A Country Gentleman


A MINUTE after Warrender was in the room where Lady Markland sat, with her great writing-table against the light, He did not know how he got there. It seemed impossible that it could have been by mere walking out of one room into another in the ordinary mechanical way. She rose up, dark against the light, when he went in, which was not at all her habit, but he was not sufficiently self-possessed to be aware of that. She turned towards him. which perhaps was an involuntary, instinctive precaution, for against the full daylight in the great window he could but imperfectly see her features. The precaution was unnecessary. His eyes were not clear enough to perceive what was before him. He saw his conception of her, serene in a womanly majesty far above his troubled state of passion, and was quite incapable of perceiving the sympathetic trouble in her face. She held out her hand to him before he could speak, and said, with a little catch in her breath, “ Oh, Mr. Warrender! I — Geoff — we were not sure whether we should see you to-day.”

This was a perfectly unintentional speech, and quite uncalled for ; for nobody could be more regular, more punctual, than Warrender. It was the first thing she could find to say.

“ Did you think I could stay away ? ” he asked, in a low and hurried tone, which was not at all the beginning he had intended. Then he added, “ But I have given Geoff a holiday : if you can accord me a little time—if I may speak to you ” —

“ Geoff is not like other boys,” she said, with a nervous laugh, still standing with her back to the light. “ He does not rejoice in a holiday, like most children : you have made him love his work.”

“ It is not about Geoff,” he said. “ I have — something to say to you, if you will hear me. I — cannot be silent any longer.”

“ Oh,” she said, “ you are going to tell me — I know what it is you are going to say — that this cannot continue. I knew that must come sooner or later. Mr. Warrender, you don’t need to be told how grateful I am ; I thank you, from the bottom of my heart. You have done so much for us. It was clear that it could not—go on forever.” She put out her hand for her chair, and drew it closer, and sat down, still with her back to the window ; and now, even in his preoccupation with his own overwhelming excitement, he saw that she too trembled a little, and that there was agitation in her tone.

“ Lady Markland, it is not that. It is more than that. The moment has come when I must — when I cannot keep up these pretenses any longer. Ah ! ” for she made a little movement with her hand as if to impose silence, “ must it be so ? Must I go unheard ? ” He came closer to her, holding out his hands in the eloquence of nature, exposing his agitated countenance to the full revelation of the light. “ It is not much, is it, in return for a life — only to be allowed to speak, once : for half an hour, for five minutes — once—and then to be silent?” Here he paused for breath, still holding out his hands in a silent appeal. “ But if that is my sentence I will accept it,” he said.

“ Oh, Mr. Warrender, do not speak so. Your sentence! from me, that am so deeply in your debt — that never can repay — but I know you never thought of being repaid.”

“ You will repay me now, tenfold, if you will let me speak.”

She put out her hand towards a chair, pointing him to it, and gave him an agitated smile. “ Of course you shall speak, whatever you wish or please, as if to your mother, or your elder sister, or an old, old friend.”

She put up this little barrier of age instinctively, hastily snatching at the first defensive object she could find. And he sat down as she bade him: but now that he had her permission said nothing, — nothing with his tongue, but with his clasped hands and with his eyes so much, that she covered hers with an involuntary movement, and uttered a little agitated cry. For the moment he was incapable of anything more.

“ Mr. Warrender,” she said tremulously, “don’t, oh, don’t say what will make us both unhappy. You know that I am your — friend; you know that I am a great deal older than you are, Geoff’s mother, not a woman to whom — not a woman open to — not a ” —

“ I will tell you,” he said, “ I know better; this one thing I know better,— a woman as far above me as heaven is above earth, whom I am not worth a look or a word from. Do you think I don’t know that? You will say I ought not to have come, knowing what I did, that there was no woman but you in the world for me, and that you were not for me, nor ever would have any thought of me. I should have taken care of myself, don’t you think ? But I don’t think so,” he added, almost with violence. “ I have had a year of paradise. I have seen you every day, and heard you speak, and touched your hand. Tomorrow I shall curse my folly that could not be content with that. But to-day I am mad, and I cannot help myself. I can’t be silent, though it is my only policy. Morning and night I think of nothing but you. When I go to sleep, and when I wake, and even when I dream, I can’t think of anything but only of what you will say. That is what I am going over and over all day long, — every little word that you say.”

He poured this forth with a haste and fluency utterly unlike his usual mode of speech, never taking breath, never taking his eyes from her, a man possessed ; while she, shrinking back in her chair, her eyes cast down, her hands nervously clasping and unclasping each other, listened, beaten down by the tempest of an emotion such as she had never seen before, such as she could scarcely understand. She had been wooed long ago, lightly wooed, herself almost a child ; the whole matter little more than a frolic, though it turned into a tragedy; but she did not know and had never met with anything like this. He paused a little to recover his breath, to moisten his parched lips, which were dry and hot with excitement, and then he resumed.

“ You talk of a mother, a sister, a friend. I think you want to mock me, Lady Markland. If you were to say a woman I ought to be content to worship, then I could understand you. I know I ought to have been content — except that I have gone distracted and can’t be silent, can’t keep quiet. Oh, forgive me for it. Here is my life which is all yours, and my heart to put your foot on if you please ; all of me belongs to you; I wish no better, only forgive me for saying it — just once, once!” In his vehemence he got down on his knees — not by way of kneeling to her, only to get nearer, to come within reach. He touched her hand as if it had been the sceptre of mercy. “ Speak to me,” he said, “ speak to me ! even if to tell me that I am a castaway ! ”

Lady Markland got up quickly, with a look of pain, as if she would have fled. “ How could you be a castaway ? ” she cried. “ Oh, Mr. Warrender, have pity on me! What can I say? Why should not we live, as we have been doing, in peace and quiet ? Why should these dreadful questions be raised ? Listen to me a little. Can friends not be friends without this ? I am old, I am married ! There never could be any question of— Oh, listen to me! All this that you have been telling me is pity. Yes, it is pity. You are so sorry for me. You think I am helpless and want — some one to take care of me, like other women. Stop, stop ! it is not so ! You must hear me out. I am not so helpless; and you are young; and some one better than me, some fresh girl, some one like yourself — Theo ! ” This name came from her lips like a cry, because he had drawn nearer as she drew away from him, and had got her hand in both his and was kissing it desperately, as if he never would let it go. She never called him by this name, and yet it was so usual in the house that it did not sound as does a man’s Christian name suddenly pronounced by the woman he loves, like a surrender and end of all contention. But she did not, even when she made that cry, withdraw her hand from him. She covered her face with the other, and stood swaying slightly backward away from him, a figure full of reluctance, pain, almost terror ; yet without either word or gesture that should send him away.

