust: this delicate charming little creature seemed suddenly transformed into Mrs Perry’s housemaid Beppa, whom she had overtaken one day, years ago in Florence, browbeating and insulting the laundress’s girl, accusing her of trying to get between herself and the man‐cook.

“All this is very useless and disagreeable,” she said, rising to go. “Good‐bye, Madame Elaguine.”

But Sacha laid her hand on Miss Brown’s arm.

“I see,” she said, “your friend and former master Mr Perry has been entertaining you with anecdotes of my life, and perhaps Edmund Lewis has been doing so also. Very shocking, weren’t they? Well, I won’t insult you any longer with my presence. But I [312] think it’s as well that you should know in time that if I have been in the mud according to your ideas, Walter Hamlin has been into it with me. It’s rather difficult to make such things clear to a Madonna of the Glaciers, but perhaps Mr Perry will help you to understand the matter. To put it plainly, ever since you fell ill, Walter has been my lover.”

The little woman spoke in a very low but very distinct voice, unabashed, brazen, almost smiling. She said the last words not in shame, but in triumph; hurled them at Anne as an outrage, almost as a thunderbolt.

“I knew it already,” answered Miss Brown, gathering her white brocade skirts about her.

“You knew it!” exclaimed Madame Elaguine, staring at her as if she could not believe her ears.

“You knew it!” she repeated after a moment, a sudden triumphant scorn coming into her face. “You knew it, and you make him marry you all the same! Well, I wish you all possible happiness, and I rejoice that [313] Walter has got a wife who understands so well how to deal with him. As to me, pray don’t think that I bear you any malice. I am only surprised and amused; and extremely interested, from the psychological point of view, in finding that a virtuous woman may condescend to things which would turn the stomach of a woman who has no pretence to virtue.”

Anne brushed aside the palm‐leaves and ferns of the conservatory door. A sudden pain, as of a blow with the fist, was at her heart. She did not answer, for she felt that there was truth in Sacha’s insult.

Miss Brown had forgotten that ignominy is an almost indispensable part of all martyrdom.

She found Hamlin standing in a little knot of friends.

“I fear I must be going home rather early,” he said, “as I set off for the Italian lakes tomorrow morning, and all my packing still remains to be done. And I think,” he added, with a kind of supplicating look, “that Miss [314] Brown looks rather tired also, and ought to let me escort her home.”

Anne nodded. She saw the burly shoulders, the bushy black head of Richard Brown in the crowd, and she dreaded meeting him.

“Let us go,” she said.

But as they were turning away, Richard made his way to his cousin.

“Good evening, Annie,” he said, in an off‐hand voice; “I have had no opportunity of congratulating you and Mr Hamlin.”

“Thank you, Dick,” answered Miss Brown, her eyes mechanically avoiding his. “I’m sorry it’s so late; the carriage is at the door, and Mr Hamlin and I must be leaving.”

“Ah, very good!” said Brown. “Well, then, I will take you down, and help you to get your wraps, while Mr Hamlin finishes taking leave of his friends.” He gave a contemptuous nod to Hamlin, waited for Anne to have said good‐bye to her friends, and pushed his way with her through the crowd, while [315] Mrs Argiropoulo murmured, for the thirtieth or fortieth time that evening—

“Well, I must say it is a satisfaction to see two people who are really made for each other, like Walter Hamlin and dear Anne.”

There was no one as yet in the highly æsthetic study, which had been turned into a perfect exhibition of fantastic shawls and opera‐cloaks. They had said nothing while going down‐stairs, and even now Richard Brown was silent, as he hunted about for his cousin’s cloak.

“Anne, are you there?” asked Hamlin’s voice from the corridor.

Richard Brown’s heavy brows contracted. “Here’s your fan,” he said, stooping to pick it up. “Good‐bye, Nan! I hope you may be happy—”

She stretched out her hand. “Good‐bye, Dick!” said Miss Brown, raising her eyes shyly upon him; “you have been very good to me—”

Richard looked at her for a moment as she stood under the lamp, in her shimmering white [316] dress. Then, as she was going away on Hamlin’s entrance, he turned round suddenly to her and murmured, in his hot angry whisper—

“Good‐bye, Nan—you mercenary creature!”

A few intimate friends had assembled near the hall door, to say good‐bye.

“Here, Mr Chough,” cried fat old Mr Saunders, the impeccable disciple of Fra Angelico, “you’ll be just in time to write a nice bridal ode while Miss Brown packs her boxes to‐morrow. Mind you cut out Spenser and Suckling and all the rest of them, old boy.”

Cosmo Chough, his cat‐like black whiskers brushed fiercely over a shirt fantastically frilled and starched, to show his eighteenth‐century proclivities, made one of his beautiful bows.

“Some better poet than I must write that ode,” he said; “all that her poor servant Cosmo can do, is to thank Miss Brown from all his heart for marrying his dearest friend.”

Anne heard the voice of the Poet of Womanhood vaguely, distantly, like all the others.

[317]

“Is the carriage there, Mr Hamlin?” she asked.

“Here it is. Good night! Good‐bye!” cried Hamlin. He jumped in after her.

“Oh, Anne! that you should really have loved me all this time—you, really you; and that I should never have understood it,” he whispered, pressing her hand, as the carriage rolled off.

“Are you cold, my love?”

Miss Brown suddenly shivered, as he put his arm round her shoulder. The flash of a street lamp as they passed quickly, had shown her Hamlin’s face close to her own, and radiant with the triumph of satisfied vanity.

THE END.
PRINTED BY WILLIAM BLACKWOOD AND SONS.

Citation Suggestion for this Object
TextGrid Repository (2023). English ELTeC Novel Corpus (ELTeC-eng). Miss Brown. Miss Brown. European Literary Text Collection (ELTeC). ELTeC conversion. https://hdl.handle.net/21.11113/0000-000F-EFF7-E