“ Some one,” he cried, “ like myself ! I want no one, nothing in the

world, but you ! It is not I that have raised the question, it is something stronger than I. Pity ! Oh, how dare you ! how dare you ! ” He kissed her hand with a kind of fury between every word. “ I, sorry for the woman whom I worship, thinking she needs me! Good heaven ! are you such a woman as you are, and know so little ? Or is it true about women that they don’t know love, or want love, but only something tame, something quiet, — what you call affection ? ” He stopped with his voice full of scorn, notwithstanding the paroxysm of passion, and looked up at her, though on his knees, in the superiority which he felt. “ You want a friend that will be tame and live in peace and quiet; and I, you think, want a fresh girl, like myself. Do you mean to insult us both, Lady Markland? Yes, strike ! Order me away from you ; but don’t mock me! — don’t mock me!” Then out of scorn and superiority he sank again into the suppliant. “ I will be tame, if you like ; anything that you like. Only don’t send me away ! ”

She drew her hand away from him, at last, and sank into her chair, with her heart in such a commotion, that she scarcely heard what he was Saying for the loud beating in her ears. Then she made a stand again, having been, as it were, beaten from the first parallels, carried away by that fiery charge. She recovered herself a little; controlled the hurrying pulses; called back her strength. She said with a trembling voice, “ Oh, let us be calm, if we can ! Think a little of my position, and yours. O Theo ! think, besides, what I have said, that I am old. How can I bid you go, I who owe to you — you will not let me say it, but I feel it in my heart — so much, so much, of the comfort of my life! I tell you again, you should have said what you have been saying to a girl — who would have put her hand in yours and that would have been all ” —

He put out his hand to take hers once more, but this time she refused him.

“ Sit there and let us talk. If I had been that girl !—but I am not, I never can be. I am a woman who have had to act for myself. I am Geoff’s mother. I must think of him and what has to be done for him. How can you say I mock you ? We are two reasonable beings. We must think ; we cannot be carried away by — by — by fancy, by what you call ” —

Her voice broke, she could not go on, what with the hurrying of her blood, the scrutiny of his looks, the passion in him which infected her. She waved her hand to him to sit down, to be calm, to listen: but she had no voice to speak.

“ I am not reasonable,” he replied, “ no, don’t think it; there is no reason in me. Afterwards, I will hear all there is to say. You shall make conditions, explanations, anything you please. Now is not the time for it. Tell me, am I to go or stay ? ” He was hoarse, while she was dumb. With both the question had gone far beyond the bounds of that reason to which she had appealed. “That is the only thing,” he repeated. “ Tell me : am I to go or stay ? ”

Looking forward to this, it had seemed that there was much to be said: on his side all the eloquence of passion; on hers the specious arguments of a woman who thinks she may still be able to withhold and restrain. All these possibilities had fled. They looked at each other, almost antagonists, because of being so much the reverse. She drew back, holding herself apart; unwilling to accept the necessity of that decision, not knowing how to escape from it; holding her hands clasped together that he might not secure them ; her heart fluttering in her throat, her head throbbing with pain and excitement. Ah, if she had been that girl ! If he had sought one like himself ! He felt it, too, even in the scorn with which he repulsed the suggestion ; and for a moment it hung on the balance of a thought, on the turn of a look, whether his patience might not give way ; whether his fastidious temper might not take fire at the aspect of that reluctance with which she held away from him, kept back, would not yield. But, on the other hand, the very reluctance, was it not a subtle attraction, a charm the more ; giving a sweetness beyond all speaking to the certainty that, underneath all that resistance, the real citadel was won ?

After this momentary armistice and pause, in which they both seemed to regain their hurried breath, and the mist of the combat dispelled a little, he threw himself down by her again, and got both the clasped hands into his own, saying with something between supplication and authority, “ I am to stay ? ”

“ I cannot tell. I cannot — I cannot ”—

Her voice was almost inaudible ; but it was enough that there was no negative which could be uttered; and in this way the long battle came to an end in a moment. They looked at each other, scarcely believing it; asking each other, could it be so ? Even he scarcely ventured to presume that it was so, though he had forced it and taken the decision into his own hands.

There ensued a half hour or more of bewildered happiness, in which it seemed to him, at least, that the world had turned into a different sphere, and to her that there was in life a sweetness which had come to her too late, of which she could never taste the true flavor, nor forget the bitterness behind; yet which was sweet and wonderful ; too wonderful, almost, to believe. She delivered herself over to listen, to behold the flood of the young man’s rapture. It filled her with a kind of admiration and almost terror. She was like his mother, though with a difference. She had not known what love was. It was wonderful to her to see it, to know that she was the object of it; but as the warm tide touched her, invaded her being, carried her away there was something of fear mingled with her yielding to that delight. She had been so certain that she would not yield ; and yet had made so poor a resistance ! It was fortunate that he was so lost on his side in the wonder of the new bliss, and had so much to pour forth of triumph and ecstasy, that he accepted the silence on her part without comment even in his own mind. It was too completely unhoped for, too extraordinary, what had already happened, that he should ask for more. Her passive position, her reticence, hut added to the rapture. She was his almost against her will, constrained by the torrent of love which was irresistible, which had carried all her defenses away. This gave her a sort of majesty in the young man’s dazzled eyes. He was giddy with joy and pride. It had seemed to him impossible that he could ever win this queen of his every thought; and it became her, as a queen still, to stand almost aloof, reluctant, although in all the sweetness of consent she had been made to yield. It was her part, too, in nature and according to all that was most seemly, to bring him back to the consideration of that invading sea of common life which surrounded his golden isle of happiness. She put up her hand as if to stop his mouth.

“ Oh, Theo, there are so many things which we must think of. It cannot be all happiness as you suppose. You are not thinking how many troublesome things I bring with me.”

“ Let trouble be for to-morrow,” he cried; “nothing but joy on this white day.”

She looked at him with a shiver, yet a smile. “ Ah, you are so young ! your heart has no ghosts like mine.”

“ Speak respectfully of my heart, for it is yours. The ghosts shall be laid, and the troubles will fly away. What are ghosts to you and me ? One may be subject to them, but two can face the world.”

“Oh, dreamer!” she cried, but the reflection of the light in his face came into hers, almost against her will.

“Not dreamer: lover, a better word. Don’t spend your strength for nothing, my lady and mistress. Do you really believe that you can make me afraid, to-day ? ”

She shook her head, not answering, which indeed he scarcely left her time to do, he had so much to say. His very nature seemed changed, the proud, fastidious, taciturn Warrender babbling like a happy boy, in the sudden overflow of a bliss which was too much for him.

But while he ran on, a real interruption came: the profane and commonplace burst in with a louder voice than hers. It was not anything of importance equal to the greatness of the crisis : it was only the bell that meant the commonest of all events, the bell for luncheon. It fell into the soft retirement of that paradise, which was something of a fool’s paradise to Theo, scaring and startling the pair. She made a start from his side with a guilty blush, and even he for a moment paused with something like a sense of alarm. They looked at each other as if they had been suddenly cited to appear before a tribunal and answer for what they had done. Then he broke into a breathless laugh. “ I shall have to leave you. I can’t face that ordeal. Oh, what a falling off is here — luncheon ! must I leave everything for that ? ”

“ Yes, go, go: it is too much,” she murmured, like a culprit whose accomplice may be saved, but who herself must face the judge. “I could not bear it; I could not hold up my head, if you were there.”

“ One moment! ” She was leaning towards him, when Geoff’s hasty steps were heard in the hall and his voice that seemed to sound sharp in her very ears, “ Where ’s mamma ? ” Lady Markland fell back with a face like a ghost, covering it with her hands. Warrender felt as if a sudden flame was lit in his heart, He seized her almost with violence. “ I will come back to-night, when he is in bed. Be in the avenue. I must see you again to-day.”

“I will, Theo.”

“ At nine o’clock.” He pulled away the hand which still was over her eyes. “ You are mine, remember, mine first. I shall count the minutes till I come back. Mine first, mine always.”

“ Oh, Theo, yes ! — for the love of Heaven go ! ”

Was that how to conclude the first meeting of happy lovers? Warrender rushed through the hall, with his blood on fire, almost knocking over Geoff, who presented himself, very curious and sharp-eyed, directly in the way.

“ Oh, I say, Theo ! ” cried Geoff. “ Where are you going, Theo ? That’s lunch ! lunch is on the table. Don’t you hear the bell ? Can’t you stay ? ”

Warrender waved his hand, he could make no reply. He would have taken the child by the collar and flung him far away into the unknown, if that had been practicable. Ghosts, she had said : Geoff was no ghost, but he was insupportable ; not to be seen with composure at that tremendous moment. The young man rushed down the steps, and struck across the drive at a pace like a racehorse, though he was only walking. He forgot even the big black, munching his hay tranquilly in the stable and thinking no harm.


Lady Markland came out of her room a little after, paler than usual, with a great air of stateliness and gravity, conscious to her finger-points of the looks that met her, and putting on an aspect of corresponding severity to meet them. Geoff seized and clung to her arm, as he was wont, and found it trembling. He had begun to pour forth his wonder about Theo even before he made that discovery.

“ Why, Theo has gone away ! He would n’t stop for lunch. I shouted to him, but he never paid any attention. Is he ill, or is he in trouble, or what’s the — Why, mamma ! you are all trembling ! ”

“Nonsense, Geoff, I have been — sitting with the window open, and it is a little cold to-day.”

“ Cold! ” Geoff was so struck by the absurdity of the statement that he stopped to look at her. “ Ah,” he said, “you have not been running up and down to the stables, or you never would think that.”

“ No, I have been sitting — writing.”

“ Oh! ” said the child again, “ were you writing all the time Theo was there ? I thought you were talking to Theo. He gave me a holiday because he had something he wanted to say to you.”

“ I have told you a great many times, Geoff, that you should not call Mr. Warrender Theo. It is much too familiar. You must not presume, because he is so very kind to you ” —

“ Oh, he does n’t mind,” said Geoff lightly. “ What was he saying to you, mamma ? ”

By this time they were at table; that is, she was at the bar, — seated, indeed, as a concession to her weakness, — about to be tried for her life before those august judges, Geoff and old Soames, both of whom had their attention fixed on her with an intentness which the whole bench could scarcely equal. She held her head very high, but she did not dare to lift up her eyes.

“ Will you have this, or some of the chicken?” she asked, with a voice of solemnity not quite adapted to the question.

“ I say, mamma, was it about me, or was it some trouble he was in ? ”

“ My dear Geoff, let us attend to our own business. The chicken is best for you. And why have you been running up and down to the stables ? I thought I had said that I objected to the stables.”

By dint of thus carrying the war into the enemy’s country, she was able to meet her boy’s keen eyes, which were sharp with curiosity, “ like needles,” as old Soames said. Soames, the other of her judges, gave his verdict without hesitation. “ She has given him the sack,” he said confidentially to the housekeeper, as soon as he could spare a moment. “And a very good thing, too.” The housemaids had come to the same conclusion, seeing Theo’s hurried exit, and the rate at which he walked down the avenue. The news ran through the house in a moment: “ My lady has given him the sack.”The old servants were glad, because there would then be no change ; and the young ones were sorry for the same reason, and partly, too, because of their sympathy for the young lover dismissed, whose distracted departure without his horse went to their tender hearts.

Geoff had to enter into an explanation as to why he had sought the stables as soon as he was dismissed from his books, — an explanation which involved much ; for it had already been pointed out to him on various occasions that the coachman and Black were not improving society. Geoff had to confess that it was dull when he had a holiday, that he did n’t know where to go, that Black and the coachman were more fun than any one else, — with an expressive glance over his shoulder at old Soames : all which pleas went like so many arrows to Lady Markland’s heart. Had she been so neglecting her boy that Black and the coachman had become his valued allies ? — she who believed in her heart that up to this moment her life had been devoted to Geoff.

The day passed to her like a day in a fever. Geoff liked it, on the whole. There was no Theo to linger after lunch and interfere with his possession of his mother. The long afternoon was all his, and Lady Markland, though she was, he thought, dull, and sometimes did not hear what he said, letting her attention stray and her eyes go far away over his head, was yet very tender, more affectionate than ever, anxious to inquire into all his wishes and to find out everything he wanted. He talked to her more than he had done at a stretch for a long time, and made it so apparent how completely he calculated upon her as always his companion that Lady Markland’s guilty soul was troubled within her. She faltered once, “ But, Geoff, you know you will have to go to school, they all say; and then to Oxford, when you are a man.” “Yes, and you can come and live close by my college,” the boy said. “ Many boys’ mothers do, the rector told me.” Her heart sank more and more as he opened up his plans before her. It was all quite simple to Geoff. He did not dream of any change in himself, and what change could ever come to her ? Presently the manner in which the child calculated upon her, ignoring every personal claim of hers, awoke a little spark of resistance in Lady Markland’s breast. A little while ago she would herself have said (nay, this morning she would have said it) that she had no life but in him, that for her there was no future save Geoff’s future; and even now it seemed guilt in her that she should have calculations of her own.

But as for saying anything to him on the subject, how could she do it? It was impossible. Had he been a young man, with some acquaintance with life, she thought it would not have been so hard ; or had he been a mere child, to whom she could have said that Theo was to be his new papa. But ten ; a judge and a critic; a creature who knew so much and so little! Half a dozen times she cleared her throat to begin, to lead the conversation back to Theo, to make some attempt at disclosure; but another look at his face chilled the words on her lips. She could not do it: how could she ever do it ? They went out and had a long drive together; they strolled about the park afterwards before dinner, the boy hanging, as was his habit, upon her arm, pressed close to her, talking — about everything in heaven and earth, but never loosening that claim which was supreme, that proprietorship in her which she had never contested till now, never herself doubted. Geoff meant to be very good to his mother,— to be her protector, her support, as soon as he should be big enough. She was to be his chief companion, always with him, his alone, all his, as she was now. Any other reading of life was not possible to him. He felt sure there was something about Theo which he had not been told, some story which he would get mamma to tell him sooner or later, but never that this story could interfere with himself and his mother: that was impossible, beyond the range of the boy’s wildest misgivings. As for Lady Markland, she was more than silenced, she was overawed, by his certainty. She let him run on, her own thoughts drifting away; pulled up now and then by an importunate, repeated question, then wandering again, but never far, only to the impossibility of making Geoff understand. How should she convey to him the first germ of the fact that mother and son are not one ; that they separate and part in the course of nature; that a woman in the flower of her life does not necessarily centre every wish in the progress of a little boy? How to tell him this ; how to find a language which could express it, in which such a horrible fact could be told! To herself it was terrible, a thing foreign to all her tenets, to all her principles. Even now that she had done it, and bound herself forever, and raised this wall between herself and her child, between herself and her past life, it was terrible to her. If she had ever been certain of anything in her life, it had been that such a step was impossible. Marriage for her who was already married ; a new life to come in place of the old ; a state of affairs in which Geoff should no longer be first, — in which, in fact, it would be better, an ease to her, that Geoff should be away. Oh, horrible thought! —an ease to her to be without Geoff! She had lived for him ; she had said and felt that he was everything to her, the sole object of her love and her life. And now he was an embarrassment, and it would be well for her if he could be got away.

In this confusion of mind mingled with impulses to flight, with impulses of going and throwing herself on Theo’s mercy, begging him to give her up, — for she could not do it,—the day passed. Geoff clung to her and talked, — talked incessantly all the day through, giving her his opinions about Theo as well as about everything else ; and she listened, hearing some things most distinctly, as it may be believed, but not all, nor near all. Weary, was it possible, of her own child, of the ceaseless voice in her ears? She was conscious of urging him to go to bed, as she would not have thought of doing in other circumstances ; urging him against his will, telling him that he was getting later and later, that it made him pale and nervous, that he must go — all because she was anxious to escape, because she had promised to meet — Could a woman sink into lower humiliation, — a woman a mother, not a foolish girl? At last she managed to escape breathlessly, tying a black veil over her head; stealing out, saying a nervous word to Soames about the beautiful moonlight. Even Soames had to see her humiliation. She had to linger, as if she were looking at the moonlight, while Soames stood upon the steps, and with shame and confusion crossed the space before the door, which was all one flood of light, marked only by her little shadow, small and clinging to her feet. She could have wished that there should never be moonlight more, so shamed and mortified and humiliated did she feel. The darkness would have been better; the darkness would have hidden her, at least. In this condition of shame and pain she went along, gliding into what shadow the young trees could throw, brushing against the bushes underneath. And then suddenly, all in a moment, there was calm ; ah, more than calm, a refuge from all trouble, a sudden escape from herself and all things that were oppressing her. Without any word said, a sudden meeting in the shade of the trees, and two where there had been but one, —a young lover and a woman who, Heaven help her, was young too, and could still drop her burden off her shoulders and for a moment forget everything except the arm that supported her, and the whisper close to her ear, and the melting of all her bonds, the melting of her very being into his, the heavenly ease and forgetfulness, the Vita Nuova never known before.

It seemed not herself all laden with shame, but another woman, who raised her head, and said to him, shaking as it were her bondage from her, “This is not becoming for you and me. Let us go in. Whatever we have to encounter together, we must not do it in secret. I must not linger about here, Theo, like one of my maids.”

“ Yet stay a moment,” he said. Perhaps the maids have the best of it. The sweet air of the night, the magical light so near them, the contact and close vicinity, almost unseen of each other, added an ethereal atmosphere to the everlasting, always continued tale.

“ ’T was partly love and partly fear,
And partly’t was a bashful art,
That I might rather feel than see
The swelling of her heart.”

After a time, they emerged into the moonlight; slowly moving towards the house; she leaning upon his arm, he stooping over her, a suggestive posture. Soames upon the doorsteps could not believe his eyes. He would have shut up before now, if he had not seen my lady go out. To admire the moonlight ! It did not seem to Soames a very sensible occupation ; but when he saw her coming back, not alone, wonder and horror crept over him. He watched them with his mouth open, as well as his eyes, and when he went down-stairs and told Black, who had made the horses comfortable for the night, to go and bring out Mr. Warrender’s horse, a shock ran through the entire house. After all ! But then it was possible that he had always intended to come back and ride his horse home.

Black walked about (very unwillingly and altogether indifferent to the beauty of the moonlight) for nearly an hour before Warrender came out, with an aspect was very unlike that of the morning. Happiness beamed from him as he walked; and Lady Markland came out to the door to see him start, and called good-night as he rode away. “ Goodnight— till to-morrow,” he said, turning back as long as he could see her, which was a tempting of Providence on the part of a man who was not a great rider, and with a big horse like the black, and so fresh, and irritated to be taken out of the stable at that hour of the night. The servants exchanged looks as my lady walked back with eyes that shone as they had never shone before, and something of that glory about her, that dazzling and mist of self-absorption, which belongs to no other condition of the mind. She went back into the room and shut the door, and sat down where she had been sitting, and delivered herself over to those visions which are more enthralling than any reality; those mingled recollections and anticipations which are the elixir of love. She had forgotten all about herself, — herself as she was before that last meeting. Her age, her gravity, the falseness of the-position, the terrible Geoff, all floated away from her thoughts. They were filled only with what he had been saying and doing, as if she had been that “ fresh girl ” of whom she had spoken to him. She forgot that she was not that girl. She forgot that she was four years (magnified this morning into a hundred) and a whole life in advance of Theo. She thought only — Poor lady, assailed after her time by this love-fever, taking it late and not lightly ! — she thought not at all, but surrendered herself to that overwhelming wave of emotion which, more than almost anything else, has the power of filling up all the vacancies of life. Her troublous thoughts, her shame, her sense of all the difficulties in her way, went from her in that new existence. They were all there unchanged, but for the moment she thought of them no more.

It was not till some time after this that she went upstairs with her candle through the hushed and darkened house, the light in her hand showing still that confused sweet shining in her eyes, the smile that lurked about the corners of her mouth. A faint sound made her look up as she went towards the gallery upon which all the bedrooms opened. Standing by the banister, looking down into the dark hall, was Geoff, a little white figure, his colorless hair ruffled by much tossing on his bed, his eyes dazzled by the light. “ Geoff ! ” She stood still, and her heart seemed to stop beating. To see him there was as if a curtain had suddenly fallen, shutting out all the sweet prospects before her, showing nothing but darkness and danger instead. “ Geoff! Is it you out of bed at this hour ? ”

“ Yes, it is me,” he said, in a querulous tone ; “ there is no one else so little in the house : of course it is me.”

“ You are shivering with cold ; have you ”— Her breath seemed to go from her as she came up to him and put her arm round him. “ Have you been here long, Geoff ? ”

“I couldn’t sleep,” said the child, “ and I heard a noise. I saw Theo. Has Theo been back here with you ? What did Theo want here so late at night?”

He did not look at her, but stared into the candle with eyes opened to twice their usual size.

“ Come into my room,” she said. “ You are so cold ; you are shivering. Oh, Geoff! if you make yourself ill, what shall I do ? ”

He let her lead him into her room, wrap him in a fur cloak, and kneel down beside him to chafe his feet with

her hands; this helped her in the dreadful crisis which had come so suddenly, and which she feared more than anything else in the world. “You must have been about a long time, or you could not have got so cold, Geoff.”

“ Yes, I have been about a long time. I thought you would come up directly, after Theo went away.” He looked at her very gravely as she knelt with her face on a level with his. He had filled the place of a judge before without knowing it; but now Geoff was consciously a judge, interrogating one who was too much like a criminal, who avoided the looks of that representative of offended law. “ Theo stayed a long time,” he said, “ and then he rode away. I suppose he came to fetch his horse.” How he looked at her ! Her eyes were upon his feet, which she was rubbing, as he lay stretched out on the sofa; but his eyes burned into her, through her downcast eyelids, making punctures in her very brain.

“ He did come for his horse.” She could hardly hear the words she was saying, for the tumult of her heart in her ears. “ But that was not all, Geoff.”

For a long minute no more was said ; it seemed like an hour. The mother went on rubbing the child’s feet mechanically, then bent down upon them and kissed them. No Magdalen was ever more bowed with shame and trouble. Her voice was choked; she could not speak a word in her own defense. If it had been happiness, oh, what a price to pay !

At last Geoff said, with great gravity, “ Theo was always very fond of you.”

“ I think so, Geoff,” she answered, faltering.

“ And now you are fond of him.”

She could say nothing. She put her head down upon the little white feet and kissed them, with what humility, with what compunction ! — her eyes dry and her cheeks blazing with shame.

“ It’s not anything wrong, mamma.” “No, Geoff; oh no, my darling,— they say not: if only you don’t mind.”

The brave little eyes blinked and twinkled to get rid of unwelcome tears. He put his hand upon her head and stroked it, as if it had been she that was the child. “ I do mind,” he said. She thought, as she felt the little hand upon her head, that the boy was about to call upon her for a supreme sacrifice; but for a moment there was nothing more. Afterwards he repulsed her a little ; very slightly, but yet it was a repulse. “ I suppose,” he said, “ it cannot be helped, mamma. My feet are quite warm now, and I ’ll go to bed.”

“ Geoff, is that all you have got to say to me? It can make no difference, my darling, no difference. Oh, Geoff, my own boy, you will always be my first ” —

Would he, should he, be her first thought? She paused, conscience-stricken, raising for the first time her eyes to his. But a child does not catch such an unconscious admission. He took no notice of it. His chief object, for the moment, was not to cry, which would be beneath his dignity. His little heart was all forlorn. He had no clear idea of what it was, or of what was going to happen, but only a vague certainty that mamma and Theo were to stand more and more together, and that he was “ out of it.” He could not talk of grown-up things, as they could ; he would be sent to play, as he had been this morning. He, who had been companion, counselor, everything to her, he would be sent out to play. The dreary future seemed all summed up in that. He slid out of her arms, with his little bare feet on the carpet, flinging the fur cloak from him. “ I was a little cold because the door was open, but I’m quite warm now; and I’m sleepy, too. And it’s long, long past bedtime, don’t you think, mamma ? I wonder if I was ever as late before ? ”

He looked at her when he asked that question : and suddenly before them both, a little vague and confused to the child, to her clear as if yesterday, came the picture of that night when Geoff and she had watched together, he at her feet curled into her dress, while his father lay dying. Oh, he had no right to reproach her, no right! and yet the pale, awful face on the pillow, living, yet already wrapt in the majesty of death, rose up before her. She gave a great cry and clasped Geoff in her arms. She was still kneeling, and his slight little white figure swayed and trembled with the sudden weight. To have that face like a spectre rise up before her, and Geoff’s countenance averted, his little eyes twitching to keep in the tears, — was there anything in the world worth that? Magdalen ! Ah, worse than Magdalen ! for that sinner poured out her tears for what was past, whereas all this shame was the price at which she was going to buy happiness to come.

And yet it was nothing wrong.


Mrs. Warrender and Chatty left the Warren at the end of the week in which these events had taken place. They had a farewell visit from the rector and Mrs. Wilberforce, which no doubt was prompted by kindness, yet had other motives as well. The Warren looked its worst on the morning when this visit was paid. It was a gray day, no sun visible, the rain falling by intervals, the sky all neutral tinted, melting in the gray distance into indefinite levels of damp soil and shivering willows, — that is, where there was a horizon visible at all. But in the Warren there was no horizon, nothing but patches of whitish-gray seen among the branches of the trees, upon which the rain kept up such an endless, dismal patter as became unendurable after a time,—a continual dropping, the water dripping off the long branches, drizzling through the leaves with incessant, monotonous downfall. The Wilberforces came picking their way through the little pools which alternated with dry patches along all the approaches to the house, their wet umbrellas making a moving glimmer of reflection in the green, damp atmosphere. Inside, the rooms were all dark, as if it had been twilight. Boxes stood about in the hall, packed and ready, and there were those little signs of neglect in the usual garnishing of the rooms which is so apt to occur on the eve of a departure. Chatty, with her hat on, stood arranging a few very wet flowers in a solitary vase, as if by way of keeping up appearances, the usual decorations of this kind being all cleared away. " Theo is so little at home,” she said, by way of explanation, “ he would get no good of them.” Afterwards when she thought of it, Chatty was sorry that she had mentioned her brother at all.

“ Ah, Theo ! We have been hearing wonderful things of Theo,” said Mrs. Wilberforce, as Mrs. Warrender approached from the drawing-room to meet them. “ I have never been so surprised in my life ; and yet I don’t know why I should be surprised. Of course it makes his conduct all quite reasonable when we look back upon it in that light.”

“ Who speaks of conduct that is reasonable ? ” said Mrs. Warrender. “ It is kinder than reason to come and see us this melancholy day. It is very discouraging to leave home under such skies.”

“ But you don’t need to leave in such a hurry, surely. Theo would never press you : and besides, I suppose, with a larger house so close at hand, they would not live here.”

“ There is nobody going to live here that I know of, except Theo,” said his mother, while Chatty, always kind, took off the visitor’s wet cloak. “Notwithstanding the packing and all the fuss the servants love to make, we may surely

have some tea. I ought to ask you to come and sit down by the fire. Though it is June, a fire seems the only comfortable thing one can think of.” Mrs. Warrender was full of suppressed excitement, and talked against time, that the callers might not insist upon the one topic of which she was determined nothing should be said. But the rector’s wife was not one whom it was easy to balk.

“ A fire would be cosy,” she said ; “ but I suppose now the Warren will be made to look very different. With all the will in the world to change, it does need a new start, does n’t it, a new beginning, to make a real change in a house ? ”

This assault was ineffective from the fact that it called forth no remark. As Mrs. Warrender had no answer to make, she took refuge in that which is the most complete of all, — silence, — and left her adversary to watch, as it were, the smoke of her own guns, dispersing vaguely into the heavy air.

“ We are going to London, first,” Mrs. Warrender said. “No, not for the season ; but if any little simple gayeties should fall in Chatty’s way” —

“ Little simple gayeties are scarcely appropriate to London in June,” said the rector, with a laugh.

“ No ; if we were to be received into the world of fashion, Chatty and I— But that does n’t seem very likely. We all talk about London as if we were going to plunge into a vortex. Our vortex means two or three people in South Kensington, and one little bit of a house in Mayfair.”

“That might be quite enough to set you going,” said Mrs. Wilberforce. " It only depends upon who the people are; though now, I hear that in London there are no invitations more sought after than to the rich parvenus’ houses, — people that never were heard of till they grew rich; and then they have nothing to do but get a grand house in Belgravia, and let it be known how much money they have. Money is everything, alas, now.”

“It always was a good deal, my dear,” observed the rector, mildly.

“ Never in my time, Herbert! Mamma would no more have let us go to such houses ! It is just one of those signs of the time which you insist on ignoring, but which one day— This new connection will be a great thing for Chatty, dear Mrs. Warrender. It is such a nice thing for a girl to come out under good auspices.”

“ Poor Chatty, we cannot say she is coming out,” said her mother, “and the Thynnes, I have always understood, were dull people, not fashionable at all.”

“ Oh, you don’t think for a moment that I meant the Thynnes! She has been very quiet, to be sure; but now, of course, with a young husband — And I am sure Chatty does not look more than nineteen; I always say she is the youngest-looking girl of her age. And as she has never been presented, what is she but a girl coming out ? But I do think I would wait till she had her sister-in-law to go out with. It may be a self-denial for a mother, but it gives a girl such an advantage! ”

“ But Chatty is not going to have a husband, either young or old,” said Mrs. Warrender, with a laugh which was a little forced. “ Ah, here is the tea. I wish we had a fire, too, Joseph, though it is against rules.”

“ I ’ll light you a fire, mum,” said Joseph, “ in a minute. None of us would mind the trouble, seeing as it’s only for once, and the family going away.”

“ That is very good of you, not to mind,” said his mistress, laughing. “ Light it, then ; it will make us more cheerful before we go.”

“ Ah, Joseph,” said the rector’s wife, “ you may well be kind to your good old mistress, who has always been so considerate to you. For new lords, new laws, you know : and when the new lady comes ” —

Joseph, who was on his knees lighting the fire, turned round with the freedom of an old servant. “ There ain’t no new ladies but in folks’s imagination,” he said. “ The Warren ain’t a place for nothing new.”

“ Joseph! ” cried his mistress, sharply ; but she was glad of the assistance thus afforded to her.

And there was a little interval during which Mrs. Wilberforce was occupied with her tea. She was cold and damp, and the steaming cup was pleasant to see ; but she was not to be kept in silence even by this much-needed refreshment. “ I should think,” she resumed, “ that the boy would be the chief difficulty. A step-mother is a difficult position ; but a step-father, and one so young as dear Theo ! ”

“ Step-fathering succeeds better than step-mothering,” said the rector, “ so far as my experience goes. Men, my dear, are not so exacting; they are more easily satisfied.”

“ What nonsense, Herbert! They are not brought so much in contact with the children, perhaps, you mean ; they are not called on to interfere so much. But how a mother could trust her children’s future to a second husband — For my part I would rather die.”

“ Let us hope you will never need to do so, my dear,” said the rector, at which Mrs. Warrender was glad to laugh.

“ Happily none of us are in danger,” she said. “ Chatty must take the warning to heart, and beware of fascinating widowers. Is it true about the Elms, that the house is empty and every one gone ? ”

“ Thank Heaven ! it is quite true ; gone like a bubble burst, clean swept out, and not a vestige left.”

“ As every such place must be, sooner or later,” said Mrs. Wilberforce. “ That sort of thing may last for a time, but sooner or later ” — “ I think,” said the rector, “ that our friend Cavendish had, perhaps, something to do with it. It appears that it is an uncle of his who bought the house when it was sold three years ago, and these people wanted something done — to the drainage, I suppose. I advised Dick to persuade his uncle to do nothing, hoping that the nuisance — for, I suppose, however wicked you are, you may have a nose like other people — might drive them out; and so it has done apparently,” Mr. Wilberforce said, with some complacency, looking like a man who had deserved well of his kind.

“ They might have caught fever, too, like other people. I wonder if that is moral, to neglect the drains of the wicked ? ”

“No,” said Mrs. Wilberforce, firmly ; “ they have not noses like other people. How should they, people living in that way ? The sense of smell is essentially a belonging of the better classes. Servants never smell anything. We all know that. My cook sniffs and looks me in the face and says, ‘ I don’t get anything, m’m,’ when it is enough to knock you down! And persons of that description, living in the midst of every evil! Not that I believe in all that fuss about drains,” she added, after a moment. “ We never had any drains in the old times, and who ever heard of typhoid fever then ? ”

“ But if they had been made very ill ?” said Chatty, who, up to this time, had not spoken. “ I don’t think — surely, Mr. Cavendish would not have done that.”

She was a little moved by this new suggestion. Chatty was not interested in general about what was said, but now and then a personal question would rouse her. She thought of the woman with the blue eyes, so wide open and red with crying, and then of Dick with his laugh which it always made her cheerful to think of. Chatty had in her mind no possible link of connection between these two : but the absence of any power of comprehending the abstract in her made her lay hold all the more keenly on the personal, and the thought of Dick in the act of letting in poisonous gases upon that unhappy creature filled her with horror. She was indignant at so false an accusation. “ Mr. Cavendish,” she repeated with a little energy, “ never would have done that.”

“ It is all a freak of those scientific men,” said Mrs. Wilberforce. “ Look at the poor people: they can do a great deal more, and support a great deal more, than we can ; yet they live among bad smells. I think they rather like them. I am sure my nursery is on my mind night and day, if there is the least little whiff of anything ; but the village children are as strong as little ponies — and where is the drainage there ?”

With this triumphant argument she suddenly rose, declaring that she knew the brougham was at the door, and that Mrs. Warrender would be late for the train. She kissed and blessed both the ladies as she took leave of them: “ Come back soon, and don’t forget us,” while to Mrs. Warrender she gave a little friendly pat on the shoulder. “You won’t say anything, not even to true friends like Herbert and me: but a secret like that can’t be kept, and though you may n’t think so, everybody kuows.”

“ Do you think that is true, mamma ? ” Chatty asked, when the wet umbrellas had again gone glimmering through the shrubberies and under the trees, and the ladies were left alone.

“ That everybody knows ? It is very likely. There is no such thing as a secret in a little world like ours ; everybody knows everything. But still they cannot say that they have it by authority from you and me. It is time enough to talk of it when it is a fact, if it is to be.”

“ But you have not any doubt of it, mamma ? ”

“ I have doubt of everything till it is done: even,” she said with a smile, as the wheels of the brougham cat the gravel and came round with a little commotion to the door, “ of our going away : though I allow that it seems very like it now.”

They did go away, at last, leaving the Warren very solitary, damp, and gray, under the rain, — a melancholy place enough for Theo to return to. But he was not in a state of mind to think of that, or of any of his home surroundings grave or gay. Chatty put her head out of the window to look behind her at the melancholy yet dear old house, with tears in her innocent eyes, but Mrs. Warrender, feeling that at last she had shaken herself free from that bondage, notwithstanding the anxiety in her heart for her son, had no feeling to spare for the leave-taking. She waved her hand to Mrs. Bagley at the shop, who was standing out at her door with a shawl over her cap to see the ladies go by. Lizzie stood behind her in the doorway saying nothing, while her grandmother curtseyed and waved her hand and called out her wishes for a good journey, and a happy return. Naturally Chatty’s eyes sought those of the girl, who looked after her with a sort of blank longing as if she, too, would fain have gone out into the world. Lizzie’s eyes seemed to pursue her as they drove past, — poor Lizzie, who had other things in her mind, Chatty began to think, beside the fashion books ; and then there came the tall red mass of the Elms, with all its windows shut up, and that air of mystery which its encircling wall and still more its recent history conferred upon it. The two ladies looked out upon it, as they drove past, almost with awe.

“ Mamma,” said Chatty, “ I never told you. I saw the — the lady, just when she was going away.”

“ What lady ? ” asked Mrs. Warrender, with surprise.

“ I don’t think,” said Chatty, with a certain solemnity, “ that she was any older, perhaps not so old as I. It made my heart sick. Oh, dear mother, must there not be some explanation, some dreadful, dreadful fate, when it happens that one so young ” —

“ Sometimes it is so ; these are mysteries which you, at your age, Chatty, have no need to go into.”

“ At my age, which was about the same as hers,” said Chatty ; “ and— oh, mamma, I wanted in my heart to stop her, to bring her to you. She had been crying ; she had such innocent looking distracted eyes — and Lizzie said ” —

“ Lizzie ! what had Lizzie to do with it ? ”

“ I promised to tell no one: but you are not any one, you are the same as myself. Lizzie says she knew her long ago: that she was the same as a child still, not responsible for what she is doing— fond of toys and sweets like a child.”

“ My dear, I am sorry that Lizzie should have kept up such a friend. I believe there are some poor souls that if an innocent girl were to do what you say, stop them and bring them to her mother, might be saved, Chatty. I do believe that : but not — not this kind.”

The tears by this time were falling fast from Chatty’s eyes. “ I wonder,” she said, “if I shall ever see her again ? ”

“ Never, I hope ; for you could do nothing for her. Shut the window, my dear, the rain is coming in. Poor Theo, how wet he will get, coming home! I wonder if he will have the thought to change everything, now that there is no occasion to dress, now that we are away.”

“ Joseph will give him no peace till he does,” said Chatty, happily diverted, as her mother had intended, from sadder thoughts. “ And don’t you think she will make him stay to dinner on such a day ? Don’t you think she must care a great deal for him, mamma ? ” “ She must care for him or she would not have listened to him. Poor Theo ! ” said the mother, with a sigh.

“ But he cares very much for her: and he is happy,” said Chatty, with a certain timidity, a half question; for to her inexperience these were very serious drawbacks, though perhaps not such as might have occurred to a more reasonable person. Mrs. Warrender had to change this subject, too, which Chatty showed a disposition to push too far, by making an inquiry into the number of their bags and parcels, and reminding her daughter that they were drawing near the station. It was a very forlorn little station, wet and dismal, with a few men lounging about, the collars of their coats up to their ears, and Mrs. Warrender’s maid standing by her pile of boxes, having arrived before them. It had been an event long looked for, much talked of, but it was not a cheerful going away.

The rain had gone off, however, by the time they reached town, and a June day has a power of recovering itself, such as youth only possesses. But no, that is an error, as Mrs. Warrender proved. She had been leaning back in her corner very quiet, saying little, yet with an intense sense of relief and deliverance. She came to London with as delightful a consciousness of novelty and freedom as any boy coming to seek his fortune. Chatty’s feelings were all very mild in comparison with her mother’s. She was greatly pleased to see the clouds clear off and the humid sweetness of the skies, which even the breath of the great city did not obscure. “ After all, Theo will have a nice evening for his drive home,” she said, unexcited. Though it was all very agreeable, Chatty did not know of anything important that might await her in town. She knew more or less, she believed, what awaited her, — a few parties, a play or two, the Row in the morning, the pictures, a pleasant little glimpse of the outside of that fashionable life which was said to be “ such a whirl,” which she had no expectation, nor any desire to see much of. There was no likelihood that she and her mother would be drawn into that whirl. If all the people they knew asked them to dinner, or even to a dance, which was scarcely to be expected, there would still be no extravagant gayety in that. Driving from the railway to Half Moon Street was as pleasant as anything : to a girl of very highly raised expectations, it might have been the best of all : but Chatty did not anticipate too much, and would not be easily disappointed. She neither expected nor was afraid of any great thing that might be coming to her. Her quiet heart seemed beyond the reach of any touch of fate.

M. O. W. Oliphant.